April's featured KALEIDOSCOPE content!

Hello lovely Kaleidoscope subscribers!! This is the special featured content I promised you in the newsletter — I'm so happy to see you made it over here :) Sooooooo, without further ado: this month, I'm going to let y'all read the FIRST CHAPTER of my novel! This is super exciting because very few people have read it and I'm super weird about letting people read my work-in-progress novels (you can ask my mom if you doubt me! Speaking of which — Hi, Mom!). If you want to read more, you can totally email me and ask for the whole thing...you just have to promise to give feedback on it afterwards!

And without further ado: chapter one of SAVING GRACE.

CHAPTER ONE

AUGUST, 2017

 

I’ve stumbled into this porta potty that smells of sewage death in the baking summer heat of Tennessee for one express purpose: to take pill after pill after pill. To watch the world fade to black around me. To let my breathing slow, slow, slow, stop.

To die, in short. To erase all mention and memory of Grace Hamrit from this earth. To leave behind the pain and the gaping hole Jackson left.

I rifle through the duffel bag, past my phone, lit up with messages from Mason — my heart clenches at the thought of him — and my fingers close around one of Michael’s pill bottles.

This will do.

I pull the bottle out and unscrew the cap, shake some pills into my hand.

They are pink and peach and purple. They are chalky and shaped like dinosaurs.

A laugh, disbelieving and loud, bursts from my lips. It fills the tiny porta potty space and the sound of it, the ridiculousness of the situation, overcomes me and I laugh harder. I bend over and clutch my knees with white knuckles and hysterical laughter envelopes me, the reverberations of sound chasing away the darkness.

When I can breathe again, I look at the bottle in my hand. The label says it’s a bottle of dinosaur vitamins.

That’s right.

Vitamins.

I came here to overdose and was going to kill myself with vitamins for kids, shaped like dinosaurs. Fucking hell.

The hilarity overtakes me again and I’m cracking up some more, sliding down so my butt hovers over the floor and my back is wedged against the side of the bathroom.

And when I’m done laughing, I feel…better. Light, as though somehow laughter is some brand of magic that releases all the sorrow and the hurt and suddenly I feel like tomorrow will be better.

I mean, obviously there’s a reason the pill bottle I pulled out was full of vitamins and not real drugs.

Maybe the universe is saying it’s not my time to die yet.

Maybe it’s saying I do get a second chance.

#

Someone knocks on the door. “Hello?” a female voice calls, and I push myself to my feet.

“Just a second,” I respond. I stuff everything back in the duffel bag, give myself an appraising glance in the mirror, and turn to leave.

It’s time for Grace Hamrit’s life to start over.

I step out of the bathroom and am temporarily blinded by the amount of bedazzle on the shirt in front of me.

"Holy shit, you're sparkling!" I say, then clamp my mouth shut. The girl in front of me, whose hair is cropped short and blue-black and whose skin is perfectly the color of honey, rears her head back and laughs.

"That's exactly what I was going for," she answers, holding her top out with her fingers so I can really take in the sequins and fake gems attached.

"Really?" I question, and her laugh is rich.

"Nah," she says, "my little sister got ahold of it in the car." Then she does something I don't expect. She holds out her hand to shake mine. "I'm Lizbeth."

That's when I do something I don't expect. I take her hand and squeeze it. "Sarah," I say, shocking myself again with the lie.

"Nice to meet ya, Sarah," she says. "What brings you to Knoxville?"

I shrug and tell her part of the truth. "Spontaneous cross-country adventure, I guess?”

Lizbeth's grin splits her face in two even halves and hits me with as much brightness as her shirt.

“That’s awesome,” she answers. “Where are you staying?”

“Uh,” I answer, thrown. Where am I staying? “Uh,” I repeat, like an idiot.

Lizbeth’s eyes widen. “You don’t have anywhere to stay?” she questions. “You just got on a bus to Knoxville without a plan?”

“I’m feeling judged here,” I think…then realize I’ve gone ahead and said it aloud. I clap a hand over my mouth in horror, but Lizbeth’s grin flashes across her face again.

“Well, we wouldn’t want that, now would we?” she fires back, eyes sparkling. “Listen, if you don’t have anywhere to stay…” she hesitates for a second, glances over her shoulder, and cocks her head to the side. Then she whips back around to face me and her expression is wide open and shining. “You can stay with us for a while.”

“Us?” I ask dumbly.

She rolls her eyes dramatically. “Yes, me and my family, silly Sarah,” she says, and I laugh at myself.

“Um, I mean, are you — I don’t know, I don’t want to impose…” That, and, she could be part of a serial killer family for all I know.

Her laugh surprises me, once again rich and dark and full of flavor. “Please,” she says. “My mom’s got five kids and seven siblings and we’re always having people over. We’re a big Mexican way station for lost souls. We’d love to have you.”

I’m still a little hesitant, mostly because of the serial killer possibilities.

But I take a good look at Lizbeth, at the shirt her sister sequined, at the way her smile slides onto her face so easily, at the way everything about her is so open and honest, and I think…well, maybe I’ll take my chances and hang out at the big Mexican way station.

“I’m definitely a lost soul,” I find myself saying, “so I guess that qualifies me for at least a night or two, right?”

Her grin is blinding when it comes. “Absolutely!” she says. She reaches out and grabs my duffel bag and starts walking away. “Come on, Sarah, come meet the family!”

I follow her, slowly at first, but she’s walking so fast I have to speed up in order to stay even with her.

She walks me to a minivan on the other side of the parking lot that’s overflowing with small kids. A woman, maybe in her mid-forties, sits behind the steering wheel, staring at us, eyes narrowed.

“Hola, Mama!” Lizbeth calls out as we walk up. “I found a stray!”

The woman’s face clears up immediately and a smile, carbon copy of Lizbeth’s, spreads across her face. She steps out of the car and my eyes travel up, up, up. The woman is at least six feet tall, towering over me and her daughter, but her smile is still warm and disarming.

“Hola,” she says to me. “I’m Marina,” she says, extending a hand to me. “Lizbeth’s mother,” she adds, even though I had figured that much out already. Nonetheless, I smile like this is news to me and incline my head.

I’m not sure what’s the most polite way to greet her. Lizbeth said she’s Mexican, and I feel like they probably have different norms and rules and I don’t know what they are.

But the longer I’m silent, the more Lizbeth and Marina stare at me, so I clear my throat and just dive in. “Hola, Marina,” I say, reaching back to ninth grade Spanish to remember what comes next, hoping my attempt to speak Spanish will endear me to them. “Como estas?”

Both Marina and Lizbeth’s grins widen and Marina’s eyes shine. “Muy bien, gracias. Tell me, what’s your name? I assume we can’t just call you ‘stray’ the whole time you’re with us,” she continues, giving Lizbeth a slightly chiding look. Lizbeth looks half bashful, half unconcerned, and says, “This is Sarah, Mama.”

At that moment, a small bundle of speed bowls into my legs. It would have knocked me over, but when I say “small” I mean literally tiny. The girl who’s looking up at me with huge brown eyes, arms wrapped around my legs, can’t be more than three years old, but she’s about half the size of a normal three-year-old.

“Hi, Sarah,” the girl says. “I’m Caroline. I have sequins.” She blinks up at me until Lizbeth giggles and pries her away.

“This is my bedazzling little sister,” she explains. “Caroline, get in the car and give Sarah a break. Maybe you can bedazzle her later.”

Caroline’s grin droops, but she obeys her sister.

Then Lizbeth turns around and, in Spanish too quick for me to understand, says something that immediately sends the other three girls scrambling back into the car. Marina nods and smiles at me. “Shotgun is reserved for guests, Sarah, is that OK?” she asks, and a warmth fills my stomach. It’s a small gesture, but all I ever wanted was to ride in the front seat. Jackson and I used to have screaming matches over who could sit there, and Mom would break us up. Inevitably, she always gave the honor to Jackson.

“That’s great,” I say.

The thirty-minute ride to the family home is honestly one of the loudest things I’ve ever experienced. Not only is there music blasting from the speakers, but each of the five daughters is carrying on her own part of a huge family conversation that I can’t possibly understand. It’s in English, but they speak simultaneously and loudly and I can’t even tell who’s saying what, much less what it relates to.

But I’m not mad. Instead, I just lean my head back, close my eyes, and soak in the noise. It’s the sound of a family that’s happy just to be around each other. At one point, I feel eyes on me and glance over to see Marina observing me. She smiles when she catches my eyes.

“We’re a loud group,” she says, without apology.

“I love it,” I answer. “My family was always so quiet. I like the noise.”

I realize after I say that I don’t want to talk about my family. Fortunately, Marina doesn’t press. She just nods. “Well, you’re lucky,” she says. “My sisters are out of town with their kids until tomorrow, so you’re the only ‘stray’ we’ll have tonight. It’ll give you time to acclimate before they all flood in.”

Her smile is warm and conspiratorial, the kind of look I feel like moms should give their daughters, and I have the wild thought that I should beg this woman to adopt me and make me a part of her family.

But then I remember that I’m lying to her about everything from why I’m here to the most basic thing, my name, and shame floods me, turning the warm feeling in my gut sour.

I’m about to open my mouth to confess my lie when a head pokes up and says, “Mama, can we go to Sonic?”

Immediately, Marina says, “Sit back down, Angelica,” and pushes her daughter’s shoulder. “And put your seatbelt on! We absolutely will not go to Sonic until all of you learn car safety!”

The car gets even louder in an eruption of complaints and whines, most of them directed to Angelica, but I catch a few begging, “Please, Mama, please,” before Marina claps her hands together and the car falls silent.

“Absolutely not, chicas,” she says. “We have a guest in the car and I will not tolerate this behavior from you. Silence.”

It’s like magic. The five daughters fall silent for the rest of the car ride. The first few minutes are tense, the air in the van bubbling with resentment, but after some time I feel it fade away. I dare a glance into the back seats and see four dark heads bent over phones and coloring books. Only one person isn’t reading, and Lizbeth gives me a grin when she catches my eye.

We’ll talk later, she mouths to me, and in that second it’s like the two of us are co-conspirators, friends since childhood.

I like the feeling, and grin back, nodding.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

#PitchWars #pimpmybio #TooManyHashtags

OK I know it's already way past the middle of July and there are only like 10 days until the #PitchWars submission window opens...but I've been so distracted stalking all the mentors that I forgot to pimp my own bio! Whoops. I'm joining the blog hop now! For those of you that don't know...Pitch Wars is a legitimately EPIC writing contest in which agented/book-dealed/published authors each pick one un-agented/unpublished author with a completed manuscript to mentor for two months. Then we submit to agents and have a party. I'm borderline obsessed with it and keeping my fingers crossed and prayers lifted that I get in. I've already got some mentors I'm willing to fight for — similar to how I fight people for subway seats. More on that in a hot second.

Onto the pimping of the bio!

About me

Things that I am:

American | Canadian | Pseudo-Italian | Missionary kid | Christian | Boarding school product | NYU grad student (journalism!) | Almost redhead Brooklyn resident-and-obsesser Pizzeria employee Novelist Poet Essayist Consummate soul-barer

Things that make my happy:

FRIENDS — both the TV show and the flesh-and-blood ones Making others laugh Making new friends Pizza Pasta Hamburgers Let's just cut to the chase and say: FOOD. | Hillsong NYC | Did I mention friends?

Facts that are fun:

I will take a person down if they get between me and a seat on the subway. Is that a fun fact? I think so While waiting for a friend in the bathroom, I sang along to a radio song. My friend then asked me if I heard the horrible singing When I was 12, I thought police would arrest me and my parents for watching a PG-13 movie Io parlo italiano I graduated high school with a cast on my nose

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Why you should choose me as your mentee:

I work hard and am passionate, driven and ambitious enough to put forth my very best effort to make my manuscript as great as possible I am grateful for the time you're taking even just to read this and will always respect you and your thoughts I am loyal to a fault — meaning that once we're friends, there are no lengths I won't go to for you, and there is nothing you can do to ruin that I am funny and you will laugh a lot, especially if we ever meet in person! I make a lot of Chuck Norris jokes and those are great I reallyreallyreally want you to so pleaseeeeeee :)

About SAVING GRACE

SAVING GRACE is a contemporary YA. During the sweltering New York City summer after "wild girl" Grace Hamrit's brother is deployed, she starts dating his clean-cut best friend and working at a restaurant with her two best friends. The only hitch is she has to keep her relationship a secret from her brother — who doesn't approve of her. Things seem to be fine..until tragedy strikes. When her life unravels around her, Grace must decide who — and what — she's going to turn to and how she's going to save herself. If that's even an option anymore.

 

Please feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and be my best friend!

 

My first post for I Am Second

I mentioned a few days ago that I'd be changing things up on the blog. This is the first of the short announcements I'm going to be making here: I've begun writing for I Am Second. I was approached by their editor after I had my article published by Seventeen about the possibility of writing some blog posts about depression for them. Of course, I said yes.

I've never wanted to have a career in Christian publication, but I also always said that if I had the opportunity to do something on the side, to write from a faith perspective for an established publication, I would take that opportunity.

So when I Am Second approached me with this opportunity, of course I said yes.

Here you can find the first in a series of articles I'm writing about depression for them. I'm super excited about this opportunity and can't wait to write more for them and see where it goes!

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 08.45.41

A new way of doing things

Hello, friends and followers! It's announcement time — again. I'm going to be changing things up a bit around here. The blog is now going to be a place dedicated solely to short announcements about my career — articles published and where, feelings on articles published, and when/if I ever get an agent or a book deal. This is your go-to place for information about my work.

On that note, I got an article published by Good Housekeeping yesterday. It's all about my parents and my own selfishness. Read it here!

Meanwhile, my personal musings will be located over at Medium from now on. I've decided to use Medium as a blogging platform not only because of the built-in audience, but also because of the doors it will open to other opportunities.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 11.05.04If you want to follow me on Medium, click the link above and it will direct you to my profile. I'll most likely post updates here as well with links.

I'm excited about this! Hope to see you all over at Medium. And, if you want another way to keep up with my work, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

UPDATE MARCH 21, 2016: I'm retiring my Medium page and deciding to just streamline everything on here. It's been a lovely experiment, but I think I'd like to keep everything on one platform for now. Thanks for following along!

Fifth week roundup: marriage equality and Obamacare both legal

It's been a big week. Not necessarily for my internship, since I got sick and missed a day and a half. But for the country, it's been huge. On Thursday, a Supreme Court ruling upheld Obamacare subsidies. I've read several articles about the matter, and unfortunately a lot of it, like most economic language, went right over my head.

What didn't confuse, or shock, me was the Friday ruling that gay marriage is legal, and that in fact there is no such thing as gay marriage, there is just marriage.

I said it didn't shock me. Of course it didn't shock me. I've lived in America for the past four years. I've spent hours on Tumblr and I read the news voraciously. I knew it was coming. I knew people would be overjoyed and, just like when interracial marriage became legal, would throw around phrases like being "on the right side of history."

I'm a Christian, and I believe what the Bible says. I believe it when it says, "love your neighbor," and that God doesn't want anyone to go to hell.

Unfortunately, from what I've seen so far, a lot of Christians don't seem to believe that.

At The Messenger, we decided to cover the event and get local opinions, so we posted a question on our Facebook page: "What are your thoughts on today's Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage?"

Within less than an hour we had over 40 responses. I read through a bunch of them, and caught on to a trend: most of the ones from supporters of the ruling were well-thought out and articulated, speaking highly of love and equality and really making you feel like this ruling makes you proud to be an American:

One of the positive reactions to the ruling.And then there were the negative ones. Oh my gosh, guys, when did Christians on the Internet become ignorant, demeaning and completely unloving? Think I'm exaggerating? Check this out.

This actually pains me. Read on to the last comment...this is a person who calls themselves a Christian speaking to another human being.If that doesn't make you wince and go give a hug to the nearest person you see, well...wow.

You guys, it's okay not to be pleased with the Supreme Court ruling. Jesus wasn't always pleased with the way his government did things; heck, Jesus walked into the synagogue and started bashing religious rulers for their misdeeds.

But Jesus never treated other humans like dirt. You know who knows that? Everyone. Christians, non-Christians...and when Christians act the complete opposite of how Jesus acted, we become a mockery. We can't be taken seriously, because we're claiming to follow in the footsteps of one man when really we're chasing the heels of his enemy.

Yes, Jesus told the prostitute not to sin. But do you know what else he offered her? Forgiveness. Love.

Yes, Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of her demons. But do you know what else he did? He loved her and welcomed her into his family.

I could go on and on and on. Other Biblical heroes sinned egregiously (David. Moses. Peter. Paul. You. Me. We all sin). And God always offered love with his disapproval. Why can't American Christians do the same?

I don't know where I stand with gay marriage. As a Christian, I think it should be up to God who does and doesn't get married. As a citizen of a country that promises the separation of church and state, I don't know if I'm right in forcing my ideals on someone else. As a journalist, I try to separate my personal feelings from the events and issues I cover.

What I do know is that the way Christians reacted is not the way we should react. We should react in love. Reach out to the people around you and tell them you love them.

Because guess what? You are just as rotten a sinner as anybody you'll meet on the street. I'm speaking from experience. I am full of sin. Chock full. But I've been forgiven and washed clean. And if that can happen for me, it can happen for anyone.

I wonder if this will offend anyone, or if anyone will even read it. Nonetheless, I had to post it. So there you have it: marriage is for everyone. I don't know whether that's right or wrong. But I know reacting to it the way I've seen people act on Facebook is wrong and it needs to stop.

Life with bipolar: a PSA

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article for the Collegian, called He is Here, about finding God through whatever trials you're undergoing. And I stand by that. I still believe that you can find God in the midst of whatever the world throws at you. Yet there are still moments when I don't feel that. There are moments when my slight bipolar disorder and severe depression get the best of me. One of those was last night, and because I think I freaked out every soul who was with me in the movie theater when I burst into uncontrollable sobs, this is a PSA, from one sufferer, to everyone who comes into contact with sufferers.

Bipolar, depression, anxiety...they are all insidious mental illnesses that affect a large portion of the population, yet they are still wildly misunderstood. I can't tell you how many times I've been accused of being apathetic, attention-seeking or just plain insane when I was having a breakdown, when in reality I was trying my best to keep it from happening, to keep the attention off of me.

So, last night. It started innocuously: with five-inch heels and a group of friends walking too fast for my new found height. That devolved into sitting at the end of the row in the theater, waiting to watch "Mockingjay: Part 1" (a very excellent film, by the way), and, as I said before, bursting into uncontrollable sobs.

That's what happens when you have a mental illness. Little things are blown out of proportion, and from one second to another, in between steps even, you can go from being perfectly fine, even happy, to the throes of despair. It has nothing to do with you--you, the friend of the sufferer, did not cause this. I cannot stress that enough. It's because of chemicals going haywire; it's because of angry words spoken to a first grader about themselves; it's any combination of events that came together in one devastating concoction to form what can only be spoken of as mental torture.

Last night as I sat in the theater, I felt like my whole world was collapsing. I felt my gut squeezing, my future floating before my eyes, my friendships vanishing in the wink of an eye. Once my defenses were down, every negative thought I've had about myself came rushing back, overcoming me.

That's another thing that happens with mental illness. Something as simple as a stray glance can break someone down so much so that every negative thought, word or whisper they have ever experienced will come screaming back into their mind.

So, again, it's not your fault. But what can you do when a friend, acquaintance or stranger is obviously going through something like this? It kind of depends on the person, but since I know there are other people like me I'll tell you what works for me and let you go from that.

  1. Be there. Put your arm around me, hug me, say it's going to be okay.
  2. Don't blame yourself. If I don't respond (which I probably won't), don't think it has anything to do with you. I'm in mental turmoil and it's hard to step out of that for any amount of time. I promise I'm not mad at you...and if I am, it's only because my rational capabilities have broken down momentarily.
  3. Make a joke. If I laugh, I'm happy.
  4. Distract me. Talk about something innocuous...like popcorn. I'm telling myself I'm the worst kind of human, but popcorn is always a pleasant thing to think about instead.
  5. Be there. If you're there in the moment, and the next day, and the next, I can't even tell you how much that will mean to me.

This has been a PSA to everyone who comes into contact with me (and others who suffer from mental illnesses). There will be bad moments. There will be dark times. And while you can help in the moment, you can't fix me or anyone else. You can only love me as best as you can. I promise I see it and I appreciate it and you are helping me go forward.

There's one more really important thing: if you can't do any of the above, for your own mental health, don't. Because you can help, yes, but you can't save me. And it is absolutely not worth your own health to try.

Where dreams become nightmares

I've been writing grad school application essays. I've been begging people to write reference letters and send them to said grad schools as well as various newspapers offering internships. I've been in a constant state of flurry, stress and agony about the future. These are the things I've been dreaming about for the past few years. Getting a great internship somewhere--the New York Times, maybe? A girl can dream--going to grad school, living in New York as a journalist/novelist/world traveler. And with every second that passes I get closer to reality and my dreams start to feel like nightmares.

They haunt me wherever I go. I wake up thinking about grad school; I go to bed wondering if I'll get an internship; as I walk to class, I pretend I'm walking the streets of New York City in a business suit and stylish pumps on my way to my newspaper job. They're dreams that are starting to become nightmares.

I've spent my whole life wanting nothing more than to be a writer. I want to write novels; I want to write articles; I want to write documentaries, memoirs, news segments, poems...I want to put my fingers to the keys and tap until brilliance pours out. I want these things so badly that my heart squeezes inside my chest and I start to shake.

The problem with all these dreams is that real life has a hard time intruding. I have a paper due next Thursday that I have barely thought about because I'm in the middle of writing a novel. I have a documentary to shoot and edit that I can't focus on because I'm sitting on tenterhooks waiting for The New York Times to tell me that dreams come true and I've got an interview. I have a book to read for class that I haven't looked at because my mind is consumed with thoughts of the grad school essays I'm eking out.

I have all these dreams that cloud my thoughts and when I go to sleep at night they become nightmares. The internship turns into a summer working at a discount store barely making minimum wage. Grad school becomes another nine months in Columbia just getting by. My future in New York warps into an unrecognizable slew of years in a Southern village driving my minivan to doctors' appointments and church potlucks.

And there's nothing wrong with those things. To some people, those are the dream. To me, though? They are the nightmare.

I want to be a writer.

I fear I'll be nothing more than a wanna-be writer who has stacks of novel manuscripts that never made their way to an agent, a publisher, an audience.

But I'm not going to let that happen. I will fight. No matter where I end up. If the internship becomes a retail job, I will write my novel. If grad school becomes nine months of a retail job, I will write articles and blog posts and re-apply. If my New York future becomes minivans and church potlucks, I will write stories about them and fight to have them published.

I will not let the nightmares come true. It will be the dreams, and that is that

Hipsterville: a non-hipster's impressions of Louisville

  It's the ninth most hipster city in the US, and I, with my pencil skirt and distaste for beards, am most un-hipster. Yet today Louisville, Ky. and I met for the first time, and things went okay,

 

Extra-giant pizza slice at Spinelli's. Photo by Sarah Choate

We started by getting a little lost because the half marathon had blocked off several key streets, but, with hard work and some skillful maneuvering by Sarah in the driver's seat, we made it to Spinelli's Pizzeria, on Baxter Ave. It was a heaven of the weird and awesome, from the blue-haired waitress who forgot our straws to the comic book-cover wall above us and the mishmash of music played. The giant slice of pizza wasn't bad, either. 

What was bad was finding out, a few hours later, that I had been overcharged by $10 (more than double what I was supposed to be charged). Inclined at first to follow my instincts and ignore it, I finally gathered my courage and called the restaurant, because hey...money is in short supply these days, I can't just be throwing it away hither and thither. After some restaurant shuffle, I was talking to a manager with the power to help me out.

His first comment? "It shouldn't even show up in your bank statement yet." Well, I don't know what your bank is, but mine is nice and likes to make sure I know what my money is doing, so charges show up immediately. I finally got him to take me seriously. He double-checked to make sure I was telling the truth--a move I applauded--told me he would change it, then leaned away from the phone and yelled into the distance, "This is why I hate being a manager!"

Rude. Let's remember, guys, that I'm not the one who made the mistake in the first place. So, Mr. Manager, if you should ever read this, know that, well, I think you're dumb. (I'm sure that will smart).

After the unfortunate Spinelli's incident, things did get better. Sarah took me Bardstowning, which is apparently what the locals call walking the hipster side of Bardstown Road and checking out all the shops. There were some to-die-for consignment shops with lovely dresses that were all too expensive--except the Target dress I bought for Highbridge for less than $10. What a steal.

I visited Urban Attic, a super hip consignment shop where the clothes were adorable and everything felt just a little out of my cool league. Then we went to Acorn, where Sarah bought an adorable vintage owl mug and the cashier was down-to-earth, friendly and sassy, all at the same time. We checked out Why Louisville, possibly the greatest tourist trap gift shop to exist, with its wall of A-plus t-shirts and A Christmas Story replica lamp.

Finally, to end the day, we went to Sarah's aunt's house for Easter dinner. From playing with Barbies with her younger cousins to running through the grass for the Easter egg hunt, it was definitely a memorable Easter.

So there it is. I made acquaintance with part of Louisville and, though we didn't see eye to eye on everything, we shook hands and declared mutual (at least, I hope it's mutual) appreciation for the other. I can now cross "visit the ninth most hipster town in America" off my bucket list.

 

The novelist in me

I finished the first 50,000 words of my novel on Nov. 31, 2013. I then uploaded them to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or NaNo) website to prove that I succeeded in my quest to write 50,000 words of a novel in 31 days. Today, that novel has 69,741 words and 231 pages and I'm on my second draft. Up until this past year, the closest I ever got to finishing a novel was when I hit 115 pages on a 9th-grade novel attempt that ended in a locked document on my computer that I still haven't been able to open again. (Yeah, note to everybody out there: don't put a password on important documents. It could backfire royally).

The sight I was faced with for the majority of Spring Break.

While I spent all of November writing the book, I spent the majority of Spring Break editing it. The kind people of Starbucks and Panera (not to mention the neighboring man who yelled to me while I was on the porch) probably got tired of my face as I frequented their establishments for hours at a time, editing. I almost got tired of my own mind, spending that much time immersed in my own thoughts and words.

I learned several things through the process, though. The first is that, sometimes, I can be incredibly dumb. There are some sentences I penned in the first draft that I hope never see the light of day again. At one point, I unintentionally borrowed a line straight out of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars--which, since we're on the subject, everybody should go read right now. There are other things that I tossed in on a whim that, upon looking at again, I've realized could never happen...not even in an alternate universe where a simple thought can pull something into being.

The next thing I learned is that writing a novel is a long process. Sure, I already knew that in my head, but in my heart I still thought I'd be able make some quick edits and pop that sucker off to a publisher. Turns out, I've got a to-do list about as long as my first chapter that I've got to take care of before I can even think about publishing. Between editing, rearranging the timeline and writing additional scenes, then editing those, writing more scenes, editing them, etc...well, it could be a while.

I also learned, though, that there is a deadline for open submissions to a publishing house at the end of April. And me being me, I'm determined to be done in time to meet that deadline and send them the first couple chapters of my manuscript. If all goes well, they'll like those and want to see more and, ideally, will then give me helpful comments on what I can do to improve it before I send it to someone else.

So who knows? In a few weeks, I could be a much better writer than I am today.

Oh, and before you ask--no, you can't read it yet ;)

 

Of juniors and seniors

Me and Laura. I promise my intention was to go and dance the night away with everyone else. I put on Jen's pretty dress and shoes and got in the car with my friends, fully planning to gorge myself on some beef brisket and salad and then while away the hours doing the cupid shuffle and the wobble with all my classmates.

The first part worked out great. The brisket was some of the best I've had, and there was something about that salad that made me almost get seconds--but I opted for the blueberry cobbler instead. Should have gone for the bread pudding...

And when the dancing started, I followed my friends out on the smaller-than-it-should-be dance floor and got ready to get down.

Ten minutes later I was writing a poem.

Whoops.

How does it always come back to that? No matter what's going on in my life, I can't stay away from writing for more than half a day. It comes back to me like a boomerang.

So instead of immersing myself in the music and the movement and, for at least a few hours, turning my brain off, I sat at the table and mused over verbs and line breaks and ways in which to get my point across without being too blatant. I agonized over the right way to twist the meaning so it would fit in with the theme for the chapbook I'm putting together for class. I forced all my friends to read the poem and tell me what they thought.

Essentially, I turned a night of fun and forgetting into a work zone. Apparently I will be one of those adults who carts her laptop and assignment book with her wherever she goes, just in case something pops up for me to do. I will never be able to turn off the writing.

The Buzzfeed dilemma

A good friend of mine recently wrote a lovely blog post about Buzzfeed and how it's winning at the internet. While I agree with her that Buzzfeed is doing things right, I can't resist from standing up for traditional news outlets as well. I'm making myself into a news junkie, scrolling through my twitter feed to read articles from AP and The Daily Beast and asking for a digital subscription to The New York Times (also known as, my dream job in a few years) so I can stay up-to-date on the latest around the world.

If you're skeptical of the numbers.

Because of this, I've been able to witness some of the things traditional news outlets are doing right. The New York Times is using social media to actively advertise their content, and they're not just shouting into an empty room: they have over 11 million Twitter followers. If that doesn't seem like much to you, compare it to the 840,000 followers Buzzfeed has.

 

The Associated Press is also in on the social media game, with over 3 million Twitter followers.

In addition to their social media presence, these news outlets are doing things to try and attract readers. Every day, the New York Times posts the Times Minute, a one-minute video featuring three stories they want to feature for the day. You can find yesterday's video here.

The Associated Press does something called #AP10Things every day, where they list in brief the top ten news stories they expect to see discussed in detail the next day. This is perfect for those of us who want to stay up-to-date on the news, but haven't the time to read tons of long articles every day; it's a slightly more in-depth look than a headline, but still short enough to let us read it and move on.

And while Buzzfeed is known for its personality quizzes (which "Divergent" faction do you belong in?" is the latest big hit) and hilarious lists, complete with gifs and sassy commentary, they are not the only people making use of entertainment to attract readers.

According to a recent article by The Atlantic, the New York Times' most viewed article of 2013 was actually a quiz that tried to guess what region of America you were from by your dialect. Another recent big hit was their Snow Fall, the interactive article about an avalanche at Tunnel Creek.

So if traditional news outlets are doing their best to reach out and adapt to the world, here's my question: is it really their fault if we don't read the news, or is it ours? If we spend all of our time on Buzzfeed and none of it scrolling through local and international news, who do we have to blame? I don't believe it's really fair to say that news outlets need to change the way they report news. Maybe it's just because I'm an aspiring journalist, but I believe we have a duty to stay informed about what's going on in the world. So don't blame the Associated Press because you think their headline is boring; click that link and inform yourself about the world you live in.

 

 

 

Introducing: Kelsey Campbell, college writer

Kelsey (right) with fellow writer Sarah Choate. She's a senior creative writing and English major. She's a closet daredevil, with hang gliding and zip lining under her belt, to which she hopes to soon add parasailing. She writes because she sees hurt in the world and believes those stories must be told. She writes because it's a cleansing act for herself.

She's Kelsey Noel Campbell, poet, novelist and nonfiction queen.

Kelsey hails from High Point, North Carolina, and ended up at Asbury University after hearing about it from her sister, who attended here. Despite being anti-Asbury for a while, after she visited the school she felt like it was the right place for her.

Kelsey has been a writer most of her life, and says, "I write because I've been hurt and I've seen others hurt. And I write because I think those stories deserve to be heard."

In pursuit of this, Kelsey spent last November and December working on a novel, one she started for her own twist on National Novel Writing Month. Instead of attempting to write all 50,000 words during the month of November, she started halfway through November and gave herself til the end of December to finish her 50,000 words.

In a video some friends and I produced for a class, Kelsey explains why she chose to do this.

[vimeo 81517720 w=500 h=281]

She eventually found that this form of writing did not particularly suit her. "I don't do well under pressure," she explained. "I make quick decisions for my characters that they aren't ready for. I need time to live with the story."

As for her writing process, "I write whenever the urge hits me," she said. "I don't have a set time or place; I'm not disciplined enough." She adds that sometimes as she's watching a movie or reading for an assignment, she will be struck with an idea and compelled to write it down wherever she can find the space. "I've saved a dozen post-it notes, receipts or just scraps of paper," she said.

Despite her self-professed lack of discipline, Kelsey was editor of the Asbury Review during the Fall 2013 semester. She said that, of all the reading and writing events she has been a part of, "being the editor of The Asbury Review was the most rewarding. Even though it was extremely stressful and took up a lot of time, as cliche as it is to say, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."

In addition to being the editor of the Review, Kelsey also had a poem published last semester. "My heart belongs to poetry right now," she said of her current favorite writing genre. Although longer works of fiction occasionally tire her out, she finds poetry refreshing. "I can get down a story or two in poetry all while using words and phrases that might be deemed 'too fancy' or 'too poetic' for a novel. I feel more freedom with poetry."

She encourages everyone, writer or reader, to support writers, by attending readings, buying books by local authors or poetry chapbooks as well as encouraging writers. Good writing, she says, "Contribute[s] to the society we live in; [it] inspire[s] acts of boldness, acts of love, and reveal[s] evil and make[s] even the greatest sinners transparent and empathetic."

Her passion for art goes past a simple passion for writing. She adds, "Whether we recognize it or not, we owe so much to artists of all kinds."

Confessions of a lazy workaholic

I suffer from a condition rather common among my peers: lazy workaholism. It sounds like a paradox, but then again, isn't everything a paradox? Including life itself...

Okay, but that discussion is a little too deep for today. Lazy workaholism, on the other hand, is actually pretty simple, however destructive it might be. Let's break it down:

Lazy. That part's pretty easy. If I had my way, I would sleep til 10 every morning, spend the first hour and a half browsing Tumblr or spending quality time with Netflix, before eating some doughnuts and moving to the couch, to watch some more Netflix. Come mid-afternoon I'd probably want to get up and do something, maybe hang out with friends or write a little bit, but halfway through I'd get tired and end up on Pinterest, or, worse, aimlessly scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed.

Workaholic. Also pretty self-explanatory. I try to fill my schedule with as much as possible: classes, two or three extra-curriculars, a job...anything to keep me busy and constantly on the move. I keep my phone by my side at all times (even right now, with the battery half dead, I've got it hooked up to my computer so I won't miss any texts from friends or, more importantly, reminders of things I need to do). My computer is always in my schoolbag, so I can fill every spare second with productivity of some sort, whether that means sending emails, writing papers or working on my novel.

Lazy workaholic. Not as simple to break down. I want to be constantly busy and working, while at the same time sprawled on the couch watching tv.

How on earth are these two things supposed to work together? For the most part, it means I spend half my time working so hard I forget about everything else, and the other half chewing my lip raw with anxiety because I'm not doing something but I should because if I don't do something right now this very second then my whole future will explode in front of me and shower to earth in particles around me while hyenas cackle in the distance so I need to go do something, I need to work, I need...

That internal monologue is the reason I rarely watch tv without doing something else. Whether that means multitasking my time-wasting favorites (tv and social media), or writing papers, novels and blog posts while watching tv or inviting friends over to watch a tv show and splitting the time between watching and catching up, I'm always doing something to make me feel less guilty about wasting time.

Another personal favorite is to turn pleasure activities into work. Oh, you want to run a blog? THIS IS YOUR NEW JOB AND YOU MUST DO IT EVERY DAY. You want to read a book? Well, good, reading will sharpen your mind and DO IT NOW IF YOU'RE NOT READING YOU'RE SLACKING. You want to hang out with friends and catch up? Gotta find some way to make it work-related or else how can you justify it to yourself?

So there it is. The essence of a lazy workaholic. The constant internal dialogue that consists about arguments over whether or not down-time is warranted. The aversion to free time and the dragging-down of an overcrowded schedule. The tug-of-war between wanting to spend a whole summer curled up on the floor watching seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a summer working a part-time job and an internship and taking on any other job that might come up.

The film set

Last Saturday, I ventured onto my first film set ever. My role: the clapperboard clacker person-thing-whatever. Also behind the scenes photographer. Also person who doesn't know what she's doing and got in the way a lot until she sat down at a kitchen chair and decided not to move again until Jen, the director, told her to. IMG_0092

As long as I had my camera in hand and could find a corner in which to snap some photos, I was fine. I felt like I was doing something worthwhile, and I enjoyed it. Because of lighting and the fact that I had no desire to get in the way of the people setting up the living room for the shots, I spent a lot of time in the bathroom, snapping pictures as a make-up artist applied Rebeca's make-up.

Once the shooting started, though, I was relegated to waiting in the kitchen with the rest of the crew, except I out of all of them had the least reason to be hanging around. While everyone else was busy scrutinizing a screen showing them what was being filmed in the other room, I stood in the corner and held onto the clapperboard for dear life, hoping beyond hope that I wouldn't drop it and ruin a take.

I eagerly awaited the moments when Jen called me into the living room to slate the next take.

It was while I was waiting in the kitchen with bated breath that I realized--this is why I'm not a media comm major. This is why I'm not destined to work on film sets for the rest of my life, sitting silently in the corner while other people record what's happening.

My life branches out before me in two directions, and I intend to follow both to the best of my ability. On the one hand, I aspire to be a journalist who pays close attention to life events and records them. On the other, I want to be an author, someone whose words breathe life into countless stories and capture the imagination of the world.

Words are my domain. Pictures are fun, and if pressed I can take decent ones. I love editing videos and seeing my ideas come to living breathing life on a screen. But words, typed on a computer and published for the world, are where I flourish. I don't do well in a silent room where all attention is focused on making sure the story comes out the right way.

I'm meant to be the person locked away somewhere, music blasting into my ears, giving first life to the words and actions that will eventually be a story.

I'm a writer. And while playing as a photographer and a crew member is fun and I'll do it as much as I can, it's not where I belong.

Things You Should Check Before Hiring a Website Content Writer

Reshaping a dream

I've spent the past few days trying to fit my brain back into normal life mold. I've been to class. I've written poems and fiction. I haven't written any intros or outros, and I definitely haven't spent hours staring at FinalCut and trying to condense 20 minutes of footage into 75 seconds of story.

I haven't had any condensed milk or savory crepes, and I haven't walked 10 miles or been through security three times in the span of an hour.

I ate in the caf and then resorted to Tastebuds pizza for dinner and fell asleep before 3 a.m. and didn't sprawl across Meredith and Ashley's beds with the rest of the team.

I read 60 pages of Moby Dick and started planning the news section of the Collegian and went to small group and had study dates and lunch dates with friends. I went to Solomon's Porch and spent two hours staring at the coffee shop and feeling like I was in the universe again.

Pros and Cons of Coffee Shop Studying

The universe is very wide and has wide streets and candy blue skies. The universe has lots of familiar faces and at least 7 things I'm trying to read at once. The universe is messy and very solitary, but the land of my dreams is full of constant presence and a mattress on the floor and video equipment sprawled across a room and crepes every day and it's warm verging on hot and it's unreachable.

It's gone. It happened, it ended, it's finished, it exists only in my memory and the pictures I'll flip through for the rest of my life. It exists in the friendships that deepened over the week and a half in Sochi. It exists in the articles floating across the Internet that have my name on them. It exists in the reunions we'll have and the inside jokes I'll make to people who have no idea what I'm talking about.

I'm trying to reshape my brain to fit the universe again, but today it's rebelling and springing into the shape of my dream and I'm wondering why things have to end. Why can't dreams last forever and reality take a bow, retreat behind the curtain and stay where it doesn't have to bother anyone.

Okay, so maybe tomorrow I'll be glad to be a functioning member of the universe, but today let's let the brain reshaping take a rest and watch The Big Bang Theory.

The door is shut

They're obviously more gorgeous in person. After going to bed at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, I woke up at 10 for a full day of traveling to the mountains and exploring. The mountain venue is smaller than the coastal cluster and the more-than-giant Olympic Park. Although it was a foggier day than most of the others had been, we could still glimpse the mountains every once in a while, and boy were they breathtaking.

But back to that 6:30 a.m. comment. I pulled my latest night ever (in the entirety of my life) just a few days ago, working on editing a video about pin trading. This is the video that dogged us for days; we began it on Thursday, continued on Friday, and finally got the last footage on Sunday. Then, Sarah Owens and I spent six and a half hours editing it into a 70-second video, fingers crossed the whole time that it would air on LEX18 and make our time even more worthwhile.

While I don't know yet whether it has aired, I do know it made it on the website. For your viewing pleasure (should you please).

So after a day in the mountains, we came back and spent our last night in our hotel complex. When morning came, the group split up: Madison and I headed back into the actual city of Sochi, which we hadn't been to since our very first day, while the rest of the group went to Olympic Park to shop at the USA store some more.

After we returned, the real adventure began. We left our hotel at 7 p.m. (that would be 10 a.m. America time) and drove to the airport. Our Russian drivers deposited us and our bags out front and vanished, so we were left to run around outside the door for a solid 5 minutes, trying to find the entrance.

When that mission was accomplished, we were surprised to discover that we had to go through security before even getting into the airport. So I guess that's one more reason why everyone's concerns about our safety were perhaps less than founded.

After racing through security and making our way to the check-in counter, I turned to Meredith and joked that that was the most traumatizing thing that had happened on our trip--even worse than the 10-mile walks every day and the getting lost and the pin trading story that last five days.

What a joke.

About two seconds later, the check-in agent gasps and informs us that our visas are expiring before we actually leave the country. We all shrug; so what? We're leaving the country anyway. No, no, he explains, this is bad: we need to get visa extensions. Oh, if this had been found in Moscow, why, we could have been deported.

Never throw the deportation word around a group of aspiring journalists with 9 16-hour days behind them and a 30-hour trip ahead. Bad things will happen to their heads.

In Moscow we were escorted from the plane to check-in, where we rechecked our bags and were carted around the airport to various exchange offices, where we paid our fine and were given a visa extension.

And then began the next seven hours of our 10-hour layover. These mostly consisted of trying to catch a few minutes of sleep while wrapped around the armrests of the chairs and my frustration that the internet wouldn't work on my computer.

After that, it was a breezy 10-hour flight, a half hour of insanity at bag check-in at JFK, a two-hour flight to Cincinnati, and two-hour drive (which most of us spent passed out in the car) back to school.

So now we're back. And while I'm glad to be back in a place of comfort and to see my friends again...I'm still not ready to have left. I would have stayed another week at least, working more 16-hour days, walking 10 miles every day lugging heavy equipment, because my first real journalistic experience left me hungering for more.

There were so many stories we never got a chance to tell; so many words still rolling inside my head that never got to be shared; so many FinalCut shortcuts I have yet to learn; and so many more days I want to spend with my team. I'm in love both with the spirit of the Olympics and with the work we did and how am I going to go from that back to day in-day out school?

How do you translate the excitement of the Olympics and rush of real-world work back into daily school routine and classes? You remember Russia and swear that someday, you will return to the Olympics to finish what you began last week.

The team on our first day, posing with the official Sochi 2014 mascots.

сочи 2014

We're barely two days away from leaving and I'm far from ready. I've started having dreams about us being back home and it's made me realize how much I haven't satisfied my desire to be in Russia. Maybe it's just because it's only been in the past two days that I feel like we've really gotten to experience it, but it seems like we've been given a tantalizing taste of something amazing and now it's being taken away.

Yesterday we went out to dinner in a different part of town than normal. We went further away from Olympic Park, so of course we ended up in a less touristy side. At Olympic Park, everything feels more American; American music is playing, people speak English, the workers are young and fresh and wear brightly-colored Western clothes. In this other part of town, the stores don't have doors, but are "closed" with hanging strips of plastic; the aisles in the grocery store are narrow and the floor is unpolished cement. The people are older and don't speak English as well and the shopkeeper eyed us warily the whole time we were in his store.

Today, after a nice half-day off (during which Ashley and I slept in til 10 a.m., then took another nap from 1-2 p.m.) the whole group headed into Adler. We boarded bus B6 again--this time with the full knowledge and intention of going away from our hotel and into downtown. We spent about 45 minutes at this small mall that felt more like a maze with shops than an American shopping mall, and bought ice cream from a sweet older woman who didn't speak a work of English but somehow made us all fall in love with her.

After that, we took off in search of the water. Before we found it, we got shanghaied by the Sochi Live Site, where small children were singing and figure skating was being shown on giant screens. As we sat there it dawned on me that this is probably what Russia is like during the years when it's not hosting the Olympics. The crowd was full of what I can only suppose were grandparents, parents and community members, and I couldn't help but feel my heart wrench at the thought of all the preparation that must have gone into their performance.

This is life outside of the Olympics, I suppose, life as it is for every month of the year that is not filled with tourists and sporting events. This is the life I love to write.

The day we re-did yesterday

Today started off with a lovely recap of yesterday. Due to certain unavoidable circumstances - the wrong story being told, camera malfunction and plain old human mistakes - both the pin trading and the international views on Kentucky stories needed to be redone. The flags in front of IBC.

But first on the agenda was a visit to the International Broadcast Center (IBC) here in Sochi. One of our group leaders got us guest passes into the center and the Olympic Park, so we spent about an hour touring the building. There are two sections: IBC proper, where the broadcasters (OBS, BBC, etc) work, and the Main Press Center (MPC) where all the print outlets (New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters, etc) work. I was more than a little in awe over the whole process.

While there, we filmed a short story about an Asbury grad, Kristin, who works at the Olympics and actually won an Emmy in 2012 for her work at the X-Games. Basically, her life is the actual best thing in the world; she has had so many cool experiences and the Sochi Games are her 5th Olympics (she's been to London, Vancouver, Beijing and Salt Lake City as well).

While Meredith, Madison and Prof. Leckie shot the story, the rest of us sat on a bench and browsed the pages of a brochure about the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Let me tell you, that booklet was very effective; halfway through it, I decided that I want to attend the 2018 Games. Heck, I'd like to attend all of them from here on out. New York Times, give me a desk in your cubicle at the MPC and I will be happy for life.

One of the other really great parts was an 8K experimental television. I'm not entirely sure what 8K means, but most cinemas are broadcast in 4K. We watched a quick figure skating in clip in 8K, and it was so real it looked as though we were right on the ice watching him. I could gladly have spent the rest of my life in that room.

After a quick lunch at McDonald's, we split into two teams. While Madison, Ashley, Aaron, Alex and Prof. Leckie went in search of people to interview about Kentucky, Cassie, Meredith, Mrs. Owens, Sarah Owens and I set about searching for pin traders to interview.

IMG_0001

The point of this story was to follow the LEX18/Asbury University pin, of which only 200 are in circulation. Cassie approached people on the street and asked them if they'd seen the pin, and what they thought of it or what they had heard of it. We got some great footage; apparently, it's a pretty desirable pin. LEX18's affiliation with NBC, along with the limited number of pins in existence, appear to have made this a pretty popular find.

In the meantime, we also indulged in some personal pin trading, something most of our team has been addicted to since yesterday, when we discovered the adrenaline rush it brings. My favorite pins so far are a 2006 Torino NBC pin and a 2010 Sochi Associated Press pin. Basically, I just love media outlets.

A highlight of the day was how early we finished; it's only 10 p.m. here in Russia, and we've already been working on editing our videos for the past hour. Fingers crossed that we'll get to bed early and have a free day tomorrow!