Worth 1000 Words #3: Sweet Sixteen

Call me a killjoy, but I am not a birthday person. As in, I dislike my own birthday. I enjoy celebrating the birthdays of friends and family as they see fit, and will happily go along with whatever shenanigans are planned as long as they are legal, but I prefer to keep mine on the down low, so I haven’t had a traditional “birthday party” since I was a kid. Dinner and a movie with some family or friends and I’m solid for another year. I don’t like a big to-do about things.

My sixteenth birthday was a little different.

The “sweet sixteen” is often seen as a milestone birthday (at least in American culture) and a lot of teens throw a big bash in celebration. Some are luxurious, exorbitantly expensive affairs, as shown in that old MTV show My Super Sweet Sixteen that aired while I was growing up, which featured whiny brats who get Hummers or BMWs as a birthday gift and then have the audacity to complain about the color, while other sweet sixteens tend to be more subtle and subdued.

My sixteenth birthday was the latter sort of event. To the extreme. Also, it was very, very indicative of the area where I grew up.

When I turned sixteen — which was over eight years ago, a nice, cringe-inducing realization I just had — I was going through a bit of a difficult time. After having reconstructive knee surgery the previous October and enduring a long rehabilitation process, I’d just learned, fairly early in the track season, that I was never going to be able to come back from my initial injury at the same level I used to be, effectively ending my athletic career for good. That, and I was a typical moody teenager, dealing with the daily problems that moody teenagers face, which are pretty insignificant in hindsight. So all in all, a pretty angsty time in awkward-Allie’s teenage life.

On the day of my sixteenth birthday, I left the athletic trainer’s office after an extra rehab session, and, since I didn’t have to go to track practice any more, I waited for my sister to come pick me up and take me home. I don’t think we had any other plans for the evening birthday celebration-wise, considering it was a school night and birthday festivities were probably being delayed until the weekend. But when my sister pulled up and I got in the passenger seat, she informed me that we were not going home, we were going somewhere else. I asked where, and she said it was a surprise — which, if you know my sister, set off warning bells in my head.

And then she drove me to a local dairy farm.

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Please ignore my terrible hair. As I’ve said, it was a difficult time in more ways than one…

Now, in rural PA, dairy farms and farms in general aren’t what I’d call rare. But they aren’t really a place to go, if you know what I mean. There aren’t crazy parties or hangout sessions at the local dairy farm — those are reserved for the local 24-hour convenience store/gas stations, which are the place to be during summer vacation. The last time I’d been to a dairy farm was when I was in kindergarten, about five or six years old, and my class took a tour of one as a field trip. During the trip, my entire hand ended up in a cow’s mouth, which wasn’t a pleasant experience to say the least. I might have cried, but I think I buried the details of that memory very, very deep in my subconscious.

So when we pulled up to the farm, and my sister gleefully informed me, “We’re going to go pet some baby cows!” I was a little leery. Naturally, of all the things that could have happened on my sixteenth birthday, petting cows was not on my radar at all. Also, I should mention, this wasn’t some weird delinquent episode where my sister and I snuck into a dairy farm to pet cows, this was something that the farm permitted. As in, anyone could go and do this if they felt so inclined, or to satisfy some cow-petting urges, or to see where some of our local milk comes from.

So, we got out of the car, approached the cow pens, and we pet some baby cows. I was a little nervous due to my traumatic past experience with similar cows, but my sister took the lead, and, seeing as her hand did not end up in contact with a cow’s esophagus, I eventually reached a tentative hand out to a calf named Ringo. Ringo was adorable, with his soft fur and his big, sweet brown eyes. He sniffed my sleeve, as you can see in the embedded photo, and it was the start of a fledgling bovine/human friendship. After a bit, one of the employees  asked if we wanted to help feed the calves, and thus, we ended up each taking a large bottle of milk and letting the baby cows go to town. We were only there for a little while, but I had an unexpectedly enjoyable time. Def recommend and absolutely would go again.

Of all the things to do on my sixteenth birthday, I ended up petting cows at a dairy farm. I don’t think a lot of people can say that, except for people who live on dairy farms, but unorthodox as it was, it actually meant a lot to me that my sister thought to take me there, considering I don’t like to make a big deal about my birthday. No, I didn’t have a big bash with all my friends and no, I didn’t get a car, and no, I didn’t throw a tantrum because my parents didn’t pay to have my favorite popstar sing happy birthday to me. But it was an awesome sweet sixteen nonetheless, and one of my most memorable birthdays yet.

Worth 1000 Words #2: Poetry and The Dark Knight

There are a lot of things in this world that, when combined, make a perfect pair. Peanut butter and jelly, for instance. Cheese and crackers. Cereal and milk. Chips and salsa – or, alternatively, chips and guacamole. But some pairings are not so obvious… like Batman and Walt Whitman.

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Me, circa 2012, deep in speech mode.

I decided to explore this unusual combo for my Major Authors/Walt Whitman class while I was at university. After struggling for several days to nail down a topic for my 20-30 page paper, I realized that there are only a few subjects that I know anything of substance about, and one of those topics is Batman. So, while sitting in an airport, I emailed my professor, asking “How far out of the box are we allowed to go with our paper topic?” Her response was: “Box =========>Topic,” thus assuring me that I could be as unorthodox as I desired. After presenting her with my ideas, she granted me her approval, and I set to work, scouring my many Batman-related resources and a well-worn copy of Leaves of Grass to achieve what was probably the best paper of my academic career… with the possible exception of a Tron: Legacy paper, which I am very fond of.

This paper led to me becoming an undergraduate presenter at the 2012 national PCA/ACA conference in Boston, MA. George Takei was the guest speaker that year, and there were so many amazing presentations and intriguing concepts that I instantly felt out-of-place upon my arrival. Since I would be making my presentation on the second day of the conference, my friend and I sat in on the first day of undergraduate presentations to get an idea of what I was going to endure. It was going well, at first. There was a presentation about The Vampire Diaries, one about gender equality. Then one girl gave a presentation about politics (I forget exactly what it was about, but it was very informative and she was well-spoken) and a man in the audience absolutely RIPPED HER TO SHREDS with questions. I was sitting in the back and could FEEL this girl’s bewilderment as this man tore into her, and there was nothing she could say to counter his scathing remarks. She just sank down in her seat and fell silent. It was mortifying to witness, and I began to fear for my life. What if the same thing happened to me? If someone questioned me like that after my presentation I would crumple like an autumn leaf! I CANNOT HANDLE THE PRESSURE.

After a night of nonstop worrying and listening to some tracks from The Dark Knight soundtrack to calm my anxiety, the next day arrived, relentlessly swift, and I walked into the conference room where my presentation was to take place. There were five of us set to present, and I was third in the roster. I was also the ONLY person who did not dress formally. The other four students were in suits, dress shirts, and proper business attire. One girl wore a dress. Me? I was in ripped jeans and a Batman T-shirt. No one informed me that there was a dress code.

My entourage was in the audience, ready to cheer me on. I had a fancy power-point presentation all set up, and even offered to let the other students use my laptop for their own presentations, so we wouldn’t have to shift cords and switch outlets. One girl gratefully took me up on the offer, but the professor of the first presenter snidely informed me that her student “would prefer to use his OWN laptop.” Okay. Great start.

Things went from bad to worse when our moderator/chair showed up… and it was the same man who lambasted the girl from the presentation I saw the day before. I very nearly fainted when I saw him walk in, and my friend and I exchanged a look of pure horror. I was doomed. DOOMED. Even the Caped Crusader couldn’t save me from this.

Anyway, I was, glaringly, the odd man out of this group. The first student presented something about football and hegemony, and the second something about Scottish nationalism. Both very esteemed topics. I wish I could say I remembered anything about their projects, but I don’t, because I was too busy ruminating my pending demise to really pay attention, which doesn’t imply anything about their speeches. Really, I was too anxious to absorb anything other than my own fear, and kept repeating, “Why did I agree to do this? WHY? WHYYYY?” over and over in my head.

My turn came. I drew in a deep breath, and, though my voice shook at the start, I launched into my presentation, which I’d practiced rigorously for a week. My power-point was masterful, featuring only the best transitions. I nailed the quotes, and the points of comparison. It was a blur of poetry and justice, and the memory of my own presentation is somewhat hazy in my head, but I remember the burst of applause, and the ensuing relief when I finished.

The final two presenters went, and then it was time for the final hurdle; QUESTION TIME. Naturally, a voice said, “I’ve got a question. For Miss *real last name*”

It was the moderator, of course.

I inhaled deeply, ready to be eviscerated, and he proceeded to tell me that he enjoyed my presentation and wanted to know what I thought about Adam West’s portrayal of Batman in relation to Whitman, to which I gave a reply of how Batman has somehow, in each of his incarnations, reflected society at the time, and then something about Whitman’s poetry doing the same. He nodded, satisfied, and then fielded the remainder of the questions, several of which were directed to me. I survived.

Better yet? I triumphed, in the face of fear and doubt. And now, when I get nervous about things like this, I ask myself only one question: What would Batman/Walt Whitman do?

 

 

Worth 1000 Words #1: Frolicking

248619_10150287907168132_5808987_nIn the spring/summer of 2011, I spent two months traversing England with a group of about 20 other students and a rotating cast of four professors. I had my inhibitions about going at first – I had only just finished a rough first year of college, wasn’t sure I would be able to make friends on the trip, didn’t want to be stuck with people who didn’t like me for the whole session, had never left the east coast of the United States in my entire life, and was seriously considering transferring to a university closer to home for the next semester. But when I called my parents and told them about the trip, and all of the reasons why I thought I shouldn’t go, they told me that I would be pretty foolish not to, considering the perks, affordable cost, and potential for an excellent experience. A couple of older classmates also told me that they were going on the trip and would welcome me into their ranks. So, with much reluctance, I decided to take a risk and go. And it was probably the best decision of my entire academic/collegiate career.

 

I did a ton of stuff while I was in England. I got to see one of my favorite performers, Alfie Boe, as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on the West End. I chased a cat through a graveyard (long story). I got to stand in the ocean on the beach at Brighton. I saw a play at the Globe Theater and my inner Shakespeare fangirl was squealing pretty much the entire time. My classmates and I wore Krispy Kreme sailor hats and carried a bunch of balloons while touring Oxford for reasons which, to this day, are unclear. I got to touch the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden. Several of us witnessed a car chase while on a Jack The Ripper Tour in one of the worst sections of London. We started a “Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme Song” rap during a trip on the Tube, and several of the other passengers joined in. Several of us got lost on a country walk, but ended up making it to an adorable pub with some of the best food I’ve ever had. I got to live in a quaint flat with some great roommates, even though we had to survive our “swamp bathroom” for the entire two months. I got to take a weekend jaunt to Paris with some of my very best friends on the trip, and got to see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and parts of the Louvre. And, in a stroke of immense luck for all of us, it didn’t even rain a lot while we were there; rain was only a major issue about a total of seven days out of the entire two months. I packed rain boots and only had to wear them on the day we went to Portsmouth, and my feet were roasting by the end of that trip.

I have a lot of memories from England, luckily memorialized in photos and quotes. But there was one activity that I indulged in more than my other classmates; and that is frolicking. I’m not really sure what it was about the trip as a whole, but no matter where we were, if I saw an open stretch of grass, I determined that it was prime for the frolicking, and promptly spread my arms out wide and leapt my way across, sometimes taking more than one bound, just to make sure to reach my frolicking quota for each location. But not only that, I had to appoint official photographers to document all of my sick moves. Because let me tell you, I am a wicked frolicker. Like, people definitely stared at me whilst I pranced my way across several English landmarks and attractions, though they may have been more disturbed than impressed, but whatever.

There’s something inherently freeing about frolicking. The wind at your back, propelling you forward as you leap like a gazelle from one patch of grass to another. I frolicked across the grass at the Royal Crescent in Bath, where the attached photo is from. I frolicked through Kew Gardens – though, I assure you, no flowers were harmed in my ventures. I frolicked through the countryside, though Kensington Gardens, the water in the beach at Brighton, the deer-infested fields in Richmond, not far from where my classmates and I studied during the day. I was a frolicking machine.

And I think it all began with that first, tentative leap – the leap I took when I decided to throw caution to the wind and go on the England trip in the first place. It was, in my mind, an immense risk, because I am not a risk-taker by nature. If given two options, one being the play-it-safe route, and the other the high-risk/high-reward path, I am guaranteed to take the former every time. But after that first leap, the subsequent leaps got a lot easier. Less frightening, less intimidating. I stopped caring what people might think of me. I stopped noticing when people would frown or sneer or snicker at me for choosing to make myself look like a prancing, arm-flailing fool in front of both natives and tourists alike, because I was having fun. All it took was one little leap, and I found the courage to take several more – while I was in England, and also in the days and years that followed. Frolicking across the pond helped boost my confidence, and helped me turn that two month trip into one of the most memorable and influential experiences of my entire life, and thanks to that, I have a ton of memories – frolicking-related and otherwise – that I will always hold dear.

Now, five years later, some leaps still frighten me – but the idea of taking risks doesn’t paralyze me like it used to, and I look forward to frolicking away to other parts of the world, someday.