Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Life's Not Fair

On June 20, 2013 I went to a book signing for Neil Gaiman in Saratoga Springs, New York. He's a best-selling author and a writer of science fiction, horror, television, movies, comic books, and fantasy. I'm more than a fangirl of his. He falls with a very short list of my favorite authors. In order to get to his signing on time I made my mother drive out to Boston to get me, which is an eight hour trip for her and requires a commitment to bring me back. The book was published June 18th, but I wanted to be sure that at the signing on the 20th I would know what was going on so I read the entire book in 48 hours. My mother and I finished the book in the parking lot of the signing. I was glad I finished it, though, because it helped me decide what I was going to say when I got my twenty seconds with Neil Gaiman. I had the page with my favorite quote dog-eared and I was excited beyond belief by the time we arrived an hour before the program began. I knew he was popular, but I didn't expect the 1,500 people that actually showed up. After all, Saratoga's population is only 25,000 people. When we walked in we were assigned a signing group. I pulled group F. I didn't know if that was bad. I mean after all F isn't terrible if you use all the letters in the alphabet. I sat contentedly during the reading that preceded the signing with the knowledge that we were at the venue plenty early. When they started calling numbers it became apparent F wasn't good. It put us near the end and meant we would have to wait at least five or six hours. The people that sat behind us were a full ten minutes later than my mother and me, but they got C. The assignments must have been random, but it felt personal. It felt like the fact that my book with the dog-eared page marking my favorite quote meant nothing. It didn't matter that I had the perfect thing to say in twenty seconds. I wasn't going to get my twenty seconds because our whole family was coming to town. We needed to be home before midnight.

I walked out of that signing extremely sullen. If I'm honest there were tears involved. I didn't want to be upset, but there was nobody to be angry with so I could only blame myself for getting my own hopes up. It wasn't Neil Gaiman's fault that he had that many fans. It wasn't the bookstore's fault that they had a system that didn't favor me. I looked at my mom and said, "One of the ideas of the book was that life isn't fair. I guess he's just reinforcing it." I stand by that. I would have liked to tell Neil Gaiman that his books have been entertaining me for years and that his latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane was particularly poignant because the overall theme is owing someone your life and nobody knows better than someone who had a heart transplant what it's like to have to grow up and be worth another human life, but I didn't get that opportunity. 

By the end of the drive home I had settled into a moderate angst. After unpacking my suitcase I checked my mail and there was a package for me. I didn't know what it was, but I had a guess. The package was a book called Sea of Sorrows. It was written by Ree Soesbee who is definitely my favorite author ever. She works at ArenaNet as a Narrative Designer for Guild Wars 2 and is entirely made of awesome. I liked her writing way before Guild Wars and now that she has written a novel set in Tyria where my favorite video game exists I like her writing even better. I carefully unwrapped the book and saw a post-it note with her signature on it. After announcing that I was keeping the post-it forever I flipped the book open to see if she signed it. I figured it would be silly to ship the book across the country if it wasn't signed. It was, of course, and even had a nice note. I started crying again at the note. I've never had a signed book before. As I read and re-read the note I caught a glimpse of my name and wondered which Emily Ree had dedicated the book to. It was me. My next thought was that this was a special copy just for me. My father reminded me that they don't do that with paperback books. Ree has since confirmed that every single book is dedicated to me. It blows my mind. The book comes out today and thousands of people will read that dedication. Thousands of humans will know that Ree thinks I'm important. It's cool beyond belief. It's honoring and humbling and it makes me wish there were bigger words for thankful. 
As I was failing to process my over-emotional day I said, "I guess life isn't fair in both directions." It is so unfair that I was lucky enough to meet a woman as amazing as Ree, even if it was only for a day. There are a lot of people that would have wanted to go on that Make-a-Wish, but I was the one that did. My brother bought me that game as a present randomly. My heart failure was anything but fair. I have been so fortunate that I have met spectacular people and I always have plenty of chocolate to eat, but I've been miserably unlucky that my heart failed and I didn't get twenty seconds with Neil Gaiman. Life's not fair. Sometimes on the same day that one amazing author blows you off an even better one dedicates a book to you. None of it will ever make sense to me because I'm so small and insignificant compared to life, but I can tell you that I enjoy being alive even when I pull an F for my signing group.

Thank you Ree. It's a great book. Everyone should go buy it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Living Through the Comma Splices

I'm only halfway through my college career, but I feel like I am a decent English major. I've taken all the classes on grammar that I'm going to take and I can write a solid essay under the right circumstances. For me, learning grammar wasn't the desirable part of being an English major. I was interested in finding out how meaning is conveyed in a story. I was interested in learning how authors weave language into emotion. I was not interested in learning about comma splices and semicolons. The professors here taught me smidgens of grammar despite my resistance. I won't be diagramming your sentences anytime soon and if you read this blog you will find typographical and grammatical errors aplenty, but comma splices are a particularly grievous error I attempt to avoid. In the same way that listening to the Pachelbel Rant makes it so you can't unhear Pachelbel's canon in every modern pop song and the Death Star will always look like the AT&T logo after someone points it out, once you know what a comma splice is you will notice every single one. Twitter has comma splices. Best-selling authors have comma splices. Actually, even the Bible has comma splices. Bad grammar is everywhere and totally inappropriate for me to point out in almost all situations.

It's not annoying to me that people don't know that sentences can only have one independent clause; it's annoying to me that I think it. I wish I could watch lap swim without correcting everyone's stroke in my mind just as much as I wish I could enjoy bad writing simply for the ideas and story, but I can't. If authors (even young ones) refuse to learn about comma splices and run-ons then I can't really respect them. I don't really care about grammar; I just want language to be clear and easy to understand. I want to know that people respect the complexity in language. When people who aren't dyslexic and have been speaking a language since birth string together run-ons haphazardly it tells me that they don't think the way we communicate is important. I don't have time for people who aren't willing to admit the miracle that is linguistics. Our languages have astonishingly few lexical gaps, a surprising amount of depth, and an improbable level of nuance. I can live with comma splices, but it's a struggle because I believe so strongly that intelligent discourse hinges on an appreciation for the language you are using.

Please point out my grammar mistakes in comments below. I'm stressed out about it in this particular post.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Orientation

Today is the start of summer orientation for Simmons College's Class of 2017. We are going to ignore the fact that 2017 sounds like a date out of science fiction and proceed to my strange experience interacting with the almost first-years. My strange experience basically consisted of thinking, "Wow. They're idiots. Was I this much of an idiot?" Yes. I was. They don't know anything about college. Nothing at all. One kid (I've relegated them to children even though I was them two years ago) asked if  we had different classes every semester. That question is so high school. In high school you take English for four years with little change in content or approach. Yawn. How did we survive that monotony? Were our brains so narrow? One freshmen was from Arizona and didn't know what snow boots were. I may have forgotten my snow boots at home for a period of time this year, but at least I know the concept.

It makes me wonder why last year I understood those confused little first years and this year I don't. I don't understand why they're all so nervous. Simmons will take care of them. I don't understand why they are so shy. Don't they know that Simmons is the most empowering place they'll ever experience?  I don't even understand what they don't understand. In just a couple moths their lives are going to be so full of thinking and learning that they will look at their past selves like idiots who make no sense. They can't see it yet. There was no particular class or experience I can attribute to whatever growth separated us, the me that went to Orientation and the me that is now, but a chasm has broken between the person I was then and the person I am now. Slowly, over time I've been brainwashed into thinking college is the best experience a person could have if they are looking to achieve personal growth.

I went to the North End with the beautiful little fools to get pastries and stare at a rainbow. One of these pictures I took today. One I stole from Facebook of the exact same rainbow. My transformation over the last two years was caused by the light of a great institution, the university, coming towards me as a lot of different photons from different people and then reflecting off of a million little moments that were all falling in the entropy of time, but when looked at from far away is partly beautiful and partly magic. The change only makes sense as a sliver of a larger sky, but is a good part of that canvas. I'm happy with the rainbow Simmons has given me in the last year because even if it makes understanding first years difficult and it only exists from certain vantage points it makes my bit of sky a little more interesting.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Empathy

I always sort of thought empathy was something you were born with. Well, maybe I knew you weren't born with it, but I at least thought that when kids were two and realized other people had ideas, agendas, opinions, and that you don't always get "your way" they developed empathy for those opinions that other people have. I've learned this summer that empathy grows a lot slower than I first thought. 

I learn a little more about the preschool every week. Last summer I learned to call their students "friends" and when they get resistant that all you have to say is "this is not a choice." This summer I noticed that when the kids kick, splash, hit, take, or generally irritate each other the teachers don't say, "we don't hit. Hitting is wrong," which is my first reaction, but instead they say, "we don't hit. It makes our friend ____ sad." This explanation enforces proper behavior, but also teaches empathy. Most of the kids would still probably qualify as psychopaths when they are five. That might be an offensive way to put it, but at the explanation of "it makes our friend ___ sad" they often tilt their heads to the side and look confused like they'd never thought about the way their actions impacted others. I'm not sure when people get all their empathy. I feel like I have a fair amount now, but I could use a little more.

I don't want to be too empathetic. I don't to feel all the world's problems at once. If I felt each of the 107 deaths of every minute as much as I felt the death of a friend I'd instantly crumple into a ball of sadness and refuse to continue existing in such a terrible world, but I want to remember to be grateful for my life and my health. Empathy gives us the perspective that little kids lack. Sometimes I want just a bit more so I can say (as The Doctor does), "I've never met anybody who wasn't important before." Sometimes when I talk to people I struggle to find why they matter and perhaps, when my empathy grows, I'll be a better human who can really see how special they are. I really hope that my empathy is still growing. It would be fantastic if every person I met taught me what makes them sad so that I could eventually be sensitive to everyone's experience.