Friday, July 17, 2009

Thoughts on a Trip to California, 18 1/2 Hours Before

I’ve always disliked change. Within 24 hours, my life will be totally flipped upside down and shaken sideway for a month.

I think a lot of the time I write to make sense of things around me. A constant theme in the novel I’m currently writing has been that one of the main characters is flexible and loves changeableness, while the other hates anything to change and can’t stand uncertainty. It’s a theme that’s appeared more and more as July 18th draws closer.

Tomorrow morning I head to fly out of Dallas with Mar and Telpe. We’ll be flying into California, and spending two weeks with our aunt and uncle there. I guess I should be excited. Instead I just feel incredibly apprehensive. Maybe part of it is because trips aren’t usually enjoyable for me. Maybe part of it is because I’m afraid it will be enjoyable, and I have no place in my head for things like that anymore. I really don’t know.

Also, I can’t deny that I have a terror of airports now. I’ve had countless bad dreams about being stuck in airports alone since December. I keep telling myself that the chances of something going terribly wrong twice in a row are incredibly slim, but it’s hard to be rational when your first flying experience (not counting half-remembered images of airports from flying to and back from Africa as a toddler) ended up so badly. Of course, I can tell myself that I survived that quite proficiently, and that it only lasted for about 18 hours, and then I was rescued. Then I tell myself that Mar will be with me this time, and he’ll have a debit card with him so we’ll have all the money we’ll need, and I’ll have my iPod with all the phone numbers we need, and if worst comes to worst we can get online via my iPod and message someone to come help us. I know now how to navigate airports and find what I need. There is a world of difference between this time and The Airport Saga. But I still don’t want to go into an airport. I don’t mind the plane itself. I like airplanes, far more than cars (which may just be because they’re still new and exciting to me). But I have no interest in airports.

Plus, I have no idea what to expect from the trip itself. This is going to be the first real “vacation” kind of trip I’ve ever taken. My family tends to operate in a very low-key mode, as far as most Americans would be concerned. For “vacation” we go camping (tent camping, no less), or up to a mission station in North Carolina, or to visit grandparents. We don’t do theme parks or tourist attractions or stay in fancy hotels and lodges, because they’re just too expensive. But in California we’ll basically be doing a full tourist experience. I have no idea how to even process that concept. At Disney Land I’ll probably just head straight for the coasters, because they make sense to me. Plus, they’ll remind me of Sixflags and the last Skillet concert, which is always comforting.

Also, I will have limited internet time. Over the past year the internet has been my sanity and my lifeline. It’s where all the people I actually trust enough to talk to are, and so I feel totally isolated and alone whenever I can’t be online. It’s not necessarily that I think I shouldn’t talk to people face to face, it’s just that I can’t talk to any of these people face to face, so the internet is the next best thing. And that’s going to be mostly gone. There are so many people who I won’t be there for. The thought of someone needing to talk to me, needing encouragement, needing prayer… and I’m not there… that makes me furiously angry with myself. I feel like a deserter.

Then of course I won’t be working for a whole month. That’s almost as bad. I haven’t taken more than two or three weeks off in over a year, and even when I did take time off, I felt guilty. That’s a full month that I won’t be earning money. It’s also a full month that my coworkers (and my Father) have to do without me. That makes me feel incredibly irresponsible.

It’s not that I don’t understand that this trip is a great opportunity. I know that. I love my uncle, and I enjoy spending time with him. It’s just that the whole thing feels like I’m being irresponsible and self-centered in order to do something I’m afraid of doing anyway.

And of course, the bottom line is, I just hate change. I’ve spent all day every day for two months at class or in work, then alone at night, on my computer with my Skillet and my graphics and my writing. And I like that. I’ve been more content than I had been in a year, because being alone like that is so safe, and so much less exhausting (besides the fact that almost everyone being gone from my University is a source of much happiness to me anyway).

So the long and short of it is that I’m sitting here thinking “why don’t I just stay home for the next two weeks and then go to the moot in August?” Not an option. I often remind myself that there are only two kinds of things in my life: that which I must do, and that which I can’t allow myself to do. Nothing else matters.

Before I leave tomorrow morning: another 5 hours of work at the library amidst the chaos of the freshmen’s pre-orientation, finish packing my checked bag and pack my carry on and purse, go shopping with Em for a new pair of jeans, write at least another 3,000 words, clean the church with my family for 3 – 4 hours, sync my iPod, and hopefully sleep at least a little. Oh, and maybe answer more of the messages piled in various inboxes.

Hopefully I’ll be able to update this blog a few times over the next month. “Keep a weather eye on the horizon…”

- Elraen -

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Whispering Star

Meet Whisper.


Whisper (whos full name is WhisperingStar - long, long thought process behind that name, ask me if you want to hear it all, but obviously it's partly a play on Wandering Star) is my brand new 16 GB iPod touch. I waited a long, long time for her.

I've wanted an iPod for years now. My parents gave me a little MP3 player for Christmas when I was 16, and it went everywhere with me. It was only 2 GB, and pretty quickly it developed some major quirks, but it was like a lifeline. My family called it my IV. When I started college, I would listen to it while walking from class to class, I would listen to it while doing homework away from home, I would listen to it in the car.

Then, in September last year, it died.

I was so upset that I nearly cried. That was a very bad stretch of my life overall, and the fact that I now would have no way of listening to my music unless I had my laptop seemed strangely devastating at the time.

But of course life goes on, and we find we can live without things. I knew I had to buy textbooks and pay for insurance and other nasty grow-up things like that. So I decided I would have to wait.

Towards the beginning of this summer, as I got my work schedule nailed down, I started thinking about the iPod again. Both last summer and this summer I've allowed myself to get one really nice thing to reward myself for working and paying for all my necessary expenses. Last summer it was my camera, The Martian (that name is totally not my fault. Can I blame Joy?). This summer I decided it would be an iPod.

But, I knew nothing about iPods, aside from that my brother's decrepit iPod classic did not seem to appealing to me. So I started asking around. Coincidentally, I ended up going on the advice of the same person who advised me to get the model of camera I did. She told me about all the different features of the iPod touch, and after some back-up opinions from others (mostly friends on the Skillet boards), I decided that that was what I wanted. Despite the fact that it's the nicest, and thus most expensive, iPod currently on the market (not counting the iPhone).

So I saved. I knew I had to pay for other expenses first. I paid off all my school fees for the summer and next semester, minus textbooks. I finished saving money for our Colorado trip in August (I've been working extra hours since January to pay for that). I wrote and revised budgets for the summer. I decided on exactly which paycheck I would spend on the iPod. And I waited.

I ordered the iPod the morning I got the paycheck. My older brother, who has an apple account, helped me order. More waiting. According to the calculations I made, it wouldn't come until the following Friday. But instead, it arrived on Wednesday morning, yesterday.

As soon as the FedEx truck pulled out and I saw the size of the package I knew it must be mine. I signed for it and took it inside. My older sister was the only other one home, and I was shaking so much that she had to help me open the package.

The wreckage after we opened the package:


I am enthralled by the shininess:


Turning on for the first time:


Syncing the library:


First song played on Whisper: "Monster" by Skillet


First video played on Whisper: "Whispers in the Dark" by Skillet


Let's try it with the earphones now:


Discovering the Internet capabilities that evening:


Overall, I have rarely made an investment I am so pleased with. Which is good, considering how much I paid for it. I keep telling people that I feel like it's way too cool for me. I also have a paranoia that I'm going to break it or something. But at the same time, I'm just so thrilled to have it. I can listen to music while walking to work. I have endless apps to occupy me if I'm waiting in line somewhere and get bored. I can send e-mails from anywhere. Music is very, very important to me, and for that reason, getting an iPod is very much worth it.

And I'll admit that my first thought when I heard it had internet capabilities was "we're going on to an airport in July. If I have internet, I can contact people if something goes terribly wrong." Yes, the ordeal in December left its mark on me.

Finally, the most special thing about the iPod is that I got it engraved with my favorite lyrics. These lyrics have meant a lot to me for more than two years now, but even more since the Skillet concert in April. I also have my name on it (at my older brother's insistance), but I've blurred it out in this picture for precaution's sake.


God bless!
- Elraen, the Wandering Star -

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not Finished, Not a Failure

Yesterday I walked up to the registrar's office and dropped a class for the first, and hopefully last, time in my life. I've talked to many of you about how much I was looking forward to this class and how excited I was, so perhaps in a sense this blog entry is an explanation.

I heard about this class towards the beginning of the Spring semester. And English professor I didn't know very well came to the library desk with a huge stack of Tolkien books, and as I checked them out for him I started a casual conversation (considering how much the subject interests me). I found out he would be teaching a class on Tolkien's works in the summer. I immediately decided I would be taking it. Anyone who knows me at all would view it as a given that I would.

I talked to my advisor and learned that the class would not cover any of my necessary credits, but that was OK with me because I love the subject so much. So I signed up for the class and looked forward to it immensely.

I got through the literature class I was taking, and then started the Tolkien class the next day. For about the first week, I was mostly alright with it. I even got to read a few shorter pieces I hadn't read before. The class proved to be difficult on my schedule, as it meant I had to be late to work every day and I had to bring something to eat at the desk in the library for lunch, but I decided I could just keep working around that.

But as time went on, a few things changed. One, I realized I wasn't learning anything. This didn't bother me too much at first; after all, I've learned very little in the English and Literature classes I've taken in college thus far (excepting my very first composition class which I did as dual credit while still in highschool). That kind of thing is like playing for me; it requires little to no effort. The Tolkien class was no different. Also, several of the other students seemed to believe themselves very knowledgeable on the subject of Tolkien, which I found slightly irritating yet vaguely amusing considering no one else in the class but my brother had actually even read The Silmarillion (which I've read through four times, in case you wondered). What did frustrate me is when they would get things wrong and be too prideful to be corrected. Furthermore, I am a very quiet person, and the class was set in discussion format. That is the worst possible format for me. The professor can talk to me for hours and I'll drink it in and learn. But the moment you ask me to say something, I get lost, confused, and feel like a total idiot. Every time I even tried to offer a thought, one of the guys would interrupt me and ignore what I had said. I gave up, because I'm perfectly content to listen. It's what I do. However, it meant I wasn't participating in the class.

When we reached the discussion of The Lord of the Rings, yet more changed. Primarily the fact that the teacher began mercilessly criticizing the movies. Even when he talked about the book, it was in the context of “and this is an area where Peter Jackson, once again, failed.” Understand, I do not by any means believe that the movies are perfect. I have annoyances with them; many, in fact. But no movie is perfect. That said, I believe Lord of the Rings comes as close as any movies possibly can to perfection. They totally changed my life, and had a huge impact on the person I have become (see my blog post from February on the subject). So for me to hear them shredded, day after day, was incredibly painful. It felt like I myself was being torn apart, because the movies are part of me. I was nearly in tears by the end of class one day, and I realized “this is ridiculous. Why am I doing this?”

In addition to that, I noticed a disturbing trend in myself. I was starting to complain about the class. Not just laying out my opinions, logically and rationally. I would come home and bitterly rant. This is very out of character for me, because I have fought so hard against it. I have an incredibly strong natural tendency to be negative about things. However, two years ago I gave that to God and waited to see what He could do. The result is that I only slip into complaining and being really negative if I feel wounded, lost, cornered, and like I have no other way out (note that I have been very negative at times about school in general, and the people there – that's why. I'm not excusing the behavior, simply explaining it). I am constantly fighting against the urge to be bitter, and this class was drawing that old tendency out in me to an alarming degree.

Basically, I could see no possible reason for staying in the class. I wasn't learning anything. I wasn't enjoying it. I couldn't even claim I was in it to spend time with my brother, considering he sleeps through class most days (I don't know how he does it – Mar is like a sleeping machine). I was only going to hurt myself and those around me more by staying in it. So I worked up the courage to e-mail my professor and advisor, and I dropped it.

It's my natural first inclination to feel like this was a major failure on my part. I keep thinking I should have made it work. But then I realize did I really need to make this work?

The last day of class that I sat in on, I prayed before going to class and asked God to guide me that day and show me what He would have me do. We watched part of the movie that day, Moria to be specific. Gandalf's line to Frodo hit me very, very hard. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you. What would I rather do? Sit in on a class with no foreseeable benefits and be miserable for two hours a day? Or spend two extra hours at home, helping my mother, playing with my dear, funny little brother who I hardly ever get to see, eating lunch normally, and getting to work on time?

I don't think the decision I made was a failure. Not this time, at least. I just have to remind myself of that.

And of course there is the regret that something I was looking forward to so very much ended up being nothing but more frustration and disillusionment. But that is the story of my entire college experience thus far: look forward to it, dream, and reach it and find out it's all dust and ashes crumbling in my hands. I feel absolutely no ill will to the teacher; I can't blame him for opinions. I would never blame anyone for that. And I will not mourn for one class that falls by the wayside. In the grand scheme of things, the most meaningful thing is that I'm consciously choosing the road that I believe is right.

- Elraen -