It’s a digital photograph of analog photography equipment…how meta. A couple of months ago, I was home in DC to visit my parents and was advised to pack up all my books and things from the attic. Now that I have a house of my own, this was not only a good idea, but I missed my books. They are old friends that trace a very turbulent part of my history. The books I read in middle school and high school were a crucial part of my self-discovery. And while they did hold meaning sitting on the bookshelves of their birth – in a museum kind of way where I could go and look upon the space of my youth, they truly belonged with me. Among the double-packed books was another old, but not forgotten, friend: my Canon FTb Ql camera.
After the HBO Access Fellowship debacle where Withoutabox.com crashed in the mad rush to upload applications before the 1000-entry cap was met, I got so upset and depressed about missing an opportunity that I realized I was still searching for some kind of validation and permission. Well, screw that. One of the best things I walked out of USC with was an ability to pick up a camera and make a film without a need for anyone’s permission. It was liberating, because I had needed this external approval for so long. A day or so after, I received an email from the Writer’s Store about a screenplay contest where they provide the logline and you write the first 15 pages. I thought – this sounds like fun. I’m currently finished working on my novel, awaiting feedback from my Beta readers, so I wasn’t actively writing anything and I need that in my life. I also decided I would write the full script for this logline and set it in Houston and write something that I could reasonably produce as an indie feature. I don’t need no permission.
I would be remiss if I didn’t review INSURGENT, since I’ve posted before about reading the series by Veronica Roth and my admiration of some of her choices. However, with time, the appeal of both the series and the movie franchise has lost some of its appeal. I’ll probably need to see INSURGENT again to have a clearer grasp on what I think, but my overall reaction was…eh. For an action movie, this was pretty anti-climatic and undercut the major revelations that serve the books better.
I can’t tell you what staying in public school would have been like for me. All of my friends growing up were in public school and they all went on to go to college and lead productive, successful lives. But after a difficult freshman year, my parents thought I would benefit from a smaller setting and put me through the admission process to private school. In the DC area, private school is a huge thing because most of the public schools in the District are pretty terrible. (I was across the border in a rich suburb of Maryland with some of the best public schools in the nation.) And that’s how I found myself attending Sidwell Friends School – the same year that Chelsea Clinton started there. It’s a school known for its Presidential kids (and kids from senators, congressmen, and other DC elites), a school known for its Quakerism, and one of the few private schools in the DC area that is co-ed.
Like any place, Sidwell had its problems. And although I did benefit greatly from my education there, I don’t think I benefited from the school in the way my parents’ expected. But by the time I graduated in 1995, there were things I took with me that only Sidwell could have provided. And they ended up happening in the same year.
The first was falling in love with Luke Jensen the summer before Senior year. The second was taking Neal Tonken’s “Fall and the Fallen” Senior English class that fall.
I went to see the movie before I started reading the book. I know, I know, it’s sacrilege. But seeing the movie WILD made me want more, in a good way, and I didn’t think having seen the movie would impact my experience of reading the book. So far, it hasn’t. Maybe the events that happen in the book don’t have as much surprise or weight because I remember them from the movie, but what I like about both the movie and the memoir is that it is about so much more than just the events.
I have a fair amount of back-country hiking and camping experience. Most of it terrible. Like really really terrible. My dad grew up a Boy Scout and we lived near the Shenandoah Mountains portion of the Appalachian Trail. I didn’t actually know there was such a thing as “car camping” until my late teens, and even then my family wasn’t allowed to camp in those campgrounds except a handful of times out of necessity.
Despite ridiculous ascensions, washed out trails, puking, lots and lots of rain, family dysfunction, emergency clinic visits, and more lightning/rain/hail/snow/wind, I truly loved and still love being in the woods. The words that come to mind are “quiet” and “stillness” yet neither of these things exist, at all, in the woods. Everything is moving. Everything makes noise. There is something in the isolation, though, that feels quiet and still. And I need that in order to make sense of my world.
I don’t remember exactly when I first read Maya Angelou’s autobiography I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS. It wasn’t for school, but it was sometime in high school. I was moved and inspired by many African American writers at the time, particularly James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, but Angelou’s series of autobiographies captured my mind and my heart and stayed with me.
I have nothing in common with Ms. Angelou. I am a white girl, born with a certain amount of privilege, who grew up in the frustrating/stimulating and education-dominant Washington, DC. I was a vanilla suburbanite in the chocolate city. There are many powerful perks to growing up in that region. Even if you don’t care about politics, you’re immersed in it. The power, the money, the ambition are everywhere and shape what you think of the world. Even before I went to the President’s-kids-go-here school in 10th grade, when I was just a public school kid, I went to one of the best public schools in the country. I saw Presidents get inaugurated as a child and went to the White House Egg Roll for Easter. When I danced the kid part in the annual The Nutcracker, it was for the Joffrey Ballet at the Kennedy Center. Books and movies and television shows were about my home town. These are things I didn’t realize were inside of me until I left.
And by the time I was in high school, there were things about DC I wanted to escape. Things I hated: the classism, the racism, the elitism. The fear of living in a city with a large amount of crime. I didn’t want to let that fear rule me.
I also didn’t want to be what others expected of me, and DC felt full of that. My parents weren’t easy (still aren’t), and expectations are a family tradition.
Maybe this is typical of teenagers who feel so “other” in their own lives. Who want to shed their skin and distance themselves from what they know in order to find who they truly are. But I felt a deep connection with Ms. Angelou’s words, and they helped shape how I approached the discovery of who I wanted to be.
It wasn’t the differences that drew me to Ms. Angelou’s life story. It was the similarities. If you read Ms. Angelou’s biographies, you will see a life full of love, and pain, and disadvantage, and unexpected meetings, and surprises, and choices that lead from one point to the next. It’s crazy to think about the different roles she played in her own life. I identified with her, not because of shared experiences, but because of shared emotions. Analogous situations. Do I believe Ms. Angelou cultivated her story into something thematic that became more literary than the standard autobiography? Sure! But I identify with that too. I want to shape my own story into something that makes sense. Storytelling has become my religion.
And that too, may be a lasting legacy of Ms. Angelou’s influence on me: to tell stories, to write. She was an insurmountable spirit, woman, human being. I will miss the wisdom she still could have shared, but I will remember and cherish what she has already given to this world.
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS
GATHER TOGETHER IN MY NAME
SINGIN’ AND SWINGIN’ AND GETTIN’ MERRY LIKE CHRISTMAS
THE HEART OF A WOMAN
ALL GOD’S CHILDREN NEED TRAVELING SHOES
A SONG FLUNG UP TO HEAVEN
Don’t go thinking I haven’t been doing anything just because I haven’t been posting here! Oh no!
I think that’s one of the things that we forget as creative people because it’s the WORK that matters, what we PRODUCE that can be touched or watched or absorbed through one sense or another.
But life happens. And I want to experience it.
And I’ve also just been busy trying to slog my way through the producing aspects. So here’s a tally of what’s been going on and I plan to get this website more focused in the coming months! Including a sneak peak of what I’ve been writing!
I have to admit, I was embarrassed to buy this book because the title and the cover looked so…cheesy. But my own YA novel “pushes limits” on things like sex and I wanted to see what was out there in the market.
Honestly! I bought this for research…and then I fell in love with it.
The synopsis of the story, below, is not why I fell in love with the book. The plot is fairly weak, a framing device to push the characters closer or to heighten tension. But what McGarry does in between those little nudges takes us on a journey from darkness to light, confusion to understanding. The character descriptions aren’t even that unique but there’s a strong and definite arc that is believable and is well-supported by the events in the story.
What is most impressive about the writing, and the reason why I fell in love with the book, is that McGarry is able to give distinct voices to Echo and Noah as they alternate chapter POVs. I could hear them, practically see them in front of me. The depth of what they are feeling, thinking, and doing, felt so real and honest. It’s a coming-of-age story fraught with the complicated nature of becoming independent from your parents and learning to cope with tragedy and the inexplicable nature of life. Even the side characters are three-dimensional and jump off the page. Little details help flesh out what could be a smarmy teen drama.
So it’s almost an injustice to break the book down into a description of parts, because the way it comes together is beautiful and satisfying and even cathartic.