I’m not going to say I like Hamilton any more than the next person, because I know there are thousands of more devoted fans than me, but there’s something about listening and experiencing it as a writer that really gets to me. Or maybe I’m just too empathetic? I don’t know, but the lyrics, especially the questions, really stick to me. How does one write like they’re running out of time? Have I done enough [with my words]? Who will tell our stories—will anyone?
How does my writing play into this narrative that is the vast planet we live on? You know it’s kind of terrifying, writing. You put your heart and soul into characters, you believe in your stories in the midst of millions of others, enough to spend months and years on them. Then you publish them for anyone and everyone to read, you put your story on the line because you believe so immensely in it, resulting in inevitable rejection by some readers. Stories can easily be looked over, even if they are published, because of the sheer volume of them. But they’ve all been worked on and loved so well by the ones who penned them.
The vast majority of stories will not be heard by the general public, but does that mean we stop writing them? No. Because as scary as it is, we shouldn’t write with the numbers or lack thereof in mind. We write because we have faith, we write because we’re gamblers, we write because we’re not scared of the odds. We shoot our stories blindly into the dark because we know they’ll help someone somehow. And that’s pretty dang cool. So keep writing and “keep fighting in the meantime.”
As the year closes off, I wanted to take a moment to reminisce. While 2017 was emotionally draining in many ways for me, there were also golden nuggets of goodness everywhere. I wanted to highlight random bits and pieces that made this year a little brighter. Some aspects of this list are unique to 2017, while others have been around and I only just discovered them this year. While you read, feel free to come up with a list of your own, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. (…especially anything music-related!)
Song: This has two parts: my favorite song I discovered this year was “Knock on my Door” by Faouzia, but my favorite song that actually released this year was “Rhythm of Your Heart” by Marianas Trench. (Shout out to my sister Cassidy and my friend Hannah for these finds!) In both cases I think they’re great to dance to, maybe even at a New Year’s Eve party?! Sometimes a good dance party can make or break your day.
Book:The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Apparently I missed this bandwagon a few years ago… but better late than never! Rudy stole my heart and Zusak took all of my tissues, but I’m grateful and now I have my own copy. YAY! (99% of the time I only buy books that I already love and would read again/to future children. My book collection is only my absolute favorites.)
Musician/Band: Almost Monday
Still waiting for new music, because these guys ROCK. That’s all I have to say about that. *cues Forrest Gump’s voice*
Bible Verse: Hebrews 12:1-2
This verse has been the tune of my heart this year, and whenever the going gets tough I just remember ‘run with endurance’ and ‘endure for the joy’ set before me. I also shared this verse in a letter to a yellow angel named Luke, with some unique Annah annotations that I copied down in my own Bible. Keep running, friends.
Movie: I found my all-time favorite movie this year, yet it’s an oldie: Harold & Maude. Since watching it and sniggering alone in my dorm room last April, I have watched it approximately five more times. However, my favorite movie that came out this year was probably Dunkirk (which I just watched again last night!)
It made me cry within the first five minutes, as most of my favorite entertainment does, and I thought it left a powerful impact with its unique musical rhythm and bare movie essentials. It put me constantly on edge and as empathetic as possible to situations I have never experienced. Time and time again, through literature and imagery, soldiers and their sacrifices astound me. Sometimes it seems like the ones that survive sacrifice even more than those who gave up their lives, because the remainder of their lives are transformed by tragedy. To have to rebuild sanity afterwards… I could never imagine the pain.
TV Show: Riverdale
Honestly, I watched season 1 in three days… Based on Archie comics, the dark mysteries alone will keep you watching episode after episode. They certainly know how to attract viewers, I’ll give them that.
YouTuber: Mark Ferris
Honestly, I don’t watch television. Instead, I watch YouTube, and it’s probably one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day. I subscribe to many different people, but most are usually entertainers, comedians, or daily vloggers (video bloggers). Mark Ferris, a lanky, lovable, amiable man from Britain is probably my male alter ego. His videos make me laugh all the time, probably because we have the same sense of humor. Mostly he just makes vlogs, which I also appreciate as they’re essentially a visual alternative to blogs.
Phone App: Spotify
Most people frequently use Spotify, so it’s no secret that everyone loves this music-streaming app. However, I constantly find and adore different features of the app what seems like every week. As someone who tries to listen to anything and everything, I appreciate that they make playlists of music for you based on your interests. My favorites are “Discover Weekly,” “Release Radar,” and “Your Top Songs 2017,” kudos to a recent feature that summarizes what you listened to the most over the year and how often you listened.
Class: Intermediate Creative Nonfiction
This category is exclusive to students, but my favorite class I took through the spring and fall this year was definitely “Intermediate Creative Nonfiction.” We focused on writing memoirs, read some great memoirs like The Glass Castle and The Mountain and the Fathers, and workshopped one another’s work. It helped me further develop my creative writing voice and allowed me to let loose with my writing humor.
Album:Self-Titled by Harry Styles
I talked about this recently, but I thoroughly enjoy Styles’ album every time I return to it. There’s no way for me to describe how much I love Styles’ musical work without it sounding corny. Basically, he’s bringing fresh work into what I would consider a ‘bland’ popular music scene. (Controversial opinion, I know…) I still appreciate techno and electronic pop sounds, but that really can never beat the sound of real instruments in my opinion. Also I just read in an interview article that Styles’ popular single “Sign of the Times”is meant to be a mom talking to her baby, so that just added another layer to an intriguing tune. I’m linking the video because the filmmaking is incredible as well! (Did I mention Styles debuted in Dunkirk?! Multi-talented at 23 years old.)
Seriously, just go buy some of these crackers and eat the glorious food. It’s organic. 😉
Concert: Jon Foreman (9/29)
My favorite musician makes for my favorite concert. Foreman asked us for a Grand Rapids ‘Yeehaw’ and we gave it to him. My sister and I had a great night and the honest, intimate question-and-answer at the end was pretty cool. Wise words were spoken by all.
Creative Writing Piece: “Yellow Birthday” poem
I posted this in a previous blog from August with the poem’s title. This was inspired by Luke, previously mentioned. Loss: short-term sadness, long-term joy.
Event: Dance Marathon
Back in March my college hosted this annual 24-hour event, and we raised money for the Helen DeVos children’s hospital. Money went towards casts, bills, and other medical necessities. Luke used to go to that hospital frequently; it was an incredible opportunity to support those in need. I moraled and cheered on my 24-hour dancer friends for 8 hours. We had a blast and I’ll likely participate again.
Experience: Joining flute choir
This past semester, I joined my college’s flute choir. I joined for zero credit, because flute has always been a great way to de-stress for me. As a junior, I am now officially sad I never knew about the group sooner. It has been an incredible once-a-week relaxation, with lots of laughs and smiles. I’m definitely looking forward to more fun this semester.
I always think simple pleasures are necessary, and this list definitely supports that claim. If you and I were to count the little blessings and enjoyments over the years, I think we’ll likely find that they far outweigh any pains, large or small, that have come our way. There is always more light and hope than we think in dark situations. Here is to another exciting, joy-filled year in 2018. Here is to finding the silver linings, even when our outlooks are looking grim.
Remember, you can and will persevere, you always do.
Some days are sadder than others when you’ve lost someone. Perhaps it’s because I’m older or perhaps it’s because his passing was seemingly undeserved, but Luke’s death has stuck with me, not to mention his family and closest friends, so closely these past few months. It’s confusing trying to figure out how to process our losses, isn’t it?
Sometimes you’re sad, sometimes you’re mad, sometimes you’re resigned to the fact, sometimes it’s very unsettling. Recently I’ve just been deeply disappointed I didn’t get to know Luke more. In all honesty, part of me feels really guilty for this sadness and disappointment, because I didn’t know him as well as so many others did. If I’m upset, I stop and grieve, because those that knew him far more than I must be indescribably upset. On the other hand I can’t help but wonder if this disappointment is flowing out of selfishness. Is this hurt justified or not?
But to those that knew Luke, if you’re anything like me, the main reason his passing is upsetting is likely because he truly was a joyful, loving soul. One could only imagine if he had been given a longer life the even larger impact he could’ve had on others. But then I think about how much joy and life was packed into those 17 years, and the tremendous story his life spoke into those around him in such a short amount of time. It’s incredibly inspiring. Who wouldn’t wish to know someone like that?
Sometimes I can’t help but thank the God I believe in that Luke was able to bless everyone for a whole 17 years. His parents and brothers witnessed a giggling, courageous, witty, faithful soul for 17 years. What a blessing. And the God I believe in said I’m going to take all you have, Luke—17 years—and I’m going to use you for something great. People are going to flock to you and cry over you because of your steadfast faithfulness. You’re going to teach your loved ones how to be strong in the face of adversity.
So that’s some more of my processing and a small snippet of the feelings amongst Luke’s loved ones over these past couple months. I take what I’m feeling and I take the unimaginable pain of his family and friends, and multiply it until it’s unbearable.
Because countless people worldwide are experiencing a similar pain, and sometimes I think it’s easy to be desensitized to the effects. Whether loved ones lost to cancer or loved ones lost to terrorism, it hurts; oh it hurts to consider our grieving world. Perhaps now more than ever we grieve we are sorrowful and we need a rock to lean into. We are broken and struggling to hold on. We yearn for love and laughter because we are sodamaged by brokenness.
This is our chance to let others know we are here and we understand their pain. We have all experienced pain in a multitude of capacities, and yet, we’re too often self-consumed with our own lives to stop and ask others how they’re doing. Every time we undergo pain and brokenness, we are allowed the opportunity to open our arms to others in similar situations and help them through their own. Not because we have all the answers and can eradicate the pain… but because we are made for community and it makes life a lot more bearable when you can confide in others.
Yesterday in my British Literature class, our professor had us write poems modeled after some of the modernist poets we read. This poem is loosely based on “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy. I wrote it on the fly with no revisions and I appreciate that unapologetic way of writing. Maybe it’s flawed, maybe the word choice could be improved, but it’s bold in its imperfections.
It’s no secret that attending a Christian college means residing in a Christian bubble—it’s hardly reflective of real life, with little to no belief disagreement or push-back. We are blessed to have people challenging us intellectually, and occasionally religiously, but far too often I witness Christians isolating themselves. This is only a small portion of Christians that I engage with at one school; it happens everywhere at every stage of life.
Too many Christians nowadays only cling to explicit Christian ideas, texts, and entertainment. Frankly, I believe this is unwise and a very limiting way to live life.
I grew up in a Christian home and have officially dedicated my life to Christ for about six years now. Even at a young age, I’ve subconsciously thought about explicit Christian entertainment and how Christians should interact with their world. I always thought Christian radio was the corniest thing and wanted no part of it when other people would play it in the car. My family avoided watching movies like “The Passion of Christ” and I avidly read Harry Potter (currently re-reading for the 1000th time), starting from about age five, when people would look at my petite body next to the 500-page books and think I was the next Einstein.
Admittedly, having just finished an 11-page paper for my rhetoric class about why I believe Harry Potter has numerous Christian themes in the eighth movie alone, this topic of Christian isolationism has been on my mind a lot lately. Also, please understand this is NOT me telling anyone their methods of living are inferior or superior. There is nothing wrong with explicit Christian texts, movies, and music.
This past summer was the first time in my life I picked up a “Christian” book and read it. Since then I have read a couple and had no serious problems with them. I think some Christian books can be good and Scripture-breathed. The couple I have read (Mere Christianity, Jesus > Religion, and Uninvited) were much better than I thought they would be. However, they’re still not my first reading choice like I know they are for boatloads of other people—it’s perfectly fine to enjoy them—but it’s also important to remember that if you’re reading them thinking it’ll be a replacement for the Bible, that’s a red flag.
It’s fine to enjoy a good Christian book, but if that’s 99% of the books you read, I think there’s a problem with that. If Christian radio is your jam, sing along all you want, but if you never interact with any music outside of that, I think there’s a problem with that. If you truly believe anything that’s not explicitly Christian is sinful or satanic or any other negative denotation, I really have a problem with that.
Why do I think this is such a big deal?
Because I believe in a God who works through everything. I believe in a God who can use anything to portray his values, including tainted humans like you and I or tainted things like Harry Potter and punk music, if that’s your opinion. I believe God made everyone in his image, even those that haven’t accepted him, so small traces of his character can be found even in the most far-reaching aspects of life.
The coolest thing to me is when I read a book about another belief system or go to a concert where people smell like weed and beer, and soak in the words that are on the page or screamed from the stage, because I usually hear a small sliver of truth. Even if it’s the smallest sliver it gives me so much joy and hope, reminding me that even those people have the capability of carrying out God’s light if they wanted to.
Christians, I challenge you to read or listen to something you don’t like and see if you can find something decent in it. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise you avoid texts and entertainment for surface-level reasons and miss the bits you actually would like. For example, if you put down a Harry Potter book at page two for having witchcraft, you’ll completely miss out on the sacrifice, love, and friendship themes that remain prevalent in the overarching storyline.
I don’t believe I’m being “worldly” if I enjoy fantasy books or listen to pop music. I believe I’m engaging with God’s world—a world that extends beyond Bob Goff and Hillsong.
I wish you could see what I can. The pure yellow radiance of the tree. Its feathery, silky leaves tap-dance in the wind, illuminating the bright depths of its being. Apparently the leaves are passing away, but they have never shown so brightly throughout their numbered days until now, and it’s simply heart-stopping. It just is what it is without trying. Our friend Mr. Sun is only emphasizing what we already know to be true—joy and expectancy sit among the branches. This tree knows where it’s going, without knowing where each individual leaf will fall, yet the appendages tango together happily. It dances in the face of uncertainty. The branches breathe in, breathe out, sway up, sway down. They flutter, fly, and abide. As the sun looks on, the tree sits and waits, leaves steadily twirling to the floor. Eventually it will face a period of death, where the sun may seem to disappear from the tree’s presence maybe days, maybe weeks at a time. But the tree remains tall, adamant, and immovable in the face of its inevitable demise. It knows more than the leaves do—that some day soon more buds will grow, more leaves will bloom, and the yellow still courses within its veins.
Each movie at the top of my recommendations list, that I consider favorites, are a diverse group. They are all different genres and highlight different values in my personality. Hopefully you like some of them or find one of interest to you. Most I would recommend to everyone.
Harold & Maude
My favorite movie: a twenty-year-old meets an eighty-year-old with subtle humor that sends you keeling over until your sides hurt. This past April was the first time I saw this flick, but I’ve watched it at least four more times since then and died laughing every time. While it is definitely my favorite film, I would not recommend it to everyone. Honestly, it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy this movie, but if you have an acute sense of humor, love quirky storylines, and have an analytical mind–friend, meet the love of your life.
A shallow movie-watcher would say this is about a weird romantic relationship, an average movie-watcher could tell you about all the quirky jokes or how, for one reason or another, they just didn’t get it. But a few deeply attentive movie-watchers could explain the emotional pain planted in between the notes of humor. The cry of the broken, beaten, kicked around, and spat out… and all I want to do is give the Harolds and Maudes of the world a hug.
“If you want to sing out, sing out and if you want to be free, be free.” -Cat Stevens (Also the soundtrack to the movie, if you’re a Stevens fan.)
“I’ll escape now from that world,
From the world of Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean is nothing now.
Another story must begin.”
I like to say my favorite stories are those of redemption and I think my value of Les Misérables displays just that, through Valjean’s change of heart. When I place my life’s belief on a Being who is the key to redemption, it only makes sense. As the title suggests, this musical (based on Victor Hugo’s rich, colorful novel) revolves around “the miserable” in France. But more importantly it touches upon the lost, the forgotten, and the overlooked humans of the world.
It is a story, simply put, that I deeply desire every human to experience. To see or read or listen to. My father brought me, my sister, and my mother to the theatre in 2012, and I knew zip about the plot. I spent the following two hours absorbed in the story before me, listening to Fantine’s grief and bursting into tears, and watching humans overcome by the joy and hurt others have to experience through revolution, love, and suicide. Once again, it’s not a story of France; it’s a story of humanity. How immensely that touches my heart.
It’s a narrative that hits you differently every time you interact with it. Even if you aren’t into musicals, you will likely surprise yourself and enjoy it, as happened to one of my friends. You can and will take it seriously. It will resonate with you.
Ireland is my true love, which is no secret to any of my loved ones. I love everything about it and anything even slightly related, so it’s no surprise that my favorite romantic comedy is set in Ireland. While other people might fawn over the main actor in the movie, I’m drooling over the country backdrop.
For anyone in the mood for a sappy movie with good banter, give this Amy Adams film a try. All the background settings are beautiful, cozy and inviting, which only enhances the experience, and until May, when I visit Ireland (WHAT?!), is my substitute for the real thing.
This movie also holds a dear place in my heart because it’s associated with a hard time from my first year of college, during my worst weekend of anxiety, when one of my best friends stuck by my side the whole time. Besides her empathetic, wise words of comfort, she knew just the trick to cheer me up/distract me, and introduced me to this. Thank you, Kaitlyn.
When I watched this romance/drama for the first time this past summer, the credits rolled and I instantaneously decided it had to be on the top of my movie list. This movie centers on a musician and an A&R representative, which for those of you who don’t know, is my dream job. It also has a wide array of actors, including the stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, as well as Adam Levine and James Corden. Basically it’s my love of music in a narrative movie. And naturally, that means I thoroughly enjoy the music within the movie.
The main criticism seems to arise from people who dislike Knightley’s singing, but I thought she did a fantastic job, especially considering that’s not what she normally does. This movie is perfect for anyone who loves music and the hard work behind producing songs, as well as any of you who want a feel-good ending that puts a smile on your face and makes you thankful that you took the time to watch it.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
Every line that comes out of Dustin Hoffman’s mouth is reason enough to love this movie. This narrative centers upon the owner of a magical toy shop, his apprentice, a boy who loves hats, and a mutant. That’s about all I can divulge, but trust me; it is not a movie to pass up. Everyone who’s a kid at heart needs to watch it.
This fantasy will tug at your heartstrings, as it did mine. So much so, in fact, that I distinctly remember this as the first film I cried over. Films with the most accurate messages about life make me the most emotional, and like Les Misérables, this is a movie that hits me differently every time I watch it. Mostly it touches and addresses patches of loss in our hearts, but in a healing and loving way.
It’s a gentle, sweet reminder that you can pull through and you are capable.
Begin Again and Leap Year are both on Netflix for those interested. If nothing else, you can listen to the majority of Les Misérables songs on YouTube with the videos. You’ll have to hunt a bit more for Harold & Maude and Mr. Magorium. But I hope you take the time to watch or re-watch one of these. Entertainment is such a lovely way to relax, but also to analyze and reflect on the world and our place in humanity.
You can engage with entertainment. You don’t just have to absorb it.