Toto, We’re Not in Florida Anymore

2015-02-16 07.13.28-2It didn’t begin with the sirens, but with a beep from Lydia’s phone. Then, all our phones started ding-ing and I ended up crammed into the bathroom (our “safe zone”) with two of my roommates, our friend Rachel, and two of the girls who live above us. Scrunched into our shower, I remembered being back home when I was little, snuggling up in my closet with a flashlight and books while a hurricane raged outside. Funny. This is the closest to my hometown (Tampa Bay) I’ve felt in a while.

For the past few weeks, I’ve battled icy conditions with youthful vigor and the charming naivety of a baby playing with a rattlesnake. The first time I saw my windshield coated with an armor of thick ice, I had no strategy for counterattack. I wrenched my car door open and turned on the heat and the windshield wipers, which didn’t help. After a hasty retreat to my dorm, I returned brandishing glass cleaner and paper towels. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t work.)

As a tow-headed third grader, I got an entire week off because of the imminent threat of hurricanes. I’ve run three miles along the beach in rain, thunder, lightning, and hail. But this was my first tornado. I’d imagined it would start with a dark stillness in the sky, then cyclonic winds would tear shutters (that magically appeared for this fantasy) off the dorm windows…something like The Wizard of Oz.

Instead, it looks and sounds like a thunderstorm, except that I can hear the warning sirens and feel the cold, smooth bottom of our shower while we wait for our RA to give us the all-clear.

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

I think there’s a reason that’s one of the most famous lines in cinematic history. It expresses a pensive sense of displacement. It was obvious that she was far from home, but there’s still a sense of hesitancy, uncertainty, and innocent bewilderment as Dorothy wonders where she is. And this simple statement implies a poignant question: can we return home?

They say “home is where the heart is,” but what the heck is that supposed to mean? I divide most of my time between college and where I grew up, about a 900-mile difference. When I’m at school, I miss my family, usually calling them a couple times a week and texting constantly. Then again, homecoming isn’t like a parade across the football field wearing a sparkly crown and holding a bouquet of red roses; it’s more like precariously walking a tightrope, attempting to balance the freedom I have at school with that fact that I’m back in the room I’ve had since I was eight. And no matter where I am, I spend a lot of time planning where to go next. For instance, right now, I’m planning on moving to Birmingham this summer for an internship.

Each one of these places has my heart somehow; I love my family, I love my friends, I love school, and I love my work. It would be so simple if I could just click my heels and magically be transported to one place where everyone and everything I care about exists in perfect harmony. Instead, I’m sprinting down yellow brick roads, hoping they’ll carry me to my dreams.

Saying that I don’t know where home is sounds heartbreakingly mournful. But I don’t think it is. It’s only sad if there’s nowhere to go or no one to be with. There’s something wonderful – scary and beautiful and bewildering – about facing a world full of open doors, hearts willing to welcome you in, and suitcases ready to travel to every corner of the globe.

Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe home doesn’t have to be one, single place. Maybe a central facet of maturity is the conscious decision to find joy in any situation, love for new neighbors, and beauty in foreign surroundings, so that wherever we are, we can sincerely and confidently say, “There’s no place like home.”

 

Why I Celebrated my 20th with Darth Vader and Hello Kitty

2016-01-04 06.47.16.jpgThis morning when I walked out of my room, I almost ran into Darth Vader.

Well, not the actual Darth Vader (although I would be pretty psyched and a twinge creeped out to find James Earl Jones wandering around my dorm room). It was a piñata head dangling from my doorway, framed in white streamers.

Maybe I should mention that it’s my birthday.

Which prompts the question: what have I learned from the 20 years I’ve spent on earth?

Well, the first few years, I mostly spent mastering the fine arts of talking, walking, feeding myself, etc. I am proud to say that my efforts in these areas were successful. For the most part. 

In the third book in the “Anne of Green Gables” series, Anne turns 20 and remarks, “Miss Stacy told me that when I was 20, my character would be formed for worse or for better.”

As I’m sitting here, wearing Star Wars pajama pants, surrounded by superhero posters, Hello Kitty streamers dangling from the ceiling, a Wonder Woman cape hanging from my door, facing our dartboard, which has a place of honor across from our Xbox and GameCube, attached to our TV, which is currently playing “Lilo and Stitch,” I have to wonder…really, how much have I grown?

Frankly, this isn’t exactly how I imagined life would be at 20.

But is it a bad thing? I don’t think so.

When you’re 20, no one really expects you to have your future figured out (although they keep asking you about it) or even be able to keep your clothes off the floor (except your parents…they never lose hope). As I’m madly scribbling papers and desperately skimming test materials, I check my email for responses to my numerous summer internship applications and play episodes of old Disney channel shows.

Even though I still enjoy the same things, now I see different things in them. For example, in “Lilo and Stitch,” I realized how protective Nonnie was of her sister, despite their fighting. I almost cried when Stitch as looked for his ohana.

On some level, maybe these are things I always understood. Maybe what we call “maturity” is just being able to put into words what we instinctively felt as children.

Going back to Anne, immediately after making this comment, she decides to go for a walk in the park, where a tall, dark, and handsome classmate rescues her from the rain, sends her flowers the next day, and they date for the rest of their time in college.

I doubt that will happen to me today. Or ever.

But did Anne’s friends hang a Darth Vader piñata from her doorway? Or fill her living room with Hello Kitty streamers?

I think not.

In fact, I never thought about it until today, but Anne’s friends didn’t even spend her birthday with her. They went to a football game, leaving Anne curled by the fire with the cats and her friend’s great-aunt.

So, who really had the better birthday?

I’ll probably have a boyfriend eventually. But right now, I have the best friends and family ever. And that’s a pretty great way to start the next decade of my life.

Although meeting James Earl Jones would also be fantastic.

hk

 

Thankful for River Heights

Ali2
Small-town girl, trying to solve life’s little mysteries.

Kids explore hundreds of places – different worlds, different planets, different countries. When I was a kid, there was one imaginary place I could not stop dreaming about. Again and again, I found myself drawn to this fantasy world, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. But this flight of fancy did not lead me to Wonderland or Narnia or Earth 2; it drew me to River Heights.

 

River Heights, the hometown of Nancy Drew. The place where most of her adventures find her.

That is the sole purpose of River Heights; Nancy never seems to stay there long, but it is the prosy background for her remarkable enterprises and the diving board for many of her adventures.

I always play Nancy Drew computer games when I’m on a break. However, that will not happen over this Thanksgiving Break, which has been taken hostage by two 10-page papers and a plethora of upcoming finals.

But, as I’m sprawled out in my childhood bedroom, researching Sophocles, I can’t help but think about what it must be like for Nancy to come home after cracking a case.

I’m thankful for my hometown. I’m thankful for the Barnes & Noble, where I never actually bought any books, because I would read them straight through, seated in a tiny wooden chair. I’m thankful for the park, where we would build “forts” out of fallen tree branches. Most of all, I’m thankful for the people. Like the good citizens of River Heights, they continue to encourage the strawberry blonde with a thirst for adventure to go out and find some.

People often ask me if I plan on staying in Florida after I graduate college.

I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t even know what state I’ll be living in six months.

That’s a problem Nancy never has to deal with. Partially because she doesn’t go to college, so no one expects her to miraculously have her life mapped out, and partially because she will eternally be a jet-setting 18-year-old. I’m older than Nancy Drew and I’ve travelled less. Nancy is breaking up crime rings and I’m breaking the bank…and stealing rolls of toilet paper from the school bathrooms. Someday, Nancy’s hair will still be golden blonde as she dates the college quarterback and mine will be gray as I hobble around a house decorated with cat fur.

Now I’m depressed.

And I’ve completely forgotten where I was going with this.

One second…

Ok.

The spirit of the town never changes. And it’s nice to have something stable when life is always shifting and you’re just kind of floating around, trying to find a place to settle down. I’m thankful to have a place that gave me such a great start. And a great place to return to.

I’m thankful I have River Heights.

And Nancy Drew computer games.

Cliche, but True

Most people don’t know that I have a small business.
 
But a lot of them are unknowingly seeking it out.
 
I have officially reached the age where everybody is getting married, engaged, or simply “in a relationship.” Seriously, every time I log on Facebook (which is frequent) girls are flashing diamond-encircled fingers and pictures show couple with sugary smiles lovingly pressed against each other beneath the headline “Jane Doe and Man X are now in a relationship.”
 
Which means that, inevitably, there are a lot of break-ups.
 
As irritating as it can be to listen to someone compose an oral expose on why their relationship is so fairytale-perfect, it is even worse listening to them weep over a failed relationship.
 
What do you say? How do you console the unfathomable heartache of someone who has lost their love of the past two months?
 
I apologize for my general snarkiness. But I am so glad you asked.
 
Times are tough. I’m in college and, therefore, broke. So I have decided to expand and monetize my advice-giving services. I believe that my personal relationship experiences make me uniquely qualified to give advice on handling a variety of situations.
 
When I was 5 years old, I married Wesley Price, the neighbor boy, in my sandbox. As soon as we swore to love each other, in health or in cooties, drama erupted. My little sister was upset that I made my friend Lauren the flower-girl instead of her. Little Julianne Christmas (“J,” as I called her) was furious that she wasn’t invited at all. I was crushing on Sean, the boy who lived next door.
 
You learn a lot from a failed marriage.
 
The summer before 4th grade, my family was preparing to move when Sean asked me to be his girlfriend and offered me a little silver band with tiny blue stars. I had moved on, but agreed, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Then our family moved and I learned the importance of communication in a relationship.
 
Gleaning from the wisdom I have gained through every failed relationship, I now give cliché relationship advice on the weekends. (And Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m.) My business motto is “It’s Cliché Because It’s True.” (Which, ironically, is also a cliché. Because it’s true.)
 
So keep your head up! Sometimes things fall apart so better things can fall together. It’s always darkest before the dawn, but tomorrow is a new day. You  only fail if you stop trying – someday, you’ll meet someone who loves you just the way you are.
 
You’re welcome.
 
I charge by the cliché, not the hour. Cash preferred.
 
Ali Renckens
Amateur Advisor
“It’s Cliché Because It’s True”

Littles and Childbirth and STD (it’s clean, I promise)

fam2I was awakened by loud music reverberating from my phone.

It was midnight and I, being an early riser and, therefore, a terrible college kid, was already dead asleep.

Groggy and confused, I rolled over and nearly fell out of bed, wondering why an alarm was going off while it was still dark outside and why it was on my phone when I only set alarms on my desk clock.

I had a vague sense that I was forgetting something.

I picked my phone up and swiped to make the annoying noise stop. Then I realized that it was a call and I had just answered it.

“Hello?” I murmured in a soft, sleepy voice.

“Hi!” an incredibly awake voice chirped. “Want to find out who your Littles are?”

Suddenly, I remembered. I had set my phone ring to the highest volume possible because tonight we found out who our Littleslillarissa were.

Littles? I got more than one?

The rest is hysteria.

I mean, history.

Nah. I mean hysteria.

The rest of the week was a crafting frenzy. When I wasn’t working on something for the Littles, I was studying or working on our school newspaper. Meals were irregular. Sleep was a sweet dream.

Day Three of Big/Little week, I was initiated into the English honors society, Sigma Tau Delta (STD, for short. Apparently English nerds are terrible at stringing together Greek letters). I was given a certificate and a pin. (I get a kick out of telling people I’m wearing my STD pin.) After obligingly mingling for a few minutes, I power-walked to my dorm (in heels) and began frantically painting for one of my Little’s basket. She likes “Despicable Me,” so I decided to paint a minion with the words “one in a minion.” I grabbed a scrap piece of paper to see if I could even paint a 2015-10-01 22.09.52decent minion. Thankfully, I could, and I managed to successfully deliver her present. As I cleaned up, I picked up the piece of paper to throw it away.

Then I realized that I had actually painted the back of my STD certificate. (Wow, that really is a horrible acronym.)

That about sums up my week. In a figurative and also very literal way.

I was sleep deprived, stressed, and my “To-Do List” kept growing longer while my time to accomplish items on said list kept shrinking. It was the craziest week of my life.

But when I look back on it, I don’t remember any of that.

12088354_900358566722147_837717110339071424_nI think of the notes my Littles wrote me, telling me how much they loved their gifts and how excited they were to meet me. I think of jumping out from behind one Little and hearing her shriek, “You tricked me!” Immediately followed by, “I wanted it to be you!” I think of dragging my Big and one Little backstage to surprise my other Little after her performance and being unceremoniously kicked out. And I think of standing in the lobby, holding her family shirt, when she walked out in the reception line. I think of how surprised she was when she realized what was going on and how another cast member had to tear her away from our first family gathering to thank the audience.

I never understood childbirth before – how a woman can undergo such intense pain and forget about it when she finally gets to hold her little one.

I get it now. At least a little bit.

I love my babies. And, given the choice, I would go through the entire, chaotic week for them all over again.

I would even paint a cartoon figure on the back of a certificate of high academic accomplishment. Or, if it came down to it, not be a part of STD at all.

You know what I mean.

Ohana means family. And I have the best family ever.
Ohana means family. And I have the best family ever.

A Girl’s Mancave

SuperheroesHave you ever had a moment when you realize that you completely missed a crucial phase of life that all of your friends have already gone through?

Not only did that happen to me, but it happened to all of my roommates. All four of us missed the same critical part of life.

You can tell the second you step into our room.

Somehow, we all missed the magical moment where girls just inherently know how to make their living space home-y, chic, and/or cute.

Maybe it’s because we spend too much of our time on Pinterest looking at Myers-Briggs charts and not enough time looking at dorm rooms. Maybe it’s because we aren’t crafty.

Our interior decorating go-to: superhero posters.2015-09-12 22.36.20

We now have seven superhero posters: one Marvel, six DC. (We have very strong opinions on the Marvel vs. DC debate.) Above our snack shelf is a dartboard. Next to Melvin the Drunk Christmas Tree, we have a light-up Christmas reindeer that was stolen from one of the frat houses. Recently, we bought a large TV, which, immediately after setting up, we used to watch Youtube videos about llamas wearing hats.

We call our dorm The Mancave.

There is no “woman’s touch” to our room. It’s more like a slap on the back.

The only relatively feminine aspect of the room is a collage of canvases featuring our sorority. (They look particularly out-of-place next to our poster of the Joker.)

It may not be the cutest dorm on campus. (In fact, it definitely isn’t.) But it’s a place we can put our feet up at the end of the day, crack open a soda, and watch all of the “Superman” movies, including the bad ones.

And in a weird sort of way, it fits us. It’s quirky, eclectic, nerdy, and one-of-a-kind.

And, most importantly, we love our Mancave. To us, it’s home. It’s perfect.

Or, it will be, as soon as we get some well-stuffed recliners. And our Xbox.

Melvin the Drunk Christmas Tree and Giorgio the Pilfered Christmas Reindeer
Melvin the Drunk Christmas Tree and Giorgio the Pilfered Christmas Reindeer

What I Learned From Kindergarten

kindergartenI remember shakily copying the date that the teacher wrote on the chalkboard and when it changed from “1999” to “2000”. I remember playing in the sandbox and wearing floral, cotton sundresses. I remember signing all of my papers “Cat” (because that was my favorite animal and why not?). I remember dressing in a pink tutu and performing a self-choreographed dance for the school talent show. I remember the wonder and excitement I felt the first time I opened a book and could understand the words.

But, for the most part, kindergarten is a blank; a pleasantly vague memory of sharing lunches and playing dress up. Although I don’t remember many specifics, I do remember feeling safe and excited to learn.

If ignorance is bliss, then deluded memory is courage.

That’s the only excuse I can invent for why, when I was 16, I volunteered to teach a kindergarten Sunday school class at church. At the time, all I could think of was how much I looked up to “the Big Kids” when I was that age. I imagined gently reprimanding unruly students, who, seized with conscience, would fall in remorse at my feet. I envisioned triumphantly leading an impeccably straight line of beaming young students through the hallways. I pictured enthralled, wide-eyed stares as I told Bible stories.

That first year was quite a learning experience. I learned how to rattle off a long list of rules in the two seconds it took for them to draw breath. I learned how to make anything out of Play Doh. I learned that you should never, under ANY circumstances let five-year-olds use glitter glue. (Unless the building is scheduled for demolition anyway.)

But, as I got to know the students, I learned a lot from them, too. I started to look at the world from their perspective, and I discovered many little homilies:

If you don’t have as exciting a story as the kid next to you, make one up. (Hint: dinosaurs, ninjas, and outer space trump pretty much anything.)

Don’t rush the big decisions, like which pencil to use.

Conquer your fears by making them in Play Doh – then kill them.

If it was a bite, it was a snake. If it was a snake, it was a boa constrictor. (Really, the most important thing is having a good story.)

Manners work. “Please” can be said more easily and more times in five minutes than “I want” (which can turn into a tongue-twister).

Nowhere is worth going if you can’t hold hands and skip there with your best friend.

If you get bored with a game, make your own rules.

Food is for playing. Why else is it in animal shapes?

You’re never too young for true love.

Don’t be afraid to draw outside the lines. And color the world however you want to; don’t be afraid to make the sky brown or a dog green.

Your world is whatever you make it.

Stay close to the ones you love. Very close. Sit in their lap when they’re sitting and hold their hand when they’re walking. And don’t ever leave them.

Gradually, I realized that these young children are us in our most raw, genuine form. They cry when they don’t get to be line leader because they haven’t learned to clench their teeth and mutter, “It doesn’t really matter.” They want to visit the moon and become a ninja because they don’t realize that it isn’t possible; they want excitement and adventure, and they refuse to settle for ordinary.

When did we stop doing that? When did we allow ourselves to become distracted by the expectations of others? Why did we become so discouraged that we wind up in classes we don’t like, studying for jobs we don’t want simply for the security they provide?

We should all take a moment to look inside of us and reconnect with our kindergarten selves. Let’s let our dreams run wild and believe, if only for a few moments, that anything is possible. Every day, let’s allow ourselves not be childish, but childlike.

Let’s color outside the lines.

Let’s hold each other’s hands.

Let’s use glitter glue. Without ruining our hair, table, walls, and carpet.

I originally published this as a guest writer on The Things I Learned From, one of my favorite blogs. The heart and brains behind the site, Jen Glantz, is a 20-something business entrepreneur who writes honestly about her love of New York City, her chaotic life, and everything she’s learned along the way. Check it out! 

What to Wear

According to commercials, the success of your education relies on one thing: the right supplies. Namely, the right first-day-of-school outfit.

The logic of the marketing industry is that stylish clothes fill students with confidence, giving them the buoyancy and courage they need to swagger through the school year.

Last year, for the first day of college (ever!) I wore a cute pink pocket tee with dark skinny jeans.

This year, my sorority issued an “outfit schedule” for the first two weeks of classes.

They have legitimate reasons for doing this: increased presence on campus, boost pre-rush spirit, etc.

Rebellion was my natural reaction.

I have several pictures of school events where everyone is obediently wearing the maroon “uniform” shirt for United Methodist Preschool and I’m rocking a yellow shirt and overalls or a bright blue sundress or something equally anarchistic.

I like to look cute. And I hate being told what to do.

But I’m not the same girl who walked into her first class with feigned bravado. I only had a few acquaintances and no true friends (yet). I was adrift, with no identity outside of my own inherent charms, which (honestly) mostly consisted of a non-intimidating resting face and the willingness to go along with any activity that I didn’t have moral objections to.

Now, I am a part of something. Many things, actually: I am life editor and A&E co-editor for our school newspaper; treasurer of the broadcasting society; secretary of the Rutledge Honorary History Society; a mentor for handicapped students; and Sisterhood Enrichment Team leader and student government representative for my sorority.

I am quite possibly involved in too many things.

We, as a society, place a lot of responsibility on clothes to communicate both who we are and who we want to become. I am proud of everything that I am a part of and glad to represent them, even if it’s only by wearing a t-shirt.

And if that means following an outfit schedule, then I guess I’m ok with that.

Isn’t family – sisterhood – sometimes about forcing a smile and agreeing to go along with whatever they have planned?

One value that my sorority emphasizes is confidence. A childhood full of watching “What Not to Wear” taught me that it can be expressed through clothes, but confidence ultimately comes from the individual – not the outfit.

Take that, marketing majors.