Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year In Review

Well, it feels like ages since my words have found their way to these familiar pages. I wish I had a wonderful excuse for not writing, but the truth is I just made other priorities. I have been writing, of course...pages and pages for my dear college professors. Just not many for myself.

A lot has happened in the past few months. I wasn't writing, but I was most definitely doing. I was going and seeing. Reading and working. Living, loving, crying, growing, and learning. And I learned so much. This was my "verb" year--a year so chock full of actions and travels and new experiences that I look back at pictures from the spring and feel as if they were taken a lifetime
ago. 2013 has made my heart swell with pride, pain, love, and empowerment. I am sad to see it go, but so anxious to kick off another beautiful year.

And so, my year in review:

Going & Seeing

My travels began this year in March, when I left the country for the first time and flew to Beijing with my journalism class. I set foot in the Temple of Heaven; walked through the Forbidden City; met journalism students halfway across the world at Tsinghua University; tobogganed down the Great Wall of China (where I got a photo op with Charlie Gibson); and partied in a Beijing nightclub called Latte. I ate foreign foods, bargained on the black market, and woke up at 6am on a foggy, rainy morning to watch the flag-raising ceremony take place at Tiananmen Square. No story I could tell can ever really live up to half of what it was truly like to be in Beijing for those eight dreamlike days. It is surreal now even to say they happened.

In April, I flew to California by myself for the second time in six months, an exhilarating journey both times. I spent five days with David, my boyfriend of nearly two years at that point, and we did all sorts of fun things in and around LA (including a wonderful day trip to Venice, spent riding bikes along the beach and writing in coffee shops).

One month later, I returned to the West Coast with David's family to watch him walk across a stage and receive his diploma from the best film school in the world, the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. We even spotted John Goodman in the crowd! It was a truly unforgettable visit. Years from now, I will still remember waking up to the surf after a lazy afternoon on the beach in Malibu with David and his sister, Leah. I will remember getting Baskin-Robbins in San Pedro and chatting late into the night before David's graduation. I'll remember my first delicious visit to Mendocino Farms and waiting in line to get a picture taken with both the Banana Stand and the stair car from Arrested Development. And I will definitely remember my brief encounter with Taylor Lautner on the way to dinner at Gyu Kaku, which taught me two very important things: never be afraid to ask for what you want, and always, always get a damn picture with Taylor Lautner when you get the chance.

In July, I left the country again--with my family this time--to visit Ireland, Scotland and England. While in Ireland: I kissed the Blarney Stone, became a Galway girl, drank Guinness in Dublin and walked along the Cliffs of Moher.

In Scotland, I walked between tombstones in the Necropolis of Glasgow, ate French cuisine, learned of Princess Kate giving birth (finally!), visited Edinburgh Castle, enjoyed afternoon tea aboard the HMY Britannia, and drooled at some of the most gorgeous architecture from atop an open-air bus.

London was our final stop, and with it came a whirlwind of famous sights and sounds. A flight delay put us on fast forward from Heathrow, to our hotel to freshen up, to Matilda the Musical in London's theatre district. In a span of four days, I saw the inside of Westminster Abbey, the towering entirety of Big Ben, the underside of the London Bridge, and the top of city skyline from inside the London Eye. I gazed upon the Crown Jewels (stunning), walked through the halls of Buckingham Palace (also stunning), visited the Empire Theatre (where Daylight would screen in August), and walked through the illustrious Harrod's department store. Finally, I had to get a traditional Abbey Road picture in honor of the four mop-topped greats who came from London town.

Later in the summer, I also went on some wonderful quick trips with two of my best friends. I went to both Nashville and Garden of the Gods with my friend Morgan, and in early August, I spent a weekend touring downtown Chicago with my pal Baker. We even got our picture taken with drag queens on Navy Pier in the rain.


2013 was very much a year when I hit the books. Below is a list of the books I read from May through December, because that's when I started keeping track. The asterisks indicate my personal ratings of the books, on a scale of 1-5 (5 being fabulous, of course), and the bolded titles are ones that I highly recommend.

***** Mystic River
*** The Secret Life of Bees
**** Year of Wonders
**** Visit From the Goon Squad
**** Middlesex

**** Shutter Island
**** The Long Halloween
*** The Palace of Laughter
*** Joyland
***** The Davinci Code
***** One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
***** Interpreter of Maladies

**** The Namesake
* The Seven Days of Peter Crumb
** Light of the Feather
* A Walk to Remember
*** Skinny Dip
** Basket Case

**** The Amnesiac
** Heart of Darkness
**** The Big Sleep

*** The Janitor's Boy

Currently, I'm reading Slaughterhouse Five, and I already have a feeling it's gonna be ***** (...meaning fabulous, not some dirty word).


From May through August, I worked 40 hours a week for the YMCA day camp in my hometown. Working with so many kids every day from 7-3 or 9-5 was often a test of will. Coffee and/or Advil was a daily requirement for handling headaches and staying cool under pressure. Sometimes I wanted to cry as easily as they could. I wanted everyone to be responsible for their own messes and mess-ups. But it was never that easy, and I'm glad it wasn't. The summer was rough, but every one of those kids tugged at my heart strings, and I cherish each and every one of the small but important moments I had with those kids, just for that short time in their lives.

During those same months I wrote freelance work for my local newspaper. I only wrote four articles in the summer--and one in December--but between my summer travels & working 40 hours each week, I was proud to write what I did. I met some wonderful people and got to put my name on some truly fascinating life stories, all while being paid for my work; what could be better?


This year did bring some tears, as well. The biggest personal loss I felt this year occurred right after the year began anew in 2013. On January 4th, my black cat and first pet, Columbus, died at home. He had been sick with feline leukemia for nearly three years, and he had shown signs of improvement going into 2012. However, over the course of the year he began deteriorating and losing weight more quickly, and when we brought home Otto in May 2012, it didn't do anything to help the process. My baby kitty cat was the first real pet I ever owned (besides summer social fish), and my parents, brother and I treasured him for the six years and two months that we had him. We buried him under his favorite tree in the backyard, where he would always sit and watch his best friend, Caspian the dog.

Growing & Learning

In May, I turned 20. No longer a teen, I have officially been on earth now for two total decades. It's pretty wild for me, but for earth that's like a fifteenth of a millisecond. To be honest, it was freaky and a little sad to realize I could never be a teenager again. This is, like, the decade when most women have babies and get married and finish college and buy their first real apartments. They find a job and start to pay their own bills and learn to really, truly become independent human beings. It's exciting and scary and makes my heart beat faster just thinking about it. But I think this decade will be okay. I have high hopes for it.

In the spring semester (and Fall 2012), I made straight As, and this fall semester in my third year of college, I did the same. My grades have improved incredibly these past two years, and I've never been happier about it.

I'm also now working toward becoming certified to teach Journalism, so that I may be able to teach journalism and writing courses at the high school level someday. That's another reason that I haven't written as much this semester: I've become so immersed in the School of Education and all it has to offer that I took a bit of a hiatus from writing about my personal self and focused more on what it means to teach others, to go into a classroom hoping to shape human minds every day. Teaching has always been an itch for me, and I'm so glad I decided to scratch. These last few months of 2013 really opened my eyes to a new world.

Living & Loving

October brought me one of my greatest nights in 2013. On October 5, after three years of waiting, DAYLIGHT finally had its day on the big screen. The hometown premiere was absolutely perfect: it was a night of dressing to the nines, reminiscing and catching up with cast members I hadn't seen in three years and being asked to autograph dozens of posters and DVD copies of the film. I truly felt like a princess on my throne. It was such a special night, and I'm so grateful to have shared it with my family, friends and all those who helped that night come true.
2013, in general, brought me a lot of love. After graduating from USC in May, David came back home late in the summer to organize the DAYLIGHT premiere, get some solid script writing done, and build a shed for his parents (and also to see this one chick he was kinda interested in). Five months of weekend trips home and week-long visits together at school. Five months of day-long writing sessions at the Runcible Spoon; of late night study grinds fueled by spiked coffee; of movie marathons and pumpkin-carving over the Halloween weekend; of day trips to Nashville, dinner dates on 4th Street and discovering new places, on campus and off. Fall of 2013 was one of the best seasons I can remember; it's certainly one of the semesters I will cherish most long after I've left IU.

So now the year draws to an end, and so, too, another chapter of my life will close. Next year brings with it new permissions and new responsibilities. It comes with challenges and new opportunities. I suppose I could be sad at seeing the time slip away, at growing closer and closer to the time when my college years will end and I will truly have to be that twenty-something with the apartment and the job and etc etc etc. But I'm not sad, not yet. Right now, I feel on the verge of experiencing a million different wonderful things. In January, I will begin both a new internship and a new job. I will be attending weekend trips in both Tuskegee, Alabama and Chicago, Illinois. I will begin a new chapter and year of my life. I will learn more, see more, and do more. And I can't wait.

Welcome, 2014.

~ J9