End of the Semester: A Poem

I read this tonight for our end-of-semester event, and thought that it said everything that I wanted to to say about the CESA/PGS experience

Four months in Europe and

I feel like I know less about…


I am dumb


and small

But have become a conscience

for the whole world,


Forced to play witness to privilege and power,

The politics of the world

my wheelhouse—

But I can’t miss the ignorance

that came from having never left

the South.

My pen is unable to render

something as complicated

or mesmerizing

as the Alps

towering over me,

unbelievably oversized,

or Pompeii,

a city of the dead,


where everything was brilliant to the point

of blinding,


where I fell in love

with a place too sprawling for comprehension.

And I still don’t know what I don’t know,

A first world kind of tragedy—

Every bit and byte of information

at my fingertips

but I’m on Facebook,

chatting with the friends I miss,

Tweeting that I’m going crazy

and just want home,

Taking pictures obligatorily

for the family who won’t make it over,

But smile smile smile

Just aint my style,

I want to exist within reality—

Good bad ugly breathtaking earthshaking,

I want it all together—

Maybe I think it makes for better poetry.

I am thankful

for life liberty

and the pursuit of cheap wine,

Thankful for dirt on my shoes

from nine countries

three continents

and countless places of awe—

Delphi Dublin Naples Cape Coast—

When did I become a traveller


But I still like my American streak,

inferiority mixed with patriotism

because I only speak English

and like drinking tap water

and can be bad at recycling


And now we’re


(mostly to Milan,

but still)

from a challenging vacation

from everything we had ever known

except being Hokies and Honors students

(what an identity!

Elite or elitest,

I’m not sure the right word,

but damn if I don’t agree

that a 3.5 got me a ticket to Europe,

Hard work and luck meets opportunity)

And I am glad that I was here.

I am glad that the Swiss welcomed us with…

Well, closed arms,

but no one was arrested

so I call it a successful transition—

And I am thankful for yall

For making this


for putting up with my shit,

for getting my bag on the train,

giving me food when I had none,

sharing clothes and long conversations

and longer plane rides,

and for letting me be myself—

Now a toast,

(With our nonexistent champagne flutes)—

To the places we’ve been

and the people we’ve met,

And all the places we are going

called home—



The Last Assignment: A Reflection

Last semester, we were asked to list our goals and places/experiences that we hoped to get done by the end of the PGS experience. I was vague in my “Goals,” but I think that I have kept up with them, and had experiences that exceeded even my lofty expectations. For instance, I wanted to “Notice differences between the US and Europe that aren’t widely discussed” and “Gain a more global perspective on news/environment/economy.” I think that I have done that far more than I anticipated. Talking American religion and politics in Wales or ideas of feminism in London brought me ideas that I could not have experienced in the United States.

I didn’t keep what I would consider an “extensive journal” of my travels, but I wrote more this semester than I ever have in the past. Thoughts, poems, and ruminations on my travels have all come out together to fill multiple notebooks and sketchbooks. I am taking these home with me to look through over the summer, and I think I will try to compile a digital version of everything that I have written this semester.

I said that I wanted to go to a city without an objective, which I achieved in Dublin. I had no idea what I could find in the green city, but it was one of my favorite places that I visited this semester. London managed to steal my heart by doing very little, and I have vowed to go back soon. I have also learned how to operate within a city, a goal that I thought was dubious at best. However, I have felt more at home in the crowded streets than the empty ones, loving that I can sometimes blend in with a crowd of students.

I went nowhere that I said I wanted to go, but I don’t feel like I have wasted my time in Europe. I did not see Venice, Florence, Rome, Paris, or Scotland, but I saw Naples, Ireland, Wales (which was where I always said that I would land), London, Athens, and Ghana. I never thought that I would go to Africa with a study abroad program, but it was well worth the experience, and exactly the type of attitude that I wanted to go into a developing country with—we were there to learn from the Ghanaians.

I came into this experience with shockingly few expectations, and I feel that I could have succeeded taking any number of routes to May. I could have gone to any number of places for spring break and had a fantastic adventure. I could have talked more in class, or less. I could have let more of my walls down, or built more. I could have written more.

I don’t think that I can call myself a global citizen or a global scholar because I have stayed, steadfastly, American. I must start somewhere to look at the world, and I start in the South. I cannot separate myself from my roots, nor do I want to. However, I think that I have seen a lot of the world and have come to better understand my own place in it.

This is going to be my last blog post out of Switzerland, so I suppose I should thank you brave souls who have read my work. I hope that it was mildly to exceedingly entertaining, fantastic beyond your wildest dreams, or at least honest. I think that’s what I was going for, when it all boils down.


My Black Journal: A Love Story

I got this journal the week before I was going to board a plane alone for the first time, go west of Tennessee for the first time, and camp for the very first time. It still has the dirt of the Sierra Nevada range on the first pages. My hands were not clean for six days.

The front page holds the titles. PARTNERS IN THE PARK Aug. 2012. Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon. “Peace is what I seek, To live and love, and be Free.” Cameron Taylor Fitzwater. Jan. 1994—April 2012.

I filled pages with poetry that was born of the isolation I felt on the rocks, of the people there from around the country, of pushing myself until I broke and putting myself back together again. I was shockingly raw that trip, telling everyone around Cameron and the other issues I had faced the last calendar year.

“I almost fell off a rock. Bryan caught me, my pack. It scraped my legs and arms. I bled. I almost cried. But didn’t.”

When I came back, I filled it with sprinkled poetry, the journal that was always there when I needed it, a more solid place than the spiral-bound notebooks that also held notes.

I took it to the NCHC conference with me in Boston, and read from it at one of the sessions that I spoke at. I wrote in it, about how I fell in love with the city and reconnecting with one of the guys from the Sequoia trip. I continued my practice of writing on planes.

“What’s the worst that can happen? You die.”

I didn’t write in it again for two months, until I was on the plane landing into Zurich.

Poetry, journaling, Italian vocabulary.

“The first time I wrote this, it was just four letter words. It was the biggest blood-letting I could muster, it was violence made solid. It was all of my congealed love for you on a page, and then I wrote it again.”

Nonfiction essays, the beginnings of stories without endings, vegetative state type writings that get me nowhere.

Doodles, random notes, my own phone number that I can never remember.

Poetry. So much poetry.

My reactions to Berlin (I suppose that it did not come with me to Athens, or if it did, I did not date the poetry). My reactions to Wales, the place I said I had to touch before I went home. Naples, my exigency outline, ideas I have for poems that are fledgling but adorable, with pin feathers and greedy mouths.

April 4th came and went. I made a note of it.

“He calls me bright eyes, like a title, calling to me from across the room, and I pretend to Smile just for him.”

A spoken word piece that began as prose and turned to verse on the six hour flight from Istanbul to Accra. I wonder if I will ever be brave enough to share it. Poems on Ghana. Home again.

And here we are, with two sheets of paper to go, in this journal that has done so much for me. It’s a simple black journal, but the one that I panic if I do not have in my book-bag. It looks like adventure to me, like the things I never thought I could do.

I am leaving these two pages for my return flights. Maybe, something good will go into it for an ending, or maybe not. Maybe the last page will just be a scribble, a waste of graphite. Either way, it will be filled.


Getting to 20

I wrote this poem on the evening of the Boston bombings.

I have followed the rules.

I have gone to school,

learned how to share color & nap,

Geography geology biology & girlhood psycology

on why my glasses mattered.

I have gone to high school,

kicked my locker and flipped off

that town,

Dated the boy everyone said was just



Went to a college

where we bleed maroon and orange,

went to the mall,

went to the movies,

paid my own ticket,

paid my dues–

Crossed the Boston Marathon line

on a cold November night

when I fell for the city–

Saw the Twin Towers in ’96

from across the bridge–

Loved the boy in tie dye

who told me

to go make history.


I did everything


I grew up,


Thinking the world worked out

for people like me.


The Sublime and Western Expansion: Comparisons to Today’s Society

This essay sprung from a conversation that Erika Lower and I had on our way to a modern art museum in Geneva. I was trying to explain to her my fascination with art from the mid-nineteenth century and the idea of interconnectedness between art and culture (I fear, to no avail). Upon reflection, I wrote this very short essay.


As I understand the word, “sublime” means the awe that an individual feels whenever beholding a grand natural scene. It took hold during westward expansion and Manifest Destiny in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In art, one can see how nature was portrayed as overwhelming humans, who were often in the forefront of paintings in miniscule sizes. Great scenes from the West were sent back, from Rocky Mountain passes to the vents of Yellowstone.


The idea of the sublime holds intrinsic opposition within itself. Man was the conqueror of land, yet should be stopped in His awe of God. Getting to places of wonder (i.e. Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon) took Man’s might and bravery of technology and heart, but the land was shaped by the hand of God. In order to avoid blasphemy, it was said hat it was God’s will that Man should complete God’s work (as with the Erie Canal), and not that man was overcoming God.


No movement begins in a vacuum. Lewis and Clark’s expedition trickled back East, with wild tales and news of great-unspoiled land. The government gave land to settlers in the mid-nineteenth century, and after the Civil War, it could be a way to start over or escape the smoldering South. It also came at the time of North American industrialization, with factories becoming widespread and normalized.


Patriotism in America was often based on love of the countryside. Europe might have history and architecture, but the United States was an entirely new frontier for European eyes. What the States lacked in history, it made up for in sheer volume and grandiose displays of God’s handiwork.


I am fascinated by what industrialized society and jobs can do to a society and an individual. As a worker in a corporation, an individual becomes as a cog in a machine that they cannot see or understand. Great under-tides pull at the individual, affecting the wages and health of the worker without his full knowledge. Every boss has a boss, and politics at the highest most levels often include boards, so no one person can be pointed to as the bringer of pain or hard labor. However, supervisors and their equivalents often take the brunt of the blame. Men with vision tend to get put into history books, but hey were sometimes no more than schemers with means. The Trans-Continental Railroad was poorly planned and led to an untold amount of death and suffering; likewise, the Lewis and Clark expedition nearly ended in spectacular folly multiple times.


Religiously, different Christian groups see their worth in God’s eyes differently. There are some that see themselves as damned sinners in need of constant repentance, and others that see Man as the beloved, yet straying, child of God. However, each group can be compared, in the broadest strokes, as comparable to the idea of mechanization. Man cannot see the workings of god or understand the full affect of God in His life. Holding man on high, the king of nature, below First Creation kept Man in check. Man could not make the mountains, only the tunnels; He could not make the water, only hold it in artificial lakes. Wonder at the natural world was always held in the same hand as a need for explanation. Early peoples explained weather and animalistic behaviors as the work of the gods, an explanation that should not be discounted as the ramblings of the simple, in my opinion. These peoples were working within their known experiences, having not yet made the scientific discoveries of the last few hundred years that we today take to be granted and obvious. The need to explain the universe has extended back to the billionths of the first second after the Big Bang, as scientists attempt to see how the universe was truly created. While fascinating, I cannot touch a Higgs Boson particle, nor do I stand in wonder of a single celled organism.


(Call it my human-centric worldview)


The duality of Man in religion can be seen as far back as these original creation stories. The one with which I am most acquainted is the Protestant Christian story, in which God makes Man in His own image, and Man promptly betrays Him. A snake tricks the chosen race and ruler of nature. How can Man overcome his ways if, at his conception, He forsook his god? Contradictions of Man run deeply and His relationship with the nature that God created is no exception. It is hard to define the sublime, both for the individual and the culture at hand. We marvel at the Pyramids and the Hoover Dam, but they are the result of man’s unending quest to tame, wrangle, and contain nature.


In today’s capitalistic and market-driven world, I believe that very few cultures value anything more than money. A value is attached to every discovery, and the draw for expansion seems to be on what could be packaged later to sell. Private corporations must fund much of exploration with monetary stakes in the results. Whenever individuals speak of exploring the rain forest or deep oceans, they talk of the medical miracles we might find there in order to tug at the heart- and purse strings of the public… and goliath pharmaceutical companies for the financial backing. As much as I want a cure for cancer, I cannot fund an expedition or lab myself. The rich decide where to put their money, and aside from the obvious exceptions (Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling), many of the rich want a return on their generosity, and I do not vilanize them for their goals. It is the sad way of culture and the result of a ragingly capitalistic and cutthroat global market. We are victims of our American dream.


From the nineteenth century until today, the idea of Self in culture has remained fluid. However, I would argue that Americans remain fiercely patriotic and loyal to a greater cause, which (quite wondrously) are two qualities of communistic and socialist states. Being a “productive member of society” is the goal, but the act of production means making something at its core. And sure, you can tell me that I can make a student see the world in an entirely new manner, but the rhetoric of the situation cannot be dismissed. Why is production valued over influence or kindness? No one ever tells the high school junior with a 2.9 GPA that she will never be a kind member of society. In order to contribute something, you must make something, and demand will dictate that you make something worth buying. Becoming a cog in the machine, a gear in the clock, is preferable to falling off of the grid. We marginalize the people who don’t live up to the standards of production to which we hold everyone; wanting to be “just” a parent or low-level employee is seen as a character flaw instead of a life choice.


And now, we come back to the sublime. The idea that man could ever be at the mercy of nature appalls us. Whenever hurricanes come to shore in the US, we call it a natural disaster instead of nature. We have built in the swamplands, filling land with dirt and debris, and are confused whenever nature does not respect our boundaries. The relationship between God and nature in the American psyche seems to have changed considerably in the last two hundred years. Those who call a disaster a punishment from God (i.e. Jerry Falwell saying gays brought God’s wrath on the United States) are seen as a little off their rockers. We chalk it up to global warming or just plain bad luck, but very few individuals who have been harmed by natural disasters tend to look at their flattened home and say, “This is for my sins. I just know it.” In the same thread, we marvel at the glory of aforementioned man-made majesty, self-shrines to science that bastardize the land. I am a huge proponent of hydroelectric power, but filling valleys with false lakes hurts my environmental streak a bit.


I still think that Man can stand in awe of nature on the individual level. I believe there is a place in every human to feel both grand and insignificant in the natural world. Anyone who has stood on a mountain’s peak or breathed on the edge of the ocean knows how it is to feel as significant as an ant clinging to the edge of a leaf in want of the greatness he can see across the abyss. But as a culture and as a country, I don’t think that we feel the awe for sweeping plains or stunning vistas the way we used to. There are planes to fly over there, anyhow.


17 Days

I never expected to come abroad. The plane tickets from Charlotte to Zurich and back from Milan cost as much as I made in a month last summer, after I decided to go to Europe with PGS. I never thought that I could get sufficient funding to keep myself out of debt for studying abroad, and so, it was never in my Course of Study Planner, the tool that Honors gives students to allow them to plan their undergraduate careers. This was never on my VT bucket list, never in my life goal. Europe, to me, was as far away as the moon, and Africa? Mars.


When I was asked to join the 2013 PGS cohort in May 2012, I drove to Blacksburg, a 45-minute jaunt up I-81 that I had been doing for years, and met with the Honors faculty. I explained my financial situation and asked how they could help me. I also asked about the safety of the trip, as well as the course work. When I got home, I told my mom that I was going to Europe the following spring. She did not act surprised, but started looking up large suitcases online. I applied for my passport. At that time, I had only left the South twice, once to New Jersey when I was three years old and the previous spring break, a long weekend in Orlando with my aunt. For some reason, I was committing to spending 4 months oversees.


I worked two jobs all summer, averaging forty hours a week and going up to fifty-five when I was called in to cover shifts. I was a hostess and worked at a country club pool in the concessions stand. I worked out in the mornings in preparation for a week-long backpacking trip in the Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon with the Partners in the Park program, an initiative by the National Collegiate Honors Conference in partnership with the Park Service and sponsored by Southern Utah University to get Honors students from around the country involved in the US national park system. I had never even slept outside, and I had committed to this trip at the urging of the Honors staff.


That hiking trip remains a marker of change for me. I pushed myself past my physical and emotional limits, and thrived. I was braver than I had ever been before. I flew alone for the first time, went west for the first time, and tested my body’s endurance. I met fantastic people from around the country. I was cold and damp, sore and bleeding, but I did not stop. While walking out of the backcountry the last day, I wondered why on earth I had to go back. I wanted to keep walking forever.


Back in Blacksburg after my hectic summer, things began to fall apart, as they tend to do. I had fights with friends who I had thought cared about me, once. I pushed people away. I dropped two classes, admitting defeat in the face of twenty-two credits. And I came to realize that I would rather have my sanity than my 4.0. I wrote a lot of poetry in the fall of 2012, and got a B in Italian, the first time in my life that I got anything below an A. It felt nice to have the pressure off.


At home, the reality of my leaving became more and more real as the weather got colder. I elected to put up the Christmas tree with my family the Saturday after Thanksgiving rather than go to the VT/UVA rivalry game. My mom ordered me a giant red suitcase that was within TSA regulations. My passport had come. Paperwork mounted for PGS, and we met every couple of weeks to get information and get to know each other. I clung to my friends more, consciously making an effort to be around them for the half of the year that I was present. I came home more frequently than I did the spring of my freshman year as well. The weekend before Thanksgiving I went to Boston to present at an NCHC conference with members of the Honors staff. I parked my car at Roanoke Regional, went through security, had a twenty minute dash through Charlotte International, got into a cab alone, ended up at my hotel unscathed, and saw the sun set at 4:30 PM for the first time in my life. Boston was my first city, which is likely part of the fondness I hold for it. It was my first taste of freedom, a moment of possibility in a metropolitan area. The conference went well.


Still, I had never been away from southwest Virginia for more than a week in my life.


If you’ve kept up with this blog, you’ve seen the struggles that I have had while abroad. I am a creature of comfort and place; I am a compartmentalizer; I like being able to separate myself from stressful situations; and I’m a picky eater. All of these things have made PGS hard for me, in varying degrees, since the beginning. I don’t know how to describe the difficulty of this program. I have not felt that the coursework has been outside my understanding or out of my reach, nor have I worried about my classwork. Living abroad under these circumstances have made it difficult. I miss my family and friends, but I also miss just being able to talk to people in line in the supermarket. I miss having an actual grocery store in my town, not a 30 minute walk or train ride away. I miss wearing more than five shirts, my cowboy boots, real peanut butter, my shampoo, and having a working dryer.


I miss being around people who love me.


I had a recent conversation with a freshman at VT who asked for the pros and cons of PGS, as they were considering the program. I did not know what to tell her. How do you explain that the biggest adventure of your life has left you an emotional wreck at times? How do you explain that personal growth is often borne out of pain and necessity? How do you explain how it feels to look at the Berlin Wall, to navigate the Tube alone, to sit on the Acropolis, to hold yourself before the Sybil Stone at Delphi, to stand in the dungeons of a slave castle in Ghana, to explore the ruins of Pompeii? How do you explain profound loneliness in a group of nearly thirty Virginia Tech Honors students? How do you explain the exhaustion that comes with having to defend your beliefs and ideas every waking moment, as everyone tries to be right all the time? How do you explain 2 AM conversations in your hostel in London that restores your faith in humanity? How do you explain finding yourself by losing yourself?


How do you explain something as complex as an entire semester to someone who is willing to drop thousands of dollars on an experience like this?


I don’t know how to describe PGS to you, any of you.


The first time I was honest with my mom about this program, I ended up sobbing on Skype. I had tried to keep everything sunshiny and perfect, because I have spent money to get as far away from my family as possible, and there is not turning back. There is no forfeiting eighteen credit hours, no running home for a weekend of good sleep, no escaping these same thirty people for the entirety of my time here. I finally had to tell her that it was hard to be in Europe. The movies did not prepare me for this trip. I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for this moment, but I have felt resentful to the 2012 cohorts for presenting it as stunningly positive. It’s life, good and bad. You get out of this program what you wish to, and you leave behind what you wish to. I am excited to leave, but I know that I will take so many things home with me as well.


I am glad that I came to Europe. I don’t know how to go home now, though, and it worries me. My family still worries about me driving alone at night, and yet, I have navigated foreign cities alone for an entire day and evening at a time, with no one knowing where I am or what I am doing, and came out more than just fine. I don’t know how to build trust with my family enough to make them okay with me driving to Charlottesville to see my friends one weekend or enough to know that I have the sense to date someone in college without changing my career goals or master’s program for them; I am far too stubborn to let anyone come between me and my dreams, but they worry that someone will change my mind. I will always be my parents’ baby, and I am far from an adult, but I have grown this trip, and they have only been able to only see it in flashes.


A lot has changed in my absence as well. My sister’s boyfriend’s kids have all but taken over our house and stolen my parents’ hearts. We got a new roof, stove, and microwave. My dog is four months older now. My friends are a semester wiser, their relationship statuses and dreams shifting. They have made new friends, too. A few of my closest friends are graduating in May, and I missed their last hurrahs at VT. News has come and gone across my computer screen, shootings, bombings, explosions, and a host of other things to make me hope that the world will stop going crazy one day.


I will arrive home in seventeen days. I will be 20 years and 7 months old. I will have touched seven countries in my absence, including one in Africa. I will have traveled more than most people in my town and family, than most of my friends at VT. I will have taken thousands of pictures and filled notebooks with poetry and thoughts, with scenes from stories yet born. I will have not seen my family for sixteen weeks.


I never expected to be here. Perhaps it is why I have not strived to make it perfect. I am not paying for the majority of this trip (very few of us are), and there was never any pressure from my parents to go abroad; indeed, my daddy was against the idea in the beginning. No one expected me to go to Europe, although I often feel the pressure to be great from staff at VT. I refuse to say that a situation is good if it is not, and I refuse to keep people in my life who are toxic. It makes me enemies, but it keeps me sane. I spent years smiling when I wanted to scream and hooding my face from the world, and I have overcorrected immensely to being brutally honest and open with my issues. It is a balancing act that I have not yet mastered, being a positive person with a realistic world view, and I have to check myself from being too negative or blissfully overlooking stunning flaws in a situation or person.


I never expected to be here. I never truly expected to have my poems published anywhere, to have faculty who care about me, or have the respect of my peers for my writing. I never expected to find such a welcoming home at Virginia Tech, or that anyone would ever know my name there; my mom likes to pick on me for what I said as I was graduating, that I was excited to go somewhere that I could be anonymous. People with dreams never go unnoticed, I’ve decided, once they start to go for them.


I want to spend next summer in the UK studying somewhere. I want to go north for graduate school, into an MFA or Ph.D. program that I can grow in. But right now, I just want to go home.


Publication: The Nightmare You Wish For

I have been writing creatively for a whole fifteen years now (I know, I’m a baby) and started submitting works to contests when I was sixteen. I began submitting work to literary publications when I entered VT. If I recall, I have submitted to Silhouette 4 times and Philologia and Glossolalia once each, and have applied to about ten journals outside of VT. I have an inbox full of rejection letters and acceptance to one of those journals thus far, and have yet to hear from some of them. I read five poems at Glossolalia 2012; my poem was read aloud at the Steger Poetry Contest; four of my poems have been published in Silhouette; confirmed future publications include 2 in Silhouette Fall 2013, 2 in Philologia Spring 2013, and 1 in the Spring 2013 Roanoke Review.

I have also been writing for my local newspaper since I was 16, everything from Op-Ed to “actual” reporting pieces. Two of my opinion pieces have been printed in the Collegiate Times. I have this blog, my Facebook, and my Twitter account as well.

In short, a lot of my writing is out in the world for judging. There is a lot of hearbreak in the publishing world, and you cannot take anything personally… Except, poetry is personal. All creative writing is personal, because writers always put a sliver of themselves in print. When my essay entitled “I Am A Woman” was denied, I was livid. How dare they! How dare they say that this piece of writing that I had been working on for six month, the work that I had poured my heart onto, is not worthy of publication?! Of course, it wasn’t fit for publication in that journal. It was ragingly emotional and absolutely personal. It was not what they were looking for.

My poetry is inherently personal. I don’t do research based poetry; no matter where I go, I start with my experiences and myself. While my poetry is often heavily exaggerated or based off the experiences of those around me, it remains what I am saying about a topic or emotion.

I have been writing most of my life, but I never fail to get uncomfortable when someone blissfully plops down beside me (or Heaven help me, LOOKS OVER MY SHOULDER) and says, “Whatcha writing about?” Because the answer is usually, “Oh you know, a poem about how I want to die when I’m fifty” or “A non-fiction piece about my raging insecurities” or “A poem about love that is loosely based on this one guy that I cared about once.” Think about your favorite three books or poems… And try to explain them quickly, on the spot, in simple English.

Don’t you just want to die a little inside?

I am also against my work being read before I have time to edit. And if anyone touches my notebooks, so help me. There are things in there that no one has the right to read but me.

And yet, I chose to put myself out there. I chose for my work to be published for a general audience, my name at the top of a page that anyone can read. My poems out in the world make me nervous. I am not there to explain things to the audience. I have to trust that my words will speak for themselves.

I want my work to touch people, somehow, and make them think. I will never forget the first time I read T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” pages of Emily Dickenson, Nikki Giovanni’s “Convication Address,” or Langston Hughes’ “Theme For English B.” I cannot explain the emotion that those works made me feel, as if there was more out there than what I could ever understand, but I could try my whole life to manipulate words and emotion the way that they had to make an audience cry, gasp, clap, and keep reading.

Writing isn’t hard for me—editing is hard. Criticism is hard. Cutting out an entire verse that I thought was perfect is hard. Accepting that sometimes my writing is horrible is hard. Accepting that rejection is part of the process is hard. Wanting to have my name out there but being unwilling to write anything that could blurb with “love triangle YA” is hard. Loving my art so much that I get offended whenever anyone trivializes it is hard. Being asked what real job I want when I get older is hard. A person telling me that English isn’t a real major is hard. Working tirelessly on a CW portfolio and obsessing over adverbs is hard.

Wanting, more than anything, to write for the rest of my life is hard.

There is no guarantee in publishing. For every J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, there are thousands of writers barely scraping by, their books languishing in obscurity or rejected. While my dream career is to teach English at the university level, my dream life is to write endlessly and publish widely.

I will have to get used to slivers of me sitting around everywhere.


Why I Don’t Care About Mars

While visiting the Paul Scherrer Institute outside of Basel, Switzerland, I realized why I don’t care about space.


At the PSI, a particle accelerator and thingie buhdo (yeah, I’m a great physicist) is used to… see… things. Okay so I’m really iffy on exactly what happens when you slap a lot of particles together, but I do know that there have been some amazing results, and that various research groups for great things use the machines at the PSI. These things include a highly charged beam used to combat tumors in sensitive areas such as the eye and brain, and research in areas of solar energy.


As someone with a history of cancer in their family and a raging hippie green streak a mile wide, I can immediately see the benefits of these kinds of research. These are the things that can save lives and the Earth, as well as improving the life quality of individuals I have known. Practical and applied sciences make sense to me, even when I cannot adequately explain what the hell happens whenever some particles run into each other.


However, I cannot understand some people’s burning desire for Mars. In a News Roundup about a month ago, the Mars issue was discussed at length, and I found myself annoyed by the prospect of billions of dollars being spent on exploration on the planet’s surface. If anything, I want space exploration to be a private affair and privately funded.


But Emily, what if there was once life on Mars?!


If there was life on Mars, it obviously incurred some wrath of God to be annihilated.


Just kidding.


But actually, I don’t give two cents if there was once water on Mars. By the time my Earth gets to be a waterless, airless wasteland, I hope that my ashes have been recycled a few dozen times; if not, I’m killing myself before the nuclear apocalypse leaves me eating canned peaches in a hole in Wyoming. I don’t see any way that studying microorganisms on Mars (because we haven’t found evidence of anything yet, much less of multi-celled organisms) can benefit anyone in the next one hundred years.


It frustrates me to see so much suffering and issues with the world, and people demanding money to go beyond this world to a new one. We consume fossil fuels at stunning rates, disease wrecks entire populations, billions of people are living in poverty, and you want to tell me that I should support something for the purity of science? Whenever explorations took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, at least they were more transparent about what they were looking for: gold, silver, spices, trade routes, raw materials, and glory. There will be some sort of financial benefit for going to Mars, even if it is only in obscure patents or trans-planetary-tourism a few hundred years from now. Someone wants to make money from Mars, and they should go forth and pillage—on their own dime.


At the PSI, I saw some great scientific results from research. It makes me wonder why we don’t stop spending so much money on the military and invest in research more; funding will always be an issue in a country where the majority of congressmen don’t listen to the public (looking at you, Congress, for not passing the background checks bill whenever 86% of the population was in support) and the whims of a government that thinks it should be part policeman, part big brother to the whole world, and fires at the first sign of communism or economic threat. I want more funding for the common good, and I don’t think that war is good for anyone involved, on either side.


This is getting me far away from Basel, the cleanest and most peaceful city I have ever seen, but this blog isn’t called Rambling Thoughts for nothing.


And this is why I don’t care about Mars.


A Hokie Abroad: 4/16

I have become disconnected with the United States in the three months since touching down in Switzerland. I have no idea the price of gasoline anymore, and while I try to keep up with the news, the more mundane political turnings or strange interest stories have passed squarely under my radar.

Our program is 28 undergraduate Hokies, and the architecture program has 20 students of multiple grades, but all Hokies as well. Two of the local bars have VT tshirts hanging in them. You will get the same looks if you say “Virginia Tech” as you do if you ask for the “scuola Americana.” We are a Hokie force in far southern Switzerland. As such, I remain securely fastened to my Hokie identity, although my friends are notoriously bad at sharing news and I cannot participate in events on VT’s campus this semester.

The month of April is getting increasingly difficult to deal with. On April 4th, 2012, I lost someone who meant so much to me in a car crash. Around the anniversary of his passing, I was a nervous wreck, unable to properly eat or interact with my peers. It will probably always be hard for me to get through the first week of April. Yesterday, I watched the Boston bombing unfold in real time on my Twitter feed, and rushed to contact my friend, an avid runner, in Boston; thankfully, he wasn’t in the area, but I had been to Boston in November, had crossed the finish line of the marathon with Mrs. McIntyre on our way to dinner and smiled because it would be the only time that I ever crossed a marathon line. I walked that road multiple times, and I cannot understand how anyone would want to inflict such pain on the world.

Norris Hall, completely redone to be the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, still gives me a start. I visited friends in West AJ and wondered how it was for them, living in a footnote to the 4/16 story that will inevitably roll across a screen after every news story about a mass shooting. I have shopped in the New River Mall for years, the closest mall to Fort Chiswell, and now, when I go back, I will be reminded of a WDBJ7 update that made my heart stop. I pass by the memorial on the Drillfield multiple times a day whenever I am on campus, and I wonder how their friends and families are doing, that day, that moment, without their children, sisters, brothers, friends. I wonder how the living survive, sometimes.

My sister’s boyfriend has these two beautiful children, ages two and four. I haven’t met them yet, but we Skype regularly, and I am excited to meet them in May. They are the most innocent and wondrous people I have ever talked to. They go to daycare. Next year, one of them will go to kindergarten. We will send her to kindergarten hoping that no boy will push her down and that no girl will call her names, hoping that she likes her teachers and will be ahead in math class, will hope that she will be happy, above all else. We will take them to the pool and movies, where I will be absolutely paranoid because I’m not cut out for mothering, and I worry too much, anyway. We will go to the store, to a restaurant, to a park. We will not expect that our days will be shattered by tragedy.

No one expects a tragedy.

In the underground in Berlin, the lights would turn off on the trains between stations, and every time I wondered if I would be the background in an action movie, a screaming woman in the subway that someone else would have to save. I have been in crowds, in packed pubs, in stores where no one spoke English, have glowed white in the Ghanaian night, and I have had to trust that no one around me wanted to hurt me, to make violence toward me and those around me.

I’m always a Hokie, and I have been since November 2010, when I accepted my early-early decision offer. I moved into the dorm in August 2011, and since then, I have felt nothing but love and support from Hokie Nation.

But today?

Today is not about me. Today is not about how I feel, or my life, or my issues. Today is about the thirty-two individuals who had their lives taken from them, and all of their family and friends; this is about the wounded; this is about the survivors; this is about people who are so brave that I wonder if they are mortal; this is about Boston, Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Iraq, the Congo; this is about what happens when nothing makes sense, anymore.

I always go back and read Nikki Giovanni’s Convocation Address on 4/16. I had it memorized in high school for an academic competition, and I cannot express the comfort it brings to me. “Nobody deserves a tragedy.”


Desidereta: The Poem

Jonah Jones’s cutwork on slate of Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desidereta” in the Welsh National Museum, March 2013; a free-think, free-write reflection in the museum


Here, it is stone-worthy.

Here, a man took another man’s poem and put tool to rock, language to nature, and it is permanent. Here is art made solid, words made while. Here is truth as a man saw it, an impression of an impression of life.


[One day I want to say


with proud eyes

and believe it]


I have seen this poem, part of it, before, but it seemed artificial, plastic, candy coated, calorie-free on the Internet, yet another YOLO moment for this generation of independent lemmings with strong thumbs and fact hordes without wisdom to be found.


“You are a child of the universe,

No less than the trees and stars

You have a right to be here:

and whether or not it is clear to you

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should

with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

It is still a beautiful world.

Be careful

Strive to be happy.”


What honesty! What outright ballsiness and humancentrity that simultaneously remains all encompassing. What beauty of word cut into stone.


[What does this mean

to the elderly man and woman

standing before me looking at it?

What does it say

to them?]


There is something bigger



and you get to be its child,

get to grow on this little closed off planet

where we are related to every creature,

a sprawling evolutionary tree

that somehow we find ourselves

thinking we can control.


[Guns and atomic bombs,

But we still can’t predict the weather—

If there is a god,

She laughs at us]


What is at the center

if the universe unfolds?

Will it bleed and die?

Will it reveal endless folds,

an enigma of time and space?


[The paintings here

show Moses as white

by a French artist—

If God looks like me

I’m damn worried,

Because I’m weak and fallible

but men seem to like

the whitening of their Bible

and the strength of their genitals,

I guess I’d like me more

if God was a woman,



What happens

putting word to stone?

It changes a poem,

the arrangement of words quite different


than the artist would have dreamed—

It makes them concrete,


no longer erasable,

only smashable,

and that’s amuch harder job.


Would the poet be happy?

Would he lament his word choice,

cringe at the verse arrangement?


[“Oh that gas of a poem?

Wrote it in eight minutes,

cheesy bastard.”]


It was published in the 20s,

between Wars

before Deprssion

before Americans were forced to acknowledge

worldwide calamitites

via television and pictures of starving




[And a handful of dumbfucks

tell me the Holocaust was fake]


Before Korea and Vietnam,

wars of ideology

But tell that to my grandpa’s lungs

and the stories his brothers can’t tell.


[War is for protecting oneself,

Not the chess game of the powerful,

but I have only

loved rooks]


Before the 60s tearing apart the country

And now

A War on Terror.


[This is only

the end of the poem.

Bloody hell]


“Strive to be happy”


Try to be happy

Attempt a good life


[The pursuit of happiness

A fake movie

An okay idea

A stunning phrase, Mr. Jefferson]


Open to me by curse and gift of anatomy,

My hormones a cocktail for self-loathing—

white guilt

feminist rage

vegetarian supremacy




and caffeine—




That’s a lot of pressure

[Try to be happy]

Because what if I should



Hating myself is easy


Everyone tries to prove me wrong

When I don’t eat or sleep

And I drive myself crazy for days

And I don’t wish myself




“It is still a beautiful world”


Of laughter and color,

Music and touch,

A potential kind of place,

A one-world cozy fixer-upper,

no known neighbors—

But I think we could

make it work,

one day.