When I Was Seven Years Old...

When I was seven years old, I went to Rome. We were there on some of the hottest days the city had seen in a very long time, but we still ventured out of the hotel room and into some of the popular sites. One such site was the Colosseum. My mom wanted to see it, and although I had very limited knowledge of what it was, my religious upbringing had taught me enough to know that Christians hadn't always been very welcome in Italy. That knowledge hung in the back of my mind as we stood in one of the lines leading into what was now a popular tourist attraction.

At some point, someone sent me, my brother, and my dad to one line and my mom into another. Instantly, I felt panic set in. You see, I'd learned what the Colosseum used to be, but no one had told me that wasn't what it was anymore.  And without that critical piece of information, I fully believed I was never going to see my mom again after watching her change lines. Tears filled my eyes and I felt myself begin to panic.  Somehow, at some point, everything was resolved and someone explained to me what had happened. I don't remember the reasoning, but I remember the feeling of knowing that I wasn't separated from my mom anymore. She was okay. I was okay. Everything was okay. 

Last year, I got political a lot on this blog. During the 2016 election, I cried, I wrote essays, I yelled into a void trying to find answers to questions I didn't think I'd ever have to ask. Sometime in the last year, I stopped writing about my opinions on politics and stuck to simper things. Lately I've been writing about my graduation and nostalgia, and books and places and poetry and other good things. But in the past week I have once again been greeted with a stark reality. 

There are children in this country who are being separated from their families. They are in a country they don't know very well, and they are in a country where they are not always welcomed with open arms. I'm sure some of them know this. There are children in this country who are being separated from their mothers. There is probably a line involved, whether literal or metaphorical. They are going one way and their mothers are going another. There is one major difference between my story and the one they are living right now: No one is telling them everything is going to be okay. Their mothers are not returning in a few minutes to give them a hug and a kiss and say it's okay, they are right here. Their mothers are not able to say they are okay, that their children are okay. They can't say that everything is okay. 

I don't know how to make everything okay. I don't even understand how we got here in the first place. This is callous. It's shameful. It's disgusting. In fairytales, whenever a child is taken away from their home, we all know it's the monster who did it. The story continues and the monster is defeated. I don't know how to defeat this monster. I don't think any one person can defeat this monster. So I am leaving links at the bottom of this piece. Please do what you can. I'm a spiritual person, but thoughts and prayers alone cannot fix this anymore. The hole is too deep. We are all stuck in it. 

Until we find a solution, please do me a favor. If you have children, hug them a little tighter today. If you have parents around, first remember a time when you thought you'd been separated from them, and then go give them a hug too. Be empathetic. Put yourself in the shoes of those children. We need to do what we can so soon someone can tell them everything is going to be okay. Soon, their mothers need to be able to give them a hug and a kiss and say that they're right there. We need to put these families back together. 

 My mom and me in Rome

My mom and me in Rome

1,391 Days Later

My time in high school was anything but extraordinary. For the first two years, I went to a school in the bay area, surrounded by creative, technology-oriented people. I lived with my mom, brother, grandparents, giant golden retriever, and guinea pig, Bugsy. My Freshman year was spent trying to catch myself up on all the stuff I seemingly missed in elementary school, learning lines for drama class, and generally trying to get a handle on the whole "high school" thing. I asked a boy to a banquet and then couldn't go because I asked too late, went to Utah for the second time, and avoided my Religion teacher due to many differences of opinion. I spent a couple weeks the summer after the school year ended in England, Wales, and Scotland. That trip remains one of my favorites to this day. 

My Sophomore year wasn't that different, except I quit drama, replaced it with yearbook, and spent most of my time writing songs in my bedroom for no one but myself (and, as I learned later, my grandparents. The walls were thin). My life was filled with Troye Sivan lyrics, origami dragons, and crumpled paper filled with ideas I'd decided weren't good enough. I won a writing contest and got a scholarship to a college I'm not going to attend. Bugsy died towards the end of my Sophomore year, and after a summer of heartbreak, Scout became a dear companion. I took piano lessons for a while, got calluses on my fingertips from guitar, and drove to school with one of my best friends while sipping Earl Grey tea. Looking back, I was happier than I realized in the moment. I wasn't in the best place geographically, but I was in a good place mentally. 

By my Junior year I was living in Sacramento and had somehow ended up taking two English classes, both with more Seniors than Juniors. I befriended many of those Seniors, and some are still close friends of mine now. I spent Saturdays at my grandparent's house, started writing for this website, and practiced for a Les Mis audition that didn't go to plan. I still worked hard for the musical, and that experience is one I will hold close for a long time. My time was spent reading up on Romantic Era poets, learning music for The Messiah, and developing a strong addiction to coffee. Scout died in March, I had my heartbroken in April, and some of my best friends graduated in June. I spent time in Seattle the following summer, which turned out to be one of the best parts of my 2017. My Junior year had a rough beginning and ending, but a beautiful middle. Looking back, I'd consider it to be the best of all four years. 

My Senior year was about as busy as they come. I was the Religious Vice President for SA, had a job with a retired teacher from the summer before until the end of January when I eventually quit. I participated in Pirates of Penzance as one of the General's daughters, and spent lots of time working up the courage to participate in a poetry open mic at a nearby library. Speaking of poetry, I wrote mountains of it. I took film and photography, wrote some articles for Journalism, and went to the fall banquet as Alice (as in Wonderland) where I got to wear a giant black bow headband. I went to England in March where I spent hours with four of my five cousins and then spoke in front of my entire school two days after returning home. I went kayaking and running and spent the majority of my time being very content with where I was. I was stressed and cried a lot, but I was still very happy. 

High school for me wasn't anything extraordinary. I traveled a little, met some cool people, and wrote some things I'm proud of. I have lots of great stories that you'll inevitably hear about in the years to come, but it's not like I did anything extraordinary. If anything, my life is shaping up to be crazier now that I've graduated. I'm spending the summer in three countries, and this month has will be spent interning for a nearby theatre, and I'll continue doing that through much of July as well. 

I don't think your life needs to be extraordinary to be amazing. I have been blessed enough to be surrounded by extraordinary people in some of the most ordinary of places, and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. In 1,391 days I traveled the world, had my heart broken and then mended it, and wrote lots of poetry. I started this website, made friendships that will last a lifetime, and read tons of good books. Although anything but extraordinary, those 1,391 were some of the best of my lifetime. If that's what ordinary looks like, I'd love to spend the rest of my life as ordinary as possible. 

 August 12th, 2014 

August 12th, 2014 

 June 03rd, 2018

June 03rd, 2018

Not So Scary Anymore

At the end of season 3 of Gilmore Girls, Rory Gilmore graduates from high school. In the last scene of the episode, she and Lorelai are running through the grand entry way of Chilton, when all of a sudden, at the top of the stairs, Lorelai turns Rory around and says "See? Not so scary anymore." When I watched this episode at the beginning of this school year, I almost started to cry because it hit me right where it needed to. I watched the episode again last week, and it hit me in the exact same way. 

I graduated on Sunday, and by the time you read this I will officially be a high school graduate, which is something I was starting to doubt would happen by the middle of April (senioritis is real, guys. Too. Real.) In watching that episode of Gilmore Girls I was reminded of my first day at the school I graduated (!!!) from. I've told this story before, but bear with me because I'm definitely nostalgic right now: 

August 18th, 2016 - I wake up and look at myself in the mirror for a longer amount of time than I probably should. I turn on a playlist of songs that I hope will make me feel more excited but then quickly realize that it's not working. I get dressed in a gray skirt and a red sweater because I read once that by wearing red you can make people like you more. I spend the drive to the school telling myself that it'll all be okay, but when my mom pulls into the parking lot I slump down in my seat and hope for that cloak of invisibility to show up. My mom forces me out of the car after a few minutes and I walk carefully towards the playground, the whole time thinking that this is the scariest thing I'll ever have to do. I go to the wrong playground and am escorted to the flagpole by some eighth graders. I stand in the back by the gate while I wait for someone to talk to me. The gate is high and a dark black, looking strong and scary, and seems to symbolize all I am afraid of in that moment. 

I spend my morning following the girl who had talked to me first to all the classes we had together. She introduces me to a few people, and I start to wonder if this won't actually be as bad as I thought it would be. 

Then I realize I'm late to my first English class. 

I come back from that class more nervous then ever. It had gone fine, but being late didn't help my nerves any, plus I can't find that girl and I don't know where to go next. I look up to the gazebo, where I see a few groups of people sitting and eating their lunches. I walk over to a couple of nice looking students, one who I recognize as being in my class. I ask if I can sit with them and the girl says yes. I sit there and listen to them talk for a couple minutes. They don't say anything to me, and I realize I am too afraid to say anything to them, so I get up and walk to the bathroom. It's empty, and I stand in the farthest stall and start to cry. 

When I get home, I look at my calendar and count the days left until I graduate. "Only two years," I tell myself. I take a shower and think that no day could possibly be worse than the one I just had, and I tell myself that at least I never have to do my first day again. I go to sleep and can't help but say again, quietly, "Only two more years." 

June 03rd, 2018 - I wake up and look at myself in the mirror for a longer amount of time than I probably should. I listen to music that makes me happy and a little nostalgic, and feel the excitement start to bubble. I put on my white dress with blue flowers, because I saw it online once and thought it was really pretty and got it specifically for my graduation. I drive with my mom to the school and look around, trying to take in the drive as much as I possibly can while being ridiculously happy and distracted by all the good things that are about to happen. 

We pull into the parking lot, and my mom parks in a familiar spot. She turns to me with tears in her eyes, and I feel my eyes begin to do the same. She reminds me of that moment two years ago, when I wouldn't get out of the car. When I was afraid of the unknown, afraid that I would fall, and afraid that I would never find my place. I remember that day in August when I refused to step out into the unknown, and when I step out of the car on this June day I walk towards the gate without any fear, like I've done a couple hundred times since. 

As we go through the morning, I stop and talk with the people around me who I have become friends with over the past two years. A few of us reminisce about our time together. We talk about how weird it feels to be standing in the courtyard wearing caps and gowns when just nine months ago we were correcting ourselves from saying we were Juniors. We say how this feels almost fake, like we're just practicing and it still isn't real. 

Before I march, I give my economics teacher a quick hug. I walk through the sea of people and everything automatically becomes a blur. A happy blur, but a blur nonetheless. After it's all over, as I walk outside to leave the parking lot for the last time as a student, I stop and look at the gate. I take a deep breath, smile to myself, and say quietly "not so scary anymore." 

 Me, feeling not so scared anymore. 

Me, feeling not so scared anymore. 

Thoughts from the Top of St. Paul's Cathedral

Two and a half years ago, I visited St. Paul's Cathedral for the first time. I climbed up to the Whisper Gallery, but because I have a slight fear of heights (or so I thought), I told myself that one day I'd return to go up the rest of the way. Back in March, I did it. Even though I wanted to stop once we got to the Stone Gallery, my aunt convinced me to keep going (like a good aunt does), and I'm really happy I did. Throughout the climb, thoughts circulated through my head, and this post is how I'm organizing all of them. 

Whispering Gallery - Do the thing that scares you because it scares you. 
Anyone who has climbed up St. Paul's cathedral, or even up the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery will know that it isn't an easy thing to do. When my aunt and I got to the Whispering Gallery, we stopped and looked up the ceiling for a while. It's a beautiful ceiling, full of intricate paintings done by someone brave enough to go up to a great height without all the safety measures of the 21st century. I'm a little bit scared of heights and tight spaces, so even though I wanted to get to the top, I was nervous about it. That's when I told myself what I've been telling my friends for years: Do the thing that scares you because it scares you. 

Doing things that scare you isn't always a bad thing. Sure, doing something dangerous just because it scares you would be stupid, but when there's something safe that still scares you, doing it is good. Climbing up to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral was safe, but is still scared me so much. The fact that I was scared just made the whole experience even better, and it's a cool to story to tell now. 

Stone Gallery - Change is a good thing. 
Over the course of my life, I have consistently been very resistant to change. For as long as I can remember, I've been happiest when nothing has changed. When everything stayed the same, I felt secure and happy. But, as with everyone else, as I've gotten older more and more has changed. When walking up the stairs to the Stone Gallery, I remembered that two years earlier, I never would have climbed that far, let alone any higher. I realized that in the time I'd been spending being afraid of change, I'd been changing anyway, only in good ways. I've become far braver, more able, and more sure of myself in the last few years, and none of those are bad changes. 

Change is a good thing, even when it seems bad at first. Everything has a way of working out the way its supposed to. All the bad stuff figures itself out, and all the good stuff stays around as long as it is needed. 

Golden Gallery - Be like the brave artists. 
While sitting in the Whispering Gallery, my aunt mentioned that the process of painting the ceiling would have been insane. I then started thinking about how scary it must have been to paint your art that in that high of a place, without the safety measures we'd have today. They were brave artists. When I was walking up from the Stone Gallery to the Golden Gallery, I felt the anxieties of being in a tight space while going up steep steps. As I went back down to begin the descen back to the first floor, I again felt that fear. But I kept reminding myself of those brave artists, the ones who put their love of art above whatever fear they may have felt. 

The job I want is not something that will come easily. I've read book and listened to talks and if I've learned one thing from those, it's that sometimes it isn't about talent but rather about who you know and when you know them. That's a scary thought to me, because I don't want to worry about missing opportunities so much that I end up miss them anyway. I strive to be like the brave artists, who don't let fear get in their way.*

*but I am definitely not painting the ceiling of a cathedral. That's too much for me. 

 A picture I took after climbing up. An odd angle, maybe, but I still kind of love it. 

A picture I took after climbing up. An odd angle, maybe, but I still kind of love it. 

An Ambush

I was thirteen years old the day I was ambushed in a school kitchen.  I was sitting out in the courtyard area of my elementary/middle school and had just finished eating lunch. I was about to walk back to my classroom to set up my stuff a little early (as I often did in those days), when suddenly I heard a voice say "Claira? Can we talk to you for a second?" I turned around and saw the woman who served the hot lunches and her daughter looking at me through the window. I nodded and walked into the kitchen where I was escorted to the pantry area at the back. What followed was something that can only be described as an ambush

The daughter of the woman who had called me over sat down on a small stool. Let's call her Tina. I'm pretty sure she sat down so she could be more on my level, but Tina was already shorter than me to begin with, so when she sat down I just felt like I was towering over her. I stood there with my hands in my jacket pockets, which was something I'd started doing to keep me from biting my nails when I was nervous. Something about this already seemed weird, and it only got weirder when Tina opened her mouth. 

She started to tell me how awfully I was treating her sister (who we'll call Leslie) and how I was always sticking up for her when a boy in the class above us (who we'll call Sam) treated her badly. I waited until she was done talking, and then said that, from what I had witnessed, Leslie was the one mistreating Sam, and every time I was "sticking up for" Sam, it was with good reason. Tina rolled her eyes and said something about how I needed to start treating Leslie better because I was being a bully. I knew Tina didn't have the full story, and I knew that she probably never would, so I took a deep breath and said, "Okay, can I leave now?" Tina rolled her eyes (again), said "sure, Claira" and then left before I did. When the door opened, I could see Leslie sitting outside, seemingly oblivious to what had just happened. 

Sam and I hadn't always been the best of friends. We met when I was seven and he was eight, and we've stayed in touch over the years, but there have been moments in our friendship where we really haven't gotten along. But I knew that Leslie wasn't treating him well, and while I don't remember the details of it anymore, I do know that what was happening really wasn't okay. I knew things about Sam that Leslie didn't know, and I also knew things about Leslie that Sam didn't know. It could be said that I was stuck in the middle of these two people, but I wasn't impartial. I knew one of my friends wasn't being treated well, and I had talked to Leslie about it. I knew that I wasn't being mean to Leslie, and I knew that something was really off about my interaction with Tina. So I did what I always did when something felt weird at school: I left the kitchen, and went straight towards the playground where my mom was sitting and watching her students.*

I sat down next to her and told her what had just happened. I have never seen my mom get that quiet in the face of anger before, but I remember that she took out her phone. I didn't learn this until a few years later, but my mom went up to Tina and told her that she couldn't trap me in a kitchen and talk to me that way without her around, and also that she should have known better because she was older. An ambush like that never happened again. 

Doing the right thing isn't always going to be appreciated, and sometimes the right thing is going to look like the bad thing to the bad people. Sometimes the "right thing" doesn't even feel like a big deal. Me being nice to Sam and not letting Leslie teat him unfairly didn't seem like a "right vs. wrong" situation, it just felt like the decent thing to do. Later that same day, when I was talking to my mom again, I told her that even though the interaction with Tina didn't seem like a big deal, it had left me feeling really bad. My mom looked at me and said it was probably because someone had tried to take my power away. Tina may have sat below me so I was standing above her, but her words and the way she said my name at the end made me feel so small she could have squashed me with her pinky toe. 

There are few moments in my life where I have felt small, but that one day in the school kitchen was definitely one of those moments. This story is just one example of a time when someone made me feel small, but since that day I've learned that even though people may make you feel small, that doesn't mean you actually are. When people do things to other people and make them feel like they have no value in the world, that makes them the small ones. When people try to squash you down, know that they are actually lifting you up higher. Know that you are the one who will fly into the world stronger, and know that you are the one who will build everyone else up because you know what it feels like to be knocked down. 

*quick side note: I've noticed that whenever I tell stories from my elementary school days, there always seems to be a moment where I mention that I went to find my mom. Apparently this happened more than I had thought. Okay, back to the story...

Healing in a School Parking Lot

When I was in seventh grade, I almost switched schools. There was a middle school near the school I'd gone to since kindergarten, and I was very close to transferring there for eighth grade. I was tired of being treated badly by the girls in my class, and I needed something to change. So my mom, grandmother, and I went to an open house for the middle school and looked around. I loved it. I wanted to go there. I didn't want to go back to my current school with the mean girls and busy work. 

This wasn't the first time I'd thought of switching schools. When I was in fifth grade, I almost switched to a school that was mainly project based where you were in school for three days of the week and the other two were spent at home working on the projects. This wasn't a new idea, and the mean girls weren't new either. I'd never really felt like I fit in at that school. I went through puberty first which was a whole thing in itself, but I also had more acne, bigger hips, and blonde hair. These are awful things to have when you're thirteen and no one else is the same. (I would like to say, though, that because I went through puberty first, the acne was gone and the hips proportioned themselves out around the same time everyone else was just starting it all. That part was great.) This is all to say that I felt like the odd one out, and I was tired of it. 

After school one day, my mom and I drove past the school to see what it was like before going to the open house. I was listening to a song by Tenth Avenue North called "Healing Begins," and as we past the campus this part of the song played:

This is where the healing begins
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark

The school I was at was creating problems for me. Not only was I feeling left out, but by time I was sitting in the school parking lot listening to the song, I was being ostracized by the other girls. It was a really bad time for me in many, many ways. I didn't end up going to that middle school for reasons that include a sense of wanting to finish what I'd started, feeling sentimental, and being afraid of change. But what I've realized since that day is while I may not have gone to that school, the healing began in that parking lot. It was the day that I realized I didn't have to be in a  place that made me feel bad. I didn't have to put up with mean girls forever. 

The following year I went to the Bay Area with my mom to look at the place we'd be moving to. While we were there I visited the school I'd be attending for the next two years (though at that point I assumed I'd be there all four. Ahh hindsight...), and I again found myself in a parking lot looking at a new school, one that I would actually go to this time. In the past year, somethings were better and some were worse. My anxiety was really bad but overall I was pretty happy. I was swimming a lot and learning guitar, but my life at school wasn't much better than it had been a year prior. As I looked at this new school, all I could hope for was that it would be a place where I could grow. Where I could grow into someone who knew what a friend was, who was far more confident, and who knew who she was. What I got was a school that, while taught me what a friend was, worsened my self-esteem and confused me as to who I was. When I left, all I wanted was a place that built me up. 

In 2016 I found myself in two new school parking lots. One was yet another school I wouldn't go to (but would return to in November of 2017 to take my SAT), and the other was the school that I've been at for the last two years. In the first parking lot, all I could think of was how much it reminded me of my elementary/middle school, and instantly decided that it wasn't for me. But when I sat in the parking lot of the second school, all I could see was the trees, the brick buildings, and the fences. I had this sense of nostalgia for all I hadn't had at that school, and a sense of peace knowing that this was where I'd be going the next year. 

I've sat in many school parkings lots thinking of that song by Tenth Avenue North, and each time I've been in a different place in the healing process. That first school was not a good place for me, but I needed it because that last year taught me a lot about myself. My first high school wasn't a great fit, but I still needed to be there because it also taught me things I needed to know for the school I'm at now. The school I will graduate from has been the best of all three, but it wasn't where the healing began. 

The healing from bullies, bad family experiences, and perfectionism began that day in seventh grade when my mom and I sat in the parking lot of a school I would never go to. The healing began when I realized I wasn't in a normal environment and needed to go somewhere else. I needed all those parking lots to reflect on what was wrong at that moment and to think of everything I could change for the better. I didn't get the better life I wanted so badly right away, but the process of getting there began when I didn't even know it.