03 March 2012

An essay

This was my scholarship essay this year...I think it kind of describes some of my thoughts at this time in my life pretty accurately so instead of writing "Variations on a theme" I'll just post the original.


Out of the Box
When I was little, I had a huge cardboard box. I loved it. I would crawl into it, close the lid, and find myself in a slightly stuffy, well-defined space. Who is in the box? Valerie is in the box!

Boxes are great on a physical level. But compartmentalizing myself isn’t so easy anymore, because once I was old enough to understand metaphors, I learned that boxes are ways we separate and organize elements of ourselves. Big or small, crazy or serious: we copiously label mental boxes with adjectives and usher in every noun that fits inside.

Labels are helpful. They give us structure, organization. However, what happens when a single label isn’t an adequate description? I was a sponge-like child who soaked up knowledge instead of salt water. Learning to read wasn’t a chore; it was the gateway to understanding road signs and backs of cereal boxes and cookbooks. I loved science: it meant understanding nature. I loved math: it meant understanding distances and time and quantity. I loved everything.

Then came boxes. My sister developed into an “English” person, denoted by her disgust with math classes and love of writing. A friend advanced rapidly in the arena of science; streamlined for a career in biology amidst the natural environment he loved. Everywhere I looked, people expressed their own special talent, a box with a distinct label. I excelled in school, but had no single talent to show me a box I would fit into.

I am lucky to have both innate gifts and external circumstances that give me a broad span of opportunities to pursue. However, it sure makes declaring a college major difficult! That was one of my incentives to take a gap year in Ecuador last year instead of immediately enrolling in college: I hoped taking a step back from the role of a “student” would allow me time to discover who I truly wanted to be.

Ecuador did guide me, though not in the clear-cut terms I was expecting. My experience gave me a new perspective on majors: Instead of confining boxes, it was studying something you enjoy and have strength in, that then branches into a career. This more organic view has helped me grow and answer the big question of What I Want To Do With My Life.

I like language. I have strong memory for words and patterns, two important skills for written and spoken languages. I like to think about how meanings differ between languages. I like science, interpreting patterns occurring in nature’s language.

I’m going to double major in Foreign Languages and Linguistics, with a minor in Marine Sciences, and see where my career will grow from there. Perhaps I don’t fit into the set of boxes I have been conditioned to accept and use. I am learning to leave those boxes behind, though, and revel in the unique mixture of essence that is me. I accept that I am not a math person or history person, and never will fit into a tidy box. I love being who I am, though, and I am happy that UAF gives me the opportunity to express the multiplicity of my interests.

-----------------------------o--------------------------o-------------------------o---------------------------------

Anyways. Besides the fact that it was pretty close to EXACTLY 3000 characters (the max length) I feel like that was the first time I didn't filter things as much. Usually for a scholarship, I would make stuff up about how it would be a perfect fit and the attributes of the college/money-giving organization that I admire. And it's worked for me. I hope this works for me too on a financial level, but also a real level. Because I liked my other scholarship essays, and I was truthful in them, but I really enjoy the open honesty of just writing about what I want to write about.

19 January 2012

The Fault In Our Stars

This morning, I exchanged a yellow slip of paper for a small package containing John Green's latest novel, The Fault In Our Stars.


It took me 13 hours to finish it.


I used to devour every book I was able to get my hands on, and read intensely in this focused, starved way. As I grew older and was exposed to more literature, I learned to take my time in reading. I had "school books" and magazines and I realized that chapters could be stopping points and bookmarks would hold the place for more than the few minutes it takes to eat dinner. I had a life outside of turning the next page.

Every once in a while, though, I get a book that reminds me of why I was that child that would curl up uncomfortably in the windowsill to read using the last glimmers of Alaskan twilight, since it was after lights out and according to my parents, I was asleep.

The Fault In Our Stars is one of those books. It is filled with John Green's humor and style. It has an interesting plot, and the well-written characters in this book add to the long list of Fictional People I Would Want To Be Friends With.

Anything John Green writes will at least be mediocre-good, just because he's an excellent writer (I'd read his grocery lists). What makes this book special, though, is the way it expresses very real parts of very real life. It acknowledges the clich├ęs without falling victim to them. It finds the line between poignancy and cheesiness.

I don't have cancer. I don't have people near to me that are suffering from the terminal illnesses that are the plot of The Fault In Our Stars. So I can't know this for sure, but I believe that this book depicts, at least emotionally, the effects of Cancer (Capital C) and its presence in life pretty well.  I like that it diverts from the "Constant Stoic Graceful Cancer Fighter" stereotype while still allowing its characters their share of virtues and strengths. I like that Hazel's relationship with her parents is not bad, and not a problem in her story. I like the lack of ambiguity in the ending, and that it ends in a full sentence. I like the title, and that the title is from a quote, and it actually fits into the book's themes without pulling the book out of shape.

Basically, you'll want to read this.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering...Mine is signed in BLUE SHARPIE. Which was only signed on 2.96% of the 150,000 books signed total. So that means this book is one of roughly...4,440 books signed in Blue Sharpie. Woo!!)

15 January 2012

A new name

I changed the name of my blog!

It is now a phrase in Spanish; "Lo que quiero decir". In English, it means "What I want to say" or "What I mean is..."

Now that I'm not living in Ecuador, life is...different. Not bad at all. Its the natural progression for my life, and I love the direction I'm going in now. But my life isn't as exotic-sounding as it was. So, "Experiences at the Equator" really didn't fit it anymore.

This new title fits me in my current place in life. My blog is just that: what I want to say about whatever is on my mind.

What I'm thinking about now is the trip I just got back from: a 2.5 week journey through Turkey, and a whirlwind trip to Israel, finishing with a brilliant, fleeting three days in the Baha'i World Centre. And all of this done with Elika.

I was so lucky to be able to do this for my winter break. There are so many moments I want to recap, but I'm writing this during the commercials for the Golden Globes, and I don't think I can accurately talk about it without mimicking the sappy acceptance speeches on TV.

So, another time. For now, I hope everyone adjusts to no-more-vacation, back-to-school and that they enjoyed the break as much as I did.