OK Go Concert

Skinny jeans and electric blue tights. And sweat--both on the foreheads of the concert-goers and on the sides of the bottles which they held above their heads like Best Hipster trophies. They chanted. They clapped. They cheered. "OK Go! OK Go! OK Go!" I felt the stickiness of a spilled drink on the back of my own tights but, really, I didn't care. The band had opened with a bang, quite literally, with a burst of confetti that snowed upon us. The tissue fluttered to the floor, or settled in our hair or on our flannel shirts. Or it found its way to our plastic cups of over-priced cheap beer. Shrug. We drank the pulp anyway, transfixed by T.V. screens and close-ups of nostrils and mustaches and teeth and song. Bouncing. Dancing. Singing. I knew only one song, the one everybody knows, the one with the treadmills in the music video. But I didn't care. They were musicians. They were entertainers. They were people who sang and played and gave us all one hell of show on a Sunday night. And I was just one body, one person, one mind, and one voice in a kaleidoscope of souls entwined with the paper rain. And I didn't care.

Cicadas, Lightning Strikes, & Nostalgia

It's getting harder to tell the difference between loneliness and homesickness. I came back from Iowa just two weeks ago, and already my soul aches. Here I am, in the heart of Indianapolis, with windows thrown wide. They've been that way for two days now, actually. Last night, the cicadas were buzzing, droning, and drowning everything but memories of my backyard in Iowa, when I'd lie in the hammock, bare-footed and armed with a book. The hammock had been stretched between a pair of honey locust trees, two of the oldest and tallest on the block. The one my head was usually nearest had been hit by lightning years before, during a thunderstorm that had dropped golf ball-sized hail and an impenetrable curtain of rain.

I had felt the storm's energy that day.

The universe had slowed. Both light and sound were compressed and suffocated, as if cloaked with heavy smoke. The hum of electricity was oppressive, as if the particles around me could dance only faster, faster, faster, faster until the hairs on my arms stood erect, and the air was electrified with a hot sizzle and a white flash traveling at 671 million miles per hour, cracking through the silence, and through the sky, and through the tall honey locust tree.

Several years after the strike, the tree's bark was as brittle as a hollow bone. Sometimes, the bark would flake away, revealing the paths of wood-boring insects, whose trails were not unlike the dizzying layouts of the suburbs. But where the bark still held, there clung a thousand cicada shells. When I was still a child, I'd pluck them, sometimes standing on toes, with fingers outstretched. I'd pinch them between thumb and forefinger and examine the paper-thin shells for fragility. If there was, in my child's eyes, even the smallest defect, I'd smash the shell between my palms, grinding it to dust.

Now, it is strange to think that a body that so well served an underground creature for so long could be so easily dismissed by a ten-year-old girl.

True, I did save most of the shells. I'd pull them off the trees, off the bushes, and off the back of our garage, counting as I dropped them, one by one, into an ice cream bucket. One. Two. Three. Twenty. Seventy five. Two hundred. Collecting became a greedy habit, as if I were gathering mulberries instead of hollow carcasses. But no matter the number of shells, three or three hundred, there would always be more. There would always be the cicadas in the highest branches, with high-pitched songs you could both hear and feel. Their nightly symphonies demanded attention.

Tonight, however, the cicadas are quiet; they've been silenced by steady rain and cooler temperatures. There are few crickets out there, though. Save for their chirpy chatter, it is quiet. It is cool, damp evenings like that make most nostalgic.

I miss Iowa.

I miss quiet streets, and a post office within walking distance. I miss Friday nights at the football field, and the smell of mom's homemade bread, hot from the oven, soft and smeared with butter. I miss her cranberry-scented candles. And the pumpkin-scented candles. And basically any of the fall-related candles she ever purchased. I've only a peppermint one now, a three-wick leftover from the holidays. I lit it a couple hours ago, and my apartment does smell calming.

But it's not the same.

It's too empty here.

My four hundred and fifty square-foot apartment is too empty.

I've never been fond of living by myself. I'm far too much of an emotional being to survive without some sort of companionship. In fact, Zoë, on more than one occasion, has referred to me as her "feelings person." She said that emotions spill out of me, whether in written words, in spoken words, or in forceful statements over a beer.

She's right.

Unlike me, Zoë is very pragmatic. Ty is, too. But despite our differences, I miss them on nights like this. Damp, chilly nights punctuated by the chirp of an occasional cricket. "Sweatshirt weather," I think is what this is called, and it is this time of year that reminds me how much I miss college, too. The amount of time I spend dwelling about Purdue and wishing that the three of us could be there again is probably unhealthy. Hell, I don't even know what we would we do if we were all in college now, or even within walking distance of each other. My guess is that we'd end up on someone's couch three nights a week with a bottle of Jameson, a black and white movie, and a pie, from which we would refuse to cut pieces. No, we would just set the pie on the coffee table, family-style, and use our forks to joust for the same delicious-looking bite.

I wish I could see them more often. And I wish I could curl up with Ty on the couch, after the sun falls and I start to shiver. He'd be reading some sort of article on his phone, or watching Monday night football, even, as I fell asleep against him. I ache for that sense of comfort, for that closeness, just as much as I ache for the familiarity of Iowa and of my mother's house. But, as I said above, I get confused. I'm not sure what I am: lonely or homesick.

Maybe I'm a third option: nostalgic.

Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me

Recently, I was tagged in two separate Facebook statuses, both of which concerned the same book-related meme. "Facebook memes," as Chuck Wendig said, "are usually the intellectual equivalent of getting gum stuck in your pubic hair." As the meme concerned books, however, I was compelled to respond. Though the meme's original intent was to list ten books that had affected you in some way, I also had seen it presented as a list of "favorite books." In the words of Wendig, "Favorite isn't that meaningful of a metric." Favorite books are not the same as books that have stayed with you, made you think, made you wonder, or—for me—left you brimming with emotion, hot and honest.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli 
(Prep yourself; this will not be the only middle grade/YA book on this list, nor will it be the only Spinelli.) Maniac Magee's most common themes are racism, compassion, and homelessness. It was first published in 1990, and was first read to me when I was nine years old. After recess, we fourth graders would return to our classroom for story time, drowsy from chasing each other around the blacktop. I still remember the classroom, damp and heavy in those un-air-conditioned days, and the woody scent of pencil shavings. It was then that Maniac Magee was read to us by a student teacher, a woman of both soft demeanor and appearance. Her hair was auburn and short, I think, and her last name began with an H, I think. Time has swallowed some of my memory, but I have not forgotten the chirpy intonation with which she read, "Ma-niac, Ma-niac / He's so cool / Ma-niac, Ma-niac / Don't go to school / Runs all night / Runs all right / Ma-niac, Ma-niac / Kissed a bull." It was a book that I immediately loved. I admired Spinelli's descriptions, his portrayal of human emotion, and--most of all--wanted it to be true. Since that first reading in elementary school, I've returned to Maniac Magee several times.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli 
I was a teenager—a lonely teenager—when I first read Stargirl. The title character is a nonconformist, and, at sixteen, I wished I had been as brave, and as creative, as her. As a matter of fact, I still do. Stargirl is described by the narrator, who says, "She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to a cork board like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew." Like Maniac Magee, Stargirl is about compassion and acceptance. But it's also about whimsy, about selflessness, and about heart—about doing what makes your soul happy. Stargirl is the apex of free spirited-ness and, to this day, I wish I could instill as much happiness and as much art into the world as she did.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 
"Guy loves rich girl, gets rich to impress her. Gets rich illegally, girl doesn't love him, then she runs a lady over." #explainabookplotbadly 

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson 
This book was a birthday present from Zoë. She and I both follow Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) and often alert each other to Jenny's newest observations. (By the way, if you like cats, feminism, and taxidermied animals, and are not easily offended, I highly recommend following Jenny.) Let's Pretend This Never Happened is poignant, hilarious, and entertaining. While the memoir explores the darker sides of human emotion, including depression and anxiety, it also left me in tears of laughter. And, most importantly, it helped me realize that every human has a story, and that every story can be interesting. It made me ... well, it made me want to try and write.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 
As a book lover and former journalist, the reality in Fahrenheit 451—where creativity, freedom of speech, and original thought are punished—is terrifying.

Home Country by Ernie Pyle 
Ernie Pyle was a journalist who, in 1926, quit his day job, packed up his Ford roadster, and hit the open road with his wife. Over the years, he wrote numerous columns about the unusual places he visited and the people he met in each state. He was also a correspondent during WWII, but was killed on the island of Iejima in April 1945. Two years after Pyle's death, Home Country—a collection of some of his columns—was published. The book is the most wanderlust-inducing piece of literature I have ever crossed. It was also a gift from Ty, and we sometimes bring up some of our favorite columns. Like the one about the woman in the Yukon who had planned to commit suicide, but ended up becoming a successful trapper. Or the one where Pyle and his wife found themselves stuck, and lost, in the southwestern desert. Each story is presented without judgment, without prejudice, and is always interesting. As I read Pyle's columns, I made a list of places I wanted to visit someday, including Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Overall, Home Country is just as much a portrait of America as it is a travel guide.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway 
Write. Write all the time. And when you're not writing, drink. Drink with your friends and make sure you insult each other in the most adoring of ways. Also, Gertrude Stein. (See also: Midnight in Paris.)

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman 
This is the most haunting graphic novel I have ever read and, in 1992, Maus became the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize. The story focuses on Art's conversations with his father, Vladek Spiegelman. Vladek was a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust and Maus depicts his experiences in Nazi-occupied territory, including time in a concentration camp. The juxtaposition between the story—one of the world's grisliest moments in history—and how it is presented—through comics—is unforgettable.

Bloomability by Sharon Creech 
This book taught 11-year-old me to love the world and its people, no matter their circumstances. It also taught me to appreciate adventure and how important it was to try new things. When I transferred to Purdue and signed up for language classes, I chose Italian—not because of the language's inherent beauty, but because it was the language the characters of Bloomability were trying to learn.

Hard Love by Ellen Whittlinger 
 Many of the books on this list are ones that encourage compassion, or acceptance of others different than yourself. Hard Love explores similar themes. The narrator, a sixteen-year-old boy named John, isn't sure if he's straight, gay, angry, or bored. Since his parents' divorce, John's mother has not touched him. John is uncomfortable talking to others, but he is able to express some of his emotions (and angst) in his zine, "Bananafish." Partway through the book, John meets Marisol, a self-described "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee lesbian" who writes the zine "Escape Velocity." Over a series of coffee dates, the two characters bond over zines and dysfunctional families. Their teenage awkwardness, as well as questions about sexuality and identity, are at the core of Hard Love. It was a book that made me crave creativity, words, and the opinions of others. I honestly wish I had my copy of Hard Love with me in Indianapolis; I have not read it in years. As I've recently become pen pals with a few zinesters, I'd love to read a fictionalized account of the culture. Furthermore, I'm sure that rereading the book will put me in the mood to create a zine of my own, which is something I considered doing when I was a teenager, but didn't know how to execute.

Runners-Up (which lean more toward favorite books than stayed with me books) — Wildwood by Colin Meloy, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins, and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which made the list not because it's one of my favorite books, but because I had never had a book make me so incredibly angry. (Really, practicing Elvish would've been a better use of time.)

Also. Facebook employees Lada Adamic and Pinkesh Patel conducted an analysis on the meme, which has been active for more than a year. Information was gathered from 130,000 status updates posted only during the last two weeks of August, however. The analysis, which was shared here, listed the top one hundred books that have stayed with us. The Harry Potter series took the top spot, followed by To Kill A Mockingbird and The Lord of the Rings. Also appearing in the top twenty were the The Bible, Stephen King's The Stand, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Now you. What are some books that have changed you?

Lauritzen Gardens

Straddling the bluffs on the west side of the Missouri River are the Lauritzen Gardens. They've always been somewhat of an enigma to me, those one hundred acres of grass and plants and petals. My parents had been more of the "let's go to the zoo crowd," which was just as well, as the Henry Doorly was named the world's best zoo this year. But since the zoo is just downriver from the Gardens, and off the same Interstate exit, I'd always see the Gardens' visitor center and greenhouses tucked into the hills, overlooking the rush of Nebraska and Iowa drivers.

In other words, I'd never been.

Over Labor Day weekend, however, the Gardens offered free admission. Since Ty and I were in the area already, visiting my family, we took advantage of the opportunity. And so, on Labor Day itself, we crossed the Missouri and spent our afternoon in Omaha.

Overall, the gardens were beautiful. Ty and I stopped in the peony garden (who knew there were so many varieties?), the rose garden (which was still stunning, despite roses being "out of season"), and the herb garden, where he and I teased our hands through the sprigs of rosemary and thyme, savoring the aromas left on our fingertips. We also wandered through the bird sanctuary, a secluded sort of walk with prairie grass taller than I. We held hands as we walked, swinging our arms back and forth, back and forth, like children in a spirited game of Red Rover. 

Red Rover, Red Rover, Ty is already over. See? We're already linked.

Out of the corner of my eye, I looked up at him and smiled. Ty didn't notice at first. His head was up, his chin thrust forward like it always is when he's visually curious. When he finally did feel my gaze, he raised his eyebrow in an exaggerated, What? 

"Nothing," I giggled. 

We came upon a married couple then, a pair who were looking to take photos in the area. Ty and I paused for them at first, but they shook their heads and laughingly shooed us along. "No, no, really; you first!" 

They insisted, we complied, and Ty took my hand once more. "I don't want to photobomb the background of their photos," he said, walking a little more quickly than we had been just minutes before. 

"We'll be okay," I said. 

"Well, I just don't want them to look back at their photos and see a sasquatch like me with a mysteriously attractive girlfriend." 

"You are not a sasquatch." 

"Uh huh."

"You're not." 


"Okay, maybe a little bit." I looked at Ty, who nodded. 

"Damn straight," he said. 

I rolled my eyes. "You know I think you're pretty." 

"Not as pretty as you," he replied. 

After exiting the bird sanctuary, we continued toward the Sunpu Castle Gate and Mt. Fuji replica. As we neared the replica, we could see that children had bypassed the ropes lining the path and had climbed to the top of the hill. It was steep, I could tell, and I worried that the children's ascent had damaged the replica. That area of the country had seen high and heavy amounts of rain, and so it was with prude mentality that I looked at the children, their climb, and the slicks of mud and thought erosion, erosion, erosion

The Japanese garden had yet to be finished; there were signs explaining its future and how it would be, upon completion, the largest Japanese garden between Chicago and Denver. The garden's design actually had been a gift to the city of Omaha in 1996, when Omaha celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with sister city Shizuoka, Japan. It wasn't until 2005, however, that the Sunpu Castle Gate and Mt. Fuji replica were dedicated. The gate, too, is a replica, and was modeled after after the gate at Sunpu Castle in Shizuoka. And while the Mt. Fuji replica was quite stunning, it was still fun to imagine how large the real volcano is (approximately 400 times larger than the replica at Lauritzen Gardens). 

Our favorite garden, however, was the model railroad garden. Tracks of railroad wrapped around rocks, trees, and bushes. Trains snaked through hollow logs and alongside miniature streams. They were below our feet and above our heads, whistling, clicking, chugging on and on and on. The structural elements in the gardenthe bridges, the trestleswere all constructed from natural materials. The trains also weave around replicas of Omaha landmarks, such as the Durham Museum, the Woodmen of the World Building, and the St. Cecilia Cathedral. Ty and I marveled at the use of sticks and twigs and twine, and, once again, were giddy with childlike wonder.

Overall, Ty and I greatly enjoyed the Lauritzen Gardens. We plan to go back in the futurewhenever that may beso we can tour the finished conservatory. (The $20 million project will finish later this year, and will offer a winding path through both a temperate area and a tropical plant area.) Though neither of us had visited the Gardens before, we were pleased to discover that it was exactly as described on the website: "an urban oasis of beauty and tranquility."

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