faith & déja vu: fl☞va

a large part of what you believe & defending what you are passionate about, is accepting that others will disagree with you

a feminist visits danville, va


photograph by Kyle Koppe

I left the place I called home…

 

I miss Massachusetts. I miss my family. I miss my dear friends. I even miss the people  I didn’t much care for. And why? Because they still hold a place in my memories, and helped me grow to be the resilient, confident, & imaginative person that I am.

My home has been defined by lineage dating back to the Mayflower + the 1840 potato famine in Ireland; & while I roam around in the humid air with sand between my toes, my loved ones still shovel in the winters + appreciate warmer ocean water for one month out of the entire year.  A large part of me wants to go back and stay, but I am on a mission to better understand the world, starting with the country I live in.

Now that I’ve eased you in, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Danville, Virginia. 

If I thought I experienced culture shock moving to Jacksonville, I had no idea what I’d be in for driving to Georgia, South/North Carolina, into VA.

I grew up in a liberal state, with city friends, in a suburban mindset, with not much to want for. I always dreamt of the rural, of the countryside in England. And when I went there, I felt more at home and at peace with my soul than I ever had in my entire life, with ehe exception of a recurring dream I’ve had since I was five years old.

But in just a couple of days, I’ve witnessed an entirely different pace of life; a simplicity which survives on prayers and blessings. And it isn’t to say that all people here are christian, but the ones that aren’t certainly wouldn’t dare admit it. There are enough signs quoting the bible to remind you where you are, who your company is, and what sort of respect the community demands.

In Boston, you could shout, “THE DEVIL IS MY MAKER,” and some people would laugh, some owed simply stare, and other would join you in the parade. But here, I imagine something much more like shunning would occur. I can’t rightly say. 

And even JAX has its moments where I fear my own spirituality would not be accepted. There are men holding signs on the street, offering you heaven if you accept Jesus, and hell if you don’t.

But here, those signs are on front lawns; there are children holding confederate flags before grand southern churches beside their kin, while black men and women stay away on another part of the street. I can’t imagine what they’re thinking; if they’re used to it, or if it just makes them sad. All I could think was, ‘You would never see this back home,’ and that’s when I wondered, do I consider JAX my home? Or was I thinking of Andover + the likeminded people that helped shape me to be an inclusive, open person, who wants to be confided in & experiences of others shared with.

I first found out about Jesus at the lunch table in 4th grade. I had heard his name before, but never had my parents explained much of him to me. I asked my friend about him, and she said, “He’s the son of God, our savior.” I remember nodding and smiling because I found it to be poetic.  I went home that day and asked my mom, “Do we believe in Jesus?” And my mother said, “We celebrate Christmas. We are christian.” That was the only explanation I had. I never read the bible. I still prayed every night before bed, but not because I was taught to, but because I still knew of god without being told of God. God just meant something different to me than the other kids at school, and I found that intriguing.

When I was twelve, I wanted to know more about religion. So I researched, I asked around, I was invited to different religious rites of passage, I made friends of different faiths, including atheists and agnostics. I structured the commonalities in my mind, so that I might better understand the root of it all, and what I found was love, fear, existence & the afterlife. I developed a sensitivity and passion; an automatic acceptance of sort, to all people, of all faiths. To all people, of all genders, and all beliefs.

The culture of this town has certainly transported me in time and minutes, but I find it precious and important to be able to understand the psychology of others; to fault others for what they’ve been taught, for what they’ve confided in, and the spaces that have made them feel comfortable creatively, mentally and physically.

It is so hard not to use the word ‘Ignorance.’ Because when one acts with anger to the belief system of others, one becomes ignorant. Speech can be violent, detrimental, hurtful, spiteful, and often breeds discomfort. But a large part of what you believe & defending what you are passionate about, is accepting that others will disagree with you; some might even be afraid of your thoughts for what they challenge, what they question. Do not be complacent or silent, but know when fewer words are better for your own soul, and for the audience who does not listen, but prepares to answer.

with love,

Belle

 

travel

 

apollo

this is how I imagine us

this is how I imagine you
sitting below deck beside a round window full with a wet blue sky of salt and fish
there’s a novel in your hand by someone who is not you;  light around you, but what’s inside is drowning from the doubt and Time

this is how I imagine me
a spirit in the woods weaving through old trees as ancient as my soul
there is a burrow where I hide my secrets, and a small meadow where I dance and write and sing; light above me, but my heart is forever clinging coolly to the shade

this is how I imagine us
we are near the forest and the sea, where light touches everything
there are grand windows, spools of thread, cascades of books, by us and by them
our walls are filled with what we find beautiful and harmful and true
there is a garden with old trees, butterflies, and a rocky shore
beyond is our escape, an unnamed boat that dips and turns at the dock, tied to its rope as
I am tied to your will


this is how I imagine us
a life where we have everything because we have each other
neither is left behind
feelings never overlooked
promises never left unfulfilled
a scale eternally balance
two souls forever curious and adventurous. 

 

 

soul of a nomad

to inspire others to prioritize exploration

Our ancestors were nomadic; never in one place for too long. Due to lack of resources, tracking herds of animals, and the innate human urge to explore, our genetics ultimately track the choices our elders made; where they came from and where they ended up.

So much of what we believe in is based on faith or sight. We can see a photograph of the Parthenon, but until we witness it for ourselves, the well-rounded sensation is lost. We can read a holy text, but until we feel that spiritual connection within ourselves, provoked by first-hand experience, we aren’t going to fully commit to God, doubt Him, or create a whole new way of life that might completely exclude divinity.

For me, God is in art, science, culture, and nature. Experience is the vehicle by which I pursue enlightenment, self-actualization, happiness and positivity. You can have an adventure in your backyard, in your home town, in the woods or mountains an hour drive away, or across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe. Wherever you go, there will be stimuli for you to either pass over or relish in: the choice is yours.

I hope to inspire others to prioritize exploration. So much of our lives are concentrated in a particular place with a certain group of people, like an adult trap intended to keep us structured, stable; living without risk. And for some, that is a very attractive way to live out their lives. In this, I say, follow your heart. If you love where you are, what you do on a daily basis, keep at it. But if the reason you don’t pick up and go is because you are afraid of the cost, consequences, or what will change in your absence, let those fears go! I promise, you’ll be better for the knowledge you’ll gain while living in the present moment.

travel

roots | the return home

it was this looming vision that I might have to say goodbye

ode to Jane

In my first post, Snowflakes to Seashells, I talked about planning. I had graduated college, left the nest, and finally realized that adulthood was full of unanticipated paths and uncharacteristic choices. I found that being in the present is the most rewarding part of the journey. I said “there is no plan,” and that “there shouldn’t be.” Well, it is in our nature, or at least mine, to plan. It gives me a sense of control over the uncontrollable. And I’ve reached yet another conclusion: our plans are only a piece of our complex collaboration with Life.

I told my boyfriend, “Let’s plan to spend Valentine’s Day in Boston.” I wanted to see all of my favorite places, taste the foods I’d been craving, see the faces of long-lost friends and family, and visit my grandmother Evelyn Jane.

Often there’s a feeling that precedes a visit to the hospital or a death. With my Grammy, it was this looming vision that I might have to say goodbye to her soon. Always a fighter, she would feel ill, and then with unimaginable resilience, she would pull through. This happened so many times, we thought her invincible. And she was. The difference this time was that she was ready to be reunited with her loving husband in the afterlife.

Just two weeks before Joey and I were scheduled to board a plane to reunite cheerfully with my family and friends, my Grammy passed on. She held on for a whole week, surrounded by her seven sons, loving grandchildren and daughter-in-laws. I didn’t make it to tell her how much I loved her, so I trusted that she knew I didn’t want her to go, but that I was happy she would find peace.

Of all the ways I expected to find my way back to my roots, to my home, this was the one I dreaded. I hoped I would make it in time, find her sitting in her chair smiling, her cheeks plump and pink, but Life and Death had a different plan. I knelt beside her, her favorite outfit on, her hair placed perfectly to frame her face, the same nail polish on her fingers you’d find her wearing in so many photographs, and her rosary wrapped around her hands. It was there I said goodbye, told her I missed her already, that I hoped her and Papa were watching in joy as their legacy joined together in mourning to send off the most selfless and strong matriarch the world has ever seen.

I wanted to be hugging her and saying, ‘hello, I love you.”  Instead, I was hugging my family members who I hadn’t seen for months, some for over a year, and saying my hello to them, cherishing their breathing, thankful that Grammy’s passing brought a new perspective and passion for family that we were all needing. I had the most wonderful week with my family: a family that was able to smile, laugh, sob, and enjoy each other, reminded of our fragility, even in profound sadness.

I hope to not lose this overwhelming sense of being present, grateful for each and every moment I have with the people I love. The week I planned was rearranged by forces stronger than myself, and in return I was given two weeks of reunions, nostalgia and clarity. Because, despite the loss of someone so dear to us, we remain. That is a gift worth celebrating.

travel

Charlotte and the Wooden Castle

My novella, entitled “Charlotte and the Wooden Castle” is now available for purchase. Read a sample here.

Charlotte is a dreamer, always fantasizing about the world rather than exploring it. Seeking an opportunity to escape her stagnant life, she decides to study abroad in a charming village tucked away in north Oxfordshire. Soon after her arrival, she experiences an eclipse, where the dark and light parts of her past and unknown future overlap in the heart of Wroxton Abbey.

When I first stumbled upon the opportunity to study at Wroxton College, it was routine for students to apply for a scholarship to cover part of the cost. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to use my passion to earn something tangible, a summer abroad. I boarded my flight with no expectations, just want for knowledge and fun. What I found in England completely changed me, and as a result, I made decisions that have shaped the life I am living today. For a year I stayed immersed mentally in the story which inspired me to create Charlotte, and for a year I faced the consequences of the choices I made. I have picked apart the end result and finally freed it from my clutches. It is a quick read, and I hope that you enjoy it, talk about it, and that the story lingers in your heart as it has in mine.

snowflakes to seashells

becoming a floridian

the first move made by a hometown girl

I had twenty-one Christmases in Massachusetts. Each Christmas featured hot beverages and frigid air. The northeastern coastal climate breeds hardworking, rough Americans whose hearts are rarely warmed by anything… beside a celebratory occasion (usually reason to drink). The ‘holiday season’ as it is known nowadays is the excuse for families to pack all of their personalities into one heated house, slaving over a hot stove, bargaining for time to hold the newborn members of the family, rotating in a ‘musical chairs’ type fashion for who will get to sit next on the comfy love-seat. Christmas, for my family, meant making the trek to the host’s house for that year in layers upon layers of wool and cotton, in full preparation to kiss forty faces, having memorized our newest story to share with the group, ready to hear what new jobs, relationships, hobbies and trips each of our loved ones had taken or would soon.

This year was very different.

Instead of the usual hustle and bustle of Christmas with a tasteful holiday dress buried underneath the cold sweat of winter, I came to Florida to spend my vacation with my boyfriend Joey in Jacksonville, the holiday itself with my father and stepmother in Orlando. I decorated the tree with Joey and his mother, instead of the usual hassling of my poor mother as she slaves over an eight-foot tree every year, the eventual assistance offered after some well-placed jokes at her expense. I ate a turkey, a second full turkey after Turkey Day had come and gone, with stuffing, cranberry sauce, all of that delicious regret-infused food, instead of the usual brisket with mashed potatoes and homemade apple pie for dessert back home. I spent Christmas Eve and Day with a foreign family who was staying with my father, of Canadian and Chinese descent (quite a bunch), who I broke bread with, shared a roof, and to whom I sacrificed the remote in their week with us, instead of the usual cuddling session with my mother and sister, our full bellies inducing sleep, with a loud, tearful, hilarious opening of presents as we wake up the earliest of any day in the year with the anticipation of opening gifts.

Everything was “instead of,” new and completely uncharted territory. The first Christmas where I couldn’t kiss my Grammy; where my mother wasn’t there to tell me that I am her pride and my sister her joy. The first Christmas where I woke up late, non expectant of presents, uncertain if there would be waffles and syrup downstairs. It was the first Christmas where I realized I was an adult, and that eventually, things were bound to change. Different doesn’t mean negative or sad, it just means you’re apart from what is familiar, comfortable, and habitual.

And that feeling brings me to now: I am a Floridian.

I finished my four years at Merrimack College with Magna Cum Laude, a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and Literature, and an official member of Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. I parted with my Merrimack family May 17th, had a wonderfully colorful and delicious going-away/grad party with my close friends and loved ones, and the very next day I made a twenty-two hour drive with my partner and Daisy, my Puggle, down to Jax. Many much regretted fast food meals later, we arrived the 19th, droopy eyed and craving memory foam.

Where did this decision come from, and how did I have the junk to make it?

Here was the plan: Graduate School. Have Joey move up to Boston. Find a job in the literary world. And make some room in my condominium for the two of us, plus the puppy.

Well, if you graduated, are going to graduate, or are so far from graduation that you can’t fathom the truth, here it is: There is no plan. There shouldn’t be. There are outlines, and I know this as a writer, but execution is far from creation. It takes a very special kind of person to perfectly align, pursue, and land exactly what they desire the first try. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have the capacity, grades, or drive to do graduate school; there was more want and need toward continuing my education than not. I applied, waited, and had a revelation: I needed a change of scenery for longer than a month or two; I needed to experience a new atmosphere, like I did when I studied abroad, so I could discover more about myself as a human as well as a writer.

That is exactly what I am doing here in the sunshine state. Discovering, relaxing, saving and dreaming. Most importantly, missing my village back home; the people who breathe life into me when I lose sense of direction and wonder in my pursuits.

The harsh winter played a part. Historical and brutal, I checked out of Boston mentally. There was this feeling of looming stress, even on a warm day when the pleasant springtime smells reemerged I felt removed. I had everything working for me up north; a boyfriend more than willing to relocate, a mother and sister who have always been there rooting me on, Shai, my best friend, who I would explore with and talk endlessly. She’s the kind of friend that you can be silent in the car with without feeling like there’s something to say.

It was all ideal, but I wanted to expand. Not get away. travel

It’s the itch for seeing and experiencing different ways of life. It may feel like a simple thing, living in the heat and sweetness of the south, but it is a world away. There’s a culture shock of sorts I’ve experienced thus far in my transition, one I didn’t going to England. Believe it or not. No, I fit right in when I went to England, but Florida feels like a different galaxy completely. Slower, well-mannered, courteous and freckled. The air is heavy with humidity, the sand is finer and light, the presence of people is weightless, as if people walk with less here. And an important thing I was reminded of is that I didn’t leave behind anything in Boston that was intangible; my struggles, my memories, my responsibilities are all here with me. It is just the environment that has changed, an environment I hope that will shape me and inspire me to continue on my journey to discovering Belle Athena.

the proper kind of love

don’t let the worry of losing someone prevent you from making beneficial choices

England. That is the short answer. Better yet, anywhere that has invaded your dreams. Have you ever imagined a landscape, or a structure, and some other life flourished into your senses? And then, once you are grabbed out of it, an urge to pick up and go overcoming you?

“What about money? What about my friends and family? What about my relationship?”

All valid questions. Traveling seems like the most impossible thing when books, tuition, daily expenses, and a reasonably up-to-date wardrobe is asphyxiating your cash-flow. If mom and dad are willing, the most easy sell is study-abroad. Because, let’s face it, the glamour of backpacking and hostels has a reasonable shade of danger and risk to it, especially if you are young and inexperienced.

So, how is Study-Abroad an option? Well, first of all, consider scholarships (plan ahead on that one), look to family members and close friends to donate to your cause of academic & soul enrichment, and maybe, to show some vigor and responsibility, GET A PART-TIME JOB! I know, I know. You’re busy. You’re overloaded and overwhelmed. That’s where thinking ahead is the most vital aspect of planning a trip abroad. If you know you want to travel the world, start putting some dough in that piggy bank, cut down on some of the fluffy parts of your budget, and ask your International Programs advisor what your options are! Most likely there will be a scholarship opportunity or financial aid that could cover a part of the cost. Often, your scholarships for tuition and aid are applicable to a program sponsored through your school.

Still not convinced?

Here’s a kicker: You earn academic credit towards your degree. Unless there are some complications with a program you choose outside of your school’s realm, you are most likely going to have transferrable credit earned. That can mean two things: 1) You can graduate EARLIER, or 2) Your Study-Abroad institution could measure out to be cheaper cost-per-credit than your full-time institution. How do I know this? I experienced it for myself. Not only did I spend half the cost on Study-Abroad for the SAME amount of credits, but I did it in a month over the summer! It saved me money my senior year, and I had the experience of a lifetime (for a multitude of reasons you will soon discover!).

“But, even if I can gather the cost, what about leaving my friends and family for “X” amount of time?”

Okay. This one is hard. Every person is different. I’ll explain from my perspective and experience where you can find some much-needed comfort in this separation anxiety and culture shock… Let’s be real: If summer camp wasn’t your thing, leaving home in the morning made you want to vomit your insides, or you just don’t like living with others, strangers in particular, then you are in a bath of uncertainty. I’m one of those people. I’m not “anti-social,” but just socially awkward. I’m an observer, and I like to be able to have space. I’m always thinking, reflecting, and getting lost in other mindscapes. I don’t even know when someone is speaking to me half the time. And the chain of events, the bouncing back and forth about whether or not I should sign up, and the final signature where my hand was vibrating in anxiety, were all the universe pushing me towards a better version of myself. It sounds corny, but it is beyond anyone’s comprehension until experienced!

So, why am I selling this? Well, study-abroad changed my life for the better. I was able to remove myself from what was familiar, a drastic change I abhorred until the second day in England, and grow roots in another place completely foreign to me. I had researched, fantasized, and glorified England, and I was not disappointed! I believe whole-heartedly that it is an experience that every person, student or otherwise, should find the means to explore. The path to achieving the financial and emotional foundation isn’t necessarily a breeze, and at times, the new purse, new car, or take-out over home-cooked food, may seem more immediately gratifying. There is an immeasurable mass of wisdom, thrill and self-discovery, that goes along with traveling. Plus, you make friends, forge bonds, and develop true connections with people socially and professionally. The networking aspect alone is enough to convince a lover of all things practical.

Before I set you free to go look into programs and destinations that appeal to you, let me cover one last obstacle. I did not forget about the significant other you may be worried about leaving. And whether that relationship is longterm, solid, and heading to the altar, or brand new, exciting, and far from the place of feasible separation, I understand all too well. I believed that my relationship would withstand such distance because the relationship had exceeded three years. We had our arguments, fears, and eventual collapse over the idea after I followed through with my trip to England. And I am not advising you to test unsteady ground, but if you are being drawn away from home, a nonpermanent transition, you should pursue that dream! Don’t let the worry of losing someone prevent you from making beneficial choices. That does not just apply to travel, but to everything! Be brave, and hold your head up high if you receive the text, from thousands of miles away, that the relationship has ended. You may even find yourself better and stronger in your relationship than when you departed. You get to see what someone will do to love you, make you happy, and see you thrive in a far-off place. Because then, and only then, can you return to that place together, with all of your knowledge, to explore the things you missed, having traded in your academic spectacles for romantic frames.