I want to live

a life that is extraordinary.

I want to be an extraordinary friend and sister and daughter and granddaughter. I want to be an extraordinary teacher and mentor and listener and talker. I want to be engaged in my life in an extraordinary way. Someday I want to adopt children and be an extraordinary mother.

I want to write extraordinary letters and share extraordinary hugs.

I want to be extraordinarily thankful.

Today I am thankful for AC/DC. I’m thankful for loud music to play in the kitchen and in the car. I’m thankful to the harmonies of the Civil Wars and for the power of Fun. and the jams of Flo Rida. I’m thankful for movie theaters and that railing to put your feet up on and that stale popcorn smell that permeates everything. I’m thankful for spaghetti, no matter how bad, and for ridiculous Olympic dives that you need to rewatch to believe. I’m thankful for this wedding coming up, thankful to be a part of it and to see my friend again, thankful for knowing that the moment I lay eyes on her a hug is coming, probably set to the music of shrieking girls. I am thankful for strong coffee and serious deep cleaning of the house. I am thankful for garbage day and mail delivery, for the slick feeling of teeth after you brush them, for clean sheets and for funny text messages.

Letters.

I have letters to three extraordinary women that I am thankful to have in my life.

First letter is to Tiffany. She is one of my longest friendships (or maybe the longest?) and is creating a wall of mail in her house.

Second letter is to Katie. This is a girl who shares my heart and who I miss constantly. I am lucky to have her love and wisdom and fun in my life.

Third letter goes to Caleigh. She is the girl who reminded me of the tastiness of iced chai lattes and who shares a passion for Target. She makes everyone feel loved on their birthdays and she prefers to let all her work shine and not take the credit for it (well Cal, suck it up. You’re awesome. And now the internet knows.)

To three extraordinary people. Thank you for being in my life constantly and consistently.

 

Is it bad

if today’s letter is a job application?

I’ve been debating about this for a while and I’ve decided that although it would go through the mail service and contains a cover letter, a job application is technically not a letter in the intent that I’ve been writing them.

Instead I wrote a real letter… about job applications.

 

I am lucky to work. I am lucky to have a job that I am GOOD at and that I love. I am one of the few people in the world who looks forward to going to work every day. I would rather tutor and be an aide than almost anything in the world.

And that almost anything would be teaching. That’s what I want to do most. And I need to remember that drive and get what I want, finally.

Ferris Bueller

once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”

This is actually one of my all time favorite movies. I saw it for the first time in sixth grade and have seen it innumerably since then. Senior year at Hope we had to write a life view paper and mine was half created of quotes from Ferris.

Now I know that this is an eighties John Hughes movie and not meant to turn your life upside down, but it’s actually pretty philosophically sound. We waste a lot of time planning and worrying. I am a planner and worrier at heart and I know how important it is to have an idea of where life will take you. I know the value in that. But the problem is the more you open yourself up to scheduling the less you allow yourself to enjoy spontaneity and well, just fun.

In that same life view paper I copied an email I had written to my dad that went like this:

new life plan.

ima rob the field museum of all of their amber. then i will extract trex dna from all of the mosquitoes and return their amber. then i will use my cloning lab (garage) and supercomputer (brain) to clone a trex and name him harold.

harold will take me to work every day. for the winters i will knit him a scarf so he will stay warm. harold will learn how to sic people on command. he will also understand all forms of human speech and read minds.

then i will become miss frizzle.

thoughts?

I think this sounds like fun to me. I want my life to be full of things that make me laugh and make me feel creative and inspire me to write and paint and make. I want my life to be full; not as in my-calendar-is-packed-and-I-don’t-have-time-to-breathe full but like stopping-to-look-around-once-in-a-while-and-liking-what-I-see full.

I wrote today to Jane. I think Jane knows what I mean by this struggling to balance planning and worrying and enjoying and just being. I think she takes steps in her own life to make herself happy and she gives back at the same time. Jane is dedicated and loyal and true to the people in her life and in the commitments she makes. I think these things make her happy.

Hey! Cal!

I was told today that I owe dear Caleigh a letter. So I’m getting on it, ASAP.

So here’s a letter to the lovely Caleigh, teller of awesomely awkward stories, guilty party of awkward eye contact, and contagious laugher extraordinaire.

I know she’s reading so I’ll limit your letter peek to this- a list of reasons why I love you.

Days Off

I like going into fabric stores. But they are dangerous to me.

I went to JoAnn Fabrics with the intention of getting some more shirts to tie dye for my kids and ended up wandering to the fabric section. An hour and a half later I left with far more than I bargained for. I like finding something that speaks to me and going to this place in my head that I can’t quite explain. I like to look at every color and pattern and put it together until I find something that works and then I have to come up with a reason to buy it.

This evening I made Josh three Avengers pillows.

I had a Panera date with a friend where we sat and ate chocolate chip cookies and talked and caught up. I like when seemingly unlikely people have great wisdom and advice couched in strange language.

I like nights where the tv is turned off and the music is turned up loud to be heard over the sewing machine. I like how the ceiling light spills more golden the darker it gets outside. I like the dogs sprawled across the floor so that you have to tiptoe around them to get anywhere, like an obstacle course. I like days off and nights off but honestly, honestly I miss the schedule and routine of working every day and I’m looking forward to the school year beginning. Less than a month!

Today’s letter is going to Stephanie, a girl in my small group. She is bold and exuberant and social and seems to know everyone. When I asked for her address she asked if we could be pen pals, and how could I ever refuse a request like that?

Batman

Yesterday I was riding on an emotional high when I blogged and I don’t think I can match that intensity at this moment. I actually intimidated myself with my own thoughts from yesterday and feel weird writing about anything normal.

But I am here to tell you that vacation is amazing. When you live in a routine of business you don’t know how tired you are and what it feels like to be energized and after sleeping through most of last week I feel good again, and that is fabulous.

I went today with some wonderful friends to see the new Batman movie which I was totally geeked out about. As much as I loved it, as much as I will rave about it and talk about how memorable it was, the best part of the night was just hanging out with friends. It takes a while for me to be comfortable opening up to people, to be me, and when I’m excited about something I forget to be uncomfortable.

I like that I drove with Betsy to the theater and we talked long about bad days and unreasonable kids and personality and matchmaking and Tom Hardy and everything else. I like that Betsy is relaxed but present in life, I like that she has wisdom and maturity and friendliness on top of it all. This letter today is for her.

Deserved

I spend a lot of time being caught in the trap of thinking I deserve things. I deserve praise for what I do right, or admiration from people, or jobs or power or love. It’s not fair, I think.

This goes back to when I was little. We used to split the last bit of chocolate milk into these green glasses and I remember crouching down so my eyes were level to the meniscus of the milk and complaining bitterly if they weren’t exactly even.

What I need to understand is that life is inherently unfair. We are all dealt different hands, we all have different parts to play. It’s easy for me to look at someone and want what they have with tunnel vision, not accounting for every other pain and hardship in their life. We tend to focus on how things are unfair with things that we want and if others get the brunt of the bad things then, well, we can deal with that.

We talked today in our small group about a passage in James and how faith without works is nothing. Someone said that we should find something in the world we are mad about and become passionate about fixing that thing. We need to be aware of the unfairness of bitter and bad and man up and take responsibility for changing it.

While I was staring at a couple of drops of chocolate milk that I probably didn’t even finish, somewhere else in the world (or even just down the street) was someone who did not have enough. As I look at people’s houses and think about how much I want that porch or that bookshelf or that movie collection I conveniently forget about poverty and hunger and malnutrition. I accept the trouble and pain in my own life and try to avoid thinking about the greater pain around me sometimes. I think that is a terrible thing for me to do.

You know what makes me mad? It makes me mad when kids don’t get the education they deserve. It makes me mad to see kids who never get to see their parents because they have to work three jobs to support them and it makes me equally mad when I see kids whose parents are too involved with their high ranking careers to take time for their child. It makes me mad to know that the foster system is full of kids who need love more than anything else in the world; just the love and respect from an adult they can count on.

I get angry when I think about my trip to the reservation and seeing how whole worlds have fallen through the cracks in our country and we can’t seem to shake off our apathy long enough to fight for them. I saw children dealing with more issues than I or my family combined will ever face in our lifetimes by the time they were eight. That makes me angry, and sad. It breaks my heart.

I want to learn to be the kind of person who doesn’t just spout the inequalities of the world but who takes steps to change them. I want to be so passionate about my cause that I draw others in as well. I want to look back at my life with satisfaction knowing that I have had both faith and works, knowing that I’ve made a dent in those things that enrage me.

We learn to be so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of taking care of each other.

I wrote today to Alyson. I think Alyson has things in the world that she wants to change. She wants to take steps and make differences and fight for what she believes. I like this about her. I know that she has been to Haiti and the very idea of that trip makes me feel both awe for her and shame for the fear I have of doing something so brave.

Happy

When I teach writing, I ask a lot of questions. One big one is, how did this make you feel? Invariably the reply will be, “happy,” to which I yell, “NO! Happy is a boring word!”

This tends to really freak students out, but when they get the hang of using interesting language and similes I am always amazed with what they come up with. Their minds are so open and are able to take leaps and make comparisons that we as adults have a hard time getting to, and yet, they describe perfectly what they are trying to say.

I love words and language and writing and art. I love when kids can write a sentence that is so beautiful and vivid and visual that it changes adults’ perceptions. So many people think that kids need to say things like, “This is what I will tell you about in my story.” No. Boring. Absolutely not.

Once a third grader writing a memoir wrote this: “My grandmother was sweet like honey and warm like chicken soup.”  This was a student at the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota dealing with poverty and alcoholism and suicide in her daily life and she wrote beauty. (If you’re interested in checking out a short three entry blog I wrote on that trip go here.)

I want to write beauty and truth and sometimes my adult brain can only think sawdust thoughts.

I wrote today to Kandace whose laugh inspires. Her hair reminds me of that Pixar movie, Brave, only blonde, and she was the first cheerleader who seemed three-dimensional to me. We discovered that we shared a last name and a common room freshman year and have determined that we are very distant cousins which makes her the only cousin I have.

Commitments

The thing about committing to something publicly is that there’s really no going back.

That stands for any number of things in life. Going to school is like that, declaring your faith. Marriage. That public commitment adds an element of guilt if you can’t keep it together.

Even this, which isn’t a big life event. This blog, this commitment to letters and words is difficult. I get jealous sometimes of the pre-me with that precious few extra minutes of day to spare. I wish that I could go back on my word sometimes and just quit. But there’s this thing here that graphs how many views I get, and it reminds me that people are watching. They are watching my gumption here and they will know if I can’t follow through.

I’m trying to create a habit in my life of thankfulness and love. I’m trying to become a better communicator and a more heartfelt person, trying to learn to appreciate quiet and stillness and slowness and how that adds to the good in our world. Those things make the small inconveniences worth it.

I don’t understand how I can be so bothered by something that takes so little time and effort and how it can irk me completely while other moments the same task brings me pure joy. Life and the human condition are strange.

It has been three months now of a letter a day. In that time I’ve found my friendships deepened with people. Conversation is easier when you can say the hard things on paper. I have been better at being positive and at having concrete reasons to appreciate the people in my life, and to be able to express that more fluently. In short, this has been good for me, and now that I’m a quarter of the way finished there is absolutely no reason to stop now.

Two postcards for you.

The first is to Tiffany. I am constantly reminded of her care and her heart. She is interested in the world, which I think is beautiful. Tiffany is never satisfied at being in a rut which is one of my greatest failures in life and she reinvents herself. I love this girl and owe her a trek to the city that I hate and love all at once.

The second is to Sara. Sara is making strides in this world and finding her career (which is still a terrifying world). She is courageous and powerful and passionate and full of light. She is a force on this planet and I am lucky to know her.

Addresses

I’ve been collecting addresses as much as I can. I write them in my address book and started using postable… if I don’t have your address please add it!

https://www.postable.com/melissavandahm

Today I’m writing to the sounds of a thunderstorm, lightning flickering through my window and rain pouring everywhere. Storms look eerie when the lights in the house are off.

I wanted to write today to someone new so I looked at my postable account for a new address.  I wrote to Jenni, my sophomore year roommate.

We have a series of pictures we took while it was storming, sitting on the couch pushed up against the window to watch the lightning. It was one of those unplanned beautiful moments that turn into something memorable and wonderful.

I am lucky to have a life where I don’t always feel well. I think that forces me to appreciate those moments even more because I never know when I won’t be able to enjoy them. Through college my health got worse and worse and ended up at a critical point my senior year, but even before that I was in and out of the hospital and went home often to rest and skipped class after class to just sleep on the couch. I’m glad that I had that perspective. I’m glad I’m able to look back on my experience and remember specific moments that stand out in time that I can savor.

To Jenni.