Meet Virginia

I’ve been working the last week and a half (almost a third of the way done already, and I’ve barely begun thinking!) to re-learn independence. I’ve been remembering what it feels like to walk into a room knowing no one, and what it feels like to sit down in front of someone much smarter than you and feel intimidated. I’m remembering what homework is, what research is, how to ask real and critical questions. I’m remembering how to navigate new places and to be slightly lost without feeling slightly neurotic.

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And here’s the thing about this place. It is almost silent. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been somewhere for long where it sounds like this. The air has layers of sounds, of birds and the breeze, and it sounds like things growing. It is quiet. And quiet time is something I’ve never learned how to love and appreciate. There is a reason I ended up somewhere quiet.

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This place is also beautiful and old and challenging. Some buildings have been around for over a hundred years. There is a front porch brimming with rocking chairs in the shade. Turns out that shady spots in Virginia heat are bearable, enjoyable, loveable even.

I’m surrounded by quirkiness. I spent the first two or three days clammed up in my mind wondering how to connect with people and then I just gave up. These are my people. These are the quirky girls who grew up on the edges with a book in their hands. Why would I wait?

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Last night I went to a lecture by David Almond (he wrote a book called Skellig, which is beautifully written and intensely weird) and he spoke about coming to Virginia for the first time and the glory of fireflies. “How could you have nothing to write about when there are fireflies?” he asked us.

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I’m spending my time here learning more than how to write again. I’m learning to decipher the silence and to match up my oddnesses with others, I’m learning how to spend afternoons in a rocking chair on a porch. I’m learning how to appreciate the fireflies.

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Virginia Bound

Tomorrow my dad and I will be driving hours and hours, listening to mix tapes made by beautiful people and heading towards Virginia.

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I am so thankful for the community I’ve found here. When I started coming back to Willow I never dreamed of these people. I couldn’t imagine the immense capacity to love that they show or their acceptance of weirdness and flaws and celebration of all seasons of life. Here’s a shout out to G6 and all that you mean to me, for the time you’ve all put into building relationships and for the intentionality of building a community that matters. This is the part of leaving for only a few weeks that hurts- after finding people who are this beautiful it’s hard to imagine other people comparing.

I probably won’t post in the next few days (unless I get really overwhelmed, in which case I’ll probably post a lot) but I promise letters from Virginia documented here, and photos of something other than flat Illinois suburbs with houses that sort of all look the same.

Here is my address for the next few weeks in case you want to write to me. I promise return mail if you do!!

Melissa Van Dahm

Graduate Programs in Children’s Literature

P.O. Box 9678

Hollins University

Roanoke, VA  24020


I am

alternately great at attacking things head-on and avoiding them completely.

I find myself now in deep avoidance mode. This is the place of epic limbo where I float through days and wonder what there possibly is to do with my time. These moments are full of internet and television that I can’t focus on. There is this heavy feeling of worry just over my shoulder that I can’t quite reach. If I could find it, I could deal with it. But while it hovers I watch too many episodes of Big Bang Theory and tv movies.

Something about packing a suitcase seems permanent and real, and making lists of things is gut-wrenching and terrible and being excited and dreading leaving makes days pass excruciatingly slowly and quickly all at once. I’ll never understand how life can be two things. There are times that are so beautiful they become almost tragic because you know you’ll never experience them again. There are moments that you wish you could fast forward through only to realize that they were to be treasured. Life is like that.

Starting tomorrow I’m on the attack. No more avoiding packing or reading or living. This limbo leaves me feeling sick with fast-food life. I’m missing the real stuff, pain and terror and happiness all wrapped up together.