Graduation from North Idaho College

 

It started in 2015. I had a couple choices: keep working at a gas station in Idaho, or maybe move back home to Montana. Neither of those options would have moved me forward. A friend who was studying at North Idaho College to become an elementary teacher suggested: why don't you go back to school? I've prattled all my life about how I didn't believe people needed a formal education to be a creative writer--and that was my dream: to write novels. Why should I go back to school? There had always been a sort of disconnect for me.

In high school: the communication between the school counselor and myself was poor. I didn't know how to apply for college. I didn't know what I was doing and I wasn't certain how to ask.  When I was accepted to Westwood College of Technology in Denver when I was 17: I had plans. I'd go to school for Graphic Design! I had money at the time (social security support from the loss of my father) and I knew everything at 17. I could move over to Denver and go to school and--

 Mason took me to orientation at North Idaho College, then we ran away to WorldCon 2015!

Mason took me to orientation at North Idaho College, then we ran away to WorldCon 2015!

 May 6th, 2002.  I was a soon-to-be-graduated High School Senior dreaming of attending Westwood College of Technology for Graphic Design. It appears they  closed their doors in 2016 .

May 6th, 2002.  I was a soon-to-be-graduated High School Senior dreaming of attending Westwood College of Technology for Graphic Design. It appears they closed their doors in 2016.

then I lost my social security money when I turned 18 (3 months after being accepted), and probably had a boyfriend at the time that I didn't want to leave. There would be no Graphic Design degree for me or moving out of the state of Montana. So I started working. I worked as a dishwasher (a job I was eventually fired/let go from because I kept sleeping in and showing up late); a sales person (a job I was laid off from when the company started to lose money); I got a belly button piercing and years later found out the needle had already been used and I had contracted Hepatitis C; a year or so on unemployment, some terrible, dark months at a Veterinary Clinic--and a few years I wish I could forget while working at DirecTV call center.

[Insert a series of other awful jobs, mostly poor relationship choices, a few good ones; one failed marriage, somewhere in the mix I applied to the University of Montana and Spokane Falls Community College and it never went anywhere. See above note about me feeling disconnected and not understanding the process. I eventually moved to Washington, then back to Idaho, depending on which relationship I was in.]

Fast forward to age 31, turning 32. Somehow I managed to rush through orientation at North Idaho College, pick out my classes, and then head back to Spokane to volunteer at WorldCon for the weekend. I started school. I was a college student! I WAS A COLLEGE STUDENT! First generation, low-income, loan-wielding but I had finally done it.

I couldn't have done it without Catherine and Mama-Michelle encouraging me, Mason and my family supporting my decision to apply--and then all the people I met along the path: Jonathan, Crystal, Allie, Rebekah, Aaron and the English Club, Laura, Cynthia, Dana, Kim, Ellie, the entire class of British Murder Mysteries, Molly~ I hope to see you all soon. 

 August 25th, 2015. Five days in to age 31. My first official day as a student.

August 25th, 2015. Five days in to age 31. My first official day as a student.

 

And I loved it. It's hard realizing that there are few things in life I've ever been good at--but until that point in my life, I'd never had said I was good at being a student. Probably age and knowing that I was paying loans for my education had a lot to do with it. Maybe I knew I was taking a step in the right direction. Maybe it was just the chance of getting the right teachers at the right time that saved me.

And over the next two-and-a-half years I never received a grade lower than a B in any of my classes. I took Math 015 twice (because I got a C the first time. Pro tip: don't take a math class at 5 p.m. if you are not so great at math and get hungry, it's a bad combination). I dissected a pig for Biology. I managed to survive Speech class (again, due to the support of an amazing teacher). I joined English Club and became the Princess (Vice President: we changed our bylaws to update our titles!), I went to Portland for the first time, I got to listen to Anne Lamott talk about life and writing. I met some people and made friendships that, I hope, will last a lifetime. I was able to travel to Europe for my British Murder Mystery class and visit Scotland, Wales and London. And now that journey is over and I'm starting another one: I'm headed to Eastern Washington University in September 2018 to begin another adventure.


My blogs about being a student
at North Idaho College

 

    Fall 2015 Semester

    Spring 2016 Semester

    Summer 2016 Semester

    Fall 2016 Semester

    Spring 2017 Semester

    Fall 2017 Semester

    Spring 2018 Semester


    I noticed a serious trend in the number of my blog posts compared to the progress towards my Associates Degree. I started waiting for months before writing blogs, and then would just cram them all together into one post.  Some things that are missing from this list: Annual Awards Ceremony in May 2018 I won an award for Overall Outstanding English Student. Said goodbye to some teachers that I love dearly. I will always love learning and I'll never stop.



    A few weeks later and my degree finally arrived in the mail! We have a small mailbox, so that must mean that you make the mail fit, even if it says do not bend.

     

    Luckily, it's just a piece of fancy paper that sums up two-and-a-half years of my life.

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    Good books and hope

    Some people have lofty dreams: careers, higher education, to have a large, expansive family—I have dreams of writing a book. Many books. Any book.

    When I read a book, a few things always happen (depending on if it is a good book or a bad book). 

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    With a good book—my imagination develops tracers: flashes of light that remain after something bright has burned in the darkness. Fireworks. Burning hot dog roasting sticks (sorry, my Montana is showing through). Tail lights in the distance, crunching gravel beneath tires. The story leaves a memory, an experience, a ghost that forever inhabits a part of myself.

    A good story leaves the characters behind to stay with me forever; I can recall them at will. Not the entire story, my memory is far too poor for that, but I can picture the story and the characters clearly enough. They are forever suspended in my mind—sometimes in certain scenes or just impressions.

    Talia and Kris alone in the waystation all winter (Arrow's Flight, Mercedes Lackey).
    Sabriel in a bathtub blushing over the sounds of a giggling couple in the next room, while thinking it is Touchstone (it isn't; Sabriel by Garth Nix).
    Tiger and Del arguing, fighting, laughing and much more (Sword-dancer series, Jennifer Roberson).

    A good book, for me, leaves a scar. As a writer: it creates characters and worlds I can only stare at longingly. I can only kick myself for that 'Why didn't I think of that!' (Because I was 7 when that book was published, nerd). 

    Memories aside—a good book reminds me that there are plenty good books left to be written and they make me remember that my contribution—once it happens—has value. More importantly, perhaps, they make me feel like contributing. I'm not saying that I detest writing or that I find it a chore, but I do find it very sacred. It's very precious to me and I often find reasons why the circumstances aren't write (hah) because I want to be in the perfect place when I do sit down to write. That isn't realistic, but—have we met?

    Many of these characters, places and experiences that I have encountered while reading hold firm places in my mind. At any moment—I need only remember a book and suddenly the Sandtiger is grinning back at me or a bell rings out in the fog, and I know Sabriel is there, waiting. I can feel the cold water rushing around my ankles—I am transported.

    A good book becomes a good memory and, I'd like to think, tries very hard to replace a bad one. A good book reminds us to dream, because it is often in dreams where novels and characters are born.

    A good book gives me characters, places, styles, plot and guidance. As both a reader and a writer—I learn from reading as much as I experience it. I can acknowledge a book for the skill on a line level, for deftly penning a plot—and for giving me scenes that forever burn like embers in my mind. I can both learn from, and enjoy, the hard work of dedicated authors. A book is a gift from the imagination and hard work of one person, to the imagination of next.

    A bad book is even worse for a reader-writer. Before I continue, let me explain: I am not insisting that anything I write is considered "good" nor can I claim to be involved with the making of a "good book" as I have not yet been published (or even survived the second draft). The following opinions spring only from my life experiences and what I, personally, consider to be a bad book at this point in my life. A bad book was quite different for me 10 or even 15 years ago and the same can be said for what I considered good in my youth.

    I had an entire section on what bad books do to people—but I think I'll just let it go. We all know a bad book when we read/hear/experience it. And bad books can be found everywhere: self-published authors, New York Times Best Selling authors, even ourselves. They can be books written by terrible people (I once saw a beloved author be disrespectful about politics on Facebook and I can no longer read their books) or bad books written by people who refuse to accept any kind of feedback or criticism. We all have a certain way we want our books to be read and experienced: but full of typos, cliché names, weak-willed characters and mindless sex is never the answer (for me, at least). 

    Bad books leave scars that only amplify the good books in our lives. Even bad books have lessons to teach us (as writers and readers) and characters to adopt—even if only to tape their mouths shut and throw them down a dark stairwell for their own protection. Sometimes I read so I can remind myself what kind of writer I don't want to be.

    Right now I am about 20% through Clariel by Garth Nix. I am reminded that there are still stories left to be told, monsters left to banish (both in real life and in literary ones) and memories yet to make.

    Read the good with the bad: learn from both. Spend the money on the editor. Don't write what you know: often we know only a life of cruelty and unfairness. Write to make the world better than it is, not to remind us of how dark and awful humankind really is. We already know that. What we need, more than anything as mortal creatures reading books, is hope.

    Final disclaimer: this opinion of "don't write stuff with typos" and "only write good books" is an opinion I only recently embraced. See my earlier work for contradictions and furthur proof that I am far from perfect.

    Review: The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

     

    I first learned of this book and author in a North Idaho College English Club meeting. We were told that 'The Girl Who Wrote in Silk' by Kelli Estes had been selected for North Idaho Reads book for 2018. Even better: Kelli Estes is a regional writer who lives near Seattle, Washington!

    The City of Coeur d'Alene posted this article about the selection.

    My connection with the story

    I spent a few years of my childhood growing up near Seattle--in Mukilteo and Everett. I've ridden in my father's boat along the Puget Sound and seen the seals and forests that Kelli described. I have a fond memory of a seal lounging on a buoy and barking at my father, and my father--never a man to back down from anything--barked back at the seal until it cowed away and jumped back into the water. I can't say with any certainty if that is a memory or a daydream.

    I have an interest with Asian culture in general, and my college experience (so far!) has helped me to explore our own American history and culture of racism. A long, long time ago I had a long-distance relationship with a Chinese-American boy in New York City and I experienced first-hand the difficulties of clashing cultures and traditions. I knew some of the slang used in the first few chapters and for that reason: the story and book was all the more authentic for me. 

    What I enjoyed

    I listened to the Audible audio book of this story and have no complaints about the reader's voice. I generally listen at 1.10x speed but another listener suggested even as high as 1.30x did not distort the voice beyond understanding.

    I really enjoyed 'The Girl Who Wrote in Silk.'

    I did not know the premise of the book before reading it; I certainly did not expect the jumping back and forth between time or the parallels the characters would face across the book. What I enjoyed most was the way that the modern day setting with Inara and Daniel revealed the story of  Mei Lein and Joseph before I experienced it for myself. First, Inara and Daniel would make an important discovery--that Inara had a child!--then the next few chapters would show it progressing. I appreciated that I didn't have to fear that either mother or child wouldn't survive childbirth. It was an interesting way of writing the story (as compared to backwards, where we'd experience the past and then they'd learn about it in the future setting).

    Some of my favorite scenes included the description of the silk embroidery. I know nothing about embroidery but Kelli described it in such a way that I could see it! While I didn't expect the story to have a romantic subplot: it was also handled in a believable and honest way. As a college student myself: I could relate to the classroom full of girls waiting for Daniel Chin--and I certainly laughed.

    Some of the more uncomfortable scenes for me included the description of childbirth (that's a personal bias, not meant to discourage anyone from reading!) and the embarrassment and heartache of watching a character be disrespected on the page. Even while it made me uncomfortable (as it should have!), it made me angry for the way Mei Lien was treated, and for all minorities during that time in America. I felt upset, and sad, and drawn to the story in a powerful way. 

    It's the kind of story that, when it ends, makes you want to immediately jump in a car with your friends and drive to Seattle to find Inara and Daniel and the restaurant. You want to see that glass case with the robe and sleeve inside, lit up and real.

    My own personal biases

    The catches in the story for me--was the incredible amount of perceived 'wealth' that Inara and Daniel's family both came from. Inara's father was a prominent business man, owner of an international corporation with money to burn; Daniel was a professor at a college, his mother was a restaurant owner and even Inara herself had at least one college degree and turned down a promising job at Starbucks. It made me, as a lowly college student, feel very self-conscious about my own dwindling life choices. I have to find a way to frame it for me: is this just a different reality in the Seattle area, or is my life so much less than the characters in the book? Did anyone else feel a bit smaller after having read it?

    why i recommend it

    If you're listening to the audio book: it's a 12 hour commitment. The story itself has an unconventional structure (at least, to me, primarily as a reader of linear Science Fiction and Fantasy) that goes back and forth in time (from present day to late 1800's Seattle). It explores concepts of racism, culture, love and forgiveness. The book focuses a lot on grief and the loss of family. There are some hard decisions and realities to face, and I certainly cried alongside some of them.

    Whether you're familiar with the Seattle area or not: the descriptions of the land are quite lovely.

    Follow-Up Material

    Kelli has a Reading Guide for Book Clubs available on her website to help you start important discussions!

    Author Talk with Kelli Estes

    Kelle Estes visited the Coeur d'Alene Library on April 20th, 2018 to talk about her book. I took a (very) poor recording of her visit and have provided it here:

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    She talked about the history that inspired her book, her research, and how she was finally inspired to become an author. As someone waiting to be validated as an author myself (not neccessary, but there it is) I really connected with Kelli's sense of turmoil and fear. It was fun to learn that the way the book was written--with events being announced by Inara and Daniel, and then happening--was at the recommendation of her publisher. Or that the original title of the work was something like The Silk Sleeve. There's so many details that are missed when you don't get to experience a conversation like this from the author.

    After her talk--she sat behind a small fold-up table and signed copies of her book. We bought a copy, paid through Square, and she took a moment for Mason and I to introduce ourselves. She signed our copy and put a sticker on the front cover.