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Have Courage And Be Kind

We are all our own shades of perfection – Shantel Vansanten <3

Welcome To My World

I started this blog as a way to easily share in one place a range of personal and sentimental articles about my family home and my growth through experiences there. Hopefully I will be able to branch out from that baseline eventually, but for now I’m a heart girl, facing the immensity of life as best I can. And yes that was a One Tree Hill quote, be ready for plenty of those because there’s no crushing the fangirl heart completely.

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Switzerland vs. India – Swiss Passport, Indian Heart

As an Indian born and raised in Switzerland, I am fortunate to experience ties to my culture without the corruption of my parents’ country of origin. According to the 2018 fact sheet for the Indian embassy in the Swiss capital Bern, the Indian community in Switzerland includes approximately 24’567 Indians, roughly 7164 of which are people of Indian origin. The Indian population in Switzerland has the highest concentration in the cities of Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Baden, Bern and Lausanne, in that order. Although my sister and I attended the local Swiss schools rather than the international one favored by many expats, we definitely grew up good friends with a handful of other very community-favoring Indians here.

My parents moved to Switzerland in the mid-eighties because of a job transfer the pharmaceuticals company Novartis (then Sandoz) gave my Dad. There was no question about it being the right decision for my family before my parents even knew they would stay in Europe long-term. Growing up, I was so lucky to be able to afford a visit to my grandparents and other family in India every single summer holiday during the school year. I grew up never taking the time with my grandparents for granted, because it was so limited every year.

It wasn’t until 2013, the year I turned 22, that I spent more than six weeks at a stretch in India for the first time since before I started school as a toddler. Helping out at the school my family founded in the eighties in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, I experienced for the first time key differences between the Swiss and Indian lifestyles. What the Indian community in Switzerland has to strive to incorporate in their lifestyles, such as cultural and religious functions, is a way of life in India. Even the school in a relatively small town like Shivpuri has everything you could ever need for a good education, while giving holidays for most religious dates of importance. With how many deities there are in Hinduism alone, one can imagine how much harder the massive population works on the days they do have school or work. You’re either the best or don’t stand a chance at breaking out of that little town and becoming a financial help to your family.

Witnessing that atmosphere first-hand taught me why my parents, who spent a big part of their formative years in boarding schools in India, always called my sister and I lazy students. Even Switzerland has had to become more competitive nowadays, but growing up it was easier to just appreciate the joys of everything the Swiss are famous for: impeccable punctuality (they are big watch manufacturers) cheese and chocolate production. I literally had to use my time in India to be able to stick to a strict weight loss diet once because the Swiss are best known for specific cheese (raclette and fondue) and potato (rösti) dishes.

Travel by train in Switzerland is a popular tourist goal because everything runs like clockwork and the views are often scenic and spectacular. The Swiss see cows as farm animals, whereas Indians let them wander free on the streets are a perceived incarnation of holiness to be worshipped. Train travel in India meanwhile (this is unfortunately first-hand experience) is so unreliable that the platform loudspeaker could literally announce a train is running days, not hours, late because of foggy conditions. I sometimes wish it were possible to throw the best aspects of my dual worlds in a blender but sadly pros and cons are a way of life.

When I was eleven I first learned to appreciate Bollywood films. Shahrukh Khan was my first celebrity crush as a pre-teen connecting with her roots. With Bollywood films in the nineties often shooting musical numbers at Swiss locations like the beautiful Alps and more, I had found a passion that tied my two worlds together. With the help of subtitled DVD’s, I learned to understand Hindi for the first time since the age of two or three, when attending a German school put culture on a back-burner to being able to communicate with the local kids. Now, much like my school-level French, it is shyness that holds me back from speaking Hindi but I understand quite a lot and can communicate easily with the servants at my grandparents’ homes in India.

While most of my year is spent wishing I were closer to all my loved ones in India, I am thankful to have grown up with the opportunities that Switzerland provides. I was born with mild cerebral palsy and I’m not entirely sure I would have fared well in an Indian school from what I’ve seen. But my ties to both India and Switzerland have given me a greater appreciation of two cultures, two countries, two worlds and the one heart that makes us all human no matter where we come from.

 

Goa 2018 – Three Days In Paradise

Every trip to India is rewarding because it’s the family time one longs for all year around. But this year was exceptionally outstanding in more ways than one. As a writer, contacts were made and Happy Days proved once again the safe place to delve into an editorial venture with the school newsletter, edited and formatted by yours truly. Deadline work can get intense, so when the time came to leave Shivpuri, the sorrow of parting from my family mingled with excitement for a new adventure: My very first trip to Goa.

When a seasoned but impatient traveler like my Dad and a chronically anxious one like me travel together it’s an interesting combination. As with any travel in India, the journey was as chaotic as the destination ended up being spectacular. With the horror stories one hears in the news about airports, it makes sense that security is extra tight, but the sheer volume of people does not combine well with disorganized officials.

While my only trip to America a few years ago had the ability to make me feel like a criminal for a genuinely forgotten water bottle in a handbag, the security personnel all over India are either visibly lazy or just plain chaotic when it comes to dealing with the masses. I could sense the annoyance coming off my Dad like a beacon of frustration and after being queued up multiple times, for first the regular security check and then another frisking just before boarding the plane, we were finally on our way.

It’s strange what random details about a trip one recalls when the determination to hold on to an event is there throughout any experience. For me it has been established that music is often what I tie my memories to in order to keep them more vivid in hindsight. For example on this trip, I noticed the booming speakers surrounding the poolside bar played a loop that I always most took notice of whenever the Hurts song Somebody To Die For came on. It’s the first of many things on this trip I recall because of fandom ties, since this is the song I named a piece of Harry Potter fan fiction after back in 2016.

Considering the memory problems I’ve been dealing with since my last brain surgery in late summer last year, I’m quite proud of myself for even remembering the book I was reading. On a Kindle as loaded as mine, the chosen beach read could have been a stereotypical fluffy summer rom-com, but it was actually pretty intense from what I remember now:

Deliver Her

On the night of Alex Carmody’s sixteenth birthday, she and her best friend, Cass, are victims of a terrible car accident. Alex survives; Cass doesn’t. Consumed by grief, Alex starts cutting school and partying, growing increasingly detached. The future she’d planned with her friend is now meaningless to her.

Meg Carmody is heartbroken for her daughter, even as she’s desperate to get Alex’s life back on track. The Birches, a boarding school in New Hampshire, promises to do just that, yet Alex refuses to go. But when Meg finds a bag of pills hidden in the house, she makes a fateful call to a transporter whose company specializes in shuttling troubled teens to places like The Birches, under strict supervision. Meg knows Alex will feel betrayed—as will her estranged husband, who knows nothing of Meg’s plans for their daughter.

When the transport goes wrong—and Alex goes missing—Meg must face the consequences of her decision and her deception. But the hunt for Alex reveals that Meg is not the only one keeping secrets.bibliotica.com Book Review

I admit I don’t recall now what the twist was, but when I saw quite a number of negative reviews online I remember being surprised because I was engrossed. This book was my attempt to branch out from the many kinds of love stories I usually read, mushy, tragic, usually predictable. What can I say? My taste in books and movies fits well together. But anyway, these peaceful and sunny days by a glistening poolside felt like the ideal place to branch out my reading and enforce a memory in my hazy mind of a few months ago.

One evening at the resort I got to meet a lot of Dad’s old friends and as with anyone who gets to connect with people who knew one’s parents before they were Mom and Dad, the experience was fun. But one of my absolute highlights was definitely the day I convinced Dad to take a walk on the beach with me and let me pretend for a moment I was a model. I’m not usually confident enough to enjoy being photographed but something about that beach was entirely freeing. Naturally my mind wandered to the significance of the ocean on my all-time favorite show, the often mentioned One Tree Hill.

My favorite couple on the show, Clay Evans and Quinn James, fondly known as Clinn, had a number of very significant relationship milestones take place on the beach, since the show was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina. Quinn, who reminds me of myself in some ways and is my fictional idol in others, told Clay that she’d feared the ocean since childhood. When he assumed she meant because of sharks, she corrected him and said the immensity of it was intimidating. Strolling across the burning sand that day and staring out at the waves, I finally truly understood what she meant.

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My amateur photography can never truly capture how small one felt watching the waves crash into the shore with rhythm like an actual pulse of nature. As I said about the air travel fiasco we faced, I live with anxiety and never know what will happen to set off a chain of irrational panic in my brain. But watching the pulse of the ocean, knowing it has been that way for millions of years, it was ironically a force of nature that put me completely at ease. The video below perfectly captures the symbolism of my favorite TV family that Goa let me experience first-hand. Quinn feared immensity when Clay’s first guess was sharks and that foreshadowed eight year old Logan’s fears, which actually were the looming sharks, sea monsters and jellyfish.

After four days of utter peace in the heart of a natural force harnessed by luxury, all I could marvel at was how much I actually enjoyed it, being a notorious homebody. I remember now many little things that I wandered around the resort obsessively trying to capture and I’ll never know if my memory has improved or the entire trip was just that awe-inspiring.

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The poolside was my favorite place, oozing with the resort vibe of inevitable relaxation.

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The individual cottages that served as guest rooms were adorable inside and out thanks to friendly room service and palm leaves. And that’s not even to mention the meal we had outside the resort one night, after a short drive around the local village. The menu was sickeningly full of puns and yet somehow adorable. With my obsession with sampling the Italian food no matter where I go, the appreciation was limited to the wording of the menu card and a fancy octopus-shaped skewer holder but very cute and somewhat cheesy nonetheless.

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Behold below a taste of the pun-tastic menu that had everyone groaning before we ate anything.

It’s no wonder I’ve spent every minute since getting back from India in early February on a strict diet, but coming back from an atmosphere of such serenity and relaxation demanded a dose of discipline. My favorite part of coming home this year was definitely the fact that I got to make my sister, who is addicted to sunshine and tanning, insanely jealous. Experiencing snow as late as April this year after starting 2018 in India and on such a heavenly vacation was definitely hard. But now the experience has been made I can just be grateful it gave me the urgency to capture that specific atmosphere in words sooner or later. Hold on to that feeling is the one lesson I take away from the trainwreck of my Glee days for a reason!

 

TV Review – iZombie Season 1 Episode 1

*SPOILER ALERT*

On March 17 2015, the CW network unveiled a new contender for the increasingly popular zombie genre. I already wrote about why the show’s casting lured me into this concept so outside my sappy comfort zone. Today it’s time to actually get into the show itself and hopefully convince a few more people why it’s an under-rated gem.

The pilot doesn’t waste any time establishing its badass heroine Olivia “Liv” Moore’s (Rose McIver) budding career as a surgical intern, only to rip it away minutes later. The artwork that serves as transitions between scenes is a good tribute to the show’s graphic novel roots. The very first one introduced Liv’s potential as a medical student, making us feel for her all the more when she loses it all. The very first line spoken in the pilot shows the contrast between what Liv’s life becomes and what it could have been as she says in a voice-over to her marching down the hospital hallway on a mission “this was my life before I died.” In any other context that would be a disturbing introduction, but with a zombie premise “death” is just the beginning of a whole new existence for Liv and viewers are along for the ride.

After her shift Liv walks out of the hospital with a co-worker she calls Marcy The Rival, a girl who jealously compares Liv’s everyday private life to “the end of Sixteen Candles” when her long-time boyfriend picks her up from work. From the very first sight of Robert Buckley as Liv’s fiancé Major Lilywhite (yes that really is his name) I was hooked. The co-stars behind this charming couple agreed that undead or not, Liv and Major had something special and worth fighting for. The irony of the foreshadowing on this show is painful from the word go as Major urges Liv to attend a boat party with Marcy and a few other co-workers because “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Famous last words it turns out, because as Liv’s next voice-over explains, the worst that could happen in fact actually did: spoiler alert, it’s an inexplicable zombie outbreak and our heroine is one of the newly undead. The boat party turned into a celebration from hell and our heroine wakes up next to rows of body bags with a mysterious scratch on her arm, pale skin and hair and a new-found craving for human brains. “I knew this party was going to blow,” continues Liv’s internal monologue; “On the other hand, how often can you say you’ve been changed…really changed, by a party?” Her internal musings draw the viewer into her thoughts and make one feel connected to her through the downward spiral her life takes after that life-changing party.

With another graphic transition, the months pass and we next find Liv listlessly browsing the shelves at a grocery store. Hiding her newly pale-blonde hair under a hoodie and with visibly red-rimmed eyes she is the picture of a girl at rock bottom and now prone to purchasing bottles of hot sauce. It’s clear that nobody in her life understands what has brought about this major attitude adjustment, the perky and ambitious medical student is no more in just a few short months.

The scene cuts to an intervention staged by Liv’s loved ones, including her mother, long-time roommate and best friend Peyton Charles (Aly Michalka) and now ex-fiancé Major. Peyton’s tactic is to plead once more in vain for Liv to consider re-instating their “pot luck Tuesdays” while Eva Moore uses her motherly guilt trips instead, touching upon everything Liv has lost in the past five months, such as her successful career and relationship with Major.

But Liv runs with a decidedly different crowd these days, having used her experience as a medical student to get a job at the local morgue. Her boss of a few months, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) is one of the most likeable characters based on first impressions, the only one who knows initially that Liv is a zombie. He’s good for her shattered self-esteem because he is endlessly curious rather than disgusted by her need for brains. Being fired from the CDC for believing in the threat of a zombie outbreak himself, Ravi immediately begins to run tests on Liv when she expected him to fire her.

In April 2015, when a few episodes had aired, Rahul tweeted out the picture below of a piece of ravioli with a caption listing all the relationship names the show had spawned until that point. This cast understands how fangirls instinctively throw together friendships and romances by who sounds best as a single word and gave one plenty of options. Since then Livjor have been adapted by Rob and Rose to be known as Lilymoore, a combination of the characters’ last names Moore and Lilywhite. Although the prospect of getting my One Tree Hill heartthrob Rob Buckley back on my screens was initially what drew me to the show, it was the Ravioli friendship that fast became the highlight of the show.

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In the weeks before the show began I found myself already rooting for these two because Rose was what fangirls call “ship captain” speaking like a true romantic in her interviews and advocating for Liv and Major’s eventual happy ending. Much as one hopes that ending won’t come too soon, it’s hard not to hope for these adorable nerds to get their happy ending.

Romance with @robertearlbuckley

A post shared by Rose McIver (@imrosemciver) on

Although the show initially followed a case-of-the-week format, it’s the relationships between the core cast members that make this bizarre and sometimes disgusting show worth watching. iZombie was quick to explain how their spin on the zombification process works. After Ravi catches Liv eating the brain of the victim on their morgue table she says:

Just so you know, regarding my unique dietary needs… I do it as infrequently as possible. If I don’t eat I become dumber, meaner. And I’m afraid that if I let it go long enough, I’ll go all George Romero. – Liv Moore

The reference to the late film-maker best known for zombie horror movies is a subtle but clever one. On this show the zombies that suffer from the brain-deprived fate Liv describes are nicknamed Romeros in a tribute to the forefather of the genre. Since the show would lose its purpose if the heroine were to become dumb and mean, Ravi is understanding of Liv’s dilemma and lets her eat in exchange for banter that makes the show.

Enter FBI Detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), to whom Ravi introduces Liv as a psychic to keep under wraps that her visions come from consuming the brains of the murder victims. Liv’s zombie status is like the secret superhero identity on many other CW shows, it allows her insight to solve crimes but is a burden on her personal relationships. As early as the pilot, the one-liners and jokes are on point, with the first  murder victim being a Russian escort named Tatiana who used the alias Stefani Germanotta (aka pop icon Lady Gaga’s real name). With the help of local weatherman Johnny Frost (Daran Norris) Liv and Clive track down the whereabouts of the victim’s friends in the business and the case is solved. In the process we witness what is later known as “full on zombie mode” for the first time, where Liv’s zombie super-strength and red eyes kick in for a moment and she loses herself just long enough to rescue the victims.

Helping Detective Babineaux safely track down these hostage hookers is the purpose Liv has been searching for since the boat party where she was turned undead and the new spring in her step doesn’t go un-noticed by her friends and family. As becomes the norm every week, the brain gives Liv some entertaining new personality traits. She soon discovers that Tatiana was a kleptomaniac and has to fight the bizarre urge to smuggle decorative eyeballs from the Halloween party her mother has organized.

But weird temporary personality traits aside, Liv finds herself defeating insomnia for the first time in six months, now that she found a place for herself in the new world order. That is until a vision comes to her in her sleep of Blaine Debeers’ eerie face, the drug dealing zombie who turned her undead at the boat party. Ripping her from a blissful sleep, that vision and the meaning of re-living the chaos of the boat party leave you wanting more, which is the whole idea.

Best Quotes

  • Liv: I was a dead, alabaster badass!
    Ravi: I’m performing open-heart surgery on you without anesthesia. You are beyond badass.
  • So ‘you are what you eat’ isn’t just a bitchy thing my mother says about fat people. – Liv
  • I’ve been terrified about someone finding out about me for months, and you’re acting like it’s the measles. – Liv
  • I have so many questions. First, why the hot sauce? Is that a zombie thing? – Ravi
  • I don’t have post-traumatic stress. I have post-traumatic ennui. Post-traumatic defeatism. Post-traumatic ‘what’s the point?’ – Liv

TV Review: How iZombie got me hooked

Before 2015, if someone had told me a show about a zombie would become the highlight of my week I wouldn’t have believed it. My quirk is needing a reason to watch any new TV show or movie (either a familiar actor from some other favorite film, TV show or else a story I already love from a book). According to Google, there are 13 top results when you search “zombie TV shows” today. My favorite one is met with great skepticism purely because of its name: iZombie.

Co-created by the writing partners behind teen mystery drama Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero-Wright, iZombie is based on the comic books of the same name by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred. Personally I don’t have a whole lot of experience with comic books, even getting the show’s source material on my Kindle for comparison’s sake was a first for me. The strain of reading a graphic novel on an e-reader aside, I found myself glad for the changes that the CW TV show made to the source material. In 2015, Thomas explained the difference between the comic and the version that makes it on TV as follows:

“In the zombie comic-book, there’s a whole monster universe with ‘were-terriers’ and ghosts. We wanted to stay strictly zombie, so we only have zombies in the show. We really needed a story engine. We wanted to do a case-of-the-week show. In the comic book, the character is a grave digger and that’s how she gets her brains. By making her a medical examiner working in the morgue, it gave us our case of the week.” – Rob Thomas

So there you have it, in the words of the creator himself, iZombie became the quirky procedural drama-comedy that could. In terms of my above mentioned requirements of fangirl addiction, the show’s casting was solid. With two familiar faces featured on ABC’s Once Upon A Time (Rose McIver and David Anders as Tinkerbell and Dr. Whale / Victor Frankenstein respectively) I had enough reasons going in to give the show a chance. The main reason I heard of the show at all was of course being an avid follower of former One Tree Hill hunk Robert Buckley. Before Clay Evans existed I swooned over his abs on NBC’s 2008 drama Lipstick Jungle and then fell even harder for him on OTH. The way he described his character Major Lilywhite’s naming process cracked me up and many times in the earlier seasons of the show I would wake up early in the morning to live-tweet with the West Coast from my bed in Switzerland.

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Rounding out the talented main cast is the man behind Detective Clive Babineaux, Malcolm Goodwin and British relative newcomer Rahul Kohli as Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti, the only one initially in on protagonist Olivia Moore’s zombie secret. Another serious throwback for me was former Disney Channel actress and musician Aly Michalka as Liv’s best friend Peyton Charles. The great thing about this show is everyone of the main squad are equally epic sidekicks to Liv’s ups and downs on the range of brains in every episode.

This show may sound insane when one tries to explain its appeal to anyone, but the puns in most of the character’s names alone are priceless. Protagonist Olivia Moore is known simply as Liv (Live More) and in the first season her mother and brother were briefly introduced to establish the rift caused by her disturbing zombiehood secret. Their names were Eva Moore and Evan Moore. (Ever and Even More). Although Buckley explains the roots of his character’s name in the above interview, Major Lilywhite is another endless source of puns on the show. David Anders’ character Blaine “Debeers” McDonough seems one of the only main cast members not to have a pun-tastic name, but to make up for it he ends up running a shady business dealing in brains as if they were drugs, out of a funeral home called Shady Plots. As the human-zombie conflict grows in later seasons, a zombie government run by a company called Fillmore Graves is established, possibly the most despicable pun of all (Fill More Graves).

Perhaps even greater than the show itself was the way the cast visibly enjoy themselves while promoting it. I never imagined that a show where the protagonist’s first words on screen are “this was my life before I died” showcasing medical student Liv in her prime, would be so enjoyable. But here we are two years later and the witty writing and gorgeous, dorky and highly lovable cast has me craving more every week. If writing these reviews can satisfy my family’s blog cravings and gain this little show some fans, I will consider my mission a success.

Bonus: The theme song is super catchy!

And the initial promotional interviews proved every one of the main cast is extremely likeable.

My Relationship With The Fault In Our Stars (Contains Spoilers)

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This quote describes my relationship with writing perfectly ❤

For as long as I can remember, I have been a self-proclaimed “tragedy junkie.” For reasons I’ve never been able to explain to readers within my family, my teenage fiction writing days were fueled by angst and pain, death and suffering. Maybe that’s why falling utterly in love with John Green’s 2012 novel The Fault In Our Stars is such a memorable moment for me.

In April 2014 I was living away from home for an apprenticeship placement of sorts, my first time living in another Swiss city and with other youngsters also in training in their respective fields. Since my sense of direction is beyond hopeless, one of the few outings I made in my area at the time was the local train station, my way to get home every weekend. I now own a Kindle absolutely loaded with my favorite books but back then the train station’s little bookstore held a magnetic pull for me. The TFIOS movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort was being advertised massively in those days and it was the infamous film poster as the book cover that compelled me to pick up the novel.

Movie poster featuring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in character

As with any book to film adaptation, changes had to be made for the screen. But whatever ingredient it is that makes this story a tear-jerker is present in both the book and big screen versions. In this case I read the book just before the film was released because the story was right up my street of romantic tragedies. As I searched for the muse that reminded me how much I love this story, it felt like fate that news of a Bollywood re-make crossed my path. As an Indian growing up in Switzerland, Bollywood films have been my link to my culture ever since I was old enough to appreciate them. As such I can fully appreciate how melodramatic and over the top the Indian film-making style is if one is not used to it. Bollywood films are already known for extreme melodrama so I can only imagine how anything based on this story might turn out.

My Mom once wanted to know why I felt inspired by Woodley’s portrayal of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a cancer-stricken teenager. I related to both Hazel and Augustus in their shared passion for the fictional novel in TFIOS, Peter Van Houten’s An Imperial Affliction. Their common interest in meeting the man behind their favorite book was easy for me to relate to as a fangirl and fanfiction writer myself. When Hazel got Gus to read her favorite book and he called her in the early hours of the morning to rave about the cliff-hanger ending of the story, it felt incredibly familiar.

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Perhaps it was partly in the prone to romantic declarations portrayal of Augustus Waters, but my crush on Ansel Elgort was one of the few times I had a fangirl crush on a celebrity younger than my current age. It just goes to show I suppose, whoever said fangirls grow up was wrong. We just adapt and change the objects of our affections with the times. In any event, this story of two terminally ill teenagers bonding over shared passions in spite of their own doomed circumstances is definitely one of my go-to movies whenever I need a good cry.

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Extremely accurate response to this chapter ❤

 

Considering Shailene and Ansel played siblings in the Divergent film adaptation just months before TFIOS released and then transitioned successfully to an epic and tragically doomed romance, it’s no wonder they’re such close friends offscreen.

I mentioned how the TFIOS soundtrack cemented my memories of a trip through the canals of Brugge a few years ago, the closest I’ve ever been to Hazel and Gus’ destination, Amsterdam. Besides the painful Kodaline ballad All I Want featured in the film, the catchy anthem below was what I ended up associating with both Hazel and Gus’ Amsterdam adventure and my own in Brugge.

Since then I’ve read one or two other John Green novels and find myself in total agreement with this ranking. While The Fault In Our Stars is one of my all-time favorite books and films, even Green’s debut novel Looking For Alaska had me in tears. That’s what I get for being drawn to sad stories, but the way I see it’s better to revel in sad fiction which one can walk away from than having to deal with that kind of pain in real life.

The song All I Want touched me so much that as soon as I got a new laptop capable of video editing again, it was one of the first songs to inspire me to do just that. In the years in between, One Tree Hill and the Evans family claimed my fangirl heart and I end this piece with the result of those stirred feelings. Enjoy and until next time!

 

 

Shantel Vansanten: Inspiring Instagram Posts & Other Quotes

My main reason for joining both Twitter and Instagram was directly related to being a fangirl. Ever since they joined One Tree Hill in 2009, Shantel Vansanten and Robert Buckley have been two of my favorite celebrities. While Rob Buckley is all abs, goofy smile and off the charts wit, this piece focuses on the Instagram posts and more that make Shantel a huge inspiration to me.

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This quote is my mantra on the days where my own inner voice is being negative and pessimistic. Letting go of difficult teen years isn’t easy for anyone but at some point one has to shake the voices of doubt planted by stupid fellow teenagers and trust the voice within, as Christina Aguilera so wisely put it in her 2003 song The Voice Within.

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It’s often said that to inspire confidence and respect from others, one has to be self-confident first. For me this one is difficult because it’s hard to think that the way I feel about myself is directly linked to how others will feel about me. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert once said “human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished” and I think that’s pretty accurate. Nobody likes to face their flaws and accept that change might be a good thing, because we are all in some ways creatures of habit. The only difference is the nature of each individual’s habit. Stepping outside a personal comfort zone isn’t really easy for anyone, I think some people just make it look that way.

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My blog header quote, because it reminds me every day that self-belief may not be easy, but it is necessary. I tell myself Rina Can Do It whenever the fear and uncertainty strikes and on the good days that does the trick. If not I return to Instagram and soak up more of the gems below, in the hope that the positive vibes seep into my self-critical soul and pound the doubts away.

With the above quote, Shantel re-enforced something that I learned from her OTH love (and mine!) Clay Evans. After becoming a widower at the age of 25, Clay told Shantel’s Quinn James that “we waste our words and we waste our moments” because he regretted not telling his late wife Sara more often how much he loved her. Quinn reminded Clay that his last act of love with Sara before she died was a spontaneous dance in their living room. The fictional tragedy taught me that sometimes it’s the little moments that truly reveal a person’s nature, far more than grand gestures or extravagant speeches.

Love this saying soooooo much! #selflove #inspiration

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

This quote hits a sensitive nerve because although huge parties and crowds make me very uncomfortable, I do hate to be completely alone. There’s no place safer than Switzerland that I can think of, but alone at home after dark I always find myself unnerved. I lock doors and keep all the lights on (sleep without a nightlight is out of the question) but still there are times when the uneasy feeling of being watched prevents sleep and peace of mind. Over the years I’ve learned to cope with the unease (lots of lights on and avoiding silence in any way possible). The way little kids fear giant monsters hiding in the shadows or under the bed, as adults we realize that those monsters live inside our heads, taking the shape of anxiety and varying degrees of self-doubt and exhausting negativity.

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That realization, the shift from imaginary symbols of fear to brooding negativity, can be the hardest thing about growing up. Fear becomes something to be ashamed of and so we hide it and make it easier for dark and helpless thoughts to take hold of our restless minds. The main reason I look up to Shantel is for being very real in the words she shares with the masses on Instagram. Whether it’s her own experiences with the harsh expectations of the modelling industry or speaking of the general struggle to live up to the standard of beauty expected on television. In choosing to share what inspires her, she inspires me to fight that negative voice within. Many famous people through the years have spoken wise words that resonated with masses of people. What I love about Shantel is how down-to-earth and grounded she is. We need more people so intent on spreading love and positivity in the world, rather than drawing so much attention the warped sense of justice portrayed by terrorists and mass murderers.

Even the most inspirational souls draw strength from others, in browsing through Shantel’s Instagram posts a commonly quoted individual was author and public speaker Rob Hill Sr.

One Tree Hill offered a counterpart of sorts to the above quote, spoken by infamous villain Dan Scott in his mission for redemption years after he murdered his brother. In the season that made me an OTH addict for introducing Clay and Quinn, Dan had a television show where he preached to commoners about the journey to redemption from dark deeds of the past. One line that stuck with me from those sessions that had the show’s other characters scoffing at Dan’s motives was as follows:

“We all want to be loved…to be happy. So why aren’t we? Because we’ve become experts at sabotaging our own happiness. Feeling like victims, when in fact it’s the choices we make, the bad habits, the vices, the inability to show love and compassion. These are the things that tear us down. We’re not victims. We’re assassins when it comes to love and happiness.”

Dan’s words came from a man who even at rock bottom spouted pretentious wisdom for profit, enraging the viewers of his talk show within One Tree Hill “Scott Free Redemption.” But the words themselves ring true, much as they can be viewed in a different light after the sexual harassment claims against showrunner Mark Schwahn last year. Happiness is a struggle for a lot of people, practicing a life attitude of grace and gratitude the way Shantel does takes great strength on most days. It’s easier to dwell on the things that go wrong than what goes right, at least for me. My anxiety has fueled many excuses over the years, perceived laziness stemming from the need to be perfect making any task so difficult it became easier to not try at all sometimes. That’s why this next Rob Hill Sr. quote also speaks to me.

Sometimes the fear of judgement, whether external or internal, has held me back even from doing things that I love, like writing regularly. No matter how much the people around me appreciate the words, or judge them as the case may be, I do it to bare my soul with honesty and heart every time. I’m sometimes still guilty of saying I’m waiting for inspiration when the truth is it’s the fear holding me back – I’ve read enough books on writing to know that perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and no amount of skill can live up to the vision that any kind of artists carry in their minds.

Live & learn…. But love yourself as well!!!

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

The quotes she chose to share fit with her constant message of love, hope and optimism. A lot of them also reminded me of One Tree Hill in a way, Mark Schwahn may no longer deserve a shred of respect but the words will always resonate with me for the way they were delivered. Ultimately it was not the show’s creator who brought the inspirational words of Brooke Davis to life, it was actress Sophia Bush.

As an anxiety sufferer, going with the flow and turning off the fear of imperfection is far easier said than done. But I’ve found that understanding and external sources of optimism do work wonders when my whole body is protesting any given thing. The triggers may look mundane to some, but everyone has things that make them feel stressed and uneasy. Not being perfect is no reason to feel inferior, as Winnie The Pooh author once wrote:

My faith in the face of challenges and struggles is in my family and their love, far more than any God. But even so the devotional passage Shantel shared below spoke to me. We all have our own ways of fighting the fears of what life throws at us, visible or not.

There’s a reason that poets and writers, whether of prose or song lyrics, usually end up connecting with so many of us. Human nature forms a basic set of fears, how we cope with and overcome those weaknesses is what defines us as individuals. The two quotes from poet Rainer Rilke shared by Shantel below speak perfectly to how humans function.

I have often felt hindered by the fear of being anything less than perfect, giving myself incredibly unrealistic expectations was like setting myself up for disappointment and failure that would just re-enforce the nagging little inner self-critic. The frustration that comes from missing opportunities because of sheer irrational terror only makes the negative self-talk worse. The following words of positivity are something I’m still struggling to drill into my brain:

In case you forgot let me remind you… #thisworldneedsyou

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

Even though her own experiences as a model and actress speak more to body image issues, the words of self-love and acceptance have always stirred something deep in my soul. Outer beauty dims with age but a heart that pure is the light this world could always use more of. People may not understand why a lot of my courage comes from celebrity idols or fictional characters, but I will never stop trying to explain it.

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Ever since I mastered Twitter a few years ago to stay in the loop of “live-tweeting” Rob and Shantel’s current shows, every acknowledged comment caused a flutter of excitement. The first time I was ever noticed was by Shantel and though I was completely in awe at the time and trembled with pure disbelief for ten minutes afterwards, now it just feels like something very typical of her nature. I sent her the photograph below and said the words felt applicable even to someone with a physical disability rather than traditional body image issues.

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Her response to that was:

You are amazing and capable and loved.
Yes, I am speaking to you!

No celebrity owes a fan anything, but I am certainly grateful that this one has chosen to share her heart and beliefs with the world. It gives me something to aspire to in my own, often insecure yet sentimental ramblings because I have daily reminders from Shantel’s Instagram like the following to give me the motivation I need:

Today's reminder: You are beautiful, capable an loved! #selflove #inspiration

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

I love this reminder.. Know your worth & don't settle! #selflove

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

From both Shantel herself and every character I have been privileged to watch onscreen, I have learned and still am, self-love and acceptance, courage, perseverance and so much more. If One Tree Hill’s Quinn James can shoot the psychotic clone of Clay’s dead wife to defend herself and Shooter’s Julie Swagger can assault her daughter’s kidnappers like a badass Mama Bear, I can certainly keep trying to believe my family’s favorite phrase: Rina Can Do It!

And for the days when I am haunted by self-doubt planted many years ago by teenagers who couldn’t give a differently-abled classmate a chance, I have the gems below to help me believe again in all I am capable of, even if it will never be running a marathon. It saddens me to think about how the ladies of One Tree Hill had to suffer under an entitled man for the magic to exist but it will always have the words I need to hear. No matter what anyone expects me to write, at my core I will always be a grateful fangirl.

“Sometimes it seems like you’re the only one in the world who’s struggling, who’s frustrated, unsatisfied, barely getting by. But that’s feeling’s a lie. And if you just hold on, just find the courage to face it all for another day, someone or something will find you and make it all OK. Because we all need a little help sometimes—someone to help us hear the music in their world, to remind us that it won’t always be this way. That someone is out there. And that someone will find you.”

As I close my eyes tonight I remind myself of this… #hope

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

Wanted to let you know as a new week begins.. #believe #strength #urnotalone

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

Counting my blessings! #gratitude

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

Today's reminder… #breathe

A post shared by Shantel VanSanten (@therealshantel) on

Glee vs. One Tree Hill – The Dark Sides Of Fandom

For as long as I can remember, I have defined myself first and foremost as a fangirl. Society might say this makes me out of touch with reality, perhaps sometimes too overly dependent on fiction to face my own day to day life, the list goes on. I’ve never agreed with that assessment, of course.  I was defensive and protective of both the shows that to varying degrees of obsession got me through my college years. Hell, Glee is the reason I connected with my now closest friend online and despite years of frustrated and addicted borderline hate-watching, I will never regret those days.

One thing the two, otherwise not particularly similar teen dramas have in common, is the transition from the original core beloved characters. In real life, we are usually thankful that high school doesn’t last forever. But when it comes to TV, the transition to a new phase of life for fictional characters on shows like these is always a risky move. The balance between doing the future of beloved core characters justice and not letting the story-telling grow stale and repetitive is a difficult one. With the way Glee soared in popularity when it first came out in 2009, it seemed the only way to go was down. The once immensely popular Fox musical comedy limped to the finish line of its six year run in 2015, with newbies so shamelessly a re-hashing of the original cast that it was hard to appreciate their individual talent. For the fans who couldn’t bring themselves to let go like me, it was a strange mix of relief and bittersweet regret to see it end.

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I owed that show the courage to get up on stage when I graduated high school myself in 2010, a year before the original New Directions did. For all the inconsistencies in the writing in later years, in the summer of 2010 I transitioned from high school to college grateful to have those super-talented misfits by my side. My passion for Glee back then gave me something to bond over with a classmate besides our classwork, as an introvert TV shows or books in common are always a major blessing.

Glee was conceived in 2009 and until 2012 when they attempted to send the core gang to college in New York and yet split the scene with newbies in the small Ohio town, it was more heartfelt and fun than ridiculous. One Tree Hill meanwhile was always on my radar, but I was never more than a casual fan until 2012. With the graduation of Glee’s original cast and the increasingly poor writing when dividing time between the newbie high-school batch and the original cast in college, I had room to expand my fandom bubble.

The same year that Glee started out on a high note, 2009, was technically when One Tree Hill introduced their newbies, with the show’s second time jump between seasons six and seven. It’s not that the CW drama didn’t have some crazy twists and turns of its own, but compared to Glee the story-telling was for the most part consistent. Sure there were school shootings (an episode that still resonates today for being tragically relatable even twelve years later) and drawn out love triangles, but the words of wisdom still give fans hope today.

The cast of Glee had the shadow of tragedy hanging over the once joyful show ever since July 2013, when their male lead Cory Monteith died of a drug overdose. It changed the course of the foregone happy ending planned for Finchel and made the already messy writing go even more all over the place. It got so bad that the line “the show’s gotta go all over the place or something”, a misquote of  theater motto the show must go on by Cory’s character Finn Hudson, became an accurate description of the trainwreck that Glee became.

I confess I haven’t dwelled much on Glee since it ended in 2015, the once chart-topping musical covers are all I need to take me back to the years it meant everything to me. What I do remember is how devastating Cory’s death was in 2013. It irrevocably changed the course of the admittedly shoddy story-telling and my bedroom wall is a testament to how much the tall, awkward, Canadian goofball meant to me and still does.

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There was a lot of judgement surrounding his death, the fandom that had been infuriating for so long became a place to grieve with others who looked up to Cory how I did. Although I remember where I was when I heard the news and exactly how surreal and painful it was, it’s easier now to look back and smile remembering what joy Cory brought me.

Last year, the foundation of the safe place OTH gave me to bounce back from grief over Cory was tainted. The signs of disrespect for women were there in the more cringe-worthy moments of the show’s history but it was still a shock. In 2017 the taboo of sexual harassment acknowledgement shifted and a former staff writer for One Tree Hill came forward with claims against showrunner Mark Schwahn. She was supported by a number of One Tree Hill and The Royals cast members, both male and female.

The dust had barely settled on the One Tree Hill fandom’s show of unity against despicable treatment, when former Glee actor Mark Salling pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. Weeks later he committed suicide to escape sentencing for his crime and the fandom that died out in 2015 rose from the ashes to express disgust and condemn his actions. Mark’s former castmates speaking out about his death took me back to that dark place July 2013 was, but like them it was more shock and disgust than pain. The event rocked the dormant fandom and suddenly there were heated arguments on Twitter and Tumblr about if it was acceptable to mourn what Salling’s fictional portrayal of Noah Puckerman meant to some people, despite what he was accused of doing to innocent children.

As an Indian, I am no stranger to a culture of entitlement over and mistreatment of women. My worlds as a fangirl and a girl with Indian roots collided when in the aftermath of Shantel Vansanten’s statement against sexual harassment culture, I discovered a speech she made at the 2012 Drawing Hope gala. I could go on about why this woman is my idol, for talent, beauty and even more beautiful heart. Every day she gives me a new reason to look up to her. But for now, I’ll just be grateful that my country of origin and the celebrities I look up to are all such strong, brave and worthy idols in a world that is finally being forced to take responsibility for its actions. In that itself there is a lesson, as Lily James’ 2015 live-action Cinderella taught me, the most important thing that nobody can take away from you is the ability to Have Courage And Be Kind. If everyone could learn how to do that and respect each other, the world would be a brighter place and so I hope for someday.

Social Media: Downfall Or Development?

According to Wikipedia, the generation gap is defined as “a difference of opinion between two generations regarding beliefs, politics, or values.” As technology advances, this perceived gap, the clash of what different age groups consider important, is only growing wider. My sister’s thesis in art school this year is about the impact of social media on art as we once knew it. The perception of the world around us and how people communicate with each other is ever-changing and that is how the generation gap is growing wider.

Toddlers these days are capable of accessing their favourite nursery rhymes on tablets or smartphones, where even in the nineties when I was growing up, such things didn’t exist yet. The critics of social media’s impact on society would say that conversation is a dying art, with individuals buried in their phones and computers all the time. My grandmother, a former lecturer, is one of those critics. I believe that the way we communicate has and will continue to change. Social networking has in some ways made the world a smaller place, in others created a more introverted and self-reliant society.

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With a multitude of social media platforms, it is much easier to connect with a global audience than it was for the older generation. The so-called millennials have a craving for approval on a global scale, almost as if not capturing a moment with a smartphone or similar device means it didn’t happen. As a desperately shy person, I love being able to communicate without facing that internal awkwardness I feel even speaking to strangers on the phone. I’m not sure how my confidence face to face improved before that anxiety around the faceless strangers did. In fact when it comes to socialization, I am a huge contradiction. My best friend in the world is the digital age’s equivalent of a pen pal, until last year we spent five years growing closer through only Facebook and a common video editing hobby on Youtube. It took six years for us to finally bridge the continental divide and meet face to face, but when we did there was no awkwardness at all after the first few minutes.

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A Glee representation of me and my best friend finally getting to meet ❤

My personal experience goes to show that the growing trend of online dating and relationships is nothing to be scoffed at in today’s ever more digitalized world. Although the way people socialize is changing and face to face communication is less common, maybe the same can even be said for kids spending time outdoors and learning through hands-on playtime. But the world is constantly adapting and advancing, so social norms must naturally evolve as well. This generation of social media addicts stir up very public clashes of opinions, where disagreements were once private affairs held behind closed doors. The over-sharing of personal matters has broken down as many relationships as it has given the chance to begin.

Both the tragedies and joys in people’s lives, whether personal or globally newsworthy, are blown out of proportion with the culture of social media what it is today. People compare themselves to the image that their loved ones or celebrities portray, perceiving that as the standard of happiness.

Viral Internet jokes are known as memes, one particularly brutal one I remember seeing was by a comic artist who believed that if the Titanic had gone down in this century, people would have ogled the sinking ship with smartphones in hand instead of trying to help. That thought paints a grim picture for today’s youth and introverted as I am, I believe in human kindness before scope for a spectacle. Nobody should value five minutes of fame over care for our fellow humans.

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Change, whether technological or on a personal level, is inevitable in life. Personally I am still finding the nerve to adapt and face changes in life with courage and grace. Technology is advancing so fast, the average person must keep up at the risk of losing social contact to all-knowing robots like the Siri or Alexa personal assistant devices. As fascinating and fun as the knowledge of those devices is, personally I prefer the warmth in a cuddle from a loved one. I think electronic developments are making earth (and indeed outer space) a smaller world, but sadly also a more impersonal one. For me social media is an introvert’s crutch, but I would never choose it over a hug from a loved one and indeed the only opinions I value are from those same near and dear. Facebook and messaging apps like WhatsApp may be the only way to keep in touch with a lot of friends and family for me, but if having them closer were an option that would obviously be my choice.

Technological advancements should make life easier and more convenient without dehumanizing society and making us immune to the struggles of others. To me, love and compassion will always be more important than convenience. Although the media puts people who think that way on a pedestal, I wish it could just be the norm in society, making our world a better place in the process.

All Of My Memories Keep You Near

This summer I learned a lot about appreciating every moment as it comes and not taking anything for granted. Memories are some of the most valuable things a person possesses, the bright spots of times gone by being what anyone holds onto in moments of sadness and loneliness. I have certainly always been a nostalgically sentimental person and this summer I learned to treasure the long-term memories even more.

When you connect with someone on a deeper level, distance often doesn’t matter. At the risk of sounding over the top, I’ve come to terms with having my soul sister be miles away on a daily basis, a whole different continent and yet so near to my heart. As a hardcore fangirl, it’s often hard to find people in your everyday life who understand the emotional attachment to fictional relationships. I found mine way back in 2012; let’s call her Rachel as I often do.

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Rachel and I fundamentally disagree on a lot of our favourite couples but through a lot of crazy things we went through together an unbreakable bond was formed. The only thing we’ve craved in the years since we’ve known each other has often been the ability to hug each other tightly and physically be as close to each other as our hearts are every day. When the sense of surrealism faded, we were inseparable through hours of binge-watching our favourite shows side by side and trading reactions in real-time how we normally have to over Skype. The experience did bring us closer and every photographic remnant of those days makes me want to pinch myself now.

The only thing that could top a visit from my best friend was overlap with a visit from Nana and Nani, which at 86 and 96 respectively is no small deal. I feel so blessed that my family got to meet my soul sister and she’s now even more connected to everyone I hold dear. With Nana and Nani here, every minute became about capturing nostalgia and taking trips down memory lane. I’m sure the birds and fish at Grün 80 were particularly thankful for the methods of remembrance we chose, feeding them all on a beautiful stroll through the park. Grün 80 somehow tied my entire summer of experiences together, because literally the day before Rachel arrived my colleagues from the centre in Binningen had a lovely day there, complete with barbequed meal and literally climbing into the stream to cool off on that hot June day.

Letting go of everyone after that amazing time together, a time of home videos watched and clothes bought and returned many times over, was hard. But perhaps even harder was what was still to come, the reason I sported a bandana in so many of the photographs. I always knew my birth was complicated, two months premature with hydrocephalus involved. But in a lifetime of dealing with cerebral palsy and the physio and constant tests that go with epilepsy for as long as I can remember, never have I felt so let down by my body.

This summer was really a dream experience; one glance at the framed autographs from two of my idols (courtesy of Rachel) is sometimes all it takes to feel at peace. They and many other marks of my fangirl status are only a part of my bedroom because of my bestie across the miles and that I can’t forget. But many times since June, the surgery to fix the elevated pressure in my brain (a re-operation after the first in 2015) has affected my short-term memory and rattled my certainty and confidence in completely different ways to some of the other bad times in my past.

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Being able to say the pain of high school’s bullying and discrimination has dulled to the point of being as if it happened to someone else is a blessing. But not being able to retain even the events of a summer so dear to me has left me with helpless frustration and the uncertainty if it will ever improve. Maybe it’s just the brain’s way, and to remember every little detail of the summer is unrealistic no matter how amazing it felt to experience. Some days I’m still filled with awe at the memory of October 2015, when I visited the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Watford and rode a broom like Harry Potter. But this time, the haze of memories I’m so desperate to hold on to is more surreal and it’s hard not to blame that feeling of disbelief on not being able to remember some of the details. The walls in my room tell an updated story of the fangirl life now and more than anything I wish I could remember the hours spent pasting together the posters with my best friend. Far away again now, I am thankful for how this summer brought us closer together despite any distance.

It’s strange what mundane things the brain retains when you stop and think about it actually; I remember spilling chocolate ice cream on my shirt when we visited the zoo. I remember Nani’s frustration that we were constantly calling her to watch more Brothers & Sisters instead of letting her read her book in peace. Fortunately I barely remember the pulsing head-aches that plagued me through most of July and August when all the fun was over. One shouldn’t complain too much because the memory can be trained and one day I’m sure this haze of uncertainty will fade, with me more organized in the aftermath if I’m lucky. Some of it may feel hazy but I can’t truly forget this summer, where my grandparents met my best friend and my trusty bandana happened to be an accessory the day I saw Celine Dion live for the first time (sets the bar for live concerts, seriously). As she says in one of my favorite songs “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” and if not literally now, I have faith that all will come back in time. Because I firmly believe that memories of a summer this special are stored not by the brain but by the heart.

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