I’m feeling twenty-two too.

Last Sunday was my 22nd birthday, the first in a long line of birthdays with no extra legal benefits attached. A friend of a friend wrangled five free tickets to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the city of my dreams, the love of my life, so at 7 AM on Saturday we piled into cars and drove, drove, drove.

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Beluga whales click, whistle, and chirp, just one more reason life is wonderful.

There’s no hiding that the past week has been agonizing. I was afraid that even Chicago would be ruined, that the air would still feel tight and sour with fear. But I shouldn’t have bothered. With all the construction on crosswalks during rush hour, the street performers banging gallon tubs outside the Museum of Modern Art, the newlyweds taking pictures on the steps of Millennium Park, the people with their eyes closed and humming in a circle of guided meditation in front of the Bean, the young girl taking pictures in her quinceñara and the choir gearing up in the Cultural Center, there wasn’t all that much space for fear.

Now I’m back in post-election Middletown USA, a liberal student surrounded by conservative townsfolk. Not all Trump voters are bad, and not all Clinton voters are elitist, but there is no denying the awful, horrible, no-good, really bad racist, sexist, and all-around sucky messages the Trump campaign is now bringing to the White House.

The next four years are going to be very difficult, but we can never stop fighting for what is right. Our strength as a species lies in our ability to empathize with each other, and our curiosity and eagerness to explore what it means to be human.

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Scale matters.

As I wandered through sand castles and a rainbow of knick-knacks and ordinary wonders in the Cultural Center’s art exhibit, I felt connected in my soul to this phenomenon we call humanity. We place so much importance on such trivial things – red wagons, toothpaste brands, how we spend our vacation time, where we get our quinceñara pictures taken – but they’re all important, aren’t they?

Things I know for sure:

  1. Shedd Aquarium serves pretty decent pizza.
  2. Half an hour of walking is still half an hour of walking. 
  3. We can do this. We can. We will.
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Hermit shell, fraud, auto.

One of the wonders of creative nonfiction (CNF, to my fellow acronymers) is that pretty much anything goes, as long as it stays nonfiction.

If you’re concerned with the disappearance of communal eating, slap a one-handed soup container on a page and write an essay around it.(The Last Supper, Jon Mooallum, not linked because I can’t get it from Harper’s unless I pay for it).

Everybody gets pulled over, but you can also turn your police report into a memoir essay.

Sometimes there is this one person who keeps popping into your life, sometimes after years of silence. Drop some pins in Google maps and write an essay in the descriptions.

The Harvard Outline is overused. Revamp it. (Outline Towards a Theory of the Mine Versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline by Ander Monson, which I also can’t find without paying for it)

Working at Wendy’s as a full-grown adult is essay fodder, not mockery time.

You find a form, a shape, a document, and you meld your topic or memory around that shape. Maybe your memory is that object. Maybe my essay is the jacket inside a CD case. Maybe I explore why I hate my hometown through descriptions of people I grew up with. Maybe I link my hatred of our chalkboard table (that singularly unnerving sensation against my fingers, *verbal shudder*) to the family tradition of dinner at our too-long table, bought second-hand from a family rich enough to buy a new dining room. Maybe I write my essay on the future in blog posts.

Meta, right.