I've always been a dramatic child. I read action-packed graphic novels with glee, relished in over-the-top Victorian drama thrillers. I sought out the most complicated societal commentaries and the most intense dystopian novels. I read to escape a world I found boring. I read to find some greater purpose in my life, or at least any purpose a 12-year-old girl could comprehend. I wanted to start a revolution like Katniss, to be the one to save the world like Harry.
But, as life goes on, it gets harder to escape the world. I found myself overwhelmed, so that reading was first on the chopping block. Flash-forward to senior year, and life had grown exceptionally complicated; I was admitted into a psychiatric treatment program and getting through the day-to-day was harder than ever before. When I returned to school, we had begun our unit on poetry. I scoffed, cynical and reluctant to read poems about deer and grass and sylvan loves. But I remember the piece that first cracked open the rusted iron lock on my mind: "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love," a poem by Christopher Marlowe.
The beauty of this poem falls in its simplicity. The shepherd pleads to his love, leave behind the complications of humanity, and "live with me," love with me within nature. When I read this poem, I felt as if I was staring into the eyes of the poet and the wonder and joy and contentment he felt was reflected back into me. My life did not have to be exceptional; the world does not have to be ending to be exciting. The small things—the deer, the grass, the sylvan loves—can fill a world with more beauty than I considered. It was as if the sunlight around me had been clouded, but this ode to the pasture revealed the warmth I had never known to search for. Poetry has quickly become a secure facet in my life. Writing it has become a coping mechanism for me and reading it has become a passion that has reignited my love for life.
In Latin, the word “amat” translates to “he or she loves.” In the novel Beartown by Fredrik Backman, the character Amat is a fifteen-year-old boy who loves hockey. Backman introduces Amat alone, in an ice rink, before dawn – again, again, again, he speeds across the rink and shoots the puck.
I have never held a hockey stick. Nevertheless, I gravitated towards Amat’s personality and work ethic – Amat loves hockey because it empowers him to become the best. Wanting to wholeheartedly commit to one pursuit like Amat, I set out to find my “hockey” in high school.
Freshman year, I found my love for biology. To master complex cellular processes, I wielded highlighters and notecards – studying, I heard the sound of skates on ice: again, again, again. Sophomore year, I dedicated myself to American history, seeking out essays and speeches to read – again, again, again. Junior year, I consumed an eclectic feast of philosophy, politics, and economics for debate. After each tournament, I considered what I could improve for the next competition – again, again, again.
Coach Sune rewards Amat’s determination by promoting him to be the youngest member of the hockey A-Team. However, when Amat witnesses fellow player Kevin sexually assault a girl, Amat’s moral compass clashes violently with his love of hockey. Faced with backlash from his town, Amat risks his world by coming forward with his knowledge. Inspired by Amat’s courage, I began doubting his devotion to hockey. How could a sport matter when compared to a person’s life?
Amat and his town prove me wrong. Turns out, hockey matters because it gives people stories: hockey drives Amat to do his best, both on the rink and in his life; eventually, the town and the girl recover, and he achieves professional status. The novel challenged me to rethink my own pursuits. I loved biology, history, and debate because they embodied people’s stories: what people think and do and love. The act of reading stories, again and again to better understand my world, is my “hockey.” Amat fabulam: she loves stories.
There were probably warning signs. Maybe my shaggy haircut that made me resemble a young Jodie Foster. Or my rigorous preparation to audition for the role of Bert in Mary Poppins, before realizing that no other girls in my musical theater class were remotely interested. But I didn’t know I was gay until middle school.
I live in a rural town and grew up in the Unitarian Universalist church: a small, eccentric congregation. It was an environment that prioritized social justice. I knew cross-dressers, lesbian couples, and even a Pagan witch—all of whom I considered family friends. So, when I began to question my sexuality, I was confused. How could I be so accepting of others and not myself? Later, I discovered the concept of socialization: even though my church was a little pocket of progressivism, I still went to a school where the kids called each other fags. I began to resent my identity and did not tell anyone for years.
My grandmother was the first person I came out to. A few months later, she handed me a tattered copy of Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde: a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Upon reading, I realized that I live in a country that condemns self-exploration and encourages abiding by societal norms. And that, in turn, self-love could be considered a form of rebellion. I was inspired by Lorde’s fierce devotion to inhabiting every dimension of herself and celebrating it. She was a catalyst, opening my world to other writers, such as bell hooks and Adrienne Rich.
I began to write poetry, formed a women’s writing group at school, became an intern for one of the only female politicians in town, and joined a civic engagement program for girls. I taught myself empowerment through activism, ready to yell Xena Warrior Princess cries off of buildings.
What did Sister Outside teach me? That there was nothing wrong with me. And that was what I needed to hear.