Of all the seasonal movies I remember loving as a kid, “Home Alone” — and its awesome successor, “Home Alone 2: Lost In New York” — stand above all the others. Though I’ve always considered myself a weird, too-philosophical-for-my-own-good sort of kid, “Home Alone 2” really helped solidify my role as an obsessive thinker.
I’ve heard some wise things in my day. Beyond the customary books that topple over with their enlightened principles, religious overtones and inspirational advice, I’ve formed my own mantras for getting through the day with (most of) my sanity intact. My favorite is “Be Here Now,” a thought expressed on a print I recently bought and plan to hang in my room.
No philosophical uttering has impacted me more than the thoughts of one Kevin McCallister, though. The warm words he exchanged with a bird lady in the rafters of a symphony in New York City have never left me. Lost and away from his family over Christmas, Kevin is shuttling around the Big Apple blowing his dad’s cash on private ice cream bars and plotting the downfall of two bumbling crooks still smarting from having been outwitted by the little guy the previous year.
When he’s not craftily getting out of crazy situations, Kevin is befriending random folks — and is totally wise beyond his years. Any 10-year-old able to check into the Plaza Hotel and keep up the charade for days isn’t your average dummy.
So I shouldn’t be shocked when Kevin teaches the brokenhearted woman one of the most important lessons of my young life.
Bird Lady: I’m just afraid if I do trust someone, I’ll get my heart broken.
Kevin: I understand. I had a nice pair of Rollerblades. I was afraid to wreck them, so I kept them in a box. Do you know what happened? I outgrew them. I never wore them outside. Only in my room a few times.
Bird Lady: A person’s heart and feelings are very different than skates.
Kevin: They’re kind of the same thing. If you won’t use your heart, who cares if it gets broken? If you just keep it to yourself, maybe it’ll be like my Rollerblades. When you do decide to try it, it won’t be any good. You should take a chance. Got nothing to lose.
I spend a good deal of time sifting through options until I reach just the right conclusion. Sometimes I’m so afraid of making a wrong decision that I do nothing — itself a choice. I try to be practiced and careful. Measured. An example of careful planning.
But that can be exhausting.
When I was 10 myself, I got an art set for my birthday. At least, I think it was my birthday — I’m not even sure anymore. We’ve gone through our childhood belongings countless times, donating to charity what we no longer want or need, but somehow this set has survived every purge.
Opening it for the first time and gazing in at the neat rows of colored pencils, pastels and crayons, I was euphoric. The possibilities! I thought. The beautiful possibilities! I was so enamored with this set that I never wanted to use it, and I certainly wouldn’t share it with my little sister. She just didn’t have any respect for my belongings, you know? (Younger siblings rarely do.)
When I wanted to color or design an art poster, I reached for my well-worn boxes of Crayola Crayons rather than the gorgeous, clean kit at my elbow. The colored pencils stayed sharp. The Crayons were unbroken and pristine in their packaging. Water never struck the watercolors, and no page was ever adorned in acrylic smears.
Everything was new, clean. Perfect and unchanged.
Years went by. I stopped coloring. Though I often talk about how I can’t wait to have kids so I can do stuff like draw again, guilt-free, it’s all a very long way off.
I think of coloring and I smile: I mean, who can dislike the electricity of changing a black-and-white image to Technicolor? It’s like owning the first color television on the block. Discovering Lucille Ball is a redhead. Following Dorothy as she swirls from Kansas and lands in effervescent Oz.
And then I thought, Why am I delaying my happiness? Why am I denying myself the free, innocent fun of something like coloring? Who cares if I’m 26. If I’m an uncoordinated artist with no talent for art. If I’m awful at staying in the lines and developing color schemes.
I wanted to color.
Katie found my art set, tucked inside a neat shelf in my mother’s crafting room. I’d purchased a set of color-your-own postcards on a whim this month and wanted to work on my project while watching “Christmas Vacation.” My fingers were itching to color, to blend hues and textures, and my sister slipped me a grin when handing me the set. “Well, you could always use this,” she said.
I opened it again — 10, 15 years later. The markers, usually the first to fade and wither, were my first target. I dotted the back of my left hand with purple circles, testing to see if they would still work. They’re all still capped. The markers mark. The pencils and crayons are still sharp, the ruler still nestled tight in its bed.
My set is clean and orderly. Planned. And though my instinct was to keep them just so, I swallowed it down. I fought it.
Why shouldn’t I wear my Rollerblades outside?
Why shouldn’t I press every Crayon down to its oily beginnings?
I colored one postcard, then another. Then I found a Christmas coloring book and drew in that, too. I pushed hard on the pencils, dulling them, and sketched long lines across blank sheets of paper. I mussed them up. I used them. I used them in a way I would never allow my measured, careful 10-year-old self to use anything.
It felt so good.
It’s almost Christmas and I’m tired, stressed, a little worried. Sometimes so much seems beyond my control — hard to explain, hard to process. Like everyone, I have the slivers of fears that wake me up at 5 a.m., tossing and staring at the shadows on my ceiling.
But I know one thing, something stronger than I’ve ever known: I don’t want to be the type of person who only wears her Rollerblades in the cushy comfort of her childhood bedroom. I don’t want to unearth an art set in two decades to discover I never created any art at all.
Use the crayons. Ride the bike. Take the trip. Eat the expensive chocolate. Drink the fine wine.
Enjoy your life.
“Embrace the bonfire,” a classmate wrote in my high school yearbook, “without fear of being burned.”
And that is all I want to do.
My mother is a collector of quotes. A strong believer in the soothing power of knowledge, Mom has always turned to books when confronted with any problem, issue, question. In her strong mind, there is nothing that can’t be cured with the assistance of a well-written tome. She seeks their wisdom like a sapling to light, always straining to grow and become more.
Like me, Mom loves calendars — and has a page-a-day version on her desk, one of many that have helped her greet the day over the years. This year’s is a collection of quotes encouraging us to “believe in ourselves.” Whenever Mom finds one she thinks will inspire my sister or me, she tucks them in places for us to find. Digging around in my purse on many occasions, I’ve run fingernail-first into a slip of paper with Mom’s careful script in the margin.
Mom collects these scraps of wisdom — and then shares them with me. The one above, from writer Elizabeth Hardwick, landed in my palm with another message from my mother: “For Megan and her book blog.” And I read it and I read it, nodding all the while, thinking about the places books have taken me. The scenes through which I have traveled, and the people I’ve met. The way books have comforted me, boosted me, helped me become more than what I am: a 26-year-old writer in the suburbs, fumbling her way through a world that often seems both familiar and foreign.
I feel like I’m never going to stop learning and growing — and I can only hope that the wonderful stories that have provided the backdrop to my brightest and darkest days will always be here, ready to lend a moment of illumination. Ready to inspire and teach and encourage.
Just like my mom, who has believed in me for so long. And a woman I believe in with all my heart.
Since discovering Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series in the spring, I’ve made absolutely no secret of my complete obsession with the novels. There’s something so serious, tender, and honest about them — I connected with Jessica and Marcus’s love story so much more than any other I’ve ever read! And since it was carried out over the course of five (big) books, it’s a good thing I was totally digging it. (Oh, I so was.)
Of all the wonderful passages and quotable quotes in the books, one really stood out to me above all others: “My thoughts create my world.” The saying first appears — and becomes important — in Charmed Thirds, the third book in the series, when Marcus Flutie gives Jessica her Christmas present.
We made gifts for each other. … Marcus is friends with a silversmith — yes, a silversmith — who taught him how to make a ring out of a quarter. He somehow soldered a message for me in teeny script: ‘My thoughts create my world.’
Jess takes the message to be some sort of commentary on Marcus’s burgeoning Buddhist ideals and lifestyle, and she can’t help but toss the phrase back at him when, shortly thereafter, they get into a huge argument about Marcus leaving town (again) and embarking on a journey of “silent meditation” — meaning no talking to Jess, or anyone. Bewildered and crushed that she’s going to lose him all over again, Jessica says:
I am so sick of your Buddhist wisdom! It’s bumper-sticker wisdom! T-shirt wisdom! My thoughts create my world. I’m so tired of being scrutinized through your goddamn third eye!
The ring is unceremoniously flung back at him, where Marcus safely tucks it away in a pocket. Time passes with Jessica still thinking about that tiny silver ring . . . and Marcus’s message (and desire to be devoted) to her. Memories flood back as she speaks with a mentor several years later.
“You have the eye of a reporter and the heart of a novelist,” he [Mac] said. “But you have much to learn, Ms. Darling. I’ll make sure you don’t throw away your gifts.”
For someone like Mac to believe so deeply in my potential, well, it nearly made me weep with gratitude. Even now, I don’t think he has a clue just how much his words have done for me. …
“What are your thoughts?”
“My thoughts?” I replied, before I even realized what I was saying. “My thoughts create my world.”
Mac sat up in his seat. He scrunched his curls with his hands, perplexed. “Who said that?”
I told him the truth.
“Oh, just someone I used to know,” I said, stroking the naked skin on my middle finger.
And even more time goes by before our heroine and hero are reunited — and the ring is returned to her, kept safely by Marcus the entire time they were apart. When he returns it to Jessica in Fourth Comings, it accompanies something enormous: a proposal.
You chewed on the leather to undo the knot that usually rested on the nape of your neck. You removed the ring from the necklace, took my hand, and put it on the fourth finger of my left hand.
“This always belonged to you.”
. . . All that time, you wore the ring, my ring, around your neck. You wore it in my absence, and then after our reunion. You wore it knowing that it would one day return to its intended, when the moment was just right.
Lately, I’ve been looking for my own “right moment” — a sign that great things are just around the corner and, as John Mayer croons, that “good love is on the way.” A friend recently showed me a gorgeous ring she bought for herself after parting ways with her longtime boyfriend, and I was touched at what it obviously meant to her. It was a sign of strength, a sign that she’s holding her heart close in preparation for giving it to the right person . . . at the right moment.
And I knew I needed my own reminder that I’m doing the same — and that I’m the one controlling my happiness, and the one responsible for my joy.
So I knew just what I needed.
My ring is silver, like Jessica’s, and also bears Marcus Flutie’s immortal words: “My thoughts create my world.” It arrived this morning, custom made by Samantha Bird of Nest In Bloom Design, and I couldn’t possibly love it more! I’ve slipped it onto my own ring finger, where I imagine it will stay for quite some time.
After all, it’s just the sort of mantra I’ve been looking for! Because I’m writing a powerful, moving, life-altering and emotional “coming of age” story, too — my own.