Checkmate

By Claire Golden

As we enter Wave 2 of Lockdown, we are also entering a new wave of boredom. Animal Crossings: New Horizons isn’t new and exciting anymore, cooking has grown dull, and the shorter days are making it harder to get outside for exercise. I found myself in need of a new hobby, and discovered it through a Netflix show that lots of people have been binge watching: The Queen’s Gambit.

Perhaps you’re a fan of this Netflix original series too – the story of a young girl who becomes one of the greatest chess players in the world while struggling with substance abuse. It drew me in from the first episode and stuck with me after the end. It also inspired me to start playing chess again. 

Not to sound too cool or anything, but I was part of the homeschool chess club in middle school. So I already knew how to play, as did my roommates, who were also inspired by the show to rediscover chess. I ordered a magnetic chess board for the princely sum of $13 and we all waited eagerly for it to arrive. When it did, we tore open the package, set up the pieces…and I proceeded to be absolutely decimated in my first game.

I’m not particularly good at chess. But it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy the process of planning out my next move, looking for counterattacks, and attempting to protect my own pieces. After learning that the middlegame is my weak point, I read some articles on middlegame theory and won the next game. Then I told my boyfriend what I learned and he won the next one. And so on. It’s fun playing against him and we have chess matches while we’re cooking dinner and waiting for the oven to preheat.

Chess has a surprising benefit for me: While I’m playing, I can’t think about anything else. I have severe anxiety and am pretty much constantly worrying, but there isn’t time for that when you’re trying to plan out your next moves. A game of chess takes us about 30 minutes to an hour, and for that length of time, my mind is occupied. And after the game, I’m mentally tired, which means my brain doesn’t have as much energy to worry. 

I certainly didn’t expect a Netflix show to be so beneficial for me and my roommates, but it has been. COVID-19 might be winning right now, but we just have to tough it out a while longer, and I’m confident that we will come out on top. And for right now? Chess is helping keep my anxiety at bay. Unexpected, but I’ll take it.

You Will Always Be My Friend

By Claire Golden

On Nov. 3 last year I said goodbye to my pet chicken Harriet, whom I’ve written about here before. It wasn’t easy, but  what I’ve learned is that life goes on — even when you think it won’t. Even when you think it will hurt forever, it gets better. So, if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet, I want to share my experience as encouragement that you can get through this, too.

Viking pride with Harriet

One of the hardest things about losing Harriet was the complete disruption of my daily routine. I always started my day by letting her out of her run, cleaning the coop, and checking for eggs. Then, when I got home from college (I was a commuter student), I would sit in the backyard with her and tell her about my day. Sometimes I did my homework with her perched on my foot. 

When she died, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Now when I came home from school, there was no stripey chicken running out to greet me, no birds help me with my homework, no feathery cuddles. I had maintained an Instagram account for Harriet for a few years, and now I had lost this creative outlet. I missed her beady orange eyes and her high-pitched whine.

Climbing on me to reach the best berries

I had to find new routines. Fortunately, my boyfriend came into my life at the same time that Harriet passed away. Harriet had been sick for months, but pets hold on to life because they know we need them. I think Harriet knew, in her little chicken brain, that I would be OK without her because I wouldn’t be lonely. As you try to figure out what your new routines will be after the loss of a pet, reach out to your support system when you need them. I formed a close bond with his cat Bubba, who filled some of the void that Harriet had left, and taking care of Bubba became part of my new daily routine. Cow Pigeon actually helped me a lot while I was grieving because he was another bird I could photograph and coo over. Now after dinner, instead of chicken cuddles, I read books with my boyfriend. And thanks to him, I am never lacking for hugs.

Summertime hammock cuddles

The great thing about pets is that they love you unconditionally and without judgment. Harriet was the first creature I told about so many things. She let me cry into her feathers; she came running to see me when I came home from a hard day at college. There’s just no replacement for that. After she died, I wrote her letters when I really missed her and it was almost like talking to her. Perhaps this is morbid, but I put her ashes on the shelf next to my bed so it was like she was roosting next to me at night. I have a plush chicken that looks like her which I hug when I wish I could hug her. All of these things help me feel like she’s still around. (As I write this, in fact, a little plush chicken sits next to my computer.)

Got your nose!

And I do believe she’s still around in some way, because love doesn’t die. I see her in every striped chicken, in a particularly beautiful sunset, in the ladybugs that started popping up everywhere after she died. There’s a quote from my favorite book that always gets me right in the feels:

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night…. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will always be my friend.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Harriet will always be with me in the ways that matter. When you love a pet, they change your life for the better. No matter what, she will always be my friend. And I will always be hers. So I look up at the stars, and I imagine her living.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

By Claire Golden

Three weeks ago, after about 200 days of quarantine, I cut off about ten inches of my hair with scissors from the Dollar Tree.

This wasn’t a spontaneous decision. All year I’d contemplated getting a haircut, but I just never got around to it. Then coronavirus hit, and going to a hair salon was no longer an option. Even though I was getting more and more tired of my long hair every day, I wasn’t going to put somebody at risk for what was ultimately a frivolous wish.

Finally I couldn’t take it any longer, and I combed my hair, sat down in front of the mirror, and cut off first one side, then the other, with my bright pink polka-dotted scissors. Here’s a “before” picture ft. my chicken Harriet, compared to my new blogger profile picture at the beginning of this post.

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Lots of people have been turning to DIY haircuts in the face of the pandemic. If you’re going to give it a try, here’s what I learned:

  • Use sharp scissors: I recommend using a good pair of scissors so you don’t have to saw through your hair. When I went back to fine-tune my results, I used a sharp pair and had much more success.
  • Cut wet hair: Wet hair is easier to contend with than dry hair. Brush it first and part it the way you normally would. 
  • Ensure symmetry: Divide your hair into two sections and pull them over your shoulders. Sit down in front of a mirror, make sure your head isn’t tilted, and then clamp your hair in your fingers before cutting above your fingers. 
  • Less is more: Remember, better too long than too short — you can always cut more later! 
  • Ask for help: Ask a friend to fix the back if you need help. 

It went much better than I expected. My boyfriend’s mom said, “If my hair looked like that after I cut it, I would never go to the salon again!” So I count that as a success.

I didn’t anticipate just how much better I would feel after the Quarantine Hair Chop. Over the last few years, long hair had begun to feel limiting to me. I was a different person leaving college than I was entering, and it didn’t feel right that I still looked the same on the outside. Cutting my hair was a way to signal the end of that time period and the beginning of something new. I don’t look the same because I’m not the same — these past several months in particular have changed me.

A friend’s comment particularly resonated with me: “Some people say that bad feelings linger in hair, so by cutting it off, you’re getting rid of the past.” Cutting my hair was cathartic, and it was exactly the change I needed.

Hope Is The Thing With Black-and-White Feathers

By Claire Olivia Golden

It’s no secret that one of my favorite things about PSU is our unofficial mascot, Little Cow Pigeon. I have written about this delightful bird in the past and every once in a while, when someone hears my name, they ask: “Aren’t you the Cow Pigeon blogger?” I could not be more honored to have this designation, because LCP means a lot to me, just like he does to hundreds of other people. Which is why PSU freaked out when Cow Pigeon went missing.

It was just another bad thing in a year filled with bad things. Our celebrity bird hadn’t been spotted in months. Rumors circulated about a hawk outside Cramer. In all likelihood, the reason nobody had seen LCP is because nobody was on campus, but that didn’t stop everyone from worrying. The Cheerful Tortoise even put up a call to action.

I went to run an errand at PSU a few weeks ago and found myself with some time to wander around campus. Outfitted with my pigeon-themed mask, I walked through Cow Pigeon’s favorite haunts: the Park Blocks, between Cramer and Smith, and the Urban Plaza. There were no pigeons to be found, not even a non-cow pigeon.

Outside the Portland State Bookstore, I bent down to pick up a black-and-white striped feather. I have no way of knowing if this feather came from Cow Pigeon. Birds lose feathers all the time. But the classic black-and-white Cow Pigeon coloring made a strong feeling rise up inside me. 

It felt a little bit like hope.

Things might not feel good right now, or even okay, but better times are ahead. I believe that. Just like I believe Little Cow Pigeon is still out there, pecking at crumbs, delighting people with his speckled appearance. 

An Open Letter to My Freshman Self

by Claire Golden

Dear Freshman Claire,

Well, you did it. You graduated college. Technically, I graduated college, because you’re just starting out. But have faith – you will make it, even if it feels impossible right now.

I know you’re terrified. You can’t see past today because you’re so scared of tomorrow. But that’s okay. All you have to focus on is today. Four years seems impossible when you look at it, but when you break it down, all you have to do is get through the next 24 hours. And if that’s too much, just focus on the moment. When you feel rooted in place with anxiety, just remember, you can always make it one moment more.

Believe it or not, college is going to be wonderful. You’ll meet your best friends and develop so many inside jokes that you can’t stop laughing. You’ll find the best food carts on campus and eat so much macaroni and cheese while studying for tests. You’ll read some of your new favorite books (and some of your new least favorite books). 

I know you don’t trust people when they tell you “college will be good for you,” because they don’t understand how scared you are. But you can trust me. I’m you! It’s true that it will be stressful. You’re going to cry in the library, and in the bathroom, and even in class sometimes. But it will always get better. It’s going to be worth it in the end, because you’ll learn so much, and not just academically – you’ll learn so much about yourself and the world around you. 

So hang in there. The first day is always the hardest. Every day will get a little bit easier, until one day you realize: you feel at home at PSU. 

And just wait until you learn about Cow Pigeon.

Sincerely,

PSU Alumna Claire

Author Dreams

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

Two months ago, I woke up and checked my email to discover that a publishing company wanted to publish my book. After the squealing and happy tears had subsided, I signed the contract and got to work. I had to keep the news quiet for a few weeks, but I’m beyond delighted to share that my Young Adult fantasy novel, Unraveled, will release later this year from Gurt Dog Press. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty where two girls fall in love while trying to break the curse on a crochet shawl, and it’s about faeries, OCD, and figuring out who you are.

Although it feels like everything is happening so quickly, the journey of writing a book started about seven years ago. I’ve been writing stories since I was in elementary school and dreaming of becoming an author since I realized that was a career, but I started seriously working toward that when I was 15. I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo, a worldwide program where people all over the world write 50,000 words (the length of a short novel) during the month of November, and I haven’t stopped writing since. I started writing Unraveled in 2016, which is also when I started college…and that’s when everything got more complicated.

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The thing is, I’m an English and French major…which means I’m writing stuff all the time for college. When I finished my homework, the last thing I wanted to do was write more. I grew discouraged because I wasn’t making progress on my book. I had to learn to be kind to myself and realize that college is essentially a full-time job. It was OK that most of my book-writing took place during breaks. There’s a balance between not working toward your goal at all, and working so hard that you burn yourself out. I’m still trying to find that balance.

The picture in this post is from my 2016 writing journal, where I recorded my daily word count. I participated in NaNoWriMo that year, too, and you can see that I hit a block pretty early on and didn’t think I would make the 50,000-word goal. But one day I plunked myself down in the armchair and decided not to get up until I was done. I wrote 20,000 words that day, a feat that I have never done before or since. It took me over six hours, but I finished Unraveled. It remains one of my proudest moments because I fought through my self-doubt and a myriad of health issues for the sake of this novel, which was important to me.    

Over the next several years I submitted Unraveled to about five different agents and publishers, but nobody was interested, so I started losing hope. It wasn’t until the COVID pandemic that I got the courage to try again, because I realized there’s no time like the present. I found Gurt Dog, a small press in Sweden that focuses on LGBTQ+ speculative fiction, and they were enthusiastic about my book…which will release just a few months after I graduate college.

I’ve met a lot of people who say, “I’ve always dreamed of writing a book.” Or, “I have a draft of a novel, but it’s not any good.” Well, I’m here as proof that any nerd can get a book published if you just put the work in and believe in yourself. Whatever your dream is, I encourage you to chase it down, because it will be worth it in the end.

What’s Up With Online Tutoring?

IMG_7345 by Claire Golden

I’ve worked as a tutor at PSU’s Learning Center since last fall. Last term, when everything started getting serious with the COVID-19 pandemic, we switched to online tutoring. Socially distancing isn’t really an option for tutoring, because you have to get close to the student to see what they’re working on. So I’m extremely lucky to have the ability to work remotely because it offers less risk for both students and tutors. The Learning Center continues to offer remote tutoring and academic coaching this summer, and we’ll just have to see what this fall looks like.

But you may be wondering the same thing I was: How does online tutoring even work? Turns out it’s quite simple. Every organization does it differently, but the Learning Center uses two apps: Penji and Zoom. (Remember a few months ago when basically nobody knew what Zoom was, and now everybody has it installed?) Penji is used to schedule your appointment with a tutor. You can book 30-minute sessions during the tutor’s availability. Right before your session, you’ll get an email from Penji with the link to the tutor’s Zoom room, so all you have to do is click and join.

The tutoring session is the same as usual: you can get help with practice problems, studying, concepts, and language conversation…anything you would cover during a normal in-person session. You can share your screen or use the whiteboard to write out what you’re working on. The tutor will be live on screen (my bookshelf is usually in the background during my Zoom sessions, and sometimes my cat will walk by). It can be weird at first getting used to the online tutoring format, but it doesn’t feel so weird after a while. In fact, I like it by now.

So if you need any tutoring or academic coaching during the last few weeks of summer term, don’t hesitate to swing by. We’ll be happy to see you.

A “Swan” Summer

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

This is my last term of college, and my classes are different than usual. This term, I’m taking my senior capstone and my last four University Studies credits…which is how I ended up in a Japanese Manga class. 

First of all, it’s a four-week class, which I’ve never done before. And it’s no joke! We have the same amount of content, but it’s squished into four weeks instead of the usual eight or ten for non-summer terms. Every day, we have a discussion assignment due, and every week we have an essay and quiz. It’s vital to write down my assignments and cross them off when I’m done so I don’t get confused.

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While it certainly isn’t stress-free, I’ve really enjoyed the texts we’ve read so far this term. One of the manga we read is Swan by Kyoko Ariyoshi. I fell in love with it from the first page. It’s the story of a teenage ballerina and her struggle to get into a prestigious ballet school. Since I did classical ballet as a teenager, I took to the story right away and liked it so much that I ordered the next book in the series immediately after finishing. 

I never would have discovered this book if it weren’t for my manga class. And I wouldn’t have signed up for this class if it weren’t for University Studies. It turns out that this manga class is the perfect way to finish my English major, expanding my knowledge beyond Western literature. It just goes to show that you should keep an open mind, because you never know where you’ll find your new favorite book.

Showing Solidarity From Home

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

Life has been overwhelming lately, to say the least. It seems like I go from a news article about the COVID-19 pandemic to a coverage of protests in Portland. More than anything, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of helplessness. I want to help the Black Lives Matter cause. But how can I do that from home?

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graphic from blacklivesmatter.com

For anyone else who feels this way, I’ve rounded up a short list of ways that you can help from home. Although the protests are necessary, it’s also dangerous to congregate in public when coronavirus is still spreading. Luckily, you can still support the cause from the safety of your own home.

If you’re a white person like me, you can educate yourself and other white people. This could mean having difficult conversations with your family members who may not be very aware of what’s going on. You could share helpful articles on your social media. What’s important is doing the work to become informed. 

You can donate to organizations like Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd Memorial Fund. Every little bit helps. Many of us are unemployed college students, which means we aren’t exactly showered with money, but if everyone donated the price of a Starbucks drink, it would add up. 

I’ve been making a concerted effort to support black artists, authors, and creators. A book that helped me learn a lot is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is a young adult novel about a girl standing up against police brutality. I read it from the library a couple of years ago, but I finally bought a copy because it’s such an important book.

There are many ways to show your support even if you aren’t on the front lines, and I encourage you to do so. Together, we can make a difference.

Staying Social During Quarantine

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

Today, May 13, marks 58 days by my count of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. That’s a long time to go without hanging out in person with other people. I’ve seen a movement toward calling it “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” to emphasize that while people need to physically stay apart, they can still connect in other ways. Humans are social creatures and it’s important to stay connected.

One of the ways I’ve been keeping in touch with my friends is through our weekly Dungeons & Dragons sessions. We all hop on Google Hangouts and play D&D for a few hours on Sunday nights. It’s great to catch up with them as well as getting the escape that role-playing games (RPGs) offer. We played a really fun RPG called “Honey Heist” where you’re trying to infiltrate a honey convention, but everyone is a bear. It made everybody laugh and was a good time, so I highly recommend this if you want to try out a RPG.

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Another fun thing you can do with your friends is hold a Netflix watch party, where everyone starts the movie at the same time and chats throughout. You could also play video games online, or hop on the Animal Crossing bandwagon. We held a PowerPoint party where everybody gave an informal presentation of something that interests them, which was an entertaining way to spend an evening. Topics varied from the history of World War I to Frodo and Sam’s relationship in The Lord of the Rings. It was fun to learn about my friends’ interests.

Since I’m currently away from my family, I make sure to stay in touch with them. Usually this involves texting them silly pictures I find on the Internet. We also FaceTime every two weeks or so. Phone calls are wonderful, but seeing their faces does me a lot of good…even if my dog is pretty confused when she sees my face on the computer.

Whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to take the initiative to set up a hangout with your friends. It’s important to keep physically distancing, but don’t let friendships fade just because you’re physically apart.