23 Things I’ve Learned in 23 Years 

By Claire Golden

This is my last post for PSU Chronicles, and I’m going to miss being a blogger here. But since I’m not a student anymore, I couldn’t stay around forever. My life has changed so much since I started at PSU. I’ve been diagnosed with and treated for OCD, had my gallbladder removed, made some friends, lost other friends, came out as bi, got engaged to the love of my life (whom I met while working at PSU’s Learning Center), got a degree, and got a book published. But I’ve also cried in many PSU bathrooms, failed homework assignments, had an existential crisis (or three) and wondered what on earth I was doing. 

A lot of the things I learned in college weren’t academic, and I think they’re the most valuable lessons I took away from my time at PSU. So I thought I would share the top 23 things I have learned in my 23 years on this good ole planet. (I forgot how old I was and had to ask my fiancé to confirm.)

1.     Say “I love you” to people more often.

2.     Every bad moment will pass.

3.     Learn to be okay with good enough.

4.     If you wait for something to be perfect, you will be waiting forever, so go after your dreams.

5.     Don’t procrastinate things on your bucket list, because life is unpredictable.

6.     Take care of your body — go to the doctor when you need to!

7.     Do the things you want with your hair, it grows back! (I am rocking a DIY pixie cut at the moment.)

8.     Approach things with a sense of humor and learn to laugh at yourself, kindly.

9.     Reach out to people you think are cool, because you might just make a new friend.

10.  Learn new things just to experience being a beginner again! (I am working on my third language, German, as well as how to read tarot cards.)

11.  Do things that you’re bad at if you like doing them: draw, sing, dance, write.

12.  Be generous with your compliments, because you never know what they will mean to someone.

13.  It’s okay to ask questions, big or small. And it’s okay if you sound silly while asking them.

14.  Just because your parents or family do things one way doesn’t mean you have to do things that way. This applies to little things like loading the dishwasher and to big things like religion. 

15.  Waste time with the people you love, because that’s not actually wasted time.

16.  If you can, live somewhere you love, because every day will feel like a vacation. (Shoutout to Portland, from a former Midwesterner.)

17.  It’s okay to be childish…collect stuffed animals, read Middle Grade or Young Adult books, color a picture.

18.  Don’t be normal just for the sake of being normal, but also don’t be weird just to “stand out.” Find your happy medium.

19.  If you get excited about the little things, then life will become much more exciting: a great glass of ice water, a spinny door, a really shiny pigeon.

20.   Write down your feelings to help make sense of them.

21.  Send letters to people you love — it’s fun to have a pen pal and it will make both of your days to get mail.

22.  Reading books helps me escape, but also makes me a more empathetic person as I learn about new things.

23.  Probably the most important thing of all that I’ve learned: It’s okay not to know the answer. 

Bonus tip: Hugging a fluffy animal makes everything better.

In Defense of Comfort Objects

By Claire Golden

There’s a scene in one of my favorite books, The Giver by Lois Lowry, that’s stuck with me. It’s a dystopian novel where every year children go through a different ritual for their age group. One year, they have to give up their “comfort object,” which is a stuffed animal they’ve had since they were born. The idea is that the children are now old enough that they shouldn’t have a stuffed animal anymore. This appalled me as a kid and continues to appall me today as a 23-year-old college graduate. See, I have more stuffed animals than ever and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Since The Giver is a dystopian novel, it’s showing a world that we shouldn’t aspire to. But in our own society, don’t we do exactly the same thing? I remember getting dolls and plushies from my friends on my birthday, only to start receiving clothes and makeup when we hit our teenage years. But I hadn’t stopped liking stuffed animals. It just wasn’t cool to do so anymore.

Maybe it’s thanks to my homeschool background that I managed to hold onto my stuffed animal collection rather than giving it away due to peer pressure. But I love my plush companions. They’re fluffy, soft, cheerful and comforting to cuddle with. I dream of meeting a kiwi bird in real life, but since that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, I got a plush version that I can hug. When my pet chicken died, I got a plush that looks just like her that I can hug when I really miss her. Some of my stuffed animals are over a decade old and hold lots of memories. I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

Since it isn’t socially acceptable to have stuffed animals in public, I brought plush keychains and pencil cases with me to create the illusion of what I thought was maturity. But the fact that I greet my stuffed animals when I come home has nothing to do with how functional of an adult I am. My stuffed pandas sit next to my desk while I work from home. I make my own doctor’s appointments…and then bring a fluffy alpaca to the hospital with me. (Pictured is Millicent the alpaca, first in a bonnet I made for her, and second, at my surgery consultation last week.) 

I’m learning to care less about what people think. But you know what? Whenever someone sees one of my plushies, they usually think it’s awesome. Often they want to give it a hug, and they tell me about their own stuffed animals at home. It’s like me embracing my own weirdness gives them the courage to reveal their own. Sometimes it even helps me make a new friend. Life is too short to hide something that makes you happy, especially when it’s this fluffy and cute.

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.

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.

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.

Tips for Remote Learning from a Former Homeschooler

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

How are you all doing with the adjustment to remote learning? As we start our fifth week of the most unusual spring term in memory, I know a lot of us are having a difficult time. I find myself more grateful than ever for my homeschool education, which means that I’m used to learning like this. Here are some tips I’ve learned from seven years of homeschooling that I find helpful for remote learning.

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1. Dedicate a space to your studying. 

It’s nice to do homework in your bed once in a while, but I find that having a tidy desk does wonders for my mental state. Sitting down at my desk helps put me in “study mode.”

2. Keep an assignment planner.

I keep this planner on the aforementioned desk. I have four spaces for the four days of the week (Monday-Thursday) I have classes, and I write what’s due in each space, crossing it out when I’m done. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when everything is just floating around in your head. Writing it down on paper is a good way to get it out of your head and onto the page.

3. Minimize distractions.

It’s easy to get distracted by family and pets. I wear a pair of headphones to signal when I can’t be interrupted. Turn on “do not disturb” mode on your computer and silence your phone. That YouTube video can wait until you’re ready to take a break.

4. Enjoy what remote learning has to offer.

It’s easy to see all the difficulties of remote learning, but what about the positives? You can go to school in your pajamas, snack whenever you want, and take naps in the middle of the day. In fact, I wrote this post with a cat curled up beside me (pictured).

It’s okay to embrace this weird time period while it lasts and enjoy the silver lining. Things will be back to normal someday. Until then, we’re in this together.

One Day at a Time

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Lately I’ve seen a trending idea that COVID-19 quarantine is an opportunity to create the world’s next masterpiece…like how Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was in quarantine for the plague. It’s great if people take inspiration from this. But it just makes me feel depressed. It’s true that I have lots of time on my hands. But I don’t have the mental energy necessary to do anything, because I’m too anxious.

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(Here’s a little crochet version of the virus I made as a form of exposure therapy.)

I know I’m not alone in this. The pandemic is scary! We are living in unprecedented times, and it’s normal to be nervous. What’s important is not letting that anxiety completely take over. Easier said than done, I know, but I encourage you to take a deep breath. I’m here to tell you that whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone, and we’re going to make it through this together.

It’s OK if all you do is make it through the day. It’s OK if your big accomplishment for the day is taking a shower, or doing a little bit of homework. It’s OK if all you can do is plug along, because that’s how we’re going to get through this.

I’d like to share a quote that holds a lot of meaning for me. It’s from John Green’s book Turtles All the Way Down, about a young woman who lives with OCD. The quote is: “Your now is not your forever.” I’ve had this quote displayed on my wall for the past several years, and it’s more important now than ever. Now is scary. Now is uncertain. But it’s not going to last forever.

Running Out of Spoons

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

About two years ago, I got sick and doctors couldn’t figure out why. Suddenly my world shrunk to the size of my house. Getting through my college classes was a monumental effort when I had absolutely no energy. Some days I couldn’t leave the house because I was too sick to my stomach. Other days I would fall asleep on a bench between classes because I was just so exhausted, while walking up the stairs left me doubled-over waiting for my heart rate to get back to normal. I would make it through the day only to go home and fall asleep at 9 PM. 

It was around that time that I encountered an article by Christine Miserandino called “The Spoon Theory” that describes her experience living with chronic illness. Being a “spoonie” means you only have a certain amount of spoons, which represent both mental and physical energy, a day. It was the perfect metaphor for my experience. Getting a diagnosis and feeling better has been a long process and I’m still not at 100%. But I’ve learned some coping mechanisms…including bringing books with me to the hospital for comfort.

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The most important thing I’ve learned is knowing when to take a break. Some days I didn’t have the energy to study as hard as I wanted to…and that’s okay. Pushing yourself to the breaking point doesn’t help anybody. I learned to ask for help when I needed it, whether from my family or friends. I also talked to my professors about my health issues, all of whom were extremely sympathetic. Don’t forget that the Disability Resource Center can provide accommodations, too.

The biggest thing I learned is that my health is more important than grades. It’s hard to study when you’re curled up on the bathroom floor, even when you have a final exam the next day. I work hard in school, and it’s important to me, but sometimes you have to give yourself a break. It’s hard to keep going when it feels like your body is working against you. But I try to take it one day at a time. There’s no shame in taking it slowly if you need to. Remember, you aren’t the only #spoonie here at PSU.

Tips for Trouble-Free Transit Travel

Untitled design-3 By Claire Golden

One of the main reasons I chose PSU is because I could live at home and commute to college. I didn’t want to live away from my family for that long, and the dorms were too expensive, so commuting was the perfect solution. After three and a half years of taking the bus, I’m far from a master of public transportation, but I’m much more comfortable with it than I was when I started. And I have some tips to share with anybody in the same shoes.

The best tool you can have as a commuter is a good bag. My backpack has held up through my entire college career, and I suspect it will keep going for many more years. As cool as messenger bags look, they’re terrible on your back. For me, nothing can take the place of a reliable backpack. Mine has side pockets to store my water bottle.

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TriMet is a great way of getting around Portland. They recently started a low-income fare program. If you’re a broke college student like me, you just might be eligible. You get to ride the bus, Max, and streetcar for half the price, which has been a lifesaver for me. (Don’t forget you can ride the streetcar for free with your PSU student ID!) The TriMet transit tracking app is useful for knowing when your bus will show up, which means you can time your commute so you don’t have to wait outside for so long.

If you’re going to be walking around after dark, it’s important to have a light – you can clip it to your backpack for easy access. You also may want to consider self-defense, whether that’s taking a class or getting some pepper spray. For safety reasons, I always make sure somebody knows where I am and when I plan to be home. I encourage you to make a safety plan, too. 

Another thing I like having in my backpack is my Kindle, which I use to read ebooks while I commute. It’s amazing how much reading you can get done that way. Or you can listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or your favorite music. It makes the commute go by much faster. Now I look forward to my bus rides…they’re a fun part of my day.