John Green’s ‚Turtles All The Way Down‘

 

I have finished the new John Green book today, it makes me happy and melancholic. I am always sad to finish a book, because I am leaving the story and its characters. This is why I like John Green so much, he is very good at creating characters that I don’t want to leave. Although I like The Fault In Our Stars, my favourite John Green book is An Abundance Of Katherines. It is not as tragic, deep and complicated as the other ones, but I like the main character the most. He is weird and complicated and occupied with his thoughts, which is not that innovative anymore for a young adult book. However, John Green is very good at creating him, making him realistic and loveable.

Aza in Turtles All The Way Down is similar. Although it is a girl, which I found interesting. I feel that most of the time characters like her are boys, as if a social awkwardness would go along with interest in logic and science, and that would go along with boys, not girls. The story is not that spectacular. There is a case about a missing man that Aza and her friend try to solve, but it doesn’t play a big role. The book is about how Aza lives, and – more importantly – how she thinks.

It is not specifically named what Aza struggles with. She is anxious and neurotic and trapped in her own mind in a way that sometimes makes normal situations unbearable for her. Often, she is scared of infections, thinks about bacteria and the symptoms of rare diseases. What I liked about the story and the depiction of Aza is that is doesn’t try to put a label on mental illness. It is not one of those books that deals more with the condition itself than with the person that lives with it. It is not a representation of ‘the life of someone with cancer’ or ‘someone with the Asperger’s syndrome’, which, as well, has its own quality. But this book is really about Aza. It doesn’t describe her mental condition in a representative way, it shows how it feels for Aza to live with her anxiousness, her thoughts and her complicated mind.

Her thoughts are compared to spirals. They start little and unimportant in the back of Aza’s head, then she lets herself be occupied by them more and more, until she is not able to think of anything else. Like a spiral that focuses and tightens more and more towards the centre. Although I am not concerned about infections as Aza, I recognized those spirals very well. This little mean, irrational voice in the back of my head that tells me to worry, although I know I shouldn’t. Because sometimes, as Aza says all the time, thoughts are not a choice. She says they just arrive in her mind and don’t feel like they belong to her. And then she has to cope with them, she cannot not think about them.

The novel starts with “At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicity funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time […] by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.” Of course the thing about being fictional is this funny meta-comment, because, well, Aza actually is fictional, but it is more. Aza thinks about how her unwanted thoughts make her into a person she doesn’t want to be. If there even is a ‘true’ self behind her thoughts, or if she is only a representation of the life and circumstances and people around her.

At one point she says that “imagining all the futures I might have, all the Azas I might become, was a glorious and welcome vacation from living with the me I currently was.” What a nice sentence. I thought the same, when I was living abroad for example, or when I finished school and started university. The new life changes me into someone else.

Aza is scared that there might not be part of her that never changes, no matter what happens in her life. That she is only created by her outside, because also her thoughts don’t belong to her. The book doesn’t give a definite answer to that theory of course. But it left me being ok with the idea. Being created by the situations and people around me, being different versions of myself, because it is exciting and important.

 

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An Erasmus-Reflection – About the most general things I’ve learned

 

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I’ve been back from an Erasmus semester in Sheffield for a little while now. I created a blog during my stay there to write about my experiences and I enjoyed doing that a lot, it made me want to continue that at home. In England I mostly wrote about specific topics: The uni, the cities I visited, the language, the parties, the accommodation and so on. Now I want to be a bit more ‘theoretical’, write about the overall thing, what I took from it, if it changed me, that kind of ‘reflective’ stuff. I have thought about that often since I am back, I will try to put it into words now. This post is in English because the Erasmus-Semester-Blog was in English and I think that some non-German-speaking-friends would be happy to be able to read this. But I won’t make this blog completely in English I think, I like writing in German as well.

Here is what I’ve learned, with neat little headings:

I am afraid of the unexpected.                                    

I think a lot, I worry a lot, and I like to use “what if?” a lot. The semester abroad was an excellent candidate for me to worry about. It was scary to know that I would just go on a plane, fly somewhere I’ve never been before, and life there for half a year. A perfect “what if”- situation. What if I don’t like it there? What if I don’t find nice people? What if I don’t get around at uni? What if a meteoroid strikes in the town I am living in? But I think the fact that I knew so little about how it was going to be was good. It gave less concrete things to worry about, and more opportunity to ban everything from my mind and tell myself to deal with it when I am there, which turned out to be a very good technique. The days I arrived and saw my room, met nice people, got into the orientation programme everything was fine. I was not worried at all and a good kind of excited. So, I guess I like being prepared and knowing how things are going to be, and I should work on staying calm when I don’t. Because they will turn out fine.

I like being new peoples‘ someone.

I am always someone’s someone. I think everyone is. I am the friend from kinder garden that you have a lot of funny childhood memories with, the friend from uni that you met in that one seminar with this horrible teacher or the one that you always watch this embarrassing fantasy series with. I love my roles at home – well, most of them. But living somewhere else, with so many people that are new as well and don’t know anyone gives opportunity to make a completely new impression. I am not ‘the girlfriend’ that joins for dinner or your friend’s friend that you always see at birthday parties. The impression I can make on people is entirely my own. Being so many new peoples someone pulled me out of the familiar structures at home and made me find out new things about myself.

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The right people can create a home (anywhere).

Sheffield is a rather ugly city, very industrial, construction work everywhere. The food was pretty bad, especially the sandwiches at the library cafeterias which gave me oily skin and hair and made a lot of us gain weight. The radiators on our floor were constantly broken and no one really bothered to fix them. None of this made me enjoy my stay less. It didn’t matter because I had people that shared it with me. Who made me feel happy and at home. In the end it was nice to talk about the food you’re looking forward to eating during Christmas and laugh about the amount of blankets and towels and jackets some people had lying on their bed not to freeze at night.

The ‚Time flies!‘-talk is true.

Everyone says that, it’s the cliché-comment. ‘Oh five month seem long but time will fly and then you’re back, believe me!’ I didn’t. I didn’t expect not to enjoy it and I didn’t expect time to creep (can you say that? my research was ambiguous), but still, half a year is a lot of time. On the one hand I have a lot of memories of things that I did, the time feels active and busy and full when I look back. I guess the reason time did fly was that at the beginning I was so busy taking in all the new things and adapting to the situation. The first weeks are so full of beginnings and first times to think about, that there is no space for the fact that it is going to be over at one point. The part where I actually got used to it and developed some routines was extremely short and followed by the part where you realize that you only have a few weeks left. And then it’s over -poof- time flies, and the cliché comment was true!

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Those fashionable elephants where part of a charity project by the children’s hospital. They were all around the city centre when I arrived, all in different patterns (the six here are by far not all of them, I don’t think I even saw all of them).  They made me happy, they still do. It was nice to be welcomed by those strong, colourful animals!

For possible curiosity, here’s my Sheffield-Abroad-Blog: http://tryingabritishme.myblog.de/