Dear Azula,

Note: It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these letters. This one is to Azula, who’s a character in Avatar: The Last Airbender. This is a result of recently reading the Avatar comic The Search and contains spoilers for that comic trilogy as well as the TV show. It was difficult to write because it was impossible for me to put into words what I’ve been thinking.

I can’t say that I ever expected to write this letter. Throughout the television series, you’re characterized as someone who cares only about power. You did things that were inexcusable, but by the end of the series, it was clear that you needed more help than you received.

Your brother, Zuko, wished for a closer relationship with you and struggled to see why that wasn’t possible. Despite loving Zuko dearly, I do wish he had shown more initiative in getting you help after he was crowned Fire Lord. Maybe he did somehow, but if he did, it was unseen.

You’re convinced that your mother didn’t love you. I have to say that I didn’t believe that for a long time, but then I read The Search and was disappointed. It didn’t entirely change my belief. I do think your mother loved you, but I think she failed both you and Zuko in greater ways than I had believed before.

Throughout your life, you have desperately needed someone, though you couldn’t see that yourself, and there has never been anyone willing to make the effort needed to help you. The only bright side I see is that Zuko and Ursa do seem to want to help, even as they remain completely oblivious as to how. I understand running away from them, but I can’t stop hoping that one day you will speak to them again. Maybe, just maybe, that could be the beginning of bringing you peace.

Sincerely,

Haley

Dear 2016,

Judging by the state of my Twitter feed and Tumblr dashboard, you’ve been rather universally loathed. That seems to be a trend year after year. We reach December, and I become inundated with “this year was terrible” remarks everywhere I look. In years past, I rolled my eyes. Yes, terrible things happened each of those years, but I always struggled to believe that any of them were worse than the years that had come before. They all seemed rather equal in their terribleness. We were never going to have a year where something bad didn’t happen.

You, though, did seem different. I have to admit. Things seemed to reach a new level of awful, and I don’t think I was the only one broad on board to the “this was the worst year ever” sentiment who may not have indulged in the past.

However, you also weren’t all bad. I saw a tweet the other day about reconciling personal great moments with the less than stellar moments of the world. It resonated with me. I mean, I graduated college this year, and while that’s been terrifying, it’s also rather important. Maybe I would have been more excited about it if the overall tone of the year had been different, but I’m too preoccupied by everything else to give it much thought.

It wasn’t your fault really, 2016, even if you’ve become a great scapegoat. There are a lot of people at fault for a lot of different things, which means 2017 won’t be inherently better, but I do hope that it does get better.

Sincerely,

Haley Keller

My Senior Letter of Reflection

Last semester (roughly five months ago) I had to present my senior portfolio to my committee. Since I did pass my defense, I’d like to think that I achieved the purpose of showing my growth through the portfolio. Because this portfolio is the best representation of my growth as a writer throughout college, I’ve decided that I’d like to share at least some of it here.

I’m starting with my letter of reflection, the first document in the portfolio. The professors on my committee told me that I was too hard on myself in this letter, but I think having to re-read all your freshman papers will put anyone in that mindset. Whether I was too hard on myself or not (or whether I’d write this letter differently just several months later), this is that letter as it appeared in my portfolio.

In grade school, I was always considered a strong writer, but regardless of any real writing skills I may or may not have possessed, what the term actually meant was that I was the student that other students came for to receive input on the grammar and mechanics of their papers. I began to focus on those areas of writing far more than anything else as well because I came to believe that that alone was what qualified my papers as “good.”

As I went through high school, the situation stayed more or less the same. My love of both reading and writing was the same as it had been as a kid, and I was drawn to the honors English classes and, eventually, AP English. Even though my writing was always treated as “good,” I still felt self-conscious about my writing. I was scared of having any mistakes in my writing, but I was more worried about my classmates seeing those mistakes than my teacher. In my mind, my classmates finding my mistakes meant that my supposed writing skills would be seen as a sham.

I was still very much in that mindset when I started college at Marian. The idea of others reading what I wrote felt like a necessary evil in the classroom. I did not doubt it being necessary either. I knew it was an important part of growing as a writer, and I wanted that. There was a strong desire to better my writing skills through listening and learning from others. It was just that allowing people to actually read my writing was stressful, especially if I had to be anywhere near them while they did so. I always had this worry that my writing was worse than everyone else’s in the class, and although I knew it was an illogical fear, I struggled to shake it. That fear has been alleviated quite a bit over my years at Marian. The idea of others reading my writing can still make me a bit nervous, but it is nothing like I felt as a freshmen.

Now that I look back over my older papers, I think about how I felt while writing them.  I know there were so many times where I censored myself or did not take risks specifically because I worried how what I wrote would be perceived by anyone else who happened to read it. No doubt many of those things I could have done would have been a bad idea anyway, but some of them could have been good ones. I am always trying to not let my fear of writing something keep me from actually writing it. That is something that I am better at on certain occasions than I am at others.

Of course, I would like to think that my writing has grown in a number of ways while at Marian. Looking back at my papers, there are a number of things I wish I could change, but making each of the mistakes I have has helped me learn. That act of learning and growing many different ways as a writer is part of what has led to me being more comfortable with people reading my writing. I am not comfortable because I think my writing is so wonderful that the people who read it will not find mistakes. I am just more comfortable making those mistakes because I have internalized even more than in high school that writing is a process for everyone. I am never going to write something that would not face any criticism. Nothing I ever write will be incapable of being improved. I think that is the biggest lesson I have received as a writer from my time at Marian.

I chose to re-write the critical essay that I did because I was not satisfied with the way it was before. It was more than just the grade it got on it. I felt like there was something there that I could explore more than I already had, and I wanted to revisit A Midsummer Night’s Dream and try it. Over the course of re-writing the paper, I changed my thesis and kept almost nothing of the original paper. It was very challenging for me, but I am glad I did it even though I am still frustrated knowing that the paper could be better. I am not sure that I would have gone the route I did as a freshmen. The path of scrapping almost an entire paper for something like this would have felt too intimidating. Back then, I looked at papers that had been graded as finished projects, and even if I was going to revise one, going as far as to almost start over again felt next to impossible. My time here at Marian helped give me the drive to do things like that and challenge myself more in my writing.

Dear Ron,

A year ago, I wrote a letter to Hermione to tell her how much she has meant to me over the years. I didn’t mean for it to take this long to write one to you too.

At first I didn’t take you seriously. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I just didn’t pay you much attention. I fell into the trap that so many Harry Potter fans criticize movie watchers for. I didn’t realize how amazing of a character and person you were.

That’s changed as I’ve gotten older. When I was a kid, Hermione was my favorite Harry Potter character hands down. I had blinders on. Now I realize that the two of you are tied. It’s impossible for me to say one of you is better than the other now.

Hermione is the so-called smart one of the group. Whenever you need to know something, you go to Hermione. I appreciated that as a kid, especially being a bookworm like her. I overlooked the fact that you were just as important. You don’t have Hermione’s book smarts, but you are just really good at being a best friend. (Yes, you screwed up like everyone else, but Hermione took convincing before she would admit that the Hallows were real.)

That was a trait I took for granted as a kid because I assumed that everyone had it. It’s only years later that I realize that’s not the case. People like you are people who should be appreciated just as much as anyone else with any other talent.
So, thank you, Ron, for being such a great friend to Harry and Hermione and me. I may not have realized how much you were shaping my childhood at the time, but you still managed to have just as much of an effect as Hermione. I won’t take that for granted again.

Sincerely,

Haley Keller

Dear Accio,

You’d be such a convenient spell to have, possibly the most. I’ve always thought so. Making things fly is cool and all, but summoning things would be so nice. It would help strengthen my lazy side.

If I wanted to be serious about this, I’d admit that other spells would be more useful. Anything life-saving would be an invaluable tool to have around. Lumos would be great for those moments when I don’t have a flashlight lying around.

Yet, for some reason, you’re the one I long for, the one I think about wanting the most. You’re the spell that comes to mind most often and makes me long for Hogwarts, makes me sad that I never got my letter.

But I suppose, for now, I’ll just have to get up and get my own stuff because that letter isn’t coming.

Sincerely,

Haley Keller

Dear J.K. Rowling

If my letter to Hermione wasn’t a sign, your creation is extremely important to me. I can say that Harry Potter is one of the top five most influential things in my life. (We won’t argue about what number one is.)

As a child, it helped shape my view of the world in the best possible way. It gave me a place to escape to, and one I still escape to frequently. It gave me characters to look up to and aspire to emulate.

When I got a little older and realized I wanted to be a writer, you were my biggest inspiration. You still are. I will always attribute a lot of my desire to write to wanting to create worlds like Hogwarts.

While I loved reading before, the fandom turned that love into something  stronger. I have you, Jo, to think for that even being a possibility.

I had no idea when I went to see the first Harry Potter movie at eight what was about to change in my life. That change has meant more than almost anything.

Sincerely,

Haley Keller

Letters: Dear Old Friend

Dear Old Friend,

We haven’t spoken in years. I have no idea what you’re even up to these days. You may not even be you anymore. Who am I writing to? Nothing more than a figment of the past?

Probably.

I can’t possibly know.

I debate contacting you sometimes. After all, the past is in the past, and I’m not angry anymore. Now there’s just nostalgia, and I long to have that friend I had back in the good times. But every time I stop because you’re not that you anymore, and I know I’ll only be disappointed in the end.

I have lifelong friends. Friends who I only speak on the phone to sometimes, but when we see each other in person it’s like we were never separated.

You’re not one of those friends. We don’t keep even a semblance of contact. We haven’t spoken in more than five years. When we see each other in public, you look the other way.

It’s not like we were never separated. There’s an entire world between us.

And it will always be that way. Because the past is in the past.

At least I have the memories.

Sincerely,

Haley Keller