Fangirls & Fiestas

It's hard to believe that our extraordinary summer interns will be heading back to college soon! Here with the final post in our internship series is Isabelle Danforth Stillman. Isabelle grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and just finished her sophomore year at Middlebury College, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. This fall she is spending a semester in Nepal conducting independent research on girls' access to education in metropolitan Katmandu and rural Himalayan villages. 

When I joined the LitWorld intern team, I imagined I would learn about global literacy, alternative education, storytelling, and collaborative productivity – and indeed, I have. But I did not predict that by the end of the summer, I would know so much about fangirling.

For those of you who are as out of tune with pop culture as I am, to fangirl (v.) means to exercise enthusiastic fixation on a fictional character or celebrity through internet tracking and communal discussion, usually accompanied by shortness of breath, heightened vocalization, and notebook doodling. (I think.)

While I have yet to delve into fangirl activity myself, I’ve gotten a taste of the culture through the LitClub girls my fellow intern Melissa and I have met throughout the summer. Both the teens and middle school girls, though initially flabbergasted at our fangirl naivete, have eagerly filled us in on the latest Vine sensation’s post or hearthrob’s concert tour, with out-of-the-chair re-enactments and bursts of belly laughter.

Learning how to fangirl with the best teachers imaginable (the middle schoolers of LitWorld's Harlem LitClub).

Learning how to fangirl with the best teachers imaginable (the middle schoolers of LitWorld's Harlem LitClub).

Though it might seem to a third party that these conversations are frivolous or inconsequential, I’ve found that in these moments of silliness and animation lies the true soul of LitWorld. I believe all Seven Strengths are flexed in a moment of talking about something that makes you want to jump out of your chair and hurt your stomach in a fit of giggles. In tasting each other’s joy, we are nourished by the sweetness of another’s spirit; we step farther into their corner, closer to the voice in their mind and the flutter in their heart, and deeper into the maze of their story.

Sometimes joy comes in unexpected circumstances. On Skype a few weeks ago, Melissa and I played Rose, Bud, Thorn with the Power Women, a group of HIV positive women who found each other and LitWorld in Kibera, Kenya. Doreen, Roda, Marla, Mary, and Helen said their Roses were that they were feeling better that week than they had the last. Many of the women said their bud was the political rally that was happening the following Monday; several of them also named the rally as their Thorn because they were nervous about it. The women's Thorns varied, and several of them said they had no Thorn that week. The women were, and always are, so happy - joking with each other, clapping and cheering after each person shares, and hooting in laughter any chance they get.

Dancing with the Power Women Moms LitClub of Kibera over Skype.

Dancing with the Power Women Moms LitClub of Kibera over Skype.

We laugh a lot at LitWorld: in the office over Ana’s latest food challenge woes, via Skype while dancing with the Power Women, or at the Polo Grounds when Melissa and I ask for a clarification of which lead singer belongs to which boy band. And each time we experience laughter together, we express another scene of our own story, and read a passage from someone else’s.

When I picture a “learning experience as an intern,” the image that comes to mind is of coffee-carrying and fax-sending, learning to follow orders and meet deadlines. And while I've had my fair share of runs to the printer, and evolved in my style of work ethic, the deepest and truest moments of learning at LitWorld for me revolve around ear-to-ear smiles, happy-squinting eyes, and doubled-over laughing.

We cannot ring out every drop in every moment of life without breaking open its piñata and dancing in the shower of candy. At LitWorld, these tiny fiestas are constant, and it is through these celebrations of the big and small – the funny faces, the misunderstood song lyrics, the inexplicable inside jokes – that we realize the true gifts we have and the strengths we can share together.