If this is the first time we are meeting, let me say “Hi ya’ll!”
That’s slang for the friendly greeting I acquired down here in Oklahoma. It’s a lot different from my hometown in California.
And since I’m being cordial, here is my official bio: My name is Courtney Lund O’Neil. My writing has appeared in The New York Times, Oprah magazine, The Guardian, Glamour, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Parents, Harper’s Bazaar, and elsewhere. I hold an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside and am a PhD candidate in English and Creative Writing at Oklahoma State. My writing has awarded me scholarships from Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and other contests.
What all those words mean in my fancy bio mean is that I love Creative Nonfiction. I’m all about telling true stories. We are wired for stories, and I am wired specifically for the true ones. But I do love me some good fiction, too.
My less fancy, but more real bio, is that I’m a mother to a funny, charming toddler named Bennett. He sees wonder every day. I’m married to an awesome man named Nick. He helps people heal every day, as a Physical Therapist. We have a cat named Brea, who is Irish, like us, born on St. Patty’s day. In Gaelic, her name means “love.” Together, we live in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Where is Stillwater, Oklahoma, you may ask?
Well, it’s kind of in the middle of Oklahoma. When we first moved here I experienced a strange culture shock. I am from San Diego, CA where you can get to the beaches, desert or eat REAL Mexican food within twenty minutes. The city also has a lot of people I love.
When we moved here, to Oklahoma, known as the “flyover state,” we quickly realized it was different. And there were no beaches. No family. No friends. No great Mexican food (but some real Tex Mex). The town I’m in also lacked some of the basics like Target and Trader Joe’s. It’s a small college town, painted in orange, with the most school spirit I’ve ever seen. Living here made me realize I missed home a lot.
But then I thought, I had a choice. Was I going to make the best of my time here? Or count down the months until I could move away. It seemed kind of depressing to do the latter, so, well, I guess that’s part of the reason about why I became interested in a radical shift in perspective.
I thought about beauty or joy or happiness…but to me those were situational, they often scratched the surface of our existence. I wanted to go deep. When I think about all the abstract emotions out there, I think the best one to wade deep in is—wonder. Also, it’s the one I pay the least attention to. I know how to be happy, I have my Starbuck’s order saved in my phone. I know how to feel beauty, it’s in the Ulta make-up bag on the counter in my bathroom. Give my toddler a lollipop and watch his smile buzz with brightness, that’s joy. But wonder? Why was I not looking for wonder every day?
So I thought about it. A year of wild wonder.
If it sounds odd, let me explain.
If you read my post, “The Beginning” or the section at the top titled “Why Wonder?” you will know what prompted me to take on this project. But secondly, I’ve been struggling with the fact that, as a culture, anxiety and suicide are on the rise, with no real signs of improving. Take this: I teach a class of 19 students. They’re about 18-20 years in age. In the first half of the semester, two had to go home to their friends’ funerals, who died by suicide. Another student shared suicidal thoughts with me. And we were only halfway through the semester. That’s 3/19 affected by suicide — and that’s all who actually told me. Imagine who else was suffering, across my campus, the nation, the world.
It made me really just wanna scream the F word into oblivion.
People are dying. And I don’t know why. I mean, I can guess. We are anxious, we are afraid of judgment, we live our life like we are grand performers, we make or break ourselves on the internet. We live on social media, instead of real life. The pressure to be perfect is killing us. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Suicide is now thought to be the second leading cause of death for Americans between 10 and 34.” This is harrowing.
So I had this wild idea: what if wonder can help bring us back? I think wonder can give us a deeper footing in the world, in a positive way.
Wonder can help us reclaim magic and miracles, alleviate some of the pressure and stress and pain sitting on our hearts. Wonder can help us live.
That’s why I’m doing this wonder project. I don’t want this to be the world my son grows up in. I believe a shift in outlook can help fight some of the darkness we feel suffocated by, as the CDC states, “The suicide rate for young people aged 10 to 24 rose 56% between 2007 and 2017.” We need to change this.
I’m not naive enough to think only a yearlong project by a grad student living in the middle of nowhere will solve it. I’m only one small person. But sometimes, it takes one person to cause a positive ripple. Instead of complaining about where I live, or bashing what social media and technology are doing to our youth, I’m going to create a micro change within me.
I’m going to look for wonder every day in 2020, even on those God awful terrible days, and I will share the journey with you. I will talk to people about wonder. I will critically research wonder. How has it evolved? Where is it headed? I will look for wonder in popular culture. My goal is this: I hope you look for wonder, too, and see what positive shift this creates in your life. We don’t have to be children to see wonder, or be shaking in pain at the end of our ropes, we can turnaround. Begin again. We can be witnesses to wonder every dang day.
Well, friends, that was a hefty introduction. If you made it this far, why not find me online, tell me a little about you.
And since I’m all about gifts, here is a departing thought from James Baldwin:
“The bottom line is this: You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world. In some way, your aspirations and concern for a single man in fact do begin to change the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks or people look at reality, then you can change it.”
-from a 1979 interview published in The New York Times
Thanks for stopping by! I’m lucky to have you.