Friday, December 30, 2011

Getting Organized (By Which I Mean Armed)

Being bellicose, I tend to view things as a battle. Here is my armament for taking on 2012.

-

I wanted to make a calendar this year instead of buying one. It was fun.


In the upper right you can see one of my first concepts. I like the design with the name of the month going down the side, but I decided to use the other kind of card instead. Because of the notches (they used to be in a telephone number file) I can't use then for school flash cards, so this seemed as good a use as any for them.

Since I'm stingy, I used the rough draft card to make notes to myself about the construction of the cards. For example, for the sake of uniform numbers of rows, I moved September 30 to the October card (at the bottom).

I used different colored gel pens for each season, even though we don't have proper seasons in California. I did the dates in regular ballpoint pen since I can throw a gel pen a lot farther than I trust it.

So now I'm faced with the question of where to put my new calendar. It's only about 83% smaller than last year's. Ha. I'll probably pile some notebooks there and put the calendar on top of them. Yeah, that'll work.

Anyway.

-

The calendar's not the only way I'm getting organized for 2012. I have also set up a logbook from this week until the end of the semester.

Here it is:


Picture quality is shoddy. Webcam < scanner.

This post is already pretty self-indulgent, so I'll continue being so. All right. Along the left are the dates of the week (1/1 - 1/7, for example). Then four boxes for writing, four boxes for euphonium, two for blog posts, and then a blank column so I can make tally marks for the books I read.

"EAL, do you have OCD?"

Probably. In my defense, I got the idea from Austin Kleon.

-

"En garde. Prêts? Allez!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Architecture Sketches

I haven't posted my art here for a while, in part because I have not created any finished pieces. However! The past two months have been productive in terms of sketches.

People are not good subjects for me, since they don't stay still and I've resolved to draw from life. My cat, however, is far more patient...

After this sketch, I started to draw mostly while on walks around the neighborhood. It's strange how before I started drawing it, I didn't realize how much there is to see.
Train Station

Local Elementary School

Local Church

Balcony on the Ave

Even my school is beautiful. Why haven't I seen that before?

School Front

School Side Entrance
"Architecture is frozen music."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Friday, December 23, 2011

Revising Utopia Project, part XI

It's only been about four months since I last posted about my progress on the Utopia Project. Long past time for an update.

(For anyone new, or interested in what the Utopia Project is, see this post.)

I've covered a lot of ground in the story since I last posted, as should be expected. The number of scenes covered, though, is quite small: six. Why? Well, there's the small matter of me spending an entire month on one scene.

It was worth it. (I'll tell you about that in a moment.)

What have I learned?

(Caveat: everyone works differently. My advice is exactly that - mine. Your mileage may vary.)

1. Frequency > amplitude. Write more often and you remove the pressure of writing a lot each time. From the start of September to the end of October, I told myself to write in the Utopia Project twice a week.

To my great shame, I only made that goal half of the time. Twice a week is not enough for momentum.

Then, in November I came across the concept of the 20-mile march, which is essentially what I've said above. Less, more often. I increased my weekly quota to four days a week, with the stipulation that my word count was between 400 and 1000. Four days a week means writing over half the days; 400 words is not so insurmountable.

I faltered during dead week, writing only twice, but from the beginning of November to now I've written at least three times a week. Much better.

All right, let's talk content.

2. Dissatisfaction is good. If you're in first draft stage, ignore this. You don't want to spend too much time looking backward. Your job is to get the story down. In first draft stage, I don't dare pause to consider the aesthetic of the scenes.

But in second draft stage, the story is down already. I can afford to plow three-quarters of the way through a scene and then pause, reflect, decide that it doesn't feel right, and re-revise from the beginning of the scene, or the beginning of where things started to go rancid.

This explains why it took me a month to write a scene that covers two days in story time. I was almost at the end when I realized it was completely devoid of emotional impact, and that the characters wouldn't really act like that. Going back to revise the revision doubled the amount of time I spent on that scene, but I ended up with a much stronger piece of story.

Note: On two separate occasions (not the scene above), I started to write from the perspective of one character, but then realized that another character who would be very important later on made a better narrator. If it was first draft, that's a case where I would advise redoing the scene. Unfortunately, at this scene in the first draft I didn't know the other character was important.

Now, however, I am a lot more familiar with my characters. That is essential; you must...

3. Know thy characters. Know what motivates them, how they want others to perceive them, what cultural or personal prejudices shape their viewpoint. To help with that, you can draw parallels between your characters and real people.

(I can easily see how that could go wrong, and I have to be on guard that I don't make horrible things happen to characters who are loosely affiliated with people I don't like for no other reason than that. But it's a useful way of looking at the problem sideways.)

If I don't know what a character is about, then I invariably struggle with a scene from that character's viewpoint. Right now, I have a problem in that a character I used to love writing has become a stranger to me: I change his past history a little and all of a sudden I don't know what's going on in his head. But I'll figure it out somehow.

On the other hand, if you can sink into a viewpoint character, then writing their scenes becomes a lot simpler. I'm in the middle of a scene in which an introvert without much in the way of social graces needs to make allies, and doesn't know how. I don't agree with a lot of his ideas, but I know how he thinks because I, too, am introverted, and by keeping his background in mind it's not impossible to reconstruct what could lead him to his current state, and extrapolate to how he behaves in the scene.

The point of which is: parallels also exist between your characters and you, so take advantage of it.

4. Let your life inform your writing. It's going to, anyway. All you can hope is that the people you may/not put into your story don't recognize themselves.

--

By the way, guys, I just finished reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. The notes I took might be useful for worldbuilding purposes, but aren't what you call organized. Would anyone be interested in seeing them? Is it even legal for me to share a chart I copied out?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Oneiroi, part IV: Question

Tell me about fear.

-

It's an unfamiliar school. High chain-link fences, monolithic buildings, silent stretches of blacktop, all lit by cold white floodlights. The football field is cast in darkness - there is no game tonight.

I am walking alone.

The leaves are stirring on the gaunt trees, so there must be a wind. I can't feel it, though, and I realize that I am not awake.

Interesting, I think.

I keep walking, without fear now that I know this isn't real. Mostly without fear: recklessness is not so strong in me that I don't round the darkened corners without some trepidation.

There's a narrow walkway, an alley of sorts, between the fenced-off practice field and another massive, windowless wing of the school. I walk, and as I walk I pass by a trio of students on bicycles, sitting by a stone bench underneath one of the lamps.

They are bleached pale by the frigid glare, and their faces are suspicious as I go by. A sudden, mad impulse seizes me and I pause. Three pairs of accusing eyes fall on me.

"Is this," I say, and my pulse starts its butterfly-winging in my throat, "a..."

The next word is painful, as though I am pushing against a thick membrane, the membrane of willing suspension of disbelief, I hope not the membrane of sanity, of safety in my own head.

"...dream?"

.

.

.

Terror is a tiger snapping at cage bars. I'm too cold to panic, too numb to feel what I've just done fully. But the tiger is not so much a cat as power wrapped in orange and black, and the bars of its prison, my last vestiges of control, are weakening. Questioning reality is a dangerous thing, and its stain is dark and permanent.

The three look at me with eyes like the eyes of demons. Not the red demons with forked tails - the demons that lurk in dark hallways, under beds, behind doors, in the shadows and the ill-lit spaces of your bedroom. In your mind.

They don't answer.

I walk on, and count the minutes until the sun rises.

-

Sweet dreams.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Words Rambling in a Field

Enough with the scheduled posts. I am here live and in person. Ciao a tutti.

Some snippets, since my head isn't on straight enough for anything cohesive (or, possibly, coherent, to go by the title).

-

I've just spent the last hour watching a performance of the Little Mermaid by the San Francisco Ballet on TV. Never having watched any other pro ballets, I lack any points of reference, but as they say, if you like it it's good and if you don't then it's not.

I liked it. It was disturbing, definitely not the Disney Little Mermaid (a medley of which we are currently playing in band). There were a few moments that broke my engagement in the story - I won't specify - and the prince did not seem worth a sacrifice (though I didn't see the beginning, so I might be missing something). But the Mermaid was a compelling main character, and her unrequited feelings provoked a wince of empathy.

Poor girl.

-

First final was today, the other six are next week. Studying at the library is excellent. I'm planning on spending at least a couple hours there tomorrow, at a desk in the upper floor. Until after finals, I am not permitting myself to check out new books: no matter, since I have plenty of books at home to occupy me.

Speaking of which, I'm slowly working my way through Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. For now I'm just taking it in, but I see ways in which it can be applied to worldbuilding. I'll talk more about it when I have something to say.

When I'm at the computer, this is how I study: put on rainymood.com and black out the screen.

About studying: I'd forgotten how peaceful it can be. I want to study like this for something of my own choosing.

-

Another Utopia Project progress post is forthcoming. I've just finished the longest scene in the book. Life always informs writing, and it certainly did for this scene. More on that when I have time (and it's close, Wednesday's the last day of the semester).

-

Italian class is a wonderful place, and my friends from there are wonderful people who have excellent taste in music that makes you want to cry for the beauty of it:


Mio Dio. I am going to miss them so much when they graduate. Come mi mancheranno!

-

Have a good weekend, guys. And, since it's almost midnight as I finish writing this, sweet dreams.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Sorceress

Once upon a time there was a woman who was not a woman but a sorceress.  Looking at her you could not tell her age.  She moved as nimbly as she had when she was fifteen, but with a calm that her fifteen-year-old self would have envied.

Cats followed her everywhere, nudging their soft heads against her legs, tails held aloft because they were happy to see her.  She was good at scratching them under the chin and behind the ears, and she did love cats so.

They trailed behind her as she left the dusty country path and onto one of the paved streets leading into a coastal Tuscan village.  She unlocked the door to a smallish, two-story house and walked in, dropping her bag of books onto a wooden chair by the door.  Some cats followed her in, but others preferred to bask in the sun on the doorstep.

Not that the sun didn't find its way into the sorceress' house.  The windows were open, because she didn't really care about the furniture fading.  Large French doors led from the living room to a patio, which had stairs winding straight down to the ocean.  Sorceresses have no need for televisions, and where one would go was a cabinet with shells, interesting rocks, bits of colored glass, and driftwood.  Facing this cabinet was a long, comfortable leather couch with a blanket neatly folded on one arm.  A cat was currently curled up there, and the sorceress stroked it as she passed by.

She liked to spend some time each day out on her patio, or, when the weather was cold, sitting at the windowseat looking out.  The view always took her breath away though she had seen it hundreds of times.

She opened the French doors - both at the same time, because it felt more majestic that way - and walked outside.  A four-foot parapet stopped her from tumbling down the cliffside; against this wall she leaned and looked out at the ocean.

It was a beautiful day.  There was a light breeze that stirred the loose strands of hair around her face but did not send her ponytail whipping out like a banner.  The breeze carried the saltwater smell up to her and she breathed in deep.  Sorceresses are not as connected to place as witches, but the closer she was to the sea the calmer this sorceress felt.

She could never properly express how much she loved it - how much she needed it.  Every day she had to fight the urge to run down the stairs and fall to her knees in front of the gray crashing waves.

Some days, the urge won.

--

I don't know where I'm going with this. Thoughts?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gleanings

Traveling in the wilds of the internet (or rather, from the comfort of my feeds), I return with a satchel stuffed with things to share.

St. Sibyls Sermon in Roman Ruins with the Statue of Apollo, by Panini Giovanni
Three guesses why I like this painting.

Merfolk Village, by Virginia Lee
Three more guesses why I like this one.

Tower of Babel, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
And this one.

Answers: Roman architecture. Underwater architecture. Architecture!

Have a lovely video found on the blog Hecate Demeter:

Life of flowers from VOROBYOFF PRODUCTION on Vimeo.

A post from Monika Viktoria's blog brings out the desire to hibernate, or settle in for the start of winter.

Tips for photographing your home (I've been interested in matters of decorating the past few weeks, don't mind me).

Andrea Eames shares a quote on why writing is like weather, with a well-suited image.

How is Steve Jobs like Johannes Gutenberg? In the beginning of a new speech, an impassioned and eloquent defense of books, Jane Yolen explains why.

Terri Windling on creative burnout (I already shared this, but it's too good not to share again). A later post in the series extensively quoted a beautiful article on Rites of Passage.

And finally:




Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists


Have a good weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quiet Places

In mid-October, I finished a book called Quiet Places, by Vinny Lee. Why am I posting about it now? Because I forgot I'd written this post (oops) and I still want to share the news.

It's a thin book, maybe three-quarters of an inch thick, eight-by-eight. But it is filled to the brim with suggestions on finding tranquility in physical spaces.

Quiet Places : How to Create Peaceful Havens in Your Home, Garden, and Workplace

Some quotes:

The Play of Light and Shade:
"When positioning furniture, try to match its function to the light: set a breakfast table by a window that receives morning rays."

Mirrors and Reflections:
"Mirrors have long had magical associations and are often referred to in fairy tales and legends, in which their role may be either innocent or wicked. An old, mottled looking glass seems to give a glimpse into another world, silent and mysterious, where nothing is quite what it seems.
...
"Create a trompe l'oeil archway in your garden by framing a tall, narrow mirror with trelliswork of climbing plants."
When I have my own house with a yard, I will do this.

Colors of Sky and Water:
"Hang landscapes and seascapes to bring the blues of the sky and the ocean into windowless areas."
Seascapes. Now I know what my room has been missing.

Touches of Color:
"Fix a glass shelf in front of a window to provide a display area for colored bottles that glow when sunlight is behind them."
A glass shelf does not sound like something within my abilities to install, but colored glass is something I find aesthetically pleasing.

The Delights of Dressing:
"Dressing can be a pleasure if, instead of racing against the clock or searching for missing items, we take time to enjoy the art of putting together an outfit in an orderly, well-lit space."
The past year, I've been struggling to reconcile my emerging desire to look good with the rest of my identity. I think I've got it, and this quote helped me reach my conclusions.

A Change of Pace:
"As we move into the outdoor environment, our artificial perspectives and self-imposed deadlines are soothed by a recognition of nature's inexorable cycles."

Sound and Motion:
"To reach a deeper level of relaxation, reflect upon the sounds of the natural world, often essentially linked with movement: the ebb and flow of the sea, the whisper of wind in a cornfield, the gentle sprinkling of summer rain, and the wintry cawing of crows returning home at dusk."

Period Features:
"Old objects bring a nostalgic ambience to any room, with the warmth and mellowness that come with age."
As I type this, I'm looking at a model of a ship my parents got way before I was born, and I think, yes indeed.

Living in Tranquility:
"[Q]uiet places are more than a particular location, albeit one with the power to refresh and revitalize. They represent a state of mind, an inner strength and calm that, with practice, we can draw upon at will."

This year, I have been exposed to a lot of philosophy - reading Marcus Aurelius, learning the analects (or lun yu) of Confucius in Chinese school - and this book, despite its focus on home decoration, belongs right up there next to Meditations as a practical guide to mental peace.

--

Hey guys. The coming two weeks look to be quite busy, leaving me less time for being here. Don't worry, I've got some good stuff scheduled. And finals end Wednesday the 21st, so as they say, I'll be back.


/At the moment I'm at my Winter Concert, probably psyching myself up to nail some high notes. Wish me luck! : )

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tired

Listen to the rain.

I wish I had the energy for a proper post, but alas. Good night, everyone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Chosen

You know how every so often you read a book and you get so excited about it that you want to tell everyone? Well, on Saturday I reread The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, and I just have to talk about it.

The story is about how Reuven Malter befriends Danny Saunders after the latter hits a baseball into his eye during a religious-tension-charged baseball game, and how their friendship develops as they become men. It's about New York during WWII, and the formation of Israel afterward. It's about the boys' relationships with their and each other's fathers, and the variable nature of silence. It's also about pain, loneliness, and choosing your own path.

Why should everyone (yes, that includes you) read this book?

First of all, saying that the characters were "good" will not suffice. The characters are complex and fully alive, fully human.

Second, it's no use saying that you don't read books that deal with religion, because the parts that relate specifically to Jewish culture and learning don't detract or obscure the meaning of the book at all. It's not that they're background, because they're not, they're essential as premise and context. But I'm from a completely non-religious background and I didn't have a problem following the plot.

Third, this book will make you want to learn. No kidding. When Danny is studying Freud and Reuven is struggling with a passage in his Talmud class, you see (or at least I saw) that putting effort into something, studying for depth instead of breadth, is immensely rewarding. I don't know if I can apply myself to anything we're learning in school right now with that kind of dedication, but I'm planning on approaching the study that I actually care about with that same intensity.

When I do, I plan on applying what Danny remarks - some things are meant to be studied, not read. And they have to be studied with a commentary (paraphrased from p. 181).

Fourth, the book will make you want to have a long conversation with someone, more a discussion than a debate. As much as this book is about the silence between Danny and his father, what I got out of it also was the good relationship Reuven has with his father. They talk and they study together and their discussions help shape Reuven's mind and actions. A lot of clarity can come from saying things out loud.

Maybe you'll feel lonely after reading the book, and realize that you don't have a friend like what Danny and Reuven are for each other. Maybe. But at least you'll know what you are looking for.

There's a quote from Danny that's sticking in my head - the third time he visits Reuven at the hospital, when they're just starting to be friends, he tells Reuven about how he's been reading secular books secretly and says, "I've never told this to anyone before...All the time I kept wondering who I would tell it to one day. ... If you'd've ducked that ball [that Danny hit straight at his face, and which landed Reuven in the hospital] then I would still be wondering" (p. 86).

This quote strikes me, perhaps because just a little thing like that, like trying to stop a baseball out of pride (since Danny's team had been pretty insulting before), was such a strong signal to him that Reuven would be a good friend. It's in the brief moments that we reveal ourselves, and that might be strong enough to cut through differences that go deeper than the surface but not all the way to a person's deepest level of character.

And that is this book's power. Yes, its setting is New York during WWII; yes, its premise and characters rise from an orthodox Jewish background; but those things are crust and mantle, and The Chosen penetrates all the way to the core.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thank You

Thank you to the plum tree that, according to legend (or my dad's stories), sheltered the Li family when their home was being attacked.

Thank you to my parents for taking the chances that they did, and crossing the vast Pacific on nothing but hope, guts, and a scholarship.

Thank you to my sister for being, alternately and all at once, a menace, a role model, annoying, infuriating, and wonderful.

Thank you to my friends for making me laugh and realize that I don't have to take everything so seriously.

Thank you to my ex-friends for the memories, and for making me who I am.

Thank you to the boy I liked in fourth grade, for teaching me never again to talk myself into liking someone I don't know.

Thank you to the boy for whom I wrote this, for keeping me up late with desperate pleas for essay help, for making me smile, and for agreeing with me when I say that math makes everything better.

Thank you to the buried authors who have shaped my mind and my writing and my life.

Thank you to my critics, for spurring me with anger.

Thank you to my cat, for ignoring me sometimes so that the times of affection are all the more treasured. Also for choosing me as her favorite.

Thank you to the nights when I go to bed disappointed with myself, for telling me what I need to do and for teaching me that sometimes, you just need patience. (Though that's one lesson I don't know if I'll ever learn.)

Thank you to the sun and the atmosphere and dihydrogen monoxide, for letting me live.

Thank you to you, for listening.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Invisibility

Sit outside under the night sky
Can you see the stars?
Because I can't
And it hurts to pretend that they are not there
When really they are hiding from me
It has long since ceased to be a game
I will fade away for want of them

But I can do without
Closer comforts be:
There is the tree burning gold by streetlight,
The clean pure cold, the shifting trees,
And the night like a beating heart

Surely there are those with need far greater than mine
Surely the old stars have seen hurts a thousand times deeper
Surely they are tired of our thin faint prayers
Surely I am as invisible to them as they are to me

--

Written last month. Thoughts?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anchor



In a pensive mood.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Indomitable Character

"If it's not right, don't do it: if it's not true, don't say it."
-Marcus Aurelius

-

"Nobility"
by Alice Cary

True worth is in being, not seeming,—
In doing, each day that goes by,
Some little good — not in dreaming
Of great things to do by and by.
For whatever men say in their blindness,
And spite of the fancies of youth,
There's nothing so kingly as kindness,
And nothing so royal as truth.

We get back our mete as we measure—
We cannot do wrong and feel right,
Nor can we give pain and gain pleasure,
For justice avenges each slight.
The air for the wing of the sparrow,
The bush for the robin and wren,
But always the path that is narrow
And straight, for the children of men.

'Tis not in the pages of story
The heart of its ills to beguile,
Though he who makes courtship to glory
Gives all that he hath for her smile.
For when from her heights he has won her,
Alas! it is only to prove
That nothing's so sacred as honor,
And nothing so loyal as love!

We cannot make bargains for blisses,
Nor catch them like fishes in nets;
And sometimes the thing our life misses
Helps more than the thing which it gets.
For good lieth not in pursuing,
Nor gaining of great nor of small,
But just in the doing, and doing
As we would be done by, is all.

Through envy, through malice, through hating,
Against the world, early and late.
No jot of our courage abating
Our part is to work and to wait
And slight is the sting of his trouble
Whose winnings are less than his worth.
For he who is honest is noble
Whatever his fortunes or birth.

-

"Wise men are free from doubts, moral men from anxiety, and brave men from fear."
-Confucius

-

"If"
by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
'Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

-

"Don't seek to gain anything for yourself that forces you to break your word or lose self-respect; to hate, suspect or curse another; or to be insincere or to desire something that needs to remain secret."
-Marcus Aurelius

-

"Invictus"
by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-

"If any man despises me, that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt."
-Marcus Aurelius

--

Reminders.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gleanings

Long have I searched, and I return from my travels bearing gifts.

An old post from Theodora Goss's website (I suspect I am addicted to her blog. Check it out, I encourage you) led me to the work of Lori Nix. Here is my favorite, but make sure to take a look at Nix's other work. She photographs scenes of her own construction and it is mesmerizing.

Yet another artist Goss' website led me toward is Arnold Böcklin. You all know about my love of Roman stuff, so it should be no surprise that I want to live here:
A Tavern in Ancient Rome - Arnold Böcklin
Anyone want to join me?

While wandering, I also happened upon the murals of Jessica Sansiquet, which convey depth wonderfully. You could just walk into them.

I'm usually not one for jewelry, but this necklace and these earrings are pretty beyond belief. (What am I doing looking at earrings, I don't even have my ears pierced.)

How exactly did I find this one? Probably through a fashion blog (yes, I read those). Here are five tips for staying inspired.

Another Goss post, this one from a while ago: in the third quarter of the post, there are some questions about your wants/goals to ask yourself - the post says whenever you're stalled, but I think it's a good idea to ask those questions of yourself more frequently, just to keep yourself on track.

Here's a couple of sites that I've not explored fully yet but which may be useful for research: Emerson Kent and Connexions.

--

Wow, that's a lot of links. Should I make these kinds of posts more or less frequent?

Make a Wish

Now.


You never know what might happen.

/the elephant gif is not relevant at all. I just thought you should see it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ascending

Sometimes, you get a string of bad days; other times, you get one bad day following a lot of pretty good days. When that happens:

  • Breathe.
  • Do something you love but haven't been putting a lot of effort into lately (hello, Euphie).
  • Do your favorite part of the previous thing ("Carry On Wayward Son").
  • Spend time catching up with the people you care about, and don't think too hard about the friends you've lost.
  • Get your work done, so you don't have to deal with guilt tomorrow.
  • Listen to generic happy k-pop (or equivalent).
  • Think, you've had worse days. If possible, make a comparison. 

Like so:
Loneliness
Breathe

-

Loneliness


You are in a dark room.

You are tired
and heartsick
and lonely

You press the heels of your palm
into your eyes
to see colors blossom
flowers in negative
whose perfume cannot chase away the dark

You are sad
you do not want to cry
your shoulders are as stone
you can say to Atlas
that you understand

It is raining outside.

Susurration like the blood rushing in your ears
like the ocean
that is so far you could cry with the distance

You want to be outside
you want to embrace the night and the rain
you want to convince the stars of your existence
presenting your case as much to yourself
as to them

What is this thing, loneliness?

You relax
let the night enfold you
pretend you are the only living thing left
you close your eyes
choice, not circumstance
shuts you into darkness

Or shuts it within.

You hold the night inside you
filling your eyes and your limbs and your lungs

You swallow your loneliness
you feel it trickle like cold water
down your throat, down your chest
it lodges in your sternum
in your stomach, your liver
most of all
everywhere

You had better get used to it.

(Written 10/11/11)

breathe


turn off the lamp
close your eyes
breathe in
            out
you are breathing in light
             breathing out smoke
stardust travels down your throat
                       through your lungs
                       in your blood
breathe: in
            out
all your veins and arteries
are filled with light

open your eyes

(Written 11/6/11)

--

All shall be well.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Planning for Saturdays and Epiphanies

Shrimp by Qi Baishi
Image source: Cultural China
Let me tell you what I plan for tomorrow.

-

I'm going to sleep in. Ideally, it will still be morning when I wake up, quiet and gray.

After donning my warmest sweater, I will sneak down to the kitchen and make myself breakfast - nutella on French bread, tea. This I will bring back up to my room, and I will enjoy the rare luxury of eating slowly.

I will read, and then I'll go on a long walk throughout my neighborhood.

With me I will bring: books to return, pencils, pens, sketchbook.

-

October was not a good month for drawing, for which I felt guilty until I read this post on creative burnout from Terri Windling's blog (that you should all go follow). In a nutshell, the post says that you are always going to have dry periods in your creative work and they are natural, so chill.

Well, that's let me make peace with the fact that I've been neglecting my art. But I cannot sit back and do nothing about it.

What am I going to do, then?

In late September, I read an essay about painter Qi Baishi in Chinese school (what an unlikely place to get inspired). His early work (meaning before he was 60) was mostly derivative - based on the work of others. Then he decided to raise a bowl of shrimp and studied them and, as he did so, his work became more and more vital. He made stylistic alterations - but they were informed by the real animal.

When I read the essay, I was already a few weeks into my drawing malaise. So I thought, why not draw from life? I've always been aware of a lack of certainty in my art, a lack of substance that infects even my best work and makes my worst all but monstrous. I learned to draw by copying others, and that is no good.

With each step away from the source, the power is diluted. My technique is already weak - I should not handicap myself further by keeping distance from the ultimate source, reality.

It's about time to act.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

20-Mile March

My big idea for the day comes from, of all places, a finance magazine. In a recent issue of Fortune, there was an excerpt from an upcoming book about what separates excellent companies from the rest. What characteristics allow one group, rather than another, to succeed?

Among other things, consistency.

-

To explain this, the excerpt used the analogy of walking across the United States. If you walk twenty miles every day, no less and no more, regardless of weather or other external circumstances, you will achieve your goal a lot faster than if you walk 40 miles some days and not at all on days when you don't feel like it.

The excerpt then analyzed the race between the Amundsen and Scott expeditions to the South Pole through the lens of the "20-Mile March".

Amundsen's group made progress toward the pole every day, no matter how terrible the conditions were. But they also did not overreach themselves. The expedition had both a minimum and maximum amount of ground to cover.

Scott's expedition, by contrast, often did not move at all because conditions were, supposedly, impossible.

Results: Amundsen reached the pole five weeks ahead of Scott, whose entire expedition died on the return trip.

-

The rest of the excerpt, which examined contemporary companies, was not particularly scintillating. But the idea caught me.

Now that this phenomenon has been brought to my attention, how can I use it to inform my creative pursuits?

Write a little, more often. Comma optional.

-

When you are writing, momentum is essential. I am afraid when I don't look at my work for a while - I am afraid that my progress will ground to a halt. It's a valid fear.

Part of the fear comes from how I feel obligated to write a lot whenever I do write. When I do not make my "quota", I feel dissatisfied. That quota being the 1400 that I made in the summer I finished my novel, when I wrote for about three hours each morning.

How does that make sense at all?

I propose for myself a new system. An experiment, let's say, or my version for NaNoWriMo.

  • I will write four times a week.
  • I will write between 400 and 1000 words each time, no more and no less.

Punto.

Increase the frequency, decrease the amplitude.

Who's with me?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Headlock

Sorry about missing yesterday's post. I have no more time today (whole day playing at a music program fundraiser), so rather than write a rambly boring sloppy post, I will keep it short and share a song I like. Good to do homework to this one.



I promise it is lighter than the last song I shared. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bellicose

"Thaddeus, why is it that you and Amy get into all the same fights, but you always come out of it worse?"

Thaddeus MacGregor grinned up at the healer. "Got to keep things interesting for you, Andreas."

Andreas sighed with amused weariness and picked up a pot filled with a pungent herb poultice. "Just because I don't spend all day beating people up..."

"No, you spend your time running errands for your mother, studying, playing soccer, or hanging out with Vin. What's up with that, anyway? He doesn't talk much - ouch, that stings."

"It's supposed to." Andreas set down the pot and selected a roll of gauze. "Vin only talks when he's got something to say. Unlike some people." He grinned and wrapped Thaddeus' arm with the gauze. "Keep that arm still and don't punch anyone with it."

"'And'? You think I can punch someone without moving my arm?"

Andreas cuffed Thaddeus on his other shoulder. "Oh, hush. How does Amy stand partnering with you in everything?"

"She loves me," said Thaddeus breezily. "Now, Gunter's going to fight what's-his-face, Melusine's boy, Jared, at noon outside the arboreum. Want to go?"

"Maybe, I'm off duty in a few minutes. Don't smirk at me like that."

"Who's smirking?" Thaddeus traipsed out of the healer's room.

Andreas shook his head, the corner of his mouth tweaked up, and went to replace the roll of gauze on the shelf. As he did, he looked out of the window onto the broad lawns of the Besen Institute and the people scattered in groups or alone over them.

Yes, he thought as he watched Demyan Olston pass something that looked suspiciously like a bag of money to a stringy-looking upperclassman, he would go to the fight. He knew why Thaddeus was smirking - wasn't it hypocritical, the good little healer boy watching others beat on one another? It was, he supposed, not a good show for him to do so. He also did not care.

People just didn't get it. Was it such a stretch of the mind that he could enjoy watching fights? That he understood when Vin described, always with that edge of guilt, his savage joy when he took someone down? Was it really that strange for his heart to beat faster at a well-executed strike?

No, no, no - Andreas shook his head to himself. His last thought was false. It was not so much the quality of a hit that impressed him but the strength behind it. That fight two weeks ago, when Lancaster and Thaddeus had it out on the roof of the library - he hadn't gasped when Thaddeus smacked Lancaster in the face, sending him skittering perilously to the edge, because the blow was precise.

He'd gasped because it was thrilling to watch Thaddeus' immense hatred transmuted into raw power.

Just like how he'd felt curiously light-headed the time he'd seen in action why Vin was called the Mind Butcher. How his breath came faster as Vin methodically broke the robbers' minds, leaving them sobbing incoherently on the floor of the storage room. His pulse had raced from his chest like a stag chased through deep woods.

It wasn't fear.

Andreas sighed, pushed his sandy hair off his forehead, and glanced at the waterclock. Eleven-hundred and thirty; he was off duty now. There was just enough time to grab a quick lunch from the mess before proceeding to the arboreum.

He contemplated as he pulled off the healer quartz. Gunter was taller and broader, but Jared had better elemental magic; both of them were capable of strategic thought and brute force in combination. Neither of them lost often, and if they did it was only after a long struggle.

It would be a good fight.

He was going to enjoy it.

--

Andreas is a good kid, really.

Introspection/flashback analysis scenes are another kind of scene I write a lot. How'd I do?

Also, tell me directly if the characters get hard to keep track of.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Pruning of the Personal Library

Why prune at all?

If you are anything like me, you value books highly. Why not accumulate all the books you can?

Keeping around books you won't value is wasteful. Someone else might need that book more than you, and wouldn't you rather fill that space with a book you love?

--

Letting go of books is hard. I'm in the midst of going through all my books and deciding which ones I want to keep and which ones to remove.

In the summer I purged the books I knew right off the bat are not for me - but now I'm going through more carefully to decide which books are the real keepers.

--

Some guidelines I am keeping in mind:

Books to Remove:


  • Books you don't like
I don't have to worry about this criterion at the moment, since I got rid of all the books I don't like in the summer. But it's the first thing to consider: why give space to a book you don't enjoy reading?

  • Books you don't want to reread
Books you like might fall under this category. For example, I bought a book (for 50 cents - go library book sales!) that was the fourth in a series. I read it and enjoyed it but it's not the kind of thing that stays with you. Someone else will appreciate it more, I'm certain.

  • Books that you're using purely as a status symbol
I'm going to give Walden another shot, but the first two times I tried to read it I couldn't get past the third page. I'm sure I've said this before: no matter how well-acclaimed a book is, no matter how many awards, if it bores you, it isn't a good book.


Since I have little willpower when it comes to books, I've kept more books than let go so far. Here, too, I have some things to keep in mind. Note that categories usually overlap.

Books to Keep:


  • Books you reread frequently
Yeah, there are at least two copies of each Harry Potter book at the library. But I reread them so frequently. (Also, the first book was my seventh birthday gift from my mom. No way am I giving that up.)

  • Books you love
For me, Calling on Dragons (Patricia C. Wrede) and Sea of Trolls (Nancy Farmer) go under this category. Some books you just know without question that you must keep them because someday you will be filled with a sense of nostalgia and you'll need a familiar book with which to relax. Books to nurture your soul.

  • Books that inspire you
If you read a book and it makes you want to write immediately, keep it. The muse is a flighty thing - keeping an eye on one of her preferred hiding places can't hurt you.

  • Books as reference
This has to overlap with another category, though, since reference books are plentiful at a library. For example, I have a book called The Grammar of Warfare, primarily technical stuff that is over my head - but I plan on rereading it to better understand it, and besides, just look at the drawings of weapons!

  • Books that show you what not to do
The books that show you what not to do must also be (guilty?) pleasures to read, because there's no point keeping around something you don't like.

  • Books not found at your library
This is something of a coward's out - but if you're on the fence about a book and you can't get regular access to it once you let it go, keep it around until you are able to make a decision. Put it on probation, so to speak.

--

You will never be able to read all the good books that have been written. Instead, appreciate the books you have more.

Quality > quantity.
    --

    Oh yeah, I have got to share this:



    We're not playing it (it's too hard even for my school's wind ensemble, and I'm intermediate band), I've just been listening to it a lot.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Color-Numbers: A Personal Account of Synesthesia

    I like colors. I like numbers. It does not take much thought to accept that I like to combine the two.

    But saying I “like” to put those two things together is misleading, akin to saying I like my muscles connected to my bones. Of course I like them that way. 

    You can’t separate them, not if you want to function correctly. Were it not for tendons binding muscle to skeleton, you could not move. Numbers and colors are inseparable in just the same way.

    In this case, the tendon is synesthesia.

    -

    The dictionary tells me that synesthesia means “a process in which one type of stimulus produces a secondary, subjective sensation.” So far so opaque.

    Let’s go with the working definition of synesthesia as the condition of blended senses, or the reason why I can describe the number 72 with the words “orchid-sand” or why 47, 53, and 73 are disgusting.

    Number-color synesthesia (or “grapheme-color synesthesia), which is what I have, is not the only kind of synesthesia there is, of course. Taste and color and sound are all found together in at least one of the animators of “Ratatouille”, for example, and some people associate colors and letters.

     For myself, I also describe sounds with images and sensations: one of the flautists in band has tone like a brook running through a sun-dappled forest clearing, while one of my friends has a voice like the feeling of a cat stepping on your foot. Also, the note D natural is green in all octaves.

    But number-color association is strongest for me. I once got it into my head to take a look at the books about synesthesia at the library, but when one declared that seven is green, I had to put the book down. Just writing that I shuddered in revulsion.

    Seven is not green. Feet do not grow from the ends of wrists; we do not have mouths above our eyebrows. Seven, I must repeat, is not green. It is orchid added to the color of the kidney-shaped pieces in Chex Mix. I have the exact colored pencil to depict it.

    Aside from pushing me away from blasphemous books, synesthesia has a positive effect on my education. Remembering dates in history is easier when they are associated with colors. I still remember that the Ming dynasty fell in 1644 because there are so many fours associated with the number – four times four to make sixteen, forty-four on the end.

    But of course a phenomenon related to numbers affects my math experience the most. Math is not difficult once you know how numbers combine.

    Division and multiplication in particular are better accomplished by the intuition of hue than by crunching numbers. (Eight times three is twenty-four. Smoke-navy, shell-pink, and sandy-green. Beach colors.) 

    Synesthesia gives me certain biases: I love working with multiples of eight and twelve (four is not as selective, but what would you expect from something the color of new grass?) while prime numbers make my teeth jar like over-sugared cereal.

    People tend to assume that my proclivity for math comes with my slanty eyes and black hair, but really, it is the colors of the numbers, not me, that makes it easy.

    Synesthesia is like light: it’s impossible to get rid of (not that I want to anyway), it affects how I see the world, and it makes life more colorful.

    --

    Written for my English portfolio about a month ago.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    A Change of Scene

    I moved my computer from the end of our never-used dining room table to a plastic box on top of an old TV stand.

    It is so much better.

    --

    Why?

    When I look up I see a blank wall*. When I look to the left, I see outside.

    The blank wall is like a blank page.  It is where our thoughts will live, it is the space that is just there, silent, still, yet a challenge by virtue of its very blankness.

    Where are your words, writer girl? it asks. Tell me. Where. Are. Your. Words?

    I respond as I always do to a challenge. Come at me, wall-bro. Or rather, I will come at you, with words aplenty. You cannot defeat a magician-in-training so easily.

    *(Okay, it's not really a blank wall. There's a switch that doesn't, so far as I know, do anything. But that's useful, that can work its way into a story.)
    --

    The yard is just as important. As a book someone really awesome recommended to me says, outside lies magic. From my old desk I could not see the sky. Why would I choose that? Why look at clutter, at piles of old schoolwork (my sister's, not mine - I'm too much of a neat freak to leave papers about), when I can instead rest my eyes upon the big stone planters and the wall where my cat sits?

    When spring comes, my dad will coax the planters into bursting with flowers. But the yard is more beautiful now, with its barrenness and the moss on the stone walls. What need have I for lushness? Is not the empty, the incomplete, just as admirable?

    So many spaces. Surely one holds possibility.

    --

    Maybe it's just the novelty. Maybe I'm going to give up and move back to the real table, where the printer cable is just a foot away. Maybe I'm going to go back to staring at an uninspiring mess. Maybe I'm going to give up the white curtains and the blank wall and the rolling chair.

    I don't think so.

    --

    I am still writing in a corner (literally, not figuratively); yes.

    But it is a better corner.

    Sometimes you just need a change of scene.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Sekhmet

    Her mouth is dotted with blood
    Dark on her white fur
    Her eyes stare up at me
    As I carry her down the stairs
    She is asking me
    Why can I not eat?
    Why can I not hunt?

    And I tell her
    Of diseases that hide
    From her keen cat-eyes
    That the limp figure
    Trailing from her mouth
    May be, among the two,
    The better killer.

    And I tell her she is wrong
    I do not hold her back
    I tell her
    Hunt
    Stalk the rodents, stalk and kill
    As your ancestors would
    In the wide fields -
    In the deserts -
    Among the rushes by the Nile
    I know it is not for food
    I know it is for instinct
    For the whisper embedded in your primal brain.

    Do what you do
    My little black-and-white lioness
    I'm proud of you, darling.

    --

    Inspired by a certain incident last Friday night when my cat came running in with a dead mouse.

    Hm. Needs more revision.

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    Read in September

    I didn't do a lot of reading this month. It's a shame. I've already explained my response to Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg, quite thoroughly, so I'm leaving it out.

    Of the books I read this month, the first was my favorite.

    The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure
    The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

    In fact, this is one of my favorite books ever. I checked it out of the library again on a whim and I love it just as much as I did when I was seven, or whenever I read it first.

    If you gave a copy of this book to every schoolchild, we would not have a problem with lack of interest in math. I have always believed firmly that math is fun, and this book vindicates me. Triangle numbers are my favorites.

    Okay, look, this book can explain permutations and combinations to children and make it both understandable and fun. Genius!

    Comparable to: The Phantom Tollbooth.

    I finished the Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz. I'll recommend that series only as a guilty pleasure.

    This next I checked out on a whim.

    A Plague of Sorcerers: A Magical Mystery
    A Plague of Sorcerers: A Magical Mystery by Mary Frances Zambreno

    I was not disappointed. The characters varied in how much I dis/liked them. Most of all, I want to read more from the author - what a fascinating magic system! The titular plague's resolution was unexpectedly dark, and I did not know whether to class the perpetrator as a victim or not. I felt that the book's ending petered out disappointingly, but the preceding story was enough to excuse it.

    Randomly choosing something from the children's section has proved to be a rewarding system. I must get back to it.

    I read the second book of Howard Whitehouse's Mad Misadventures of Emmaline and Rubberbones series, a lighthearted, quirky adventure series set in Victorian England. More for younger children, but I like it.

    The last book I read this month was Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. I don't recommend it - it made me want to plan things, but the writing was not very good.

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    Into Castle Lancaster

    Castles of the Lion Country do not have moats.  This is because there are precious few rivers in Lion Country and diverting a river to make a moat would lead to a prince's people turning on him and, in all likelihood, stringing him up for the gnaths.

    Instead, the castles of the Lion Country are built on hills whose sides have been made steep and carved with the castle's patron gods.  For this reason, when a prince decides to make war on his neighbor, he will raze the castle to the ground but leave the hill on which it stood untouched.  You may think to yourself that the Heaven King is overrated, but you will leave no mark on the hill that claims him as protector.

    You can never take chances with the gods.

    -

    Gunter whistled when he saw the Castle Lancaster's hill.  "Moriben's wings, what an architecture!  This is the style of the late high mittling ages - I would guess the carvers were from the Ander lands, look at those angles..."

    "So, you like hill-carvings, do you?" Thaddeus clapped Gunter on the shoulder as he caught up to him, and he too turned his face towards the castle and its hill.  "Massive, isn't it?  See, Amy -" he looked over at Amy, who was walking up with her boots covered in dust and her straw hat tilted to shade her eyes " -trying to break in would have been stupid.  What did I tell you?"

    Amy shook her head and pulled off her hat.  "You have a point," she said grudgingly, "though I still do not think the most direct approach is necessarily the best.  Too audacious."

    "Yes, we are not being the most subtle, are we?"  Gunter did not seem to be really paying attention to his words; his eyes were too busy drinking in the edifice of the Hill Lancaster.  "But I doubt sneaking in would be any better - likely, much worse.  They can accuse us of dishonor not, the blame is all for their taking."

    "Gunter agrees with me," said Thaddeus with a victorious lift of his eyebrows.  Then he pointed at the largest carving, of a woman with very long hair.  "The Fire Wife is my patron god, too.  She'll take care of us."

    Amy snorted in disgust and said, "Well, if you're so confident, then let's climb up to the gate and see if they let us in."

    Thaddeus grinned.  "Will do."

    -

    "State your business."

    The command should have been terse, strict.  But when issued from the mouth of a boy no older than they, with a face that made even the Rosefire of the Lancaster house look like a private school insignia, it was hard to take seriously.

    "We're here to see about the release of Melusine Kramer, vassal of the Lady Demon Orsolya Markov," said Gunter.  He at least attempted to sound businesslike.

    "What about you, what're you doing here?" asked Thaddeus. He'd hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his over-baggy trousers and was slouching as if to mock the guard's toy-soldier stance. "Want to buy a necklace for your girl and need some extra money? This job doesn't look exactly interesting, if you ask me. Come on, what are we, the first visitors in a week?"

    Amy shot him a look.  The guard looked similarly irritated; to his credit, he did not rise to Thaddeus' provocation. He would have gotten top points in an etiquette class.

    "You may present your case to the Prince Lancaster when he returns.  The waiting chamber is to the right of the entryway."

    As they walked into the sudden shade of the castle's main door, Thaddeus said, "Not very good security, is it?  He wouldn't even notice if we didn't go to the right. Probably doesn't think he's allowed to turn his head while he's on guard."

    "Oh, and they would let us go where we wanted?" said Amy.  She indicated two more guards posted at the door leading from the entryway into the main hall.  Then she looked more closely and did a double take.

    Gunter noticed and, as they entered the right chamber, asked, "What was it?"

    "That was Demyan," she said.  "Demyan Holston.  Remember him, Thaddeus?"

    "Yeah," said Thaddeus, sitting on an elaborately carved chair.  "He was courting that foul girl Renee for a while, wasn't he?  But then he sort of disappeared."

    Amy nodded.  "I wonder why he's here, of all places."

    "If he's an old friend, can't you ask him?" said Gunter. He half-glanced out the door to the stony-faced interior guards.

    Amy grinned darkly and shook her head.  "Not an old friend at all, Gunter. In fact" she too looked out, and fixed upon the taller guard a look of deepest loathing "once, a long time ago, he tried to kill me."

    --

    If it's difficult to keep track of the characters, tell me straightaway.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Triumph and Defeat

    ...mostly the latter.

    Remember how I thought I'd have my act together by today? Yeah, that's not happening.

    It's been a rough month all around - I say that not as an excuse but as an explanation. I don't see things improving for a while, and I can't keep up the current posting schedule if I don't want to subject you guys to garbage or filler. And I don't. You deserve better than that.

    Until further notice, I will only post on Tuesdays and Fridays.

    A less frequent schedule should lead to better posts, since they'll be less rushed. I'm trying to see this as a quality v. quantity issue instead of failure. But it is difficult.  The dementors are winning, and that is unacceptable.

    I'm fighting back. I just need some rest to do so.

    --

    After that the "triumph" seems quite paltry. But - the new header is finally done. Here's the uncropped image without words:


    Roman ruins and the ocean. What else would you expect from me?

    --

    I have another installment of the GW experimental story coming on Tuesday, and then some book recommendations from September on Friday.

    One foot in front of the other. That is the way.

    Friday, September 30, 2011

    School as a Dementor, reprise

    Okay, I wanted to share one last quote from Wild Mind.
    "Public schools...can't die. They keep getting funded forever. If something can't die, it's not alive. Kids are dying in those classrooms. There's no vitality."*
    Trufax.

    *(Emphasis mine.)

    --

    It's been a busy couple of weeks. This weekend I fully expect to do nothing but sleep, read, and write. I'm sorry things have been so piecey around here lately - but I hope to get my act together by Sunday.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    Wild Mind, part II

    Here are the rest of the quotes from Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg. (Did anyone actually see the post from Friday with the first part?)
    "State clearly what you have to say. Don't be afraid. Step forward." 
    This is part of the chapter that cautions against using the words "very" and "really". It is brave to remove those words from our writing. They're easy to hide behind.
    "Let passion burn all the way, heating up every layer of the psyche, the conscious and the unconscious. Otherwise, you'll be like me with tennis - willing to drop it at sixteen when a boyfriend came along. Get tougher than that. Don't let anything take it away."
    When I was writing the Utopia Project, I did not let myself entertain the thought of not finishing. I told myself that I owed it to the characters and the story to see it through to the end. So I did.
    "We need to let writing be writing and let it give us what it gives us in the moment."
    Writing is not the means to an end. You can do it for its own sake.
    "You have to earn the right to make an abstract statement."
    Throughout the book she advises to keep your writing grounded, to let it come from your body and not just your mind. Concrete details (which have unfortunate essay-writing connotations) keep it real.
    "Know the difference between [waiting and procrastination]. Do not fool yourself. Be tough. But be tough the way a blade of grass is: rooted, willing to lean, and at peace with what's around it."
    Waiting: when I play with my cat after writing three paragraphs of the Utopia Project. Procrastination: when I write a blog post instead of finishing my AP Euro homework. I include this quote also because I like the imagery: you don't think of a blade of grass being tough, but it is.
    "I decided to cut the fat away from verbs as much as possible and let them be immediate and exposed. ... I kept the verbs as simple as possible. ... Using the conditional tense here moves the action away from us. Using would be makes it for all time, continually, and that is a generalization. Nothing is for all time. It is better to capture the one moment, and if that is strong the reader will carry it inside him or her."
    How much cleaner can your writing become if you follow this rule? Mine would be (trololol) greatly improved.
    "A novel is a big dream, a whale of a dream. You have to go under for a long time into the dark waters of the mind and stay there."
    "The dark waters of the mind." If you've been a reader for a while, you know I love the ocean, and so you understand why that phrase makes me shiver. Also because it implies hiddenness, something we cannot see that exists right in our own heads.
    "Let yourself be kind. ... Have compassion for yourself when you write. There is no failure - just a big field to wander in."
    I like this image as well: a big field on an overcast day, being lost but not needing to go anywhere so it doesn't matter than you're lost...yes. I would like that.

    I would like that a lot.

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    White Flowers

    Seaside

    The white flowerheads nodded
    In the breeze coming in from the sea
    They were agreeing
    With the saline air and the chill
    And the screams of the gulls above
    Pale as the metal-white clouds
    As the oppressive overcast ceiling
    Stretched out as far as the wrinkling water
    Pressing down a hand streaming wan sun
    That makes the eyes tear but cannot disturb the sea
    And the flowers said yes
    Go down to the water’s edge
    Find your way past the tumbled rocks and concrete
    It does not matter if you cut your feet
    On the delicate edges of shell and shattered stone
    Because there are no sharks here
    There are no sharks
    Except the loneliness that fills you
    Knifes between your ribs and streams
    Through your mouth and your eyes and all of you
    Making you empty and invisible and transparent
    You are a gull-feather twisting in the wind
    You are a stone dropped soundlessly in the deep.

    Nocturne

    Bouquets of white flowers
    Filled my eyes with their light
    Their perfume was shy
    Impossible to remember
    But identifiable from ten paces
    More memorable to the back alleys of the mind
    The dark places we run
    Asleep and terrified and chased
    By ghost-eyed children
    With mammoth-bone knives
    Bleached by sun and time
    With white flowers
    Braided into the wilds of their hair
    A flash of delicate petals and scent
    Before the knives descend
    And morning breaks open
    Spilling brightness into a room
    Whose mercy lies in the spaces
    Where flowers are not

    --

    I couldn't get the image of white flowers out of my head except by transmuting it into poetry. Two separate poems or one two-part poem?

    --

    Also: I've decided to publish Tuesday's post on Wednesday. Just testing out a new schedule.

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Wild Mind

    I finished reading the book Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg, a week ago. It is a book of advice about writing, including exercises to "get the pen moving."

    I still haven't returned it to the library. Why? Right now, I am in the middle of digesting it; after all, what's the point of taking in writing advice if you do not let it sink in?

    Not to say that I'll take everything at face value. I do not agree with everything Goldberg says. At times, I do not like her tone (how arrogant, for a sophomore in high school to say such!).

    But some passages strike me.
    "And be brave. Let some of the good writing go. Don't worry. There'll be lots of it over time. You can't use all of it. Be generous and allow some of it to lie fallow. What a relief! We can write well and let it go. That's just as good as writing poorly and letting it go. Just let go."
    It is a relief to think this way, that we do not need to hoard every golden sentence because there's plenty more where that came from. Being a natural packrat, I suspect it will take me a while to learn this lesson. But even now, with the message only half-taken, it is freeing.
    "Yes, I'd forgotten that, too. That if you let go in your writing, you naturally go for the jugular over and over until you clean out unfinished business."
    I do this more in my confidante (what others would call a journal) than in my stories, but my vignette-esque "Friendship is Not a Boat" was all about cleaning out unfinished business. Some parts of it seem cancerous, like they do not belong, and that is because I clumsily added them in. They fit for the conversation between Melusine and Adelaide, but it wasn't really them: it was me saying all the things I needed to say but still have not said.
    "A helpful technique: right in the middle of saying nothing, right in the middle of a sentence, put a dash and write, 'What I really want to say is...' and go on writing. ... It's a device to help you connect with what is going on inside."
    Allowing yourself to break through straight into what you "really want to say" is much better than trying to build a bridge of logic. It lets you teleport straight to the other side of the river.
    "If you don't read aloud, the writing tends to fester like an infected wound in your notebook. I cannot say why, but the simple act of reading it aloud allows you to let go of it."
    I hate reading aloud. But maybe I will read aloud my work when I am alone in the afternoons. Maybe my cat will listen.
    "I said ..., 'I'm lonely and I suffer.'"
    Simple and powerful and direct. In a book filled with writing advice, this is the line that resonates with me the most. I suspect it is true for everyone, often, but rarely admitted. This line made me decide that I like this book even though I cannot relate to sections of it. Anyone who says such a statement so baldly is worth listening to.

    More quotes to come TuesdayWednesday. Which of these quotes do you dis/agree with the most?

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    The Whisper of Ancient Times

    I am fascinated by ancient civilizations. Those dimly-lit times that we always seem to gloss over in school sing a more compelling song than recent history.

    The maps in my history textbooks taunt me with place names I have never heard of.

    "What is the Parthian Empire?" I wonder.  "What is the Kingdom of Trebizond? What about Mitanni, Elam, Sogdia?"

    Just as alluring are the ones about which I know but which I do not know.

    "What was going in Carthage, Tunis? What about the Celts, the Germanic tribes, Gaul, Wallachia and Moldavia and Romania? Who built the nuraghe? And Stonehenge, and other megaliths? Pre-Columbian America? What were early civilizations in Central Asia and Eastern Europe like? What about Mongolia and Southeast Asia? The cradle of civilization: tell me about Sumer, Akkadians, Phoenicians, the Hittites."

    Even the Early Middle Ages interest me: what was it like to live in a time when you could write "here there be dragons" on a map?

    And what about earlier? What caused people to form city-states? Why did people start farming? Who hunted the mammoths? Who made cave paintings? What was it like to face Homo sapiens neanderthalensis?

    I want to plunge the depths of human history. I want to look back at the dawn of humanity, into that rising sun.

    Ancient history is just a whisper. But I will heed its primordial notes as though they were a clarion call.

    I want to know.

    --

    Dewey Decimal system: 930.

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    Favorite Things

    I feel like doing something different today. Let's play a game. I tell you a few of my favorite things, and you do the same. Get to know you all better. :)

    Favorite Things:
    • The ocean
    • Renaissance art like "School of Athens" by Raphael.

    • Cats (specifically, mine)
    • Roman architecture
    • Ancient civilizations
    • Anberlin
    • Rammstein
    • Navy+white+dark brown
    • Glass bottles
    • Orange soda
    • Spaghetti
    • Maui onion chips
    • Devil's food cake
    • Children's fantasy novels
    • Colors
    • Euphonium
    • My twelfth-birthday necklace
    • Weighted averages problems
    • Notebooks
    • Disney movies
    • The name Tiberius
    • Multiples of 12
    • Sleeping in
    • Overcast weather
    • 0.5 lead mechanical pencils
    • Black Uniball pens
    • Simple Gifts Movement III: "Here Take this Lovely Flower" by Frank Ticheli


    Your turn. Tell me about yourself!

    --

    By the way: my art is now up on the "Creations" page.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Read in August

    I either read dense, serious books, or stuff I picked up from the children's section.  Yep.  That's me.

    --

    I'll start with the children's books.  First of all, what is a sophomore doing in the children's section?  Shouldn't I be reading supernatural romances or sassily-titled tomes about mousy-haired girls snarking about girls at their school that they hate and gushing over the football player and/or hipster dude?

    Nah.  Children's books make me feel happier, safer.  And, a lot of the time, they're just more fun.

    The Tales of Beedle the Bard
    The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J. K. Rowling

    I can say that I have read all ten Harry Potter books: the seven in the series proper, Quidditch Through the Ages, and Newt Scamander's Guide to Fantastic Beasts. Dumbledore's commentary is pretty funny.

    Jake Ransom And The Skull King's Shadow (Jake Ransom, #1)
    Jake Ransom And The Skull King's Shadow, by James Rollins

    Just the day before I'd been thinking about civilizations that are underrepresented in historical fantasy, so when I saw a Mayan pyramid on the cover I couldn't not check this book out.

    It did not disappoint. Was the writing a trifle juvenile? Yes. (Note: putting three one-sentence paragraphs in a row dilutes the impact.) Were the characters just a couple notches above archetypical? Yes. (Though I must say they were less flat than I'd feared.) But the premise, of falling into a world occupied by several different civilizations scattered throughout history and space - that was awesome. A bit gimmicky, but hopefully later books will give passable reasons for the place's existence.

    I won't be looking too hard for holes, though. What matters more to me is the fresh, straightforward adventure story that this series promises to deliver.

    The Crowfield Curse
    The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh

    With a generic medieval setting, archetypical characters, and a plot that took a while to get to the point, there was nothing particularly special about this book...but the writing was good enough, and the main character William, while generic, was a good enough kid. If the other books are at my library, I'll probably read them.  Sometimes the quality of a book doesn't matter so much as how it makes you feel, and children's books, as I said before, make me happy.

    The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)
    The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan

    I wonder if Rick Riordan is planning on writing a series about every major pantheon. If he does, I am completely down with that. He's a great author.

    It didn't quite match up to the Percy Jackson series, but I have high hopes.

    What impressed me was the amount of detail and research that slipped into the narrative so casually. Crocodiles at temples? Awesome. I also liked how the alliances shifted around a bit. Chapter titles were amusing, as expected.

    Looking forward to the second book.

    I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade
    I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade, by Diane Lee Wilson

    A book set on the Mongolian steppes during the reign of Kublai Khan = must read. Because no one writes about Mongolia. (Can you tell I like unusual settings?)

    Oyuna was a very, very conventional children's book protagonist: a spunky girl who likes horses and disguises herself as a boy and has a smart cat sidekick. Clearly, she was not what made this book good.

    Rather, it was the setting. The gratuitous use of Mongolian words was occasionally grating, but the details of steppe life - that I could not get enough of. The obo of the mountains, Oyuna's astonishment at seeing a bridge, the festival at Karakorum...the unfamiliarity of the book's milieu more than made up for the boringness of the main character.

    The writing was pretty good, the kind that is not noticeable. It did make the field of dead saiga and the detour to a malevolent character's house seem almost nightmarishly otherworldly, though.

    All in all, a rare find. It was not the gem that I had hoped for, but an interesting-looking rock is just fine too.

    --

    So far, all the books I've been talking about are what I would have read in middle school - maybe even elementary school.  I enjoy such lighter fare, but this month did not go by without more substantial reading material as well.

    Many Waters (Time, #4)
    Many Waters, by Madeleine L'Engle

    Madeleine L'Engle is a very good author, but there is something about her books that makes it difficult to imagine yourself reading them. Maybe it's the science that weighs just as heavy as the fantasy. Whatever it is, once you get started finishing is the easy part.

    The description of antediluvian life was fascinating, as all things from distant history are. Differences between the nephilim and seraphim quite intrigued me - though, truth be told, I prefer immortal creatures to be more inhuman, more extreme.

    The dialogue, while not displeasing, had a curious limp to it, prettier and yet flatter than more convincing speech; same goes for the rest of the prose. I couldn't feel great anxiety for the characters because of that, but it was certainly an enjoyable book.

    However: There is more than one "Noah" in history. It seems too great a leap of faith that the twins, skeptics both, would reach that conclusion first rather than passing it off as coincidence.

    American Gods
    American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

    Favorite part: the names and descriptions of the forgotten gods. Makes me want to know more about them - unfortunately, I doubt I'll be able to get more information about the mammoth god.

    As dense books often do, it made me feel leaden. I probably should have spaced out my reading of this book a bit more - reading it for all of Monday was like eating a banquet with n + 1 courses, n being the number of courses I can consume comfortably.

    Shadow and Linda's relationship was sweet, given the circumstances. The wrap-up of the Lakeside disappearances was...disturbing, to put it lightly. I took issue with some aspects of the main plot, but it was satisfying.

    Everfound (Skinjacker, #3)
    Everfound, by Neal Shusterman

    Reading this book was quite draining. Do not misunderstand: it was an excellent book, and Shusterman is an excellent writer (why else would I have stuck with the series?). However, it dealt with weighty topics - abuse of power, doing what needs to be done no matter how bad it is, world destruction, large-scale murder. Things with natural gravity.

    I find it tragic whenever a powerful, to-be-reckoned-with character falls a long way - even if that character deserves it.

    The intricate net of character interactions was one of this book's triumphs. Changing alignments of loyalty and wildcards such as Clarence show just how awesome Neal Shusterman is at juggling lots of characters who all have some part to play. The resolution was relieving, the end satisfying even though the way things ended up was not all too different from the beginning of Everlost (the first book). The things that did change were significant enough to show that progress occurred.

    --

    Testing a new way to run these monthly "read in" posts.