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."*

*(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


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.


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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Foray into the Lion Country

"Why did you bring him?"

Amedea Lewis glared at Thaddeus from under the edge of a large straw hat and jabbed a finger in the direction of a very tall, very blonde boy wearing a royal blue guard uniform.  He was walking too far ahead of Amy and Thaddeus to hear, and besides he was looking around the countryside with great interest.

Thaddeus, garbed less ostentatiously than either of his companions, said, "Why do you ask?  I thought you liked Gunter.  Besides, we need two people with the metal elemental, and Orsolya is busy."

"I don't dislike him, but - come on, Thaddeus, you could have told him to leave off the Citadel blue.  We're trying to be subtle, and subtle that is certainly not."

"The way I figure, it's pretty obvious already that he's Kornelia Gemeinhardt's son -"

"How do you work that one out?"  Amy gave Thaddeus a withering look.  "There is no shortage of tall blonde boys as long as you're northeast of the River.  He could be some country lad if he was dressed like it, but with the Metallic Citadel written all over him like this it's all too clear who he is."

"Would you let me finish?  Look, Amy - like I was saying, he's obviously Gemeinhardt, how many blondes do you see in the Lion Country, and with the delegation from the Citadel arriving yesterday...well, Lancaster can put two and two together, we might as well be upfront about it."

Amy closed her eyes with a look of patience becoming finite and said, through gritted teeth, "Lancaster himself is blonde, Thaddeus, that argument's not going to work.  You said we would be subtle.  Gunter stands out like a sore thumb with that blue uniform.  He stands out anywhere, we could've at least tried to disguise him -"

This time Thaddeus was the one to express his exasperation.  "By the lava of Mount Arcimen, Amy, do you ever listen to me?  I never said we needed to be subtle.  Ours is an honest mission, we've got nothing to hide.  Ever heard of the story of the, what's it called, the Flame-Chicken?"

"The Firebird?  That has nothing to do with anything, Thaddeus."

"Yes it does.  The prince, he has to get stuff for some other guys, and each time he sneaks in he gets caught and is told that had he been forthright about his intentions he would have gotten the stuff without question.  We're not sneaking in there like we're ashamed of anything, Amy.  We're going to go through the front door."

Amy sighed.  "Sure, Thaddeus.  But when Lancaster throws us in the dungeons right next to the person we're supposed to be rescuing, I claim the right to say I told you so."


Dialogue-heavy scenes are often my weakness.  How'd I do?

Will this become part of the actual plot?  Maybe, maybe not.  Since these GW snippets are experimental, I have no idea.  Just tossing some ideas around.

But I rather think I will continue down this track a bit farther.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Immer wenn ihr traurig seid

Man. I really haven't been on it with the posting schedule recently.

Why? The past two weeks have been horrible in a number of ways that individually are small but together have not left me in a good state.

Here is how I have got through it.

1. Let it out

I keep a confidante - commonly known as a journal. Getting all the ugly feelings down on paper is good; letting them fester is not. No one has to see it again, not even you if you prefer to let it out and then not think about it again.

The paper can take the weight of your feelings.

2. Listen to music

The title of this post comes from the Rammstein song "Ein Lied". It is my go-to song when I am feeling sad. When I am full of any other sort of bad feeling, my number one song is "Stein um Stein".

I am aware that my taste in music is probably not yours. However, undoubtedly there is a song that fulfills a similar function for you: that is, makes you feel better when you want to cry/disappear into the walls/commit acts of violence against those who have wronged you.

Find it.

3. Read this poem

"The Day is Done"

-by William Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me,
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavour;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labour,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.


4. Sleep

As the Russian proverb goes, the morning is wiser than the evening.

Take care of yourself.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Places I Miss

I walked into my mind through a door called memory. I looked around and I asked myself this:

Where am I?


My elementary school.

I was only on the roofs once but it was amazing.

Under the softball scoreboards we all spun like whirling dervishes - or, as I have appropriated the experience, weather wizards.

I felt I could fly across the wide green field, and at the very edge was a slope perfect for rolling.

A pile of wood chips became a civilization.

The play structure had slides and metal railings that were all fun to climb (even if we got in trouble).  I lost the domain of the monkey bars sometime between third and fourth grade.

Outside the multipurpose room was a bench half-blocked by bushes.  So many hidden places.

And the sacred, magic place that I cannot name.


The park nearby.

Its play structure was just as much fun as the school's to climb, and on one of the ladders you could look at the trees and see all sorts of animals in the branches: a smiling elephant, a stag from whose mouth a snake was going into death convulsions, and eyes, eyes everywhere.

The tree whose root had an enormous bulge was the perfect seat.

Everyone loved the swings.

The back ways led to a fenced-in bridge.  You could not reach the stream, but you could see it, shimmering in the sun.


One place in which I stayed during a vacation to China had a window seat.  From ten stories up I saw the city of Qingdao spread before me.

I could see only a corner of the ocean, blocked as it was by tall buildings, but there I composed many lost poems from which I remember only one line clearly: "I will sell my soul to the sea."


My middle school.

The courtyard behind the eighth grade quad classrooms seemed hidden away.

A slope leading to abandoned tennis courts surely led also to another world (so I thought when, among the mundane worries like projects and homework I remembered that at heart I am always seeking magic).

The broad sweep of blacktop.

In the band room the room with shelves of instruments had overbright lighting that made me think horror stories.

At the top of the bleachers the field looked like a coliseum.

The side stairs from the library led to ledges from which you had a fantastic vantage point.

It would be the absolute perfect place to have a massive game of capture the flag.  My middle school could host a small-scale war.


I learned these streets by heart because I had to walk every day for two years for PE, and why not get to know that neighborhood better?

The highest street I went rose and dipped, and at the top of the street before the street on which the branch library sat I could see a slope that would not exactly rival Lombard but would, were snow ever to grace the Bay Area, be a perfect sledding hill.

Many houses that made my breath catch - one made me think of the Alhambra, one had a stained glass fleur-de-lis, one had Roman columns and double doors.


My old house.

On the second story there was a closet with shelves of old books and a ledge upon which to sit.

I'd pull up a dining room chair to the window looking out at our yard, and I'd draw the curtains around myself and go into my own little world.

The backyard was at different times a battleground against monsters, an apothecary whose products we used to make strange potions, and a thousand other things that memory has blurred into the one word "home".


Where is the magic of place?



Because soon enough these places we take for granted will too dissolve into fond memories and bittersweet.


"Hey, Evelyn, where was your Sunday post anyway?"

Stuck in my head while at a party.  Not the fun kind of party where your friends make Italian food, the kind of party with all your parents' friends asking you what you want your major to be in college.  But I should not complain - it could have been worse.

The blog redesign is not quite done.  I still need to draw/acquire a header image and finalize some small things on the sidebar.

See you all Friday. :)

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Oneiroi, part III: Using Dreams Case Study

The land of giants, our contacts are dead, reached through a stone castle, fierce beasts guard the entrance; a pink streetlight, large minimalist shopping mall, forgotten assignments, the bicycles gather rust 4/10/08
I still remember this dream.  I remember stone structures covered with dense moss, I remember feeling as though I was walking through a sacred, deadly place.  I remember waking up and thinking, I could make a story out of this.

And so I could.  I have not yet done so, but I shall now:

"Are you ready?"

Ingrid looked at him with an eyebrow raised.  "To go into the land of the giants?  I'll have to be, seeing as we're leaving tomorrow."  She sighed and stood, then started going through the sack resting on the floor next to her desk.  Methodically, she laid everything out: coins big as dinner plates, a map of thick paper, provisions, a bundle of clothes; fast-acting paralysis poisons, knives longer than her arm in sturdy sheathes, talismans forged from volcanic rock.

She set it all out where they could see her preparations for venturing where no one had ventured before and come back.  It looked, he had to admit, quite inadequate.  What weapons are of use against something thrice, more, your size?  He almost asked her if she was sure she wanted to do this, but Ingrid would not like that.  Already he had asked her, and still she was determined.

He would never understand the Gelfionites - or rather, just Ingrid.  When one Gelfionite was in danger, all were supposed to rush to her help, but none of the others were going into the land of giants after his missing sister Albina.  Ingrid was just stupidly, ridiculously honorable.

He'd love her for it if it wasn't about to get them both killed.


How about that?  It's a start.

Every so often I'll pull some dream out of my records and do what I can with it, see where it takes me.  If I start to see a method to the madness, I shall of course share technique.

Since this is my first shot, I have no pointers.  It helps, though, for me to name characters.  Ingrid is a default name for a stern, warrior-maid kind of character, long on action and short on inner tranquility.  This is the first time I've used the name since the story of a dragon-girl in fourth grade, so I'm not too concerned with pigeon-holing the name.  I usually don't repeat names anyway...

All right, I'll stop rambling.  Try this out for yourself: take a look at a dream you've had and start a story based on it.


Blog redesign should happen over the weekend.  If you come here and things look a little piecey, know that it'll all get sorted out eventually.