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.