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.

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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.

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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.

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"En garde. PrĂȘts? 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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.