Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review: 2013

Long, self-centered post ahead. Reflecting on what I've done and what I still have to do. It's been a very long year, with some months (March and October) where I wanted to hide under a table. But there were also high points, and, in any case, I've gotten through it. Hurrah!

Writing finished:
  • The Guts of Warfare: Civil War essay about logistics, supplies, etc which I wrote in January for the Gilder Lehrman contest. Includes a huge section on TOTAL WAR. I might post it later.
  • Orsolya (Unwise Ones): my second finished novel! Clocks in at 167000 words. Took up most of my writing year. Synopsis: Peacekeeper Orsolya rescues Prince Nikodim and uncovers a plot involving mind magic. Features characters from my GW storyline.
  • Rara Avis: a short story of about 10000 words that I wrote this month. Hannah, an unloved girl, realizes she can no longer stay.
  • College essays: so glad to be done. As Snively says, "If at the end of the application process you feel relieved instead of enriched, then you missed an excellent opportunity to learn about yourself." I feel both.

Current projects:
  • Vinyl Eel: a series of essays about school--I realize I have a lot of advice that future generations of students might find useful
  • Protagonist Club: it's been on unofficial hiatus for the past few months since Lieutenant Sarcasm and I have both been super busy; I want to keep working on it, though
  • revising Rara Avis
  • researching Ubermadchen: an as-yet unplotted novel(la?) about a group of girls being trained illegally in magic in the Age of Metternich
  • creating myself: it's an ongoing process

Optimus (Best Posts):

  • learning how to code (finishing LPtHW)
  • getting my driver's permit and doing 50 hours (drive test in another week or so, wish me luck!)
  • being principal euphonium for district honor band
  • helping the Teal Knight with assistant drum major tryouts
  • self-studying Calculus with the BC League
  • making it through the mountains (see above)
  • winning the Scrivo in Italiano writing contest
  • getting reelected to band staff
  • leading a band camp team to defeat (Frosted Flakes forever!)
  • getting over it (see above, The Sinusoidal Path /*or my Common App essay*/)
  • becoming involved in robotics on programming division
  • college apps //still need to figure out the morality of using a college counselor
  • using Google Docs for everything
  • leading a volunteer club and recruiting tons of idealistic freshmen
  • going to Hawaii
  • distancing myself from what is not me
  • figuring out that Augustus Caesar is my hero

Best Books:

Defining Music:
  • Unbreakable - Three Days Grace
  • In My Remains - Linkin Park
  • Calma e Sangue Freddo - Luca Dirisio
  • Welcome to the Masquerade - Thousand Foot Krutch
  • Alone Not Lonely - Evans Blue
  • Paradise - Coldplay
  • Video Games - Lana del Rey
  • Tightrope - Walk the Moon
  • Don't Stop - InnerPartySystem
  • Second Suite in F - Gustav Holst
  • Counting Stars - OneRepublic
  • Sail - Awolnation
  • Nothing in My Way - Keane
  • Sonnenbarke - Einsturzende Neubauten
  • Intro - the XX
  • Sea Fog - Keane
  • I Just Wanted to Make You Something Beautiful - Industries of the Blind
  • Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger - Daft Punk
//I should probably just make a playlist or something.

Preparation for 2014:

The usual logbook and calendar.

Wow, this has been a busy year. Second semester junior year, first semester senior year. I can't quite believe it. In fact, I have not processed that I graduate high school in another five months and that a year from now I'll have one semester of college under my belt. I'm writing the words, and they have no meaning.

I have no idea where I'll end up in the fall. 2014 is a huge mystery to me, the part of the map emblazoned with "Here there be dragons." But I shall forge ahead, and keep telling all about it.


Friday's post will probably be about the vacation I've just had. Thanks for sticking with me another year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Good Hunting

Gleaned over the past couple of months.


The Alchymist, by Joseph Wright of Derby

This planet and the people who live on it are diverse and very complicated. We do our writing a disservice every time we forget that.

All novels are in some way about race and sexuality and class and gender, and all the other categories that make up who we are in the world, how able-bodied we are, how neurotypical, our height or weight, whether people we love have died or not. This is true even if we did not intend our book to be about any of those things. It makes our writing much more nuanced and convincing when we’ve thought about those categories and how they shape how we—and by extension our characters—exist in the world.

MIT Admissions Blogs:
I'm guessing that early on you built the cognitive and intellectual tools to rapidly acquire and process new information, but that you've relied on those tools so much you never really developed a good set of tools for what to do when those failed. This is what happened to me, but I didn't figure it out until after I got crushed by my first semester of college. I need to ask you, has anyone ever taken the time to teach you how to study? And separately, have you learned how to study on your own in the absence of a teacher or curriculum? These are the most valuable tools you can acquire because they are the tools you will use to develop more powerful and more insightful tools.
  1. Failure is an option
  2. Work towards a goal, but don't cling to it
  3. Ask for help
  1. ReMOVE the magazine. RePLACE the magazine.
  2. Don't forget to bring your glasses
  3. Don't be distracted by others' gunshots
  4. Every shot counts

Personal Development-like things (including MBTI):

Bullard as French army corporal



Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Written in sophomore year as a portfolio piece.


What must you do to be worshipped as a god after your death?

Chancellor. Administrator of the Great Palace. High Priest of Heliopolis. Builder. Doctor. Maker of Vases in Chief. If he didn’t live in the 27th century BC, we would call him a Renaissance man.

Imhotep’s beginnings are obscured by time and deification. Proposed identities of his mother range from Nut, the sky goddess, to Sekhmet, the lion goddess, to a mortal who may or may not be the daughter of the ram god Banebdjedet.

Mortal seems most likely.

Imhotep was born a commoner in a suburb of Memphis, sometime in late spring. Though he lacked noble blood, his father, Kanofer, was a successful architect.

The son, however, would far surpass the father. Imhotep eventually became one of the pharaoh Djoser’s highest councilors; the vizier, in fact, with control over the courts, the treasury, and other departments of the government. He is credited with ending a seven-year famine caused by the insufficient floodwaters from the Nile.

This event likely had little to do with his abilities; climatic issues and luck were more instrumental in ending the famine than Imhotep’s advice to Djoser on how best to please the god of the cataract. But Imhotep’s reputation rested on more than superstition. He was a noted physician, sometimes credited as the founder of medicine. Though it is dubious whether or not he was the author of a medical text with extensive anatomical and curative notes, he was known for plant-based medicines and treatments for a variety of illnesses.

Despite his achievements in the arts of healing, the greatest evidence of Imhotep’s deeds lies in the field of architecture and engineering. To understand the impact of his innovations, it is essential to understand the context in which they were created. Before Imhotep, pharaohs were buried in mastabas – which can be described best as trapezoidal prisms. The name mastaba even means, loosely, “bench of mud”, an apt descriptor of both form and composition.

In designing his pharaoh Djoser’s tomb, Imhotep had loftier visions: he stacked six mastabas on top of one another, creating a stairway to let the pharaoh’s soul ascend to the heavens. The resulting edifice at Saqqara was the first structure of its size (just shy of two hundred feet tall) to be built entirely from stone. It was also Egypt’s first step pyramid and an essential intermediary stage between the uninspired mastabas and the iconic smooth-sided pyramids of the later Old Kingdom.

Imhotep lived to see the pharaoh Djoser interred in the monument he had built. He himself may have died circa 2600 BC, during the reign of the pharaoh Huni. For most people, especially those of common blood, that would be the end of it. After all, as Marcus Aurelius said, “Short is every man’s time on earth…and short too the longest posthumous fame.” But after his death, Imhotep’s fame only spread.

Later dynasties called him the son of Ptah, a creator god, in recognition of his wisdom. Greeks associated him with their healer deity Asclepius. He had a temple at Memphis that also housed a medical school and library of medical knowledge. The cult of Imhotep grew such that scribes poured out a libation to him before beginning their work. Roman emperors Claudius and Tiberius praised him in inscription.

Even after over 4500 years, Imhotep’s name has not been obscured by the relentless march of history; he is more famous even than the pharaohs under whom he served. If you want posterity to view you as a god (and, to be sure, it is a desire not without megalomania), you could do worse than follow the example of Imhotep.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Looking for Terminus

Having just taken my last set of high school finals ever, I am, unsurprisingly, thinking about endings.

I spent the afternoon doing nothing productive: eating food I didn't need to eat, looking at merchandise in stores from which I will not buy, that kind of thing. But I can't bring myself to regret it, and I wonder if I have finally caught senioritis.

My motto is "Fear complacency," and today I was complacent. Yet I wonder--is that really the best way to live, always looking to what you could be doing better? Surely it is, in most cases. But when do you get to take a break?

Last night I just about finished all my remaining college essays (may need to do some final revisions next week--I really hope not). This morning, my dad suggested to me that I should apply to additional schools and that not doing so jeopardizes my chances of getting into a good school and, since those things are inextricably correlated in the parent's mind, having a successful life.

"You want to know that you've always done the best you can," he said, as I sat, irrationally infuriated, at the breakfast table. "What if you end up having to settle for a school that's not the very best you could have gone to?"

The worst part about disagreeing with parents is that they don't listen. The second-worst (see my priorities? You knew you were reading a bratty teenager's blog) is that you know they just want the best for you.

I laid out my reasons for not wanting to apply to more schools: I have a diversified portfolio already, I'm probably going to get accepted into at least one or two of my targets, I will, in fact, have options. Furthermore, I argued that it was a moot point because my school wouldn't be able to turn around the transcript request that quickly.

Also, I mentioned that the best time to bring up additional schools was a month and a half ago (incidentally: how, exactly, does getting deferred to RD from MIT change ANYTHING? This is a good sign, damn it. Am I a failure for not getting in EA? <- rhetorical question, answer = no).

But I held back my real reason because I know it doesn't hold up against the You're Never Good Enough eye of the parental unit. I don't want to apply to another school because I am tired. I am sick of writing essays, sick of forking over fees for the sundry application parts, sick of slaving over the 250 words that, so the reasoning goes, will make or break my future.

This semester has been too damn long. It needs to end.

The problem with the philosophy "always do your very best" is that sometimes doing your best doesn't make sense. I didn't study nearly as much as I could have for finals this year, because it would not have been an efficient use of my time. And applying to another school when I already have enough targets doesn't make sense either.

(This is me trying to justify my emotional reasons for not wanting to do stuff by finding actual reasons. [Because apparently for me emotional reasons != actual reasons...interesting.])

I have to leave in a few minutes, so here is what I think my point is:



if "worth it" in endeavor_qualities:



"And that is my rant for today." --King of Sparta

Will be on vacation next week; posts shall be scheduled.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Game: Villanelle

Finals week has arrived. I can't quite believe that this semester is almost over, especially since I still have a few supplement essays to finish up for Stanford and Carnegie Mellon. At various points this semester I've commented to friends--likewise seniors--that I can't wait for 2014 to get here, so I can finally relax.

I've been working fairly hard recently, and my brain needs a break. Let's play a game.

(I'm making up the rules as I go along. Bear with me.)


You will need:


My results:

  • color: bright green
  • song: Ich Will - Rammstein
  • word: occupation


Okay, now what do we do with these things?

Let's write a villanelle.


Say what?

A villanelle: five three-line stanzas + one four-line stanza. "The first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas." Fine example: Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

Why are we doing this live? Because I've been reading Austin Kleon's blog and his new book, Show Your Work, seems to be all about opening up your process, sharing unfinished things, WIPs, instead of waiting until you have something "perfect" to show for your time.

So. Our turn. Brace yourselves.


Forest King


Sometimes they call me forest king
Crowned with thorns, bedecked with snow
I rather want too many things

The wild birds that lift their wings
Into my arms by storms are blown
Sometimes they call me forest king

The stags their antlers skyward fling
Against my will they southbound go
I rather want too many things

Beneath the earth they are living:
The slumbering beasts whom cold lays low
Sometimes they call me forest king

When bright pale leaves do say it's spring
The town prepares its yearly show
I rather want too many things

So to my heart they children bring
Across my roots their blood does flow
Sometimes they call me forest king
I rather want too many things


...I was not expecting that. I also don't think I put in "occupation," but then, the point of prompts is not to build a box to stay inside but rather a board off which to bounce ideas.

Your turn. Share your results if you like; if not, then don't.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Rambles and Plans

Rambling post tonight, mostly about the present and future.


At multiple times this autumn, I've thought that I'm not allowed to be happy until all my college apps are in. While I have, thankfully, been able to take some days to breathe, I've also put on hold many things that make me happy. I shall indulge myself next semester with:
  • Sitting in on first period band and playing Disney music
  • Watching films (Sword and Shield, Sherlock Season 3)
  • Drawing character art
  • Rereading children's fantasy series (Harry Potter, Kane Chronicles)
  • Reorganizing my bookshelf to reflect me
  • Buying edibles in the afternoon (hot chocolate at the charmante tea place)

I've just got to get through the rest of the month.


Tomorrow is a big day: we have another all-day robotics competition and, furthermore, MIT Early Action decisions get released. I'm nervous, whenever I think about it too much I feel an urge to hide under the nearest table, and I want to punch all the well-meaning people who say "of course you'll get in" on the nose. Honestly. I'll try to keep myself under control, however.

On the bright side, I got into University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign! As a rule I view online college rankings with due suspicion, but UIUC gets consistently recognized as a top engineering school. So there is that.


Finals haven't been freaking me out much this year. I posted on my other blog about studying methods.


Listening to a lot of melancholy, quiet music lately. It is wintertime.

Take Me Somewhere Nice - Mogwai

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Monstrous Abject

We've been reading Frankenstein in my Lit class this past month. One individual whom I once considered friend has become increasingly ostracized from a certain group this past semester. The two lines converge now.

What is the abject? It is the cast-off, the underbelly, the ugly, the taboo, the rejected. Frankenstein's monster, "Adam," was abject because he was almost but not quite human. He sat on the border of human and corpse, human and animal, human and other, and so he was rejected.

My once-friend is clearly a human, but often he says things that really do not need saying, random facts that distract from the objectives of the group, that he finds interesting but which receive a response of, "I really didn't need/want to know that, dude" from the rest of us. In this way, perhaps, he lies outside of the borders of what we consider a useful member of the group, or outside of the borders of what many consider a pleasant conversant, and so he, too, is rejected.

I'm circumlocuting, probably because there is a slim, slim chance that the once-friend of whom I speak could find this post. You know what--forget that.

Having this guy around brings out the worst in us.

All right, I've said it. Someone who exasperates, who can't focus, who says things that don't matter, who doesn't...fit in. Someone abject. Do you see what is happening? A bunch of easy-going, liberal teenagers suddenly turn clannish and exclusionary, putting down someone for being different.

I never thought I'd be in this position--of someone who is accepted by the group, and participates in trying to get someone else to conform ("stop talking, man," I said at least three times), but now that I'm here I might as well analyze it.

Why do we do this? Why do we want this guy to act contrary to his nature, to compromise for the sake of the group? Because he's not productive as he is now, spouting off random trivia (I use the word trivia in both denotative and connotative ways). But many of us were doing homework, not contributing. Because his non-productivity draws others into it; it's disruptive. Dealing with him diverts attention from the main objective.

Why do we lack patience with him? Because he's been annoying some of the most influential people in the group, the leadership, since junior year. Being rude to him is now reflexive for some of us. Because he tries to provoke a response. Because he says things that make people get defensive or annoyed.

Because...I am thinking about a conversation we had that made me annoyed at him, but which would have left me unruffled if another friend had made the same comments. Because it's hard to take criticism from someone you perceive as being less qualified than you are.


(I knew we'd get back here somehow.)

The abject is often viewed as "less than" human. And while this individual is obviously a human, deserving of the full rights as such, many of us don't treat him with the same kind of consideration with which we treat others. Most, if asked, would probably say that he "deserves" his bad treatment for being annoying or because he seems to feel entitled to special treatment/freedom from consequences.

In other words, his personality has made him unpalatable to our society, and therefore the rude treatment is a symptom of our rejection of him.

Look how I am treating him now: as an object, as a focal point of a discussion here, without his knowledge or consent. Maybe he wouldn't want to be discussed. Maybe I am in the wrong, in writing extensively and, for the most part, negatively, about someone I once called friend.

See here, also, this fresh example of the valuation of human beings. He was "once" a friend, and has since been demoted. Does that mean that some people are worth more than others?

Yes. Or at least, we perceive--okay, I perceive, I can't generalize to everyone--I perceive people as being worth different amounts, relative to me. Does that make me just as much of a monster as Victor Frankenstein, who rejected his "wretch" on the strength of his inhumanness? Maybe.

I have been trying to work my way to a satisfactory personal definition of a "monster." Earlier in the post I thought it might be that a monster is an entity that, through its liminality, induces "insiders" to circle the wagons and behave in a reactionary way, that brings out the worst in the people whose identity it threatens.

The root of the word "monster" also led to the verb "mostrare," to show. Perhaps a monster is a being that shows us the worst in us, either by mirroring it (Frankenstein's monster) or drawing it out through the responses it provokes (my once-friend, if he is indeed a monster). Or, like me, using people, carelessly analyzing them in the quest to understand more about my motivations.

I still feel in the wrong. How can we expect someone whom we've excluded, emotionally ostracized, verbally abused, to want to help rather than hinder us? Esteem once lost is hard-regained. No matter what happened--if tomorrow he was suddenly eager to contribute, and uttered not a single irrelevant phrase--we'd still distrust him. We'd probably think it was fake.

What bothers me the most--and this is probably indicative of my immense self-centeredness--is the hypocrisy. We all like the quotes about how outcasts are the ones who change society, how unconventional thinkers end up getting the last wprd. But this guy, who clearly offers a different perspective--well, we call his perspective not valuable and--you know what, I think we bully him.

A monster is a self-replicating device. It is a zombie--a thing on the border of human and inhuman, which touches the human, shows it mortality, and makes it like itself.

If I had time, I'd explore this idea some more: why do I start out with the assumption that group "insiders," of which I find myself perturbingly a part, are "human," or at least "more human" than the guy who has become abject? From whence this arrogance?

The slaying of monsters makes a monster of the slayer. --me

Good night.


Bonus for those interested in MBTI:

I am an INTJ, the abjected/objectified guy an INTP. These two articles may offer some psychological context.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Senior Quotes

Turned in my senior quote recently.

For those whose high schools don't do this--the senior quote is a space next to your picture in the yearbook where you can write anything you want, bar references to sex/drugs/violence. It is the last thing most people will see of you--or rather, the most lasting thing.

Lieutenant Sarcasm and I discussed much about what differentiates a good senior quote from a good quote in general. The former is more restrictive: we decided that advice quotes, dramatic deep quotes, quotes about narrow subjects, and critical quotes don't work well as senior quotes. For these reasons, I did not quote Marcus Aurelius (alas).


Good senior quotes I've seen:

  • "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." --Winston Churchill
  • "I send this message so that our past will always be remembered. For in those memories, we live on." --Optimus Prime
  • "Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man." --John Henry Newman
  • "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon." --Paul Brandt
  • Beam me up, Scotty, my work here is done.


Common senior quotes, and I use the word "common" knowing all its connotations:
  • "Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." --Dr. Seuss
  • "Be the change you want to see in the world." --Gandhi
  • "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." --Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Wall of initials in which one thanks all one's friends/"sisters"/homies
  • "Class of 2k14, we out!"
  • Pithy phrases prefaced by hashtags

As I said, common. The first three quotes are nice, as far as they go, but terribly cliche. The last three are ways to induce my loss of respect, because I'm a petty person who judges people based on how they present themselves verbally.

The wall of initials bothers me perhaps the most because it was something I've considered doing in the past. What better way to show your enduring friendship than with a yearbook shoutout? But now I realize that referring to lots of people in one's senior quote marks dependency. Do you really need all these people to be happy?

Are they so vital to your life--will they be so vital to your life in five, ten, twenty years, that it will be worth it giving them air time in the tiny rectangle that is all yours? I have a stark antipathy toward defining yourself in terms of other people so publicly. I am selfish. That rectangle is the space in which I set forth something representative of my philosophy.

The point of graduating high school is that we're going to be in unfamiliar surroundings, meeting new companions, becoming new people. Growing. Growing apart from, growing out of the familiar. I don't want to go into college encumbered by people I used to know.

(If you're my friend now, know that I don't hate you. I just think that, in the course of things, we probably won't be as close in the future. I still appreciate your friendship in the present.)

I'm probably being unfair. But in a moment when we're supposed to be stepping into a new world, making such a big deal of the past seems immature.

The references to the graduating class are irksome for much the same reason. As I've written before, I can't identify with the mindset that glorifies being seniors. One's class is a grandfalloon: we are brought together by no more than geography and timing, and I value connections of choice more than those of chance. (Destiny/fate is to me a most reprehensible concept. Then again, as is extremely apparent, I'm an angry teenager.)

As for the hashtags--the Python compiler would ignore it. Furthermore, when I was in middle school, up through sophomore year, I got swept up a lot into the newest things. But most slang is transient, and I don't want my quote to become dated. I want to minimize the ways in which I am a product of my times--a futile battle, perhaps. And yet I try. I want a quote that will be relevant in another ten years, a quote that represents me independent of the specific year's context.

A quote that represents who I am, not what I am.


After all these judgmental statements, I would be cowardly not to offer up my own quote for evaluation. Here it is:

"We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress."
- Richard P. Feynman

So who knows how many of these opinions I'll hold next year? I am sure to be a different person--I hope, better.


Music for this week:

On the Road - Keane

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tempests and Tricksters

Recently the Oregon Shakespeare Festival held a performance at my school: two actors playing a variety of characters in each of the performances they put on. I was lucky enough to see them for two different periods. The first, they put on a truncated version of Shakespeare's Tempest; the second, which was titled "Tricksters through History" or something like that, was a pastiche of various trickster/conman scenes.

As Shannon Hale discusses in her blog post "Hone your internal reader, not your internal literary critic," when consuming the product of someone else's creative efforts, it's more useful to focus on what you get out of the experience than what the creator "intended" or "failed to do." So here are some thoughts I had around--not necessarily about--the performances:


I enjoyed the Tempest performance better, probably because I was more familiar with the source material. What does that tell me? That I'm unlikely to have a great response to something wholly original. To satisfy someone like me there need to be reference points, some kind of lifeline onto which to grab hold.

This tendency to favor the familiar is...well, pretty universal. Inertia, ja? I think this explains partially the immense appeal of works that take a large part of their DNA from fairy tales, myths, etc. Theme and variation: it's interesting to see something known get distorted, stretched. There are more threads connecting the reader to the story already.

Part of the reason I, personally, liked Tempest over Tricksters was that the "a conman gets conned!" plot doesn't work for me. Perhaps I am just simpleminded. Maybe because I dislike people who can't deal as well as they dish (the times I dislike myself most are when I've been hypocritical).

On the other hand, I did enjoy the segments where multiple people were working at cross-purposes. As Ron Weasley says, (I'm paraphrasing) "There can be more than one person plotting something at the same time." The difference between this kind of plot-havoc and the previous is that when a conman gets conned, that's a nested structure, while parallel plots that interfere is more interwoven. You get interesting interference patterns.

Part of the Trickster performance was an excerpt from Oscar Wilde's "Importance of Being Earnest," which I liked for the humor but also for the line "Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins."


Some of the actors' comments post-performance were particularly interesting:

"I enjoy playing multiple characters because you get a closer look at the connections. For example, Caliban and Ariel (in the Tempest) have a yin and yang kind of dynamic."

I used to write where essentially every character had a foil (see: the Utopia Project); since then, I've cut back but I still like the parallel structure, the dualism. I don't think I've done anything as clearly-defined as the Caliban-Ariel dichotomy, however, since I favor large ensembles way too much. I wonder what would happen if I deliberately inserted a pair of foils?

"Neither of us can really do the character of Prospero justice, because he is an old man, near the end of his life, and we're too young to understand a lot of what goes into shaping his character."

That's one of my concerns with Orsolya: all the main characters are in their twenties (when they become important, at least) and I'm still in high school. There's a lot that I haven't experienced yet that probably keeps my characters from reading like real people. Which is probably a subconscious reason that my next projects all star young girls, since I've been there. Hell, I am there.

Final comment: the actors mentioned how English colonization of the Americas was just starting up while Shakespeare was writing, and how one could read a subtext of the whites-natives interactions into how Prospero treats Caliban (dehumanizing him, chiefly--which segues perfectly into what we're doing in Lit right now with Frankenstein...hm…), but how Shakespeare probably didn't have that connection directly in mind while writing. Which makes me wonder--in what subtle ways is my work informed by my world?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Orsolya Autumn 2013 Analytics

I have officially finished two novels.

It hasn't really sunk in yet that I've finished writing Orsolya. I mean, so much of it was months and months ago that the majority has slipped out of my memory. In general of course I know what happened, but the details escape me.

I have no idea what my next project is going to be. I've been telling myself--somewhat ludicrously--that whatever it is, it will be "easier."

Ha. Ha. Ha. Of course some projects are harder than others, but each story brings its own challenges that can be difficult to anticipate, starting out. So I don't know if I'm right in saying that I want to do something less complex...something with one viewpoint character and a storyline that takes place without huge timeskips.

I want to write a novella, probably, something that clocks in at, say, less than 150 pages instead of 347. Maybe because I've been reading a lot of short, concise, structural books recently (Animal Farm, Frankenstein). Who knows? Maybe I'll do short stories instead.

All right, I'm getting ahead of myself. Analytics:



Time elapsed (real): 3.5 months
Time elapsed (story): 2 months of action with a 3/4 year timeskip to the next summer
Chapters finished: 5 (8, 9, 10, 11, 12)
Words: about 60000


Sticking Points

Emotions, particularly strong emotions that I have not felt much before.

Setting/imagery. I am a plot and character person, so for much of my writing there's not really much sense of place and how it shapes characters' feelings. I can do landscape descriptions, but it's a weakness of mine that there's very little in the way of concrete, evocative stuff that brings the reader in to participate in the story.

Inexperience. I think I'll have to revisit this story once I'm older, because I just don't know enough about how the world works to ensure that some of the stuff that happens is plausible.

Repetitiveness. Especially with the traveling--surely there can't be a merchant with convenient open places in every situation.

Tone swings. Some parts I was waxing poetic--a character travels alone in the desert, how could I not?--while others had a more down-to-earth tone. This is not necessarily a bad thing--variety, no?--but it does also reveal that I am unsure of my own voice and am experimenting. That's not a bad thing, either; it just tells me that I have a long ways to go.

Inconsistent characterization. When I revise, the first thing that needs to get taken care of is the plot: does it hang together? Does it make sense? Do the characters' decisions make sense? The final question pulls in characterization, because the character arcs don't feel...smooth. You could not differentiate them, which is probably okay because people don't improve monotonically with time, but...consistency. That's what I'm missing.

Fight scenes. Are they interesting? How can I distinguish them from one another?

Show v. Tell: as I may have mentioned before, I have this hybrid show/tell mode that is basically summary but with occasional detours into dialogue. I'll have to decide what of that to convert to show and which to tell.

Laziness. I basically summarized an entire three-week journey through the mountains where big important stuff was happening to a non-viewpoint character...but since the guy does become a viewpoint character for two scenes later, I should probably explicate what happens in his head.

Violating the law of conservation of detail. I set up a lot of things that don't get picked up. I also tend to overtrump Vin since he's my favorite (since he's me). As my band director says, though, if you want to make a bigger delta you can make either end more extreme...so my boy may well be less powerful in earlier scenes...spoilers, eh.

The above problem likely stems from the fact that when I write I throw in basically everything that comes out of my typing, and then I forget about. So, definitely, the first time I look at Orsolya again I'm just going to read, and I'm going to take notes on interesting things that could play out later on.

A conventional metaphor: weaving. Right now I have a lot of loose threads, or strands that don't quite fit the rest of the creation, and I need to decide whether to scrap those bits entirely or make them into a pattern arching over the entire story. I really want to get better at making structural stories, ones that have internal tension and economy, purity of line.

Right now, Orsolya sits at 167000 words. If possible I'd like to get that down to...let's be ambitious. I'd like to cut that down to 120000. My heart quails. Whatever.



Certain parts wrote themselves--usually the parts where characters become not just angry but enraged and go berserk (literally).

Pretty prose...but I may have to murder my darlings.

Technical magical explanations and science metaphors. I love them so. Probably most people wouldn't, however, so more darlings to murder.

Plotting things out in advance. It helps a lot. Just think about what you want to happen and write it down in short sentences, and go through hitting all the points. Sometimes it also helps by showing problems before they happen, where you can combine scenes, etc.

Unexpected gold from the past. I did some character journaling way back in...September, I want to say? As I was finishing chapter eleven I thought that there wasn't enough punch, and when I looked back at my previous work I found something that would function as both plot advancement and character revelation.

Note to self: when you revise, go back through all that character/plotwork that you did before. You may find more surprises.

I finally made a timeline! It was at the end of October, when all the EA apps were making my head explode with stress, and I couldn't focus on creating more words. The lesson here: measuring word count isn't the optimal way of doing things (although that is what I do), because auxiliary functions can be massively useful.

What I did was kind of like my logbook: weeks along the side. Then there were two parallel arcs, so I gave each one half the paper and just wrote down what happened.

Google is wonderful. Docs--character files to keep everything consistent. I started making a powerpoint on which to collect images (see: my issues with imagery/setting, above) and should keep on doing that. Calendar--I'm going to investigate this to see how useful it is for timeline. May be more trouble than it's worth, but may also be useful. Especially if you want to make poetic references to the moon and have to know what phase it's in.


Game Plan

I'm leaning toward short stories, because I can iterate more and develop my voice. So I will read a lot of short story collections to get into the mood, and I'll write whatever and see where I go. As I said, I have no idea what I want to write next. Usually there's a project that starts calling to me when I finish another, but I've been so busy that I haven't had the opportunity to listen to myself as closely as I should.

Take in a lot of stories/knowledge (I want to read more science books) and wait and see what emerges. I am going to trust my unconscious mind.


I finished Orsolya listening to a 10-hour seamless edit of The XX's "Intro." (No, I didn't listen to the whole 10 hours. Only two.) But the music for today will be a song that found me when I first shifted the timeline of Orsolya and narrowed the span considerably to focus on the things that she does.

Over the course of writing, I feel as though I've lost some of the drama promised by this piece. We'll see how I can infuse some of that back in.

Give Us This Day - David Maslanka
Performed by the Trade Winds, conducted by Daniel Schmidt



The "Orsolya" Playlist (a WIP)

Rome is Where the Art Is - Elenora
Give Us This Day - Maslanka (above)
Radioactive - Imagine Dragons
Lost in the Echo - Linkin Park
Unbreakable - Three Days Grace
The High Road - Three Days Grace
Another Nightmare - Outline in Color
A Fracture, A Fallout - Outline in Color
Jury of Wolves - Outline in Color
Collapse - Adelitas Way

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Audacity to Do

I wanted to highlight an essay about achievement written by a girl who used to go to my school. Without further ado (since I'm already a day late):

"The Audacity to Do" - by A. U.
Those who are successful in life are those who have the audacity to do; those who have the audacity to believe in themselves.

Take, for example, my Journalism class who was, to my surprise, worried about me graduating. "How are we going to run the website without you?" they asked. "What are you talking about?" I told them. I don't know how to run a website! I don't know the first thing about websites. I spent two months in the back of the class reading Wiki-How articles and pushing buttons on WordPress until I finally rolled out a patchwork website of sorts for the paper--Which I have managed to crash a whopping six times throughout my short tenure as web-editor. You're welcome.
I need to go about systematically acquiring useful skills. Last year I actively added Python to my mental toolbox, but I haven't been doing the same thing this year with anything. Hm. Change this. Read more nonfic.

As I told my protege webmaster, "I have no idea what I'm doing. Don't question it, just scroll through pages clicking buttons until it works." (This somehow won us a Peninsula Press Club award for best online newspaper content.) I mean, there was never a doubt in my mind I could put up a website, if I just kept chugging through it. And there is still not a doubt in my mind the newspaper staff will miss me for two days and then wonder what they ever needed me for--if they just don't question it and keep clicking buttons.
I wish I had that kind of confidence--that I am capable of doing anything as long as I set my mind to it. However I am convinced that someday there's going to be something I won't be able to do, no matter how hard I work.

Another observation: I don't miss any of last year's seniors anymore. Not even my hero. Si tira avanti, eh?

for me, and for many other seniors, in the aftermath of reading that acceptance letter you are suddenly struck with a horrible epiphany: my acceptance to University was a mistake.

Because there is no way--as I repeated to my panicked self all throughout Admit Weekend as they detailed the accomplishments of the admitted class--that I deserve to go to a school filled with such ridiculously intelligent people. I haven't done anything that amazing.
I'm hoping that I get into a good enough university that I feel this way instead of being able arrogantly to assume that I'm one of the top students. Well. We'll see how this one pans out.

And I think that's the point: no one has done anything that amazing, really. Most likely you'll look back on the things you've done or said--whether it be three days or three years later--and cringe to yourself and think "Oh, god, why did I think that was a good idea?"

It is not we should minimize the achievements of our past, but rather realize that we are in a constant state of doing something amazing. At this very moment we are living and breathing and thinking and learning and doing; and maybe in the future we will look back on that and chuckle at the comparison with all you know now.
I know, objectively, that I've done some cool things in high school, but I don't think I've done anything amazing. But why should my perception of that matter?

As Marcus says, the best thing to do at any given moment is to focus on what you are doing and do it better. I don't actually agree with this entirely, since sometimes you have to look up and make sure that it's still right to do what you're doing, to get the big picture. But the main point of what I got out of this post was that sometimes, looking at the big picture psychs you out. Just trust that you can do whatever it is that you're doing and keep going.

Or as AU herself says:

...there is only one way to ever learn or achieve anything.

Don’t question it; just keep clicking buttons.


Note: the link is to a cached page since it looks as though the original essay has been removed. It used to live here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

To Overcome Static Friction

Status Report: I turned in my UC apps this morning. I still have five apps left, two of which are due in a matter of weeks. For those two schools I have all my drafts in place, but I may want to refine them some more. (These two schools are also the ones that have offered me fee waivers, so yay.) For the schools due on January 1, I still have a few more essays to write.

Tomorrow I'm going to a robotics competition, a first for both me and the team. I plan on getting nothing else done that day.

Lately I've been feeling as though senioritis is creeping up on me. I passed up a chance to get ahead in stats; after getting back from a fire drill in chem I didn't immediately start working on stuff; I'm not yet done reading Frankenstein, the book we're reading for Lit. I need to remind myself, again and again: fear complacency.

But I don't have as much work to do as I did a month ago. How can I prevent myself from wasting lots of time?

The most obvious answer: read more.

I haven't been doing a good job of feeding my brain this semester, and as the workload begins to ease as I pass deadlines, I should get back on that wagon. Once I finish college apps, I'm going to use my first period as an enforced reading period.

Read short stories by Bradbury and other authors. Reread His Dark Materials. Read all Brian Greene books. Read all science books, period. I want to learn all sorts of stuff, and if college app season has been good for anything it's by forcing me to take a look at my list of accomplishments and realize just how much time I've wasted, if this is all I have to show for it.

Or maybe I should use my free first as a writing period. I'm working on the second-to-last chapter of Orsolya, which is full of action and magic and fights, and I'm enjoying it immensely. I might--might--be able to finish the book by the end of the year (knocks on wood even though superstition is a bad habit to encourage in myself). So, while for me it's a bad idea to set up my next project while Orsolya is still occupying a big part of my mental space, there's nothing wrong with throwing around ideas.

I haven't written any poetry in months. I want to try writing more structural poems--sonnets and villanelles with unconventional topics (so: not love or other people or salvation). There are (arrogance ahead) vast regions of my potential that have not been mapped, and as my band director delights in saying, "Potential is what you lose with."

Potential is also voltage is also electrical height. Objects naturally want to fall to state with lower potential. So my natural inclination should be (hey look, I'm abusing science metaphors again) to use up my potential and engage my brain by learning or making stuff. I've been stagnant lately, rehashing my accomplishments of the past few years and not delving deep into anything concurrently.

A fast-moving river is cleaner than a still pond. I need to get to work, so that my last six months of high school are more productive than the previous three years. All I must do is overcome the static friction: then, off we go.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Game: Superheroes

I have no idea what to write tonight. Let's play a game, instead.

Since I watched Man of Steel over the weekend, how about this: if you could be a superhero, what would your name and your powers be? Who would be your opponent? What would be your origin story? &c.

I'll go first:


Type: supervillain

Name: the Siphonophore (needs to be punnier, I know)

Civilian Name: Kseniya Moskvitin (because a Russian villain isn't standard at all...)

Portrait of a Young Woman
Powers: control over water/breathing underwater, teleportation?, assembling people around her into a hive mind, talking to spirits

Appearance/Costume: silent girl with wavy black hair, black eyes, pale skin; standard comic book character suit-thing in a navy blue approaching black, black knee-high boots. Trenchcoat optional--it's only there for style, as the Siphonophore does not seem to feel cold. Wears rings set with various stones, inside of which are trapped souls that have drowned in shipwrecks (in fact, the rings might come from sunken ships). Blue lipstick. Pearl earrings.

Cover Story: scientist of marine physics working at a prominent oceanographic institute in the Pacific Northwest.

Opponent: I envision the Siphonophore and her opponent as having a cordial, gentlemanly kind of enmity. On the sliding scale of Batman to Superman, I see the Siphonophore's opponent as closer to the Superman side--more of a hero than an antihero. Since the Siphonophore has a blue theme going on, perhaps a green or gold scheme for her opposite.

Should the superhero's motif also be an animal? Nah. To oppose the Siphonophore's deep-sea associations, perhaps something to do with the air. Jet Stream? His public persona can be a commercial pilot, and his name can be James Hall, which is appropriately all-American and nondescript. Aviator goggles disguise his face.

Villain Allies: Since the Siphonophore is a behind-the-scenes, subtle mastermind type, we need a flashy frontman or two. I'll just throw out some potential names: Viper Girl (sassy), Gluon (thuggish tank), Kloquemaster (sharply-dressed lieutenant with slicked back hair and a pocket-watch or ten). Which seems enough, unless Jet Stream gets a sidekick…something that starts with B? The sidekick will flirt with Viper Girl, which is a bad idea.

(Do you see why I have trouble with multiplying casts?)

Origin Story: Kseniya was a normal girl living in the far east of the USSR, by the Sea of Okhotsk. As daughter of a fisherman, she spent a lot of time out on boats. One day during a storm she fell off a boat and plunged into the depths of the ocean--where, surprisingly, she did not drown, because a mysterious encounter with a siphonophore granted her powers. Siberian shamans might have been involved at some point.

She developed her powers in secret, uncaught by the Soviets, and excelled in science at school. When the Iron Curtain came down she moved to the Mediterranean, where she studied marine physics and gained experience. She eventually moved to first Maine and then the Pacific Northwest, where she menaces the city of [Impressive Name] with floods, embezzlement, and mysterious crowd madnesses. Why? Why not?


Your turn.


Music for tonight also inspired by Man of Steel.

Kryptonite - Three Doors Down
If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman?

Friday, November 15, 2013


After school today I built a fort.

Tomorrow is the biggest football game of the season, our match against our rival school. We (the band) are going to march over, and during half time we're premiering our field show. This will be my fourth field show; my third as a euphonium; my second as a member of band staff. I should have been anticipating this week, should be living in it fully. But it snuck up on me.

Building the fort, I was struck by how disconnected I've felt from time for the past...month and a half. I don't feel as though I've had space to breathe for that long. Last week was sort of a respite, but that was midstream recovery. I need to go out of session, like Congress, and I won't be able to do so until the end of the year.

I know I keep talking about how busy I am--but, well, I'm busy. I just keep looking at the stack of work that awaits me and it doesn't shrink. Three of my classes have laid out the schedule until the end of the year, which helps me pace myself, but--you know, college essays. And all that.

Back to my point: I've gotten disconnected from time. The autumn has passed me by without me noticing the leaves, or the phases of the moon, or even the changes in weather. Halloween used to be the most evocative holiday for me, and I spent it working on--you guessed it, college essays. Time passes; seasons change (I say "seasons" but remember I'm a Californian); all of a sudden I haven't gone for a long walk in the neighborhood in a month and a half because I just could not justify taking that amount of time for myself.

Events that happened mere weeks ago feel far away. I read my EA college essays and can't remember why they took so long to write. I think about the all-day music program fundraiser, which was only three weeks ago, and it's as if I'm looking through a filter of sepia sunlight. Was that really the end of October, and not the summer?

I've been reading more about MBTI recently (it's a cyclical thing--for weeks at a time I'll get obsessed, then think myself foolish for having been so) and given that I'm an INTJ it doesn't seem strange that I could so easily lose track of the senses. That I could disappear into a fort of necessary work, a fortress built of deadlines and word counts, of bricks formed by paragraphs I've crafted carefully that need to be yanked out and reused in new structures, broken up, shattered…

The sky never looks more beautiful than when I'm driving and I can't look at it properly. How does it look when I'm sitting at my desk, typing and deleting and glaring at the screen and wanting to break something because everything I write sucks? I don't know. I don't look at the sky, then.

I don't think I'm good at certain kinds of parallel processing. When I need to live in my head, I can't tell what's going on outside. The entire countryside could be going to waste but there I am in the topmost tower or--as it feels sometimes--the deepest dungeon, but more importantly, locked into myself. The world doesn't exist.

Do I need to break out of my tower? I will be out of it for almost all of tomorrow, will be out around other people and responding to them and on, depleting my precious introvert energy source but perhaps gaining something in return (memories, knowledge that I'm earning my keep on staff). Homecoming is tomorrow, also, and the last time I put on my dress was when I wore it for formal in January. Time happens and I'm not prepared.

I've been focusing too much on the far future to notice the present, the short-term. As for the past--all I think about with relation to that is, why didn't I start ____ sooner?

I can't leave my fort, not just yet. There's too much work to do. But I'm thinking that maybe it can't hurt to take a day--as I will tomorrow--to walk along the ramparts, and breathe the chilling crisp air, and look at the sky.


Over Your Head - Shaman

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stacking the Woodpile

I've been using myself up rather freely of late (said Sherlock Holmes, whom I quote). Creatively, especially. Writing college essays really drains the focus you have for your own projects. I haven't been reading much, averaging less than a book per week since the beginning of the semester. And, of course, I had a lot of work to get through - more essays, naturally.

But, aside from working steadily on Sunday on school/college stuff, I took the time this weekend (a long weekend, because of Veterans' Day) to stack some wood by the fire.*

*This is not a theoretical post in which I talk about what stacking wood by the fire means to me and why it's important. Instead, have some specifics.


Most important: I went to see the school musical, Curtains. It was quite great.

In a way, knowing all the actors made it less absorbing of an experience, since I snickered to myself every time anyone referred to the character of the conductor (who IRL is the band director) and kept composing haikus to describe the actions of one character played by a good friend (The stage manager/Is a most dependable/Lass. She is quite great).

However: plays are meant to entertain, so I trusted that the story would engage me, would not lose me in intricate metaphysical flights of fancy. Watching a two-act play with the roadmap, the playbill, in hand, gives a good feel for structure. I have no complaints about the pacing of the play, and in fact should probably take the time to do a story bones analysis on it.

Some general comments for now: reprises are immensely useful - recursion, ja? Also effective are nested bookends: for arcs, and for the entire story.

Law of conservation of detail applies in everything, but particularly characters. That's something I need to work on, since I tend to generate huge casts. Someone who is important at the end should be brought up toward the beginning, maybe not in an obvious way.

Red herrings are immensely useful. There's a critical point on the graph of "how much evidence there is that someone did it" v. "how likely it really is that they did it". After a certain point, if someone seems really obvious, then it's probably not them. For what it's worth, the reveal of the killer totally surprised me.

Weaving in multiple character-driven plotlines works in any format, as long as they actually are interwoven. Parallel processing, not series. Important plot moments should also function as important character moments. (I use "should" loosely, of course.)

Confession: I went into the play skeptical, because I suspected a play about actors in a play could get self-indulgent by way of being overly meta. There was a moment in the first act that kind of lost me - the song about critics - but in the end, if the characters are compelling and the music good, then I'm won over. Maybe I'm shallow that way.

Side note: I haven't seen enough plays to verify this, but is it a usual thing for there to be multiple romantic sideplots? Because I feel as though there were a lot of couples in this play, and a lot in other productions my school has put on (though I haven't seen them, just heard about the plots from friends who were acting in those productions). This isn't a criticism, I'm just wondering.


Curtains was the main event this weekend, but I might as well document the other trees I logged.

  • articles from Endicott Studio
  • Atlas of Military History, by Dr. Aaron Ralby
  • symbolism of serpents
  • The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (currently on page 110 - I'd forgotten how good it is)

  • power metal albums (Sonata Arctica's Reckoning Night)
  • my favorite song from Curtains

Coffee Shop Nights - from Curtains


Some theory, because I can't help myself: this is the best kind of weekend. Choice excursions to fill your brain with stories, afternoon naps, long blocks of solid productive work time. May there be many more.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Good Hunting

I come bearing gifts.

Polish Grand Theatre - Marcin Zalewski

My favorite short story: Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon by (who else?) Theodora Goss

Also from Goss: A Sense of Longing and Revising Fairies (posts I dug out of the archives) and Planting a Magical Garden. And a poem from her Poems of the Fantastic and Macabre site: The Forsaken Merman by Matthew Arnold.

You are welcome: The Complete Sherlock Holmes and Zen in the Art of Writing.

Found after I read 1001 Nights: The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade, by Edgar Allan Poe.

Paul Graham: You Weren't Meant to Have a Boss:
I suspect that working for oneself feels better to humans in much the same way that living in the wild must feel better to a wide-ranging predator like a lion. Life in a zoo is easier, but it isn't the life they were designed for...The root of the problem is that humans weren't meant to work in such large groups.

In Over Your Head: Trail, which I have been rereading periodically over the past month whenever I feel hopeless/like a hack. The relevant lines are not particularly original:
I, personally, have moved on. I am rebuilding myself in another image.

When was the last time you did so? Do you remember when you last shed your skin?

Anyway, I wish you luck with what you are working on. Let’s keep fighting the good fight. I’m rooting for you.
However, they were/continue to be exactly what I need to hear.

More from IOYH: Tornado:
If you are ever panicking before something you see as cataclysmic, it’s probably cataclysmic because you haven’t thought it through, or planned, or worked on it enough.

If you have planned enough, you should be significantly calmer.
(Good to keep in mind for college apps.)

Speaking of college: What Trains Make Me Think Of, by Emad T '14:
I've just really grown to like trains. They're a nice way to get around, because you leave the driving to someone else, and get a decent amount of legroom (and time to yourself) in the process. That, I think, is a detail that can get lost if you see such travel time as time that becomes irredeemable and forever lost in service of some other stuff you have to do, rather than as a vacancy in your schedule that's dedicated to you.

I guess the same thing applies to any period where you find yourself waiting. Are you truly inconvenienced by some delay, or have you just not thought of some way to take care of yourself - or embark on some self-improvement - that you could be doing right then and there?

Also: the Senseable City Lab sounds amazing. And Anna Ho bringing it as usual with Vertigo:
As a researcher, you can get obsessed with and trapped in your little specialty bubble. You can spend YOUR ENTIRE LIFE studying one celestial object! I've been in a bubble, simply by spending two summers at one institution, in one field - imagine what it's like in graduate school and deeper in academia...I feel a little shaken, now that I'm aware of just how ignorant I was (and probably continue to be) about the breadth of research specialties out there. But there's a battle to fight both in advocating for the importance of undergraduate research, and frankly STEM research in general - and we're so much more effective when we can advocate for each other as well as for ourselves. So, I would encourage any researcher to make an effort to attend colloquia outside your field, and take full advantage of your wider environment. Don't be embarrassed to ask the "I really don't know anything about this subject; please educate me" questions, because people are REALLY happy to share knowledge. Your brain may hurt now, but it - and the next generations of scientists - will thank you later.
(Emphasis mine.)

Politely coughing, I offer the rival Institute's alumni magazine: Engineering & Science, from Caltech. Some pretty cool articles.

Turning a bit to an old Justine Musk post encouraging creators to die empty. And a new Justine Musk post about virgin goddesses as an expression of power:
Virgin meant a woman free of attachment. No spouse, no kids. She was complete unto herself: whole, autonomous and self-sufficient.
(Also fitting because I recently read House of Hades, by Rick Riordan.)

Speaking of Riordan: an interview with Jonathan Stroud. I'm trying to figure out what exactly it is in common with these two authors' works that is so compelling. Middle grade fantasies with one foot in the real world and snarky main characters and actual character depth? Perhaps. It's always nice when your favorite authors are fans of one another.

On a completely different note, underwater cities.
Ancient City in Qiandao Lake

A blog with awesome travel photos: Odds and Ends.

Also: a Michael Shermer article on modular brains:
There is no unified "self" that generates internally consistent and seamlessly coherent beliefs devoid of conflict. Instead we are a collection of distinct but interacting modules often at odds with one another. The module that leads us to crave sweet and fatty foods in the short term is in conflict with the module that monitors our body image and health in the long term. The module for cooperation is in conflict with the one for competition, as are the modules for altruism and avarice or the modules for truth telling and lying.
Why am I putting this link here instead of at my more STEM blog? Because my WIP Orsolya depends on mind magic and I need to know how the brain works so I don't get something disastrously wrong. Of course, in ten years it may look that way anyway, but I'll take that risk.

Since I never tire of MBTI stuff: INTJ strengths/weaknesses and in the workplace. The INTJ manager part = me during band camp.

Yet I am somewhat conflicted: am I an INTP? Type Differences makes me lean more toward J, but all the INTP descriptions I read sound like me. And this is me all over:
An INFJ analysis because my best friend is one.

Not directly MBTI-related, but found via the Tumblr INTJ-paradigm: guide to interpreting eye contact. I find it interesting, and somewhat perturbing, that submissiveness is correlated with attraction.

Some practical stuff/informative articles from the blog kept by a friend of mine:
Still practical: Personal Finance Advice on an index card, and Sleep Problems Solutions.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Time Happens: Middle Grade + Young Adult

Warning: this post contains spoilers for the Harry Potter series and the latest Riordan book, House of Hades.


If you know me IRL, you probably know that I like reading children's fantasy novels. Yep. Judge me.

The nice thing about such series is growing up with them: I got the first Harry Potter book for my seventh birthday, and I read the last one while in middle school. At the time, I was six years younger than Harry was, and I enjoyed the book more when I reread it in high school because I could relate more to how the characters were feeling.

Because time happens. Readers and characters both grow older, and a book that resonates with you when you're younger might not when you're older - or the opposite.

Amy Sundberg wrote a blog post on the differences between YA and MG. Essential differences:

MG novels are generally shorter, have younger main characters, focus on the external conflict, lack romance and swearing, and have a hero protagonist.

YA novels are generally longer, have older main characters, focus on internal conflicts (coming of age, identity), often have romance as a main point or side plot, and "Often shows a teen's relationship with society (hence why YA dystopia is an easy fit)."

As my overlong intro may indicate, I've been thinking about series that make the transition from MG to YA. Sundberg mentions HP, as I've done. I challenge anyone to say that the latter HP books aren't YA - there's a lot of dark material there, from on-screen murder to oppression to veiled references to Nazism (Grindelwald) to torture to...yeah.

My thoughts were focused not on HP, but on Riordan's books, though. Percy Jackson and the Olympians was MG: Percy starts the series at age 12, and the first series boasts goofy chapter titles. Yes, there is a romantic element, but it doesn't really come into play obviously until later books.

I would argue that all of the Heroes of Olympus series is YA. Most of the characters are in their mid/late teens (I think Hazel and Frank are still 13/14 ish?), paired off, and some (three) literally go to hell (by which I mean Tartarus) and back. Also, character development plays out through characters' interactions with one another, not just achieving things that they thought were impossible.

Another factor that makes HoO solidly YA: the reveal in House of Hades that Nico di Angelo is not straight. Major kudos to Riordan for including, respectfully, a LGBT character in a series that has MG roots and a large young-child constituency, and neither getting into soapbox territory nor playing sexuality off as something inconsequential/for laughs. Respect.


Still re: Riordan - I wonder what the Kane Chronicles falls under. (Note to self: this is a fine excuse to reread them: “I'm doing research.”) The series protagonists are in their early teens and yes, the chapter titles are silly, but the books also address interracial marriage/race relations, strong emotions, and...yeah, I need to reread them.

I may also need to read/reread His Dark Materials, to see which category it falls under. So many books…

(Not that that's a bad thing, I just don't have time anymore for anything.)


Since this is a sort of Throwback Tuesday post anyway, let's end with a song from my first favorite band:

Somewhere I Belong - Linkin Park

(You may continue judging.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Learning From Failure

I constantly disappoint myself. But this week, two ways stand out: 1) I didn't research the fee waivers the College Board gave me far enough in advance to know that I can't use them for all schools and 2) I let group pressures keep me from defending someone who was being spoken ill of.

My motto is "Fear complacency" but I get complacent so very, very easily. I think arrogantly that I'm ahead of the curve of some things so I get behind the curve on other things. And just because I read and enjoyed Thus Spake Zarathustra does not mean that I am immune to peer pressure.

I'm thinking of adopting another motto, or rather stealing it from the University of Rochester. Meliora: ever better. Last time I had a volunteering event I took along an index card with Meliora written on it and wrote down all the things I could have done better. I'm wondering if it would be worthwhile doing that every day.

What can I do to learn from and improve upon my mistakes?


Yesterday, the Teal Knight was acting drum major since the current drum major is in the pit orchestra for the musical. I was TK's acting assistant, along with last year's drum major (about whom I wonder: does even he feel the impostor syndrome at times? It seems impossible, and yet...). Last year's drum major provided advice on timing and coordination with the cheerleaders; I provided moral support.

Sidenote: I wonder why "moral support" is considered useless. When a group is working on something, the people on the sidelines are often referred to as the moral support, with the implication that that's not useful. But I do think that it's necessary. Moral support is a definite thing, a positive, in opposition to moral destruction (I'm going to coin a better term, I swear).

My form of moral support: "This is an iterative process. You're doing just fine."

TK is sharp: "Next week I won't make the same mistakes. Maybe I'll make different mistakes, and then I'll fix those the time after that."
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett
What do I need to learn from failure?


Tangible things: an index card titled "Meliora"? A friend saying, "It's okay, you're going to fix this next time"? Definitely: time and space and silence to reflect.

So. Here is that space, here is that time.

I want to talk more about the second failure (learning from the first was easy - I just emailed all my RD schools to ask, directly, if they would accept the fee waiver). Without getting too much into the backstory, I was with a group of people that until last evening - or rather night, when I was thinking about my failure - I would have called my friends. They started to talk trash about an underclassmen who can be somewhat irritating at times, and who is a few standard deviations away from normal. A solitary, eclectic soul.

And I said nothing to defend him.

I am still in shock at the realization that I am not as brave as I thought I was - that I am in fact a coward. That because I liked the people with whom I ate dinner, that because I wanted them to like me, that because they are more normal than me and cooler and more social - that for all these stupid reasons, I let my sense of morality fall by the wayside.

I did not participate in their trashtalk, but I was silent and, as Elie Wiesel says, "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." I am every bit as culpable as the person who brought up the subject.

Go up two paragraphs and notice my use of the past tense. "I liked the people...", "I wanted them to like me…"

I did that deliberately. I am not sure I dislike them, because trashtalk is something that everyone does in high school and I can't hold my friends - are they my friends? My brain stuttered as I typed the word - to a higher standard than that to which I hold myself. Okay. I still like these people.

But I don't know if I want them to like me. Or rather, I know that I'm not willing to do anything to make them like me.

I found these two posts this morning, and wish I'd found them a day earlier: It Is Okay to Say No, by Amy Sundberg, and Boundaries, by Jim Hines.

I wrote two weeks ago about why I don't care about high school. I regret sounding so self-congratulatory in that post because I've realized that the circle of people about whose opinions I care is still too large.

What criteria will allow people into that influential circle? I think I need to start by kicking everyone out and then incorporating people back in, one by one, based on how they affect them, based on how being around them affects me. Paraphrasing Marcus: if it makes you break promises, lose self-respect, hate, suspect, lie, etc., then it isn't good for you.

If being around someone influences me to break promises, to lose self-respect, to hate, to suspect, to lie, or to be unkind, then that person is ineligible for inclusion in the "matters to me" circle.

Sidenote: Hold up, I need to qualify that. People can matter to me without their opinions mattering to me. I don't ill-wish many people, but just wanting someone to be okay doesn't mean that I want their approval.

Who influences me for good? Around whom am I the better version of myself? I can already think of one person, unquestionably: the Teal Knight. I was her mentor last year, maybe even this year?, and I know she thinks well of me and I want to preserve that.

Then, a way forward:

  • make that index card. It's dorky and self-help-ish, but who knows? If it's not okay to help yourself, then whom is it okay to help?
  • reevaluate who your actual friends are. Who makes you a better person? That's a selfish way of looking at people, but I'm in a reactionary phase and I am giving myself permission to be as selfish as I need to be
  • get perspective. People say to live in the moment but when I do that's when I make my worst moral mistakes, when I misstep, when I let friends go on about some guy who isn't there to defend himself. I think it might help if there was one part of my brain that stood one step outside of me at all times, looking down and saying, "Is that the best you can do?"

I'm sure that I'm still going to screw up. That I'm going to do or say or not do or not say things that are going to make me come home and wallow in misery and self-loathing. But hopefully I can make new mistakes, better mistakes, and fix those, and continue, ever as a WIP, ever under construction of a self that will not shame me.


In My Remains - Linkin Park - piano version by Nate Jakubowski

(Bonus: listen with RainyMood in the background. A tip from LS.)