Friday, May 31, 2013

Intense Ambivalence on the Threshold

In about five hours I will be a senior. I can't quite process it, even though yesterday I spent a good ten minutes debating with my friends whether we're seniors after we finish our last finals, after the class above us graduates (my view), or when we register for classes. Even though I spent yesterday afternoon lounging on the library's rooftop garden just shooting the breeze. Even though last night I wandered the streets after watching Mulan II (inferior to the original) with my best friend looking for constellations. Summer has started, meaning the school year has ended, but I'm still in battle mode, still surrounded by paper and anxious about college apps and band business and...

I read all my yearbook signings yesterday. A few sat ill with me, because some people I really have drifted away from and it feels strange seeing their generic "hope you have a great summer"s and signatures alongside the messages from my Trombone Brethren and my squire (now a knight in her own right) and the friends with whom I studied calc BC (an experience highly conducive to bonding).

I talked to my sister, who just finished her freshman year of college, and I wondered which of the friends I have now will still keep in touch five, ten years down the line. I wondered who is thrown to me by chance and whom chance will once again take away; I wondered if I'd end up running into some of these people no matter where I started.

-

Negative:

The seniors are all leaving. That includes the Best Person Ever and the rest of the senior band staff; the rest of the seniors in band, semicolon; my friend that I met when I was a freshman in bio who looks as though she could live in a fairy tale; the girl in my Italian class whom I've always looked up to; the president of math club...they will go to college and I will say that I miss them and maybe I will, but then I'll probably forget about them and they shall pass out of my life without a sound.

I'm not ready to be a senior. I fear college apps and rejections, and I fear losing the excuses that have kept me complacent for the first seventeen years of my life. I fear responsibility and the entry into the real world. I fear having to find a working camera for the scavenger hunt, and I fear having to call uniform suppliers, and I fear. In general, I am afraid.

-

Positive:

I'm on band staff again, and I adore all the other members, and I am going to be a captain.

My school is starting a robotics team and I've been put in the programming division under a good friend and with some of the smartest and funniest people I know.

Applied math club has a manifesto and lots of new members and we will have fun.

This summer, my best friend and I are going to make Protagonist Club happen. She's going to teach me about plants, since I can't even differentiate between an oak and a sycamore.

I have plans to read a lot and write a lot and get better at things.

I have a one-week job as a tutor for newcomers to the AP program.

The world is never going to run out of interesting things to investigate and read about and think about and discuss, and I don't have to worry about where to start because I figured that out last week: first I'm going to read about those whom I feel are my mana personalities (about which more anon), then I'm going to read from a list of science books various friends have recommended, and mythology, and...

I'll probably be okay.

-

In about ten minutes I'm going to start getting together what I need for graduation. Then I will walk to school, and I will carry out the Baroness and a music stand, and I will sit down and tune up and play Pomp and Circumstance and talk to my section and read The Prince and clap for the seniors I will miss (see above) and play Trumpet Voluntary and go home and cry and go to the band staff dinner and come home and write about Orsolya Markov kicking ass. And I will be a senior, and I'd say that I will be in a state of metamorphosis if it didn't feel as though I am always in the process of transformation. Perhaps I am.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mentors

I am almost a senior.

Wow. I can't quite believe that. Very soon the class above me will have graduated and I'll be sitting down to a band staff dinner to discuss the year, not as any staff member, but as a captain. I will lead a band camp team and I will take government and economics and I'll play at the pre-most-important-football-game-of-the-season luncheon and...wow.

I have actually been a mentor to someone, to my squire who I'll have knighted by the time this post goes live. But I have also been mentored, by the Best Person Ever, a trombonist for whom I was lieutenant last band camp and who in his senior quote quoted Winston Churchill. And next year, I will have no mentors at school. Teachers are too distant in age to be properly empathetic, and people my own grade can inspire but are more colleagues than mentors.

Questions I'd like to address:

1. Why mentor those damn underclassmen at all?
2. How should you choose who to mentor? Should you choose?
3. What are the characteristics of a good mentor?

-

1. Why mentor?

Reason 1: pay it forward. Since you can't pay back those who helped you, might as well help those who will come after you.

Reason 2: those underclassmen do need help. In an organization like band, the weakest link really does have a negative impact on everyone else. So there's the selfish reason to mentor: if you don't then everyone will look foolish.

Reason 3: another selfish reason is to gain respect and adulation. Most people I think tend to hold their heads higher when they know someone's watching, so if you've got someone looking up to you you'll probably do better, be more of a role model than when you think no one's watching.

Reason 4: empathy + unresolved psychological wounds. Freshman year was rather awful for me and I don't want anyone else to have to be that one freshman that no one knows and no one cares about. Just a smile in the halls can work against that.

2. Who to mentor?

My school has a program in which small groups of freshmen are matched with an upperclassman buddy who supposedly is a resource, a font of inspiration and advice. I doubt the efficacy of this system because the buddy assignments are arbitrary.

About to sound clannish here: the informal method that goes on naturally within subgroups works better. Most of the people outside of my grade that I know are in band. Common interest and an excuse to hang out throughout the year go a lot longer way toward bonding people than a few forced conversations during extended lunch periods. Unstructured time - in short, boredom - is what I've found to be the most effective agent of bonding.

Aside - that might be why the brass sections are so much closer-knit than the woodwinds. We sit in the back, so can talk a lot more easily than if we were right under the director's nose. This holds doubly true at football games, when we're high in the stands and can easily conceal a pie or two.

In sum: whomever chance throws your way is a good choice of pupil. Even here, though, I think discretion has its use. Some people are naturally confident and don't need so much mentoring as occasional pieces of advice. For myself, I tend to favor quiet, withdrawn people (introverts) like myself who open up only under certain conditions. The kind of person who won't ever admit in words to needing guidance but who will benefit from someone talking to them.

3. What makes a good mentor?

Patience, willingness to listen: a willingness to listen to the underclassman's concerns, worries about classes, and not downplay the stresses. Yeah, AS English is a joke compared to a schedule loaded with APs, but freshmen are transitioning from middle school, which is much easier, and even they can get overwhelmed by schoolwork sometimes.

People are generally self-centered. I am no different. But the upperclassman who can set aside his/her own problems and listen and hear and perhaps offer some advice - that is a valuable mentor.

This is something I need to work on if I want to be any good to the underclassmen (and I do want to help them; see question 1 reason 4 above). Really, I should know better. It can be alienating, as an underclassmen, listening to the older students discussing material from classes that you haven't taken; it makes you feel stupid. Unfortunately most of my math jokes require at least precalc to understand...

I wonder what the ideal age interval is between mentor and 'pupil'. They can't be of the same grade, because then they're just friends. Biological age doesn't make as much difference as the externally enforced age differences. My mentor, the Trombonist, is less than a year older than I am; I, in turn, am less than a year older than my dear squire. What matters, I think, is that the mentor has gone through the same circumstances as the pupil, but not so long ago as to have forgotten what it was like.

Senior to freshman is too big a gap; there's not enough common ground that the senior will not, even if unknowingly, behave as though humoring the freshie. Senior to sophomore is also a pretty big jump. Seniors and juniors have about the same workload, from what I've heard, and share many classes. Also, seniors almost uniformly are too consumed with their own futures (college apps aaaah) for underclassmen problems to register as important enough to listen to.

What about the other potential relationships? Sophomores don't like freshmen much. Junior year seems to be the best time to mentor. There's still the danger of condescension toward freshmen, but juniors are still very much engaged in the high school environment. Junior-sophomore mentoring relationships are, from my own limited experience, the most productive. The one-year gap means that the junior won't have forgotten too much of what it was like to be a sophomore, but the classes will be mostly different so there's still an imbalance of knowledge/power.

(AP classes are what make the deal, I think. Sophomores at my school usually can only take the one class, AP Euro. So they have some taste of AP and can't be written off as having an easy workload. A lot of juniors take multiple APs, which adds the slightest element of awe.)

-

So how can I apply this next year? My prime mentoring time - junior year - is about to end. As a senior, what can I do to help out those darn underclassmen? First, don't be too obvious about helping them out. That would be condescending. Second, no matter how dumb their problems seem, listen. Posters and presentations used to scare you, too, and any essay longer than 400 words was absolutely unthinkable. Third...I don't know what comes third. Is there really anything else you need to know?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tam Lin

I often feel as though I am not in phase with a certain sector of the fantasy community that I respect greatly (including such awesome people as Terri Windling, Grace Nuth, etc.) in that I don't care for English fairies, pre-Raphaelites, medieval decor, and a whole host of other things. (As I mentioned on Sunday.) Included among those "other things": ballads.

For example: when I listened to this rendition of Tam Lin-



- instead of being inspired to write about Lady Janet's trials as a headstrong young woman fighting for her love and her child, I proved exactly why I should never date:

Tam Lin

I want you to be afraid of me
When I lead you by the hand
Into the cypress grove, I want
You to think I am going to kill you.

"Watch," I tell you, and you cower
As I change: as my bones reknit
In strange ways, as I fall to hands and feet
Because after all I am but a wild beast

The ballads lied, my dear one
If I can, then I will hurt you
Whether you bear my child or not
Even though I do love you

But hold on as I transform again
Boar to bear to lion maned
Don't you dare close you eyes
You must see the blood in my claws

And when I turn to blackened coal
I want to singe your trembling hands
Go to the well, go meet the Queen
Her mandibles will form my name

If you want, then, you can betray me
Send me to hell on a white horse
I did hurt you, did I not?
I burned the skin from your palms

You know full well what I am inside
You watched my smiling fangs
I have been too long a prisoner
To be tamed by your gentle ways

The Queen is only an insect
I am the man and I am the beast
Be afraid, be afraid, my dear
Only then will I know that you love me.

-

Written April 2013.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Notes from the Mountains

Please recall an aside from my rant from a few weeks ago:
The next three weeks I will be in the Testing Mountains where I must slay nine giants before descending into the valley where I may frolic among cypresses and libraries and movie nights with friends.

Ten giants, actually. I have returned.

-

Once upon a time, there was a young mage-knight named EAL, who journeyed into the mountains. She carried with her a bottle of water, reams of scratch paper, a TI-84 Plus graphing calculator, pens, and No. 2 pencils. Many of her friends ascended the mountain with her, but they all took slightly different paths.

Our Heroine's trail took her through three finals, two SAT subject tests, and five AP tests. None of these giants were as horrible as she thought they would be, though she confesses to having developed a distinct dislike toward the College Board which doesn't have enough honor to admit to being a profitable organization. Capitalism is good. Lying is not.

But it was not all bad in the mountains. There were concerts, featuring lovely songs:


And there were books to read, including the wonderful amazing book The Chosen, by Chaim Potok (raved about here) and The Joy of Mathematics, by Theoni Pappas, featuring fun problems. Miss Marple (Agatha Christie) was paranoia-inducing and splendid.

Our Heroine did lose at least two nights of sleep worrying about band staff elections, which take place next week, but she is feeling a little better now. Until election day, of course. Eep.

What did Our Heroine learn in her travels through the mountains?

/end third person mode

I have not felt like myself, this past year. Remember how a while back I had all those posts about identity? I don't feel that too much came out of that, because creating an identity is - or so I believe - primarily a subtractive process. Incidentally, we had an FRQ (free response question) about this on the English test:

For centuries, prominent thinkers have pondered the relationship between ownership and the development of self (identity), ultimately asking the question, “What does it mean to own something?”

Plato argues that owning objects is detrimental to a person’s character. Aristotle claims that ownership of tangible goods helps to develop moral character. Twentieth-century philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre proposes that ownership extends beyond objects to include intangible things as well. In Sartre’s view, becoming proficient in some skill and knowing something thoroughly means that we “own” it.

Think about the differing views of ownership. Then write an essay in which you explain your position on the relationship between ownership and sense of self. Use appropriate evidence from your reading, experience, or observations to support your argument.

I realized that my year of being sixteen is soon coming to an end and I don't feel as though I've learned anything about myself. I am no happier, no more tranquil, a little more confident, but still in the process of breaking the smiling mirror. I realized that I have become complacent, despite repeatedly telling myself to fear complacency.

So what do you do?

I thought about the prompt. I thought about Thoreau. I thought - I have way too much stuff. Not just physical stuff, but also too much stuff going on, too many input sources that I feel a need to check up on. During my three weeks away, I logged out of feedly and goodreads and all such things, and I realized that I didn't miss any of the sites that I used to read devotedly. Habit is a snare, and I'd got out of it through luck.

So what do you do?

When I got back yesterday from the mountains, I unfollowed all but a handful of my input sources across all platforms, keeping only those that I actually looked forward to reading, that I saved for last when there were multiple posts aggregated. There were a lot of blogs that I'd followed because I was afraid of missing something, or they'd been really good in the past, or they had pretty pictures. They have now been jettisoned.

A lot of the blogs I had been holding on to for no good reason were ones in which the author of the blog had a definite, concrete personal aesthetic. Even if that aesthetic didn't match mine at all I followed because - because why? I'm not the kind of girl who wears cute vintage frocks. I don't like the pre-Raphaelites very much, either, and I don't wear jewelry, and...

I have a lot of respect for the mythic arts community: Terri Windling, Ellen Kushner, Grace Nuth, &c. But as I said above, I don't particularly like the pre-Raphaelites, nor Victoriana. I have no sympathy for medieval nostalgia, I am pro-STEM, and I am an angry iconoclastic teenager, which explains 80% of everything I do. I unfollowed a lot of people of this ilk, modern-day Romanticists, because without conflict there is no progress and I want to discover what I have to say.

So.

The elves, the ethereal fae, the Green Men, the dreamy-eyed women with long long hair who might have stepped out of trees - all these have left. I have bid them, cordially, goodbye. Theodora Goss is my hero (and I'm still following her blog) but her brand of magical women is not mine. The art that community creates is, I feel, green. Not green as in novice (I am the novice here), but literally, green. Green and silver, probably with red hair.

Justine Musk (whom I am no longer following) says
Every journey starts with the realization that here is a place you can no longer stay.

Also: I think it is about time this blog started living up to its title. Assembling Imaginations.

Here is the game plan:

-expose myself to a lot of different art
-select what resonates (integer harmonics!) and share it here
-in doing so, build who/what I am as a creator, as a reaper and rejoicer

Back to the mountains I go. Care to join me?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Good Hunting

A rather magnificent studio wall, and a wonderfully sparse workspace.

"England Under the White Witch", by Theodora Goss, a lovely short story, and her poem The Fox Wife. Furthermore: be strong.


I haven't read any of Nick Bantock's books, but after watching this video, I sure want to.

Labyrinths in Pagan Sweden, a topic worthy of further investigation.

An article the smartest sophomore I know recommended to me: Is God an Accident? Examines reasons for human belief in divinity and supernatural influences in the world.

Speaking of religion: a website made by some Italian students about le immagini del cosmo. I shall read every word.

Enmi's art is lovely: by trying so hard not to.

Bibliophile Dreamland: reminds me of Komaji the boiler man's place in Spirited Away.

Steamfitter, Lewis Hein
(source)
A whole lot of posts from Enchanted Inkpot:
Mythical Beasts, by R. L. LaFevers. Lots of links.
Music and Magic, by William Alexander
Chinese Dragons, Mermaids, and Unicorns, by Grace Lin. I know very little about Chinese myths, a situation I should rectify.

I tend to do this: find a writing site, blitz through it, and then stop checking. Probably better that way.

Old blog of R. L. LaFevers:
Collaging: sounds like a lot of fun to get immersed in a character's head
Where I Write: a rocking chair to write in sounds wonderful
Micro-Revision checklists: I should keep track of this for when I do third draft of The Utopia Project
Now Make it Worse: make the problem both more difficult and of higher emotional stakes
Some things to consider:

Make your characters suffer. Whoever your hero cannot live without, cannot possibly succeed without, remove them. (Maass suggests killing him, but I write for kids so I take a gentler approach.)

What is your character’s greatest asset? Take it away.

What is sacred to your hero? Undermine it.

How much time does he have? Shorten it.

What matters most to your character? Threaten it.

You get the idea.

From the indomitable Terri Windling: art stands on the shoulders of craft. I love pieces that give me permission to produce terrible writing with the assurance that it's all part of the process (even though I know that I shouldn't *need* permission in the first place).

A collection of animal/insect jewelry.

A new museum in Italy that sounds amazing.

(source - as far back as I could trace it in the jungles of Tumblr)
Rereading sea & salt & submersion, a lovely blog post by Erin Morgenstern (author of The Night Circus) about how she got a new perspective on her WIP.

Article from Outside magazine: How Running Explains the World.

How Graphology Fools People.

Animals:
Affrica's Animals Were Just the Right Size: good to consider for worldbuilding
Siphonophores

Google Products You've Never Heard Of, including Google Art Project, which I resolutely shall not peruse properly until after AP tests. I really do need to keep this in mind, though, because the internet has a whole lot of potential as something to be mined for information.

For further perusal: Anthrocivitas.

(source)
Good weekend.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ancient Civilizations of Mesopotamia

Basic facts.

Mesopotamia: the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; the Fertile Crescent; the cradle of civilization.

People began to domesticate animals, such as sheep, boats, boars, and aurochs. They then began to plant crops, starting around 7000 BC; sedentary villages emerged. Irrigation allowed for a crop surplus, leading to the emergence of nonagricultural professions.

Sumer: 3500 to 2300 BC. A collection of city-states surrounded by walls to ward off invaders. Three major city-states were Kish, Ur, and Uruk. Religion shaped Sumerian culture; priests were just below kings on the social order, and ziggurats were the center of towns. In Sumer, cuneiform, the world’s first writing system, was invented. Other Sumerian inventions include the wheel, the plot, and a time system based off 60 and factors of 60. Trade routes reached all the way to Egypt. It was during this time that the Epic of Gilgamesh was composed.

Akkadian Empire: Akkad expanded from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. Sargon was the leader of the Akkadian Empire for over 50 years, from 2334 to 2274 BC. According to legend, he was found floating in the basket as a baby and was raised by a gardener. Akkadians created steles.

Babylonian Empire: 1800 to 1600 BC. Hammurabi ruled the Babylonian Empire from 1792 to 1750 BC, during which time he created his famous code of laws that applied to every aspect of Babylonian life and spawned the quote, “an eye for an eye.” Hammurabi’s Code also reveals the social order present in Babylon: patricians were higher than plebeians, who were higher than slaves.

Hittites: Originally from Asia Minor; brief rule in Mesopotamia. They were the first ironworkers and used chariots in battle.

Kassites: Originally from north of Babylon; captured Mesopotamia from the Hittites. They ruled from 1590 to 1200 BC.

Assyrian Empire: Brief rule in the 13th century BC; regained power in 900 BC and collapsed in 612 BC. The Assyrian army was organized and efficient. From the capital, Nineveh, kings ruled over provincial leaders, who collected taxes and enforced laws. Roads and mounted messengers connected the empire. King Ashurbanipal was the last great king of Assyria; his library contained 24,000 cuneiform tablets.

Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonian Empire): 626 to 539 BC. Originally from the Syrian Desert. Nebuchadnezzar, a king of the Chaldeans, created the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his wife. The Chaldeans borrowed many aspects of Sumerian culture, including language and religion. Study of astronomy culminated in star charts and a calendar.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Poems from Freshman/Sophomore Years

Derivative.

Seven Ways of Looking at Cats

I
In the bright still room
The only movement
Was the twitching tail of a dreaming cat.

II
My mind was focused
Like a cat
Who spies a mouse.

III
Oh great Sphinx of Egypt
Sitting upon your haunches among the sands
How many have disfigured your face?
To how many centuries
Have your sightless eyes borne witness?

IV
At the sight of a cat
Meowing piteously for attention
Even the busiest student
Would set aside her books.

V
It ran over fences
On white paws.
Once, it paused
And a light flashed in its eyes
Making them mirrors.

VI
The birds are panicking.
The cat must be hunting.

VII
It was still night in the morning
No hands moved to open the back door
No outside air stirred in the house
The cat slept curled
On a sun-drowned windowsill.

based on the blackbird poem

--

Ode-Sonnet to Rainy Days

A day of rain is best spent all alone
Sit still and watch the sky go all astir
As clouds do boil just like a soup of stone
Send down the gray to make the windows blur.
It must be beautiful outside, although
In truth, I hardly can see anything;
But I know how the sidewalk rivers flow
And in their wake plastic debris do bring
To pothole seas of which others complain,
Others who’d hastily put up a hood –
Their interest in the weather is long slain –
Wet-socked they question: “How can rain be good?”
Sweet solitude will tell me what to say:
“Does not the storm help dead leaves on their way?”

--

Without Words

I listen to you, because you do not pretend to be Scheherazade:
One thousand and one tales you do not tell.
I have drowned blissfully in the vast sea,
And you never presumed to rescue me.
Suddenly I’ve felt footsteps on my solitude
A heavy, mortal tread,
And how kind you seem out there, waiting
Beyond my locked gate!
Stay that way, guarding against intruders.
And, like the peregrine, find your way here
Only for a short while
Then leave when winter comes.
Be not like the greedy ones who,
Upset, drink my time like water.
When you sit by my empty hearth,
Speak so softly, that as you tell your soul,
The cat on my armchair does not wake.

based on:
“Love without Love”
-Luis Lloréns Torres

I love you, because in my thousand and one nights of dreams,
I never once dreamed of you.
I looked down paths that traveled from afar,
But it was never you I expected.
Suddenly I've felt you flying through my soul
In quick, lofty flight,
And how beautiful you seem way up there, far
From my always idiot heart!
Love me that way, flying over everything.
And, like the bird on its branch, land in my arms
Only to rest,
Then fly off again.
Be not like the romantic one who,
In love, set me on fire.
When you climb up my mansion,
Enter so lightly, that as you enter
The dog of my heart will not bark.