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:

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Numbers

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

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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.

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Successes

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.

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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

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Bonus:

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
(source)
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

Forts

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.

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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.

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

Reading:
  • 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)

Listening:
  • 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
(source)

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
(source)

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:
(source)
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.

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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.)

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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?

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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?

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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.

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

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