Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013, The Year

2013, The Year

In January, I got pretty sick. I'm almost sure that this was when I nearly had Scarlet Fever (strep throat gone too far). It was $200 out of pocket for the clinic visit, and then $200 for the generic antibiotic. I'm allergic to Amoxicillan and Erythromycin.

In April, I gave my second American Literature lecture at my local community college, as part of my Honors project for my American Literature Post-1865. It was open to the public. It was a little easier than my first one (December 2012), but I don't think it was any better or worse.

I graduated in May with my A.A. and a 4.0 GPA. Later in that month, I attended Denver's Second Annual Comic Con (I also went to the first), where I had an opportunity to meet Felicia Day. She was a sweet lady. I hate every picture of me. I saw these two cosplayers who made my whole day. I also decided I could not attend DCC in the future without two things happening:

I would need to lose weight.
They would have to manage the admission lines better.

I still have some foot pain that started during that event.

In June, despite my Anxiety, I drove into Downtown Denver to attend a signing event at the Tattered Cover. When it came to be my turn, I told someone rather famous that they were my unicorn. I immediately felt stupid and overwhelmed by that, despite the heart of truth in it, and started to cry, and then apologize for crying. Instead of reacting with awkwardness or any other number of reactions that I've come to expect (reactions for which I do not blame people, really), I got something I'd never have imagined -

Neil Gaiman hugged me.

A few days later, I lost my part time job because the projects for which I'd been hired were finished.

In August, I turned 32.  A few weeks later, I realized I couldn't actually afford to start school in the Fall with the funds available to me, and that the school I'd selected would leave me in slightly more debt than I was comfortable accepting. I postponed starting my next 2 years of schooling. I applied to Metropolitan State University of Denver, on the same campus. I was accepted.

September brought a severe haircut. It was the first time I'd had really short hair since I was 9 years old.  I was ready for change. I don't think I actually achieved it.

In October, I went to the 45th Annual MileHi Con where I finally met Cat Valente, a woman & writer I'd known online since 2000'ish when we started interacting on Livejournal, where we'd run a writing group together for a brief span of time. I met Seanan McGuire, Ian Tregillis, and many other wonderful authors - some from the previous year. I bought more books. I saw Molly Tanzer again, and because of my special kind of crazy, I was immensely touched that she remembered me.

November was National Novel Writing Month, and I participated again. I tripled my word-count from last year's attempt. I did pretty good at Writing Every Day. Midway through, I even did a putting-on-make-up girly day with a friend. Yes, I'm 32 - no, I had never done that before.

In December, I started removing people from my Facebook list who were no longer aligned with my way of thinking. Mind, that doesn't mean 'sharing my opinions', but instead a valuing of critical thinking and not making fallacious declarations. The sort of people who are generally inflammatory, thoughtless, and rude in sharing their opinions, which they seem to glean from public transportation station restroom walls. I decided there was no point in keeping up with people socially online who were only toxic. Christmas happened and I decided that I want to make up a calendar of my own holidays - leaving behind the events they've become and really investing in days that mean something to me. Also, I saw a dragon.

Overall, I did not write as much as I wanted - I have only myself to blame for that. I reconnected with more than a few old friends, I readjusted my emotional distance in both directions across the board. I made myself vulnerable, I buried myself deep. I contained multitudes.

I'm not quite there yet, but I'm working harder every day to be the person I want to be. It's not a New Year's resolution, it's a mindful goal for every day, all seasons. ...Also, I need to read more.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

If you're worried about spoilers, just leave now.

I want to talk about The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, but at the same time I don't know how to talk about it. Perhaps the easiest way is to talk about the characters a little, as groups or individuals, and their interwoven stories. This is not about comparing the book to the movie (though there are times that is unavoidable), it is about weighing a film on its own merits.

Would I recommend seeing it? Yes, absolutely yes. But don't expect the text verbatim. Book:Film doesn't work that way.

It was a beautifully rendered movie. It was a beautifully acted movie. The writing, in places, was brilliant and not so much in others.

Gandalf, as far as I am concerned, is the face-to-watch for the bits of the movie in which he appears. Sir Ian McKellen tells a lot of Gandalf's backstory with his eyes. Pay attention. If you think you see a soul burdened with thousands of years of stuff, you're right. He's seen things, man.

The dwarves were dwarfy. (I would like a Barrel Bombur action-figure please.) And since this is THEIR story (Bilbo's too), it could always use more dwarf.

Bilbo. He could've gotten a little more development time. I'm a little annoyed that there was no conversation about the Ring with Gandalf. It would've tied in so nicely to the stuff going down in Dol Guldur (which Jackson did NOT make up, by the way - that stuff is stuff Tolkien wrote).

Mirkwood:  Spiders - ew! Yay! but ew!  Elves. Yay! Elves. Sigh.

I accepted the changes that went down in regards to Azog & Bolg. I accepted that there would be an invented elf added to the story. I accepted that Legolas would be more than a cameo. I accepted a lot of things would be different from the texts; it is simply the way film works.

What I have difficulty accepting is poorly executed changes, whatever their intent. What I speak out against is poor storytelling.

Tauriel. Nevermind the lore-issues that could be discussed (red-headed elf).

What I won't excuse is the shoe-horning in of a female character who is used entirely as a plot device and an object (moreover, for a romantic subplot that was entirely unnecessary and in many places ruined the pacing of the story). Thanks for the gesture, but ultimately I found it to be a condescending and/or patronizing one.

You can tell me all day what a badass she is, you can tell me "But she's Captain of the Guard!"  So what? What elf with a name isn't a badass? And why does it matter if she's Captain of the Guard? It is pitched to me like that is some kind of achievement for a girl. And that is what makes it worse. "You should be happy there's an empowered female in the movie!" No, not really. Not when she's a walking cliche machine.

She comes off as a token female, and for me that's worse than no female at all. (I'd actually have been fine with no female 'main character' because this is the story of the dwarves & their hobbit bro. Their story. There were plenty of opportunities to people the land with individuals - the whole "strong woman" issue is a whole other can o' worms not for this post...)

Ultimately I have two gripes and they don't take away from the movie overall, for me.

1 - The romantic subplot was:
poorly written
poorly developed
poorly executed

2 - This is really a result of the poor writing/execution of the unnecessary and poorly developed romantic subplot; the misuse/abuse of Morgul Blades. This is probably the closest I get to having an issue about divergence from the texts. Morgul Blades were Very Important in the Fellowship. In Desolation, they are this footnote, throwaway plot device to put Kili in danger and motivate the Love Interest to come save him.

If you know what a Morgul Blade is, then you know a random orc is NOT running around with arrows tipped with the stuff. It's just not happening. So, bad storytelling begets sloppy storytelling.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The End Again: National Novel Writing Month

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I was a bit cynical. As I struggled through the process, I learned a lot about MY process and a lot about the gaps in my writing toolbox. I only achieved half the goal for the month, but I like to think that what I learned (and the sheer amount of outlining and brainstorming that happened) made up a little bit for the lack of words on the page.

The truth is, nothing can make up for words that don't make it onto the page. Every word written is better than a word unwritten, and last year, I barely cleared 25,000 words. (And of those words, most of them were backstory for the world in which I thought I was writing. They weren't even ABOUT my main character, though they had some historical significance.)

This year, I decided to try a different approach and it seems to have worked out for me, though it didn't work as planned. (It never goes as-planned.)

I decided I wanted to write some specific types of short stories and based on average length estimates, I projected I could churn out 5-7 stories during the month of November.

I just can't seem to follow the rules though. (Incidentally, I have similar trouble when game-mastering and trying to use a module. I just can't do it.)

I started out working on a story about half of a set of twins and a graduation party. I finished that piece on the fourth day. At that juncture, I wasn't sure where to go, so I fell back on a character that'd been wandering around in my brain for a while. I started writing about her encounters. I thought it might be good for a couple of the projected stories. Then it got away from me and I just kept writing. So, the first 8956 words were on one project, but the rest were on this one character and her world of experience.

There are still a LOT of things unwritten and the majority of them are purely the happenings in her personal life. While that may be compelling (or not), I feel like I need to observe her character arc and give her a story arc with which to interact. Or maybe not. I know for now I will keep writing. My "master document" tells me I have over 83k words, which includes a lot of notes and some outlining, while my solid word count - which does not include those outlines/notes - comes in at 55,372 words as of today. (Today was a small day, 522 words on an incomplete scene.)

Did you participate? Did you "win" (I still hate the win/lose dichotomy - if you learned something, if you produced something, you are winning at writing)?

Feel free to share your thoughts, your victories, your defeats. Or ask me questions about mine. I'm not a professional writer (using the definition of 'being published, making money at it'), but if I've learned anything from my time talking to writers, observing writers, and writing... it's that we are all on a journey together. It's not a destination, it is ALWAYS a journey... and everyone has something they can teach and learn.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wells of Words

The Books We Come Back To

Recently, Stant Litore (The Zombie Bible) conceived of the notion to collect a library of sorts for his daughters River & Inara. I won't try to over explain it, he does a fine job of saying just what it is over on his blog. (I encourage everyone to read through the contributions; it is beautiful.)

As I considered what quotes and what books I'd lay out in this particular light, I started to notice a trend in the sorts of books I quote.

First and foremost, whenever I am asked to offer a quote from a beloved book (we might take a moment to remember that I love books of all sorts) I come back to two particular texts without fail:

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams


The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

With The Velveteen Rabbit, it is always the same excerpt:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

...once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. This sentiment is the reason songs like Iris (by the Goo Goo Dolls) speak so strongly to people. We are so afraid of being flawed, ugly, broken in the sight of the people around us that we forget we are always beautiful in the sight of those who love us - and that those who love us are the ones who matter most in this life.

On the other hand, with The Last Unicorn, I tend to pick and choose (there are SO MANY quotable bits in that book (many are maintained in the film)) to suit the audience doing the asking. In the case of Stant's Library, I offered the excerpt about heroes knowing the order of things - it is a testament to the Hero's Journey and the cyclic nature of our personal narratives, not just those of fictional personae. But in truth, it is Molly Grue when she meets the Unicorn... this is the true quote that lives carved into the inner walls of my heart:

“Where have you been?" she cried. "Damn you, where have you been?" She took a few steps toward Schmendrick, but she was looking beyond him, at the unicorn.
When she tried to get by, the magician stood in her way. "You don't talk like that," he told her, still uncertain that Molly had recognized the unicorn. "Don't you know how to behave, woman? You don't curtsy, either."
But Molly pushed him aside and went up to the unicorn, scolding her as though she were a strayed milk cow. "Where have you been?" Before the whiteness and the shining horn, Molly shrank to a shrilling beetle, but this time it was the unicorn's old dark eyes that looked down.
"I am here now," she said at last.
Molly laughed with her lips flat. "And what good is it to me that you're here now? Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?" With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. "I wish you had never come. Why did you come now?" The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.
The unicorn made no reply, and Schmendrick said, "She is the last. She is the last unicorn in the world."
"She would be." Molly sniffed. "It would be the last unicorn in the world to come to Molly Grue." She reached up then to lay her hand on the unicorn's cheek; but both of them flinched a little, and the touch came to rest on on the swift, shivering place under the jaw. Molly said, "It's all right. I forgive you.”

And really, of all of that, the only parts I needed to know were Molly's words, "Where have you been? ... How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?" All the weight of her life is in that simple four letter word - this. I didn't need Mr. Beagle to explain what she meant (though he helpfully does for those who may not know/understand); at sixteen years old, wrung out from a childhood of particular abuses, strained family relationships, few friends, several upheavals, foster care, an orphanage, a new home or two every year, I already knew what Molly meant - and this is why her words are the true quote for me from all of that wonderful tome.

All of this really brings me around to this question: What words, what books have etched their words into your heart and/or mind? When you're asked to offer up a favorite quote, from what well do you draw your bucket?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Narrative Responsibility: Women in Fiction (A Link)

I can't begin to tackle the (very) large idea of narrative responsibility, but today I read a post that resonated and managed to lay out one aspect of the narrative responsibility of storytellers that I feel compelled to share.

More and more we see writers or memes about writers telling us that the way they write strong female characters is by simply writing strong people, by viewing women as people, gender not impacting the equation of creating them as whole beings. 

Neil Gaiman says, "remember that the most important thing to do is to write people who feel like people, and that women are people."

Joss Whedon had a lot of things to say at his 2006 Equality Now speech regarding the fact that he's constantly asked about his strong women characters, and he raises a good question. "Why aren't you asking a hundred other guys why they don’t write strong women characters?"

Even George R. R. Martin has been turned into an image that seems to have started on reddit from an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos when he answers the question of how he writes women so well:  "I've always considered women to be people."  (The question comes around 18:37 in the interview link.)

All of that leads up to me wanting to share THIS post with everyone. I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole thing. There is nothing I found there with which I disagree. We all know about subtext and how our stories say more than what they say just in words, and we should be aware of those things. 

"'We Have Always Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative" by Kameron Hurley.

Stories tell us who we are. What we’re capable of. When we go out looking for stories we are, I think, in many ways going in search of ourselves, trying to find understanding of our lives, and the people around us.  Stories, and language tell us what’s important.
If women are “bitches” and “cunts” and “whores” and the people we’re killing are “gooks” and “japs” and “rag heads” then they aren’t really people, are they?  It makes them easier to erase. Easier to kill. To disregard. To un-see.
But the moment we re-imagine the world as a buzzing hive of individuals with a variety of genders and complicated sexes and unique, passionate narratives that have yet to be told – it makes them harder to ignore. They are no longer, “women and cattle and slaves” but active players in their own stories.
And ours.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Getting Back on the Horse

Getting Back on the Horse

I've always been curious about the phrase "getting back on the horse" and how it is used to describe the act of trying something again. Have you ever fallen off of a horse? That's probably the worst part, followed by the fear of falling off of it again. The expression sums up continuing on despite the fear of failure and pain in the future...

So what kind of phrase should one use when it's just that you have a hard time forming the kinds of habits you ought to be forming? Things like going to bed at a decent hour, maintaining your writing space, or writing every day? Or, in this very specific case, keeping an active blog?

It might be easier if it were something that provided more to me than a soapbox - I don't really like being on a soapbox, or a stage, or any focal point of attention. It might be easier if I were being paid (but I don't think I'd like that either). But, they also say things about easy and doing well...

Who are they?

In any case, this is me chiding myself aloud about falling off this blogging horse and promising that I will try to be a more consistent writer; both here and on my creative projects, which I hope I can share a little about here as well.

On my list of to-do's, I want to go back and revisit the Story Board videos at Geek & Sundry, the way I did with the first one (on Urban Fantasy).

Six Sentence Sunday, at least as a large group activity, disbanded shortly after I participated for the first time  -- I may adopt the idea as a way to share my creative work without posting it in full here.

And all the other things I've already talked about last year and didn't manage to follow through on.

I'm also open to suggestions, either submitted in the comments, or sent via email.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Cost of Kindness

This morning I woke up, read some more of Stephen King's "Full Dark, No Stars" and then went out for some errands. I've been in need of sundry bits and a couple of nice shirts that would be appropriate for more-than-casual appointments or potential interviews. After knocking out a couple of stops, I went to grab a sandwich for lunch from the nearby Subway.

As part of my own sort of self-therapy (and because I'd had a good morning of reading and thinking about my own writing), I tried to smile at strangers, to make at-least-polite eye-contact, and to just be as pleasant as humanly possible. The idea being that not only would this help me feel more comfortable, but it might actually improve someone else's day. This, unfortunately, has a pretty messy price. It leaves me feeling a little spent - it really is an effort to not simply shut down to all the strangers milling about in a store. But it also seems to create in others an expectation of who I am, of what I am to them.

It says something when I explain that I know when someone is about to ask me for money. As I came out of the shop with my sandwich, I made brief eye contact with a slight smile and then went for my car. I wasn't worried that this person was going to do anything harmful to me, but I could see the shift in his body language and he altered his path to intercept mine. I was closer to my car however and had determined that I just wanted to leave. I was pulling out of my parking space when he entered my field of view again, this time in front of my car. I had no choice but to stop.

Of course, he approached and told me his story. This one was simple. He was 50 cents short for bus fare, if I had some change or could help him out, he'd be very appreciative. I didn't have any cash. I looked in my change tray. I had two brand new pennies that weren't superglued (by goodness knows what) to my console, so I was apologetic and offered them to him. He said something I couldn't quite understand and I said, "I'm sorry?"

At this point, he wasn't aggressive and I am not sure he was actually talking to me anymore.  He'd completely dismissed me now that he'd gotten the change I had and there was no further use for me. I didn't even get to wish him luck or give him a "God bless you" which is the standard exchange I'm used to with strangers who approach me for money in parking lots. But I could tell he's annoyed.

Did I want to avoid him? Yes. Did I want to leave as quickly as possible? Yes. Did I want to do it because I thought anything negative about him? Not particularly. It had everything to do with me being a means to an end, with knowing I would be wedged into a situation where MORE kindness would be asked/required from me than I could give at that time. And my deepseated dislike of disappointing people. It also happens frequently enough that I've learned to recognize that it's going to happen - this means it happens a lot.

I find myself with very real justifications for the patterns of social behavior I'm trying to correct. Situations like this feed my anxiety and encourage me to close up and pretend other people don't exist.

"Kindness doesn't cost a thing." 

For those who struggle with anxiety, this is so far from true. Kindness given by an unwanted or unwelcome encounter feels essentially forced. It doesn't reciprocate, it doesn't feel good at all.

On top of that, every person that approaches me for monetary help brings back with them every person I've met in that way. The homeless man I spent 15 minutes talking to one day about a surgery and the infection on his leg, the parolee whose family wouldn't take him in, the man who ran out of gas, the woman with three kids leaving an abusive husband, another parolee trying to keep himself in school, and a few others whose stories blend together. Sure, some of them could've been - probably were - cons. I knew that the moment they engaged me, and I decided that there was no way for me to know and that I would give them all the benefit of the doubt.

With all these stories though comes the emotional battery that some of us experience when taking on the burden of another person's tragic story. If I am to have faith in these people, I have to believe their stories. If I believe their stories, I cannot help but empathize, or at least sympathize, with every one of them. Their stories become my stories and that is what guides me to help them - tempered with keeping my own well being and means in mind.

Today I could only give the man 2 cents from my console and he did give a quick thanks, but then he was done with me. Obviously, I'm still carrying some of him. I hope he got the change he needed to get the bus he needed and that he got where he needed to go. I hope all of them did.

I don't remember where I was going with this other than to say that we bandy about the idea that kindness doesn't cost a thing, but it does for those of us who really consider what it means to treat others the way we would want to be treated. How do we know how we'd like to be treated unless we can slip on the other person's shoes to consider how we might like to be treated in their place?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Neil Gaiman & the Shared Love of things

Tonight, Neil Gaiman came through Denver on his "Final U.S. Book Tour" and did a 1000 ticket signing at the Tattered Cover bookstore. It is the only bookstore on the tour as the requirements for those wanting to host the tour (per a conversation I wandered into with an employee) was that they'd have to rent a hall capable of seating 2000 and have it rented into the tiny hours of the morning. The Tattered Cover couldn't do it, so had to pass. Per the story I heard, Neil intervened because he had fond memories of the place and wanted to include it in his last signing tour. (In his Reading and Q&A prior to the signing, he told a story about two previous signings - at the first, he signed someone's arm. At the second, he saw his signature tattooed onto that person's arm and swore to write legibly on flesh from that day on.)

If you go to conventions or signings or any event really, you learn to recognize a line, even if it's scattered through stacks, or zigzagged around tables. The signing today was no different.

I arrived at 4pm but was not near enough to the front of the line to get seating in the 300-person event hall. The whole thing was wired, however, so that there was a single projection and sound on the entire second floor. I shared a divan with 4 other people, not including the 3 that used the headrest for leaning support from the floor. No one complained, no one said anything rude, no one made judgey faces. We were all there because we loved something.

We all shared a love of some piece of Neil Gaiman which he's given to us in his creative works.

I didn't exactly break bread with strangers, but we moved from a loose social bond in the line to sharing a table and a common space. We had conversations almost like friends. People and books all over the place, and a common feeling.se

(I also played spot-the-(local)-author. Saw Stant Litore (The Zombie Bible), Stephen Graham Jones (The Last Final Girl), and Gary Jonas (Modern Sorcery).)

When I finally decided to find a place on the floor to sit for a while, I couldn't read. I ended up next to two younger individuals. A comment was made about how friendly people were, and how many strangers were ebbing and flowing through conversations. I was candid, I wasn't nervous, I wasn't shy. I told them this;

"There's a kind of connection at geeky events like this. Conventions, signings, and the like. This is the only kind of event where I talk to strangers. Not at the grocery store, not usually in a classroom, only here."

What I didn't say out loud, what I ran out of words to say was that... these are the places where we feel the least judged for our loves. No one was there who would say "Why would anyone stand in line for HOURS just to meet some author?" or worse, they wouldn't ask "Who?" or question the joy on my face at the prospect.

When it was time, I struggled with myself in the line. I swiped away tears, I told myself I could do this - I could be coherent, I wouldn't cry, I would say what I wanted to say and I knew he would understand what I was trying to communicate.

I took a breath, opened my mouth and I said "You're my unicorn."

Let's take a little time out to talk about social & generalized anxiety, and the little hateful voices that so many of us are cultivated to have. Immediately, I hear the screaming in my head, "What did you just say? Do you know how stupid that sounded? You're a stalker, you're a weirdo! Why would you say that! Why can't you just be normal?"

Why can't you just be normal.

Why can't you just be normal.

It's a mantra that devours so much confidence, so much energy, and so much good-will. It takes and takes, and what it gives back is nothing you want to have.

I stumbled over the words, tears choking my voice. I wanted to explain to him that I struggle with social & general anxiety disorders. That I drove into an unknown place, alone. I parked underground (I'm a little claustrophobic). I walked alone. I talked to authority strangers (the first security person when I pulled into the wrong place, the second when I lost my sense of direction). I was far away from all areas of comfort (so I believed earlier in the day - turns out I'm at home even in 'strange' bookstores) and I was totally alone. I had only myself to depend on - and sometimes my Self is not very reliable for me.

I managed to say something about my anxiety but I was already in tears. There was no stopping them.

"Come here for a hug."

I wasn't sure I heard right, but the assistants around the table ushered me around and Neil Gaiman gave me a hug. A firm, warm, comfortable hug. He told me he was proud of me. I told him I was sorry, I didn't want to cry on him. He told me it was okay, to go ahead and cry. I did, though I held in most of it. I had permission, but I did not want to cry in his hair, on his shoulder - he has a long night ahead of him and is due in another city by tomorrow evening.

I cried all the way home. I'm still crying as I write this.

It all spun by so fast.

Not that I imagine he'll see this here, but:

Neil Gaiman - thank you. From the depths of my heart and the deeper places. Thank you for the works you share with us, the love you engender in your fans - the love of your works, for yourself, and for each other. But also thank you for taking a moment for a kind gesture and words that really do mean more than just the letters or the sounds. Thank you for drowning out those terrible little demons with simple words and real feeling.

I fought and was wounded, but ultimately defeated beasts just for a chance to simply see one of my metaphorical unicorns tonight. My efforts were repaid more than I dared to hope.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Insert Witty Title About: Graduation

Fancy, right?
My PTK tassel is hiding somewhere.

 So, I finally graduated from step 1 of college (it's a 4 step plan).

I now have an Associate of Arts degree from the Community College of Aurora. Graduated Summa Cum Laude, and during my time there completed 3 literature-oriented Honors papers and delivered 2 public lectures.

Lecture on Charles Brockden Brown & Edgar Allan Poe - December 6, 2012

Lecture on HP Lovecraft & Stephen King - May 2, 2013
(this video came to me in 3 parts and the software I used to merge the files causes the audio and video to fall out of sync. I am attempting to fix this issue and will fix this link with a corrected upload as soon as it is available. But - you can still LISTEN. There are no important visuals.)

Obviously, I finished all of the things that've been looming over me for coursework and now it is time for Summer Break before I embark at the University of Colorado Denver. Also called UCD, also called CU Denver - I haven't figured that one out yet.

I find that I don't really have much to say about graduation. It is a thing that happened; one step that allows me to move on to the next step. This is like every step. One, then another. I'm sure it was some excellent Zen poet who said that life is not about the destination, but the journey -- long before Emerson did. (Not that Emerson is a bad guy.) Maybe it was Matsuo Basho.

Fleas and lice biting
Awake all night
A horse pissing close to my ear.

Now that it is summer break, I hope to get some writing done both here and in my projects folder. I need to learn more, hone more, and get some things out into the world. In the meantime, I'm greatly enjoying my opportunity to immerse in books and research and intellectual discussion of topics like:

Just what IS magic realism? Feel free to offer some thoughts in a comment box. Research without thoughtful interaction is too stale for a topic like this (or in discussing and thinking about any genre).

Monday, March 4, 2013

Being Ready

Lately, I feel ready for almost nothing.

This spring is my final semester at the Community College of Aurora. I will be graduating with my Associate of Arts degree (no designation as we did not have the approval for the Literature focus when I started), and a 4.0 GPA (assuming I maintain it, and I have no reason to think I won't). I'm wearing this thing and myself out as though it were a much larger degree, I think. I'm not ready.

On my plate:
  • Honors Paper - H.P. Lovecraft as the man who took the torch of Gothic horror explorations of the human condition, and carried it down that long hall into the future, opening the door and letting its light gutter in the escaping air and then spread its light and shadows over the rest of us. I'm lacking a solid thesis and there are only 8 or so weeks left in the semester.
  • Research Exhibit - Sally Ride. A group project but only 2 of my other 3 members are even trying.
  • Creative Writing (II) - "Murder Hobo" (I feel that my stories tend to have codenames rather than working titles.) Progress is slow on a level that would make molasses feel fast. I'm afraid I'm going to fall short on all of my goals in that class.
  • Japanese (IV) - Final semester and the most intense as far as taxing my ability to remember anything, ever.
  • Literature (American, Post 1865) - In addition to our short and excerpted works, we are reading two novels. One we just started this past week. The other I will start, regardless of the class schedule, once I have finished Richard Wright's Native Son. This class is particularly intensive due to the comprehensive and conceptual-understanding nature of the tests.
  • Commencement Address - I am one of (I don't know how many) students applying to be the student speaker at my graduation. This week is the deadline for the application. I'm having trouble explaining what I want to say to my fellow students, or even knowing what I'm WORTHY to say to them.

All this segues into my introduction of a blog post that I found hiding and unread in my email box, by Andi Cumbo, over at AndiLit. I'll give you an excerpt here and then I encourage you to go to her blog and read the whole post (even her whole blog!). Andi teaches writing courses, online and sometimes in person... this excerpt is from the spirit of a talk she gives her nonfiction students, but is just as relevant for any kind of writing:

...you have to be ready for critique. You have to be ready for your classmates and I to talk about HOW you wrote about this subject, and while we will do our best to stick to the HOW and not the WHAT, it can be hard to separate those things in our writers’ minds and hearts.  Very hard.  So before you turn something in, be sure you are ready to hear it taken apart a little.
You'll have to go over to her blog post to read the rest: "Writers, Are You Ready?"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

VD! Not That Kind

Credit: TARDIS Coloring Page by VioletSuccubus on DeviantArt - For time travel use only.
I have nothing insightful or particularly profound to offer up on this Saint Valentine's Day, but I thought I'd try to bring together all my passing knowledge of the holiday. I have decided to work backward, as I could not quite come up with a way to work from a point of origin to the present day... so, let's take a ride backward through time, linearly.

There was more than one Saint Valentine. I think there were seven, or eleven (open 24 hours a day?). Of course, this holiday is said to be named for a particular Saint, martyred for performing forbidden marriages. Notably, marriages for Roman Soldiers who were not allowed to wed while engaged with their soldiering duty. I don't recollect that I ever knew a time frame for this story.

What I do know is that it became associated with Courtly Love. This is no ordinary love, but a distant and chivalrous courting affair. ...Courtly love is a little weird and, I think, largely misunderstood by people who romanticize the notion.

To take us further back in time; the Valentine for whom the holiday appears to be named lived during the rule of the Roman Emperor Claudius. The Christian church was fledgling, and Claudius was not a Christian. (I've never been happier to be a humanities student who studied 3 years of Latin. I can finally tie all this together. Of course, I have a lot more information to which all this is tied that I couldn't hope to dump into a post - nor would I torture you in that fashion, my gentle reader.)

Overall, most people are at least passingly aware that many of our modern holidays, particularly tied to the Christian faith (or inspired by its influence), were created and placed in such a way as to overwrite older, pagan celebrations. Valentine's Day seems to be no exception. Mind you, this was not a uniquely Christian practice. Within pantheons, one deity's festivals could be subsumed by the rise of another, similar deity's worship...

Lupercalia was a festival held from February 13th-15th and while it probably had a lot of nuances I am forgetting, it was a kind of 'rebirth' festival. It's difficult to think of expecting spring while it's snowing out side where I am... and I'm pretty sure even Rome is at the same or a very similar latitude... but, it is what it is. Daffodils and some other plants bloom this early, despite the cold... so who am I to say nay to the ancients that wanted to party in the name of Spring as soon as possible?

At the same time, but temporally earlier in history than Lupercalia, was the "Februa" festival. This was a festival of cleansing and/or purification. "Spring Cleaning," if you will. (Februa. Roman month Februarius... February. (That word gets weirder the more you type it.).) It was celebrated on the same days during which Lupercalia was celebrated.

These sorts of events have always interested me. Somewhere in there came the chocolates and the love letters and then the candy hearts and witty cards. Somewhere in there it became highly commercialized, to the point that flower commercials sound more like invitations for men to compete with one another through showings of status and public gift-giving (there's been a commercial locally for a flower delivery company that shows snippets of interviews with women talking about how their husbands/boyfriends made all the other women jealous, and put all the other men to shame by purchasing superior arrangements). Then came the bitterness and a little spite. And somewhere in that we've lost the cleansing festivals, the celebrations of spring-to-come, and even the notions of distant, courtly, transcendent love. I want to take it a touch further than that.

As frustrated as I may be with humanity, as curmudgeonly as I tend to feel toward my fellow people...

I love you all. I can't (and won't) give you flowers or chocolates or jewelry, but I can give you my respect and consideration and courtesy. Sometimes, I can give you fruits of my brain. This is a low-hanging fruit, and for that I apologize. (I keep trying to give you British s's ("apologise") but spell-check doesn't like them.) Those are things you have until you lose them, and sometimes you can gain them back. It may not seem as nice as flowers, but I hope it is all esteemed a little higher. Just a little?

Plus, I give you random information that you can probably fact-check against Wikipedia and tell me
where I screwed up if you need to feel better today.

Happy Love Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Artists Doing Good

Too often people believe that "legal" means "right" - but I disagree. Sometimes, other people also disagree and we remember words like "ethics" and "fairness". Or, we remember how to treat each other the way we'd like to be treated instead of being hateful and rude. There are people out there doing and saying things better than I feel I ever could, and I wanted to share these in a way more lasting than a Facebook or Twitter update. Most of these links will involve people doing the "Right" thing in the face of actions that may be legal (or not) but are definitely not "Right". In the face of a world that seems ever more morally bankrupt, there are people doing good. Here are some pretty easy ways to help...

First, Jonathan Coulton. I love Jonathan Coulton. His music is quirky and perhaps he now dwells in the same house Weird Al carved out in my young heart. In Season 4 of the Fox program Glee, the song "Baby Got Back" was used. Glee often reworks pieces (or appears to), and this case was no exception - EXCEPT that they appear to have taken J. Coulton's individual arrangement (new melody, new lyrics, and all) and used it nearly wholesale. There was no acknowledgement of Coulton associated with the episode or the iTunes release of the song. (A Forbes.com article says that they did edit out "Jonny C's in trouble" line eventually but it was in early releases and can still be heard in this video at the 2:15 mark.)

In answer to this, Jonathan Coulton has re-released "a cover of Glee’s cover of my cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s song" ("which is to say it’s EXACTLY THE SAME as my original version"). Proceeds from the sale of this release will go to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and the It Gets Better Project.

Links to the specific tracks from three different platforms:
Amazon MP3

(This information is directly from Coulton's blog post on the subject, put here for those who don't like following links to find links to find things they want.)

Second, John Scalzi. Not only do I enjoy Scalzi's fiction writing, I have come to enjoy his "nonfiction" by way of his blog and the way he tackles often controversial topics with aplomb.

Due to his candid manner of presenting his opinions, he's attracted his fair share of internet trolls. In light of one particularly persistent troll, Scalzi has decided to turn this person's bigotry and hatred into a good cause he refers to as "Counteract a Bigot" . In brief, everytime this one particular person mentions Scalzi's name, Scalzi will set aside $5 toward a fund, up to $1,000, which he will donate at the end of 2013 split between several charities. I highly recommend checking out his blog directly - it will allow you to read further details on the situation, and if you decide to participate, you can let him know in comments. This is not a traditional fundraiser nor a website driven one (such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo), but based on the honor system. If you say you're going to participate, it's up to you to honor your word - no one is going to know one way or another (except for you).

On a smaller scale, a more local and more personal level, I'd like to add Art as Action to my list of folks doing good in the world - not to combat a particular wrong, but because doing good is something that should be active, not just reactive. This group is about performance art, but they also provide programs for people involving dance, especially people who live with Parkinson's Disease. They launched their Reconnect with your Body program in 2011 and it has been successful, but small groups like this are always in need of some funds - no matter how little - to keep their good works going. If you know someone with Parkinson's Disease, you know how important bodily health is and the ways the body can betray a person after so many years together. This is a program that I've seen do good personally and I am happy to support. I encourage you to take a look at their webpage.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sleep & Introversion

First: I am an introvert.

Pretty much every psychological personality model includes this (or its counterpart, the extrovert) concept. Of course, despite the fact that most people think in black and white, either or situations, I don't lack extroverted features and sometimes seem void of the exterior indicators of introversion; I'm not always reserved or quiet, sometimes I'm quite talkative and energetic. In this sense, I tend to agree with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator 'philosophy'  (I've been told this is also Jung's approach) that personality traits work like genetics versus a spectrum. While we have the coding for both "types" of behaviors, one is more dominant than the other. (In some cases, like my MBTI, two aspects can be very close to equal in dominance - for me, I am an INFP, but sometimes I am an INFJ. P/J often score within a point of one another and circumstances determine which has the upper hand.)

Introversion according to Merriam-Webster:  "the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life". While I typically love language, I don't like this definition. I care about a LOT of things that have nothing to do with my "own mental life" but that still live amiably with my nature as an introvert. Maybe I'm splitting hairs. I'm not particularly up to challenging Merriam-Webster at the moment, in any case.

All of this, however, is early morning rambling that doesn't relate directly to my topic except in a background sort of way. I should also be honest and say that it is nearly 2:30pm and nowhere near "early morning" in the way most people understand it.

Second: I am a night owl.

Given the opportunity, my sleeping pattern shifts drastically and "naturally" to a pattern that would most often have me sleeping somewhere between 4am and 2pm. Science will argue that this is not a natural sleeping rhythm, that perhaps I have a sleeping disorder. Parents and other "adults" would and have argued that I just need to "train" myself to sleep during "normal" hours and that before I know it, I'll be sleeping in those times and won't think anything of it. And, of course, there's the blame - that this sleeping pattern isn't normal, even for me, and that I ruin it on my own by indulging in bad behaviors.

I don't accept the "blame", but I do accept the responsibility.

I am a night owl due in part to the fact that I am also an introvert.

The daytime, when the world is full of sunlight and businesses are open, is full of noise. It's not even just audible noise - it's a buzz somewhere beyond hearing. It's life and busy-bodies and rushing and doing-things. That buzz creates real noise, too. People moving around overhead, on the sides, outside, inside, laundry, dishes, running water, televisions, computers, YouTube videos, the Disney channel, keyboards, telephones, voice chats, yelled conversations from one endpoint of the house to the other, cars, horns, music, traffic...

"That's one thing I hate! All the noise, noise, noise, noise!" (I love you, Mr. Grinch.)

At night, the world goes to sleep. For the most part, televisions are turned off, cars are parked, people are sleeping instead of talking, no one is doing chores, taking showers, washing laundry, running dishwashers... At night, it is as though everyone's left the pool, they turned on the heating coils and FINALLY I can relax. Sometimes this is disrupted if I choose to play around in an MMOG, but that's a risk I can choose to take or not.

Night is comfortable and quiet and decidedly uncrowded. It's when I can hear myself think, when I can unwind enough and even my anxieties slink off into a corner and rest. The only worry that bothers me? "What will other people think when I "sleep in"?"  And even that worry has been muted by years as an adult and reasoning - If I'm only sleeping 8-10 hours, I'm not exactly wasting any more of the day than someone who sleeps that long during "NORMAL" hours.  (With my thyroid issues, I struggle with fatigue, so 9  hours is fairly ideal for me.)

The idea has eluded me for years. I could never figure out why everyone would tell me that my inclination toward sleeping during the day and being awake at night was wrong, abnormal, broken, and why it felt the very opposite of those descriptions. It wasn't until this morning, when I put down the book I'd been reading (Hellbent, by Cherie Priest - enjoyed the first, enjoying this one, want more) and wondered why I wasn't yet tired at 3:20am that I put it together.

The world is a busy, messy place, and the only time I can actually drop my awareness of the rest of the world is when the rest of the world is no longer a press or a threat to my psychic space. (Maybe we can talk more about that another time - but yes, people who are awake and have access to my personal space are perceived as potential threats, or presses for attention of some sort. This keeps me in an alert state in which I cannot do things like read.)

Resetting this sleep pattern to accommodate work and school is going to be a little unpleasant, but there's no reason not to enjoy the serenity while it's available.

Maybe later I'll also talk about why there wasn't a New Year's Eve post, or even a Christmas post.