Monthly Archives: September 2013

One Year More

I am exhausted.

Not only have I had extensive physical activity today, but for the past week my schedule has been so crammed full that I’ve hardly had any time for myself. I took time yesterday to read for pleasure for once in my life, a luxury that’s been absent for more than a month now. With school, extra-curriculars, and homework every day, it’s hard to find time even to sleep.

One reason I’ve been so swamped is because, yes, my birthday is on Tuesday—and I don’t want to have to do homework on my birthday. I’m turning 20. This is scary.

It’s scary because 20 has always seemed like the tipping point into true adulthood. It’s not a major milestone beyond leaving teenage years, but it has always seemed that way to me. The 20’s are the years when things start really happening in life. College graduation. Getting a real job. Living on your own. Maybe finding that person you’re supposed to be with for the rest of your life.

I don’t feel like I’m ready for that yet. I feel like I’m not supposed to be 20.

Birthdays, I’ve found, are a lot different now. In high school, it was an occasion. People brought you cookies. Classes sang for you. People wished you a happy birthday everywhere you went. In college, and in adult life, things are different. Nobody knows that this day is anything but normal. Life goes on. Teachers will still be hard on you.

I think people, as they get older, want to forget that birthdays even exist. What’s one more tally mark on the board?

The thing is, each one of those tally marks means something. It means you’ve survived. It means you have turned one more page in life.

I’m going to treat it that way. I’m going to celebrate, even if it’s just by curling up in my bed and reading a few more chapters of my book.

But first I’ve got to finish all of this homework.

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Happy Hobbit Day! 5 Life Lessons from Middle Earth

In case you weren’t aware, today is officially Hobbit Day, aka the shared birthday of both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings saga. I’m sure most of you know of my extreme love for all things Tolkien (I have a map of Middle Earth on my wall right in front of me, for example), but, like most things, it’s hard for me to put into words precisely why I love something. However, in honor of Hobbit Day, I’m going to take a stab at explaining some of the important life lessons that we get from the great inventor himself, J.R.R. Tolkien. Prepare yourselves. Hooray for lists!

5. Anyone can be a hero

I’m a sucker for this kind of message in any sort of fiction. This theme comes out in a lot of my writing, personally, because I think it is an important concept. The big, burly heroes are admired and praised, but really—who didn’t cheer at the dinky little boy in the second Indiana Jones movie?

In The Lord of the Rings, this theme is pretty clear. “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Yeah, the hobbits are small physically, but this point is extended to their “importance” in the world. Nobody would expect a hobbit to scale Mount Doom, which is precisely why the theme works. It is about accessing inner strengths, finding courage that is less obvious than strength of arms.

I have to extend this point further, of course, to one of my role models in the series. Eowyn, unlike our little hobbit friends, is from a world of turmoil and corruption. Everyone tells her to stay down because she is a woman, but what does she do? She faces her fears (and prejudice) by riding into battle in disguise, beheads a freaking fell beast, and defeats the Witch King. With a broken arm. The Witch King that nearly killed Gandalf. In short, a woman (who is constantly told ‘no’) essentially wins the entire battle.

All while delivering the most epic throwdown line in all of history.

All while delivering the most epic throwdown line in all of history.

Basically, you never know what you can accomplish.

4. War affects everyone

Though on a more sobering note, this point is still important—especially in today’s day and age. I won’t pretend to know everything about war and its effects, but I do know that war does not end on the battlefield. I’ve been alive long enough to see that the effects of war extend to governments, countries, families. The actual fighting can be oceans away, but the discord resonates.

Tolkien himself knew this. As a soldier during the first World War, he experienced firsthand the violence and the heartbreak. He wrote extensively about his experience, from leaving his wife behind to watching “all but one” of his closest school friends killed. The war haunted him.

Undoubtedly this is reflected in his writing, most notably in the chapters cut from the Return of the King movie: the Scouring of the Shire. These chapters profoundly demonstrate how the war, even when “finished,” creeps into the most unsuspecting places—in this case, the peaceful Shire as it is overrun and corrupted by the remnants of battle.

3. The world is not an inherently good place

…but the good is worth fighting for.

Remember this scene?

OF COURSE YOU DO. It is one of the most moving scenes in the whole trilogy, and it sums up a lot of what these stories are about.

There can be many philosophical debates over whether or not the world is inherently good, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that there is always bad in the world. For as long as we’ve been here, there has been evil on this planet. I’m sure there will continue to be evil until the day we are all wiped out. The point is, however, that there is also good, and that good is what shapes us and makes the world a beautiful place.

Similarly, we all have good and bad in us, and it is our choices that make us who we are.

I'll just leave this here.

I’ll just leave this here.

And, in essence, we are all redeemable.

2. There is always hope, but we can’t reclaim the past

This point is particularly applicable to those just entering college or a new phase in life. Put simply, things can’t always go back to the way things were. Sometimes circumstances change too much—or you change too much—and the things that you leave behind stay the same. Going back to your old high school feels strange, distant, because you have evolved past what you were back then. The hard thing to accept is that things will never really be the same; sometimes it’s impossible to get that back.

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend.”

This is part of why I love the end of the series so much, because things do not go back to normal for the hero. He simply cannot pick up his old life after going through so much, so he decides to move on. This is a truth deeply rooted in our lives: moving on is a hard lesson to learn.

However, that’s not to say that the world is without hope. To the contrary: I believe, as did Tolkien, that there is always hope in the world, always a chance at something better. Remember the epic ride of the Rohirrim? It could be a metaphor for anything, really. When everything seems bleak, when it seems there is nowhere left to go, there is always a light shining in the East.

Do you hear the choir music? Because I do.

Do you hear the choir music? Because I do.

1. Fellowship is what makes us human

In short, friendship is worth more than gold and greed. It is worth more than power. It is worth more than titles and recognition and control.

I see that in Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ friendship, an aspect so defined in both of their works. I see it in Frodo and Sam’s relationship. I see it in Gollum’s internal war with himself.

We are human by how we respond to and treat others. Mercy, in essence, is greater than justice, because mercy connects us to others and humanizes us.

We need those relationships with others in order to survive and find meaning in life. We need love and trust and all of the emotional baggage that goes along with it all, because without that, we are living in shadow.

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Bonus: Say yes to adventure

It’s worth it.

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“Okay? Okay.” In Defense of YA Fiction

This is an issue that’s been cropping up a lot recently—it was brought to my attention last year, mostly, in one of my classes, but now I’m seeing it a lot more often. A relatively new genre, Young Adult Fiction, has emerged in the literary world, and I’ve heard countless voices condemning it or, worse, dismissing it. I realize that there is a debate as to whether or not YA is actually considered a genre, but, for the purposes of this argument, I will be referencing it as such.

First, maybe I should explain why this is relevant to me. I have always subconsciously written YA fiction without understanding what that meant, but last year I solidified my intent through one of my classes: Reading and Writing Young Adult Fiction. A few weeks into the class, with the encouragement of my professor, I had an epiphany. Now I am proud to call myself a YA writer, and I’ve found that I have a lot more focus in my work with that knowledge.

That class taught me a lot about the genre (partly because my professor was so unashamedly enthusiastic about it), but, more importantly, it showed me that it was okay to read and write these books. I’ll openly admit that I would much rather pick up a book from the Teen section of the library than the Fiction section. Even as I leave my teenage years behind, I find so much more enjoyment in those books. I was afraid to admit that for a long time because of how judged I felt.

Which brings me to the point: people don’t appreciate YA fiction.

In fact, in many cases, people actively look down on YA fiction.

I can see where they’re coming from—after all, those books are written for teens, and thus should only be read by teens. Right?

Wrong.

This is where people start generalizing. They see books like Twilight and The Vampire Academy and think that all YA books automatically fall into the pile of “poorly-written” and “unimaginative” and “false.”

I take that argument and I raise you The Book Thief. Legend. Harry Potter. Sabriel. Looking for Alaska. The Hobbit.

Sure, there are bad YA books, but there are also some pretty crappy adult books. The difference? You don’t see the entire adult fiction genre tainted by the selection of mediocre/trashy novels.

Image

I’m looking at you, James.
But not in, like, a weird way.

YA fiction is important. Look back at Weetzie Bat and you’ll find the essence of the genre as a method of teaching. In most of these books, the problems the characters face are very real and very relatable, and the lessons contained within the bindings extend far beyond the teenage years. That is why these books are not only essential, but enduring. That’s why adults keep reading YA, because often the challenges the characters face still apply in adult years, and the format of the books makes the digesting of material easier, faster, and more exciting.

I’d like to talk about Harry Potter for a moment. I am currently enrolled in an honors seminar about the book series—and this is where I’d like to pause. In constant fear of, again, being judged, I always have to qualify this class with the tag “honors seminar” to somehow prove that the class is legitimate. Tell anyone you’re taking a class on Harry Potter, and you’ll probably get a few eye-rolls and more than a little scorn. This, friends, irks me to no end. If you claim that Harry Potter has no place in literary critique circles, you have missed the point; that claim is ignoring the obvious success of these books and the impact across the globe. The fact that this series has endured and thrived nearly 20 years after its inception indicates that there is something important that YA naysayers are missing.

Is Harry Potter a modern classic? We won’t know for sure for many years, but I would say that it is heading in that direction, much like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. The reason people are hesitant to accept it and recognize it as such is for the simple fact that it is middle-grade fiction and therefore is tagged with this ridiculous social stigma.

I could go on for a lot longer about this, but I’m afraid I’m beating a dead horse. Minds have already been made up, but it’s my hope that soon the public will accept YA as a legitimate genre with legitimate subject matter. Yes, they’re written differently than “adult” novels. Yes, the characters are younger and greener.

But their problems are legitimate and real, and denying that is underestimating an entire generation and those who grow from it. Spitting on YA fiction is spitting on the text that treats teens as real people and challenges them with the hard moral choices of its characters.

It all comes down to personal preference, I suppose. Some people will swear by the classics (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE classics and get a lot of enjoyment out of them), while others will be content with a strict diet of Anne Rice novels, while still others will be happy with nothing more than the Teen Paranormal Romance section in Barnes and Noble. All I’m saying is–don’t knock it until you try it, and don’t judge others based on something in which they find meaning.

Maybe one day I’ll “outgrow” YA fiction. Maybe one day I’ll pick up a Tom Clancy novel and be as stimulated and as emotionally invested as I am reading John Green.

For now, I’ll stick with what I know best.

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Audition Superstition

I like to think that I am not a superstitious person. Sure, occasionally I think it’s fun to try walking without touching the sidewalk cracks; I smile when black cats run in front of me; when my mirror cracked during the move to the storage unit last year, I joked that my life would be cursed for seven years. However, it’s the belief, the knowledge, that nothing is going to actually happen to me that keeps me from labeling myself as “superstitious.”

Does that make sense?

But, despite all of that, it has recently come to my attention that in one particular circumstance, I have enough superstition to last me a lifetime.

Auditions.

I don’t know how I didn’t realize the lengths of my superstition until now. I’ve had plenty of auditions in my time (if I may adopt the persona of a wizened old woman), and I know these things have followed me and multiplied through the years. Maybe it was just a product of this week, when I was flooded with multiple days of auditions, that I recognized it. Discovering the superstition was an epiphany, like the turning point in a novel when the protagonist discovers he has actually been unwittingly consumed by the one thing he has been fighting.

Too soon?

Too soon?

Theatre superstitions go way back. I’m certainly not the first person to subconsciously fear trivial actions, and I won’t be the last. The most common of these superstitions, of course, is that of the Scottish play. Saying the name of the play in the theatre will, most likely, get you tackled by other members of the company—at the very least. This superstition can be traced back even to the 17th century. The origins of the myth are unclear, with theories ranging from deaths of actors on stage to theatres catching on fire during productions.

My audition superstitions, in addition to the common, dissolve into the strange and obscure:

  1. Good luck/break a leg: This is also a fairly common one, but important nonetheless. Tell me ‘good luck’ before an audition, and I will love you and appreciate you endlessly for your support. However, inside, in a dark recess of my mind that I try not to acknowledge, a small voice chants at me: You are now cursed for eternity.
  2. Earrings/necklace: Part of this is simply feeling confident in myself, which is an essential characteristic for anyone going into an audition. The crucial aspect for me, though, is the specific earrings and/or necklace that I wear for auditions. There are a pair of earrings that my mom gave me for my last high school production, just simple silver star earrings, that I have to wear every time I go in for a performance-based part. Maybe it’s comfort. Maybe it’s confidence.
  3. Prayer: Again, this is not a strange concept, and it’s also rather simple. Saying a quick prayer before auditions is a must, even if it is a rushed and panicked Lord please don’t let me throw up in front of these people amen.
  4. Elmo’s World: The last, and potentially most crucial, superstition. The crux of the matter. I must sing the chorus of “Elmo’s World” at least once, usually under my breath, before each audition or performance. I sing the chorus because I don’t know the rest of the words. It’s a tradition that was passed down through high school theatre from better actors and actresses than me, and it has stuck with me to this day. Make fun all you want, but I dare you to try this sometime. Sing this dumb children’s tune and feel the nerves melt away like freaking candle wax.

It’s silly, sure, but maybe these superstitions are what help give us a sense of routine in our lives. It certainly makes things interesting.

So, knock on wood, pick up a penny, and cross your fingers. What are some of your superstitions?

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How I Nearly Lost My Sanity (or: Writing Dangerously)

If things weren’t crazy enough, this week happened.

If you weren’t aware, this was both the first week of classes and the last week of a little project called Augnowrimo. This will be a little bit of a life post—fair warning—but too many things have been happening this past week.

Classes

The first week of classes, for any level of education, is always a unique experience. There is the underlying pressure of looking good, the stress of finding room numbers and memorizing names, the intake of dozens of pages of class expectations and grading standards and don’t cheat or we’ll exile you from society.

I’m here to tell you that first days of school get easier and less of a big deal, but there are still traps that you (if you are slightly awkward like me) fall into. For example, the first day of my French class, I arrived 15 minutes early, only to walk in on a class that was still in session that was decidedly not French. It was embarrassing, sure, but it was one of those things that make a first day seem complete. It’s a matter of well, now I’ve done my stupid thing for the day. We can move on with life now.

There are also moments of absolute surrealism; in this case, my honors seminar on Harry Potter. It sounds like a throwaway class, but, I swear, I knew I was in the right place when the professor began the class by playing the Harry Potter theme over the speakers. The first question she asked us was “Who is Harry Potter?” The first response came quietly from the back: “My childhood.” A collective chill, a collective understanding, swept through the room, and that was when I knew that not only would I love this class, but that I loved the education system here in general.

Second only to the high quality education of Hogwarts itself.

Second only to the high quality education of Hogwarts itself.

Augnowrimo

With beginnings also come endings. For those who don’t know what Augnowrimo is: August Novel Writing Month is a spinoff of National Novel Writing month, a challenge that takes place every November. The goal is, simply, to write a novel in one month. For Augnowrimo, participants set their own word goals. This year I chose a more reasonable 30,000 word, a deviation from the standard 50,000. It turns out that this was an incredibly smart move on my part, because I found myself scrambling in every spare moment of time this week to type up semi-coherent story threads.

It’s a push to writing. I often get asked, “What do you get if you win?” You get words. You get the satisfaction of actually writing something down. You get a firm deadline and an incentive to write—permission, even. It’s not hard to grasp.

With this last week, life became a strange struggle of revving the engine while the car is still in park. School was dragging me forward at an unstoppable pace, but Augnowrimo pulled me back in the opposite direction: the cusp of finality.

 

Looking back, it would be easy to get lost in the whirlwind of awkward introductions and embarrassingly attractive TA’s and amusement at the lost expressions on freshmen faces. The first week is always bathed in a sort of rosy glow, because it’s the one time in the year where all you have to worry about is staying awake while professors read the syllabus (verbatim) and all the homework you have is a questionnaire or some light reading. The school year will only get more demanding from this point forward, but it’s so worth it. It’s like getting your feet wet, feeling the current around your ankles, before jumping headfirst onto the water slide. I, for one, am ready for the ride.

You can find out more information about Nanowrimo here:

www.nanowrimo.org

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