Sunday, December 8, 2013

End-of-semester blues

Usually, the effects of wintry weather and school drag hit me worst around February, but they've come a bit early this year. I'm tired, I'm grumpy at myself for being so lazy, and I'm ready to go home.

I've never had finals that are really bad, and this year's aren't bad, either, but I have to put in some work on projects. Like, yesterday. (And you know how "yesterday" is sometimes a poetic expression for times long past?)

There are lots of factors that have led to the end-of-semester blues:
  • I failed NaNoWriMo for the first time in 5 years. I could write a post about how I had to re-prioritize, but considering my last post was a confident assertion of my ability to win...
  • My healthy eating has been mediocre eating for quite a while and the last few weeks have had far more sugar in them than I would like. This makes me tired. Also, I have a new theory that coffee makes me depressed.
  • I'm about a month behind on my daily Bible readings.
  • Wise use of time has been something I've aspired to for a long time. But self-discipline is sometimes destroyed by necessity, and then it doesn't know how to pick itself back up once it has room to breathe again. Or at least mine doesn't.
  • Currently, playing Bananagrams is more appealing than doing research on the Ottoman Empire. Much more appealing.
I'm ready for the semester to be done. I'm ready for Christmas. I'm ready to crochet presents, make pie, and watch Food Network with my cat.

But as an expression of the blues and as a way to defeat them, music prevails.

Last night I went to Taylor's annual Christmas concert, Sing Noel. And we did sing. I listed to marvelous music and words in languages I don't know, but the meaning is clear. This is a beautiful time of year for some reasons, at least. Music is a good place to start.

Also: Christmas.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NaNoHalfMo

Last month, I decided what I needed was a break from my novel, but not a break from writing. Thus, I planned to do what I started calling NaNoHalfMo -- write a story of 25,000 words. That seemed like a good idea to keep myself from being overwhelmed while still being creative and allowing a story that had been swimming around in my head to be told.

I'd like to think I have a talent for naming things, like characters and pet rocks. NaNoHalfMo, however, was too perfect. Half my month was eaten away with work in the theater, and I couldn't have written 834 words a day if I had tried.

Now, I have half a month left. Less, actually. Instead of 1,667 words a day to get to my goal, I have to write 1,923.

I just spent the last hour or so reading over all the NaNoWriMo pep talks and updates I've been ignoring for the last 18 days. And now I'm feel excited like I haven't been since last August when I started working on my second draft of Void. I'm starting to get infected with the frenzy that comes with NaNoWriMo. I'm starting to get hopeful, and stubborn, and determined.

Because now I have a chance to put other parts of my life on hold for writing instead of the other way around. Now I have room for a writing creative project and not just a theater one.

Now is the time for NaNo.

If you're writing a novel this month, I'll see you at the finish line.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Insidious

I made a rule for myself earlier this year that I would not do homework on Sundays. So far, I've been able to stick to it (except for when I do my American lit readings on Sundays, because that's reading and it's enjoyable, right?). Tonight, though, I'm going to bend my rule a little further, because it's not homework if it's a blog post!

This semester I'm enrolled in a lit seminar focused on C.S. Lewis. We've been going over The Great Divorce, which I read my freshman year when an actor named Anthony Lawton performed an excellent adaptation of it. Describing Lewis's words can't come near to the way he puts things himself, so if you haven't read The Great Divorce (or The Screwtape Letters), I urge you to drop all the things you're holding and pick up a book at once. And then maybe this will sound more like a musing on a book than an adapted essay.

Something made abundantly clear when reading about the ghosts in The Great Divorce is that selfishness goes along with the bending of good and truth. In making something more important than God, you set yourself up along with it. Almost any sin tries to make us God. All sins fail in that they take us farther away rather than bringing us closer to Him.

There are sins I am prone to. I look down on others for being less competent than myself. I'm jealous of those more capable than me. I let myself be carried away by more extreme emotions because I want to think I deserve to feel the way I do, which lets me wallow when it's too hard to do something about my circumstances.

The thing is, even when I'm aware of these things, I can trick myself into thinking I'm doing the opposite. Instead of being irritated at someone for doing poorly, I can pity them instead. That feels like compassion, right? Jealousy is just a desire to learn to do better. And when I know I'm letting myself get carried away, I can just try to get over it, and aren't I so strong and noble to be overcoming myself so?

Sin is insidious. It sneaks into the things we try to convince ourselves are right. It hides in the dark without knowing how big the light is.

The Great Divorce highlights how ludicrous sin and evil really are. In the face of God, in the knowledge of how deep and beautiful and enduring Truth and Goodness are, our shifting thoughts, self-justification, writhings and whimperings make for a pathetic show.

In Lewis's encounter with the Tragedian and the Lady, the Lady tries to make her husband understand. "Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their will self-crossed?"

No matter how we try to justify ourselves, Hell cannot veto Heaven. The things we would claim for ourselves cannot be right or great or truthful if they are not in God, even if born out of a desire to struggle for truth.

The real answer to all our desires can only come with eternity. With his usual deftness, Lewis puts it in words assigned to the character of George MacDonald:

"All answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain.... But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see -- small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope -- something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all."

In time -- or maybe, as Lewis puts it, once we're outside time -- we will see how small we currently are. We will grow bigger than the insidiousness that tries to claim us. Heaven will be an answer better than all our theories and strivings, better even than all Mr. Lewis's words can make us hope for.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Crafting

Every once in a while, I get in a really crafty mood. Sometimes it's the result of a project that's been mulling in my head and finally spills out, demanding attention (must! buy! yarn!). Other times it's from a need to do something with my hands and be away from people. Often, it's the drive to try something new.

For the last week or two, I've been working on my Halloween costume, a Regency-style dress so I can be Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. (Yes... book nerd...) I've never done such an involved sewing project before. I had to carefully read the instructions, troubleshoot problems, and worst of all, hand sew buttonholes. I even opted for period accuracy and hand stitched the visible seams. I usually wouldn't put in so much time for a Halloween costume, but my hope is that I can possibly use it in the future for reenactments and cosplay. (And now I can be Lizzie Bennet whenever I want.)

Making the dress started me thinking about the patience it must have taken to live in a time where people had to make their own clothes, grow their own food, and repair their own tools. Things we take for granted, even get irritated about if they take too long, were simply considered work to be done. People had to be productive in order to get to what was more important.

Except I realized that didn't have anything to do with me making the dress.

For me, doing something like sewing a dress simply because I can is a way to instantly feel accomplished. Since I'm good at doing crafty things, trying a different crafty thing feels like something new, but really it's just another exercise in things I know I can do. It doesn't take too much effort, but I still end up with a tangible manifestation of how skillful I am.

lotrolife.com
Even when I try something completely new to me, the beginning stages are often easier to grasp, so it feels like I'm making progress. I do believe it's important for a person to be able to do a wide variety of things, but in RPG terms, my weakness is a tendency to multiclass. And giving in to the excitement of trying new things can take away from working on more important things -- skills where I now need to put in a lot of effort to improve and really accomplish something.

Namely, writing.

Because I love learning, it's easy to feel satisfied when trying something new. It is much harder to get past the beginning stages and dedicate myself to becoming an expert. Writing my novel is proving difficult. It's no longer new and interesting, but if I want to excel at it, I'm only going to improve if I keep working, rather than distracting myself with easier projects.

It's funny how doing something by hand can show you how short your attention span really is.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Upcoming NaNoWriMo

I came up with a list of posts this week so I'll never be stuck without an idea on a Sunday evening. Unfortunately, I don't have enough brain at the moment to write any of those. Instead, I've got a quick update on one of my favorite things -- National Novel Writing Month.

Last year I did an August NaNoWriMo instead of the November version. This ran over into the beginning of school, but the summer version helped me avoid most of the stress of balancing school, theater, and writing for an entire month. This year, I've got another approach -- halving my word count.

My third year of NaNoWriMo, I wrote a book (based on Jack and the Beanstalk) that I realized wanted to be a graphic novel. It was painful trying to pack it with enough padding to make word count. The thing that really captured my imagination was the aesthetic of the world I imagined, one it took me a while to understand would work best in a visual medium. Since I want to illustrate it, that project is shelved until I get more experience in scripting and illustration.

This year I have an idea I'm also anticipating will be a shorter work. I'm going to shoot for 25,000 words, which will only be 833 words a day. (Or less than a page and a half. I can do that, right?) It is again a rewritten fairy tale -- maybe next year I'll try to shift out of that. I'm excited because I've never written a novella before, and I'm hoping I'll be able to play to the tightened medium. I'm also excited because the magic system is based on origami. This means I have to do research, but it also means I get to learn a new craft.

Unfortunately, my novel is still at a standstill, but I think it might be good to start a new and fun project for a change of pace.

Are you going to write a novel next month? If not -- what's keeping you?

Happy writing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Steelheart review

I should have learned long ago when my older brother handed me The Hobbit to trust his taste in books. Still, it's taken a couple years. There have been many cases when he would recommend a book, I'd tell him I'd get to it eventually, and then go about my daily life thinking I could find books perfectly well myself, thanks.

Then, since I'd delayed reading Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson much longer than necessary, he bought a copy and gave it to me. Since then I've been a bit more willing to trust. Also, he no longer has to remind me to read Brandon Sanderson's books.

I read Steelheart last week with high hopes. In short, it met expectations I might have had for any other book with its premise, but didn't quite reach typical Sandersonian levels of awesome.

Don't get me wrong. I liked it quite a lot. We've got an evil superpowered ruler and a team of resisters. We've got cool technology and character development. We've got edge-of-the-seat moments sprinkled with the ethics of rebellion.

What we're missing is the Brandon Avalanche -- the part of the book where stuff starts happening and then holy cow I didn't think of that and then things keep happening and, by the end, you're left in awe of the sheer brilliance of all the plot details and action you couldn't have imagined coming together in so short a time. Instead, we get a somewhat tamer climax.

But there are more books coming, and there are still questions unanswered. Nicely done, Sanderson.

As per usual, things were most exciting when we got to see the worldbuilding work. Supervillains -- called Epics -- exercise their powers and succumb to weaknesses. A city turned entirely to steel changes the lives of the people of Newcago. And we see how these things changed how one young man grew up -- David, the main character.

David is kind of awkward. I had to accept the awkwardness as part of the character and not the writing itself, but once I did, I was willing to go along with some of the running jokes (David's inability to make a good metaphor, being distracted in his thoughts as he talks to the reader, etc.). It works to show a kid who didn't get a normal childhood because he was too busy plotting revenge on his father's killer and still has some growing up to do. (Seeing this quirky 18-year-old guy launched into a group of hardened fighters is pretty endearing.)

The book isn't long, but it's packed full. Details are dropped at a headlong run as the story progresses, which was great, but description isn't Sanderson's strongest point. Again, I got used to it as we went along, but I might have wished some of the information to be more smoothly integrated into the plot. Usually I cared too much about what was happening for it to pull me out.

Team and leadership dynamics are some of Sanderson's favorite things, and we revisit those here. I love that in a tough, dystopian world, Sanderson makes his characters laugh. The thing is, he seems to like to do that by inserting at least one character who acts the clown. I love zany, humorous characters, but it's just not as fun when an author uses the same zany, humorous character every time (okay, so just once before in Alloy of Law, but still).

I've been nitpicking, but that doesn't negate the fact that I read this book within a day even though I kept telling myself I had homework to do. Do yourself a favor. Read this one, and then wait breathlessly for Firefight to come out next year.

And Mr. Sanderson? Bring back the avalanche. I know you want to.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Wisdom theology

Last Sunday, I finished reading Perelandra by C.S. Lewis for the first time. I loved it, and it's been interesting how bits of it have come floating up into my mind, intersecting with my days. One sentence in particular keeps occurring to me:

"You make me grow older more quickly than I can bear."

In the book, being made older is a phrase for being made wiser. Incidentally, I'm also taking a Biblical wisdom literature class this semester. I can only suppose reading Proverbs, the textbook on being wise, is supposed to make you older.

I've been reading other things, too. In addition to Perelandra, this week I might give you a review for Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart. I've also read some more Redwall, which has been lovely. I'm trying to memorize Rudyard Kipling's If. (Interestingly enough, the day after I started working on that, my wisdom lit professor brought it up as an example.)

I'm in a modern Middle East class which is making me look at the ramifications of religious beliefs and political systems. I largely try to ignore politics, but I'm starting to be convinced that it is important. How people live their lives every day, pulled together into nations -- it's a fascinating process of theology, that is if you define it how my wisdom lit professor does.

Real theology, our beliefs about God, shapes our every way of living. (When you take a look at what most people believe, is that scary or what?)

Everything I've been learning lately, even when reading fantasy, has been growing my mind in ways I don't really know what to do with. But it's significant. I feel it. I'm growing older every hour, but in the end, it seems to be filling me with thoughts I don't know how to express in my life.

How do I help the person I know is struggling?
When do I follow my emotions when dealing with problems, and where do I use my head?
How should I spend my time? Should I concentrate on every moment being more effective?
What, in my leisure, is worth pursuing?

I wish theology was something that would be more easily ingrained in my habits and in my heart. Until then, it stays in my head, until I can figure where to put it.

In any case, I've got more reading to do.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Books and a heart like a child

I have a plan for not getting too stressed out this year. It involves letting Sunday be a sabbath (even if that means lots of homework on Saturdays), taking walks, eating healthy (the part of the plan that is dropped the quickest), and, most importantly, reading books.

I did a lot of reading this summer, but I didn't really need it like I've found I do right now. This summer I had lots of introvert time. When I'm constantly surrounded by people, though, there's no retreat so convenient as escaping into a book. This is something I've been keenly aware of since about first grade.

I'm hardly the only person who, as a child, discovered books as a means of traveling to other worlds. There are books about children who love books -- even movies about children who love books. Sometimes, to emphasize the point, children literally travel to other worlds through books. Something else I've found, though, is how books can change the world I live in. I suppose they do that by changing me.

Whenever I read a book, I see its ideas finding echo in my daily life. I start hearing words that I might otherwise have forgotten. I start to interact with physical objects with the knowledge that they are really part of the universe. The smells and tastes of life start rooting me ever more firmly in reality even as they open my imagination. And because of this, all the books I've ever read have changed my life.

I spent most of today rereading The Legend of Luke, one of the books in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques I adored when I was younger. Today I realized that in literally every chapter the band of adventurers encounters an enemy, makes new friends, or both. Looking back, I'm pretty sure all of the ones I read were exactly like that. (I think there are three I haven't read.) There are many other things that are consistent between the books: silly dialects, an excess of songs and poetry, enormous amounts of attention given to food, and the knowledge that you will meet the counterparts of all the groups of creatures in the past books. This makes every story pretty much the same. However, my nostalgia meter is floating high, and I couldn't have loved it more.

Sometimes you need to be re-inspired. Sometimes you need to be reminded that good people go on adventures and fight evil. Sometimes you need to rejoice in a story filled with childlike innocence, and by that become a little more childlike yourself.
Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. -- G.K. Chesterton
Man cannot live on bread alone. He needs stories to feed his heart as much as he needs the Word to feed his soul.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

It's a God thing

Edit: after a couple days of letting this sit, I've started to worry that this post might be taken seriously. I promise that I don't usually write stuff this saccharine. I wrote this to point out the contemporary Christian's consistent usage of certain phrases, almost to the point of being ludicrous. I don't necessarily condemn any one of these -- I just wanted to point them out. So, without further ado:

Hello there, beloved. I've been praying for you. You see, God's laid it on my heart to speak the truth in love, just speak truth into your life. I believe we come together in intentional community here at Taylor to build one another up in our daily walks. I've been so blessed to have fellowship with you, and though I want to be a good steward of your time, I thought I'd take a minute to pour into you.

In this season of life, it's easy to feel like God's testing you. It might seem that there are stumbling blocks placed before you, and you might find yourself slipping from the straight and narrow, even straying from the path. When you're struggling, you don't want to become lukewarm. I want to hold you accountable. If you need to open your heart to God, I encourage you to really dig into the Word. Maybe find a life verse to be a lamp unto your feet. No matter the trials and snares, remember, God never gives you anything you can't handle. If he leads you to it, he'll lead you through it. I'm sure God will use it for your good.

Remember, it's a relationship, not a religion. You just have to trust God to move in your life. In short, you need to let go and let God. Don't listen to those lies from the pit the world's trying to tell you -- remember, you are not of this world. You have to give up your burden. I and your brothers and sisters in Christ will pray for you to bear fruit.

If you find you need to keep your sabbath holy, I'd recommend a media fast. Maybe try a prayer walk. You've just got to guard your heart in all this brokenness. I have some great devo books I can loan you. You never know when something might inspire you to rededicate your life to Christ.

If you ever need anything, you're always welcome at my small group. We'd love to lay hands on you or, if you prefer, we can just popcorn it. If you have any unspokens, that's okay too. I know some great prayer warriors with servant's hearts. Me? Oh, I'm just trying to be a Proverbs 31 woman.

Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a window.

I've got to go - I need some QT with Jesus in the old prayer chapel (It's like my prayer closet). Wish me traveling mercies, okay?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

People

This week, I have
  • assigned mailboxes for 54 people.
  • had heart-to-heart conversations with at least 5 people.
  • met probably 70 people I didn't know before.
  • consciously made time to talk to people. 
  • hugged at least 30 people.
  • hunted down many people so I could give them keys and information.
  • made my room presentable so I won't be embarrassed when people come in it. 
  • thought about the people from last year I miss.
  • worried that people don't like me.
  • been surprised when unexpected people have liked me.
  • reminded myself multiple times to write letters to two people, which I still have not done.
  • prayed with groups of people probably an average of three times a day.
  • realized I need to call people back home.
  • remembered what it was like being a freshmen two years ago and being in these other peoples' shoes.
  • taken time away from people.
  • had two emotional breakdowns from being around people too much.
  • been shocked and amazed at how God provides ways for people to survive in places where they would normally be fish out of water.
I joked earlier today that I had managed to fool everybody into thinking I was a naturally loving person. But I don't feel like I was faking it. This week of returning to school, training with other dorm staff members, and greeting freshmen and returners has stretched me in ways I don't think I would have been capable of handling two years ago. I would have been even more of a crying wreck -- this week was not without its struggles.

I couldn't have done this on my own. Under my own power, I would not have been able to deal with so many people. I would not be able to function without God.

My dependence on Him isn't perfect, but I'm ever marveling at the ways God can take regular, flawed people and enable them to do things far removed from anything they thought they would ever do. Really, I think that's one of the things He does best.

What did God do for you this week?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The new normal

I'm back at Taylor, and it feels quite normal.

I went to my Indiana church this morning. I am in a different room this year, but on the same floor, and the walls are the same and the type of doors are the same and the mess from moving in is the same. My freshman year, I came early for orientation and these last two years I've come early for theater and discipleship activities, so that feels normal too, even though campus isn't full. 

Summer patterns are gone. (This means no more Wednesday book reviews, but I will post reviews whenever I do have time to finish a book.) Already, I'm anticipating trying to do too much at once and being tired and going to friends' game nights. I can imagine the angle of the sun when I slip out the side door after chapel. I can ignore the voices that come from the street below my window at 11 at night, because those are typical.

But there's something that's not going to be the same as last year: the people. I have seven brand new people I'm supposed to take care of, as well as a few I know but not well. I have to make room for them in my life. 

I've made it possible for me to ignore people a lot. I'm used to working alone, I excuse myself for not remembering names and faces, and I like to take for granted that others are better suited to helping people than I am. For me, these things are normal.

I don't want to slip into patterns this year. I want a discernment that shows me what steps I need to take each day, and for that discernment to result in intentionality in forwarding relationships. (Sounds like a God thing, huh?) I'm not good at these things. They're not embedded in my normal. I hope to put them there.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Missionary review

My mom read this book before I did, and her reaction was, "I was kind of expecting more of a Christian message at the end."

I think I hemmed and hawed for a few moments before trying to tell her that dropping a churchy-stamped anvil on a reader's head is not what most writers are going for. Then I actually read the book. You know what? She was right.

The Missionary, by William Carmichael and David Lambert, was kind of a mixed bag for me, but my reaction was positive overall. And truth be told, there are a lot of good messages you can draw from it. How the decisions we make affect the people around us. Reliance on God. Trust in marriage. These themes are tucked into a plot that was a lot more like a spy-thriller than the Amish fiction-esque story I was expecting (I guess I didn't read the back, or look too closely at the cover).

The story is about David Eller, a missionary in modern-day Venezuela who leads a mission that shelters orphans. David is bitter at the system that puts so many children on the streets, and when he gets a chance to attack the disease instead of the symptoms, he takes it. Things get complicated quickly.

There's a lot of descriptive detail in here - technical details of plans and operations, down to the weapons. Also, a rather strange tendency to give the height and weight of most of the characters you meet. Perhaps that fits the way the military characters think. I thought it was weird. Some of the details build to vivid moments, which is good, and sometimes the models of the machine guns or whatever went over my head. Tastes will vary.

One thing I didn't like was that some characters only existed for plot advancement. It fits with the movement and variety, which feels intentional, but there are a few characters I wanted more well-rounded -- David's father and brother, for instance. There were a lot of elements in this, characters among them, that were used and then concluded without the mind-boggling connections and purpose I like in a plot-heavy book. Not everything gets explained, which I liked okay, and there were a few good surprises, but sometimes I wanted more explanations and connections that could have given thematic unity -- the "message" I felt was missing at the end.

It never gets back to David's mission; after a while, helping the poor impoverished children fades away. Sure, his life and loved ones were in danger, but the story didn't follow up on the consequences of his actions on his ministry. I guess there were other things to talk about, but I bet it could have been skillfully woven in, again, leading to a more solid ending.

Still, the things the authors did led to an action-packed and exciting book. You empathize with important characters, even some rough mercenary types, and the Christianity isn't forced. (Actually, I thought it could have taken a more central role toward the end.) I liked the complexity and beauty in the Ellers' relationship, and there are a few moments where the prose itself sparkles (and a few where it tries, but falls flat). If anything I've said here intrigues, you might want to give it a look.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Family vacation

I'm trying to come up with a blog post that will expend the lowest amount of energy possible. I thought uploading a photo would be a good summary of the weekend, since those seem to be half of what family vacations are all about, but it would be too much effort to try to figure out how to get the photo onto the blog when I'm using a netbook and a phone and I'm too tired to know how to put them together. (Don't tell me. Maybe I'll figure it out later.)

This will not approach close to 1000 words, but I can try to put together a picture.

I have bruises all over my legs from active climbing while playing woodchips.
I have sore feet from being barefoot on surfaces like gravel and forest trails on which people were not meant to be barefoot.
I have sunburn on my face from long amounts of time in the pool, even though I applied sunscreen. (Skin cancer is serious.)
I will be delighted to sleep on a bed instead of on a sleeping bag separated from the ground by only a thin layer of tent.
I will not want to wake up for work tomorrow because my body will be recovering from long days divided by nights spent on a sleeping bag separated from the ground by only a thin layer of tent.
I should stretch, because if I don't, my legs will be angry at me in the morning.
I have a sore neck from trying to find creative positions to sleep while in the car.

I have a wonderful family.
I love vacation.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Phantom of the Opera review

The Phantom is a heck of a lot creepier than in the movie. Just sayin'.

As a theater person, I was particularly interested in Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. Though I don't love the movie musical, one thing it impressed me with was a deep sense of the theatrical. I was interested to find that they didn't add that in. They took it straight from the book.

If you want to read more classics, but don't have time for really thick or dense books, I'd recommend this one. It's short and has enough thrill to keep you going, even with ornate details and the overwrought setup. (I mean that in the best way. It really works for the tone he's going for.) It also has an element I can't describe as anything other than Frenchness.

Things I liked: fast pace, overtones of horror that fit really well with the theatrical scenery, the way side plots got worked in, the Paris opera house, Christine, the Persian. Though he doesn't spend a lot of time forming their characters, Leroux gives us a vivid sense of what they're like. I was more impressed with Christine than I thought I'd be.

Things I didn't like: Raoul. I've always thought he was a bit wimpy, and though Leroux takes pains to tell us that he's brave, we get no sense of what he's like other than obsessed with Christine to the point of selfishness. Kind of creepy.

But not as creepy as the Phantom.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Looking forward

And in a moment, summer was pretty much over.

Well, there's actually still a month and a half of summer. But having been public schooled (alas), seasons for me tend to revolve around the school calendar. Heightened awareness of events ahead is making me feel like it's all coming to an end.

In my summer post from two and a half months ago, I outlined a bunch of the things I wanted to do. So far the scorecard reads like this:

Books read: 3/8 I had planned, but I read 5 I hadn't planned, so pretty much even.
Things done: 4/6. One of the things I have yet to do is a crochet project, but I have several hours of sitting in a car coming up that I can fill nicely. The last thing is harder... finishing the novel.

Someone suggested to me recently that I should take a break and write something else, since I was stuck. That sounded very appealing, but I have some simmering stubbornness that makes me want to finish the darn thing. A look back at the work I've done this summer will turn into a look of confusion, since it pretty much looks like it did when I left school, resolutions and lifestyle changes or no.

But when I look ahead, I start to get excited. Because in the future, I fix all the problems in the story and then it becomes awesome.

Other good things are also coming soon.

I'm going on vacation with my family. Pretty ecstatic about it.
I'm going back to school, where I will take on three jobs and audition for the musical. I also can't wait to meet the new girls on my floor. Next year looks like what I've wanted since I visited Taylor when I was a junior in high school.
I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year whether it kills me or not. I have an idea that's slowly cooking, and when I start making progress on my current novel, I'm going to begin planning for my new one (which I'm actually hoping will turn out to be a novella).

In the near future, there are people I want to see and places I want to be. There's a reason fall's my favorite.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1491 review

The more nonfiction I read, (and by that I mean I just voluntarily read a nonfiction book for about the fifth time ever) the more interested I get. My usual realm of books is fantasy, not reality. However, good fantasy must be informed by fact. So, out of curiosity, I picked up a book I thought could help me get to know an area of history I knew very little about.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann caught my eye in the library. It promised new revelations, and I did learn a lot, though I didn't retain all the names and dates I was probably intended to. I thought at times it moved a little slowly, but that may be because I was taking breaks and reading other things at the same time.

It's more interesting than that sounds, I promise. Mann is an engaging writer, and he goes between reconstructions of ancient world politics, archaeological excavations, and his own personal explorations smoothly to create a varied and interesting narrative. He explained some widely-held misconceptions about the pre-Columbian Americas and showed us how they're probably wrong, but not in a snobby, scholarly way. He takes us on a voyage of discovery. He quotes dozens and dozens of experts, and it looks like he's done his homework.

Well... most of it. Probably all the important homework. But I did catch one detail that made his credibility slip in my mind. In chapter 5, he explains one very old (and now discounted) theory that Native Americans were actually the lost tribes of Israel:
... at that time, according to scripture, the Hebrew tribes had split into two adjacent confederations, the northern kingdom of Judah, with its capital Jerusalem, and the southern kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria. After the southern tribes took to behaving sinfully, divine retribution came in the form of Shalmaezer V.... now repenting of their wickedness, the Bible explains, the tribes resolved to "go to a distant land never yet inhabited by man, and there at last be obedient to their laws." 
Having read the Bible before (even took a Hebrew prophets class!), I noticed he had it mixed up: Israel was the northern kingdom, Judah the southern.

Is this terribly relevant to the rest of the book? Probably not. It was one tiny detail, and maybe even an accident. However, as my writing professor has often repeated, one tiny detail wrong can cast doubt on all the rest of your work. It's a pretty simple one, too. I wonder that editors didn't catch it. They're supposed to have people check these sorts of things (or he could have done a Google image search. Or something.).

This error belies the 100-some pages of bibliography, notes, and appendices, however. You be the judge.

I read this book because I like to learn. Aside from just facts and accounts, it gave me a look into the worlds of archaeology and anthropology and the fierce, still ongoing debates about what we've learned really means. It fleshed out a culture that for me still looked like the Indians I learned about in elementary school. Now, I don't imagine pictures -- I imagine people. Living, breathing cultures, rooted in humanity just as much as they are in the mysteries of the past. It was eye-opening. I guess nonfiction will do that for you.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Jury of one's peers

In January, I did something I'd never done before. I asked a few people to review/edit a section of my story. It was ten whole chapters, the largest consistent chunk of my novel I'd managed to finish, and I wanted to know if it worked as well as I hoped it did.

I like to claim that I don't care what people think of me, and this is true most of the time. You don't like my clothes? All righty then. You think I'm a bit of a spaz? Justified. But when it comes to the quality of my work, I'm a little less stoic.

When the first person got back to me, I went through several flavors of emotional fluctuation. I was stressed, I was worried, I was irritated, I was hopeful -- and I hadn't even looked at her comments yet. It took me a couple of days to actually work up the courage to go over them. I told myself I didn't have time, that I wanted to be able to sit down and do it all at once. Really, I was procrastinating because I was afraid.

When my curiosity finally overwhelmed my cowardice, I found time to open the document. My stomach twisted into an anxious knot and my body tried to convince me that I should get rid of some nervous energy instead of sitting down and looking at things. I compromised by crouching on my chair. (Really.) I still had enough nervousness that I flew through the first few pages of comments, hardly registering one before I moved on to another. Everything's fine, I kept telling myself. The comments are happy. There is no judgment raining down on me.

After a few minutes of this, I started to sit more normally and read more carefully. I was able to pay attention to the comments and think about how suggested changes would affect my story. I realized that there the commenter made a good point, or that I needed to plant a detail a little earlier here. I was still uncomfortable, but anxiety had given away to excitement. She doesn't think it sucks.

No. She was quite encouraging and helpful. I realized that having other people look at my chapters had accomplished what I hoped it would: giving me new perspective and calling attention to areas that needed work.

When my second commenter got back to me, it was a little easier. And in the months since then, I've had many more opportunities for peer editing. My writing class last semester was pretty much dedicated to it. I was even able to let my mother read my completed third draft with little mortification, and she didn't hate it either (whew). The nervousness is still there, but I can get over it.

About a week ago, I asked for more feedback on a smaller section to help fine-tune viewpoint. Several people responded, and so far I've heard back from two. They helped me realize that I haven't fixed my problem yet. This brings me closer to figuring out how to actually fix it.

It's important to give useful feedback. I love to edit other people's work, but I wonder if some people feel just as nervous as me when they get my comments. Because of the good feedback I've received, I try to keep my edits kind and helpful, but I can think of times where maybe I went overboard, or I had too much to say (which causes sneaky guilt and suspicions of hypocrisy). I can only hope I've kept others' editing experiences as positive as mine have been.

Peer reviewing is tough. The things you say can wreak havoc with others' confidence and creativity. The only rule I've come up with for coping? Relax. You're not on trial.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Forgotten God review

I haven't read too many of the books I put on my to-read list this summer. I want to blame my small-town library that doesn't have the books I planned to read (and charges money for an inter-library loan; I'm still grumbling about that), but I already had some of them. I took one of them home with me from school: Forgotten God, by Francis Chan.

This was assigned reading for the discipleship program I'm in for my second year. (Last year's book was With by Skye Jethani; I recommend all Christians go read it now. Or you can read this one first, if you like.) I'm glad there are people who make disciples of Jesus for a living so they can point me at good books, among other things. I have not read Chan's Crazy Love, but I've heard good things about it. If it's as good as this one, I'll put Crazy Love close to the top of my reading list.

Forgotten God is subtitled "Reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit." This intrigued me, because for a while I've had the sneaking suspicion that I was doing just that. How was I supposed to interact with the Holy Spirit? Where was the warm, fuzzy feeling I'd hoped for, expected? Why didn't I feel like I hadn't learned anything about Him in church?

Maybe I didn't get direct answers to those questions, but Chan, in clear, effective language, described what a relationship with the Holy Spirit looks like and why we need it. He put in useful terms things I needed to hear and refreshed my enthusiasm for spiritual discipline.

This is not a book to be read without study or reflection. I know, because I feel like I missed a ton when I read it in bits and pieces over the summer. I'm going to give it another go before I head back to school because I want to absorb everything. Some of the lessons that stood out to me, though this is far from the sum of the book, were these:
  • You can pray to the Holy Spirit. This was something I'd never thought of before.
  • This quote from near the end of the book: "We often choose to face life's issues and circumstances in exactly the same way as someone without the Spirit of God." Food for thought.
  • TRUST the Holy Spirit. This one's really come into play for me the last few days.
Give it a look yourself. There is no Church without the Spirit of God. We shouldn't neglect that.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Spirit half empty

Last semester, I was given a devotional/Bible study called Ask to Listen. I went through it because being attuned to the Holy Spirit sounded wonderful, and I hadn't much experienced it at that point. I'm currently reading Francis Chan's Forgotten God, partially because it's required reading and the rest because being attuned to the Holy Spirit sounds wonderful, and I haven't much experienced it at this point.

In my mind's eye, listening to the Holy Spirit looks like receiving a constant stream of messages, little nudges and reminders throughout the day that help me do this, point me in that direction, keep me spiritually "in line." Looking at this picture, though, I'm not sure I should categorize it as mere wishful thinking or just willful misunderstanding. The more I read about being filled with the Spirit, the less it seems to be about the messages we're given.

I'm looking for guidance, but maybe that's not the point. The people I read about don't seem to be seeking words, but seeking to be filled. Take Brother Lawrence, for example, a humble monk who constantly practiced the presence of God:
"My day-to-day life consists of giving God my simple, loving attention. If I am distracted, he calls me back in tones that are supernaturally beautiful.... Sometimes I imagine that I'm a piece of stone, waiting for the sculptor. When I give myself to God this way, He begins sculpting my soul into the perfect image of His beloved Son. At other times, I feel my whole mind and heart being raised up into God's presence, as if, without effort, they had always belonged there.... I want Him to do whatever He pleases with me; all I want is to be completely His."
- Fifth letter of Brother Lawrence
This is what I'm missing. I don't really want to complain about how much I suck, because I did that last week. But I want the Spirit to be evident in my life. I want to do better than just slipping in that I'm Christian in casual conversation with my coworkers. I want to cure my sudden onset of ADD while I'm praying. I want the peace that comes with fully and completely trusting God, or so I've heard. I want more of the Spirit.

I know He's here. He's worked miracles of providence before my eyes. But I still think I'm living with my spiritual glass half empty. Thinking of it as "half full" instead doesn't help.

I want to be Spirit-filled.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

American Gods review

As a writer, reader, and consumer of media, there are certain things I've come to expect from a story. Starts, stops, turning points in specific places, character decisions, final showdowns. Many stories are, to some extent, predictable. That's okay -- these are the things that orient us in the story's world, and within that framework there is room for surprise and intrigue.

And then there are books where I don't have any idea when any of that is coming, but it's seamless and stimulating anyway. Maybe I just need to read more Neil Gaiman and I'll get used to it.

American Gods was gripping, original, and fascinating. To give a basic premise, imagine that all the gods of all the people who ever came to America followed them over. And further imagine that they stayed here, fading, when people stopped believing.

It's not that simple, though. We follow a man named Shadow who travels across the country working for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. We meet the new American gods, beings of information and efficiency, who know that they're just as temporary as the gods who came before them. We feel the tension rising in a country that is undoubtedly America -- but an America in which the dark imaginings of our forebears still live.

Like I said, I could never say what was coming next, even when some of the mysteries began to be revealed. There are even a few mysteries left unanswered, which I liked. However, this book is not for all readers. There's plenty of disturbing, sexual, and violent content. For the most part I think it made sense in context, but it's strong.

I was glad to read a story that didn't play to my expectations. I have previously read Gaiman's Stardust and Coraline, and those are fascinating reads as well. If you're looking for a storyteller who can take you places, Gaiman's your man. But watch out for the gods.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I suck at loving people

I guess the title of this post isn't completely true. I don't suck at loving everybody. Some people make it easy. There are a few people who make it very, very hard. Most people, though, are in the middle, which means I can't blame everything on them -- how I feel about them is up to me.

I've heard many people say that love is an action, not just a feeling. But if you love somebody in deed while at the same time you really wish you could just poke their eyes out, shove them off a cliff, and sprinkle them with shark bait, what does that mean?

I really don't know. I suppose it would be an exercise in self-control, which is a good thing. But that's not really the point.

At college, I don't have a problem getting along with others. There are so many people filled with the love of God I feel that if the world could just see them all at work, every heart would belong to Him. I am drawn to all the people who look like Jesus. Among those people, I feel at my best. With their influence, I have an easier time loving others.

When I was in high school, though, I pretty much kept to myself because I didn't want to talk to anybody. By the time I graduated, I had a few close friends, but often I would hang by myself at social events I had to go to and avoid the ones I didn't. I could be friendly on an individual basis, but on the whole I did not exhibit any sort of love, Godly or no.

I maintain that there's a difference between being introverted and not loving. A few days ago, when I told my younger brother I didn't want to go hang out with people, he actually said, "Read your Bible. We're supposed to love others."

(I used self-control and no shark bait on my brother that day.)

Extroverts can suck at loving others as much as I do. At least I hope so. It just seems unfair otherwise.

There's verse upon verse that tells us to love each other -- each other being Christians, I believe. But we're also supposed to love as Jesus loved, and Jesus loved everybody, in heart and in deed. Even when he wasn't surrounded by people who made it easy for him. Even when he was tired. Even when what's-his-face was being loud and annoying.

What this means for me is that I've got problems when it comes to being like Jesus. Because trying to love someone I don't is like having my eyes poked out, being shoved over a cliff, and sprinkled with shark bait.

And that really sucks.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court review

This was my first experience with Mark Twain. Through what's probably egregious neglect as a reader, I've never read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, and so his style was new to me. It was, to say the least, interesting.

It took me a while to get into A Connecticut Yankee, I think because the story picked up more toward the end. There isn't too much in the way of plot events, problems to overcome, hidden mysteries that become revealed. Rather, our narrator simply tells us things as they come, or advises us of things he set in motion earlier.

Hank Morgan, a factory supervisor from 1890s Connecticut, is suddenly transported to Arthurian England. In a few years, he goes from being a prisoner to be executed to chief minister of the land. He explains this convoluted process as if it's the most natural thing in the world, a plan put into motion through sheer American know-how and ingenuity. It gives you a feel for the man, and that was part of my problem with it -- I couldn't quite tell if I liked Hank Morgan or hated him. I always have a hard time getting through a book if I don't like the protagonist, but in the end he proved to be interesting, entertaining, and very sharp.

There's satire aplenty, and themes of freedom and independence. But it's dark. Twain's wit is through Morgan directed mercilessly against an era we're not used to looking at with such spite. I have a deep fondness for stories of knights and castles and such things; maybe the story was written for people like me, to slap us out of such sentimental nonsense into what, after some thought, appears to be much more like reality. Of course it would be a huge pain to go galloping across the country in full plate armor. And the nobles probably were that terrible to the common people in those days. But then, we're given an image like a knight with a sandwichboard sign advertising ovens, or soap, or a newfangled sewing machine, and we have to laugh.

Whether you like this book or not is really going to depend on what kind of book you usually enjoy. If you do like somewhat older-fashioned books, if you do like satire, if you can handle a fair amount of descriptive noodling before getting down to the meat and bones of the plot -- have at it. From A Connecticut Yankee alone, I can definitely say Twain is a must for any serious reader.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Making Time

I haven't posted about writing much lately. That's because there hasn't been much to tell. Apart from marking up some manuscript pages with red pen and listing some changes for the first few chapters, I haven't done much. This has been gnawing at the back of my mind, and I've been wondering how to be more productive.

The question is, why is that a problem when I only have a part-time job?

When I first went to college, I had a hard time sleeping. Insomnia was really starting to mess with me before I figured out the cure: exhaustion. At school, I got to be busy enough that sleeping as soon as I went to bed wasn't a problem. Now, however, it doesn't seem like enough. I clean hotel rooms during the day. When I get home, my body is tired and sore from kneeling and scrubbing and carrying things. I'm usually tired enough that I don't want to even think about writing. Planning a chapter sounds exhausting. Still, it's a part-time job. There are lots of hours left in the day. And the troubles sleeping still sometimes come creeping back.

That restlessness is starting to bother me. And my lack of progress has been bothering me for a while. So I've decided I'm going to change to make time for my story.

I've claimed to be a morning person before, and now I'm going to prove it. My new goal is to go to bed at 10:30 and wake up at 6. And in the hour and a half before I need to get ready for work, I will write.

Maybe it doesn't sound like much, especially to those who have to wake up that early to work. But it's the act of prioritizing and changing that matters. I'm going to show my body and my mind that I'm serious.

I've often prided myself on being a hard worker. But priding yourself on your abilities should be a red flag for a Christian. I've thought and I've struggled and I've procrastinated, and the only thing I can figure is that I'm supposed to finish my story. If God's given me the ability to write and work, I can finish my novel. And I think I'm supposed to finish it.

And since I've chosen that, it's time to make a change. It's time to cheat my internal clock. It's time to make time.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Same Kind of Different As Me review

This was a random find in the library, though I'd been meaning to read it for a while based on the cool title alone. I was expecting a clever story carefully following the title's theme. It turned out that it wasn't the book I thought it would be -- it was better.

Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (with Lynn Vincent) is a story so good you'd think it's fiction, but it's not. It actually happened that a homeless guy would be best friends with a millionaire art dealer. And the art dealer's wife saw it in a dream. And had a dream bigger than that -- that they would change the city and reach out to the homeless.

Before that, it's about a struggling marriage that God turned around. It's about a sharecropper who stumbled though life until finding peace. We see the broken world that made them both, and then we see how they changed it.

In the whole story, God shines through. He's not plastered on top, like some Christian books try to do. You can see that the events were the work of His hands.

Writing-wise, it's engaging throughout. A strong dialect is used for Denver's point of view, but it doesn't detract from the story. Especially towards the beginning, I was even more eager to read his chapters than Ron's, maybe because his story was so foreign to me.

In retrospect, the only thing I would criticize is the title. The phrase is dropped toward the end of the book, but I didn't see a thematic reason why it would be picked up and put on the cover. The people in the story are very different from each other, but they still connected. Manipulating the words into the title seemed kind of forced. In any case, it got me to pick up the book, so I'll stop complaining.

It's inspiring, engaging, and beautiful. I heartily recommend it to everyone.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Faking it

Internet at my house is being weird, so Sunday's post is a Monday post this week. Sorry, all.

Soon after I turned eighteen, I remember lying on the couch with my head in my mom's lap. I said that I didn't think most adults did that sort of thing. Mom told me that that was okay, and I could put my head on her lap any time. I felt reassured, but for the two and a half years since then, I've had the sneaking feeling that I'm actually not a real adult at all.

My terms for what constitutes a "real adult" are vague, but I know I'm not it. They're responsible and have real jobs and make lots of payments on things. They're good at telling other people what to do. They don't skip places or get excited about seeing bunnies or enjoy coloring (like I do).

xkcd.com
But the fact remains that I'm 20 years old. I don't have a car or a house or an apartment. I live with my parents, and will continue to do so until some unknown point after I graduate. I have a job, but it's only part-time, and all I'm doing with it is scraping up the money to go back to school.

I feel like real adults are supposed to be secure. They have a place in the world they've made for themselves. When I think about the future, imagine where I might live or might do, I feel like I can be content anywhere, because those choices about where I was or what I was doing would be mine. But right now, I feel like almost everything I do is to fulfill some requirement of circumstances that are around me. And the things I do that are just me aren't very grown-up at all.

But I like those things. Maybe being me is more important than being an adult right now.

I should figure it all out sometime. Until then, I'm just faking it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pillars of the Earth review

Coming back from spring break, my ride and I had a few hours to kill before picking up his roommate at the airport. We spent the entirety of it at Barnes and Noble. I wandered half the store, picking up anything that caught my eye. One of the books I wrote down to find at a library later (poor college student) was Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.

I'll admit I grabbed it for the cool, architecture-y cover and extra-fine paper, but then I read the foreword by the author himself. Follett explained that even though he usually wrote thrillers, he had become fascinated by cathedrals over the course of his life, and wanted to write a book about one being built. He wasn't a Christian, having grown up in a strict Plymouth Brethren church and disliked it, but that didn't dissuade him from visiting cathedrals in every city he visited.

He certainly did his research. I still needed to look up some of the terms to understand the different parts of the cathedral, but the picture he puts together gives a good idea for the scope of such an enormous and intricate building. His dislike of the church also didn't keep him from writing a very well-fleshed out and godly monk, who was my favorite character in the novel. (I go to a Plymouth Brethren church, by the way.) I appreciated his ability to find Prior Philip's perspective and make it equal to those of the non-Christian characters in the novel.

We also follow Tom, the man whose dream is to build a cathedral; fierce and beautiful Aliena, a noblewoman fighting to regain her place; the unconventional Jack, who follows in the footsteps of his stepfather, Tom; the malevolent Bishop Waleran Bigod, master manipulator; and William Hamleigh, the ascended bully with an agenda.

Overall, I liked the book, but there were some disappointments. Most doorstoppers I read (Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, Neal Stephenson) have a TON of plot in them. It only makes sense, for such a large book. Pillars of the Earth kept me reading, but I was surprised that a thriller writer didn't put in some more twists and turns as to character motivations and turns of event. Part of this had to do with tying in actual historical elements; another factor was using the point of view of one of the villians, William Hamleigh. Thus, we would see dastardly plans being planned, and then we wouldn't be surprised when our good guys reacted to them. This actually did more good for the book than bad, but still, I wanted more surprise and thrill than was present. There was one big mystery that lasted for the whole course of the book, but it was more in the background than anything else. Bringing that forward could have helped pull readers along for the 60 in-story years and 900+ pages.

I had nothing to complain about with the writing itself -- and not much to praise, either. The prologue did an excellent job of hooking the reader, but other than that the writing was straightforward, though with a decent amount of differentiation between character voices. With such a big scope, I could have wished for more beautiful, memorable words.

Another thing that disappointed me personally was the amount of sex in the book. Apparently this is standard fare with Ken Follett, something I didn't know going in, so I was unprepared. This goes back to the dastardly villain thing; William Hamleigh rapes multiple women over the course of the book, mostly to show the readers exactly what kind of person he is. It's effective at that. I found it excessive -- it's quite graphic in almost every instance. Your mileage may vary. There's also a fair amount of violence, but since it deals with war and medieval England, I found it justifiable.

Still, villains are fought, futures are wrought, and all the characters we've been rooting for and against get endings worth reading about. For reasons previously stated, I won't be picking up the sequels. Still, I'm glad I read it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Microposting

I'm trying to catch up on the episodes of Writing Excuses I haven't been listening to for the past year. If you want to write genre fiction, or any fiction, you should listen to this podcast. Anyway, every once in a while they do an episode of "microcasting," where instead of 15 minutes on one subject, they answer a variety of questions in one 'cast. Since I didn't have one really solid idea for a post this week, I decided I would micropost.
~~~
"You should really be wearing shoes back here," my boyfriend told me.
"I'll be fine," I said. I have a hobbitish tendency to refuse shoes during the summer, and my feet are pretty tough as a result. Consequently, I wasn't afraid of walking through the timber to help find firewood for the bonfire on Friday. However, timbers on old farms have often been dumping grounds for junk, as I should have known.

After stepping on what was probably a shard of a broken toilet, I hobbled back to my boyfriend's house, leaving nice splashes of blood on the leafy ground. Even after bleeding though one layer of bandages, I didn't think it was all that serious, so we gave it another layer and I sat around the fire for a couple hours, and only sitting, as my boyfriend insisted. When I got home, my parents gave it a look and decided I should go to the emergency room. I now have four stitches, a pair of crutches I only needed for two days, and some Finding Nemo and Iron Man stickers the nice people at the ER gave me. Today I've mostly regained mobility, though I'm still walking a little on the side of my foot, but the stitches aren't supposed to come out for another week. Oh bother.
~~~
When I need a respite from people, I tend to archive-binge on my favorite webcomics. I've added a new one. Order of the Stick is now on my list of comics to follow, and next time I need to be anti-social for a couple of days, I know where to look.
~~~
Sometimes you need to tear down something old so you can rebuild. On the other hand, sometimes you can just slap some paint on it and it will be fine. Both of these philosophies have been key as my family's been fixing up our old house. Today we tore out half the front porch, and the roof above it is sitting precariously on temporary posts as we tear out the rotting supports beneath. My mom has a vision of a new, pretty porch railing and flowers planted in front of it.

Looking at our house, it's easy to get discouraged about the amount of work we have to do. Weekend after weekend is spent tackling some project that usually leaves the house a mess, and we know that soon there'll be yet another project that will make it look like we're actually tearing the house down, not fixing a pocket door or putting sand paint on the ceiling or wiring upstairs. But we've come pretty far. I found some pictures a while ago of when Dad and I took down the old cabinets in the kitchen prior to knocking out the crumbling, icky plaster. Now we have a blue and white kitchen with a Bible verse painted on the wall. Eventually we will refinish the old wood floors and put in carpet and finish painting and rebuild the front steps and fix all the screen windows and get air conditioning and tile and fix the hole in the attic and reroof and put stairs up to the attic and clean up the basement and string the stairs to the basement and plant more flowers and get new siding and....

Sigh. I love this house. This old, stupid house.
~~~
Before I get out of my car to work in the mornings, I pray that I'll be a good worker and a good witness. I don't really know how to do the latter. Labor comes naturally to me. Reaching out to people doesn't. I'm used to school and church, where most everyone is nice and we all have something in common -- Jesus. At work, most everyone is nice, too, but most of the other people I know don't wrestle with custody issues for their kids or have cheating boyfriends or no teeth from former meth addictions. I listen to them talk about these things - I think that's a good first step -- and when they ask about my life, I tell them. And when I mention having a good family and supportive parents, I'm told I'm lucky. I know I am, now.
~~~
I've been telling myself I'll do this for two weeks, but now I'm telling the Internet so that it'll actually happen. On Wednesdays I intend to review the books I've been reading here for the blog. They will be pretty random, things that caught my eye in the library, but I hope they'll be enjoyable and interesting. Maybe I can point you at some good books.

That's it for microposting today. The only problem is it's hard to come up with a relevant concluding sentence with just the right kick, humor, or both. Oh well.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Storytelling and the Man of Steel

On Friday, I went to see Man of Steel. Just in the last year or two, I've been getting into superheroes and comics, though I'm still largely ignorant of the vast canonical body of story available. I'm also a sucker for a character who represents hope, and I loved the old Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, so I was looking forward to absorbing some more superhero knowledge and storytelling.

About halfway through the movie, my inner critic took off its suspenders of disbelief and started nagging at me. It wasn't that it was unbelievable -- you know, for a superhero movie -- but I had stopped enjoying it and wanted to assuage my disappointment by complaining.

There was a lot more angst than hope, and a lot more explosions than anything else. Like, literally half the movie. By the end, I was exhausted just from watching it. I complained about that for a good long while, but eventually I turned on other aspects of the movie. Superman didn't do much growing and changing over the film, and whenever they needed to hint at that growth they threw in a flashback that showed him dealing with those issues when he was younger. In a depressing, angry, tense way, of course. And it was weird how the whole first half of the movie felt like a beginning, or beginning stacked on top of beginnings, almost up until things started exploding.

I vented these kinds of complaints to my boyfriend for a while, but talking about it raised some questions for me about stories and movies in general. Were the things I didn't like really bad, or just different? Should I be looking at things differently, or is criticizing a movie with a writer's expectations legitimate? And is it fair to be angry at a movie for not meeting my character expectations? Is it bad for an adaptation to change a familiar character if they can make a good story? If it is, is it worse to stay true to a character and make a mediocre story?

It started me musing about storytelling conventions in general. On the whole, I like tropes. I like how they provide a framework our understanding knows how to use, as well as the potential for introducing different ideas through familiar channels. There's always the possibility for new ideas, but when channeled through what we already know, these differences make the stories exciting, dynamic, because our emotions are engaged but we are met with the unexpected.

But when presented with something really different, we often react negatively. Sometimes that different thing becomes popular. Sometimes that different thing was disliked for a legitimate reason. I was trying to explain why the latter half of the movie was bad accordingly. I explained to my boyfriend the scene-sequel concept.
Me: After scenes with a lot of action and intense stuff, you need a calmer scene. Then it can go back to action.
Boyfriend: Why?
Me: ......
It's a simple answer, but it threw me for a loop. I eventually answered it was so that we can absorb the information and consequences of a scene and so the characters can recover and get ready for what's next. I still think it's a good system. But is that the only way to go? After I thinking about it, I guess it doesn't have to be.

I didn't really like Man of Steel, but I think it was still good to watch it. They did pull off some neat stuff. They packed a ton of story into two and a half hours. Just watching how they did that was interesting. And it was good to find so many questions waiting for me. I still haven't come to many conclusions. Well, other than don't go to a movie the night before you have to wake up early for work, but that one should have been obvious.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Interrupted rhythms

I consider myself to be a happily disorganized person. I prefer this to expending lots of effort to keep everything orderly and planned. It may not be the best system, but I can usually juggle projects with minimum fuss, and it works for me. Lately I've realized how the preservation of rhythm is one way I keep things straight without active work.

Sometimes at school I would get busy enough that I would forget which day of the week it was, but after a few second's consideration I could remember because today I had my lit seminar, and that happened on Tuesdays only, or I slept in this morning so that made it a Thursday. Rhythm from the days of the week and the habits that accompanied them kept me going so that I rarely missed anything.

I don't have that anymore. I also don't have nearly as much to do, but it's still messing me up.

For example, this last Sunday morning I had work. (Hooray, gainful employment.) Work is going to make me miss church about every other week, but I've only had the job for a week and it's not going to be regular anyway, so that rhythm is not in place. The Sunday before that, I was coming back from a wedding. The weeks didn't feel normal, so no weekly reminders, so no blog posts. (Sorry about that.) Plus work and new exciting taekwando classes are leaving me bodily exhausted, so I don't want to do anything but lie around and maybe read. This has not been good for my novel.

Still. Taekwando, twice a week. ...... that may be my only starting point, since I work most days but with unpredictable days off, my younger brother needs to share the vehicle with me on different days, my family takes on sporadic house-improving projects, and I don't have any other regular responsibilities.

Does this mean I'll have to start making a weekly schedule for writing and regular tasks, just to make sure I get stuff done?

I hope it doesn't come to that.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Editing question marks

The internal editor. Almost whenever I hear someone talk about writing, this person comes up in some form or other. Now that the early drafts are done, my editor brain is taking over. In my two rewrites, I've really gotten to know my story. Now that I understand it, my editor's trying to tell me what does and does not work.

When you add "infernal" in front of "internal," you're usually talking about when the editor comes up   -- unwanted -- during the early stages of writing. At this point, the editor tends to offer unconstructive comments and hinders writing more than helps it. But once it's got a good amount of material to work with, the editor ceases to be infernal. Actually, I think mine becomes a little insecure.

My editor brain likes to ask a lot of questions it expects my writer brain to answer later. Literally. Reading though my manuscript, I write down several comments for page. Most of them end with a question mark. Examples:

  • Hint at this character being old before this?
  • Do these people get named later?
  • Neaten up this sentence?
  • Are these two sentences connected enough?
  • More imagery -- show what background characters are doing?
  • Cut this part?
  • Plus dozens of question marks next to words I may or may not want to change.
Some of them are legitimate questions, but you'd think my editor would know when I need to neaten up a sentence. 

It's weird, because I do feel like I'm making progress. It's just funny to realize I'm taking note of a lot of problems and not necessarily fixing them. Maybe my editor's so used to being shoved back so I can get some writing done it's afraid to really come out.

I don't want to pull my punches, especially on myself, but this is the farthest I've ever gotten in editing such a large project. I can pick short stories to pieces, but my novel is being more difficult. It's hard to see how one change is going to fit twenty chapters down the line.

Maybe my editor needs to be just a touch more infernal. I need to loan it a machete and give it license to kill. I need to let it not just ask questions, but answer them.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Summer

I've always been kind of a freak when it comes to summer. I like humidity, but loathe heat. I get bored and listless when I'm not in a learning environment. And I'll probably read more in the summer than I do during the school year.

One trick I figured out a few years ago was to assign myself goals -- or, shall I say, deadlines? -- to complete before the end of summer.  A lot of the ideas spring out of things I want to accomplish, but don't have the time or means to do when I'm at school. In the past I've successfully sewn a dress, completed a summer version of NaNoWriMo, and even sufficiently motivated myself to clean and organize a closet full of craft supplies. I'm interested in seeing what this summer will turn up.

On my reading list:
  • Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (I saw it at Barnes and Noble and it's been in the back of my mind ever since)
  • 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea and a bunch of other stuff by Jules Verne. Have been meaning to get to it for a while.
  • The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
  • Shades of Milk and Honey and the rest of the series by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Forgotten God by Francis Chan. Required reading, but I'm looking forward to it.
  • A reread of good old Pride and Prejudice.
  • Relatedly, a Jane Austen biography.
  • A partial reread of the complete and unabridged Les Misérables -- got it for my birthday and haven't had time to finish it, though I've read a mostly-unabridged version.
  • Lots more I've probably forgotten
On my to-do list:
  • Practice my taekwando to the point of being better than where I left off at school. I'm just barely a yellow belt and I probably won't start lessons again until I get back.
  • Finish crocheting a pair of opera sleeves
  • Tame the barn kittens!
  • Help family with house projects -- new drywall, refinishing floors, etc.
  • Listen to a backlogged year of Writing Excuses, a favorite podcast
  • And, most importantly, finish the novel.
 These things will be combating the all-important GET A JOB that is currently screaming at me, but right now, my summer is undetermined. Totipotent, if you will. (Plant bio still has not banished itself from my mind.)

My home state of Iowa has welcomed me back with thunderstorms and tornado watches. I'm embracing the humidity and current lack of heat. God willing, I will make this into a beautiful summer full of learning and new experiences.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Saying No

I remember hearing about a writer who kept a sign over his desk. It was a reminder for him to keep his responsibilities in check and not overextend himself. It only had one word on it -- a big, fat, NO.

I can certainly see the use of it. If I better kept in mind all the things I have to do, I might find it easier to say no to extras so that I have ample time to get the essentials done. I always do, but my typical modus operandi is "busy and stressed." Maybe things would be easier, maybe I would have more energy if I gave myself some breathing room. I've realized this is a problem for me, but at its root lies another one: I don't want to say no.

I guess that's obvious. Otherwise, why wouldn't I? But it's more than just a fear of disappointing others. I really want to be able to do all that is available to me. I feel like there's so much I could accomplish, if I could really apply myself. (Either that or I'm easily deluded.)

Occasionally, I've done work for others largely because they guilted me into it, even though it wasn't my responsibility. And often, I do things because I feel I ought to be doing them, rather than because I want to. But I'd rather increase my capacity to do than cut those things out of my life.

Why? I don't know. Maybe it's because I feel like it's a way to serve others. Most of the time, I'm not so good at that. Maybe it has to do with having bigger dreams, bigger ideas of what I think I can accomplish. It's like a form of optimism. I'd rather bite off more than I can chew than go away hungry.

Now, it's the end of the semester and most of my responsibilities have come to a close. I've been feeling listless, purposeless. It's hard to work on my own projects when I still feel like I should be doing things for someone else. My novel has been suffering because of it. So far, that's been my biggest regret in this semester of few "no"s.

Perhaps I need to strike a better balance. This time of year, I'm guessing most people wouldn't say no to that.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Today was strike for the last show of the year. Strike is where we tear down the set, put everything away, and clean up the theater so we can make another mess on a clean slate next production. We had some major clearing out to do up in the props loft, and it'll be an ongoing process.

Yesterday I talked to my boyfriend on the phone for two hours. We don't get to talk very much. He is the one I bounce ideas off of, the person I turn to when I need to understand what I'm feeling and thinking. After that conversation, I felt like I had more space in my head, as if all the abstractions had formed words and had been written down, put into place. I felt rooted and ready for more things to come.

Earlier today, as I was hauling rolls of carpet around and watching our technical director pull old things to throw away, I pictured how I would use the extra space. There's still so much to do. We have props from productions going back 20 years and more, things I can't imagine how they were used. Still, they are there. Some of them with potential. Some of them just taking up space. We have to decide which is which so we can continue to become a more efficient theater -- we're far from perfect.

I'm not an organizer. I'm a worker. I don't outline my papers, and when I make plans to work on something, I often end up working on something else instead. I just start. I hold all my ideas in my head, and sometimes that is helpful and other times, distracting. I have to figure out which is which so that I can do all that I expect myself to do -- and there's so much more I could do. 

I am at a stage where I need to clear things out to be ready for what comes next. I have to get ready to leave for the summer. I have to finish projects. I have to work, I have to rest, I have to pray. And, because I'm obstinate and say I'm not an organizer, I will just let all these things stew in my mind. They will get done one at a time, much as I wish I could just finish it all at once. I want everything to be put in order. First step, pouring out the ideas, done. Next, time to decide what to do with them.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Writing update

I have not kept to my writing schedule. I missed my first deadline -- that of finishing up draft III -- by one day. Since then, I haven't accomplished any more goals, aside from the milestone that was printing the entire thing out (using an entire ink cartridge) so I could edit it without my computer. (My laptop is stationary, so I can't type anywhere but at my desk.) I also bought myself a very nice red pen.

I am disappointed at not making more progress, but I've realized that doing quality work is more important to me than passing deadlines. Perhaps this is a direct result of skipping NaNoWriMo this last year. But I think it's good in that the novel itself has become more important to me than finishing. I just happen to be in a place where meeting other deadlines has to take precedence, or schoolwork, theater, and other projects won't happen. And so, to do well, I have to wait.

Still, the important thing is moving forward. I do need to pick up my pen and start drenching my pages in blood, erm, ink. I need to push at it. Right now, I have no idea when I'm going to finish. And I want to finish. I want to have accomplished something, I want to be happy with the biggest writing project I've ever taken on. And I want, if possible, to have it published.

It has a long way to go. I can't rush it if it's going to have a chance at succeeding. But I do need to work on it.

For now, theater and homework have quieted down. Time to dive back in.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stuff I've learned

One of the things I love most is learning. Love of learning is why, largely, I decided to go to a private liberal arts college when I don't need a degree for what I want to do. Write novels? You really need to go to school for that?

No... and yes. Writers need to learn things. And writers need to be able to apply what they learn.

I've been surprised at what I've discovered, and lots of those discoveries happen outside of a classroom. Some of them are little things, skills or facts that have surprised me:
  • The most efficient path between buildings when in a hurry.
  • How to store things in my memory short-term just for quizzes and tests. (This disturbs me. I never used to have to do this.)
  • How to eat a full meal in three minutes.
  • How to make macaroni and cheese anytime in the dining commons. (Stop waiting in line for it, people. The ingredients are at your fingertips.)
  • How to make conversation with random strangers.
  • Pocketknives actually are very useful. (I'll admit, I had one originally because I thought it was cool.)
  • If, as a writer, you go anywhere without a pen, you will regret it.
Some of them are bigger, more along the lines of guiding principles. Some of them should be obvious, but typically, they've been no less surprising:
  • There are a whole lot of people smarter than you.
  •  Ask questions. It's how you keep up when things are difficult, and people will surprise you with how kind they are.
  • Any plans you make to better your schedule will be waylaid by something else.
  • There is no end to opportunity. The hardest part is taking hold of it.
  • Don't take it for granted that things will fall together.
  • Sometimes, you have to relax intentionally.
  • Little sleep isn't the end of the world.
  • Everything feels better when your room is clean.
  • People are both more wonderful and less perfect than you think.
 Learning is the easy thing, especially where I am. The hard part is learning to apply what you've learned.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Suffering

After weeks of late nights and little sleep, things get to be normal for a while. I was in a play that had its final performance last night. I had fun and was happy with how it turned out, and, bonus, it didn't actually kill me. (Sort of. I died in the play twice.)

For the last two weeks, I'd been averaging about five hours of sleep or less per night, largely because of rehearsals. This meant homework often got to pushed to 1:30 or 2 in the morning, and then I would wake up at seven and go to class. I understand some people have it worse, but for me, it was plenty bad enough.

One night last week, I went to bed past three, skipped my 8 a.m. for the first time so I could get some sleep, and woke up at 8:15 to write a paper for my 9 o'clock Bible class. It was about the argument of 1 Peter. I wrote that the main point was comfort in suffering -- Christ suffered, so sufferers are following in his footsteps. We should rejoice; greater things lie ahead of us.

As my Bible professor had us start discussing 1 Peter, I had an epiphany. What I had written about actually applied to my situation. No, I wasn't being persecuted, but surely Jesus had been tired and stressed out in his ministry on the earth. I could choose to rejoice, just as Peter was urging his readers. This idea pleased my overtaxed brain, and I was happy. I even wrote it down as a little life lesson. It was like a devotional, perfect, applicable, a real-life example.

Then my professor showed us a clip from a movie about Peter's inverted crucifixion, and also one about Christian children being fed to dogs in the Roman arena.

Yes, we can choose to rejoice in suffering. But for some people, it's a lot harder than others. I should have rejoiced because my sufferings were small. For others, having joy means defying every circumstance of their lives, because the only joy they have is in Christ.

I learned two lessons in class that day. One was indeed about comfort in sufferings. The other was this: don't take yourself too seriously.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Time to get back to writing

One thing I'm really scared of is becoming one of those people who call themselves writers but aren't. They think about their stories. They read, sometimes. They have ideas they just know are fantastic. And then they don't write them. They spend their time drinking coffee and imagining themselves writing. Believe me, there are a lot of people like this. It's easy to slip into becoming one of them.

The last several weeks -- minus the coffee part -- this has been me. I've been busy, I've been exhausted. I've been making excuses. But I've realized that the semester isn't going to clear up at any point. I've got three performance weekends, a tech weekend, and lots of daily runthroughs in the next month for theater. I have a low but steady stream of homework. I have other projects and assignments. It is time to work around these things instead of just struggling against them.

My new goal is to have my novel in a form I would like to show an agent or an editor by the end of this semester. I have a little over a month. This is doable. Now I'm going to put my general plan here on the Internet so I feel like I'm being held accountable. (Any of you readers, feel free to heckle me about my progress as necessary.)

1 - Finish the final two chapters. I have a Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning I can spend on it this week. So, this part needs to be done by this Saturday, the 13th.

2 - Readthrough/compile a list of things to fix -- I've been working on this already. A readthrough will help me focus and assess the lists I already have. My deadline for this is Tuesday the 16th.

3 - Go over feedback. During January, two of my writing friends read the first ten chapters and made suggestions. Receiving such detailed feedback on my personal writing for the first time was a terrifying experience, and I was glad that I picked the right people to do it. They made lots of great observations that let me see both the good and bad parts of the story. I need to look at those suggestions and consider their implications in detail. (Those two friends who gave me feedback, I would be delighted to provide you with any baked good you wish.) Deadline: Thursday, the 18th.

4 - Develop an action plan. This already is one, but once I've decided what exactly I need to change/edit, I'll be able to establish smaller writing goals. As it is, I'd like the action plan to be ready Saturday, the 20th.

5 - Carry it out and get more feedback. My current plan for this is to give the sections I feel need the most help to writers and friends and ask for feedback. If people are interested in seeing the book as a whole and have the time to make edits, I'll be happy to give it. This process of reading and sharing I hope to have finished by Saturday, April 11th. The semester ends on the 17th. I have a week of extra cushioning.

Some of this isn't very specific, but I need to dive back into the story to see what it really needs. I'll probably have to make minor adjustments to the schedule, but the goal will remain the end of the semester unless I develop a serious illness and/or die.

How will this go? I have no idea. Is this process going to work? We'll see. If, through experience or otherwise, you have any ideas on how to improve my editing plan, please let me know. If you know me and are interested in providing feedback, I'll keep you in mind. To those willing to offer help, and those who've already helped me, thank you. My novel means a lot to me, and I'm grateful to all who believe I can finish it.

Now... time to finish it.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

It is Easter

and I don't think my mind can comprehend all that that means. Soon, I will be cooking Easter dinner with my extended family. My cousin is currently learning Easter hymns by ear on the guitar. Earlier today we had a sermon preceded by donuts -- extra special. The sky is grey, but all the signs indicate that it is, in fact, springtime. All the hallmarks of Easter are here.

I've seen all the Facebook posts by all my friends with great Bible verses, hymn lyrics, and joyous expressions of gratitude. They make me happy. But I'm afraid that the Easter-y trappings are simply sweeping me along. How do I wrap my head around all that Easter is?

I really hope you're not spending a lot of your Easter Sunday on the computer, but if you just happen to stop by, what puts it in perspective for you? How do you understand the magnitude of Christ's sacrifice? How do you approach it with a receptive heart? How can you even come near to knowing its significance? What do you do to prepare your heart to listen to the message?

This particular passage is a favorite of mine. I've never really connected it with Easter before, but I think it's a good place to start.
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -- 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, ESV
 Sometimes we need help getting back to basics. Please share your answers, if you're so inclined.