Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Music

Since I'm in the middle of reading my book, instead of having a book review ready for you -- I know, I'm awful at organization -- I decided to recommend a song that fits with the book I'm reading.

(And while I'm at it, hope you had a lovely September! It's the last day of a month, which is significant to me for some reason. Looking forward to October, though.)

I should have a review for you by Wednesday, which is why I'm not telling the title of the book. Suffice to say, it's a fairytale retelling. Not your typical Cinderella retelling, though. A fairytale I know because I'm a reader who loves these sorts of tales, but that I would assume the majority of America doesn't know, because America is obsessed with its own tales.

And so: Across the Burren, a piano piece by Michele McLaughlin. A very pretty piece.

Friday, September 27, 2013

So, Life.

Some of the things that have happened in my life this week --

  • I finished reading The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. I don't want to put a review of it up, though. It's a sort-of memoir, about the indigenous Ecuadorian (and part-author of this tale) Virginia Farinango's childhood as an indentured servant to mestizos, the white people. A very, very interesting read, which is mainly fact with some imaginings and details on Resau's part. I don't want to review it because I feel uncomfortable reviewing something near nonfiction, because... well, it's real. fiction is easier to judge, if you will.
  • My little sister Nicole, who has down syndrome, walked into some practically-stranger's backyard and started jumping on their trampoline. They weren't home, thankfully, but I've never met these people. I'm pretty sure they're like, the son of one of my neighbors. And it took almost fifteen nerve-wracking minutes to both find and convince Nicole to come back to our house.
  • I found a baby snake in my house, brown scales, 8-9 inches long. Not something I see every day. Actually, I've only seen snakes in parks and the biology-lab-place in the Science Museum. And this one was in my house -- wriggling about on our floor -- and... and... *shudders* Snake.  
  • Okay, I wasn't that freaked out about it. I found a sort of curiosity in my heart that let me peer at the snake and want to observe how it startled when I stomped my feet. Mom just wanted to trap it in something and put it outside, and then to check for any family members it might be hiding.

So, that's my Friday. How about you? Know what sort of snakes are indigenous to Virginia? Read the sort-of memoir about a girl named Virginia? Have you had strange encounters with animals?

Have a blessed Friday and weekend! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Photography, Colds, and Writing

Thank goodness it's Friday. Truly.

Do you know that annoying person who doesn't cover their mouth when they cough? And not just once or twice, accidentally; people who cough into the air of their room, go upstairs and cough in your living room, and in your kitchen, all over your food...

Yea, I'm talking about a member of my family. My youngest brother -- who just started 6th grade -- never covers his mouth when he coughs, and now the rest of the family has it. Mostly me at this point -- he's had it several days, then my mom and sister fell sick, and my dad, and now me, the girl whose time spent happily locked up in her room serves a useful purpose.

Except now I've been sneezing and my nose dripping; I've been covertly wiping liquid snot-stuff over the sleeves of my jacket all school day. (Yes, and I am one of those people who goes to school even when she's sick, and so gets everyone else sick. We all have our flaws.) My throat
feels like sand has gritted the inside of that tube that leads from your mouth to your lungs. My eyes are sore and sticky, and I haven't slept or showered since Wednesday. Or Tuesday. But I've finally caught up on most of the school stuff I needed doing.

Thankfully, in spite of the Cold from Dante's Inferno,* I have not had a terrible time. I made my first primitive photograph in photography class. Here's the process:

  • First, you have to expose a sheet of photo (light sensitive) paper to white light in the dark room. This means positioning it under a machine that looks sort of like a microscope, except it shines down light on the thing you're doing instead of observing it closely. And it means adjusting that machine to the right setting of intensity, making sure the light is focused, making sure the frame of light is big enough to cover the entire sheet of photo paper...
  • Exposing takes about five seconds. You position the photo paper beneath the enlarger (so the microscope-like machine is called), position the object whose image you want to make on top of it, and then you turn it on and white light floods the little area of paper. 
  • After that, you dip it in a chemical called Dektol (developer), a soapy-like, basic liquid. Basically, it makes the white photo paper turn black, except for the white shape of your object. You keep it there a minute to a minute and a half. 
  • The second chemical you dip it in is called Stop Bath. It's a yellow color, because when you transfer the paper from Tray A to Tray B, some Dektol inevitably ends up in the tray of Stop Bath. Stop Bath actually is an acid, so it neutralizes the Dektol. Eventually, as the effectiveness of the Stop Bath wears down, it turns a purple-y color, thereby alerting you to change the liquid. You keep it in this tray for 30 seconds. 
  • The THIRD chemical is a smelly (vinegar-like) liquid called fixer. It makes the image permanent. You dip it in there for 3-4 minutes. 
  • Finally, you get to rinse the residual chemicals off the paper by putting it in this large, round sink for ten minutes. The water spins around, so it can wash it properly. 
  • Then you squeegee it. You lay the paper on a piece of plexiglass, and use this rubber thing to scrape the excess water off both sides of the paper.
  • Next, there's what's called a print dryer. It's a machine in which you lay the paper on its flat surface, pull a stretch of worn, warm canvas over it, and lock it into place. You rub the canvas for a minute, unlock the canvas's metal-rimmed edge from the side of the machine, and turn your photograph over to the back side. Then you lock it into place and rub the canvas for another minute.
  • Found here, via Wiki/CC. This is what it's supposed to look like!
  • And voila! Your photograph is ready. As long as you didn't mess up on any stage of the process. 

So, yes, that's the entire process I went through, to end up with a black paper, no image. Apparently, I didn't expose the paper correctly, though my teacher assured me I did the chemical part correctly.

How was that for a story? Well, not really a story. More of an anecdote of how to make it through a class period when you barely know what you're doing. And, speaking of stories, the third draft of my story is turning out suck-ish, thank you for asking. I'm so sick and busy that when I do get a free moment to work on it, I find that I want to sleep instead of write, and nothing comes out onto the paper. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I type my stories out on my laptop.)

But anyways, for those of you who didn't know, this is how you make a photograph without a camera! It's an interesting experience. Hopefully, I'll make an image next class. And also hopefully, by next class my nose won't be dripping into the water wash.

Hope you have a blessed Friday and weekend! Get better at the things you love, get over sicknesses, and get a proper amount of sleep!

*You know by Dante's Inferno I mean the h-word, right? The devil's homeplace? I just have a ton of trouble including even the mildest of inappropriate words, in both speech and in writing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Scottish Fairytales

I've spent the weekend bemoaning the loss of the internet and watching the first season of Once Upon a Time. (Our wifi was acting up for a few days. Meh.)

I also read a small book of Scottish fairy tales that I found among my mother's "library," so called because my mother as collected a LOT of novels over the years. So, here are a few summaries for you:

  1. There's the one about the kelpie and the man who tried to capture it.
  2. There's the one about the widower with a daughter and a son, and he married an evil stepmother to look after them. Then, the stepmother kills the little son, feeds it to the father, and his sister takes his bones and buries them in the garden, where he turns into a white bird, kills the stepmother, and flies off.
  3. There's the one about the enchanted man whose only hope for getting out from the fairy queen's thrall is for a maiden who loves him to hold on when the queen turns him into a lion, a bear, (several other things) and a hot lead weight, and then to drop him down a well. 
  4. There's the one about the prince who everyone thinks is sick, but really he's dancing in a fairy court every night -- until the stepdaughter of a neighboring king follows him quietly, steals a magic bird, and feeds it to the prince, taking away the spell.

I don't do well remembering things off the top of my head. And it's late for me, a school night, and I have a college essay to type up. (My AP Lit teacher wants a rough draft of the college essay we don't have to send to colleges until at least December. Yea, it sucks.)

Anyways, have a blessed Monday (if there is such a thing!)   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 and Terrorism

It's the 11th of September... and in America, that means remembering tragedy.

I cannot remember the day this actually happened. It was 2001; I was five years old, a kindergartener whose only thoughts belonged to curiosity and books. But as I grew up, I heard the story, over and over, every year: the planes, the crash, the death and terror and mourning. Especially of the heroes, the firemen and police officers, and the civilians all doing the right thing when it was far from easy.

Sometimes, I am glad I am young enough that I do not remember that. That on such a terrible day, ignorance was bliss. I lost no one but fellow countrymen. Which, now that I'm old enough, I realize is bad enough. Can you imagine it? Just for a second? Being buried under rubble, your breath catching, smoke trying to cough its way out of your lungs? I am lucky not to have any relatives who died in the 9/11 attacks, but I am sorry and horrified by the deaths of strangers.

And that might sound strange, to be sorry for the deaths of strangers, when I can't even remember the attack. This is a desensitized culture, after all -- we aren't sorry when we hear of the Bubonic Plague, when 2/3 of Europe's population was wiped out. But we are also a culture that becomes outraged over the death of one boy; in the age of digital information and digital personal relations, we freak out over smaller disasters. And, of course, I am not immune to culture. It probably doesn't help that I have an over-reactive imagination and a writer's tendency to dwell on internal conflict.

So, yes -- on this day, of all days, I can feel both sad at the deaths of strangers over ten years ago, and very lucky that I do not remember it. It's a strange feeling, to be sure -- it's not distant, like hearing of the earthquake in Japan, but it's not as immediate as a death of a family member.

And what compounds such a feeling is the fact that another human being is behind this. I will not add my opinion about Osama Bin Laden and whether he's dead and whether that happened in the ethical way. I do wonder, though, how a human being -- a person who breathes, or breathed -- a person who knows or knew that we are also humans, that we are also sentient creatures, could knowingly cause such harm. It's hard to wrap my mind around. He's like a storybook villain, the way he's portrayed to Us Youngsters. But what is the psychology behind such a thing? What went on in that head while planes crashed and people died? It's morbidly fascinating question, one where you know the behavior is wrong but you still have to wonder why the person is doing it, what past experiences made this sort of behavior a viable option.

Which, while I'm sure the information is out there somewhere -- published in some book or science journal -- I'm not perfectly sure I want to know. It's enough just to feel, for one profound Moment of Silence after the Pledge of Allegiance is spoken, the full ramifications of actual human suffering. My cynical side tells me that there is no justification, and anyways, I am generally not one for searching out information. But my nicer side just wants to spend a moment remembering heroes, and a moment of humility remembering how easy I could be remembering more than a stranger's death on this day.

But now, I do not want to be profound and deep-dark-thoughtful. I want to live a life free and deep. The life I can live, because terrorism failed to terrify us for long. Because it just saddens us once a year, and because it can seem like a faraway event, a world away.

So, instead of continuing to pontificate upon personal feelings, I found a couple of my favorite songs. Old favorite songs, that I knew in childhood and occasionally still listen to, especially on the day they're written about.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

YA and Epic Fantasy

So, I've been traversing links to blog posts and psychological studies and whatnot, as I'm wont to do, when a link pops up in my Twitter from Mythic Scribes. Its title: Is YA the Death of Epic Fantasy?

I read the article, and it seems fairly innocuous. A narrator, who explains he has nothing against YA Fantasy, tells us that Epic Fantasy, which he describes pretty much just as Tolkien, is dwindling as YA Fantasy takes over the market.

But I hate this kind of thinking. It's so subtle that you want to agree with this narrator. You want to say, "Well, he's sort of right. People gravitate towards YA Fantasy, because it's easier to read, but the real stuff in the adult section, the 'Epic Fantasy,' ends up forgotten in a dusty corner."

The problem is, it recirculates the age-old opinion that YA is somehow less. It's less fantasy than epic fantasy, easier to understand, not as dark. The article describes it as:

  Now, I have nothing against YA Fantasy. I could even see myself writing one. Like many others, I love and aspire to the abilities of Rowling and others like her. And although her pieces became increasingly dark, they don’t contain the true grit of Epic Fantasy. Sometimes I want to see blood, smell death, and feel the sexual tension that might even be expressed in Chapter 1. I want a battle axe to split a skull and a brain matter to splatter across the page as I read. And, I want it all done with a vocabulary and structure that excludes some readers. Sorry.

Do you see me gritting my teeth and wincing?

YA fantasy can be just as sexual, just as bloody, just as "true grit" as epic fantasy. Even in Chapter 1. I've read many, many YA novels, ones that start out viscerally. That continue throughout the book to be visceral. It's YA Writing 101 -- show, don't tell. Make things tense; make things dark. Push the character as far out of their comfort zone as you can, leave them at rock bottom, and then you can pull them out. Maybe.

And, well, let's face it: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series started out as MG, not YA. So did the Percy Jackson series, which he also references. Yes, the elder generation started reading books like Tolkien in elementary school, but I remember that The Hobbit wasn't really offered in my elementary school library. We had these books that are marketed specifically for those younger readers of MG.

In fact, I was so hesitant about reading "older" books back then, that I still struggle with it today. They teach you that reading has levels, that some things are too smart or too dumb for you. Today, I feel self-conscious walking through the MG aisles of my B&N looking for books, because I could swear the parents and little kids are judging me. Sometimes I get the feeling that the adults in the YA aisle feel that I am judging them, even when I'm not.

But it's not true. "True grit" is as likely to be found in YA as it is in adult. The problems in the books -- the torture and the sexual tension and the brain matter -- are not portrayed less in YA, just different, from the perspective of a struggling teenager instead of a world-weary adult.

And, to bring up an example (never leave out evidence when making an argument!), here you go: one of the details that stuck out in my mind the most after reading If I Stay (Gayle Forman) was of the main character hovering over her body after the car accident, looking at the brain matter of one of her family members splayed across the road.

Is that true grit? You asked for brain matter, there's an example. And If I Stay is one of the relatively popular YA novels, not one of those obscure novels I dig out of the library.

Moving on to the vocabulary and structure. Yes, true that the YA market looks saturated with the World of Snark trope from the outside. But just earlier this summer, I read Princess Ben, a story with impressive vocabulary and structure. And there are plenty of others, waiting in libraries and bookstores everywhere, that do not employ the sometimes atrocious slang used in modern teenage circles.

And, in fact, it doesn't exclude readers. Grammar isn't the problem. It's the educational system that doesn't offer such epic books in school libraries, that cuts funding for the English department, and teaches kids to hate reading by requiring that they do so. It's the adults who don't read and set examples for their children, who don't take biweekly trips to a library or bookstore, who don't hit home the fact that language is the most powerful tool we have.

(I've been fortunate enough to have a mother who's even more of an avid reader than I am. and I'm sure there are plenty of parents or guardians or teachers who make an effort to connect a child with a love of reading. But too many don't or can't manage it.)

He mentions:

One thing that I always appreciated about Epic Fantasy was its exclusivity. Not everyone could read it.

 Perhaps it's because of a system, not because it's Epic Fantasy. True, it's not everyone's preference; but I would bet not many have access to shelves of fantasy in the first place. Fantasy is a lovely, misunderstood genre, whether YA or adult.

He also says of epic fantasy:

We continued reading fantasy in a society where fantasy authors wrote for adults and their novels were found in the normal fiction section of our local libraries and bookstores. Many of us expanded our interests, flocking to gaming and other pursuits. But our first love was what publishers label as Epic or High Fantasy. In this genre, we met our elven friends, our grumpy dwarven companions, and our nemesis the evil sorcerer.
Despite the unusual nature of our desired reading, it came with a certain quality. The lexicon, the syntax, and the high-literary value of many of these works was something that most ‘kids’ didn’t quite get. To read and understand them was a challenge and an accomplishment. Reading Tolkien as a kid while others were tackling Where the Red Fern Grows came with a knowledge that we were more advanced readers – if nothing else.

First of all, I've never read Where the Red Fern Grows, so I'm not sure what he means by that last statement, but I don't remember fantasy being a challenge. I've always been a proper-English sort of girl, so I can't attest to it, but I don't believe the high-literary value of the  novels was what I didn't get. Value was just not something anyone attributed to fantasy.

Let's put it this way: not once has my school -- elementary, middle, or high school -- actually had us read fantasy for a school project or during the curriculum. It sometimes comes close, like the mystical qualities the Scarlet Letter* seemed to have at times, but they never assigned it. Nor science-fiction, for that matter. I was ecstatic to be able to choose my own reading material for my AP Lit summer project, and promptly chose The Hobbit. Other than that... I kind of think the school system believes there is no value in it.

That high-literary quality, on the other hand... I know that feeling. The same term came to mind the first time I read Tolkien: a difficult book to read, but lovely to finish. It compared with every pretentious book they threw at us in school, but LoTR was still worth a grin, because it was fantastical, a true escape and other world. But no school seems to attribute the same term to the genre.

Most "kids" would be thrilled to read epic fantasy, if they had been taught the grammar skills to manage it. My lack of faith in the school system informs me that tackling Tolkien in 6th grade would've boosted my
self-esteem a lot more than the thin MG novel Crash (Jerry Spinelli) did. Not that Crash wasn't a lovely novel, it just wasn't challenging to a person like me.

(I know, this started out as a rant against adults who underestimate YA novels, and now has devolved into a rant about the educational system. In my defense, I am still in the public school system, and can attest to the atrocity of it, and the direct effect it can have on choice of reading material, and on grammar skills.)

I wasn't actively discouraged from reading "normal" fantasy or fiction. I just wasn't exposed to it. I wasn't given any chance to like it, apart from the spine of the books on my mother's bookshelves, which I was always slightly intimidated by. (They were grown-up books, they would imply. My mother would've let me read them, but I spent the majority of my childhood in school, where they assign easy, boring books marketed directly for the less-than-average intelligent, and that alone made me think it would be best to avoid the "real" and "smart" books they obviously didn't think I was capable of handling. And this was back when I believed they knew best.)

So, YA and MG are really all I had. It wasn't lowbrow; plenty of it has the "high-literary" quality. But I don't think it's threatening the adult fantasy, unless you think that because of the low exposure to adult fantasy, kids will grow up to be less inclined to read it. And you can't really blame that on YA, can you? You can only blame it on the people who didn't put The Hobbit in my hands when I was eight years old.

Have a blessed day. 

*That's sarcasm, by the way. The Scarlet Letter is one of the most scowl-worthy books I've ever come across, because it's dry, difficult to read, and not an escape at all. The most mystical references involve elaborate metaphors of the letter's aura of ignominy. 

Friday, September 6, 2013


It's late, and Friday. End of the first week of school and all. Reading a good book nd happily not attending the first football game at my high school.

(On a slightly irrelevant note, anybody care to tell me what people see in football? It's all anyone can ever talk about, teachers and students alike. Why can't we all get so hyped up about Divergent or Harry Potter? You know, have shout outs about it over the intercom during morning announcements and stuff.)

But that's not what I mean to post. Today, I simply mean to post a few notes I wrote about Ancient Japan while watching a documentary.

  • Any deviation on a mirror will make the light bounce off it in a different angle; "magic mirror" is a world standard, created by (16th c. Japan). You have the white sunlight that reflects off it, and if it is completely white, it is free of deviations. In 16th c., a copper plate was made and fashioned to the backside of it, seemingly decorative, but was used to manipulate the deviation on the mirror's surface to reflect an image of, say Christ when you use the white-light trick. During the persecution*, a false back concealed a picture of Christ, to let secret Christians know they were Christian, too -- the mirror surface is scraped and polished, creating the deviations, and then coated with nickel to make it look like an ordinary mirror. But it will reflect the backside.
  • Clocks --  They were searching for the underlying rule of nature. When an outsider (Westerner) brought a clock to Japan as a gift in the 17th c., they took it apart to see how it worked. Based on the clock, they began all sorts of "magical" clockwork, including clockwork robots. (A tea-carrying robot for the tea ceremony.)
  • It takes real skill to unravel silk worm material. It's pulled and twisted into thread, with spit making it smooth. But the traditional silk is getting more precious today.
  • Architecture --Built around a central support tree, with lots of horizontal beams. Pagodas -- earthquake resistance, the central tree is not connected to the walls; the walls sway, but do not fall, because the tree absorbs the movements. 
  • Samurai sword is tested for balance and flexibility. Each sword maker has their own formula. Carbon is on outside of the steel during the forging stage, until folding and heat force it inside the blade, giving it its flexibility. 
  • "Floor that sings like a nightingale" -- to prevent sneak attacks on the shogun, the floor amplified sound and made it "sing." (This is a building where the shogun, or leader, lived or worked?)

This is literally copy and pasted from my notes in workflowy. (Workflowy is a website where you can organize your thoughts into lists. I highly recommend it for writers, or anyone, really.) For reference, this is from a documentary called What the Ancients Knew: Japan. You can watch it on the history channel occasionally.

How about you? What do you know about The Ancients?

Have a blessed Friday and weekend!

*Yes, there was a time in Japanese history where Christians were persecuted. In fact, all Western stuff was persecuted -- this was centuries ago, during the "spheres of influence" thing in China, and they held onto their Buddhist culture tightly. And effectively, since they are islands who can restrict Western access to their ports.    

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Second day of school. I'm left with a rather strange feeling: a content, almost blissful peace, not what you'd expect after eight hours of slouching in uncomfortable chairs until your neck hurts and your brain wishes to wash away the excess of words and instructions that you've semi-listened to all day.

Does that sentence make you think this is about a boy? Some nice guy who makes the slouching, invisible girl feel like the world? Well, it isn't. (And thank goodness for that. I'm such a fussy, perfectionist person that no one could live up to my standards. Sometimes I don't live up to them.)

No, what that sentence is about is photography, designing, literature, and creativity in general. Because, you see, last period on even days is Photo 1, or Photography for Beginners.

Photo 1, I figured out, sounds like the coolest class I could've signed up for. Because, this isn't digital-camera photography, where you can photoshop it; this is a class where I need an actual film camera. My teacher recommended one built in the '80s or '90s, because fun fact: cameras from that time were built of all metal components, making them more durable.

There is a dark room, with those big sinks and shallow containers for the chemicals to help develop the film, and where, when you're working, you keep all the lights off except for a single amber-colored light that barely illuminates. Even a special door, a cylinder with two openings -- one to go in, one to go out -- with an inner cylinder that allows you to switch between the two rooms without letting in any of the harmful flourescent light. (Flourescent light can ruin the film.)

Perhaps you might already know this "dark room." But I am a sheltered teenager, and this is an entirely new concept. The only thing I really know is the typical crowded classroom, my home and church and library; we rarely went on trips, back in elementary and middle schools, and I don't go out on my own. This dark room is an unexpected and curious break from my life.

Now, it's only the second day, of course. The teacher is going to have us begin at the beginning of photography -- making cameras out of oatmeal containers and tape -- and working up to the actual film camera, which we don't need to obtain until October. (This, by the way, is an AWESOME teaching technique, one that sadly is almost never used. To build the camera, to see how it works, BEFORE picking it up and applying it. If only they did that for say, math. Or government. To see where and how and why it works, and the history behind it? Providing context makes the concept pop.)

Educational rant aside, this class already seems epic. We even have field trips, come November. I haven't been on a field trip since... what, eighth grade? 2009-2010? Years of school where there are no break except for the occasional pep rally. *shudders* When I'm an adult, I should try and fix that. If I can. If I'm not some homeless, saddened, sick shell of a person.

I do apologize. I keep getting off topic. What I mean to say is, creativity comes in many forms, and I've discovered one today: photography. It's a lot more complicated than I thought it would be, but like writing, I find that I don't dread it; I look forward to learning and growing in the study.

Now, if only every other academic and creative study were posed in a way that makes me look forward to the next class.

Have a blessed day!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Happy September!

It's the first of September! You know what that means?

  1. I start school in two days, right after Labor Day. My senior year, as it happens.  College planning, here I come. :(
  2. It's a month of black and gold. Queenly colors. (And don't ask where this came from. I have a color associated with each month, paired with black. Because black is good any month. Just the word September conjures up a metallic gold to go along with that black.)
  3. It's Artemis Fowl's birthday! Ahem. Yea, I know I'm an absolute nerd, knowing a fictional character's birthday, but in my defense, the 7th AF book takes place on his birthday. September 1st.
  4. The Legend of Korra, season two -- Sept. 13th!

It's going to be a busy month for me. Not only does school start up, but I have a TBR pile literally twenty books long, and I'm finishing up the latest draft of my story. Wow, it must be, what, my third or fourth rewrite? Plot is very difficult to iron out, ladies and gentlemen.

And, yes, two of those four good points are fandom-ish. AF and TLoK, goodness gracious! (I have a T-shirt with a Doctor Who quote on it and a Pinterest board dedicated to all the fictional goodness of everything. Just to keep myself from painting my room TARDIS blue and dressing up like a Kyoshi warrior. Yes, I am a supreme fangirl.)

How about you? What does September bring about -- new TV shows, school, or novels? Have a blessed day, and a blessed Labor Day for those who pay attention to that particular day!