Monday, December 30, 2013

A Recap of 2013

Hello, and happy... Monday. I can't even remember if today is the last day of December or the next-to-last day. Either way, I won't be posting another post on this blog until 2014. :)

I decided to go through my archives and pick out some of my favorite posts from this year, separated into categories. So, here you go:

My favorite re-read: I re-read The Warriors Saga by Erin Hunter over the summer, and it is every bit as amazing as I remember from middle school.  The Hobbit comes as a close second.

The Book That (Pleasantly) Surprised Me the Most: The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge, while expecting it to be the cumbersome, over-500-pages-long MG fantasy that it is, had the most fantastic worldbuilding and characters. The Apprentice's Masterpiece by Melanie Little comes as a close second.

The Book That (Unpleasantly) Surprised Me: Inside by Maria Snyder had a good premise, but the romance detracted from it for me. 

Literary Stuff:
I wrote on Strong Female Characters, and what they are, though I include many self-conscious "in my opinion..."s.

For the sake of Diversity! I talked about the diversity of characters and people.

I explained the difference between the fantasy and paranormal genres.

You can read my picking apart an argument of YA vs. Epic Fantasy.

And, ever important on my blog, my views on romance (and why I don't like it).

Other Stuff:
A selection of my music (without links; you'll have to look them up on Youtube yourself).

I explained my dealings with photography-- specifically, photograms. 

I watched a documentary on Ancient Japan.

Also, I watched a documentary on Lipizzaner horses. I watch a lot of documentaries.

This is my list in summary. I watch documentaries, listen to music, and read too many (but not enough) books. You can look at any or none of these posts, but they're my favorites of this year. If you have any comments, you can post them to this post!

Have a blessed end of the year! 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It's Christmas.

Last night
"Ouch!" I yelp, as I take the chicken out of the toaster oven.
"You alright?" Mom asks, looking up from what she's doing. 
"I just didn't expect the juice to run out of the aluminum foil," I mutter, as I quickly pull the other packet onto a cookie sheet. I pull the one I dropped onto the sheet, as well. Now I can put the chicken slices (breasts? Pieces?) out of the way.
The Pillsbury crescents that I just rolled up wait on a paper plate. I place a fresh sheet of aluminum foil over the rack, spray liberally with butter spray, and place the clumsy rolls in four rows of two, trying to ignore the prickly I-suck-at-this feeling. My hands are greasy from rolling the store-bought dough triangles, and now they're even more gross as I stick them on the sheet. Spray the tops liberally, as well.
As Mom calls everyone to dinner, I help myself. A small portion of fresh-made mashed potatoes. A small bit of ham; a small bit of chicken. I have to wait for the crescents. I refuse to let the boiled bok-choy near my plate. I'm not even perfectly sure what it is, other than sort of smelly and white and green-leafy.
We don't even say prayer, even though my Pentacostal grandfather is right there. He had a heart attack recently. We make food without too much sodium for him. We just tuck in.
It's not much, what's on my plate. Everyone else -- my three sisters, two brothers, my mother and father and my father's father -- all pile their plate. My dinner doesn't even cover the paper plate. But I manage to eat most it, except for a small bit of the ham. I don't have ham often enough to really like the taste.

Christmas is one of everybody's favorite holidays. Am I sick of the commercialization, and how this is the corporations' and businesses' favorite holidays because they want to sell-sell-sell? Yes. Am I ranting about it today? No.

In fact, I am not sure what I want to say today, at all. I received a laptop, two things of chocolate, and this crocheted book-pillow, on which I can prop my book. (My mother is a very big arts-and-crafts sort of person.) I feel kind of scooped out, with the whole smiling and speaking a thanks, the whole Christmas charade ending, and the magic of December grinding to a halt. Cold, dry days from here through the early weeks of March, with little to look forward to.

Still, at the same time, I kind of hope -- as I do almost every year -- that I could extend such magic -- such happiness and snow-sparkled dreams and closeness-to-God feeling. Through the drudge of school and homework and writing and reading, no time for staring at the ceiling, for doing nothing. Late nights, turning the lights out with my glasses still on until I remember to take them off.

Do I have a definite plan this year for such an intangible goal? No. I never do. And if I did, I probably wouldn't stick to them. It's mostly read through the fifty-or-so books on my to-be-read list, try to do my homework on time, take the free online classes I signed up for for January.

I would like to make some time for clay working. I have about 25 lb of gray clay, found at my local Michaels store (conveniently located just a short walk from my local Barnes and Noble). To make my days a little easier to swallow, I would like to play with clay, like a little kid; no artsy goal in mind, just squish it in my hands and feel absurdly pleased at the lines of gray caking in the lines in my hands.

The trouble is, I like doing nothing. I like staring at the ceiling, doing nothing, almost more than I like playing with clay or paint like a little kid, which is why that clay has been sitting in its cardboard box container since September. I just don't have that quality nothing time; I hate cutting into it.

So, here's to an ending and a beginning. The ending of a deep, special season, and the beginnings of a bridge to holding to the feelings. I'm using clay and a time for nothing. What are you doing?

Have a blessed Christmas, a lovely Wednesday, and a very merry day.

This Morning 
I wake up very uncomfortable at 8:00 am. This is mostly due to my sister.
Since my grandfather gets my room while he stays the night, I have to share with the older of my two younger sisters. Cosmetics, half-empty soda bottles, and junk food wrappers lay scattered with the overwhelming amount of clothes. The whole room smells septic and close, like too much perfume and moldy food crammed together.
And, of course, this is not the worst part of sleeping in a strange, smelly, crowded-with-food-and-clothes room. My sister stays up until 1:00 am. On her phone. Laughing as she scrolls through facebook videos, which I can vaguely hear through her earphones. And because she's pulled the sheet away, I'm lying on the scratchy mattress, awake until too early.
But when I finally get up, it's a relief. A minuscule amount of presents are underneath the beach-themed Christmas tree. Ma, who was sick last night, asks me to wrap the last of the Christmas presents in her workroom. I do so gladly. It's too early to read my book or watch the crime documentary softly pontificating from the TV. 
When we're finally all gathered together -- 9:30 am -- Dad starts handing out presents, like he does every Christmas. A laptop; a card from Granddad, with a one-hundred dollar bill and a small box of Godiva chocolates. A leopard puzzle, a bag of mini Kit-Kats, wall stickers of butterflies. The Arabian Nights. 
Everyone's rustling the wrapping paper as they rip it away to reveal their gifts; they're joking, saying thanks, exclaiming if it's a good present. Our living room feels small with nine people unwrapping gifts in it.
Everything is over before 10:00 am. I smile, thank everyone, retreat to Rebecca's room, the kitchen table, Mom's workroom; all day, wherever there's fewest people, so I can get on the laptop or read my book or knit.
The season ends just like that -- with the opening of a few presents. With the ripping away of wrapping paper, which looked pretty when we couldn't see what was inside, but now looks just crumpled and throwaway.
I want to hold onto this. I don't want this to be it, over with the exposure of what's beneath the paper; but how do I hold mystery and excitement and magic when the paper's been torn away? I guess the closest I get is to hold onto something I know little about. Clay -- violin -- books I've never read, knitting that I am new at. The possibilities have to keep going, don't they?   

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

A vulnerable young girl wins a dream assignment on a big-time New York fashion magazine and finds herself plunged into a nightmare. An autobiographical account of Sylvia Plath's own mental breakdown and suicide attempt, THE BELL JAR is more than a confessional novel, it is a comic but painful statement of what happens to a woman's aspirations in a society that refuses to take them seriously... a society that expects electroshock to cure the despair of a sensitive, questioning young artist whose search for identity becomes a terrifying descent toward madness.

~Print copy, 216 pages
Published: 1972 by Bantum Books (originally published 1971 by Harper & Row)

I picked this up because... well, I'm not sure why. I knew it was depressing -- it does have the words mental breakdown, suicide attempt, and despair in the summary -- but I checked it from the library and read it, on a whim.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The suicide attempt isn't until farther in, past the halfway mark. It's sensitive and sad, not despairing, or overly gloomy, or angsty.

Where exactly do I start? The main character, Esther Greenwood, comes back from a glamorous New York assignment to her boring, suburban life, and becomes depressed. Not specifically because she came back from a city like New York to a "boring" life, mind you, like the summary suggests. But like real life, her depression doesn't need a reason. It just happens.

Depression, I feel, is a rather sensitive topic in fiction. I read many, many more books of character's angst, or their lovestruck woes, than I do about real mental illness. And it is a relief to see it here, displayed clearly, announcing, yes, this is what depression feels like and this is a way that I don't like it being treated. It shows the real fear and helplessness and lethargy of someone trying to understand this pale, restricted world with her pale, restricted senses, and honestly wanting to get out of it.

Now, I'm not going to say it's perfect. It's not always to my liking. But it's honest. Honest in an emotional way that you don't find often enough in fiction.

For example, her desire to lose her virginity. (This book's been out for 30 years. You can use some spoilers, if you haven't read it by now.) It isn't skipped over, it isn't smoothed over, because she's a girl. It's talked about.

And so is her depression. It's talked about. She tries to kill herself -- it's explained in detail how she tried (and failed) to do it, not just the attempt that landed her in the mental hospitals, but the ones before -- the ones her mother or her doctors didn't find out about, because she couldn't do it. It shows how she feels after the electroshock, both the first time with the guy doctor and the second time with the woman doctor. The feelings are acted out in subtle ways -- how she assumes everyone thinks terribly about her, how she feels "stuck under a bell jar." (I don't think that's a direct quote, but it is something similar.)

I don't like the jumps in topic. Sometimes, it is hard to follow. And I've never understood the whole "getting rid of your virginity" thing. (Obviously, that's not a quote at all.) Esther -- well, sometimes she is hard to connect with. She sort of makes it that way. She pushes everyone away, her neighbors, her family, and sometimes even the reader. But I don't consider that a fault with her, strangely enough, because it makes her that much realer.

In the end, I suppose, I don't mind this book. Not my favorite, maybe not something I'd reread, but certainly is thought-provoking and honest and sad. Sad books aren't thrown out of my books-to-read just because they're sad. But I suppose I would recommend this book to the sort of scholarly person who wants to ruminate on the sadder aspects of life, the ugly aspects like mental illness, that no one else seems to talk about -- especially in a 30-year-old book, about a woman in a very patriarchal world, who sticks out.

3.5 stars. (I'll round that to a 4.)
Have a blessed day.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

[Insert Interesting Title Here]

It's been an entire two weeks since I last posted. I do apologize for my impromptu hiatus. I would blame my midterm exams, and the review for them, but really it's that I'm too tired from all the review and exam-ing to post anything.

Yesterday was the last day of my exams. I only had one -- in photography. Which certainly doesn't sound terrible, but all of my pictures are awful, I had the most awful migraine, I barely got any sleep the night before. So I considered not posting anytime this week or weekend. Or even getting out of bed. But I'm a tough girl, I like to think; I took a couple painkillers and here I am.

Instead of a nice, relevant post centered on one topic, this post is sort of a hash-mash of what I've been doing these last couple of days. Starting with...

My knitting, my book, and my cup of tea.
  1. Knitting. This is one of the weirdest inventions of humankind, in my opinion. It's numbing; exhausting; difficult. But in the end, even the small amount I've managed in the past few days makes me absurdly pleased. Proud, even. It's just loops of yarn and a couple of aluminum needles -- but it looks complicated and amazing, and I made something with my hands. Created something, when I'm normally a passive reader and consumer.
  2. Reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Anyone who looks through my archives will know that I'm generally not one for literary, popular, or classics -- but The Bell Jar is something different. Depressing, honest, with this sort of bruised, timid, recoiling-from-life sort of mood. Painfully close to heart. And I can't help but connect to it, like seeing a mirror that reflects a sadder, heavy-spirited version of myself.
  3. Research. I went to the library and checked out 18 books -- only nine of which were for-fun fiction reading. I'm pretty proud of myself. I don't typically wander into the nonfiction section. But I braved it out this time, trying not to think that the people around me are judging my lack of knowledge in all those numbers on the spines of the books. Of course, these books range from beekeeping to medicinal herbs to forensic sciences and clay techniques and jewels.*
  4. Orphan Black. Seriously. It's a Canadian series on BBC (I think). About this woman who sees a woman identical to her step in front of a train -- and so she decides to take this woman's identity. It's a bit graphic in places, but it's worth a watch. (My mother watches it, too. We have this long geek-fest about stuff like Orphan Black, BBC's Sherlock, and Once Upon a Time, which is another of my favorite shows.) My mother needs to stop recommending shows to me.
Yea, I'm not a complicated, dramatic person. But I love my little things.

So, have a blessed weekend. Read some books. Learn knitting. Watch a little TV. It's the holidays, after all. 

Did I mention it was the holidays?
Mary Shelley is helping us with our wrapping paper.

*Not forensic sciences and clay techniques and jewels in one book, obviously -- I mean I got three separate books on those three separate topics. But how awesome would it be to have a book that combined all three of those? It would be a fiction masterpiece, assuming it's even decently well-written.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Life, School, and Internet.

It's been a week. Already. Wow.

It's not that I'm not interested in keeping up with this blog. It's just... I have very little access to a computer. I'm sharing an old desktop computer with my little brother and his friends, my older brother, and one of my little sisters.

And, of course, Nanowrimo has ended. I officially managed to get to 50,000 words, despite a laptop crash, starting three free online classes -- and my regular school day, with its 3 AP (college level) classes, and a photography elective, and an honors Spanish 4 class -- AND my normal diet of internet articles on writing craft. I'm very proud, and very antsy as I try to find something other than editing that draft to do.

So, I've really thrown myself into my free online classes. I'm taking three of them, across two websites -- Coursera and Open2Study. Let me outline the pros and cons:

  • Coursera is a website that offers free college level classes. Pro: It goes really in depth -- the one class I have on here requires watching 15-20 minute long videos, has an archive (this is a class on historical fiction; it offers primary sources), and requires discussion in the forums, or at least one question asked of the guest authors he talks to. I have extensive notes on historical fiction now, almost more than I wanted to know. Con: it requires some work, and it's a bit of a struggle on a busy schedule.
  • Open2Study is a bit less strenuous. Pro: less work, and no requirement for discussion in the forums. Though, obviously, it's encouraged. Con: less work, and the classes can be kind of easy. I'm taking two classes on there, one on anthropology and one on sociology, and both have easy, 5-7 minute long videos with a one-question quiz after each.

Yes, I am stressed out. It is a self-imposed stress. There are three notebooks beside me, a pen, and the flash drive I use for taking notes in Word has gone missing. I prefer the Open2Study, over the school-week, but over the weekend I can really get back to work on this stuff.

Have a blessed weekend!