Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving. (Yesterday's Account.)

I am thankful for my family, (though we are reeling from loss).
I am thankful for my life, (though I am hurting).
I am thankful for the roof over my head, (though it's painful to be home).
I am thankful for my health, (though I've had a cold this week).
I am thankful for my books, (though I can't escape myself completely in them anymore).
I am thankful for my college, (though it is painful to be there, as well).
I am thankful for --
For --

I am thankful for my faith and belief in God and Jesus, (because without that, I would truly go mad.)

Angel (left), Tumble (right)

Friday, November 14, 2014

It's Been a Long Time -- Or, a Serious Blog Talk.

The time, my friend, has come 
To talk of other things --
Of shoes and ships and ceiling wax,
Of cabbages and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot, 
And whether pigs have wings.
~Alice in Wonderland (1951) (Disney)

So, I know it has been months. You've stopped noticing. Stopped caring. Moved on with your life, as it were. I'm real sorry about that.

Right now, instead of bits of my own poetry or a book review or some fluffed out rant on romance or summaries, I want to have a Serious Blog Talk. Not the serious talk of I'm-About-to-Quit-Forever. It's the talk of the future and the past, of where I want things with this blog to go, and how I'll keep to a posting schedule.

Because I like this blog. I want to keep it. It keeps me sane, sometimes, to flick through my own sometimes childish or clumsy writings, and to write some more. And goodness knows, these blog posts are easier to read through than 50,000 word manuscripts, or my painful-to-look-at poetry.

My problem is posting it in the first place. I have a hard time getting up the urge to post. I shouldn't listen to "urges" or "the Muse" or anything else -- I know that. I should sit my butt in the chair and work. But this is a lot harder now, at college, where there is a ton of other work that needs to get done -- for example, the two papers I have due next week, or massive amount of textbook reading I haven't gotten to because I've been attending classes, working on shorter, more immediate homework like translating Greek sentences, or attending cool things like the Fall Festival, where we got free mason jars to decorate and popcorn and candy to eat, while sitting around having a normal conversation with friends.

The list goes on and on. And, to make things worse, my life has gotten sticky and sad. I don't want to do much of anything anymore. It was like that before -- before November, before college life, before high school, even. But it's gotten worse, because my sister died.

Chelsea, my older sister, was 22 years old. She got her Bachelor's degree in Biology this past May -- my mother, her, and me all graduated at the same time. We got to stand up at the podium, at the front of the sanctuary at our church, while a line of people came up to congratulate us. She had just started working toward her Master's this semester. She loved bugs, and free food, and drawing, and Dumpster-diving.

She died in a car accident November 2nd, 2014. A couple weeks ago, now. At times, it doesn't hit me -- I sit there and smile, and the thought begins to form -- Chelsea would love this -- and then I choke. What does random Greek sentences matter, in the face of that? What does posting on a blog matter, or reading a book, or attending class?

It's only been a couple weeks. It's as clear and bright and painful as the slowly-growing-colder air. Everything has to keep being arranged, when I want to go back in time -- to 2013, 2012, 2002. Some other time, before such a horrific event, before any of us knew this was coming. When we could have a measure of peace. When we were a whole family, complete -- because we can heal, now, after the event, but we will never be whole without our Chelsea.

But we have to deal with the future, no matter how much we want to go back in time. Life moves forward. My parents have to clean out her apartment. I have to continue my studies, make up the week I lost when I went home for the visitors and the funeral. I have to eat meals, and take showers, and pull out all these blasted sweaters and scarves and fingerless gloves. I got a work-study job, Monday afternoons -- I'll only be making around $22 to $27 a week, but it's money. I need to start thinking about Christmas, of what I'll get my family.

I have a mountain of laundry to do, and blog posts to write. I have a weekend to look forward to -- a trip on Sunday to Richmond, to see the Agecroft Manor or VMFA (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). Later tonight, my friends are going to the movies, and they invited me.

All of this leads up to my main point, that this blog is going to look a lot different. I didn't want to bring my personal life into this, but it's a personal blog -- it's about books, which are as close to my heart as cats or my family. Well, maybe a bit less, as I've found myself more inclined to stare out windows and feel numb than reading books.

I don't think I can stand, right now, cheeriness and book reviews of lighthearted novels. I can't be enthusiastic about anything, not characters I love or fantastic worlds. I still love them -- I may still gush about them -- but I think that I need to take a step back, and talk more frankly about more. About my own writing. About the books I'm reading for class -- like English Women and War Literature. About the ways I'm keeping track of everything, from my personal reading to my class reading to my writing and personal time.

Poetry, I'll post -- most of it is spur-of-the-moment, stream-of-consciousness, which almost defines my writing. That's what this blog post is, after all. I'll probably still post book reviews, and things I find aggravating in books, like how ridiculous it is when authors try to cram a romance in their novel, for no other reason than to do it, and then don't even mention such a thing in the summary.

Right now, I have many things to do. I want to post, say, once a week. I'll try to do so. It's hard to do anything right now, but I want to try. So, I'll leave it here, and see what comes next week -- if I can keep to my word about this.

Friday, September 12, 2014

English Classes

I sit through
English 108:
Women and Literature.
More like
Women and War.

Greek soldiers,
Mrs. Dalloway,
countless women refugees

deep within,
a tree creaks under the weight

I should have --
dropped the class?
But the thought goes

it weighs
heavy and silent,
but so, too,
weighs the thought
that perhaps I
should join these authors
some day.

The Girl Who Sits Silent and Listens.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Small Switchover (Or rather, a Big One)

So, I'm a college student. Hooray and all that.

But what I want to discuss right now is non-fiction vs. fiction. Because I am about to read a slew of articles and textbooks, and quite frankly I'll have to stop this whole "I'm gonna read in bed all day. For fun." attitude. I simply cannot afford to spend all day reading books -- novels -- in bed all day, when I have so much to learn and stuff into my head for tests and just general knowledge in case I do need it later on.*

Today I had Early and Medieval Britain. In which we learned some very interesting things (Cheddar Man, anyone?) but more specifically, my professor gave us a list of books on Celtic and Early Britain, Ireland, and that general area, in case we need to write a paper later on. (Hint hint, nudge, wink.)

And some of the titles look interesting. Lots on ancient Ireland, on Celtic Mythology and just Celtic 101, that sort of thing. And of course, it's likely to be dry reading. Dry as the textbook we have for class. And maybe a little confusing, as names change and there's no written records from that time period and etc.

But maybe I want to try it. Inure myself to the dryness of the text and engage with it in an intellectual way. What does this time period really look like? Primary sources are one thing, but modern books? Our textbook declares that this period of Britain (the 1st millenium, which is to say about from the time the Roman invaded to the time of the Norman conquest) is shaped not just by the Anglo-Saxons -- which is a belief held by a lot of scholars -- but by the whole of Europe.

(Britain at this time is very insular -- they're islands. Separated from the mainland, and not just geographically, but culturally. Rome/Greece was where the "civilization" is -- the Celts, for all intents and purposes, are stuck in a sort of Stone Age, despite the fact that they are brilliant metalworkers. I mean, they're known for painting themselves blue and rushing naked but for their shield into battle, where they are likely to fight with all the might of a mythical Berserker.)

And I want to learn about it. Ireland fascinates me. Mythology fascinates me. And the idea that there are no written records -- that all we have to go on are archaeological finds, like spears and shields and cairns and the like -- excites me. Because, like in literature, there is some level of speculation in this. It's not that my textbook is dead right and I should memorize it -- it's that I am allowed to read it and rip it apart if I like, or I can praise it to the heavens. I can form my own educated opinions, because the text serves the dual purpose of informing/educating me, and letting me decide myself if I believe what I've been given.

This is a revolutionary idea for me. AP classes, sure, tried to teach me that, but for the first time it sinks in -- I am an adult, and now I get to inform myself. It's not just doing homework; I am paying a lot of money to learn, and that I had better do.

And all of this is a roundabout way of saying that, for the time being, perhaps I want to set aside my fiction. Just for a little bit. Maybe just the semester, or just the month. But I kind of want to try my hand at nonfiction, at the reference books I brought with me but didn't think I'd ever get around to reading. At the wealth of knowledge waiting at my fingertips in our library on campus.

And maybe I'll share some of the less-dry ones here with you. My book reviews may be dominated for a while with non-fiction. Or maybe they won't. Maybe my self-imposed sentence will fall apart on me. Maybe I'll spend my time balancing fiction and textbooks.

But a small part of me tells me I need to learn to toughen up. Discipline myself. And where better to start than in my reading style? Like I said, I am up to my ears in student debt. It'd be a shame if that fell apart because I can't sit through reading my textbook. Inure myself to the world of non-fiction. Because I am decently sure that it should be worth some of my attention, too.

I have textbooks in at least six of my seven classes. All of them want me to read and understand. So I'd best get started.

*This is not to say novels teach me nothing and are a waste of time. Novels are very informative. They have taught me, at some time or another, all that I know of myself and the basics of human nature. And, of course, plenty of authors do their research, so I may take some of the general information and know that, too. But what I mean here is that college needs specifics: for example, one of my classes, my Honors Inquiry class (which is worth 1 credit hour, not the usual 3) deals with the history of my college. It used to be a plantation, there's a slave burial ground, even. But I need to research deeply -- through the archaeological and written records, I need to examine the real individuals who worked here, who lived here, and who died here, and how it is all of these people and their influences on the college founder came to the decision to turn this college from a plantation into a college. I need letters from the founder's father, not a novel set in this time period at this college. Because I am dealing strictly with this reality, and therefore I need non-fiction.

I love fiction, but I have never given much attention to non-fiction. And I think it is time for me to try it on, and the best way for me to do so, I think, is to focus on it for awhile exclusively, to get myself into the habit of reading non-fiction. That's my way of doing things: instead of trying to get it to penetrate my daydreams and bring myself to earth, I often incorporate it into my dream world and there it sticks. The details I need.

And also, by the way, this is probably necessary background reading. To understand anything on the history of a place, I need the knowledge. I will still be sitting in bed all day, reading books. But now, I do not have the luxury of reading whatever I want or feel like reading. I just want to pick up the reading I have to do, but also am curious about and want to read, also. This very long aside is because, while I feel a tad guilty for setting it aside, fiction needs to take a backseat while I figure all of this out and make some coherent form of sense in my classes.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hello, Dear Friends.

It has been a long while. I know. Summer is not the most productive time for me. For some reason, being given all the time in the world to do whatever I want, I invariably choose to sit on the couch watching Bones or Law and Order, while occasionally picking myself up to go sit on my bed to read a book.

However, now that summer is over, I am in college. Yep -- college. Where the cost of textbooks and the amount of homework both pile up as time goes on.

But this is not really what my blog is about. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a reading/writing blog. So I shall endeavor to explain my reading and writing schedule for the next month.

As my laptop has no Microsoft Word, and I am not entirely fond of Open Office, my writing has been moved to pen and paper. This goes slowly, as I am not used to writing out whole drafts. I hardly manage to write out outlines on paper, and I love outlining. As again, my plot is not anywhere near workable -- I know it is this element that is off, somehow, ringing false in my own head. The pivotal element of my previous plots hinge on actions my character has no inclination to do, for it is outside of her personality to choose such options.

But this time I think I may have it right. I always think this, of course: if I didn't think the plot idea was right, then I wouldn't write out a full draft exploring it. But I am learning more about my work as I progress. Each failed plot, each wrong draft brings me closer to a workable one, because it presents to me new angles through which to see my character and setting, and what themes I want it to reflect.

I had thought I knew everything about Spike. I thought I knew her likes and dislikes, her intelligence and grace, her flaws and arrogance and entitlements. But now I realize I have not been able to discern her next move. When confronted with Enemy A, does she back away? Does she engage in conversation? I am sure she doesn't try to fight it out. That is the one move I know she would never pull. Which is why it is very hard to articulate a plot which moves forward smoothly, and which forces her to take that action she would never do.

The move to pencil and paper is a drastic one. It is different, scrawling it out: it takes more time, and it LOOKS different in my handwriting. But working in a computer lab on campus means leaving my dorm room, and anyways, I do not entirely remember where they are. So I am hoping the change in writing equipment is for the better.

Right now, I need to practice Greek, and read up on Early and Medieval Britain, and yes, to keep writing. But I will try to post once a week regarding books I've read, works I'm writing, and perhaps to recommend certain tips to you about research (as that is what college is good for: taking whole classes so you may learn one crucial detail on how your novel plays out).

Have a blessed day.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

So, an Update Might Be in Order

In case you hadn't noticed, I changed the theme of my blog around. I liked the black and white and blue, but I needed a change.

Lately, I've been thinking more than usual. If you follow my blog, you might have noticed I've posted much less this summer than I have for most of the year. And mostly, I've been thinking over what I want from this blog. (And about cats.* But that's not unusual from me.)

This blog, evident from its name, is really about the Writer Me. The Reader Me. The part of me who'd spend the rest of her life in a library if she could. And yes, the change in its looks goes into that. I like the slightly more mellow look this has; it looks more relaxed and softer, somehow, and that's what the reader part of me looks like: a girl who likes books, and daydreams about being a fairy, and likes writing about her daydreams.

But I feel like I've begun to lose focus. A lot of what I post are book reviews and ranting against random book-ish topics. I started this blog for that, yes. But a large part of what I post is also personal updates, and why I have trouble following a regular schedule. The Writer Me is not my whole identity. But my "whole identity" isn't really a part of this blog. I didn't start this blog for it to be about my whole identity.

And so, henceforth, I plan on posting more book reviews and more book-related topics. Maybe there'll be the occasional gem dug up through the constant research I go through. But I feel uncomfortable just writing stream-of-consciousness here.

I realize the majority of you lovely readers are probably readers. Maybe you are writers, too. Maybe you review books. That's what we have in common: we love books. That's what this blog is about, sharing a love of books.

Now, that still leaves the matter of the rest of me. Like many writers, I have a life outside of my writing. (If I didn't, I would probably end up on the streets; writing doesn't exactly pay well when you haven't even been published yet.) And I want to talk about that, too.

After a lot of thought, I think I might start up another blog, one on the Student Me. The one that wants to go to college, and get good grades, and learn everything I want to know. (The writer part of me likes to conveniently forget homework and studying that I don't want to do.)

Since I am going off to college, I'll be pretty busy. And running two blogs won't help. So, instead of posting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (and failing miserably), I'll likely post on one blog every Monday, and the other every Friday. With maybe the occasional Wednesday post. I'm thinking I'll post on here on Fridays, since the weekend is when I do most of my writing/reading/random research.

But I want to know what you think. Should I keep a separate blog for my more personal life? Or do you like my sporadic, stream-of-consciousness posts under my Life In General tag? Comment on this post or vote in my poll!

Have a blessed July day and enjoy these photo of my sister's kittens. :)

*Odin: his main talents are looking cute and knocking things over. Also, he's very good at being curious and taking his medicine.

Mary Shelley: fun-loving, adorable, and very jealous that she is no longer the center of attention. But I still love her.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Sometimes, I worry that I'm not the hero everyone thinks I am. 
The philosophers assure me that this is the time, that the signs have been met. But I still wonder if they have the wrong man. So many people depend on me. They say I will hold the future of the entire world in my arms.
When they see me, do they see a liar?
Once, a hero rose to save the world. He failed.
For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.
Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and defeating the Lord Ruler. A new kind of uprising is being planned-- one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine: a teenage street urchin named Vin.
Where a hero rose to save the world and failed, can a young heroine succeed?

~Print copy, 659 pages
Published: 2006 by Tor Teen

So, I realize I've been a bit absent on this blog lately, but never fear. I have been ruminating. Mulling over. Cogitating. Pondering. And, as always, voraciously reading fiction in between staring at the ceiling and watching TV.

And so, a new idea for book reviews has surfaced in my mind: a way to satisfy my love of lists and make some form of organizational sense. Normally, I'd just freewrite my entire review, rambling on about plot and whatever happened to stick out while I was reading. Now, I've got A List of Areas, and a fraction of how much I liked this particular area. 1/5 being it was either entirely unremarkable or almost painful to read, and 5/5, of course, being absolutely amazing and remarkable and very much a pleasure to read.

So here goes.

Character: 4/5

There's a little bit of a misnomer about that summary. It glosses over the "criminal mastermind" part and elaborates on Vin. When in reality, this is the first in a series and Vin is... she's more like an apprentice. In this novel, at least.

That "brilliant criminal mastermind" is named Kelsier. He's a Leader. The driving force behind the whole book, really. He's creative and impulsive, a genius, a strategist of Big Plans. He is given a job by the leader of a rebellion to gather an army, but he takes it much further -- he takes it to big heights. He plans on killing the immortal Lord Ruler, with his magical ability and some metals. (I'll elaborate on that later.) And his crew of soldiers, noblemen, and craftsmen all look up to him.

Vin, on the other hand, is an urchin, one of many thieves in an underground thieving crew. Her abusive brother abandoned her in this nest of leery criminals and she's wielding the only ability she can to survive in such conditions: she can Soothe the emotions of other people. And it's this ability that catches the attention of Kelsier, who takes her on as part of his own "thieving crew".

The character arcs of these two alternating narrators are pretty amazing. Over the course of over 600 pages, Kelsier goes from the bragging survivor to the somewhat-more-levelheaded leader, from an ambitious thief to a thoughtful authority figure and inspiration for thousands of people. Vin stretches from survivor to dazzled noblewoman to someone who can finally trust the other members of her crew.

Vin, truth be told, had me a little underwhelmed at first. She's tough and distrustful at first, very down-to-earth. And then she becomes a spy for Kelsier in the rich world of the noblemen, and becomes... almost like them. Grown away from her roots, she becomes her fake persona, Valette. But she redeems herself in the end. She makes some fumbling mistakes, spends some time soaking in the wrong message, but in the end -- she's a character to root for. She redeems herself something powerful.

Kelsier, well, I won't go into him too much (spoilers, after all), but... he is the more spectacular figure. There is no doubt to anyone who reads this novel that Kelsier is that person, the Artemis Fowl of this story, if you will. Powerful, confident, and just a bit too arrogant, he steals from the rich and is sympathetic to the poor. He's the Hero. (Though not, of course, the one that failed a thousand years before the story takes place.)

Worldbuilding: 5/5

Gracious wisdom, is the worldbuilding in this novel fantastic. It's fantasy, so of course it's well thought out... but it goes beyond that.

There are people called Mistings and Mistborn, who can swallow metals and "burn" them in their stomach in order to produce magical effects. Mistings can only swallow one of the eight Basic Metals for use. Mistborn -- like Kelsier and Vin -- can burn all eight, and then a couple more (the rare two Higher Metals). Both groups' magical abilities can range from Soothing and Rioting emotions to pulling and pushing metal objects around them.

It's all very organized. The metals are grouped into groups of four, according to whether they "push" or "pull" (Soothing emotions involves "pushing" the emotions down until the recipient is calmed; Rioting emotions involves "pulling" on certain emotions to excite the person). They're also grouped according to whether they are "external" or "internal" (Soothing and Rioting are external, because they affect someone else's emotions; but enhancing one's senses [pulling] and enhancing one's speed, strength, and endurance [pushing] are all internal, because they affect the Misting/Mistborn themselves).

And, of course, this is only one aspect of the worldbuilding. As impressive as the magic system is, the world itself is very vivid. The ashfalls from the nearby volcanoes and the mists at night are the dominant weather patterns. But it's not some backdrop: it highlights the brutality shown to the working class, the "skaa", who are seen sweeping the ashes away into the river; who struggle to keep the bare plants from dying under the dismal sunlight and frequent fallings of ash. It's for the skaa, who are abused and neglected at the hands of the noblemen, that Kelsier puts up this whole "kill the Lord Ruler" idea.

The strict class system, in which skaa are slaves and the noblemen are supposedly descendants of the Lord Ruler's allies back a thousand years before, is a tense one. The rebellion breeds under the Lord Ruler's nose, but he doesn't bother quenching it entirely. And the noblemen squabble amongst themselves regularly. But there is little overlap between the two groups -- noblemen are required by the Lord Ruler's law to execute any skaa women they bed. But some of them fall through the cracks, and what results is someone like Vin -- a skaa girl scratching out a living in a thieving crew, while possessing the Mistborn talent that is inherited only by the noblemen families.

All of this becomes a major part of the novel, tied tightly to the plot. And that's how worldbuilding is done -- tied so tightly to the plot that it becomes impossible to separate the two.

Plot:   4/5

The plot is pretty darn beautiful. It all unfolds in just the right way. It's very well-thought-out, like the worldbuilding.

It all centers on the struggle between the Kelsier, Vin, and the skaa rebellion vs. the Lord Ruler. Vin is just a street thief, until Kelsier comes along and hires her for her Mistborn talents. The leader of the skaa rebellion has enlisted him to raise an army 10,000 strong to march against the Lord Ruler, but Kelsier wants to take it a step further -- he and his friends (a soldier, a nobleman, and a skaa woodworker) all map out a plan to throw the capital city in chaos, and he needs Vin's help to do it.

Of course, Vin is kind of an apprentice here. She almost takes a backseat; she's not a leading character like Kelsier, and ends up another team member with the secondary characters, spying on the noblemen for information while Kelsier does the job of throwing the city into chaos. But she slowly takes a bigger role as the book progresses.

But, like I said, this all unfolds just slowly enough. The pacing is just right, despite the hefty 600 pages. There look to be a few slow places, but at the end of the book I look back and realize tha those scenes were good -- they helped you catch your breath after all of the daredevil magic and action.

Theme: 3/5

I was a little less enthusiastic on themes.

For one thing, despite Vin's redemption in the end, she still appears for most of the book to oscillating between prissy, spoiled noblewoman and hardened thief. And the idea behind it was a little sketchy, like, "Of course she'd be wowed by all of the beauty of this place; she's just a girl. So of course she'd just throw out this crazy idea of noble excess that she's held her entire life."

But I'm not really doing it justice. This idea is turned on its head at the end. Still, reading it, I feel like the former idea stretched on for too long a stretch, and the revelation that really, the opposite is the theme came a little too late.  And she is still one of the only female characters in this book, besides maybe one noblewoman she's turned into an enemy and a couple of female skaa workers. So the idea makes it seem like women don't really have a place in such rebellions, unless they have special, rare magical talents.

Still, I think the other themes aren't too out there. The whole theme of "chaos can be a beautiful thing" is pretty good. Many books attempt it, but this one actually engineers the chaos, and harnesses it for social change. And the themes on class, how the clueless excess of the higher class can blind it to the oppression of a lower class, hit spot on. The nobles see the skaa as something less than human, something other than human, and that's a very familiar line of thinking when it comes to traditional race oppression in this world.

The subtler gender ideas in the novel don't appear to be deliberate. And the other thematic ideas presented more obviously are ones I agree with. But let's just say I prefer enjoying the magic and worldbuilding more than the themes.

Overall: 4/5

Overall, I did really enjoy this novel. I would definitely recommend this book to others -- the world and the plot are fantastic. There were a few things that prevented me from making this a true, 5/5, fantastic novel -- mostly the lack of other females and my slight irritation with Vin's spying-on-the-nobility gig. But overall, a real nice novel.

Monday, June 9, 2014

And... I'm officially a graduate.

Today, I woke up thinking about how everyone else has to go to school.

My younger sisters and my younger brother all have school for this week. But I graduated on Saturday. I graduated. I will never be going back to high school again. 

It is both a scary and glorious feeling, this newfound freedom. I can go to college because I want to -- not because I have to. I can get a job. Move out of the house, if I had any money. Shoot, I can sit in my room all day without worrying about my school attendance and whether I'm doing all the homework I need done. Because I don't have any homework. There's no school attendance anymore. I'm done with that.

And yet, I keep this almost obsessive need to repeat those patterns. I signed up for two free online classes this summer on Coursera: one of Greek&Roman mythology and one on how, sociologically speaking, innocent people can end up in prison for a crime they never committed. (They sound interesting. If anyone's interested, you can easily search for the classes -- it's actually a pretty well-organized site, with tons of different classes taught for free by various colleges and universities.)

Why would I sign myself up for more classes, with homework and learning and stuff? I'm not actually a fan of how education is orchestrated in this country. There's too much telling, dictating what should be memorized for a quiz/test. There's not enough emphasis on showing, on learning and that "Eureka! That's why this works!" feeling.*

But I did. I still want to learn. It's worth it, for those "Eureka!" moments when I'm trawling through the lectures and the supportive readings and the grueling agony of having to come up with an intelligent response to what I've just been lectured on. For that moment where I'm like, "So that's how Tabasco sauce is made. Wait, there are concerns for the Pompeii site today, because all the traffic that goes through wears it down? That makes so much sense!"**

That's why I'm going to college. That's why I thirst for a higher degree, a Bachelor's, a Master's, a Doctorate. That's why I plan on majoring not in English or Creative Writing, but in archaeology -- because archaeology actively searches for more knowledge about a place, through digging, through interpretation and scientific techniques. Worst case scenario: I hate my day job as an archaeologist, but unconsciously incorporate all of the history and psychology and science I know from the job into my writing. Best case scenario? I get all of my interests satisfied -- not just writing, but the culture and day-to-day details of history. I get to know more, learn more, in inter-disciplinary field, and still combine it with the fiction writing craft I love.

I've also got quite a few reference books waiting to be read. From several collections of fairy tales, legends, and myths, to writing craft books, to library books on beekeeping, forensic science, and ancient inventions, I plan to keep reading and researching all summer long. Not because I have to for some class. Just... for fun. For writing purposes (research is amazingly relevant for otherworldly fantasy). To broaden my base of knowledge, so I'm not left in the dark when it comes to any references to mythological works in literature. (And for when I go off to college!)

This summer, I am probably going to get a job at the factory where my parents work (well, my father -- my mother's busy with Master's classes at the moment). Eight hours a day, or four if it's part-time (obviously, nothing's been decided or talked about -- I graduated two days ago, for glory's sake), doing menial work with people I may or may not like, but it won't be my choice to just not work with them. From my parents' complaints, some of them won't even be industrious workers -- just people who'll watch me work and take the credit for working hard.

It'll be a lot like high school. And that's why I'm hoping that I will be able to cover the cost of college (~$5k) with scholarships and grants, and get the editing done on my novel in record time, and sending out queries and getting like, an instant response, all before college starts and maybe I'll have an advance in my pocket to spend on books and groceries. (I realize how impossible a dream that is, by the way -- even with all the free time in the world, I have a particular habit of procrastination which'll keep me from spending all that time productively.)

But I've got books to read and notes to take and two online classes to listen to. I'll be filling out paperwork for college, going to B&N and the library, pretending I know what on earth I'm doing while I experiment in cooking my own meals. (I'm going vegetarian, but the rest of my family isn't. They seem to think foregoing meat and junk food will kill them. "The protein!" they cry. "The iron!")

So, I don't think falling into the routine of familiarity will be entirely a negative experience this summer. I just got out of school, yea, and taking more classes over the summer while I wait for college classes to start seems crazy. But I've got this. I've got books. I've got the thinking capacity. And, if I'm honest, I desire to be productive this summer, not just lazing about on the couch or on my bed.

(Though, to be even more honest, there are documentaries to be watched. I will spend a goodly portion of my summer watching documentaries and reading random internet articles. Where else would I learn how Tabasco sauce is made? Programs on the History channel, the Science channel, and the -- what's it called? The Bio Channel. It's changing its name to the FYI channel, apparently, come July. Anyways, I consider such educational TV channels and shows to be a supplement to my research.)

Maybe I'll get some more scholarships. Maybe I'll finish my edits and query. Maybe I'll be researching while I watch Food Tech and How It's Made. And maybe I'll find a few talents in cooking, or in working with the clay that sits beside my desk and calls my name, or in building worlds and characters with precise words. Even while a heavy weight sinks in my chest at the thought of what can bind me and drag me down this summer, I can still hold out hope of acquiring new skill or knowledge.

Have a blessed day.

*Yes, that is an overt reference to the writing maxim, "Show don't tell." We can all learn that lesson, writers or not.

**The site gets worn down by tourists, by the way. Yea, there's a recreation of Pompeii, with all the plaster molds and everything, and people like archaeologists and managers and stuff are legitimately concerned. People who take small "souvenirs", the crowds wearing down the roads, people with heavy backpacks who accidentally knock against a section of wall or something? All wear it down. I read some articles on it a few months ago, when I was taking an online course on Coursera about archaeology.  

Friday, June 6, 2014


That thing you wear around your neck with your graduation gown? It's a stole. Mine is light blue.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Guys. I'm Gonna Graduate.

Right now, I pretty much feel... restless. And as much as I don't really want to treat my blog like my diary, I feel like I can say this here. Because it's one of those Big Events in Your Life.

What spurred on the thought was the Senior Awards Assembly two days ago, where they hand out all the medals and cords and whatnot. It takes hours and it's boring. The same people win all the awards -- you know the type, who wear so many medals for music and student council and Honor Society and everything, that when they step up to the stage to receive the next award you can hear their medals jangling.

I was mentioned exactly three times. Two of those times were just being recognized for achievement in (*ahem* just for signing up for) AP classes, no medal or pin or even certificate necessary. The third time I received a gold cord, for "Honors Graduate," which is a fancy way of saying I took honors classes and got good grades like I was supposed to.

Still, it's one more award than others got. Some people didn't receive anything at all. (And one guy received a couple of awards for publishing a children's book and I'm trying not to be jealous right now, because my novel is still at a cringe-worthy stage.) I am not coming out of four years of an institution which did more to harm my understanding of the world than it did to help with nothing. It's a gold cord, sure; a few flimsy badges and a little pin for "participating" in gym in previous years. All will decorate my sash-thing. (Does anyone know what that part of a robe is called? You see it in graduation gowns and in choir robes, and you can never tell if the short end should be facing front or if it should be the longer end? Or am I confusing you?)

But the thought still surfaces: I am going to graduate. In less than two weeks, I am going to claim a piece of paper which will tell everyone I am sufficiently versed in English, Science, Math, and Social Studies to pursue a higher education. (Yes, it's necessary to capitalize those. If I believed anything school taught me, I would think they are the only important things in the entire world. They even had an entire section of the Awards Assembly dedicated to giving out awards for "excellence" and "achievement" in those four areas. And no, creative writing is apparently not considered an English elective, even though AP Statistics is considered a Math elective.) After four years of doubting myself, of mornings where I absolutely do not want to drag myself out of bed and do so anyways, of days where I feel as if I might vomit but head to school anyways, of endless rounds of homework and memorization in classes I do not care about, of every last little injustice I've felt, because I am too quiet to tell my lab partner to let me participate, too, or because of my apparent inability to operate in social surroundings...

After everything, I am finally leaving it. There is no guarantee I won't find it at college. In fact, I probably will. But that is months away. Right now I am leaving it. Maybe I'll encounter it in the workplace, if I have to work at the factory where my parents work, because I cannot, technically speaking, afford college. But I do not have a job yet. Right now, all of everything is finally laying to rest in the building in which it occurred.

And I don't want it to happen. I don't want to let go of the familiar maze of hallways, suppressing the tears when I do not get any awards even when I know it is technically my fault for being too quiet to join anything, the teachers who are nice and try to help us understand, even when I either already know it or do not care. I don't want to leave behind the awful boredom, the wandering thoughts which grasp the concept and then forget it next period, the exhaustion of having information of one subject rammed down my throat and then, in the space of seven minutes, get to another class to have information of another subject stuffed into my ears.

In a way, it's a sort of dilemma, a meeting of opposite forces in my heart: the desire to stay behind, to just remain in high school with the lunches with my friends, and the rare occasion I learn something I want to, and the way some of the teachers even try to encourage my own thinking and self-expression; and with letting go, leaving the good and bad behind, because I have been ready to do so for a long time now.

It's scary, to think I'll be graduating. I will have to go to college, where they'll actually let me study what I want to, but at a high cost and risk of debt; or I will have to join the workplace or the military, a mass of people even larger than the crowds at school, where even fewer people will know me or care. This world is full of possibility, of money and happiness and exploration and everything they never think to teach within the confines of a school building. A place where I am as unprepared and new at everything as a newborn, where I might as well be another seed on a dandelion head when someone makes a wish.

But it's exciting, in a nauseous mix at the pit of my stomach, to think that I will not be something to treated with condescension. Hopefully, no one will repeat the same thing in simplest terms for five minutes, just to make sure I get the point. There will be no homework besides working on a home. I have the chance to learn what I want to and hold a job I love to work on, even if it's a chance and not a guarantee. I will have a whole lifetime to spread a pair of wings I have been cobbling together, away from the eyes of kids smarter than me and more involved than me or less caring and less intelligent.

I am a smart girl. I received a recognition -- three of them -- for it, when others got nothing. I may not be dripping with medals and honors, with people praising my abilities and potential. I may be too quiet, too inclined to stare unprotesting when someone else does the work for me. But I can do many things I keep out of view of others, like hold whole worlds in my head and read over a hundred books a year, every year, and I can write essays about works of fiction that receive top marks. I get top marks on AP exams, which are college level before I am in college.

And now I can graduate, leave behind a place that has felt unhealthy to me for a long time. I am leaving behind friends, and good intentions, and the random everyday acts which sometimes helps me get through it. I am leaving behind bullies, and casting off the knowledge I never wanted to learn, not even if it is "good" for me, and all of those random everyday acts which grind me into dust and another face in the crowd.

Two weeks. Two weeks of nothing, of classes I am done caring about and final exams, three of which I don't have to and won't take. Graduation practice. And then the real thing, Saturday morning, June 7th. I'll be wearing the gold cord and my trivial little pins and badges, most all of them for being a good little girl and getting good grades in the "smart kid" classes. I'll be wearing a little black dress beneath my blue cap and gown, which isn't sexy or little, but knee-length and short-sleeved and still the most daring and the most formal outfit I have ever worn. And maybe, if they let me, I will be clutching a book as I climb the steps to the stage, trying to keep the one-size-too-large flats from falling off my feet while I accept a diploma.

My stomach has that nauseous mix again. I cannot tell you which force wins out, or which feeling will overwhelm the other. My heart pounds in its little cage -- or in its protective hiding spot -- and my hands shake, and I cannot stop my body from fidgeting or feeling sick when I so much as look at that cap and gown. But it won't be long until that is over, and a tether will have been cut -- the one that anchors me to an unhappy world. And maybe I carry that unhappy world inside of me, and maybe it won't feel better. But it's one less tie to such a place, to a place where I have no control over when I am allowed to go to the bathroom and what I learn.

And maybe, with letting go this anchor, I can stretch out a little, feel my nervous heartbeat and my shaking fingers, and I can tell myself that I have a chance now, a price to pay and a choice to make and maybe even a set of very good consequences for my future. That even while I am nervous and scared, there is something bigger, and better, and I'll be on my way to the version of me which I save for my daydreams.

I'll be on my way to a reality of my dreams, or a failure of them. But I have faith that I will allow the former to keep me happy, or to keep the latter from crushing me. Because I am a smart girl. I can get through four years of no control, over almost everything. So I can get through a lifetime with just a bit more freedom than I've ever been allowed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

On Baby Chicks.

So, today marks the last day I got to see my baby chick.

Perhaps I should back up and explain. I am in AP Biology. After the AP exam -- which was a couple of weeks ago -- my teacher bought a bunch of newly hatched chicks as a last, fun project for the year. (She does this every year, though only for the AP Bio students.)

Mine was (is) a little Rhode Island Red chick. She slept on my hand, mostly, and freaked out when I picked her up, and was rather antisocial. We had to do an experiment in which we took away the heat lamp from a group of 5 or 6 chicks to observe their behavior, and they were supposed to huddle together; but my chick turned her back on the others and just fluffed out her feathers.

I named her Imogen. "Imogen" is such a... a chic name, an unusual name, one which conjures up a calm, collected hipster. And if my chick could wear glasses and lounge about at some Paris cafe, listening to Imogen Heap (the music band) on an mp3 player, I think she would.

She had (has) soft downy feathers of a gentle red color, except for the tiniest splotch of black at the back of her head, like some artist had to put a finishing touch on this little piece of work. She never attempted to fly, though her wing feathers always looked long and a spotty brown-and-white and ready to feel the wind between them.

We painted their toenails different colors, to tell which one was our own. Since there are at least a handful of other Rhode Island Red chicks, I painted the middle toenail of Imogen's feet a bright pink. Just the middle toenail, or claw, whatever the proper terminology is, on both feet. Not that this always helped, as -- fun fact! Baby chicks are attracted to color, and will peck off any nail polish you might paint onto their nails.

Imogen also had the tendency, as I said, to freak out when I picked her up. There are still thin scratch marks across the backs of my hands, because she apparently felt much safer perched on the thin ledge of my wrist and the back of my hand, rather than safely cupped in my palms. Still, she was a sweet little darling. When I had her safely to the tabletop, she never left my hand, but cuddled into my palms and trembled just a bit, falling asleep and jerking awake at random.

And of course, I wanted to keep her. But I live in a suburban home, one filled with cats at that, and it wasn't really an option. My teacher assures us they will go to farms where they will be layer hens; they are not going to get slaughtered or mistreated. But I still feel kind of bad, because the entire point of the project was to get the baby chick to imprint with you, and then once you get imprinted they get sent away from their human "mother." I can't help picturing little Imogen at some farm, waiting for me to come by so she can perch in my palms and fall asleep in peace, even when she's big and unable to fit in my hands.

Like the relationship with my cats, I just see -- I don't know. A little spark of something, in their eyes, on their face. I like to think every animal is just as capable of thinking as I am, and judges me on my behavior as much as I on theirs. My baby chick is one of these intelligent animals. I think she does love me, in her little chickie way, and that she would want me around for a long time, just to sit in my lap and rest her little beak on the edge of my thumb while she drifts off. And it wrenches my heart to think she'll grow puzzled at my absence, and then maybe she'll get anxious, and then -- eventually -- forget all about me. As strange as she is, she deserves something good for her, even if it's a clumsy teenage girl just stroking her head and cooing at her in that quiet voice reserved especially for baby animals.

I am not entirely sure why I decided to share this post with you, about my somewhat pathetic empathy for a baby chicken, of all things, but I suppose I wanted to offer up a little lesson. Because, you know, teenagers learn some worthwhile morals that others can benefit from, too.

In the end, I think it's not just baby chicks who imprint on you. People imprint on others, too, and I guess sometimes you imprint right back.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All About Character: On Theodosia

Let me tell you a little something about characters: the story is all about them. People force me to read literary fiction in classrooms, but that is the reason no one my age reads any more (besides people like me). Literary fiction about how it is written, not the main subjects of the story.

And so, this is why I feel the need to talk about my favorite stories characters. Because sometimes, main character or not, "likeable" or not, I need to express the warmth and love that fills my mind when I read good characters.

R.L. Lafevers -- yes, the author of Grave Mercy -- wrote Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, which kickstarts the series of a young, curious girl prodigy whose main job is to take curses off of ancient Egyptian artifacts.

Theodosia... she's the girl I wish I was. At eleven years old, she juggles secret societies and vile magic and parents who simply don't understand. She doesn't whine or complain, even though this is the early 1900s and she is expected to behave in a more "polite" manner than sleeping in a sarcophagus and pattering about her father's museum. She rolls up her sleeves and gets to work, researching (in dusty old tomes) or collecting wax (it soaks up curses pretty well) or avoiding trouble (which, of course, always seeks her out).

What I love about Theodosia is her voice. Not old beyond her years, weighed down by her important duties; but not frivolous and empty-headed, like the girls in that boarding school her parents neglected to send her back to. She gets exasperated by the adults around her. She is wise enough not to elaborate on her role in keeping her parents safe from the magic her mother brings back from archaeological expeditions. She has her own scientific methods for getting rid of the curses.

Of course, I am neck-deep in Book 4. But I will focus on Book 1, the Serpents of Chaos. Theo, as she's sometimes called, has no qualms about looking peculiar. She's entirely unafraid of meeting new people, but loves her time researching in the museum's library. In fact, she creates a network of allies to help keep her (relatively) safe and informed.

I am not entirely sure I would be as level-headed if I were in Theodosia's position. This is what I love about her. She meets a secret society and holds a powerful Heart of Egypt amulet, and she doesn't bat an eye. The Serpents of Chaos, as they're called, steal the amulet, but Theo has A Plan. And it doesn't involve returning it to her mother, where it might get stolen again.

Of course, the other secret society she meets (for one secret society is just never enough) is on the side of "good." The Chosen Brotherhood takes curses off of objects as well, but none of them have the same ability to sense it as Theo does. And they help her out, a little, but Theo stands on her own. She creates her own plans, and implements them.

I guess, if I'm being honest, I love Theo's abilities as well. I mean, how amazing and dangerous and exciting is the ability to detect Egyptian curses? And she doesn't just guess; she's not new to this ability. She rolls up her sleeves and applies her First Level Test (wax) and Second Level Test (moonlight) to determine what the curses, she researches how to get rid of it, and performs spells with leftover bits and pieces (of gold wire, chips of red stone, colorful thread, and more). Fantasy stimulates my imagination more than almost any other type of fiction, and Ancient Egypt captures my attention more than almost any other time and place.

Theo has flaws, of course, but I find myself not caring. She can be a bit bumbling and naive. She can (and does) trust the wrong people, hate the right people, and sometimes botch up her relationship to her parents or her younger brother. But she's eleven. She is allowed to be human, in all of that complicated mess of dealing with other people.

Most of all, I think, Theo is unafraid to be all of the things mentioned above. She is unafraid of being the only one to see curses, of trusting the wrong people, of coming face to face with orders of men dedicated to chaos. She never apologizes for it. And I love her fearlessness, because fear never holds her back from the sort of adventure people love reading about.

If you have never had the pleasure of picking up this book, I recommend it. Theodosia is a complex, confident character, and whether you like Ancient Egypt or not, whether you read fantasy or not, this series is worth reading for her.

Have a blessed day.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ugh, Really? Or, A Rant on Education

Alright, so if you've read this blog, you probably realize I live in America. More specifically, in the Southeast. Most specifically, I live in Virginia. (But I refuse to name my street address, full name, and full identification. This is a personal blog, after all, not some free-for-all for criminals.)

And I would like to inform you about education. The public educational system. Not precisely the one I'm in -- thank goodness -- but it happened in Richmond earlier this week.

Guess what? Richmond schools are protesting.

If you're unwilling to follow the link to the Richmond Times Dispatch, let me spell it out for you: 150 students protested Monday, because their schools are falling apart. One of the students in my class, who used to be in the Richmond public school system, claimed he once saw a rat there. On the news Monday, they interviewed a few students, and a couple say they're worried about ceiling tiles falling on their heads and injuring them.

The protest was going to peter out, of its own volition, without any news coverage at all. Until the mayor of Richmond showed up, and invited the students in to talk about it.

It sounds nice, doesn't it? The mayor shows up and for 30 minutes out of his busy schedule, sits down to talk with students about their concerns. Except, he doesn't really answer them. He wants to build a baseball stadium nearby -- yes, you heard me: a baseball stadium. And he keeps telling the students that building it will increase revenue, help the economy, and that then he'll have money for the schools. Oh, but he also claims that it's the schools' responsibility to deal with where the money goes, not City Council.

And I would have posted this earlier in the week -- say, the day it happened -- but thinking on it makes my blood boil.

First of all, really? The city has money to build a baseball stadium, but not enough to keep kids safe? And you want to build an expensive baseball stadium in order to bring money in, rather than simply using the money you have to first help the schools and then figure out a plan to raise revenue?

Second of all, it really angers me that someone would forego children's safety like that. When even one kid is in danger, parents rush in to save their child. But when it comes to sending them to school, it's alright to put them in danger? None of the people on City Council, or even the Superintendent of the schools, knows what it's like, to be in these schools.

I am so blessed to be in a school system where I won't (hopefully, ever) see a rat; I feel safe in the building. But I don't exactly have a choice to go. I never had a choice, to go to my high school; it's simply the default school I go to, since I didn't get into any specialty program elsewhere. It's the same with kids in Richmond. They don't have any choice over what school they get to go to. They simply have to go. And unfortunately, they have to go to a school system they don't feel safe in.

How did a system meant to be for the benefit of kids end up such a nightmare? How did it ever come to this, that kids have to protest to get proper maintenance for their schools? When did a system meant to enrich children's lives with learning end up a place where they are nervous to even walk in?

Everyone talks about bullying, and assaults, and gun violence. They talk about how college is way too expensive. But where is the attention for the public school system when it comes to something they have so little control over? No one talks about how maintenance can scare kids as much as bullies, so that they are afraid to come to school.

I once saw a cockroach in my school. My biology teacher killed a mouse eating her supply of lab "equipment" (dried beans, which she uses in a couple experiments at the beginning of the school year to teach evolution). My Spanish teacher was legitimately concerned that Spanish classes after the third year taking the language would get canceled; she asked several kids in my class to go around talking to the third-year Spanish students in order to encourage them to sign up.*

But this is nothing. It's nothing, that our textbooks are battered. Nothing, that the air conditioning rarely works, so that it is either freezing during the spring months -- so much so that I wear a jacket to school, even when it is over sixty degrees outside -- or too-boiling-hot. Two years ago, in Honors 10th grade English, there were so many students in my class that the temperature in there was always seventy degrees. I switched to an AP English class last year and this year, because there are fewer students.

That. Is. Nothing. At least I haven't seen bigger bugs; at least I don't worry about ceiling tiles falling on my head. At least I am lucky enough to be in a decent school, even though I had no control over where I would be going to. I didn't choose to go to my school because it was safe. And some students? They didn't choose to go to their schools in the city, because those schools are grim. Luck is all that separates me from those kids.

And you know what? I'm so sick of it. If we are required by law to go to school, then it had better be a good place to go. Because you can't just sacrifice quality when it comes to kids. To people my age and even younger. You can't take risks with safety. So why can't anybody pay attention and fix this mess -- or better yet, why didn't anyone pay attention enough to have stopped this from happening in the first place?

There are so many questions. And there are no answers. Not for me. But I am proud as anything that some kids had the fight in them to stand up and demand some sort of answer to these very questions.

*My school requires a student to take three years of one language or two years of two languages. After that, it's optional. I'm in Spanish 4.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shine by Lauren Myracle

A boy beaten, bound, and left for dead, words of hate scrawled across his chest...
A girl shrinking from life, enslaved by a shameful secret...
A tight-knit Southern community riddled by poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance...
When Patrick is found near death, strung to the pump of the local gas station, sixteen-year-old Cat emerges from her self-imposed exile to avenge the horrors inflicted on her former best friend. The local sheriff is ready to pin the crime on gay-bashing out-of-towners, but Cat's suspicions lie elsewhere. Despite ominous warnings to leave it be, Cat finds the will -- fueled by fury born of an old injustice -- to expose the homegrown hatred that gave rise to Patrick's attack.
Bestselling author Myracle has crafted a hypnotic mystery, steeped in a sense of place, that is also a searing coming-of-age story: an exploration of loss, guilt, and fear fused inseparably with a tale of courage, resiliency, and love.

~Print copy, 350 pages
Published: 2011 by Amulet Books

As much as I wanted to love this... I can't quite get there. It's rather random, my bits and pieces of opinion, but this post is supposed to organize it into something coherent.

I liked that this is set in the South. Everything seems to be set in New York or London, or even another world. I come across few novels set in the good old American South.

Books about gays are also rare to cross my sightline. This copy I've read comes from my local library. I've seen it in Barnes and Noble, but my mother happens to be very Christian-like and... well, she's the one with the money. But even then, either nothing's being mentioned in the summary or they are not here, because most of it looks overwhelmingly heterosexual romance. (See my rant on not finding what I want here.)

What also caught my eye was the main character, Cat, took off from chapter one. Literally. It is within a chapter that she breaks out of that "self-imposed exile" and decides to chase her friend's assailant. In truth, this is somewhat shaky to me -- I would have liked to see her in exile, not just in flashbacks but during the story time. But still, she can be a hardy character, not some fluffy-headed princess who walks down that haunted corridor and opens that spooky door despite your irritated shouts at her to stop.

The mystery part, too, was actually pretty good. I won't spoil the ending, but the twist was pretty well-carried out -- I never saw that ending coming, and simultaneously I could see how it led there. And those types of endings pack quite the punch.

On the other hand, there were quite a few things that churned in my gut.

One of the major secondary characters, Jason. I don't know about you, but college boys hanging around 16-year-olds seems a bit... creepy. To be in college, I have to assume he's at least 18 or older. I turn 18 tomorrow. Even I can tell you that who I am now and who I was then are VASTLY different -- at 16, I was vulnerable, even more timid than I am now. I didn't see things like I do now, things like the whole picture -- not even a bigger picture, than my own little world. Two years is forever.

And that is the minimum age he could be -- he has two more years, maybe three or four or even five years, than she has in terms of experience, of that seeing the whole picture. I don't care if she likes him. I don't care that she is "mature" or "fearless" or anything else. I don't like the way this sort of relationship -- between two teenagers of vastly different ages -- was portrayed, set aside, made sort of... cute, in a way. My parents would not let my 16-year-old sister hang out with an 18-year-old -- and she has. And that sort of thing ends badly.

I also wasn't fond of how quickly things went. Like I said, Cat was raring to go from chapter one. She's well into character development within a couple more. Near the end, it began feeling kind of preachy, like there was a lesson being pushed on me. All that there's-good-in-everyone sort of lesson, where there's no real villain, because no one's a real villain.

And going off of that, I don't like how quickly her quietness was cast aside at a moment's notice. Now, I've never really been attacked myself, and I've never dealt with the consequences, when someone I love has been hurt or even overly sick. But still, Cat acted like being quiet and withdrawn was just a phase she never wanted to go back to. There was her talk of how much it hurt her friends, that she stood by; even counted herself among evil people, because she didn't say "yes" to the world and go after everything.

But being quiet and withdrawn takes over your life. I know. I barely speak more than the Pledge of Allegiance in the mornings and a paltry conversation during lunch on any given day. It deserves more than just paragraphs here and there vaguely describing how she didn't stand up for [insert friend here]. It's a lifestyle, and there's more than one type of "withdrawn" person. It can be everything, it affects everything in a worldview, and quite frankly, I've been trying to find a way even partially out of "self-imposed exile", and it doesn't go away with one decision. It doesn't go away with a chest full of fury -- I have been furious, and it gets you nowhere when you are used to a certain quiet lifestyle.

And I refuse to believe that it is entirely negative, because there is something healing and calm in not being around people, about not being so extroverted as to have lots of conversations with people every day. It's not quite evil at all, really. I do have friends, now, but I've been at the place where I am a ghost. And it's lonely. But it isn't negative, not some phase to cast off and see the error of my ways, like it seems from this novel. It's a place of mind where you can think, and see yourself.

And, while it seems kind of minor after my talks of my philosophy, this novel can become character soup at points. It's a small town, I know, and she knows everyone's name, but the ladies at the church? Aren't entirely deserving of a name. And the librarian. And the names of the parents, of the kids she keeps talking to. At times, I became somewhat confused, and this wasn't really annoying in and of itself -- but in conjunction with my questioning some of the way other things were being portrayed, it really did pick on my nerves.

All in all, I wasn't entirely fond of this novel. Not really. The bits I liked about this novel -- the setting, the fact that it is about homosexuality, rather than the homogeneous heterosexuality -- seem kind of small in comparison with the way I dislike some of the other aspects. I don't like the way being quiet, or relationships with older teenagers, were sort of made cute, set aside, in favor of the plot, or of flashbacks of her and Patrick. How being quiet looked like something she had to "get over", and how meeting with a guy at least two years older than her was made casual.

I don't really know if I'd recommend this to someone. If you take anything from this post, it's that I am not always entirely clear myself on how I feel about it. But it does grate against what I believe in places, and I'm not sure I would actively seek someone out and place this book in their hands. All I can really give in terms of whether or not someone else would want to read this is a lengthy post explaining my tangled reasoning and hoping for a discussion.

And, having said that, I give this novel a 2.5 stars, because while I am not entirely in agreement with it, I really do respect a good plot twist. (Rounded up to 3 stars.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Well, you know... Life.

I'm on spring break right now. Yea. Spring Break. Do you know how I've spent it? Watching TV, knitting, petting my cats. I finished the draft of my WIP, so I've put my writing down for this week -- make it truly a break. I haven't even really been reading; I've picked up and put down half a dozen novels since Saturday.

Sometimes I wish I could just-- I just wish I could get out of my house every now and then. I don't have a driver's license, but even if I did, there just isn't much to do around my neighborhood. This is the suburbs: a lot of residential homes, a convenience store within walking distance (though, without money, isn't exactly ideal); there's a Wal-Mart 20 minutes away, and a Food Lion maybe ten minutes from here, and a couple of libraries. Barnes and Noble and a movie theater are also twenty minutes up the road.

But still, I've been to the library this week. I have no money to go to any stores, or to a move theater. There aren't really "parks" around here, except one like half an hour away. And that's like a Lord of the Rings adventure, to go that far. We generally don't like spending a fortune in gas.

So instead, I sit here. I just watched three hours of Bones, on TNT. I ate a bag of popcorn. Colored in my coloring book. Knitted a little. Something heavy and sad sits in my rib cage, like a rock of emotion tying me to the couch. Which sounds a little melodramatic, but sometimes I might as well be tied to the couch. My cats come and sit on my chest, Siamese cats who'll compete to sit up on my shoulders and on my chest. (I think the ones who get stuck sitting in my lap and on my legs are further down the hierarchy. Because, yes, cats do have a social hierarchy -- probably a very strict one, considering how much they claw at each other.)

I've been considering college. And, like a lot of the rest of my life, I fear I'll have to settle for my second best. Actually, between the three I've been accepted to, there are two I'm considering with any enthusiasm. One is a co-ed college, the other an all-women's college. I'd like to go to the all-women's college. I'm planning on majoring in archaeology, which involves hard sciences like chemistry and earth science -- in an all-women's college, I could hope to avoid some of the -- well, men. I took chemistry last year, earth science my freshman year. Sometimes the guys get a lot of attention, even though the teachers -- female teachers -- do their best to get to us shy girls stuck at our little table near the middle of the room.

But of course, the women's college is more expensive. The enrollment is like, $500. The enrollment at the co-ed college is $300. And the co-ed college is close enough to my granddad's that I could live off-campus, cutting down on costs even more. No study abroad. No trips across the country after I graduate this June. At the co-ed, they offer a classics major, too -- that should offer less hard sciences, right? More art history? Perhaps I could take that.

Or, maybe, I could just not go to college at all. My sister and mother have incurred enough student debt without me adding to it. (Actually, I don't think we even qualify for loans.)

Maybe I could get a full-time temp job over the summer, at the factory where my dad works. I could spend twenty years working there, just like him, and marry and have kids and never have any money above a middle-middle class existence, just. Like. My. Family.

Is it so much to wonder, that maybe I want a little something more? To travel, even if it makes my stomach churn in anxiety? To... to be rich, one day, lots of money, and I wouldn't have to worry about whether or not I can afford to go to college, or sit around bored during Spring Break while other students get to go to other states, visit family, go on vacation?

I realize that I need more than a high school diploma to do anything. But a college degree is no guarantee, either, and I don't even really want to go. I am just getting out of the public school system. I don't want to go back into another educational system, one I can't actually afford, even with the rather hefty scholarships they're throwing my way, even if they offer me into their Honors program with smaller classes and more control over what classes I want to take.

If only I could... I don't know. Be free to sit in a library, in any library, and just read what I want to learn for myself. No sitting in hard science classes, where I may or may not get to actually do lab work, depending on what gender my lab partner is. (In an archaeology major, probably a guy. There aren't exactly many who decide to major in it, and I imagine quite a few of them are male, as a lot of science-y jobs are.)

But, of course, life will not fall at my feet and give me whatever I want. I could not go to college, and maybe end up like my brother -- working hard, all day, no flexibility in hours, and at the end of the year get nothing back in tax returns. I could go to college; perhaps I'll be like my mother, who's getting her master's degree in religion, who complains sometimes of male teachers who never give her more than, "It's alright," even when she's spent all day on a paper to perfect it and most of the other guys in her class slapped something together. Spend all day reading and annotating and writing essays, like that's all there is to life -- essays waxing eloquent about one topic or another, no flair allowed.

I know the essays we write in public school. College ones just seem to be longer and more unnecessarily complex. And I am sick of writing them.

But I can't just become a writer. I can't afford to sit around all day and daydream. But I can't stand working my entire life and getting nothing back, or wracking up so much debt I'll be paying it off the rest of my life, and maybe also get nothing in return.

Maybe one day I'll leave the United States, go to... I don't know. Ireland. Russia. Australia. Maybe, while I'm at it, I could grow a pair of wings and join a fairy cult. Because I can't really do what I want, become whoever I want to be, like those well-meaning adults in elementary school tell you. Sometimes, I really can't do anything at all, except sit on my couch. Now it's a marathon of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale

On Legacy Day each years, the students at the Ever After High boarding school sign the Storybook of Legends and pledge to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings, and Evil Queens. Everyone believes that refusing to sign means both you and your story will vanish forever after. Poof!
Raven Queen, however, is having doubts. As the daughter of the Evil Queen, it is her destiny to give the poisoned apple to Snow White's daughter. But Raven has a spark of rebellion in her heart, and she knows one thing for sure: Evil is so not her style.
On the other hand, the royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, cannot wait for Legacy Day! It will be the day she shuts the book on getting her Happily Ever After. But her destiny is intertwined with Raven's, and if rebel Raven doesn't sign the Storybook of Legends, it could mean a Happily Never After for them both.

~Print copy (from the library), 304 pages
Published: 2013 by Little, Brown and Company

Okay, so this is a princess book. The pages are decorated in pink and purple. Sometimes the narrator has characters with one of the secondary characters in the book (Maddie, the Mad Hatter's daughter). And it alternates between Apple White's point of view and Raven's, and Apple's point of view -- to be frank -- is nauseatingly happy. (What did you expect from the daughter of Snow White?)

But still. It's Shannon Hale. Despite the pink and purple cover, we're talking about Shannon Hale -- who wrote Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days and Princess Academy, which all deal with royalty of course, but I LOVED them when I was younger. Princess Academy is still on my greater-favorites bookshelf. And anyways... I'm always a sucker for fairy tales.

I picked this up at my local library, and -- although a little embarrassed to bring it to school with me -- I began reading. It took two days. 150 pages a day, between school and writing, because I just had to make time for it.

This book was just... it was splendid. (Or, as Goldilocks's daughter says, "just right.") In this novel, the daughter of the Evil Queen and the daughter of Snow White are put in a room together at a boarding school where everyone must sign a pledge to follow the scripts of their parents, or else the story -- and them -- will die.

But the Evil Queen's daughter isn't... well, evil. She's a bit more shades of gray. And, despite the pretty, happy appearances she puts on, so is Apple White. The two pledge to be friends despite their story, but Raven's determination to avoid signing the Storybook and Apple's determination to keep her Happily Ever After eventually come into conflict throughout the novel, as Raven finds the name of a girl who didn't sign the Storybook and tries to find out what happened to her.

Let's start with the characters. Apple White is sickeningly a princess. Spoiled, pretty, but still nice. Throughout the whole. Freaking. Book. She helps Raven with her quest, she expects princes to always save her (as they usually do, seemingly unable to help themselves), and has animal critters help her do her work. She wants to be seen as a Queen who can pull her weight and run the kingdom nicely, but all most of them see is her beauty.

Raven, on the other hand, does not have princes saving her, and the woodland creatures avoid her at all costs. She's miserable, with her mother punishing her for being too kind and the group of "happily Ever After" royals at school generally looking down at her. But with this one name -- this girl who didn't sign the Storybook -- she finds a little bit of hope that she can escape her destiny. And, unlike Apple, she doesn't want anyone making this decision for her.

It's a great comment on choice and destiny -- on how, even with a magic book in the way, a person should always have the choice to choose the right destiny for herself. It shows how selfish both sides are, Apple wanting her Happily Ever After at Raven's cost, and Raven wanting to choose her own ending at Apple's cost. The light tone and princess-y subject matter only serve to underscore the conflict of both sides.

And, while we're at it, I actually like the plot and ending. (For once.) It's never slow or boring, and the ending fits just right. If there were any flaws (other than my hatred of Apple's goodness), they were entirely overlooked. As I said, I got through it in two days, when I really should have been focusing on schoolwork and writing.

 This book is part of a series, it seems -- the second book appears to be out on e-book -- and I cannot wait to pick up the second one. (But maybe I'll wait until it's in paper book format.) I would recommend this to anyone who still loves a good fairy tale, and a good twist on the familiar. While yes, it's probably MG and intended for a younger audience, it is still an amazing book.

Five stars. Easily.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Update on my Life.

Hello. I realize I haven't posted much this month. Life has slammed into me.

Let me start with the bad news. My grandfather died a few weeks ago. We had his funeral -- my mother organized the entire thing, because she's getting her master's degree in religious studies or Christianity or some other such thing in that general area of study, and she wanted to make it personal. My grandfather -- my mother's stepfather -- was married to my grandmother for 42 years. It's been a rather hard blow, to know the laughing, easygoing man I knew as Granddad Richard will now be gone from everywhere but our hearts and memories.

In better news, though, I've applied to 4 colleges and three of them have accepted me. (The fourth hasn't answered back.) All are in-state, all are offering me scholarships over $17,000, and two of them look like viable options for my future. (One is near where my other grandfather, my father's father, lives, while the other is offering a pretty substantial scholarship and entry into their honors program.)

I have been super-busy organizing things with the colleges: I've met with an admissions counselor from the latter (the one offering entry in their honors program), who promised to repeal our financial aid and see if she can't cover more, and asked me to look into scholarships outside of the college. I've scheduled an interview at the college near my grandfather's place, in order to determine if I qualify for a full-tuition scholarship. And I've been desperately researching scholarships online, to see if I can't cover some of the cost.

Good advice for this month, from my perspective.

And, while this sort of pales in comparison with the other two bits of news, and hasn't really affected my posting schedule (seeing as how it occurred only today), I have taken my first field trip since 8th grade. I'm a senior in high school now. I've been a bit anxious about it for the past week, which is why I mention it. The field trip was to Old Town Petersburg, which in case you don't know is actually old. We visited the Blandford Cemetery and the the old part of the city to take pictures, for photography class. I ended up with 4 rolls of black-and-white film (~70-80 pictures), and a curiosity for this city a half-hour's drive from my hometown.

Some cool things Petersburg has to offer:

  1. In the Blandford Cemetery, the oldest gravestones dates back to the 1700s! I saw one headstone for a woman born in 1785 and died in the 1820s-1830s.
  2. The Blandford Church contains fifteen or sixteen Tiffany Windows, one for each of the Confederate States. Each window depicts a saint and the state's name. The only Confederate state that didn't contribute a window was Kentucky, because it couldn't raise the funds after the Civil War. Tiffany also donated the Jeweled Cross window. I didn't get to see the windows from inside the church, to see the light shine through, but I saw the dull grayness of the windows from outside.
  3. The Trapezium House was built either in the late 1700s or really early 1800s. The man who built it was an eccentric man who believed that evil spirits resided in right angles, so he built his house without any right angles whatsoever.
  4.  I managed to get a shot of the Hiram Haines' Coffee and Alehouse, which has been around since pre-Civil War (early 1800s -- 1820s, I believe?), where several famous people gathered. Edgar Allen Poe had his honeymoon there, in 1839. It was reopened 2010, I believe, and is in business today. Sadly, grabbing lunch at this historic building was not on our itinerary.

What the Church looks like today (public domain photo)
I wish I had the pictures to show you, but we haven't developed the film yet. We'll be doing that next week. In the meantime, it's nice to let you know the Cockade City is still a historical treasure, one that withstood a siege during the War of 1812 and was nicknamed after its patriotism, so called by James Madison. (A cockade is like a pin they stuck in their hats, and so many people wore them and so many lost their lives during the War of 1812 that President James Madison stopped by to address them.)

So, this has been quite the eventful month. Good things tossed with the bad things, as life often likes to throw at us. For a quiet teenager who leaves her home only to go to school and the library (and occasionally Wal-Mart), the whole blasted thing is like something out of the Lord of the Rings, except my life has no obvious plot or point.

For now, I think I'll just have to take a pain-reliever for my headache, finish up a good book, and draw myself a nice hot bath. And then we'll see about April.

Have a blessed day, and hope you visit a few ancient sites yourself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In Which I Talk about Romance. Again.

(I would have posted earlier, but, you know. Life. My grandfather died, colleges began accepting me, and I've gotten really snarled up inside, emotionally speaking. It happens, time to time.)

This is not the first time I've talked about romance. Or should I capitalize Romance? Everyone else seems to capitalize on it.

I'm one of those people who sets their book off to the side, on their bed, after they've finished reading. I have a dozen books sitting, scattered, across the side of my bed. 5 are romance. 3 are nonfiction. The rest are MG.

Now, what do I mean by romance? There are different types. There are romance novels and romantic subplots and there are those (horrible) books where romance plays a pretty central role, but for some reason isn't even mentioned in the back-cover summary. This post, I'm talking about all of them.

And, of course, if you visit this blog, I'm sure you read, write, or at least have heard of YA. My favorite age group of books. And more than likely, you have heard how swamped with romance it is. Maybe you've debated about the role of sex in YA Lit. Maybe you've even written a few romantic scenes yourself, if you're a writer.

Don't get me wrong. I am happy that people like writing romance, that women can find even a minimally decent pay writing romance, and that people will read it. But when I say "people" want to read it, I have never been included in it.

Because, of course, I am asexual. And romance is not really my strong suit.

Let me define that term for you (in my own words):

asexual (adj.): to not be interested in sex; to be sexually attracted to neither sex.

That does not mean I am "anti-love" or "innocent-minded;" it does not mean you can tell me that this is just "a phase everyone goes through" and that "I'll find someone someday." And it does not mean that I will be happy reading sex scenes in books, or even mildly romantic scenes.

Unfortunately, I come across it too often. The first kiss. The first relationship. The first sex. They are common themes, in YA Lit. And they are probably common firsts for many teenagers. But I never feel more alone than when I think the phrase, "normal teenagers," because I have never considered myself as part of that category, and for good reason.

To me, YA is not just first love. YA is the exploration of possibilities and the world for the first time. It is first adventures, first griefs, first chance to change the world and not merely observe it. There are many firsts in the world, and I love those much more, connect more with those ideas, than I do with "the feel of his lips on my skin" or "his kiss" or whatever else it is. You don't even have to include an asexual character in your book. I'm just begging you, to just not put romance in it, or put it far to the side in favor of other things.

There is only one book series I've read that features an asexual character: the Emily the Strange series, by Rob Reger. Emily Strange is a role model for me; not only is she asexual, but a genius, a prankster, a skateboarder, and a cat person. Members of her family are "Dark Girls," also called the "Dark Aunts," because they have magical ability and never marry or have children. I have all four books on my greater-favorites bookshelf. You can probably find them in the YA section at your local B&N. It's written in diary form, and can at times look more MG than YA, but still. An asexual character! A main character who actually sticks by her statement that she will never have children!*

As much as I hate to add the disclaimer: yes, I know there are books out there that are not romance, and YA is not "swamped" with romance, there are others out there about family and friendships. But in my local B&N, in my local library, there sure are many books with romance in them. There are those books, like I mentioned above, who do not bother to tell me of the romance that is a central part of the book in the summary.

Haughty Owl wants you to think of ALL sexualities.
The truth is, I walk into my local B&N, and I want to cry. My eyes desperately search the shelves -- those crisp, clean shelves with new, pristine books -- and my heart sinks when I pull down a book. Just wondering whether or not there will be romance in it; picking over the summary, and making assumptions based on that, assuming there will be romance if I don't know.

Perhaps normal people, I think, just pick a book off the shelves, like the summary, the premise, and just purchase it and go. It is entirely lonely, to realize that other people aren't bothered by the romance, because they're normal people who don't mind -- even love -- the heterosexual love in all of these books. And that because I'm just a freak, I have trouble doing the one thing I've done my entire life -- reading.

But luckily, I have a blog. And hopefully, I have a talent for writing, and I will use both of them to ask that more books with more asexual characters are put into my hands. That while you advocate for LGBT romance, remember that little unknown "A" for Asexual, and advocate for some no-romance books, as well.

Because there are other readers out there, like me, who are asexual and feeling just a little lonely not for being underrepresented -- but for not being represented at all. So, if you think yourself an ally to gays and bisexuals, then remember to educate on asexuals, too, because while most everyone has an opinion on LGBTQ, almost no one has heard of asexuality. In fact, when I tell someone I am asexual, I have to explain to the person what it means, and then they just shrug and say, "well, I don't know where that leaves you, then. I'm sure you'll grow into it. Everybody else does."

I know I will be a writer, and most of my main characters will be asexual. I know the themes I'd like to expound on in my works. I know, if I become famous, what it will be for -- a look into diversity, for that little asexual, bookish teenager who bites her lip in the library as her hands hover the shelves and shelves of first kisses and first crushes.

Have a blessed day.

Scabby Zazu says to watch what you read -- there's plenty of romance, when you look!

*Yes, I was ticked off by that in The Hunger Games. And in several other works I've read. Why is it somewhat common to have your narrator say she will never have children/fall in love/fall in love with that man, and then have her turn around and do exactly that?! Is this just a trend in the books I pick up?