aaaaaaand… the answer is relative.

I am interested in too many things. Starting projects might be one of my greatest talents. Finishing them… well. My dad bought me a shirt that says ‘I never finish anyth’ and it is without a doubt my best self-defining shirt.

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This would be the second best.
 
Recently, I’ve been cross-stitching, and reading Anatomy and Physiology for Dummies, and contemplating using beer as the yeast in my next homemade bread. I’ve been thinking about buying a brew kit and learning how to make my own beer. I insisted on making and decorating my own wedding cake and crafting my own centerpieces/favors for the wedding. (My favorite thing about the wedding – the actual wedding, not the after party – was wearing the dress that I watched Jon make me over the course of a couple weeks.) I have an incessant itch to learn how to quilt. I want to start a garden and grow tomatoes, chamomile flowers, lavender, peppers, basil and garlic (and that’s just to start out). I’m obsessed with books about Tai Chi, alternative healing, philosophy, and sociology. I want to learn massage therapy. I’ve already detailed some of my travels into the realm of computer programming and theoretical physics is basically my religion. Fantasy and science fiction created my morals and drive my passion for travel. I’ve crocheted, attempted to knit, obsessively studied abnormal psychology and dreamed of majoring in everything from creative writing to mechanical engineering to equestrianism. I love building things with my hands – one of my proudest achievements is contributing to the construction of a horse shelter. I taught myself how to draw (although I can’t really draw so much as copy black-and-white photographs in graphite) and study shadows and colors and space. Someday, I want to be a yoga instructor. I want to own a bakeshop. I want to pick up my violin and relearn music I haven’t played in well over five years and join a bluegrass/jazz/Celtic metal band. I’m in a technical writing class right now and I truly believe I could make money from the skills I am learning. I hope to become a major part of my dad’s business, which films conferences all over the States (and some of Europe) and posts them online.
 
I fucking want everything.
 
And this is part of the reason why I never finish anything. Because as soon as I’ve started on one thing, I become terrified that that thing is going to prevent me from all of the other things I want to do. So I have to go do something else. Sometimes it’s a matter of consciously giving up what I’m doing in favor of something else. Other times, it’s simply a matter of attempting to juggle too much at once and having bits and pieces fall by the wayside. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve stopped doing something I love for months or even years, and when I realize it’s gone… I freak out and need to start doing it again. But then something else falls away. My life can often look like it’s in shambles, and the people who know me know not to take me too seriously when I become obsessed with yet another thing. Because it’ll fade out. The more intense the obsession, the quicker it goes away.
 
Some things stick. Some things come back again and again. I have to learn how to manage my time.
 
There’s never enough time.
 
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A Thread of Grace – or – Cynicism? What cynicism?

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 My sophomore year of high school, I remember talking to an older friend about the senior AP English reading list. She told me about this book called The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, explaining how it was about Jesuit priests in space. From that moment on, I knew I had to be in AP English my senior year. When I got there, when I read that book, it rooted itself into my soul as one of my favorites. Incredibly well-drawn characters, a heart-breaking journey in which two cultures meet for the first time and miscommunication ensues. It amazed me to learn that The Sparrow was Russel’s first book.

So, of course, I got my hands on anything else of hers I could find. I read Children of God. It didn’t tear my heart to shreds, and being of reader!type:masochist, I didn’t love it quite as much as The Sparrow. Still, it made my list of annual rereads. I purchased A Thread of Grace three years ago, along with Vamped: A Novel by David Sosnowski and Sunshine by Robin McKinley, two books also recommended by my previously mentioned older friend. Both books were good, but something about A Thread of Grace daunted me. I’d heard that Russel had decided which characters to kill based on coin tosses, and knew that the book would likely pitch me into a week-long depression. After all, if the characters were half as lovely and incredible as the characters in The Sparrow, in which you at least know who’s going to die right from the get-go, my poor heart wouldn’t stand a chance.

So the book followed me around, unopened, but lovingly placed on the shelf next to The Sparrow and Children of God, for three years. I kept it with me out of a deep respect for the author and the knowledge that, someday, I would be strong enough to read it. Yesterday, I picked it up, flipped it open, and braced myself for the worst of the worst. All of an hour ago, I finished it (hey, winter break, yo). It is, as expected, a heart-breaking book. Even in the hands of a lesser author, of course, any book about World War II is bound to be some sort of depressing. In A Thread of Grace, though, it’s not all of the death and tragedy that really breaks your heart. It’s the compassion that Russel shows for all of her characters. It’s the dozens of singular moments of grace displayed by at-times cranky, irritating, “shithead” humans. It’s the constant voice throughout the book challenging you to withhold your judgment, to simply step into these characters’ shoes, and live as they lived.

There seems to be no shortage of love for Mary Doria Russell. Another glowing review is not my intent with this post. Instead, I want to talk about the feeling I was struck with yesterday, about a third of the way through the book. The realization that, though the events in this book, right from the get-go, are traumatic and horrifying, I was not reacting emotionally. At least, not in the way that I responded emotionally to The Sparrow. At one point I turned to Jon and said, I can’t tell if these characters just aren’t as real as the ones in The Sparrow or if I’ve just grown more cynical since I was 18. I’m not feeling that ache of sorrow in my chest. And I’ll admit, the book did not once make me cry, although it launched a couple hour-ish long sessions of simply laying down and taking stock of the world.

Having finished the book, I think I may have been right about the cynicism thing, although not in exactly the way I was thinking of when the thought first occurred. The characters are intense and quirky, unique from each other and easily identifiable despite the sheer number of them. It’s not the writing that failed to evoke immediate, intense emotional response. I have mellowed out, a lot. My reaction feels like an old, tired sadness, a feeling which I used to treat as an enemy but has, through the years, become a kind of solitary friend. I believe this book would have infuriated me at 18. I would have chosen sides. I would have read, my heart-racing, my muscles taut, with my awareness centered completely on trying to figure out which of the characters were the most right. The end would have sucker-punched me into a moody contemplative silence that overshadowed my days for at least a week.

One of the characters, about midway through the novel, identifies a man he is talking to as someone who has seen war. The man asks, How can you tell? The other man responds, Nothing I say surprises you. It kind of makes me think of one of my bosses at work, who talks candidly about her life. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about how I don’t know how to respond to being told about personal horror stories. Or rather, I worry that my response is interpreted as unfeeling and cold. I usually don’t say anything. I just nod. I tried, once, to say, ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you,’ but the words felt clunky and wrong. If I could be more candid about some of the things I’ve been through, or had to accept or witness, I wouldn’t want that response. In part, I feel that my boss is so candid with me because my response is so mute. I nod. I listen. I am not shocked. (Could… also be that she’s a little crazy. A lot of crazy people talk to me because I’m quiet, I think, and a little too eager to not offend… that may or may not be the topic of another post.)

I was not shocked by this book. I was shocked by The Sparrow when I first read it. But the emotional intensity of horror has faded as I’ve become more at peace with my own negative emotions and hang-ups and tried to let go of snap judgments. A Thread of Grace is more heart-warming than heart-breaking, more concerned with highlighting the grace of God in people than the awful things that we are capable of, despite the book being about the worst massacre in modern history (in human history?).

I seem to meet a lot of people who consider themselves hardened and made bitter by the world, who will look at me contemptuously should I show the slightest sign of optimism or faith in people. They seem to say, or will say flat out, that I simply haven’t learn how the world “really” works. As if I’m supposed to believe that the One True Lesson in life is that everybody’s out to get you and faith/optimism are childish traits that get weeded out when you grow “wise.” As if the greatest secret in life is that people can be douche nozzles. (People? Douchey? Never! *le gasp*)

Anyway. A Thread of Grace is a beautiful book, almost overloaded with sentimentality (maybe I am a little more cynical) but mellowed by humorous dialogue and believably ornery characters. Am definitely glad I read it. Whether or not it’ll join the annual re-reading list, I haven’t decided. That list probably can’t hold too much more without some cuts.

edit: Why is this post being so ornery about formatting?! -_-

see Dee maudlin

I have not seen The Hobbit yet.

In December of 2001, my life changed forever. I’ll admit that there wasn’t much in the way of a life to change – at eleven years old, I was more or less guaranteed at least a few life-altering events in my future. I just don’t think I expected one of those life-changing events to be the release of a movie, the first in a trilogy that would come to shape how I saw myself as a person. Fantasy became more than just a genre for bad puns (Piers Anthony) and teenage wizards (do I really need to specify?). It also became, for the first time in my life, a foundation on which to make friends, instead of merely an escape from the world in which I had none.

In short, because I watched Fellowship of the Ring and subsequently read the trilogy, I became friends with a girl named Krista Haman, and not just friends, but best friends. We changed each others’ lives irrevocably. We’ve had the kind of friendship that is the reason songs like For Good become cliche.

A couple weeks ago I visited my parents in the town where we both went to high school, where she still lives, and we saw each other briefly. She mentioned that she’s been attempting to write out the story of our friendship. I did not know what to say. How do you tackle so many years between two girls who simultaneously built each other up and tore each other down? How do you write that, when all of the memories are tangled in nostalgia and happiness, anger and guilt? How do you even begin to fathom where to start?

It would take hours, days, weeks or longer to sort out where the strongest veins of truth lay, what were the moments that defined us, that brought us together, and that, ultimately, tore us apart and turned us into two girls who barely know how to talk to each other. And that would be before I even attempted to summon the courage to write a single sentence of it down.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

But I carry with me this sense of having no idea who I am sometimes and I feel like it’s not having Krista as a sounding board that leaves me floundering for any kind of sense in my own thoughts. It’s not understanding how to be a person without her, when for so long, she gave me a sense of meaning, she provided a foundation upon which I could be assured in myself. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always a healthy friendship, but for at least six years, she defined me. That part of the relationship has more or less been over for quite some time now, but I still feel like I just can’t quite figure out who I am without her there. It’s not that she ever told me who to be or that I didn’t have the self-confidence to be myself – not entirely, anyway. It might just be as simple as the fact that when I told her my thoughts and feelings, she found a way to repeat what I had said in a way that made me feel just a little bit better about myself.

It feels like this kind of friendship either happens to everyone, or no one. If it happens to everyone, they’ve learned all of the lessons; where I am blind, they see. Where I flounder for answers, they smile knowingly and nod; they say, ‘You just have to figure it out for yourself,’ as if there is some kind of secret, some kind of answer that, upon being smart enough to figure out, sends you to an exclusive club for People Who Know Better. And I don’t want to admit how much I crave access to this club and I don’t want to reveal that I’m not a part of it.

If friendships like this don’t really happen, if people haven’t been hurt by someone they love, if people haven’t committed atrocious acts of cruelty and viciousness against those very same people, if no one has ever found themselves floundering to figure out who they are after the petering out of a long and intense relationship, then, frankly, I’m pretty sure my entire understanding of the world is incorrect.

I have not seen The Hobbit yet, and for me, this is loaded. The idea that it’s out. That it’s been 11 years since that fateful December afternoon when I was introduced to Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, and that, throughout all of this, the woman who connected my love of stories with the sense that I could actually have friends who loved them too is a couple hundred miles away, and might as well be several thousand, for all the good it would do to call her up and ask her how she’s been.

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Valjean, at last, we see each other plain!

So there is a recent abundance of movies coming out based on books. Good books. Really good books.

The Hobbit is coming out on December 14, I believe. Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings is responsible for my love of movie adaptations of books, because it introduced me to Lord of the Rings and gave me a deep respect for fantasy. It’s not that I hadn’t previously loved fantasy, but when the first movie came out, I was 12 or 13, nearing an age and an attitude where fantasy seemed more and more childish to me (I don’t like tweens, they’re ridiculous). After taking a journey through the sweeping landscape of New Zealand, my love for fantasy was renewed with fervor, and I am happy to say I will never consider myself too old for magic. The hero’s quest is and always will be one of my favorite products of humanity.

Then, on Christmas, Les Miserables is finally hitting theaters. My high school did a performance of Les Miserables when my sister was at the peak of her drama club experience. She played the woman who buys Fantine’s hair. I grew up listening to Castle on a Cloud, wishing for a lady all in white to hold me and sing a lullaby, never knowing until that year where the song came from. I attempted to read the book a few years later, but the bombardment of French names and French history and French politics threw me, and after about 100 pages I gave up, declaring that the book was simply too hard for me.

It’s the only book I ever gave up reading because it was too hard for me.

Jon picked it up for me two days ago at a book store where we have a lot of store credit (a store called ABC, which amuses me because of the connection to the group called ABC in the story itself). I’ve been reading it since, hoping to finish it by Christmas, as unlikely as that is. I’m fortunately finding it much easier to read. xD Perhaps those two years I spent as a Creative Writing major are paying off. Perhaps I just have more patience than my fifteen-year-old self.

So far, this book is filling me with a sense of peace, and a sense of sadness. The characters are lovingly, insightfully drawn – the bishop, who has all of thirteen lines in the musical, has an entire fifty page section dedication to a self-portrait. Yet when I listen to his section of the musical, I find that he has been characterized with loving respect for Hugo’s writing.

The idea of a large, Hollywood type production for this musical is both thrilling and a little worrisome. I’ve read a bit about people’s thoughts on Life of Pi, which I have not read or seen, and about how people are worried that the philosophical depth of the book will be lost. In Les Miserables, there’s a lot less to fear than that – I know what the musical adaptation looks like. I already love it with all of my heart and soul. I haven’t read the book and probably won’t have finished it by the time I see the movie. Still, I’ve heard that Jean Valjean has a new song. I don’t think he needs a new song. I worry they’ve taken out Gavroche or downplayed the Thenardiers or subjected Eponine to far less screen time than she deserves. Or, worse, given Cosette and Marius more focus than they deserve.

But it’s hard to be concerned. A movie can’t ruin a story for me. I hated the third Harry Potter movie, but the third book is still my favorite. What I hope for, though, is something akin to what Lord of the Rings gave me. Those movies are so good, I don’t compare them to the books. The books are their own world, full of intense, meandering descriptions and beautiful language. The movies are a pleasure for their visual appeal and the musical score. I enjoy the later Harry Potter movies, despite the fact that they do not tell quite the same story or inhabit quite the same universe as the books.

There’s something about the relation of books and their movies that I relate to the various stories told in comic books. I can read and appreciate six different Batmans and never get bored. I enjoy each story separately, and while the knowledge of one increases the pleasure found in the next, these stories are regularly not about the same Batman, or the same Gotham. They are tweaked interpretations, and they are made the better for their differences and the skill that is used in relating their similarities.

That’s something like what I expect from movie adaptations. I expect to be told a story about a somewhat different Frodo, a somewhat different Jean Valjean. These stories enhance each other because the two different interpretations give rise to a conversation between artists, which in turn gives rise to conversations between all members of the audience.

Those are my thoughts for today. Now, I’m off in search of a conversation between Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman, because it happened on Halloween and I have to believe there’s a video of it somewhere on this here wide-world interweb.

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Why should I care?

So I must admit, after two weeks, eight posts, and far too much time obsessively checking my stats page finding cool blogs to read, I still don’t really know what I’m doing here. I’ve written some about programming, and books, and religion, and I-don’t-even-remember what else. Oh, and I wrote a short story that needs about six revisions in order to be what I actually envisioned it being when I first hit ‘Publish Post’ on the damn thing.

I don’t think a single one of my blog posts carries a consistent voice or tone from the previous one. I’m still scrambling to find a way to tie it all together, as was clearly my intention two weeks ago. At least, that’s what I can safely assume given the title I came up with.

The question that keeps bouncing around in my head like… I don’t know, a three year old on a sugar rush… is a question that my boyfriend often uses when he looks at my writing and can’t quite figure out how to tell me what it’s missing. Why should I care about this? It’s not bad, he says. It’s well-written, he says. You clearly are trying to say something. The most common reaction I get to my writing, from teachers, peers, my boyfriend, even my mom, is… this is good but it’s missing something.

Some draw, some appeal, some pivotal piece that, if it clicked into place, would create the bridge between what I’m trying to say and why you, my audience, should care about what I’m trying to say. Now, I journal a lot outside of this blog. I know what I want to share with you. But I’m unskilled in the art of implementation. I started this blog because I wanted to find my missing piece, the thing that draws together all of the marvelous things my scatterbrained self wants to tell you, show you, ask you, share with you.

A lot of this stems from a desire for the grandeur I felt the first time it really hit me that my mom is a published author. The first time I held her book in my hands, or the first time I flipped through an anthology and found her essay, with her name right there and an About the Author section that I recognized as a very simplified version of my own home life (also, way too much information about my mom’s teenage years). Holy shit, I thought, or felt, my mom is a bad ass! I loved to read. I loved to write. Why couldn’t I share that writing, too?

It is still my dream to be a published author by the time I’m twenty-five, but in my world, I’m kind of unsure what that means. I’m publishing blog posts, aren’t I? I’m reading all sorts of blogs and articles about how self-publishing can be a respectable route to take in getting your name out there. So this dream I’ve had that involves a million rejection letters framed on the wall over my desk, is it an accurate picture of the route my dream will take me on? Will I ever experience that day, the day I imagine as starting off like any other day, the day when I pull myself out of bed, pour myself some cereal and check the mail, innocently perusing through the letters – ‘Bill. Bill. Letter from Grandma. Oh, look, another rejection letter, I’ll put that aside and look at it in a second. Reminder from the vet for Herra’s check up.’ – until, finally, I open a letter and read We are pleased to inform you that… ?

Will I ever get to stare at that letter, spoon held halfway between the bowl and my mouth, utterly forgotten as I scramble to feel something, anything, other than shock. And then… a slow welling of excitement, rising like a scream in my chest, like tears to my eyes, like a slow smile to my lips. The letter tells me I’ve found the missing piece at last, and when the reader asked themselves Why should I care? they found an answer, and decided to help me through the process of publication and marketing, the process that leads to the road of holding my book in my hands.

Whether or not the dream will play out like that, or, given the age I live in, take a different road or end up with a final product that’s more digital than physical, I know I have a lot of work to do. This blog is a form of publication, but it’s not my dream, not yet. I haven’t found that piece which will tie together what I want to share with why my readers should care. But in the mean time, I am having a marvelous time reading blogs that inspire, that tickle my fancy and are extraordinarily well-written and well thought out. Two weeks I’ve been here; I have some followers, I’ve entered a contest, and I’ve read some truly incredible stories, thoughts, and insights from people, from complete strangers, whose posts sing with the answer to Why should I care? without me, as a reader, even having to think about it.

Time to pack!

The first ‘writing challenge’ I have participated in since high school. Brought to you by The Daily Post at WordPress.com. I’m going to resist the urge to say what I think of it. The zipper on my mouth is zipped closed and the key has landed in a bottomless pit.

I am a book.

I am a book, and this reader does not seem to love me. You see, it all started a few days ago. I was nestled in my nook between two of my book neighbors. One, a stuffy fellow, whispered mythology through a rugged cloth-bound cover. The other fairly bellowed with all the secrets, rejoicing in ancient wisdom and the possibility of new worlds. As long as these new worlds have cheese, I do not mind too much. In an ordinary fashion, this reader pulled me from the shelf, and my neighbor the wisdom-crier flopped inelegantly to fill space. Good for mythology and wisdom, I thought. Since the day this reader put me there, I felt rather like the yolk of an egg in meringue. Mythology and wisdom have nothing to say to me, a lowly cookbook.

I thought to be carried to the kitchen, my spine cracked open, the soft paunch of my billowing pages pushed flat against the shelf without sides. I thought soon to find myself dusted in flour or powdered sugar. Perhaps I would earn another coffee or jam stain and then be lifted after this reader’s use into the air by my covers, shaken until clean, and placed back somewhere amongst high fantasy (they’re an interesting folk, and they like to talk to me, for sometimes they, too, recognize the importance of food). But, no. Nothing happened in the ordinary fashion, and I was tossed into a box, my front-cover snapping in brief indignation. I was piled on by other books – books who had few words to share, but onslaughts of bright and garish pictures. It became dark.

I am a book, and you are a comic book, new neighbor in darkness. Your heroes and your villains are in no better shape than my recipes to understand how we displeased this reader. Why, can you tell me? Why are we shifting in this dark place that smells of dust and your glossy plastic pages? I have been so proud, always, with my bolted lists, my clarity in direction, to provide this reader with sacred information. She has loved me, used me, broken my spine and dog-eared my pages, underlined my precious text and written with her sloppy hand in the vast openness of my margins.

I was packed away at the bottom of this four-sided shelf and am losing the sense that I am a book. What am I? Maybe if I listen for this reader’s voice, I will understand what has been done to displease her. Why is it I, and not mythology or wisdom, who deserves this treatment, when she seeks my aid so often, and they have been lifted from the home shelf but once or twice each?

I hear this: “Oh, baby, mark that box. It’s the comics and my cookbook – they’re the first thing I want to unpack when we move in.”

It is no use. Her words are not text, and I am bereft of purpose, knocking spines with you, comic neighbor, in this dark, loveless new shelf.