Monday, December 5, 2011

In Which I Admit That I Failed NaNoWriMo

This year, I thought I'd give into National Novel Writing Month. I thought I'd give into it in a big, big way. I thought, in short, I would SMASH it.

That did not happen.

If you do not promptly commence being shocked...well, you probably know me.

Writing stuff, I have determined, carries with it a lot of pressure. That's not to say I don't love it, because that would be a lie. And that's not to say that I didn't initially ask people to hold me accountable for any NaNoWriMo related promises. And also: words are cool. It's even cooler that you can string them together to form a sentence, then string those sentences together to form a story.

Writing stuff is also intensely personal. At least, it starts off that way. These words move from my brain into my fingers onto my pages, and then I want to keep them. At least for a little while, anyway. But after that initial wanting-to-keep them phase, I want to ditch them. ALL of them. Quite badly, really.

Was I going somewhere with this?

Ah yes, my NaNoWriMo Novel Attempt is currently 12 pages long, which means that it's several thousand words short of its goal. But it's also a number of pages I didn't have before I so congenially attempted to throng with the scribbling masses. (Okay, actually, that was when I knew it would be too hard: writing isn't congenial; it's actually fairly solitary. If you invite people to a writing party, it's not as though there's much partying to be done.)

So yes, I failed. But at least I started going somewhere.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Me and My iPod

For a great long while, I was incredibly adamant that I didn't want to own an iPod. One of my biggest reasons for not wanting the iPod was that I saw too many people who too fully tuned out the rest of the world as soon as they placed the earbuds in their ears. I like being aware of my surroundings. As a half-blind person, it's never been a good thing when I've gotten so wrapped in something that I stopped paying attention to where I was going. I've had my share of bruises, cuts, and sprains to prove it. (Worse yet: the solid majority of these pratfalls always seemed to happen when there was an attractive, single male nearby to witness my moment of glorious clumsiness. The nice ones, I've learned, walk over to check that you're all right. The rude ones snicker and/or ignore you.)

Except that I caved a while ago and acquired an iPod (my first iPod was free, a brick of a thing handed down to me from my father--seriously, I think you could seriously have maimed someone with that iPod...when it died, I had to replace it with a Nano because I couldn't imagine life iPodless), and now I find that I love it for precisely that reason: it creates its own little world I can safely insulate myself in.

It's a wonderful tool when I want to be fully preoccupied with my own thoughts or with one particular type of action (like, say, writing...or cleaning). The music literally playing in my head becomes a background soundtrack for whatever I'm doing and allows me to fully ensconce myself in whatever I'm doing.

Sometimes I wonder if the me from back then, were she to see iPod-insulated-me now, would ruefully shake her head and mourn...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In Pursuit of...Something

As I previously mentioned, I'm breaking down and participating in NaNoWriMo. I WILL write a novel this month, dagnabit!!! It seemed to be a good year for it. Ph.D. application plans have been placed on hold, and all I do right now is work and then come home stuff that isn't always as productive as it should be. Not that I think I need to be doing something for every minute of every day, but let's just say that I could've been using my time more wisely and leave it at that.

As of today, 1,779 words--meaning I've surpassed the first day goal of 1,667 words. Go me! I applaud myself. (Yes, I'm so humble, I applaud myself. There may also have been a literal pat on the back. Or maybe I was just scratching my shoulder.)

Anyway, I'm finding that the writing goes far more quickly when I don't dwell on being perfect. I believe I also noted earlier that I thought this would be true. But now I can AFFIRM that it's true. It actually behooved me to pretend that my backspace key does not exist. Not kidding.

But I realized something today: in order to achieve something, I have to pursue a goal without pursuing perfection. Pursuing perfection causes me to freeze up and spazz out and stop even trying, because I know I can't make anything that's perfect. Pursuing something else (in this case, my 1,667 words or more) gave me an aim without making me feel bad about how I quickly or how well I was reaching that aim.

Seems as though there might be a life lesson in there somewhere...

Friday, October 28, 2011

All Right, NaNoWriMo, I Give In

At approximately this time every year, someone inevitably asks me a question that--for me--had started to become cringeworthy. "Katie," they would say, "are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo?"

It's not that I want to not write a novel, mind you, it's just that...well, a lot of people seemed convinced that any creative mind worth his or her salt would attempt to scribble away and write something in the month of November. Jump on the bandwagon, most of them seemed to be saying. This month, we're all writing novels--so why don't you attempt to write a novel in a month as well?

But see, I have this perfectionism problem. I can be a tremendously prolific writer when I want to be: but just because I can write a lot when I want to doesn't mean that what I write is actually any good.

I realized this the other day when I knocked out a silly, grammar-related, four-paragraph (ish) e-mail at work in about...ten minutes. Probably less than that. I double-checked it for typos and such (because really, wouldn't it be super ironic to send out a grammar-related e-mail with errors?) and sent it off, not terribly worried. It's not that I wanted it to go unread, mind you, but I didn't have a lot of personal investment in that e-mail.

It's impossible not to create something larger without becoming invested in it. And that investment, in turn, leads to the perfectionism quandary: I don't want to let go of anything, even in a small way, until I'm more or less satisfied with it. If I tapped into my powers of prolificness (prolificivity?)...I have a feeling my initial result would look bad. If I lucked out, it might look not entirely bad...But it would be mostly bad.

Except that it occurred to me a few days ago that most things need to be a little (or a lot) bad, because we see what needs improvement--and then we can improve it. So this year, I'll actually participate in this November writing event to see what I can come up with. And I'll talk myself into not expecting things to be perfect right away.

We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wandering Down Book-Memory Lane

I have a default present-buying setting that automatically directs my inner compass to one specific place: the bookstore. This default setting becomes even more validated when my sister tells me that my nephew loves books that have textures in them. (In all fairness, she also told me he needs pajamas. But that is neither here nor there.)

Anyway, as I perused the children's book section today, I came across a book that has long remained in my memory and may possibly still be on my parents' bookshelf: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.

And for a brief couple of minutes, I felt just like a little kid all over again.

Don't you love that? Books are wonderful, wonderful things.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Why Sometimes I Ignore People I Once Knew

Today I walked past someone I used to know. At least, I'm relatively certain I used to know him: if not, he bore an incredibly uncanny resemblance to someone who studied poetry with me five years ago.

When you major in something such as Creative Writing and Poetry during your college years, you learn something in your workshops: there are other people as talented as you. And there are other people far, far more talented than you are. It's a good place to be, really, if you have an ego problem. Because unless you truly are amazing, the ego inevitably deflates more than a little as you help other people with what they wrote and realize Hey, this is far better than anything I've done yet.

Let's face it. Not all talents are created equal.

Anyway. As I walked into work today, this guy I'm pretty sure I once knew was walking in the opposite direction. He looked like...himself...from a distance. But when I got closer to him, I pulled out my cell phone and pretended to check text messages. I didn't want to make eye contact.

I always find it odd and sort see how many of my former classmates are living regular lives. Most of us haven't done anything exceptional since we left school. Only a small number of us have published--and that includes the talented ones. I don't know how many of us still try, or how many of us have simply relegated ourselves to living something different than what we imagined for ourselves just a few years ago.

And that's when I realized: I think I do stuff like this because I'm a little disappointed with myself. At what point did I opt to stop doing the brave thing and embrace the practical but not as gutsy thing? And was that decision really as wise as I liked to think it was at the time?

I think it may be time to dust off some dreams.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mark Time, Mark Time, And...

I had a realization recently. And, like most of my epiphanies, it was rooted in a certain amount of...nerdery.

In the course of a conversation with someone who shall remain nameless (let's say that it's because I'm protecting anonymity and not because I'm not quite sure who I was speaking with, in the name of niceness, shall we?), a common lament popped up. The sentiment expressed was this--that said someone was tired of waiting, tired of marking time.

And then came the sudden jolt: waiting and marking time are not the same things to me. They haven't been for more than ten years now. (Ok, it's been eleven, but who's counting?) And if you're wondering how I can be so exact in how long the two have had a distinction for me, I have exactly two words: Marching Band.

Hey now, I told you this is an epiphany rooted in nerdery.

When you participate in a marching band, marking time isn't a matter of waiting. Marking time is, essentially, marching in place as you play those glorious songs to which you'll be marching... and you can't tell me it wasn't a little glorious to play the music from Sesame Street. Okay, so maybe glorious isn't exactly the word I wanted.

Anyway. Back to my point. Marking time allows someone to understand how their marching coordinates with the music. It helps people know the rhythm and pace of things before making them worry about direction, movement, and actual spacing.

In short, it's preparation.

So I've decided while it's absolutely true that I hate waiting, I rather hope that I'm always marking time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If the Ghosts Kill Me, I'll Be Productive

So sometimes I go through bizarre phases wherein all decisions I make about prioritizing tasks while I'm at my house fall in the hands of... Pac-Man. You might think I jest, but I'm sorry to report it's the truth. I'm hoping that admitting to such sort into better behavior. (Then again, how much shame do I have if I'm admitting to it?)

Logic dictates that some things are more important than others: laundry; cleaning; writing; studying; cooking--these should trump, say, reading novels and watching television. Emphasis, of course, on should.

But lately I'm just lacking the motivation to do those most productive things and when I come home, my rationale works something like this: "If I can reach a score of 25,000 or more in Pac-Man, then I don't have to clean my room." Or do my laundry. Or cook a dinner. My expertise in keeping that little munchy man alive determines my responsibility level.

And then, when I'm in these moods, I feel entirely justified in saying that Pac-Man let me do whatever it is that I did. After all, if those things were truly important...wouldn't something intervene to harm my score?

It's silly, and I know it. But sometimes I like feeling as though my responsibility lies in the hands of something else. Even if it only last for a minute or two before I acknowledge that okay, after all, I am the master of my time. And it's probably not best spent playing Pac-Man.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Judge You by the Company You Keep

And when I say that, I'm clearly not talking about people. I find that I tend to make snap judgments about people I don't know not really by who they surround themselves with. Rather, I find that I make snap judgments when I can see their reading material.

I'm not a flirt. And I rarely talk to men I don't know.

But. Sometimes I'm tempted to start talking to men when I see them reading.

I never do, because I've never quite figured out how to have that conversation: "Hi! Clearly, you read. And clearly, you have marvelous taste in books. I, too, read. And I also have wonderful taste in books." I mean where else can you take that sentence, except to: "So would you happen to have any good reading recommendations?"

The temptation arises any time I see a decent-looking guy holding an actual book. Sometimes the temptation falls away quickly. You're reading Clive Cussler? No, thank you. (Random confession: on my last--blind--date, when my date admitted to what he read, he listed a litany of nonfictional genres. Which was fine. But then I asked if he read fiction, and he said: "I enjoy Clive Cussler." At which point it's about 145% likely that I said something such as: "Well, I wasn't judging you based on your reading habits before. But I am now.")

But sometimes. Sometimes I see someone sitting at lunch in the Gateway, eating a sandwich and reading a book called The Art of Racing in the Rain. And I don't start talking because of that whole awkward-book-conversation thing, but also because I don't know the book. What if I make the wrong judgment?! (Incidentally, I looked the book up and it sounds pretty darned interesting. I guess that guy gave me a book recommendation without even knowing it.)

And other times. Other times, I see an attractive man a few Trax stops past mine getting on while reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and I want to do all of the following, in this order:

1. Tell him he's reading one of the best things I recently read.
2. Acknowledge this means he's got really great taste in books.
3. Let him know that he won't be sorry.
4. Ask him to marry me.

What I really do is try to bestow a look of gleaming approval--you know, the sort that might come from a cute and beatific librarianlike type of person? It's highly ineffective. But safe. And my books like that look just fine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You Are What You...Act?

Lately I've been reading a lot about white collar criminals for research purposes. And by "research purposes," I mean I'm researching identity theft issues, etc. for a novel idea that's working its way out of my head and onto the page.

But there's an extremely interesting trend to all of my reading so far: all of the people I've read about who have successfully posed as something they aren't had one thing in common--they all acted the part.

I've grown up in a culture that encourages the idea of faking it until you make it, even though I'm pretty sure this isn't what they mean. But it's still intriguing to think that if you enter the right environment and simply act as though you belong there, there's every chance the people will accept you for what you say you are.

This whole concept would work better, it seems to me, if you have a certain amount charisma: but not necessarily, from what I'm reading. Sometimes you have to affect an air of snobbery and superiority to be accepted by the snobs. And certain sets of people seems perfectly willing to believe you if you look a part and if you act a part even when you aren't the part.

Anyway. I'm fascinated by this because it assumes a certain amount of trust I would presume isn't inherent in most cultures. But maybe we want to trust people after all. Maybe we want them to be what we see.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I'm My Father's Child, Too

Toward the end of April, I sent my dad a text message asking when he'd be taking me out to lunch for his birthday. It's a move that, in any other family, might well have backfired. But not with my dad. He chuckled, I'm sure. Maybe ruefully shook his head. And then we figured out a day we could go out to lunch.

We're creatures of habit: we eat at Jason's Deli, and between the two of us, we probably rotate through roughly four or five of the items on the menu. If that. And then we sit and eat and talk, and it's pretty much a delight to know you're giving your dad firsthand information that your mother has not heard.

Just as it more or less makes his day when any of us call and say, "Hey, I was hoping to talk to you!" instead of asking for Mom.

I mock him for some of his habits of organization and tidiness, but let's face it: I inherited some of them. My DVDs are alphabetized. My books range from shortest to tallest. I have a tendency to rearrange the dishwasher and/or refrigerator and/or freezer when space isn't being well maximized.

Practically without fail, I arrive anywhere I need to be earlier than I need to be there. That's his fault. In a totally un-bad way.

And what I suppose I'm actually saying with all of this is that I'm glad he's my dad, and I'm glad that he taught me well.

Monday, June 13, 2011

This Rainy Day and Monday Might've Gotten Me...Up?

I got caught in a microburst shower on my way to the library today to drop off some highly overdue materials. (For the record, I still feel immensely guilty whenever I take things back to the library late. It's as though I'm depriving people of opportunities. Although in this case... I wasn't terribly impressed with some of what I took back. But that's a different story.)

Anyway, I love summer showers--the type where the rain falls down, but the air's still warm. And they are a delight to watch, as well. I couldn't help but pause and watch as a bunch of trees near my neighborhood were misted...along with some people too. Many of the people looked less than pleased, but oh well. It's weather. What do you do?

There's a certain feeling of insulation that comes with the rain; I tend to feel as though I'm enveloped in my own drenched bubble and that nobody can see what I see in the quite the way I see it. I suppose that's actually true of most times, but the rain just seems to accentuate the sensation.

The smell. The sight. The feeling. They all make me feel Is that strange? That was one of the most wonderfully calming walks I've had in a long, long time. So perhaps Karen was wrong: rainy days and Mondays don't always get me down.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Despite Being an Adult, I'm Still My Mother's Child

Kids have the most interesting conceptions about how the world works. To wit: tonight, my four-year-old niece kept retrieving books from the shelves, trying to find one that had my name in it. She had decided she wanted to read one of my old books. Anyway, once she found one, she said something about how my name was in the book because when her mom and I and our other siblings were little like her, we were Grandma's children.

"Wait," I said. "So we're not Grandma's children anymore?"

She gave me a funny look and said, "No, Katie, because you're BIG now."

I quickly found there was absolutely no way to reason her into believing that all of my siblings--including her mother--are, in fact, still Grandma's children. Even though we are big.

Perhaps in another ten years or so I'll explain to her that as I've grown bigger, my relationship with my mother has changed. But she has never stopped being my mother, and I have never stopped being her daughter.

When you are very, very little, it's very easy to expect your mother to take care of your needs. You don't really think about it. You're little; she's big; clearly, it's her job to take care of you since you can't do it all on your own. It doesn't mean you aren't thankful for everything she does, but you think she's required to do everything she does. If she didn't, where would that leave you?

But as the years pass by, I notice all of the ways my mother still takes care of us. Most people would probably say the things are little. Phone calls. Comforting talks after break-ups with boyfriends. Listening to someone who just needs to vent. Sending leftovers back with children. Quilts. Jewelry. Other creations. Scrabble games. Sharing recipes, with an added bonus of in-call support of the would-be chef. Jokes. Games. Sharing her washer and dryer. Baking bread. Planning birthday gatherings.

The list could go on. But I guess the point of all of it is this: she still does a lot for me, and I'm grateful. She's always been a wonderful mother. And if, as they say, I'll eventually wind up like her--I'm very much okay with that. Because she's one of the best people I know.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Anatomy of My Hugging Tendencies

The surest sign I have fully embraced a person as a friend: I will let that person hug me. And I won't even flinch.

You see, I'm not a hugger by nature. I never have been. And yes, I hug my mother. And my father. And usually my siblings (provided they don't smell bad--just kidding, none of my siblings have hygiene issues). And of course I'll hug my nephews and nieces, because hello!, who wouldn't want to hug the most adorable children on the planet.

But I've never been a Huggy McHuggerson...and thank heaven for that. To be labeled such would probably remind most people of diapers.

And yet, in the oddest turn of realization, I stumbled upon an interesting--not to mention true--thought about myself the other day. And by that, I mean that of course someone pointed something out. My good friend mentioned that I tend to hug (or want to hug) pretty much anything but humans.

I started to defend myself, then stopped when I recalled that I'd been telling her about how I'd hugged a book I'd found in the bookstore. It occurred to me she might have a point. So here, for your benefit, is a complete list of things that I have a) hugged or b) wished I could hug.

1. As mentioned, books.
2. Flowers (particularly the first hyacinths, lilacs, and tulips I've seen)
3. My DVD copy of The King's Speech
4. My laptop
5. Old poetry notebooks
6. Sunshine (yes, sunshine...the first truly sunny and warm day of the spring, I would've loved to be able to hug the sunshine)
7. The vacuum
8. My Harry Potter blanket
9. The most recent package of Bic pens I bought.
10. A load of laundry (because really...straight out of the dryer...who doesn't love to hug loads of laundry?!)
11. Blow dryer
12. Sweet potato chips
13. Sweet potato fries (clearly a wish...hugging the chips was easy, 'cause they were in a bag--since the fries weren't, I had to settle for imagining myself hugging them)
14. The mama-made quilt
15. My photo album
16. Caramel Apple Spice from Starbucks
17. Also from Starbucks: cheese danish
18. The most recent Josh Groban CD
19. Decorative pillows on my couch

Of all the things I hugged, the caramel apple spice was by far the trickiest. But I managed! And as an added bonus, it actually gave me a small measure of extra physical warmth to do it. Miraculously, no spillage occurred.

My conclusion is this: I'd be much more apt to hug people if I could somehow convince myself they shared a lot in common with my favorite inanimate objects.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Please Don't Quote THAT Tennyson

I've always worn my English nerdery on my sleeve: after all, anyone who speaks with me for more than forty-five seconds will begin to suspect anyway.

But at work, this sometimes causes people to shake their heads--when I start discoursing to them about what I'm reading (the pun book, so far, is intriguing and fascinating!) to when I defend fiction (really, people, you can learn things from novels...I swear it!!!) to when I start talking about the nebulous definition of a word like "classic" (after all, it seems odd to be able to label things "modern-day classics" when usually the idea is that the classics have stood the test of time--almost as though you're making a pre-emptive decision that says to a book: "YOU WILL LAST FOREVER IN A MEANINGFUL AND VERY PUBLIC FASHION").

By far though, the best chuckle I think I've solicited from someone at work is after (on more than one occasion) he had been questioned why we were doing something, and he said: "Ours is not to question why." I grant that it's possible I physically cringed, or twitched at the very least, and almost begged that he not quote that particular line...

...because in "Charge of the Light Brigade," it's promptly followed by "Ours is but to do and die." (Not "or" die, mind you. "And" die.)

Since I value my life, I'll continue to question why.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

School Nostalgia, or Why I Bought A Book about Puns the Other Day

I miss school. (And if you think: "I see 'I miss school,' but what I really read is 'I'm a big, fat nerd'"...well then. You're probably right.)

Right now, in all reality, I feel pretty content with my life. I get along well with my roommates. I have settled into something of a routine in my new position at work. And even further, work has helped me learn that sometimes it's okay to accept the chaos and just join in the crazy. In an ironic twist, even, I'm learning that sometimes you have to join in the crazy to stay sane.

But there are moments that something reminds me of past school experiences and I can't help but get a little weepy. Yes, you read that right: weepy. (Again: Big. Fat. Nerd. Not denying it.) And there are some things that I can't completely resist when they remind me of such.

For example, a notable and lively discussion in one of my classes revolved around puns. Someone asked why puns were considered the lowest form of humor; in turn, the professor asked us to attempt to define exactly what a pun is. A dozen graduate students, mind you--a mix of Ph.D. and Master's candidates--and we could not reach any type of consensus.

We all agreed (at least as I recall) that wordplay was necessary, but that seemed to be the only point of agreement. We couldn't decide if puns were innately political, always subversive, or even if they inevitably resulted in humor. For crying out loud, you'd think we would have also agreed on whether or not a pun is funny. (Except that sometimes they are and sometimes they're not.) It was a stand-out discussion, the type of discussion that only happens in an academic environment that allows the luxury of spending fifteen minutes or more fighting about wordplay.

And that is why I teared up a little when I saw a book entitled The Pun Also Rises at the bookstore a couple of days ago. It's also why I immediately seized the book, hugged it, did a somewhat impromptu small jig, and added it to the pile of bounty I collected.

I'll let you know if it's any good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Physical Acts=Mindset?

I realized something today. Or rather, I suppose I remembered something today: when I feel a need to get right down to work, I roll up my sleeves (if they're long). And I pull my hair into a ponytail (provided it's long enough).

I used to do this when I wrote papers for my classes. Something about the actual physical act says to me: "Okay, self. It's time to knuckle under."

Today I was wondering to myself why I do this, when it occurred to me... the pushing up the sleeves and the pulling up the hair gets distractions out of the way. Trust me: if I want to put off working on something and my hair is down, I can twirl it for quite a long while. Or braid it. Or use it to make silly little mustaches on my face.

Yes. I suppose that means I'm easily distractable. So be it.

But if these small links are all I sometimes need to convince myself to get down to business, I wonder why I don't do them more often.

Also, I wonder if I have equivalents when my hair is short and I'm wearing short sleeves.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Please, Don't Make My Books Go Digital

My dad keeps "trying" to convince me to purchase some type of e-reader--a Nook, a Kindle. I use scare quotes because the man knows me. He provided half of my DNA. And he knows that the apocalypse will come before I choose to read my books electronically. In this day and age of already plenty-enough staring at computer screens (after all, I get all my news online), I relish the physical interaction of reading a book. I like turning pages. I like New Book Smell, and Old Book Smell, and I even like You Found Me In A Used Bookstore and You Can't Place My Smell Smell. I like taking notes in my books when the whim hits me. Sometimes I dog ear pages. (But not often. It ruins books' aesthetics.) I recently read someone--and no, I don't remember who-- who wrote about the experiences we have that are associated with particular books. And she (yes, I remember it was a she! Hm, maybe it was from The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, now that I think about it) talked about how we are tied to particular actual material books--our copies. It makes perfect sense to me: it's why I resent that I had to replace the first copy of Ella Enchanted I owned--the one I begged my mother to let me read to her (and she complied, at least for a few pages)--with a lesser, less hammered version. It's why I'm always a little bit sad every time I pick up a new edition of Corduroy in the bookstore---the one I originally fell in love with as a young, young child had practically fallen apart. I have difficulty imagining waves and waves of nostalgia and untold reminiscences triggered by my touching an e-reader. And while I can "note" an electronic copy, it's just not the same as rereading 1984 and coming across my own handwriting with some note that 17-year-old me thought was such a revelation while 27-year-old me marvels at how obvious that revelation seems now. Not a revelation at all, anymore, except that it still seems that way when I see it in my own juvenile handwriting. Of course, to be fair to my dad: he knows I'll never go digital when it comes to my books. He just wants to keep from moving any more of mine than he has to the next time I change location. But books are supposed to be heavy: heavy with importance. And memories. And more stories than the words on the page readily show.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about choices recently, probably because I just finished Matched, a novel that seems in some ways to be the child of 1984 and The Hunger Games. (Or rather, that's how I perceive its literary lineage. After finishing, I thought it had similarly dystopic elements to THG and 1984's insistence on the importance of controlling language--albeit more subtlely than 1984.)

Complete book review, by the way, will be forthcoming on the book blog. Tomorrow or the day after.

Anyway, one of the takeaway messages from the novel (unsurprisingly) revolved around the idea of making choices, i.e. there was an implication that we are defined by the sum of the choices we make.

One of the difficulties I have with books such as these is that if there are a limited range of choices a character can make, can that character only have a limited range? And what about choices that are neither good nor bad? Not all choices have a lasting moral impact.

Having grown up in an environment where I've been told that we are to respect and love people even if we don't expect and love their choices, I struggle with this conflation between character and choice. It's too easy. Too tidy. And ironically enough, entirely too complicated when put into practice.

I suppose that's an innate difficulty of assuming that any one element of a life affects character: we are all a conglomeration of choices, habits, and personality traits that we were just born with. Our interactions with others help define us in small way. There's no such things as a real-life, simply motivated human.

There can't be.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be

"Next time you look back, I really think you should look again." --from (500) Days of Summer

I've recently come to realize something: very, very few people think clearly when they're reviewing the past. It's Nostalgia Syndrome--everything becomes incredibly good or tremendously bad--and all of a sudden, our past lives seem awfully black and white. We phase out the gray in order to achieve a better narrative. One more seamless and less messy than what actually happened.

It's one of the only ways we have of imposing order onto our lives: in any given moment of the present, we're far too aware of everything. Everything, including the things we wish we weren't. The stuff that, in the present, we want to wish away--the stuff that we hope might disappear if we ignore it for long enough. When we look back, we can ignore to our hearts' content...those things may as well not have been there.

But really, I don't think there are any moments in our lives that are absolutely perfect--not on their own. Not without help. And those moments are never perfect when we are in them, which makes us wonder when we look back why we didn't appreciate what we had at the magical moment we had it.

I suppose I've been thinking about this because recently I can't help but wonder if past versions of myself were happier than my present self can sometimes be. And in all fairness, I'm sure there were times when my past self felt much happier about life than my present self. Of course, I'm sure that there are times where my present self far outshines the happiness of my past self.

Nostalgia romanticizes the past: it acts as its own type of rose-colored filter. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I've always been me. I've always had strengths and weaknesses. Talents. I've always had happy times and sad times and mad times, it's just that I don't want to remember being sad or mad--so I usually choose not to. Don't most of us? We want to be our best selves, so we remember our best selves...and we forget the best selves we remember are a product of editing and some good mental production values.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Charlie St. Cloud

It's been several months since I read the wonderful novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, and as I mentioned in the review: they made a movie out of it.

Let me say this, right here and right now: Hollywood doesn't get it right often. I mean, sure, they're smart enough to know a moneymaking plot when they see one. But that doesn't mean they'll do a good job of converting a masterful novel into an equally masterful movie. In rare instances, it happens. And I applaud them. But more often than not, the film misses exactly the mark the book hits.

And yet any time a book I've loved is made into a movie, I have to see it. I'm inevitably drawn toward the theater (or, you know, Netflix) and I find myself watching a visual adaptation of that work I so dearly loved when it was only printed word and all of the visuals existed in my imagination.

I found the film version of this book lacking. And this is why: it didn't allow for the idea that Sam, too, moves on in the end. One of the loveliest things about the novel's ending is that Charlie gets to see Sam one last time--actually see Sam--but it isn't the younger-brother-as-he-was. Charlie gets to see that when he moves on, Sam moves on. In the end, he sees a young adult version of Sam--someone that Sam simultaneously could have been but still gets to be, after a fashion. They both get to move forward. In their own ways, they both get to have futures.

And while yes, that makes the book ending more than a little sentimental and while yes, some people don't believe in anything after death and that makes the whole premise...difficult...I appreciate the impression Ben Sherwood left behind in the novel, which is that Sam does have somewhere to move forward and onward. He doesn't just simply stop existing. Charlie, after all, still lives. But it's difficult to think of Sam being a nebulous child-like entity, even if he's in heaven.

But those are just my thoughts. And maybe I just need to avoid filmic adaptations of my favorite works. They never turn out as well as they could.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday School Thoughts

I know that I shouldn't have favorite Sunday School teachers. Logically, I know that. But nevertheless: I do. I have favorite Sunday School teachers. Well, favorite Sunday School teacher--singular. It's not the others are bad people. It's not that the others are faithless or stupid or boring. (Well, okay. Maybe sometimes the others are boring, but I sincerely doubt they're trying to be, and I'm readily willing to admit that sometimes I don't have the best attitude about sitting through their lessons.)

Anyway, I've been trying to peg lately why I like this particular Sunday School teacher. The easy answer, of course, is to say that he's cute (true) and that he's intelligent (also true) and that he has a definable and well-asserted teaching presence (true to the truest degree). But today as I sat through his latest lesson, I realized that what impresses me most is this: he knows how to ask questions.

That might seem like a weird attribute to observe in a person, but it's nevertheless true. As a teacher, he's unwilling to settle for an easy question that I can almost hear the class collectively rolling their eyes at. (Ever notice that once you get old enough the questions that hardly ever get answered are the ones we already know the clear-cut responses for?) His discussion questions do that magical thing--actually inciting a discussion--and I suppose it would be fair to say that his asking the right questions is tied to a knack for encouraging participation. (Although whether it's the question or the teacher encouraging the participation is, in my opinion, a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario...)

One random note from the tail end of the lesson today--we ended up glossing briefly over the story of the woman at the well, mostly because our discussion had revolved around other equally good things. And perhaps I'm particularly dense, but this teacher pointed out something I'd never noticed before--the woman at the well did an excellent job of bringing people back to the well to listen. But then whether people accepted the message or not was determined by those people. Not by her.

She led them to the well, but she didn't remotely attempt to force them to drink the water (as it were). They had to drink of their own accord. This seemed to me an interesting lesson in missionary work--we, too, can direct people to the well--but we can't make them drink any more than she could. If I take this thinking to its extreme...which I do, because I'm me...I ultimately reach the conclusion that if we force someone too hard into the well water, they drown.

(I know. It's kind of a violent thought...but it nevertheless seemed pertinent.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Does Anyone Share My Eccentricities?

The other day, I finished reading a novel. And then I decided that I needed to peruse my shelf for my next reading material. These two acts, at least for me, are not odd.

When my one good eye alighted on Doctor Zhivago, I thought: "That's it! I've been in the mood for some unbearably sad Russian literature!" (A co-worker corrected me later, telling me that technically Pasternak would be consider post-Soviet something-or-other...)

But it made me wonder if any other people ever have such moments of clarity about a very specific taste in genre they are experiencing right then...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Way to Be Invisible

It struck me a few days ago, and I've kept meaning to make a note: the best form of invisibility would be complete visibility. But there's a catch: the invisible person has to be completely aware of the scrutiny. I don't know if they need to want to be watched. But they need to know they're being watched.

My reasoning works basically like this: if you know that you are always, always, always, ALWAYS being watched, you don't act like a person. At least, most people don't. Under severe scrutiny, I highly doubt many of us will be--essentially--ourselves. Instead, because we are so aware we are being watched, we would don a persona. Or several.

And the best part is this: those who watch us can't ever claim we're not us. Because if they even try to make an argument that we're acting against ourselves in some way or other, there can only be one response: "Well, you've seen me, right? You've watched me? How can this NOT be me?"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Questions, Answers

I love hard questions. And I hate hard questions.

I have studied English and I have always been a reader, because many great questions found in literature are unresolvable. Or if they are not unresolvable, they are tangled. Knotty, as one of my professors used to say. (I always had to auto-correct the word in my brain when he said it out loud: Not naughty. Knotty.) It's possible to reach any number of conclusions about these questions. And if you can justify the logical path from the question to the conclusion, then you have made your case. That doesn't mean the story is over (literally or metaphorically). That only means you are one amongst many voices contributing to a dialogue. Changing your mind is allowed. Modifying your original conclusion is par for the course.

Life itself, I would say, is tangled. Knotty. Complicated. Filled with many great questions for which there may well be multiple answers. It seems too easy, too simple for there to be A Meaning of Life. Must it be singular? Can't our lives hold more than one meaning? Navigating through existence seems too much of a mess too often for everything to be simple. And all the questions in the world--in my brain--can't possibly only have One Ultimate Answer.

And still I sometimes find myself wondering if it isn't somehow calming to oversimplify everything. If all roads eventually lead to exactly one destination, all of a sudden, which road I take does not seem to matter so much. It's freeing somehow. But stifling somehow, as well. What if I don't want to be headed where all of the roads are leading?

I suppose this also means: I love easy questions. I hate easy questions.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bishop's in My Brain, or Brief Thought on Loss

I've always loved the Elizabeth Bishop villanelle "One Art"--but something new struck me about this poem today. And yes, I'm nerdy. And yes, I was thinking about this poem semi-randomly. And yes, I don't need to read it because I know it by heart.

That's because it's a most excellent poem.

Anyway, my thought revolved around the idea that certain things have an intent to be lost, because I'd never particularly thought about that until today. And really, that's an interesting intent to assign to certain types of inanimate objects. (I must admit: I quite like the idea of keys intending to get lost...)

But then, the whole point of the poem isn't actually that the art of losing isn't hard to master, it's the exact reverse: that the art of losing is hard to master. When I think back to the early idea of intent in the poem, I begin to think that Bishop may well have been onto something: our ability to master loss depends on our willingness to accept responsibility for the loss. Our ability to fess up and say: yes, that was my fault, I'm the one who let that go.

It seems to me that if we are able to do that, if we are able to acknowledge that we did the losing, that just may be the first step in regaining some of the things we've lost. Perhaps.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Being Dumber: A Svithe

These thoughts are coming to fruition (or rather, attempting to come to fruition, if I'm honest), because yours truly did something unfortunately ditsy today: she left her scriptures at church. And didn't realize until some time within the last half hour or so. While she grants the following: that a) the church is literally down the street from her house which b) means she could easily walk there to see if it's open and if her scriptures are exactly where she left them, she c) has already changed into her pajamas and d) knew that she had an older set of scriptures she has had since, well, forever (they preceded her current set) that she could turn to.

It should be noted, right now, that the older set--currently the only set of hers residing in her household--saw her through most of Primary, Sunday School, Young Women, and her seminary days. Doesn't make them ancient, but certainly makes them much older than the set she's used for the past couple of years or so.

And now to bust out of the third person: whenever anyone asks me what I used to be like when I was younger, I inevitably tell them that I was more or less the same except dumber than I am now. In all fairness, I think this assessment may well be true of most of us, except that I realized something as I read through various bits of my old scripture set: while yes, I was not as intelligent then as I am now, I had much much more confidence in matters of faith.

In looking through the notes and the testimonies and whatnot I found within the pages of my scriptures (both those which were glued in and those which were written in), I saw something of a different version of myself. She had a clear--if somewhat vague--plan for her life, her expectations for herself were high without being tremendously so, and she had firm convictions. Firm like a rock.

Over the years, some of those convictions have wobbled. Some of them have eventually been righted again. Some of them, alas, are currently more like jello than anything else. And I don't know if I can blame my education for this, although I do correlate a certain questioning attitude with some of the wobble-age... Well, perhaps not so much the questioning attitude as much as the stubborn refusal to accept anything too easily.

I suppose all of this is to say that if I was able to have more faith, if I was able to trust more, if I was steadfast because back then I was indeed a little dumber--I'd like to learn how to be that dumb again.