Literary Merit

Allude to As Many Smart People Things As Possible Because I Am Better Than You

So as it turns out, I have not missed the deadline for completing my student teaching paperwork, and may actually be able to do it in the fall instead of the spring. I have not decided if this is a good or a bad thing. I would love to get this out of the way. I only have two classes left (one during the summer) so, hypothetically, I could graduate before next Christmas. On the other hand, the extra semester of working full time to save money would be extraordinarily helpful for getting through those months. Life is EXPENSIVE.

My semester is nearly finished, and so the level of work has also increased. I don’t know if I have mentioned many details about it here, and am far too lazy to check, but I am finishing my literature degree requirements by working on my seminar paper and presentation. Bored to death of writing feminist critiques of things, I decided to compare the use of poetry in Long Day’s Journey Into Night with its use in August: Osage County. I cannot emphasize enough what a pleasure August: Osage County was to read.

The project is actually somewhat more difficult than I anticipated, from a research standpoint. I never expected to find much written about Letts’s play, but really, Long Day’s Journey Into Night was written in 1941, produced in 1956, and has a whole act that consists almost entirely of characters shouting poetry at one another. I had rather expected more people to write about it. I will likely end up doing some research about the background of some of the poets and the general mores of modernist drama in the 40′s and 50′s and the Elliot-esque tendency some modernists had to Allude to As Many Smart People Things As Possible Because I Am Better Than You, and then writing the bulk of the paper as nothing but my own analysis. I’m told that despite the lack of criticism to corroborate my own ideas, this is a good thing, because then I could publish the paper. Certainly nobody much has written about August: Osage County at any rate. I don’t know if it will be good enough to publish, but I appreciate that my professors believe it will be.

One good thing about hypothetically finishing in only one more semester: I could write again. I miss it desperately. I never get to concentrate on anything anymore, because I only have time to work on school projects instead of creative ones, or lack the energy at the end of the day to work on either. It will be nice to get out of school and get a job that can support me, to move out and into an apartment by myself and have a real life. As far as I ever manage to have one, anyway.

Anyway, other things of note: despite my anguish over the PAPAs, I seem to have done well. I get my official score report tomorrow, though, so we’ll see. Some friends and I also decided to try our hands at gardening, so on Saturday, Tess and I are headed to Home Depot to badger people with questions and get enough tools, plants and seeds to get started. I don’t know how this new hobby will jive with my enduring horror of wasps, but we’ll see. Maybe I’ll blog about the learning curve.

Here I stand, on the edge of the ledges I’ve made.

Yesterday’s post was a make-up from Thursday. Today’s is on time for once.

T- 6 Days until I take my pre-certification exam and I have done rather less studying than is wise. I put it off for several weeks, actually, focusing on everything else in my life but that. As of yesterday I have begun using Khan Academy‘s math quizzes to practice. I am horribly rusty. If you know me in person, you have heard me complain multiple times about this whole thing. It has been about a decade since I have attended a real math class, so a lot of things I used to know on some level have mummified and/or disintegrated in the sarcophagus that is my brain.

Still, as low-level as the quizzes I am currently taking are, it is good practice, and strangely addicting. I may stick with it beyond the exam, just for my own personal self-improvement. It’s a shame that I did not stick with it from the beginning, as a lot of my other problem solving methods in life (and in writing) are quite systematic. Plus, I do enjoy kicking my sister’s butt at Professor Layton. So I added it to my HabitRPG as a “daily.” It’s something I can do on my lunch break or in the evenings watching television.

I despised mathematics growing up. I had a lot of trouble when I was young memorizing my times tables–not least because I found it dull–and my father’s help involved cornering me in the hallway at home and demanding answer after answer after answer. Well-intentioned as it was, I don’t think the unpleasantness of that experience ever really left, and for years after, mathematics classes were torturous.

As someone studying education now, I wonder if I’d have enjoyed math class more if it had been presented differently. Catholic parochial school math class involved over-copied handwritten “maintenance” sheets full of things we hadn’t learned yet and no room to do work, and lots of formulas to memorize and no explanations as to why the formulas did anything. I was always the kind of person who figured out multiplication problems by drawing rows of dots in the margins and counting. From what my sister tells me, that is the kind of thing that is encouraged now under the newer methods, emphasizing tangible conceptual understanding over procedural shortcuts. But what do I know? I’m not a middle school math teacher.

Anyhoo, send me positive vibes this week, because I’d really like to pass on the first try. I’m trying to practice as much as possible without stressing myself out too much.

Tonight, though, I’ll be going to see Noah Gundersen at World Cafe Live. If you’re going to be there too, give me a shout! Otherwise, watch this video and be jealous.

Land Ho!

I have reached the home stretch of my academic career. Or at least the undergrad part. I am finishing my last two English courses this semester, and then only have two more Education courses and student teaching. I can see the end alighting upon a distant horizon. Part of me never really thought I would, and I am so, so relieved.

I love academia. It is written into my DNA. I think that’s one reason why I ultimately chose to go into education. My sister recently finished her program, and already misses taking classes. I probably will miss it also, but oh god I will be so glad to only have one job to do, and not a job and classes, and be able to afford to support myself moving out and living alone. I have a good relationship with my family and have a lot of advantages living here, but it’s time to leave.

I’m kind of stressed out, though, because I feel like this is the point where I could really blow it. I can see the end, panic sets in, and I abandon all responsibility and end up working retail and living in the basement forever. That kind of thing.

I finally chose a topic for my Lit Seminar. I’m looking at the usage of poetry in August: Osage County compared to the same in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. If the topic is too big for one paper, I will drop Long Day’s Journey Into Night, most likely, because even though there is much more research material on O’Neill, August: Osage County was a joy to read. I don’t have a thesis yet, or nearly enough time to write, really, but I suppose it will come together. I’m lucky in that my professor does not particularly care for modern criticism. She finds it too dense and difficult to read with all the jargon, so the expectations in that respect are much less stringent, though the arguments have to be sound and thought out.

Really I’m glad to be writing anything that is not yet another feminist criticism, because I’m utterly bored of doing them, and the plays we read would make it impossible to extricate the feminist arguments from psychoanalytic criticism. I HATE psychoanalytic criticism. The jargon is confusing at best and the whole school is based on flawed and outdated theories. The only positive thing to come out of it is Jung’s idea of the mythological archetypes.

That reminds me. I did my final observation on Friday, and in my first period there was a 9th grade boy reading a book of Mesopotamian mythology. It was a study period and he had finished his work, and it became clear from watching that it wasn’t even an assignment for another class and that he was reading for himself. I wanted nothing more than to corner him to talk about it. (I didn’t, because I am not creepy.) It reminded me why I wanted to go into teaching, that despite the denigration older generations give teenagers (and despite some of it being deserved) they really do want to learn things, and given the freedom of uninhibited curiosity, they will seek it out.

Anyhoo, for the foreseeable future I will be in a fugue of academia. Cheer me up by going and reading my short story, Death Girl, and leaving me a comment telling me how great I am.

Q&A

I harvested this Q&A from tumblr, so some of you may already have seen it.

what is your middle name? Marie. Pretty much every white girl in the US born between 1985-1990 has either “Ann[e]” or “Marie” as a middle name.

what are you passionate about? Literature, writing, and education. I aspire to be passionate about several other things like hiking, but have yet to manage to practice.

zebra or leopard print? Leopard print is classier, though only used sparingly.

do you have any fears? Oblivion. Specifically, that there is no persistence of soul, no afterlife or reincarnation, and that upon death we all cease to exist. I am a living, breathing archetype of existential dread.

silver or gold? For most of my life I would have said “silver” without hesitation, but I have recently begun to adore yellow gold. Also rose gold.

top three places to visit: Banff National Park in Alberta, CAN; Rekjavik, Iceland; Big Sur, CA, USA. I haven’t visited any of these, but I desperately want to. I even found a cabin to stay in in Big Sur. It is blindingly colorful, in the middle of the park, and is only accessible via a five mile hike.

where are you from? The suburbs just west of Philly. I was born and raised here, and only lived elsewhere for a few years in NEPA.

first career you wanted as a child: I don’t remember in what order, but in elementary school I wanted to be a scientist for a long time (I wanted to study rocks and volcanoes), and I also had a fairly persistent Architect phase, and would spend hours using this free computer program demo to design houses and yards.

what’s your sign? Aquarius.

future names of your children: I want to get a cat and name it Pangur-ban…?

what are you listening to right now? Blissful silence while my family is at church.

do you believe in fate/destiny? No. I think that good and bad things happen by chance, even things utterly life changing, and that sometimes we are tremendously grateful and relieved that the cards fell as they did.

what are your career goals? I’m nearly finished earning my certification to become a middle or high school English teacher (grades 7-12). I’d also like to publish fiction, but I don’t know if it counts as a career goal, as I’d keep writing regardless of whether it ever made any money.

what is your favorite color? Green, especially the mossy, wet color of rain and new growth. I also love gray, and bright turquoise.

what is your favorite flower? Wildflowers. I love the riotous diversity and stubborn hardiness found only in fallow fields and by the sides of winding roads.

what was the first concert/show you attended? A tiny show in a church basement. The “headliner” was a local ska band called The Argyles, which was popular with my peers at the time. They were from Bucks County, north of Philly, and all the members had curfews, so they had to play third in a lineup of five bands so they could get home on time. The following two acts were terrible hardcore, and about 80% of the crowd left before they even finished setting up.

something you are working on right now: Trying to find a good topic for my Lit Seminar project. The seminar topic is Pulitzer Prize Winning Dramatists, and we have already read four O’Neill plays, two Tennessee Williams, and two August Wilson plays, and I have unfortunately discovered that I just don’t like reading drama. I also don’t like that nearly every compelling female character is interesting only until her secret sordid past as a prostitute is revealed, at which point all the other characters suddenly realize they are entirely justified in not loving her. I also have several short stories; one of them has a nearly complete first draft.

have you ever had a near-death experience? Not a legitimate one, but when I totaled my old Hyundai, I had a crystallized moment of relief. I remember counting the spirals as my car spun (one, two, three, stop) and thinking, “God, finally. No more wondering or being afraid. I’ll find out once and for all if there’s anything after. It’ll be like ripping off a band-aid.” But it hardly counts, because I wasn’t even injured other than mild whiplash.

are you a procrastinator or do you get things done early? I am a meticulous procrastinator. I like to have everything planned out so that I know exactly how long I can put everything off.

left or right handed? Right

TV shows and anime you watch regularly: Pretty Little Liars, though I am now several episodes behind. That’s pretty much the only one. I will soon get back into Game of Thrones, though.

halloween costume idea for this year? I rarely do anything for Halloween, and I rarely have the money to invest in any costume that seems worth it.

what is your relationship status? Gloriously single. I actually wouldn’t mind a relationship in theory, but I have trouble wanting it in practice. Dating is a big hassle with few actual rewards that justify it, considering that I don’t need it to validate any kind of self worth.

last movie you watched? Willow, at my friend’s apartment, followed by the latter half of Despicable Me 2 at home.

I’m not dead (yet).

So it’s been a while.

I’m not going to kid myself and say I’m about to return to a regular posting schedule, though I have made efforts to ensure it. I have just been far more busy than I would like, and the blog slipped lower and lower on my list of priorities.

In fact, that is now the case more than it has ever been. I am nearly finished my Secondary Ed cert, and just purchased the practice test and the PAPA exam, which is one of two certification exams required by the state. I just finished the practice test, and it was… discouraging. I didn’t do nearly as well as I hoped I would out of the gate, even in areas I had considered my strengths. I can rationalize this until I am blue in the face, but I still worry that it means I’m not cut out for anything I had considered. If I don’t even ace the reading portions, how can I ever teach? How can I even write?

I should just go back to retail and resign myself to a life of failure.

I have yet to schedule the exam, and am now filled with more anxiety than I ever thought possible. I suppose I needed to be brought down a few notches, but it would be nice to accomplish something for once without having to be forcibly returned to humility.

I always swore that I would not use this blog to vent about personal angst, and am now breaking that promise. But I also swore that I would post today, and it’s all I can think about, so that is what you get.

fiction: death girl [4k]

So for those of you who forgot, I have a second blog, Ghost Town, which was set up to host a collection of interconnected short fiction. The first (written, not chronological) of these stories has been sitting on my hard drive for ages while I waffled through submitting it. Ultimately, between my own impatience and the trouble I had finding journals that fit well enough to try, I decided that I’d rather just share it myself.

To read it, follow the link below, and please tell me if you like it!

“Death Girl”
One morning, Emma wakes up to find Death in her bedroom. (Or: an ending that is also a beginning.)
read it here!

Magic and Science

silmarillion illustration

Maedhros in Ossiriand, by Jenny Dolfen (GoldSeven), one of my favorite fan artists.

I mentioned in my last post (which perhaps nobody noticed?) that I am going to participate in the Silmarillion (Re-)Reading Project 2014 hosted over at the Silmarillion Writers Guild fan community. In the grand scope of things, this is something I do fairly regulary–revisit Tolkien in some fashion, that is. I do not generally take on so ambitious or social a project though. This time I want to reread the whole of the mythos in chronological order. The fact that I can do a good portion of this with others is, as the Cult of Joss would say, shiny. Usually this is a very solitary activity for me, as despite my passion for it not many of my personal friends have really read much of any Tolkien. Perhaps The Hobbit and part of the trilogy, but I am not sure I have a single close friend who has read the Silmarillion and Children of Hurin as well, much less  multiple times.

I’m not trying to sound elitist here. Rather, as solitary as the activities of reading and writing can be, they are or want to be inherently social. It’s difficult to read a book and really love it, and have nobody to discuss it with. You end up talking at people rather than with them, or at least I do. It’s the same with writing. I can keep telling myself I write for myself. I can keep writing what I want and damn the rest, but I want to share it. I want to converse with readers. I want to watch them discuss it and learn something from it or get swept away.

Perhaps it is the millenia-spanning nature of the saga. Perhaps it is the intricate timelines and maps, history tied with mythos. Perhaps it is that Tolkien changed his mind and re-wrote much of the history, resulting in conflicting accounts and disputed timelines and events, a mess so much like our actual world I can hardly bear it. But I love it more than any other fiction. It reminds me why I love stories, how I can get lost in them and still remain critical, how things change with every reading and still remain as perfect as they ever were.

It also reminds me how much work goes into writing, and that it is worth the effort to do so in my own. I take many shortcuts and my work suffers for it. But this has full history, genealogy, linguistics, maps, wars, controversy, cultures, conflicting accounts and room for interpretation. You can go through life without knowing the history of the roads you walk down, the people you talk to and the societies you interact with, but once you do learn, it changes things. No step you take is not richer for the knowledge of what came before.

This is what I want to do with my writing, and it is this undertaking that I constantly fall short of. That’s why I have to remind myself every once in a while that I really do love it, even if, to borrow a cliche, I walk in the footsteps of giants in doing so.

Winter at Midnight

Orion Rising (Image)

Photo by Brendon Loy @ Flickr.

The area around my parents’ house has very little light pollution. Especially mid-winter, late at night, the sky is brilliant with white stars, and utterly silent except for the scrape of boots against cement and the distant whisper of traffic on quiet roads, or occasionally the groan of ice on especially cold nights after storms. I don’t enjoy it nearly enough. Sometimes the cold is so deep I feel like I could die when I am forced to endure it. After a few weeks, it’s not so bad, so when I inevitably have to take the dog for one last walk before bed, I can actually enjoy it.

There’s something about the musk of wood smoke hanging in the air, the streets lit only by yellowing fairy lights and the dark sky that never fails to be nostalgic. I spent most of my childhood in scouts, spending long, frozen weekends at themed Girl Scout Jamborees or counting footsteps in highly simplified orienteering exercises. Winter nights always remind me of one particular weekend at a camp that no longer exists, when the nights went below freezing in our canvas a-frames, days spent dipping candles and winding dreamcatchers to learn about the thirteen colonies. That was in the first stirrings of my pagan phase, and several of us in the troop whiled away the van trip and quiet evenings playing at palmistry.

One thing I miss even now about Girl Scouts, as poor as many of my experiences there were, was that it granted a captive group of companions for some of my favorite activities. I never camp anymore and I barely hike, as much as I would love to. I used to read trail maps and trace constellations. In middle school, I could have told you the origin story of nearly any constellation you could find in our sky. I knew how to pitch a tent and find the best firewood. I had lain in the grass on hillsides to search out shooting stars, and taken showers with near-frozen water suspended from trees in milk jugs.

Nothing is really stopping me from getting back to any of it now, I suppose, except for my own paltry social circle. Not that I don’t have friends, but I don’t have many who want this, especially not in December. But on frozen evenings, when nobody in my family bothers to take the dog out and I have to, I almost feel like I’m back there.

Other items of note: This January begins The Silmarillion (Re-)Reading Project 2014, and I’m pretty excited about it. It seems to be staggered throughout the whole year, and I have every intention of participating, though I may get ahead, as the project has sparked in me the idea to revisit all of them (minus the histories) in chronological order, or the closest I can get. If any of you care to join me, I’d love to be able to discuss it with people.

I hope everyone reading this had a good holiday, whichever you celebrate. I know many of you had a rather less than spectacular 2013. Hopefully you can close out the year on a positive note and begin a more promising 2014.

This post is off-schedule, but hopefully within the next week or two, I can return to my intended schedule of posting every Wednesday.

Prewriting Woes And Ever-Present Self Doubt

So I’ve started using RealtimeBoard for pre-writing. I had heard good things about it when I was trying out Scapple during my nano pre-writing. (I failed, by the way. Have I mentioned that? I failed miserably.)

RealtimeBoard (RTB) is basically an online/cloud based whiteboard app that you can log into for free with a Google account. It can apparently sync with Google Drive, and you can add team members and share boards with others to work together. I had used Scapple and enjoyed it, but I apparently only had a trial version. Which is weird, because I feel like I remember paying for it. So before paying for it for real instead of in my daydreams, I figured I’d check out the competition.

The reason that this is relevant to this blog: one of the pre-designed boards you can use is a visual story map, which is basically made up of colored boxes with headers and questions/prompts to elaborate what goes into each box. It sounds painfully obvious, and really, it should be. Questions like “What change are the character(s) trying to affect?”; “What needs to happen to make that change occur?”; “What if it works/what if it doesn’t?” and “why should we care if it happens now versus later?” after all these years really shouldn’t be revolutionizing my writing process. But they apparently are.

What I am discovering, and what I probably, on some level, knew but refused to acknowledge, is that for all I talk about pre-writing and outlining, there are very important aspects of storytelling that I routinely skip. In too many of my failed attempts at short fiction, the answer to “what changes?” is “not much.” If asked, I would probably attempt to defend it. I’d tell you that it’s not about tangible change, it’s about the characters and the relationships. That’s not only bullshit, but it’s also lazy. Regarding the “sense of urgency,” question, I probably would have told you that, “the story is set when it does happen.”

Which, come on. Really, self?

It’s both interesting and disheartening to realize this. As a person who claims to have loved writing since middle school, who not only wants to tell stories for a living but also teach others how to do the same, this agonizing process of realizing exactly how much talent I don’t have is not always something I know how to deal with. It’s important and valuable. I know that. I also know it’s not hopeless, and I can at least get better than I am, even if I never get to “good.” All the same, it would be nice to have a little validation once in a while, from people who aren’t honor-bound not to crush my dreams, or even just from strangers who actually want to read my writing.

The End of 2013 and the Futility of New Years Resolutions

Hey, did you guys know that Google turns your photos into sparkly gifs now!?

2013 has been a bad year for a lot of people. A lot of people. People have gotten divorced, have broken up, should break up, family members have died, have fallen ill, roommate trouble, job changes, rejection letters, you name it. Are you anywhere on this list? Probably. 2013 has largely been unkind. My own problems are small and easily enough dealt with, mostly relating to attempting a full course load with a Grown Up Job and trying to figure out how to pay bills and (fail to) save up money, and letting the things I love most fall to the side in favor of things that require zero higher cognition at the end of a long day. All the same, I would be lying if I didn’t admit how ready I am to see this year through to the end.

2013 was a year of rediscovering a lot of my own flaws in areas I wasn’t prepared or willing to deal with. It was the year I caved and tried online dating, only to realize the reason I am so very single is because dating is a big hassle. It was the year I finished short stories I really love, only to realize a few months later that despite the encouragement I had received from early readers, I’m not nearly as good as I think I am. I failed at another nano, and nearly let academics get away from me entirely. It was a semester without a single literature class, which is the worst kind of semester. It was the year of a new album from my favorite band, only for it to go on back order for more than two months. And I’m still not finished with my observations.

It’s almost Christmas, which means my brother and I have passive aggressively set up our Christmas tree (see above) in hopes that the rest of our family will begin decorating the rest of the house when they see it. We’re going shopping tomorrow to get most of our gifts. (And possibly a portrait with Santa. Because I’m an adult.) More on the list of things hanging over my head, which I will be thrilled to be done with.

And then onto New Years. Otherwise known as The Most Boring Holiday. I always eschew resolutions, because I feel like they are doomed to failure. But I doom myself, too, by avoiding them. I refuse to make a gym habit when I want to because it will be too crowded, but by the time it dies down I don’t want to do it anymore. Maybe by refusing to outwardly commit to changes in my life, I am denying myself the chance to make them at all.

I want desperately to be a good writer. It’s not even the skill that holds me back (even though it kind of is). It’s the discipline. I think this blog is the key to that. So this year, I’m doing it. 2014 is going to be The Year Of Shannon Blogging Once A Week, Damn It, Because She Needs To Learn To Finish What She Starts. Also the year of actually practicing guitar once in a while. And hopefully the year of writing fiction that I don’t have to stockholm friends into reading. But mostly blogging, and a little bit of hoping that somebody actually starts reading this thing.

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