Thursday, December 22, 2011

In Defense of Libraries

Libraries are awesome and here is why:


Reason 1: Free books.
Specifically, free books that don't require you to have a computer, Internet access, a Kindle, or a Nook. Libraries provide free books for the poorer or the less tech-savvy amongst us. To be frank, whenever I come across an ebook vs. book-book debate online, I have to roll my eyes. This is what well-to-do, middle-class people argue about in their free time. It's a bit elitist. My family didn't even have a computer until I was in middle school, and no Internet until high school. I still have friends without home computers or Internet connections. Where did we have to go for research or homework? You guessed it -- the library.

Reason 2: Educational Child Care
Whenever I visit the library, there are always families: mainly parents with toddlers. The kids read picture books or participate in a library-organized activity, while the parents read during a welcome break. There had better still be libraries around if I have kids. Not only do they provide structured activities, a chance to get out of the house, and a breather for parents, I sure don't want to have to buy a ton of picture books only to discard them a year later, when my kid gets too old.


Reason 3: A Library Isn't Just Books
This goes along with Reason 2. If it was all just a matter of the books, this debate would be irrelevant. A library is a community. Authors do readings and signings. Students get research help. Readers get recommendations. You don't have to buy anything to stay there and read or surf the Web (unlike at a cafe). You can advertise with flyers, pick up brochures, attend community events like sales, readings, movie and craft nights, etc. Actual human interaction.


Reason 4: Professional Help
Did you know that you have to have a Master's in Library Science to run a library? Most people probably don't, judging from the way they tend to underrate the role of the librarian.Their education covers everything from design to psychology to the Dewey Decimal System. It's their job to manage both books and people. A library will also provide services like career advice and research -- all you have to do is ask.


Reason 5: An Excuse to Get Out of the House
This last reason mainly applies to me. Long summers of unemployed boredom = Laura needs to leave the house before she starts climbing up the walls. However, Laura has no money. Wherever will she go? The library. Mostly I would bring my laptop for the Internet connection, but I also picked up and read a lot of books. It was a great way to avoid my parents, without them being able to object to it.

In short, libraries are an extremely valuable public resource, and those are my 5 main reasons why. Any thoughts?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Book Recommendation -- "The Year of Living Biblically"

'Tis the season to be jolly! Or, now that you've finished NaNoWriMo, it's the season to put down your ragged novel with a relieved sigh and pick up someone else's book. In the holiday spirit, I recommend The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, a nonfiction romp through one man's quest to follow all the rules in the Bible, to the letter, for an entire year.

As an agnostic who is, as he terms it, about as Jewish as Olive Garden is Italian, Jacobs has an interesting perspective on faith and the faithful. As a new father who wants to raise his children, he wonders if religion (and its rules) have anything to offer in the way of parenting wisdom. As a Jewish guy, he is interested in discovering his heritage -- and as such, most of the book focuses on the Hebrew Testament. As a husband, he is dismayed when the Biblical ban on lying makes his wife start asking him random questions. As a liberal, he is conflicted over different interpretations of scripture on issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Above all, this book is hilarious. It's an irreverent and surprisingly insightful crash course in the Bible. Jacobs records his journeys (physical and spiritual) in an informal, funny, thoughtful voice. The style makes it a light read, but it's long enough to keep you occupied for the month. It will also challenge and maybe change your ideas about religion, faith, and the world in general.

The Year of Living Biblically has been well-recieved by both secular and religious audiences. If you're not religious yourself, Jacobs is a perfect narrator. If you are, then you'll probably learn something new about your own faith or enjoy seeing things from Jacobs's respectful, but candid, perspective.

And if you pick it up and don't like it, there's always A Christmas Carol.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What NOT to include in your submission/cover letter

I'm sorry I haven't posted lately, but -- so much has been happening! I joined Fencing club; I got a part in Iolanthe; I joined Campus Comments (the school newspaper); I've been running to and fro from class...

...and I'm the poetry editor of Outrageous Fortune. It's the first nationwide, online college literary magazine of only undergraduate work. I'm pleased to say that we've already received many submissions for our Fall/Winter edition! I encourage you to submit your poetry, photography, artwork, essays, one-act plays, short stories, novel excerpts, etc.

I also encourage you to read the submission guidelines carefully. And perhaps look up "how to write a cover letter" on ehow.com.

Now, I'm a nice person and I won't judge you too much if you don't follow the guidelines. I'll just send a polite note pointing out that you attached your poems in PowerPoint instead of Word or that we only accept previously unpublished poems or whatever the issue happens to be, and ask you to resend it according to guidelines. Just because we're a college magazine doesn't mean you shouldn't take us seriously -- and intentional or not, that's the impression you give when you don't pay follow the guidelines.

Some things you can do to make my job a little easier are:
  1. Follow the guidelines, of course, but more specifically: attach your submission in a Word document. While I'll still open and read 5 documents, it takes a lot less time and effort to open, read, and print or save just one. That way, I also have all your work in one place.
  2. Do not copy/paste your submission in the body of the email. Formatting doesn't always transfer. If you can't attach your submission in a document for whatever reason, tell me that in the cover letter and then type your submission into the email. This avoids the formatting problems.
  3. Don't send more than 5 works. You can, however, send 5 works each in different genres. Send a separate email for each genre, please.
  4. Put the genre in the subject line. Again, a simple case of following instructions.
  5. Read previous issues of the magazine. I can't emphasize this enough. Since this one is free and available online, doing so is not cost-prohibitive. You might be jumping up and down to submit your work, but it really helps to take the time and look through the magazine archives. That should give you an idea of the character of the magazine and the works that have been accepted. Then look at your own work. Would it benefit from revision? You do have until late October to submit.
Finally, the cover letter. It should be simple, professional, and to the point. I don't need your thesis on the meaning of life; nor do I want something like "Here's my stuff. Kthanxbai." Strive for a happy medium. For example:

Attn. Outrageous Fortune:

My name is [name] and I am a [class year] at [name of college]. I would like to submit the following poems for consideration for your Fall/Winter edition of the literary magazine:
  1. Rainbows and Kittens
  2. Frolicking Unicorns
I am a [subject] major and [subject] minor, and I [love writing/dabble in photography/write sonnets to daffodils/began painting a year ago/insert bio-tidbit here]. [Elaborate (but not too much)].

Thank you for your time and consideration!

[Your name]


Please, please, PLEASE do not say anything along the lines of "my work sucks" or "I'm not a very good writer." Then why bother submitting? Unless you think OF is a pushover, which sends the vibe of "rude." Plus it just makes me sad to see people say they suck. Believe in yourself! *sings* From the ashes of rejection grow the roses of success!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

It's the first anniversary of this blog! Well, technically last month was the first anniversary of this blog -- but I was so caught up in vacation and the Teen Writers Summer Blogfest that I completely forgot about it. So happy late anniversary, voices! *gives flowers*

Also, this happens to be the month in which I reached 1,000 twitter followers. Twitter, as I discovered last year, is AMAZING. It is like a constant IV drip of information, opinions, news, and interesting people. Don't get me wrong, I love my Facebook. Via Twitter, however, I've been able to "meet" (tweet?) authors, agents, poets, and other people -- and of course, discover their blogs.

...Which led directly to me winning a blog contest! Over at terribleminds.com, author, screenwriter, and drunken lunatic Chuck Wendig held a contest in honor of reaching 5,000 twitter followers. The terms: comment with a story in three sentences. The prizes: a free pdf or Kindle version of one of his ebooks, "Irregular Creatures," "Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey," or "250 Things You Should Know About Writing," and/or a postcard. Winner gets all four, of course.

As one of the three runners-up, I got to choose an ebook. I went with the short story collection "Irregular Creatures," and began reading the pdf in the hour before midnight. Needless to say, my dreams were peppered with demonic flying cats. Satankitties, as it were. But more on that later.

To read all contest entries, including the winner and the three runners-up, click this link. My own three sentences were:

The dragon was slain, the tower door open at last -- all that stood in her way was the knight.
"Save me," he choked, blood seeping through the rents in his shining armor.
The princess smiled sweetly and stepped over him to freedom.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ambidextriosity

Inigo: "You are wonderful."
Man in Black: "Thank you; I've worked hard to become so."
Inigo: "I admit it, you are better than I am."
Man in Black: "Then why are you smiling?"
Inigo: "Because I know something you don't know."
Man in Black: "And what is that?"
Inigo: "I...am not left-handed."
[Moves his sword to his right hand and gains an advantage]
Man in Black: "You are amazing."
Inigo: "I ought to be, after 20 years."
Man in Black: "Oh, there's something I ought to tell you."
Inigo: "Tell me."
Man in Black: "I'm not left-handed either."

As you can see, a really excellent swordsman can change from using right to left hands at will. They basically make themselves ambidextrous, which must come in handy when you're chasing down the kidnappers who stole your true love and intend to kill her to start a war between Florin and Guilder.

Being ambidextrous also comes in handy when you have carpal tunnel syndrome from playing the cello, and are in so much pain you can't write with your right hand. So luckily, I who have this unfortunate problem was able to switch to my left hand last year when the pain was the worst and still take notes. Typing was a challenge, but the qwerty keyboard is constructed so that you can hit 80% of the keys with your left hand anyway.

This genetic quirk also made me a useful player in soccer, as I could kick with the left foot about as well as the right. They always need strong left-footed kickers on the left side of the field, whether in offense or defense. You think left vs. right foot doesn't make a difference? Take a soccer ball and try it out.

Also, during light-saber battles with my cousin, brother, and various friends, I always use my left hand. I don't know why, but the left feels more comfortable than the right when I'm holding a sword. Or a stick. Or a plastic light-saber. Whatever. I'm planning to join the fencing team at school next year -- they train you for a semester or so, and let you join if you're good enough.

I hope they won't react badly to a left-handed fencer -- because I know if I have to use my right hand, my carpal tunnel will kill me. It's already limited my future as a cellist; at this point, there is no way I would be physically able to practice enough to be a music major. Fortunately, I'm only a music minor. This was my decision, but having it forced -- or rather, reinforced -- by something largely outside of my control is unpleasant. To say the least. Before, I always had the option: it was my choice. Now, even though I didn't intend to be a music major anyway, the loss of that choice has been surprisingly hard.

On the upside, it's given me an excuse to snap at my mom whenever she brings up her opinions on my college and life choices.

Now, no one is truly ambidextrous; there's always one hand that is slightly stronger or that the person favors. I favor my right for writing, but my left for almost everything else. I once heard that left-handedness used to be seen as a sign that a child was a changeling.

Me: I know something you don't know.
Man in Black: What?
Me: I'm not right-handed! (or maybe, Oh crap, I am left-handed...)


In other news, I updated my Writing page to include two new reviews. You should go check them out. :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The blogpost that wasn't (or, a review of Branaugh's Twelfth Night)

Today's post was going to be a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2. However, I have been sick all weekend--I think I ate some funny crab cake--and not up to the effort. I have literally been closeted in my room all of Saturday, only emerging for the evening meal. I get extremely sour when sick (in terms of temperment, not smell), and my darkened room was transformed into the Bear Cave of Bitchiness. Far more pleasant for everyone if I didn't come out...

Whilst in the Bear Cave, when not curled into a ball of migraine misery, I was watching Twelfth Night and editing The Book. I made a feeble attempt at writing more of The Book, but gave up when my neurons started screaming after half a page. 

Branaugh's Twelfth Night is pretty good, I guess, but it's really weirdly shot for a movie. The set is very stage-like, not really movie-like at all--it looks like a set, whereas most movies try to disguise the fact that their set is a set. If that makes sense. There was an eyebrow-raising moment where the maid was sweeping up the fake snow and I was like, ok, we're sweeping fake snow? Wtf? I think that may have been a concious decision, though, because they also do some other things that are very stage-like. For example, Viola and other characters take lines and monologues out to the audience. Non-theatre-major translation: they talk directly to the camera.

This is pretty typical for theatre and especially for Shakespeare, but not at all for a movie. Movies like to keep that proscenium-stage feel of distance, because they try to create a reality separate from the viewers' reality. Usually when Shakespeare is adapted for film, monologues and asides that might have been said to a theater audience are done in voiceover. For example, Branaugh does the "more than kin and less than kind" aside as a voiceover in his version of Hamlet. For something like Twelfth Night that breaks the fourth wall (references the fact that it's a play) with lines like "If this were played upon a stage right now, I would condemn it as an improbable fiction!" it seems silly to try to pretend that it isn't a play. You get a little shock when Viola turns to the camera and seems to look you in the eye, but that's part of the experience.

Anyway, the acting is mostly wonderful. Viola, Olivia, and Orsino are the best, in my opinion. Watching the movie has been fun because I first saw the play put on by a college group--and the college production was, dare I say it, better than this movie version. Except for perhaps the Fool Feste; I love that Branaugh's Fool has depth as well as silliness. Yeah, I've got no place to critique anything Branaugh does, but who'd care about my opinion anyway?

Blah. This is a blah day and a blah blogpost (say that five times fast). As a random side note, there are a lot of really famous actors in HP who were also in Shakespearean roles. Kenneth Branaugh (Gilderoy Lockhart) played Hamlet in the film version he directed; Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) played a seriously disturbing Ophelia in Mel Gibson's Hamlet; David Tennant (Barty Crouch Jr.) also played Hamlet in another film version. So apparently you have to have been in some form of Hamlet to be cast in Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe already did a Broadway play...maybe they'll come out with a new Hamlet movie starring him! Actually, I'd like to see Tom Felton play Hamlet. He's a better actor and he's already got the tormented aura thing going on...Hermione and Ron can be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. OMG THEY SHOULD MAKE A HAMLET WITH ALL HARRY POTTER ACTORS.

Next blogpost: cast Hamlet using actors from Harry Potter. *retreats into Bear Cave of Bitchiness*

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oh, the torment bred in the race...

The kids I babysit are adorable and very nice. Occasionally difficult, but aren't all kids? If kids are a little difficult sometimes, that just means they're smart. Would you really want some robot of a kid who obeys your every command?

...Well, maybe some parents would. Case in point: my dad is washing dishes while I dry them. He is dissatisfied with the speed at which I am drying the dishes (though I'm not getting in his way). He says: "You know, if you had a drill sergeant breathing down your neck, you might consider going a little faster." Me: "Well, luckily I don't have a drill sergeant breathing down my neck, then. The dishes aren't going anywhere fast."

I firmly believe that you can't run a family like you run the military. Which brings me to the topic for today's post: "be yourself." Someone I follow on twitter tweeted a link to their blogpost "Be yourself? What do you think that really means?" I tweeted a cynical reply that was something to the effect of: "being yourself" = get good grades, go to college, land a lucrative job, and have two kids in a nice, heterosexual marriage. If you think I'm being cynical, I'm speaking purely from experience here. My mom, joker that she is, told her church friend, "I used to tell her [me], get good grades, go to college, get a paying job, get married and have kids. Now that she's going to a women's college, I tell her, get good grades, go to college, get a paying job, get married to a MAN, and have kids."

Now, I'm not a lesbian, but can you see where I would find this annoying?

So what does "be yourself" really mean? I mean, who else would you be being? I think a lot of people--kids and adults--don't know who they are. The teens and twenties are part of that exploration of self. Cliques and groups in high school, often based on style and interests, are part of that teen need to define oneself. It's my opinion that self isn't necessarily fixed; if it was, people would be irredeemable. People recreate--or destroy--themselves all the time. Significant life events change who you are. Why do adults, well past those exploratory teen years, go through mid-life crises? They don't know who they are; or rather, they are changing into a new person and missing the old one.

All these thoughts kind of converged in my brain this past Sunday, where I listened to a sermon about the prodigal son. The lesson deals with a common source of contention between parents and children--money--but in the end, the son returns to the father and the father takes him back. Now that's all very well, but what if the story had been about the prodigal daughter who comes home pregnant? Or a son who comes out to his parents? The point of the story is that parents should accept their kids no matter what, and no matter who they are. Unfortunately, "be yourself," as the tweeter replied to me, more often than not means "be a source of pride to me."

And while I'm not saying you should hurt your parents, neither should you live to please them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Defense of Slytherin ;)



Ravenclaws are smart, love to learn, and value knowledge above all. Hufflepuffs are loyal, hardworking, honest, and accepting. Gryffindors are brave -- sometimes reckless -- and value courage. And now for the House everyone seems to hate (though admittedly, there are good reasons for its reputation):

http://www.hp-lexicon.org/images/icons/shield_sly.jpg.pagespeed.ce.uL0aHDdme8.jpg

Ambitious, cunning, resourceful, with "a certain disregard for rules" -- these qualities describe members of Slytherin House. And as Hagrid (incorrectly) said in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, "there's not a witch or wizard went bad that wasn't in Slytherin." Founded by Salazar Slytherin, it has included Tom Riddle/Voldemort (Dark Lord), Bellatrix Lestrange (Death Eater), and Lucius Malfoy (rich, arrogant ass).

However, it has also included Phineas Nigellus (Hogwarts Headmaster, if a rather unpleasant person), Horace Slughorn (the quintessential college professor), Draco Malfoy (sympathetic if foolish and master of the Elder Wand), Narcissa Malfoy (the only reason Harry didn't die in the forest), Severus Snape (Death Eater turned good guy), and Regulus Black -- another Death Eater turned traitor, and a very unusual Slytherin indeed. It's a unique pureblood who's kind to house-elves, turns against Voldemort, and sacrifices himself at the age of seventeen to destroy a Horcrux, rather than letting Kreacher die. I mean, come on. Regulus is more of a hero than Sirius ever was.

Anyway, being in Gryffindor doesn't automatically make you a good guy, as Peter Pettigrew demonstrated. How the hell he got into Gryffindor in the first place beats me. Even Dumbledore, a Gryffindor, was tempted by the Dark Arts before his sister died...as a direct effect of his plans to take over the world. Percy Weasley is a Gryffindor, when his ambitions would seem to fit better with Slytherin.

Godric Gryffindor himself also stole the Sword of Gryffindor from the goblins. He was BFFs with Salazar Slytherin before their disagreement about letting Muggle-borns into Hogwarts. It's safe to assume that while Godric didn't agree with discrimination against humans, he had no qualms about treating other races badly. And really, can you blame the original Slytherin for not trusting Muggles and Muggle-borns? This was in a time when Muggles were actively persecuting and burning witches and wizards. The students they accepted into the school could have gone back to their families and been killed by them. They could have told their parents where Hogwarts was and potentially led angry Muggle mobs to the gate. If he wasn't at least a little wary, he'd be foolish.

All in all, the seventh HP book goes out of its way to blur the lines. It seems that when Slytherins are bad, they're really bad. But when they're good, they're very good. Look at Regulus and Snape. After all, as Dumbledore says in Chamber of Secrets, "It is our choices that make us who we are, not our abilities."

So if I had the choice, I would be in Slytherin just to spite everyone who hates it. ;) And being ambitious is not a bad thing. Add that to the cool, kind of goth common room and my favorite color green, and yeah, I would choose Slytherin. This is all hypothetical, of course, since I'm a Muggle. And would probably be eaten by the Basilisk, so...yeah. That part of Slytherin definitely sucks. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Teen Writers Summer Blogfest--Ask the Teens

I'm really sorry to have missed the first page critique. Vacation, you know. We just got back home at 11 last night, so bear with me.

Today the other participants and I will be answering questions submitted by readers about YA lit, what teens prefer, how teens read, etc. I am grateful for a chance to answer these kinds of questions. Often, when I read the blogs of agents and editors, they'll make broad, assumptive, and/or high-and-mighty statements about young adults and young adult literature--to which my indignant reaction is, "That's not true!" Or at least, not as true as they seem to believe.

So, we have four questions from Jess, which I will endeavor to answer. :)

1.) Middle grade novels are defined as books for the 8-12 age range. Do teens still read middle grade fiction as they get older (for example, Harry Potter is an example of middle grade that's read by teens and adults) or are they naturally attracted to books with older themes and characters? Is it uncool to still read middle grade as you enter your teens?

"Middle grade novels are defined as books for the 8-12 age range." The first thing I'd like to say is that these "rules," like the Pirate Code, are more like guidelines anyway. ;) I was reading MG younger than 8; so were most of my friends. I know most 13-year-olds still read MG, as do many 14-year-olds and some 15-year-olds. This might be to finish the end of a series they liked in middle school, or because of personal preference. The Percy Jackson books are MG, yet my high school library still stocked them and most of my friends read and liked them, even if I didn't. The Graveyard Book is an example of a novel on the mature end of the MG spectrum that I read just last year, and I'm 18.

As for Harry Potter, the first few books may have been MG, but the rest definitely aren't. One of the reasons I think the series was and is so successful is because it matured as its readership did--and I'm not just talking about the characters getting older; I mean the plot complexity, writing style, and themes as well. To the question of whether it's "cool" or not to read MG fiction as you age, the best answer I can give is that it just depends on the reader's maturity, interests, and personality.

2. This is arguable, but it's been said that the teen years see a decrease in boy readership. Can you mention some books that you know male teenagers seem to be attracted to? Obviously, this depends on the reader, but are there books/themes that male teens connect to more than others?

Eh, again, it depends on the people. I think guys read as much as ever, but it's less cool to be seen reading. Anyway, the boy who doesn't read for fun in high school was the same boy who thought reading was uncool in middle school and who struggled in reading in elementary school. Personality again, and the inadequacies of the school system. Also, reading is seen as inactive--and boys are, for some reason, perceived as and expected to be more active than girls. Obviously this is a prejudiced view. In my own experience, I knew just as many girls as boys who didn't read for fun in high school, and just as many boys as girls who did.

I would also like to point out that perhaps the reason people think guys don't read YA is because the YA market kind of excludes them. Sexy men, female pov, and swooning vampires don't exactly attract straight guys. Hence, reading = either for girls or gays. No wonder it's not cool for guys to admit they like reading. Harsh, but that's the perception encouraged by the market.

Books I've heard my guy friends talk about:
- Eragon and the rest of the Inheritance Cycle
- Pendragon series (<3)
- Harry Potter
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (that's why I picked it up myself)
- Eon
- Ender's Game
- Alex Rider books

3.) So many books and book series are being turned into films for the teen audience. Are you satisfied with the movie versions that you've seen recently? Can you comment on a few, both good and bad?

Movies are never the same as books, and I usually don't mind the adaptations. However, Eragon the movie was terrible compared to the book, one of the worst adaptations I've ever seen. I liked all the characters, but they kinda threw the plot out the window. 

4.) I would like to know how you go about choosing a book to read. Is it the cover? The title? Word of mouth?

Usually, if someone I know has good/similar taste, I'll check out a book they recommend. Word gets around about what books are good or popular, and often I'll read them either to know what the fuss is about or if the premise sounds interesting. However, the title has a big influence on whether I read the book. If someone asks me what I'm reading, I don't want to be embarrassed by answering with a cliche or otherwise embarrassing title. Childish, perhaps, but important. Also, if the title is uninspired, I have no reason to believe the rest of the book will be any different. It has to impress me, intrigue me, and draw me in. A great example of a title, though not YA, is The Other Boleyn Girl. You're like, "Boleyn girl as in Anne Boleyn? But not her, so what other Boleyn girl? Did she have a sister? No way, I had no idea..." *reads back cover* "Yikes, incest...Hmm, I might have to read this just to find out!"

As for cover art, I find it usually tells nothing important about the book except whether or not there is likely to be sex.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Spending the 4th in Mississippi

This year, I'm spending July 4th with my grandparents in Mississippi. Here, you can get REAL (read: dangerous) fireworks, unlike the pissy little sparklers they limit you to in Maryland.

The fireworks were actually an anticlimax this year, but who cares--I've been in a nearly constant state of geekout since Saturday. I WENT TO FAULKNER'S HOUSE!!! (the one in Oxford, near University of Mississippi--or as the locals call it, Ole Miss). No better way to celebrate the 4th of July than to visit the home of a legendary American novelist...unless you follow up that visit with lunch at the Ajax Diner, home of the most orgasmically tasty mac-an-cheese on the face of the planet. NO SERIOUSLY. IT IS AMAZING. I had a sausage po-boy sandwich and stole my mom's mac-an-cheese. They also had amazing salads, classics like chicken and dumplings and catfish, AND an extensive vegetarian menu.

And just when you're thinking you can't POSSIBLY top that...there's Square Books. It's a sad fact that e-books and Amazon are slowly destroying the indie (independent) bookstores. It's getting ever more difficult to find quality indie bookstores, and even harder to find said bookstores of a good size. But fear not, state of Mississippi (and the rest of America), because Square Books is all that and more. It's well-organized, personalized and personable, and it has a coffee shop with reading tables on the second story. And if you have kids, there's a Square Books Jr. across the street.

I guess it helps business that Oxford is a college town and the home of William Faulkner from 1930-62. I bought/stiff-armed my parents into buying Sanctuary (Faulkner), Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, and Xenocide (Orson Scott Card). I've started with the Welty stories, and they are fresh and delightful to read--like literary snacks for when you're not hungry enough to consume a Faulkner novel.

Today initiated a fresh geekout--I got to visit the ONLY PETRIFIED FOREST IN THE EASTERN U.S. I used to have a serious obsession/hobby with rocks of all kinds, and as I looked around the visitor center and museum, I could feel old bits of knowledge and passion rekindling. After petting the yowling cat outside, I purchased some new samples for my collection: a Thunderegg from Oregon, Tlaloc (Rain God) agate from Mexico, Bird's-Eye jasper, and Mississippi agate. And then it rained...I blame the Thunderegg and Tlaloc. They were having a rain god showdown in my sample bag, or something. Also we ate at Penn's, where I had another po-boy sandwich (fried catfish) and my mom refused to let my dad buy chicken livers.

OK, geekout over. I know I was supposed to do an interview today for TWSB--but I left it to the last minute and then tried to interview my brother. Yeah...

May the Fourth (of July. get it??) be with you. I have had waaay too much sweet tea.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

TWSB--On Reading, Romance, and my YA pet peeves

"Read, read, read. Read everything." - William Faulkner


What I just finished: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King *shiver*

What I'm reading now: Longitude by Dava Sobel; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Across the Wall by Garth Nix; Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

On my reading list for later: The Count of Monte Cristo, Four Plays by Oscar Wilde, and Vanity Fair. What can I say, Barnes and Noble had a deal on classics--buy two get one free. Whether and when I will actually finish them is another question.

Favorite genre: I like epic fantasy, but there's surprisingly little of it in YA. Perhaps the People in Charge think teens can't handle the complexity or the length, or something. Who knows. I read an interview with Tamora Pierce, author of many YA fantasy quartets--she was asked why she'd switched to writing pairs of books instead of quartets. Her dryly humorous answer was that Harry Potter had proved kids were willing and able to reading longer books.

I'm a little insulted, but there is a stigma that teens hate reading. Is this true? If so, why? Personally, I think teens hate reading assigned books--usually classics with archaic language, complicated syntax, and (sorry, English teachers everywhere) uninteresting plotlines. And there's no incentive other than grades to read them. But while YA is a genre written for teens, that doesn't mean it has to be written down for teens. What do you think?

Least favorite genre: One thing I don't like about YA is the recent flooding of the market with vampires. And when vampires became passe, zombies--and then werewolves, angels, demons, etc. I guess I'm tired of paranormal...and especially paranormal romance. It's not that I hate paranormal YA--there are some paranormal titles I really enjoyed. 

My problem with paranormal romance is that I like the paranormal but not the romance. Actually, my least favorite genre in YA is romance in general. This is because I am, unabashedly, a cynic. Usually YA protags are high-school-aged, and for me, that means the stakes aren't high enough. So what, high school romance. It seems like the world at the time, but you're probably going to break up after graduation, go to separate colleges, and hook up with other people.

And now everyone else in this blogfest hates me. Darned idealists. :P If it makes you feel any better, my favorite novel of all time is a romance--and ironically, an assigned book for AP Lit: Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hursten.

Returning to the topic of YA romance, I am also hugely annoyed by this plot setup: Girl with problems meets dream boy, falls in love, boy shows her the light and helps her overcome her problems. Are relationships confidence-building? Yes. Should you use relationships as a crutch to overcome your insecurities? Hell fuck to the no (pardon my French). I had a boyfriend who tried to do this with me. And it's not as warm and fuzzy as it looks on paper. I'm also something of a feminist, and this setup bothers me because girl with problems needs dream boy to "show her the way." Being the realist I am, I wonder what happens when she breaks up with dream boy. Do all her insecurities return--or even get worse? Does she jump into the arms of another dream boy to fill the hole in her heart and boost her self-esteem? After watching friends do this to themselves, I can't stand to read it in YA without wanting to scream "What, what, WHAT are you doing?!?"

The other bothersome plot setup in YA romance is balanced girl meets moody boy with troubled past, falls in love, and sticks around no matter what he does to her. Think Twilight (except Twilight is really a combination of this plot and the one described above). It reminds me of a sarcastic article I read somewhere that said if Satan came to Earth, he’d have a posse of fans. “He’s the Devil!” “But I love him!” “He’s Satan!” “I can change him!”

And that's my two cents on reading. :)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Writing Two Books at Once

In a previous blogpost, I said that I live to write, instead of writing to live. I suppose this is fortunate in that I don't have to churn out stories, articles, or poems on a daily basis to earn my bread. However, it's unfortunate in that writing is not a Top Priority. I don't have to do it, no matter how much I want or like to, and that means it can be shunted to the background in favor of more immediate, pressing activities. Mainly, schoolwork. I know, I know--this means I'm not really a writer, right? Just a college kid with writer pretensions (or, as I prefer to think of it, ambitions. Can I get a cheer for Slytherin?).

But school's out for the summer, and The Book has been chugging along remarkably. I just passed the 200,000-word mark...and was torn between doing a victory dance and killing myself. 200K is acceptable for epic fantasy, since the genre practically demands a multitude of characters, complex plotlines, and paragraphs upon paragraphs of world-building. So I wouldn't be upset with 200K as a finished project, but THE BOOK ISN'T FINISHED. In terms of plot, I still have about a quarter of the way to go, maybe 50-60K words. THAT'S A LOT OF FUCKING WORDS.

As they say in acting, though, it's easier to start big and then pull back. If you don't have the high emotion/lot of fucking words in the first place, you can't dig deeper because you're always struggling to build up. My writing tends toward the flowery (I blame my 10th-grade English teacher for introducing me to Faulkner), and while it's not bad writing, the flowers need pruning before they take over the yard.

First I have to actually finish. Despite my best intentions and summer productivity, writer's block keeps cropping up. Sometimes I'll finish a section and be too mentally exhausted to do anything but edit what I just wrote. Sometimes I need a while to iron out exactly how I want to start a chapter or introduce a character. Either way, there are these dead periods where I don't write anything new...until now. Until I had another IDEA. *bright lights and angels singing*

Many writers scream NO NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?! to people who work on more than one project at once. Since I started this second one in earnest, I've actually made more progress on BOTH projects than if I'd kept slogging away at just the one. Maybe it's a personality difference--works for some, doesn't for others. I've always been good at multitasking. However, I think the biggest help has been having something to fill the dead spaces. I'm stuck on The Book, so I work on the Other Book until I get stuck there, and then come back to the first problem refreshed and ready to think about something else. It at least gives the illusion of productivity, and I never have an excuse not to write.


In other news, I'm participating in Teen Writer Summer Blogfest (TWSB). Expect the posts to start in July!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blog speed date

I lifted this idea for a blogpost from Jessica Faust at BookEndsLLC, which is, by the way, a fantastic blog about reading, writing, agenting, and publishing books. The concept behind speed dating is that you get a short time, say ten minutes, to sit down with someone and get to know them. While I'm nobody important, I liked the interview format on BookEnds--it's very, well, bookish--and thought you might want to know a little more about me. So...

Name or internet pseudonym: Laura Wise (hence the @Laura_the_Wise of Twitter fame :P)

Currently reading: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, Lord Sunday by Garth Nix, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Next on the reading list: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman...and I'm probably overdue for a re-read of Harry Potter as well. ;) I also want to tackle a classic or two this summer, and I'm thinking about reading Vanity Fair.

Three authors living or dead you'd want to have dinner with: Stephen King, William Shakespeare, and...do I have to pick just three?? Oh fine, Philippa Gregory, because I'd want to talk to her about her historical interpretations of people like Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Grey...

Glass half-full or half-empty: Well, that depends. Is it tomato juice or a frappucino? If tomato, half-empty. If frappucino, it had better be half-full.

Tea or coffee: While I love good coffee (two cream, two sugar), it's easier to get good tea than good coffee. So both, I suppose, but given the choice I'd probably take tea.

Live to write or write to live: A little of both. I get paid to write articles online, and will hopefully be paid to write other things in future. But mostly, since writing serves no practical purpose in my life, I live to write.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'M IN A RAGE

There are a few things that get me this mad. This post will discuss one: BOOK BANNING. Also, an article in the Wall Street-fucking-Journal that I can't believe was published.

Read it and weep. The author states that YA (young adult) fiction is becoming far too dark for kids "12 to 18." Here are some of the other things she says:

"How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear" --> This sets up the maddenly condescending tone of the rest of the piece.

"A careless young reader [...] will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality, and losses of the most horrendous kinds." --> What "horrendous kinds" are we talking about here? Maybe if you want kids to find themselves surrounded by joy and beauty, you should stop trying to ban books and start trying to legalize marijuanna.

"No happy ending to this one, either." --> And this is objectionable how? Where are all the people who complain that happy endings to fairy tales and Disney movies give kids dangerous illusions about the world? Most teens can smell morality tales and contrived life lessons a mile off. They're no longer naive enough to believe that happy endings are the only kind out there.

"Alas, literary culture is not sympathetic to adults who object either to the words or storylines in young adult books." --> Condescending again. Young adults hate condescension. Perhaps that's why they read books that don't talk down to them--books that prove they are capable of dealing with tough subjects and tough language. What this author is saying is, "Don't touch that book, Jimmy, it's too grown-up." To which the young adult replies, "It's James, and I am grown up."

"In the book trade, this is known as 'banning.' In the parenting trade, however, we call it 'judgement' or 'taste.'"  ....*barf* *headdesk* *eye twitch* Can I move to Canada?

"Every year the American Library Association delights in releasing a list of the most frequently challenged books" (those free-thinking hippies!) "[...] including Suzanne Collins's hyper-violent, best-selling 'Hunger Games' trilogy and Alexie Sherman's prize-winning 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.'" --> The Hunger Games? "Hyper-violent?" It has violence--but perhaps what she and the other challengers really object to is the idea of a dystopian world and The Government as the bad guy. As for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, it's a fantastic book and should, if anything, be read more widely instead of banned.

And finally, the last few sentences proclaim... "The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives."

As if the article itself weren't enough, Mrs. Gurdon goes on to offer a list of acceptable YA books--divided into "Books for Young Men" and "Books for Young Women." Censorship and sexism, folks. This is this kind of thing "responsible parents" promote.

Can you understand why I'm "in a rage," to quote A Very Potter Sequel? (And while we're at it, why not ban the Harry Potter books as well, for dealing with murder, death, magic, and -- OMG -- puberty?) I could go on and on and on ranting about this article and the views that inspired it; however, there are better people out there on the Internet who have responded much more maturely than I have.

For instance, a New Yorker article about the #YAsaves hashtag received three very thoughtful, reasonable, curse-word-free comments. The article, sadly, isn't anywhere near as thoughtful or well-written as the comments from 3 random people on the Internet.

If you're as interested/irritated by this debate as I am, you will definitely want to read these rebuttals to Mrs. Gurdon's article. I'm sure you'll agree with all of them--but these responses are so eloquent, clever, emotional, or sarcastic that it's worth reading all of them anyway.

Why The Best Kids' Books Are Written in Blood by Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Maureen Johnson, YA author, responds in The Guardian: YA shows teens they aren't alone
A snarky letter by a former bookseller
Another YA author who suggests WSJ and Mrs. Gurdon go fuck yourselves ;)
A literary agent talks about art and taking teens--and YA--seriously


In other news, I want to be an English teacher just so I can assign banned books.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blogging Slump

This blog is in a bit of a slump right now...I haven't posted regularly. Sometimes I don't post for almost the whole month. Sometimes I write a burst of posts, then get depressed when no one comments. Then I don't post for a while. And the cycle continues...

I suppose it's to be expected. I mean, it is summer. And unlike other kids/people, I spend summers outside getting into shenanigans instead of inside playing video games or noodling around on the Internet. Or if it's hideously hot and humid like today, I at least spend summers getting into shenanigans inside. Or I'm in California with one of my best friends, eating durians and driving on the freeway (shudder). Or with the same friend, camping in the woods...naked. (KIDDING.)

But I did learn to embroider while in California. It's a time-consuming but rewarding hobby--especially now that that boring white jacket I never wear now has a flower design on the front in a lovely shade of purple. In addition to embroidering, I've also been scribbling away at that story, along with some other things. My evil plan for next semester's Writing of Poetry class is to write all the poems this summer, in order to minimize my future homework load.

The cello, which has missed me for two weeks while I was in sunny Cali, is getting major attention as well. I have pulled out every piece I ever hated and am making myself learn and re-learn them. Chief among them is the most annoying tune for cello ever written---Gavotte No. 2, by David Popper (YouTube link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbofp_eCNgU) Julian Lloyd Weber seems to take it seriously. My interpretation is a little more sarcastic...

Well, I'm off to practice, write, and apply for jobs. :P In the meantime, some other mad cello skills for your viewing pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJWjYLG3B7o

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Unfortunate Importance of Money

Money is important. Well, duh. But it's not until you get to be eighteen and your parents threaten to kick you out/disown you/stop paying for college that you realize how EXTREMELY important money is.

The parental threat(s) came with the stipulation that said threats would not become a reality if I got a job. And believe me, Mom and Dad, there is nothing I'd like more to do. Because then I could rent a cheap apartment for $250-400 a month, survive on ramen noodles and cereal, not pay campus housing fees, AND stay there for the summer (to avoid being a burden on my poor unfortunate white middle-class parents).

The main problem with me getting a job right now is that EVERY college student home for the summer is trying to get a job. And with me only being available for about 4 weeks out of the entire summer--a spread-out 4 weeks at that--my chances of being hired over kids stuck at home for the whole 2 to 2 1/2 months are slim.

Still, I have options. The site I write for has begun to offer up-front payments ($10 and higher) for book reviews. I can volunteer at the library or the SPCA, which gives me work experience if not money. I can write for local papers and submit to contests. And as a musician, I have the options of playing at weddings and giving music lessons. And if I'm tossed out the door to fend for my own broke ass, I'll take my cello and play on street corners for money. Kidding. I hope...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Science Writing

This May Term, I had the experience of taking a course called Writing Creatively About Science, taught by author Dava Sobel (Longitude, The Planets, Galileo's Daughter). We read and analyzed pieces ranging from New Yorker articles, nonfiction science books--like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (which I recommend to everyone who likes science, human stories, social and legal issues, or a good read), self-selected science writing and science fiction, and science-themed poetry. We looked at content, writing style, grammar, craft, and ways different authors treated their topics. I think everyone came away with a clearer understanding of what "science writing" means.

My conclusion: if artists are so stereotypically fluid and flexible, like water, they should logically possess some of water's fascinating properties. For example, being able to fit to the shape of their container as well as being able to sprawl across the floor in an abstract blob. They should also be able to hold heat during the day and release it at night, regulating the temperature of their surroundings. They boil, evaporate, and rain again in a predictable cycle. They can be ice or clouds.

My point being: science writing shouldn't scare people--writers or readers. It's an art just like any other writing you might do in your life--just with more fact-checking involved. If anything, good science writing requires more artistic and technical skill than fiction, because anyone can dish out information. Good science writers, on the other hand, can explain that information without condescension, present their topic in a way that's relevant, and make you care about something you've never heard of before. Nonfiction writing is still, essentially, storytelling.

People seem to have this idea that science and math are rigid and inflexible, whereas fiction and literature explore the great questions of life. But in reality, science, math, and literature are all different ways of exploring the same great questions. Are you afraid of Shakespeare? Are you afraid of reading The Science Times? Cast aside your fears! Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side--a.k.a. a view of the world where you are hiding in a box with literature or science (whatever your preference), and everything outside of that box is feared and hated.

Sadly, that seems to be the trend in the modern world. Specialists specialize in ever-more-specific topics, and readers rarely venture outside their comfort zones. The "Renaissance (wo)man" is unkindly known as the "jack-of-all-trades," and the education system grooms kids for job slots that fit their tested personality and aptitude types.

What is your box? And how can you explore the world outside of it?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reflections on a year of college

It's been a year--and what have I done?

"That's what my daddy always used to ask me on my birthday. 'What have you done for yourself this year, honey?' And if I didn't have a good enough answer, he'd eat the whole cake himself. He made smashing cakes...It is my personal opinion, Abby, that a person should have an interesting accomplishment added to their existence at the end of each year. I, for one, have had a different job every year since I was twenty-six. Aside from this one, of course." -from the one-act play Abby's Birthday, by Matt Minachino

Abby's Birthday is about an assassin who kidnaps Abby--a typical, Paris-Hilton-type spoiled rich kid and aspiring actress--on her 20th birthday. The above is a line from the assassin, Diane. In answer to that, I can say that I played Abby in Abby's Birthday for the one-act festival this May Term. :) I also played Katherine Howard (wife #5 of Henry VIII) in another one-act, The Rose Club. In case that's not a good enough answer for Diane, I also...

- survived freshman year of college with good grades
- wrote a portfolio of science poetry (bleh, another post on that later :P)
- read oodles of books and plays (for school and homework, but still)
- made and ate a bundt cake containing M&M's
- got 3rd place in a poetry contest :)
- was published in the online Outrageous Fortune literary magazine--a college operation, but every little step counts...
- half-heartedly filled out some job applications
- flew to California (in an airplane)
- dyed my hair black. Well, technically it's dark-dark-brown, but it pretty much looks black. :DDD <3

On the other hand, I...
- got carpal tunnel syndrome :'(
- spent way too much money in college
- let my book laze along
- stayed up too late
- slept in too long
- had insomnia issues
- failed to post as regularly as I should...sorry...
- enjoyed myself far too much when I should be stressing out over responsible things. ;)

All in all, I think this was a successful year.

Now for summer--tedious long car trips to visit relatives while trying not to strangle my brother, attempting to get a job, surviving the East Coast humidity, seeing Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean, writing stuff as usual, fending off boredom...But for now, it's May and I'm in L.A., enjoying myself, admiring my new black pixie cut (I look slightly like Alice Cullen), and taking advantage of the very nice library.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Badass Movie One-Liners (inspired by Molly Weasley)

The new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows trailer, which includes a clip of Molly Weasley vs. Bellatrix Lestrange, had me all but jumping up and down in nerdy enthusiasm last night. So without further ado, I give you a list of badass movie one-liners, inspired by J.K. Rowling's awesomest mom ever. Anyway...

"NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" -Molly Weasley, future Deathly Hallows movie

"I don't believe in no-win scenarios" -Kirk from Star Trek

 "The name's Bond...James Bond" -James Bond, from James Bond (duh)

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die" -The Princess Bride

"I'll make you an offer you can't refuse" -The Godfather

Often, badass lines are accompanied by equally badass actions. For example, the "Luke I am your father" card would not be nearly as effective if Darth Vader hadn't just cut off his son's hand. So the whole line is more like *hand chop* *scream* *Darth Vader says coolly* "No, Luke...I am your father." *audience horrified gasp*. Likewise, these next few...

"For Frodo" *charges the gates of Mordor* -Aragorn

"There is only one Lord of the Ring...and he does not share power!" *throws himself off tower* -Gandalf

"YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" *slams down staff on tiny bridge* -more Gandalf

"Fly, you fools!" *falls and dies* -Gandalf again

"I find your lack of faith disturbing" *force choke* -Darth Vader

As you can see, Lord of the Rings has a lot of epic lines. They're epic movies. Same thing with Star Wars. I could keep listing these, but then this post would be really, really long and I would reveal myself to be even nerdier than you already think I am. ;) Besides, I kinda want to hear your favorite badass lines...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I've been a bad blogger...

Well, I've been a bad blogger (say that one five times fast). At least this month. I've only had five posts for the month of April, nothing particularly interesting to say, and have barely tweeted or shared posts to Facebook where people might actually be directed to read them. On the plus side, you all have been patient and nice enough to comment on my posts this month, so thanks. :)

Most of that is due to Hell Week and finals week; some of it is due to me writing reviews instead; and some of it is just me being lazy. Sorry about the lazy part. Hopefully, my life will get itself back on a normal schedule for the rest of this last term and May will see a more prolific blog! But first I have two questions for you:

The first is easy. What would you like to read about? I generally just ramble about my interests, but if there's something particular you'd like to read, go ahead and leave suggestions. I do have all those now-deleted movie reviews, the rights to which should belong to me again...

Secondly, I have been thinking about putting ads on the blog. Just thinking, mind you, because it's a step I'm wary about taking. Obviously it's worked for some people, but Google gets to choose the ads that would appear, and then there's the principle of the thing. I'm really only considering this because I got a lecture from the parental unit about "not selling your services cheaply" and "taking advantage of opportunities" and "don't you know what you can do out there on the Web?" Thank you, Mom and Dad, I do, and probably know a lot more than you about it. So what if I can earn half a cent every time someone clicks on an ad? Is it worth it? Am I compromising some vital blog principle? Probably not, but still...


In other news, I have roles in two one-act plays this term and will be taking the course "Writing Creatively About Science" with Dava Sobel, acclaimed science/historical fiction writer and author of Galileo's Daughter. Fun stuff.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Very Hyperactive Easter To You All!

What are you doing this Easter? Besides gorging yourself on candy? ;) Or bouncing off the walls? Or drinking wine or whatever you gave up for Lent? (I am watching YouTube!!!)

A side note (ooh! A shiny distraction!!): Maybe it was watching the Dr. Who Christmas Carol last night, but I'm getting this urge to watch The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It's the two biggest Christian holidays and World War Two all in one movie. :P Actually, though, the reason I'm thinking about Dr. Who and A Christmas Carol is because it related uncannily well to the Easter sermon today, "Thieves in Paradise," with the reading from Luke about the thieves on the crosses next to Jesus. One had a deathbed conversion and Jesus told him he would go to Paradise/Heaven. Which reminded me of A Christmas Carol, of course--though there's not actually anything overtly Christian in the story; and in the time period, Christmas wasn't officially celebrated--but you can probably see where I'm going with this. Deathbed/end-of-life turnarounds, even for Scrooges.

And now I shall endeavor to calm down and tell you about something IMPORTANT--a great post by my twitterfriend and blogger Andi Judy Black (@JudyBlackCloud on twitter), writer and MFA-student-to-be. Anyway, being a writer and writing for writers, she did a charity spotlight about books. Books for soldiers, that is, an organization that takes donates for books and other care packages for soliders overseas. Read about it here => http://judyblackcloud.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/charity-spotlight-books-for-soldiers/
and I encourage you to register as a volunteer and donate.

Another link for your amusement--the contest winners from this year's Peep Show: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/peeps-show-v/2011/04/11/AF3NYHSD_gallery.html If you don't live in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia and don't know about the Peep Show, it's a contest in marshmallow peep dioramas, sculptures, and art. This is its fifth year. (Would I spam you with porn? Really? Trust me and click on the link! These are hilarious.)

And if you don't know what marshmallow peeps are, or their very interesting properties, you may be interested in some humorous scientific research: http://www.peepresearch.org/index.html. Also, before you eat one of these cute, harmless-looking little marshmallows, you should know that THE EYES OF PEEPS CANNOT BE DISSOLVED. So when we wipe ourselves out in nuclear war, the only records of life on this planet will be cockroaches...and peep eyes. How's that for a nice thought?

As you can see, I have consumed way too much sugar and am going to go crash now. Have fun with Easter, Books for Soldiers, and marshmallow peeps. :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Outrageous Fortune

"To be or not to be; that is the question--
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
and by opposing, end them."

Et cetera. It's from Hamlet (in case you didn't know/in case that play has not quite penetrated every part of popular Western culture), and it inspired the name of my college's online literary magazine. Outrageous Fortune. Coincidentally, it's the only online college literary magazine made up of undergraduate work only, and it's run professionally--like literary magazines in the "real world," the editors may not publish their own work. The only graduates allowed to submit to the magazine are MBC alumnae, and I their work is published on a separate page. So if you're an undergrad or know any artistically inclined undergrads, tell them to submit--poetry, prose, and art! :)

Anyway, I'm blogging about this because Outrageous Fortune has just launched their new Spring 2011 edition and I'm in it! I was in a previous edition for my poem "Prayer" (which you can find in the archives if you feel like looking). This time I didn't submit poetry, as you might guess, but photography--my photo "Country Church #2" can be found in the Art section. My roommate's poem about unrequited love also got in, and there's loads of great poetry besides. I haven't had a chance to look through the whole thing yet, so I can't tell you my favorites...not that I'd want to bias you. ;)

Wouldn't it be great if instead of "Get free ipod! Click this link!!!" spammers said, "See awesome poetry, prose, and art! Click this link!!!" and then led you here: http://www.mbc.edu/outrageousfortune/

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reflections on Lent, Kittens, Libraries, etc.

So I gave up Youtube for Lent, but I'll get to that in a second. First of all, Shiloh Rules is over and the performances went wonderfully. Secondly, I am in denial of finals week (finals week? What finals week? What on earth are you talking about, voices?) And thirdly, this is National Library Week. I am celebrating this week dedicated to America's libraries by tweeting twaiku -- twitter haiku in 17 syllables and 140 characters. For example: "The boy is embarrassed / to be at the library-- / and then he sees her." The twaiku contest is hashtagged #nlwtwaiku and the prizewinner gets a $50 Amazon gift card (which the winner will, of course, use to buy books).

But back to Lent.

In the past, I've given up chocolate, soda, fast food, and makeup. One year I decided to write a poem for every day of Lent -- I produced a few haiku and a weird poem about roadkill, but I soon discovered that Lent vows kinda go the same way as New Year's resolutions. You tend to forget them after a week or two. But I gave up YouTube for Lent this year; I've kept to it despite the at times horrendous temptation; and I honestly think it was not a good decision. I'll even go so far as to say it was a bad decision. This has been one of the most depressing Lent seasons of my life (whether related to YouTube deprival or not). Which I suppose is sort of the point, but still.

Oh, well, I guess I shouldn't complain. Maybe a more depressing Lent means my life will be proportionally more cheeful after Easter. But then some things about Lent are just absurd. For instance, the Presbyterian church didn't technically even start celebrating Ash Wednesday until the 1970's. Even today many Protestants think of Lent as a "Catholic thing." And did you know that the only reason you can't say "Alleluia" (or hallelujah, take your pick) is because a long time ago some people decided it sounded too pretty for such a serious, depressing season in the Church year?

Being honest with myself, though, giving up YouTube has gotten me more into the spirit of Lent...even if I haven't been to a single church service since starting college. (Don't tell my dad.) I use YouTube to watch videos about humor, current events, movie trailers, music, A Very Potter Musical, and of course adorable kittens (don't judge me). Basically I decided to give up a very large chunk of "things that cheer Laura up after hours of school and rehearsal." No wonder I'm feeling down, right?

Still, here we have an interesting philosophical question. By giving up YouTube, I have realized how much I really use it as a kind of music and humor therapy. I have Pandora, but it's not the same as watching Dudamel conduct Danzon No.2 (many <3 to Dudamel, and to that eargasmic piece). Therefore, I will never take YouTube for granted again and when I permit myself to return to it after Easter, I will be that much more appreciative. The question is: if I actually use YouTube to enrich and enjoy my life, would God/Jesus rather I did not give it up? Or would they rather me be gloomy because I can't watch/listen to adorable kittens? Ok, ok...but in all seriousness, wouldn't God want you to enjoy life? Rather than plunge into a mini-depression every Lent season? Perhaps someone should check suicide statistics for the 40 days of Lent. Or is said mini-depression supposed to make you enjoy/appreciate life more by comparison?  Are you supposed to realize that some people have no interest in Dudamel or eargasms or have never seen a cute kitten in their lives?

I think we can conclude from this that I gave up something harmless for Lent; that watching YouTube in moderation will not destroy my soul; that YouTube is not as frivolous as I probably thought it was when planning my Lent; God likes kittens; Lent should teach you some kind of lesson, whatever the hell it is; and you should not take little, frivolous, harmless things like YouTube and kittens and Dudamel's hair for granted.


In other news, I auditioned for the one act plays this term. *fingers crossed*

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shiloh Rules

My posts this month have been very spotty (nonexistent really), for which I apologize. Recently I've been working on a play that is consuming the greater part of my life and health. As assistant stage manager, I'm basically the Cinderella of the theater: I get there half an hour early to sweep the floor, organize everyone's stuff, call out lines when the actors forget them, make sure people have their props, do odd jobs, put everything away at the end of the night, and finally, stay late to wash all the dishes. What did I say? Cinderella.

It's very time-consuming but worth it--there's a lot of fun that goes along with it and the play, Shiloh Rules, is awesome. It's a comedy-drama (I would call it a "dramedy,"  but I hate that word) about Civil War reenactors. Specifically, the 144th Battle of Shiloh--and the women in competition for the title of Best Female Reenactor of the Year. The North is represented by Miss Clara May Abbott, Union field nurse and "Angel of Antietam." Her assistant this year is Meg Barton, a college student who's in it for the extra credit. The South is represented by Mrs. Cecilia Pettison, a true mystery--no one knows where she comes from, and she seems to really live in 1862 (mentally, at least). Cecilia's assistant is LucyGale Scruggs, a FedEx route tracker whose real job seems boring and lifeless compared to the reenactment. Meanwhile, the "Widow Beckwith" (Buckie Beckwith, cookhouse provider, newsletter publisher, and profiteer) sells artifacts and souveniers--some legally obtained, most not--to both sides, and the African-American Ranger Wilson patrols the park looking for any illegal activity, seriously annoyed by these crazies who want to act out the Civil War.

The play is all women (being a women's college, we tend to do a lot of those). The comedy is highly entertaining, and the drama gets genuinely disturbing. I've had a blast being crew for this play, even if it has destroyed a good part of my physical and mental health. Blogposts will be much more frequent after Sunday the 10th, our last performance...

Moral of the story: Crewbies are overworked, underappreciated members of the theatre world who do a lot and don't sleep nearly enough. Next time you see a show--whether it's on Broadway or at a local college--look at the pretty set, listen to the sound effects, ooh and ahh at the light design, and admire the costumes and cool props knowing that there are a lot of people backstage who put that together and made the actors look good. Obviously I'm not biased at all...

In other news, I wrote a new book review--The Abhorsen Trilogy Book One: Sabriel. http://www.brighthub.com/arts/books/articles/113273.aspx