So it begins…(again)

28 Jun

Today is June 28, 2014. I can’t believe it.

It’s funny how, when you’re anticipating something, the build up to it can be so momentous that the actual event itself feels like an anticlimax—not because the event isn’t a big deal, but because you’re no longer anticipating it. It’s here. It’s now. It’s happening. And it’s completely surreal.

If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, no, it’s not the Colombia/Uruguay World Cup match. It’s the 100th anniversary of the day that Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip shot the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, setting in motion the July Crisis of 1914.

And leading to a declaration of war on July 28, 1914.

If I were not obsessed with the First World War, this would be a day of mild interest for me. I’d probably read some Wikipedia articles to brush up on the details of the events. I might mention it to my family or friends, in passing, or at dinner. “Fun fact: Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated 100 years ago today.”

For you guys reading this, that’s probably how it works for you.

For me…I’m not sure what’s going on? I’m not sure what to do. I feel like I ought to do something, but unlike some other WWI-related dates that will come up in the next four years, there aren’t any appropriate commemoratory activities that leap to mind. But there is this distinct sense of (how to explain this?) inexorable forward motion.

It’s exciting. It’s intense. It’s a little anxiety-inducing. I feel like I’ve jumped aboard a moving train and I should be paying attention to every moment of the ride, only I can’t, because I’m supposed to be living my life at the same time, but everything that’s happening is only happening now, and the 100th anniversary of these events will never come again.

But then again, neither will any other moment in life.

Anyhow, I haven’t worked out what to do today. But I’ll do something. In the meantime, I leave you with this epic silliness that had me laughing until I cried:

Oh, and I nearly forgot—chatting with a friend yesterday reminded me that I never updated you all on the outcome of my last post, which I realize was rather a cliffhanger! Significant events that have happened since then:

  • I got a job! (Specifically, the job I mention not getting in that previous post…it’s a long story, but yeah, I managed to get it and to get it on my terms, so that’s a thing that happened.)
  • I, somewhat unexpectedly, won a scholarship that would cover about 1/6 the cost of attending the postgrad program(me) in the UK.
  • Even with both of those things, I was highly reluctant to acquire more debt in order to attend this school.
  • There is still a very, very slight chance things could work out so I can attend this year, but it is very very slight.
  • The university confirmed that it would allow me to keep my offer and simply defer attending for a year (meaning that I don’t have to reapply if I wish to attend during the 2015-2016 school year).
  • Since I couldn’t definitively commit to attending this year, I turned down the scholarship so that someone else could have it.
  • I’m going to apply for every scholarship under the sun this fall so that I can be sure I’ll be able to do this grad school thing next year.
  • Now that I have a job, I have the means to travel to the UK and do WWI-related stuff in a nonacademic context, so I’ve been tentatively planning a trip for myself this fall. The logistics of where I go and how long I stay are of course depending on money and on how much time I can take off from work (autumn is a busy time of year for us), but it’s a thrilling/nervous-making thing to contemplate.

So surprisingly, all in all, things are good. :) Grad school is still on the table, and traveling to the UK to do WWI (and possibly novel-research stuff) is now on the table, and I got the job without having to commit to any particular length of time. I still wish I could say for sure what I’m going to be doing six months from now, but I feel so much better and so much less stuck than I did when I wrote that angsty post last month. :)

And to all of you who wrote to me with encouraging/sympathetic/supportive messages after I posted it, thank you. <3 It really does mean a lot to know you all care.

My Life is Directionally-Challenged (or, What Happens Now?)

6 May

This is more personal than I’d normally write about here, but the truth is that I’ve been neglecting this blog because most of what’s been going on in my life has been…well, personal.

But whatever. I want to talk about it now. So I’m going to.

For the benefit of any new readers: I’m passionately interested in the history and literature of the First World War. So much so that, back in March of last year, I realized that I was spending so much of my time thinking, writing, reading, and talking about it that I’d kick myself if I didn’t try to pursue it further academically. And while I haven’t talked about it on this blog, I have in fact done exactly that (the pursuing part, not the kicking). Most of last autumn was spent applying for masters programmes and funding to study the First World War in the UK. And back in January, I got some fantastic and frustrating news.

The fantastic news? I got into my first-choice programme.

The frustrating news? I didn’t get the funding for it.

Needless to say, it’s disappointing. One of the enormous draws of studying in the UK this year is the WWI Centenary (beginning June 28) and all its attendant exhibits and plays and films and projects and events, and while the centenary will definitely be happening for the next few years as well, the beginning is an especially rich and intense time to be studying the First World War.

And being on this side of the Pond, where so few people give a shit…

Photo 484

Americans: “World War One…yeah…wait, when did that happen again? Who were we fighting?” Me: *headdesk*

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To be clear: I don’t blame you if you don’t know anything about WWI. *shakes fist at the American education system* But it does get tiring answering the same basic questions over and over again…

Urgh. I’ll go MAD if I have to live here for the next four years. I know it.

There is, of course, still a chance something miraculous could happen. I could win the lottery, or receive a large sum from some obscure relative’s will, or from a mysterious benefactor who thinks the history of WWI is an important area of study (dear Universe, if such people exist, please send them my way!). Trust me, I’ve thought through most of the options. :P It doesn’t change the fact that unless something big happens between now and June 15 or so (basically the latest point I could start a visa application), I don’t know how this will happen.

Which leaves me looking at contingency plans. Because if not grad school, then…what?

I’ve been at home most of this year, and while it’s been lovely to spend time with my family and enjoy my beautiful town, I’m starting to feel claustrophobic. I thought maybe I could put up with living at home and working for a year to earn enough for grad school next year, if push came to shove. However, when I was offered a good job opportunity recently, I struggled mightily with it because I couldn’t bring myself to commit to staying here for as long as the employer wanted (15-ish months, ideally). They liked me, and I liked them, but when they eventually told me they were going with someone else who could commit, I felt relieved instead of disappointed.

Which helps me clarify the fact that I don’t want to be here for another year, regardless of what I’d be doing. I want to get the heck out of Dodge, but the exact location for out-of-Dodge-ing? That’s harder. Some thoughts:

  • I could try to get a job in publishing. I do want to work in publishing someday; I’m just less than keen on the idea of living in NYC for a long period of time. #SmallTownGirl4Lyfe And publishing jobs do exist elsewhere, but NYC is generally the place to be if you’re starting out in the industry (though the competition for those jobs is stiff).
  • I could follow in my sister’s pioneering footsteps and take a wild leap into the unknown by becoming an au pair, or an English teacher, overseas. Which is a scary prospect, but could turn out to be awesome, particularly if it was in a country I wanted to be in and if I could still do WWI-related stuff there (e.g. France, Turkey).
  • Given that I have friends/family in Portland, there’s a lot of draw in that direction. At the same time, I can’t say I’ve ever really aspired to live in PDX, so it’s not the top of my list, much as I love the people I know there. And I’d need a job. A similar situation with most other West Coast cities, though I think I’d quite enjoy living in the Bay Area or Seattle. Again, it’s just contingent on employment.
  • For any of these options, I’d need some capital to get me launched/settled there. Which is easier said than done.

I don’t know where I’m headed. And to be perfectly honest with you (because I’m in a mood for unbecoming levels of honesty tonight, it seems): I am so bloody sick and tired of not knowing what I’m going to be doing six months from now. I know what I WANT to be doing, and I don’t know how to make that happen. Because even if I’m not in school there, I want to be in Britain during the centenary. I want to visit the Imperial War Museum and spend days—weeks—months—in its archives. Same with the National Archives. I want to travel to Edinburgh to visit Craiglockhart War Hospital. I want to see the plays and the exhibits and the conferences and the events. I want to hop across the Channel and spend a week visiting the Western Front. I want to meet people who are just as passionate about this as I am. I want to write about it all, and more.

I want, want, want…and I would work for it if I could. If I knew how. If I knew where to begin.

Anyhow.

I wish I had a pithy, cheery ending for this. But I suppose the point of a quarter-life crisis is that there isn’t necessarily a tidy answer. What I can do is stay open to possibilities. And I figure putting what I want down on paper (well, pixels) is always a good place to start. 

 

Advice, Camp, and Memes (or, A Hodgepodge of Belatedness)

13 Apr

This post is going to be a bit random in terms of content. Bear with me.

First of all, I want to take a moment to introduce you all to a website I absolutely love: CaptainAwkward.comWhy? Well, because this is my blog and I feel like it. :P But also because I feel like I’ve been telling lots of people about the Captain recently, so I figured I could spread the word more effectively if I wrote about it.

What is Captain Awkward? Short answer: an advice column for the 21st century.

Long answer: I can be a bit of an advice column junkie. I don’t exactly seek them out, but when I find them, I nearly always read them. Dear Abby, Ann Landers, Dear Prudence–I knew all the usual suspects growing up. But I think it’s safe to say that the Captain and her team of associate bloggers are my favorite advice columnists ever.

The Captain herself (image created by a reader, from her About page)

Why? Well it probably helps that they’re not limited by the width of a newspaper column—a blog post can be exactly as long as it needs to be to address a question with the thoroughness and sensitivity it deserves. But it’s also because they tackle problems with an amazing mixture of bravery, compassion, humor, frankness, well-placed profanity, incredible emotional intelligence, and lots of nerdy pop-culture references. Though the questions come from people from many locations and age groups, there’s a youthful quality to the site, in the best possible way–unlike the traditional image of the Agony Aunt, it’s like getting advice from an awesome older sister: she’s been there and done that, knows what you’re up against, and will cheer and support you through it. Plus, she’s come up with some hilarious/insightful terminology for common experiences, from the Darth Vader Boyfriend to the Golden Retriever/Kwisatz Haderach of Love to Firthing.

Final thing I love about Captain Awkward: the comments section. Normally, comments sections on the internet come with the implied “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” sign hanging over the top. Not so here. In the same way that the NaNoWriMo forums are the friendliest internet forums I’ve ever found, Captain Awkward’s commenters are respectful, kind, sympathetic, funny, and savvy folks who have a lot of great stuff to add to the discussion. It’s always worth a trip to the comments section there. :)

Second piece of news: I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month! Probably should have mentioned it a couple weeks ago rather than now when we’re approaching the halfway point, but…yeah. Oh well. Unsurprisingly, I’m using Camp as an excuse to continue writing the Novel That Wouldn’t End (aka my WIP). That said, I’m taking a less fanatical approach to Camp this year, and I’m finding it’s working rather well. Namely, although I do have an overall wordcount goal for myself, I’m doing most of my writing by hand in a notebook. It’s slower, hence why I’m not being as strict about holding myself to a certain goal every day. But I am actually getting stuff written, which feels great. :D

Third and final piece: a few days ago, I was checking up on some old CPs (critique partners) of mine when I discovered that one of them—Juliana Brandt—had actually tagged me in one of those talk-about-your-novel meme posts…over a year ago. o.O Oops. So my next post will likely be doing that; better late than never, right? (Could do it in this post, I suppose, but it’s long enough as-is.)

So, dear Readers and Raptors: what’s that one website you love that you wish everyone would read? Feel free to share in the comments!

All Your Plants Are Belong to Me (or, Thievery for a Good Cause)

15 Mar

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably at least glanced at the sidebar. And if so, you’ve probably read my mini-bio. But in case you haven’t, it states that I am a:

Writer, reader, aspiring WWI historian, former literary agency intern, tea drinker, scone baker, language lover, dinosaur enthusiast, and compulsive adopter of orphaned plants.

You’ve likely seen evidence for most of those things. I’ve geeked out about war poets, posted book reviews and snippets of my own work, talked about my life as an intern, flailed about my love for tea, scones, languages, and dinosaurs.

Then there’s that last point: compulsive adopter of orphaned plants. What the heck?

It is, my friends, exactly what it sounds like.

You know how some people compulsively adopt stray animals? I’m like that, but with plants. Don’t know why. Can’t explain it, except that I feel so sad when I see someone neglect their plants, so a plant in need is a plant I’m likely to abscond with.

Yesterday, my mom took me to the mall to go shopping. This was an action born of necessity, not desire; shopping for clothing is one of my less favorite things to do, and my mother hates the mall. I also happened to be sick with the world’s worst headcold. I was a hacking coughing sneezing snotty mess (you’re welcome for that mental image). Probably not a good day to take me out in public, but as I said, this was necessary shopping. So I loaded up my pockets with tissues, and off we went.

We got the stuff we came for pretty quickly, as it turned out. So on our way to the parking lot, we ended up taking a detour through a couple of other stores, including a Starbucks where my mother bought her poor ailing daughter a cup of tea. We were almost back to the car when my mom decided to stop at one more store. I didn’t follow her in. I’m sure the store clerks had better things to worry about than whether or not the bedraggled, snot-faced zombie was going to infect their place of employment. Instead, I stood outside in the sunshine, finishing my tea, sniffling loudly, and gazing—with the pointless, abstract fascination that comes from being not all there, mentally-speaking—at the potted trees planted on either side of the store’s entrance.

Eventually, in my hazy state, I noticed that around the base of each potted tree, a number of sprouts and seedlings were poking their heads up out of the potting soil. And while the seed-leaves were rounded and generic-looking, the first real leaves looked exactly like the new leaves sprouting from the branches of the tree overhead. Meaning that these weeds were, in fact, baby trees. And, if left there, they’d inevitably be weeded out by whoever cares for the mall’s potted plants.

If you paid attention at the beginning of the story, you should be able to see where this is going.

I walked into the store and accosted one of the employees. Our conversation:

Me: Hey, umm…

Her: Yes, can I help you?

Me: Can I take one of the seedlings from your pots?

Her: I’m sorry?

Me: *pointing* Those pots outside have baby trees growing in them. Can I have one?

Her: Uh…well, they’re the mall’s trees, not ours…

Me: The mall’s people will pull them out.

Her: Well…I…*takes in my disheveled, mucousy appearance*

Me: *stares*

Her: Well, I don’t see why not.

So I took one. I scooped it out of the clayey planting soil, wrapped the soil and root in one of the tissues from my pocket, and nestled the little bundle next to the teabag at the bottom of my empty Starbucks cup.

Photo 465

So cute, isn’t it?? :D There was already some liquid in there from the tea, but when we finally got back to the car, I drizzled a bit of water in there as well to keep everything nice and moist.

Photo 460

It was a warm day, so as we drove home, I kept leaning over to check that the plant was okay (didn’t want him to get jostled too much by the bumpy road, or to wilt in the heat). At which point I realized that he needed a name. (I name all my plants: Fred, Philip, Georgiana, Smuckers, Corm, Son of Corm, etc.)

Me: I think I’ll name him Arthur.

Mom: Don’t you already have a plant named Arthur?

Me: No, I have a character named Arthur. But you’re right, I should pick something else.

Mom: “Siegfried”?

Me: *rolling my eyes* Ha ha. No. That’s part of my stuffed velociraptor’s name, anyway. I suppose I could call him Wilfred. *pause* No, wait. That’s part of the velociraptor’s name too.* But something war-poet-related would be good. 

In the end, I named him Edmund Arthur. And today, I transferred baby Eddy to his new home. :) :) :)

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And that is the story of how I stole a baby tree from the mall, named it after a war poet, and gave it a home. I am, and I  shall remain, a compulsive adopter of orphaned plants.

Photo 471

A curious Winston says hello to Edmund

* The velociraptor’s full name is Winston Wilfred Siegfried Sassoon, in case you’re wondering. He was named by Facebook vote. I wanted a WWI-related name and asked people to suggest names and/or vote for their favorites. Those were the top four options in the end, so I used them all.

Laughing at Gold Medals (or, Olympics and Happiness)

17 Feb

Three facts you should know about me:

  1. I love happy people. I love making people happy and I love watching people smile and laugh and get excited about things.
  2. I love the Olympics. 
    Okay, I can say that, but I don’t think you understand. We all toss the word “love” around pretty casually, declaring our love for everything from our families to sandwiches. But I love the Olympics. The Olympic Games are quite literally one of my favorite things on earth, and have been since I watched the Nagano 1998 Games as a kid.
  3. I have a funny reaction to happiness. I mean that in both a figurative and literal sense. Where most people seem to grin a lot or whoop or jump up and down…I mean, I do those things too sometimes. But I also just…laugh. Sometimes I giggle until I actually cry tears of happiness. This is often very confusing for people who don’t know me well. Them: “Uhh…is there something funny about that?” Me: *wiping away tears of laughter* “No! It’s beautiful and wonderful and I’m so happy!”

Put these three things together and you will understand why I have spent a lot of time in the last week laughing with utter delight.

I’m not much of a sports person most of the time; I enjoy downhill skiing and have attended myriad soccer matches, but beyond that, sports-apathy is the name of the game. But there’s something special about the Olympics. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s only every couple of years (though the Winter Games are actually my favorite, so I look forward to those even more). Maybe it’s the spirit behind the Games–the idea that, just for two weeks, the nations of the world attempt to set aside their differences and try to compete with grace, honor, and sportsmanship. (We rarely live up to the ideal, but I appreciate it nonetheless.) Maybe it’s the Parade of Nations, full of beautiful, smiling people. Maybe it’s the nerve-wracking photo finishes. Maybe it’s marveling at what human beings are capable of. Maybe it’s all of the above and more.

I grant you: these particular Olympics are the most fraught ones I can remember seeing. #SochiProblemsRussia’s horrendous policies towards the LGBTQ community (and stray dogs), Russian hackers, NBC’s terrible coverage and commentary…the list goes on. I understand and respect why some people have chosen to boycott the games; I’m angry about a lot of this stuff too. And, I love the Olympics. It is perhaps one of the few facets of international interaction that I am not completely cynical about. 

So I’m choosing to do my best to laugh as much as I possibly can in this last week of competition. Doing my best to marvel at humans and what they can accomplish, and doing my best to appreciate the Olympic spirit. Because if nothing else, the world could use more happiness, and 2016 and Rio de Janeiro are such an awfully long way away…

Assembling Mango-stein’s Monster (or, Writing Connective Tissue)

29 Jan

Remember that time I started writing a book?

By which I mean, remember that time I did NaNoWriMo three times (2 regular NaNos, 1 Camp NaNo) with the same manuscript? Remember how I have about a zillion different documents and sub-documents on Word and Scrivener, all of them filled with scenes and characters and research and more?

Picture 57

I remember. By which I mean, I’m in the process of re-membering: putting pieces together like Dr. Frankenstein. For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling with how best to proceed with this story (now that I’ve taken the requisite time off from the manuscript post-NaNo). The obvious thing to do would be to just keep writing—push through until the entire glorious mess of a manuscript has at least one beginning, middle, and end instead of 2.5 beginnings and a patchy middle.

The issue was that I didn’t want to.

I mean, obviously I wanted to write, and I wanted to tell the whole story. But the notion of ploughing ahead when I don’t have the beginning sorted out…I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for the idea because it just bothered me. I had too many beginnings. I had too many scenes with multiple versions. I hadn’t decided for sure on how certain events would play out and had written them various ways, then simply left them like that. If you want to push the Frankenstein metaphor, I had a basket full of legs, one set of hips, and a few heads to choose from–but no torso or arms. (A daunting prospect for any Modern Prometheus.)

For a long time, it stymied me. I would do background and worldbuilding and character development and plotting—anything to avoid confronting the heap of dismembered limbs on my hard drive. (Ew?) And then I remembered that, while the NaNoWriMo adage of “get it written, then get it right” is good advice in a 30-day writing challenge, I hadn’t actually followed that advice in my post-NaNo life—and not following it had resulted in at least one complete manuscript. Case in point:

Several years ago, when I did NaNo for the first time and created the draft that became Unfamiliar Spellings, I spent several months away from that Word doc. When I came back to it, I realized that a lot needed to change. Unlike Shadeshock, my sense of the story’s direction was foggy at best, but I knew that the form I had, while readable, wasn’t functional. So rather than forging ahead, I backtracked. I tweaked and pushed and pulled and rewrote tons of material until the first half of the book actually looked like the first half of a book. I wound it up with plot and intrigue and new characters, and I set the story loose.

The darn thing wrote itself.

It was one of the easiest writing experiences I’d ever had; words and events flowed onto the page without conscious thought, and SOMEHOW, it all made sense. To this day, the second half of the story works so well that I’ve barely changed a thing, plot/structure-wise.

It’s probably too much to hope that the exact same thing will occur when I’ve finished assembling the current project’s various limbs. Nevertheless, I am working. Creating connective tissue. Sorting and hacking and twisting and stitching and tugging these disparate parts into an organized form. Part of me wishes I could stop to fix the bloated and utterly pedestrian NaNo prose, but the objective for now is just a cohesive narrative. (In that sense at least, “get it written, then get it right” is completely applicable.) And with any luck, by the time this process is over, I’ll have a solid jumping-off point for the rest of the story.

And then I’ll write the rest.

And then maybe, just maybe,

at (very) long last,

I’ll let somebody read it.

My (Powell’s) Book Haul + Book Recommendation Request!

16 Jan

(Two blog posts in one day! Crazy, I know. I guess I’m making up for the inadvertent hiatus caused by my travels. Or I’m really just impatient to talk about books. One of these two things. :P)

So I went to Powell’s recently, as you may recall. And it resulted in a…oh, you know. A few small purchases.

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From top to bottom, left and then right:

  1. Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, by Robert Service (a 1916 first edition!)
  2. The Face of Battle, by John Keegan
  3. The Beauty and the Sorrow, by Peter Englund
  4. The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler (was free, since it’s an ARC)
  5. The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front, by Peter Hart & Nigel Steel 
  6. War Verse, edited by Frank Foxcroft (1918)
  7. The Complete Poems of John Keats, edited by the Wordsworth Poetry Library
  8. Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard
  9. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
  10. Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East, by Roger Ford
  11. Some Desperate Glory: The WWI Diary of a British Officer, 1917, by Edwin Campion Vaughan

Really, it’s a miracle that I managed to fit them all into my suitcase to fly home. And lest you think me richer than I am: it took all of my Christmas book money to do it (majorly helped by some discounts). Oh, but it’s a thing of beauty! I’m particularly enamored of the two war poetry tomes: they smell deliciously of old book. :D I’m particularly excited to read A Monster Calls—I’ve heard nothing but good things about it (if by “good things” I mean people saying “oh my God that book made me cry please read it”).

All of that said, certain people *coughMarkcough* :P are sad about the fact that this list is only about 27% fiction (the rest being poetry and nonfiction). SO: I still have some leftover birthday money in the form of a Barnes & Noble gift card, and if anyone has fiction recommendations, I’m all ears! What are you reading these days (particularly in the way of MG/YA fiction)?

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