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Building a Work of Art

My grandfather is one of the partners in a big land development company and he takes great pride in showing us his projects. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the day with him, visiting his company’s various construction sites. At the end of the day, I was surprised to discover how much I had learned about writing. Today, in honour of Father’s Day, I’d like to dedicate this post  to him, and share some of the things I learned.

To me, the realms of reading and writing — my interests — and of construction and land development — his interests — had previously seemed quite mutually exclusive. This notion of their disparity had been heightened by my grandfather’s interest in the numbers and financial aspects of building. Numbers and such tend to elude me, so while I love spending time with him, I tend not to understand about half of what he’s saying.

But it now occurs to me, perhaps our interests are not as disconnected as I previously imagined. Because, what is constructing a building if not making something that wasn’t there before? And isn’t that the same thing as writing, but merely in another medium? If so, then there is so much that I, and any other writer out there, can learn from this man who has been in the business of creating for the past fifty or sixty years.

Whenever we go on these outings, my favourite parts of the day are seeing the finished products. The high rise condos, already built up to the penthouse and their stunning, fully decorated lobbies. Even just the sales centres delight me, with their high tech demonstrations and beautifully coordinated decor. However, my grandfather always drags me to see big gaping holes in the ground, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over the contraptions put in place and techniques used to dig out the dirt.

Image from educationalccu.blogspot.com because my iPhone makes my grandfather nervous, so I didn’t take any pictures.

On last week’s trip, he explained to me that this is what he’s interested in, the progress and process you can see and look at from a bird’s eye view. Once the building starts really making headway, and gets (literally) off the ground, you can’t really see what they’re doing on the inside and for him it becomes boring. The same goes for the finished buildings. Once they are completed, furnished and sold, he loses interest.

This can be seen as metaphoric for the writing process. Just like I prefer looking at the finished, fully decorated buildings, I also prefer looking over my finished, fully developed writing projects, rather than taking greatest joy in the writing itself. I prefer editing later, more complete drafts over writing the first.  My grandfather on the other hand, would be someone who sees the value in writing the first draft. Like the digging stages, it takes the most time, but nothing can happen until it’s done. And that draft is often most difficult — or at least it seems that way when you’re at the stage — but it’s in that draft where everything begins to happen, and everything else you do for that projects tends to stem from that draft.

I think that this is an incredibly valuable lesson. This was very relevant when I spent the day with my grandfather, because at the time I was trudging through the messy stages of my Camp NaNoWriMo novel, desperately looking forward to when I have a completed draft in my hands. Now that I’ve abandoned that, because it just wasn’t working for me, I still find that I’m struggling to find the motivation to write as regularly as I would like. Lately I’ve been writing even when I don’t feel like it, because that gets me to the later drafts. But perhaps the rough writing, though more difficult, can also be more rewarding in itself, in part because the progress is very visible. Hopefully this new insight will help me not only keep writing (on a regular basis), but enjoy the writing itself as much as the final product.

Running from Animals in Terror

Today you have the pleasure of reading my ramble about how I believe I developed my fear, and general disapproval, of animals. If you are pro-animals and/or keep pets. And you love those pets. More than the people in your life. I suggest you stop reading. Because if you keep reading, you may come to hate me. And I don’t handle being hated very well.

Now that a few of you have left me (I didn’t really want those readers anyways) I’ll share my theories about animals and my hatred of such creatures.

The Fear of Dogs

When I was little, our neighbours had mean dogs. I think they were Rottweilers or German Shepherds or some other breed that is legitimately scary and from which it is appropriate to run in terror. Especially because these were not particularly well-trained dogs. I have two memories of these dogs, both involve grownups running from them in terror (which was the appropriate reaction to these evil creatures). The first involves the fact that these dogs would often take pleasure in jumping over the hedge that separated our backyard from our neighbour’s. Once, when our babysitter was over, we wanted to go play in the backyard. Unfortunately, our neighbour’s scary dog was hanging out in our backyard. The babysitter frantically ushered us back inside. Panic and pandemonium ensued.

If this had not been enough to scar me for life with regards to dogs and teach me that running and screaming is always the appropriate response to encounters with any dog (big or small, mean or nice) there was another incident involving my dad. Please note that this incident has probably been dramatized, melodramatized and sensationalized in my memory, but regardless, this flawed memory has come to shape my life and who I am as an evil dog-hater. The story (as I remember it) is that my dad was taking in the empty garbage cans from the curb, and he was attacked by one of these dogs. Thankfully, he ran away before they could do anything to him. I don’t think I actually witnessed this, but I do know that I definitely overheard something along those lines and it taught me that those dogs truly are scary — if even my daddy was afraid of them — and that when you see a dog, you should run away — because that’s what my daddy did. (Note: I just fact checked this story with ‘Daddy’ and he denies that it ever happened. I’m sharing anyways, because I’ve been under the conviction that it did for my entire life and I really do blame this ‘memory’ for my fear of dogs.)

Also, I am not just scared of mean dogs. My juvenile mind generalized this fear and couldn’t distinguish between the mean dogs and the nice dogs. They were all evil and I used to run in terror from my grandmother’s stupid little Bijon Frise (may that stupid little dog rest in peace). I’ve had to reign in my terror over the years, as my mother threatens to disown me when I embarrass her by literally running from dogs screaming. Despite my attempts to repress my fear, I still cannot see the point of keeping a dirty, smelly dog in your house. Dog owners and their strange habits (referring to their pets as their ‘babies’, talking to other dog owners while walking their dogs, buying snow boots for their dogs, etc.) will never make sense to me.

The Distaste for Cats

Hopefully this section will be very short, because even just thinking or writing about cats gives me the heebie-jeebies and makes me cringe, but I don’t think I can write a comprehensive post about my hatred for animals without reference to these icky animals. I believe I inherited this irrational fear from my mother, and then multiplied any distaste she has for the animal by about ten. She, at least, has a legitimate reason for her hatred — she’s insanely allergic to cats. (I wish I had such a good excuse and I often tell people I’m allergic so that they keep their vile creatures away from me.) Again, due to my juvenile logic, I assumed that if my mother was allergic to cats, and she didn’t like them near her, they must be a very unique brand of evil, to be avoided at all costs. As with dogs, when I see cats, running and screaming tend to ensue. However, unlike dogs, who like to chase you when you run screaming, this is a very good technique for repelling cats as my shrieks of terror tend to terrify them and they go away.

Before I move on to animals that nauseate me less, I want to make a literary connection, as this was supposed to be a bookish blog. While Anne Shirley and Emily Starr (the heroines of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery) are very much like myself (and I often wonder how LMM wrote a book about me about a hundred years before I was born) there are a few differences between me and these girls. The key difference is that they both tend to adore cats. I was so conflicted when reading these books, because I had my high and mighty values of feline-hatred to maintain, but LMM is just such a great writer that at one point I even remember sympathizing with Emily’s missing of her cats. This sympathy, however didn’t last long. LMM proceeded to write for two consecutive pages about the ‘loveliness’ of the freaking cats, and those were the only pages in an LMM book that I felt compelled to skip. I didn’t, because I didn’t know how long it would last and I was afraid of missing any of the good stuff, but just know that I felt physically ill as I skimmed through those pages.

Back to the Horses

After my literal experience involving getting back on a horse I don’t recall going horseback riding again for quite a while. Of course, I also don’t remember the original experience (I just know that story that my mom told — it happened when I was really young) so it doesn’t necessarily follow that I didn’t get on another horse between then and the next story. The next story happened at an apple picking farm, when I believe I was in my early to mid teens. We went apple picking one fall day with family friends of ours and besides the horse story I’m about to tell, the only other thing I remember about this day is a black cat among the apple trees that sent me running and screaming. After the running and screaming, there was a merry-go-round, which had real horses (or probably ponies) tethered to a contraption to make them walk in a circle. I was too afraid to try this ride, but our family friend’s child did and proved that staying firmly on the ground had been the right decision. Basically, the horse she was on got spooked and jumped up on its hind legs (much like what had happened to me when I was little). This just reconfirmed what I already knew (about the unpredictability and terrifyingess of animals) and I vowed never to get on a horse again.

But then I did. And it’s a great story about how I ended up having a great time horseback riding along the beach, but that doesn’t really fit in thematically with the rest of this post about how evil and scary animals are, so I’m not going to talk about that experience. Mostly because such experiences (with positive, cliched, happy endings) are rarely as entertaining as experiences that go horribly, hilariously wrong (which is also why there won’t be a post about prom, because everything went boringly well). I will end off with telling the begining of the positive horseback riding story though, because the beginning is pretty humourous. I finally got up on the horse, after much coaching, coaxing and crying and I was very proud of my accomplishment, so I stopped crying and even began to smile. Then I had a minor panic attack and started screaming and crying all over again because “OH MY GOD!! THIS HORSE IS MOVING!! IT JUST TOOK A STEP!!! PLEASE, PLEASE LET ME GET OFF!!”

So, how do you feel about animals? Do you sympathize and like me a little more now? Or do you think I’m an awful person for not loving animals? If you fit into the latter group, you should have stopped reading when I suggested you leave in the first paragraph. So it’s really your fault.

Dissecting Pigs VS Dissecting Poems

Back in when I was in grade 11, I was under the false impression that taking Biology was a good idea. It wasn’t. Towards the end of the year, we had to dissect fetal pigs. I, of course, was the kid who didn’t even bother putting on rubber gloves. Because I was the kid who spent the period curled up on a chair, cowering in the corner, breathing (as little as possible) through my mouth, with my face towards the wall. Needless to say, I do not intend on pursuing a career in medicine.

Then some moron (read: teenage boy) thought it would be a good idea to cut off his pig’s nose and flail it around in front of me. He was very much encroaching on my personal space and I was terrified that he’d touch me with that disgusting, smelly, drippy thing, which was in very close proximity to my face. So I reacted as maturely (read: femininely) as I knew how. I kicked him in the stomach (I was high up on a lab chair, so his stomach just happened to be what was in kicking distance — he’s just lucky he wasn’t a little bit taller). It certainly made him go away. He even apologized and the next class he assured me that he wouldn’t do anything like that again. I obviously made quite an impression.

I have photographic evidence of this experience, but I don’t want to look at those pictures again and I assume you don’t either. Photo credit: clker.com

The reason for this outpouring of  a (clearly traumatic) experience which occurred a year ago, is that today I’d like to explore some of the differences between dissecting a fetal pig and dissecting a poem. I like to think of it as a highly analytic and empirical study in contrast, if you will.

Dissecting Pigs

Dissecting Poems

The fetal pig was killed/never even given the chance to be born, so that you could learn from it.

The poem was written, therefore given life, so you could learn from it

Learning from the fetal pig means desecrating and butchering it, especially if your partners are stupid teenage boys. Once a fetal pig has been (sometimes literally) torn to shreds, there is nothing you can do to save it.

Learning from a poem means taking it to a higher level and giving it new life. Even once stupid teenage boys have ruined a good poem, it is not dead. There’s nothing a good English teacher can’t revive.

Once a group of kids have learned by dissecting a pig, no one else can learn from that pig.

There is no limit to the number of people who can learn from the same poem.

Pigs die when people learn from them.

Poems die when people don’t learn from them.

Two more thoughts that are unrelated to the previous train of thought:

Pigs smell like formaldehyde and dead pig.

Poems smell like paper, which is a good thing. Or like the books they’re located in, which is a super good thing. Or, in the best circumstances, they (psychologically) smell like the lilacs or forests or freshly cut grass they’re describing.

All pigs are more or less the same. Everyone learns the same thing from every pig.

Every (good) poem (ideally) has a new, fresh, original message, or at least expresses an old message in new, fresh, original ways. And everyone can perceive and understand each different poem in their own way.

 

In conclusion:

Dissecting poetry is better (and more awesome) than dissecting pigs. The End.

(Note: This is mostly tongue in cheek. I see the value of learning science and I am totally not  one of those weirdos who refuse to eat meat. If you are one of the weirdos, that’s totally cool, I am just not one of you. My qualm is not so much that animals die to be dissected, it’s that most of the kids in my class were very “disrespectful” to these animals and I think that the exercise (and  the pigs lives) are potentially wasted on high school students who don’t know how to behave themselves.)

Who on earth would attempt to write a 50 000 word novel in 30 days?

Obviously that answer to that question is me. I’d do that. So would the tons and tons of other crazy people who participate in the various National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) challenges throughout the year. The official and original NaNoWriMo is in November, but apparently the idea of spending a month chained to your notebook/laptop/other place to write appealed to a whole lot of people, so now they have month-long writing challenges several times a year.

On Saturday night, I got a tweet announcing the start of Camp NaNoWriMo, the summer edition, where you write a novel in either June or August. June started on Friday, I jumped on the bandwagon Saturday night, started writing on Sunday, and the rest is, as they say, history. Although it’s really more like present, as I’m in this for the long haul — or at least until the finish line on June 30.

So, clearly I came a little late, which is kind of tragic, but I’m kind of breaking the rules by using the very beginning of a novel I started (and left to die on the street corner) months and months ago. The way I see it, this balances out the first two days that I missed, and even with my head start on words, I’m still about two thousand words behind where I should be. I just hope the kind (and pretty — flattery will get you everywhere, right?) people at NaNoWriMo headquarters would see it in the same light. You know, if they knew… You’ll keep my secret, won’t you? Please, oh please don’t send the writing police after me!

Part of the idea behind this challenge is quantity now, quality later. The reasoning being this is that everyone’s going to write a novel “someday” and “someday” never seems to come. Plop down a big, red deadline and make charts showing how much progress you should be making, and “someday” finally arrives.

On the official Camp NaNoWriMo website, there’s this “stats” page, to make sure you know that this month’s “someday” has an expiration date (or so to say) and it’s coming soon. This page tends to be terrifying. I’m sure that its sole purpose in life isn’t to scare the living daylights out of me (because if it was, that would just be cruel) but regardless of its intent, that’s just what it does. There are a number of reasons for this.

Exhibit A — Numbers

As is implied by its name, the statistics page uses numbers, and a big scary graph. Numbers and graphs are math and owing to this alone, that page makes me break out in hives and tends to lead to “shortness of breath”. It seems as though I may have a slight allergy to numbers and especially statistics. Note that this was heightened by the Data Management course I took this year. I used to think charts were pretty cool. Now I sincerely believe that they were sent by the devil to steal my soul. Or something like that. Whatever the devil’s supposed to do. Turn me into a witch? I should probably go re-read The Crucible, instead of trying to decipher the evil graphs on the Camp NaNo site.

The big, bad stats page. The bars are my progress, the line is how much I SHOULD be progressing… Does anyone else feel their throat constricting? No, just me?

Exhibit B — What the numbers are trying to tell me

The graph is there to demonstrate how much progress you are (or aren’t) making, comparing that to how much progress you should be making. If these two coincide on your graph — yay for you, now go away. For those of you that have your progress bars higher that the “where you should be” bar — nobody likes you, you’re making the rest of us look bad. You’re the person who makes a whole freaking diorama when all the teacher asked for was a stupid Bristol board.  Please stop, it’s just unfair and you’re messing up the entire curve! For the rest of us (or at least for me) this line, which NaNo calls the “par line”, is just cruel. Rather than be ecstatic that I reached 6000 words today, I’m acutely aware that I should be at at least 8000.

Of course this page is also a great motivator and it helps me stay on track and figure out word count goals for myself. It also keeps a fire under me, ensuring that I actually get work done. What about you? Does writing using set goals, time lines and deadlines help keep you on track? Or do deadlines and charts leave you curled up under your desk in fetal position? Or maybe you’re a little bit of both, like me. Share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

I’mmm Baa-ack!

Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, but I’m back and hope to stick around. It’s been a crazy past two weeks, with grade 12, and hence high school as a whole, coming to an end. First there were all sorts of assignments that needed doing and an exam before classes had even ended — because, evidently, my Literature exam wasn’t important enough to bother squeezing into the exam schedule.

My last day of high school was two weeks ago, and after that all my peers went on the grad trip to washington, while a friend and I hung back and decided to spend a few days up at the cottage instead. Because we’re individuals, who don’t feel the need to conform. And we wanted to have fun in our own way not in everyone else’s. Our trip was a lot more fun, if you were wondering. Our peers spent 24 hours on a bus, just getting to and from Washington, so that they could spend barely 72 hours there. I can’t (read: don’t want to) calculate how many hours we were up the cottage (because that would require math, and, having washed my hands of grade 12 Data Management, I don’t plan on doing math ever again, if I can help it), but we were away two days longer then our friends were in Washington, and that’s not even taking into account the time they did and we didn’t spend on a bus.

Of course, that’s just talking about quantity, which wouldn’t be worth anything without quality. They spent their three days ‘exploring the city’ and going to baseball games and amusement parks and museums.

“But what’s wrong with that?” you may ask.

“Nothing,” I may answer. “If you like that sort of thing.”

But my personal preferences, when it comes to going on trips and having fun, involve sitting by the pool or beach, out in the sun, with books and magazines and a friend or two for company. Which is exactly what I got.

The view from our beach chairs — I’ll take that over the White House any day — is anyone with me on that?

We had way more fun than our peers seemed to have and in our age of Facebook, we got constant updates on all the ‘fun’ they were having. And by fun, I mean about a million or so pictures of the same people, in the same places, making faces at the camera. My friend wisely commented that when you’re taking so many pictures, and they aren’t for sake of a photo-op, (which the vast majority of these pictures aren’t) it’s because you’re bored and trying to find something to fill the time.

My friend and I took only took a handful of pictures and there were only two times when they cameras on our phones came out over the five days we were there. One day, we went into ‘town’, because it was too chilly to relax by the pool, and we were fully aware that those pictures were taken out of (slight) boredom and besides, the taking of them was what made our little ‘expedition’ so much fun. Because it turned out that we went to the wrong ‘town’. They have all these cute, quaint little stores where we should have gone, but instead we wound up in the ‘town’ that consisted of a single main street, and half of the stores along this three block street were convenience stores. A girl can only drink so many slushies, after all. So we found ourselves hanging out at the playground of the elementary school. In a totally juvenile, lets-go-hang-out-on-the-swings kind of way, not in a lets-go-be-delinquent-and-make-graffiti-all-over-the-jungle-gym kind of way. I feel that this clarification is important, based on all the graffiti that was already covering this jungle-gym. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea about me.

There was another photo my friend took of me lounging by the pool. I took it so that when I got back and saw people from school and they showed me pictures of all the ‘fun’ they had on this school mandated (read: lame) trip, I could show them my picture and tell them it was me, sitting by the pool, not giving a damn.

As for reading material, I read through L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle. It was great, but I’m saving it for another post. So stay tuned if you want to hear about that. Of course, I’d love it if you stayed tuned even if you don’t want to hear about it, but then, if you don’t care for LMM and Anne Shirley, I’m really not too sure why you’re reading my blog in the first place — we’re obviously not  kindred spirits.

 

Another Award! Another Award!

Hey blogosphere friends! (I cannot believe I just used the word blogosphere… Am I even spelling it correctly? Should it be capitalized? Italicized? Put into quotes? Does using this “word” make me sound stupid? Because I’m not, pinky swear!)

What have you been up to lately? I’ve been busy finishing up the last few weeks of school, which I blame for the scantiness (yes, that is a word — I even checked) of my posts lately… But have no fear! In just a few weeks I’ll be free, which will mean more posts, more frequently! The good news is, I’m already done the first million assignments on my to-do list, so now I only have the other million or so to finish up. And the way my school works, I only have two exams, because all the other classes I take are all assignments. Be happy for me, this is awesome (or at least it’s awesome now, once I’m finished with most of the assignments. When I was in the middle of all that work? Not so much.)

Anyways, in today’s post, I’d like to thank Wilhelmina Upton, whose blog you can find here, for passing along the 7×7 Link Award. It is so kind of you and I am so flattered. Especially as a relatively new blogger, it always makes me so happy whenever I get likes, comments, followers and especially these fun awards.

So, as always, there are just a few rules.

1. Thank the person who nominated you

2. Share something about yourself that you’ve yet to tell the Blogosphere (there I go, using that silly word again)

3. Link to 7 of your previous posts

4. Pass the award on to 7 other blogs

(Get it? See why it’s 7×7?)

Hmmm, one unknown thing about me? This is tough, because I tend to tell you guys everything (that’s a bit of an overstatement, if  I told you everything you probably wouldn’t want to come back. I mean, this isn’t twitter; you don’t care what time I went to sleep last night or what I ate for breakfast this morning…) Actually, that’s a good idea! Breakfast! Isn’t that one of those ice-breaker games, which are supposed to reveal something deep and meaningful about you as a person, without the risk of getting too personal?

Okay, so, breakfast. I have to wake up pretty darn early for school, and I am not a morning person on any level. So I sleep in until the last possible minute and then I have to rush out of the house, with no time to eat breakfast at the table. Besides, eating breakfast on the way to school is what cars are made for, right? Additionally, due to my not-a-morning-person-itis I find eating real foods a daunting task before 8:00 AM. Which is where smoothies come in! Delicious, nutritious, easy-to-drink in the driver’s seat and possible to ingest in a semi-conscious state.

The smoothies I drink in the car DO NOT look this enticing…
Photo credit: shopnaturalegreenonline.ca

Great, so now you know something new about me, which will perhaps help you see deep into the workings of my mind, body and soul.

Seven Previous Posts. Am I supposed to pick my favourites? How can I do that? I think they’re all pretty awesome, you know, in my humble opinion… Well, anyway, here it goes:

Welcome to My Shiny New Blog

A Competent Number of Nursery Maids

Literary Baby Names

Much Ado About “The Vow”

My Life In Books

Dear Me, Let Us Be Elegant or Die

Happy Birth(and Death)Day To The Bard!

Now, about this whole pass-it-on concept. I have something to admit. And it’s going to make you think I’m a really terrible person. In fact, I probably am a really terrible person. The thing is… I’ve yet to read and follow that many blogs. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Whew! Okay, now that that’s off my chest, the guilt has lifted and I feel so much better. School’s just been crazy since I started with WordPress, and I’ve been spending the little time I have for blogging on the writing of the blogs, as opposed to the reading of them.

Once school ends, this will hopefully change. I want to pass this on the a whole bunch of amazing blogs, and I will, just as soon as I have time to read those amazing blogs!

Okay, well, since I’m temporarily copping out of step four, I guess this is it. Thanks again Wilhelmina! You’re the best!

The Reason for Reading

School is starting to wind down and every day brings me and friends closer to graduation. I’m in a really annoying position right now though. I’ve been accepted to all of the universities I’ve applied to and just have to keep up a certain average to keep my condition offers. The average I need to maintain is significantly lower than what I already have, so I don’t even have to keep my good grades up very high. So with a month left of school I don’t care much about anything regarding that awful building and all it represents.

The problem is, while I already have one foot out the door, the other is still Krazy Glued down to the linoleum floor. Over the next month there’s so much work to do with so little to motivation to do it. But, I do want to maintain my average, because I know retrospectively, I’ll regret not bothering to do my assignments. So I still have to keep on working really hard. On the bright side, grade 12 finishes earlier than all the little kids (and by that I mean grades 9-11) and I end even earlier than all my friends. That’s because at my school it’s full year, not semesters and we take more courses than other schools, so instead of having between 9 or 10 exams, some courses have major summative assignments, which are worth the same as an exam. As it turns out, 7 of the 9 courses I take this year have these major assignments.

This is good and bad, and I still haven’t determined if the goodness or badness is more prevalent. On the plus side, this way, I only have 2 exams and my last one is on May 31, while everyone else doesn’t finish until June 8. On the other side, these huge assignments are far more work than studying for an exam and all that work has to get done over the course of a short month. I know that being a creative-type, it would probably be more normal of me to prefer projects and essays to exams, but hey, the human experience is a complex thing — it’s not my fault if I don’t fit into the cliche.

The take away from this post is that I’m entering into what is known as a “hell month” at my school, so while I will aim for a short post at least once a week, I may not be updating very much for the next little bit. But have no fear, I plan on writing longer posts, and writing them more frequently starting in June. For now, let’s talk about books and their purpose in life. Are books and literature for entertainment purposes or to learn something from? For me it used to be solely entertainment and it’s shifted to intellectual stimulation (my how smart — or pretentious — that makes me sound). However, I think first and foremost, reading should be entertaining and enjoyable. This enjoyablility is just added to when the book is brilliant on a deeper level.

What do you think? Entertainment? Deep learning? Some combination? If both, which takes the front seat? Why? I’d love to hear from you.

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