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On Doing Nothing And Playing FlipWords a.k.a. “BangMan”

Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and do absolutely nothing. Stare at the walls, out the window, at the other Starbucks-sitters who are also pretending to work.

I often find myself very busy doing nothing. But not the above mentioned nothing. The nothing I often take part in tends to involve my iPhone. Or my Mac. There’s a chance that my Apple products may be ruining my life. I check Facebook. I check it again. I’m shocked that nothing new and life-changing has been posted in the past six seconds. And repeat. When I’ve had enough of that I’ll spend some time scrolling through my Twitter feed, clicking links that promise to teach me how to be more productive.

This was Sunday. Except the “lolling about” stage lasted until about 3:40 p.m. Image Credit: http://www.oxcoll.com

Then I play some Cut the Rope — a riveting game wherein you cut a rope on which dangles a piece of candy, in attempt to feed said candy to a weird, green, sluggish alien thing. Then I play some Boggle — which will totally enhance my brain activity. Then (once I’ve warmed up that part of my brain) I move on to another game called FlipWords — a mix between Boggle and Hangman, which could be more aptly (and entertainingly) named “BangMan”. Yeah. That’ll catch on; it sounds just like what it is.

Then it’s back to Facebook. And the cycle begins again. Writing this down should probably make me realize why I’m so unproductive. Instead I have been super tempted to check Facebook and Twitter (as well as every other such site). And to play all my favourite games. In fact, I’m kind of shocked that I’m still here and I haven’t yet opened up five other web pages.

But sometimes, in what someone once called this sea of irrelevance, it’s nice to stop using my brain for all these little nothings, and to actually do nothingOr, at least to blog about doing nothing. Because I’m just not in the right frame of mind to do nothing. I mean, that kind of stuff take preparation.

Like I said, it is nice to just sit and do nothing sometimes. Maybe I’ll give it a try when I go home next week for my (weirdly late) winter break.

Do you like taking time to do literally nothing? Do you ever actually do it? What sorts of “nothings” keep you from getting much accomplished?

 

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Running Around in the Rain

I should really be doing something else. That seems to be the most prevalent theme in my life. The constant internal conflict. I want to do this but I should be doing that. And then, as soon as I can do the thing I wanted to do, I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to do something else, and the previous want becomes the current should. During the school year, I want to be blogging or writing creatively or sitting around all day reading or even just finding some time to clean my room. What I should doing is homework. Of course, I procrastinate the homework, but feel that if I’m not doing homework, how dare I do anything else, so the things I want to do get procrastinated as well. I certainly have time to do both, but the things I enjoy always seem to take back seat.

So, I make all this wonderful resolutions. I decide that when the summer comes, I’ll do all those things I would love to be doing during the school year, but just can’t. I never plan to do very much in the summer, like get a job or go to camp, and I tell people that I don’t have plans aside from a week or so at the cottage and a week or so on vacation. But I do have plans. I plan to read — smart books, enjoyable books, any and all books — I plan to write — blog posts, short stories, a flipping novel — I plan to organize — my closet, my room, my life. In short, I plan to do everything that will make me happy, I plan to conquer the freaking world. But then, because I plan to do all these things and have the best summer I’ve ever had (and do all this because it’s what I want to do), all these wants become shoulds.

And it isn’t just that I should read, because I like reading, but then it’s about what I should read. I should read smart novels and stories and poems, that will expand my mind and make me seem smart, but then, I should also be enjoying what I’m reading. And so, if I decide that I’m going to spend this moment reading, and even if I’m not thinking of all the other things I should be enjoying, I worry that maybe I should be reading a different book. It’s the same with writing. Should I write on my blog now? In a journal? Should I instead be writing ficticiously? Should I be trying out a writing prompt? Maybe I should give my “novel” a go?

This moment, I’ve chosen writing on my blog. But now I feel that maybe I should abandon this post, because who wants to hear me complain about my pathetic problems? I should really be writing about the trip to England I just got back from. I should tell you about my visits to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born or to Bath, where Jane Austen once lived. I should review one of the three Shakespeare plays I saw. I should be writing about those experiences or any of the other very cool, very literary things I saw and did. But I just don’t feel like it. Probably only because that’s what I think I should be writing about.

One of the pictures I took in England that I feel like I SHOULD post. Taken at 4 Sydney Place in Bath — where Jane Austen once lived.

That’s really the problem with me. I never want to do anything if I actually can. If I should. Only if I can’t. I never feel as compelled to write as when I don’t have a pen and paper with me or as when I have stuff to do that I don’t feel like doing. I never feel as compelled to blog as when I don’t have internet access or my laptop handy. I was itching to post on my blog for the two first days of my trip when I still hadn’t gotten internet set up. Then, as soon as I did, I wrote this post, which didn’t have that much to do with the awesome things I was actually doing in England. The next day I wrote another post, also not really about what I had been doing and seeing. Neither were what I felt that I should be writing. After that, I had internet access the entire rest of the trip and we were back at the hotel fairly early a few nights. But because I knew I could blog, I didn’t really feel compelled to. I’m on vacation, I reasoned. I’ll post when I get home. Because that’s always how it is with me. I’ll do it later. I’ll do it at this or that future date. Then I’ll have the time. I’ll have the motivation. It’ll happen. Later. I hadn’t posted what (or as much as) I had wanted. I felt okay with my justifications and I had a marvellous trip, but I still l felt a little uneasy. I had all these nagging shoulds. I enjoyed everything I did, and everything I did was something I wanted to be doing, but I was in England, so they felt very much like wants I should have. And I still felt the compulsion to blog and write about it, but without the desire and drive to do so.

But then today I tried something different. My room is still in a messy state, as I started cleaning it a couple of weeks ago and decided to finish it later. Add all the stuff I brought back from England to that mess and it’s really not looking so good. So I have to deal with that. Then there’s the stuff I should be doing because I want to. The reading, the blogging, the writing. I was going to do all of this today. I was also going to go run some errands and then come home and sit out in the sun because it was beautiful outside today. The latter two items involve getting dressed (something I tend to avoid until I actually leave the house). So I woke up and spent a few hours taking a shower and eating breakfast and figuring out what to wear — because these are totally things that should take a person a few hours. I was all dressed and ready to leave the house and about to go out, when the clear, blue sky clouded over and began spewing drops of rain.

I was stuck. It was another should versus want to situation. You see, I love the rain. I love the sun even more, but when I have no need to remain dry and a warm towel is at the ready, nothing gives me more joy, nothing is more exhilarating, than running around in the rain. Not only was it something I desperately wanted to do, but it was the epitome of a should not. Who would go out and run around in the rain? What was I thinking? Surely I’d catch my death. Besides, I had just, finally figured out what to wear and gotten dressed. I had things to do, things that I should do.

So I did what any reasonable person would have done. I changed into something I didn’t mind getting wet and I went outside to run around in the rain. My sister refused to join me. Someone who was at my house laughed at me when I came inside with water streaming from my hair and clothes. My mother shook her head — I think ‘crazy’ was the word she used to describe me. But you know what? I didn’t catch my death. I felt as though I had caught my life. Sure, when I came inside I was dripping and shivering. But outside, despite the rain, it was warm, peaceful. I love the steady sound of rain, hitting the wooden deck. I love walking barefoot through warm puddles. I love the warm wind whipping around, throwing raindrops in my face. It feels so good to just let go sometimes. To forget what you should do, forget what other people think, forget how cold you’ll be the moment you come inside and get hit with the freezing air-conditioning.

And because let myself do that, I felt like I had accomplished something. I felt really good about myself, about my decisions, about my life. And now I’ve finally been able to just sit down to blog — something I should do — without feeling like I should be doing this or should be doing something else.

Of course there will always be things that should be done and have to done. Things I don’t want to do, but have to do anyways. But maybe sometimes it’s easier (and more enjoyable) to do those things, if I give myself permission to do something I want once in a while. To do something unreasonable and unnecessary and perhaps a little crazy. Just as long as there’s a dry towel waiting for me when I come inside.

What about you? Do you have a constant should versus want to debate inside your head? How do you reconcile with doing things you’d rather not? Do want to’s ever become shoulds for you?

Getting Back on the Horse

 

When I was small, I was literally almost thrown from a horse. Luckily the lady who worked at the horse riding place (would that be called a stable?) caught me, so no damage was done. This was before I had developed my fear of animals, so supposedly my response was something along the lines of, “next time, I’m riding a pony.” My mother, trying to avoid the development of an animal-phobia, insisted I get right back on the horse. So the story goes, I did and lived to tell the tale. Regardless, I somehow managed to develop that fear of animals. I have a few theories that explain this phenomenon, but those are for another time.

That’s always what I think of when I have to figuratively get back on the horse. Now, that horse is this blog. I fell off during the last couple weeks of school, so I could ‘focus on exams and final assignments’. I planned on writing far more frequently once school was over, when I would have ‘so much more time’. But then I felt stressed to write a really impressive, partially explanatory I’mmm Baa-ack post, which I ended up procrastinating for a while (a while being a week or so). Then, I decided to jump  into Camp NaNoWriMo, my post about which you can read over here. Since I was working towards a goal of about 2000 words per day on my ‘novel’, I felt that I could take another little break from blogging, posting less frequently, if at all.

And then, a few days ago, I decided that Camp NaNo wasn’t working for me. So I stopped. I don’t look at this as quitting, so much as making a decision to spend my time on other things which I’d rather be doing, like blogging. Since then, I’ve been trying to post something, anything, but it just isn’t working out so well. I tried writing one about my choice to duck out if Camp NaNo early, in attempt to justify this decision to myself and others. That post got abandoned after a few forced paragraphs, because I had already worked through those feelings in my head (and with my mommy) and had convinced myself that it was the right decision, so writing about it and thus analyzing my choice further just felt stale.

Then I tried to write a post about the fact that I’m re-reading Northanger Abbey  by Jane Austen, but I had too many things to say about Jane, her novels, irony and re-reading that the post was just a long, rambling, tangent-y mess. I felt the way I do when I start making an outline for an English essay: I had too many thoughts and I needed to work on streamlining them. However, writing blog posts should be more fun than writing essays for English class, so rather than bothering to streamline, I just saved it as a draft and left it alone.

But look at me!  I’m back on the horse! And it wasn’t that hard or that scary! Maybe tomorrow or the next day I’ll try riding it around a little. Perhaps I’ll even share my theories as to how my fear of animals developed (if I can make it entertaining enough — otherwise it’ll share the fate of the other two aforementioned posts). Or maybe I’ll streamline and publish that post on Northanger Abbey. Of course, by then I’ll probably have several thousand new ideas that need streamlining, but now that I’m back on the horse, hopefully I’ll stay up here for a while — there’s a great view.

Is anyone else in a beginning-of-summer blogging rut? How do you combat blogger’s block? How about you in the back? Any thoughts?

 

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!

The Blue Castle

In between all the sleeping in, paddle-boating and swimming with my friend up at the cottage last week, I found some time for reading material beyond our million or so back issues of Seventeen, People and Vogue. I brought up The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery, who’s also the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, (which is the best series in the entire world, just by the way) and it was the most perfect book for reading by the beach and pool.

Firstly, it’s by LMM, so obviously it was predetermined to be awesome: nice, cozy writing style; fulfilled expectation of a happily-ever-after ending; lovable heroine and quaint, early twentieth century, rural Canadian setting. Okay, fine, depending on the kind of person you are, that might not appeal to you and even if you’d like this book, that description probably makes it sound very lame. But it was awesome and those are the qualities that I loved about it, so if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem, not mine.

Photo credit: Goodreads.com

The difference between this book and the other books I’ve read by LMM, is that (as you probably know) her other books are geared towards a younger, more child based audience (which of course doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment in the least) whereas this is one of LMM’s only books for grownups. This means that there is drinking and drunks and even *gasp* an illegitimate baby. While nothing in the book is quite so shocking or even unusual to a twenty-first century reader, it felt just a little bit scandalous to read about such things in an L. M. Montgomery novel. I say this because, (for the uninitiated or the grownups who haven’t hung out with Anne Shirley lately), in one of the later Anne books (I believe it’s Anne’s House of Dreams, but don’t quote me on that one) she has a baby and the narrator describes the baby as being brought by a stork. Yes, you did read that correctly, a stork. This grownup book also tiptoes around such subjects, but much less so, and you have to bear in mind that these books were written in a different time and the woman writing them was married to a minister, so I’m sure she felt restricted in what she could write.

That being said, part of LMM’s charm is the classic, from-a-completely-different-world-but-the-people-are-still-the-same-as-they-are-now feel. And after studying and annotating serious (although still enjoyable) books for my Literature exam for days on end, this was just the right break I needing before coming home and doing the same with different books for my English exam.

And now that my English exam is over (as of yesterday at noon!!) I get to move on to new books over the summer. I already have a somewhat substantial to-read list, including Romeo and Juliet (although I may just watch the movie, if that isn’t absolute heresy), anything by Alice Munro, something by Willa Cather (who was recently recommended by the best English teacher in the world), perhaps The Great Gatsby, more by LMM and more of Louisa May Alcott’s easily-read, happily-ending classics and so on.

Any audience suggestions? I want a nice mix between cozy, happy endings to be read by the pool or beach and brilliant literature that you cannot be a complete human being without having read.

Fictitious Crushes

Come on, I know you all have at least one. I admit, within the safe, anonymity of the internet (yes, irony intended… the internet’s a scary place) to having several. First there was Mr. Darcy. Of course. Really, I think having (at the very least) a slight crush on Mr. Darcy has become a cliché by this point in time. Same goes for P&P being your favourite Austen, and Elizabeth Bennet your favourite heroine. It gets old. It’s been done to death and it’s not very original. (Which is not to say, that these three points aren’t true of me, it’s just I feel silly admitting a sentiment shared by so many.)

You know what’s unique? Those people who ardently admire and love Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price. Unfortunately (or not) I’m just not one of them. Personally, I’m a huge admirer of Henry Tilney and Mr. Knightley. That’s unique enough for me. Really, I don’t understand why more people aren’t in love with them. They don’t neglect the girls they love for someone else. They aren’t arrogant and snobby. They’re nice, good guys. I mean, Mr Knightly rode through the rain for Emma! How many guys would ride, 16 miles from London, through the rain for you? And Mr. Tilney understands a good muslin. I’m with Mrs. Allen on this one, if he understands a good muslin, he’s definitely a keeper.

And, going back to Pride and Prejudice for a moment, I think we need to discuss a certain Mr. Darcy some more. No, not in a drooling, must-re-watch-five-hour-movie-AGAIN type manner, this is a far more serious discussion. I have something else to admit. A far less common confession. I’m really not all that in love with Mr. Darcy. I know, it’s a shocking, obscene thing to say. I’m sorry, but it’s true. But the thing is, what I love about Darcy is how perfect he is for Elizabeth, not how awesome he is as a person. Well, okay, I take that back, he’s an awesome person, and his capacity to change is immensely admirable, as is “his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year” (chapter 3). But I just don’t think he and I would get along very well. Like, for example, if this wasn’t real life and I were to meet Mr. and Mrs. (i.e. Elizabeth) Darcy, sure they would be “civil” enough to my face (Lizzy did train him well), but as soon as they got home to Pemberley, they’d entertain themselves for hours laughing at my hyperbole and excitability and over all ridiculousness. I think I’d get along far better with Mr. Bingley, although, he’s so sweet and naïve that he may just get on my nerves.

Of course, there’s also Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables books. He’s just so… ahhh. Like Tilney and Knightley, he’s such a great guy. And, I mean, he basically worships the ground Anne walks on and keeps up this immense love for all eight books, never waning for a moment. And finally seeing the adorable movie just escalated this “admiration”. Have you seen that movie? Have you heard the way he says “sorry” to Anne after he calls her carrots (which was totally just because he likes her and wants her attention)? It is just too, too cute. (Although, do we Canadians really say sorry like that? Is that how we talk? I’ve never noticed…)

I wish I could have found a clip from the movie, either “carrots” or “sorry” — too cute… It’s the 1985 movie, for anyone who’s interested
Photo credit: the-inn-at-lambton.cultureforum.net

Furthermore, he’s such a good sensible foil to temper Anne’s romanticism and airiness, which makes him the perfect match for me too! (Because obviously Anne and I are pretty much the same person. I wonder how L.M.M. wrote a book about me almost a hundred years before I was even born? Of course, I find that I can relate to her most in the first book, when she’s somewhere around 12 or 13. After that, she gets way more mature than I am…I say this as an eighteen year old…) Regardless, Gilbert is welcome to call me “carrots” any day of the week (you know, regardless of the fact that I’m a brunette, not a red-head).

There are, there have been and there will be many more, that’s just scratching the tip of the iceberg (is that a mixed metaphor? A mixed cliché?), but those are the most prevalent ones that come to mind.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, who else has fictional crushes they want to admit to? (Warning: If you say Mr. Darcy, I can and will judge you for being unoriginal and cliched. If you don’t say Mr. Darcy, I can and will judge you for being an unfeeling, incomplete human being.) To all the lady lovers out their, who are your favourite fictional females?

On Innocence Lost

Today I’m going to share a little story from when I was in grade three.

I crossed my legs. Then I uncrossed them and crossed them the other way. The floor was hard under my bum and I wonder if the ugly, gray carpet provided any protection from the linoleum. It was moments before the first few branches of my delicate innocence would be hacked off. The teacher was explaining the basics of narratives. “Stories need a beginning, a middle and an end,” she said. I kept picking at the awful carpet, unraveling it, strand, by strand, by strand.

Then, with eight words, came the chainsaw. “And every story needs to have a problem.”

I looked up, eyes wide with astonishment, feeling as though the carpet had been pulled from under me.

“But, but! Not every story needs a problem, right?” I protested. “There can be stories without problems, can’t there?”

“Every story needs a problem,” she repeated, bringing the saw to my heart. To my soul.

I’ve never lost any of my innocence to experience. It’s always teachers and literature. They stole (and continue to steal) it from me. But it wasn’t something they could keep for themselves. They take it and throw it away. As if my innocence was not a right or even a privilege, but an illness to be cured.

I used to be an idealist. Does that have to be synonymous with naïve? Now, I don’t know what I am. I try to hold on. I stand in front of the (metaphoric) bulldozers, holding up signs. I chain myself to the tree. I don’t want to hear the harsh truths, to face the problems that are always there, in both books and in real life.

Now that I’m older, I am actually able to fully comprehend the point about  stories needing problems. I only (fully) understood this point once I read a story (okay, it was a comic strip, the “Archie Marries Betty/Archie Marries Veronica” serial) in which THERE ARE NO PROBLEMS. And that gets boring. Really boring, really fast.

Did you notice that I was only able to fully understand and internalize that lesson once I had actually seen, with my very own eyes, what happens when a story doesn’t have a problem? Maybe ‘loss of innocence’ isn’t always such a bad thing. It’s an inevitable part of living life, and perhaps even an important part. But I think it should come from experience, not be taught in school.

(Although, as a side note, I wonder if most ‘normal’ people would count learning that “stories have problems” as losing one’s innocence. I guess normal people might not ‘get’ me. And I’m okay with that, I didn’t ask them too.)

So, do you think the stuff they teach kids in school constitutes stealing their innocence? How do you feel about that?

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