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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?

 

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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?

Happy Birth(and death)day to The Bard!

Today marks the day that William Shakespeare died and is generally accepted as the day on which he was born. If he were somehow alive, The Bard would be 448 years old.

Photo credit: BookFiend on Etsy

When I say it’s “generally accepted”, I mean that it’s sort of like a truth universally acknowledged that a William Shakespeare who died on the 23rd of April must certainly have also been born that day too. No one really knows when he was actually born, but the record says that he was baptized on the 26th of April, so “they” just decided it would be cool for his birthday and death day to coincide (that only happens to the really awesome people, I guess). (Information from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespearebirth.html)

It’s rather convenient for the literary history romanticizers that his real birthday is unknown. This way they can get all excited that he was born and died on same day, regardless of the fact that they mostly just made that up. That however, is not to say that this historical information is that much less accurate (in my opinion) than other “certain” or “proved” historical facts. I think that almost all history is in some way romanticized or biased or expanded upon to make a good story. After all, each individual’s memory of his/her own experiences isn’t even objective and completely accurate, so how can minor details that have been passed down over hundreds of years be?

It reminds me of when I was in England last summer and went to visit the last house Jane Austen lived in before she died, now called Jane Austen’s House Museum. Even her famous writing desk, the very one on which she’s universally acknowledged to have written her manuscripts on, is perhaps just a romanticism. The guides informed us that it’s probably likely that it just may have been the desk on which she wrote, because it had gone to a neighbour when she died and then the neighbour gave it back for posterity, years and years later, because Jane had gotten famous. So they somehow take this information and turn it into a “fact”, well it certainly must have been her writing desk — where else would she have written her manuscripts?

The desk on which Jane (supposedly) wrote her six brilliant novels.
Photo credit: http://district5060gse.blogspot.ca

Everything, in fact, had a similar story, all though, other than the desk, I can’t even recall very much else in the house that was actually there when Jane was (aside, of course, from her donkey cart). Even still, they managed to create a thoroughly romanticized effect. “And this bed,” the sign read, “is kind of, sort of, maybe similar to bed Jane might have, probably slept on.” It was placed in the room that she surely shared with her sister, Cassandra, although interestingly, the museum didn’t place a bed in there for her big sis to supposedly have slept on.

That being said, I not so completely cyinical as I may, at this moment sound (in fact, I try never to be cynical) and these thoughts certainly never even occurred to me while I was actually at Jane’s house. When it was all right in front of me, I was actually quite overwhelmed with the scene they had created. I quite literally burst into happy/excitable-tears the moment we arrived at my favourite author’s house, where once upon a time ago, she actually lived and I couldn’t stop tearing-up nearly the entire time we were. All I’m really trying to get across, is that not everything is as it seems (what a useful cliché that is) and that sometimes it’s important to give things some thought, before wholly accepting them as truth.

And now, in honour of Will’s kinda, sorta, maybe birthday, a quotation from Much Ado About Nothing, which I saw at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the same trip to England. (It’s interesting to note, that the theatre itself is also romanticized: it’s an “exact” reproduction of what the theatre standing in Shakespeare’s time *may* have looked like.) This passage is right at the end, once Benedick and Beatrice have finally admitted to being in love with each other, but are still keeping up their silly/witty banter. I love this scene, especially because it’s very similar to a scene that I love at the end of Pride and Prejudice. (These two works are why I’m convinced that Will and Jane invented the rom-com.)

Benedick: I pray thee now tell me, for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?

Beatrice: For them all together, which maintained so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them: but for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?

Benedick: Suffer love. a good epithet, I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.

Beatrice: In spite of your heart, I think. Alas poor heart, if you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours, for I will never love that which my friend hates

Benedick: Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.

What do you think about the romanticism of history? Do you ponder about the legitimacy of things as much as I find myself doing?

 

National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! It seems as though April is National Poetry Month, which didn’t occur to me until last week,  which I worry makes it a little late to get involved in all the festivities, like NaPoWriMo, a challenge in which poets write one poem each day all month.

However, despite my being a little late, I want to get involved in this cause (can poetry month be considered a cause?) by sharing some of my favourite poems, which have been influential in my life.

Today I’m posting the poem “Sick” by Shel Silverstein. Silverstein was my first “favourite poet” and I’ve loved his work since I was little (which makes a lot of sense, seeing as he wrote for children). While this may not have been the first poem I ever read, it’s the first poem I can recall reading and it’s still one of my favourite poems. I read it for the first time when I was in grade two, and in a way it was kind of life changing.

I was one of the “late readers”, placed in the teeny, tiny remedial reading group, also known as “the stupid group”, deny it as our teachers might. At the ripe old age of seven-and-a-half (and a quarter) I was still slowly making my way through picture books, while it seemed as though all the rest of my peers were reading what seemed like epic novels, consisting of ten whole chapters. Aside from the social stigma, I was none too bothered by my lack of reading skills.

Then in my little, six-person reading group we read the poem “Sick”, and I fell in love. Not only did it make me laugh, but it was relatable, it resonated with my entire seven-and-a-half-year-old being. It was the piece of writing that taught me the merits of the written word, and made me care about learning how to read. (Well that may be romanticizing the experience just a little, but still.) I went home that night and told my family all about this wonderful poem that we had read in school. I was so excited that my group was presenting it to the class that  I practiced my few lines over and over so I’d be able to share it with the class effectively, so they could also appreciate its awesomeness.

Now, of course, I’ve caught up with, and perhaps even surpassed, my peers as far as reading goes; in fact, I’m one of the few people in my Literature class that actually bothers to finish the assigned reading on time and I’m getting pretty good grades in that class so far — if I do say so myself.

Attributing my ability to read and my love for literature entirely to a single poem that I read in grade two is perhaps a big leap. Regardless, I’m still very appreciative to Shel Silverstein and this poem, and furthermore, to the teacher who taught me this poem, because it showed me how enjoyable reading can be, and motivated me to care about learning how to read.

You can read the poem here, and hopefully I’ll post some more before the month is out.

Have you read any memorable poems that really stayed with you?

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