Memoriam


Hello, Internet.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. A lot has happened. Namely, an election and an inauguration. And right around the time that those happened, I disappeared from this blog.

So why am I back?

It’s simple. I feel that I have held my tongue long enough. I have kept quiet about so many political issues. I have restrained myself to private group chats and one-on-one conversations. No one explicitly told me to sit back and shut up, but nevertheless, that is what I did. I have felt, in a word, silenced.

I am breaking that silence now. I’m not going to rant about policies or politics. Instead, I am going to tell you a story.

Around this time last year, I visited St. Louis with my family. We drove around the city, to every place my grandmother could remember having lived. We—my dad, my mom, my brother, my Grampa, and I—listened to my Grammy as she openly discussed her childhood with me.

We ended our day at the local cemetery, where much of our family is buried. We walked amongst the headstones, and my brother and I listened for what felt like hours to stories of family members we’d never met.

“She would have loved your writing.”

“You look just like him.”

“He was such a character.”

I’ve never met most of this side of my family, and I only dimly recognized most of the names etched into the stones. But there was a sense of connectivity binding us all together, a family both living and dead, strong enough that I felt an urge to pick up a stray rock and lay it atop the nearest grave marker. My brother did the same.

When we left the cemetery that day, I remember not knowing how to feel. I had gained so many stories, whole aspects to my family that had previously gone unexplained. And I felt some kind of loss, too, at the knowledge that I only had stories through which I could meet these people.

That cemetery was vandalized earlier this week. I was sitting at my kitchen table doing homework when I heard my father, usually so mild-mannered and polite, exclaim, “Shit.” with the kind of tone that can’t be mistaken for anything but disaster.

My head snapped up and I turned towards him, half afraid to ask what had happened, what was wrong. When he told me, something inside of me crumpled up into a little ball and hasn’t unfurled since.

My family’s headstones look to be okay, though we don’t know for sure yet. But the blow struck close enough to home to leave me reeling. I’m still reeling.

Names and stories and maybe a couple of photographs. That’s all the living have, to remember the dead.

By vandalizing the names, by destroying the places we go to tell the stories, a crime far greater than scrawling graffiti on a rock is committed. It’s the destruction of a memory, of history. It’s the attempted erasure of our ability to connect with our past.

I have kept quiet, publicly, at least, about a lot. But I cannot remain silent about this. Several of my Facebook friends—classmates, people I know personally—insist that anti-Semitism is gone and over with, that America-now is not a place of danger. I read comments and post to that effect every time I log onto social media in search of cute puppy pictures or stop-motion animation food-preparation videos. I scrolled through at least twenty of those sorts of posts the other night, as my dad sat in the other room on the phone with every family member we could think of to call.

The world is many things, but it is not yet a safe place. Anti-Semitism is not only very real and a very present threat, but it has dealt a blow to my family and to my community that cannot be un-felt, cannot be ignored. but I am not writing to rail against the world and its injustices.

Instead, I write to ask you—yes, you—to take a look around you, to see the incredible diverse world we live in.

This is not a time to turn our backs on one another. This is not a time to take out our anger. This is the time to stand together. Being divided helps no one.

Times are tough, but so are we. And the only way to make any change is to unite.

 

A Tribute

david-bowie-06In the past week, this world suffered the loss of two great, influential, unsilenceable voices, at the same age and from the same disease, within days of each other. But I’m not here to write an obituary. Goodbye is not something I want to say.

Obviously, the men themselves are gone, and that alone is an indescribable loss, one that shook more than one country with each headline that appeared. But with each of those headlines came a resurgence of their greatest and their lesser-known works, and with that came a brief reemergence of their presences, as the globe grieved.

I couldn’t tell you what David Bowie liked to eat for breakfast, but I can tell you this story.

At the school I attended for eleven years, we had chickens. Lots of them. There was one bird in particular that we called the Bowie Chicken, because it had a massive head of fluffy white feathers and a skinny long body. Other chickens pecked at it and shut it out of the coop because it was a different breed, and eventually its life was in danger for being in the close vicinity of the rest of them. so it left, and found a new nesting spot. We all thought that the Bowie Chicken was dead, but then a week later, someone found it perfectly fine, living in a new space, a chicken that had literlaly crossed a road, totally unconcerned with anything other than food, shelter, and whatever other thoughts run through a typical avian brain. So we built it a new coop, across the road, big enough for only one. And so it lived on (until its untimely end at what we assume was a coyote attack).

This story probably seems like some kind of allegory with morals at the end of it, but I’m really just telling a story about a chicken.alanrickman

I can’t tell you Alan Rickman’s favorite color, but I can inform you that I hear his voice whenever I come across the words “always,” and “obviously,” in writing. JK Rowling wrote the words, but he breathed life into them. One time, I wrote a one-act play and named a character Alan, purely because I kept hearing Rickman’s voice in my head every time the character spoke.

These stories probably seem totally unconnected, and maybe they are. But here’s why I’m telling them:

These are the stories that won’t make any sense in 20 years. David Bowie won’t be a go-to for the kids born in the next 10 years. The “Harry Potter generation” is largely grown up. I’m at the tail end of that group, and with every iteration of a movie or an illustrated body of work, or theme park, or even newly published fanfictions, the character of Severus Snape changes drastically, until Rickman’s portrayal is only remembered as “the original,” and then maybe not even that.

In 5 years, Love Actually may be considered a cult classic, and shortly after that, it may be wholly obsolete.

Harry Potter opened up a whole new world of kids’ lit—notice how quickly Twilight and the Hunger Games followed in its wake, as the YA-that-wasn’t-just-for-kids. Tis is great. It means that kids now have access to a much, much larger selection of books and worlds and make-believe than I had access to. But with that, the next generation of kids will never know the wonder of everyone reading Harry Potter, of an entire generation across the globe, all united in the fact that we were waiting for the next installment. There was a time when every year came with something new, either book or movie, and we all got together at midnight to see its release, often dressed in full costume.

The next generation of kids isn’t going to know that. Their understanding of characters like Severus Snape is going to be drawn from a much larger base of pictures and probably portrayals than mine was. And so Alan Rickman’s portrayal fades away.

David Bowie was already not really considered as prominent a figure for my generation as the one before. But I was raised on my parents’ favorites as much as my own and my friends’ tastes. And so of course he figured into the equation. But I haven’t run into a single kid under the age of twelve who has watched Labyrinth. Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale are known for the Dark Knight now, which means that no one knows they ever did the Prestige, and we live in a world where a Tesla is a car first, scientist second, movie character never.

And so David Bowie is left behind as well.

If/When I have kids, I’ll tell them about Bowie and Rickman. I’ll be met with blank stares. I’ll show them pictures and articles and videos, and they’ll get a vague idea of what made these two men so important to me, but it won’t quite be the same to them.

It can’t be, because that’s how pop culture and generational icons work.

It’s how I feel about certain movies and TV shows, and rarely books but sometimes those, too, yes. Just barely old enough that I can’t connect to it, because it’s of-its-time in a way that I never can be, so I can be literate in the subject but it’ll never be truly mine.

It’s not a study in which I can be educated, the way that books or Alfred Hitchcock might be, or the whole genre of film noir. It’s ICONS, who will be remembered as such.

I have always been on the very young end of those who could fully appreciate Rickman and Bowie, but I it doesn’t change the fact that I could appreciate them.

I think I always viewed them as kind of immortal. I’m not sure why, it probably had something to do with only ever having seen them on a screen.

But now.

Now they’re gone, and we’ve said goodbye, and the continuation of their legacies and we have witnessed the resurgence of memories surrounding them. But it won’t be the same. It’ll never be the same.

So this is my promise. The next generation of humans on this earth may never understand why, but I’ll do my best. I’ll read them Harry Potter until they’re impatient to read ahead on their own, and that’s when they’ll be ready do exactly that. They’ll watch the Labyrinth. I might even tell them the chicken story, once they’ve seen enough that it’ll make sense.

I’ll leave things out. I’ll fall short. I may not even realize I’ve done so until it’s irreparable.

But I will have given them a taste, an inkling, a small glimmer of understanding. I’ll never be able to impart my experience in full, which is good because this way they build their own experiences, which is likely as it should be. But perhaps this way, the legacies can live on.

Gone but not forgotten, indeed.
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Top reads of 2015: my year in books

Some of you may remember, at the beginning of 2015, I talked a little about a challenge that I was doing—to read 365 books in 365 days. As of today, I have read 372 books, and, being the generally opinionated person that I am, of course I have favorites.

Disclaimer: These books are not all of my favorites from 2015. In fact, some of them probably don’t make my top 20 of 2015 list. This post is mostly here so that you all can see some of what I’ve been reading, and maybe pick up one or two of these books in the near future. I also tried to vary the genres, so there’s something for everyone here.

  1. Traveling
    Honestly, whenever I was traveling somewhere, I did more writing than reading. But as it happens, some books are simply made for reading while on the move.-Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson. It’s a book about a road trip! It’s perfect for reading while in the car, preferably while going somewhere fairly far away.
    – Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights, by Salman Rushdie. This adaptation of the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights feels kind of like Salman Rushdie read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and decided that the jinni had sort of gotten short shrifted, so he wrote this.
  1. INSPIRATION
    these were the books that made me want to pick up and do something, or at the very least, gave me new role models.- Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. Anyone who has known me for more than 5 seconds is fully aware of my all-consuming Hamilton obsession. But also the book is great.
    – Notorious RBG, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik – if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had not already been my idol, this book would have convinced me. If I do a quarter in my lifetime of what she accomplished in hers, then I will consider my life a good one. 
    – Between the World and Me, 
    by Ta-Nehisi Coates —Coates not only points out what the issues are, but frames them with gorgeous prose, in the form of a letter to his son. It is rare that a book leaves me completely speechless, but somehow this one did exactly that.

    (Side note: all three of these are about real people, who solved/solve problems using words and writing and communication, rather than through violence. In my opinion, everyone should read these three books)

  2. New Favorite Authors
    these are authors whose work I had not read before 2015, but now I’ve read the majority of their stuff if not all of it, and I’m pretty sure I’d pick up anything they wrote. The four most prominent:- Paolo Bacigalupi—This guy writes really dark fiction, that is in a lot of ways the sci-fi take on John McPhee (mentioned later in this list). The idea being: When humans wage war on nature, nature always wins. My favorite of his is The Windup Girl, although The Water Knife is what initially drew me to his work.
    -Victoria Schwab—also known as VE Schwab when it comes to her books intended for an older audience. If you’re looking for wacko fantasy adventures with a definite twist, her stuff is for you. I think my two favorites are Vicious and A Darker Shade of Magic. 
    – Jonathan Safran Foer—I had heard this guy’s name quite a bit before I ever picked up one of his books. I adored Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (and yes, I liked Everything is Illuminated quite a lot, too). Also, he’s married to Nicole Krauss. If you’ve read any of her stuff, then you’ll understand why I find it important to note that.
    – Julia Alvarez— I picked up In the Time of the Butterflies hoping for some insight into the history of censorship and constantly shifting governments which led to the repression of literary movements in the Dominican Republic. I ended up falling in love with the story, and the people, and when I finished In the Name of Salomé, I realized that I will read anything this woman writes.
  1. Recommended to me
    All of these were recommended to me I am not going to say much about any of these, because any explanation would give away spoilers, but if you have found any of your literary tastes aligning with mine, please, please, please pick up one of these books.– The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
    – A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
    – Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
  1. No one’s heard of
    These are the books whose titles, when I try to name drop, result in questioning looks of bafflement.
    – The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan. The Night Circus– meets- Station Eleven in a lot of ways, mixed with an unearthly kind of beauty and sadness that I can’t quite describe. 
    – The Girl With All the Gifts, 
    by M.R. Carey. It’s a painful reminder of the limits of human nature. Also Joss Whedon blurbed it.
    – All God’s Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw,
     by Ned Cobb and Theodore Rosengarten.  Nonfiction, written down as the man told it. Reading it feels like having a conversation.
  2. Chosen because author
    These are what I call my “auto-read authors.” I liked them before this challenge, I read more of their work during it, and I certainly plan to continue reading their work after.
    Neil Gaiman: Sandman: Overture (if you think I’m cheating by naming a comic, then fine I also read Trigger Warning and that’s up there in my favorite-short-story-collections list). I waited years for this book, and now that I’ve read it, of course it ended up on this list.
    Brandon Sanderson: Mistborn: the Well of Ascension, and also warped, twisty fantasy with odd twists and turns and loveable characters… what’s not to like?
    Barbara Kingsolver: I’ve read a lot of Kingsolver’s work, and while nothing has topped The Poisonwood Bible, my favorite of hers that I read this year was Flight Behavior. 
  3. Chosen because cover
    You know how you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Yeah, well, I kind of did exactly that here.
    – Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about this book other than “highly regarded,” and “dragon.” Dragon was a little misleading, but it totally deserves the “highly regarded.”
    – I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (Y’all. This book. I CANNOT SPEAK ENOUGH ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS BOOK.)
    – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. If you like fantasy and Charles Dickens, or Thomas Hardy, meet the marriage of the three.
  4. My biggest ship
    Yeah, I can’t always restrain the inner fangirl. Warning: Possible spoilers may be present here.
    – Celaena/Sam, from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
    – Lila/Tarver, from These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meghan Spooner
    – Cecil/Carlos, from Welcome to Night Vale, by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. Yes, it’s a podcast. Yep, also a book. Cecil and Carlos are perfection.
    – CHAZ/RAFFY, from On the Jellicoe Road. Or possibly Jude/Narnie. Honestly, any of the relationships. Anything to do with this book.
  5. Despite the reputation
    despite the high-minded literacy of many of my reading choices, I’m afraid I’m also a hormonal teenage girl. So, yes, there are pieces of sappy YA fluffiness on this list, and I do really enjoy them, they’re not guilty pleasure books, okay please don’t judge me. I’m not going to show covers because, well, you’d judge me far too much.- The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines), by Richelle Mead. Ignore the stupid covers and the word “vampire” in any summary. Vampire Academy was good, despite the covers and the remarkably off-putting title, and Richelle Mead is some kind of storytelling sorceress.
    – Rebel Belle/actually pretty much anything by Rachel Hawkins… if you’re looking for some light reading, full of quippy lines and the occasional oddball randomness, Rachel Hawkins is my go-to.
    – the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Once again, ignore the covers, pretend it doesn’t say “alien.” It’s actually good, I swear.
    – Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I don’t care how fluffy and unrealistic everything about this book happens to be, it gave me the warm fuzzies, and continues to do so every time I reread it. Therefore, I shall keep rereading it.
  6. Made me cry
    My mother can attest to the fact that at least two of these left me sobbing at 2am, because I stayed up late to finish reading, and then I turned back to the beginning and started reading them all over again. Because of the risk of spoilers, I can’t tell you why I love them so much. Just read them, please.- On the Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta (again)
    – I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (again)
    – Winger and Stand-Off, by Andrew Smith
    – The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman
  7. Left me delighted
    When I was reading these books, I kept ending up with this dumb little smile that wouldn’t go away. With the exception of one, I won’t say why, because if you read them, you deserve to figure out all of the little “Easter eggs” by yourself.- Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
    – Welcome to Night Vale, 
    by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink (again)
    – Carry On, 
    by Rainbow Rowell

    – Wintersmith, 
    by Terry Pratchett. (I should point out that Wintersmith is actually a re-read, because I did go back and read through all of the Discworld books when Sir Terry Pratchett died, without counting them as part of my 365 goal. Wintersmith is my favorite Discworld book, and while it did feel like reuniting with old friends, I also cried at least once)
  8. It grew on me
    I did not start out expecting to like any of these, but on finishing them, I realized that I… did. Evolution, I suppose.- Shadow & Bone kicks of the Grisha trilogy, by Leigh Bardugo. Book 1? Not so great. Book 3? Abso-flipping-lutely fantastic, and it led to Six of Crows, which actually might make my top 20 of 2015 list.
    – Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. I hated pretty much everything about book 1, but for some reason I kept going… and I’m very glad I did, because book 3 might be one of the best conclusions to a YA trilogy I’ve read in a long time.
    – Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I didn’t like the first couple chapters of this book, but somehow I finished the book clutching it to my chest, thoroughly upset because the library wanted it back?
  9. Best transport to a Different Time/Place
    Reading is often all about the escapism.- Red Rising, by Pierce Brown (Space. A really, really scary version of space.)
    – Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee (the current state of the Earth)
    – The Cornerstone, by Zoë Oldenbourg. (13th century France)
    – Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman (again). (Dreams. Stars. Upside down, twisty versions of reality)
  10. Best narration
    These books are all excellent, but I can say with zero reservations whatsoever that for ALL of them, the narration is a significant part of what made them fantastic in the first place. Unfortunately, if I tell you why, I risk spoiling a lot.

– Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
– The Martian, by Andy Weir
– Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire

  1. Best Endings
    These are the books whose endings felt resolved. Complete. Obviously, I can’t say much here because SPOILERS. But oh, the satisfaction. These were the books that I spent ages clutching desperately, wishing I didn’t have to let go, because it felt so perfect. Then I turned around and started reading the same story all over again, just so I didn’t have to leave.- Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley
    – Winger 
    and Stand-Off, by Andrew Smith (again)
    – On the Jellicoe Road
    , by Melina Marchetta (again)

Happy new year, everyone!
(all image creds to Goodreads)

Stress is the worst, but here’s how I learned to deal with it

 

Last year, as most of you probably know, I was a bit of a mess. School and extracurricular activities had completely taken over my life, and I felt like I was drowning in stuff that would never get done. It took me a fairly long while to really feel any better than ambivalent about going back to school—I was terrified that this year would turn out no better than last year, that there was no space left for improvement. Well, I was wrong. I’ve made it through a semester of junior year, which is supposed to be the most stressful time in high school. I won’t lie—it’s tough. But last year was worse.

Here’s the deal with the worst experiences ever, though. Most of us will do anything to prevent them from happening again.

As a result, I spent some quality time thinking about stress, and how I, personally, process and react to it.

So, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the 4 best methods I found for dealing with the massive stress overload that is junior year.

  1. Running
    It’s no secret on this blog that I run. A lot. There’s something about being active, and getting away—mentally and physically—from the work on my desk. Even if not everything gets done, I can say that I ran 5 miles that day. I can take an hour, hit the trails, and when I come back, everything seems a little more manageable. This one might not work so well for people who don’t like running, but… for me, running isn’t just a way of getting in exercise. It’s a form of meditation, a chance to get out of my head and stop overthinking everything. I can just be, me with the nature and the music that is inevitably playing a little too loudly through my headphones, and when I get home, I generally have achy legs, a raging dehydration headache, and a sense that I have done something that day—which is worth a lot, when it seems like it’s impossible to get anything done. Plus, exercise endorphins help to relax you and get a better night’s sleep, out of pure exhaustion if nothing else.
    running
  2. Baking
    On the surface, this looks like it’s just adding another thing to do, in an already over-packed schedule, and it’s timed and messy and easy to screw up… but I don’t see it that way. Yes, I get covered in flour and usually manage to get dough or batter up to my elbows, which proves to be quite difficult to clean off. Yes, it is timed, and it’s occasionally a bit nerve-wracking when you have to check the oven a million times in a five-minute span because at first everything looks undercooked, but if you leave it in too long it gets burnt. And yes, I do it anyway. Baking rarely takes any longer than an hour or two. Like running, it makes me feel like I’ve actually done something enjoyable that day. I get to follow instructions, with visible (and edible!) proof that I’ve done it right, which is one of my eternal frustrations with school—I never know how well I have or haven’t done, until I get something back with a number on it. Baking grants me that level of instant gratification, and because the instructions do often require some level of focus, it allows me to not think about everything else that I have to do. It lets me get outside of my own head a little bit. Plus, I get cookies or muffins or banana bread.
    (I should point out that finals week mostly means my house smells like cookies and bananas for the whole week straight, and we didn’t have space for all the baked goods. Unavoidable hazard, I suppose?)
    And I was able to bring in cookies during finals week, for my stressed-out friends and classmates, which was nice, and still have leftovers, which are currently in my freezer.
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  1. Journaling
    Like running, I doubt that this one will surprise anyone who has read this blog for a while, or who knows me in person. I’ve been carrying around small journals since I was little, though I only got serious about writing every day when I was thirteen or so. That need to write—not just fiction, but also poetry, and my own thoughts, even early blog post drafts—has waxed and waned, but has always been present, and lately it’s taken the form of regular journaling, essentially a continuous freewrite on the subject of what happened that day. It’s unbelievably helpful for thinking through the events of the day, processing it and de-stressing from it at the same time. It’s a nice way to end the day, especially if I can think of any good things that happened during the day, which I might otherwise forget in favor of stressing out over pointless details. In addition to journaling, I’ve also been keeping an obsessively organized planner, instead of the computer calendar I used to use. I don’t know—something about the act of writing down plans, and checking items off with their little checkboxes, is really relaxing and it makes me feel much better organized and more accomplished.
    journaling.jpg
  2. Sleep
    I cannot emphasize this enough. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. It’s okay if not everything gets done. Sleep is the foundation of good health, both mental and physical. There is no point in pulling an all-nighter to finish a project, if the work is going to be shoddy and not very well thought-out. It might seem like the work is up to par, but trust me. If it happens after 2 am on a regular basis, chances are, the work is not my best. This is probably the biggest difference between this year and last year—I’ve started prioritizing sleep over assignments, and… it’s actually kind of miraculous. The assignments don’t all get done, but my teachers understand. My grades have gone up (reducing a major point of stress right there). The world doesn’t stop spinning if I don’t finish a minor science lab. I haven’t (knock on wood) gotten sick this year.
    Obviously, I’m not advocating for everyone to suddenly slack off on all their work. But I am saying that every once in a while, it’s okay to not be perfect, if it means getting a decent night’s sleep out of it.

Through these four actions, I’ve gotten back to enjoying school. I no longer feel like I’m drowning in more work than I can handle. Junior year is tough, but so far it’s been doable. I certainly wouldn’t repeat what I went through last year, but I’m glad that I learned what I did from the experience.
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We Must Unite As Humans

100 Ways to Write

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Before we get started, I want everyone to know that I am safe. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me. Even though I am not in Paris, I have learned who my true friends and family are. The ones who I didn’t even think cared that I’m in France are the ones who were the most concerned, so thank you so much for contacting me.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Paris, and it’s fair to say that I have been constantly asking myself what would have happened if I had been there a couple weeks later. I look at pictures of the shooting and recognize exactly where I stood when I was there. Except instead of streets filled with markets and chatter, I see silence and blood.

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5 Things to Consider Before You NaNo

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You all probably know what NaNoWriMo is if you’ve been following my blog for a while. It’s National Novel Writing Month—30 days, 50,000 words. It’s tough, it’s fun, it’s my favorite month of the year (November), and I recommend the experience to every writer out there. But NaNo is not for the lighthearted! So here are some thoughts from a veteran, for anyone thinking of trying it out this year.
1. Before you start writing, figure out what it is that you want to get out of NaNo
. Content generation? A writing community? The introspective aspect of writing, where you just put words on a page day after day, more like journaling? I highly suggest that you figure out what you want from the experience before you actually start working. NaNo is difficult; there’s no denying that. It’s really easy to get discouraged if you don’t meet a word count one day, or if you hit a plot wall. So, it’s important to consider options like Camp NaNo, or Youth NaNo, both of which allow you to adjust your own word count through the month, instead of holding you to the 50K.

I find that the most important aspect of NaNo is the constant immersion in the story—I have to be in my characters’ heads every day, so I never get lost writing my way in and out of their points of view. Of course, other aspects are still important—write-ins are basically my favorite events ever, and I love having the ability to discuss writer-y things with other people who are in a similar place to where I am. My friends and I will sometimes just sit in a circle, typing furiously, and only talking when someone hits a plot hole, or runs into an inspiration wall, at which point we all brainstorm until we have collectively brainstormed some decent ideas.

2. Know your writing comforts. Food, music… you name it. For me, the food is mostly hot beverages, particularly coffee (hot coffeeand black, or iced with almond milk), or hot tea (I typically alternate between Earl Grey, peppermint, and green with jasmine, depending on how much I need the caffeine). I even have a travel mug that has the official NaNoWriMo seal on it, plus a Faulkner quote and “Slay 50K” written on it. Music, in the past, has been many instrumental playlists, but this year… well, I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack continuously for two months at this point, and I have no reason to believe that that’s going to stop, because I’m still completely obsessed (Besides, “Hamilton wrote the OTHER 51!” has become my inspiration to keep going whenever I consider quitting anything). I jot down notes in physical notebooks (my current one is adorable and slightly smaller than my hand, and I love it), using fountain pens, so I try to have those on hand as well.

3. Connected to writing comforts, how about the writing necessities? The comforts are the things that it’s nice to have around. The necessities are the bare essentials. For me, it’s the hot beverage and the laptop. And as for my environment… I’m a high school student on the go. I carry a laptop with me pretty much everywhere, and as long as I’m sitting still, I can write. It’s one of my magical talents—I can focus on one thing to the absolute exclusion of everything else. Once I’m reading or writing, nothing can break that focus, unless there is a physical intrusion between my face/hands and the page/screen. So, I don’t need a particular space for writing. But I do try really hard to avoid writing while I’m in my bed: it’s very easy to forget to sleep during NaNo, and I try to keep my bed a designated place for rest, and not work. And sleep. Sleep is a necessity. It’s not tangible, like the rest of this list, but I cannot reiterate its importance enough.

4. Figure out your inspiration. Everyone needs it. Figure out what yours is—for me, it’s mostly a million different quotes about creativity, and my 365/365 goal (read a book per day in2015) has been a huge contributor to my writing. For you, it might be a sport. What’s most important is that you love it, and it’s enough to keep you writing. My two ‘quotes to live by’ for NaNo tend to be “If a story is in you, it has to come out,” from Faulkner, and also “Sometimes, you wake up. Sometimes, the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly,” from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The second quote might seem really random, but it reminds me that I need to let my imagination loose—as Natalie Goldberg would say, I am free to write the worst junk in America! The important thing is that I am writing, and I just have to rememberthat there is a chance that buried somewhere underneath the mire and silt is something really good, which I can work with later to make it even better. I also have added in a new quote, to which I alluded earlier—“Hamilton wrote the other 51!” I’m obsessed with Hamilton. Not denying it. Just accepting it and living with it happily. And if A.Ham could write 51, I can write 50K.

YPL

5. Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just enjoy it. There’s a lot to love about NaNo. I don’t know where my writing would be without it—Touchstones, my published novel, started out as a NaNoWriMo project my freshman year of high school. Light of the Oceans, the novel I am currently editing, was written entirely over the course of and between two sessions of Camp NaNo, in April and July of this year. But as much as I love NaNo, I have to keep it in perspective. It’s not the only thing in my life. I also take classes, extremely challenging ones. I have a social life. I have a job. I do s
ports. I manage to squeeze NaNo into every minute of the day when I’m not doing something, but… everyone has the days when you don’t hit the word count. Everyone stares at their computer at some point in the month, and thinks, why did I ever decide to write a novel this month????

Everyone deals with it. That’s not what matters. The important part is how you deal with it. You can’t beat yourself up over what you haven’t done, or what you dislike about your novel. What you can do is work with what you’ve got. Go back to those goals, those hopes and expectations of what you want to get out of NaNo. Think about your priorities. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to change up the plot by introducing alien goldfish that eat brains, if that’s what it takes to get the plot moving again.

When I don’t meet my goals for a day, it sucks, and I do spend a few moments feeling sorry for myself. But then I go for a run, or I spend ten minutes actually living in the real world, the one that isn’t made of paper and words. Sometimes I even go to bed early and marvel at how much more functional I am the next day.

The next day is always a fresh chance to catch up, to change directions, to try something new. That’s how NaNo works—you take it day by day, and there is no judgment. The whole point is to create a supportive, encouraging, writing community.

I have been NaNo-ing for 4 years, and I have won the past 3. I love this writing process and the people I’ve met as a result of it more than anything, and if you’re considering giving it a shot this year, I highly, highly encourage you to try it out!

I will probably not be updating this blog much with my own writing over the next couple of months, because of NaNo and editing. But I will try to post some helpful links over the course of NaNo!

Write on-
Maxxe

pic creds to YPLibrary for all photos in this post, and to Kittywow for the gif

Protest and Celebration: Atlanta Pride Parade 2015

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It’s that time of year again…  October. Nope, I’m not talking about pumpkins. I’m not talking about farms or scarecrows or black cats. I’m talking about PRIDE!

(For those who may not know:  the Pride Parade is an event that celebrates LGBTQ+ culture in all its forms. I blogged about it last year if you want to check that out).

It’s kind of like a moving festival, a party that walks around a few blocks of the city, in all its rainbow glory…

But it’s also a protest.

I made a point of highlighting that in last year’s post. Pride may resemble a festival on nearly every front, but there’s more than that under the surface.

There are so many people who do not have the freedom to say “this is who I am, deal with it.” For every happy, out-of-the-closet, comfortable-with-who-they-are person I saw yesterday? There’s someone else, living two lives: one on the inside, and one on the outside. And as much as Pride is a celebration of the former, it’s also a show of solidarity for the latter, a kind of proof that it can be better. And above all, it’s a way of showing that it should be better, that no one should have to live in fear.

People like to make a distinction between “gay rights” and HUMAN rights. But can we all agree that such a distinction is utterly, and useless, because those two categories are one and the same?

There were some definite similarities between Pride this year and last year.

As always, the people at the parade are incredibly friendly, and colorful, and bright. No one shows up to Pride unless they’re comfortable with being who they are, or at least comfortable believing what they believe. There’s a reason the event is called pride. I, personally, am proud to be an ally. I have friends who are proud to carry a rainbow flag. I marched with the Jewish group again this year, and I am proud to be in that community as well, a community that supports PEOPLE. Because, really, we’re all people.

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Last year, I noted that the LGBTQ+ community in Atlanta is much larger and much more diverse than I had thought.  This year, I was expecting much of what I saw: hundreds of people. Flooding the streets and the lawns and the sidewalks. Bright colors.  From all different backgrounds. And every one of them, screaming at the top of their lungs, “HAPPY PRIDE.”

As we walked, I got to watch one of my good friends figure out  what I realized last year. No matter who you are or what you are, there is someone who loves you and someone who will accept you.

I marched with a group of Jewish teens last year, and I marched with a group of Jewish teens this year. But last year, I was the wide-eyed newbie, who had only ever seen the parade from the sidelines. This year, I got to watch as my friends took in the scenery when we walked by.  I got to watch as they realized just how BIG and accepting the community in Atlanta really is.

I know that I tend to think of my city as much smaller than it is. But it’s actually enormous. And the number of people who showed up to march yesterday are only a small percentage of the people they/we represent.

The difference between this year and last year is also decidedly present in the protest itself. Last year, we were marching for the purpose of changing legislation, for shifting societal ideals, for making the world a better, more equal place. This year, all of that was still true. BUT IT WAS A CELEBRATION, because of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding gay marriage this summer.

We’re still fighting, and it’s a long and arduous struggle, no doubt about it. But we’re making progress, which is something that is really important to remember.

I talked about the Pansy Patrol last year. We were protesting, yes. But other people showed up to protest our protest, saying that the community we represent is somehow fundamentally wrong. They were carrying signs, on long poles. Within seconds of their showing up, the Pansy Patrol came to the rescue, holding signs with giant flowers on the ends of them, strategically placing them to block the nasty signs. But this year, the Pansy Patrol was about half the size it was last time. The reasoning? The number of people they were blocking was about half the size as well. One more small triumph.

Another difference, on a more localized scale: I, personally, was much more comfortable reaching out and talking to new people. Not just exchanging perfunctory “hellos,” but actually listening to what they had to say. NOTE: there are some unbelievable stories out there, and they all deserve to be heard. Snapchat-4850517411537377966

Fun fact: two people can always find a commonality if they talk to each other long enough.

In most cases yesterday, we were playing “Jewish Geography”, and finding common acquaintances. But in some cases, it was a lot simpler than that. I had a quote written on my arm, from a series of books by Jacqueline Carey. “Love as thou wilt.” In the books, this pretty much means: “Love whoever the heck you want. If it’s love, and you’re happy, then the rest of us don’t give a flying flip.”

I wasn’t expecting anyone to actually get that reference. But what do I know?

At least four people stopped me and said something about the words. Something like “OH MY GOSH I LOVE THAT SERIES,” or “you have good taste in books.”

That’s the thing about Pride: I wasn’t just a walker or a gawker. No one is. I was a participant. This is the point I am trying to hammer home: it’s a community, one in which it doesn’t matter who or what you are, because you’re a person, you’re strong, and you matter—and at Pride, people get that, from Republican politicians to Rabbis, to the Pansy Patrol.

I’m a straight, cisgender, female. I’m an ally. I love this community, and I am so far beyond proud to see my city embrace it.