Monday, August 27, 2012

"Who are you?"

"Tell me," I say. "Who are you? What do you like? What do you hate? What's your favorite ice cream flavor? What's your biggest secret? Okay sorry, a little personal there. But seriously, what's your story? Where do you come from? What do you aspire to be?"

This past week, I've been rigorously working on a story I started last year as a school project for World Literature. As an Honors student, I had to write an allegory based off a position paper I wrote earlier in the semester. In my position paper, I explored the conflict of trust. What do you do if a friend asks you to keep a potentially life-threatening secret for them? Do you keep the secret and risk your friend's life, or do you break their trust and call for help––willing to accept the consequences? (You can read my position paper here.) I loved the assignment, and have been meaning to return to the story to make edits. My hope is to eventually look for publishing opportunities, but before I start looking for agents or contests, my story has a lot of revision to undergo.

In my revisions, I've focused heavily on character development. The reader's attachment and sensitivity to the two young protagonists in my story is crucial to keeping their interest, just like in many of the stories we all know and love. I think we can all somehow relate to Katniss Everdeen's constant self-doubt. Without this connection, we most likely wouldn't care about her survival in the Hunger Games, or her conflicting love interests. We care because we understand.

As I dive deeper into my characters, I am constantly asking the question, "Who are you?" I wish I could just sit down with my characters for a cup of coffee and chat. There's so much to discover. And this is why I love to write. It's like starting a new relationship. "What's your favorite subject in school? Do you have any cousins? Are you more of a cat or a dog person?" Question mark, question mark, question mark. By the time I finish a story, I feel like I have the responsibility as a writer to know my characters well enough that I could theoretically answer any question about them, even if it is irrelevant to their story. In the case of my allegory, is Charity a dog person or a cat person? What about Fe? Charity prefers to move at a slower pace...she likes cats. Fe...Fe can't answer the question. She loves all animals. And if I find myself unable to answer a question, it's time for another Panera meeting.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Passing By

That cloud looks like an anteater, that one a teapot, that one a genie lamp. There's a cat playing with yarn, Santa's sleigh parked over the treetops, an elephant with angel wings, a duck flying South five months too early. All this I try to capture on the page as quick as I can, before the wind blows it all away. Already I look up and the elephant is blind, enveloped by angel wings. Santa's sleigh has taken flight, the genie's three wishes are expired. The yarn has rolled downstream, and with it followed the cat. There were no ants to be found for the anteater, no one jumped for tea, and the duck has left the vicinity. Now that cloud looks like a cardinal's head, that one like a long-neck dinosaur. A teddy bear tans on its back, a skinny okra whale paddles through the blue of the sky, lost, unsure of how to get to the rushing water below. The wind blows. The kayaks slam against the rocks and hip-check each other; the waves crash like dominoes. I look up again. The cardinal found a mate somewhere, the long-neck realized it's only a few million centuries in the wrong era. The teddy bear has flipped onto its stomach to give its backside some color, and the skinny orka has moved upstream, looking for its mother.
Everything is constantly changing, although we may not always notice it. We notice not the change in the tides until we look back twenty minutes later and find the sea has taken a fancy to our flip-flops and sand buckets. Neither do we notice how tall our little brother has grown or how his voice has changed; it is always the relatives we see once a year at the family gatherings who pinch his cheeks and marvel at how big he's grown. Yet there are some things, like the clouds, that remind us of how fast time flies, and therefore remind us to not take any moment for granted.

It made me think of what the priest said at my church last week. "To dwell on life's big questions––who am I? why am I here? where am I going?" he said, "––would make the act of living an unbearably tedious and tiring job." Likewise, to dwell on the gradual and inevitable process of changing and aging, would be enough to make one either A) Shut themselves in a dark room to keep from seeing the passing of day to night or night to day or B) Spend their entire life on a hopeless journey searching for some Harry Potterish Elixir of Life.

Perhaps change is so scary because the majority of the time, it seems sudden. Yet I can look at the sky and see the clouds moving, merging, separating...anxious critters, childhood heroes, inanimate objects anxious to be on their way, and I am reminded that life is always moving forward. A few days ago we had our annual back-to-school ice cream social. It's a fun time, with lots of hugging and reunions and chatter about summer adventures. Another summer has come and gone, leaving me, as always, wondering where did the summer go?

Once again, here's hoping you're all enjoying these final days of summer!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sundress and Curls

I am a vintage girl. My mom and I have never been big shoppers, but we LOVE vintage and consignment shopping. We usually never need anything, so we are sticklers when it comes to paying full price. One of our most popular shopping lines? "Oh that's so pretty! [check price tag] Eh, it's not that pretty." My mom and I are fortunate that we fit into a lot of each other's clothes. There's been a fair number of times I've gone into school and been complimented on a shirt or sweater that I stole from my mom's closet that morning. It works both ways, though. Honestly, I don't know what we're going to do when I go to college in a few years. 
The best part about being able to share clothes and accessories is that we get double-use out of many of the things we buy. Rarely do I buy something unless I know my mom can wear it too. Not so long ago we bought this great sunhat. Who knows when we'll wear it? But it's fun to have, and it was on sale for $15. Our rule of thumb is that if we see something we like but we don't need it, then it's worth it if we can wear it enough times so it's only $1 for every time we wear it. With both of us sharing it, that means we each only have to wear it seven or eight times––and hats last forever!

I guess you can say I've had this vision for the past couple of weeks of walking around downtown somewhere in a sundress. All summer my wardrobe has been running shorts, a tank top, sneakers, and a ponytail. With my family, it is best to be prepared for a run, swim, or bike ride at any given time. But I have all these other summer clothes that I hardly got to wear, and with August tick-ticking away, I figured it was about time to stop waiting around for a special occasion and make one.

So today, after a sweaty midday run and swim, my mom and I drove to a cute downtown in Cape Cod and played "tourist," fashioning sundresses, sandals, curled eyelashes, and Mom wearing the sunhat. She showed me this hidden treasure trove of old vintage clothing called "Vintage in Vogue." It was a theater geek's dream, and it was like I was shopping for "Pirates of Penzance" all over again. Three-tier cake hats, an entire jungle of furs, and the entire wardrobe of Whoville. It was like taking a step back in time...or a leap into the future.

This was my favorite. But wait, you think it's just a jacket and tie?
Think again: it's a suit! This thing seriously belonged in Wonderland.

My mom and I had a blast trying on clothes, and boy, did we find some interesting ones.
I found this stuff in the dressing room and I couldn't resist!

No joke,  Mom was trying to find an occasion she could wear this. You think it's a dress? Hah! Think again. It's a one-piece suit...the bottom is shorts. Thank goodness it was a a little too tight in the shoulders :)

Hat's off!
Do you like vintage and consignment shopping? Shopping at yard sales? Thrift stores? I personally think it's fun to wear someone else's clothes. Every piece of clothing has a story, and especially when you get it from a consignment or vintage or thrift store, the stories are unimaginable. But, my all-time favorite is still hand-me-downs...hands down. 

Aside from the shopping, what I loved most about the trip was that we just dressed up for ourselves.  I complimented a woman at the assistant living home once about how she always looks so dressed up. 10 o'clock in the morning I'm there, and she's sitting on the porch crocheting with her Dolly Parton hair and Legally Blonde pink attire (we're talking pink pants, pink blouse, pink blazer, pink shoes, pink lips, and pink jewelry galore.) This woman has nowhere to go, no one to meet, no one to impress. As she put it, she dresses up for herself, because it makes her feel good. Later this evening we went to see a musical, and I curled my hair. Could I have gotten ahead on more summer reading? Sure! But I just really wanted to curl my hair.

Do you like to dress up? I go back and forth, but I think since I was little there's always been a part of me that loved to dress up and perform. What I love most about being a part of my school's drama program is that it gives me the opportunity to be someone I'm not. On stage, the possibilities are endless.

Here's hoping you're all enjoying these last weeks of summer!

Did you notice? link

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Letter to My Future Self

It was 7:30pm and I didn't feel like writing. Grandma had a book waiting for me by my beside table at the beach house,  so I wasn't about to start a new book when we were going to be there in less than half an hour, either. But I could always skim. Naturally, Grandma had several books in the car; in the back pocket of her seat alone, I had a selection of two or three. This is when I picked up "What I Know Now––Letters to My Younger Self," a compilation of letters written by an impressive group of grown, successful women to their younger selves. You've heard people say, "If only I knew then what I know now." Ellyn Spragins––a journalist with a work portfolio compiled of Newsweek; O, The Oprah Magazine; and The New York Times, among others––sat down with these women and asked them to reflect back and tell their younger selves in the form of a letter, a piece of advice they know now and wish they had known then. A popular interview question is always, "If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?" I always find it impossible to choose. Reading "What I Know Now" is like being invited to a brunch with forty-one of these people, among whom includes Maya Angelou, Lee Ann Womack, and Naomi Wolf. The themes of wisdom vary from, "Live in the moment," Don't let your happiness depend on someone else," and "Don't be so quick to judge. " It is reassuring to read their letters. Here are forty-one women who appear to have it all figured out, but we learn through reading their letters that getting to where they are today wasn't a walk in the park. They had their self-doubts and fears, just like we all do.

As I flipped through this book, I was inspired to write my own letter. But, I took the reverse challenge. Instead, I wrote a letter to my future self because, as I wrote in my letter:
I am still too young to give my younger self advice. What I know at fifteen won’t do much for my former self of twelve or thirteen or fourteen. To those things that I found important at ages eleven and under––like missing my favorite TV show or someone wearing the same Halloween costume as me, or someone on the bus saying they didn’t want to be my friend anymore––the best advice I can offer is simply, it’s not the end of the world. You can watch your favorite TV show some other time; you both make a great Dorothy (and no one’s basket is better than the other’s); and that girl who didn’t want to be your friend anymore, you haven’t even seen her for four years. You’ll face a lot more in life.
I found it to be a fun writing exercise, and I strongly recommend giving it a try yourself. I know it's something I'm going to enjoy looking back on and being able to see where I was at fifteen years old. The things that worried me, the questions I had. "What about family?" I asked in my letter. "Am I married? Do I have kids? What about that golden retriever? Did I ever get that white house with the green shutters? Do I have my office overlooking the water?"

If you're older, then try answering the same question that Ellyn Spragins asked the forty-one women in "What I Know Now." What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? There's no right or wrong way to complete the exercise. It's entirely personal. Of course, I'm not asking anyone to post their letters (unless you want to share them or a portion of them in the comments), but if you try the exercise, I'd be curious to see what you thought of it. I, however, would like to share the very end of my letter, where I address my future self directly (it does seem a bit silly when you think about it):
“So I am seeking guidance from you, my future self. Although I know you won’t be able to prevent me from making the same mistakes as you (we are the same person, after all), maybe you can at least offer me reassurance. Reassurance that everything will be okay; that I’ll make it through whatever it is I’m going through now. And reassurance that I’ll make it in the world; that I’ll turn out alright.