Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Laughter is good medicine

One oft-quoted Bible verse, Proverbs 17:22, goes thus: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones" (KJV). This is where we get the expression about laughter being the best medicine. And today, I have to agree.

I was listening to PotterCast today, and the episode I listened to today was their "Best of 2008" episode, in which they played a bunch of "fan favorite" clips from the year. There is a clip in there from I can't remember what episode. Anyway, it was from one of the "Phoenix Files" segments, a segment the show temporarily had where they discussed the Order of the Phoenix movie. They were discussing the Order of the Phoenix apparating into the Ministry of Magic, and John says how Kingsley Shacklebolt comes down "like a god" and then comments that he would've liked to see him summon Pikachu from the "Pikaball." They then continue with the joke, making the stick-pounding movie Mad-Eye Moody into a Pokemon too, and laughing their heads off. And I was laughing my head off also. It felt good, in a way, since I was pretty blue the day before.

Granted, I was in a better mood cause after my blue day yesterday I decided it would be good if I got more sleep than the night before, so I went to bed earlier, around 10ish. Right before bed, I watched an episode of CLAMP School Detectives, which I hadn't watched since my computer got broken. It definitely left me in a lighter mood, which is just as well after a blue day and reading the intriguing yet unnerving book The Freedom Writers Diary.

I heard of the Freedom Writers book from the movie that was made of it in 2007, starring Hilary Swank as a teacher named Erin Gruwell who transformed the lives of her English students in Long Beach, California, in the 1990's. The book is a compilation of entries from the journals Ms. Gruwell had the students keep. And it is intense. These are kids who went through everything from dyslexia to seeing their friends murdered in race or gang-related fights. Most of them were afraid to walk the streets of their neighborhoods for fear of being shot, and many had troubled situations at home. Yet it is intriguing to see the students' perspectives change as time goes on and they gain the courage to fight for tolerance as the Freedom Writers and even bring their cause to the attention of Richard Riley, the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Reading what the kids go through those is intense and unnerving. So I need breaks in between reading it...I just do.

I just checked to see if my booklist for spring is up; it is. (The "booklist" function was unavailable last night, rather than saying "Fall 2008," so I figured they were setting it up for spring). There's a lot of books I need, mainly for my U.S. Lit class. She's asking for Uncle Tom's Cabin, which I own already (I think I still have it, anyway). It looks like we're also reading Emerson and Hawthorne. The book of Hawthorne stuff that is listed is of his short stories; I wonder if "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is in there. Ok, just checked Amazon, and yes it is! Yay!

This requires explaining. "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, as you might have guessed. It is a story about a doctor who claims to his dinner guests to have found the Fountain of Youth and brought back water from it. The results are not as expected. I read it back in high school. A passage from it had shown up on some essay test I had taken. It was either due to English class or for the AP English Lit test prep we did, because I remember Mrs. Burnworth was involved. I seem to recall my close friend Desiree reading it too. I think we both saw the passage and then wanted to read the whole story, so Mrs. Burnworth ran it off for us from somewhere. Something like that.

Somehow, I'm surprised to not see Poe as a featured writer in the booklist (since he seems to be one in almost every English curriculum I've come into contact with). I read something by him in every English class from 8th through 11th grade. We read "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Raven," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Fall of the House of Usher." That last one is particularly freaky.

Emerson is good though; I like his essays. I've read parts of "Nature" and "Self-Reliance" in school. Uncle Tom's Cabin is a classic; I read it in American Lit in high school too. As for the other novel-sounding books required, I've never read them, but I think I saw people reading them in my American Ethnic Lit class last semester (which was taught by the same teacher). There's also a book of autobiographies.

Besides this, I need three books for my other Lit class, a class also taught by Dr. Cucinella, on the Theory and Practice of K-12 Writing Instruction. (I'm not sure if I'm going to be a teacher exactly, but I figure maybe this class will help me decide yea or nay on that issue, plus it counts toward my major in the Pedagogy section). Also I need 5 books for my History class, which is on the history of U.S. foreign policy (I needed a fourth class, and there was a time conflict with my humanities GE class and something else, so I picked this class instead). And naturally, I need a book and workbook for my new French class, French 202, which doesn't use the same book and workbook as my last class.

I have some doubts regarding my career, as you know from my last entry, and this extends to my major as well. I chose English (or Literature and Writing Studies as CSUSM calls it) because I want to be a writer, but I have found out quickly that "the sky is the limit" as far as the variety of jobs one can get with a B.A. in English. Foreign Languages (the broad discipline under which my minor resides) is pretty broad too. Up till practically the end, I was still debating between English and History, which is why I took classes toward both in my penultimate (second to last) semester, the Fall of 2007 (I wasn't able to attend school in Spring 2007 cause I didn't have the money, due to having lost my job at Loaves and Fishes the previous fall and not getting my job at Stater Bros. till the week before school started). I did take one set of two classes toward the History one at MiraCosta and half of another, and I took Intro to Lit towards the Literature and Writing Studies major.

I need to look at the career stuff I typed up on my other computer again. At any rate, there's a lot left to take on my current major, including almost all my core because the core classes are really hard to get into. I was lucky enough to get into one (U.S. Lit) this semester. With luck, I'll get to take one next semester too, or two if I decide to forgo my Humanities G.E. class (which I still need) or the elective I have to take for my French minor (you can't take the ones listed on the worksheet anymore due to program cuts, so you can take a class in another discipline to count for it, according to Professor Anover). Actually, the latter is probably easier to forgo next fall, since I want to get my G.E. done as soon as possible so I can focus on my major and minor. Already, at the rate I'm going, I'll waste my entire latter 20's getting this degree finished. I'll be lucky if I'm out of college by age 30.

Next semester, aside from the Humanities class I still need and my next French class (French 311), I'd like to take some core class (only cause I need them bad) and maybe the Creative Writing Workshop. Something not in the "Theory and Pedagogy" section, as my currently enrolled elective is. Just because that class might be kind of heavy, not only cause it's 400-level but also cause it's a theory class, and theory classes can either really intrigue you or put you right to sleep, I think.

I might take Small Press Publishing as my other elective in the Workshop category, since the school newspaper (the Pride, so called because our mascot is the cougar) is no longer a class, for one, and also because I have recently considered going for a job writing for a magazine. I'm not sure still on this though. Man, I am soooo lost.

People may think a major with a wide array of job possibilities would be fantastic, but for a specifics-loving, extremely future-oriented person like me, it's a nightmare. I wanted to go into university knowing I'd be able for sure to get a job when I got out. This is mainly because, while I am neither a miser nor entirely a spend-my-whole-check-right-away person (I've been getting better there), the idea of having money is important to me. One of the things I do NOT want to do is end up on welfare. Granted, welfare is fine for those who truly need it. Heck, I work at a place where people use WIC checks and EBT Food cards (a.k.a. food stamps) all the time -- so I see public assistance at work. But there are those who take welfare because they truly need it, and there are those who take welfare cause they're lazy and don't want to work, even though they are able-bodied and could totally get a job if they wanted to. I am one of those employable able-bodied people. Granted, I don't make much; in fact on my last taxes I apparently made so little (a little over $14,000 for the year), I actually somehow qualified for grants when I did my FAFSA, which I figured was impossible for a white girl from an upper-middle-class family (since so much financial aid is based on financial need and minority statuses). And if my good fortune continues with the FAFSA, I may end up getting out of college debt-free, which would be very nice (and a relief to my parents, I'm sure). But at any rate, even if fortune befell in such a way that I should end up poor and on my own, I would try to find a job so I would at least have a roof over my head, food, and clothes. You know, the basic things. I know this because I very much dislike being idle. I couldn't just sit around the house all day; in fact, I rarely do so on my days off unless I am working on some extremely focused project, like a school report or something else equally important. Often, I will come up with some reason to walk to the store or somewhere around there, simply so I can get out of the house. Or if I have errands to do, I'll do those. Once or twice, I've gone to the mall by myself simply to get out of the house. Most of the time, I don't actually buy anything, and if I do, it's usually a book or the latest volume of some manga series I'm reading. A few times, I have made plans to take trips. I went to Balboa Park a couple times during the summer and also to Seaport Village once. Oh and one day I went to Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, just to try out a new beach. (The closest beach to us gets REALLY crowded during the summer).

I don't doubt that I can write. I know I still have it in me to come up with stories, and as awkward as some of my attempts at novels and such might be, I communicate well using the written word, often more so than using the spoken word. English teachers in the past have recognized my talent as a writer and encouraged it. I generally do well on essays for classes.

I guess my talent isn't very honed yet. I haven't really developed a style or found a genre I'm really good at yet. Plus, even I recognize that my writing is very derivative of styles I have read, which may or may not be a bad thing. Still, I'd rather avoid something akin to the plagiarism charge that ended Nella Larsen's career.

I do enjoy both fantasy and technology. My attempts at sci-fi have had high technology content. In fact, the technology is all that really makes my novel Us Against the World sci-fi; as a story about people having to decide between the law and their convictions in the face of an oppressive political takeover, it could happen anywhere and at any time period, including the present. My main worry is that if I place it in the present day, it will be too controversial to publish. When you do novels which contain themes like political corruption and the like, and you set them in the present day of the time you're writing them, people will more likely than not try to read a lot into the book that you did not intend. This is what I deduce.

If you set the same story in a science fiction setting though, it seems to be ok. I mean, look at Star Wars and The Matrix. The science fiction genre has a genre name for books like mine - cyberpunk. The term generally describes sci-fi stories with a focus on technology and usually set in a dystopian setting.

I intend to type up that novel for my writing website, so maybe I can figure out the issues that made me abandon the manuscript while I do that. I can also go back to Fiction Express and dig up the posts people made in response to the two chapters of it that I posted there.

I think one issue the book has is that it is told in first person; this limits what can be told. Third person would probably be better, or even multiple first person, like the book we read for Dr. Cucinella's class called Getting Mother's Body (or the quintessential multiple-first-person example in articles on POV, The Poisonwood Bible). Even multiple third person technically works, either in the favored third person omnisicent or with sections focusing on certain characters, like in the novel we read for my Intro to Lit class, White Teeth.

Also, while the evil political organization (New Age-based too) seemed like a good idea at the time, maybe a more focused evil is needed. Alan's father, meant to be a major player in Sphere (the bad guys in the book) could be more of a character, or I could go for the evil Darien Palmer character I created during the time I was attempting to novelize Lightning Girl. As the CEO of a record company in public and an evil villain (or the half-werewolf alien Lord Nekros in my made-up Lightning Girl TV show) in private, he seemed an interesting villain. Bond villains are often like that, especially Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies and Gustav Graves from Die Another Day. Alan's father, as the rich PM who acts, along with other rich men, as the financial backing for the takeover, is sort of like Lucius Malfoy I guess.

I also need to decide what to do about Avi, the AI I created for the "virtual reality room" main character Eve had used in the past. (I named the AI "Avalon" before planning the Avalon Jacobs story, so I didn't realize till later that I'd used the same name twice). I had an idea for her which involved some delving into the genetics info I gained from bio class, but it seemed too hard to explain and too much of a plot divergence.

As for my Walden novel -- The Elven Princess -- I have a basic plot outline written somewhere, as well as a list of locations I plan for main character Robin to visit and some other background on Walden itself, but not much else. I'm also considering changing the country name so as to avoid any possibility of plaigarism accusations regarding the work Walden by Thoreau. Plus, I think I need to come up with a better name after encountering names like Alagaësia (the name of the world where Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, the fantasy series I'm engrossed in at the moment, is set). Although one could argue that Tolkien's world was simply called "Middle-earth." And even "Narnia" is a fairly plain-sounding name, as is "The Land" (the name of the fantasy world in Lisa Wright-DeGroodt's Quest series, which I have read the first book of; and YES, it is literally called "The Land"...I am NOT making that up).

I suppose my country name should be worthy of the place names I came up with, which come primarily from me looking up words in a Bible concordance and then finding the Hebrew and or Greek word in the accompanying dictionaries. What didn't come from that I just made up. There is no formal languages really made up yet for this world. As much as I love languages, I do not think it would be easy (or indeed, even necessary) for me to make up an entire language -- well, actually, multiple languages -- for this series. Try as I might, I am not a linguist, and I certainly do not possess the amazing talent of J.R.R. Tolkien, who created two elvish languages (Sindarin and Quenya) pretty much entirely from scratch, forming languages for the other peoples from existing languages (Norse and Old English).

I suppose I could put the Celtic language resources I gathered for my manga project with Amy to good use with that story, particularly the searchable Manx/English dictionary program I downloaded (yes, such a program exists -- and it's very user-friendly as well, and a pretty cool resource).

Most of the background I have on Walden has come from making up folklore-esque stories explaining how things happened. This probably comes from me reading tons of mythology and fairy tales, as well as the "background" books to The Lord of the Rings (The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, Lost Tales, etc). In fact, I have mentioned in my notes a story of an elf and a dwarf meeting and having an epic romance, which I have a funny feeling will end up somewhat like Tolkien's famous "Lay of Leithian," or the Tale of Beren and Lúthien (which actually has a few different versions).

I have established the world with a sort of Christian religious structure in mind, with a God-like figure (named "Chaimvin," a combination of the Hebrew word Chaim, meaning "life," and the suffix vin, which comes from the Germanic suffix win and means "friend," which I translate as "friend of life") who has "servants" (which I have yet to define; I guess they would be like angels) and a Satan-like figure (named "Marek," a name that simply popped into my head one day, and to which I cannot tie an origin) who has followers as well, the main ones being the "dark elves," elves he won to his side during the "Great War" of long ago. Like Satan, he is responsible for bringing sin and evil into the world, and like Satan (and like Tolkien's Melkor/Morgoth), he rebelled against God (Chaimvin here) and lost. Chaimvin is depicted as a creator who is intimately tied to his people, but who leaves administration of the land to others, not unlike Eru Il
úvatar of Tolkien's world. He's not like the deist God who created everything and then did not become involved in human affairs again, far from it. However, Walden has not received a savior as in our world -- it has not had its Christ figure, not had the sacrifice of Aslan as in Narnia -- although one has been promised to come and deliver them from evil. Robin might have been prophesied as the elven princess who saves the Kannarah (another word that simply came to me; they are creatures created from the dark elves' cruel practice of mating animals with captured members of other races, such as humans and elves), but she is not the savior of all Walden, and indeed since she spent most of her life in our world, she may not be meant to stay in Walden once her purpose is fulfilled anyway. In a way, she's like Princess Elyon from W.I.T.C.H. -- Elyon has a purpose to save Meridian (Metamoor in the comics) from her evil brother Prince Phobos, but what she does after he is defeated is up to her. She is the heir to the throne, but she also grew up on Earth and thus could live there if she wished (indeed, early in season 2, she returns to Heatherfield -- the town on Earth where the series is set -- to "finish school" as she calls it).

I hope I can make time this semester to work on my writing seriously, though given how tough last semester was, juggling work AND school, it will probably be pretty difficult. Plus I only get so much vacation time in a year, and I have to spend it wisely. Most likely I will use my vacation time in the summer, since that seems to be the easiest time for me to take vacation since I'm not in school, and the easiest time (other than right now) for the company to give me the time, since it's before the big holiday crunch brought on by Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Sure, spring and summer have holidays -- but not really major retail ones except for Valentine's Day, Easter, and 4th of July. There's also Memorial Day and Mother's and Father's Day, but they're not as big. If I was still in the bakery, Valentine's might be big cause lots of people buy sweets then, as would the time around late May to the middle or end of June, because of graduation.

I am debating whether to use my vacation right before school like I did last year or to use it in July so I can go to all four days of Comic-Con. Not that I really need to go all four days, but I will admit that it is really hard to see everything in one day as I have tried to do on my two previous trips. Plus, the programming is spread out over all four days, so you can easily miss stuff. Mainly, I want to go whatever day the PotterCast people are doing something, since they mentioned on the most recent episode (New Year's) that their summer tour would include Comic-Con, which Melissa and Sue of PotterCast, along with a couple other people, did a panel for this year. It would be fun to go to the Masquerade on Saturday night, which is usually one of the highlights of the convention. But a Masquerade at a fan convention = cosplay, and I have no clue who I would dress up as. Amy kindly offered to make me a cosplay costume for the '09 Comic-Con, though how she would be able to get my measurements when she's miles away in Oregon is beyond me. Anime cosplay is not completely out of the ordinary at the primarily comic book-oriented Comic-Con. The main thing is I've never cosplayed before, and the only character I can think of cosplaying as is Sailor Jupiter from Sailor Moon, since I sort of physically resemble her (tall with long brown hair and a big chest). A Jedi might work (I saw a few at Comic-Con '08), although I'm not sure what female Jedi look like as there haven't really been any human-like ones shown in the movies. The only well-known female Jedi I can think of are Mara Jade Skywalker from the novels, and Ahsoka from the Clone Wars movie (I'm too old to play Ahsoka anyway). Padme is a cool character, but aside from a few scenes in the movies where her hair is back in a simple bun, she usually wears very complicated hairstyles that would be well nigh impossible for me to imitate.

Well, I'm tired and it's 10 p.m., and despite having been home since around 4:30 p.m., I haven't eaten dinner yet. (We don't have a regular dinnertime in our family). So I'm going to go. Goodnight!

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