Tuesday, November 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #3: How Did She Bloody Do That?

(Why yes, this blog title is a reference to the seminal '90s classic, Muppet Treasure Island.)

I cannot believe I'm able to write these words to you all right now, but as of 1:35pm this afternoon, I officially bested the goals I had set for National Novel Writing Month, clocking it at 50,414 words. True, not as many as the first time I did NaNoWriMo, but then again, I was a lot more confident I was going to win last time, too.

As of the last time you all saw me, I was still a significant amount of words behind not just my end goal, but also the trajectory for my end goal in total. At the time, I needed to be writing a lot over 4,000 words per day to make it to the finish line by November 30th.

However, I beat the odds by writing between 5,000 and 7,000 words just about every day since then, and somehow managed to get it done without losing any friends or sanity in the process.

I know, I'm just as shocked as you are!

I celebrated my win by buying my winner's shirt, as well as by donating to the cause, being that it is Giving Tuesday. Honestly, it's my first time donating, and I feel pretty darn good about the fact that I was able to give back to something that has become such an honored pastime for me.

In terms of goals for what's next, at this point, I honestly can't imagine a future for myself where I'm not trying to write every day. That was one of the reasons I undertook this year's challenge: I really was trying to win back some of that magic, and fall back in love with taking some time every day to just get out of my head, and get some words down on the page.

I've been stuck in this weird cycle of bad days now that I'm living back at home with my parents after graduation, trying to find a job, and, with every rejection, feeling less and less qualified to have one. My writing has been slacking off as a result, and it's just been getting harder and harder to make spending that time seem worthwhile.

This victory, starting so far behind and making so many gains so quickly, has really reinvigorated my confidence in myself, to not only get the job done, but make a really good job of what I do. I want to make sure that I keep writing this time, especially in working on this project - which I happen to have a lot of faith in - as well as simply maintaining those good habits, of spending a couple hours every day on something productive, that also happens to make me wildly happy.

I'm also thinking about picking up my original NaNo novel again, from back in 2014, for a little TLC. It's been a good while since I even glanced at the manuscript, one that I know is positively rough with a capital "R", so I'd love to take the chance to pull it apart a little bit, rewrite it, and maybe find a way to turn it into something readable.

Thanks to this year's NaNo project, I know I'm more than capable to do so.

Did you take part in NaNoWriMo this year? Did you meet your goals? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #2: You Know It's Almost Over When...

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit which, every November, encourages the world to bring their novel dreams to life, by writing 50,000 words in one month. I've done the challenge once before - and won it! - and am looking forward to trying again this year. We're nearing the end of the road and my typing skills have gone to pot... however, my plot line is still chugging along!

Well, NaNoWriMo is officially peeking over the edge of the horizon, and I feel like I've only barely gotten started. We have less days left in the Challenge than days it took me to actually start writing - which, if you'll remember, I didn't do until the 13th of the month - and if there was any self-indicator that I might actually be in a lot of trouble, it's that my "Words Per Day to Finish On Time" count is now in the 4,000s.

Needless to say, yikes. 

You know the game's almost over, when the fears of inadequacy you voice to your friends and family, get responses that change from "Well, there's still plenty of time left!" to "You know it's all going to be okay if you don't finish, right?" 

In particular, my family members are only just now starting to understand that this all stresses me out tremendously. From my mom staying up late in the kitchen with me, so I can work in some more words before we finally head to bed at 1 A.M., to my sisters pestering me to get off my phone and write so that they can have the room to themselves, they're finally able to tell that there's a solidly good chance I won't make this deadline, so they're giving me all the room I need.

For the most part: unfortunately, we're also finally now on our Thanksgiving vacation, and this cabin is going to get all kinds of cranky if I'm not able to work on the things I want to. Granted that my sister, Delaney, has a near-inability to refrain from singing every five seconds, it might get a little hostile in the back bedroom we're sharing.

This time in 2014, the last time I completed NaNoWriMo, I was able to end the Challenge three days early, clocking out with 50,781 words written, more than 16,000 of which were written in the last three days I'd spent writing alone. Averaging out to 5,356  words a day, it was the most intensive writing period of my entire life, even when compared to creating my Capstone paper for graduation this past Spring.

And like I've said before, I need to write over 4,000 words a day as of right now to make the Challenge on time. Clearly, I've done something of that caliber before, but can I make it again? Especially with my family around, so closely? There's still dinner to make, a Parade to watch, and a massive football victory hanging imminent (Yeah, I said it: Huskies are going to take the Apple Cup this year. Unless of course, by some snowball's chance they lose, in which case, forget I said anything).

(And speaking of snowballs, it's snowing down here where we're on vacation, and if there's anything that's going to convince me to write, it's a winter wonderland landscape outside my window!)

Anyways, that's where I'm at right now: woefully behind, but remaining optimistic - and willing to do a little word math to prove it - and wondering how this whole vacation thing might mess with my stats. The next time I'll update this blog, you'll find out whether I made it or not... I'm as anxious to find out as you are! 

Now, back to Microsoft Word!

How is your NaNo Challenge going? Got any writing tips for those of us who are drowning? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Am Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!
Thanksgiving is coming up in just a matter of days, so you won't blame me for having some of the things I'm thankful for on the brain. Naturally, some of those things are books. I'm thankful that the Top Ten Tuesday theme for this week fits everyone's current mindsets so well... and besides, this way, you might just find a couple of great book recommendations for the long weekend!

1. Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth

Not only was this one of the first books our Dad read to my sister and I as kids, but he also set aside a beautiful hardcover copy for each of us when we got old enough to really appreciate it. It remains one of the first books I turn to when the real world starts to look a little too much like the Doldrums... Milo and Tock always help break me out!

2. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series

These books will no doubt be showing up on almost  everyone's lists today, but that doesn't make their presence on this one any less personal. I was always a reader, but I wasn't always an adventurous reader: there was a period of my life where I simply stuck to reading this series, back to back, for over a year! Knowing that Hogwarts is a home I can always return to keeps them on my shelves... and makes me want to buy a personal collection that hasn't been completely destroyed by my siblings.

3. All of the Ali, Kel, and Beka books from Tamora Pierce

I came into the Tamora Pierce fandom both late and a little backwards: the first series I read was the Trickster duology, and I could never really get into Alanna - Ali's famous mother -'s series. Still, if you are a leading female of Tortall, you have a place in my shelves, and the adventurous Ali, steadfast Kel, and dogged Beka (see what I did there?) have long served as inspirations of mine to try and be a little more badass.

4. Madeliene L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

Another gift from our Dad's library, I think I'm still hanging on to his bright pink-colored cover, because it's just always going to remind me of home. It's unsurprising that a book that involves, so strongly, the power of family, has just as much of a strong place in mine.

5. Frank Herbert's Dune

Yet another gift from Dad, I fell in love with this story long before anyone in our family realized that its author was born and raised in our own hometown! This science fiction epic was read right on the tails of Neuromancer and the first of the Foundation novels, neither of which I particularly enjoyed... if it hadn't been for Dune, I honestly might have given up on the genre! And then where would I be???

6. The Nancy Drew series

I could talk for days on end about the importance Nancy Drew has for me: from getting all of those yellow-spined classics as a kid, to playing the PC games with all three of my siblings huddled on the couch around me, to collecting my favorite editions as an adult (the blue ones that have the war paper rationing stamps on the front pages), it honestly seems like I've spent my whole life loving Ms. Drew. I even have plenty of books on the history of the series (hence, why there's not an author name displayed by the title), and even on its ties to psychology: I have an entire book on Jungian psych in Nancy Drew that I used for a research paper in my junior year AP class!

7. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

This spot was originally going to go to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, because they serve similar functions in documenting my reading history, but after reflection, I chose Bronte for what it meant to me, which was something a little different. Everyone thinks they can be the sparkling, sharp-witted Lizzie, but in reading about plain, introspective, and practical Jane, sophomore year Savannah had a lot more in common. The fact that it's now a book my sisters have both read, as well, means I get to share in the love!

8. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I seriously cannot say more about this book in this space than what I've said elsewhere: I read it way too early, and it was one of the first books I truly ever fell in love with. I read it every summer, and have done so for over a decade of my life, because this book will always seem like summer to me: a sunny celebration of independence, childhood, and living life like it's one big adventure.

9. Steven Covey's The 10 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

This book launched my love affair with the self-help genre when I was only in the eighth grade! The idea that books could help make your life better - by the direct messages of non-fiction, rather than the indirect means of fiction - always seemed like an appealing one to me, and the engaging, illustrated teen's version of the classic drew me in completely.

10. M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf 

Another beloved read from the high school years, I first became acquainted with Mrs. Fisher through a cooking class's book report project! As a longtime wannabe home cook, her frank instructions, built into the context of descriptive paragraphs, rather than a typical cookbook format, blew my mind. Giving narratives to food was something I had never seen done before, and the ways she made easy ingredients stand out in complex ways was something I held on to (and is one of the reasons I now love to read Ina Garten!). This book was one of the ones that really launched my love of cooking.

Unsurprisingly, when I originally drafted out this post, there were several additional books that made an appearance on the list, as well, including the Dear America series and Max Lucado's Wemmick children's books; however, while I think being thankful is super important, you can't name them all. Hopefully this theme comes around next year so I can thank Jamie Oliver's cookbooks and all of the American Girl library in their own time.

Happy holidays!

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

NaNoWriMo Update #1: What the Heck Am I Doing

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit which, every November, encourages the world to bring their novel dreams to life, by writing 50,000 words in one month. I've done the challenge once before - and won it! - and am looking forward to trying again this year! However, as you'll soon find out, I've had a couple setbacks so far...

Being that it is currently the 15th of November - officially marking us as halfway through the month - you should be unsurprised to learn that I've been scrambling all morning, trying to work on my NaNoWriMo project for this year. 

What might surprise you, however, is the fact that my current number count is just over 2,000 words. Total.

Two things have presented themselves as pretty significant roadblocks to my progress thus far, the most significant of them all being that I spent a total of eight days - from the 1st of the month through the 8th - steadily working myself into a sugar coma at the Happiest Place on Earth (East Version).

That's right: right of the bat, I lost a week of writing time, due to living it up in Orlando, Florida, at Walt Disney World, with a best friend who ditched me for sunshine and the Disney College Program as soon as we graduated. Who's got time for writing, when Pirates has a 10 minute wait line and there are still Dole Whips and Mickey Pretzels left uneaten?

The second hurdle I encountered was a lot less fun than a Disney trip, though: I spent the weekend doubled over in pain, in bed, and drifting in and out of sleep, due to a painful ovarian cyst that decided the perfect time to make itself known is when I actually have things to be focusing on (to be fair, I am wildly thankful it didn't rear its ugly head when I was, you know, in Disney World). So, scratch a couple of days off of my tally due to severely limiting physical circumstances, too.

As you might imagine, this is all taking a severe toll on not just my writing ability, but the faith I have in myself that I'm even going to get this thing off the ground, let alone to 50,000 words!

In the lingo of NaNo veterans, I'm a planner, not a pants-er, which is why all of these hurdles are enough to send me into a tailspin. With my 2014 project, Dead Beat Reporting - or, as it was known when it was still in the process of being written, Blood Read - I had a full, complete outline before I'd ever set fingertip to keyboard... but with Hit (this year's more compactly-named project), I mostly just have a collection of world-building ramblings, and the optimistic intention of just seeing how things play out. It makes me nervous.

Still, I think I can swing it. I've done this before, and I've got a lot of info still in my brain that just needs to be written down to paper to prove that I've got it. I've got a couple of weeks left until the end of the month, and if I can just manage to convince my family to leave me the hell alone for a couple hours out of each day, I'll have enough maneuvering room to catch up after such significant setbacks!

Besides, according to my sister, Delaney, "It's not like you're doing anything better right now."

In case you're curious, here's the cover art and story background for Hit:

Stalked by the paparazzi, targeted by obsessive fans, hacked by online criminals... no one has ever said that being a celebrity was comfortable. Sometimes, it turns deadly. However, even when a star dies, that may be when they shine the brightest, their fame only heightened by their tragic demise. 
That's why Hollywood's hit makers, have started hiring hit men. 
An assassin for the Hollywood elite, Guy is tasked by studio executives with endangering the lives of their famous clientele for media exposure and monetary gain. 
A disgruntled former employee of a production studio, Woody was only ever looking for revenge on the boss that ruined his life... definitely not the spotlight. 
A Southern beauty dragged from the wrong side of the tracks to the international stage, Leanne is going to have to ditch the name, the fame, and her domineering pageant Mom, if she's going to outrun a Hollywood hitman. 
In this satirical take on the frightening future of celebrity status, 24-hour media culture, and our relationships with the rich and famous,15 minutes of fame has turned into 15 seconds. When everyone's hunting for the "next big thing," how long can you stay hidden? 

Pretty cool, right? If you liked it, feel free to find me on NaNo and be my writing buddy! Because, let's be real: this year, I need all the help I can get.

Have you ever been a part of NaNoWriMo before? Would you consider doing it in the future? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Reading and Leading: What Arts and Education Have to Do With the Election

The first thing I did when I woke up this morning, is the same thing I did when I went to bed last night. On social media, proclamations of disgust and terror came in abundance, and several insisted that they would be taking breaks from the Internet's popular public forums, in order to get away from it all. I think this is a great idea, because what we should really be doing right now, is reading. 

Granted, I do think every time is the perfect time for reading; however, today, it's for a different reason.

Reading as Representation 

The act of Reading itself is very much founded in the intersections of Art and Education. 

Having a literate population is an anthropological symbol of success and cultural collateral, and the resources we have provide us with entertainment as well as information. We are shaped by what we read, reading is constructed based on what we think, and the two interactive states - reading and writing - reflect each other. We see this in all forms of Art, be it reading books themselves, or even just in dissecting the meanings of song lyrics we hear on the radio: we construct, and are constructed by, the media we consume.

When we look at forms of popular art and culture from the past year, significant connective themes trace throughout the disciplines of film and television, stage and song, and yes, of course, what we read.

Image result for hamilton musical wikipediaFor instance, Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton is a multiple Tony-award winning musical and cultural juggernaut, and is arguably one of the most successful in the history of its business. Following the story of an immigrant and ambitious outsider entering the political sphere during the turning point of the Revolutionary War, most of the cast within the show is notably played by people of color, as an artistic and directorial choice.

Some of the most popular and influential books this year, like Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, dealt explicitly with themes of race and history. The critically-acclaimed forthcoming film Loving does, as well, detailing the true-life story of a mixed-race couple whose love is condemned by the government. Beyonce's unapologetic, emotional visual album Lemonade kept us in constant applause, and television shows like Jane the Virgin even made us laugh, too. We followed the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, while championing stories from new, underrepresented voices.

Clearly, the Arts - both popularly consumed, as well as the less easily-accessible - will always serve as a bastion of diversity, inclusivity, and hope. Books stand proudly among that population.

Education is vital to the success of these causes, as well: coming from a high-ranking public university, like the University of Washington in Seattle, I can talk forever about how much my values are shaped by my education. Even in the rest of the United States, Education is a forefront battleground against injustice, with room being made for new discussions on class, gender, race, and all the ways those things intersect. Our classrooms are representative of this success: due to numerous factors, black women are now officially counted as the most educated population in the US.

However, despite the fact that diversity and inclusion are touted so exuberantly in these areas, they remained overcome by the tidal wave of Trump supporters that showed up in our Electoral College. Why is that?

Learning from History

I read an interesting Time article early on in the election cycle, that highlighted one of the most significant population changes shaking up the democratic process: people who had never voted before were finally finding a reason to take to the polls, whether it was older, rural conservative Republicans who fancied Trump's "truthfulness," or newly-minted voting Millennials who were swayed by Bernie's grandfatherly charm and hyper-liberal status. Unfortunately, as Bernie steadily became less of a viable candidate, the attention of these twenty-somethings swept to third party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, while Trump's numbers only swelled among the Midwestern and Southern communities of our country.

Trump's meteoric popularity - though baffling to the media who constantly gave him airtime, interviews, and implicit support via near-ceaseless coverage - is actually very familiar.

Someone like him has come before: an outsider battling against the elite, lacking in formal political education, but touting plenty of plain-stated opinions and an appeal to the rural  classes of the country who felt unrepresented in the political sphere. This President held powerful stances on trade and government interference, that not only led to mass Native American genocide and rougher treatment of black slaves in the South - particularly South Carolina - but also directly contributed to the events that initiated America's Civil War.

Sound familiar? I'll give you a hint: just like Hamilton, there's a multiple-Tony-award-nominated musical about him too. 

Image result for andrew jackson wikipediaThe story of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, is one that has been lampooned and lauded in both Arts and Education. It's one you've heard from the stages of Broadway to American History textbooks, to biographies written by best-selling authors, to the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World. Held up by Republicans, he was, ironically, the founder of the Democratic Party (back when being so was a decidedly un-liberal thing to be).

I could make a joke here about 2016 being the year of remakes, but I won't, because I don't think that our inability to understand history repeating itself is a laughing matter at all. Why wasn't anyone looking at the replication of these historical factors?

It won't surprise you to note that Trump-won states also have more significant histories of banning books. In 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee tried to ban The Diary of Anne Frank - a vivid and moving historical portrait of a young girl's "illegal" personhood  - from schools, on the grounds that it was "a real downer." Meanwhile, Virginia has successfully banned it before, as have plenty of other states, being that the American Library Association continually lists it among its most frequently challenged books.

Basically, what I'm trying to point out, is this: Arts and Education have always served as gateways for amazing stories of diversity, inclusion, and other such American values. The places where Donald Trump gained a hold in the heart of our country, are places known to lack emphasis, or even respect, in those subjects, and that jeopardizes the validity and trust of our democratic system.

Why Books (and You!) are Important in Every Election

Reading gives us an opportunity to explore new worlds, understand new ways of thinking, with greater and more significant empathy than what we are able to do on our own. The current perspectives touted by mainstream media are oriented not to inform, but to inflate pre-existing ideas and egos, but books can help break us out of the rut of homogenized thinking.

I was ruminating over a cup of tea this morning, about Sweden's recent effort to inspire their country's youth with Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche's We Should All Be Feminists. It got me thinking... would things have turned out different, if we had all just read more? If we had started exploring ideas of diversity and feminism through our reading choices earlier on in life - especially those of us living in Trump-won states - would things have turned out differently?

Image result for the diary of anne frank coverWhat if everyone had read The Diary of Anne Frank growing up, like I had? Or Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising? Or Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry?

So, in the wake of this political turmoil, I choose to read. I invite you all to do the same, but more than anything else, I invite you to think about how Art and Education shapes public consciousness, compared to how Politics does.

I - as a white, suburban, educated, female, living in the gorgeous, glorious liberal haven of the Pacific Northwest - have comparatively a lot less to lose than the average voter. If you are one of the minorities who feel the most threatened by a Trump presidency, please know that you are not alone.

You might feel like your voice was ignored during this election cycle, or maybe it might be taken away, but know this: when you feel you can't speak... you can still sing, or dance, or write, or film. 

Your worldview is beautiful and necessary to broadening the empathetic scope of understanding that we can communicate through Art, and you have every power to create something wonderful out of something tragic. The ability to create Art is a privilege, but there are those who want to help you do it. We need your art, and we need you.

We need your stories. We need to keep reading. 

If you could put a book in the hands of every child in this country, what would you choose, and why? Let me know, in the comments below!