Written Gems: The Real Miracle

One day, in a place not too far from you, there will live two ordinary children. They do what children are supposed to do: play, learn, and grow up. Some day, those two children will lock gazes across the campus green, go on their first date, and slowly, hesistantly, all of a sudden, they will do something miraculous: they will fall in love.

But the real miracle here wasn’t that they fell in love. That was inevitable after thousands of hours of conversations, hundreds of laughs, and tears, and hugs, dozens of oportunities to grow together, and one last first kiss.

No.

The real miracle here is that he is there to see her across the campus green, even though they’ve told him that he doesn’t belong here because of the colour of his skin or the shape of his eyes or the lack of money in his bank account. Instead, he took out a loan and ignored all the whispers.

The real miracle here is that she’s across the campus green for him to see, even though they’ve told her that girls aren’t smart enough to learn anything besides what will make them good mothers, never mind what will make them good people. Instead, she pursued her passion, submitted that application, and said yes.

The real miracle here is that he got the courage to ask her out, even though they told him no girl wants to date a nice guy. Instead, he thinks nothing ventured, nothing gained, and about how pretty she is and how much he likes the book she’s holding.

The real miracle here is that she had the courage to say yes, even though they told her that no guy wants to date a smart girl. Instead, she thinks nothing ventured, nothing gained, and that he’s kind of cute and has good taste in books.

The real miracle here is that he showed up at all, even though they told him that he should be ashamed of not being buff and tall and Matthew McConnaughy. Instead, he wears a clean shirt and jeans that don’t smell, and leaves early so he isn’t late.

The real miracle here is that she showed up at all, even though they told her that she should be ashamed of not being busty and slender and Meghan Fox. Instead, she wears the dress she bought yesterday and a pair of funky earrings, and leaves early so she isn’t late.

The real miracle here is that he admitted a deep, abiding love for geekdom, even though they tell him that if there’s no violence or no blood, or any brainwork involved, it’s not a manly thing to do. Instead, he finds a world to escape to.

The real miracle here is that she agreed, even though they tell her that she can’t like things that are for boys. Instead, she finds the world to escape to.

The real miracle here is that he took her to a pizza joint, even though they tell him to take her somewhere to impress her, nevermind if he can afford to. Instead, he takes her to his favourite place in town with the best pepperoni, run by the friendliest people who treat them as a son.

The real miracle here is that she can insist on covering when he forgets his wallet, even though they tell her that she’s not supposed to have money, it’s not feminine, and any way, women belong at home and in the kitchen. Instead, she takes pride in her independence, and can spring for two slices of pizza.

The real miracle here is that he still has the courage to text her afterwards, even though they tell him that the size of his male instrument is proportional to the number of zeros on his bank account. Instead, he takes it as an opportunity to ask her out again.

The real miracle here is that she will respond instantly, even though they tell her that she should wait and not look so desparate. Instead, they have a conversation that lasts until the sun comes up – the first of many.

The real miracle here is that he will continue to be fascinated with her, even though they tell him that women are a game, and he’s already scored with this one. Instead, he discovers his inspiration that will last a lifetime.

The real miracle here is that she has the courage to tell him about her older sister, who couldn’t stop listening to what they said, even though they said it was her own fault, that she took her own life. Instead, she finally finds peace for a little while.

The real miracle here is that he reaches across to take her hand, even though they tell him that he is not supposed to feel, that his heart is stone. Instead, it aches for the girl who lost her hero.

The real miracle here is that he and she agreed with them, that he identified as a male and she identified a female. Instead, they could’ve been telling she and she, or he and he that they were monsters, aberrations that didn’t deserve what little happiness there was in the world.

The real miracle here is not that he and she fall in love, the real miracle here is that he and she still have the capacity to fall in love, despite everything they say.

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Diary of Me: New Toys

I recently bought a piece of dictation software when it was on sale. Mind you, it was a really good deal, but it’s never a good idea to buy things just because they’re on sale. Actually, I’ve been considering buying this software, or rather dreaming of it because of its price tag, for a very long time, because it’s the only good dictation software on the market that will work with a laptop mic.

Now, you may ask why I’m buying dictation software to begin with. I don’t work in an industry that requires dictation software. I don’t need to train on this for any professional reason. It sure as hell doesn’t make me any more productive. I think I’ve just spent 10 minutes dictating these past five lines, which would take me maybe two minutes to type. Honestly, if I have to say “correct that” or “delete that” one more time, I might just pull my hair (which would really be a tragedy, because I finally grew it out again).

So why am I sitting here struggling, with my face pressed up against my laptop, trying to get as close to the mic as possible without licking the screen? Why am I demonstrating how many different ways I can say licking for the benefit of my next-door neighbours? Why am I dragging out each word from this little green flame inch by painful inch?

(And trust me, this is painful. Every bit of punctuation is a battle, every word gained is a victory, and every phrase I don’t need to correct is a miracle.)

Originally, I wanted to buy it because I am a notorious multitasker. It always frustrated me that my hands had to be occupied when I wanted to write, and I couldn’t do anything else. Yes, I know, multitasking is shown to be counterproductive, and to be honest, it’s going to take me a long time before I can do anything else but dictate when I’m writing. This is a steep learning curve.

Instead, dictation software has two key benefits: first of all, I’m learning to be more deliberate when I speak, and second of all, I can hear the unnatural constructs that are so comfortable to type. Now, anyone who spoken to me knows that I am a very nervous speaker, and I tend to repeat myself a lot because I lose my train of thought. I can’t afford to do that when I’m using dictation software, because it is painful to correct. Also, requiring me to compose each sentence as I’m going and think about each sentence, is making me focus and concentrate on my writing as I never have before, which I think is a good thing because I tend to be fairly distracted when I do anything in life.

Yet, as deliberate as this form of composition is, it feels a lot more natural to read and reread than a lot of my previous work. It’s harder to put down convoluted phrases and words when you can already hear how stupid they sound. Maybe this experiment will help me find every writer’s unicorn: my unique writer’s voice (or maybe I’ll win the lottery. A girl can dream).

All in all, I think this piece of software will be a keeper, and even if it’s not, I will have learned something very important. I’ll be writing some blog posts and some other things with my dictation software for the next little while, so if there’s a weird phrase or word or turn of phrase in there while I surmount this learning curve, my apologies. I’m sure I’ll accidentally publish something hilarious and embarrassing (not that it’s been the first time I’ve done that deliberately on this blog ), so stay tuned.

I just hope I get a mic soon, before I actually lick my screen or pull my hair out.

Book-Ends: On Reading to Write (The Writing Life, Negotiating with the Dead, and On Writing).

The first time I really wanted to craft a story was in grade 11, when I took my first writing class.

Sure, I’d been scrabbling around in the proverbial sandbox for years, playing Barbie and Ken with someone else’s characters, building sandcastles that would soon be washed away by the never ending ebb and flow of new ideas. But for me, that was more about the story. I would get a lot more utility in just telling the story than I would actually writing it all down. Writing was just the most convenient medium. Oh, I would delight in all the tricks and clever turns of phrase, but I never actually took pride in the words, the paragraphs, the flesh of the story, only in its ephemeral spirit.

That all changed. As much as I’d like to give credit for that change to my writer’s craft teacher, it wasn’t him, not directly anyways. He was a fantastic teacher, who pushed our writing boundaries and introduced us to Strunk and White’s Element’s of Style and made grammar more than a dirty word and filled our rhetorical toolboxes with every tool a budding writer needs. However, the largest impact he had on me was handing me The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

Before then, I’d read books for the story. He said, she said, how they got from point want to point be. So long as it didn’t get in the way of the story, I couldn’t tell bad writing from my chipped right toenail. I read Shakespeare, I read Austen and Dickens, I read Chaucer and Homer, and all the classical giants, without any attention to style outside of what the English teachers shoved in our faces. Reading the Wikipedia article or the cliffnotes was just as good as reading the book itself, because I got the story. I know, heretical right?

And then this book was shoved in my face. It’s a deceptively little book, and since I read ridiculously fast, I figured why not give it a try. Thank god I did. The Writing Life may have been the first book I read purely for the pleasure of the prose, because the prose is just that beautiful. To a seventeen year old who wouldn’t recognize beautiful writing unless an English teacher smacked us over the head with it, this book was the hammer that cracked my ignorance.

Annie Dillard wrote about her life as an author. It never occurred to me to check her bonafides as an author, because the prose was just that damn pretty. Every image so carefully constructed, every word so carefully placed, everything put down just so – it was magical. The images she conjures about writing has shaped how I think about words, sentences and paragraphs ever since. Perhaps I’ve even carried that yearning to find a shed of my own, too.

Dillard made me pay attention to what I would go on to learn in that Writer’s Craft Class, and to grab at everything I learned and greedily shove it into my writer’s tool box to be polished and honed and hoarded for future use. I used these tools to crank out short stories, little pieces, scraps of pretty little writing. It wasn’t the next great novel, but it was step up from mere pretty turns of phrase.

Then I found Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead. Anyone who takes a Canadian English class or plays Canadian trivia  knows of Atwood’s power as a writer; because I have done both, I have a profound respect for those powers. Reading what she wrote about writing, about what an author is, who to write to, and why write, clarified my own wants and needs as a scribbler. Reading what she wrote also made it impossible for me to call myself an author, because I have not done a thing worth a damn to earn the name.

So fine. I had a toolbox, I had a goal and an idea of what an author is, but I have no freaking clue how to actually get around the business of writing a book. I doubt I ever will, even if I do finish that piece of self deprecating crap or anything else, but reading On Writing, by Stephen King, has helped. While The Writing Life is beautiful and carefully crafted, and Negotiating with the Dead sparkles with verve and wit, On Writing is… basic. It’s vivid, like the Writing Life is, only Dillard writes about carefully laying lines of brick while King writes about passing out with half digested egg drying in his hair. It’s funny, only Atwood invites us to laugh along with her at male writers getting impregnated by the muse while King self-deprecatingly makes jokes about killing an agent with his first batch of stories.

But King makes it simple. Write a lot and read a lot. Write your first draft with your door closed and your second draft with the door open. Write to your Ideal Reader. Write as if you were discovering a fossil. Write about your story, not your back story. And above all, write.

In retrospect, this is a no brainer. And yet to someone who very badly needs this kick in the pants, this is no brainer takes all of my big brain and more to comprehend. How can I write every day when I have nothing to write? You always have something to write. You’ve lived, haven’t you? But I want to make this world more elaborate! You write first, make up the details as you go along, and revise a couple bajillion times. I can’t write! You don’t need a hall pass to pull up your pants and go there.

It’s brilliant. And it’s liberating.

Book-Ends is a series about books. It’s not quite a review, so much as a retrospection, and it comes out on weekends (brilliant naming, right?). This name is optimistic, in hopes that I’ll actually read a book that makes me think every week and actually write about it.

Written Gems: NaNo-Not-Mo

NaNoWriMo ends tomorrow, and all I’ve been able to write is about how I can’t write.

I’ve been trying to write a book since I discovered the library and the English Language. I’ve been trying to do National Novel Writing Month since I discovered it existed in 2010. I have yet to succeed.

I thought I’d be free this month. I thought I’d have time to write. 2014 would be my year.  But then this happened, and that happened. I discovered a new game and there was always another assignment, another report, another group project, until bam.

It’s November 30th, and I’ve written exactly 849 words of a supremely narcissistic piece of crap.

It’s supposed to be a memoir of my life. My life? Hah. I’ve lived twenty some odd years and I haven’t done anything interesting except be born in another country. In a country of immigrants, it ain’t that special. How’s that going to read? Why did I think for a second that would be interesting?

And yet the sad thing is that it is more interesting than anything else I’ve been able to write so far. Besides one disastrous experiment of a finished novel in grade 7 (which you can resurrect if you look hard enough, but please don’t), I haven’t been able to complete anything. Every time I try, they become…. too.

Too not right. Too not wrong enough. My male characters are too wooden, and my female characters are too caricatured. This world is too simple. That world is too complex. One plot is too twisted. Another plot is too straight-forward. One scene is too detailed. Another is too plain. It’s all just too, which is worst than it just being twee.

With this memoir, as plain and dull and as uninteresting as it might be, it’s been the first project I’ve felt like I can continue. I won’t ever get stuck for a plot, because it’s already happened. I won’t ever have to worry about crafting characters, because they’re already crafted themselves. I’ve gone back to writing fanfiction, playing with someone else’s sand castle because mine keep falling back into the ocean.

I think I’ve learned two important things this NaNoWriMo, despite having written hardly anything (I haven’t even set up my novel profile). First of all, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for writing time. I write when I can, when I have words, not when I have time.

Second of all, I’m going to go back to prefab. I started writing by borrowing other people’s characters, and I was excited about that. I wrote pages and pages on that. They weren’t very good pages, but they were pages. I think that I started to drift away from it because I decided that now I was getting older and more mature, I should be making my own. But maturity is not something conferred by age, and in this area, I am still a tiny babe in arms. So I’m going to go back to using characters who have already developed, and write about things that have happened, when I don’t have to make up a world or a plot or anything else, and I can just be a story teller, not a world builder or an omniscient god. Maybe some day, I’ll move back to fantasy. Someday.

All I want to do right now is to write.

Written gems are pieces of my life, polished and shined up a bit. Read more here.

Written Gems: Sketches of a Frustrated Writer

I want to write again.

But when I reach to put word in front of word, phrase in front of phrase, it slips away from me. I delete, and delete again, because nothing, nothing I write seems fit to see the light of day.

If I were still a chicken scratching on paper, I would have laid so many paper eggs of failure. Instead, I leave those stupid, trite, idiotic phrases on the page because I am frightened of nothing, having nothing to show that I can create, that I am still alive.

I am afraid of a blinking line and white space.

My old eloquence is a cloak too moth-eaten by time and misuse that it it might as well be a hanky for all the good it will do. I have no clever turns of phrase to arm myself with, no similes to direct like a veteran general, no metaphors to shelter my trembling, creative soul under. Nothing.

It’s naked. It’s withered. It’s dry.

It’s nothing.

I try to reassure myself that I am still creative, that I can still create. I’ve been knitting, crocheting, drawing. I have a whole bag and half a shawl to prove that I am not a great big fraud.

Liar.

Everything I’ve done has been a facsimile of someone else’s work. I want to build iridescent castles on glass mountains with my bare hands, like I used to, but all I can do now is build cheap little copies of suburban cardboard boxes following someone else’s pattern. I can do nothing, nothing of my own.

I feel like I am back in preschool, trying to build towers out of three lopsided wooden triangles no one else wants. Instead of rough plastic and the click of keys, I feel worn varnish and the thunk of wood on wood (knock knock) under my fingers. Instead of musty college student, I smell five-year-olds, fresh tears and stale piss. Instead of tasting that I’m too lazy to get dinner, I savour the hope of jam sandwiches for lunch. Instead of fearing emptiness and failure, I fear nothing, nothing at all.

I was so determined to make that tower, even if I only had three triangles. In the end, I laid them on their sides and laid down too. There. The tower was taller than I was, even if it was tall in the wrong direction.

Then it was clean up time, and they put my tower away. But I had done it. I still remember it. Given mediocre talent, mediocre inspiration, mediocre materials, I had still built the damn thing. Given mediocre talent, mediocre inspiration, mediocre material, I have still written this damn thing.

It’s something, something after all.

Project 14 – Day 4: Hobbies

Day 4 is about my hobbies which is the sand in my life, in the old parable about using your time wisely. I like leaving big gaps to fill up, though.

If you’re not familiar with the aforementioned parable, it’s about how a college professor explains priorities to his students. He pulls out a container, a bucket of rocks, a bucket of pebbles, a bucket of sand, and a beer. He dumps the rocks into the bucket, and then asks his students whether the container is full, to which the students say yes.  He then takes the pebbles, and fills the gaps between the larger rocks, and then asks his students again whether or not the container is full, to which the students say yes, again. Finally, he takes the sand and fills the gaps between the pebbles and the rocks, and asks his students again, whether or not the container is full, and the students, again, say yes. The jar symbolizes our lives, the rocks the things that truly matter in life, like health, mental well-being, and family, the pebbles are things like work, school, and friends and the sand is everything else. The moral of the story is if you fill your time with the small stuff, you won’t have time for the big things, so take care of the things that matter first.

I’ve already written a lot about my bigger things, so today, I’ll take some time to think about my little things – my hobbies. I have a LOT of them, so many that I’ve had a lot of them also fall by the wayside. My mom used to grouse at me and ask why I didn’t just stick with one thing and get really good at that, but honestly, I like trying things out. I’m okay with being a “Jack of all trades, master of none” because it’s fun – none of my hobbies are something I’d do professionally, and while I am committing to less in the future, it’s nice to know I’ve already developed all these skills.

One of my favourite things to do is read and write. I’ve written about how my parents didn’t really have money when I was a kid, so the library was one of the cheapest forms of entertainment. As a pretty equal opportunity reader, I enjoy everything from John Grisham, to Harry Potter, to Lord of the Rings, to the New York times, to Jane Austen, to modern blogs, to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Anyone who asks me what my favourite book or author is gives me a headache, because I can never decide. Out of sheer perversity and some honesty, though, when I am asked that question, I like answering Lolita, by Nabokov. It’s not because I condone the subject matter, like the plot, or even like any of the characters; it’s honestly the best written piece of English prose I’ve ever read. It’s so well written that the really frightening thing about Lolita is not the monsters like Humbert Humbert, or Lolita, or Clare Quilty in the story, it’s that you actually start to sympathize with them. There’s the additional bonus of discouraging people from asking you that question again.

I actually didn’t start writing until much later, because for some reason, it never occurred to me people would be interested in exploring my worlds with me (I’m still not sure they are). It wasn’t until I started roleplaying on an internet forum that I really started flexing my writing chops, and it was a very, very good baptism by fire. If you’ve never roleplayed before, roleplaying is essentially like collaborative story writing, where you write the bits where your character is involved, and you sometimes have to elbow your way into the story. It’s fast, it’s messy, and it’s a really good learning experience, because you have to get everything mostly right on your first edit, you have to roll with mistakes that you and other people make, and most of all, you have to just write – if you don’t, you get left out of the story. I learned really quickly what makes a good story, what makes a bad one, and once, what makes an amazing one that sucks people in.

I’ve had a really hard time turning everything I’ve learned into a story to be completed though. I have a million worlds in my head, and not one of them has an ending. My hard drive is a dusty graveyard of undead stories that just yell “write me! Finish me!”. I’ve turned to short stories and essays and blogging, just as a way to keep my skills sharp, but someday, someway, I’d like to be able finish a full story, with beginning, middle, and (some how) an ending. I’ve slowly started cannibalizing old ideas and old worlds and cobbling them together into a new Frankenstein, and with fewer things to write, maybe I’ll actually get this one done. In the meantime, however, I like blogging, and I like creating little gems that help crystallize my feelings and experiences at the one moment.

My list of artistic endeavours is enormous, and I’ve had to give a lot of it up. I’ve had classical drawing training, some informal paint, watercolour, calligraphy, printing, and pastel training, and far too much time scribbling in notebooks to come up with whatever. I’ve experimented with some less traditional forms, like quilling, paper cut, embroidery, and jewellery making (I make really awesome presents too, when I have the time). I also used to paint sets, act, and write reviews, as well as sing, play the piano, and play the tin whistle.  I’m starting to dabble in Kinetic typography, combining my love of words and art, and I’d like to try lampwork and pottery if I ever get the opportunity. Art and I are old friends, and I think she’s still trying to find something that will consume my soul like so many other artists in every genre. Until she does, I’m just going to enjoy everything she presents me with.

I have other hobbies too, somehow. I got lazy towards the end of high school, but I used to play badminton and volleyball competitively, and do some track when I was younger. I’d like to try a martial art, Muay Thai or Capoeira, if I ever get the chance. Like everyone else in this generation, I’m also a big gamer – I currently mainly play Aion and Pokemon, and I’m trying (not very successfully) to learn League of Legends. Travelling is another thing that brings a lot of joy into my life – I always joke that when I get married, I’m going to skip the expensive nightmare of a Chinese wedding and spend the money on a world tour for a honeymoon.

My last hobby that I think has really shaped me as a person is competitive trivia. It’s a sport of the minds, where contestants try to show that they know more than the other team more quickly, so it tends to attract a lot of know-it-alls, smart asses, and generally awesome people. I recently “retired” after playing for six years with some of the best, meeting amazing people all across Canada and the US, and learning some really valuable lessons, like teamwork is more effective than working on your own, competition and high pressure situations can bring out the best and worst in people, and Margaret Atwood is the answer to everything. It was a really rewarding experience, and one that will stay with me for a while, especially since my colleagues don’t seem to know what the meaning of retirement is.

I think I’ve been shaped just as much by my hobbies than any other one area of my life, because hobbies and past times are something you can choose to do, or not do. There are millions of things in this world to try, so I strongly encourage you to reach out and try a few more if you have the time; you never quite know what to expect or what you’ll learn.

Project 14 is how I’m going to start my journey of self discovery, to memorialize  who I am when I start chronicling my life. Each day, I’ll approach who I am through a different paradigm people use to define themselves. Read more about it at my About page.