Friday, October 24, 2014

Too Busy?

I thought I was busy in second grade when I had after school activities three days a week. I thought I was busy in sixth grade when the only homework I had was spellings tests. I thought I was busy in middle school when I had daily math worksheets and one or two other assignments a week. I thought I was busy my first two years of high school when I had one club and one AP class.
Today I went to school, half of a writers' club meeting, a rescheduled piano lesson, play rehearsal, and watched another play with friends. But you know what? I had time to redo a fifty five question test. I had time to count my cup holder change at a stoplight. I can live in stolen moments.
People fascinate me, and it peeves me when no one takes interest in my life, so I try to ask questions. My go to question, "How's your life going?" is usually met with "I'm busy."
That's not any better than "Okay" or "I'm fine".
I think I'm busy. Eight school clubs in addition to all this senior college crap. But you know what? I can make it work, and in a few years, I'll work with even more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gold Car Syndrome

Yesterday I walked up to one of my writer friends and bounced a story idea off her. She cut me off before I could get two sentences in. "Don't write something that's already been done."
That made me pause. Sure, I've read a lot of stories like the one I'm planning, but does that mean the idea is taken?
I drive a Toyota Camry. The day I got it, I was so excited because it had everything I'd ever wanted in a car. It had wheels! It had an engine! It moved! The radio worked!  So did the air conditioner! And, as an added bonus, the car was gold. Everyone else in the world had white or black or grey. I'd never lose it in a parking lot.
Then I actually took that car onto the road. I realized my next door neighbors had a gold car the same size. So did my other neighbors, two doors down in the other direction. And so did a girl who lived across the street from them.
Four gold cars on one street. I guess I wasn't so unique after all. I never paid attention to it before. If you'd asked me to count all the gold cars on my way home from school, I'd say, "There's only eight. Gold isn't a popular color." Now I'd say, "Eight? EIGHT? Why does everyone have to drive a gold car?"
They're not copying me. These people bought their cars years before me and didn't bother to ask what I was doing. They're different brands, makes, and models. And even if someone did try to copy me-a gold 2000 Toyota Camry Solara-it wouldn't be mine.
We see what we look for. The same thing happens all the time with books. People track down a book with a magic school or a world portal in Kings Cross Station and accuse J. K. Rowling of cheating. No, she just lives in the same world we do. She's gone to school. She's been to Kings Cross Station. And she took her imagination with her.
You want a unique car? Then you can't buy it from a car company, they all copy off each other. You'll have to build your own. It can't look anything like mine. It can't be gold. It can't have a radio. It can't have an air condition. It can't have wheels. It can't have an engine. I'll sit here while you go and build it.
Done yet? Okay. Does it move? Nope. Congratulations. Your car is nothing like mine.
Don't cry. I know you want a good car. You want the best car. You want a car like no one's seen before. But don't be afraid to copy. You can have wheels, an engine, and even an air conditioner. It will still be yours in the way the brakes screech when you put it in reverse. You personalize it when you pull too far into the garage and scratch up the front. If it's not so unique, so what? It's your car.
There is nothing new under the sun. Including that last sentence and the book it comes from.  Everything's been done before, and everything can be done again.There are eighty keys on the piano, how many songs can you write? There are seven colors in the rainbow, how many pictures can you paint? Soon enough they'll start looking and sounding like each other, and of course they do, because you're playing favorites with certain notes and shades. But when you get bored with that you can go on. There probably is a limit to the number of patterns and hues. But you'll never reach it.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Will the Real Olive Please Stand Up?

Olives are green

Except for when they're black

Here are a pair of olive eyes.

Jacqueline Robinson's photo.
And here we have Jacqueline, my olive skinned friend.
Everyone uses "What's your favorite color?" as an icebreaker question. Nobody's ever asked for my least favorite. I think I've found it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Can A Story Come Too Late?

I was fifteen years old. I had this oversized gray jacket that made me feel scrawny. My feet didn't touch the floor in my biology class chair. I was nowhere close to getting a driver's license. All my friends had the other lunch. I wasn't a career AP student like some of my friends, but the workload was enough to crush me. I won't say I was depressed-that's a mental health term and it belongs to the mentally ill-but I had gray days more often than not.
Life got better. I'm seventeen now, not any taller, but I can adjust the seat enough to reach the brake, so it doesn't hurt me. That jacket lives in the back of my closet. I'm taking slacker classes, like film studies. Today our teacher had us watch Dead Poet's Society. "If you haven't seen this yet, you're in for a treat."
She was right. School-weary students crushed by their parent's expectations. Clandestine poetry readings. True friendship. An inspiring teacher, played by Robin Williams, no less. And then there's that phrase they keep tossing around. Carpe diem. Seize the day, seize the day.
I can appreciate it now. I laughed at all the right parts and plenty of the wrong ones. While my friends did math homework by the screen's light or hid phones under their desks, I was enraptured. But I couldn't escape this sense that it had come too late. Dead Poets Society is brain candy for me now. But two years ago it would've been a pill.
This summer I read Jane Eyre for English. I picked it up sophomore year, read the first 200 pages, then ditched it for other books. There were times I wished I'd kept going. Jane struggles with loneliness. Maybe she would've lifted me out of my own.
Then there's this beautiful quote:
"Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation. They are for moments such as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour. Stringent are they, inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I could break them what would be their worth? They have a worth, so I have always believe, and if I cannot believe it now it is because I am insane. Quite insane, with my veins running fire and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this moment to stand by: there I plant my foot."
I didn't have to look that up. I copied it down into my phone, iPod, journal, writing notebook, and this 30,000 word document on my computer called Rant Space. The words are seared into my mind. Aren't they pretty?
Maybe they aren't. Not for you, not for now. Would some context help? This is what Jane says to herself after the Mr. Tall Dark and Brooding Rochester asks her to become his mistress. If she leaves, she'll be penniless and alone once more.
But that's what she chooses.
And Rochester respects her for it.
More importantly, so does Jane.
To me, to me now, these words are powerful. They're all about how choosing to resist temptation is just as much of a choice as choosing to give in. They talk about that tipping point when you can feel yourself slipping and you just want to fling your agency into the wind. And then we get to see the aftermath. Jane's homeless for a few days. She nearly starves to death under a bush, but then she finds friends who feed her and goes back to Rochester eventually.
But at fifteen? Maybe I would've skimmed over that paragraph. "Blah blah don't know what stringent means blah blah just ditch him, Jane. How long is this book?"
This happens a lot. I read something. A book or a blog or an article, and I think, "Where was this when I needed it?"
My English teacher told me there's no such thing as reading a book too late. Humans are like Russian nesting dolls. The person you were is still the person you are, she's just hidden somewhere deep down, somewhere close to your core. When you pick up a book, the words penetrate the layers and they mean something to her-even though your new self has different problems and passions.
I'd like to agree with her. But I don't know it I can. Maybe I needed some distance from my sophomore year before I could even recognize the healing power of Jane Eyre and Dead Poets Society. Maybe they've hit me at the right time after all.
The other night, I watched Back to the Future with my fourteen year old brother. He doesn't need dead poets. He lives for laughs. There's a scene towards the beginning where Marty clings to the back of a truck while skateboarding. I found it stupid. "What's he doing? That's a good way to get yourself killed." But my longboarder brother? "That's genius!"
A boy in book club wrote this in my yearbook: "Remember, there's no such thing as a bad book, just a good book read at a bad time." I hope I can stay in touch with my inner layers. I hope I can find a way to make every book the right book at the time. I hope I can harbor some piece of myself that smiles when Marty hitches a ride.
What do you think? Is it better to run into a good story to early or too late?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Do Your Research!

So, I might be writing a historical fiction novel about the Salem Witch Trials. I say might because I've got two other novels I'm working on, though I've theoretically abandoned both to focus on getting into college. I can write books for the rest of my life, right? But this is my last chance to be a high schooler.
Last night I stayed up until 11:30 creating a thirty three page presentation on important players in the Salem Witch Trials. A few days ago, I contacted a descendant of a second cousin five times removed of Ann Putnam, Jr., one of the most vocal accusers in the trials, and asked them for a family tree. I haven't officially dedicated my life to this book. Yet I've spent a huge chunk of my day wondering whether Ms. Goode, who was either four or five when she was jailed for witchcraft, was named Dorcas or Dorothy. One source said Dorcas/Dorothy had a sibling. A brother? A sister? Older? Younger? I have no idea. Then another source comes along and says she was an only child.
My last book was a Sleeping Beauty retelling. I researched the guts out of that story. I read every folk version-along with scholarly analysis of them-multiple times. Then I researched themes, motifs, symbols, and historical interpretation of the tale. After that, I gave my self a crash course on spinning wheels through the ages and conditions that can cause extended sleep. Finally, I scoured the internet and my local library for other Sleeping Beauty retellings. I mapped out the elements of the tale and the way different authors twisted them.
After all this, I read the first chapter to my creative writing class. The teacher-the teacher-asked me, "Are you going to follow the original Disney?"
I've spent the last several years wondering, "Should the enchanted sleep stem from a prophecy, like it does in Giambattista Basile's 1634 tale, or should my princess be cursed like she is in more modern versions?" But everyone who picks it up will say, "Hey, she renamed Maleficent."
You know what? I can't read everything I can find. Because I can find too much. I'm going to read everything helpful.