Today is August 31, the last official day of summer (or at least, that's how I see it).
I was taking a walk with my dog the other day, enjoying the heat, the blue-blue skies, and the sound of cicadas in the trees, and I wondered why it was summer made me feel so alive and happy. I know a lot of people hate summer, usually because of the heat, and they'll almost always say fall is their favorite season instead. But I hate fall.
I love summer because it's so hot, I can actually feel the heat pushing into my body, which is cooler by comparison. I like the sun and the insects. A mosquito here and there never hurt anyone. I like watching the snakes sun-bathe, and then slither off into the grass when we get too close. I like sitting by the pool and reading, looking up every now and then to enjoy that aqua color of the water.
But I realized that what I really love about summer is that it's the only time where I'm really myself.
I'm a first-born child, and a girl at that, therefore it was practically mandated I would be a people-pleaser. When you make other people's expectations a priority, it can have a lot of advantages. You tend to get good grades in school. You're valued at work for being organized and dependable. Deadlines are your friend.
But the downside is you tend not to make your own expectations and goals a priority. During the school year, I always felt like I was running around trying to make everyone else happy (playing sports, performing in recitals, endlessly studying to get good grades). I never had enough time to do the things I really wanted to do, which was basically to read, write, draw, and play outside by myself.
Summer was the reprieve from school and all those outer-expectations. It was the only time of year that my family and my teachers left me alone. My brother and I spent most of our summers at our babysitter's house, sitting in her basement, which sounds awful, but really it was heaven. We spent hours of time playing video games, reading, and watching tv. Then we'd be sent off to my grandparents house, where it was even better, because then we could run around outside and swim all day. No one asked us to do anything except our chores.
It was really only then that I was myself, or rather, escaping into various fantasies and stories in which I really felt like myself. I wasn't the "good-student" or the "good girl" during the summer. Everyone finally left me alone, and stopped asking me to do so much crap for them. That was happiness.
Occasionally, my dad would try and butt in with some obnoxious math workbook, but I typically fought back over that. Summer was my time. I didn't need more school (God, the last thing I needed was more school work). It was kind of ironic even, because my dad's descriptions of his own childhood were almost entirely about how he shirked school to work on his own projects, doing things like rebuilding cars, sailing dingies, and playing in rock-and-roll bands. Basically, doing the things he wanted to do. And frankly, it worked. He's a brilliant scientist and engineer, he's the best sailor I know, and he's a wonderful musician. Did he learn how to do all those things from math workbooks? No, he learned how from playing around on his own time. That's all I ever wanted, and I only ever got it during the summer.
But of course, August 31 always rolled around and suddenly it was time to buy school supplies and new shoes again. I still get depressed watching back-to-school commercials for this reason, even if I've been technically out of school for several years now (though I'm still employed by academics, so maybe that's why my internal calendar is still so school-centric).
So goodbye summer. It's been a great one. I started working full-time on my own editing business. I wrote and published my own books on Amazon Kindle Direct. I hung out at the pool with my own friends almost every weekend. It was my summer, and it was amazing.
My goal now, as an adult and a reforming people-pleaser, is to take that summer freedom and apply it to the rest of the year. There's no reason I can't love fall. There aren't anymore teachers or parents to tell me what to do. I'm 30 years old and I finally feel like I belong to myself.
But then again, I'm going to miss that heat. Goodbye summer. Until next year.
Ever have one of those days where it seems like you could only see the worst in everything?
A lot of stupid, annoying stuff happened to me today, and it made me so ragey.
And a lot of really good stuff happened too, and the fact that I couldn't appreciate those things because all I could think about was the bad stuff made me feel even ragier.
Here's how my day went down, starting with the bad:
Stupid stuff, right? Ironically, I even meditated this morning, and yet it did nothing to improve my mood.
Then look at all the good stuff that happened to me as well:
See, lots of good stuff. Plenty to be thankful for. There are probably even a few things I've forgotten about. I just always find it a struggle to focus on the good parts and not get obsessed with the bad.
Anyway, one of the things that always helps me is to remember that some days just suck. A lot of stupid stuff happens, but it almost always means tomorrow is going to be awesome by comparison.
And in its own way, today was pretty awesome too.
Yesterday, I had a bit of a scare with an avocado. I don't know how I could be such a moron, but I somehow managed to chop up some avocado skin into my salad. I noticed the tough texture right away as I was eating, and thought I had spit it all out, but about fifteen minutes later I started to feel my palms, the soles of my feet, my face, and neck getting really itchy.
I have to assume the reaction was to the avocado peel, since it was the only thing different in my normal salad. The itchy palms/feet thing has happened to me before, and preceded a rash of hives from some allergen I was never able to identify. So feeling the reaction again, I knew to take some Benadryl right away. Thankfully, the medicine did its job, and the itching subsided very quickly, but since it's an antihistamine, I also felt woozy and groggy for the rest of the day. That kind of messed up my writing and editing schedule, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I'd rather be alive and too tired to work properly, then dead from an allergic reaction (yes, I'm probably being dramatic here, but you know what I mean).*
Anyway, since I was too high to function, I decided I may as well relax and do something easy and fun. For whatever reason, I've been feeling very nostalgic for Final Fantasy lately (this post partially got me thinking about it again). It's my all time favorite video game series, so I decided to dig out my old copy of FF7 for the PC and play it again.
There's just something about the world-building in Final Fantasy games that I find so perfect. Whenever I play them, I'm completely transported into the universe. I think it's a combination of the artwork and the music, and the little details that carry over between games, like Chocobos, Moogles, airships, and probably also that special hybrid of science fiction and magic that the series does so well. Final Fantasy is by far my favorite fictional universe.
So yesterday, I decided to install Final Fantasy VII on my computer to get my fix. No joke, I've saved my FFVII PC game since I first bought it in 1998 (1999?). That's almost 20 years I've been carting around these CDs. They've been with me to college, three apartments in graduate school, and two apartments/houses in my post-graduate life. I don't know why I took them everywhere, since I've been pretty much way too busy to play the game since high school, but they gave me this sense of comfort. Like I could disappear back to Midgar, Gold Saucer, or Costa del Sol at any time if I wanted to.
So yesterday was going to be my big return. I sat down to install the game - but it didn't work. It just refused to function on my computer. After a little googling, I learned this was typical. The one thing I hadn't factored was that FFVII wouldn't be compatible on a computer system that was almost 20 years beyond it. I know that seems obvious, but it wasn't until that moment did I really understand that 20 physical years of my life have almost passed since I was just a kid, sitting in my parents basement, playing what would be my favorite game of all time. 20 years! Where did the time go! Turning thirty this year didn't have half the effect on me that failing to install FF7 did. It's like that time passed finally became real.
I remember this moment, back even further to 1995 when the arrival of Windows 95 made virtually all of my young computer knowledge and favorite video games (really old Kings Quest stuff) obsolete. That was a clear dividing line in my life. So it just feels strange that somehow everything changed without me noticing it, and now it's another phase of my childhood that's obsolete, but I can't even define the point when that happened. Or rather, I guess that point is now, when I realized I couldn't disappear back into Final Fantasy as easily as I had wanted. And it's funny, I don't even really want to play the game, I just want to be in it. Does that make sense?
So anyway that's when I knew my childhood was over, when FFVII became just a memory, and not some place I could escape to whenever the real world got to be a drag (that is, until I can hopefully find a software patch or an emulator, or perhaps I'll just download the soundtrack and look at some Final Fantasy concept art - that may work just as well, to be honest).
Ironically, just the other day I also had the epiphany that I finally felt like an adult, the flip-side I guess of knowing my childhood was over. This occurred when I finally admitted to myself that I really do need to blow-dry my hair every time I take a shower.
Jeeze, isn't adulthood boring?
*PSA: You should always, always have some Benadryl in your house, your purse, or your wallet. You never know when you or somebody else might start to have an allergic reaction, or worse, go into full anaphylactic shock. Having a Benadryl on hand could be the difference between life and death. The little pills are small and easy to carry. So yeah, Benadryl, get some. It's the wonder drug.
Confession: I am a sucker for a good couple to ship.
I am such a shipper, it's embarrassing. A lot of my favorite comic books, tv-shows, movies, etc. were more or less based on the fact that I shipped some obscure fictional couple. Let's list them, shall we? In approximate chronological order:
Batman and Catwoman (From the old Adam West series.) It's the earliest memory I have of wishing two characters would get together. I spent a lot of summers at my Grandparents' house watching old reruns of this show, hoping each episode would feature Catwoman (or Batgirl, who was equally awesome and had the sweet motorcycle).
Batman and Catwoman (Batman Returns). I was pretty young, but I still shipped them. No doubt the cartoonishness appealed to me.
Batman and Catwoman (From Batman the Animated Series - sensing a theme!) Ok enough, yes Batman is pretty hot, and when you add him to the equally hot Catwoman, it's pretty fucking awesome.
Gambit and Rogue (X-men) So doomed! So frustrating! Technically, I got into this pairing like most 90's kid did - through the animated series, but I thought this comic book illustration was en pointe. Rogue by herself was awesome (I want her powers), Gambit had an undeniable sex appeal, and then when you threw these two southerners together and added some reluctance on Rogue's part (cause, you know, she might kill him), it was pretty hot.
Conan and Jezmine (Conan the Adventurer) What can I say? Jezmine got to throw ninja stars. Who wouldn't love her? Conan was alright. This was shipping for lack of many other options (there were like, four characters in this show - tops).
Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood (Raiders of the Lost Ark!) There was no one more attractive than Harrison Ford in his prime. Plus, Marion was a bad ass, AND she got to wear a pretty white dress too. Talk about my ideal fictional avatar.
If we're going to talk Harrison Ford, then we have to mention Han Solo. I came around to Luke Skywalker later in life, but when I was a kid, Han and Leia were my jam (Star Wars).
Mulder and Scully (The X-Files) I was introduced to this show fairly late by the first movie, which has some pretty heavy shipping themes. Ironically, I think it was actually the X-Files where the term "shipper" comes from. That show had one of the earliest internet fan-bases, and those who hoped for a Mulder/Scully pairing were termed "relationshippers," or just "shippers" for short. The more you know.
Krycek and Marita (The X-Files). Cause I grew up and realized that it was more fun to be a bad guy. There was really not enough information on these characters, but I found that to be part of the appeal. You could make up some pretty epic fanfiction between those two, and set it in Russia!
There may have been others, but these were the couples I shipped the hardest, while other characters may have had fleeting, but unstained appeal. (Robin and Batgirl, for instance. I need more interaction!)
Then it kind of falls off for me. I don't know, maybe I grew up, and it got harder to care about the love lives of fictional characters. Or maybe there haven't been many good new ones in a long time. Most of the TV I see these days is strangely heartless, even cold. Everyone says we're in the "golden age" of television, but it's all so serious. I'm dying for a good romp with a decent couple that just refuses to get together.
Finally, if we're going to discuss shipping, then I feel obligated to mention Harry Potter, but personally, I never understood all the Harry Potter pairings. To me, those characters seem almost asexual, so I have no idea where the appeal of a Harry/Malfoy, Hermione/Snape, or Lupin/Tonks coupling comes from. But then again, I'm sure there are plenty of kids out there who wouldn't understand my love for Batman or Krycek. It's generational, I'm sure.
Who do you ship?
Some random highlights from the week:
I've been having fun working on my WIP, pretty much rewriting each chapter after I finish it. I like the content, I just don't like the form, so I've been tightening up each scene. It's coming along much better even if it can be sort of daunting to throw out pages of adequate, if not sparkling writing. I realized the other day that editing is little bit like donating old clothes from your closet. Once you've gotten rid of a pair of pants or a passage that never fit quite right, you forget it was ever there in the first place, so there's no reason to be afraid of throwing stuff away. Sometimes, if I am feeling especially twitchy about deleting a lot of words, I make a special document that's titled something like "scenes I've cut," where I save deleted sections. It's the writing equivalent of a storage locker, and like the contents of a real storage locker, you almost never need any of it. I love editing :)
On the home front, I'm sad to say our pup is injured. She dive bombed some rodent in the grass, and must have landed on her paw funny. I took her to the vet, but they couldn't figure out why she was limping. So we're resting her for a week, and seeing if that improves things before we try the more invasive sedation/x-rays route. Her paw seems to be healing, but not very quickly.
The poor dog is also terrified of the robot vacuum cleaner now. She was cool with it at first, but then it snuck up on her from behind and "bit" her on the bottom. For all her yelping, you'd have thought it was trying to kill her. She's had a rough week :(
Meanwhile, the cats have been enjoying the olympics with us. My husband and I finally caved and bought one of those digital TV antennas so we could watch the local stations and sports broadcasts. The cats are just happy to sit on a warm lap while we cheer on Team USA. The Americans been quite good this year, especially the women! I have to give a special shout out to Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps, too. Marylanders represent!
That's all for now. It's been a fairly quiet August so far. I'm taking advantage of the extra time to get some serious writing done before the school year starts up again when I get more editing requests from clients. Gah, can't believe it's already almost fall, my least favorite season. Oh well, time marches on, I suppose.
Now please indulge my cat photo dump. We like to call the siamese cat "the Bunbun." His brother, the little grey cat, is called Hans
In an effort to improve my writing, I've been trying to take my own advice by working on more simple stories. I finished my first novel this past spring (and am almost finished editing it), and it's nothing more than a trashy romance story, which is all I asked it to be. It was my practice novel, and despite its total lack of literary merit, I found it very informative to write. It taught me a lot about setting up character and plot, and most of all, it gave me the confidence that I could finish a coherent 50,000 word novel.
I've since begun my new WIP, a light hearted novel that's supposed to be a step-above my practice novel, but by no means my intended masterpiece. It's a comedy, and I've been having a lot of fun writing it.
But as I reread sections, I couldn't help but notice that something wasn't working. Things that sounded funny in my head were anything but when they were set down on paper.
Fortunately, I started reading Nick Hornby's novel, Funny Girl, around the same time, and it helped me diagnose my problem. Basically, you can't write comedic timing, and if that's what your jokes are based on, they're going to fall flat on the page like mine were.
I'm actually a big fan of Nick Hornby's. I rank About a Boy as one of my favorite novels, though I don't know exactly why that is. It's not great literature, but it's entertaining, and it makes me feel more for the characters than most of the stories I read.
At first I enjoyed Funny Girl, which is Hornby's first novel in five years, but after a while it started to get really tedious. I had a hard time distinguishing characters, and the main character, Barbara, the eponymous Funny Girl, especially had this strange way of suddenly speaking up in scenes where I didn't even realize she was present. The whole thing was written in this very detached way, with little insight into the characters heads or even basic descriptions of the setting, but worst of all - almost none of the jokes landed. You can't call a book "Funny Girl" and then have it be unfunny.
But I realized I was making the same mistake as Hornby in my WIP: trying so desperately to write comedic timing. Here's an example from Funny Girl:
"We were asked to come up with a show about marriage," said Dennis.
Let's break this down. The "said Sophie" part is the closest to a physical pause in the dialogue as the author can create, which I suppose is meant to add more tension to the subsequent line, "So why didn't you do that?" I can imagine a gifted comedic actress making this sort of funny, but on the page it kind of reeks of desperation.
And the author knows it doesn't really work, so he has to describe Bill laughing and clutching at his heart. Personally, I think anytime we're reduced to describing physical actions and gestures as writers, it means we're not feeling confident in our ability to communicate to the reader. We're worried they won't "get it," so in response we try and show every physical thing that is happening (the writer's version of micromanagement), and it's just a slog to read. It's certainly not funny.
You might notice this attempt at transcribing comedic timing in your own writing (I see it in mine everywhere). It's apparent wherever you have to indicate a pause with blinks or facial contortions for comedic effect. Or you might mention that someone is being sarcastic, but that doesn't work either. The reader can't hear the sarcasm. They can't hear the pause. You have to be brave and let that stuff go. It does more harm than good.
The truth is, you can't write a book as though it were a movie, as much as we might want to. That's where Funny Girl really messes up. The characters always seem to be speaking up from out of a vacuum. It's almost entirely dialogue, which is probably because Hornby's gotten used to writing screenplays these last few years (he wrote the script for An Education), and has forgotten how to setup a scene that a reader can't physically see.
I actually had to stop reading Funny Girl because I was worried it was going to reinforce the bad comedic timing habit I was clearly writing into my own story. Writers have to read, I think, because we imitate other writers to some extent. Unfortunately, Funny Girl was not a book I wanted to imitate, consciously or unconsciously.
Do you struggle with this? I really have to stop myself from attempting to transcribe the movie that plays in my head when I'm writing. It just doesn't work.
Now please excuse me while I go back and edit out all those damn pauses and blinks from my WIP.
When did libraries become indoor playgrounds for children?
Look, some of the most formative experiences of my childhood took place in libraries. I wouldn't be the reader or writer that I am today if it weren't for libraries, so I thank god my parents took me there almost every weekend.
But we checked out books QUIETLY, and then we took them home to read. We didn't hang out in the library for hours to play. (I don't remember people doing this back then, though they probably did, and I was just oblivious.)
I'm doing a lot of work in the library these days, along with a lot of other people, and we're all siting silently, reading or writing on our computers. Not 100 feet away, there is a collection of children running around, screaming at the top of their lungs, crying, etc. (you know, being kids), but it's all happening in a place where you're supposed to be quiet. It's a rule. It says so all over the building. But these families (and it's just a few), they're treating it like a play space.
Believe me, I actually really love kids. I love that people bring them to the library to pick out new books, or listen to the story time reading (which takes place in a different room). I just think that treating the library like a playground is an inappropriate use of a public space, and that a few parents are really pushing the bounds of what's acceptable behavior. I'm sure the librarians have given up trying to enforce the rules. No one wins when you try to correct someone else's child.
I remember my parents being very clear with me about being quiet in the library, and so I learned how to behave there. And you know what? I see plenty of other parents doing that right now, even as I'm typing this. They whisper to their children, help them find a book, and then they check it out and leave. Their kids totally mimic them too. They're learning their "library voices," and that's important.
Meanwhile, I think there are some parents on the opposite side of the room that are just dumping their kids into an open space and hoping they'll get some energy out - BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT THE LIBRARY'S FOR.
Sorry, rant over. I love kids. I'm actively considering trying to have one in the next year or so. But I still think we need to be respectful of other people's comfort even after we have children (within reason of course, meltdowns happen, I get that).
What do you think? Am I expecting too much that the library be quiet?
Have you seen Stranger Things yet?
If you haven't, maybe you should click over to Netflix and get started on that. I'll wait.
Stranger Things is a Netflix original series, which is like a cross between classic Spielberg movies (e.g., E.T., Goonies, and Poltergeist), Resident Evil, and a dash of Stephen King (who also recommends it). It's the tv show/movie I've been wishing someone would make for the last 15 years.
It's set in the eighties and totally nails that vibe. Do you remember flying around on your bike, feeling like you were the king of your neighborhood? This show is basically built on that premise.
Mind you, It's not perfect, and if I had one criticism it's that it sometimes strayed from homage to outright ripoff, but it's not a huge issue and I wasn't put off by it. There's a fine line between acknowledging your influences and plagiarizing, and I think Stranger Things pulled it off.
So if you like sci-fi, and you enjoy old Spielberg movies, seriously, do yourself a favor and get started on Stranger Things.
I've been struggling to finish my latest Aubrey/Maturin book (it's been a total slog) and Stranger Things was such a good reminder that I should pick up a fun sci-fi novel next. I deserve it.
Writer, editor, scientist.