Why I’m Scared of Schedules

Consider the Setting

It’s senior year– the year of college applications, AP classes, and last ditch efforts to make yourself as well-rounded and perfect as you can possibly be before your stamped onto paper and sent in to admissions.

Sometimes it’s a wee bit overwhelming, so instead of working on blog posts and being productive, I write poetry.

Schedules

There are one hundred and twenty six things I have to do today.

One hundred and eleven of them are nothing–

steps in an everyday routine.

Five assignments due tomorrow,

four languages to tune,

three miles to run,

two books to read, and, somehow,

a life to live.

 

Schedules are terrifying.

Schedules are necessary.

Schedules are bone needles and sinew thread.

 

I wake up on Thursday morning and the there she lies,

an agenda fully stocked.

That’s when the veil settles–

one a needle cannot pierce.

Through the thick, grey fog

there’s a dark hole with a warm candle, and

a flurry of soft music

whose tinker-bell chimes invite me to their home

where schedules don’t need to exist.

 

There are one hundred and twenty six things I have to do today.

I can’t do one.

 

I’ll test my weight on tired feet

and think about apples and oatmeal and shoes and eye shadow and that book half finished on my nightstand and that test I have tomorrow and that application thats due on Sunday and those return labels I still haven’t printed and that text from my aunt that’s 136 characters too long and I won’t reply.

 

Each empty box on today’s to-do list pings

like a marble dropped into a crystal glass.

I teeter on the edge of a single shard,

frozen solid,

terrified to move,

an unproductive hazard.

I’ll make another list.

This time I’ll add time.

Then I’ll compile another.

 

I’ll set my plan.

I feel marbles rolling through my fingers.

I’ll step towards the kitchen.

I taste dust and fresh ink.

I’ll pick up a spoon.

I hear a beating heart that’s two sparks from out of tune.

I’ll sit back down.

I see F’s and idle hands.

I’ll stare blankly at a ticking clock.

I smell the lazy coffee still in its mug.

 

Here I am, hours later–

hands tied to this chair,

feet bound in rope,

pure panic in my heart–

with one hundred and twenty one things left to do.

Last Travel

I tried something new…

I sat at my desk today to write a blog post and I wound up staring at photographs on my wall for more than an hour. This is not the first time I’ve lost myself thinking about my travels this year. I’ve only been home for a few weeks, yet the travel itch has already returned. I’m beginning to realize just how much I miss France and Russia. France, especially, has been a consistent throb in my side this last week. I tried to write a typical blog post about just how much I miss my exchange, but nothing I wrote sounded right.

I gathered up a few songs that said it just right, (To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra, So Close to Magic by Aquilo… ) but that felt like cheating.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with poetry to sort through my thoughts, and it’s something I’ve found both cathartic and rewarding. I wrote something about this strange sort of longing that I feel for the life I had in France last year.

Here it is…

Last Travel

Air falls from my lungs when that song hits just below the ribs–

The one I listened to on metro nights just shy of 299 times.

I ride the crescendo till I’m knocked off my feet.

 

Looks like longing found her way in.

 

She’s woven through September air,

stirred into my coffee,

bleeding through headphones,

reaching out from my camera roll and

lunging from a polaroid.

 

She settles down onto my chest.

 

She crawls out of my heart and winds down my spine.

She’s an ache that rests behind my eyes and casts 6:00 AM fog

so thick I choke on tendrils of molten music.

 

She taps at my head

like she smells the sweet, sticky memories I left on the counter

and wants a taste.

 

Six weeks of Russia and six months of France bundled beneath my eyebrows.

 

Warm memories freeze my fingertips.

Neurons trapped under frost

fire slow signals that lull across glass tipped grass and

are broken by stumbling feet who seek to save a lick of dexterity

so I may write my way away.

 

Today’s plans cease into long winter slumbers with the ring of Fall outside the window,

of a home I once longed for

plagued tonight by this evening’s treasured guest,

the friend who settles over my shoulders,

at the ring of a piano’s first key.

 

She, who thrives on memory, lives in past tense

eager for the future where I return to far away–

far away across an ocean,

 a few hundred miles of sea churning with demons

that once lunged for my wrists.

 

I lay on my mattress, lulled by piano strokes

that grab at wanderlust with greedy fingers

and choke my new today,

too busy missing yesterday to remind me to breathe.

 

I remember the last sidewalk café,

last bus ride through Theater Square,

last croque monsieur and bowl of borscht,

last “Oui, madame” and “Non, merci”,

last sunrise trek and morning bises,

last click of black boots on cobblestone streets,

last embrace with a foreign friend.

Last month,

last year,

last travel.

Oh, To Write Again With Whimsy

Writing Playlist Prepped and Ready!

There’s something unnatural yet addicting about creative writing. I’m not talking about blog posts, or essays on Capitalism, or even philosophical discussions, but the flood of euphoria that I know comes only with storytelling.

To someone who’s never created their own story before, it’s hard to describe the way that writing makes you feel when you’re crafting your own character, devising your own plot, latching onto a theme, and playing judge, jury, and executioner. Few things measure up to the sense of urgency you feel at midnight when an idea pops into your head and pulls you to your laptop, or the sense of mindlessness as dialogue runs through your fingertips.

Recently, I’ve been feeling the creative itch, and all I want to do is immerse myself in a world of my own creation, but although I have notebooks full of ideas, I can’t seem to make myself begin a project. I wouldn’t call this writer’s block, but writer’s doubt, as I worry that I will waste my time on an idea that may soon run stale. A little over a year ago, I wrote a 60,000 word manuscript that now sits in my computer’s trash can, months of incessant work staining a page without substance.

I’ve been trying to figure out if I mind that I abandoned my first work. Needless to say, I think I’ve improved as a writer, so I know that I shouldn’t dwell over something that no longer represents me, but I can’t help but have moments when I read over a certain paragraph from a particularly emotional chapter mid-way through my manuscript and am shocked by that which I was able to express through words. Passages such as these inspire me to dive back into my characters, even if I know the novel is a lost cause.

I began my last manuscript as a means of catharsis, and found that writing was the key to developing and understanding my own thoughts. I want nothing more that to experience that contraction in my chest and clarity in my head again, but I want to make sure that I write something that will last. I want to take my time with a story and try not to throw everything that I wish to explore into a single plot. There are ideas in my notebook that I don’t think I’m ready to write, and those that I feel I’ve grown out of. I don’t know if now is the time to tackle an entire novel, but I do have a few thousand words of a Nanowrimo manuscript that I may take another look at.

I guess the point of this article is to express my burning desire to write and the frustration that I feel not being able to do it. A few days ago, I received a flurry of terrible grades in a class dedicated to writing, and found for the first time in years that I was doubting my writing abilities. My flowery, rhetorical, often broad and generalized writing did nothing to impress my teacher, and I just couldn’t seem to find a way to incorporate the type of writing my class required with my personal method and style. I have to remind myself that my ability to write an adequate English class essay may need work, but that by no means diminishes my ability to think creatively and critically about topics. If I’m writing for my teacher, I’ll have to be more careful, but if I’m writing for me, I am free to write as I wish. I have molded my writing to my own model of what I believe to be an effective use of language, but perhaps that which I have always perceived as a style open to analysis and debate is not appropriate in an essay in which I must pick a direct side and try not to let my personal culture shine through.

All that aside, I what I really want right now is to write a story, so that’s what I’ll go do.

AH! A Bear Attack!

Who’s the Best?

Eliud Kipchoge vs. Usain Bolt; who’s the better runner? Pernille Blume vs. Katie Ledecky; who’s the better swimmer? One athlete finishes their race in less that 10 seconds, the other takes far longer, but maintains an equally impressive pace. Clearly all four of these athletes are worthy of their olympic titles, but who is better? In order to answer this question, I think back to a time when there was no competition to measure an athlete’s talents on the track or in the pool; a time where there was no such thing as an athlete, only a particularly strong individual able to run for a really long time or swim wicked fast. Back then, being the best at something didn’t mean that you might one day win a medal at the olympics, it just meant that you could survive another day.

If we take this universal concept of survival and use it as a means to measure how good someone is at something, then perhaps we can determine which runner or swimmer is better. That being said, we would still have to figure out what is more important, speed or stamina? Who can outrun a bear or swim to shore if they’re stranded in the middle of a lake?

Runners and swimmers are easy to evaluate on this primitive aptitude scale, but there are some talents that prove to be more tricky. What about a writer? There are millions of amazing writers that excel at their disciplines across the globe, but which is the most adept to survive? Is it the world renowned scientist who writes books that explain complex astrophysics, or Anthony Doerr, the author of All the Light We Cannot See, a haunting work of historical fiction? Does the president’s speech writer have a better chance at survival than a journalist from the New York times?

If we turn back the clock to a time before newspapers and presidents; before astrophysics and novels, what disciplines of writing are we left with?

One man’s words rally his warriors before a grueling hunt while his friend watches closely, ready to relay the details of that expedition to the leader’s wife who waits by the fence, fearing that this time her husband won’t come home. There’s a woman explaining how to build a fire while another enchants the children of their village with a story of how their mighty ancestors battled the vicious saber-tooth tiger.

Motivator, messenger, teacher, and entertainer: who will survive?

Our instinct is to respond with “depends on the situation”, and perhaps that’s true, but what sorts of situations were you likely to find one thousand years ago, and what situations do you often come across today?

We like to label people as being the “best” at what they do, but we’ll never really know who places highest on this primitive aptitude scale until a bear decides to attack the stadium. We worry that we’re not good at anything, but having made it to this moment proves that you are good at something, keeping yourself alive. How did you do that? You used your unique skill set the persevere through life’s obstacles. You may have run, swam, or written a kick-ass english essay, but all that matters is that those talents brought you to this moment. Go you!

My Current Bookshelf (Jess)

My Top 5 Favorite Books

I hate choosing my favorite books because I have SO many. But here are the 5 books I would consider my top 5. I’m not going to give a summary of the books, but the reason why I like them so much. If you want to find out more about them, read them! Or just google them.

  1. Pride & Prejudice Jane Austen. This is easily my favorite book. Once I started to read it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s good, very good. However it’s not for everyone, if you don’t like romance or historical-fiction, you probably won’t like Pride & Prejudice, but if you do then you’ll love this book. It’s an easy story to get involved in and doesn’t require analytical analysis.
  2. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez. I don’t know how to put my love and respect for this book in words. Márquez is the best author that I know of. His control of the words and plot is impressive. You feel like you’re in a dream as you read, you get lost in the story. It’s weird, but in a good way. Definitely the book I would most recommend.
  3. Half the Sky – Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn. THIS BOOK. This book is what awoke me. My goals and aspirations became clear and concrete after reading this book. This was the book of “realizing things” (Hi Kylie Jenner!). It opened my eyes to the injustices around the world and the desperate need for radical change. Before this I was a feminist hater (another story for another time) and after this I was a full fledged feminist. The style of writing and informational narrative is extremely educational. There is also a multi part documentary that is on Netflix. So worth the read and watch.
  4. Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card. What a book. Ender, the main protagonist, was who I wanted to be when I was younger, and still who I want to be today. There was finally a kid that was respected by his peers and adults alike. He is not just good, but untouchably good at everything he does. It was one of those books that just makes you feel good the entire time you read it.
  5. Blood and Earth – Kevin Bales. This isn’t really a “fun” book. It’s an extremely informative, well written account of human trafficking and its effects on humans and the environment. It’s a unique take on why we should get rid of human trafficking as well as engaging. Like Half the Sky it awakened something inside of me and has helped educate me in the ongoing fight against human trafficking, a topic I’m passionate about. Even if you aren’t interested in modern slavery the book acts as an important resource.

November is Looming

Nanowrimo – An Excuse for Writers to Write

October… the time us crazy writer folk begin to panic because November is looming. We gather our coziest scented candles, pick out a special mug for our caffeinated beverages, stock up on stationary, and start compiling playlists full of classical music. November 1st marks the first day of Nanowrimo and the beginning of a month full of late night word sprints and constant day dreaming about the yet unknown fates of side characters and subplots.

There are two types of Nano writers… the Pantsers and the Planners. Last year, I fell into the former category, but then again I had already written various scenes and had been thinking about my story for six months. When November rolled around, I was pumped and ready to word vomit. This year, I didn’t expect to even try National Novel Writing Month; 1,667 words a day was a struggle last year, and that was back at home in the US when I was injured and had nothing better to do than procrastinate for four hours before sitting down to write.

However, as the Fall season approaches bearing its spiced lattes and holiday anticipation, I’ve been looking for an anchor to cling to to forget that the season will come and go and I won’t be home to see the leaves change or eat Turkey on Thanksgiving. As difficult as it was, nanowrimo was probably the highlight of my sophomore year, and I’ll never forget the feeling of self pride that I felt when my word count hit 50,001. I miss writing, falling in love with the characters in my head, and weaving story lines that even take me by surprise.

So, this year I will once again embark on this psychotic month long journey, but I have a slight problem- I have no project. I have a few ideas for setting and characters, but absolutely no plot. What does this mean? Pantsing is not an option. This means that I must now begin brainstorming, outlining, and organizing…. And mind you, I’m starting late.

If I were an intelligent human being, I would have started the outlining process weeks ago, but alas, I made a spontaneous decision yesterday to settle down for the long haul of Nano and now must come up with a story to tell.

*sigh*

Nevertheless, I’m starting to get excited and cannot wait to go candle shopping and ignoring all other responsibilities while I write. For that reason, I plan to draft the majority of next month’s blog posts now so that I don’t have to go completely dark for 30 days. I’ve also decided that to cut myself some slack, blogging about Nanowrimo will count as part of my daily word count. (Who needs to know 🙂 )

Wish me luck! I’m going to need it.

Mandy Signature

How Words Find Their Meaning

A Tissue is not Despair

Have you ever seen something or felt something and said to yourself “Dang, I wish there was a word for that?” The truth is that the word to describe whatever it is you want to name does exist, just not in your language.

A few months ago I purchased the most precious book that a foreign language nerd could ever find, “Lost In Translation” by Ella Francis Sanders. The concept behind this book is genius; a collection of words from around the world that don’t exist in English. This book contains everything from szimpatikus which is a hungarian adjective used to describe the feeling you get when you first meet someone and you can just feel that they are a good person, to a Malay word, pisanzapra, which gives a name to the amount of time it takes to eat a banana.

Flipping through the pages of this illustrated work of art, I realized that there are so many things that I see or feel everyday that I’ve never been able to name. This got me wondering, how does a word find its meaning?

We’ve all wondered who got to decide that a dog was a dog and a cat was a cat, but there are some words that couldn’t have been named by simply pointing at an animal and saying “I hereby declare you, animal that goes woof, a dog.” Take, for example, a word like happiness. This is such a common word that we use all the time, however the word has thousands of different meanings for different people. Sure, dictionary.com has defined happiness as “the state of being happy,” but who defined “happy,” or better yet, who decided that the happiness was a positive feeling?

From what I can tell, a word goes through several stages before it becomes integrated in our daily speech. First, someone has to identify a specific object, feeling, or concept and give it a title. Next, they give the word an definition; an outline for what can be classified as this word. Then the word is send out into the world where society puts it into context, thereby developing the word’s connotation through a cultural lens. At this point, the word may have been translated to another language or been spread across continents where more and more cultures decide their own meaning for that particular thing that guy over in some other country wanted to define.

I think the most fascinating thing about this entire process is that it’s really like one continuous game of intercontinental telephone: each time the word is used, the meaning is warped just a little bit.

Sometimes I wonder how we would feel about certain things if the telephone wire had been wound a little bit differently. What if the first person to define sadness didn’t think that it was such a bad thing? What if that person thought that sadness was something to celebrate, or that tears made eyes more beautiful? Or what if nobody ever gave sadness a name? Just because a feeling doesn’t have a name, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but without a name, we couldn’t develop connotation. If sadness wasn’t classified as a negative emotion, or laughter was thought of to be painful or annoying, how would our lives be changed?

Words are capable of doing damage and creating beauty because we’ve decided that they can. Language was built by humans to express ourselves and our thoughts to others through oral communication, grammar gave that communication guidelines, while cultural context built connotations to further develop the meanings behind each phrase we spoke. Language is fluid and alive and we have the ability to manipulate it; to mold it whichever way we choose. We can never go back in time and change the path of the telephone, but we can push it it a new direction by changing the meanings we associate with certain words.

Beauty doesn’t have to mean size 2 Victoria’s Secret models with flawless skin and perfect hair. A decade or so from now our generation will be in charge of passing on our language to our children, and when we do, we can teach them that beauty is a universal term used to describe a positive feeling one receives when looking at themselves or another person. If that’s the case, we all become beautiful simply by feeling happy when we look in the mirror. Next time somebody asks what equality means, we can express the term as mutual acceptance and shared opportunity for all people.

Let’s not further clarify words with exceptions and categorizations. Treat language as a tool and build whatever you want and make it mean whatever you wish; build yourself a new reality out of letters bound with feeling.

Mandy Signature

Paris Letters – Janice MacLeod

Paris Letters:

To put it quite simply, Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod is absolutely magnifique, a perfect book for anyone who dreams of traveling the world.

The story follows the author’s -Janice’s- adventures once she quits her dull, 9-5- job, packs up her belongings into a single suitcase and travels to Europe. She arrives in Paris, where she falls in love with both the city’s undeniable charm, and an equally charming, Polish butcher named Christophe. The novel chronicles Janice’s journey of self discovery as she learns to rethink her lifestyle and embrace adventure in a foreign land.

I finished this book in nearly one sitting, as it’s rather short, only about 250 pages, and I cannot imagine reading it any other way. The story, for me, was more about Janice’s journey and the mood of Paris, than her actual travels. The letters included throughout the novel completely enrich the reading experience, and her writing takes you away along with her to Paris and beyond.

Although I couldn’t relate that much to the main character- understandably since I am 20 years younger- it didn’t hinder my ability to become enthralled in the story and find myself nodding my head as I read about her experiences. What makes this novel truly brilliant is the picture it paints of travel, and the mood that is so concretely installed within the text. The way MacLeod describes Paris, her struggles with the language barrier, and the pickpockets that roam the streets, seems so realistic and yet incredibly enchanting, making you believe in the magic of the French.

Since I’ve never been to Paris, I wouldn’t know whether or not her descriptions are accurate representations of the city, but Paris Letters made me want to immediately pack my bags and head off to the City of Love.  She talks a lot about minimalism and avoiding the urge to travel like a tourist. I felt myself encouraged to throw away my schedule, and spend time lounging by the Seine with a journal instead of rushing off to the Louvre. In many ways, her approach to travel is greatly influenced by her Paris lover, Christophe, but she adopts her own roaming style as she becomes adapted to the city and her newfound freedom.

Whenever somebody wants to travel, the immediate question is always related to money, and MacLeod deals with the topic quite honestly. She explains how she saved money to quit her job and jet off to Europe, and she doesn’t sugar coat anything and say that it’s easy. I think that the issue of money is always people’s number one problem when trying to travel, but there are many tips and tricks wound throughout the story, as well as a handy guide to earning extra money located in the back of the book. She explains that you can earn money doing what you love, not just what you’re good at, and can cater your job around your travels.

Overall, Paris Letters left me with an ache in my heart, amplifying my excitement to one day experience Paris for myself along with the rest of the world. I couldn’t have read this novel at a better time, and although some parts are a bit slow, they center around the creation of a mood that will make you close your eyes and dream of crêperies and antique bookshops glowing in the Paris sun.

Mandy Signature