Saturday, February 28, 2015

Adventures in Bronxville and the Village

Whew! I have had a busy week. And a busy weekend! The first three days of this week consisted of a huge rush of doing homework and then, naturally, getting sick, and then valiantly doing my homework anyway. :) Then, my Thursday class was cancelled, so I had a pretty relaxing day on Thursday.

But Friday and Saturday (today) were very busy. Friday, my mother visited around noon. I planned some stuff for us to do out in Bronxville, the college town of Sarah Lawrence. But first, we went to Panera Bread for lunch, because I use my parents visiting as an excuse to get Panera Bread. After Panera Bread, we had to go back to my apartment so that I could actually look up the addresses of all the places I found. Good job, me.

Then we went out to ShopRite to do some Purim shopping (Purim is a Jewish holiday which is like Halloween and Mardi Gras rolled into one, if you don't know) in which I got hamantashen (beautiful, wonderful Purim cookies). After ShopRite we made our way into Bronxville, where we had quite an adventure trying to find parking and scrounge up change for the meter. Parking in New York is the worst.

Finally, we went out walking into Bronxville. Bronxville is a gorgeous quaint little town. It was established way back in something like the seventeenth century, so a lot of the buildings are old and stone, and there's all sorts of impractical curling side-roads and stuff. We were on one of the busiest roads, which I think is part of the Historic District. Not sure. It was pretty cold out, so it wasn't super fun to walk, but we checked out a bunch of shops that I'd found on a bucket list some SLC student made. We went to Womrath's bookshop (your average small bookstore) and Slave to the Grind (which is an oddly named, but kind of adorable coffee shop. It looked like some medieval tavern on the outside and then a tiny crowded coffee place on the inside).

After checking out the shops, my mom was like "enough of this outdoors wintery hell" and we went back to our parking spot and decided to do what we always do and check out the library. Now, you need to prepare for this library. Think about the Beauty and the Beast library, but small. No, that's not good enough. OK, imagine an old Revolutionary era kind of house, like George Washington might have lived in. With beautiful parlors and big windows and an elaborate staircase. Now imagine someone furnished it with gorgeous carpets and antique furniture and cozy couches and window seats. And then filled it up with wooden bookshelves and library equipment and tons of old books and new books and computers, and hung beautiful paintings all over the walls. And also made a children's room with toys and books and crafts. IT WAS SO GREAT. We must have irritated some of the other patrons because we wouldn't shut up whispering, "Oh my god look at that! Look at that! Eeee!"

OK, I Google-Imaged the library to attempt to help you understand. Look:


  It was really cool. These pictures are not doing it justice.

Anyway. After sitting in the library for about two hours, we decided to go get dinner. We were going to have dinner in a fancy Italian restaurant, but we realized that parking would be a nightmare, so instead we went to Olive Garden. And don't give me a snide look because you think Olive Garden is tacky or something. I'll eat a hundred breadsticks. I don't care.

My mom left around 8-ish, and then I decided to ruin my evening with sadness by watching the How to Get Away with Murder season finale. Gah. Too much. I won't talk about it because spoilers.

Today, however, was not sad; it was really fun, because I had a field trip! My poetry class (which I talked about in the previous post) was going out to the Village, where our teacher lives. We arranged a van from our school to take us out there at 1 pm. It was a stunningly beautiful day- one of those February days where it feels like Persephone has come above ground just for the day and the sun is shining and the snow is melting. About five of us took the van (there's ten people in our class, but one person met us in the city, and four people just didn't show), not including the van driver, a first-year student who tagged along on our tour.

The drive was warm and lovely. I read my book for my Indian culture class, but after a while I couldn't focus because we'd reached the stretch of highway on the side of the river opposite Manhattan, where snowy forest lines the road and you can see all the possibilities laid out ahead of you. I looked out on the river, where the snow-covered ice was beginning to melt and crack and leave bare patches of sun-glittering blue, and thought about Walt Whitman. We'd read his poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in class, where he talked about all the people who had been there before him and all the people who would come after, even a hundred years after, even us, reading his poem right then. He was so aware of time, our teacher had said. But when you're eighteen it's easier not to be aware of time and to just feel each moment ephemerally, rushing by you, imprinting in your being for just one second like the brilliant February sun and wind on your skin. To love them all and let the moments go.

When we reached the Village, our van driver parked (ironically, it took her much less time to find parking in the actual city than it took me and my mom to find parking in Bronxville) and we all got out and met our teacher on the sidewalk. By the way, my teacher is Marie Howe- she's kind of famous because she's the poet laureate of New York, so you can look her up if you want. We met up with her, another student, and her daughter and her dog Jack. (Jack is the best member of our class, for sure.) And then we headed out on a short walking tour.

The first place we headed was the bar where Dylan Thomas had died of alcohol poisoning. I had been assigned to find a Dylan Thomas poem, memorize it, and recite it outside the bar. When I Googled him I found out that he had written "Do not go gentle into that good night," which is a poem I really like, so I decided to recite that one. I messed up a few times but I think I did rather well. Plus, nobody else actually memorized their poems, so I probably exceeded expectations there. :)

We then visited Thomas Merton's house, and one of my classmates recited his poem "Le Secret." (There should probably be an accent on that, but I hate doing French accents on this computer.) It was kind of difficult to recite to our class on the street with people constantly coming and going, but it was a fun experience.

Next we went to Edna St. Vincent Millay's tiny house and another classmate recited "I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed." After that we made our way through winding streets full of beautiful architecture to Marie's studio. It was in a narrow apartment building, up a few flights of stairs, and it was in an old, old building (old for New York anyway) with old architecture and windows over courtyards and things like that. We gathered around a small table by the windows and she got us some snacks and juice, and then we workshopped some poems. It was fun. Pretty small because only six of us were there (plus the van driver). Halfway through, one of my classmates left for work, so then there were even less. We just read our poems and then critiqued each other's, like we do in class.

About an hour or so later, we left and somebody suggested that we go to this nearby place that sells chai lattes, so we went. I had never had a chai latte before so I ordered something there to see what it was like- a matcha hot chocolate. It tasted like if herbal tea was creamy and had a little chocolate in it. It was nice and warmed me up as the city got colder in the night. I would have gotten an avocado toast or a fancy salad, which both looked really good, but they were also both ten dollars, so no.

After that, we got back into the van and drove back to campus, and now I'm here. As soon as I got back I went to write this entry, so nothing else has happened, but now I figure I should have dinner. Wow. What a long weekend. What a long post- sorry about that, haha!

Hope you enjoyed this post. I'll see you on Wednesday with a regular blog post.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Collection of Eco Poetry (By Me)

Hello! I noticed that some of you (primarily, my mom) have been requesting that I post some of my poetry on here, since I keep referring to my poetry. So, I thought I would post a couple of the poems that I have written this year. I've been writing poetry since middle school, and I have a ridiculous amount of old poems from junior year of high school when I wrote a poem a day for a year, but I have decided to spare you my awkward high school verse.

Instead, I'm going to share poems from the poetry class I'm taking this year. I'm in a poetry seminar (seminar meaning there's only eleven of us and we sit around a table and discuss stuff as our class time) called "Eco Poetry," in which we work on reading and writing poems about the natural world, as well as researching and learning stuff about the environment. It's really fun and I could talk a lot about the stuff I've learned from the class and from the other students, but instead I'm just going to share some of the poetry I have written for the class.

All of the poems are about nature. I mostly liked to focus on the seasons, which is my topic for my conference project (which is an individual research project we do alongside each class at my college). I picked my favorites, so I hope you like them. Feel free to leave feedback/criticism in the comments!

(the prompt was "write a letter to autumn")

I saw you in the woods again,
running and laughing with your girlfriend Color.
How little you seem to think
of the creatures in the forest beneath you,
as you force the leaves
to bleed ‘til they dry
and make the forest a beautiful grave.
And why am I so taken by you?
You spin a waltz of fiercely blue skies,
with a cackling smile, so warm.
Your arms flail,
and make the wind storm.
Why do your months make my lungs rise up?
Like the beauty of earth
Turned furiously wild?
Papery leaves careening in the wind
And birds fleeing on the spine of day?
How to Survive the Winter
(the prompt was to write a poem of instruction)

First, prepare.

Outside, colors surround you.
Inside, turning to steel.

Spend your days
Each tree is a feast for the taking,
but not for now-
do not think you can get away
with an extra nut or two today.
Hide everything you can
in your hoards, in the trees.
Work now, or starve.

There are thieves.
Even your brothers are thieves.
You must work alone.
You must work against the world.

Build a nest.
Steal leaves as you have stolen nuts.


Anatomy of a Blizzard
(the prompt was to write a poem about the coming blizzard)

Unlike most animals,
a blizzard doesn’t have a heart.

But it does have a mouth-
the whole sky,
squeezing and vomiting and crying.
It just lets go-
leaves all its mess
for the earth to deal with.

A blizzard hurts.
Torn from what it used to be:
rivers, lakes, mountain streams.
Now heavy, in the sky- cold, frozen, and alone.
No wonder it whirls,
crashes, and shrieks.

A blizzard is proof that hearts
are not necessary for despair.
(this is from my conference project about the seasons)
In the summer we form
when the earth- cool with morning-
takes us liquid from the air.
But it is cold now.
We lock into place, crystalline,
thick over each frozen surface.
We were water.
We were vapor.
We are ice.
We are too cold
to dream. 
I hope you liked these poems! I plan for my new experience this week to be related to this poetry class, so this is just going to be a week of poetry for my blog. :)
Thanks so much for reading. Now I'm finally going to go watch the Parks and Rec finale.
I'll see you Saturday,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

TCWT Blog Chain: My Favorite Music for Writing

Hello, everyone! This Saturday's post is going to be a little different than usual. I am participating (for the first time) in the TCWT Blog Chain. Now, first I'm going to annoy you with a paragraph about what exactly TCWT is, because it's cool and I'm part of the TCWT team, actually.

TCWT stands for "Teens Can Write, Too." It's essentially a blog that you can find at, but in addition to being a blog, it's also a living community of young writers. "Young writers" means anyone between about 10 and 20, who loves any sort of writing. Young people are often discouraged from pursuing their passion in writing, either because it's supposedly impractical, or because older writers think that young ones aren't good enough. Well, TCWT is part of the movement to change that mindset, and to encourage young writers by posting writing/publishing advice, celebrating successful young writers, and doing community stuff like this blog chain. TCWT is also partners with Ch1Con, the young writers' conference and online writing community that I'm also a part of. So basically, it's really cool, and if you're a young writer or know a young writer, you should check it out.

But anyway. The blog chain is a thing where different young writers' blogs participate by responding to the writing prompt of the month, and this month I decided to join in. The prompt this month is: "How does music relate to your writing?"

I'm one of the proponents of listening to music while writing. I actually can't write anymore without listening to music, which is probably not a good thing, but oh well. Normally what I do is create playlists that relate to my book and listen to them. There's no real method there; it's the way anyone would create a playlist for anything: think of songs you like, pick the ones that sound like they fit the mood, and put them in a good order. My current WIP, The Wishmaker, has a very wintry/magical/adventure mood, so my playlist is full of songs that sound like that to me.

Obviously, if I were to ask someone else to make the playlist, it wouldn't work. If I told someone, "hey, pick some wintry, magical, adventure-y songs," they'd probably pick the wrong ones, because they don't understand my complex and personal relationship with my own very specific book. Plus, they don't necessarily know my musical tastes. So I think it's important that you make your own playlist. When you hear a song and think instantly of your book, or of a scene from your book, that's a song that will work, more than any song whose lyrics are "right" for the book.

The reason why writing playlists are so useful is because they create moods. When I need to write a battle scene on a snowy plain, but it's a tired summer afternoon, putting on this song ("Dream of Dreams" by Brian Crain) helps. When writing feels like the worst thing ever and you don't care about your book, putting on a powerfully moving song that reminds you of your favorite parts of your story will motivate you. Plus, sometimes, after spending a lot of time not writing, you can feel disconnected from your story. Listening to the music you've listened to so often while writing it can propel you back into that world.

Now, like I said, it's important for you to pick songs that you relate to personally, but I thought I would share some of my own sources for finding those songs.

First of all, songs that you happen to have listened to while writing can put you back in the writing mood, just because of the weird sensory relationships in our brains. For example, when I was writing my NaNo novel in seventh grade, Leira Frank and the Wedding Video, I spent most of my writing time in the computer room (remember computer rooms? haha), where my dad would also sit and play his favorite computer game, Age of Empires. The soundtrack from the game would play while I sat there writing my painfully terrible prose, and as such, I started associating this music with working on my novel. (By the way, it's nearly 30 minutes of battle-y sounding music, if you need that.) So if there's any music you used to listen to by chance while writing, that sort of thing can help.

Other sources are to listen to lots of music and write down every song that reminds you of your book. I used to listen to the radio a lot, and when the song "Lovesong" by the Cure came on one day, it reminded me of the book I was writing. So I added it to my writing playlist. Good places to find lots of songs are Pandora, the radio, and clicking links on the sidebar on YouTube, my favorite. When you listen to lots of good and varied music, you're bound to find stuff that works for your book. (Plus, like, you get to listen to good music. So that's fun.)

And now, time for me to shamelessly show off my favorite artists for my own writing music. :)

Brian Crain is a super-prolific and super-talented composer who works with  piano and violin. Instrumental music is totally useful for writing, since there's no distracting lyrics. (Movie scores are also great, as Julia the Writer Girl discussed in her blog chain post.) And Brian Crain's songs range so many emotions and ideas. His titles tend to give away the mood of his songs, which is nice- "Fire" is angry, whereas "Imagining" is reflective, etc. His music is awesome and I listen to it while writing a lot.

The Honey Trees is one of my favorite bands. It's made up of two super talented singers/musicians (who actually eerily remind me of my two protagonists, haha). Their voices are so beautiful and their music basically sounds like it came from a magical fairy world. So it's excellent at setting moods for fantasy books. Their song "Wake the Earth" was the song I listened to on replay while writing an otherworldly scene with Death in a frozen lake.

Daughter is just generally one of my favorite artists, made up of a really fantastic singer and two very talented musicians. Their songs are full of striking music that sends a shiver down my spine and can work extremely well for emotional scenes. There are love songs, heartbreak songs, freeing songs, aching songs, all sorts of things. And there are several songs without a lot of words, such as "Drift." I highly recommend them.

Finally (and this was a very difficult "finally" because I have so many more I want to share), Laurena Segura is a talented YouTube singer with beautiful songs that aren't too loud and overpowering. You might recognize her if you're a Vlogbrothers fan; she was recommended by John Green a couple of years ago and became pretty popular that way. Her songs are great for listening to in the background during quiet scenes, peaceful scenes, and scenes where you want to be inspired for lovely prose. She also writes good "accepting heartbreak" songs like "Permafrost", for romance novel stuff.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough, I think. Thanks for reading my song recommendations and thoughts!

And for those of you who want to know my new experience of the week: I went to a Tu B'Shevat fruit seder, organized by my school's Hillel. Tu B'Shevat is a Jewish holiday which celebrates the start of spring in Israel and creates an opportunity to eat fresh fruit and discuss environmental issues. I had to leave early because I had a French conversation I had to go to, but it was fun anyway.

Thanks again for reading, and see you Wednesday for a regular blog post.


P.S. If you're interested in reading more posts from the blog chain, check out the rest of the posts at these blogs:

28th – (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

12 "Writerly" Things to Do (Instead of Actually Writing)

I thought that since the last couple of posts have been kind of serious, I would write something fun and Buzzfeed list-y, complete with gifs. I'm not great at gif-ing, so fair warning that the gifs may be kind of unrelated to the article, but they will be there.

Today I'll be talking about one of my favorite topics: procrastination! I'm currently working on rewriting a novel in hopes of publishing it. I love my book and I love writing, and yet, I keep finding ways not to work on it. Why? *deep sigh* Because I'm the worst, that's why.
Luckily, most writers are also the worst and we all band together and find ways to procrastinate working on our books on this great beautiful land called the Internet. There are the traditional types of procrastination: social media, clickbait sites like Buzzfeed, cute cat videos, binge-watching TV shows, etc. But eventually you get to feeling like with all this procrastination, and all this not-writing, you can't really call yourself a writer. So what do you do? Work on your manuscript? Don't be ridiculous! That takes effort! Instead, try one of these 12 fun, low-effort but still "writerly-feeling" procrastination activities.

1. Choose dream-casts for all your characters.

Despite the fact that you never work on it, your book is obviously going to be made into a blockbuster film that will attract big-name stars from all your favorite movies. And you might as well start planning for that day now. Plus, it totally helps to be able to picture your character as David Tennant instead of a vaguely male blur.

2. Take character questionnaires online.

Now that you know what your characters look like, it's time to figure out their personalities. You might think, "I've been writing this book for a year; I think I know my characters' personalities." Ah, but do you know their favorite comic book superhero? How about the childhood memory they most repress? That's what character questionnaires are for! Be sure to find one with over 100 questions and do it for every last one of your characters, to ensure maximum time-wasting.

3. Copy and paste your writing into websites that will analyze it for you.

Did you actually open the file with your book in it? Never fear, you can still avoid actually working. Just copy and paste sections from your book into one of these websites: Hemingway App, I Write Like, Wordle, 750words, or whatever else you can find online. It'll tell you a bunch of stuff- maybe accurate, maybe not- about your writing, or make a pretty cloud out of it. And look at all those words you've already written! Why bother writing more?

4. Reread your old writing lovingly.

My gosh. You are such a good writer. It's a wonder you haven't been published yet. Well, besides the whole not-writing thing. But look at this old scene! Reread that sentence- what a good sentence. Now read it over again, but this time imagine you're J.K. Rowling, realizing that she's finally been humbled by the work of your genius. You can't even believe you wrote this, it's so good.

5. Reread your old writing and cringe.

Oh my God, why? Did you actually think this was good or was this just some filler writing? This is so painful, you can't keep reading. Keep reading, it's so bad. Is it possible to delete Microsoft Word files forever? Like, really forever? What if somebody finds this? You have no idea why you decided to become a writer. You're going to fail at writing, and life. Why are you even reading this?

6. Take a Mary-Sue litmus test online.

A Mary Sue is a badly written character with no flaws- which your characters are obviously not! And to prove it, you should take every known Mary Sue litmus test on the Internet. Just type "Mary Sue test" into Google and you're set for the next few hours. Laugh at all the questions- does your character learn impossible skills in a few days? No! That would be ridiculous. Are they more beautiful than anyone else? Um, no! You can't believe there are writers that would do that. Are they the Chosen One?... OK, what, every character has a little Sue in them. God.

7. Analyze your own writing.

If the Internet has run out of ways to analyze your writing, do it yourself. Do a search of your novel for every instance of the word 'feel' and see what emotions your characters are being too obvious about. Copy and paste the first sentence of every chapter into a different document. Hey, maybe in order they could make a poem! That counts as writing something, right?

8. Make a playlist for your novel.

There is no way you're going to write without good background music. And you know what, the generic set of five songs you keep replaying while writing aren't going to cut it. You need to make a list of every song you've listened to in your entire life, then comb over the entire list and pick out each one that relates to your novel somehow. Then you need to put them in the perfect order. This is going to be so great. Then, after listening to the first five minutes, decide that it sucks and go back to the same five songs you always listen to.

9. Design a book cover.

Maybe you're not that skilled at Photoshop. But today is the day you're going to refine those little skills you have. Even though writers don't really have much say in what actual book covers look like, you can still make something beautiful that will totally inspire the graphic designer your publisher will actually hire. Spend about an hour trying to cobble together stock photos into something that looks like your perfect vision for the cover, then give up and find a pretty picture on Tumblr that you can slap a nice font onto in five seconds. Art!

10. Find writerly things you can buy online (but don't buy them)

You know what, now is the time to admit it. You're a writer. You need a moleskine notebook with a picture of Paris on the cover- oh God, thirty dollars, why? OK, wow, this ink stand with a snowy owl quill is totally- Yeah, no, you're not a millionaire. Oh man, that is literally the library from Beauty and the Beast- oh wait, that's from a cartoon. But seriously, if you won the lottery, the first thing you'd do is redecorate your house to look like @GuyinYourMFA's dream home.

11. Read through other writers' Twitter feeds and blogs.

Ugh, J.K. Rowling is so wise. This thing she said five months ago is just so applicable to my writerly life. Maggie Stiefvater makes some good points about the life of being a writer! Totally relate, Mags. I, too, waste an hour looking at Tumblr before I get back to working, John Green. (Just kidding, I waste six hours and never get back to work. But it's the same thing, right?) So writerly.

12. Open your document and stare at it.

If you just stare at it long enough, words will appear, right?

But seriously, don't get caught into the spiral of doing all this stuff instead of actually writing. Although some of these items are helpful (other writers can provide great advice on their blogs, and character questionnaires can actually help build your characters), the most helpful thing of all is to open your file (or notebook) and write something. Even if it sucks. And if you're like me and you're supposed to be editing, not just writing, then it can't suck, so... you have to actually put in effort and it's haaaaard. (Seriously, does anyone have any advice for me on how to convince yourself to edit?)

Thanks for reading this, everyone! See you on Saturday when I'll be putting up my first TCWT Blog Chain post.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Harry Potter Open Mic Performance!

This week was VERY busy for me. I had tons of homework, lots of meetings with professors and classes, and I've been going to lots of new events. That said, I had one major new experience this week (in addition to three less-major ones) and that experience was: actually performing my poetry in front of a crowd!

Now, technically I have read my poetry in front of audiences before, but this was the first time I did it at a Sarah Lawrence Open Mic. There are Open Mics at my school every other week, at the Black Squirrel (a student hangout location that serves milkshakes and stuff), and it's fun to go to them. People read poems, sing songs, do standup comedy, and all sorts of other stuff. But this week, the theme was Harry Potter, so I knew I had to do something.

In my junior year of high school, I wrote two Harry Potter themed poems, "The Lightning Struck Tower" about Dumbledore's death, and "Department of Mysteries" about a Ministry worker's depression. So I signed up to perform, printed the poems out, and rehearsed them at Thursday night dinner. Then I headed up to the Black Squirrel and hung around while the Activities Council set up the room with house flags and lights.

It started at 9. All the performers were amazing- one sang a Harry Potter song he wrote, there were a couple of really talented cover singers, and the two kids that normally do comedy did a Harry Potter trivia giveaway. And obviously, any time there's Harry Potter trivia involved, I'm going to try my best to win, so guess what I won?

A SLYTHERIN FLAG YAY. (I'm a Slytherin, by the way, despite my Ravenclaw tendencies. Pottermore sorted me there and I figure JKR knows best. Plus I am pretty ambitious.) (also I know the selfie looks a little awkward. This is because I am holding a flag.)

Anyway, I was the fifth performer. I wasn't SO nervous because like I said, I've performed poems before, but once I got up there under the lights with the microphone I did get a little nervous. But I think I did rather well and afterwards a couple of people told me they liked my poems so that's good. :)

So, all in all, this new experience was a fun one. I think I'll perform more at Open Mics. Why not? There aren't usually that many poets performing anyway.

As for the other experiences of this week: I attended a talk given by a visiting Yale professor, Dr. Elijah Anderson, called "The Cosmopolitan Canopy," after his latest publication. It was very interesting and intriguing. Basically, he put forth the idea that there are certain spaces in society, which he called "cosmopolitan canopies," where people get along and hatred is forced to take a step back to make way for kindness. But occasionally, there are rips in this canopy when people commit what he called "acute moments of disrespect" towards others because of their identities. This summary isn't really doing justice to the whole talk he gave, but you can Google Elijah Anderson to find out more about his work. He studies ethnography, and a lot of his work involves going out on the streets to interview young men, particularly young black men, about the problems inherent in living in violence-ridden areas.

The other new experience I had was watching a new movie, which was technically for class, but I enjoyed it so much I'm going to recommend it. It's called Lagaan, and it's a famous Indian movie which tells the story of a village during the Indian Raj that gets challenged to a bet: if they beat an English team in a game of cricket, they won't have to pay taxes for three years; but if they lose, they'll have to pay triple taxes. It's a very well-made movie (although very long), has great musical numbers, and makes interesting commentary about the racial tensions during the Raj through a fun-to-watch film. So, watch it.

Basically, this was a really fun, busy week. Next week's Saturday post is going to be slightly different: I will summarize my new experience of the week, but I'm going to be doing a post for the TCWT Blog Chain. More on that next week.

Thanks for reading! See you Wednesday for a regular blog post.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Liebster Award Tag (Extra Post)

Hello! I know what you're thinking, "a Thursday post? Gosh, I can't believe I get to read more of Ariel's amazing writing before Saturday!"
Well, I was nominated by Julia the Writer Girl, one of my best online writing friends, for a blogging thing called the Liebster Award Tag. The rules are as follows:

Rules of the tag:
  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate other bloggers.
  4. Give those bloggers 11 questions to answer and let them know they’ve been nominated.
So, Julia made up eleven questions for me and some other bloggers to answer, and as such I will answer them. And then try to think of other blogs to nominate.

Julia's Questions:

1. Favorite fictional food?

You asked the right question for me! I love food and books and their intersection is the best thing. Of course, I can't choose just one. Butterbeer, of course, is great. I've always kind of wanted to taste lembas, too. I guess I'd have to go with the fictional food that I made up in fifth grade, because it's just so ridiculous- Esizza. Short for Esikralmino pizza, and don't ask what "Esikralmino" means because it's a long story. It's pizza, but instead of cheese, there's purple pop rocks. Why? I don't know.

2. Favorite ship? (As in, like, I-am-a-fan-of-this-bromance kind of ship. Not the Titanic.)

I have tons of ships I love, but I managed to narrow it down to just two- Ron and Hermione, and Ben and Leslie from Parks and Rec. I am currently restraining myself to roll out the list of the rest of my ships, but rest assured there are a lot.

3. What would your superhero name and power(s) be?

Superhero that I'd want to be: Peace Girl, who could speak everyone's language and read minds and hearts to spread peace and understanding throughout the world. Superhero I'd actually be: Speed Reader, who can learn just enough from skimming the assigned reading to BS her way through class.

4. You're stranded on a desert island with the book character of your choice. Who is it and why?

Percy Jackson, obviously. I always choose the sort of person who could get me off the island. Plus, Percy's been through so much crap in his life that he'd be super cheerful (albeit delightfully snarky) about the whole ordeal. And I'd love to meet Percy anyway. :)

5. If you had to defeat one fictional antagonist, who would you choose?

Umbridge. Umbridge is the worst and it would be great to defeat her. (Plus, I feel like she's never even really defeated in the books. She just keeps showing up. I feel like Harry shows up to work one day and finds out Umbridge is his boss now because no one cares about getting rid of her.)

6. What do you want to do when you grow up?/Do you know what you want to do?

What do I want to do? Be a full-time novelist and advocate for educational reform. What do I realistically aspire to do? Ha ha I have no idea.

7. If you could travel anywhere, where would you choose?

I can't choose. I have no idea. I'd have to research every place on the planet Earth thoroughly and then spend like months agonizing over picking my favorite. But if I had to choose very quickly, it'd probably be Alaska, Greenland, and Finland (can I choose three) so that I could do research for my book, which has scenes in all those places. Or, you know, Italy for pretty landscapes and art.

8. Would you rather find yourself in a cliche YA love triangle or have no romantic interest at all?

Cliche YA love triangles tend to have abusive boys, at least one death, and toxic jealousy. I'll stick with my current situation of "no romantic interest at all."

9. Do you find you write about one season or region more than others?

I love all the seasons equally, and I'm actually writing a series that has one book dedicated to each of the seasons, so no for the seasons question. As for region, I guess the United States because that's where I live.

10. Do you like to write in public or when you're alone?

It depends on my mood. Although I think I enjoy having other people around to create an atmosphere of a bustling busy background. Not sure why. I think it's because when I'm alone, my mind starts racing a thousand places, and when I'm surrounded by people, that racing part of my mind feels like the atmosphere is busy enough already, so I can instead focus on my writing.

11. If you could live in any fantasy world (ie, Hogwarts, Narnia, Middle-Earth, etc.), which would you choose and why?

Uh, Hogwarts, obviously. That's not even a question.

So, yeah. Part 2 is nominating other bloggers. The only other bloggers I know are bloggers Julia already nominated. (Thanks a lot.) So... let me think... uh... um...
I guess I'm going to break the chain of this tag by nominating no one! It had to end eventually, I suppose. This was fun anyway. :) Thanks for nominating me!

Thanks for reading this extra post, everyone! See you on Saturday.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thoughts on the Term 'Politically Correct'

Last semester, I attended a talk on my campus about race relations at my school (Sarah Lawrence College). The term 'politically correct' came up, in terms of how this campus is often seen to be obsessed with political correctness and whether or not that's true or whether it's bad if it is true. The idea intrigued me and I've been thinking a lot about it ever since, so I thought I'd share some of my (relatively uninformed and uneducated) thoughts on the topic. Please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts or disagreements in the comments.

"Political correctness," as defined by whatever dictionary Google uses, is "the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against." So that seems like a rather noble goal, besides the "taken to extremes" part. It's generally a nice thing to try not to exclude or insult groups of people.

But of course, "politically correct" is rarely ever used as a compliment. Nobody says, "Wow, you're so politically correct! Good job!" So obviously, something about the effort not to marginalize groups of people is something negative. Or at least is seen as negative. This is where the "taken to extremes" part of the definition comes in. The attempt not to marginalize a group of people might go too far in the other direction and overly glorify them. Glorification of a group of people is harmful, since it turns real humans into something to be put on a pedestal. Some are also concerned that glorifying minorities might come at the cost of the rights of majority groups, as in the cases of "reverse racism" and "heterophobia" and stuff like that. Personally, I think that it would take quite a huge effort to counteract the privilege that white and straight people and other majority groups have in America, but fine, I guess that's a concern.  

Another problem often seen with political correctness is censorship, or rewriting of the truth. I remember this video I saw a while ago, called "Top 10 Ways Liberalism Makes America Worse". Don't watch the whole thing (unless you want to, I guess), it's 40 minutes long, but at 32:31, Dennis Praeger (the speaker) starts talking about a California law requiring a page in each textbook detailing the contributions of LGBT people to American history. He explains, "I don't resent the LGBT part, I resent the tampering with history... Show me a cross dresser we missed in American history." He later says, "There is one purpose in a history textbook, to tell the truth!" I agree with him there; no one should be lying in history textbooks. He suggests that since there are really no LGBT people who influenced American history, textbook writers would be forced to make stuff up, which would of course be against the whole purpose of a history textbook. 

However, there are important LGBT people in American history. The 19th-century poet Walt Whitman, who radically changed American writing, was most likely bisexual, and that influenced his work. Why wasn't that in my APUSH textbook, if the purpose of textbooks is to tell the truth? James Buchanan, the "Bachelor President," was rumored to be gay. Shouldn't that be in textbooks then? What cross dressers did we miss in American history? There's all the women who dressed as men to fight in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. (Admittedly, they may not have actually been transgender, but still, they were influential.) And who knows how many more I don't know about because of oppression at the time or purposeful erasure of their existence from the textbooks?

So maybe there's a point behind movements for "political correctness", for an attempt to include marginalized groups instead of continuing to marginalize them. The fact is, LGBT people and people of color and other such groups are often ignored, underrepresented, and insulted. The way to counteract that isn't to require a page in each textbook about them, of course, or to fill diversity quotas, but to encourage genuine respect for other people. And (which is more difficult) to actually examine the problems with our society. To acknowledge the fact that maybe there are some missing pieces in what we think is the truth.

When political correctness becomes censorship, it's harmful. When it erases the truth in favor of an agenda, it's harmful. But often, what is seen as censorship of the truth is actually just criticism of the fact that the truth is already being censored, and we need to start opening our eyes to the truth. For example, at the National Book Award this year, Daniel Handler made some racist jokes about the winner of the award, Jacqueline Woodson, who is black. The Internet backlash was huge, saying that his comments were not only inappropriate but that they normalized racist ideas. Some might say that this is an example of politically correct censorship- if one of the Internet commenters had had a copy of Handler's speech before he made it, they surely would have told him to remove the racist jokes. But is this really censorship, or is it criticism? The critics of Handler's comments have a point- what he was saying was racist, and it was harmful. He had the right to free speech, to be sure, he had the right to say those remarks. But isn't it better for him to have the chance to learn why they were racist, to further his own education and to ensure that in the future, he says things that contribute to social progress rather than continue to build up social problems? If you say that his critics should remain silent on the grounds that their political correctness interferes with his freedom of speech, you are being the censoring one. You are the one censoring education, and progress, and the right to criticize.

(Side note: Handler did learn from this mistake, apologized, and ended up donating to We Need Diverse Books, presumably with the realization that diversity in literature is still pretty backwards. If you're interested in reading more about this incident, Jacqueline Woodson herself wrote a great article about it.)

One last thing before I wrap up this incoherent rant: oftentimes, "politically correct" criticism comes from a place of discomfort with things that are known to be on some sort of unofficial list of "offensive stuff." In my ninth-grade English lit class, when we read To Kill a Mockingbird, a lot of students said that they were offended by parts of the book (I don't remember which because it's been four years). Which is, you know, weird, because it's a progressive book, and the only students who took offense were white students. From what I can tell, the fact that it discussed race at all was kind of uncomfortable to them. They had grown up learning that talking about race is "offensive." Similarly, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is often banned for its use of the n-word, despite the fact that it was used to underline and call out racism in the nineteenth century. This is where "political correctness" stops being open-minded criticism and starts being an attempt to, well, adhere correctly to a set of politics. That set of politics can be anything: don't talk about race 'cause it's uncomfortable, don't say bad things about America, don't criticize any religions, etc. But the point of educated criticism is to break out of such politics, not to be "correct" to them. The point of criticism is to look with an open mind towards society and its problems, not to stick to any set of rules.

This is just a collection of my thoughts, and not a very organized or thorough collection at that. But I hope it made you think about some new ideas. Again, please write any of your own ideas in the comments, especially if you disagree with me- obviously, I am in favor of hearing criticism. :)

Thanks for reading, and see you Saturday when I write about my new experience of the week.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bat Mitzvah (Bonus: Poetry Experience)

I was pretty worried, this week, that I wouldn't have any exciting new experiences to write about. I had a snow-day-in-increments on Monday, and then your average week of doing homework and going to classes, before going home for the weekend. I tried to look for stuff to do on my campus, but I couldn't find anything good to do in my free time.

But then I remembered that my third cousin was having her Bat Mitzvah this weekend, and since I technically made the choice to go and wasn't forced to go, it's technically a voluntary new experience. So I'm counting it.

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, for those of you who've never been to one, are not the most exciting thing in the world, but they are generally pretty fun. I don't know my third cousin that well (the last time I saw her, she was nine) but she looked radiantly happy and everyone said great things about her. So I'm glad she had a good time at her party.

The event consisted of first her parents making speeches, then her giving a speech about chesed (kindness). After that everyone went down to a ballroom where they played music quite loudly and there was food. My sister and I, being the obnoxious teenagers we are, got tons of food and sat at a table and made stupid jokes to each other. The rest of the guests danced and did fun stuff.

Obviously, I've been to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs before, including my own, so you might think it's not really a new experience. But this one was more religious than the ones I've been to. It didn't show in terms of religious traditions, but in little cultural things- there was a women's section in the chapel, everyone dressed very modestly, the person in charge of pumping up the crowd was not the usual annoying jerk who clearly knows nothing about Judaism, etc. And surprisingly, the food was really good. Usually, kosher catered food is terrible, but this looked like something out of a Pinterest party planning board.

Anyway, so it was pretty fun, and afterwards my parents drove me back to college (since the party was close to my school anyway) and so now I'm in my dorm room, writing this and trying to get it done before it's technically not Saturday anymore.

I did actually have another new experience this week, but it wasn't so much an experience as it was sort of an accomplishment. As I may have mentioned (probably not though), I'm taking a year-long poetry class, and I've written and polished a good collection of poems. My school is pretty well known for its writing program, so one of the events that we host is the Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival, known as the biggest student-run poetry festival in New York State. We're going to have a bunch of famous poets reading at it, but undergraduate and graduate students at the college are encouraged to submit their own poetry for a chance to read as well. So I decided, why not? It's not like I have anything to lose by submitting. I chose three of my best poems and put together a document, wrote a brief cover letter, and submitted it online. There's probably tons of people submitting, and it's judged by poetry student alumni, so there's a very small chance of me actually making it in. But you know, it's fun to imagine that tiny chance coming true.

Next week I promise a more exciting experience- I actually have one planned and it should be good. I'll see you on Wednesday with another regular post.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Social Justice + Harry Potter

First of all, I apologize for the lateness of this post. I'm really lazy, is the reason why. (Plus I spent a good while "preparing" to write this post by singing along to AVPS songs.)

Second: Social Justice + Harry Potter? What do those two have to do with each other? (What a ridiculous question; Harry Potter has to do with everything.) As a matter of fact, major pop culture sensations like Harry Potter are a great place to start discussions about important subjects. Especially Harry Potter, since it's already full of metaphors and undertones about resistance against oppression.

Let's start with the obvious: the whole blood-status metaphor. The Malfoys, the Blacks, and other pureblood supremacist families, under Voldemort, comprise the main villains of the series. The fact that they're such big villains and that they gain control so easily makes it seem like the pureblood supremacist attitude is a common one in wizarding culture. But in fact, there are many signs throughout the books that the totally rigid pureblood families are dying out- Sirius talks about this in the fifth book. The "Purebloods Are the Only True Wizards" attitude belongs mainly to fringe groups. The average wizard, if asked, would probably be like, "Oh no! I'm not a pureblood supremacist. In fact, I have plenty of Muggle-born friends." Sound familiar? It's the same sort of response you'll get if you ask the average person if they're a racist, because the truth is, white supremacy and blatant racism are attitudes that (thankfully) only belong to fringe groups today.

Yet despite this fact, Voldemort and the Death Eaters don't have too difficult of a time taking over the Ministry. In fact, Lucius Malfoy- a known Death Eater, who claimed to have been Imperiused, but it was pretty obvious he was lying- is best buds with the Minister of Magic until book six. If they're such a fringe group, how is this possible?

The same reasons racism and other forms of discrimination are still so rampant in modern Muggle culture, despite the fact that their extreme forms are not so common anymore. First of all, the use of violence and terror by the Death Eaters (or KKK, or racist police officers, or perpetrators of hate crimes). Second of all, the influence of money- the Malfoys were a rich family, and that was a big reason of why the Ministry tolerated their hate crimes. Same in the Muggle world, obviously. And third of all (and I'd say this is the most important): extreme pureblood supremacy may have been uncommon, but little hints of anti-Muggle sentiment infiltrated every bit of wizarding culture. Even people like Hagrid were likely to make remarks like "and there's nothing a great Muggle like you can do about it." (I know it was aimed at Vernon, who deserved an insult, but he was attacking Vernon's Muggle status, not the fact that he was a horrible human being- showing that Hagrid thought being a Muggle made you inferior.) There are tons of people who say stuff like this and promote ideas like this throughout the series (Stan Shunpike's "Muggles, they don't see nothing," or Slughorn's "she was good for a Muggle-born!" and Dumbledore mentioning that he was probably the only one to actually read the Muggle news). No wonder Hermione was such a badass protester. She had to hear snide remarks about her upbringing from everyone, even so-called allies. Yeah, all those wizards denied being pureblood supremacists, but when push came to shove, a lot of them probably "could see where the Muggle-born Registration thing was coming from. I mean, can we really trust Muggle-borns?"

Voldemort was a pretty obvious metaphor for Hitler, what with his own half-blood status, in comparison to Hitler's partially-Jewish heritage. So the whole wizarding war can be seen as a comparison to World War II- the corrupt government easily being taken over, the restructuring of the educational curriculum, the genocide. But we don't just have to take these glorious books as a lesson about atrocities of the past. Take a look at our present, here in America, and you'll see a lot of similarities between the two worlds. And the lessons Harry Potter taught us- accept people, just because someone is different doesn't mean they are bad, love can conquer everything, resist corruption in schools and in the government- should be applied in the Muggle world as well.

Anyway. I made a list of like a hundred different social justice analyses I could make about Harry Potter, so expect to see more of these posts in the future. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please tell me if I got a little too, um, Harry-Potter-obsessive-y, and it got confusing.

Also: if you thought this sort of analysis was cool and you want to see more of it without having to wait around for me to post it, check out this blogger and this guy. They're really cool and they inspired some of the ideas in this post.

Thanks for reading! See you on Saturday, when I tell you about my new experience of the week!