When I was little, I wanted to climb trees, build forts from the American Boy’s Handbook, ride horses, and jump on the trampoline. All while wearing a pink ballet tutu. I wanted to do ballet, then gymnastics, then start a small-town newspaper featuring stories about our chickens, then write and illustrate a novel, then become a veterinarian, and on and on and on. My mom’s mentality was always “if you want to do something, then give it a try.” Because of this mentality, I had a wonderful childhood, filled with strange outfits, poorly written prose about Louis the iguana, climbing trees, feeding the horses while wearing plastic dress-up heels, and especially laughter. I know my brothers would agree with this assessment of our upbringing, even though their childhood probably involved more go-cart building. When people talk about my brothers, they always remark, “Is there anything they haven’t done or can do?” I think they say that because we were raised to “just give it a try.”
It’s mother’s day today, so I just wanted to write and say thank you to my mom (and my dad, obviously, but his day is in a month) for allowing me to do crazy things and supporting my harebrained ideas – even when the neighborhood wasn’t particularly concerned about the backyard chicken beat.
I don’t usually post recommendations here, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what books have influenced the way I think and write, so I thought I would share a few. I was an English major after all. This list could have easily sprawled to a hundred books, so I decided to limit myself to five fiction books from the last fifty years or so, in no particular order. Maybe I’ll gain motivation to do this again in the not-so-distant future. I tried to pick books that most people haven’t already read to keep things interesting. So, buckle up, folks, it’s going to be a long one.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989): This book will break your heart in so many ways, but one of the main reasons this book makes the cut is the structure and planning of the narrative. From the very beginning, Irving lays the groundwork for the ending, down to every detail. Some people say they guessed the ending part way through, but there’s no way to guess how everything ties together until you get to the end. It really is masterful. Also, if you’re interested in literary theory at all, I would suggest reading Owen Meany through a Bakhtinian lens. Irving seems to have written the whole book with the dialogic nature and unfinalizability of literature in mind. The one downfall to this book is that it could possibly be about fifty pages shorter, but I’m willing to forgive. Even with the fifty-page surplus, though, Owen Meany will change the way to think about structure in novels.
- Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger (1961): While most people read Catcher in the Rye, I think this book is much better and more interesting. Not only does it give Salinger the chance to play with voice as there are two storylines, but it also is another example of compelling structure. The book is divided into two sections, each named after its primary character. Although the two intersect at certain points, they tell of decidedly different struggles. There’s a great amount of pathos in both stories, but Franny and Zooey have unique voices. One of the most interesting things in this book, from a style standpoint, is Salinger’s use of italics. While most modern writing guides advise that you stay clear of italics because they can be overused and become cliché, Salinger uses them to denote tone and vocal inflections which differ between characters. No two characters use italics the same way. There’s really no one who writes dialogue like Salinger, in my opinion, and Franny and Zooey is easily his most intriguing work.
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985): I’ll be honest, I don’t actually like this book. I do, however, think it’s important for anyone who wants to write well. Though he’s known for The Road and No Country for Old Men, I found both books a bit lackluster in style. In this book, though, McCarthy really gets to show off his language ability combined with his storytelling ability. The language in this book literally sings from the page, even while describing more violent atrocities than you can even imagine. There’s a jarring quality to the novel because the beauty of the language is juxtaposed against the horrors it describes, which plays into all manner of post-modern conversations. Honestly, I only ever read the novel once because it is very difficult when you spend all your time thinking about words and their meaning to then be in an environment where the beauty of the words so greatly contrasts with their meanings. Eventually, I will probably revisit Blood Meridian because I think it can teach me a lot about writing, but for now, once is enough. You should at least read it once.
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952): This book will change the way you think about race riots, personhood, discrimination, and manipulation. Besides telling a compelling story about a man’s descent into invisibility, this book tackles a lot of huge questions that everyone should wrestle with at some point. Even if you ignore the racial side of the equation (which you really shouldn’t), Ellison has a lot to say about how people treat each other and how that affects one’s personhood. Unlink the H.G. Wells novel of a similar name, Ellison’s sense of invisibility is a construct of societal treatment of personhood and importance. The novel opens up with the invisible man – who’s significantly never named – being treated as an animal. It then traces a whole manner of ways in which he is treated as non-human. Eventually, he is brought to complete invisibility. Invisible Man is both a masterpiece of literary fiction because of its style and intricacies and an important lesson in humanity.
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004): I’ve saved my favorite for last. I first heard of this book several years before actually reading it because I didn’t know what to expect. I’m including it here because you shouldn’t have that excuse. It will change your life. Robinson’s ability to understand a character’s voice and personality is unparalleled. The narrator, John Ames, an elderly Congregationalist pastor with a younger wife and son, is truly a treasure. While there’s a lot of humorous and witty bits in the novel, there’s also a large amount of sage wisdom, insights into faith and life, and deep emotional resonance. For me, Marilynne Robinson has set the bar for great literature in this century, and it’s a very high bar to reach. Not only has this particular book won the Pulitzer Prize, but Robinson is also an accomplished essayist and novelist, so if you enjoy this novel, there’s more to enjoy. One thing that amazes me about Gilead and her other novels is Robinson’s ability to fully understand a character. When you sit down to read, you will feel like John Ames is sitting down across from you, telling you about his life and beliefs. I would encourage you to have that conversation. It will most likely break your heart, but it will also change you for the better as all great literature should.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future as a writer and editor, partly because my current job doesn’t exactly push me to learn or advance my skills. After weighing my options, I’ve decided that, in addition to my own projects and working full-time, I would try the whole freelancing thing. One of the major issues with freelancing though is that you just have to start by making close to nothing. One of my closest friends (shout out to Michayla) thinks that we should really just take the word “free” out of “freelancing” because it seems to give people the wrong impression. I’m inclined to agree on that one. While I’ve had an Upwork profile for some time, I’ve really only started using it in earnest lately. It’s a dog eat dog world out there for freelance writers, let me tell you, but when you do find a project you’re passionate about, it’s all worth it, even if the pay isn’t everything you ever dreamed of.
Ultimately, besides making a living, what I really want is to be my own boss and have some freedom with my writing. Unfortunately, that means starting at the bottom of the totem pole for writing gigs and just building a reputation. One step at a time, as they say. Who knows what could happen really? Maybe I’ll hit a great streak and be able to follow my wanderlust while still being able to feed myself. Right now, I’d just like the freedom to get a dog, though. Baby steps. If you’re out there, struggling with the freelancing thing, just keep plugging away. I can say from experience that it’s very stressful to work in something you don’t love. At this point, I feel more fulfilled doing a small writing project for myself than I do after a ten-plus hour day at work. Why not pursue the fulfillment rather than settle for the mundane?
(In related news, I have this editing gig posted on Fiverr right now if anyone’s interested: https://www.fiverr.com/s2/78720d9618.)
Have you ever looked at Airbnb for more than like ten minutes? Seriously, I’m addicted and am currently planning trips we can’t afford and don’t have time for. The OED (yeah, I’m still using it ten months after graduating) defines Wanderlust as “a strong desire to travel,” but I think it encompasses a whole lot more than just that. It boils down to simply wanting to travel, but I think the more powerful urge is the desire to see and do new things – to experience more of the world and appreciate all the beauty it can offer. While this is a general state of being for a lot of us, it’s only heightened when you don’t particularly love your job (maybe I’m putting it mildly here) or what you’re doing with your life. There is so much more to do and see than four walls of a boring cubicle under a flickering florescent can ever hope to provide. For a lot of us, we’re confined and ruled by that cubicle. I know I am. I’m ready to be done with that.
While I can’t immediately pack up my belongings and run away with Marcus to some far off land and live the nomadic dream for a little while, I can work toward it. When would be a better time, really? So many people we know have done it. It’s not impossible. We just need to find the right balance of work and travel – and by that I mean, find jobs that allow that kind of balance. If you have any ideas, or want to hire a writer or designer, to help us build our own lives and escape the cubicles, let me know. Until then, I’ll be planning imaginary trips on Airbnb and working to realize them.
A few weeks ago on our way to church, Marcus asked me why I hadn’t written since we’ve been married, now nearly five months ago. Of course I knew that I hadn’t been writing, but his question still made me pause and wonder myself. Sure, my excuses were all valid: work is exhausting; I’m too tired; I want to spend time with you after work rather than alone in another room, etc. For a while, I think my excuses even convinced me. Last night, though, Marcus and I were watching Midnight in Paris (a.k.a. our favorite movie of all time), and one of the lines really hit me. At one point, Inez says of her fiancé (and the protagonist of the movie), Gil, that he doesn’t know if he can really write a novel. Ah, there’s the rub, as they say. My excuses justifying my lack of writing really all stem from one question: can I really write something worthwhile after taking a break from it and without the support system of other writers and professors pushing me forward and asking the difficult questions?
Ultimately, I suppose there’s only one way to find out. And so, I embark on that terrifying journey of words. Today marks the beginning. For those of you who know me well or know me as a writer – which is perhaps even more important – please check up on me. Solitude as a writer only looks good on paper. I’d be happy to be there for you as well. Also, look out for some letters in the mail. I’ve neglected those lately too and it’s high time to stop with the excuses.
I’m currently sitting under a blinking florescent light in the lunch room at my not-that-enjoyable-but-pays-alright job, typing this post on my phone and wishing I was at home actually writing. Lately, my time has been pretty much consumed with work, wedding planning, and moving stuff into Marcus and my new apartment. None of these are bad things in and of themselves, but I do miss writing and talking with people who understand that. It’s something I definitely took for granted while I was at school, but that I miss more than a lot of things. I miss my friends a great deal as well, which is certainly part of the whole thing.
This lonely feeling has made me realize what it is to have a writer friend who relates to what you’re going through on that level. There is a major difference between talking to someone (even someone I love, like Marcus) who is not a writer, and talking to someone who is a writer. There’s just a different level of understanding between one another that makes me realize why so many great writers stuck together – the Inklings and the Lost Generation Writers, to name a few. Maybe part of the reason they’re great writers in the first place is because they have support systems. I’m not sure, but I know I miss it.
I’m trying to keep writing, but I think I need to find a writer friend who understands the types of things I’m doing, and who I can hopefully help in the same way. So, if you know anyone, send them my way. Otherwise, I’m going to start writing letters to my fellow writers from school. Check your mailboxes.
Today I finished my last final of my college career. It was a weird feeling. I’m not sure that it’s actually sunk in yet really. At first, I didn’t feel any different than I have with any other final, but then, after a little while, I got pretty sentimental. It seemed fitting that my last final was Shakespeare with Dr. Dixon, who was administering his last test of his thirty-nine year career. I finished college with a final in my own major, for a class with the head of my department, who is retiring now. Once all those things sunk in, I did feel sad, but the fact that I felt sad means that I have so much to be thankful for from these last four years.
Yes, sometimes I get frustrated with the bureaucratic nonsense and other frustrating things, but overall, my college experience has been truly wonderful. The friends I’ve made are ones I hope to keep close to me for the rest of my life. I’ve been privileged to get to know Marcus’s fraternity and consider them my brothers. The professors who taught me have shaped the way I see the world and changed the way I read literature and, perhaps more importantly, changed the way I write and improved it greatly. This year, I got to write a hundred and sixty pages toward a novel and get credit for it. I’ve laughed so hard with friends late at night that my stomach literally hurt. I’ve had deep, important, emotional conversations (usually also late at night). I’ve cried over disappointments, shared joys, and laughed more than anything. It’s been a great four years, folks.
So, even though I am looking forward to going home and being with my family and marrying my best friend in eighty days (not that anyone’s counting), I will miss Grove City dearly and I think it will take a while to sink in that I won’t be coming back in August. For now, that is all for my sentimental ramblings.
“It’s almost break, it’s almost break.” This has been my mantra for about a month, which basically means since my last break. Before my last break when I went to Canada with Marcus to see my grandpa and his wife and meet my mom there, I really hadn’t had all that much to do. Since I’ve been back on campus though, I’ve been through two weeks of tech week for Orchesis Dance Troupe, hundreds of pages of reading, a nine page paper for Gothic lit on the changing view of sexuality as represented in vampire myth through Dracula and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which I totally got away with), and a ten page paper on the English Reformation which is due today. In short, it’s been crazy around here and I want to go home now.
Luckily, today begins Thanksgiving break, which I am extremely thankful for (pun entirely intended). Before I get to leave though, I have to get through two more classes – Early Modern Europe and Literary Criticism. Both classes take a lot of brain power, which I am entirely lacking today. I only got about three and a half hours of sleep last night because of this Early Modern Europe paper. Now that it’s done though, my motivation is just gone down the drain. I just want to go home, see my family, hug Missy (my huge ridiculous dog) and Vincent (my mischievous and mildly evil cat), and bake a ton of pies. Guys, I love pies. They’re seriously one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving day. Every year, my mom and I make between five and ten different kinds of pies for our family meal. We make everything from the crust to the filling using an old Swedish family recipe. It’s a good time.
So, in short, I can’t wait to be home and I wish you all a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving.
November is approaching. Which means several things: Thanksgiving break is almost here, Orchesis is in three weeks, men everywhere (and some women) will stop shaving for the month, and NaNoWriMo will begin again. Most of these things are pretty exciting, but the most daunting for me right now is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Because I’m doing my independent study right now, which is writing a novel, I feel compelled to participate in this mad dash of writing. Over the course of the month, writers everywhere will try to complete a 50,000 word novel before December 1st. This may seem like madness – and it probably is – but it’s also strangely exhilarating. Hopefully it will force me to write more of my novel than I am required to, which will give me a jump start on next semester when I continue it for my honors project, and allow me to spend more time editing and rewriting too. We shall see. For now, here’s my calendar of what I need to write per day to get to the 50,000 word marker:
It looks slightly more manageable now that I’ve broken it down into day-by-day word counts, but it’s still a lot. Especially given that it’s also paper season in all my classes.
Here we go.
If you see me slacking off, tell me to go write. I’ll thank you later. Maybe.
Lately, as per usual, I’ve been pulled in about a dozen different directions. Between homework, classes, papers, two jobs, dancing, the Echo, and LIT, it’s really easy to get distracted from the people in my life. For the first two years of college, I think I did just that. Everything was always revolving around school work and people were constantly taking a back seat to that. Even though it’s important to focus on school and all the work it entails (since that is sort of the point of college), people and relationships are of a more lasting value because people themselves are infinitely more important than grades. Now, don’t misunderstand me, working hard in school and doing the best that you can is important since it (at this point in our lives) is our job as students and it would be foolish is squander the opportunity to learn all we can from this short experience (senior wistfulness, anyone?). I am saying though, that making time for your friends and loved ones shouldn’t be something that you cut out of your life. People are great and honestly, even though I feel like I don’t have time, I am so much happier and focused when I actually spend time with friends and give them my attention, sans homework, for a couple hours. All of this is to say, that if you’re super busy, as I’m sure everyone is, make time for the people that matter. Even if that means actively scheduling time in for them or writing a quick note or email to say you’re thinking about them, it’s worth it. I promise.
I’m done with my ramblings for now. I hope you all have lovely evenings and take some time for people this week.