Inbox // Outbox 2/20/17

Inbox

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

Finally, I’m on the last of the currently published A Song of Ice and Fire books.  I’m always daunted by the size of these books, so I’m listening to the audiobook on the way to work.  Aside from his inability to do female voices, the reader is fantastic.  It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the story.

Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C.S. Lewis

This is my current post-breakfast-curl-up-in-a-chair-drinking-tea read.  It’s a collection of short essays by Lewis on one of my favorite topics–the concept of story, particularily fairy stories.  I really enjoy Lewis’s fiction and his Christian nonfiction works, but in this one, his expertise as an academic shines through and it’s wonderful.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This is the second in a series–see my thoughts on the first book in the Outbox section for more.  I’m reading it very, very slowly and savoring every word. Continue reading

On the Shelf: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This book was a lucky find and Goodwill.  Normally when I buy books secondhand, they sit on my shelf for years waiting to be read.  I picked this one up right away and am very glad I did!

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

My Thoughts:

This is not a perfect book.  The cover says it’s a collection of essays and, in a way, it is.  Each chapter gives Gay’s thoughts on different subjects.  If you’re looking defining essays by formal, academic standards however… this book falls short.  But falling short of academia does not mean that it has no value.

I loved this book.  My time within its pages felt less like reading a book and more like having a conversation with Gay over a cup of tea.  Her voice is informal and engaging.  She covers a wide variety of topics in this book, some relating to feminism and others not relating to it at all.

“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.” Roxane Gay

I love the honesty of this book.  Gay openly acknowledges her contradictions because that’s part of being human.   She’s not consistent at many points, loving aspects of pop culture that directly oppose everything feminists stand for.  But she doesn’t shy away from her contradictions.  She embraces them.

I didn’t always agree with everything Gay said.  At times, she even had me squirming in my seat with discomfort.  But this isn’t a bad thing.  I’ve learned to see challenges to my opinion as extremely valuable.  They teach me to see things from a perspective may not be my own, but is still valid.

Many of the chapters in this book are dedicated to culturally relevant topics like race and privilege.  As a protestant white woman, I’m privy to all kinds of cultural privileges that, most of the time, I’m completely blind to.  Reading Gay’s words about her life, her various experiences, and her responses to certain pop-cultural icons, it hit me for the first time just how deeply the issues of race go.  Which is ridiculous because I’m not uninformed about the shootings in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Charleston shooting, or the Confederate flag debates.  I gave my senior seminar presentation about racial issues regarding the figure of the artist in Barbara Chaise-Riboud’s Sally Hemmings.  But what I’ve got is all head knowledge.  Gay’s words pushed through whatever barrier exists within my consciousness between what’s in my head and what I feel.  I know that I will never truly understand these issues because of my privilege, but this book brought me closer.  Gay writes:

“You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.”

This is what this book did for me.

This book was, at points, incredibly serious.  But, at other points, it was fun.  I appreciated the chapter about Gay’s time playing competitive Scrabble.  I also liked her discussion of The Hunger Games, even if it was relatively shallow.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bad Feminist.  It took several weeks to read, but was well worth the time.  This book challenged and pushed me to see the world from an individual who is very different from myself.  But it also had me nodding, agreeing, and even laughing at points.

You Will Like If You Enjoy: cultural discussions, racial issues, feminism, women’s rights, gender equality, GLBT rights

I Don’t Know How to Stop (Writing 101, Day 1)

Today’s assignment is to answer a question that isn’t actually as simple as it sounds: Why do you write?

My gut reaction: It’s complicated.

I could say I write for a lot of reasons. I write to lose myself; I write to find myself. I write to know; I write to forget. I write because it’s akin to breathing. I write to make my thoughts clear. I write because I am. I write because I write.

Those reasons sound beautiful and poetic… they’re the kind of thing you’d imagine a writer to say. But are any of them actually true?

As long as I can remember, I have been writing. When I was eight years old, I decided that my greatest ambition was to see my name on the cover of a book. This dream persisted most of my early years.

Growing up, I wrote because I was good at it. At least, that’s what everyone told me. I remember in fifth grade I wrote a little essay on the importance/value of reading and, during my parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Klinke told my mom that it was phenomenal. In eighth grade, we had to craft our own stories based on Greek Mythology. Mine was fifteen pages long and my teacher gave me a special award because, in his forty years of teaching, it was the best he had ever received. In high school, I was on the Speech Team in the category of Creative Expression, enabling me to perform my own work. Once I had two years of competition under my belt, not a meet passed where I didn’t make the final round. I even went to state. As long as I’ve been writing, I’ve been told that I’m good.

Many years, fairy stories, embarrassing Harry Potter fan fics, and creative writing classes later, I realized that although I love to write, I don’t want to write books.

College quickly dissolved any notions that I was a great writer. Sure, I had a natural knack for words, but I was constantly blown away by the work of my peers. Among such storytellers and poets, I realized that I lack the drive, dedication, and attention to detail to make a career of the craft.

Still, I continued to write. I was the weird kid who loved essays. When I sat down to work on an essay analyzing spirituality in Dracula or artists in Biographical Novels or constructing allegories about Courtly Love, I would enter zen-mode. It felt like being underwater. Everything in the world faded away and nothing existed but the text I was grappling with. I would bury myself in the library for hours on end, emerging rumpled and triumphant. It was so satisfying.

I loved my time as an English major, but the farther in I got, the more I realized that many of the standard careers were not for me. Teaching? No thanks. Copy editing? Too much detail. Creative writing? WAY too much detail. Research? I’d suffocate.

During school, I wrote because I had to and I loved it. But now that I’m out… why do I write?

I’m still not sure I know how to answer that question.

I suppose I’ve been writing for so long it so long that I don’t know how to stop. It’s habit—something that has been part of my life since I was eight years old. I can’t imagine my life without it.

That’s why I blog.

This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

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Day of rest

Sundays are the best days of the week.

During the week, I’m constantly on the go.  Pair that with volunteering on Friday night, speech judging on Saturday, and a visit from Mom… Sunday is a well-needed break.

My Sundays start by attending church with my old roommates.  It’s so good to set aside all my cares and rest in God’s presence.  It’s the re-fueling I need to get me through another week.  I love my church.  I’ve gone there all four years of school and it’s beginning to sink in that I have to start afresh come May.

When church is done, I usually make the trek over to the gym.  (I skipped working out today, though, ’cause it was -45 degrees and being outside longer than necessary was not okay.)

Sunday afternoons bring a balance of homework and relaxation.  I usually throw on leggings, a comfy sweater, and spend a few hours in the basement of the library pumping out essay drafts.  Today, I managed to snag the poetry room.  It was absolutely divine.

After all the homework is out of the way, I return to my dorm, make dinner, and spend an evening in introvert paradise.  Tonight, I’ll be snacking on chips and salsa while catching up on episodes of Arrow.  (I tried for an hour to figure out how to livestream the Oscars on my computer… it ended in failure.  I’m pretty cut up about it.)

Yes, I do stay busy on Sundays.  But, overall, it’s the most relaxing day of the week.  I can choose where I go, what I do, and who I’m with.  For once, I have control over my schedule.  It’s wonderful to have at least one day of the week to spend quality time resting.

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Studying in the poetry room. In my happy place.

 

What is your ideal Sunday?

 

Hell Week is coming

It’s the last week of classes.  Or, as my friends and I affectionately call it, Hell Week.

You see, finals are easy.  You have nowhere to go and nothing to do but study as hard as you possibly can all day, take the test, and move on to more studying.  You have one job: pass your tests.

Hell Week, though… it’s a doozy.  You have to balance all the end-of-semester tests, projects, and essays on top of classes and normal responsibilities.  It’s as if academia is pushing its acceleration pedal all the way down and its breaking the speed limit.  There’s no way you can keep up.  Days are spent rushing from one thing to the next and nights pass by in the library guzzling coffee trying to cope.

I’m currently sitting at the Circulation Desk.  I went to the library to print an essay, saw the librarians manning the desk, and asked if they needed someone to work.  Extra hours for Amelia!  Score!  Anyways… the library is an absolute beehive!  This is normal for right before finals, but we are still a week away.  Clearly, Hell Week is going to be painful for pretty much everyone.

What do I have in store for me this week?

Ten page essay due tomorrow.  Final portfolio due Wednesday.  Senior Banquet on Friday.  A plethora of Christmas parties, plus the Yule Ball (the best dance of the year) on Saturday.  Another ten page essay due next Monday.  And two final exams.

My goals this week: get the portfolio done, write the essay, try to stay sane.

It’s the final push.  Let’s do this.

In the essay-writing zone.

It’s the time of the semester where Amelia enters full-out English Major mode and locks herself in the basement of the library for hours on end writing essays.

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6-8 pages on Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell due by Friday.  I spent most of yesterday afternoon and this morning outlining and am finally getting into drafting.  I’m currently on page 4, over half way through my argument, but there’s a LOT of polishing to do.

It’s not all bad, though.  I’ve got my classical music playlist keeping me going.  Swan Lake is my essay-writing power jam.

I promise I’ll get back to substantial posts once Midterms are over.

In the meantime, what music do you listen to when you study?

Riding the stress wave of midterms

Midterms are quickly approaching.  And I find myself riding the wave of tension and stress that always rolls around this time of year.

Here’s what I’ve got standing between me and Fall Break (which is next Friday):

  • 3 page literary criticism response paper for Victorian Lit
  • Photo essay project for Visual Journalism
  • My final speech for Public Speaking, in which I will tirade about how awful Twilight is
  • Midterm for Visual Journalism
  • Midterm for Grammar and Language
  • 6-8 page paper for Victorian Literature
  • 15 minute presentation on some British marriage laws for Victorian Lit

Already this week I’ve written most of the response, begun searching articles for the presentation, and took a quiz for G&L (not mentioned on the list ’cause it’s already been taken).

Excuse me while I spend my night de-stressing over the most recent episode of Downton Abbey.  ‘Cause I’m going to be hitting the books hard this weekend and need to relax somehow!

Do you have anything stressing you out, readers?  What is your favorite way of relaxing?  Answer in comments!

Ufda.

Whew. To say my weekend was uneventful would be a severe understatement. I spent half of it in the car driving to the cities and back to Morris. I met up with various friends for coffee. I attended another concert (post to come!) and crashed on an oversized bean bag chair in a friend’s dorm. I went home for part of a day to hang out with my brothers (who I won’t see again till Thanksgiving). I also went thrifting as I travelled from place to place.
Whew. I’m feeling kind of sort of really exhausted, but the time has come to gear up for midterms. My next two weeks consist of two huge tests, a quiz, a project, a persuasive speech, an article response, a 6-8 page paper, and a ten minute presentation. As we say in Minnesota… Ufda!

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(In which my cat, Paco, takes full advantage of my fatigue.)

Those pesky words

I can’t count how many times I crack open my computer, flip to WordPress, and open a “New Post” link.  Each time is the same.  I stare blankly at the white box (the one I am now filling with words) and my eyes glaze over.  The grey “Enter title here” text goes all fuzzy, kind of like when you go to the eye doctor and they ask you to read the bottom line.  Although you try your very hardest, you just can’t make sense of those last few letters.

I wish I could write.  Oh, I truly wish I could.  Late at night, I’ll be at my post behind the Circulation desk at the library and, between organizing book trucks to shelve and handing back printing (chirping “Five cents is your change!” in the most chipper voice possible after midnight), and the thought will flash across my mind: I want to blog.  Sometimes I have an idea, sometimes I don’t.  But in those moments, I miss the thrill of opening that “New Post” link and letting the words fly.

So I do it.  I open a new link.  But the words… the words just won’t come.

Why have my words abandoned me?

I blame academia.  With all the essays I have to write week after week after week, my brain has no room to breathe.  When I finally get a moment to actually write something for enjoyment, it’s so exhausted that it simply looks at the empty post and declares, “NO.”

It’s like there’s something stuck in my word generating system.  It’s not like the words aren’t there.  They are.  I can feel them simmering just behind my ears, tiny assemblages of letters attempting to find a subject to fixate on.  But then, when I attempt to access them, something gets in the way.  My mind hits a wall and the words stir about, giggling maliciously to themselves as they dart away.

They think they’re so clever, those words.

Apparently, the words are sick and tired of being used for purposes they don’t want to be used for.  They are in rebellion.  “No,” they protest, “we hate being used to analyze visionary oscillation in Virginia Woolf’s novels.  We don’t like being subjected to constructing a rhetorical criticism, even if we’ll be shedding light on Churchill and Lenin.  What do you mean those interpersonal communication reflections should be a piece of cake?  No!  We think they’re stupid.  We don’t want to help.  Oh… you have to write some creative pieces for your class?  Sorry.  No can do.”

It’s very annoying when words don’t want to cooperate.  I feel rather foolish, staring at that blank white box all the time, feeling all the potential words roiling in the back of my mind, knowing that none of them will be kind enough to come to my assistance.  So I’m stuck here in my meta-world of writing about writing, wrapped in a ball of frustration, waiting for the semester to be over.

The problem with Spring Break

The problem with Spring Break is that, although you may start with the best intentions, you inevitably fail to get anything done.

On Monday, you open your notebook to work on one of the several creative writing pieces you need to finish.  Then you decide to spend your evening talking to your dad instead.

On Tuesday, you’ve got plans with friends in the cities with a five-hour gap between them.  “Great,” you think, “I’ll find a Starbucks and power through that Virginia Woolf essay!”  Upon arriving at the coffee shop, you realize you remembered everything but your computer.  So instead, you spend twenty minutes planning the essay and the remainder of the day is spent wandering around secondhand bookstores and thrift shops.

Wednesday is a designated pajama day and you mean business.  After all, writing in your pajamas is way better than writing in normal clothes… right?  Yeah, no.  You briefly glance at your copy of To the Lighthouse, then promptly decide to play Skyrim for four hours instead.

Thursday is more hopeful.  You force yourself out of bed, hit the gym, and before you do anything fun, force yourself to work.  Two essay paragraphs and a few new sentences on your creative pieces later, you resign to an afternoon of more video games.

As for Friday… on Friday you realize that you can only say, “Screw it, I’ll do it tomorrow” for so long.  It’s crunch time.  You need to sit down and actually write that essay.  But then you look out at the melting snow and lovely warm (well, warm for Minnesota standards) weather and think…

Screw it.  I’ll do it tomorrow.