Thoughts on Being Alone

As I drove home from work one evening this week, I got thinking about the variety of the experiences you can have being alone.  I have a great deal of friends near and far, but I’ve spent a lot of time in my own company over the years–sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance.

For example, as an introvert, I spend a great deal of time in my own company and love times of peace and solitude.  I work a job that is heavy on customer service, so at the end of the day, all I want is to curl up in my room and read my book.  I’ve recently taken up hiking and, when I have the trail to myself, the world gets all quiet in a way that fills up my spirit.  Being alone is restful–a haven away from the loudness of life.

But being alone isn’t always bliss. Continue reading

Top Ten Songs That Tell Stories

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is an audio freebie.  It was difficult for me to narrow down my focus–should I do favorite albums?  Favorite podcasts?  Something more themed?

In the end, I decided to center this week’s list around songs that tell stories.  I know that almost every song tells a story in some way.  I could EASILY write a paragraph about each song and why I love it–about the characters, the plot, the writing… but I’m going to let the songs speak for themselves.  Hope you enjoy!

1.) Cleopatra by The Lumineers

2.) Josh McBride by The Head and the Heart Continue reading

Imagination and Empathy: Tapping Humanity’s Greatest Strengths (Writing 101, Day 7)

J.K. Rowling, in her 2008 Harvard commencement speech, wisely said:

I firmly believe that one of humanity’s greatest strengths lies in imagination and empathy. We have this incredible gift to place ourselves into the shoes of others. We can experience lives that are not our own. This is a strength that is undervalued and underutilized.

Growing up, I was immersed in a culture that perceived differences as threats. My family and I attended church in our community for twenty years without ever being truly accepted and loved by the congregation. You see, we didn’t fit in with conservative Christianity. We didn’t deliberately stir up trouble… we didn’t want to cause controversy or divisions. We were eager to grow in our faith, learn more about God, and be part of people’s lives. But our minds worked differently than the people around us. We couldn’t help asking questions, which made people uncomfortable. We were different and they had a hard time understanding us. Because of those things, we never felt acceptance. As a young teen, I always felt like I was lacking something, like I wasn’t good enough, like I was made wrong. (That impression was later demolished and my sense of value was strongly established, but that’s a story for another time.) It took twenty years for us to uproot ourselves and search out a church that valued us for the people we are, differences and all. It’s been three years and we are still searching.

I think that empathy can solve problems like these. Empathy is the ability to see things from another’s point of view. Because, the fact of the matter is, we as people are not all the same. Everyone is wired differently—some are scientists, some are artists, some are Republicans, some are Democrats, some are men, some are women, some are old, some are young, some are Christians, some are Muslims, some live in the city, some live in the country, some are dreamers, some are doers, the list goes on and on. There are thousands of perspectives out there and, if you cannot see beyond your own, you limit yourself to a narrow worldview that destroys more than it fosters.

The ability to empathize is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in college. Because of this, I am an ardent believer in the value of higher education. Through years of literature classes, reading the voices of times gone by, I learned to open my mind to new perspectives. Now, let me assure you that I am in no way a master at this. I’m not perfect and, more times than not, I find myself passing unnecessary judgment on others with perspectives different from my own. But there is a difference between having blind spots and being aware of them. I know I often fail at empathy, but I’m trying.

The thing is, differences are not a threat. I think that differences are an incredible strength. If the world were full of people who were the same, nothing would ever be accomplished. If everyone were a builder, we’d have lots of buildings and nothing to use them for. If everyone were a writer, we’d have lots to read, but nothing to eat. If everyone were a politician, we’d really be screwed. The differences between people are what make the world work.

You may not agree with another person’s point of view. It may even offend you. But that’s not the point. Devaluing someone’s perspective is devaluing his or her humanity. If more people considered other points of view, damage caused by unnecessary judgment would decrease. You don’t have to agree with a person, but taking the time to understand their perspective and accepting differences can do worlds of good.

We simply cannot function without imagination and empathy. We cannot settle for being narrow-minded. We cannot go on rejecting perspectives that do not match our own. The world we live in is so broken. Every time I turn on the news or open a paper, it’s something new. Driven from their homes, refugees struggle to establish a new life. A manic father shoots his wife and children before committing suicide. People who legally can now marry are still denied their rights.

But we have the power to change things. We can imagine a world where refugees find homes, where mental illnesses are diagnosed and properly treated, where people are allowed their legal freedoms. Once we imagine all these things, we are in the perfect position to act. We know what must be done. We can then become the people who step up and bring about transformation.

Stories, by their nature, place us directly in the perspective of others. This is why I love Rowling’s quote so much. Stories force us to see with eyes that are not our own, to walk with the feet of others, to feel with heartbeats outside our breasts. Fiction captures the essence of humanity and consuming it forces us to be human.   I believe a well-told, well-timed story can change the world. 

We have everything we need to transform our world. We have the power to empathize.  We have the power to imagine.

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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On the Shelf: The Silmarillion

I’ve been at it for over a month… and I FINALLY FINISHED!!

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Designed to take fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings deeper into the myths and legends of Middle-Earth, The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales ofThe Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindale is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabeth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Numenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, as narrated inThe Lord of the Rings. This pivotal work features the revised, corrected text and includes, by way of an introduction, a fascinating letter written by Tolkien in 1951 in which he gives a full explanation of how he conceived the early Ages of Middle-Earth.

My Thoughts:

The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it’s dense.  It took me over a month to get through, simply because the writing takes a long time to plod through.  There were weeks where I could barely get through ten pages.  But not because it’s bad.  On the contrary.

The Silmarillion is absolutely incredible.  A friend once described it to me as the Bible of Middle Earth and I can’t help but agree.  Unlike Tolkien’s most popular Middle Earth texts, this is no novel.  It’s a collection of stories that explain the history of Middle Earth.  The first chapters focus on creation mythology, explaining how the world came to be and the deities that dwell within it.  Then, Tolkien brings us through the shaping of the two main races of Middle Earth: Elves and Men.  The majority of the text is dedicated to their histories.  Near the end, we get the history of the men of Numenor, including their downfall and migration to Middle Earth.  This leads swiftly into Middle Earth’s more well-known history spanned in The Lord of the Rings.

At times, it was hard to keep track of all the characters and places.  I constantly had to go back and reread passages and consult maps to make sure I knew what was going on.  But, instead of detracting from my enjoyment, it made the experience that much better.  I was able to deeply appreciate the depth of Tolkien’s world.

There were many stories within these pages that I loved.  Particular favorites include the two great trees in Valinor, forging of the Silmarils, the foundation of Gondolin, Beren and Luthien’s love story, and the tragedy of the Children of Hurin.  I loved hearing about all Morgoth’s treacherous and all the battles fought to bring on his demise.  I liked the story of Eärendil, the fate of his sons, and the history of Numenor.  It was also fun to see names like Galadriel and Elrond cropping up throughout the stories.

The Silmarillion is not for the faint of heart.  It’s a challenging read, but a rewarding one.  It ignited my imagination and curiosity.  I’m now seriously interested in reading further into Tolkien’s world.

You Will Like This Book If: You like Tolkien, fantasy, mythology, folklore, rich world building, and a challenge.

Extra Bonus: “Tuor Reches Gondolin” by Ted Nasmith

Cinderella

I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings.  My favorite being Cinderella.

What fascinates me about fairytales is that, even though the stories are hundreds of years old, they are still being told.  They hold a valuable place as cultural markers.  The stories a culture tells speak volumes about the culture’s values, customs, and fears.  All fairytales have their core elements.  Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger, Snow White eats the apple, Rapunzel is saved from her tower by a handsome prince.

The thing about adaptations is that they tweak the core elements of a fairy tale.  Changes are significant because they reveal the values, customs, and fears of culture today.  It’s amazing how we can tell a story can be told for hundreds of years and continue to find new ways to tell it.  What if Snow White didn’t eat the apple?  What if Sleeping Beauty never pricked her finger?  What would happen if Rapunzel wasn’t saved, but left of her own volition with not a prince, but an outlaw?

As you may know, I’ve been looking forward to Disney’s new Cinderella for a long time.  (See posts here and here for my anticipation).  I caught wind of the film three years ago and have been following its production ever since.

With adaptations like the book Ella Enchanted or the movie Ever After out there, what’s so special about this movie?  Well, it’s a remake of the animated movie.  And I HATE the animated movie.  I think it’s one of the worst adaptations out there.  So I was excited for Disney to have a chance to redeem itself.

I saw the movie yesterday and, for the most part, I agree with many of the critics.  Disney played it pretty safe.  It’s your traditional Cinderella tale with all the elements: dead parents, evil stepmother, stupid stepsisters, forced servitude, fairy godmother, a pumpkin coach, leave before midnight, forget the slipper, etc. etc. etc.  They fleshed out the characters a bit, but it’s nowhere near as convincing as the development in Ever After.

Did Disney redeem itself, though?  Absolutely.  What the movie lacks in innovation is more than made up for in how stunningly beautiful it is.  Everything about the film is gorgeous–from the costumes to the sets to the dashing Richard Madden as the prince.

My favorite part of the entire movie was probably Cate Blanchett’s performance as Lady Tremaine.  Her costumes were stunning and every line was delivered with the perfect level of poison.  I’d pay to see it again just to soak in her villainy.

To be honest, if I think too hard about this movie, I’m pretty sure I’ll make myself dislike it.  (My inner feminist can’t deny that the heroine of this adaptation is ridiculously passive.)  So, for once in my life, I’m not going to let myself think.  It’s the kind of movie that is made to be enjoyed.  You watch it, feel warm fuzzies, and then go on with life.  I’m determined to sit back, soak in the prettiness, and daydream about Richard Madden’s smile.

To my Cinderella fans out there–what did you think of the movie?  Let me know in the comments!

Liebster

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow blogger, Holly, awarded me the Liebster Award.  It’s an award bloggers give to each other to highlight new and incoming blogs.  The award comes with a series of questions posed by the giver.  Here are the questions I’ve received and my answers to them!  (Also, Holly is an absolutely fantastic blogger and you should all check out her work.)

1. Which book/movie character do you identify with the most?

Ouch.  This one is tough.  I honestly don’t know how much I actually relate to these characters, but I definitely see pieces of myself in them.  Or, I like to think I see pieces of myself in them.  (I realize the question asks for only one character, but I’m going to give three.)

One that comes directly to mind is Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.  I was in high school the first time I read these novels and immediately felt connected with Anne’s big imagination.  She takes simple things like paths and ponds and gives them grand names, seeing all the beauty and all the potential they possess.  In her mind, all the fantastical things she dreams about–the far off places, adventures, passions–they’re all real.  Although we are very different in many ways I like to think Anne and I are, to use her phrase, kindred spirits.

Another character I identify with is Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  No, I’ve never been locked up in a castle and I have never fallen in love with a hideous beast.  But, like Belle, there have definitely been times in my life where I’ve felt out-of-place, misunderstood, and unwanted.  Like Belle, there were times growing up where I would sit and dream of far away places and adventures.  Recently, I had the chance to go to those places and live out all the adventures I had spent my whole life dreaming up.  It was wonderful.  Finally, Belle and I are both massive bookworms.  Without shame, I admit to daydreaming about the Beauty and the Beast library.  It’s every English major’s dream.

A third character I see myself in is Jo March from Little Women.  Why?  Although I definitely lack Jo’s fiery temper, she too is a reader and a writer.  She moves to a big city all on her own to pursue a literary career.  I moved to a big city to pursue my literary studies.  Grown up Jo almost has the “I’m a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man” attitude, which I love and definitely, to an extent, relate to.

2.  Describe the best day of your life thus far.

Summer 2011.  I was eighteen.  My morning began pulling drip lines in the strawberry patch.  Half an hour into the miserable job, a thunderstorm struck and work was called off for the day.  So I spent the morning baking cookies.  In the afternoon, my coworkers and I went to the cities (St. Paul/Minneapolis) to see the very last Harry Potter movie ever.  It became the third movie to ever make me cry.  Afterwards, we went to a frozen yogurt place in Dinkytown.  My friend and coworker, David, had sugar for the first time in months (his family is anti-sugar, pro home-grown foods) and went absolutely off-the-walls hyper.  To say he was entertaining is a vast understatement.  I don’t know if I have ever laughed as hard as I did during the drive home.

3.  Do you consider yourself to be an extrovert or an introvert?

I’m definitely an introvert.  I love people and can be very outgoing when the need arises, but being out in public too much is exhausting.  I need solitude to recharge.

4.  What were you like when you were a kid?

Oh gosh, I was annoying.  I was one of those dumb kids who had something to say about absolutely everything.  In our old home videos, I’m always in the corner narrating everything that was going on.

On the positive side, though, I always had a big imagination.  Even as a small kid I loved stories.  I would dream of far away castles and dragons that needed fighting.  I’d go out into the woods and play out these stories, often dragging my brothers or best friend, Erin, to play supporting roles.  Naturally, once I learned my letters, I became an avid reader.  You know those days where you just can’t put a book down and you read the whole thing in a day?  That was me at the tender age of eight.  My imagination and love of stories only grew as I got older, morphing me into the nerdy English major I am today.

5.  What’s one book you think everyone should read?

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.  Unabridged.

6.  What are you afraid of?

Centipedes.  They weird me out.

7.  What makes you laugh?

I love intelligent parodies that don’t take themselves seriously.  For examples, I find the movies  The Princess Bride and Monty Python and the Holy Grail absolutely hilarious.  My not-so-inner lit nerd adores The Reduced Shakespeare Company.  YouTube videos like “Beauty and the Beat” and “Jane Austen is my Homegirl” almost never fail to make me laugh.

8.  What’s your (realistic or unrealistic) dream job?

One of the in-character wizards at Harry Potter world.

Travel writer.  The kind that people pay to see the world and write about it.

Disney animator.

9.  Where would you like to travel?

Europe always and forever will have my heart.

If I had been asked this question six months ago, I would have told you England or France.  Now that I have been to these places, my answer would have to be Italy, Sweden, and Norway.  I am always up for another trip to Austria.  It’s not European, but I would also like to visit Israel before I die.

10.  Why did you decide to start a blog?

Six years ago, I was a young nerdy teenage girl up to my elbows in the Harry Potter fandom.  I met a girl named Cathy on a fan forum.  We became friends and she told me about blogging.  Having a corner of the internet to call my own was incredibly appealing.  So, at the age of fifteen, I began my first blog.

I’ve been writing ever since.

11.  Post the funniest meme you’ve ever seen.  (Okay, that was more of a command than a question.  Sorry.  But still post the meme, please?)

I’m weirdly fascinated with the concept of gangster Lord of the Rings.  I have no idea why.