Lines and Dots (Writing 101, Day 18)

Lines and dots… that’s all a map really is.  Lines and dots printed in tiny colors on sheets of paper that you can never seem to fold the same way twice.  You don’t want to be seen with a map, else the locals pushing past you on the street mutter about annoying tourists under their breaths.  So you try to be as inconspicuous as possible, shoving it quickly in your purse, backpack, briefcase, or pocket to avoid notice.  The lines and dots are helpful, but can sometimes make you stick out like a sore thumb.

It’s what the dots mean and where the lines go that make a map important.

Consider the image below.  At first, it doesn’t mean much.  Can anyone guess where this is?

MyLondon Places (for blog)

If you guessed London, you’re right.  It’s nothing but a series of lines and dots.  In this case, the white and yellow lines signify roads.  The blue windy line is the Thames.  The dots here have numbers, symbolizing how many of my Facebook photos are tagged at different locations.

A map can tell you so much, but there hits a point where its meaning is different for everyone.

When you look at this image, you may see nothing but meaningless lines and dots.

When I take a peek, though, I see memories playing in the back of my mind of my semester abroad.  I picture myself walking through the campus of my host university, squeezing my way into a Tube train at Piccadilly Circus after attending the theater, and nipping in for a few minutes with my favorite paintings at the National Gallery.  The lines are paths my feet have taken.  The dots are places I’ve stopped to explore.  Part of my heart aches when I look at the image, wishing desperately that I could be back in that place.

A map can tell you all about a place, but it can’t tell you what it’s like to be there.  It gives you facts, but not experiences.

Great writers, though, can give meaning to maps with words.  Most fantasy novels have maps at the beginning of them, giving a guide of lines and dots to follow and the story fills in the details.

I don’t claim to be a great writer, so I’m not sure I’m able to give meaning to the map of London that I have shared with you.  However, being an English major has introduced me to lots of great writers who know the city even better than I do.  I have a complicated relationship with Virginia Woolf, but she gives you a pretty good idea what London is like in her novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”

There.  Do you feel it?  For a moment, you were right there with Clairissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, and me, walking the streets of London and basking in the bustle of life.

Do you have any maps with special meaning?  What places are most special to you and why?

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

To Love London

There are days when I long for London.

I grew up (and attended college) in the country, but man… London has wedged its way into my heart.  When I left, its loss was searing.  I couldn’t go a day without longing to be back.  The longer I’ve been away, though, the more life conceals my love of England’s capital.  It’s like a piece of gold buried in my heart that is buried more every day.  Out of sight, out of mind–as they say.

But then, suddenly, it all comes back.

I remember the feel of my feet on the pavement.  The splatter of rain on my umbrella.  The sound of people of every age and color jostling for a place to stand on the Tube.  The twitters of excitement as the curtain draws at the start of a West End show.  The laughter of kids on field trips in art galleries.  Dogs barking in Hyde Park.  Red double-decker busses lumbering through the city.  Eager shoppers flocking on Oxford Street.  The warm laughter coming from pubs.  The musty scent of books haphazardly stacked floor to ceiling in the stores on Charing Cross Road.  The clang of Big Ben.  The elegant statues of Whitehall.

As the memories flood back, I’m overcome with longing.

Virginia Woolf states it best in Mrs. Dalloway:

“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”

To love London is to love life.

Will I ever be back?

Being ironic on Valentines Day

On Valentines Day, it’s really easy to slip into being mopey when your relationship status is single.  However, I’ve gone through the routine enough times that I just ignore all the “Single Awareness Day” hate.  Yes, I’m single.  But I’m happily single.  I have no reason to be miserable on Valentines Day.

So, I’ve started playing a game:  How can I celebrate this romantic holiday in the most strange/ironic way possible?

Over the years, I’ve had some great moments.

During my junior year of high school, February 14th landed on a Sunday.  My parents were away for the weekend, so it was just my little brother and I in the house.  We skipped church and I spent the entire day reading the unabridged version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.  The best part is I spent the majority of the afternoon plowing through the fifty page tangent where Hugo describes all the details of convent life.  Because there’s nothing more romantic than soaking in all there is to know about nuns!

Then there’s my sophomore year of college.  Valentines was on a Thursday.  After class, I spent my afternoon and evening judging a speech meet for the local high school.  The categories I had to judge were Serious Prose and Serious Drama.  This meant three hours of high schoolers describing suicide, abuse, rape, death, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, etc.  Talk about getting you in the romantic mood!

Last year, Valentines was on a Friday.  Virginia Woolf was my Valentine and I spent the afternoon in the library reading Mrs. Dalloway.  (As you can see by this post, our relationship didn’t really work out in the long run.)

This year, I am determined to live up to its ironic potential.  Once again, I’m spending the day judging speech.  This time, I’ll be at a massive meet in the cities.  Most of my day will be spent on a cold school bus and the rest will be spent sitting rounds filling out critique sheets.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get a handful of depressing categories.

Also, because I don’t have a significant other, I’ve chosen  William Shakespeare as my Valentine.  We’re covering Titus Andronicus at the moment in class, which is absolutely perfect.  Warm fuzzies abound.

So, readers.  Now you know about my weird Valentines Day traditions.  Please remember this is all in good fun.  I’m not actually obsessed with depressing stories.  I also don’t use these as coping mechanisms.  It’s true that I really, really look forward to the day I actually have a significant other to spent the holiday with.  Until then, I’ll remain happily single and will continue to find weird, quirky ways to celebrate February 14.

How are you celebrating Valentines Day?

A literary breakup

Dear Virginia Woolf,

It’s been a long haul this semester.  We’ve been through a lot together, you and I.  But I think it’s time that we go our separate ways.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  Okay, that’s not true.  It’s totally you.  I think it’s time we break up.

Our first meeting, way back in my Brit Lit II survey course, went exceptionally well.  You sure do know how to make a good first impression.  Thus, I was optimistic.  But then our relationship turned out to be rockier than I expected.  Your short fiction had me stumbling about like a silly lady trying to figure out what was going on.  But I attributed that to your innovativeness, and that I just had to get used to it.  Then there was Jacob’s Room.  Ugh.

It wasn’t all thistles and thorns, though.  We had some good times, Virginia.  We really did.  We were reading Mrs. Dalloway on February 14th and you were my Valentine.  That book took my breath away.  It had me singing stupid love songs, declaring my passion to the skies.

But then To the Lighthouse happened over Spring Break.  Although I appreciated what you were doing there, Virginia, it was a bit of a slog to get through.  I ended up writing my fourteen page final essay on that book.  Mr. Ramsay is a piece of work, so props to you for creating a character that made me feel like I was suffocating while reading his thoughts.  All in all, your rendering of visual perception is fascinating, but kind of took away my will to live.  (In a scholarly sense, that is.)

For a while, Virginia, I thought there was no hope.  I thought we were doomed to fail, you and I.  But then Orlando came along.  I sat there thinking, “I didn’t know Woolf could be funny!”  And you were!  You were downright hilarious!  If you could go back, I encourage you to do more work like Orlando.  It’ll bring more joy to the world.

Ultimately, though, you slaughtered me with The Waves.  What on earth were you thinking?  Why was that a good idea?  I didn’t understand a single bit of it.  And oh my goodness, my professor’s lectures on it only made it worse.  Was it your goal to make a book that’s absolutely impossible to comprehend?  Because if so, you definitely succeeded.  What is the price of your success?  My happiness.  My hope.  My joy.  My dreams.  My will to continue our relationship.  You sacrificed those things by choosing to write The Waves.

So, Virginia, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.  And, frankly, I think it’s time we take a break from each other.  Some time and distance will help strengthen our relationship.  You wrote some things that were pretty miserable to read and I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive you.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll come back to you someday.  I still remember the way my heart raced as Mrs. Dalloway exclaimed “What a lark!  What a plunge!”  There is good to be found, Virginia.  So take heart.  I’ll be seeing you eventually.  Until then… I think I’ll spend next semester hanging out with the Victorians.  Charles Dickens and I have some catching up to do.

Happy summer,

Amelia

Friday Favorites II

It’s a bit late in the day for this, but how about another round of favorites to celebrate the weekend?

This book:

orlando 3

Yes, another Virginia Woolf novel.  Woolf isn’t nearly my favorite writer out there, but considering I’m in a class devoted to her books… they’re kind of all I’ve been reading these days.  Orlando is a mock biography.  In it, we meet Orlando in Renaissance England and follow his/her life until the time the book was published–1928.  He starts out a young boy in the court of Elizabeth I and ends as a wife and mother in 1920’s London.  I believe Woolf viewed this book as a joke and wrote it for fun.  It’s very different from her other novels, which are highly experimental.  After weeks of To the Lighthouse and such, it was a breath of fresh air.

This girl:

IMG_1473

I’m the one on the left, but the lovely girl on the right is my friend, Anna.  We met while working at the same Bible camp last summer.  She lives in Austria, which is kind of on the other side of the world from snowy Minnesota.  I miss her dearly, but made sure to visit during my stint abroad last semester.  This photo was taken at Schloss Ambras, a castle near where she lives.

We got to Skype today!  It’s amazing that technology enables us to stay in touch with those we love, no matter how far away they are.  We talked about camp memories, what God is doing in our lives, school, and cultural differences between our countries.  She taught me a bit of German, I helped her speak in an American accent.  Although I probably should have spent the time studying, it was an hour well spent.  I’m excited to see her again this summer!

This grocery store:

Willie's

 

It’s the only grocery store in town, which means they can charge as much as they want for fresh produce.  Weekly, this place sucks all my money away.  But it’s also endearing.  There’s something special about small town grocery stores.  And only in Morris will you go looking for grapes and cottage cheese and run into half your professors.

(Then, while waiting for your roommates to finish shopping, said professors gather around you to make awkward small talk.)

This speech:

JFK’s inauguration.  We analyzed the rhetoric in class today and my professor declared that it is one of, if not the, greatest speech ever given.  Apparently, Kennedy spent two weeks writing it himself.  It’s a rather fantastic bit of spoken word, even without the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” line.

Happy Friday!

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.

When will I be blown up?

I’m on week two of a three-week essay writing spree.  Oh, the woes of being an upper classmen… papers due every week.  Last week, I analyzed Clara Durrant from Virginia Woolf’s novel Jacob’s Room.

This week, I am writing a rhetorical analysis of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  So far, I’ve about seven pages in.  The further I get into my analysis of this speech, the more I find myself fascinated by it.  This is rather surprising, because I’m not too keen on Faulkner’s writing.  (As I Lay Dying… “My mother is a fish”… Anyone?)

One rhetorical method I’m using analyzes the situation and context in which the speech was given.  The situation gives need for rhetoric.  In this case, the need for rhetoric comes from increasing fear from the Cold War.  Faulkner discusses how this fear has affected writing, and issues a call to go back to the old ways of writing about the depth of the human condition.

It really is a beautiful speech, which is why I’d like to share it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Here’s a clip from 1950 of Faulkner receiving his Nobel Prize.  (Look for him in the 6:45 mark!)

Friday Favorites Innagural

I’ve been meaning to do a “Friday Favorites” section for AGES.  But life, like it always does, keeps preventing it from happening.  On a Thursday afternoon, I’ll remind myself to come up with something… only to forget.  Or, I’ll think of it on Monday… which is not very helpful.  Now, though.  Now I’m going to make it happen.

Without further ado, here are my Friday Favorites!

This drink:

peace_tea__by_ifollowrivers66-d57vzmb
Photo from http://th05.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2012/200/f/f/peace_tea__by_ifollowrivers66-d57vzmb.jpg

For only 99¢, Peace tea is a worthwhile investment.  It’s basically what I survived on sophomore year.  (Dining dollars well spent?  I think, yes.)  I managed to wean myself off of them after a while, but still pick one up every once in a while when I’m out grocery shopping.  My favorite is the Razzleberry, but I recently discovered the blue Sno Berry flavor, which is also fabulous.

 

This book:

14942

I just finished reading Mrs. Dalloway for the second time this week.  It is a breathtaking portrait of a day in London after World War I.  Having spent time in the city, I felt like I was right there–standing in a crowd outside Buckingham Palace, cruising up the Strand atop a bus, crossing Victoria Street… “What a lark!  What a plunge!”  How Woolf manages to capture all the beauties and complexities of a single day astounds me.  I could ramble on and on about all the aspects of the book that I love, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself.  Still…  I could read this novel once a year for the rest of my life and still not fully comprehend all of its elements.

This city:

Bath, England.  They just don’t make cities like these in America.  The lovely Georgian architecture, stunning cathedrals, old bridges, and ancient Roman bath houses… it’s like walking backwards into history.  Because it’s a World Heritage site, it looks pretty much the same now as it did in the 1700’s.  Plus, Jane Austen lived here… which is pretty much fabulous.

This song:

I want to do is hop in my car with all my friends and sing at the top of my lungs.  It’s all I’ve been listening to for the past week.