Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Wear The Same Bow Tie

"More of me comes out when I improvise." - Edward Hopper

Having gone to the beach for the weekend, I thought the 6 combined hours of sitting in a car would make for an excellent opportunity to catch up on a couple episodes of Pop Culture Happy Hour (and then be bored for the other four and a half hours in which I did not have another episode).

One of the people on said podcast was talking about how excited he was about Kung-fu Panda 2, and I'd seen on his Twitter feed a few days before that he apparently cried more than once during the movie. I love this for a couple of reasons.

1. This is a grown man who is legitimately excited about Kung-fu Panda, unrelated to the fact that his kids probably also wanted to see it.

2. This is a grown man who is willing to admit that not only did he cry, but that he cried during an animated movie.

I don't particularly care whether you're a person given to crying. Some are, and some aren't, and that's fine. However, it makes me very happy when people (especially guys over the age of 13) admit that they have/do, regardless of how frequently. So yay for Stephen Thompson.

There's this weird cultural thing going on where crying is associated with weakness, and fragility, and irrationality, and a lack of masculinity. Which implies that a) emotions are bad, and b) emotions are not a manly thing to have. Both of which are absolutely ridiculous.

That being said, strong emotions certainly can and do have negative side-effects. They can cloud your judgement, consume your mind, and utterly destroy your ability to empathize.

And that's what I think it is: the temporary loss of empathy. It's not that you're being irrational, strictly speaking. You've just undergone a significant shift in priorities that says "I do not freaking care what's going on in your head. I'm not even going to try to see things from your point of view, because what I'm feeling is far more important." 

It's just an evolutionary thing-- emotions are there for a reason, and our reactions to them are there for a reason too. We "irrationally" hate that which causes us pain, and we get "irrationally" upset when something we value is taken away. The hate drives us to get as far away from the pain-causer as possible, and the loss we feel drives us to replace the stolen thing- or steal it back.

Once the strong emotions subside, empathy returns, along with our "rational" mind. (Hold on...there's more to the world than just Me?) The trick is to be able to recognize what's going on, and to keep from acting on it until it's passed.

It's not a weakness to be sad, and it's not wrong to have powerful reactions sweep you off your feet. What is a weakness is to not be able to cope with it in constructive ways. Emotion is probably both the best and worst part of being human. It's perfectly natural, though, and I think that if more people really believed/accepted/understood that, there'd be less hard feelings across the board.

So I apologize for any and all past and future cases in which I have failed to empathize with any of you. I don't condemn myself for it, since I do believe that it (in the type of situation discussed above) is an unavoidable part of life, but all people deserve the respect of being viewed as a fellow person trying to make his or her way in the world. 

And because I am a massive nerd, I am now deciding that it shall be my new goal to remember that we all wear the same figurative bow tie, which is cool. Because bow ties are, and always will be.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Two Quotes (As I Procrastinate From My Last Lab Report)

“To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ or ‘excrutiatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly…but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.”

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." - Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mr. Paranormal Romance

Meet Mr. Paranormal Romance. He won't pay very much attention to you at first, but we fully expect that the two of you will become quite good friends. Or even **waggles eyebrows** friends.

Mr. Paranormal Romance is English. He is tall and dark-haired and ridiculously good-looking (unless he is a werewolf, in which case he will be muscular and tan). His good looks rest mainly in the region of the hair, which is dark. He is also rich. He plays piano and composes his own music. He has great hands, which will be described as smooth, flawless, and long-fingered. He is a loner, but comes out of his shell when he meets you, Miss Reader.

He is very charming and will smile devilishly. He has an ironic sense of humor. He probably has a leadership role. He is intelligent. Actually, he's something of a genius. He's also ridiculously good-looking. And English

All of the females (and token gay men) at his school or workplace have been in love with Mr. Paranormal Romance at some point or another. However, strangely enough, none of these people are jealous of Miss Reader after he begins to notice her, unless one of these people is one of Miss Reader's close friends.

Mr. Paranormal Romance has some sort of inner darkness or pain, or a secret that can only be overcome with the help of Miss Reader. This is probably supernatural, or involving his mysterious past. It could be a family curse or he could be of a race far hotter than human despite the fact that humans are by far the most attractive race, since all of the non-humans seem to want to mate with them. 

Have we mentioned that Mr. Paranormal Romance is both good-looking and English

Just to make sure that Miss Reader is aware of those two Very Important Facts, Mr. Paranormal Romance will be shirtless for some reason or another fairly soon after she meets him. He may also give a speech or tell a long story so that Miss Reader may lose herself in his voice.

Miss Reader's life will gradually grow to center around Mr. Paranormal Romance. This creates a lot of danger and tension. Mr. Paranormal Romance knows this, and will either attempt to leave in order to protect Miss Reader from his inner darkness, discover a fear of commitment, or assure her of his love. If Mr. Paranormal Romance chooses one of the first two options, he will eventually return and their relationship will be even more serious and passionate than it was before. If they are still in school, they will become engaged before it is culturally expected for their ages. If they are not, their engagement period will be abnormally short.

If he chooses the third option, however,  Miss Reader will discover Mr. I'm Even More Awesome Than That Other Guy Who I Hate And You Should Too. This guy may be Miss Reader's childhood friend, or the Nemesis from Mr. Paranormal Romance's Past. At this point, Mr. Paranormal Romance becomes the villain, due to the revealing of his secret . This dating and/or engagement period will be longer, because Mr. Paranormal Romance will have left Miss Reader with doubt, which will eventually be healed by extraordinary patience and consideration from Mr. I'm Even More Awesome Than That Other Guy Who I Hate And You Should Too.

Pity. Mr. Paranormal Romance was so English and good-looking.

(Post inspired by both The Tough Guide To Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, and Maureen Johnson)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Geek Day 2011 (alternate title: In Which I Am Arrogantly Awesome And Rub It In A Bit)

"People, let’s hear it today for being single. Exploring the world, finding adventures, and scoping big scenes are hallmarks of being cool with being you. Because look — falling in love is great and falling in love is nice but that doesn’t mean going alone can’t also be sugar and spice. Good days and bad days, setting suns and shining stars, it’s all about perspective and focusing on who you are. Because if all you need is love, and all love needs is you, then it’s great to relax and enjoy… just being you with you." - 1000 Awesome Things Blog

"Everything is a word, and words make people." - my 7th grade poetry notes which I found while spring-cleaning

May 25th is apparently Geek Day, for some reason involving Star Wars. It's also Towel Day (Hitchhiker's Guide reference), and this year, it's also Harry Potter Day in my school's Unofficial Spring Spirit Week (yeah, you guys wish you weren't homeschooled- haha).

So when faced with the decision over Towel vs. Potter and being deprived of a Potter Towel...I immediately grabbed at the excuse to pretend I was at Hogwarts for a day. White shirt, black skirt, and the Gryffindor tie from the Hermione costume that won me a prize at the Half Blood Prince release party when I was nine (9 year-old me and 11 year-old Emma Watson look astonishingly alike if I'm not wearing my glasses and I've braided my hair the night before. The resemblance isn't huge anymore, though). I just wish all of my Ravenclaw stuff worked in May-- a sweater, scarf, and robes don't mix with 90-degree weather terribly well.

But in short, I spent the day feeling totally awesome. Rocked the clarinet solo in "Godzilla Eats Las Vegas". Shared grins with all of the other costumed people. Communally bought a couple pizzas with my lunch people, which we ate outside the band room. Had a couple little kids outside Dairy Queen stare at me like "Wait...does she go to Hogwarts?" Made Dr. Horrible and Portal references in Facebook comments after I got home. Finding a new place for my Rubik's Cube collection, mourning over the lack of a new Doctor Who episode this weekend...I'm making sure to celebrate Geek Day to the fullest.

Because apparently in today's high schools (or at least mine), you don't get teased for dressing up like a wizard. This makes me very happy.

But then this bitter, spiteful part of me that I try to keep bound and gagged goes "Pfft. Those people. They think they're Harry Potter fans. HA!" At which point said little voice starts listing my Potter Nerd Credentials. And while said credentials are kind of impressive (or perhaps just sad...), the rational, polite part of my brain kicks in and goes 

Nice part: Hey. Just because they don't go to wizard rock concerts or have a Harry Potter bedspread or know how many Valentine's Day cards Lockhart received in 1992 (46 as of breakfast), or (etc. etc. etc.) doesn't mean they don't genuinely like it. Let them be fans in their own--" 
Bitter part: *cough* INFERIOR *cough*
Nice part: "Excuse me. In their own perfectly valid way."

Bitter part exaggerated a bit for your amusement, but there you are.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fail Blog (Post)

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on
frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond
words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly
disrespectful and impatient of restraint."
-- Hesiod, 8th century BC

Check out that date. Not much has changed in the past 2.5 thousand years, has it?

Today I just wanted to share with you some...ridiculous...things I've overheard recently. (And on that note, how was everyone's Rapture? Did you have to wait in a long line to get into Heaven? Did you form up a Scooby Gang to fight all of the demons? I had a perfectly normal day...because apparently Camping miscalculated and we're all going to die in October. After midterms, but before Halloween. How lame is that? At least I'll get a few weeks to find out what being sixteen is like before I need to worry about eternal damnation. Pity I'll never get my driver's license, yes?)

So I walked into Civics on Friday and this guy adamantly told his friend "A buffalo is just a male cow."

Then this morning in Latin, the girl who sits in front of me asked "Burning things doesn't pollute the air, right?" I said actually, it did. And then I thought about it, and realized that burning hydrogen just makes water vapor, which isn't really pollution. She turned to her friend and said "See? Told you I was right." Well, that's not exactly what I meant...

And finally (this is the best one), my sisters were baby-sitting our neighbors earlier this afternoon. The kids are 6 and 4. They're home-schooled, and the 6 year-old has apparently been studying the "story of the world" (I have problems with the singularity of "story," but I'll let that slide for now). Point being, he knows a bit of history.

So the kids say "Let's play World War Two! We'll be the Germans, and you can be the bad guys!"

Yep. You read that correctly.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spring Cleaning

"What worries you, masters you." - John Locke. The one who wasn't on Lost. Yeah, there was another one.

As I'm sure absolutely none of you guessed from the title, today I began the massive ordeal that is thoroughly spring-cleaning my room. This was not helped by the fact that it rather needed to be normal-cleaned anyway. Ha.

I opened boxes that hadn't been opened since we moved here 3 years ago. There was some weird stuff in those boxes. I also, however, found some lovely surprises-- things I'd thought had vanished long ago but turned up anyway, like the clay model of my clarinet case my best friend made for my birthday several years ago (there was a clarinet too, but it was accidentally crushed awhile back-- whoops). 

I still have a bit of work to do, but having cleaned most of the day and still being tired from playing over 5 hours of Portal 2 with NotVeryCharming over the weekend...I'm blowing the rest of it off for now and writing a blog post about it, because cluttering up the internet with even more words is definitely productive in terms of cleaning.

(Here's the YouTube video that's my source of motivation. Go watch it. Seriously, it's really interesting/funny.)

I used to save everything. Random bits of ribbons, washers I found on the street...yeah. I threw a bunch of that out when we moved, but there's still a fair amount of it left over (which I threw out). But then there's the stuff that I threw out...and I have no idea why. Like the outline for The Clockwork Experiment which hung on my wall all through November 2009. It was 23 pages long and I'd written all over it. It's something I really, really wish I had...and I don't. 

Now, the original plot sucked so much I can't even begin to tell you, almost none of it is leftover now and a lot of what little there is will be deleted in the next month when I do more editing, but...still. It would have been a great thing to save. 

I had two reasons for undertaking the Epic Quest of Spring Cleaning. The first being to...well...clean my room. The second is more symbolic. "Out with the old and in with the new." Cleaning out my mind via association. Trying to make the past the past rather than an extension of the present.

My afternoon hasn't all been reorganizing and throwing things out, though. Some stuff migrated down the hall to my sisters. A fair amount of it went into keepsake boxes- things I want to remain a part of me, but not in such an immediate way.

And now I think I shall take a nap. Happy almost-summer to all of you (unless you either live in the southern hemisphere or just hate summer in which case...six more months. Hang in there.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Is Today Awesome?

"Never cut what you can untie." - Joseph Joubert. That's probably one of my favorite quotes I've posted on here in awhile. Then again, ripping Band-Aids off quickly seems to be less painful. Thoughts, anyone?

I have this journal that I call my Why Today Is Awesome Journal. I try to write a one-two line entry every day, and on the days I don't, I go back and fill them in later. The idea is to focus on the positive things in life, and to celebrate the small stuff.

And you know what? Some days it's hard to think of anything to write in it, since I have a rule about timey-wimey things like "Today is awesome because tomorrow __________." It's good to look forward to tomorrow, but the whole point is to enjoy today, because if something isn't good about today, then something needs changing.

I also try to avoid things like "Today is awesome because __________ didn't happen." Because that's just saying "today sucked less than most other days" rather than "today was legitimately awesome."

Sometimes the entries are random little things like "Today is awesome because I watched another episode of Buffy," and sometimes they're about more fulfilling, more awesome stuff like "Today is awesome because I spent the entire afternoon with my best friend." It doesn't really matter (although it can be useful for measuring my general emotional state, but that's irrelevant) how big or small the awesome thing is, as long as it's there and I know it.
"Today something good happened, and here is what it was." 

I recommend that all of you try it for at least a few week and see what happens. I've been doing it since early January.

So today is awesome because I found out that I got a really good grade on my Latin project.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Abundance of Quotes Part 16

"Are inprefections is which make we grate." - Craig Benzine

"Sometimes debugging things all day doesn't result in solving the problem even when attempting the most optimal paths which should lead to success." - my dad.

"I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong." - Bertrand Russel

"We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another." - Lucretious

"True strength is delicate." - Louise Berliawsky Nevelson. 

"Nobody got anywhere in the world by simply being content." - Louis L'Amour

“You never get to ‘beat’ life. Knowing that I get to decide for myself what success is, that’s one of the most important lessons I have ever learned; and I learned it by playing simulation games.” - Hank Green

“Hank, watching people write is boring, and in my case at least it doesn’t even involve that much typing, but writing does, at least for me, require quite a lot of concentration, and to concentrate you must be prepared to face the terrifying spectre of boredom without fear. In that respect, at least, both the reading and writing of books have become kind of countercultural activities in the social media era. Books don’t lend themselves to multitasking; they don’t automatically update. And as much as much as I love the Internet, I’m happiest when I’m writing.” - his brother

1. Craig is hilarious, yet his videos about creative productivity are actually filled with good points/advice. The most recent one is "The Most Limitless Video On YouTube" (which is about why it's important to set limits for yourself.)

2. Very true, and very disheartening.

3. I agree that dying is a extreme in many cases, but I would argue that there are probably some things worth dying for. However, I don't think I'll know what those are unless it were to actually come to that. Although since Bertrand Russel wouldn't die to uphold that sentiment...I guess I don't need to bother arguing it. Ha.

4. The quote I include more for the gorgeous imagery than the message, but that's true enough as well, I think.

5. This one I love. I'm not sure what it means quite yet, or if I even agree with it, but I love it nonetheless.

6, 7, and 8 just some things to think about.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Am I Smiling?

"To craft a good story, take the best of two extremes--fantasy and believability--and find a way to merge them." - DisneyPixar's Twitter feed

Why am I smiling? It's because I know something you don't (or rather probably do) know. I am not left-handed. (Add points if you got the reference just from the title of yesterday's post. Subtract if you still have no idea what I'm talking about.)

Thanks to certain members of my school's debate club for the premise. Yes, those are the sorts of discussions that crop up after the meeting is technically over.

Honestly, right now I'm just stringing myself along until school is over (10 more school days until exams. Only 10 more days, and then three tests, and then I shall be free. 10days10days10days...)

The weird thing about school is that I tend to love it, both as a concept and as a real thing. I love learning, and I love spending time with all of the people I don't typically see over the summer, and I have a fondness for the institution itself that is probably just leftover from kindergarten when it was all new and amazing. I'm well aware that there are many things wrong with the education system, but still. The idea of an education system makes me happy. Or something. I don't know.

But then it gets to be May...and I'm just done with it. Partially because I'm more than ready to be off for the summer, and partially because I've been using it as an excuse to not write. And while it's just a hobby that I take very seriously for now, I've been slacking and not meeting the goals I've set for myself. (I actually just mooched a picture from EffYeahNerdfighters to use as my summer desktop wallpaper; it features a frowning John Green with the caption "WHY AREN'T YOU WRITING?" It's simultaneously funny and motivating.)

So I sit here, completely absorbed in the atmosphere of May fever, yet I know that come August, I'll be literally skipping with excitement about buying new school supplies. I'm such a dork.

I was on YouTube earlier this afternoon procrastinating from my chemistry homework (FIVE LAB REPORTS IN ONE WEEK! FIVE! **complains excessively**) and the first video awaiting me in my subscription box was this:

I laughed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

In Which I Fight Left-Handed

The Civil Rights movement didn't solve anything-- it only hid the problem away from the public eye. The Cold War rages on-- it's just now waged through the corporate proxy known as Nabisco. What is the name of this vile villain of intolerance and the destruction of the free market? My friends, he is known as the Oreo.

The existence of the Oreo is morally wrong, since it encourages segregation (the different colors are separate). Eating Oreos, on the other hand, is morally advisable, since it desegregates the cookie. Yet buying them for the purpose of eating them is bad, because it increases demand and therefore production, ergo encouraging the immoral existence.

But what if the Oreo is swallowed whole? That would be bad for three reasons. 1. It would cause an unnecessary burden on the digestive tract of the person eating it. 2. It's a deliberate preservation of the segregation and 3. The person could choke and die.

If someone deliberately swallowed it whole to make a socio-political statement, which is more despicable: the suicide, or the statement? Suicide via unchewed Oreo is worse than the unchewedness itself, because if you're dead, you're intentionally ridding yourself of your potential to desegregate any and all future Oreos. Which is morally wrong.

It would be better, then, to confine yourself to chocolate chip cookies. The addition of chocolate chips creates diversity within the cookie, and you can even melt the chocolate beforehand to distribute it evenly. Furthermore, each baker can choose to make chocolate chip cookies in whichever way he or she wants, whereas with the Oreo, it is a corporate-mandated recipe from which there can be no deviation. Every Oreo is stuffed equal. (It's just that some *cough* Double Stuffed *cough* are more equal than others.)

In conclusion: the Oreo is evil, racist, and communist, and furthermore, it should be removed from the American home as quickly as possible.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Separation Anxiety

"What is missing from a cultural diet composed entirely of pure entertainment is the beauty part, the enriching part, the part where you are driven to think. The same could be said of film — it's not that people who disdain blockbuster movies hate fun or romance or wisecracking. It's that they fear that we will lose the films that contain more than fun and romance and wisecracking." - from this article, shared with me as a result of last Saturday's post. Go read it. There are many other parts I would like to quote, but I'd end up just re-posting most of the article, so...

My problem isn't so much "I like this and only this so I shall stick with this and all other stuff is inferior." My problem is "I found this thing I really like, so why should I do something else when I could be devoting my time to this?"

Flashback to approximately 2nd grade. My mother has hidden my Harry Potter books because I refused to read anything else. It wasn't because I believed HP was the only good book in the entire world-- just that it was the best and I would therefore get the most pleasure by reading it repeatedly. (I found her hiding place fairly easily, stole back Goblet of Fire, hid it under my bed, and read it secretly in the evenings while also reading a book of which she approved.) 

I'm the same way with food-- I carefully scan the menu at restaurant X my first time there and select the thing that looks the tastiest; it turns out to be a very good choice, so I don't bother getting anything else at future visits.

I've since branched away from Harry Potter, of course. While it's still very awesome, there's so much more to be gleaned from literature as a whole that simply isn't available in those seven books. It may be amazing, but there are other things to be found and enjoyed in new and different ways.
Furthermore, people grow and change. We "need" different things from our reading. Different things are valuable. You've got to keep exploring to find the stuff that will be the most meaningful to you.

I've always struggled a bit with the idea of breaking-away and/or moving on and/or progressing, both with things like Harry Potter as well as with the general concept of growing up itself. The thought itself is exhilarating, exciting, and very appealing. It's the actual Doing that's scary. HP was a place of  security. It was safe and familiar, and I knew I liked it. So I didn't want to leave. But you know what? I'm far better off having done so. And I can always come back to whenever I want (and do so fairly often).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Meet My Music

So having talked about my music in general terms...I figured I may as well introduce you to some of the specifics (plus rock4ever95 asked about the 20-25% that's non-nerdy).

It's kind of difficult to determine exactly which songs I listen to the most, since sometimes I just sing them to myself inside my head, and sometimes I go to the next song before it's technically over so it doesn't register as a play, and I starting syncing my iPod to a different computer earlier this year, so my "times played" counts are skewed...In short, this is a rough depiction of what I've been listening to recently.

Here are my top 10 most-played songs according to iTunes:

  1. "Winter's Song" by Alan Lastufka. Depressing. And gorgeous. I have the sheet music for the piano.
  2. "My Eyes" from the Dr. Horrible soundtrack. Speaks for itself.
  3. "Delete You" by All Caps. For exactly why it's awesome, go read my review of the album (I believe I called it the "angry breakup song of the century").
  4. "Summer of '09" originally by All Caps, but I have three versions. See the aforementioned review. Has been said to be the "song of our generation" (by biased fans, granted.)
  5. "All I Am" also by Alan Lastufka. I have no idea why this is so high on the list (it should be in the 10-20 range), so I'm assuming I was still working on the short story for it when I switched computers.
  6. "Real Or Not Real" by All Caps- technically about Mockingjay, but that's not why I listen to it.
  7. "An Awful Lot of Running" by Chameleon Circuit. No excuses here.
  8. "A Thousand Hours" Doctor Noise cover of Alex Day. See review.
  9. "Making A Scene" by Alan Lastufka. Alright, so I enjoy the image of dancing in a parking lot without a care in the world.
  10. "Boxcar Blood" yet again by Alan Lastufka. This is the song that made me start writing the stories for the entire album. Enough said.
I would consider only two of those "nerdy" (three if you count Dr. Horrible). Why do I like the others? They invoke emotions and/or strong imagery. If YouTube views were to be counted as well as iPod plays, "You Will Be Mine" by Lenka (song introduced to me a week ago by CloudyKim) would be up there (I'm currently working on a short story for that one too- haha), which I love for the...atmosphere?

As for the other non-nerd songs...there's some Mountain Goats, Ben Folds/Nick Hornby, Jonathon Coulton,The Caulden Road, and one song each from Ted Hu, The Format, Dave Matthews, David Byrne, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Florence + The Machine. There would be one or two by Weird Al, but...kind of lacking in the iTunes-based funds right now. YouTube is my friend.

The Ben Folds stuff is brand new-- I listened to two of the songs awhile ago and liked them a lot, but I only re-looked them up today-- so don't ask me about the others quite yet. It's not often that I buy an entire album without listening to all/most of it beforehand, so I'm taking a bit of a risk here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fandom-Based Music

"The way to know life is to love many things." - Vincent Van Gough

This post has been a long time coming, and now I finally have enough context for it to get my thoughts in order.

 I'm surrounded on all sides by various people and groups who are talking and asking about exactly why we like the things we like, or why a given thing is of good quality. I'm very sure it's obvious that I've been thinking about that a lot lately-- what with all of these book reviews and this post. Now, it's far too large of a topic to cover in one post, much less one  book, or even a dozen books, so I'm going to zero in on the phenomenon of fandom-based music.

I'm often given a hard time about the contents of my iPod-- how it's supposedly all wizard rock, or at the very least "nerdy" music. Over the weekend, I put together a playlist of all the songs I won't skip over when it comes up on Shuffle mode. There were about 100 of them. Only 17 were wizard rock, 50-60 (including those 17) could be considered nerdy (10 of which are all covers/duplicates/ different versions of each other), and another 20-ish are non-nerdy songs by nerdy artists. All in all, about 75% of my current bank of music is fandom-based. Why?

It's certainly not that most "normal" music is bad. It's just that fandom-music has a couple super-powers that the other stuff doesn't. There are three factors involved: Memories, Multitudes, and Music. (Yes, I came up with a cheesy alliteration just for you to groan at.)

"Normal" music has sentimental/nostalgic value as well, of course. The right words can transport you back to last week, last month, last year, or last decade. You can relive a few moments of your life. But you don't get to be a part of a fandom in a few moments
Take Harry Potter: there's the hours spent reading the books. There's the months spent anticipating the next one. There's the speculation about the upcoming sequel and seeing it on the big screen and the ever-so-familiar "I freaking want to go to Hogwarts." There's the sheer passion for the series, and fondness with which you remember the experience of reading them all for the first time. That's powerful stuff. The quality of the music doesn't matter as much as the mindset into which it puts you.

This ties in closely with the Memories. There's a community surrounding fandom-based music that you just can't find anywhere else. Not only do you have the connection with the material on which the fandom is based, but you share that connection in an intimate way.
Most people can relate to a love song, but that's a very individual memory. The entire world held their collective breath for the release of Deathly Hallows-- and we held our breath together. We all shared the enormous emotional experience of the series as a whole both in the in-book world and in the real one.
Half the fun of a wizard rock concert is the feeling of being a bunch of geeks geeking out together over a shared love through song and dance, and the same goes for any other group.

And here's the thing that fandom-based music has in common with "normal" music: the...well...the music. Either you like the sound and you like the lyrics/themes, or you don't. And despite what I've said above, the music itself does make a difference. 
Three years ago, I owned a grand total of 3 CDs: two by Tonks and the Aurors, and Jingle Spells 2. I listened to them all the time on repeat, because of the first two factors. After I expanded my collection, I stopped listening to those altogether. Pretty In Pink (and Green) by The Parselmouths, for instance, has the nostalgia factor, and it has the community factor, but I also legitimately like the music- separately from all of that.

So there's why only a quarter of my music is "normal" - it's got to be pretty darn good (or I at least have to connect with it a lot, regardless of objective quality) for it to stand a fighting chance against all of that predisposition.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: The Battle of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

So guys...I have a bit of a confession. And it's kind of embarrassing. You know how I wrote two entire posts about just how freaking amazing Ranger's Apprentice is and how I couldn't wait to read book 10, and how the books didn't get worse as they went along?

Well, book 10 has been out for a few weeks...and I only just now finished it. It was significantly less good than the others (still good enough- just not up to the standard that the rest of them set). It doesn't help that book 9 was possibly my favorite of the entire series (other than book 1).

The humor that I've always loved was still there, and general Ranger cleverness was still there, and the characters are still great and everything, but the writing disappointed me. There were many things I read and thought "That is not the way I'd have phrased it," or "that doesn't make any sense," or he'd use the same word twice within a paragraph without employing parallelism. There were also silly typos ("Or course," said Alyss), so maybe it was just poorly-edited.

He also brought in several characters that haven't been mentioned at all for several books (book 1 in one case, and book 7 in another), with very little explanation as to who they were. It'd have been nice to have a little bit of a subtle "hey, remember him?" paragraph rather than just assuming we did (because I didn't).

Then there's the plot (SPOILER WARNING). It's one thing to pit two hundred lumberjacks against an army Samurai who have been training their entire lives but the lumberjacks win because they're using Roman fighting techniques the Samurai weren't prepared for, but it's quite another thing to have an archer shooting at the emperor and have someone randomly just grab the arrow out of the air right before it hits him. There is no precedent for him to have that ability. It even says he didn't know how he did it and never would be able to do it again. I believe that's called deus ex machina, and deus ex machina is not a good thing.
Oh, and then there's this massive cat/leopard thing that all of these Super Strong Warrior Guys are terrified of. The cat has killed 17 of them. And who takes it down? Two girls, neither of whom are particularly well-trained.

The end, at least, made me very, very happy/

So a message to John Flanagan: Dude, you're awesome. I love your books. I usually read them within 24 hours of buying them, and that's usually on release day. But what happened with Nihon-Ja? 

(I've actually met the author, and he is nice, funny, and well-researched. I talked with him about my own novel for a few minutes while he signed my complete set of his. So that was cool.)

Star-rating withheld due to lack of impartiality from the influence of the rest of the series.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: XVI by Julia Karr

In case any of you are following the discussion around yesterday's post but aren't subscribed to The Liberal Rocker, here's the link to the follow-up to the post to which I linked yesterday.

And here is something to brighten your day.

Clearly I have some sort of condition that prevents me from reviewing any books other than YA dystopian novels.

I almost read XVI by Julia Karr in 24 hours-- partially because I wanted to have it done in time for book club, and partially because it was just that good. I somehow managed to forget all of the things I meant to say about it at said book club, though, so I figured I'd talk about it here.

Description from Shelfari: "Nina Oberon's life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend Sandy and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she'll receive a Governing Council ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world, even to the most predatory of men, that she is ready for sex. Some girls can't wait to be sixteen, to be legal. Nina is not one of them. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a "sex-teen" is Nina's worst fear. Even though she has no choice in the matter, she knows that so long as her life continues as normal, everthing will be okay. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina's mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother's killer. But there's one boy who can help- and he just may hold the key to her past. But with the line between attraction and danger as thin as a whisper, one thing is for sure...for Nina, turning sixteen promises to be anything but sweet."

First, to address something I failed at explaining last night: The media itself is not evil. It's the government-owned Media (capital M) that is bad (which, fair enough, is the only media except for some underground bloggers mentioned occasionally who usually mysteriously disappear). (Also, every now and then all of the talking advertisements that line the street go silent. Then a voice comes on and says "This moment of silence was brought to you by the Resistance, for with silence comes independent thought." Isn't that clever? Shorting out the ads in favor of a sponsored moment of silence.)

XVI is everything I wanted Delirium to be. In Delirium, the characters were often just talking meat-sacks that filled roles (I mean, there's a reason I call Alex "Awesome Chest Guy"). The romance in XVI, on the other hand, was realistic-yet-sweet, and all of the characters (except maybe Sandy, but that could just be my prejudice) felt like real people. Even the dead ones (Nina's mom is particularly awesome, despite being such a tragic character). Nina herself is a relatable and likable heroine.

And then there is Ed, her mom's evil boyfriend. Oh my god. (If you are one of the few people to have read my book...think Roger. Except worse.) He's not really a fleshed-out character, but Julia Karr makes sure you hate him with a burning passion by the end of the book. And then...well, I don't want to spoil it for you.

I've read a lot of fantastic books this year (Little Brother, several things by David Levithan, etc.), so I don't want to say that this is one of my "favorites," but I'm definitely giving it 5 stars. 
The only bad thing I can think of (okay, maybe it's not the most plot-twistingly original Hunger Games-esque dystopian book, but let us forgive that) is the occasional inconsistency- it mentions how her teacher's glasses must just be for show because everyone gets corrective surgery now, but then in the next chapter her grandpa is wearing some- but hey. A book doesn't need to be perfect to get 5 stars.

So to tie it back in with my other reviews of recently-published dystopian novels, XVI is definitely better than Delirium, and I think I'll go ahead and say it was better than Matched as well, even though Matched gave me more joy in the act of reading.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bubble Wrap Is Fun...Except When You're Trapped In It

I'm fairly sure rock4ever95 expected me to be somewhat offended by his most recent post, especially given that I'm mentioned in the first paragraph.
If that was the case, I broke expectations. Granted, I have one or two problems with certain specific things, but he makes a very good point nonetheless
So you should go read that post before coming back here, because I am going to talk about why I think it's important that you read it. I'm not even going to talk about said specific things. This is a positive post (what? A positive reaction to a post the guy with which you had that not-so-infamous Will Grayson debate? WHAT? Yes. I know. Haha.)

People, especially those in or near their teenage years, tend to have a need to fit in, to feel like they belong. They will often fulfill this need by joining groups: school clubs, fandoms, sports teams, Nerdfighteria, etc. These groups are comprised of people with similar interests coming together to share in those interests. This will ideally result in fun, friends, and fulfillment. None of which are bad things.

The thing with Nerdfighteria, as described in his post, is that it's like the corporate conglomerate of fandoms and school clubs. It's the school club for all of the people who are also already in clubs D, F, T, B, and A. This results in creating what he often refers to as the "John Green cult." While the term makes me slightly uncomfortable since I associate with said group, I can't exactly argue with it. Pizza John shirts, anyone? ;)

The vlogbrothers themselves wouldn't want it to be referred to like that, since to them it's about the community and not the self-glorification, but what they want isn't the point. It's how the people involved respond to them, and to each other. And that is the issue.

Some people fall into the, for want of a better word, "cult mentality" of the thing because they love the feeling of belonging. They devote themselves whole-heartedly to the phenomenon, sometimes to slightly-disturbing extremes. It's one thing to do this for a time. It is another to never come back out. This is unhealthy. Which is why it is important that posts like the one about which I am writing (and hopefully this one as well) are not only written, but also read and thought about.

Moderation, people. It's important. Be in the community and love/enjoy the community, but the purpose of finding a place in which to belong isn't to stay there and never leave for the rest of your life. It's to use it as a launch-pad for yourself as a person (as well as to enjoy it for what it is).To build yourself a base of operations, and to become a better/stronger person because of it. To live, to love, to learn, and to move on. (Not saying to abandon it entirely-- just to allow yourself to spread out a bit more.)
Don't be "a nerdfighter." Be "a person who happens to be a nerdfighter."

So I leave you with my favorite part of his post: "I am a firm believer in being a cultural omnivore. When you devote yourself entirely to one thing or one style or one genre you miss out on all this awesome stuff in different styles and genres."
I am definitely not as successful as I'd like to be in that goal, but it's something I'm working on (expect a post on that soon. I find it interesting). And regardless of whether or not I'm good at it, I think it's a good thing to keep in mind when making cultural choices. **raises shields against hypocrisy accusations**

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Am A Blogger For Right Now

I need to ask a favor of all of you. Please read the following quote from Kenny's blog:

"Yesterday it occurred to me that one of our greatest struggles as we try to relate to other people is our need to objectify ourself. What I mean is that, paradoxically, although we have so much more information about our own experiences than anyone else's for this very reason we often cannot understand ourself. We lack the context to understand ourself as a human being precisely because we have such a skewed perspective on ourself, and we struggle to fit ourself into the role of human as we cannot compare ourself to anyone else since we lack comparable data on any one else's experiences. Thusly we struggle to objectify ourself, or to consider our experiences from an objective, rather than subjective, point of view, because that is the only way that we can relate to other people, whom we must all view, to some extent, from an objective perspective."

Now, in case that was too academic for you...

We try to apply labels and roles to ourselves because that's the only way we can relate ourselves to other people. We're too complex and confusing to do it any other way.

There's some stuff later in the same post that I also want to talk about, but I'm just going to use my own words for it. Go read his post as well if you want, though. I've linked to it at the top of the page.

I have this theory that other people anchor us to ourselves, and to life. When other people are  involved, you define yourself by how you relate to and interact with them. When a person leaves, be it leaving your life or leaving the room, you lose some of that stability.

You become less boxed-in, and more of a seething mass of perception, emotion, and thought. This isn't necessarily bad-- just scary, and sometimes hard to deal with depending on the degree. I think that's one of the many reasons other people are important-- figuring out them helps us to figure out ourselves
At the very least they make it easier to live simply by being something on which to hold:

"I am customer. Ze is salesman." "I am Ze's friend." "Ze is my mom." "Ze is a fellow tourist."

Those are gross simplifications, but you see my point-- defining the relationship between oneself and Ze allows you to in turn define yourself in relation to Ze. You can stand up and say "I am this for right now."
And that's usually a comforting ability to have.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: A Thousand Hours

There's a couple blogs I follow that will post song lyrics from time to time, either to analyze or just to share (re-posting other people's stuff just to share? Oh no, is Blogger turning into Tumblr? BURN THE BLOG DOWN FOR IT IS BLASPHEMOUS).

So here are the lyrics to "Thousand Hours" by Alex Day (of "Alex Reads Twilight" and Chameleon Circuit fame), the song I've been singing to myself pretty much non-stop for the past two days. I prefer Dr. Noise's cover (go download it for free) rather than the original, though.

"Thousand Hours" by Alex Day
If I counted up the hours I spent on the phone to you
Or waiting at train stations to meet you
I’d give myself maybe a thousand hours estimate
And that still wouldn’t make up for the sleep you made me lose
If someone told me I could have it all back
No more writing or reflecting or thinking on what could be
I’d tell that person they don’t know me at all
Cos you made me who I am and they don’t get how much you mean to me
This may come as a surprise
But I don’t care if we fight
Cos I’d rather that you lie
Than you not be there at all
So I’ll sing you some clichés
As I count down day by day
Till I board another train
So I’ll spend another night writing about you all I can
And revel in our shared sense of nostalgia
Memories made from Waterloo to Hyde Park, Covent Garden, Camden Market, Squares of Leicester and Trafalgar
If someone told me I could give it all back
No more hostels or those long goodbyes where no-one wants to go
I’d talk about the time we sung in the rain
Skipping buses cos you didn’t want to leave me to go home
This may come as a surprise,
But I love the sleepless nights
Though I tend to speak my mind
I go overboard, I know
So I’ll sing you some clichés
As I count down day by day
Till I board another train
This may come as a surprise
But I don’t care if we fight
Cos I’d rather that you lie
Than you not be there at all
So I’ll sing you some clichés
As I count down day by day
Till I board another train

I think the chorus is a bit ambiguous, so let us tackle that first. I originally thought it meant "I'd rather we lie to each other and still be together than be apart," which is a sentiment that has always bothered me. But having listened to it so many times in the past 48 hours, I've found a new interpretation: "I'd rather find out you lied to me than for my happy memories with you to have never happened in the first place," which is much nicer.

I particularly love the "If I counted up the hours I spent on the phone with you or waiting at train stations to meet you, I'd give myself maybe a thousand hours' estimate and that still wouldn't make up for the sleep you made me lose," and the "So I'll spend another night writing about you all I can and revel in our shared sense of nostalgia." Especially that last one.

Alex also happens to be the source of the quote I think I posted sometime last week about how when you fall in love with someone new, you don't think the last time felt anywhere as near as good as right then, but that's not fair to the people in your past. And now in "Thousand Hours" he's saying "You know what? You caused me a lot of pain, but I love the pain just like I loved the happy times, because that's what it is to be human." I'm kind of big on discovering what it means to be human and then celebrating it. 
It's a mission there's no way I can ever, ever complete, of course, but there you go.

The song can be viewed as either depressing or uplifting (or both). I choose uplifting.

Thank you, Alex Day. I love this song.