Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Believing Brain Part 1: Journeys of Belief

"Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, the meaning of life is here. It is now. It is within us and without us. It is in our thoughts and in our actions. It is in our lives and in our loves. It is in our families and in our friends. It is in our communities and in our world. It is in the courage of our convictions and in the character of our commitments. Hope springs eternal, whether life is eternal or not." - Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain

Notice: Fortunately for all of us (particularly you), it appears that rather than writing a post per chapter, I will wait until the end of each part of the book, since the chapters within each part appear to be more closely related than I had anticipated.

Part 1 details three stories of--you guessed it--belief: Shermer's friend's sudden unwavering faith in a "source" outside the world that loves us, Dr. Francis Collins' conversion from die-hard atheist to confident Christian, and Shermer's own journey in the opposite direction-- from incessantly obnoxious evangelical to all-around skeptic.

In some ways, I'm learning more by observing myself in the act of reading this book than I am from its contents I was able to brush off the friend's experience-based faith easily, but scientific credential-ridden Collins was far more convincing--even though his essential argument appears to be "It's scientifically possible, so why not?" It wasn't until reading Shermer's own story--and started disagreeing with some of his views-- that I returned to my own head and thoughts.

Why did I respond to Shermer more rationally than I did to Collins? Because even in the cases in which my views differ from his, he spoke in whys rather than in why nots. He supported himself with good arguments, and that's a language in which I can handle myself. Faith, by definition, can't be argued either way-- which is why I leave it up to the individual to decide. However values (as I've said before) and the methods by which the tangible world functions, can.

The main thing I've gotten out of this part of the book, though, is that what and why people believe is far more complicated than scientific evidence/lack thereof, or as many atheists like to think, intelligence/lack thereof. 

As Shermer says,
"Smart people (sometimes) believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons...Reason's bit is in the mouth of belief's horse. The reins pull and direct, cajole and coax, wheedle and inveigle, but ultimately the horse will take its natural path."

While the full story of my own "spiritual path" is too complicated (and private) to go into here, I love the last paragraph of the section:

"...if there is an afterlife and a God who resides over it, I intend to make my case along these lines: 
'Lord, I did the best I could with the tools you granted me. You gave me a brain to think skeptically and I used it accordingly. You gave me the capacity to reason and I applied it to all claims, including that of your existence. You gave me a moral sense and I felt the pangs of guilt and the joys of pride for the bad and good things I chose to do. I tried to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and although I fell far short of this ideal far too many times, I tried to apply your foundational principle whenever I could. Whatever the nature of your immortal and infinite spiritual essence actually is, as a mortal finite corporeal being I cannot possibly fathom it despite my best efforts, and so do with me what you will.'"

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer

"Belief change comes from a combination of personal psychological readiness and a deeper social and cultural shift in the underlying zeitgeist, which is affected in part by education but is more the product of larger and harder-to-define political, economic, religious, and social changes." - Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain: How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

Dear 2,303 Adult Americans surveyed in poll mentioned in the prologue of that book, 
Witches exist. It is not a matter of belief. Wicca/witchcraft is a real, official religion, and while whether or not their brand of magic actually works is up for debate, there are many practicing witches alive and well around the world today. A good deal more than 23% of you should "believe" in them.
Then there are the 45% of you who believe in evolution, and the 40% who believe in creationism. Exactly what do the other 15% of you believe? It's perfectly possible to believe in both, but that would result in a percentage over 100.
Sincerely, Olivia
As much as I'm in favor of tolerance and respect for other people's views, there are some things that are simply ridiculous. When it comes to things like God and Heaven and souls and other things that literally cannot be concretely proven one way or the other, that's fine. I really will respect what you think. However, certain details that some people hold to be true don't make any sense at all.

And I've always felt bad about thinking less of those people. Who am I to judge them, after all? Who am I to say what they should/shouldn't believe? They undoubtedly think I'm as crazy as I think them.

The prologue of The Believing Brain says this on the matter: "Although there is no Archimedean point outside of ourselves from which we can view the Truth about Reality, science is the best tool ever devised for fashioning provisional truths about conditional realities. Thus, belief-dependent realism is not epistemological relativism where all truths are equal and everyone's reality deserves respect...Even though the Ptolemaic earth-centered system can render observations equally well as the Copernican sun-centered system (at least in the time of Copernicus anyway), no one today holds that these models are equal because we know from additional lines of evidence that heliocentrism more closely matches reality than geocentrism, even if we cannot declare this to be an Absolute Truth about Reality."

So while we can't prove ourselves right beyond any shadow of a doubt, we can prove other people wrong when trying to figure out the truth of ultimate reality. "This is less wrong than that, therefore we're going to go with this until we find something more right." Go with one thing until you find something that makes more sense or works better, and then move on.

I like this book. There are 16 chapters, including the prologue and epilogue. I promise to keep it down to one post per chapter--if that.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Wee Hours Of The Morning Post

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought." - Matsuo Basho

It's nearly one in the morning as I'm writing this, and I just checked the temperature back at home, and it is NINETY DEGREES. At ONE IN THE MORNING. That's ridiculous.

So now that my week at the beach is nearly over...

Maybe it's the beach itself, and maybe it's the escape from routine, and maybe it's seeing friends we only see twice a year, or maybe it's the friends themselves, but being here always makes all of us far more introspective. We think about the past, we think about the future, and we think about ourselves right here and now. And we talk to each other about it far more than we ever would at home.

It's also...intellectually stimulating for some weird reason.  I'm wondering if perhaps it was the beach that got me started on my blogging kick last summer-- August had a record 36 posts, and the numbers didn't start going down until January.

All of you adult people measure time by chronological year, or maybe by the fiscal one. I measure by the school year (and to some extent the semester), and coming home from the beach really marks the start of the new one-- this year especially, since my sister has color guard camp and I have to finish my summer homework for AP Environmental Science.

I may write my "year in review" posts in January, but the beginning of August is when I feel the new year rather than having it forced upon me by the rest of the world (not that I don't like New Year's-- I do; it just doesn't fit in quite right).

And then there's the more poignant realization this week has brought me...I only have two more years living at home. Oh God. If ever there has been a  future event that is both immensely exciting and thoroughly terrifying, it is that.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

While It's Fun to Hate On Each Other...

“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” - Paper Towns

Question: What exactly is the point of having a debt ceiling in the first place if Congress can raise it whenever they want?

My dad and I were sitting on the balcony of our beach house this morning discussing, as I put it "Life, the Universe, and Everything." Of course, this included the current political situation.

My dad said that if there was a Republican candidate that represented his views, he would have no problem voting for him or her--and I agree. We don't identify ourselves as Democrats because we value being Democrats. We identify ourselves as Democrats because the party's platform is better aligned with our values and views than the Republican one.

This led my dad into a bit of a rant against religious people, which I cut off because using the term "religious people" is a gross over-generalization that makes me uncomfortable. He amended his rant to regard "religiously conservative people who don't think."

His mom, for instance, is my go-to person for proof that religion itself is not at all bad. She's one of the nicest, most all-loving people I know, and she sticks to her values like you wouldn't believe (in the event of a zombie apocalypse she would refuse to kill the zombies on principle-- yes, I asked). 

She takes her spirituality very seriously, but that doesn't mean she accepts everything blindly. She knows exactly what she thinks and where she disagrees with the doctrines, and most importantly, she knows why she thinks it.

If everyone thought about their beliefs, why they believe them; about their values, and why those things are important to them, then we wouldn't have to deal with all of this...stuff. Democrats and Republicans would still fight, of course-- we have differing values, after all--but compromise would be easier to reach.

Debt is one thing. Deficits happen, and they add up. But an uncontrolled debt is quite another, and dealing with that in an effective way should be our primary value-- not whether or not we're giving in to the opposing party.

On the other hand, we could just build a death star. The original's PR department has some good arguments. Plus, their version of the American flag is cooler.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Abundance of Articles

Two interesting articles, the first of which gripes about how writers are cowards and like to write about writing in order to procrastinate from their actual projects, features the quote "Leaving aside the obvious benefits of a good writing workshop — deadlines, clashing viewpoints, friendly can two writers be? They are jealous of each other’s luck, scornful of each other’s methods. Slander flies thick behind backs."

Considering that I have (what I believe to be) legitimate friendships with several writers, I don't particularly agree with its implications, but I can't deny that those can be points of contention. However, the writer-self is different from the person-self, so I'm going to go ahead and say she's wrong. The fact that two people write doesn't mean they aren't going to get along.

The second article is written by a book critic who says his reviews have changed since he became a published author himself.

There's also this about how the blogger would like to see books featuring college-age protagonists, since if we read books about older kids to find out what middle and high school was like, why shouldn't we want to do the same for college? 

I enjoyed the post and after clicking around a bit more I enjoyed the site, but it turns out that particular blog has gone to a magical world in a galaxy far far away where all abandoned online projects go to live out the rest of their lives. The owner is going to college in the fall and says she's just sort of moved on from the place she was when she started.

Which makes me sad-- not because I condemn her for moving on with her life, but because it makes me wonder when I'll stop loving some of the things I enjoy most right now. 

About a year ago I saw a post on Nerdfighter Secrets written by someone who was no longer enthusiastic about Nerdfighteria, and it scared me. Since then I have unsubscribed from the majority of my Nerdfighteria-related YouTube subscriptions and blogs, and I don't feel as if I've lost anything worth keeping. (And less than half of the feeds in my "Nerdfighteria" Google Reader folder are even remotely related. It's just stuff that doesn't fit into "Literature," "Current Events," "NaNoWriMo," and "Quotes.") I'm left with a third of the YouTube channels I once watched, and a third of those don't even post videos anymore.

So then I wonder why that abandoned blog even makes me sad, since I don't regret moving on from the things I once loved at all. I've found and refocused on other stuff that is far more fulfilling...and this is not at all where I intended the post to go.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Family Vacations..EAW-Style

You know, any novel that requires the watching of Pirates of the Caribbean in order to figure out how to write epic sea battles is a novel I am in favor of writing. That said, at least in PotC both sides have cannons (rather than just the bad guys). And, you know, Will Turner.

It's been raining a lot this week, so we haven't gotten much actual beach time in. However, this means we have a lot of time in which to play Uno. 

And trust me, we take our Uno seriously here-- to the point where instead of saying "Skip," we shout "SPITE!" 

There's also Apples to Apples, in which it's even more important to cater to the GM  judge than in D&D. In which "Cuss Words" wins for "Angelic" because we are fans of irony, and the debate for "Convenient" creates more tension than a game of Risk.

And then, of course, is the part when my sister comes upstairs and finds me dramatically explaining mitosis and meiosis to my dad with lots of hand gestures-- both of us with sandwiches in hand. And in typical me-fashion, the sandwiches immediately became a metaphor.

Welcome to vacation with my family, ladies and gentlemen. In which we imbue the very walls with wit, sarcasm, and lame puns (we're very humble- can't you tell? We're the humblest people in the whole world), it takes 6 hours to bake a potato, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off  and Better Off Dead are watched...more than once.

Monday, July 25, 2011

An Abundance of Quotes Part 18

"There is nothing...quite like the moral absolutism of the young. It's easy, as a child, to believe in good and evil, in light and dark.  Valentine never lost that-- neither his destructive idealism nor his passionate loathing of anything he considered 'nonhuman.'" - Cassandra Clare, City of Bones

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. It’s like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down through the air and there’s a sickly moment of dark surprise.” - Lemony Snicket

“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.” - Carl Sagan

"Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right." - Isaac Asimov

"If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs." - John Clare

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Which Blogging Is Therapeutic and I Have an Adventure

“To be nobody but yourself in a world doing its best to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human can ever fight and never stop fighting.” - E. E. Cummings

So my day started out by being woken up by my friend's phone asking "Are you my mummy?" Those of you who are Doctor Who fans will know just how terrifying this was. (Long story as to why my friend was spending the night the day before we went to the beach, but...)

After we took her home, I decided that I was going to drive the full 3+ hours down here to the island. This was the first time I've ever driven on the highway for more than three miles at a time, so I was understandably nervous. Just my mom, her best friend, and me in the car, since their husbands, my sisters, and "brothers" had taken our van.

We make it to the coast with only a few minor mistakes which didn't hurt anyone, but make me more and more frazzled as time goes on. We stop at a Subway for lunch, and all is well. I get back on the road.

Then we receive a phone call from the other car. "The house we rented burst a pipe. They're putting us in a different one. From a different agency. We'll call you once we've found it. No, we don't know the address."

So not only am I driving in fairly heavy vacation traffic faster than the average road at home, but I no longer know my destination. However, we haven't reached the island yet, so it doesn't matter. My expectations for our house sink dramatically, because clearly they just tried to find some place for us to stay.

We arrive on the island. I pull into the parking lot of the other agency. My mom goes in to talk to them. My mom's friend's phone rings while she is in there. The others have found the house, and they know the address: (House Number) Partition B at ## Street and East (Street Name).

Which happens to be on the exact opposite side of the island. So we start driving. We locate ## Street and East Street Name, drive around...can't find House Number.

I turn around and drive over thirty blocks the way we'd just come to find West Street Name. There isn't a ## Street near West Street Name, despite there being streets with the numbers on either side of it. We call the others. No one picks up.

I pull into a random driveway and we wait for them to call. They give us slightly-better directions. "The kids are waiting outside to wave at you."

I drive back to East Street Name and ## Street. There is a bush in the most strategically inconvenient place possible for me to turn left. In order for me to see around said bush, I would literally have to drive off the other side of the road into the grass. So I make the turn blind.

Still can't find the house. My mom asks me if I'd like her to drive. "No," I say, "If I'm going to drive to the beach, I'm going to drive to the stupid beach."

There's a car behind me, so I turn onto the next street so they can go by. We call again. They say they can see us. I look in my rearview mirror, and there they are; not waiting by the road to wave at us, but standing on the porch of a house I didn't even realize was on this street.

I shift into reverse. I stop because a car has just pulled out of the driveway. It is the owner of Partition A, and she stops to laugh at me and welcome us to the house, which apparently no one has rented before.

I finish backing up and pull into the driveway. The house turns out to be way more awesome than I had expected, even if we are several streets back from the beach (yeah, I'm a spoiled suburbanite who hasn't stayed farther away from the ocean than across the street since she was four. Twitter hashtag in the form of a common trending topic: #thingswhitepeoplecomplainabout).

By this point, I am so pissed off that three people ask me if I would like a glass of wine.

Because there was a complimentary bottle waiting in the fridge. **is bitter**

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Right vs. Wrong and The Value Criterion

"You're right, it doesn't really matter. It's best to live life as yourself. If you start to care too much about results, then you see the box that you're kind of in and then you start acting like your box is supposed to act. Then you're not acting like yourself." - my best friend in response to my last post

So I was sitting here procrastinating from figuring out a plot dilemma, and I started thinking about the concept of right and wrong (which sounds odd when I put it like that).

I firmly believe that there are many situations in which I am right, while the people with opposing ideas can also be right. That sounds awfully counter-intuitive (because it is), so I then proceeded to try and justify that belief.

In Lincoln-Douglas debate (one-on-one with a specific format), there is the resolution (the thing being debated), the value premise (the goal), and the value criterion (how progress towards the goal is measured).

Here's the resolution from the 2010-2011 Nationals: "When forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest."

The value premise is "just government." The value criterion, however, changes between the affirmative and negative sides of the resolution. 

If I'm arguing affirmative, my value criterion would be something like "'Just,' as defined by the World English Dictionary, means fair or impartial in action or judgement; therefore, a just government is one that favors no group of people over another for arbitrary reasons such as national boundaries."

If I'm arguing negative, however, my value criterion would be something like "The purpose of a just government is to provide for its citizens a fair, well-functioning society with legal allowance for equal opportunities for all citizens; therefore, a just government is one that acts with its national interest in mind." (Bear in mind this is my first time writing value criterions-- the purpose here isn't to actually have a solid argument.)

So with one set of values, universal human rights should have the priority, and with the other set of values, the primary drive should be national interest. The affirmative is correct according to the things valued by the affirmative, and the negative is correct according to the things valued by the negative. They're both right, despite having opposing opinions regarding how to reach the goal of "just government."

The debate, then, falls to well-argued points concerning values rather than methods by which to attain the goal. It's not "same-sex marriage should be legal" vs, "same-sex marriage should not be legal." It's "we value marriage equality" vs. "we believe marriage should only take place between a man and a woman." A small difference, but an important one. In both cases the goal is corruption-free marriage laws; both sides just have differing opinions as to what that means-- based on their values.

That particular example is one in which I think the side opposite mine is dead wrong and nothing they say can change my mind, so perhaps I should not have used it here, but there are plenty of other situations in which I respect the difference in values and am fine with acknowledging the subjective "rightness" of the other person, even if I will gladly debate it with them anyway (acknowledging the validity of an opposing opinion does not mean agreeing with it, after all).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


“There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely-or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.” - Oscar Wilde

Having spent most of the day writing and then a little bit more time on Khan Academy (my dad wants me to work on it just so I can have the calculus unlocked when I need it and I can still do most of it in my head), I thought I'd do a post about left brainedness vs. right brainedness (yes, that's a word).

My main passion is writing, as you well know, and most of the rest of my time is spent with other right-brainy things, but I've also been known to read books on physics (specifically higher dimensional theory) in my free time and while I generally hate doing math, I like learning about it. While I act like a right-brained person, I've been told both by people and "what should your career be based on your personality" tests that I think like a left-brained person.

I took a quiz right before writing this (a quiz with more than just "yes" and "no" as answers) and scored 47% left brain and 53% right brain. Just like I thought: I'm straight down the middle. Each hemisphere is broken down into different characteristics, with my scores being pretty straight down the middle there too other than "nonverbal" (very low) and "concrete" (very high). According to the analysis, this means I'm good with words and always need/want to know why something is the way it is, or works/doesn't work, but can go both ways with pretty much everything else.

This is exactly what I expected. Personally, I'm happy to be right in the center, even if it means I can be terribly indecisive and paradoxical at times (which I definitely can). I don't think it's necessarily good or bad to be strongly one way or the other, and it would at this point be arrogant to say anything about the benefits of being in the middle. Although it probably means us middle people over-analyze too much (see: the entire archives of this blog).

An example of my contrariness: I took this test in order to analyze myself and then draw conclusions about related topics, but now that I have done so, I'd rather just go with the flow. To be myself and not worry about which box I fit in, as much as I like sorting things with accurate, useful classification systems.

It's a perpetual problem, and the more I think about it, the more examples within my life I can find. But then I don't want to think about it. **flings arms out dramatically** Oh, woe is me!

If you are one of those who likes this sort of thing, please take the quiz and leave your results in the comments if you are so inclined.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Khan Academy

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

While I was eating dinner today, I was also reading a few articles in the most recent issue of Wired magazine. One of these introduced me to Khan Academy and how it's set-up is changing the teaching of math in some schools.

It piqued my interest, and I ended up spending two hours doing simple math as something for my eyes and hands to do while catching up on Pop Culture Happy Hour (my usual distractions being Minesweeper and chores).

While I probably won't ever use the site for learning, since most of it's stuff I already know and the rest I either don't care about or will be doing before the end of high school, I have tested it out for the sake of review and have determined that I approve of the program and wish my elementary school had used it while I was there. I will be recommending it to my mother (who is now the lead secretary rather than working in the library), and hopefully she will suggest it to the relevant people.

Khan Academy is a collection of over 2000 videos covering many topics, most of them math/science related, plus problem sets regarding the math. The teacher has flip-flopped standard technique and had her students watching the videos at home, and then doing the problem sets in class the next day, where she could observe their progress through the site's "Coach" feature and help when/where needed. It has been featured in TED talks, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given millions of dollars to Khan, who started out as just a nerd recording math videos in his closet.

The "Practice" area of the site consists of a flow chart of various math topics, some of which must be completed before moving on to others. 10 correct answers in a row unlock new topics, but an infinite amount of time can be spent on any given one. 

This allows a student to move at his or her own pace, meaning that some kids in the 5th grade class were about where most of their non-Khan peers are, and a few were doing calculus. Progress is measured both by the flow chart, "Energy points" (earned in varying amounts for doing pretty much anything- I have over 150,000), and by badges awarded for different things.

Meterorite badges are the easiest to get (I have about 40), then Moon badges (30), then Earth (3), Sun (0), Black Hole (0, and the site won't even tell you how to get them), and Challenge (1).

I am now a proud "Arithmetic Master," and have discovered that I still hate multiplying decimals, long division, mean/median/mode, and fractions just as much as I did when learning them originally.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Open At The Close, Part 5: The Remains

"Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Honestly, going to see the final Harry Potter movie was not the intense emotional experience I expected and hoped it would be. It was enjoyable, yes, and I did cry a little (The Prince's Tale), but it didn't live up to the expectations set by the tweets of everyone who saw the advanced showing at Leaky Con. And that's fine, really. It's a movie, and it's a movie based off of one of the most emotionally-affecting books I've ever read.

McGonagall, however, was completely awesome.

I don't really feel any different, short of the fact that there isn't anything left to look forward to with unrivaled anticipation. That makes me sad, of course, but I don't feel as if I've lost anything.

Here's a quote from an article I read on NPR yesterday: ‎"If those kids keep buying all things Potter — books, movies, and whatever else they come up with — Harry could go from the 'Boy Who Lived' to the 'Boy Who Lived Forever.'" And he will.

I have a cousin who was born the week Deathly Hallows Part 1 hit theaters. I'll be able to experience the wonder of the series over again with him once he's old enough, as well as with my own eventual children, nieces/nephews, and so on. And my generation will keep Harry Potter as a shared memory-- and what's unique to us is the mixture of pain and joy that comes from waiting with bated breath for the next book to be published. No one else will ever be able to have that.

And that's what makes me saddest: not the fact that it's "over," because it's not, but that future generations won't be able to have what we have had. It's been such an enormous, all-affecting part of my life and the lives of many, many others. And I wish everyone could have that opportunity.

Of course, there will be other fantastic books and other fantastic series, and I will read them and love them. But Harry Potter is my first love, my greatest love, and my longest-lasting love (in terms of books, that is), and it will always hold the place of honor on my shelves, and in my life. 

It's hard not to make an ironic or self-mocking comment after a sappy conclusion like that, but I am being completely sincere.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Interesting Statistics

“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I'm going to shamelessly rip off this entire post from butcept at My Two Cents. Hopefully she won't sue me. Somehow I get threatened with lawsuits rather often from writing group people (butcept being one of the two facilitators)-- and I haven't done anything to them.

I write this for two reasons. 1. I think it's interesting. 2. I'm trying not to look at Twitter to see all of the Deathly Hallows reactions. Stupid Twitter.

Anyways, last meeting she did a poll of our religious views. There were only six of us there, but here are the results:

1 atheist
1 apatheist (technically atheist but doesn't really care)
1 apathetic (really doesn't care at all)
3 agnostics (or perhaps not; we maintain that it's impossible to know)

And I'll go ahead and add three people who have come to a lot of meetings despite none of them being there Wednesday night:

1 more atheist
1 non-denominational
1 belonging to a Quaker Meeting that has absolutely no "requirements" regarding theology

And the only thing we have in common by default is a love for writing. Most of us have done some amount of acting (or want to). We all read a lot, of course. Most are musicians of some sort or another. And the average writer (according to a random website I saw, so don't necessarily give it too much credence) apparently has an IQ far higher than the average human. Oh, and one more thing: we're all awesome. ;)

Now, nine people isn't really an accurate survey, but...I don't know. Take what you want from it.

(Note in regard to fairness: there is another member who would come regularly and meets all of the other similarities, except her church's youth group meets on Wednesdays so she skips out on us. And I'm not sure about the rest of the members, so for all I know this is pure coincidence, even if the six of us are the ones who come more often.)

(Another note: And now I'm incredibly angry because it turns out my aunt would have given me a ride home from the movie theater after the midnight showing of Harry Potter because she's always up late anyway, and...I have a pretty freaking awesome aunt. Dangitdangitdangit. Oh well.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I Open At The Close, Part 4: The Conclusion

“Bookaholics are the ones who start to feel uncomfortable and uneasy in another person’s house, and suddenly realize there are no bookshelves or magazines lying around. People who only own a telephone book and their high school yearbooks scare us.” - Robert Lee Hadden

While I'm still involved with the HP fandom, it isn't Life about Harry Potter anymore; it's Harry Potter about Life.

I'm choosing not to see Deathly Hallows Part 2 at midnight in favor of going the following evening with a friend. When I hear "In Which Draco and Harry Secretly Want To Make Out," I don't think of a hilarious slash-fic song; I think about memories. When I cried while finishing my most recent re-read of Deathly Hallows, it was less in reaction to the overwhelming emotion of the last 100 pages themselves and more out of nostalgia for the past decade of my life.

J.K. Rowling's novels taught me just how powerful writing can be. Her early struggles taught me that perseverance pays off, and that bad stuff doesn't last forever. Dumbledore taught me that the world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters, that the most powerful weapon we have is love, and what "gay" actually means.

And now as the final movie is about to come into theaters, I feel as if my childhood is ending. These books and this fandom have been, as you have come to see over the past three days,  such an integral part of my life in so many ways that if Ms. Rowling ever wanted to freeze me in carbonite, I would have to let her. Because there is no way I can ever repay what she has given me. (And come on, how cool would it be to be able to say "yeah, I was a statue of carbonite in JK FREAKING ROWLING'S HOUSE. Take that Han Solo." ?)

When I walk out of that theater tomorrow night, I will be a GROWN WOMAN.

(For those of you who don't know, that's a picture of Umbridge as portrayed A Very Potter Sequel.)

"Part 5: The Remains" probably coming on Saturday rather than tomorrow, as I have to wait until after I've seen the movie to write it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Open At The Close, Part 3: The Effects

"When people say Fruit Loops are just gay Cheerios, I tell them 'I always knew there was a reason I liked Fruit Loops better.'" - Anonymous

The funny thing about the joy associated with finding the community of Nerdfighteria is that I haven't made any close friends online in the two years since then. Sure, NotVeryCharming and I originally bonded over my "Nerdfighterlike" T-shirt (which I happen to be wearing as I type this, funnily enough), but  we had already met. What it really did is make me feel...hope for myself... even if my current situation was still generally miserable (middle school sucked for many reasons I won't go into).

I started writing stories around the same time that I started reading Harry Potter, and since HP was my first, biggest, and longest-lasting love, I wouldn't be surprised if they had something to do with each other. For the sake of the story, let's assume they did.

That July, I joined the teen writing club at my local independent bookstore, which is possibly the decision (or rather, my mom making me go) that has had the most influence on my life...ever. 
I would not have one and a half finished novels sitting on my flash drive.
I would not have received a check in the mail for that thing I still can't tell you guys about and I'm sorry because I honestly thought I'd be able to in March or so. I just got back in contact with the people involved and they don't know either because they're waiting on another component.
I would not be nearly so much of a well-rounded person as I am today.
I would not be writing this now. 
I would still be listening to wizard rock or something from DFTBA rather than having YouTube's Death Cab for Cutie playlist going in the background. (I realize that the vlogbrothers' original intro music was by Death Cab, but that's just an unfortunate coincidence, I promise- my friend recommended them to me.)
I would not have read 90% of the books in that list over to your right.
And of course, I would be bereft of all of the myriad of experiences I've had with the people I met through that club, as well as everything they have introduced me to. But you all know how much one person can change your life, much less many. 

Thank you, all of you, and perhaps it's stretching it to thank Harry Potter for causing all of that, but I really can't separate it anymore and it's nearly midnight as I'm writing this and I'm feeling nostalgic so I don't particularly care.

Ironically enough, all of that means that it was Harry Potter that indirectly dug me out of my fandom-hole, metaphorically shouted "Go live in the world!" and kicked me out the door.

I still dress up in my Hogwarts clothes and wear them to school as often as I can (we have three spirit weeks per year so it's usually pretty easy), and have pretty much mastered the art of contextually incorporating Harry Potter references into my schoolwork, so in some ways not much has changed.

However, a lot has changed since middle school. I now have far more than just one real life friend, a newfound self-confidence*, heaps of meaningful memories (even if I wish I could forget some of them), and...I could go on for paragraphs upon paragraphs, but honestly, I think 3 posts and counting on this subject is pushing it as it is. Bottom line: Harry Potter has affected my life in a huge enough way so that I can't separate it from anything else. It has made me who I am.

Story over, or rather to be continued over the course of the rest of this blog's life. Part 4: The Conclusion, tomorrow.

*Yes, self-confidence. Two or three of you are probably thinking "Hold on...she has self-confidence? What about all of those emails and chat messages crawling with self-doubt?" All I have to say about that is that time was I wouldn't have even told you those things, and that having the courage to live a fuller life gives you more reasons for doubt. Self-confidence gives you the courage to act, or to speak, even if you do feel completely terrified.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Open At The Close, Part 2: The Fandom

"The fabric of existence weaves itself whole." - Charles Ives

Sometime during 7th grade (that would be 2007-2008), my dad had recently bought himself an iPod and discovered the wonder that is the podcast. He suggested I find some of my own to listen to regarding my interests, and suggested I look up Harry Potter. This lead me to Pottercast, which I ended up listening to for three years. Pottercast, in turn, lead me to The Leaky Cauldron and wizard rock. 

I had always known Harry Potter was popular, but realizing that there was an entire fandom of people who loved it just as much as I did was mind-blowing. The sheer shock of "there are people who write music about this and sing it at concerts" was enough to make me fall in love with the concept without regard to the actual quality of said music. (I guess it shows how much I've grown that I just skipped Sunday's concert without a second thought in favor of my sister's birthday party.)

Picture from last night's ConTour show

My first live concert was Tuesday, February 24, 2009 with The Blibbering Humdingers, Tonks and the Aurors, The Whomping Willows, and JFF. It was also my first (and second to last, as the store closed less than a week later) time at Camelot Treasures. I remember the evening ridiculously well. I mean, a song in which "Pottercast, Potter-Pottercast" is part of the chorus?

I wrote my first wrock song at my second live concert: February 28, 2009 at the same store, closing night. It wasn't so much of a concert as "circle of people holding instruments with a bunch of chocolate muffins in the middle," and most of the music was Ren-Faire type stuff rather than wizard rock. I believe I started teaching myself guitar the next day.

My most recent concert was last night, and it shows how much the community is changing that the majority of the music wasn't wizard rock. However, that's okay because it means all of us "wizard rock girls (who) are the prettiest girls in the whole wide world" got to enjoy the super-talented and attractive piano rocker Mike Lombardo (and yes, I took this picture solely to put on here just so I could use that caption).

While the episode of Pottercast featuring John and Hank Green aired on February 4th (yes, I just looked it up- God, even I'm not that obsessed), I didn't re-check out their videos and subscribe until June. While there are many, many Harry Potter fans who are not nerdfighters, the vast majority of nerdfighters are Harry Potter fans, so I include this as part of my Harry Potter experience-- especially since "Accio Deathly Hallows" is what kicked them into the YouTube mainstream in the first place.

That's what started my general online presence, although I only made a blog because I met rock4ever95 and thiefofwords in November and they had them and I thought they both seemed really cool and interesting. (Shut up, rock4ever95. Don't even start.)

I never really listened to any music at all before finding wrock, so it soon came to occupy pretty much my entire iTunes library other than a few podcasts. Yes, this is a bit sad. No, I don't regret it; I was happy. There was this whole community of people who were just like me. I, like many other budding nerdfighters, felt truly accepted for the first time by the majority rather than by only a few close friends (read: one close friend who had other friends I never really developed a relationship with despite liking them).

Part 3: The Effects coming tomorrow.

P.S. Aly, I met someone else at that show who recognized me from YouTube/here. What are the odds that there are TWO of you living close enough to randomly run into me at events? I am thoroughly shocked.