Are You Published Yet?

This is an ode to all of my fellow novelists out there who get to answer this question almost daily, as well as to the people who ask this question.

“Writing a novel is difficult” is the understatement of the year. Each genre has a different word count range. Young Adult (YA) runs from 55,000 – 70,000 words. For adult novels, between 80,000 and 90,000 is a good range. For science fiction/fantasy, over 100,000 words is the norm. (Disclaimer: These are all typical ranges – there are always exceptions.)

OVER 100,000 WORDS?! That sounds like a lot and it is (though a few of J.K. Rowling’s novels passed 200,000 words). No one except novelists knows what word count actually means though, so the second question people will ask me after “How long is it?” is “How many pages is that?” 100,000 words translate (very roughly) into about 400 pages – double-spaced Times New Roman 12-point font with default Word margins (Yes, I write in Word. Take that George R R Martin.)

So you’ve written the novel. Now it’s magically published right? Some agent fairy has come to your residence and swept your novel right off its metaphorical feet and sold it to the highest bidder, netting you a “major” deal (aka over $500,000) for a multi-book deal that will pay for your kid’s astronomical college tuition in thirty years? HAHAHA. I wish.

No, instead you give your novel to your most loyal writer friends –the people who will cross out every overwritten phrase, write “Huh?” in the margins, and cause you to seriously question at least one major plot point in every section of your book. They are the people who will tell you the good, the bad, and especially the ugly, because they write too and they know how soul crushing it can be to get terrible feedback – “terrible” as in completely useless and/or unnecessarily critical. It’s one thing to read something and another thing to write, so no, just because you’ve read every classic novel on Rory Gilmore’s literature list doesn’t mean that you will give good feedback. Sorry. (There are reasons for this, which I’ll explain in a future blog post).

I listed a few examples of what I do in the editing process, but there are many more. One of the most “doh” moments in my editing was realizing that in novels you are supposed to say “character said,” not “said character.” (You’ve never thought about that before, have you?) That took me a full day to fix, even with Word’s fancy “Find and Replace” tool. Being a first time novelist is definitely its own unique adventure, since there are many mistakes you’ll likely make just because you’ve never written a novel before.

The types of mistakes vary depending on the writer, but one of the most common one is overwriting. That is when you write extremely very strong adjectives all terribly close together because you really truly want to emphasize how incredibly awesome/horrible/whatever something is. Maybe you’ll write three sentences in a row that basically say the same thing. Readers know overwriting when they inevitably scream into the vast abyss “Alright, alright I GET IT already!”

Or maybe you’ll underwrite something. You’ll jump from point A to point F and leave your readers wondering, “Wait, what happened to B…?” Something that makes sense in your head at the time of writing it doesn’t necessarily make sense when the whole world reads it later.

Or how about inconsistent characterization? You’ll have one of your characters mention information in dialogue that makes the reader question who your character really is. Your critique buddy will ask, “How would they know that?” or worse, “When I read that I stopped in my tracks.” Along with using characters to provide your reader with important information comes the excruciating information dump. This is when you have a lot of info to give your readers, but you do it all at once instead of finding a way to spread it out. If you keep one of these black holes in your novel, you’ll be lucky if you have a single reader willing to read your second novel.

Writing a novel is a balancing act. To make good writing, you have to find a perfect balance between overwriting and underwriting, providing the right information at the right time in the right amount of chunk, balancing between dialogue and action, between quiet scenes and busy scenes. Good writing is like good music – it has a rhythm that pulls you in and leaves you wanting more long after the final note has faded.

A novel is not a song though. It’s a movement and a series is like a symphony. An estimated 350,000 books are published every year. This means that editors simply don’t have the time to take something with potential and make it into something incredible; your book already has to be at most one hair length away from perfection, and that includes not just whether you successfully balanced all of the aforementioned, but that all of the words are spelled correctly and all of the commas are in their rightful places. A first novel is like a first impression – write a bad novel and the reader will never pick up your writing again. But write a great novel and you’ll have a loyal fan who will tell all of their friends, “You gotta read this book!”

So no, I haven’t published my novel yet. But when I do, you’ll be the first to know :)

Comments are wonderful and always appreciated!

Writers write

When I tell people I wrote a novel, the most common responses I receive fall into two categories: 1) I could never do that and 2) I’ve wanted to do that (but haven’t).

When I hear that someone has always wanted to write, but hasn’t, my first thought is “Well, what is stopping you?” Some people like the idea of writing but not the practice of it. These people are focused on the ends rather than the means, and either don’t realize how much work writing is, or realize it so much it prevents them from ever writing a word.

Those are the perfectionists, and a lot of writers are perfectionists—I was one. Perfectionists make great editors, but lousy creative writers.

Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) calls this the “Censor.” The Censor is the voice that tells you what you just wrote was complete crap. The Censor wants you focused on the passive voice you just used…or the punctuation you totally skipped over in the last sentence… or how you have no idea yet how to end your novel…so you don’t know if this idea you just thought of is relevant, RATHER than focused on getting the idea out on paper RIGHT NOW.

Writing does not happen magically. It is not easy. But it is not impossible. If you really want to write, you have to put away the excuses (“I’m not good enough,” “I don’t have a good enough idea,” “I don’t have enough time”) and JUST WRITE.

Try writing every day for a couple of weeks. Do this: when you wake up, write three handwritten pages. Three pages about ANYTHING. Whatever is on your mind, write down on the page. Julia Cameron calls them the Morning Pages, and they are a quick way to find out if you enjoy writing or not.

So if you want to be a writer, go write. The rest of us are just winging it anyway.

Hair: Men, women, it’s all gross.

This post might seem random at first, but the more I write about my musings, the more coherent this blog will seem (I think? IT’S A PERSONAL WEBSITE I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT). Also, I miss writing a snarky dating column for The Hoya. This will have to do.

I once went on a date with a guy that dry heaved at the sight of a woman’s hairy legs.

It sort of made me question why somebody would literally feel sick to their stomach because of hair. Why is our society obsessed with hairlessness? How did this happen?

Why is it that head hair can be awesome and beautiful, but the moment it falls off your head it is really gross? Why do I feel like I’m “throwing away” hairs when I pick them from my shirt and send them flying out my car window, and why is it so satisfying? Why is it that when I pull a wad of discarded hair from the drain that I want to ralph? Even the image of it in my head right now…Gross.

Sometimes I think about how in 1850, women didn’t have to shave anything. Babies were somehow made during the pre-shaving and pre-deodorant era, so it couldn’t have been too gross. Maybe they didn’t know otherwise? Then for some reason—maybe because of women going sleeveless in movies or prostitutes shaving to demonstrate they did not have body lice—all women had to shave their armpits. Maybe that’s how it started, but I don’t understand why it persists. If you suggest that it’s cleaner, then why don’t men shave their armpits? For that matter, why is chest hair okay (sometimes) but back hair is almost always gross? Also why are mole hairs the grossest thing to happen ever? (Moley, moley, moley)

And then Nylons happened, and leg hair sticking out of hosiery is apparently not aesthetically pleasing. So women shaved then. Whenever a guy would touch my freshly-shaven legs and express his appreciation, I always felt good. Why? I feel “clean” for having shaved. Is that all advertising’s work? I’m thinking of those men’s Gillette commercials where he rubs his face, then his hot wife rubs his face, and the announcer purrs “smooth” and “clean” into our subconscious.

Then Internet porn was invented and shaving got even more out of control. Now people have preferences for what they want, and it’s not like you can measure your maintenance compatibility in a casual get-to-know-you conversation. People are adaptable for the most part, but I think there are a few extremists who make the issue something way bigger than it ever needed to be for the rest of us.

There is also the trend right now for gorgeous actors in Hollywood (i.e. Chris Pine at Golden Globes, 2014) to grow thick inch-long man hairs on their chiseled faces. Imagine if actresses did the same thing to their legs? (C’mon The Onion, that article is just begging to write itself.)

So I wonder, why is hair so gross in our culture? And not just women hair. The documentary Mansome by Morgan Spurlock covers the growing industry for male beauty products and hairlessness. Pro wrestlers have to shave everything off, maybe for looks, or maybe so their opponent doesn’t grab a fistful? Their chests look like hairless babies, which is exactly what my legs look like after a shower with Venus. (Strangely enough, a five bladed razor is a lot less scary to me than a two bladed one.) Why is the hairless baby look deemed attractive?

Why are the Duck Dynasty beards so gross to me? Do you know there are beard-growing contests through the nation? Wherever these guys go, their beards get pulled by strangers (kind of like how people always rub pregnant women’s bellies). The beards are judged for quality. But seriously, who wants to kiss that? I bet it’s like a bib for whatever doesn’t stay in their mouth. Like Gimli, in Lord of the Rings, when he chugs too much ale in one of the deleted scenes (I’M A NERD). It’s so gross and it makes me wonder how much he thoroughly cleans it (probably not at all because he’s too busy running around and making short people quips). Gross.

If this article raised more questions for you then it did provide answers, I’m sorry for dumping all of that on you. I just hoped that you wouldn’t go through life not noticing modern society’s penchant for spending ten more minutes in the shower doing something annoying when you could just stand there and enjoy the hot water run over your scalp. If guys wanted to stop shaving their faces, which I hear is really annoying, I would gladly give up my shaving duties. (Crickets, while no man agrees to trade tit for tat, even the gay ones.) But then, I might ralph at the sight of my own armpits. It’s hard to know because I’ve been completely brainwashed to fear the hair that comes out of my own body.

Whoa, that got serious fast. It’s just hair, after all.

Next upcoming book that will never get published: The Politics of Hair: Haters gonna hate.

Please comment. I wrote this during a coffee-induced insomnia episode and I can’t tell if it’s interesting or not. 

Point of View: How to

Point of view, POV, is one of those things that you might not even think about until you sit down to write. Then it’s, “Do I begin the story with ‘I’ or ‘She/he’?”  The reason why POV is so important is because it is an element that will define your story; what you reveal and how you reveal it. It is something that must remain consistent or you will have trouble publishing. Here are some explanations and examples to help you figure out which POV you should choose:

Third person omniscient: This POV is most commonly used in literature (think Jane Austen, Charles Dickens…) and gives the writer the most control in terms of revealing multiple characters’ thoughts and what actions are going on outside of one character. You can even vary the depth of what you reveal; how far you go inside the mind of a character. This POV can also be subjective, as the narrator can align with some characters over others because of how they describe characters and events.

“He himself was a very old man with shaggy white hair which grew over most of his face as well as on his head, and they liked him almost at once. But on the first evening when he came to meet them at the front door he was so odd-looking that Lucy (who was the youngest) was a little afraid of him, and Edmund (who was the next youngest) wanted to laugh and had to keep on pretending he was blowing his nose to hide it.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

This example gives you insight into what both Lucy and Edmund feel. With third person omniscient, the narrator can choose what to reveal, and he chooses to show us what Lucy and Edmund are thinking, but not what is going on inside the old man’s head. However, at some later point, the narrator can choose to reveal what the old man is thinking. This is up to the narrator to choose how much to reveal and how little, which is helpful for a writer who wants options.

Is it worth noting, however, that just because this is the most common POV in literature does not mean that your story has to be that POV to ever be successful. Different POVs offer different advantages and there are countless examples of successful stories that don’t use this POV. 

Third person objective: This is not as common, though it’s worth noting. In this POV, the narrator observes the action without subjectivity. People like to compare this POV to a camera, but even cameras can film things subjectively by how the characters are situated in the frame. The most well-known example of third person objective is Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”

‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.
‘Let’s drink beer.’
‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.
‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.
‘Yes. Two big ones.’
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills.
They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

“Hills Like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway

Unlike the example from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which describes the characters in a way that makes you like them, this example from Hemingway is objective, with no sympathies attached to any character. The description is matter-of-fact, but compelling. The reader may decide which character to prefer, but there are no adjectives to convince them one way or the other, only action. Because of this, this POV can be challenging for writers, but when done well, is engaging.

Third person limited: This POV uses third person to reveal one character’s POV. Some people describe this POV as the same as first person, except replace “I” with “He/She.” However, I believe this POV is a bit more freeing than first person. While you can travel very far inside the character’s head, you are not limited to seeing and describing everything like that character would.  You can also switch to other characters if necessary. I’ve been told you can change between characters once per chapter, which I ended up doing with two of my beginning chapters.

“He accused me of being Dumbledore’s man through and through.”
“How very rude of him.”
“I told him I was.”
Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. Fawkes the phoenix let out a low, soft, musical cry. To Harry’s intense embarrassment, he suddenly realized that Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes looked rather watery, and stared hastily at his own knee. When Dumbledore spoke, however, his voice was quite steady.
“I am very touched, Harry.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling

This example demonstrates the elements of third person limited: we can see and hear Dumbledore, we can see and hear Fawkes; but, we cannot know what they are thinking directly. We can only guess their thoughts and feelings by their words and actions. Harry, on the other hand, feels “intense embarrassment.” Throughout her books, J.K Rowling cleverly shows us scenes where Harry is not physically present by having him mentally connected with Voldemort, which allows us to see through Harry’s eyes what Voldemort is planning, and the pensieve device, which allows us to see memories from other characters that occurred before Harry’s birth. Some books switch between characters every chapter or every few, which can be a great way to get inside different characters’ heads; yet, on the other hand, switching constantly can make it hard for the reader to really settle into the narrative. You, the writer, must find a way to strike an effective balance.

Second person: This is the rarest type of POV, though it can be effective in the right circumstances. The narrator addresses the subject as “You,” as if writing a letter, though the “You” does not have to be specific to one person; it can be general.

“First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/ missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age – say, 14. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at 15 you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire.”

“How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?” by Lorrie Moore

This example sheds some light on what contexts second person is useful. The writing is engaging, humorous, and immediate. The use of second person allows us to place ourselves as protagonists of the story, which makes it easy for our imaginations to experience a narrative as someone other than ourselves. However, I imagine this POV is quite challenging to write in novel form and probably won’t work for most stories, such as the “Hero” story, though now that I’ve said that, someone should prove me wrong. Though second person novels are rare, it has been done (Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney).

First person: This POV is easy to grasp for most people. It is told from one character’s perspective and uses “I” and “me.”

“The count of three,” he says. We stand, our backs pressed together, our empty hands locked tight. “Hold them out. I want everyone to see,” he says. I spread out my fingers, and the dark berries glisten in the sun. I give Peeta’s hand one last squeeze as a signal, as a good-bye, and we begin counting. “One.” Maybe I’m wrong. “Two.” Maybe they don’t care if we both die. “Three!” It’s too late to change my mind.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

In this example, we are in Katniss’s head and see everything as she does, and we also get her inner thoughts in direct, short phrases (without needing italics!). The advantage of first person POV (vs. third person limited) is that you have more opportunities for characterization of your protagonist–through the adjectives your character uses to describe the world around him or her. In addition, though arguably, the reader is even more inside your character’s mind than with third person limited. However, choose your narrating character wisely, because switching between characters in first person can make the story lose its momentum. Novels have done this before, but I will say without hesitation that switching characters in third person limited is much easier.

My take: The reality is, you won’t know for sure which POV you should use until you start writing. When I started my novel, I thought I wanted to write in third person omniscient because all the classics are, right? I thought it would give me the most control. But after a few chapters, it was very apparent that I wanted to write from inside Locke’s head. It took me a few more chapters to realize that my POV was third person limited, but fixing those beginning mistakes was not too hard. Of course, even after I knew which POV I wanted, I still had hiccups. For third person limited or first person, you can only write what your character would know or notice, and especially in the beginning, I might have had a sentence where my character’s back was turned, yet I had described the action of another character. Making those mistakes is really common for a new writer, so cut yourself some slack when you edit later.

POV, like it or not, is very important to editors. As much as us creatives would like to jump in and out of character’s heads as much as we please, and even if the reader doesn’t notice it, the editors do. And perhaps the reader would notice that something in your writing felt wrong or frustrated them, but they might not be able to pinpoint exactly what. In reality, adhering to one POV will make your writing much stronger, more consistent, and will help it flow better.

There are exceptions of course. There is the switching once per chapter rule that I mentioned with third person limited, something that I took advantage of with two of my beginning chapters (but only two). If you think about the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the POV is all over the place, which might explain why it took J.K. Rowling ten years to get published. It goes to show that rules can be broken, even as a new writer, as long as you are willing to fight for your creative choices and wait for someone to take a chance on your work.

I hope this post was helpful :) Let me know what you think by scrolling up to the title of this article, clicking on “Leave a Comment” next to my name, and filling out the “Speak Your Mind” box below the article. 

 

Writing a Novel

My website is taking a new direction as both my blog and I transition from college and study abroad adventures to my professional writing career. On the technical side, I switched servers to my brother’s, so let me know if you experience any issues while visiting my website. I respond to all comments on posts and messages through the Contact Me form.

Now that disclaimer is out of the way, I’d like to pick up where I last left off. Since graduating from Georgetown, I have moved back in with my parents. Now, that might sound like the beginning of yet another narcissistic woe-is-me millennial pity fest blog post, but for me, living at home has been the best decision for me, mentally and professionally. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to spend some time reevaluating my goals. I was an overachiever for enough years to affect my health, but I’ve seen the experience as a blessing in disguise. I have rediscovered what sleep, diet, and reflection can do for one’s health. Not to mention that I finally had the time to engage with what I really want to do, which is write.

I finished writing my first novel, which I’ve planned as the first of many, both in that series and in my lifetime. One of the exciting things about writing a science fiction novel is how inventive it can be; how much creativity goes into each idea. It’s also one of the scary and overwhelming parts of writing science fiction. As a writer of science fiction, I not only have to come up with authentic characters, a believable story, an engaging plot, or any of the elements that (almost) all novels share, but I have to know the political, social, and cultural forces at work in our world, so I can attempt an accurate portrayal of another universe in which those Human interaction elements are at work. (Yes I capitalize “Human,” just like I do in my novels).

(Note: I say science fiction, but my writing has many fantastical elements. I am not equating the two genres, but my writing does inhabit both spaces.)

I have to fully flesh out my worlds, which takes a great deal of scientific research, as well as keeping a list of details (such as what color makes the Roarks’ national flag, or the motions of centrifugal force) in my notebooks and in my mind. I have to act as a historian, because history is often doomed to repeat itself, and really, what better source material is there to pull from? My reader will find similarities between 1940s China and what happens on the Outer Planets of my galaxy. As a science fiction writer, I must have a basic understanding of political science and economics (or “Psychohistory” as Asimov posited economics could become), so I can portray civilizations and their operations on a galactic scale. I have to be an artist, or someone who can visualize this new world  that I am creating, and then use my prose to describe this world in a way that immerses the reader. I must have a working knowledge of science fiction that precedes and supersedes my work, so I can jump off ideas and take them to new heights, without repeating them wholesale. As a writer, I must have an understanding of what I crave in a novel, and then hope to my higher power that a lot of other people will crave those things too.

I have to hold all of this knowledge inside my head and then, most importantly, let go. Let go of my fear and just create. Trust my instincts and write until it feels right, then write some more.

What I’ve found (is incredibly obvious, yes, but stick with me for a minute) is that writing a novel is A LOT of work. Of course like any aspiring writer, I just wanted to be DONE. I wrote the first chapter and wanted to fast forward to the end, when I’ve published and sold copies to complete strangers and I’m actually living off of my art. (But then I think of the Adam Sandler movie “Click” and realize that would probably mean five years of my thrilling 20s that I’d lose.) I’m sure almost every writer has had this thought, and I think it’s the reason why so many people who want to write, don’t. Writing takes patience. It also takes the ability to let go of perfection. So many people want to create the perfect product without experiencing any of the sweat, tears, headaches, cramped hands, and stiff back muscles that accompany it. They hold onto this illogical idea (perhaps even subconsciously) that writing must come easy and fast if you ever want to make a living at it. They never give themselves the chance.

All of that is complete crap.

Most of writing is the struggle to transform ideas into the flesh of words. The results of which are the sleepless nights, the car rides, the long showers, the moments where strangers catch me talking to myself about an idea. It’s those lazy afternoons in my chair by the sunny window, staring at the page, flipping through articles, then staring at the page until my brain screams for a break. When I can’t write, I have to journal, so I can get my thoughts out, and then rummage through them, organize, and throw out the expired stuff.

Sometimes I think, “Dang, this takes forever. Where’s the income?” But I know, deep in my bones, that I will become an author. Every since I was little, when I copied the styles of books I read to create a “new” book, which was really a ripoff of the one I just read. (Pretty sure there’s a Chapter One ripoff of a Stephanie Plum novel I wrote when I was eight.) I believe all of my experiences have shaped me as a writer, and continue to shape me. I work hard at remaining open to altering my beliefs and schema if I encounter contrary evidence. I think the ability to do so is important not only as a writer, but as a Human, to be continually evolving, continually looking to prove your dearly held ideas wrong.

I know how fortunate I am. As I write this blog post, my brother sits at the kitchen table, his body physically shuddering from the lack of sleep that his minimum wage, physically-exhausting job steals from him. His job is not enough to pay rent and the pay raise that he needs is years away. We were born into the same family, but I was given social skills, and thus opportunities, that he was not. I know, exactly, how fortunate I am.

 

 

Four Years

Here is the short film I made in February of 2013. I wrote the story, workshopped it in my film class, edited the script, carried the equipment, filmed in four different locations over the course of two days, edited the rough cut and this final cut. It is my first short film that I wrote, directed, produced, cast, and acted in, so I’m pretty proud of the final product. In April, I submitted the film to the GUTV Student Film Festival and won Best Actress for our star, Phoebe Lett.

Check out the video here

The last week of college

A few people have asked me what it’s like as a graduating college senior on the cusp of change. Part of me wants to take this post in the direction of reflection–where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced and how I’ve grown. But so much of my mind is focused on the future–both immediate and distant. I am preoccupied with finishing my history paper, with editing my final short film, with Georgetown Day and senior week and leaving everyone who has made my four years of Georgetown a community. Leaving everything behind and starting over, yet again.

My transition has an interlude–I will spend time in Iowa gaining funds and work experience. This interlude provides its fair share of opportunities -I have written and workshopped in class the first chapter of what I hope to make a series of novels. I also have a camera, a youtube channel, some creative friends, and a film professor that has explicitly told me to “Keep filming.” While every senior around me is stressed out about finding a job or an apartment, I am casually and most contently experiencing my last moments of college. Occasionally, end-of-the-year coursework threatens to get in the way of that, but as I walk through the campus I look around and appreciate how little time I have left here. How fast time flies.

I found my dream last summer, or rather I started listening to it. I want to go make stories in Hollywood. I have heard how difficult and disheartening the path can be at every point in its twists and bends in finding success in a very competitive and talent-rich environment. The ego is constantly battered. You assume knowledge of nothing, but you offer your opinion at the exact right moment to gain an edge. It’s about knowing people, but knowing the right people. It’s about being hungry and humble, every day, showing up with enthusiasm and competence.

Luckily, through Georgetown’s Entertainment and Media Alliance (GEMA) externship program, I have met a number of friendly faces in Hollywood, spanning a breadth of career choices. Once you have an in, you must impress everyone you work with. If that happens, the work will keep coming. I find it amazing how many different career paths there are in such a seemingly focused industry. It really attracts all types. I also have a few friendly faces in the Los Angeles area that are willing to help me along as I figure out that whole earning enough money to eat/finding an apartment/living in a completely new city thing. For some reason, everyone seems to intuitively understand the importance of networking and helping others.

Following a dream that seems as impossible to achieve as “making” it in Hollywood is something that requires a lot of perseverance, with a good dash of luck. Most potential artists don’t even believe they have the stuff or talent worth paying to see. All I have is the confidence that I’ve slowly built up over the years, due to a variety of experiences in being “out of my element,” and my empathy. I think empathy is key to good storytelling, acting, living. I can only dream of what Meryl Streep is like in real life, but I imagine that she has a lot of empathy–it’s one of those things that makes her seem to glow on screen.

Once in a while, you get a hint or nudge that what you are doing is correct. One of these was an article that my friend Maya shared with me: http://yaledailynews.com/weekend/2011/09/30/even-artichokes-have-doubts/. This beautifully eloquent writer tragically passed away young, but her words still exist in the ether space of the Internet.

“Maybe I’m ignorant and idealistic but I just feel like that can’t possibly be true. I feel like we know that. I feel like we can do something really cool to this world. And I fear — at 23, 24, 25 — we might forget.” …I have to believe, as my dad has told me, that money will follow passion. I have to know that is not a mistake to choose a future that is difficult and winding and insecure. There are already too many people in this world that have to do passionless work. I know how privileged I am to have the faculties and opportunities to follow my passion. I just wish there were more people who did the same.

And it’s so refreshing to have confirmed that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

 

Second Semester Senior

Wow. This is my last semester of college. Starting in June, I will have no more schooling, at least in the foreseeable future, and I will be living in Los Angeles. I’m not entirely sure where I will be working, what I will be doing, and in what sort of place I will be living, but that is part of the adventure and mystery that comprises the life of a second semester senior.

I know that I want to work in the film industry. Directing, writing, producing, or probably some combination of all three. I didn’t realize I wanted to go into film until this past summer, when the epiphany sort of jumped out at me like an estranged friend from behind a couch at a surprise birthday party. “Oh hey there, I’ve been meaning to call you.” I realize that’s probably not the best analogy, but it describes how the epiphany made me feel:  like I should have been in touch with my film interest all along. Like I should have taken those film and acting classes like I always meant to in high school, but somehow decided that AP Chemistry was a better use of my time (It wasn’t.)

Well, as a second semester senior, I’m finally doing the things in which I harbor passion.

I’m taking a film class where we don’t just hash theory (that was last semester’s film class), but we actually go out and make films. We write our scripts, we workshop them with each other in class, we go out and track down actors, we set the production schedule, we set the camera/lighting/etc, we do multiple takes, we edit, edit, edit, and then finally have a presentable product to abandon. (For every piece of art is never finished but abandoned).

I have taken several films classes at Georgetown and two at the Beijing Center, but this is only the second one I’ve taken that makes the class go out and return with individually-produced products. And this is the first class that has required me to produce a script. Oh the troubles of a student at a non-film quasi-Ivy league university.

I am also taking a fiction writing class that requires a short story for every class. I am taking an acting class to broaden my knowledge of acting and gain an appreciation for that art. I am taking a European history course and a Victorian Literature class focused on globalization. The last two are requirements, but I am gaining a useful perspective on how our modern society was formed.

People are surprised when I say film. People are in awe when I say I spent nine months in China and that I am some sort of fluent in Chinese (fluency is unattainable in Chinese). However, I hold the belief that all of my life experiences will enrich my art and supply me with a perspective on our society that is unique among many other artists my age.

Besides classes, I am the chair of an interchapter conference for my co-ed fraternity that takes place on March 23. I am busy planning for that, inviting speakers, and confirming the event details for that day. I am excited to meet many other Alpha Phi Omega brothers on the surrounding campuses and to host some informative workshops.

I am also on the seventh week of Julia Cameron’s 12 week creative recovery process titled, “The Artist’s Way.” This process requires writing three pages of thoughts every morning, along with a few hours to myself every week, which she calls the Artist’s Date. I am using this process to get into the habit of writing out my concerns, to connecting with my creative consciousness, and encouraging myself to make art in spite of life’s demands, others’ criticism, or an addiction to perfectionism. This process has been fantastic so far and helpful to gaining greater peace and happiness.

The last event I have yet to mention, and that I am incredibly excited for, is my spring break externship trip through Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance (GEMA) to Los Angeles. I am learning more details on that this week, but the gist of the program is that I have the opportunity to meet with several executives within the entertainment and media industries of Los Angeles and learn more about those fields. Expect updates on that soon!

Please consider commenting on my blog post. I would love to hear from you. 

Senior Year Fall Semester

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted, mainly because I wasn’t sure which direction I should take this website after I had spent the past year using it as a platform for study abroad  updates.

But then I remembered that writing requires practice, websites need posts, and there are may be a few people who are still interested in what I’m up to.

It’s to you that I write, so here goes…

I spent the summer in three very different places: China, Iowa, and Washington DC. In May I finished up my year abroad in Beijing, traveled to some amazing places in China with my parents, showed off my Chinese skills to our cab drivers, and said goodbye to China. In June I spent the month at home in Iowa, meeting up with friends, family, and spending a lot of (but never enough) time with my cats.

In July, I returned to DC after an 11 month hiatus and began a six week internship with Senator Charles Grassley. The experience was an extremely interesting one to have after having studied Chinese politics in Beijing. Living in both capital cities of (arguably) the two most super of the superpowers in the world, I couldn’t help but compare…a lot.

This begs an example, I know. Working for my Senator, I was impressed by how much information a regular public citizen could access. In China, much of politics is opaque and requires educated guesswork. In the U.S., politics is much more openly laid out and discussed. Anyone can attend a public hearing, watch the Senate and House give speeches, and tour the Capitol and surrounding buildings. C-SPAN is probably the greatest invention in terms of political transparency.

At the same time, I noticed a few lapses in transparency. While there are public hearings, there are a few closed ones as well. Supposedly the public cannot be trusted with the sensitive information, but I think it’s a conversation from which the public has been personally shut out.

The largest failure for transparency, in my opinion, is that two research databases, Congressional Research Services (CRS) and Legislative Information Services (LIS) are only available to computers with a Capitol Hill address. CRS provides thousands of reports on agencies, programs, issues, etc etc that would be a virtual goldmine for debate students seeking a legitimate, unbiased source. LIS provides statuses on every bill dating back several decades. Why this information is not public is unclear (perhaps because the public does not know about it) but its absence from American discourse is a failure of the U.S. government. If we want educated voters, why are we not providing them with this high-quality information?

It was an interesting summer that has blended into an interesting fall semester. Three of my classes are listed as English courses, two of those plus a philosophy class include the study of film, and one class is on Chinese women writers. I am very interested in all of my classes which is a very positive thing to have senior year. Meanwhile I’m still figuring out all of the commitments I have this semester, perhaps my next blog post? Stay tuned…

If you read this, please consider commenting. I love to receive feedback (positive and constructive criticism). If you want to ask me a question or pick my brain further on a topic, either comment on this post or send me a message through the contact form. Have a nice day! 

North Korea Video

This was a video I made last October when I visited Dandong, a Chinese city on the border of North Korea, during the National Holiday travel period. I included some footage from Beijing–the shots of Tiananmen Square, the reverse cars in Sanlitun, the beginning shot of the female student trying to pass the guards to go sit with her friends. I included these shots because they were relevant with both the lyrics and message I was trying to convey.

The story with the girl is this: It was the 60th anniversary celebration of UIBE (one of the best universities in Beijing and consequently China) and it was a very important and spectacular event for the Chinese. A lot of students came to watch, so many so that the security officials starting exercising crowd control. There was still plenty of room in the bleachers and on the field, but for some reason these officials would not let anyone pass. The girl pleaded with the officials for fifteen minutes but they would not budge. She cried for another fifteen, and by then so many adamant students had come to urge the guards that they finally decided to let us all pass and go sit down.

For me, that story encapsulates many things: That there are too many people in China (Chinese people tell me so frequently; my host mom just said so to me last night “人太多了!” “Too many people!”) Infuriatingly nonsensical bureaucratic decisions (The guards wouldn’t let us sit down even though there was room), and the issue of control, which is a big issue in China (who has it, who doesn’t).

Later on in the video, I show a lantern that floats over North Korea. The footage I have of the couple lighting a lantern is actually taken in Dalian (coastal city in Northeast China), so I used that to explain what had happened with the lantern floating over NK. I don’t know who lit that one, or why, and that will remain an eternal mystery.

I took footage of the man with the statue and the kids riding bicycles in Shenyang (capital of Liaoning Province and biggest city in NE China). I did not see that the kid was wearing a McDonalds shirt until much later during the editing process (it was quite the hidden gem). The construction going on in the Western shopping district was also in Shenyang. This touched on another theme of mine: Construction is everywhere in China. Also, Western influence affects many, especially among the wealthy (just count the number of Audis in Beijing).

Mao shows up again and again throughout my video. Many people say that North Korea nowadays was a lot like China was during Mao’s rule–very isolationist, omnipotent government. Despite China’s epic transformation, Mao’s portrait is still hung everywhere, and his face is still on the cover of every single bill handled in China.

China is a very complicated place. There’s poverty–peasants write characters on the sidewalk to demonstrate talent for money. I’ve passed by many mutilated peasants who drag themselves from place to touristy place. (The other day I saw a man in Sanlitun who had no body below his belly button.) There’s constant construction. Cranes, cranes, cranes, everywhere, cranes. There’s national pride and the issue of face–the vendor who didn’t want to crack an egg wrong in front of me. There are people who boast the morality of Mao (the heavily edited, positive version) which shows a deeper, nationwide dissatisfaction with the way strangers treat strangers here. Capitalism has brought wealth but also a wider gap between the haves and have-nots. There are contradictions–they built the museum on the “War to Aid Korea and Resist U.S. Aggression,” keeping anti-U.S. history lessons around despite the incredible importance of the current China-U.S. economic relationship.

But there is always change, and hope that change means progress. That is why I end the video with the lantern floating upward. As with North Korea: Perhaps one day North Korea will look like China. Right now that doesn’t look likely, as the situation appears to be a case of “Like grandfather, like grandson.” That said, we still cannot predict what sort of leader Kim Jong-un will become.

On the Great Wall I unexpectedly ran into the group of North Koreans whom had a white man among their group, chatting with them animatedly in Korean. They walked and he appeared to be showing them around, though I cannot say for sure. Something like this (a foreigner walking in China with North Koreans) even five years ago would seem unthinkable.

There is always change. Now, whether or not this change translates into progress is a decision made by forces outside of our control…

Editor’s Note: I deleted the project from my iMovie, but there are a few small changes I would make:
1) Trucks driving from NK to China (empty or not, I do not know for sure);
2) I would reword “often construct Western shops which are seen as progress” to “construct Western shops which are becoming more and more prevalent.”