What It Is: How Drawing “Helped Me to Stay”

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“[Drawing] was a form of transportation. I did it because it helped me to stay by giving me somewhere else to go.” — Lynda Barry, What It Is

In high school my notebooks and paper bag-covered textbooks were a mess of my graffiti. I spent every non note- or test-taking moment drawing my personal doodles of frogs and bees, and creating never-ending, constantly dividing tendrils, using my collection of gel ens to draw them and then fill them with the vibrant, shiny color.

Focusing his never been my strong point; I have a mind that tends towards wandering. If I don’t want to lose track of where I am, something needs to anchor me. Writing I can focus on, but only that. For something like Biology class, I needed something to take up the part of my brain that tried to slip away. Drawing—sketching—doodling—that was perfect.

Sometimes, my reasonings for this were not understood, and I was called out on it. Once, in Math, I set to drawing an Orca on the front cover while some classmates spoke at the front of the room. My mistake was shading; the teacher heard the scuff of my pencil, and chastised me for being so rude and not paying attention. I put my pencil away, and had to focus on my classmates without looking at paper or moving my hands. She never did confirm whether I’d really been not listening.

Then, other times, it didn’t bother the teacher at all. I doodled on my folder while the Health teacher explained alcohol poisoning. Suddenly he turned to me and asked if I was listening. “Yes,” I said, without looking up, and repeated what he’d told us. “All right!” he responded, and continued on.

Recently I read Lynda Barry’s What It Is, part graphic novel, part collage, part memoir, part writing guide. The above quote gut-punched me as so weirdly but completely true. Drawing gives you somewhere to go—letting my mind wander, as it will—and helping me stay, letting me pay attention to everything going on around me. I was taken right back to high school, when I did the most drawing, now having words to describe something I always knew was true. I drew then to keep myself in that fantastic in-between place. I want to draw more now, so that I can find it again.

Recent To-Read Pile Additions: SciFi, Roller Derby, Serious, and Fun

I add books to my To-Read list faster than I can actually read books. I know at least half of what I want to read will go unread forever — but here are some that I’ve recently become interested in that I really, really hope I can get to someday.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. I don’t know too much about this book, except it’s about humans colonizing Mars. Recently I’ve wanted to read more science fiction, and I’ve heard good things about this series from multiple sources. Plus, there’s apparently going to be a TV series of it in a couple of years, because everything is a TV series now (thanks, Game of Thrones, you started a trend!) so I better leap on that bandwagon before it gets too overloaded.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein. I just read the first book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, and I thought it was a fun book with good characters and really fun puzzles. (Probably helped that the puzzles made me think of Gravity Falls…sigh.) I want to stay on top of what’s pretty popular for kids books, too, and this is a quick read, so I hope to get through this one soon.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. A kid’s graphic novel about a girl who joins roller derby to get over losing touch with her best friend. This has been out for MONTHS, I have no excuse, I should have read this long ago.

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. This is a contemporary young adult novel about a girl who survives trying to commit suicide. I’ve read Stork’s other young adult book, Marcelo in the Real World, and I was floored by his complex characterization of Marcelo and the way that character grows by the end of the book. I’m so positive I’ll love this book, I’ll probably fall into a fit of rage if I don’t.

Will I get to these books? Probably, maybe, someday, we’ll see!

What’s on your list?

January Book Haul

I’ve been doing a better job of not buying so many books, knowing that I can get a lot of what I need from the library, which I work at. But, I’m still me, and sometimes I just have to buy stuff.

Dragon Keeper, The Dispossessed, Stich 'N Bitch, Giant DaysStitch ‘N Bitch by Debbie Stoller is the knitting guide (suggested to me by a coworker) that I used to basically teach myself how to knit. It has a lot of basic patterns, and some more complicated stuff. I think I checked out and renewed this book from the library about 12 or so times, so it seems right that I would just buy my own danged copy.

Giant Days by John Allison is another library read that I decided to just buy. This collection of the first four issues of the comic was one of the best things I read last year, and buying a copy of it only cost $10, minus my B&N discount.

The next two books I bought on whims, particularly The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. I don’t really know much about this book, except that it’s science fiction, but the spine was so handsome, and the cover pulled on me.

The Dispossessed

Finally, on my last bookstore trip, I picked up Robin Hobb’s Dragon Keeper. I have never read a book by Robin Hobb before, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a thick fantasy mass market about dragons, so I thought this would be a good one to snag. I’m actually about a third of the way through it now, and, well…I thought I would like this more. There are some aspects of it that have become cliche in stories now, like one of the main characters describing her appearance as she looks in a mirror and judging herself to be oh-so-plain. And as much as I love character development, I feel like I’ve read a lot of book for such a small amount of plot to have happened so far. Maybe I’ll like it more as I go? But really, I’m starting to think this is something I’d have been better off snapping up at the library.

That’s all I bought last month. But hey, I’m going to Harvard Square with a friend this weekend, so chances are I’ll have quite a few more books to talk about at the end of February.

Any thoughts on these purchases? What have you bought for your bookshelves, and do you have any regrets?

2016 Goals for Writing, Reading, and Life

Happy New Year, all! I’m pretty bad at making New Year’s Resolutions, partly because I never take the time to really think about it. What do I want for myself? How to I want to become better, or what good do I want to continue doing?

I came up with a few goals for the year. Some might change, some might get replaced by new goals as the year stretches on. But right now, these are the hopes I have for myself.

  • Keep on writing. Boy, that sounds obvious. But, I feel like I have to keep reminding myself that writing is a thing that it’s okay for me to do, that it makes me feel more whole and probably makes me an easier person to be around when it’s done. It’s hard to push away the thoughts that I should be doing other things: visiting people, working more hours, folding that laundry already. But writing is something good that I keep managing to get away with that makes me happy, so I want to make sure that I keep a place for it in my schedule, no matter how my life shifts and changes.
  • Don’t get pissed if I don’t write. The above being said, life happens, and I don’t always write/edit every day. Sometimes I’m really busy. Sometimes I’m just having a relaxing day lying on the couch with my husband. Sometimes the words just aren’t coming, and I really should start folding that laundry instead. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, it’s not the worst thing to miss it every once in a while.
  • Widen my reading. I feel like I read a big variety of books. But, there are genres I wish I read more of, like memoir, or that I want to get back into, like epic sweeping fantasy. Or books I want to try out more of, like narrative nonfiction or handy-dandy self help books.
  • Read more children’s books. A specific one, but also, I feel, necessary. I don’t feel I read enough children’s books last year. And I’m trying to write children’s books. So I really need to work on that.
  • Stop dwelling on things. Oh, this is actually really hard. If I’m left to my own devices for too long, I start thinking about all the things I’m angry or sad or regretful about, and oh boy that just ruins the day. These include events that happened way back in my childhood that probably no one remembers except for me, and I really need to move on and stop letting things ratchet up my anxiety and send me crashing into the ground.
  • Deal with my anxiety better. I got much better at dealing with anxiety last year. I’ve started removing myself from situations, I breathe, I exercise more (especially when I know I’ll be entering an anxiety-inducing situation). Now I want to get even better at it.
  • Stop being so critical of other people. John and Hank Green have a quote that I’m massively paraphrasing, that one of the problems with the world is a failure to imagine others as complexly as we imagine ourselves. I’ve started to do that with little made up stories of why that person yelled at me at work, or thought it necessary to cut me off on a rainy highway, and that keeps me from being so mad. Which keeps me from dwelling. Which is good for my anxiety! (It’s all coming together.)

Those are some thoughts for betterment I have for myself. What about you? Any resolutions about writing, reading, or life in general? Are my goals ridiculous? Let me know, and have a great year.

Romance Stories I’ve Quit

This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, although you’re going to notice, there’s only two things on the list. Maybe because I dislike these things enough for five each?

So, I like romances in my stories. Not all of them, but they’re nice, and when done right create a little warm spot in my chest. But sometimes they frustrate me. Here are those times.

Young Woman and Older Man

I’m not against this on principle. I know people who have married older men, and they’re wonderful together. And there are stories where I actually like this, like Emma. But in books that don’t do it well, I feel a little icky and uncomfortable about it. Often because there’s a weird thing with the power dynamics in the relationship, like the man is the teacher and the woman is the one developing feelings (lookin’ at you, The Paper Magician). Plus, I can’t think of a book (off the top of my head at least) where the reverse happens and a young dude in a lesser position must win the older lady (though I have a feeling that the dynamics would be different in that situation..). Maybe I’m being unfair, but knowing that’s part of the story is enough to put me off altogether.

My First Love, My Only Love

I say this as a woman who went out with one guy ever in college and then married him. I can’t stand it when the romance revolves around a girl who has gone out with one person ever in her life, and now they’re soul mates and want to spend the rest of eternity together (*cough* TWILIGHT *cough*). I think the issue I have with this is that it usually comes up in young adult novels, and how often does it really happen that you stay with the boyfriend you met in your Sophomore science class? (I know it does happen…but how often??) I prefer it even if she recently broke up with someone, or even, at the very least, had other crushes. But your first boyfriend ever?

Again, in some cases it does work out okay (Graceling) but often that’s because there are other circumstances, more of a point to the story than simply the romance. I do get very excited when young adult novels twist on this a little bit, where the main character thinks she wants to be with that one person forever, but then maybe she meets someone new. Because that’s actual life, even if it’s in a world with magic.

What do you think? Am I just being grumpy? And what kinds of stories have you sworn off? Let me know!

Books On My Fall To-Be-Read List

I looked at my summer to-be-read list, and saw that I only got to half of those books! Woops! Which is why you’ll see some repeats this go around. But I got through some of the nice big thick ones, and even an extra monster book, Words of Radiance, the second in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, so I think I did pretty good.

Here’s what I think I’m going to read this fall — but we’ll see!

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This fall is actually made a little easier, since there are some books coming out I’m looking forward to. One is Carry On, the oversized fanfaction that that Cath writes in Rowell’s Fangirl. I have to read this one, because if I don’t, I just failed as a version of my own self.

Ice Like Fire by Sarah Raasch. This is the sequel to Snow Like Ashes, a majorly fantastic YA fantasy. I devoured the first one, and I look forward to slurping this down when it comes out in October (right after Carry On!!)

Fairest by Marissa Meyer. This was there last time! But I really do need to read it, because in November I’ll have to get…

Winter by Marissa Meyer. The last book in the series! I can’t wait! Exclamation points!!

Saga volume 5 by Brian Vaughan. Saga is one of the greatest comics I’ve ever read. Period. Done. I only haven’t read it because I’m getting it through the library, and it hasn’t. Come. In. Yet. Blargh.

Jingo by Terry Pratchett. I actually got to Feet of Clay, and now I’m back on my Terry Pratchett / City Watch kick. Next bookstore stop, I’m grabbing this.

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton. Kate Beaton is hilarious and smart and beautiful. I’m going to buy this one and it will sit so pretty next to Hark! A Vagrant.

These are the books I know I’m definitely going to read — I mean it! What’s in your pile?

 

This post is done as part of Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish.

Quick Look: Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Lately I’ve become a fan of books where the narration manages to be funny without throwing jokes and punch lines at you. Basically, a light, comedic tone, that just makes reading the story feel good. Terry Pratchett achieves this for me. And, recently, Lissa Evans.

After reading the description of her adult novel, Crooked Heart — a lighthearted tale of the London blitz — I had to pick this one up. There were a lot of heartwrenching moments (Noel is an orphan whose beloved guardian has died; Vee is his new caretaker who has never felt truly loved in her life) there are funny bits, too, many of which come from having gotten to know the characters. For instance, Noel’s tendency to speak like a professor, despite being ten, and the uneducated Vee’s difficulty and frustration trying to understand him.

‘…What were you thinking? No, Never mind–‘ He was starting on one of his explanations, and she wasn’t in the mood for polysyllables.

There are plenty of other lines that I probably should have marked off, but I was too busy enjoying myself while I read this book to think of that at the time. Besides, I think this line does a great job of showing what these two characters are like, and the relationship that begins to develop between them.

Are you reading anything that makes you smile? Are there any lines or pages of a book that have stood out strong to you? Let me know!

What I’m Listening To: Writing and Disney Animals

Here are a couple more podcasts that I’ve been getting into lately.

Writing Excuses. This one’s short, about 15 to 20 minutes per episode, where the four hosts — Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells — give their writing advice on specific topics. I haven’t delved too deep into their backlog, but the episodes that have come up new since I’ve started listening have been wonderful. Last month was a lot of help, focusing on middles and why you need to let your characters fail, since I’m working on filling out the middle of my current work-in-progress. Really, I’ve found them all helpful to some extent, if only that hearing people who know what they’re talking about talk about writing inspires me to sit down and write. Like I said, they’re short and to the point, so if you write at all I would suggest you go listen to them.

 

Radio Harambe. I recently added this to the list of Disney World podcasts I listen to (wow, that’s a nerdy sentence). I’d been hearing it mentioned on other podcasts and my Twitter feed, but I’ve put off listening to it for a couple of reasons: they’re a little long, and besides, they focus on Animal Kingdom, and how much can you really say about one park? But, Animal Kingdom is almost evenly tied with Epcot for Angela’s Favorite Park, so I had to try it. And it turns out, there’s a lot you can say about one park. They pack a lot into each episode, which explains the length. There’s the focal point — where’s a good place to cool down in Animal Kingdom, what they wish the park would do with the big cats (in homage to Cecil) — but that’s just the end. A whole chunk of the beginning, if not most of the episode is taken up by “World News” (All of Walt Disney World and other parks) and “Local News” (Animal Kingdom specific). Because Disney parks always seem to have a lot of news going on (it’s amazing and ridiculous) it’s nice to have a regular podcast that spends so much time talking about it. Also, they regularly play a fun game, How Much Does It Cost, where one of the hosts guesses how much a new tour/package/whatever costs, highlighting how ridiculously overpriced some Disney bonuses really are.

So, podcast friends, what are you listening to?

Reading Pet Peeves: How Do You “Mouth” Words??

When a book starts to get on my nerves, my tendency is to stop reading. As I’ve said, why should I waste that time? Well, sometimes it’s such a train wreck you can’t stop (New Moon!!!) or sometimes you don’t realize how bad it is until you’re almost done, and by then you’re in for the long haul. Sometimes you really like 95% of the book, there’s just that one thing that makes you super batty… And sometimes you’ve got to read it for a review, and you’ve got to finish it no matter how much of your brain you’re sure has turned into an overcooked marshmallow. In any case, you start to notice things, they start to bother you, and suddenly you have a new pet peeve about books that will pitch you into a rage every time you see it.

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I’m not going to call out the specific book on this one, partly because I know I’ve seen other books do this, this one just had a particular problem with it. When characters mouth words. This is, as far as i can understand, when you move your mouth as if you are speaking, but you purposely don’t make any sound. Okay. Sure. I’ve seen this, I’ve done it myself in real life. But here, I’m not talking about mouthing “Hello!” to someone when you’re on the phone, or “Oh no!” when you’re expressing fear or empathy to a person across the room. I’m talking about characters mouthing full, entire sentences. I won’t quote anything specific, but it’s somewhere along these lines:

“Oh, hi, I’ll be done here in just a minute, grab a sandwich and wait over there, thanks.”

I feel like it should be obvious why this is ridiculous, but I’m going to break it down just in case.

Firstly. When I picture someone “mouthing” words, I imagine exaggerated mouth movements to make what you’re saying obvious. After a couple of words, it’s just going to look ridiculous.

Secondly. I feel like this requires some skill in lip reading from the recipient of the silent message. How many people can do this well? I honestly don’t know, I just know that I can’t figure that stuff out.

Thirdly. The character tends to “mouth” words when they don’t want other characters to know what they’re doing/saying. But when they do it with such long sentences, aren’t they just drawing attention to themselves? Aren’t the other characters going to be wondering what the heck this person is doing? And how on earth are they paying attention to what else is going on?

So, yup. There’s something that bothers me way more than it should! What about you all — what’s bugging you in your books?