Thursday, December 31, 2009


A lot of my posts have been about politics, and I've decided I'd rather talk about something more fun- story.

I've been thinking about endings. It's very easy to talk about and analyze beginnings, but for endings you have to read the whole book first to really get them, so you'll end up with a lot of articles and discussion on opening sentences, the endings are a wee bit neglected. With exceptions, of course.

It just occured to me that this question is very fitting for the end of the calendar year. That wasn't why I was thinking about it, though.

So what is the purpose of an ending? Are you trying to satisfy readers or keep them wanting more? Tie up all the loose ends or introduce a surprise twist? There are many ways of writing a good ending, but what makes an ending good? And what should an ending be trying to accomplish?

When I used to write short stories in high school my teacher would ask me to fix the endings- she invariably would think that my ending was too abrupt and I left the reader hanging. I'd argue, but this is what the story needs! I wanted to leave some things ambiguous, let the reader be able to imagine variable endings. It's a fact that only established authors can get away with this, as in a tenth grader it looks like you just couldn't decide on the ending instead of an artistic choice, but I came to realize that a lot of times she was right and my ending did need something more, and there was usually a way to fill it out a bit without compromising my artistic deliberate ambiguity.

With novels it's harder, and the truth is, with all the novels I'm always trying to write, I have yet to reach an ending. I don't know what I will do when I get there- I have to think about what an ending is and what it should accomplish. It might depend on the book, true, but surely there's something all endings share. Does it vary so much between short stories and novels, do you think?

Now I just have to keep working long enough to write the middle...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Obama's Nobel Speech- Some Thoughts on War and Peace and Society

I wanted to do a full analysis of Obama's speech, the transcript of which I just finished reading. But I haven't the time to do it justice at the moment. So a just a few thoughts and impressions here.

I will say that I was impressed. By his opening, by who he chose to quote and acknowledge (not who you'd necessarily expect), and by the issues he brought up and discussed. I like how he acknowledges the need to struggle against evil even though we cannot win in our lifetimes, and I like the fact that he uses his brain when he talks and his ideas are well thought out and presented- on both moral/ethical and intellectual grounds.

I think there were some issues that he did not bring up, and could have, maybe should have. But he chose to stick with the obvious topics pretty much throughout- although it was bold to give specific examples of countries that fell short. Not so PC but nothing too offensive to anyone either.

I'd need to do a lot of thinking before I figured out myself exactly where I think he's right and where I disagree. As he's obviously put a lot more thought into the subject of war and peace than I have. (Maybe that's as it should be, maybe not.)

Not everyone will agree with everything he says. But I do think that there should be people in the society who think differently from the leader of the society when it comes to issues like this. Let the leaders take the stance that's best for the whole world overall, if someone must. In general, it should be the job of individuals, not a leader, to be wholly anti-war and stand up for the individual lives that are destroyed in fighting. Only if you have those voices raised up, and heard, can you have a leader who argues, like Obama is doing, that some wars do need to be fought as a matter of conscience (and he said it very well).

I think sometimes you need people around who remind you of all sides, the collective and the individual rights and welfare, who can help society find the right balance for each situation. Every country's job is to set up a system in which the right things in that balance can happen; where no one person's plan of action blocks consideration of any other option.

I do like how he cites people from JFK to Nixon to a pope. It's kind of fascinating, how he works-it's like how he made a staff out of his electionary opponents (Biden, Clinton) and admires Reagan as a president despite how different they all are.

Here's a sampling of which words he used most frequently- can be telling sometimes. I saw elsewhere on the internet that he used the word war double the number of times he used peace- but I don't think it was quite that drastic, he used peace a lot too, and one cannot entirely forget context (not taking into account if he said something like, no more war, for example). But for what it's worth, and because wordles are lots of fun, take a look.

Wordle: Obama Nobel Acceptance Speech

Monday, December 14, 2009

Erasing Memory

At this appalling wee hour of the morning I came across the following on boingboing, which I haven't visited in quite some time and only stumbled across now after following the randomest of trails, true to the subtitle of this blog, but I will not enumerate the entire list of links explored now. Sometime I should track one of these trails of mine, though. What caught my attention was this:

Being able to rewrite the fear from a painful, emotional experience- selectively erasing bad memories. It might sound good to some- but to me, even if it works, without some terrible kind of side effect (and I imagine a side effect could be pretty bad) but still, I think it's a terrible idea, for all its shiny intriguiness. (new word there!) You're supposed to learn from bad experiences- to face your fears and overcome them! To grow as a person! The bad things were not meaningless, nothing in life is. Everything that happens to you is an oppurtunity to be used. Part of being human is facing experiences that scare you and push you out of your comfort zone.

If you can just erase all that by taking a pill or whatever then what was the point? What's the point of experiencing anything if you can just choose to erase it all afterwards? Will we start erasing all the bad decisions we make from our memories, so we literally have no regrets?

To me, this seems wrong. I wish they would think things through before trying ideas like this out on people. Progress for the sake of progress should not be the goal, and even when some advantages can be gained from it (helping people with severe PTSD from really horrible events no person should have to think about, I guess?) first you have to think about all the consequences, their implications, and the eventualities that stem from them. If not, humanity will suffer all the more.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Smile Domino Effect

I walk down the main walk on my college's campus, and people look up, smile, wave if they know me. My aunt went to this college many years ago- and when I tried to tell her how people are so friendly here, she snorted in disbelief. "NO way. Not the same college as I went to." How did it change? Is it just the particular students in my year?

What gives a group its character? Who is the first person to smile at someone else, who then smiles at someone else, so on and so forth until everyone is actually nice to each other? If I had scowled at someone the first day, and that put them in a bad mood and they scowled at someone else...could that have broken the chain and now I would be living in a scowly, unfriendly enviroment? One of my own (unconcious) making?

How responsible are we for the enviroment we live in? And how much of it is out of our power?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Everyone knows, they say

Common knowledge is a complex thing. Defining it is difficult, and applying specific bits of information to belong to that definition, once you find one, is even harder. What can you assume people already know? Should you aim high or low? The pros and cons can be heavy stuff, for either.

If you assume a lot of knowledge on the part of your audience, you can cause people to learn by making them look things up. Or make them angry that you are being pretentious and arrogant, and throw down your writing in disgust.

And writing down, explaining things overmuch, might make sure that everyone understands, but is no better because then you're talking down to the rest who already know the information, or boring them. This comes up when you write a paper on a specialized subject, or just when you're talking to people you don't know well.

"Everyone knows science fiction is dying. Everyone knows science fiction is doing just fine, even thriving. Everyone knows the future of science fiction is in debate. Everyone knows the future of science fiction has shifted into YA while most people weren't paying attention."

You can find all of this as "everyone knows." See the problem?

And don't forget the dreaded "They say". English teachers hate to see it, don't they? Not just the teachers, though. You yell at your friend, "Who says? What's your source?" And in reply, you recieve only the nebulous "I don't know, everyone"- the ghostly archetype haunting the societal zeitgeist. Frustrating.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mystery Post-it notes

Kristin Cashore wrote an article about writing. I will quote an excerpt here, hopefully with permission:
The house is strewn with post-it notes on which are written about a gazillion important reminders of things I must somehow remember to find a way to weave into the novel at some point, although, where, I can't imagine. Some of the post-it notes are written hastily in a code I have since forgotten. ("He is temperamentally sweet, but dangerous, like Jake." That would be very helpful, if I had the slightest idea to whom "he" refers, or if I knew anyone named Jake.)

My life, people. She hit it. I'm thinking about this and coming up with far too many examples.
  • My white board that I can't use because it has notes on it full of useful ideas, but I can't erase even though I'm no longer sure what half of them are for, because I need them! My story might need them!
  • My random post-its floating around helplessly.
  • My notebooks full of random pages with snippets of plot and characterization- I frequently have to read through an entire notebook to make sure I'm not missing something crucial.
  • Or something that the entire climax will build off of but is currently existing as a scrawl in the margin of my notes from English class.

Look, I don't have all my ideas sequentially. I don't plan to come up with ideas like this! Better randomly written down and possibly found when needed, rather than lost forever, right?


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reading Late at Night

I've been berating myself for years about staying up too late reading a book. I argue with myself- I'll feel awful and exhausted in the morning, I can always finish it tomorrow, no big deal, better to get work done if I'm going to stay up late anyway, etc. Sometimes it works and I go to sleep- more often it doesn't and I resort to coffee, if I'm lucky to wake up early enough to actually have time to drink some.

Last night I was up very late, reading one book I've read before and love, and finished it. Rather than going to sleep, I picked up a new book I hadn't read, one that I hadn't really been planning to read. I won't name it, but it is fast paced and somewhat melodramatic and in style reminds me oddly of Twilight, although they aren't really alike. I didn't finish it, luckily, because it was very late. But I got to the point in the book where most of the questions I'd been waiting to have answered were already resolved.

So I just put it down. Normally I feel a horrible guilt as I realize how late it's gotten, but this one night, I refused to look at the clock. I had a moment of happiness, then, as I turned off the light and crawled, blearily, under the covers. Like a sad, hollow feeling inside me had finally gone away. Just me, my book, a good solid story, and I'd made my own choice when to put it down and let my mind free into sleep. Don't know if it'll happen again. And I am still kind of tired today, but not in a bad way. But last night, I remembered in a different way why I love books.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nano Woes

Nano on nano- nano a mano- moano o nano- NANO!!!!!!!!!!!

I think I am a wee bitty bit frustrated. My word count is beyond pathetic. And I really wanted to do Nanowrimo this year. I've done it before but I seem to be stuck, totally uninterested in continuing my story. It's not that excting, but once I start writing I know I'll get into it. But how do I make myself write when the page just isn't calling to me. Do I give up and try another month, or keep going, fall short of 50k and abandon the story and all hope to ye who enter here?

I guess I'll keep trying for now. But I'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Autumn- favorite season?

On my way to the polls today, I noticed what a beautiful day it was. Despite the recent time-change so that it starts getting dark at an unearthly hour of the afternoon, its really a lovely season- I don't think I remembered how nice autumn can be. Or if I'd ever noticed before. I've never called it my favorite season, and I still don't think it is- but the air was clear and crisp and easy to breathe, chill enough for a cozy sweatshirt but not too cold. The sky was glowing with the light of the upcoming sunset, and the trees were a full range of yellows, with an occasional ruby or coppery orange, highlighted against a perfect blue sky.

Then I walked into a dingy little building to vote. Worthwhile, I hope, but the contrast was startling and hopefully not metaphoric.

So can I call autumn my new favorite season? Remains to be seen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In a Balloon!

The boy who didn't fly away in a balloon- he's lucky, for now. He's alive, he's well, he's not in trouble with his parents who are just happy to see he's okay. But for the rest of his life, now that we live in the age of Google- unless he does something else spectacular when he's older that completely eclipses this- whenever he does anything, ever, this will haunt him. Friends searching for him to friend him on facebook. Future colleges. Employers. Dates... "Oh, you're the boy who hid in the attic when you were six while the entire state of Colorado was out looking for you in a balloon." Over, and over, and over.

This does not make for a happy life. He should change his name as soon as he's old enough to write it himself.

Um, Toto? I don't think we're in Colorado anymore...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Flood of One's Own

This is a post inspired by showers. Showers designed by stupid people. Who wants to sit around all day designing showers, anyway? Someone has to, I guess, and the unfortunate people stuck with the task take out their frustration in petty vindictiveness.

The shower in my dorm reflects this. It has nothing to block a flood, so there is always a puddle on the floor after anyone uses it. Not to mention, the floor has a slope that would make a skier cry.
And the shower head brings to mind a diehard Republican in an election year: that is, although it would be better for it to be centered, it slides slowly and inexorably to the right. The curtain mostly- but not entirely- stays closed, so whenever someone opens the door you feel a blast of cold air and you have to double check to make sure the curtain stayed put. What's wrong with a door? A proper drain? Sorry, I shouldn't ask for such unreasonable things.

But any politician who wants to raise the pay of shower designers gets my vote. Or possibly lower it. I need to get back to studying Econ to figure that out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Anxiety by Choice

I was talking to someone who'd just read the NYTimes article in the magazine last Sunday, and she said, they made an assumption throughout the entire article that she felt was unjustified. They assumed being anxious was a negative, unwanted trait.

"I like worrying!" she claimed.

But why would someone want to be anxious? Surely it only inhibits you from action, and makes you waste time worrying about phobias that are incredibly unlikely instead of dealing with what's real.

The article did make some mention that some people who are high-anxiety don't even realize it, interpreting the stomach ache from fidgety nerves and the tense flight-or-fight response as an adrenaline buzz, not as paralyzing.

Is there an advantage to being chilled out? If you don't have any worries, and nothing really matters- whatever way it turns out is fine with you- are you missing out on something the worried people have- caring?

I suspect the answer is, as often it is, "a happy medium". But figuring out where that line lies is the battle of most of a lifetime. And I think there are some people who are not aware that it is a battle.

Don't let that be you- don't live the unexamined life. (Yes, that's from Wicked.) So where is your line? When is worrying too much and when is it wrong to be too chilled out?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What do we want? Reasonable Prices!

And when do we want them? Now!
Why are college textbooks so expensive? I don't understand why this gigantic rip-off has been allowed to go on. Constant "new and improved editions" with a few chapters shuffled around are being released, forcing used editions to become worthless to the student.
My extremely overpriced Economics textbook itself suggests that if textbooks were included in the price of tuition, colleges would negotiate with textbook publishers and prices would go down to better market rates.
Students who need the book for class at, eventually, any price, have no leverage to bargain with. I think the system needs reform. Drastic, extreme, and immediate. I'm tired of paying far more than the pathetic things are worth. And any reform should be before I graduate, preferably. But how to go about pushing for this?

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I don't like vague answers, or history revisionists. If something is true, say it as such. Do not alter the facts to make your point, you will only confuse, annoy, or anger your students.

Case in point: When trying to show, as an example of leaders who go to war for defensive reasons, to protect their own borders, don't name, of all people, Hitler! And don't go specifically stating that "Hitler wanted to take over Europe, right? And eventually the world. This was to ensure the protection of Germany's security."

Taking over the world is in self defense. Oh, of course. Not insane overblown nationalistic megalomania, xenophobic racist hatred for anything "other", even a messed up childhood or something- no, no, certainly not. How could anyone ever think otherwise.

I never imagined anyone could say anything like that while conscious! Needless to say this is no longer a class that I'm taking.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Locke and Demosthenes

Take a look at this cartoon:'s "Locke and Demosthenes".

I loved that part of Ender's Game- the clever way two kids could use words to change things- themselves, and the world. The scene where Val is upset when her father sides with her own secret identity, because she had thought no reasonable person ever could, stands out in my memory with particular poignancy.

But they didn't just make a blog (kind of like I'm doing right now, hmm) they used message boards and such and responded to other people to the extent that they got jobs as newspaper columnists.

Also, I'm not as ambitious. And I hate Peter, although I kind of like Val more than Ender even.

I want a philosophical nom de plume, though! It's just fun. I'll have to think about it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"You Lie!"

I'm feeling cynical today. A senator losing all his self-control and actually yelling at the president mid-speech? I mean, why?? The choices are:

a- Wilson has a big ego and likes to interrupt regardless of the consequences, uncaring in regard to all reasonable behavior and ignorant of historical precedent for Senatorial procedure.

b- He is trying to win political capital in his own state as one willing to stand up to the evil death-panel man, and this was a deliberately calculated "outburst".

I'm not sure which is worse.

Author reading

So I went to an author reading, which I enjoyed considerably. Hearing books read aloud by the person who wrote them, besides the cool factor of seeing the person behind the book, is particularly interesting because they read it the way it is meant to be read, the emphasis and focus exactly how they pictured it in their own heads, not diluted or filtered by the reading and interpretation of a stranger.

I found the experience more compelling than I expected. Normally I hate listening to books because I read so quickly, myself, that the aural factor slows things down and I get impatient. But somehow, at the reading, I let myself be drawn into the story- all the authors did such a good job reading that it wasn't hard- and I felt almost as I do when I read it myself.

And now I can't wait to read Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld. Any book that starts out with a character saying his father is Archduke Ferdinand, and he's currently in Sarajevo...did I mention it's 1914? Yes, awesome setup for a book. And awesome illustrations.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Million Others

So every other blog and its cousin begins by saying, wow, this is so exciting, I have a blog, I'm sure I'll fill it up with all sorts of exciting things!
Except then they never do.

So I make no promises, tell no lies, except I shall use this as I see fit. How's that?

And to introduce myself:
I am a new college student, with lots to say that I keep thinking I would have liked to blog about. So now I'm giving it a try.

*breaks champagne bottle over blog's prow*
And we're off!