Friday, May 28, 2010

You don't understand a bad job market until you're in it

I felt that my grasp of economics wasn't good enough, so I read articles, took econ class, talked to people, and did general research. I learned all about the history of panics, depressions, boom and bust cycles, laissez faire, Keynesian economics, Reaganomics, and more. I read op-eds blaming the Tea Party movement on the lack of jobs. I was no expert, but I knew about economics and the job market and something of how it all worked.

And then I tried to get a job for the summer. An internship, even. Something to get me on a schedule and out of the house. Make a tiny bit of money. Something to do- anything. My standards dropped lower and lower. I wrote query letters and heard nothing. Went to interviews where I was bluntly told that all the jobs had been filled but they could try to find me a little work to do. Went to interviews where they seemed to like me and never got back to me again.

Yes, I knew something before about economics and the job market. But now I feel what a bad job market means, for me and for my friends and individual citizens.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Testing your knowledge...?

Finals are boring me. I have overestimated my powers of concentration. That is all. There is only so long the human brain can remain focused on something that never really interested all that much in the first place. But it will all turn out okay in the end, I know, its just that the process is so dreadful. There has to be a better way of doing this. There has to.

I overheard someone in the dining hall tonight saying, "But it all turns out all right in the end, doesn't it? I mean, have you actually ever failed a class?"
No comment.

Good night to all (who are not taking finals) and to all a good night.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dawn of the Vermin

This is just a quick post about a phenomenon I've noticed lately. After a relatively calm winter and early spring, the last two weeks have been absolutely infested. I've seen and heard about cases of cockroaches (two dead ones in the hall) mice, spiders, giant flying unidentified buggy-thing, and suchlike. Why all at once? What is the message in all this? What is the frequency of so-called little visitors trying to tell us?

Perhaps I should clean my room...

Friday, April 9, 2010

I Miss Fiction

I was reading scholarly article after lengthy dissertation after weighty thesis after abstract paper and then I paused and I realized something...

I miss sinking into a good book. Into a world, where yes, you are using your brain, but you aren't so painfully aware of it. Where you care about the characters and thus learn truths about the world through human interaction rather than carefully crafted theorizing in the abstract realm. Where the story is paramount, but not all there is to find, either. With lessons subtle, or as running threads, rather than the main idea. Real life, rather than a list of historical events; even if not all the particular events in the story happened in real life, they are nonetheless true in a certain way, because they resonate with what you know and how you think about the world.

I like my classes, I like learning how to think in academia, but it's been much too long since I read a good fictional novel. I have to find something soon- maybe I'll head over to the library next week...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Anonymous on the Internet

Because there's nothing like a thoughtful article about anonymity on the Internet:

The article tells the story of the South Korean blogger Minerva, and how he moved from anonymity and influence to notoriety and a court trial. Park Dae-Sung became tremendously influential in Korea as the financial markets plummeted, and his anonymous predictions, which he based on careful study of the markets, turned out accurate at important moments. Despite flying rumors before the revelation, he turned out to be nobody particularly qualified; no economist, just a student, and not a reformed greedy financier as he'd presented himself.

Orson Scott Card himself, on his web site, noticed the resemblance of the Minerva case to his book Ender's Game, where Val and Peter become Locke and Demosthenes, using the anonymous names' freedom to pretend to more gravity and influence than they actually had. Sometimes doing that attracts attention in itself, as the anonymous writer can come across as someone powerful who wanted to speak the truth without compromising an established reputation.

Minerva was uncovered in the end, though, in a way that also uncovered serious flaws in the system of South Korean law and government, if the Wired article is accurate in its judgements (something I don't really know much about so I can't be sure). Internet and privacy, and whether it is the government's job to keep the Internet clean and tidy for its citizens, is of course a whole other debate, worthy of discussion but not for this post. But the article is an excellent read, with its insights into the economic crisis, South Korean society, the nature of anonymity on the Internets, and the interaction of opinions with the sources that form them.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Too much writing advice?

When I first started to realize that a lot of the authors I liked had web sites, I found myself reading a lot of writing advice. Every author seemed to have something to say- from Sherwood Smith to Shannon Hale and Diana Wynne Jones- and each one had their own distinct approach, often contradicting each other.

There were just so many of them! Covering all approaches- from the authors with a story arc that appears in their head and forces them to write it down, to the ones who make it up as they go along (Ellen Raskin of Westing Game fame said she got too bored to write unless the ending was a surprise to her, too), to the ones who outline and plan and brainstorm their way into an organized plot.

So does all this contradiction mean that reading about how to write is a waste of time? Maybe there is no right way. Maybe it's all a matter of personal style.

Maybe so. But I'd like to venture an idea that I've come to, after reading a lot of articles proffering knowledge about writing and the publishing industry. It is worth doing your research, and knowing all the rules, even if lots of authors do things differently. Sort of like grammar- you have to learn proper English, really know it well- and only then can you start playing around with it.

No one says ee cummings was an illiterate ignoramus, not if they know what they're talking about, despite the fact that he breaks all the rules of normative English. If a sixth grader tried handing in work following ee cummings's rules of grammar, he'd get an F, and that wouldn't be unfair, despite how it might seem to the sixth grader. It's because you have to understand what you're doing, and break the rules only when it means something different because you did it.

I'm not trying to say the difference is just in your intent and understanding of what you're doing, because I do also think there is a recognizable difference in the objective quality of your work. To readers - your target audience - who really do know the rules, see what you've accomplished as a work of art, instead of just a lazy attempt to get out of learning the rules, and cheat the system (and failing to actually produce anything worthwhile, in pretty much every case).

What does this mean in terms of writing style- what should you do?

You should learn all the rules. Understand their sources and the effect on your writing when you follow them. Explore all their highways and byways, good or bad or contradictory as may be.

Then: let all that advice wash over you and drift away. You're hopefully now a better writer, but once you've studied and practiced long enough, it's time to stop worrying about emulating the styles of others and figure out what works best for you.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bibelot & other words; No I don't spend too much time online?'s word of the day is bibelot! You heard it here first! (Well, probably.) Now go look up anfractuously. Just because you know defenestration and antidisestablishmentarianism doesn't mean you have to pretend you know them all.

In other news, I am having way too much fun on Twitter. But I have lots of reading for class...and I need to shop for textbooks online. So perhaps I should get off Twitter, off this blog, perhaps even- gasp- off the computer entirely! A girl can dream, can't she?

After the recent report saying that kids these days (I say that like I'm old or something) spend more hours using media than there are actually hours in the day (waking hours anyway) then perhaps I should be more careful. One could metaphorically say it like this:

[Twitter/ Facebook/ blogs/ insert preferred social media of choice] is a drug. You start saying you'll only use it a little bit and then suddenly you find yourself saying, I can quit whenever I want. Only you don't. And slowly it consumes your normal life, until your social life is semi-dependent on it and you just can't stop...

Scary stuff, eh? But that won't stop anyone from continuing, will it Let alone me and I said it! I make excuses of why I need it. We all do. But sometimes I have to wonder- how would my life be different if all this stuff didn't exist? Or if I had never gotten started using it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Mouse's Schedule

A mentsch tracht und der Eibeshter lacht. Man plans and God laughs. An apt expression for what happened to me this morning. Not that I can spell in German or Yiddish or whatever language that is. (My friend, E, used to say it a lot.) Or, "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley," if you prefer. (I always liked that Robert Burns poem- can do part of it by heart in fact.)

So what's the laughing and the mice got to do with my first day of classes this semester? My schedule- my busy plan- it was full. But I liked it and was excited for all of my classes. And then I walk up to the door of the first one and get told I'm in the wrong section, I should be in a later class, which conflicts with my next class and basically half my plan just fell apart in a rude awakening.

So I told myself, "Get used to disappointment." (Ooh, Princess Bride, I am full of quotes today!) Better than anger or denial or whatever, acceptance is best, right? And I am sure it's for the best ultimately- my schedule was too hard before.

Now I think I'll go eat lunch and make an even better schedule this evening. One setback does not a disaster make. A schedule with any other class can be as sweet. Happiness is where you look for it. I'll have a great semester regardless, I hope.

Monday, January 18, 2010

First or Sequel?

I'm heading back to the spring semester, so as I bid a fond farewell to winter vacation, I want to talk about first books vs. second books. (Ha, I wish I'd written even a first book. But as a reader, for now.)

I read Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, before it was quite so popular. I thought it was good, nice writing, good characters, nice plot, but it didn't really stand out for me. I was sort of surprised as it rose up the best seller list. And then I picked up Fire. Wow. The prose scintillates, the characters are so much more interesting and compelling than Katsa and Po ever were for me. I haven't actually finished it yet because I no longer had access to the copy of Fire I was reading but I am seriously impatient to get back to it.

There are other authors, though, who work the other way around. For example, Maria Snyder wrote Poison Study, which I loved. Yelena and Valek are the perfect characters (not in an annoying way either) and the setting of Ixia was well thought out and interesting. I totally love Valek and the Commander's conversations. And the evil is real (unlike some books where the villainy is contrived- not like that here). I was eager for the sequels- and while there was nothing wrong with them, they just didn't compel me to keep reading as the first had. I was in love with Poison Study from the first scene. (Snyder is publishing a new book soon, Inside Out, which is set in a completely different world and looks really good, and I hope I will like it as much as Poison Study.)

I loved Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle, but when I read the sequel Castle in the Air I was so impatient for some Howl/Sophie action to show up, that I couldn't appreciate the book in itself. If it was set in its own world, I'd have loved Flower and Abdullah for themselves. But now they paled next to my anticipation for the characters I knew and loved already. I guess she felt there wasn't enough of a story left to tell for Howl and Sophie. But is it better to have them as guest stars then not at all? (Although Christopher Chant, I'll take in any form. He's possibly my favorite character in all of fantasy.)

So why does it work that way? Why do some sequels work for the story and characters and have that magical combination of elements that make a book really excellent? (In Fire's case, pushing Graceling higher up on the bestseller list as well even though you don't need at all to read them together.) And others just fall flat or land in the shadow.

Speaking of shadow. I just read Ender's Shadow over break and loved it as much- but differently- as I'd loved Ender's Game. I like that he calls it a parallax, that name works well to describe its function. (Midnight Sun, anyone? I couldn't finish that, I tried it after SM posted it and it wasn't as good as the main books. But Midnight Sun isn't really a parallax proper, as it's not that different from Twilight itself.)I believe there are more books about Bean, right? Always wanted to find out what happens down on earth after Ender leaves. I read Game, Speaker, and Xenocide and I would love to read more of those too.

It would be great if every book you read was just as good in different ways. Failing that, we tend to go by author. Sometimes, this works, and sometimes, it doesn't. And sometimes you can be surprised. Maybe it's better that way.

In other news, I now have a twitter account. I begin with haiku but will go far from there. If I feel like it. I'm heatherlette if you want to find me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Writer's Block- version 2.0

I have a new form of writer's block, and it's a doozy. It might not be new to the world, but I'm pretty sure it's new to me. I simply can't write more than a few pages of any one story without freezing up. I come up with a million and a half reasons and excuses of why I'm not ready to write just now, and go and read one of my endless forms of procrastination online.

This has resulted in a large number of files with stories just-begun, or nearly done but I somehow can't bring myself to finish them. I flit between one and the next like a hunter-shy bird, not able to stay longer than it takes to type a few words and then I come up with an idea for a new story, or I cast around for something to read in a book or online.

How do I get out of this pattern? How do other people do it? Usually I'm pretty good at concentrating on only one thing for a long period of time if it interests me. How can I get my stories to interest me again? One at a time, I mean.

So much for new year's resolutions, right?