Monday, June 28, 2010

Word Conscious

Have you ever thought about the power of words? As a writing major, I probably think about them a little too much.

Every time I read a novel, I grab a sticky note and a pen and write down any words that I am unfamiliar with or believe to be interesting choices. In the past three days I have learned several new words from the two books I read. And the Shofar Blew: cockamamie, barb, akimbo, and quixotic. The Dive From Clausen's Pier: isthmus, stodgy, oscillating, and churlish. Etcetera.

Inspiration comes when I read the inspiration of others.
I will quickly grab an old receipt from my overstuffed D&G bag and jot down all metaphors/sentences/descriptions that come to mind as I read another's words. Some are decent. Others makes me laugh. No matter their quality,
however, I consider all my receipts/post-it notes successes.
They are visual reminders of my word consciousness.
[The real trick is deciphering my scribbles later.]

It truly is an art, this stringing-words-together thing.
Wallace Stegner once said, "Easy reading makes hard writing."
No one is inherently "good" at it, especially the first time around. It takes work, dedication, practice. A writer's best friend isn't his pen, it's his eraser. Undoubtedly, he will use it more frequently. Anyone can write, but it takes a true artist to master his craft.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we all talked the way we wrote? I am keenly aware of words [their power and effectiveness] when I write, yet this somehow escapes me when I'm conversing with someone. I can be mean, hurtful, rude, completely oblivious to how I'm effecting you. I sometimes feel like Lindsay Lohan's character in Mean Girls. She is constantly having a conversation in her head, chastising herself for saying something stupid in front of her peers.
"Word Vomit," she calls it.

Some days, I have a bad case of word vomit where nothing "good" seems to
be coming out of my mouth. I want to be someone who speaks the truth in love. Someone who is gentle and kind. Many times, however, my blunt tongue has its own ideas.

I wish I was more word conscious.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Risk-ophobics, writing-oholics

I recently finished Chuck Palahniuk's [one of my favorite satirical authors] Lullaby. It was wonderfully disturbing, as all Palahniuk's novels are. He has such an intriguing writing style. The sentences are short, the descriptions graphic.
He always brings something new, something perturbing to the table. It's a breath of fresh air in a reading world where everything has been done, redone, and done a few more times.

"The sound shivers through the walls, through the table, through the window frame, and into my finger. These distraction-oholics. These focus-ophobics. Old George Orwell got it backward. Big Brother isn't watching. He's singing and dancing. He's pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you're awake. He's making sure you're always distracted. He's making sure you're fully absorbed. He's making sure your imagination withers. Until it's as useful as your appendix. He's making sure your attention is always filled. And this being fed, it's worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what's in your mind. With everyone's imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world."

I'm taking Writing a Novel in the fall. The title of the class properly implies what I will be doing.I'm more than a tad nervous. When I read authors like Chuck Palahnuik, who practically poops originality, it makes me even more apprehensive. His writing is so unique and distinct. Not only is his style superb, his stories are completely different from anything else you will ever read. I mean Lullaby was about a journalist who discovered a poem that could kill people. He would just recite it in his head and BAM. They're dead. Gone. Sayonara.
I can't help but wonder if I ever be able to make my mark in the publishing world.

When Chuck first submitted his manuscript, he was instantly rejected. The publishing house thought he was too dark, too disturbing. Instead of hanging his head, he went back and made it even darker. He worked hard. He wasn't afraid of taking a risk. A big one. A few months later, another house picked him up, and, well, let's just say they haven't regretted it.

I don't know what I'm doing. Next semester may kill me, really.
I can't pull amazing plots from my buns like CP. I enjoy taking others' ideas and transforming them into something great. Hence, why I want to be an editor. But this class requires writing, coming up with my own story. It makes me nervous.

I need to work toward become a writing-oholic, and shy away
from my risk-ophobic tendencies. That and I need inspiration for a novel.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Confessions of a Recovering Book Snob

Hi. I'm Jena, and it's been sixteen days since I last scoffed at a book.

Until the beginning of fall semester, my bookstore trips were always the same. I would hold my round little nose high in the air and briskly make my way to the nice display of B&N classics in the middle of the store. My hands would clutch the bound pages of dead authors like an alcoholic sips on his dirty martini from a fancy, funnel-shaped glass. It wasn't so much that I had to read the classics. They were just the only novels I would deign to read. I didn't do this intentionally. It was just apart of my thinking. Innate. Second nature. I clung to Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina while other girls were reading Lori Wick or Karen Kingsbury's latest romance. That's just the way it was.

I had a professor beginning of junior year who was like this. She would wrinkle her large, crooked nose like she was smelling sour milk at anyone who wasn't Chaucer. He had so many historical/mythological allusions, beautiful descriptions, and crazy plot lines. So many layers. Not to mention he wrote in Middle English, which is [not-so-obviously] superior to the language you and I speak. In her mind, no one could possibly compare to him. This made her reading list a rather short one.

Needless to say, I was not a fan of Joyce Coleman.
I mean, how ignorant?

She wouldn't dare touch anything outside of the English canon. Some of the best-selling, most talented authors of our generation she would simply sneer at. The ultimate book snob. That October lecture [in a small way] changed my life. I realized that I was [maybe not as boldly] walking in the same ignorant footsteps. She only read Chaucer, I only read the classics.

As someone who wants to go into publishing, this is just stoooopid.

Sure, not all the books on the B&N shelves are going to be read in classrooms. In a few years, the majority will go out of print and enter into the limbo world between the publishing house and the bookstores' shelves.

But does this automatically discredit them? Wasn't Chaucer just another dreamer with a pen until someone read his words? I mean, there was a time before Chaucer was Chaucer and Tolstoy was Tolstoy. Right?

The past few months I have been doing my darndest to not wind up like Joyce Coleman. I grab books, read their back covers, and take them home if they sound interesting. Not because I've heard of the author. Not because they are sitting under the "Classic Literature" sign. Because I want to. Because, as an aspiring editor, I need to. I've already discovered some real treats. I even deigned to read the Twilight saga last year. And although I was grossly disappointed after the first one, it's still an excellent series [for me] to be reading. I need to understand why these poorly structured, but for some reason oh-so-captivating novels are flying off the shelves.

Every time I finish a novel now, I rate it. Thumbs up? Double thumbs down? My list has been growing exponentially within recent months. I'm a fairly fast reader, but I'm trying to increase my speed with each book I pick up. Reading is just so important. The options are absolutely limitless. I don't want to be stuck in a genre or time period. I don't want to have a limited list of authors I deem worthy of being read. I want to be an avid reader across the board, eager to discover interesting pieces whoever the author may be! So the next time you're at a book store, take a look around. Pick something new up. Try a different genre, a new author.

Go ahead, unsnob yourself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Apologies in advance. This post is somewhat of a kill joy.

Norman year round is hard on the soul.

My feelings of banality may have something to do with the book I read today. On a day like this: Andreas, a German teacher, discovers he has lung cancer and decides to change every aspect of his life. He cuts ties. Moves. Journeys to Switzerland though he isn't sure why. He wanders aimlessly through his mundane days and empty world with no ambitions or concerns for his life. Not exactly a book you close with warm fuzzies running down your spine.

"But in order to feel himself a victim, he had to believe in the possibility of another, better life. Andreas believed in nothing but chance."
- Peter Stamm

I found myself strangely affected by this morose novel. It got me thinking.
I have wonderful friends who are all over the world actually doing something with their lives. Seattle, India, New Zealand, Honduras. The list goes on. I can't help but contemplate my life in Norman. My days are mind-numbingly predictable, and I've been finding myself
really disconcerted by this.

In January I made a promise to myself that I would go somewhere this summer. I wouldn't be stuck in Norman again, and above all, I would not work with children. Well, here I am in Norman, working as a nanny. I longingly look back to the beginning of this year and wish I had applied to all those internships, or called a friend who lives outside of Oklahoma to see if I could take up summer residence with them.

At times I feel as though I'm playing a twisted Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde duet with myself. Part of me takes comfort in the familiar, the other longs for the foreign. I want a schedule, yet I have sudden urges to throw it out the window. I live cautiously, but I often wonder what carefree looks like.

It's strange when your life is one big, open slate. An open road, if you will. I can choose anything. Left? Right? Straight ahead? In one year I will have a college degree in my hand. That's seventeen hours, people. Life couldn't be more open right now.

Yet, I'm tied down to the familiar, the routine. Why is this? Am I scared to leap, fearful of failure? I'm comfortable here. Too comfortable. Peter Stamm made me think about how my own routine may be choking the very life out of me.

Christ came so that we may live and live abundantly. Lately I feel like I'm throwing this in his face.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Haircuts are like breakups. You trim your unwanted split ends much like you cut the dead beats out of your life. Sometimes, it's a well thought-out decision. Other times, it's hasty. You wake up one day and realize a change has been a long time coming. No matter how much forethought went into your decision, you always walk away changed, for better or worse. You lose something, your hair or your heart. It takes time to readjust to your new look or your new single life. And there is always the potential for it to be really awesome, or really, well, not so awesome. These two things we have probably all experienced multiple times, unless you're Amish.

Over the years, we all do our fair share of experimentation. We chop or color, straighten or curl. We get bangs then layers, grow it back out, and eventually repeat the entire process. There's a whirlwind of options and we enjoy getting caught up in the journey of trying to discover the best possible versions of ourselves.

The same goes for dating. We wisely, or foolishly [as the case may be] choose from a slew of potential boyfriends. We date, we flirt, we learn about each other. We realize Mr. Perfect ain't all he's cracked up to be, or we can't imagine what life was like before him. Again, we're looking for the person that helps us be the best possible version of ourselves.

It's all somewhat of a guessing game. There's no exact formula, no number to plug in. What worked for some, may not work for you whether that's a hairstyle or a boy.

We work hard to groom ourselves. We wash daily, blow dry, and straighten all in the hopes that we will look as good as we did the first day we walked out of the salon. As with our relationships, we try to make the other happy. We play putt-putt with his friends, we eat Chinese food, we watch movies like The Terminator. Despite our best efforts, however, eventually we need to go back to the salon. Our roots are showing. We've got split ends. There's damage and something needs to be done.

Watching that dead, damaged hair fall to the ground is freeing. You instantly feel liberated, lighter. Like when you break up. Sure you may be sad for a while, you no longer recognize your life without your significant other, just like your reflection is strange to you now. But you both knew [whether you want to admit it or not] that it just wasn't working.

Obviously departing with three inches of hair and your boyfriend are two entirely different things, and I'm by no means trying to liken the heartache of losing someone you loved to a bad haircut. The process, however, can be a fun one. Eventually you'll get it right and when you do, that haircut and that boy are gonna be great.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Make Your Own Sunshine

Summer is my favorite season. Hands down. The sunshine, the sweat, the swimming pools, the snow cones, the sweetness of NOT studying. I love throwing my hair in a bun and donning a wrinkled tank top, a pair of athletic shorts that I've owned since I was a freshmen in high school, and, of course, my abnormally large sunglasses. In almost every way, I wish it was summer year round. [Photo taken at Camp Wabanna, some of my best summer days spent there.]

But even in my favorite time of year, sometimes, it can still feel gloomy. The sun may be shining its brilliant rays, but that doesn't mean I always feel its warmth. I had a few moments like this last week. Grahm and I had just played tennis. When I say "play" tennis, I mean I would ferociously swing my racket only to whiff the neon green ball flying toward me. Or I would send Grahm running all over the court in attempts to return my "serve," which somehow never landed in the nicely outlined square. It was fun. Venus and Serena won't be calling me for pointers anytime soon, but we had a good laugh. After our tennis "match," we went for a run. Well, he ran. I huffed my way into a brisk walk. I was almost to the tennis courts, where Grahm stood waiting for my slow self to get there, when I saw a group of three women standing off to the side of the sidewalk. I politely nodded as I made eye contact with [what seemed to be] the leader of the pack. I thought I had been more than civil. After all, we don't know each other and I was running. Apparently, I was wrong because when I passed by this group of women, I heard the word, "whore." I kept running, but I was wildly confused. Surely she wasn't talking about me? Was my nod not good enough? Are my shorts too short? No, no. Whatever her reason, it soured my mood faster than my lips pucker whilst eating a pickle.

A few days later, Grahm and I went on a bike ride around wonderful, friendly Norman. Nearing the end of our trek, I had to momentarily be on the wrong side of the road in order to make a necessary turn onto Stinson. An oncoming biker, an elderly gentleman who was plenty far away, curtly said, "Get on the right side of the road!" I kept riding, but I was, again, wildly confused. I turned to Grahm, wondering if that actually happened. It did. We were both puzzled at this stranger's rudeness.

When I was young, my mother would always drive us to school. We listened to the same talk radio program every morning. The name of the woman escapes me now, but she had a signature phrase that my mother liked quite a bit. Even to this day, my mom will raise her voice and squeal, "Make your ooooooowwn sunshine!" This phrase came to mind when I heard the rude words of the mystery biker and onlooking woman.

Although summer is my favorite season and I have plenty of reasons to smile, sometimes people are just mean. I think there is real value in adopting the "Make Your Own Sunshine" philosophy. This way your moods aren't determined by the weather, the situations, or the people you have the misfortune of encountering. It's simply up to you. After all, you can always write a blog about the rude people you meet as your own poetic justice.

So, like my mother, I say...
"Make your own sunshine!"

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Undomestic Attempts

I'm not very good at being a girl. It's true. My domesticity stretches only as far as my mascara brush.

When I think of femininity, I think of an all-out, macho wonder woman. She cooks and bakes with ease. Recipe books line the shelves of her organized pantry. A red checkered apron is tightly wrapped around her thin waist. Flour is on her cheeks. This woman also sews. Plush pillows rest on the sofa. Each window is adorned with handmade curtains.

I couldn't be more undomestic. If you're looking for someone to spend your money, sign me up. If you need advise about which blouse you should pair with your new skirt, I'm there for you. But ask me to make a casserole for a bridal shower? Yeah. You just wouldn't do that. After all, I'm the girl that messes up boxed brownies. [Eggs are an essential ingredient in case anyone was wondering.]

The sad thing, people, is that I want to be domestic.
I want to be one of those amazing housewives where my husband and children will shower my cooking/decorating/sewing/overall amazingness with constant praise.
"Yeah, this is alright I guess. But my mom makes it better."
"Got to get home. The wife's making my favorite!"

I think there is something absolutely beautiful about being a housewife and mother. Obviously, I am neither of these things. My mom, however, couldn't have demonstrated real domesticity and femininity better. Seeing her love and care for us, I have always had an inexplicable desire to do the same with children of my own. I'm getting older now and still don't know my way around a sewing machine, or the kitchen. I think it's time for that to change.

The past few nights I have been cooking dinner for Grahm. When I say cooking, what I mean is I brown the meat for tacos, or I "grill" chicken for sandwiches. Intense, right? Well, I'm gradually working my way up. Yesterday I made chicken spaghetti [see picture] and chocolate pie. Next on the cooking agenda is enchiladas. He is way too nice to me and always eats things with a smile. As for the sewing, my goal is to make some new pillows for my house. We will see how this goes.