Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Used Bookstores

To my long list of pipe dreams, I should add "own a used bookstore," an inkling that truly only strikes me when I walk into one or watch You've Got Mail. The Shop Around the Corner isn't a used bookstore; it's a small shop for new children's books, but they do seem to have a shelf of old copies of beloved books, and the store has all the quaintness I imagine used bookstores to have. Maybe Meg Ryan helps that.

I think this quaintness is the first thing that draws me into used bookstores. I find old things to be charming, I find small personal shops to be charming, and I think old, worn books tend to be sweet or strange or beautiful. I like that they tend to hide unfamiliar names, lists, and markings in the covers and margins. I like books that have been owned, maybe loved, by other people, and that have been, for whatever reason, left behind or given up or passed along, to be purchased by wanderers who know nothing of their history but will gladly give them a new home and new use.

I also like the idea that strange finds may exist in these stores. I like thinking that perhaps I will wander into some dusty corner of a dusty bookshop, pick up a dusty, misfiled, leather-bound volume with a title that is strange to me, pay five dollars to take it home and find that it is the answer to the Voynich manuscript or the door to Narnia. Or maybe it'll just be a really, really good book.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On Focus of Occupation

I strongly dislike the idea that I have to choose a path for my life, particularly in regards to my career, and stick with it, never straying. It has long been frustrating to me that we live one life and may have one career, may never see all things or learn all things or do all things while we exist on the Earth. I have rejected the idea of a single career, and preferred the idea of two or three or four careers in a lifetime, some simultaneous.

But how does one manage such a thing? It would likely entail receiving multiple degrees, and would certainly make it much harder to become expert at anything, or to cultivate real passion at anything, or even to have much free time. We are not, perhaps, meant to be so scattered.

So, perhaps I should be a writer only, or at least make that my plan. But what shall I write? Articles, poetry, fantasy, science fiction, biography, science, adventure? Fiction or non-fiction? Literature or the popular style? How much does one need to focus?

Last year, I had a conversation with someone about Focus in this respect. He, too, seemed to reject the idea that such focus of occupation is necessary. As an undergrad, he had gotten a Math major, with minors in Economics, Physics, and Statistics, and he has written myriad papers on myriad areas of math and science. He spoke with disdain of a professor he knew who overestimated the value of focus, a man whose concentration on a particular area of number theory was nearly very detrimental to his career. I thought, well good, someone agrees with me, someone intelligent and in a very effective life position.

Since then, I have given it more thought.

The main basis of Economics, Physics, and Statistics is Mathematics. Every paper this guy has written is about Mathematics. The problems he solves are based in Mathematics. His skill, his Focus, is in problem-solving with Mathematics. He is not unfocused. He has a concentration, and an effective one.

I can't be a tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, AND a writer (unfortunately), but I can be a writer of fiction, non-fiction, articles, poetry, and more sections of the Dewey Decimal System than Isaac Asimov should God be willing for that to happen. I'm good with that.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ten Modern Things

I know I can be a bit old-fashioned. I tend sometimes towards the fifties, sometimes towards the 19th century, and sometimes towards Narnian living, but I seldom express delight with present times. Yet, I must be thankful for living when I do. Thus, in no particular order, here are ten things that I appreciate about modern times--varying degrees of modern, anyway.

  1. Google. I am always surprised when people tell me they would like to know something, and I ask them if they Googled it, and they tell me they didn't. To me, it is almost reflex. I don't know how to hard boil eggs? Google. I want to learn to Charleston? Google. I want to purchase a custom fantasy-style cloak? Google. I want to know when the next hurricane will hit Florida? Google. I have no idea what people ever did without it.
  2. Modern optometry. I have poor vision, and I appreciate contact lenses and the possibility of laser eye surgery someday, especially as advancements are made in that field. Glasses are fine and all, but they are very impractical if you are in the midst of adventure.
  3. The ability to print books cheaply. I don't like to imagine living back in the days where a single book cost a great deal of money just because it was so difficult to make one. I like books. I like having them, and I like reading them. I don't care for e-books myself, but I do like the fact that books are so easily available to whoever wants to read one.
  4. Cell phones. Texting, in particular. I like that I can call from just about anywhere if I have an emergency, but I am more glad for the convenience and connectivity of texting.
  5. Higher education for females. I was permitted to go to college, and expected to go to college, and now that I am in college I am expected to graduate rather than find a husband and drop out. I can go to grad school if I want. I could be a professor. It isn't strange that I read. I may be inundated with learning and academia if I so choose, and even if I don't choose, I am happy that the option exists.
  6. Contraception. By the time I get married and have to deal with such things, there will probably be even more available options than there are currently. This is good. I don't want children.
  7. Sharpies. Sharpie permanent markers are awesome. Also, Sharpie makes the best pens.
  8. Rock music. What would we do without rock music? Specifically, I am fond of the grunge and post-grunge sound.
  9. Whiteboards. During the last school year, I used my mirror and dry-erase markers to plan my schedule and to-do list, and to practice math without wasting paper. Now, I have a small whiteboard that I don't plan to mount on the wall. Instead, I sit on my bed or at my desk, and hold it like a large clipboard. It is especially useful for all transient tasks of the pen.
  10. Indoor plumbing. Whenever I've got myself wanting to live in Narnia or very far back in time, I need only remember proper bathrooms, and the craving subsides.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Good Stories

A good story, as we generally understand it, has certain aspects that make it good. A plot that has its share of suspense, but does not rely on it. Characters who are real to us, and have depth. A setting that we can imagine well, and rules of the setting that the story continually follows--that is, if a bird of prey cannot fire while cloaked, there better be a lot of fuss from Captain Kirk if he sees such an event occur, as well as a good reason for the physical rules of that world changing.

But a story that someone from the land of Narnia would consider "good" is a very different thing from what our current culture considers a "good" story. What type of story does our culture crave? We crave stories about people. Not necessarily valiant people, or honorable people, or good people who have done amazing things. We'll take stories of foolish people doing mundane things, or mundane people doing foolish things. We have a People magazine that is all about well-known people doing things like getting married, having children, going to the store, wearing clothes, and expressing opinions. We gossip about the people we know. If we have nothing in common with someone else, it is easiest to fall back on discussing some mutual friend. We like sitcoms and soap operas, shows and movies about other people having normal lives that somehow seem more humorous or more dramatic than ours.

Maybe you, personally, do not appreciate these types of stories, and for that I give you an approving slap on the back. You are perhaps a higher-minded person than I, for even as I begin to condemn our fixation on the lives of other people, I find myself enjoying Everybody Loves Raymond or Seinfeld or, until fairly recently, a neat bit of gossip about someone in my social sphere. And, why? To what end?

What about stories of Valor, and Honor, and Virtue? The stories of battles and heroes that I ignored as a child are the stories I wish I knew now. In the Chronicles of Narnia, when they sit around telling stories, they speak of great wars and great peace-times and great Kings and great Queens. They speak of Aslan, the representation of Jesus in that world. They tell true and virtuous stories, and they seek truth over all. Are the truths within Narnia better, or more interesting, than the truths on this Earth? I don't suppose they are.

And so, I leave you with this thought, often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt though I don't suppose anyone knows for sure who said it: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." It is an incomplete thought, but the spirit of the thought is very much worth considering.

P.S. There was a fair amount of drama and the like even as far back as Bible-times. Consider Genesis chapter 30, or really, the entire story of Rachel, Leah, and Jacob. Yet, the stories were told for a higher purpose than to entertain by the lives of other people. This drama, and all dramas within the Bible, are told for the sake of showing the Glory of God.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Answers to Pseudo-Random Questions

For kicks and giggles, today I am using the Imagination Prompt Generator and giving brief answers to some of the random questions that come up.
  • If your tears could speak to you, what would they say? "It was much warmer in your face. Could you stop crying now?"
  • List five books that you've read this year. I just re-read the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, so that's seven right there. Bam.
  • People that irritate me... are often thrown into my life in places where I can't just avoid them, possibly for some patience-building purpose.
  • I wish I could... take a sailing ship around the world. Or around the Eastern seas of Narnia. Or just anywhere, really.
  • Describe a typical day in elementary school. I do wish my memory were that good. Uh...I think there were snacks in there somewhere. And we had the alphabet on the floor. Yeah.
  • Describe the perfect Spring day and the activities done on that day. I have this Norman Rockwell book called Norman Rockwell's America. If you ever find that book and look at some of his images of happy youngsters outdoors, I think you'll figure it out.
  • Name five things laying around your computer. My cell phone, the notebook I've been using to write notes for my novel, mixed herb seed packets from Microsoft, a Secondhand Lions DVD, and my absentee ballot.
  • What's your favorite special occasion? Probably the Christmas season. It's so happy! And musical! And cold! I also like any special occasion that lets me wear a dress.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Election Season Has Begun

Today, my absentee ballot showed up for the primary election. As a college student whose university is in a different district from where I am registered to vote, I suppose I am signed up for all the absentee ballots until I graduate. I like absentee voting because I may research the candidates as I vote, and I may do the researching and the voting quite at my leisure. However, there is some concern as to whether the mailed-in ballots are truly counted unless the race is close, and some concern about people illegally pulling them from the mail, etc. It seems unlikely, except that much of our country is corrupt.

There are billboards and postcards and commercials and phone calls from candidates, trying to tell everyone how much better they are than the opposition, yet the only way to find the truth is to seek it yourself, which most people have neither the time nor the impetus to do (even if they want to). I certainly hope to research before sending in my vote, for even if my vote matters little, I would like to know for myself that I made an honest attempt at choosing the people I would choose had I the ability to appoint them personally.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Visions of the Future

I have noticed a curious thing.

In decades past, most visions of the future, the new millennium and whatnot, have been full of smooth metal surfaces and minimalist spandex clothing in metallics or bright colors. Smooth and pristine was the vision of future fashion, technology, and living spaces.

Perhaps because those visions were found in especially cheesy movies, or perhaps because of something within the attitude of our world, or perhaps because our sense of aesthetic has simply taken a very different path than the dreamers of past decades expected, our modern generation rejects the pristine. Oh, not entirely - after all, look at anything made by Apple if you want shiny, simple, and modern - but in pieces.

Firstly, I have noticed that every once in a while, the "futuristic" look becomes "in" on the runways. Shiny, tight clothes, often with large shoulders or awkwardly structured skirts, and completed by enormous boots are donned by model after model. Yet, like most extreme couture, it never quite strikes the population the way designers may have intended. What the population accepts is strappy metallic sandals, or a shirt half-covered in silver sequins, or a minimalist white suit. We accept pieces.

And in some cases, we reject the pristine ideal completely, instead favoring deliberate imperfection. Ripped jeans, uneven skirt hems. Major singers and bands using handwritten CD liner notes, with bits crossed out and re-written. Digitally-created marketing images that look like slightly smudged ink-stamps. Our culture actually craves and appreciates this deliberate imperfection.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a bad thing. I'd get quite aggravated if everything looked like it was designed for Apple or for Dolce & Gabbana couture. I do, however, find it quite interesting that people of the past expected culture to favor sterile, and we have come to favor quite the opposite (again, with the exception of Apple). Moreover, a lot of it actually looks really good.

Very interesting, indeed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4 Things I Love About America

Today is, as I surely hope you realize, the 4th of July and the anniversary of America's independence. Today's blog (which I intended to write by yesterday, but alas, since I am not getting paid to do this my deadlines are far less strict) is dedicated to a list of some of the things I love about this nation. It is not everything, and probably not even all of the best things. It is simply a sampling of things that I find wonderful about the U.S.A.

  • Its origins: A group of bold and intelligent people, who would "recognize no Sovereign but God and no King but Jesus" (John Adams & John Hancock), seized America from the Crown of England and brought the shaky, dubious new nation to a solid and prosperous existence, as "one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all."
  • The freedom to be Christian: Knowing a little bit about the oppression and persecution of Christians in other nations, I realize we Americans are blessed. We take it for granted, of course, and lack the fervent focus, worship, and evangelism of the people who know a real fear of persecution, but we are blessed all the same.
  • Freedom of expression and of conscience: This one's a bit obvious, especially for we blogger-types. I do so enjoy the right to speak and publish what I please, and the related right to believe what I please, and that I may not be forced to express a thing I do not believe or to silence the things that I do believe. Even when people attempt to lawlessly squelch these rights, our country on the whole has a far better record of freedom of speech than any other nation I know.
  • That we still have time to turn around our current path to disaster: Oh yeah, I'm going there. Our country has been blessed profusely from its inception. In recent decades, we the people have done much to screw this up. We - as a country - have shunned God, and in doing so have shunned the foundation of America. We allow for violations of the right to free speech, so long as the suppressed speech does not agree with what we believe. We allow for violations of the Constitution...ah, but for the fourth of July, I'll save the fireworks for the sky instead of for this blog post.
Happy Independence Day to you and yours!