Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Benefits of Immaturity

I found this in a journal from eighth grade. Enjoy.

“I am my own worst enemy when it comes to writing. I get excited about a story idea, and I write for a while and then stop. Sometimes I just get tired of [the story], but most of the time I compare my work to the books I’ve read, and I think mine isn’t good enough. Plot line not complex enough, rambles on too much, not believable. I’ve said ‘em all. I know that professional writers are older and more experienced than me, but I still can’t help comparing myself to them. And I hate it that I don’t finish what I start. I know I can’t just keep putting unfinished stories on the shelf, but what can I do about it?”

I love this because it’s so honest, and because sometimes I still feel this way. I’ve stumbled upon some great opportunities, but I know how much room for improvement there is in my writing. Most of the time, I’m like a toddler clunking around in her mommy’s high heels, playing dress-up and trying to be a big girl. I have a lot that I need to grow into.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Not Exactly YOLO

Today, I am sore from moving in many freshmen who overpacked in an attempt to cram their lives into a small dorm room. I have this problem of having a will and determination to help that is much greater than my actual muscular capacity to carry things, which means a lot of sweat and sheer exhaustion at the end of my four-hour shift.

In the casual chit-chat with the parents of freshmen (all slightly stressed and trying to pretend they weren’t), it often came up that I’m a senior this year. Almost all of them asked me something along the lines of, “So, what wisdom do you have to share?” or “What’s something you wish you would have known as a freshman?”

And I blurted out something mundane and trivial about the importance of not getting overcommitted or the best time to do laundry or how to open the English Hall mailboxes.

This is what I really want to say: during your four years at college, it’s helpful to pretend you’re about to die.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Legalism and Spell Check

I want to make sure that no one got the wrong impression from what I said about excellence in Wednesday’s post. Sometimes, I tend to take my perspective and preach it to the world, without taking time to consider the other side.

And I know there is another side to this because when I was a sophomore in high school, I decided that what I needed to do in order to be a better writer was turn off spell check.

Yep. That was my secret to success. I was going to get rid of those squiggly lines forever. Not because I held some hippie-like belief that I should just try spelling words however I felt like to free myself from an oppressive and arbitrary system of spelling. I just thought that being forced to look up words I didn’t know how to spell in an actual dictionary would be a good discipline to get into and (somehow, not sure how this was going to work) make me a more careful editor.

When I gave up on this little program after only three weeks, I chalked it up to laziness and felt a little ashamed of my “failure.”

Later, I learned this important rule: making something harder is not the same as making something better.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rushing Art at Al's Toy Barn

One of my favorite Pixar moments is in Toy Story 2, when Al asks the elderly toy cleaner about Woody’s repair: “How long’s it gonna take?”

And the cleaner frowns down his nose at the young upstart and says snobbishly, “You can’t rush art.”

So why does everyone hate Al (besides the fact that he’s a greedy, overweight, cheez-curl eating jerk) and love the obsessive cleaner who, like Al, declares that Woody is “for display only”?

A good deal of Al’s tackiness comes from the fact that he lives to make money. He complains about going to work, lies to get what he wants, and haphazardly slaps the rest of his life together on the go. Even though he’s the owner of a toy store, he clearly has no passion for it (he lives in an apartment marked, “No Children Allowed”) And because money is all that he wants, he can never get enough of it.

The cleaner on the other hand, loves his work. He doesn’t have to go on and on about how rewarding repairing collectables is. We can just tell. I often find myself wondering, in the famous scene with the cleaner, “Why does everyone love this part? Nothing happens.”

But something does happen. We see a man with passion. Does anyone need to clip a bib on a toy being cleaned, or polish his boots afterward? No. But the cleaner does, because he’s striving for excellence. Every detail is done with precision, after many years of practice.

I love this. Something about an old man caring about his work inspires me. But I’m not willing to do it myself.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Messing Up the Greatest Commandments

I’ve always thought that I’m safely within the bounds of orthodoxy when I say that the Christian faith is about loving God and loving others.

I was wrong.

I realized this as I read an article about the brilliant poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. (And yes, I understand that this is essentially a declaration that I am a hopeless literary nerd.) The author said that, like many genius intellectuals, Shelley had a fatal flaw: “He loved humanity in general but was often cruel to human beings in particular. He burned with a fierce love, but it was an abstract flame and the poor mortals who came near it were often scorched. He put ideas before people and his life is a testament to how heartless ideas can be.”

I’m an idealist. I love ideas and the power they have to shape our thinking. That’s one important reason why this blog exists. So this concerned me, because I never, ever want to be like that.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Face is the Window to the Soul

This is kind of a more specific follow up to the post I wrote about writers and creepers several months ago. It’s a very simple writing tip: watch people’s faces.

The key is being observant, noticing the little things and then knowing how to describe them later to bring a mental picture to the minds of the readers. See what people do when they’re happy, when they’re about to cry, when they’re lying (make a truce/treaty in a strategy board game if you want to see this one), when they’re about to fall asleep in the middle of a sentence, when they’re so mad they’re about to punch you in the face (okay, it would be better if they’re mad at someone else and about to punch him in the face).

What do they look like? How would you describe their facial expression, or the way their eyes look? How do you, as an outside observer, know instinctively what emotions they’re feeling? Is their voice affected too?

Then write those things.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


I began my (brief) career in politics in my high school government class. We were doing some kind of simulation where some of us were political candidates, some were lobbyists, and some were voters, each with a certain amount of money and power, all trying to accomplish different goals.

Now, remember, this was supposed to be fun. But the way I have fun is a little different than the way most people have fun.

To accomplish the goal on my character sheet (the election of a certain candidate and passing of some laws) I cooked up this ridiculously complicated scheme, based entirely on using the fine-print government procedures of proxy voting and bribing certain lobbyist groups with Monopoly money and cookies. (Legal? Yes, technically. Ethical? Probably not, which is why I decided that year that I should never go into politics.)

I remember looking up from my research of Congressional bylaws and saying, “Amy, no one does stuff like this. This is not normal. No one cares. And to get this to work, you’re going to have to talk to those popular kids who already think you’re weird and convince them to play along.”

But, for some reason, I did it anyway.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Senior Bucket List: Be Unnecessary

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, people.

Here’s your chance to get a tiny glimpse of what I was like as a high schooler. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the terrifying pictures from freshman year (just starting to grow out my bowl cut—no joke).

Go back in time four years and read the words of Amy the high school senior:

They say it happens every year: the seniors suddenly become unbearable.

It’s the pressure, most people say. These kids are going to be on their own soon, and they’ve got to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. Who can blame them for cracking under the pressure? Or it’s simply the fact that they’re the oldest now, the most experienced, and feel that they have the right to take charge.

I remember people saying last year, ‘I’m so glad so-and-so is graduating. She used to be so nice, but something happened her senior year.’ And I thought to myself, I don’t want anyone saying that about me. So I decided that I want to make as many people miss me next year as possible.

Great, goal, right? Make friends, be a good example, don’t pull rank or slack off just because you’re the big kid in the school. And that’s what I did my senior year.

Now I’m coming up on another senior year. And this is not my goal. Not anymore.