Worlds Collide, But Dreams Happen!

So, advice from one who learned the hard way… rebooting a blog right before a major life event (e.g. moving into a new house you had built) is not recommended.  Both activities cannot be sustained together.  In my case, moving most definitely won!!  But, my husband and I are now all moved in.  After about a month, I have found most items that were packed away.  Still missing odds and ends, like the cord for the Dyson hand vacuum, an electric razor (but we found the plug for THAT!), and things I’m sure I won’t know are missing until they are found again.

What I did make sure to locate, besides the cats, were my notebooks for writing.  And, they have been organized.  Woah!  I am finding though, that I am likely to start over with one of my stories, “Scarlet,” as I feel the whole thing has evolved so much since I started.  I noticed when I am in a mood to expand on certain elements, rereading my notes takes me out of the mood as I feel they are so wrong.  So, Scarlet will get a makeover this year.  And two other stories will get bits and pieces added in earnest.  One fantasy, one science fiction and one drama (?) book have ideas in progress.  When writing in these doesn’t strike me, I have a variety of writing prompts to keep me entertained.  Gotta stick with it.

Soo… back to the house… I now have an office that is all mine!  No hubby office in the same room as he gets his man cave in the basement.  I can’t wait until he has a TV in the basement so I can take it over while exercising. LOL.  Any way, my office isn’t fully organized yet, but it is off to a good start!  I do need a new lateral filing cabinet to replace the existing cabinets that are no longer adequate.  I don’t have any pictures up yet (poor Chaos from Xenosaga has been waiting years to be hung up).  From the angle of the picture below you don’t get to see my awesome French doors and cute corner cabinet (but yay windows!).  You do get to catch two of the three cats enjoying the office with me.  That’s Ivan on the chair and Natasha on the floor.  Ivan is my more constant kitty companion, while Natasha is just patiently waiting for food (patiently-ish).

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With all of this, I have recently realized something very important, which I somehow didn’t realize all through having the house built.  This is our DREAM HOUSE.  We did it, we built a home that is completely our own, everything we could want and last month it became OURS.

I am so humbled and excited and nervous and grateful. This also inspires me to continue writing.  The house is now proof positive we can make our dreams happen.  On to the next dream! After I feed the cats of course!

P.S. I’ve decided if I ever get a tattoo, it will need to somehow include “You are free to sever the chains of fate that bind you.”  I feel I have freed myself from so many challenges over the years.  We are our own destiny, our own fate, it is ours to control.  We are the makers of our own reality.

 

Death Charms

She added a charm to her bracelet for every life she took.  They clinked along as she slide her hand on the bannister.  The sound of her boots on the stairs cut sharply into the scraping.  Once she reach the top and started walking across the hall, she idly twirled the charms around her wrist.  The Eiffel Tower, a Christmas tree, a Celtic knot… the memories swirled around her, death dancing in pirouettes as she made her way to the door.

She stepped up and placed her hand on the door, pausing to watch the charms gather at the bottom of the bracelet.  The reverie was broken by the sound of steps down the hall.  “Valentina, how interesting to see you here today.”  Without taking her hand off the door, she turned to face the newcomer.  With that accent it could only be one person.  Such an odd accent, she imagined multinational parents, maybe British and Scandinavian?  For herself, she had trained out her accent, no connection, no past.

“Hello Sebastian, I didn’t realize there would be gathering.  Otherwise, why have you come?”

Sebastian didn’t reply, he just smiled and continued to walk down the hall toward her.  Valentina waited, watching, one hand still resting on the door.  Details drifted by her as she waited.  The dark suit was tailored, the custom fit outlining his lean figure perfectly.  His blonde hair was pulled back, neatly tied at the neck.  Nothing unusual, except for the gloves.  Sebastian never wore driving gloves.  Just as she focused on the gloves, he began taking them off.  He placed them in his left pocket and continued to make his way down the hall.

In his left pocket…  the sound of the gunshot briefly drowned out the clamor of her bracelet as she dove to the floor.  Her eyes never left Sebastian, even with the gun lowering to line up another shot.  Squeeze… and jump!

The charms scraped across the stone as Valentina slid over the ledge, dropping into the courtyard below.  She grimaced.  When did she get so careless?  No time for that now, time to get out of the villa before Sebastian moved to the edge and took another shot.

The click as he checked the gun.  “Valentina, my dear.  You cannot be surprised, can you?”  Sebastian taunted her from the balcony.  East through the archway to the outer hall.  The charms jangling, a dissonance for the rustle of leaves as she cut through the bushes.  “Your bracelet has been filling rapidly as of late, and not all from our contracts.  How curious, suddenly working for free.”  North to the exit.

Sebastian’s laughter in her ears, a counter beat to her steps echoing behind her down the hall.  Her nerves were rattling in tun with her bracelet, sliding up and down her arm, her whole body having taken up this sprint for her life.  Had they found out?  When did she slip up?  She shook her head and continued to run.  If they knew the truth, it wouldn’t be Sebastian here, and she wouldn’t get away.

When she got to the entrance, Valentina hesitated on the threshold just a second.  A bullet shattered the silence as it impacted the sidewalk.  Just as she thought, he stayed on the second floor and went around, she hadn’t been quick enough to get outside first.

Valentina twirled onto the sidewalk, the move becoming a mad pirouette, her arms working to get above her head, increasing her momentum.  The boleadora swirled around, the three weights now fully spread.  It left her hand as her foot came down.

Her arm back down at her side, the bracelet crashed against her thigh as one of the weights crushed his throat.  Valentine tilted her head to the side.  “Hmm, I think yours will be a necktie.  I did always appreciate your sense of style.”

Memories… and Writing… and writing memories down…

I was recently reorganizing my journals.  In all truth I am trying to consolidate a jumble of unrelated thoughts and pull them together in some organized fashion.  Unfortunately, so far the result is a jumble of cutout pages from two journals that were tossed, another set of journals where I have tried to keep related thoughts together, two new journals, of which one is already christened with a new book idea, and my loose-leaf journal in which I’m supposed to be organizing the ideas for my “main” book.

One of the journals I kept is the closest thing to what you would consider to be a diary.  Now, I don’t write in it every day, the writings aren’t even dated, and it’s not necessarily a ‘what happened’ kind of thing, it’s just random thoughts.  In this journal I write a lot about family, different memories and other things that grab my attention for more than a fleeting moment, but definitely a lot about family.  I do it because they are important to me and because I sometimes have trouble with the depth at which I keep my family, the emotions, what it all really means,  and because it can be tough with the little time I do get to spend with them all (I live half a country away from my mom’s side).  Back to why I brought up the journal though.  I came across an entry where I write about one of my cousins.  I can tell it’s from a couple of years ago.  I talk about seeing “J” during the trip.  On my previous trip out west, he was away for work, so it really had been years since the last time I saw him.

Now J and I only got to spend a few hours together.  He got back from a work trip the day before I was leaving to come home.  However, in that few hours, and even now rereading the entry and describing it here, it reminded me of everything that IS him.  On the one hand, we were there, sitting at his mom’s dining table, and on the other hand, we were kids again, playing and laughing.  Even then you could see the caring man he would become.  He was there with me, even though he had just gotten back, had only briefly seen his wife and kids and had only said hi to the siblings he had chanced to see.  He had specifically come to see me, the cousin from a million years ago.  He didn’t know it then, but he was just what I needed.  While some of the discussion was a subject I avoided around my family (my mother), I could sense the love and concern.  For those few hours, J wasn’t just my cousin, he was my big brother.  Some of it was annoying, because well, it’s annoying when siblings are right, but it felt good.

Authenticity at its most intimate.  People like J are who they are, regardless of whether or not you sit with them for an hour, or interact with them all the time.  The love, care and concern were real, not just because we are cousins, but because J is who he is and nothing can disguise it.  It makes the memory so vivid.  For me, that memory underscores the importance of family, and memories like it are why I now go out of my way to visit every year.

Memories are important to who we are, they can also be important to who we want to be.  In writing, they can be important to who we shape our characters to be.  I want to build a character that reminds me of J, reminds me of that moment, in a scene as authentic and thought-provoking as it was with us.

So why did I bring this up?  Because coming across that entry, I’m glad I wrote down that memory.  To be honest, it’s only six lines in the journal.  But look at this post.  Out of those six lines, I can write over 600 words.  And in the end, the most important piece, what started the whole thing, those six lines, were written down on a whim, in a journal of random thoughts.  And now, those six lines make me remember.

Do you write down memories?  What thoughts capture you as you stare out a window, wind down for the night, or as you shower in the morning?  My suggestion? Write them down every chance you get.  Six lines, six words, or six paragraphs.

Curiosity… Why didn’t I think of that?

Last week I attended a Women’s Leadership Conference in Springfield, MA. The theme was “Be Curious.” Now, I really do enjoy going to this conference and have gone the last three years. It is very inspiring, motivating and I always have some takeaways. Being who I am, of course I run things over in my head continuously, especially after the high of the event has settled back down. Almost a week later, this has led me to different takeaways, one big one in particular.

Random drives. Before my husband and I landed on opposite work schedules almost every weekend was an adventure, even to destination nowhere. We would drive for hours. If we left early enough, it might’ve been a day for Maine, Lake Champlain in Vermont or a scenic drive through upstate New York. Leaving later in the day meant maybe we had dinner on the Cape. Yes, we would drive a couple hours for Wendy’s or Subway on the water at our favorite spot and then drive home an hour or two later.

My point is, those random drives fed my curiosity, my sense of wonder. The only time we were glued to our phones was when it was getting late and we really needed to figure out how to get home. Although, his mother or grandmother has a saying that you’re not lost if you haven’t crossed any oceans. Any way. I also wasn’t glued to my camera. It’s important to SEE what’s around you and not just worry if you got the perfect picture.  Don’t get me wrong, I take a lot of pictures, but I don’t hold it up constantly and only look for good pictures.

I realize now part of what could be missing with my writing is curiosity. For me, curiosity and imagination go hand-in-hand. I see an old house and imagine what it might’ve been like to live in that time, or imagine the wildlife that could be hiding in the forest, or what is that hawk thinking as he sits there on that stump… Those random thoughts don’t fly through my head as much as they used to, so I find it harder to focus on the stories in progress. I know it sounds like an excuse, but it’s the best reason I’ve got, because I have *tried* to get those stories moving.

I think I need to find a way to feed my curiosity the way those trips did before. I need to find a way to balance the activities that sap my energy with those that feed it, find more time for activities that make me feel like I’m thriving, not just surviving. Even as I say that in my head, the phrase “find more time” bothers me. It’s more that I need to ditch the activities that don’t add value. A topic for another time…

What if I try mini trips on my own, not as far, but with local parks or sights in mind? The key will be finding a way to make the trip an exciting prospect even though I’m going alone.  While I’m not an outgoing social person, I find more reasons to be lazy than to go out when it’s just me.  Anyone willing to adopt a thirty-something year old for family outings?? No?  If someone won’t adopt me for day trips, maybe I’ll adopt someone else.  As odd as it sounds, my mother-in-law may be a good one for that, maybe I can steal her away every other Saturday…  Hmm.

Now, to make this work… Mother Nature, can you let it be spring so I can be out and about? Thanks, your trying-to-be curious child.

Blog Reboot! And Using Anime as a Writing Tool

I have decided to reboot my blog.  In order to get better at writing, I have to, well, write!  The new format will be a combination of fiction and creative nonfiction short stories.  Some will be personal, or just observations of the world around me, and some will be light and fun.  I hope you’ll stick around to find out and provide great feedback along the way.

One of the things I’m trying is to take a scene from an anime and re-describe the scene in my own way.  I’ll give an example.  Recently I watched (again) an anime called Vampire Knight.  The anime is not what I would consider to be a fast-paced anime, with a lot of emotional scenes.  Some of these scenes don’t have a lot of dialog so it’s a lot of internal thoughts of the character and visuals that drive the scene, the emotion, and the tension.  What catches me is some of the non-verbal interaction between the characters.  There is one scene where the main character, Yuki, turns aware from Zero (one of the main male characters) and he walks up to her from behind and grabs her hands.  It is not one of the most intense scenes in the series.  In fact it took me forever to even find a fan-made recreation of it on the web.  However, there are so many aspects of the physicality of it that intrigue me.  I’ve done a quick re-description below, taken out of context and with my own embellishments, so if you’ve seen the anime, know up front the scene won’t quite match.

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Yuki turns away, takes a few steps and then stops.  Why does he act like this?  They’ve lived together for all these years and yet sometimes he could still be so frustrating!  He didn’t need to remind her of the way the world fit together between humans and vampires.  He especially didn’t need to remind her of what Kaname meant to her.

Without warning, Zero comes up behind her.  He slides his hands down her arms to her hands, covering them in his and pulling her back.  It throws her off balance a bit and she leans back against his chest to avoid falling over.  He starts to lace his fingers in hers but stops.

The silence between them hangs in the air.  The only sound is his heavy breathing as he leans over her.  She can sense the jumble of emotions vibrating in his chest as she continues to rest her head there.  Standing there a few moments and she can feel her frustration fade a bit.  It’s comfortable to just stand there with him.  If only she knew what was going on, what he was thinking, maybe she could help.

Yuki can feel Zero calming down.  Before she can muster any words, he lets go.  She doesn’t really hear what he says as he walks away and by the time she turns around, he’s gone.  What is this she’s feeling?  And what was wrong with Zero?  Was everything really going to be okay?

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Now, I can tell you I haven’t done the scene justice, and on screen I think it is less than 10 seconds, but I want to be able to take a scene like that and make it have impact.  So, time to keep writing!  And time to keep watching anime too!

How do you hone your creativity?

Now honestly, what really made you go back to school?

Just about everyone who has gone back to school later in life knows the question: “What made you decide to go back to school?”

What I’ve found is that the answers are pretty generic, including:

  • “It was time.”
  • “I felt I needed to.”
  • “The time was right.”
  • “Work offers tuition reimbursement.”

None of these are a real answer.  Now, we may feel the question is polite, or prying, and doesn’t require a thought out response, but it does, for both parties.  Here’s why:  the answer serves to reaffirm the goal behind the effort for the one answering; the answer can provide insight or inspiration for the person asking, especially if it may be something they would consider.  The real answer is about motivation.

So, now I’m going to tell you my honest answer to the question:  I went back to school because I realized that without a Bachelor’s degree I wasn’t going to get anywhere for another ten years.

In 2007, I had been at my company for roughly 3 1/2 years.  I applied for a position that required three years experience and a Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent experience.  I found out later, the equivalent work experience for this company is two years for every year of the degree, so eight years experience, added to the three years required and 11 years of experience is needed with no degree.  Ouch.  I would have had to start working when I was 12 or 13 to have the experience for said job.

It was that smack in the face called reality that made me ask the question, “Without a degree, how long do I have to wait?”  The answer was 5-8 years and that was just too long for me.

When I give the honest answer, instead of the quick and easy answer, there’s a pause.  Then I get follow-up questions.  They include questions about how I thought I could afford it, if it was overwhelming to think about going back to school, how did I balance work, school and personal life, and did I ever think about quitting before I finished.

Those are the kind of questions that also need to be answered honestly.  For the financial aspect, it was one of those things where I just had to think there would be a way, be it grants, student loans, payment plans, or something.  Regarding work / school / life balance, my answer is that there is always sacrifice, but the key is to remember that there is sacrifice in going back to school and there is sacrifice in not going back to school.  People forget that the status quo has an opportunity cost as well, and deciding to do nothing has its own trade-offs.  In my mind, not going back to school was sacrificing what my career could be for the next 30 years, so sacrificing 2 to 4 years of personal time was worth it.

The last question is always the hardest one to answer, not because the answer is difficult, but because it is an emotional question.  The answer truly is yes, I did consider quitting.  I considered it when I had to be up at 5 AM on a Saturday to go to school and all I really wanted was sleep, when I was doing homework every night of the week and on Sundays and nothing else, when I was gaining weight from not being out and about, when I was exhausted just waiting for the current session to be over.

Every time I told my husband (then boyfriend) that I considered quitting he would just turn around and ask me, “Why did you go back then, if you were just going to quit?”  And his follow-up would be, “Do you still think you need the degree?”  And that question, my friends, prompted the immediate “Of course I do!” response.  “Then I guess you’re not quitting, so get back to it.”

By the way, we learned to reward completion, homework completion and class completion, like you would your own kids.  I got ice cream when my homework for the week was done, if it was done before Friday night.  I love ice cream.

So, back to it, when you ask someone, or are asked the question, “What made you decide to go back to school?”  Tell them you are truly interested, give honest answers and feedback. The answers should provide perspective, provoke thought and maybe, just maybe, provide a bit of inspiration for the next step of your journey.

You were born with potential.  You were born with goodness and trust.  You were born with ideals and dreams.  You were born with greatness. – Djalal Ad-Din Rumi

Context Changes Perception and Lasting Impressions… In Music

I was recently asked about my favorite music to listen to while writing.  While I do love music, I find that I usually write with only my thoughts on continuous play.  So, instead of putting nothing as the answer, I put down “Video game music.”  Specifically I would mean Japanese (or Japanese-styled) role-playing games.  I love JRPGames almost as much as reading.  Interactive science-fiction / fantasy?  I’m there!  Favorites include Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, Xenosaga, Atelier Iris and many more.

Linking JRPG’s, and their music, to writing got me thinking about why I like the music and what makes the music different from the pop, rock, electronica and other varieties of music to which I listen on a regular basis.  I realized that it was context and purpose.

In my mind, the music in a JRPG enhances the scenes and reinforces the concepts conveyed for people and places.  An easy example is battle music: never slow or dull, it’s designed to enhance the sense of danger and need for action.  Boss battle music is typically different, adding drama and heightening the awareness of it being a significant battle.  Town and dungeon music will be different depending on the mood of the town.  A laid-back fishing town will have an easy-going melody that’s not too fast, while military town will have a controlled rhythm, conveying power and authority.

As I thought about this, I realized that I always link the music to the scenes, rarely does the music simply stand on its own.  Listening to Kefka’s theme from Final Fantasy VI, I can hear the mischief, the drama and the entertainer.  What the theme music is missing is Kefka’s insanity and the need for chaos.  When I think of the Image Theme of Xenosaga II, I’m stuck on the game’s trailer, which took full advantage of the slow start to the song, the increased intensity in the middle and the soft finish.

This got me thinking about how instrumental and classical music can be pulled out of context from the composer’s intention because usually there aren’t other mediums that reinforce them.  [Side note:  Yes, my thoughts are a ball of many strings that connect in a continuous loop, complete with snags, tangles and occasionally more than one end to follow].

So, I would like to have you take part in a little experiment for me.  I would like you to listen to what is one of the most popular classical songs of the 20th century due to being one of the most played classical songs in various movies, shows and advertisements.  The song is “Carmina Burana: O Furtuna” by Carl Orff.  As you listen to the song, think about what the song conveys to you.  After you do that, look up a translation for the lyrics.  I will tell you now that the lyrics are from a poem written in the 13th century, and likely they don’t mean what you think.  Now, could Carl Orff had pulled it off the same way if the poem (and lyrics) had been in English instead of Latin?  Now that you know the meaning, listen to the song again, does the song convey something different? Do you now get a mixed message?  Or, do you do what I do and ignore the meaning of the poem and only listen to the context provided by the music.

For JRPG music to have the impact it does, the message and the context have to be aligned with the scenes and characters.  Having a depressed character with a happy-go-lucky theme with create a disconnect and make the character less memorable, harder to connect with.

Now apply this same concept to writing, speaking and other forms of communication.  What additional mediums are in play that change the context, meaning, or authenticity of the message?