Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Writing--some random thoughts

Writers always say, "Show don't tell" but what I've found lately is that when you're in the process of choosing what to write, what to put in a scene and what to leave out, you figure out you can only really tell. I mean, your characters don't really exist, so all the reader knows is what you tell them about what's going on.

So I would rephrases "show don't tell" as "show or tell, but you can't do both at the same time." If something's really concrete, you should tell it. Like what the character's house looks like or what they did when they woke up in the morning. But if it's more abstract, it loses it's power if you tell it directly so show it by revealing the other details.

Like if the character is really superstitious you could show them having various good luck routines they go through and getting snappy when those routines are interrupted.

But you can't just come out and say, "he was superstitious" because that's just boring. The reader doesn't feel like the character really is this way, just that the author is trying to convince everyone the character is this way.

Is that playing a guessing game with your readers? I guess you can do both telling and showing as long those two techniques match up. Like show the characters routines and also say, "He did it because he was superstitious."

But I think that the most important point of any story is something that's never said directly in the story. Or it's said only once at a critical point. If there's some important truth to the story, you have to hold it very close to your heart like a charm and only let the reader see it very briefly.

Another thing about stories that I have trouble writing is the pacing. On the one hand, I love stories that are tightly woven with no dead space, and one action leading into another. I like it when a lot of story can take place within a short span of time, like a few days, and when moments of beauty come unexpectedly in the midst of turmoil.

On the other hand, I really can't stand when stories are just dramatic confrontation after dramatic revelation after another dramatic confrontation. Usually this happens when there are a lot of characters and the author can't afford to spend more time with each one than is absolutely necessary.

But you never get a sense of people just living their lives like normal people, and it drives me crazy. If there's no quiet moments of the characters just being, then the world doesn't have depth. It's just the "best highlights of" tape.

The best authors can do both at the same time. That is, they can have a character doing everyday things but at the same time the character and setting are so interesting and each detail is so well-chosen that you never get bored.

I want to get a lot better at choosing which details to put in my stories.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Festivals and So On....

Last night went to my second summer festival of course wore my Yukata! That makes four times this summer, counting all three days of Toukasan. It would be nice to wear it once more, maybe in August during Obon and/or to a fireworks festival. We shall see.

The day before the festival I went shopping for better sandals to wear with the Yukata since I knew I'd be walking a lot and my old geta were plastic, which is not so great for walking on pavement. At first I was just looking at various cute summer shoes in pink or white, but then I noticed of geta-like shoes. In fact, they were geta! I had no idea you could buy those at a regular shoe store.

The selection probably dwindled quite a bit from earlier this year, unfortunately. But oddly enough, among the ten or so pairs in the that particular store, there happened to be one with black soles and purple-ish, sparkly straps. My thought process went like this, "Now, I could look around Parco or even go to Sogo to find the best shoes possible, or I could just buy this pair now that I chose from this limited selection and which sorta matches...Nah, who wants to walk all the way to Sogo?"

So I paid 35 dollars for shoes I can only wear a few times a year and took them home to try with my Yukata. Lo and behold, they matched the pattern much better than the shoes that came with the set! I wore them all over Ushita, and though the strap chafed a little my feet didn't get sore.

Which is just an example of that I shop entirely by instinct over method. My shopping philosophy is rather Platonic in that I believe you carry the form of what you want to buy inside of you whether you know it or not. And as soon as you meet the manifestation of what you want you can recognize it. Which means you can go out with not particular idea of what you're looking for and still point to one thing and say, "Ok, that one! In purple!" and be totally content.

No wonder I tend to drive my mom crazy, because she actually looks at things and tries them to judge their usefulness. And to get a better sense of her options, she likes to go to several stores to compare prices and selections before making a final decision. Instead of buying the first thing one sees at the first store. Which is all very logical and I cannot understand it at all.

During the festival it rained on and off, which made everything a bit more exciting. Periodically everyone would pull out umbrellas, and luckily I had my higasa from earlier in the day. That thing is a lifesaver. You can carry it when it's hot, and if it starts raining unexpectedly you have an umbrella too.

I realize that I didn't write about the JLPT. I won't get the results until September. Until then, studying for the N3! Besides me, it was almost entirely college students at the test site. Ugh. Feeling so glad I've moved on from that phase...

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Get Curls

Say goodbye to straight hair, even with a straight iron! This is summer in Japan.

This year my hair has grown longer, so I'm trying something different. Instead of straightening my hair every morning only to see it poof again by noon, I'm going the opposite route and encouraging it to curl as much as possible.

How to get my curls: An exhaustive guide

1. Shower at night.
2. Do not blow-dry hair.
3. Put some gel in hair. (optional)
4. French braid wet hair.

Note: having just one braid down the back saves time and also ensures that the roots of the hair are mostly straight.

5. Sleep. (necessary)
6. Wake up with messy hair.
7. Put bobby pins in hair to control the mess.
8. Do nothing to your hair all day.
9. Remove hair from braid and bobby pins.
10. Do not brush hair.
11. Straighten bangs (optional, obviously not done in the picture)
12. Replace bobby pins on each side. (necessary)
13. Use hair spray. (optional)

And this is my no-nonsense guide to summer curls. If you don't have my hair, it will probably not work for you. When trying to avoid a big poof of hair, lately adding in some definition has worked better than trying to flatten everything out.

If you are feeling especially fancy, you can continue from step 10 like this:

11. Brush bangs to one side and fix with hair wax.
12. Side braid down one side. Make braid sloppy.
13. Pin other side with bobby pins.
14. Use hair wax to make all hair sloppy.
15. Use hair spray.


So lately I've been reading a blog by an Atheist writer. Obviously we have some theological differences, but I had to laugh when I came across a series of posts on homeschooling. Because it's just so true!

Here's one on socialization.


The thing homeschoolers grow up in their own little world and there will always be that disconnect of never quite knowing how to relate to other people. Which even the parents of homeschoolers can't be expected to get because they grew up going to school and dealing with people all the time. No wonder homeschoolers seem to speak their own language...

One thing that was definitely true for me growing up was that I could never conceive of myself apart from my family. This sounds totally stupid now. But even as a teenager I was never quite sure I would continue existing if left to my own devices apart from anyone sharing my last name.

I used to be terrified to do simple things for myself like call a friend on the phone or buy something at a shop or restaurant. I must have been junior high  before I could really get comfortable with money. Who knows what I was afraid of. Screwing it up? How incompetent do you have to be to mess up buying a keychain?

Several memories as a teenager... I was 15 when my family took a trip to Yosemite. I remember splitting up from them for a few hours because I was tired and wanted to go to the gift shop and then read in the hotel room. Everyone was fine with that and my mom explained how to get back to the hotel. (Sadly necessary because I wasn't used to reading maps on my own.) It wasn't a huge deal, but it was a trippy experience. It felt so weird to be in charge of my own schedule and of getting myself from one place to another successfully. And that was just like two hours...

A really good experience from high school was when I went to Worldview Academy. We learned interesting stuff, the people were nice, and it really helped me be independent. I was nearly 17 and before that I could never imagine going away to camp on my own. (I didn't even go to AWANA camp.) My parents encouraged me, and I really wanted to go even though I had no faith in myself.

But lo and behold! I could figure out where all the events were and keep my schedule straight and even talk to people! No one was showing me what to do, but somehow I did it! After my mom left, somehow the world kept going just as it always had. This was a big revelation to teenage me. Ever since that camp, I've been working up to more and more independence.

For someone like my mom, who homeschooled me, being so timid must be unthinkable. She went to boarding school in junior high and never relied on her family to such an extent. Also, our personalities are totally different. She's a take-charge person and I'm a worrier.

So I think if she knew how  paralyzed I was by fear, she would say, "What the @$#*&???? You're one of the most competent people I know--what the &%$#^&* are you afraid of????" And I would be like, "Um, I dunno? Life?"

This is probably why nearly 10 years after high school I'm living apart from all my family in a non-English speaking country. And I'm still a total scaredy cat. I worry about everything. My life is ridiculously simple. I live in a sharehouse and my office is literally five minutes by foot. I don't have a car or even a bicycle. The first year I lived here I barely traveled. I'm just learning now how to do things like go to a clinic when I'm sick.

But if I lived in my home state now it would be too easy to surrender control of everything in my life back to my parents and be too scared to live as an adult. Slowly, I'm growing stronger, for myself and for others. I've always been a late-bloomer and looked younger than my age. But in the end if I go at my own pace I can get there.