Monday, April 4, 2005
03:22 a.m.

Done. By god, I am done. This night has been rather hellish, and on more than one occasion I wanted to curl into a ball and give up.

I have a lot of good people on my side, though. Maybe it's late and I'm tired and feeling maudlin, wanting to gush over people who helped me out during what amounts to just a crappy day and a difficult college assignment. But those things can get pretty rough, and people who will stay with you through them can be pretty amazing. Like guys who will sit with you for an hour wrestling with stupid machines, for no payment beyond a 'thank you' (and maybe cookies). Like a roommate who has written several complete novels, but still tells you "Good luck" while you freak out over a short story. And means it. Or like another roommate who's also a sister, but won't let even that stop her from being nice to you. Or from being weird to entertain you. Or like one special person who has the courage, insight, and love to tell you not to be perfect. Yeah, I think that qualifies as amazing.

Saturday, April 2, 2005
11:37 p.m.

New quarter of classes is going well. Japanese is Japanese, which means fun; 18th century lit is, unfortunately, boring, but I do like having a regular English course again; and intermediate short story looks promising. I got shafted on the workshop signups, though, so my first story is up for Wednesday. Which means that I have to turn it in on Monday. I found this out three days ago. >_> For the second round of workshopping, however, I go at the very end of the quarter, which means I get about eight weeks in between to write that second story, or revise this first one. This schedule isn't ideal, but could really be much worse.

I talked to my instructor a bit about her attitudes toward genre fiction, and she told me, "If you're going to do genre fiction, or include genre elements, don't make it formulaic." By this, she meant that the story should still be original, unpredictable, etc., and not fall into any of the standard formulas that abound in fantasy/romance/etc. writing. I feel good about this response for two reasons: one, her attitude toward 'genre' is actually very similar to mine -- genre writing can be done well or badly, just like 'literary' fiction, and the quality isn't determined by whether or not there's magic or dragons in the story. I myself am pretty tired of quest fantasy, precisely because most of it feels formulaic. (I know some people do like the sub-genre, and I won't go so far as to say it's *bad* writing unless the writer subverts the basic structure. My exact feelings on formulas in story could make another entry altogether.) In fact -- though my instructor didn't say this herself -- a lot of non-genre fiction falls into the exact same trap of the overdone plot: family dramas, woman's self-discovery, etc. Again: bad writing is bad writing. (Or, shall I say, predictable writing is predictable writing.)

Secondly, this is a very different response than the one given by my instructor last quarter, who gave us unqualified license to write whatever genre we wanted. However, upon talking to her later in the quarter, I found out that she doesn't really like sci-fi/fantasy at all -- it just doesn't click with her. I don't think this translated into a bias for grading, but it did help discourage me from going the genre route for my second story of the quarter. There's really not much you can do if someone just doesn't like the genre. My current instructor, however -- she's given me a challenge. Do it, but do it well. In the end, her feelings about fantasy fiction may not be all that different from my instructor last quarter. But from my chat with her, I get the sense that her expectations are higher, and consequently she's more open to being impressed by a genre submission. All I have to do is take the risk.

Anyway. So right now I'm thinking about character. Specifically, how character relates to plot and how that differs in this story as compared to the ones I wrote last quarter. After I decided what I was going to write about this time, I said that, in my last two stories, the plots were kind of obvious. 'Obvious' because they were clearly a confrontation with the main character's deepest and most basic desire/fear/etc. It was obvious what these plots were trying to do. In this current story, I said, the plot wasn't going to be such an unambiguous expression of the deep/basic desire/fear/etc.

I've since changed my mind. For one thing, there's nothing wrong with having the plot be 'obvious' in this manner. You might even say that all stories *must* be obvious in this way, because that way we know that what's happening engages the character in a vital (and interesting, for the reader) way. This is the most important story that we can tell about this character. (I'm not sure whether or not this is something that can or should apply to all stories ... I'll have to think about it for a while.)

Additionally, I don't think this current story is actually going to be different. The plot will still involve a resolution of a basic fear or desire ... it just won't be the *only* basic fear or desire. In this sense, it's not the plot that's different, but my character. My main characters in my last two stories only had the single issue that I dealt with; there was nothing else that was as deep or vital to them. This character I'm writing now, on the other hand, has a whole host of issues (in every sense of the word ... she's kind of screwy). She's deeper, more complex than my other two characters. Is this something you can gather from reading all three stories? I mean, you do have to assume that there's more going on with a character than what you read in a single story. Maybe all three characters appear equally complex (or equally simple) based on a reading of their stories. But perhaps it does make a difference, and Hemingway's iceberg theory is right, and seven-eighths of a story should be 'underwater': "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them."

Or maybe you can't tell at all. In any case, it makes a difference to me as I write. And I should go do that now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005
11:49 p.m.

I went to the dentist today, which is always an experience. Not a bad one, really, because somehow I've only ever gotten cavities once in my life. (My teeth may be crooked and far from sparkly white, but they're persistently clean and healthy. Quite leftist of them, actually -- they're not straight and not white, but damn if they're not in good shape anyway.) What I dislike, though, is the stilted and perfunctory conversation that is typically necessitated by teeth-cleaning. I mean, you have to expect the surface-level small talk about school/work that comes with all casual social interactions. What's unique about dentist visits, however, is that they only ask questions that merit quick, one-sentence answers, in between periods of shoving tools in your mouth and wresting control of your tongue away from you. It was especially fun this visit, because I was scheduled for x-rays, which involves an uncomfortably large and plasticky apparatus.

Her: So what's your sister studying? *removes x-ray apparatus from mouth so I can reply*
Me: *reshapes mouth* Pathology.
Her: Oh, what kind? *prepares new apparatus*
Me: I don't really kno --
Her: *SHOVE*
Me: Hnaugh.

And of course, my thoughts were wandering while she was fiddling inside my mouth, and they may have happened to wander in the direction of my boyfriend, and I may have been slipping into a slightly dorky state of mind -- when she suddenly piped up, "So do you have a boyfriend? :D :D" At which I went "Guh" and tried to make an affirmative noise, so as to avoid moving my mouth at all, because she had the pointy-scrapey thing and the little mirror in there -- but it didn't matter anyway, because I wildly dislodged said scrapey thing and mirror with the foolish grin I could feel overtaking my mouth.

After that, she asked about him, and about my sister's boyfriend, and said that it must be exciting. To which I said something along the lines of, "Yeah, I guess ihnaugh." (It must be odd for dentists to have regular conversations, in which people actually finish their sentences.)

In the waiting room I had an encounter with a very cute yet unintelligible little girl named Sierra. This has reminded me why I don't really deal well with kids -- looking at them and having an 'awww' moment is all well and good, but actually interacting with them triggers a deer-in-headlights reaction. When Sierra first came up to me, very intent-looking, she launched into a half-gibberish monologue about her current outfit, her friend/relative/person she met on the street, and possibly included some commentary on my hair. And then she looked at me expectantly and said "Hm?" I stared at her blankly for a moment before my brain locked desperately on to the fact that she had been gesturing at her shoes rather pointedly, and I told her that they were very pretty. Two people, who I assume were her grandparents, communicated with her quite ably, as did the waiting room receptionist; myself, I have no idea what one needs to do to acquire such an esoteric skill. For my part, I kept huddled to my book (Bird by Bird, yay) and remembered why I don't want to keep any kids that come my way. Look at them, cuddle them, maybe even take care of them for a specified amount of time -- but otherwise? No thanks.

And now I think I'm going to go rewatch the original Bridget Jones movie ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005
10:19 p.m.

Oh, Spring Break. Oh, books. I have been reading them many-at-a-time, like some sort of addict who has been denied too long (which is, um, sort of true, so thus fails my simile). All have been good, almost without reservation. Recently finished are:

-Lucky, a memoir by Alice Sebold about her rape as a freshman in college. As I told the friend who originally recommended the book to me, it's not at all a pleasant read, but immensely good nonetheless. Actually, there are a few moments of dark humor, or even undiluted humor, because Sebold's writing is completely lacking in sentimentality. (But not, I say with a nod to John Gardner, without sentiment.) It's ugly, dirty, and really fucking frightened me at times. But as writing about rape -- and especially after all the kerfluffles I've seen about rapefic, rape fantasies, what's real, what's not, what's misogynist, what's healthy, etc. etc. -- it's the best I've read.

The only qualification to my enjoyment is the Afterword and general ending. I didn't feel like there was a good sense of closure. It's hard to choose a good place to end the story, without searching for some false epiphany of healing from which to construct a triumphant final chapter or something. And I'm particularly glad the author didn't choose to show her meeting her husband, whenever that was, because that would have felt like kitsch. ("Look, I can still find true love! etc. etc.") But ... well, I think what bothered me about the Afterword isn't what was *in* it, but the way it told the story of fifteen years in a single chapter. After being so close to the author's emotions that I had visceral reactions to the writing, I felt like this glossed over what I wanted to know. Again, it's a hard choice. I'm not sure how I would want her to change it.

A memorable section from the book comes when Sebold is talking to Tobias Wolff (from whom she's taking a writing workshop), and he says to her about her experience: "'Try, if you can, to remember everything.' I have to restrain myself from capitalizing the last two words. He meant them to be capitalized [...] memory could save, that it had power, that it was often the only recourse of the powerless, the oppressed, or the brutalized."

-Cunt, by Inga Muscio. Almost opposite of Lucky, this was an easy read, but not as good. It's an attempt at redeeming 'cunt' -- a "Declaration of Independence," the author calls it -- and it does achieve some success. I mean, I do think it's healthier to reclaim 'cunt' in the same style as 'queer' and even 'nigger' have been reclaimed, and so I enjoyed this book. But it's not a theory book; it's intended, I think, for those with a certain familiarity/affinity with feminist theory. Otherwise, you can follow her writing fine; you just may not be convinced. The substance of the feminist arguments are truncated, because she kind of assumes that you already know and agree; but as a result the book feels kind of fluff-like. It *isn't* all fluff, though, as the author does advise and exhort the reader to engage in grass-roots activism of all kinds, from visiting women-friendly sex shops to organizing activist groups; it's not all feel-good spiritualism.

I did enjoy it, though, for the humor if nothing else. And, even as a person who is interested in feminism and gender theory, but falls more within the bounds of liberal feminism than what's seen in Third Wave feminism (cultural feminism, perhaps?), I found a lot that I agreed with, or which resonated with me.

One of my favorite lines from here, interestingly enough, also deals with rape. Muscio shares the story of how her mother was raped when she was nine years old. "It is highly distressing to learn the sacred, holy place where you lived during your first nine months on this planet was ruthlessly pillaged long before you were conceived." And she says, quite poignantly, "It makes you wonder if there exists a safe place."

-Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, by Helen Fielding. I loved the original Bridget Jones's Diary, and so am not one of the people who vilifies (or at least dismisses) Bridget Jones as anti-woman/unrealistic/just plain unfunny. As a parody, I think the portrayal of the character's failings are more of an in-joke with the reader than an endorsement of unhealthy female behavior. So, with that bias stated -- I loved this. It's hilarious. It is unnervingly accurate sometimes, even for a geek-girl like me who is (hopefully) more perceptive. As a sequel, it is a little weak, and I think it relies more on gimmicks (romantic misunderstandings, the Colin Firth interview, the whole Thailand incident) than the first book did. This detracts from the subtle, elbow-in-the-ribs humor that makes you (me) groan and say, "Oh God, I *do* think like that ..." Still, it was entertaining, even with the gimmicks, so I'm more enthusiastic to see the movie now, which received similarly themed criticism.

Interestingly enough, the part that I thought I would hate -- the thing with Mark going to another woman -- I didn't. It was sort of contrived, and Rebecca (the other woman) never does get a personality (of course, this being Bridget's diary, that's accurate), but there was actually some reasoning to it. More importantly, Mark had some reasoning. And it also gave him a chance to actually break into the girl-power-fest and say some important stuff. The conversation that Bridget overhears includes some lines that made me want to cheer: "The danger is if you've been single for a time, you get so locked into a network of friends -- this is particularly true of women -- that it hardly leaves room for a man in their lives, emotionally as much as anything because their friends and their views are their first point of reference [...] And you just know every move you make is being dissected by a committee of girlfriends according to some breathtakingly arbitrary code [...] A woman must know what she believes in, otherwise how can you believe in her yourself?" This is an extreme version of the behavior of most of the females I know -- but since I did indulge in this extreme version during middle school, I can buy this description. And what I love most is that the insight within it shows that Fielding *knows* what Bridget is doing, and what she as the author is doing. (So it *is* self-aware parody! Hah!)

I have many other favorite lines, but here's just one. Bridget on Mark: "7:35 a.m. Still has not woken up. Mmmm. He is lovely. Love looking at Him asleep. V. sexy broad shoulders and hairy chest. Not that sex object or anything. Interested in brain. Mmmm."

In progress:

-Bird by Bird, a book on writing by Anne Lamott that I've had recommended to me from many sources. It seems sort of how-to, sort of self-help. I've read about twenty-five pages, but so far, so good. It helps that, despite being a prose writer, she quotes a lot of poems. I even saw one from Rumi when I was flipping through, so she wins extra points. She uses one poem, written by Wendell Berry for his wife, to encapsulate her marriage-like relationship to writing:

The Wild Rose

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart.

Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.

I'll have more substantial things to say once I get farther along in the book. I also need to choose what novel I'll start next -- it seems to work best when I read both fiction and non-fiction (or, more accurately, narrative and non-narrative writing) at the same time. My choice is between Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club and Gregory Maguire's Wicked (on which the musical is based). Mmmm.

I also checked my grades today, and ... It's the lowest GPA I've gotten in college. Well, gotten *ever.* But I knew it would be, and I've also said that I will look at grades in a sane manner (i.e. as measurement of progress rather than evaluation of worth). So I'm a little disappointed, but not too much. My grade for Short Story is actually better than I expected, which I think means that the rewrites I turned in boosted my grade -- which is good, not for grade purposes, but good because it means my revisions actually made things better, instead of screwing them up more. Yay. XD

In general, life is good. Now, more than ever, I realize that I get a lot less privacy at my parents' house. I'm used to my roommates being gone for work/school/boyfriend, so this is odd. I can't really hole myself up in my room, though, because 1) I am here to visit my parents, after all, and 2) most of my room is gone. So. I'm taking what I can get, and hope I can do some writing before the week is up.

::The Author::

I'm Dora, a twenty year-old junior at the UW who's majoring in Creative Writing, with minors in Japanese and Philosophy. I also work on campus, am the president of the campus writing club, and am the internet officer of the anime club, all of which makes me sound much more involved and ambitious than I really am. Mostly I just try to keep up.

I have a website, and can also be emailed at kotori [at] u [dot] washington [dot] edu.


At the moment I'm watching School Rumble, Bleach, Genshiken/Kujibiki Unbalance, and Beck. Having been cut off from Orange Days due to a hiatus of the fansubs, I am seeking to find my j-drama fix elsewhere. I also finished Fullmetal Alchemist over the summer, and am taking my fangirling to the next level by working on a Lust cosplay, which will hopefully be complete in time for Sakura Con. As for manga, I'm following Watsuki Nobuhiro's newest series, Busou Renkin.

For the first time in a long time (too long), I'm making fun reading a priority again. Right now, I've got Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.

Music-wise, I've fallen hard for the Wicked soundtrack. Much love.

::The Layout::

This design was created with an image from Tsubasa no Kami, lyrics from Dashboard Confessional's "As Lovers Go," and Photoshop 5.5. It was a long time in coming, because 1) the last one was up for way way too long, and 2) I don't think I've ever done something with Escaflowne, despite it being one of my favorite series. I made it because 1) I've been re-watching the series lately, which has reminded me just how much I love it, 2) I wanted something a little brighter than the last layout, and 3) I am a big fat dork.

Please use a relatively updated browser when viewing, and set your monitor to 800x600 or higher.


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