New Year, New Journal…But how to choose?

One of the great recurring dilemmas of my life is how to pick the perfect journal. Honestly, when it comes time to shop for a new journal, it feels like going on first dates: there are some options that look good but are boring, some that are perfectly nice but no spark, and some that just are a total affront to the purpose of a journal. (Trust me on this one: I once used a journal that looked like neon seahorse had been brutally poached to make its cover…it may be filled with great memories, but I am filled with regret that I endured that notebook for so many months.)

However, having been an avid writer for as long as I can remember, I have narrowed picking a new journal down to a near science.

There are the obvious factors such as:

  1. Size: Large enough to read, small enough to squeeze into a purse, medium enough for an artsy Instagram photo to prove that you do indeed write in it.
  2. Lines: Do you want lines? Bullets? Or— I’m lookin’ at you T-Swift —  blank space?
  3. Binding: Spiral? Flat? Antiquarian? Composition book? HELP.
  4. Covers: Hard, soft, over-easy, scrambled…wait no, that’s not right.
  5. Adornments: Bible verses each page? Inspirational thoughts? The full text of Pride and Prejudice in itty bitty type along each line?

But wait! There’s MORE!

  1. Stage of life: An “end-of-an-era” journal ought to look different than a “filled-with-high-hopes” journal and an autumn diary is likely to be quite different than a spring diary.
  2. Current goals: Tracking your fitness? Planning your homework? Composing poetry? Plotting your next campaign? The proper tool is key!
  3. Personal Style: As much as I might admire that hipster look, my life is lived in bright floral and, while I admire that skull diary, it would not quite match my pink pajamas.

I am about to enter not only a new year, but my final semester as an undergraduate; as such, there are exciting things happening every moment and this amped up the pressure to find the perfect journal. Unfortunately, it seems I have used every decent model sold at my go-to stores (aside from a too-expensive Monet-print leather model which I drooled over for a bit).

Anyway, after  failing, even at Target (*shakes fist at security cameras*), I resorted to online shopping which, at least for books, is not the same. Of course I use it for convenience, but it just isn’t as satisfying as strolling through aisles of shelves, picking out a new notebook or novel, smelling that fresh papery scent and feeling the smooth inky pages… I spent HOURS of non-book-scented time scrolling through Amazon, putting way too many options in my cart. Honestly, it felt like literary online dating and finally I had to just swipe what looked promising and hope it will up to its profile in real life.

I suppose I’ll find out on Thursday.

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12 (Truthful) Thank-yous for my Roommate

Sites like Odyssey feature posts like “12 Things to Thank your Roommate For” is “13 Reasons You and Your Roomie are Basically a Couple.” Well, these are sweet and all, but they’re not nearly as relatable as you’d think… at least not for my roommate and me, being rather odd, creative souls. And so, inspired to one-up Odyssey and to give my roommate the shoutout she deserves, I thought I’d make my own list:

12 (Truthful) Thank-yous for my Roommate:

1. Thank you for letting me move in with you out of the blue to escape a rather unfortunate situation.

2. Thank you for understanding when I eat your chocolates that it’s a necessity.

3. Thank you for quoting me on your Tumblr; it keeps me humble and will remind posterity that I was indeed always this awkward.

4. Thanks for being my personal iPhone photographer. (See any good photos on my social media? They’re by my roommate.)

5. Thanks for bringing me towels when I bring umbrellas or phones or any other random item to the dorm shower instead and find my forgetful self utterly stranded.

6. Thanks for not letting me use knives for any and all purposes. My mother really appreciates this one.

7. Thank you for checking out my dates and being always on the lookout for red flags. (And for tolerating my giggles after a good evening.)

8. Thanks for letting my friends become your friends and completing my little circle.

9. Thank you for all of the hugs; I forget about them and am terribly awkward, but I need them as much as anyone else.

10. Thanks for not complaining about my constant dancing and singing and puns. Really, you deserve a crown in heaven for this.

11. Thank you for letting me throw story and character ideas at you randomly and helping me sort them out; you are definitely made to be a creative writing teacher.

12. Finally, thank you for having my back and being my closest friend during these past three years. This one is cliché and cheesy, but it had to be said.

Dear Mr. Dickens: An Open Letter

My dear Mr. Dickens,

I hope you are well and not at all rolling over in your grave. (It is, after all, nearing Christmas and renditions of your famous holiday tale are promenading before audiences who are mostly wondering whether they actually turned off the oven or whether the turkey they pretend to like is burnt positively to a crisp.)

I digress. I hope that you are enjoying some heavenly library and continuing to dream up wonderfully real characters, quirks and all. (Though sadly characters with fewer flaws if you are in some higher home…)

Now that the well wishes are done, I must humbly beg your pardon; I insulted you years ago, though perhaps we can lay the true blame on my mother, who insulted you first. But whether or not insults are hereditary failings, I must ask you to forgive me. I called you “long-winded” and “gold-digging,” for I heard that you were paid per word and perpetuated your propensity for prolific phrases to procure profit. (How’s that for alliteration?)

I was wrong to mock you for a trait that I share (love of words and liking of being paid for them). I also concede that I was incorrect in my accusations. You were not, as it turns out, paid per word, but rather per installment. This is most sensible, as you wrote novels in monthly installments and it seems a shame to only be paid upon the completion when readers were already enjoying your creations. I freely confess that I made these claims without reading anything aside from the aforementioned Christmas tale and even this is dubious as I my only memory of it is from the Muppets’ version. And so, I apologize most sincerely for my unbased bias.

My readers might pause here, thinking that the length of some of your works does lend some credibility to my prejudice. But here is where we must become more thoughtful. Are your books —David Copperfield for instance— actually pedantic in prose and sprawling in size? Or, are our attention spans as readers poorly lacking? Are we even reading these narratives correctly?

Life is so rapid these days and we demand constant simulation. Not only does my phone weigh much less than Copperfield, it promises more laughs and terrors per post.  Modern literary material is the same; young adult novels especially demonstrate this, focusing more often on the fantastic elevating the ordinary instead of finding what is naturally noteworthy  in this ordinary.

It is so easy to be absorbed by rapid-fire adventures and super human characters, but have we lost something? Have we lost an enchantment with our own humanity? Even just a few chapters into David Copperfield, I am rediscovering a love for the quirks of the human race. I am disgusted by characters that are as flawed as I am and cheer for those that cherish the same silly little hopes that I do. I am enraptured once more with the thought that in all my eating or drinking or whatever I do, I am somehow doing something marvelous because I am, as much as and more than any character, a unique human being set within the context of my culture and, above all, creation’s narrative.

But I am getting carried away and I will tell you now, Mr. Dickens, that I intend to write many more blog posts as I live alongside young Copperfield. For that is what it is, after all: living. There is to be no skimming, no rushing through this book; the very length and style do not allow for it! And where once I might have cursed you for this, now I bless you, sir. I am grateful that your writing, at once elegant and snappy, makes me slow down, return to a fascination with the ordinary, and truly live in community with your characters as they develop alongside my own life.

I once more offer my humblest apologies and my deepest thanks.

Your abashed and admiring reader,

Ryanne J. McLaren

 

Lessons from a Tired Tuesday

This week, I am feeling the burnout of a senior music major. All I want is to curl up with chocolate and cry over old movies. Even on this tired Tuesday, though, the little things continue to remind me that beauty and order endure despite my messy life.

Here are a few; maybe they will help you remember that it is good to be alive and that there are better things ahead (and already here!)

  1. Why walk down the stairs when you can slide on the railing? (I did this and a girl exclaimed, “Guys! She just slide! Did you see how cool that was?” Day. Made.)
  2. Red lipstick makes even the laziest outfit, hair, etc. look intentional.
  3. Take notes. Whatever class, chapel, lecture, etc. Just the act of taking notes sets you up to be engaged and interested in the subject.
  4. Going along with #2, Bert’s Bees makes liquid lipstick and it is absolutely magical.
  5. Fallen leaves on a chilly morning. Go out of your way to step on them. The crunch is so worth it.
  6. Use honey to flavor your latte; it makes you feel healthy, tastes delicious, and won’t cost you that extra syrup charge.
  7. Dance. Maybe it’s because my professor made us watch Bride and Prejudice (Bollywood meets Jane Austen…) but I have been adding little dance steps to my walk and WOW it’s an instant mood boost.
  8. Allow space to create. I began my piano practice this morning by improvising a piece about some flowers I saw on my walk to the conservatory.

If you can find beauty in the little things, you will find beauty beyond your imagining; likewise, if you take care to order the little details, the larger will fall into place.

Method…Writing?

Method acting is a key point in my novel. One of the characters is an actor who has become “stuck” in the role that he last performed. He has lost himself into the character he was contracted to play. There are obviously a MANY problems that arise from this (many dark moments for this poor guy), but there is one lesson to learn for our benefit:

Method Creating.

First of all, to create art, you cannot always consider yourself an “aspiring artist.” If I had stayed in the mindset of “I’ll someday be a pianist” I would not have gone far as a musician. Instead, I learned, over many years of self-doubt that if you want to achieve something, you have to live into that dream now as if it is already reality. In much better words:

You have to live as if you already are what/who you want to be. If you want to be a great pianist, you have to live as if you already are one by practicing hard, humbly listening to both praise and criticism, and making original (even if not at first brilliant) artistic decisions. For too many years I worked my tail off and studied like mad, but was crippled by the thought that I had not yet achieved, that I was not yet the musician I wanted to be. In one sense this is true. I had and still do have far to go and we should NEVER stop pushing ourselves to be better or else our art (and, worse, our very selves as human beings) will stagnate.

However, you have to live and press forward with the conviction that you already are that musician (or artist) that you want to be, letting this motivate you to live up to your future vocation/goal in the present practice.

Oddly enough, I have never had a problem claiming to be a writer. To be fair, I probably should have more qualms about my claims to being a writer, for I am soooooooooo far from where I want to be. I don’t have a doctorate, haven’t published a novel, have not been invited to give guest lectures, etc.

But I am confident that one day I can reach these levels because I have already adopted “writer” as my current role. By living as a “writer” in the present, I am more motivated to actually pursue this goal than I would be had I remained an “aspiring writer” or “someday writer.”

So, I have adopted a sort of role even if it is not brought to total fruition yet, and my approach to my art is made the better for it.

What else can my poor method acting character teach us?

Surround yourself with relics.

My novel includes, to name a few, a Venetian mask, a violin, a huge volume of Sherlock Holmes, Italian postcards, red wine, a portrait, and about a million cappuccinos.

And I have all but the wine sitting beside me as I write. I can feel the characters speaking to me from their favorite curios. I hold in my hand the mask that the actor dons in a pivotal scene. I sniff the pages of the book another character read as a child. I drink the espresso one character conjures.

Through the little souvenirs I have gathered since the conception of this novel idea, I am able to enter into the realm of my story. I have adopted the role of writer, of creator, and, using tokens I have gathered from this world, am able to enter into another of my own making.

Give it a shot, maybe. What title/role would help you pursue excellence and dreams? And what little things can you surround yourself with to foster creativity and insight? Comment and let me know! I’d love to hear how your artistic life, dear reader, is thriving.

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Slight disclaimer: When I say to live into the role of what you want to be, I do not mean to adopt this as your identity. The character I used as the original example suffers this exact downfall and, let me tell you, it does not go well. Our full identity cannot be found in any temporal or merely-human characteristic and any “roles” must be held subject and united to the enduring identity promised in faith. (Indeed, though, this identity too is already given and, at the same time, yet to come, informing our lives in the present by assuring us of the future!)

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Final note: The novel featured in the photo at the top is AMAZING. Yet another reason to be excited about being a writer. 😉

Re-re-re-reading

I just finished reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind for the fourth(?) time, though, honestly, I’ve probably read parts of that book three times, parts of it six. I just can’t seem to stay away from it and end up rereading at least half of it every late spring/early summer. Whatever the exact number, I can say with certainty that there is deep and personal value to rereading a book with this regularity.

Reading #1: I read it mostly for the story and to escape what still was the most stressful semester of my life (though by now I have handled far worse).  Click the link below for my original reaction (minus some of the crying). I actually credit this book with inspiring me to start this blog in the first place!

https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/gone-with-the-wind/

Reading #2: Also read mostly for the story, but after my first year of college and living away from home, it felt good to return to something familiar. As soon as I moved back home for the summer, I baked muffins and had to make up some of the ingredients, so I decided I could rebrand them as “Melanie’s Muffins.” (recipe/post at link below)

https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/melanies-lemon-berry-muffins/

Reading #3: I was lazy and wrote nothing, but I folded the corners of one in every ten pages because I had a paper idea and was gathering evidence. (Please don’t berate me for abusing my book like this…sometimes an idea strikes and sticky notes are too far away to save the poor top corners.) After now two years of the honors institute at my university, I was reading on a new level and beginning to make connections I still find fascinating to ponder.

Reading #4: Very little reading was done, but I skimmed some of my favorite parts and carried the now-worn paperback around with me for a couple weeks as a shield against end-of-term stress. I did bring it to a pool party, though, where a friend borrowed it and left me to grouchily wish I had not been so generous (below).

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Reading #4.5: I actually read all of it this time. I even caved and bought a Kindle copy so I could read it on the plane to Ireland, justifying the purchase by telling myself that the O’Haras were Irish so it was only fitting. This time, I could not stop thinking of paper ideas… Grad school, I’m coming for you!

Beyond the intriguing literary ideas I unearthed through several re-readings, though, I was interested to see my growth as both a reader and a person reflected in my reading. The first time I read for fun, the second for comfort, the third for insight, the fourth(ish) for development of these ideas. Similarly, as a person I have stepped out of my comfort zone, have found the joy of investigating new ideas and places, and now have the joy of looking back and seeing the development I underwent along the way.

I do not reread many novels, though I know in my literary heart that I should. However, having this one novel to return to over and over again has been wonderful and I know this will not be my last rereading. Just as Scarlet returns to Tara to reconnect with her past and plan for her future, I have been comforted and inspired by this fourth(ish) rereading.

To those of you out there who have never read this book, GO READ IT. And to those of you who have never reread a book, either choose one or find one worth reading once and then again. (Shoot me a message and I’d be happy to help you out!)