Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 

Valid. 

But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

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Ray Bradbury: a reflection 

Yesterday was the birthday of renouned American author, Ray Bradbury. Three more years and we can celebrate his 100th birthday. But even in 2017, Bradbury’s birthday is special to me because his stories provided the kick-in-the-pants I needed to take my writing seriously. 

Before entering high school, my family and I made a trip to the bookstore. Barnes and Noble was having a sale on its classics (when is it not?) and I picked out two with ease. But when searching for a third (buy two get one), I was at a loss. 

“How about this one?” my mom asked, holding up the book I found least attractive. It was red with planets orbiting on it. Ew, Sci-fi.

“Um…” 

“It’s good!” she persisted. “When I was teaching English, I would read aloud a short story from this book every Friday!” 

Oh great, I was thinking. Science fiction and short stories. 

Poor little me. I was so fixated on reading thick Austen or Bronte novels in an effort to seem impressive that I felt I was above fanciful scribblings about space. 

The irony…now I cannot help writing such scribblings myself.

Not wanting to argue any longer and urged on my my brother, who was worried we would miss our movie, I surrendered. I purchased my selections and let the Ray Bradbury collection thud like a rocket into the bag, forcing its way between the indignant British classics. 

That night, after the movie, I lay awake. Perhaps the movie had not satisfied my desire for a good story. Perhaps I had just eaten too many candies during it. For whatever reason, though, I found myself flipping open the red tome. 

“Let’s see if you live up to your reviews,” I might have whispered into its crisp pages, which fell open with all the grace and crunch of snowflakes. 

Minutes later, I was buried in an avalanche of words that fell so beautifully from Bradbury’s mind to pen to page that I could not dig my way back out had Jane Austen herself called for me.

Hours later, I was several stories in and near tears with that delight that only true bookworms know- the inexplicable thrill of having found writing that transcends mere ink and paper, writing that is instead made of the same substance as dreams. 

I devoured The Illustrated Man and made dessert of The Golden Apples of the Sun. It was with great self-control that I rationed out The Martian Chronicles for a later year when I was in need of escape. 

And, as this diet of “words, words, words” digested, it fueled ideas. 

And soon, these ideas begged for a form. Or did they beget a form? (Alas, Plato…your philosophy is not wanted just now.) 

As my ideas grew on those of Bradbury, I sought advice on how to bring them from the abstract brainstorm into croncrete being. 

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” 

Bradbury’s words came to me (possibly via Pinterest) and away I flew.

I definitely did not write 52 stories. 

I definitely did not write more than a couple semi-decent ones.

But I was writing and that was enough.

(Not that I hadn’t been writing before. My memory boxes are stuffed full of the “newspapers” written in crayon and “manuscripts” typed on the family computer with my mom as my editor.)

But now something clicked within me and I could not seem to stop writing. This blog testifies to that; not every post gets likes, some poems are feeble in hindsight, and only a few stories turn out to be keepers. But just like Bradbury’s short stories, it is impossible to have a year’s worth of bad posts, right? 

Don’t answer that. 😉 

Back to Bradbury. He inspired me to write (especially speculative fiction) and continues to make me fall more and more in love with literature every time I read his writing. 

For instance, just a few days ago I finished reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and then watched the 1956 movie for which Bradbury wrote the screenplay. It was quite possibly the most flawless book-to-screen transition yet. Bradbury perfectly portrayed the central themes of MD in under two hours. (Whereas the book took…well, a long time, to read.) 

He also wrote Leviathan 99, which is dedicated to Melville and is essentially Moby Dick in space. This stunning novella portrays the same themes of MD in a completely different setting, yet does so with such mastery that I believe Melville would be proud. (Also, pro-tip: if you don’t have time to read MB, just read Leviathan 99.

Reading Leviathan 99, I was filled with the same joy and wonder that I felt when first reading “The Veldt,” the first story in The Illustrated Man. Reader, do your mind a favor and listen when your English teacher mother encourages you to purchase a Ray Bradbury collection.

Although Ray Bradbury is sadly no longer with us in body, we are still able to celebrate his legacy on his birthday. He has left his readers deeper in love with literature and filled with awe at the power of writing. 

He has, also, left us a little bit lost on Mars. 

Unexpected Hero: Winnie-the-Pooh

The world is a mess. Whatever your political views, we can all agree that it’s a rough world out there. However, while the news is increasingly depressing, I found an unlikely hero to cheer me for a few hours: Winnie-the-Pooh. 

Somehow I grew up reading everything in reach yet missed this classic! So I decided, “What’s more comforting than cuddling my Eeyore pillow pet and reading Winnie for the first time?” 

It was a marvelous decision; not only are the stories delightful and humorous, but the characters can teach even us “knowledgeable” grown-ups a thing or two. 

My personally favorite is Eeyore. He lets himself wallow, but knows well the worth of “a little kindness and consideration for others.” 

And then sweet, nervous little Piglet reminds us that it’s okay to ask for help and that we should always look out for the “Very Small Animals.”

Of course, we must mention Pooh. Continually called “brainless,” he still manages to come up with ideas to help those he loves. Perhaps caring for others is better than cleverness in the end. 


As simple as these stories and characters may seem, they are all the more important in today’s overwhelming, grown-up world. As I’ve said before, good children’s books are for adults too, and this is certainly true of Winnie-the-Pooh. After all, adults need to be reminded of consideration, service, and friendship perhaps even more than children do.

Misshelved: Winnie the Poe

Went to the children’s classics section in search of some light reading…now I am just wondering how many poor young Winnie-the-Pooh fans have been traumatized by Poe instead… 


Perhaps Eeyore likes Poe’s stories. “Nevermore” seems like his type of vocabulary. 

Still, “Welcome to your nightmares” is a daunting phrase to put on a book beside a beloved nursery classic. 

Oh, how I love when shelving decisions go awry. Endless amusement!

Miss Darcy

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman having read or seen Pride and Prejudice, must be in want of a Mr. Darcy.” – Jane Austen and Ryanne McLaren*

*Note: The above quote does not actually represent the entirety of this post, but I did think it rather apt in capturing the feelings of Austenites everywhere.

Rereading Pride and Prejudice is probably the most fun summer homework I have ever had. I find myself procrastinating my other work as I continue to become absorbed into Jane Austen’s Regency world of country lanes, stuffy dinner parties, heartfelt letters, and- of course- the universally-beloved romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

In beginning to read this book for the second (or is it third?) time, I was determined to figure out which leading lady I am the most like. My mother used to tell me to “put on my Jane face” whenever I needed to act sweet and politely charming. But, others have mentioned that my sass is more in line with Elizabeth. I hope that I have never been a Lydia or Kitty, though I fear I may occasionally be Mary.

But…the more I read, the more I come to realize that I am not completely like any of these characters. And, while most girls will argue that Elizabeth is their spirit animal, I am afraid that I am, instead, Mr. Darcy.

Granted, I am obviously not a “young man in possession of a good fortune,” but I cannot avoid acknowledging the incredible similarities I have discovered between Darcy’s character and my own.

First of all, according to internet searches, which we all know are always accurate, both Darcy and I are INTJ personalities, commonly considered to be the “architects” archetype. INTJs are characterized by planning, introversion, and analysis. Of course, the Meyers-Briggs indicator does not capture the whole of our natures, so I will continue to delve deeper, using Darcy’s pursuit of Elizabeth as my primary evidence.

  1. Rudeness and cluelessness:

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“I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen 7-8).

I do not think that Darcy meant any overt meanness here, but was simply being blunt with his thoughts. If I had a nickel for every time I said something insensitive simply because I thought it obvious, I would be able to buy Pemberley. He was also clueless that the woman he slighted at first will become attractive to him within the next few chapters. I’ll admit this has happened to me too; upon meeting someone, I might not give him a second thought at first, even if he becomes important to me later.

2. Eye love intelligence: 

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“No sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes” (16).

Pardon the terrible pun, but Darcy comes to admire Elizabeth’s whole figure upon finding he admires the witty sparkle in her eyes. This is usually the first thing I see in a person too; a good-humored and intelligent expression in someone’s eyes is the most attractive thing to me and gives that entire person a handsomeness that cannot be matched.

3. Knowledge is power, but also love: 

 

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“He began to wish to know more of her” (16).

It might sound horrible, but people like Darcy and myself don’t care that much about learning about others unless we have a genuine affection for them. It goes right along with our detest of small talk. We don’t give two pence about someone’s thoughts on the weather,his/her favorite dinner course, or where he/she buys tea biscuits. Unless we care for this person deeply. In that case, we will not only want to know everything about him/her, but we will make a clear effort to ask and observe in order to gather information.

4. Falseness if futile: 

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“‘Nothing is more deceitful,’ said Darcy, ‘than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast'” (35).

When Miss Bingley copies and compliments everything Darcy does, he does not hide his annoyance, but expresses it in wise sayings she is sure to misinterpret but still allow him to speak his mind. He is aware of and despises all ploys of manipulation. Similarly, nothing bothers me more than falseness or deception and when I am aware of these manipulations, I speak my mind. And, though I usually believe I am correct, I also generally regret it.

5. Slow to form opinions, slow to discard them: 

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“My good opinion, once lost is lost forever” (43).

I agree with Elizabeth that this tendency is “a failing indeed,” but it is a failing I share with Darcy. Wickham wronged Mr. Darcy and deserved to lose his favor, but was it wrong of Darcy to renounce forgiveness? This is a fault of mine as well, for I am guilty of remaining cold toward people who have “lost my good opinion” for unreasonably long periods of time. But, I will add, the trust and friendship of such characters as Darcy and myself are not easily won, so it is understandable that breaks in these bonds are also not easily forgotten.

6. Desire is danger: 

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“He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention” (44).

This is an exaggeration, but I am right when I say that Darcy feared his attachment to Elizabeth. Feelings of any kind are discomfiting to natures such as his, for they not only contradict reason but are at risk of being found out by others. The fear of a person discovering where Darcy’s (or my own…) affections lie is all too real for him (and me.) We know from experience that secrets relating to the heart are best kept in complete privacy because it allows for protection of our own egos as well as make the likelihood of getting over such affections greater.

7. Reason > Romance: 

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“Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her…and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her” (43).

As I said before, if Darcy could forget his admiration of Elizabeth, he would likely congratulate himself on avoiding ridiculousness. It is the first instinct of people such as him and me to try and adhere to reason rather than romance, especially when there is a risk of the romantic feelings not being returned.

8. A matter of company: 

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“We neither of us perform to strangers” (135).

Although this scene centered around a piano, Darcy is not talking about musical performance, but rather social interaction. He makes it clear that he does not do well in many common social situations. This is crazy relatable for me. Dentist appointments, customer service lines, and ice breaker activities are torture because they require me to chat lightly with people I don’t generally connect with. (And, in the case of the dentist, I have to chat with sharp objects prodding my gums, which I think must literally be a punishment from hell.) However, when we find a place or group in which we meet people with shared interests or natures, we perform our social duties admirably enough to be mistaken for extroverts!

9. The gift of time: 

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“More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble…unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy…on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her” (140).

Darcy has made it clear up until this point in the novel that he does not enjoy spending much time chatting or idling. However, this is exactly what he keeps doing! In talking and walking with Elizabeth, he is showing that he cares for her enough to make time with her a priority. This is perhaps the greatest gift he can give her at this moment and, in the same way, I express my love by making time for people I love greatly.

10. When all else fails, GET TO THE POINT! 

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“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (145).

Here is where Darcy and I differ; when Elizabeth fails to catch all of his hints, he straight up tells her “Hey, I like like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no.” I wish I were this bold. It would probably save me lots of overthinking. Maybe someday I’ll give it a shot… I do, however, share Darcy’s appreciation of straightforwardness and wish more people were like him in this way.

11. Service speaks: 

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“He had done all this for a girl whom he could neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper, that he had done it for her” (248).

When his profession of love was not returned, Darcy continued to show determined care in his actions, taking on the shame of the Bennets and doing all he could to restore their propriety. It is such selfless service that speaks Darcy’s love the loudest. I only hope I serve those I care about, even if they do not always share my feelings, in the same quiet and generous manner. Let’s also take a moment to celebrate that his determination and patience prove totally worth it in the end! 🙂

So there you have it. Again, I am not the tragically romantic figure that Darcy is, nor am I so reserved and skeptical as he is. Still, while I may not be as much like our dear Mrs. Darcy as I had hoped, there is nothing wrong with being a sort of Miss Darcy, as long as I don’t go about earning a reputation of being “proud…above [my] company…and above being pleased” (6).

 

Works Cited
Austen, Jane, James Kinsley, and Fiona J. Stafford. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

 

 

Melanie’s Lemon-Berry Muffins

It seems that every year around the beginning of summer I reread or at least skim parts of Gone with the Wind. I even venture to take the 959-page tome into the pool, to the horror of bookworm friends who doubt my ability to keep from dropping it into the water. (Seriously, people, I am an expert. Any girl who can ride a bike or swim laps while reading can easily sit still on a floaty without turning Gone with the Wind into Drowned in the Water.)

Anyways, because of this annual revisit to Georgia through the words of Margaret Mitchell, I have come to associate GWtW with the start of summer. You know what else I associate with summer? Baking. Having been away at college where the closest thing to baking was microwaving a cookie in the caf, I have a lot of recipes to catch up on. That said, upon finishing GWtW, it seemed fitting to mourn Scarlett’s fate and to celebrate the beginning of summer with a yummy treat. Plus, I had a ginormous carton of strawberries that were going to go bad. So, I found a recipe and – as usual- did not follow it,  instead creating a delicious and actually rather healthy summer snack. In the interest of relating this recipe to literature, I shall call them “Melanie’s Lemon-Berry Muffins.” They are as sweet as Melanie with their strawberry savor and as sassy as Scarlett with their lemon twang, making them perfect for afternoon tea or a neighborhood barbecue. (Boom. I can relate anything to a book if I try hard enough. Convincing, right? 😉 )

So here’s the recipe! Enjoy!

Melanie’s Lemon-Berry Muffins

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  1. Gather your ingredients: 
    • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup cane sugar
    • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
    • 2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1 egg
    • 3/4 cup milk
    • 1 cup pureed bananas (about 2 bananas)
    • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • 1 tsp. lemon zest (I just guessed- I have no idea how much made it into the bowl but it does not matter that much)
    • 5-7 drops lemon essential oil (I use Young Living, but any is fine)
    • 2 cups chopped strawberries
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line cupcake pans
  3. Combine flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and mix.
  4. Whisk egg, milk, bananas, lemon juice, and vanilla together in a smaller bowl.
  5. Pour liquid ingredients into flour mix and stir thoroughly
  6. Fold in lemon zest and strawberries
  7. Spoon into baking cups and bake for 19-21 minutes
  8. Enjoy while reading Gone with the Wind 😉

*This yields approximately 20-24 muffins depending on how full you want them.

Jill of all Trades or Renaissance Woman?

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The pipe organ was created to do the job of an entire orchestra of different instruments, but nobody ever accuses it of not being worthwhile because of its varied abilities. In fact, it’s considered the King of Instruments for this very reason! Just a little brain snack for you to think about. (Also, that is me in the picture. I was not creeping on a random organist.) 😉

I am what one might call a “Jill of All Trades,” the female counterpart of a “Jack of All Trades.” I quite liked this phrase until I saw a quote on Pinterest (seriously, Pinterest? You’re supposed to be my social media happy place!) that reads:

“Jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

Well stink. As a perfectionist, this immediately crushed my spirits. But then I started to think…after all, Abraham Lincoln once said not to believe everything you read on the internet, so it seemed wise not to jump to immediate despair.

And so I thought, not just about the quote, but about myself. Who am I? What do I do? Why do I do these things? What are my goals? Am I a Jill of All Trades? Is this good or bad? All of these terrifying questions of identity and purpose began to dance a frantic tango in my mind. But, fortunately, I like to dance and I love to think.

The answer to the first question partnered off with the second question as the music of thought began: I am Ryanne McLaren, and I spend my time doing the following:

A lot of piano, a little organ, violin, and singing; baking; running; swing dancing; blogging, writing, reading, composing; crafting; exploring. I suppose if I had to condense, I could say truthfully that I do two things: music and English, but within those two categories are piano, violin, singing, organ, ukulele, composing, dancing, poetry, blogging, stories, analyzing, essays, reading, etc. The subcategories go on and on.

And that’s how I like it.

This partially answers the next question of “Why?” I have never been able to just focus on one thing, be it piano or reading. As a child, I was the piano student who would read novels while practicing scales and the English student who would run while studying. Multi-tasking is a pleasure for me and, while sometimes it does not work out (I admit I should have put more focus into my scales…), being actively involved in multiple things at once makes life exciting. It gives me joy to be able to run from actually running to rehearsing to writing to baking. And it gives me even greater joy to refine my skills in all of these areas. Would I say that I am a master in any of them? No. Absolutely not, to be honest. But that does not mean I cannot be or am not excellent.

This brings me to the next daunting question, the answering of which appeared as difficult as dancing with someone who lacks an inherent sense of rhythm: What are my goals and is this the best way to achieve them?

To answer the first part of this question in detail would take too long, for my goals are as diverse and numerous as my areas of interest. Luckily, this realization allows me to answer the second part easily: YES.

For someone who had a single goal, becoming a concert violinist, for instance, it would not be wise for that person to pursue excellence in “all trades.” It would be much more likely for this individual to achieve his or her goal by focusing all efforts on it and becoming the proverbial “master of one.” But for people like me, who have less specific goals that still lie within the realm of certain topics (for instance, I only aspire to do something with music and writing, but know I can enjoy numerous careers), pursuing perfection in a lone subject would be not only impractical but limiting. 

Having reached this conclusion, I felt a peace and my thoughts stepped in time again. (Although I was at the time I was dashing between a piano lesson and a Socratic discussion.) In scrolling through the internet again later, my conclusion was supported when I discovered that the quote that had pushed me into this mental flurry of self-examination had a second part that everyone apparently ignores:

“Jack of all trades, master of none, though oft times better than master of one.” -Unknown

This thought was still fresh in my mind when this morning when someone referred to me as a “Renaissance Woman.” This to me is so much better than a Jill of All Trades, who may or may not excel in any of the areas in which she dabbles. A Renaissance Woman (or man, but it’s National Women’s Month, so…), however, by definition possesses excellence in her areas of knowledge and- dare I say- expertise. She might even achieve mastery while simultaneously being a Jill of All Trades. I mean, consider Leonard da Vinci! I doubt anyone would ever argue that he was not a master of art, but his genius extended beyond painting only; he was an inventor, philosopher, scientist, architect…for all we know, he was writing internet quotes and trolling Pinterest from the past! He is remembered not only for his primary area of mastery, but for being the prime example of a well-rounded man. This is what I aspire to attain: excellence in all things. Not perfection, but excellence. And oftentimes, as the quote says (forget it, Abraham Lincoln, I believe this one!), this is the better path. After all, the world needs Swiss Army Knives just as much as it does paring knives. 🙂