On Writing and Media

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Before I get started, a short paragraph to explain my excitement.

Hatsune Miku on David Letterman? Does literally nobody care about this except me? I mean, I know that’s not true, but it’s absolutely fascinating to me how none of my Facebook friends or Twitter followers have any sort of recognition of this or why it’s important to me. Well, it’s important to me because the weird music I listen to is finally coming across seas! As none of you probably know what the heck I’m talking about, I decided I would link you some Miku songs, because let’s be honest, the YouTube clips of Miku on the Letterman show don’t do it justice. They picked a song using her English voicebank, which limits a whole bunch of choices, and there’s really no good video quality anywhere, so just…yeah. The clip will not impress you. So, I attached a long playlist of Miku songs. They are here. Do listen to one or two – Senbonzakura is a good one. I’m currently partial to Monochrome Blue Sky. Actually, the top ten are my recommendations. Just pick one in there. There’s a pretty wide variety – ballads, dance hits, basic pop, what have you.

Link to Senbonzakura/the playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgM2LZBoak4&index=1&list=PLvslhIK6DTZWCvH-wQWSaPTkKCO2bG-u_&spfreload=10%20Message%3A%20Unexpected%20end%20of%20input%20(url%3A%20https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DkgM2LZBoak4%26index%3D1%26list%3DPLvslhIK6DTZWCvH-wQWSaPTkKCO2bG-u_)

One day, I want to talk more on Vocaloid, because I’m not Miku’s biggest fan and I would love to talk about the songs by other Vocaloids I like more. But that’s not for today.

What I actually wanted to talk about is POETRY, which is a new topic for me to discuss. I haven’t liked poetry until maybe a year ago, but lately, between my English classes, I’ve discovered a lot of appreciate-able poetry. And today, I was writing a scene from my book, and all of a sudden, I just spawned into a poetry fest. I figured I would share those thoughts, and talk about the weird connections I’m beginning to find between literature and media in general. I’ve divided this up into a few mini-rants.

I. Novels and Poems

This is what I did earlier, so I find it fitting to talk about it. I think that we judge books written by poets a little differently than we do books written by novelists. That’s for good reason, of course – poets are often more used to brevity, to having to choose exactly the right word and make it matter in both sound and meaning. That’s pretty hard, so kudos, poets. When a poet decides to write a novel, then, we start looking at that novel through the lens of knowing that this person will have an ear for that sort of thing. I mean, read The Great Gatsby out loud. It’s absolutely stunning. That being said, I don’t think that novelists have an excuse to be any less stunning because they AREN’T poets – especially fantasy and science fiction authors. Too often, I read a book that sounds like a mega-appealing fantasy universe, only to find the prose dry. Fantasy is a genre geared towards the old, towards mimicking the past in an often-medieval mimicking, and thus, the prose is archaic to match it. That’s interesting to me, but I don’t think sacrificing lovely combinations of words in exchange for nice dragons is really the way to go. I think that if fantasy and poetry – two fields that I don’t think always go together – joined forces a bit, something crazy magnificent could come out.

Goal #1: Write prose like a poet.

II. Novels and Movies

Here’s my quarrel with books that become movies. Too often, the appeal of a really good book is that its characters are fleshed out in a way that makes them jump out of the page. They speak to us, their thoughts helping to form our thoughts, their opinions meant to sway us or turn us away. And in movies, that’s lost a little bit. We have to rely solely on acting, on visuals, and on clever dialogue. I will be the first to admit that sometimes, a movie’s dialogue is stunning, and it makes up for the lost inner monologue we lose. Then there’s the cinematography! Cinematography is one of the most interesting concepts to me, because it’s meant to show the same thing in a visual as a well-placed metaphor. Making a movie, you need to combine story-telling and art, and I think that’s spectacular. But, as we know very well, not a lot of movies get our praise as being “as good as” the book or even better than the book. The movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, in my opinion, was so strong because of the way the creators treated the viewer as the viewers of the 74th Hunger Games. The information you get from Katniss’ thoughts in the book was placed in Caesar Flickerman monologues, and the effect was that, as a viewer, you were watching something incredibly similar to what a viewer in the universe was watching. Now, in the book, the reader is dumped into the inner layer – in the Hunger Games themselves – and you have no idea what is going on outside of the arena. What the movie did so well was to keep this idea of pulling the reader into the universe, but it didn’t attempt to follow Katniss’ fear of being in the arena; it compensated by taking on a new angle. That’s why movies are especially clever, and that’s what I would like to take into my novels. The viewpoint, the dialogue, and the arrangement of the characters in space are much of what we get in a movie, and I don’t think a novelist should be much out of touch with that. A few well-placed details to give the reader a sense of SPACE is something I find in common with really good books. Then there’s the dialogue, which can make or break a book just like it can make or break a movie. The difference? As a screen-writer, you hand actors a script, and they provide the emotion. As a novelist, you hand readers a script and coax them towards the proper emotion. That balance is SO important to pushing the story further.

Goal #2: Direct space like a movie.

Goal #3: Make readers add emotion.

III. Novels and Video Games

I’m not talking the Hannah Montana game, either. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll talk about RPG’s, but I think this is true of any good game. What is so breath-taking and obsessive about video games is how deeply involved and complex they become. Old RPG’s made entirely out of a pre-set group of pixels had much of the same appeal as some of the more gorgeous, fully voice-acted games of today. Compare Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy XIII, for example. People like XIII – it has gorgeous gameplay the whole way through. But people still are attached to IV and VII and the classics, because the story was strong, the characters were personable and unique, and the gameplay was special. There’s a certain challenge in video games that you can’t capture in a movie or a book. A lot of times, it’s just to finish the storyline, but most games have those extra-mile completion benefits. That’s why you have people who devise perfect strategies, who have found every single treasure chests, who race to see what the fastest time possible really is. I think part of the appeal of the challenge is that the realm and the story are so complex. In a novel, that’s a little hard to do, because you have to also focus on character arcs and describing what people do. Unlike in a video game, the player/reader doesn’t get to choose the weapon or how a battle plays out. That’s all up to the novelist, but I think we as novelists are charged with creating a way of bringing those systems and creativity in.

Goal #4: Design a world to be explored.

IV. Novels and Anime

Note: This paragraph does go for manga, too, but I don’t read it, so I’m not focusing on it.

I saved this one for last, because it’s the one with which I have the least experience. I’m not an anime expert, and I’m not obsessed either. I’m not afraid to admire it though, for a few reasons. First – like a movie, the art of making an anime is gorgeous, but unlike a movie, an anime is all about the individual brush-strokes. Second, and more importantly – even the most serious, though-provoking anime series are not afraid to use color. I think in a lot of movies we end up rooted to the ground, staying straight in browns, greens, blacks, whites, and grays. That’s why James Cameron’s “Avatar,” to me, got so much acclaim – it had a wildly colorful world that appealed to the imagination. That’s the power of a good anime, to me. It’s still a story, and a good one – it still has the story and the characters, and sometimes I think anime tells the best stories in television. But there’s something that an anime that normal TV doesn’t have enough of, and that’s imagination.

Goal #5: Add some color, add some life.

SUMMARY! I am in the process of re-writing my book, as I’ve probably advertised a few times. I’ve been dabbling in all of the above fields as I do so, and I think it really has evolved how I think about writing. So, kind of to summarize, I want my writing to not just draw from the books of those who have come before, but from other sources of media as well. From this thought exploration/rant, here are my five tenants of writing:

1. Write prose like a poet.

2. Direct space like a movie.

3. Have readers add emotion.

4. Design a world to be explored.

5. Add some color, add some life.

Thanks for reading this far, everyone! If you have any thoughts for me on writing or your thoughts on the relationships between media forms for me, don’t hesitate to let me know. Also, do listen to the music, even if it doesn’t seem like your thing. Especially if you know me personally enough to know my weird musical tastes and judge me a little bit.

Until next time,

ELS

Five Truths About Revisiting the Past

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Today, I ate lunch with my first-grade sister and a few of her friends, making this my first visit to the elementary school in nine months or so. That seems weird to me, as when I came to Westminster in pre-first, I thought that I would spend an eternity here. I didn’t even realize that I would ever leave until first grade, when I burst into tears while singing the Alma Mater one morning because the line “and as we leave these halls behind, these friendships of our youth” actually implied that I would do this thing called “leaving,” and it was scary.

Now I’m a senior. Leaving is all anyone wants to discuss with me. It’s like they already see me, like I’m standing on a threshold gripping the side of the door as if I am pulling myself through it, but I think really I am holding myself back.

So. Five truths about looking back into memories and the past as told by today’s adventure, and how it feels when you realize that you are in the “future” that once felt imaginary.

Truth 5: Place is surprisingly tightly woven into memory.

The aforementioned first grade sister is entirely used to the bright green wall on one side of the lunch room, but it was the first thing my freshman sister noticed when she and I sat down at the table to eat today. I had noticed it, but what was really exciting to me was the applesauce pouches that are in the middle of the lunch room. When I was in first grade, I got into a terrible confrontation with a teacher once who didn’t think I was old enough to make myself a PB&J (jelly was on the salad bar, and only second graders could use the salad bar). I was just excited to be sitting at a yellow table, and not a red table. I always thought the yellow tables were better.

Yes. My sister said “wow, the wall is green,” to which I replied “but the tables are the same!”

If you had asked me yesterday what color the tables in the lunch room were, I could probably have told you, but it wouldn’t have been a question I was expecting. Now it seems totally natural to know that the tables were red and yellow. I mean, in fifth grade they made us stack them. Of course I remember.

Truth 4: You had routines you didn’t realize you had.

Katie (my freshman sister) and I also realized how natural it was for the kids to go line up in the hallway outside of the lunchroom. I honestly cannot remember a time when we didn’t go bring in our trays and instantly press our backs against the wall, except in fifth grade when they let us go to recess by ourselves, because we were basically adults.

I also found myself looking for the clock in the cafeteria while I was there, glancing over every few seconds. There’s a massive mural now where the clock was then, so I actually ended up looking at some fourth grader’s art project. It’s not like I really needed to monitor the time, and even if I did, I was wearing a watch. Upon later reflection I realized that I was so accustomed to checking the clock because in elementary school, our grade was so loud and obnoxious that half of our lunch was held in silence. We checked the clock at every opportunity – is it 12:15 yet? Can I talk yet?

Truth 3: Things are the same.

I know the layout of the elementary school like the back of my hand. That hasn’t changed. Kids still sit in the same places I did, the gym is still decorated the same, and there are still those bears in the library that get dressed up for the holidays. I tried to convince Katie to go around the long way so we could establish for sure how many of our old teachers still work at Westy. We ran into several familiar faces – my first and second grade teachers still teach first and second grade, ten years later, for example. Some things seem so similar that it brings back an illusion that you never left – the kids lining up outside the cafeteria, the red and yellow tables, even just the positions of the paintings in the hallways. For me, going back to elementary school made me sure that traditions will be maintained forever, that being in first grade crosses all boundaries of time. In ten years, I feel confident that I will come back, and there will be the portrait across from the office, like always.

Truth 2: Things are different.

The computer lab has been converted into a “design thinking” lab, where the walls are made of whiteboards and the whole point is to have a kids think tank. In that computer lab, we played typing games and learned how to use Microsoft Excel. To this day, I know that I can use Excel at least seven times better than my peers who weren’t at Westminster in elementary school. It blows my mind that personal computers and laptops are so commonplace that typing lessons aren’t even necessary. The fact that kids are now talking about what it means to be innovative and interdisciplinary at the age of five and six just stops me in my tracks. I am growing up in a world where education is changing, but it still astounds me that my sisters and I will all have different ways of thinking because of it.

Even though Katie and I ran into some old teachers, what was weird was that we knew that there was no way we would run into them. This is my seventh year outside of the elementary school – I guess it’s weird for me to expect the same people to be there.

Truth 1: You are different.

I am taller than my first grade teacher. 20 minutes seems like a short lunch period; when I was six, it was infinite. I had to sign in as a visitor and use a key code to enter the building. I don’t remember how to make friends like little kids, where if you saw a caterpillar two years ago, and they saw a caterpillar yesterday, you have an unbreakable bond. I look at the world and see so many connections – whether they be to other people, to past experiences, to entire schools of thought. I worry about the immediate future. Every word I say, every action I perform, is going to be different from what I would have done when all of these teachers knew me as a small child, and I suddenly realize that the life of a teacher is just to watch the kids you come to love grow up and change. Change is terrifying, even when I’m looking at it through mirrors.

More than anything else, I think the scariest thing about knowing that I have changed is that I walk through the elementary school being able to make these comments. I have walked a past haunt, re-visited a state of mind where 2015 sounded like a daydream far off, something I would never have to worry about. But 2015 is happening sooner than I would like.

I don’t cry when I sing the Alma Mater anymore. I feel something when I do, be it a twinge of sadness, or some connection to my six-year-old self, or maybe even a sort of bittersweet contentment. The only reason that reaction could have changed is because I have changed. I’m getting ready to leave. My tight, fearful grip on the doorframe is loosening, and the other side of the threshold doesn’t seem so terrifying.

~ELS

Aspirations like Stars

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The other day in the car, I was practicing for an interview for college. My sister, Amy, who just started first grade, doesn’t really understand why everyone wants to talk to me, why I am always so busy, why my temper is suddenly about as long and just as flammable as a single match. I was talking about writing, because in some way or another, I always am; then my sister cut in with “I’m a writer AND a dancer.” Because I’m absolutely terrible with kids, my first instinct was to glance back and explain that it wasn’t exactly the same thing, but then…why shouldn’t it be the same thing?

When I was in first grade, my life goal was to move to Africa and start a wildlife hospital for baby animals. Also, I would have seven talking dogs, I would live a perfectly wealthy lifestyle, and I would be famous for being a veterinarian. Looking back, the career path doesn’t exactly seem the right fit – also, seven talking dogs? But back then, I liked math and reading, and I thought I was probably the best singer there had ever been, and I was pretty sure that I was going to become famous (even though for some reason, no one could spell my name right). SO much has changed then. I mean, I still am convinced in the stupid part of my head that I’m awesome at singing and fame potential, because I’m basically perfect. And people still spell my name wrong, even when I spell my name at the top of an email they are replying to (what, do you think spelled my name wrong?). But I mean, MATH? What was little me THINKING?

In all seriousness, it seems as though six-year old Erika (<= the correct spelling of my name, in case you too think I spell it incorrectly) had the whole world in front of her. Dude, I could do my 100 addition/subtraction problems in 2.5 minutes – don’t give me that 5 minute crap. I could write, so naturally I was a writer. I liked music, so naturally I was a dancer. I could read, so naturally, I was a literature genius. I knew what 8+12 was, so obviously I could take on any math problem. Sure, I thought that being a wildlife veterinarian was a field I had made up, and that no such people really existed; I thought that there were about six jobs you could have (actually, I knew about the careers on the little cards in LIFE).

Now my career aspirations can be summed up to: well, I would like to be the next GRRM, but at the same time, I would like to go be a technical writer living in Tokyo, but also, it would be awesome to be the US Ambassador to Austria, and…well, essentially, I’m confused. The world is so much bigger than I thought it was, and suddenly, I’m being asked to define myself into one field. What happened to the days where I could claim to be the expert in seven different fields just because I grasped the bottom rung of the ladder? Did I trade in dreaming for a grander worldview? Surely that’s what happened.

The way I kind of see it, having a dream as a kid is like talking about the stars. You’re taught, in first or second grade, that there are billions and billions of stars out there – that if you look up at night, you’ll see them all. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I feel as though seeing the first star in the sky was enough, because I knew that the others were up there, but I went to bed too early to see them all. That’s why I never saw stars. I just wasn’t looking hard enough, or at the right time. And now I look out my window and squint to figure out if I can actually wish on that star, or – nope, just kidding, that’s an airplane. I know that things are so much bigger than I ever imagined as a kid, and that there are infinite possibilities, that the stars are uncountable. But, on the other hand, I live in Atlanta. Have you ever seen stars in Atlanta? I haven’t really, either. The stars are more out of reach than they’ve ever been before, yet I know that there is so much more possibility out there. Possibility that I cannot reach unless I go the extra mile out into the countryside, out of my comfort zone and my home.

There’s a trade-off for everything these days. I wake up and realize that it would be so neat to be an architect, but those days have passed, and my artistic potential was never tapped. I wonder what would have happened if I was still playing the cello, but that ship has sailed, too. Recently, I realized that I want the world to be my playground – to be international, to study the world and it’s beautiful pieces of culture. Sometimes I feel like I can get to those stars, but other times, I’m staring at a Georgetown application questioning if my English-heavy application is going to be sitting there next to diplomat kids who speak five languages and have lived in Portugal, Germany, Turkey, and Finland at different points in their lives. I’ve given my soul up to write, and that’s a trade-off for being a strong social science-y, international-type applicant.

The college process, paired with a first grade sister, is interesting in that way. You’re forced to define yourself. You have to choose the star you set your telescope on and stare into the sky until it becomes close enough to reach out and take.

ELS

On Writing the Truth, All the Time, Forever.

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I suck at consistent bloggging. Really, I do.

So, I’m sitting at my computer, flexing my fingers, trying to think of something to say that will capture who I AM and what my story is in a page or so. It seems as though every assignment has been asking for ME, ME, ME! Who are you? What is important for me to know about you? What is your most impactful moment? When have you failed? When have you succeeded? By the way – don’t exceed 650 words. But make sure you’re you. This is 65% of our consideration for you. This is the way I’m going to gather a first impression on you. Why should I care about you? Why should I want you? Make me like you. But be yourself. Just make me like you.

Having come to terms with the kind of brash honesty that helps me put myself into words, I struggle with these questions more intensely than anyone thinks I do. I can’t do it. I can’t put pen to paper and explain exactly what you should like about me. Who am I to say that you will like me for who I honestly am?

An interesting note at this point is that I am talking about everything I have written in the past few months that I’ve had to turn in – from college essays to introductions to English teachers. Talk about a place you feel comfortable. Talk about a time you experienced failure. Talk about a person that has impacted your life. Explain to me who you are. Write me a letter and tell me! You would think that a normal, sane person would go insane. I love writing. I love it with everything in my soul, but I can’t…conjure up the words anymore. I wonder what I’m doing sitting there, trying to sum up the right sorts of words that will express what I’m trying to say and do in this world. I, as my blog name may suggest, am all about trying to express that life story. But how can I do that over and over and over and over, to different audiences, and sum up a past and a present and a optimistic future? How can I guarantee to the sixteenth person asking me that I will produce anything…worth reading? Worth caring about?

So maybe I can’t type a first impression. Maybe I can’t hold up to the pressure of having to dig so deep, become so raw, when it no longer feels raw. I’ve gotten in the most beautiful habit of my life, which is to give out all the details. To hide nothing, because I have nothing to hide. But I write best when it’s honest and raw, and the sixtieth time I’ve asserted that I am being vulnerable, I have grown comfortable being real. Conjuring up the right expressions to convey how REAL I am…is now not enough. I am troubled because I have not been able to cut down to what hurts and what stings, because it feels as if I have already laid myself bare.

I have no qualms admitting to be rash and foolish and young, nothing against being angry and showing the world that I will fight with every word in my vocabulary to express how angry I am. There is no hesitation behind my answers to your questions. If you want to know the truth, why shouldn’t I give it to you? The only truths there are left seem to be buried in a place I cannot really find anymore. People have called me frigid – fan-freaking-tastic. I am perfectly happy to be frigid, even though it hurt like burning coals the first time the word came up. People have called me shy – yes, I’m that as well. People have called me stubborn, vain, every little insult you can come up with, and I’ve accepted all of that. The one fault I haven’t sorted out about myself is my total avoidance of conflict. While it’s a weak point, I’ll confront my fear of confrontation and tell you that it exists. I have nothing against saying so. It doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it, by any means.

I suppose, what I’m trying to say, is that the questions that ask who we are, what we want, where we are going – those are perhaps the hardest questions we can be asked. Because even after you know, you stop knowing again. You stop being absolutely sure, because when it comes time to bare your soul, you think it to be entirely naked. Of course, it isn’t. There are still things to be discussed, deep down, that still hurt. I feel as though I’ve run out of sources of past insecurities that I can tap into. You would think that insecurity is hard to get over, but it really isn’t. You have to destroy the walls that were allowing you to be insecure, and after that, it’s all rather simple. That’s a step, though, that’s really impossible, because even after you knock down the wall, doesn’t another one grow instead? Maybe, as mine is, it’s a tiny wall hidden in the darkest places you can’t even reach. I think convincing myself that I am confident has, in a way, served as a wall. Perhaps I am the one blocking myself from my own insecurities, and that makes it hard to find the tough stuff to write about. It finds it hard to be real and honest with myself. So MY quest is to locate the next wall and figure out what’s behind it.

I challenge you all to do the same thing.

~ELS

A Cultural Comparison!

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Good God – after the AP French exam, the words “cultural comparison” hold terrible pain.

I am going to reflect on my trip to Europe now, even though I have been back for two weeks already, and I should have done this right away. I hold great appreciation for a few American luxuries now: free water, free bread, free toilets, driving. Driving is a big one. I kind of got used to the walking across cobblestone streets or just being able to run across the road without really disturbing your morning run. It’s a little disorienting having nothing be within walking distance anymore, but I missed the driving time. But yeah, free water and bread and toilets. Those are important things in my life that I have always taken for granted. I have also discovered that there are some American concepts I am entirely over – sales tax. Also I would appreciate more food in the nearby area, good bread, and the prevalence of patisseries, and I am not as excited to be back to a place where something “old” is from the 1850s. I just came back from a place where there were cellos older than my country on exhibit at art museums. Please, America, shut up.

On June 2nd, we landed in Heathrow Airport and got turned around so many times in the airport our trip seemed somewhat doomed to be an endless loop of getting lost. But by the time we stepped off the train in York, I think everything seemed to be settling in. Already in that short time, we had dealt with not knowing where half the group was, getting lost, figuring out train station deadlines, and actually riding a train. I would like to point out that English trains were really great, because they served you tea and stuff and usually had free wifi. Such luxuries were scarce once we left the island country. But that’s beside the point. The days in York were spectacular. We spent three nights there, I believe, and I think by the end of it, we roamed the stone streets like they had always been familiar, and we knew where the nearest Pizza Express was – an important fact to know when you get back to the city at 7:30 only to find that everything in York closes at 6. The coolest thing about the York leg of the trip was that York became a home base, but a lot of our exploration took place outside the city. We spent time in smaller cities when our journey brought us to historical sites like Hadrian’s Wall and Rievaulx Abbey. You kind of just got at figuring out what was a good tea parlor and which castles were worth it to visit. I think jumping around like we did, all wired and ready to go, readied us for the rest of the trip.

We returned to London for our stay at the glorious Hotel Malaysia (sarcasm intensifies). I wasn’t expecting London to be as big as it was, although I found that after a day or so, I had memorized the tube stops we needed, and I was definitely getting better at finding my way around with a map. Even though we spent three days in London, I don’t feel like I saw the entire city. There were so many unvisited districts, those that probably weren’t as filled with tourists, and I would have loved to just get a better sense of London itself. The sites we saw – the wide range from Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London to Stonehenge (in the inner rings!) – was what ended up making that part of the trip so special. While I feel like I could not have gotten around as easily as I could have gotten around, say, Florence, I think it was the best first-big-city stop possible. I can definitely add that my favorite museum of the entire trip was the Churchill Museum/War Rooms Exhibit down in the actual Cabinet War Rooms. Also, seeing Titus Andronicus at the Globe was definitely one of the best experiences I could ask for, despite the play not being Shax’s best-penned tale.

I find myself surprised that we spent a solid 7 days in England, but we left for Paris on the 9th, so hey. The first thing I was excited for was speaking French where French-speakers belong, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was kind of thrilling to be on the inside of what felt like a big inside joke. Not having a language barrier meant that exploring Paris was just as easy as exploring London. In some ways, I don’t feel like I got to know Paris, because we were only there for a whopping 3.5 days, and at least two of those days were dedicated to exploring Reims and Bayeux. I specify 3.5 because on the last day we were in France, we returned to Paris and had a scattered visit of Notre Dame de Paris – THE cathedral, you know – before boarding a train to Germany at like 4 PM. It doesn’t really count as an extended stay. The other half of France was spent exploring sites of WWI and WWII, which I thought possibly to be the most important section of the trip. We were also nearing the halfway point of the trip, so we spent at least half of the time on all buses asleep. I would definitely say that the day we spent entirely on D-Day was probably one of my favorite days of the trip, just because everything we did just felt so important, and you could tell that both what had happened and that we were learning about it was quite real and quite important to the people living there. Another big part of our trip to France was the not-quite-as-historical-but-no-less-pressing train strike that hindered a good deal of our progress. At one point, we had to board a bus two hours earlier than we were expected to leave the hotel, and most notably, we were halted in the middle of Germany for a solid twenty minutes because protesters were on the tracks. The strike was scheduled to be like two days and ended up being about two weeks, and it ended up delaying a TON of trains all throughout the continent. Thanks, France.

Our next stop, as I mentioned earlier, was Germany. We got into Berlin at 1AM, so we didn’t actually leave the hotel until 10 or 10:30 the next morning. Yes, that’s profoundly late for us. We only spent one day in Berlin, but I think we hit the big sites: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie museum, and the Holocaust Memorial. I have a lot of thoughts about the memorial and matching museum, as I think the site is most awesome for the way it makes you forget that you’re in a big metropolitan area. If any of you are in Berlin, I highly recommend taking some time to walk through the memorial. It is highly conducive to reflection. The museum commemorating the Holocaust is equally – or perhaps even more so – moving, and it’d definitely something you can’t miss about the city. Our second stop in Germany was to my all-time favorite stop of the trip: Weimar. Weimar has the vibe of a slightly-larger York and the historical significance of Paris – it was the site of the Weimar Republic, the Bauhaus Movement, and it was a popular hangout of cool people. You know, like Martin Luther. And Goethe. Casual. It was also bombed to pieces in WWII (I mean, it housed the Interwar government, come on), so every building there is shiny and the color of sherbet. Not kidding. It’s beautiful, and I loved everything about it. Of all the cities we visited, I can most easily see myself returning to Weimar to spend some time writing and investigating the coolest parts of German history and culture. One complaint I do have about Germany in general is that I don’t speak German. It’s at the top of my language-learning list, as I really do want to go back and study there and live there. But not speaking the language kind of makes you prone to having difficulty in places like restaurants. Weimar was also where we hit the end of the free water (tears have been shed).

I’m making a separate paragraph to talk for a second about Buchenwald and Ebensee, the two concentration camps we visited in Weimar and Salzburg respectively. One of the big days in Weimar was dedicated to Buchenwald, the infamous and honestly quite massive KZ. This is the reason I cite D-Day Exploration as being almost the most important thing we did – this matches it. We probably spent three or four hours in Buchenwald, and I feel like I could have spent many more hours just walking through the ruins of barracks and work yards. Also highly conducive to reflection. I think Buchenwald to be fascinating because it is really quite beautiful, in a sort of twisted way. It’s a place that, without the KZ/Soviet work site, would be a gorgeous location. Now you feel sort of odd about thinking it to be pretty in any way. Ebensee, a sub camp of Mauthausen, was entirely different from Buchenwald in many ways. It was our second concentration camp and third dedicated Holocaust site of the trip, so I think we all went in expecting something very similar to Buchenwald, and that was not the case. After the war, Ebensee was basically forgotten, and now there’s a village there – a dedicated village with people who are genuinely uncomfortable by the historians and relatives that come to pay their respects. All you have left of Ebensee now is the main gate and a memorial – aside from the massive underground tunnels that still remain. This is another thing that feels really cool in a way that it shouldn’t. Ebensee was created as a site for rocket building, so the prisoners were forced to dig out these gigantic tunnels. With the right clearances, you can wander around in the finished and unfinished parts of the tunnels – utterly incredible. Terribly sad, all in all, but definitely an important experience that deserved its own special mention.

After a few days in Germany, we headed to Salzburg, Austria. People didn’t warn me for just how gorgeous Austria is. I fell asleep on the train ride in, so when I was woken, all of a sudden there were these breath-taking mountain views all around. It was something I wasn’t expecting at all, but I am absolutely thrilled that I got to experience. We spent a few days in Salzburg, and one was dedicated to relaxing at this small resort town, St. Gilgan. We all got to take boats out into the lake and go swimming in frigid water. A lot of people later claimed it to be their favorite day of the trip, and most people agreed that Austria was one of the best parts of the trip as a whole. I agree, partly because we got a lot of time to just explore Salzburg and take it all in. That was really important.

We took a night train to Rome (a tip: don’t get excited about the night trains and you won’t be disappointed), which is my least favorite leg of the trip. I can sum it up in a few words as being hot, crowded, touristy, and all in all just unpleasant. The food was spectacular, but when you can’t really enjoy any sites because you’re dying of sleep deprivation/heat exhaustion/being accosted by street vendors/the Roman Forum going on strike (how does that happen?!), things aren’t as awesome. Don’t get me wrong, when we were inside the Colosseum and exploring the Vatican, everything was fantastic. But in comparison to the smaller and less tourist-packed cities, Rome was not my favorite. I did have one fantastic memory, though, which was waking up early to go for a run around the Colosseum. It has to be early – when the sun is up, but before the street vendors are out. Then everything is absolutely serene and perfect, and you’re right there with the Colosseum. Wow. What an experience.

My favorite Italian city was Florence, which I found to be overall quite pleasant. Rome has all the historic stuff and thus attracts a lot of tourists, but our Florence agenda was basically just churches and art museums. That made it more like the cultural center, which was awesome. Art museums are death to your feet, but it’s really worth it to be able to see how history plays out on a canvas. Another traveling pro-tip: book tickets to the Galleria del Acedemia and SEE THE DAVID. It’s not just a statue. It’s the biggest statue you’ll ever see, and since they don’t let a ton of people in there at once, it’s a neat place to go without feeling overwhelmed. Uffizi is also a cool museum. Also, the churches in Florence are really cool and historically rich as well – instead of just viewing, you learn about the people who built it and what it was used for and all that, because people actually care about that sort of thing in Florence. A highlight of Florence for me was visiting one of the still-thriving marble workshops that is buried into an alleyway. It was kind of a hidden jewel of Italy for me, so if you’re ever in Florence, seek it out. Also, the food is really good. Pasta is awesome. I’ll tag Milan on to the end of this paragraph, as we were only there for an afternoon, but Milan was neat as well. We didn’t really get to see anything but Milan’s Duomo, but that was a neat experience all the same.

We finished the trip with a few days in Zermatt, Switzerland. That’s a resort town at the base of the Matterhorn, so we spent two solid days going for hikes. Although a series of unfortunate events made going to the Hornlehutte (Matterhorn-climbing base camp) not an option for me – I can go into a full out tirade, but it’s not important – we still got to climb a lot of the way. My group got only to the Schwarzsee, but a lot of the group got further up before getting sent back down thanks to snow. The next day, I went hiking on a trail on the opposite mountain that brings you to see like five lakes. We got to lake three before turning around, but we did go swimming in freaking-cold water for a bit, and that hike was all-in-all way more satisfying. My notes on hiking are that I am the absolute worst at hiking because I am super out-of-shape when it comes to going up things. Still, if you can get to the top, the views are incredible, and all flat lands/downhills/sharp up-down-hills (surprisingly) are fun too. I would say that it was an extremely worthwhile experience, and I’m glad to have done it. The entire group had a World Cup party – forty people in one room isn’t easy – to celebrate the US loss to Germany…That was our real last night in Zermatt, so it was a happy one. After the next day, which was totally relaxing, we went to Zurich for our last night and then boarded a plane to come home.

That took me a long time to write out, and I didn’t get into very much detail, but wow was this trip worth it. If any Westminster kids younger than me are reading this, I advise x10000000 going on RTH. The trip hurts, and at times, your alarm goes off for the 5:15 run and you want to cry, but it is the most amazing experience of my life, and I really can’t find myself regretting this EVER. Especially if you’re interested in history like I am, because I don’t think the trip would have been half as fun were I not so obsessed with the people that came before me. I’m glad to be back in the US with all of my things, clothes I can actually call clean, and my writing. But wow, I would go back in a heartbeat. I would also label the trip as being the very essence of Victory. Total V, in fact.

ELS

Much America

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So, in about 8 hours, I’m going to get on a plane that will take me to London. I’m kind of freaking out about it, as I’ve never been to Europe, and I’m about to spend a month backpacking through it. Tbh, I’ve been “kind of freaking out about it” since my plane tickets showed up in my Delta app in November. I expect that my next blog post(s) will be me ranting about various European cities, so before I leave, I wanted to talk a little bit about America. 

Here is a short list of some things that make America so cool/things I will miss.

1. The sheer amount of places I can visit without needing a passport. 

One of the cool things about ‘Murica is that it’s so big, yes. So are Russia and Australia, but America is really special in this aspect because it isn’t as though half of America is populated and half of it is outback/icy wasteland. You can drive coast to coast and actually call it one of the/THE coolest roadtrip of your life. I mean, you’re going through so many cities, so many pockets of weird culture that don’t seem quite right. If you’re a US citizen, you have direct access to New York, and LA, and Chicago, and all of the cool places that have killer post cards. You have beaches and lakes and crazy metropolitan areas and landmarks and strange pockets of middle-of-nothing culture that makes it even more special. And everywhere you go, people are waving their star spangled banners and drinking Coke and having obese children, and it’s all so American that it doesn’t really matter if you live in Nowhere, Oklahoma or if you live in New York City. 

2. On that note, the people that are totally down to just be them.

I mean, it’s the same kind of thing. When you’re driving through Nowhere, Oklahoma, you find people that are just as happy to be doing their Nowhere business as they are doing anything else. It’s a bit of a corrupted thought, because politicians buying their way to power falls under the same category as some rancher embracing his cowboy roots, but I think it’s cool. There’s a reason Americans are so boisterously American, I think, and I think it’s because we all kind of have this sense of America that isn’t defined by your skin color or your financial background or your culture. If you want to be a classical-piano-playing cowboy that enjoys bar-hopping and high end spa getaways, I bet there’s somebody out there that can relate to you. I mean, the sheer amount of space means that there’s a crazy amount of people just hanging out and being themselves, and it’s just so COOL. Yes, there are still a lot of problems with tolerance and status quo and image in this country, but I think we’re getting there. Hey, Illinois legalized same-sex marriage today, and that’s pretty special. We may not be as free as New Zealand, but we are certainly free to be American, and that’s pretty awesome.

3. American prosperity (aka the “American Dream”)

Some people believe in it and some people don’t. I personally think that if you have a good head on your shoulders and the right amount of work ethic, you can pull yourselves up and prosper in some way. You also need a good amount of luck, but America right now is all about luck. In fact, I think it’s just the sheer amount of American luck going around that makes the American Dream even exist in the first place. So many people in America are just ready to do their own thing, and that leads to so much entrepreneurship and innovation it’s insane. I love me some history, but America is so shiny and new that it’s basically just a big dose of beginner’s luck in itself. I’m not going to go around scolding people for not being billionaires because they didn’t have the right work ethic, but I am confident in America’s ability to give people so much more than what they thought they could achieve. People aren’t afraid to dream here, and while you have your really cynical pockets of the world (see: the Westminster Schools), there are also a whole bunch of optimistic ones. America is rich and prosperous, and there’s no denying that fact. We could talk about economics all day – I love me some good American capitalism – but I think a lot to do with it is just that America is willing to clap you on the shoulders and tell you to give it a shot, whatever “it” may mean to you.

 

4. The American flag

So, while everyone else was like STRIPES! America was like, “nah man, stripes AND stars.” The star-spangled banner is possibly the coolest flag out there, partly because it’s really good looking and doesn’t involve three stripes. There are other flags out there that do it well (China, Korea, UK), but for the most part, you either have stripes, or stripes plus animal of some type…America wins.

Although, Norway is very clearly the mother of all flags:

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5. Free refills, free bread, free water.

Seriously? Apparently these aren’t things that are super common in Europe. And I have issues with buying water.

Alright, friends, I’m out. 😀 Off to a place where “old” buildings are more than 50 years old and history involves more than one country. 

~ELS

On Being Rather Tired

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I wonder how often people, when they say they are tired, are tired as in sleepy versus mentally exhausted. The word tired has a whole bunch of meanings – you can be tired and ready to sleep (me), you can be extremely done with heavy thought (me), you can be ready to just sit down and not move again (me), or you can be tired of a particular thing (me -> on school, on robotics meetings).

I’m always afraid of getting tired and just stopping one day. Like, when I start a big project, I’m kind of worried that I’ll just get tired of it, and then all the work I’ve put into it will turn into insignificant details of the past. My first few works of writing have been completely abandoned at this point, which is okay because it wasn’t any good, but is also kind of sad. When I was twelve, I really thought those projects would be the very foundation of my writing career. I was a very impractical pre-tween. It terrifies me that one day, all of the writing I’m doing right now – the projects I hope will be the very foundation of my writing career – will go onto the shelf in the same way. I don’t want to get tired of my current projects, mostly because of all the work I’ve put into them.

I finished the first draft of Rise of Serentonia in October, and I’m still not done going through the horrid process I’ve brought upon myself. I’ve decided to go through this editing process of reading through the story a total of thirteen times. Each time, I’m reading for a different character – only finding information about that character and learning about them. Nothing else. It sounded like a really good idea in October, but it’s EXHAUSTING. I’m halfway finished with revision 11 of 13, and I feel so strongly against doing the revisions, because they take so much out of me. It’s so much busy work, so much typing and reading that my eyes hurt, and to be honest, I’m tired of it. I’m ready to move on to something else, to re-writes and deeper edits and spare doodles in the margins of my pages. I know in the back of my mind that I have to work through the tired spell, because it will be worth it. It’s worth it already, but I’m tired of the process. I want it to be over.

It’s really sad, being tired. It’s sad because being tired [of something] means you were once not tired, once extremely excited. Every big project you end up hating started with a really enthusiastic you declaring that you would never get tired of the project, and that the work wouldn’t get to you. I mean, on the first day of school or when signing up for classes, it all seems super worth it. I’m already in this bubbly phase where I’m super excited about my senior schedule, and I’m absolutely sure that I won’t get sick of my classes or my schoolwork.

(But I know I will, and it sucks to know that my excitement will fade.)

I think, though, that some things you just know are worth it, and that being tired of things doesn’t matter. Because there’s always that moment where I’m staring at my history book and thinking you know, who needs this? But oh, AP Euro was worth it. My thoughts are wild and worldly because of the class, and even though I was tired of doing the work for it more often than not, I’m incredibly glad I did it. And I’m incredibly glad that in one more year, I will have taken Politics and Economics and O-Chem, even though I know I will probably be shaking my fist and cursing the classes come next February. I have no idea of what kind of an impact it will all have, but I’m absolutely sure that being tired will just be unimportant when I’m done. In two more revisions, wow those edits will be worth it, because I’ll be so much more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, of the story I want to tell, and, I think, of other people around me.

So, I think what I’m trying to say is that there is some melancholy inevitability that we will get rather tired of everything. At the same time, being tired is a sign of working hard, and working hard always has its benefits. Being tired makes the finishing process that much more relieving – if it were easy, why bother? I hope that no matter how tired I become, I will follow through on the projects to which I commit, because that’s the way to fulfillment and reward.

~ELS