“Show Your Work!” says Austin Kleon.

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I first knew Austin Kleon through his blackout poetry tumblr. Blackout poetry is basically you take a piece of text then you black out most of the words and what is left is your poetry.

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He then proceeded to write the book Steal Like An Artist. The book is refreshing; there is no pretentious claims of prodigious talent, just encouragement to let the works of art you like influence you as you grow. It tells you to honor and transform the works that influence you, not plagiarize and rip off. One of the advice he gave, however, was this:

6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.

Which brings us to his second book, Show Your Work!

And boy is it a good book. It begins with the statement that the best artists today do not hoard their work; they share pieces of their work, taking advantage of the easy networking enabled by the internet to get fellowship, feedback, or even patronage. That is why sharing your work is important. It is not attention for attention’s sake, but also to make your work better.

The advice he dispensed in the book range from the somewhat obvious (share something small every day,* think process, not product, build a good domain name) to the obscure (read obituaries, because remembering your mortality put some things into perspective).

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It is the perfect book for people like me, who find big projects daunting, who feel like our work is crap,** who needs feedback but unsure how to get it. It is so good, it gets a place on Brainpickings’ Best Art, Design, and Photography Books of 2014.

This is a really short post, but I really don’t know how to explain it better than Brainpickings did. Anyway, 100% would recommend, and do tell if any of you want to borrow it. It is a very graphic and beautifully-designed book; to read it in e-book form does not do it justice.

This book checks “a nonfiction book” off my 2015 Reading Challenge list.

* Because I am taking this book’s advice, I shall now share something small about my work: I have a short story WIP that I should post here in a week or so.

** Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety percent of everything is crap. Which means yes, most of the time our work is crap, but that doesn’t mean we should stop doing our work because ten percent of the time we actually create something decent.

Thoughts at 6:06 AM

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Reasoning With Vampires is a tumblr worth checking out, if only for its constant mocking of Twilight. One post had a diagram of a sentence with the caption, “SENTENCES ARE NOT MINIVANS FREIGHT TRAINS”.

Oh dear.

If only she could see the sentences I am translating.

I admit myself on the about section of this blog that I am prone to run-on sentences and sometimes I can be worse than Stephenie Meyer. (Wow, look at me admitting that on the internet.) However, the sentences I had to translate all night are not freight trains, much less minivans. They are drowning dreadnoughts. At least you get what Meyer was trying to say, even it it annoys you. At one point, I couldn’t understand some of these sentences and trust me it is not the sleep deprivation.

Back to work.

Not-So-Poxy Tuesday

I got chicken pox at the age of twenty-three.

Apparently, it’s not that uncommon, though I have attributed the illness to something that happens to children. Posting a status about it on facebook exposed me some friends who still have never gotten chicken pox.

(It also reminded me of how easily I can meet up with them and transfer the virus, if I had been feeling evil.)

(I wasn’t, but Chloe was, as she told me that now would be the best time to visit my enemies. I have no enemies. I think.)

(If you consider yourself my enemy, can you please step forward and declare yourself like all good villains do? Thanks.)

Anyway, the worst of it passed last week. Now I’m very, very healthy. Just kind of scabby. DO NOT SCRATCH is what everyone told me, and I’m trying my best to obey that one rule.

Good health means now I have to return to my responsibilities, and those are:

  • working/translating stuffs as I did before the pox
  • cleaning my room (not that I was very good at it in the first place)
  • probably coming to French class, as I think I’m no longer spreading virus wherever I go. Fuck you, Varicellovirus human herpesvirus-3 (hey, who knew chicken pox was actually herpes?) for taking me away from the first two days of my B1 French class.

Since I’ve been reading Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! (expect a post on that in a couple of days, by the way), I’ve resolved to take the advice and share something regularly. So, I guess add another bullet point to the list:

  • post something on wordpress at least once a week, and at least one post on every book I read in 2015.

I’ve done that admirably, by the way, because I’ve posted a lengthy meandering thing on Saga and a sort-of review on Fangirl. And now this. A post on the responsibilities of an adult right after recovering from a nonlethal but definitely torturous illness.

Phew.

Being a healthy adult is hard. I fulfilled nearly all the items on my to-do-list yesterday, but I don’t think I can do everything on the list for today. Partly because I procrastinate. Speaking of which, this article is spot-on. That right there is my life.

I should get back to my work before I digress even further. See you later, wordpress.

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl: Less Fangirling, More Coming-Of-Age

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Our heroine, typing down her slash fanfiction.

Our heroine, typing down her slash fanfiction.

Cath broke open a box of protein bars. She had four more boxes and three giant jars of peanut butter  she shoved under her bed. If she paced herself, she might not have to face the dining hall until October.

I bought Fangirl around mid-December, in an impulsive purchase I excused as “buying a Christmas present for myself”. When I bought it, I really did not know what I was expecting. My train of thought was “fangirl, okay” and “ooh, the heroine is named Cath, I love that name*” and “what, she writes fanfiction? Must. Buy.” I ended up finishing the book just last week, so it definitely counts as one of my 2015 Reading Challenge books, right? Right? Whatever, I ticked the “book with one word on the title” box, and you can’t challenge me on this.

As you may have surmised from that paragraph, the main heroine is called Cath and she writes fanfiction. Specifically, she writes Drarry. Well, okay, not Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter really because that would create legal problems I guess, but the book universe has a Harry Potter equivalent called Simon Snow. Cath writes the fanfiction for the Simon/Baz pairing, and that’s the Drarry of Simon Snow books. The novel follows Cath’s first year in university, which, according to love interest Levi in the book, is like dog years in that so many things happens and you grow so much.

Levi is right; Cath does grow up in the span of the book. When we first meet her, she’s trying to adjust to the changes in her life. She is not rooming with her twin sister and lifelong roommate Wren** — or according to the book, “built-in best friend” — but with an upperclassman called Reagan who first comes off as intimidating. She’s too nervous to talk to anyone; she eats protein bars that she stashes in her room because the dining hall is terrifying. She does not have time for her fanfiction and thousands of readers. She loses touch with Wren, who is now becoming even more so The Cool One and Cath remains The Odd One.

In short, Cath at the beginning and majority of the book is a bundle of nervous breakdown and awkwardness who reminds me a lot of myself in my worst days. There is even a very good scene in which she is in creative writing class and they are discussing why someone writes. While the class is busy giving answers, Cath says silently to herself, to escape.

And escape she does. Increasingly, she spends more time writing her fanfiction than working on her creative writing class coursework. She befriends classmate Nick, who is sort of cute but even from a mile away obviously self-centered. She fights with her sister. She starts getting to know Reagan and Reagan’s boyfriend-sort-of Levi (turns out he’s her high school ex, and now they’re just friends). She worries about her bipolar father. She fights with Wren, who is visibly more and more often drunk in frat house parties. Her mother, who left the family when she was eight, tries to contact her.

It all works out in the end, of course, because that is how stories are, but the journey to it is fascinating. It’s not especially full of twists — banish any expectation of surprising plot twists here — but it’s real. Rainbow Rowell writes characters who are understated, but alive. Reagan is brash, but not unkind, but not really a good person either. Levi is a good person, but he is not Romance Novel Love Interest staple; he is neither the hottest guy in school nor a part of any love triangle. Wren comes off as shallow, but she has her issues. Nick is a dick. Cath is a mess, but she grows. And these characters work together creating a story undeniably alive.

The reason why I called this book coming-of-age is because I really can’t put it in any other category. It has romance, but it’s not about the romance. It’s marketed so, because that is how this world markets books targeted to the female young ladies, but it really is not. It’s about Cath’s life, which is so much more than just Levi. Cath is not estranged from her family in pursuit of romance; one can even say that she clings to her family so that it’s hard for her to see life beyond it. It is her growth into an adult that is the story here, framed with how she clings to her own fantasy world and is afraid to let fanfiction go, only to realize in the end that she can have both: write original fiction and fanfiction, just like how she can stay in touch with her father and sister and make new friends and live her own life.

It is not what I expected of a book titled Fangirl. I expected the fangirling part to be more prominent, but beyond several scenes and moments that mark Cath as a fangirl, it does not feel like it’s about a fangirl. Which, don’t get me wrong, totally works for this book. It’s just that if you’re expecting for a story that delves into the inner working of fandoms, this story is not it. In fact, the excerpts of Simon Snow and Simon Snow fanfiction scattered in between chapters feel like it’s dragging the story down. I’m sure Rainbow Rowell means to make the excerpts a mirror of the events of the chapter, but it just doesn’t feel so most of the time.

I finished the book with a sigh. It’s not a book I will fangirl about (ha, ha) and even as I close it I felt, well, that was that. Only now typing it down I realize that it is so much better than what it felt reading it, and in that I suppose it is a testament of how realistic its depiction of daily life of a university student is.

*I love that name because, ey, Katharina, Catherine, Cath. Yeah. Completely biased reason.

*Wren is named so because when their mother realizes that she’s having twins, she’s too lazy to think up another name. And so the twins are named Cather and Wren. Catherwren. Catherine. Ha.

Kicking off the 2015 Reading Challenge with Saga

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So, just like Karina and Chloe and perhaps the rest of the Internet, I’m taking Popsugar’s 2015 Reading Challenge. It has a huge range of reads listed, from a book with magic to a book your mom loves (for this one, I’m afraid I’ll have to pick up the Holy Bible). And because I don’t want my first wordpress post in 2015 — and in months — to be about my damnable chicken pox, I shall write a post about Brian K. Vaughan’s and Fiona Staples’ Saga because it is an epic that deserves all the beautiful praises in all the blog posts.

First, a disclaimer: I do not know what the difference is between comic books and graphic novels. Wikipedia isn’t that much clearer either. Someone said that Neil Gaiman does not write comic books, but graphic novels, and to that the author himself said the commenter “meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”

So, whatever. Graphic novels, comic books, I’m ticking that “graphic novel” box on my reading list.

Fine, so technically I read the first volume of Saga last December (oh look, yet another disclaimer), but I read volume two and three in January and I still have not read volume four because I’m a cheapskate who borrows from Amanda (THANK YOU, AMANDA, I LOVE YOU) and her volume four has not arrived yet.

Ugh, all that disclaimers and openings have muddied this post. Forgive me; it has been a long while since I wrote something more than a hundred words and coherent. Let me introduce Saga in a nutshell: in a galaxy trapped in war (and proxy wars) between two factions, prison guard Alana and war prisoner Marko run off and have a baby and then keep running. In short, it’s practically a family story. It’s even narrated by the freaking baby. Well, after the baby is grown up.

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Then, she kind of beats him around a bit. What? They’re not in love yet.

io9 has an excellent post on why you should read Saga, but I’m writing my own list here on why I adore it.

  1. Its cast of characters. Let me get this out of the way: there are very few characters you can truly hate in Saga. In fact, I don’t think I have hated anyone yet so far. Alana, Marko, Marko’s parents, and Izabel, the ghost who babysits the baby — told you this is a story about family — are all darlings. Distinct, well-rounded darlings. Alana is more brash, less emotionally-savvy than kind, pacifist Marko — brownie points for the beautiful gender stereotype aversion there, Brian — but when Marko enters a berserked rage to protect the family, Alana is the one to shake him out of it. Hell, even the “villains” — and I use those quotation marks to note that they’re not really villains — i.e. the people hunting down our darling family, get their own character arcs. Prince Robot IV is a noble who, due to the job, cannot be there for her pregnant wife, and he really just wants to get the job done.
    But in the mean time, he's taking a dump while reading a novel just like the rest of us plebeians.

    But in the meantime, he’s taking a dump while reading a novel just like the rest of us plebeians. And yes, he has a TV for a head.

    The Will, a freelancer hired to do the same job, is soon distracted with freeing a child slave in the sex tourism planet Sextillion. Oh, and speaking of Sextillion . . .

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    Karina laughed so hard at this image. I can’t blame her. This is for you, Karina.

  2. It’s unapologetically explicit. It may be a story about family, but it’s not a story you want to read in front of your family. The explicit content is not just for titillation. Sure, there is a beautiful one-page tastefully sexy scene between Alana and Marko, but most of the time it’s explicit just so it can be crazy. The orgy at the background of the scenes set in Sextillion is maybe a bit too much for most of us. One of the creatures we discover in this very, very rich world is a naked, angry giant with a huge festering penis. It brings the intended effect, which is OH GOD WHY EURGH. Not just sexually explicit, it also is violent. A scene shows The Will put someone’s head between his two hands and, well . . . splat.
  3. It is brilliant and beautiful and a bit terrifying. This time, let’s talk about the design, because the design and art is top-notch. Brian K. Vaughan writes it, Fiona Staples draws it, and it is magic. I don’t know who came up with the idea of the Stalk, but this is the beauty we have in the end:
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    What did you say? You want to look inside my skirt? TAKE A GOOD LOOK THEN.

    Other than that, we have a rocket made of wood, a planet that turn out to be an egg of a scary space monster — and yes, of course it hatches — little baby seal people, and more. Didn’t I tell you? It’s magic. And to end this list . . .

  4. Lying Cat. Lying cat is the Will’s partner, a giant blue cat who hisses “Lying” if people lie within its earshot. It is amazing and annoying and I want one.

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    NBD, just being fab here. Move along.

What? You can’t expect me not to put a bling cat that functions as partner and lie detector as an item of its own.

So, yeah. Saga. It is [INSERT POSITIVE ADJECTIVE HERE], go pick it up.

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Penny for my thoughts

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The other day I stopped talking long enough in a conversation with my mother that she asked me what I was thinking. I shook my head. “It’s nothing,” I said.

But then, she pushed me. Demanded that I tell her, right now, right here. Dared to ask me, why am I lying to her?

So I told her that I did not know how to tell her that I was thinking of suicide.

Was it really a surprise to me that she did not take it seriously? After all, I told her that waspishly, and she might just mistake it for sarcasm, which was certainly not uncommon coming from me. So instead of whatever it is people say when someone close to them is borderline suicidal, she sighed. Treated me like a petulant child, and I wish she could rewind to the time when my angry cries were pleas for help, and remember that I was never an unreasonable child. Never, never ever. Only now I am not that child anymore, now I carry this lead lungs with me and when I wheeze and cough I feel the most alive, because then my body finally feels like my soul.

I often pretend I was asleep past midnight, all lights in my room off, body still under the blankets as I listen. Then I would hear my parents’ bedroom door open and close. Footsteps. The computer whirring to life. The chk-chk of lighter and then an inhale and exhale. I hold myself from coughing on the smoke seeping into my room the way I hold myself from crying. It’s a leftover habit of that reasonable child I was, to never show signs of distress.

The same leftover habit also tells me to nod and take jobs I know I can finish, reasonably. Do not cough, do not show signs of distress. Smile and nod. Make nice with people. You will say, yes you, reading this, you are now thinking, “quit whining, useless bitch.” Rest assured I have told myself the same all the time. Or rather, the child that I was tells me that all the time. Her voice is still clear like bells, sans lead weight, her hair waist-length and messy because she has better things to care about than her hair. Her words are meaner than it actually was when I was her, but the message was the same. Do not show signs of distress.

I hold my breath.

I wish I did not tell my mother what I told her and lied instead, because at least she would not mistake it for sarcasm.

Not forgotten.

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While I have abandoned this blog for a while, it is not forgotten. I just…did not know what to say or how to word what I wanted to say, which led to numerous drafts discarded in different occasions. Then yesterday, someone anonymously told me they liked my writing, and that they wondered why I have not updated my blog in a long while. Well, anon, that was your answer.

And in the spirit of personal blog-keeping, I imagine I need to somewhat update my nonexistent readers of my current state. The thing is as usual, I don’t know how to describe it. You all probably know that I quit my studies in Oceanography, and that I am currently working as a freelance translator as I study French. But the rest, the rest I do not know how to explain. Is there a word to explain the feeling one gets after escaping the prison, only to amble aimlessly afterwards, because one’s objective, for so long, was to escape the prison? Is there word to explain the big void inside that is both loud and so, so quiet, that one longs company one day and detests it another? Is there a word to explain a session with a trusted therapist who had previously helped one escape depression not a year ago, only to have her recite a variation of “suck it up and get over it”? Or a conversation with one’s closest family, whose only solution lies in her deity? (I accompanied her to church lately, as I wished to humor her and I remembered the church, while not exactly full of divine whispers of wisdom carried by seraphs, was a place of solace. It did not help.)

The world was all abuzz with the news of Robin Williams’ death not long ago, which sparked discussions on depression and suicide. I do not think I could ever kill myself; I am averse to pain, and as I know it no method within my reach is free of pain. At times, however, I thought if I could just curl myself up into a ball I could shrink, smaller and smaller until I ceased to exist, and I wished it to happen every time I go to sleep. I (and the internet) would diagnose myself with depression, as my therapist did late last year.

I loathe that word.

Neat three syllables to explain away the inexplicable–there is no cure, there is no cause–and the big chasm in which it drowns people. Logically, it was good that people talk about depression, because then people who know nothing about it start to learn of it, and that is great. That is brilliant. The discussion helped us become better people. And yet for me, a person currently undergoing it, it grates. “It gets better” does not help. The fact that there is no actual solution does not help. I have a work deadline and I cannot focus enough to work and finish it in time and I have so many things to do, promises that I made before I relapsed, and every single platitude you can throw at me does not help the fact that I am failing at what I should do, and I cannot. Afford. To. Fail.

I am sorry. I know some of you mean well, but this is what I am right now. A mess, and I snap and run to you or away from you and I shut the lights off or escape towards the bright noisy crowd, and I am not myself–I refuse to accept this as a part of me, it is a disease and it needs to go–and I make long, rant-y blog posts filled with run-on sentences. It’s just that if I press backspace, I would end up scrapping this draft and then there would be no update, and I promised myself that I would update my blog.

If I snapped at you, in real life or virtually, I’m sorry. It seemed that the one thing I know best is to say hurtful words, and maybe that is because of the lifelong practice of me saying it to myself.

To the outside world, I am fine. I have work. I live. I still meet my friends. I still–

I am happy, I tell people who greet me “hey, how are you? Hope you are well.”

I am happy.

I need to tell myself that until I can believe my own lies.

To-Do

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Not so much of a New Year’s Resolution, this list. Never really believed in using arbitrary markers in the solar cycle as turning points anyway. What I’m going to note down are things I need to do. Or stop doing. Otherwise, my life would be well and truly screwed, and so these are not “resolutions”. These are survival tactics that is not meant only for 2014, but for the rest of my life.

  • Get my sleeping pattern back in order. It’s no secret that my circadian rhythm oscillates between sleeping late and waking up even later. While this does not pose a mortal peril to my life, it is perhaps the bane of any productivity I aim to achieve. So stop sleeping late and waking up late–save for actual work or study-related situations.
  • Decide what I want out of life, or to be more precise, what approach I want to take to get what I want. If I want to be dramatic, I would say that I am on the precipice of change. No turning back, and all that shit. Tick tock, my clock is ticking and I need to really do it right this time and make up my mind because I doubt I would get a third chance.
  • Put myself first. This whole mess I am currently trying to dig myself out started by simply agreeing to things that I didn’t really want to do, e.g. “oh sure I’ll enroll to that major if it makes it easier for my family to pay tuition”. And while I cannot immediately turn myself into an extremely assertive, me-first egotistical prick, I certainly should start minding what other people think less, if only to retain my sanity. One can only be pulled so far in all directions before popping like a baloon. Or volcano.
  • Let go. Of inhibitions. Of past mistakes that still haunt me. Learn how to walk away and leave things behind because life is supposed to go on.
  • Write more, because that is my sanity check. Writing allows me to reason out and de-tangle all the messed up events and feelings I go through. I usually give up because I feel like I can’t write a coherent account of my mind, but then I end up only with thoughts that percolate and eventually, if not forgotten, turned into corrosive acid.
  • Stop being a fangirl because… HA JUST KIDDING I WILL NEVER STOP BEING A FANGIRL.

I wish:

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  • the fabulous hat trend seen in The Roaring Twenties is resurrected;
  • I had fantastic cheekbones. Or have children who would grow up into beautiful people with fantastic cheekbones;
  • for less cold nights. Or a warmer bed? Yes, I am waggling my eyebrows. Seriously though, such cold nights lately!
  • December would pass faster so we could finally meet John Watson’s horrible new mustache. Oh, and the apparently-alive Sherlock. Who also hates John’s new mustache;
  • I could apply winged eyeliner. Symmetrically. Without looking like a panda;
  • I could pull off the red lipstick look. Or maybe I just have to get used to it?
  • anyway so far at least four items in this list pretty much say I wish I were Phryne Fisher;
MIss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

I mean, why wouldn’t you want to be her? Other than coming across a murder every two weeks, that is.

and I wish

  • for the ability to be so completely self-assured. To know what I want and what I should do to get it. To strive better and yet still in complete peace with who or what I am. To be able to look people in the eye and say “no”, without feeling like I just committed a crime.

I ended my morning with gunfire.

This morning began by sneaking up on me as I roll around sleepless and mindless in my bed, trying desperately to untether myself from consciousness. Night turned to midnight, turned to dawn, turned to morning. I was hyper-aware of all things around me: the light snores of my brother from his room; the passing motorbike; the early grocers pushing their carts by the house, thin tires rolling over the gravelly road. Two mosques, almost coordinated in their off-tune canon performance, sounding the call for prayer just minutes before four. Then, the dark outside the window and the slowly seeping sunlight as time struck five, then five fifteen, then five thirty. I heard my brother preparing to go to class. The front door opened, then closed. The sound was unmistakable, familiar after almost twelve year living in this house.

I stayed silent.

To everyone else in this family, I was asleep. I was anything but. When it was quiet I strained hard to try and hear something, anything. Footsteps or jingle of keys in their chain would help distract me from the noise of my own thoughts.

I counted and I heard one by one my family left the house.

When there was no one else home, I crept out of bed. Lethargy had finally kicked in, but it was too late to try sleeping now and hope to wake before the sun is halfway on its way back to its hiding place. I made an egg in a basket and a cup of crappy instant coffee. Ate my breakfast, which was suprisingly good. Washed myself with lukewarm water–something was wrong with the water pump today, so no hot water–then settled myself in front of the laptop. Had to keep myself awake lest I sleep past the time I should be in campus.

And I ended my morning with gunfire.

Until caffeine and drowsiness clashed in a terrible battle somewhere between my lungs and my head, pulsating in time with every shot fired. I quit the game and the sound still echoed. My fingers were quivering when I held my hands in front of me. Not so unsteady as to disrupt whatever I had to do, but enough to put a sense of wrongness everytime they had to stay still mid-air.

I don’t know what is it in daylight that made me want to curl up and hide, wrap myself with a blanket so tight until I became smaller and eventually nothing. I don’t know what is it in night-time that sang in my blood and roused me from any attempt to rest.

They say it is unhealthy.

I know it is. As if they need to tell me, while every day I could feel my body straining to be awake while I was tired, and every night straining to sleep while I was nowhere near weary.

But any retort twines itself around my tongue like snake venom, so I swallow it. Nod. And pretend that I know how to be healthy again.