Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Month: December 2011 (page 1 of 2)

Waving Goodbye to 2011

This is a bit of an unscheduled post, but I spent most of the week running myself ragged and fighting a cold (the cold, sadly, has won), and I haven’t had the chance to blog in a few days. I’m closing out 2011 much in the same way that I ushered it in: curled up in bed, pajama-clad and sneezing. This year, however, my  cold is waning, and I’ll hopefully make a full recovery by the beginning of the week. In an effort to feel a little less lame, I am blasting Britney Spears and quaffing glasses of sangria (a gal’s gotta find a way to feel a little festive, right?).

2011 In Review

Marking the turn of the year is always a time of introspection for me, and I know I’m not alone in that. In so many ways, though, 2011 has been a decidedly odd twelve months. Because of the academic trajectory that I’ve been on over the years, I’m used to feeling like I’m on an escalator flying upwards. Each year brings a set of challenges and benchmarks for me to tackle and to overcome, and at the end, I almost always have a list of successes to tally: important academic achievements, conference talks, and other such things. I won’t lie — I’m an overachiever, and I hoard those little accomplishments the way a miser collects coins.

This past year, though, has been different. I declared that this would be a non-conference year (I’ve presented on at least two panels over the last 3 years) so that I could have more time to focus on my research. At the same time, the thesis dragged on much longer than I anticipated. Without having the thesis finished, I haven’t been able to move forward in my grad program, and so I’ve felt a little like a plane circling around and around in an endless holding pattern, just waiting for the signal from the control tower to swoop down for a victorious landing.

On a personal level, I’ve had my share of ups and downs as well. I started the year with loss, as my boyfriend of almost two years and I broke up during Thanksgiving 2010. I don’t think I quite realized the emotional stress I would experience, especially given that he was, in essence, my first love and my first relationship. I spent six months fighting back unexpected waves of anger, which of course gave way to bitterness and sadness and grief and a whole host of other things that I’d rather not feel.

The highlight of the last year has been my writing. I began 2011 wringing my hands and lamenting that I would never find a good idea ever again, that I would be doomed to be without words for the rest of my days. Somehow, through a combination of hard work, unexpected strokes of inspiration, the support of some wonderful communities, words have returned to me. Between two NaNo events and ROW80, I’ve written well over 100k on various projects, which is more than I’ve written since maybe 2008 or 2009. I finally feel like I have a foundation for building work that is far more mature than anything I’ve tackled before, stories and tales that reflect who I am, and where I am, today.

Looking Forward to 2012

2012 is all about change.

With school, I’m on schedule to finish my coursework by June 2012, and to advance to PhD candidacy sometime during the summer, as I close out my 4th year of graduate school. This means that my chapter in Santa Barbara will be coming to an end. I’m fully-funded for my 5th year (huzzah for small miracles), and so I’ll be moving back in with my parents, where I’ll stay for a year or two to write and finish my dissertation. I’ve been waiting a long, long time for this, and it’s scary and exciting and wonderful all at once. I have six months left in SB, and I hope to make the most of it.

More immediately, I’m marking a major milestone in February — the big Quarter-Century Birthday. Given that I spent most of my teen years wishing that I was 35 years old with a husband, family, and a career, I’m not scared to get older… but twenty-five is kind of a big deal, and it’s the sort of birthday that gives me pause. I am mostly on track with the Life Schedule I made for myself in high school (yes, there really is a spreadsheet with my life goals between 18 and 30 sitting on my hard drive), though I feel a strange need to treat this birthday with some form of reverence, or something.

One of the things that has become clear to me during my holiday break is that I need to get back to being me. This is a quest I will be talking about at length over the next few months, but the bottom line is that I’ve dropped a lot of things that I’ve loved since I got to grad school. Writing was one, and I’m delighted to have that back, but there are a host of other things that I’ll be working to re-integrate into my life.

So with that in mind, here’s my somewhat-random list of things I want to tackle in 2012:

  • Get a tattoo (or three). I’ve been nursing the idea of getting inked for over a year now, since my break-up, but I wanted to hold off so that I was sure that I wasn’t going through a rebellious phase. But I’ve figured out what I want (an art nouveau-inspired peacock, plus a couple of quotes), where I want it (a quote on each forearm, and the peacock on the back of my left shoulder), and the artist (Siri, a former illustrator who works at Black and Blue Tattoo in San Francisco, and did this amazing peacock). My first will hopefully be a quote from A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION: “Words have been all my life.” 
  • Finish a novel. I suck at finishing things, just for the record, and I want this to be the year when I finally stop sucking at it. I have 2 partly-finished WIPs that need some tender-loving-care, and I’m going to make sure that they get enough of it so that I can have at least one completed draft to my name.
  • Stop being so scared of love. I think I’ve healed up from my last break-up, but I have been reminded that I’ve sorta sealed myself off like some uber-fragile object, all encased in bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts and other forms of insulation. My best friend’s aunt, who is quite adept at reading people, has told me that I have been “too much alone,” and it’s true — living in my happy fantasy worlds with my lovely made-up characters is endlessly entertaining, and means that I don’t have to worry about getting my heart stomped on. So I’m not saying that I’m going to be hunting down a boyfriend, but I am saying that I am not averse to the possibility of one somehow landing… nearby.

Better yet, I’m thrilled to have another year of blogging, socializing, and supporting all of my online friends. I’m looking forward to another round of ROW80, which starts on Monday (get your engines revved, people!), to jumping into the 50/50 Challenge (reading 50 books and watching 50 films in 2012), and all the other magical, unexpected surprises that will crop up along the way.

Happy New Year, friends!

Monday Inspirations: A Wonderful World

It’s December 26th, which means that the hordes of shoppers looking for post-holiday sales are pouring into the streets and flooding the stores today. Because I am a glutton for punishment, I’ll probably be among them, but let’s all remember to take a minute to breathe.

Check out David Attenborough’s rendition of “It’s A Wonderful World” for a little dose of inspiration, and a reminder of the wonderful world that we really do inhabit. Nature is pretty gorgeous, y’all. 😀

Monday Inspirations: “Somewhere in Dreamland”

Today, I’d like to share one of my all-time favorite holiday cartoons: “Somewhere in Dreamland” by animator Max Fleischer (1936). Fleischer is remembered as one of the early pioneers of animated films, and was the creator of such classics as Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman. “Somewhere in Dreamland” is one of the 36 pieces that Fleisher created as part of his “Color Classics” collection, intended to showcase his “stereo-optical process,” which was designed to mimic 3-D

This nine-minute short piece tells the story of two poor children during the Depression who receive an amazing Christmas surprise. I first saw this piece as a kid on the Disney Channel, back when Disney used to show lots of vintage cartoons. It’s stuck with me ever since because it’s so heart-warming and precious. It’s a little longish, but I think it’s definitely worth a watch.

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ROW80: Winding Down

It’s difficult to believe that Christmas is only one week away, New Year’s Eve a scant two weeks away, and that this round of ROW80 is rapidly coming to a close. It’s been a packed and busy 80 days, but I’ve managed to get a lot done.

There were my original goals:

Write, edit, and polish the MA thesis, 8-10 hours/week.

Outcome: The thesis will be finished as soon as I tack on an introduction and conclusion (which is happening today). My time schedule didn’t always work out, however, and I’ve found that it’s easier to work on research when the mood strikes me. It’s not the most organized way to go about projects, but right now, it seems to be the way I’m operating. For those of you who are interested, I wrote some reflections about my thesis-writing process, and how it compares with the way that I write fiction. Surprisingly, I’ve found that the two aren’t all that different.

Write, edit, and develop WIPs, 8-10 hours/week. 

Outcome: This mostly worked the way I wanted. The 8-10 hours/week came in handy during October, when I was focused on plotting and planning for NaNoWriMo. Of course, once November rolled around, the timeframe went out of the window and I more or less wrote every day (and I won NaNo! I’m still tickled pink.). I think that may be my goal for next round: do something writing-related every day.

Overall, I now have 2 novels that are sitting on my computer, mostly-finished and unpolished. Moving forward, my priority will be to finish them before taking on any new projects.

Tinker with author platform/social media stuff.

Outcome: Kristen Lamb’s class was absolutely fantastic, and I not only learned a lot, but I made lots of new friends in the process. I decided to try a MWF schedule, which I’ve been rather mediocre at keeping. I think this past week is the first that I’ve managed to post something on all three days. What I’m learning is that I actually need to write my blogs before I try to do anything else, which seems a trifle backwards, but if I save blogging for last, I’m usually too tired to write all that much.

Exercise 4-5 times each week.

Outcome: This was my weak spot. I slacked off more than once, so now I’m trying to play catch-up. The best part about being home is that I have my mom around to whip me into shape — she’s also on a health kick (she recently learned that her cholesterol levels are really high), so now we’re workout buddies. She also makes sure that nothing too sugary or fatty enters the house, which makes my life a lot easier. Hopefully I can build up some good habits while I’m home that can carry me through when I return back to SB.

And that’s Round 4!

Overall, lots of positives, with a few misses here and there, but I don’t feel too terribly about that. For next round, I think I want to add a blog-reading goal. I definitely didn’t make it around to as many ROWers as I wanted to this round, which really bums me out, but next round (which coincides with my winter quarter for school) should be a little less overwhelming.

Don’t forget to check up on the other ROWers this week, and wish them well as we wind down Round 4!

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Fiction Friday: Reflections of a Novel-Writing Sociologist

As I write this, I am almost through with the first draft of my MA thesis. It’s currently 66 pages long (about 23K, for those of you who think in word counts), and once I add the introduction, conclusion, and a few transitional paragraphs, I estimate it will clock in around 70-75 pages.

On the surface, academic and creative writing are a world apart. In academia, we build on the work of previous scholars. We draw heavily on the research that’s come before us,  and try to fit ourselves within an established framework while still demonstrating how our projects stand out.

In creative writing, get to wield our imaginations to the best of our abilities. While we have to fit ourselves into the boundaries of a genre, our success depends on the uniqueness of our voices, our ability to create worlds and characters who are distinctive, fresh, and compelling.

As I struggle to reconcile my two selves together, I’ve found that these worlds might not be as incompatible as I’ve always believed. I begin creative and academic projects in similar ways: immersing myself in research, reading as much as I can, and mapping the field.

Although my thesis will probably never make for exciting bedtime reading (unless you’re thrilled by sociological discussions of etiquette and social inequality), reflecting on the writing process has led me to realize that some of the lessons I’ve learned from creative writing are applicable.

1. It all begins with a question.

Source: f-oxymoron via flickr

In creative writing, we constantly ask questions about our work, our characters, and our worlds constantly. Trying to answer those questions helps us to invent new tales or to jumpstart flagging ones, and so we find ourselves toying with ridiculous scenarios, just to see what will happen.

What if a horde of zombie chimpanzees crash-land a spaceship in the middle of a cornfield just as the protagonist and her on-again, off-again boyfriend are arguing?

For academic research, questions are just as powerful and pivotal. Here, it’s usually “why” and “how come?” that orient us. (Yes, academics were probably the most irritating toddlers on the face of the planet.)

My thesis is no different. It was born out of countless questions, including one that came to me as I was working on my senior undergraduate thesis:

Why has etiquette played such a large role in shaping wedding practices in the United States? If etiquette is as important as historians of the wedding suggest, why hasn’t anyone else studied it in-depth?

Some of my favorite fiction projects have started the same way, as ideas that have tumbled around in my head, not quite substantial enough to explore in-depth, but too shiny and promising to ignore completely.

Learning to question our work throughout the writing process, to view it with all the curiosity and excitement that motivates us at the start of a project, is one key to unlocking our creativity.

2. Long projects are long.

By this point in my academic career, I have mastered the art of bullshitting crafting a 10-15 page paper. I have a sense of how I need to organize my ideas, the number of extended excerpts I can mobilize, and the number of subsections I’ll need to plan. With longer forms of writing, however, all those rules go straight out the window.

Nothing is scarier than being faced with a mountain of words — or, even worse, with the blank Word document, the one that will eventually become a mountain of words, but is nothing more than a empty sheet of possibility. We’ve all felt that stab of panic as we stare at the blanking cursor, waiting for the words to flow, and so each word, each sentence, each paragraph feels like a tiny victory.

As I grapple with understanding the structure of the novel, I am also struggling to grasp the mechanics of long-form academic writing. Scholarly writing is much more straight-forward, at least on the surface. There are no plot points to figure out, no need to sort out character motivations and overarching themes. Academics are expected to tell and not show, to reveal the our results in the very first paragraph (this makes me sad, because sometimes I’d like there to be a big reveal — I toiled in the archives for days and weeks, and hunted for clues! At last, the meaning of etiquette books was revealed to me…).

My adventures with NaNoWriMo have taught me that while I benefit from outlines, I am a nonlinear, scene-by-scene sort of writer. I’ve penned the thesis in the same way: in odd bits and pieces scattered around Scrivener, culled from past seminar papers and conference talks. Those chunks of text are somehow cobbled together by a form of alchemy that I can only guess at, fitted together to form a seemingly coherent product.

My take-away from all of this? Write, no matter how short or silly or stupid the idea is. Scrawl as many memos and notes as possible, keep track of how ideas jump around and leap about and evolve. Eventually, some sort of structure will emerge to unite some of those pieces together.

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Wicked Wednesdays: The Suavest Angel of Them All

The Bishop's Wife

(Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

Each week for Wicked Wednesdays, I like to share something that I love, virtues as well as vices. Today, given that we are well in the midst of the holiday season, I’d like to talk about my favorite Christmas film: Samuel Goldwyn’s 1947 classic, The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. There are many wonderful Christmas movies from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood (Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn), but I think this is one of the unsung classics from the period.

The film tells the story of Henry Brougham, a cold-hearted bishop (Niven) too blinded by ambition to pay attention to his wife (Young), their daughter, or the people who have supported him. His goal — to build a glorious cathedral — consumes all of his passion and energy, and distracts him from his faith in god and everyone around him. In a form of “divine intervention,” an angel (Grant) is sent to restore the bishop’s faith, and set him back on the right path.

If the storyline sounds somewhat familiar, that may be because it was remade in 1996 as The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. In my opinion, the remake was only so-so (although Denzel is mighty fine to look at). As with so many movies, there is nothing like the original.

There’s so much to love about The Bishop’s Wife. For starters, the cast is phenomenal — the leading actors bring quite a bit of star power with them, and the supporting cast, including Monty Wooley, Elsa Lanchester, and Gladys Cooper, add to the magic. Cooper is particularly memorable as the icy, materialistic Mrs. Hamilton, the wealthy widow who is helping the bishop to finance the cathedral, but who insists on using her financial contribution to micro-manage the project and control the bishop. Even better is the script, which manages to be funny and heart-warming all at once, without slipping into overly-saccharine sappiness.

Of course, it is Cary Grant who steals my heart, and given the strength of the cast, that’s saying a lot.  As Dudley, Grant is his usual suave, debonair self, inserting himself into the bishop’s household with easy grace and a twinkling smile. In many ways, Dudley reminds me of a male Mary Poppins, emerging out of nowhere to brighten the lives of everyone around him. In the opening scenes alone, he rescues a baby in a runaway stroller and helps a blind man cross the street, and the good deeds continue throughout the film.

A bit of eyecandy, because I cannot resist:

Looking too dashing for his own good (source: The Elegant Age)

Reading Loretta Young's palm (Source unknown)

As an angel, Dudley also helps to restore the faith of those around him. One wonderful example comes about half-way through the movie, with his story about divine inspiration and Psalm 23, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

For those of you who enjoy classic Hollywood, I highly recommend watching this film. It is filled with many more gems, including the most charming ice-skating scene I’ve ever seen in my life. I could say so much more, but I’d rather not give away too many spoilers. However, I will leave you with this clip, which is probably my favorite moment in the entire movie: the performance by the real-life Mitchell’s Boys Choir, singing “O Sing To God” by French composer Charles Gounod.

What are your favorite films to watch during the holiday season?

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Monday Inspirations: “Some Days”

Today’s Monday Inspirations post is a wonderful example of the gems that can be found while aimlessly surfing YouTube — Broadway star Audra McDonald performing the song, “Some Days.”

Audra McDonald is one of my personal heroes. She studied classical voice the Julliard School and has gone on to have an incredibly full career. She’s won four Tony awards for her work on Broadway, making her one of three actresses to do so. She’s also performed countless concerts across the country and appeared on television, most recently as Naomi Bennett on ABC’s Private Practice.

What makes this song special is that the lyrics are taken from a poem by James Baldwin, the African-American poet, novelist, and social critic who is remembered for his frank discussions of race, class, sexuality, and oppression during a period when such topics were considered taboo. The poem is incredibly moving, and made all the more beautiful by Audra McDonald’s magnificent voice.

1.

Some days worry
some days glad
some days
more than make you
mad.
Some days,
some days, more than
shine:
when you see what’s coming
on down the line!

2.

Some days you say,
oh, not me never ⎯ !
Some days you say
bless God forever.
Some days, you say,
curse God, and die
and the day comes when you wrestle
with that lie.
Some days tussle
then some days groan
and some days
don’t even leave a bone.
Some days you hassle
all alone.

3.

I don’t know, sister,
what I’m saying,
nor do no man,
if he don’t be praying.
I know that love is the only answer
and the tight-rope lover
the only dancer.
When the lover come off the rope
today,
the net which holds him
is how we pray,
and not to God’s unknown,
but to each other ⎯ :
the falling mortal is our brother!

4.

Some days leave
some days grieve
some days you almost don’t believe.
Some days believe you
and you won’t.
Some days worry
some days mad
some days more than make you glad.
Some days, some days,
more than shine,
witnesses,
coming on down the line!

ROW80: ROW-ing Through the Snow

ROW-oh-ing, ROW-oh-ing through the snow, writing bells are ringing…

Happy Sunday, friends and ROWers! Yes, that is my one-line attempt at a ROW-flavored holiday song. For fun, here’s Nat King Cole singing the original:

I’ve been back in San Francisco since Thursday, and right now, life is good. Here’s my mini-list of exciting accomplishments:

  • Work: I’m half-way through grading final papers, and for the most part, the students have done a wonderful job. I’ve been reminded of my favorite part of TA’ing ethnographic methods classes: I get to supervise students’ research and watch their projects (and their skills) develop over the quarter. Many of them have come a long way since the first few weeks of the course, and have written up excellent accounts of their research projects. Even better, some of them actually read the feedback I provided on past assignments (you’d be surprised how rare this is), and incorporated my suggestions and edits in their papers.
  • School: I had a great, albeit somewhat impromptu, meeting with my advisor before I left. She’s asked me to help her with a research project that she and I have been discussing for the past couple of years, and I’m really excited — it involves archival research about religious communities (i.e. Catholic nuns) in the United States. The project is in its preliminary phases, but if she can get funding I can come aboard as a paid research assistant. We also started discussing plans for the dissertation fellowships I’m going to apply for next year, which is really exciting.
  • Writing: Now that NaNo’s finished, I’m back to rotating between my multiple unfinished projects. After some not-so-gentle nudging from the characters of my steampunk tale, I’m working on a plan for edits and rewrites. Apparently I’m also writing a short story or two of prequel-esque backstory, because Tempest Dumont has demanded it, and she’s the sort of gal that one can’t refuse. I pantsed the first draft of TELL ME NO LIES, and now I’m struggling to impose some structure on my sprawling mass of scenes. It’s too short — only 51K, with about 35 scenes, so now I have to figure out where to fill in the blanks, and what to add. I won’t lie, the whole thing is incredibly daunting. Sometimes I think I’d be better off sticking with short stories or novellas…. but we’ll see how things go.

Now that we’re firmly in the midst of December, how is everyone else holding up?

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Fiction Fridays: The Music of Tell Me No Lies

Today’s Fiction Friday post is brought to you by the voices in my head. Yes, my characters not only try to dictate my storylines and plots, but now they are conspiring to stage a coup and take over my blog posts as well. 🙂 Because Tempest Dumont, the main character of my steampunk WIP, TELL ME NO LIES, has demanded it, I’m going to talk about the music behind the story.

For anyone who’s unaware, TELL ME NO LIES is my crazy steampunk romantic thriller, set in 1890s San Francisco (the Barbary Coast, to be specific). Tempest is a popular saloon singer who finds herself targeted by a mysterious serial killer who is bent on murdering those scandalous “ladies of the stage,” Jack-the-Ripper-style. The police refuse to believe that the murders are connected, and so she sets off on a one-woman crusade to find the killer and bring him to justice. Along the way, she receives the help of Adam Davenport, the one detective who believes her claims and wants to see justice served. The two of them are like oil and water, and they struggle to set aside their differences (and ignore the growing of attraction between them) to solve the murders.

Tempest is one of those characters who just won’t shut up. She’s incredibly different from my other MCs — loud, brassy, and cynical. She had a rough upbringing, ran away from home when she was 15, and ended up falling in love with a ne’er-do-well airship pirate who eventually broke her heart and tried to frame her for one of his crimes. Now she thinks that she’s heartless and incapable of love… but she just might be wrong.

The playlist has a distinct folk/country feel to it. Even though the tale takes place at the end of the 19th century when San Francisco has become refined and urban, there’s this residual “wild west” vibe that I can’t quite shake.

The first song that I’ll share with you is “Tennessee” by Gillian Welch (Lyrics). In so many ways, this is the definitive Tempest song, just from the first verse alone:

I kissed you ‘cause I’ve never been an angel
I learned to say hosannas on my knees
But they threw me out of Sunday school when I was 9
And the sisters said I did just as I pleased
Even so, I tried to be a good girl
It’s only what I want that makes me weak
I had no desire to be a child of sin
Then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek.

That scandalous, whiskered man? Gillian Welch is of course referring to Jack Davenport, the rakish airship pirate who broke Tempest’s heart and double-crossed her. In all seriousness, however, I love Gillian’s voice, and I am sorta convinced that this song was written for Tempest. It’s the perfect theme.

The second song is “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars (Lyrics).

Tempest is the sort of gal who doesn’t really believe in redemption, and who carries around a lot of baggage when it comes to dealing with her past. The chorus resonates with all those themes:

Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil’s gonna follow me ‘ever I go
Won’t do me no good, washing in the river
Can’t no preacherman save my soul

The final song isn’t folk or country, but pop — Pink’s “Glitter in the Air” (Lyrics).The entire album, Funhouse, is on the playlist, but this song is my favorite. Incidentally, I’m convinced that this may be the best awards show performance I’ve ever seen. Pink kills it here:

I love this song to the marrow of my bones. It is achingly beautiful, and the last lines of the song move me to tears sometimes:

Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and hold that rope tight
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself
Will it ever get better than tonight?

This the song that plays in my head whenever I think of Tempest and Adam’s romance. They’re two souls who have been scarred, who are a bit bruised and broken, yet somehow fight their fears and allow themselves to be vulnerable to one another.

So there you have it, the music of TELL ME NO LIES. It’s not a definitive list by any means (the “official” playlist is over 60 songs long), but I think these three songs capture the overall vibe of the novel. Just listening to them makes me want to drop everything and start working on it again — or maybe that’s just Tempest talking. 😉

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