Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Month: February 2012 (page 1 of 2)

Together We Will Live Forever: Love, Death, and “The Fountain”

Now that you all know why I harbor such a ridiculously intense crush on Hugh Jackman, it’s time for the Hugh-a-Palooza to continue!

Source: Wikipedia

While Hugh has starred in some wonderful films over the years, today I want to focus on one of my favorites: The Fountain, directed by Darren Aronofsky and co-starring Rachel Weisz. It’s one of those movies that seems to defy genre: one-part romance, one-part science fiction, one-part fantasy.

Aronofsky’s experimental style, as well as the non-linear storyline, makes it a bit odd and off-beat. It’s little wonder that the movie elicits divided reactions from fans and critics alike. It was allegedly booed by critics during its initial screening at the Venice Film Festival; fan reactions usually range from “Love It!” to “Hate It!”, with a fair number of people scratching their heads and saying, “Huh?”

The movie encompasses three storylines, all of which involve men battling the inevitability of death to save the women that they love. The core storyline takes place in the present-day, where Tommy Creo (Jackman) is a scientist struggling to find a cure for cancer. His motivations are as much personal as they are altruistic — his wife, Izzi, is fighting brain cancer. As he works to find a way to cure her disease and to keep her alive, she is learning to accept death, turning to an ancient Mayan myth about death and rebirth.

Probably the sweetest/hottest bathtub love scene ever. Source: Crash Landen

Izzi uses writing as a vehicle for healing and acceptance, weaving a fictional tale about Queen Isabella of Spain’s quest for the mythical Tree of Life, found in “the jungles of New Spain.” This is the second strand of the film, where Queen Isabella (also played by Weisz) commands her loyal conquistador, Tomas, to journey to South America, find the tree, and bring back its secrets.

Arm Tattoos from "The Fountain"

The third strand of the film takes place in the future, with Tom Creo as a space traveler taking the Tree of Life to Xibalba, the dying nebula that the ancient Mayans believed to be their underworld. Tom measures the years of his life in tattoos that run up and down his arms like tree rings, and as he sails through space to the place where he and the tree will be reborn, he is haunted by moments from the past: Izzi commanding him to finish her book, Isabella charging him with the task of finding the tree, Izzi asking him to take a break from his work to walk through the first snowfall with her.

Tommy and Izzi stargazing. Source: Greg Saltiel

There are different interpretations of this third strand. Did Tommy invent a way to stop death and aging? Or are the solitary adventures of Tom the Space Traveler present-day Tommy’s way of ending Izzi’s book? Although I prefer the latter perspective, the film is told in a way that allows for multiple readings.

Tom, the Tree, and the spaceship.

This is a movie that is incredibly rich with symbols and themes, from the use of trees and circles (Tommy’s wedding ring, Tom’s bubble-like spaceship, and other imagery), to the use of color. In all 3 storylines, Tommy is always dressed in black, save for the final scene of the film, when he is wearing silver. Izzi, on the other hand, is almost always in white, with the exception of the Spain storyline, where she is clad in a gown of rich bronze and gold, embroidered with the recurring tree motif.

Tomas the Conquistador and Queen Isabella

When it comes to themes, the battle between life and death, and the tension between acceptance of nature and control over nature, reign supreme. As a scientist, Tommy represents the urge to control life: he wants to cure cancer, to stop aging, to bring an end to death and suffering. Historically, this is a characteristic associated with masculinity, the old Cartesian dualism where mind exerts control over body, where man can shape and harness nature according to his will.

Izzi gives us the opposite side of the coin: the desire to embrace nature, to see death as just another part of the human journey. Throughout the film, she utters a single refrain: “Death is the road to awe.” While Tommy is single-mindedly focused on developing a drug to cure her brain cancer, Izzi wants him to walk in the snow and watch the stars. Tommy tells her, in a voice filled with anguish, that he wants her to stay with him, she reminds him that she will always be with him… but what is left unspoken is that her presence may not always be a physical one.

Tommy and Izzi together in a scene that always makes me cry. Source: Celebrating Cinema.

Above all, it is Hugh’s performance that draws me back to this movie time and again. While he exhibits all sorts of raw masculinity and berserker rage as Wolverine, his turn in The Fountain encompasses the greatest emotional range that I’ve ever seen him exhibit. In the present-day, he is a man standing on the brink of a breakdown, fighting to maintain control over his anger and his sadness.

With Izzi, he is tender and warm, and yet he can’t cry in front of her — that expression of grief is something that he can only do in solitude. As Tomas the Conquistador, he is intense and driven in his desire to protect his queen and carry out her wishes. As Tom the Space Traveler, he is somber and meditative, yet when Izzi/Isabella reappear and demand that he “finish it,” his grief is palpable. “I don’t know how it ends,” he keeps saying, and we can all feel his heartbreak.

The Fountain isn’t a perfect movie. At times it seems convoluted, and yet it is one of my favorites of all time. It is a movie that makes me think, one that makes me feel, and that is a rare thing in today’s world of cinema.

It’s also visually striking, and Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is so exquisite and evocative that I often put it on repeat and play it for hours on end. If you’ve got an open mind, and the desire to submerge yourself into a strange but beautiful world for an hour and a half, I encourage you to check out this movie.

Has anyone else seen The Fountain? Did you love it or hate it?

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ROW80: Under Pressure

I was on top of the world when I checked in on Monday, and for good reason: I had enjoyed an absolutely fantastic weekend away, and I was buoyed up by all of the good vibes and happiness that had been sent my way. Everything was grand for a few days… and then around Wednesday, panic set in.

Source: Pinterest

Like so many of you, I have a vast to-do list of things that absolutely must get done, and what sucks is that my biggest priorities have nothing to do with writing. I have a conference paper proposal due next week, along with the oral defense for my thesis and the regular load of 60-70 papers to grade. Add on everything else that I’d rather be doing (writing flash fiction and blog posts, visiting everyone else’s blogs, working on my WIPs, tweeting, reading books, watching movies and eating Cheetoes), and I basically need, oh, an extra 24 hours in a day to accomplish everything.

The anxiety and panic are physically paralyzing, to the point where I end up with fierce migraines and nausea. I sit down to tackle something on the to-do list, and I get so overwhelmed at the thought of everything else that I should be doing that I can’t do anything at all.

The thing is, I know much of this is self-inflicted. I am capable of finishing everything that I have on my plate. As so many of you have pointed out, I’ve lived with this thesis long enough that I know it inside and out. A 5-10 minute presentation, and the conversation that will follow with my committee, really shouldn’t be challenging. The conference paper proposal is only a short abstract, again one that is based on the work that I’ve already been doing. And the blog posts and social media are fun, nothing that should be giving me heart palpitations and sweaty palms.

So much of my problems stem from self-doubt and fear — fear that I won’t be good enough, that I’ll crash and burn in a spectacular display of epic failure, that I’ll embarrass myself (and my advisor) with my sheer incompetence.

All of this has started me to thinking over the last few days, and the question that reoccurs in my mind is one that is startlingly simple, yet also challenging: How much would I get done if I just abandoned self-doubt? I’m not talking about embarking on projects armed with hubris and arrogance. Rather, I’m thinking about approaching all areas of my life with the confidence that I am equipped and prepared to tackle any challenges that come my way. In my heart of hearts, I feel like I know more than I give myself credit for, and those things that I don’t know can be learned.

Perhaps this is one of those overarching goals that I can try to adopt for the remainder of this round: Abandon self-doubt. It’s not something that can really be measured directly, unless we’re talking about potential decreases in panic attacks, but I’d like to strive towards it all the same.

Here’s the short list of what I did get done this week:

Writing: Not too much happened here. I have ideas that are demanding to be released, and I am dying to just sit down and allow them to run free. This will maybe-hopefully happen this weekend.

Day Job: Met with my advisor on Thursday and started hammering out the next year of my life, including the directed study I’ll be taking with her next quarter, a list of the grants and fellowships I plan to apply for this fall, and plans to work as her research assistant next school year. There was also chatter about co-writing an article based on my thesis, and brainstorming potential syllabi I’ll want to have under my belt when I hit the job market in a couple of years. Overwhelming, but exciting.

Exercise: I squeezed in 4 days this week, even though 3 of those days were 15 minute stints on the glider, rather than the 30 minutes that I usually do. But I figure it’s better for me to at least move a little instead of sit around for days at a time.

Social Time: Surprisingly, there is lots of this happening — an impromptu girls’ night out on Monday, a birthday celebration for a colleague Thursday night, and a mock bachelorette party on Saturday night (it’s for Science, people, a sociological study of whether or not one of my single friends can “pass” as an engaged woman — long story).

50/50 Challenge: I haven’t had a chance to do any reading, but I finally saw Midnight in Paris, and I am in LOVE. So many people told me to watch it, and I’m delighted that I finally got the chance. As someone who has always felt like I was born in the wrong era, the movie resonated with me, and made me miss Paris all the more. I highly recommend it.

For anyone else who is feeling ridiculously overwhelmed, I dedicate the following song. Turn up the volume and dance it out, ’cause there’s nothing like a little Queen and David Bowie to make the world a better place. 😀

Be sure to swing by and send warm fuzzies to all the other ROW80 participants!

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My Favorite Writing Spots

My preferred writing spot. I seriously live for beach workdays. 😀

I love seeing writers’ work-spaces, so I thought today I’d share mine with all of you. Some of you may know that, when weather permits, I prefer working on the beach, but that isn’t always tenable, even in sunny Santa Barbara. More often than not, I spend my time at home, especially since I decided to save on money by avoiding my favorite cafe. 😉

I live in a tiny little studio apartment, but I’ve worked pretty hard over the past few years to make myself a space that is inviting, comfortable, and cozy. One of the things that’s challenging about a studio, of course, is the fact that it’s really just one big room. As a result, I’ve had to find ways to create little nooks, to give the place a sense of depth.

The desk is where most of my writing magic happens. Once upon a time it was tucked against the wall where my current “reading nook” is located (photo below), but a couple of years back I got the bright idea to move it under the window. It was the best decision I could have made.

The desk, and my incredibly awesome zebra print chair.

When I sit down at the desk, I can see out over the whole neighborhood. Better yet, I can watch the birds flying around (always good inspiration for when I’m working on PATH TO THE PEACOCK THRONE), and on clear days, I can luxuriate in the morning sun that spills through the window.

Other times, though, I want to curl up in a comfy chair and do a little writing by hand, or tuck the laptop on my lap. My reading nook is the perfect spot for that, with my pretty yellow chair and yet another window that gets the sun in the late afternoon, right before it sets. The chair is a special one, because it was my very first second-hand shop find. I fell in love with it, and my mom bought it for me as a present for my 11th birthday (it was a steal, too, only $25!).

My comfy reading chair.

I think my favorite writing place of all is my deck. I got really lucky with this apartment; there aren’t many places I know about that come with outdoor space, especially as big as mine is. Few things are better for my creative impulses than than throwing on my swimsuit and shorts, pulling on my sun hat, and writing out in the sunshine and fresh air…. even though sometimes I end up writing alongside a “visitor” or two.

What are your favorite writing spots?

ROW80: Refreshed and Ready to Rock

As some of you know, I celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday by taking a road trip down to Los Angeles to visit my good friend and colleague, Nicki, along with my not-so-little sister, Jaymie, who will be turning twenty in May. I don’t think I realized how badly I needed a short get-away, but now that I’ve had a couple of days to do absolutely nothing but enjoy myself, I feel like I’m ready to get back to work.

I had a short work week and a long weekend, so the progress I’ve made towards my goals reflects that. Here’s how the last week turned out:

Writing: Last Monday was basically a day of writing: lots of brainstorming, lots of editing, and a couple of new scenes planned out for TELL ME NO LIES. I’m starting to wonder, though, if I am going to be able to have a complete draft by the end of this round, which was my ultimate goal. In the weeks to come, I’m going to need to figure out the game-plan for pulling things together, and trying to get it finished.

Day Job: Oh boy, people, things are moving as far as the day job is concerned. I’ve filled out all the paperwork and set the date for the oral defense for my MA thesis. The official date is Thursday, March 1st, and I will be freaking out prepping industriously for the next week and a half. I only need to make a 5-10 minute presentation on my findings and conclusions, and brave the Q&A segment, but I am trying to remind myself that I know this project inside and out, and that committees don’t schedule defenses for students who aren’t deemed ready.

In other news I’ve signed up for the last two courses I will ever take as a graduate student (thrilling, frightening, exciting). One of them will be a directed study with my advisor, which will hopefully help me to gear up for the dissertation proposal that I need to write and defend by the end of the summer. No pressure, right? 😉

Social Time: There were a lot of good times over the past week: a fantastically awesome Valentine’s celebration with two of my besties that involved a hilarious movie (This Means War), cocktails, and cheesecake; an overnight visit with Nicki, complete with gabbing and tasty cupcakes; and a couple of days worth of shopping and hanging out with this kid:

She is, of course, way older these days and approaching adulthood, but I’m really grateful that we got to spend some time together one-on-one. My sister and I are nothing alike, and because we’re 5 years apart in age, and 6 years apart in school, finding common ground is even harder (I think there’s a blog post in this). But the older she gets, the more we have to talk about. I’m looking forward to this becoming an ongoing trend.

Exercise: Exercise and nutrition are always a major challenge around my birthday, because I am very good at justifying excesses, like this cupcake. Just look at it, will you? It clearly was something that was just begging to be eaten.

I managed to work out 3 days last week, and tried to balance out all the tasty desserts and eating out I did with extra servings of veggies. My jeans still button and I don’t feel like I’m busting out of my clothes (yet?), so I suppose I haven’t failed too terribly.

50/50 Challenge: Okay, I basically took Thursday to do nothing but read, and I devoured DARK CURRENTS and DEADLY GAMES, books 2 and 3 in Lindsay Buroker‘s THE EMPEROR’S EDGE series. I pretty much love everything Lindsay has written, and these two weren’t any different. If you like steampunk and fantasy, check them out.

I also hit the movies twice this week and caught This Means War and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for a double dose of Tom Hardy. This Means War was a lot funnier than I thought it would be, and even though I was irked by the ending, I really enjoyed it. And wow, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was amazing… though I will say that it was definitely worth my $9.75 to watch Colin Firth ooze and smarm his way around in the background (Gary Oldman is pretty spectacular as well).

Zemanta is encouraging me to give you all a picture of the wondrous Tom Hardy, so who am I to disagree?

English: Tom Hardy

Image via Wikipedia

Thanks to everyone for all the fantastic birthday wishes! I have to say, twenty-five feels pretty darn good. 😀 I’ll be working through all the comments and posts that I’ve missed over the last few days, and hopefully I’ll get caught up on bloggy things sometime this week.

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Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Real Life Love Stories

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and because I am a die-hard hopeless romantic, I thought I’d dedicate today’s post to love, that most noble sentiment.

I dabble with romance in my writing, and a good romance book or film can always boost my spirits. But as much as I enjoy the love stories that Hollywood and my favorite novelists can create, it’s the love stories from real life that affect me the most.

Cupid by Michelangelo, Musee du Louvre

Cupid and Psyche | Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t always feel this way, but after my first (and, to date, last) relationship ended, I found myself looking at love in a completely different light. If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that maintaining a relationship is really damn hard… but that it’s worth the effort, if the person you’re with is also willing to put in the work.

My parents on their wedding day, July 1986

The older I get, the more I come to admire and understand the nuance of my parents’ relationship. As a child, I idolized their love story, the tale of a man and a woman from two different parts of the world meeting by chance in San Francisco, falling in love, getting married, and having a couple of kids.

I spent a lot of time looking at my atlas back in the day, tracing myself an imaginary line from the Philippines, where my dad was born and raised, to San Francisco, where he and his family moved when he was 15; from Ohio, where my mom was born, to Los Angeles, where she grew up, and up the coast to SF, where she moved in her early 20s. Add in the fact that my mom claims to have day-dreamed of marrying “a boy from an island” when she was 5, and you have the recipe for little Lena thinking that her parents’ relationship was written in the stars.

My parents worked in the same office in San Francisco, where dad was the chauffeur for the company president. As my mom tells the story, all of the ladies in the office had crushes on him, including all the fancy-pants executive secretaries… but somehow, he fell for her, the lowly receptionist. It almost reads like a romance novel: the plain Jane who wins the cute guy over all the other ladies. It was a story that I loved.

And yet, I knew very well the darker side of their relationship. Both of my parents came to their relationship saddled with their fair share of baggage, emotional and otherwise. To top it off, my dad had a nasty addiction to drugs and alcohol, which contributed to the fights and arguments, the cycle of making up, breaking up, and making up again.

The early years of their relationship were turbulent, and those problems only continued after they married and I was born. In my early memories, it was just my mom and me — dad was off elsewhere, carousing with the guys, too busy getting drunk and high to come home. And I even remember the day when everything changed, the terrible fight when my mom called the cops and had my dad arrested because his temper got so out of hand.

This is a story that, for so many reasons, shouldn’t have a happy ending. It’s a story that should have ended with a divorce… but it didn’t. Mom decided that she wasn’t going to take it anymore, kicked dad out the house, and told him he couldn’t come back till he was clean. And my dad hit rock bottom, decided that his life, his job, and his family were more important than anything else, and came back to us. My little sister was born shortly afterwards, when I was 5, and slowly but surely, we became a family.

The whole family together, Christmas 2010

Watching my parents grow together over the years has taught me that love is never easy, that it requires constant maintenance and cultivation, like a garden that must be tended each season in order for fruit to ripen and flowers to bloom. They have their ups and downs, the occasional argument and misunderstanding, but they are on solid ground with one another.

Now that my sister and I are both grown and more or less living on our own, it’s exciting for me to seem them enter a new phase in their relationship: two empty nesters who go out on impromptu dates, who have been together long enough to overcome some of the hardest challenges in their relationship and who now know each other so very well.

I think my proudest moment came last summer, when I watched them renew their vows for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Their story is still in the process of being written, but it is one that reminds me that real life love is rarely as simple or straightforward as in the movies.

My parents on their 25th wedding anniversary, July 2011

I remember them today, especially because they have another anniversary coming up — the 28th anniversary of their first date, which, in a strange twist of coincidence, falls on February 18th, my 25th birthday. Congrats, Mom and Dad!

-oOo-

Because I am a music fiend, I had to give you all a couple of my favorite love songs to go along with today’s theme of “real life love stories.” These two, in my mind, capture the poignancy and uncertainty of love.

The first song, “Kissing You” by Des’ree, will be familiar to any of you who have seen the 1997 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrman and starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s bittersweet and beautiful, and Des’ree’s voice never fails to send chills down my spine.

The second comes from John Legend’s first album, Get Lifted. No matter how many times I hear this song, I’ll never get sick of it. John Legend tells the story of the love that “ordinary people” face, one that is far more complex and nuanced than any Hollywood fairy tale can portray.

What are your favorite “real life” love stories? Any romantic songs that you can’t stop listening to?

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ROW80: Is It Spring Break Yet?

Screen capture from The Avengers: Earth's Migh...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s a late afternoon ROW80 check-in for me, as I’ve spent the past few days feeling sort of brain-dead, and generally useless — lots of laying on the couch and binging on The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which is actually a pretty awesome cartoon series. However, it has inspired my latest life goal, which is to create and teach a course that explores the sociology of comic books and superheroes (!!!).

The theme of the past week? Small victories. Here’s how things went down:

Writing: Didn’t get as much done here as I’d like, but I did start some legitimate editing, instead of just writing up random scenes that may or may not end up in the final product. I’ve also been taking time out to “walk” my way through each scene, and to really start thinking about the wants, needs, and motivations of each character. All that background work is helping things to take shape.

Day Job: I finished my 2nd guest lecture this week, and it was lots of fun (the topic was film noir and post-World War II cinema). Even better, one of the students told me after class that I did a really great job, which saved me a whole weekend of self-doubt. The downside is that I’m still trying to adjust to the workload of grading 60-70 two page papers each week, so hopefully I pull that together soon.

I’ll be scheduling my MA thesis defense for sometime in the beginning of March, so prepping for that will be on my to-do list in the coming days. *bites nails* This is exciting and utterly terrifying all at once.

Social Time: I’ve been hunkered down at home all week, though I did get a chance to hit the beach last Sunday and hang out with friends. There have also been a couple of gossip-filled afternoons out to grab Indian food (always awesome), but I’m saving up my energy for next weekend, when I head to LA to spend my birthday with my little sister.

Exercise: Okay, I think I reached my goals… but it’s been one of those weeks when I can’t even remember what I had for dinner yesterday, let alone the number of times I worked out. I think it was 3 or 4 days, at any rate.

50/50 Challenge: No new movies, but I did get a chance to read fellow WANA-ite/ROW’er Jennette Marie Powell‘s Time’s Enemy, and wow — I was totally enthralled with it. If you’re into time travel, science-fiction novels, complete with romance, I highly recommend it. (Jen, is it March yet? Can I have book 2? I’m seriously dying to read it.)

-oOo-

If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend that you all swing by and check out August McLaughlin‘s Beauty of a Woman blogfest — there are some incredible stories that have been shared. Also, sign-ups for Rachael Harrie’s Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign end on February 15th, so if you’re interested in taking part, head over here.

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Discovering My Beauty Through Writing

With so many inspirational, uplifting, and awe-inspiring posts that have been written to celebrate August McLauglin’s “Beauty of a Woman” blogfest, I am excited and humbled to be able to add my voice to the mix.

Be sure to visit her blog on Friday, February 10th to check out all of the entries. I promise, you will laugh, cry, and feel inspired by the extraordinary stories that have been told.

As an extra-added bonus, you also have a chance to win some awesome prizes, including a $99 Amazon gift card or a Kindle Touch.

-oOo-

Growing up, my favorite movies were the ones that fall into the “makeover” genre. You know the ones I’m talking about — the films where the painfully awkward, shy, chubby/ugly/completely unstylish brainy girl is transformed into a ravishing beauty through the efforts of some form of fairy godmother. Not only does she become gorgeous, she also manages to snag Prince Charming and live happily ever after.

These films resonated with me because I was that awkward, chubby, bespectacled smart kid. I was the one that went through life as the butt of everyone else’s jokes, who avoided the popular kids and the cute guys so I wouldn’t have to endure their taunting, and who, in occasional moments of weakness, politely asked god (okay, demanded) whether it it might be better if I could exchange my brains for beauty.

The teasing wasn’t so terrible when I was in elementary school, partly because I was too lost in my own little world of novels and schoolwork to know any better. But by the time junior high rolled around, things became hellish.

Puberty hits most people hard, but Mother Nature saw fit to give me an extra-special “present”: a hormonal disorder known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It’s estimated to affect anywhere between 10% and 20% of women, and it manifests itself during adolescence. There’s much more research around these days dealing with its origins, and ways to treat it, but back in the late 1990s, my doctors could only tell me that there was something up with my ovaries, and that my body was producing abnormal levels of androgen and testosterone — not the sort of thing that a 12 year old girl wants to hear.

What mattered to me more than anything were the secondary effects of PCOS: the acne that just kept coming, the extra weight I gained, the way my voice deepened, and even worse, the dark hair that sprouted on my legs, my arms, and my face.

I was “lucky” in the fact that the kids at school didn’t tease me about my weight (although my extended family did call me the “fat kid,” asked when I was going to diet, then balked if I didn’t eat seconds at parties — “What’s wrong, are you on a diet? Eat more!”), but they did notice the hair… and they were cruel.

Starting in 5th grade, they threw every name in the book at me. I became the girl with the “hairy fungus legs,” the one with the “man moustache.”  It was so much worse than anything that I had ever been called before, worse than if they had just called me plain ugly. It was like being told that I was only part girl, that I was some creepy, bizarre freak. I lived in fear that I would suddenly start sprouting a full beard like the “werewolf children” that had been profiled on the Discovery Channel, that I would have to live my life as some sort of crazy bearded lady in a circus.

My parents didn’t quite understand my plight, though in their defense, I never told them the magnitude of the bullying until years later. Mom wouldn’t let me shave my legs, which meant that I had to walk around in my skirt (pants weren’t part of the school uniform for girls) without any way to cover up. When it came to my face, my mom told me not to worry about it — I was beautiful “just the way I was.”

I eventually won the right to the razor and the depilatory creams, seized hold of tweezers and acne medication, but the damage to my psyche was complete. It’s probably little wonder that I was a festering mess of rage and anguish during those years. I lashed out at my family, sparked countless fights with my mom, and pushed away my little sister, all the while spiraling down a rabbit hole of depression.

The mirror told me how ugly I was, and the little demons in my head whispered of my worthlessness. They told me tales of how I would be unloved and friendless, how my intelligence would never be enough to make up for the physical beauty that I lacked.

And yet, it’s sometimes in the midst of destruction and trauma that we find our strength. Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, turmoil can transform us, bring us closer to beauty than smooth roads and easy paths.

Because I had no fairy godmother who would wave her magic wand and transform me from my trollish state into an exquisitely-formed princess, I turned inward. There, beyond the taunting of those tenacious demons, I found something else, something I hadn’t quite expected: a flickering flame that refused to be doused, a voice that refused to be silent, an inner strength that demanded I fight back.

I couldn’t speak out against my tormentors; I was too afraid of the backlash that might result. Instead, it was my journal that became my refuge. I filled its pages with my frustration and sadness, with the anger that I kept locked inside. Poetry came welling out my pen, raw and unpolished, and ever so slowly, I found a way to leech away the poison that had been corroding my soul.

Writing gave me a power unlike any other, the chance to tell my own story. I discovered that there was beauty inside of me, an amazing wealth of talents, passions, interests, and strengths. It became my form of prayer, my way of connecting with a god that I loved more than anything else, a god that I believed had shaped me, formed me, called me by name and made me his.

It was this therapy that gave me the will to live. Through poetry and prose, I could paint myself with as many shades of beautiful as I desired. I became a goddess, a force of nature, wielding words like weapons, or maybe a magic wand, the kind that could bring universes into being and create worlds that existed only in my imagination.

The beauty I uncovered was one that couldn’t be purchased, and as much as I love fashion and cosmetics these days, those material goods could never have the same transformative power. This was a beauty forged in the pit of despair, tempered by prayer and faith, and it gave me the freedom to accept every inch of myself, inside and out.

-oOo-

It’s been more than a decade since that turbulent period in my youth, and the lessons that I’ve learned still hold true. Granted, my demons still exist, and they continue to whisper and hiss in my ear. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully silence them, but I have the power that I need to speak against them.

I want to leave you all with a poem that I return to whenever I find myself faltering. It’s “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, and it expresses everything that I want other women to know: that even when people try to push us down and destroy our spirits, we can and will rise, stronger, brighter, and more beautiful than ever.

[Full text found here]

 

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The Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign Rides Again!

I’m so excited to take part in Rachael Harrie’s 4th Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign! I joined up last August for the 3rd round, and had an absolute blast discovering new bloggers and writers. If you want to sign up for Round 4, fill out this form, add your name to the list of campaigners, and don’t forget to follow #writecampaign on Twitter.

First, a little about me. I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, but I’ve spent almost 3 years living in Santa Barbara, CA and working my way through a PhD program in sociology. I’m doing the big-time juggling act, balancing coursework, research, and teaching with writing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My Kindle is my inanimate lover, I am obsessed with Byronic heroes, and I drink more tea than is probably healthy… but it’s all good, right? 😉

I’ve been writing for fun since I was a kid, but I decided to tackle writing as a career almost a year ago. At the moment, I’m trying to wrap up the first draft of TELL ME NO LIES, a steampunk murder-mystery set in 1890s San Francisco, and work through PATH TO THE PEACOCK throne, a fantasy novel I started during NaNoWriMo 2011. You can see my works in-progress, along with a couple of excerpts, here.

I also try to blog a couple of times a week, though depending on how much grading I have to do, that can change. 😉 In the weeks to come, expect to see some flash fiction, major fan-girling for Hugh Jackman, and some life reflections (these seem to be connected with turning 25). I’ll also be posting regular updates for A Round of Words in 80 Days, “the writing challenge that knows you have a life” (a writing community/challenge that I highly recommend).

You can find me around the interwebz on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook (feel free to friend me or subscribe to my public updates, whichever you prefer). I also post writing inspirations to Tumblr and Pinterest.

I look forward to connecting with old and new friends, and getting to know all of you.

-Lena

A Dose of WTF: The Darkness, “I Believe In a Thing Called Love”

As I understand it, many people in the United States spent yesterday afternoon watching some sort of sporting event on television. Because my poor San Francisco 49ers weren’t participating in said event, I skipped out on all the parties and barbecues and tables laden with chips and 7-layer dip, and went to the beach instead. However, it has come to my attention that Samsung totally had some awesome commercial involving one of the greatest one-hit wonders in the world, The Darkness.

This song means a lot to me, because it brings back memories of the best Valentine’s Day I ever had, way back when I was just turning 17. It involved two of my best girlfriends, amazing Mexican food, and driving through San Francisco with this song blaring and all of us attempting to hit those crazy high notes. Pure magic, people.

You can find the ad here, but I find it highly depressing that they didn’t air clips from the actual music video, which is crack-effing-tastic. There is a spaceship, and space monsters, and more crazy-weirdness than you can shake a stick at. Honestly… you just have to see it to believe it.

So here you are, folks — a dose of WTF-ness to start your Monday off right.

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ROW80: Taking Stock

Whew, it’s just been one of “those” weeks, one where I feel like I’m racing along on the hamster wheel, only to find that I haven’t actually tackled all those things that really need to get done. I’ve done well on the exercise and eating well goals; written consistently each weekday with the #ROW80 sprints; graded a ton of papers and lectured in my prof’s absence on Wednesday (we’ll ignore the anxiety attack I had beforehand, and the caffeine-induced freakout I had afterwards); and watched 3 movies (Haywire, The Woman in Black, and the 2006 version of Jane Eyre) and read 1 book (Lindsay Buroker’s awesomesauce steampunk/fantasy novel, The Emperor’s Edge) towards my 50/50 challenge goals. Oh, and I wrote some flash fiction, too.

Given that we’ve completed a full month of Round 1, I thought I’d do a bit of a pause-and-reflect to consider what I’ve learned and where I’d like to improve in the weeks to come.

STUFF I’VE LEARNED

  • Sloths are amazing. See Exhibit A and Exhibit B.
  • Working out in the morning makes the rest of my day better, partly because I just feel better about myself, and also because I end up with more energy.
  • Eating well also makes me feel better. Strawberries and spinach belong together, goat cheese is magical, candied ginger is the best candy replacement ever, and I actually think I’d rather have baby carrots than potato chips (shocking, I know).
  • Creating a to-do list each night helps me to evaluate what I’ve finished and what I need to tackle the next day.
  • Reading a good book almost always makes things better.
  • When I feel listless, crabby, oddly emotional, or like someone’s gummed up my brain with a bucket of molasses, I almost always need a nap. Naps are good things, and I am going to stop feeling guilty about taking them.
  • Hanging out with my #teamsprinty buddies each day has manifold benefits. Even if I’m not 100% thrilled with my output (quantity and/or quality), I always finish the hour with a giant smile on my face from all of our antics. If you ever need to be entertained, make yourself a #ROW80 column on your Twitter app of choice, and watch the nonsense flow. Last week we all took a trip to space on a book-shaped rocketship (powered by Dr. Pepper), accompanied by paper bags and vodka and chips. Good times, folks, good times.

STUFF I CAN DO BETTER

  • That to-do list I mentioned above? I’ve faltered on that one big time, and I’m really feeling the pinch of not being well-organized. I need to get back on track with prioritizing my tasks and making myself a loose schedule.
  • My research assistantship, not to mention my dissertation brainstorming, have fallen by the wayside in the past couple of weeks. I have to push both of these projects back up on my priority list (there’s that list again…) so I can make sure that I get things done.
  • Writing blog posts has also been challenging. I know exactly what I want to post for the rest of the month, and I even have some half-finished drafts sitting around… but finishing and posting them is proving to be close-to-impossible (Exhibit A: My Hugh Jackman post that was supposed to go up on February 1st, which is almost done, but not quite, and is currently collecting dust in my drafts folder). My perfectionist streak must be rearing its ugly head, because I keep scraping everything I try to write because it is not exactly perfect. Pfft.
  • I’ve been utterly pathetic at making the blog rounds, and at responding to comments on my posts, which makes me feel all icky. But I have a really hard time marshaling my thoughts to say anything that intelligible when I’m tired, and lately my brain has been like a fifteen-ring circus on Red Bull, with too many thoughts whirling around for me to get much of a handle on anything.

So… yeah. That’s where things stand at the moment. Now that I have a few of my goals seemingly under control, I’ll be concentrating on everything in that second list. Hopefully in the weeks to come, I’ll find a way to at least somewhat manage everything. 😀

Don’t forget to swing by and see how the other ROW80 participants are doing!

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