If You Were Stuck In Quicksand…

A couple weeks ago, the basic training for my school began.

I had gone through this training a year before, but this year I volunteered to work.  I wanted to help people grow and get good things out of the experience.  Someone had trained me who I respected for being firm but kind in the midst of other wild and messy training styles— I wanted to pass that on to the next group of incoming people, or candidates.  I hadn’t exactly enjoyed my time in this training, but I had grown through it.

On the first day, when I heard candidates yelling responses to officers, I immediately felt a pit open up in my stomach.  Why am I here?   Why am I a part of something that obviously causes so much distress?  This isn’t me.

I had volunteered for this, so I would do the work.  Everyone else could yell and be mean.  I’d yell, but only so far as it kept them moving, kept them learning, and got them closer to the point where I didn’t have to yell.  As things went on, I began to realize a couple things.  One, they were only yelling because they were doing the best they could.  They weren’t used to it, and when you yell without planning to it sounds like a scream.  Two, they were distressed, yes, but with so many people around showing them where to go, that didn’t matter.  Even if they tried to make the wrong turn, we could point them in the right direction.  We’d point loudly, but we’d still point.

Three, they were learning.  They were learning fast.  It was like drinking from a fire hose— too much knowledge and protocol to digest all at once.  They got what they could, tried again if they messed it up, and learned to tune out the yelling around them and yell louder.

Wouldn’t it be better, you might ask, to just sit them down, calmly explain all of this, and let them figure it out step by step before throwing them into this mayhem?  Why so much conflict?

A couple days into training, I realized something as I was reading a book.  Especially those first few days, I had mistaken conflict for evil. (more…)

Momentum

I am enthusiastic about enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is like a muse, but you can synthesize it.  By knowing what enthuses you toward a certain type of project, you can lead yourself to be enthusiastic about that project.  You have to write an essay for school— finding a new angle or tying it to one of your hobbies, like snake wrangling or something, can raise your enthusiasm.  You have to do something monotonous, like raking leaves or shoveling snow— listening to music or making a game out of it can make it seem faster.  Based on your personality, you can pump yourself up.

But enthusiasm isn’t born of the void.  Enthusiasm is to the mind like energy is to physics— it comes from somewhere, and it goes somewhere.  It transfers itself from one project to another, or lends itself from one area into another.  Your enthusiasm for music raises your enthusiasm for chores.  Your enthusiasm for snake wrangling raises your enthusiasm for school essays.  But it isn’t always rising.  Your enthusiasm for your essay dies when you realize that, instead of writing about snake wrangling, you could actually wrangle some snakes.

Enthusiasm comes and enthusiasm goes.  It never dies, but it is always running away.  The only way to keep enthusiasm around, to synthesize it when it isn’t quite there, is to keep momentum. (more…)

When There Is No Time

I’ve had numerous troubles with procrastination, but lately I’ve experienced situations in which, instead of eating my own time, I find other things eating my time.  Things like school, assigned writing and reading, college searches, and all that truly fun, exciting, invigorating work.  There’s nothing to get you into the mood for fiction writing like the SAT, right?

We all know it’s not true.  However, as Mary Robinette Kowal says, high school is meant to teach you how to fulfill all your requirements while still finding time for your hobbies.  But how to do that when there’s no time?

Prioritize.  Obviously, if you’re spending an hour doing something unnecessary, you could easily rehabilitate that time for another purpose.  Perhaps watching a TV show or checking email will have to wait for a day or two, until it becomes necessary.  (If you’re in desperate need of creative rejuvenation, for instance, watch the TV show.)  I had to take a break from blogging for (gasp!) a whole week while my life was crazy.  Of course, if your unnecessary activity happens to be your hobby, don’t prioritize that much.  The point is to free up time for you to have fun, not to remove all fun from your life. (more…)

The Attitude of Limitations

I have a question for you.

All through my life, I’ve tried to learn as much as possible about pretty much everything that interests me.  There have been times when I have rejected other things, but at this point in my life I’m willing to learn about anything.  The world interests me in many ways.  I’m willing to try just about anything as well, which might be disastrous if I ever try my hand at flying with telekinesis.  I like trying new things, though I am aware of most of my limits.

Other people have encouraged this.  Some of them have said it to my face, others I have just heard or read about, but many people say to branch out, discover new talents, build new skills, and never be afraid to try something new.  This is the moral of every children’s story I know: impossible is not an acceptable word.  You can do it if you try. (more…)

The World of Right-Handers

The world was designed for right handed people.

Trust me. It’s true. Which side of the computer keyboard is your mouse on? Hint: the right side.

Which side of a refrigerator does the door open toward? Based on a fridge with the freezer over the main compartment, I can give you a hint again: the right side. When you open it, you open with your right hand naturally. Amazing, isn’t it?

Which side of a digital camera are most of the buttons on? Hint again: the right side, for use in the right hand.

Which side of the steering wheel (in cars with the wheel on the left side) is the shifting mechanism? The right side.

Which side of any given microwave are the buttons on? That’s right, it’s the right.

Zippers on coats: they always are on the right side of the opening when unzipped all the way. (I had a coat once that unzipped to the left– it drove me crazy when I unzipped it with my right hand and had to switch hands.)

If you think all these examples are the result of pure chance, think again. If you look around you, most things you’ll see are designed for right-handed-user convenience. The examples above, for instance; like I said, they aren’t chance. Trust me.

I had a friend a couple of years ago who was left handed– he collected and played musical instruments that are made opposite to the normal design. He played a left handed violin, for example. But he always complained about one thing: he couldn’t find a left handed cello. There’s a reason for this: cellos are made one way and one way only, though not necessarily for right handed people. I always wondered why he couldn’t just use a regular one. But that’s beside the point.

Of course, the design of some objects are made so because of other things, like acoustic quality, visual pleasure, or just plain necessity, like doors. They don’t always have the handle on the left side, to be opened to the left; why, if you did that, what would happen to the other side of the door? All of a sudden it’s that side that’s backward– and of course, you can’t just have hinges and handles on both ends of the door, just so a right handed person will be able to open it more easily; doors don’t work like that. (That’s why there ought to be cat flap style doors for everyday use, so you don’t have to decide which hand to use to open it; you can just use your head.) Also, there are devices that don’t have their buttons all on the right– our dishwasher, for instance, has them scattered all over the front. This isn’t convenience, or pleasure, or anything except necessity: they don’t have any space anywhere else.

The world was designed for right handed people. This isn’t to say that I don’t like lefties– my sister is a lefty and one of my friends is a lefty– and that isn’t to say that I think lefties aren’t as good at life as right handed people; they’re more inclined to be ambidextrous, I’ve heard (though I can’t imagine why a lefty would be ambidextrous– he would cease to be a lefty, wouldn’t he?), and I’ve heard from one source that they’re smarter than we are, though I’ve also heard that they’re stupider because they read books back to front. (The instructions for outdoor grill assembly– Step 149: Ignite gas.) But I haven’t found either of those to be true. They just use a different hand to do stuff, which makes it harder to play ping pong against them, and many other things. So they’re all special! Just like the rest of us.

Life After End

The bad guy always gets it in the end. Here, for once, we know what “it” is. But where is the end? Cornelia Funke said in one of the Inkheart trilogy’s number that stories have begun before the “start” of the book, and continue past the “end” of the book. Most books don’t actually hold the end of the story. Here are two different terms that I will be using throughout this post: book and story. They mean two different things. Anyway, in this thought that stories continue past the books, we see an answer to that question “Why do bad people get good things?” and “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Because we haven’t hit the end of the story yet. Bad things always happen in good stories. If it was just a happy time all the time, no one would like the story. Good characters always die in the middle of books. Brom, from Eragon; Boromir and Theoden, from The Lord of the Rings; Holly Short, from Artemis Fowl and Linus de Wynter, from Airman (but both are from the same author, and both are resurrected– Eoin Colfer likes that stuff); Bes, from the Kane Chronicles: Throne of Fire (sorry if I spoiled it); and many more. Most good books are bittersweet. And not just through good characters dying. There’s also heartbreak, which Suzanne Collins seems to be best at, and other feelings brought into the stories. That’s the stuff that brings you back to that author for more. I’m looking at my bookshelf now, picking out a character who dies in this book, a feeling that hurts in that one, a situation that’s seemingly unbearable in the other. But all of these books resolve in the end– of the book, not of the story. The two I see that break that mold are Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Suzanne Collins Gregor the Overlander series. If you’ve read either of those, you know what I mean. I think The Count of Monte Cristo ends on a strange note as well, but it’s been years since I read that. I was eleven at the time. I didn’t understand half of it, which is a pretty hefty part.

Back to strange endings, you actually see them all over the place. Chapters end on a tense moment, sometimes even books do. But the books are installments in a series, so one must lead into the other, just like chapters. You almost never see an ending like that in a final book, except when it’s about some adventurer and the author wants the reader to know that Percy Jackson will go on fighting monsters, that the Lone Ranger will do something else after he rides into the sunset, that there is a life after the word Fin (sorry, that’s a music reference). “The story doesn’t end there,” the author is saying. And it continues, in our imaginations. And so does life, in our realities. In music, no piece can end on a tritone, or an evil-sounding chord. It always resolves. Life is like that. It can’t end on a sour note.