Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ithaca Again

Hello, dear blog readers. I hope you are well on this fine Tuesday evening. I am currently ensconced in my wonderful new apartment with two of my three lovely flatmates, listening to someone else's music and the sound of my keyboard and the wind, and more than a little miffed that the very strong smell of pot coming through the window from somewhere is putting a damper on my sense of calmness.

The rather omnipresent smell of pot is one thing I did not miss about Ithaca, but there are many things I have missed. Mostly those things are people - I missed sitting around at two in the morning with roommates, hanging out and laughing and talking about important things or the meaning of life or nothing in particular really. I missed my friends that I have not seen since December, before I left for London. It's been great to see things click back into place, to pick up conversations as though I've never even left, to hug people I've only known in text or in pixelated videos for months. It's been great to be surrounded by friends again, in my apartment, in the dining hall, sitting at a table in "the pub," having person after person wave and say hello and ask how my summer was. Classes start tomorrow, and I'm excited to be reading new things, learning new things, attempting new things in my writing. It'll be hard, but it'll be fun.

Of course there are things I did not miss. I did not miss the utterly vile smell of marijuana, I did not miss the worry of piling-up homework, I did not miss the cold (although it is not, of course, cold here yet. It certainly will be, though).

It feels a bit surreal to be here again. I was walking through campus to pick up my textbooks in the mail center, looking around at all the familiar buildings, and for a moment I felt a little bit like I was in one of those dreams where you know you are in a specific place even though your surroundings are not that place at all. I couldn't quite grasp what being back meant. How could I be here again after everything that had happened? How could I be in Ithaca, after being blown off a mountain in Edinburgh, after getting hopelessly lost and then found again in Venice, after walking three hours in snow-clogged London? How can I be back in the same place, to do the same thing, when I am not the same?

I do think this semester will be pretty exciting though. I'm looking forward to my classes; I'm looking forward to directing Broadway Revue and joining the Quidditch team. I'm excited to cook delicious things for my roommates and other assorted friends; I'm excited about the shiny new internship I snagged myself (talk about the benefits of Twitter!!); I'm excited for lots of adventures around this neat little town I live in.

I think one of my favorite things to do is just sit and talk with a small group of close friends until all hours of the morning. We talk about serious things - relationships and breakups and friendships and careers and hopes and dreams and fears, all sorts of things. We talk about other things too, like books and tv and movies. We tell jokes, talk about stupid stuff that doesn't matter, as well as the stuff that does. It feels comforting to be surrounded by people you trust, when you know they trust you too. I'm glad to be back in that environment. I'm looking forward to a lot of late nights and tired mornings, smiles and secrets and so many laughs my jaw aches with it.

And hopefully all this will happen without too many unpleasant smells filtering in from outside. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Year Turns Round Again

Yes, that is a War Horse reference. No, I am not completely obsessed. Well... yeah, okay, maybe I am.

Anyway. It's that time of year again - time to pack up all of the things, put them into my dad's car, and drive back up to the frozen north. Which is not, of course, all that frozen at this time of year, but will hopefully not be blisteringly hot, at any rate.

I'm both really excited and a little reluctant to head back to school, as usual. I'm excited for my flat and my flatmates (well, technically apartment, since I am once again in America, but WHATEVER), and I'm excited to see friends I haven't seen since December. I'm excited for my classes (although not so much for the homework). I'm excited for my theatre group and all sorts of things. It'll be great.

But I'm also, as usual, sad to leave my house and my bed and my cat and my sister and my parents. They're lovely. I'm very lucky to get along with my family as well as I do, so as excited as I am to go see my friends and hang out and be all Independent!Semi-Grown-Up-Person, it's always a bit sad leaving home again.

I'm also a bit worried that I'll get the whole "reverse culture shock" thing all over again. After spending five months in London and all summer working in NYC, going back to Ithaca is going to be a bit... strange. I'll be in an apartment again, cooking my own meals, but there will be no local Sainsbury's around the corner to pop into if I had run out of an ingredient or wanted some dessert. There will be no corner pizza place only open in the middle of the night (which, by London standards, is about 11pm) to run to when I don't feel like cooking or it's late and I'm starving after coming home from seeing a play for class or hanging about in a pub with friends. There will be no pubs, and no pub food. (Gosh I miss pub food.) Halfway through October, it will start getting colder than it ever gets in London, even in January.

And I've changed. I'm a little bolder than I used to be. I'm a little more sure of myself. I hope that I can fit who I am now into the space I left for myself in Ithaca.

I am looking forward to going back, though, even if it means my Italian class might kill me.

I'm going to do my best to keep up the Tuesday-Thursday blog schedule, since those are the days when I have only one class. Dear readers, tell me what you would like me to blog about! More query tips from my internship? Writing things I learn in my classes? Reminiscences of my adventures in Europe? Snippets of my current wip (there will soon be two, one regular one and one for my short novel class)? Let me know!

Are you going back to school soon? Excited about it? Let me know! :D

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Not as it Seems

Hello, lovely blog readers! It's been rather a while since my last Teaser Tuesday, so I thought I'd share another snippet of my wip, Smoke and Mirrors, with you.

Some background info: Kate is finding India to be rather less adventurous and rather more hot than she had ancitipated; Clara is talking even less than usual, and so Kate is bored. Also, magic exists in this world, but only as illusions.

I hope you like it!


“I don’t suppose you’ve got anything to read lying about, do you?” she asked, turning to face her sister at last. 

Clara shook her head, not taking her eyes off the orderly black lines and dots of her sheet music. A conversation, it seemed, was out of the question. Clara had been awfully tense ever since arriving in India, and it was beginning to frustrate Kate. If Clara was more taciturn than usual, then she really had no one at all to talk to during these long afternoons. 

But she was not quite cross enough yet to bring it up, and so she wandered out of the library and ventured off through the house, not looking for anything in particular. She wandered through the parlour and the dining room, glancing at each end table she passed for the sign of a book that someone might have left unattended, but all she found were elephant statuettes and table linens and a surprisingly large cadre of Indian servants. Most she passed in hallways or outside the half-hidden passages to the servants’ quarters, and they seemed not to be doing anything at all. Perhaps that was how they dealt with the positively oppressive heat. She interrupted one in the breakfast room, polishing glassware. The man, who wore a blue turban and a very impressive white beard, bowed as soon as she entered the room. 

“Forgive me, Kumaari,” he said, making to exit the room. 

“Oh, no, please don’t trouble yourself. I’ll be on my way in a moment,” Kate said, flashing him a smile. The old man paused a moment, but then he returned to his work as Kate circled the room once, in search of something interesting. All she found was a dusty painting of a gentleman she didn’t know and a few discarded newspapers left on her father’s chair. She lingered over these for a moment – the articles left on top detailed increasing tensions with Russia, and a strange magical kerfluffle in London. Neither made any immediate logical sense, and so she left them behind, waving to the old servant as she left. He gave her a tentative smile and she saw that he was missing a tooth or two. She wondered if Rajesh might help him work on his English a bit; his accent had been so thick she’d hardly known what he had said. 

The ground floor of the house had given her nothing near exciting enough, and so she flounced her way up the stairs. The room she shared with Clara was wildly uninteresting, so she passed it by and continued down the hallway. Unexpectedly, the door to her father’s study was ajar. She did not hesitate a moment before slipping inside. 

There were more bookshelves inside the dark room, and she gravitated immediately towards them, but there were fewer books here than downstairs and they were nearly all military histories. She sighed again and turned her attention to her father’s large desk. There were more books and a globe set to one side, and the centre of the desk was strewn with letters – old letters, she realized quickly, from her mother. She scanned the first page for her name or Clara’s, but there was no immediate mention of them and so she turned aside. 

She circled the desk again and saw another statuette that had been mostly hidden by the globe a moment ago. It was, for once, not an elephant, but instead a little gilded lion. She suspected it was meant to be a symbol of English heroism, but she thought its face conveyed more gentleness than fierceness. The carving was very detailed, showing every curl of the lion’s mane. She smiled, wondering how she could ask her father about it without revealing that she’d been in his study without permission. She reached out to stroke it, expecting to feel gilt paint over wood. 

Instead, the little lion disappeared completely.   

Friday, August 17, 2012

Strong Female Characters and Lots of Questions

Something tells me that this blog post might get me into a lot of trouble.

I know that you, kind blog readers, certainly would not just start yelling at me, so I must hope that I am right when it comes to the general population of the internet. I've been mulling over a lot of these questions for the past few days and I would like to discuss them with you. I want your opinions, and I want to try and figure out my own by writing them down. So here goes.

As you know, I am a big fan of strong lady characters. I like nothing more than girls who can hold their own, whether that means in a swordfight or in a conversation.

I also like Disney movies. A lot. Like really a lot.

I was having a conversation with the lovely and talented Leigh Ann Kopans on Twitter the other day. (Seriously guys she's the best. She writes SUCH GOOD BOOKS. *fingers crossed for Leigh Ann and her books*) We were talking about Tangled and what a wonderful movie it is, and I said that it's the best Disney movie since the 90s. And then Leigh Ann said that she didn't like those much because of a lack of strong female characters. I didn't say much about it at the time, because the arguments are my least favorite things ever and usually I prefer to do the "oh, okay, different opinion. Fine. Cool. Good stuff. Moving on" thing. Leigh Ann is really really great and it was morning and I was tired and didn't feel like expanding upon this thought. But I've been mulling it over in the past few days and... I just don't see the problem.

No, the female Disney characters of the 90s are not Katniss. I've heard many an argument from my aunt to my classmates to the General People of the Internet that these movies are inherently bad for feminism... and I feel like I'm missing their point.

Granted, 90s Disney movies are the essence of my media consumption as a child (along with Bill Nye the Science Guy and Kratts Kreatures, but you get the point) so I am very much biased in their favor. But I also just don't see how those girls are huge red flags. Maybe they could be better, but are they as bad as all that, really?

See, I told you this was going to get me in trouble. I am NOT advocating for a lack of strong female characters! Hear me out here, please.

Beauty and the Beast is extremely high on my favorite-movies-of-all-time list. Top three, if not in the number one spot (I'm 21 years old, this may be problematic...). For one thing, the music is gorgeous. I love the animation. And I've always secretly (or not-so-secretly) wanted to be Belle. I don't think that she's actually dumb, or because the Beast saves her that one time it makes her incompetent. Yeah, she runs out of the castle in the middle of the night in the snow. I would be pretty freaked out in her situation too! A giant guy with claws is throwing furniture and screaming! I'd be out of there! But she knows where she's going, since she found the castle in the first place. And when the wolves show up, she doesn't panic or anything - she tries to outride them, then starts hitting them with a stick. She's eventually overwhelmed, yeah, but there are a LOT OF THEM. I always sort of saw this as understandable.

And yes, the Beast saves her, but in the end, doesn't she save him? In a less dramatic fashion, sure, but she does. She brings him back to life, essentially. And she doesn't do that really annoying "I'm going to change the bad boy" thing. She doesn't fall in love with him at the start (she doesn't like Gaston - why would she fall for another jerk?); she falls in love with him later because he turns into a nice person, for her.

I fail to see how needing to be rescued turns a girl into an instantly incapable character. Doesn't everybody need to be rescued sometimes? Girls, guys, everybody. Sometimes there are just too many wolves for you to take out on your own and you need a little help. Isn't that fair?

I'm also uncertain as to how this makes an entire movie unlikable. I LOVE The Princess Bride. It is an amazing movie. I've yet to read the book (I know, I know) but that movie is just so brilliant. And Princess Buttercup? Is the wimpiest female character EVER. She just stands there when Westley is getting attacked by the Rodent of Unusual Size. She nearly kills herself instead of trying to escape Humperdinck. She's completely pathetic. I acknowledge that. I love the movie anyway. Does that make me a bad person somehow? Because I am willing to overlook Buttercup's complete ineptitude to enjoy the jokes and adventuring of all the male characters in that movie, have I somehow failed at Being a Girl?

Another example: The Lion King. There are all of two female characters in that movie (which the musical attempts to rectify by making Rafiki a woman's part. It's awesome): Nala and Sarabi. If we're going off the "Lion King is actually Hamlet" theory, Nala and Sarabi are, I would argue, far stronger characters than Ophelia and Gertrude ever dreamed of being. After all, I'm pretty sure Nala could beat Simba up at any time if she felt like it, especially when they were kids. But, just like their Shakespearean counterparts, they are minor characters. They don't get large chunks of screen time. Nala is The Love Interest; Sarabi is The Mom. This has never made me love that movie any less. In fact, the Lion King soundtrack is my music of choice whenever I am buried in stress and need to not freak out so much. It never bothered me that Simba was the main character, and that most of the characters in that movie are male. I just think it's a good movie.

I am concerned, lovely blog readers. I am concerned for a lot of different and very conflicting reasons. There has been a bit of a media circus lately about how many women write YA and how many female characters there are and how many girls and women read it and how many boys don't. Those articles usually send me in search of something to bang my head against. So it's obvious that we haven't "gotten there" yet, in terms of being on a completely equal playing field. We NEED strong female characters. We NEED more of them.

We need movies like Brave, where Merida is a very skilled archer and wants to make her own way in the world, and her mother, I have to say, is just awesome (I can't tell you why without spoilers. Just trust me). We need movies like Tangled, where Rapunzel threatens people with frying pans and makes her realizations on her own.

But I think sometimes we get to be a bit overzealous. I think sometimes we are so intent on creating female characters who can be good strong role models that we forget to make them human.

Everyone needs to be rescued.

Everyone needs a good cry sometimes.

Everyone sometimes wants other people to make their decisions for them.

Everyone does stupid things sometimes.

Girls are people too. We should allow our characters to reflect that.

There are a lot of issues that get wrapped up in this. There's the issue of boys not reading books about girls whereas girls have little choice but to read about boys. There's the issue of girl characters being Bella Swan types with absolutely no decision making power of their own. There's the issue of marketing and pink covers and frilly titles for books written by women. There's the issue of boy characters being adventurous or smart while girl characters just like sparkly things. All of these things are significant problems in movies, television, literature, society... And none of these things have easy solutions. It's hard to even know where to start.

But I think a good place to start is to have a discussion about these issues. I want to know what you think of all this, dear blog readers. Tell me if you think I'm wrong about it, and why.

And I think we need to tell stories with the most human characters we can, both male and female. I want to see a book about a prince getting rescued. I want to see more books and movies about friendships rather than romances. And I want to see more strong female characters of course.

Being a strong character, male or female, shouldn't mean having to go it alone, though. Sometimes the hardest thing a person can do is to ask for help.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Adventure Time Again!

I've been sitting around all day wondering what to blog about (well, when I wasn't reading an amazing MS for a lovely and talented Twitter friend) and I just realized that I have had some adventures these past two weeks that I can tell you about!

Last Saturday, because I had some extra bus tickets I had to use before they expired, and because it sounded like lots of fun, I went into the city to meet up with my lovely intern friend Ari so that we could have a writer meetup and sit in a cafe and put some words onto some (computerized) paper. It was loads of fun. We went to a place called Argo Tea across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology (coincidentally where my best friend goes to school - why have I not been to this place before?!?) and they have some really delicious tea and really tasty pastries. Actually, I'm glad that I didn't know about this place earlier in the summer, I would have spent entirely too much money eating lunch there. I actually managed to get quite a lot of words written as well, which was great. I've never done the typical set-up-camp-in-a-cafe-and-write thing, and I had sort of expected to be distracted by the public setting, but I wasn't - it's New York, nobody really pays much attention to anybody else. I was glad to have the designated time set out to just WRITE - and occasionally discuss writerly things with Ari - in a place where I had no Olympics to allow me to procrastinate.  (Seriously, the Olympics are murdering my productivity. Or, well, I guess I'm allowing them to murder it.) So, thanks for a grand afternoon, Ari! :)

The weekend before that saw some adventures too. My friend Lisa - who you will all remember as my roommate from London, with whom I had such great adventures - came to stay with me for the weekend and watch the Opening Ceremonies (which were fun, but slightly weird - although Voldemort vs. Mary Poppins? Yes please). We also went into the city that Saturday (more bus tickets that needed to be used) and we saw War Horse at Lincoln Center. This is actually the third time Lisa's seen it and the second time I have (we saw it together in London, and she'd seen it in NYC prior to that) and I would absolutely go again. Lincoln Center has this amazing student rush program called LincTix - go check it out, it's fantastic! Because we got thirty dollar tickets. And - can you believe it?


There are a lot of theatres where sitting in the front row doesn't actually sound like fun - most traditional proscenium style theatres (the ones with the big arch over the stage) have the front row set back from the pit, and you'd consequently be craning your neck the whole show trying to see what's going on. The stage at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center isn't like that - the front of the stage juts out into the audience (I am trying and failing to remember what the theatrical term for that is. Theatre nerds? Enlighten me?) and so even from the very front row, you aren't at a disadvantage. There were a few things we missed out on, because they were on the other side of a prop, but as we'd already seen the show, that was not a problem at all.

Guys. I don't think I have raved to you yet about how much I love War Horse. But. I LOVE War Horse. It is quite possibly the most beautiful piece of theatre I have seen in ever - both visually and emotionally. It helps that the history nerd part of me gets incredibly choked up just thinking about World War I, because it was so very pointless and yet so very devastating.

That scene is from the end of Act I, which is just such a vivid, heartbreaking scene. The whole production is such a beautiful look at the story of the war, and just how much it affected everyone involved - English townsfolk, English and German soldiers, French people trapped in no man's land, and yes, of course, the horses.

The horse puppets are absolutely stunning. Joey (the main horse) walked right past me twice two weeks ago, and I was rather as giddy about it as I was as a horse-obsessed ten year old about real horses. The detail on the puppets is amazing - Joey is a hunter, half Thoroughbred, half draft horse, and his design is really quite different from his friend Topthorn, who is all Thoroughbred, and so is much more angular and lean. It was wonderful to really get to see all that beautiful detail from so close. And the puppets absolutely move like real horses. The actors controlling them are really wonderful - you honestly forget that they are there at all, that you are not watching a real horse. The moment in Act I when Albert, Joey's human, jumps up onto the puppet for the first time is just magical. It all seems so very real.

That's an interview with the actor who played Captain Nicholls in London in 2010, and it's a really good close-up of just how well the horse puppet moves. It's really pretty amazing.

That's the official West End trailer, and it showcases another thing I love about this play: the music. I of course bought the soundtrack when I saw it again two weeks ago, because it is really beautiful music, and it fits so well into the play. It isn't a musical; the songs are more like a film soundtrack, but there is one character called the Songmaker who serves as a sort of narrator or Greek chorus to thread the show together. There's one song, called Only Remembered, that both opens and closes the show. It was initially an English hymn, but the lyrics take on an entirely different meaning when set against the stark backdrop of World War I.

Who'll sing the anthems
And who will tell the story?
Will the line hold, will it scatter and run?
Shall we at last be united in glory,
Only remembered for what we have done?

I'll spare you the English-class style breakdown of poetry, but I think the song really captures the bittersweet ending of the show -  the characters have done heroic things and terrible things, and they have seen so much. It's really a show to bring a packet of tissues to, but it is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. I would see it again. I would recommend it to just about anybody (except perhaps small children. It is a bit, well, upsetting. It is war, after all).

I'm so glad Lisa got to come visit for the weekend (if you're reading this, Lisa, I can't wait to see you back at school soon!!!) and that I got to see War Horse again. Huzzah for tea and friends and writing and good theatre! All things that make for a very happy Caitlin. ^_^