Archive for December, 2012

  • Book Talk: Start With Why

    As a devourer of books, I end up with all kinda of things on my To-Read list. There’s usually a disproportional amount of science fiction, fantasy, and social justice books on my list. Occasionally, there are random outliers that fall into the category of “You’re Reading WHAT?!” Start With Why by Simon Sinek is one of those books. It is, at its heart, a book on business management.

    I Am Not A Businesswoman™  ← This is probably the first and foremost obvious thing about me. There is no planet in the universe where I would ever be mistaken for a businesswoman. Even if wearing a suit.

    Especially if wearing a suit. That is, in fact, me doing my best impression of a lady wearing a suit. I even did my hairs. If we’re all honest, I couldn’t even pass off being a businesswoman on TV, and have you seen what TV-land thinks businesswomen look like? It’s hilars.

    I might have business cards (Fun Fact: I have business cards!), but that doesn’t make me a businesswoman. So it’s somewhat perplexing that I’m currently reading a business management book. Right before Christmas, even. I mean, what the hell?

    Start With Why was recommended to me by my favorite librarian and farm-enthusiast, Colleen. She is also not a businesswoman, which continues to make this whole thing very perplexing. As far as I know, neither of us even harbor secret dreams of running away and then running a business. We both would prefer to run away and pet some sheep. See? We’re both totally too irresponsible to ever be businesswomen.

    I actually forget why she recommended me this book. I’m beginning to worry this may, in fact, be a problem considering the whole book is about Why. And yes, Sinek does capitalize Why because it’s just so gosh darn important.

    I haven’t finished reading it yet, so I can’t vouch for or speak to the second half of the book. The first half, however, is surprisingly good. Relevant, even. Sure, thus far every example is about how ~awesome~ Apple is and how sad and whiney and pathetic every single other business on the planet is, as well as one random example of how Hitler and JFK are brothers of another mother. Though seriously, this Simon guy has a huge boner for Apple, Inc. Disclaimer: I do too.

    Start With Why is all about flipping the design and communication processes on their heads in order to be more inspiring. Inspiration is apparently a way better customer than bribery. As someone who has worked quite a bit in the Special Education field, I find this interesting. I always start with the why of things when dealing with difficult behaviors. Why is x-behavior happening? How are we going to fix it? What are we going to do specifically? Badabing, badaboom.

    The Why → How → What model is actually an incredibly effective problem solving tool. In fact, it’s pretty much one of two options, and is the vastly superior one. So why is this some major revelation for dudes in the business field? Are people who go into business really that inept at solving problems? Wait–don’t answer that.

    In other news, the second serial of The Immortal Circus, written by the irreverent Alex Kahler came out today.

  • How Wren Got Her Muse Back

    For a little while there, it was almost as if I’d lost my muse. My mind was locked in this incredibly concrete, literal way of looking at the world. This is absolutely the worst mindset for an artist of any sort to find themselves in. I lost my wonder in the world, and couldn’t find any magic lurking anywhere.

    This is the story of How Wren Got Her Must Back.

    Once upon a time, I had so many ideas that it was incredibly painful at times for me to choose favorite to hang onto and play with. I could spot a good idea and hang onto it, while sending others back into my subconscious to ruminate for more time. Sometime while I was in grad school, that door to the back of my brain stopped opening. My work became less and less inspired, and I found it harder and harder to think of good stories, whether to tell myself or others. I think those closest to me probably noticed my anecdotes became a lot less fun to listen to, and a hell of a lot less funny, too. Though that’s purely speculation.

    I used to be able to pick a story out of anything. Whether it was something strange I saw on the street, or just a song that had ear-wormed its way into my head. For instance, my entire senior thesis at NYU came out of one song by Tegan and Sara:

    What’s interesting is that this song brought back characters from a short story I wrote in high school. Completely new concept, very old characters. And one of the biggest points of that short story ended up getting cut by the final version of my thesis screenplay, namely my character Lucy stopped calling her friend Francine ‘Ethel.’ This fact always amused me because I wrote that story so I could play with that kind of dynamic.

    Back to the more recent past. My ability to draw upon the things around me and other art completely died. I realize now that this is mostly because of fear. What was I afraid of? I was afraid my ideas were crummy. I was afraid someone would think I stole my idea from somewhere else. I was afraid no one would care.

    And that’s bullshit. Part of being an artist, of being a writer, is taking risks. People who don’t create art listen to that little voice. People who do create art tell that little voice to shut the fuck up and then they crush it like a bug. I forgot that I was the one in control of who can and can’t tell me what I can do. And the answer is Awesome Me, not Coward Me.

    My current time-travel trilogy in progress is terrifying to me, because I’m scared someone will think I stole my ideas. But that’s false. Sure, the idea was inspired by something that happened to someone else, but by now, that original event is hardly recognizable. It’s become my own unique story because of all the stuff that is built around it.

    Another thing I’ve been paying close attention to lately are my dreams. Specifically those that seem connected, despite being days or weeks apart. I’ve been dreaming a lot about the same person of late. And it’s a little scary because it’s of a student of mine. I’ve dreamt no less than five times that I was a 10-year-old boy and this kid was my best friend. The oddest part about it? It’s not even a kid in my class; not anymore. I’ll call him Owen because that’s not his real name, but it’s the name I’ve given to the character that’s loosely based on him, but truly comes from those dreams.

    I think these are the most troublesome characters with stories we are afraid to tell. I like the real kid a lot, but how appropriate is it for me to be coming up with plots based on a real kid with whom I only have minimal contact? Even I have to admit that’s kind of weird.

    The truth is, we need to take our inspirations, no matter where they come from, and nourish them. We have to let them grow. Owen came into being from a real boy, but with a week of plotting out a story, Owen is his own character, now. And he exists in his own unique world that is very strange. Owen’s mine now; he belongs to me. Though if I ever do get to writing out Owen’s story in full, I do hope the real one will like him. I hope all my boys (and girls!) do.

  • Alex and The Immortal Circus

    This is still really hard for me to process sometimes, but a whole ten–yes, ten, one-zero, 10–years ago, I enrolled in a fancy shmancy boarding school to study writing and film. It still feels surreal to realize that was over ten years ago. I feel like I haven’t been alive long enough to have had meaningful life experiences ten years ago. But here we go. Ten years ago I embarked on the journey to become the person I am today.

    I’ve met a lot of people on this journey. Some people have played bigger parts than others; others have occupied minor roles in the playbook of my life. In my life’s movie poster, there are very few people who would preempt this guy:

    That there is Alex Kahler, aged 19, circa 2006. And he’s probably going to kill me for posting this picture for the universe to see, but I give zero shits about that. I love this man, and when I think about him, I think of him exactly as he is in that picture: happy and refusing to grow up (at least on anyone’s terms but his own). We met at Interlochen, and spent much of our junior and senior years attached at the hip. There was definitely one semester there where literally all but two of our classes were together. We spent a lot of time fantasizing about our future lives of being super serious writers of esteemed literature while simultaneously dreaming up punk gay Peter Pan adaptations. I’m not quite sure how we resolved one with the other.

    Anyway, most of my happiest memories from high school involve that guy. Whether it was my first foray into hair-cutting which resulted in what would become a signature hairstyle of his for awhile, or eating ice cream in sub zero temperatures while standing in four feet of snow, each moment we spent together shaped who I am today. And while our friendship has drifted and stretched as we both went to college, and then he ran away to Europe, each time we reconnect, it’s as if no time has passed at all.

    Even with me telling you all this, I don’t think you can even begin to comprehend the joy I had (and still have!) when this happened exactly one week ago:

    Yes, it’s true. One of my bestest friends in the whole world has been published. Like, for real published. Which is amazing. And what’s even better is, thus far, the book is also amazing. Not that I would expect anything less of Alex.

    The Immortal Circus is currently being published as an Amazon Serial over at–you guessed it–Amazon. As of today, only the first couple chapters have been released. And if you love the circus and magic and maybe even a little sex, then this book definitely fits the bill. I’ve always had a very healthy respect for Alex as a writer, and so I was expecting very wonderful things from his first offering. And I wouldn’t be lying if I said he exceeded even my incredibly high standards for what I consider worthy of a “good work, Mr. Kahler.”

    I’m a very impatient reader, and I was skeptical I’d be willing to put up with the serial release, even for one of my nearest and dearest. It’s killing me, but it’s worth it. He’s definitely done a fantastic job of introducing his characters and sucking me right into his world of carnies, circus freaks and faeries. So far the only thing I don’t like is the A.R. Kahler business. Sorry sir, but you’re always gonna be Alex to me.

  • A Series of Hats

    First things first: I’m entirely aware I need to step up my game when it comes to pictures. Laziness is not a virtue, and I’ve been horrifically lazy of late.

    Secondly: hats!

    For the first time ever, I’ve had a small enough class and long enough notice to be able to knit all of my holiday gifts for my students. Those were the first four hats I made for my kiddos. I’ve since finished two more and started a third. So I have three and a half hats I need to finish in the next two weeks. Perhaps a little insane, but I think I can do it. There’s only one I’m a bit worried about because it’s a complicated hat for a kid with a giant head and lots of hair. And yes, I know I said I wouldn’t be posting about gifts, but seriously, if any of my students are reading my blog, I’d be kind of impressed and also wondering why they don’t have better things to do.

    I’m really hoping the hats are a hit. And not just because I’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and money into making them. I really do care about my kids. Sure, there are times I wish I could just slap them all silly when they’re being completely ridiculous, but those times are few and far between. Also, it helps that I know that they can’t really help themselves most of the time.

    I love my students. It breaks my heart sometimes to see all of what they’re struggling with, but I knew this would be the case when the words “emotionally disordered” were thrown out with my job transfer. I’m just really worried about how some of them will handle the holiday break. The week off we had at Thanksgiving was bad enough; we’ll see how much chaos the two weeks for New Years will bring us. I’m somewhat hopeful that maybe getting hats as part of their holiday care package will help. I know it’s stressful for a lot of students–not just those in our program, but all students–to not see their teachers for so long. And for our kids, who thrive on routine, it can be pretty overwhelming.

    I just hope that the hats will bring them some kind of comfort. Remind them that the adults in their lives at school do care about them.

  • It's Caturday with the Kittens

    Kind of an oldie. This picture was taken the day after we got the kittens. Synchronized napping!

  • Stories in the Wings: In which I have opinions and stuff

    Lifehacker re-posted an interesting article on storytelling this morning (via buffer). As a somewhat compulsive storyteller, the science behind why stories can affect us so greatly is an entertaining idea. It’s nice to have a little cold, hard science confirming something that those of us who make a living telling stories have long known. Stories, whether told orally or passed on in the written form (or some other form of media, for that matter) are vehicles of communication. Many of those uninitiated to the art form completely miss that this is a means of two-way communication.

    I can’t speak for anyone, but I know why I tell stories: I have something to say. But it’s more than that. I have something to say that I think will alter my listeners’ perception of the world around them. Storytelling is an artform, which is sadly often forgotten. The purpose of art is, fundamentally, to provoke a reaction from an audience. We could all go on for years about what the true purpose of art is, but at it’s very core, art is about communication and reactions.

    Much like a tree falling in the forest, whether art with no audience is really art is a bit perplexing. I’d argue no, but I certainly see the other side. For instance, I write stories all day long. As of today, most of them haven’t been shared. Are they still stories? I certainly did the work of writing them, and figuring out the perfect plot twist, but if there is no one who reads them, what was it all for?

    I don’t think these bits of writing are full-fledge stories until someone else takes peak. I’m aware this is unconventional, but I’m an unconventional kind of girl.   I write stories to communicate messages. Until those messages are received, I’d say that was a failed message. But that’s pretty harsh. I’ll go with ‘Stories in the Wings’ instead. They are stories waiting to happen.

    When anyone reads a story, it alters their perception of the world. This shift may be almost imperceptible, but there is new layer on which to analyse and consider existence. There are new connections made that were not there before. And with any luck, new ideas, too. It’s no mistake that many cultural revolutions are precipitated by art.

    I don’t write to win a culture war. I write to nudge the world a little closer to the place I’d like it to be. What about you?

  • It's Caturday! Featuring Greta

    My mom has a dog that thinks she’s a cat. We have a cat who thinks she’s a dog.

    Here’s Greta, earlier this week. With a special guest appearance of the back of Inga’s head. Oh, and Daniil giggling.