Just What I Needed

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

  I really love me some Ira Glass. This American Life is one of the coolest things that Pam ever introduced me to. I love hearing the stories (in some cases watching them) and Ira’s voice is so unique I feel like it’s quite the experience.

  Yesterday I was wasting time, procrastinating in the blog post I was trying to write. This week I’ve sort of felt like I was in a slump with the writing. Just lagging on motivation to write even though I’ve had the week planned out for awhile now. Then I find this video.

  I’m a big fan of typography. So I watch it and I’m annoyed  floored frustrated challenged. That’s it, challenged. Ira Glass is telling me that I might be terrible, but it’s okay because I have plenty of time to practice. It reminded me of this list that I copied into the front of my journal. Continue reading “Just What I Needed”


Thank You, J.K.

In case you haven’t caught on yet my system for blog posts looks a little something like this – Saturday I write Mon-Thur’s blogs and then Friday is usually inspired day of. I thought a lot about what I would write this week. I knew it would likely have something to do with Harry Potter. I figured I’d write something about the movie, say farewell to a completed decade of entertainment. Blah, blah, blah.

However, the experience we had at the movie theatre last night was SO BAD that I’m still seething with rage. I thought about writing of the absolutely terrible management of a particularly bad situation, but figured that just needs to be expressed to MUVICO and I won’t bore you.

At my job I get plenty of time to contemplate as I stare at pools and make sure people are safe. The thing that popped into my head as I roamed around our splash pool this morning was to write a breakdown of what I’ve learned from J.K.Rowling a la the Summer Reading posts I’ve been doing.

Harry Potter first entered my world 12 years ago in the form of a birthday present from my former Pastor’s wife. She is British and was thrilled to give me the first two books because they’d garnered so much attention and claimed so many awards. I was immediately entranced. I was a kid, so the made up words were fun for me, suspension of belief was easy since I’d been an avid fantasy reader for awhile, and I loved Hagrid’s umbrella wand. For several years I had a pretty singular Harry Potter experience. The controversy about the books started a little bit after the third book (my favourite) and since we were in fairly conservative circles most of my friends weren’t reading them (also, most of my friends didn’t like to read). In 2007 I was traveling around on staff with Student Life Camp and for the first time I experienced Harry Potter in community.

I’ve read and re-read the books countless times. Thanks to abcfamily we’ve all seen more of the movies for Years 1-3 than we could ever wish. But this is all about the world of Harry Potter. What I want to tell you about is what I’ve learned, so here goes:

1. The story is in the details – and boy did Rowling show this off. From the smallest, tiniest, most seemingly inconsequential aspects she constructed a complete world. Somehow, she managed to paint the forest AND the trees so that at one point the reader is overwhelmed by the layers and complexity of the story, but just as easily shown the overarching plot. She really packed it in the last few chapters of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows. Details from the first chapter of the first book were brought back full circle in the final pages of the last. It made the whole experience complete and that much more real.

2. You can write silly things in the midst of dark serious things – Rowling also proved that children can read it. Let’s be honest, life is rarely a singly-faceted experience. Even in desperately sad situations there is hope and humour. In the midst of mirth a bittersweet note can strike you as you realize someone long gone would have loved sharing in that moment. Emotions are varied, complex, and challenging to convey from one person to the next, let alone several hundred characters. These emotions and ideas are not pitch perfect the entire series, but they are impressive.

3. It may be difficult, but you can make your characters really suffer – this is something that puts the Harry Potter series miles away from most of its YA Lit counterparts. The characters go through realistically devastating experiences. There’s orphans coming out of everyone’s ears. Misunderstood teenagers run rampant, but are forced to take on adult roles instead of coddled or ignored. As I read Deathly Hallows I kept thinking how hard it was going to be for Rowling to kill Harry. I wasn’t writing much back then, but I operated under the conviction that I could never kill a character I’d written and gotten to know as well as I presume she has Harry. I still have a hard time conceiving the thought process that lead to that plot development. Maybe it was there from the beginning and it made it easier. I don’t really know, but I sensed her hesitation in the last bit of the novel. I felt the deaths of Hedwig and many other characters as well as George’s injury were her attempts to appease the muses that demanded Harry’s death. That  could just be my over active imagination, but I was hugely impressed. And unprepared.

4. You can make your own rules and be a successful writer – This article goes into a lot more detail. But suffice it to say I’m proud that she’s been writing her own rules. She was careful shopping the movie rights, she’s been careful with the e-book rights, she’s a smart lady. I’m not even going to criticize and say she’s being greedy. I think it’s brilliant. With a move like Pottermore she’s making a concerted effort to knock Amazon of its monopoly driven high horse. Keeping control of the e-books will give smaller authors the courage to do the same.

There could be a lot of discussion of the translation of books to movies, where Rowling seems to have let people down, what the future looks like for her as a writer, but all I know is that if one day I come anywhere close to touching a portion of the amazing story she created with my writing I’d be happier than words could convey. Imagine being able to claim that your work inspired at least two generations to read.

For twelve years of reading wonder and ten years of movie magic, J.K. Rowling, I want to say thanks. You planted seeds in this little girl’s head. I waited awhile before claiming to be an author, but you’ll never know how grateful I am for you providing something for me to aspire to.

Author’s Disclaimer: This may be a bit too mushy and nostalgic. I wrote it with less than four hours of sleep under my belt and after a long day at work and a lunch meeting. Apologies if it was too sappy. Right now, I mean every word.

Summer Reading – The Help, pt. 2

So, this book has been collecting a lot of rave attention. And like I said Monday I couldn’t believe how much I loved reading it and what I felt I learned from Kathryn’s writing style.

Here are the things that I loved:

-The heat of Mississippi, at points you feel like you’re sweating along with Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen. The scene where Skeeter shorts out the electricity at her house after turning the AC up to 3 is wonderful in its heartbreaking revery.

-The “Mean Girls” quality – I always love that moment when a character realizes there’s more to their existence than how they’ve previously gone about things. Skeeter wakes up slowly, but once she’s there her life is very different.

-The diction, guys, is incredible. Let’s just pause for a minute and talk about how KS was able to write three separate women. Actually, I’d be very curious to hear from people if they found it as easy to determine who was speaking as I did. Especially in comparison to that book by Keith Gessen. I don’t know if it’s because I share the same gender as these narrators or what but I could follow them so much better. Well, ok there were a couple hints – sections started with their names and you’d stay with that narrator for a few chapters, and the diction thing helped a lot, and their settings were all very different. In comparison, Keith, Sam, and Mark are pretty much all three the same dude, going through the same stuff, and their struggles are not heroic, more symptomatic. Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen are fighting in THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT ya’ll. They all three face bodily harm if they are found out before the project is completed and once it was the probability of their being attacked, injured, or killed increased. I mean that’s significant. This novel is about more than just finding one’s place in the world (though all three of the women make those discoveries) it’s about the truth and worth of human life, sacrifices for the greater good, making changes when it seems impossible.

The Author’s Note at the end illuminated much about the inception of the novel. She quotes a line from an article written by Howell Raines. I just read “Grady’s Gift“. That man can weave some words and make you feel. Kathryn did, in my opinion a great job of inserting me in the midst of that story she needed to tell. There could have been more, sure, there always can be, but that’s the beauty of writing – some things you leave to your reader’s imagination. I felt immersed in the world of 1960s Jackson. She used real historical markers (though a few were anachronistic) that reminded me this was reality for people.

My parents were children in the midst of all this, children raised in the south, children raised in the middle of racial struggles. At this point I feel like I’m just repeating myself, but I so greatly admire the fact that Kathryn Stockett made the place and people so real. I’d like to tell a story so well it becomes real. I think Mrs. Stockett did that. She wrote a book because she felt compelled to answer a question, she found a true answer. I’m a fan. Go read it. Pay money for it. It’s worth it.

And now we’ll just wait til the movie comes out 🙂

Original Work – Seder

This was the first poem I officially wrote for academic purposes. It’s a villanelle, which is probably my most favorite form of poetry. It’s lyrical and just as you get used to a pattern it switches on you. I’ve written a couple since then. This one is based on an experience I had celebrating a Passover Seder the summer of 2007. It was presided over by a Messianic Rabbi. The whole thing, taught through the perspective of Christ fulfilling the prophecy was beautiful to me. And I can still feel the sting of the horseradish when I remember it. 




The first time I tasted hope

I sensed a trick in the early sweetness. I was

Confronted with a shocking new view of scope.


It was an ancient dinner, today, now more a trope.

Illusions to a higher being, dust clad and present

the first time I tasted hope.


The weary celebration, reminder of the time they coped

The burn of water laced with salt, inhaled, poured out;

confronted with a new understanding of scope.


Matza and horseradish, a Lamb bone

tied with rope, the bitter herb and salt water,

tie me to the story of the first time I tasted hope.


The crack and sick-sweet smell

of the bread we broke, I cried, for now I

understood… confronted, the old understanding of the scope.


My heart gave chase, tried to capture,

to hold close, the bitter honey, the old story of love,

the first time I tasted hope and suddenly was

confronted with a broader view of scope.


Make sure to stop by tomorrow for The Handmaid’s Tale Pt. 2. In which I discuss what I learned from Ms. Atwood’s writing prowess. 

Ghost Road

There’s a story I read once in The Martian Chronicles that Ray Bradbury wrote. A short story set on Mars that deals with ghosts. The beauty of this collection of short stories is that none of them actually feed into each other, making them different than chapters in books, yet they do sort of build on each other. So, before this story happens Man from Earth has sent several groups of astronauts to Mars. In all their expeditions the men either go crazy or are murdered by the Martians. By the time the third group of explorer-astronauts arrive the Martians are extinct. I believe it was some sort of virus that wiped them out.
So, man conquers Mars, builds his own empire from the ruins of theirs. The Martians civilization centered around the beautiful flowing waters that ran through their cities. They had almost a Venetian look to them. By the time Man enters the scene the waters are dried up and gone. Mars is desolate. Soon, regular people from Earth come to settle on Mars because Earth is over-crowded and polluted.
Thus our story begins with a man driving on one of the ancient highways on Mars. He’s speeding through the desert late at night, not expecting to come across anyone else. I imagine in my mind Highway 50, which my friend Adam told me is called the Loneliest Road in America. The sort of highway you pick up phantom radio signals from 50 years ago when you’re driving in the middle of the night. I think that’s what Bradbury might have been inspired by.
So, this man driving along meets two other headlights coming toward him. Intrigued by this he pulls over and waits for them. The other pair continue toward him and as they approach he sees a vehicle completely alien to him. Out steps one of the extinct Martians. They are both confused by the sight of the other. In the distance the Man sees the ruins of a great city; the Martian sees it lit up and beautiful, waiting for his arrival and a celebration. They talk, the Man tells the Martian he must be a ghost because his kind no longer exist. The Martian tells the Man that cannot be possible, he remembers hearing ancient stories of men who came from another place.
An ordinary timeline is set on it’s ear. At the conclusion of the short story one is uncertain of who is actually the ghost. It’s one of those concepts that adds more wrinkles to your brain.
I remembered this story today as I was driving. My little sister in the passenger seat was playing DJ and she picked Dashboard Confessional’s “Hands Down” right as we started driving on Bayshore Boulevard. For almost four years I travelled down this Boulevard on an almost daily basis. This was a few years ago now, so almost every time I drive on it now I’m overcome with nostalgia. But, this time, the feeling was very much more intense. You see “Hands Down” was on one of the few CDs I had when I started driving, so it got a lot of airtime. As we rounded the curves this morning I almost caught sight of a green VW Jetta in my blind spot, windows down and sunroof open, housing a girl a few years younger, totally alive in that song. Or in front of me I could see a beat up BMW, hand out the driver’s side window bobbing in the air current with the song. I drove alongside the ghosts of myself. This girl, unsure of the next few years, but loving this drive, hugging the curves of the boulevard with her German-made, tight suspension. Did she come before me, or will she come after me? I feel like, had we three had our own roadside chat, we would dispute the timeline. I know 17 and 20 come before 23, but as I get older the things that were the truest about my 17 and 20 year old self become obvious to me as the things truest about myself now.
I feel as though I’m always writing the same story. One that leads back to where it started. But life sort of flows like that doesn’t it? It’s the sensation you get when you visit someplace totally new, that you’ve been there before; that gas station looks the same, that street corner echoes another. Pieces of the familiar spring up and surprise you, make you feel a little more secure. bring peace.