Saturday, January 26, 2013

The recent past in pictures

Just because I'm no longer forcing myself to write a blog each night doesn't mean I have to stick to any strict style of blogging when I do sit down and put something on The Songs of Spring. One aspect of my life that I realized I've been neglecting sharing is my photographic life. I've been in a photojournalism class for the past few weeks and taken the opportunity to explore my campus, my friendships and other areas to get some insights into how best to use my camera.

Before this, shooting was a hobby (by shooting, I mean camera shooting. I don't condone hunting). I took my camera to random places with me so I could take enough photos either to fill up a blog entry, to add to Facebook or simply to enjoy looking back on.

Now I'm trying to perfect the skill a bit more. It's kind of scary, a bit intimidating - especially looking at all the wonderful photography that already exists in the world - but I'm loving every second of it. I never thought I could be so happy behind a camera, but I am.

Anyway, I figured I should share some of the work I've been doing because putting it only on a class Flickr account seems like a sad fate for all of my photos. So here goes nothing...

This photo was taken at an improv show on campus. I liked the vast array of shoes the performers were wearing.

The president of our university was commemorating the anniversary of our student center with cake. I decided to take a photo of the crowd rather than get in the middle of the other photographers when I snapped this picture. Also, no, I did not eat the cake! Sad.

This was my first time shooting a theater production. I really enjoyed myself.

It was a performance of Rebel Without a Cause.

I'd also never shot sports before, but with these guys' permission I took a few photos of them playing basketball.

Taking photos of people floating in the air is fun.

I know I've shared photos like this before, but my campus is very pretty.

I bothered my friend Dana while she was working in her room, and I took this photo of her Mac and her iPad side by side.

Then I got a picture of her cute piggie slippers :)
There's nothing particularly fascinating or compelling about these photos. They're just regular depictions of things happening around my school for the most part. They're in no way extraordinary. But they were fun to take. I'm really liking having the chance to be a photographer. Even though I may never break into the world of picture-taking, it's nice to get a little taste of it.

Maybe this will inspire you to try taking photos more often. If not, then I hope at least you enjoyed it. And I can say quite honestly that it's making me want to take more photos. As many as I can.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A great business

I'm writing this blog because I love you more than I love my own happiness.

Tonight, when I have some time to myself and I'd like to continue watching episodes of The Newsroom during this free time, I'm sad to say that I am compelled to write a blog rather than just sitting back, relaxing and enjoying some mind-numbing television.

Okay, I could say that. Except The Newsroom is in no way mind-numbing. It's barely even television.

For those who don't know anything about Aaron Sorkin, I can't say that I don't identify. For the longest time, this man was just a name I'd heard on occasion. I knew he was a screenwriter, an auteur, the kind of content creator that becomes associated with various tropes and for his work as a whole. Not because he's Nicholas Sparks and creates the same story over and over that happens to sell despite its repetition, but because he creates an interesting product no matter what kind of show he creates. There are similarities of course - in that they are inherently "Sorkin" - but they stand alone as beautiful pieces of television.

So you may not know his shows. Sports Night (which I admittedly have not seen at all), The West Wing, Studio 60 and now The Newsroom. These are fairly niche programs. They go into the background "production" of various lucrative (or, if not well-paid, then fascinating) careers and the fictional people who work in them.

The names are all pretty self-explanatory. The West Wing is about the inner workings of the White House, Studio 60 is about the production of a comedy variety show and The Newsroom is about, well a newsroom.

For many these might not seem too fascinating of subjects. Most of America enjoys watching shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, How I Met Your Mother, American Idol (let me just say that I'm not comparing or equalizing these shows, they're all unique and valuable in their own right). Not everyone looks to receive a behind-the-scenes insight into national government, television production or news reporting and production.

You know who does though? Aaron Sorkin.

He also brought you The Social Network, which despite being another of his slightly niche programs (though it took on the form of an unauthorized bio-pic), ended up becoming one of the most popular films of the year. It was lucky because it covered a pervasive topic that had stimulated the public's interest.

His other interests don't necessarily do that, but for those of us within these various fields they're inevitably fascinating.

For a while my interest in journalism has been waning. I am a journalism student and I continue to contribute stories to campus news organizations. I look for summer intern work within the field. But I guess it's inevitable that when you devote yourself to a subject, it starts to lose its charm and intrigue.

Journalism always seemed fascinating to me when I wasn't in the thick of it. It was like an experiment that I was watching, but I could not participate in it. I couldn't touch it.

Now I'm running my hands through it, getting them tangled in messy webs of editing and AP style and journalism ethics. The reality of it makes me forget what it was that fascinated me about the industry in the first place.

Enter The Newsroom. I only started really watching this show on my way back from London this December. Until then I'd not really thought much about it. I had enough television to occupy my time. I didn't need to find another show to take up hours with.

But there wasn't much to do on the plane. I was getting sick of sitting through mediocre movies that I was only moderately interested in watching. So I decided to switch it up and try an episode of The Newsroom. I spent the next few hours of my flight watching the first three episodes. If I hadn't landed and had to exit to go through customs, I would've watched even more.

I don't know if it's just me - and my idealistic notion of what journalism ought to be - but something about The Newsroom always strikes that emotional chord with me, forcing me to reminisce back to a time in my life when journalism was the be all end all of life. I had to write, I had to become a reporter. It seemed inevitable and it's all I wanted.

Over time my priorities have changed, and I attribute it in a way to being disenfranchised by this business. In my experience it's managed to lose some of its former glory. But watching The Newsroom reminds me that the glory is alive and well. It may be fictional, but that doesn't mean that the power that journalism once had over me is unattainable, or worse, non-existent.

Now that I've written a whole blog, I feel like I am ready and deserving of another episode of the show. I've paid my dues and now it is my time to be entertained once again. It really is a spectacularly powerful and interesting insight into the industry and into news itself. You wonder how it gets made and here it is right before your eyes. Perhaps it is made more fantastic than the typical newsroom scenario might play out in reality, but it's this idealism that explains why anyone wants to be a journalist in the first place and why, even when we've lost that initial spark, it is possible to gain it back again.

This is a great business, and I'd just like to thank Aaron Sorkin for reminding me of that.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Intentions and results

This blog has caused me quite a few problems in the past. I write an entry that I perceive as being candid, honest, often complimentary to and about others. Among my entries, I never aim to insult or put down anyone. My end goal is to fashion a personal - subjective yet hopefully thoughtful - look inwardly and outwardly.

Whether or not that happens, though, is a completely different story.

I've been lucky that in the past few weeks of writing I haven't stirred up any controversy. It's strange to think that by writing a blog I've managed to alienate some of the people who mean the most to me. In time I've managed to heal those wounds, attempting to explain that though my words might have been perceived as loaded with bad intentions, they were actually aimed at expressing something inherently positive.

Because I'm not a vindictive person.

One of my most vivid memories dates back to middle school. I was 13 years old, or perhaps 12 going on 13. The setting was a typical day in choir class. I was sitting amongst the sopranos. My friend Kristin (who is still one of my closest companions to this day) was in the front row, but I was in the second row of my section with girls who were not my friends.

Another soprano in the second row started talking about hurting people's feelings. She spoke about some recent incident where one of her peers had complained that she'd insulted them to some effect. As a rebuttal to the accusation, she said that she simply "had no conscience."

It was a passing comment - albeit supported by some of her actions which I perceived while taking a choir class with her - but it had an effect on me.

The reason it struck me so strongly was because it was the first moment in my life where I'd been informed that not all people have good intentions. And better than any other testimony to that effect, it was in no way hearsay. It was in fact straight from the horse's mouth. It couldn't be refuted, even if I wanted to believe that people didn't have inherently hurtful agendas.

I never became friends with that girl. Now, several years later, I can't even remember what her name was. Though many of the people in my middle school choir are still fresh in my memory, the thought of her has blurred over the years. Maybe it was because she'd scarred me with her perception of herself and, as a result, my perception of life.

For my reality television class tomorrow, I read an article about the television show An American Family. The show was an archetype of the modern family reality show (akin to Jon & Kate Plus 8, 19 Kids and Counting, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, etc.), wherein the producers and camera crew filmed an "ordinary" family for seven months of their lives. The article consists of the show's creator talking about the intention of the program as he first conceived of it. He debunks rumors about manipulation of the show's content, of its stars, etc. Essentially, he wants to prove that the purpose behind An American Family was not to create a spectacle of an American family, but a truthful insight into the lives that many people live through today in the US, but fail to tell each other of. He wanted to unearth some of the problems facing all families in the country by depicting the life of a single family.

In a way, while reading the article, I began to see myself in the blatant deflections of blame that the writer/creator set forth to counter the many critics of his television show. A few times I've felt that even when I've had the most honorable intentions with my writing, I've found that the response is anything but aware of those initial intentions. In fact, they seem to expect the worst of me.

It goes back to the issue of my impressionable middle school self and how she differed from what I presume is most of humanity. You see, she didn't think that it was possible that anyone could "not have a conscience," or not feel remorse for their actions. She thought that everyone goes through life trying to maximize success for the many.

But that's not an accurate portrayal of life as we know it. It would be nice if it was, it's only a pipe dream. People will always expect that my intentions are dishonorable because that is not an unheard of expectation.

While I like to think that my choices emphasize a greater good, the vindictive minds that exist in this world will forever taint the positive intentions that I hope to convey.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm glad to know that no one - at least recently and outspokenly - has taken offense to anything I've written. Because if there's anything I can say about this blog with utter certainty, it's that it has never been designed to hurt or insult anyone.

I've written about this in the past, but reading this article put it into an even clearer perspective for me. I hope that anyone who has ever read my blog will have a chance to see these words because of any message I've ever posted, it's probably the most important one from which to go on and judge the rest.

That is all I have to say for now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cartooning divulged

You know how some people get addicted to substances? Others form habits that make them strive for certain feelings or sensations, experiences, etc.?

Well, I guess I've found my first and only true addiction: I can't stop writing.

I thought that when I no longer forced myself to write this blog that I would no longer feel compelled to do so. Not true. If anything, the lack of decided structure makes me want to maintain the structure all the more. It's as though keeping this blog alive in a way keeps me alive, or at least keeps me organized. I like that even when everything else is haywire, when I'm wasting time watching The Newsroom instead of doing my reading assignments, that I can take solace in a quick blog entry. It doesn't bore me like a bland academic text, but it also doesn't feel like such a waste of time.

Unfortunately talking about the compulsion to blog isn't really enough for a full entry, so I think I need to move on. What will I come to? What is there to say?

Nothing has happened today. Herein lies my dilemma.

That's a lie. Things have, in fact, happened today. Nothing to report, though. I wish I had something ground-breaking to say, something that would justify forcing myself to write when I told myself I would stop. But I have nothing. My only excuse is that I have an addiction. They should put me on an MTV reality show or something. It's starting to become serious.

Luckily, it's not destructive. I guess that's debatable, but I like to think that if anything this benefits me in the long run.

Today, actually, despite being fairly uneventful in the grand scheme of things, was an interesting day. I would venture to say it was the first day that I've ever done work that is sub-standard and felt proud of it.

Maybe that sounds silly, but let me explain.

I'm taking a cartooning class. I told myself this quarter that instead of focusing on all the academic pursuits that I've already spent the majority of my collegiate career studying, I would try and create new (and perhaps marketable) traits.

I didn't necessarily expect anything to come out of it. While we all hope that when we start a new project we eventually learn that we are a virtuoso, a genius in some random field, it's unlikely that will ever occur. In some part of my heart, I know that when I started the class I hoped that I might discover some hidden talent in myself.

Now that I've been through the class for two sessions, I can't say that that's entirely true...nor is it untrue.

I'm no Mozart of the art world. I can't recreate the beauty of a Charles M. Schulz Peanuts cartoon. I am not the next Walt Disney (though of course I would like to be).

What I do have, however, is an undying love for this work. Even on the days that I feel like an idiot after what I've done - after drawing figures that only vaguely resemble human beings, or trying to create expressive hands and instead giving my characters stumps for extremities - looking back on a day having drawn I feel immensely accomplished.

We learned a bit about life drawing and did our first exercise in comic book-inspired storytelling today. I was ill-prepared. Though I've taught myself the basics of life drawing, I've never applied it in a structure classroom setting. I made mistakes, I worked through them. When I tried to construct a comic, I made egregious errors. My drawings could've been done by a three year old.

Yet I was happy. Thrilled, even. I was just glad to get to do something like that with my time. To learn and draw for fun. Seems a glorious existence, no?

I'm sure some people don't understand the thrill I get from this line of work. In the same way that I'm sure some people don't understand why I feel the compulsion to write every single day even when there is no external force pressuring me to do it.

The excitement I feel is entirely internal. It is something that I can't control, something that has little to do with reality. But it feels really good to be this enthusiastic.

I've always worried that when I grew up I'd find a job that I hate and get stuck doing it. That's what happened to my mom and while she made a good living, she never felt happy going into work. I'm glad to know that I'm studying and plan to pursue work that inspires and enthuses me. No matter what field I pursue - be it writing or film or some sort of artistic production - I'm going to be happy doing it.

I think part of my happiness tonight was in knowing that I had the resolve to go on. Through the mistakes, through the making a fool of myself (on occasion, though the life drawing did end up quite well), I was happy to keep going. And I'm happy to go on after this and see where my class takes me.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, the talents we have and the skills we gain. It's up to us, though, if we pursue any or all of those abilities. And mark my words, I'm not letting any of mine pass me by.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The health mandate

My snack drawer is full of wonders. There are Japanese crackers and chewy candies. There are Oreo cookies. There are popcorn bags ready to be popped in the microwave. There are containers of applesauce. There are pita chips to accompany the hummus that is hiding in my refrigerator. There are cups and plates and bowls. There are utensils.

There is no lack of sustenance in this room of mine. It's something I've maintained for myself no matter where I'm living. In my old dorm room during my first two years at college, it was always the bottom shelf of my wardrobe. In London, it took up the top compartment of my chest of drawers. It is in a similar place now, supplemented by my own mini-fridge in the opposite corner of my room.

It's enticing, it's beckoning me to eat and be unhealthy. Especially with the great deal of popcorn at my disposal, how can I resist the urge to bathe my lips in buttery goodness?

That's the eternal question, isn't it? If so much is available to me, why don't I just partake in all of it - at once?

I guess I've battled with this issue for quite a while. I struggled with wait as a wee one, wanting to constantly snack when I wasn't eating meals. I'd convince relatives (who came home from work at different times of the day) that the person who had come home first had neglected to make me dinner. Some nights I'd get away with having two meals.

I was unhealthy. I cultivated gross eating habits. They were perpetuated throughout my young teenaged years. Into my young adulthood, I still don't have a firm grasp of nutritionally balanced meals.

Though I've studied the subject, become aware of the health ramifications of eating an unbalanced diet and watched relatives and friends suffer from unhealthy habits, I've always been in denial about my own nutritional state.

I haven't been "overweight" since I was 11 years old. Once I stopped eating fast food several times a week, the scales started to balance. I was looking and feeling healthier. Never quite up to the standards of my five year old self, the little girl who was so thin that her childcare service providers asked her mother if her daughter was eating enough.

I was eating enough. I would learn to eat even more. My metabolism slowed down long before most people face that eventual fate. I had to come to terms with it when I was entering my most awkward years.

And now, so much later, I'm still struggling. Not because I'm back living the life of an overweight individual, but because my history has dictated that I enjoy unhealthy eating habits. I like the most buttery popcorn and my favorite vegetables are the least healthy among them (so much sugar in corn, so much starch in potatoes), not to mention I have to remind myself not to drink soda at each meal because when it's available, often I'll have it even when I'm not craving it.

Often I'll let these issues slide, reminding myself that this may be the only time in my life when I can eat like Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me without the health ramifications. Since I don't see my waist growing much, nor my weight fluctuating all that strikingly, I assume it's nothing to worry about.

But I'm not looking out for myself.

I feel as though the universe has been trying to remind me of this quite a bit lately. Recently I started watching the movie Amour (nominated for the Best Picture Oscar this year), and was taken aback by the depiction of a woman who suffers from a stroke one afternoon. The attempt to salvage her mobility and speech is attempted through brain surgery, but somehow the plans go awry and she is left with serious disabilities that strain her life with her equally elderly husband,

Admittedly, I didn't get very far in the film. I just couldn't handle it. My mother had a stroke when I was 11, and since then images of strokes have never sat well with me. I live within a constant state of paranoia, worried that eventually I may suffer the same fate she did.

Only recently, I became aware of the incidence of strokes in younger people. Aubrey Plaza (of Parks and Recreation fame) was the victim of a stroke when she was in college. She was lucky to be among friends at the time of her attack, which made for a quick transportation to the hospital. She has since fully recovered, but not without physical therapy work to regain all her proper human functions.

Then this morning I was reading an article in the OC Register about two high school students who both suffered from arteriovenous malformations (according to the Register, "a congenital condition involving an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the brain). They had strokes at different times and have since recovered. They are being reported on because of the human interest aspect of the story - that they went to their high school winter formal together.

It was a sweet article to read, but what struck me about it wasn't the human interest aspect, but the fact that these two people who are younger than me have had strokes.

In other words, I really have no right to think I needn't worry about a stroke, even if I am only 20 years old.

So I'm a little frightened. And leave it to fear to strike the most sense it to me. While a couple of years ago I promised myself I would stop eating meat, now I must make an even bigger sacrifice for my own benefit: I must promise myself I'll be more conscious of everything I eat.

For most, giving up meat is terribly hard. For me, no longer eating French fries and buttery popcorn is the hardest sacrifice to make. I've grown up thinking of these foods as ordinary, comforting even.

I know that in time I'll start to feel differently, but after being raised as an unhealthy eater, it's hard to look forward and consider those food items only occasional treats rather than staples. Maybe this speaks terribly to my willpower, but it's for this reason that I feel so strongly about changing. I worry for myself, but I know that I have the power to change.

In the coming weeks, I'm going to try to turn around my health. In addition to staving off potentially life-threatening illnesses, I hope I can feel and look better than I've ever felt or looked before. I may not exactly update this blog on my progress (since there's no quantifiable measure of success), but I hope that anyone who reads this will stand by me anyway. I need all the support I can get. Junk food is one of my greatest weaknesses, but with confidence even I can overcome it.

When and where

I've been thinking today about how much time has passed since I was last in London. It feels, all at once, like a distant memory and the recent past. Like I just left, but somehow managed to hop between England and California, then California and Illinois within an instant.

I don't know how it happened so fast. It's even hard for me to fathom how 2012 has already ended. That seemed to just begin as well.

My concern isn't the passage of time however. That's an eternal question, the kind of problem that strikes us relatively often. We worry about deadlines, commitments, hopes, dreams, our fate. These are all things that revolve around time. I could talk about time under the umbrella of literally any subject.

But what struck me today wasn't time per se. It was that I happen to be residing near Chicago once again, when I can barely believe that I've even left London. And yet, London seems like a fictional character in my life story. As if I didn't actually live there for three months.

I think at the heart of this issue is that I really miss my city.

Not for every aspect, of course. While there I grew tired of my lack of friends and acquaintances. I walked away with a lovely and wonderful boyfriend, but no lifelong friendships. It surprised me. I thought, if anything, that the opposite situation would have occurred.

I don't miss shopping at Sainsbury's. While my previous ventures out to London had me eating Walker's potato crisps and Cadbury chocolate galore, living in the city means eating more sensibly... or at least buying food that is used to make real meals. Not just junk food meals. And I was stifled by the lack of options in my small local grocer.

My school wasn't anything to miss, really. The classes consisted of dry lectures, long reading assignments, extensive midterm and final paper writings that threw me into the deep end multiple times in the space of a few months.

And my dorm. Oh, what is there to say about the dorm? It was loud with the sounds of students partying. They would listen to the same soundtrack each night. Always The Kinks. Always London-thematic tunes. It was engaging the first night. I was glad not to be hearing loud rumblings of Usher or B.O.B. emanating from their flat. But seriously. Switch up the iTunes playlist once in a while. You must have gotten bored with it. I know I was

The shower I used each day was terrible. The stove top took 20 minutes to boil water in a pot. I was limited by the technology. The lack of Wi-Fi kept me from using my phone in my room until the latter half of the term (when I realized I could produce a Wi-Fi signal from my laptop).

There are any number of reasons that I shouldn't feel nostalgic. That I should look back at my time in London and say "good riddance." There are more of those reasons than their are reasons to be excited. But the fondness far outweighs the petty annoyances.

Because I had an unbelievable time there.

This isn't meant to be a point of complaining about where I am now. At the moment, despite the cold weather, the early mornings, the long days and the never-ending reading assignments, I'm happy to be "home." Chicago is comforting, friendly, familiar. I like being here.

Yet I miss being there.

And, to be honest, I miss being in California. In the same way that I missed Chicago when I was in London and when I was in Orange County.

I doubt I will ever be satisfied with where I am.

One thing that I am, however, is happy that I have lived in all of these places. And glad to know that none of them alienated me to the point that I never could think fond thoughts of them. At one point or another, each of the regions got on my nerves. But as it turns out, their effect was more profoundly positive.

So time has passed. Not much, I suppose - only about a month since I left London, and less than that since I left California. But I feel it: the sadness building up at not being able to magically live in three places at once. Or maybe four, if you include my long-lived desire to experience part of my life in New York City.

It's weird to think how some people can live all their lives without traveling out of their home state. My first adventure out was before I had left my infancy. And I've been a traveler ever since.

Not just a traveler, but a nomad. The kind of person who wants to experience different places, to live all across the globe. In some ways, I've accomplished this. In others, I hinder myself by not being open to a lot of locales that probably offer fascinating cultural experiences.

All I know is, my life has taken me to some beautiful places. I know it will continue to do so. But in the meantime, I have to embrace the place where I'm at while I'm there. I'm in Chicago now and I know it's objectively wonderful.

So I'm going to think about that now. Instead of London, instead of California. That isn't to say I'm forgetting those other places. But it's time to live in the moment. When and where I am.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Well that didn't last long

Okay, I'm not ready to let go.

I've spent the last hour trying to keep my mind off of it. I surfed the internet. I made a post-it mural on my window in the shape of Mickey Mouse. I dropped a post-it into my radiator and had to fashion a sticky ruler so I could retrieve it before it burned up and exploded.

I did anything and everything because I didn't want to let myself return to this page. I knew I wanted to. I knew I was desperate. It was eating into me to think that I was keeping myself away from something that has essentially become an extension of who I am.

And just now, I started crying about it.

At the moment I'm trying to keep the tears from welling up. I thought maybe writing it down would help. It isn't. It's not helping me come up with an actual solution.

Because as excited as I was to finish this blog - to get to the year-mark and then just stop writing in it (or at least feeling obligated to write in it) - as I sit in my room on an ordinary evening when I should be doing homework but most certainly am not, I feel compelled to write anyway.

Maybe it's just because it's the first night away.

Like the day I arrived at college as a freshman and I cried about wanting to go home. My dad reminded me that if I needed to drop out, that it would be okay.

Well today, even though I'm crying about giving up this blog, I'm telling myself that if I need to continue writing in it, that would be okay.

I hope you'll agree.

Still, I don't think I'm going to do it with quite as much regularity. Maybe I'll still want to write a blog a day, but if I have a final the next morning, I will refrain and wait until a better time. Maybe in time I'll actually decide I don't like the pressure. Maybe then I'll stop completely. I have no way of knowing where the wind will take me.

I do know that at the moment, the dust has settled and I'm still standing here in front of my computer knowing that there's a place where I desperately want to write. Keeping me from that place because it doesn't fit into the mold that I designed for myself a few hundred days ago doesn't make sense. It almost negates the purpose of the blog in the first place, which was to have an outlet for my thoughts. If I no longer let it be that, then that's not fair to me or to the blog.

Right now I feel kind of stupid for giving into this urge, but I know I was right to do so. Because the reason I write at all is because it becomes an unavoidable impulse. I've become dependent on it, like a family member. And luckily for me, even though I've told myself it's time to let go, I don't have to if I don't want to.

So I'm making no promises. Not at this point anyway.

I've fulfilled my quota. I've done what I promised myself I'd do. I wrote for 365 (actually 366 days) straight. A full year.

But I don't know why I ever told myself that I only had to write once a week after. Because that's a whole new challenge. Waiting an entire week? Please.

I'm sorry if this comes as a surprise. It is for me as well. All I know is that I'm not ready to let go. It's weird to think that I can feel a sort of separation anxiety for something as inanimate as a website. But I do.

I guess it's just something I have to live with. 

Goodbye dailies

I'm not sure what to do with this moment.

For so long I said this was going to be a blog for 365 days. I knew I'd go over that limit and I knew I'd continue to write regularly, but I hadn't planned on 366. This morning, while I was asleep in bed and only halfway coherent, I realized that in actuality, 2012 was a leap year. In being a leap year, my proclamation of 365 straight days of blogging was not an accurate account. If I wanted to do a whole year, I'd have to write for 366.

So now I'm at that point.

But now that I look at my day count, knowing that I started writing this blog on January 19, 2012 tells me that I should at least go on writing through January 19, 2013.

Is this all irrational?

Maybe it is, but I never claimed to be rational in the first place.

I think to say goodbye to the daily portion of this blog (or at least a tentative goodbye if I decide to write again tomorrow), I'll say a little bit about what I hope to use it for in the future.

Most of the time when I reflect on The Songs of Spring, it's in terms of the past. This blog has gotten me through some difficult times in my life. It has both screwed up important issues and improved others. It has clarified confusing situations and only made me question myself even more on other occasions.

Sometimes it can be fun to think about all that has happened in a year. To have the chance to consider that and see it in the tangible form of a written account is astounding. I'm amazed with the subjects I came up with, the problems I faced, the information I shared and (sometimes) hid. So much has happened and so much of it is here right before my eyes.

The purpose now, however, is not to look at the past of The Songs of Spring, but to consider what I will use it for in the future.

As I said in an earlier post, it is my plan to at least contribute blogs once a week. I would like to emphasize "at least". Because as much as this responsibility frustrates me at times, I hate that I would force myself to only write once a week. It has become such a valuable experience for me to put my thoughts down in text each day that if I stop doing so and start only sharing frivolous thoughts on Fridays or Saturdays, it may not feel like an accurate representation of myself anymore.

What's most important about this blog for me is being honest about myself. It's not about gaining a readership - and as the entries have come down to the final few the view count has dropped somewhat dramatically - but instead catering to a readership of one. Me. I'm that one.

I may continue writing in a different way. I've toyed with the idea of starting a handwritten journal. They're so romantic and fun to commit to. Unfortunately I never feel like I can adequately (and quickly enough) express myself through my handwriting. So I guess that's out.

I suppose I'm stuck with typing for now - at least until I take a speed writing class or the equivalent technology is invented in the coming years.

But what I wanted to remind anyone of who does take the time to read this blog is that it will never devolve into a simple diary of recounts and stories.

My daily life and my past do factor into it heavily, but I've made it a point in the past year to avoid ever just talking about my day. I will continue to avoid it.

I can't promise I will only write once a week. As I get out of the groove of doing daily blogs, I may still want to write almost every day. It will be hard getting out of the routine of setting aside an hour each night.

I do feel that it is is necessary, though. As much as I'd like to have the time to write each day, it's impossible to keep up with that sort of schedule when you're doing schoolwork and regular work and extracurriculars too. It cuts into precious relaxation time and sleep.

As I'm writing this I can feel myself almost welling up with tears. Walking away from the daily blogs is like saying goodbye to a beloved family member. It feels impossible, but we all eventually have to leave the nest.

Still, I reserve the right to change my mind at a moment's notice.

Because blogging has become a part of my life now. It's not a compulsion that I can ever ignore and I doubt that I will ever give it up.

So maybe you'll see a post from me tomorrow. Maybe even the next day. Or maybe once I'm done with this entry I'll decide to take a brief break (for a week tops).

Either way, I hope some of you continue to have interest in reading it. And I hope that I always have an interest in writing it.

Writing is so important after all. It's what makes me feel like me.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ms. Undercover

Continuing on from the topic of voyeurism and photography that I brought up yesterday, I thought it might be interesting to write something about a part of me that I doubt I've ever addressed on here. It rarely occurs to me, primarily since it hasn't been a huge part of my life for quite a while. But when I think about it, at a young age it did play a pretty significant role in my life.

When I was little, I loved to play pretend. I dressed up as a princess or as Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I drew diner food and put it on a plate to serve to my mom while she was doing work on her computer in the evenings. Some nights we played movie theater and I'd serve candy and popcorn to her, working at a till with fake paper money and plastic coins.

One pretend game that often slips my mind, however, was when I played the role of detective.

It must've started with Blue's Clues. Not a show that feeds off of suspense or any real form of mystery like most detective texts, but the idea of searching for "clues" and figuring out visual riddles must have appealed to me.

Though I used to defend myself against any claim that might state that I was a fan of the show, I watched it regularly. Even now, it remains one of my favorite children's shows on television, a testament to its early effect on me.

My interest in Blue's Clues went further than that of an ordinary viewer. At one point in my life, I had my own Handy Dandy Notebook complete with green crayon. I would draw Blue's paw prints on wide-ruled paper, cut out the drawings and then put them all over my house. No one ever wanted to play the game with me, though, and I didn't quite understand the intricacies of creating my own "clues" that culminated in a solution.

But it was the idea of being on the searching end of the story - not the one who put the clues down, but the one who solved them - that appealed to me. Which is, I guess, why the idea of playing Blue's Clues on my own lost its appeal. I stopped playing the game almost as soon as I'd started.

The detective work, however, did not stop there. After watching Home Alone for the first time in my youth, I decided I might use the Rube Goldberg-esque tactics to become a sort of surveillance guru within the confines of my own house.

I would tape string to my door and its frame as stealthily as I could so I could be sure that I would know if someone walked in while I was away. I would also apply tape loosely to the doorknob, knowing that if someone were to open my door that they would smash the tape down making it unmistakable that they had entered the room.

It's not like I was being particularly protective of my room - I knew that if anyone walked into it while I was away that it posed no threat to me. But I liked the idea of testing out these methods, finding out whether someone had been into my space while I was gone even if it really made no difference.

The techniques never became more sophisticated than that, though I did own a spy kit that included a flashlight, binoculars and a few other odds and ends. For a while I had my eye on a toy surveillance camera, but I doubt I pursued it very adamantly.

Over the years, though, I changed along with my interests. I no longer taped my doorknob or hid paw prints anywhere.

Which brings me to today. What made me consider this on this day of all days was an event in one of my classes. In the course, we've been divided into tribes (like in Survivor), through which we compete for rewards and immunity from quizzes (and eventually our midterm). One of our competitions - which is ongoing - is to figure out a series of clues through various forms of decoding. It was the reason that I spent much of my class time today working on a cryptoquip.

And strangely enough, after all these years, it was still fun.

Maybe it isn't strange, though. Journalism (my current occupational path), after all, affords me a similar opportunity to stealthily observe others. I can learn about them, write about them, photograph them, etc. In the same way that a detective collects information, I have the power as a writer to research my subject. And as a journalist, I have the added luxury of being able to interview most people (without interrogating them).

So I guess I am a detective of sorts. I don't have to go undercover, but I do have the power to learn about things that interest me - and I still love exercising the ability to figure out quizzes on logic. Even though I'm not private eye, my eye is still pretty sharp. And that's pretty cool, I think.

Behind the camera

When I was in Paris this fall, traveling around with a giant backpack filled with clothes and ready to be stocked with Disneyland Paris memorabilia, I had a really fun encounter. I was in a bakery in Le Marais when a man comes up to me speaking English. At this point I've been staring awkwardly at the shop owners for about five minutes, trying to speak to them with my gaze. I need to tell them how badly I need a pastry without using a word of French. I'm just not confident enough with my ability to speak the language to try and utter out even the simplest phrase. Looks will have to do.

Anyway, so a guy comes up to me. He's a regular there, as I will learn later. He starts speaking on my behalf, telling the people behind the counter that I've been waiting and asking me what I want so he can relay the message across the glass casing. I'm so grateful to finally be fed, that ignore my inhibitions against talking to strange and older men.

He continues to be friendly and I oblige. He asks, "Are you a photographer?" It is at this moment that I'm reminded of how little room I have in my backpack which has resulted in me lugging my camera around my neck all throughout the city. I'm sure many Parisiennes noticed, but weren't interested enough to mention it in polite conversation with me. This man is American, he is friendly and interested in my life - at least out of courtesy.

"No, I'm not a photographer," I say.

Once I've mentioned that I study journalism, he goes on to tell me about how he studied journalism at the Columbia University Graduate Journalism school. Before going there, he got an undergraduate degree from Harvard. He asks me where I go to school. He knows the name without a second thought. I'm impressed. Unfortunately, I didn't ask for his last name. I did, however, learn that he's been living in Paris for the past decade or so.

The story of this man certainly stuck. But perhaps not as much as his question.

Because when he asked me if I was a photographer, I wanted to be able to say yes.

There's something utterly fantastical about photography. The idea of acceptable voyeurism has such a draw in this day and age. We love the anonymity of putting a heavy object in front of our face, with all the clarity of a peep hole through which we not only see, but capture the outside world for our own enjoyment at a later date.

I love the craft myself. Perhaps too much. All around Europe, I lugged my heavy Canon Rebel T3 with me. Sometimes in my backpack, sometimes in my purpose, sometimes around my neck. Through churches, on trains, on airplanes, in museums, at dinner tables. I had no shame with the DSLR.

Maybe it was like a sort of status icon. I like the idea of wearing a camera because it makes me feel like I have a reason to be places. I'm not just a tourist, I'm the kind of traveler who takes her camera off Auto mode and actually tries to shoot beautiful pictures. Whether or not I succeed is another story, but that's unrelated when it comes to being asked if you're a photographer.

That being said, I do think I'm a pretty good photographer when I set my mind to a project. But again, another story for another blog.

So today, when I took my photojournalism class assignment to the level of attending a dress rehearsal for a play on campus and spent the entire two hours of the performance shuffling around the room taking as many shots as I could, I felt strangely whole.

It was like I'd found a sibling to that feeling writing gives me. It's that strangely satisfying, almost satiating, excitement when you put pen to paper or when you focus and snap a photo. The finished product is already there before your eyes, being produced throughout the process. It's exhilarating. It's fascinating.

But most of all, it's fun.

As someone who watches inordinate amounts of television, film and theater, I know how it is to love being a spectator. I bask in the opportunity to creep around and view things without having anyone look at me like I'm crazy. In these mediums, it's always (at least within reason) acceptable to stare and not be stared back at. I love that.

I think it's because I'm so obsessed with entertainment. My whole life has been spent searching for new ways to be amused. When I realized my mom couldn't always play "monster" (a game in which she'd chase me around pretending to be Godzilla or some similar creature) with me at my beck and call, I resorted to other forms of occupation.

Photography isn't so off from television, film and theater. Aside from the obvious connections, i.e. being a photographer for any of those three industries, there is a sense that when you're looking through then lens on your camera, you're viewing an art object of some sort.

These past few weeks (and months), I've loved using my camera to make even what looks mundane to the naked eye, appear more beautiful. I test out various shooting modes to see what comes out with the best visual qualities.

It's made me understand photography as an art form for the first time in my life - and made me realize how much I love being a photographer myself.

Next time I go to Paris, I want to go back to that bakery. I'll stand or sit around hoping to see that man again, wishing that he'd ask me that same question. Though I may never be able to say "yes, I am a photographer" (as I'm not sure I plan to pursue it in any sort of professional capacity), if he were to ask me again I'd amend my first statement.

Instead of "No, I'm not a photographer," I will say "No, I'm not a photographer; but yes, I photograph."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The art of unconfidence

I'm taking on a new project.

For the past couple of years, I've tried in many different ways to become a better artist. Whereas much of my school time is devoted to the literary and writing arts, whenever I can I try to create something that has less to do with words and more to do with images and physical creation.

It's a weird obsession, but I guess I just love working with new mediums. Or, if I'm to put it tritely, I love working with my hands. Trying out new artistic ventures lets me do that regularly.

This all started back in the summer before my freshman year of college if I'm remembering correctly.

I bought a sketchbook from a local arts and crafts store, found an old set of eraser-less sketch pencils in various sizes that had belonged to my mother and got to work. I didn't take any formal classes, and in fact I had very little confidence to back up the venture. But I did it anyway.

The results were vaguely satisfying.

Over the next couple of years, I'd keep drawing and start feeling more and more confident. Though my skills were never up to what my hopes and dreams for my artistic ability were, they were adequate. And I kept creating.

I took courses in artistic technique in college. A watercolor class one year showed me how I could manipulate color and texture in my work to make my images more interesting. I learned that less is more and that to create a piece that is truly memorable, you have to invest yourself in it without being too meticulous.

At least, that was the crap that was thrown at me for a few months. I absorbed some of it, debunked other parts and eventually walked away with an understanding of how to paint in watercolor.

At home I was already experimenting with acrylic paint. I bought canvases and a plastic easel, various colors of paint to mix and different sizes of brushes. I loved the even more pronounced texture of oils and acrylics. Watercolor paled in comparison.

When I took a class in ceramics, I hoped to find an even more kinesthetically pleasing pastime. Admittedly, spinning clay on a wheel was exhilarating. You could see the forms you were making taking shape. Sadly, if your hands aren't naturally attuned to the craft, you may never come to make a beautiful piece of pottery. I certainly didn't. Most of my work was sloppy, but I enjoyed the process anyway.

I think the resounding result of this assessment is simply that I don't have any natural-born artistic talent. For writing, perhaps. But not for watercolor necessarily and definitely not for ceramics. I may not have tried many other crafts, but I can reasonably assume I'm no virtuoso.

That doesn't stop me though.

Because at the heart of this obsession is the drawing that I started to do on my own so many moons ago. I've always found the process relaxing and fun, but on top of that rewarding. There's nothing so satisfying as looking at a piece you've drawn after working hard and arriving at the finished product.

Which is why tonight I took a cartoon storytelling class and why in the next week I'll be working within the framework of an animated film.

When I was working through this first cartoon storytelling class, we were asked to draw something we observed today. I tried to imagine something and had infinite troubles just coming up with a single object for a drawing. Once I figured one out, the construction became the difficulty

We were then asked to draw images out of either letters, numbers or squiggles. I turned a "K" into an image that even I couldn't quite see until it had already come out of my pencil. Every time the teacher came around to look at and critique our work, I felt exceedingly nervous. I would crowd over the page, assuming the image of a sketch artist hard at work. It was all a fa├žade.

By the end of the night, I felt much more confident. Not just because the teacher gave encouragement, but because I felt like I actually had the ability to prove my worth through drawing. For someone who has always felt like art was more of an activity than a skill, it was a nice feeling.

Which brings me to the point that there's nothing wrong with acknowledging the need for improvement. I think my greatest asset in pursuing art is that I don't let go of it just because I can't see myself being a genius in the field. I keep trying because I love it, even if it doesn't love me in return.

For the first time, the art is really starting to love me back. I'm nothing if not ready to take it on right away.

Just the beginning

Now that this blog is coming to an end, I think it's time to reflect on the past year. On January 19, it will mark the first time I have ever commit myself to a truly daily routine. Yes, of course I do things like sleeping each night, showering and brushing my teeth each day. Those are givens. But after spending nearly 365 days devoted to a principle, forcing myself to sit down and write each day, I'm sure some important things have occurred in my life.

A More Confident Writer

I've always felt good about my ability to write. In high school I ended up becoming Editor-in-Chief of my campus newspaper. It was my claim to fame in a place where I was generally overlooked; where I was one tiny fish in a large pond.

I went to school to study writing. I continued to join publications on campus. I may not have been the star journalism student anymore, but I've continued to do well for myself.

Somehow, through it all I've continued to feel dissatisfied with my work ethic. Writing became such a systematic process in classes that I lost a lot of my creativity in the craft. So I started writing this blog. It's an exercise in personal essay construction, and a way to make myself feel better about quick brainstorming, writing and revising. In school I learned the skills to become a better writer toward a chosen profession. In my leisure time, I learned how to become better writer, period.

My Happier Existence

The blog came not only out of a desire to rekindle my love for writing, but as a way to get over emotional issues I was dealing with at the time that I started the daily entries. I didn't feel good about myself or the way I was handling myself. It was especially hard because I knew how immature I was being at the time, but I didn't know how to stop it.

Knowing that there is a problem but not being able to properly rid yourself of it is one of the most daunting problems to deal with. It's like having a spider's web in the corner of your room and not being able to reach it to remove the eight-legged intruder. If you could just reach an inch higher with your plastic cup and your paper, maybe you could remove the "problem." Instead, you have to find a more sophisticated way to do so (i.e. finding a step stool or taping the cup to the end of a yard stick to get it up to the proper height).

Once you find that new method, the success is overwhelming and satisfying. That's what this blog was for me. Overwhelming, perhaps not always positively. But always satisfying.

How I Use My Time Now

In the aftermath, I've learned ways to manage my time more wisely. I gauge how long it will take to write a blog each night, plan my routines accordingly and bow out of social engagements if need be. My priorities are much more concrete now that I have a daily commitment.

Even though at times it became more of an annoyance than a pleasure, it taught me how I could embrace the blog writing even in the face of terrible circumstances. I wrote blogs on evenings while traveling through Europe. I was inventive with finding internet connectivity. I managed to do the things I love and to write this blog at the same time.

If I could manage to take just a little chunk out of each day for the past year, then surely I can handle any other time restraints that my schedule gives me. Through practice and repetition, I've learned that my day planner is not my master.

What I Want This To Mean

When I started this blog, I wrote an entry titled "It's whatever you want it to mean." At the time, I wasn't sure what I was in for. I wasn't even sure how often I'd be writing. I didn't actually make the resolution to write each day until the routine had already started and I felt like I needed to continue it. The plan was concocted somewhat arbitrarily, but served as a sort of end goal - the kind that keeps you going and feeling like the process, however frustrating, is worthwhile.

Looking back at that initial post, I see that it wasn't my plan to write about my emotions or to detail the goings-on of individual days of my life. As I've continued writing, however, I've learned that even though I'd like to write an essay a day on a fascinating topic, that the constraints of being human come into play quite often.

I have occasionally felt the need to go on long tangents about my feelings. Occasionally I've just written about what I did during my travels or on an off day at school.

I see nothing wrong with that. The grand scheme of this writing space was that it be a place of no boundaries on topics. I wanted it to mean whatever because the point wasn't the point.

If that doesn't make sense, let me clarify: the actual premise of the blog was that there was no point. No tangible one anyway. It was a practice forum for my technical writing skills, a place to build a voice and a place to share thoughts. That's what it ended up being, so in the end The Songs of Spring really did find its footing.

Looking Forward

Now I stand near the end of this blog's daily incarnation. I know that I won't be letting go entirely, but I also recognize that an era of my life will be ending as I leave behind this chapter.

I guess what I'm taking away from it most is the desire to keep writing and to keep testing myself each day. I've already brought a new routine onto myself that I'd like to continue in the form of a plan to watch as many Oscar-nominated films as I can before the awards ceremony. And when that goal reaches its end (presumably once the Academy Awards have aired), I will choose another project to devote myself to.

Because the real success of this blog wasn't that it created a portfolio of writing work that I am proud of and enjoy returning back to read. That is certainly an important aspect, though. The greatest result is actually that I managed to keep myself interested for 365 straight days (this will be true in a few days, but I'm assuming I'll reach my goal). It proves to me that I can do anything, even if that something gets on my nerves, I have the will power to go for it.

There's this sense of empowerment in me, facilitated by so many aspects of this last year in writing. I look forward to where it brings me in the coming weeks, months and even years. I have no doubt that in these past 12 months, I've become a better writer and a better person.

I plan to take those blessings to new heights. This blog was just the beginning, but I will keep on going. Just watch.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I should annoy myself

Watching the Golden Globes tonight was surprisingly exhilarating for me. It's not like I had much of as stake in the winners. I wasn't betting on who would take home the trophies. I haven't even seen most of the movies (yet), though I plan to before Oscar season.

Yet considering it was a silly awards ceremony - and I do admit that celebrations like that are really more about seeing celebrities than experiencing the actual wonder that is Hollywood and cinema - I was unusually hyper and intrigued. I wanted to root for actors and creative types and films themselves in various categories. I wanted to be part of everything.

I ended up watching the first half of the ceremony, however, with a group of people I didn't know. This wasn't like my old dorm where a set of really interested folks would gather around a big screen television to find out who won the golden statues. It was an accidental walk-in to a group of girls who were loud and opinionated, and particularly unafraid of sharing those opinions unabashedly.

I should probably say that I don't think there's anything wrong with enjoying the company of your friends in private and during that time being raucous. If that's part of your routine, that's fine.

But sitting in that group of girls made me realize how terrible, in fact, it is to be on the outside looking into a hangout session like that.

It's true that I'm not exemplary of the opposite method of socializing. I'm in no way quiet or calm when I'm hanging out with people I feel comfortable around. In fact, I can be quite obnoxious. I'm loud and opinionated (like the girls I sat with today), and I have fewer inhibitions and much less effective filter on my words. It's just something that happens when I enter that state of friendliness.

When I'm being that way, I sometimes fail to notice how utterly outrageous I'm being.

When there are other people being that way, I become so disenchanted that I need to go crawl in a corner and think about life and loneliness for a while.

It's the same way with inside jokes and other things that constitute a typical friendship. When you're the one partaking in the insanity, it's normal and even fun. But when you're forced to watch other people partake in various forms of merriment, you have to constantly contain the desire to tell them to look at themselves for a second and consider the people around them.

I never do that when I'm on their end. What gives me any right to pass the judgment?

I wish I knew why it is so fun to be crazy with friends. By that I don't mean going out to party and drink. Instead, I'm referencing an activity style that centers more around personal interactions and wackiness within a smaller social circle.

Maybe not everyone has had that sort of relationship within their peer group, but for me it is indicative of my friendships. Some of my stories are too embarrassing to tell, considering how ridiculously they reflect on myself and my friends.

Do I have to change, though?

Tonight I kept thinking how much I wanted to leave that room. Though the girls were accommodating and allowed us (Dana and me) to sit with them while they watched the Golden Globes, the way they watched was inconsiderate. I almost got to the point of telling them to be quiet so I could hear more of the acceptance speeches.

I realized then that I've many times been on the opposite side of that coin. With friends both at school and at home, I tend to let loose fairly easily. When I let loose, I don't quiet down and I don't mince words. It doesn't feel like a problem, but maybe it is.

That being said, I don't want to nor do I plan to change.

Recognizing the problem is the first step though. And I do realize that a problem of mine is resenting the same activities that I partake in myself.

I don't know that I'll ever be able to beat the filterlessness out of me when I'm in a state of comfort around friends. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it's a bad thing. One thing I know, though, is that it is most assuredly a way to have fun..

Which is why I didn't say anything to the girls who let us watch the Golden Globes with them. And why I figure the only power I have is to instigate change in my own life, but not the lives of others.

Then how do I make a change in my actions without changing my personality? Unfortunately, I doubt I'll ever find out.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Like riding a bicycle

I have less than a week left of daily blogs, so I wish I could make this one count. Unfortunately, I don't have much to talk about. My life has been strangely satisfactory lately. And as we all know, it's when we're the happiest that we lose our ability to write with any sort of apparent interest. It's the manic depressive in each of us that enables the interesting story construction. Once that fire has burnt out, what is left? Just a lot of happiness and a desire to expend that enthusiasm in the real world rather than the digital or written (or some combination of the two) universe.

But I guess I've committed myself to writing this, which means I have to find a topic. The only way I can think to do that is to choose something to complain about. So I guess I'll look back in my compendium of negative thoughts and choose the most willing target.

The wheel has been spun and it looks like I've landed on a topic...

That topic is my regressive skillset.

I'm a university student. I write articles, I study journalism, I take film and history and political science classes (among other subjects of course). I am relatively smart. I read for fun. I like to explore new mediums of art all the time and I like to learn new things. One of my favorite television shows is NOVA ScienceNOW with previous host Neil DeGrasse Tyson and new host David Pogue. I'm a nerd. I like to learn about the world. My favorite shows on the History Channel are not about Nostradamus, they're about How the States Got their Shapes.

The point of this all is to say that I'm the type of person who prides herself on obtaining and maintaining a large set of knowledge.

But I have the perfect inability to remember any of it after a certain period of time has passed.

I hate that saying about remembering how to do something being "like riding a bicycle." I never learned to ride a bike, so it may be some combination of resentment for a lacking skill and also an inability to maintain talents that I once had. Whatever the reason, it frustrates me that a phrase like that even exists.

There are people in this world who can learn something once and let it stick in their brain forever. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people.

The example I'd like to use to support my argument involves a little pet project of mine when I was in middle and high school.

I used to like to make websites. I was obsessed with Corel Paint Shop Pro. Photoshop was foreign to me because the version I used never worked on my terrible old Windows desktop. But with PSP, I became wildly proficient.

I'd spend hours clicking away at a vision. I created backgrounds, downloaded pngs, made div layers and layouts galore. I figured out various HTML and CSS codes. I knew them by heart. When I didn't know them by heart, I used reliable resources to remind myself of them. I was on my way to becoming a computer or graphics-minded person. It was something I really loved.

It was during this time that I made about four or five moderately successful fansites. I used them as a tool for self-promotion. I'd send my link to other fansites of similar topics and put their links on my site, hoping for a mutually beneficial relationship. My site was well-constructed, so I did receive links in return. I was learning how to be a marketing agent. It seemed like a natural effort in the progress of making a product I wanted to sell.

On my websites, I'd write dozens of articles. They were all short, but they were topic specific. They pulled from various sources and required quite a bit of research. I put a lot of effort into them. Considering I was 13 and in middle school studying fairly hard (I'm pretty sure I received straight A's for most of that year), it was quite a feat to be going home from school each day to work on a website. But I did it. I was a content producer. I'm still very proud of that.

These days I've begun to feel old and useless. Whereas I used to be a one woman show, creating a website all by myself and running it in my own way, as time has passed I've become less and less of a sophisticated creator. I've turned to journalistic and writing-centric exploits. I abandoned my web design skills, stopped marketing my work and essentially stopped working in the same way I did before. Other things became more of a concern and I guess I forgot what it was I loved so much about making and keeping up with websites.

And in the process of forgetting, I lost a lot of my skills.

The other day I looked for a tutorial on making animated gifs in Adobe Photoshop. I looked up some information on Adobe Illustrator. These are skills I want to rekindle so desperately. It confounds me that I ever had the skills in the first place. It is most certainly not like riding a bike.

I wish I could wrap up this issue with some sort of crisp, clean conclusion. But at the moment, I'm in a place where I don't feel confident. I want to learn so badly and I wish I had the skills that I once did. But time changes everything and I seem to have lost my ability to learn these abilities that I so readily absorbed years ago.

If I have time in the next few weeks or months, I want to return to all my editing software and to new modes of media and marketing management so I can explore the talents I used to have before. Among other interests I have, this is certainly a top concern. I'm convinced it might actually help me in the long-run.

So I guess finding fault with myself, even in the midst of a fairly comfortable time in my life, can actually lead to good. Because if it's the last thing I do, I will learn to ride that bicycle again.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Beaucoup d'amis

I'm feeling overwhelmed. But at this moment it has little to do with actual school. I've been here for about a week, been assigned readings and been warned of quizzes. I am a little worried about jumping into the education pool again without my floaties on, but I think that I'm well-equipped enough to do at least an adequate job in these, the earliest days of winter quarter.

So that's not a problem.

What is the problem, then? Why am I overwhelmed?

It's weird to think about, but I feel as though it's part of human nature - or at least, part of my nature - to constantly find something to fret over. Even if there's not much on my plate - as with this winter - I find something to think about constantly, something to hound my thoughts and keep me on my toes when I'd rather just sit back and watch Gilmore Girls all day (and believe me, I did quite a bit of that).

So to answer the question, I'm overwhelmed because I'm being social.

This is really the only time this quarter that I'll actually be able to hang out with friends and talk to my boyfriend without the constant fear of missing an assignment. Though I'm already running behind on some of my readings, that's a smaller cross that I can bear with fewer ramifications. As the latter part of the quarter sets in - which essentially starts the second or third week - I'm going to be so massively distressed that I doubt I'll have much of a moment to appreciate the company of the people I love like I can now.

On top of everything, I haven't even returned to my work study job yet. That means I have mornings off. I've slept in most mornings this week and stayed up relatively late each night. I blame this partially on the blog-writing, but also just on a general inability to hunker down and actually go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

College does this to me for some reason. I am always looking for ways to spend time away from my room when I can. Today I spent about 30 minutes playing Wii Bowling, then I went to an improv comedy show. This is not an atypical Friday night. I'm glad for it, but I know that it's a fleeting moment in a period of time that will inevitably provoke a lot of stress.

Even taking these few days to enjoy the company of my peers has me a little worried though. In the earliest days of my freshman year of college, I only had one very very good friend. Dana and I went to dinner together every day; we went to plays all the time; we hung out constantly. The commitment to our friendship was good. It made college easier for me.

Once we started adding more friends to our group, the fun increased exponentially. We started doing new things together - dinners around and off campus became more like events; we would plan trips into the city and go to improv shows (like tonight's) together. But with the benefit of new friends comes the responsibility of maintaining those friendships. Which means allotting time.

So this is the weekend that I'm dedicating to friends. I've already spent my Friday night, but tomorrow I will be going into the city and Sunday morning I will be meeting with friends whom I haven't seen for quite a while.

And even though it may sound like I'm griping about my lack of time, to be honest I'm just happy to know that these people even care to let me be in their presence.

I've always been the kind of person who only had one or two best friends. I could only count on a few people to be there for me when I needed them.

In the last few years, I've seen my social circle grow so much. At home and at university, I can call on a much larger quantity of friends than I ever could before - even in high school, which is supposedly one of the most significant times in our lives for socializing and building relationships with our classmates.

It does make me a bit nervous for the coming weeks, especially as I start back up with work in the mornings and have club and "mini-course" work to do in the evenings. It will be a bit of a stretch, and I will certainly feel even more overwhelmed as time passes. But it really is worth it.

And maybe, just maybe, my ever-growing group of friends will be there to brighten my weekends at the culmination of tremendously terrible weeks. Hopefully I can do the same for them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Branded and labeled

When I think about all the work I've put into this blog in what is almost a full year of writing an entry a day, I feel quite proud at my commitment to consistency. It's hard enough to do anything each day. So how is that even though I sometimes forget to floss or neglect other regular routines, that when it comes to my blog it's become almost second nature?

That is an interesting question, I'll admit. But the reason I bring it up is not because I want to answer it. At least, not exactly. Instead, I'd like to address a related question, one that has been bothering me quite a bit lately and was only reinspired by the visit of a certain entrepreneur to one of my classes this afternoon.

The guest lecture which took place took us into a deep discussion about the value of personal brands and working with social media to advance an agenda - whether it be corporate, personal or what have you. We looked at all the different mediums of spreading information, how they are properly used and occasionally misused to, in a sense, advertise a brand.

And one of the most blaring missteps of some who do decide to create a brand for themselves on the internet is doing it for recreational purposes, but not towards an evident goal.

You see, to me this blog appears to have a pretty obvious purpose. That is, it is my means of sharing ideas and practicing my writing on subjects that I find interesting. Sometimes it can get a bit metaphysical and other times it is very much about concrete storytelling. Still, other times it's about simply practicing my skills at writing critiques or other types of essays.

What this blog doesn't have, though, is a category. You can't compartmentalize it and label it a blog about movies, television, books, science, education, family, or anything else really. At one point or another, it's been about all of those things and more. But it doesn't exactly fall into one category more than the others.

And I guess that can be a problem. At least, it may be now that my blog can be discovered by a quick search of my first and last name.

While I've made it a point not to say more than my first name on this blog, it has become evident to me by personal Google searches that you need not search too hard to find my 365 day writing project (admittedly it's not on the first search results page, yet the issue still applies).

So am I embarrassed? Am I ashamed of my writing?

This has been something I've been considering quite a bit since I realized the truly public nature of this space. And to be honest, I haven't come to a solid conclusion.

Because the fact of the matter is, I'm a pretty confident writer. I feel good about how i construct an essay, so I've never felt anxiety about sharing my written works with anyone. Yet I know that some of my blogs have been written very late at night or even at odd hours of the morning, when I'm not entirely coherent. And other blogs have been written when I've felt down-spirited or even upset. A whole year of blogging will inevitably include off days.

And because of the way I've constructed this blog - as a place of personal reflection - sometimes those emotions aren't hidden underneath the guise of a scholarly article, but fairly obvious within the subtext or even the more plain text of my writing.

The whole idea of social media as a means of branding yourself suggests that what's important is creating a workspace that is centered around a topic so you can build up a following with it. This will look good to potential employers and whomever else looks at your oeuvre of work in the future.

I guess when I started this, I didn't have that in mind. What I wanted was a place to write down what I thought and experienced and in some way share those thoughts, even if it was on a small scale. That is what I accomplished.

So returning to the question of whether I'm ashamed or embarrassed of what this blog consists of, I guess I do have an answer.

The answer is no.

I'm not ashamed, nor am I embarrassed. If anything, I'm proud that I did something that a lot of professional writers fear doing - being too honest and perhaps too frank. I've told a lot of stories that I never thought I'd share, and I've put them in a place where anyone can read them. And even though that might not necessarily be a trait that is interesting to potential employers, that wasn't my purpose when I started this blog.

The reason I've spent about an hour a day for 358 days (and the reason I will continue to do so until I reach 365) is because I wanted to do this for myself. I wanted to test the boundaries of my writing and if anyone cared to notice that was their prerogative. I appreciate the attention, of course, but I'm not begging for it.

I guess that's why I didn't attach my last name to this blog in the first place. It wasn't about personal branding or labeling myself. And even if that is in some way what it's come to be, it has done so of its own accord. I will let it be that because I am proud of what it is and the purpose it serves. But I won't lie about what the purpose is.

White flag

One of the weirdest experiences of my life was going away for camp in sixth grade. It was the morning after my pet beta fish had passed away and I was still feeling terribly distraught and painfully nostalgic as I boarded the bus that would take me and my classmates into the mountains for a little "outdoor ed" away from home.

This was my first time away from home without a family member. I was going to be living among my peers. I had high expectations, but I also didn't know what to expect. I had never been camping before, nor had I even really explored a wilderness area. The closest I'd been was Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland. That didn't quite count, though there is quite a bit of dust, sand, plant-life and tall rocks to climb on the island.

Anyway, I digress.

I was feeling terrible that morning. My mom and I had a celebratory goodbye breakfast at Carl's Jr. (I ate a lot of fast food when I was younger) and she dropped me off at my school to be picked up by that ominous yellow bus that takes us on fun field trips as well as daunting excursions like Outdoor Ed.

The song "White Flag" by Dido was playing over the speakers at Carl's Jr. I started to associate it with that moment of sitting with my mom. For the rest of my camping experience, it would stay in my head and occasionally occur to me, reminding me of my mom and making me sob uncontrollably.

In essence, I wasn't stable enough to be leaving home. I was 11 years old and I still hadn't wrapped my head around the idea of calling up my friends on my own or making my own food. I was such a momma's (and dada's) girl that I had almost stunted my own natural progression into preteen-hood.

The experience once the bus had departed was unsurprisingly crazy and only moderately life-changing. If anything, it was valuable because it stuck in my memory. What I remember most now is not being in the same cabin as my best friend (now and then), Tori. We hadn't been as close when the year started and we requested roommates, so we didn't end up together.

The cabin I was in was exceedingly warm. In my fleece sleeping blag, I was burning up. My cabin counselor was so cold that she would get up in the middle of the night and hug the heater. I guess everyone else was comfortable with the temperature. But it kept me up almost every night, culminating in less than six hours of sleep over several evenings.

As a bonding experience, Outdoor Ed did little for me, but what it did do was give me an insight into a new experience - teaching me that I do enjoy living a lifestyle that is foreign to my own, even if that lifestyle is just a controlled cabin camping experience.

So why do I bring this up?

It may be weird to say, but living in my new dorm at university this quarter reminds me a lot of Outdoor Ed in sixth grade.

For one, I'm living in a new environment, separate from all my family who are back in California. Second, I can't control the temperature in my room the way I'd like to. Third, the food at my dining hall is not all that different from the food I ate at the camp - in fact, it was at that camp that I first discovered the concept of putting cereal on yogurt: a genius move that I still fondly recreate to this day.

But most of all, there's just something that feels a little "home-away-from-home" about this place. Not a dorm room in general, but my room in this new living quarters. It's barren in many ways (I haven't put my wall decorations up yet) and if not for my extensive collection of books and instant food items, it might entirely resemble a cabin in the woods.

And my general temperament seems to be akin to my childhood Outdoor Ed feelings. Open to new experiences and challenges, but fearful at having to do so with many of my fellow students who I've never quite befriended.

I'm sure that in time my Winter 2014 collegiate experience will stop feeling like an outdoor camping adventure and more of the typical mundane class-going, homework-doing existence that I've become so used to over the past couple of years. Until then, though, I feel this bittersweet sadness in comparing what I have now to what I had at eleven years old.

I guess the bitterest part about it is that I know that this too, like my Outdoor Ed experience, will end. And again like Outdoor Ed, it may not align exactly with the expectations I've set forth for it. I guess that's what college has been for me every year over the past three. But for some reason it feels like it's in a state of flux now, and I'm a bit scared. I guess as long as I don't hear "White Flag" anywhere, I should be okay.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The rudest thing I'll ever do

Have you ever had that terrible moment wherein you're sitting in a lecture or a movie or a play (or any even to which you've commit yourself for an extended period of time) and you realize that, oh no, it is exactly the opposite of what you expected?

This has happened to me so many times that I've lost track of the quantity and many of the anecdotes. Nowadays, I've come to the point of almost expecting the worst even out of things I know objectively should be good, because that shields me from damagingly high hopes.

But even trying to shield myself in the long run doesn't help with everything. Sometimes we just can't avoid feeling a bit of anticipation for a new experience, even without all the facts right before our eyes. Sometimes we're pleasantly surprised, sometimes not so much. Today was not so much.

Before I get to that, let me give you a bit of background. If you've read my blog over the last few months, you're likely to have heard some mention of my schooling in London. Being abroad in the city for a semester, I got my fill of a new type of education.

I was studying history in a foreign country, working not only with other students but within a completely different schooling system with expectations that in no way resembled those which are had by my home institution.

When I went into the experience, I wanted to have the opportunity to learn about British history firsthand - as in, from British professors. I took two British history courses, one class on British politics and one class that took my fellow students and I around to various London galleries to look at 19th and 20th century art.

Only one of my classes was taught by a British professor.

But that wasn't even the greatest disappointment. That was reserved for the fact that even though I was happy to learn about the subject matter, I couldn't get engaged. I lay blame for this issue partly on the dry lectures, but even moreso on the source material they drew from.

I realize there's a purpose for academic writing, but when it's all that you consult in your studies, how are you expected to foster any sort of honest appreciation for a subject? Maybe some people enjoy scholarly texts, but for me it only reduces my interest in a course to practically nothing.

Then this afternoon I walk into a class where the professor tells his students - prior to even mentioning what the course is actually about - that the purpose of it is to look at and assess those same scholarly texts that I just spent three hours wanting to escape from.

I kept looking around the room at everyone else to see if they showed any semblance of the anxiety that I was feeling. Within the first hour of class, the professor had already given us a short research assignment. I subtly mentioned to my partner for the assignment that I didn't know what this class entailed. She agreed and we both proceeded to look up other possible courses we could take.

Unlike me, though, she stayed for the rest of lecture. At least, I think she did.

I'm not ordinarily the type to walk out if I'm feeling dissatisfied or uneasy during a performance. After taking quite a few classes where I haven't been wholly thrilled by the lectures, I've learned to just grin and bear it in the same way I might if a movie is nothing like its trailer or if a play does nothing to resemble its poster (or does no justice to its positive critiques).

But I was not having it today, especially when it meant passing up the opportunity of being in another class that I knew wouldn't have me furtively glancing toward the door every few seconds.

So I did a terrible thing.

I walked out of a class without a word, bolting toward the door and not looking back to catch my professor's response, and I went to another class that actually aligned with my academic goals.

And unsurprisingly, I have no regrets.

Ordinarily I'm the type of person who hates those people who throw caution and decency to the wind to meet their necessary ends. Selfishness doesn't sit well with me. But today, I needed to be selfish lest I give up an entire quarter (and the money I spent on it) to a class that has nothing to do with my area of study.

In London I stuck with it because, despite everything, when I walked out my door I was in the most beautiful city in the world. That was enough.

But now I'm back home and off of cloud nine and I have to go back to looking out for my education - my limited time as a college student.

This evening I wrote a note to the professor of the class I walked out on apologizing for leaving without any notice. I felt terrible at having done so, even though I knew it was right.

I hope he doesn't despise me for it. I didn't mean it as an affront to his teaching. But sometimes, as rude as it may feel and seem, it's important to have your own interests in mind. Appearances aren't everything. At least not all the time. But you'll have to live with yourself and your decisions in the hours after you decide whether to walk out of that classroom or stay in it and miss the opportunity to take a better-suited class.

I'm glad I didn't have to live with myself having made the wrong decision.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New room, new life

How long does it take to feel at home in a new place?

I still remember the earliest days of my freshman year at college. I walked into that old (and still cherished) dorm room of mine and felt terrified and depressed. I was leaving my real home, the one in California, for this place that I'd never been to before. I'd have to make new friends, count on people whom I'd just met to be reliable friends. It was entering a new world and I didn't think I was ready. A common occurrence when moving to a new place.

This has been a problem with me my whole life though. I was raised in a series of houses. My parents had two different ones and I still consider my grandma's old house one of my childhood homes. Until I was 11, all these various homes stayed in tact for me. I never knew any other living situations than these and it seemed like I never would.

Things would change and eventually the only original home of my youth that would remain would be my father's house.

One of my most vivid memories was in the process of selling my mom's house. Though I knew it was what needed to be done, separation anxiety started bubbling up in my heart. I excused myself to the bathroom one afternoon while I was there with my grandma, mom and dad. And I cried. I knew I'd miss the place, even if it needed to be sold. I still do.

I wish I wasn't so attached to places I leave behind. Some people can move house at the drop of a hat. It doesn't bother them a bit. Alternatively, I'm the type of person who has trouble letting go of much of anything. It's hard for me to even give a way a random tchotchke. Try to make me give up a house or a room that I've inhabited for a while and I start to feel irreparably pained.

It's not because I can't physically live anywhere else. In fact, in recent years I've discovered quite the opposite. But I doubt I'll ever feel fully satisfied with leaving behind anything, ever. Or even starting new things, at least for the first few days.

This will be my second night in a new dorm. Having lived here only for a day, I still feel like I'm somewhere foreign to me. It's like I'm away at camp. I feel as though I still need to keep everything in pristine condition because it doesn't feel like it's mine. It's a place I'm visiting, not residing in.

I keep racking my brain to try and remember what it was like moving into my flat in London just a few months ago. Maybe it could give me some frame of reference so I can figure out how long it will be until this room away from home feels like a home itself.

But no matter how hard I consider it, I can't seem to remember at what point in my time in London that coming back to my room finally felt like coming back to a homebase. It must have been a nice moment, though.

I think it might come once I've spent a few nights doing my favorite things in this room. Watching a really good movie on Netflix while hiding from the chilly night air under the covers on my bed. Finishing up a paper a few days in advance and celebrating with a little dance party in the open space between my bed and my desk. These will be the moments that christen this place my own.

Until then, though, I won't feel quite right here.

On the other hand, I'm glad that in so many different places these past few years, I've been able to find myself at home. For some it's hard enough to find contentment in one place of residence, and over a series of moves, I've found several different homes. Granted, I've had to give most of them up at one point or another. Yet, still, I've had the luck of creating comfortable residences more readily than I'm sure many people do.

I have no doubt I'll find the same happiness here. It'll just take some time.

And some memory building.

That's the real key to success, I guess. Until you create the memories, the place you're in will never have them. I'll always look back on the room in my old dorm for all the fond thoughts I associate with it. Watching the royal wedding live on my mini television set, opening my door on my birthday to find my friends had covered it in decorations, night after night spent passed out in front of my laptop watching shows on Hulu or videos on YouTube. It's weird, but little things like that make a room into a home.

Maybe it's presumptuous, but I'm absolutely sure I can recreate some of those and even inspire my own new traditions in this my new room. And I have no doubt it'll be just as great.

I will keep you posted, though.