Busy, apparently.

Oof, school kicked my butt this past week. A six-page paper plus a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation plus mandatory discussion all due the same day. And that’s just in one of my two classes.

I was out of town visiting family for most of the last week, which is always good for stepping away and reevaluating how you’re doing life. At times I found myself worrying about “wasted potential”—wondering if I could be doing something amazing if I just hadn’t watched so much TV as a kid, or had eaten a better diet growing up, or just tried harder. Such thinking isn’t terribly productive, though, and eventually I decided to stop worrying and think about what I want to do with the days ahead. Being out and about tore me away from the Internet for long stretches of time, which I realize has made me a generally happier person. I read too much news anyway, and news is overwhelmingly negative and largely about things outside my control. Spending less time with TV and video games was good for me, too. I can’t see myself ever saying “I’m sure glad I spent my entire summer consuming content in front of a screen.”

Now that I have a bit more breathing room before my next big assignment is due (well, kind of; there’s a 10-page paper due next Wednesday) I’m going to make sure I take time this week to pick up and delve into the stuff I want to be doing. (And call that accordion repair guy, for reals!)

A side note: On the trip to visit my relatives I took a couple of paperbacks for airplane reading: Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens and Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13,* and while I enjoyed both (or at least the first half, in the case of the 432-page Good Omens, which I haven’t yet finished), I’m still partial to middle-grade fantasy. I have to constantly quell the fear that this affinity is a sign of stunted development (more wasted potential!), but that doesn’t stop me from visiting that section of the public library every time I’m there. Also, I’ll read anything by Eva Ibbotson. She might be my favorite author ever. Island of the Aunts made me cry.

Here’s some relevant Neil Gaiman from a 2013 Guardian column that accurately reflects everything I believe about libraries and children’s literature:

And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

*It’s about a pure-hearted boy raised by horrible stepparents whose destiny lies in the magical place accessible only through a secret portal in King’s Cross station. If that sounds familiar, note that The Secret of Platform 13 was published in 1994 and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997. When asked about the striking similarities, Eva Ibbotson reportedly said that she’d like to shake J. K. Rowling’s hand, and added, “I think we all borrow from each other as writers.”

Summer “vacation.”

For me the first day or two of summer vacation has always brought a mild sense of panic. There’s a bunch of stuff I should be doing and even more that I could be doing. I only have ten weeks left, aaagggghh!

And then I get frustrated and fatigued at the giant cloud of vague options. And then I get reflective. Is productivity per se really my goal? And that just makes me panic more. And that’s why my summers that lack external structure tend to be supremely unproductive.

I should also mention that I am in graduate school (online) and I double down on classes in the summer in hopes of graduating in a reasonable amount of time. I’ve also got quite a few family commitments this week, so I’ll be focusing on those and schoolwork first.

Although: extended version of Kass’s theme! It sounds so gooood! I need to call the accordion repair guy ASAP.

Excuses, excuses.

The other day I was talking to my friend and expressed some mild frustration with myself. I don’t tend to dive right into things; I circle them from several hundred feet above and pretend I’ll make it down there eventually. The problem is that I tend to actually just keep myself in the same holding pattern for ages.

I’ve been meaning to join a ukulele group; I’ve been meaning to send my accordion in for repair; I’ve been meaning to sign up for a SCBWI critique group in my area. I’ve made baby steps in these directions, but have found convenient reasons to hold back (namely that the music store didn’t call me back; the accordion repair specialist’s workshop was inaccessible at them time due to remodeling; and I missed the most recent regional critique café meeting so I’m waiting around for the next one… which will be in several months). I do like to wallow in complacency, don’t I?

Summer is right around the corner, and I work in public education. That means I have ten weeks of unpaid vacation. I need to make some phone calls and figure out what I’m doing with it.

Cons and cosplay.

I spent this weekend with the aforementioned dear friend/houseguest and had an excellent time exploring different parts of the Bay Area. She’s from the Midwest, so of course we needed to go to the ocean and take a day trip into San Francisco. We also stopped at Fanime/Clockwork Alchemy in San Jose on Saturday to see the cosplayers. Where else can you see Ariel from The Little Mermaid walking down the street casually with Kylo Ren?

I’ve been going to cons with my friends for almost a decade but don’t cosplay too often. When I do it’s never anything too fancy—quite the opposite, actually, given my limited skills with a sewing machine/clay/paint/wig styling. More than once I’ve chosen to cosplay characters whose costumes can be deliberately crappy. (My favorite was in 2012, when my friends and I cosplayed cosplayers from Inspector Spacetime, a thinly veiled parody of Doctor Who from the sitcom Community. It basically consisted of stuff we already had plus maybe $10 of stuff scavenged from Goodwill and Dollar Tree–things like bathrobes and toy sheriff’s badges, and things made of cardboard). But after every con I always come home thinking that I want my next cosplay to be an actual good one.

The idea of having a big summer sewing project is appealing, but I’m doubtful of my abilities and discipline. I’ll think about it. First I’d need to figure out who I even want to dress up as.

Or I could just take my accordion to a con, hang out around the corner from a Zelda cosplayer gathering, and play Kass’s theme.

Accordion, video games, and cleaning.

A dear friend is coming to visit for a few days this week, so I spent much of the past week stressing out about cleaning et cetera. Nothing like an impending houseguest to make you look at your place of residence and realize oh crap, this place is a dump! (It’s not actually that much of a dump. But it does need to be vacuumed.)

So that hasn’t left much time for pursuing creative endeavors (and I’m not expecting to make a whole lot of progress by next week, either). But I did retrieve my old accordion from my parents’ house today.

I started playing accordion in 2010 but stopped in 2012 when I left to live abroad for a few years. Before my departure I took it in to a local accordion shop to have it examined, and while the technician was impressed that it was in such good condition (it had been sitting in a garage for 40 years before it came into my possession) she recommended that it be worked on before being used to any great extent. It would have been several hundred dollars’ worth of repairs* so I put it back in its case and put it in a closet, where it remained until I returned in 2015. Even after that I only pulled it out sporadically, not wanting to cause any more damage until I had the money to spare to fix it up.

Then I started playing Breath of the Wild and heard Kass’s theme, a pleasant little accordion ditty that made me want to stop in the middle of playing and listen to it for a while. And then it made me want to grab an accordion and try to play it by ear.

Video game music has had a big influence on my since I was quite young, actually. I remember thinking the credits theme from Super Mario World was one of the prettiest things I’d ever heard. (And that was back when video game music was still chiptunes that drove my mother up the wall.) When I was in fifth grade and took up clarinet in band I would hang out with my friends after band practice and try to play the ocarina songs from Ocarina of Time. And one of the first songs I learned to play on the accordion was “London 3” from Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. A very large portion of my music library is music from OC ReMix (which I’ve been following/lurking on since 2004) and other video game covers and rearrangements. Despite never having successfully finished Chrono Trigger or any Final Fantasy game, I have a special fondness for the music of Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu.

So Kass’s theme is next on the list, though I really should look into that accordion repair. But right now I need to focus on cleaning the kitchen.

*Still cheaper than getting a new accordion, which run in the thousands of dollars for a well-made one.

Stepping out.

I finally did it—I attended an SCBWI event. And it was totally worth it.

A neighboring regional chapter hosted a workshop on revision techniques yesterday, led by a local professional (bestselling) author. It was truly fantastic, and completely worth the 45-minute drive.

I’m still in that gap between Draft 2 and 3 on the novel I started in 2010. There are a few parts that I know need to be rewritten that I’ve been avoiding. After yesterday’s workshop I realize I’ve been avoiding rewriting it because it’s actually boring. I’ve got my work cut out for me—and a lot of different tacks I can take.

Another memorable takeaway from the workshop was an exercise in determining a story’s theme. “It’s 10 years after the events of your story. Imagine that you’re at a bar or a coffee shop and your main character sits down next to you. You get to talking, and the character recounts his or her experiences. Then you ask, ‘So what did you learn from all of that?’ What does your character reply?”

That’s one I’m going to be chewing on for a bit.

Drumming and reading.

Drum performance went well, though the best part is probably the camaraderie I’ve found within the group. Since joining I’ve been invited to birthdays and happy hours and have really gotten to know everyone a lot better than if I’d limited my contact to just classes and rehearsals.

Haven’t been keeping up as well with the creative endeavors per se, but I did make dedicated time for reading, which professional authors seem to universally agree is an essential part of being a writer. I must have finished four or five books this week alone. Granted, they were pretty much all middle grade, which tend to be fast reads (and working in an environment with lots of kids and books makes access to them easy). But there’s some certain honesty that middle grade fiction tends to have in abundance that I rarely find in YA or adult literature—an honesty that allows mounds of subtext without taking away from an engaging surface narrative. C. S. Lewis famously remarked in his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Best Say What’s to Be Said” that “a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” I’m very pleased to be discovering (and rediscovering) the surprising depths in these books ostensibly aimed at middle schoolers.

Also, I have to say this: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is truly funny. Its protagonist is such an awful role model, so realistically self-centered and unaware. I had to stop myself from spit-taking on some of the pages.

Practice and confessions.

The performance for my West African percussion class is coming up soon, and we’ve doubled down on rehearsals. It’s getting pretty intense, but I really enjoy the group I’m in. Everyone’s been kind and welcoming, and it turns out several of them are artists or musicians in another way. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me.

Outside rehearsing, though, Breath of the Wild continues to be an addictive time sink. I intend to practice better self-control this week.

Onward.

My West African percussion class continues, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. We have a performance of sorts for a local event coming up in a couple of weeks so there are rehearsals in addition to regular class (which has turned into rehearsal time, as well). The things we’re rehearsing are a good bit more difficult than what we’d been doing in previous sessions, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I also got in some good time for Draft 3 revisions on that novel I wrote. I’ve bought tickets to see friends in the Midwest this summer, including the friend that gave me all those helpful notes on Draft 2, so my new goal is to finish Draft 3 by the time I depart.

On the ukulele front, I’ve gotten pretty good at the first (and last) part of “Giant Woman” from Steven Universe, but I should probably expand my chord repertoire a bit more than F, Cmaj7, G7, and E7. Or at least learn that middle part.

Breathing wildly.

My friends are amazing. They stood outside a Toys ‘R’ Us at 8:00am in the cold the other week on the day it was rumored there’d be a fresh supply of Nintendo Switches and picked one up for me (I had other engagements at the time). After paying them back and picking up a copy of its most prominent game I proceeded to spend an embarrassing amount of time last week in its world. I don’t think I can add anything to the praise it’s gotten. It’s a fantastic game and I’m really enjoying it.

Problem is, I can easily sink three or four hours into it without even noticing. And that means less time for all those “terrifying creative endeavors” I keep saying I want to pursue.

I voluntarily took Thursday, Friday, and Saturday away from it, mostly because it was Holy Week and I wanted to focus my attention on that. But after spending another four hours playing it today, I realize how valuable taking time away from it is. Saturday I got in practice time for both ukulele and harp, which I rarely have the attention span to do. A little regular self-denial would do me good, I think.

I’ve been neglecting writing, though. I intend to make time for that this week, as well.