The end is nigh.

I’m not sure if this day warrants some kind of spiteful victory dance or a couple of nostalgic tears. Today, the challenge draws to a close.

To put it simply (and perhaps lamely), the challenge was most certainly a challenge. Surprisingly, I did not mind having so many deadlines. The difficult part did not lie in actually getting the writing done, but in coming up with things to write about. 

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the days of having stories assigned to me. Those days of moaning about how I’d just like to write what I want are nothing but a memory these days. It must take a certain special talent to come up with so many ideas in such quick succession, and I’ve yet to develop or stumble upon it. But I think it’s projects like this one that help writers become more receptive to inspiration and more familiar with their creative processes.

This project fulfilled its basic intention: to keep me fresh. In past summers, I’d take long breaks from writing and fall out of practice, making me write more slowly and clumsily the following fall when school would start. But this year I feel I’ve avoided that slump; I’m prepared to go into my internship (tomorrow!), pen and brain ready. But that’s not all I’ve learned.

Constantly looking for topics got me into the habit of looking at news stories critically. Over the course of the challenge I began checking npr.org and stltoday.com daily, learning how they cover different stories, attribute different sources and how their news bloggers blend their opinion with facts.

And by hearing other bloggers’ voices, I’ve continued to hone my own. My older posts sound completely different than my newer ones. Because I’m not writing for a news service, I can ease off my structured news voice and editorialize. I can even make (or attempt to make) jokes! It’s been a refreshing change.

The blog’s viewing statistics will always vex me. It seems that the more random, personal posts like Awkwards and Awesomes and Seven Stereotypes I’m Guilty of get more views the day I publish them. But then the more news-related ones like St. Louisans and Their Loaded Question and You Are Who You Are on the Internet get more views over time. In short, readers, I don’t really understand you.

I plan on keeping the blog going (knock on wood) for variety’s sake. While too much of both extremes tires out my brain, I suspect a little blogging amidst more structured assignments and projects will do it good.

And as I continue to exercise my thoughts, I hope that at least some of you will continue reading. When I imposed  the challenge upon myself I also imposed it upon you without asking.  Thank you for sticking with me through it all.

Here’s to the future of Filling Up and Pouring Out!

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How it happens

As I’ve delved into writing in college, I’ve learned what I need to get my creative juices flowing. At this point, I can’t say I’m an expert. It’s an on-going process; I will always be learning how my creative forces in work. But this is what I have so far.

the written word

the written word (Photo credit: paloetic)

First of all, the process of creating a concept and writing it out does not happen in one isolated episode. When I get an assignment or some sort of inspiration I spend my non-writing hours mulling it over. I do my best creative thinking in the shower in the car. (If you ever find me dead in a ditch down by the river next to an overturned vehicle, you’ll know I was thinking about writing.) Many a thesis, lead or theme have been conjured up well before my fingers touch a pencil or keyboard.

I absolutely need a deadline for every single project. It is impossible for me to follow a “get it done whenever” mentality. If my editor does not give me a deadline I assign one to myself, because without one there is simply no hope of that project ever coming to fruition.

Unfortunately, I am one of those writers who puts other things off to ensure that I meet my deadline. Usually, the thing I push back is eating. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t starve myself between those certain crucial dates, but I will not let the opportunity to eat throw off my “flow.” More often than not, when I’m on a roll I forget to eat because my creative forces simply refuse to put up with silly things like appetites.

When sitting down to write, perhaps the most important thing I need is relative quiet. Some soft music gets me started, when I come to a point where I have to carefully consider details like word order I usually turn it off. Outside distractions easily derail me, sometimes if I’m on a role I close the door or put headphones in even if no music is playing.

However, I prefer to have easy access to others to discuss my ideas if I get stuck. My ideas may begin as seeds in my own brain, but they often bloom during discussions with other people, especially other writers. The discussions cover questions ranging from “Does this sound stupid?” to “But what is the meaning of life anyway?”

In the end, it gets written. I edit, overanalyze some of my creative choices and then edit some more. As the editing process continues, I become fixated on and tweak things that probably won’t end up making much of a difference. By the time I publish or turn it the project, there are plenty more changes I’d like to make, but I’ve consented to the thought that the project is probably better than I think it is and is where it’s supposed to be. I think that’s something all writers share.

Fellow friters, I’d like to hear from you. What does your writing process look like? Leave a comment below!

Lessons from childhood movies

Who the Great Bambino is.

Life is like a mop…

The best way to get want you want is to be adorable and polite.

Dinosaurs can sing. No big deal.

Bullies have existed across all species and eons.

The most effective way to instill a life lesson is to put it to song.

In the end, kids will prevail.

Movie trailers: too much of a good thing?

When you go see a movie, sitting through about 20 minutes of trailers before the movie is the norm, according to a May 30 article from NPR.

But in response to many moviegoers’ complaints about trailer lengths, the National Association of Theater Owners is calling for change, according to a May 28 article from The Hollywood Reporter.

Under the proposed restrictions, movie studios would have to limit their trailers to two minutes, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Theater owners are unhappy with the delays from trailers and subsequent complaints from patrons, according to NPR.

Movie Theater

Movie Theater (Photo credit: roeyahram)

Movie studios currently follow voluntary MPAA guidelines which limit trailers to 2.5 minutes and allow one exception per year. (This year, Warner Bros.’ trailer for “Man of Steel” is three minutes long.)

Like the current regulations, the new guidelines would be voluntary. Individual theaters could choose whether to uphold the restrictions, and individual studios could choose whether to abide by them.

Some Hollywood studios argue against the guidelines, citing that they need 2.5 minutes to convey the movie’s story and intrigue, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

If NATO decides to endorse the restrictions, moviegoers may notice changes at theaters. Some theaters could potentially choose to show only shorter trailers, while others would continue to show longer ones. The ones with shorter trailers may choose to simply show more trailers, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

This could create a new form of competition for theaters. Some patrons may choose to go to theaters which show fewer trailers; others may choose the ones that show shorter trailers.

In general, trailers and movie theaters frustrate me. I cringe every time I play $7.50 to go to a night show, and then I feel cheated into watching so many long trailers, many of which don’t even show the film’s release date. And more often then not in the case of comedies and chick flicks, the trailers reveal the all the movie’s funniest jokes, and if I ever go to see that movie (which I rarely do), the element of surprise is gone.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to all movie trailers. They’ve become a quintessential part of the moviegoing experience as well as a very effective marketing tool. However, there can be too much of a good thing, and my primary reason for going to a theater is to watch a movie, not a bunch of drawn-out, melodramatic commercials.

In our capitalistic society, businesses should be able to compete. If a theater receives complaints about the wait before a movie, they should be allowed to take steps to take control what they show to deal with those complaints. If they make more money than other theaters for pleasing their customers, they deserve it.

 

Breaking my own promises

I’m all for setting goals and making long-term plans for myself. But my academic career kicked off when I started to break the promises I’d made to myself.

-Promise number one: I will decide on a major before entering college and never change it.

After a lot of indecision and self-induced pressure to pick a major in high school, I settled for English education. I reached that decision because I knew that I liked editing and talking about books, and I figured it was a pretty good bet since an inordinate number of my relatives are teachers.

After taking two semesters of education classes, it was time to officially apply to the department. The application included a 12-page essay about why I wanted to be a teacher, how I would motivate students and a number of ethical topics. As I began to write I realized I was lying to myself. I didn’t have the patience, the energy or drive to do anything I was writing about.

Thus began my quarter-life crisis. I knew I couldn’t let go of my English degree but worried about its stigma as an impractical field. Salvation came in the form of a panel of English major alumni. As they talked about their careers, I realized that almost all of them had my dream jobs–some combination of reading, writing and editing–which I never knew had existed.  And almost all of them had tacked a mass communications degree on with their English major.

I dropped my education major and added mass communications a few days later.

-Promise number two: I will not join the mass communications department.

In the midst of those education classes freshman year, I also took an introduction to media course because all along I was vaguely interested in the idea of writing for media. The professor and I, to put it nicely, just did not get along. He quizzed over information that was not in the book or lectures, constantly rambled about unrelated topics and graded according to some mystery system which no one in the class could figure out. He was one of those professors.

I knew that I never wanted to risk having this professor again and had concluded from his dull lectures that the field was unworthy of my time. After an episode of particularly unfair grading of the final exams, I declared to all my friends that I would never under any circumstances join the mass communications department.

Breaking promise number one led me to breaking promise number two. I’ve since abandoned the field I pretended so adamantly to be passionate about and joined one I once claimed to hate. Now, I’m not only in the mass communications department, but taking on one of the biggest and most time-consuming leadership roles it offers.

Oops. Too bad I love it.

What the classes don’t teach

As a liberal arts student, I’ve had the opportunity (and have been required) to take courses on a wide array of topics, from Voice and Diction (tongue teasers galore!) to Digital Photography (more PhotoShop tips than you can shake a stick at), from Sun and Solar Systems (more math than I expected) to Spirituality in Literature (all the spiritualities!).

But for all the nuggets of knowledge I have I collected, the best have come from outside the classroom. While it was tough to move to the next state over to a place where I knew almost no one, I’m glad I did.

Living in a dorm is like a liberal arts experience of its own. Depending on the types of people you live with, new experiences build up. Doing normal things, such as washing dishes, trying to fall asleep and coordinating shower times, become learning opportunities simply because they involve working with new people.

Here are some nonacademic nuggets I’ve picked up over the last three years:

  1. It’s impossible to kid yourself into majoring in a field that’s not meant for you. Don’t lie to yourself.

  2. There’s no shame in looking to the simple things for fun. Think sidewalk chalk.

  3. With a good nickname, you’ll go far.

  4. Don’t put leftover cooking oil down the toilet. It may seem like a good idea, but it’s not.

  5. Dryer sheets are one of the most versatile inventions known to man. Besides their obvious use for laundry, they also repel bugs, get rid of static in hair, remove adhesive residue and double as an air freshener for any room or closet.

  6. You don’t really know someone until you live with them. Living together is the test.

  7. A good backpack will be your best friend, especially on a hilly campus.

  8. Baking soda removes coffee and tea stains from mugs. Good to remember after marathon study sessions, which almost always require caffeine.

  9. Sometimes the best alarm clock is your roommate and/or suitemate. Especially if they have a blow-horn app on their phone.

  10. Breakfast is your friend and cannot be replaced by caffeine.

  11. It’s okay to change, and it’s okay to move on.

Dear Dove Chocolate

Dove chocolates are like the fortune cookies of the candy world. Unwrap one, and you’ll find a message on the inside of the wrapper. Those messages are called “Promises,” but they’re really rather vague.

Dove Promises

Dove Promises (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Stretch your body. Stretch your mind.” “Believe in yourself.” “Shut out the world for just a moment.” What do those even mean?

I’ve taken the liberty of providing alternatives to these messages which are more than inspirational. They’ll guilt trip chocolate lovers everywhere into being productive. You’re welcome.

-Clean out that junk drawer.

-Remember to renew your driver’s license this month.

-Call your mother.

-When was the last time you cleaned out your closet?

-Remember to smile at your coworkers today.

-Drink your milk.

-Wish the next person you see a good day.

-This will be your last chocolate. Go eat an apple.

Today I’d like to issue a public apology.

Dear any and all drivers on Manchester Road between 1:30 and 2:00 this afternoon,

I am sorry assaulting your ears with the bluegrass blaring from my open car windows. I am sorry I turned the volume on my radio up to 18. I am sorry I opened both front windows instead of the usual one. I am sorry I did not take pity on you and close those windows at the stoplight.

2005 picture of USA banjo player Earl Scruggs

2005 picture of USA banjo player Earl Scruggs (source: Wikipedia)

I understand that some people have a great opposition to country music. I understand that for these people, bluegrass is especially offensive since it is the most exceedingly country of all country music. I understand that I may have made some of these people’s ears bleed and eye muscles involuntarily twitch. Please let me explain myself.

Consider this post my “coming out” as a closet bluegrass lover (although my post on Dolly Parton may have been a hint). I love bluegrass and always have–the driving beats, varied instrumentation and tight harmonies. I’ve always been the only one who will gladly sit through one of my grandpa’s old country records in its entirety without cringing or leaving the room. If you’re looking for someone to blame for my transgressive musical quirks, he’s your man. There is no other explanation.

And I’m not talking about the hipster type of bluegrass (cough cough Momford & Sons) that seems to have come out of the woodwork in the last couple of years. The object of my affection is the stuff that has been around since your granddaddy’s heyday. The twangier the instrumentation and the scratchier the recording, the better.

But my love for twang faces one critical obstacle: the time of year. For whatever reason, I listen to certain musical genres and artists according to seasons and even certain settings. For example, I only listen to J. Tillman in the winter, and I only play Ben Fold’s album “Songs for Silverman” when I’m at an airport or driving through Amish country. (Don’t ask my why.) So for me, hardcore bluegrass is only appropriate from May through September. It just doesn’t work any other time of year, so I relish in it while I can.

And with certain aforementioned hipsters trying to encroach on the music I love, it can be difficult to find authentic music these days. I make a point of driving somewhere (anywhere) on summer Sundays between noon and 2 p.m. to catch the Bluegrass Breakdown show on KDHX, St. Louis’ independent radio station. They got the good stuff.

The fact that I did not roll up my windows even as the cars lined up beside me at the stoplight today is perhaps a sign that I went a little overboard. Again, I’m sorry for any ear bleeding.

Sincerely yours,

The driver of the car in the next lane.

Vine: giving the artistic inch

Give ’em and inch, and they’ll take a mile. This could be a good thing or a bad thing.

In January Twitter released the Vine app, which allows users to shoot and edit six-second video loops with only a few taps of their fingers.

Iphone-picture

Apple iPhone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In March Marvel used it to produce a trailer for this summer’s “The Wolverine.” The app reached the top of the overall best free app list two months ago and currently holds the number four spot.

It’s like the Twitter of the video world. The artistic challenge is to cram as much content, impact and creativity into a tiny space. On the other hand, this concept could also be an artistic downfall.

Making the video-making process that easy reduces the value of good craftsmanship. Anyone–artists and non-artists alike–can now piece videos together, so we can expect to see Vines of all types. Unfortunately, there’s no quality control.

Like Twitter, you’ll find well-constructed, clever videos. And you’ll also find pointless ones (like those “Here’s what I had for lunch!” tweets) as well as stupid or even downright embarrassing ones. (Luckily, Seenive has collected some examples of this latter category.)

As Vine continues to grow in popularity, it may take more searching to find the better ones. But rest assured; they do exist. People are using Vine to make bite-sized bits of video art, employing rapid storytelling and stop-motion techniques.

Following in Twitter’s footsteps, Vine is yet another example of the Internet’s sped-up and short-attention sense of humor. The quality of the content depends on who you follow. I recommend subscribing to FunnyVines on Youtube or following them on Twitter. Follow individual users at your own risk!

Mood music.

I am a moody music listener, and when I’m in certain moods I listen to certain songs repeatedly. And by repeatedly, I mean to the point where my roommate asks me to put headphones on. Here are my current touchy-feely favorites.

Optimism:

“The Lining is Silver” by Relient K. The title says it all.

“Make it Mine” by Jason Mraz. One of those songs that makes you want to take on the world.

Pessimism:

“Why You’d Want to Live Here” by Death Cab for Cutie. Tired of living where you live? Death Cab is, too.

“Home” by Michael Bublé. Another one for when where you are just doesn’t feel right.

Christmas! AKA Thanksgiving through early January:

“One More Sleep til Christmas” from “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” A classic from my childhood.

“For Unto Us a Child is Born” from Handel’s “Messiah.” Lyrics basically say it all.

 I don’t care if I have a terrible singing voice:

“Desparado” by the Eagles. Classic karaoke.

“Good Morning” by Mandisa. Borderline obnoxious.

I don’t care if I can’t dance:

-“Every Time We Touch” by Cascada. Harkens back to high school homecomings.

“September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Boogey down!

 Self improvement:

“Learn to Live With What You Are” by Ben Folds. Very grounding and

down-to-earth.

“Even if it Kills Me” by Motion City Soundtrack. For catching up.

For smiling:

“Rainbow Connection” by Dixie Chicks. Yes, Dixie Chicks. It’s still adorable.

“Snails” by The Format. Definitely croon-worthy.

Introspection:

“100 Years” by Five for Fighting. Good for looking back at old yearbooks.

“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes. So good, it might just launch you into a quarter or mid-life crisis.

On a related note, I really, really love 8tracks.