Famous Last Words

"Alas, poor Yorick…"

“Alas, poor Yorick…”

I went through a phase as a teenager of really loving Famous Last Words. Something about the idea of all these famous people uttering pithy sentiments at the very moment of their passing struck my fancy. Famous last words are always a great blend of personality, wit, and self-awareness, revealing both the state of mind of the speaker and how they viewed the journey into the great beyond.

Gone are the days of poring over famous last words while feverishly composing my own words of passing, but I still enjoy hearing about famous last words, especially when I haven’t heard of them before. So, with no further ado, and in no particular order, I present to you my top seven Famous Last Words!

“Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.”

Said by Voltaire, when asked by a priest to renounce Satan. A respected philosopher and humanist, Voltaire still manages to sees the humor in the human condition, even upon his deathbed. Where will he go after death? He has no idea, and is okay with that.

Moreover, Ludwig didn't think the comedy was very funny.

Moreover, Ludwig didn’t think the
comedy was very funny.

 “Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est.” (translation: Applaud, my friends, the comedy is finished.”)

Ludwig van Beethoven purportedly spoke this on his deathbed, the formula traditionally used to end a performance of commedia dell’arte. Combining cynicism with erudition, irony with dark wit, these last words are a fitting sign-off for a man whose very life was rife with irony. This was my favorite as a teenager (yes, I was a hipster).

“Die? I should say not, good fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”

Spoken by John Barrymore, actor extraordinaire. I wouldn’t expect anything less theatrical from a person whose life revolved around drama.

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I do like fireworks, though.

I do like fireworks, though.

The advent of a New Year isn’t always an easy time for me. This year, January 1st found me consumed not with excitement and joy for fresh starts and brand new opportunities but with melancholy for another year gone. Instead of looking forward, I dwelt on the mistakes of the year: paths not taken, chances not chanced, opportunities discovered too late. Unfinished projects. Drifting friendships. Lost memories.

But then I chanced upon Neil Gaiman’s lovely New Year Wish post. This year, Mr. Gaiman wishes for us all to make mistakes, because that means we’re doing new things; learning, living, expanding:

“So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.”

This sentiment knocked me off balance. Throughout my life, striving for a sense of perfection has been both a guiding principle and a source of great disappointment. My quest for perfection pushes me forward, forces me to create and learn and achieve. But my quest for perfection also paralyzes me when I fall short, as of course I must. Perfection is an albatross hanging around my neck, a punishing reminder that nothing is ever good enough, beautiful enough, creative enough; never, ever enough. And if perfect can never be reached, what is the point of striving at all? But here is Mr. Gaiman, hero of my heroes, encouraging me to abandon the misguided principle of perfection and embrace imperfection. Embrace the inevitability of stumbling on this journey we call life. Stop worrying, and just do.

I am a unique and beautiful snowflake, okay?

I am a unique and beautiful snowflake, okay?

I’m not much of a New Years Resolution person. Too many times I have made a resolution at the New Year only to find that resolution soon forgotten or lapsed. And in my opinion, breaking resolutions makes me more disappointed in myself than never making them in the first place (perfectionist, remember?). But this year, I think I will make a resolution, of sorts. An anti-resolution, if you will.

This year, I resolve to let go of the idea of perfect. I resolve to dream outrageously and dangerously and not worry about whether or not my dreams will come true. To take the despair of failure and use it to make myself stronger, wiser, and kinder. To look behind me and see not the things I didn’t accomplish, but the things that I did. To value my mistakes for what they are; necessary symbols of growth, exploration, and living. I resolve to gaze resolutely forward, reveling in the capacity of the future rather than floundering in the immutability of the past.

And all the things I’m scared of doing? I resolve to do them too. Now and forever.

Do you fear your own imperfection? Do you embrace mistakes? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!


No eel...

No eel…

I know I’m a few days late for a Thanksgiving-themed post, but the long weekend gave me some time to think about what exactly gratitude means to me. Thanksgiving is an awfully fun holiday, usually packed chock-full of food and family and friends. There is pie and wine and binge-eating and carb-loading. There is music and laughter and impromptu games of touch football and chilly walks in the woods. These are all things I love. But sometimes I wonder if all the food and fun doesn’t distract us from what Thanksgiving is about.

I’m not talking about Pilgrims and Native Americans (although I recently learned that the First Thanksgiving probably featured eel as a main course, among other things). I’m talking about being grateful for the things we busy, self-absorbed, attention-challenged humans rarely take the time to thing about, let along express our gratitude for. In 1621, a feast was held to celebrate a good harvest and the sharing of knowledge between two disparate people. These days, what does the feast stand for? Does gorging ourselves on stuffing and pie really express our gratitude for all the things we own and the people we love and the lives we experience?

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“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”  –Pablo Picasso

I’ll tell you a secret: inspiration is a fickle, fickle mistress.

The enchanted well is full of absinthe (according to Hemingway.)

The enchanted well is full of absinthe
(according to Hemingway.)

One of the questions people ask me most frequently about my writing process is, “Where do you get your inspiration?” Despite the frequency of its asking, the question usually catches me off guard, leaving me struggling to answer with half-sentences and mixed metaphors. Why is the question so difficult? Not because I am never inspired, nor because inspiration doesn’t exist, but because at any given time I have no idea where my next jolt of inspiration will come from. There is no enchanted well that I drink from, no mystical invocation to a Muse, no Zeus’ fire bolt from Olympus. Gee, I wish.

Nope. There’s just me, and my weird little brain, and the world around me.

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places, and sometimes nowhere at all. Confused yet? Let me try to explain. An dream, an image, a phrase, a name, or even a single word; sometimes the simplest, most banal occurrence can set off a veritable waterfall of ideas that lead to plot outlines, interesting characters, entire made-up worlds. One of the major world-building elements in my most recent novel was based almost entirely on a recurring dream I had years ago. I wrote a short story inspired by nothing more than a short phrase that popped into my head one random afternoon. Reading, living, watching, listening, being. Daydreaming. A lot of daydreaming. And sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Review: The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves,
by Maggie Stiefvater

In Maggie Stiefvater’s sequel to 2012’s The Raven Boys, the Cabeswater ley line has been awakened, but Blue, Gansey, Adam and Ronan are no closer to finding the lost Welsh king Glendower. In fact, things are more complicated than ever. Adam’s sacrifice Cabeswater seems to have worked, but he doesn’t know what the ley line wants with him, or how to hold up his part of the bargain. Blue and Gansey’s relationship is suddenly complicated by romance. And Ronan–angry, troubled, violent Ronan–travels deeper and deeper into his dreams, even while his dreams begin to intrude into his waking life. Meanwhile, dangerous people circle closer, bent on locating Glendower before they can. Ronan must find a way to channel his dreams for good, or else the ley line might disappear, ruining Gansey’s hopes of ever finding the lost king.

I’ve read and reviewed several of Stiefvater’s novels, and I have liked each better than the last. The Dream Thieves surpassed my expectations in nearly every way. The novel is haunting, beautiful and unsettling and delicious, the kind of book that gets under your skin so much that you think about it for days after you’ve finished the last page. As Stiefvater grows as an author, her writing becomes more abstract, relying on simple images to convey complex ideas, and vice versa. Her imagery is incredible. It speaks for itself: here, Stiefvater describes a political gala attended by Gansey and Adam:

The party had become a devil’s feast: will-o’-the-wisps caught in brass hunting lamps, impossibly bright meats presented on ivy-filigreed platters, men in black, women jeweled in green and red. The painted trees of the ceiling bent low overhead. Adam was wired and exhausted, here and somewhere else. Nothing was real but him and Gansey.

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9 Fictional Besties You Wish You Had in Real Life

Have you ever wanted to hang out with your favorite fictional characters? I know I have! Here’s my top nine (I’m an iconoclast that way) fictional besties I wish I really had.

Step. Off.

Step. Off.

1. Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games

She’s tough, she’s loyal, and she’d be willing to sacrifice her life if it means saving yours. Best friend and security detail. Plus, the odds are apparently always in her favor. Can anyone say Las Vegas?

2. Cameron, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

This guy would (reluctantly) let you steal his dad’s precious sports car to go joy-riding around the city while you play an elaborate game of hooky. That’s true friendship.

3. Dr. Watson, from Sherlock Holmes

The best case scenario of random roommate assignments: John Watson. He doesn’t mind when you flash your erudition, dazzling everyone around you with your brilliant genius. He also doesn’t seem to care if you shoot up cocaine and play your violin all night long (I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

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Review: The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

For most people living in Scion London in 2059, clairvoyance is the stuff of fantasy, reserved for frightening unruly children away from meddling with things they do not understand. But for Paige Mahoney, clairvoyance is all too real and all too dangerous. Part of a crime syndicate who uses their voyant powers for financial gain, Paige fears execution when she is arrested by Scion police.

But instead, Paige is shipped to a voyant prison colony in what used to be Oxford, where her wardens are a powerful, otherwordly race known as the Rephaim. They treat voyants as slaves, feeding on them psychically and forcing them to fight the horrific monsters that stalk along the boundaries of their prison. Paige is desperate to escape Oxford, and the only way is to delve deep into the history and motives of her Rephaite masters. Will she learn enough to defeat them? Or will they devour her, body, mind, and soul?

I picked up Samantha Shannon’s debut novel on the recommendation of one of my beta readers, and I’m so glad I did! Although I usually shy away from novels with a great deal of hype, for once I thought the novel in question deserved the praise heaped upon it. I really enjoyed this novel, from its spunky heroine to its sizzling pace to its creep-tastic monsters.

I had only a few problems with the novel, and the bulk of them appeared in the beginning. The first few chapters are difficult to get through, because Shannon has the unfortunate habit of drowning the reader in information about her world, her characters, and their histories. Granted, Shannon’s world is complex and deep, but I would have appreciated a bit more showing and a lot less telling. I was so overwhelmed with nonsense words, names, and terms that I barely made it past the first few chapters.

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Power in Type

Thanks, Carl Jung.

Thanks, Carl Jung.

Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator test? I have, more than a few times. Junior year psychology class, senior year Theory of Knowledge class, job applications, recreation–for whatever reason, I’ve taken the personality test almost more times than I can count. And although the results have varied slightly from time to time, I’ve usually been impressed with how closely my resulting type mirrors my way of interacting with the world, my inner landscape, and the people around me.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Myers-Briggs instrument (often referred to as MBTI), it’s a psychological test designed to measure peoples’ preferences in how they process information, make decisions, and interact with the world around them. Although the actual test is hours long, you can take an abbreviated version of the questionnaire here. Basically, the test measures responses to questions based around four basic dichotomies: Extraversion vs Introversion; Sensing vs Intuition; Thinking vs Feeling; Judging vs Perceiving. And while the test certainly doesn’t cover every aspect of personality variance, nor strength of preference, the test can still be a useful tool.

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