readingredhead: (Reading)
2013-03-18 05:47 pm

Day 18: Jane Austen English department AU (+ seminar paper planning)

It's a truth universally acknowledged that the best Emma AU is and will always be Clueless, but for quite a bit I've been thinking that the closest modern equivalent to "three or four families in a country village" (one of Austen's tongue-in-cheek descriptions of her own preferred subject) might in fact be the members of a university English department. This is particularly relevant to Emma, because let me tell you, professors and grad students in English departments are such huge gossips. Not always in a bad way, but information does tend to circulate... At any rate, I've been pondering this for a bit, and while I'm not sure when I would even have the time to write it (or what kind of audience it would have, outside an English department!) I'm going to spend a little bit of time thinking through the various characters and how to transpose them to this new modern setting.

Preliminary thoughts behind the cut )

***

More directly on the scholarly front, today I wrote up notes about one of the texts I'm going to work with in my upcoming seminar paper, Margaret Cavendish's Sociable Letters. You can check them out over at my academic journal [link].

readingredhead: (Professor)
2013-03-17 06:09 pm

Day 17: some meta on making, + chocolate brioche pretzel rolls

After deciding, totally on a whim (and with far less forethought than I should have invested in it) to follow a friend's challenge to create something every day for the month of March, I started thinking a lot about what it means, for me, to MAKE something, and how that's changed over the past few years. 

I'm pretty sure I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But I'm pretty sure that was mostly out of a sense that words, and the things we did with them when they left our mouths or our hands and made their way out into the world beyond us, mattered. I wanted to do something with those words. I wanted to show other people how they could matter. And being a writer seemed like the only option available to me: after all, no one was going to pay me to sit on my couch all day and read books.

I'm a stubborn person, and a critical one. I tend to be very critical of myself for giving up on projects I said I'd follow through on, even when those projects are no longer as central to my conception of who I am as they were when I first devised them. And so as a result, late in college when I realized I wanted to apply to grad school and that I felt so much more fulfilled in my English classes than my creative writing classes, I beat myself up over it. I was majoring in English so I could teach high school English and still have time to write on the side, until writing became the thing I did full-time. That was the plan. That had always been the plan. (I realize this sounds like exaggeration, but seriously I have documentary evidence of my desire to be a teacher and writer from as far back as an "About Me" survey I filled out in the second grade). Going against the plan wasn't just going against myself, in some fundamental way -- it was "giving in" to doing the thing that was "easy" and that I could know I was good at, rather than the thing that promised fewer tangible rewards in the near future but was "more worth it."

And you know, I'm really glad I stared down my anxiety about that plan I'd made for myself all those years ago, and let myself be okay with the fact that I'd changed, because I love what I do as a graduate student. Not all of it, no -- but a substantial portion of it, all of the parts of it that have to do with belonging to a community of people who care about the production of knowledge, whether those "products" are tangible or not. All the parts of it that have to do with how much words matter. (And lo and behold, I do get paid to sit on my couch all day and read books!) It is, in some ways, an easier life than the one that I used to want -- but part of that is because I think it's always easier to live the life you want to be living than the one you think you should be living. 

It's become easier for me to accept the fact that what I do (and love) now isn't the thing I thought I would never stop wanting to do (i.e. creative writing) as I've come to admit to myself that the same impulses that prompted me to that old plan are satisfied by the new one. It's hard to justify this to people other than myself -- the things that I "make" as an English grad student, when they are concrete, are also directed at a very specialized audience. I'm writing seminar papers and conference talks and lectures that may never have audiences beyond the people present in the room at the moment that I deliver them (and before long I'll be writing articles and a dissertation and scholarly monographs that won't gain a readership any larger than that).

But here's the thing: I care more about the continued life and health of the constantly-fluctuating community of people who gather together to consider and rejoice in the ways words matter than I care about having anything like a central role in that community. It's hard to tell people that the thing that you "make" for a living is something as intangible as "knowledge" or "a community" or "a spirit of rational inquiry" (god I am more of a student of the Enlightenment than I think I am). But these things need to be made. By which I mean both that humanity needs them, and that they don't just spring up on their own. They must be sustained by the ongoing contributions of effort and energy that community members/human beings make, one by one, day by day.

And I've gotten into some pretty abstract philosophizing here in the process of making what is, to me (but often not to others), a simple point: my work as a grad student, and the work I'll do someday as a professor, is essentially creative. Not just because I care about researching and writing papers whose arguments are inventive and unique and, in some ways, beautiful (though I do care about these things, and quite a lot!) -- not just because I produce tangible (if arcane) things -- but because I am part of the collective support system for something bigger than me, something that everyone who supports it is constantly involved in (re)creating. 

(As a side note, I feel like a lot of what we think about when we think about "making things" has to do with distinctly individual authorship -- this is certainly the case with books -- and this is increasingly a problem for me, because I really do want to emphasize the communal role of the work I do, the impossibility of doing this work or of this work having meaning outside of a community. And that means giving up some of my own authority as sole agent of creation. That also, however, lets me change my definition of what "counts" as creative in a way that has been incredibly rewarding for me personally.)

---

In other news: I also baked things today! I am basically working my way happily through the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and finally got around to making chocolate chip brioche pretzel rolls (yes, you heard me). Warning: if you attempt these yourself, watch your KitchenAid while it's mixing -- I think the dough is actually way too heavy to be properly mixed for 10 mins straight (as it's supposed to be at one point). My KitchenAid started massively overheating and some other people's actually broke. So do the 10 mins in shorter intervals, and be prepared to knead a bit with your hands. Still: totally deliciously worth it! [picture]
readingredhead: (Muse)
2013-03-16 09:57 pm

NaCreSoMo 14, 15, & 16

Maybe -- MAYBE -- I will actually post these things the day I do them for this week since I am on spring break?! ONE CAN ONLY HOPE. (Also I will start commenting on other people's stuff because I realize that's part of this thing that I've been totally lame about.)

Day 14: On Thursday I delivered my first ever lecture in front of a classroom full of college undergraduates. I was given the opportunity by the prof I TA for to give a guest lecture (something that's somewhat common practice here?) and I jumped at the chance, especially because I got to lecture on the second half of Austen's Persuasion, a novel I absolutely adore and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about. I have really no problems about speaking in front of people (like, really no problems with it, never have had) and so I went into this with more excitement than anything else. I think my biggest fear was that no one would show up, since it was the last class before spring break! But the students showed up, and I gave the lecture, and even though it wasn't perfect, it was pretty damn good. My professor congratulated me afterwards with, "That was an amazing job, and you're obviously doing the thing you were born to do, so keep it up!" And that's basically how I feel about this, so it's good to have it confirmed. (Downside is that I spent a lot more time talking on Wednesday and Thursday than I usually do -- the lecture was 75 mins, I practiced it twice the day before I gave it -- and as a result my throat is still a little bit sore...)

Day 15: So, I was coming off the high of giving the lecture (and deciding that I deserved some time to rest on my laurels before jumping right back into the fray), and then I got hit by horrendous sinus pressure headache that I thankfully recovered from just in time to prepare drinks for the small group of friends who came over for the evening: blackberry gin fizzes, to be precise, from this Smitten Kitchen recipe. (If you're trying to replicate it, I sort of find straining out the blackberry seeds to be unnecessary -- I mean, you'd eat them if you were eating the berries, and it takes longer than you think it will to strain them out.) I made more of the blackberry puree than I needed, but that turned out for the best...

Day 16: ...because I saved the puree and used it as a sauce for the lemon ricotta pancakes I made this morning for breakfast. [recipe] [picture]
readingredhead: (Reading)
2013-03-13 05:50 pm

NaCreSoMo catch-up

 So, okay, as expected I have been doing a bad job of keeping up with all of this. So have a catch-up post with a lot of days smooshed together.

Day 7: Sausage, kale, red onion, and ricotta pizza: We had a couple of random cheeses left over from a calzone [personal profile] oliviacirce made earlier in the week -- specifically some ricotta -- and so I made a pizza based on this one from Smitten Kitchen. I adapted it by using crumbled Italian sausage instead of prosciutto (cheaper) and also by adding chopped raw kale to the ricotta mixture so that it cooked with the pizza. Click here for a picture.
 
Day 8: ---

Day 9: ---

Day 10: Baked a batch of raspberry ricotta scones based on this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. They turned out very deliciously -- so deliciously, in fact, that it appears I don't have a photo of them.

Day 11: I made a slow-cooker beef stew based on this recipe (though I use my own blend of herbs and spices instead of onion soup mix). Since that got prepared in the morning, I had time to make these rosemary pull-apart rolls

Day 12: ---

Day 13: Today I really got to work on my lecture on the second part of Persuasion that I'll be giving tomorrow (!). I've been planning in part through the use of sticky notes and note cards on my closet door [picture]. It's basically a conglomerate of every idea I've ever had about the novel, and there are a lot of those, so organization has been difficult -- but I think it's finally coming together. 
readingredhead: (Muse)
2013-03-06 02:54 pm

NaCreSoMo Day 6: Baking cookies

 The students in the class I TA for have their midterm tomorrow, and I decided to bake them cookies. I made just under four dozen in an hour and a half.

Molasses Crackles
makes ~2 dozen cookies

2 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C shortening
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 C molasses

Preheat oven to 350F. Add dry ingredients to bowl and mix; then add wet ingredients and mix. Place even balls of dough on cooking sheets about 2" apart. Bake for 12-13 minutes; cookies will look slightly under-done, but that means they'll be just right once they've cooled.

Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies (adapted from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook)
makes ~2 dozen cookies

1/2 C (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/3 C granulated (white) sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 C flour
~1 C chopped pecans (I haven't actually measured this, might be a little less)
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, white sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl*, whisk the flour and baking soda together; stir this mixture into the butter/sugar mixture. Fold in the pecans. Place even balls of dough on cooking sheets about 2" apart. Bake for 10-12 mins, until edges are light brown. Let sit on baking sheet a few minutes to firm up before transferring to cooling rack.

*I didn't use the separate bowl and I'm pretty sure these turned out just fine.
readingredhead: (Reading)
2013-03-05 10:17 pm

NaCreSoMo Days 4 & 5

So I've already managed to miss a day -- and technically two days, because I feel like my Day 4 "something" is even more of a cheat than usual -- but I'm doing this just as much as part of a mental exercise and refocusing of my current activities under the category of "creation" as I am interested in producing vast quantities of new creative material.

Day 3: I spent almost all day grading student papers. I did write a bunch of responses to those student papers, but it really feels like cheating to call that work creative.

Day 4: I wrote a report that was due today for one of my classes. If it's creative, then it's only really creative in the sense in which it creatively misappropriates Habermas to my own purposes, but I did write it with my very own words (setting the bar low, I know), and I'm going to keep it on the list, because skipping two days in a row would just look sad.

Day 5: That's today! I've actually started work on two future posts for my academic dreamwidth:

1) On reading Dorothy and William Wordsworth in the context of transformative works theory: Dorothy Wordsworth's journals are indisputably the source texts of many of Wordsworth's famous poems ("I wandered lonely as a cloud" and "Resolution and Independence," to name two major ones), but Dorothy is only ever considered important to romanticism as the brother of one of its founding poets. We talked about her in my lecture class today and I found myself thinking about how different the focus would be if we saw Dorothy's journals as a "canon" work and William's poetry as transformative fan work -- immediately we'd escape a lot of the problematically gendered issues that surround the relationship between these texts. I feel like whether students taught this way of relating D & W Wordsworth understood fan culture or not, you could get something important out of the discussion: especially because I suspect that most of the students who are likely to be anti-transformative works are also the same students who would typically put Wordsworth on a pedestal and dismiss Dorothy's works as "feminine jottings," and this context would either force them to a) admit the potential power of transformative works or b) see the intellectual relationship between D & W as intellectually dishonest (and perhaps even abusive) on William's side of the equation... And I would call either of those results a good one. (Also, man, I never thought I would want to teach Wordsworth!)

2) On interiority as social medium in the works of Jane Austen: This started out with my shower epiphany that the trope of "costume theater" in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (a modernized vlog adaptation of Pride and Prejudice -- if you're not watching yet, you should be!) is the closest this adaptation comes to representing free indirect discourse.

Now, this is a hobbyhorse of mine, because I think the dominant narrative about free indirect discourse is all wrong. For many critics of the 18th-century novel, the development of free indirect discourse coincides with a new respect for and valuation of interiority in the real world and not just as represented in fiction. The novel, or so the argument goes, develops FID in order to represent the newly-complex interior states of humans in the world in which it's situated. This argument is usually invested in larger claims about the "rise of the novel" being parallel to the "rise of the individual" and the creation of something like a modern notion of individuality as originality.

But if you actually read a Jane Austen novel, it's obvious that free indirect discourse operates in a much more complicated manner. Yes, it does allow for a narrative representation of an interior space -- but that doesn't mean that interiority = individuality = originality, because more often than not, characters' heads are full of other people's words and phrases. And furthermore, this isn't always a bad thing: while there's a sense that it would be great to have a unique interior language, there's also a sense that this is impossible. Language always belongs to a collective beyond the scope of the individual character, and so the real individuation occurs when you consciously choose which bits and pieces of other people's speech you will allow to represent your own thoughts. (I make these arguments loosely here because I've already sketched them out elsewhere and at great length, mostly with regards to Persuasion, but also in Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.)

For example: no one disputes that the infamous first sentence of P&P is an example of FID. But it's not at all about the uniqueness of anyone's interior space -- if anything, it's about the crushing generality of public opinion, and Mrs. Bennet's inability to escape from this general public to become her own individuated person. (I call this type of FID "generalized," though I would sort of love a better term.) Another example: at several points in Persuasion, Anne represents her own thoughts using the language of others -- this is particularly visible when she describes the way in which Mrs. Russell persuades her to break off her engagement with Wentworth by describing her own thoughts in language reminiscent of a speech Mrs. Russell has just given. (I need a better term for this type of FID, which I have been thinking of primarily as "ventriloquy" but which is rarely that conscious.)

So, back to the idea of social media: I think that using LBD and the idea of costume theater makes it obvious that there are lots of ways that FID works in the Austen canon. They're harder to see because we've bought into the narrative that interiority = individuality = originality, but these instances often show the severe dependence of our interiority on a social sphere. This sphere is, in LBD, very literally the sphere of social media as we know it -- YouTube, Twitter, etc. -- but in Austen's novels, it's still a mediated social sphere. What the vlog is to LBD, the letter is to P&P, in some ways: audience-oriented interiority (oh dear god and this is the part where, were this a scholarly paper, I would quote Habermas, because damn him he is relevant). Bottom line, I think that LBD's social media rewriting of P&P could actually be a really great pedagogical tool for getting students to understand multiple modes of FID that Austen criticism only rarely differentiates.

ETA: And this idea of interiority as a social space is something that makes me think Austen would be totally in favor of transformative works because she understands the difference between imitation-as-plagiarism and imitation-as-transformation -- she understands that all language is borrowed, and she cares more about how you reflect your own agency in those borrowings than she does about whether you can say something that is wholly and utterly "yours."
readingredhead: (Nora Reading)
2013-03-02 09:21 pm

NaCreSoMo Day 2

Today, I did a fair amount of planning work on the first paper for one of my seminars. I wrote up a lot of notes about it on my academic Dreamwidth account, if anyone really wants to read about thoughts on late-17th/early-18th-century women's writing and the creation of virtual or actual female homosociality, but I don't blame you if you don't.

Now I realize it maybe seems like cheating that I'm working on a seminar paper and counting that as "creating something." But I really do believe that academic writing and what we call "creative writing" can and should have more in common than the typical assumption of unreadable scholarly prose allows. I think that good scholarship is about creating something: looking at what you have before you and turning it into something new, something that wasn't there before you started tinkering. I also think that the papers themselves can (and should!) be written in a language that is exciting and engaging and clear -- just like any good work of fiction. 

Sometimes I worry that I spend so much time working on seminar papers and so little time working on more "creative" prose, but this is not actually a useful way of distinguishing between the two genres. If I stop thinking of seminar papers as a creative outlet, I'll never write beautiful ones. And I care about the beauty of my academic work, just as much as my "creative" (i.e. fiction-writing) work, so I'm going to keep thinking about seminar papers as thins that I create, one step at a time.
readingredhead: (Grin)
2013-03-02 12:19 pm

Making things, baking things: last night's dinner

So like I said in my previous post, I'm going to very interpret the "something" in the title of "National Create Something Month" very loosely...mostly for the sake of days like yesterday, when the only thing I created was dinner.

But trust me -- it was a good dinner.

There's a restaurant about ten minutes' walk from my apartment called Kitchenette that does the best savory breakfasts. Possibly the best sweet breakfasts, too, but I love them for things like biscuits and eggs and home fries. On weekday mornings, you can get the "Kitchenette Special" for $7.50: biscuit, bacon, two eggs, cheese, and coffee. (This is a steal in Manhattan.) My biscuits might not be quite as good as theirs, but we had heavy cream and I decided I would whip up a very easy biscuit recipe (five ingredients, less than 20 minutes!) and have Kitchenette Specials for dinner.

Kitchenette Special )

I suppose we could also count it as working towards creating something that I spent part of last night watching a punk rock band documentary and thinking about how I want to write a Romantic poets rock band AU...
readingredhead: (Fear for Courage)
2013-03-01 03:53 pm

National Create Something Month

Maybe it's not the best idea to take up my friend's challenge to create something every day of this month when it's the month during which I have to write a paper, give a lecture, and have family visiting for a week and a half...but I've been frustrated lately that I spend so much time doing things and so little time making things, and I need to set aside time for this, for MY sake. I also need to remember that a lot of what I do really is about making things, and this will actually force me to look at what I do on a daily basis as working towards things I am making in the long-run.

I'm planning to take the "something" in the title rather vaguely -- which means that, for the next 31 days, you'll get updates about everything from school stuff (I have a paper to write and a lecture to give in the next month, not to mention research for another paper to start in on, and a syllabus to plan, and a conference to start thinking about) to kitchen stuff (I've recently become a lot more invested in cooking, so possibly some of my creative things will be recipes or meal plans!) to fandom stuff (I know it's been ages since I have been active in Young Wizards fandom, and that frustrates me and so maybe I will work to change that) to actually Making Things With My Hands (probably via knitting, but who knows?).

I'll use this as a masterpost throughout the month to keep track of the "things" I'm working on, but I'll also be posting what I've accomplished at the end of each day, one post per day, to this journal. My first post will show up later tonight.

Anyone else in this with me?

Things by day:

Day 1: Breakfast for dinner (+ biscuit recipe)
Day 2: Seminar paper planning
Day 3: ---
Day 4: Secondary source report
Day 5: Interiority as social media in the works of Jane Austen
Day 6: Two types of cookies (+ recipes)
Day 7: Sausage, kale, red onion, and ricotta pizza (+ recipe)
Day 8: ---
Day 9: ---
Day 10: Raspberry ricotta scones (+ recipe)
Day 11: Beef stew and rosemary rolls (+ recipes)
Day 12: ---
Day 13: Worked on Persuasion lecture
Day 14: Delivered Persuasion lecture
Day 15: Blackberry gin fizz (+ recipe)
Day 16: Lemon ricotta pancakes (+ recipe)
Day 17: Some meta on "making" & chocolate brioche pretzel rolls (+ recipe)
Day 18: Jane Austen English Department AU & seminar paper planning

Things by topic:

Food: 1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17

Seminar Paper: 2, 18

Other school assignments: 4, 13, 14

Unassigned academic work: 5

Meta: 17

Fiction: 18

readingredhead: (Grin)
2013-01-17 04:00 pm

Holiday cooking and baking

A round-up post of sorts, dedicated entirely to all of the awesome things that [personal profile] pedantic_wretch and I have cooked and baked over the course of the past month, give or take.

Gingerbread Scones - Goes without saying that these are amazingly delicious, but they're also surprisingly not that hard to make. I have made many a batch in the past year-ish. Most recently, a batch traveled with me and my housemates to the midnight showing of the first part of The Hobbit.

Almond Horns - I actually baked these with my mom, who loves them as much as if not more than I do! I tried my first almond horn at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, literally two blocks from my apartment, and so I never bake them when I'm in NYC because they can be a bit messy and time-consuming, but Mom LOVES them and doesn't live here. We omit the dipped-in-chocolate step.

Beef Stew - This is one of my favorite things to make, especially in winter, and it freezes/reheats really well, which is a must for a grad student. I don't really use this recipe anymore, I've managed to change it and make it my own, but I'm lazy and don't want to actually write up all the modifications...maybe the next time I make it, I'll keep track!

Nantucket Cranberry Pie - Don't let the title fool you on this one, it's more like a thick-topped crumble. Pile cranberries, chopped pecans, and a lot of sugar in a pie pan, then whip up a deliciously almond-y batter that bakes on top of the cranberries. So easy, so ridiculously delicious.

Roasted Vegetable Minestrone - I modified this recipe a bit since [personal profile] pedantic_wretch isn't a huge squash fan, so we only used one large zucchini and roasted two red bell peppers instead of yellow squash. We also added more green beans than it calls for, a bit more pasta, and at least 1C less broth (I like soups to be very chunky). But by and far the best call was using Trader Joe's fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles instead of regular diced tomatoes -- added a really great kick of flavor and turned this into perfect sick food, all the vitamins in the veggies PLUS it clears out your sinuses a bit!

Bretzel Rolls - Are they bread? Are they pretzels? Who cares, they're delicious! Especially with some of Trader Joe's sweet and spicy mustard...mmm!

Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies - Oh my god, these are the BEST THINGS EVER. Made them at home, considering buying ramekins for Avengers Tower so we can make them here too. I was skeptical at first about making my own pastry dough to top the pot pies but it turned out to be pretty manageable, provided you have a pastry blender.

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette - The dish that taught me I loved butternut squash. I only wish it hadn't taken so long for me to figure that out!

The previous two recipes are both in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, which Avengers Tower owns and which I bought as a Christmas present for my parents. Made a couple of other recipes from there that aren't online, but which I will post titles of to tantalize you into buying it:

Gooey Cinnamon Squares - Think snickerdoodle meets cake meets cookie bar FROM HEAVEN. Felt a bit labor-intensive, but then, I made them without a stand mixer.

Buttered Popcorn Cookies - Yes, these are cookies that include popped popcorn. Perfect combo of salty and sweet, not time- or labor- intensive.

Rosemary Gruyere and Sea Salt Crisps - Basically a much classier version of Cheez-its, without the weird orange coloring that suggests they must be bad for you. I'm not much for gruyere but found that these work equally well with cheddar (sharp gives a better flavor, mild gives a better texture). The first batch I made was mostly consumed before they could even cool down -- and it's not like the batches are small!

So as you may or may not have noticed from all of this, I've turned into something of a cook! I mean, mostly as procrastination or relaxation, but I do love good food and I'm starting to believe that it's a thing I can actually make for myself. It helps that both the housemates enjoy it as much as I do! I always have willing sous-chefs or taste-testers. 
readingredhead: (Write)
2012-11-10 07:12 pm

(no subject)

 So apparently I'm now writing a novel about a werewolf and his friends trapped inside by a hurricane during the full moon, when aforesaid werewolf has left his anti-wolf meds at home.

Well then. That makes things interesting.
readingredhead: (Grin)
2012-11-07 12:54 pm

democracy and other distractions

First and foremost, a major sigh of relief that I will continue to live in a country where my gender isn't considered a preexisting condition and where I'm allowed to make decisions about my own body. It's weirdly hard to be actively excited about this win simply because the terror of the "what could have been" is so strong that having won is about relief from terror more than excitement.

What I am massively excited about is all of the amazing women who have been voted into congress, and all of the amazing women who voted across the country and made this election possible. What was that about women having ways of shutting things down? Yeah, they shut MISOGYNY down.

In other news, houseguest extravaganza has finally come to a close...I seriously love all the people I've gotten to see in the last three weeks but NEVER AGAIN will I have guests on three consecutive weekends. Even if two of them are long weekends. It just messes with my productivity in ways I can't afford, especially going into November. November is always hell month, because it's when I have to actually start getting to work on seminar papers while still managing to keep up with reading. This year won't be so bad seminar paper-wise -- I already know what I'm writing on for both my seminars, now I just need to sit down and write it -- but that takes time and time is not a thing I've had the past few weeks.

Also on the topic of November, NaNoWriMo...yeah, about that. This is the hardest time I've ever had coming up with a concept for a story, and even now that I have (a bunch of people get trapped inside an uptown NYC apartment during Sandy) it's slow going. I haven't been able to write because of houseguest, and then because of reading catch-up in wake of houseguest, but I'm not going to give up, even if I'm not terribly inspired by what I'm writing. Any motivation would be very, very welcome. I'm going to need it in the next few weeks...
readingredhead: (In the Book)
2012-10-27 09:38 am

Yuletide Letter

Dear Yuletide Writer:
 
First, thank you for agreeing to write me a story! Whoever you are, the fact that you agreed to do this already means you’re awesome, and I can’t wait to read whatever you’re willing to write for me. I’m going to talk a lot about specifics in the letter that follows, but the only thing that really matters is that we both appreciate the same obscure fandom. We’re friends already!
 
The kinds of things I like in fic differ somewhat between fandoms, but in general, I like fic that follows the canon pretty closely, or that works to develop ideas underrepresented/underdeveloped within the canon, or that takes place within the canon’s “blank spots” or “blind spots.” I like it when fics mirror closely the narrative voice of the original text, but I also like reading fic in somewhat experimental forms, provided thought has been put into the reason for narrative experiment. I don’t like OCs who serve no purpose, but I love it when the right well-written OC manages to bring about a deeper understanding or level of involvement between two or more canon characters, or serves to flesh out an interesting backstory.
 
When it comes to stories that deal with romantic relationships between characters, but I’m just as interested in the more prosaic or difficult or just plain awkward aspects of building and sustaining a relationship as I am in first kisses and proposals of marriage and other such grand gestures. Because of this, I’m perfectly fine if you tell me an established-relationship story, even if the characters involved aren’t presently an established canon pairing, though again, it’s not like I mind seeing how two characters got together! When it comes to physical intimacy, I care far less about how explicit the writing is than I do about how good the writing is, so write what feels right for you, whatever that means, and I will be more than happy to follow along! The only thing I WON'T be cool with is noncon/dubcon.
 
And don’t think that since there is a whole huge paragraph about romance, you have to write me a romance-centric fic! I am just as interested in fic that is about friendships—real, gritty, complicated, and necessary. Gen is totally awesome, or even fic that involves some background pairings but isn’t really “about” them, because as much as I love me some romance, I also love plot, especially plot that allows for the development of these worlds and their characters beyond what’s given in canon—whether that means more worldbuilding, or fleshing out character backstories, or even future-fic intended to explore the long-term ramifications of some canon decision. Said plot does not have to turn on major revelations in the cosmos, and can be something as small as a character working toward a personal realization or revelation, but I do like it when it’s there. I’m usually more interested in interpersonal conflict (two people sorting out issues they have with each other) than in galactic, world-is-ending conflict. The latter is perfectly okay as a backdrop to the former — end-of-the-world situations can produce really great character conflicts — but it’s certainly not necessary. I’m not a big fan of main character death (although there are times when it’s necessary) and in general I like “happy endings,” but I want to feel like they’ve been earned.
 
Some thematic things I love across all fandoms:
strong and complex female characters who have complicated but more-or-less positive relationships with other women
politics and politicking (anything from school election to inner workings of a royal court, either as backdrop or as motivator of plot), including espionage or court intrigue
the limits of magic; the intersections of magic, science, technology, and/or religion
children and young adults who have honest, mature, complex, and ultimately positive relationships with their parents and/or mentors
snark and banter and wordplay; whip-sharp back-and-forth conversational sparring (whether between actual adversaries or between friends only joking at being adversarial)
 
I’m sure I could think of more, but for now this is probably a good list to start with. If you want more details, browse this journal and my tumblr (I’m a pretty obsessive tagger, so you’ll probably find things quickly).
 
That said, on to the fandom specifics!
 
Young Wizards
 
Really, anything you want to do with this fandom will make me happy. And I mean anything. This is the fandom closest to my heart and I think you would have to try very very hard to write me something that I would not be interested in reading. However, if you offered "any" and you're looking for more guidance, for the younger generation I’d love to see Nita and Kit being awkward and trying to figure out their relationship post-AWOM, Dairine carrying on in Roshaun’s absence both at home and on Wellakh, Dairine finding Roshaun but not for a couple of years and then trying to figure out what in the world their relationship will look like, anyone going to a high school prom or having to get otherwise dressed up for something fancy (obviously with Carmela’s assistance!), or perhaps Nita and Kit’s first errantry assignment as a couple. Where Tom and Carl are concerned, I would love to read anything about their past, either shared or separate—how did they meet? What was life like for them before that?—and about their work as seniors and how that affects their relationship as partners (which I am 112% convinced is also a romantic relationship); I’m also interested in seeing them interacting with other grown-ups, ranging from parents of younger wizards to other wizards (perhaps even Nelaid and Miril?!). And if you want to write the epic in-and-out-of-time (b)romance between the Winged Defender and the Lone Power I will love you forever. But again, I stress that anything in this fandom will be wonderful and I will love you forever! Is there a fic you have been meaning to write for this fandom, but never quite get around to starting? Consider this your invitation to write it, even if it doesn’t involve any of the characters or storylines I mentioned. I just want to see this fandom grow!
 
Downton Abbey
 
What I really want, here, is the fantastic adventures of the Dowager Countess as an adolescent and young woman in the Victorian period. You could tell me about how she fell in love with late-nineteenth-century sci-fi (even in her old age she’s referencing Jules Verne), or about her girlhood friends (who was she gossiping with at the edges of those society functions she doubtless attended scores of?), or about how she met her husband and what their relationship was like, or about her imagined encounter with some Victorian personality (did she ever meet Dickens? Darwin? Wilde? George Eliot?). These are just a few examples of the many things that fascinate me about her as a character, and frankly I will be interested in any story about her past that suggests how exactly she’s developed into the woman she is at present. If, however, you’re not up for writing a younger Violet, I would also love any present-day story in which her interactions with her grandchildren(-in-law) leads to some kind of introspection, nostalgia, or reckoning with the changes she’s seen over the course of her life; alternately, how would she go about writing her will? Her memoirs?
 
Clarissa
 
You know that stuff I said above about sticking very close to canon? If you’re writing for this fandom, forget it. I finished reading Clarissa over six months ago and I’m still smarting over the way that novel ended, whatever Richardson might think about it. What I really want is a fix-it that, while respecting the intensity of the experiences Clarissa has gone through, allows her to heal rather than forcing her to die, even if that healing takes a while or takes on strange forms. I’m mostly interested in the relationship between Clarissa and Anna, which I have talked about at great length elsewhere, and I’m most interested in a story about how Anna and Clarissa work together to recover and rebuild after such a traumatic experience. Whether this recovery includes any version of Anna/Clarissa is totally up to you. The only thing that would be NOT OKAY in my books is any story that involves victim-blaming or tries to reconcile Clarissa and Lovelace.
 
Also—and I almost can’t believe I am saying this, but I seriously mean it—I have been feeling for the longest time that this novel would lend itself fabulously to a vampire AU, in which Lovelace, in addition to raping Clarissa, turns her into a vampire without her consent. How does she respond to becoming a creature that her incredibly strict religious convictions suggest a) shouldn’t exist and b) doesn’t possess a soul? Would vampire Clarissa still be pious, or turn vengeful, or somehow be both?
readingredhead: (Fear for Courage)
2012-09-13 01:20 pm

Mind over matter?

I am an idiot.

In just over a month, I am going to run a Tough Mudder. What is a Tough Mudder, you may be asking? Think of the most terrifying and ridiculous obstacle course you could imagine. Now make it 12 miles long. Now set it outside in the northeast in the end of October.

In April, signing up for this seemed like a good idea. I needed to get in shape, and I respond well to challenges (see also: NaNoWriMo). I had MONTHS to get up to optimal fitness levels. I could actually make working out a part of my daily routine instead of just something I did on occasion. I was going to be practically all on my own all summer in New York with nothing better to do than go out running (French homework doesn't count).

Fast-forward to now, when I have done ZERO training and am at the point where I don't even know where to start, the prospect seems so daunting. I will be doing this as part of a team, but training with the other members of my team is out of the question; we live far enough away from each other that we can't fit transportation AND training into our busy schedules. I literally need to be up and doing something about this EVERY DAY, but my semester has started and I also need to be working on reading and writing for class EVERY DAY. I don't have the time to devote to the kind of working out/training that will really prepare me for this event, and I also know NOTHING about strength training. Cardio I can manage (and will get started managing soon...), but Tough Mudder courses involve climbing and crawling and all sorts of other nasty things that will require me to have something like upper body strength. Ouch.

I will manage this, and I won't actually die, but right now I could certainly use some advice -- and barring advice, support and encouragement. Ask me how my training is going if you talk to me in the next month. Bully me into being more proactive about this. I won't not run the race unless I'm seriously sick or something, but I don't want running to race to make me sick, or leave me with serious injuries, etc. Which means I need an exercise regime, and I need it now.
readingredhead: (Fear for Courage)
2012-09-04 11:43 am

I know the heart of life is good

1. I have never much liked summers -- I like order and structure and school too much-- but this summer has been the best summer, and while it will not get me to reconsider my general hierarchy of the seasons, it will at least remind me that summer is not just that thing you do to fix your brain after semesters.

This summer has been a LONG one. I got out of classes in the end of April and had finished my last seminar paper more than a week before my birthday: I have had nearly four months of summer, and that is rather a lot. Thankfully, the time was punctuated by visitors, travel, summer school, good books, dinner parties, and falling in love. (Yes, love.) Visitors and travel are harder to integrate into the semester schedule, and I am so happy that I got to see so many people and places I love and care about this summer, because that's part of what keeps me going when things take a turn for the worst. But good books and dinner parties and being in love are not just summer things, they are LIFE things, and my life works in semesters and these things are only bound to make this upcoming semester even more worth it.

2. Today is the first day of my second year of graduate school. This semester's coursework will be particularly demanding -- I'm taking two seminars adjacent to my interests with professors who are fairly intense and with whom I want to work closely in the future, not to mention reading Ulysses for my third class and TAing for a fourth -- but I am looking forward to being back in a scheduled environment again. (See above regarding my general dislike of summers.) I am also looking forward to taking notes in the beautiful Moleskine notebooks I have acquired for this purpose, because I deserve nice things and the material conditions of my scholarship DO influence the quality of mental work I find myself capable of doing (or just motivated to do).

3. This is an awesome enough thing to get its own number on the list: sometime in October/November, I will be moving in with [personal profile] oliviacirce! In addition to being a generally wonderful person who cares about houses being homes, she happens to live in what may be the best apartment in all of Columbia's grad student housing. My new bedroom will have windows that get actual sunlight! The kitchen has counter space! There is a breakfast nook! And since she's in Columbia housing, I can do a simple room-to-room transfer and let Columbia sort out all the logistical details of transferring to another lease, etc. I'll still have to do a move in October, which I had wanted to avoid initially...but I will literally be moving AROUND THE CORNER from my current abode. You don't even have to cross a street to walk from my current apartment to my future apartment. I can easily put up with Gabi for 2 months if I know I get a home at the end of them.

4. So [personal profile] oliviacirce's habits are rubbing off on me a bit already, because the final item on today's post is a mixtape. I started pulling these songs together about a year ago, when I had just moved to New York and mostly knew no one and the work was hard (though it never stopped being worthwhile). I needed something to remind me that it was okay to be down sometimes if I knew how to pull myself back up, and so a lot of the tracks come from a place of doubt and uncertainty and hope that things will get better, rather than from a place of solid acceptance of this fact. The playlist kept growing and changing to suit my needs throughout the past academic year -- the first incarnation was titled "Don't Be Down," a later one was titled "Me vs. the Seminar Papers (Don't Give Up)." But in the end, "Anti-Entropy" is the title that stuck. This mix is for all the days I felt like the world just wasn't working right, but soldiered on and fought my way through, and came out on the other side knowing the things that I hadn't quite believed before, but wanted to believe: I am strong, I am loved, and as long as I don't give up, things will always get better.

Anti-Entropy - track list & download link )
readingredhead: (Library)
2012-07-06 12:50 pm

Overmastery (or, my love affair with Harriet Vane)

I mentioned in my last post that I've been reading Dorothy Sayers for the first time (and kicking myself throughout, because HOW have I never read Sayers before?). I started with Strong Poison about two weeks ago at the recommendation of [personal profile] ladyvivien and was smitten with Harriet Vane almost as instantly as Lord Peter was, but as much as I enjoyed that novel and Have His Carcase, my feelings for those two novels combined don't even come close to my feelings for Gaudy Night, which I just finished yesterday and which I can't stop thinking about. The following discussion will probably only be interesting to those who have already read the novel, and will contain spoilers up to it, so don't read it if you haven't read the novels! (Also, I still haven't gotten hold of Busman's Honeymoon, so if the two people who have actually read Sayers start commenting, don't spoil anything past Gaudy Night for me!)

Placet. )
readingredhead: (Earth)
2012-06-04 08:36 pm

Oh, look, breathing room!

Back when I still thought I was going to be moving out of current apartment, my mom and aunt (her sister) planned a trip to New York to help with that move; since I ended up staying here, their trip was spent mostly (finally) transforming this apartment into a home. LOTS of cleaning, organizing, and buying of things has somehow done just that. They left this morning and left me feeling like I'm living in an entirely new apartment. It probably doesn't hurt that the roommate is gone until mid-August and the girl she's sub-letting to is very kind and also very clean! At some point later I may actually finally post pictures of my room because it actually finally looks like a place I'm planning on living in for a while...something it never really managed to do during most of the past nine months.

It was great to have Mom and my aunt here to visit -- I love them to pieces and they're two of the most kind and caring people I know, and I really do miss them now that they're gone -- but it was also good to spend most of today being incredibly lazy and watching cartoons on my new TV. (Yes, that's right, I now have a TV! No cable, but really, who needs that when you have the internet and can connect your laptop to the TV?) I'm justifying the laziness because for no reason I can discern, my voice has almost vanished. My throat doesn't hurt or anything, I just can't produce speech that sounds even vaguely human. I suspect it's from all the dust and cleaning chemicals kicked up around here over the past few days (it started two days ago) but whatever the cause, it's starting to bug me, even though I don't even have anyone around now to talk to!

That last bit will be changing tomorrow afternoon, though, when [livejournal.com profile] octavius_x and her awesome friend show up! They're crashing here for a few nights on their way elsewhere and I'm looking forward to gallivanting about the city with them and eating and drinking and SHOPPING. I am just hoping that my voice returns before they arrive because I plan on doing a great deal of talking and it would be a shame if my body got in the way of that.

Then as soon as they leave, pre-travel packing and panicking will commence! I leave New York for London June 11, I leave London for Norway June 20, and I leave Norway to come back home on June 29. Summer school French will commence almost immediately thereafter (July 2 or thereabouts) and I will actually start looking over that scholarly list of "things to do this summer" which I've basically been neglecting in my current academic detox. 

BUT before all that happens I will be back in London -- for the first time in two years! -- where I will be staying with [livejournal.com profile] lazyclaire and [livejournal.com profile] apotropaios and seeing all kinds of other awesome London people (including hopefully [livejournal.com profile] carawj , [personal profile] cosmic_llin , [livejournal.com profile] jenepel , [livejournal.com profile] ladyvivien , [livejournal.com profile] mini_hannah , and [livejournal.com profile] silly_cleo -- if any of you are reading this you should tell me your work schedules so I can figure out when we can hang out!), with special guest appearance by non-Londoner but equally awesome [personal profile] oliviacirce ! I am dreadfully afraid already about having to leave this place I haven't even gotten back to yet, but I'm trying not to let that do me in. And it's probably good for me that I won't be going straight home from London, but rather onward to Norway, where I'll be reuniting with friends I made in Berkeley and haven't seen in over a year (one of whom is actually Norwegian and with whom I'll be staying, the other of whom is also American and just visiting), and where I'll get to fall in love with a new set of places and leave my heart behind me all over again. This is the curse and the privilege of travel, you can't have one without the other, and despite the pain it's always worth it.

And to be fair -- although I'll always long for those places I'm not, New York isn't exactly a shabby spot to be coming home to! I realize more and more every day how much I love this city, and how deeply I care for some of the people I've met here, and how excited I am at the prospect of all of the people I'll get to meet, and all the exploring I'll get to do, and even just those lazy summer days I'll get to spend reading in the park in the shade or having impassioned conversations about young adult fantasy novels, because I have found people to do these things with! I mean. I spent two consecutive days last week doing almost nothing but encountering awesome fictions (ranging from The Avengers to Young Wizards) and then talking about them with wonderful people, shoving aside that niggling feeling that there was something more "productive" I ought to have been doing, because this is summer and there is sun outside and grass was made for lying in.

So here's to summer and to travel and to coming home again (and maybe coming home at last). 
readingredhead: (London)
2012-05-20 09:21 pm

(no subject)

secretly terrified that three weeks of international travel will just make this whole thing worse and I'll come back home even more consumed by unsustainable wanderlust than I was before leaving
readingredhead: (Muse)
2012-05-19 01:58 pm

(no subject)

Finally did the full read-through of 2011's NaNo-novel, Chasing Ghosts, and ugh. I am actually a little too in love with it. I have this overwhelming feeling that there are tons of things wrong with it (the plot structure totally rips off large chunks of Possession, I have not read enough eighteenth-century private correspondence to know what personal letters really looked like, it does not have anything like an ending and I still don't know how it will end) but I can't help being so excited with every bit of it. It is perhaps a story that only its mother could love, but for once I feel like I'm actually following through on a lot of the smarter versions of the "write what you know" dictate: namely, "write the story only you can write" and "write the story you always wanted to read but no one else has written for you." This novel has everything that I want in a novel...or it will, at least, when I am finished working with it. It will take a lot of work -- a lot of hard work -- but it's work that feels worthwhile. Not since my first re-read of The Printer's Tale have I felt this way about a NaNo-novel. I mean, I've really liked the ones I've written in the past four years, but none of them have been as necessary as this one.

I think I have a summer writing project now...
readingredhead: (Professor)
2012-05-08 01:51 pm

(no subject)

"Don't apply to grad school," they said.

"It'll make you hate everything you think you love," they said.

"At least take a year off so you'll have something to look back on when you are mired in the abyss of your first year," they said.

"And if you do apply, it should be because nothing else can ever make you happy," they said. "Because you can't imagine any other career that would give you even the smallest margin of satisfaction. Because you know nothing else that will allow you to support your existence, at all, if you don't go."

I will never stop being proud of myself for not listening to them.

I am approximately twenty-four hours away from being done with my first year of grad school. In those twenty-four hours I have to write the last ten pages of a twenty-page paper and revise the whole thing so it's up to my standards, or at least so it doesn't attempt to argue via sentence fragments and bracketed colloquialisms and exclamation points. But you know what? I can do that while sitting in my bed in pajamas drinking hot cocoa, and without stressing overmuch. And this paper is showing me, more than ever, that there may not be anything other than grad school that could make me this happy. I'm only halfway done, but it already contains a section entitled "novels are people too" and a footnote about the use of "fan fiction" to describe eighteenth-century alternate endings to Clarissa and a lengthy diatribe against critics who disapprove of emotional responses to works of fiction as inherently anti-intellectual. Soon it will have paragraphs about emotional engagement with literary characters as an inspiration for personal literary production and the implications of marginalia for constructions of readerly authority and the validity of what Eve Sedgwick calls "reparative reading."

I can't wait.