Just

In keeping with a poetry theme for the week, here’s a selection from my CW class in college.

 

Just
One should never be just anything.
Things are never just fine.
That’s just a saying that keeps
prying curiosities at bay.
We are never just tired.
Fatigue is gauged by more
than how long our eyes are closed at night.
And there’s always subtle truth behind
every just kidding.
Maybe if we all try to just be honest…
No. Just no.
That’s just silly.
When a friend says, “Just tell me!”
You can never do just that.
It’s always more, or just a little less.
And for our mistakes
we chalk them up
to being just human.
It’s just an excuse.
One should never say they are just something.
When they are really so much more.

Just saying.

 

~~~~~

Today, 2/9/2018, is the LAST day to enter the Amazon giveaway for the Kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You. Must be 18+ and live in the US, though I hope to do an international contest soon. Here is the link to enter! LINK.

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What’s in a Name?

Nicknames are a curious thing. Monikers earned due to a specific event, a casual simplification of a name, or a specific trait. Though I’m mostly referred to by my actual given name, I’ve had a few nicknames over the years, and while some have lingered, others have faded away – for the better, in some cases.

Briefly, in my later years of elementary school, I was called “Alf.” It’s a shortening of my first name and the first initial of my last name. It’s also the name of a furry extraterrestrial sitcom character from the 80’s, to whom I like to think I bear no resemblance. This one didn’t last very long, though – only a year or so, if that.

After an accident during a track meet when I was fifteen, I was plagued by a recurring injury that resulted in the disastrous end to my athletic career, a few stints with crutches, and reconstructive knee surgery. Due to my less than stellar walking ability for those months, a handful of friends dubbed me “Gimpy.” Other variations of this name were used, but “Gimpy” was the most frequent, and that stuck from sophomore year of high school through senior year, long after my limping stopped. Fortunately, I have since shed it, and no one has referred to me this way . Looking back, though the nickname was imposed upon me with a measure of friendly affection, it’s actually pretty offensive, so I’m glad I don’t look over my shoulder at a shout of “Gimpy!” anymore.

In college, a friend gave me the nickname “Allenson.” The impetus of this one is foggy, but I think it had something to do with Vikings? I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances, but I do remember it was hilarious.

I actually used to detest being called “Allie.” I used to think it was too “girly” sounding for me since I was a huge tomboy growing up, so whenever folks called me “Allie” in an effort to be nice or spark a rapport, they were met with my wrath. It’s a variant of my actual name, but none of my family ever called me Allie in my early years. However, when I got to kindergarten there was another little girl with the same first name, and she ended up with the shortened moniker while I got to keep the long version, a distinction which lasted through the entirety of high school. Now, I do not mind being called “Allie” as an adult – I wouldn’t have chosen it as my pseudonym, otherwise. Most people in my life don’t call me Allie anyway, except for the few folks who only know me for my writing – it’s actually made it somewhat easier to separate my personal/business life. As a writer, I also give a lot of my characters nicknames – either due to their actions, or traits, or because I can’t be bothered to type their full name out all the time.

People closest to me (family, close friends) commonly refer to me as “Al.” It’s the kind of nickname that sounds wrong when it comes from the lips of an acquaintance, or from someone I’m not very familiar with. If I go out and meet someone who proceeds to call me “Al” without prompting, or without knowing much about it, it grates on me – in a “You have not earned the right to refer to me as such” type of way. I’m not sure why that is, or why I’m so particular about it – perhaps because “Al” is the most personal nickname I’ve ever had. It’s an “If you don’t know me, don’t call me that” nickname.

Nicknames can be adored, abhorred, earned, given, or inherent – and some carry a unique origin story with them. What’s your unique nickname story?

 

Worth 1000 Words #7: Studying

Allow me to spin a cautionary tale about the importance of studying, and the evils of procrastination and putting off work.

Throughout my academic career, from kindergarten to college, I was a decent student – in the sense that I got good grades and I generally behaved myself. On report cards, I never got below a B; of the few B’s I earned, they were always in my poorest subjects, a.k.a, math or science. Or political science. Government class killed me, man.

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My studying pose, known as “the cricket.”

But while I earned good grades, I was absolutely horrendous at studying and managing deadlines, and, thanks to those poor habits, I can attribute it to luck that I was able to pull off the academic performances I did. It wasn’t until my final year of college that I actually developed a normal/healthy routine with homework and school projects, but prior to that point, it wasn’t uncommon for me to put off an assignment until the day/night before and end up spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and intense regret as I brewed my fifth cup of coffee at 3:21 in the morning on a Tuesday before an 8AM class. I pulled about 5 or so all-nighters in high school, which isn’t all that bad, and I definitely did less in college; but during each of them, there always came a point where I would run a hand through my snarled hair and say, “I am never doing this again,” and yet, I’d end up inevitably doing it again regardless. I think the worst one was 10th grade – I spent a whole night doing the majority of a project that I’d had at least a month to do, drank 2 Full Throttle energy drinks to stay awake, and put “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from the Mulan soundtrack on repeat for 4 straight hours as motivation. The experience did not make a man out of me. Even way back  in elementary school, I used to wait until the morning my reading logs were due to have my mom sign them, and ended up forgetting to do so on numerous occasions. It takes like, five seconds to have someone sign something, and I was too lazy at 8/10 years old to even do that.

Studying was the largest hurdle in my academic life… mostly because I was a prolific procrastinator, but also because I found it difficult to focus, as I have the attention span of an acorn and I am way too easily distracted. But I won’t deny that I could have applied myself much better, and worked harder to focus – it’s not like I was sucked into a Youtube vortex of fainting goat videos against my will, I chose to put off my work and bore the consequences because of that decision, and allowed myself to fall into that mindset multiple times. During my last year of college, I turned a page. I made sure my homework was done (or almost done) by dinner time, went to bed at 10 PM every night, woke up at 6AM to go jogging 5 days a week, always left to go to class with enough time to grab my usual latte at the campus center (the lady at the counter only had to see me coming and she’d start preparing it for me), I spent my weekends doing homework in my little kitchen nook, and, with what free time I had remaining, I either hung out with friends or worked on writing for personal reasons. I’d cut back my work schedule that year, and during my final semester I dropped my second job in order to focus on schoolwork. This was a massive help because I felt like I had more free time to do fun stuff, which sliced my procrastination level down. It’s a shame that it took me sixteen or so years to get into the appropriate mindset regarding school, because I could have saved myself a lot of suffering, and my caffeine dependence probably wouldn’t be quite as bad as it is now. I am down to 2-3 cups a day as opposed to the 6-7 I used to consume, so that’s progress, at least!

Once I began to apply myself, and worked out a schedule that afforded me a more or less well-balanced life between school/work obligations and personal matters, I noticed an improvement in my academic performance and a noticeable decrease in my typically-astronomical stress levels. I finished my assignments early. I wasn’t scrambling to finish homework the morning it was due. I actually wrote multiple drafts instead of just turning in my first endeavor at everything, and, as a result of all the changes I made, I even improved my diet and sleep schedule, which led to an overall boost in my mood. I wasn’t late to appointments. And it all felt so rewarding, to finally feel like I wasn’t drowning in papers and books in a vicious cycle of my own making.

Looking back, I actually cringe thinking about how I might have improved on some of my work and my assignments had I changed my habits earlier. Those ‘A’s could have become ‘A+’s. Those ‘B’s and ‘B-‘s might not have even happened, and my student ranking might have been higher in high school, which would have awarded me better scholarships. Luck was certainly on my side throughout my academic life, as I still managed to graduate college with honors… but, other than those final months where I turned it around, that success was at the cost of my health, both mental and physical, because it took me so long to reform my studying methods. Just because you are someone who can pull off decent/adequate, or even stellar work, at the last minute, doesn’t mean that you should. And as someone who used to ascribe to that way of thinking, and assumed I could put in just enough effort without really pushing myself to be even better, I definitely recommend that you do not.

Book Favorites: Childhood Edition

Here’s a list of books that I read in Elementary School, grades K-6, ages 5-12, which have stayed with me in some way, whether it be their story-lines, their inspiring characters, or an especially scarring scene. Most are from the later stages of primary schooling, but all of these titles have had an impact on me and continue to influence my writing to this day. This was before the age of the ebook, so I read all these books the good ol’ fashioned way, and I have fond memories of eagerly perusing the aisles in Barnes and Noble and Borders, waiting for a particularly intriguing spine to catch my eye…

The Silverwing Saga by Kenneth Oppel
I downloaded and read Oppel’s book This Dark Endeavor recently, and was immediately reminded of how much I loved his Silverwing books when I was growing up. The first book in the series, Silverwing, is one of my all-time favorites, and I read both Silverwing and Sunwing multiple times. I never expected to become so attached to books about bats, but the characters – Shade, Marina, Ariel, Orestes, Chinook, Frieda, Zephyr, Griffin, Luna, Java, Ishmael, Goth, etc – are so excellently written and the world-building in the novels is superb, I was engrossed from start to finish. I loved them so much I did a science project about bats when I was in elementary school. Shade and Marina’s adventures captivated me, the bats of the Vampyrum Spectrum terrified me, and I’m planning a reread in the near future. I also haven’t read the prequel novel Darkwing yet, so I should probably add that to my list!

The Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
Honestly… did anyone not read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kidWe read the second (and likely, the most well known) book in the series in class (not sure which grade, maybe second) and I loved it so much my mom read a couple of the others to my sister and me as bedtime stories. I remember flipping through The Silver Chair to read ahead because I couldn’t wait to know what happened next. I have to say, my favorite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but The Horse and His Boy is also high on the list. And I can’t leave out The Magician’s Nephew, which was actually the last one I read, despite it being the first book chronologically. I’ve read this series many times over and it never loses its appeal. For me, C.S. Lewis’s rich words and descriptions, his charming characters, and the fantastic, magical world of Narnia come second only to Tolkien and Middle Earth  when it comes to fantasy.

Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy
This is actually one title that I don’t have much to say in regards to the plot, because I don’t remember much of it. All I remember of the plot is that a young girl finds two dolls behind the wall in the attic of the house she is staying in, and they sort of become friends to her. But I do remember being utterly fascinated by this book when I read it, to the point where I read it again immediately after. And yet, I forgot about this book for a long time and even forgot the title. However, after some recent sleuthing, I was able to track it down and ordered myself an old copy, so I can get reacquainted. Hopefully it’s as magical as I recall.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My third grade teacher pulled me aside one day before our SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) period and asked me if I felt up to reading a book that was considered a bit out of my age range, and I happily agreed. The story of a spoiled, but dejected girl and her desire to discover the rumored “secret garden” as well as uncover the mysteries of the cries she hears at night was definitely difficult to read at that age. In fact, I went through and read it a second time just to be sure I understood it, and I’m glad I did, because once I had a clearer understanding of it, I felt that I could appreciate it more. This book taught me to pay close attention in order to see something for its true value; which could also be seen as a theme in the novel. I definitely credit this book for establishing my love for the “classics.”

Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
*cries forever*
I’m in my twenties now and just thinking about this book makes me emotional. WHY DO THEY LET CHILDREN READ THIS? I mean, we read it in sixth grade, but still… it packed a wallop. Worse than Old Yeller, even. But it did teach me a valuable lesson about loss and the love of a boy for his dogs, so I am glad that I read it, even if it did make me cry. And boy, did I cry…

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Before I had Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and Anthem, to ponder, there was The Giver. We actually read this book aloud in class, but I don’t remember which grade it was – probably fifth or sixth. I do, however, remember the profound effect this novel had on me. Jonas’s struggles to understand the time and memories before “Sameness” took over society resonated with me, and I still remember realizing what “Elsewhere” meant. This book was haunting, but in a good way, and I credit it for helping establish my love for science fiction and dystopian fiction.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
We read this book in fifth grade, and I re-read it last year once I heard they were attempting a new film adaptation. L’Engle brought new ideas, fresh characters, a fusion of religious/spiritual and scientific thought, and a unique perspective to the fantasy/sci-fi genre with this book, as well as the subsequent titles in the series. The concept of “IT” still scares me, even now. There are still a few titles in the overall series that I haven’t read yet, but I hope to finish them someday.

Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye
I read this book on my own when I was in sixth grade. I adored the title character, Hermux Tantamoq – largely because he was a mouse (I was very fond of rodents in my youth, not sure why) – but also because he was an unlikely hero with a heart of gold, and that made him all the more likable and easy to follow. This book is part mystery, part adventure, and all entertaining, with a great cast of characters and a plot that uses a familiar formula, but has a ton of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. I’m talking mole journalists, a rejuvenation potion, and mice who fly planes. I also just learned this book has sequels, so you can guess what I’ll be reading in the future…

The Tales of Dimwood Forest by Avi
You can probably sense a theme, here… I like books about animals, and that was especially true during my early years as a reader. Specifically, I liked rodents; of both the winged and non-winged variety. Redwall would be on this list but I didn’t read it until 7th grade. I actually read this series out of order; I started with Poppy and Rye, then Poppy, then Ereth’s Birthday, then Ragweed. Regardless, this series remains a fond favorite from my childhood and I literally (as in, two seconds after I wrote the previous sentence) JUST DISCOVERED that there are two titles in the series that I haven’t read, so I’ll be adding those to my “to-read” list in short order. I was enthralled by the tales of the brave mouse Poppy, the foul-mouthed porcupine Ereth, and the quiet, determined Rye, and a special shout out to Brian Floca, who did the illustrations. I can still clearly picture the characters in my head and I loved the way he drew them.