Hey there, USA

I’m back! After two months in Europe, I have returned to the land of white sneakers and deep fat fried Twinkies. (Not that I’ve seen either of those since the plane landed, but that’s primarily because the state of Michigan seems to think its the set of an apocalypse movie right now. SO MUCH STORMING AND FLOODING.)

Tomorrow I begin the move to my first apartment. Sometime in the next few days I need to finish my work for Oxford and start my work for Ch1Con 2015. Fall semester begins a week from tomorrow.

And while I’m excited to see my friends again and for fall semester to start (YA lit class! film classes! choir and creative writing!), I’m also really, really sad. And a big part of me would rather be in England. But that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with, because I love U of M, and Michigan in the fall, and this is where I need to be right now.

Before I left, I stood and made a wish on Point Zero in Paris. I whispered promises to the raindrops as our cab drove out of London. I traced words into the walls of Oxford.

So if I can help it, I will go back. Just not right now.

Right now, I need to reset the hands on my watch. I need to unpack my suitcases and pack my moving boxes. I need to pull off the Oxford sweatshirt I’ve been sleeping in since my program ended and finally wash the disgusting thing.

Maybe I’ll have to wait one year to go back. Maybe I’ll have to wait fifty.

But I will go back.

And in the meantime, I’m ready to have some adventures on this side of the pond.

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~Julia

How Lucky I Am

How Lucky I Am

For the past couple weeks, this quote has been stalking me.

One friend shared it on Skype. Another captioned a photo with it on Facebook. Another tweeted it.

At first I thought it was coincidence that, out of nowhere, a quote that so perfectly fit what was happening in my life was blaring from every direction. Then it happened again. And again. Like someone REALLY wanted to make sure I got the point.

And I do. I am so incredibly lucky to have had this summer term at Oxford. I’m so lucky to be friends with these people and so lucky to have done these things and so lucky to be sitting here right now, shoes and papers strewn across the carpet as I pack my memories into suitcases and scrub adventures from my feet.

I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, cozy in Magdalen sweatpants and a University of Oxford crew neck. I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, where I wrote papers on Narnia and Middle Earth and bought tickets to West End shows. I’m sitting in a dorm room in England, where so much fell together again.

I love Oxford. I love these people. I loved my time here.

But everything ends. And this is when I say my goodbyes.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

How lucky indeed.

I’ll talk to you once I get back from Europe. In the meantime, be nice to the guest posters the next couple weeks as I travel with my family. I hope the last of your summer is every bit as amazing as you are!

Love you.

 

~Julia

PS. Currently listening to this song on repeat, because I am a masochist.

PPS. Ch1Con 2015 news hopefully coming soon!

Wordy Wednesday: On Playlists

The one problem with being in Europe for so long (you know, outside of being away from my dog) is that because SO MUCH is always happening, it’s impossible to keep up with it all.

Like I had an amazing trip to London over the weekend, during which we saw Richard III with Martin Freeman (he was AMAZING); toured the National Gallery; got dinner with my fabulous writing friend Shelby, who’d I’d never met in person before (read her blog here); got hit on in the weirdest way by French guys at a bar; visited Platform 9 3/4 twice (different people got their pictures taken at different times); visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum (*cough* Gift Shop) (the line for the actual museum unfortunately was too long); spent a fairly significant amount of time hanging out in Trafalgar Square; and finally had an incredible time going through the Harry Potter set tour again.

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Then Monday, my final project for my class was due and class ended and I CAN’T BELIEVE MY CLASS IS OVER and I finally endured my turn to sit at High Table during our last formal Monday night dinner.

Then yesterday a group of us trekked through the countryside for an hour to reach an amazing pub, where we ate out in the misty rain and picked apples and toured some tents that were borderline Weasley. Then I spent a couple hours walking the nature paths in my college and then we went to a rooftop bar to watch the sun go down above the city and then we watched Pride and Prejudice in the student rec room.

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And today we went to Bath, where we toured Bath Abbey and the actual Roman baths and saw the Royal Crescent and got afternoon tea at the Pump Room. Then when we got back, a couple friends and I got some really good mac and cheese (a true feat in England) at a pub then went over to the Eagle and Child, where we spent a couple hours playing Scrabble and ERS.

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And now I’m sitting here in my room and I only have a couple days left before my program’s done and I’m not ready to leave. I am not ready at all*.

If you ever have the opportunity to study abroad, DO IT. Do whatever it takes to be able to do it. But also be aware that you are likely to fall in love with a place you can’t keep.

We’ve been our own little world the past five weeks, the forty or so people involved in my program. It’s going to be weird seeing them out-of-context once we’re all back at Michigan (and even weirder, and way worse, not having those who aren’t Michigan students around anymore).

But anyway anyway anyway: This post is supposed to be a Wordy Wednesday, not me vomiting emotions all over you. The winning option for this week is writing process, so here we go.

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This past summer, Birdy came out with a song called “Wings.”

Something about it felt so perfect for that time of year and life, I basically listened to it endlessly during the last month before fall semester began. Now whenever I hear it–whether I’m in Michigan or Oxford–it takes me straight back to that time. The sun is hot on my face, legs curled beneath me on a kitchen chair while Sammy snores by the windows and my fingers trip over my old laptop’s keyboard. Revision notes lay across the table before me and the last bite of a strawberry Edy’s Fruit Bar melts against the roof of my mouth.

Just like “Wings” so perfectly takes me back to the end of summer 2013, I also have songs that get me absolutely, perfectly in the mood for writing certain characters or settings or plot points.

It’s important to have things that do this for you, because sometimes you’re going to need to work on a story, or part of a story, that you’re not feeling. For you, it might be a matter of eating a certain food or sitting in a certain place (I have a friend who has a hard time working unless she’s drinking hot cocoa while snuggled up in bed with at least three blankets). For me, it’s definitely music.

Music is magic. It’s a time machine and a device to hop between universes and realities.

So: on playlists.

For a novel I’m working on right now, I’ve had albums I’ve listened to while writing, and songs I’ve listened to while revising, and one particular song that always gets me in the mood for the story overall. But I recently ran into the problem that I needed music to listen to while thinking through my protagonist’s character arc (because this is the sort of thing you have to deal with on long bus rides through the Welsh countryside). I needed a playlist that felt distinctly like the sort of music Protag would rock out to, but also wouldn’t be so distracting that I couldn’t zone out and think about writing-related stuff while listening to it.

So, time to make yet another playlist for the novel.

I chose the music based on a few factors:

1.) What I was making the playlist for. If it’s a brainstorming or revising playlist, chances are you can use more “distracting” music than if you’re putting together a writing playlist. Or at least that’s how it is for me. (I rarely can write to music with lyrics, but I can read and think perfectly fine with it on in the background.)

Because this was simply a brainstorming playlist and I wanted to fill it with music Protag would like, I was able to choose a lot of music with lyrics, which was nice considering, you know, most teenagers don’t go around listening to orchestrations in their free time.

2.) How long I wanted the playlist to be. If you want something you can pop on for five minutes to get in the mood for writing a certain scene, chances are you don’t want a playlist that takes forty five minutes to put you in that mind space.

The nice thing about brainstorming playlists is that they can really be any length. The longer, the better. This one’s twenty one songs right now and runs for about an hour and a half; long enough I’m not likely to get sick of the music, but also concise enough I can get in Protag’s head within the first couple songs and don’t need to listen to the entire thing if I don’t want or don’t have the time to.

3.) And, of course, the ultimate purpose of the playlist. More than anything, you want to choose songs that are going to do the job of getting you in the right frame of mind.

My protag’s the type of person who’d have pretty average, mainstream taste in music, so I chose lots of pop and soft rock for her. Think Adele, the Script, and OneRepublic mostly. For variety, I threw in a little country and indie-sounding songs. It’s a mixture of slower, softer songs and angsty, high energy ones.

A sampling:

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What are your tips for getting in the mood to work? Do you make playlists too?

Heads up that I’m going to be on vacation the next couple weeks, so it’s the Return of the Guests Posts! Treat our guest writers well and there might be a treat in it for you once things have settled down a little after Europe. (I get back to the States just in time to move into my apartment for fall semester, so who knows when things will have settled down a lot. But hopefully a little will be enough to run a giveaway.) (WAIT GIVEAWAY, WHO SAID THAT?)

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

*AT. ALL.

England Trip Recap (Part 3)

Hello! Disclaimer from the future (July 5, 2020): I’m leaving this post up, because I think it has some interesting information throughout, but I also want to note that I do not in any way support or endorse JK Rowling anymore, due to her quite frankly dangerous racism and transphobia.

If you’re wondering where Parts 1 & 2 of this series are, you can find them here and here, respectively.

You’ll notice that both those posts are from over a year ago. That’s because back last July, after returning from my first trip to England, I recapped everything we did while over here up until the very last part of our last day: the Leavesden Studios Tour. At which point I got too insanely busy doing Things-That-Must-Not-Be-Named (I swear someday I’ll give details of how I spent the end of summer 2013), and by the time I wasn’t insanely busy anymore, it felt like it was too awkwardly late to put up the recap.

But now I’m in England again and I was in London over the weekend again and GUESS WHERE I SPENT SUNDAY NIGHT. THAT’S RIGHT. THE LEAVESDEN STUDIOS TOUR AGAIN.

So, who’s ready for an extremely belated (but once again relevant) recap post?

[Pictures are from both my 2013 and 2014 visits.] [In case you were wondering how my hair magically changes length and color throughout this post.]

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For those not in the know, Leavesden Studios is where the Harry Potter movies were primarily filmed. Now that the movies are done, they’ve opened the studios for all the devotees to be able to make pilgrimages to see the sets and props and costumes and models and concept art and blueprints and BASICALLY EVERYTHING AMAZING THAT WENT INTO MAKING THE AMAZING MOVIES.

Harry Potter Studio Tour 2013

My visit last year was with members of my high school theatre company and our families (they’d invited alumni and relatives back for the trip to England). This year I went with seven girls from my program. (Coincidentally after stopping by Platform 9 3/4 both the night before and that morning, so various members of the group could get their pictures taken.)

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It was fun going through the tour a second time, because:

a) I hadn’t budgeted my time well my first time through, so I’d missed a lot of stuff in the second half.

b) I now knew how to budget my time going through the tour.

and c) I now knew when to expect the shock and glee and grateful and crying moments (and therefore got to watch my friends have those reactions).

IMG_5442Blurry Great Hall. Fun fact: They had to use actual flagstone for the floor in order to accommodate the furniture, actors, and equipment. Fake stone wouldn’t have been able to stand the weight or use. 

IMG_5454Mirror of Erised.

IMG_5459Harry, Hermione, and Ron costumes from Half-Blood Prince. Check out that cool green screen magic going on with the Invisibility Cloak.

IMG_5477Wall of portraits. The green screen ones are the ones that would move in shots. And if I’m remembering right, the others all have faces of people important to the films, like the producers and all that.

A highlight for me was definitely getting to learn so much about the behind-the-scenes stuff for the movies. As much as I love seeing things like the Goblet of Fire and Dumbledore’s office in person, I can’t get over getting to see all the green screens and lights and wires. It must have been so incredible to take part in putting all the pieces of these movies together.

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Another really cool thing about visiting the studio tour right now is that they’ve got a special promotion going on in which they have special displays up. My favorites were the broom-making exhibit (in which the actual broom-makers from the series talked to us and, you know, MADE BROOMS), a board game from a deleted scene (that apparently is so complex no one remembers how to play it anymore), and part of a chess board set up so you could interact with the giant pieces as they whizzed across the spaces.

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IMG_5500The girl working the board game display was super nice and complimented my Hogwarts Alumni tank–at which point I had to sheepishly explain that no, it was not some cool new official merchandise, but something I’d gotten off a street vendor at Oxford for like three quid. (Harry Potter merch designers: You need to get on making Hogwarts Alumni stuff.)

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We took a break at the courtyard that is the halfway point for Butterbeer and general fangirling.

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The second half of the tour focuses even more on the behind-the-scenes elements of Leavesden, with entire rooms dedicated to the prosthetics used to turn human actors into all the various, crazy creatures; blueprints; concept art; and the teeny tiny models used in the design process for later constructing the monstrous sets.

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But also, of course, Diagon Alley.

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The tour ends with what are arguably the two best rooms (but only arguably, because the entire thing is fantastic).

The first is the model of Hogwarts that they actually used in filming for the earlier movies. I cannot enter this room without crying. (Yes. Even my second time through, I got misty-eyed.)

IMG_5630It’s just… that IS Hogwarts. That is the Hogwarts, right there, that we grew up with and saw a thousand times on screen and dreamed about.

The final room is “Ollivander’s.” Floor to ceiling, shelves full of wand boxes inscribed with names coat the walls. Each person to work on the movies has a box. It’s beautiful.

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Last year, a worker used a laser pointer to show us where all the Big Name People’s boxes are. No one was there to do that this year, but I still remembered a couple.

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After that, all that was left to do was spend my (parents’) life savings in the gift shop and make plans for our next Harry Potter movie marathon. (Because Harry Potter = true love.)

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Regionalisms, A Cautionary Tale

Guys. I’m at the Eagle and Child right now. I AM WRITING AT THE EAGLE AND CHILD RIGHT NOW. (So yes, it’s a blog post rather than some brilliant work of fiction, but still. I AM FLIPPING. OUT.)

I’ll put up a post dedicated to our trip to Wales soon, but for now this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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I’ve been at Oxford for about a month now and the setup for my class so far has involved writing one paper a week, based on the readings and lectures.

My first two papers went pretty well. Of our two professors, the same one read both papers, and she mainly left comments like “good argument” or “this needs more fleshing out.”

Then we reached our third paper.

This third paper was on the topic of the various representations of evil in Narnia and Middle Earth, focusing on the way Lewis and Tolkien treat evil in relation to their protagonists.

It was a fun paper to write and after the way my previous two papers had gone, I figured I’d get decent comments on it. Some constructive criticism, some compliments. Nothing too bad.

Nope.

Because of a mix up with rearranging classes due to being in Wales for four days, I ended up in a tutorial with the professor who hadn’t read one of my papers yet. The tutorial consisted of the prof, two other students, and me (my class is too big to warrant the usual one-on-one tutorial system Oxford runs on).

We spent the majority of the hour discussing the themes of our papers and it seemed to be going pretty well.

But then it came time for the professor to give us our individualized critiques. And she chose to give me mine last so that the other two wouldn’t have to sit through it.

And when she did slip into the seat beside me to go over the critique, she had absolutely COATED my paper in hurried scribbles of ink.

My stomach turned. My palms itched with moisture.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s not that your paper’s terrible. It’s just that it could be a lot better.”

At which point she took it upon herself to tear my paper to shreds for primarily stylistic reasons—the worst being my use of regionalisms.

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who uses a ton of regionalisms in my formal writing. In conversations and fiction and blog posts? Sure. Totally. In formal papers written for classes and applications and stuff? NE. VER.

This, however, ignores the fact that generally the people reading my formal writing live somewhere in the USA. And this professor obviously does not.

So while the word “sects” is perfectly legitimate to use in description of different common types of Christianity in the United States, it’s apparently super offensive in the United Kingdom. Only to be used to describe the “radical extremists.” And I had this word right in the middle of my opening sentence, to describe the way Lewis was protestant while Tolkien practiced Catholicism.

This was just one of several regionalisms the prof pointed out throughout my paper as offensive, or simply WRONG, errors.

If I had realized these words were regional to the United States, I wouldn’t have used them in a paper for a class at Oxford. But I didn’t realize. Which is the point I’m getting to.

No matter where you live—whether it be Michigan or England or freaking Narnia—you will have words and phrases in your vocabulary that are specific to your region. This is okay when writing about and for your region, but when you expand either your setting or audience to somewhere beyond this, it’s important to be aware of these regionalisms. Losing or offending your audience (as I repeatedly did in my paper) is NOT a fun time.

So if you’re a New Yorker writing about someone who’s grown up in England, be aware that “pants” refer to American underwear and “trousers” refer to American pants. If you’re from Houston, writing about Detroit, be aware that we call carbonated beverages “pop,” not soda or Coke.

Regionalisms are so important in writing. They can either make or break your setting and character development. They show either an awareness of your audience or a complacent ignorance.

Don’t be that writer who uses “sects” to describe what the British strictly call “denominations.” Or you will find yourself having a very awkward conversation with your professor to explain that no, you do not think C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were religious extremists—and yes, believe it or not, you do know how to speak English. Yours just happens to be a different version of it.

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Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for that Wales post if you want to see a multitude of crappy iPhone photos that in no way encapsulate how truly gorgeous Wales is.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Make Those Suckers Cry

Hello! Disclaimer from the future (July 5, 2020): I’m leaving this post up, because I think it has some helpful information throughout, but I also want to note that I do not in any way support or endorse JK Rowling anymore, due to her quite frankly dangerous racism and transphobia.

Hello from Tuesday! My program’s taking us all to Wales for the next few days, so I’m writing this post while packing and trying to figure out what exactly counts as “fashionably late” for Bar Night. (The college is currently hosting two things: a service in the chapel for visitors and a party in the bar for students. This is clearly a good combination.)

Anyway: life here at Oxford has fallen into a bit of a routine, with afternoon tea when it’s someone’s birthday, overly excited trips to Blackwells when we need new books for class, and punting whenever it’s not too hot but also not too rainy (a weather condition it is difficult to come by).

Saturday, after getting back from Harrogate, some of us got Thai food for lunch and saw Boyhood at the Phoenix Picturehouse in the evening. Sunday we went on an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed walking tour of the city and I wrote a paper about the importance of hobbits in Middle Earth. Then Monday was classes and one of our formal Monday night dinners (complete with croquet and champagne), and today I went to class (where we discussed Christianity and linguistics in Tolkien’s work), had cream tea with about half the program to celebrate a birthday, and bought Christmas gifts for my CPs. And now, in a moment, I’m off to Bar Night.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post based off stuff we talked about in class. (Ish. Not as much as last week. But, ya know, I needed a way to intro this and all that.)

Warning: Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games, Random Middle Grade Books, and Lauren Oliver Books in General spoilers abound.

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In real life, I literally will not hurt a fly if I can help it. In fiction, if a story (minus light, feel good stuff) doesn’t deliver at least one good character death, I AM NOT HAVING IT.

This is less because I enjoy my favorite characters suffering as much as that I am a masochist when it comes to my reading experience. I want to feel something. I want to laugh, I want to Feel the Awk, I want my heart to pound, I want my heart to stop, I want to accidentally “Awww!” in public, and yes: I want to cry.

Character deaths can be useful in accomplishing about half of these. I’ll let you take bets on which ones.

This is because different types of character deaths exist. Not, like: the antagonist poisoned one character and another died from a natural illness. (Although, of course, that’s also a thing.) It’s more like you can write deaths in different ways to accomplish different effects.

1. The Shocking Death

Unless a character already has a death sentence on their head (terminal illness, prophecy, etc.), chances are their death is going to be unexpected to the reader. This is why a character death will seem so much worse the first read through than in subsequent rereads.

Shock is an easy emotion to instill in a reader. You literally need only pull the death out of “seemingly” nowhere. JK Rowling used this type of character death frequently throughout the Harry Potter series. Basically: her character deaths worked essentially as plot twists, with only side focuses put on them for character development and to add momentum to the plot.

Unfortunately, putting your largest emotional focus for a death on its shock value makes it less emotional for a reader who knows it’s coming. (Story time: I didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until several years after Deathly Hallows had come out, so I already knew about all the deaths and they didn’t affect me a ton. Except one. NOBODY. WARNED. ME. HEDWIG WAS GOING TO BITE IT. I have never cried so hard for a fictional owl.)

2. The “Pity the Living” Death

(I’m giving up on not making absolutely everything a Harry Potter reference from here ’til the end of time. Sorry not sorry.) (update from 2020: I am, in fact, sorry.)

This is the type of death in which you draw the reader’s focus away from the actual tragedy of death itself and instead place the focus on the survivors. These are the characters left behind; the ones who must now grieve; the ones who must keep going despite what’s just occurred.

A solid example of this comes from Divergent, in which Tris’s mother sacrifices herself for Tris–but directly afterward, Tris has to keep moving and fighting. She has no chance to properly think through what’s happened or grieve. It’s the type of death that makes you feel more sympathetic towards, and worse for, those left behind than those who’ve done the leaving.

3. The Unfair Death

This is the death where the character has done so much and tried so hard to save themselves, but dies anyway. Or someone else has been trying hard to keep them alive. Or they had so much more to potentially give the world. Or they quite simply didn’t deserve to die in the manner that they did.

Suzanne Collins does this type BRILLIANTLY in Mockingjay, when the rebels kill Prim. The entire reason that the plots of all three books in that trilogy exist is that Katniss wants nothing more than to protect her sister. Then, in the end, what it takes to end the conflict–what would finally make the world safe for her sister–is her sister dying.

4. The Accidental Death

This is similar to the Shocking Death, but different in the fact that it’s random. I feel like a Shocking Death generally involves an opponent of some kind. Maybe your character’s in a battle or they’ve been duking it out with their arch nemesis. An accidental death, on the other hand, is something that just happens to happen. He steps into the street without looking or there’s a peanut in her salad. It’s a reminder to the reader that life is fragile and anything at all can happen.

This type of death presents itself a lot more in stories for younger readers, I’ve noticed. Primarily middle grade and chapter books. Good examples come from Walk Two Moons and A Taste of Blackberries.

5. The Sacrificial Death

This is my favorite type of character death. It’s the one in which the character goes into a dangerous situation knowing they won’t be coming back–knowing they don’t necessarily NEED to do it, only someone else will get hurt if they don’t–but they do anyway. Lauren Oliver does this beautifully in both Before I Fall and Delirium. There’s just something so beautiful and haunting and intriguing about sacrifice.

Of course, all character deaths have some amount of each of these elements mixed in, but when writing a death, it’s generally a good idea to have an idea for the type of emotional response you’d like to evoke in the reader.

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What types of character deaths have you noticed? What types make you react the most? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The Guiding Figure

Hello! Disclaimer from the future (July 5, 2020): I’m leaving this post up, because I think it has some helpful information throughout, but I also want to note that I do not in any way support or endorse JK Rowling anymore, due to her quite frankly dangerous racism and transphobia.

It is currently 12:05 AM my time and my program just got back from spending the day in Stratford-upon-Avon. (Well, most the day. We didn’t leave until like 2:00 PM, so first a group of us went to the Grand Cafe for cream tea, which was obviously touristy and delicious.)

In Stratford-upon-Avon, we got really nasty fake butterbeer at a shady off-brand Harry Potter/Doctor Who-themed store by Shakespeare’s Birthplace, then toured Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, sorta visited Shakespeare’s Grave (we reached it after the church had closed for the day, but we still walked around the grounds a bit), grabbed dinner across from the Thames, then finally saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona (which was excellent).

All this to say: I’m sorry I’m posting technically on Thursday yet againnn, but Wednesdays are crazy here. I love them. But they’re crazy.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

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In class Tuesday, we were discussing the different elements of the medieval journey narrative when we stumbled across the role of what our professor called the “Guiding Figure.” Because we’re studying the Inklings, the immediate examples we talked about were Gandalf and Aslan. Basically: the Guiding Figure is there to keep the protagonist on course throughout their journey, both outwardly (the physical journey) and inwardly (the character development). So, for example, Aslan guides the Pevensies across Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe while teaching them Important Life Lessons along the way.

The goal was to discuss the Guiding Figure’s role in only the medieval journey narrative, but of course the trope appears in more types of stories than just that–especially coming-of-age ones (so basically All Young Adult Fiction Ever).

The interesting thing about the Guiding Figure in YA is that they’re general not some wizened old wizard who is special purely for being a wizard or, you know, God in lion form. Instead, the Guiding Figure almost always manifests itself in an honest-to-goodness teacher.

This works well in YA, because most YA protagonists are in some sort of situation an older character has already survived and returned to for the pure sake of helping out the new generation, whether it be high school or the Hunger Games. The job of the teacher is to impart wisdom on their pupils. Got some life lessons to share amongst all those geometry problems and history texts and hand-to-hand combat strategies? Boom. Guiding Figure.

The Guiding Figure role can be a fun one to fill, because you get kind of an Auto Beloved character out of it. Who doesn’t love Dumbledore’s rambling speeches or Haymitch’s drunken insults-laced-with-advice. Everyone remembers Gandalf and Aslan.

But it’s also a sad role, which was something we discussed in class I’d never thought through before. Because, eventually, the Guiding Figure has to go away.

The journey (whether it be YA or the medieval sort) is not theirs. It’s the protagonist’s. And in order for the protagonist to fulfill the unwritten contract that is Your Protagonist Must Develop Over the Course of the Story*, the Guiding Figure has to stop being an active influence.

Eventually, they have to stop telling stories. Stop giving advice. Stop leading the way. Then, it’s up to the protagonist to prove that they truly learned the lessons taught.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan dies on the Stone Table and it is up to Lucy and Susan to understand his lessons of love, sacrifice, and hope in order to bring him back. In practically all the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore must be otherwise occupied at the point of the climax in order to allow Harry the freedom to exercise the lessons he’s learned and prove his worthiness in learning them in order to defeat whichever annoying, magical being he’s up against this time.

And in the greater arc of the Harry Potter series itself, Dumbledore must die–not because Voldemort’s assigned Draco to kill him or he’s gone and gotten himself cursed anyway, but because Harry must learn to face the world completely torn loose from his Guiding Figure in order to gain the distance to finally make the decisions concerning his own values necessary to defeat Voldemort.

Like in real life, when you eventually have to leave the safe environment that is high school and your childhood home and the friends you’ve known since you were born (you know, if we’re living the same life) in order to grow and figure out who you truly are–away from those assumptions and expectations and safety nets,–eventually Harry must also leave Dumbledore behind. Katniss must leave Haymitch. Lucy must leave Aslan and Frodo must leave Gandalf.

And like when the system shoves you out of high school into the big scary world that is either Holy Crap I’m in College or Even Holier Crap I’m in the Workforce, it’s almost always involuntary within the context of the story. Just something that happens. It’s painful and the protag is not happy to be testing their wings. But those are growing pains. The protag will learn to fly.

So where does that leave the Guiding Figure?

Generally: either dead or in a position much more frustrating (and boring) than the protagonist’s.

The Guiding Figure is there every step of the way along the journey, then has to step back and watch everything unfold from a distance when it comes time for the climax. They have to watch their pupil get hurt, contemplate giving up, experience all manners of traumas. They have to simply stand there and hope that the lessons sunk in, they’ve prepared the protag enough, and things will turn out in favor of their side of whatever conflict the story’s about.

So it’s a sad role.

But it’s a bittersweet sort of sad.

As part of a novel I worked on back around sophomore year of high school, I wrote a letter from the founder (Petra) of the Super Secret Spy School (Petra’s Driving School) my protag (Nora) attended, explaining the concept of being the founder of something.

Being a founder is really similar to being a teacher. They’re both types of Guiding Figures. In the letter, Petra explains that “the founder’s legacy lives on not in being the best, but in providing those who follow with the ability … to be better.”

When the protagonist does succeed in saving the world, it is with the knowledge that it wouldn’t have been possible without the Guiding Figure’s help. And the Guiding Figure knows that all the love and hard work they poured into the protagonist has paid off (you know, as long as the Guiding Figure has actually managed to cling to their life until this point, because for SOME REASON authors have a tendency of liking the clean cut that comes with murdering their Guiding Figures I’M LOOKING AT YOU JK ROWLING).

A teacher doesn’t take up that position with the hope of earning fame and glory. They do it with the hope of inspiring others to earn those things.

And generally, like in the case of Harry Potter, a Guiding Figure’s already had their own share of adventures by the time the protagonist comes around. Now it’s just a matter of passing those lessons along and guiding the next generation the next step up the path.

After all, as Dumbledore says in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” And as the Guiding Figure of Harry, Dumbledore is able to guide the Boy Who Lived to the sort of conclusion that leaves Harry able to be a Guiding Figure for the next generation. Who will guide the next. And the next.

**********

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

PS. Sorry if this is super long and rambly. I’m exhausted. I’ve now been writing this on and off for four hours now. I’m not even sure if I’m still writing in English. I am terrified of reading this in the morning.

*Sorry I’m giving so many things Important Capitalized Titles in this post. (In my defense, it is now going on three in the morning and I’m actively using half my brain to resist the urge to make tea, since the only kind I have in my room has caffeine. So basically this is the Extent of My Writing Abilities at the moment.)

OH PPS. I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT I AM SEEING JK ROWLING ON FRIDAY DIDN’T I OMG SOMEBODY HOLD ME. (<–Also, grammar. That is another thing I have forgotten.)

This Is Home

I just got back from spending the weekend in London! Saturday we “saw” the Changing of the Guard (far too many people there to truly see much), walked around, made a stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral, then saw Once at the West End (which was INCREDIBLE; I can’t even with the concept and music and EVERYTHING).

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Sunday we toured the Tower of London, walked along the Thames, toured the Globe, and watched the World Cup Final at a pub full of very passionate Argentina fans (while quietly rooting for Germany HECK YEAHHH).

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We then caught the bus home and actually made it back with enough time to get a few hours’ sleep before needing to be up to work on homework and go to class Monday morning.

Basically: I am in awe of the fact that I currently live close enough to London to just pop over whenever I feel like it. (I may also be about to spend way too much money going to West End shows every chance I get.) (Like I just dropped over fifty pounds on a ticket to Shakespeare’s Richard III with Martin Freeman and I am not at all sorry.)

It was funny, on the bus ride home, because I fell asleep while we were still in London and when I rubbed my contacts back into focus upon waking, it was as we pulled into Oxford. And even though I’ve only been here a week, I absentmindedly pressed my forehead to the double decker bus’s cool window and smiled as High Street smudged past, because I was home.

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I spent my entire childhood in one city, so I never realized how multiple places can feel like home at once. But as I’ve seen more places and spent more time in them, more and more have begun feeling like home as well. So now it’s not just the house I grew up in, in the middle of the Michigan suburbs, but also a vacation rental in Orlando, and a dorm room in Ann Arbor, and the streets of Chicago and New York. It’s walking beside the Thames and writing this blog post in a dorm room with a dove cooing in the fireplace behind me.

It’s playing cards in the Eagle & Child and punting under the Magdalen Bridge. It’s ogling all the gorgeous old buildings and complaining about the wifi. It’s staying up too late because this dorm room is too big and quiet, and rolling my eyes at the tourists even though I was one of them just a year ago. It’s drinking a thousand cups of tea a day and having the first The Hobbit movie open in another window as I write this post (because even though it’s nothing like the book, hopefully it’ll help me a little with the paper I have to write about Middle Earth).

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It’s missing my hometown and dog and friends and family every hour of the day, but missing this place every hour I am away from it as well. It is knowing I will have a warm bed and peace and quiet to return to after adventures.

It is being so in love with a city it hurts, because you know you will have to leave but a part of you is already so tied to it, you’ll have to cut that part free to be able to leave at all. It is belonging to so many cities and people it seems impossible you will ever be whole again, but also comforting to know you will always have a place in another one when you need somewhere else to go. And you can always come back.

It’s dreaming of coming back before you’ve left.

My hometown. A vacation rental in Orlando. A dorm room in Ann Arbor. The streets of Chicago and New York.

Oxford. Oxford. Everything about Oxford.

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This is home.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Old Lipstick

I HAVE INTERNET ACCESS ON MY LAPTOP! After spending basically every free moment since I arrived Saturday at Oxford struggling to find a USB to Ethernet adapter, I’ve finally got one. And it is beautiful.

The last time I had internet access on something with a halfway decent keyboard was two weeks ago yesterday, back in the bowels of the Michigan suburbs, USA. Now I’m sitting in a fancy schmancy dorm room at a beautiful college at Oxford University, Oxford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, EUROPE. Obviously: a lot has happened since I last wrote a Wordy Wednesday.

I’ve been to Amsterdam, and Paris, and London. I’ve eaten all manners of food, and met all sorts of awesome people, and gotten sick in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and climbed the Arc de Triomphe, and saw Anne Frank’s house, and visited a fake Van Gogh museum, and ate tons of really delicious French bread, and basically ALL THE THINGS. Today our program took all of us out to Winchester and Chawton to see where Jane Austen is buried, and where she died, and where she lived, and also–oh yeah–supposedly the Great Hall that used to house THE Round Table.

And it has been incredible. And lovely. And as much as I miss my family and friends and home, I’m also really going to miss Europe when I go back to the States at the end of August. (Considering going to grad school now literally just so I can come back to Oxford for longer than a month.)

I have so many pictures and stories to share, but right now, it’s after midnight for me and I’ve got a couple books to read and a paper to write and some places to explore before I leave for this weekend’s trip (back to London!)–so: sorry, but my gushing with specific details is going to have to wait for another post. (SERIOUSLY THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING SO UNDERSTANDING ABOUT THE WONKY POSTING THE PAST FEW WEEKS!)

In the meantime, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem I wrote while cleaning out my bathroom drawers at the beginning of the summer.

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The taste like chalk,

consistency rubbery dry;

color orange-red, vibrant.

Dance recitals, ten years,

and stage lights baking it

to my lips.

Tube of cheap grey plastic,

clear rectangular top;

name written in careful thin tip

Sharpie by Mom’s careful hand

at the base, a side per part.

And now the lipstick twisted

from its tube, naked

on a Kleenex on my

milky pink counter,

and the last application

on my lips, tongue;

smudgy and strong

in my nose.

Close my eyes and the bathroom

lights are stage lights;

five years old,

the beginning of the show–

it’s long over now.

Time for a new tube, color, flavor

of lipstick.

Wash it from my hands

and stare in the mirror

at my lips and the twenty-year-old

behind them.

A ballerina somewhere in there.

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Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Talk to you in two weeks!

Hannah and I leave for Europe tomorrow! I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING. I’m so excited and scared and nervous and excited and I have no idea how I’m going to sleep tonight.

I’m going to miss you during the next couple weeks before we get to Oxford, but I’m also thrilled to share all the awesome interviews and guest posts I’ve got scheduled. (Thanks to everyone who sent one in!)

Fingers crossed I’ll have wifi access and downtime here and there so I can post on Facebook and tweet and reply to emails. But if not, I hope you have an amazing two weeks, and–pending survival of all this tourism we’re going to be up to–I’ll talk to you when I’m settled at my new dorm!

Love you! ❤ Bye!

 

~Julia