100 Days Journal, Armenian, Coming-of-Age, Contemporary American, French, LGBT, Non-Fiction, pride month, Stonewall, writing, Young Adult

Writing and Reading Recently

I’ve been pretty busy with both reading and writing, lately. I guess I am thankful that it is summertime and, while I’m still working hard on course preparation and planning for the fall term, I at least have a break from teaching right now.

Writing

A little more than three months ago, I began what I called the “#100DaysJournal” project. The goal is pretty self-explanatory: write in my journal every day for 100 days. Although I missed a few days here and there, extending my finish date by about a week, I’m happy (excited? stunned!?) to share that I did finish the project today. I was also really pleased to hear that a few people on Twitter have taken up the call, too, and they are also getting back into writing. Hooray!

The most tangible outcome so far is that I wrote 250 pages by hand, filling almost two full journals. The writing covered a whole host of topics, mostly mundane things, but some really important personal breakthroughs, some professional planning and reflection, and some important writing (WIP) items as well.

I did have a box of prompts to draw from every day, but after about 30-days, I tended to look at the prompt, consider it, and put it away. This is why my earlier posts on this project petered out; I really wasn’t following the prompts anymore and I didn’t find anything “thematic” to write about every 10 days, as planned. But that’s okay. I think the project itself worked out really well.

For example, I began to build a writing routine that now seems mostly natural to me. I get up a couple of hours before I “need” to every day, and that is my focused writing time every day. I walk to a nearby cafe, find a seat (usually the same one, if I’m lucky) and grab an iced coffee, and then I write. That’s it. Without this writing routine and the daily practice, building myself back up to the stamina I once had, I don’t think I would have gotten to the place I’m at now, which is to say, working on my second book.

In the last week, that morning writing time also started to incorporate the writing of my current WIP, a young adult (probably? not really worried about genre classification right now) novel set in the mid-1990s. It centers on the relationship between three friends, each of whom is dealing with an important personal struggle. Currently, I’ve written the first two chapters and outlined most of the third. It’s a pretty exciting time for me. I like these characters. I like the setting. I feel like their struggles are important, and that they need each other. And maybe I need them, which means perhaps other readers might need them, too.

Reading

I have also been focused on reading LGBTQ+ stories this month, in celebration of Pride month. I’ve now read the first two books on my list of six, which are Gemini by Michel Tournier and Hold My Hand by Michael Barakiva.

Gemini is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s both beautifully written and an important and powerful exploration of philosophy, particularly a study in binaries and dichotomies. The novel is essentially about a set of identical twins, Jean and Paul, who are so similar that even their own parents call them “Jean-Paul” for ease. The brothers form an intimate bond, presumably in the womb, which lasts through their childhood, youth, and into adulthood. One twin, however, tries to sever that bond, and the other chases after him. Their twinship and their manufactured differences are then reflected in the oppositions that Tournier explores in the unfolding of his tale, including the relationships between city and country, war and peace, heterosexuality and homosexuality, filth and cleanliness, rich and poor, Europe and elsewhere. It is, in all honesty, a strange tale, but it is a fascinating one. Written in the 1970s and set decades before that, the narrative also remains highly relevant. Take this excerpt about the Berlin mall and those trying to flee East Germany for the West:

There was something simultaneously tragic and ridiculous in the spectacle of those terrified men and women compelled to hurl themselves into space because they had left it too late before deciding to change sectors. One thought kept haunting Paul’s mind all the time: We are not at war. There is no earthquake, no fire, and yet . . . Surely it is very sinisterly typical of our times that what is, after all, a purely administrative crisis should lead to such scenes? This is not a matter of guns and tanks, but only of passports, visas and rubber stamps.

While Gemini is a heady and sometimes disturbing (although, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny) read, Barakiva’s contemporary young adult romance novel, Hold My Hand, is quite the opposite, despite the tension caused by the two betrayals at the center of its plot. Alek Khederian is a young Armenian-American teenager who is on the verge of “going all the way” with his older boyfriend, Ethan. At the same time, he is attending Armenian Saturday school, learning more about what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. Just as Alek is celebrating his birthday, surrounded by his supportive family and his amazing boyfriend, and with the news that his “What Being Armenian Means to Me” essay has won top score at school, meaning he will get to read it at Christmas service, everything starts to fall apart. His boyfriend betrays him. His church betrays him. Alek is left to decide how far he is willing to go to repair the damage, how willing he is to follow the Christian tenant of forgiveness, and how capable he is in standing up for what is right, not just for him but for anyone like him. Despite an overwhelming number of proofing errors (there were dozens of places where I had to stop to edit a sentence — it was strange!), the story is compelling and edifying. I for one loved to read about a young person dealing with issues of faith, sexuality, and ancestry all at the same time, and I found learning more about Armenian culture to be one of the most rewarding parts about reading this book. It also reminds us just how difficult it is for anyone who is different to exist freely in public. Excerpt:

Holding hands now made something perfectly clear to Alek: that what he wished he could make the reverend father, his own parents, and all those well-meaning straight people understand was that he and Ethan would never really have the privilege of holding hands as a neutral gesture. The act, taken for granted by people all over the world, would never be just that for him and Ethan. Part of him mourned that possibility–of never knowing what it would mean to perform that act unitalicized. 

Currently, I’m reading Ocean Vuong’s new novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which I’ve been looking forward to. Up next is probably Jane DeLynn’s Don Juan in the Village. Next month I will be focused on poetry (reading it and reading about it), so please send me recommendations of your favorite collections. I’ll be starting with Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook.

From A Whisper to A Riot

I also wanted to mention that my book of literary criticism/history is on sale this month ($5.00 ebook/$19.69 print.) This is in honor of Pride month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which occurred in New York City in June, 1969. I was thrilled to learn that the book was Amazon’s #1 New Release in LGBT Literary Criticism!

I have also been overwhelmed and flattered by the great feedback the book has received online. I worked hard on it and am pleased and proud to have it out there in the public sphere, for others to enjoy and learn from.

 

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100 Days Journal

The Third 10 Days #100DaysJournal

Hello there!

Here’s another update (my third!) on my 100 Days of Journaling project.

First of all, I cannot believe that an entire month has gone by already. I’ve been waking up an hour or two earlier every day (I’ve been doing this for a few months, actually, but more specifically these last 30-days in order to get my daily writing done), and it isn’t always easy, but so far it has been and continues to be rewarding. It’s nice to know that I’ve already accomplished something for myself before the rest of the days tasks, errands, chores, and responsibilities begin to call my attention.

In my first 10-day checkpoint review, I noted that I’d been doing a lot of self-criticism, and this continued in my second 10-day review, too. I’m a little disappointed to report that these last thirty days were not much different. It seems like, no matter the prompt, a lot of what I do is complain about something. That said, for Day 30, I was intentional about focusing on what I appreciate most in my life right now. I tried to come up with 5 things that I’m actually happy with, proud of, etc. It was a nice way to wrap-up this 10-day period, especially knowing I’d be sitting here writing this little reflection.

So far, I’ve written 50 pages. This is a bit of a slow down, as I was averaging about 2-pages per day through the first 20 days. I’m now getting about one page written, but part of that is due to the fact that, while I’ve still been waking up early, I haven’t been waking up quite as early. Yes, I’ve taken to hitting that snooze button on my phone’s alarm, or waking up in the middle of the night and changing the alarm from 5:30am to 6:30am. Whoops! If I were a better sleeper, I think I’d be better at waking up early, too. Alas.

Here are the last 10 prompts:

  • Day 21: What do you need to do by the end of the year to make this year meaningful?
  • Day 22: The most unfair thing about capitalism is…
  • Day 23: If given the choice, which time period (past or future) would you like to live in and why?
  • Day 24: What (career) advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
  • Day 25: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
  • Day 26: The most unfair thing about socialism is…
  • Day 27: Describe a time you felt lonely.
  • Day 28: What are your views on fame and celebrity culture?
  • Day 29: What traits and habits do your parents have that you don’t want to adopt?
  • Day 30: What do you appreciate most about your life right now? Why?

I can’t believe I’m about to head into a 5th week, and will soon even hit that 50-day mark. What a ride. Onward!

Feel free to follow along with my #100DaysJournal project on Twitter!

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100 Days Journal

The Second 10 Days #100DaysJournal

A quick update on my 100 Days Journal project.

First, I’m happy to announce that, yes, I’m still going! It’s very rare that I can stick to any kind of time commitment-based project. I don’t know why. The structure is actually helping me this time, though, and I think my positive success (so far) is in large part due to the fact that I’m accomplishing writing as a part of this project.

My reading challenges, for example, often suffer because a) I’m going to read no matter what, so why force myself into constraints about what type and how much? and b) I end up doing too much reading for my writing habits to keep up with, find myself with a stack of books to review, and decide to throw my hands up and say, “forget it!”

In my first 10-day checkpoint review, I noted that I’d been doing a lot of self-criticism. I think I’m still doing that, but something else has happened, too. While I’ve been noting a lot of places where I continue to struggle, fail, or disappoint myself, the tone of those criticisms has changed somewhat. For example, I often added a little more explanation about why I was failing at something, or how I might improve. So, perhaps one of the benefits of this journaling project might be to combine self-reflection with self-improvement. There’s an idea!

I’ve also found that I’m writing a lot more about my goals, and manageable ones at that. Just this morning, for instance, I wrote 5 things I would like to achieve by the end of the year. Some of them will be terribly difficult, one or two of them super easy. It seemed helpful to make a list for myself so I could see what really is important to me right now, what will make me feel like a success, and where I can find a balance between “easy” improvements/accomplishments and more challenging ones.

Here are the last 10 prompts:

  • Day 11: If you could solve one big world problem, what would that be?
  • Day 12: When you feel bored, where does your brain wander to?
  • Day 13: If you weren’t concerned with what other people thought, what would you like to be doing with your life? (this was a zinger!)
  • Day 14: What did you want to be growing up? Why?
  • Day 15: Describe your earliest memory.
  • Day 16: Where in the world do you have no desire to travel? Why?
  • Day 17: When are you happiest in relationships?
  • Day 18: If you could choose jobs for your child, which would you choose? (I had to work around this one, since I’m not a parent.)
  • Day 19: What don’t you have enough time to do? Why?
  • Day 20: What is something not many people understand about you? (this one was painful.)

Working from prompts has been really helpful, but to be honest, I modified almost every single one of them in some way, or found a way to answer the prompt while also writing about whatever was already on my mind that day. It’s been an interesting exercise in thoughtful synthesis, so far! Onward!

Feel free to follow along with my #100DaysJournal project on Twitter!

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100 Days Journal, Journaling, Personal, writing

The First 10 Days #100DaysJournal

ScribeDelivery

Sometime in early February, I signed-up for a monthly subscription service called ScribeDelivery (only my second such service, but gosh, I might be getting addicted!) This particular subscription delivers journals and pens to my door once per month (and, I’m told, sometimes other items as well). As I was planning to begin my journaling project and to dive more fully back into writing, I thought this kind of monthly “treat” would be an awesome motivation and reward. My first package arrived yesterday, at last, and I’m pretty thrilled!

This one is, I believe, a bit larger than normal. The accompanying note explains that it’s a “first delivery” kind of package, so I think there are a few more items than usual. That said, it’s a great way to begin. As the image reflects, I received one regular size, Italian journal that has a bookmark and pocket; I set of “4 seasons” small journals, one with a cover design and color to match each season; two small “write it down” journals, and 4 pens (which are described as “Japanese pens” in the welcome letter, but some of them seem pretty typical to me. The fountain pen is a cool addition!)

Overall, it was a long-awaited and super fun package to open. I should mention that I already have a couple of concerns. The first is that the package took a long time to arrive and the reason for this wasn’t clearly articulated in the first order email. I tried messaging the company via Instagram, because that’s where I first connected with them and because the website didn’t have a clear contact area, but I got no response. I tried again with no luck a few days after, and then tried email and Facebook. It took about a week, I think, to get a response. The first reply came after my second question to them on Instagram, and it simply told me to check back on Facebook because someone would reply there. Uh, okay. So I messaged again on Facebook, and then got a canned response there and the same response to my email, on the same day. Awesome?

The second concern is that all of the items came in a simple bubble bag mailer. It’s possible the company is still new and working things out, but I was honestly expecting better packaging, not just a bunch of items slipped into a bag, free to slosh around (and, you know, there are pens — how easily could these poke through and fall out?) After checking the reviews, I noticed that comments about the packaging have been left in the past, with that very concern expressed (missing items), and that some have raised concern that their packages are pretty basic for the price. So, I’ll keep an eye on this, but I’m ready to give them another shot, partly because the first package was so cool and partly because I still love the idea of getting a monthly writer’s box!

100 Days Journal Update 1

About a week and a half ago, I mentioned that I was starting a new writing project that I’m calling “100 Days Journal.” It is just what it sounds like: 100 days of journaling. The hope is that it will accomplish a few things: 1) help me establish an effective routine; 2) help me practice and enhance my writing skills; 3) help me reveal to myself some of the things I should be writing about more in-depth.

Every 10 days, I plan to post  a little update right here on the blog, for posterity and for whoever might be interested in what I’m doing or who might want to try it for themselves (I know a few people on Twitter already are doing it.) My first 10 days went “swimmingly,” as they say. It’s the first time in a long time that I managed to write for myself every single day. I honestly can’t remember the last time I did this. I’ve always been the kind to have a good stretch of about 3 or 4 days, and then oops! I think it helps that I had already been getting up earlier than necessary for a few weeks to do other “pre-day” tasks, like reading for myself and taking a walk before work.

Although I’ve been using prompt cards and the topics have been fairly different, I’ve found some similar themes in my first 10 days: motivation, family, fears, and challenges. A lot of my writing has been reflective in the sense that, I notice what has been holding me back in various ways. I commented in yesterday’s journal that I begin to worry if this will be a place where I’m constantly putting myself down. At the moment, that comment seems a bit melodramatic, considering the kinds of criticisms I was giving myself were both true and constructive, and that in the 25 pages I wrote over these last 10 days, there is a lot of hopeful, positive, rewarding reflection, too. But I suppose many of us do often see and cling to the negative more easily than the positive, which is what makes any change or growth harder, and scarier too.

The truth is, I’m proud of myself for coming this far, and I’m only 10% of the way into this journey. Imagine how I will feel in 10 days, when I’m 20% of the way in! And imagine what else I might reveal to myself about myself, or what inspirations I might find, craft, or takeaway from these daily exercises?

The Prompts/Topics:

  1. Getting Started / Open
  2. What conversation do you need to have today?
  3. What are three major emotions that you’re carrying right now?
  4. Describe your ideal weekend.
  5. What’s the one thing you’d never do and why?
  6. What 3 people in your life do you envy professionally? Why and do you notice any patterns?
  7. How do you define success, and how will you know when you have it?
  8. If someone has hurt you in the past, write a forgiving letter to them.
  9. What aspect of your life is holding you back right now?
  10. If all jobs paid the same, what would you choose to do?

So, the first 10 days went well, and the prompts led me to interesting places. I answered each of them, but not as directly as I might have imagined. Typically, the answer revealed itself in something else I already needed to write about and which was somewhat related. It’s been a rewarding and healthy process so far. I’m excited to keep going!

 

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