amandajocrafts

December 20, 2012

On the Woes (and the Woeful) USPS.

Each day at work, as the woman at the front desk, I receive the mail from our mail carrier. It always comes wrapped in two huge rubber bands, even when it’s just a couple pieces of mail. I chuckle at it, chuck them in my top drawer, and proceed with sorting the mail.

Yesterday I had some extra time on my hands, so I was organizing that top drawer. I put all the paper clips in their place, arranged the binder clips, made sure I had enough replacement staples on hand, checked my tape stock. Then, I got to my mound of industrial-size rubber bands.

I’ll make them into a rubber band ball, I thought.

(This is not my personal rubber band ball.)

I’ve always wanted to try one. Well, as I was creating this every growing ball-o-rubber, it occured to me that this was yet another mark of how the USPS is woefully inefficient.

Nevermind that I’ve been fruitlessly on hold with them more times than I can count for various shipping and (non)receiving reasons. Nevermind that each person I talk to–from our carrier, to the local post office, to the corporate post office–has a different “rule” on how I’m supposed to do package pickup, and what qualifies for a pickup. Nevermind that my residential mail carrier has often not dropped off a package because “no one was at home”…even though I’m in an apartment building that makes a point to always keep someone at the front desk who receives packages.

Nope–it was the rubber bands that did it.

I looked it up, and the average carrier makes 500 stops, so let’s go with that number. If we assume my office’s mail carrier has two rubber bands on each batch of mail to each stop on his route, that’s 1000 rubber bands that are being distributed by the USPS per day for this one route alone. Over the span of a month, that’s 30,000 rubber bands.

On Walmart.com (the cheapest place I can always think of), rubber bands like those are $2.78 for a pack of 185. (I’m not a math person, so bear with me now.) If we assume a wholesale price of $1.00 per 185 (and I’m being generous here), that means that, per month, the USPS is spending $162 on rubber bands for our one mail carrier’s route alone. That’s $1945 per year, just for this ONE route, devoted to rubber bands.

The funny part? The rubber bands don’t really help–we often get the wrong mail thrown in there.

What if they only used one rubber band instead of two? What if our mail carrier took them off before handing the mail to me, and just threw them back into his bag to be reused?

Just saying 🙂

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December 18, 2012

On The Hobbit…and CGI vs. Humans.

Filed under: On Observing. — Tags: , , , , , , , — amandajocrafts @ 1:20 pm

*Geek warning* 🙂

Well, I went to get see The Hobbit on Friday. I did the “lame version”–no 3D, no HFR, just a good ol’ screen and a packed theater.

Backtracking, I loved the Lord of the Rings movies. They are my favorite series of books (yes, I read them before the movies came out), and I was impressed with how excellently they were rendered on screen. Yes, it was more dramatic at points, yes, I missed Tom Bombadil like crazy, and yes, I know the elves don’t actually come to help at Helm’s Deep. But I thought the essence was there, the feel the stories were still richly alive, and Peter Jackson made beautiful sense out of books that were certainly unusual, as far as the arch of a story goes.

So, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw The Hobbit. I read some very mixed reviews beforehand, which only made me more confused. Some people thought there were too much time spent on the dwarves; others felt they weren’t characterized enough. Some felt that the movie was too long; others were okay with that. Some felt it was too lighthearted; others thought it was too serious for what was orginally a childen’s story.

I ended up taking umbridge with none of these debates. I liked the dwarves and thought they did a good job balancing the characterization with keeping the movie flowing. Yes, it was a really long movie–I pissed off our theater neighbors by creeping out of our aisle after Gollum’s scene to go pee (which, on a side note, was kind of sad, because that was the best moment of the whole film and I spent those ten minutes doing a seated rendition of the potty dance)–and I thought some of it could have been moved to the extended special edition on video, where I could have paused the movie and peed before Gollum came onscreen. Finally, I liked the balance between the light tone of the episodic dwarf quest and the dark undertone of brewings that would eventually come to fruition in LOTR.

What hit me the most, and frankly, made me sad, was how much CGI Peter Jackson used throughout the movie. Most notable was Azog, the albino orc nemesis of Thorin, being heavily CGIed (in a Gollum-type fashion). While I was fine with the additional pieces to this saga (seriously, can’t give me too much of Middle Earth…except maybe Radagast. He discredited all the scenes he was in by being, and looking, so stupid!) it drove me BATTY that he was all CGI. Every time I saw him, I could TELL he was CGI, and it threw me out of the world entirely. For example, compare him to the main Uruk-hai (who kills Boromir) from LOTR Part 1 (sorry I couldn’t find better pics!):

Azog (left-most orc)

Uruk-Hai

Just because the CGI technology is out there doesn’t mean you have to use it for everything possible–the most effective movies are the ones where it’s integrated with the real, not replacing it. By putting an actual person through the process of makeup, you actually get something so much more realistic. And really, it’s not just Azog, it’s the whole movie that has this issue. Orcs are now all CGI, sets are all CGI, and it feels as though the integration of real and CGI was rushed. Honestly, I thought that LOTR, from ten years before, had better special effects.

So, this is certainly an enjoyable movie for those who would like to traverse back into Middle Earth, but it’s missing some crucial magic that’s keeping it from excellence. I’ll probably still buy the extended version when it comes out on DVD (let’s face it, you know there will be an extended version), but I can tell you that, at the end of the movie, all I wanted to do was watch LOTR to see how it should be done. And I did watch it right after, and it was much, much better.

December 10, 2012

On Mondays and Making Smiles.

Filed under: On Observing. — Tags: , , , , , , — amandajocrafts @ 1:36 pm

Sometimes, you just need a Monday pick-me-up.

If you’re feeling that way, here’s a photographic list of silly, pointless, goofy (and one or two serious) things that are making me smile today:

1) This T-Shirt (discovered by my future sister-in-law):

2) These people, who are clearly having a bad day. (I know it’s bad, but if you can laugh at yourself because you did something stupid, you can also laugh at other people for doing something stupid. Just don’t get mad when they laugh back at you.)

3) Ron’s emotional range (just re-watched this one last night):

4) The knowledge that my fiance is a really awesome person and the antithesis of this:

(But, in seriousness, a great, practical article on how to make a marriage thrive.)

5) This baby:

6) The way my best friends and I play board games:

7) Christmas Joy. This was my Amazon shopping cart this weekend for a Toys for Tots drive. I got warm fuzzies just thinking of the recipients of those bears!
toys for tots

8) My favorite minions:

9) I’ve been doing this for the past two weeks, and I feel fantastic!

10) This viral Facebook post, which has been floating around all day today:

“I know today is Monday and you assume it’s going to suck, but according to statistics, there will be over 5,000 weddings, 10,000 childbirths, and 42 million hugs occurring today throughout the United States. Also today, there will be at least 4 people that will win the multimillion dollar lotteries, 600 people will get promotions at work, and 3,000 people will lose their virginity. There will also be 600 dogs adopted, 35,000 balloons sold, and 800,000 skittles eaten. Plus, the words “I love you” will be said over 9 million times. So again, I know today is Monday and you assume it’s going to suck, but just smile, because according to statistics, it should actually be a really nice day.”

What’s making you smile today?

November 29, 2012

On Supporting Handmade.

Oh Christmas!

I’m not one for getting swept up in the commercialism of the season, but boy oh boy do I love giving gifts! You heard me right–my favorite part of gifting is not the receiving, but the look of delight on someone’s face at Christmas that lets me know I got them just the right thing. It’s all about making people happy 🙂

This Christmas, as I’ve done for the past couple of years now, I’m doing my best to gift handmade and support small businesses. Of course, I definitely bought stuff (with coupons!) from big stores (Kohls and I are best buds), but at the same time, I’m making a concentrated effort to support handmade whenever possible!

It’s definitely worth paying the little extra to know that not only are you making the day of the person to whom you are giving the gift, but you’re also making the day of that seller! (Do you know how excited I get when I sell an item? Really? There’s typically some jumping involved :))

So, let me know below if you’re planning on supporting handmade this season, through Etsy or craft fairs or wherever, and I’ll get you started with some of my favorites. (That I didn’t get for other people, don’t want to spoil any surprises!) If you like any of them, just click on the picture to send you there!

Hair Pin Buttons by Chatterblossom

Autumn Pillow by NeedlesnPinsStitchery

Hobbiton Necklace by PrettyLittleCharmsUK

Country Button Earrings by ciaralg

“I Like Big Books” Tote by PamelaFugateDesigns

How have you supported handmade this holiday season?

October 2, 2012

On The Necessity and Power of Feedback.

Filed under: On Observing. — Tags: , , , , , , , — amandajocrafts @ 11:25 am

Feedback is a coveted benchmark, so you would think we would provide it more.

Last week, my fiance and I were looking for a new entertainment center for our living room. We are still in the process of transferring college (read: cheap pressed wood and plastic) furniture for slightly more grown-up, in-our-twenties-and-fine-financially-but-not-ready-to-spend-thousands furniture. For this task, Amazon is our new best friend. Sure, you have to put the furniture together still with a thousand little screws and knobs, but it looks great when you’re done…if you’ve chosen the right piece.

This is where feedback was crucial to us. I created a “wish list” of pieces (thanks for the handy tool, Amazon!) and then we scoured the feedback. We could rule out ones where people said it fell apart the next day, we were aware of when someone mentioned a color didn’t match the picture, or if there was a trend of pieces arriving broken. Without this feedback, I don’t think we would have ended up with the incredible entertainment center that we now have.

Alternatively, I’ve been on the other side of feedback twice this week. On Etsy, feedback is manna to sellers, especially new ones. It makes your shop look better and more credible, it tells you how you’re doing, and if it’s good feedback, or a particularly kind review, it just gives you those warm fuzzies inside that can last the whole day. I received some delightful feedback this week, as well as left one for another seller, who took the time to tell me how much it meant to her to hear that I loved the piece she made.

Similar to that is feedback via teachers or professors. As a grad student in writing, I crave and beg for feedback in my pieces. I want to know what’s not working, I want to know what is, what can I change to make you believe in my characters, what can I tweak to make that story even a little bit better? Heck, I’ll take a grade–it’s some benchmark against which I can judge my progress.

Feedback is less formal, too. “I like that sweater,” “cute shoes,” “your haircut looks great,” boost us and make us feel more confident; again, a benchmark against which to weigh that particular facet.

So, if we all crave feedback so darn much (and don’t pretend you don’t), then why don’t we give it more?

I will always leave feedback for an Etsy seller. Since I am one, I know how much it brightens my day to hear a personal note that tells me what a customer thinks of my handmade item. Again, warm fuzzies ensue. Even with smaller shops on Amazon, I will try to remember. (One notable time is our kitchen island in our apartment. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of craftmanship from a simple, American-based company called Catskill Craftsman. It actually arrived with a split down the middle of one piece (through the fault of shipping, I’m sure) and when I called them about it, they apologized and sent out a new piece that day. That is amazing customer service, and I wrote them a great review.)

However, when it comes down to the bigger vendors on Amazon and the chain stores (Kohls, Target, etc.), I’m usually silent. Why?

I guess, at first thought, I figure that big stores don’t need me giving them a pat on the back because they probably don’t care. While that may be true, I still use the feedback for items in those stores to tell me if I want it or not. Especially with clothes shopping and Kohls, I scrutinize the reviews to see if there was someone with my general build who has a piece I’m looking at. I want to know if it fits small or big, or will make me look fat.

In what I’m going to call “social” feedback, I’m often reluctant to speak up, as well.

In my graduate classes, I’m sometimes hesitant in a new class to “tell it like it is” during critique, even though that’s exactly what I want from others. If my piece only gets a half hour of crit time, don’t waste half of it telling me you “liked” it; I want to know what’s not working. Therefore, I shouldn’t pansy around with someone else’s story, either. I don’t think I’ve ever been told that I’m being “mean” or “harsh.” What good writer doesn’t want as many opinions and thoughts as she can get?

At the end of the day, we all want the benchmark, but we don’t necessarily want to be the one to dish it out. I don’t know if it’s part of our twenty-first century politically correct world, or if it stems from a fear of being hated, or if it’s just a selfish desire (“I’m going to use what others have taken the time to say to make my decision, but I’m not going to leave anything for the next person.”) What do you think?

In the meantime, I’m off to Amazon. I’ve just guilt-tripped myself into the realization that I haven’t left any feedback for the entertainment center.

September 27, 2012

On Never Judging a Boot by Its Genre.

Filed under: On Observing. — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — amandajocrafts @ 11:16 am

I’m not much of a country-western junkie. I don’t really go in for the hog-ties and bull riding, I really dislike riding horses (mostly because of the smell), and I think cowboy hats look pretty silly on anyone except Kenny Chesney. The only country music I really listen to is Taylor Swift (I love her, can’t help it). Frankly, I’m really much more of a Victorian girl. So, it surprised me just as much as anybody else when I fell in love with a pair of cowgirl boots.

A huge fan of boots, I wanted something I could wear pretty much anywhere and any way. I have a FANTASTIC pair of Victorian knee-high boots that I love for certain things, but they’re hardly daily wear. (PS, those are not my legs! That’s the photo from the website I purchased them from.)

At the same time, I didn’t want just the simple brown boots that everyone seems to be getting. I wanted something a little…different. Well, my fiance found this awesome website, sheplers.com, which sells quite a bit of western gear. Most of the cowgirl boots didn’t appeal to me, but then I found a pair that were still cowgirl boots, but, I swear, Victorian. See for yourself:

They are super comfortable, too! Such a rich, red color that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Amazing quality and stitching. And look at the scalloping on the top! I fully anticipate wearing them with those pretty ivory lace socks that go up just over the boots 🙂 Look at the details!

The moral of the story: never judge a boot by its genre. I have been totally boot-whipped. 🙂

September 21, 2012

On Helpful Tips for Etsy Sellers.

I see this question all the time in the Etsy forums: Will you critique my shop?

One thing I really love about the Etsy community is how willing everyone is to assist each other. We give opinions, critiques, hints, tricks of the trade, away freely, because we are eager to help where we struggled. However, it can also sometimes be galling, especially when, if you searched in the Etsy Success team (where I see the above question most of all), there is already incredible information waiting there for you. Most of the time, new sellers shouldn’t need to even ask for the critique, because the information is already there.

With that in mind, here are some valuable lessons I have learned from the Etsy Success team. Though I don’t claim to be a high-profile Etsy seller, I can tell you these are the both the basics and the essentials to running your shop and making it fantastic.

1) (The most important one, folks.) Be willing to devote some time to your shop.

Do not expect to load up some photos of your items, write a couple lines, and expect them to sell. This does not really happen. (I know because this is how I started. HUGE mistake. After six months of research and changing everything, I finally had a shop I could be proud of.) Be ready to take and retake and retake and RETAKE photos, write and edit and revise and tweak your descriptions, and always be working on your tags. All of this, not to mention making your items. If you do not feel you can devote the time and energy to this, perhaps an Etsy shop is not right for you.

2) Take FANTASTIC photos.

Never accept mediocre. In the eighteen months I have been open, I have retaken my photos three times, all of my photos, and I’m sure I’m not done. It takes time, but it is, in my opinion, the most crucial piece of your shop. Before customers see anything else, they see a picture of your item. If your picture isn’t top-notch, do you really think the customer will take the time to click on it and see your item description or the other items in your shop?

So, some tips to taking photos (these are thanks to some great fellow sellers from the forums; that thread can be found here):

  • Have a sense of cohesiveness. I feel this is most easily achieved by the traditional “white” background, and as that is what I use, I’ll be telling you how to successfully do that. However, I have seen some amazing shops that don’t use a white background, but what they do use is the same style of background. If you want a rustic wood background, do that for everything. If you want pale lace, do that for everything. Give you shop the sense that all those items belong together.
  • Make your photos CLEAR. This was one of my biggest issues. If you have a small item, learn where the macro button on your camera is (it looks like a flower, and most cameras have it, even cheap ones). Also, when taking the photo, holding down the button halfway for a second before you push it all the way down; that will allow the camera time to adjust the lens and get a clearer image. Better yet, use a tripod, and you won’t have to deal with your shaking hands.
  • Use natural (or artificially natural) lighting. Some people have it really nice; they can set up their image by a beautiful bay window as the light comes in and get a great photo. Some of us (me included) live in a city apartment where light is certainly not streaming in the windows. Therefore, you have to fake it. To do so, open the windows anyway (it does help a little). Buy a couple cheap desk lamps, and daylight bulbs to go in them. Arrange the lamps around your item, using that aesthetic eye of yours to give it some nice shadows, but not too many shadows.
  • Edit your photos. Even a fantastic natural shot needs a wee bit of help. I use picmonkey.com, because it’s free and has some great tools. If you’re going for a white background, like I do, I use the neutral picker under the color setting to tell it what part of the photo should be white, and then I use the brightness and contrast to keep bringing that up. Be careful though, because you don’t want your picture to look over-edited, you just want it to look professional. When a photo looks over-edited, people often avoid that item because they don’t believe they’re really getting what they’re seeing.
  • Use all five photos slots. Show us the whole image, show us a close up. Show us what the underbelly looks like, what the back/inside looks like, make us feel like we’re holding the item and can see it from every angle.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that Etsy uses a standard photo layout for its searches and displays. Don’t take a portrait-style picture of a long necklace and expect it all to fit in there; all we’ll see is the chain and not your one-of-a-kind pendant that you hand-created. Etsy is now rolling out a new feature where we can adjust what part of the photo we want in the image search, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of the photo formatting, regardless.

3) Descriptions are about describing (but not too much).

There’s a lot of different ways to go about writing descriptions, so I’m not going to get into too much detail about it. The most important things, though, are:

  • Tell you customer what the item is in the first paragraph. This is particularly essential if you want to get found on Google, because it will take your first couple sentences and display them in the search results. Tell us what it is, what color it is, how big it is, what it’s stuffed with….We don’t have it in our hands, so you have to be our describer. Pretend you’re at a craft fair, and you see something you think your best friend would love, so you call her up to give her the low-down before she gives you the okay to buy. Write it like that.
  • Don’t get overly wordy or long. Buyers, notoriously, don’t read everything, so put down the essentials in short, direct paragraphs. Don’t expect us to read a dissertation; you’d just be giving yourself extra work, because about 1% of your viewers would actually read all that.
  • Put some backlinks to other items on your shop at the end. For example, in each of my teddy bear listings, I say a variation of: “if you like the teddy, but perhaps are looking for a different color, check out the shop section:” and then I give the link. Or, with my octopi, if you’re on the listing for the small purple one, I might say: “Looking for something bigger? Try Ferdinand {link}. Or looking for a little more rainbow flair, try Exuberance: {link}.” This way, the shopper doesn’t have to go hunting for something similar; I’m giving them suggestions based on what they’re looking at.

4) Tags/Titles are where you get found; use them.

I don’t pretend to be an authority on this; I’m always tweaking my tags and titles. Also, if you’re looking to really get into SEO, I’d recommend the CindyLouWho Team on Etsy. But, here are some crucial fundamentals:

  • Your titles and tags should match. If you have “amber necklace pendant” in your title and a tag that says the same thing, you’ll show up higher in search than if you don’t.
  • The first three words of your title are the most important, so if you have a birthday card for a little brother, DON’T start your title with “Cute, Darling, Baby Birthday Card for Little Brother.” Who’s going to be searching for “cute, darling, baby” and be looking for a birthday card? Instead, start with “Brother Birthday Card – Little Brother – Cute Card.” You have a MUCH better chance of getting the viewers you’re looking for.
  • In your tags, uses phrases when possible. Sure, you might get more hits if you just put “bear” as opposed to “crochet teddy bear,” but you’ll get more focused hits from the latter. The more specific you are, the better chance you have of finding your target audience.
  • Don’t waste tags. CindyLouWho taught me this: if you have a tag that says “crochet teddy bear,” you are also covered for the terms “crochet teddy” and “teddy bear.” Therefore, don’t waste tags on those terms! This was a revelation for me, and really opened up the opportunity to put some great tags in there because I had more room. And, this should go without saying, but use all your tags.

5) Write your policies.

Way too many shops are floating around without policies, or with very minimal ones. Sellers, they are your only “defense” against a customer–use them! Tell you customer what forms of payment you accept, how you handle returns, what your processing time is, that they’re responsible for out-of-country customs charges (and yes, they are!). That way, when a customer comes to complain, you can tell them very very nicely “I’m sorry, but XYZ is stated in my shop policies {here}.” It will help you and save you headaches later.

6) Update all the time!

Part of both Etsy and (I think) Google’s search has to do with “freshness,” so always be tweaking and editing! Besides, it always helps to be modifying. For example, if you notice an item isn’t getting a lot of views, especially perhaps compared to a very similar item in your shop, see what the difference is! Do you use a phrase in one that you don’t in the other? Have you put it in a different category?

Switch things up, pay attention to what search terms people are using to end up in your shop, and use that data to your advantage.

So…

Next time you want a shop crit, follow these steps first! The benefit of doing all these things before asking for that crit is that, when you do ask, you’ll get some great, detailed information on how to improve your specific shop, rather than just the general guidelines that all Etsy sellers should be following!

Questions? Comments? Things to add? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

September 18, 2012

On What Happened to Grammar and Punctuation.

It’s really a question: what happened to proper grammar and punctuation?

Without getting into details, I am a freelance grammar editor and a master’s student in writing. Add in my obsessive love of reading and my own writing, and I see a lot of the written word. Unfortunately (for me, at least), I then also see a lot of poor fundamentals.

I know this probably bothers me more than a majority of people; I’m well aware I’m a grammar Nazi, but it is a title I hold proud rather than admonish. I’m also cognizant of the fact that I am one of a subset who loves to not just use, but utilize grammar to its fullest extent. “That” versus “who” is one of the most common mistakes I’ve ever seen, and it wounds me every time. “Its” versus “it’s” is another repeat offender. You may think of them as small things, but they change the entire meaning. Furthermore, when done properly, a comma here or a semi-colon there can do a great deal to turn a phase; it is language’s only way of emphasis, and should be used with that knowledge.

I cannot quite seem to grasp why people cannot write with proper grammar and punctuation. (Let me be clear, I’m not talking about personal diary entires, I’m talking about people who want to publish or submit their work: blogs, literary magazines, novels, even works submitted for a grade in class.) I know we all learned this in school. Aside from the lessons, I distinctly remember watching Schoolhouse Rock in class all through my grade school years. Even in my Honors English class in high school, where, by the age of seventeen, I had so wrongly assumed that my peers should know this by now, we went through a nine-week lesson plan on proper grammar and punctuation. Nine weeks out of an honors English class devoted to lessons I had learned, and still clearly remembered, in second, third, fourth, fifth grade. My goodness, we even devoted a class period to grammar in freshman English in college. I have had this pounded into my brain.

Yes, I can hear some of you now: but what about the children who struggle, or drop out of school, or have a learning block or disability? Shouldn’t they still attempt to have their voice heard? Shouldn’t they be lauded for their efforts?

Well, my answer is “absolutely,” but with a strong caviat. If they have a story, or a theory, they would like to pass on to the world at large, if they are so passionate about this information they’d like to share, wouldn’t they respect their thoughts enough to proof them first?

Whether it’s a teacher, parent, family member, friend, just having others read through your work, even if those closest to you are not necessarily “Grammar Nazis,” really does make a difference. When you’re the writer of a piece of work, you often miss things that others will easily catch, just because you have become so entrenched in your words that, when you read your work over, it’s more like you’re reading from your mind rather than the page.

Moreover, read it over yourself. I’m not kidding when I say that I have edited books, and read peer manuscripts for class, where it is obvious there was no “once-over” before submission, and the second half of the sentence was just missing. That is not due to schooling; that is carelesseness.

I’m the first to admit that I make these errors all the time, whether it’s with my writing for class or publication, on blog posts, and even on my Etsy items’ descriptions. Sometimes, I’m staring at the words for so long that I miss obvious things: closet vs. closest (one very important letter there), of vs. on vs. or (so many times, my fingers roll too fast for the keyboard and bounce over the wrong letter), or even to vs. two vs. too. Also, PS, spellchecker is awesome and a standard on any word processor, even free ones such as OpenOffice.org (which I’d highly recommend if you don’t want to dish out the cash for Microsoft Word, but that’s another story). The point is, value your thoughts enough to have them considered seriously and presented professionally.

I know many people would like to answer that poor grammar and lack of punctuation is the result of the internet, globalization, fast-paced email responses, and quick texting shortcuts which have invaded our higher level of writing. I’m not disputing the possibility that this may be a factor, but I also believe that’s the easy blame to this issue. I don’t know what’s really wrong, but I think it has a lot to do with just not caring, and that scares me.

Although this may simply seem like a rant, there is a clear purpose to these words: I am telling you that you will be taken at your words’ face value. Written word is not only a grand unifier, but also a platform from which to be appraised. You will be judged by what you write, and it will have an effect on how others view you. If you cannot write properly, but writing is your first form of communication with someone new (now a common situation with the prevalence of email), do you think you will be highly regarded? Do you think your ideas will be taken seriously?

September 14, 2012

On Character Emulation, Katniss, and Hair.

Last weekend, I saw a girl, about ten years old, with a Katniss braid.

Hunger Games fans, you know what I’m talking about: the french braid that starts at the top left, snakes down the back of her head, and ends in a regular braid underneath her right ear.

Other than looking really really cool, it was a relatively practical style for a character who’s supposed to be fighting for her life. The girl I saw, however, looked quite timid for one who has obviously at least watched the movie, and I would hope read the book, about an incredibly strong-willed young adult. It made me wonder about this little girl. Was she really as frail and tentative as she seemed? Did she hope that emulating Katniss would make her stronger? Or was she really a little powerhouse, and saw some of Katniss in herself?

I never spoke to her, and so I’ll never know the answer, but it got me to wondering about character emulation. I feel Katniss is a great heroine: she’s authentic; she’s confused, just like the rest of us; her heart is in the right place; and she’s a fighter. She’s an honest, real-life girl for others to look up to.

Not to sound like an old fogey, but I think this is something particularly needed today. (Okay, I do sound old *on my rocking chair on the front porch with my bifocals, grumbling about this newfangled thing called internet* I’m in my twenties, I swear!) When teen moms are paraded around daytime cable and Britney Spears gets to determine the fate of others (really, The X Factor, really?), us girls could use a role model or two who has their heart in the right place.

I remember when I was that little girl’s age, I had some incredible fiction to inspire me. My mother–she’s awesome–always facilitated trips to the library whenever requested, and I inhaled so many books that make me the woman I am today.

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, whose Meg character was so self-conscious and unsure. I read that the year before I got my own horrid glasses, when my hair was also a large, tangled bush of unattractive, and I felt that I would never grow up looking human. She showed me what it meant to try something new and terrifying, and taught me that adolescence is a stage and not a permanent state of being.

Sharon Creech, my favorite author of my childhood (my copy of Walk Two Moons is so battered, the front cover hangs on by sheer will alone), showed me girls who were also just trying to sort out life. Also, she showed me that you can learn life’s truths and be quite extraordinary at the same time (Salamanca driving to see her mother one last time, or Zinnia planting her flower walk, or Sophie’s sailing trip).

Tamora Piece’s Circle of Magic quartet, my first dip into this author (soon to be followed by a resounding cannonball of immersion which I now happily repeat in my adult years), whose Sandrilene character taught me to stick my chin out and fight for the truth and the right in the world. I have gotten a lot of places in life by being honest with myself and others, even a little brash, and I know this was owed in part to seeing Sandry battle the world in the same way.

As I grew a little older, Sarah Dessen’s characters all showed me I was not the only one walking around just a little bit confused about how this life thing was supposed to be working. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a boyfriend, or it all figured out, or that mysterious flock of artificial people in high school, and what was more was I didn’t want that. It was okay to take my own path, and through that, I found the best group of best friends a woman would ever have the privilege to know. Ten years later, they are still my closest, dearest friends, even with all of us scattered around the country. (Google+ hangouts are a magical tool.)

So, although I am much too old to pull off walking around emulating Katniss’ hair, I am never too old to walk around emulating her attitude of “keep fighting,” doing right to the best of your abilities, and taking the time to work out for yourself what that “right” is.

Do you emulate any characters?

What books of your childhood do you retain?

September 4, 2012

On That Moment of Panic When You Get the Syllabus.

Filed under: On Observing. — Tags: , , , , , , , — amandajocrafts @ 10:25 am

I am beginning a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing this week. I am indescribably thrilled to go back to school after a year of graduating undergrad, being out of classes, and assimilating into the “real world,” but I will also be working full-time as well (not to mention the Etsy shop and my freelance editing work).

At any rate, I got a severe case of “syllabus hysteria” right after receiving my first email from my professor. Before the first class, I had to read six short stories? Before the second class, I had to finish a novel and write a short story? Before the middle of October, I had to finish a second short story? But we haven’t even been taught how to write yet!

Oh, yeah, it’s a master’s program. I’m already supposed to know how to write.

Theoretically, I didn’t get in on my good looks.

And I digress again. However, the point I’m trying, and failing, to make (due to a relapse of syllabus hysteria) is that I imagine this is a familiar feeling (at least, it is with my close group of best friends, so unless we’re all crazy…). When I first hear my assignments for the class, all at the same time, I get this tightening in my heart. Being a planner and efficiency master, I want to do it all, right now, just in case I wouldn’t have time later. I want to check it off the list, mark as complete, be prepared, show this professor that I’ve got what it takes *picture me standing up righteously on a classroom desk, one fist on my heart, the other hand in the air*.

But I have to resist this urge. I must combat the “get it done” feeling and, basically, ignore a great deal of the syllabus (once, of course, I put all the due dates on my Google Calendar. I’m not that blase about my future, you know) in order to calm myself down and realize there is time.

It’s a delicate balance between luring myself into a false sense of security (“there’s sooo much time, I have forever”), and demanding my exhausted body to read hundreds of pages now.

I don’t just do this with syllabi. I do this with Etsy shop plans (I want to make fifteen new bears? Do it now!), freelance editing jobs (that 400-page manuscript sure looks daunting when you take it in one gulp), and even things that really should be enjoyment (we have to do this, and this, and that, and the other thing. *Picture my fiance dragging hopelessly behind me, hand in mine, while I pull him along going “isn’t this fun?“*).

I’m not proclaiming that I, or anyone else, should just let those chips fall where’er they may (because it will not be in our favor), but I think it would do some good to take things one step at a time.

Do you get this feeling?

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