Thursday, April 14, 2016

Writing is More Than Inspiration

This is a catchy (and graphic) aphorism, but it's false. The quote merely describes inspiration for writing, not the labor of writing itself.

Anybody can have an idea. For particularly creative people, inspiration strikes from anywhere: out of thin air, from a dream, levitating off your refrigerator or a TV show or a broken curtain rod. Granted, good ideas are more difficult to create, but ideas themselves are a dime a dozen.

Artistry and lots of editing separate great writing from mere puddles of inspiration. Every first draft should be fed to a large fire, and every third draft still has a ways to go. Hemingway's quote--if he was the one to say it at all--ignores the writers' craft entirely, which, irony aside, is insulting. It makes good writing look easy.

My novella is currently 5000 words. It started off as a two-page outline which nobody would call good writing. That title belongs to the prose and the emotions and the struggling description.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Backlash Over Black Hermione the Latest Battle in Pop Media Racism

There's been some hullabaloo in the Harry Potter fanbase surrounding Hermione Granger, one of the series' central characters.. J.K. Rowling collaborated on a sequel play, titled "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," which follows various characters into middle age. The play is set to premiere in London next summer. The buzz surrounds black actress Noma Dumezweni, who will play Hermione. Baffled fans insist Hermione is white and Rowling intended her to be so.

The main actors in "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child."
We cannot dismiss the backlash as anger over misrepresentation of canon, e.g. a male Hermione instead of a female one, since the books never specify Hermione's skin color. The Sorcerer's Stone describes Hermione as buck-toothed with bushy brown hair and brown eyes. The Prisoner of Azkaban says "Hermione [looks] very brown." The book also notes "Hermione's white face" when she is terrified, but this usage of "white" is probably equivalent to "pale with fear" and not an indication of skin color. 86% of Britons are white, so if Hogwarts has the same racial composition as the United Kingdom, Hermione could certainly be white. But the books never specify Hermione's skin color.
Part of the outrage stems from the belief that a character should remain white in every interpretation of the character. Interpretations of characters only have to be canonically correct, not necessarily consistent with other interpretations. Thus although Emma Watson, a white actress, played the character in all eight films, there is no need for the character to be white in all portrayals. Fans of the series should also remember that the Harry Potter films are a different type of adaptation than the stage play, making it even less imperative that the two character representations line up.

A second assumption in the backlash is the default race of characters. We as readers are so accustomed to white heroes that we require a skin color specification to imagine anything else. The appalling lack of racial diversity in fantasy novels perpetuates this tendency: if most fictional characters are white, readers will assume a new character is white as well.
Yet many Harry Potter fans have long portrayed Hermione as a woman of color, and most fans celebrate the casting decision as a victory for black people. The character's struggle against discrimination prompted some readers to read Hermione as a racial minority from the beginning; the character was born to non-magical parents and some Hogwarts students questioned her right to a magical education.
The success of shows with non-white protagonists, such as Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra and Netflix original series Master of None, demonstrates that characters don't have to be white to be popular. While a minority of Harry Potter fans protest a black interpretation of a beloved character, most fans are unfazed.

This small battle is part of an ongoing fight to make our media reflect ourselves, and, judging from J.K. Rowling's tweet, tolerance won this time.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Positive Disintegration

I've always assumed existential crises are fundamental to some sort of personality growth; apparently a psychologist named Kazimierz Dabrowski beat me to it, developing the Theory of Positive Disintegration in the late 1900s. I've found the theory reassuring since it recognizes the importance of existential concerns to personality/moral developments, here the theory is for your future reference.

Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski created the theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) during his lifetime. The theory states that conscious, autonomous moral growth drives a person to operate independently of society's prevailing values. It outlines three factors propelling higher personality development and the five stages of this development, emphasizing that not every person can or will shape their personality this way. Unique to TPD is the positive role of anxiety and psychological tension which help an individual's journey of personality customization; most contemporary psychologists see mental breakdowns as obstacles to growth, but Dabrowski recognized their importance to an individual's moral development.

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Paper Towns": Flat, But Enjoyable

Which is scarier than the movie itself.
The latest young adult mystery-romance lacks flavor. In "Paper Towns," directed by Josh Boone, high school senior Quentin (Nat Wolff) gets a dose of serendipity when his crush Margo (Cara Delevigne) suddenly includes him in her nighttime revenge scheme. After she dramatically vanishes the next day, he sets out with his friends to find her. The movie is based on the eponymous John Green novel.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Which Leaveners Make the Best Cookies?

One of my favorite cooking blogs, Averie Cooks, swears cornstarch is the magic bullet for soft, pillowy cookies. The idea makes sense: cornstarch is the main ingredient in pudding mix, which many bakers (including Averie) swear is the secret to soft, chewy cookies. However, when I started adding cornstarch to my cookie leavening, my creations flattened. Maybe the dough is a fan of reverse psychology?

I bake because I'm a huge fan of sweet things, mixing dough, dangerous implements, and experimenting. In True Science Fashion, last June I carried out a leavening test. I made a double batch of dough, divided it into 6 sections, and calculated how much of each leavener I needed to keep the necessary leavener-dough ratio called for in my original recipe. I baked each group at 375°F for 10 minutes, rotated once.

Hull House: a Social Experiment

I wrote this paper on Hull House, a fascinating social work experiment in 1900s Chicago. The settlement house's commitment to ending urban poverty, and the women's commitment to their suffrage rights, really resonated with me. I'm a sucker for people who dramatically change the way humans think or act: Albert Einstein, Dorothea Dix, Carl Jung, Jane Addams.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: The Imitation Game

"The Imitation Game," directed by Morten Tyldum, is a dramatic biography detailing mathematician Alan Turing's attempt to break the Nazi code, Enigma, during World War II. Turing, considered a father of computer science and artificial intelligence, faced skepticism in his intellectual life and bigotry and emotional issues in his personal life. The film released in 2014 to positive reviews, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and Keira Knightley as comrade Joan Clarke.

Turing with his suspiciously cinematic computer, Christopher.
The movie recognizes viewers' perennial hunger for the tortured genius: a brilliant, societally beneficial soul, recognized only posthumously for their genius or destroyed by cruel life circumstances. Audiences love rooting for such exceptional people, relieved an on-screen martyr will never be them. The Imitation Game packages Alan Turing as such a figure: his brilliant, cinematic computer saved countless Allied lives, but skepticism and homophobia ultimately killed him. The film's first half considers Turing's unyielding boss and uncooperative colleagues impediments to the mathematician's genius, detailing his emotional growth. By the second half, the audience roots for the man, allowing the film to calmly villainize homophobia as the pity-laden icing on Turing's tortured genius cake. (Remarkably, the film considers homophobia a tool to further the tortured genius image instead of Turing's central struggle, a welcome change from the tired "gay=tragedy" trope.) At the end of the movie, the mathematician's contributions as the father of AI cement his likability as a societally beneficial martyr.