A Dissertation: A Story in Five Songs

Edinburgh Expeditions

As my dissertation draws into a close (at this point, the thing is printed, bound and submitted), I realized that my odyssey can be recounted in five songs. It’s more the feeling (and title) of the song than the lyrics, but enjoy away.

May-June

No class! I can do whatever I want! It’s sunny, I can research outside! Mum and sister are in town, I can take some time off!

June-July

Things aren’t going quite as I anticipated…

July-August

As the deadlines draw nearer…

16 August 2012

The thing is in…and I am so tired…it’s a cold and its a broken hallelujah…now to recovery and celebrate with the friends I’ve been ignoring for the last few weeks.

And as it finally sets in…

FREEEDOM! Now I’m off to enjoy the sunny weather, the Fringe, and time with friends before I become a responsible adult.

The Improbability of University Life

Edinburgh Expeditions

Sometimes, I feel as though my life ought to be a movie. There are moments that are so improbable, so scripted, that if I didn’t partake or witness them myself, I would scarcely believe that they had happened.

One of those days happened Monday. My swing dance group was tapped to perform in a flashmob (we do this a lot) to advertise for an upcoming jazz club night. It was only supposed to be a few minutes, to get some photographs for our society and for the club night. My friends and I grinned and danced, wearing t shirts and cardigans despite the cold. We had the soft sounds of an iPod to dance to, only enough to catch the rhythm and make up the rest from there.

My friend and I started dancing, rock-step-triple-stepping, lindy-turn, rock-step-triple-step-step-step-triple-step. We laughed at the ridiculousness of dancing to the music we could hear (sort of), but the rest of the world could not.

We were ready to stop after a few minutes. Our silly group attracted a few bystanders.

The sound of a solo saxophone cut through the chilly night.

Our little group looked up, surprised. What was this sound? Were we to continue?

“Great!” said one. “Music!”

All we could do was continue dancing. We couldn’t resist live music, even if it were just one saxophonist.

I switched dance partners. As I spun, I noticed someone wheeling a double bass case. I thought nothing of it as I continued to dance, focusing on not twisting my ankle on the concrete. The thump-thump of the bass strings joined the saxophone.

An entire jazz band sprouted from the pavement. A trumpeter materialized, another saxophonist joined the throng. Finishing off this spontaneous band was a percussionist on cymbals.

Through it all, as we twirled around the main university square, more and more people stopped to watch, intrigued by the musicians and the dancers, two crazy groups out on a cold, early March night.

If it were to be filmed or presented in a novel, it would be considered a contrivance, a plot device, something to initiate the ‘meet cute’ between the hero and heroine, or the climax of the (undeniably cheesy happy) story. No one would believe something like that could really happen.

Books that Matter: Over to You by Roald Dahl

Books that Matter

It wouldn’t be a book list of mine without something by Roald Dahl. The difficulty was choosing which of his books to highlight, as I enjoy so many of them.

One kept sneaking back into my mind–Over to You, his collection of RAF inspired tales. Not the first of Mr Dahl’s books that I read, but the one that I have read most frequently.

This book is a collection of some of his earliest work. There’s an elegance to it, a lyricism that delivers a punch straight to the gut. There’s humor in some of the stories, such as ‘Madame Rosette,’ but there is a poignancy to  others that stays, such as “They Shall Never Grow Old.”

I discovered this book shortly after developing my interest in the RAF and the Second World War. It was a fitting match, stories that captured camaraderie and sorrow.

I’ve read most of Dahl’s other adult stories, but these are the ones that stick with me the most.

Edit: Holmes has asked me to clarify something: it was she who reintroduced Mr Dahl into my life, NOT the RAF. However, I stand by my “I chose this book over the others” because of the RAF.

Revisiting Old Stories

General Geekiness

I was poking about on my hard drive today when I discovered some stories written through the years. Some of them I wrote over four years ago; its enjoyable to look back and see what I was thinking about then. I reread one of my favorites from that era, a story about super heroes and villains who, apart from being superpowered, are normal folks. I still like my plot and the idea, but I could do a lot with the writing. It has been four years, and I have improved.

The other story is the one that was giving me so much trouble last year. All I could remember from it was that a) I hated the protagonist, b) it is set somewhere in Italy and c) it’s a bit obvious that I adore The Prisoner.  And while I still hate the protagonist (funny, because in rereading I see myself in him. Not a great deal, but enough), I still think the story has potential. I am quite enamoured with the setting and with the basic premise. I had some good descriptions.

I need to revisit the first story, rewrite it so its cleaner, more epic and awesome in scope. I had a pretty decent world built up, I’d like to explore it more.

For the second story, I need to work on defining the main character, the primary antagonist, and the plot. Once I have these elements figured out, I should be able to press forward.

Looks like I’ll have some creative writing projects this summer. Hurrah!

Happy Deathday, Mr Dahl

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters
Roald Dahl

From Wikipedia. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten

Roald Dahl died 20 years ago today, 23 November 1990.

What can I say about one of my favorite writers that hasn’t been said before?

Roald Dahl, the writer who continues to weave his way through my life. As a child, I loved his books. I wanted powers like Matilda’s. I loved the story of the BFG. My sister had a Book On Tape of it, and we listened to that story on car rides to visit my grandparents or on family vacations. In elementary school, we read James and the Giant Peach during a very long fire drill. As a young child, I read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator first, and never forgot those Vermicious Knids.

But then I hit that barren wasteland of middle school, where it was no longer cool to love his books. They were kids’ stuff, to be regulated to a far corner, to the back of our minds, to be remembered fondly but never admitted.

High School brought a return to the awesome. My prom theme was Golden Ticket, styled after the Gene Wilder movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, complete with golden tickets, candy everywhere, and a (fake) chocolate waterfall. But still, I ignored the books.

Cue sophomore year of college. My roommate, the fantastic Holmes, got a copy of a collection of his adult short stories. She made me read “Genesis and Catastrophe”. I was hooked on the way my stomach felt after reading that story. I began to read more, to crave more. “Lamb to the Slaughter” introduced me to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the story “Beware of the Dog” brought me to 36 Hours (a really good thriller).

Through it, I read a book called The Irregulars, about Dahl’s time as a spy during WWII, which subsequently kicked off my interest in the RAF (or may have just helped to spawn it, I’m really unsure of how that came to be).

I’ve read most of his adult stories by this point. When I travel, I bring Over to You, a collection of his RAF stories, with me. It’s a slim book, perfect for sticking into a computer bag. I want to read My Uncle Oswald, a novel about his delightfully devious character of the same name.

Recently, Holmes and I have started rereading some of his children’s books. We recently finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I never realized how delightful of a morality play it is. The evil children all meet their very fitting ends, all receive their punishments in accordance to their crimes. Its delightful how twisted the tale is. In rewatching the Gene Wilder movie, we realized how much it distorts the story, how it takes away from Charlie being such a deserving character. In the movie, he misbehaves as the other children do. And Grandpa Joe is such a bad influence in the movie.

Dahl’s wicked sense of humor appeals to all ages, from the child looking for a creepy bedtime story, to the adult looking for a good gut-twisting story. There’s a magic to his work, an appeal that transcends ages.

In honor of Mr Dahl, I shall be eating chocolate today (a favorite food of his, in fact, he allegedly was buried with some), and reading a portion of Over to You.

Read one of his short stories today. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s to many more years enjoying Roald Dahl’s stories, the fantastic, the strange, the heartbreaking, the wicked.

30 Days of Writing: Day Four

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

Where to begin? With my epic stories I’d tell myself when I was a little kid, acting them out with my Barbies and action figures? The plethora of stories I wrote in the first grade (including my simplistic history of the American Revolution)?

No.

My fourth grade class started publishing work. My teacher would select the works she liked best and we would edit, rewrite, and illustrate the books to be bound and put in the school library, where they would be available to check out.

I wrote a story called Hike, Champion, Hike! It was about a lovable Siberian husky named Champion who’s owner Catherine enters a sled race. Champion was the lead dog.

I don’t remember much of the story. I was big into the Iditarod at the time, and set the story in Alaska (despite having never been there. Which is still true). It was cute.

One of these days I’ll see if the book is still at the library.