The Status Effect That Never Healed

*TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of depression, self-harm, suicide*

So far in my “impactful literature” series of blogs, I’ve examined two of my favorite literary works. The Horse and His Boy taught me about the power of personal agency, looking beneath the surface to fine something’s true nature, and the hope that we’ll always find where we belong; The Mortal Instruments empowered me as a writer through its portrayal of words as magical, and empowers me as a person by giving me the motivation to fight battles I know to be important. Normally, this would be the part where I would be telling you about another book that taught me important life lessons or gave me strength, but this time, I’m going to go a little deeper. Gamer Girl, a young adult novel written by Mari Mancusi, didn’t simply teach me something or strengthen me; it may have helped save my life. Continue reading

Why I Want To Be A Shadowhunter

In my last post concerning books that had a considerable impact on my life, I discussed a volume of The Chronicles of Narniaa book series from my childhood.  In this second installment, however, I’m looking at a literary work that made an entrance into my life rather recently: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.  I actually only began reading these books in the summer of 2013 – the movie adaptation of the first book, City of Bones, was coming out that August and I wanted to have the book read before I went to see the film.  “What in the world, Alex,” you might be thinking. “How on earth could these books have so much meaning to you if you only read them seven months ago?!”

Funny story about that, actually. But first, some background (possible spoilers ahead; you have been warned): Continue reading

ETSUCon: Getting Into Character

The more I delve into the “convention scene” of my area, the more I realize just how much I live from con to con.  After the aptly-named large convention ColossalCon I attend in the summer, I spend the next six months prepping for Yama-Con in December, which I wrote about previously.  After that con comes another favorite local convention of mine, ETSUCon!  This particular Japanese animation and pop culture convention is unique in that it is run and organized by various student organizations of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, just a few hours from LMU.  I attended this small con last year and was incredibly impressed by not only the many wonderful attractions and guests of the event, but also the organization and smoothness with which it ran.  This convention is organized almost completely by college students – if that doesn’t show that we’re capable of amazing things, I don’t know what does!  Needless to say, the second year of the con was just as amazing, and perhaps even more so, than the first.

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Me on the left as Petra with another cosplayer as Levi, a member of the main cast of Attack on Titan. Hugs all around! (Is that an Assassin I see in the right background?)

One of the main things that made this con stand out to me was the character I chose to dress as for the day:  Petra Ral, a soldier from the ultra-popular and fairly new anime series Attack on Titan.  The show is one of the few animated series that I have followed from its beginning; this makes it a series that I hold very close to my heart and am extremely invested.  Because the anime and its characters were so dear to me, I wanted to be sure that I did the character of Petra justice.  One way I did this was by pouring a good bit of time and resources into the costume’s construction – the cosplaying hobby can get quite expensive and time-consuming, believe it or not!  I made sure everything was as perfect as I could get it within my time frame and budget, from investing in the sturdiest parts I could find to ensuring that my wig was styled perfectly.  I attempted to emulate my character in abstract ways as well: getting inside her head, so to speak.  I tend to cosplay characters who have personalities similar to my own, so this part wasn’t too difficult!  Petra is very kind, caring, and respectful, all traits easy for me to emphasize in my interactions with other at the con.  I remember as I was posing for one picture with three more cosplayers, one said “Petra! Don’t worry, we’ll protect you!”  (I’d tell you why this offhand comment was actually very touching, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything if you decide to check out the show…)  “Getting into character” and interacting with the many other cosplayers from my series was one of the most fun parts of the convention!

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“To Narnia and the North!”

Recently, I’ve found myself revisiting old books of mine that I remember having a profound impact on me in some way. This one is merely the first of many! When contemplating favorite childhood books, I don’t have to dig very far in my memory to recall The Chronicles of Narnia. This enchanting high fantasy series by C.S. Lewis has everything an avid fairy-tale fan and aspiring fantasy writer could ask for: alternate worlds and kingdoms, talking beasts, kings and queens, warriors and magicians, good versus evil. Needless to say, after reading only one of the books, I fell in love instantly. Afterward, and throughout my earlier middle school years, my mother and I read the entire series together, from book one to seven.  However, the third book of the series, The Horse and His Boy, was always both of our favorites.  This story follows the journey of a boy named Shasta, Aravis the runaway noblewoman, and the two talking Narnian horses Bree and Hwin, who are undertaking a quest to escape their unhappy lives in the country of Calormen and find refuge in Narnia to the north. Not only did I find this book in the series to be the most enjoyable, with amazing characters along with high-stakes adventure, but I also thought it was one of the most profound. With each stage of the characters’ journey came different lessons and insights that I found myself taking to heart more than I had expected to starting out.

I’m more of a Lasaraleen than an Aravis.

Perhaps my favorite characters in the story were the thoroughly contrasting human females of the cast. Aravis is a girl of noble birth who prefers sword-fighting and horseback riding to traditionally feminine wiles, and is running to Narnia to escape a forced engagement. Her best friend, a noblewoman named Lasaraleen, is in contrast a sheltered but elegant and caring lady, a “terrible giggler” who couldn’t get enough of parties and gossip. When reading through the two girls’ interactions, I was perplexed; I found myself identifying more with Lasaraleen, and even liking her more than Aravis! Shouldn’t I have been more aligned with the hero than the slightly ditzy side character? That attitude changed, however, when Aravis said this: “Good-bye, and I thought your dresses were lovely. And I think your house is lovely too. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely life – though it wouldn’t suit me.” In that quote, it was made clear that neither girl was being portrayed in a negative light for her choices; they were simply different, and that was completely fine. This notion had a profound effect upon my attitude from then onward; I didn’t have to be anything. If I wanted to be a beautiful princess or kick butt with a sword, or both, or neither, I could. The idea that I had the agency to be whatever I wished was drastically important for me to hear as a young girl, and perhaps is even more important to me today with so many choices looming on the horizon.

The two princes of Archenland are together as they should be – Shasta has finally found where he belongs. Finding where I belong, however, may not be so cut and dry.

Perhaps it’s during one of the last phases of the characters’ journey to Narnia that one of my favorite messages of the tale comes to light. (Spoilers ahead!) Shasta, the male lead of the book, was found as an orphan and raised in the country of Calormen his entire life but was clearly not native to that country with his fair complexion characteristic of Northern countries. When Shasta, Aravis, and the horses finally reached Archenland, the country between Calormen and Narnia, Shasta’s origins are finally revealed: he is actually the long-lost Prince Cor of Archenland, twin brother to the younger Prince Corin that he met earlier on in the story. This is by far the plot twist that caught me off guard the most; Shasta was the absolute last character I would have expected to turn out to be royalty of all things! Then I at last realized the message of this plot point: not only that some things aren’t what they appear to be, but also that we will always manage to find our way back to where we truly belong. When I first read this book in my younger years, I was overjoyed that Shasta had finally found his identity, his family, and his home. Perhaps this was because, in a way, I hadn’t yet found mine; I was still searching for where I was meant to be and what I was meant to learn in order to become the person I wanted to be (adolescence is such a wonderfully confusing time). In a way, both Shasta and I were in essence lost souls, trying to make sense of our place in this confusing world we were being flung into far too quickly for our liking. Now that I’m much older, in college, and beginning to refine the process of “figuring myself out”, I feel as if I’m less of a Shasta and more of a Prince Cor. I’m finding my niche and becoming more confident in the identity I’m choosing for myself.

I find it amazing that the stories such as The Horse and His Boy that I’ve been exposed to, no matter how long ago, still stay in my mind and have an effect on me to this day. From high fantasy, to young adult books, to graphic novels, there are so many books that have shaped my understanding of myself and the world around me.

Expect more posts detailing my favorite stories soon! Feel free to follow my blog to stay tuned – and of course, tell me about your favorite books in the comments!

It’s Okay, I’m With the Band

Sometimes, I find myself wishing that I could get more involved on campus. I see all of the amazing organizations and clubs on campus that my friends are getting involved in and think “I should really be doing more.” But then I remember: I’m insanely involved already! In fact, the groups I’m a part of take up three out of five days in the school week – and sometimes even a day of my weekend. Taking part in them just seems so natural that I hardly even notice that they’re “extra-curricular”, or at least most of them are.

I am, of course, referring to LMU’s many student and community musical ensembles. As of now, there are four immediately visible ensembles: the Concert Band, Pep Band, Jazz Band, and the Concert Choir and Community Chorus. Right now, the only one of these groups that I’m not affiliated with in any way is the Jazz Band (I’m not at all experienced in the jazz style or the instruments used in said style), and thus can’t give you much insider information on that ensemble - Julie can give you the details on this one! In addition to this, I’m completely new to the Concert Choir (having joined just this semester), and somewhat new to Pep Band (joined last semester). Fortunately, my previously-learned musical abilities and experiences were able to help me adjust to these new groups rather quickly. Not only have they been great learning experiences thus far, but also great fun!

Don’t mess with the woodwinds!

I’ve actually been playing with the university’s Concert Band off-and-on since my junior year of high school. Since any member of the community well-versed in his/her instrument can play with the band, I tried out on flute (a C and E-flat major scale and “Into The West” from Lord of the Rings were my audition tasks, if I remember correctly!) and was able to play along with a few of my other friends from my high school’s band. Needless to say, I stuck with it – joining the ensemble officially when I began school at LMU didn’t feel like much of a change at all. Out of the three ensembles I’m a part of, I think Concert Band is definitely my favorite; not only because it’s the one I’m most familiar with, but also because I enjoy the classical types of music we play and the setup of multiple rehearsals culminating into one final concert. Many of my good friends (including my best friend from high school!) are in this ensemble as well; if that isn’t awesome enough, the flute section is one of the largest sections in the band, fun and overpowering in equal measure! Since there are so many of us, our director, Dr. Carucci, has often had to say something to the effect of “Okay, I need all of you to play out more in this section – except the flutes! I couldn’t hear the trumpets over you guys.” I can think of very few other bands where the most delicate woodwind instrument in the ensemble was in danger of overpowering the loudest brass instrument known to man.

If Concert Band represents the classical culture side of music to me, then Pep Band is its pop culture equivalent. While in Concert Band, we learn perhaps five or six long and challenging pieces of music to perform at a concert at the end of the semester, in Pep Band, we learn many shorter and less taxing pieces to perform in the stands at LMU’s basketball games throughout the year. This ensemble is considerably more visible than its Concert equivalent, considering we play at nearly every home game. Because of this visibility and the relatively short periods of time we have to learn our music, the director places a special emphasis on us achieving a clear musical sound and sounding good together, a skill that many of us can easily carry over to Concert Band. While the extremely exciting and loud atmosphere of Pep Band performances hasn’t historically been where I feel most at home, I consider the experience worth it to be able to play fun and crowd-pleasing music with an ensemble dedicated to excellence.

My Concert Choir audition piece – Broadway is always my go-to source for awesome sheet music!

Concert Choir is, as I mentioned, the ensemble I’m the newest to, in more ways than one. Not only did I just join, but I have had practically no experience singing in a formal concert setting. I do, however, have a decent voice and can read music and match pitch – no worries there! There were four parts to the audition process for this ensemble: pitch testing (seeing how high and low I could sing and assigning me to either soprano or alto depending on how I did), rhythm testing (clapping a few notated rhythms out), a prepared piece (I brought a previously-rehearsed song of my own choosing to demonstrate my singing ability in-context), and sight-singing (singing a few short, simple melodies I hadn’t seen previously). I was placed in the alto section – the female harmony part. Although this is a new experience for me, I’m not too worried about it, considering my cousin (an amazing vocalist) is an alto alongside me. So far we’re working on some amazing pieces, including a beautiful religious piece by Haydn, which is a challenge I’m definitely looking forward to!

When I step back and look at all the amazing things I’m a part of in the music program, I can’t think of why I ever thought I was “uninvolved.” Music isn’t just something I’m involved in here – it’s something of a second home.

If you’d like to know more about LMU’s music program, check out its web page here! Now that I’ve shared my musical experiences – what about you? Do you play any instruments or sing, or would you like to? Have you considered checking out any university musical performances, at LMU or elsewhere? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to follow my blog for updates on my own adventures, musical or otherwise!

Let It Go!

[Spoiler Alert: Frozen plot points ahead! This is probably a sign that you should go see it if you haven't.]

It was nearly a month ago when I had the pleasure of seeing Disney’s newest animated film Frozen in theaters for the first time, and I recently was able to see it again with my closest group of friends. Not only was I completely blown away, my emotions were flung between extremes of unbridled anger, pity, and happiness, and I found myself both laughing relentlessly and crying tears of both sorrow and joy. Case in point, Frozen was not only one of the most amazing stories from Disney I’ve seen in a while, it was also one of the most relatable, for me and many others as well. My friend Chelsea connected to Olaf the Snowman’s moving declaration of friendship. I, however, found myself identifying with a different character: Elsa, also known as the Snow Queen.

Elsa, heir to the throne of Arendelle, is born with the ability to conjure and control ice and snow. When she inadvertently hurts her younger sister Anna with her powers, she attempts to learn how to keep her icy abilities under control. However, her fear of hurting someone again only causes them to grow stronger and instead of learning to control her power, she resorts to hiding and repressing it, cutting herself off from her sister in the process. As Elsa reminds herself before her coronation, “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…conceal, don’t feel, put on a show – make one wrong move and everyone will know!” The newly-crowned queen couldn’t keep her powers suppressed forever, however. Angered by her sister, she accidentally reveals her abilities and flees, freezing everything in her wake. Once alone, she realizes that her fears of being found out were irrational, and decides to stop hiding what she deems to be her true self. In her signature musical number, aptly named “Let It Go”, she casts off her stuffy mask of the perfectly-behaved queen and finally embraces her capabilities rather than hiding them away.

I realized that I sympathized with Elsa because I had been doing the exact same thing she had for a long time. Her mantra of “conceal, don’t feel” is one that I’ve repeated to myself many times throughout my life. While I’m obviously not trying to hide icy magical powers from the world, I have often felt like I needed to conceal other things: my “irrational” feelings, my “strange” interests, and my unorthodox opinions, to name a few. Throughout middle and high school, when I was beginning to “come into myself” and critically analyze my characteristics and thought processes; the need to hide from all but my closest friends was especially strong since I grew up in a community that wasn’t very diverse. Even during my first semester at LMU, a liberal arts college full of amazing and open-minded thinkers, I was still careful to keep what I think to be my “true self” in the shadows, as it were. For whatever reason, I was still afraid: of what others would think of me, that I wouldn’t be liked, that my thoughts and words would be written off simply because they were coming from me. And, just like Elsa, I’m finally beginning to realize just how irrational my fears are.

A few of those fears that I’ve decided to let go? I’m so glad you asked. Continue reading

Alex’s Declassified Writing Survival Guide (Results May Vary)

After a lovely winter break that was a bit longer than expected due to the Polar Vortex of Iciness and Doom, my fellow students and I are back at LMU for another exciting semester of studies! Thankfully, the two extra days we were out of classes to avoid freezing didn’t do much to quell my enthusiasm – if anything, it gave me more free time to kick my creative juices into gear and work on a favorite hobby of mine: writing. I’m taking quite a few humanities-oriented classes this semester (American Literature I, Comparative Religions, World History, and an Honors course devoted to second-order reasoning), and thus I expect that writing will play a decent part in all of them. While I, of course, prefer to devote time to my own fictional creations, I also enjoy writing academically, not only because I’m fairly adept at it but also because it allows me to hone skills that I can carry over to any type of writing. A few of the things I try to keep in mind before beginning or while working on a writing project can be applied to both writing for school and writing prose for fun.

1) Write about things that you like – if that’s not possible, find something to like!

Being able to write academically about things I’m into is an amazing feeling – even if my analysis can never live up to the primary source!

I completely feel your pain: your professor assigned you a five-page paper about the absolute dullest thing you can imagine, right? Been there, done that, and it’s not the end of the world. In academic writing, if you have even the slightest hint of a chance to choose what you can write about, by all means choose a topic that you can get into and are excited about analyzing or researching! On a major research paper in a past English class, I was given the chance to choose my own topic and chose to write about the cultural impact of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, my favorite book at the time, and thus writing the paper was nothing short of a blast. Things don’t always work out so well, though: if you find yourself stuck writing on a completely blah topic, then it’s possible find some way to make it interesting! For a Sociology paper on gender roles in children’s advertising, I chose to analyze the commercials shown during a cartoon I loved as a child, Yu-Gi-Oh!, rather than bore myself waiting for commercial breaks during preschool shows to write about. If one looks hard enough and doesn’t get discouraged, almost every writing assignment can be at least mildly exciting. Trust me on this: pieces of writing almost always come out better if you’re interested in the subject.

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