The Wings of Freedom

“Fight to win! Risk it all for even a glimmer of real freedom! It doesn’t matter what’s waiting outside the gate or what comes in! It doesn’t matter how cruel the world can be, or how unjust!

Fight! Fight! Fight! FIGHT!”

Readers, I want you to imagine a dystopia the likes of which you’ve never seen before. The human race has been driven to the brink of extinction by a race of colossal monsters who seem to exist only to kill it, and the survivors have fled within supposedly impenetrable walls to defend themselves. This world gives no pretense of being perfect, is in fact genuinely terrifying, and humanity’s defenders are fighting a seemingly endless battle to protect a hopeless population. That’s right, I’m talking about the world of Hajime Isayama’s best-selling manga, Attack on Titan. And as Tumblr user acronymexe so aptly summed up: “Attack on Titan has taught me that no matter what the odds, no matter what stands in my way, if I have the right mindset and fight with my mind and my soul, I will still most likely die.” I actually discovered animated adaptation of this manga before the manga itself; while the first season of the anime ended after twenty-five episodes, I discovered that the manga was still ongoing and immediately began reading.

**SPOILERS: I will not discuss in this blog any plot points extending past Chapter 34 of the manga / episode 25 of the anime.** Continue reading

Alex’s Declassified Writing Survival Guide – Part 2!

Guess what, my dear readers?

I, Alex, the writer who often develops new ideas to write but rarely ever finds the motivation to actually do the thing, has started a new original story at last! And this time, it’s one that I got the idea for out of non-forced inspiration and I am actually determined to finish!

Perhaps it’s really true that a change of surroundings or a change in pace is all it takes to kick-start the imagination. I recently spent a week in Hilton Head Island in South Carolina before school started back, on vacation with my parents. While having no private bedroom and constantly running around for a week had the unfortunate side-effect of me wanting to spend the entire week afterward doing nothing and talking to no one, there were some definite upsides to a new environment. Perhaps the most important was that I started journaling again. That got me used to writing a little every day, no matter what it was. It was the last night of the trip, when I was down at the beach for one last visit, that the aforementioned perfect story idea came to me, along with the first lines of the story itself.

However, for me most of the time, writing isn’t nearly as easy as staring out at the ocean until inspiration strikes out of the blue. To illustrate this, here’s an in-depth look at my complete writing process:

1) Realize that you haven’t written anything that’s not fanfiction in over six months.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with writing fanfiction – I LOVE fanfics, reading them and writing them, and consider them a completely legitimate form of storycrafting. However, I also love branching out into writing my own, original ideas too…and shortly before I left for vacation, I looked back at the past year and realized that I had hardly written anything not using pre-existing characters at all. Whoops.

2) Take a peek into your latent imagination and realize that you have too many ideas and half-finished concepts buzzing around to organize. Continue reading

A Heart Made Fullmetal

Edward understands my addiction very well, it seems.

To my established readers, this may be obvious, and to my new readers, it will quickly become apparent: I am something of a bibliophile. I love reading, I love collecting books, I love merely being around books. Whenever I go to a bookstore with other people in tow, they always have to drag me out after about two or three hours, because if it were up to me I’d probably never leave. There’s an unmistakeable comfort in being surrounded by stories – and while I do love traditional literature, there’s no place that comfort is stronger than in the manga section.

This is the first in a small series of posts that will be analyzing my favorite graphic novels, manga or otherwise, but manga in particular has always held a special place in my heart. I’ve loved Japanese graphic novels for years, since middle school at the very least. I started out reading things like Naruto, Pokémon Adventures, and Tokyo Mew Mew, mainstream action series or ones geared toward a younger audience. In my freshman year of high school, however, I was introduced to my first “grown-up” manga, one that would (at the risk of sounding cliché) change my life: Fullmetal Alchemist, written by Hiromu Arakawa. Continue reading

Alex the Part-Time Nihilist

“‘If you could, would you?’ Probably not, let’s face it, I’m not the kind of guy who does.” – New York Times Bestselling Author John Green

My dear readers, I’m going to be very frank with you: I have many things I could be doing with my time right now. I could be reading the massive pile of unread books sitting on my shelf (stop glaring at me like that, Loki…and I REALLY don’t like that look you’re giving me, Paper Towns!) or I could be finishing the half-watched anime series that I’ve barely touched since the semester ended. I could be working on writing that Star Trek / Avengers crossover fanfic I started forever ago, or even start writing the idea for the sci-fi story I’ve been revising over and over in my mind but never typed out. I could be working on a costume, I could be re-organizing my room, I could be exercising…and yet I am doing none of these things. Readers, I am undoubtably, unbelievably, incredibly, and inexcusably:

So bored that I took more time than I should have coming up with all of those adverbs.

Never in my 13 years of formal schooling have I wanted summer to end this badly. I’ve actually already folded a good deal of the clothes I own and am seriously considering living out of my suitcase for the next three weeks, just so it can feel like I’m moving back into my cozy room in Lafrenz-Poole Hall sooner than I actually am. If I was back at school, at least I would be required to do something meaningful! Voluntary action? I’m just not feeling it. What makes it worse is knowing that these next few days are going to be completely stagnant. Nothing even remotely exciting that might help pull me out of this rut is happening until next week, and even so, I can’t bring myself to get excited for those things either! Guardians of the Galaxy premier? Leaving for the beach? Whatever.

To be completely honest, when I slowed down and started thinking about the complete lack of motivation I’m experiencing, I freaked myself out a bit. What exactly is my problem? I have so many things I could be accomplishing at this point in time with no obstacles, so why don’t I want to do any of them? Why do I feel as if there’s no point to doing them even if I mustered up the motivation?

Wait a moment, I thought. I know where this is going. I’ve asked one question and now I can’t stop – what’s the point in doing anything? Am I turning into some kind of watered-down part-time nihilist who can’t find meaning in her actions anymore? Actually typing all of these thoughts out makes them sound a bit silly – both to me and to you, I’m sure – but I’ve learned to be hyper-vigilant in examining myself when these kinds of thoughts start rearing their heads. An unfortunate side-effect of having succumbed to an everything-is-pointless mentality for real at one point, I’m afraid. Needless to say, I’m definitely not too keen on thinking anything like that again!

Thankfully, though, my wondering about the meaning of life and if anything I do has any worth probably isn’t the lingering fragments of my four-years-passed mental illness. Rather, I like to call these thoughts “the interesting questions” as my former honor’s program director would say. Asking these kind of questions is extremely interesting, and also strangely empowering.

Why exactly should I go read that book I haven’t touched, rather than lounge around pondering how bored I am? Does one activity have more inherent worth than the other? If it does, then why? Are some things more worth getting excited about than others, or is everything worth excitement, or is nothing worth excitement? And who decides what that worth is? Me, or someone else?

Referring back to the title of this post – am I a nihilist? Of course not! Questioning, I believe, isn’t disavowing all meaning in anything; it’s expanding my awareness. By asking the “interesting questions” about something as mundane as “why am I bored?”, I’m able to gain a better understanding of myself, of how and what I think. And if I don’t find “meaning” or “worth” in whatever I’m questioning, then I can create meaning if I choose to! I decide what’s worth my time, what’s worth my excitement and my energy. How incredibly empowering!

I really hope I’m not the only one who ponders existentialist philosophy on boring afternoons.

How about you, readers? Any sudden epiphanies that have come to you when you didn’t have much to do beside think? Or any other interesting stories that have come out of summer boredom? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, and as always, I invite you to follow me!

Thank You For Everything, You Useless Reptile!

**SPOILERS AHEAD FOR: How to Train Your Dragon and How To Train Your Dragon 2**

This is LMU. It’s twelve days north of the Middle of Nowhere and a few degrees south of the Sound of Students Panicking. It’s located solidly on the Meridian of Stress and Sleep Deprivation. My university: in a word, sturdy. It’s been here for over a century, but most of the science-specific buildings are new. We have academics, clubs and ensembles, and a charming view of the sunsets. The only problems are the pests. While most places have mice or mosquitos, we have…

…dragons! Continue reading

Colossalcon 2014: The VIP Treatment

IMG_0111

GPOY! A selfie with my badge before the first day of the con began.

It was about six months ago: advance registration for the main event of my 2014-2015 anime convention season, Colossalcon, was finally open! My going to Colossalcon, one of Ohio’s largest pop culture conventions, in 2013 was something of a last-minute decision; thus, pre-registration had already ended by the time I decided to go and I was restricted to one ticket option. For this year’s convention, however, I planned ahead far enough that I was able to pre-reg, thank goodness! One registration option I had was a standard pass for all four days of the convention; another, however, I found much more intriguing. I decided to register with a VIP pass, which would give me access to the entire convention plus some very tempting benefits.

Of course, it cost a bit more than double that of a normal ticket, but I anticipated that it would be totally worth it.

The first day of the con, Thursday, started out slowly, but more people ended up turning up than I had expected, and certainly more than had arrived on the first day last year! I remembered a bit of the layout of the venue from last year, but still spent much of the first day reacquainting myself with the convention space, shopping around in the Thursday-only craft fair (one of my favorite parts of cons is buying cool stuff from all the amazing artists!), finding areas I would be headed to the next day, going to a couple of panels that piqued my interest, and simply enjoying the atmosphere and goofing off with my friends. Continue reading

You Are What You Read

When I moved from my (incredibly cozy) dorm at LMU back to my nearby home at the end of this past semester, my first thought upon trying to get settled in was: wow, my room is a MESS. I hadn’t lived in it regularly for quite a few months, after all; clutter that I couldn’t be bothered to tidy up had gradually piled up during my weekend visits, along with a thin layer of dust. The state of my desk drawers and closet were despicable enough, but the mess in my room that made me cringe the most was my bookshelf. It took me a while to get around to the task, but once I had cleared away the old papers, empty binders, and barely-used sketchbooks that I had left there once upon a time, I turned to the actual books themselves. Some were new, some were older, some never read, and some…missing.

In my mind, at least, the books I’ve read are a way of tracking how I’ve evolved as a person. Having so many chunks of the metaphorical narrative, at least more recently, was a bit disconcerting. I decided to bring a few of the books I had long since stored away back out into the open air, and a few trips to the attic later, I had a newly-organized bookshelf and a trip down memory lane before my eyes.

10252080_772932569391822_1754344186425947344_nThe top shelf is now filled with nothing but manga volumes, manga magazines, and other such graphics novels, as became tradition in my middle school years once I began my ongoing love affair with Japanese media. After carefully categorizing them by genre or author (everything by my favorite manga artist CLAMP go together, for instance, regardless of genre), it became apparent that my collection is very sporadic – I only have two full series’ collected, for example – but every volume I have holds a very special memory of one kind or another. I’m very reluctant to part with even the manga that I hardly read anymore; it would almost be like giving away a part of my body. It also became obvious that my collection of American comics is…lacking, to say the least. The Star Trek: The Original Series and Captain America: Winter Soldier omnibuses are the extent of my collection.

10320582_772932572725155_7729735636449508993_nThe next section was the easiest to organize, as it’s the genre I own the most of: fantasy. This shelf contains many stories of its own: a newly-bought omnibus of The Chronicles of Narnia replacing the old falling-apart scholastic paperbacks I once owned, a mass market paperback of A Clash of Kings sitting on its own since the friend I lent A Game of Thrones to still hasn’t returned it. A more recent addition, The Mortal Instruments series, stands one book short of a full set since my pre-order of the final volume won’t ship until approximately November (and it’s driving me insane because I need to know what’s going to happen to Alec and Magnus!). The Lord of the Rings refuses to stop staring at me, reminding me that I haven’t finished it yet; Harry Potter is no better, nearly begging me to reread it and make up for all the time we lost back in elementary school when my parents wouldn’t allow me to read it. Perhaps the most colorful and nostalgic series stands out among the rest: The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, all gorgeous hardcovers that I bought to replace the worn-through paperbacks I began reading in middle school and devoured again and again, entranced by the dreamlike places and the characters’ enduring charm and hope. I definitely want that story of a boy and his dragon to last, if no others do.

The next shelf down is full of stories I’ve relived many of times, stories that haven’t finished, and stories that haven’t even started. This is my “miscellaneous” collection of books separated into genres that I don’t have enough of to warrant their own shelf: science fiction, historical and realistic fiction, drama, mythology, you get the picture. The most prominent feature is my extensive collection of The Babysitters’ Club series, which had been hiding in my attic for most of my high school years; I was scarcely without one of those battered 80s-era paperbacks during middle school (perhaps it was these books that gave me my in-school reputation of being an incurable bookworm, a role I eagerly embraced). Three novels of a six-part series of teenage spy books sits waiting to be finished, along with scarcely opened copies of Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Le Morte d’Arthur that we had meant to read in my senior English class but never had the time to get through completely. What I like to call my “social justice” fiction books are grouped together: the children-fighting-to-the-death epics Battle Royale and The Hunger Games trilogy, and the massive Les Misérables, put together because they all made me realize just how much I empathize with revolutionary idealists who fight for social freedom and equality.

10313818_772932576058488_8910147950457682909_nOn the bottom shelf, beside a few nonfiction books on writing, an omnibus of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and my collection of books on alternative spirituality, sits the final series I fished from my attic: The Twilight Saga. While it’s unlikely I’ll actually go back and reread them anytime soon, this early high school obsession serves as a wonderful reminder of how far I’ve come in my literary pursuits.

What we add to our bookshelves – and what we choose to leave off of them – can be a wonderful and interesting monument to our interests, growth, and ongoing self-discovery. What are the books that stand out most in your collection? Is there any special meaning to how you arrange them? Are there any that you go back to over and over, any that you scarcely touch or that you’ve been meaning to dive into? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!