Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt



Sunday, December 21, 2008

Killing two birds with one stone, err, um, credit card.

I am writing from Houston, where I am staying with my brother and sister-in-law. I actually arrived on Thursday evening, but as luck would have it, it was the same day that the computer here decided to get a nasty and debilitating virus, preventing me from e-mailing or updating my blog. I had to resort to using my sister-in-law’s iPod touch, which has internet service, to wish belated birthdays and simply check my e-mail.

At the same time, before I even left Denver, I have been looking for a laptop to call my own and knowing that I was coming to stay with my brother for a few days, I decided to save the shopping for one until I got to Houston. My brother and his wife have been very patient with me and willing to drive me around Houston to every store that sells computers the last two days. At first what I had in mind to buy was one of those mini notebooks that have the bare minimum. I liked the idea of having a tiny computer that weighed less than five lbs that would be easy to take places and serve my very modest purposes. The more I looked at those kinds of laptops, though, the more I realized that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to get something so stripped down and basic. As humans we always want more, I told myself. For one thing, the ones that are good are a little pricey, and for another, the ones I can afford are missing one or two components I’d rather not do without, like a CD drive, for instance. For some reason, computer manufacturers are taking CD drives out on some of their models, especially the smaller ones and it’s not something I’m willing to give up. Because of all these cons, I exed out the idea of getting such a basic thing and decided to look at regular-sized laptops, instead.

Surprisingly and satisfyingly fast, I found the computer I wanted on day two of my search and purchased it. I absolutely love it. I've killed two birds with one stone- I've managed to solve the issue of not having a fully working computer for me and my hosts, as well as making a purchase I'm happy with and confident about.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Back to movies and other fun things

School is out, the newspaper is on hiatus until January and I have all this free time to do anything I want. There are a lot of things I want to do, as is usually the case with me, but before I let myself go crazy with a suddenly open schedule and tons of free time, I asked myself what it was I was not able to do when school and the paper were keeping me busy.

Why, watching movies and reading for leisure took quite a hit once school and the newspaper got underway in September. I have other more serious things planned for this break from school involving the research and writing of my labor of love novel, but when all that gets to be too much, I decided I'd do the things that I love to do the most other than writing... I would read fun books and watch DVDs. That's my plan as long as I'm in Denver through the break.

As things started winding down with school, I was able to finish the book I had started in August and now I am almost done with another book. I have at least two other books to keep me in reading heaven without interruption after I finish the current one, and I am fully covered and one happy camper in the reading department.

Now, the movies. I have watched uh-lot of movies since last Friday and I'd like to recommend a few of them. This way, I get to flex my movie reviewing muscles and you will know what movies I liked or didn't.

First, I will begin by talking about The Last King of Scotland. I really liked this movie that gave Forest Whitaker a well-deserved Oscar for playing a man who can scare with a look; former Ugandan leader Idi Amin. This is probably a movie most people have seen already, as it's relatively old now, but if you haven't seen this, see it. James McAvoy, an actor I never paid much attention to-- come to think of it, I don't think I've seen any other movie with him (No, I haven't seen Atonement yet either, but it's on my list of movies to see over break)-- has a new fan in me, thanks to his amazing performance as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan. This movie is quite disturbing and perhaps not one that can be stomached by all, but the disturbing images are necessary to demonstrate Amin's brutality and atrocities against his own people, sometimes those very close to him, even. Of course, this movie is a fictionalized story based on real events and people, so I hesitate to believe everything the movie depicted, and besides I don't let Hollywood teach me history, but I think it did a good job in showing us a take on what kind of man would do all the things Idi Amin did. The Last King of Scotland is unforgettable for a lot of reasons.

The next movie I'm going to talk about is Beowulf. I don't know why I picked this up, but I did with great interest and brought it home. Again, I don't know why I did that, seeing as how I hate Angelina Jolie and having read the epic poem in high school, I wasn't sure how you would make a movie out of it. I also found it surprising that Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn and John Malkovich were part of the cast. I had missed the fact that this movie was done in 3D and thought there was something really weird about Robin Wright Penn... she didn't look real. Then Anthony Hopkins entered the scene and he looked weird, too. Then I figured it out-- that this movie was done in 3D. Weird, I thought, but OK. Then the dialogue began as well as the conflict. Suddenly, Beowulf, a mere monster slayer in my memory, became a complicated man with some major inner-demons and conflict. What a clever twist to an otherwise straightforward story about a hero who saved the people from the evils of a demon and its mother! This take on Beowulf gives each character depth and plenty of story and plot to keep you engaged. The good news is, Angelina Jolie's part is relatively small and it suits her... she's nothing but a hot and sexy demon who lures men away from their duties to fulfill her own agenda. I thought she did a fantastic job and I was entertained throughout this fun movie.

Next up is a horrible movie titled Before the Devil Knows you're Dead. I picked this up, because it starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whom I love. The title was a little intriguing, as was the plot, which involved two brothers deciding one day to rob a mom & pop jewelry store. *Snore*, but there is a twist... it is their parents' jewelry store that they decide to rob. Things go completely wrong and it's a downward spiral from there that drives each character to do things that make you want to smack each one of them upside the head for being so stupid, or just plain horrible people. Hoffman is the brother with major marital, financial and drug issues, who thinks up the whole thing. Ethan Hawke plays the younger brother whose incompetence leads to his mother being shot and Marisa Tomei is the annoying wife of Hoffman's character. To be honest, I don't understand why Tomei's character was written into the script to begin with, because all her character offered was way too much unnecessary nudity and a means for us to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman naked and huffing and puffing, if you know what I mean... which is quite disgusting, by the way. Just when you think these two brothers and Tomei's character are awful, you are then introduced to their father, and then you begin to understand why these two brothers are so messed up. In every group of movies brought home there is bound to be one that aggravates you, right? That's what this movie did... it aggravated me. Greatly.

Death at a Funeral is the last movie I'm going to talk about, because you always want to save the best for last. This is a great movie hailing from Britain and ranks, in my book, as one of the funniest, if not the funniest movie I've ever seen. It's rare to find a truly funny movie geared at adults without drugs or sex in the equation... err... wait. This movie is pretty much built on these two things. Sex and drugs. At a funeral. Doesn't sound so innocent does it? But it is! This movie is a look at what might happen when you bring a bunch of people together to attend the funeral of a man with a secret, with an American little person as one of the attendees and a very mobile bottle of valium with something else in it. Bottom line: You will laugh a lot at this movie up until the very last minute.

These are the movies that I had opinions about. I hope you find them helpful, agreeable, or at the very least interesting. Until next time!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Romancing the Stone with a Colombian in the room

I haven't written about Thanksgiving week yet, and now it seems so passe that I don't want to just write about how Thanksgiving week went, albeit it was anything but uneventful.

Plenty of things happened over Thanksgiving this year and they were all good things. For instance, my brother and his wife came out to Denver for a visit over the holiday and stayed Wednesday night through Tuesday morning... that's six days. What's so special about that? Well, for one thing this is the first time, in a very very long time that my brother has been able to come out for a period longer than three or four days. That is, of course, if you count the day when he actually has to board a plane and go back to whence he came from, ridiculously early in the morning. OK, so that's not so exciting now that I'm writing about it. I mean, if you really think about it it's not even two full days extra from the usual. But you know, it's like money-- if it's anywhere over $50, it sounds like a lot of money for you to do plenty of things with, but when you go out there and try to put that money to work it suddenly and very quickly dwindles down to mere peanuts before you even get a chance to spend it. It's psychological, obviously.

Another thing that made this Thanksgiving super special was the fact that it was my sister-in-law's first visit to Denver and stay at our humble abode. Still not very exciting to anyone but us... *damn*. BUT if you recall what I wrote at the beginning of this post, my intent isn't to write about Thanksgiving, but rather something that took place during the Thanksgiving holiday. Something that I've been mulling over in my head for a few days and now feel ready to write about.

One evening during my brother's stay we decided to watch a family favorite-- Romancing the Stone. If you're not familiar with this flick, it is total escapism and adventure that takes you from a romance novelist's apartment in New York City, to a treasure hunt in Colombia. Now, the significance of my brother and his wife's visit is the fact that my sister-in-law happens to be Colombian. Adding another first to her list, she viewed this piece of pure 80s entertainment.

I found out a long time ago that though this movie is set in Colombia, it was not shot there due to an influx of kidnappings right around the time the crew was supposed to go down there. Instead, they shot it in Mexico. OK, I thought. It may not be authentic Colombia, but it should be generally close. I have no idea what I mean by generally close, but I expected something to be accurate even though this is hardly a movie that required more than someone's fun imagination and creativity to produce.

Putting aside Michael Douglas's inability to pronounce Cartagena correctly throughout the movie by adding one of those squiggly Spanish accents to the "n", so that Cartagena (it's spelled just like it sounds, only the "g" is an "h") is Cartagenia. Or more precisely, Cartahaynia, pronounced with a deliberate twang. That's annoying and completely incompetent on the director's part, but I digress. No, I'm talking about the complete disregard for the distinct differences between Latin America and Central America... folks, they're totally different. They are two different continents with different landscapes, cultures, climates and Spanish dialects.

What bothered me the most after watching Romancing the Stone with a Colombian in the room was how much was ridiculously made up. The first thing that made my brother and his wife chuckle was a close up shot of a supposed Colombian license plate. I can't imagine replicating a country's license plate would be that difficult, even if there was no internet to make such information easily accesible. The second thing that made them burst into laughs were the gators just roaming about on pavement. The dialect spoken was Mexican and the people were Mexican. Not even the native dress of peasants or the police/military were accurate, according to my sister-in-law. "Not even close," she said. My favorite was the llama... there aren't any in Colombia, or Mexico for that matter. They really went out of their way to be wrong, I guess.

After saying all that, you're probably wondering why I'm making such a big deal about an 80s movie with a romance novelist as its main character. Well, it's mostly because I am doing research for a historical fiction story I hope to turn into a book one of these days. Fiction has always scared me more than non-fiction, because fiction is, well, fiction. You, the writer, make it up and it's all you. If you make a mistake, you really look stupid and people will roll their eyes. I know, because I roll my eyes all the time at fiction that pretends to know what my people-- Arabs and/or Muslims-- are like. I've also read and seen fiction that makes Denver look like this snow-covered place where people wear their coats all winter long over their Denver Broncos gear and go on about how cold it is with a cowboy's twangy accent. I grew up and have lived in Denver for 20 years, and I can tell you that that painting of Denver is pretty much bologne.

Finally, I am of the total belief that if you're going to go out on a limb and do something, you should do it right or don't do it at all, otherwise the Colombian in the room will laugh at you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How my brain works and how the library oils this ol' engine

This morning I got an e-mail notification from the library alerting me I had two overdue items. I have been checking out materials at the library, despite how busy I am, but I haven't been checking my account or renewing anything. Today was the day I decided to log on and renew what I could renew and find out what needs to go back ASAP. Now, I know that I have pretty high fines in the neighborhood of $21 and some odd cents. I know this because the last time I tried to check out something I couldn't because of my really high balance. I paid a little bit of the fine that day and went about my merry way. My fines have gone up considerably now, because the library seems to think that two overdue books are just plain lost, so they're charging me their full price, plus the late fines. That makes the $21 jump to a whopping $82.61.

It is no secret that I use my local library heavily. I'm sure that if some need arose for someone to investigate my interests and obssessions (and of course my ability to keep my accounts in order), the library would provide a perfect window and timeline into how my scattered brain works, even more so than the people I share my life with. Before I moved to where I live now libraries to me were the stereotypical old and dusty buildings with a musty smell in the air and old spinster librarians with lipstick on their teeth who love to shush you and glare at you over their bifocals. In high school, the library was the place I got into the most trouble, because I would go with friends with the intention of doing homework but end up doing anything but that and get kicked out by a librarian. As much as I enjoyed reading back then, I never checked out a book to read for pleasure. Required reading might've had a lot to do with that, but nonetheless, I still liked to read enough that I went out and bought whatever book I wanted to read, keeping the library in my psyche as just a quiet place with a reference section.

I never imagined that I would one day be a regular at the library with a tote full of hardback, plastic covered materials hanging from my arm as I browse and end up with a tall, chin skimming collection of books and other media to check out. More importantly, I never thought I'd be one to do this for pleasure. I honestly don't know whether this change in my reading habits (I read an insane amount more now than I did when I was younger) was brought on by my moving to a county that maintains an impressive library in my neighborhood, or if my growing passion for writing induced it; all I know is, between the ever-growing internet that has become a virtual and abundant reference section and my neighborhood library, I am always feeding my constant curiosity and teaching myself new things.

Just to give you an idea of what kinds of things interest(ed) me that I searched for and found at the library, here is a very mini and personal research project that began in a most unlikely place to inspire the use of a library. This is just how my brain works...

After watching the 2006 World Cup and seeing the Portuguese and Angolan teams surprise, wow and make history with their mad mad mad skills at football (soccer), I became intrigued with more than just the players from the teams. I was intrigued with these countries that incidentally shared a language and history. At first I used Google and Wikipedia to learn the basics of each country, but found that I wanted to know a lot more. And so, the search began for materials on Portugal, a power that took Africa by storm during the age of discovery, which I had read about in an illustrated history book when I was a kid and logged away in the recesses of my mind. Through my light research inspired by a game of football, I found out that in 1755 Portugal's capitol, Lisbon, had suffered a devastating earthquake that was then followed by a tsunami that nearly wiped out the city. I found this out shortly after the big tsunami disaster had hit southeast Asia, so the intrigue turned into an obssession with this country that sits on the western-most tip of Europe with the vast Atlantic Ocean in its horizon and Spain as its neighbor. During my reading immersion in everything Portuguese, from food to music, I remembered something that someone had told me about the Portuguese language-- that it was Spanish mixed with French. Well, I thought, let's take a look. The library had a great collection of books and DVDs about Portugal as well as, to my delight, several Portuguese langage aides, including the
Teach Yourself series, a great resource for anything your heart desires to learn. Luckily, Teach Yourself also publishes books about countries that cover, with great detail, the social, cultural, religious and gastronomic elements of a place. It was through Teach Yourself that I found out about Portugal's rocky relationship with Spain, which goes a long way back in history and manifests itself still with proverbs inspired by historical rifts involving Spain wanting to take over Portugal and Portugal foiling such plans on several occassions. In other words, these two countries share a border, but though they are "friends" now, there are still echoes from the past heard through proverbs. Here is one proverb that stuck with me:

De Espanha, nem bom vento nem bom casamento.
From Spain, neither good wind nor good marriage.

Now, the wind part refers to the East winds coming from Spain that cause storms. The marriage part, however, has deeper historical roots than mere weather. It is a really interesting story and one that I read about in the Teach Yourself book about Portugal. I hate to say I can't remember the details, as the hunger pangs for all things Portuguese began in 2006 and have calmed down a bit. What I do remember is that the marriage bit of the proverb is in reference to a union between Portuguese and Spanish royalty and an awful case of separation anxiety involving the physical keeping of the queen's corpse on the throne.

Now, I don't remember every detail from my research obviously, but I know a lot of things about a lot of things and places that most people don't. First, because I've always been an arm chair historian and small-scale researcher to satsify personal curiosity, and second, because I know how to reap the benefits of my local library.

So, I said something about how my brain works and I believe I've woven quite the tapestry to demonstrate that it just keeps going on and on.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Who are you people?

I've been keeping an informal count of the overall number of visitors to my blog for quite some time. I unfortunately can't remember when I added the counter at the bottom of the page, but it was over the summer.

Throughout my keep up of this blog the last two or three years, I've had a few interesting visitors. Two that come to mind are a guy from Portugal who had seen my post about my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park during the summer of 2007 and thanked me for sharing the picture, and a man from the Virgin Island of St. Croix who'd seen my post about my visit there, and thanked me for writing about his island.

These two guys left nice little comments on those posts and that's how I knew about them and it was quite a surprise to me that my blog was being found by complete strangers overseas. All that time I was under the impression that only my friends and family were bothering to look at my blog.

Being that I unfortunately don't update my blog each day, I find it hard to believe that between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1 my friends and family have managed to visit it that many times when I haven't even updated the thing since Nov. 17. I mean, I only have a handful of friends that read my blog, and even fewer family members. Hmmm.

Now, I know that there are cool plugins that can tell you exactly where those hits are coming from, and when they came in, but I not only have no idea how to use/read those things, but it's just plain no fun that way! So... who are you people that are visiting my blog? How did you find out about it and do you visit it regularly? If you do, what makes you come back? Leave a comment and say hello, I'd love to meet you! If you don't feel like doing so, or have stumbled upon my blog by accident, I thank you for taking the time to visit and read!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Time flies when you're having fun and keeping busy

I can't believe it's Thanksgiving time already, and that there are just four more class sessions left. This isn't even counting the fact that tomorrow marks the newspaper's last production day for the semester.

Looking back at the last three months, so much has happened I never dreamed would, all stemming from the simple act of registering for a class. The people I've met, the things I've learned and the ways I've grown are too much to describe. The last three months have been phenomenal with ups and downs that ultimately lead to a peak I feel fortunate to have reached. My ambitions don't stop there, though.

I've already registered for two spring classes and have committed to serving as editor in chief of the paper for another semester.

Of course, part of me is sad that my class is about to be over, but the other part is jumping for joy for the break I'm going to get from the craziness that has been my life.

A simple example of how being busy has limited my enjoyment of certain things I love to do is that I started reading a book at the end of August, stopped for Ramadan throughout September, then picked it back up shortly after in October. Well, I'm still not finished. True that this book I'm reading is huge at 947 pages, but it's one I wouldn't be able to put down if I didn't have all this stuff going on preventing me from reading day and night and finishing it all in two full weeks at the most.

I'm at page 670 now, and having so much trouble parting with the book each time I must close it, I can't wait for a time I can read as much as my heart desires. My vision for the break between Dec. 5 and the second week of January is one that involves a lot of reading and writing I've been prevented from doing all this time. I expect to finish the book I'm reading now and finish another book, and already start on the next one by the time school is back in session.

I also plan on going back to a more consistent schedule of exercise and activity I've been either too busy or tired to keep up with.

The only thing better than my vision for this winter break is one that involves me reading after a long day of swimming in the Caribbean Sea.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I can see clearly now

The semester is close to being over, and not only does this make me happy that there's only one issue left of the newspaper until I can relax, but it also makes me happy because of how much I've learned in my class that still has a bit left for me to learn more. School gets out the first week of December, but I think it's earlier than that for me, since my class doesn't really have a traditional format, and therefore, doesn't have a final attached to it.

We've finished our book proposals, and now we're onto our book covers. Although it is common knowledge that unless you are self-publishing your book (which to me is an icky way to publish, though many will argue the opposite) you pretty much have no control over how the cover of your book will look. Small presses might give you a little bit of room to offer input on that, and if you have a good agent you might have luck, but big houses do everything for you, including the cover they think will sell your book in a world where books are more often than not judged by their covers.

I say this, but in the same breath I will say that it all depends on who you are, and the reason I say this is because I think the likes of Stephen King, John Grisham and Diana Gabaldon, who have a huge readership that would buy their books no matter what their covers look like, have some say in what they generally want and don't want on their covers. I've sort of verified this with my constant reading of a big shot author's blog. The general consensus is that when you're big, you're one lucky cat that big publishing houses will do anything for, cause you're one of their few guaranteed moneymakers... your name alone sells books, and an inviting cover is just the icing on the cake.

For my book cover I'm still not sure exactly what I want, but the exercise is definitely making this book of mine materialize into an actual goal. It has been amazing to put my idea into words that are ready to be sent out to publishers and/or agents. I just have to write the book. It is not entirely unusual for a writer to not have the book ready before sending out queries, but you still have to have a few chapters written to give an idea of how your writing is.

In the midst of my excitement and vision coming together for my book, I have gone further than what the class is requiring.

I have started my research for what I hope will be my historical fiction book set in 13th century Baghdad, when it was under Abbasid rule. It's informal research for now that involves me just looking for sources, checking them out at the library, getting a better idea of the general way things were back in those days... you know, just getting my feet wet. When school gets out, I hope to go formal on the research and hopefully have an actual person I can just ask about the little details that would take forever to find in print. I've also been doing a lot of reading about how to write historical novels, and the bottom line has generally been "RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH," but there's also the much repeated advice of finding a person who knows the stuff you're researching as a source for that one detail you want to verify. Finding someone is research in and of itself, so that is also something I hope to accomplish before too long.

I've also written a little more of the story for practice on how to show and not tell... a skill so very important, especially with historical fiction where readers ought to feel like they have just gotten into a time machine and travled to the place you're describing. It's not easy!

Now, in all the reading I've done so far for research, I've found that the history I'm covering is very depressing. It's depressing no matter what kind of connection you have to the subject matter, but with it being the "old country," it leaves me totally down. History is filled with sad events, but sometimes it's good to know that certain events are over and done with. As far as I know, for instance, there won't be any more witch hunts and trials. As depressing as the history of it is, it's gone. It's like reading a sad story that starts with "Once upon a time, a long time ago..."

But what about when history repeats itself? Let me tell you, it's very depressing.

Baghdad in particular is a place with a lot of violence in its history as well as present. I don't have to say too much about what's going on these days in that city and the country it is in, because it's part of our everyday lives no matter how much we try to avoid it. What happened in Baghdad as far back as 1258 echoes so much of what's happening today, it depresses me. It depresses me that the same groups still do the same things they did almost 1,000 years ago, and it's even more depressing to know that though they've already done it again, they're going to do it again and again. The only comfort I have is that people stop doing horrible things to each other for as long as the wounds and memories are fresh. These things might stay fresh for as long as 1,000 years, but eventually they go stale, fade and dissolve into a grim tale hard to imagine as a reality. Then people are up and at it again.

In 1258, Baghdad's caliph was given a choice... either to bow down to the Mongol empire, or to face ruin. Whatever his reasons were (which have different explanations from different sources and views), the caliph chose to ignore the threats and stand up to the empire that had absorbed neighboring cities without much resistance. The result was a disastrous event that left almost a million people dead, including the caliph and one of his sons. The Mongol sacking of Baghdad erased Abbasid rule, and let the Tigris river run red with blood. It changed the shape of the Islamic world.

Of course, the caliph had advisors, and these advisors had their own agenda in telling him what to do in the situation that was presented. One wanted him to surrender, and the other wanted him to stand up to the Mongols. One was a Shi'ite and the other was a Sunni, not necessarily in that corresponding order, as I can't remember the details right now... but there was sectarian violence back then, and it has been awakened with what's going on now.

I still need to find out more, but what I've found out so far makes me sad and angry. I'm sad that such a thing has happened twice, and I'm angry that it's being repeated.

Going back to the book... reading what I've been reading is at times helping me solidify my plot and ideas, and at other times making me realize that a certain idea or aspect of the plot isn't going to work. Despite the depressing history and obstacles with plot based on history, I am closer to making one of my dreams come true than I have ever been, and that makes me very happy.

Friday, November 7, 2008

You learn something new every day

I have been struggling with my emotions the last week or so. I'm simply burned out on the newspaper and have had moments where I feel like quitting.

I am so burned out that today I woke up to my alarm and instead of getting out of bed to get ready for my day, I stayed in and read a book.

I eventually did get up and go about my day like usual, but something was very different. Where I usually leave for school to be there by 11 for office hours, today I made it a point to not set foot in that office until I absolutely had to. I got to campus a little before 1, and just went straight to class.

After the harrowing experience of getting the fourth issue for the semester out I simply needed a break, and I gave myself one today and it helped a great deal. After class, I usually go back to the office and hang out there until about 4, and later if there is a meeting. Today I met with the advisor for a while, then just went down to the student lounge area and sat on one of the couches to wait for the meeting taking place at 5.

All of this seems like drivel, but I learned something new today. I learned how to keep things balanced. I learned to do what I had to do, without forgetting myself and my needs.

I needed a break today, and I gave myself one even though I still had to go to the place I wanted nothing to do with and do things I didn't feel like doing. That break was good for today, and is good for me in the future when I need to have that balance.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Something not so wicked this way comes

Some very interesting stuff is swirling about, and I can do nothing but sit back and wonder "Is this all really happening to me?"

It's not important really what it is that's swirling about, but I can't help but be amazed at how my life has undergone a complete 180 in a relatively short amount of time.

I simply can't imagine my life ever again going the same way it was going before August of this year. To think that I did nothing most days but sit at home, read books and blogs, and dream of making things happen for myself without actually working at it... it's like I'm looking at a stranger's past.

Nowadays, it takes me weeks, if not months to finish a hard to put down book (this is something I'm not very happy about). Leisurely and last-minute lunches with friends are memories impossible to make happen again before Thanksgiving, and I barely have time to sit down and watch a movie, little else review and analyze it enough to merit writing about it.

This is all good, of course, so no complaints here. I prefer having a schedule full with things that enhance my career and knowledge to sitting around and just dreaming of doing the same thing I'm actually doing.

I am so thankful for the opportunity, or opportunities really that have sprung from the simple act of registering for one class, and meeting all the people I've met along the way. Nothing beats having people doing the same thing you're doing around to eliminate feelings of failure and hopelessness. I know it sounds so drastic, this way of putting it, but writing is truly a lonely profession. To have people on your writing journey(s), is to have premium gas put in your car.

And that's all I've got to say about that... other than keep it comin'!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

There's no need to fear! The rough deadline is here!

Yesterday was another production day for paper, and issue three was the goal. The same amount of people were in the office, myself and the designer, and the same amount of pages needed to be filled. Something was different, however.

Where for the last issue we faltered, we came out with flying colors this time, thanks to a little something I instated-- the rough deadline. I e-mailed, and e-mailed some more, and nagged and nagged some more, all to actual avail. Everyone that turned in their stuff, turned it in on time and close to perfect, thanks to this rough deadline of mine. Moreover, this time around I had not one, but TWO copy editors doing what I was doing last time, all on Tuesday, all by myself.

The rough deadline afforded me two production days, which should've been the case from the beginning. Monday I was able to plow through four pages completely, leaving just three and a tiny bit left on Tuesday. The designer and I were done by 4:30, and I was home before 6.

Quite a change from last production day when I barely got home before 10, and as a result wasn't able to get the paper out on Wednesday. Nothing stinks more than putting forth a huge effort to get something done only to find out that your efforts were not only stupid, but pointless.

So, I'm still learning. There are still glitches, for sure. But at least I know how to get what I want from the staff, and if I don't, he who shall not turn in his/her work on time shall suffer, not me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fictionally moving forward

Late last night I checked my e-mail. After I deleted a bunch of junk, my eyes got completely fixed on one e-mail. The word "Editor" in the address it came from was an indicator that this wasn't junk, even though AOL flagged it as questionable. My eyes then moved to the subject, and I got further assurance that this wasn't some trick by spammers who happened to figure out what makes me tick-- it was the title of a short story I had sent out a number of days ago.

Opening the e-mail, I expected either a rejection, or a big fat "YES, WE'LL PUBLISH YOUR STORY!" So, I opened the e-mail and found that it was neither. What I found was a request to send the manuscript for a short story I had apparently just queried this online publication about.

For those who don't know, queries are usually sent in without a manuscript attached. Instead, they are just a "I have this idea/manuscript I think you might like. Just say the word, and I'll send it to you," kind of thing.

Some publications go to great lengths to make sure they are not swamped with unwanted manuscripts, and ask for query letters.

As in the case of this online publication that wanted me to send my manuscript in, they ask that you download and fill out a "Query Form," which asks for a basic synopsis of your work. I find that it makes things easier, really. That way, you don't have to agonize over writing a query letter, and know exactly what they want you to tell them. I like that.

So, the e-mail I received had very detailed instructions about format, font size, font type and where my name, address and other information should go on the manuscript. I followed the instructions, got my manuscript ready to go, and within seconds, had sent it in.

Now I must wait and see if what I promised in the query form has been delivered in the eyes of this particular editor. *SIGH*

Having said all that, I truly am excited. I just wish that I had gotten the answer, instead of just an OK to send my work in. Wait wait wait. It's all a writer can do once the writing process (which entails more than just writing) is done.

In the meantime, I'm moving forward. I've been mulling over an idea for a story the last few weeks, and I feel ready to start writing it. It should be easy to find a publication where this particular story I've got in mind will fit, because though it is fiction, it is inspired by actual, very bizarre events. It is nothing that happened to me, but I'm so intrigued, my imagination has created vivid images I can draw a good, solid story from.

The idea of writing about this thing is recent, but I have been intrigued by it for months. It was last year, I believe, that this thing intrigued me and now I'm putting it to good use by writing what I hope will be an interesting story.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm resting

Today, I chose to just stay home and communicate via e-mail regarding matters concerning the paper. Boy, what a difference rest makes.

For the last couple of weeks, I've pretty much spent every weekday, except Friday, on campus. It was necessary last week, seeing as how it was a production week, and my physical presence was crucial. This week, and all upcoming non-production weeks, are going to be for relaxation. It is going to be a time for me to gather my thoughts, rejuvenate, and most important, focus on my class.

My class has been suffering through my adventures with the paper, and I think I've struck a balance, finally, that will keep me on track with my plan to only rush to campus on non-class days during production weeks.

It's amazing. My first run in college, I was working part-time, going to school full-time, writing for the school paper (a weekly paper), and even had a full-blown social life. All this and I rarely felt tired or stressed enough to need "me" time. Then again, I was 17 when I started college, and graduated just before I turned 23. I was still fresh, and sharp enough to not really need a planner. I kept a planner, but I rarely needed it enough to tell me what I needed to be doing. I just kept going, going and going some more.

This time around, which isn't even really a second run in college, but more of me trying my hand at taking an independent writing career-enhancing class-- has been hard. I need "me" time, I stress, I forget things to necessitate not only writing them down, but to also have reminders and I feel tired enough to have my fatigue manifest itself in physical form.

I really don't know how I did all I did in college, but I know that it is something to look back and feel glad I was able to do at some point in my life.

For now, I must learn to take it easy, focus and only push myself far enough for a challenge. A challenge should be hard, NOT not humanly possible.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Issue two is a success

Issue two of the Arapahoe Free Press came out today. It was better than issue one, but wasn't devoid of mistakes... pretty darned close, though. We made the advisor super proud, and he gave each one of us thumbs up for our work. I'm proud, but want issue three to be better.

I suppose the biggest, most blatant mistake was bad planning for production day, which was Tuesday. The designer and myself were in the office working on issue two until after 9 p.m. that night, and as a result, the paper didn't get printed and delivered to us until Thursday. I was very upset about this, given that I was working my butt off until after 9, but I find that getting upset about things doesn't change them. All I can do is plan production day better, and get stuff done earlier.

For issue three, I've implemented what I've dubbed a "rough" deadline. Writers are to turn in rough drafts of their articles the Wednesday before the final deadline, which is Monday. I hope that by knowing what everybody is doing by Wednesday, we'll be able to start plugging stuff into the layout by Monday, and have production day, Tuesday, just be last minute touches to the paper.

This also will hopefully eliminate the need for anyone to stay in the office late enough to need an escort to get them to their car.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A reflection

Today marks the first day of Eid al-Fitr-- the big feast following the month of Ramadan. Last year I did a sort of reflection on the past month, and this year, I will do the same.

This year's Ramadan was a mixed bag.

On the one hand most days I didn't even notice I was fasting. I think I was either too busy to think about it, or was doing a good job of replenishing the night before. People were eating in front of me and bringing food in to the newspaper meetings to share, but none of it even fazed me. I felt strong, empowered and able to do anything.

On the other hand I had a very difficult month. Having just come out of a long absence from set schedules and dealing with the world on a daily basis, I was still getting used to my new life and schedule when Ramadan came along. I was already having trouble, but with fasting it just got way too difficult to concentrate on certain things. Plus, things happened at the newspaper that stressed me out, and that would do anybody in, whether fasting or not.

Also making things difficult this Ramadan was me being too tired to perform the spiritual rites of this month. Reading the Koran took a hit this year, which I'm very bummed about, though I did pray, or did tarawih, each night, which counts as reading the Koran, but still... it's just not the same.

Now, I'm gonna have to get used to breakfast again, along with lunch and everything else that I don't do during Ramadan. It's nice to have things go back to normal, but I don't feel like I did enough this year. Next year I plan to manage my time better and do everything right, inshalla (God willing).

Happy Eid al-Fitr

Friday, September 26, 2008

A case for a daydreamer

Yesterday I attended a reading event. People were presented, and then went up to the podium to read their work; essays, excerpts from novels and poetry. One guy sang and played the piano.

I was there because one of my classmates was one of the people doing a reading. He read his essay, which talks about his experiences while working and studying Arabic in Morocco. I'd read just pieces of it, and was glad I had waited for the rest. The parts I already knew were even better coming from the writer himself, and I listened and enjoyed it quite thoroughly.

Of course, it's always been my luck that the thing I go somewhere specifically to see never comes soon enough. For example, at concerts, my favorite songs are not played until the very end, or close to it. I've always had to wait and sit through agonizing things to get to my goal, and though this has taught me patience and extra appreciation for what I'm waiting for, it's still agony.

Before Jeff went up and read his essay, I and everyone else had to sit through three presentations. The first was quite pleasant, short and sweet-- a bluesy/jazzy song on the piano that was really cute. Following that was a nice and long essay that began with visions of cats and other creatures popping out of the pattern of a Persian rug, then branched out into musings over extinct smells and sounds from history we've only read about. You see, I was listening, but felt boredom slightly tugging at my brain.

Tugging turned into consuming when the next reader went up to the podium. She read the prologue from her soon to be published science fiction/fantasy novel for young adults. Not only was the subject matter not interesting to me, but it's built for a completely different audience. I kept looking at the stack of papers in that reader's hands, waiting for it to dwindle down to just one sheet. It seemed like eternity, but her hands were finally empty, because as she finished with one sheet, she would place it on the podium. Everyone applauded at the end. But wait! She also had an excerpt from another science fiction/fantasy book she is publishing.

The stack wasn't as big as the first, but it was still agony to get through. I prayed for the reason I was there to be next, so I could go about my day and keep boredom from putting me in complete hibernation mode.

My prayers were answered, because Jeff was next, and just in time. His reading was great and an absolute joy, pulling me right out of misery.

There are things I just don't feel or plain don't like.

Poetry is one. I know that songs are poetry set to music, and I agree, so, I guess I like poetry when combined with music.

I also don't feel, nor like nonlinear storytelling. Seriously, if I wanted to give myself a headache and get confused I would just listen to myself.

Readings are now part of this list.

Don't get me wrong, I really did enjoy Jeff's essay, and if another friend was doing the same thing, I'd still go and watch them during their big moment where they get to shine.

I am a daydreamer however, which makes me someone very prone to having a wandering mind that is hard to hold back and keep in place without something extraordinary.

I suppose everyone is like this, but I think I'm worse off than most people. Reading has been and will always be one of my favorite things, but only when I'm the one reading. Though I still daydream while I read, I daydream about what I'm reading, which is a wonderful side-effect.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Pride (in the name of the AFP)"

What a wonderful day.

You know those days you get up in the morning, get ready and think it's gonna be an ordinary day... then as the day accelerates, you find that it is a phenomenal one?

Well, today was a day like that for me. I got up, struggled to find something to wear, threw whatever on, gathered my things and drove to school. Before I even reached school, my phone rang, and it was Kat, the assistant editor informing me that the newspapers we sent to the printers the day before had been delivered and were ready for distribution.

PHEW! Issue one is out, and I can't express the amount of weight that has been lifted off my shoulders. I wanted so bad to get that sucker out of the way and move on to the next issue. The time has come, finally.

But the coolness doesn't stop there, because plenty happened on this very special day for me, the staff, the advisor, and even the administration of ACC.

You see, it's a very long story, but basically the Arapahoe Free Press has been struggling to stay alive for a few years. ACC's administration has wanted to kill the publication for reasons I'm not clear on, and as a result, it has made running the thing efficiently near impossible. It has also made the administrators read the newspaper religiously, but never express anything positive. From what I understand, the administration read the paper to see just what was being said about them, which usually pissed them off. Hence, the plans to make the AFP disappear.

Today, I believe the AFP made history. Or perhaps changed its fate. Not only did we get kudos from the advisor who was raving about what a great first issue we had produced (then proceeded to rip it apart with red ink), but we also got kudos from two very unlikely sources.

The vice president of the college came in and congratulated us. I thought nothing of it at first, and simply thanked him, thinking he's a pretty good-looking guy for his age. Later, another member of the administration came in and congratulated us as well. I thought maybe this was normal for the first issue out of courtesy. Chris, our advisor informed us that this was in fact the first time he'd ever seen or heard of administrators congratulating the newspaper staff on their work. Chris has been with ACC 20 years, so to hear him say that made my heart skip a beat.

Am I on the brink of reviving ACC's newspaper with utmost quality, to the point where the administration will love it enough to pay it more heed? Or did we simply write things that pleased the administration?

I hope it is the former rather than the latter, because we had a couple of stories in there with the potential to upset the administration. Either way, I'm so proud of myself, and I'm proud of my team, and I'm proud of the Arapahoe Free Press.

And now, we move on to issue two...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

4 people + 14 unedited articles = production day

Today was production day. It actually should've been yesterday (Tuesday), but given the events of the last few days, I, as Editor, made the decision to move it to Wednesday. It was a good decision, but it still didn't alleviate a lot of the problems I was hoping to with that extra day.

Without a Copy Editor, editing copy is naturally a nightmare. There were four of us working last night, and all of today. I'm pretty good at spotting mistakes... I find them all the time in newspapers, books and websites. It's easy to find mistakes when you're not rushing. But when you're rushing, and it's your product you're proofreading, it's a little less easy.

Like I said, there were four of us; me, the assistant editor, the designer and Dave, the man I mentioned in a previous post, who reminds me of Peter Boyle. Between the four of us, we had an insane amount of unedited articles to take care of between yesterday and today. And when I say unedited, I mean UNEDITED. I must put the crackdown on writers not following instructions, because the hot mess we had on our hands at production time cannot be repeated and is totally unacceptable.

Now, I understand that Arapahoe Community College isn't exactly an institution with the cream of the crop as its student body, but these people aren't exactly dumb. Some of them are quite brilliant. The problem is this apathy from students and faculty alike. Even professors attest to this apathy, and that is a complete and utter shame, because it transfers to the students.

Because of this attitude, I'm having trouble getting things done. Stories are turned in late despite many warnings that missing deadlines is a ticket to getting fired. When work is turned in on time, it is either riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, or it is simply incoherent. Writers think that once their work is turned in, they're free and disappear until it's too late to get them to make corrections, or get more information. We, the editors, end up editing and sometimes rewriting entire articles because of this carelessness.

The writers are very sadly mistaken if they think they can do things half-assed and still get a byline by themselves, if at all. With issue two, there will be quite a bit of cinching and tightening.

For one thing, now that things are more official, job descriptions will be handed out. The job descriptions state plainly what is expected of each individual in the position they are filling. I hope that by letting people see what they are officially supposed to be doing, I get to insure that instructions are followed, and that stuff gets done. Moreoever, job descriptions will weed out those who are unqualified. I hate to say it, but I've got a feature section editor who doesn't know who her writers are and what stories they're working on. This isn't including the fact that she can't write features to begin with. I don't know how she became feature editor, but a feature editor, a mediocre movie reviewer does not make! Hopefully, by giving this person an official job description she will realize what the position involves and decide to either drop it (which I'm hoping for, since I have someone in mind to take the position and do well at it), or she will start being more proactive.

Then I've got writers who walk in without any experience, but are sporting gigantic, air-filled egos. I have one writer who is 25, used to be in a band, left the band after the usual "band break-up" drama, skipped a chance to sign on with a huge label (or so he says), and decided to come back to school after seeing his friends get their degrees and making something of their lives, while he was rocking on, and bar tending. Great, I thought. He really wants to be here, and really wants to learn! WRONG. The guy has an ego the size of the state of Texas, and is a major d***. I'm not alone in my opinion of this supposed rockstar. Even the advisor agreed with me. I will admit that he is our best news reporter, but I can't get over his attitude and want nothing more than to twist his ear and make him see that the very thing stopping him from becoming something more than a former rocker is his ego.

BUT I won't be twisting any ears, or giving any reality checks to him, or anyone. I am supposed to be diplomatic, gentle and encouraging, even when people don't deserve it. I simply cannot afford to lose any more writers... especially not news writers.

I've always hated it when people say things like "team work", "team player", or "proactive", but I'm finding myself at a loss for any other words at this point. The words still make me twitch, but they are very important when you're trying to make a machine work that has different parts that must function properly for success. The Arapahoe Free Press is lacking team work and team players who are proactive, and I'm growing tired of it already.

The good news is, tomorrow issue one is on stands and it has become clearer to me what needs to be done to insure a better process for issue two. In the meantime, I must improve on my leadership skills and put my foot down on slacking.

Now, I'll go do some homework.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Let the games begin

The Olympics are over, and have been for about a month, but I've got my own games just starting.

I'm officially Editor now, which also means I'm officially baby sitter. My God, the things that are surfacing are making me think I'm going into the seventh circle of hell.

To make a long, confusing story very short... my assistant editor got into a tiff with the designer who hates her, and called me this morning in tears wanting to resign, because the girl who hates her told her to resign.

Now, I've had my issues with the assistant editor, but nothing along the lines of wanting her to resign from the paper altogether!

Just in one day, I've confirmed that I can't keep writers because of the assistant editor, and that my designer is even more outspoken than I'd already thought. I've talked to both, and I hope these problems are more the exception than the rule.

This brings me to the subject of trying to keep people happy... I don't think it's possible. I was lucky with these two girls, because they are both gung-ho for the paper, and had no intention of really leaving... but I know for a fact that I'm not going to be able to put out all fires each time tempers flare. This makes my job extremely challenging, even more than it already was without the politics.

All I can do is try to make everyone happy by listening to them and addressing their concerns, and hope to God that is enough to keep them on the staff.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How about the real reason I'm at ACC?

I've been so consumed by the happenings at the newspaper, that I've neglected to write about the real reason I'm in school-- my class!

Class is going good. I haven't published anything yet, but this class has helped me in different, amazing ways.

For one thing, the project we're working on right now is a book proposal. Now, I don't have a book, but my ultimate goal is to write one one of these days. Up until now, my vision of a book has been a little hazy. I simply had no idea what I wanted to make into a book, but I knew I wanted to write one.

A series of events recently has cleared up the murky waters, and the book proposal assignment is simply a way for me to put my vision of my book in writing and on paper. For the first time I feel I can answer the question: "What do you want to write?"

So, what do I want to write? Are you ready for this? Historic fiction. I love history, and I love fiction. A number of my favorite books fall under this category. I can't think of a better combination, and it's what I want to do.

The Bronze Horsemanwas a book I read years ago that is more of a romance, but has a very strong historic fiction aspect to it. This book is one of my favorites and really got me into reading the genre. Few books were able to hold me and draw me like it did for a long time, but it certainly sent me on a path. The path was long, but it finally lead me to The Birth of Venus, the book that truly got me thinking about trying my hand at the genre. I only dreamed about it, though, and instead just felt awed by the genius who wrote it (Sarah Dunant). Further down the path, I stumbled upon Outlander, part of a series, and which actually falls under fantasy, given its time-traveling aspect. This is the book that helped the machine run by the class work properly and produce a solid goal.

I am simply hooked on this idea, and have not only decided on the genre, but I've also decided on the setting. I've thought about a rough plot, and decided on the time my story will take place in.

Simply put, through this class assignment, I was able to insure that what I plan on doing has not been done often, and virtually never. Out of all this, new stories and ideas have surfaced that I think have finally given me a niche to strive for in the genre I've chosen. A ton of research is in order, naturally, but luckily, the research is on history... I said it already and I'll say it again... I love history.

Though I usually shy away from sharing my fiction/creative writing, I am going to share an excerpt of my first attempt at historic fiction, and would love to know your thoughts!

So, here goes:

It was the year 1257, and peace broke out over our city for the holy month of Ramadan, leaving us to tend to our religious duties as Muslims. Ours was a city that was rich with books on science and literature, culture and religion. It had been that way for over 500 years in Baghdad-- the City of Peace.

The smell of jasmine permeated the air, while the Tigris and Euphrates rivers glittered underneath Allah's light and glory. Minarets poked out like decorative needles against a backdrop of the orange setting sun in the horizon.

I was born and grew up in this city that was the home and center of the Abbasid Caliphate. My father was a respected merchant of all things exotic and spicy. I was sixteen then, and living in a palace with my father, mother, brothers and sisters. A slew of servants filled our courts to tend to our every need. It was the life of an aristocratic family in these Abbassid years-- one filled with delicious meats, breads, rice, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables virtually unknown to the commoners of our rich city.

Each day, the servants would spend endless hours preparing the family's meals, becoming mesmerized by things like a long yellow fruit that is joined at the top with others like it in a tough black bond.

I was a child of five, when I saw Amina, my nanny, marvel at the beauty of a bright red apple. Thinking her wonderment funny I broke out in laughter, sending Amina running after me as I maneuvered the palace's open courts. I knew every nook and cranny of the palace with its vast courts and majestic columns. I floated and disappeared behind exotic pieces my father had brought back from his travels as a merchant. Some of them still held the smell of spice and the seas that had absorbed into the wood during transport aboard ships. I could still smell the cinnamon, curry, cumin and paprika emanating from the Chinese wooden chest. My father prized this chest more than any other object he acquired during his sails. It had a lock and an accompanying key with golden tassels hanging from it.

Amina’s duty was to tend to my every need. She was like a mother to me, though I gave her more trouble than I gave my real one, who commanded the respect of all the palace’s occupants. My mother had gone through a dozen pregnancies, several difficult births and a handful of stillborns—a mixture I had come out from, healthy and mischievous. My mother was simply too weak to care for a child of my disposition, even if it weren’t already the custom for a family of our status to have nannies for children.

Amina's thick body often left her winded when she finally did catch up to me, making me succumb to the dreaded nightly bath.




I hope I was able to conjure up vivid images of Baghdad, back when it was the center of the world. There is quite a conflict being set up for this story, and I didn't have to do much to create it. History itself created the conflict for me, all I have to do is describe it in an engaging way. I mention the year 1257. Well, 1257 is the year before the Abbasid Dynasty ended. February 10, 1258 is when Baghdad was sacked by the Mongols, who wreaked so much havoc on the city, that the Tigris was said to have turned red with blood.

It's obvious that Baghdad is a city that has seen a lot of violence in its time, and it's unfortunate, because the violence is all most people see. They never see the beauty of this city, with its rich history and culture. I will paint Baghdad as the way it was once upon a time, and show how that beauty began to fade, yet never completely went away. That beauty still exists today, but I suppose it's a little hard to see with tanks rolling through streets that have existed for centuries, and hold secrets that were once written on paper, but burned by the Mongol invasion 750 years ago.

So, this is what my class has done for me just in the last month. This class has been worth every penny!

When friendship lowers the volume

I had my meeting with the Media Board yesterday, and I am now officially Editor of the Arapahoe Free Press.

It was interesting, because before the meeting, I was feeling so anxious and scared, not of not getting the job, but of actually getting it. Oh my Gosh... Editor of an entire newspaper? That's a scary position to be in. I decide what goes in the paper, and what doesn't... I have the power to hire and fire. Everything I do and don't do affects me, the staff, the paper, and even the school. Moreover, my success depends largely on getting people to do what is asked of them.

The meeting went well, and it was with two members of the Board, one of who is my professor. The anxiety and fear faded very quickly, and I was soon feeling giddy and happy that I got such a position with the support of a phenomenal advisor and a wonderful professor. I'm still happy and proud, and looking forward to the road ahead... but there's that little nagging thing that is bothering me.

I talked about James, the original Editor, and I can't get over this strange feeling of guilt. I don't know why I feel guilty, because once James expressed interest at the first ever meeting we had, I immediately registered him in my mind as the Editor. Period. I didn't ever think of the position, and sort of got voted into being the Assistant Editor. I was happy with the arrangement, because as I said before, we simply worked great together, and it didn't take long to see what a great team we made.

When his hiring process got botched up, I made statement after statement to my new friend that I would never "usurp" his job, and that I had no intention of doing so. The words are echoing in my mind still of me saying "I would never do that to you," the night he called me freaking out about things.

I still didn't really do that to him, and let's face it, the circumstances have changed and I was sorta' kinda' pushed into it out of necessity.

But the loyal part of me just can't rest.

The last time I spoke to James was a week ago, last Friday. I was telling him about all the things going on in the office, and how much I have to do now that I've been asked to be Editor, and he was laughing with me, while helping me figure out how to deal with stuff. Up until that last conversation I had treated my stepping in as Editor as just a temporary arrangement. Our conversation got cut short, because he received a phonecall, and told me he'd call me back.

He never called back, and my emails have gone unanswered. The entire staff has tried to get a hold of him, and no response.

I know he's not calling back or emailing for a good reason that will become clearer as he figures things out with his situation (which is legal). But in the meantime, and even though I know it's the AFP that's the problem, and not me, I still wish I could explain everything myself.

I hope I get my friend back soon!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There's definitely a shadow of a doubt

I'm having some second thoughts about my choice for Assistant Editor.

Though she does what I ask with speed and gusto, it's her conduct that is making me doubt my decision. With the exception of one writer leaving us, it's becoming clear to me that this person I've chosen for my assistant is the cause of our staff retention problem. We lost yet another writer today, who seemed just fine at yesterday's meeting, but ended up emailing me this morning to say he was quitting without reason.

I'm not officially Editor yet, which means she's not officially my assistant yet. I suppose it's not too late to change my mind, but that doesn't make it any easier on me. I've had several people come to me and express their less than good feelings toward this person, and though at first I chose to just ignore it all, and focused on what she could bring to the job, it's getting harder to ignore people's comments. This is mostly because EVERYONE has something to say about her that is less than flattering. The males and females on the staff of all ages and walks of life all either hate her, or have heard that everyone hates her.

This is problematic for me, because with such a hated individual as my right-hand person, it's going to be difficult to keep the staff happy. In the meantime, I've been sitting back and watching her conduct, and at the very least we have different management styles. She wants to "command authority" and basically rule with an iron fist everything from the work that's turned in, to making sure that staff don't breathe wrong during "newspaper time". She lacks diplomacy, BIG TIME, and has a tendency to alienate people. She's loud and talks over people. She'll ask a question, I start to answer, and before I've even answered completely, she'll start the next question. This irritates me to no end, and I imagine everyone else who deals with her.

This is not including this habit she has of taking her shoes off and putting her bare feet up on a chair while we're trying to "command authority" and be professional (I put things in quotation marks that she has actually said herself). Call me old-fashioned, but at least when a professor is speaking in front of the class, it's inappropriate to have your feet up, facing him or her. It's unprofessional, disgusting and totally poor in taste.

I hope I can deal with all of this in a professional way that leaves everyone happy.

Meanwhile, yesterday I found out that I no longer have a Copy Editor, have no ad space sold yet, and am in desperate need for writers and an ad sales rep. I went and spoke to a business class trying to recruit an ad sales rep and a business writer, expecting it to be big, but found that it was a puny class of just barely 10 people, all who didn't seem interested at all in anything I had to say.

Issue One is going to look absolutely pathetic, and I'm in deep doodoo, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it, because it all depends on PEOPLE.

Which brings me back to my original statement that people... suck... the... life... out... of... me!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Change should not always be embraced

I don't know about any other Facebook users, but I'm hating the new layout. It's not user-friendly at all, and it gives too much information in the news feed. The home page is overwhelming, what with numerous individual tabs that lead you to things you were able to see all on one page with one click of the mouse, and a little bit of scrolling.

Now, I made use of the "send feedback" link provided, and told Facebook developers that I hated the new layout. I also mentioned that it's hard on the eyes, much like MySpace, which I find so incredibly ugly and repellant. I got a generic reply from them a day later telling me that they appreciate my writing in, but they offered no comfort that they will go back to the old Facebook.

This brings me to the subject of how things that work perfectly are ruined with useless changes, or by simply being discontinued. I've had an influx of such incidents lately, and it's really beginning to grind on me how whenever I get used to something and think it's the best there is, some new employee at the company that provides this thing decides to show how they have an innovative idea, and ruin things for the rest of us.

Aveda did this to me by discontinuing the leave-in conditioner I have been using for two years. I mean, I had the bottle for two years... that's how good this stuff is. When I ran out, I went to their little store in the mall, and what do I find? That they discontinued this perfect product and replaced it with a bottle half its size, double its price, and does things I'm not too concerned with doing to my hair!

I walked out of there steaming mad, because apparently, the product I loved so much had been discontinued for over a year. Now I'm stuck trying to find a leave-in conditioner that is as affordable as that of Aveda's Elixir, and does the same job. This is one difficult task and I've been using Sunsilk's leave-in conditioner in the meantime, while I hunt for something better. Thanks stupid Aveda person with a stupid vision.

Things like this leave me feeling paranoid that my favorite products--especially beauty and hygiene products-- are going to disappear off shelves. Just yesterday I was at Walmart and made sure for the upteenth time recently that the spray I use to protect my hair from heat styling is still being manufactured and still has a spot on the shelf. I was happy to see that it is still there, and when I run out soon, I will be able to just go to Walmart and grab it in passing.

Why fix it, if it's not broken? That's a question I'd like to ask Facebook, Aveda and any other company that lets some idiot present and implement supposedly innovative ideas. Your products are just fine the way they are... stop messing with them!!! Innovation should improve products and their value to the consumer, and both Facebook and Aveda missed the mark on that aspect.

A bit of advice: Don't embrace every change that comes your way!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Juno

I finally saw Juno.

Obviously, I've heard what everyone has heard about it... how it's good, and refreshing, and a runaway hit. But I've also heard some negative things about it, like how it tries too hard to be cool and deep. It won an Oscar, so there must be some truth to the kudos, I thought. But the Oscars have often commended movies that are nothing special.

After hearing these differing views, I popped the DVD in, and started watching.

What I saw was a good movie. Not great, or innovative, but good. I saw that it did try too hard at times to be cool and deep, but not to the point where it ruins the humor or seriousness of it. I saw that it was deeper than a kiddie pool, but only as deep as your neighborhood adult pool gets. Oscar material? Not really, but again... the Oscars commend movies that are nothing special all the time.

Verdict: I liked it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

People suck... the life out of me!!!

It is now day 12 of Ramadan, and I think the effects of it are beginning to catch up with me. I'm simply too exhausted to construct coherent sentences when I don't have to, hence, my absence from my blog.

Some major changes have taken place just in the last four days. I should be excited to be announcing this, and though there is a part of me that is ecstatic, there is a part of me that is sad, given the circumstances that this came to be under.

I am now runner-up for Editor-in-Chief of the Arapahoe Free Press newspaper!

I'm excited and looking forward to this new and extremely valuable opportunity, should I be formally selected (I will find out by next Thursday, I believe). BUT the Editor, who has become a sort of friend, is now out of the picture, making me feel a little crummy, since he was really wanting this position. It's especially unfortunate, because James, the previous Editor, is basically being screwed by what we all believe is some shady business in the hiring process. He is working on returning to the paper, but not necessarily to an Editor capacity, given what he must do in order to come back.

I'm also sad, because James and I worked really well together. We were always on the same page with AFP-related things, as well as non-AFP-related things. We became friends quick and I think it's a friendship that will continue outside of the newspaper. We had great chemistry as professional partners. I'm very upset by his absence, and am crossing my fingers for his return as anything, because he actually knows what he's doing!

In the meantime, I've had to take on big responsibilities I liked not having as Assistant Editor. I've picked an Assistant Editor for myself, and I believe and hope that she is the right choice. If she's not, I have no idea who else to go with, because nobody else fits the bill for the kind of dedication I want in someone I will rely heavily on. We'll see if my judgement is on target. If not, I can always call Palin up. (Hah!)

It's exhausting to think of all the things I must do to get this paper up and ready to go to print. We've already pushed the deadline out a week, and it still looks like something hard to achieve.

I'm sorry to say that people are the main problem. Though I understand that school and classes are the main reason why each one of us is there, I still think that extracurricular activities should be given time and effort. After all, we're not asking people to pick up trash for free, so I don't understand why they are acting like we're twisting their arms into writing for us, and being such pains to deal with. They get experience, their names in print AND they get paid. What are we doing wrong? Misjudging the people who come through our door? As far as I could see, they were willingly coming through that door, and willingly accepting the assignments we threw their way. It's only fair that we ask for them to fulfill their end of the bargain without delay, but life isn't fair, I guess.

I'm faced with losing writers on a daily basis. I've already lost three... well, two and a half, because one of them just went from staff to freelancer. They're dropping like flies.

One of the goners doesn't know that journalism writing is an entirely different thing from creative writing, and refuses to write like a journalist, er, he's a journalism major. I don't know how that works. Buh-bye.

The other is an awkward girl just out of high school, and I'm thinking home school thanks to her strange social demeanor. She flaked out on the first article we gave her, but she had the decency to let us know ahead of time. The second article she did the work for, but can't write it, because her Dad won't let her be on the paper anymore. AAAAAAAA! The things I must go through just to get content!

*SIGH*

I am just going to hang in there and pray for everyone to come through, while suppressing the urge to rage on the staff, and those who prevented James from being Editor.

Congratulations to me anyway.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Note to self: Keep my head from exploding

There's a first time for everything. I've never been one to stress out to the point where crying is the only remedy I am able to carry out, but it looks like now is the time for this feeling to surface.

It could be age, it could be my long absence from an environment with actual deadlines, or it could just be that my responsibilities really are overwhelming... whatever the cause, I'm freaking out. This Assistant Editor gig is taking a lot out of me! I'm getting bombarded by emails daily from the Editor, the advisor, and the section editors, all asking me about time-sensitive issues, that I must scramble to resolve or answer. This is not including the stuff I already have on my plate to do.

Being that this is a school newspaper, this is all done on a small scale, of course, but it's not any less stressful than at a newspaper with a larger audience, I imagine. I'm overwhelmed to the point where I am not sure I can do the job, but then I go back and I think that this is a learning experience, and that these feelings are inevitable-- of course I can do the job! This is just the beginning.

The advisor seems to understand that we should take things easy for our first issue, but I sometimes feel like the Editor doesn't understand that, and just wants to plunge right in like we've been doing this forever. It's not just the actual putting together of the paper that is difficult, it's largely getting everyone to work together effectively, efficiently, and getting them all on the same page. That's the hardest part when you've got a machine that has different parts, each of those parts doing its own individual job in the hope that the end result is collectively the same.

Again, this is a learning experience. Stress is something that one must learn to cope with along with all the other facets of a job, but I guess I'm just not used to this degree of stress.

There is a good side to this, though. It's making me want to drive ahead and give this gig my all. At this point, I think I have no other choice, and I'm happy to adhere.

Now if I can just keep my head from exploding, I think I'll be OK!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

If happiness is relative, then I'm its sibling!

It is amazing just how well I'm getting along with every person I'm working with at the paper. I haven't had so much fun and bonded with so many people in ages.

I went to campus yesterday for a mini meeting. Even though it was Friday, a cloudy day and barely anyone was at school, it turned out to be a blast. I got to know the people I'm working with better in a less formal setting. We had more than a few laughs, found out stuff about each other, and just plain had fun.

I'm really looking forward to getting to know all these people more, and perhaps making friends outside of school and away from the newspaper office.

Things will be even more fun when the numerous invitations I receive to go out to eat or get a cup of coffee can be taken up. I haven't been having any trouble fasting for Ramadan, as far as feeling hungry, or too out of it, but I am facing this social obstacle. It won't last long though. This is the sixth day of Ramadan, which leaves 23-24 days until things go back to normal. Ramadan is usually 29 or 30 days, depending on the lunar cycle, never more, never less. Hence, the 23-24 days.

Speaking of Ramadan, like I said, it's going really well. In fact, I don't even feel hungry during the day. I'm not watching the clock and sun with my mouth open and ready for the first bite hovering infront of my face...



Maybe it's me keeping busy, or perhaps it's just that I'm fueling up well enough in the evenings to hold me over until dinnertime, but at least for now it's just not an issue. This makes me very happy.

I'm just one happy chickadee these days.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fiction is hard when you're an Assistant Editor

My third week of school has come and gone, and I hate to say it, but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I'm scoffing at myself for being such a weenie when on paper I'm just taking one class and have just a 4-hour obligation as Assistant Editor, but these things take a lot more time than that.

Firstly, my class is one that works in mysterious ways. I say I have homework, but it's not really homework, it's just writing. I have to do a lot of writing in order for this class to work the way it ought, and that part is as it always is-- difficult. I have some things I can send out, but I wanna send out my best, and right now I don't feel I have that yet.

I have one story I feels is ready, and it got a good response when I posted it up on a forum, but there were some glitches with it that got a mix of responses. No one denied it was good, but I can't decide if what I made my characters do really is hard to believe like some readers said it was, or if the readers who raised concerns are just forgetting that little thing called "suspension of reality".

Being that my story is not science fiction, or fantasy, I suppose some readers take it as just plain fiction based on what might happen in real life. And this is what gets me . . . I, for the longest time was absolutely terrified of writing fiction, because of this exact thing-- writing something unbelievable.

I've voiced this concern to several people in the past. They all waved the hand without the drink in it dismissively, telling me that that's the beauty of fiction; that you can do anything with it.

After giving it a lot of thought, I began to write fiction. I liked it. I felt so free, and I want nothing more than to continue with it. What I found after a few stories, however, is that fiction is very tricky. Now, I've read all kinds of it that rang true to the essence of life (which is what fiction is) but not necessarily true to what might really happen.

My story is a crime thriller on the surface, but if you just lift that layer a teeny tad bit, it's a little deeper than that. It deals with a woman who is very naive. So naive that she has gotten herself into a pickle she thinks she can get out of just by saying she wants out, but ends up having that idea blown out of her head-- literally.

Sounds gory, but it's not.

It's a dialogue-driven story of said woman, and this stranger she meets in the subway.

Some people liked it . . .

"Having lived in New York and been a frequent subway traveler, my observations on this would be ... it isn't odd for him to light her cigarette ... (especially in NY smile) for all kinds of reasons. But I really like her! she is a naive, but yet hip to a few things."


While others, er, not so much . . .

"While I love the ending, I guess I struggle to believe that someone who is frustrated with all the people following her, is going to walk through an alley with a complete stranger (might be my midwest thinking as opposed to a place like New York)".


I have a feeling that the person who struggled to believe that a naive-- naive being a keyword-- woman would be wooed by a handsome gentleman in a tailored suit right after breaking up with what sounds like a thug through her dialogue is missing the point of my story. Again, there is a handsome stranger in a tailored suit, behaving like a gentleman toward a woman who demonstrates a certain quality of, shall we say, evident bad judgement, happens to have just broken up with her thuggish boyfriend on a cell phone . . . in a subway. Had I described a scruffy-looking guy in torn clothes and a full-grown beard approaching this woman, it would be a different issue.

But I've watched people interact with each other in all kinds of settings. Complete strangers talk to each other, and I hear them give each other too much information all the time. All these people are well-dressed and look like soccer moms, and corporate CEO's, but who knows what lurks beneath? It's just how some people are-- they're naive and will talk to anyone who doesn't look like a scruffy weirdo. New York City, Denver, Omaha . . . people are people everywhere you go, and there're always going to be those who are naive, and those who are evil to take advantage of that naivete.

Think about it-- if there weren't such people in this world, we wouldn't have so many disappearances and murders on the news. Moreover, the evening news is proof that such things as women trusting complete handsome strangers can and DO happen.

In the end, I don't wanna be too stubborn and shoot myself in the foot by ignoring people's feedback, but I also don't know these critiquers well enough to know whether they're qualified or not. Ted's review page isn't the same as The New York Times review page, and that's where things become a little fuzzy and difficult to figure out in this situation. I must give this much thought and act soon so I can get moving on submissions, though. I just wish it wasn't so difficult.

The newspaper is also a lot of hard work. I spend a lot of time sending out emails, and reading emails I receive from multiple people. Story ideas, tracking, updating, and keeping everyone in the loop is a lot of work. UH-LOT. And it's my job. On top of all that, I have to write two opinion columns by next Thursday, which is all fine and dandy, but I also have to write for my class, remember? AAAAAAA! It's insanity in my brain right now, but it's all good.

Despite everything I love keeping this busy. It's when I get the most things done, and have the most energy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna fall over from exhaustion.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Joy of Giving

So, I've taken a class this semester to help myself get published, and so far, so good. I have yet to get published through this class, but we're still at the beginning of the road.

The interesting thing about all of this is that I keep helping my classmates by giving them tips and website links, and other resources to help them with their writing and publication.

In class I offer nuggets of information I originally thought were known to anyone who writes, but found useful to a few of my classmates who did not know. Everybody does this in class, and I've learned a lot from their nuggets of information myself. We all also love to give each other personal tips.

Dave, an old man who reminds me of Peter Boyle with more hair atop his head, introduced himself to the class like we all did, and talked about what kind of writing he's interested in.

It turns out he's into questioning Christian Doctrine. Well, it hit me as I was sitting there listening to him that I had read an article in an issue of Writer's Digest a while back about a hot and growing market along the same lines. I made a mental note to bring the article in for Dave to look at if I could manage to remember. I did remember, and boy was Dave thrilled. He expressed total thanks when I first gave the magazine to him last Thursday, and then over the weekend emailed me to thank me again. It didn't stop there. Yesterday in class, he came to me and thanked me by saying, "Boy, that magazine you gave me was great."

Yesterday, I got to class, only to find the class before ours still in there. I said hello to Jon, a guy in my class, who has a fantasy book ready to be published. Instead of standing there in silence, I searched in my brain for a topic of conversation. We exhausted one topic, and then it hit me that Jon is a fantasy writer, and had expressed interest in finding out how graphic novels are made. Excellent! Just the day before I had been reading one author's newsletter, in which she had discussed how graphic novels are made, since she is in the process of making one herself. I found the bit to be so interesting and intriguing, that I was wowed by something I never gave much thought to. I told Jon about this, and he was thrilled at my offer to show him said page. Later, I emailed him the link, and got an email back today thanking me.

I'm embarassed by the shower of appreciation for simply transporting a magazine from my bookshelf into someone's hands, and emailing a link I had no hand in creating.

It feels good, though. It is the joy of giving, and the good feeling will do until I feel another form of joy-- that of being published somewhere new.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thank God for email and email-happy people

I have been out of school for so long, that the idea of remembering "homework" hasn't really re-registered all the way back in my brain, as well as the idea of looking at the syllabus for clues as to what's going on and what's due. I have been living in a world, where you either tell me what you want from me, or I write it down to remind myself later. This is bad, and I must work on getting back into the habits of a good little student.

I am lucky, though, because my professor is one of those email-happy people (she actually dubbed herself '... a professor who will occassionally harass you.'). Well, this is really good, because yesterday-- Labor Day, mind you-- this professor sent out an email to everyone to remind them an assignment was due at the next class.

Awesome! As well as PHEW! I really had no idea that this assignment was due, and so I thank God that email has become such a mainstream way to tell multiple people one simple thing. If it weren't for that email, I would've been truly like a deer caught in headlights today.

Thank you, Dr. Mills, and thank you, whoever invented email. Your concern for mankind will keep many of them from becoming deer in headlights.

I still need to utilize the syllabus and use reminders that are set up by me, and only me; an independent adult and student who wants to succeed.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ahlan Ramadan! (Welcome Ramadan!)

It's hard to believe how fast we went from my birthday to Labor Day weekend, to Ramadan beginning September 1st-- Labor Day.

Looking back at the events of the last eight months-- just four months left of 2008, YIKES!-- it's all kind of a blur. I know that somewhere in that jumble of events leading up to this moment, my brother came out for a visit in January; a new friendship bloomed with the spring; and I'm now an Assistant Editor for a school newspaper while attending a class to help me get my work published.

In other words, time flies when you're having fun, and there is still more fun to be had.

The last few years the holy month of Ramadan has fallen during the months when the sun goes down fairly early, making the fasting not so bad with shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures. It's still difficult to go about your day without being able to even take a sip of water then, but it's not so bad if the weather is cool, and again, the sun is up a small number of hours you are awake.

This year, Ramadan is right on the cusp of only subtle changes in the transition from summer to fall, and too long before daylight savings time "falls forward". Given that I'm at school two days a week, and have to attend newspaper meetings on those days that keep me on campus until rush hour traffic really marinates the route home, it's going to be one heck of a month of fasting beginning as soon as tomorrow.

Despite the degree of difficulty this Ramadan will possess for the time of year, and my schedule, I'm looking forward to the spiritual aspect of this month, when I get to sit with myself and read the Quran. That was such a beautiful and enriching experience that felt like a mental detox last year, I can't wait to experience it again.

As a result, and in preparation for the busy schedule ahead, I wanted to take it easy today. So, I spent a lot of time doing things I don't think I'll have time to do during Ramadan.

I sat outside on the deck reading to enjoy the last bits of summer and relax before things get too busy for such precious time, and noticed that the sun was not only beating down on the section of the deck that in the summer gets completely shaded by late afternoon, but it was also extremely and alarmingly hotter than usual. It felt like someone was holding a magnifying glass to my skin, just waiting for the sun's rays to burn my flesh like a poor, defenseless ant. Though I had sunscreen on, I chose to move to the little bit of shaded area on the deck to avoid hearing a sizzle from my skin, and that made my relaxation time a lot more pleasant, as there was a nice breeze in the air. The breeze would pick up and turn into serious wind ever so often and shake things up enough to make you think a storm was coming, but then the rustle of the leaves would soften, and soon you'd be back to enjoying a soft, cool and totally pleasant breeze.

Later, I came inside and did stuff I'd been putting off on the computer. I created a draft of the newspaper guidelines I was asked to make over the weekend, and then wracked my brain trying to come up with story ideas for Tuesday's meeting. The only somewhat interesting story ideas I came up with were finding out if and how the school is making efforts to be "green", and how high gas prices are affecting things like enrollment and students' ways of getting to school. I was supposed to come up with five ideas, and the other three are even lamer than the ones I just mentioned, but I'm just using them as fillers on the list for the time being. Perhaps something more substantial will come to me between now and Tuesday afternoon, but I doubt it.

After getting that stuff done I visited one of my favorite authors' blog and spent over an hour reading her treasure trove of insight into writing the way and things I want to write. The phenomenon of blogs is that they provide a great and convenient way to peek inside the mind of a brilliant author, and making them human to those awestruck by their creations. I think one of the most helpful resources when trying to write right is getting a glimpse of how an established writer, er, author, weaves a flawless tapestry in anything BUT methods. Getting that glimpse, you begin to see that your inability to stay focused enough to write more than six coherent sentences is hardly a unique problem, but rather the only way to write when you have a life on the side.

You also get to see just where this author gets his/her ideas, and it brings them down to earth, eliminating the perception you have of them being super beings with a super-compartment in their brain where great stories are stored-- all they have to do is sort through them and pick the one they want to write down on paper. This of course does not lessen the awe with which you view them, mind you. On the contrary-- it makes someone like me think the author I'm spying on through their blog even more brilliant in my eyes for the simplicity with which they are able to tell such amazing stories. It's totally inspiring and heartening to see their struggle, and it encourages you to keep going full steam ahead, despite your crazy life getting in the way.

I will leave you now with a video of a song called "Ahlan Ramadan", which translates to Welcome Ramadan. It is a traditional song sung and played to welcome the holy month.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Return from one busy hiatus

My sister brought it to my attention that she has noticed the lack of new blog postings, and so I thought I'd take the time and breathe life back into this machine.

I've been busy with school, what with writing for my class, and deciding to join the school's newspaper staff as Assistant Editor. These are very pleasant things to keep busy with, but they are making me a good kind of tired that has made me lag on my blogging. I go to school just two days a week, but they are busy days that carry over into my off days as well.

Every Tuesday and Thursday I attend class from 1 to 2:15 PM, and then squeeze in some writing in the computer lab until the Arapahoe Free Press News meeting at 4 PM. The meetings have generally been lasting until about 5:30, and they are all about starting this publication from scratch. That's right-- from scratch. Unlike at Metro where I was a reporter, an always existing publication with a huge staff and faculty working on it, the AFP is a publication that is completely run by students. Even the advertising is something that the students handle and make money from. It's cool, but kind of nerve-racking to have so much responsibility that includes dealing with a very limited budget.

For staff, there are nine of us, and we hope to recruit more people to write, as we're all editors and designers. Sure, we will contribute some writing, but we still need people who will just be writers to fill the gaps for news, features and reviews. It's up to us to recruit by talking to the department heads, and talking to classes in session throughout the school. There are going to be a lot of growing pains involved with taking this thing off the ground, but I think it's going to be worth it. I worked as a reporter and opinion columnist for The Metropolitan, and never got a chance to advance to an editor's position, but here I am now, an Assistant Editor. It's exciting and terrifying at the same time. I'm mostly excited, though.

Much like our bodies, our minds need exercise to better themselves, and this is an exercise with a wealth of benefits that will last long after it ends.

In the meantime, I'm one busy and tired-- but mostly happy-- camper.
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