Nightmare Dentata

Nightmare DenataI’ve always been told that if you dream about your teeth falling out, it means you’re stressed the fuck out. I started having these nightmares in college, and they’ve stuck with me since then. I have heard a myriad of interpretations—DreamMoods sure has a lot to say on the subject.

Regardless, nightmares where my teeth fall out are always terrifying. So I wrote a poem about it.

Nightmare Dentata

The loose tooth—no, teeth
start as a wobble, a loud crack
reverberating into my skull
panic nails scratching my skin

I reach into my mouth and find
they are crumbling,
cracking, chalky.
I pull out shards and

blood coats my fingers, teeth
white like bone. The panic
is a full demon in my chest
and I cannot breathe, can only

sob, tears mixing with blood.
I spit teeth into my cupped hands.
The dentist can put them back
can’t he? When I pull out a molar

there’s a gaping, bleeding hole,
a bone in my gums that I can
slide in and out like a money drawer.
I push it back inside.

Panic is a clawing animal,
loose inside my skin, and I
spit, spit, spit fragments of teeth,
saving them all

just in case.

The value of great teachers and what they taught me

There are so many professors and teachers who have made big impacts on me throughout my life. I can’t name them all, but I do want to take a moment to talk about a few and to just point out what a HUGE difference a teacher can make. These people taught me so much about myself and about the world, and I will always be infinitely grateful for what I’ve learned from them.

It is crazy how vulnerable I was as a young adult. Thinking back on it, it blows my mind how little I knew (and how little I know now). I was not arrogant in my assumptions of the world—I knew I didn’t know much. But to look back on it and see the difference is amazing. To look back on teachers who saw value in me and understood and yearned to help and who did make a difference. Teachers I think of and miss. I’m so thankful I’ve had so many wonderful role models and people to teach me the ways of the world—even if I’ve had to learn most things by trial and error.

Mr. Johnson // 10th through 12th grade
My favorite teacher of all time. I loved many of my teachers, and all of them for different reasons, but Mr. Johnson was great in every way. I had him for three classes, and by the end of my senior year in high school I was taking his classes just to have a class with him. I learned so much with him. He taught me why Shakespeare is great, how to digest a good short story, how to take damn good notes. He taught me so much about life.

He was hard on me when he needed to be—once, I was going through a really hard time. My work suffered as a result. I can remember when I started getting my groove back. I got a test, and on it was an A and the words “you’re back!” He was the only one of my teachers who had even noticed something was wrong.

It doesn’t hurt that he climbed a tree to illustrate a point and once threw water everywhere while acting out Moby Dick. There is so much to be said about Mr. Johnson—I even wrote an essay about him, once. He was one of my most influential teachers at a time when I was very easily influenced. I even gave him a few pieces of creative work for him to edit—because that is how much I trusted him and his opinion. He was the absolute best, and the older I get and the more I reflect on it the more I realize it. I can never thank him enough.

Dr. James // freshman & sophomore at Oakland Community College
Creative writing classes were always awfully intimidating to me. I was a budding writer—just learning my strengths and weaknesses. I had written a few bad novels and bad poems when I wandered into his summer Creative Writing class, anxious and nervous. But over the following months, I would listen to strangers read my work out loud and then discuss it. I would draft and redraft poems. I would get my work torn apart.

It never made me cry like I thought it might—I loved it. I loved the dissection of things. I loved hearing others thoughts. I loved Dr. James’ comments on my work and his enthusiasm for poetry (something I had never thought I would be any good at). I loved his methods. I loved it so much I took Advanced Creative Writing.

It was even more wonderful. I wrote good poetry. I learned about my writing and my style. I had help taking things apart and putting them back together. I read some damn good short stories and discovered new authors. Dr. James, through his feedback and help, helped me grow into the writer I am today. It was through his class that I wrote a poem that won second place in a college-wide contest. It was him who taught me that I am, actually, a poet.

Danielle DeVoss // junior & senior at Michigan State University
I first met Danielle as a high school senior when I decided I wanted to attend MSU for the Professional Writing program. She convinced me that it was the program for me, and stayed in touch the whole two years I was at community college. When I came to MSU, finally, and had a class with her, it was wonderful. Danielle is a professor who dolls out useful assignments, gives helpful critique, and edited my cover letters and resume. She wrote me reference letters. She helped me gain a stronger understanding of the way the real world works.

When we went to NYC on a study-away, I had one of the best times of my life. Danielle took us to some of the most amazing places. She bought us hot dogs. She gave us assignments that were actually enjoyable and that actually taught me something. She made the experience something to remember—especially for someone at age 21 (hey, I might have made a few irresponsible decisions… I learned from them….). I was so lucky to have her as a professor and also as someone I could go to with questions, issues, and when I needed help.

She went above and beyond in so many ways, and I am so grateful that she was around while I went through some pretty complicated and serious changes in my life

*   *   *

Thank you to all of the professors who have impacted me over the years. I cannot express my gratitude enough to how you went above and beyond—not just for me, but for others as well. And those of you who are teachers now: you make a difference. Many of these students will later attribute so much to you. You have no idea the impact you can make.

To all the kickass teachers out there: thank you. Keep doing what you’re doing.

laptop

Writing/Reading Reflection: Who encouraged me as a kid?

alejandroescamilla-book

I’ve always been a reader. When I think back on authors who inspired to become a writer and who inspired me through their writing, there are a few who come to mind.

The biggest is, of course, is JK Rowling and my one true love, Harry Potter. I started the series at age 8 or so, and when it ended at age 17, I was truly devastated. Regardless, Rowling’s writing, characters, and world inspired me to write. Well, to write fanfiction. That’s right, I wrote Harry Potter fanfiction from the ages of 13 – 16. None of it did particularly well or soared into infamy, but I was all right with that. It taught me about writing, the idiosyncrasies of characters, character consistency or lack thereof, and the complexity involved in world building. It gave me a great platform for when I began writing my own, original novels.

Other authors also inspired me, all in different ways,

Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted showed me that a girl can save herself. Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, while not really any good, inspired me to write my very original first novel at 16. Stephanie Meyer taught me to mind gaping plot holes. Neil Gaiman showed me that I could  write about whatever I wanted. Eva Ibbotson brought out my imagination and showed me to create real, interesting characters. Kate McMullan’s The Dragon Slayer’s Academy series let me share my love of reading with my brothers, and encouraged me to write books where both genders feel catered to. It might have been what originally sparked my deep-seated love of dragons.

I can’t look back at the things I read and say that one particular author alone inspired me to become a writer. It was a joint effort—there were so many incredible, moving, life-changing books that I read (and still read today). Other authors are constantly switching up my writing, impacting my characters and my fantasy worlds, challenging the way that I think about a character or the way that I go about writing an outline. My work as a writer is never done and neither is my work as a reader.

Today, I am inspired and encouraged by Patrick Rothfuss’s Kvothe (from The Name of the Wind), Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, a series of short stories about witches I just finished (my favorite one being by Garth Nix), Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a dash of Game of Thrones (thanks, George RR Martin, for making any characters I kill off not be as bad as your books). There are novels and stories that I am continuously inspired by. There are always new books and new characters and new worlds and new voices in my life. I am one big conglomerate of everything I have read, seen, done, said, known. And that’s how I like it.

What about you? What authors were you inspired by as a kid and who inspires you now?

Currently in June

I’m stealing this from the amazing Kim at Go Fox Yourself, because, well, she is awesome and this looked like fun.

Watching: Buffy and Orange is the New Black on Netflix. I’m getting close to finishing season 4 on Buffy!

Reading: Game of Thrones (the first one). It’s going okay. I didn’t much love the first season and I don’t much love watching Ned’s journey to get himself killed (IF THAT IS A SPOILER FOR YOU THEN GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER). Anyway, next on the list is a rereading of The Mists of Avalon, because hell yes to anything King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay related. <3

Listening to: The Killers because it’s that kind of work day.

Thinking about: writing group tonight, a change I need to make to a short story before sharing it, a million work tasks, and THE WEEKEND DUH.

Making: healthy dinners for myself (thanks, CSA!), progress on Gypsy Rendered, and some cookies for Kim soon.

Planning: a little day trip to Charlotte this weekend to see my childhood friend, Emily, which will be awesome. Also planning Jacob and my trip to Montreal in July—a short but bound to be lovely vacation.

Feeling: tired (apparently I cannot drink a pot of black tea at 8pm anymore… totally fucked up my sleep… I’m aging). Creative. Wishing I could be writing, but still in a pretty good mood at work.

Loving: good friends and great talks.

So things are lookin’ pretty good as of late. Summer is almost (officially) here, and there is just something wonderful and freeing about summer.

What are you doing right now? Tell me!

ALSO, I GOT A NEW HAIRCUT.

ALSO, I GOT A NEW HAIRCUT.

Review of the Divergent Trilogy

I recently (and finally) read the final book in the Divergent trilogy, Allegiant. After being depressed about it for a few weeks, I got around to writing reviews for all 3 books. Check em out:

divergentDivergent is the kind of book I stay awake reading until 4am. It gripped me and didn’t let go, staying with me when I closed the book with a rush of adrenaline and a serious hankering for its sequel.

The plot of Divergent wasn’t surprising—in fact, I found it predictable. Regardless of that, Veronica Roth’s characters and the world that she weaved did surprise me. In Divergent, Roth created a strong, relatable female protagonist, a respectful and real love interest, and supporting characters with flaws and strengths that I found so believable I did not question it once. Read the full review.


insurgentcoverIn Insurgent, we rejoin Tris Prior and her friends and family on the run. Throughout the novel, she must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, and the war that looms.

Overall, I enjoyed Insurgent. I liked the direction the plot took and followed along eagerly, consuming the book quickly though not with quite as much vigor as I did the first. Character development was generally well done, but I found myself surprised by some of the characters’ actions—and not in a positive way. Read the full review.


Offical-Allegiant-CoverI will be honest—I was not thrilled about the idea of thinking about this book again in order to write a review. I was so bothered by the end of this series that I felt depressed about it for a week after I finished the novel. I loved Divergent. I thought that Insurgent was a pretty strong follow-up, especially considering how hard I geeked out about Divergent.

But Allegiant left me cold. Read the full review.

 

What did you think of the series? I’m down for a discussion about the finer points, too.

MORE BODY LOVE, PLEASE

On body love

This is my Quasimodo pose

Some of you might have read my Watch What You Say to Young Women blog post (actually, the most viewed post on this blog). I wrote that back in September. This morning on Facebook, I saw a few women posting videos and images with a strong theme of love-your-body and goddamn if it didn’t make me happy.

I haven’t exercised in a very long time. I do squats and stretch in the bathroom at work (sorry, co-workers, that’s why I take forever sometimes), and I do the occasional 15 min yoga exercise at home. I go for walks. But that’s it. That’s all I have time for.

If I wanted to work out and look like I did when I was 18, I would have to live a completely different lifestyle. I would have to eat healthy—no more treats with friends or boyfriend. I would have to workout regularly—no more making after work plans. I would have to cut out a hobby, basically. The last time I worked out regularly I was not doing freelance work, and now I am. I like the work, I like the extra pay, and I don’t want to give that up for a bangin’ bod (though, to be fair, my bod IS bangin’).

There is SO MUCH about me that is more important than my body, and there are other things that I need to do for my mental health. Like, hey, write and read. Cook good food. See friends and boyfriend. Keep up with family. These things are all more important to me than looking my very best.

It is a constant struggle—I don’t have the same body I did at 18, or even 22. I look different. My waist is not so svelte anymore, and my arms have definitely increased in width. It was hard to deal with at first.

Then, in August, I decided to stop caring. That’s it, I’m done, I have more important things to worry about.

Unfortunately, the part of me that worried about my body didn’t go off like a switch. I struggled and do struggle. I have days where I look at myself and can feel the back of my throat getting itchy because god do I hate myself sometimes. But those days are fewer and further between. It’s more often that I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the way to the shower and think, hey, looking pretty good.

There are so many factors to why I feel the way I do about my body. I have been conditioned my entire life to think that I should be small. I am 5’10”. I will never be small. It’s a matter of accepting that and loving my body the way it is. I’m also like, a quarter of the way through my journey to loving myself. I have a long fucking way to go.

I have to fight everything and everyone around me. Friends who say they need to workout more, #fitspo on Instagram (JUST STOP), people complaining and complaining about their bodies. Movies and TV shows and magazines.

All of this blog post to say to say, to my fellow ladies, love yourself. FIGHT against anything that tells you that you need to be thinner or smaller. Love yourself and treat yourself well and you will look/feel great as a result. Enjoy your body. Realize how wonderful it is and everything that it does for you. Recognize how strong it is, and how it’s carried you through life so far. Try to be thankful for that—the more grateful I am for what my body does, the less I hate it for what it is not.

More love and more gratitude. It helps, I promise.

On body love

On writing strong women

On writing strong womenWhen I think of a strong woman, I don’t necessarily think badass bitch who is physically strong and emotionally capable (because that does not often exist together at the same time in one person). I think Hermione Granger, Princess Bitterblue, Sansa Stark, Hazel Grace, Poison, Tris Prior, Katniss Everdeen, Ginny Weasley. All of these characters are strong and weak in their own ways, ways that I relate to.

My goal is write women realistically. I used to try to write strong women to make up for the lack of them I found in YA literature. I wrote women who could fight but who were also loving and kind and generous. But truthfully, a woman (or girl) who is a fighter and has a fucked up past isn’t always loving and kind.

I started to think about these characters I was creating, because I was creating people. The protagonist of Gypsy Rendered, Pari, grew up with an extremely harsh mother figure who was abusive. As a result, she can be cold, manipulative, and mean, often without second thought or moral objections. Throughout the novel she begins to grow and change and become more loving—she actively realizes that she is not a good person and something’s gotta give. The people (well, dragons mostly) that she kills haunt her. Killing does not give her strength, it only drives her further into her shell.

So, how do I try to write, relateable, realistic women? I think about their upbringing: Pari was raised in a harsh, abusive atmosphere. She does not usually speak up for fear of disappointing/bring on someone’s wrath. She is very good at lying to herself because she was always told not to question things. She does not open up because admitting emotion is weak.

I think about their friends: Pari has loving friends who care about her but who also challenge her. She tends to avoid confrontation but faces it stubbornly and aggressively when it does happen. She is not particularly accepting of her friends’ flaws.

I think about their wants/needs in life: Pari wants to live a normal life, and so she lies to herself about why her mother does what she does. She needs to release excess anger and energy, so she is a runner. She resists her friends telling her truths because she does want to deal. She wants the best for her friends and her family, so she can be cruel when trying to help. She wants to believe in something bigger than her, a god if you will, and so she struggles with the idea of faith when she was raised that such a thing is stupid.

But it isn’t just the women—the men, too, need to be realistic. So often I read about the male hero—the one who is strong and kickass and a killer, but he’s also sweet and loving and kind. I call bullshit. Killing creates a psychological mess that isn’t so easily pushed to the side, and that’s what I see happen very often in novels (largely fantasy and sci-fi). And because death is often included in my novels (and short stories), I make a serious effort to de-romanticize it.

On writing strong womenAnyway, back to writing women.

Writing a realistic woman can be hard—because I feel like they get shit either way. Too much of a whore, too prudish, not a good role model, too Mary-Sue. I just want my women (and others) to be real. Be weak, be needy, be strong, be independent. Feel bad for sleeping around, or don’t. Have daddy issues, or don’t.

I want my characters to be real and to have problems and doubts and insecurities—I want other women to relate to them, even if they don’t necessarily like them.