Thursday, 30 August 2012

Some Writerly Musings

I start my grad school classes next week! I must say I'm excited to be involved in workshops again. I've had a relatively productive summer writing-wise. Podium Finish has undergone another revision and I completed the first draft of Borrowed Time. about midnight last night, when I was supposed to be getting a good night sleep before orientation, I decided I want to dust off an old story I wrote in high school and see where it takes me.

Before undergrad, I never showed my writing to anyone. It's not that I wanted to keep it a secret, but rather that I didn't understand the importance of the writing community. I had no concept of revisions, editing, or beta readers. My undergraduate courses showed me that getting feedback from others about your writing is not only necessary in order to grow as a writer, but is also fun. Criticism doesn't have to be negative, and some times it takes another person's perspective to point out areas of your work that need improvement. Do you use too much backstory? Do you have flat characters? Do you use filler words? As writers, we get set in a style, but sometimes we are blind to our own mistakes. This is why having a workshop or critique partner or beta reader comes in handy. Also, having to critique the work of your peers makes you a better writer. There were so many times in workshop when I would realize "oh, I do that too," or "man, I should try this technique."

Another great way to connect to the writing community is to read the blogs of other authors. I came across Veronica Roth's blog and loved it. I read the kindle sample of her book and am going to read it in full as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Also, author Nova Ren Suma has some pretty interesting posts on her blog. So what's my favorite blog I've come across? The Other Side of the Story by Janice Hardy. If you're a writer looking for author interviews or tips on how to fix common writing problem, this is the place to go. If you have a finished manuscript, I recommend checking out the Gearing Up to Get an Agent contest on Deana Barnhart's blog.

That's all for now. In the coming weeks, I hope to have tabs set up for both of my manuscripts and well as my short story "Far From Home," which is available for purchase on kindle. I wrote it when I was a junior in high school. Check it out! I'll also be blogging about grad school. I wrote a children's story for my Children's Lit class. I have to hand it out on Wednesday for workshop the following week, so I'll let you know how that goes.

Have a good Labor Day weekend.


Monday, 27 August 2012

Flashier Isn't Always Better: Tips and Tricks for Preparing Your Resume

I don't have any younger siblings. I do, however, have some amazing cousins, one of whom is about to be a senior in high school. Realizing this got be thinking about the college application process and resumes. It's been 4 years since I applied to colleges, one year since I applied to grad school, but in both cases, having a well-prepared resume was crucial. So whether you're a senior in high school, a college student, or applying for your first job, here are some tips and tricks to make your resume stand out.

Where do I start?

One of the easiest tricks I found was to keep an ongoing list of activities I was involved in. This list wasn't a formal resume, but when it came time to put a formal resume together it was helpful. Sometimes it's hard to remember what you did as a freshman when you're a senior, so start early. Save the doc on your computer and update it every few months. That way, if you do need to submit a resume, for a job or college/scholarship application, you won't have to stress as much.

How do I format my resume?

Start with the header.

*The first line should be centered and include your legal name. (Elizabeth Pond, Elizabeth J. Pond, Elizabeth Jane Pond are all possible options) Your name should be in a font slightly larger than the rest of the text, try 14. You can also use a fancier font for your name. Something cursive but still legible. Choosing an easy to read font is important. You don't want your admissions representative or future boss straining to read your name and credentials.

* Beneath your name include your home address and email. (Contact info can be spread out across the page. You can even include bullet points to separate the components.) Some people choose to include phone numbers as well. Phone numbers would be more appropriate for a job resume, not one sent to a college. Your relevant contact info should be in a font size that is smaller than what you used for your name, perhaps 10. Choose a font that is simple and easy to read, such as Times New Roman or Arial. Use this font for the body of your resume as well. **Also, if your email address is something like BieberFan376 or TheNextLeBron, consider a creating a different account with a more sophisticated name. You want to stand out, but not because everyone in the admissions office is having a good chuckle about your email address.

Choose your categories.

* EDUCATION is typically the first category. If you are a high school senior, include your high school's information including the city and state. (If you have attended more than one school, include both or more school as well as the year you attended) For me it was St. Paul Catholic High School (Bristol, CT). I did not apply to any in-state schools, so it was important to include the city and state. If you are a senior in college, the same rule applies, especially if you are going to a school that is not as well known. Include your degree information. This can read written as Class of 2013 if you are a HS student or Bachelor's of Arts Degree in English, expected 2013 if you are a college student. You can also include your GPA in this section. For college resumes, it is common to have your cumulative GPA, your major GPA, and your minor GPA all listed, especially if your major GPA is higher than your cumulative GPA because this will show you have gotten good grades in your field of study. **Remember, though, your resume is not your transcript. Transcripts are also requested when you apply for higher education as well as some jobs. Your resume should tell what your transcripts can't.

* The rest of the categories depend on what the resume is going to be used for. It is okay to have more than one resume. For example, a resume for a job would highlight your work experience, but a resume for a grad school would highlight your academic background (then work experience, especially if you have done an internship in your field.) Also, if you are applying for a scholarship, highlight what qualifies you to receive that scholarship. Is it a journalism scholarship? Did you work for your school paper? That information needs to be higher up on the page. You don't want it to be overlooked because it is at the bottom of your resume. Prioritize!

Here are some possible categories. Obviously not all apply to everyone or maybe there is one that I haven't included that better fits your background. The trick is to have your most impressive, most relevant information closest to the top. If you are a high school senior, colleges want to know about your academics and extra-circulars. Grad schools, on the other hand, care more about academics and employment/internships than whether or not you played college ball or sang in the choir. **If you are applying to a creative writing MFA program, having a strong resume is great, but more weight is given to the quality of your writing sample.

ACADEMICS, SCHOLARSHIPS and AWARDS, EMPLOYMENT (or EXPERIENCE), EXTRA-CIRCULARS, ATHLETICS (sports can fall under extra-circulars, but if you want to play sports in college, for example, it would be better to have this as a separate category), SERVICE (or VOLUNTEERING) PUBLISHED WORKS.  **I've also seen resumes with REFERENCES as a category and the person will list their references contact info. This is more appropriate for a job resume. Colleges will ask for letters of recommendation to be included with your application or mailed to them directly. ***For a job resume, you can also include SKILLS such as proficient in Microsoft Excel or Office. (These might seem obvious to our generation. We live on computers, but it is still commonly included on resumes.) ****You can even include LANGUAGES SPOKEN and the level of proficiency i.e. fluent, near-native fluency, conversational fluency, proficient in reading, writing and speaking.

Okay, I've chosen my categories, now what?

This is where HS and College resumes differ. So let's tackle HS first.

You will need to include the year you did the activity and any positions you held. (For year, you can use the calendar year, or 9 for grade 9 a.k.a freshman, 10 for sophomore etc.)

Here's a quick example:

Chorus 9-12  *this indicates you did it all four years of HS
Debate Team 9,10 *only did the activity 2 years
Color Guard 9, captain 10-12 *did the activity all four years, but had a higher position for some of those years

Were you class treasurer or yearbook editor? Make sure you note the title. It shows leadership!

For college, use the calendar year. (You can use calendar year for HS too rather the grade, if you choose.) Also note the semester.

Here's a quick example:

The Profile Student Newspaper: staff reporter (fall 2008-fall 2009), associate editor (spring 2010)

Some activities might require an explanation. Maybe not so much for extra-circulars, but if you had a job or internship, you can include bullet point and give a brief description.

Such as:

Academic Peer Mentor (fall 2011-spring 2012)
* assisted first year students with creating their schedules
Writing Center Tutor (fall 2009 -spring 2012)
* worked 5 hours per week. Helped students structure essays and correct grammatical mistakes.

These explanations should be brief. Concisely explain the major points of what you did. These bullet points are especially helpful if the position you held or company you worked for is not easily recognizable. Also, avoid abbreviations of your resume. Write out titles like Academic Peer Mentor, even if it is known around campus as an APM.

How long should it be?

A resume should be one page. The reason for this is that the second page could become detached and lost in the shuffle. A resume acts as a blueprint. It gives others a sense of who you are. That being said it is important to have a neat, easy to read.understand resume, as this gives a good first impression. Also be careful what you choose to include because you will be evaluated on this information.

What if it is more than a page?

There are a couple tricks to solve this problem. Perhaps use size 10 as the font size for the body. Size 10 is still readable. Make sure your header is not taking up too much room.

Name                                                                                                    Name
Address                                                                             Address                         Email
Email          takes up room page space than

Also, check your categories to make sure that you haven't created too many. For example, if you created a category for scholarships, you might be able to put this info under academics. Also, if athletics can count as extra circulars. If you condense categories you are saving the a couple extra lines, which could make the difference when needing to fit your info on one page.

What if it isn't enough?

Don't panic. This doesn't mean you should rush out and do things just to pad your resume. Perhaps you could play with the aesthetics a bit. The body of the resume can be in size 12. Maybe your name can be in a size 16 font. Also, something to consider is that while a jam packed resume might seem impressive at first glance, it doesn't mean the person is a better candidate. Play to your strengths. Maybe you only did one or two clubs in high school, but you were the president of that club and organized events. Include that. Don't feel bad that your resume isn't as "full" as some of your peers. Maybe you couldn't do extra-circulars because you had to have a job. Having a job shows maturity too. "Full" resumes can be overwhelming. In some cases, less is more, so if you don't fill your whole page, think of it this way, you have more room to format, so when others might be trying to scrunch every last little activity in, yours will stand out because it will be easier on the eyes.

Remember, a resume is often the first impression college or employers have of you. You can tell a great deal about a person based on their resume. The activities you are involved in tell what you are interested in. The jobs you've had and positions you've held can indicate punctuality, responsibility, leadership. That being said, a putting together a polished resume is time well spent.

Sorry I wasn't able to include actual examples, but if my explanations weren't enough, and you want a visual, there are plenty of great examples out there. When I was doing my grad school resume, I found Google to be more helpful than career services.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

A Small Town Girl Taking on a Big, Big, World: Tips for Those Preparing to Study, Live or Travel Abroad

I've traveled to over 20 countries and 4 soon to be 5 continents. I studied abroad in England for a semester and now I'm living in Vancouver. These experiences have been filled with many wonderful people, places, and memories, but not everything has always gone according to plan. I've decided to put a list together of some of the tips and tricks I've learned along the way as well as some of the tips and tricks I wish I'd known. If you are planning to study, live, or travel abroad, hopefully these tips will make life a little easier for you.

Before you go:

Get all your documents in order. This includes, but is not limited to passports, visas, study or work permits, the address of where you will be staying and perhaps even directions of how to get their from the airport. Now, the first few things I listed seem obvious, but an address and map? When I was in Denmark, I told the taxi driver the name of the hotel I needed to go to. It was an English hotel name. He took me to the wrong hotel. The hotel names didn't start with the same letter. They didn't even sound alike, so it's not like he could have claimed "assonance with rhyme." I knew immediately that we were at the wrong place. He insisted we weren't, so I showed him a paper I'd printed out with the hotel name on it. Then he claimed I never told him that name, that I'd said the name of the hotel we were parked in front of. I'd never heard of this hotel. It was an English name, but it wasn't a chain like Best Western or the Hilton, something I would have actually heard of. I have many talents but rattling off random Copenhagen hotels isn't one of them. Meanwhile the meter was running. He took me to the correct hotel and by the time we got there, the fair was double what it should have been, so I didn't give him a tip. Lesson learned: show your cab driver the written address of where you want to go before you get in the cab. Also, ask how much it will be. In Lisbon, I was told it would take five minutes and cost less than 10 euro to get to my hotel (for more about this trip see my travel woes post). The cab driver saw a female travelling alone at night and decided to charge me 15 euros. He didn't go by what the fair meter in his cab said. He just made up a price. So...ask the cabbie how long it will take and about how much it will be BEFORE you get in. ****And if you have a good cabbie, tip well. When I needed a cab from the airport to my house in Vancouver, the cabbie had a bit of trouble finding the correct house. He knew we were on the correct street, so he shut off the meter, but it took another five minutes to find the house. I gave him a handsome tip, and he not only refused to leave until I was safely inside, but he also helped bring my suitcases up to the front door. I'm not saying you should flash your money around, but especially if you are a female travelling alone at night (abroad or otherwise) safety is your number one priority. Some will try to take advantage as the Portuguese cabbie did, but others will go out of their way to make sure you are fine, like the Vancouver cabbie. Had it not been the correct house, I would have been able to get back in the cab and go somewhere else, somewhere safe. That's a whole lot better than being stranded in a city you've only just arrived in.

Also in regards to documents, scan all your important documents. You'd be surprised how many times you might need a pdf of this or that, especially if you are studying abroad. Have all your documents, study permit, scholarship letters, loan info all scanned and store somewhere where you can access them easily, but also somewhere that is password protected. I'd also consider having your banking or credit card numbers on file somewhere in case your wallet is stolen. I guess you could argue that it would be equally as bad to have this information on your computer in case that is what gets stolen, not your wallet, or what if the information is in your email and it gets hacked, but it's your call. Just something to think about. There are pros and cons to having all your information in the same place, but the important thing, no matter how you choose to approach it, is to have all the necessary information with you.

Do research. My landlord has been amazing thus far. Before I moved, she told me about all the stores within walking distance and gave me the UBC bus info. Take advantage of these resources. Talk to the locals. It also doesn't hurt to do some research before you do though. Find out what activities are in the area. If you're a student studying abroad look into what clubs you might want to join. I did this in Oxford and had the opportunity to network with other creative writers as well as compete for the Oxford University Athletic Club. Plus, doing these activities is not only a way to meet new people, but also a great way to have some semblance of your life back home. If you're doing the things you love, you're less likely to be homesick.

Save up. If you can save your money before travelling abroad, DO. Again, this seems like a no brainer. If you're going on a vacation, you'd want souvenirs, right? True, travelling abroad for a vacation can be expensive and there are always little things here and there that add up, an excursion, a nice dinner, a good hotel, but when you're living abroad or studying abroad, there are other expenses: rent, groceries (which can be more expensive than in the US), a cell phone and plan, gym membership (I joined a gym in Oxford and in Vancouver. It's a must for me, but might not be to other people) and then of course there's bus passes, student fees, international student medical coverage. You can't plan for every expense ahead of time, so give yourself a cushion and be prepared to spend more on certain things than you had originally budgeted for. I house sat and was a nanny this summer before I moved. Part time jobs are a great way to earn a little extra cash and give you a little wiggle room in your budget. Plus, part time jobs are easy to come back to, so when you do return, if you find yourself strapped for cash, look into going back to these part time jobs.

Other tips for before you go:
* know the exchange rate between your currency and the local currency
* know that you may be charged an international fee when you make purchases (if you are living abroad or studying abroad for an extensive period of time, set up a bank account in your new country.)
* know that you will be charged a fee for withdrawing money from an ATM
* know that certain countries have stores that only accept MasterCard or only accept Visa. If you have a DISCOVER card, it might not work, so make sure you have a debit card handy.
* know some basic self-defense. I've already said it's important to be safe, especially if you are a female traveling alone, and I'm not just saying know some self-defense because it looks cool or because I do martial arts. I'm saying it because I believe women should know how to protect themselves. I took a self defense class in college. It's how I was introduced to Grandmaster Han's Martial Arts. Most colleges or cities offer self-defense classes at their gyms or community centers, so find one near you. A girl I went to college with approached my self-defense instructor about lessons. She knew she'd be travelling by herself in Peru and wanted a couple self-defense tips. It was finals week. The WAC (what we call our gym) was deserted except for a few other loyal gym rats, a few pre-med students trying to destress and me. My self defense instructor asked me if I would mind helping him teach this girl a few moves. (And so the calling of being a martial arts instructor began lol) Anyway, we taught her a few moves and she practiced them with me a couple times a week before leaving for Peru. I didn't actually think she would need to use what we taught her. I was wrong. When she came back from her trip, I jokingly asked her if she used self-defense. She did. She was at a party. Things turned south. She wanted to leave. A guy decided to block the one and only door. She proceeded to elbow strike his neck and kick him in the back of the knee so she could get out of there. The funny thing was as she was describing this to me, she stopped and said, "Now, I know that wasn't the exact technique you showed me." Self-defense doesn't have to be pretty. It doesn't even have to be exactly how you learned it in class. It just has to work. She learned the basics and was able to use two moves to her advantage to get herself out of a precarious situation, and so I'll say it again: learn self-defense.

When you arrive:

*Explore! I went for long runs around my neighborhood the first week I was here. It was a great way to get to know the area. I also rode the bus to UBC, so I'd have an idea of how long the ride would take, and I got to see a portion of campus.

*Connect with other students. If you're studying abroad with other students from your school like I did in Oxford, go grab a bite to eat. These people might not become your lifelong best friends, but they are going through exactly what you are going through, so make those connections. If you're studying abroad and don't know anyone, orientation days are a great way to meet other new students, or you can reach out to other people in your program. I had breakfast with a second year grad student about a week ago and learned so much about the program.

*Call home. Skype, tweet, update your facebook status, whatever you do, immediately after you arrive and are settled, let friends and family know you're safe. As time passes, use the aforementioned means of communcation as a way of keeping in touch with what is going on back home and updating others about the exciting things going on in your life.

*Send postcards. Postage in Vancouver is a bit tricky. Apparently you can't just go to a Post Office and have them tell you exactly how much it will cost to send something, so I had to get creative. I bought 10 stamps at a drug store for $6.80. I had 6 postcards to send, so 4 got 2 stamps and 2 got 1 stamp. Hopefully, they will all get to their final destinations okay; if not, it's the thought that counts, right?

Those are all the tips and tricks I can think of for now. Hope that was helpful.

- Beth

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Summer 2012 Reads and Some Thoughts on Sports Fiction

What's the best book you read this summer?

For me, it was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Every once and a while I read a book and think "I wish I could write a book this good." Code Name Verity is exactly this type of book. From the beautiful and often times humorous prose, to the multiple plot twists, to the careful historical research, to the honest, emotional and down right sassy narration, this book is a great read for YA readers and adults.

So what's it about? That's a tough question without giving too much away. (I can't even tell you one of the main characters names without spoiling parts of the plot.) That being said, Code Name Verity is an engaging read with strong female characters. Find a copy at the library, a bookstore, kindle, I don't care where you get it, but you really should read this book!

The book On the Jellicoe Road came in a close second. I highly recommend that one as well.

Other notable books:

I love books about sports. Shocking I know, since one of my work-in-progress manuscripts is about the Olympics and the other is a ghost story in which the main characters are a cheerleader turned track star and a ghost (who was a track star in her own right while alive).

If you are looking for sports themed books, here are a few of the best I came across this summer.

Gold, by Chris Cleave (adult fiction)
The Running Dream, by Wendelin Van Draanen (YA fiction)
Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally (YA fiction)

There is also the Dairy Queen series, which I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) last summer.

Truth be told, I'm not the best book reviewer out there. I did write a review of Gold for Goodreads that I was pretty proud of, but rather than rehashing the plot of the above three novels, which you could find anywhere, I'd like to provide a little insight into what I think makes a good sports themed novel.

So...I'm a writer and if you've looked at the about me picture on my blog you know that I can do a cartwheel (or 25 of them on the beaches of Spain, but that's another story for another day.) I was a three season varsity athlete in middle school and high school. I have 5 DIII collegiate varsity letters (1 in soccer and 4 in track and field) and I am a red belt in martial arts (hopefully I will get my brown belt in October!) Basically, I love sports.

That being said, when I was a teen, there were very few sports themed books out there and of those that were published at the time, the vast majority were geared toward boys. Title IX was passed in 1972. I remember thinking "if girls can play sports, why can't they read about them?" That thought combined with my interest in the Olympics led to Podium Finish (the Olympic themed work in progress I referenced above.)

So what makes good sports fiction? First of all, there has to be more to than plot than simply sport. Research helps too, as do character development and believable dialogue, though the last two are key to any kind of writing, not just sports fiction.

What do I mean by "more to the plot than simply sport?" Take Gold, for example. In Gold, one of the main characters, Kate, is raising a child with leukemia. The other main character, Zoe, is dealing with memories of her brother's death, which occurred when both Zoe and her brother were children. Zoe engages in some risky/reckless behavior and her friends and coach worry what will happen once the two-time gold medalist has to retire from the sport.

Gold also tackles friendship, family as well as the coach/athlete relationship which is also important in sports fiction. My favorite character in Gold Tom, the coach. Coaches play a huge role in athletes' lives, and many times what happens off the field effects practice (whether athletes and coaches want it to or not), so it is important for a coach to know his athletes well.

RESEARCH: Chris Cleave researched cycling in order to make the sports aspects of the novel more believable. I read somewhere that he even trained while writing. His descriptions of how the body feels when racing and what it feels like to be on a bike greatly benefited from this research. Cleave has a beautiful prose style as it is, but when it comes to writing about sports, athlete readers will call your bluff if you haven't done your research. We can see the importance of research in The Running Dream as well.

The Running Dream involves an up-and-coming runner who loses her leg below the knee in a bus accident. Like Cleave's novel, The Running Dream is well-researched in regards to the recovery process and how one is fitted with a prosthetic limb. These details could have been glossed over, but I'm glad they weren't. This insider knowledge adds a sense of authenticity to the novel. Also, The Running Dream highlights character development. The main character vacillates from self-pity and the desire for independence to the realization that she wants to run again and can't achieve this goal on her own. I appreciated the array of emotions. I know some writing teachers what to see nice clean-cut character change, but let's be real here, no one, especially not teenage girls, goes form emotion A to emotion B smoothly (and given the main character's situation, if she had, readers would have called the bluff; therefore, the vacillation was realistic and made the character change at the end of the novel believable). Our emotions are like little roller coaster rides. We go up and down, back and forth and at the end of it all, hopefully we've come out of the situation a better, more mature person. Without spoiling the plot, in the end, the narrator does run again, and she finds a clever way to give back to a classmate who, due to her cerebral palsy, is confined to a wheelchair and cannot run.

DIALOGUE: I said earlier that character development and believable dialogue are important to writing in general, not just sports fiction. Dialogue has to move the story forward. It has to tell us something about the character or it might as well be cut. I loved the dialogue in Catching Jordan. The scene where Jordan and Henry become parents to Jerry Rice, a mechanical baby given to them in family and consumer science class is wonderful. There is funny banter (present in that scene as well as throughout the book) that not only makes the characters themselves likable, but calls attention to their friendship. Jordan's relationship with Sam Henry reminds me of the classic writing advice "show, don't tell." We are shown what close friends they are from the onset. The dialogue helps our understanding of who these characters are. Personally, I admire the dialogue in this book because showing a friendship between characters is harder than telling about it. Novice writers tell. Experienced writers show.

As a side note, my mom teaches Family and Consumer Science and has brought the mechanical babies home a couple times. My favorite moment was her holding one up and saying "and this is my crack baby" like she was Vanna White showing off a prize. She has a fetal alcohol syndrome baby too, and for one night, a little over a year or so ago, I had three fake infant siblings. Luckily she was able to shut them off so we didn't have to do nightly feedings and diaper changes like she expected her students to. (For the record, my mom is an awesome teacher. She was Teacher of the Year in 2011.)

If you've read this far, thanks for putting up with a somewhat dry post. I hope you were motivated to read the books I referenced. In case anyone is curious about my works in progress, especially Podium Finish, I hope to put up more info about them once I get the hang of formatting my blog.


Saturday, 18 August 2012

Signs You're a Grown-Up: a somewhat comical post that turned out to be very philosophical

1. Your friends from high school and college are either getting married (intentionally) or having children (not-so-intentionally).

2. The kids you babysit for have no clue how old you are. They just know you're 30? Adults have clue how old you are. They just know you're must be just about ready to start college, right? I cannot tell you how many times I've been mistaken as a 17-year-old in the past three months. I'm 22. Apparently have a baby face.

3. You don't like the taste of lemonade as much as you used to, but it fits nicely into the grad school food budget, so you buy it. (Kool-aid still tastes good, so you buy that too.)

4a. You pay bills and rent (and then proceed to complain about having to do so to your parents, who remind you that if you actually do go broke, they will help out. However, you're not broke yet. They know this, because even though you're a grown-up (perhaps legal adult is better phrasing in this case), they still have access to at least one of your bank accounts, so they can put money in if needed.
4b. You have a bank account that is entirely your own, not connected to your parents whatsoever.

5. You still think you should be going back to your undergrad institution even though you graduated. To combat this, just realize that the Class of 2016 has just moved in--you know the 17 and 18-year-olds you keep getting mistaken for.

6. Your former profs add you on facebook. Some even tell you to let them know when you're in town again because they want to take you out to lunch.

7. You work three part time jobs (or in my case, worked three part time jobs until you moved to a foreign country.)

8. You miss the cafeteria food because cooking a balanced meal for one person is hard. Also, everyone in the cafeteria knew your name, which was a plus. You also miss eating meals with your college friends. And themed days!!!! Theme days in the Hendrix cafeteria were the best.

On a more serious note, graduating and then moving to Vancouver has given me reason to reflect on my life, specfically the choices I've made and the people I've met. So here goes...

I've been asked why Canada or why creative writing? For me, it's simple. I love to write. I've been writing stories since I was five. It comes naturally and is as much a part of me as say working out is. The only difference is no one really stops to ask me why I workout everyday, sometimes twice a day, but as soon as I mention creative writing suddenly I'm not just a writer, I'm also a hippie, vegetarian, flaming liberal and all these other stereotypes that come with being a "writer." As for why Canada? UBC has a phenomenal program that has been around longer than most of the US programs. Also, most MFA programs require you to choose a genre: poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. UBC requires students to study more than one genre and it offers more genres than "the big 3." I will be studying Children's/YA and nonfiction. I will probably take a fiction course at some point as well. While I understand the benefit of specializing in one genre, in today's market, diversity is crucial. UBC's program reminds me of my liberal arts education. One of the many things I loved about Hendrix was the liberal arts format. Students were required to take one science class, one science class with a lab, a math class, a relgion or philosphy class, a foreign language class--you get the idea. Then, in the last two years of our education, we focused on the courses within our major. I loved that. I know liberal arts isn't for eveyone, but I love being able to study a broad range of subjects, so UBC seemed like the best choice. Also, over 300 students applied. Of those, the applications were narrowed down to approximately 125 and then again to roughly 22 students. I was one of the 22, and I got a scholarship. They loved my Children's/YA writing sample. That's the genre I want start my career in, so why wouldn't I go? That's the real question.

Plus being a writer has its benefits. I will never be an Olympian or a rock star, but I can write about them. Also, I can kill my characters off and not face jail time for it. :)

As for the people I've met, I made wonderful friends at Hendrix. I also met a great group of people a little over a year ago now at Grand Master Han's Martial Arts. I started because I enjoyed self-defense class and wanted an activity I could continue on with after college. (You can't throw shot put forever. However, I fully intend to try master's competitions once I'm 30+) Sometimes what you're looking for and what you find are two totally different things. I found what I was looking for. I also found something I didn't expect: a community. I've been on countless teams over the years, but when a group of girls all of the same age is fighting for starting spots, there often times isn't a sense of community present. So while I was friends with my teammates, I can't say I ever felt the community vibe. Grand Master Han's is different. You walk in and there are at least five people beaming at you as you walk in the door. They're happy you're there. Truly happy.

Martial Arts is a lot like life in some ways. Each person has their own journey, but no one goes it alone.

When I think of the groups I have been involved in over the years, not all groups offer a sense of "community." So what makes a group a community? For me, the "it factor" is a sense of family. The Hendrix community and GMHMA community are like a family to me. Now I realize that not everyone has the same definition of family, nor will every person agree that the two aforementioned groups provide a sense of family and that's fine. Hopefully those people are cherished as part of another community.

A community accepts you as who you are, and they are there for you no matter how far away you go (just like a family). You don't leave a community. I'm no longer in Conway, Arkansas, so yes, technically I've left, but you only really leave a community if you don't take what that community stands for with you (and if you don't take what it stands for with you, chances are it was a group, not a community, because a community shapes the person you are. A community positively impacts the person you've become in a way you cannot leave behind. Communities are positive. They aren't perfect, but they are a positive influence.)

I love that the Hendrix community is open-minded, accepting, and believes that learning can occur outside of the classroom. I've taken that with me. GMHMA also has tenants: the six training principles, plus the motto of never give up. I've taken those with me too. So I will repeat: you don't leave a community; you take it will you. That's the difference between a community and a group. No matter how far away you go, a community is right there with you in spirit. They've shaped the person you are and have impacted you in such a way that transcends the physical distance between you (again, like family or at least my definition of family). Communities grow. Groups don't often survive long distance relationships. Groups may stay in touch, but they go their separate ways. My high school sports teams were a group. The teams still exist. They resurrect each year with a new roster, but they are a group, not a community. We shared common interest, sport, but that's where things stopped. Communities shared a common interest as well as common ideals. You don't have to agree on everything. In addition to being next to impossible to get a large group of people to agree on everything, it would also be boring. Therefore, groups embrace what makes its members similar. Communities embrace the similarities and the differences of its members. After all, we all have our own individual journey. It just so happens that that journey is not one we walk alone.


Greetings from new home!

I decided to resurrect the blog I started while I was studying abroad in Oxford, England. Why? Because I'm abroad again, and will be for the next couple of years.

In a couple weeks, I will begin my first semester of grad school at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. In January, I will be leave for Durban, South Africa, for a nine month Fulbright English Teaching Assistanship. I'll probably spend a couple months in the States and then will return to Vancouver in 2014 to finish my MFA.

Here's a few observations of Vancouver so far:

1. The people are incredibly friendly. In the States, we talk about Southern hospitality, but that same friendliness exists here too.

2. The labels on the food are in French and English. The French part of Canada is in the east, think the Quebec area and the parts of Canada closest to Maine, but since French is one of the official languages, it is used quite regularly. As someone who has studied French since the eighth grade but has had little time to speak it because Spanish is the popular second language in the south, I love it. I started reading some of the French labels and my brain automatically translated it. It took me a minute to realize I was reading French. Glad to know all those studies have paid off.

3. There are smart cars all around the city called Cars2Go. My landlord said that people can pay a small fee and use an app on their phone to locate the nearest car. These cars can park anywhere. It's a cool idea. I suppose the only downside is that if you park in a very public area, someone could take the car since I don't think they can be reserved, but don't quote me on that.

4. There is public transportation. More importantly, I know which buses I need to take without getting lost. Those who know me best will confirm that I have no sense of direction, so this truly is an accomplishment.

5. It's be over 90 degrees here some days or 30 celsius for the locals.

6. I have beautiful view of the mountains everywhere I go and there is a beautiful beach pretty close to my house.

7. I live in a diverse part of the city and love it. There are so many cultures present in this part of town and everyone seems to get along pretty well. Imagine that.

8. There is a channel here called CTV. It has American shows from a variety of networks, including Grey's Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Big Bang Theory (which I watched for the first time last week and loved) and the Listener, which is a pretty good Canadian show about a telepathic EMT who helps the police. CTV also had outstanding coverage of the Olympics. They showed footage of all the sports, even synchronized swimming and rythmic gymnastics, both of which were surprisingly impressive to watch.

More posts to come in the next couple days, maybe even as early as tonight, so check back soon and if you haven't already, sign up to follow my blog.