Be Prepared…

So, today I have a song stuck in my head and it’s REALLY interfering with my writing. I did some babysitting the other night and caught the last glimpse of the movie Hoodwinked. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it’s an computer animation film that puts a bit of a different and modern twist on the whole Little Red Riding Hood story. I didn’t enjoy the movie, but there was this one character – Japeth the Singing Goat that just made my day. Seeing the end of the film, I remembered the goat and thought that I’d go to youtube and find his song. To my delight at first (and now my horror) I found it and I won’t lie to you, I’ve been listening to it all day. I can’t help myself. I want to listen to other songs but every time I start, I find myself thinking:

Just one more time…

I didn’t write this weekend and I’ve got a lot of things to catch up with! I can’t afford a singing goat in my mind, but I really can’t help myself.
The thing is, there’s a tiny life lesson in this song as well. Some of the lyrics are:

This lesson must be shared

To be prepared

To be prepared, to be prepared

And unless you’ve got a spare

You’ve got one life
so handle it with care…

You see, through all the singing, dear Japeth’s onto something and that’s to be prepared for anything life can throw at you. Be it a car accident, a bad semester mark, a bad review or an avalanche set off by bandits to try and kill your grandmother…

I don’t always have the strength for Mondays because I work very hard over the weekends, but today I feel prepared for anything this week can throw at me. And, it’s sad to say, lol, but it’s all thanks to an old singing goat.

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Home.

I guess that I was lucky.
Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, the furthest that I’ve ever moved was when I changed rooms. This happened once, at the start of my university career, when I moved from my room in the house to the converted garage outside. This lack of change had fixed a very clear sense of what home meant to me and I believe that it proved to be a stabilizing factor in what was a pretty hectic childhood. Despite all the ups and downs, I knew at least where my home was and that I could always retreat to the safety of my own room.

When I decided to travel abroad, I was terribly worried that I was going to become homesick, which for my independent spirit would’ve been quite embarrassing. It came as quite a surprise then when 6 weeks passed abroad and I had still not shown any desire to return home. The freedom that I had there, the independence and the climate was intoxicating. I moved around quite a lot, and for the first two months that I was there, I didn’t spend more than 7 nights in the same bed. Then, I found a job in Milton Keynes as a Sheppard (yes, with a crook and a dog) and unexpectedly found myself able to stay in a place for more than three months. My first month and a half was trying as I worked nightshift. I rented a room from a couple called Terry and Carol, who I suspect ended up getting more than they bargained for. The thing was that, instead of providing me with a room, they provided me with a room. With kids just a few years older than I was, they saw the stress that my work put on me and the isolation (though chosen) that I was living in in the English countryside (no movies, no time, no people my age around for miles…). They went through the trouble of making me a part of their family events, took me along on their daily lives as family members would and supported me through difficult decisions. It was there that, one morning as I was lying in my bed looking up at the ceiling, I felt the strongest sense of home that I had ever had. I lay in my bed and felt content and safe and it was only when I left there that I really started feeling homesick. Not for South Africa, but for their cottage.

I moved on, travelled to Aberdeen and joined a volunteer community called Camphill but all the while, my sense of home remained there, in that room, in that house. I returned there frequently, using their house as a sort of ‘recharge’ station amidst my more turbulent times. When I returned home in November for my mother’s illness, I was left with an empty panic that I might never return ‘home’ again, not realizing at that time what the course of her illness would be and how my time would be monopolized by it. When my mother recovered and I returned to England (amidst the worse snow storms that they’ve had in decades apparently) I felt as if I had woken up as if from a bad dream and was once again where I belonged. I returned to Terry and Carol’s for a visit and discovered to my delight that it still felt like home – even more so perhaps because my security there had not been shattered as it had been in my own blood family life. Upon returning to England, I moved in with a close friend of mine – Mary who once again provided me with a secure home, friendship and chocolate hobnobs. Once again, like a security blanket settling around me, I felt and accepted her home as mine. This time living in the Welsh countryside, I felt a deep, content peace settle in me that I had never experienced before. I knew that it would have to end, but I tried to ignore it as long as I could. It was only when I returned from visiting my partner (who was at that time living in Australia) that I realized that I would have to try and cut my ties to the country and the people in order to return home happy. I went on a kind of pilgrimage to Scotland, alone with nothing save for my backpack, and tried to make peace with the fact that I was going to leave the country. I thought that I had managed, but it was only when I felt the airplane leave British soil that I realized I had left a bit of myself behind. I sat amidst a group of South Africans all returning home for July holidays or other various reasons. They were a jolly bunch (as we generally are) that talked about what they missed of “home” and what they were doing to do when they got there whereas I found myself thinking of all the things that I would miss. When the airplane touched down in Africa, the people cheered and clapped hands – some spontaneously breaking out into our national anthem – but I sat there, feeling alone and abandoned in my corner, wondering how I would ever be able to walk free under the African sun again.

I moved on, and for the past few months (4 now) I managed to lull myself into a false sense of security. Buying my horse helped a lot, but I will still dedicate a post to him so I won’t go into details and when my partner returned from Australia I thought that everything would finally settle.
Then, last night – I found myself serving a group of British diplomats who came from all the corners of England. I listened to their accents and listened to what they were talking of (and the way they were doing it) and I realized that I had missed it so much. Then, when one of them asked me how long I’ve been living in South Africa because my accent had faded quite a bit, I found myself breaking on the inside when I realized that they had thought I was one of them and not a South African. I stood there in the soft light of our courtyard and I realized that I’m homesick. That I missed Mary, and Carol and Terry. I missed my sheep, my fields, the rain and the rape fields. I missed my sheep dog Moss and I missed the public transport system that worked. My dreams last night were filled with me frustratingly struggling to reach my home in Wales and phone Mary.

What discourages me, is that I don’t believe that there is an cure for my homesickness, that travelling came with a terrible price. You see, I believe very strongly that there’s a balance in life and in payment for the way travelling enriched my life, I gave up a bit of my soul, a bit of my complete sense of security. Some days, like today I have to admit, I wonder if I should ever have done it and whether I would not have been better of just completing my Masters and carrying on with what could’ve been a content, ordinary life.

But – I don’t strive to be ordinary, I don’t strive to be normal. I have seen and done things that very few other young people my age have done and for that I’m internally grateful – for all the pain that it’s brought me.
Although I don’t know how to fix my internal struggle, I know that when this pain subsides, I will strive to reach further inside myself again and gain more experiences. Because that’s what this life is about.

The End is Nigh… Sort of.

So, as some of you have noticed, I have crossed the 50K mark. And, I have to tell you, I don’t often smile as much as I did yesterday. I honestly didn’t think that I would make it, knowing the demands on my personal life and my work life. But, I set out this month on what felt like a wild and reckless dash in the beginning to get out as many words as I could. You see, the reason I signed up was because I had wanted to prove a point to myself. I’ve always been somebody who used to not do things because I didn’t think that I could instead of trying to see if I could. Then, when I decided to go abroad last year, I realized that I had to change my motto and change my perception. The cliché phrase of: If you shoot for the moon and miss, then you’ll still fall among the stars… finally hit home.
I learned to do things blindly, to leap into projects even though I had absolutely no confidence in myself.
Because you see, I learned a very valuable lesson, which took me 24 years to learn…

Even if you don’t believe in yourself, there are still others who do. And, it’s more brutal on the psyche to disappoint them than yourself.

So, as with many other things this year, I learned that if you don’t leap and take a chance, you might never get anywhere – not because you don’t have it in you, but because you never tried. I crawled out from underneath my rock and now have a shiny NaNoWriMo Winner’s certificate to prove it. I’m not done yet of course, lol, so you’ll see my word count still growing. Not only am I not done with my project, but I feel that I want to give my country’s word count as much of a boost as I can. The South Africans are still clinging strong to 69th place – and we’re only about 10K behind the next region.

I also have other goals in mind for this month, as well as the next. Firstly, I need to finish a fan fiction fic that I’ve been working on – The Healer’s Touch, before December. If I do, it will be eligible for the 2009 Fannie Awards – a type of Fan Fiction Oscars for all authors writing in the Kim Possible fan fiction genre (yes, yes, I watch cartoons, I’m addicted, there’s no helping me). Last year, this stories prequel – The Touch of Green Fire, got nominated in a few categories as well as myself. I didn’t make it to the top 3, but it’s put an itch in me that says – you can do better, you can reach it… Secondly, I also need to finish another fic, purely because I’ve been at it for a while and need to wrap it up. If I can carry on writing at the pace that I did for NaNo, then I’ll finish both easily by the end of the year.
And lastly, I’m not going to stop writing purely because I love it. I love writing, and in this month I’ve found a space in which to do it which I’ve lost somewhere along the line. Although I’ve always enjoyed it, I find myself having fun again. And, that’s made a big difference not only in my stories but in the way I think about myself.

So, to make a long story short, and a short story longer, I want to firstly thank you all for reading my words. If it weren’t for you, they would never be here. I would like to thank you for your encouragement and your humor and your support.
Although she’ll probably never read this, I would also like to thank the author Kim Harrison again for also encouraging me and my fellow NaNoWriMo’s alike. It made it special somehow, getting encouraging words from someone who’s already made it. And, she made it fun.
I’d like to thank my computer for not crashing on me and my horse for not crashing with me.
And, lastly but not the least by far, I would like to thank my partner, who has an incredible understanding for the fact that I have to live in two worlds. You don’t get someone like this everyday…

If you’re still busy, frantically typing out your word count – I want to a) reprimand you for reading while you should be writing and b) want to wish you the best of luck!! There’s a squirrel, fireworks and a certificate just ahead of you. Go go go!

Have a great day everybody.
Alyssa

Quiet stretch.

So, my word count is just south of 50K and I’ve decided to put my foot in it and rush to see if I can get it finished today. On the NaNoWriMo website there are already quite a few purple “Winner!” bars and I’ve decided that I want mine among them. So, not much of a blog post today. I’m conserving my word count for the last stretch.

As an update, I have to say that I’m still sick and seem to have lost my sense of balance. It started last night during work when I crashed into another waiter when bending to pick up a fallen piece of cutlery. Luckily, nothing was damage (save for my pride) but I decided to call it quits and ask my manager if I can go home early. After seeing how I oozed all over my customers he agreed, lol. If a lot of people get sick in the week in my country you can guess who did it… That’s me, the new plague, spreading germs from a restaurant near you…

So, if you’ll excuse me – I’m off to go hunt for 2300 more words. I’m sure they’re here somewhere…

Have a hug and a great day!
Alyss

The Art of Sharing

I have to admit, I’m still in bed while I’m writing this post. My little camping escapade really didn’t take any prisoners and I’m as sick as a dog. I would’ve gone to ride my horse today, but to catch him I have to walk miles and I just realized that I won’t be able to manage that. So, I’ll stick around, try and work on my word count and spend some time with you. Besides, sadly – I need to be ready for work again tonight and if it’s going to be anything like last night, I’ll need all the strength that I can get. It’s challenging working when you’re brains are leaking out through your nose…

So, I’m still on the NaNoWriMo topic and I think now is a good time to answer the question: What now?
You might now find yourself in a position where you have with a story that’s over 10K long. You’ve spend hours working on it and a whole month musing about it (maybe even more if you planned it before hand). The end is in sight and victory just around the corner.
The only problem perhaps is that now you have thousands of words and you have no idea what to do with them.

Let’s be honest. Sadly, very few of us will publish. Not because we’re not good, but because we like to procrastinate on our words. We sit on them and sit on them until we forget why we wrote them in the first place and we loose the courage to do with them what we wanted to do with the beginning. The reason for this is mostly because we have nowhere to go with our words… Or so we think…

About six years ago, I stumbled onto the website FanFiction.Net, a site that hosts the very popular but sometimes unknown stories of people who took other people’s ideas and make them their own. I’m not going to go into fan fiction in this post (as I’m brooding on it for another topic) but I’ll just briefly explain the term and say that it’s stories, written into other stories, but people who make absolutely no profit out of it. The site has a couple of main components:

  1. Registered readers and authors – just because you register doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write.
  2. A very good and effective feedback system – which is ultimately why most people post.
  3. A large archive of fics that have been written over the past five years.
  4. An easy to use interface in which you can submit your work.

Next to FanFiction.Net there is also its sister site: FictionPress.com. Fiction Press offers a similar layout for people with original poetry and literature. The possibilities on this site are endless. It has the same four easy base points that I pointed out up north.

These websites provide a very good base for anybody who wants to start putting their personal words out there for feedback. It’s safe to use, have some forums in which to interact with other authors and tons and tons of things to read. I’m always amazed at the effort that people put into their work, and I have to say in some of the categories there are stories that will put the original authors (this is now on FanFictionl.Net) to shame.

Other websites out there that does non-profit internet publishing are the following:
Ficwad.com – I’ve been on this website but found that it’s user traffic is not as good as FictionPress.com’s and FanFiction.net’s.
Adult FanFiction.net – Admittedly, I haven’t been here but I know of its existence. This is a website for stories with a content rating higher than NC-17.
Live Journal – No like provided, but I’m sure you all know what live journals is. Again, I’m not a member of it myself, but I’ve noticed that quite a lot of people host their stories on this site.
Various Target Sites – In Fan Fiction, you can find quite a lot of websites that’s dedicated to a specific genre. A good way of finding this would be to google something like: “Tomb Raider Lara Croft Fan Fiction”. These sites will come up immediately.
Free Web Site Hosting – I’ve been using freewebs for a while and find it a very easy, manageable web site creator site. (how’s that for worst line ever…) if you don’t want to put your stories or things in any of the other archives, but you do want it up on the internet, create your own website! That works very well as well. Just remember then to define your tags very clearly and make sure that it’s presentable.

Websites like these provide you with a means to get that one step closer to publishing. It makes you used to the idea (while remaining behind the anonymity of an internet pseudonym) that people are going to read your stories and have opinions about them. It makes you a little braver and, I have to say, a little better. It’s amazing how critical you can become on your own writing if you know other people are reading it. I can say this for myself; if you compare my first work with my latest the difference is enormous and it’s all because I became aware of my style and how it affects other people.

Yes, there is no real glamour in this safe for bragging rights, but it’s a start and one should remember not to take the reviews too seriously. Take them to heart, but also bear in mind that there are people out there who won’t like what you’ve done and who will point it out to you.
Never sit on your stories, no matter how bad you think they are. You don’t even have to put up everything. Write a story with the purpose of putting it online to see what people’s feedback is. It’s a great start and, I have to say – if I had not taken that first step years ago, you would not be reading me today. 🙂