Things that make me happy, part two

Finding little unexpected little gems of music. Sometimes I surf Amazon, looking for new music to listen to. Some of these searches reveal little tidbits of free music that they offer periodically to promote new artists. Some of this music is really not my type of music. Others are such that I want to find out about the artist, listen to her songs, and perhaps even buy a CD. Christa Wells was one of those artists. A free song offer led to me finding her website and purchasing her debut solo album, Frame the Clouds, which I have reviewed here. She also has an amazing blog.

Recently, she put a rough draft of a new song she wrote up on Youtube. It’s not the best quality; it’s filmed at her home and is only her lovely voice and her piano. Despite all that, I have been listening to this song almost on repeat ever since I found it: it has an incredibly beautiful melody.

You work to be loved
You love to be known
You know how to hurt
You hurt on your own
But your soul is a desert

The rest of the lyrics can be found here.

To me, this song sounds sad. Someone is dry, barren, stripped down. At the same time, the song is so full of assurance, of hopefulness.

Of faith.

Despite the fact that storms keep coming before the person is ready, despite the fact that the person seems to keep losing what she has and draining all the resources she seems to have, she is coming to a realization that she might already have what she needs. Perhaps she does not know it yet, but she will find out. Despite the fact that she is also hurting, alone, and in need of love, she is gradually learning that that which she needs most is something she will never lose. Something that is there for the taking.

And this is something I can readily identify with. Often times, I do feel alone, hurt, and unloved — that as the days pass the storms keep on coming before I am ready to face them. However, it seems that these storms are wearing me down to a seed, a realization of one truth — that I have been loved from the start.

And that makes me happy.

But your eyes are an ocean flooding over the levy
Storms keep on coming before you are ready
Oh, and they’re taking the whole place down to the seed
Til all that you have…is all that you need

— Christa Wells: “All That You Need”

To be continued…

All photos are under a CC license and used with permission. Click photos for credits.

Some Star Wars Geekery

Book cover

On a particularly lazy Saturday, I was flipping through my old copy of Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, by Sean Stewart. I’ve been a Star Wars nerd ever since I watched the original movies years and years ago.

Yoda: Dark Rendezvous still remains one of my favorite Star Wars books. It’s extremely well-written. It was funny and sad and full of so much meaning (we can choose to be individual candles lighting the dark so that other people can find their way home kind of awesomeness) and affected me so much that I must have written a review somewhere on my old Xanga, which I can’t find because I deleted a bunch of posts before I switched to WordPress.

Finding a good Star Wars book seems to be hard, if one doesn’t know where to look. When I was younger, I greatly enjoyed Jude Watson’s Jedi Apprentice series, about Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, prior to the events of the Phantom Menace. Then I enjoyed her Jedi Quest series, about Obi-Wan and Anakin, prior to Attack of the Clones. Less so, because I already knew what was going to happen to Anakin and he was a pretty whiny kid, anyway.

Mara Jade Skywalker

When I outgrew chapter books, I tried to find something else. I came upon Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy, placed after the events of Return of the Jedi. I absolutely loved it. Funnily enough, I never read the first book. I started with the second, read the third, and that was enough for me. I moved on from those to the Hand of Thrawn books, which were two books supposedly following the Heir to the Empire trilogy. These two were much more interesting to me, as they detailed Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker’s romance. Finally. (Love Mara Jade.) I always thought it was interesting that they met each other and worked together in the Heir to the Empire trilogy, but only fell in love or owned up to their mutual attraction, whichever it was, by the end of the duology. And when it finally came, it was. So. Awesome.

Bad Star Wars books, on the other hand…

I once picked up a copy of The Crystal Star from the library. So. Bad. Han Solo became a lecherous guy who enjoyed staring at ladies’ boobs (I had supposed that he had settled down after his marriage!) and Luke Skywalker became creepily all-powerful. He had no personality whatsoever. He was so insufferably, creepily bland, with the power to reach out with the Force across galaxies and strangle a whole army of clone wars. Look, there’s a reason why the Clone Wars wasn’t won that easily. I was disturbed, both by the impossibly high level of power and the lack of character. He might as well have been Luke Skywalker zombie.

Brainzzzz…

Mara Jade again

Meanwhile, Leia was this weird crazy lady who liked to wear make-up. Especially particularly intense shades of eye shadow.

I like to think that in Timothy Zahn’s Hand of Thrawn duology, he was mocking this concept of an all-powerful Luke Skywalker by having Mara Jade rebuke him for throwing too much power around.

But there’s nothing like a good Star Wars book to make me descend into geekiness. Reading about these characters in the books, even minor ones, makes me curious to know more about them. What is their backstory? How did they become the way they are?

In the case of Mara Jade, she was a former Emperor’s Hand, a sort of strong Force-sensitive assassin working for Darth Sidious. She lived her life (and indeed she started working for the Emperor since thinking that she was the only Emperor’s Hand, a woman selected out of many to work exclusively for Darth Sidious. It made her feel special. Indispensable. It gave her life some meaning.

She was shattered when she realized that she had actually been one in a large group of Emperor’s Hands. That Sidious had regarded her as no more than an experiment, and thus dispensable. He had already passed away by this time, and she devoted her time to his last command: killing Luke Skywalker.

Of course by now we know how that played out.

And then to delve a bit into the writer who gave the character such life…

The character of Mara Jade was created by aforementioned writer Timothy Zahn. “Mara” is the Hebrew for “bitterness,” while “Jade” means “discarded woman,” according to one of Zahn’s dictionaries. She became such a popular character that she appeared in countless other comics, novels, short stories, video games, etc. Quite unusual for what is called an Expanded Universe character, being that she had never formally appeared in any of the movies.

Maybe it was because Zahn had created a character so vividly real in her struggles and despairs and hopes and loves that readers couldn’t get enough of her. Plus she seemed to be an excellent match for Skywalker–his Jedi serenity against her feistiness and sarcasm. (In the Star Wars Insider magazine, it was later revealed by Kevin J. Anderson, another writer of Star Wars novels featuring this very character, that there was an outpouring of fan encouragement for Lucasfilm to make her the love interest, even though Zahn hadn’t originally planned for things to be that way in the original Heir to the Empire trilogy. Even Anderson felt that it should be obvious.)

From the Star Wars wiki:

Timothy Zahn, the original creator of Mara Jade, has said that Mara “has a certain kind of attitude, an alertness, an awareness of what’s going on.” Zahn went on to say that the only physical characteristics he had in mind for Mara were a dancer’s figure, red hair, and green eyes … He described Mara as a well-rounded character with both an emotional and intellectual component to her personality.

Unfortunately for Mara Jade fans, a writer had the character killed off in one of the books. Zahn was displeased and stated that he had not been informed of this decision. Even the model for the character was upset.

From this website, by a writer who had the chance to attend a writer’s conference and approach him one-on-one to ask him about Mara Jade:

And personally, I thought that was a disappointing way to treat both me and my character, and they know I feel that way. They could have told me earlier and at least given me a chance to speak on Mara’s behalf. I think she was far too useful a character to kill off, and I disagree with killing off main characters anyway, especially in SW. I don’t think that’s what SW is all about. I still don’t like Chewie’s death.

Who can blame him? She was a character who came out, under his pen, and took a life of her own. To many, including the blog writer, she was a strong female character that many could relate to. To paraphrase, she wasn’t a man in a woman’s body, or a caricature, or something like that. She was still so believable.

No wonder I fell in love with her character so easily. To date, she is my favorite character in the whole Star Wars universe. Probably besides Obi-Wan and Chewbacca.

Which brings me to the next question.

What? They killed Chewie?

Picture from Etsy

Contemplation 2

When someone has problems, I am good at the nodding and listening thing. But I wish that I had more wisdom to offer than what I already have.

I wish that my own hands were not bleeding themselves.

But perhaps it is that evidence of suffering that allows me to emphasize and say that despite my own brokenness and inadequacy, or perhaps because of that brokenness and inadequacy, I do understand.

All photos are under a CC license and used with permission. Click photo for credits.

Things that make me happy

I felt like a making a list of things that make me happy. Random, huh? Mainly because I think I need a reminder. Here are several things that make me happy, in no particular order:

Chocolate. I think I eat a little bit of chocolate every day. Usually dark or semisweet, rarely milk or white. But recently, my father got some chocolate as a present from the church for Father’s day… it’s some really sweet milk chocolate that has strawberry yogurt as filling. It’s rather too sweet for me, but I love the strawberry yogurt. It’s a very nice touch.

I have many fond memories associated with chocolate. During my freshman year of college, some kind person left a box of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate truffles on the table in the student lounge of the music department. According to the chair of the department, food left unattended in the music lounge is fair game. Apparently, whoever left it must have meant to leave a small treat for the hardworking musicians and professors, because no one ever came to look for it.

Lots of other people in the department are chocolate lovers, as evidenced by the speed at which the chocolate disappeared. I had several truffles myself, and became really hyper.

Picture from Google

Books. Especially authors who have the power to use their words to inspire, encourage, and captivate readers. My favorite genres are fantasy and science fiction, and I greatly admire the imagination that goes into really good world-building. (Star Wars, anyone?)

I also have a special softness for retold fairy tales. A new favorite is the German fairy tale Maid Maleen (princess is locked up in a tower for refusing to marry the man her father wants her to marry because she loves someone else) as retold in Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days. The characters are well drawn, and Hale puts an unique take on the story by setting it somewhere in Mongolia instead of Europe. The story is told from the viewpoint of the princess’s maid, first person, and set in diary entries. Shannon Hale illustrated the book herself. The ending has a unique twist.

I enjoyed this book very much, even though I wanted to wring Lady Saren’s (the princess) neck throughout it. I loved Dashti, the maid’s, practical outlook on the situation, her loyalty to Lady Saren even though her lady was a much weaker person, and her courageous efforts to remedy Lady Saren’s depression and discouragement. And the romance? So perfect.

Good food. Recently, my mom has been trying to make me learn how to cook. I’m all open to it and everything, but I feel so dumb and clumsy. A few years ago, I badly cut my pinky finger when trying to chop broccoli, and the trauma was enough to make me avoid big knives and vegetables for a good, long time.

I have cooked two full meals, and I am happy to say that I have been successful. I have not cooked myself, cut myself, or spilled anything on myself. My family has eaten my cooking, and they have not died. In fact, they have enjoyed it, without the aid of any extra “sauces” or “seasonings” to enhance the eating experience. (Hey, this broccoli actually tastes awfully good with this mustard!)

I like eating good food that has been prepared well.

I just hope that my family does not get tired of eating chicken.

That feeling of getting something right after struggling over it for a long time. When I write or play the piano, I occasionally run into blocks. My fingers cannot play a complicated passage of music, or I cannot find a way to say something so that it doesn’t sound stilted, and I get frustrated. However, if I keep trying, I might just get it right. It might take me a few days or a few weeks, but the feeling when I finally get it right is wonderful. It might take simply leaving the piece or the essay alone for a while, or it might take reading it over and over again and practicing it over and over again. Either way, whichever works.

Hot chocolate on a cold day. Ahhh…

What makes you happy?

To be continued…

CC license on flickr – click photos for photographer credit

The Matrix

Agent Smith

I watched the Matrix. Finally. And I can say that I really really enjoyed it. Special effects were really awesome. Action scenes were really awesome. Actors were really awesome, especially Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith.

There’s something weird about me, though. When I watch movies, I usually prefer there to be as least romance as possible. Less cheesy gushy kissing in the rain scenes, if they can help it. I’m like a small child, squirming in my chair when I watch a particularly passionate kissing scene. So during the last part of the movie where Neo (Keanu Reeves) dies and Trinity brings him back to life with her love, I felt really weird. OMG and now they’re kissing!

But when I read books, I love the romance. I get disappointed if there isn’t some romance in it. If I had read the Matrix instead of watching it, I would have been complaining about the lack of romance. (Come on. The final scene?)

Does anybody know what I’m talking about, or am I crazy here?

I am going to watch Matrix: Reloaded tonight.

Contemplation 1

A friend was talking to me tonight about the expectations she struggled with. Her family and friends at the church she was attending expected her to fit a certain mold — that of a good daughter who studied hard, didn’t take drugs, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink or party, and who was kind to other people.

Then there was the other side of her — who wanted to do those things. To rebel, perhaps to prove that she didn’t have to fit into that mold if she didn’t want to fit into it. A mold that she was so desperately tired of trying to fit into.

She was tired of feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

But in escaping that hold, she was in danger of finding yet another mold that she didn’t fit into — a mold that would prove unhealthy. After all, playing the rebel is only fun until you find yourself waking up in a hospital after wrapping your car around a tree.

Her feelings echoed my own, at the worse of times. Who hasn’t felt, at some point, that they were trying to be someone they couldn’t ever be?

Maybe this is the right thing to do, in any case. Don’t think about what everyone expects you to do. You’ll run into contradictions. You won’t be able to please everybody.

Think, instead, about the right thing to do. And do it.

Maybe it’ll be easier than you think it is.

CC license on flickr – click photo for photographer credit

Of Beauty in Visual Art

“As an “artist” what or who inspires you?”

My reply to the question:

“As someone who tries to make music, what inspires me is beautiful things – natural beauty, beautiful music, beautiful writing, and that beauty which can often times be found in brokenness.”

Drawn by a 3 year old. Darth Vader is... happy?

When I was a little girl, my mother often asked me to write letters to our relatives who lived overseas. An integral part of these letters were the drawings my siblings and I were supposed to draw on the letter backs. My mother was often dissatisfied at my clumsy attempts to draw things. “What is that brown thing?”

“It’s a tree,” I would reply.

“Redo it,” she’d say. “It doesn’t look anything like a tree.”

Even years later, my own attempts at drawing resulted in some uneven stick figures with lump heads and straggly hair. Forget about coloring! My attempts to color anything usually turned out disastrous. I don’t have a good sense of how to color, so for example, my trees would have poo colored trunks and bluish-greenish leaves. All solid color, because while I knew about shading, somehow I couldn’t translate that to drawing things in color rather than in lead pencil. Pathetic, right?

Random picture of a tree

And so, being someone rather untalented in the visual arts department, I have always admired people who can produce beautiful paintings or drawings or photographs. I admire people who are knowledgeable about things like shading and contrast and perspective and dimensions and clarity because these are things that I have trouble grasping when I have a still life and a pencil and a pad of paper in front of me. Or even a camera.

At the same time, I love visiting art museums. I love viewing art that makes use of all these things, and many more, besides. I appreciate the value, not to mention inspiration that visual art can bring, which is why I always add photos from Flickr’s Creative Commons section to my blog posts. The pictures can enhance the writing by also giving the reader a mental image about what I’m writing. They’re also excellent for color, so that the reader isn’t reading paragraph after paragraph of black and white print. At the same time, they do not serve as distractions. I can also say that they’re inspiring. If I need some inspiration for writing or something else, it helps to look at beautiful pictures. Especially with Flickr and Photobucket and even Google Image searches, it’s not that hard to find something, though with Google, I’d be afraid of finding nekkid ladies. I have two Facebook friends, avid photographers, with a great deal of talent in capturing faces, scenes, nature, or the cheesecake they had at Pastiche. (Here’s one of them. This is her Facebook business page).

But what makes these pieces of art so inspiring to many of us?

I met one of those photographer friends while taking driver’s ed at the local high school, several years ago. She was pretty, had brown curly hair, a nice smile, and always arrived late. One thing I noticed about her is that she always carried a camera around with her. “Oh, that’s a beautiful sunset! Got to take a picture of that.” “Oh, look at those geese!”

Whenever she whipped her camera out, she seemed to be caught up in rapturous delight. It didn’t matter if it was something as thrilling as a gorgeous sunset, or as mundane as a flock of geese sitting out in a field.

I later became her Facebook friend, and saw those same pictures. I soon learned that she approached the world with this wide-eyed look of almost child-like wonder. She saw beauty in what we’d think would be the most ordinary objects. She saw beauty in people. Everyone had good inside of them. It seemed that she faced the world head-on with this attitude of love and acceptance. This didn’t mean that she couldn’t see the ugliness and injustice that was out there. She saw it — and resolved to make a change in the world.

She had good eyes in the same way that one would describe musicians as having good ears. Where musicians have an affinity for showing others the beauty in sounds, she had an affinity for color and scenes, for seeing the world in a special way. Through her camera lenses, she inspired people to search for beauty and find it in the most seemingly ordinary of things — from a broken window to simple footprints in the snow to someone’s hands on a rusty fence to the people that helped make her life so meaningful.

Maybe one of the reasons why she can take such pictures is because she is a beautiful person. In any case, there was no doubt that she is a beautiful person.

Through their camera lenses, a tree is not just an ordinary tree that you would look at once and not think about again. A tree is a tree. A creation. A thing of beauty that will most likely outlive us several lifetimes. Something that must be treasured.

Maybe a glimpse of eternity?

Not only that, people like her help us see so much of the injustice of the world as captured through their various media, and make us aware that we should fight it.

What I like about people like her is that they see the beauty that is in the world, and they take their paintbrushes, cameras, or crayons and capture a little of that beauty to share it with us. They inspire us with their love for beauty and the way they see even the beauty in brokenness. Their pictures and paintings and crayon sketches make me so aware of the beauty that is to be found in life itself. Perhaps as artists, part of our job is not only to make people see this beauty, but also inspire them to look at the world in a different way.

I was on her facebook info page while writing this. Ironically, considering the theme of this post, she had written about herself:

Right now, my job is to inspire you.

Right now, my job is to inspire you.

All photos are under a CC license and used with permission. Click photos for credits.

Last photograph is of and by said photographer. Used with her permission. Thank you, Lauren! For many things.