Friday, June 27, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead - YA Bingo

Completed On: June 27th
# of Pages: N/A
Bingo Category: A Book With Magic

The reason I decided not to include the number of pages is because I've never actually held a physical copy of this book. I've been listening to it as an audio book. I adore audio books. I download them on my iPod and I listen to them as I walk to work, when I'm running errands with my mom and grandma on Fridays, or even just when I'm laying alone in my room and don't feel like doing anything else. I've got a bunch on my iPod, and I love re-listening to them too. I actually bought this audio book a few weeks ago, and it was on sale for $5.99! I'm not sure if it still is, but you can always check out iTunes or to take a look for yourself. And whether you love audio books or ebooks or like to hold a physical paperback in your hand, I highly recommend that you pick up this book.

When I read a story like this, it reminds me again and again, with every new word and every quotable sentence, why I decided that I want to write YA books one day, or just books in general. The writing in this story, written by Ava Dellaira, is beautiful. The language, the main character Laurel, the emotions she manages to contain within a collection of pages (or in my case, in an audio recording performed by.Julia Whelan), are so, so beautiful. Dellaira includes poetry in her story, not just what she has written herself but the works of other dead poets. This book itself is like an example of poetry. At first, when listening to this story, I was overwhelmed by the amount of description, how the female narrator described the world around her, but in a way this allowed the reader, or at least this reader in particular, to see that Laurel saw the world around her as tangible poetry.

One of the first poems she references in this book is "The Art of Losing Isn't Hard To Master" by Elizabeth Bishop. One of the letters that Laurel writes is actually to the poet itself. This poem touched me so much, in my own personal way, that I printed off a copy and sent it to my boyfriend (I often like to send him scraps of writing that I've come across that speak to me in some way). Dellaira did an excellent job of making the reader understand what this poem, and many others, meant for Laurel, and why she carried them with her throughout the year in which this novel takes place.

This isn't exactly spoiler territory, but I'll put up a warning here just in case, because I feel the need to explain why I chose this book to fit into the bingo square "A Book With Magic." There are quite a few reasons, but I'll begin with the most cut-and-dry version. In one of her letters (which is how Laurel narrates the entire book, through letters to dead singers, actors, poets, etc.), Laurel tells of story of one late night when she and her older sister May, recently deceased, were very young. When their parents were fighting in the other room and Laurel told her sister that she was scared, May told her that she was scared because there were witches nearby, but they had magic that could banish the witches because the both of them were fairies. Laurel carries along the imagery of her older sister May and even herself as a fairy throughout the entire story, right up until the very last letter, where Laurel finally writes to May and explains a dream where Laurel was finally able to see May's fairy wings as they carried her up to the sky and away from her world. They are of course not actual fairies; this is not a book with supernatural characters, and there are no immortal or other-worldly creatures present in this story. But the magic that Laurel clings to as she comes to terms with losing her sister and her realizations about the world around her while she tries to find her place in it, that magic exists. Okay, spoilers over.

To sum up, I really can't think of a better word to describe this book aside from beautiful. The language is beautiful, the main character is beautiful, and the magic inside this story is so beautiful that it will be with you long after the voices from your ear buds stop coming, or long after you've turned the last page. If you want to experience a story that is truly magical, buy a copy or download it today.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How To Write A Sympathy Card

Recently a fellow volunteer at the local hospital passed away suddenly, and I was truly distraught to hear the news. She always volunteered with her husband, and they worked the shift that came before mine, so I usually saw them almost every time I came in for my shift for the past 4 years that I've been volunteering at the hospital's gift shop. I wanted badly to pay my condolences to her husband in person, but the service was happening pretty far away, and I had no way of getting there. So instead, I sent him a card with a thoughtful message inside that I hope will help, if not now than at least in the future.

When I decided that I didn't want to leave just a simple note and actually wanted to write something of length to him, I became nervous that I would be doing the wrong thing. What are the big things that you're not supposed to say while somebody is grieving? What things will be appreciated and what will not? Am I going to make him more upset by bringing up a memory about his recently departed wife? That's when I realized that I may not be the only one that grapples with these questions, and perhaps there are others out there that would appreciate a few pointers on this subject.

Let me start that sending a sympathy card to a person or a family that has just lost somebody is always an acceptable thing to do, and you should never worry about overstepping your bounds by that action alone. Also, you will have to accept the fact that there is no "right" way to approach somebody who is grieving, because we all grieve differently and there's no perfect way to deal with somebody experiencing loss. In this post I'll include just a few tips that can help anybody who has experienced a loss recently and wants to do their part and send out their thoughts and prayers.

1) Choosing a Card.

Finding a card shouldn't be difficult. There is a sympathy section in most card stores, even in places like gas stations and dollar stores where they sell cards a bit cheaper. I recommend that you take as much time selecting a sympathy card as you would for a birthday card, to make sure you find the perfect one that conveys the message you would like to send out. If you're looking for something a little bit nicer, I would recommend Papyrus cards, which are where the above examples are from. They make high-quality cards, many of which have a homemade feel. We sell Papyrus cards at the bookstore, and I myself have used the third example there when the grandmother of one of my high school friends passed away last summer.

Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with making a card yourself, or even using a blank note card if you want to convey something longer than a pre-written message. However, I encourage you to proceed with caution regarding the image on the front of the card. Just like in the examples above, sympathy cards are never made to be too bright or too perky. A neutral image with flowers would certainly work. For the sympathy card I send out recently, I used one of my Polaroid note cards, as you can see in the image here. Something like this would work perfectly for this type of card.

2) Composing a Message.

First and foremost, there is nothing wrong with keeping your message short and sweet. However, I do not recommend letting the card you've chosen speak for itself. Even if there's already a lovely message inside of the card you've purchased, if you don't add anything else to it then it's a clear and concise sign of just how much effort you put in. A few ideas for something to tack on to the poem or message already printed in the card is:
- Our/My thoughts and prayers are with you (and your family)
- We/I offer our/my condolences during this difficult time
- We/I am so sorry for your loss

These are just a few examples. One thing you're going to want to ask yourself when writing a sympathy card is "Am I writing this on behalf of myself, or my family?" As an example, to refer back to last year when the grandmother of my school friend passed away: my mother didn't know his mother or grandmother all that well, but she had met my friend on numerous occasions, so I felt it was only appropriate to extend the sympathies and thoughts to include my family as well. With regards to this card I recently wrote for a fellow volunteer, they had never met my family, so it was a message from only me. Another fact you have to consider is not just the one person your sending this card to, but to their family as well. Unless you are completely sure that they will be the only relative grieving (which is almost never the case), extend their sympathies to their family as well.

The ideas above are merely suggestions. If you want to write a short message, just figure out your own way of expressing that your thoughts, feelings, hopes are with those that are grieving. Have your message express empathy in this type of situation, that is the key factor in anything you try to write.

For those who feel unsatisfied with the idea of merely letting a pre-printed poem and a few carefully chosen words express what they're feeling at this difficult time, let me say very clearly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to write a longer message where you share a memory involving the deceased. This is not an invasion on their grief, and this level of thought will be appreciated by the recipients of your card. If you have a story or a memory that you would like to share that you think others would like to hear, then your best bet is to write it down. An important aspect of this is to know your audience, so if your story contains certain subject matter or even profanity, you might want to sensor parts of it.

I also recommend drafting out what you would like to write first, for a couple of reasons. The first is that you only have a limited amount of space in the card (unless you are inserting a letter into the card, which is perfectly acceptable), and the second is that you want to convey your story in the best way possible, since your hope is to express your deepest empathy and sympathy to your reader(s), so take time to draft what you would like to write.

For anybody who is nervous about including a story or memory with their card - afraid that they'll upset their reader and somehow add to their suffering - you really should not worry about such a thing. You are writing this message with the hopes of expressing empathy; your heart is in the right place. Anybody, even those deep in grief, will be able to see that and will appreciate the gesture. To ease your fears a bit more, I will include the message I wrote to my fellow hospital gift shop volunteer, to give you a real-life example.

Dear N,
 This is Kacie. I usually worked the 5-8 shifts at the hospital gift shop right after you and E were done there for the day. E was always kind towards me, always smiling, and I was sincerely grieved to hear of her passing. I’d like to extend my sincerest condolences to you and your family during this difficult time.
There is a specific memory I have attached to E, and it is one I will carry with me always. I always noticed, when you and E were getting ready to leave once I arrived to relieve the two of you, that E almost always made sure to ask you, “Got your name?”, or, “Are you wearing your name?” Of course she was making sure that you had your NHS Volunteer Badge on a lanyard around your neck. But I was always entertained by the way she would say it.
I lost my ID badge about a year ago unfortunately, and I haven’t looked into getting a replacement yet. But I hope that I will get a new card soon. And when I do, and when I make sure that I have it at the end of each volunteer shift, I can bet you anything that I’ll be hearing E’s helpful voice in my head.

My thoughts are with you,
Kacie Cruise

This memory that I shared regarding N's late wife E may be considerably small, but it is something that has always stuck in my head, and it's something that I thought of when I first received the news of E's passing. It's a memory that I hold close to me, and I did my best to express that in my message. I'm hoping that N appreciated reading this memory from me and that he will cherish it as well.

3) Including Extras.

This is completely optional, but perhaps you would like to include something along with your card that involves the deceased, such as some sort of drawing, or even a photograph. If you feel the urge to do this, than don't fight it; this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do as well, and if you come across something that reminds you of the deceased and you think their family might appreciate it as a small gift, then go ahead and send it. For anything else you might want to be including in an envelope, you might want to refer to the post I wrote about How I Write A Letter that quickly briefs certain things that you shouldn't put through the post, whether it's domestic or international.

That's about all the advice I can give. If you have any experience with sympathy cards or advice you'd like to convey as well, please post in the comments below. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Various Positions - YA Bingo

Completed On: June 4th, 2014
# of Pages: 361
Bingo Category: A Book Set in a High School

So, Various Positions . . . or as I like to call it, the book with the unfortunate title.

Don't get me wrong, the title suits the book. The story is centered around 14 year-old Georgia who gets accepted to the Royal Toronto Ballet Academy and dreams about becoming a world-class ballerina, not to mention the girl on the cover is dressed in ballerina attire, so the title makes sense. Plus the synopsis hints at a relationship between Georgia and her ballet teacher, who is also the head of the school, giving the book's title an element of double entendre.

This book is not a YA book; it's sold in the adult/Fiction & Literature section, but there are a few reasons I decided to include it in this reading challenge. A) the character is a teenager at the ripe age of 14. B) the majority of the book is set at a high school, specifically the Royal Toronto Ballet Academy. And C) I wanted an excuse to write about it, and that's what I'm doing now.

Various Positions was named a "Best Book" by The Globe & Mail, which is quite the achievement on its own but is even more impressive for a first novel. What I would label as the most impression aspect of the story is how Martha Schabas is able to inhabit the awkward, ever-changing mind of a 14 year-old girl and then replicate that so articulately in her writing. I especially liked how Schabas depicted Georgia's various mental processes when trying to grapple with the idea of people as sexual beings.

This book was also written by a Canadian author, which was quite refreshing. I can't remember the last time I picked up a piece of Canadian fiction especially a story set in Ontario. There were references to cities near me, such as St. Catharines, along with one passage that instantly entertained me:

"We huddled on her top bunk and called Molly on her family's land line. It was a 905 area code, so I pictured a wide street without a sidewalk, a basketball hoop with a beard of snow." - Martha Schabas, Various Positions, pg. 173.

I myself have a 905 area code, so I was smiling the entire time I was reading that part.

 (spoiler zone) The biggest surprise about this book was the fact that the story line was just that; a big surprise! Going into the book, I was positive this story was leading up to an illicit relationship between student and teacher, starting with present day and then flashing back to unravel how it came to be in the first place. However, in the end, any indication of attraction or heat between Georgia and Roderick is completely built up in Georgia's mind. How things fall apart with regards to Georgia is incredibly interesting. As I kept reading and things went south for her, it made me wonder if there was a mental condition in existence in which a person would think constantly about sex without actually being addicted to the physical act. Now that I have internet access and can look it up I know that nymphomania would probably be the correct term for what I'm trying to describe, even if Georgia doesn't become sexually active until the near-end of the novel.

In the sense of full disclosure, the chapter that concluded part 1 of the novel was very hard for me to get through. I was invested enough in the book to feel physically embarrassed for Georgia during her last time with Roderick in his office, as she kept making the situation worse and worse for herself and piling on. Have you ever read a book/watched a movie/followed a TV series where the protagonist is doing something so idiotic in your eyes that you yourself end up feeling ashamed or embarrassed for them? Am I the only one to ever experience that? (no more spoilers)

I chose to categorize this book as "a book set in a high school" because the main setting of the novel really is the ballet academy Georgia gains admission to at the beginning of the novel. There is where she becomes friends with Sixty and Chantal, where Roderick admires her for her talent and where so many things fall apart by the end of the book.

All in all, if you're looking for an immaculate example of fiction with a lovable yet very misguided protagonist, then pick up a copy as soon as you're able.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An Apology (The First of Many)

I sincerely hope that I'm not the only person looking at this page that can relate to this, but there is always that chance . . .

Ever since my first year of university (but perhaps long before then), I've had problems with my own levels of anxiety and while sometimes it doesn't surface enough to bother me it will suddenly reappear, like how it has over the past couple of weeks, to the point where it's getting in the way of my enjoying everyday life.

It's been about 2 years since I've had my anxiety really and truly get in the way of things. For those who don't themselves or don't know anybody that suffers from the occasional bout of anxiety may have a hard time understanding this, but those that experience the same problem will be able to relate to what I've been going through. Over the past couples weeks it's been downright crippling, and it's kept me from doing things I really enjoy doing, such as blogging.

Many wise people, including my mother, have told me that once something you love becomes a chore, there's no more fun left to be had in it. For example, when I was in high school I dreamed of being a video editor, but soon I was the go-to video person at my school, editing videos for school projects and it got to the point where I didn't enjoy it anymore; it was just another awful example of homework.

My blog, however, has not become the same thing to be. I enjoy writing here so much! I love the feeling of receiving a pleasant comment or a tweet or even just a +1 on Google+ from somebody who has read one of my posts and enjoyed it. That's why not being able to write in a while has added even more stress and guilt. I want to be a better blogger, and that requires practice and dedication. I've also been wanting to expand further into video and start up my own personal channel, which I've been attempting to do for a month or so, but it seems that my anxiety has been the biggest obstacle.

Today is a day where I'm feeling a bit better, and while I don't have time to delve into a real post today, I wanted to give you guys an update on what's been happening, and what will be coming in the future. I have another How To post in the works, and I'll be doubling up my snail mail and photo posts to include for the missed weeks. This weekend is also Niagara Falls Comic Con, which I'm unbelievably excited for! I'll definitely be taking enough picture so that I can tell you guys all about it. The best-case scenario for Comic Con would be for me to write a post here, write an article for PaperDroids, and to still be able to have a while whack of fun! I've been working diligently on minor details of my cosplay this week, and I'll be including pictures very soon.

So there's a silver lining! Things should become a lot brighter in the future, even if anxiety still has quite a grip on me. It's something I work to overcome everyday, and I hope I'll be able to continue to bring you guys new content on a regular basis.

I couldn't resist including this picture XD

That's it for life updates! I'll keep you guys posted!