inspiration

dear world,

it’s been far too long since i wrote here (although, let’s be honest, nobody reads this thing anyway).  but it’s a nice little place to write without judging myself (because it’s hard to write novels, everybody knows this, it’s not about the length, it’s about the fact that you just want it to be so absolutely perfect and one single imperfection is just not okay and… and there’s just so many standards to meet. but a blog post can just be a blog post. silly. rambling. ridiculous. a blog post can just be whatever it is, and nobody will ever care).

so,

hi again.

i’m going to start a new series that i hope my little population of followers will enjoy.  it’s going to be called “inspirations” and it’s going to be about certain works (film, writing, music, etc.) that particularly inspire and influence my own work, or that i just think are simply too amazing to not mention.  maybe it’ll be a nice little trip through some of your own favorites, too (who knows, you might end up rewatching that lovely movie you’ve been meaning to watch for years, but haven’t thought about much until now!).

as an update on my life,

1. it’s summer.

2. this means there’s no school (yes, i’m home) and i miss ucla but that’s life…

3. i’m working on a new novel and it’s called “twelfth for the puppets” and that super enigmatic, super confusing, super what-the-hell-is-this title is all the spoilers you’re getting for now.

4. i should really get back to querying…

5. i’m working on a lot of new music projects, too, but i won’t go into that now, either.

6. and i’m so not ready to be nineteen in one hour and fifty-four minutes. (yes, i did the math. at the time that i typed this…which isn’t the time of posting. oh, well.)

ta-ta for now – see you again soon!

cue the percussion (flash fiction)

Hey guys!  Just wanted to share a short piece I wrote for class, emulating Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.  It’s call “Cue the Percussion” and, well, I don’t think I’ll spoil it anymore than that.


The piano stands in the middle of the stage, alone, obsolete.  Nobody has played it for years – that’s what Ambrosine thinks, that it’s been silent since the last time she was here; but there really is no way to tell.  She thinks that once, almost a decade ago, the stage held more instruments than just a piano, but now the whole place is empty, lights that no longer turn on, a stage so caked with dust that there’s a carpet of it, thick and gray, beneath her feet.  She clicks her nail against one of the keys, and the key drops unexpectedly, and hits the bed of the keyboard with a loud clang and the sudden ringing of a note that’s very, very off-tune.

The walls are thin.  Perhaps it should worry her.  Her memories are like fog, but a gunshot is something that can never be forgotten.  It has been a long time since she stood on this stage, in a dress that falls to the floor, with lipstick so red it hurts to look at it.  There’s lights everywhere, she feels like she’s being blinded, the keys feel cool to the touch, the air kisses her lips like frost, the people are silent.  There’s a gunshot. The lights go down.

And that was just the beginning.  Funny to think that that was ten years ago – but also beautiful, in a way, because in all the ways the city has changed, this place has stayed exactly the same.  She doesn’t think the piano has moved a single inch. It’s on wheels, but the wheels are stubborn. They like to stay in the same place. She presses at the pedal and it creaks beneath her toes, and her hands are quiet in the pools of darkness, and she touches a key again, but it sings less like a song and more like a moan.  It makes her chest ache like someone’s taken a fist and curled it tight around her heart. She knows she shouldn’t feel this way, it isn’t right to keep thinking about everything that used to be and everything that could have been, but it’s hard not to. Nothing feels dangerous when she is inside these walls, standing on this stage.  This place is a safe haven. Special.

Everything is a mist.  The carpet of dust beneath her feet fades in and out and perhaps this is a dream and perhaps it isn’t; the walls are shining black and the lights are on and the auditorium is full.  The piano sings, and one moment it’s off-tune, and the next it isn’t anymore, and it wavers there, one extreme to the other and back again, and her hands ache with the memories just as they ache with everything she feels here and now.  There’s the gunshot – loud, like a crack, rising above the piano. She thinks it might be a drum at first – is it a drum? Adding to the music? – but it isn’t a drum, of course it isn’t, she should know better, what were you thinking, Ambrosine?

This is my solitude, she thinks, as the keys go up and down beneath her fingertips.  This is my special place. She is forever thinking that, that this place is like a home, detached somehow from all of the ordinary hurts and pains and regrets of real life, and detached, too, from reality.  It makes her feel like she has stepped somehow through a portal into another universe. Maybe it’s the way it takes her back to the past. Maybe it’s just the peace inside the doors, how this auditorium cuts out the rain and the screams and the gunshots and the voices so she almost can’t hear them anymore.  So they’re muffled. So she can pretend the gunshots are drums instead of gunshots.

“Ambrosine,” she thinks she hears someone say, and the lights are up again, so bright she wants to turn her face away.  It is the face of her conductor, his eyes black and hard. He waves a stick in one hand, and the light pools around him blindingly.  “Play it again, Ambrosine. Da capo al fine.

Da capo al fine.  Has she forgotten da capo al fine?  She looks back at the wide blankness of the music desk to find that there is music there, white sheets with long black lines drawing staves and little round bubbles for the notes.  D.C. al Fine, the music reads.  Da capo al fine. What is it the conductor always says?

“Play your da capo with pride,” he says.  “It is your chance to fix whatever mistakes you’ve made the first time through.  Da capo al fine is a do-over.” Back to the head of the piece, and play until you see the word fine.  Yes.  A do-over.  It gives the main theme a chance to be heard again.  Ambrosine remembers this theme as it plays in her memory, over and over again, like a record set on repeat to spin onwards into infinity.  She doesn’t think it will be easy to forget this theme, this exact moment when the notes cut off into silence and there’s a crack, so loud it shakes the floorboards.

Is it a drum?

Crack.

More than one drum –

Reality.  This is reality, she is here and now, the piano is quiet – just like it should be, because in her mind, there is a rest in the sheet music, a moment of silence.  The lights are dark, and the carpet of dust is heavy beneath her feet and thick in the air so she has to be careful not to choke on it. But the crack is still there, snapping through the air, and the door to the auditorium creaks, and a second crack follows after it, like the sound of someone snapping their fingers sharply.  Reality and memory – reality and memory. She wishes she knew which was which.

This is reality, she thinks, and she is certain.

And then there are more cracks, one after another after another like a drumroll, like a staccato beat of cymbals and timpanis and kettle drums and she doesn’t know what to think anymore, what does it matter? – but it’s beautiful, this show, like a special performance just for her; she can see the light of the gunshots exploding like tiny little supernovas through the dark space of the auditorium and –

There is so much pain, and the face of her conductor, smiling.

“Cue the percussion,” she thinks he says, and then she smiles back.

Starting Out in Hollywood, Professor Golub: Lesson 4, and More Curiosities

I really, really should’ve written all of this into more than one blog post, but my week was crazy busy, and I’m behind as is, so y’all are going to get one huge, oversized post instead.  I’m so, so sorry, in advance.

The first, biggest piece of news is that I met with John Swihart – the man who did the music for “How I Met Your Mother” (yes, that big, super-famous TV show you all know about) and, without going into too many details (because I don’t want to betray trust here, alright) I may very well be working for him in Hollywood later this year.  Cool, right?  It’s not as glamorous when you think about the hours and work that goes in, and knowing there’ll be little to no pay, but what does it matter?  I’d be working for John Swihart.  I’d be working in Hollywood.  I’d be getting my foot in the door.  Chasing this big, beautiful dream, this vision I’ve wanted so badly since I was about six years old, and goddammit, I’ll do almost anything to make this dream come true.

So, yes.  I’m so happy I feel like I’m floating.  I finally feel like I’m doing the stuff I meant to do when I came here.  Never mind that I’m an electrical engineering major…I’m basically an unofficial music composition major, too, what with my lessons with Professor Golub and all (and, yes, Professor Golub is highly prestigious in Hollywood, not just in musical academia).

Speaking of which…onto the heart of this post –

My latest lesson with Professor Golub!  Again (yes, I know I’m late on this) I will record my compositions from the last few lessons soon-ish and post sheet music (maybe when finals are over?  Please?), and soon I’ll do the same for this comp, but until then this little part of the post is as good as you’ll get.

I finished a bitonal piece – eight pages, over a hundred measures, six hours of notation alone.  Sounds like a fair amount for one piece, right?  But it’s not anything compared to what I’d have to do for a job in the film scoring industry – which, yes, I’m prepared to face, because like I said, I love it, it’s my passion, it’s my universe, I’ll do anything to get there.

Yep, Iron Man, I need it.  You’re right about that.

Anyway.  The composition – Professor Golub seemed very impressed, told me it was a huge stride, which absolutely does not mean I’m a good composer yet, but it means I’m coming along, and that’s the way to get good at anything eventually.  Of course, I’ve no idea where I’ll end up eventually, but I’m hoping if I can get good, things will turn out the way I dreamt they would when I was six years old, you know?  He’s right about how much the assignment pushed me beyond my comfort zone.  There were so many things with this piece that were just so, so different from my normal.  It was…scary, at first, and then liberating.  I felt free.  Kind of like I’d grown wings and was flying around lightheaded at the cruising height of a 747 (props to any UCLA students who get the Hooligans/Spring Sing reference).

(It went kinda like this.  Expectation:

Reality:

Nah, I’m just kidding.  Hey, at least I tried.)

So my next assignment (ba-dum-tshhh! or, well, drumroll) is to create a cello sonata.  But it can’t be nice and conventional and diatonic – Professor Golub is trusting me to keep pushing the envelope further and further.  Guys…wish me luck.

(Speaking of Lando Calrissian – see gif above – who else is excited for Solo: A Star Wars Story?  Because meeee!)

Anyways…yes, I told you this would be a long post.  We’re not at the end yet.  Sorry, guys.

Exciting exciting – my parents are going to let me bring my fancy H4N recording set back with me to UCLA next year instead of leaving it at home, so I’ll be able to do actually good recordings for this blog (and for whatever else I need to record in my dorm room/on campus at decent quality).

I interviewed for the Engineering Ambassador here at UCLA – I want it so bad…please pray for me!  I think the interview went okay but, you know, you never actually know until you get the rejection (ha, I’m being pessimistic again, aren’t I).

Hey!  I’m not being pessimistic.  Just realistic.  Don’t want to get my hopes up unnecessarily, alright?

Oooof.

Next on the agenda: aesthetic photos of my dorm room from Transfer Bruin Day (photo credits to Jenn), aesthetic photos of Chateau Marmont from today (photo credits to Ben), I just realized their names rhyme and that sounds somehow awkward –

Oh, and I’ll (hopefully) remember to start my little series on “inspirations,” because what better way to inspire myself (and maybe, if I’m lucky, if I’m really lucky, other people too?).

I’d put all that in this post, but I’m pretty sure this is as much space on the Internet as I’m allowed to take up in one week, so – ta-ta!  Till next time (which might be as early as tomorrow, who knows).

P.S.  I’m working on my thirteenth novel currently, but won’t yet reveal what it’s about, or the title…muahaha, secretsssss!

 

Professor Golub: Lesson 3

When I went into my second lesson with my pristine new sheet music for my pristine new compositions (three of them!!) I felt confident, proud, and happy.  And I wasn’t crazy to feel that way – Professor Golub liked all of them.  Gave them a smile and a nod, played around with them a bit, told me they were good – and moved on.  Not a lot to critique, not a lot to change. I left even prouder than I’d felt when I went in.

Well, that’s not what happened when I went in this week.

If I wanted to make an excuse, I’d talk about how I was feeling sick, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (if you get that reference, I love you forever – yes, it’s a Broadway reference).  But I’m not going to make an excuse.  I didn’t make an excuse to myself, so there’s no reason to make one here, right?  Because here’s the truth –

Composing in fourths and seconds – it was out of my comfort zone, yes.  But there’s something about composing in bitonality – especially composing in the octatonic scale, which I’d never even heard of before – that was even scarier.  I had about ten different ideas for the two assignments combined, and I wasn’t able to find a single one I was happy with.

So I came in with my ideas – without completed pieces – half expecting to be yelled at.  Honestly silly, because Professor Golub is an extremely nice man, and I did come in with material, and we honestly spent more time more productively this lesson, because instead of just giving me a nod and moving on to the next assignment, Professor Golub was able to critique the material much more and give me a bucket load of ideas to move forward with.  PLUS he brought his puppy with him.  Nothing brightens your day like a puppy.

So here’s a really quick rundown for anybody who wants to know all of the teeny tiny messy ugly intriguing musical details of what’s coming up for next week (and soon I’ll record my original compositions from Lesson 2 and post the audio here, so stay tuned!) –

For the octatonic scale piece, continue with current concept: use octatonic beginning on C with half step THEN whole step, etc. Use e flat minor, C Major, G Flat Major, and a minor chords as touchstones, with the rest of the scale as a bridge through dissonant waters.

For full-blown bitonal piece: add “mysterious” slow chordal rolled/arpeggio section before jumping into full arpeggios. Expand upon motif in which meter changes so accent is on every quarter instead of on every downbeat. Segue into contrapuntal/polyphonic section as written. Segue into chordal pattern. Segue into finale using the whole width of the keyboard – crossovers, etc.; make sure to use unconventional chords.

For bitonal exercise: keep right hand in d minor and left in D Major. Try and move the left hand intro motif into the right hand along with the arpeggios, and add a melodic line in the left hand.

And for reference, listen to: the Debussy etudes, Ligeti’s “Etudes for Piano” (both books), and Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jesus”.

The denouement?  Bring puppies to lesson.  Always.

free short story collection!! (can i get a hell yeah?)

Did I mention I’m releasing a brand new, self-published short story collection?  It’s just under 65,000 words (longer than Fault in Our Stars, for any nerds out there), and full of awesomeness, so I hope you’ll consider buying a copy!

Yes, I know, I just said buy, and the title of this blog post says free.  There is a way you can get it free – I’m just getting to that.

Slow down, Vizzini.  Patience is a virtue.

Before I tell you how to get it free, I just wanted to give y’all a look at the temp cover art for the collection (because why not?).

cracked porcelain crimson puppets cover

cracked porcelain crimson puppets cover v2

Okay, okay, I’m done stalling – I promise.

Yes, Cap, actually I am.  I’m just gonna get down to business now, alright?

Here’s how to get the collection for free –

First, you must be following this blog, in one form or another (either with a WordPress account or by email).  Sorry, guys.  Marketing, I know, but I’m a poor broke college student trying to get off the ground, and my wings are very, very small.  Whatever that means.

Second, once you’re finished reading the collection, I’m gonna ask you to refer at least three friends you think might like my writing/the collection, who mightttt be willing to buy (I promise I won’t make it too expensive).  Let me know which short story you think each of them would like best, and I’ll send them a free copy of said chosen short story.

And third, keep in mind that this is a pre-release .pdf of the story.  It’s nicely formatted, etc., so I promise you won’t feel like you’re reading chicken scratch, or the equivalent for typed material (is there an equivalent?  I don’t even know…you get the point).  PDF is compatible with Kindle and iBooks, and you can also open it in Adobe Acrobat Reader, if all else fails.  (Come on, Acrobat is actually nice.)

I will be producing .epub and .mobi versions later on, but .pdf is the most universally sturdy, so for the pre-release, I’m only offering PDF (partly because .epub is a struggle to format correctly, so yay…the painnnnn).

You’ll have a choice of which cover you’d like (white font or red font) so let me know before I send you the collection.  Don’t be creeped out about the fact that I’ll be keeping track of who asks for which font – it’s just for future reference, so I know which one to use when I actually release the book (until I can get better, professional cover art).

TRIGGER WARNING – the stories in this collection are all fairly dark, so if you’re not okay with violence, murder, dark things, yada yada, you might want to steer clear.  (Actually, you’d definitely want to steer clear, in that case.)

Please, please honor the copyright and don’t distribute the collection or any part of it without my explicit permission.  If I was a big name, published author, I’d probably be honored that people would be so excited as to chase me around the interwebs trying to pirate my work, but as someone who’s just starting out, I really can’t afford that.  (It’s not even about the money – it’s because I need a certain number of actual sales to market on BookBub, and I can’t get those if people share the collection for free.)

Omigod omigod omigod I can’t believe I’m sending my little baby out into the big wide world – *squeals*

Ta-ta for now!

throw darts at a board (why don’t you)

I’ve been asked many times, “Have you tried publishing?  Don’t you want to publish?  You keep writing, but you should really publish your stuff.”  So here’s a fun little post to answer those questions, and show exactly how hard it is to get your foot in the door (a.k.a. land a contract with one of the elusive creatures known as literary agents).

(P.S. Of COURSE I want to publish. I’m a writer – it’s what I do.)

The basic problem is twofold: first, that the industry is completely over-saturated with people who don’t know how to write or follow the guidelines, so on the agent’s end, that means they have to sift through a lot of trash before finding the good stuff; second, on the writer’s end, the agents get so many query letters a day that, to get through them all in a reasonable time window, they have to make quick spur-of-the-moment decisions that may leave the next Harry Potter lying untouched, as well as choosing what manuscripts to represent based on very subjective – and sometimes eccentric! – reasons.

To publish with any big publisher (think Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Scholastic, etc.), you need a literary agent first, so the fact that the agents have trouble finding you in the slush pile and you have trouble being noticed in the slush pile makes this a very, very big mountain to climb.  (Which, by the way, is a little bit discouraging as a young, unheard of writer trying to make it, but that’s true of half of the things I want to do, so.  I guess I’ll have to just suck it up.  I would add a winking emoji but it isn’t possible on WordPress that I know of.)

This gives you an idea of how I got some frame-worthy rejections from national agents – e.g. Erin Harris of Folio Literary.  To give you a bit of background, Folio has represented bestselling classics such as Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, both of which younger generations will recognize as the new HBO TV series.  Erin Harris usually doesn’t write rejection letters to those she rejects – her policy is simply that if she doesn’t write back in a certain time period, you’re to interpret that as a rejection – and yet she took the time to write a stunningly complimentary rejection letter to me.

So, if they liked the book on the whole, why didn’t they take it?  As you’ll see, agents often have very whimsical reasons for deciding to reject a book or query letter.  They may not have had a spot on the list, or it just didn’t quite click enough for them, or one detail of the plot was a deal breaker for them personally.  It really just depends on the person.  Writers, have hope! Don’t feel like one agent is your only bet, and that one rejection means…well, death, misery, depression –

(By the way, it still stung.  A lot.  I was shocked Erin Harris wrote me back at all, and when I got the email I was absolutely smiling, and at the same time it felt like somebody had stabbed me in the chest.  Probably the absolute hardest way to get rejected is hearing, “hey, I loved this so much I ALMOST took it and, wow, you’re really talented, but I’m still going to reject you anyway,” which is what she said, in so many words.  And about three other established agents had the same level of response, and several others went so far as to request to see the full manuscript – not just a partial.  And it doesn’t matter that some of them actually did like it, because, ugh, I STILL GOT REJECTED.)

Anyhow, back to business.

Literary agent Laura Zats of Red Sofa (co-host of PrintRun podcast) is currently running a twitter feed called #500queries, where she tweets on every query letter in her slush pile and why she rejected or requested to see more.  I’ll showcase some of these tweets below, with commentary – first examples of manuscripts she passed on (red light), then ones she requested to see more of (green light, or more realistically yellow light, because at this stage of the game nothing counts as a green light).

She’s done over a hundred of these just in this single round of #500queries, so I picked out the most subjective ones to make a point.  You’ll notice I’ve included many more passes than requests, for two reasons: 1. often the reasons for rejections are more subjective than the reasons for requesting, and 2. while I think this actually makes the ratio between request (good) and pass (bad) much smaller than it actually is, it does give you a fairly rough sense of the fact that, yes, it’s much more likely you’ll get rejected than even have an agent request a partial manuscript.

I also want to add that my comments are to a large degree tongue in cheek – I actually highly respect this agent and recommend that any writers follow along, because her tweets can actually provide a lot of insight into the process (these are actually the least insightful, but the most fun to look at).

Alright, I think that’s all – so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

PASS

“I really am not the right person for elves.” (keep in mind, NOWHERE does she forbid authors from querying MS’s featuring elves in them, and nowhere else has she indicated not to query a manuscript with elves.)

“Ugh. Demons.” (again, how are we as an author to know she happens to dislike demons?)

“Sounds good to read, but not a good fit for my list.” (so, basically she liked it, but it didn’t quite complement the other MS’s she’s currently repping. ouch…that’s the hardest way to get rejected.)

“YA adventure. I don’t know why, but I’m really not into the concept.” (translation: it’s good, but for some reason it’s just not clicking for her. and she doesn’t even know why. probably another agent will be fine repping this manuscript.)

“Techy SF is a hard sell for me. This one didn’t have a twist, so.” (subjective, subjective, subjective! this basically means she just didn’t happen to click with this manuscript.)

“Holy rhetorical questions, Batman!” (she literally rejects queries simply for containing a rhetorical question, even if the book itself is fine. she’s stated this before. it’s a personal peeve of hers and not one all literary agents have.)

“Out of all the F [fiction] based on dreaming, this is one of the best. Unfortunately, I’m tapped out.” (another heartbreaking but-I-was-so-close rejection.)

“This is a personal pet peeve, but I HATE rhetorical questions in my queries.” (see above.)

“Comped to 50 Shades. Nope!” (dang. I was totally hoping to write the next 50 Shades of Grey, you know. /sarcasm)

“If Brett Easton Ellis is your comp [comparison novel], I’m not your girl.” (and yet he’s successful, so this is obviously a very subjective reason to reject.)

“Eco-thrillers aren’t really my thing.” (again, she’s not saying it’s bad. it just isn’t what she happens to like reading.)

“Road trip books are a really hard sell for me.  This one didn’t make it.” (again, holy subjectivity, Batman!)

“Sometimes I come across books in the slush that I would love to read, but don’t have a spot in my list.  This is one of them.” (she thinks it’d be great published, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of what she reps.)

“I was 50/50 on this SF. I liked the comps and the ideas was interesting, but it’s a concept that NEEDS to be #ownvoices and I don’t think it is.” (she didn’t even actually check if it is, for sure, #ownvoices, so she easily could’ve passed up a great book.)

“MG, too sweet for me.” (fairly sure a lot of people would appreciate sweet Middle Grade, since it’s novels for middle schoolers.)

“I don’t do straight up adult histfic.” (again, a very specific no-no that only applies to this particular agent, and nowhere except in this tweet does said agent indicate that she isn’t interested in adult historical fiction.)

“I love the SF/literary crossover, but this wasn’t nearly SF enough.” (good for me, because I actually specialize in SF/literary crossovers. personal plug aside, this is another example of a very personal/subjective reason to reject. another agent might say the book had too much of an SF side and needed to sit more on the literary side while being set in an SF world. it all depends on the specific person.)

REQUEST

“This YA F [young adult fiction] is too short, but it reminds me of one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, so I’ll take a peek.” (many other literary agents would reject this MS simply on the merit of its being too short.)

“This romp of a space opera might not be a great fit for my list, but I still want to look at it.” (so even she is doubting that she could rep it, yet she’s spending time on it anyway, because temptation.)

“Good world, cool mythology. I want this YA F!” (after having turned down another MS for including Greek mythology.)

“Queer witches.  Yep.” (is it me, or is this a very shallow reason for choosing to request a novel?)

“Comps are all wrong, but the pitch is really solid and the idea intriguing.” (ooookayyy this is usually something that can get you rejected easily – including accurate comps helps the agent know you understand where you belong in the market, and what you’re writing – but hey. this is the publishing industry, so it’s basically a free-for-all.)

“It’s 2018 and I’m really curious how YA narratives about deciding to keep toxic people in your life will play out.” (e.g. if you submitted this to her a couple years back, or to a different agent at the same time, you could easily be rejected.)

That’s all, folks!  Tune in to my next blog post for some…well, I’m actually not sure what.  I’ll figure that out later.  Bedtime first!

a city full of stars

I think the first thing I noticed when I came to Los Angeles was how few stars I could see in the sky.

It’s…ironic, I guess.  Being in the “City of Stars” and looking up at the night sky and seeing…gray.  Black.  Some uniform color in between.  As though someone’s taken a huge, oversized blanket and just kind of, you know, tossed it across the sky and covered up everything beyond the atmosphere.  Like the whole world’s been shrunk down to Earth-size, and the rest of the universe, solar system and all, just doesn’t exist anymore.

I miss the stars.  There was light pollution in my home town, but not like this, you know?  I mean – of course, my favorite skies are when I can open my eyes and stare straight up and just see everything laid out in front of me – galaxy stretching like a glass of spilled milk, millions upon millions of stars dusted like tiny diamonds over the ceiling of the sky; and on those nights you can stare forever, and imagine that you can see out to the very edge of the universe, the horizon, that you can see to infinity.  And you feel small, but it’s a good kind of small – the kind that makes you feel free.

(My favorite nights are meteor showers, for the record.  To see the lights streaking across the sky…there’s nothing more magical.  It sounds so cliche, but at the same time, it’s so absolutely true.)

Anyhow, you can’t see that in Los Angeles.  There’s just smog and smog and smog and a sky that is not, in any way, full of stars.  (Sorry, Coldplay.)

But they call this place the City of Stars.  And I guess – yes, it’s cliche, and soppy and romantic and everything an electrical engineer shouldn’t be, but give me a break, I’m also a writer and musician and whatever else – I guess it actually makes sense.  Because the real stars in Los Angeles aren’t the ones in the sky, but the ones on the ground, all of these millions of people chasing their dreams.  This is the city of dreams, the city of stars, the city of people with stars in their eyes.

I don’t believe in fate or – what do they call it?  Manifest destiny? – that’s the thing.  I am generally a very un-superstitious person.  So I’m not going to give you some crap fairy tale about how I was meant to be here, how my heart belongs in Los Angeles, et cetera et cetera et cetera (anyone who gets that reference, I love you), even though yes, I do love this city and yes, I would love to stay here forever.

I thought that being in a city of stars where you can’t even see the stars in the sky…I thought it’d be confining, like there was always a ceiling over my head.  But it isn’t like that at all.  I feel so open, so free, even dreamier than before (oh no…).

It all kind of connects back to my last post about wanting to chase everything all at once and be everything I can possibly be.  Because in any other city, I wouldn’t be able to chase my dreams the way I can here, in Los Angeles, where I’m literally sitting on Hollywood’s doorstep.  I wanted to go to Stanford, yes, but it’s like an angel came down and made sure I’d end up at – of all places – UCLA.  Right in the heart of Los Angeles.  And I can’t just sit here, in this amazing beautiful overwhelming crazy city full of dreams, and let all of my ambitions slip past, not when I’m young and passionate and everything feels as though it’s barely just beyond my fingertips.

Los Angeles has made me free.  Los Angeles is the one city where I can spread my wings widest.  And I’m going to do everything I can to chase it all, to chase my dreams here in this wondrous city – to the horizon and back, even if it kills me.

I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I did anything different.

Professor Golub: Lesson 2

My friends invited me to go out with them over the weekend, but I didn’t go, of course.  I spent both days working entirely on my music composition.  Eleven pages worth.  I walked into the Mancini room yesterday with its beautiful Steinway, and Professor Golub smiled at me, and I was so incredibly nervous.  Would he like the new compositions?  Three new compositions and a whole weekend’s worth of work.  Playing, creating, notating.  What if I haven’t improved enough, or somehow I didn’t follow his rules?

He wants to see the compositions first thing, of course.  Good. I have the sheet music right here –

Can you play them for me?  (He nods to the grand piano, and I feel a little thrill of happiness.  At home, I have a grand piano, a six foot two Shigeru Kawaii.  Here at college, I’ve only got my Yamaha portable and the garbage uprights in the dorm practice rooms.  Finally, I know how everybody else feels, how a grand piano feels like a privilege.)

I’ve done something with them behind his back, and I don’t know if he’ll like it.  Three separate pieces, but they all tie together.  Sleepers Will Safely Dream/Caught in Infinite Unreality/Never to Wake Again.  I play them and I’m not sure he even notices.

It has a story to it, too.  But that’s a story I’ll tell a different day.

Very good, he says.  (Points to the sheets for Caught in Infinite Unreality.)  I noticed you added the major seventh here.  I love it.  Very effective.  Caught me by surprise.

Oh, thank God.

I really like what you’ve done here.  Very good.  And you created all of this in one week?

I nod, smile.  I’m not going to admit how hard it was.  It was worth it, anyway, and he’s a composer too, he knows what kind of effort goes into creating stuff like this.  He knows.  I don’t have to tell him.

I think, he says, I won’t give you anything to fix in these.  They’re very good, anyway.  I really like what you’ve done here.  Feels good, doesn’t it?  Opening up to the fourths?  They give it a very different harmonic feel.

I nod again.  Yes.  I didn’t think I’d like it, actually, but I love it.

Okay.  So to make you better, I think we’re just going to keep writing, and I think that’s the best way to go forward, for now.  But we don’t have a flutist here, so we’re going to actually stick to piano instead.  Do you know of the octatonic scale?

Octatonic?  No…I shake my head.  He plays it for me.  It’s very…different.  When he hits the notes, he says the pattern under his breath – half step, whole step, half step, whole step, alternating.  It takes him a couple tries to play it right – ascending, then descending.

You’re going to compose something entirely in the octatonic scale.  And then you’re going to do a bitonal piece.  (He has me listen through Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil and the beginning of Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis.  The Hindemith is breathtaking.  The Milhaud is…unique?  I don’t know exactly how to feel about it.)

As I leave, I remind myself I didn’t know how to feel about composing without triads at first, either.

 

define “me”

People ask me why a lot.  I’ve gotten so used to it that I think I do a bit of an inward eye roll every time I hear it.  It’s like clockwork, a broken record, a song stuck on repeat.  It goes like this:

Them: “What do you do?”

Me: “I like to write novels, compose music, and choreograph dances, and I’d love to go into acting someday, maybe, but that’s far off.  My big dreams are to write novels and compose music and be an entrepreneur, maybe acting if I can ever get to it.”

Them: “But you’re majoring in -”

Me: “Electrical engineering, I know.  Actually, that was my first dream, when I was a little girl – to be an electrical engineer.”

Them: “But that’s so -”

Me: “Unrelated?  Crazy?  I know.  You’ll get it.  Eventually.”

Spoiler alert – most people don’t seem to get it, ever.  Or maybe, because I’m only eighteen and I’m very young and most people haven’t had time to know me all that long, I just haven’t gotten to know the right people yet.  Either way, it’s four a.m. (four o’ one, to be exact) and I need to write this all down, because gosh darn it, it feels good to say it, and it feels good to let you all know.  And then, next time somebody wants the full explanation, I can just point them here and say, “Read this.”  Or give them the full speech, live, which is maybe more fun, because…dramatic effect, you know?

Okay.  This might be a little longer than my regular posts, so bear with me.

We are insignificant.  Really – think about it.  We are absolutely insignificant, in the greater scheme of things, because we are just little creatures on a small rock floating in a small solar system around a small star in a small galaxy in the middle of a huge, vast, maybe infinite universe, which is possibly a small universe in the middle of a huge, vast, maybe infinite multiverse, and so on and so on.  Nothing will remember us when we’re gone.  When I die, history will not remember me, and even if it does, my planet won’t.  And when our planet is gone, our galaxy won’t remember us, and if our galaxy is somehow destroyed, the universe as a whole won’t give a damn, and on and on and on it goes.

So in a way, nothing we do really matters – and that’s nihilism.  Okay, right, you say.  So that means it’s okay to do whatever the hell I want – go skydiving, get drunk, why should any of it matter?

But it does matter.  It matters because of a whole lot of reasons, but for the sake of my sanity and yours, I’m going to narrow it down a whole lot.  Also because if I tried listing everything and going into every detail, I’m fairly sure I’d be writing this blog post for the rest of my life, and as much as I love writing a blog I’m fairly sure nobody will ever really read, I also have a lot of other things I want to do with my life.  (More on that in a second.)

Here’s why it matters – and I’m only going to list two reasons here.  First of all, humans are sensitive, social creatures, and we see the world through a magnifying glass with the lens squarely focused on us – on we ourselves, the protagonists of our own life stories; or on our species; or on our planet, at least.  In that magnifying glass, the little insignificant things we do become much bigger, so yes, to us, and to our fellow humans, they matter – at least a bit.

So that’s reason number one.  And here’s reason number two.

We are rare.  Life is rare, statistically speaking.  For all of the solar systems and planets and stars we’ve searched so far, we haven’t found any solid evidence for life elsewhere, even though my guess is that it definitely exists out there somewhere (it’s a big universe, like I said).  So life is a gift.  We are a gift – this consciousness and sentience we have, the intelligence we are blessed with.  And honestly?  I don’t want to waste that gift.  I – we – all have the ability to do so much with what we’ve been given.  What’s the point in wasting all of that, in letting it go and doing absolutely nothing with it?

Which brings me to my general life philosophy.  Why do I do it all?  Because of the juxtaposition of these two things: nihilism, and the responsibility to do everything I can with the gifts I’ve been given by the beautiful, infinite universe.  Responsibility, because I want to be everything I can be and do everything I can do to be the absolute best I am possibly capable of being.  Nihilism, because if I push myself too hard and screw up, in the greater scheme of things – the universal scheme of things – it won’t matter.  One more human didn’t get it done, so what?  I’ve only got one life.  I might as well live it to the fullest.

And that is why I’m not afraid – why I’m actually determined – to chase all of my dreams, all at once, even if – in the end – I can’t get it all done in this one tiny little lifetime.

It’s also why I’ve never so much as tasted alcohol or tried weed, or any of the other things a lot of people my age do nowadays.  I only have one life.  I want to live it as vividly as possible.  That means not dulling my brain, but using it as much as I can for as long as I can.  That means using all of the brainpower I have, constantly.  I guess that’s part of why I’m okay with the migraines, with the pain, because it’s just pain – as long as I’m chasing my dreams and pushing myself as hard as I can, it doesn’t matter, it’s just an annoyance, I won’t let it get in my way no matter what.

Besides, life is about the ups and the downs, isn’t it?  That means good and bad.  Pain and happiness.  And the end of the journey is a million times sweeter when you know you’ve fought a hard war to get there.  If all of your dreams got served to you on a silver platter, rainbows and sunshine, what would be the point?

Next up – Los Angeles, the City of Stars, and what it means to me (why I’m here).