Summer 2014 in Review

“One day at a time, this is enough. Don’t look back and grieve over the past for it is gone. Do not be troubled about the future, for it has yet to come. Live in the present and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.”

–  Unknown

 

It’s that time of year again. Whether you’re in middle school or high school or college, it’s almost time for classes to start. Summer has come to a close.

Every year, the night before I return to school, I write a post summarizing the summer. And since I head back to college tomorrow morning, here we are now.

I had a lot of anticipation riding on this summer, because it’s my first one since college. I had no idea if the friends (and ex-girlfriend) I said goodbye to last year would be exactly the same, or completely new people entirely.

This summer was by far full of some of the best memories I’ve ever made, and some of the worst. It was a constant ride of ups and downs, and in the end, I’m still not sure what to think of it.

Since I’m a college kid, classes ended nice and early, mid-May. I came back from college and felt all the immediate comforts of home: this great town, my high school friends who were dying to catch up with me, and my younger brother (AKA my best friend), who I’d managed to stay best friends with all year, despite us living a hundred miles apart.

The warm welcomes lasted for a few weeks, but by June, it hit me: I needed to do something productive this summer besides work on my book. Especially considering that said book received rejections on all pending full requests shortly after I got home.

Low point.

So, I applied for a job hauling books at the local library. And got called in for an interview. High point.

And didn’t get the job. Low point.

So I helped remodel my family’s house. I hung out with my ex-girlfriend without it being weird. My brother and I went on a trip with our Boy Scout troop to Ocean City. All high points.

July was full of its own highs and lows: I learned I had an inguinal hernia which would require surgery in August. Low point. But hey look, at least I didn’t take that job at the library. High point.

I then went on the best week-long adventure of my life.

Anyone familiar with scouts knows what Sea Base is. It’s a nationally recognized scout summer camp in Florida, and the older scouts in our troop headed there at the end of July for a week of sailing, fishing, staying up super late talking about life, and becoming much closer friends. The last night of the trip, we stayed in a hotel and ordered heaps of pizza and watched Ted on the flat screen.

Highest point.

August, like last summer, proved to be infinitely less fun.

I had my hernia surgery at the start of the month, and I got to spend the next two weeks bedridden watching the entire Harry Potter series, followed by every episode of The Office, in a row. I can’t decide what kind of point that was.

Then, in the final weeks of August, I did wonderfully productive things like re-sending my query letter out to a new round of agents, and packing, and getting myself pumped for the upcoming school year. And I did terribly upsetting things like have a falling-out with my brother, which I’m unsure is going to be resolved.

And now, I’m here. Same place as I was a year ago, the night before I left for college. Boy, it is astounding how life can feel like it moves so fast and so slow at the same time, amirite?

Let’s examine the end of last summer vs. the end of this one.

The blue are excerpts from my end of summer post last year.

Honestly, right now, everything’s happening way too fast for me to take any of it in. And I’m at the point where I can’t even imagine what my life will be like three days from now, let alone a week or a month or a year, like I used to. A year ago, around the time I started this blog, I had a pretty good idea that I’d be going to college right now. And I knew it would be busy. But did I know I would date the girl of my dreams, then have to break up with her? Or make a really awesome new best friend? Or get a full request from a literary agent?

No. I didn’t.

That makes me both excited and nervous for what life will be like one year from now, or even one month from now.

Hey, here we are a year later! I’m sitting at the same desk. Same computer. Sure, it has a new keyboard and monitor, but I’m still blogging, and I still have that same lingering nostalgia that keeps my thoughts going.

I have not had another girlfriend yet.  I got three new full requests from agents.

I want to go to college and have fun, but I don’t want to get sucked into anything and come out a different person. I love who I am, and more importantly, I love who my friends are. And if there’s one thing I’m really scared about, it’s that I’ll come home and find that they’re different.

My friends are the same. They’ve grown up, but they’re the same people. So am I.

I still don’t drink, by the way.

Today with my best friend was the more fun kind of goodbye, running around the neighborhood and of course, talking. It’s funny how in a lot of cases, that’s all you need. And when we said bye, no, it wasn’t emotional or anything like that. Mostly a “see ya,” same as the rest. But the difference with this was how fun it was, not to mention that it was the last of my goodbyes before I go. It was the perfect way to end summer and have a final social event before I go off to college.

This touches on my biggest regret of the summer. Last year, I saved my most important goodbye—my younger brother—for last, and it was the best one. I wanted to do the same thing this year, but we’ve both been super busy lately, and that combined with a lot of pressure on a lot of different fronts led to what I keep calling a “falling out” but what I’d like to think is really just a blip on the radar.

Needless to say, this summer overall was a bit less cut-and-dry then last year. Leaving home can be emotional, but the nice thing is, everyone makes a big DEAL of it, so it feels proper. The summer after college? That’s the awkward phase, the stretch where you’re trying to figure out if you should hang out with your new friends or your old ones and do you still have to do chores and why does it feel like half of your life is somewhere else.

I loved this summer, and I made a lot of great memories. I made a few not-great ones as well, but in the end, everything is what it is. Life goes on. Home is still home. Friends are still friends. Your brother is still your brother. And it all works out in the end, somehow.

I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, but I’m also hopeful for what this coming year will bring. Hey, my old friends and I survived one year apart from each other…we can do it again.

So, I suppose one big thing about me did change from last year: back then, I believed no friendship was permanent, that this all was about letting each other go and moving on. But now I know that true friendships really are permanent, that there are some people in your life who you’ll always love, even though you no longer walk the hallways with them anymore.

Let’s hope this year is the best one yet.

Here’s to permanence.

On Writing: How Are Teen Authors Perceived?

“Some people break all the rules and get published. You could cross a road blind-folded and not get run over. That doesn’t mean that crossing the road blind-folded is a good way to live a long life.”

–  Nicola Morgan

 

This post hits home, because I’m a teen author myself. I have been since I turned thirteen, though I’m not exactly one of those types who scores a major book deal by the time they hit puberty. I fit into the much larger category of teens who write books but haven’t broken into the industry yet. I have, however, gotten four full requests from literary agents, including the woman who represented The Hunger Games…so, hopefully that bumps me slightly towards the “publication” clan.

It seems like teen authors are everywhere these days, doesn’t it? When I started high school, NO ONE knew that I was a writer, not even my close friends and family. Why? Because I felt like zero other teenagers were interested in that sort of thing, and of course when you’re fourteen, the last thing you feel like being is different.

Now? 180 flip. Not only do I enjoy being weird and breaking social norms, but teens who like to write are becoming more and more common. Okay, maybe teens who like to write full length novels are still a bit rare, but even that movement is blossoming thanks to NaNoWriMo (which, incidentally, I’ve never done. Hmm…)

But how are these teen authors perceived by adults?

We teens would love to believe that everyone sees us and immediately starts rooting for us. “Oh, you’re only FIFTEEN and you’re trying to get a book published? Bless your precociousness! May you lead the charge against a society that believes kids can’t change the world.”

Let me be clear, I’m all for the “kids change the world” movement and even hope to be a part of it. But unfortunately, I think most adults take the pessimistic approach: they see a teen writer and think “good hobby, but you’re probably way too young to succeed at something like this.”

Want to hear the best part?

I agree with them.

Hypocrite! you guffaw at your screen. Caleb, you’re saying teens shouldn’t be authors, yet here you are doing the THING.

Not quite. First and foremost, I absolutely do think teens should write. I think all teens should test to see if they like expressing themselves that way, and if they find they do, then write and write and never stop. Whether it’s for yourself or the blog world or whomever, if writing (or ANYTHING!) is your passion, I believe it’s not only healthy, but important, to embrace and pursue it.

No, no, when I say most teenagers probably aren’t a good match for the publishing business, I mean just that: the publishing business. The get-a-literary-agent-and-sell-to-a-publisher business. I don’t think the majority of teens are cut out for it.

Do I still sound bitter? Alright, nitpickers, check this: most PEOPLE aren’t cut out for the publishing business, whether they’re fifteen or ninety-seven or forty-three or twenty-eight. But beyond that, I’ll build my case.

Hey, teenagers. Yes, you people. I want you to picture yourself, who you were, one year ago. And I’m willing to bet that you would literally throw that person down a flight of stairs if you met them today.

There are worlds of psychological findings—not to mention common sense—that show how prone teenagers are to dramatic development as they approach adulthood. What high school senior dresses or acts how they did coming into high school? We grow up, yo.

It's Reality!

But here’s the thing! Let’s say an ambitious teen author slapped together a novel by the age of fifteen and started querying agents. Now, what do you think the twelfth grade version of that author would think of their book, if they glanced over it three years later?

Sounds like a horrifying situation, doesn’t it? It is, my dear readers.

I would know. I lived it.

I tried to be one of those hotshot teen authors. No, correction…I wanted to be the first hotshot teen author. (Yes, teens have gotten books published occasionally, but how many of those books have done that well? And don’t you dare cite Eragon; I’ll fry that fish later.)

I wanted to be the breakout kid, the one who actually becomes a bestselling teen author and actually turns a profit and actually makes it before finishing high school.

Then I grew up and realized that maybe, that was a tad unrealistic.

Is it good to have goals? Of course. Is it good to pursue them? Yes! But the thing is, when I first started trying for publication, I hadn’t grown up yet. I followed all the querying rules and I knew what I was up against, but sadly and quite simply, I just wasn’t good enough yet.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone with a similar dream. Maybe you HAVE grown up by age fifteen and are ready to go! But I’m just saying, I wasn’t, and while I wasn’t necessarily a terrible author, I was no where near ready to be published.

Which of course begs the question I know some people are thinking.

How do you know you’re ready NOW, you nincompoop?

Well, I don’t. Maybe I’ll never be published. But that’s exactly why I have only ever tried for publication through the traditional querying method. No self-publishing, no teen writing contests, nothing. I play the big game, same as every other prospective adult author out there. This novel of mine is going to sink or swim completely on its own, damn it, and it’s very slowly starting to swim amongst interested agents.

That’s why I think I might be ready.

I used to think that when/if I ever became published, it would have something to do with my age. I even hoped it would. Now, I don’t even consider it as a factor. For one thing, I’m now in college, and I legally am an adult, even if I have a little bit of teenage time left. But more importantly, this thing is working, highly respected agents are interested, and it has zero to do with any marketability related to being a teenager who writes books for teenagers. For all they know, I could be some English professor trying their hand at the YA genre.

ntrnt

Would that angle help me, maybe, if I put my age in my query letter? May…be. Would agents—subconsciously or otherwise—read my novel through a skeptical lens, knowing I’m barely out of high school?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure they would.

My point is, I don’t want my age to influence any success I may have (if any) as a writer. I don’t want to be some wunderkind who breaks convention.

I just want to be a plain old, regular, boring, published author.

Book Review: The Giver

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

 

givercoverI’d hope there are many teenagers out there who grew up with this novel, which won a Newbery Medal in 1994 and is taught in many middle school classrooms today. I’ve re-read it several times in the past few years, and with the movie adaption hitting theaters today, I thought I’d spill my thoughts on the source material.

The Giver is basically a 1990’s Hunger Games for middle schoolers. In a futuristic world of “Sameness,” every person lives in a peaceful, organized community where jobs and spouses are assigned, emotions are repressed with pills, and no one can see color. The only person with memories of the past is an elder called “The Giver,” who gives guidance to the community leaders. The story features a boy named Jonas who is assigned to be trained by the Giver, and be given his memories, to someday take his place.

Cue realizations, revolution, blah blah blah.

I hate how trite this sounds today; since the release of this story in 1993 we’ve seen Divergent, The Hunger Games and the like. The Giver might have many of the same elements, but it still does them quite well. I was especially interested in the concept of Jonas being “given” memories a little at a time and watching those change him. I also enjoyed how the story distinguishes that as the new Giver he has “honor, but not power.” He is given full permission to lie or be rude to anyone, but he has no say in changing the Sameness of the community.

I thought the Giver himself was an interesting character. He’s wise on the surface, but deep down he’s full of bitterness towards the community and regret of his past mistakes. I think Jeff Bridges (who also helped develop the movie) will be perfect to play this role.

All that being said, there are a few things I couldn’t stand about the novel.

For one thing, I thought the pacing was putrid. The book is 180 pages long. The first 100 of these are spent introducing us to the community, to Jonas’s selection, and to his first meeting with the Giver. Within the next eighty pages, the real meat of the story is glossed over in quick successions, and then we’re left with an unresolved ending open to interpretation.

I hate open endings.

I get it; sometimes they’re symbolic, and sometimes they’re cliffhangers to set up the next installment. Problem: there is no next installment here, at least not one that reveals the fates of any of the characters. We’re left feeling as though the author got bored with her own story and stopped 2/3 of the way through.

Maybe it’s because I’m nitpicky, but if I’d told this story, I would have paced it much differently and concluded on a satisfying note, not a confusing one. Also, I realize this was the 90’s and the story takes place in a utopian society, but I do wish the secondary characters had been fleshed out a little more beyond being strictly obedient citizens.

Between these flaws and the now-tired concept, I can see why this book isn’t a bestseller anymore. That being said, it used to be.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited for the movie. Jeff Bridges is playing the Giver and Meryl Streep is the community leader, which is exciting. Lois Lowry, the author, has been very involved with the production and has been Tweeting about how delighted she is with the finished product. Am I expecting to enjoy it more than the Hunger Games? Certainly not. But, I do hope for a faithful adaption. I’m all set to see it with a friend next week, so I’ll be sure to review it after the fact.

In the meantime, a conclusion on the book: Though it may no longer be the best of its genre, this story is still a classic and well worth your time.

Rate: 7 out of 10.

On Robin Williams’ Death, and Depression

“Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”

–  Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

 

I was hesitant to write about Robin Williams, because it seems like everyone in the world has already. However, being a teenager, I’m one of many people who grew up with some of Williams’ films, my personal favorites being Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Flubber, and even a re-watch of Hook several weeks ago.

I recently read something online that compared Robin Williams to that uncle who you don’t see very often, but always makes you laugh when you do. I agree with this in full.

The news of his passing has been all over social media for the past few days, and I could sit here and spout what everyone else has already said: how tragic this loss is, how our prayers are with his family, and most notably, how ironic that a man who made people so happy was so internally gloomy.

I think that’s perhaps the most heartbreaking part of all of this: an entire generation of people owes this man a million laughs, and that wasn’t enough to make him feel like he had a purpose in this world.

But once again, I’m repeating what countless others have already noted. So instead, I’d like to deviate from my usual light theme of this blog and talk for a minute about something serious: depression, and getting help for it.

I should say outright I’m not nearly the most qualified person to comment on this. I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve never been depressed personally. But I am a teenager, and every day of high school and even sometimes college, you look around and see the kids who are having a tougher time with the world than others.

What do you do? It’s not exactly social convention to run up to a total stranger and go, “Hi, talk to me about your problems.” There is an incredible emphasis in high school about minding your place, which I’ve always hated.

I have a “helping person” mentality. I briefly touched on this in a previous post. I am one of those people who feels an incredible urge to help others with their problems, and to be there for my friends no matter what. If someone complains about a bad day on Twitter (which, come on, is pretty much the reason Twitter exists), I’ll send them a couple of humor pics from iFunny to cheer them up. If someone texts me saying, “Hey I have a problem,” I’ll listen to them for as long as they need.

I don’t do this because I see myself as some saint, I do it because I think that’s how everyone should treat each other. No, I don’t want the world turned into a place of constantly outpoured emotions, and I don’t want to give people excuses to whine about the tiniest of inconveniences. But if someone needs, like, help, I think that every person, particularly teenagers, should be willing to listen to a friend in need.

And if you are that friend in need, then the best thing I can say is, look for someone who’s willing to listen. The world isn’t full of heartless people; at least, I’d hope not. I would hope that deep down, no one actually wants a tragedy like this one. It’s just that sometimes, people become too consumed—for want of a better term—with their own lives and busyness. And if you think that feeling alone equates to no one caring about you, just look at this awful event. Robin Williams felt alone. The man was a master of laughs who moved a generation, and he felt alone. If only he could see the outpouring of love and sorrow now that he’s gone.

What I’m trying to say is, to anyone who feels alone, don’t give up on the world. This place is full of good, caring people, and it shouldn’t take something as awful as suicide to remind everyone of that.

The world is a sadder place with Robin Williams gone, and I know many of us will miss him immensely. However, in accordance with the request of his wife, I would prefer to remember all the joy he brought people rather than the sadness created by his passing.

Rest in peace Mr. Williams, you’ll always be loved.