Monday, May 28, 2012

Day #8679 - Ode to Being an Amateur

In her commencement address to the University of Illinois graduating class of 2012, Cokie Roberts made the outstanding point that when people go around boasting that they are not professionals, it's actually doing a disservice to and diminishing the profession. Her examples were good ones - you certainly want a professional doctor helping you when you're sick, and if you're on a plane, you want a professional pilot flying it.

But there are some situations where I think there is a little something to be said for being an amateur. At least, there's no need to freak out or be weary if you are "just an amateur writer."

In the face of a growing number of rejection letters, uncertainty about the summer to come, and rising doubts about my writing and how to make my current story project perk up, I turned to one of my favorite books of all time, The Element by Sir Ken Robinson (click on the link to read the review I did of it on my book blog which continues to be my most popular post I have ever written). In short, the book is all about the importance of finding something you are passionate about, encouraging creativity, and how our current education system in the US stifles that which cannot be measured on standardized tests. Anyway, I was flipping through and rereading the portions I'd highlighted when I blissfully saw this passage:

The word amateur derives from the Latin word amator, which means lover, devoted friend, or someone who is in avid pursuit of an objective. In the original sense, an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it. Amateurs do what they do because they have a passion for it, not because it pays the bills. -The Element, pg. 210

I LOVE this sentiment, I do, and I could not have read it at a better time.

Would finding an agent and getting the manuscript I've worked so hard on for so long and completely believe in be awesome? Yes.

Would it be an amazing thrill for it to get published someday? Of course.

Is that the point of it all? Well, no. It's not. Not really. And that's the great part of me being an amateur. I write my stories because I love to do it, no other reason. I write because there are these fantastic characters bumbling around in my head and I want to get them down on paper so others can know them too. Am I the best at it? No, because I'm an amateur. I'm practicing, I'm trying, and every day that I at least sit down at the computer or with a pen and paper is a step in the right direction, no matter how small. I'm not saying the rejection is fun or that the current massive cases of writers block (really more like writers doubt) I've been pushing through have been easy, but I keep on trying without the pressure of deadlines or the expectations of trying to avoid the sophomore slump. Those come later and are self-imposed, but it all comes down to doing what I love simply because I love to do it, and for now, I'm good with that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day #8668 - Cause for Celebration

Two weeks ago today, I had my final graduate school class for my master's degree in library and information science, and this past weekend I went down to Champaign-Urbana for the ceremonies celebrating that fact.

I can understand why a lot of people choose not to go or have a dislike for the pomp and circumstance. They can run long or the speakers can be dull and the hats and gowns are expensive to rent (plus, let's be honest, they look a bit silly), but I am so glad that I made the trip and that I had my family by my side to celebrate with me. In the week between my last class and commencement, it didn't feel real or like anything had changed. I was still me. I woke up the next day and went to my job like I always do, but there's just something about standing up when they call on you, walking across that stage, and moving that tassel from the right side of your hat to the left that finally made the whole thing tangible - I dedicated myself to something, I accomplished this goal of mine, and I've even managed to make my family proud of me along the way.

My rejection letters from various agents continue to hang on the same wall that my diploma for my B.A. in English hangs, and once my new diploma for my M.S. arrives, it will join them. All of these pieces of paper represent similar things to me; they are evidence that I have tried. With all do respect to Yoda, sometimes all you can do is try. I worked my hardest, put my best self and my best work out there, and sometimes you get a rejection letter, but other times, you get a diploma which shows that hard work does pay off, and to me they are all things to be proud of.

I wish I had something more wise or profound to say than that, but I feel like my relief at not having homework for the first time in 18 years has robbed me of my vocabulary temporarily (which I need for my WIP!). Also, my commencement speaker Cokie Roberts said it all so well with a mixture of humor and grace that with our degrees, we now have no excuse for not contributing to the greater picture and giving back to the people and world that give us so much. I couldn't agree with her sentiments more.

I cannot emphasize enough though how NONE of this could have happened without the support of my family and friends. It's not everyday that a daughter springs on her parents that she wants to go to get her English degree/go to library school/be a writer/put them on the internet/explore a bunch of things and ideas they're less familiar with, but I'm so lucky that my parents have been nothing but supportive through it all. It means everything to me that they have stood by me no matter what, and I was so happy to be able to share my special day with them, my grandparents, my big brother, and my soon-to-be sister. I couldn't have asked for better company.

And so, I hope you enjoy the videos below chronicling my graduation weekend. Thank you so much to those who take the time to read this blog and to the family and friends who encourage me in my many (often crazy-seeming) endeavors - none of this would have happened were it not for you!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Day #8654 - Another Chapter Ends

At 8pm tonight, I will be done with my master's degree in library and information science. The fact completely blows my mind. It means that my undergraduate graduation was already two years ago. It doesn't feel like all that long ago I was wrapping up a semester of student teaching at a high school in the suburbs of Chicago, wondering what the heck I could possibly do with the B.A. in English I had completed, and was still waiting to hear back from U of I to find out if I had gotten into the library school or not.

But I did. And there have been a lot of ups and downs during that time. I've gotten to explore this time-honored institution we all know as the library and I can more strongly appreciate the intricacies that build them into such awe-inspiring centers of knowledge and power. After taking cataloging, I'll never again take the complexities of assigning a Dewey Decimal Number and subject headings to a non-fiction book for granted. And thanks to taking such amazing classes like children's lit, YA lit, and adult lit, I finally started doing my own writing and have fallen in love with the incredible literature that is out there for teens right now.

My final course for all of this is LIS418LE - Community Engagement. Over the past 16 weeks, we've discussed what makes a community, what engagement entails, and each student in the class has given the opportunity to pick the topic of discussion for our final projects - a 30 minute presentation on a community or engagement initiative we are particularly interested in or passionate about.

Last week, I gave my talk entitled Teen Virtual Communities, the Positive Impact They Have on Adolescent Development, and How Libraries Can Help Support Them. I gave background and definitions and an explanation about how this fit into our class topics, and then I gave examples. Now not everyone in this particular class is on the school library track or involved in the YA world, but they were all blown away by the Vlogbrothers duo of John and Hank Green, particularly the various avenues of social media they utilize and the outreach that Nerdfighteria is so passionate about such as the Project for Awesome and the Foundation to Decrease World Suck. They laughed when I told them about Maureen Johnson and were impressed by the enthusiasm she expresses every day in her tweets and in her Ask Auntie MJ posts during NaNoWriMo 2011. They were also touched by Heather Brewer's devotion to bullying prevention and how she doesn't just write about it in her books, but also plans to host her own anti-bullying conference and is always there to support the Minion Horde.

The biggest compliment I got from my peers was that my enthusiasm was obvious, but I don't even feel like I can take credit for that. In library school, being a nerd is pretty much mandatory, and with such inspiring people like those I mentioned in my presentation and beyond (there are so many more I wanted to include, but darn those time limits!), how could I not be excited? I got very high marks on my research and presentation, and so thanks to the power of the nerd/YA/awesome community, I'll be finishing grad school on a high note. (Well, finishing my master's anyway. Who knows if a doctorate could be in store for me? hehe)

So starting tomorrow, I'll be a Librarian (in education if not in job title) and I can't believe it's finally here. There were a lot of days where I thought this would never happen, and I've never been quite so happy to be wrong. And none of it would have been possible without the generous support of my family, friends, and classmates. And also thank you to people who inspire me day after day to do more, try something new, dare to suck, be different, and to never, ever forget to be awesome.