Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Goals

One of the wonderful things about being home for the summer is that I can finally actually get some reading and writing done. I read Entwined (by Heather Dixon) the other day, and it was the first YA novel I’d read in nearly a year. I also read Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (because Tom Hiddleston is performing in the title role this fall in London) Maybe it’s silly to read another classic, just like what I’ve been studying at university all year, but it’s still nice to read it for personal pleasure, rather than for a class.

With eleven weeks of summer ahead of me, I’ve decided to set some goals to make the most out of my PEI vacation. I’ll be working full time at the library and hanging out with friends, but that should still leave time for plenty of reading, writing, and enjoying what PEI has to offer.

To make sure I don’t spend the summer on Facebook, I’ve set some SMART goals under the general headings of Reading, Writing, and PEI. You possibly know that SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely, and I find the acronym helpful for setting goals that actually have a chance of getting completed.

Under Reading, my goals are very simple. I’d like to read ten Shakespeare plays (and watch the film versions) and at least fifteen YA novels. I’ll likely read more than this, but with a relatively low goal I know I won’t end up spending the last week of August frantically reading ten novels simply to meet an arbitrary limit.

Beyond excited for this play!
Writing goals were a little more difficult to define. I have two major projects I’m working on (a novel and a play) and while I’d love to finish them both, I doubt I’ll have the time in just two months. Writing is also dangerous to measure by output, especially since I’ve never written a play before and I have no idea what sort of speed I can expect. So, I’ve decided to measure my writing goals by time, spending five hours a week, with at least fifteen minutes a day. I’ll also write book reviews for every novel I read and blog twice a week, which doesn’t count under this time limit.

Finally, since this may be the last summer I spend at home, I’ve decided to take advantage of what PEI has to offer. There’s an amazing theatre community here, so I’ve made up my mind to see at least five shows, whether that be a professional musical like Anne of Green Gables, or a smaller comedy my friends are starring in. I also want to visit two places (beaches, hiking trails, tourist sites) that I’ve never visited before, because even though I’ve lived here for seventeen years there are so many places I’ve never seen.

Those are my goals for the summer. Hopefully they’re all SMART, and I’ll actually end up reaching them. It would be refreshing to look back at the end of the summer and see how much I’ve accomplished.

Now, over to you. What are your summer goals? How do you plan to reach them?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A New Direction

With my Quebec City adventure over, and Scotland still two and a half months away, it seems like this blog will have to stop chronicling my exploits and revert back to what it’s actually supposed to be: a blog on writing.

My posts will be a little different than the generic how-to-write-YA instructions that I used to write in previous years. Since so many authors are blogging on topics like how-to-create-fascinating-characters, or how-to-fix-a-horrible-first-draft, or the all important how-to-make-your-hero-swoon-worthy, I’ve decided to bow out of that scene. As an unpublished author, I feel like it’s better to leave the how-to posts to the pros.

I’ve decided instead to write more general, slightly theoretical posts. I’d like to take certain novels and dissect them a little, talking about what worked or what didn’t. I’d like to write some slightly more comprehensive book reviews, talking more about what the novels are really saying. Finally, I want to examine some key stories that YA isn’t telling, and deconstruct some of YA’s central conventions.

Don’t worry, though. When I say “theoretical,” I don’t mean Deridean abstract philosophy on the meaning of the sign and the signifier, or any of that fun stuff. I simply want to take some of the critical thinking skills that I regularly apply to literature in English class, and instead relate them to YA novels. I’ll try and make my posts as practical as possible to your daily writing life.

This summer I may also have a few my-life posts, since life on PEI is basically an adventure in itself. However, the real fun waits until September, when I fly out to Scotland. With just around 11 weeks until I leave, things are starting to fall into place, but there’s still a lot left to do (*coughVISAcough*). For now, though, the main purpose of this blog will actually be writing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Explore: Back Home

The Confederation Bridge (the longest over-water
bridge in the world, which takes you to PEI)
I’m home. Explore has been finished for a week.

It’s kind of weird, being home. In some ways, though, it just feels really normal, and in still other ways it feels weird that it feels so normal.

The strangest bit was Monday morning, when, instead of heading off to class, I went into Charlottetown for lunch with my friend. We went to an adorable little café, and I could ask questions about my food without having to think for a minute about the wording. I could chat with the cashiers. I could listen to the other patrons talking and actually understand what they were saying.

One of my favourite PEI beaches
I had to stop myself saying merci when they handed me my food. That’s been the most difficult; all the little things. The automatic desole when I bump into something, or oui in response to a question. The little phrases: ca fait de sense or quelque chose comme ca. I trained myself to give these responses and it takes a little while to un-learn them.

It’s sad, though, how quickly I’m adjusting. The first few days felt really strange, but after almost a week it’s just normal to be speaking only English. I’m making efforts to keep up my French, like reading the Bible in French, or speaking to my mom and friends, but it’s not the same as several hours of complete immersion. 

I don’t want to lose it. Explore, as fun as it was, was by no means easy, and I don’t want to forget everything I worked so hard to learn. Technically, I only need the credit to satisfy the language requirement for my MA, but practically, knowing a second language will be so useful on my travels. I’m already considering spending next summer in France, taking more courses.

At Explore, they sold coffee mugs with the following quote (in French) on them:

He who does not know a foreign language knows nothing of his own.
-- Goette

What's this? A National Park you guess? Nope...
it's my backyard. :)
At the beginning of Explore, as an arrogant English Major, I disagreed sharply with that quote. How could I have been a reader all my life, a writer for ten years, and a literature student for three, and yet still know nothing of my own language? Over the five weeks, though, I learned how right Goette was. The more I learned about French, the more I delved into English, learning about the structure, the phrases, and the purpose of the language. I probably learned almost as much about English as I did about French.

All that to say, I think I will remain a student of languages. Explore may be finished, but I’ll treat it as a springboard to further studies, not a one-off deal. After all, I’ll need yet another language if I do a PhD. Next stop… Latin?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Explore Day 35

Day 35. Explore is over.

The past week has been ridiculously busy, which is why I haven’t managed to blog. There’s so much I wanted to talk about, but what with four final exams in the past three days, I had to do a ton of studying. Fortunately, though, it paid off, as I think most of my exams went well.

Once more, the end of exams is bitter sweet. It’s lovely to feel the stress evaporating, and to know that it really doesn’t matter anymore how to conjugate pouvoir in the imparfait, but it also means that Explore is done, and now comes the time for goodbyes. One of my best friends left this afternoon already, and I leave tomorrow at 6am, with almost 1000km of driving ahead of me. Luckily one of my friends is driving with me for most of the way, so I’ll have someone to talk to and keep me awake. :)

The past week—other than the stress of exams—has been fantastic. I’ll write another post sometime about everything I did last weekend, because I have some pretty gorgeous photos to share, but the week itself involved a lot of drinking tea with friends and rambling around Old Quebec. On Monday we went for crepes, which were delicious, then wandered around the city taking pictures. Tuesday I finally saw Star Trek (in IMAX. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Jealous yet?), Wednesday I studied, and yesterday was the big ending spectacle, a sort of wrap-up talent show and awards presentation.

In the end, Explore was a fantastic experience. I’ll admit that there were times near the beginning when I wanted to go home, when I hated Laval, and Quebec City, and learning French. But as I made new friends and explored the city and worked hard at my classes, everything began to fall into place. The past few weeks have been incredible.

At the same time, though, I think I’m ready to go home. As much as I’m sad that Explore’s over, I wouldn’t want to stay much longer. I want PEI, and my family and friends there, and my church, and my house, and Charlottetown, where everyone speaks English.

Still, I will miss it here. I won’t just miss my friends and the beautiful Old City; I’ll also miss my little res room, and the ugly Laval campus, and French grammar at 8:30 am. I’ll miss makeshift cooking in the decrepit old kitchens, or hanging my clean laundry all around my tiny room because I didn’t want to pay for the dryer. All the funny, annoying little things… those are the memories I’ll take with me.

Maybe when I get home I’ll write a wrap-up post about the benefits of Explore…etc… but right now my brain is just worn out. Too much French, too much fun… and too much left to do.

[Note: I’m posting this immediately after writing it, which means it hasn’t been edited. Errors are therefore to be expected.]

Monday, June 10, 2013

Explore Day 26: 24 Hours in French

Definitely gonna miss these girls. <3
[NOTE: This post was delayed several days because I was waiting for photos. I think today is actually Day 31...]

Day 26. There’s just a bit over a week left.

Yesterday was the hyped-up “24h en Francais,” which means that you can sign up to voluntarily immerse yourself in French: talking, writing, reading, listening to music, watching movies… everything has to be done in French. I personally find that having a special French day is a little ironic, since technically the entire program is supposed to be like that, but considering that there’s way more English spoken here than there really should be, it’s good to have one day of complete immersion.
At Chez Victor, one of Quebec's most famous restaurants.
(I'm on the left.)

The bizarre thing about spending a day in French was how easy it was. It barely inhibited my communication at all. It probably helps that by now my friends and I know each other well enough to understand each other even when our French is terrible, but even so, there was only once where I couldn’t get my point across and had to give up.
The most difficult part was not using Franglais. I’ve gotten so used to speaking French interspersed with English whenever I don’t know a word, but yesterday we wouldn’t even let ourselves do that. Luckily, I’ve got my basic vocabulary down, and if there’s something I don’t know, I can normally describe it enough for someone else to supply the word. Sound effects and actions also help a lot. :)

It's always a party at Chez Victor! :)
It was really satisfying to talk French the entire day, even when I was out at dinner (gourmet hamburgers at Chez Victor) or sitting having tea with my friends. By the end of the day French was completely automatic; if someone asked me a question I’d immediately respond in French, or if I wanted to say something, I’d just start speaking in French. My mind would also always try to word things so that I’d use the vocabulary I do have, rather than stumbling over the words I don’t know.

We don't really 'walk' anywhere....
It was almost depressing to start talking English again with my friends today. While it was definitely a relief to be able to ask questions or tell stories without constantly pausing and trying to conjugate verbs in my head, talking in English felt just a little bit boring. 24h en Francais was definitely a challenge, but one that I really enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Explore Day 25

It’s day 25, with a mere 11 days left, and English and French are starting to blur.

I always used to wonder what language bilingual people thought in, but when I asked my bilingual friends, they always took a minute to answer. Normally they’d end up saying that they thought mainly in whatever language they were speaking in at the time, but that it really didn’t matter. Either language. Or both.

That didn’t make sense to me. How can you possibly think in two languages at once? Something as elementary and instinctive as thoughts should be clear, I assumed. Languages are binary opposites; it shouldn’t be possible to mix them.

Apparently I was wrong. Because after just three weeks speaking French, I’m officially thinking partly in two languages.

The weirdest thing is that there is no divide. I don’t think in French while I’m in class, and then start thinking in English when I’m hanging out with my Anglophone friends. While the dominant language does depend on what I’m doing, there’s always some trace of the other language in my thoughts.

Even stranger, the two languages mingle on a word-by-word level. A sentence I think will be half in English, and then I’ll abruptly switch to French. I’ll think, “How would you dit “happy” en Français?” or “I want un petit peu d’oatmeal et some veggies et les bananes.” It’s really odd when I catch myself talking out loud to myself in Franglais.

Talking to my friends in Explore is always amusing, since we manage to seamlessly switch back and forth between French and English. Most of our conversation outside of class is in English, but every once in awhile someone will throw out a sentence in French, and people will respond in either language, or a mix of both. Other times, when I go to ask a question, my mind automatically words it in French, or if someone asks me, “Can I have some sugar?” I’ll instinctively respond “Oui!”

The thing with learning French is that it doesn't end up becoming a mirror to English, a sort of reflection that can never really mix. Instead, it’s almost like learning new words in English. It’s a new set of vocabulary, and a new way to string words together.

I’m still far from bilingual, but it’s pretty cool when something as automatic and natural as thought starts happening in another language. It means that I’m definitely learning French… and that my thought processes might not be as deeply ingrained as I always assumed. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Explore Day 22: The Awesomeness of Brooke, the Sweet Sarcasm of Grace, the Cunning of Julia, and Why Ellen should Die in a Hole.

More than a little windswept- but made it to the
top of Cap Tourmente!

Apologies for the post title. My friends wanted to be internet famous, so I’m trying to do my best to accommodate. :)

Day 22. I arrived exactly three weeks ago, and will be leaving in exactly two. Everyone’s started to realize that our time’s almost up, and that five weeks—which seemed so long when we first got here—is really not enough time to do everything we wanted.

St. Anne de Beaupre
It’s kind of depressing how just as I start really enjoying myself, just as classes start seeming manageable and I find a great group of friends, I start realizing just how short five weeks really is. I’ve only been to Old Quebec four times, and haven’t done some of the big touristy things, like visiting the citadel. I’m going to have to make a list of everything I still need to do, to make the most of my last two weeks.

Enough moping—time to mention some of the fun stuff I’ve been doing. Today has been pretty lazy, as I decided, for once, to sleep in, or to “fais la grasse matinée” as the Quebecois call it. I was supposed to go hiking today, but it’s raining, and I really needed a rest day, so I traded my place to someone in my class. Instead, I’ve been doing laundry, and my room is now covered with wet clothes hanging almost literally everywhere. I’m hoping they dry, considering the humidity has been ridiculously high recently.

The picture doesn't even come close.
The end of this week has been extremely hot (28 degrees Celsius, but feeling like 35 with humidity), but last week was a polar opposite. I went hiking (randonée) at Cap Tourmente, which I’m sure is a beautiful spot, but it was so cold that we had snow and hail, and the wind was so strong that we only spent about a minute at the top before heading back down into the shelter of the trees. We also visited the basilica St. Anne de Beaupre on our way back, which was absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, there was a wedding in the church that day, so we could only stand awkwardly in the back for a few minutes before running off to enjoy the many tacky tourist traps around it.

I had a ton of tests this week, which cut down on the fun stuff significantly, but I did have time to run down to Old Quebec for supper on Wednesday, which I mentioned in a previous blog post. Yesterday, my friends and I headed down to Old Quebec to do some window shopping and have dinner. It was sort of a post-midterm stress-reliever, and somehow I managed to eat a plate of mussels that was bigger than I was, and still get rather buzzed after just one cocktail. Whoops…
Omnomnomnom mussels. :)

At this point, it’s early afternoon, and I have to head off to a 25th anniversary party at the church around supper, so I should probably stop treating today as a lazy Saturday and get to work on some of my devoir. I also have to do some editing for Divine Debutantes magazine (did I mention that I’m not just a columnist anymore; I’m also an editorial intern???) and should maybe consider cleaning my room.

Au revoir, peeps.