Friday, March 30, 2012

Fiction Friday: Thoughts on the Film Adaptation of THE HUNGER GAMES

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the book AND seen the movie, I suggest you stop reading this now and go do both. Then come back and read my blog.  Seriously...come back.

Also, I didn't realize how long this was until I'd finsihed writing it.  I think I'm kinda sorta passionate about The Hunger Games.  Sorry this is so long.

So it’s been a while since I was brave enough to see a movie on opening weekend, but I decided that I just couldn’t wait to see The Hunger Games. It was definitely the best book (and best series) I read last year. I haven’t been this excited about a film adaptation since Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  ...or maybe Harry Potter 7.

Overall, I think I liked The Hunger Games movie. At least, I definitely can’t say that I disliked it. It’s just that as I sat in the theater and the credits started to roll, I turned to my roommate and said, “It lacked something.” She nodded in agreement, but neither of us could immediately say what that “something” was. I had to take a couple days to sort out all my thoughts regarding the film adaptation of The Hunger Games.

First, the positives, and there are a lot of positives. I am one of those people who has to read the book before seeing the movie, but I am NOT one of those people who demands that every detail of a film adaptation be exactly like the movie. In fact, many of the changes in the structure of the film were brilliantly done.

In the book, everything is from Katniss’ perspective. It’s told in first person, present tense, which means we’re experiencing everything that Katniss experiences as she is experiencing it. Yes, there are flashbacks and inner dialogues, but the action of the story is always the immediate action that Katniss experiences. We don’t know what’s going on unless we’re living vicariously through Katniss.

I was curious to see how they would handle this in the movie. I was hoping they wouldn’t do a lot of voiceovers, having Katniss’ thoughts verbally project over things that were taking place. It might have added something, but I think it would have been annoying (and reminiscent of Bella-Babble from Twilight—shudder). They didn’t go that route. In fact, they didn’t even open the movie with Katniss, which surprised me. Instead, they opened with Caesar Flickerman and Seneca Crane talking about the Hunger Games.

I was confused by this tactic at first, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to be set up that way from the beginning. The filmmakers were able to communicate different aspects of the story without constantly putting us inside Katniss’ head. I thought it was actually kind of brilliant the way the filmmakers took the audience away from the arena to show what the announcers had to say about the actions that were taking place in the arena.

For instance, during the Tracker Jacker scene, I was starting to get nervous. If someone hadn’t read the book, how were they to know how dangerous Tracker Jackers are? Was there to be an out of place voiceover?  Was Katniss going to talk to herself or “stage whisper” to Rue? Was Glimmer going to go into a screaming monologue about the dangerous aspects of a Tracker Jacker sting as she was being stung to death? Were the filmmakers just going to go “Prisoner of Azkaban” style and just completely confuse anyone who hadn't read the book?  I had no idea how they were going to communicate the Tracker Jacker dangers—but they managed to do it well.  They took us out of the arena and had Caesar explain it.  Even if the delivery of the lines in that scene was a little obnoxious (which was probably done on purpose, because Caesar is obnoxious), I thought it was brilliant how they pulled it off.  There were several scenes in this movie that were embellished by Caesar’s announcements—it made sense to start the movie that way, as if the film audience were being treated to the show along with the citizens of the Capital.

In a way, I think that perhaps the film audience was meant to feel as though they were watching a reality show—connecting us with the audience in the Capital. America’s “reality shows” might not be pitting teenagers (or anyone else) against one another in fights to the death, but most of them are thick with false emotion, artificial drama, and writers’ tactics that draw us in to something that really isn’t reality at all. We’re too easily manipulated and too eagerly entertained. So consider this the “after school special” paragraph in this blog. We aren’t sick enough to be entertained by real kids fighting to the death, but we (myself included) are far too preoccupied with being entertained and catered to that we don’t pay attention to the “Districts” of the world. As long as we’re happy, the other people aren’t important. That’s the attitude of the Capital, and it’s one I find in myself far too often. I’m not at all sure if the filmmakers were trying to communicate that by leading into the movie with the “reality show” feel, but that’s what I took from it.  I think that's kind of the moral of the story....

I greatly appreciated that the film showed what went on in the Gamemaker room. I never really envisioned it while reading (because Katniss never saw it, we never did either), so it was interesting to see the filmmaker’s vision of it. It was also interesting (and maybe a little disturbing) to see how easy it was for the Gamemakers to develop torturous circumstances for the children in the arena—as if they weren’t real human beings.

I also liked the “notes” that Haymitch sent Katniss along with the parachutes (and I liked that the parachutes made distinctive sounds that were similar to wind chimes—made more sense than just a “metallic clunk” that could be anything). This was another brilliant way the filmmakers communicated important elements of the story without putting us inside Katniss’ head. Little details like that seem so simple, but they make a big difference in the understanding of the story. I really liked that.

The politics of the books (as well as the politics of reality) are confusing to me. I think I have a better grasp of them than most of the teenagers who have read them, but that’s not really saying much. But I really have grown to like the character of President Snow. I hated him/was afraid of him in the first two books, but that changed in Mockingjay, when I kind of realized that he and Katniss had some similarities. They both had an agenda. Even when their agendas were hopelessly threatened, they both fought and managed to “win,” at least on some level. In a way, President Snow’s character development was one of the most interesting of the series.

And I just have to say that I LOVED being able to see more of him in the movie. I appreciated the talks he had with Seneca (and I loved Seneca’s beard—if I were a guy, I’d totally get a beard like his). I think that my favorite line from the movie came from one of these scenes. I’ve only seen the movie once, so this is paraphrased, but I think President Snow said, “The only thing stronger than fear is hope.” Love it. I know where he was going with that—a little hope is good, but too much of it is dangerous. That’s not where my mind took it, but I doubt anyone wants to hear me gush on about Hope at this particular moment in time. Believe me, there will be plenty of that in future blogs.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the “extra” scenes with President Snow. I think the filmmakers were wise to include those. Not only were they interesting for this movie, but I think they laid some important ground work for the movies that will follow. I’m very interested to see how they continue to handle his character, especially as he relates to Katniss.

I also liked the "extra" scenes that showed Gale's reactions to what was going on in the arena.  I'm so TEAM PEETA that sometimes I prefer to pretend that Gale doesn't even exist, but the added scenes helped add to the "love-triangle" aspect of The Hunger Games story (which I'm glad was downplayed...just a little).  Liam Hemsworth was also very convincing in the role of Gale.  Nice and brooding...but not in an Edward Cullen sort of way.

For the most part, I appreciated the special effects. The “fire ball” scene was wonderfully intense! I was also highly impressed at how well Peeta camouflaged with the rocks and such. Seriously, I was amazed by that. I honestly thought that they would just leave that part out, but a very small part of me was hoping to see the camouflaged Peeta. I was not disappointed. Not at all. It was so much better than I thought it would be. And—sidenote—loved Effie’s makeup and clothes—futuristic with a Victorian feel! Perfect! I might want to be her for Halloween…maybe.

The muttations were a little fake-looking, and they weren’t at all as terrifying as the ones in the book (I was disappointed with that, albeit relieved because it would have been visually disturbing to actually see mutts that looked like dead Tributes—especially Rue!), but I have to admit I jumped a few times when they lunged out of the forest.

I also wasn’t thrilled with the chariot scene where Peeta and Katniss were “on fire.” The flames weren’t big or bright enough to impress me. It was good, but just not enough. And honestly, that’s kind of how I felt about the whole movie.

See, I think I finally figured out what it was that was lacking in this movie. For a while I thought it was just that I wasn’t satisfied with the connection between Katniss and Peeta. But the more I thought about it, I realized that was only a small part of it. I wasn’t satisfied with most of the relational connections in the movie. What the movie lacked, overall, was depth.

I came to this movie prepared to weep like a baby when Rue died. I have cried while reading that scene all three times that I’ve read the book. I even teared up a little when I first saw the girl who had been cast to play Rue. I was moved by how truly young and small she was. I compared her to several of the small preteen girls I know, and it broke my heart to think that anyone could ever think to make them fight to the death. So when I entered the theater, I prepared myself for some heavy tears.

Yet, when the time came, the emotion just wasn’t there. Maybe if I hadn’t been expecting it, it would have affected me differently, but I don’t think so. Katniss and Rue’s connection in the movie was substantial, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough. This was the same problem I had with Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. This was the same problem I had with Katniss and Prim’s relationship. This was the same problem I had with Haymitch’s relationship with Katniss and Peeta. It just wasn’t enough. Almost none of the relationships in the movie were quite enough.

I don’t think this was the fault of any of the actors. The vast majority of the actors in this movie were wonderful. Jennifer Lawrence did a phenomenal job as Katniss (and truly looked the part—she looked EXACTLY how I pictured her during the reaping scene, in her mother’s blue dress), but I think the director/writers tried to play up her “strong personality” too much. I understand that she does have a strong personality. She’s had to be strong; she’s had to be hard. But the Katniss I love from the book isn’t just a warrior. The filmmakers did show a little of her insecurities and conflict and such, but it just wasn’t enough. The tears she cried over Rue’s death were too little too late, and they just seemed almost out of place.   They couldn't find the right balance for her character.

Woody Harrelson was good as Haymitch, but I can’t help but think that he could have been absolutely brilliant if he had been given more to work with. He had a few good lines, a few good opportunities to show who Haymitch really is, but for the most part I just wasn’t convinced. I love Woody Harrelson and was really excited that he was playing Haymitch. I don’t think it’s his fault that I wasn’t happy with the portrayal.

Amandla Stenberg (Rue) was adorable, light, little, sneaky, sweet—everything that Rue was supposed to be. I just wasn’t convinced because the writers didn’t give her enough of an opportunity to shine.

And to be fair, I realize that this movie was over two hours long. There really wasn’t enough time to do justice to every character and every important event in the book. I am definitely not advocating the removal of the “extra scenes” (which I loved) in order to make room for more of the things that actually happened in the book. I just think that some things could have been done slightly differently. I don’t have any immediate suggestions. I simply think that what happened was that the writers (one of which was Suzanne Collins, the author of the books--which makes me a lot less eager to criticize the film's writers) and directors and editors attempted to communicate an emotionally powerful story in a brief span of time. Some things were undoubtedly cut. They had to make decisions on how to communicate certain things—which things to leave in, which things to leave out, which things to change and reinterpret. Their task was not at all easy.  They didn’t fail at ALL, but they fell short a little. And I’m not sure how it could have been corrected without greatly lengthening the time of the movie, but I’m hoping they figure it out by the time Catching Fire comes out. It was so close to being right—but it just lacked. It just wasn’t quite there yet.

Maybe a better soundtrack would help? A musical montage to communicate the passage of time as Katniss and Peeta hid out in the cave (with more kissing, or at least some believable signs of affection). That might have been disastrous. I don’t know…. It just needed more.

There were two portrayals that I truly enjoyed, that did not fall short. One of them really surprised me, but the other didn’t surprise me at all.

The one that surprised me was Lenny Kravitz’s portrayal of Cinna. When I heard that he was playing Cinna, I got angry. I had no idea that man could act. I just always thought of him as the guy who didn’t sing “American Woman” as well as “The Guess Who.” I had this picture of Cinna in my mind that greatly conflicted with the image I had of Lenny Kravitz. Yet, I was blown away at how well he did. Of course, I do believe the writers gave him a lot of good stuff to work with, but he was very convincing. Now, when I read The Hunger Games books, I’m probably going to picture him as Cinna. …and can I just say that I was SO relieved that they remembered to include the gold eyeliner. So important for Cinna!

The other actor that completely impressed me was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta! They gave him a lot to work with, as well, but the actor perfectly captured Peeta’s humility, winning personality, and loyalty towards Katniss. Honestly, Peeta is my favorite character from the series, and I was happy that he lived up to all my expectations. Katniss didn’t always impress me in how she related to him, but I was almost always impressed at how he acted and reacted. So Peeta! So perfect!

But overall, the characters, their relationships, the emotion…it just wasn’t there. It was almost there. So close. Just not close enough.

There are little nitpicky things I have, too. The filmmaker’s seemed to think it was important to add all this Appalachian feel to the movie—I even heard they specifically looked for actors from Kentucky.  But see, as a native Kentuckian (from central KY—from a county that’s technically considered to be on the very western edge of the Appalachian mountains, but really isn't Appalachian.  At all.), I know that Louisville (where Jennifer Lawrence is from) isn’t Appalachia.  Eastern Kentucky is really the only part of Kentucky that can be considered Appalachia.  District 12?  Especially the eastern EDGE of District 12?  That’s probably West Virginia, folks.  I’m just sayin’.  But none of that matters much, because the Appalachian thing didn’t work well.  Why? Because they attempted to pull it off and almost succeeded, but again—it just wasn’t enough.

Maybe if they’d had Taylor Swift sing some folksy songs DURING the movie instead of waiting till the credits…? I don’t know. Actually, I kind of wish they’d just stop trying. It doesn’t add that much, and there’s other more important stuff the filmmakers can work on without trying to be cute in adding “Appalachian flavor” that they obviously don’t understand.

I like that it was filmed around Asheville, NC, though. Those are “my” mountains in that movie.

Another little bitty nitpick? Yeah, I’m going to sound really petty for this, but it bothers me. I’m not upset about the fact that Peeta’s eyes are supposed to be blue, and in the movie they’re brown. That’s not a big deal. It doesn’t bother me. The brown eyed Peeta was really convincing. So I’m not one of those people who gets upset about minor details being wrong.

Except, it REALLY bothered me that Buttercup the cat wasn’t yellow/orange. Petty right? Well, I can’t help it. The cat was only shown for like half a second, long enough to hiss at Katniss, but it was a black and white cat. And this bothers me so much for two reasons: 1) What kind of a black and white cat is called “Buttercup”?, and 2) HOW HARD IS IT TO FIND AN ORANGE CAT, PEOPLE? Seriously…I could go out behind Walmart and find you twenty orange cats hanging out at the dumpsters. If I were making a film and needed an orange cat to hiss at the camera for a split second, I’m pretty sure I could find one. I wouldn’t feel the need to resort to some other color of cat. Orange cats aren’t an endangered species, people. Seriously? Seriously.

So, I guess if I had to summarize my thoughts on the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, I’d have to say that I really liked it, but it wasn’t enough. There was just something missing. I think they were so close to having it just right, and maybe they will figure things out while working on Catching Fire. Maybe.  ...and maybe I'll lower my expectations, too...though I doubt it.

I guess all I can say at this point is:

May the odds be ever in our favor….

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Purpose of Daffodils

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that I love daffodils. In fact, I love every yellow flower. Whether the flower is bright sunshiny yellow or a pale buttery yellow, there’s just something happy about yellow flowers. I suppose if I had to pick a favorite one, though, it actually would be the daffodil.

Daffodils are the flowers for March (did you know that months had flowers? now you do), which is fine by me. Although I’m not really all that happy about having been born in a month that so many other people have been born in, March really is the happiest time to have a birthday. My own birthday is two-three days before the actual start of spring, but usually nature already thinks spring is here. My birthday is near the start of my favorite season. My birthstone is the aquamarine, which is just gorgeous, in my opinion. And my favorite flower is also my birth month flower. But that’s not why it’s my favorite flower.

Daffodils come up in late February, in March, or sometimes in early April—whenever nature decides it’s time for spring to finally come around. Whatever the calendar says, or whatever the other flowers and trees do, I always wait for the daffodils. When the daffodils come up, it’s spring. The appearance of daffodils is a sign that the long winter is over (even if this past winter wasn’t too bad at all around here, thank the Lord) and that life will be renewed.

This, combined with the happy beauty of the color, is why daffodils (and yellow flowers in general) are a symbol of hope to me. Whenever I see yellow flowers, I can’t help but feel at least a little hopeful.

The other day I was driving down the road and I saw these huge flower beds filled with daffodils. They were everywhere. I smiled as I drove past, reveling in their simple beauty, drinking in the familiar feeling of hopefulness and joy. A few minutes later, however, I drove past a patch of grass where just a few scraggly, wind-blown daffodils had grown.

There were only two or three of them. One of them was bent over. All of them had broken leaves. But as I looked at them, I realized that these few flowers were more beautiful to me than the multitude of daffodils I’d seen only moments before. The plentiful daffodils were lovely, and they made me feel happy. But the few, tattered daffodils gave me a greater sense of joy and hope.

The battered daffodils said to me:

“The world is harsh, but we still stand.”

“We are small, but we are together.”

“We aren’t strong, but we were made for a purpose.”

“We are weak, oh, but life is still renewed.”

In comparison to these few, bent flowers, the plentiful daffodils seemed almost too much, almost garish. But the daffodil is a very unpretentious flower. The plentiful ones weren’t trying to outshine the others. Both the plentiful and the few flowers did just what they were supposed to do that day—they made me think about the One who made them.

Maybe if I were a photographer, I’d have stopped and taken pictures of those flowers. But even if I’d had a decent camera with me at the time, I wouldn’t have taken any photographs that would have done those flowers justice. I’m not a photographer. I’m a writer. But my job as a writer should perform the same function as a photographer’s job, or a painter’s job, or a musician’s job, or a janitor’s job, for that matter. Our purpose is to give glory to the One who made us.

Maybe we’re standing strong in a field alongside many others, shining and beautiful and radiant. Maybe we’re standing by ourselves, slumped over by the hardship of this world.

But there is hope.

Life is being renewed.

And we were made for a purpose.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Blahg: Getting Back on Track

A funny thing happens when the internet breaks.  Life pretty much stops.

So it doesn't really, but it feels that way.

Of course, the entire internet didn't break, but apparently the magical internet box in my apartment was struck by lightning or something.  As nothing else seemed to be damaged, and it was all plugged into the same power strip, I don't think it was lightning. 

...really, I suspect Voldemort.

A nice wizard from the school of cable craft and wizardry came and brought us a new magical internet box, but that wasn't until Thursday.  Our internet was down on Saturday night.  Until Thursday.  That's like...a long time, yo.

So I took that as a sign to take off a week from the blogging universe. 
I know, I know.  I missed you, too. 

What happened while I was away?

--I had a birthday.  It was excellent and adventurous.  You can read all about it (including my terrifying encounter with a giant praying mantis and my even more terrifying encounter with a dude at Walmart) here.

--I volunteered for a race with The Second Wind.  By "volunteered" I mean that I got in the way a lot and generally confused anyone who asked me questions, but it was a lot of fun and I learned some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes at racing events.

--I ran nine miles in one afternoon--my best yet.  I'm definitely getting there. 

--I finished reading A Million Suns by Beth Revis.  Can't wait till the final book in the trilogy comes out in January!!

--I gave blood.  It was kind of on an impulse.  I saw there was a blood drive.  I asked my boss if I could leave a little early so I could donate.  I was the last person to sign up and give--and there were no other donors there.  All of the workers were focused on me.  I was in and out in less than 45 minutes, which has got to be some kind of record.  I think the people were just tired and wanted to go home, so they didn't yell at me when I only spent five minutes at the "refreshment center."  They just shrugged and said, "If you feel okay, go home."  Given my awkward blood donation history, this most recent blood donation was pretty awesome.  I mean, as awesome as an experience can be when it involves being stabbed with needles.  But yeah, I'm pretty awesome at giving blood.  Just sayin'.

--I spent some quality time with some quality people.  I'm so blessed with friends (and their kids) !!!

--I saw "The Hunger Games" movie.  Expect to read more about that in this week's Fiction Friday blog.  I'll say no more for now.

--I probably gained back five pounds because I've been eating like a piggy.

My plans for this week:

--Getting back on track.

Yeah.  That's about it.  Seriously...the lack of internet thing threw my whole week off.  I need to get back on track with eating healthy.  I need to get back on track with editing.  I need to work on some job application stuff.  I need to just relax and spend some quality time with the Lord.  Honestly, I'm still struggling with putting my hope in other things besides Him.  I'm learning that renewing my focus, my mind, and my heart is a daily thing.  I need it, I need Him daily, moment by moment.

Well, happy Monday, and may the odds ever be in your favor. 

...or something like that.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fiction Friday: Favorite Literary Quotes

I think that if I had to pick just one quote in all of literature to be my absolute favorite, I’d probably be in trouble. There are so many literary quotes that I love, but here are some of my favorites:

“They’re funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you’re having them.” --Eeyore, The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne

“'Please, Aslan,’ said Lucy. ‘What do you call soon?’
‘I call all times soon,’ said Aslan.” –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis

“'There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter…. And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet…. But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants…. You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.’” --Mrs Whatsit, A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

“'Rat!’ he found breath to whisper, shaking. ‘Are you afraid?’
‘Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. ‘Afraid of Him? O, never, never! And yet-and yet-O, Mole, I am afraid!’” –The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

“'The Guide says that there is an art to flying,’ said Ford, ‘or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.’” –Life, the Universe, and Everything, Douglas Adams

“'I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,’ said Fledge.
‘Wouldn’t he know without being asked?’ said Polly.
‘I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse…. But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.’” –The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis

“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” --Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

“Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’
‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo, dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.’” –The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien

"'...If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly.'
'Then he isn't safe?' said Lucy.
'Safe?' said Mr Beaver....  'Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good.  He's the King, I tell you.'" --The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis

“'This must be a Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’” –The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

"There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds." --"In Memoriam A.H.H." Alfred Lord Tennyson

“'Oh, Aslan,’ said Lucy. ‘Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?’
‘I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan. ‘But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.’” –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis

"Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think." --Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

I can’t think of an all-time favorite quote. I think the quote that I can personally relate to the most, though, is one that is spoken by Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien:

“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf—mountains; and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet…. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after till the end of his days.”


What are some of your favorite literary quotes?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Where They're Coming From

(If you take offense at my ending the title of this blog with a preposition, feel free to call the Grammar Brute Squad, but keep in mind that I've been one of their favorite snitches for years.  They're apt to show me leniency for such a minor offense, especially since it's in my own blog.  In fact, they might even come after you for trying to rat me out.  The Grammar Brute Squad is funny like that.)

I had a hard run yesterday.  This blog is going to be short, mostly because I had a hard run yesterday.  You see, I'm actually writing this blog yesterday.  It will post today, because that's when I'm going to schedule it to be posted, but I'm writing it yesterday, which is actually my today, but by tomorrow it will be my (and your) yesterday. 

Hmm.  That made no sense.  I'm too tired to try again.

So I had a hard run yesterday.  After I finished my eight miles, I started cooling down by walking around the park at a VERY slow pace.  My body ached so badly (what they don't tell you is that it doesn't really hurt until you stop running) that I couldn't really walk any faster...unless I had to because something was chasing me.  But nothing was chasing me.  So I walked slowly.

As I was walking, this lady passed me.  I wondered what she thought of me (because I've been known to be overly self-conscious from time to time...or most of the time).  I was walking slowly, yet completely out of breath, hot, and sweaty.  I wondered if perhaps she thought that I was just pathetically out of shape (she probably didn't think this, and probably didn't even notice me, but I always wonder).  After all, she just saw me walking.  She didn't know I'd just spent the previous hour and 45 minutes or so running my legs off.  Uh, not literally.

It made me think that it's often too easy to judge people when we don't have any clue about where they're coming from (go ahead...summon the Grammar Brute Squad...I dare you).  We get upset with rude people.  We look down on someone whose behavior is self-destructive.  We judge based on appearances and first impressions.  We don't stop and think about why they might be looking or acting that way.  We don't stop and think about what might have happened to them before we've encountered them.  We don't think about people's stories.

At least I don't. 

But you're probably a better person than I am.

And I'm going to just go ahead and schedule this to post tomorrow...which is actually my today...and go to bed now so you can read this after I've woken up again on my tomorrow...which is your today.  ...though right now I feel as though I could sleep about a year.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Blahg: Priorities

This week has been really good, especially compared to some recent weeks.  The difference is that I've kind of stopped worrying about everything so much. 

I've reviewed the list of goals I made for 2012.  Need a refresher?  I did.

2012 Goals:

--Get website up and running (and preferably growing)
--Complete a full edit of second novel
--"Run" (waddle/jog) a half marathon
--Record at least one music cd
--Write at least one encouraging note to a different person for every week of this year
--Read through the entire Bible again
--Learn at least one more knitting stitch
--Get back to a comfortable size six pant size

I'm doing well on some of these goals.  I've already gotten back to that size six--and as of this morning's weigh in, I've reached that unwritten goal, too!  I've registered and begun training for that half marathon!  I'm slightly ahead of schedule on my Bible reading plan.  I've only just finished editing chapter two of the second novel, but at least I'm doing SOMETHING with that. 

Other things, I'm not doing well on...AT ALL...and I was getting discouraged.  But I'm learning that there's no reason to worry about it.

For instance, that website I wanted to get started LAST year?  It's not anywhere close to being ready.  And that's not 100% my fault.  I'm dependent on the help of someone else, and that person has had a lot going on.  I was worried about it, but not anymore.  In fact, I came to the realization this week that I haven't had time for this website, and I'm not just talking about getting it started.  If this website were up and running, I currently would not have time to devote to it.  If this website were up and running, it would not be as good as it could be because I wouldn't have time to give it proper attention.  So, in a weird way, it's a blessing that it hasn't come together yet.  I have full confidence that it will, one way or another, come together.  I just realize that it's not time for it to happen yet.  When it happens, I'll be ready.  I think....  At least I'll be more ready than I am now.

I'm not trying to justify procrastination, but there are several goals that I just don't have time for right now.  I've pretty much given up on my goal of writing an encouraging note to at least one person every week.  I tried, but didn't even make it three weeks into the year.  Why?  Because it felt forced.  Because I was exhausted with everything else I was doing that when I sat down to write the letter, I couldn't come up with any words that didn't sound generic.  So you know, it wasn't a horrible idea, and maybe I'll attempt something like that later.  But this year, I'm not writing an encouraging note a week.  That doesn't mean I'm not writing encouraging notes; when the mood strikes me, I will.  It's just not something that I'm making a point to do every week, anymore.

I haven't recorded any music yet.  Not sure when I will.  I'm dependent on someone else, but I haven't made any real steps towards contacting the people I need to contact.  I'm not even sure what I'm waiting for on that...I guess I'm just a coward.  Or too busy.  Or both.  At the same time.

I also haven't learned any other knitting stitches, but I'll save that one for next fall and winter (AKA knitting season).  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  It's just not that crucial.  But it could be fun!

Right now, I'm trying to learn how to prioritize.  It's a hard lesson.  With almost a quarter of the year gone (really? really.), it's time to start buckling down.  But yeah, I only have so much time with which to do things.  Part of me thinks I just have too many goals, and maybe I do.  Maybe I have a good number of goals, but I just need to learn how to work on one thing at a time.  It's hard to learn how to swallow a whale.  You have to take it one bite at a time.  I get overwhelmed and try to do too many things at once.

Life isn't about checking things off a list.  Life is about living.  The things I want to accomplish in 2012 are good things, but if I don't accomplish all of them, or if I don't accomplish them as quickly as I want to accomplish them, then that is not going to ruin my entire life.  What has been making my life more stressful lately isn't the goals themselves, but the way I get myself worked up over them.

Is it important for me to keep a fairly consistent running schedule?  Yes, but if I miss one of my long runs for a week b/c of scheduling issues or weather, it's not the end of the world.  Is it important for me to edit this novel?  Yes, but if I'm exhausted at the end of the day from working and running, then it's not going to kill me if I go to sleep instead of working on it.  Is it important for me to get the website started and record a cd?  Yes, but I need to give those things over to God instead of getting upset because they aren't totally in my control.

I've got only so much time.  We all only have so much time.  Work is important.  Doing important things is important (is that too much of a "duh statement"?).  But honestly, sometimes I just forget to settle down and enjoy life. 

This week:

--I want to breathe more and stress less
--I want to make an effort to truly enjoy the people God has put into my life
--I want to edit another chapter of my book
--I want to keep up with my running schedule, which includes another 8 mile stretch.  So close to that 13(.1) miles now!
--I want to finish rereading The Hunger Games
--I want to apply for a full time job for the fall (I don't want to say much about it on the blog yet, but please be in prayer as I make steps towards a job change)
--I want to end my strict calorie restriction with a GINORMOUS piece of birthday cake (or some other totally frivolous dessert(s)) before starting my less strict calorie restriction (AKA weight maintenance)

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fiction Friday: Book Review: "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis

As I am a fan of both science fiction and the Beatles, you might assume that I'd like a sci fi YA novel that takes its name from a Beatles song.  You would be correct in that assumption.  Although I don't really like that particular Beatles song, Beth Revis has penned an exciting dystopian-style science fiction which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Across the Universe centers around two main characters: Amy, a teenager who has been cryogenically frozen so that she can travel with her parents to colonize a new planet (which is so far away that it will take 300 years to get there), and Elder, a teenager who is being trained under the current leader, Eldest, to lead the people on board the spaceship Godspeed, which is the same ship on which Amy and her parents are traveling--as cargo.. The story is told in first person, present tense (which has recently become one of my favorite voices), alternating between the perspectives of Amy and Elder. At first, I was annoyed by the switching of perspectives--it slowed the plot (at first), and was otherwise just slightly confusing. After finding the rhythm, however, I was able to follow and greatly enjoy the story that Revis told through her two main characters.  It added to her story by telling it from both perspectives, and it was interesting how she handled different situations through those two perspectives.

When Amy is unfrozen (and nearly killed in the process) fifty years ahead of schedule, her existence threatens the ideal society that Eldest has maintained, but Elder befriends her. Together they try to figure out who is trying to unfreeze and potentially murder those who have been frozen, and also discover the truth behind the lies that have governed the ship for decades.

Honestly, for me, it's hard to go wrong with science fiction, but it is possible. I enjoy science fiction only if the characters are believable and interesting (even if they're aliens, they've got to be "real"). Revis' characters were brilliant, three-dimensional, and "perfectly flawed." I could see their behaviors, attitudes, and actions as being something anyone might display, given their circumstances. In all honesty, one of her villains was slightly over-the-top, but the gradual development and revelation of this character was one of the more interesting aspects of the book. I especially appreciated that Revis' darker characters showed great humanity, while her protagonists displayed believable flaws. The character development made this story all that more enjoyable.

I was also impressed by the mystery she unraveled throughout the story. There were a few things I had guessed, but she managed to genuinely surprise me in the end. The story ended on an open-ended, yet satisfying note. I am looking forward to reading the sequel, A Million Suns, which I already have on reserve from the library! I just wish the third book were coming out sooner than next year, but it will be exciting to have to wait for a book again. I haven't really done that since Harry Potter.

I will caution that there is some profanity and a lot of mildly graphic sexual imagery in this book. I am extremely sensitive to graphic imagery in writing because the words never leave my head. The imagery in this book was not enough to bother or disturb me.  The sexual references served to illustrate some of the problems of the society aboard Godspeed.  While I'm not sure the references and imagery were absolutely necessary, they definitely did not detract from the story in any way.  I would also caution that there is some depressing material in the story that might upset or disturb younger readers.

I was pleased and intrigued to find that there were some references to Amy's character having faith in God, although I'm not sure that her choices and lifestyle would always reflect that. The point was made a couple of times that Elder (and none of those living on the ship--who were not cryogenically frozen) did not believe in God. A very minor conflict between Amy and Elder was noted in Across the Universe, and I'm interested in knowing if and if so, how Revis will expound on this conflict in the sequels. I doubt she mentioned it without having some sort of purpose for it later--but we'll see!

I would definitely recommend Across the Universe to older teenagers and adults, but would encourage younger readers to wait a few years. This was an excellent, fun, and thought-provoking book!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hoping in the One Who Renews My Strength

A year ago, I could not run half a mile without feeling like I was going to die.  I know it was a year ago, because I just looked it up.  I posted this blog on March 10, 2011, in which I stated, and I quote, "I have a feeling I'm not going to be able to physically run a 5K."

That reminds me of all those times when I told people that I didn't want to even bother trying to lose weight because with my body structure, I'd never be able to fit in anything smaller than a size ten.  I currently wear a size six.

And I have run a 5K.  Two of them (actual races, not just the distance...I've run that distance LOTS of times).

I've also run a 10K.

Yesterday, I ran 8.1 miles.  I'm 5 miles away from running a half-marathon.  And today I bit the bullet and finally registered for one in mid-to-late May.  The race is taking place where my sister lives, which means I can visit family and run my legs off all in one fun-filled weekend! 

Anyway, I'm not saying any of that to brag on myself.  I was happy being a speed-walker who thought running was for the crazies.  Now, I am one of the crazies!   My introduction for running was seemingly (but not at all) by random coincidence.  I just wanted to run a 5K that my boss was sponsoring (meaning I had free registration).  I never meant to actually become a runner.  I never meant to actually enjoy running.  If you had told me a year and a half ago that I would be training for a half-marathon, I'd have laughed at you.  Now, I'm the one who's laughing.

I'm laughing because God has the greatest sense of humor, and because He's very gracious to me.  Just as I was starting to get really into running, a sports ministry ( was starting up through some triathletes at my church.  I, Ruth Campbell, the most uncoordinated, non-athletic person alive (a bit of an exaggeration, but not that much of one), found myself involved in a SPORTS ministry.  It's hilarious.  It's a hilarious, wonderful, awesome, beautiful, crazy example of how God proves me wrong all the time.  I don't think I'll ever be a fast runner (but I'm learning to never say never), but the fact that God has brought me from where I was to where I am now is extraordinary.  My God is extraordinary!

Yesterday, as I was running my 8(.1) miles, there were several moments where I just lifted my head up towards the blue, blue sky and raised my hands in the air.  I was at a public park, but I didn't care who saw me.  Yesterday was more than just a workout, and it was more than just training.  It was worship.  My hope was in the Lord, and He was renewing my strength.  And I don't know how well I'll do in this half-marathon I've signed up for, but I plan on finishing with my heart and lips full of praise for the God who is able to do more than I could ever ask or imagine through me. 

It kind of makes me bold enough to try to do other things that are difficult or even, from my perception, impossible for me to do.  I'm not strong.  I'm not wise.  I'm not all the things the world says I'm going to have to be if I'm to accomplish my dreams.  "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will mount up with wings as eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31  All things are possible with God.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Blahg: Learning Where to Look

The other day at the drop-in center, we had a kid who could only speak Spanish.  Since I had SIX semesters of Spanish (two in high school and four in college), you'd think that wouldn't be a problem.  You'd think that I could actually speak and understand the Spanish language.  Not so much.  Still, since the other worker there had only taken French, I was suddenly the interpreter.

I spent most of the morning saying, "No comprendo." 

But I understood some of what he said.  For instance, there was a time when the kid climbed the climbing wall (it's only about 6-7 feet high and well padded underneath, so the kids use it without assistance).  He was so proud of himself that he loudly, insistently exclaimed, "MIRAME!  MIRAME! MIRAME! MIRAME!"  I know what that means.  "Look at me!"

My attention was on another child at that moment, so when I finally heard him shouting, I jokingly shouted back, "I'M LOOKING AT YOU!"  It took me a few seconds to remember that he didn't understand English.  And my Spanish is so bad I didn't know how to properly translate.  So I said it in English again, even though he couldn't understand.  "I'm looking at you."

The past few weeks have been hard for me.  I've been burned out.  I've been frustrated.  And I've just basically been ready to throw the towel in on everything that I'm doing.  Part of me is shouting "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!" and I feel like God either can't hear or can't understand.  Really, it's the other way around.  He's been saying, "Hey.  I see you, kid," only I've been the one who can't understand. 

It's because I've not been looking at Him.  I've been looking at my circumstances.  I've been looking at other people and what they've accomplished.  I've been looking at my failures.  I've been looking at myself, hoping to provide for my own needs in the midst of everything that's going on.  And I feel inadequate.  I feel discouraged.  I feel like I've wasted my life.  I feel like there's no way out of all the things I have going on, out of all the situations I have that are less than ideal.

God isn't screaming.  He seldom does.  He's usually pretty quiet, sitting over in the corner, waiting for me to get done throwing my tantrums.  Then, when I'm quiet, I hear Him.  "Hey, kid.  I see you.  Now.  Look. At. Me."

The Israelites wandered around in the desert for 40 years because they rebelled against God.  What was the last straw, the time when God said, "Okay, you know what?  Your kids will see it, but your generation isn't going to see the Promised Land"?  It was when God wanted to give them land, but the Israelites were afraid because of the people who lived there.  God had delivered the Israelites from the oppressive Egyptians.  The Israelites had seen God part the waters of the Sea of Reeds (or Red Sea).  God had given the Israelites water from stones and manna from heaven.  After all of this, the Israelites still didn't believe that God could provide for them in the midst of their circumstances.  They were afraid.  They trusted in their own strength, which meant they didn't have much to trust in at all.

Maybe it is time for me to start looking for other employment.  Maybe it is time for me to make some changes.  I don't think it's at all wrong for me to start that process.  But in the past couple of weeks, I've just talked myself into that being the only solution to my messed up life.  Though I love my jobs, I'm overworked, underpaid, and have little time to work on my writing.  I got myself all worked up and started talking myself into believing that the only way out would be to find a different, full time job, and this is a problem because I don't even know what I want to do for a living besides what I've been doing.  But I felt that I couldn't keep going, couldn't figure things out.  And I panicked.  I wanted to take matters into my own hands and rid myself of the circumstances that make my life difficult.

...but maybe what I need to do is stop worrying about what other people think about me and my current situations.  Maybe I need to stop worrying about not having enough time to do things as quickly as I would like to do them.  Maybe I need to stop looking so much at myself; maybe I need to stop trusting in myself.  Because that's obviously not working....

I don't know if God has a job change in store for me or not.  What I do know is that He's going to give me grace for the situations that I'm in, whatever those situations happen to be.  They might not always be what I or the rest of the world sees as ideal, but it's going to be enough.  That's the promise He's made to me, and if I'm looking at Him instead of myself and the situations I'm in, I'm going to believe that promise.  I'm going to trust in Him.  I'm going to have enough. 

Things I have accomplished this year:

--I met the goal of being able to comfortably wear a size 6 again.  Now to learn how to maintain my current weight...
Things I'm working on:

--Continue half-marathon training.  Not going well, per se, but it's going.

--Continue editing second novel.

--Look at first novel again.  Figure out what I need to do before submitting it to agents again (this is going to be a process, I think).

--Sleep, eat, pray, live, breathe.  It's not that all the things I have going on aren't important, it's just that sometimes I make them more crucial than they need to be.

"...You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed...."  --Jesus (Luke 10:41-42)

Look at Him.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fiction Friday: Thoughts on the Film Adaptation of Breaking Dawn, Part One

(Spoilers Ahead! If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, you might not want to read this. You’ve been warned.)

It was my full intention to wait until Part Two of Breaking Dawn was out on DVD before renting and viewing both parts. However, the other day when I came home, I found that my roommate had rented Part One from Redbox. Since I had nothing better to do (insert hollow laugh here), I went ahead and watched it.

I’m about to make a mistake that a lot of wanna-be authors make. I’m about to criticize a popular book (in fact, a popular book series) on my blog, which might just get me black-balled by some literary agents and publishers (but then again, Jodi Reamer, Stephenie Meyer’s agent, already rejected me—her assistant sent me the nicest rejection response I’ve ever received, though!). Maybe it would be wiser to live by the mantra, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” –Thumper, Disney’s Bambi

Too bad I’m a bigger fan of Thumper’s other famous quote, “Eating greens is a special treat. They give long ears and great big feet. But it sure is awful stuff to eat.”

Moving along now….

It has been a while since I read the book, Breaking Dawn, and honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll ever take the time to read it again. I went through a brief but glorious “Twihard” phase a few years ago, right about the time the novel Breaking Dawn came out. I couldn’t get enough of the books during the first read. By the second read, I thought they were good, but they had some obvious problems. By the third read, I thought they were laughable. Don’t get me wrong. Stephenie Meyer is a really good writer. Her biggest problem is that she needs to learn to edit, and dare I say that someone out there in the publishing world should have caught on to that before publishing her hundreds of pages of “Bella-Babble.” The Twilight books are not the worst thing ever written, but they’re all sparkle (any vampire puns are unintentional, I assure you) and no shine. They’re fun books, and there is nothing wrong with reading just for fun—but I prefer reading books that can both be fun and have depth. I have enjoyed Twilight and will continue to enjoy Twilight (in small doses), but I don’t take it at all seriously. In fact, I find the movies comical—especially the first one. I’ve actually had a couple parties where all my friends came over and we MST3K’d the crap out of the film version of Twilight. Good times.

Well, the movies have gotten progressively better since the first cheesy film. As movies go, Breaking Dawn didn’t suck (was that another vampire pun?). As far as I can remember, it was pretty darn close to the book. I even remember some of the lines being word-for-word the same. They beefed up the action in a way that made for better visuals. Most of the love scenes were paced well. I also appreciated the way the filmmakers worked some of the musical themes (and at times, even the same songs) from the other three movies into scenes in Breaking Dawn. Even though the latest film in the series is so much better made than the first film, the use of music and imagery from the first film tied the series together in a really good way. I’m actually looking forward to seeing if they continue this trend in the second part.

I have to admit at this point that Breaking Dawn: Part One actually made me cry.

Hold your horses. Don’t get carried away. Let me ‘splain.

I’m a writer. I’ve written novels. I’ve written novels, (and edited them a lot) and I hope to get them published. I would love to have some of them made into movies. My favorite part of watching the credits of ANY film adaptation of a novel is seeing that “Based on a novel by…” credit. It’s my favorite part because I dream of the day when I’ll see a film credit that says, “Based on a novel by A. R. Campbell.” I have a feeling that if that ever happens, when I first see it, I’ll be laughing and crying at the same time.

Well, during the wedding scene in Breaking Dawn Part One, as Bella was walking down the aisle, the camera drifted across the faces of all the people who had been important in Bella’s life. There was her family, her friends from school, …and this lady. The camera froze for a full second or two on this lady. I looked at the lady and understood that she was important, but I couldn’t remember why. I’m glad I was watching at home, because I skipped back and watched the scene again so I could figure out who the lady was.

As the camera froze on her again, I realized who she was. Stephenie Meyer. The author of the books. The look on her face was just amazing—she was looking at an interpretation of one of her characters, a character that was no doubt as important to her as a friend, perhaps even as important to her as a child. She was watching her character come to life, walking through an interpretation from a scene in her story. The combination of that joyous, wondrous look on Meyer’s face and the realization that she was an important person in Bella’s life, so important that they gave her that one brief scene in the movie—that’s what brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t really the movie, but the poignant moment where an author had the unique ability to be inside her own story—if only in a souped up Hollywood sense.

…moving on again…

There were, of course, things I didn’t like about the film. Most of these things had to do with the fact that I’m basically over Twilight. Watching Edward and Bella “be in love” really doesn’t make for good entertainment, at least not for me. I’m sure there are still several people out there who eat that stuff up, and well, I guess this film is better suited for them. Most things were done well, but it didn't personally entertain me.
The acting was not the best I’ve seen, and I have a feeling that it has little to do with the actual actors. I’ve seen most of the actors in other films, and they’ve done well. I recently watched Robert Pattinson in Water for Elephants, and was pleasantly surprised by his believable performance. Twilight’s directors haven’t really thought much outside the box since that crazy director lady on crack Catherine Hardwicke set the standard for cardboard angst acting. There were some better performances than others. Taylor Lautner is perfect for the role of Jake (but then, he has something to work with). Billy Burke has always done a wonderful job (TEAM CHARLIE)! Other than that, I just think there are a lot of good actors who don’t get much of a chance to shine, as well as a handful of really crappy actors who take up far too much screen time for my taste (Jessica's wedding speech made me want those fifteen seconds or whatever of my life back).

I also have to say that the “Wolf Council” scene (if you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about) was probably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in any movie. The Twilight films have never done a good job with canine CGI. The wolves looked fake. I can handle a fake CGI wolf, though. The thing that made the whole scene laughable was not the way the wolves looked; it was the way they sounded. Sam and Jake had this “show-down” that I’m sure was meant to be suspenseful and perhaps even scary. Me? I laughed through the entire scene. “I SNARL am the SNARL grandson of SNARL Ephraim Black SNARL blah SNARL blah blah SNARL.” It was so horribly done, but it made for some good comic relief between the "Edward and Bella love each other forever! WE GET IT!" scenes.

I do have to give kudos (not the candy granola bar, calm down) to the people who did Kristen Stewart’s makeup and special effects magic. I had absolutely no idea that she could look even more anorexic than she already does. I mean, seriously. The girl already looks like she could stand to eat a cheeseburger—or twelve. They managed to make her look even thinner. And you know, if you think about it, it probably sends a good message to teenage girls: if you’re too thin, you’ll make your vampire lover feel guilty. I kid! I kid! Seriously, I really do think the special effects were done well, and moreover, I feel that the filmmakers did a good job with the imagery. They clearly communicated that her thinness was unnatural, that she was deathly sick (or being starved by her unborn vampire halfling child—same same). …but for real, Stewart. Eat a cheeseburger.

Speaking of the unborn vampire halfling child, I also appreciated the Pro-Life message in the book and film. I mean, it was a really bizarre Pro-Life message, but it was Pro-Life nonetheless. I like that Bella sacrificially loved her unborn child, willing to give her life to keep the baby safe. I like that Rosalie was so protective of the child, getting angry when the others called it a “fetus.” I like that Edward was able to read the thoughts of the child, communicating that unborn vampire halflings are people, too.

And another good moral message from Breaking Dawn: Don't sleep with your vampire lover until you're married.  And by "sleep with," I mean "have sex."  But it's perfectly okay for your vampire lover to make out in bed with you, then later watch you while you sleep.  That's perfectly moral and not at all creepy.  Riiiight.

All in all, I did enjoy the film. I won’t be rushing out to purchase it or anything, but it wasn’t a waste of time at all. It’s just Twilight, and well, it is what it is. I enjoy it. I think it’s fun. But when it’s over, it’s over. I go back to my life and don’t think about it…

…except for when I start growling in my ridiculous fake wolf voice, because that is some funny stuff....