to NaNo or not to NaNo… that’s not really the question

As November looms, many people find themselves squinting tiredly at their schedules and thinking, do I really have time to write 50,000 words? Can I do it without neglecting my other responsibilities?

Some of you have full-time jobs, plus commitments to friends and family. Others, like me, are students whose academic work certainly feels like a full-time job. None of us can afford to slack off on those responsibilities, especially for the sake of a novel you might never publish.

But if you want to write, you do have to commit. You should be writing all the time — maybe not every single day, but certainly not one month out of the whole year.

So the question isn’t really, “Should I participate in NaNo this year?”

It’s, “How much should I participate?”

Realistically, not everyone can pump out 50k words in the busy month of November. That’s okay; don’t feel pressured to neglect the rest of your life for this. But not being able to write 50k doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate at all. Set a lower, more manageable goal, whether it’s 1k, 10k, or 30k. This means you can’t “win” NaNo, but the real point is to make writing a regular part of your life for a month — if you manage that, that’s all the victory you need.

If you’re even thinking of NaNo-ing, then you should. Don’t let the desire to win blind you to what’s really important — to write. Just to write. 


4 Days in Kyoto + 1 Day in Osaka

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-9-04-51-pmI miss Kyoto intimately — not in the way you miss a place, but in the way you miss a good dream the moment you wake up and feel yourself forgetting it.

Compared to the rest of the world, Kyoto seems to exist on an elevated level of beauty. It’s not only the way it looks, but also the way it feels — or maybe that was just the magic of autumn leaves, the chilly prelude to winter in the air.

Kyoto is a medium-sized city, filled with all the shopping streets, food options, and conveniences that come with the territory. It’s also retained its historical and cultural aesthetic, though — mostly because of the temples. Temples and shrines are everywhere; there are over 1600 in the city. You can literally* walk in any direction and you’ll bump into a temple eventually.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-9-03-27-pmThis city seems to have the best of both worlds — it’s modern and decidedly urban, but boasts plenty of green spaces, walking paths, beautiful architecture, and easy access to nature.

Did I mention that I miss it? I’m still not over Kyoto’s autumn. The colors. I swoon just thinking about it.

But since I won’t be getting anywhere near Kyoto for a long, long time, I’ll have to settle for reliving it via blogging.

Here’s what my itinerary looked like:

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Book Review: “Gilded Cage,” Vic James


I burn, not shine.

I did not expect to love this book, but god DAMN. Vic James has slain me. “Gilded Cage” — in defiance of its bland title and uninspiring cover — exceeded all my expectations. It’s one of those gems that reminds me of why I like YA lit so much in the first place.

The premise: In an alternate universe version of the modern-day UK, a “Skilled” (magical) ruling class presides over the un-Skilled, who are required to spend ten years of their lives as slaves. When the Hadley family decides to begin their slavedays, intending to spend those long years together, things go awry. Their teenage son, Luke, is assigned to the dreary and soul-crushing slave town of Millmoor, while his family goes to the luxurious Kyneston estate, tasked with serving the most powerful family in the country. But which is worse — open brutality, or beautifully adorned and concealed cruelty? Risking everything for the sake of struggle and resistance, or obedience in exchange for comfort?

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up days and down days

What I say: I’ve always had anxiety issues.

What I mean: I’ve lived my entire adolescent & adult life with low-key dread permeating my mind at every moment. I constantly feel like something is wrong or I’ve done something wrong, even when, in reality, everything is fine and I’m having a perfectly good day. On my worst days, it manifests in the form of physical symptoms, like headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, and shortness of breath. On good days, I still carry my anxiety in the space just above my belly but below my ribs, a hard, ever-present knot of tension and unease.

My experience probably sounds familiar to a lot of you. Anxiety gets called an epidemic for a reason: it can vary from person to person, but the one constant is that it’s widespread.

Before I made the decision to come to grad school, I knew I had to take my mental health into account. School is one of the biggest sources of stress. Grad school, which emphasizes self-directed learning, can be even trickier for someone whose anxiety means they have trouble motivating themselves. Could I handle it?

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An Independent Artist Just Kicked the Mainstream Comics Industry’s Ass

(c) Ngozi Ukazu, who can be found on tumblr.

Big-name comic book publishers Marvel & DC have been visibly struggling to pull in and retain new readers. That’s why webcomic creator Ngozi Ukazu’s killer success with her kickstarter campaign is such a big deal.

Ngozi set a goal of just over $30k to put her webcomic, “Check, Please!” into print. In about a week, she’s broken $250k. 

That is an incredible feat for a number of reasons:

  1. $220k above your goal is huge enough already, but on top of that, she still has over 20 days left in the campaign. Her funds are rising steadily.
  2. The entire comic is available to read online for free. Everyone who contributed is donating money to a story that they already have full access to.
  3. “Check, Please!” is not a comic with mass market appeal. It’s very niche — a sports story with m/m romance as the main plotline.
  4. Ngozi didn’t have to pour financial or marketing resources into this comic to make it a hit. It gained its huge fan following almost entirely by word of mouth.

It’s downright inspiring to see a solo artist achieve this kind of success. It proves you don’t need a big corporation or publisher backing you, and that consumers really will pay money for media they care about.

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You Can Always Go Home


One thing traveling has taught me, above all else, is that no matter how old I get I’ll never stop needing my mom.

I’m a fairly independent person. I left home for college at 18, and for the next five years, I never spent more than two or three consecutive months in my parents’ house. I’d visit on occasional weekends, and I’d spend most summers there. Then, when I went to Korea, I didn’t see my family in person for a year and three months.

In between my return from Korea and my recent departure to grad school, though, I moved back home and lived there again full-time, for eight solid months. Leaving after that was harder than ever. As you get older, you start to be more appreciative of time with your family, and you start to realize how special it is, in a way you didn’t when you were a teenager eagerly fleeing home for the glamor of university.

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Buddha, Blossoms & Miracles: 3 Not-to-Be-Missed South Korean Festivals

During my time in Korea, it seemed like not a week went by unmarked with a celebration or holiday of some kind. Or maybe I felt that way because everything was new and exciting; every event was a chance to learn something or make amazing memories.

Festivals in particular are a special experience. They’re vibrant, exciting, and fun — but if you take the time to research the history and context behind them, you often wind up with a better understanding of a place and its people.

So here’s a quick overview of three iconic Korean festivals, each well worth experiencing if you ever have the chance:

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On Authenticity (and Why it’s Okay to Just Be a Tourist)

wt2It’s like a secret code word among young travelers: “authentic.”

I liked Vietnam a bit better than Thailand,” said my coworker. “It just felt more authentic.”

Upon declaring my intention to visit Chiang Rai’s White Temple, my new friend at the hostel shrugged, and said: “I hated it. It wasn’t authentic at all; it’s not even a real temple.”

I didn’t expect there to be so many foreigners here,” said another backpacker who’d just come from Burma. “I was hoping for something more authentic.”

There’s a magical and alluring draw to the idea of experiencing a country’s true culture. You don’t want a packaged, polished farce; you want to see things from a different perspective, and learn, and grow. That’s understandable.

But a people’s culture is not there for foreigners to consume. That’s why those things that really are “authentic” have remained so – because they’re for people to live and not for others to gawk at.

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“Stranger Things” – On Slender Man and Storytelling


“Science is neat,” says a kind teacher to his rapt students, “but I’m afraid it’s not very forgiving.

This is the premise that drives the 2016 Netflix original series, “Stranger Things.” It’s about taking everyday chills and urban legends, exploring all the possibilities associated with them, and following those possibilities to the bitter end.

What gives a niche series like this one, a 1980s sci-fi/horror with child protagonists, such mainstream appeal? What makes it perfect for binge-watching? Why are so many people, from news outlets like the New York Times to big-name social media personalities, talking about it?

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