Archive for the ‘kind of like news’ Category

Fly Away

Posted: May 1, 2012 in kind of like news

I don’t need words I need the pain to go away.
Don’t tell me I need to speak and not fight
I am a bird and I will only take flight.
I am a Raven forever more.
Not only a name, something I have always searched for.
He can still haunt me.
But he can no longer hurt me.
– excerpt from Fly Away, Raven, Fly Away (by Ravyn            )

 Ravyn prefers to fade into the background.  Dressed mostly black, she hides the only bit of color on her t-shirt with her long, brown hair.  An animal print skirt tiered, with a slight ruffle, smooth the edges of what might be considered a harsh, gothic look.  Ravyn’s co-worker described the first time she met her, “She sat by herself.  Her hair was stringy and covering her face, like she was hiding.”  That was a year ago.  Today, her silky hair is tucked neatly behind her ears; reddish highlights emphasize the pewter eyes and pale skin.  Under the shade of trees on the Starbucks patio, she sits.  Crossing her legs and bringing them tight against the chair, she tells her story.  It is thick with fear and pain but like any good story, there is a savior who changes the plot line of an otherwise dark tale.

Ravyn                   is the self-published author of “                         ,” a fantasy book that tackles the issues of modern day slavery.  A topic she is well versed in and an advocate against.  She writes articles for her website, “                                  ” as well as “                                    ,” often giving voice to kids who are abused or in slavery.  Ravyn is 25 years old and one of the youngest members of the Arizona Authors Association.

Ravyn started writing poetry when she was 11 years old.  It was her outlet. She would write about dark things, being alone, feeling stupid in school and monsters that come in the night.  But underneath her stories, there was a cry for help.  Her poetry was praised by her peers and certain teachers, but the content of her poems where never questioned or deemed inappropriate for her age.  Because of this, Ravyn began to question if her fears where legitimate.  Maybe her father’s anger towards her was ok.  Her mother’s bruises, the holes punched in the wall, and the monster that visits in the night must all be ok.  Her cry for help went unheard.

Ravyn looks at the ground or to her left side as she talks about the past that still haunts her.  “I’m sorry; I’m not very good at eye contact.  That’s something my counselor is telling me to work on.”  With that, her gray eyes settle on mine for a brief moment, then fix on the ground as she begins to speak of her uncle.

After the divorce, Ravyn and her sister split their time between their mother’s apartment and their father’s house.  Their uncle moved in with her father about this same time.  Her voice becomes quiet as she tells how he would visit her late at night, at first, just to talk. “I don’t know how old I was when he started touching me.  It’s hard to remember ages.  Maybe 10 or 11 years old,” Ravyn says.  Like most people who live through a trauma, there are fragments of memories, little pieces that don’t fit together.  Ravyn told her father about her uncle’s early morning visits, about how he touched her in “the bathing suit area.”  He didn’t believe her and was angry at the accusations.  “He’s your uncle.  He wouldn’t do something wrong,” Ravyn remembers her father saying.  Her father’s temper made it clear that her silence was expected.

Although her home life was full of fear, she continued to write.  Through her stories, this shy girl that felt so alone, made new friends.  They liked her for who she was and encouraged her writing.  She began to build a life.  Ravyn, with growing confidence, tried to write what she was going through with plain, graphic words.  She couldn’t do it.  Reliving the horror was too much for her. This time, she found her hero in the form of a new character, “Hunter.”  “He is my saving grace,” she smiles and catches my eye.  “It seems weird to even talk about things like that . . . I understand he’s not real but at the same time, he was always there for me.”  Hunter gave her strength.  She began to write about what was happening to her, but it felt like Hunter’s story, not hers.  She no longer felt alone.  Hunter was strong and fought back.  He was fast.  “He was everything I had ever wanted to be,” Ravyn says.

As her writing progressed, her teacher and school counselor began to ask questions.  What are these monsters that come in at night?  Did something happen?  And finally, after so many written words and hidden meanings, Ravyn was able to tell her own story and get the help she needed.

Ravyn’s father and uncle are no longer involved in her life but the monsters still haunt her.  Her counselors continue to work with her as she faces her fears on a day-to-day basis.  When asked what word she would use to describe herself, she replies, “Warrior.”  She spoke of other words, victim, survivor, recovering . . . but it is “warrior” that makes her feel strong.  It is ‘warrior” that is synonymous with the character Hunter, who is her self described “guardian angel.”

Today, Ravyn fights against the issues of child slavery and child sex-trafficking both in her stories and in life.   She volunteers her time at a safe house for sex-trafficked girls called, StreetLight USA, here in Phoenix, AZ.  She feels a bond with these girls who are misunderstood, alone and abused by the people who say they love them.

Ravyn fights fear every day but is thankful for the blessings her writing has given her. Through her blogs, website and public readings, her stories have given her friends, a purpose and the love of a special young man she met through her online writing.  He is someone who knows her story and has been a constant for almost 10 years.  Today, she looks forward to a future with someone to love, and a guardian angel that continues to watch over her.

*                        are used for privacy in place of names.

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What’s all the Hype?

Posted: April 3, 2012 in kind of like news

Today, when I checked my email, there was an ad from the Microsoft Store that said, “Get The Hunger Games limited-edition PC today.” I wondered if the author of “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins, got the same ad in her inbox.  If so, was she amazed that her writing could be so popular as to have Bill Gates take notice and recognize a good business venture in creating this signature computer?

Bill Gates isn’t the only one to take notice of this latest best selling Young Adult (YA) book.  “The Hunger Games” is the first novel in the Hunger Games trilogy.  Since its initial release in 2009, parents, teens and college students have been reading and talking about the believability of Katness Everdeen (apparently there was no better name at the moment), the main character and Collins post apocalyptic world.  Not unlike Cormac McCarthy’s, “The Road,” we aren’t sure how the end of the world comes about — and really, it doesn’t matter. This new world has been organized into 12 districts that surround the Capitol city, Panem.  Each year, the districts hold a lottery to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to perform in the Hunger Games, kill or be killed.  Like all good game shows, it is televised for all the districts to enjoy.  Reminiscent of reality T.V. at its best.  Gladiator’s anyone?

The book begins with the introduction of Katniss Everdeen who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Primrose, in representing District 12 in the Hunger Games.  Also selected from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son whom Katniss knows from school.  Thus begins their fight for survival.  Of course it isn’t a real YA novel without a love triangle.  Katniss has to decide between the baker’s son and her best friend Gale, who is waiting back in District 12 with the promise that he would watch over her family.  Fortunately, this isn’t made into something syrupy and annoying. Well, maybe a little but not as much as some previous YA hits that shall remain nameless.  The romance is used to spur on the plot in a believable way, while building tension for the reader as well as increasing the ratings of the games.   The rest of “The Hunger Games,” is a violent, fast-paced novel that holds constant suspense for the reader as well as for the rich, bored people of the capitol.  See, something for the guys too.

The popularity of this book is being compared to Stephenie Meyer’s, “Twilight Series,” and the Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling.  But there are some distinct differences from that of the previously named bestselling books.  And those differences are having an impact on the YA generation of today.

The Hunger Games hits a cord with the youth of today with the image of dichotomy between the wealthy and the working middle class.  The underlying theme of survival is not unlike what people are feeling today as “big brother” watches with seemingly detached amusement.  What makes this book stand out for Tristan Flattery, a 19 year-old student at Paradise Valley Community College and the Puma Press photo editor, is the believable world that was created and the flawed but likeable Katniss.  “She seems so real.  I can put myself in her place,” Flattery says.  Even though we don’t know what a post apocalyptic world looks like, we can see and feel the setting that Collins has created.  Why?  Flattery says its because it closely resembles our own.

With society’s love for video games, violence and reality T.V. it isn’t so far fetched.  The youth today want to find their place in this world and they’re willing to fight for what is important, just like our heroine.  They don’t need anymore Hollywood versions of young love and they don’t believe in the magic of Hogwarts.  They’ve seen too much of the real world.

In contrast, there are some scenes that make you go, “hmmm.”  Although help does fall from the sky for certain “sponsored” contestants of the Games, and the government seems to lack a certain authority, the reader tends to overlook these things.  It’s like the reality show we can’t stop watching.  We are both disgusted and amused by what society has become and in doing so we accept anything.

Maybe the Young Adult generation will see that it’s OK to accept what might be viewed as magic.  After all the bad stuff we’ve seen in our society, we know that miracles still happen.  People do fight and survive.  They love their families and maintain friendships.  They think for themselves and make choices — that’s life.  Maybe there’s hope for all of us. And with “The Hunger Games” movie being released to theatres on March 23rd, we’ll see if Katniss and the world of Panem will make us care enough to see what happens next.

On Feb. 24 – 26, I joined a handful of students from Paradise Valley Community College, to attend this year’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference at Arizona State University.  This was a new thing for me, a virgin voyage into the world of obsessed, passionate and crazy writers.

The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference, in its ninth year, serves as a source of ideas, advice and inspiration for both returning writers and novices like myself.

By the second morning of the conference, I realized that for me, there was an underlying theme to the weekend — genre busting.  I was beginning to learn as much about myself as the craft of creative writing.  I could see that I don’t like to be boxed in by genre.

Much of the talk was about blurring the lines between art, fiction, music, non-fiction and poetry.

For instance, Adam Johnson, an associate professor of English from Stanford University, led a unique panel discussion about the “Graphic Novel.” The Stanford Graphic Novel Project started when Johnson asked his creative writing students to design a picture or graphic image of the stories they were working on.  He later introduced graphic novels into his writing class after realizing a shift in the medium from common entertainment genres to serious non-fiction works and memoirs.

This requires a collaboration of artists.  Students are coming together as teams of writers, visual artists, and illustrators, each one with a specific job to do.  After choosing the story they will tell, the writers develop the characters and create an angle for the story.  They collaborate on the chapter and pass their work to thumbnailers, who storyboard the plot for the illustrators.  This process is repeated until the book is done and put through post-production.

One of Johnson’s, latest student-run projects, “Pika-don,” tells the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1945.  Yamaguchi, a navy engineer during WWII in Hiroshima, watches the senseless destruction of a country he loved and reevaluates the importance of life, duty and family.

This Project is providing a whole new face to the “comic book” and giving a voice to those who might go unnoticed.  There is a potential to attract a new audience of readers to artistic works and real-life stories that center around the theme of social justice.

As an artist and a writer, I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities that lay ahead with our changing technology, new art mediums and a generation of creative people that are ready to experiment and push back the boundaries of genre.

This past week I was in the town of Banff, Canada, a common tourist stop on the way through the Rocky Mountains.  There is no denying that the Rockies are a spectacular site and as I watched the bus loads of Asian tourists stop and unload, I realized they thought the same thing.  I’ve never seen so many Canons and Nikons converge on the streets of one, small town.

It’s hard to walk down any street without seeing a camera.  With the addition of cameras to cell phones, our ability to take pictures wherever we are is endless. And although we all have the equipment to take a picture, could it be better?  What if you could make a picture verses taking a snapshot?

Taking time to set up your picture can make your photos into something more than a mere snapshot.  I asked Paul Bartell of Photobart Imaging, Phoenix, Arizona, who has won the Guru Award at the 2010 Photoshop World Conference, what he sees as the most common problem with people’s photos.  “The biggest general problem I see with people’s photos from a compositional stand point is the angle of view. People (myself included) tend to be lazy, they will snap a photo from where they are currently standing,” Bartell says.  As someone who makes his living from retouching and manipulating photographs, Bartell, suggests that with a little care and the use of five easy tips, anyone can take picture making skills to the next level.

1.  Move to their level:  For example, if the subject you are photographing is a small child or pet, crouching down to take the photo from a lower angle can greatly improve the image. Also, changing your position to eliminate a busy, distracting background will allow you to make the subject the main focus of your photograph.

2.  Crop in close:  Fill the frame of your camera with your main subject.  This will cut out any distraction in the background, creating an intimacy with your subject.

3.  Use the Rule of thirds:  Think of your photograph in a graph of thirds both horizontally and vertically.  Put your main subject or focus on one of the grid points.  This will eliminate the “bulls eye” look of a picture that has the subject centered.

4.  Avoid harsh/midday sunlight:  Try to shoot early morning or late afternoon.  You can also look for shade and with the use of your flash, fill in the light that is needed.  If you can, find a natural light source.  It will work best as it delivers a diffused, flattering light.

5.  Hold your camera steady:
Make yourself into a tri-pod by bring your elbows into your sides and stand with your feet shoulder width apart.  If you are shooting down, plant your knees on the ground or use the ground itself to stabilize your arms.  You can also use slow and steady pressure on the shutter release to avoid camera movement.  This will help reduce motion blur and give you sharp, clear pictures.

These techniques can be used by the most seasoned photographers, Asian tourists or college students taking photos for their Facebook pages.  Photography rules need to be learned so that you know when it is appropriate to break them.  Like any form of art, it is subjective… you need to shoot to please yourself, be passionate about it.  At the very least, take a few moments to make the best photo you can.  These are your memories, after all.