Tag Archives: writing

Stationery and Kawaii Madness!

October 16.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For stationery and kawaii enthusiasts, you’ll be glad to know that I made a wonderful discovery during my visit to Kingston, Ontario for the Thanksgiving long weekend holiday last week.

While visiting the artsy core of downtown Kingston, I accidentally came across an independently-owned stationery-and-kawaii-filled shop called, Midori. I would have passed right by it if I didn’t see the painted sign outside, which said stationery in elegant, cursive print. Thankfully, I noticed it enough to stop mid-step before heading toward the nearest Starbucks Coffee shop.

Once inside, I was transported into a wonderful, little room painted in pastels featuring a variety of kawaii products imported from China, Korea, and Japan that included stuffed, plush toys, jewellery, mugs, bento boxes, handbags, and loads of notebooks, paper stationery, postcards, and pens.

I chatted with Midori’s owner and proprietor, Tina Yan, who opened the store in October of last year (2013) and discovered that not only do we share the same birthday month, but that we’re equally enthusiastic about kawaii products!

Canadian-born with cultural roots from China, Tina, thought it was important to bring popular kawaii goods from Asian countries to provide Canadian customers with products solely created and distributed in South Asian countries—which suits me perfectly fine since I don’t see the possibility of travelling to South Asia any time soon. How else will I deal with my stationery and kawaii addiction?

Tina Yan, Owner of Midori Shop, in front of Midori rabbit logo design. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Tina Yan, Owner of Midori Shop, in front of Midori rabbit logo design. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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While chatting with Tina about the possibility of featuring her and her shop on my blog, she was kind enough to allow me to take a number of photographs in her store while I searched for items that I might purchase. Here are some of the wonderful kawaii items I found in her shop:

Notebooks, red-haired girls x2. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Notebooks, red-haired girls x2. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii black cat plush toys. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii black cat plush toys. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii cat notebook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii cat notebook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii bento box made in Japan. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii bento box made in Japan. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii linen bag, Girl on Bicycle, baby blue. $30.00 CAD. (The one I plan on buying when I return to the shop next month!) (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii linen bag, Girl on Bicycle, baby blue. $30.00 CAD. (The one I plan on buying when I return to the shop next month!) (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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I was so pleased with this little shop, I returned twice in one day and bought the following, cute products to use for my own, personal writing and snail mail:

My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl notebooks x4, assorted. $1.15 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl notebooks x4, assorted. $1.15 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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These pretty 4″x5.5″ notebooks from the My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl line created by languo is simply exquisite. I was drawn to the art cover designs, which features a different girl in each portrait. Inside, the paper is brown, blank, and consists of 24 pages.

My only regret about the design is that there is no Asian girl with black hair on a cover. Surely, a Beauty Girl would also come from Asia, right?

While I’m excited about my purchase, these notebooks seem far too pretty for me to use right away. I have yet to decide what to write in them! In the meantime, they will sit at my desk on display.

Kawaii gel ink pens, assorted. From $1.50-$1.99 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii gel ink pens, assorted. From $1.50-$1.99 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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After testing a number of pens in stock at Midori, I decided on buying the light blue, gel-ink pen with the bear cap, 0.38mm fine point, with “love dolls every day” printed on its casing; the Fihfio floral print, gel-ink pen with a cap that says, “Your happy story;” and my favourite of the three, the BCO black, ink gel pen with the sad ghost cap, 0.4mm fine point. It runs quite smoothly with a dark imprint and is the current pen I use to write all my snail mail letters.

London postcard set. $3.75 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
London postcard set. $3.75 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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These London photograph postcards came in a set of 18. The photographs are not only lovely renditions of London’s famous city, but the paper itself is slightly glossy with an embossed texture, which give them a far more realistic feel than other glossed postcards and reprints.

For 18 postcards of good photographs for the low price of $3.50 CAD per set, you simply can’t lose, which is why when I return I’ll be buying a few more packages!

“Got a Mail” pink kawaii agenda with cards and stickers. $7.45 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
“Got a Mail” pink kawaii agenda with cards and stickers. $7.45 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

The “Got a Mail” pink agenda is not only blank, but provides the user with both a monthly and weekly date format. While the user must fill in dates for himself/herself, numbers are listed at the top margin to provide for accuracy and a little help.

At the back of the agenda is a number of blank pages for notes and includes a few cards and stickers for decoration.

The front cover also allows the user to change its design with the cards included.

I can’t wait to start using this agenda/diary in the new year.

Kawaii Cooky Mini Mate Notebook: Travel Story. $1.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Cooky Mini Mate Notebook: Travel Story. $1.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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While this notebook does not match the My Fairy Tale World series, I could not resist the adorable Cooky character with her squinted, smiling eyes and huge red hood.

She reminds me of an Asian version of the Little Red Riding Hood character. Just look at her sitting in her suitcase!

I snatched this notebook at the recommendation of Tina who also thinks Cooky is adorable.

The paper inside is white, lined, and contains 46 pages.

Because its titled, “Travel Story,” I plan on saving this little notebook for my travels.

Pacific Mall

After leaving Kingston, Ontario, I visited the Pacific Mall in Markham, a mall that specializes in Asian-imported goods and products. It was the first time I visited in over 10 years and was ecstatic to find a few more kawaii goodies.

This is what I brought home:

Red Pucca wallet. $7.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Red Pucca wallet. $7.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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The Pucca wallet is bright red in colour, which symbolizes good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture. The Kanji symbol means love. It also comes with a removable coin purse with Kanji print, five cardholders, one identification holder, and a long pocket for cash.

Kawaii origami strips x4: Molang bunny, blue and yellow teddy bear, Rilakkuma bear, blue and yellow mouse. $1.29-$1.49 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii origami strips x4: Molang bunny, blue and yellow teddy bear, Rilakkuma bear, blue and yellow mouse. $1.29-$1.49 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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At first I thought these cute kawaii strips were washi tape, but when I inquired about them I was told that the strips are meant for paper crafts like the creation of small origami stars.

Because I’m attracted to small figurines, paper crafts, and kawaii, I quickly bought four packages. While I won’t use every strip to make paper stars, I do plan on adding a little glue at the back to decorate a few of my snail mail envelopes.

Because I’m partial to cute bunnies, my favourite one is the one with the Molang bunny.

OMG Korean hair colour change doll, phone charm, green. $1.99 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
OMG Korean hair colour change doll, phone charm, green. $1.99 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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This little kawaii doll drew me right in with her bright, curly, green hair. Instead of attaching her to my mobile phone, I put her on my key ring instead. I’ve named her Kiyoko, which means child of happy generations in Japanese. I trust we’ll be very happy together for “generations” to come.

Kawaii Pocket Bunny Oil-Control Sleek Mist from Tony Moly Beauty Store. $12.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Pocket Bunny Oil-Control Sleek Mist from Tony Moly Beauty Store. $12.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Aside for the cute kawaii bottle, this Pocket Bunny Sleek Mist helps to control the breakout of oily skin. Instead of powder to mattefy skin, this spritz can be used any time of the day. It smells good, too!

Kawaii Strawberry Lipgloss by Tony Moly. $12.50 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Strawberry Lipgloss by Tony Moly. $12.50 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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The Tony Moly Strawberry Lipgloss line is light and sheer and its price point high most likely because of its marketable packaging.

I really couldn’t care less about the actual lipgloss (though I had my eye on the deep pink and coral colours), but I absolutely adore the lipgloss strawberry doll caps.

It comes in coral, pink, light, pink, and a nude cream.

I pucker up every time I look at these!

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The trip was well worth it with a number of unexpected kawaii finds. I hope to be able to travel again next month and pick up some more stationery and kawaii goodies. Which ones would you buy?

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Do you like kawaii? What do you like most about it?

Of all the items featured above, which one(s) do you like the most?

What’s your favourite kawaii item that you own?

Where do you find or shop for your kawaii items? (Feel free to share links to websites.)

If you were a kawaii character, what character would you be?

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zara - selfie 1

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Top 10 Reasons I Love Being a Book Blogger

02.18.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

1.  The act of reading itself.

While the daily routine of my life has a number of things I must consider and complete, reading is and has been a constant source of comfort and solace. To escape into a fictional world through language and one’s imagination through the act of reading is an empowering privilege.

The Little Book Club: My children reading. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Little Book Club: My children reading. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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2.  The opportunity to share and showcase my personal thoughts and responses to what I read—and perhaps influence the reading community.

The genesis of my blogging began with a collection of journal entries I had originally written and kept for myself. Now, more than 535 posts later, my reviews have a home and an audience for those most interested in literature.

3. To actively advocate the gift of literacy.

The joy and freedom I have enjoyed in my own reading is something I am very passionate about sharing with others. Literacy is not only a gift and a privilege, but what I believe to be an essential stepping stone in education and living a richer and fuller life.

4.  The ability to self-publish.

As a creative writer, I’ve always been pleased to see my work in print. To be able to self-publish is another avenue in which I can enjoy sharing my work with others—even if it takes the form of personal interest stories and book reviews.

5. To have autonomy over my own blog and writing space online.

To create and own a small space online dedicated to the act of reading, writing, and communicating with a community who loves books is not only enjoyable, but empowering.

6. The opportunity to chat with, interview, or meet authors about their work.

To connect with those who are responsible for the work that I love is an absolute privilege.

7. To be a part of the larger reading and writing community.

There is comfort and camaraderie in meeting others who share my love of reading, writing, and book blogging especially since reading is such an introverted act.

8. To be an active part of the publishing community in marketing great books.

 To be associated with publishing houses that help create and share literature with the world is also a privilege and gives me a greater sense of community.

9. The privilege of receiving free galleys, ARCs, or books on a periodical basis.

As a book lover, who doesn’t love receiving free books from time to time in exchange for honest reviews?

10. Taking pride in nurturing a growing, personal book collection.

So far, I have 12 large bookcases and a number of books scattered around my house in happy piles. Book blogging not only motivates me to read more, but to add more books to my ever-growing, personal collection.

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Are you a book blogger? If so, what do you love most about it?

If not, have you ever considered being a book blogger or blogging about something else entirely?

If you have a blog or are thinking about starting one, what is it about?

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zara cat stamp

Master Chef Canada Call and Cast Audition: More Than a Culinary Adventure

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Master Chef Canada Call and Cast Audition:

More Than a Culinary Adventure

08.16.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I’ve never been one to be in the kitchen except to help set up the table or to grab my food and eat. My mother tried teaching me how to cook when I was a child, but my instincts for it were pretty bad. Without a recipe and its detailed measurements, I felt lost and overwhelmed.

I had made a home-cooked meal on my own when I was about 12-years-old and set it on the table for my father to eat at dinnertime. Unfortunately, my father refused to touch it or even to try it, and I think it had nothing to do with its appearance or its potential taste, but that he was used to and preferred to only eat my mother’s cooking. Needless to say, a 12-year-old girl who’s already insecure about her own cooking did not understand that. And so, from then on, I took a silent vow never to cook again.

And I didn’t. Not really. Not in a substantial, award-winning way. I’ve stuck pretty much to basics, which has allowed me to let others shine in this area. (And when I say, “shine,” I mean from the sweat of being near the proximity of a 350-degree oven.)

We all have our different gifts. Mine is reading and what I’d like to think of as my gift of gab, as well as my writing. For others it’s a keen palette and a fearlessness of stoves, ovens, and sizzling objects prone to burning.

While my cousin, Myra, has often disclosed that she’s “not a word-person,” she can, however, create a culinary storm in the kitchen, which stems when asked, from her love of eating—and luckily for us both, we absolutely share that in common.

And so, it was with great pride that I did a few visual somersaults when I heard the news that she was invited to the national cast and call audition for the MasterChef Canada season, a reality cooking show, which is expected to air sometime this fall.

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Photo Credit: (c) Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: (c) Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

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And while I’m no Master Chef, I am a firm believer in supporting those you love in the things they are passionate about. My brother is an aspiring actor; my aunt, a line dancing teacher; one of my cousins, an artist, and the other, a screenwriter, to name, but just a few. And I’m the type of person who’s eager to show my support in real ways even if it means simply attending a line-dancing class, an audition, art show, or a reading.

And because MasterChef Canada also encouraged its competing incumbents to bring along official “support” people, I thought, What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

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But, the day did not come without its complications. I had woken up at 5:00 a.m. with only a few hours of sleep from the night before (after attending my niece’s birthday party) and still needed to prepare my travel plans. As a hometown girl from the suburbs with an unfamiliarity with Toronto, I had to be sure of how to get there and independent enough to travel without a data plan (I can only phone or text from my cell, which is the price of my own personal frugality and not jumping on the bandwagon by buying the latest version of the iPhone, which by the way, died on me because of my lack of a phone charger in my purse.).

Aside from that, my Presto Card was empty, I couldn’t find my husband’s card until I was forced to wake him up to tell me, and I dragged my feet all the way to the downtown bus terminal with a gorgeous Steve Madden purse on my shoulder filled with about 20 lbs. of stuff in the hopes that no one would feel inclined to mug me or rape me in the early hours of 6:00 a.m.—and then finally arrived at the station to only miss my bus by a mere shadow of TWO minutes! And, of course, my luck would have it that it was a Sunday and that the bus I was supposed to take was scheduled on its holiday schedule, which in layman’s terms meant I would have to wait a whole other hour for the next one to arrive. *sigh* [Insert deep breath here.]

While my original plan was to travel alone, apparently my aunt had also told my cousin that she might head on down to Toronto to cheer her on for her audition, too, so I was told by my cousin to also give her a call—which I did—and which also ended up delaying my trip by uh…oh, I don’t know…four hours!

After an insurmountable number of obstacles including unexpected trips to the bathroom, the Yorkdale Station locked down until 9:00 a.m., the closure of the Yonge-University subway line from St. George into the downtown Toronto core for the weekend, wrong directions given by TTC staff on not one, but two occasions, and an aunt who was cranky out of hunger, impatience, stress of walking, getting lost, and not having things go as she had originally planned or pictured it (my aunt’s a planner, as well as somewhat of a control freak—it’s in our gene pool and I suspect can really only be helped with years of therapy and medication)—well, it was a miracle I even made it.

But, I did.

Here are the front doors of the Intercontinental Hotel, where the cast and call auditions were being held for the weekend:

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Intercontinental Hotel on Front St. W., in Toronto, host of the Master Chef Canada casting call and auditions 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Intercontinental Hotel on Front St. W., in Toronto, host of the Master Chef Canada casting call and auditions 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And while it doesn’t show here in the photograph below, the stress of getting to the Intercontinental Hotel in the name of supporting my cousin for her audition was indeed substantial! (And somewhat worsened throughout the day because of what seemed like perpetual waiting, incessant inquiries, anxiety, impatience, and disagreement!)

—My aunt had her own plans of breaking the “no supporters allowed [in the basement of the hotel] to accompany competitors,” while I was more than happy to comply, follow the rules, and wait out the auditions by taking a personal tour of Toronto with my camera. My aunt won out as my compliance also seemed to mean I also had to follow her directions and go against my better instincts, which was to either stay put in the lobby and wait, share a conversation or two with other supporters who were also waiting, or start clicking away at the downtown core that I promised myself I would see.

Master Chef Canada - supporters
“Official” supporters of Myra’s audition for Master Chef Canada 2013. Photo credit: (c) R. Garett. All rights reserved.

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And so, even though I was held hostage for most of the day by a cranky aunt and suspecting MasterChef Canada staff and security, I was, at the very least, able to fulfill my first purpose: literally be there for my cousin in support of her passion in the culinary arts—and as an unexpected bonus, also be able to enjoy and appreciate some of the Intercontinental Hotel’s decorative paintings…

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Painting inside the Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto. Photo credit: (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Painting inside the Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto. Photo credit: (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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…receive hospitality from some of the MasterChef Canada staff…

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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…and enjoy the fine art of Toronto’s famous roadside dogs!

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Where we dropped by for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Where we dropped by for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Lunch while waiting for Myra to complete her registration process. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Lunch while waiting for Myra to complete her registration process. My dog is the one on the right. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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While the waiting was tedious, but obviously part of MasterChef Canada’s strategy to put some kind of stress-test on its incumbents, I was able to peek at my cousin’s cooler of food goodies while warding away any potential competitors’ secret desire for sabotage (and no, the Starbucks Food package wasn’t part of her ingredients, but was her actual pre-packaged lunch.).

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Myra's cooler with "secret" ingredients. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s cooler with “secret” ingredients. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Plantain and plating utensils. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Plantain and plating utensils. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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While the waiting game was effectively played, I was especially proud of my cousin’s calm and collected composure. She, like most, were waiting patiently, eager to complete the registration process, and then showcase her personal dish to the preliminary judges. No unnecessary drama, excessive call for attention, or gimmicks on her part—while for others, I unfortunately can’t say the same thing,—but alas, I suspect the loudest competitors were most likely also the worst cooks since food should be able to speak for itself (especially if you get the seasoning right).

Myra, on the other hand, was simply there to present the judges with a creative and delicious concoction of her own culinary making. (And not because she lacks in personality—she’s got a lot of that on her own once you really get to know her—but she also certainly didn’t lack any self-control, which is what made me especially proud of her.)

She was also part of Sunday’s second competing batch, tagged and ready as competitor #118, ready to go into registration at noon, and eventually slotted as #J8 to plate her dish in the early evening.

Myra's tag number, lucky #118. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s tag number, lucky #118. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Myra's "plating" number: "J8," as in "The Judges just ate Myra's dish and fainted from bliss!" (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s “plating” number: “J8,” as in “The Judges just ate Myra’s dish and fainted from bliss!” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And, so, after my aunt left Toronto to attend a BBQ later that evening, while I decided to stay and perhaps get a little taste of Toronto for myself, and Myra needed to return to the holding room to prepare to finally “plate” her dish before the judges (a timed feature, no less),—I was free to take on my own little adventure by finally stepping away from the hotel and hitting a Starbucks for a much-needed coffee and my favourite roast: a Tall Blonde (because really…who doesn’t love a tall blonde?).

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My order of a "tall blonde," because really...who doesn't love a tall blonde? (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My order of a “tall blonde,” because really…who doesn’t love a tall blonde? (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And because I’m a writer, sitting alone in a coffee shop in a city I’m unfamiliar with, is nothing really new to me. Loneliness can take on many forms, but for me, sitting alone in a coffee shop isn’t one of them, but rather a much welcome form of rest and relaxation. It gave me a chance to filter out the noise and stress of the day and simply sit back and enjoy the moment. Alone. Quietly. [Insert another deep breath here.]

But, I wasn’t entirely alone. My introversion also means my senses (as I was told) are somewhat more acute than my extroverted counterparts. That, and I had with me, my beloved camera.

Capturing an image, however ordinary, is to capture an essential moment in time, or to capture an image that evokes a particular memory or emotion for me. And what I usually see behind the lens is not necessarily what others may even care to notice. But, that’s what I love about photography. An end to a digital “roll,” can give me a visual layout of my day—and even document in my mind those moments that weren’t intentionally or unintentionally caught on camera.

Here are a few images I stored with my camera lens while waiting for nothing in particular to happen:

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The view outside my window and its small wildflowers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The view outside my window and its small wildflowers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Grainy wood panel. Well...because. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Grainy wood panel. Well…because. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Picking coffee beans. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Picking coffee beans. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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She's winking at me. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
She’s winking at me. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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"Reflecting" on my day at Starbucks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“Reflecting” on my day at Starbucks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But then again, after a 45-minute wait, my coffee was getting cold as was my tolerance of the servers’ shifty glances in my direction. While unsaid, I’m sure there’s an unwritten rule about how long you can hold a table in a coffee shop based on the amount tendered on your receipt, which in my case was a measly $2.26 (with free refills due to my Green membership level on my Starbucks card).

So, I texted Jon, another cousin of mine, who, while we didn’t grow up together as children, nor have had much contact with each other for years with exception to maybe two, short, scarce meetings, not only shares his genetic code with me, but also a professional hobby, as well as the same personality type. We’re both writers (myself, a fiction and poetry writer, and he, a screenwriter)—and are both introverts.

I texted Jon for a potential meet-up at Starbucks, figuring three things: 1) he lives relatively close to where I was already located, 2) I’d really love to see him and connect with him and, 3) if he says no, I’ll just continue sipping my coffee and eventually head out and tour Toronto on my own.

Amazingly enough, Jon took me up on my invite and texted me back saying, Absolutely, I’ll be there in about 20 minutes-ish.

That was a pretty exciting “20-minutes-ish” wait, let me tell you!

***

When Jon finally arrived, we hugged in greeting as if we had grown up together. And then, of course, there was an entire conversation to tackle, easing in first with some small talk, and then later, sharing a little bit more of ourselves. (Who am I kidding? I pretty much shared any and every detail of my life as soon as I saw him! But, that’s just me. Who bloody has the time for small talk?!?)

I blame nervousness and the Tall Blonde for my jittery, spastic talk. The need to impress and share as much as possible in a short given time turned me into a hyperactive chatterbox. I mean, when was I going to see my long, lost cousin again? Really? It could be another 10 years, at which point, I’d have a whole new, slew of information to share in nano speed.

But, as time passed, it became a little easier. (I had already renewed my introverted energy by being alone for a good 45 minutes prior to his arrival.) And thankfully, in getting to know Jon again, I quickly realized we have quite a lot in common, both in the way we carefully and thoughtfully analyze and shape our thoughts into speaking, and the moral fibre we tend to appreciate and gravitate towards.—Okay, wait.—Jon is more careful than I am. My analysis is quick, but my mouth tends to be quicker, which means I can trip over my words as they come out.

And it made me also realize, I’m a self-professed introvert who really yearns to be something else entirely. But, I tell you this (there I go, talking again), being around a number of people especially over the number two, completely EXHAUSTS me. It’s not that I’m necessarily shy. But being in a big group puts an invisible pressure on me to “perform,” rather than sit quietly and absorb information and work things out for myself. I care deeply about thoughts and feelings more than I ever will about say…the rise and fall of the stock market (I should know, I worked for Merrill Lynch Canada for a number of years).

And what was even more exciting was the serendipitous way in which I scored my very own vintage typewriter that day! While talking, I tend to switch topics easily, or at least say what pops into my head at any given moment. I’m sure you can tell with my “bloggish” writing that this is in fact true. And so, while our conversation took a short pause, I blurted out quite randomly,

                    You know what I want? A vintage typewriter!

It’s true. I blurted it. Randomly. I’ve been yearning for a vintage typewriter for a very long time. I’ve searched thrift shops. I’ve checked eBay, Etsy, Kijijji, Craiglist, but could never find something I could quite afford (sellers seem to really put a hefty price tag on nostalgia). And you know what happened?

Jon’s face broke into a huge smile.

                   Really? Because I’ve been trying to get rid of one of mine!

Ah ha! You see what I mean? Kismet. My meeting with Jon was predestined. Coincidence? I think not. Serendipitous? Absolutely. This was an important moment of connection and I was ecstatic!

Why am I sharing this pedantic information with you? Well, the point about the typewriter is what led us to eventually leave Starbucks, hop on the TTC, take a short tour of the former Maple Leaf Gardens, which is now sadly a Loblaws supermarket (which was not only bittersweet for me, but angers me enough to want to join a protest movement against it), and visit Jon’s apartment, and his cat, Alice, who I’m deathly allergic to, in order to pick it up (the typewriter, that is—not the cat). [Another breath needed here.] <—This is how fast I really talk, by the way.

***

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Centre ice is now located in aisle 25, now home to canned vegetables, packaged beans, and canned meat. A travesty. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Maple Leaf Gardens centre ice. A sacred spot now housed in aisle 25. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Maple Leaf Gardens centre ice. A sacred spot now housed in aisle 25. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

 ***

The least Loblaws could do by commemorating the Toronto Maple Leafs: painting picnic chairs in our hometown blue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.
The least Loblaws could do by commemorating the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens: painting picnic chairs in the shape of our hometown blue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

But, I have no ill feelings toward Alice. It’s not her fault I could at any time be thrown into a hive attack or a choking frenzy by simply being in her presence. It’s enough to make a cat really insecure. She was, actually, quite shy, curious enough to peek at me while I was in the bathroom, and then somewhat self-conscious when I came out, that she had no choice but to hide under the bed, which is why I have no photograph of her. (It’s okay. I think she was more relieved than I was disappointed.)

I do, however, have photographs of Jon’s stoop, his sneakers, and a red house across his apartment. Like the classic introvert that Jon is, he refused to sign a photo release, which would allow me to post his picture on my website. Hence, his shoes will have to do.

***

Jon's stoop---and no, he doesn't live in the rental office. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jon’s stoop—and no, he doesn’t live in the rental office. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

   ***

jon red house
The Red House as in “The Red House” by Mark Haddon, except in downtown Toronto. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

You can't really know a person until you walk in his shoes. These are Jon's. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
You can’t really know a person until you walk in his shoes. These are Jon’s. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Okay, I have to insert this here. I was staring at the above picture and thought,

Shoes? That’s the best representation I can share of my cousin, Jon? C’mon! That’s CRAZY.

And so, even with his introverted nature and his refusal to sign a photo release, I thought I’d go ahead and compromise. This is Jon…with his face covered, of course.

***

Jon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

To be quite honest, I really don’t know why Jon would prefer his photograph not be shared with the world. He’s quite a handsome bloke! Behind that graphic heart is a heart-throb who simply hasn’t realized it yet. (He’s intelligent, witty, and kind, too—just saying.) But, as his cousin, I must respect his need for privacy.

***

And while his vintage typewriter was busy saying its last goodbye, Myra, was also busy plating her dish for the MasterChef Canada judges:

(c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

***

Myra's audition dish: Poblano Aioli, Coconut Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche, Mango Salsa, Pickled Red Onions, Toasted Coconut with Plantain Chips. (c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
Myra’s audition dish: Poblano Aioli, Coconut Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche, Mango Salsa, Pickled Red Onions, Toasted Coconut with Plantain Chips. (c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

***

She did an outstanding job! When she told me what she might be making, I actually didn’t know what she was talking about. It was beyond me! Like I’ve always said, she’s the Master Chef and I’m the Master Eater. Brilliant, Myra! Your dish was magnificent!

***

My newly-owned vintage typewriter. An early birthday present from Jon. Affectionately named, NEIL. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. Alll rights reserved.
My newly-owned vintage typewriter. An early birthday present from Jon. Affectionately named, NEIL. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The day, overall, was an exceptional one. The moral of the story?

  1. Support your family’s personal endeavours and passions. In essence, support them.
  2. Waiting has its advantages.
  3. It’s not always about winning, but about showing up.
  4. Plans are sometimes made to be broken. Live a little. Explore.
  5. Cousins are awesome people. Aunts are, too (when they’re not hungry, that is).
  6. Make friends with strangers. How else do you make friends?
  7. Pretend to be a tourist. It’s easier to take photographs that way.
  8. Bring a pen and copies of a photo release with you wherever you go.
  9. Take risks. Even if it takes the form of meeting someone you haven’t seen in years.
  10. If you own a Starbucks card, register it, and get free refills on coffee and tea.
  11. Always have allergy medication (and a phone charger) in your purse for emergencies.
  12. It isn’t where you go, but who you’re with, that makes all the difference.
  13. A stoop is as good a place as any to get to know someone.
  14. Learn how to cook even if you get your feelings hurt. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to audition for a cooking show.
  15. Find out what “ceviche” really means.
  16. Sometimes it’s best to follow your better instincts even if it doesn’t agree with someone else’s.
  17. MasterChef Canada auditions are not the same as Canadian Idol ones. No screaming required or support people outside holding rooms.
  18. It’s not important to get on television. It’s more important to know how to cook.
  19. Vintage typewriters can be free if you’re related to someone who wants to give one away.
  20. Don’t step on the sacred spot that is centre ice in what was formerly known as the Maple Leaf Gardens. Even if you have a shopping cart. It’s simply sacrilegious.
  21. People paint themselves in colour and actually stand still pretending to be statues. Toronto doesn’t seem to mind this.
  22. Feed your aunt.
  23. Don’t talk like a hyperventilating maniac. It scares others.
  24. TTC buses are crowded. GO Transit is extremely fast.
  25. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to wait for the next bus.

***

A special thanks to Myra for being a chef in her own right, which allowed me to live vicariously through her audition experience. And a special thanks to Jon for putting up with my incessant talking.

No animals were harmed in the production of this blog post. Especially Alice.

***

zara bird autograph

Canada Writes: Strong Beginnings Twitter Challenge

challenge avatar

Canada Writes:

Strong Beginnings Twitter Challenge

06.27.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

On Friday, June 21, Canada Writes, CBC Books and The Luminato Festival hosted the Strong Beginnings Challenge on Twitter from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EST.

Participants were encouraged to tweet their most compelling opening line to an original and (as yet) unwritten story, so of course, I put on my Twitter Hat and imagined myself as a novelist attempting to begin a story. Here’s what I came up with:

Writing Wednesday: NaNoWriMo. No, It’s Not a Weird Animal

Writing Wednesday:

NaNoWriMo. No, It’s Not a Weird Animal

11.07.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

NaNoWriMo. Rhymes with Rhino. Or Wyno. But, no, it’s not a weird animal.

***

***

For you writer buffs, it’s the short form (and short month) of National November Writing Month. Et, voila! It’s November. Again.

Do you have your pencils out? Sharpened at least? Paper? Got that, right? A dream to be an aspiring writer? So, here’s your chance to live it out (and type it out) in exactly one month. That’s right.

The goal of joinging NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words (not characters, both in a literal and metaphorical sense) of a novel in the month of November.

Why November? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the weather. We’ll all most likely be snowed in anyway, so why not write the novel you’ve been putting off? I tried last year. Yup. Active word here: tried. So, I didn’t make the 50,ooo word count, but I made…uh…oh, I don’t know…a few pages…of something. And no, it wasn’t origami.

Maybe it’s in November because we can all treat ourselves to eggnog, mistletoe, and lavish gifts once the month is over. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m already a week late, which means I’ve got to bang on my keyboard a little more and a little faster than last year.

Yikes!—What the heck am I doing here blogging, then?

Yes, well…unfortunately, my blog posts must still continue during this NaNoWriMo madness, but it sure feels giddy being part of a global writing marathon. And if you know me, I’m into marathons. Slow and steady win the race. But in this case, you and I will need to step it up a bit. 50,000 words is a long way to go in 30 days (well, in my case, 23 days…)

So, come out of your writing cave to sign up for this month-long event—and then go back into your cave—to write. You heard it from me. The expert. (Hahahahahahaha!) Ahem. Okay, I’m no expert, but I was a participant last year. That’s gotta count for something. A preface, maybe.

So, get those pencils and pens out. Brainstorm some ideas on a white eraser board. Bang, bang, bang on that keyboard. And plot. And scheme. And don’t forget to use Spellcheck.

Otherwise, make a papermache creation of what you think a NaNoWriMo might look like as an animal. Either way, you’re bound to have some fun.

(And when I say “fun,” I mean coffee-slurping, eye-watering, hair-pulling, evil-laughing, insomniac fun!)

To sign up, check out this NaNoWriMo link.

Let the novels begin!

***

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo before?

What’s your favourite part of the experience?

Were you able to write 50,000 words towards your novel or not?

What ways do you think could help you complete this goal for 2012?

What’s the highest word count you have ever reached towards your novel?

***

Summer Wrap-Up Read-a-Thon Flower Challenge. 08.11.2012

Summer Wrap-Up Read-a-Thon Flower Challenge!

08.11.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This challenge hosted by Unforgettable Books is to use a name of a flower as a stem to create an acrostic poem that describes why I like reading, blogging, or any other hobby of my choice.

For this challenge, I’m going to use one of my favourite flowers:

The Sampaguita flower (also known as the Philippine Jasmine) is my favourite. It’s not only the Philippines’ national flower, its scent is exquisite.

***

Shyness and solitude led me to quiet corners, a tree—the printed word.

book in its binding held secrets I could decipher and imagine though

My eyeglass frames were too large for my face.

Pixie dust and punctuation were things I played with

As a child far long into my age.

Goethe’s Werther wasn’t the only one who wept.

Ulysses, Umberto Eco, and unicorns…

asked of nothing more than the poet’s cadence—

The author’s reclusive pen.

And words delicate as the sampaguita, potent enough to come undone.

***

For more posts on the Summer Wrap-Up Read-a-Thon, you can visit here.

***

What’s your favourite flower?

What are your favourite hobbies?

***

Zara Alexis

Must-Haves for the Writer: Part Three. 06.18.2012

Must-Haves for the Writer:

Part Three

06.17.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

GUTS AS TOUGH AS RAMBO

While your more practical siblings and peers have enrolled in business, accounting, law, and medicine, you decided to travel Robert Frost’s path. So, now that you’ve made this commitment, have worked on your portfolio, majored in creative writing, and became a member of various writing groups, you still haven’t published.

When asked by your family members what it is that you do for a living, you say, “I write,” and they raise their eyebrows, raise their wineglasses, and praise your cousins instead (you know: the med student, the banker…).

In times like these you must have guts as tough as Rambo. The brain is a muscle, too. Don’t fret. Just keep writing, keep submitting your work, keep reading poetry.

If the greats gave up, we’d only be left with a handful of nursery rhymes and smut. If Rambo survived the jungle, so can you.

***

***

Stop with the FALSE HUMILITY

How many times have we heard an acceptance speech that starts,

“I can’t believe it! I really didn’t expect to win!” (Gush, gush).

Okay, here’s my problem with that: it’s called false humility.

Every writer desires  his or her work to be published. That’s the point. If not, we’d only be writing in our diaries and journals.

So, let’s not pretend we don’t think we deserve a literary award when we receive one. It’s synonymous with our lifetime goals! It’s an honour we shouldn’t debase by floundering such false pretenses. If we’ve had to be tough as Rambo (as per above), then I say, the very least we can do is be honest with our readers and writing peers.

It would be much better to accept an award with grace and confidence, to look soberly at oneself, and accept that your hard-earned work is being recognized by the literary community. No blubbering. No platitudes. No crocodile tears. Just a grateful thanks will do—and rejoicing! It’s an honour. And it’s yours. So, claim it.

The way to do it: Linden Macintyre celebrates his win of the Giller Prize in 2009 for his book, “The Bishop’s Man.”

***

the 15 INTERNAL CRITICS

It’s important for the writer to not criticize him or herself, but to criticize his or her work before submission. That second pair of eyes should be the internal critic and then the trusted literary friend.

But make sure the number of internal critics you have as a writer does not exceed the number five. Any more than that would only cause self-doubt and writing paralysis.

Trust your writing and editing instincts, but don’t let them demoralize you into not getting any work done. Your work doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to get written. Let your editor worry about surgery with a red pen.

(c) Artwork by Benjamin Bay. From: http://benjaminbay.blogspot.ca/2011_05_08_archive.html

***

AN EGO BOOSTER WIDGET

Writers can and do fall into wallowing pity-parties after a certain amount of rejection. To consistently hear that your work was not chosen for publication or did not earn a literary prize is a jab to the ego.

Jab-jab.

(And then some.)

The optimism of the writer is entirely dependent on genetic disposition, a healthy upbringing, daily vitamins, and a great support network (an understanding partner, a loyal dog, a non-competitive writing confidant, and in my case, sour peach rings).

Sometimes all these things are unavailable to the wallowing writer at which point he or she will retire to his or her bed  for an unhealthy amount of time to require bathing, shaving, and all other sorts of necessary grooming habits.

To prevent such a dangerous melancholy state, let the Ego Booster Widget help you out. Just click and you will be complimented on your absolute, unquestionable awesomeness. Mandatory for writers of all ages and all levels of experience and talent.

***

A ST. JOHN MEDALLION

It’s okay, atheists. We all need a little help now and then. Especially when it comes to writer’s block. Did you know that St. John is the patron saint for writers? Neither did I, which explains why I’m not as famous as Michael Ondaatje or Margaret Atwood—yet! (Why, oh why did I not invest in a St. John medallion sooner?)

If you’re a writer, keep this medallion close by. Even if you’re not a Catholic, St. John might do his duty as patron saint and help you out with the words you’ve been searching for.

***

A PERSONAL ALTAR TO THE GODDESS PHILYRA

In Greek mythology, Philyra (Greek Φιλύρα) was a water nymph, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. She was the goddess of perfume, writing, healing, beauty and paper. She was also known to have taught humanity to invent paper.

Having an altar to Philyra is not only likely for a writer, it’s also highly recommended.

***

A SEVERELY HONEST AND LITERARY FRIEND

It’s said that a good friend is hard to find, but once found should be treasured. This is even more true when that friend happens to be a literary one and can honestly critique your work without injury or false flattery.

You don’t need a friend who will spare your feelings. You need a friend who will tell you point-blank just how your writing can and should improve.

***

AN OPENNESS TO CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM (OR a BONFIRE)

And at the same time, as a writer, you should be able to welcome constructive criticism in honour of the craft. If not, best to recall your days as a Boy Scout or Girl Guide and start collecting wood for that bonfire. Better to let your manuscript burn than to publish garbage.

***

To read other posts written by me about the Writer’s Must-Haves, you can visit here:

Must-Haves for the Writer: Part One

Must-Haves for the Writer: Part Two

***

Do you have a good friend who’s honest enough to critique your work?

What advice or trinkets keep you motivated during your writing?

***

Must-Haves for the Writer! Part One: 06.14.2012

Must-Haves for the Writer! Part One

06.14.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

A PERSONAL BOOK LIBRARY

A writer is and must be a voracious reader. The best way to aspire to achieving great writing is to learn the difference between good and bad writing. You can’t learn that if you don’t read.

***

A WELL-INKED PEN OR SHARP PENCIL

The writer is a scribe. Be responsible and ensure you always have a well-inked pen or sharp pencil on your person. You never know when the words will gush out of you, needing it to be scratched in an etch; a piece of it recorded for prosperity—or at least until you can get home and type it out onto your computer or latest word device. The pen or pencil behind the ear is also a key fashion statement for the writer.

Sharpen your minds. Sharpen your pencils.

***

PAPER, NOTEBOOKS, NAPKINS

To be a writer, something needs to be written. So write—and make sure you have some form of papyrus handy for your words to land on. My favourite form is the clean blue lines of foolscap. When at a restaurant or in your kitchen, don’t be shy with paper napkins. They’re more useful than merely wiping down the last bits of eggplant and mozzarella off your lips or providing your blog address to that sexy single and bookish person across the room.

Writing on a napkin.

***

A LAPTOP

Contrary to belief, this piece of equipment is rarely seen on laps, but extraordinary in keeping you connected to your manuscript, your agent, your publisher, and your fan club when you’re on the go. (Or for the rest of us–Twitter.)

***

A DICTIONARY/THESAURUS

As scribes, it’s important to expand your vocabulary. And to know how to spell. Best to save face and keep your editors happy by ensuring you sprinkle your document with words more worthy than the generic word, nice.

***

AN EDITING HANDBOOK (or even better, an editor)

Trust me. There’s a big difference between public and pubic. Help the publication process by ensuring your typos are less frequent than your punctuation. It’s also great to know how to properly use the em dash versus the en dash (or prepare for your manuscript to receive full surgery without the kindness of an anaesthetic!).

***

A PAIR OF EYEGLASSES

Writers read. And they read a lot. This usually begins at a very young age, which, for most of us leads to an appointment with the optometrist. I wore my first pair of glasses at the age of nine. Yes, genetics are involved, but so is reading late into the night with only a flashlight under the covers.

Famous eyeglasses enthroned into the Writer’s Hall of Fame include those that belong to:

Allen Ginsberg

***

James Joyce

***

AN EXTENSIVE WARDROBE IN BLACK

I’m not sure who started this trend, but I suspect it was started for a few possible reasons:

1. Writers, especially poets, tend to have melancholy dispositions that are beneficiary to their work.

2. Black matches with everything and writers who are harried with deadlines and the work of their manuscripts don’t necessarily have the time to coordinate clothes in varying schemes of colour. Writers aren’t fashion models, they’re writers.

3. Black is the opposite of white, the colour of the anxiously avoided blank page.

4. Black can conceal coffee spills magnificently.

5. Black represents the abyss in which manuscripts land when chucked into the slush pile at the publishing house that has rejected the writer on numerous occasions.

6. Or perhaps writers believe they’re fat?…

***

A LEATHER-BOUND BRIEFCASE OR TOTE MESSENGER BAG

The revered manuscript is formatted with care, which also explains that it deserves an aesthetically pleasing and special carrying case: the leather-bound briefcase or tote-messenger bag. After all, writers usually do have a special message to share with the world. (Insert LAUGH here.) I have yet to see a manuscript carried around in a brown paper bag!

Here’s my tote of choice (with pockets available for pens!):

***

A BACK-UP OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT

Hours of tireless typing and your computer CRASHES from the weight of your already heightened anxiety and flash keystroke. Holy guacamole, Batman! Why, oh why, did you not save your manuscript five seconds ago? Why, oh why, did you not make multiple copies saved in multiple places: one on your external hard drive; one on your Darth Vader USB; one on your husband’s computer; one hardcopy locked away in a fireproof box; one saved on Evernote in the cloud of online existence; and one under your mattress?—OOPS.

“I am your last hope, Writer-Kanobi…”

***

A PROGRAMMABLE COFFEE MAKER

Coffee is to a writer as a pen is to paper; as sun is to the moon; as a swimmer is to water; as Tweetledee is to Tweetledum. You get my simile.

Why waste valuable time remembering to make coffee at key points in your working schedule when you already know you’ll be requiring another dose of caffeine, oh, let’s say, at your usual 3:00 p.m. frenzy?

Beeeeeeeep! Time to refill.

***

LIVING QUARTERS RELATIVELY CLOSE TO A CAFÉ

Yes, we writers tend to live on the edge of artistic glory…and well…a cafe. It’s Kismet. We do it for three reasons:

1. To fulfill the trend that has marked us as serious or seriously aspiring writers.

2. Staying at a cafe prevents us from being anywhere close to our beds, which beckon us into sleep and dreams of the Giller Prize.

3. Our programmable coffee makers are on the fritz.

4. Sitting in a cafe ensures we need not stay in our pyjamas all day long.

***

A LIBRARY CARD IN GOOD STANDING

A writer’s budget consists of a fund that covers: paper, pens, coffee, tickets to book events, and a subscription to a favourite literary magazine. Plus a little extra for favourite books. But the writer’s budget is usually frugal and thus a library card in good standing is key to accessing great literature. Don’t return those books late! Those pennies could amply be put towards a new, engraved Cross pen! Plus, you wouldn’t want to see a librarian’s late-fee-death-stare!

“Zara, your tardiness will cost you $5.37. Repeat the offence and I may have to put you on the library’s black list!”

***

A SUBSCRIPTION TO A LITERARY JOURNAL OR MAGAZINE

Writers don’t like to fess up, but a lot of literary gods began their humble journey through a publication in a literary journal or magazine. Aside from that, it’s a wonderful way for the writer to keep in touch with the pulse of the literary world. (And check out the competition!) Support your local zine and subscribe to read short stories, poems, and essays by the next literary greats!

***

AN EXTREMELY SUPPORTIVE PARTNER

So, you’re the writer in your blissful union. To keep the peace in your relationship, your mortgage payments on time, and your career from flailing into the vacuum of failure; it’s best to make sure your partner is patient, empathetic, and fully supportive of your writing ambitions. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a divorce, a cardboard box as a house, and an epitaph that reads: “The writer who never published because of an acute depression due to a divorce and a cardboard box of a house…”

“Zara, you better publish that book of yours soon!,” says my husband as he jokingly strangles me in a Half-Nelson.

***

A QUIET PET

A gentle dog or highly independent cat is a perfect pet for the writer. A turtle. Some fish. Something quiet while you type away at your manuscript. A parrot, on the other hand, is not recommended. It might deflate your ego with truths you’d rather not hear mid-sentence:

***

AN INTELLIGENT, ELOQUENT, AND AGGRESSIVE AGENT

Your agent should believe in your work, be convincing in the art of negotiation, and be able to sell your book on a larger and more legitimate platform than eBay. If your agent tries to sell your book on eBay, best to look for another agent.

***

A READING CHAIR

Who needs a sore neck? Not a writer. Forego that squeaky office chair and lounge into your sweet reading chair of choice. Here’s mine, the Ektorp from IKEA:

***

FUZZY SLIPPERS

Even feet need to be happy. The writer would do well to invest in an ugly pair of fuzzy slippers to keep him or her company until page 348 of his or her manuscript. My belief is: the uglier and fuzzier the slipper, the happier feet will be. (Hey, it’s better than razor-sharp heels. Wouldn’t want to slip and die before your first book signing…)

These are MY fuzzy slippers!

***

A RED PEN

Editors love the slash and proof marks they make with their red pens. Why not beat them to it and mark up your manuscript first? You ARE the writer after all. Think of the craft. Think of your manuscript. Bleed it to death until it’s reborn into a magnificent piece of work!

***

GOOD LIGHTING

Better to see your manuscript with, my Dear. Light it up. Your room… not those cigarettes that you hide from your spouse when you can’t think of an ending to your book!

***

NO TELEVISION

The Tube is bad for writing. Yes, it’s great for other things like crooning beside the latest contestant on American Idol or watching the latest fashion trends on America’s Next Top Model. Sure. It might even be great for testing your IQ with Jeopardy or your romantic patience with Grey’s Anatomy. It does not, however, help you in writing your manuscript. So, turn off the Tube. Or better yet, throw it out the window. Why tempt yourself?

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SPEEDY INTERNET

If you need to do your laundry while waiting for your Internet connection to come to, you need to unplug, and re-route. The faster your Internet, the more time you have to complete your research for your upcoming book. Just resist the temptation to pin everything you see on Pinterest.

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A SIGNATURE

I’ve spoken to other writers and we’ve all confessed to practicing our signatures. You know…for the time it’s needed when we must autograph the hardcopies of our latest bestseller! You know…just in case.

Do you have a signature yet?

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A SIGNATURE PEN

I don’t know about you, but I have a pen fetish. Pens also transform me into a kleptomaniac. I’m not sure of the exact amount of pens I actually own, but I do have a particular pen I enjoy writing short stories, poems, and reviews with. It’s literally my “writing pen.” Every writer has one (whether they admit it or not!). Here’s mine:

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A PUBLISHER

Yes, a lot of people have gone the self-publishing route, but if you can land a contract with a publisher on your behalf, do it. Editing and promotion is more significant with one. Here’s one publisher I absolutely love:

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CALLOUSED FINGERS

No, they’re not attractive, but they do help when you’re banging away at your keyboard. Strong calloused fingers make for better protection and speedier typing. Type away with confidence! (And a jar of moisturizer lotion.) Here’s what I use:

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Be sure to check my next post on the Writer’s Must-Haves, Part Two tomorrow.

What’s on your writer’s must-have list?

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I selected this post to be featured on Book Review Blogs. Please visit the site and vote for my blog!
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Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Chinese Calligraphy

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Chinese Calligraphy

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Chinese calligraphy (Shūfǎ 書法 in China) is an art unique to Asian culture and literally means, “the way, method, or law of writing.”

In Japan, it is called Shodō 書道, which means “the way or principle of writing.” In Korea, it is Seoye (서예) 書藝, “the skill/criterion of writing.”

To me, it seems to be both a serious Asian discipline as well as an art and according to Chinese culture, is often thought to reveal personality and inner aesthetic due to both the expectation of excellent and correct execution as well as creative expression.

Depending on the concentration of the ink, the thickness of the paper, and the flexibility of the brush, the calligrapher is able to create a variety of styles.

It is both a highly disciplinary act as it is a meditative one, I think.

The Four Treasures of Study

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The Four Treasures of Study (in China) and The Four Friends of the Study (in Korea) is an expression used to describe the essential tools of East Asian calligraphy:

  1. Ink brush
  2. Ink
  3. Paper
  4. Ink Stone
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The Ink Brush

The body of the brush can be made from either:

  • bamboo
  • red sandalwood
  • glass
  • ivory
  • silver
  • gold

The head of the brush can be made from the hair or feathers of the following animals:

  • weasel
  • rabbit
  • deer
  • chicken
  • duck
  • goat
  • pig
  • tiger
  • wolf

There is also a tradition in both China and Japan of making a brush using the hair of a newborn, as an once-in-a-lifetime souvenir for the child.

I have my own personal set of brushes that I purchased in Chinatown, Toronto on a day-trip I made with my family.

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Paper

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Special types of paper are used in East Asian calligraphy.

In China, Xuanzhi (宣紙), is the preferred type of paper made from rice, paper mulberry, bamboo, hemp, etc. In Japan, washi is made from the kozo (paper mulberry), ganpi, and, mitsumata, as well as bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat.

Paperweights

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Paperweights are used to hold down paper and often placed at the top of all but the largest pages to prevent slipping and come in several types. Like ink stones, paperweights can be collectible works of art.

 

Desk pads

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The desk pad is made of felt and can be printed with grids on both sides, so that when it is placed under the translucent paper, it can be used as a guide to ensure correct placement and size of characters. However, printed pads are used only by students (that means me!).

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Ink and Inkstick

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The ink comes in inksticks, which must be rubbed with water on an inkstone until the right consistency is achieved. Much cheaper, pre-mixed bottled inks are also available, but are used primarily for practice since inksticks are considered higher quality.

Learning to rub the ink is an essential part of calligraphy study. Traditionally, East Asian calligraphy is written only in black ink. Calligraphy teachers use a bright orange or red ink with which they correct work or write practice characters, which students can trace.

Inkstone

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Stone, ceramic, or clay from the banks of the Yellow River inkstone is used to grind the solid inkstick into liquid ink and to contain the ink once it is liquid. Chinese inkstones are highly prized as art objects.

Seal and Seal Paste

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Calligraphic works are usually completed by the calligrapher putting his or her seal at the very end, in red ink. The seal serves the function of a signature.

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My cousin who had travelled to China for a vacation to visit with her husband’s relatives brought home a custom-made name seal for me. It’s one of my favourite pieces.

My personalized Chinese seal and seal paste. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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What is considered to be good calligraphy?

Of course, when asking what is considered to be good calligraphy really depends on individual preference and taste, but there are some established, traditional rules, which cannot be violated. Those who repeatedly “violate” these rules are not considered legitimate calligraphers.

These rules are:

  • The characters must be written correctly.
  • The characters must be legible.
  • The characters must be concise.
  • The characters must fit their context.
  • The characters must be aesthetically pleasing.
Here’s my personal collection of ink brushes and my seal from China:
My Chinese ink brushes. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My personal collection of ink brushes and my Chinese seal and seal paste. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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 Here is a fun link to generate for yourself a Chinese name and discover your Chinese zodiac: Chinese Name Generator.  Try it!
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My name translated from:

Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez and born on January 6 is:

Kong
Zhen
Rui

Zhen is in place of my given name, Zara, which means raise, excite, arouse action.

Rui is in place of Alexis, which means sharp.

I was born in the Chinese Year of the Tiger.

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What is your Chinese generated name? What does it mean? Do you feel it properly reflects your personality and the sound of your English name?

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To see more posts for The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event here at The Bibliotaphe’s Closet, please visit here.

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Writing Wednesdays: Why Write? 04.18.2012

Writing Wednesdays: Why Write?

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Authorship is a fantasy, a dream of most aspirants. It’s a glittering notion, a mirage with their name on the title page. – William Targ, Indecent Pleasures, 1975

It’s a different story for everyone. Literally.

I began to write stories as soon as I learned how to read and write. I’ve often written about when I first learned how to read: I was six-years-old. And I loved words. Not necessarily speaking them, but deciphering their letters, writing them down.

My father practiced a strict code of writing discipline with me. Every evening I sat at the dining table and patiently and carefully wrote out my ABC’s—line by line. And I would not leave that dining table until my father was satisfied with my penmanship.

Seems harsh perhaps, but I credit my father’s discipline for the penmanship I have now. And the birth of my love of writing.

Words had become to me, a secret arsenal of pleasurable code that I could string together to make what were first only images and ideas in my imagination into something real and tangible in someone else’s mind. For an eight-year-old, that’s a lot of power. For a woman in her 30’s, it’s a privilege and a gift.

I was a kid. I wasn’t aspiring to be anything. I had seeds of stories that lay dormant in my young, unfertilized brain.

Age of Imagination by Carmen Medlin

In grade three, I wrote my first public short story and entered it in a writing contest. I was eight-years-old and wrote a four-page story about a boy who was locked in the basement and came out as an old man. I won first prize.

The award itself was a first-place “ribbon” made of construction paper. Still, it held for me the recognition of something well done.

As an extremely introverted and shy girl, I dreaded speaking in front of the class, but because of my award, I was asked to read my story aloud as instructed by my teacher, Mrs. Lang. As I read, I found a screen of protection and empowerment behind the language of my story. Its “voice” had become my own and its “otherness” transformed me into an orator, a storyteller.

I wrote because I enjoyed it.

I was compelled by the word.

Why else do it other than an inexplicable compulsion? The innate desire?

And so, when the weight of self-doubt far outweighs the desire to pick up a pen or when my internal critic curses at me before bulldozing me into a corner of self-pity and rejection—I return to that desire and remember my first love.

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What practical things do you do to encourage yourself in  your writing?

What encouraging advice can you give to other writers?

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