Zion National Park: The Subway

The Left Fork hike leading to the Subway requires a permit. While generally one needs to participate in a lottery three months ahead of time to obtain one, I was lucky enough to get my hands on one.
It poured from the second we left the car. At one point, I heard a crash and turned around to find a waterfall had appeared from out of the air. But the Subway itself was absolutely magical.
While it perhaps may have been nicer to explore the waterfall room with its waist-deep icy water in the sun, the rain added an element of mystery to the hike.

Zion National Park: Cable Mountain

Sixteen miles. 2,500 feet. My first weekend in Zion. All me.
“You’re going by yourself?” Well, yeah. There are no bears in Zion. What dangers are there?
About 2.5 miles in, very soon after leaving the well-trodden Observation Point trail, I got lost.
‘This doesn’t feel like the right way, Em,’ I told myself as I held onto a tree, clambering down into a canyon. ‘Are you really sure?’
I frowned as I half-slid, half-fell the last five feet down, scratching one leg on a tree and bruising the other on a rock.
But there were footprints–er, there was a footprint–in the rare sandy patches at the bottom of this canyon, so I decided I must be headed in the right direction. Five minutes of walking later, however, the sides of the canyon had only grown taller, and I was pretty sure I was supposed to be going up.
I backtracked until I came across a sheet of rock that looked scalable.
About twenty minutes of clambering and falling later, I found the trail, and stuck my tongue out at it. I immediately started hiking again–only about thirteen miles to go, right? I’d walked for perhaps another ten minutes when my uneasy feeling began to grow. I was starting to head westward again. ‘Are you sure, Em? If you turn around and then have to turn again, you’re going to feel really dumb. Really really dumb.’ I turned around, making the correct decision. Soon, I hit switchbacks, and almost wished I’d kept going and headed back to the beginning
‘I am never doing this again,’ I thought as I clambered up switchbacks. ‘I don’t know why I would ever want to do this to myself.’
I refused to believe it when the trail finally flattened out again. ‘Nope,’ I told the trail. ‘You’re not fooling me. I’m not getting excited just to have more uphill.’
All around me, insects were chirping. The cicadas obviously thought it was night, and some bugs were out there pretending to be rattlesnakes. Rattle rattle. Hisssss.
To my surprise, the next four or so miles were flat. A lot of the path was sandy, making my feet push to get through each step. The last part was downhill, to my disgust–I knew I’d have to climb up that later.
Around 11:36am, a sign told me Cable Mountain was three miles away. I decided I’d be there by 1pm.
An hour or so later, “Baba O’Reilly” by the Who started playing. I’d been listening to music in alphabetical order and it was the first B song of the day. ‘This will be it,’ I said. ‘This will be the song that takes me to the end.’ Because if that song doesn’t pump you up, what can?
“Out here in the fields…” Daltrey started singing. I walked faster.
All of a sudden, I jumped back. I understood what they meant in the phrase ‘jumped out of his skin.’ There, lying in front of me on the trail, was a snake, at least six feet long and as thick as my arm.
I stood, petrified, for a few seconds, feeling my heart pound. My fear dissipated as I remembered that unless I provoked it, it probably wanted nothing to do with me. Even if it was a rattlesnake. Which it likely was. I snapped a photo of it, and then grew a little bit annoyed. I was supposed to be at the end of the trail. I didn’t want to stop and wait for a snake to cross.
I’d just decided to walk through the underbrush, looping widely around the snake, when it slithered off the path.
Breathing shallowly, I continued along the trail. “Baba” had almost finished when I passed through a clearing and saw the fabled cable works. I had made it!

WP_004977 cable WP_004997 WP_005004 (2) WP_005036

on defining home: emotional

At the age of 20, I had spent approximately 56% of my life in New Zealand, 30% of my life in California, 6% of my life in Maryland, 5% of my life in Canada, and just under 3% of my life in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

They say that ‘home’ is where the heart is. If that’s the case, then my home is Canyon Village in Yellowstone, the place I’ve been happiest. Specifically, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, at 2AM in the morning of a late July night, wrapped in a blanket as it begins to snow.

For me, home was an era. Home was those cool summer nights in ’14 when we drove to Firehole River and swum under the full moon. Home was those late night summer canyon runs in ’13 under glittering stars when I told people more about myself than I’d told anyone in three years.

People fixate on the idea of ‘where are you from?’ because the answer to this question can generally give a sense of who one might be, and with which group they might fit in.

I am a city kid, but I was raised in a town of 40,000 people. I use single quotation marks around most single words, but double quotation marks around speech. I complain that it’s about 40 degrees out (Celsius) or that it’s about ten degrees out (Fahrenheit). I don’t have a glowing beach tan and I don’t listen to Flight of the Concords. I don’t speak like a valley girl and I’ve barely seen half of the Lord of the Rings movies. I am happiest when I am in the middle of nowhere, but I am happiest when anonymous in a bustling city. I could walk to my childhood friends’ homes in less than ten minutes alone, but my best friends live six hour plane rides away. I grow potted plants and support pot plants.

And the 5% of my life I lived in Canada? The biggest memory I have of that era is getting a gameboy advance for Christmas.

Where am I from? New Zealand, California, Maryland, Wyoming? It’s complicated. A nametag stating my birthplace or my permanent residence merely conveys a snapshot of my life, the dust cover of a book that has nothing to do with the inner pages detailing who I am.

Maybe someday I’ll make myself a home. Or maybe home will continue to be with my friends, and with my cherished memories, and I’ll just keep exploring.

on defining home: clinical.

1995-2002: New Zealand
2002-2003: Canada
2003-2006: New Zealand
2006-2013: California
Summer 2013, Summer 2014: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
2013-2015: Maryland
Summer 2015: Zion National Park, Utah
(projected) Fall 2015: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
(projected) Spring 2016: Morocco.

on the power of books.

Growing up as an only child, books were my constant and true companions. My parents scolded me constantly for trying to read under the table at dinner when I was absorbed by a book and simply had to know what happened next. I had many friends in real life, but the spunky kids in the books I read encouraged me to push myself and to take risks.

As my little sister is ten years younger than me, I’ve seen her and her friends learning to read. Some picked up Harry Potter and were writing their own novels days after declaring they’d never be able to read. Others struggled, not quite able to comprehend the letters on the pages. One of the latter was a six-year-old I babysat for. Despite being relatively intelligent, she had no motivation to read. I always brought a variety of my own books and games with me babysitting. One of these books was Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton, the first book of my favourite series growing up in New Zealand. Since I had seemingly the only copy available in the United States, I made a deal with her. She could borrow it, but she couldn’t let anyone else read it to her. When I sat for her again a month later, she proudly announced she had finished it and wanted the sequel.

I believe that books can bring people together. I’ve made friendships based on shared love for just one book—an emotional connection with a novel is a bridge to other people who were moved by that story. When I came to the realization that I was asexual, reading about Garp’s mother in John Irving’s The World According to Garp and Mia Thermopolis’s failing experiences with love in Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries kept me from feeling entirely alone in the world and reminded me that others had and would experience what I was going through. I wasn’t alone.

Books take us to worlds they might never otherwise be able to experience. I’ve experienced ancient Egypt through Cleopatra’s fictionalized memoirs. I’ve lived in space through K. A. Applegate’s Remnants series, and in a world where everyone is beautiful through Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. Through Sara Fazian’s novels, I’ve experienced life as a lesbian living in Tehran, Iran. I’ve read memoirs of student teachers in North Korea. I’ve seen how Earth might look in a century under a variety of different circumstances, and expanded my knowledge of political science through reading about warped governments in dystopian young adult novels. These experiences have made me a more emphatic person and allow me to appreciate the world around me more on a daily basis.

I aspire to work in publishing to be able to improve the quality of books that become available to children to ensure they’re able to enjoy the same experiences I did and to ensure they grow up knowing that they have many worlds at their fingertips. If children continue reading, whether it be in print or digitally, we will have an educated and understanding generation that can make our world a better place.

Academic: Can you judge a book by its blurb?

This was a paper written December 2014 for my Approaches to Everyday Discourse class.

Can you judge a book by its blurb?

Blurbs defined

How do you decide which book you want to read? When you go into a book store, which books appeal to you enough that you spend your money on them? If you go to a library, which books convince you that they’re worth your time?

Most people have a general idea of what they might want to read for fun. They might like to read romances with happy endings. They may enjoy mysteries that they can solve two pages before the main character does. They might enjoy biographies of people who lived through major parts of history. In a book store or a library, they’ll wander over to the genre they’ve picked out. Once there, they make a selection based on the information they have available. Often times, all the information they will have to decide from will be the dust jacket or front and back covers. If we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover art, then we are left with only the blurb to help us to make an informed decision about what we’ll read next.

The purpose of this paper is to examine blurbs used for young adult fiction novels and to explore the methods writers of said blurbs employ to capture their audience. Through examining the methods used in a sample of blurbs found on young adult fiction books, we can see the moves that blurbists generally follow typical patterns of moves and employ both pathos and ethos to convince their audiences to read a particular book.

Continue reading Academic: Can you judge a book by its blurb?

on asexuality.

I posted the following to Facebook in October, 2014.

It’s Asexuality Awareness week. So, here goes. Hi. My name is Ema and

I am asexual.

This means that I have no sexual drive and I don’t experience sexual attraction whatsoever. I adore cuddling, and, with someone I have an emotional connection with, kissing can be fun; however, anything more and I’d rather be eating cake.

To answer the most commonly asked questions: No, I am not a plant. Yes, I have orgasmed; no, I do not ever want to do so again. No, I do not need my hormones tested. And no, even if you are the most attractive person ever, you cannot ‘fix’ this.

Asexuals can be aromantic or homoromantic or biromantic or panromantic or whatever other label one wants to use. I myself am heteroromantic, meaning despite my asexuality I still become emotionally involved with males. I still can have and have had my heart broken. If in an emotionally committed relationship, I have few problems participating in sexual activities; I’m just indifferent to them. They’re boring and I’d rather do homework.

I still have no problems if you want to have a lot of sex with a lot of people and I have no problems if you don’t. Really, if it makes you happy and harms no one, I have no problems with it.

Please ask me any questions you may have. Sex and sexuality need not be taboo subjects and I have resolved to be very open in order to spread knowledge, awareness, and understanding.
Aside from people denying that it is possible for us to exist not experiencing sexual attraction, us asexuals are not, per say, often discriminated against; however, no one should ever have to go through their formative years thinking something is wrong with them.

I didn’t know asexuality–something that seems to go against all base human instincts–was even a thing for the longest time. Labels are often criticized, but though I have no regrets about my life, finding that label really made me a much more confident and secure person. Had there been more awareness I may have realized I wasn’t alone much earlier in life.

on dystopian literature.

This was a rather rambly thought response piece.

On the prominence of dystopias

The word dystopia, per the Oxford English Dictionary, wasn’t used until 1952. There’s a use of “dystopian” in 1868 that appears to be describing someone who is the opposite of a utopian, but “dystopia” itself has been in use for less than a century.

Utopia, on the other hand, has been in use since 1533 per OED. Since Sir Thomas More published Utopia in 1516, we can assume this work led to the word. Looking at definition B, we can see that briefly there was a time that utopia meant simply “an imaginary or hypothetical place” but for the most part, the word utopia has had the connotations of perfection.

So since dystopias have barely been around a fraction of the time utopias have, how come dystopian literature is so much more prominent?

In a utopia, everything is perfect. If everything was perfect, there would be no conflicts, and without a conflict, there can’t be a plot. Utopias are more prominent in articles as an ideal state to aspire towards. People are often inclined to read articles about how they can make their life into some ideal state, and a lot of self improvement articles advance ideas of perfection and utopian worlds that one can live in if one follows the given recipes. However, while we may want to live in an ideal world, we couldn’t read an entire novel about such a world. There’s a reason novels end with happily ever after and go no further. There’s a reason novels don’t tell about Jane and Joe’s everyday life as a married couple once they overcome the hurdles required to get there. It’s boring.

A lot of dystopias feature kids; dystopian literature is more commonly young adult literature. This may be because younger people tend to have more imagination. Harry Potter, for example, faces very real challenges and issues such as the “rampant slavery” of house elves, classism, racism, etc. However, since it has magic and people casting spells, it’s classified as children’s literature. The publishers could very well have chosen to market the series to adults, but they didn’t. Magic is a kids thing. Adults don’t believe in magic. Adults don’t even believe in Santa Claus; how could they be expected to believe in a world of magic? (This is also, of course, partially because the main character is 11 at the beginning. But why is he 11 and not 21? Because children are more receptive to this world.) In general, children have more imagination and can more easily accept worlds dissimilar to their own. That’s why ghost stories scare small children, why fantasy worlds envelop small children, why a novel that draws a small child in can bore an adult to sleep. I used to love babysitting because I got to read to the kids and see their unfiltered reactions. They have no preconceived notions and they aren’t afraid or ashamed to lose themselves in an unreal world.

But if you were to read them More’s Utopia, they’d probably fall asleep.

On dystopias arguably being utopias

I think dystopias tend to be utopias for some people involved–they tend to be societies created by people who expect them to become perfect for everyone involved. Dystopian literature is probably my favourite genre of fiction. I am a shameless young adult novel addict and many of the best YA books are set in dystopias.

For some reason, I find that authors tend to do better jobs creating dystopian worlds than entirely fantastical worlds–or maybe I’m just more inclined to find them believable. They’re generally more similar to our own worlds now, but with important changes. We don’t have to use our imaginations to see mystical creatures or strange lands.

Nonetheless, most of the dystopian worlds I can think of are perfect for one group of people–the main group, normally encompassing most of society or at least the governing forces–but are dystopian normally because the main character knows how to think and thus questions the way society is run. This is true of a lot of dystopian lit. 1984. Uglies. Inside Out. Matched. Divergent. Delirium. Children of Men. Handmaid’s Tale. I could keep going. For example, the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. (If you haven’t read it, read it. Ignore the fact that I love pretty much all YA dystopias. Just read it.) In this society, everyone is given an operation on their 16th birthday that makes them pretty. This creates ultimate equality. People are of all races and are all equally beautiful in their own ways. Most of them then get to sit around all day and party and do basically whatever they want. The ones who show rebellion are put into positions like doctors or police forces that require independent thinking and keep them adequately busy. Perfect, right? If the story was told by one of 99% of people living in this world, the world would be a utopia. However, our main character realizes that the surgery also makes the people a little bit stupid and more inclined to follow leaders and be peaceful. Similarly, in 1984, for all we know, most people are happy living their thoughtless worlds without going much deeper than their day to day happiness, not ever wanting more. However, our main character realizes the discrepancies in day to day life and starts to question life. If the story had been told from one of the zombie-like humans or from one of the people in power, we would see a utopia. Since it’s from Winston’s perspective, it’s a dystopia. I recently read a book, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, in which everyone in the society had interbred so that everyone had an olive skin colour and relatively similar features. Everyone was happy for the most part (again partially due to drugs that subdued most of their independent thoughts) until (long and complicated backstory short) a redhead shows up in their society. In Divergent, most people are happy because most people fit into the system–it’s just our main character that doesn’t fit into natural categories and hence begins to question things.

I could write an essay here on the topic (dystopian literature is just so fascinating!) but I’ll stop; I think I’ve made my point. Dystopias in today’s literature tend to be utopias for most of the people involved. It’s just those darn people who want to think freely and have their own independent minds and their own opinions who come and screw everything up.

Works cited:

“Dystopia.” Oxford English Dictionary. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

“Utopia.” Oxford English Dictionary. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.