Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday 5: One is Silver; The Other's Gold

Image courtesy Alex Chambers

Who made you laugh most in 2017?

I guess Lord Xenu (aka my partner), since I spent more time with him than anyone else.


What’s something you learned or discovered in 2017?

A friend of mine directed my attention to Ester Blenda Nordström, about whom there has been a recent spate of new media, including a documentary and a new biography.


In what way was 2017 better than 2016?

I think worse things might have happened in 2017, but they felt less bad (for those not directly impacted, obviously) because they were largely things we could see coming as of November 2016. The celebrity deaths in 2017 also seemed to have relented, at least a little, though my heart broke over Adam West.


What was your most pleasing purchase in 2017?

Houseplants! A humidifier! A stepstool! I'M A REALLY BORING ADULT, Y'ALL.


When in 2017 were you pleasantly surprised?

Blue waves in Virginia and again in Alabama. Let's keep that momentum going!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What I Read: Foxlowe

Image courtesy Fourth Estate


I finished Eleanor Wasserberg's Foxlowe in September 2017 but somehow failed to write about it here until now. This is not because Foxlowe is a forgettable or unremarkable book; far from it. The lack speaks more to how busy I was (or how poorly I managed my time) and to the backlog of reviews I had to plow through.

I might have seen Foxlowe appear on other book blogs here and there, but the one that tipped me to really wanting to read it was Juli's review at A Universe in Words. The best way to get me interested in a book is to give me a little taste test of it; if the best idea in the world is executed poorly, I won't be bothered, but if I like what I read I won't let it go until I find it. So to that end, I appreciate that Juli always includes a little blurb from the novels she reviewed.

Foxlowe is the name of a rambling old estate where Green has grown up as part of a back-to-nature hippie-style commune that has since become a full-on cult, headed by the tyrannical Freya. We learn about its decline and fall through Green, a woman who grew up at Foxlowe and then was subsequently thrust into modern society for reasons that remain unclear until the very end of the book.

I cannot emphasize enough how amazing Wasserberg's prose is. How do you write someone who grew up removed from society, who doesn't have the same cultural frame of reference as everyone else, who lives in a world with Solstices and The Bad and no schooling and Spike Walks? How will they sound when they finally have to join the rest of the world? The voice that Wasserberg gives Green is a perfect balance of cultural ignorance and personal insight. Green might be uneducated and only semi-literate, but she expresses herself precisely and eloquently (if, sometimes, somewhat disconcertingly).
At Foxlowe everyone has two names. One is a secret, meant to be lost. For most, it worked like this: first they had the one they came to Foxlowe with peeled away like sunburnt skin. Then a new name, for a new life. 
I used to get jealous of the Family with their secret outside names, while I only had the one, like half a person. Sometimes an old name would slip, strangled at a syllable with a blush. This was a sign to watch for, in case someone might wish to be become a Leaver. 
Now I am doubled that way, named twice, but for me, it's worked in reverse: my new name came later, on the outside, like putting on that crusty old skin that should be lying on the floor.
Wasserberg speaks openly about her love of gothic literature and its influence on Foxlowe, but what I immediately connected it with was Gwyneth Paltrow and The Food Babe and Jenny McCarthy and Kevin Trudeau and Dr. Oz. This is, admittedly, more about me than about the book, especially since Foxlowe's heyday is implicitly in the 90s, before any of these scandals really came to a head. But with Freya's inherent distrust of The Outside, her obvious fear of a vague, formless "Bad," and her adherence to living directly off the land, it's not hard to imagine a version of her in the 2000s or 2010s reading books and blog posts about "eating clean" and how Big Pharma is poisoning everything. (Naturally she would almost certainly be sneaking these reads in on trips to the Outside, maybe at libraries, or maybe on the few scraps of data she would allow on a cell phone plan for herself and the adults "in case of emergency"; there's no way free, unfettered computer and Internet access would ever be acceptable at Foxlowe.)

After spending years working through the TIME Top 100 Novels list (which I finished last year, finally, but more on that later), it's been weird to occasionally dip my toes into contemporary fiction and find something good, something really good. Foxlowe is definitely one of those finds. 

What makes it weird is that by bookstore definitions, Foxlowe could well be considered Young Adult. As per bookstore shelving philosophies, Young Adult is "any book with a protagonist from 14 to 18," which Green most certainly is throughout the bulk of the story, if not the entire book. But this is obviously not the usual YA novel language, as perfectly encapsulated by Postgrad Problems in their advice about how to write a shitty YA novel:
Simple sentence structure with SAT words. Readers will use context clues to figure out what big words mean, and it’ll convince them they’re reading something “smart.” They will not forgive you for making them think too hard, though.  

This was one of the better novels I read in 2017, and I can't wait to see what Wasserberg will do next.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Talky Tuesday: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 11: Bethlehem, PA

My baby-est, littlest cousin—my maternal aunt's only child—turned 21 this year.

I was 10 when she was born, and I remember thinking to myself, "One day she'll be 10, just like I am, and I'll be 20." At the time, it was barely fathomable to me that I'd ever be an adult (or that the wriggling red mass I was looking at would ever be "big" like me). I don't remember if I had that same thought when I turned 21: "Someday Haley will be as old as I am now, and I'll be...even more of an adult." It's a thought I could easily imagine myself having. In any case, that's the reality of it now. She's 21, and a junior in college—a period in my own life that doesn't seem ten years ago, and yet it obviously was!—and before you know it she'll be in her thirties, and married (or not!) and a mom (or not!), and I'll be even older...

Speaking of my family, Day 11 of the trip was dedicated mostly to lunch with Mom's side of the family. This would normally include Haley, but she was at the shore, so not this time.

It was a Sunday, and Mom suggested that I could go to church with her before we leave for lunch, and I more or less gracefully dodge that bullet.  I spent most of that morning doing some more cleaning and then reading by the pool.

Some books in my collection I had been clinging to since high school or thereabouts, because I really wanted to read them (or maybe more accurately, really wanted to be the kind of person who would read them), but could never get around to it. One of those was the Illuminatus! trilogy omnibus; I ditched that one because I'm definitely no longer a 14-year-old girl with a crush on a pretentious snob of a classmate. Another was Journal of a Solitude, which I bought at a library sale (the library that's now reaping the benefits (?) of my book hoarding tendencies) on the premise of "woman alone in the woods." This was right after I had AP English Language and Composition and fell in love with Walden and so a lady version of the same thing held a lot of appeal for me.

I decided to take a break from the boxing and the repacking and the sorting and sit with Journal of a Solitude out by the pool. It was summer, so it was basically peak beauty when it comes to the flowers and the landscaping.

A clear blue in-ground swimming pool with red-orange tile edging on a sunny day, with flower bushes and green trees in the background.


Green flowering landscaping featuring black-eyed Susans and a bush with pink flowers.



Not pictured are my absolute favorite flowers: some huge red hibiscuses just off-camera to the left in the first photo. But they had their moment before my trip and so there was only a couple of sad, drooping blooms left by the time I arrived..

This time Journal of a Solitude stuck with me, really stuck. I finished it on the bus to Albany and ended up giving it to Homesteader Friend, my host in Maine, because it seemed like exactly her thing. I was glad I held on to that book for as long as I did, because I'm glad I finally read it, and I hope Homesteader Friend gets something out of it herself.

Black and white cover of May Sarton's "Journal of a Solitude," a shot of an empty desk with a typewriter, lit by a lamp from outside a window.


Anyway, Lawyer Mom only took the time to change out of church clothes and then we were off to visit my grandmother at the senior home for a little before meeting everyone else (my aunt, my brother and his wife, and my "aunt" Doris) at the restaurant. My grandmother just turned 90 this year, and she's still "with it," but has it a little rough getting around. Her hearing also isn't the greatest so you have to slow down your speech by a third (and also crank up your volume by a third). We talked a little bit about how I'm doing in Sweden, and how she's glad that I'm not in Korea anymore.

We had lunch at an Italian place that Layer Mom and her sister habitually take their mother out to, because it's close by and it's easy for her to maneuver and they have food she likes. There were enough of us that we had a large table in the back to ourselves. I had a lot of the same conversation again with Aunt Donna (actually my aunt) and Aunt Doris (my grandmother's best friend and accepted friend of the family): what I'm doing in Sweden, good thing I'm not in Korea anymore, etc. I also get a very belated birthday card.

Aunt Doris was keen to know what life is like in Sweden, and it was hard to know exactly what to tell her. Everything about my life is pretty banal and not that different from the US, except that I don't drive. I landed on the story about going to the doctor on New Year's Eve to get a small piece of metal out of my foot and how it was less than $10 US for a quick (but necessary!) visit that took all of five minutes. The conversation was immediately sidetracked by the insane state of the American health insurance system and how much that kind of visit would cost with their respective insurance plans. We also talked about my brother's Instagram, which his wife hates ("anyone who doesn't know you or your weirdo sense of humor will just think you're an idiot") and which, according to Aunt Donna, Haley loves ("she gets it, John, she thinks it's hilarious").

After lunch, Lawyer Mom and I stopped at one of the vineyards between my grandmother's and home. We didn't get a bottle but I got a wine slushie, which I sipped for the rest of the drive home.

There was more cleaning once we got back home. The books were basically all done by this point; now I was up to my eyebrows in knick knacks and mementos. I also tried to get together jewelry stuff to either mail back to myself or to give away to crafty friends. The whole time I was home it simultaneously felt like I didn't have enough time in the day and that I also didn't get anything done, the worst of both worlds. But now Musikfest was over and there was nothing left for me to do except take care of my stuff and see Best Chemist Friend.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday 5: Seasons

Image courtesy Chris Lawton


What foods are most representative of each of the four seasons?

Summer for me is ice cream, strawberries, smoothies, and salads. Fall is apple EVERYTHING, and tea. Winter is chili and more tea, and also cookies. Spring is a trash fire of a season and I hate it.


What are good songs to represent each of the four seasons?






What would be good films to represent each of the four seasons?

I always watch The Big Lebowksi  on New Year's Eve. I don't know how or when or even why I picked up this habit, but there it is, so that's my pick for winter. I also always watch Groundhog Day on, well, Groundhog Day, but I think that's close enough to spring to count. (Again, spring is a garbage season and I hate it.) Alternatively, I always like to watch The Pirates of Penzance on Leap Day, which is that much closer to spring, so maybe that one? The Fourth of July is always a good time to watch something with explosions and punches and ridiculousness: "(Jason) Bourne on the Fourth of July," for example. Or a Rambo marathon, or Independence Day. Any one of those will work. And with Halloween, fall is the perfect time for your favorite scary movie. I have a soft spot for mid-century horror movies, myself: spooky but not terrifying. The best of those isn't even a horror movie, it's a straight-up black comedy: The Comedy of Terrors. Vincent Price, u da reel MVP.


If you could divide the calendar year into four seasons some other way with some other theme besides weather or major professional sports, where would each seasons begin and end, and what would each be called?

If there were any rhyme or reason or pattern to my Etsy sales, that would probably be a way to do it: busy seasons and off seasons. The same goes for editing. But whether or not I'm busy with those seems pretty arbitrary, at least for now, so...meh.


What’s something in your area that’s extra fun in the winter?

I guess if you like skiing, there's that. But I don't. There's nothing really extra fun about winter for me.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Trek Thursday: The Orville

Confession: I've never been a fan of Seth MacFarlane. I mean this both in the "I literally haven't watched any of his shows" sense and in the "I'm understating my active dislike of this putz" sense. I hate the art style of Family Guy and American Dad so much that I don't know if the humor is for me (except I will say the long-running gag about how Meg is fat/ugly/whatever is unfunny to the point of being cringe-inducing); his bit hosting the Oscars years ago with "I saw your boobs!" was ill-advised and, again, unfunny to the point of being cringe-inducing; when he's actually appeared on other shows I've watched (he had I think at least two interviews on The Daily Show?), he just seemed pretty bland.



So why do I love The Orville so damn much? Did MacFarlane suddenly surround himself with actually funny people? Did his prefrontal cortex finally finish developing? (Welcome to adulthood, my dude, I'm glad you finally joined the rest of us.) Does he just do sci-fi better than straight-up comedy? ("It's not a parody of 80s Trek," one of my friends commented. "It IS 80s Trek.") Is it just that Star Trek: Discovery is SO UNBELIEVABLY NOT TREK-LIKE that I'll take what I can get?

I don't know, but I'm glad it's out there to scratch my Star Trek itch after Discovery dropped the ball. (If I can mix metaphors a bit.) Let's just forget Discovery ever happened and let it flop along with CBS's weird streaming thing they're trying to tie to it, and then fold The Orville into the Star Trek canon. Discovery and the J. J. Abrams retoolings can have their own little awful bubble of "AU bullshit for people with no attention spans."

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Talky Tuesday: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Days 9 and 10: Bethlehem, PA

Day 9

After I wake up from my late 'fest night, I catch the LANTA bus like usual. I realize as soon as I get to the bus stop that I left my phone at Best Chemist Friend's. Priscilla is also too old to run Google hangouts so I'm just kind of cut off from the world until I meet her for dinner with my parents later.

I read some more out of Her Smoke Rises Up Forever while I wait for the bus. The guy sitting next to me—probably in his 40s, has a pattern to his speech that suggests some kind of mental or cognitive disorder—sees my 'fest mug and starts talking. I oblige but give him a fake name, and sure enough the question comes up:

"Are you single?"

"No," I answer, shaking my head.

"Are you married?"

"Yes." Technically correct; the best kind of correct. His interest immediately diminishes, but I still breathe a sigh of relief when he gets on a different bus.

It's another day of cleaning and purging. I find an old notebook with details of part of a trip I took to Chicago back in 2009 and type it up, along with some  travel notes from this trip.

With the books mostly whittled down, cleaning and purging now comes to the gifts and knick-knacks and things that I like and have had for years, but have to put through the "Do I want to pay money to ship it across the ocean?" gauntlet. More than a few things don't survive that.

I drop off the bag of goods outside, then wander inside for the first time in four years (I never managed to drop in while I was home in October). I stay long enough to see if there was a belt that might really work with the dress I had for the wedding, but leave empty-handed.

The rest of the day is uneventful except for dinner with Best Chemist Friend and my parents, when I get my phone back.

Day 10

Today I'm scheduled to hang out with blog friend Hillary at 'fest. The weekend also is my last chance to visit the Quakertown Farmer's Market for the next indeterminate amount of time, so after some more closet purging, I toss two garbage bags full of clothes into the car and drive to Quakertown, prepared to drop them in a clothes donation bin on the way back.

I buy a cannoli immediately after my arrival and do a single circuit around. There are too many new shops and empty stalls for my liking, but it's comforting to see some things remain: the sticky bun bakery, the "Korner Kupboard" (I don't know why the K's and maybe I don't want to know), the hippie incense store (that expanded, for a hot minute, into another hippie pagan store that quickly closed), the movie/video game store, the low-rent Spencer's-cum-secondhand store. In better news, the live alligator that had been living in a tank in the back of that store is no longer there; later Googling at home reveals that he's been sent to an animal sanctuary, then literally the day before I sit down to type this up, Best Chemist Friend messages me on Gchat to tell me that Wally the Gator is dead and that there's a memorial sign in his former tank.

RIP, Wally my dude. You deserved a better life than this. // Image courtesy cc at Meals I Have Eaten


"Our childhood is officially dead," she says.

"Guess we're real adults now."

Some of the empty stalls have been converted to some kind of food court or meeting place, with plastic tables and chairs and bulletin board for announcements. There's a jug band playing on chorus risers that serve as a low-budget stage, so I sit for a while to write and enjoy the music.

But even with that break, my walk around doesn't take that long, mostly because I'm deliberately avoiding buying things because where will I put them? Do I want to mail them across an ocean? No! And it's a good thing, because like a chump I decide to park at Musikfest and so I part with my money there instead. I definitely spent more time on the road to and from the farmer's market than in the market proper, but that's okay, because it's also nice to drive again (until the novelty wears off). I also managed to drop off those bags of clothes in a collection bin on my drive to Musikfest so arguably it was even a productive trip.

I meet Hillary down by the Nintendo product tent, where her husband has been sucked into the void that is video games. I get some lunch at Johnny's Bagels and we wander around and chat. There are a couple of consignment or secondhand or whatever shops on Main Street that I've never really stopped in but that Hillary's eager to try, and I guess she's my secondhand good luck charm because I walk away with a really cute pair of dress shoes (something I needed to buy at some point anyway) and a nice top to boot! We also watch the tail end and then the entire act of some street performers, then wander back off Main Street to get some food, pick up my final music purchase (an LP from Black Masala), see some shows, and meet up with some of Hillary's friends.



We also run into cave coworker Kelly, our (as in Kelly and I) mutual friend Janine, and Janine's new boyfriend, so that's a pleasant surprise and we stand around and chat a bit. Janine is a bit deep in her cups but in a charming and friendly and hilarious way. But I'm a crappy mutual friend and fail to mention at the time that both Hillary and Janine work in special ed. Oops!

There is some massive issue trying to drive home. A car that might be a Papa John's delivery car is blocking the box (so to speak) in front of the closest bridge to get out of town, with a couple of cop cars to boot; everyone is being diverted into a righthand turn instead of being allowed to go straight. I circle around and pull into a Wawa. I debate if it's worth just taking another bridge out of town, but after I get some more writing done (and enjoying the bakery cookies from the grocery store that I can never resist buying) and listening to Black Masala, things have cleared up so I just take my regular route home.

There's a paranoid parrot in the back of my brain who is convinced that I'll get run off the road by some drunk fester or other, but obviously I don't and I make it home fine, a little more sunburned and a little more sweaty than when I left. Lawyer Mom and Teacher Dad are still up (not waiting for me; it's just not that late yet) and I chat a little with them before I go upstairs.

This is the day where all of the tiki torch insanity goes down in Charlottesville. I don't have data on my cheap-o plan but Hillary does and so I'm halfway apprised of what's going on in the world while I'm seeing friends and listening to music and having a good time. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I catch up a bit on Facebook and all of that good stuff, then curl up in a ball and feel sad until I fall asleep.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday 5: Finding a Way

What’s something you’ve been unable to find?

Once in a while I get in a real sour mood over this or that weird obscure weirdo Soviet children's book from my childhood that's inexplicably gone missing. I'm kind of approaching one of those moods right now.

"It was green?" is all I can remember. // Image courtesy Maartan van den Heuvel



How’s your sense of direction?

I'm really bad at actually having a sense of "which way is north" kind of direction, but I think I have a pretty good intuitive sense of my position and my direction relative to where I want to go.


How good are you at sitting still?

Extremely good. Probably too good.


What’s something your parents always said you needed to get better at?

Not being a space cadet. Can't say I've improved much in that department. Sorry, folks.


In what way are you a better person today than you were ten years ago?

Ten years ago I was much more Internet shitlord adjacent than I am today. There but for the grace of God go I.