Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why I Write.

I'm planning on making a YouTube video on this topic, so I thought I'd collect my thoughts here.

This is such a complicated, multi-layered subject. Something you may or may not know about me is that I played tennis for most of my life up until five years ago. My relationship with tennis is tangled and weird and confusing. My relationship with writing is the same, but if tennis is shroud in shadow, writing is cast in light. Although, similar to a yin-yang symbol, neither one is absolute.

There's a picture of me in one of many childhood photo albums where I'm holding up a piece of paper, either the same size as my body or larger, and I've written out my name. I look really pleased with myself. I don't remember how old I am in the photo, but by that point, I was definitely a fan of paper, pens, pencils, crayons, and markers. I was also a little reader. My mom and dad read to me every night--Little House on the Prairie with Mom, and the classic Berenstain Bears books with Dad (we probably read those well past the intended age bracket). Mom liked good stories, usually historical fiction, and Dad liked morals.

I have stacks and stacks of journals (rarely is one completed), containing half-formed poems, songs, and, well, rants. I have a memory of carving several pages worth of my favorite swear word at the time after a row with my dad. I'm aware the narration of these diaries is of very low caliber, and I cringe to think of the spelling and grammatical errors that run rampant. However, these journals are some of the first places I began to organize my thoughts, dreams, ideas, and stories.

I guess you could say I was drawn to writing even before I understood what the craft entailed. I wrote with free abandon, letting the words come out of me. I did nothing to organize these nebulous lines; my poetry was horrible. My reading was of similar low station (although there are exceptions)--I gulped down shitty young adult fiction, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the more literary texts we read in school. I simply did not consider that I could read classics on my own. I did not know what contemporary fiction was. And I certainly didn't read poetry on my own. Although I loitered the poetry section of my local bookstore, whenever I leafed through Whitman or Plath, the obscurity of their words shut me out. I desperately wanted to "get" it, but I did not.

I joined a writing group in high school, and this experience shaped me irrevocably. I tend to hyperbolize, but this is not an occasion of that. Here I learned to give shape to my words--not well, but the idea was laid down. I rubbed shoulders with wonderful, intelligent, and kind people, and created lasting memories of good conversation over warm cups of coffee after the café had closed. It was a safe space for me to go when so many other things in my life were uncertain.

I knew I was an English major before I even knew what majors were. Right before I formally submitted the paperwork, I flirted with being a Philosophy major. But that only lasted for a moment, and so I embarked on my English-majoring journey. Additionally, I went into college with a Creative Writing concentration and thoroughly enjoyed my introductory course despite the abundance of nursing majors who where there to fulfill their humanities requirement. Studying creative writing in college and taking workshop-based classes helped me sharpen my style and voice and taught me to read widely. I did a directed study in which I observed my advisor write a non-fiction book-length piece, and the thesis statement of that reflective essay essentially reads, "in order to do the thing, you must do the thing." A writer writes.

Am I writing? Yeah! Not as rigorously as some, but consistently enough. I could always write more. We all could. Yet I have my goals and my projects and I chip away. And that is good.

But why do I do the thing? It's like this--because I want to. Because despite the blood, sweat, and tears, it mostly brings me joy. Because if I don't do it, I get cranky. Because it's an outlet. A call. A religion. (Haha, maybe. I don't know). (But it is definitely those other things).

Why do we do anything? I think we are responsible for creating the meaning that is the lining in the fabric of our lives, and so because I attribute worth to writing, that is why I find it worth doing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Curry, Broad City, and Rebel of the Sands

I can't believe that basically a month ago I turned 24. March happened in a blink of an eye. I know we still have a week of it left, but it doesn't feel that way. Spring always does this to me. It works on super speed. The end of summer and beginning of fall fuse and meld into winter like melting chocolate on a double broiler. It takes FOREVER. And then all of a sudden it's spring and I get really busy, like I'm making up for being a slow, lumbering hermit for four months, and before I know it it's the summer and I'm laughing and living and sweating but the sweating feels good--like I've worked hard for it and everything has been building up to this moment.

Anyway, happy spring to you.

Last week I got paid (I get paid every week) (but as I'm saving money, this pay period was specifically for grocery shopping) and I went grocery shopping, and I spent $20 AND GOT ALL OF THE VEGETABLES, because Quality Food Center has this amazing discount shelf where they bag up really ripe stuff in .99 cent pouches, and they also mark down anything that's on its way out, AND they have a section in the back where you can get dented canned food for like .43 cents. So, I took my loot home (strapped to my back as I biked) (yes, I'm trying to make this sound more epic than it actually, probably was) and made curry for the first time.

I'd gotten a Whole Foods voucher for my birthday, so in my pantry tomato paste, curry powder, and canned coconut milk were already waiting for me. What I really enjoyed was taking the time to cook a hearty, amazing-smelling meal. Chopping vegetables. Simmering the onions with the tomato paste. Cooking down the squash and parsnips. Etc. (I don't know if there is a "real" way of making curry, so I'll omit a step-by-step rendition to avoid offending anyone). By the time it had finished cooking, I was excited to eat my late lunch (it tasted delicious) AND at that point I had two weeks of food to get through. I put half of it in the freezer and I have been slowly making my way through it.

Last weekend was crazy. I did ALL THE THINGS, it seemed like. I got a stout with Emma and Aaron a day late to celebrate St. Patty's day. Then I slept over, got coffee with Dane, then we met up and got lunch with Emma before going to the Aviation Distillery gin tour and tasting, then Emma and I had another cocktail, then we went back to her apartment to have grilled cheese and watch Futurama, then Aaron and I took my bike to the bike shop, then Aaron and I met Laura and Tyler at Apex and had drinks and nachos, and then I went to Laura and Tyler's to try Laura's red velvet pancakes, then I slept over, then I hung out with Laura, Penny, and Stella while Laura made zucchini bread, then I ate her zucchini bread, then I biked home and made a YouTube video, then I relaxed and read before this crazy week started.

This week I've had extra hours at work since the kids are on spring break. After work, I have had no energy for anything besides eating and curling up into a ball to watch TV or read. I have been watching the third season of Broad City and if you haven't checked it out I say you should. It's a semi-sketch sitcom of two best friends living in New York City, and it's sort of the more realistic middle-class, aware of its privilege, funny version of GIRLS, but totally its own thing. It's produced by Amy Poehler and really great fun.

I've also been reading Rebel of the Sands and oh my God, I just finished it earlier this evening (you can read my review here), and I loved it. It's everything I want out of YA and more. A girl from the desert is desperate to get to the city her dead mother always used to talk about, but when the opportunity arises and she finally escapes her small town, she is swept up into the legends of her people and the war of her time. Boom.

READ IT. Do it. Doooooo ittttt.

That's what I've been up to, people. These next couple of weeks I am going to lay low, copy-edit, and chill until Tom comes to visit. TOM IS COMING TO VISIT IN BASICALLY A WEEK AND A HALF. I'm super excited! We're going to take over Portland by storm.

More soon. Xx.

Two weeks ago I went to a beer and doughnut festival if you can believe it!

David visited me in Portland and we drank wine and ate abandoned peanut brittle. This may or may not have been on a bus. We also did lots of other fun Portland-y things!

Emma and Dane at the gin tasting!


Friday, March 4, 2016

Slow TF down.

This morning I woke up with the worst head cold and sore throat I've had in many a year. I don't think I have a fever, but I am currently experiencing what could be politely called a heat flash. I have been drinking orange juice all day, sleeping, and I chewed through an entire bag of Ricola lemon-mint cough drops (the best part of being sick). I also re-watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and I get it now. It's a good movie. Visually, story-telling-wise, sound track. Just, Ferris is a dick. Has anyone noticed that? He takes advantage of and manipulates the people in his life to have a good time. Yes, they usually experience something awesome that they otherwise wouldn't have, but still. Using your friends is dumb. He sort of redeems himself at the end when he apologizes to Cameron for getting them in trouble with the car. But do the ends justify the means??!!?!??!!?! Answer me that, blog-reader friend.

Sanne at booksandquills on YouTube recently made a video about Helmiku--this series of videos she does every February. The video is a vlog in which she and Marion go to Brick Lane AND GET RAINBOW BAGELS. I have always been attracted to colorful foods, despite the fact that food coloring does not enhance taste or texture in any meaningful way. But let me live out my rainbow food fantasies in peace, please. In my half-awake, half-delirious state, I have googled "rainbow bagels portland." This is what I found:

Portland Bagel Company makes a rainbow bagel. It's not the same as the one on Brick Lane, but the shop's cream cheese flavors are promising and--

Oh my God. I was going to talk about how I never go to NW Portland and it would be good to have a reason go adventuring up there. But I just realized this place is in North Bend, OR. It's not even in Portland. It takes three hours to drive there by car.

Wow. Now half of this blog post is irrelevant.

You know what? I don't even care. Basically, I wanted to tell everyone that it's important to listen to your body and relax. Because if you don't slow down, your body will. And then you'll be bed-ridden, writing shitty blog posts about rainbow bagels you cannot even get to realistically. Although, if Ferris has taught me anything today, it's that I should live a little. Anyone up for a road trip? After I've recovered, of course.

Sending out my love!


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

February update.

I feel like the second half of January and the first half of February happened so fast. 

What is time?

What have I been up to?

I took a little break from Writer's Forum.

I've been reading quite a lot (as the library in Portland is phenomenal).

I started a second babysitting job.

I cat-sat some more.

I've consumed a lot of coffee.

I've been writing.

I've been making YouTube videos.

I went to St. Honoré on Division with Emily and we had a delicious French feast for lunch.

I've been missing Europe.

I've been hanging out with friends.

We've had some good life/philosophic/travel-related chats.

I've been Instagraming.

I've been hanging out with Sunny, Emily's dog.

We have gone on several walks.

I used the dog-treat bowl at my bank.

And that pretty much brings us up to date.

Oh, and I've been copy-editing as well.

I'm turning 24 in 9 days.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Year of Listening: Audiobooks I Consumed in 2015

I drafted an outline on this topic for a YouTube video, but when I finished writing it, I realized I had too much to say for one video. I decided to write a blog post instead.

Early last year, many YouTubers made videos sponsored by Audible in which they discussed using a free trial and what their experience listening to audiobooks was like. (Amy Poehler's Yes Please had just come out, so many people reviewed that book; I haven't listened to the audiobook, but it's read by Amy and I hear it's great).

This exposure to Audible and some other various factors persuaded me to get an account. And thus, I started my audiobook journey.

I first downloaded Rooms by Lauren Oliver. This is the story about two ghosts who watch as a family cleans out its late father/ex-husband's house. Gretchen at ChicNerdReads had recommended it in book form, but for some reason I decided to listen to it. I think I thought it wasn't the type of book I'd normally read myself, but I'd be willing to have someone read it to me. Whatever my thinking, it doesn't matter: this audiobook is fantastic. The vocalists' performances make the book come alive. Rooms has multiple points of view, and each point of view has its own vocalist. The drama of the story is based on who knows what information and each speaker does a wonderful impression of the other characters--it's not corny at all. I would take long walks home from work just to listen to Rooms, and it really left me with a positive impression of audiobooks.

After Rooms, I tried picking up Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, but I really didn't like the performer's style, nor was I partial to, to be frank, the sound of his voice. I think I'd enjoy the story--a woman, who has never before seen the ocean, decides to go see it and just packs a gun and some chocolate and starts walking--but in text. I took a lengthy hiatus from audiobooks after this mishap.

I had purchased The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling the previous year for when my mother and I cleaned and painted our house in Vermont. We put it on in the background, but we were always in different rooms and could never really commit to the story. I am so glad I gave it another go because it is incredibly heart-breaking and important. The writing is an example of Rowling's range as an author. Just because she's known for a heart-warming fantastical children's series doesn't mean she can't point out and look directly at so many messed up things in the very real world. Tom Hollande is a wonderful vocalist--each character sounds distinct and is recognizable without sounding artificial. Also, this story made me cry to the lyrics of "Umbrella" by Rihanna. The detail and complexity in this book is remarkable. However, it is not for the faint of heart. A listener must be in the right mindset.

Next, I dipped an ear into The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey. It is a fresh look at the zombie apocalypse. I'd heard about this book through Jen Campbell on BookTube and was determined to give it a listen. Sadly, it took me forever to get through it. Partly because I was busy, and partly because I went back and forth between listening to music and listening to the audiobook while I was in transit, which is where I get most of my listening done. I do think, however, that the story itself is somewhat slow. While it is beautiful and sad in an eye-opening way, the tension takes a while to build. There is steady psychological and mental conflict, but the action is sparse. This does not necessarily make it a bad book, but maybe this style of book isn't conducive to a positive audiobook experience. By the time I got to the conclusion, I felt let down. It makes sense, but it didn't touch me in any lasting way. I wonder if I would have felt differently if I had read it, and in a shorter span of time.

I took a couple-month break before diving into The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. This is a sort-of-psychological crime thriller, and I don't want to say too much more because it is best to go in knowing very little. I adored this audiobook. And, I'd go so far as to recommend you listen to it in lieu of reading it. There are three female vocalists and they all do an amazing job. So amazing that they got in my head and made me question my own sanity.

Next, I listened to Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. This book is great fun--Mindy reads it herself, and as a professional comedian, she delivers. Her advice and experiences are intriguing: this book is a solid choice for anyone interested in Mindy's work, the entertainment industry, and how to be a successful person. Mindy's writing has such a distinct voice that if I had read the book, I would have been able to hear her on the page. Her actual reading of it adds a nice touch to the whole experience.

Finally, I have listened to The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer three times now. This audiobook is changing my life. You should listen to it. Everyone should. I talk discuss The Art of Asking in more detail here: Feel free to check it out.

So, what have I learned about audiobooks from my year of listening?

There is not necessarily a particular genre of book that is more or less compatible with the audiobook format; however, slower-paced books, such as The Girl With All The Gifts, might be more enjoyable in book form.

A vocalist's performance can make or break an audiobook. Rooms by Lauren Oliver isn't a book I would have normally picked up, but the vocalists kept me interested in the story they were telling.

I want to listen to more psychological thrillers, because, during The Girl On The Train, I enjoyed feeling connected to the characters--like I was gaining access to the inside of their minds--through an audible voice.

Listening to an author read her own non-fiction piece can have its perks--Mindy Kaling makes one or two side-notes that aren't in the book-version of Why Not Me?, plus some of her friends read parts of the book where appropriate, including B.J. Novak. In The Art of Asking audiobook, some of Amanda's songs are played in-between sections. And yet another bonus? You get to hear her Neil Gaiman impression.

It's difficult to say which books should be listened to instead of read. Of course, as a reader-listener, you have your own taste--you have to experiment to see which things work for you. Some people really like listening to memoir or other non-fiction books, but I'm not sure I'd be able to pay attention for that long. Some wonderful books have terrible vocalists; often you can sample a piece of the audiobook before purchasing it. I'd recommend listening to these clips--it's pretty easy to tell how you like someone's voice right off the bat.

I'm going to continue listening to audiobooks to see where they take me. If you're an avid audiobook listener, what sorts of things do you prefer to listen to? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know. Either way, happy listening!