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Here’s What’s On Tap

16 Nov

Yes, let’s title with a beer analogy, because 2016 my friends. I think we can all agree this year has been a wash of ugly. (I still miss you Alan Rickman). Luckily in addition to beer, art-making is also a beautiful and highly effective coping mechanism.

This weekend, for the first time in a very long while I am performing in a straight dance show. No singing, no acting, just moving. The showcase is called I’d Rather Be Dancing. My piece is less than two minutes long, but I’ve already put in about five hours of rehearsal and here’s a lovely taste of what I have to show for it.

file-nov-16-3-08-31-pm

I bet you thought it was going to be a cute dancer pose. ahHA. ah ha ha ha.

dance

There we go

If you’re not busy this weekend, come see me! My piece is a really neat contemporary lyrical/hip hop amalgamation. Showtimes are Friday, Saturday, Sunday at 8:00 at Dance 101 Atlanta. Tickets are only $10! If you’re looking for even more cultural entertainment, I highly recommend checking out my insanely talented buds at Act 3 in Violet, and over at OnionMan an original work called Cul-de-Sac, both in their final weekends.

While we’re on the subject of original works, I’m sure you’re dying to know how NaNoWriMo is coming along *snort*. So far, I’ve stuck to my goal of five minutes per day, and it does usually turn into more (my evil plan is working muwahaha). With wild extremes at both ends, I’m averaging about 45 minutes and 400 words per day. As a result, here at the mid-month mark I’m very close to being done with my short story and have about 40 (.doc) pages of the play. My current struggle is making each scene follow a logical set up without having the structure be completely naked and obvious (don’t you hate that?). I have no actual training or experience in play construction other than just reading and acting in them, and it’s harder than it looks.

For your entertainment, here are the summary blurbs I’ve written about my pieces.

All There Is (Play):

The Finleys are a work in progress. Winn’s long-time marriage is starting to feel more like a triathlon than happily ever after and Willa can’t understand why her childhood neighbor Sam is suddenly on her mind. Formidable matriarch Polly is white-knuckling her tenuous influence upon her children and the community without the support of her checked-out husband Ernie, even as her elderly father-in-law’s grasp on reality is starting to slip. Down the street, Sam’s fragile wife Laura seems ready to drag them both beneath the surface. It will take a national tragedy for this balancing act to right itself.

The Sieve (Short Story):

Gia and Leece are close as sisters. When Leece becomes a White Walker, a voluntary citizen honor guard tasked with a series of targeted peace-keeping assassinations every third year called the Sieve, their friendship will be put to the ultimate test. This is one girl’s story told through the lens of the other, exploring the nature of good and evil, the undercurrent of violence that exists in all of us, and the sacrifices we make for peace.

For those who are really invested in this, below is a sneak preview from the short story. It’s stumbling towards the unlikely genre of Literary YA fantasy, because that’s how it came out of my head. You may recall that the plot is based on a dream, and in that dream the characters were, in fact, young adults and the events were, in fact, fantastical. So you can blame my subconscious. At this point my biggest accomplishment of the entire piece is having worked in a word that T invented at age 2, but which I totally think should be an actual word (since it’s not in this excerpt and I don’t want to leave you on the edge of your seat – it’s lasterday).

Please bear in mind that this is a totally unedited rough draft. Sorry for any references that don’t make sense out of context. 

Hours later, as we filter out into the watery sunlight, Leece finds me. I recognize the violet layered gown she wears as the one I liked best from the Tiny Frock mock-ups. She’s had it readjusted though, with mauve wrappers at the arms and bodice that serve to make it both beautiful and warm. The ever-present white quilted jacket, which by all right should have made the effect gawky, instead makes it entirely original. Her increasingly haunted face does nothing to detract from this. She looks dazzling.

I don’t say this though. Instead I say, ‘We couldn’t afford a new gown this year. My brothers grew too much and needed new things.’

‘You should have said something. I would have given you one of mine.’

‘It’s too cold for any decent Mayfair dresses anyway,’ I say, and immediately regret it.

Leece is unruffled. ‘You did a lovely job today. Your solo piece was extraordinary, truly.’

‘It was only two lines.’

‘Oh, but they are the most beautiful lines of the whole song. And I’ve never heard anyone perform them that way. It felt like dancing.’

‘Well,’ a flush creeps under my collarbone and I try to resist the urge to scratch it. ‘I practiced a lot.’

‘Gia,’ she says, and stops walking, pulls my hand and leads me away from the flow of bodies moving toward the market fairway, where the celebration is tuning up. ‘I need to ask you something. A favor.’

‘What is it?’ I say warily. Her hand is sweaty. She drops mine and licks her lips, glancing sideways. We’re in a natural alcove created by a stand of lullapple trees. The lush buds which had burst into blossom over the past few days look stunted and shocked from the chill.

‘This isn’t usually done.’

I’m intrigued but I force myself to act nonchalant. ‘OK.’

‘You know tomorrow is Assignment day.’

I hadn’t known. Of course I know Mayfair marks the beginning of Sieve season. But I’ve never paid attention to this particular part of it. It seems like I’ve learned more about the Sieve in the past month than I gleaned from an entire lifetime. How blind have I been all these years?

‘OK,’ I repeat, feeling stupid.

‘I need you to get my assignment for me. Please.’

‘What?’ I couldn’t have been more shocked if she’d walked up and licked my face. ‘Am I even allowed to do that?’

‘Well…it isn’t the usual way of doing things, it’s true,’ her eyes skirt sideways. ‘But it’s not totally unprecedented. The Guide states that if a White Walker is prevented by earnest affairs from receiving his or her target assignment, a proxy may be appointed to receive the scroll.’

‘What earnest affair is preventing you?’ fire rises in my gut, sizzling the words on my tongue. This business has been eating our entire lives for weeks. When will we have peace? Haven’t I laid enough at this altar?

‘I…I can’t tell you.’

I stare flatly. ‘You want me to pick up your scroll – which is not ever done – and you can’t tell me why?’

‘I’m so sorry Gia. I promise I’ll tell you when I can.’ Apology shimmers off her like a road throwing heat. It’s absolutely suffocating.

‘Alright. Fine, yes.’

‘Yes?’

‘Didn’t you hear, yes!’ I have to get out of here. I feel dangerous. My fingers curl and stretch of their own accord. ‘Tell me what I have to do.’

Then she does.

All of you out there doing writing projects – it ain’t easy, is it? [she says, wiping away beads of sweat].

But despite the bruising and the sweating and the nightly crises of self-doubt, I’ve kind of been enjoying my time off from involvement in a production. P and I are planning a trip to Harry Potter World in early December (HELLZ YEAH) and I’m headed to the beach next week (HELLZ YEAH²), where I plan to huddle on a mermaid-looking rock wrapped in a blanket guzzling my decaf and write. like. crazy. I’ve even been doing a little cooking at home (don’t look so shocked) and will share an easy recipe in time for T-gizzle.

And not to worry, the stage is in store for the near future. I’m all lined up for my next gig in February, playing Alice in the stage version of Closer. Yep, it’s the stripper part, which should surprise absolutely zero people considering my track record of playing prostitutes and other morally bankrupt characters (is it the red hair?).

alice

Alice is considerably closer to 20 than Janie is, so this holiday season I will be accepting gift cards for Juvederm and Botox. Kthanks bai.

At least this one has deep, deep layers. Mark your calendars for February 9 – 26!

Working Title

31 Oct

There’s a slice of conventional wisdom that admonishes you to do something every day that scares you.

I’ve never been a big fan of this saying. I don’t believe that a state of perpetual trepidation is any guarantee of a more productive and fulfilling life. It pretty much only guarantees high blood pressure.

And yet.

There’s something to be said for challenging yourself in small doses. Calculated risk-taking, if you will. Most of us have a Thing we want to do, and for whatever reason–fear of failure chief among them–most of us do a whole lot of other things to avoid doing the Thing. Not to say that if you never pursue your Thing, or if you never make money doing it, your life will be incomplete. There are so many paths to contentment that it’s absurd to think that missing one means you’re doomed to deathbed regrets. I find that concept, like the one of a single soulmate, kind of illogical.

And yet.

There can be a lot of joy exploring something kind of scary that you always wanted to do. One Thing I’ve always wanted to do is write. Cushion Cut, and its predecessor Against Type, was started at least partially as a channel for this. I started writing in elementary school because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. As I got older, I wrote trying to get at some kind of universal truth, either observed or my own. There was a lot of terrible and delicious writing that came out of this epoch.

Today, I mostly see writing as an extension of my identity as a storyteller – a cousin of the kind of storytelling I do as an actor and in my daylight career. I’ve talked before about how I wrote two short plays — those are some of the only completed works in my canon. Everything else (that isn’t on this blog or graded) is in fragments. I attempted to write a novel in my early twenties that fell victim to outdated technology.  That was such a discouraging turn of events that I gave up on fiction for a long time.

And yet.

I guess the story has still been slumbering somewhere in my unconscious. Because when some friends invited me a few months ago to arrange a writer’s retreat, and I sat down to free write some ideas, it came back up. It had picked up a lot of other random debris snowballing towards my prefrontal lobe, but the essential core was still there, like an itch. That is to say, persistent and really freaking irritating.

So when we finally had the retreat earlier this month, and I started putting a scene together, it started to resurface. It felt good to be writing, and I’m not in a show right now, so the time seemed right to do the Thing.

So in honor of today’s horror-filled holiday, I announce to the world today that I am committing to participate in National Novel Writing Month.

shield-nano-side-blue-brown-rgb-hires

If you don’t know about NaNoWriMo, you should check it out. The premise is to write an entire novel in one month. Some well known works including Water for Elephants have come out of this initiative. 

I’ll be using the worldwide digital event to write a full length play (yes, I’m not technically following the rules but it’s long form fiction so close enough). The scary part isn’t really making the commitment, but telling people about it. Taking the chance that people are going to ask on November 20 – and 11th, and 6th – how that play is coming. And that I’ll have to either tell them about my story or make one up on the spot.

Speaking of cheating: I have a sidepiece. A couple of weeks ago I had a vivid dream, what I secretly call in my head an adventure dream. Unlike most dreams which don’t make sense and are hard to remember, this one stuck with me. It also had a clear beginning, middle, and end. The timing seemed too fortuitous to not to turn it into a story.

So as a warm-up I’m fleshing out the dream into a short story. It was supposed to be done today, but 17 pages into it it’s still sputtering out of my fingers. So I’ll be using NaNoWriMo, which starts tomorrow, to work on both pieces. Traditionally you’re supposed to have ambitious daily wordcount goals, but I’m rusty so my goal is very simple: to write for at least five minutes one one of the pieces every day. Supposedly if you take the time to write for even a few minutes, the human compulsion to achieve will kick in resulting in some actual progress. The idea is that, by December, I’ll be somewhere close to two sh!tty first drafts. It may never come to anything, it may never even see the light of day, but I will have done the Thing.

It’s not going to be easy. Unlike doing a show which forces you to be social, writing does the opposite. Not only is it a solitary activity, but it requires you to become completely immersed in a world that isn’t your own. Even the most normal person on earth can get a little bonkers digging around the confines of their skull for hours every day. And this may alarm some of you, but: I’m not really a normal person.

What I’m saying is, if I seem weird next month? Just give me chocolate and invite me someplace.

So what’s your Thing? Anyone other NaNoWriMo participants out there? 

Greetings, Earthlings

21 Jan

Welcome to 2016! Clearly I’ve been floating far away from this corner of the galaxy for a while–getting buffeted by strong winds on all sides.

First, I accepted a new day job. The interview process, which stretched across the entire holiday season, was the most arduous and exacting of my life so far–to say nothing of the avalanche of work that subsequently descended upon me at my current position. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be writing for a living! So that’s a huge coup for my personal and professional life. Even if the trauma of resigning (what can I say, I hate disappointing people) basically caused me to gain two pounds in half a day due to stress cortisol.

Then the downside of the rollercoaster: not two days after all this came to a head, an intruder broke into my home while T and I were asleep. P had left for work and the thief must have thought the house was empty. As soon as he saw us he walked out the front door without disturbing us–but not before he grabbed my large work handbag with my entire life in it. So this past week has been a flurry of phone calls (on a landline because I have no cell phone, GAH) to banks, credit card companies, identity theft professionals, the DMV, insurance agencies, the police, and basically everyone I’ve ever been in contact with.

On top of that, we’re looking at the prospect of moving–and by extension elementary school selection (charter school choice for most districts starts around now). And of course, just because a bunch of my money got stolen, and it’s my birthday in two weeks, my car decided it needs $2000 worth of repairs in order to pass emissions.

It’s enough to drive a girl to drink–but dammit, I don’t have any ID.*

*Kind souls, when they hear my story, keep asking what they can do to help. Answer: please bring me a bottle of Ketel One and/or Buffalo Trace. 

Anyway. All this to say that I haven’t found time to post lately. I’m sure you’re utterly bereft. So I’ve compiled a few things to keep you busy until I get my feet under me and start writing again.

The Genius Notations of Hamilton

From the June 2015 Vogue

If you’re a theatre person, you’ve already heard of the musical Hamilton, the hip hopera biographic of that dude on the ten dollar bill that got killed in a duel. And if you’re not a theatre person, you’ve probably heard of it too. But have you read the annotated lyrics on Genius? Genius.com, the site where users and artists can footnote the lyrics of pop music, has done an utterly epic job of breaking down the musical line by line. Even before this particular cultural phenomenon hit the scene last year, Alexander Hamilton the person was enjoying a slight resurgence in admiration after years of being eclipsed by the other founding fathers who were his ideological rivals (and incidentally, didn’t die in duels). In the musical, all those old white dudes are played by young black and brown people. Even the women get a decent word in, which is saying a lot for both then and now. So now, A. Ham is basically a cult hero and everyone and their mother is interested in American history, which is nothing but awesome. (But I’d like to take a moment to remind you all that – ahem- I was into this time period before it was cool).

Anyhoo. Go check it out pronto. It will keep you busy for a while.

Just Mercy. Just Read It

My current place of employment is having a one time campus-wide book club (how cute is that?). I don’t get to participate, due to leaving the job and all. But I read the book anyway, and was really moved. In the broadest strokes, it’s about the inequities of the legal system in America. The heart of the story centers on one representative example of a man who spent years on death row and was almost executed for a crime that mounds of evidence made clear he did not commit. There are a lot of people who won’t even give the book a chance based on those two sentences alone. Don’t be one of those people. Read it now–instant paradigm shift.

Bkr

Before it was stolen, I got to use part of a gift card my dad gave me for Christmas to buy a schmancy new beverage vessel. Everyone is into S’well but I went with a Bkr. The bottle is cool enough, but go check out their website. You’ll kill an hour or two reading the wacko names and descriptions on all of the dozens of color choices, and laugh at the pretentious styling and captions of their promo shots. A sample: I only use Bkr on two occasions: when I am in love and when I am not. (Who are these copywriters and how do I get some of what they’re on?).

Stars who may or may not be in love.

Rearrange Furniture

Virtually, that is. The Icovia MakeRoom Planner allows you to choose a room design (or enter your own custom dimensions), enter all sorts of furniture pieces, and then move them around willy nilly. Endless entertainment and no scratches on the hardwood.

Check out my headshots

I guess this isn’t really something to do, but lookee! I got new headshots!

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but if I did, they would be something along the lines of investing more in my acting career. I’m choreographing right now, taking an acting class, getting ready to start voice lessons, and have a big audition on Saturday (as if I didn’t have enough on my plate). Also I plan to do Unifieds this year. New headshots were definitely in order.

It goes against my instincts as a feminist and a trained actor to complain about this, but I felt seriously old after these were taken. My previous headshots were only taken about four years ago–not a very long time–but I look very different. Not since infancy has my body undergone such rapid..er..revisions.

New Headshots

JANIE_YOUNG Headshot 2016

I’m sort of getting used to them now…but not to the point where I’m going to show you guys the un-retouched versions.

I had all this in the works before this new job fell from the sky and hit my Chicken Little head. Previously I would have put it on hold due to my ineptness at juggling too many large undertakings at one time, but I’m grabbing the bull by the balls, to put it elegantly. What with these wrankly-ass headshots, plus David Bowie and Alan Rickman gone in the space of a week, life is starting to feel short (it’s getting dark…*cough*).

Or maybe I’ve just been listening to too much Hamilton.

The Rattly Old Skeleton

29 Oct

In the last post about my very own Schrödinger’s cat experience, I referenced a story called “The Rattly Old Skeleton,” which I’d told T a few days before. It’s one of the only scary stories I know by heart, so even though it’s a children’s story I continue to tell it anytime a likely occasion arises. I even used to tell it to my college roommates, lying on our XL twins, the dorm dark and hushed.

This story originally came from an audio tape of spooky stories we got from the public library when I was a kid (yes, a tape. It’s called history.). I wanted to link to the story in my post, but after scouring the interwebs I determined that it is absolutely nowhere in print.

This cannot stand. As a graduate of the Theatre & Performance Studies program, I am acutely aware of the paramount importance of oral history, stories being passed from one generation to the next. This is one that, no matter how slightly silly and strange, I really don’t think should die. So in honor of Halloween, light up a fire (or at least turn up the sound effects; I love A Soft Murmur) and gather round for the only (as far as I know) publication of the story of:

The Rattly Old Skeleton

Once upon a time, there lived a Little Old Man and a Little Old Woman, deep in a dark forest. That winter, the cold was so harsh and the snow so deep that all the game animals moved on. So they had very little to eat. The Little Old Man and the Little Old Woman watched their food and firewood slowly dwindle until one day, they had no food left at all and only enough kindling for one more fire.

The Little Old Man said to the Little Old Woman, “Little Old Woman, I must go hunting or we will surely starve. I know it is cold in the cabin, but you must not light a fire. We have only enough kindling for one more and we’ll need it to cook the food I shall bring back.” Then he shouldered his rifle and left.

The Little Old Woman sat as long as she could in the cold, dark, house. But soon she was so freezing that her hands and feet were going numb and turning blue. And she was so very hungry. Finally, with the last of her strength, she used the last bit of kindling to light a big, roaring fire.

It was so warm. She stretched her frozen hands out closer to the fire to thaw. Closer, and closer she put reached, vainly trying to warm her chilled bones until — OUCH! — the fire burned her finger. She quickly drew it to her mouth to quell the pain. And found…hm.

It tasted good.

Tentatively she took a little nibble. A queen’s meal could not have tasted finer. But she was still so very hungry. So she took her whole hand and put it in the fire, and ate it. Then she put her whole arm in the fire and ate that too. Little by little, she put her whole body in the fire and ate herself down until she was nothing but a

Rattly

Old

Skeleton.

But. She was still hungry.

By this time the fire had died down to embers. The Rattly Old Skeleton heard the sound of The Little Old Man shuffling back through the snow dragging something heavy. Quickly she positioned herself behind the door and made to hide. As she moved, her bones made a terrible rattling sound: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

The Little Old Man slowly opened the door. Creeeeeeaak.

The cabin was empty. But he saw the embers of the dying fire and cried out, “Little Old Woman! You’ve lit the last fire! How we will cook this deer I caught?”

A shadow fell on the room as the door slowly swung shut behind him. Creeeeeeeak. The man slowly turned around, and there she was…

The Rattly Old Skeleton. And she was still hungry.

She made to grab for the Little Old Man with her long bony arms, but he managed to slip from her grasp and run back out of the door.

Through the snow he ran, getting slapped by branches and pelted by falling ice, and all the time he could hear the CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW of the Rattly Old Skeleton following close behind.

The Little Old Man ran and ran and ran until he came to a huge, gaping gorge. It was so deep there was no way to climb down, and there was no bridge–no way across. And he knew the Rattly Old Skeleton would be upon him in moments.

Looking around in despair, he suddenly noticed a tiny cottage half hidden by trees at the edge of the gorge. Heart pounding, he raced to the door and knocked upon it, THUMP THUMP THUMP.

The cottage was the home of an ancient enchantress. She opened the door and saw the Little Old Man upon the step. “How may I help you?” she asked.

“Please,” the Little Old Man wheezed, “there’s a Rattly Old Skeleton chasing me, she wants to eat me up. I must get across this gorge so I can get away.”

“I will help you,” the enchantress said. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

Seeing this as a small price to pay for his life, he readily agreed. When he had picked a bushel of berries and chopped a log into firewood, he brought them back to the enchantress and begged again for her help.

Smiling, the enchantress walked to the edge of the gorge. She reached her hands up and before the Old Man’s very eyes, she began to grow. She stretched taller, and taller, and taller, until at last she was as long as the gorge was wide. She fell down across the gorge in one big flop, creating a bridge out of her body.

Without hesitation, the old man scurried across, over the hills and away to safety.

The enchantress pushed herself back up and shrunk down to her normal size. Then she went into her cottage and shut the door.

Not two minutes later who should come along but the Rattly Old Skeleton: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

Seeing the impassable gorge, and the Little Old Man escaping into the distance, she rattled up to the cottage and scraped upon the door with her long bony fingers. SCREEECH SCRECH SCRRECH SCREEEEEEECH.

The enchantress opened the door and said, “how may I help you?”

“I must get across this gorge!” the Rattly Old Skeleton snarled. “I am HUNGRY. That’s my dinner over there and he’s getting away!”

“I will help you,” said the enchantress. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”

“I don’t have time to pick your berries and chop your wood!” rasped the skeleton. “Get me across this gorge right now or I’ll eat YOU!”

So calmly, as before, the enchantress stepped to the edge of the cliff. She reached her arms up to the sky and began to grow taller, and taller, and taller until at last she was able to stretch across the gorge and make of her body a bridge.

Without hesitation, the Rattly Old Skeleton started across.

But no sooner had she reached the middle of the bridge, she began to feel the Enchantress’s body sway under her bony feet. Faster and faster, and wider and wider went the arc of the swing, until the Rattly Old Skeleton lost her balance and

FELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL………………

into the gorge below, cracking at the bottom into a thousand bony pieces.

So the Little Old Man got away. But to this day, if you go to the edge of the gorge, and put your ear down to listen, you’ll hear a strange sound:

CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.

It’s the sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton, trying to pull herself back together.

And she’s still hungry.

*I am sorry I cannot attribute the original author or source. Oral history is one big game of Telephone and I’m sure this version has changed somewhat in the telling. If you know the source, or have heard this story before, please tell me about it at cushioncutblog at gmail dot com. 

Summer Reading: Ghost Stories

9 Jun

Never fear, I’m cooking up part II of the ER beach body series as we speak. But in the meantime let’s talk summer reading!

Completely by accident, I found myself reading four books at the same time that all had something to do with ghosts or other such ghastly creatures. And by an even greater stroke of coincidence, they were all good. Here for your reading pleasure are my reviews, in the order I finished them.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

I received an ARC of this title from LibraryThing* and it was in – ahem – PDF format, which is worrisome. How good could it be if they couldn’t even be bothered with epub at least? But I thought I’d give it a try since I found myself with the time, and it was a short novel. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a YA book set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, but it was quite unusual in all other ways. The narrator Wasp, has the lonely, undesirable, and psuedo-religious calling to catch ghosts and record their habits, a role she just so happens to keep by yearly fights to the death. When an unusually powerful and guilt-wracked ghost enlists her help to find the soul of his dead partner, Wasp wonders if the terrifying and beautiful underworld might just be a better deal than the raw one she gets on earth.  First, I’ll admit there was a bevvy of technical tripwires (ambiguous transitions, a few loose ends, and a tendency to overuse interrupted and ellipsed dialogue) that detracted a bit from the novel’s overall clarity. There were even a few outright errors (like misplaced pronouns) that made me wonder if I was reading some kind of beta version. But the dream-like underworld the author paints, each layer an entire universe utterly different from the one before and resting inside each other like nesting dolls, is amazingly creative. It’s almost worth reading for that alone, but I think many will also enjoy, as I did, the slightly different take on the strong-and-prickly female lead. The lack of romance between any of the characters is a bit like stepping off a staircase in the dark only to find you’re on level ground–disorienting, yet oddly relieving. The core themes that replace it–trust, teamwork, reliance and self-sufficiency–will speak to many.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

*The ARC copy was provided with no strings attached, except if I rate the book on the LibraryThing site I’m more likely to win books in the future. It’s purely my choice to review it here. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors for me (like Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Moore, and sad to admit Jodi Piccoult) whose books I’m almost 100% guaranteed to enjoy. This one in particular though, by some kind of bookworm’s alchemy I can only haphazardly summarize as “the right book at the right time,” struck a cord with me. Not exactly a ghost story as much as a fantastical play on particle physics, Ocean tells the story of a boy (Gaiman gets inside a child’s mind like no other) and his brief but formative run-in with the supernatural underbelly of his rural English home and the Hempstocks, a mysterious trio of women who have lived in the farm at the end of the lane for untold ages. If you think of piles of rags, bath tubs, and the color pink unthreatening, you won’t after this little tale. Despite the overall pall of terror cast on the events of the plot, you’ll find yourself feeling the loss of it keenly at the end (hope that’s not too much of a spoiler). It’s a gentle reminder that even our darkest moments are lined with unbelievable bright silver, and to lose one means the loss of the other.

I listed to the audio version read aloud by the author, and it was as perfectly digestible as the farm suppers the Hempstocks serve up. It’s just a good, strange, wonderful story.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Also a rural setting, albeit more backwater than idyllic, The Winter People is a little bit mystery and a little bit horror, which I think is the author’s specialty (this is the first of her I’ve read). This book was chock-full of storylines and characters that pushed the book to the edge of chaos, but McMahon managed to herd them into a streamline narrative against all odds. The title refers to ghosts that linger on the land like the long New England winter. But the real danger is the temporarily resurrected dead–don’t call them the Z word–that come from a cave in the woods. Despite the variety of chills that this book sends down your spine–including some pedestrian ones involving greed and guns–the real horror is the uncontrollable longing of the grief-stricken. More specifically, to what ends such longing drives the grieving.

There were a few things that didn’t really work for me–the pocketed braid for one–but I chalk that up to reading it on a Kindle. I sometimes miss things in that format.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

If it didn’t say so right on the cover, I would never have believed this was written by the same author who wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain, so very different were the two. One thing I appreciated about this book, especially after Winter People, was the first person limited narration. Far from being constraining, it was revelatory to hear the story from one person instead of several, which if I’m being honest, is a device that sometimes feels like a cheat when it should have just been written in third omniscient. But I digress.

This was the most traditional haunting of the four books–straight up disembodied souls floating in secret passages. But in other ways the novel attempted to be unconventional, although its success in this is limited and perhaps in the eye of the reader. Again there are some parts that don’t quite work for me, the biggest being the aunt–not her motivations so much, those I understood perfectly–more her personality and mannerisms. In comparison to the other characters it felt overly heightened, which is saying a lot when the other characters include a homosexual tree-hugging ghost. Despite all of that, I really enjoyed seeing the story unfold. The old house was a character in itself too.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Read any good books lately?

It’s been a while man, life’s so rad

27 Jan

Hello friends. I’m hibernating and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

I’ve been catching a lot of screen time, reading a lot of books, and doin’ a little dancing (I’m choreographing a local school’s production of Hairspray, for the three of you who don’t know me from Facebook and/or RL). I sort of despise winter and the only way I can beat SAD every year is to get a little indulgent. I buy beauty products and fleece leggings, read magazines, drink hot chocolate, and forget I’m 30-something for the length of a YA novel or movie (follow me on Goodreads and we’ll swap reviews!).

To that end, last night I convinced P to watch The Fault in our Stars with me. I’d read the book but until this moment didn’t have any interest in the movie because–depressing. But watching it had the intended effect, namely, to make me feel grateful for everything, large and small, that is good in life (Sometimes the cold can make me whiny).

So I’m coming out of my cave for a minute or two to share what I’m obsessing over now. Surprise #notsurprised most of it has to do with food and makeup.

Roku is enabling my DA addiction

The only show that I’m driven to stay caught up on for whatever reason is Downton Abbey. We couldn’t get either of the hand-me-down antennas our friends gave us to work in our house (I don’t know, trees?…), so we ended up ordering a Roku with a bunch of reward points that were built up on my credit card. (The upside to sinking hundreds of dollars a year into keeping an old vehicle in working order). We can’t watch the episodes until the day after they air, but that’s better than waiting an eternity for that ish to roll out on Netflix. I can handle a day.

But seriously. Roku is awesome, and you should get one, and then poop on Comcast’s lawn.

These nails y’all

I’m sort of over crazy nail art. I’m really loving pure colors right now, especially neutrals. Currently I’m lacquered up in this warm winter white, a color of my own invention. None of these polishes were quite right on their own: too gray, bright, and peachy, respectively. But together they make the palest skin tone neutral that my skillful phone photography can’t do justice to.

(For the interested, the recipe is: 1 drop Revlon Bare Bones, 3 drops Avon French Tip White, and 6 drops OPI My Vampire is Buff).

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On the other hand, this mani is kind of a mess so maybe it’s better this way.

My toes are chrome rose gold. You guys! It’s like my toes are wearing jewelry! (That matches the be-YOO-tiful new pink gold watch that P got me for Christmas, beetee dubs). The best part about this nail makeup, other than that I got it on super clearance at Ulta, is that it actually works better without a base and top coat. Laziness condoned? I’m down. Sadly, it’s been discontinued (hence the clearance) but you can still score it on Amazon and Ebay. For the moment, anyway.

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It dries quickly enough that my feet didn’t turn into ice blocks while trying to avoid slipper-smears.

 

Snapware Makes Me into an Adult where Everything Else has Failed

My friend H and I determined, when we were both drooling in the Corningware Outlet, that it’s a true sign of getting older when you are excited about food storage. But the hilarious yet surprisingly awesome set I have right now has started to get too grimy to use, and now I’m hoping to replace it eventually with the full complement of these babies.

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Not Sure Where These Have Been All My Life

I had an amazingly delicious side of roasted chickpeas at our holiday office lunch, and was floored to learn that it’s really easy to DIY that fancy looking snacky-savory-side. And you can add any kind of flavor, really–for my first go around I used garlic, cumin, and parmesan. There are about 657000 recipes on Pinterest but all you really need to know is a drained can of garbanzos for 30 minutes at 400 doused in EVOO and spices. They were intended for a rehearsal snack, but it was all I could do not to eat the entire batch standing up in the kitchen.

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Embarrassing confession: I did not know that chickpeas and garbanzo beans were the same thing before now. This is what happens when your primary food group is pizza.

 

Online Bureaucracy Means One Less Fraught Interaction with Strangers

Maybe it’s because this has never actually worked for me before, but renewing my tag was stupid easy this year. Basically since I started driving I’ve had to schedule a birthday visit to either the tag office or the DMV, even though I live in a county with online renewal. This year I got my renewal notice, emissions test, paid online, got the sticker, WAM, BAM, all in about a two week time frame. You go, state of Georgia.

 

T minus Five Days Until This is Me

Ok so not really. But my main dudes and I are going to Colorado next week to visit my cool lil’ bro C and his cooler better half S, plus one of my very best buddies is meeting up with us from LA. And we’re all going skiing at Copper Mountain! It’s like vacation squared!

 

The Only Thing That could Make me Eat Salad when 45 Degrees Is Actually Starting to Sound Warm

If you don’t have a Kroger in your area, that is a real travesty because this Private Selection Poblano Ranch is everything you could ever want in a man dressing and more, and I don’t even like ranch.

Just give me a head of lettuce and we’re good to go.

 

So This is Neat

Truly though, after that downer of a movie I was walking around my house with new eyes. For instance, I’ve had these little bird hooks forever–seriously, it sat on a dresser unhung the entire time we lived in our old apartment, and it’s been hanging here for almost three. But suddenly I looked at it and just loved it.

Side note: I seem to own a shocking number of clothing with bows.

Side note: I seem to own a shocking number of garments featuring bows.

 

I Swear This Wasn’t Intentional

Not long ago we redid the horrible green floor and mauve trim in my bathroom with peaceful white and deep gray. And that was great. But what’s even greater is that the products on my bathroom shelf are color coordinated and I didn’t even plan it. From the eye makeup remover that I don’t use because it stings but I keep because MERMAID, to my go-to winter body cream. This is the kind of randomness I can really appreciate.

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This Face Though

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This is my sweet, sweet child. My child who not only is free from horrid diseases GAH WHY movie with FEELS?!?, but is basically a 17 year old in a 3 year old’s form (he can’t be any older than that because grown men don’t think fart jokes are funny).

Oh wait.

Anyway. He came with me on the aforementioned Ulta trip, and a stranger actually stopped me to say what a great conversationalist he is, like a little adult. (The fact that he was talking loudly enough to be heard by every random stranger in the store assures me he’s still a preschooler).

He is kind of a ham, which I guess was unavoidable and totally expected, but it still surprises me sometimes. This is a gag he came up with to underscore an enjoyable meal–in this case a lunch of blood oranges and the free soft serve from Jason’s Deli #dontjudge.

Freakin Delicious

Imagine, if you will, that the entire series above takes about ten seconds start to finish, and is punctuated with a jerk of the head and a tiny toddler voice saying the words “FREAKIN’ delicious.”

So what are you obsessed with grateful for this winter?

By now I’m sure you all know I was given neither free stuff nor dollars by any of the brands mentioned here. Kroger, if you want to send me a case of Poblano Ranch I will not say no. Have your people call my people.

What I’m Reading: YA gets topical in Thirteen Reasons Why

25 Aug

In Summary: Great premise, OK execution. And by virtue my lengthy critique here, we have to tip our hats to the fact that it’s a book worth a full review, whatever its issues.

Positives about this novel: It was engrossing, unfolding almost like a mystery. Props to the author for pulling that off (not all such attempts succeed). You don’t need to actually be a young adult to enjoy this on the whole. I also appreciate that the book and its evident popularity might be the impetus for discussion of important subjects–teen suicide certainly, but also depression, mental illness, slut shaming, #yesallwomen, the effect of gossip, sexual harassment and rape–among teenagers and their peers and parents.

On a more concrete level, I liked the huge web of characters, and the references to even more that weren’t seen directly. That’s how we truly interact after all, but it’s extremely difficult to convey that in novel without being confusing and/or needing a flow chart.

Eyebrow raisers: My hang up with this novel was not, as other reviewers have complained, with the believability of Hannah’s 13 reasons. On the contrary, I found them rather compelling, particularly the snowball effect described. Even though we aren’t really given any clues to this, it’s statistically safe to assume Hannah is suffering from mental illness, since a large percentage of those who commit suicide are (the professional source in this story as well as the NAMI quotes the figure at 90%). Operating under that assumption, it then follows that she lacks the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with trials, even so-called “normal” ones. Plus, let’s not forget that all teenagers have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, meaning she isn’t able to fully conceptualize life beyond her high school reputation — in other words, a way out.

My problem was with the whole tape conceit. I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, but Robin Williams’ death earlier this month means that mental illness and suicide is a national topic of discussion. (As well it should be. God forbid young people put off the discussion until it becomes personally relevant). And from what I understand, the act of putting together a series of tapes…very coherent, logical, well-thought-out tapes I might add, complete with foreshadowing and recurring characters…and then orchestrating their movement through the bowels of your school…that sort of elaborate thinking seems a little beyond a suicidal person, who by all accounts have trouble thinking past their personal and present emotions. Suicide notes and videos are a well-documented phenomenon of course, but I think you would be hard pressed to find this advanced level of legacy-leaving of any suicidal individual, much less a teenager. The same source in the article referenced above adds that while suicidal thinking can recur, it is temporary, going so far as to call it a “passing urge.” The act of recording hours of tapes could possibly have been galvanizing, sure, but it more likely would have been therapeutic. I think Hannah even admitted as much. Just another small fact that makes the suicide less believable. Or to be more specific, it makes Hannah less believable as a suicidal person.

I will add the caveat that I was listening to the audio book, and the actress reading Hannah played her on the angry and bitter side. More the voice of someone with a twisted revenge plot than one who had lost hope. But the writing isn’t entirely blameless. Hannah talked about death rather overtly when it’s pretty well documented that suicidal people aren’t focused on ending their life, but rather stopping the pain. They use terms like “make it all go away” and “just disappear” and things like that, and the author neglected to put such phrases in her mouth, with the possible exception of the last side of the tapes. She’s very removed from herself, in a way, almost as if she’s telling the story from another perspective–another person’s, or her own self in the future–rather than living it personally.

That, along with the fact that there was no funeral, led me to develop a working theory that Hannah wasn’t really dead and the whole thing as a cry for help. My back up theory, and one that would have made the whole book make a lot more sense, was if she hadn’t meant to actually die (pills are a notoriously unreliable…I hesitate to say passive-aggressive, maybe a better way to put it would be “slowly effective” method and one that is more common to females for that reason) and it was, in the words of the article referenced, a botched attempt “to survive with changed circumstances.” That would be in keeping with the character both as written and as read. There was even some reference, albeit speculative, that Hannah might have actually drowned in a tub after taking pills rather than dying from an overdose itself, giving credence to this theory. P put forth the idea that had the tapes been recorded sporadically over a number of years, as the events unfolded, and been socked away until a trigger moment, that would have made sense also. And I concede I could have bought that to an extent as well.

Also, I was surprised the book was written by a man (who one assumes must have been a teenage boy once), because I found Clay unbelievable as a character, and not just because he had a perfect reputation that was actually true (his self-blaming/loathing only serves to make him more perfect to the reader, not less so). We get an idea that he has a very supportive home environment from the mother, which is the only aspect that lends credibility to his perfection. The author did have a better voice for him than he did for Hannah in terms of perspective. By which I mean we were less distant from his personal truth at that moment, unlike Hannah. I also liked the actor’s interpretation in the audio book. But overall, Clay operated as a literary device, the means through which we hear and experience the tapes. Something about Clay and Hannah’s relation to each other, while poignant, was uncomplicated and most certainly unambiguous. The Feelings just aren’t messy enough for real life. And poor Tony–talk about a story device. All he was good for was playing outdated audio cassettes and following people around.

Bottom line recommendation: Go ahead and read this book. It won’t take you that long, I was able to listen to the whole thing in six hours, including some [inevitable] rewinding. I’ll recommend the audio version. I was able to borrow it from my public library for free. Despite my problems with Hannah’s voice, I hear the point of view switches toward the end are confusing in writing, and you don’t want to be taken out of the story at that point trying to figure out who’s talking. Despite some believability caveats, you’re going to get sucked in to this.

If they end up making a movie, which I think they are, there is a lot of potential to prop up some of these weak spots while retaining all the best aspects of the novel. I sincerely hope that they succeed in that. (And if they do, you can count on my companion review of the film…provided I can stand the actors they pick. In my brain-casting, I pictured the daughter from Homeland as our leading lady…alongside some people from my actual high school, but I’m sure they’ll go a different route haha).

A still of that chick from Homeland. Alright, alright, her name is Morgan Saylor.

A still of that chick (aka Morgan Saylor) from Homeland.

And regardless of whether you have serious problems with Hannah or you can sort of relate, it’s going to make you analytical in a meaningful way. I got uncomfortable with some of my own thoughts (spoiler alert: they were leaning towards victim blaming), and I really appreciate that in a book. It’s always good when something makes you think critically, even–and perhaps especially–of yourself.