Adult Coloring Books and Me

Over the past few years, coloring books with abstract and intricate designs have popped up in more and more places. These coloring books aren’t necessarily for kids–they’re designed for adults who find coloring in these things to be meditative, a way to relax and destress.

A few people I know enjoy coloring in them with gel pens or colored pencils or whatever they can get their hands on. They fill those designs with patterns that are worthy of displaying on the wall while I watch in amazement. That’s great–if coloring books can reduce someone’s stress, go for it. I am all for stress reduction and relaxation.

The problem is these same coloring books that are designed to reduce stress and anxiety actually have the opposite effect on me. Instead of helping me to destress and relax, adult coloring books cause me to panic and freak out even more. This trouble isn’t limited to adult coloring books, and it’s not limited to my attempts to color in adulthood. Even as a child coloring in books based around some big media empire, coloring books left my brain racing with questions.

What colors should I use to color this thing? How can I make this design the prettiest thing I can possibly make it? Which color scheme should I use? What if I color outside the lines and mess up what I’m coloring, something that’s even more likely with intricate designs?

And finally, couldn’t I be doing something more productive with my life than coloring something I’m probably never going to do anything with? This doesn’t contribute to any of my long-term goals or interests, so why am I doing it in the first place?

All these questions leave me paralyzed with possibility, afraid to pick up that crayon or colored pencil or gel pen and just start.

In a way, these attitudes extend to creativity in general. Starting a creative project is often the hardest part of the process, simply because deciding some of the first things, like the first sentence or first few lines, can set the tone for the rest of the project. But for projects that go through iterations, like novels, the first version is often not the last. Many novels go through multiple rounds of revision before seeing the light of day. I can fix whatever gets screwed up. With coloring, I can’t, which is a problem since it’s even easier to make mistakes.

So you can keep coloring in your adult coloring books. I’ll stick to writing to destress.

The weirdness of the BSC universe

If you’ve been following me on this blog or elsewhere, then you probably know that I recently finished reading the entire Baby-Sitters Club series. I’ve been trying to maintain some semblance of chronological order, mainly trying to stay within the same big storylines of the series. Think Dawn moving to California, Stacey starting to date someone else, etc.

But some things about the BSC universe are just… odd. I’m not talking about the characters and how a bunch of 13-year-olds are allowed to stay out later than I ever was, not to mention have the responsibility of supervising young children without adults present. I’m talking about the weird, niggling inconsistencies in the BSC universe that make no sense at all. Here are a few of them.

Watson Brewer’s wealth. Stoneybrook is located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, one of the most affluent and educated counties in the nation. Almost all the fathers whose occupations are mentioned work in law or finance (Mr. Kishi), occupations of moderate wealth. Oddly, almost no one in the series thinks of their family as rich, even though they do think of Watson Brewer as wealthy. I guess when you live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, being the CEO of an insurance company is what cuts it for being rich. But this doesn’t explain the full mystery. It’s mentioned several times, mostly in the Little Sister books, that Watson grew up in the mansion he lives in now. This probably means the land has been in the family for awhile or his father was also well off. (I also assume Watson’s father is dead because he’d probably at least be mentioned, but that’s another story.)

Just how big is Stoneybrook, anyway? For a sleepy Connecticut town, Stoneybrook seems to have an awful lot of resources. Take the schools for starters: public elementary, middle, and high school, at least two private schools, a community college, and a university. (Although the last two could be used interchangeably.) There’s also Kelsey Middle School, the public school Kristy’s neighborhood is assigned to, where the Thomases have to pay a fee to keep Kristy in SMS. Yet later in the series, Kristy takes the bus home from SMS. Isn’t this reserved only for people living in the school district? While it’s possible Kristy’s neighborhood was rezoned to SMS between seventh grade and the first of many eighth grades, it’s also unlikely. Side note: this zoning issue is glossed over when Abby moves in two houses down from Kristy’s house.

Shannon is smart, but what about the others? Shannon’s character traits in the series include being smart and blonde. Yet Stacey is always mentioned as being good at math (a trait I appreciate since she’s not portrayed as a typical nerd), Kristy talks about getting her usual straight A’s occasionally, and Mallory’s straight-A record is a plot point in Don’t Give Up, Mallory. I doubt they’re the only ones who get good grades; Mary Anne in particular seems like a good candidate for strong academic performance. One explanation, like that of the Brewer mystery, is that most of the BSC (Claudia aside, obviously) does well in school, but Shannon goes beyond just being smart and participates in a lot of school activities on top of being smart, which therefore makes her more known for being smart (kind of the way I was known for being smart in school).

Housing inconsistencies. Oh, housing. Mary Anne’s old house on Bradford Court likely has three bedrooms, as it’s mentioned that Mary Anne and Dawn would have to share a room when Jeff visits. But when the Hobarts and their four boys move into Mary Anne’s old house, there’s no mention of any of the boys sharing rooms that I recall. Did they add on to Mary Anne’s old house? Is the house bigger on the inside? We may never know. Stacey’s old house experiences something similar when Jessi’s family moves in (and later, Aunt Cecelia). Did the McGills have that many spare rooms? There’s no mention of any the Ramsey children sharing a room. Conclusion: Stoneybrook houses are TARDISes.

Housing inconsistencies, part two: Who lives where in Kristy’s neighborhood? Which families live in which houses on McLelland Road turns out to be an inconsistent adventure in the series. Morbidda Destiny (or Mrs. Porter) lives next door to the Thomas-Brewers. When the Stevensons move in, they live two houses down from the Thomas-Brewers. Do they also happen to live next door to Mrs. Porter? I don’t remember if this is ever mentioned; if you know, please let me know. There’s also the inconsistency in who lives across the street from the Thomas-Brewers. Hannie is often mentioned as living across the street and one house down from Karen in the Little Sister books. Both the Delaneys (later the Kormans) and the Kilbournes are described as living across the street from Karen. Not to mention there’s another neighbor of the Kormans mentioned in Mary Anne to the Rescue named Mr. Sinclair. So who lives where? I’m still not sure, to be honest.

Why is New York City such a big deal? Stoneybrook is about an hour from New York City by car, so it’s an easy day trip and an easy commuter trip via train. Karen visits NYC in several of the Little Sister books, and naturally she is excited for each trip. (Come on, she’s seven.) When Ed McGill is transferred to his company’s Connecticut office, the McGills pack up and move to Stoneybrook. This is understandable, given Stacey’s current social situation and not paying Manhattan prices. But why don’t they just stay when Ed is transferred back to New York City? This would have saved the family a move and a house search post-divorce. Heck, Ms. Stevenson made the commute to NYC from Long Island and continued to do so after moving to Stoneybrook. This makes me wonder if any of the other parents made the commute, although I don’t think it’s ever mentioned. (Especially Mr. Kishi, one of the few non-lawyer fathers in the book. How many lawyers does Stoneybrook need, anyway?)

Claudia, Janine, and intelligence. Janine’s IQ is one of her major characteristics in the series, yet she’s using her IQ of 196 for taking community college classes. Setting aside the fact that a 196 IQ is very unlikely to start with, the way Janine is treated throughout the series is a subject of discussion. It’s possible that Claudia exaggerates Janine’s intelligence, as she does with many things, but what about the other characters? If Janine has such a high IQ, then why isn’t she off pursuing some other extracurricular activity? I’d bet that she got teased at least a little bit as a kid, In Claudia’s Book the Kishis send Claudia to an alternative school for awhile. Why did they never do anything similar for Janine, or let her skip a grade or two (like Charlotte Johannsen), or send her to something like CTY or TIP? Janine would probably love programs like these. Now I want a Janine’s Book just to find out if this ever happened.

I’m probably putting way too much thought into many of these things, but I can’t help it; thinking about weird things like this is simply what I do. Even though my hopes aren’t up to getting answers to these questions, I’d welcome any possible explanations.

What I’m reading, August 2016

It looks like I haven’t read much this month, but the truth is that I’ve been catching up on Baby-Sitters Club books in an attempt to get ahead on my reading challenge. All that reading has paid off; I’m at 227 books for 2016 (out of 250), which is way ahead even after taking October and November into consideration. More importantly, I’m down to a mere thirteen BSC books left to read before finishing the entire series. That’s doable in a weekend. Dang. (Although I’ll probably reread the very last book for nostalgia’s sake.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading this month.

Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I was expecting this to be a light and fluffy read, which I definitely needed. This book mostly fit the bill on that front. A 29-year-old woman who has done little with her life moves back to her hometown, and the plot plays out the possibilities based on who she takes a ride from one night. Sure, the characters are a little flat, but the story is compelling and kept me wondering what would happen next. The book also gave me a lot to think about, both about my life and how little I’ve done with it, as well as how to make the parallel worlds work in a novel I’m still pondering a rewrite for. (4 out of 5 cinnamon buns)

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter: If you’ve been following me on Twitter for the past yearish, then you probably know I’m a wee bit obsessed with the Hamilton musical. This book does a great job of showing off the musical, with the stories of its production, the libretto (with some of Lin’s commentary), and shots from the show. Now I want to see the show live even more now (and I already had a mighty need before). (5 out of 5 shots)

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser: I listened to this book, which is a history of nuclear weapons–both the development of nuclear weapons and the politics behind it. It was very well done and accessible to readers without any previous knowledge. Since it is primarily a history, I probably would have gotten more out of it by reading the print, but that’s just me being weird. If you’re interested in nuclear weapons at all (or need to do some post-apocalyptic novel research), pick this book up. (4 out of 5 missiles)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys: I really wanted to like this book. It tells a fictional account of four people whose paths cross while seeking passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff during World War II, an incident that I didn’t know about before reading this book. But this book contained several of my literary pet peeves, featuring multiple points of view, all in first person, that sounded the same. Even worse, most of the chapters were only two or three pages long, so I never got a chance to get used to one point of view before jumping to the next one. This book could have been good, starting (at the very least) with third-person points of view and longer chapters. But as it is, I’m just glad it’s finished. (2 out of 5 identification papers)

The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy: I listened to this book, which deals with the theory of mind and the sense of self–how do we a form an idea of self? How is the self created? The author does this by examining cases of schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, body integrity identity disorder, and more disorders where something we think of as part of the self disappears, but somehow the sense of self remains. While some reviews of this book thought this book was too research-focused, I found the opposite was the case. Then again, this kind of thing is my idea of light reading (or listening, as it were). (4 out of 5 theories of mind)

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin: I read the English translation of this book for my library’s book club, and oh man was it good. The translator did a great job of keeping the narrative and culture immersive enough for the reader to get lost in, but offered some guidance in the form of extra prose or the occasional footnote for those of us not so familiar with Chinese history and culture. It gave me a lot of food for thought about what we as a species would or should do in the event of alien contact. Do we contact them? Defend ourselves against them? How do we as a species (and groups of countries differing in infrastructure and military development, wealth, and just about everything else) take on this challenge? I finished this book wanting to write everything ever about it (personal essays, not fanfic)… and then immediately requested the second book from the local library. (5 out of 5 chaotic eras)

You Are So Undead to Me by Stacey Jay: I picked this up at a used book sale last year and just now got around to reading it. Sure, the story is fluffy–Megan talks to dead people who have issues with being dead, but all she wants to do is go to the homecoming dance. Sure, the main character is pretty stupid sometimes, but she’s a teenager. This book did a decent job of capturing what it’s like to be a teenager, both wtih and without dealing with zombies, even though some of her decisions (and let’s be honest, the romance) got in the way over the overall story. And holy crap that twist at the end. (3 out of 5 reanimated corpses)

The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin: This book is the sequel to the aforementioned The Three-Body Problem. While this book covers a lot of territory in five hundred pages, I just couldn’t get into some of the storylines enough to truly appreciate this book (and perhaps, how it set things up for the third book). That said, there were a lot of good parts in this book, and the author does a great job with the worldbuilding and bringing up questions about life, the universe, and everything. Wait, wrong scifi novel. Anyway, I’m still curious enough to read the sequel, which I hear was translated as the same person who translated the first book, so I’m optimistic. (3 out of 5 hibernations)

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings: I listened to this book. In case you had no idea, the 74-time Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings is freaking hilarious. This book was no exception. You know those things parents tell you, like “Don’t cross your eyes or they’ll get stuck that way” or “Don’t go swimming for thirty minutes after eating”? Jennings researches those myths and reveals whether they’re true or not. Spoiler: most of them aren’t true. This book was fun and educational and made for a great light read (or listen) before moving on to something more intense. (4 out of 5 hairy palms)

Literary tropes I’m getting really sick and tired of

If you’ve been around these parts for awhile, you probably know that I read a lot. I haven’t always read a lot of books; in fact, several recent years have gone by where I’ve read exactly zero books. Combine this with my lack of rereading, and you get me trying to catch up on all those books I’ve never read while trying to read all the fun books that have come out in the last few years. I could probably live to a hundred and still not run out of stuff to read. It’s a real problem.

All this reading means that I’ve come across a lot of things that appear in many books: some that I love, some that I would be happy never to see again. Here are a few tropes that fall into the latter category.

First person present narration. While I’m not a big fan of present-tense narration in general, present tense combined with first person strikes me an excuse to get lazy with the writing. In many of the books I’ve read, first person present narration means we get a deep look inside what the narrator is thinking right then, complete with ponderings of past events. Heck, I narrate things inside my head all the time but not in the constant style that you’d read in a first person present book. (Does anyone do this? I’m genuinely curious.) There are only so many narratives going on inside the narrator’s head that I can take (without plot, of course) before speeding through the book to get it out of my life as soon as possible.

Instantly falling in love. Current young adult novels are particularly guilty of this one. You know the one, where two characters meet and instantly fall in love without any time to get to know each other. Throw in the fact that the world is ending and the fact that their romance is a major plot point despite this (oh, and they’re the ones who have to save the world–you know, instead of letting the grownups do it) and you have a lit trope that I try my best to avoid.

Love triangles where a girl has to choose between two boys. I’m getting tired of romance in general, but I’m getting especially tired of the love triangles. The ones that show up the majority of the time, where a girl has to choose between two guys, is the worst. It’s even worse when the love triangle is a big enough part of the plot that the non-romantic elements and the main storyline start bending to the romance. Most of this frustration is directed toward a girl choosing between two boys, since that’s the kind of love triangle I’ve encountered the most in the last few years. Bring on the non-straight triangles, or at least get more creative in the shape of your romances. I wrote a love heptagon (yes, heptagon) with some same-gender links for Script Frenzy one year, which was a good time.

Multiple narrators that sound the same. I’m fine with multiple narrators within a book, provided that some way to distinguish between the narrators is available, and the characters’ voices are distinct enough that I can tell them apart. Just saying the narrator’s name in the first couple of paragraphs doesn’t count; those can easily be skipped over. The problem is that many books don’t do this well, and it’s frustrating when the book otherwise has an interesting premise. I find myself confused throughout the entire book in situations like these, which makes me like the book less and less as it goes along.

Hinting at some event pre-story where the revelation is a major plot point. This one has really been bugging me over the past few months. The narrator keeps hinting at some tragic event that happened before the beginning of the story but never tells anything more about this event. The intent of this narrative technique is to make the reader wonder what this event was and how it affected the character so badly. For me, this technique ends in frustration as I hope to Baty that the narrator will get to the freaking point. Oh, and the event itself? It usually isn’t such a big deal after all and makes me wonder why it was even mentioned as a story element to start with.

Then the event in question is revealed, only to disappoint the reader. “That’s it?” I find myself thinking, because the event or secret is something that doesn’t affect the plot at all (besides to give the narrator chances to hint at this past event for pages).

What literary tropes do you find annoying, both in your reading and writing?

The NaNoWriMo countdown is on

The end of July’s Camp NaNoWriMo means that the main November NaNoWriMo event is mere days away. Sure, it’s not October yet, but the countdown is already down to the double digits, which is exciting in itself. This time of year also means my mind goes directly to NaNoWriMo–well, even more than usual. There’s so much to be done before November arrives, and no matter how well I plan, not all of those things get done. Heck, not all of those things get done after NaNo is over.

There are Wikiwrimo updates to be done and Is It NaNo Yet? code to be fixed and meals to be cooked and books to read and runs to go on and shenanigans to get into and NaNo flyers to acquire and hang and on and on and on… Oh, and the weather is starting to cool down, which means festival season is upon us, not to mention training for that half marathon I’m running in December. Let’s say that training during NaNo will be interesting, with three of the four weekends already booked for out-of-town events.

And then there are the repeated tasks that I can’t do in August and then declare done through November: making sure my house isn’t more of a mess than usual, for instance. Timing my laundry for minimal actual laundry-doing in November.

I’m already planning easily freezable meals for November, taking into account that I won’t actually be at home for nearly half the month. This also means I need to acquire more plastic storage containers soon; living with people means that my current collection, which I used most of last November, won’t cut it for freezing all these NaNo meals.

While “I sold my soul to NaNo” mode won’t come into full swing until Wikiwrimo becomes a part-time job in September, NaNo planning mode is already gearing up for everything except my novel (or novels, as it seems to be these days). With a goal of reaching 2 million lifetime NaNo November words, I’ve got a lot to write–about 250k words, to be exact, which makes up half my 2016 writing goal. So no pressure, self. None at all. (Fortunately, I’m on track for my overall 2016 goal once my very wordy November is taken into account.)

I haven’t figured out when or where to host my usual intown write-in for NaNo yet. This year will be particularly challenging due to all the travel in November, but I’ll figure out something, even if it means doing regular client work while hosting a write-in.

So… is it November yet? What about now?

Half Marathon Training Time Commences Now

I mentioned a few posts back that I’m training for my first half marathon in December. This is partly due to my desire to continue running and staying in shape and partly because, well, I contribute to a running website as part of my day job. Walk the walk, talk the talk, et cetera.

Since the December half marathon is my first half marathon and I’m more than a little out of shape (despite running for awhile), training needs to start soon. Partly due to the heat this summer, I’ve been slacking in my regular running schedule due to the heat. It’s still hot here around 7pm, the latest I can run and still take a shower and rehydrate before bed; otherwise I find myself waking up for midnight bathroom trips. Getting up earlier to run is also an option, but let’s face it–who actually likes getting up early? I don’t, that’s for certain. Especially when it interferes with my plans for the rest of the day and shifts my working time into the evening or (gasp) to Friday.

Some of these things, like getting up earlier, are plain-and-simple excuses. I know. But with the half marathon only four months away, it’s time to stop the excuses and start the training now, even if that involves getting up earlier or going to bed later. I can also use this as a convenient reason to get through more audiobooks and podcasts. I even bought a hydration belt with a pocket and new earbuds just for this purpose. This way I’m not limited to buying shorts and pants with pockets big enough for my iPod touch.

The fun part will be training during NaNo, when the running distances get longer and I already have three of the four November weekends booked. All of these weekends involve out-of-town plans. If nothing else, I can use the San Francisco hills for training and thinking up novel and plot developments that weekend.

There’s also Pokemon Go and using that in my runs, if only to hatch eggs. Running has been my primary method of hatching the 10km eggs since I cover a lot of distance in a short period; short of cycling or tying your phone to a ceiling fan (yes, I’ve heard of people doing this), running is the most efficient way to hatch those eggs. I’ve made a rule during my long runs not to stop for yet another Pidgey, which frees me to up for a Pokemon I don’t already have. Spinning the Pokestops, fortunately, is something that can be easily done while running a familiar route and is worth doing on routes like mine with many Pokestops within a mile or so of each other. This also motivates me to go on longer runs so I can stop for a break near a Pokemon gym on the way back. And yes, I may or may not be getting the Pokemon Go Plus when it comes out. Priorities: I have them.

After I survive this and the half marathon gets checked off my to-do list, who knows. I’ve wanted to run a full marathon for awhile, just for the experience. If this half marathon goes well, who knows–maybe I’ll sign up for a spring full marathon and train through the winter. I’ll keep you updated on that because if there’s anything I dislike more than heat and humidity, it’s cold weather. But maybe zooming through the cold weather will help me accept the cold, if not embrace it.

But we’ll see about that. Let’s tackle the half first. One thing at a time, self.

What I’m reading, July 2016

July books! Okay, and a few books from super-late in June and super-early in August. This month has been a busy one due to work, Camp NaNoWriMo, and working on other assorted writing things. I read a lot of BSC and BSLS books this month in an attempt to finish off all the BSC books by the end of year. I’m down to 51 remaining books.

All the non-BSC books read are also contributing to the adult summer reading challenge at my local library. I’ll find out soon enough if I won any prizes, but with the small number of people participating and my large number of books read, the odds appear to be in my favor.

While I’m ahead of my year-long reading challenge of 250 books, I’m technically behind after taking my lack of October and November books into consideration. Past years have told me that I hardly read anything during those two months, especially in November. So if I’m going to reach 250 total books read by the end of this year, I need to get going. Thank goodness all my BSC books count toward the overall challenge. I will definitely read fewer books in 2017.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: I wanted to like this book. The premise sounded really neat, and then the story fell flat. The main problem with this story was that there was no hook. Most of the characters were dull, the plot was slow and ambling, and there was no one to root for or against. The only character I found myself caring about was the tutor aboard the ship, and the plot didn’t end in a remotely satisfying matter. This could have been so much more, and yet… it wasn’t. (2 out of 5 maps)

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg: I listened to this book. While this book mostly told me things I already knew and attempted to apply, that in itself doesn’t explain the low rating for this book. The main reason this book is rated so low is because of the way it’s organized. It took me awhile to figure out just how the book was organized, and even then, the book was slow-paced and didn’t tie all its elements together very well in the end. (3 out of 5 mental models)

P.S. Longer Letter Later by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger: I loved both authors’ books as a kid and am currently trying to finish the entire Baby-Sitters Club series. I probably would have loved this book as a kid, but now the book is just eh. While I’m sure a lot of my issues have to do with the way the story is told, some of the major plot elements are really sudden, and we hear a lot about Elizabeth’s life but very little about Tara*Starr’s. The character development isn’t equal on both sides, which left me wanting a lot more out of this book. (3 out of 5 letters)

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: I probably would have liked this book as a kid, but as an adult, it didn’t provide the depth I really wanted in this story. While the story features a kid who runs away from his old life and finds himself in a racially divided town, the plot doesn’t feature enough of how the town was divided and what this kid did to make a difference. That’s not to say it’s a bad book (it’s not!). The narrative is strong with some twists I didn’t see coming. But the depth of the story could have explored so much more while telling the same tale. (3 out of 5 legends)

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day: I haven’t followed much of Felicia Day’s work, but I know plenty about it through Internet osmosis. Felicia and I are a lot alike in some ways–both anxiety-prone math major geeks who were unhealthily obsessed with getting the best grades. This book makes me wish that I could be a few years older so I could have been a full-blown adult when the whole Internet thing really started to take off, while showing me a story of someone whose go-get-em approach, even with an unexpected background, led her to a fulfilling professional career. While this book is most likely for existing fans of her work, it would also be great for the young person in your life with big dreams as encouragement. Now I want to go make more things. (4 out of 5 awkward encounters)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I read this for the library’s book club. This book tells the story of two Nigerian teenagers who fall in love. They wind up separated during a dictatorship when people are trying to leave the country: Ifemelu to the United States, Obinze as an undocumented immigrant in England. The book shows their separate lives and what happens when they meet again in Nigeria years later. Even though the beginning was a little slow and I wanted more out of the end, I really enjoyed this book and its way of taking on a lot: race, identity, natural hair, love, and the intersection of these… and that’s just for starters. (4 out of 5 Americanisms)

The Revenant by Michael Punke: Yes, I read this because of the movie, despite never having seen it. I have to admit that my focus was elsewhere during the first 30 or so pages of the book, making it hard for the characters and their characteristics to stick with me. Fortunately, this improved as the book went on, and I was able to figure out what was going on. While the prose itself isn’t bad, the story lost me in several spots along the way, and the ending disappointed me more than anything else. That’s it? All that buildup was for nothing? (3 out of 5 grizzly bear attacks)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: I listened to this book, the tale of a young woman who had lost her mother and her marriage before hiking (part of) the Pacific Crest Trail. I spent half the book amazed at how utterly unprepared she was for the trip: she carried a bag that was way too heavy, didn’t plan enough money for the trip and spent parts of the trail with less than a dollar to her name. I spent another significant chunk of time tuning out all the sexual stuff–maybe I’m just a very private person when it comes to sex, but some things I just don’t want to know. The prose itself is good, but this is no hike account. If you’re looking for a detailed hike report, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for one person’s personal account of self-discovery, you might like this memoir. (3 out of 5 impulsive decisions)

Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It: I listened to this book, and holy crap is it unsettling. If you hang around the Internet long enough, you’ll probably hear the term “rape culture” at some point. The short version: survivors are often not believed (or they “asked for it” with their behavior), while the perpetrator gets off scot-free. This book is very well-researched and will make almost anyone angry at some point to hear real stories and how the media and investigators perceive them. I would have appreciated this book even more if I had read it, as I process information better that way, but it is a solid read. (5 out of 5 double standards)

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor: I love the podcast to bits and pieces. The book took a long time to get going, by which time my interest was waning, but fortunately the book picks up again for the last hundred or so pages. Two of the things I found particularly frustrating was all the rambling and long explanations of things that podcast listeners would already know. While some things certainly need to be explained so this book can be accessible to non-listeners, not everything needs to be explained in so much detail. (3 out of 5 suitcases with flies)

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay: I listened to this book. If you have no idea who Jason Gay is, I didn’t either before reading his author bio. (It turns out he’s a sports writer for WSJ.) But no worries, this book isn’t about sports, nor is it–if we’re really being honest–about the little victories. This book is more of a personal memoir, but despite the misleading title, that’s fine. The memoir talks about everything from music at weddings to testicular cancer to being cool to Thanksgiving footballs to in vitro fertilization. Even if he is a little judgemental at times, the writing is funny and insightful, making this a good short read (or listen). Spoiler alert: Go see someone you love right now. Or call them, or text them, or email them. Seriously. (4 out of 5 little victories)

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks: I read this book (okay, play) for my local library’s book club. This play tells the tale of two black brothers living together, their family and past, and their obsession with the three-card monte card trick. There’s so much subtext in this short play that some of it is easy to miss, especially on a first read, and Parks’s unconventional writing style suits the play perfectly. This play would be wonderful when performed, but reading it and envisioning everything in your head is also a good way to go. (4 out of 5 3-card montes)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: This book tells the tale of a couple and their marriage while showing that so many details depend on who’s telling the story. It’s divided into two parts: Lotto tells his story in Part One, and Mathilde tells her story in Part Two. I honestly didn’t care about the first part at all, and I mostly kept going in the hopes that it would get interesting eventually. Mathilde’s section was more interesting with some twists, but by this point I was just trying to get to The End so I could start reading something else. There were also some bits that made no sense to me, such as several elements that seem completely unreasonable to lie about in a relationship. All this is a shame because there were some lovely bits of prose, and I liked how the not-straight characters are mentioned like it’s no big deal (because it’s not). If you like character studies, you might like this, but otherwise, eh. (3 out of 5 plays)

My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South by Rick Bragg: I listened to this book. Like the author, I grew up in a small town; unlike the author, I grew up in a different generation and didn’t write multiple essays about life in the South. Many of these essays have been published before, and each previous publication is mentioned at the beginning of the tale itself. While many of the essays were good and showed me a different (past) life in the South, I gotta admit–Bragg lost me with his multiple essays on football; my own family was a Braves family was nowhere near as obsessed as some of these essays made people out to be. Maybe that’s because baseball games are more frequent; I’m not sure. (Also, awkward moment: when the ex of an acquaintance is quoted in a couple of these essays.) (4 out of 5 potluck dishes)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne: EEEEEEEEEEEEEE. (Really, did you expect anything serious out of this review? At least without talking about the plot and spoilers and stuff?) (5 out of 5 fan theories)

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel: I listened to this book. You may recognize the author’s name from Nightline. I, however, did not recognize the name. Fame aside, I did enjoy this book, which provides a good overview of the possibility of a cyberattack and how (not) ready the United States would be in this event. While this book is by no means a complete guide, it still provides enough information to be useful… and to make me want to start preparing. (4 out of 5 attacks)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: Damn. I cried myself to sleep after finishing this book last night. It’s more of a character study than anything else, and even though it starts a little slowly with characters I cared about less, this book is beautiful and raw and graphic in its depictions of self-harm and sexual abuse; while I’m not a survivor of these things, it was still hard for me to read. Just be sure to have something light and fluffy to read afterward. (5 out of 5 haunting tales)

Camp NaNoWriMo 2016: The Aftermath

Confession: I’m writing most of this post in July so it can count toward my Camp NaNo total.

Now that July is over, let’s look back at the month.

I wrote a total of 20,389 words in July out of a 20,000 word goal, which means I won both Camps this year. Hooray!

July saw me working on a total of 28 blog posts. This includes my monthly(ish) book review post as well as a few posts that have been published throughout the month. July also saw me lowering my goal from 30,000 words of blogging to 20,000 words mid-month. While it felt like the easy way out at first, now I’m glad I did it. Aiming for 30,000 words was stressful enough when I was trying to make those words suck less than usual, and it was easily eating up most of my evenings during the week. Lowering my goal let me concentrate on other things on top of blogging, giving me a chance to work more regular writing into my busy lifestyle.

I wrote a lot of the blog posts on my list of things to write, whether in my ginormous Google doc or already existing as drafts within this site. This is great! I’ve written a lot of the ideas that have made their way to that list, as well as some posts that weren’t on the list at the beginning of the month. The saying is true: writing brings forth more ideas. Even though there were several days of the month where I’d stare at the “Add New Post” screen for ten minutes, there were also days where a new post would magically show up in my mind and not leave until I scribbled it down in its entirety. Some days I’d spend three hours writing my daily quota; other days, the quota would show up on my screen in under an hour–nowhere near my fiction first draft writing pace. That’s okay. What really matters is getting the words down, no matter how long it takes.

Taking on this blogging project for July Camp NaNo has also forced me to look at that list of posts and eliminate the ones I’ll never write, for one reason or another. This has been an experience in itself, as some of those ideas are over five years old and have therefore lost all relevance. Case in point: one of my old blog ideas was about what I could buy with $1500 instead of Google Glass. Remember Google Glass? I went to one of their demos in 2014, and it was a good time. But much like Google Wave and Google Buzz, Glass just didn’t take off. No one would care about that post now unless I were a time travel blogger of some kind.

So, to answer the real question: when will you see these posts? Most of these posts are as edited as I can get them in one go. My current plan is to reread the posts for typos and making sure I don’t stop in the middle of a sentence anywhere, and then post them at about a rate of once a week (or about the rate I try to blog at now). If you didn’t know I was writing all these posts in one month, you’d probably have no idea I wasn’t just writing them a few hours before posting in the first place. But thanks to camp, there are enough posts in my buffer to last quite awhile.

You’ll get to read me talking about feelings and life and anxiety and spoilers and books and social issues and who knows what else. I’ll be getting down and dirty and personal and confessing things that haven’t found their way online yet (and sometimes not even on paper). There will be essays of an impersonal nature and about writing and the occasional whining over why I’m not accomplished yet, dangit.

But somewhere in all those posts, there’s a glimmer of hope–that maybe not everything is terrible after all.

I hope you’ll stay along for the ride.

My race is not your greeting

Last weekend I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things, as you do. As I walked up to the store entrance, a ragged-looking guy sitting in front of the store asked if I was Native American. Were I in the mood to talk to other people and not in a rush to get in and out of the store, I would have told him outright why this wasn’t a proper way to start a conversation. But instead I just said “Nope”, walked away from him, and entered the store.

This is not the first time someone has asked me if I’m Native American, nor is it the last. When I was waiting to be seated at a restaurant for lunch on Wednesday, a guy also waiting for a table turned to me and asked if I was Native American. Hungry and still not in the mood to talk to others, I said no. If he didn’t have a small child with him, I might have launched into my own conversation on why this wasn’t an appropriate way to start a conversation. But instead I just said no, and the host appeared then to seat all of us at different tables.

This has happened enough times in the past to get my attention and make me cranky for awhile afterward. Even though I’m a little socially awkward, I am not (or at least try not to be) rude. It sounds like some people need some extra help in starting a conversation off on the right foot.

So here we go, Internet: Sushi’s acceptable ways of starting a conversation.

  • Hello! (Hi, Hey, and other variants are acceptable. Bonus points for using a foreign language. Extra bonus points for using a language I don’t recognize.)
  • Make an observation about your surroundings. This could be about someone’s shirt or an interest of theirs. I pointed out someone’s NaNo shirt this morning when I spotted an unfamiliar Wrimo. Someone else started a conversation with me this afternoon when asking about the fountain ink I was using.
  • Ask a question. “Do you know when…” or “Do you know where…” related to something in your vicinity are good ones.

This is by no means a complete list, and I’ve covered nowhere near every single situation out there. The social skills website Succeed Socially has a better guide for even the ultra-awkward person. (By the way, if you’re super-awkward and want to become less so, this is a good resource for learning how to do it.) Do you see “What’s your race?” or “Are you [insert race here]” on either list? Of course you don’t. While the opener itself isn’t essential to get just right when starting a conversation with a stranger, it can set the tone for the next few minutes. Quite frankly, asking someone’s race as a conversation starter is akin to asking how much someone weighs or when they’re due (in the case of possibly pregnant people). Just don’t do it.

I don’t mind if people ask once we’ve started a conversation–heck, it’s bound to come up eventually. But asking this question as a greeting is flat-out rude. I am not here just to satisfy your racial curiosity. Figuring out someone’s race is not a scavenger hunt. Please stop treating it as such, world.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2016: Mid-Month Update

Camp NaNoWriMo is halfway over.

While I’m making solid progress on writing a bunch of these blog posts that have sat in the pipeline for ages, I’m still terribly behind my 30,000 word goal for the month. Despite my progress and long list of blog posts, I’m not sure I have enough material to last another 20,000 words.

Writing these blog posts has also taken up a lot of time. I know the NaNoWriMo philosophy is to write now, edit later. I’ve been doing that for a lot of these posts in progress, often writing random sentences as some semblance of an outline and then later figuring out how to string them all together into something coherent. That’s how a lot of these posts are getting written: I write out whatever I can get out of my head, occasionally stopping mid-sentence, to get an idea of what I want to say in a given post.

As a result, I’m frequently writing three or four posts at a time, piecing the elements of each of these posts together and trying to figure out what exactly I want to say in a certain post. A day or two later, I come back to these posts, fill in the blanks, and then polish up the post and declare it finished. That’s what I did yesterday; I started one post (which I finished today) and filled in the blanks to finish four different posts that I had been tapping away at for several days.

The problem is that I’m just past 10,000 words and am starting to run out of material to write in a timely fashion. My brain isn’t churning out the ideas like it has in past years. Sure, I could count some of my other writing toward the 30,000 word goal, but to be honest, this already feels like substantial progress. I’ve finished enough blog posts to post content for at least several months, perhaps through the end of the year if I come up with a few more ideas.

There’s also the time factor. A 30,000 word goal means writing roughly a thousand words a day every day for a month. Even on good days, it still takes me at least an hour to reach that thousand words, sometimes two hours if I’m writing multiple posts or struggling to get my thoughts organized. This makes me feel unproductive, which brings my mood down, which affects other areas of my life. (Yes, I know I spend that much time–and more!–writing fiction in November, but that feels different because I find myself getting more done in those hours.)

I’ve officially lowered my goal from 30,000 words to 20,000 words. At first this sounded like cheating to me, but the point of Camp NaNoWriMo is to set an achievable goal and reach that. And for me, that goal isn’t 30,000 words of blogging–at least, not if I’m putting my mood on the line. So 20k it is.

What about you? How is your Camp NaNoWriMo going?