Fifteen years

Fifteen years ago today, I was fourteen years old and about to start high school. Bored one summer night, I took the advice of someone on a journaling forum that I was a member of at the time: keep an online diary and let other people read an online version of my paper journals.

So I signed up for Diaryland (which, by some miracle, is still around) and started writing. This was a lifechanger. I discovered NaNoWriMo, one of my single biggest lifechangers. In a society where I felt isolated and never anyone’s best friend, blogging gave me an outlet that I could share with others if desired.

Over the years I moved to Livejournal and eventually here. Every single one of my entries–over 3000 in all–are archived here through some tedious labor and import scripting, which makes them easier to search and run statistics on. I’ve transitioned from writing about everyone and everything in my life to writing about whatever’s on my mind, in part because my life isn’t all that exciting. But no matter what has changed, having an online home has never changed.

This is a short post, but thanks, friends, acquaintances, and even a hater or two. Here’s to fifteen more years.

What I’m Reading, May-June 2016

I didn’t read as much as originally planned in late April and May (and the beginning of June, oops) due to that tricky thing called having a social life, but I still made it through a respectable number of books (on top of a pile of BSC books and several manga volumes). Here is that list.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert: I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, nor do I really want to, but this book grabbed me because of its subject matter: the author digging through her own creative process. I listened to this book and loved it. If you consider yourself creative in any way, you need to read this book. You owe it to yourself, if only to know that you’re not alone in all the feelings that come with being a creative person. (5 out of 5 magical moments)

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng: I met the author of this book at the Decatur Book Festival last year, got super excited about her book, and was disappointed to discover that it was sold out after her talk. This book deals with category theory, part of my beloved algebra. This book takes the reader through adventures in abstraction, something that can be very difficult to understand for mathematicians of all levels, before introducing readers to category theory. While this book has its issues, it is still well-thought out and enjoyable, especially with the culinary illustrations of mathematical concepts. (4 out of 5 categories)

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam: One of my big interests lately is the attemnpt to cram everything I want to do into a short period of time. This book takes on the idea that I’ve been working with for a long time: I have more time than I think, so what happens to all that time, and how can we get more out of the time that we do have? While there are some issues with this book, such as assuming everyone can afford to outsource things like laundry, the book still makes many excellent points on how to get more out of your time and makes me feel better about listening to this audiobook while running. (4 out of 5 extra minutes)

The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success by Emma Seppälä: This book is targeted at executives and other professionals and makes the argument that happiness is the best way to fast track our success. The author takes a different approach than that in 168 Hours, and listening to these books one after the other made for some interesting contrasts. Despite being targeted at a different audience, the author still makes a strong argument for putting your own happiness first, even (maybe especially) in your career. (4 out of 5 ways to be happy)

Hit by Delilah S. Dawson: I borrowed this book from a friend after seeing the author pop up in my Twitter feed all the time. Imagine a world where a bank has bought out America and you can legally be killed for your debts. The main character is a teenage girl who is off to kill ten people to pay off her mother’s debt. Along the way she discovers that the people she has to kill are more connected to her and her life than she could have guessed, which made for a compelling read. My main complaint is in the chapter length: it varied so widely that I had a hard time judging where a good stopping point would be. (A real concern considering I read a good chunk of this book on the train.) Oh, and there’s apparently a sequel out now that I need to get my hands on. (4 out of 5 debtors)

Winter by Marissa Meyer: I’m finally finished with this series! (Well, minus the Stars Above collection, which is currently in my to-read pile with deadlines.) Winter is my least favorite of the title characters in the series, which made this book a little less enjoyable than the others in the series. She was just… kind of boring, to be honest. But I did enjoy the character interactions and the overall plot, especially with the need to cram a lot into such a short period of time and doing it well. (4 out of 5 lunar revolutions)

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith: I listened to this book and wanted so badly to like it. One source of annoyance was the author’s putting an emphasis on everything while narrating the book, which got really old after awhile. While this book brings up some good points about asking questions like “Did I do my best to…”, it didn’t add very much new to that approach, choosing instead to rehash things that most readers of self-help books already know. (The author acknowledges this point, to be fair.) (3 out of 5 triggers)

The Watermelon King by Daniel Wallace: I read this book for my local library’s monthly book club. It deals with a man traveling to a tiny Alabama town in search of stories about his mother, who died giving birth to him. Along the way, the main character discovers stories about the town and his mother that he never could have anticipated. I know this book illustrates small-town life, but some of it got a little weird even for me and my small-town upbringing. The writing itself was also slow to start and clunky in spots. I hear the author also wrote Big Fish, which several friends rank among their all-time favorite movies. For once I’ll stick to the movie. (3 out of 5 watermelons)

What Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South’s Tornado Alley by Kim Cross: I listened to this book, which goes into detail about the Alabama tornadoes in 2011. Fortunately for me, the book deals primarily with the Alabama tornadoes and not the Georgia ones such as the one that struck the town I grew up in (and was living in at the time). Lots of firsthand accounts of the time before, during, and after the tornado make this book stand out while capturing the humanity of everyone in the book. What stands in a storm? Plenty. (4 out of 5 tornadoes)

Fuck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems by Michael I. Bennett and Sarah Bennett: Won’t lie, I checked out this book because of the title alone. Unfortunately titles alone don’t make the book good. Despite chapter titles like “Fuck treatment” and “Fuck self-esteem”, most of the book doled out advice that I already knew and didn’t have clear markers between sections. While there is some comedy in this book, sometimes it was overdone just to drive a point home. (3 out of 5 f-bombs)

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: I read and enjoyed her first book, so the fact that I enjoyed this one wasn’t too surprising. This book is even better as an audiobook since the author herself reads it and has a way of making her hilarious random thoughts even funnier. Books like these make me wonder where all my random thoughts went. Am I just getting dumber as I get older? Why aren’t my random thoughts as brilliant as some of these thoughts of hers? Sure, the humor was a little over the top sometimes, but in a way that a lot of us can relate to in some sense. (4 out of 5 koalas with chlamydia)

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: I wanted to like this. I really did. But despite the prose itself being good, the characters and plot suffer from some serious rich people problems that I couldn’t bring myself to care about. The parts of this book I did care about were less about the problems brought on by wealth. (For instance, I’d read a whole book about Melody’s teenage daughters.) While I generally like books about messed-up families, this one fell flat with its shallowness and rich people problems. (3 out of 5 nests)

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: I heard a lot of good things about this book, so I read it to see what the big deal was. The beginning was interesting enough, but then, as in many young adult novels, unnecessary romance happened. Ugh. If the story had continued as it did in the beginning, I probably would have enjoyed it more, but truth be told, this book is hard to follow. Most of the characters were dull and I couldn’t bring myself to care about their adventures, despite freaking aliens happening. Except for Ringer. Someone please tell me we see more of her in the rest of the series, which I may or may not read. (3 out of 5 aliens)

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: The author of this book pops in my Twitter feed occasionally due to retweets, which made me want to check out this book. This book stars a self-proclaimed fat girl coming to terms with being fat to the people in her life. While I enjoyed the premise of this book and the narrator’s strong voice (and hoo boy does the small town life ring true), I wasn’t a huge fan of the pacing or the sudden romance or the sudden ending. Oh, and there’s a love triangle. Because of course there is. (3 out of 5 talents)

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer: The Lunar Chronicles series may be completed, but this short story collection provides some new perspectives into the books and characters. While four of these stories had been published previously, I hadn’t read any of them before. These stories also helped jog my memory over some of the events in the series, as I read the books over a very long period. And yes, there’s a story that could serve as an epilogue to Winter, and it’s pretty aww-worthy. My favorite of these stories was the one about Thorne and his childhood, which tells the story of an incident referred to in one of the books. (4 out of 5 cyborgs)

What’s next? I’ve started The Girl From Everywhere and will read Americanuh for my library’s book club next. But between reading, work, and writing all the things, it’s a wonder I have time for the social life that keeps pulling me away from these things.

State of the Sushi, June 2016

So I bet you’re wondering: what on earth have I been up to lately? If you guessed “an awful lot of things that aren’t writing”, you would be correct. Add in the fact that I’ve had only one weekend free of social plans since mid-April, and I am so ready for some kind of break.

Since 2016 is almost halfway over and I was going to write a life update post anyway, let’s take a look at my original goals for this year and see how I’ve been faring on those goals.

(Fun fact: I originally wrote this post last Friday morning, when I had no plans that weekend. That changed by noon, when an impromptu trip to Washington D.C.–yes, over nine hours from Atlanta–started to brew. Well, that escalated quickly.)

Read 250 books. While I’m technically on track for this goal after taking twelve months into consideration, once we take out October and November, I’m already behind on my book goal despite already reading 117 books so far this year. Yes, I realize this is like whining about being behind on NaNo with a 300k word goal, but at least I’m aware of my whining. This is particularly concerning at the moment not just because of the number (although I still have plenty of BSC books to read and catch up on) but because of my foot-high pile of books to read with deadlines. I currently have six books checked out, as well as one more at the library awaiting pickup today. That stack is about a foot high and all due back in the next month, and since most of these requests are wildly popular, someone else is on the hold list behind me and I can’t just renew the book. This is where some hypothetical weekend free of plans comes in. Read all the things!

Write 500k words. Um, about that… The truth is I haven’t done as much writing as I had anticipated so far this year. My original plan was to write 250,000 words in November, with the other 250k coming from 25k per month for ten months. This gives me some wiggle room, especially with my self-imposed break from writing in February. But considering I’ve reached 25k only twice all year long, and those months were a struggle, I’m still pretty behind on this goal. Fortunately I have plenty to write about in June, both in my paper journal and in here. See, having a social life does help sometimes! (As long as you can write about it later.) While I worked on Wikiwrimo for Camp NaNoWriMo and added 50,000 more characters to the wiki, I’m not sure what to work on for July camp.

Continue running/staying in shape. Okay, so I haven’t been working out all the time, and there are definitely some weeks where I’ve fallen off the running wagon, especially with summer making its way to the south. (I was working up a sweat walking to the coffee shop where I’m writing this. It’s 9am on June 3. That’s not cool, weather. Literally.) I’ve done a 5-miler, an obstacle course 5K, and two regular 5K races so far this year and it’s only June. I even finished third in my age bracket for a couple of those runs and did a 5k under 30 minutes (29m48.8s)! I also registered for my very first half marathon in December, something that really should have happened sooner considering one of my work clients is a running website. The real challenge will be training for that half marathon in November on top of writing 250k, especially with three of my November weekends already booked five months before NaNo. Gulp.

Stay employed. Decrease my debt. Check! It’s a good thing I did include these. You can never be too sure, especially being between clients early on in the year. But for the moment I’m pretty confident in maintaining these goals.

Go back to the Night of Writing Dangerously. Barring any major money issues, I’m still planning to attend NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously this year. It’ll be my 15th NaNo! What better way to celebrate than with a bunch of fancily dressed writers and laptops in San Francisco?

Travel somewhere new. Check! I technically traveled somewhere new with Trail Magic, which counts. But then I went to Washington D.C. on a whim last week, which definitely counts.

Take a class of some kind? Be awesome? I haven’t taken a class despite my desire to do so. As for being awesome, well…

So what else have I been up to? This is one of those questions where you know everything you want to say in response and then answer with “not much” when finally asked. I won Camp NaNoWriMo with a last-minute rush to the finish line. I’m also planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo in July but have no idea what to work on yet. I showed one of my past college professor how Facebook worked. I went on an impromptu trip to Washington D.C. with a friend last weekend. I also attended Momocon for the first time thanks to a friend with an extra pass. Despite not being a super anime or comic nerd, I still enjoyed myself. (And @tiakall won a game! True story: we went to check out the gaming area and next thing we knew, we heard her name announced… by a Wrimo we both knew.) A lot has been happening and I’m barely keeping up with it all. That’s how life goes sometimes, right?

Up sometime in the near future: What I’ve been reading over the past month or so.

What I’m Reading, April 2016

Getting this review post up early so I don’t have to think about it later, as things are getting way busy in Sushiland right now. Here goes!

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer: Damn. I’ve struggled to pay my bills and buy food before, but I’ve never been destitute. This book tells the story of the truly destitute, those who live on just two dollars a day, an amount many of us could easily spend on random crap. And it tells the tale well, striking a balance between the history of welfare and other assistance programs and the sometimes horrifying stories of the people living in such poverty. There were tales of 20 people in one house, collecting tin cans and donating plasma for extra cash, and one little thing that sent everything spiraling downward. All of these tales were well-told and made me feel simultaneous sympathy for the families and anger at the broken system. (5 out of 5 empty fridges)

Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates: I am so glad this book is over. The premise sounds neat: a game among college kids with the final round played 14 years later. But besides that, the entire story was disappointing. The characters kept making a big deal out of the Game, especially when someone quit. The story also switches between past and present tenses a lot, which led to a lot of confusion. And there was no real resolution to any of hte storylines, which frustrated me. If the book is boring, all I can ask for is a resolution, and I didn’t get even get that. (2 out of 5 consequences)

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe: I love this book. It takes hard ideas like space and life and explains them using only the ten hundred most used words, making them easy to understand. The idea works really well and got a lot of laughs from me through the book. And yes, I wrote this using only the ten hundred most used words, just like in the book. (5 out of 5 simple things)

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: I read this book starring a main character with OCD since I’m currently trying to untangle one of my own novels starring a main character with anxiety. This book didn’t disappoint. It was well-researched and didn’t just clutch to the classical OCD tropes. One thing this book did well was create a voice for the main character, not just in her head but in her interactions with others as well (such as her so-called popular friends). I wish the last hundred pages or so would have explored more of the big plot twist, but besides that, no major complaints from me. (4 out of 5 poems)

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp: Opportunity, Alabama. 10:05am. Gunshots. The majority of this book takes place over the course of an hour, told from four points of view, with all the narrators connected to the shooter in some way. I appreciated the diverse cast, even for rural Alabama, as well as the distinct voices of each narrator, something a lot of authors have trouble getting right (and therefore I usually dread when seeing multiple narrators in novels). (4 out of 5 points of view)

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: I listened to this book, expecting to get a lot out of it. But honestly, this book was kind of dull. While I enjoyed learning about the people who helped the Wright brothers achieve flight (like their sister Catherine), this book wasn’t as deep as I had hoped. The prose itself was good; I just wish the book fleshed out more of the story behind the brothers. (3 out of 5 flying machines)

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck: I have very mixed feelings about this book and would rate this book very differently depending on what parts of the book the asker is most interested in. The concept itself was fascinating; to tell the truth, I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of traveling the entire Oregon Trail. The book bounces between the history of the Oregon Trail and the author’s trip on the trail with his brother, all while weaving in stories about the author’s life and being haunted by his father on the Oregon Trail. While the story of actually traveling the trail was interesting, the historical bits and the parts about the author’s family ghosts were not of interest to me. I do like history, but maybe I wasn’t as interested in the personal aspects simply because I had no real connection to the author. Overall: Just tell me about traveling the trail! (3 out of 5 covered wagons)

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss: Let me guess, the title got your attention too. I’m all about remote work and self-employment and generally not letting a job dictate your life, so reading this book seemed like a requirement for me. Ferriss does a good job of breaking down why to adopt such a lifestyle to start with, as well as taking steps to make it happen. There are concise steps, as well as questions and actions to take at the end of each chapter. One thing this book could have done better was to take into account some of the barriers to entry that Ferriss probably didn’t see. A lot of the businesses described in the book required a lot of money and time in the beginning, and for people desperate for both, spending money to make money often doesn’t work. Despite this, the book makes some excellent points and I’ll be referring to his site for other resources. (4 out of 5 mini-retirements)

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella: I picked up this book since I’m currently working on a novel about a teen with an anxiety disorder, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book in the beginning. At first the book felt tedious and continuing the book was a chore. The mother was over the top, believing everything the Daily Mail says and trying to get her son to stop playing video games, and I nearly stopped reading because of her. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. Even though I don’t have anxiety to the extent that Audrey does, the anxiety portrayal didn’t seem too far off, even if it was tedious to read at first. While the romance was cute, I was definitely sighing to myself at the idea that the romance was a cure-all. Still, this was a fun read, despite covering some heavy topics. (4 out of 5 rhubarbs)

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr: When this book was good, it was really really good, but when it was bad it was horrid. Maybe I should have read a physical copy instead of listened to the audiobook. Maybe it didn’t help that memoirs aren’t my favorite genre to start with, or that I haven’t read any of the author’s other work. Whatever the case, I found this book to be just eh. While it made some great points on how we interpret the things we experience, a lot of the book was kind of boring, despite being about writing. (3 out of 5 made-up incidents)

Room by Emma Donoghue: I read this via recommendation and for my library’s book club, and finished the majority of the book in an afternoon. While the book deals with some dark stuff (the mother and kid are trapped inside one room, for crying out loud), having the kid narrate the story lent some light and hope to the story that wouldn’t have been there if the mother narrated it. Sure, there were a few unrealistic parts, and the book could have benefited from another round of editing, but overall the story got my attention and was enjoyable despite the darkness. (4 out of 5 Sunday treats)

Up next: I’m listening to Big Magic and reading How to Bake Pi and am enjoying both of them so far. After that, who knows? I’m technically ahead of my Goodreads challenge to read 250 books this year, but that lead turns into being almost a month behind after taking NaNo into account. Here’s hoping for another BSC binge on my quest to finish the series.

Feeling like I’m not good enough at anything

If you’ve known me for awhile, then you probably know that I have more interests than time[citation needed]. I read like there’s no tomorrow, I write like I’m running out of time, I dabble in math and languages and code and techy things, I obsess over everything involving NaNoWriMo, and on and on the list goes.

It doesn’t feel that way at times. Most of the time, to be honest. The days of assuming I’m the smartest in the room are long gone, left behind in the small town I grew up in. This isn’t a bad thing; leaving that small town was one of the best things I ever did for exploring a world where I was no longer a special snowflake. But while I got to know people with talents I definitely don’t possess, I also experienced the feeling that they knew a lot more about these things than I did.

There’s a name for this: impostor syndrome. It’s more common among high achieving women and members of minority groups, and the idea of not being good enough at a thing can prevent someone from pursuing an opportunity that they otherwise have the experience for. I’ve experienced impostor syndrome in various situations: applying to jobs, calling myself interested in a field, saying I work in the tech startup world when I’m not a developer… the list goes on.

But there’s not a name (that I know of, anyway) for what I experience: being interested in so many things but not knowing a lot about those things. Sure, this could be considered a form of impostor syndrome. I can’t help but find things interesting. It’s part of who I am. This results in a lot of dabbling and learning a little about a lot of things, then hoping that knowledge sticks when I start dabbling in different things. But when it comes to sharing knowledge about those things, I find that just knowing a little bit about a thing isn’t enough; everyone else seems to know more than the few nuggets of knowledge that I possess.

Shouldn’t I use this opportunity to learn from these people who know so much more about the topic? Yes, and I often do, even if I forget some of the new information afterward. But then I meet people who know a lot about a ridiculously wide variety of things, which makes me question my ability to claim that I enjoy a diverse array of interests, the people who are so good at retaining and pursuing a lot of things. I aspire to be like them in their pursuit of interesting things.

Sounds like a personal problem, right? Believe me, I know. The logical solution is to stop comparing myself to everyone else, for Baty’s sake. But I’m working on it, both pursuing more things and embracing the things I am interested in and know a lot about.

Writing Hiatus, Revisited

Regular readers and Twitter followers may recall my writing hiatus in February. Since I’ve been writing again for almost a month, let’s revisit that hiatus month.

Thankfully for my sanity and for my memory’s sake, I continued to allow paper journal writing, along with book reviews so I wouldn’t have to squeeze out what little I still remembered from those books a month later.

The writing hiatus worked; I wrote just under 5k overall in February. While this puts me behind in reaching my overall goal for 2016, I need “only” 25,000 words per month for ten months, which takes into account October’s likely lack of writing and November’s megawriting. At first, I found myself standing to the side as everyone else was talking about writing. Dreams of editing some novels, coming up with new ideas for this site (don’t worry, I wrote most of those down), and venturing into new types of writing filled my mind as I kept reminding myself of the writing hiatus. It didn’t help that most of my Twitter community consists of writers. I swear, following a bunch of writers on Twitter when you’re on hiatus is like still going to the bar after you’ve quit drinking just because your friends are there.

As for the guilt, I felt a little guilty at first for not writing, as you might expect. But as the month went on, I occupied myself in different ways. Playing some games. Reading a book a day at some points. Wishing spring would arrive faster. Wondering if I was a real writer since I didn’t miss writing at some points.

The problem is, I’ve barely pursued any of those ideas since then. That’s in part due to this month being about five times busier than a typical March, along with many more life changes than usual. (Most of them good, so don’t worry too much about me.) I’m a little behind on reaching my 25,000 word goal for March, but not so far behind that I’m concerned about reaching that goal.

So now what? My Camp NaNoWriMo project is primarily Wikiwrimo updates; like last year I’ll be counting characters instead of words for my project. Since this worked out well last year and I still have a lot to do on Wikiwrimo, Camp will kickstart my efforts. This seems like a good idea for a yearly Camp project, with the second project consisting of whatever else I feel like writing. Let’s get back to writing all the things.

What I’m reading, March 2016

Another month, another post on what I’m reading. I probably won’t finish another book by the end of the month based on my schedule right now, but we’ll see. For now, have some reviews.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: I tried to like this book. I really did. But the story just didn’t grab me, and this was partly due to the writing style of the book. Six points of view, lots of blocks of dialogue without indicators to let me know who’s speaking, and confusion between what was happening in the past versus the present. I remember having the confusion problems while reading Bardugo’s last series as well, so I know it’s not just this book. Still, I’ll be skipping the rest of this series. (3 out of 5 heists)

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari: I listened to this book, and I’m glad I did. Ansari is really funny and acknowledged that yes, I was listening to the book when he described the occasional chart. While this book was well-researched and explained many of the aspects of finding love in the digital age, the funny snippets were sometimes too much. Just tell me more about the research already! Still, it was a solid read and gave me a lot of things to think about re: seeking love, especially with the “ooh shiny” period of a relationship ending and turning into a companionate love. I’m gonna go reflect on that now. (4 out of 5 minutes before replying to that text)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: Someone on Twitter told me this book was terrible, and I went into the book with this knowledge. Sure, they’re only one person, but I found myself disliking this book immediately. While I love Rowell’s YA work, this book read like the first draft of a knockoff HP fanfic. The book also suffered from “is something going to actually happen?” syndrome. Despite all this, I managed dto finish the book and was very relieved after hitting The End. (2 out of 5 Humdrums)

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet by Justin Peters: I listened to this book, an autobiography of activist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself in his NYC apartment a few years ago. For those who don’t know, this was the guy who was going to trial for downloading a zillion JSTOR academic articles. The story itself spans much more than Swartz’s life; several chapters are devoted to the history of copyright law in the United States. (Did you know copyright law once dictated that copyrights were good for only 14 years? I didn’t.) This format made for an interesting listen, one that didn’t just tell Swartz’s life story but also provided context for his role and actions regarding copyright history. (4 out of 5 copyright laws)

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander: Here’s a conversation I had multiple times while reading this book on my Kindle.

Someone notices me reading. “So what’s the book about?”
Me: “How the entire system around the war on drugs is disproportionately targeting black men.”

Definitely not the answer they were expecting. This book was very well researched and written, providing historical context while making a convincing argument and providing solutions. It’s a dense book, but if you’re at all interested in social issues, go read this. (5 out of 5 drug charges)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: This book stars 26-year-old Louisa Clark, who has never really explored the world beyond her hometown. The economy is terrible, she’s still living with her struggling family, and everything seems okay until the cafe she works at closes. Louisa gets a new job working with a quadriplegic, which changes the way she sees the world forever. I meant for this book to be a nice fluffy book to read after the mass incarceration book, and while most of the book made for light reading, there were some parts that were definitely not light and fluffy. Not perfect, and the plot was pretty predictable, but still an engaging read with relatable characters. (4 out of 5 jobs)

The Ex by Alafair Burke: I am terrible at picking out light fluffy books. This book has been described in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, which isn’t completely off. But this novel concentrates more on the legal parts of the case investigation, as the lawyer, an ex of the main suspect, narrates the whole story. While there are some predictable parts, the twists along the way made this book a one-day read. (4 out of 5 pieces of evidence)

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin: Suzy’s best friend died right before seventh grade, leaving Suzy to put together the pieces of what happened while grieving. Suzy becomes convinced that it must have been a jellyfish sting (things don’t happen for no reason, after all) and goes on a journey to figure out what really happened. This book captures the mind of a middle schooler really well, making me think to how I would have reacted to such a thing as a preteen, while showing a whole world of wonder in the process. (4 out of 5 jellyfish)

Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto: I listened to this book. This book started out dull and remained so for much of the book, then turned more interesting when he started talking about the 20th century. To be honest, I wish he could have told the older history of Amsterdam as well as he narrated the 20th century. A little more info on how Amsterdam and the world influenced each other would have been useful as well. (3 out of 5 tulips)

Rising Strong by Brene Brown: I listened to this book. While the first half of the book was really interesting and made many excellent points on rising strong after a struggle, the last half read more like a memoir, and a rambling one without not much of a point. Sure, the author is a professor of social work, but a lot of the qualitative research seemed to stem from her own experiences, and we all know one person is just one data point. Next time, I’d rather skip the personal stories and get to the point. (3 out of 5 rumbles)

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z Packer: I read this book for my library’s monthly book club. The collection itself features people of color (mostly female) as the main characters. As with many short story collections, the story quality is inconsistent. While the prose itself is good, the stories felt incomplete. Most of the stories ended abruptly, leaving me with a sense of dissatisfaction at the end of each tale, but not enough to want more. It was like reading a chapter from several novel ideas and seeing what would stick. (3 out of 5 cups of coffee)

Family and keeping in touch

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is family. I grew up surrounded by family and attended family gatherings for everything ranging from Christmas to birthdays to Fourth of July. We would cram the whole family into my grandparents’ kitchen and living room and garage, pretending to get along while eating enough food for a small army.

Thanks to a combination of my dad and his brother’s seven-year age difference and my dad’s remarriage and fathering my brother and me ten years after his first child and my uncle’s two daughters, my younger brother is the only person near my age at these family events. The aforementioned previous generation of children had their own children very young, staggering my family’s generations so that besides my brother, the family members closest to my age were more likely ten years apart. As a kid, this gap felt unusually wide.

As I’ve grown older, most of these family connections have dissolved for various reasons. I’ve learned that life is short and that staying in touch with the ones I love is more important than ever; you never know when someone leaves forever. This should be a good enough reason to reach out to family on my own instead of waiting for them to talk to me. I still think of how I could have kept in touch with my grandmother more regularly, and I ate lunch with her every day when we lived almost next door to each other.

Even though my parents and brother aren’t bad relatives, for some reason I find keeping in touch with my family to be unusually difficult. I’ve already written about my difficulties in maintaining contact with friends, but family communication is a whole other can of worms altogether. I’ve come up with a few reasons for this.

We don’t have much in common. I’ve always been the black sheep of the family thanks to my interest in books and school, and none of my relatives shared these interests with me. As a child, I devoured all the books I could get my hands on, from encyclopedias to medical books to things actually written for kids. Heck, I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college. To be fair, despite the high expectations, my family praised and encouraged these interests.

I am terrible at small talk. Not much else to say here, but small talk is one of the banes of my social existence. I’m fine with short conversations with strangers, such as chitchatting while a cashier rings up my stuff. But with people I know, or when the length of the conversation is unknown? Forget about it. This point goes back to not having much in common with my family, but there’s more than that. One small example: I hear a lot about my mom’s work and her coworkers when I talk to her. But working remotely with very few coworkers means these stories are few and far between.

I feel like I’m constantly being judged. I know rationally that they’re probably not; my family just cares about my well-being. But I still can’t shake the feeling, which is why I find myself limiting what little I talk about to start with. That’s just how I am. I didn’t tell them about the last person I dated because of this judging, even though I’m well into adulthood and we had dated for over a year.

My family thinks I’m busy. This is a reason my mom gave for not being in touch with me more often, or for coming down to visit me–I still owe her a trip to the big Asian food store, among other things. And while it’s true that I do have something resembling a social life, I also have a lot of interests that don’t automatically scream “Hello, I am socializing!” For instance, I’m writing this post from a new coffee shop in my neighborhood as an attempt to combine writing and exploring my own figurative backyard. But sometimes I need that unstructured alone time to write and read and pursue other projects without interacting with other people.

I’m not sure what to do when I visit. I always bring my laptop and phone (and now Kindle) when I visit them, but I don’t really do anything when I’m up there. I eat meals with my family, sure, but the rest of that time doesn’t really resemble family bonding time. It mostly consists of everyone doing their own thing, but with one more person around. But since my parents’ house is very familiar, I find getting anything done to be difficult.

Sure, they’re on Facebook, but… We already know how I feel about Facebook. I can see the case for Facebook: it makes communicating with family and friends easy… when you actually see their updates.

I guess my question here is “What frequency of family contact is normal?” Should I feel like a bad person when I don’t stay in touch? And while the obvious solution is to suck it up and keep in touch, what else can I do about this?

Trail Magic 2016

One of my friends hiked the full Appalachian Trail in 2013 and has been doing trail magic (kindness with no expectation of anything in return on the trail) for a weekend ever since. He’s tried to get me to come along in the past, but I always had plans that weekend and couldn’t go. That changed this year, so I packed my stuff and we set up camp and magic at Dicks Creek Gap, in northeast Georgia near Hiawassee.

Dicks Creek Gap sign

Dicks Creek Gap is about a week into the northbound trail experience, so we were meeting some of the hikers who had left on the early side of the traditional departure date. For many hikers, this is also their first break from hiking. Quite a few of them were planning to take zeros the next day to resupply in town and avoid the predicted rain for Sunday.

We arrived on Saturday morning and had plenty of food on hand for the hikers: grab-and-go items like bananas, oranges, honey buns, Blast’s chocolate bar stuff that is somewhat healthy yet tastes very unhealthy and delicious, assorted candies, and a few other things I’m not thinking of. Plenty of sodas, beers, and bottled water stocked the coolers. Make-your-own chicken and veggie kabobs and salad made up the lunch and dinner food. Breakfast burritos and pancakes happened in the morning (with beercakes on Monday), all on MacGyver’s barrel grill. Both nights concluded with a hobo campfire and roasting marshmallows on the grill, along with lots of talk about materials that went over my head since my chemistry knowledge ends at high school chemistry. We made smores out of Thin Mints on Sunday night, which you should do immediately if you like Thin Mints and marshmallows.

MacGyver brought a bluetooth boom box, and since the area had no mobile connection, we were limited to music on our phone. And since I was the only person with more than a few songs on their phone, I got to subject everyone to a selection of my musical tastes. This also meant listening to the occasional Hamilton track. I may or may not have skipped “It’s Quiet Uptown” to save myself from crying in front of everyone. This also meant I couldn’t take too many pictures because the music stopped whenever my phone was more than a few feet away from the boom box.

Blast brought a big charger so hikers could recharge their devices, along with a projector and sheet for movies after the sun set. No one else stayed with us on Saturday night, so we watched 180º South, a documentary about climbing a mountain in Patagonia and probably some stuff about surfing too. (Not kidding there–there were so many random shots of this old guy surfing.) And on Saturday night, Soup and Daniel stayed with us and we watched Easy A.

We also brought a lot of games and played several of them with various groups of hikers. Two rounds of Cards Against Humanity happened, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. We also played some Spyfall, and I was never the spy. Most of the entertainment was simply sitting around and talking about everything and anything.

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We woke up to rain on Sunday morning and were tempted to pack up and leave, even if that meant packing everything up in the rain. But we stuck it out, and I’m glad we did; the weather cleared up for the rest of the trip, and Blast, MacGyver, and I wound up staying an extra day, both to get rid of all the food and to stay in the mountains a little longer. It involved a ten-minute trip down the road for me to change a Monday appointment with Comcast, but staying the extra day was worth that to me. (Even if they’re now not coming over until Friday and the intermittent Internet problems have gotten worse. But that’s another story.)

On Sunday evening Blast, MacGyver, and I corrected the fact that we were on the trail and hadn’t hiked any of it, so we hiked a mile or two up the mountain, taking in the view before getting to a campground. One of the hikers we met was camped there, so we stopped and chatted with him for awhile before heading back down.

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Another idea that came out of the weekend: a hiker version of Cards Against Humanity. Black cards like “How am I upholding my trail reputation?” and white cards like “Pink blazing” and “23 hikers in a U-Haul”. There would also be a PCT conversion kit, like the Canadian conversion kit for the regular game. This is going to happen.

But now I’m home, showered, and enjoying flush toilets and running water again. (Not enjoying my intermittent Internet connection, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Sarah, Jetta the black lab, Astro, Soup, Daniel, Hans, B Hiker, and everyone else we met this weekend (sorry, I’m bad at learning lots of names at once), meeting you was a lot fo fun and I hope your thru-hike is everything you wanted to get out of the experience. And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to join your ranks in a few years.

What I’m Reading, January-February 2016

Ever since I took the writing hiatus in February, I’ve been spending a lot of that time reading. In particular, I’ve been continuing my quest to finish the Baby-Sitters Club books (mostly in between reading Shakespeare scenes, let’s be honest), and I’m now at the point of reading a book a day on average so far in 2016. I probably can’t keep that up for much longer, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right?

Never. Onward to the reviews!

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: I read her first book and enjoyed it. I listened to this book, and to be honest, I didn’t like it as much. Enough of the humor felt forced and well, not funny, which made me think “Okay, we get it” on a regular basis while listening to the book. Considering how funny her last book was, this one didn’t hold up as well. (3 out of 5 meetings with the president)

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: You’d think the biography of someone who lived over 200 years ago and didn’t get much recognition over the years would be a boring read. You would be oh so wrong. This biography was very well done, and I found myself talking about Hamilton’s life (and okay, the musical and the differences between the two) almost nonstop to anyone who would listen. (Seriously, ask pretty much anyone who has had to talk to me over the past couple of weeks.) The best part? The author has written a George Washington biography that has found its way to my to-read list. (5 out of 5 Federalist papers)

Fairest by Marissa Meyer: This is a short novel that tells the story of Queen Levana and how she came to be the evil queen, and it made me feel for Levana as more than the evil queen. The book also provides some insight into some of the unanswered questions of the Lunar Chronicles universe. I only wish this book had been longer, as there were so many instances where I wanted to know more, whether from a particular scene or about what happened in those time lapses. (4 out of 5 glamours)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova: Feelings. So many feelings. This book shows the decline of a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 50. The entire book is told from her point of view, showing what’s going on in Alice’s head the entire time, and it’s hard to read sometimes. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and I had to set the book down regularly to calm down because the intensity of what was going on in Alice’s brain was too much to handle. (5 out of 5 memory lapses)

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick: I’ll be honest, I mostly read (okay, listened to) this book because my library’s ebook system recommended it. Honestly, I would have liked this book a lot more if the narrator/author weren’t such an asshole. It didn’t help that every time he referred to a woman in the book, he referred to her as a girl. Ugh. Learning about phone phreaking and early hacking techniques was interesting, yes, but it didn’t get around the fact that the narrator’s real talent was in manipulating others and being proud of it, even if just for the lulz. (3 out of 5 phone hacks)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown: I was not a fan of this book. While a lot of the book was written for people in the workplace who are struggling from doing too much, some of the stuff applies to one’s personal life. Thta doesn’t excuse repeating a lot of the same points ovre and over and dividing everyone into essentialists and non-essentialists, as if essentialism is the one true way. Your point. You made it. (2 out of 5 ways to say no)

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll: I did not like this book. The main character has what seems like a perfect life working at a NYC magazine, but she’s hiding a secret from her past, which gets revealed as someone from that past comes into her present life. The story alternates between the present and the past. Fine premise, but the characters were annoying (especially the main character and her coworkers), and the writing was stunted and awkward throughout almost the entire book. The book could have used another round or two of edits, and combined with the annoying characters, its only saving grace was that it was short. (2 out of 5 first world problems)

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) : This is another Cormoran Strike novel. While there are some slow parts and lots and lots of talking, a lot of those scenes gave us insight into Strike’s and Robin’s pasts in this novel, which helps flesh them out as people and not just for plot advancement. And that cliffhanger at the end! (4 out of 5 severed body parts)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: I got about 80 pages into this book before giving up on it. The premise sounds interesting: following some art camp kids throughout their adult lives. But I couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters in what little I did read, and nothing really happened in those eighty pages. Well, that’s a partial lie. A couple of things did happen, but the characters were so distant that I couldn’t relate to them at all, nor could the author’s writing keep me wanting more. (did not finish, unrated)

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland: I listened to this book, and If you’re looking for a guide to implementing scrum, this book isn’t for you. There’s a little bit in the appendix about implementing scrum, but this book by one of the scrum founders isn’t a full-on guide. If you want to learn about the value of embracing smart and achievable goals that you can even apply to your everyday life (especially with to-do, doing, and done lists), then this is a good book to get you started. (4 out of 5 to-do lists)

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: Truth be told, besides the premise (which even then reminds me of things like Hunger Games), nothing really made this book stand out. The main character is an assassin who has been working in the salt mines, and then she gets to compete against a bunch of men for her freedom. The writing was awkward and unclear at times, the characters were boring and whiny, and of course there’s a freaking love triangle. That said, the book did keep me reading until the end, so I’ll give it credit for that. (3 out of 5 tests)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: Ove is your typical grumpy older man whose life gets turned upside down when new neighbors move in. While his grumpiness is overemphasized in the beginning, he doesn’t stay that grumpy for the whole book, plus you learn a lot about Ove’s past and why he’s so grumpy in the first place. Beautiful story that has me wanting more from this author. (4 out of 5 interruptions)

Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano: I listened to this book, which offers ideas (and pure speculation on the last chapter or two, although the author does acknowledge this) on why our brains, as complex as they are, can’t deal with numbers or memorization all that well. The author explains these ideas from a biological basis, so if you’re looking for a cultural perspective, you’re bound to be disappointed. With that in mind, though, the author makes his points well while not going too far astray. (4 out of 5 brain bugs)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I listened to this book, and damn. Sometimes that’s all I have to say about a book because it’s so well done. This book is written as a letter to Coates’s teenage son and discusses race (particularly being black) with historical context. Go read this. (5 out of 5 letters)

Richard III by William Shakespeare: I read this book for my library’s book club, marking the first time I’ve read Shakespeare in four or five years. I did appreciate this book a lot more after the book club, which was filled with a bunch of Shakespeare scholars. While the metaphors in this book were particularly well-done and the portrayal of Richard as a jerk was spot-on, there wasn’t much else that stood out about this book. (3 out of 5 kings)

Up next? Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, and after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll start reading through my stack of to-be-read books.

Stay tuned: my writing hiatus is almost up, and that means I’ll have actual content to post here.