February 20, 2012

Book Review: Swamplandia!

As part of the Apocolist (down there at the bottom), I'm trying to read at least 20 books this year.

1. Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton
2. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt

#3. Swamplandia! - Karen Russell


















(Slight spoilers ahead.)

I don't remember why I picked this book but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's because I enjoy sudden! exclamation! points! in my book titles. I mean who doesn't?

I didn't know what to expect with this. I kept hearing about how Karen Russell was a young writer and had been given pretty much every age-based writing award there is so I guess I was rooting for the home team. Also I just looked up her birthday and she's only four years older than me. I officially have until I'm 31 to do something with my life. Wait. No. 30, because this was published last year. Oh man I am so screwed.

ANYWAY. My crippling fear of amounting to nothing aside (haha! HA! omg), I jumped into the book but was at first held up by the prose and style. I like creative prose, but man, just call a car a car. Basically it's the difference between "I walked down the path" and "I walked down the stickway." I got into the flow of it eventually though and the story progressed it became seemingly less hindered by the words.

A family has a 'gator wrestling themed park in the Florida swamp. After the death of the mother, who was also the headlining act, things start to crumble. Rifts open between the surviving family members: Ava (the narrator and wrestling enthusiast), her father (The Chief), her sister (Osceola) and a brother (Kiwi).

Each member of the family embarks on a separate kind of mission after the mother's passing. Osceola is desperate to commune with the dead through a Ouija board. This brought back memories of my own teenage fascination with the occult and all of the drama and the games she plays in her head rang true. Kiwi desires a higher education and a life on the mainland. Ava wants to save the park, as does her father, but they go about it in very different ways.


SPOILERS!


The Bird Man is introduced in the rising action and I found myself misjudging him, almost in the same way that Ava does. This was a fascinating reaction in myself and one that I hope Russell intended. I got so entrenched in the romance of the mystery that I forgot what very real dangers could lurk at the edges. I yearned for an adventure, as Ava did, and ignored all caution along with her. Perhaps it's that I'm just as naive as she is. In any case, I was surprised and angered by what he brought into her life.


SPOILERS OVER


I liked it. The setting is unique and intriguing and the story is well paced - I found myself reading faster to find out what happened in the end. It's not life changing, but it's entertaining and emotional: I felt foggy and then suddenly, extremely clear, like I'd been dreaming all along and should have known it. A reaction in myself as dynamic as that deserves at least 3 stars.

February 17, 2012

Better Than a Mirror

While shopping with Esther in a second hand shop, I was flipping quickly through dresses like they were pages in a magazine. I paused to consider a black shift. The overall simplicity of it was striking and allowed the careful details to shine.

"I love this," I said, calling Esther's attention to the dress. "See," I said, motioning to the slight draping at the neckline, "This detail is so interesting in contrast to the otherwise sharp lines." Flipping the dress over to look at the back, I gasped. "The tailoring is great!" I oozed. "And the darting on the back here is so thoughtful!" Esther nodded pensively.

We moved on to other areas of the store (it was not a dress I could afford) and I eventually settled on a purse (mustard yellow, Fossil) and a cream cowl neck batwing sleeve sweater (LOFT). As we were checking out, the cashier commented on the handbag. "That purse is great!" she said.

"Yeah! I love the hardware. It's subtle, you know?"

"The color is so awesome, too."

Esther fiddled with the purse on the counter and flipped it over to examine the back. "Yes," she said approvingly, "and the darting on the back is so thoughtful!" She flashed a smile at me.

We all have things that we like to talk about - things that we spend time and brain power considering, examining, and analyzing. We want to be able to sing in appreciation of our passions and make people love them as we do.

Every once in a while, though, it takes a friend who is close enough to hold up a mirror for you and allow you to see the shape of things. Sometimes you see that they're so ridiculous, these words we dress our lives in, and you can't help but laugh.

I pushed Esther playfully as we left the store and walked out into the cold Boston night. Here was the beautiful thing: this simple friendship adorned with subtle details. That other? That was just a dress.

February 05, 2012

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers

As part of the Apocolist, I'm trying to read at least 20 books this year. Bear and I walked up to the library and I finally got myself one of them cards that gets you free books. I know, terrible. Should have had one long ago. NO JUDGING.

The first book was Jurassic Park and was obviously awesome. I hope to write a little bit about each of the books I get through.

At the moment I'm basically getting all of my current book suggestions from The Morning News' list of books that have made it into the shortlist of nominees for their 2012 Tournament of Books. This means all of the books on my to-read list were published in 2011. Send me suggestions for other things! Because I will be devouring these. I have been too long off the reading wagon.

#2. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt













Some review I read said this would be funny so I jumped at it. The last few book clubs I've been in have drowned me in sad stories of love and loss, oppression and fear. Which, you know, fine. I can appreciate some sad-sack! I love bleak stuff. 90% of the time I'll choose a vacation in the Scottish moors over a beach in Cabo. That being said, do you know how grey New England is in the winter? I could use a little light-hearted literature.

The story is of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are killers for hire in the mid 1800s. It takes place in the Old West but I appreciated that deWitt doesn't beat you over the head with it. I once read a book that toook place in Massachusetts where every other line was something like, "She dug her hands into the rocky soil, a soil typical of New England" or "The sun was the yellow of a Gloucester fisherman's hat." Ugh, I get it. No, this was much more subtle. The tone of the narrator and the settings through which the story passes do not seem overly constructed. There is room left for the story to unfold without a rootin' tootin' hootin' hollerin' spurred and chapped cowboy in a saloon every few paragraphs.

The brothers are hunting a prospector and must travel a long way to reach him which helps the story move along nicely. As they move from town to camp to town, Eli (the narrator) starts to question what he does and who he does it for, as well as examine the relationship this lifestyle has created between himself and his brother.

There are moments of violence, as there should be in any honest tale of the expanding nation, and they can get graphic. The tone of violence, however, is well tempered by the tone of the narrator and the general humor of the brothers. I laughed out loud at many of the lines. I am a lady who appreciates sarcasm and this novel is rife with it. The brothers are witty and poetic in their humor. They are also irreverent and self deprecating which are qualities that are hard to portray without feeling heavy handed. Though they are killers, I found myself feeling sympathy for them. Eli and Charlie are very human, flawed and strange, which helps get you through the parts where they're shooting everyone around them.

I got through this book in a day. It's not particularly heavy reading, but there are moments that make you pause and ponder the possible symbolism - a weeping man, a sash from a woman worn as a favor under the brother's coat, a dying horse - like quick flashes of light that leave a ghost image on your retina, the brilliance stay with you for a moment before you move on to the next gripping part of the story.

I enjoyed it, is what I'm saying. Four out of five stars!

February 04, 2012

Apocolist No. 98: Try 100 New Foods

Cheese counts as food!

1. Cabot & Jasper Hill: Clothbound Cheddar - Greensboro, VT


Tom and I almost ate all of it before I could take a picture. Nutty and yummy English style cheddar made in Vermont. Perfect with crusty bread and a game of gin.

2. Chase Hill Farm: Farmstead Cheese - Warwick, MA


Again, we had almost eaten the whole thing. This was a dense, chewy, delicious cheese. Very buttery and somewhat salty with a nice creamy aftertaste. Mmmmmmm raw cow's milk.

Both were bought at City Feed and Supply in Jamaica Plain, MA. I strongly suggest buying your cheese there if you're in the area. You can sample anything they have on offer and they'll cut pieces for you based on how much you want to spend. I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting with their cheesemonger recently and was super impressed with his depth of knowledge.

Two down, ninety-eight to go! What other things will I shove in my face? WHO KNOWS. An adventure awaits!

February 02, 2012

NOT OK: Adventures in Online Dating


I am not a person you should ask for advice about online dating. I have tried it a few times and it was almost always a nightmare. And I know I'm not the only one! There are sites dedicated to this stuff.

I gained a lot of life knowledge, though. I also gained a stalker. That's a story for another time. I haven't decided how flippant I can be about it yet.

You may have met your husband online, and if you did, HOLY CRAP good for you. Because do you know how many awful humans there are in the world? How many people you would never want to date? I can laugh now, but only because I sobbed my way through therapy.

In this episode: The Man who Hates Maps. And directions.

We agreed to meet up some time, but I was uncomfortable getting picked up at my house so I let Martin Bundercrunch* know that I'd rather meet him at a coffee shop and gave him the address.

"I don't know how to get there," he said via okCupid chat, and I laughed because, uh, aren't you on the internet too? I mean I'm not just chatting alone, am I?

I responded, "Google maps it. What time do you want to meet?"

"I don't like maps," he said, "but I know the area pretty well. Just tell me how to get there."

"Uh," I replied, bemused. "Sure. If you go to 195 and take exit 2 and take a left on Wickenden you can find it."

"I DON'T KNOW STREETS" he replied, in all caps. "JUST TELL ME HOW TO GET THERE."

I was dumbstruck. Did he want me to be more philosophical about it? "Follow your heart" wouldn't get me my coffee date. "Dude," I replied (I type how I speak), "I don't know what to say. I don't know how to tell you how to get here without using street names."

"WHY WON'T YOU JUST TELL ME WHERE TO PICK YOU UP." More caps. "I'M NOT CRAZY OR ANYTHING, IT'S NOT LIKE I'LL TRY TO HURT YOU."

Well now that you mention it...

"You know what," I typed, "I don't think I'm ready to meet up with anyone. I'm still skittish from my last relationship."

"Why are ALL of you BITCHES so CRAZY?!?!?!" he typed emphatically. "You think EVERYONE is GOING TO RAPE YOU."

Here I got indignant. I decided to try to reason with this ex-marine (discharged! I KNOW. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, though). "Well for one thing," I typed, "I don't want to date someone who can't respect my need for safety."

"YOU'RE F*CKING CRAZY FOR THINKING I'M THAT PSYCHO, BITCH."

You're right, man. I must be nuts.

*Name changed to protect the fact that I don't remember his name. Blocked them all out! La la la! Thanks, therapy!

January 18, 2012

Hats and Hell

From the Apocolist (down there! It lives at the bottom of the blog):

No. 70: Buy 13 accessories that aren't scarves.



A hat from Aldo Accessories. I've never bought a hat before! 2012: the year of buying stuff I've never bought before.

In other news, I have also been trying to keep up with No. 14 (take a spin class 1x a week) and I have come to the conclusion that my own personal hell would be a spin class that never ended. There is a point during every spin class at which I am pretty sure I'm already dead, that this is my punishment for all those times I yelled "SWEET JESUS IN MOCCASINS" or lied to a kid in order to entertain myself, and that the sweating, burning legs, and crazy woman yelling at me over a strong techno beat will last forever. I become resigned to this idea just as we hit "Track 6" or, as I like to think of it, "The Ninth Circle," and then... sweet, merciful rest! Stretching! And finally, the end.

The world looks a little brighter when you realize you're not yet condemned. It's basically the last 10 minutes of "It's a Wonderful Life" every Wednesday night. I'm not dead! Hooray! I live to spin again! MERRY CHRISTMAS, YOU OLD SAVINGS AND LOAN!

January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th: Time for Tarot!

I don’t know if you know this about me but on top of being generally awesome and interesting I also read and interpret the tarot. I could talk to you for hours about how I feel about them, but the elevator speech is this: I don’t think they’re mystical at all. To me, they’re more directed meditation on an issue in your life. I don’t think anyone should live and die by a reading or that you should feel cheated if the “predicted” outcome doesn’t come true.

Can it be spooky? Yeah. It can seem like the reader knows your innermost thoughts and feelings, but that’s because as you’re having your cards read you are actually paying attention to if those thoughts and feelings are accurate. A reading can help untangle the threads of a problem and face what’s underneath.

Sometimes it’s hard to read my own cards. Sometimes I like to let the internet do it for me! The internet is great, you guys. I use this website with the Llewellyn deck and a celtic cross spread. You might not know what that means, and that’s ok! But I wanted to interpret my reading here because what I found lurking underneath my own top layer was intriguing.

It tells you to ask a question to yourself that you’re grappling with and I asked the following: “Will I ever get a job as a writer?”

Here we go.


1. Position: Cover
Represents: Where I am in relation to the situation
Card: Page of Wands

This card means I'm open to new situations. It's a card of flexibility. Currently I find myself wondering where the future will take me (will we move to Austin? Will I ever be a writer?), and this means I'm open to whatever might happen.

2. Position: Cross
Represents: Positive forces acting in my favor
Card: The Chariot

Ambition! Harnessing energy! Apparently I've got stars in my eyes. To me this means I've been dreaming big recently and can see the potential. I'm in a place where if I wanted to, I could gather the energy to pursue something big.

3. Position: Beneath
Represents: A message from "the higher self". What lies beneath the exterior.
Card: The Four of Cups

Doubt. I feel at a loss as to what can be done about my situation. Sure, there's potential! I've got potential flying out of my butt at high speeds! But that doesn't mean I know what direction to take or where to start.

4. Position: Crown
Represents: Past events; what led to wondering about the situation in the first place.
Card: Queen of Pentacles

Court cards can be cool because they can represent actual people. In this case, a female role-model in my business world. I've been treated well at my job and they have pushed me to become more adept at what I do but not necessarily to be more creative in my work. This has led me to look to other options, like a writing career. Not out of the need to leave a career I hate, but out of the need to push myself further.

5. Position: Behind
Represents: My emotional undercurrent. Unlike the Beneath card, this is all about basic emotion coloring the situation.
Card: The Lovers, Reversed

Longing and frustration. I'm tired of waiting for something to happen that will get me where I need to be.

6. Position: Before
Represents: My relationships with others
Card: Five of Cups

Unfulfilled dreams. I'm disappointed that the networks I live in haven't presented the opportunities I've been hoping for. I've stopped seeing the potential in networking relationships and haven't made any new ones in a while. I might be wallowing a little.

7. Position: Self
Represents: My psychological state and attitude.
Card: Six of Pentacles

Pentacles tend to represent material wealth. I'm open to receiving help. If I were reading this for someone else, I might tell them that the help may come in the form of being supported while they pursue a writing career. But I would not let that happen in my own life. See why it can be hard to read your own cards?

8. Position: House
Represents: My environment and unseen forces influencing the situation.
Card: Six of Cups Reversed

I'm in pleasant company. There are friends surrounding me, even if I don't see them. I am supported by those I love.

9. Position: Hopes and Fears
Represents: My hopes and fears. Duh.
Card: The magician

Freedom and self-rule. One of my longest running hopes is to be self-employed eventually, and this points directly to that. This card also represents talent. I desperately hope that I will someday be a good enough writer to make something work.

10: Position: Outcome
Represents: The outcome of the matter.
Card: Nine of Pentacles Reversed.

Oh dear. Public humiliation by an opportunist? Using others to boost one's self esteem?! BROKEN PROMISES?! COME ON. Ok, I get it. While there are some great things going on in this reading (loving support network, lots of energy), if I take advantage of them or get bogged down by the negatives, things won't work out like I hope. I should avoid the pitfalls of easy opportunity and easy trust. "Go slow, be careful, work hard" seems to be the message of this card.

There you have it. The reading didn't tell me anything I didn't know, but it gave me direction and something to think about.

I'm available for showers and bah mitzvahs. Tell your friends!

January 12, 2012

LET'S DO IT AGAIN

It's 2012! Our last year on earth, apparently! LET'S DO IT RIGHT.

Here is my list of things to work on when I cant think of anything to do with myself (which is nearly always)(private stuff is ~~~~~):

  1. Body: 3 4,000 foot mountains
  2. Body: Ask more questions about the food I buy.
  3. Body: Be mindful of portions
  4. Body: Drink 8 glasses of water daily. Use the rubber bands.
  5. Body: Eat more green things.
  6. Body: Eat more slowly
  7. Body: Find glasses that suit me
  8. Body: Heal the foot!
  9. Body: Improve posture.
  10. Body: More weight training
  11. Body: Refill Celexa prescription with regularity. Take it daily.
  12. Body: Run 3x a week
  13. Body: Run a 10k
  14. Body: Spin class
  15. Body: Yoga once a week
  16. Career: Complete task list each week
  17. Career: Drink tea 3x / week
  18. Career: Eat lunch with people once a week
  19. Career: Have a team night out
  20. Career: Keep the lab clean
  21. Career: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  22. Career: Reply, sort, or delete e-mail more quickly.
  23. Career: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  24. Career: Stress more discreetly
  25. Career: Travel to source
  26. Creativity: Knitting night
  27. Creativity: Buy a camera
  28. Creativity: Buy a recorder
  29. Creativity: Don’t be afraid to stay up late if you’re being productive
  30. Creativity: Sew one handbag.
  31. Creativity: Knit 20 things
  32. Creativity: Send letters to your pen-pal
  33. Creativity: Try to write a poem again
  34. Creativity: Write once a week
  35. Finance: Drink out less, drink in more.
  36. Finance: Eat leftovers more.
  37. Finance: Save dividend until I find something good to do with it.
  38. Finance: Save tax return until I find something good to do with it.
  39. Finance: Stop wasting money.
  40. Finance: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  41. Mind: Do one social thing once a week, as long as it’s something I’ll enjoy.
  42. Mind: Don’t be afraid to stay up late reading.
  43. Mind: Go to the symphony/ballet/opera
  44. Mind: Lie less
  45. Mind: Practice patience.
  46. Mind: Read 20 books, whether they’re classics or not. Keep track of them.
  47. Mind: Say “yes” to 2 out of 3 new opportunities.
  48. Mind: Start journaling again
  49. Mind: Take a language class
  50. Mind: Take a design class
  51. Organization: Buy a proper needle case
  52. Organization: Clean up after I use the kitchen
  53. Organization: Declutter EVERYTHING
  54. Organization: Get a cover for the couch
  55. Organization: Keep my space cleaner
  56. Organization: Organize the stash somehow.
  57. Organization: Skype with Kathryn once a week
  58. Organization: Use Pinterest to organize inspiration
  59. Relationships: Be more available to family
  60. Relationships: Buy Tom a thoughtful birthday gift
  61. Relationships: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  62. Relationships: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  63. Relationships: Invite dad to the house for dinner
  64. Relationships: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  65. Relationships: Stop and talk to people who stop and talk to you.
  66. Relationships: Take a trip with April
  67. Relationships: Take Bear on a mystery trip
  68. Relationships: Visit grams and gramps 3x
  69. Style: buy 1 piece of jewelry a month from a thrift store
  70. Style: Buy 13 new accessories, 10 of which aren’t scarves.
  71. Style: buy 5 pieces for wardrobe inspired by Pinterest picks
  72. Style: Buy less impulsively, style more.
  73. Style: Buy shoes that I can wear all day that look good.
  74. Style: Buy simple layer pieces that pop
  75. Style: ESCAPE FROM THE TOP KNOT
  76. Style: Get clothes tailored / fixed / dry-cleaned that need to be
  77. Style: Memorize all 37 scarf tying methods
  78. Style: Own a set of pajamas.
  79. Style: Simplify and find favorite extras (liquid eyeliner, eye shadow palette, lip stain)
  80. Style: Simplify and find favorite nightly/daily beauty products
  81. Sustainability: always carry shopping bags
  82. Sustainability: No paper cups
  83. Sustainability: use travel mug more
  84. Sustainability: Better cosmetics
  85. Whimsy: Adventure out of the state
  86. Whimsy: Camping with Kathryn and others
  87. Whimsy: Encyclopedia Hysterica
  88. Whimsy: Get a pedi with someone
  89. Whimsy: Learn how to do a back walk-over
  90. Whimsy: Listen to music in the background more.
  91. Whimsy: Rent a fancy car to go somewhere fancy (maybe to tea!)
  92. Whimsy: Send flowers to mom/ Nancy/ Gramma N./ Gramma L./ Kris once each this year
  93. Whimsy: Spa day with ladyfriend
  94. Whimsy: Start a window herb garden
  95. Whimsy: Take a ballet class
  96. Whimsy: Tea at the Viking
  97. Whimsy: Have folks over for brunch as often as possible
  98. Whimsy: Try 100 new foods
  99. Whimsy: Try 6 new restaurants
  100. Whimsy: Visit museums in Providence
I will let you know how it goes! Woo! I WILL NEVER BE BORED AGAIN.