Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Overheard: Shuttle to Bethesda

[Saturday, 9 am. Shuttle bus to Bethesda. Phone rings. It belongs to the young man next to me, who reeks of booze.]

Yeaaaah, whassup.

You still sleepin'? I know you don' wanna go into the story, but who is dis bitch?


Are you surrious?

She should get attempted murder. Nah, attempted assault. Wait, she tryda strangle you, das attempted murder.

Man, dem Calvary bitches is crazy.

Who she tryda cut? DeVon? Why DeVon? Ohhh, cuz she retaliatin'. Das crazy. Dey better not let her out. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Reviews: Some winners and some stinkers

The Olive Tree, by Carol Drinkwater
I recently wrote about the fundraising dinner I attended called A Literary Feast. The feast I attended was based on The Olive Tree, by Carol Drinkwater. I'd never even heard of it, so I used my Amazon Prime membership to get a copy overnight. It's lengthy, but as it's a travel memoir I figured I could blaze through it in time for the feast.
I read eleven pages, and then I couldn't read any more. It reaches new heights of pretension, and new depths of tedium.
Drinkwater and her husband have an olive farm in Provence, France. Just as a hobby, though. Whatever they do for real garners enough money that an olive harvest destroyed by insects is just a bummer, rather than a travesty. Drinkwater would rather her crops be destroyed by bugs and birds than preserve the vulnerable olives by way of pesticides-- give her organic, or give her death.

"I am not an olive farmer by profession. It is my passion, but, had it also been our livelihood, this unheard-of turn of events would have been sufficient to cause financial disruption, if not ruin."
Don't you hate it when your finances are disrupted? Good thing it's just an expensive little hobby for these folks. They don't have the fear other olive farmers do, of starving to death.

"We bottled our new oil and celebrated its arrival with friends, as was our tradition, though I genuinely believed its quality and taste had been compromised. Still, it was fine, I had to admit it."
I'm trying to think of a more boring party than one centered on oil, complete with a snotty host who would rather have no oil, and probably no party.

Setting up the point of the 407-page tome: "My quest for ancient stories of the olive tree, of those who transported it to remote, watery inlets within the Mediterranean, still held true."

I've already printed the labels to send it back. At the dinner, we all discovered that everyone had trouble with this one. The furthest anyone had gotten was the third chapter, and that was only because she had gotten the audio book to listen to on her commutes. Even the hostesses confessed that they knew the kind of feast they wanted to prepare, so they just picked a book to go with it.
These Is My Words, by Nancy Turner
I was surprised at how much I loved this book; I read it in two days and cried at the end. A fictional diary of a girl growing up in the Arizona territories, These is My Words is a sweet coming-of-age-and-beyond story with genuine emotions, surprising moments of hilarity, and a heroine who will make your heart pound with pride.

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
I really wanted to like this book. I was expecting a riotously funny satire, along the lines of The Importance of Being Earnest. Plus, it features Oxford and World War II-- two of my favorite topics. I picked it off Time's 100 Greatest Novels (1923--Present) list, for that review sold me. Maybe I didn't get it. Maybe my expectations were too high. But after the first third of the book, I was bored. Trudging to the end, partly to see if it got better and partly just so I could check it off The Shelf.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
Ho.ly. Mo.ley. Most amazing book I've read in years. I had developed a crush on John Steinbeck after reading this letter to his son, posted a Facebook status about said crush, and had multiple friends demand I read East of Eden immediately. So I did. It's a huge book, and one I hated putting down. Steinbeck has a easy way with words, the kind that's so fluid, perfect, and accessible that you forget you're reading one of the most brilliant literary minds of the American canon. His characterization is nuanced and consistent. The greatness of East of Eden means anything I say about it is the equivalent of "It's, like, totally awesome." Read it.
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I really enjoyed One Hundred Years of Solitude, and it's typically my go-to book recommendation. I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera years ago at a used bookstore, and finally got around to reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's arguably more famous novel. The verdict: it was alright. Similar to Solitude, it has a ton of characters, and I probably should have taken notes to even have a prayer of keeping them all straight. The female protagonist Fermina Daza has three beautiful love stories, with two men: one in her youth, one in her prime, and one in her twilight years. There are beautiful moments throughout, but overall I found the male protagonist to be unlikeable, even in his doggedly romantic pursuit of Fermina.

What are you reading lately? What would you recommend? What stunk? Have you ever quit a book only eleven pages in?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nerdy Saturday

Yesterday was one of my favorite days since moving to DC.

I hit up a six-hour creative writing workshop through The Writer's Center, and I left feeling exhilarated. We did short exercises-- only about fifteen minutes each-- and then a few people would volunteer to read what they had written. There was no criticism, only smiles and nods. I had two major breakthroughs:

1) Using something/someone/somewhere I know to write about something I don't know. For example, the instructor gave us fifteen minutes to describe a museum or tourist destination we had been to, in the greatest detail we could. After that, she told us to place two people in that setting and introduce a conflict. We began writing in one person's point of view, and then halfway through the time she told us to switch and write from the other person's point of view. I'll be the first to say that fiction is not my strong suit, but all of a sudden it felt less daunting, just because I could actually see where my characters were.

2) During each fifteen-minute segment I wrote between 350-550 words. Surely I can find fifteen minutes every day to exercise my craft.

* * *

In the evening, I attended A Literary Feast, to benefit the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. Thirty-four homes across the Hill had volunteered to cook feasts, each based on a different book, and then over 350 people bought tickets to attend the feasts. After, everyone congregated at the Hill Center for dessert and music.  I had seen a sign at a bookstore advertising the event within the first week of living here; I signed up for the waitlist the same day. I got a call on Wednesday saying a spot had opened up at the feast based on The Olive Tree by Carol Drinkwater (book review forthcoming). It was an incredible feast, and the company was absolutely delightful. Everyone was welcoming and made an effort to include me in their conversations, as well as take an interest in my new life on the Hill. I met dozens of people last night, and everyone raved about their neighborhood. It made me even more excited to be a part of this community, and they might wrangle some volunteer hours out of me yet.

[photo of Capitol Hill Books is my own]

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

My friend Dot posted this article to Facebook: Would your 15-year-old self listen to you?

The article and accompanying comments are hilarious and thought-provoking.

Here's what I would say:

1. You’re not fat. And if you’d just stand up straight you’d look even less fat.
1b. Accutane and contacts are going to do you a world of good, so hang in there.

2. That whole thing where you don’t smile for pictures because what if you smile and you look ugly so it’s better to make a weird face so then at least people don’t think you were trying to look good is really annoying here in the future. Smile. Your orthodontist did a good job.

3. Being friends with boys is possible, but you have to talk to them, and you have to talk to them like you’re not constantly fretting over what it means. Be kind, be sincere, and be funny.

4. Ask your parents for their opinions. You don’t want to be put into a box of assumptions, so don’t put them in one, either.

5. Read The Communist Manifesto, and you’ll do way better on the AP Euro exam.

6. Moving to Colorado is one of the best things that’s going to happen to you, so stop pining after the Southern life you might have had. Spoiler alert: you keep in touch.

7. Even at your angstiest, Avril Lavigne does not and will not express your thoughts and feelings better than you do and will.

8. Write more.

Would I listen? No. I would burst into tears, stomp up the stairs, and slam the door. But then Old Me would knock on the door and promise to tell Young Me about her first kiss, and Young Me would be both excited that it actually happens and disappointed that she'll lose the first-kiss bet with her friends by years.

The morning of my 16th birthday.
Photo courtesy of my still-existent, needs-to-be-destroyed Myspace account.
See what I mean about the smiling thing?

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Home sweet home.

I've been here three weeks now, but it feels like ages. I'm getting the hang of the lingo ("in transition" = "used to be ghetto but slowly getting un-ghetto), walking really fast for no reason (even on the way home), and wearing headphones so weirdos don't talk to me on the metro ("hiya, which stop are you getting off at tonight?").

Though, until Monday, I still felt entirely unsettled. While you wouldn't know it from the state of my room (more on that in a sec), I really like having all my ducks in a row. I like orderly processes; I have to know that doing A will get me to B. So when A doesn't exist, I go into lockdown mode.

For two and a half weeks, A was a permanent place to live. So for two and a half weeks, I lived in vacation-but-not-vacation limbo. I was staying in someone else's house and eating all my meals out and watching six-hour marathons of New Girl, but I was also trudging through a 45-minute commute and wearing clothes more than once since I couldn't ever snag a place in the laundry line and getting completely lost any time I ventured out in the borrowed van.

In the end, I didn't have to look at that many places before finding The One. And now, it's my pleasure to give you the tour of my home base. Come visit any time. The couch is quite comfortable.

I've always wanted a) a rowhouse and b) an address with a fraction in it.
Living room, which is connected to the...


The unfortunate state of my room. We'll talk about the mattress situation at a later date, as well as my notable lack of any furniture in which to put my clothing.

Now that A is firmly established, I can't wait to see what B through Z have in store.