Tue Feb 10 2015
I don’t typically observe “book birthdays,” but this one is special. Today is the day that my dear friend Jasmine Warga celebrates the release of her debut novel.
It has been such a fun and valuable experience watching Jasmine’s journey to publication over the past year and a half. More importantly, it has been a pleasure getting to know her, talking with her about writing and the creative process, and bonding over our halfie experiences and immigrant parents. She is always so thoughtful and grounded, so purposeful and generous. Without question, Jasmine has been a positive influence on me, and for that I am immeasurably grateful.
I think her book will be a positive influence on its readers, too. MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES is the story of two teens who feel irrevocably broken, but who find a spark of hope when they meet one another. It’s an unflinching look at sadness of various kinds and degrees. It shows how depression can isolate you and warp your perspective. It’s about not fitting in, and the human need to feel connected.
What I love most about MHAOBH is its authenticity. You can tell that Jasmine poured her heart onto these pages. The book isn’t designed to romanticize the problems that these characters face. It doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulties that lie ahead for Aysel and Roman. It’s hopeful, but truthful too.
You’re like a gray sky. You’re beautiful, even though you don’t want to be.
Beyond the poetry of this sentiment, I also just appreciated the shoutout to “gloomy” weather, which I happen to love.
It’s funny how once you like someone, even the unattractive things they do somehow become endearing.
So true. Andy has one bad habit in particular that I could do without, but mostly his quirks just make me laugh. If you took them all away, he’d be a different person. Or at least, a blander version of himself.
You know, it’s probably worth turning that gentle, appreciative gaze on ourselves too.
Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.
I don’t think there’s any “maybe” about it.
Overall I would say that I’m a pretty upbeat person. (Or at least even-keeled.) But there was one time in my life that sadness threatened to squash me. And for a short while, I let it. I carried that boulder and let it push me down, bend my back, until I was almost sinking into the ground.
Then one day I realized it wouldn’t stop. Not on its own. I had to decide to be stronger than my sadness, because it for sure wanted to be stronger than me.
The decision was instantaneous, but the strength wasn’t. It took months to build myself back up, to push off the boulder, to be happy and healthy again. But I did it. It’s possible. And it’s so worth the effort.
I wonder if that’s how darkness wins, by convincing us to trap it inside ourselves, instead of emptying it out.
I don’t want it to win.
Of course, battling sadness isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. But every victory counts. Every victory helps.
Tue Feb 3 2015
As an experiment, I’m doing away with the bullet points, even though they’re like a security blanket for me. “Oh, this is just a list, not a real blog post.” But what does that even mean, lol? What’s a fake blog post? And why do I have to take everything so seriously?
Like Jane the Virgin, Transparent jumped to the forefront of my attention after its Golden Globes wins. I binge-watched all ten episodes on Sat, Jan 24, thanks to Amazon making them free to stream for that day. (Normally the series is only available to Amazon Prime members.) And just so you know that I’m not a total slug: I was cleaning while I watched.
Transparent felt like an HBO show to me — a bit like Girls, actually — in the sense that it’s well-written, well-acted, and well-produced, but not something that would probably appeal to the mainstream. Not because the topic is niche (though I suppose some would argue that it is…) but rather because the tone of the show just isn’t easy to swallow. It’s a dark comedy (meaning there’s humor, but not the kind that makes you laugh out loud) starring a fairly “unlikable” family. They’re all messed up and abrasive, and they make a lot of bad decisions.
That said, you do sympathize with them, because they love each other, and they’re doing the best they can. The acting is excellent, and there’s interesting storytelling at work too. Flashbacks that parallel the present storyline, or enhance it with revelations. Unreliable narration, or arguably magical realism, depending on your interpretation. Also, the sets are kind of old-timey and gorgeous.
For the most part I do enjoy the show, but I wish there were at least a couple well-adjusted characters. Partly because it would just be a nice contrast, but mostly because I worry about the (false) implication that a trans person can’t have a “normal” family. That by being trans — even (or especially) when she was closeted — Maura irrevocably damaged the people who she loves. I know that isn’t what Transparent is trying to say, but I fear that (so far) the show is sort of saying it anyway.
On the same day that I was streaming Transparent, an old friend came into town, so I took a break and we went to see the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired garden show at Krohn Conservatory. It was small, but smelled amazing. Wasn’t too bad to look at, either.
Note to self: Get a plant. Something green and alive to freshen up your home.
Mona Lisa Smile
Believe it or not, I’ve never seen Dead Poets Society, but I know the gist of it, and I’m pretty sure Mona Lisa Smile is the female version. Forward-thinking teacher inspires brilliant but hesitant young minds? Check!
Personally, I very much enjoyed the movie and its overtly feminist messaging. I also liked the entire cast, including the somewhat divisive Julia Roberts. (You either think she’s gorgeous or has a toothy horse face. I am in the former group.)
There aren’t any surprises in this movie, but that’s okay. It’s about character. My favorite moment, hands down, is when a heartbroken Betty (Kirsten Dunst) viciously lashes out at Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for being a slut with daddy issues, and Giselle just gathers her screaming, crying friend into her arms, and they hold each other.
Usually Andy and I just play flag football from Sep to Nov, but this year the team wanted to try a few other sports in addition. Right now it’s broomball, which is like hockey without skates. And “brooms” instead of sticks. And a ball instead of a puck.
Yeah, it’s weird. But also surprisingly fun!
Writer Unboxed & the Super Bowl
Speaking of sports… Since my latest Writer Unboxed post fell on Super Bowl Sunday, I decided to spotlight 3 football players and share what I’ve learned from them about pursuing dreams.
“Talent, Perseverance, and Hard Work: Lessons on Writing from Football”
Fred Jackson may never end up in the Hall of Fame, but he’s got heart and soul, and he’s the reason I fell in love with football again. Although the odds of him making it to the NFL seemed grim, he had faith in himself, and passion for the sport. He is living his dream because he looks at every step of the process as an opportunity to improve and impress.
That’s the kind of writer I want to be.
Sat Jan 24 2015
I’m well beyond the point where I believe that anyone else’s process can offer me a magic path to or through my own. But hearing about how other writers work can still be interesting, informative, and inspiring.
In “Writer’s Block, Schmiter’s Block,” Marissa Meyer offers some really smart strategies to get yourself writing.
Then, in “From Idea to Finished,” she generously details her entire process in 9 posts.
This conversation with Chris Rock is fantastic. It covers everything (comedy, politics, creativity, being a father), and it completely reinforces my belief that being funny requires an incredible amount of intelligence.
(Note: I’m not saying he’s right about everything. Just that he’s thoughtful and smart.)
To say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Last but not least, two great rants from my fellow “Wexlerites.” (Meaning that they are also represented by my agent Tina.)
“I See a Book and Get Angry and Write a Thing” by Anne Ursu
As Jensen says in an excellent essay: “Being fat isn’t a disability. Being fat is a physical state of being.”
Nobody tells you this when you’re growing up, but you can be fat and feel good about yourself. You can be fat and healthy. You can be fat and strong. And fat is just a word, that’s all—not an insult, not a feeling, not a moral failing.
What they might not know is the person next to them is sick—that the words they use warp into nourishment for a dormant eating disorder. What they might not know is they’re teaching the girls who listen to hate their bodies.
Your daughters are listening.
“Beware the Bitter Women” by Laura Ruby
When reviewers use gendered terms and expectations to review female writers, they reinforce stereotypes. That women—and their girl characters—should be quiet. That women writers should be non-confrontational. That women writers should be subtle or gentle or funny or absurd or ironic or even ridiculously vague in order not to alienate…well, who exactly?
Art exists not just to entertain—but also to challenge, to provoke, even to disturb. And no matter how funny/satirical/absurd/beautiful/heartfelt your writing is, when you’re asking thought-provoking questions that challenge the status quo—the way a sexist culture demeans girls, the way a racist culture endangers brown people—some readers might be lost in the process. Some might even find your work “hyper” or “preachy” or “strident,” oh my. But what if those readers aren’t the ones you’re writing for?
Tue Jan 13 2015
- Just before 2014 ended, I snuck in another Just Between Us column for my dad’s newspapers. “My Neighborhood, My Oasis” is a quiet piece. An attempt to grow my skill set and write about small, ordinary things in interesting ways.
- Watching the Golden Globes on Sunday night reminded me of just how many Best Picture contenders I haven’t seen. Basically all of them. Except The Imitation Game. I saw that one a couple weekends ago. It was Cumberbatch, so yeah, it was good. More importantly, it put a spotlight on Alan Turing and his important code-breaking work during World War II. Between that, and more or less inventing computers, Turing may literally be the reason we are all sitting here, living the way we do.
- Back to the Golden Globes (briefly), I thought Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opening monologue was pretty good, but I was disappointed by how little of them we got throughout the rest of the night.
- I guess my consolation is that I just saw Baby Mama, their first movie together. (They are apparently coming out with a second, unrelated movie soon.) Baby Mama is kind of goofy and predictable, but it was really fun to watch the two of them play off one another — and to observe the differences in their comedy styles, which are less obvious when they’re not directly juxtaposed. For example, Tina is very sarcastic and geeky, while Amy is more exaggerated and slapstick. (The scene where Tina is trying to get Amy to swallow an enormous pre-natal vitamin was probably my favorite part.)
- For more Tina and Amy love, check out this piece on their friendship over the years.
- I’m trying out a couple new TV shows…
- Last but not least, I’m thinking this might be the year that I finally become an audiobook convert. Mostly because I like to read while I walk Riley, and it’s much easier to pop in my earbuds and press Play than it is to hold a book and flip pages while also carrying a leash. Unfortunately, a bad narrator can really ruin a story for me. So if you know of any good ones (narrators or audiobooks), please let me know! My recommendation for you is Skulduggery Pleasant, written by Derek Landy and read by Rupert Degas. It’s a bit Harry Potter-ish, in all the best ways. (British humor; our world but with magic; coming-of-age adventure; etc.) The only problem is that it’s the first in a series of 9 books, and only the first 3 were published in the US. So I’m not quite sure how I’m going to read (or listen to) the rest…
As a side note, doing these weekly reviews is making me realize that I consume a lot of art and entertainment. Books, music, movies, television, articles, blogs. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing… but it could be? I dunno. Just an observation for now. Further contemplation is necessary before coming to a conclusion.
Thu Dec 25 2014
I guess it’s become a bit of a holiday tradition to look back on my year in books and pick out favorites. According to GoodReads, I’m “behind” on my reading goal for this year, but it doesn’t feel that way to me.
Thanks in part to the YA Diversity Book Club, I was exposed to a really wide variety of stories in 2014, and that’s a trend that I hope to continue, if not improve upon, in 2015. My nonfiction reading was down, but I did end the year with a really thought-provoking book recommended by Andy called MINDSET. (Which might warrant its own post in the near future.) And surprisingly, my audio “reading” may be on the rise, due to my realization that it’s much easier to listen to my iPod while walking Riley than it is to hold a book and flip pages.
Anyway, in order of when I read them, here are my favorite books of 2014:
(If you’re curious, you can also check out my roundups from previous years.)
What were your favorite reads this year?