My morning walk took me past this little wooden shed on campus. It wasn’t open for business, but the sign says it’s called “art is a piece of cake” and is an art thesis project by Daphne Lyda. Fill me in if you know what’s inside!
Yesterday morning I just happened to see on Facebook that the public library was sponsoring An Evening with A.S. King that same night! And at Taborspace, a really nice comfy space attached to a church, in my part of town. Eeeeeee! Her breakout book was Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which hit my Lifetime Best list as soon as I read it a few years ago. I don’t love all her books equally, but each one is different from the others and I admire that. And her kind of weird often does it for me. So. I caught the late bus home from work by the skin of my teeth, had a few minutes to dine on crackers and chocolate milk, and drove over there.
There were May baskets hung on all the doors, and still plenty of seating. In fact, when someone who wasn’t there for the reading cleared out, I slid into a comfy armchair about ten feet from the lectern! Sara Ryan, the YA author who also runs YA for the library, did introductions. Laini Taylor was there too. And a mix of teenagers– mostly girls but some boys too– and gray-haired ladies with glasses like me.
A.S. King goes by Amy in person– she published under A.S. King from the start because there was already at least one Amy King publishing, and she chose that form because it spells Asking. In her opening patter she said she likes Portland because everything is made of wood. “I mean, of course other places have lots of wooden things too. But in Portland the signs are wooden, the steps are wooden!”
It turns out the first draft of Please Ignore Vera Dietz was written in 36 days. She is a total pantser, and is a little worried right now because her current novel is over 400 pages and not resolved. Someone asked how many drafts she goes through in revision, and she estimated a hundred to a hundred and fifty. She compared it to combing long hair–there’s no way you can yank through it all at once. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up little by little.
She reminded me a little of Lynda Barry. Maybe a little more extroverted– it felt like she could sit and shoot the breeze for hours (and I would be totally up for it). And she read a bunch from Still Life wIth Tornado, which is on my TBR stack and I’m pretty excited now to read it. So glad I made it to this event!
1. Because sanguinity and I watched Yuri on Ice a couple of weeks ago,
yesterday we met after work for a pork cutlet bowl. I got tonkatsu and she got spicy pork bowl, both tasty but neither quite like the show’s:
I may or may not feel compelled to keep trying.
2. I went to my first Zumba class, at the community center this morning! My plan to hide in the back didn’t work out, as there were only two students including me. But my 1980s high-school aerobics chops got me through.
3. Two audiobooks on my phone and neither one really doing it for me. So I’m downloading I Woke Up Dead at the Mall.
It’s set at the Mall of America. For those keeping track, I was not a finalist in their Writer in Residence contest. Well, onward and upward.
1. What was your favorite pastime in high school?
Reading books, same as now. I wish I had booklists for those years; lots of Madeleine L’Engle, lots of rereading.
I was also playing the piano and clarinet a lot, though clarinet especially was more a well-rewarded chore than a pastime.
I listened to more music and watched more music videos than I do now. MTV at shellynoir’s house and Channel 12’s Teletunes at Jenny’s.
2. What is your all time favorite board game/card game?
My most ardent love for board games was probably around age 5, so Candyland and Wildlife Lotto. But that aside, my longest-lasting favorite is Pictionary. It’s so fun! Come play Pictionary with me without keeping score.
3. What is the last movie you saw at the theatre and what did you think of it?
The Arrival. I liked the visuals a lot, and I liked the concept and storyline except that in the end it all came down to being about love interest and kid, like it couldn’t possibly suffice for it to be about a female scientist’s unprecedented discoveries and, you know, alien contact.
A few months later I read the novella it was based on, Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” I got a lot of pleasure out of noting the differences, where the novella had more nuance and where the film had pumped up the drama. (And I’m not knocking that– the pumped-up drama is where a lot of those visuals I liked came from.) Like, in the novella, there is no drive out to the huge alien monolith and suiting up and all that– they just step in front of an alien video screen in a canvas tent. I’ll say it: the book is better. But the movie is good and has charms that the book doesn’t.
4. What is something (no matter what kind of mood you’re in) that makes you happy the moment you do it, see it, or hear it?
Seeing a happy dog go by. Especially if I get to meet the happy dog!
5.Do you believe that crop circles are made by human or alien?
I don’t have specific beliefs about crop circles because I know almost nothing about them. In general, I believe our understanding of natural phenomena and of ancient history is incomplete, and I look to that before ascribing alien agency.
- Primroses in pots are for sale at the grocery store, and skunk cabbage is up in the canyon. Daphne is on the verge of blooming.
2. I’m reading Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe. I don’t think I read it as a child after all; it was one of those books that was always in the background, at the school library and classroom collections and garage sales. Strawberry Girl was another one, maybe I should try that next. Anyway, The Endless Steppe has the fascination of autobiography combined with the comfort of knowing it’s also a middle-grade book and there’s a limit to how terrible things will get in it. A limit lower than the one in Between Shades of Gray, which surprised me a couple of times with character deaths.
A browse at Wikipedia told me that Esther Hautzig’s daughter Deborah Hautzig wrote a novel I liked in junior high, Second Star to the Right— a fictionalized account of her anorexia. She’s written an afterword–1998 but new to me– that I’m going to read as soon as I post this. I do appreciate it when authors make new forewords and afterwords available online.
3. I was in a “must under no circumstances run out of tea” mood and placed an order at Stash, my hometown tea outfit. I tried Black Forest Black Tea and have come to the conclusion that cocoa shells do not provide what I consider to be a chocolatey flavor. It’s earthy and not terrible or anything, but not what I had in mind. I still have high hopes for Breakfast In Paris– black tea, lavender, bergamot, and vanilla.
Finished: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, by Russell and Lillian Hoban. By the time this arrived for me at the library I was a little hazy on why I had put it on hold. I think I wanted to see the TV special, because I’ve only ever seen the video of how they did the one scene over and over and over until the drum rolled out the door just right. But I figured the book came first, so I should read it first. It was perfect, perfect comfort reading! With comfort pictures! I have a friend for whom Jam for Frances is the ultimate comfort book, but Hoban books were background in my childhood. Now I love this one.
In Progress: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico City, 1988 and 2009. A “protagonist comes back for a parent’s funeral” book. But a lot of it is in 1988 high school; it’s easily a YA crossover. It’s good in a slow way. I’m two thirds in and just now it’s dawning on me, “heeyyyy, are these two characters going to get back together in some way?”
Up Next: I’d like to reread Emma after seeing the mini-series version with Johnny Lee Miller. And I have a paperback copy for which Mary Stolz wrote the intro!
Other TBRs in my possession that I’m excited about:
- Pointe, a ballet YA;
- Juana & Lucas, a girl and her dog, plus it just won the Pura Belpre Author Award;
- The Endless Steppe, which I read way back when but want to revisit after Between Shades of Gray
Writing 500 words a day of something all this month, with FaceBook and NaNo friends. Yay! Yesterday I tried one of the ideas from this article, 5 New Ideas for Outlining Stories. Thinking in TV episodes let me feel okay about bringing in short-term subplots and funny diversions. A good way to fill in some middle, at least for now.
New shoes for my 10-mile long run yesterday, yay! It was too windy to listen to an audiobook, boo! I have decided to grow my mileage from 40 miles a week, but very slowly, one mile at a time. This week, 42 miles. And a long run every other week is feeling right– but going full couch potato on the off weeks is not.
I want to make a little abacus bracelet to count laps at the track. Or perhaps not an abacus but a binary display, six flat beads that are white on one side and black on the other and will stay put when I flip them back and forth on my wrist. I doubt I’ll ever need more than 63 laps on a half-mile track.
It’s been an outgoing week.
- Last Saturday, Sanguinity and I went to our county’s Town Hall for Oregon’s junior senator, Jeff Merkley.
- It was beyond standing-room-only at the high school cafeteria, with lots of people in the courtyard outside watching the Senator’s back through the windows. (He asked staff to get one of the speakers aimed out the window for them.) It was a friendly crowd, no bag check, everyone let people through as needed and left slowly at the end as requested.
- Question-asking was by lottery, with little paper tickets. More fair than hand-raising.
- Some of the people in seats had made half-sheet “I Agree” and “I Disagree” signs to hold up as appropriate. Seems like a good idea.
- Senator Merkley asked several times that people use their social networks and professional associations to talk to people in other states. As an example of what we can do on the state level, he mentioned the National Popular Vote Compact. States and local governments can also take a look at good bills introduced federally that aren’t going to pass, and work on state/local versions that will serve as models.
- One question was about the Washington Post column that advised Democratic senators to withhold consent. I guess a lot of people had read it, because there was a HUGE LONG CHEER. Merkley was like, “I think that was a home run question.” He wouldn’t comment directly on withholding consent, but mentioned filibuster and forcing debate on nominees to the full 30 hours. When, a few days later, he was leading the move to filibuster any Supreme Court nominee who wasn’t Merrick Garland, I felt a tiny thrill of pride, like my county had given him the support to play hardball.
- Then the immigration executive order happened. Elizabeth and I went to a lunchtime rally on Monday. You can see us from the back at the bottom of this photo, me in orange jacket with ponytail and her in gray jacket and black pants:
- …and here’s my sign:
- We were on the edge of the crowd, which isn’t as satisfying as being surrounded but is still useful. The PA should have been louder, but at least when everyone shouts in that particular plaza, the surrounding buildings really ring.
- Then that evening I went to another Town Hall, this one for my state senator, my state rep, and another state rep. My, what a difference. It was still standing room only (in a smaller room), but didn’t feel like a rally. It felt like a budget meeting, because the state is looking at a shortfall and the legislature is scrabbling for new revenue sources and agonizing over cuts. The spectre of canceled federal funding looms large. I didn’t have a chance to ask about the National Popular Vote (which the House has passed three years in a row, and which seems to have decent support in the Senate but hasn’t gotten to the floor for a vote), so I’ll be writing to my state senator.
Read: As promised, here’s my complete 2016 book list. I asterisked a few more favorites outside the top ten, and calculated a few numbers: nine audiobooks, 20 nonfiction (including memoir) out of 114 total, and 38% by non-white authors. This is better than last year, which was about 20%.
My current read is Cynthia Kadohata’s The Glass Mountains, a desert fantasy (so far) that isn’t well known, but it has dogs in it and I will gladly read anything by Kadohata. I thought this 1999 paperback was maybe self-published, because it has small type and small margins, but it seems not.
Write: I participated in Elementary Rolling Remix! Ten of us signed up to write fan fiction for Elementary, the Sherlock-Holmes-and-Joan-Watson TV show. At the end of September, there was one story, which was sent to two people for use as a prompt to re-mix in their own work, then each of those was sent to a new person, et cetera. Turnaround time for each story was two weeks. The result is twelve stories that form two chains, each starting from the one seed story. We are still in the anonymous period and trying to guess the authorship and sequence, but after tomorrow you’ll be able to see which fic(s) I wrote. Sanguinity participated too. I am not 100 percent sure of my guess about what she wrote. I, on the other hand, was SO good at being secretive during the whole writing and waiting time. So! Good! then blurted something while we were reading the batch of posted stories that gave it away.
Run: Did you maybe hear that Portland had a little winter weather? Snow days galore! My long run was scheduled for melt-out day: the rain started Tuesday night and on Wednesday the snow hadn’t really melted or lost volume, it was just mixed up with rain and ice chunks so the whole world was an ankle-deep disgusting Slurpee. Fortunately, that’s also the day the community center went back to regular hours, so I could slurpee-wade a half mile and then do the ten-mile run on the treadmill.
Ten miles on a treadmill is so mind-numbing, you guys. I don’t understand how treadmiles are so slow. The hundredths of a mile tick over so very slowly. What got me through it was the audiobook of Flying Lessons, the ten-story collection put out by Ellen Oh and We Need Diverse Books. It’s so good! There is not a dud among the ten, honestly. It starts with a Matt de la Pena story about the pickup basketball scene (written in second-person future, no less), and ends with another basketball story, Walter Dean Myers writing about a former pro ball player coaching his son’s wheelchair basketball team. Tim Tingle reads his own story, about a Choctaw Bigfoot, and it’s such a great story-telling delivery. Soman Chainani made me laugh out loud in the gym. The story by the sole new author, Kelly J. Baptist, is right up there with the rest. (Baptist won a contest to get her story in the book. Wow what a nerve-wracking thrill that would be, to land among the giants like that.)
Resist: Got my anti-Trump stickers printed.
Here’s the pdf. I used labels identical to Avery 5160, but had to tweak the table dimensions a bit, at least on my printer.
Stickers are on their way to those who requested them! Actually, writing notes and sending mail is one of the more comforting things I’m doing today.
I typed the following just after reading the inauguration speech. I read it in plain text, without annotations. These were my takeaways, which leave me sobered and sad. I hope I am wrong and overdramatic, but feel compelled to record what I thought today.
- Trump is living (as President Snow, of course) in The Hunger Games: Everything everywhere is chaotic and terrible. His cadre is the sole exception, and it will use force to extract all that wasted wealth and force the nation into prosperity, as measured by the wealth and convenience of people in his circle (the only people who are real to him).
- The U.S. will go to war (beyond Afghanistan) soon. The economic engine he describes is a wartime one. Not to mention strings like “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America…The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action….whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.” I mean. I wasn’t really thinking about this before–more focused on domestic and environmental disaster– but I am now.
Happy new year! I still have three more days of Christmas in which to finish up my holiday correspondence, but other than that I’m back, and so are most of those around me. Sanguinity and I had a good few days with her parents– I’m not usually one for posting photos of presents I receive, but check out the awesomeness from my in-laws:
I’m still working on my list of books that I read in 2016. I’ll post a link to it when it’s done, but in the meantime here are
Ten Top Picks from 2016
Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger. Children’s, 2015. An authorized novelization of Return of the Jedi. By contract, Angleberger had to use all the movie dialog exactly as it was performed– but he makes use of authorial asides, retcon, and description to set his own pace and tone. A fun reading experience for someone who knows the film well and is also interested in how books are put together. And it must have been a blast for him to write, as a longtime fan!
Tumbling, by Caela Carter. YA, 2016. Audiobook narrated by Emily Eiden. Follows six girls at a fictional US Olympic Trials meet. I learned a little more about gymnastics, and the drama was satisfying without becoming over-the-top soap opera. The narrator had “young” speech patterns like vocal fry.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. Fiction, 2014. Space opera featuring a small cast of varied species, on a long-term work assignment in space. Fun!
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. YA, 2015. For every story of outsider high school kids fighting supernatural powers, there’s a townful of regular kids trying to figure out their regular lives. Each chapter begins with a paragraph or two about the “indie kids” and what their TV show plot would be… then the rest of the chapter is the regular kids’ story, with only occasional intersections with the supernatural plot. The regular kids and their friendships were well-drawn, too. Best book I read this year.
Lucy and Linh, by Alice Pung. YA, 2016. Lucy gets a scholarship to the fancy Melbourne girls’ academy, where her race, low-income family, and immigrant background ensure she is very much alone. She observes the political machinations at school and tries to navigate her new social milieu and its repercussions at home. I loved her relationship with her baby brother, and her mother’s quiet speech about the value of their close family. Pair with both Counting By 7s and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks.
The Cosmopolitans, by Sarah Schulman. Fiction, 2016. A retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette (which I haven’t read), set in the Village in the late 1950s. A middle-aged white single woman’s dearest friend is the gay black man who lives across the hall, but when her ambitious cousin shows up, all the relationships shift. The characters have to re-interpret the past and learn new patterns. Beautifully stylized, with themes familiar from following Schulman’s career. This version of French Realism lets Schulman take her time and lovingly develop all the details of 1958 New York and the characters’ inner lives.
Ludell, by Brenda Wilkinson. Children’s, 1975. Ludell lives in Georgia in 1955, a poor black kid in an all-black community. No school lunch program yet– the teachers sell hot dogs, soda and candy at lunchtime. Blue jeans for girls are just coming into fashion. Great details. I liked the immersion in black culture and the dialect (“nem” for “and them”). The dialog tags had a lot of shouting and yelling that reminded me of the Harriet the Spy books. The rest of the trilogy was also good. I hope to write a Wikipedia article about this author.
Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang, art by Sonny Liew. Comics, 2014. The Green Turtle was the first superhero drawn by a Chinese American artist, Chu F. Hing, during WWI. He wanted to make the Green Turtle Chinese, but his editor wouldn’t let him. So Green Turtle’s face is hardly ever visible, and never in full. Shadow Hero is Yang’s origin story for Green Turtle, set in a California Chinatown in the 1930s. Hank’s mother hilariously pushes him into pursuing a career as a superhero, but the society he’s in is corrupt and dangerous, with the tongs influencing city politics. Wonderful, can’t believe I waited so long to read it.
Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed, by Virginia Hamilton. Children’s, 1983. Takes place over two days on a black family’s farm in Ohio, when Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio play broadcast. I marveled at how much of the book followed ordinary events in the children’s lives, without an apparent plot thrust. I can see why I didn’t read more of her books as a child, but now I am eager to. The description of being a kid walking a beam and knowing you won’t fall is perfect.
Alone in Antarctica, by Felicity Aston. Memoir, 2014. Aston’s account of her trip as the first woman to ski solo across Antarctica, coast to coast. Adept at describing the mental and emotional challenges without melodrama, alternating with the landscape. I appreciated that it didn’t fill in with a lot of back-story from her life. I felt for her in many of the episodes she described because I had experienced a milder version while hiking and camping– the “almost there syndrome,” the uncertainty about routes, the repeated struggle to get out there and get going each day despite discomfort. Similar to Helen Thayer’s adventure reports, which I also love.
It’s cold and windy here this week, so I’m reading Debbie Clarke Moderow’s Fast Into the Night, an Iditarod memoir that I hope will make Portland’s winter feel balmy by comparison.
I decided to go with office supplies instead of food for end-of-the-year tokens of appreciation for my co-workers. Conveniently, the smallest-sized binder clips are the same width as washi tape. (Not my original observation; I got it from the internet.)
I have also ordered bright orange labels to make some anti-Trump stickers. A mock-up:
I plan to carry them and stick them on whatever images of Donald Trump cross my path. Let me know if you’d like a sheet! Typography suggestions are also welcome. I considered Highway Gothic but haven’t actually seen it much on work-zone kinds of signs.
Read: The book that gave me solace during election week was Lucy and Linh, an Australian YA novel by Alice Pung. Lucy wins the inaugural Access Scholarship to an old and cutthroat girls’ school. No one else is the daughter of Chinese parents from Vietnam, or helps out at home sewing piecework. Lucy observes and navigates politics of race, class, and femininity. Whew. Intense but in a way that I love. I highly recommend it if you like the exploration of power dynamics in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. (It did end a little suddenly and neatly. Part of me was okay with that because I needed Lucy to be okay; another part wishes there were another whole book developing the last 40-ish pages.)
Write: I’m taking a half hour a day to write by hand in a spiral notebook. It feels good to have my mind to myself, with no media input and no audience. Not even a project I’m working on, unless I want to. Just me.
Run: 39-mile week achieved! I left the long run (nine miles) until today, and also made up the last three walking miles I needed. It was a push to get this week’s mileage in without my commute to make it feel natural. And early darkness (usually of the cold and rainy variety) kills motivation for an evening walk, frankly. Next: the milestone 40-mile week, half running (10/6/4) and half walking (5×4).
Resist: I sent a “Not Bannon” postcard for Postcard Avalanche, mostly for the mental health benefits of fighting normalization in my own head.
If there’s money left in the checking account at the end of the month Wednesday, it will go to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to help cover bills for the Water Protectors. The latest developments worry me.
I’m one of the millions who aren’t overtime-eligible after all. I don’t work over 40 hours a week, so for me it’s just whether I fill out a time-sheet starting December 1, or not. But I feel for all those fast food and retail managers who put in 50 or 60 hours a week.