Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer Syllabus 2015

One of the huge perks of being a teacher is summer vacation, and I have reliably had one in my life since I started kindergarten in 1989. I've used this time to go on amazing trips, work on professional development, day drink, and, for one memorable summer, panic about the survival of two kids under the age of two who lived at my house.  Last year I created a Summer Syllabus of things I wanted to read/watch/listen to, and even though I didn't complete it, it was a good road map.  

This year, my kids need me less and I'm making even more time in my life for consumable media, so the syllabus is a little more structured. It's the summer of catching up on classics and pushing myself outside of my (YA-fantasy-trilogy) safe-zone. Ben and I have plans to watch more musicals, and after seeing the pure joy on his face after I willing sat through (and kind of enjoyed) Arachnophobia, I want to find some more low-grade horror to watch on a Friday night. I'm nervous about setting out writing goals, when I've been in a slump, but the July session of Camp NaNoWriMo might put a fire under me.

Without further ado, here are the picks.  Tell me of you know of something that would fit into one of the categories.  Peer pressure me into reading more!

To READ Summer 2015:
I almost never read books assigned to me in high school- The Great Gatsby is one of the exceptions, but I think summer is the perfect time to reread.  I have only read abridged, child-level editions of Pride and Prejudice, and this needs to be remedied.   The rest of the books are reccomendations from blogs/Twitter/friends, besides Fortune's Rocks, which I reread every summer. 

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Biography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pam Smith Hill
Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve 
Under the Blade by Matt Serafini
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
The Awesome by Eva Darrows
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (I'm thinking this will be the July #beyourownbookclub pick- there have been requests for something lighter!)

To WATCH Summer 2015:
Ben and I live a constant struggle to beat the 8pm "what should we watch?" quagmire.  Our tastes run separate, we're usually exhausted, and we have an endless list of options to choose from.  Right now we're working through The X Files together, and have also been spending some time with mutually pleasing Sci Fi action movies (X-Men, the new Star Trek films, etc.)  I'm watching Buffy on my own time, as a response to finishing Firefly and Sherlock earlier this year. This list needs fleshing out, I'd love movie recs in particular.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV Series) (I'm through the first four seasons)
The X Files (TV Series) (with Ben)
The DaVinci Code (special request from Ben. "Maybe I'll like it this time.")
Les Miserables (musical version)

To LISTEN Summer 2015:
I discovered the Book Riot podcast earlier this year, and I liked the "insider" (to me at the very least) information about books and the publishing world.  They're great about hitting all different genres and really focus on book news rather than straight reviews.  What the Fangirl is a blog and podcast that I'm just discovering, so I want to dig in.  I've listened to the Anne audiobooks tons of times, and this (book #3) is the place in the story where I start to lose track, so it's where I'll pick up on my longer drives.

Anne of the Island (audiobook)


25 Family Miles- Ben doesn't leave for work until mid-morning, so we've set a goal of doing a family walk as often as possible.  We have a mile loop around our neighborhood and try to get to it once a day.  Our goal is to hit at least 25 weekday mornings.

Camp NaNoWriMo, July Session- I'm at a standstill with work on my novel.  I've finished the first part, but feel nervous moving forward with revisions until I'm clear on where I want the story to go.
NaNoWriMo has been spectacular about keeping me on track with my goals and keeping me from abandoning my story.  I'm not sure it's wise to commit to a lofty goal during my busiest summer month, but I also haven't skipped a session yet...

So that's the plan.  A+ to me if I can hit it all, but I'm an easy grader, I will definitely pass.  I'll be talking about my reading/watching/listening using  #summersyllabus.  Let me know what you're going to perusing over the next few months, and if there is anything you think I should add. Happy Summer!'

(image credit, text added by me)

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Coffee and Blogs No. 20

Twenty Coffee & Blogs posts!  This is by far one of my favorite things to put together for Be Your Own Lady, so I'm pumped that they're still going strong.  Thanks, internet, for offering up so much to sift through.  You're my bae.

The boys and I have been listening to a ton of Andy Grammer in the car.  Milo knows all the words to Fine by Me, and we're blasting Honey I'm Good.  This video is really. really cute.

Earlier this month, chalkboard drawings from 1917 were discovered in public school classrooms in Oklahoma.  They were perfectly preserved underneath the current chalkboards.  I cannot tell you the shivers this gives me.  I love the history and the glimpse of early education (only recently did artistic ability stop being a precursor for good teaching).  It also makes me REALLY want to explore the abandoned middle school up the road from me.  It is all boarded up but I have caught a glimpse through a crack, and the room I saw looked like the students stood up and left.

I eagerly await Anne's Summer Reading Guide every year. She only includes books that she has read, breaks everything into categories, and I always get at least one new favorite from her lists. I'm working on my summer syllabus (here is last year's) and I always take her ideas into account.

Loved this analysis of Jurassic World by Thea of The Book Smugglers.  I felt really let down by the critical comments from a lot of people I usually turn to for pop culture talk (Linda Holmes, NPRs pop culture correspondent particularly) about Jurassic World and the character of Claire. She was referred to as cardboard, silly, and a feminist nightmare.  Excuse me, Claire saves lives SEVERAL times and was well-written and layered.  Chris Pratt's Owen was a much flatter character, and this is coming from a serious Pratt fan. I thought the story line of the two brothers was well acted, and I think the subtlety of the younger brother likely being on the autism spectrum was handled really gracefully, and I especially loved how his strengths due to being a person with autism helped to save the day (dinosaur facts, fixing up old cars).  This is speculation, they never actually come out and explain it, but I thought it was pretty clear in the writing. Basically, not the best movie ever made, but I had a lot of fun watching it.

BECAUSE FATHERS DAY! Dads Are the Original Hipster.

I just discovered this series on The Toast this morning- HEY LADIES.  I read the Baby Shower email chain first and then scrolled back to what I think is the first ever one, Bachelorette Party Emails.  These are hilarious, and, in my limited experience, BARELY SATIRE.  Like...seriously.  Consider this a trigger warning.  Some of you may faint.  "Congrats, Jen!!!! Are you feeling morning sickness yet?? Jen swore me to secrecy since she is still in the first trimester, but baby shower brunch places tend to book up, so we really don’t have a sec to lose, so I guess the cat is out of the bag!!! The baby is due in November, right? I am super booked up, but I think I can make a baby shower work at the end of Q2."

While we're there, another hilarious article from The Toast (which is also influencing my summer syllabus- more classics!) about ways women have died in literature.  Some of my favorites: cold hands, beautiful face, spent more than a month in London after growing up in Yorkshire.

Out of Print tees is FINALLY making plus-sized shirts for plus-size literary ladies.  I'm a little bummed that this happened a week after I placed my order (my two shirts JUST fit, but I would have sized up if I could) but now I just get to shop MORE! I am jonesing for the Le Petit Prince shirt, but I'm going to hold out and see if they'll make a Wrinkle in Time one!

Our June pick for Be Your Own Book Club is The Opposite of Loneliness: Stories and Essays by Marnia Keegan.  I've read through some of the stories- one of the things I love about this book is that you can pick it up and get a complete piece in just a handful of pages.  So far, the two short stories I've read read like live journal entries edited for the New York Times.  Not necessarily a bad thing. I see a lot of honesty and a lot of vanity, which nails the early 20s kind of perfectly. Anyone reading along? Thoughts so far?

I don't really want to publish this week without recognizing the terrible terrorist act that took place in South Carolina. Here is an article about the need to speak about it. I know so very, very little about the struggle of people who are not me- I can spend all day telling you about the times I've felt judged/marginalized as a woman, but the truth is, I am at the tippy top of the totem pole in this country (with only white men over top of me) and I'm really trying to understand a lot more about the things in this country that I might not fully appreciate- like rampant, painful racism.  Even this week, as I was thinking about the randos that still admit to their white supremacist views, I felt thankful that I was living in a Northeastern state where that doesn't happen.  Then, leaving an ice cream date with my family, I saw a man in a pick up truck pull over to adjust his full sized Confederate flag, flapping in the small-town New England breeze.  THIS SHIT IS EVERYWHERE.  I'm working on an article about the questions that we can ask to be responsible allies (I have A ZILLION questions), but for now,  I want to talk about the people who were lost this week.  This article has some stories about them as people (amazing people- pastors, librarians, senators, pillars of their families).  Here are their names:

Cynthia Hurd, 54 
Susie Jackson, 87
Ethel Lance, 70
DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49
Clementa Pickney, 41
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Daniel L. Simmonds, Sr., 74
Sharonda Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 54

That's all for this week, lovelies. xo

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Friday, June 19, 2015

june 19th, 2015 at 7:23 pm

I have a memory of my dad drinking a beer in the shower. I didn't see him actually doing it- I saw the beer bottle balanced on the side of the tub, later.  This was during the D.A.R.E. era of the mid-nineties, and if I remember correctly, my younger sister had thrown such a terrified fit when she had seen the beer in his hand that he was drinking in the shower for refuge. (The D.A.R.E. effect also caused me to hide my grandmother's cigarettes in the crisper of our fridge, soaking and ruining them in the process. To her credit, she was more exasperated than pissed.  She was a good grandma.) But the beer bottle in the shower is something that has stuck with me, years and states and many bathrooms later.  My working-man dad, with dirt ingrained in the grooves of his hands and a holster for the pruning shears he used on the tree farm.  Coming home and rinsing off and playing a delicate little game of don't-let-the-glass-bottle-slip just so his daughters wouldn't lose their minds. I wonder if he was annoyed, or if he laughed and shook his head.  

Tonight I'm waiting for Ben to get home, and I'm also waiting for the school year to end and for everything to change.  I feel the pull of NEW at the beginnings and ends of summers, so much more so than when a new year starts.  My schedule is different, my intentions are redefined, my expectations are always so high.  This summer I will..get organized, lose weight, spend MEANINGFUL time with my children, see lots of friends.  Have a routine.  Eat less ice cream and watch less TV. Typical fresh-start mantras.  I'm only able to write at this moment because the boys passed out very early.  They skipped their naps at daycare.  This fills me with unholy terror.  If they give up their naps over the summer, I might lose my mind.

I packed my classroom today, more efficiently than ever before in my eight years of teaching.  I hit my step goal early and my muscles are sore, my skin sweaty.  I need to shave my legs and for some reason, I want to take a shower, right now, before Ben gets home and we flop on the couch, where we will stay until exhaustion takes us and we wake up in the early morning hours.  I never shower in the evening.  I never have that impulse- it lives outside of my routine.  Everything is in a shift right now.  Everything is a tiny bit fuzzy.  I'm going with it.

I know what my summer will probably consist of- wasting a lot of time checking my Twitter app.  Staging pictures of my kids being summer-glow adorable for Instagram.  Reading a lot of really good books on my back porch, one eye worriedly checking that both kids are in sight.  A few outings where I overestimate my ability to handle the distance/overnight/packing/lack-of-naps.  Some trips with friends (and one with my sisters and mother that I can't wait for).  A few walks.  A lot of ice cream and a lot of beer.  I'm going to try and find a routine but not beat myself up if it doesn't materialize.  I'm going to try and write a lot but not beat myself up if I want to daydream about my characters instead.  I'm going to go with the fuzzy, and not set up a rubric for success that guarantees my failure.

I'm going to open and beer and take it with me into the shower.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Coffee and Blogs No. 19

It's been slow going for me collecting links over the past month or so. My schedule is thrown off for my morning browsing times- I decided to take a break from writing and use early mornings for the gym until school is out.  This means I'm just oversleeping and getting grumpy because I'm not writing.

I also just did a large purge of my daily-checked blogs (a process I plan to write about) and sought out new blogs and Instagram accounts that support my current interests (read: books. writing. writing about books.)  I'm still getting used to new articles.  I think I finally have enough stuff to make a go of a decent round up, so get cozy.

I've been spamming everyone on Facebook and Twitter about how much I love this pair.  My friend posted this video where they rewrite popular hip hop songs as Broadway hits, and I fell down the rabbit hole watching them cover the evolution of Miley Cyrus and the entire 1989 album.  They're both members (I'm almost positive on this) of the accapella group Pentatonix and they've performed on Sesame Street.  I have a deep weakness for anything that is male and can sing.  I am in love.

I really love following Kate Baer's blog, and this essay about finding a village really struck a chord with me.  It's looking more like our family will be settling in this spot for awhile, and I marvel constantly about how lucky I am to have the people I do here. Finding these ladies has helped me be my own lady, and I can't express how grateful I am.

Christopher Guest mockumentaries were my first love.  No matter who you are, if we can quote Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show together, we're soul mates now, and you can't escape me.  We're linked for life.  One of my favorite Guest-quote buddies broke the good news that Christopher Guest did a set of commericals for PetSmart based on Best in Show-type behaviors among pet owners.  Lots of classic Guest actors pop up, and they're all worth a watch.

Super gorgeous artwork from the tumblr Cosmic Cuties by 17-year-old artist Mikhalia Nodel.  This feminist, body-positive work makes me swell every time I read it.  I love that she shares questions and comments from young girls who are struggling with body issues, and I love her assertion that "fat" is not an insult, but a descriptive term.  That is my biggest goal for myself and the ones I love- to stop blushing red and stammering when the word "fat" is encountered.

If Vin Diesel were your boyfriend, he would rewatch Gilmore Girls with you without argument. He would be staunchly Team Dean (much to your annoyance) until Dean cheats on Lindsay, at which point he would feel personally betrayed. He would always refer to Jess as “that punk” in his signature baritone growl.  

I really loved this list of things that would be true if Vin Diesel were your boyfriend. I haven't watched Gilmore Girls yet (it's on my list) so I'm slightly annoyed by the spoiler, but the article is worth it.

Slave Girl No More.  It took me a reading or two to get past the tone of this article, but I was really intrigued by the stages that woman goes through, and where her power comes from in each stage.  The way trauma can derail development is obvious and startling at the same time.

More heart-stopping art- kids in the 80s playing Star Wars in the backyard.  The series is called "In A Backyard Far, Far Away" by Craig Davidson. They boys have bubble wands right now that look exactly like light saber battles and they are LIVING these pictures in our yard every warm afternoon and if I had actually known about Star Wars when I was younger, these pictures might actually make me explode.

I've resisted Snapchat for a long time, because it makes me feel old and crusty.  I don't understand that point of it, and that sentence just aged me fifteen years.  This article about the "day in the life" component, which friends have explained to me as a selling point, made me start to consider checking it out.  Cities and cultural events being showcased and crowd sourced?  I can get behind that.

There were two big book conferences in New York last week that I followed on Twitter and imagined attending in the future: Book Expo America and Book Con.  Now that I'm reading so much more and following the world of authors I admire on social media, I can see my priorities shifting for the events I want to attend and accounts I want to be aware of.  One of the best new sites I've found is The Book Smugglers- they YA review books with a mind to female agency and value good writing.  One mention of hating "instalove" was what really sold me on their voice when talking about books. They are now a daily stop when I'm checking blogs.

Some Be Your Own Lady articles you might have missed: How To Survive Summer Vacation,  Things I'd Tell My Younger Self, Take the Compliment. Seriously.

Be Your Own Book Club June Pick: The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan (here is the link to the May conversation about Station Eleven)

Currently Reading: Fearless #6 Payback by Francine Pascal, Paper Towns by John Green, The Kick Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig (lets be friends on goodreads!)

Thanks to all the lovelies who send links my way, I love you.
Image from this Etsy shop, text added by me.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Be Your Own Book Club // May 2015: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

In May, we read Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, and then several of us promptly began worrying that every cough or succession of sirens was the beginning of the apocalypse.  I read a ton of post-apocalyptic novels, many of them in the Young Adult genre, but Station Eleven is different.  I don't know if it's because it was written with a different audience in mind, or if it was just a refreshing break for me personally, but I was pleasantly startled.  The novel read as a beautiful and concise set of circles that deals with human nature as much as survival in the face of the end of the world.

The plot begins on the night that the Georgia Flu breaks out in earnest, but the reader does not know this until the end of the first chapter.  Instead, we are thrust into dealing with the tragedy of an onstage heart attack, a theater thrown into chaos, and then the realization that none of the witnesses will live long enough to process what has happened.  I loved this opening- my heart was racing before a single futuristic confrontation. 

 "In the lobby, the people gathered at the bar clinked their glasses together. "To Arthur," they said. They drank for a few more minutes and then went their separate ways in the storm. Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.  

And that, my friends, fifteen pages into the story, is the first mention of the Georgian Flu.  *claps*

The apocalyptic main character is a girl in her early twenties named Kirsten, who effortlessly conveys for us the realities of this stark future (tattoos to represent those you've killed, missing teeth, the constant hunt for better gear) while providing the link to Before by being a child actor in the production that opens the novel.  Her best friend, August, was a light presence in the book, and I wanted more of him.  Her companions in the Traveling Symphony (clinging to the arts, they've adopted the slogan "Survival is Insufficient") were described just lightly enough to remind the reader that they are part of the fabric, only barely the focus of their part in the plot.  

A friend commented that as soon as she finished this book, she wanted to go back with an appreciation of the connections.  I totally agree.  As the book gently ping-pongs from Before and After, adding characters to the narrative with each chapter, the links begin to reveal themselves, and by the end I was whispering "I know who he is!" with sadness and excitement.  I've only had time to read this once, but I will read it again.  Probably in an airport- it's a good book for airports, and I mean this as a sincere compliment.

The parts of the book that stood out to me include: the poignancy of the plane that sealed itself up on the tarmac rather than expose anyone to the Georgian Flu (Don't think of the unspeakable descision, to keep the jet sealed rather than expose a packed airport to a fatal contagion. Don't think about what enforcing that descision may have required. Don't think about those last few hours on board.), the miracle feeling I got when the first new newspaper and the Museum of Civilization were explained, the humid difficulty of the cigarette Miranda smoked on the night she knew her marriage was ending, the desperation of Jeevan, who couldn't figure out what he wanted to do with his life. 
(Jeevan was actually the character who interested me least and confused me the most.  Was the point that was he was happier living his fractured, hard scrabble life after the flu than he could have been before the world ended?  I'd love your thoughts on this!)
My copy of the book came with a reader's guide that had some awesome questions, and I have a few questions of my own.  Please answer in the comments and let me know what you thought.  Our culture is full of "what-happens-after" narratives right now- how did Station Eleven measure up for you?

1. Does the novel have a main character?  Who would you consider it to be? (from the reader's guide)
I'm not sure.  I hover between Kirsten and Arthur.  Station Eleven as a comic book is a pretty heavy presence in both narratives.  If I had to choose, I'd probably say Arthur.
2. What do you think happened during the year Kirsten can't remember? (from the reader's guide)
This question and the way it remains unanswered in the book is unspeakably eerie.  I know that children can block things out easier than adults, and her being so young, and having such specific memories from before that lost year make it even creepier.  I'm not sure what made her forget, but I love how, in this future, there isn't the mental energy to let it torture her.  It's a lost year- she shrugs and continues on.  There is too much else to focus on.
3. What would you put in the Museum of Civilization.  In a world with no services or electricity, what would you miss the most?  What tangible item would become useless, but still be worth saving?
My mind goes straight to my phone.  I'm sure many people would spend time adjusting to no Internet access.  All the things that are most "valuable" now- car keys, cash, IDs, electronics- would become useless.  I don't know what I'd save.

4. Who was your favorite character?  What was your favorite story line (story circle)?
I loved August.  I wanted to know more about him. I loved how he "put to rest" the bodies he came across.  I loved his pact with Kirsten.  Miranda was a favorite, too.  I loved her project that was for nothing in particular but was the highlight of her life.

I'm actually getting lost reading through big chunks of the book while writing this post, so I think I'm going to leave it here.  Station Eleven is beautiful and haunting and strangely hopeful, and it's my favorite book we've read here so far. I'd love to hear what you thought.

In closing, I'll announce the June 2015 pick: The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan.  Here is a snippet from the Goodreads description: 

Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, "The Opposite of Loneliness" went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord."  

This has been recommended to me more than once, and seems perfect for graduation season.  I also imagine it will be easy to dip in and out, reading bits and pieces without committing to an entire plot.  Please read along!