Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Little ways to feel human (i):

I am most happy when my life is segmented into regularly-proportioned, disparate activities. It overwhelms me (and, yes, terrifies me) when any one things looms too large in the scope of my future vision. 2014 has begun with all large things. Everything that is happening personally, socially, academically, financially, and relationally feels huge -- at least to my often-warped perspective.

When my perspective gets warped, it's the little things that remind me how to be human, how to feel like my life is not One Big Thing and that This Too Shall Pass. It's things like getting to have a sleepover weekend and attending a scriptwriting workshop with Laura; like making a mixtape with songs for my mama; like breakfast dates and coffee dates to grow new friendships; like the happy-toe-twiddling thought of two weeks off from one of my teaching jobs (I'm gonna sleep in tomorrow. Just you watch me!); like taking time out to write a blog post about... taking time out to write a blog post.

Here are some of the current little things helping me to feel human. My list got long so I'll save some for next time:

Burn by Julianna Baggott. Oh wow. Wow oh wow. I wonder if I can explain this trilogy to you in words that won't send you running for the hills? Basically it's an apocalyptic story that has left the world broken and wretched in the years after a sort of nuclear holocaust. Many of those those who were unprotected by a cult-like paradise (known as the Dome died), but some survived, fused to the very things they were holding or that were near to them when the detonations occurred. Julianna Baggott has done the seemingly impossible: to take imagery that could be grotesque and terrifying (and often is) and yet reveal its beauty. Her characterisation is impeccable, and her writing so rich. What's more, this story has not suffered from the dreaded Second Book Syndrome. In fact, I think it's improved as the series (Pure, Fuse, and Burn) has gone on. Ugh. I'm basically in raptures.

The Ear Biscuits podcast by Rhett and Link. Rhett and Link may be accurately described as "my favourite bromance that is not Hamish & Andy." Their weekly podcast, a relatively new endeavour, has them sitting down for a casual yet sincerely earnest chat with somebody who is YouTube-famous. YouTube is a creative avenue that I'm not actively involved in; the most I do is watch videos. However, the discussions that Rhett & Link open up could apply to many creative endeavours, and their conversations are with creative people living creatively. The podcasts are generally with people who have "made it" in traditional generic understandings of success (fame and fortune), but there's an honesty about the chats that make them creatively energising even for someone less enamoured with standardised conceptions of success.

The Desiring God devotional app. This app has been a part of my life on a daily basis since someone (was it you, Lauren?) put me onto it last year. I can't tell you how many times the daily reading has been so perfectly-timed to speak straight to my heart, to encourage me, or to give me a well-deserved kick in the pants. I like John Piper's no-nonsense approach that somehow manages to be incisive yet warm and sincere.

The Walk fitness game. From the makers of Zombies, Run! (which you've all heard me flail about) comes this new(ish) game, created in conjunction with the National Health Service as part of an initiative to get more people moving. Coming at The Walk from my zealous love of Zombies, Run!, I was at first a little disappointed with the change in format. But now I'm used to how the game works, I'm really really loving it. Essentially, The Walk is an unfolding mystery story (which has been compared to The 39 Steps) which takes place in Scotland (both cities and wilderness!) and is delivered through sound bites which are unlocked as you progress through the story.The game is episodic, and when the app is opened, it works as a pedometer, which means you can work your way through the story if you're jogging, walking, biking, or even just doing your grocery shop. The characters in the story are warm and funny, and I love the gentle air of introgue that's building through the story. It's a great way to make movement more fun.

So. There are a few of my favourites lately. What would be on your list of little ways to feel human?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A note about time:

Sometimes I dread the passing of time because it takes me closer and closer to the things that worry me, terrify me, or make me sad. I wake up in the morning, not excited because a new day is here, fresh and unspoilt, but because the new day says, "We are one day away from the doctor's appointment that makes you nervous. We are two days away from that deadline being overdue. We are one week away from that uncomfortable conversation you are going to need to have with someone. We are a month away from you trying that new thing that makes your very fingertips shake with trepidation and the muscles of your arm feel limp and weak. We are one year away from you being exactly the same person you are right now, unchanged, not developed by the life you are supposed to be living."

Time can be such a hard taskmaster.

But it is worth remembering that time, the very same passing of seconds and minutes and hours and days that pulls nearer the things we dread, also pulls nearer the things we cherish the most. Some of them are big things. Some of them are small. Some of them come intertwined with the things we fear. Some of them stand alone. But they are good things. Like new people you don't even know, just waiting to be met. Like new accomplishments. Like your best friend marrying the love of her life. Like your brother marrying the love of his. Like new books written by your favourite author. Like new discoveries. Like getting to see your grandparents with all their children gathered around them. Like the sequel to your favourite movie coming out at the cinema. Like Autumn, followed by Winter.

Each day that passes is a day closer to the thing that makes your stomach curl up in knots. But it is also a day closer to the next time your little niece and little nephew get to meet each other and twine their fat little hands together.

Time is not always cruel. Sometimes it is the friendliest thing in the world.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ha ha ha ha, life is real; OR: a review of Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

I used to think I would grow up to be a funny person. Spoiler alert: I didn't. Instead, I grew up to be a person who appreciates funniness, which sounds kind of similar but is actually in no way the same.

Occasionally my hopeful past self looks at my disappointing present self and is, well, disappointed. But it can't be helped. The world needs both funny people and funny appreciators. If we were all funny, in a way none of us would be. We wouldn’t be impressed by the funny ones because funniness would be in no way unique, and no one would get any money by being funny. It'd be like paying people for breathing, which is stupid because you really only seem special for being able to breathe after you stop doing it.

Which brings me to Hyperbole and a Half, which I just finished last week and which was the perfect bittersweet happy/sad read to bring me into the new year. It’s the sort of thing you finish and think, “Yes, I could’ve written this,” – and not in the “I have the skills” kind of way (because I don’t), but in the “Oh that resonated with me in a way that made me laugh and also hurt a little bit.”

I always feel like there's a thin line between comedy and tragedy, and someone else somewhere must have said that because I remember hearing it and realising that's exactly what I think every time I enjoy something funny. The best kind of humour is, I think, about people trying to be people. We can be entertained by people trying to be people because, although humanness is our natural form, it doesn't actually come that naturally to most of us. If I watch Parks and Recreation (which could be described as a happy character comedy) when I’m on my own, I will end up crying at least once, usually more often, per twenty minute episode. And I think this is because, even though everything is compacted and exaggerated (it’s comedy, after all), it’s just so human.

That's how I feel about Hyperbole and a Half. It’s so human! And it explores aspects of being human (mostly depression, insecurity, poor adulting, and weird pets) that are highly relatable. If you’re not familiar with Allie Brosh’s work, check out her blog. I could explain things to you but it’s like when people feel compelled to retell Carl Barron jokes: they are only funny if they are coming out of the mouth of a weird little bald guy with strange diction. So just visit the blog (be warned: both the blog and the book contain some swears) and explore her bizarrely endearing comic strip essays. If you are already a friend of the blog, then why haven’t you read the book already?

You have no excuse.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

January book haul:

Mmm, books. This is a big fat pile of the books I purchased in January. I don't think I've ever bought so many new books in one month before (except textbooks at the start of a fresh semester), but I stumbled across one of those $3-a-book popup stores and also had some Christmas money to spend. Hence, BOOKS. Here's a quick fly-by of the books I purchased and a bit of the reasoning why. I'll post reviews for the books as I read them:

When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket :: This is book 2 in Lemony Snicket's fabulous new(er) series, All The Wrong Questions. The first one was a very fun read, with a cute mystery and Lemony Snicket's characteristic quirky prose. I just really enjoy the way he uses words. As you read, you can almost hear him rolling the words around in his mouth, tasting them for their flavour. PS. I recommended this book to one of my students on a recent trip to our local library, and he promptly borrowed it. He's a reluctant reader (aged 11) but was totally gripped by this one. It was lots of fun to hear him laughing out loud during his "silent" reading time.

Voyager by Jan Mark :: I know nothing about this book, but Jan Mark is great, and for $3 it's worth a try.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen :: This was super-hyped when it first appeared, but of course I'm yet to read it because sometimes I just take forever to be won over to things. We'll see.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld :: Somehow I managed to read all the other books in the Uglies series, but lost steam when I reached this one. I'm here to round out the... quadrilogy? What's it called when it's a trilogy but there ends up being four books in the series?

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar :: Even though it's Louis Sachar, storytelling prince of my heart, I steered clear of The Cardturner because I thought it was about poker, and I'm so not interested in poker. Then I read a review and discovered the card game the book repeatedly references is bridge. So yes! I'm going to read it now.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman :: Somehow I completely missed this dystopian (? sci fi?) series when it first appeared, but was alerted to it through the glories of tumblr. The concept that it's based on -- abortion of fetuses has been outlawed, but parents are allowed, instead, to "unwind" their children's memories when they reach the age of thirteen -- is incredibly intriguing. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh :: I love the blog and I loved the book. I'll be posting my review soon!

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc) by Delia Ephron :: The entire Ephron family is intriguing. Maybe by reading this memoir, I can soak up some of their creativity by way of osmosis.

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James :: I bought this one for a friend a while back, but haven't read it myself. PD James writing fanfiction? Yes, that's totally what this is and no one can convince me otherwise.

What books did you buy or read in January?
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