Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tracy McConnell, We Hardly Knew Ye

WARNING: I will spoil the endings of How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, Veronica Mars, The X-Files, The Office, Seinfeld, Friends, Breaking Bad, and Six Feet Under in this post.

So I was one of many people outraged at the How I Met Your Mother finale- let me rant for a minute.

The writers went with an ending that would have been satisfying in Season 2, but didn’t fit in at all with what the show had built up to. After all that, the mother (Tracy) was basically just a sidenote in the story of how Ted and Robin got together after all- even after the entire show lead us to believe in Barney and Robin as a couple and that Ted would get his happy ending. And I guess he did, but in the end he only was with Tracy for eleven years. They hit us over the head so many times with how Ted had to get over Robin before he met the mother- but this ending made me think he never got over Robin at all, and worse, maybe he was pining for her the whole time he was with Tracy. And it kind of cheapened his relationships with both women. Also, I really liked Tracy herself, and Cristin Milioti was great in this role. (I think she may have been too good—she was adorable and likeable without being Mary Sue-ish and seemed perfect for Ted, so people may have ended up rooting for her more than the writers intended.) So I wanted to know so much about her that we never found out- like, what exactly was she doing to try to end poverty? Why was that her passion? What was her book about? Where was she from? What was her family like? How did Max die? How did she die, for that matter (I mean, we know she was sick, but they glossed over her death so quickly that we never got any details)? Having kids before getting married seems very...un-Ted-like to me, too. I didn't like how Ted and Tracy's wedding eventually happened.

I feel like Robin really got the shaft, too. I mean, I'm sure she loved her work and all the travel she was doing, but it was literally what cost her her husband and friends for several years. Who did she even talk to during all that time she was estranged from the group? Patrice? I hope she made new friends or dated someone else or...something.

And then there's Barney. I wondered, going into this season, if Barney and Robin would actually get married. Eventually it became clear that they would, and the show had really gotten us to invest and believe in the idea of them as a couple- so it pisses me off that they got divorced only three years later. They made such a big deal of him finally growing up and settling down with Robin- and the second they divorce, he just reverts back to being an immature slut, until he knocks some girl up and his daughter magically changes his life. The whole thing just pisses me off. I read some speculation that maybe "Number Thirty-One" will be the main character on How I Met Your Dad, which makes sense, but I hate that he referred to his daughter's mother only as "Number Thirty-One." Not to mention—what did Lily end up doing after she got back from Italy besides having a third kid whose name and sex we never learn?

It got me thinking, though, about how to end a show. There are other series finales that have gotten me almost as mad as HIMYM’s did, but there have also been some great ones. So here’s a look at the best and the worst of series finales:

There are a handful of people who did like the HIMYM finale (my mother is among them), but absolutely no one liked the Dexter finale. I didn’t for a minute buy into his rekindling of his relationship with Hannah after she tried to kill Deb, so I hated how the show tried to get us to believe that she was his one true love. And then when Deb dies and Dexter decides that he’s caused people too much pain, his solution is to…cause even more pain by faking his own death and going off somewhere to be a silent lumberjack? Which is especially nonsensical because he no longer had the urge to kill? UGH. This finale made me wonder why I wasted so much time watching the show.

The X-Files
Another terrible ending. I’ve blocked out a lot of the specifics, but basically, at the end everyone was miserable and the world really was going to end in 2012. And the Smoking Man finally died for real. The movie that came out several years later didn’t do much to redeem it, either.

Veronica Mars
But this recent movie, thankfully, did redeem the series finale. To be fair, it was bad largely because it was written as a season and not series finale, but there were still things that bothered me about it—namely that Veronica’s actions over something that wasn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things and where the damage had already been done ended up getting her father in trouble. Like I said, though, the movie was so good it undid the unsatisfying series finale.

At the time I hated this finale, as did most people, but it’s actually grown on me since then. Seinfeld was not a show that dealt with feelings or happy endings, but aside from “nothing,” it was about four hilarious but still really horrible people. So putting them in jail for, basically, years of being awful was kind of fitting.

The Office
This was one show that went on way too long, and I didn’t watch the last two or three seasons. However, I’m really glad I tuned in for the finale. They’d announced that Steve Carell wouldn’t be coming back, but I was really glad when he did, even if it was only for five minutes (presumably so he wouldn’t take the focus off everyone else) in which we learn that Michael finally has kids like he always wanted. Dwight and Angela get married in a predictably weird ceremony at the beet farm. Jim and Pam start a new life in Austin. Kelly and Ryan return to hook up again, and abandon Ryan’s baby in the process. Stanley retires. Creed gets arrested for…whatever he’s done in the past. And Andy utters this oddly poignant bit of wisdom: "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.” The other great quote was the last line, which came from Pam and basically summed up the whole show: “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

Breaking Bad
This show was never going to have a happy ending, but it pulled off a pretty satisfying one. Aside from a few lingering questions (i.e. how does one get ricin into a sealed-up stevia packet? And how, exactly, did Walt poison Brock?), they resolved everything, killed all the bad guys, and had Walt tie up all his loose ends before dying. Best of all, Jesse Pinkman lives! We last see him driving away laughing ecstatically, and I hope he found a new life somewhere else. But the moment of the finale that really stands out to me is Walt’s final meeting with Skyler. When she wearily says, “If I have to hear you say one more time that you did it for the family…” he surprises her, and us, by finally admitting, “I did it for me.” And strangely, it feels like the nicest thing he could say—probably because it’s the truth.  

My memories of this finale are a bit tainted—I watched it with a bunch of friends in college, but as it happened, two of my friends who’d been dating went through a rather dramatic breakup that night, so that’s actually what I think of first when I remember this finale. But while this episode, on its own, isn’t one of the show’s best, it does wrap things up pretty nicely—Rachel gets off the plane and she and Ross are back together at last, Chandler and Monica end up adopting two babies instead of one after their birth mother realizes during labor that she’s having twins, and Joey…got his own short-lived show soon afterwards. In the end, they leave the big purple apartment behind and go get coffee.

Sex and the City
After the show ended, there were two movies- the first of which was fun at first watch but didn't hold up upon rewatch and the second of which was just awful. If you forget about those, though, the last episode of Sex and the City was actually pretty great. For that matter, the whole last season was- SatC is that rare show where the ultimate season was its best one. Samantha is finally in real love, Charlotte gets a baby, Miranda is married with a kid and committed to her new family (even Steve's ailing mom), and Carrie and Big (ugh) end up together, and his name is John. It worked, everyone was happy at the end, and they should have just left it here.

Six Feet Under
It’s weird that this is my favorite TV finale because the show overall is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It was about a family who ran a funeral home, and someone died in the cold open of each episode, often in a very strange way. (My near-death by falling vodka bottle would have fit right in on this show.) It starred Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, and Rachel Griffiths, and the acting was superb. I wish I could say the same for the characters, who frequently became annoying. Peter Krause’s character, Nate, was awesome in Season 1, while his girlfriend Brenda (Griffiths), was not, and I thought Nate was way too good for Brenda. Well, by the last season, Nate had become unbearably obnoxious and selfish while Brenda had made strides toward redeeming herself, and by the end of the show I thought Brenda was too good for Nate. On the other hand, Federico, the one non-family employee of the funeral home, started off obnoxious and just got more and more so as the show went on. Michael C. Hall’s character, David, and his long-term boyfriend Keith were a couple you rooted for, but they had multiple variations on the same fight throughout the whole show. Season 4 had a really dumb plotline where David was kidnapped. Sometimes the fantasy sequences were overdone and got confusing. And I feel like whenever the writers got stuck for ideas, they pulled a character and a drug out of a hat and dedicated a subplot to seeing fill-in-the-blank character high on fill-in-the-blank drug. Seriously, way too much reliance on drugs as plot points.

And yet— the finale was excellent. It resurrected the touching moments that sometimes penetrated the weirdness and, fittingly, wrapped things up in the most final of ways—by flashing forward to the deaths of each of the main characters during a montage to Sia’s “Breathe Me.” It sounds morbid, but it was very fitting and left absolutely nothing unresolved. And rather than beginning the episode with a death, as all other episodes did, this one began with a birth—that of Nate and Brenda’s daughter Willa. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

You Know What's Awesome?

Getting stuff done is awesome.

I was looking at this post I wrote a year ago today. And then I looked at this one from a few months later.

It feels awesome to want to do something and then actually do it.

I need to remember that in other aspects of my life. Right now I'm working on a collection of linked short stories and trying to get some other stories published- after I had that one accepted last year to The Sierra Nevada Review (it will come out in May), I don't want that to be my only success.

It's St. Patrick's Day again, and the luck of the Irish to you, but getting stuff done has nothing to do with luck. Or even with skill. There's not much I'm sure of, but I do know that I'm capable of and good at working hard. So I'm going to remember this feeling: how awesome it is to realize you did something you really, really wanted to do.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

10 Books That Stayed with Me

More on books! Two in a month! See, I’m doing better!

Not long ago, Erin posted one of those tag-people things on Facebook where you were supposed to list ten books that had stayed with you in some way. I thought about it, but then decided to write about those ten books here instead. I didn’t just want to list them but also say WHY they stayed with me. So here we go!

Anne of Green Gables and its sequels by LM Montgomery
This was the absolute first book I thought of. When I was about five, my grandparents gave me the Anne series and my dad read all of them out loud to us until we finished them. I actually have three different copies of Anne of Green Gables, one of which is illustrated.

There’s so much to love about these books. There are so many wonderful characters and I always did identify with Anne—like her, I’m very imaginative, sometimes oversensitive, and have a tendency to get into awkward situations. They’re funny, they’re sad, they’re sweet, and eventually they’re pretty romantic, too. (Gilbert Blythe is one of my literary crushes.) Christiana Krump and I decided that one day we’d go to Prince Edward Island, where LM Montgomery is from and where these books take place, and I will hold her to that!

The Harry Potter books by JK Rowling
Not the most original choice, I know, but these books do mean something to me. I think what I marvel at the most when I re-read these books is how thoroughly and completely JK Rowling imagined this world. It’s just so wonderfully detailed. And—I feel like there’s no way to say this without it sounding cheesy, but I’ll try—despite the darkness in the books, especially the later ones, and the deaths of so many characters, I find these books more uplifting than sad and more about love driving out hate than just good-over-evil. The summer the last book came out, I was struggling with a lot of personal things, but the anticipation of Deathly Hallows coming out was one thing keeping me going.

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman
I probably recommend this book more than any other and it might be my most frequently re-read book. I talked about it in this post and I honestly think any girl would like it. It’s funny and incredibly easy to relate to—and also, all feminist writers should take lessons from Susan Jane Gilman. She manages to make her feminist views clear without coming off as obnoxious or preachy, and the title is actually a reference to how she caved on wearing a traditional white wedding dress, then decided that it might be the most subversive thing she could do.

Joy School by Elizabeth Berg
I love this book so much. I love Elizabeth Berg in general, but this was the first book I read by her. It’s the second in a series of books about a thirteen-year-old girl named Katie in the early 1960s, although you can read the books out of order and not miss anything. (Yes, I’d love it even if I didn’t share a name with the main character.) Katie’s mother has died, her father is distant and sometimes angry, she’s trying to make friends at a new school, and she’s in love with a man who’s much older—and married. She’s just such a sweet, funny, lovable character and Berg’s writing style is so heartfelt and unpretentious.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
As annoying as Jonathan Franzen is as a person, he is a brilliant writer. I first read this book shortly after it was published in 2001 and have re-read it several times since. Every time, I pick up on some little detail or nuance that I didn’t before. It’s about a family originally from the fictional Midwestern city of St. Jude whose septuagenarian matriarch, Enid, hopes to reunite everyone for Christmas. Enid’s husband, Alfred, is struggling with Parkinson’s disease and other health problems. Their three adult children, Gary, Chip, and Denise, all have different versions of unhappiness in their lives. Gary is a husband and father denying, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he’s clinically depressed. Chip, after being fired from his job as a college professor for sleeping with a student, goes to Lithuania to defraud American investors. And Denise is a chef who sleeps with her boss…after she’s already started sleeping with his wife. I think what I love the most is how real the characters feel. They’re often difficult and unlikeable, but you identify with them nevertheless. I hope one day I’m half as good a writer as Franzen with none of the snobbery.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
My first few years out of college, when I was still getting used to the 9-5 office life, I really started to like any fiction that was about work. This book, which is written in first person plural and about an advertising agency facing layoffs, was something I really connected with—particularly referring to what the office’s collective “we” thinks and does and feels. It’s probably something that will have the most appeal to someone who does work in an office, but I think most people can identify with the strange camaraderie that develops in the workplace—some people you like, some people you don’t really like but form a weird bond with anyway, and the way workplaces facing tough times go through everything together.

The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker
I’ve written about this book before because the whole concept of it stuck with me so strongly. One of the main characters, Mary Beth, is a song reader. People come to her and tell her the songs that have been stuck in their heads, and the lines in particular that have been sticking out for them. By making sense of why those songs are there, she can make sense of what’s going on in their lives. But when the secrets she reveals through the songs turn ugly, a greater realization comes about: the only person whose subconscious Mary Beth will not explore is her own. As she sinks slowly into a depression, secrets about Mary Beth and her family come to light, and they must learn how to deal with them. The novel takes place in a small Missouri town in the early 1980s and is narrated by Mary Beth’s teenage sister, Leeann.

This book is a rarity: a lyrically written book with an interesting premise and very compelling characters but an equally compelling plot as well. The people Tucker writes about seem very real and she fleshes them out nicely. But although there are no car chases or murder mysteries, the plot is full of surprises and always keeps you guessing. I didn’t want to put it down. I think this is particularly admirable because Tucker could, conceivably, have taken her unusual premise and done something really simplistic with it, like tack on a mystery or a romance. But her approach is more subtle, and ultimately more rewarding. In the end, this book isn’t really about song reading, but about family, love, forgiveness, redemption, legacy, the weight of guilt, and the necessity of knowing and loving oneself.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
You’ve almost definitely read this—I mean, who didn’t in freshman English class? But this is one high school English class book that I will gladly re-read on my own. Atticus Finch is just such a fantastic character and it’s such a wonderful, moving story.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I sometimes feel like my life didn’t really begin until college. Nothing interesting had ever happened to me, and there was just so little that I knew about the world beyond my personal experience until then. This popular young adult novel, which I first read between my freshman and sophomore years of college, stuck with me partly because it made me reflect on a lot of things that had happened over the previous year. It’s about a quiet high school freshman named Charlie making new friends and learning how to come out of his shell and participate more in life. It says more about where I was in life when I read it than it does about the book, I think, but it might be the most thought-provoking thing I’ve ever read.

Twenty-Something Essays by Twenty-Something Writers
My first year out of college, I just stumbled across this book and bought it. Now I re-read it almost as much as Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress. As the title suggests, it is a book of essays written by authors in their twenties. Two of them, both excellent, are written by BC grads (Marisa McCarthy and Luke Mullins). Mary Beth Ellis writes about her struggle with OCD. Eula Biss, taking a cue from Joan Didion, writes about the tribulations and loneliness of living in New York City. Emma Black writes about her first year teaching elementary school. Katherine Dykstra’s essay is about volunteering with low-income children while also writing an article about a luxury hotel. Elrena Evans writes about having a baby during grad school. Eli James, in one of the funniest essays, writes about trying to find a drummer for his band. Mary Kate Frank writes about the indignity of having to move back in with her parents after a series of bad decisions. Joey Franklin, in the winning essay, writes about working at Wendy’s while finishing school and taking care of a young son. Jennifer Glaser’s essay about losing her boyfriend to leukemia is heartbreaking. Kathleen Rooney, a graduate of the Emerson MFA program, writes about her career as an artist’s model.

And those are just some of the great essays in this book. It’s a great compilation of a wide variety of twenty-something experiences, and when I finished it I remember feeling like I’d made a lot of new friends. I hoped that Random House, who sponsored the essay contest, would run it again so I could submit something, but they never did.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Books of 2013

I don’t know why I always let so much time go by between my book posts. I am constantly reading- almost never leave the house without a book, in fact.

I read 42 books this year—which might be a lot for some people, but I’m feeling like a slacker after learning that Kirsti read 168. Yeesh! After seeing Schindler’s List, I became really interested in the true story behind it and read a lot of books on the subject. I also read some books on theology, and there were some books I re-read, among them The Book Thief, Olive Kitteridge, and The Imperfectionists. Some books I disliked (really didn’t like Death Comes to Pemberley), but there were many others I loved. Here are the highlights:

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Allie Brosh is my favorite blogger of all time. She’s hilarious and super-talented and seems like such a cool person. She also took an extended break from the Internet due to severe depression, so I was happy when she emerged upon publication of her book. I’m thrilled that this book has been so successful and even more thrilled that her depression is now under control.

Anyway, the book is about half stories from her blog and half new content. Among the highlights of the new content are one new story about finding a letter she wrote to her future self as a child and another about her mom taking her and her sister into the woods when they were kids and getting lost. We also learn more about the Helper Dog (Simple Dog gets the most coverage on the blog). One caveat—there’s one story from her blog that was previously unillustrated, and I refuse to read it on the blog or in the book because it’s about a goose getting into her house, which is my worst nightmare. I’m even more scared of geese than Allie is of spiders. So that story might be the funniest one in the whole book, but I will never know.

Anyway, highly recommended. While I was reading it, I spent a couple of days being the crazy person on the T because this book was making me laugh every two seconds.

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero
You know of my enormous affection for the glorious, awful wonder that is The Room. This year, Greg Sestero, who played Mark (oh hai Mark), wrote a book with Tom Bissell, who had written about The Room in Vanity Fair. It’s all about how he met Tommy Wiseau and the making of The Room, and it’s just as insane as you think it is. It’s very well-written, so I suspect that Bissell did most of the actual writing, but the memories Sestero supplies are priceless. I can totally imagine Tommy Wiseau saying all the book’s dialogue with his crazy accent. One thing I didn’t expect, though—I actually came away feeling bad for Tommy Wiseau. We still don’t know everything about his background at the end of the book, but we do know that he’s lonely and longs for acceptance. Even so, the book is hilarious and a must-read for anyone who’s seen The Room.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
Man, this book unfolded in a way I didn’t expect. It’s a young adult novel that I’d vaguely heard of awhile ago and decided to read based on the eye-catching title. In the late 1940s, fifteen-year-old Evie travels from New York to Palm Beach, Florida with her mother and her stepfather, who recently returned from World War II. Once there, she meets and falls in love with a handsome young soldier who served with her stepfather in Europe. Gradually, secrets start to be revealed, and…you know, I hesitate to say too much else because it’s so unpredictable. Evie is a very sympathetic narrator, and the mood, although it’s two decades earlier, reminded me a bit of Mad Men—lots old-fashioned glamour, but also lots of ugliness lurking beneath the surface.

The Receptionist by Janet Groth
Speaking of Mad Men, I hadn’t even heard of this book until I stumbled across it in the bookstore and noticed a blurb on the front comparing it to Mad Men. Great job, publicity department, because Season 6 of Mad Men had just ended and I was looking for a fix. I found that the description was pretty accurate. Janet was the receptionist at The New Yorker for twenty years and met a lot of interesting people. Is it the most fascinating story in the world? No. But there is lots of literary name-dropping, glimpses into office life in the 1950s and 60s, and an identifiable story about trying to make it in New York as a young woman. It’s actually more about her personal growth than it is about The New Yorker, which is what I liked the most.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
I’ve read all of Curtis Sittenfeld’s other books, and they’re all very character-driven and episodic, with sections like novellas with large gaps in time between them. This one is completely different—it’s much more plot-driven and has only one straight storyline. It also has an element of magical realism to it that none of her other books have. The narrator, Kate, and her twin sister Violet have had a degree of psychic ability since childhood, but Kate has been trying to put the ability out of her mind as she goes on with life as a stay-at-home mom of young children in St. Louis. Then Violet appears on TV, saying that an earthquake will hit St. Louis on a certain date. In the ensuing media frenzy, Kate feels her own psychic ability returning and reflects back on their sometimes painful childhood.

This book kept me guessing right up until the end. Kate is actually not a very sympathetic character, but the book is still very well-written with a very tight plot.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette was a respected architect whose greatest accomplishment has been destroyed. Now she’s an agoraphobic wife of a Microsoft bigwig whose life consists of driving her intelligent teenage daughter to and from school, having tasks completed by a virtual assistant in India, and fighting with an obnoxious neighbor. As a reward for perfect grades, she and her husband are taking her daughter Bee on a promised trip to Antarctica, but as stresses in her life accumulate, she disappears before the trip.

Based on the plot, you would think this book would be all dramatic and serious, but it’s actually really funny. It’s mostly told through emails but somehow manages to be full of action despite that. It also takes place in a wealthy Seattle suburb where a lot of people work at Microsoft and the author gets in plenty of digs at that company.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
When I was about twelve, I loved Lurlene McDaniel’s sappy novels about teenagers dying of horrible diseases. This book, amazingly, is like John Green took a plot from Lurlene McDaniel and rewrote it so that it was actually a good book. The narrator, Hazel, is a teenage girl with cancer who meets and falls in love with a fellow cancer patient named Augustus. What follows is a plot remarkably free of cliché that involves the two of them planning a trip to the Netherlands to get answers from a crochety old author about the fate of characters in a book they’ve read—but that also involves tragedy.

I read on the T a lot, but this book was only the second one ever to make me cry on public transportation (The Book Thief was the first). John Green is an awesome young adult author—I haven’t read An Abundance of Katherines yet, but I enjoyed Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. All of his other narrators have been teenage boys, and in this book I discovered that for someone who never was a teenage girl, he writes them very well.

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
J. Courtney Sullivan has quickly become one of my favorite authors (and I got to meet her at the Boston Book Festival—she was very nice!). Her previous books Commencement and Maine were great, but I think this one is my favorite. There are five stories involving five characters in very different circumstances: a woman in the 1970s who, after finding love twice, is distraught by her son’s impending divorce; a paramedic in the 1980s who wants to buy his wife a ring despite his financial struggles; a French expatriate in New York in 2003 having doubts about her whirlwind romance with a younger man; a happily partnered but unmarried woman in 2012 attending her cousin’s same-sex wedding; and Frances Gerety, the real-life 1940s copywriter who coined the slogan, “A diamond is forever.” Marriage, weddings, and diamond rings permeate all these stories, but we don’t find out the common thread in them until the end of the book. It’s full of memorable characters, and the true story of Frances is especially interesting. (She was like a real-life Peggy Olson!) I read the whole thing on the plane home from Ireland and absolutely loved it.

Run by Ann Patchett
I have a weakness for books set in Boston. In this one, the widowed former mayor of Boston and his two adopted young adult sons are involved in an accident on a snowy day that ends with a stranger being injured trying to save them. When they find out who the injured woman is…well, I won’t spoil you, but that’s what leads to the rest of the plot, which takes place over twenty-four hours.

This is both a compliment and a criticism of this book: I wanted more. It’s such an interesting set-up, and I read that Ann Patchett had originally intended for it to cover a longer period of time but ended up cutting it down for space purposes. That’s a shame, because most of the flaws stem from not having enough room to expand on things. The characters are all very nice people, but except for the mayor’s biological son, they needed more complexity. I also think it didn’t go deep enough into racial issues (the mayor’s adopted sons, way too obviously named Tip and Teddy, are black while the mayor is white and Irish). But I was completely absorbed in the book when I read it and just wanted more story and more of the characters when it was over. One other thing—I appreciate how it portrays Catholicism as an instrument for good, which is hard to find in fiction.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Poetic language isn’t usually my thing, but this book was so gorgeous and had so much heart and soul go into the writing that it won me over. Short on plot but long on character, description, and contemplation, it’s about a septuagenarian minister in the early 1950s writing to his young son and looking back at his life as he realizes that he may soon die. His articulate words on faith, love, and family moved me and stayed with me for a long time. I think it’s hard to write a main character who’s sympathetic and deeply religious without turning the book into a sermon, but Robinson has managed to do it. I can’t wait to read her book Home, a companion book to Gilead that focuses on some of Gilead’s supporting characters.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The first couple of weeks of 2014 have been kind of nuts. If things don’t change, it’s shaping up to be the year of other people losing my stuff.

New Year’s Eve was fun- I went with some friends to the Harpoon Beer Hall. However, the first couple of hours of 2014 sucked because the Harpoon’s coat check? Lost my coat. Someone else must have taken it by accident when they brought it back from the coat check, so they ended up sending me home in a Harpoon sweatshirt. Long walk back to the T on a freezing cold night- it was not fun. They did say they’d pay me back for a new coat, and I’ll take them up on that, but even though I know there are a lot of worse things than this, I’m pissed. I LIKED THAT COAT.

Then the following week I went to San Francisco for my company’s sales meeting. Getting out there was a bit of a mess. The airline delays that week were all over the news. We were supposed to fly out Monday morning, but after that flight was canceled, and the second flight we had booked resulted in us having go back into the terminal where we would have taken the first flight to get our canceled tickets and therefore waiting in a really long line and missing our flight (deep breath), we ended up having to take new flights Tuesday afternoon, arriving in San Francisco Tuesday night and missing a whole day of the conference. I didn’t want to check my bag, but I was in the last boarding group and they pulled the whole we’re-out-of-overhead-space thing (once I was on the plane, I could see that there was actually plenty of room) and made me check my bag, telling me it would be waiting for me at the gate when we landed.

It was not. I didn’t get my bag back until Thursday morning. I’m actually surprised I got it back that soon. I was not very happy during the period of time I didn’t have it.

The actual trip went well. I got to see Jenna and Mikey for the first time in almost a year! I also got an award for making my sales goal, and my flight back was great- I even had an empty seat next to me. (I’m weird and like long plane rides.)

Sooo, things have been busy and occasionally nuts, which is why I’m just getting around to writing this now.

2013! There were some really terrible things that happened this year. My uncle died suddenly in May. There was the marathon bombing and its aftermath in April.

But when 2012 ended, I said I felt like I’d spent a lot of the year in a state of blah. I definitely do not feel that way about 2013. I got shit done this year! As much as I would have liked to? No, definitely not. Dating was one disappointment after another (although I did put forth a lot of effort). I was really inconsistent with sleep, diet, and exercise and therefore am still fat. I never did that open-water swim. But here are some of the things I got done this year:

  • I did a lot more writing, completing several short stories and having one short story accepted for publication. My Grub Street class was a lot of fun.
  • I traveled to Europe for the first time ever and had a fantastic time. England and Ireland were just wonderful.
  • I also went to Marco Island and had another fantastic time lounging on the beach with my friends.
  • Work. This was not the weirdest year of my professional career, but it’s definitely in the top three, for reasons that it would not behoove me to get into on a public blog. Bottom line, though: the year ended with me making 132% of my sales goal and getting a nice bonus, so that was pretty awesome.
  • I did Run to Home Base and the Tufts 10K for Women.
  • And I did all the fun things I talked about here.

So what’s up for 2014?
  • I can’t guarantee that I’ll meet someone, this year or ever. But I will certainly keep trying.
  • I have gotten more involved in my church, and I’d like to continue that.
  • I’m open on where, but I’d like to take another fun vacation.
  • I’m thinking about volunteering as a writing tutor.
  • Finishing a collection of linked short stories I’m working on.
  • Getting more short stories published (or at least trying hard).
  • Making my sales goal again.
  •  Possibly another half-marathon, finally getting to that open water swim, and maybe a triathlon.
  •  More cooking.
  •  More reading (unofficially aiming for a book a week).
  •  More making good use of the Roku.
  •  More fun times with friends.
  •  Hopefully get a cat!

I turn thirty this year, too. Seeing as I’m still single, I don’t really like to think about that, so I won’t. (Wow, I wrote that right after I wrote about getting a cat.)

I’m going to have to move in 2014—my landlady told us awhile ago that she’d be vacating the property to do renovations after our lease is up. So, I hope, by June I will be living alone for the first time. 

We'll see where I am a year from now. Things right now aren't bad, but I'm still hoping they'll end up a lot better.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Things I Loved This Year

I'll do another post about the events of last year, and I’m going to do some more substantial posts later on books, movies, and TV, at least, but I wanted to do this post on some of the things that I enjoyed the most this year. Without further ado:

October was my book month. Two books I’d been anticipating for a long time were published that month—Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half book and The Disaster Artist, a book about the making of The Room by Greg Sestero, who played Mark. I also attended the Boston Book Festival, where I had conversations with J. Courtney Sullivan, Tom Perrotta, and Hallie Ephron. I read many other wonderful books throughout the year, and I’ll blog about them more in a future entry, but some highlights include John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

The best movie I saw for the first time this year actually came out twenty years ago—Schindler’s List. I don’t know how I made it to this year without ever having seen this movie. And…wow. I have such a hard time talking about this movie because I’m not sure I can in a way that does it justice. It completely deserves the reputation it has—I will say that. And the very end has me in tears every time. (I’ve seen it quite a few times since I first saw it in August, most recently last night at Erin's. Yep, our super-fun movie night was with a three-hour movie about the Holocaust.) It also motivated me to learn more about the real story behind it, so I’ve now read several books about Oscar Schindler and the Jews on the list- so many that I could tell where writers got their sources from. And there’s so much more I want to say about this movie that I’m not sure how to say, but just know that it profoundly affected me.

Future entry coming about the movies that actually came out in 2013.

The two TV shows I caught up with this year that I loved the most could not be more opposite. Parks and Recreation is this happy, upbeat show about nice people doing good things. Breaking Bad is a dark, tense show about an increasingly evil guy doing increasingly terrible things. They're at opposite ends of this TV mood scale, but I loved them both so much- Parks and Rec because it's funny and sweet and I enjoy all the characters, Breaking Bad because it's incredibly well-written and acted and basically a masterpiece. (Yes, I've seen this clip.)

I also started watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report regularly for the first time. The week of the marathon bombing, I desperately needed something to make me laugh. Previously, I'd only watched these shows sporadically, but after that week I put them both on my DVR. They keep me sane.

I didn’t listen to much new music this year. I did listen to a LOT of U2. I’ve always liked them, but over the summer I started listening to them kind of obsessively and discovered some songs I hadn’t heard before or re-discovered songs I hadn’t listened to enough. As for new music, I enjoyed Sara Bareilles’s The Blessed Unrest, especially her song "I Choose You." 

Aside from the very welcome news that Les Miserables is coming back to Broadway next year, there was a lot of good theater in my life this year. I traveled to New York to see Lucky Guy on Broadway, which was wonderful and moving and...there's so much I could say about it and maybe I will in a future post. I saw Wicked for the second time. I saw a local production of Les Mis. I also saw a great play in the fall called The Power of Duff.

Two devices have massively improved my life this year. I bought a Roku, allowing me to stream Netflix and Hulu on my TV, and it’s been fantastic. (Future post about everything I've been watching via Roku.) I also finally caved and got my first smartphone, which was a good decision. I’d always been afraid I’d end up spending too much time online if I had the Internet on my phone, but that hasn’t really happened. Plus, now I know when the bus is coming.

My two biggest celebrity crushes this year are both guys on AMC shows- Jon Hamm and Aaron Paul. It's kind of interesting- with guys in real life, I've never been attracted to good-looking jerks, and I realized this year that even with celebrities, there's a personality element present with everyone I like. Jon Hamm, I am convinced, is a perfect human being. I could look at him all day, and I think it's a travesty that he doesn't have an Emmy yet. But even if, for some strange reason, you're not into his looks or his acting, you have to love him after this. And this. And this.

Aaron Paul (who does have two well-deserved Emmys), is possibly the most adorable person on the planet. I love him on Breaking Bad, where he played one of my favorite TV characters of all time, but he seems like such a sweet person, too. Read this. And this. And watch this clip of him on The Price Is Right before he was famous, because it's hilarious. And look at his Twitter and his Instagram, from which I have learned that he really loves his wife and he really loves pizza.

When Pigs Fly bread is the best kind of bread, and it’s awesome when you toast it and spread avocado on it.

Remember that if you take nothing else away from this post.

Happy New Year, all!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Post-Christmas Musings

I love Christmas so much, and I just had a very nice one with my family.

Even so, I have to be honest- this was the most difficult Christmas season in recent memory.

When I wrote this, I was in the midst of four straight months of happiness. From my trip to Europe until about the beginning of November, almost everything seemed to be going right. My friends were great. Work was great. My writing was great. I’d even lost a bit of weight. (Uh, did not intend for that to sound like Dr. Seuss.) The one thing I didn’t have was a relationship, but I was feeling so terrific that I was like, “Hey, age twenty-nine is awesome! Maybe this is the period where I’m happy and comfortable and love will finally find me!”

But instead, what found me was the most frustrating two months of dating I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve been actively dating for over six years, so I do not say that lightly. That’s what I was feeling when I wrote this…and since then, it’s gotten worse and worse.

And it sounds so dumb, but despite all those great things still being great, and despite knowing that I don’t need a relationship to be happy (since I’ve never been in one, I’d be in trouble if that wasn’t true), being single suddenly seemed like the only thing that mattered.

And as things with dating kept getting worse, so did what I thought of myself. I started remembering every dumb thing I’ve said and done, every friend I’ve ever lost, every unkind thought and deed of mine, every physical flaw on my body—and I started to wonder why anyone would ever want to be with me.

Yeah, I know, that’s just digging myself further into the sadness hole. Pretty much every bit of advice they give you on finding love starts with, “Love yourself.” But you know what? When you’re twenty-nine and not only does no one love you, but no one has ever loved you, loving yourself becomes kind of hard.

When I wrote this, I was realizing it was hard to write about being happy. I didn’t want to sound obnoxious and braggy. But I’m realizing now that it’s hard writing about being sad as well. It’s one thing if you’re grieving someone who died, or if you’re going through a breakup or infertility or something legitimately devastating. And if you’re suffering from depression, people are familiar with that—and I think sometimes, people tend to pathologize sadness and tell you that you should see someone if you’re feeling down, even when you don’t meet the criteria for clinical depression.

But plain old sadness is harder to write about without seeming overdramatic or self-indulgent. I’m not going through anything like grief, and I’m not diagnosably depressed—there’s no anhedonia or feelings of hopelessness, just temporary sadness. Nothing’s changed to make me sad—the problem is that NOTHING has changed. And years of going through the holidays being single when you don’t want to be actually makes it harder, not easier, to go through it again.

I hesitated about writing about something this personal. But here it is, out there for everyone. I’ve been sad. I know it won’t last forever, but it’s still what I’m feeling now, and for those of you who have forgotten what being single feels like, just know that while there might be some people who are perfectly fine with being single around the holidays, even with all the couple-y ness it’s full of—there are also many people who aren’t.