Saturday, May 31, 2014

Half-done; or, a mini-break half book reading list

I am getting a two-week mini-summer break this year. I start summer school on June 9th. I have a little bit of work to do before then, but for the most part I am footloose and fancy free for once. Normally, I cram as much travel as I can into these little breaks, but this year I am taking a couple of trips to New York that are sucking the money out of me, so I need to do some staycations. The good thing is that I will have some time to read.

I used to real a lot. All the time. All. Of. The. Time. Then came school and a degree in literature, and well, I actually read less than ever. Then Grad school, and I didn't read anything that wasn't assigned. And now, as a writing instructor I pretty much read only what I needed to to teach my classes. However, this year, I found myself in situations where I would have time to read a little. The trouble is that for the most part I would be at other people's house, or travelling when I would pick up a book and read it for a while, then I'd have to leave. This resulted in several half-done reading sessions. I have a handful of books to finish. So, my first foray in the "Reading Challenge" is to finish my half-started books.

1.  The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (currently pg 274 of 509)
I started reading this on May 19th. I was at a friend's house whose husband has the worst taste in television programs. I often find myself reading a lot at her house because I can only take so much terrible tv. In the past, I have usually just grabbed for one of the Harry Potter books and read it until it was time to go and then just put it back. Because I had read them all (more than twice) it didn't bother me if I left it unfinished. But, this time I saw a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo and started that instead.

I had only gotten about 30 pages in, when it was time to head into the Bay Area for a professional development workshop. I grabbed the book, completely sure that I would not read another word. Well, it was my lucky day as I ended up on a lovely little campus called Valambrosia Retreat and there were no TVs or computers in the rooms. The only entertainment available to me was to play with a handful of tame bunnies who wandered the campus, or read. I left that retreat about half finished with my book.

2. The Fault in our Stars by John Green (currently 177 of 313). **FINISHED**
I started this book on April 12th. I was on vacation in New York with some friends. My friend had bought The Fault in Our Stars at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan. I had no intention of reading anything on that trip. My primary purpose was to watch Derek Jeter play in his farewell season. Much to my dismay he didn't play. In any of the three games I had purchased tickets to. I had flown thousands of miles and spent 100's of dollars for nothing. As each game ended and Jeter still hadn't played I was being incredibly brave. Then the final game was rained out. I needed a release and I picked the the incredibly sad and tragic John Green novel. I only read half, but the story of teens battling terminal cancer gave me the emotional outlet I needed and allowed me to put my relatively minor disappointment into perspective.

3. Beautiful Chaos by Gary Russell (currently 79 of 242 okay not quite half) **Finished**
April 30. This is a Doctor Who book. I bought it for my niece, but it seems a little old for her. I was reading it to make sure it was appropriate for her, and I got a halfway and realized that I was finishing it for myself. I don't think my niece will read it, at least not for a year or two. But. I started it, so I will finish it.

4. Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (currently Act II) **Finish-ed**
April 22. Another one begun for my niece. She and I started reading this play together. We made it through one act before we were both distracted by other things. So, this one will be the hardest finish as I am literally reading this aloud with an 11 year old. But, we'll give it a shot!

5.  The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (currently pg.117 of 265).
March 18. I was on a field trip to Ashland, Oregon chaperoning a high school drama trip with my best friend when I go sick. I was not able to leave my room for two days. So, I bought this book. Again, I got through about half before I went home. Once there I got even sicker (maybe the sickest ever) and I didn't pick the book up again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On Weariness; or, Running on Empty is Still Running.

Oh today. I am two kinds of tired. Shallow and deep. Global and local. Literal and metaphorical. I am weary and worn. I am hollowed out and running on nothing. In these bleary moments where caffeine masquerades as clarity, I feel my skin tighten and it is as if something inside is pulling at me. Pushing me to do crazy things. Things that my rested brain keeps me from doing. I want to make big decisions. I want to DO things. Something. Something big and grand and terrifying. I want to take huge leaps and fall off of edges. It is almost as if I am at my most honest when I am too tired to pretend. I get loopy when I am tired. And loopy is when I am just crazy enough to jump.

But, sometimes, I am too tired to run wild and instead I have another cup of coffee to wake up just enough to be safe. Or,  distract myself with breads and circuses, or cocoon myself in sleep until I can trust myself to behave; You know, just keep calm and carry on.  But, even while napping, sometimes, I remember, dream of, braver days when I couldn't be so easily quieted. When I did recklessly leap and run and try. Now, I worry that I am too tired to be that rash again. That this time the weariness is heavier, deeper, that it has housed itself in my bones. A cancer eating my hopes and leaving me marrowless and brittle. How many rash chances do I have left in me? How many gates can I crash through and still not break? 

I hope the answer is all of them. I hope I am just weary enough to try, but not so tired that I sleep.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Doctor Who as Catharsis; or, It's the FEELS dammit

I haven't written about Doctor Who for a couple of months. Not because I haven't been watching it, and especially not because I haven't been thinking about it. I am at the end of Series 6. I might even be officially done with S6; I am not sure where the Christmas episodes fit in. The difference between where I am now, and where I was last time I wrote a blog about the good Doctor is that I have seen all the reboot Doctors. I have one more series to be caught up, but until Peter Capaldi makes his debut later this year, I am, at least for the minute up to date (sort of). So, a return to the question of "Who's your Doctor?"

For some, I guess, this answer is easy. I have heard, and read, accounts of fans knowing immediately with whom their loyalties lie. All I know is that, for me, it isn't Matt Smith. At the beginning I would have laid the blame on him for being too young, too silly, too frantic, too slick...just too much. Then I blamed the writers for not writing stories that allowed Smith access to my favorite aspect of the Doctor, the fact that he is just "Sorry, so, so sorry." But, now, I am pretty sure it isn't Matt Smith, it's me.

Doctor Who is at its best, for me, when it is sad. Not just sad, but those heart-wrenching, kleenex moments, when I want to cry out loud; I am happiest with DW when I am hiccoughing through my tears. It is catharsis to engage in a little harmless sobbing. Matt Smith, so far, hasn't really stood a chance with me. I think that accepting what I love about Eccleston and Tennant is an undercurrent of painful loss that makes them just imbued with buckets and buckets of pathos. And, as I have said well, apparently, I like to be sad. I do like humor, and as I have said, I wouldn't like Doctor Who if it isn't funny. But, I like my jokes as foils to darkness. Laughter through tears? Yes. Laughter because it is a relief to laugh after crying? Yes. Pure comedy doesn't work as well for me.

So much of what appeals to me about Doctor Who is the underpinning of the trope of loss. Everyone is so broken and I suppose in what is prolly a little too revealing of a statement, I like that. I like crying when Rose and Ten get separated. I refuse to imagine Rose happy with her fake Doctor. I see her as having been tricked into settling--a trick that you cannot convince me that she will never be appeased by. I refuse to think that even memory loss can allow Donna peace. It is clear that even the *blessing* of ignorance will never allow her bliss. And don't even get me started on Rory, that poor guy. He guarded Amy for 1000 years, and he still has to wonder if she loves the Doctor more...Anyway, the major appeal for me is that no matter how much Nine and Ten joke or smile, at the end of the day I can see that they are haunted. I can see their ghosts, and I like that.

It is only as I see these later Eleventh Doctor episodes that I am beginning to see his ghosts, and it makes sense that I am beginning to like him more.So, unless S7 is just one big Eleventh Doctor cryfest is seems that I am still back to choosing between Nine or Ten. Well, I'm still not sure. I liked Ecceleston before the DW because of his amazing Jude in the film version of Jude the Obscure. Just watch that movie without crying I dare you. I came into this show already predisposed to Christopher Eccleston's 9th Doctor. He is broken, rough, and drowning in pathos.

Even as sure as I was that Eccleston was the one for me, it didn't take long for me to fall for David Tennant's 10th Doctor hook, line, and sinker (come on, "I don't want to go" and that music from Bad Wolf Bay? I can cry right now thinking about it). As much as I like Ten,  if I am honest, I prolly like the character of "David Tennant" better than the Doctor. (Come on David Tennant, you know we'd so be friends!) I am to the point where I can't choose between Nine and Ten.

As I am on the cusp of Series 7, I know enough (spoilers) to know that the Doctor will lose Amy. And, knowing he is going to be broken again, I like him more already. With this perspective in mind, I have begun to see Eleven as being a Doctor who is frenetically (and futilely) trying to outrun his losses. Joking and running to forget his past; and with that view, I like him better. Does this make me cruel? A sadist? Maybe, but I do know the more the show makes me cry, the more I like it.

Who knows, maybe Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor will be the saddest of all, and settle this whole debate for me.

Favorite Ninth Doctor episode: "Father's Day"
Favorite Tenth Doctor episode: "The Satan Pit" ("Doomsday" is right there)
Favorite Eleventh Doctor episode: "The Girl Who Waited"

What is your favorite episode from each of the *new* Doctors? Are you a Nine? Ten? Eleven? Or something else?

Word by Word; or A Travel Memoir

London: Shoes.

Being a mostly country girl, I was not prepared for the unyielding firmness of days spent walking the pavement of a real international city. Sure, this was not my first sidewalk, but I was shockingly unprepared for the daily pounding my feet received from walking the miles demanded by a life in London. Within weeks, foot pain was a reality. Feeling like a character in a film about overworked labor class waitresses and construction workers, I would kick off my shoes at the end of the day and rub my tired feet. I was far too young for pain like that. The shoes I had been wearing that had seemed more than comfortable when I had bought them and broke them in by wearing them for my life in Chico CA were woefully unable to bear the brunt of my 5-10 mile pavement pounding escapades through the streets of London. Finally, on a day when even my morning dose of ibuprofen could not assuage the pain in my feet, I caved in and bought a pair of fancy trainers that were by far and away the most expensive clothing purchase I had ever made. I remember putting on shoes that cost more than I could imagine spending and feeling like I was wearing clouds. It is 11 years later, and I still have those brown leather Timberland trainers. When I stepped  out onto the London sidewalk, in my new shoes, I felt like a Londoner. They are well-worn now, but still, when I travel and I know I am going to be walking a lot, those are the shoes I reach for.

Lake Havasu: Mustard.

MTV Spring Break was filmed in Lake Havasu, Arizona in spring of 1995. It was a fleshfest of twenty-somethings partying on houseboats. I watched with the singular envy only known by a sheltered small town girl. When it just happened that I was driving across country to visit my Great Aunt Katherine--yes, I am named for her-- in Indiana and when I saw the sign to Lake Havasu, I just had to detour. My excitement turned to disappointment when I realized that Lake Havasu is really a retirement community. I shuffled dejectedly through a town that obviously catered to senior citizens not college kids. Gift shops full of tote bags, rhinestone studded sweatsuits, and t-shirts about grandkids. Not what I was expecting. Always the trooper I refused to be bowed, I boarded a houseboat to go out on the lake. The houseboat captain was a self-ascribed Lothario. A somewhat attractive man in his late 50's is was pretty obvious that the senior ladies also thought he was Lothario. I, the lone dark-haired lass sitting in a sea of silver, was decidedly not as impressed. The captain flirted and the ladies just ate it up, his big joke was that when we would sail close to the other boats filled with even more silver-haired ladies--who were all gazing longingly at OUR captain--he would hold out a jar of Grey Poupon and shout, "Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?" And everyone, but me, would laugh uproariously.In the last hour of the trip I discovered that the original London Bridge had been moved to Lake Havasu. They took the bridge apart, brick-by-brick, and reassembled it over Lake Havasu. At the end of the day, that fact saved that trip for me. It just seemed so ridiculous that London Bridge had been erected in AZ. It was so out of place, and was the only part I liked. It was like me. I remember standing on that ridiculously placed bridge watching the sun go down and below me a boat skimmed the lake and a voice shouted, "Pardon me..." Finally, I just had to laugh.

Edinburgh: Wet.

My memories of Scotland are rain-soaked, really. I have only been twice, for only a handful of days each time, but it was nothing if not permeated by rain, and well, being wet. Visually, this city in memory is a mix of green and gray: The rain and the pavement, and walking so much I was drenched with sweat. The rain coming in an open hotel window to land on a bed soaking rumpled sheets and clothes discarded in passion. I am sure the sun shines in Edinburgh, and I am sure there are paths that would not force me uphill or up a set of stairs, but I don't remember any. Every journey through that city was a climb that left me breathless and slick with sweat. Tired, wet, and breathless became a default state; but, the arduous path was always worth it. Always. At the top is a castle, a view, a monument, a hotel room... a boy. Each soaking me with rain or sweat.

What about you? What is one word that you associate with a trip or a place?