Wednesday, December 21, 2011

[1206] holiday bookbag

I'm jumping on the holiday bookbag bandwagon. Apparently my all-star prof (see also: the one who is constantly ragging on my choices of baked goods), Adam Golub, wrote last year about the books he was taking with him to read on his holiday excursions. Rebecca Onion decided to swipe the idea for herself, writing about the titles filling up "holiday bookbag." Inspired by this thievery, I, too, decided to share my winter reading list.

1. The Man Who Cried I Am by John A. Williams
I borrowed this from my brain-twin Monique a while back and haven't gotten a chance to finish it. I read 150 pages of it in one sitting. Didn't even pause to check muh Twitter. It's that good. Too good to read in five minute intervals as I drift in and out of consciousness before bed every night. I sat in on one of Monique's classes at UCI with Dr. Frank Wilderson, who is kind of a BAMF, and who gave some amazing insights into the book and the real-life counterparts to its characters. Finishing this is priority #1... especially since poor Mo still hasn't read the last 30 pages. Sorry, love!
Oh, heyyy. Lookin' for a wife #4?

2. A Death in the Family by James Agee
After reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, I developed an intellectual crush on James Agee. I won't embarrass myself by divulging how much time I spent Googling him, but suffice it to say that I think I can now be considered a James Agee scholar. A Death in the Family is an autobiographical novel about the death of Agee's father in a car accident. Agee himself died at age 45 (dude lived HARD) and the book was published two years later. Ended up winning him a posthumous Pulitzer. I've read 70% of it according to my Kindle.

3. Fables vol. 6 & 7 by Bill Willingham
I love Fables. Volume 6 has been giving me some trouble, though. For one, somehow the cover of my trade paperback became detached from the book's binding. As such, I have to read it ever-so delicately to keep the pages from separating into an unwieldy mess of individual sheets of paper. Secondly, I don't think I'm all that into Jack, and the first half of Homelands is pretty much all about him. More Boy Blue, less Jack, please.

4. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
If you have EVER asked me for a book recommendation, I have recommended Larson's Devil in the White City. If I've ever bought you a book as a present, it was probably Devil in the White City. If you've already read Devil in the White City, I probably went on to recommend Thunderstruck. I'm a bit of a Larson fangirl. Somehow my friend Kristin got inside of my head and figured out that this would be the absolutely perfect birthday present for me, so it has been calling to me since September. Shh, I'm coming, darling book.

5. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
I've been meaning to snag a copy of this somewhere for a while, but now that I've seen the posters for the film adaptation, it has become absolutely crucial that I read this. Aside from my obsession with "The Vampire Diaries," vampire stuff isn't really my bag. A smart, witty, historical vampire novel sounds right up my alley, though. Plus, again, the flippin' posters.

What are you reading? Any recommendations? Tell me here or friend me on Goodreads!

Friday, November 11, 2011

[1166] dad

On the 1,144th day of the rest of my life, I lost one of my best friends in the whole, wide world--my dad.

Today would've been his 61st birthday. It was a birthday he looked forward to his entire life. Not because 61 is a particularly interesting age (besides, since two years ago he proclaimed that he was skipping age 59, it would have been his 62nd by his count), but because it's 11/11/11, and that's just "too cool." I remember him explaining Armistice Day to me when I was just a wee one. He was so proud of his birthday, and being born at the halfway point of the century. 1950. That he missed that birthday by just a few weeks frankly ticks me off. It just figures. Sometimes I feel like my dad was Charlie Brown. He just could never kick the football.

Had it been within my dad's power, he would never have left my side. He wouldn't have left any of our sides. He was the third base coach for my softball team, he helped me with my homework, I sat in his lap while he watched the nightly news; when we moved to California, I'd still call him to help me with those pesky math problems. When I was in college, he'd drive out to see me every Thursday, often bringing a bag of oranges from his backyard for my roommates, whom he'd always say "charmed the socks right off" him. Dad wanted nothing more in life than to settle down in New England and to know that his kids were thriving. He kept very little. Amongst his few material possessions were stacks and stacks of photos of us; heaps of letters, cards, and valentines we'd made him years and years ago.

Just over a month ago I was holding his hand in the hospital, telling him that when he got better, Kyo and I would come to visit him. He couldn't speak, but he hummed his approval and got wide-eyed and excited at the mention of Kyo's name. Man, he loved my husband. At the end of all of our phone conversations, he would tell me a joke, then insist that I run and tell it to Kyo immediately. I think he knew that I did not inherit his joke-telling skills, and hoped that repeating it right away would keep me from butchering it. It usually didn't. I seriously can't tell a joke. Remind me some time, though, to tell you the one about the "P." My dad would be proud and appalled that this is the joke I've retained throughout the years.

My dad was one of the smartest people I've ever met. He was a teacher through and through. He's a large part of the reason I was using words like "inquisitive" and "ambidextrous" by the time I reached the first grade. He co-founded The Literacy Project, which has helped thousands of adults learn to read. That anyone should be denied the pleasure of a good book or the dignity of accomplishing every day tasks without asking for help was an absolute travesty to Jimmy Vaughan.

When I first arrived in Massachusetts last month, Dadoo had improved quite a bit. He was talking a little, although his memory wasn't so great. He couldn't remember my name, but when the nurse asked him who I was, he responded, "That's my pretty little girl." When people would tell my dad that I looked like him, he would always respond, "Sure. Except for all the pretty." He was full of his own little words and phrases: Sheesh canoliburgers, Corrigan McSnortenheimer, Rudy Kazoodie, and my personal favorite, at the beginnings of bedtime stories, Are you all sitty comfy two square on your bums? Then let's begin. Once a polly tie tow...

There's a lot I could say about my dad. I could write a book about why he was and always will be one of my favorite people who has ever walked the earth. I could talk at length about his warm hugs and the way I never to had ask for a back rub--I just had to sit in front of him and his response was automatic. I could expound upon the hundreds of hours we spent walking, whether to the park, to Super John's, or to a friend's house, and the fact that a walk was never just a walk, but a history lesson or a vocabulary lesson or a lesson in why we were lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country.

I'll miss my dadoo. I'll miss calling him every time I get straight As or land an internship or achieve anything great. I know that for the rest of my life, I will hear his "I'll be darned," and his expressions of great pride whenever I succeed. I'll think of him after every Red Sox or Patriots win. Heck, I'll just think of him. And I know others will, too. My dad's fingerprints are on a lot of lives.

So if you have a story you want to tell me about my dad, go on ahead. Email me, comment, make me a video. I'd love to hear it.

And by the way, a blonde is walking down the street and sees another blonde across the way. "Hey! How do you get to the other side?" she yells. The other blonde yells back, "Duh, you're already on it!"

G'nite, Dadoo.

Monday, July 25, 2011

[1057] diary of a coloured girl

I had every intention of writing an entry for the thousandth day of the rest of my life, but I spent that day in South Africa, where the Internet was quite hard to come by most days. I did almost all of my journaling by hand, which is actually something I love to do, but don't do nearly enough. I did, however, write a blog in text edit on the flight back home. I was thinking about race, naturally. How can one not after studying in South Africa? I learned a lot. So much, I could write a book and still not scratch the surface. I shall share the tiny inkling that I was able to articulate on my last day abroad with you now:

It's weird how time can simultaneously pass quickly and slowly. Considering the anticipation leading up to this trip, it's hard to believe it's over. The memory of sitting in the airport, awkwardly staring at a group of girls and trying to figure out if they were part of my team, is still fresh. They were, by the way. Things from the beginning of the trip are becoming hazy, though. It seems like forever ago that I surfed or that I petted lions. And now I'm headed home.

I'm a little sad to be losing my newfound "coloured" identity. At the airport in Johannesburg, a black salesgirl asked me if I was from Cape Town. I was buying a Cape Town magnet, which to me would've signaled tourist. But my appearance signaled otherwise to her. When I said that I was American, she wanted to know what I was (a question that, by the way, generally drives me crazy, so don't ask it). I wasn't exactly sure what to say, considering all I've learned about race in South Africa the past five weeks. When I looked baffled and stupidly muttered, "Um... what do you mean," she asked, "Haven't you got cultures in America?" Oh, sure. We have cultures. Some of 'em are even based on race. I don't have one of those. Finally I managed to explain, "Well, I guess you'd call me coloured. But my parents aren't coloured. My mom's black and my dad's white."

We talked for a little bit longer. She told me my husband must be hot, because the mix of "Chinese... I mean, Japanese, Japanese," is a good one. She was not so incredibly fond of the mix of Indian and white. I should have showed her a picture of Chelsea or Anil as a rebuttal. I swear, that can be a good mix. She told me her son was coloured, because his dad is coloured. In South Africa, bloodlines follow the father, so that's totally logical. In America, if either of your parents is black, you're black - especially if you're dark complected. Someone like me has a bit more ambiguity in racial status, but the one drop rule is mostly applicable. No one ever accuses you of not being true to your white roots as a mixed kid. You often get razzed for being a lousy black person, though. That's the way it is.

It was kind of fun having a race all my own in South Africa. Mind you, I think the concept of race is absolutely ridiculous and we should stop looking at it as being able to determine any more about us than our hair or eye color does, but it was nice that hardly anyone asked what I was, aside from this salesgirl. No one was trying to figure me out. I was just coloured. In Cape Town, where a large portion of the coloured population lives, the pushy salesmen at the markets would totally ignore me, assuming I was a local. It was glorious. No one wanted to hyphenate me. No one wanted to know what percentage of me is Irish and what percentage is black. That's not part of being coloured. I could get used to that. But, alas, it's back to the ambiguity of being mixed race in America for me. It'll take some getting used to. It'll also take getting used to not referring to every racially ambiguous looking person I see in America as coloured. I've already done it twice since leaving South Africa, and I haven't even landed at L.A.X. yet. This is a bad habit.

Monday, May 2, 2011

[973] bloggers' guilt

I have had about a million and one things I've wanted to blog about of late. I have a whole series entitled "Why Glee Sucks" outlined in a text edit document on my desktop. I have a half written essay on Henry David Thoreau and the Tea Party - which I composed while on the bus - sitting neglected in a spiral notebook in my backpack. Still another post, tentatively titled, "Don't Be A Douche," which will discuss anti-intellectualism and anti-whatever-the-opposite-of-intellectualism-is, sits neglected at the back of my consciousness. Often quite at the forefront of my consciousness, actually. It makes me anxious having all these ideas buzzing about but lacking the time or willpower to put them to paper. Or to the "compose" box.
At this time of year, anxiety awakens me in the mornings before my alarm clock. I have a thousand papers and presentations, millions of Tumblr posts thanking faithful donors to my trip to South Africa, billions of commitments and responsibilities requiring my full attention, all overwhelming me to the point of complete mental paralysis. I can feel anxiety tingling in my ribcage and the tips of my fingers.
So I'm sorry for my absence, and I thank those of you have been leaving me comments lately encouraging me to keep writing. School is nearly done for the semester, and perhaps soon I can finally inhale deeply without feeling guilty that I've taken too much time to do so.

Monday, January 31, 2011

[882] a concise history of me

For our first assignment, my American Media History professor, who admits that he is a chronic forgetter of names, required us to write brief personal bios so that he could try to get to know us better. Seeing as he seems like a pretty agreeable bloke, I had a little fun with mine. Caution: Mocking of Californians contained within.

In September of 1985, I became the fourth child of Jimmy Vaughan, and the second of Michele Albouy. My older brothers range from seven to fifteen years older than me, and the oldest two grew up for the most part with their mother, whose real name, I believe, is Verna, but who has always been known to me as Bunni. My own mother elected to be known as Mike, which is slightly more androgynous a nickname, but suits her nonetheless. Mike gave birth to one more child after me, my little sister Erin. We call her Ed, which is not so much androgynous as downright masculine. Nonetheless, both my mother and my sister are actually quite feminine, albeit with an unladylike penchant for violent video games.

I was born and raised in Greenfield, MA, which is quite distant from Boston, but does not stop people from introducing me to others as being from there. While Massachusetts is a much smaller state than California, to assume that anyone from the state is from Boston is kind of like being introduced to someone from L.A., and then replying, "Oh, you're from Sacramento!" It’s always irked me, but considering I’ve had Californians ask me if Massachusetts is in the United States, I try to choose my battles when it comes to discussing my upbringing.

I attended Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, CA, and graduated with a degree in Communications, with an emphasis on TV and film. I minored in United States History and, truth be told, was far more interested in that field than I was in my major. Luckily, American Studies is the perfect hybrid of the theory and methods I learned as a Commie – as we called ourselves at VU – and those that I learned in my history courses. That’s why I elected to pursue my Master’s degree in American Studies at Cal State Fullerton.

After graduating, I would like to pursue a Ph. D. in either U.S. History or Public History. I’m particularly interested in the Civil Rights Movement, Colonial America, and American folklore. From a very young age, I always wanted to be a writer. I’ve also always wanted to be a tour guide, but telling people that tends to elicit a degree of incredulity that leads me to instead assert that I’d like to teach. And I would. I’d like to teach in both an academic setting, and in a walking-down-the-street-backwards-with-a-crowd-of-people-following-me setting. I’m pretty flexible about the context.

In the meantime, as I await my triumphant entry into the academic and literary realms, I’m living in Costa Mesa, exactly .8 miles from my alma mater according to Google Maps. I have a husband, who maintains the post-production facility and teaches at Vanguard, and a dog, who does little more than wander from couch to couch all day in search of the most comfortable place to be useless. I’m an Adjunct Teaching Assistant for the online program at an Iowa-based university. It provides me the means to pay the tuition at CSUF, but also makes me fearful for entering into a profession in which the incidence of students misspelling their own names on their papers is alarmingly high. Still, teaching is what I’m good at, and if I can teach just one student to correctly spell the word “definitely,” I will have done my bit for society.

Friday, January 21, 2011

[872] portland to vancouver on a single tank of gas.

I hadn't anticipated great changes in crossing the border from the United States into Canada. I don't know whether I was excessively ethnocentric, or whatever the exact opposite of that is. Either way, I expected a friendly border officer to ask us a few questions ending in "eh," check our passports, and send us on our way to what I was sure would prove to be North Washington.

The first hint that this wasn't going to be the case was when my sister called her phone company and realized that she'd need an international calling plan to be able to use her phone on our trip. That's right. This arbitrary line on the great land mass of North America instantly bricked my phone - which has a similar effect on me to severing an appendage. I have no problem leaving my phone in another room and refusing to check it throughout the duration of a day or two, but I have to know that, should I need it, it will send a tweet or call 911 (in that order of importance).

The next indication was the surliness of the border agent. I realize that they kind of have to treat everybody like potential terrorists, but this guy either hated his life, his job, or us. Maybe all three. He was incredulous of our every plan. "What are you coming to Canada for?" "Just for fun." "Why?" "Um... y'know. We had a break." "Right. Open your trunk." Brother would not crack a smile for anything, and ended up sending us into the big border control building, where a slightly friendlier agent asked us the exact same questions, and at least acted amused when we told her we were visiting Canada because it was either that or a kidnapping tour of Mexico. It did take all my self-control not to tell her I had just picked Ed up on the side of the road somewhere in Oregon when, looking at our passports with our identical and incredibly uncommon last names on them, she asked how we knew each other. I really was looking forward to seeing more of Canada than the duty free shop on the way out, however, so I refrained.

Next, as I had briefly considered but, for whatever reason, disregarded as a possibility, the speed markers on the freeway were labeled in kilometers per hour. When the first one we saw said 50kmh, I figured that the speeds must be pretty close. When the next one said 100, I began to question my deductive reasoning. My sister retrieved from my bag a little book with conversion charts in it, and we quickly realized that miles per hour are like, half of kilometers per hour. So, as we were happily cruising along around 50mph, we were going a good 20mph over the speed limit. No matter, however, 'cause Canadians be crazy. There really is no such thing as a speed limit in Canada. No matter where you are, including the middle of the city, you're on the freaking Autobahn. While taking advantage of the wifi at a Starbucks in Vancouver, I took a moment to look up some driving tips for Americans in Canada. It basically verified what I already knew: Canadians are extremely aggressive, frequently dart around each other and run red lights, and adhere to no discernible speed limits. Furthermore, there is very little enforcement of traffic laws. Of course, we managed to find the exception to that rule, and, while I was looking up these tips, somebody was busily enforcing the street parking laws and leaving a $35 ticket on our car for neglecting to feed the meter.

Or is that metre? 'Cause everything here is written in British English. Hadn't accounted for that either. I mean, I get that the province is called BRITISH Columbia, but I kinda took that in the same way that the region of the U.S. I grew up in is called New ENGLAND. I was surprised to find Queen Elizabeth's visage not only imprinted upon the monopoly money we were given at the currency exchange, but also proudly displayed in various establishments throughout the area. This surely is what we fought the revolution to avoid: Images of the royal family and the unnecessary addition of the letter "u" to words that certainly do not require it.

Anyway, I'm learning to drive the Canadian way, and trying to figure out what all the signs mean. I'm sure that they're all very intuitive to the Canadian people, but when I see a sign that looks to me to be proclaiming, "No octagons," it takes me a minute to decipher it. But I'm doing okay. I've given up on following the speed limits, and I'm learning to swerve around anyone I deem to be in my way at a given time. I even casually rolled through a red light in front of no less than five emergency service and police vehicles, albeit completely by accident. Nobody was fazed. All signs are suggestions.

After discovering our ticket, we decided that we'd save money by not paying for a hostel. So we bought some blankets at Wal-Mart and slept in our car in the parking lot. I'm pretty sure I get a special jewel in my crown in Heaven for having slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot. That and a special hepatitis shot, probably. But it actually wasn't so bad. Having human bodies in the car all night meant that we didn't have to spend 45 minutes scraping inch-thick sheets of ice off the car in the morning like the poor Wally World employees had done when they got off work the night before. It also meant waking up to run the heater every three hours or so to prevent hypothermia. It wasn't so bad, though. For Ed and I, it made us modern day Huck Finns. This is adventure for the girl of the 21st century. This feeling was only validated when, upon waking our second morning in the parking lot, we discovered that we were covered in an ever-increasing layer of snow.

Vancouver is really a wonderful place. The city is huge - like L.A., but without the perpetual eau de urine and purple haze of smog lingering overhead. Every time you pass into a new area of the city, it feels like you've passed into a different U.S. city. It's like they squeezed all of America's biggies into one super-city. And the best part is that they managed to do so while largely avoiding the slums that make up the majority of most of our urban areas. We drove through an area or two with some graffiti and bars on the windows, but they lasted for all of a block or two before becoming nice again.

Perhaps my favorite experience of the whole trip was seeing beluga whales in the park next to the aquarium. It was even more mesmerizing than the fruit bats at the Portland Zoo, and presented me with the very rare experience of seeing an animal I had literally never seen in person before. I could've stood there staring all day, but our parking permit was going to run out, and another ticket would most likely break both my wallet and my spirit.

You know that feeling you get when you find out an actor is Canadian? Like, whoa, this changes everything I know about them all of a sudden? I've always considered that thought to be unwarranted, but I'm less convinced of that now. I don't mean that in any Team America sort of way. I am not a particularly patriotic person unless the Olympics are on. I just mean that I get now that there actually are considerable differences between "Americans" (which always seems weird to say when discussing other people who live upon the continent of North America) and Canadians. They have their own musicians, their own artists, their own film industry, their own signs and symbols, and their own society that functions completely separately from the United States. It sounds like a silly observation to make, but I think it takes experiencing it to really get it. After all, I've only begun to scratch the surface of the extremely obvious shifts here, and that's the surface of just one region of one province. I'm sure it's like describing American society when you've only been to Dallas or Chicago or Seattle - woefully ignorant and inadequate.