Monday, December 17, 2012

[1568] bombs and bullets and bullets and bullets

"Pardon me, sir, but I was made to believe there
would be pipe bombs."
As you probably know, if you read my blog regularly or know me at all, I spent the summer in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The first time I ever went, people were worried about me. Two weeks before, someone had attempted to blow up the country's parliament. The concern was understandable, but I was confident. Northern Ireland in 2008 was not Northern Ireland of the late 20th century. Two years in a row I visited, and two years in a row, I came home safe.

This year was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Even with my high confidence in Northern Ireland, it occurred to me that, if anyone wanted to make a statement, this would be a good time to do it. I was staying in an apartment in City Centre. It struck me as marginally precarious, but not enough so to prevent me from doing it. At the end of the day, the Belfast I knew was not one I could bring myself to be afraid of.

While there, I talked to young people about what it's like living in post-Troubles Northern Ireland, under the stigma of a war-torn country. My friend Linda told me she has a hard time convincing her uni friends from England to come visit her. They think they're going to get blown up, like every day people are just roaming the streets looking for someone to bomb or shoot or stab. That was the atmosphere I was warned of as I embarked upon my first excursions to Northern Ireland.

Last Thursday, my school, Cal State Fullerton, was on lockdown for seven hours while a SWAT team searched the premises for an armed robber. The next day, Sandy Hook. The day after that, a lockdown at Fashion Island after a man fired off 50 rounds in the parking lot. And among my first thoughts, why didn't I apply to get my PhD at Queen's? Why didn't I try to move to Belfast? The place that Americans and Brits are so afraid of was my first idea for refuge.

"You mean I have to wait till morning for my free taco?
Yes, loyalists in Belfast rioted over the flag a couple weeks ago, a pretty trivial thing to start burning cars over. But then, last month, people in San Francisco rioted when their team WON the World Series. They WON. They rioted because they were HAPPY. And that's not an isolated incident.

At least in Northern Ireland, they came up with a reason to kill each other--which is not say that, by any stretch of the imagination, the atrocities committed by sectarian terrorists in Northern Ireland were actually justified. But here, we don't even need an excuse. We do it for sport. Because we can. Because we feel bad about ourselves. Because we're mad at someone else. Because it makes us feel safe to have the power to end a life.

Little known fact: God is
basically a vampire. He
can't come in unless you
invite him. Also, he hates
This is not a blog about how much better Northern Ireland is than the U.S. This is about looking at ourselves through the same lens we use to examine the world beyond our borders. When the things that happen here on a daily basis (see @gundeaths) happen even once elsewhere, we condemn the society. Let's remove the plank for a second and do a little condemnation of our own. And not the kind that Mike Huckabee and whoever else does, where they eschew any form of introspection and instead blame an absence of God in our society. Because God is a "gentleman" who doesn't force himself where he's not wanted. Which is really their way of saying, "God's a spiteful douchebag like me, who pouts and stomps and ignores people who don't do exactly what he wants right when he wants it." Clearly, we've been going to different churches.

I'm getting pretty sick of the narrative that it's unpatriotic to question our exceptionalism, or that it's unpatriotic to consider that maybe the 2nd amendment wasn't drafted with high-powered assault rifles in mind, or that we have a huge violence problem around here and it's neither God nor Grand Theft Auto that's causing it. I'm sick of the threats of unfriending on facebook if my opinion on how to prevent such a horrific tragedy reads to you as if I'm going to storm into your house and forcibly take your guns from you (with my bare hands, apparently, 'cause we know I'm not gonna be the one armed). If avoiding any form of critical thinking pertaining to your ideologies is more important to you than the relationships you have built in your life, then by all means, delete me. It's unfortunate to see you go, but then, I've probably hidden you from my newsfeed already anyway.

So, y'know, Monday in America. 
My friend Ian likes to take guests to Belfast on what he calls the "bombs and bullets tour." A retired policeman, he knows all the gruesome details of the acts of violence perpetrated during the Troubles, and can point out exactly where they happened. Many times I embarked upon that tour, listening intently with my jaw half-dropped in disbelief at the things that had transpired. And yet, when I walk into the library at CSUF every week, I'm walking into a building in which 6 people were murdered and 2 injured by a gunman one morning. Were I to truly pay attention to the nightly news, and were I not so completely used to people killing people that I can easily tune it out, I could probably walk through L.A. and point to spot after spot where someone was struck down in cold blood or over some minor argument. I can name off the top of my head ten celebrities shot to death (John Lennon, Sam Cooke, Phil Hartman, Dimebag Darrel, Alfalfa from Little Rascals, Tupac, Biggie, Gianni Versace, Alan Berg, Selena...I could actually go on), not to mention several presidents and political figures (Lincoln,  2 Kennedys, MLK Jr., etc., etc.). This idea that violence is a solution to problems of basically any proportion is pervasive and it's eating us alive. And now people want to arm our teachers? Because they don't do enough? Now they're supposed to be armed guards, too?

I heard on the radio earlier a host responding to someone's question about what happened to the days of Andy Griffith and Mayberry and all that. The host's response was that you can't put the toothpaste back in the bottle. Those days are gone. But those days never existed. Even as Mayberry flooded American living rooms with a false sense that nice, white communities full of nuclear families with perfectly manicured lawns worried over nothing more dire than whether the fish were biting in the local watering hole, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were murdering the Clutter family in Kansas. And John List was becoming increasingly paranoid about his finances and the salvation of his family before shooting them all and starting a new life. And Charles Whitman was shooting 45 people, killing 13, from a tower on the UT Austin campus. And John Norman Collins was embarking on a murder spree throughout Michigan. Mayberry was never any more real than Mystic Falls or Sunnydale.

Incidentally, I'm growing
a gun plant in my backyard
as we speak. The rain is doing
wonders for my .38s.
I'm not writing this because I want to take away any of your real or perceived rights. I'm writing because I'm sad that this is where I live and where I grew up. I'm sad that so many people died on Friday, and die every day due to violence. I'm sad that the only response a huge section of the population can think of is to fight fire with fire. People who want guns in this country have guns. There are hardly any barriers to getting them. And yet no one was able to stop Aurora or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook. So unless we're suggesting that we arm the entire citizenry of the United States, whether individuals want to be armed or not, can we at least concede that maybe there could be other solutions? That the fact that we can't stop ALL the bad guys is really not an excuse to not stop ANY bad guys? I'm not asking you to join the anti-gun lobby. I'm just asking you to think. Consider. Come up with something, ANYTHING, other than a) give the good guys more guns or b) accept that crazy people be crazy and there's nothing we can do about it. Is that really the extent of our ingenuity in this country?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

[1514] i can feel the pressure

I hate not measuring up. Not putting my best foot forward. Being less than what I know I can be. I'm figuring out that sometimes it's unavoidable.

It's been that kind of week. It started with the GRE on Saturday. I tried and I tried to learn the math that thwarted me when I was fourteen. I had the books. I had a friend tutor me. I took the online tests. I even psyched myself up. Positive mental attitude, y'know? Then I sat down in front of the computer in Lake Forest, surrounded by other grad school hopefuls, and I tanked. Everything on screen looked like some strange and exotic foreign script. Hieroglyphics. I realized without a textbook or unlimited time, I could not solve these problems. I hadn't been able to solve them when I was getting a C- in remedial math in college, and I sure as heck couldn't solve them eight years later without the benefit of a teacher attempting to drill it into my head three times a week.

In the case of the quant section of the GRE, I had to accept that I just couldn't do any better. And that's frustrating, but it's even worse when you COULD do better and don't.

Like today. Or, well, the past two weeks, really. I'm studying for my MA exams, which means lots of reading. Something like 1500 pages for this little chunk. I'm reading 3-4 books every two weeks. It's a lot to take in all at once, and I'm not the most detail-oriented reader. I tend to be a big picture person. Not to mention the fact that my memory isn't exactly top-notch. When I watch TV, I can usually tell you whether I liked an episode of something or not, but don't ask me what the episode was actually about. Even a few minutes later, I've forgotten most of the plot. I think I've mentioned before that this drives my friend Bri crazy.

So I read. And the first book I read, I just didn't like. Maybe I was simply in the wrong frame of mind (because apparently everyone else gets super into this book), but I was bored. I kept reading pages and realizing I hadn't actually taken in anything I'd read. Writing about it afterwards, I was vague. I knew I was vague. I wanted to do better, but I couldn't bring myself to care enough to force it. And then when it came time to defend what I'd written about it, two weeks later and with scant notes, I fell flat on my face. It was all my fault. If I didn't like it and didn't get it, I should have read some reviews. I should have asked somebody to talk about it. I'm sure I know other people who have read it. I was so embarrassed by my lack of knowledge, I just said I'd skimmed it. Better to be thought lazy than utterly incompetent. Is that weird?

That's the kind of thing that eats me up. I know I can do better. Everyone else knows I can do better. And there's no excuse for missing the mark. Maybe I beat myself up too much. Maybe this is my mind and my body's way of telling me I need to settle down. I need to sleep. I need to get some Zyrtec for all the anxiety-induced hives I'm breaking out in. It could just be senioritis. So close to the goal and ready to move onto other things, it's hard to focus. I'm the introspective type. I want to know why I get this way.

Anyway, I just needed to get this off my chest. No clever memes to add. Just a candid look into the way my mind works. I'm a happy gal. A blessed gal. But I'm often exhausted and I'm quick to tear myself apart. It's a bad habit. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

[1472] fall is for television

Fall television is like the consolation prize for having to bid adieu to summer. True, those lazy days of freedom and good weather are fast shrinking to naught but fond memories, but you guys, How I Met Your Mother is coming back and a friend's cousin's brother who knows a page who made out with a secretary at CBS swears this is the season we find out who the mother is!

I love TV. I will never be one of those people who tries to pretend I'm way too cool or busy or intellectual to watch. I'll find time, even if it means devoting an entire weekend to catching up on a show I've missed for six weeks. I still read and do school and work and have a social life, but I love TV. This is why I have Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and Netflix (but no cable. 80 channels on the bunny ears, y'all!)

While it's still about 8,000 degrees here in Southern California, TV keeps insisting that it's fall. So, of all the new stuff, here's my watchability breakdown.


Like everyone else, I was a little wary of this new entry into the Sherlock universe. We've got RDJ & Jude Law doing a pretty entertaining Holmes and Watson on the big screen, and we've got the utterly brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (the latter I once met in Heathrow Airport) working their magic over on the BBC. Could this be anything but a power play to make some money off a popular trend? I mean, it's definitely that. Let's be frank. Sherlock's popular. CBS is popular. With their powers combined... But I've moved from wary to optimistic. I've been a fan of Jonny Lee Miller since I was 10 and drooling over him in Hackers. Those that only know him from Hackers and haven't seen something like, oh, Danny Boyle's Frankenstein, might not realize how incredible he is. Spoiler alert: He's super incredible. PLUS, this show has Aidan Quinn. I have never NOT watched a show with Aidan Quinn. Canterbury's Law, Book of Daniel, Empire Falls. Yup, I'm gonna watch the heck out of this. Even if it's awful.

Go On
I've watched the first two episodes. I dig it. I always like my funny with a pinch of sad, and I think Chandler Bing Matthew Perry manages to balance being simultaneously pathetic and resilient with some commendable dexterity here. I tend to be fairly apathetic about sitcoms in general, but I can see myself making some small effort to catch this one on a semi-regular basis. Enough qualifiers there?

Not-Katniss uses a CROSSbow and has a way shorter
brown, leather jacket. Duh.
I feel obligated. Every season, we're all just sort of hoping some epic scifi drama is going to hook us like the first episode of LOST. It started with Surface and Invasion, carried on with The Event, Flash Forward, and Alcatraz, and now we've got Revolution--which binds all those aspirations together with a Katniss Everdeen doppelganger and Bella's dad from Twilight (who, for the record, is the only good thing about Twilight). Yeah, I'm gonna watch it. Maybe I'm gonna like it. Probably it'll get canceled 'cause it's not LOST. Okay, I'm being a little harsh. It is a Kripke/Abrams production. I'm always rooting for those guys to succeed.

666 Park Avenue 
I don't think it bodes well that, despite the constant advertising, I thought this was called Hotel 666. And am I trippin' or is the address 999 in the commercials? The lack of subtlety in having the address be the number of the beast turned upside down is staggering--not to mention that, in case we didn't pick up on it, they actually just went ahead and named the show 666 instead of 999 so we wouldn't be confused as to whether this was just some regular, y'know, not sinister hotel. Still, this is in my 'definitely' pile. That lack of subtlety has its charm. This is a straight up guilty pleasure show and I will happily turn off my brain and veg out every week as I once did watching Gossip Girl and Ringer, and as I plan to continue doing with American Horror Story.

The Mindy Project 
You know how HBO and everyone else keeps trying to tell us that that insipid Girls show is the defining reflection of our generation? Here's the thing: Shut up. The Mindy Project is ten times closer to capturing the zeitgeist of our time. Mindy manages to portray a woman of, presumably, upper middle class upbringing in this day and age who is somewhat shiftless and crass without being a total waste of space. She doesn't have it all together--in fact, she's kind of a disaster--but at least she's a gyno for goodness sake. Now, maybe Girls really accurately portrays a particular (obnoxious) subset of wealthy, white kids learning to only be second-hand wealthy for the first time while somehow managing to be bad at money, sex, social graces, and basically every other life skill that exists. Good for Lena Dunham for uh, whatever. I'll just be over watching Mindy Kaling juggle her character flaws with some redemptive qualities. Is it over the top? Totally. But all my gal pals who have watched the pilot basically feel like it's their own inner monologues in sitcom form.

YES. Heck yes. Not only does this show look like hardcore, gritty awesome (I think I just unintentionally quoted Karl Urban. I need to lay off the Tumblr), but it has Dennis Quaid and Jason O'Mara. The clips from Vegas make me want to inject PowerThirst into my veins and fly an airplane made of biceps. Everyone is so BAMF. If this one blows, it will be the biggest disappointment of the season for me.

Arrow - People who have seen it seem to really like it. I have no reason not to watch it except that I'm just sort of uninterested.
Chicago Fire - Mason from Vampire Diaries is almost worth it on his own. I'm also happy to welcome Torres from Lie to Me back to my TV. But honestly, how many different storylines can you have about fighting fires without it quickly spiraling into some implausible melodrama in which, inevitably, there are shootings, plane crashes, love dodecahedrons, secret siblings/lovers/parents/pets, and Kyle Chandler blowing up in a hallway? Not that I'm still bitter about that last part happening in a particular show.
Guys with Kids - This is a show about the funny parts of the What to Expect When You're Expecting trailer, right?

The Mob Doctor - I'm intrigued. Not enough to say that I'll definitely watch the whole season, but I'm in for the pilot.
Nashville - There's only one reason I'm even considering watching this and that's Tami flippin' Taylor.
The New Normal - I watched one episode. It was alright, but I'm not hooked. Ellen Barkin's character is almost too hateful to be funny. She's no Gangy.
Partners - Loves me some Krumholtz. Are we still doing bromance shows?

Animal Practice - A) Are you kidding me? B) I hate that guy. C) No, seriously. You're kidding, right?
Beauty & the Beast - Like everyone else in the early '90s, I watched reruns of the Linda Hamilton series. I get the tremendous fandom significance of this show. I do. It's a doozy. I just see absolutely no reason why it should be brought back. After the last season, even the fans of the original wanted it canceled.
Ben & Kate - Could you find two less appealing leads?
Emily Owens, M.D. - I want to love you, Mamie. I do.
Last Resort - Love Andre Braugher. Not into military shows.
Made in Jersey - I don't even see why this needs to take place in Jersey except that Jersey Shore is ending and we can't let five minutes pass without a jab at the Garden State.
Malibu Country - Reba redux? Eh.
The Neighbors - I was in a play called The Neighbors once. It was really boring.

Alright, so what are you watching?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

[1448] the best summer ever

Summer vacation is coming to a close. Normally at this point, I'm getting anxious for school to start up again. The novelty of summer has worn off and I'm ready to hunker down and get to growing my knowledge. This is the first year in a while that I'm just not ready. I have had the best summer ever. If I were to exceed or even match its awesomeness in the future, I'd probably just drop dead from the excitement.

I started the summer in Belfast. Beautiful, beautiful Belfast. I saw old friends, I ate good food. I touched the Olympic torch. I saw James McAvoy walk by with it in Glasgow. I took photos with the legendary Stephen Rea and the incredible Martin McCann. I had a long conversation with Brendan Fraser. I got to see the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy live. I went to the Titanic Museum and the Ulster Museum and the Linen Hall Library and the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College. I watched them light the beacon for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee on the Lagan Weir. I saw loads of films at the Belfast Film Festival, got pwned in the Belfast Film Festival Quiz. I watched The Crying Game at the QFT with Carlos. I watched British panel shows, kids' shows, game shows. I decided my new favorite phrase was, "That's Blockbusters!" I carried a notebook in my back pocket and wrote down everything. I learned that you can, in fact, go back.

I came home. I jumped back into the summer with my friends. I met an Australian. We had a 4th of July bash. There were fireworks and Jeff Goldblum movies and shiny, happy people holding hands.

And then there was Comic-Con. Oh, Comic-Con. On the very first day, I hugged Karl Urban--a moment which, in and of itself, would have made this the best summer ever. I spent three hours a day shouting over people, telling them which way to exit, helping them properly stand in lines. The rest of my SDCC days were spent being inspired by all of the creative people on the panels and in the exhibit halls and just walking around. I bumped into Seth Green, I said hello to Mark Sheppard, I walked by Rob McElhenney. I got a drawing by Lynn Johnston and got to tell her how much I loved For Better or for Worse. I wanted to live at Comic-Con, and just be constantly motivated to write more and be more creative. And I hugged Karl Urban. Worth repeating.

I spent more time hanging out in L.A. than ever before (aside from the internship at USC semester... I wouldn't call that "hanging out"). I spent an afternoon writing by myself at the Griffith Observatory. I experienced my first movie in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Bringing Up Baby. I went with my friend Kay to the Lexington Social House, where we chatted up Jeff Goldblum. I took Chels to Hollywood in some truly epic L.A. traffic. We saw a guy in a diamond bracelet that probably cost more than my college education. I frolicked around Los Feliz. Andrew and Monique introduced me to Meltdown Comics, and we were treated to the Star Dreck show. Comic books, comic books, comic books. Summer of comic books. And Judge Dredd everything.
We won pub quiz several times. I spent many late nights up messaging Bri (another shout-out!) back and forth about life, the universe, and everything. I watched two and a half seasons of Mad Men, two seasons of Louie, a season of The Good Wife. I spent a lot of time at the library. I finished my first novel. I started my second. I got a really excellent card from Monica congratulating me for doing so. It came with a pin that said "KARL." I got a fantastic pre-doctoral scholarship. My sister came to visit. My Disneyland pass starts working again tomorrow. I hear a chorus of schoolboys whispering, "Caaaaaarpe," and I am doing it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

[1442] i made that boy a mixtape

I once dated this guy who had never really listened to music until college. And since he had only been out of college for a year or so when I started dating him, his musical repertoire was seriously limited. It was great. I would make him mix CDs all the time and to him each one was a revelation. He liked everything. Peter Schilling? Awesome. She Wants Revenge? Good stuff. Natasha Bedingfield... actually, he discovered that one on his own. Imagine my surprise when we're shopping at Tilly's and all of a sudden my boyfriend is all but shouting, "FEEL THE RAIN ON YOUR SKIN!" I'm more of a Daniel fan, myself.

Anyway, once upon a time I would spend hours and hours of my life on finding diamonds in the indie music rough. I went to concerts, I bought albums, I won concert tickets on the radio, I took pictures with musicians. I was a gen-u-ine music groupie.

That's really not my thing anymore.

I still dig music. I just tend to fixate on one thing for a while. My Spotify activity is the irrefutable evidence of that. I've apparently listened to "Lights" by Ellie Goulding 23 times in the past two weeks. It's a little excessive, I'll admit.

If I were to make someone a mixtape mix CD playlist based on what I'm obsessively listening to on repeat this week, it would start something like this:

The Writer - Ellie Goulding
Angel with a Shotgun - The Cab [yes, I did just link to a Destiel video]
Lover of the Bayou - Mudcrutch
TNT for Two - Pajama Club
Patience - Take That

There's no real pattern to what I listen to. Unless you count Take That or Neil Finn as patterns. They come up a lot.

So what's your mixtape look like? If you were to make me a playlist, what would be on it? I can always use something new to fixate on.

[thanks go to Brianne for making me listen to this song]

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

[1437] dads should live forever

Dads should live forever. They should be as invincible as we think they are, as we're sure they are until the moment they slip from the here and now. They should stay until we don't need them anymore, which is never, so they should stay forever and always.

Max Villa was a good dad. A grandfatherly type--not that I know much about those. I never really had one. But if I did, I'd have liked for him to have been like Monique's dad.

Mr. Villa took a liking to me right off the bat when Mo told him that I had a strange obsession with Bonanza. He got a good laugh out of that, then told her a story about how, "It was the year of our Lord 1959" when, working in a New Mexico hotel, he waited upon the Cartwright brothers. THE CARTWRIGHTS! Can you imagine? I was beside myself when she related the story.

We met completely by chance shortly thereafter. Monique, Andrew, and I were sitting outside of a frozen yogurt shop in Long Beach when Mo caught sight of her father through the window of the Wingstop next door. He joined us at our table and we chatted for some time.

I got to have such chats with him on several more occasions over the next two years. When I went to South Africa, he graciously contributed funds to my trip. I brought him back a painted bowl and some candy. He showed me artifacts of his family's accomplishments. He was proud of them, proud of Monique, and proud of me.

He expressed his great sympathy to me when my dad died. I think he worried about leaving Monique in the same way. But like my dad with me, he left his daughter prepared. He left her self-sufficient, loved, encouraged, and with a drive to succeed I have rarely seen matched by anyone I've ever met. He left her with a wonderful man who treats her the way any dad would want his daughter treated. His memory will push her ever forward. She'll hear his voice telling her how impressed he is with her for the rest of her life.

Que descanses en paz, Mr. Villa. We'll take good care of your baby girl.

Friday, July 6, 2012

[1404] the printing station

I'm sitting at the library, reading and people watching as I often do, and there's a line at the printing station right next to me. A woman, maybe late 20s, pretty and clearly well-to-do, is printing page after page after page. I can only assume she's printing her dissertation or a novel or a strongly-worded letter to her HOA. Meanwhile, the queue is growing behind her.

This friendly guy, wearing a backpack and a bucket hat, is standing about four feet behind her. I'd seen him when I came into the library, greeting people in the doorway. He's clearly a regular. A man introduces him to his wife and kids. You can't help but smile at the whole interaction. And as people are passing by while he waits for the printer, they're saying hello, addressing him by name.

Pretty Printing Lady turns and looks over her shoulder with an expression of great unease. And then she says to Friendly Regular, "Could you step back and to the left?" Trying to break the tension, he asks with a convivial and simultaneously empathetic smile, "Oh, am I scaring you?" And without a bit of humor, she replies, "You're just too close for me."

One of Friendly Regular's friends, a thin woman whose face betrays years of bad habits and bad luck, gapes at Printing Lady, then says something along the lines of, "I've had it with these Newport women. I'll be outside." And you know this isn't the first injustice she's faced at the hands of people uncomfortable with imperfection, people who are unfamiliar with what it means to go without, to need.

Pretty Printing Lady finishes her errand and stands. "I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable," Friendly Regular says. She doesn't look at him. She clutches her purse to her chest and walks away. I want to grab her by her smug shoulders and shake her. I want to ask her, "Does it occur to you how you make people feel? You with your designer handbag, with your library card nestled in your Coach wallet?" I don't think I could make her understand. She'd probably tell me she'd do the same thing if a man in a Versace suit were standing behind her, but it's not the same. It couldn't possibly be the same.

Monday, July 2, 2012

[1400] stitch my soul

There are places I have been and places I have lived to which I have grown particularly attached. There are also those to which I have not. I have never grown attached to Southern California. I love my friends, I love my local pub, I love being able to partake in fine dining at any hour. But when I leave it, I do not miss it. Not the place itself. I could never come back and I would not think twice about it.

Leaving Northern Ireland has never been easy. Each time I have departed, I have left an increasingly larger chunk of my heart on the airport runway. When I left Belfast this time, I am fairly certain it retained a piece of my soul I cannot get back until I return. And then perhaps I'll sew it to myself like Peter Pan wrangling his shadow. I suspect it would make no difference. It'd find a way to sever itself from me and stay behind. It'd creep away while I slept.

It's hard to explain such attachment to a place--why some patches of ground seem to grasp us by the guts and anchor us down. And then leaving feels like spilling our insides on that holy stretch of land, rendering us emptier, hollow and unsatisfied, anywhere else.

I can recite the explanations I give to anyone who asks why on earth I would choose to spend my time in Belfast: The people are wonderful, the city is beautiful, everyone sings when they drink. There's just no fully capturing that feeling of being fully bound from the inside out to some specific spot.

Home, we call it. How do you describe home? It is not simply where you live. It's some sorcery, some mystic force that turns your bones and your stomach to lead when you try to escape.

Home is where the heart is, they say--a monstrous but accurate cliché--and if the heart is in fact to blame, well, sometimes the heart inexplicably chooses to reside far, far away. So it goes.

Monday, June 18, 2012

[1386] divis flats

Photo by Judah Passow
I don't know how many times I walked past the RBG Gallery on my way from point A to point B without ever actually noticing it. It's a tiny joint, tucked away in what's not even substantial enough to be called an alley, behind another shop front that renders the gallery just short of invisible to the passerby. Today, though, I noticed it. Or, more accurately, I noticed a little folding sign on the street out front. Something about Divis Flats, 1982. Free admission. The price was right and I'm more than a little fascinated by Divis Flats.

What I found inside was a gallery of photos untarnished by sentimentality. This was not the kind of place where you looked at the pictures and thought, "Well, gosh, there were some hard times during the Troubles, but boy, did they have their fun." A lot of times we all gloss over the ugly bits of the past, especially for the sake of making a better future. This gallery did no such thing.

A message from a former resident of Divis Flats, Robin Livingstone, hung on several of the walls in the gallery, and I think it was both poignant and poetic. I'm posting it here, and hopefully not stepping on any toes to do so. If you live in Belfast, I would recommend seeing the exhibit for yourself. If not, check out the websites of the photographers, Frankie Quinn and Judah Passow.

Photo by Judah Passow
When my old pal Frankie Quinn showed me Judah Passow’s Divis Flats portfolio for a feature we were preparing for the paper on the exhibition, the pictures gave me a jolt like an adrenalin syringe in the sternum. This wasn’t the usual here-today-gone-tomorrow photographer’s work we were so used to seeing. This wasn’t a guy who had got a taxi from the Europa, shot off a roll in a half-hour and then got back to the hotel in time for dinner. This was the Flats I knew and didn’t love. This was the place I used to live. These were the people I used to know.

Viewing the images, I heard again the shrieks of children playing on the concrete dragon; smelled the piss on the concrete stairs; saw the little black eyes of the rats shining from the blocked-up rubbish chutes; felt the ever-present faint sting in my eyes of the CS gas that stuck to the balcony walls and ceilings.

Divis Flats was a grim place when our flat was new in 1970; it was a grimmer place when we moved out a year later. Behind the egg-box walls and doors we turned the TV up so we couldn’t hear the TV next door, or the toilet flushing. Our TV never covered the sound of the shooting.Divis Flats was not a story of the human spirit triumphing over adversity, no matter what anybody tells you. Divis Flats won. Divis Flats beat us – it beat everybody who ever walked backwards up those pissy steps hauling a sofa. That’s why these pictures punched me in the stomach. They’re pictures of people fighting and people losing; sometimes smiling, sometimes laughing – but losing, and losing badly. And we lost, of course, because the game was rigged.

I’m nine and I’m walking along the balcony near our Pound Walk flat. There’s a big guy with a washing machine perched precariously on the balcony ledge. He’s balancing the washing machine and trying to look down at the same time. I skip up and straddle the ledge with practised ease. There’s a British Army foot patrol 30 feet down and, as usual, they’re looking skywards as they walk. They think the washing machine is somebody moving in and on they come. They’re below us now and the big guy doesn’t have to push the washing machine, he just lets it go. It falls, the flex snaking after it, the plug smashing against the concrete. The soldiers take a step back and watch it. The washing machine disintegrates as it hits the ground. The big fella is still there, his two hands on the ledge, peering down, like Kilroy in the graffiti. The soldiers look up at him and me and they start laughing because they’re glad the washing machine didn’t explode. I suppose they don’t shoot me because I’m wearing shorts. The big guy laughs and I’m laughing too. I’m laughing the way everybody laughed in Divis Flats – like if you didn’t you’d throw yourself off the balcony.

That was my Divis Flats – the Divis Flats Judah Passow’s camera captured.

Quote taken from

Monday, June 11, 2012

[1379] on death and catcopters

The statement I'm about to make is going to sound super depressing, but hang in there a sec. It gets better.

Sometimes when I'm really super happy and everything in my life is going off without a hitch, I think to myself, "Someday something terribly sad is going to happen to you, and you won't feel like this anymore." This isn't a constant thought or anything. I'm not in a perpetual state of dread every time I'm in a period of good fortune. That really wouldn't be good fortune at all.

It's more of a perspective thing. I'm reminding myself of life's ebbs and flows. If I remind myself when I'm dancing on the ceiling that sometimes I'm going to want to hit myself over the head with a mallet, it's a lot easier when I want to hit myself over the head with a mallet to realize that someday I will again be dancing on the ceiling. Further, when I hit those lows, I tend to be able to snap myself out of them fairly quickly. If I'm going to be happy someday, why not now, right?

Now, let me make the disclaimer that this clearly is not a strategy that's going to work for someone with some form of clinical depression or disorder or imbalance. That's all much more complicated. My anxiety levels may be off the charts, but when it comes to being sad, I usually have some control over it. This is not the case for everyone. What I'm talking about is being sad for a reason, not 'cause some chemical in your body is forcing you to be. Besides, I'm not really giving advice here. This is about me. #selfcentered

This brings me to death...and also to the catcopter.

A story was going around last week about an artist who turned his dead cat into a helicopter. I thought it was awesome. I've often joked about what I'll do with my beloved Gaucho when he kicks the bucket. One such idea involves getting him taxidermied into his trademark little sleeping ball and keeping him on the back of the couch as if nothing had happened at all. Guests would go to give him a pat and suddenly realize he had long since gone the way of the buffalo. Laughter would ensue.

As catcopter proved, though, not everyone finds such a glib approach to death--particularly animal death--entertaining. Some found it just plain sick, twisted, disgusting, cruel, disrespectful. While at first I was completely flabbergasted as to how anyone could look at what I saw as a fantastic tribute to a loved-but-lost feline friend as anything other than just that, it dawned on me that my whole approach to death might be a bit unorthodox. The feelings of disgust others were experiencing were completely normal. It's my own unwillingness to take death seriously that's weird.

One of the oft-used arguments against coptercat went something like, "Would you do this if a member of your family died?" Or even, "Would you want this done to you if you were to die?" And I could honestly say to the first, "Yes, if they'd let me," and to the second, "Yes, if I could convince them to." I have said on many occasions that I want something funny written on my epitaph. I don't want to be a beloved wife or daughter or mother or author or whatever. That makes people sad. There's enough sadness in the graveyard. I want people--mourning the losses of their own beloved wives, daughters, mothers, and so on--to stroll along the rows of graves, skimming others' sad tales of woe, and then do a double-take at mine. Taking it in more closely, I want them to laugh. I want them to laugh until the tears streaming down their faces are happy ones. I want them to laugh until they realize that lives end but life goes on, and it's okay to be bummed, but it's cool to be happy, too. There's no rule that death has to be a horrible, heart wrenching affair.

You're going to be happy again someday, so why not now, right?

When my dad died, people were a little freaked out by my positivity. I think everyone assumed I was in denial or was just covering up my emotions. And maybe the latter was true a little bit, but really, I was fine. Of course I was sad. My dad was a BAMF. Think I don't get a little angry every time I see an awesome father's day card or a thing my dad would love and realize, to quote Marv from Home Alone, Santy don't visit the funeral homes? It's a real buzzkill. I shed my tear, and I move on. 'Cause for me, I'd just rather be happy. And if I'm going to be later, I might as well speed up the process. If I'm in the mood to be sad, I'll pop in Swing Kids and eat a tub of cookie dough while sobbing, "SWING HEIL, PETER!!" to no one in particular. When it comes to real life, I just feel like dwelling is a waste of time.

So if I die young, don't do any of that burying me in satin and laying me down on a bed of roses nonsense. At least have the decency to use me for the carpool lane or something.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

[1375] new website, new contest

Today as I was writing a blog post about death and catcopters (forthcoming), I got the sudden urge to actually create my website. I had the domain name and everything. There was no good reason why I hadn't done it yet.

So I did. 

And in doing so, I came up with an idea for a little contest. Or sweepstakes. I don't know what you call it when you don't necessarily compete, but you win a prize. A drawing?

Whatever. I came up with one of those. If you go to my website, you'll see that you can win a $10 Amazon gift card for liking my FB page and telling me about your favorite book. As much as I like getting random "likes," I much prefer actually becoming acquainted with people and making connections. That's why this isn't just a massive "like" drive. I want to actually know something about you.

If you already like me, never fear. You just need to share about your favorite book and you'll be in the running. 

Check out my website for all the details, and please let me know what you think! It's pretty bare at the moment, but I hope to add more soon. Feel free to give me some suggestions.

Monday, May 21, 2012

[1358] onward to northern ireland

I've been meaning to go see if Uncle
Clive ever made it back out of
that wardrobe.
By the time you read this, I will already be gone.

And by "gone," I just mean that I'll be in the back of Jerry's car in L.A., headed to the airport for my trip to Northern Ireland. The first way sounded more mysterious, though, didn't it?

So, yeah. I am headed back to Northern Ireland--my third excursion to the land of my ancestors, the Titanic, and Liam Neeson. My main goal is to get a ton of writing done while I'm there. I've got a brand new computer that does all kinds of fancy things, an old version of Word that doesn't do any fancy things at all, and a flat with a washer/dryer. So eff clothes, I'm bringing books.

If you want to keep up with my wild and crazy adventures in Norn Iron, I'll be posting quite a bit on my facebook page. Be sure to "like" me and follow along. I'm sure I'll miss you terribly. Unless you are actually IN Northern Ireland, in which case, I'll see you soon.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

[1303] aspirations

I have recently decided to take myself seriously.

Okay, scratch that. We all know that the last thing I could possibly do is take myself seriously.

What I mean is this: I have recently decided to be more serious about my writing. And I don't mean that I plan to stop throwing ridiculous memes and tangents into my blog posts, either. Serious is entirely overrated.

So take three: I have recently decided that I am going to finish the things I've started. I am going to actively write, actively pursue writing, actively sit down, shut up, and make a word baby. And also read, but that's a given for anyone who wants to write, right?

Now you're just some novel
that I used to know.
Neil Gaiman, in a quite useful list of tips for writers, wrote, "Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it." I think most creative types are fairly good at starting things. We're all passion and excitement at the beginning. Then the honeymoon's over and there are plot holes to fill and inconsistencies to repair. In rereading the first 25 pages of the now 216 page (so far) novel I'm working on, I found at least 10 glaring errors in character, plot, and setting. This is what happens when you write the first 50,000 words of a novel in November of 2009 and don't pick it up again until March of 2012. It gets messy and frustrating, and pretty soon you've got its things in a box by the door with a nasty Dear John letter Scotch taped to the side. Dear Novel, you're dead to me. If only we could go back to the way things were.

These days my writing and I are working things out, but I'll admit it requires some accountability. So I made a Facebook page, and I'd be elated if you'd be so kind as to "like" it. I've even made this video plea to further entice you:

I leave you with this awesome quote from a letter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, who was away at camp. I think it's relevant. It's worth reading all the way through, but here's just a taste:

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about. . .

Things not to worry about:

Don't worry about popular opinion
Don't worry about dolls
Don't worry about the past
Don't worry about the future
Don't worry about growing up
Don't worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don't worry about triumph
Don't worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don't worry about mosquitoes
Don't worry about flies
Don't worry about insects in general
Don't worry about parents
Don't worry about boys
Don't worry about disappointments
Don't worry about pleasures
Don't worry about satisfactions

Monday, January 30, 2012

[1246] a few tips from a journal intern

I did some time as an intern at a scholarly journal. It was eye-opening.

"'Accept?' What the hell is this
I haven't been in this whole academic world long (well, aside from the first 22 years of my life, I guess), but it doesn't take much time at all to realize that getting published is a necessary evil--emphasis on the evil. The process of submitting to a journal is frustrating, disheartening, and ultimately unavoidable for most. The much sought-after "conditional accept" is nearly mythological; I mean, who even gets those amongst the sea of "revise & resubmits" and "rejects?" Let me actually go ahead and answer that for you: Next to no one. Trust me, I know. I'm the girl entering those decisions into the database, and the appearance of an "accept" totally throws off my autopilot.

I don't tell you this to dissuade you from submitting or to make it seem hopeless. If anything, this should make you feel a little better. When you open up your email and see that bright, shining rejection letter, know that you are in the company of hundreds of other super smart and talented academics from top schools and institutions all over the world.

There are some things I learned during my internship, though, that might be helpful for those trying to close that gap between reject and R&R.  And that also just might make you feel a little less crazy. While trying to get published can be daunting, it can also be a great learning experience and a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from your academic peers. So here we go....

Academic Journal: Headquartered
where signs like this are not only
necessary, but hotly contested.
First off, the process is long. You're going to need to come to terms with that. If the journal website gives you a timeline for how long it'll take, that's probably a minimum. It's going to take longer. A journal is not Vanity Fair. If you're imagining a big ol' staff of people working 'round the clock in some bustling, New York high rise, you are sadly mistaken. If you were imagining a cramped office with the thermostat perpetually cranked to 90 and a few overworked and overheated staffers doing their darndest to make sure the massive influx of submissions are processed each day, go ahead and collect your $200. On top of the staff shortage, journals rely on external readers who may not be super punctual in returning the critiqued manuscripts. On that note, if you are asked to read a manuscript for a journal, know that a lot of thought was put into asking you and everyone's relying on hearing back. You hold the fate of the author in your hands, and if you don't send it back, you've put the person in publication limbo.

When it comes to submitting a paper, don't just throw buzzwords against the wall and see what sticks. One of the head honchos of the journal lamented the volume of submissions we receive that feature a certain set of hip and happening key words, but that lack any useful contribution to the dialogue. We can probably all name five things off the tops of our heads that EVERYONE'S talking about in our respective disciplines right now. It can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon, thinking you're on the fast track to publication if you can get in on that action. You're not. You're quite likely to become another disappointing bit of white noise that leaves everyone with that feeling like when you take a sip of what you think is going to be ice cold lemonade and discover it's actually lukewarm Mountain Dew.

Your point should be significant, but you don't have to come up with something that completely blows all other research out of the water. To paraphrase something a board member said recently, you don't have to be the first word or the last word; you just need to engage the conversation. Let me reiterate, though: Your point should be significant. It doesn't have to foment revolution or change the trajectory of all future studies, but it should also be more than just a cool story. It's that white noise thing again. I've watched whole editorial board get super excited about the subjects of papers, only to then have to reject them because, while they were fun to read, they didn't add anything to a larger conversation.

Make sure you know what you're talking about. If you claim to be the first person to ever talk about transnationalism, intersectionality, and the Jumbaco, there'd better not be an entire anthology of Jumbaco studies readily available on Project Muse. And if that anthology does exist, wouldn't it be a fantastic idea to see if you can dialogue with some of the current scholars? The journal is going to send your paper out to readers who are experts on your specific topic. If you can connect with someone who's already established in your field, that person can probably tell you whether you are the next shining star of your discipline, or you're the next Stephenie Meyer. I'm a big advocate of showing any kind of paper or proposal to as many people as are willing to read it. And as one of my profs recently pointed out, most academics have been in exactly your position and consider it paying it forward to be able to help you out. You might not be able to get the top scholar in the discipline to critique your work, but you can probably get your grad advisor to do it. There's really no excuse for yours being the only eyes to have seen your work before it lands in the journal's inbox. And when your profs, friends, conference audience, or whoever else gives you suggestions, you should really take them into consideration.

If you get a revise and resubmit, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, REVISE AND RESUBMIT!! And do it soon! Most of the people who submit don't get that opportunity, and when you do, it's a sign that, not only did some external readers think your paper had merit, but then the powers-that-be at the journal discussed it, too, and determined that they'd really like to publish your work with the proper tweaking. They've got a ton on their plates as it is. They don't ask you to R&R just to screw with you. Giving you an R&R means that they are willing to take time out of their days to read your paper AGAIN after you've heeded their suggestions. That's right. These extremely busy, established scholars have signed on to read your work twice with the distinct hope that it will be publishable. Take a moment to soak that in. That's kind of awesome, right? Yes, you might still be rejected after going through the R&R process, but now you've been rejected with a ton of feedback that could help you get published elsewhere or write something that might be a better fit for the original journal. You know what they're looking for. Use it.

And now a note about getting rejected...

I see no possible way that this could be harmful
to my reputation with my peers...
It sucks. I know. And you might feel indignant. You might think your paper is the best thing to happen to Jumbaco studies since the inception of the discipline (about three paragraphs ago). Surely, those shortsighted hacks at the journal will rue the day they turned away your masterpiece. That's fine, but you REALLY shouldn't tell them so. Even in a passive aggressive way. I've seen everything from the I-wouldn't-want-to-be-published-in-your-bleeping-rag-anyway missives to the I'm-sorry-you-couldn't-see-the-timeliness-and-significance-of-this-groundbreaking-research digs. At the end of the day, the journal's readership is not suffering due to the absence of your submission, and you've just sent off a really cranky email to a fairly influential group of your peers. Who now know your name. So next time you're about to have a kneejerk reaction to the cruelty of rejection, maybe back away from the Gmail for a bit, go look at some lolcats, and try to keep in mind that your poorly chosen words in the heat of the moment may be the reason your academic idol cringes when s/he sees your name in a conference program.

Note: Opinions expressed in this blog are, as always, purely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the unnamed journal for which I was once an office jockey.