Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Head Exploding Adorableness.

May I remind you that half of this duo was in Richmond for THREE MONTHS this past fall. Was it really too much to ask to stumble across JGL strumming a guitar and singing a charming ditty in say, my backyard, or at the very least a public park?

I guess it was.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Billy Elliot.


I saw Billy Elliot The Musical at the Kennedy Center last night, and it was just so lovely and kind and joyous. It exceeded all of my expectations. I tend to get very weepy at anything that features children excelling at some form of artistic expression, whether music or dance. I babysat for a couple of young girls a while back, and I went to one of their dance recitals. And I literally almost started bawling during a jazz/hip hop number set to like Rhianna.

There's something so affecting to me about talent in young people. Because no matter what your personal thoughts are about religion or God, there's no denying that a form of expression like dance reveals something transcendent inside a living body. And when it's a young person, it's in its rawest, purest, most innocent form. Humans can be so miserably sad and ugly and cruel, but as I watched the immensely, ridiculously talented young cast of Billy Elliot, for those three hours in the theater, I was reminded that the human form, silent and alone on a stage, can be capable of the most shattering beauty.

And at the end of the day I'm just a sucker for a dance themed story. Footlloose, Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, Step Up, etc. I love them all. I think it's because I have literally no dancing talent or coordination. And I'm not being falsely modest. I am not the girl in the movie who starts off "bad" at dancing but after a few lessons and a zany montage ends up like break dancing and doing back flips at the big school dance. 

I am the girl who starts off bad and is bad in the middle and then ends bad. Usually somewhere along the way I injure myself. But I do it with spirit.

But while I can't dance, I do understand the transformation behind it, which I think is also why I so connected to Billy Elliot. Because whether it's dance or singing or playing an instrument or the lowly work of writing, anyone who loves any of these things, knows there's a moment when literally everything else disappears. The character Billy describes it like this in the gorgeous little song, Electricity (the lyrics of this song + Billy dancing his little heart out in front of his coal miner father =blubbering):

I can't really explain it, I haven't got the words
It's a feeling that you can't control
I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are
And at the same time something makes you whole

And if that isn't just the most perfect, succinct little description of what art can do to a person then I don't know what is. 

Billy Elliot works because it gets this truth. And it's an exceedingly sentimental, even sappy idea. But it works, because it's honest, because as this musical reminds you, sometimes life can be bleak and sad, which makes art and the expression of art all the more valuable, because in it's best form it can just be pure light. And it presents all of this in a very British, non-goopy fashion. It perfectly creates and maintains the contrast of a working class coal mining town covered in black dust and Billy's exceptional, rare dancing ability.

I know I've rambled, but I hope I've at least gotten across how much I thoroughly enjoyed this musical. I didn't even touch on the production value because 1) I do that enough in my legitimate reviews and 2) because it's a touring Broadway production at the Kennedy Center so DUH, of course it's professional and wonderfully staged. 

I saw White Christmas this time last year and it was aiming for that warm, up-lifting feeling that a musical like Billy Elliot so effortlessly creates. But it failed because it was artificial and saccharine. To use college creative writing speak, it "told" instead of "showed."  Billy Elliot is all sentiment without even a trace of artifice, because it does the opposite.

It gets that there's nothing more affecting or beautiful than the sight of a kid with rare and special talent discovering that talent and then learning how to showcase its full depth. It's just pure, divine, unfiltered expression. And it wrecks me, in the best possible way. 

Monday, December 19, 2011


I know a lot of people complain about air travel. Everyone sighs and mutters mutinously when talking about it. You're supposed to hate it. You're supposed to hate the security checks and the cramped airplane seats and the bad food. And sometimes I play along, because well, like I said it's expected. Saying you love air travel is like saying you love to pay taxes. It's just not a thing people admit in polite company.

But after flying to Atlanta last week, I just have to come out and admit it. I whole heartedly, enthusiastically  love to fly. I don't find the experience perfect by any means. My butt gets tired like everyone else's, and I think flight attendants (usually only the American ones) can sometimes be the meanest, and I always get that brief moment of panic when the plane first takes off and I realize, "Holy shit, I am in a giant metal coffin hurtling through space!"

But I love it. I think it's exciting and romantic. I think airports are swell-all of those places to eat and shop and clean bathrooms with everything automatic. I like knowing there are uniformed adults around me who are professional and competent and who will taser a person if they get out of line.

But mostly I am hopelessly nostalgic about my past travels, and from that first moment in an airport and especially in an airplane, I'm just whoosed right back through time and space into all of those moments. Sense is the strongest tie us to memory, and those sights and smells and sounds are always the same, no matter where you're flying. And so even though I was just making a two hour flight to Atlanta, as soon as I heard the engine roar and smelled the pressurized cabin air, I was hurtled back to my first international flight, when I was 20 and going to study abroad in Paris without knowing a single soul, all of that terror and exhilaration.

To the 14.5 hour flight to India after college graduation, when I was bumped up to business class and got to spend those hours in style, with champagne and warm towels and warm nuts (they like things warm in business class), to chatting with the friendly, whiskey swilling Texan man beside me, to watching movie after movie and relishing the comfort and luxury of being able to fully recline and sleep, to knowing that the next two weeks in Asia would be unlike anything I'd ever experienced in my pampered life.

To the (many) flights it took to Thailand. I held it together until I got to Chicago and then for some reason on the flight from Chicago to Los Angeles I lost it. Maybe it was because it was the farthest West I'd ever been, because there was no turning back and I really was going to spend the next six months living and teaching in Thailand. All of my fear and anxiety and worry were released and I cried silently as I watched out the window. And then when I got to Los Angeles it was like the worst had passed. I was still scared shitless, but being that far away released something. Instead I felt that prickling, hairs on end excitement that comes when you're going somewhere completely and totally new.

To the flight back from Thailand, and the tears I shed that time, only now tears of grief for the life changing experience I was leaving behind.

To all of those layovers on various travels, being dirty and sleep deprived and red-eyed. To running through the airport at Tokyo to catch my flight back to Chicago, loaded down with bags and my giant tube carrying a painting from Bali. To brushing my teeth in airplane and airport bathrooms. To the layover after Haiti, when everything I had seen pressed on me like a giant weight that wouldn't release.

To the hours I spent at the airport bar in Kuala Lumpur with a random Australian man who asked if he could share my booth. We were both waiting for delayed flights and so we drank and we chatted about a million random things, and even though we knew we'd never see each other again, it was still this wonderful, unlikely, tiny little connection.

To the goodbyes and hellos I've experienced at airports-trying not to cry when I left for Paris and then Thailand, keeping my legs steady as I walked away from my parents into the complete unknown. To coming home and seeing my family at the arrivals area, their big smiles mirroring my own, the strange rush of suddenly being back home after all that time away.

The thing is, people complain about airports, but the memories I have from airports and airplanes are some of the most vivid and electric in my life. They are the bookends to these incredible experiences I've had while traveling, and whenever I'm in an airport I feel all of that, all of that color and life and happiness and fear and sadness and excitement and acute awareness of being young and alive just exploding in my memory.

And I just love it all, good and bad. All of those details are so intrinsically tied to my memories of some the best experiences of my life and so I love it all- the newsstands with all of their glossy magazines, the bars (especially in the Chicago airport, for some reason I always connect there and I've spent many happy layovers with a large beer and a stack of tabloids), snuggling up with my favorite wool scarf on planes, the drink carts and the in-flight food (yes I'm serious), the calm PA announcements made in a soothing voice. I love being in a terminal at some God forsaken hour, going on almost no sleep, waiting to board a plane. To me that is life at its fullest volume.

I've been beyond lucky to be able to go to all of the places I've been to so far.

But every time I fly, I feel myself itching to do it again, to head to an airport, board a plane, and fly off into something radically new.

Monday, December 12, 2011


One more final. One more final and then I am off for a week that will include:

-Visiting my bestest friend in Athens, GA. Oh how I have missed my friend. Not only has she been my best friend since I was a wee, little seven year old, but she is my WINE FRIEND. You know? Everyone has one, the person you meet up with after a long day and you don't have to do anything at all or talk about anything important and you can just drink some super-chilled Pinot Grigio and watch bad TV on Bravo. She moved after her wedding in October, and I've missed her terribly. And it makes me so thrilled that I get to go hang out with her, her husband, and our good friend, Sir Winenington. 

-Charleston. My lovely Charleston. I haven't been there since August, and I'm at that point that comes whenever I go more than a couple of months away from the city, like I've stopped exhaling. I feel fidgety and anxious and just in desperate, desperate need of my beautiful city on the coast. I will spend Thursday through Sunday there. Thursday night will be spent in a snazzy hotel in the historic district with my aforementioned best friend, and another best friend and former college roomie, who also lives far away and whom I also miss (isn't it terrible how no one lives in the same place anymore when you grow up? what gives with that life?). And I have no idea what we will do and I honestly don't care. I could sit on a street corner and watch tourists and horse-drawn carriages go by and that would be enough. Granted what we actually do will probably involve less sitting and more rooftop bars, live bands, and alcohol (I've missed you too Wet Willies and your Everclear slurpies!), but the point is,

the point is I'm going home :)

It's been a long semester. Hell, it's been a long year. I haven't had a real break since last January. I've completed a year and a half of nursing school, three semesters, and 51 credits in twelve months. It's been an incredible and for the most part absolutely wonderful year, full of beautiful new things and new starts. But I'm burnt out, and so, so tired.

Which is why as always in moments when my soul needs to breathe, I head south.

And GOD WILLING, there will be a Lincoln cast member sitting in the Richmond airport tomorrow. I was close enough to filming on Friday night that I could practically smell Spielberg (haven't you heard he has a signature scent? or that might have just been the smoke wafting over the entire Capitol grounds). And by the power of Thor he, or Mr. Day Lewis or Mr. Lee Jones or any of the other varied Lincoln cast will be sitting next to me as my plane takes off.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I am so burnt out right now from this semester and finals that I'm at the point where the tiniest little thing will set me off on an epic crying jag. Like if I burn my toast tomorrow morning I may just sob for the rest of the day. And I should be studying for my Lab Practical, but my brain exploded sometime this morning, and I can literally not concentrate on anything for longer than 60 seconds. So I just needed to share two things.

First, when I was putting together my gift guide for (my THIRD holiday gift guide this year, yes I am Santa Clause), I came across THIS from Quirk Gallery.

First of all, it's name is Clocky. Second of all, if you press snooze, it LEAPS off of your bedside table, RUNS AWAY and HIDES. I'm sorry, but I feel like this should have been on the news and the front pages of papers world wide. That is how monumental an invention this is. I have been known to snooze for hours on end. I annoy myself with my alarm snoozing. But if I had Clocky, I would not snooze, because you know what I would be doing? I would be CHASING my alarm clock around my room. I. just. can't. Will someone please get me Clocky for Christmas? I want it more than a hippo this year.

Second, this.

So I was watching Glee last night (I know it's gotten horrible but I just can't stop). And the episode ended with a rousing version of a song I didn't know. A quick Google search later and I found out it was the newest song from the band fun. (lower case, period) And I just about burst with joy. If you don't know, fun. is band formed in part by the Nate Ruess. Nate Ruess just happens to be the former lead singer of my favorite band of all-time, The Format, which after two insanely good albums, broke up, breaking my heart in the process. I loved this band so much, and they never got the attention they deserved. So to see Nate and his new band get this kind of recognition, on this kind of platform, well it just makes me feel like a proud parent whose child just won first place in the school's talent competition (or something like that, my brain can't really come up with an apt metaphor at the moment because it is missing). And the song is so good, and they are so wonderful, and it just makes me so very happy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A summary of the week.

Yes, that is my hair and not a dead animal I just killed.

Oh what a whirl of wind this past week has been. I wish I could give the kind of attention each of these moments deserves, but then this blog would be as long as Haruki Murakami's latest novel (pretentious literary nerd moment! in plain speak very long). So some brief summaries:

-On Tuesday morning I did my final medication administration simulation for my nursing competencies course. There is just no way to do justice to how bizarre an experience this is. Basically it is half nursing/half acting, yet my acting "partner" is a giant, life-size, creepy as f*&k plastic mannequin (or Sim Man if you're feeling fancy). Even though I've given honest to God humans shots in the hospital now, I still had to go through the whole procedure in front of my instructor to be "checked off." And while I can give injections of Lovenox to a real person's belly without breaking a sweat, this simulation was basically a train wreck. And it's all the dummy's fault. I went in all prepared, but before I could get my bearings, my creepy, blinking dummy asked me in its robo-voice, "Is that dirt on your hands?" Now in hindsight I know this was a suggestion from the dummy (or really the person controlling the dummy's words in a a hidden room) that I had forgotten to mime washing my hands. But in the moment, I stopped, stared at its creepy, lifeless and yet all too lifelike, grinning plastic face, and found myself both confused and offended. My response should have been "You're right, I should go wash my hands immediately." But because I was so thrown off and baffled, I answered "No, there's no dirt on my hands. I just washed them," in a defensive, bordering on angry tone of voice.

Y'all I got into an argument with a DUMMY this week. And honestly that was not even the weirdest thing I did that day. I also catheterized a dummy. Luckily this one did not speak.

-On the same day that I argued with and catheterized a dummy, I also interviewed Chad Coleman from The Wire (and also one of the stars of the new Fox show I Hate My Teenage Daughter). He's from Richmond, and so his PR people got in touch with my editor, and my editor very kindly offered the gig to me. And I tried not to think about it too much prior to the interview, but this was a slightly huge deal for me. He is by far the biggest interview I've done (although Bill Persky, the creator of That Girl was also pretty freaking huge for me), and it is just pure adrenaline to do an interview like that. I was a big ball of nerves before hand, because hello, I get star struck by Jim Duncan, but the phone interview went really great. I reminded myself to listen first and foremost and that really helped. It also helped that Chad (I call him Chad now) was incredibly nice and open and generous with his time. He exuded positivity. And well if I write anymore I will no longer have any journalistic integrity left, because it will be one big gush fest. But here's the finished piece. I'm really proud of it. I'm proud of the fact that a year after I "gave up" my dream of being a full time journalist, I am against all odds a journalist. And you know the best part? I write and I work as a writer for no other reason than I love it. It doesn't pay my bills. It never will. Nursing will do that. And taking the pressure off of writing to support me was the best decision I ever made. The second I did that it all get easier and since then these opportunities keep coming. Life can just be so weird and unexpected and wonderful, you know?

-I saw Paul Simon in concert on Tuesday night and he rocked my world. First of all he is the most adorable man on the planet. I mean he is tiny. Like an absurdly small human being. I want to put him in my pocket. The concert was just so good, and he played a great mix of old and new songs. But holy moses were there a lot of drunk Richmonders at this thing. Like drunk to the point where I almost wanted to lock the doors and stage multiple interventions. These people were so inebriated by the mid point of the concert that they could no longer be constrained to their seats. They had to DANCE! Not the standard, bopping and swaying and arm waving in place that most people do at concerts. This was dancing as I have never seen it. It is almost indescribable. One particularly drunk woman just ran down the aisle. Like the running man, but not in place. She just booked it, and sprinted from the middle of the orchestra section to nearly the stage and the back again. And then she did it again. And again. And again. It wasn't even dancing really, but more calisthenics. She might have actually just been trying to fit in her daily cardio, only in a skirt and high heeled boots. Other drunk people saw her jazzercising in the aisles and thought they'd join in so soon the aisles were just a giant mass of drunk people dancing like there was no tomorrow. This was violent, seizure like dancing dancing, violent enough that finally a security guard tried to corral people away from the aisle and back to their seats. But I kid you not, every time this man went away, these fully grown adults, like children when the teacher leaves the room, went sprinting back to the aisle until he came and herded them away again. I don't know why there was so much sprinting this evening. It was very strange and confusing and I just tried to concentrate on Paul.

-I got a massage today at Salon Vivace-a lovely post-half marathon gift courtesy of the boyfriend. And I think I may have blacked out and seen Jesus. Buddha could have been there too. I don't know. It was that good. After my massage lady left the room I had to get dressed and anyone who saw me would have sworn I was high. I was just grinning and stumbling and knocking into things. I had to steady myself before I could be around people again. I feel like my muscles, who I abuse mercilessly, don't even know what happened. They are starving, neglected orphans who were suddenly given free reign in a candy store. And they are just having a party right now. I do have to comment on one thing. When my lady showed me to my room, she said she would leave and  I could "undress to my level of comfort." Now for someone as neurotic at myself that is a horrible thing to say. If I was truly undressing to my level of comfort to be around a total stranger I would have lain down on the table fully clothed. But that would be weird. So does it mean naked? But what if that is weird too? Do I really want to be that one weird client who got totally nude when everyone else just undresses to a modest level of undergarments? Would I be sexually harassing my massage therapist if she came in there and I was hanging out in the buff? See a normal person would hear that statement and think nothing of it. Me I debate furiously inside my brain for a few minutes before I decide on what level of undress would be the least weird. And that is precisely why within minutes of starting my massage therapist said my neck was "full of knots." Because I carry a lot of crazy in those muscles.

-I also got my hair cut today, as you can see in the picture at the top. I have been growing my hair out since Thailand, so more than two years. And in one fell swoop it was all gone. But honestly there was never a freak out moment, and I think it's because I knew the hair was going to Locks of Love. It's hard to be vain enough to freak out about getting your hair cut, when in the back of your mind you know your hair is going to people who are sick and have no choice in losing their hair. So bon voyage my ten inch ponytail of hair. My hair stylist kept saying it was going to make some little girl really happy, and honestly that would just be the most awesome thing in the world. 

-One more thing. I got my hair cut by an apprentice at Nesbit Salon (translation: I got my hair cut by an apprentice because it would cost the least). There was a brief moment where I thought, "why am I letting basically a student cut my hair?" And then I mentally slapped myself. Because as a student, I am frequently in a position where nice people are letting me poke them with sharp needles in their bellies. It is nothing in comparison to let a student cut your hair. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I've been MIA on the blog for a few weeks, because life has been particularly insane. But I read this tonight on and laughed for about ten minutes straight. Out loud. Hysterically. By myself. It could be my burnt out brain finally blowing a gasket or this could just be that awesome. I'd thought I'd share it regardless:

"How much coffee is safe?" the BBC wonders, before letting us know that "the advice is much less clear-cut." Psh! We can tell you how much coffee is safe.
"The general advice," we're told, "is that four or five cups of coffee a day is safe." Sure, that's good advice... if you are literally a two-week old baby. Here's our official "coffee chart" to tell you how much coffee you can drink if you weigh...
  • 90-110 lb.: six to seven cups per day
  • 110-130 lb.: eight to ten cups per day, plus six lines of ground coffee
  • 130-150 lb.: 12 to 14 banana bags of coffee a day
  • 150-170 lb.: drink every cup of coffee you see, even if it belongs to someone else
  • 170-190 lb.: one cup of coffee per day, but the cup is the size of a bathtub
  • 190-210 lb.: three syringe-full injections of coffee into your tear ducts every 20 minutes
  • 210-230 lb.: fill a telephone box-sized chamber with coffee and spend all your time in it
  • 230-250 lb.: use a urinary catheter and a feeding tube to ensure that you are constantly cycling coffee through your body
  • 250 lb. and above: fully merge your being with coffee through meditation

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bali: Part Four

I have been home from Thailand for two years. Which makes it all the more ridiculous when I realized I have yet to finish writing about my travels there. Last I last off with Bali: Part Three when we arrived in a little town called Ubud at an absolutely beautiful guest house. And so it's there that I begin.

I could easily live in Ubud. You know how you can travel to a place for the first time and feel just right there? That's how I felt the whole time I was in Ubud. Like things just fit.

But really it's not hard to fit in Ubud. It's sort of an expat/backpacker/lost boys paradise, like what a town would look like if it started as a tree house. You see all the foreigners wandering around with dazed, happy looks on their face, as if they just can't believe their luck to be in such a place. It is that rare type of town that manages to be accessible to tourists without the presence of those same tourists ruining it and stripping it of all its charm and uniqueness.

Ubud, like the rest of Bali exists in an explosion of eternal green. It's a relatively small town, made of little cream stone buildings with dark brown roofs, along with some more modern hotels (Julia Roberts did stay there while filming Eat, Pray, Love after all, but more on that later). The locals there are like they are everywhere in Bali-friendly and bemused by all the attention the rest of the world pays to their little island. Also like everywhere in Bali a haze of incense and spiritual belief hangs in the air in Ubud. People go about their business and live their lives there. There are markets full of small religious statues and deeply colored scarves, stalls with every fruit you'd ever see at Whole Foods times 100. Little temples pop up as frequently, their pillars draped with colorful fabric. The great thing about Ubud is that it doesn't feel like a Disney theme park version of an exotic island, the way some tourist locales feel. It simply is itself, motorcycles and monkeys on the side of the road and all. It's been there for thousands of years. It will be there for thousands of years. And it feels like that, permanent and solid. You go to so many places, especially in our nation and nothing feels that way. Everything is shiny and suburban new and it just screams temporary. You can't get a firm footing, because there isn't one. It's like a city made of sand castles.

But Ubud is the opposite of that. It's anchored deeply into the ground beneath it.

You can tell that Ubud is the kind of city where people visit and then find it impossible to leave. It's full of expats and their businesses. Which makes for some tremendous eating and shopping. But again it doesn't feel cheap or gaudy. These are people who love this town as much as the locals and you can see it in the way their businesses blend so seamlessly into the town around them. But for someone who does enjoy some creature comforts from the West it makes Ubud such a delight, because you really have the best of both worlds. While we were there we tried to dabble in both of these worlds. One day we ate at Ibu Oka, a traditional Balinese restaurants that serves suckling pig (and roasts it whole right in front of the restaurant). If you've seen the Anthony Bourdain where he visits Bali you've seen the inside of this awesome place.

I am not even a pig kind of gal normally. But this was pig made with divine inspiration. It was tender and flavorful and I ate that chunk of crispy pig skin (with just the most thin, beautiful layer of fat underneath) and pile of cracklings like I was raised on pig skin and cracklings (for the record I was not). We sat on the floor at low tables in the open air restaurant and sipped local Bintang beer, and again, it just fit. It felt easy.

But then Ubud also is stuffed full of great "Western"restaurants. We found a little coffee shop that was straight out of Durham, NC or Boulder, CO or any other college town full of hippies. But it also was infused with the feel of Bali-relaxed, unpretentious, peaceful. No one was in a hurry there. People of all different nationalities sipped coffee and ate bagels on soft, colorful couches as music played. Signs for yoga classes and bike trips were hung all over the walls. Friends chatted about dinner plans. People were friendly, unhurried, eager to exchange stories over hours and multiple cups of espresso.

Or the unbelievably good Italian restaurant we found owned by an Italian expat. I have been to Italy but the Italian food I had at this restaurant was, if not better, pretty darn close to being as good as the food there. We sat up on the open air roof, in the warm, humid air, and sipped wine and ate amazingly good pasta and gnocchi and bruschetta with anchovies. Couples and families sat nearby. I remember looking from the roof over this view:

And just feeling so grateful to be in this place, so at peace with my life in that moment. We liked this Italian restaurant so much (along with its free Wifi and close proximity to our guest house) that we went for two consecutive nights. On the second night the city lost power (blackouts are common in Bali, remember, Julia Roberts movies and all, this is still a tiny island in the middle of the Indian ocean), and we assumed the owners would close things up. But when we asked our waitress she assured us it was fine. Candles were lit, more bottles of wine were opened, and the kitchen made do and food continued to appear. Since we had our laptops we opened up our iTunes and supplied the music (there was music playing before the power went out, we're not animals). It was just this perfect night, watching the darkening town around us, eating incredible Italian food in Bali of all places, listening to the sound of geckos and birds.

We spent the days shopping in the markets or at the many little boutiques that lined the city. The main road of Bali ran in a loop so we would simply walk in circles, catching places we might have missed on our second rotation. There were a few English language bookstores, and there is nothing I love more when I'm traveling in a foreign country than a good English language bookstore. Eat, Pray, Love was, unsurprisingly, prominently featured. The funny thing was they were actually filming the movie when we were there, in and near Ubud. Clearly the town was a little abuzz with this. But when we asked a Balinese person at a bookstore about the movie, and about the medicine man healer, Ketut, who supposedly still lives in Ubud, he merely laughed and told us not to waste our time visiting Ketut. He was a quack.

Which true or not true, I think displays very nicely the sense of humor and characteristic lack of BS of Balinese people. 

Side note: My friend and I were this close to being in the movie. Well kind of. At the coffee shop I mentioned a British woman came up to us and told us her daughter was involved in casting with the film. They needed an extra for a scene in a pharmacy, a woman whose role was to walk in and say she needed hemorrhoid cream. The woman took pictures of both of us and sent them to her daughter. As she did it she told us we weren't quite right. The extra was supposed to be 1) British 2) in her 30s and 3) heavy. Which I think both of us were kind of okay with the fact that we didn't look like we could play an older, fatter person with painful hemorrhoids. They got our numbers and said they would call if we checked out. If you've seen Eat, Pray, Love then you probably know I am not in it. Thus we never got a call. However even if we had been "cast", there is no scene in that movie with a plump British woman asking for such a cream, so we would have been cut anyway. 

We weren't too crushed by this near brush with fame. After all we couldn't be in Ubud. I know it sounds like an exaggeration to keep calling it paradise, but well, it's the closest I've ever come on Earth to paradise. We spent an entire morning at this insanely beautiful spa nestled right in the midst of all that Technicolor green nature that is everywhere in Bali. 

This was my massage room. I know, I hate past me a little too. For about a fifth of what it would cost in the US, we got facials and massages and just pampered to within an inch of our lives. Then because we were not blissed out enough, we took a yoga class here:

This was an open air studio so it might as well have been hot yoga. A puddle of sweat formed around me on the floor. But even though the class kicked my butt, when it came time for "namaste" I could feel the massive, dopey grin on my face. 

I was one of them now, one of those buzzed looking foreigners. Because I couldn't not be. I bought art! That's how zen'd out happy I was. I found an art gallery and bought a painting. I've never bought a painting. But I wanted something physical to take with me, some talisman of my time in Ubud, that I could hang up on my wall and look at every day. I carried that painting in its giant tube through Jakarta to Thailand to Japan to Chicago to Richmond. But even though it was a hassle, I liked having it. I liked being able to hold on to it, to feel the weight of it, to reassure myself that there was a part of this place still with me, and that if I had a part of it that meant I wouldn't be truly gone from it. 

Or maybe I just needed something to convince myself it hadn't all been a dream. Because it should have been.

I remember loading up our suitcases into our lovely friend, Guspur's van for the last time. We said goodbye to our kind guesthouse owners, to our lovely little room with its porch and koi pond. I watched out the window and saw Ubud go past, with its traditional Balinese temples and markets and its expat cafes and restaurants, with its men zipping past on motorbikes and monkeys perched on ledges. And I felt bereft. Out of everywhere I traveled (not counting Thailand), leaving Bali was by far the hardest.

We hugged Guspur goodbye at the Denpasar airport. And I just knew I wasn't leaving this nice place I visited once. I was leaving a friend and an island that had so thoroughly infiltrated its way down into my very core. I felt Bali in my veins when I was there. I think anyone would. 

It took me four blogs to write about Bali, but I still feel like I didn't even come close to doing it justice. It's not just that it was beautiful, although of course it was, more soul shatteringly beautiful than almost anywhere I've ever seen. It wasn't just the people, who were so kind and so generous and lovely. 

There was something else there, something like the incense that filled the air, shifting and intangible and impossible to pin down or carry away. 

I can't write that. You have to live it. I am and always will be grateful that for ten days I lived it. Bali is in my heart now, soft and shimmering, like the memory of a dream. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two completely unrelated things.

1. Holy crap you guys I registered for the 2012 Richmond MARATHON. Excuse me while I go throw up.  But really this is a very tentative registration. I mainly did it because starting at midnight tonight the fee jumps $15, and I am nothing if not tempted by a bargain. But I am not 100% committed yet. If the summer rolls around and I don't feel ready I will probably just do the 1/2 again. But I'd like to aim for the full shebang. Because the truth is I'm 26. Once the 2012 marathon runs around I will be 27 (I know, I might as well order my casket and pick out a burial plot now). 

And one of my more recent life goals is to run a full marathon. And really why wait? Running 26.2 miles is an INSANE thing to do to your body. Like bat shit, nut balls, bonkers insane. But it gets even more insane the older you get. And yes, I realize many people in their 30s and 40s and 50s and even 60s and 70s run marathons and run them faster than my 26 year old butt ever could. That's awesome. But I am not one of those people. I am not going to be a limber 70 year old who competes in triathlons and eats raw eggs for breakfast. I am not even a particularly limber 26 year old. I have hip problems people. In my mid-20s. And one thing I've learned from my anatomy classes is that for women, when it comes to the health of our bones, it's really just all downhill from here, no matter how much cheese you (and by you I mean I) eat. So if I want to avoid permanently maiming myself in the pursuit of the insane goal that is running a marathon, my best bet is to do it while I'm (relatively) young.

Although let's not kid ourselves. I will probably still permanently maim myself. I had to see a sports medicine doctor from training for a 10k. Me running a marathon is like a water buffalo doing ballet. But maybe this is my one unlikely, scrappy underdog sports movie moment. Stay tuned.

2. I've already full switched my Richmond allegiance to Kroger (except for trips I make to Martin's solely to get Ukrop's bakery items or deli tuna), but here's an even better reason to shop Kroger, especially for the next two days. When I went in to pick up some groceries this evening, I was handed a little card from a nice lady at the front of the store with a list of urgently needed items for the Central Virginia Food Bank. The great thing was you could pick up items from the list and drop them off on your way out of the store, easy as pie. And I looked down at the list, and knew there was no way I was leaving that store without buying some items for it. The needed items were things I buy all the time- pasta, canned tuna, peanut butter, and never give a second thought to. And it's rightfully heartbreaking that for some people, right in our own city, those insignificant and inexpensive grocery store items, have all the weight in the world. Kroger is doing this until the 19th, and I just really urge anyone who reads this to make a trip to the grocery store. You don't have to load up your entire cart with the items (although I saw one woman in the canned vegetables aisle who was clearly doing this and I wanted to stop and give her a hug), but even if you just grab an extra box of pasta or a can of tuna to donate along with your normal groceries, those items mean so much. That's a meal. That's a night not having to worry about getting dinner on the table.

Most things get to me, but hunger and the lack of food especially hit a nerve.

When I was in Haiti we would try to hand out some of our food to the kids who always come to the construction sites, pieces of energy bars or bags of chips. These kids weren't dying of starvation but they had no fat on them and were clearly hungry. Food wasn't assured in their lives. I'll never forget how whenever I gave some food to one of the older kids, they would never eat it, not until they made sure their younger siblings had something first. I'd watch them as they handed granola bars and cups of water to their siblings, watch the eyes of these eleven and twelve year olds as they took care of others first.

These children, who had so little, who had almost nothing, wouldn't eat until their little brothers and sisters ate.

I should think about that more. Because in some ways it's easier, when you have everything, when you've never been hungry, to forget about those who are. Which all just brings me back to what Kroger is doing with their Feed Richmond campaign. It's really great. And I hope that everyone in this city does some grocery shopping this weekend, and throws an extra couple of things in the cart. Because it's a great and beautiful idea, making sure others have food before we ourselves eat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Must List

1. The first official trailer for The Hunger Games movie:

I may or may not have watched this ten times today when I should have been either a) studying for nursing school or b) working on freelance stuff. But to borrow a rather vulgar phrase, OMFG, you guys. So pumped about this movie. In general I am not a fan of the month of March (is it winter, is it summer? make up your mind and stop being a fence-sitter March), but now that month cannot come soon enough. Right now it's just too good to be true with how close this trailer is to how I pictured everything in my mind. Okay I may not have pictured Lenny freaking Kravitz as Cinna, or Woody Harrelson as Haymitch for that matter, but now that I've seen them in those roles I think they're perfect. And that terrifying, clammy, anxiety fueled countdown at the end before the games kick off-just so, so good. Okay I'm going to go watch it one more time.

2. My one-year-old (almost two year old niece). It's been a while since I've bragged about her, and that's a shame. Because she is so brag-worthy. She is a baby genius. She spent the weekend here (one year old as a house guest for three days + running a half marathon=my energy reserves completely wiped out), and every time I see her she blows me away with her awesomeness. It's hard to pick out examples from the many, but here are just a few.

-One of her tricks is to pick up a phone, hold it out to a nearby adult and say "order pizza?" I mean come on. That's just adorable and practical. 

-When she got really fussy I would let her watch Elmo videos on Youtube, and her expression would go from fussy and pouty to just transfixed. Elmo lit up her world. She would grin and her eyes would light up and I think the love between a baby and Elmo may be the purest love there is in this world. 

-Another one of her tricks is to shout "OH NO" every time anything drops or falls. It's beyond words in cuteness. 

-One afternoon she started to play a game none of us had seen before. She shouted "ATTACK of the mumble mumble" and kept running to each person in the room and grabbing on to them. Over and over again. We finally realized she was shouting "attack of the hugger." She probably learned this in day care. However I like to think that my genius niece came up with it completely on her own. 

-She takes baby swim lessons and is so obsessed with it that the majority of what comes out of her mouth is either "baby pool" or "bathing suit."

3. The fact that Starbucks has started their Christmas cups.

4. Mindy Kaling's new book. A brief sampling from her chapter, "Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real"

"The Klutz
When a beautiful actress is in a movie, executives wrack their brains to find some kind of flaw in her that still allows her to be platable. She can't be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would want to see that? A not 100-percent perfect-looking-in-every-way female? You might as well film a dead squid decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours.
So they make her a Klutz.
The 100-perfect-perfect-looking female is perfect in every way, except that she constantly falls down. She bonks her head on things. She trips and falls and spills soup on her affable date. (Josh Lucas. Is that his name? I know it's two first names. Josh George? Brad Mike? Fred Tom? Yes, it's Fred Tom.) Our Klutz clangs int Stop signs while riding a bike, and knocks over giant displays of expensive fine china. Despite being five foot nine and weighing 110 pounds, she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society. But Fred Tom loves her anyway."

And also just because this sentence kicks butt, "Having a challenging job in movies means the compassionate, warm, or sexy side of your brain has fallen out."

So really go buy this book. 

Half Marathon Recap

At about mile 11.5. I look refreshed and thrilled. In my brain my thoughts at the moment went like this: "blerrrrgggggg"

So I ran the MCDONALDS half marathon on Saturday. I feel like I need to capitalize the word MCDONALDS anytime I use it, because that's how much I love the irony of the creator of Big Macs sponsoring a physical fitness event. For posterity I thought I'd do a little recap. Also because I'm pretty sure aliens have entire programs of study devoted to the eternal mystery of why humans run in circles en masse, and this blog could be a useful addition to that syllabus. 

On Friday I ate a ton of carbs (as one does) and drank so much regular water and coconut water that my pee was Olympic gold medal levels of clear and colorless. Let's just say I knew I wasn't going to win the race, but I could sure kick some major butt when it comes to hydration (sadly they do not list hydration winners in the paper). I got up at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday, shoved a banana and a Nutrigrain bar down my nervous throat and focused all my energy on, well, how do I put this delicately, "letting the contents of my colon get to their finish line." (Okay that somehow sounds way grosser than just saying poop).

If you know me you will be shocked I am talking about the p-word. I don't like to talk about it. I will NEVER do it in close proximity to anyone. That's why I don't do that in public restrooms. EVER. But I'm becoming a nurse and it's shocking how much feces has become a routine part of life. It just shows up and everyone who works in medicine shrugs and says what's the big deal. And I want to document the lesser known parts of the long distance running experience, and believe me, this is one of them. You do not want to run 13.1 miles with certain things unresolved, if you know what I mean.

I once had to go into a Starbucks half way through a ten mile training run, pretend to buy a fruit and nut bar (okay I legitimately bought it, only I had to throw it away immediately because I didn't want to run with it for the next five miles), just so I could use their (single occupancy) restroom. I really did not want to do this during the race. Sure there were porta potties, but the humiliation of that experience alone (picture crowds of people around the porta potties, and having to do that while a crowd of people basically cheers you on outside) would have prevented me from crossing the finish line. So even though it was early, even though I hadn't had my fiber, I drank half a cup of very strong coffee on the morning of the race, and made absolutely darn sure that issue was taken care of before I started running.

I deeply apologize if the preceding few paragraphs offended, but if you're not a runner, you need to understand how deeply intertwined distance running and the digestive system are. That is why runners avoid high fiber foods like the plague in the days before a race. So it was only fair for me to speak of such things, as unladylike as they are to discuss on the interweb, to give an accurate picture of what a race entails. 

But moving on to other matters. I got a ride to within about 6 (uphill) blocks of the starting line at Broad  Street in front of the Library of Virginia. I passed lots of people wearing trash bags and realized that for every mystery of running I unlock, another one presents itself. I walked through the Capitol grounds and craned my head around for a Spielberg sighting. Sadly I was once again disapointed by the utter lack of Spielberg in my life. 

Finally I found my wave by the little sign with the letter H bobbing in the air. And then I stood in 30 something degree weather with very little clothing on and became instantly jealous of all those people in their cozy garbage bags. I was shocked by the number of people around me. It's always jarring to see lots of runners gathered together, and realize just how many people in this world are clinically insane. You want to know how clinically insane we are? Two years ago thirteen miles would have been unthinkable for me as a distance that I could run in one go, because at the time I was so out of shape I could not even run a mile. A year ago a 10k seemed like a giant task. 

But here I was about to run 13 miles, and every time I saw a marathon runner arrive on the scene (their start time was about half an hour after hours), I felt a twinge of shame. Those were the "real" runners. Our race was like the kid's table of the day. Those were runners. I was just a jogger, soft "j."And that's just crazy talk. Because I was about to run THIRTEEN miles. Once upon a time my brain would have exploded at the thought of that. But runners are insane, and as soon as we run one previously unthinkable distance our brain shifts to even further, more punishing mileage.

I was kind of expecting a big dramatic start for each wave, maybe with a gun shot off. But honestly over the noise of the crowd and music none of us were sure when exactly we started. People kind of just shrugged and then began to run.

The first stretch of the race, all the way up Broad to the Boulevard flew by. It flew by so fast that I got to the 2 mile marker and felt like it should say .2 miles. I felt great as we turned down Boulevard, great as we ran past the Diamond, great as we ran down a little cul-de-sac on North Side, great down Hermitage. This wasn't just easy, easier than my training runs. This was fun, capital F, exclamation point. Fun!

Here's the thing. Even if you hate running, you would probably enjoy a race, at least the first few miles of one. It's really hard not to. Because let's lay it out there. Humans are narcissists. So who is not going to love doing an activity while other people cheer for you? It is shocking how great that feels. And so many people come out for races. I am a terrible person, because in the past I never did this. But literal hordes of people do this. They come out with their kids and their dogs. They bundle up at 8am in freezing weather with signs and noise makers. They shout and they clap and they hold their hands out for high fives. 

And it's the greatest. It makes you want to run to the moon. It's just fun. It's fun to run past the water and powerade tables and see all those people there volunteering and holding out cups with smiles and words of encouragement. And so between the crowds and the gorgeous (if a little chilly) day, I was great.

And then we got to Bryan Park, a place I now refer to as the land of hills. Oh were there hills. I think I counted 5. And the thing is we were running in a loop so there was no corresponding downhill. It was just uphill followed up more uphill. And even though I didn't know it at the time, each hill was sucking my energy. I've never trained with hills, because my sports doctor told me specifically not to, because I get overuse injuries in my hip flexors, and hills strain hip flexors. When I was running the hills in the park I still felt great. In fact I felt a little cocky if truth be told. Some people had slowed down to walk at that point, and I passed a guy with a wave A bib walking (I was wave H), and I wanted to go "muhaha." 

So we left the park, I fueled up with Powerade (thank you Powerade, I have never been so indebted to a sports drink) and a few "sips" of a gel. And then when we got to Brook Road that's when the pain set in. It wasn't injury pain which is localized and specific. This was the all over, general pain of running too damn long. This is when your knees say, "okay that was a fun little jaunt, but we're tired now so stop", and then you don't stop so your hips chime in, "hey LADY, stop running, a lion isn't chasing you" and you keep going and so all of these body parts look at each other mutinously and then unleash their fury with pain, so much pain. 

I wanted to walk. And I did whenever I stopped for water or Powerade (there were stations about every 2 miles), but I only let myself walk for as long as it took to take those two or three sips of water. Not because I was this warrior runner, but because quite simply I knew that if I stopped to walk I would not start running again. The stretch on Brook Road lasted probably about a mile and a half but it felt like forever. It was never going to end. We would just keep on running down Brook Road until we were in Canada, or Mexico. 

And that's when the random, disconnected thoughts drift in. I thought about how weird it was to be able to litter with impunity during a race. You get handed a cup by this kind volunteer, you take a sip, and then you hurl it back at their feet. It's very strange, especially when you're tired and start splashing neon blue Powerade all down your front. 

Weird things happened on this stretch of the run. I don't know if people did it on purpose, but some of the things on this stretch perfectly coincided with the point in the race where I felt the most crazy. There was a beer table for example with volunteers holding out cups of beer (I love beer, but there is a time and a place people). There was a "Wonderland" with people dressed up on either the side of the road as giant rabbits and decks of cards. I have yet to confirm this "Wonderland" with another racer, so it is entirely possible I hallucinated it. 

But fever dreams and all I kept going. We reached Lombardy and one more filthy hill (I could not help but mutter "HILL!" under my breath when I saw it, as if it was my arch nemesis and this was our final face off), and then once we got to Broad and I saw my family gathered there cheering, I knew I was going to finish this thing. 

It didn't mean the pain went away. Oh no. I could no longer distinguish the pain from my legs. They were one in the same. I can't really describe it other to say that it felt like tiny midgets were running next to me hitting my joints with baseball bats and broken glass bottles. 

And this is when the cheering people aren't just a nice ego boost. They're your life blood. I can not explain how helpful it was every time I heard, "you're almost there, keep going." And I heard it again and again. Spectators shouted it. Runners who had already finished shouted it. And so I kept running, because I believed them. 

Also side note, my iPod shuffled picked like the perfect song for this moment, "Holding Out for a Hero" from Footloose, from the scene with the tractor chicken race. That is just like the most perfect, cheesiest, inspirational, 80s dance music song that could have possibly played. 

Another side note. I don't understand how people run races without music. My iPod was the MVP of that race. My Half Marathon playlist deserves its own medal for helping me get to the finish line. 

I got to Cary Street and could see the finish line. I wanted to sprint, but reminded myself that sprinting at the end of a distance run leads to very bad things. We were also going downhill, and because my legs were so tired I could barely control myself. I think sheer luck prevented me from falling down and rolling down the hill, log style, to the finish (although if that happened I bet I would have made the front page of the Times Dispatch, winner schminner).

And then it was all over. Someone was handing me a medal, and then in the next moment I had a bottle of water, bottle of Powerade, and a giant bagel to tear into. 

My legs have never hurt worse in my life. I napped for two hours later that afternoon and slept for 11 hours Saturday night. Sunday my legs were so sore I could barely move. 

And it was all worth it. So about that marathon...

One additional thing: there were two quotes that kept popping up in my brain throughout the race I'd like to share:

-One I read in some article about how Andre Agassi's famous fitness coach, Gil Reyes, used to say to him, "trust your legs." My legs stopped trusting me at about mile 10, but I trusted them. And they didn't let me down.

-Two is embarrassingly enough from a Nike commercial or ad. I don't remember it exactly but it's something like, "strong is what happens when you've used up all your weak." I like that. I think it applies equally well to life as it does to running.

The End.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chocolate and Housewives

At the beginning of today I wanted to hide under my covers and never get out. I was done. All of that stuff I wrote about in my last blog I didn't care about. I was just too tired and too drained from this week, from school and the hospital, from all of the work and stress and anxiety that went into putting together a gift guide featuring 20 gifts from TWENTY different local businesses (that had to be spread out into 4 distinct geographical regions of town-not as easy as you would think), from the anxiety of having to borrow items from those 20 local businesses, businesses that rock my world because of how generous and awesome they have been, but which, because of my Catholic upbringing, also rocked my world with fear and guilt at the thought of losing their items or messing things up or disappointing any of them.

I went for a run and instead of my usual rush of endorphins I just felt overwhelmed. And then I did the worst thing I can do when I'm overwhelmed but which I always do when I'm overwhelmed. I thought of my beautiful Charleston, and of how whenever I was overwhelmed or stressed there I found myself in my car on the way to one of the beaches. And thinking of this just made me ache. Because all I wanted and needed was one of those beach walks, to feel sand under my toes and smell salt and have the noise of wind and waves drown out all thoughts. My heart is still pulling me there, only now those beaches aren't just a 15 minutes drive away.

So all this happened. I wallowed and I stressed and I felt at the verge of snapping.

Which is why I immediately did the only logical thing a person could do in this situation. I ate some absolutely bonkers insanely good chocolate from Chocolate Cravings, made myself a cup of hot cocoa (coconut flavored from Apropos Roasters! yummm), and turned on the TV to the Real Housewives of Atlanta marathon. And I stopped. I stopped everything else. It can all wait.

Because there comes a point in every woman's life when she just need to stuff her face with sugar and watch Kim and Nene yell at each other.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My life is weird.

I know now what it's like to be Sydney Bristow from Alias, leading a double life, switching identities at the drop of a hat. Minus all the killing people and wigs. 

What I'm trying to emphasize is that my life is weird. Like fever dream weird. Sometimes I have to concentrate really hard to make myself believe that my days aren't dreams. Because today, for example, went like this:

-I went to my clinical at the hospital and spent 5 hours in a hospital. The issues at hand during these 5 hours included ventilators, arterial blood gasses, DNR's, people very near death and/or trying very hard to live, making beds, watching people give shots, etc. 

-I left the hospital and spent the next 4 hours driving around Richmond, picking up gift items to borrow for a holiday gift guide in Belle magazine (it comes out in December, I feel like this gift guide is my child at this point, it took over thirty hours of work, it was exhausting, sometimes painful, but in the end one of my proudest achievements-so yeah I gave birth to it). The issues at hand during these 4 hours were: color preference, poodle bookends, getting prices right, finding chalk for a chalkboard wine bottle holder).

These two scenarios are different yes? Juggling both worlds would make one slightly schizophrenic, agreed?

But here's the thing. I LOVE both of these worlds. I always, always want to have this schizophrenic life, with nursing as my day job and writing as my art and passion and creative outlet. But I also am coming to terms with the fact that it makes for a very strange life.

You would think I would need to keep these worlds completely separate. And I do to a degree. Because I really will become Sybil if I can't separate writing a play review from giving someone a dose of insulin.  But I'm also finding that I can use each of these worlds to help me handle the other one better.

Spending time around very sick people has a way of giving you instant perspective. And I try to use that when I'm out and about as a freelance writer. When I'm freaking out about a deadline or about getting copy right, all I need to do is think about my experiences in the hospital to lessen that stress. I want to do well at my job, but thinking about the hospital, I can remember very quickly that, in the big scheme of things, no job is worth losing sleep over. Life is too short and too fragile. We pretend it isn't and purposefully avoid all evidence of that fragility, but you spend 5 minutes in a hospital and that illusion is gone. But knowing that can be a blessing. Because it forces you to keep things in perspective, to not stress out about the little things and to be grateful for the big ones.

 Also today, specifically because I spent 5 hours in a hospital, I had one of the best runs of my life. Running can seem like a pain and a chore and something we force ourselves to do. But my God, when you've seen people who can't move or talk or even breathe on their own, running feels like the most beautiful thing you can possibly do. I may lose this in a few days time, but today I was aware, completely, of what a gift and a privilege it is that I can run. I've never been so acutely aware of my heart beating or my lungs working, of the blood running through my veins and my muscles contracting and flexing, because I had just witnessed what the absence of those things look like. And once they're gone they may be gone for good. And so why in the world shouldn't we just luxuriate in the miracle of our working, functioning, healthy bodies? If you need a reason to run you shouldn't need any other one other than the fact that you  have the capacity to run, that you have two strong legs and a heart and a pair of lungs that will keep up with you no matter how much you push them.  Run to celebrate that fact.

But it's not just spending time in a hospital that helps my life on the outside. It works the other way too.
When I'm in the hospital (and right now it's easy peasy-5 hours every couple of weeks, starting next semester I will be spending more and more of my time there until I probably will just set up camp). But I digress. When I'm in the hospital and especially when I'm in a hospital for long periods of time, I know that I'm going to need my freelance life, and all of the tiny, trivial little details that come with it to keep me strong. There's such a thing as too much perspective. In a hospital I think it's probably very easy to get consumed with the starkness of things, with the monstrous scope of  how big the stakes are. There's no room for triviality when it comes to dealing with sick or injured people. All that matters is doing everything possible to make them better or to at the very least make them more comfortable. 

Which is why I think it's probably going to be incredibly important to stock up on and literally horde all of the nice, happy details that I come across in my freelance work. With that it's all about the small things. And I think I'm going to need that contrast, because part of being alive and healthy is having the luxury of caring about the little things, of caring about them profoundly simply because we can. 

And this is probably all a little rambling and overly deep, but I guess I'm just trying to sort all of this out, because right now it's still hard. Right now I'm still getting used to going from standing by the bed of a person at the end of their life in the morning and writing about jewelry in the afternoon. It's incredibly strange, and it's exhausting.

But I'm getting there. I'm getting to the point where my life A not only exists along side my life B, but helps make it better and more meaningful. Where my life B helps strengthen me and fortify me to deal with the harder parts of life A.

And if I didn't emphasize this enough I encourage you to really think about it, the next time you go for a run or work out or just go for a long walk. It's a gift. Try to hold that thought inside of you. I know I will. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Suzanne Collins/Katniss Everdeen is my hero.

So I came across this Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss poster online today from the upcoming Hunger Games adaptation (they have 8 character posters total, so go find them!). And holy crap I could not be more excited about these movies. And I don't have anywhere near the fear I normally do about movie adaptations, because as I read these three books over the course of three days (I brought the first one down to the beach, read it in less than 24 hours, and then conducted an exhaustive search of several Nagshead bookstores to find the second and third in the series), I realized that these books are really the equivalent of great, popcorn movies. 

There's nothing literary about them, and I don't mean that disrespectfully to Suzanne Collins, who really is my hero. But they're just not literary. Language is not really important. Style is not really important. These things, along with the fact that the story revolves around teenagers, is why they are (mistakenly) placed in young adult sections. The words are purely and simply a vehicle for the story, and what a story it is. Never would I have guessed that a dystopian novel about a future where children fight to the death on a reality television would make for quite possibly the most addictive, thrilling, and gripping books I have ever read. I devoured these books. And they just kick the most incredible ass. I hate to give away anything, because not knowing how these books end is intrinsic to the experience, so I won't, but I will say that Suzanne Collins is a brave, brave woman because she is not afraid of dark. She is not afraid to be bold and kill people off and set off literal bombs. That is gutsy. That puts an enormous amount of trust in readers, because so many forms of entertainment these days hold people's hands and shy away from dark stuff and end up lesser because of that. 

But Suzanne Collins doesn't go dark for the shock value. There's nothing extraneous or gratuitous about it. She does it because her very simply written "young adult" novels tell an incredibly entertaining story about the future that just so happens to work very well as an analogy  about the cost of modern war, about the promises we broken humans make again and again only to break, about the innocents who suffer in the name of causes, about the terrible games adults or nations play-games that inevitably hurt the non-willing participants the most. 

But the best thing that Suzanne Collins does with these books, why I so cheer for them, is because of a character named Katniss Everdeen. After reading the first Twilight I wanted to weep for future generations of preteen and teenage girls. Because really? Bella freaking Swan was their feminine role model? A girl who makes irrational decision after irrational decision because of a pretty, undead boy. A girl who has so little agency over her own life that she literally wants to throw it away, regardless of her friends and family's feelings, and become undead just so she never has to part from that pretty boy. A girl who is weak and clumsy and who has to be rescued, again and again and again by the men around her.

That really sucks. That pained me, because Twilight was so popular and young girls would read that and think Bella was someone to admire. But then along came The Hunger Games, and with it Katniss Everdeen, and I deeply hope that young girls out there choose Katniss over Bella as their role model . Because she's so fantastic. She's unequivocally the hero of these books. Not only is she a hero, but she's a frikkin' action hero. There are pretty boys sure, but Katniss, the girl, comes to their rescue. I read the first book, when Katniss rescues Peeta in the arena and nurses him back to life and silently cheered the whole time. Because that's what girls need. They need to see a woman take charge and be fierce (not in the Tyra sense, I mean in the I'll shoot you with a cross bow sense).

Katniss, from the first page, is the head of her family, and throughout these books her mission is to keep her loved ones alive at any cost. This is not a girl who loses her head and is willing to give up everything else in her life because of a cute guy. But the great thing is that she's not perfect either. That's the other trap of bad female literary heroines-making them into bland martyrs who have no faults. Katniss makes mistakes and has flaws and is by no means the most moral character in these books. But that's why she's so great. Because she's strong and human at the same time. She can fall in love and be loved by the boys around her, but she's an awesome feminist character, because that love never dictates who she is. The girl can sing a song, stab someone, kiss a boy and then hunt for dinner. That's the kind of female character I want my niece to look up to. And it is my sincere hope that one day my niece, or hypothetical daughter or just any eleven year olds or twelve year olds out there who may have once idolized Bella Swan, will read The Hunger Games, shake their heads, and think "Katniss would kick that wimpy vampire lover's ass any day."
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