Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday 5: Payday

From whom did you receive your first real paycheck?

When I worked at Gilman's/Lost River Caverns, where I also learned to love rocks.


Among board games involving the exchange of money, which have you enjoyed most?

Do you exchange money in Life? I think you do. I didn't have anything against Monopoly, but I think I actually finished more games of Life.


PayDay is the name of a candy bar consisting of salted peanuts rolled in caramel surrounding a firm, nougat-like center. How does it sound to you if you haven’t tried it, and how do you like it if you have? Is there a similar candy bar you like better?

I don't like nuts in my chocolate, nor do I like peanuts or peanut butter mixed with chocolate. (Unpopular opinions!) Anything with caramel, nougat, and chocolate without nuts is just peachy keen.


When did you last do something nice for yourself just because it was pay day?

I went out and bought new bras. Ladies, I recommend making sure that you're wearing the correct bra size. (In other words: if you've been fitted at Victoria's Secret, or you've used that bizarre "add an arbitrary number to your band measurement," measure yourself again.)


What person with the surname Day are you most familiar with?

I had a really hard time parsing this question at first; I took it to mean "Person With the Surname Day," as if there were multiple holidays we observe in honor of people with specific surnames. Like, I had to read the question two or three times to understand what they meant.

And my first answer is, of course, Doris Day! Infinitely superior to Felicia Day.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What I Read: Crossings

I originally requested Crossings from NetGalley because I was in the middle of working on a memoirs project and thought that it would be beneficial to read something else in the genre.

Image courtesy Penguin Random House


I was also, to be entirely honest, inherently put off by the book based on its content, as a more-or-less pacifist. Ironically enough, that also tilted me towards requesting Crossings, because I think it's important to engage in dialogue with people who disagree with you. It forces you to critically examine your own beliefs and principles, it builds empathy, and it broadens your understanding of the world. While I can't say that I now understand the appeal of going into combat or the thrill of engaging the enemy, I at least understand how it was appealing for Kerstetter. Even though the war memoirs were my least favorite part, they were still engaging.

What I found the most powerful, however, was everything that came after Kerstetter's tours in Iraq: his stroke and the possibility of recovery. Kerstetter gives a clear account of the cognitive impairments resulting from his stroke and also his frustration with them. Here he was, someone who had always loved reading and literature, who had gone through university and then medical school, now struggling to make it through children's books. War might not be anything I'll ever be able to relate to, but the effect that old age or an accident might have on my mental capacities is something that gnaws at me.

As America (and other nations) continue to cope with the metaphorical fallout from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, accounts like Kerstetter's will become invaluable as far as the domestic effects are concerned. How could we have better taken care of troops while they were in combat? How can we erase the stigma of PTSD? Can we better acclimate soldiers to their own crossings: from civilian to solider and then back again?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Talky Tuesday: Running, "Good" Fatties, and Inspiration Porn

I'm taking a break from the slow eking-out of my travelogues to talk about running. Again.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this on my personal Facebook:

Last Friday I woke up, had a cup of tea, and then went out and ran a 5K. Not any kind of official race; I mean I ran 3.1 miles, nonstop, around my neighborhood. (3.5 miles, if my running app is to be believed.) I'm including a recent, honest-but-not-flattering photo with this post so you can see more or less what I looked like when I did it, down to the hairdo and tanktop and sneakers. Probably equally sweaty, because damn Boston was SWELTERING that day. This is what a runner looks like. 
I'm talking about this on Facebook for a few reasons. The first is that I did something that I'm proud of, something I thought for years that I would never want (or be able) to do. Running a 5K was only slightly more likely, I thought, than going to Mars or winning the lottery. And last week I basically went out and did it by accident. Cool! I did the thing! I even *enjoyed* doing the thing! (And me *enjoying* running was, not so long ago, as alien to me as "enjoying paperwork" or "enjoying scrubbing toilets.") I worked hard at it for 18 months and then I did it without dying or injuring myself!* (I also did it without filling my albuterol inhaler 'script which in retrospect is a terrible idea for someone with asthma. Don't Do What Donny Don't Does!) 
*I did suffer a twisted ankle during all of this training, but not while I was actually running. I stepped off a sidewalk funny while I was in town. 
The second reason I'm talking about this is to be up front about something: it was hard. It was physically difficult (my earliest workouts were just 5 seconds of jogging mixed with 55 seconds of walking for a grand total of 15 minutes, and even those "easy" workouts were hard at times) and it was mentally difficult (exercising in public while fat and female is fraught). I felt weird and embarrassed and discouraged way more than I felt awesome. Sometimes it felt like there was something wrong with me for finding it so hard and progressing so slowly. If you feel like that about anything -- exercising, learning something new, coping with mental illness -- I want you to know that my fat, sweaty, awkward, struggling self knows what it feels like. I don't know if it'll get better for you or not when it comes to that particular arena of self-improvement, but I know what it's like in that moment and I see and recognize your struggle. We're all reforming fuck-ups together! 
The third reason I'm posting this screed with this specific honest-but-not-flattering photo is to make it clear that 1) I didn't wait until I wasn't fat, or until I was less fat, to try to do the thing and 2) I didn't do the thing to be a "good" fatty or to make me less fat. I did it because I wanted to, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could, and then at some point just because I liked it. 
This is what a runner looks like. It's not a "before" (hell, or even an "after") photo. It's me. The body I have *right now* can do this awesome thing. And maybe more! Maybe I'll train for a 10K. Maybe I'll benchpress my own bodyweight. Maybe I'll take dance lessons or take up MMA. Maybe I'll just keep running around three miles three days a week. During it all, I'll almost certainly continue to remain more or less fat. 
Every single person reading this is already capable of so much, just the way they are. All of us not equally much, or of the same things -- limits DO exist, illnesses and disabilities take their toll, we all only have so much spare time -- but often of much more than we realize. Your body is fine the way it is.
I shared this post with this picture of me visiting Diana (of Redskirts and Arisia fame) in Boston:

Diana looking all business casual dressy fly and me looking like a sweaty mess, in front of a burrito restaurant.


I suspect people might have misunderstood my desire to disable comments on the post. It was friends-only, and the friends on FB who get to see the friends-only stuff aren't assholes. I didn't think anyone would be mean or shitty about it—effusive praise is what would bug me, and naturally that happened (some of it more easy for me to digest than others). The idea that someone might process the picture and post as "inspiration porn" is what would bug me.

Inspiration porn, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is the use of images of disabled athletes or artists or whoever used as a means for the able-bodied to feel inspired (or to guilt them into Doing The Thing). This article on The Mighty has more information about that. While fatness and physical disability are not marginalized to the same degree, or equivalent in any way, I think, to an extent, images of fat people accomplishing cool shit are leveraged similarly. There can also be a well-meaning condescension and patronization when it comes to images of fat athletes or fat aspiring athletes: "How cute of you to try!" "Good for you for being a good fatty!"

This is better than images of fat people being distributed for the purposes of ridicule, but it's not really ideal, either. And it's exactly why I wanted to disable comments. I knew that no one was going to come at me with a shitty comment; it was much more likely for people to be effusive in praise and encouragement, all of which would have meant well but some of which would no doubt be coming from that place of "I'm inspired by your willingness to do this thing with a body I consider undesirable (even as we are friends because of my admiration for your personality etc.)" "I'm glad you're doing something to become less Fat." If you're thinking or feeling those things when you see pictures of fat athletes, please ch-ch-checkity-check yo' self.

On a positive note, I'd like to thank LineageWear for those awesome peacock bike shorts and my other leggings: they really are the #bestleggingsever. (If you don't have a pair of your own, you can shop through my LineageWear referral link and get a 10% discount. TREAT YO' SELF!)

I'd also like to thank Aardvark Sports Shop in Bethlehem, PA. When I walked in there almost a year ago to get fitted for my first-ever pair of running shoes, I thought I would die of embarrassment. But the employee who helped me was super chill and treated me and my big ol' duck feet with perfect, expert helpfulness and found me the perfect shoes. Gear matters, and without those leggings or those shoes I wouldn't have been able to do what I did.

And finally, I'd like to put in a good word for Charity Miles. A lot of times it was easier to go out and do the thing because I knew it would help a better cause as well as myself. Personally, I run for charity: water because damn there's nothing like a glass of cold water after a brutal run!

Playlist shout-outs include: basically every Tarantino soundtrack up to Kill Bill Vol. 1, Say Sue Me, Kanye (I'm trash), Garbage, Eve 6, Drunken Tiger/MFBTY, The Blue Hearts, and The High-Lows.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday 5: I Don't Get It Either

Twitch is an enormously popular livestreaming platform mostly for watching people play video games. It has more than 1.5 million broadcasters and more than one million visitors per month, and Amazon acquired it for nearly a billion dollars in 2014. Which of your computer activities would you livestream if there were a way to make some money doing it?

Y'all want to watch me write blog entries in real time, right? Right??


EDM (electronic dance music) is usually performed by DJs on stage in front of audiences, playing tracks they’ve mixed, right off their laptops. If you were a push-button DJ playing your tunes in a club, what would be your opening and closing songs, assuming everyone’s there because they’re into whatever sounds you’re into?

My opening song would be absolutely be "Gangnam Style," or one of the infinite mashups out there. This one might be my favorite:



Or this one:



What can I say? 2012 might have been my peak year.

As for the end of the set, I think this is a good closer:



What’s a good Adele song, and why is Adele so popular?

I don't know if I like this shade you're throwing on Adele, Friday 5! I'm not obsessed with Adele but I like her voice.

Speaking of 2012, I was also cheered to see that Adele was so popular with my Korean students. In a country that can be even more looks-based and body-conscious than the US, I hope that at least a few of my girl students realized that it's possible for them to be talented and successful without looking like a typical K-pop star.

I listened to "Rolling in the Deep" a lot with those kiddos, so that's probably my favorite Adele song.


The Walking Dead?

I don't get this one either, Friday 5.


Every generation seems to arrive at a “They don’t write ’em like that anymore” attitude. Why does it seem like most middle-aged people lose interest in new music?

There's actually a reason for this! I think it has something to do with the way your brain is still developing as a teenager versus how it is as an adult, and so music from your childhood and teenage years will always be more immediate and visceral for you than most anything else. In other words, nostalgia's a helluva drug.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What I Read: Stories of Your Life and Others

It's October and somehow I'm still not finished writing up all of the reading I did on my summer vacation (as well as what I did besides read on my summer vacation). This was a book I started and finished during my long weekend in Austin.

Image courtesy Small Beer Press


The problem with reviewing short story collections so long (months) after you've read them is that it's harder to keep all of the stories in mind. I know that I liked what I read a lot, but I struggle to remember exactly what it was that I read -- except the titular story, "Story of Your Life," which is definitely the strongest of them all.

After a quick refresher (as in, reading someone else's review on GoodReads), my memory came back to me. The other stories I remembered enjoying were "Hell is the Absence of God," "Liking What You See: A Documentary," and "Division by Zero." Despite winning a Sideways award (whatever that is?), "Seventy-Two Letters" didn't really appeal to me. Neither did "Tower of Babylon." "Understand" was mildly interesting, in that it was probably the most "traditional" science fiction of the lot (what happens when people give themselves supergenius intellects?), but it didn't have the same existentialist concerns or the same experimentation with form that characterized what I thought were the best stories. And, finally, "The Evolution of Human Science" is a clever and pithy little work and I enjoyed it in the moment I read it, but by the time I sat down to write this review I'd completely forgotten it.

What I appreciate about this collection is one of the same things I appreciated about The Three-Body Problem: author commentary is included at the end. It's interesting to take a peak behind the curtain and see the germ of an idea for a story (if I can mix my metaphors a little). Chiang has yet to produce a novel-length work, but I think many of the ideas in here have enough meat to become novels on their own. I look forward to any future work from Chiang, and I hope he tackles more long-form work in the future.

Monday, October 9, 2017

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 5: Austin, TX to Bethlehem, PA

The weather for my Monday flight out is appropriately dour and unpleasant: overcast, drizzly, and just plain "blah." It matches my mood.

I'm up half an hour before everyone else, so after I triple-check what small amount of luggage I have, I sit out in the living room with the cats and read some more James Tiptree, Jr. while the rest of the household wakes up and does their thing around me. Things move quietly and efficiently until Noah gets the text alert that my ride to the airport's arrived. I say my goodbyes at the door, but then an idea hits Noah.

"I'll come out with you. I just realized that the driver will probably be looking for me, since I called for the ride."

I'm reminded of our goodbye in NYC last October, when it was Noah disappearing into an Uber to the airport and I was the one left behind. On that equally gray morning, after hugging out our goodbyes, I had hung by the open door and watched him disappear down the stairs with our host, only for him to dart back at the last minute for a last hug. This time it's me vanishing into an Uber for the airport.

We meet my ride at the curb, a cheerful woman in early middle age. I swing my larger bag in the back of the car. Noah pulls me in for one hug then, and then the "one more hug" trick again right before I step in the back passenger seat. After that, he lets me go for real, and I get in the car.

It's the price you pay to pull up stakes and move to another country. Facebook and Skype and email help, but they're not the same. And some people translate better online than others. Noah is markedly worse than others. That's probably what makes our goodbyes so heavy.

On the plus side, I have a pleasant ride to the airport. It's weird talking to human beings for no reason again; it's weird how comfortable I am doing it (after stony silences in cabs and Ubers in Stockholm and NYC). Is this my inner American coming out? Is this who I've been all along?

No, it's probably just being in Texas. Extroversion acquired via osmosis.

We talk about music festivals: how much money people can make off of SXSW, how busy it can get, how small Musikfest (on my to-do list during this trip) is by comparison, even though both festivals have been running for about as many years.

Musikfest 2013. Image courtesy the official Lehigh Valley Flickr account.
I check in at the airport without a problem and see again that I'll be among the last board. Whatever. I make it on board and text Noah and my mom to let them know that everything went according to plan.

The weather in Newark is equally crummy and I'm convinced that we're going to hydroplane into the back of a tractor trailer or get sideswiped or anything else on the way home. I'm no longer used to car rides on the highway in inclement weather; is this a small sign of my own de-Americanization?

Obviously we make it home just fine. I get Priscilla, my indestructible-except-for-her-hinges laptop, up and running (how many months of updates do I need to install? too many), check in with my sambo on Google Hangouts, and then begin the long work of culling my library yet again. I work on the project off-and-on for the next few days; eventually I'll have five(!!) boxes of books for the Riegelsville library.



I take a break for Jeopardy!, because I'm a nerd, and then decide on my course of action for tomorrow: library and 'fest.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday 5: What Ails Ya

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash



How do you treat a bad case of the Mondays?

When you're a freelance tutor, you don't really get "the Mondays." People often have the most forgiving schedules on weekends, so that's when the bulk of your tutoring happens. Couple that with spending the work week on editing and other work-related tasks, the answer is that I don't get "the Mondays" because I don't have Mondays or weekends. My downtime comes in small chunks throughout the week and then periodically in longer breaks for vacations.


How do you fight off a case of the blahs?

I check in with what I'm doing. Usually I feel the most "blah" when I'm sitting at the computer and compulsively checking social media just for the sake of checking it. If I can stop that cycle and do something else (write, read, listen to a podcast while I play Diablo III), I usually feel better. I also recognize that I'm more prone to the blahs during the winter months, which I try to counter by lighting the apartment with full-spectrum bulbs and making sure to take a multivitamin with plenty of vitamin D.

The other thing I do is clean. Stuff tends to accumulate around me: papers get piled up, jewelry projects I intend to finish "soon, really soon" float around on my desk, things like that. Sometimes I feel "blah" because I'm surrounded by a mountain of unfinished things; when that happens, I take a day to clean up and organize. (The last time I did this, I found a year-old piece of unopened mail from Skatteverket.)


How do you deal with a bad hair day?

Ponytails and dry shampoo.


What’s your strategy for FOMO?

I don't know if I suffer from a "fear of missing out," specifically. On bad days I can be a fairly compulsive smartphone user (check Facebook! check Twitter! check your emails!), but for me it isn't an anxiety about missing out on something cool or exciting. It's about not knowing: not being able to answer that head-scratcher right away, not knowing what that email from a friend says, etc. I'd say that I have FONK (Fear Of Not Knowing) more than FOMO.

My strategy for FONK is non-existent. I can get sucked up into it really easily. If I notice what I'm doing, I'll switch out of email or Facebook and read something on the Kindle app instead, but I don't always notice.


How prone are you to Instagram envy?

Not at all, since I don't use Instagram!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Trek Thursday: Discovery

On Friday, JV and I sat down with our weekly pizza to watch the first episode of the new Star Trek series. I went in with cautious optimism: it had received a lot of good reviews (when they finally lifted the ban on reviews?), but all of my friends who are actual Trek fans (including Diana of Redskirts) were ambivalent at best about it.

Despite the caution in my optimism, I left the episode DISAPPOINTED.


I say this as someone who liked the J. J. Abrams reboot—initially. Rewatching it after mainlining TOS over the course of a few months, though, it loses a lot of the shine. (Or maybe I just paid better attention to the plot the second time around.) I didn't even bother with the second one. We've hit peak Cabbagepatch.

Discovery takes its cue from the Abrams' reboot more than something like TOS or Next Generation, both in terms of aesthetics and also in story style. It's a lot of whiz-bang visual effects, Dutch angles, lens flare, etc. The story is more about what will look good on screen and not what would be interesting to think about.

Also, minor point, but when you make a prequel fifty-odd years after the original material, first of all: why? (Do they want that Klingon–Federation war backdrop?) Second of all: if you're going to do that, why are you blowing the budget on these fantastic hyper-future sets that are so clearly more advanced than the tech that's supposed to be, in-story, ten? fifteen? years later? Say what you will about the Star Wars prequels, but the visual continuity between the prequels and the original trilogy (I can't speak for the new movies, haven't seen them and have no interest in there) is pretty solid.

There are also plenty of Star Trek episodes where the conflict is based on someone in Starfleet making a terrible decision that errs on the side of optimism and naivete. But the point always seemed to be that even if it ends up being a mistake once in a while, that's the Starfleet standard operating procedure and it's based on (what I think is) a pretty noble ideal. (Like, we just watched the Next Generation episode "The Samaritan Snare," where La Forge gets kidnapped when they stop to repair a broken-down ship right after we watched the first episode of Discovery.)

A Starfleet where striking first—and violently—is framed as "the thing that should be done" and the officer who promotes it is being framed as being unjustly punished is not a Star Trek I find particularly inspiring or entertaining. I don't have hopes for future stories: Kurtzman's previous writing is much more in the action-oriented line (Transformers, Cowboys vs Aliens) and one random, stilted-sounding drama (People Like Us). Of course, Fuller has worked on other Star Trek incarnations: he's also written stuff that's more nuanced than giant fighting robot cars (Pushing Daisies, American Gods, Dead Like Me).

Good thing I have so many more episodes of Next Generation left to go!


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Talky Tuesday: What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Austin, TX, Day 4

It's my last full day in Austin and I try really hard not to be sad about it. Fortunately that's easy, because today's the day we go to Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio and see the bats!

Everyone sleeps in and I'm the first up, again. I've finished Stories of Your Life and Others by now (I finished it while I was waiting for the bus to/at Book People yesterday); my eye catches a James Tiptree, Jr. collection and picks that up.

"Take that with you," Elizabeth says when they wake up. "I'm basically holding on to those books to give away to people."

Noah and Elizabeth decide to take advantage of the rental car and do the grocery shopping for all of the heavy things (read as: kitty litter). I follow along, because I really do genuinely like wandering around grocery stores, even if (like my trip with Elizabeth yesterday) there's no giddy quality of planning and anticipation involved.

After we bring the groceries back (and make a quick run to the store to find a misplaced "bag of bags"), we decide to try to get lunch in town before the drive out to San Antonio. The places we check have incredibly long waits, though, so instead we get some macarons and a turkey and cheese sandwich (for me and Noah to split) and head straight to San Antonio and decide to eat there. Noah consults with a friend via text about the best tacos in San Antonio, and he responds: "Rolando's Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord."

A podcast interview with Eddie Izzard fills the silence on the long drive; a Texas state lawmaker (who both Noah and Elizabeth recognize, since they both work in the Capitol) drives very aggressively, ultimately passing us on the right, and Elizabeth and Noah both shriek in inchoate rage. (Apparently she's a garbage politician in addition to a garbage driver.)

We get to Rolando's Super Taco without incident. We took the "Jesus is Lord" part of the text to mean that really, they're awesome tacos, but then when we arrive we see it: bold text, professionally painted on the side of the building.



The tacos are, indeed, super. And the water glasses are comically oversized. ("Welcome back to America," either Elizabeth or Noah says when a "Jesus, this is huge" reflexively escapes my lips.)

Stuffed to the gills, we continue to the cave, which is a jaw-dropping tourist trap of truly American proportions. I suppose when your cave is in the middle of uninhabited ranch land, you can spread out as much as you like; there are two different gift shops, some kind of zip line attraction, a maze, gem panning, and even a cafeteria.



The next tour leaves in about five minutes, giving us enough time to stroll over to the tour holding pen. This cave opts for the "tour guide at every station" model, which I like less than the "have a new friend and personal cave psychopomp for an hour" model, but given some of the hairpin turns in the path, I see why it's run the way it is. I don't fall, thankfully, though Noah almost does.



They have an obligatory photo spot, which Noah and Elizabeth resent—"even if they don't sell your picture to you, they can use it in promotional material"—and so they strive to look as awful as possible when the flash goes off.

I shrug. "Joke's on them. I'm not photogenic at all!"

The cave itself is spectacular and miracle of miracles, my camera phone manages to capture some of the magic. I lose my mind repeatedly on the tour.



"Thank you for indulging my weirdo nerdy interests," I say as we follow the walkway back to the main tourist campus of shops and food. I still have OMG CAVE HIGH thrumming through my veins.

"You'd do the same for me," Noah replies.

"What would be the equivalent? That Eugene O'Neill play, I guess."

"Oh, yeah. Which one was that?" He stops to think and we both say, together, "'The Hairy Ape.'"

We wait in the cafeteria for the bat tour to begin. There's some short paperwork to sign, a waiver for something or other, and then we're out on the patio for a short lecture on bats. The bat colony here are Mexican free tail bats; they don't hibernate, so they haven't been devastated by White Nose Syndrome like the little brown bats in PA. But the BCI volunteer touches on WNS, and other kinds of bats as well. She brings up the flying fox: "Do I have anyone here who's six foot?"

"This guy is," Elizabeth says, pointing at Noah. The BCI volunteer asks him to stand and hold his arms to demonstrate the wingspan of a flying fox. Elizabeth and I both crack up, and she snaps a picture of his demonstration. The volunteer moves on to other bat species and Noah sits down.

As we're caravaning out to the cave where the bats will emerge, Elizabeth tells Noah, "I volunteered you to stand up because I knew you would love it. Everyone watching you? Perfect."

The drive to the cave is surprisingly long, though we can't be driving more than 20 mph, so that's part of it.

"They could just be really efficient serial killers," Elizabeth wonders as we drive. The rental car isn't exactly made for off-roading; I think we all are fervently hoping that we don't get a flat or suffer any other road maladies. The survives, and right away you can smell the presence of bat. Woof. It's a short walk through the Texan scrub and then we're at the mouth of a cave. Or not at, not entirely; we're a few hundred feet back, separated by a gentle slope full of rocks and debris.

At ground level a few benches have been built to seat bat observers, and some artificial terraces. We make our way to the front-most ledge and sit and wait, while the BCI volunteer continues to inform us about the nearby wildlife and other bat facts.



We see a few flutters of individual bats here and there, and then eventually they're out, like a bat vortex. They stream out and into some fields we can't see to feed on assorted pests. After a few minutes of watching, the BCI volunteer announces that she'll be leading people to the other side, right over the cave, so we can be right under the bats as they fly.

It's a pretty amazing sight, though I'm mindful of the fact that we're under animals and try to remember to not stand and gape with my mouth wide open. Don't want to be a bat toilet!

"They look like an aurora borealis," I say.

"There is a river-like quality to their flight," Noah agrees.

Again, I think of Vonnegut: If this isn't nice, what is? "Not everything is a total garbage fire," I comment, and Noah just laughs.

On our way out, we can still see bats silhouetted against the clouds in the vanishing daylight. According to the BCI volunteer, they can hit bursts of speed up to 100 mph. With the right wind and atmospheric conditions, I guess.



We pull back on the highway and listen to a podcast Elizabeth wanted to try out, The Babysitter's Club Club. It's two guys reading The Babysitter's Club books, one for the first time and one for the first time since childhood. It suffers the usual podcast problem: desperately needs more editing and/or more scripting, and much of the episode is full of only moderately funny banter. We all pick it apart a little, and then Noah puts on another podcast for the second half of the trip home: Pop Culture Happy Hour.

As we wind in to Austin, food comes up. Noah is hungry; Elizabeth isn't. (She had a huge platter at Rolando's Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord.) Elizabeth drops us off at the all-purpose eatery Noah and I had patronized for breakfast on Friday and goes home herself. Noah gets loaded vegetarian nachos (tofu instead of bacon!) and I get a cider. We sit and talk about everything important and nothing in particular: friendships, relationships, anxieties, veganism. There's no postponing the inevitable, though: we finish the nachos and my cider runs out and it's definitely time to go home.



"Should we wake you up, or do you have an alarm?"

"I'll set an alarm. Have I checked in?" Weird to phrase it like that, but since Noah bought the ticket, he's the one who keeps getting the email reminders from Southwest.

"Yes, I did that this morning."

"Okay, great."

A few minutes into me last-minute packing and double-checking everything, Noah drifts out of the bedroom. "Okay, so I didn't actually check you in. I had the window open to take care of the airport cab, but I never hit the button. Should I send it to you, or...?"

I wave him way. "You can just do it yourself, it's fine." If my flight back is overbooked and I get bumped to a later one, I don't really care so much.

"Okay. Night!"

"Night!"

My things are packed as best as they can be with me still in pajamas. I double-check my alarm (poor form to miss a flight someone else has paid for), and then drift off to sleep.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday 5: Consumption

What is your paper towel consumption like?

Not awful, but not ideal. I try to use sponges and tea towels as often as possible in the kitchen, but paper towels have also become our default paper product in the house. No napkins, no tissues: just paper towels.





What condiment do you use most often?

Hm, what counts as a condiment? Do the variety of sauces in squeeze bottles in our fridge count as condiments? Because if we're talking about just ketchup and mustard, I don't use either.

What is your sticky note consumption like?

Nonexistent. I never use them.

What’s your coin jar setup?

Sweden is much closer to going cashless than the US, and I go for long stretches without having any cash on me at all. Needless to say, spare change doesn't really accumulate. When I have some, I usually give it away.

What’s something you’ve purchased recently that was lower in price than usual?

I don't know about recently, but I picked up some home decor items from Myrorna's for ultra cheap. I also visited a couple of vintage stores while I was in the US, but the keyword there is "vintage" (i.e. not "thrift"). They didn't break the bank, but they weren't a steal, either.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Talky Tuesday: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 3: Austin, TX (Day 2)

My favorite part of visiting friends, particularly friends I only see every so often, is borrowing books from their personal libraries. It keeps me from having to pack books myself, and I like to see the ways that friends have branched out and developed in my absence. So it's not a problem that Noah is still sleeping and Elizabeth has already left for work when I wake up a little after 7:00, alert and refreshed. I use the time to sit with a collection of Ted Chiang's short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others.

I start with "The Story of Your Life," since I had recently seen and enjoyed Arrival,  and have just begun another before Noah wakes up and brews some of the Söder tea I brought to go with the mugs. We talk while we finish our drinks, sleepy and meandering.Making new friends in a new country can be challenging, especially for introverts (and maybe even especially in a culture that's very introverted); I relish the chance to spend time with someone who has a history with me and who knows me well, and vice versa. The conversation continues through starting a load of laundry, walking to (and then eating at, and then walking home from) a breakfast joint, and a visit to a store that has a proper name but that Noah and Elizabeth simply call "The Magic Rock Shop."

My reputation precedes me, I guess; anytime I visit friends somewhere, they point me towards a nearby rock and gem shop, if one exists. I worked at a cave (a literal, hole-in-the-ground cave) with a pretty hardcore mineral and lapidary selection throughout college and afterwards. As a result, I have a soft spot in my heart for rocks, even today, and I guess it's obvious to anyone who's known me for any length of time. This one tilts more New Age than rockhound, but there's still plenty to enjoy (and, of course, the pallets out back with the bulk, rough-cut slabs).

I'll never understand the appeal of amazonite.


One of my priorities in Austin was seeing the Art.Science.Gallery. in person, but they're closed while I'm in town. Oops!

What awful timing!

It's quite close to Zhi Tea, though: across the street, basically. I know about Zhi Tea because of another friend, originally from Austin but now based in Sacramento. Noah is also a fan and it was already on his agenda for us that long weekend without me even asking, so it works out perfectly. We jaywalk across the street (I had forgotten how much the American landscape hates pedestrians) and I make a beeline for the black tea selection to find four I want to try in the little four-cup sampler. Noah orders an iced tea and we go and sit in the garden in the back.

Please pardon the unintentional photobomb behind (hah, hah) me.


All of my day job runs on bottomless cups of black tea. I love a good Söder, but I'm always curious about new varieties. My Sacramento friend had sent me some other Zhi Tea, and it was good enough that I was keen to try their other blends. None of those four in front of me disappointed, either.

I remember to (mis)quote Vonnegut at one point in between sips: "If this isn't nice, what is?" Even with on-going life anxieties, I recognize that at least in that moment I'm happy. I like to think it comes out well in that photo; as someone with chronic Resting Bitch Face my smiles come out rather forced in most photos unless I'm genuinely and really happy.

After finishing our tea, we go back into the tea shop so I can make the difficult choice about which tea to buy. I eventually settle on Fredericksburg Peach, and we head out for Korean-Mexican fusion food next because all of the caffeine has put me in hummingbird mode; I need some food to take the edge off. Miraculously, I have a huge bowl of rice for lunch without lapsing into a food coma right after.

We bus over to the Capitol building for a tour. It's much shorter than usual, since both the state senate and the state congress are in special sessions, so we just wander around the halls a bit, with our bald, eyepatch-wearing guide. I stop in the gift shop and pick up some postcards for mailing later.



We check out the state Senate and Congress from the gallery, Noah narrating in low tones about current legislation they're trying to pass and assorted factions within the state government and within the state-level GOP. We don't stay long (maybe the prospect of politics is too depressing?), though, and eventually head for the library, where Elizabeth works. Her day is almost over at this point, so we just wait at a table for her. Our conversation here, influenced by the library atmosphere, is slower and hushed. I encourage him to write more.

Then it's back home, and everyone reads for an hour or two. I sit with Elizabeth in the living room and read more from Stories of Your Life and Others while Noah retires to the bedroom, eventually falling asleep in his book. Once in a while Elizabeth and I talk about the cats, or the graphic novel she's reading for a book club.

We stay like that until it's time for Master Pancake, a local riff show in the spirit of Mystery Science Theater 3000, my all-time favorite TV show. Before we get to the Alamo Drafthouse, it's pizzas, Chicago style, in a dark and dingy bar. Three different TVs have three different things on, all muted with closed captioning: there's Young Guns, a sports game, and something else.

"They have all the Austin bases covered," Elizabeth notes. "People nostalgic for the 80s and people who want to watch sports."

The food is a completely opposite experience for me from yesterday with the veggie sandwich and Subtraction Soup.  I thought I was hungry when I ordered, but after the first bite of pizza I realize This is way too much. Even with Noah mooching a slice off of mine, there's still a last slice of my personal pie left over. I would have left it, truthfully, but Elizabeth wraps it in foil and bravely carries it in her purse for the rest of the night; Noah will have it for breakfast in the morning.

Eventually it's time to the theater for Master Pancake. We stop at another, closer bar first, in order to meet up with everyone. I get my first and only Long Island for the trip, and we go up to the roof to people watch, which quickly turns into "sitting in the air-conditioned part of the roof bar and watching the arcade."

More of Noah's Austin friends find us at the bar, and we all have a good time at Master Pancake. We hang around the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse, tired but also reluctant to brave the horde of loud, drunk people. It has to happen sooner or later, though, and we squeeze into someone's car for a ride home. When we get back, it's late but I'm not as tired as my hosts, so I make use of their wifi and check my email and gchat and things before bed.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Friday 5 on Saturday: Sandwich or Nah?

Why is or isn’t a hot dog a sandwich?




Oh, this controversy! This is one that I actually watched unfold, to an extent, because even Merriam-Webster weighed in on it.

I don't even care about hot dogs and their status as a sandwich; I just want to say that Merriam-Webster is a ray of light in these dark, confusing times. I'm glad I follow them on Twitter.


Why is or isn’t a hamburger a sandwich?

I would say so. Maybe it's a question of the orientation of the bread that throws people off.  Hamburgers have proper bread orientation to be a sandwich; hot dogs don't.


Why is or isn’t a wrap a sandwich?

I say it is, for the same bread orientation reasons outlined above.


Why are or aren’t Oreos and ice cream sandwiches sandwiches?

They're sandwich cookies, but they're not sandwiches. There's no bread! They could never be a reasonably filling and healthy meal!


Why does or doesn’t listening to an audio book count as reading the book?




Now here's the really juicy question. What is the point of reading a book? Is it to consume the story, or is it to consume the story in a particular way? Is there an advantage to reading? (Like how some studies suggest that readers retain more from paper copies than from ebooks.)

After all, reading or listening doesn't change the story or the language, for that matter. Not to mention that audiobooks are a godsend for people with visual impairments or dyslexia. Isn't it better that they hear a story instead of not being able to consume it at all? Didn't all language and literature start out as oral traditions of storytelling?

And yet, I would still feel like I was cheating, somehow, to say that I had read the audiobook I listened to.

All of this is a moot point anyway, though. I don't care for audiobooks for reasons unrelated to snobbery. I have a hard time paying attention to purely audio information (same problem I have with a lot of podcasts)  and am incredibly likely to zone out and miss huge chunks of the story without even realizing it. It doesn't matter how good the narrator is.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday 5: Five of Whatever

How tidy are your kitchen cabinets?

I realize now that we don't really have proper cabinets in our kitchen. We have mostly open shelving and then a few closets. They're clean, definitely, but tidy? Well, we know where to find everything, and that's enough, I think.

What’s an art project you did in school that you remember fondly?



The big project in third? fourth? fifth? grade was weaving. That was my favorite out of anything else we ever did, and over twenty years later I still have that project. Weaving is a handicraft I'd like to get back into at some point. I remember it as being very relaxing.

What’s the best thing you ate on your most recent trip?

Oh man! I had so much good food: upscale Italian with my parents and best friend, deep-fried Nutella and fluff, greasy spoon diner breakfasts and lunches, a Rolando's Super Taco, pirogi, Thai curry...it's really hard to pick.

What’s the dumbest non-political thing you’ve seen lately?

Photobucket charging its users $40 US per month for the privilege of third-party linking. Um, what?? I never used Photobucket as an image hosting service (or at least, not seriously) so I'm not really angry about it (my images aren't being held hostage), just confused. How out of touch can you be?

What’s something in your home that’s lasted longer than you expected?

We had a microwave that was definitely older than some of my students. It's gone now, and we have a replacement, but RIP noble microwave. You served us well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What I Read: The Castle of Crossed Destinies

I always get more reading done during vacations than any other time of the year. American English, Italian Chocolate was the first book I knocked off my TBR pile. The next one was The Castle of Crossed Destinies, which I started on the plane to Copenhagen and finished in the Hideout Cafe in Austin while I waited to meet my host and his girlfriend.

Image courtesy Vintage Classics
 I picked The Castle of Crossed Destinies up for two reasons. First, the Tarot deck conceit seemed like it would be relevant for a current writing project of mine and I wanted to see how Calvino handled it. The second reason was my troubled relationship with Calvino. I hated Invisible Cities but loved If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, so I wondered where on the spectrum this third book would fall. The answer is "somewhere in the middle," so now I don't know if Calvino is an author I hate, love, or am just apathetic about.

The Castle of Crossed Destinies is a contemporary version of something like The Decameron. There is no overarching plot or action; instead, it is a collection of fables and short stories. Some of them are original; some of them (if I understand Calvino's epilogue properly) are myths and legends that he "retold" through a given sequence of Tarot cards. This isn't what I was expecting or hoping for; I went in expecting something like Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle, only with Tarot instead of I Ching and without the alternate history elements.

Putting that disappointment aside, I have to admit I didn't really enjoy The Castle of Crossed Destinies. I didn't hate it the way I hated Invisible Cities, but I didn't like it nearly as much as If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. I'm not glad that I'm read it, but I'm not annoyed, either.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Talky Tuesday: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 2: Austin, TX (Day 1)

I get to Newark airport from King Sauna without a problem. But boarding gets a little hairy, as I quickly realize that the flight's been overbooked and that I'm in one of the later groups to board in Southwest's free-for-all approach when it comes to seating. I start working through contingency plans, or try to; I come up with nothing. Eventually I tell myself that my bad luck getting to the sauna is the sacrifice I made to the gods of travel luck—things will go my way now.

My luck hasn't run out yet, it turns out, and I make it on board, as well as an elderly couple put on standby—themselves beneficiaries of someone else's bad luck, I suppose. I wonder if I am as well.

I scribble some notes on the flight, read one of the ebooks I brought along on my phone (The Castle of Crossed Destinies, by Italo Calvino; I'm largely unimpressed), and even take a bit of a nap.

We land and I change from my traveling clothes into something more suited for Texas in August. I realize that I've forgotten to pack deodorant and apply liberal amounts of some stick perfume from Skin Food, hoping it's enough to make me borderline acceptable to the public at large.

It takes forever for the shuttle bus to arrive, but I don't mind. Noah (my host) and Elizabeth (his girlfriend) don't finish work until 16:30 anyway; my flight arrived at around 13:30. The more time I spend waiting at the airport for transportation nonsense to sort itself, the less time I spend waiting at the recommended coffee shop by myself. That feels too much like waiting for a date.

Nonetheless, the bus eventually comes and I probably still have 45 minutes or so to wait for my hosts at The Hideout. I settle in with an iced hibiscus tea, fruit, and free wifi, then text Noah to let him know I found the coffee shop okay. The rest of my wait bounces between talking to friends on Google hangouts, reading ebooks, and doing sudoku puzzles.

Cafe reading. // Image courtesy Vintage Classics


Noah and Elizabeth find me without a problem. I peel myself off the cafe chair and reluctantly hug Noah ("I'm probably really gross." "It's fine."). We stand around and decide what to do for food, since Noah's hungry and I'm a low-key guest who can go along with almost anything. They decide on a basement sandwiches and beer place. (Something I notice across the weekend: every food place in Austin is an all-purpose food place, serving cafe fare as well as beer and wine.)

At the sandwiches-and-beer place, the group next to us are arguing, good-naturedly, about how far it is to one destination or another. It isn't until I bite into my veggie sandwich that I realize I'm hungry. For the first few bites, it's like the subtraction soup from The Phantom Tollbooth: the more I eat, the hungrier I get.

Of course I'm hungry. For the past twenty-four hours I've survived on beer, tea, digestive cookies, and a banana.

We finish up and return home so I can drop off my bag and so Elizabeth and Noah can change into more comfortable, less work-y attire. A poster has arrived while they've been gone, a gift that Elizabeth bought for Noah (a new map of the United States that is, for some reason, the best map ever; Noah tries to explain but I fail to grasp the import), and I take the opportunity to segue into their gifts, which mercifully have survived the long journey. Those mugs were easily the most fragile thing in my luggage, and I could only hope that I had been careful enough with them across an ocean and half a continent. (The accompanying tea is much less delicate, at least.) But things survived intact and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Clothes changed and gifts exchanged, we head into town for Geeks Who Drink trivia. Our team is disqualified because we have too many players, so our second-place victory (or third? enough to win some money) is only a moral one, but a win we take nonetheless.

Image courtesy Geeks Who Drink


Back home, Noah and I watch Okja. (Speaking of Bong Joon-ho!) He's genuinely unimpressed with the movie, while I'm neutral enough on it that I would watch it again.

After that, it's midnight, and going to bed can't be delayed any further, even if I'd like to sit up with some tea and talk for hours. I fall into bed and conk out for the first real night of sleep I've had in 48 hours. I have the first dream that I've had in weeks, though when I wake up I don't remember any of it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday 5: Homecoming

What’s the crime like in your neighborhood?

Our neighborhood is pretty calm. There was a big fire? Explosion? in a neighborhood business a few years and we never heard if it was an accident or deliberate, but that's been basically the only thing that's really ever happened here. Unless you count the obnoxious street racing that goes on late at night.

If you could have attended one of those high schools with a specific academic focus, such as performing arts, studio arts, sustainability, science and technology, international languages and diplomacy, or some option you thought of yourself, which would you have chosen when you were thirteen?

When I was thirteen? Wow, let me dust off my time machine for a moment.

At that point in my life, I was focused primarily on writing and music (though not writing music). There's a good chance that I would have chosen performing arts.

This is maybe Adult Katherine projecting her current interests back on Teen Katherine, but thirteen is when I first started studying foreign languages. (I started with French that year, and then took French and German throughout my high school career.) I liked French well enough back then that I could probably have been convinced to enroll in an international languages school.

What was memorable about a party you remember from high school?

I didn't really party during high school. I think I went to one Halloween party and one cast party (since I was in pit orchestra). Oh, and I guess the parties we had to celebrate the end of marching band camp.

Nothing really memorable happened, though. I did surprise one of my marching bandmates with a techno remix of "Ode to Joy" on a mix CD I tossed in the player. I guess I didn't seem like the techno type.

Which of your older relatives is (or was) the handsomest or prettiest?

This is . . . a weird question? I don't really have an answer.

What was homecoming like at your high school? How did you feel about it?



We had spirit week full of costume themes and pep rallies (that the marching band often played in, so I was usually stuck participating), the typical American high school experience. I enjoyed marching band, at least in the beginning, for its performative and musical aspects, but I could never get into the ra-ra school spirit attendant to things like homecoming and football games. (I still dressed up for a lot of spirit week, though. I can't resist the opportunity for a costume.)

I guess there was also a homecoming dance but I think I attended just one of them. I wasn't really invested in the social aspect around dances, either.

If you couldn't tell from all of this, I was kind of a nerd in high school. Ten years later, the only thing that's changed is that I'm not in high school.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What I Read: American English, Italian Chocolate: Small Subjects of Great Importance


I am a sucker for a great essay collection. There is an art to crafting short writing, fiction or otherwise, that I admire in others and wish I could cultivate for myself. So when this collection turned up on NetGalley, how I could turn it down?
American English, Italian Chocolate is a memoir in essays beginning in the American Midwest and ending in north central Italy. In sharply rendered vignettes, Rick Bailey reflects on donuts and ducks, horses and car crashes, outhouses and EKGs. He travels all night from Michigan to New Jersey to attend the funeral of a college friend. After a vertiginous climb, he staggers in clogs across the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In a trattoria in the hills above the Adriatic, he ruminates on the history and glories of beans, from Pythagoras to Thoreau, from the Saginaw valley to the Province of Urbino.  
Bailey is a bumbling extra in a college production of Richard III. He is a college professor losing touch with a female student whose life is threatened by her husband. He is a father tasting samples of his daughter’s wedding cake. He is a son witnessing his aging parents’ decline. He is the husband of an Italian immigrant who takes him places he never imagined visiting, let alone making his own. At times humorous, at times bittersweet, Bailey’s ultimate subject is growing and knowing, finding the surprise and the sublime in the ordinary detail of daily life.
Essays! Cross-cultural marriages! Everything I should love, right? But this collection fell a little flat for me. There was no "surprise" or "sublime" for me in these rambles through the details of the everyday; just a sort of mild interest. The only essay that really got close to something for me was "For Donna, Ibsen, Pepys, Levitation," which touches on one of his "non-traditional" (read as: single mother returning to school after a long absence) literature students who was trying to balance her passion for the class with raising her kids and trying to stay safe from her abusive ex-husband. But even that doesn't hit the mark entirely. After a seemingly innocent lefthand turn into levitation (remember "light as a feather, stiff as a board"?), Bailey fails to bring it back around to the central moment in the essay: Donna, the mother and abused woman and eager literature student. Here's the jump Bailey makes, once you take out the long, extended aside on levitation:
"I saw Ghosts on the syllabus, you know what I thought of?" 
It's my turn to laugh. "Patrick Swayze?" 
"In school, like in ninth grade, we did this thing called levitation." She gives me an embarrassed look. "Did you ever levitate?" 
Seeing Donna in class, reading and thinking and sharing, was like witnessing a levitation.
There's probably over twice as much material spent on the history of the parlor trick, dead Englishmen's thoughts about it, and his memories of it than on the living, breathing human in front of him, and it just feels off. While none of the other essays were this off for me, they were all equally detached and disinterested from their subject matter, except when it concerned Bailey's own reminisces. Maybe he should have just written a straight-up memoir?

I was also a little confused over the title, or rather the title in connection with the description. I went in expecting a lot more about cross-cultural marriages, about immigration, about adapting to new cultures (or being around those who have to adapt to a new culture), and everything else that comes with those huge life milestones. And yet, nothing.

I majored in English in college, specifically creative writing, and sometimes I wondered if I should have taken myself and my writing a little more seriously by pursuing an MFA afterwards. But the writers my professors brought to campus to give readings or to guest lecture, and even what they wrote themselves, had an American University Workshop-y sameness to the writing (even if it was good) that I could maybe pretend to like but never be able to bring myself to write. There were ideas in here that I liked, but they were painted over with that workshop-y sameness to the point where it was hard for me to maintain my interest.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday 5: In Your Head! In Your Head!

First of all, I'd like the world to know that this song is one of my go-to karaoke songs. I can't tell you why. It's certainly not because I can sing a killer rendition or rival Dolores O'Riordan's vocals. Just a habit, I guess?

Which mythical monster would you most enjoy discovering (first- or second-hand) is real?



I guess it depends on whether or not it counts as a monster in your book, but how cool would it be to have your own pegasus? Or a griffin? Extremely cool, I think.

When did you last exhibit monstrous behavior?

I try really hard not be monstrous, but I'm sure I've been less than ideal in fights with people. But not very recently, I don't think.

What do you think of monster trucks?

I try not to think about how much fossil fuel monster trucks, NASCAR, and  Formula One racing must use up.

If you like monster movies, what’s a monster movie you dislike? And if you dislike them, what’s a monster movie you like?

I don't typically like monster moves, though there is a certain level of over-the-top camp involved in some mid-century ones that I really love, whether they're giant creatures laying waste to entire cities or merely humanoid creatures going on killing sprees. There's a whole stable of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes featuring both of these conceits (though not in the same movie!) and that's where most of my favorites are from: The Horror of Party BeachThe Wasp Woman, Gamera, and so on.



A more recent offering that I like because of its merits as a good movie (rather than my personal taste for camp) is The Host, which until recently was the highest-grossing South Korean movie of all time. (Now it's in fourth place.) I'm generally a big fan of Bong Joon-ho's movies and wish his output were a little more prolific. The Host also features my favorite Korean actress (and maybe one of my favorite actresses hands-down), Bae Doona.

What song about a monster (or with the word monster in the title) do you really like?

I have "The Monster Mash" and Kanye West's "Monster" in my music library and of course I like them well enough, but for this question I'll recommend what is a slightly more obscure song: Drunken Tiger's "Monster."



This Friday Five got pretty Korean-themed towards the end, but not really surprising, I guess.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What I Read: Play It As It Lays

Just one more book left in my TIME Top 100 novels list, now! Too bad it's The Man Who Loved Children and too bad I just can't get into it. Even with a ringing endorsement from Adam at Memento Mori. Ughhhhh~~




Didion takes us on a brief tour of Maria Wyeth's crumbling marriage and mental breakdown in the arid landscape of Los Angeles. Many of the reviews I've read for Play It as It Lays call it "depressing," even "terrifying," but I largely suspect that response has to do with how squeamish you are about abortion (and how squeamish you are about women feeling, at worst, vague and ambiguous about getting abortions, rather than eternally regretful and emotionally destroyed). Of course, there is other heavy stuff going on here, too: heavy substance abuse, off-screen (off-page?) domestic violence, an overdose, and other Hollywood indulgences. I liked Didion's writing and was happy to hitch a ride with Maria Wyeth for a while to visit her gilded cage of a world, but nothing about it shook me to my core. (Maybe that's how you know you're depressed? Hm.)

A comparison to Day of the Locust is maybe apt, since both books are about the dysfunction of Hollywood, but Didion pulls it off way better. Play It As It Lays could also possibly fall into the Dysfunctional Rich White People category on the TIME Top 100 Novels list, up there with Rabbit, Run and Revolutionary Road, but Didon does it better as well. Even if I'm not particularly haunted by the book, I enjoyed reading it. Her prose is light and direct, and I'm going to have to find more from her in the future.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Talky Tuesday: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 1: Copenhagen and NYC/NJ

You may have noticed that things were quiet around these parts—that's because I was on vacation! I had a fantastic three-week whirlwind tour of the US, from Austin all the way up to Maine, and much as truly vile shit went down while I was there, I saw a lot of my favorite people. So swings and roundabouts? I'll be unloading my travelogues in digestible chunks over the next couple weeks. Part 1 starts off with my unusually long layovers in Copenhagen and NYC/New Jersey!



It takes forever to get out of the Copenhagen airport, or at least it feels like forever. My flight was supposed to arrive at 12:30; when I check the time on the surprisingly dingy subway, it's already 13:40. Fuck. I had grand, if brief, plans for my layover in Copenhagen: see The Little Mermaid statue, grab a smorbrod at Aarman's, and top it off with a beer at Cafe Malmo. I chop the list down to Cafe Malmo (beer above all else).




It pours down intermittently during my walk there, but by the time I find the basement bar (Cafe Malmo is emphatically NOT a cafe), the weather has broken for the better.




I take a seat right opposite the open door, enjoying the cool breeze and the blue-gray patch of sky projecting into the dark wood paneling. The fresh air is good because there are ashtrays everywhere, and the unmistakable smell of cigarette smoke—smoking in restaurants, a memory of a bygone era.



At the bar I struggle with whether to use English or Swedish. I switch uncomfortably between both, if finally skewing more towards the Swedish end of the spectrum. The bartender understands me just fine and truthfully I can't tell if he uses Swedish or very slow and deliberate Danish with me in return. I know that I can read Danish okay, but trying to listen to snatches of overheard conversation is impossible. It's all gargling.

Is it extra appropriate for a dive bar to have a nautical theme? I can't decide. In one window, a copper(?) bathysphere is surrounded by potted cactuses. The duality of man, or nature. The wall opposite me features a collage of faded photos and the title "BUGISSTREET SINGAPORE" in that font used exclusively for saloons in the Wild West on crayon-bright yellow paper. The photos are of women, glamour shots and candids alike, and many feature exposed breasts.

The sign outside the bar promises live music, but I'm skeptical that you could comfortably fit the accouterments necessary for even your basic guitar-strumming singer-songwriter. There would be floor space between my seat and the door, but it's dominated by a heavy five-pin billiards table. Or maybe the billiards table doubles as a stage as necessary?



While I sip my beer, the thought strikes me of "third places," or maybe it's called "third spaces." The idea is that we crave places that are neither work (obviously stressful for most, or at least oversaturated, even if you like your job) and home (often its own brand of oppressive), so we go to places like bars, parks, and cafes. I suppose my third place of preference is bars; I'd like them even without drinks. Even the cutest, quirkiest cafe can feel performative and formal. But everyone relaxes in bars. Especially during off-peak hours, it's a place to relax and be around-but-not-with other people. They have no expectations of me (except to, say, pay for my drink, not to leave a mess, etc.) and likewise I have no expectations of them. I have space to think.

That said, I don't think about much. I just let the weird mix of classic American top 40 and European schlager I don't know and Danish covers of American songs wash over me. There is a surprising amount of country music. Selections include:
  • A Danish cover of James Taylor
  • "Fly By Night"
  • "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
  • "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree"
  • A loungey version of "Revolution"
  • A country version of "O Holy Night"
Eventually other patrons appear, or maybe friends of the young busboy. They set up the five-pin billiards game. The box with the pins and the chalk for the scoreboard had been sitting on a shelf behind me the whole time and the thought had earlier occurred to me that one of the small, finely carved pins would have made a nice souvenir. Now I'm glad I didn't pinch one. I watch a game play through, not understanding any of the rules, and then return to the airport for the most important flight: from Copenhagen to New York.

That flight itself is uneventful. I read a lot and sleep a lot. The real fun begins when I land at JFK and try to get to my lodgings for the night: King Sauna in Palisades Park, NJ. In the process I wrangle a cheap burner sim card and some allergy medicine (my hosts in Austin have cats), but getting to the sauna is more of an adventure than I would have bargained for. I get there nonetheless.

King Sauna is a Korean-American version of a jjimjilbang, a particular kind of sauna. There's not really anything that's different between one in Korea and one in the US except, maybe, context: in the US they're a luxury and a reward; in Korea they are (or were for me) as a reliable part of travel as highway rest stops or Motel 6. In some neighborhoods they're a place to spend a few hours with the family; in others they're a cheap place to crash if you missed the last subway home.

In retrospect, my view of jjimjilbangs as the latter is maybe incompatible with the semi-luxurious status they enjoy in the US (would a hostel or AirBnB for the night be cheaper?), but there's something to be said for 24-hour entry, saunas, and hot tubs when you trudge out of JFK at 10 in the evening.

Yours truly, sweatin' it out.


Unfortunately, the "lagom" pool—not boiling hot, not tepid or ice cold—is drained to just a few inches, I guess for cleaning? So I can't indulge in my favorite warm-cold-warm ritual, but I enjoy having a luxurious hot shower and sweating it out in the steam saunas.

The other nice thing about jjimjilbangs generally, and this one in particular, is the freely available computer access. Without that, it would have been impossible to get my budget sim card started. I could have flown into Austin semi-blind, relying on the crapshoot that is free wifi, but that would be cutting it a little close, even for me. I also take the time to order online NJ transit and airport shuttle tickets. Phone tickets. The future is now!

There were other intangible benefits to staying at the sauna, mostly related to sense memories. There's a smell to jjimjilbangs—is it damp bamboo mats? tea?—that I will eternally associate with relief, safety, and relaxation. And the second it hits my nose, all the tension from traveling leaves my body.

Truthfully, my favorite jjimjilbangs in Korea were much more budget and much less luxurious than this one; basically places for drunk patrons to sleep it off. But I like the touches here: the delicate white-and-pink upholstered fancy chairs and matching tables, with intricate leaves and curves carved into the arms and legs; the overwhelming presence of flowers, real and artificial; vases, geodes, and crystals set in decorative tableaus (maybe for obscure feng shui benefits?). The net effect is one of repose in a fairy forest bower, and it's surprisingly calming.

My original sleeping plan was to avoid the coed fairy bower area, to minimize the risk of encountering a pervert, but when I get exiled out of the private rest/sleep area in the women's-only side for wearing the jjimjilbang uniform ("clothes outside!" the attendant tells me and the other woman in there), I notice that in the co-ed corner devoted to sleeping has little wooden barriers to cordon off "private" space—random dudes won't be able to comfortably roll over and try to spoon with me. Satisfied, I put my glasses on a nearby shelf and set a series of alarms on my phone to make sure I don't miss my flight to Austin.

As it turns out, I don't need the complex series of wake-up calls. Whether it's jet lag or anticipation, I only sleep for a couple of hours and wake up at around 4 am. I peek in the saunas to see if the lagom pool has been refilled yet, but no dice. I relax in a few of the different infrared saunas in the coed fairy bower section, then leave a little before 7 so I can get the NJ transit bus into the Port Authority Bus Terminal in good time. The round-trip flight from Newark to Austin is courtesy of my friend Noah, and it's poor form to miss a flight that someone else has paid for.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday 5: Off-Balance

I'm back from vacation and I have a TON I want to write about here, which is good because it'll make up for my relative silence during my absence! Bad news is that it might take a while to construct proper blog entries out of my travel notes (a habit I've picked up in recent trips: taking notes during my vacations so that later I can actually remember what I did), and the longer something takes the less likely I am to do it. So until then, a Friday 5!



What most recently made you giddy?

Two things: dancing at a really good wedding, and watching the bats emerge at Natural Bridge Caverns. Those two memories alone are worth every penny I spent for this trip.

The groom and I (center), crashing a Lunar New Year party in 2010.

Mexican free-tail bats outside Natural Bridge Caverns.



What most recently left you agog?

Sometimes the Friday 5 teaches me new words. I always took "agog" to mean "shocked" or "surprised"; I double-checked just now and instead it's "full of intense interest or excitement."

Pretty much my whole trip to the US had most recently left me agog, I suppose. I packed a lot into just three weeks of visiting!



What most recently left you aghast?

Despite all of the good vibes and good friends in my trip, there's no denying I picked a tumultuous time to visit (which, welcome to the next three years). Neo-nazis demonstrating publicly, counter-protesters being injured or even murdered . . . and the worst part is I'm not even surprised.

A close friend of mine and his girlfriend are great admirers of James Tiptree, Jr. They saw me off from Boston with a copy of Her Smoke Rises Up Forever (though I think I left it in Albany, or possibly Old Orchard Beach), and one of the stories in there seemed all the creepier in light of contemporary goings-on: "The Screwfly Solution."



What in your life is the most higgledy-piggledy?

Landing the next student or project is always higgledy-piggledy. Freelance life!



 What was your week a mish-mash of?

Maine, Massachusetts, Copenhagen, Stockholm. I was all over the place this week!