Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge: January and February

So I had my January update all ready to go at the beginning of February, and it even got published for about a hot second until I realized there were some weird font and formatting issues that I hadn't realized were there. And then I didn't have time to fix them and then I forgot about it and now here we are.  So I'm just going to combine January and February and hope that I'm more on top of things when it comes to updating about my March books. I just finished one that I can't wait to talk about!

I'm not going to review/discuss every book I read this year, because (1) ain't nobody got time for that, (2) y'all don't really care that much anyway, and (3) I just don't really want to. That being said, I do want to pick out a few notable books each month and expound upon them, because (1) I like talking about books, (2) I like sharing my opinion about things, and (3) I just want to. So without further ado, here are some of my January  and February reads.

Please note that all plot summaries are from Goodreads.

January

I got off to a really good start in January, mostly because I didn't start school until January 17, so I had plenty of free time to get reading done. The structure of my list motivated me to read some books I've been meaning to read but haven't gotten around to and to read books that I might not otherwise have picked up. This isn't to say that I didn't also read several books that didn't meet any list requirements that I chose simply because I wanted to read them. I definitely did that, and I felt oddly guilty about that at first. But then I realized how ridiculous that guilt was—this is supposed to be fun. So no more guilt about reading things I want to read, even if they don't meet any challenge requirements or aren't "serious literature," whatever that means. 


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks





Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons. 

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb's effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave. 

The journey starts in the "colored" ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. 

***

This book falls into two categories: the actual medical nonfiction category for the challenge and the not official but really accurate "I would have never read this if it weren't for this challenge" category. My brilliant med school bound roommate recommended it, and I'm glad I had enough smarts to take her up on that recommendation. 

What I loved the most about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was the way the author seamlessly wove together three stories: the discovery, use, and development of HeLa, the life of Henrietta Lacks and her family, and the author's own journey to learn about the woman who unknowingly contributed so much to medical advancements.  This integration of multiple topics kept the story fresh and interesting. As a non-medically minded person, too much scientific jargon would have lost appeal to me, but balancing it with narrative about Henrietta and her family ensured that I stayed engaged throughout. Henrietta Lacks accomplished what I personally believe should be the aim of all nonfiction: It made me learn, it made me feel, and it made me think.

Also, as a semi-interesting side note, I had never heard of this book before my roommate recommended it, and now I swear it's everywhere. I've seen it in two of the bookstores I've gone to in the last few weeks (one of which was a used bookstore that has a very random selection), and it's popping up on TBR lists I've perused. Maybe it was always there, but I just didn't notice, because I didn't have any connection to it? Who knows. 

READ IF: You are interested in the process and ethics of medical advancement or you like books that have you saying, "Wow, I never stopped to think about the people behind X, Y, or Z."



And I Darken



No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over thier every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets. 

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he's made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she's finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point. 

***

First, in full disclosure, I technically started this book in 2016. That being said, I only read about 50 pages of it in December, and seeing as it's 475 pages, I feel very comfortable counting it as a 2017 read. 

I have a lot of mixed feelins about And I Darken. Overall, I'd say I liked it. It's an alternate history, and I'm very fascinated by that genre lately. I have always loved historical fiction, so I think it's natural that I like the idea of taking something in history and re-imagining it—in this case, that author asked, "What if Vlad the Impaler had been female?" and wrote a story that answers that question. 

Lada is a confusing main character, because in some ways I want to be her biggest champion and in others, I can't stand her. I love that she is independent and has a highly developed sense of self, even at a young age. She knows who she is, and she isn't going to let anybody tell her not to be that perosn. I especially admire this about her given that she is living during a time and in a culture in which women had no power, no respect, and no dignity. 

All that being said, Lada is also kind of a terrible human being. She is ruthless, bloodthirsty, and selfish. She constantly mistreats the people who love her (and who she loves, even if she can't admit it) and is angered when anybody tries to call her out on her self-serving ways. 

This book definitely has its dark moments, but I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of time dedicated to exploring the intricacies of familial and platonic love. The relationships are complicated and rich, and it's definitely one of the most admirable aspects of the story. 

READ IF: You enjoy complex characters and relationships and don't mind being occasionally disappointed in the decisions those characters make.


All the Light We Cannot See


Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of the neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure's reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum's most valuable and dangerous jewel. 

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure's converge. 

***

Clearly I was a little late on the All the Light We Cannot See bandwagon. I tried to listen to it as an audiobook soon after it was released, but it was so confusing, because it jumps back and forth in time, and I eventually gave up. DO NOT TRY TO LISTEN TO THIS BOOK.

Anyway. I wanted to LOVE this book. Like gushing, weeping, tell-everybody-about-it-until-they-tell-me-to-shut up love. And it had everything in its arsenal for me to go all heart-eye emoji on it. It's set during WWII, which is one of my favorite time periods for historical fiction. It offers fresh and varied perspectives on life during the war. It offers a plucky, brace, intelligent female main character and a scrappy, inventive, nuanced male main character. The writing is something to droll over. 

But even with all that, I didn't LOVE it. I definitely liked it. And I think I probably loved it a quiet, understated sort of way. But because I was hoping for a big, all encompassing LOVE, I was left a tiny bit disappointed. There's no doubting that this book is a masterpiece. And from a very academic, logical perspective, I am fully in awe of its beauty and style and the simplicity with which such a big story was told. But it just didn't make me feel very much. As anybody who has met for for 26 seconds or more can attest, I emote a lot. I am a very feelings oriented person, and as a result, I like books that I emotionally connect with. But as much as I loved the characters and the story being told, I just wasn't able to become truly, completely emotionally involved. 

All that being said, I'd still wholeheartedly recommend it, because I'm confusing and strange like that. It's definitely worth reading. The prose is phenomenal. It's like the textual equivalent of an intricately decorated wedding cake or the most colorful sunset you've ever seen. The relationships are solid, the characters are interesting, and the story itself is layered and simply all at the same time. This book is definitely deserving of its Pulitzer Prize.

READ IF: You're a glutton for beautiful prose and love alternate perspectives on historical events. 


February

I didn't get to read quite as much in February as I did January, which I attribute to four factors: 1) school was in full swing, 2) work was in full swing, 3) I was a hot mess for most of the month, and 4) I had three fewer days to work with. So all in all a less productive reading month. And the hot mess part meant that a lot of what I did read was what is comfortable and soothing and easy, which in my case translates to fluffy, relatively lighthearted contemporary YA fiction. There was a time in my not-so-distant past that I'd be embarrassed by/ashamed of this, but I'm definitely over that now. One of these days I'm going to write about the benefits of reading YA/the unnecessary stigma surrounding the genre/why it's 100 percent okay for adults to enjoy it. So please hold for that. In the meantime, some February reads. 

The Handmaid's Tale



Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the COmmander and his wife once a day to walk to the food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lives and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now. 

***

I don't quite know how to write about how much I loved this book. I think that it's hard to put into words, because I loved the book for what it is and what it says, and I have no ability to translate that into words. I also should have written my review/thoughts immediately after finishing it, when my thoughts and feelings were fresh and swirling around me. The best antidote for my failings is just for everybody to go read it so that they know what I'm talking about. 

Thanks to our current social and political atmosphere and the stage in life in which I find myself, I've been thinking a lot about my femininity, feminism, and general status as a woman. This was the perfect time to read this book. The writing is beautiful and thought-provoking, even while being syntactically simple and subtle. The message is cautionary and empowering. The stream of consciousness manner invites you into the brain, heart, and memories of a character whose proper name you don't ever learn, whose agency has been revoked, and whose existence as anything other than a breeder has been all but stripped away. It's haunting and wonderful and terrible and important. 

Just go read it. 

READ IF: You want to read a book that has a message that is relevant to modern society. 

My Life Next Door



The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, messy, affectionate. And every day from her rooftop perch, Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them ... until one summer evening, Jase Garret climbs up next to her and changes everything. 

As the two fall fiercely for each other, stumbling through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first love, Jase's family embraces Samantha—even as she keeps him a secret from her own. Then something unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha's world. She's suddenly faces with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

***

My Life Next Door was one of the fluffy, feel-good books I picked up to distract myself from the craziness that went down in February, and it did not disappoint. It's an easy, enjoyable read, and sometimes that's all I want/can handle. 

I'm a sucker for fluff books, but I also love good plot lines, compelling themes, and developed characters. So it's always a treat when all of those things are found in one novel. The protagonist, Samantha, is flawed in a very relatable way, and I love how the story is driven mainly by her journey to figure out the different ways that romantic, familial, and platonic love intertwine and play a role in her life. Yes, this is a book about two teenagers who are all twitterpated with one another, but its also very much about letting go of prejudice, acknowledging your faults and those of the people you love, and standing up for what's right when doing so is difficult. 

Also, as the third of six children, I love love love Huntley Fitzpatrick's portrayal of a large family. The male protagonist (Jase) is the third of eight children, and the entire family's interactions alternately amused me and melted my heart. It's so refreshing to read a contemporary novel that portrays (large) family life and relationships in such a positive manner.

READ IF: you want an easy to read book that explores the complexity of the relationships that make up your life. 

Into the Wild




In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

***


I chose Into the Wild to fulfill my True Adventure category, and started with low expectations. I had to read Into Thin Air for a summer assignment in high school and didn't quite care for it (sorry Mrs. Y!), but that could be attributed to a lot of things, including, but not limited to the fact that I was even less prone to read nonfiction then as I am now, the decreased enjoyment of reading when it's an assignment, and the location in which I read most of it (at the home of the three terrors children I nannied that summer). 

Based on my initial skepticism, I'm happy to report that overall I liked Into the Wild. I've always had a fascination for tragic stories with lots of unanswered questions (let's not talk about what that says about me as a person, please), so I was immediately compelled by Chris and the vagabond existence that ultimately led to his demise. Chris and I have exactly zero things in common personality/lifestyle wise, but that actually made him even more interesting to read about. The depth and breadth of research Krakauer put into piecing together as much of the last few years of Chris's life was impressive and demonstrated how important it was to him to tell Chris's story. And despite my adolescent apprehension regarding Krakaeur's work, I now recognize the artistry that is his writing—his word choice is impeccable, his descriptions are lively and vivid, and his storytelling is enthralling.

I could have done with fewer side notes about the parallels between Krakauer's life and Chris's; I personally didn't feel they added much to the story, and they generally distracted from what I actually wanted to read about: Chris McCandless's nomadic journey. Also I found a pretty egregious subject-verb disagreement toward the end of the book ("the seeds definitely contains"), which I naturally found very bothersome and obtrusive.

READ IF: You want to go on a wild adventure from the safety of your own home. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge

Compared to most people my age, I'd say I read a lot. Which, considering that I intend to work in publishing, is a good thing.

Compared to most people my age, I'd say I read a lot of middle grade and YA literature. Which, considering that I would particularly like to work in middle grade and YA publishing, is a good thing.

As I reviewed my reading habits from 2016, I had several realizations. First, I surpassed my quantitative goal for the year (yay!). Second, I had not set any qualitative goals for my reading. Third, I didn't venture very far outside of my safe, comfortable reading niche. And fourth, I was bothered the lack of variety in my reading. It's important to be well-read as an editor, both within and without your specific area of focus.

So armed with my bullet journal (one of these days I'll write an ode to my bullet journal, because it's one of the key factors in my ability to retain most of my sanity), I scoured reading challenges various readers and publishers and bloggers and companies have published on the interwebs and compiled a challenge that is designed to both stretch me as a reader and encourage me to be reading the very best of middle grade and YA fiction. My goal isn't to read more books than  I did in 2016, but to read better, read smarter, and read wider.


THE CHALLENGE: Read 100 books in 2017. At least 25 of these books must be nonfiction, and the following categories must be fulfilled. 

DIVERSITY
Protagonist with a Disability
Written by Australian Author
Written by Asian Author
Written by African Author
Written by Central/South American Author
Written by European Author

RELEASE DATE
Published before 1900
Published between 1900 and 1950
Published in 1992
Published in 2017

AWARD WINNERS
Winner of Newbery Award (5)
Winner of Pulitzer Prize
2016 Bestseller
2017 ALA Award Winners for Children's/YA Literature
     Michael L. Printz Award
     Schneider Family Book Award
     Alex Award
     Margaret Edwards Award
     Stonewall Book Award
     William C. Morris Award
     Coretta Scott King Award
     Pura Belpre Award
     Odyssey Award
     Batchelder Award
     Newbery Medal
     Caldecott Medal
     Robert F. Sibert Informational Medal
     Laura Ingalls Wilder Award*

*The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award is given to an author whose body of work has been a significant contribution to children's literature. Therefore, for this category, I will read the author's most recently published book.

GENRE

Fiction
Sci Fi
Horror
Cozy Mystery
Folklore/Mythology
Classics (2)
Fantasy
Post-Apocalyptic
Historical Fiction (set before 1900)

Nonfiction
Memoir/Autobiography/Biography (5)
Politics
Non-Christian Religion
Travel
Sports
Technology
Medical
True Adventure

Miscellaneous
A Collection (poems, short stories, essays, etc.)
Debut Novel
A Book That Is Physically on My Bookshelf That I Haven't Read
Good Mormon Literature 
On My Goodreads To Be Read List (5)


So that's what I've got. It's fairly ambitious, but it's doable, and it'll be good for my growth and expansion as a reader. 

Now's the part where you come in: I need recommendations. Yes, I want to be able to fulfill my requirements, but I also want to be reading good books. So if you have suggestions for must reads (whether they fit my categories or not), please send them my way. I especially am in need of suggestions for nonfiction. It's not my go to genre (by my count, I read 5 nonfiction books last year. FIVE. Out of 100+ books. Not good), and I want to branch into that territory in my reading adventures this year. 

So here's to good books and a good year. 


*Updates on my progress will be available all year round in the 2017 Reading Challenge tab*


Saturday, November 5, 2016

some anecdotes

Heyyy. About a month and a half ago, I wrote most of this post (Stories 1 through 4) and then promptly forgot about it. Today I realized that I'd never published my post of odd/weird/interesting occurrences in my recent history, so I slapped on a few more and here you go.

I

So remember how when I introduced Ethel, I said she is really old? Well she is. And that means that we have some complications with her sometimes. When we first moved in, we noticed that the latch on the downstairs bathroom was a little stubborn and didn't always move completely when you open the door. On the second or third day we were here, one of my roommates got stuck in the bathroom, but she was able to jimmy it open with a butter knife I slid under the door. No harm, no foul. We kept the butter knife on the bathroom shelf just in case. I was hoping this would be a good conversation starter ("So, uh, why do you keep a knife in your bathroom....?"), but alas, that would involve inviting people over. Which would involve having people you know well enough to invite over. But I digress.

So when I couldn't get the door open after brushing my teeth one night, I wasn't too worried. I thought I could just use the butter knife trick and be on my way to bed. Nope. I tried, but to no avail. I could turn the doorknob, but none of the internal mechanisms moved at all; they were totally jammed into the door. Luckily, my roommates heard me making a bit of a racket trying to get the door open and came to my rescue. They tried from the outside, I tried from the inside, and nothing worked.

Then tools were brought into the equation. They unscrewed the doorknob, but we still couldn't unstick the stuck pieces. At this point, they suggest that I try to take the hinges off the door from the inside. I was able to get one, but the other was rusted/painted on. In retrospect, we weren't really sure what this would accomplish, even had I been successful, but Will Turner made it look so easy when he sprung Jack Sparrow from jail, so we thought it was worth a try. All that was left was hammering until enough things broke that the door would become unjammed. So hammer they did.

After nearly a half an hour, I was released from my prison with remarkably little damage done to the door. And the next day, we came home to a new doorknob and lock installed by our landlord, and it works like a charm.

II

Some classmates and I were chatting before class started, and one of them mentioned something about walking through Cincinnati, so I asked if that's where she's from. She said yes, and so naturally I told her that I'm from Florence, because that's just what you do when you're living somewhere that's not your hometown and you meet somebody who's almost from your hometown. As it turns out, she's from Florence too! She just says she's from Cincinnati to make it easier, which is something I've done before as well. So I moved to Boston and enrolled in a small grad program and ended up in a class with somebody who grew up within a few miles of me. Small word, right? And unlike that time I ran into the guy I'd forgotten I went to prom with, no, I didn't go to the same high school as her and didn't recognize her. She went to a fancy, schmancy, accelerated smart person private high school, and I...didn't.

III

This isn't exactly a story, but it's somewhat entertaining, so I thought I'd share it. One of my professors has the most pronounced Boston accent you could possibly imagine. Like, imagine a comedian imitating a Boston accent and blowing it way out of proportion, and you've got this guy's accent. It's delightful. He says things like "drawring" and "fustrating." If I could trick him into saying "I park my car at Harvard Yard," I totally would. But the absolute best part is his day job. He only teaches at night, and by day, he's a designer at Martha Stewart Magazine. Just take a moment to let that sink it. Martha Stewart. In Boston. Now imagine somebody saying Martha Stewart in a Boston accent. Multiple times a class period. It's wonderful, and I love it.

IV

Sparked by some interesting experiences with people on public transportation, one of my roommates and I have started a competition to see who encounters the weirdest thing on their commute, whether by car or public transportation. I was of the opinion that she'd have an advantage over me, because she always takes public transportation, and I only take public transportation twice (sometimes thrice) a week. She's seen some interesting things (a man who, in her words, had "an actual baby face...like someone photoshopped a baby's head onto him" and a lady pin curling her hair on the bus, among others), but I am currently winning.

So I was waiting at a red light behind a car with a Star Wars-themed stick figure family on the windshield. I was admiring Chewie and Han and Princess Leia when several things happened very quickly: the trunk of the car opened, a dog scrambled from the trunk into the backseat, and a giant kettle bell fell into the middle of the road. I don't know if the dog somehow opened the trunk from the inside or if the driver accidentally popped it or what; all I knew was that the light had just turned green, and there was a kettle bell directly where my left tire needed to go. There was a string of cars on both sides of me, so I couldn't swerve around it. Just while I was trying to figure out what to do (and the cars behind me began honking like their life depended on it, because #BostonDrivers), the driver hopped out of the car to retrieve his wayward kettle bell and close the trunk. The driver was a middle-aged man who was barefoot, half-naked (he was wearing a tiny pair of running shorts), and extremely oily. And, just so we're clear, I am not speaking metaphorically about the oily part—he looked like he'd just climbed out of a giant vat of olive oil, and his wet skin glistened in the sunlight. He waved at me like this kind of thing happens all the time, slammed his trunk closed, and took off.

Meanwhile the light had turned red again, so I had to wait for it to cycle around again.

V

The weather this past week was insane (in a good way), so I spent a lot of time at the park with the kids I nanny so we could soak up the last bit of delightful fall weather before Boston goes glacial. One particular day, I left an opened granola bar in the cup holder of the stroller (it was a two pack, but the three-year-old only wanted one of them) before going back to the play structure for the kids to play. A few minutes later, I glanced back at the stroller and saw a rogue squirrel robbing the stroller. It climbed up the stroller, picked up the granola bar (in the wrapper), took the granola bar out of the wrapper, replaced the wrapper in the cup holder, and scampered back down the stroller. I kid you not.

VI

Two of my roommates and I went to Walden Pond today and then decided to go visit the graves of Thoreau and his nearby-buried buddies. While at the cemetery, we encountered a guy around our age dressed in all black except for a pair of white sneakers who was wandering around the graves a little ahead of us. We visited Thoreau's grave and Louisa May Alcott's before wandering over to the grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson, where the guy was currently standing. Emerson's grave is partitioned off by a chain that's bound to marble pillars on each of the four corners, and the guy was resting his chin on one of the pillars, deep in contemplation. We felt uncomfortable approaching the grave; it was like interrupting somebody communing with the grave of a recently departed relative. So dallied around, looking at the graves of some of Emerson's family members, thinking the guy would leave at some point. When it became clear that he was going to stay put for a while, we bucked up and went over to the grave. That's when we realized that he kept bowing his head and closing his eyes (presumably praying? Or maybe just very deep in contemplation?). And he was sniffling. And wiping tears away. He was literally crying over the grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was simultaneously strange and hilarious and strangely touching?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

impressions of canada*

*based on approximately 6 collective hours of driving through Ontario

Fact: the fastest way to drive from Boston, MA to Lansing, MI is to cut through Canada. So because I appreciate efficiency (and because it felt really cool that my Google Map directions alerted me that my route "crossed international borders"), cutting through Canada is exactly what I did when I visited my brother and his family. This was my first time "in" Canada, and here are my impressions:

Crossing the Border

:: First things first: what is the preferred title for the personnel at the customs checkpoints on the border? Border guard? Border police? Border agent? Border captain? Guardian of the Border? Border buddy? If there are any border employees out there, please let me know so I can call you what you'd like to be called. For the purpose of ease, I'm just going to go with border guard.

:: So crossing into another country (when that country is Canada) is way less dramatic than I expected. For reasons I don't understand, I was actually nervous when I got to the customs checkpoint. I generally don't wear shoes while driving on long road trips (that's normal, right?), but I left them on after my last American pit stop, because I was irrationally concerned with the border guard noticing I wasn't wearing shoes and getting suspicious. Like....what? What would he/she have been suspicious about? Me preferring comfort? I don't pretend to make sense. Anyhow, two factors made me even more nervous once I was actually handing over my passport:
  1. The bizarre look I got when I hesitated/stumbled when he asked me where I live. I've lived in three states in the past six months, okay? And my brain came up with all three simultaneously, and then my mouth wasn't sure which one to say. I did eventually manage to say, "Massachusetts," though. I need to work on the geographic identity crisis I'm evidently having. 
  2. The fact that he was really, really, ridiculously good looking.  I was left contemplating whether it's intentional to have the first Canadian visitors lay eyes on be, as they say, smokin'. I was going to be all witty and say that this gives a whole new meaning to "put your best face forward," and then I realized the adage is actually "put your best foot forward." But I guess it still applies. And for anybody who is wondering, all of the border guards I encountered (American and Canadian) were quite attractive, so maybe it's an industry thing?

Traffic and Roads

:: One of the first signs I noticed upon entering Canada was an upside down U-turn sign. As I was driving approximately 90 km/hr (see how Canadian that sounded!?!) at the time, I wasn't able to ascertain if that actual sign was upside down or if Canadians represent U-turns by....not a U. I did see another right side up U-turn sign later, which added to my confusion. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this very mind-boggling issue, I Googled "Canada U-turn sign upside down" (not my finest search string, I'll admit). I'm not sure if I would recommend this particular search, as it resulted in pictures of Hilary Clinton, Adele, and Nicki Minaj with their faces turned upside down; what I refer to as the Gleeful Gollum picture (this one); and a stock photo that looks like it's maybe trying to recreate the movie poster for The Fault in Our Stars. So interesting viewing material, but no closure on the U-turn issue.

:: In a somewhat disappointing turn of events, Canada, too, has road construction and traffic. I guess I was just picturing everybody just gently floating through traffic on waves of maple syrup or something?  Regardless, traffic jams in Canada just felt friendlier than their American counterparts. There was no honking. No aggressive driving. No cutting other people off. Maybe the contrast was stark since I came from the Land of Aggressive Drivers (aka Boston), but it was lovely. Drivers let other cars in, even when the merging car did that really annoying thing where they drive in a lane that is ending due to construction up until the last possible moment and then, WHOOPS! they need to merge into the line of traffic in which everybody else has been sitting because they got over when the sign told them to. Not even then. And instead of getting the finger from disgruntled drivers, somebody actually flashed me the peace sign! And I was quite happy about that until I remembered that some hand gestures actually mean different things in other countries, and I wasn't sure if the peace sign is actually peaceful in Canada? I assumed it would be (because, you know, Canada), but maybe it's one of those weird oxymoronic things. I then spent the rest of my time sitting in that line of traffic evaluating my interaction with the other driver and racking my brain on all the things I know from BuzzFeed and travel magazine articles about hand gestures in other countries so I could decide if I was supposed to be offended or not.

:: Canadian traffic cones = Halloween. As in orange and black stripes. If the Canadian government hasn't already thought of this, I'd like to suggest a full line of seasonal traffic cones: red and green for Christmas, pastels for Easter, white and red for patriotic Canadian holidays (yes, that was a cop-out, but I don't have a working knowledge of Canadian holidays, okay? I was only there for 6 hours!), pink for Valentine's day (so as to not be confused with the red and white of patriotic holidays), earth tones for autumn, etc. etc.

Filling up the Tank

:: Fact: I'm extraordinarily paranoid about running out of gas. Put me in a foreign country, and my paranoia skyrockets. (Referring to Canada as a foreign country makes me feel like Michael Scott saying he was going on an international business trip when he went to Winnipeg. Just in case you were wondering.) I had nearly a full tank before leaving the U. S. of A, but when my tank started drifting toward a quarter full and I was in the middle of nowhere, I decided to fill up just in case. As it turns out, I totally could have waiting until I was stateside, but I didn't know I was only 27 kilometers from the border crossing since I wasn't able to access the data on my phone (thereby rendering my GPS useless) and no signs told me how far it was to America until after I filled up  my tank. In any event, here are my steps to filling up the gas tank in Canada:
  1. Put card into card reader backwards. (To be fair, I just do this all the time, regardless of country.)
  2. Put card into card reader the correct way, but get squawked at because the machine detected a chip card, and those have to be left in the card reader for roughly three and a half days to be effective. 
  3. Wait and wait and wait for chip reader. 
  4. Put in chip verification PIN (tbh, I didn't even remember setting one of these up, but I guessed right on the first try. Go me!)
  5. Choose how much money's worth of gas you want to put in. This definitely threw me off. It had $20 increments you could choose from, or you could put in an alternate amount. Like when you withdrawn money from an ATM. 
  6. Try to determine how much it will take to fill up the tank.
  7. Fail to determine how much it will take to fill up the tank. If I know the price of gas, I can easily estimate about how much it'll cost to fill up, but the price was given in cents/litre (litre not liter b/c Canada), and that meant squat to me. Plus exchange rates and all that. 
  8. Guess how much it will take to fill up the tank. (I was pretty accurate, thank you very much.)
  9. Fill up tank.
  10. As the tank is filling up, notice a sign taped to the pump that says that American/International customers have to pump their gas and then go inside to swipe the card, because the cards won't work at the pump. 
  11. Become very confused, because your card seemed to have worked just fine once you figured out your directional and chip issues.
  12. Finish pumping gas and go inside to double check everything with the attendant. 
  13. Get crazy eye from attendant before he says, "You're fine. You paid." 
  14. Mumble something about "just wanting to make sure" and walk away. Fast. 
  15. Hear the attendant say something derogatory about "those stupid Americans." (Okay, this part is fictional. But his eyes were saying that, so I bet he thought it, too.

All in all, I'm a fan of our neighbor to the north. Maybe someday I'll actually stop and visit for a while. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

new/old, silver/gold

A couple months ago I tried alluding to what I thought was a very well-known adage while in conversation with my dad, but he had no idea what I was talking about. To be fair, I think what I said was something to the effect of: "You know that saying about friends and new ones and old ones and silver and gold?"

Clearly, I'm nothing if not articulate.

I've since remembered the actual saying: Make new friends, but keep the old; for one is silver, and the other is gold.

I feel like my version was pretty close, but whatever. Moving on.

It's a silly little phrase, really. Trite. Overly sentimental. Cloying, even. But slap every cliche label in the book on it, and it still resonates so deeply with me right now.

Nearly four weeks ago, I left everything I knew and moved to a place where I knew exactly zero people. I've hounded this fact over and over again, I know, but no matter how many times I say it, it never stops being true. This was truly the most terrifying thing I've ever done, and in contemplative moments, I still sometimes can't believe I actually went through with it.

You see, I'm of the sort who needs her people. I've never been terribly social, and I've never had an extensive circle of friends. But what I've always had is a core network of close friends who I feel safe and comfortable with. They're the people I naturally gravitate to, the people who know my secrets and my deepest fears and desires, the people who look for me in a crowd. Those people are a huge part of the reason that I made it through college in one piece; they soothed me when my heart was broken, they laughed with me late into the night, they helped me stretch and grow and change. True, the cast of characters rotated in and out as people changed and moved away and got married as people are wont to do, but I had that solid support. Always.

I still have my people. Most of them just happen to live nearly 2,500 miles away. That distance doesn't make me love or appreciate my people any less. If anything, it's deepened my affection and helped me see even more clearly how important my people are to me. To use another trite, saccharine adage, you don't know what you have until it's gone. Or in this case until you're gone. But the sentiment is there.

I still have my people, but I don't have my people here. And of all the things that have thrown me for a loop as I try to adjust into my new life, that is the hardest. That is what I miss so much that it physically hurts from time to time. I have met extraordinary people in the short time I've been in Boston. I've met people who have welcomed me and included me and shown genuine interest in knowing who I am. But I simply haven't been here long enough to form the kind of friendships I yearn for. I don't yet have people whose conversations I can join late and not feel like an intruder or people who would notice if I don't show up.

I know that these things take time. (Yet another cliche.) I haven't had nearly enough time to expect real results. I'm aware of that, and I don't expect to have the kinds of friendships after four weeks that I've spent years developing. But having realistic expectations doesn't change the deeply rooted desire to connect, to understand, to confide.

So back to new and old and silver and gold. It's one of the most exciting and most heartbreaking parts of life, isn't it? The continual ebb and flow of the people in your life, the individuals who take turns forming the bedrock of your social identity.

Old friends—the ones who are tested and true, who've seen you at your worst and love you anyway—are gold. Valuable, luminous. But the new ones—the ones you still tip toe around, who you're only just beginning to feel you're not auditioning for—are silver. Luxurious, beautiful.

And what's most extraordinary, I think, is that somewhere along the way, silver becomes gold and new silver comes along, and in the end, it's all precious, all important, all needed.