So Trump and his lackeys seem incapable of sending adequate and timely disaster relief to Puerto Rico (or possibly, they just don't care), which means we've got to step up and do our part.
I just donated to UNICEF, who are distributing water purification kits and sanitary supplies to residents of Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria. Given that the island may be without power for several months, clean water is going to be an issue for a long time. Disease outbreaks from unsafe drinking water conditions are often where the most deaths occur after disasters, which is why aid workers prioritize sanitation when establishing shelters and relief. You can help too by donating to UNICEF. 90% of your money goes directly to helping children in need and these funds are being channeled specifically to Puerto Rico.
Thanks for donating whatever you can.
Good morning! How're you doing? Lots has been going on with me lately, the most exciting of which was I saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie give a talk (pictured above). No surprise, she was amazing.
I've also been reading lots of books, flipping back and forth between what I feel like reading (The Door into Summer, by Heinlein, which was meh) and what we're discussing in my book club. Right now that's White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, and once I got passed the confusing prologue I've been completely sucked into the story, which is about pica, twins, and family ghosts in a bed and breakfast in Dover. It's very gothic in the best sense of the word. Be on the lookout for a review soon.
My other big news, in case you missed it last week, is that I published the opening story (chapter?) to my serialized novel, The Ice Girl, on Amazon, which is exciting. I'm editing part 2 now and will post it next Sunday, in case anyone's in the mood for a story about moving to Russia and working as an ice girl in the KHL (Russia's version of the NHL hockey league). I like to think of it as When Harry Met Sally crossed with a slightly more serious version of Slapshot. It's got a will-they or won't-they romance going on, and if that's your thing, you might check it out. Available to download for just $0.99.
Ok, but on to what I really wanted to talk about, which is the amazing Adichie.
I love going to author talks because they tend to be some of the most eloquent, interesting people on the planet. I guess that makes sense when you make your living on words, and Adichie was no exception. She talked about everything, from her first novel Purple Hibiscus (my review here), to racism in America as assumptions on how you believe a person is or will behave based on the color of their skin (so true), and how the fight for gender equality isn't over. She also spoke about her struggle as a writer, which was the recurring anxiety that the day's writing wouldn't go well. I think a lot of us feel that way when we sit down to write.
The talk seemed to end way too soon because we were totally engrossed. I bought a copy of Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and got it signed. It's a short read and a great roadmap for how to raise feminists (both boys and girls) and make sure you're applying those same lessons in your own life. I would definitely recommend it for new mothers, which is why the book was written after one of Adichie's friends asked her for advice on how she should raise her daughter to be a feminist. If you're interested in the subject, I've also linked to Adichie's seminal TED talk "We Should All Be Feminists" in a previous post. It's worth watching.
Have you read any of Adichie's work? I still need to read Americanah, and will admit that I'm a little intimidated by its length on top of my other reading commitments (and after a long day of editing, sometimes the last thing I want to do is read more, which is a shame). Still, sometimes you just have to put on your big girl pants and do it, because you know it's going to be good.
Have a great week and see you next Sunday!
So I finally decided to write a story I've been kicking around in my head for a while and published the first part on Amazon yesterday. It's called The Ice Girl, and it's your not-so typical hockey romance novel. I like to think of it as When Harry Met Sally goes to Russia. It's not literature, but I think it's kind of fun. I'm going to be publishing the book in serial format, chapter by chapter every 2 weeks, and then compile them at the end into a full book. Here's the blurb for part 1:
Fresh from a breakup with her Czech hockey star boyfriend, Lora travels to Russia to stay with a friend and get her life back on track. “I can’t keep doing this. I’m only 19. I don’t have to be a puck bunny forever.” But without speaking Russian, there are few options for Lora and so she takes a job as an ice girl with the local KHL team. Promising herself she’ll be good and not fall for another player, she’s excited to get back on the ice where she really belongs. But a chance encounter threatens to turn her life upside down all over again. Will Lora ever learn? And can an American make it in Russia? Find out in Part 1 of The Ice Girl.
If it sounds like something you might enjoy, check it out. It's only $0.99. Plus I'll be running giveaway days so you can download it for free, which you can find out about by signing up for my newsletter in the form at the top of the page. Don't worry, I won't spam. Just want to give my Wordly-Bird readers a chance to save some money.
And if you read and happen to like it, a review would be much appreciated! It really helps support my author page on Amazon.
Ok, self-promotion time over. Thanks for listening!
I just want to shout out loud, I am officially debt free!!!
The only loan I've ever taken out was for a Subaru Outback, which I bought with my soon-to-be-ex husband 3 years ago. I don't know what we were thinking. Even though we could afford the payments and the interest rate was ridiculously low, it was clearly more car than we should have paid for ($28,000 plus interest). I guess we got caught up in the adventure-mobile fantasy and had dreams of driving cross-country and visiting all the national parks, sleeping in the back.
While it was a nice idea, it never happened. Jobs got busy, and then we decided to get divorced. So then we were stuck with a car that was difficult to split until the loan had been paid off (or refinanced). I own an old, somewhat grubby but still perfectly functional Toyota Corolla, while my husband drove the Subaru. He wanted to keep the car, which was fine by me, but I wanted to get my name off the loan asap.
Well after months of heel dragging, per our agreement (which we worked out privately, without lawyers), he finally paid off the remaining $5000 on the loan and will be sending me payments over the next several months to buy my half of the car. Once that's done, I'll sign the title over. But while getting a little extra cash is nice, I'm mostly just pleased to be off that stupid loan and officially debt free! This is going to make buying a house just a little easier now and that's one of my major goals for the next year (a very modest house near the local university where I can be sure to find a roommate).
So if I'm debt free, what happened to my student loans? Well, I never had any. My parents were always very up front with me about the fact that they didn't make enough money to send me to college. I knew I would be paying for most of it myself, which meant either staying in state (a great option) or earning a scholarship. Well, at the time I didn't want to stay in state if I could avoid it (ironically I went there for my Ph.D.), so I worked my ass off in high school. I didn't have much fun then. No parties, no boyfriends. All I did was study to make the grades, and then study some more to get good SAT scores. My major memory of high school is of sitting at my desk in the dark, studying under my reading lamp. And I did that night after night for hours. When it came time to actually apply for colleges, I applied to my dream school (NYU), but the rest of my applications were to colleges that were slightly lower-tier (at least reputationally) but well known to be generous with scholarships and merit-aid (because my parents fit firmly into that section of the middle class that made too much money to qualify for need-based aid, but didn't make enough to actually afford a $40,000 a year tuition, especially with my brother only two years behind me in school.) I also applied to every scholarship I could find and I was lucky enough to get one at Tulane University that was virtually a full ride. So even though I got into my dream school, I turned it down for the money.
So I that's how I got past the undergraduate level without any loans. Then I went to graduate school in Chemistry where they actually pay you because you're really more of an employee than you are student. It's basically a low-paid apprenticeship that's not much more than minimum wage. But I did get a fellowship from the Department of Energy that paid slightly better for my last three years, which really helped me focus on my research rather than having to teach undergrads at the same time.
So that's how I did it, and let me tell you, there are pros and cons to this method. Pros: it put me in the great position of being debt free after receiving a very substantial and excellent education. Cons: I had to sacrifice what I really wanted to do in my heart of hearts (get an MFA) and settle for less acclaimed schools. BUT, I am extremely happy that I'm not 180K in debt for a degree in the arts, which no matter how much I would have enjoyed - let's face it, is not very employable.
Sure, sometimes I've felt a little held back because not only did I not go to a high-level undergrad or graduate school, I didn't even try. I'm pretty sure I could have gotten in somewhere if I had been willing to swallow those student loans. But I just didn't see how I would be able to pay back some $150,000. That's like buying 4 luxury cars over a period of 4 years! Insane! It just didn't seem possible, so I didn't do it. And so it goes. I don't have the ivy league education or the arts degree I really wanted, but I'm not doing too bad, and I don't have any loans, which leaves me in a better position to do more creative work now.
I'm not sure where that fear of debt left me when I co-signed for that car with my husband, but I guess I thought we were on stable ground and building toward a life together. And sometimes that means you need to replace a broken down car and you don't necessarily have the cash for the new one. So I don't regret it exactly, but I probably would have done things differently, like buy a cheaper car, if I had to do them over again. Live and learn. Avoid debt or minimize it wherever possible.
Man, I'm beat. I was going to write a review of Beartown today, but there's just no way. My mother is a beekeeper and we spent a good chunk of today extracting 4 GALLONS of honey. It's not a fun job. First you have to collect all the frames from the hives. Then you slice open the wax cells with a heated knife. And then you spin the oozing frames in a hand-cranked centrifuge. The honey collects at the bottom and gets drained and filtered into a bucket. Cranking the extractor is so physically grueling. I ate two bags of popcorn afterwards to regain even some of my energy, and I can tell I'm going to be sore tomorrow.
This was actually my first time helping with the honey extraction process. For years, my mom has asked if I want to help her with the hives, and I've always said no. Messing around with angry bees just doesn't appeal to me. And they are so difficult to take care of (and somehow completely incapable of taking care of themselves). The few times I have gotten into a bee suit to lend her a hand has been an exercise in self-control. Because when a bee is angrily slamming into your veil, over and over again, determined to get you, it can be very hard not to scream and swat it away while you're holding a frame containing thousands of her sisters.
Anyway, I think beekeeping sounds more romantic than it really is, though my mother says she loves it. I hope I don't look back later in my life wishing I had learned to keep bees from her when I had the chance. Somehow, I doubt that will happen, but you never know. To this day, I still kick myself for brushing off my grandmother when she tried to teach me how to sew clothes. So we'll see.
But if anyone's thinking about getting into beekeeping, my advice is to help a beekeeper friend for at least two years before you get any of your own. They are so much more work than you'd ever think.
Well the National Book Festival was everything I had hoped for and more. I had SUCH A GOOD TIME.
I've always liked hearing authors talk. I like to hear about their process and what events or questions inspired their books. I just love getting a peak into that world. As an adult, I've been lucky enough to hear Tony Morrison and Salman Rushdie. And when I was a kid, Mary Downing Hahn (Wait Till Helen Comes) and Priscilla Cummings (Chadwick the Crab) visited my school, which had a profound effect on me (You mean real people write these books? And they live in my state?). Reading can sometimes feel lonely, so bringing readers and authors together helps me feel part of a shared experience.
And that's exactly how I felt yesterday at the National Book Festival in D.C. I can't even tell you how much fun it was. Let me give you a quick run down of the people I heard:
David McCullough: What a storyteller! I left this talk wanting to read everything he has written. I loved his book John Adams, and now I really want to read his one about the Wright brothers. He did an especially great job of talking about all the women that are a part of these histories and don't get the credit for the roles they played. And on that same theme, he also credited his wife extensively for helping him during his revision process. I really liked that. McCullough still writes on a manual typewriter, which is adorable, AND he talked about how important it is to read your work aloud as you're writing and editing. I must have looked like a bobblehead in the stands, I was nodding so hard in agreement with that. I caught the tail-end of Alice McDermott's talk too, and she said the exact same thing. You've got to hear the sound of the words to get them right, they're not just marks on the page. Anyway, no one writes about American history better than McCullough and I feel really lucky that I got to hear him speak.
Diana Gabaldon: So full disclosure, I've read about half of Outlander, and while it's pretty good, it just isn't my cup of tea. Despite that, I was still so excited to hear her talk and she did not disappoint. I have a lot of respect for her genre-blending. I mean, who would have thought historical fiction could be crossed with romance and science fiction! I'm sure publishers wouldn't naturally bet on that horse, so the fact that Gabaldon has been so successful at making it work is incredibly impressive to me (she's sold a massive 28 million copies of her books, on which a hit TV show has also been based), She was funny, a little naughty, and incredibly inspiring. After hearing her talk, I almost wanted to leave the festival so I could get writing. The fact that she transitioned her original career as a biology professor in academia to becoming a novelist is another thing about her story that I really admire. I mean, if she can do it, maybe I can too! Gave me hope.
Colm Toibin: Of all the talks I saw, this one was definitely the most literary. I really, really loved his novel, Brooklyn, and it was just fascinating to hear how the tiny, quiet details of his childhood in Ireland informs his work. He made a great case for making stories out of almost nothing, just the mundane, but incredibly human details of our lives. Kind of a great reminder to wake up, listen, and observe all the stories that are already taking place in your life. The hard work of putting them down on paper still remains, but they're there if you bother to notice.
Thomas Friedman: So Friedman may have been the biggest crowd-draw, but I'm actually not very familiar with his work. He's a columnist for the New York Times, and as he stated up front, he considers his job to illuminate ideas that provoke an emotional response (which sounds like high-level click bait to me, but what do I know). He gave a great, incredibly well-rehearsed presentation that was much more like a TED talk than any other speaker's (who were typically more conversational). I don't know. Friedman was kind of impressive, but it felt like he was exaggerating a lot of ideas. I didn't walk away from that talk feeling like I had learned much other than Thomas Friedman likes to make connections about globalization, climate change, Moore's law, human adaptability, and that those connections may or may not be real. He was promoting his book Thank You For Being Late, and it sounded pretty good, but also kind of suspect. I don't know, wasn't my favorite talk. Just a little too slick. Big ideas are complex and I feel like he way over-simplified everything so they would fit into his convenient unified theory.
Michael Lewis: Lewis hardly needs an introduction. If you've read or seen The Big Short, Moneyball (movie), or Liar's Poker, then you know his work. But until I saw his talk, which was actually more of an awesome conversation between him and Joel Achenbach (whom I've been reading in the Washington Post for years, so it was really cool to finally see him in the flesh), I hadn't made the connection that he had written ALL those books. Of all the talks I saw, Lewis's may have been the most downright entertaining. He made everything he said sound like the most interesting thing you've ever heard. Of all the authors yesterday, for me he was the most like David McCullough - incredibly curious people, asking all the right questions and digging to find the answers. Lewis's talk may have been my favorite of the whole day. Like McCullough's, I left wanting to read everything he had ever written.
Condoleezza Rice: I mean, CONDOLEEZZA FREAKING RICE! Look, I was never a fan of the Bush administration, but I always admired Rice, and the more I've learned about her over the years, the more impressed I get. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, smack in the middle of segregation and the Civil Rights movement (she knew some of the little girls who were killed in the Birmingham church bombing). And yet, she grew up empowered by her parents and herself to become a world-expert in Soviet and Eastern European foreign policy (she has a Ph.D. and was a professor at Stanford University). She speaks Russian, was part of both the George H. W. and W. Bush administrations as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State (America's top diplomat), and, if that wasn't enough, she's also an incredibly talented classical pianist. Her talk was about her new book, Democracy - basically what institutions are needed to make a successful system (independent courts, free press, etc.) and why it's thrived in some parts of the world and not in others. The moderator had her talk about the state of democracy (or lack thereof) in different countries and geopolitical situations, and holy shit, does the lady know her stuff. She's back teaching at Stanford, and if I could, I would definitely take her class. The only "bad" part about Rice's talk was that it was scheduled at almost the same time as Roxane Gay's, whose new book, Hunger, I really want to read. Hopefully I'll get to see her another time.
Ann Telnaes, Mike Lester, and Roz Chast: Finally, I closed out the fairly long day (I got there at 10 am and didn't leave until 7 pm) with the cartoonists panel. I'm a massive cartoon fan, in all forms of the medium, so this was a real treat for me. Ann Telnaes (of the Washington Post) and Mike Lester are editorial cartoonists on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I'm sure you would recognize Telnaes's work. I really enjoyed hearing her talk. She was such a strong, intelligent voice against Trump and his attempts to bully the free press (in ways that aren't unlike some of the warning signs Rice was discussing in her own talk). I just love her cartooning style, and had no idea that all these years I've been reading her work that it was a woman behind it. There aren't many female political cartoonists and she takes a lot of heat on the internet for it. Because how dare a woman speak up! I didn't love Mike Lester. Our politics don't agree, which isn't the end of the world, but beyond that, he just wasn't very coherent or nearly as interesting as Telnaes. I also hate his comic strip, Mike du Jour, but it was interesting to at least put a face to the name. The last talk I heard was with Roz Chast, whom I'm a big fan of (you can read my review of her graphic novel Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? here). For years, I didn't really appreciate her work, and then one day it just hit me how amazing it is. She's by far my favorite New Yorker cartoonist.
The only slightly annoying part was her talk was a little ruined for me by a group of incredibly impolite teenage boys I happened to be sitting next to. The room was so packed, I couldn't change seats, and for the life of me, I don't know why they even bothered to be there. They kept getting up and down from their seats, spent 99% of the talk playing games on their cell phones (while one "helpfully" described the cartoons and jokes being projected on the screens to his companions, so I could hardly hear Chast talk). And then when someone tried to sit down in a seat in the middle of the row, and politely asked the boys if he could get past them, the kid looked up from his phone and sneered, "Can you get in on the other side?" (meaning the other side of the aisle, so he wouldn't have to be bothered to scoot his knees out of the way for the all of 2 seconds it would take for the older man to get a seat). Makes you wonder what the world is coming to. I wanted to tell that kid off, but it would only have made a bigger disruption than it already was.
Anyway, despite that last bit, the National Book Festival was amazing and I can't wait until next year. I mean, in one day I heard more authors speak than I have in my entire life up to that point. If you're a word nerd like me, the Library of Congress's National Book Festival is well worth it. If I weren't local, I would definitely plan a long weekend in D.C. around it. There's plenty to do in the city and free events like this one make it even better.
Have you ever been? If so, tell me about it in the comments! Would love to hear your experiences.
Time for some quick-fire book reviews. If you want to see what I'm reading these days, check out the Books tab and scroll down to the bottom for my 2017 reading list.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus (read for book club): To say this is an experimental novel is an understatement. Ostensibly, it's about a woman who becomes obsessed with a man (an English literary/culture critic posing as some kind of cowboy artist), but that's really not what the book is about. I found it easier to like this work by thinking of it as a piece of performance art concerning feminism, art criticism, and most of all, who gets to speak. I Love Dick is Kraus's living answer to that question. I'm not sure how they managed to convince Amazon to make a TV show based on this book, but I can't comment on that having not seen it. If you do decide to take the plunge with I Love Dick, I would recommend skimming the section about the paintings. As far as I can tell, a lot of this book wasn't intended for the every-day reader, being more specifically geared to Kraus's peers (art and literary critics in the most academic sense of the word). It's a hard book to finish, but you should because the ending is fabulous and there is a lot great insight sprinkled throughout.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (read for an upcoming Adichie talk): I'll be honest, this book was a bit of a struggle for me until the latter half. It's about a Nigerian family, well-off and highly respected because of the father's business success, his support of the free press in an oppressive and dangerous political landscape, as well as his generosity and extreme catholic piety. To outside observers, he is the perfect figure-head to the perfect family. But what no one else knows is that he regularly beats and terrorizes his wife and two children, usually for some kind of perceived sin, however inconsequential (or non-existent) it might be. The father is a fairly interesting character because you can only wonder how he became this way and why he hurts his family even as he so clearly loves them. I suppose it's because he's been taught to believe by missionaries that he will lose them if they aren't able to uphold every rigid, arbitrary rule of Catholicism, much in the way he's "lost" his father who simply refuses to convert. Anyway, you can already tell from this review whom I'm more fascinated by in this book, even though it's told from the perspective of his daughter. And I feel a little bad about that, because it's clearly not her fault that she's so passive and weak - she's been terrorized into silence by her father. So her passivity is understandable, but also very frustrating to read. Most other characters outside of her family also get annoyed by her for these same reasons, so I suppose my reaction isn't entirely out of place, but we at least know why she's so weak, and so we know how unfair it is to judge her for it. Once the daughter is more or less removed from her home by her aunt, she begins to improve, but it was a slog to get there. I just got very tired of reading the lines "I wanted to say..." over and over. But again, I understood why she couldn't say it either. It definitely made you feel complicit in the plot, like you were just another character passing judgement on the poor girl, making her life extra miserable. So her passivity made it hard to push through Purple Hibiscus, but I'm glad I did. Can't wait to hear Adichie's thoughts about it and what I may have missed.
Would definitely recommend you try both of these novels. Like I said, they're kind of difficult books in different ways. Purple Hibiscus is certainly the more readable of the two, but the narrator was less compelling compared to I Love Dick's (who most of my book club hated, so this may be a taste thing). Anyway, check them out if you're in the mood for some heavier reading. I probably wouldn't have finished either if I hadn't been reading them for very specific reasons, but I'm glad I did. Definitely enjoying the accountability of my book club for that reason.
So for all my writing and reading friends out there, I wanted to give you a quick heads up about some exciting literary events that are coming to the D.C. area, in case you happen to live around here or will be passing through.
First of all, the National Book Festival is coming up on September 2! This FREE event is sponsored by the Library of Congress and brings together some really exciting authors for the public to listen to and engage with. Speakers include Roz Chast (of New Yorker cartoon fame, whose book I wrote a review about here), Diana Gabaldon, Roxane Gay, Ha Jin, Condoleezza Rice, Cokie Roberts, David McCullough, Colm Toibin, and so many more. You can find the full list here. For a one day event, I think it's going to be really hard to see everyone I'd like to! The National Book Festival takes place at the Walter E. Washington convention center with doors opening at 8:30 am. I've wanted to go to this festival for YEARS, but have never gone for one reason or another. Can't wait to finally experience it and nerd out with other book lovers.
The other big literary news is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is coming to Maryland! She's giving several talks at different locations from September 24-26, including at the Baltimore Book Festival, about her novel Purple Hibiscus, which Maryland Humanities is sponsoring as a kind of state wide book club. I'm about half-way through the book, and it's very well written, though I admit I'm having some issues with the main character's passivity - but it does make perfect sense since this is a story about family abuse. Looking forward to finishing it and seeing how it turns out.
It was actually my best friend who alerted me to these upcoming talks, and even though she lives all the way in Dallas, she's flying home for the long weekend so we can see Adichie together. My friend is a huge fan of her writing, but also of her TED talks, including the one I've linked above, "We Should All Be Feminists." Check it out! I admit, I have not read enough of Adichie's work (Americana is perpetually on my "to read" list), but this has been a great excuse to dig into her catalogue in preparation to hear her talk.
And if you're in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area this September, I hope you'll be able to make it to these events. I know I'm super excited :)
Last week I spoke about starting Lexapro, so I wanted to give you a little update about how I'm feeling.
Actually, not bad. Pretty good even. My problems aren't solved by any means, but they certainly feel less impossible. I don't really know how to describe it. It's not that I necessarily feel happier, but I am having an easier time seeing how my goals and issues can be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I certainly don't feel like a different person, but I do feel less "wound up," if you know what I mean.
For instance, I've been struggling to finish a short novella for the last few months. It could not be a simpler story (purely commercially driven for publication on Amazon's KDP) that I'd already completely plotted out, and yet I have not been able to just sit down and finish the damn thing so I could move on to better projects.
Yesterday I finished it. After literal months of being about 2000 words from the ending, I was finally able to sit my butt down and get it done.
Is it the medicine? A placebo effect? A combination of all the other things I'm doing? Not sure. But I'll take it.
The only other thing I've been doing differently is making more of a concerted effort to apply some cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, particularly the one related to procrastination/perfectionism. It works like this: you make three columns on a piece of paper and label them Task, Perception, and Reality. You write out your tasks and then on a scale of 0-100, rate how difficult you perceive they will be. Then after you complete the task, you rate how difficult you actually felt it was in the Reality column. Those of us that struggle with anxiety generally perceive things to be more difficult or awful than they really are, which contributes to our procrastination. I've been struggling with that issue lately, so I've been using this exercise and finding it really helpful, because it provides tangible evidence that the activities I need to do aren't nearly as hard as I expect them to be and it creates a kind of positive snowball effect for future tasks.
Anyway, just wanted to report that I'm definitely feeling a little better and having an easier time with things. The mild Lexapro side-effects have worn off and I'm feeling like it's really helping, especially in combination with the cognitive behavioral therapy I've been working on. That makes sense since the combination of medication plus therapy is supposed to be more effective than either one alone. I don't know why but I find that pretty cool to see in action. It gives me a lot of respect for psychiatry.
Writing Streak: 0 days
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