Monthly Archives: July 2016

A Long Trip but a Good One

I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts about The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.  I’ve been trying to put it in context of my previous readings, but it is so unlike anything I’ve read before that I can’t truly compare.

The story starts with Rosemary Harper floating through space but, from page one, the reader is given a firm foundation.  This is a story set after humans were forced to leave Earth so long ago that there are people who doubt that’s even where they came from. They interact with other species throughout the galaxy (the umbrella term for all being “Sapients”) who have their own identities, cultures, and anatomies.  With so much going on, and all of it that far removed from the reader’s life, it would be easy to get lost.  But Chambers weaves the cultural and historical details into the story expertly.  Everything makes sense, and yet we are not overwhelmed with information.

Part of the reason it works so well is because the story is character-centric, and the cast is diverse enough to show several sides of the galaxy.  They feel like real people and their backgrounds are the building blocks to their personalities.  I usually have a hard time keeping characters straight in my head, but this was just like meeting several interesting new people at once, each distinct and fascinating.

Still, unlike many character-centric novels, I never had to wonder what the story was or what the characters were after.  The driving goal, plot-wise, is “do the job;” that is, get from one side of the galaxy to the other so they can tunnel their way back.  You know what the characters are working towards and where the finish line is, so the plot building up to it doesn’t feel aimless.  And yet, Chambers makes it clear that what they really want is to keep their crew together.  Those are our stakes, the true driving force behind everything the characters do.

With all of these factors, I could barely stop reading.  I kept wanting to see what would happen next, or wanting to spend more time with these characters because they were just fun to be with.  But despite all that, I wouldn’t call it a fluffy book either.  It took “human nature” into consideration and put issues of diversity, prejudice, and political turmoil on a larger playing field.  It makes you think about things: What constitutes being alive?  Who has that right to live?  How do we live together with such different cultures and even environmental needs?  And how do we as a society make these decisions?  Based on the characters’ differences, the reader begins to consider these things before they realize they’re doing it.

I was infatuated with this book by page 50, and in love with it not too long after.  Overall, I just felt a lot of joy in reading it, something I really needed after The Casual Vacancy.  It may have been a long way, but it was a worthwhile journey.

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Categories: Book Club Thursday | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

5 Ways to Make The Most of Your Disney Vacation

There are, as I mentioned, six Disney theme parks in the world, and I have been to three of them.  I won’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Walt Disney World, but I did work there for a while.  At this point, I know what I’m doing.  Here are a few tricks to make your Disney trip easier and more fun.

  1. Plan ahead.  The Disney properties are full of award-winning restaurants.  While you may be able to get reservations when you get there, it will be easier to book in advance.  If you know you want to meet a lot of characters, you can book a character meal and take care of two priorities in one.  It’s also a good idea to look at the maps and list of attractions before you go.  If we hadn’t, we would have missed La Tanière du Dragon at Disneyland Paris.  It’s unique to that park and tucked away; it would have been easy to miss if we hadn’t been looking for it.  Speaking of planning and knowing what you want to do…
  2. Fast passes are your friend.  They work a little differently at each resort.  At Walt Disney World, make the FastPass+ kiosk your first stop.  There are some rides that always have a long wait, but you can tell what’s popular that day and compare it to what you want to ride.  These you can change later if you want to do something different or, on the flip side, you can book them up to 60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney hotel.

    At Disneyland, each ride has its own kiosk, so head straight for the one you want most.  Everything is close enough that it won’t be too far out of your way to begin with.  This is one of the ways the app will come in handy.  It can show you wait times for each attraction so you can tell which rides you’ll need the fast passes for.

    You can also get fast passes for the best view at certain shows, which reminds me…

  3. View your day holistically and prepare to stay late at least one night.  Every park has a show of some kind and it usually involves fireworks.  I’m biased: I think everybody needs to see Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios but, honestly, there are no bad shows at Disney, and they’re usually celebrating something.

    Each park also has parades, shows, and character meet-and-greets throughout the day.  Pay attention to the times and prioritize.  You’ve got a lot of options but you can miss them if you don’t time it right.

  4. Get the Park Hopper.  It’s a little more expensive, but trust me.  If you get to a park and realize it’s too crowded, if you have a meal reserved in one but want to start elsewhere, or if you get to your last day and realize there’s something you haven’t done yet, you’re going to be glad you have the option to go back and forth.  It makes scheduling SO much easier.
  5. Pick a couple of things to focus on and just let the rest happen.

    Most of these tips are about planning, which does help ensure you don’t miss out on your must-sees.  But you can also miss out if you aren’t open to possibilities.  There are often performers in the streets or you’ll notice a super short line for something you didn’t think you’d want to ride.  Plan for those things that are most important to you, but leave room for Disney magic.  It’s everywhere and it’s often the parts you don’t expect that you’ll remember most.

There’s not really such a thing as a bad Disney vacation…at least, not that I’ve experienced yet, but these things always make my trips a little less overwhelming.

Have fun at the Happiest Place on Earth, whichever one you decide to visit.

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The Casual Vacancy (Spoilers Abound)

I am a Harry Potter fan, but I have never considered myself a J.K. Rowling fan.  I’ll only say I love an author if I’ve read multiple works and enjoyed the majority of them.  Until a few years ago, that wasn’t an option with Rowling.

When The Casual Vacancy came out in 2013, a lot of Harry Potter fans jumped for it, even as critics said, “It’s very different.”

I knew that, but I wanted to give her a chance as an author, to see if I liked her and not just this one world she’d created, so I knew I would read it eventually.  Now that I have, I’ve got to say…I’m still not a fan.

After my experience with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I expected the story to have a slow start.  I gave it time, but I was 80% through the book before I reached a spot where all I wanted to do was read.  It’s all about a small town full of miserable people making each other miserable.

She tells it from multiple perspectives in order to humanize every character, but it instead gave me the impression that each of the adults was self-absorbed and didn’t care what damage they were causing, even to their own kids.

For the most part, the kids aren’t much better.  (Though with these people raising them, how could they be?)  I don’t have a problem with unlikable characters, but if you’re asking us to read 500 pages about them, they should at least be compelling.  The only one I rooted for, the one I kept reading for, was Krystal Wheedon.  And instead of being treated like a character, she often acted as a plot device and catalyst for events around her.  This was so much the case that some of her actions towards the end, while not completely out-of-character, felt like a stretch.  And the ending!

I have reached a point in my life where I under the place tragedy has in literature.  Even character death, as Rowling herself demonstrated beautifully in Harry Potter, can be important in a narrative.  The Casual Vacancy begins with a death that sets every other event into motion, which makes sense and works well as an opening.  But it also ends with death, and this was the one I had a problem with.  Instead of focusing on the tragedy itself, Rowling shows us the effect it has on every other character.  That made me angry.

Many of the families were brought closer in the wake of it.  Where the first death started a war, this one enacted a ceasefire.  It’s not because they are comforting each other, but seems to be out of shock.  It is a fragile peace; they are all still miserable, but different miserable, or else they’ve just gone back to taking it quietly.  I was left with the impression that the death would not have a lasting impact on many of them.

It took me over a month to read this book and some spots were especially hard to read because of how heavy they were.  There are books like that I would recommend, but The Casual Vacancy isn’t one of them.  There are a few pretty lines, but there is not emotional payoff in the end; it’s just not worth the struggle.

Categories: Book Club Thursday | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

I’m nostalgic about a lot of things, but typically not movies.  When I first heard they were rebooting Ghostbusters, I had no interest.  When I found out it would star Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig, that was a different story.

There is one glaring problem I want to address first: I’m still bothered that Patty Tolan (Jones) is the only black woman in the film.  She is a great character-strong, smart, and funny-but as women gain better media representation, we’ve GOT to do better about including women of color.

That aside, I’d definitely see this movie again.

There were two ways I worried it would go sideways.  First, as a reboot, they could have relied on nostalgia and old jokes to get by.  But Katie Dippold and Paul Feig have written a new story that can stand on its own merit.  There’s a creepy Big-Bad, a meddling government, and an actual plotline.  The references to the original are obvious enough that even someone like me (who only saw it once and has an awful memory) can recognize them, but they’re not overused.  Each one is well-placed, clever, AND fun.  It’s the perfect balance between old and new.

I was also worried it would be a “fake feminist” movie, calling itself progressive because it had cast women without actually bothering to develop them as characters.  But each of the women is unique, lovable, and still flawed.  They’re strong characters without being the same type of Strong Female Character™, which would have been easy to do in a movie about women kicking ass.  They each bring something to the story, and their friendship is important to them and the narrative which gives it an emotional depth I was not expecting.

But overall, it’s just a lot of fun.

My main concern was that they wouldn’t put any effort into it, but they did and it shows.  There were a lot of women working to create this story; it shows in how well-developed the characters are and how non-degrading and accessible the humor is (which shouldn’t be that big an accomplishment, but here we are).  It was also made with a lot of love for the original while still being open to telling new stories.  Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd both got to join in the fun without overpowering the stars.

If you loved Ghostbusters growing up, go see the new one because it’s for you.  If you never saw Ghostbusters but want more women’s stories in your life, go see the new one because it’s for you.

At the very least, see it to make the fuckboys angry.  I know that always makes my day.

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July’s Vlog: 5 Books that Scare Me.

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What Taboo?

This isn’t something we talk about in the South, but I’ve been seeing a therapist for about four months. 

We’ve got this idea we should “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” and to do anything else-to ask for help-is not respectable. It keeps a lot of people from seeking counseling and many of the ones who do hide it like a dirty secret. This is absolutely a problem and one of the reasons we need to talk about it more. 

But for me, the reason I hesitated to go (and now hesitate to talk about it) is because I don’t want anyone to worry. After all, it’s Not That Bad. 

There are days I feel like I can’t get out of bed because there’s no point to it, but inevitably I do get up and get to work, albeit a little late. But I’m late on good days too, so that’s really nothing. I’ve felt so anxious I feel like I’m going to vomit and I can’t quite pinpoint why. There are days any little thing can make me cry or send me into a rage, but everyone has bad days, right? These things affect my life, even stop me sometimes, but they never stop me for longer than a day or so. So, clearly, whatever is happening in my head is Not That Bad.

In fact, as I talk to my therapist, I keep expecting her to say that I’m overreacting and there’s nothing wrong with how I’m feeling. But, as she does say, mental problems fall on a spectrum, and just because they don’t affect my life as badly as they might someone else’s, it doesn’t mean they aren’t affecting me. 

In actuality, every time I’ve started going to counseling, it’s because someone else has noticed a long-term, negative effect on my life. All while I keep saying I’m fine and it’s Not That Bad.

If you’re there, here’s my advice: don’t wait until it is That Bad. You do not need to be a stone’s throw from a total mental break before you seek help. Anything that is consistently having a negative impact on your life is already bad enough. 

There are some days I think it’s not working and it’s not getting any better. Then there are days I go and I actually feel better when I leave. Maybe it’s not for everyone but, overall, I think it’s good for me. 

I’m talking about it because it may be good for someone else too. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about and it doesn’t have to be a last resort. 

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Diversity for Diversity’s Sake

A friend showed me this video and it inspired me to make this week’s Book Club Thursday to be about the books that intimidate me.  But we do not create in a vacuum and there are more important things to talk about even in the world of books.

At some point in high school, I realized that 80% of the books we were assigned were about guys.  Sure, we read some Jane Austen and To Kill a Mockingbird…but isn’t Atticus Finch kind of the main character of that one?  Once I saw it, I couldn’t not see it.  It felt like the message was: your stories, as a woman, are not as important as the men’s.  Ergo, you are not as important.

It took me longer to consider what skin color most of those protagonists were.  Because I’m white and I have the privilege of being the “default” in that matter.  In books, if race isn’t specified, we as readers assume white.  It’s why there was such an uproar about black Hermione.  As consumers, we should question those assumptions.  But as creators, we should be explicit.  This goes for color, sexuality, gender identity, etc.  As long as society has a default in mind, the creators must go out of their way to define those minority representations if they include them.  And they should be including them.

Yes, I believe in diversity of the sake of diversity.

First of all, thinking diversity in stories is just “political correctness” or “sjw-talk” goes back to the idea that white is default.  “Diversity should add something to the story.”  Well, what does the character being white add to the story?  “Why does that character have to be black?”  As opposed to what, exactly?

The arguments that diversity “isn’t realistic” or books are “fantasy/sci-fi/escape” implies you either think you live in a world of only white people, or you wish you did.  The first is statistically inaccurate.  The second is just scary.

Diversity in stories is especially important because we, as individuals and a society, internalize our stories.  Just like reading only books about boys tells girls they matter less, telling only stories about white people tell people of color the same thing.  And, bonus, it tells white people that too.  Thinking of ourselves as default leads us to think of others as, well, “other,” creating the groundwork for us to think of them as lesser.  It’s especially easy to do since we come from a long history of doing so.

Thinking about that, it occurs to me that, of the African-American stories we do read in school, they’re almost all slave narratives.  It is absolutely something we need to study, but why do we stop there?

I’m white.  I’m speaking from a place of privilege that I’m still learning to acknowledge.  And no, I don’t think changing our stories is the magical, overnight solution.  But I do believe stories are powerful and I do believe they can have a major impact on the people who read them – or listen to them or watch them.  And since nothing is going to change until we do, I think it’s one step we can and should take as a society.

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Well Here’s an Update for You

I joined Tinder this week.

There’s this episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (God, I am LOVING this show) when Rosa tells Jake the “Only way to move on is to move on, whether you think you’re ready or not.”  Since I’m having a hard time meeting people IRL (nerd-speak for “when you’re not hiding behind your computer”), I thought I’d give online dating a try.

I didn’t want to use Match or eHarmony because I’m not looking for someone to fall in love or spend the rest of my life with.  It’s not a priority; I’ve got other things to do.  (“There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait…”)  I was looking for something casual and with little pressure (because, you know, anxiety).  I wanted to meet some new people and maybe go on a date or two.

But I’m not sure Tinder was the way to do that.

It’s casual all right, but it gets that from its superficiality.  Someone’s “profile” is a series of one to six pictures.  The bios are bare bones at most.  The most intimate information I’ve gotten about anyone on there is that they have a dog, or they like the Tar Heels and traveling.  One asked me to join a three some (umm…why?) and one was a guy I knew from college who said it was awkward when I messaged him (so why’d you swipe right, dude?).  One guy talked to me for five minutes and asked to find me on Facebook.

I stopped talking to all of them.

I know someone who uses Tinder to find people to talk to and has had some decent conversations on there.  A friend of a friend went on Tinder and found a guy to go rock climbing with.  Two rock-climbing dates later, and she never saw him again.  These things appeal to me and, maybe, if I keep sifting through, I’ll come across some people with a similar mindset.  Maybe I won’t, but there’s no harm in giving it a chance.

So no, despite all of this, I’m not going to uninstall just yet.  It may have been fruitless so far, but it has not been boring, and I’ll stick with it until it stops being fun.

In conclusion: Tinder might not be for me…but then again, maybe it is.  No way to know until you try.

Categories: Tuesday Update | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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