Monthly Archives: November 2016

Kari’s 5 Road Trip Tips

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Road Trip Book Haul

This was meant to be a vlog post, but I don’t actually feel like videoing myself right now.

I probably visited a dozen or more book stores on this trip.  Some were awful, like the one in Cuba, Missouri.  There were a few, like the one in Nashville, Tennessee, that were nice but didn’t have what I wanted.  There were six I found and purchased books from.

The first bookstore of the trip was in Chicago.  Selected Works Used Books & Sheet Music was a room and a half in a building so old the elevator was cranked by hand.  There I bought a Perry Mason mystery: The Case of the One-Eyed Witness by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Despite going into almost every bookstore I saw, the next place I found something was Palace Avenue Books in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There I bought Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. The owner saw that I was buying it and showed me an antique he’d recently acquired with some beautiful pictures of the pyramids.

I FINALLY found If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson at The Writer’s Block Book Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When I made it to The Last Book Store in Los Angeles, I almost didn’t find anything…but then I saw Brain Storm by Don Hahn and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech.

Originally, I expected this would actually be my last book store of the trip, but then I got to meet Anna Kendrick and get her book Scrappy Little Nobody at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey, a bookstore well known for its author events.

And of course, once in New York City, I couldn’t resist going to one of my favorite bookstores: The Strand.  That’s where I found In the Next Room by Sarah Ruhl, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  These were all books I’d wanted for a while, so that was extra wonderful.

I’ve stopped going into big chain bookstores because I’ve found half the fun of buying books is where you get them.  So where are your favorite independent bookstores?  And be sure to shop there Small Business Saturday!

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Halloween and Happiness

Layla and I crossed the California state line on Halloween.  Needles was the first town we came to, a tiny place with a literal Welcome Wagon and not much else.

I’d spent a hot minute on the phone with my mom and cousins a few miles earlier and seeing them in their costumes didn’t help how I was feeling.  I wasn’t homesick, exactly, though this was a holiday I hated to miss.  Restless, maybe.  They were about to do something fun, which has always been the point of Halloween in my book.  And what was I going to do?

I didn’t know.  I had packed my short dress and Gryffindor tie because I was hoping for a party, but Needles wasn’t that sort of town.  In fact, I wasn’t going to run into “that sort of town” until I hit LA.  And while I could drive there within the day, that would mean bypassing Calico, San Bernardino, and Pasadena.  I didn’t want to do that, but I also didn’t want to spend Halloween night alone in a hotel room.

Then I saw the sign: Las Vegas.  I could spend Halloween in Vegas.  I opened the app on my phone, found a cheap place to stay, and that was it.

“Man,” I thought, once I’d booked, “I’m really going to miss this ‘doing what I want when I want it’ thing.”

Since I had made it to California, I was starting to think of the end of the trip.  But just as soon as I thought that, something else occurred to me.

Why?  What’s stopping me from doing whatever I want when I want it once I get home?  It won’t be the same, sure, but…I can still do things on a whim for no reason except that it will make me happy.

Looking over my SnapChat story the next day made me smile.  I stayed at the Las Vegas Hostel, which only charged me $20 for the night and included free breakfast and a pool. It was also within walking distance of some of downtown Vegas and Fremont St. At The Writer’s Block, I bought a book I’d been looking for and talked to the bookseller about bars I should go to. He recommended Atomic Liquors, a bit of a dive, and Oddfellows, which had a lot of energy. I also tried Commonwealth, which probably had the best drinks and fell between the two atmospheres, so is a good place to go if you’re looking for balance.  I also did just a little bit of gambling and got my photo taken with the Chippendales.  All of these things showed up in my SnapChat story and were a reminder of the fun I’d had the night before.

That’s what I want from my life: I want to do things that make me happy and take lots of pictures so that I can look back and continue feeling that way.  And I want it to be an everyday occurrence.  I want to be able to look at my SnapChat story at any given moment and think, “Oh yeah, that was great.”

That will look a little different each day.  On Halloween, I would have been bored and even upset if I’d sat in my pajamas watching TV.  Today, that was exactly what I wanted to do.  And that, I’ve decided, is a perfectly acceptable reason to do something.

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Scrappy Little Nobody

I’ve heard you should never meet your heroes. Those same people would probably tell you not to read their memoirs either.

Fuck that.

It depends on WHO your hero is. Pick the right one, and that shouldn’t be a problem. That being said, I met Anna Kendrick on Monday and have been reading her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody, ever since, and I love her more than ever.

The event itself was at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  They are apparently famous for their author events and were very efficient at getting everyone in and out in a timely manner.  That being said, I wanted to talk to her more.  Don’t get me wrong: she was absolutely funny and charming and she TOLD ME I LOOKED AMAZING AND HUGGED ME AND OH MY GOD GUYS I COULDN’T TAKE IT, but I didn’t get to ask her about Trolls like I wanted to or tell her I’d driven from L.A. or let her know that my lipstick color was called Lady Balls, which I figured she’d appreciate.  I left still feeling like I had a 2D idea of her.

Reading her book filled that gap.  She writes like she talks, and each story is told in a conversational style that makes you feel connected to her as the story-teller.  At one point, she even says that “we’re friends.”  Even though that’s not quite accurate, she manages to speak openly and honestly in a way that shows off her humanity.

There are a lot of “actress finds her way through Hollywood” stories, but it also contains several “young woman finds her way” stories and advice for girls about dating and sex.  She shows some true feminism and calls out some sexist issues with society from a personal level, like the guys who want to have sex with her until she shows she’s “too enthusiastic” about it.

All in all, the book just makes her seem more like a person I want to hang out with and feels like you’re catching up with a friend who happens to be living the “Hollywood life.”  The stories are funny and interesting and she bares her soul enough to ensure her reader is emotionally invested.

If you liked Twilight or Into the Woods, I recommend reading it.  If you want to be an actor and are curious how one moves to L.A. and gets into show business, I recommend reading it.  If you are a girl/young woman who doesn’t know how to be yourself in a world constantly telling you 5000 different people you should be, I recommend reading it.  She has good advice in spots.  In the places she doesn’t, well…she can commiserate enough that you don’t feel quite so alone in your circumstance.  And she’ll make you laugh enough to make you feel better about all of it.

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Driving East

My epic road trip is drawing to a close.  If all goes as planned (and I do say if), I will be home by the end of this week.  Driving east has been completely different from driving west because it’s been about the destination, about get to Jersey on time, and not as much about the trip itself.  More than anything it confirms I  drove out there the right way.Parts of the drive to New York sucked because I was so focused on reaching my miles for the day.  The whole state of Virginia was a wash, for example.  But there were some things I did on my drive that brought me back to the initial spirit of the trip.

I stopped in Amarillo, Texas the day after the election to do some shopping and see Trolls again, but mostly because I loved Texas and didn’t want to pass it over completely without taking a moment to enjoy it.

I went out of my way to visit The Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma, an iconic Route 66 landmark I missed the first time.  I didn’t get to meet Dawn, who inspired Sally in Cars, but I knew I would always wonder if I didn’t go at all.

I listened to the blues at a cafe on Beale Street in Memphis and walked along the Mississippi River before driving to Nashville and spending the day surrounded by the music I grew up on.

The reason I did all these things was because I kept thinking about Neil Gaiman’s speech and the best advice he got but didn’t follow.  “You should enjoy this,” King had told him.  Despite marathon driving sessions, being exhausted, and getting sick of every audio file I had to listen to in the car, I was determined I would find a way to enjoy it.

Tomorrow I go back to marathon driving sessions.  There’s one thing I still need to do before I put my home address into the GPS.  The truth is that I’m actually ready to get home.  I’ve done everything I set out to do.  But, most importantly, I believe I can carry this combination of freedom, peace, and happiness I’ve found back to my hometown.  Because of that, going home doesn’t seem so scary any more.

That being said, I have four more days before I have to worry about that, and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.

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Fantastic Mistakes

My goal for this trip was to read and blog about only the books I brought with me from Belmont.  I was going to save my new acquisitions until I got home and made a Road Trip Book Haul post.  But between marathon driving sessions and election anxiety, I haven’t made much progress on The Bell Jar.  Also, I already missed a Patron post this week and didn’t want to do it again so I chose to break the rule and read something I bought in L.A.

And I have to say, one more time, that I am so SO grateful for the magic of books, for the fact that the right one always seems to find me exactly when I need it.  It took me fifteen minutes to read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech.  I cannot definitively say those 15 minutes changed my life, but they certainly changed my outlook on today.

I’ve been racking my brain for a way to explain the effect it’s had on me, but instead I’m just going to give you a link so you can read it (or watch it if you prefer).  And I’m going to give you my list of what I want to do, like the one Gaiman says he made at 15.

  • Write a book for 20-somethings with a character I can identify with.
  • Write a travel memoir.
  • Write a Disney princess movie.
  • Write a progressive children’s novel.
  • Write an album’s worth of songs and record them or get someone else to.
  • Perfect the Robin Hood book.

I’m sure there will be more, but this seems like plenty to get started with.

There is nothing I can do anymore that will change who our next president is…but there is something I can do that will make me feel better about it and, depending on how it goes, may make someone else feel a little better too.

So if you will excuse me, I’ve got art to make.  And, in the process, hopefully a few fantastic mistakes.

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The Road Less Traveled

Well…I made it.

I got to California on November 1st and LA on the 4th.  on Sunday, I drove out to the Santa Monica Pier.

The end of the Route.

It will be another week and a half before the trip is over, but my ride down the Mother Road is done.

Cars was not exaggerating.  I passed SO many towns that had died because I-40 overlooked them.  But there’s a certain camaraderie on 66 that you don’t find on the new interstates.  I don’t know how it was in the heyday but, ironically, this comraderie today is borne of the isolation.  There are so few people left on the old roads that you feel a connection to the few you do meet.

Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it was the perfect blend of solitude and companionship for me.  It was just the right blend of speed and easy-riding.

There’s a certain nostalgia on Route 66 as well.  The most celebrated establishments are the ones that have been around since the 40s or earlier.

And yet…talking to Fran of the Sunflower Station, it’s not the same road it was 90 years ago.  “Oh yes,” she said, when I asked if she’d actually taken the Route.  “Several times and it’s different every time.”

She’s right.  Between the detours and the businesses opening and closing, it changes all the time.  My Route 66 does not match anyone else’s, which is part of the magic of it all.  All Route 66 travelers see most of the same sights, but they each have their own experience.

If you’re planning your Route 66 experience, here are my 6 (see what I did there?) top must-dos on Route 66.

  1. Lou Mitchell’s.  I almost didn’t stop here, but I am SO glad I did.  Best pancakes EVER.
  2. Luna Cafe.  The neon sign is one of the oldest on the Route and, if you show up at the right time, they’ll easily make you feel like a regular.  This is the most socializing I did on the whole Route and it was pretty fantastic.
  3. The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. You have to pay for it, but the view is SO worth it.  The view is beautiful and, halfway through, you get to the only place the old Route intersected a National Park.  Take this road.  It’ll be worth it.
  4. The Midpoint Cafe/Sunflower Station.  Classic Route 66.  First of all, if you make it during the On season, you will have the best pie and coffee of your life.  It’s delicious.  But the best part is the people.  Fran, who owns the Sunflower Station, is an incredibly sweet person who also knows a lot about the old road.  And the family at the Midpoint Cafe is hospitable and kind.  Make sure you stop in.
  5. Black Mountains.  The drive between Kingman, AZ and Oatman, AZ was the hardest I’ve ever done, but it was also the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken, so make sure you don’t bypass this one with I-40.   Though also make sure you don’t take it at night.  It’s pretty dangerous.
  6. Santa Monica.  I love beaches, and there is something magical about seeing the sunset there, but the pier itself is also amazing.  Between the people and the neon, it’s everything the Mother Road itself promises.  It’s the last stop on the Route, so make sure you spend some time there.

Now, this isn’t my master list of things I’ve done on this road trip, or my list of “road trip tips,” because I’m not done yet.  But these were my favorite spots on Route 66, the places where I felt the spirit of the old road and its people.

Keep on cruising.  It may be old, but there’s life in these places still.

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The Virgin Suicides

Confession time: I still haven’t quite finished The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.

What?  I’ve had a lot going on.

I have, however, made enough progress that I have something to say about it, and those things involve spoilers, just so you know.

First: I find it interesting that the book is from the collective first person POV: “we.”  The only other story I can recall using that perspective was Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”  It works on the same level in this story, managing to show the “otherness” of the Lisbon girls just like Faulkner’s story did for Emily.  The difference is that the narrators of The Virgin Suicides see the Lisbon girls as a collective group like they themselves are, so while it “others” them, it also unifies them.  That unification makes it possible to imagine the events the narrators keep referring to: that each girl commits suicide after the first.

The narrators also keep referring to evidence: “exhibit #9” and so forth.  They talk about interviewing people after the fact, years after the fact.  It leads the reader to believe there is an intense investigation going on, but no indication (at least, not yet) of why that might have happened so long after the suicides.

While the narrative style works to show the girls as a mystery the boys can’t understand, it doesn’t help readers to become emotional invested in the characters as individuals.  Mainly we become attached to Lux because the narrators (men) were so in love with her while she was alive and that shines through in the facts they focus on.  The rest of the girls become an extension of her.  Beyond the thought of “poor girls” when you hear of their sister’s death and realize how badly their mother failed them, there isn’t much room for an emotional connection.  It all stems from Lux.  The story wouldn’t have been very different if there had only been three Lisbon girls: Cecelia, to set things in motion, Lux, to be the center-point as she already is, and then one of the other girls to follow in Lux’s stride.  The girls aren’t developed enough to matter as individual characters.

The story reminds me a lot of the manic pixie dream-girl trope as the narrators admire her from afar and comment on the tragedy of it all.

That being said, I don’t hate it.  In fact, I’m enjoying it a lot.  It has a lot to do with the prose.  Eugenides has a way of describing it all that is both poetic and matter-of-fact.  It even feels like he, as the author, is highlighting the mistakes his narrators are making in interpreting the Lisbon girls.  I can see why it’s considered a classic.

There are rare glimpses of the girls that aren’t distorted by the narrators’ lens that lead me to believe the author knows better than his narrators.  One of my favorite moments in the book happens that way.  After Cecelia’s first attempt, when the doctor is patronizing her and saying she’s “not even old enough to know how bad life gets,” Cecelia answers him, “Obviously…you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”

It’s a heavy read, but not an overly difficult one.  The collective POV also helps to distance the reader in a way that makes it easier to get from page to page.  I do still have a ways to go, but I’d recommend it so far.  At the very least, it’s definitely one of those books that makes you think.

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(This was written and originally posted on Halloween, 2016 on my Patreon page.)

I’m sorry because, 1, this is pushing it by local times, meaning it’s downright late by EST, where my patrons are and 2, I’m mildly drunk because I spent Halloween in Vegas.  BUT…I’m going to do this anyway.  Here we go.

Vegas, you may or may not know, isn’t on Route 66.  It’s a hundred and more miles away from “the route.”  So why am I in Vegas, you may ask.

Because I can be.

I accidentally booked a  night in Dolan Springs instead of Needles (which you would know if you were following my Twitter).  That’s all it took for me to be reminded that I am always in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.  The ranch I stayed on, in Dolan Springs, was peaceful, beautiful, and everything I could have wanted from an AirBNB.  Plus, my hostess was amazing, both welcoming and kind.  I’d love to stay there again.  Then I drove from Kingman to Oatman, the hardest drive I’ve ever made in my life.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it, because it was a beautiful, scenic route through the Black Mountains, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it at night, because it probably would have killed me.

Driving north, I booked an empty bed at Las Vegas Hostel.  Honestly, I was lucky one was open.

Once again, things worked out.  That seems to be the motto of the trip: Things. Worked. Out.

That being said: I’m going to keep putting my faith in destiny.  I’m going to keep believing that I will wind up exactly where I need to wind up.  So far it has proven true and has worked out to my advantage.  You learn a lot on your own, but the most important thing you learn on your own is that…you aren’t alone.  Not really.  There is always someone on your side, and everything is going to be all right.

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