Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rhode Island Reunion

Last week, we spent five glorious days in Rhode Island, visiting old friends and even older friends, eating all the vegan food, soldering tiny robots, and contracting one epic hangover. It was pretty wonderful. Here are some photos. 

L: the view from B's family home in Portsmouth. R: the cliffs and water at Squiggly Island.

Right before my dear friend Erica moved to Rhode Island and left me bereft in North Carolina, she gave me the best birthday present ever - half a plane ticket to come visit her for UNCW's Fall Break. Thanks to my $99 US Airways companion ticket, Nathan was able to come too. We arrived on Wednesday night and immediately ate a delicious meal, drank a bottle of wine, and passed out. 



The next few days were spent doing All The Things. We took a day trip to Boston, visited the Mapparium and the outdoor art on the Lawn at D, ate more food, worked for a few hours in a campus student center while Erica met with her students, went to a mini Maker Faire and learned how to solder and also saw 3D printers in person, saw the movie The Skeleton Twins in a tiny, adorable theater, walked around Brown Univeristy's bookstore, went to an art exhibit at RISD, and visited Erica's new library, which is tiny and quaint and has an actual, still-in-use card catalog (be still my former-librarian heart!). It was a lot to pack into just a few days, but we are nothing if not ambitious. It helped that we were fueled by a lot of delicious food. Also, Providence is now one of my favorite cities of all time. 

Lawn on D art! L: skywriting, as seen through an app I downloaded. R: giant swings!  For swinging!

L: quote from the Mary Baker Eddy museum that I liked. R: CARD CATALOG.

The only thing better than visiting Erica in Rhode Island was the fact that two of our best friends from undergrad also live in that tiny state, which meant we got to spend the weekend with them, too. (We went to their wedding last year, you may recall.) And because the Northeast is so small (especially compared to, say, Texas) our friends Nicola and Joe from UNCW came up from New York City for the night. At this point, we were all crashing at a family home right on the bay in Portsmouth (see sunrise photo above) and it ended up being two days of drinking, dancing, wigs (it's a long story), grilling, drinking, board games, and drinking. Oh, and laughing. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard, so much, in my life. 

MFA reunion! 

Nathan and I returned home on Monday night, and for the first time I didn't feel worn out or exhausted or slightly depressed, as I usually do after a big, exciting events. Instead I feel buoyed, energized. I'm not going to lie - the last few months have been a tough transition and quite lonely, especially because most of my friends who are going through the same experience aren't here with me. This weekend, I was reminded that I do indeed have a community, even if I don't see them every day, and that I'm not alone, even though it often feels that way. The fact that we can sit around a coffee table, drinking wine and laughing so hard we cry, no matter how much time passes, how many sublets we've burned through. how much debt we've shouldered, or how many rejections we've received is a really wonderful, important, and necessary feeling. 

And don't even get me started on the friends we were able to spend time with from undergrad, people who have been in our lives 14 years and counting. If there's anything this weekend showed me, it's that we've been lucky to form amazing friendships, and we're good at keeping those bonds strong. May they never falter. (And may I never have a hangover like that again.) 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: An Untamed State

From the very first paragraph, An Untamed State by Roxane Gay grabbed me and would not let me go. I read most of it during a six hour car ride to Asheville, and I apologize to my coworkers for being weirdly anti-social, looking up from my book only to occasionally gaze out the window with tears in my eyes. Erica compared this book to a pirate's plank, and I almost don't even want to review it anymore, because her thoughts were so on point. I will try to add something anyway, because this is the kind of book I simply can't keep quiet about. 

An Untamed State tells the story of Mireille, a Haitian woman born and raised in America, who is kidnapped and held for ransom while visiting her wealthy parents in Haiti. The story opens with her abduction, and it does not hold back - not in those opening pages, not in the ensuing chapters, and not when describing, in precise and stunning detail, the horrors she is subjected to by dangerous, ruthless men during her 13 days in captivity. This is not a book for the faint of heart and I actually sent my book club an official trigger warning after I finished it, as I had chosen the book before realizing just how graphic it was.

Even if I had known, I still would have asked my book club to read it. I am asking everyone to read it - including you, dear Reader - because as dark and disturbing as this novel gets, it is also beautiful, raw, honest, and necessary. The things that happens to Mireille, the compromises she makes, the strength she draws on, and her fight to survive, make for an incredible story, sure. But it's also more than that. For too many women, it's a story they've lived. It's a commentary on sexual violence, class warfare, and privilege. It's the best kind of fiction, because it's true and not-true at the same time. 

While the violence in the book is the primary, immediate plot, there's a second story that is just as intense and beautifully told - the love story of Mireille and her husband, Michael. During Mireille's captivity, she attempts to find solace in her memories of the man she loves, the father of her child. We get the story of their courtship, their early marriage, their family life, the challenges they've faced and overcome. These scenes were necessary, not just as a place for the reader to rest and recover, but because they balanced the book so beautifully. Horror and hatred and violence on one hand; love and family and pleasure on the other. Is there anything more true than that? 

Read this book, please. It will haunt you in all the right ways. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Airstream Dream

Photo Credit

Like everyone else on the Internet, I'm obsessed with the tiny house movement. I've ogled the photos, shared the infographics, pared down all my worldly belongings, and already started the process by renting a (slightly) smaller home. A few weeks ago, after a particularly depressing night spent calculating our various debts and interest rates, Nathan and I realized the answer to both our financial woes and our desire to have the smallest footprint possible: an Airstream trailer. 

Here's the thing: I want to own a home, because landlords (even the great ones!) are kind of a drag. Nathan and I are DIY, can't-leave-well-enough-alone people, especially when it comes to our immediate surroundings, and tempering these urges as renters is a constant battle. On the other hand, why am I stressing about paying off credit card and student loan debt, just so I can take on more of the same? I think this brilliant Onion headline speaks for itself: 


Exactly. Which is why we've decided to buy an old Airstream trailer with actual cash that we have actually saved up, take a few years to renovate and rebuild it, and then move into it as our permanent residence. No mortgage. The freedom to pick up and move whenever we want. And a lifestyle that forces us to cut away anything we don't absolutely need, freeing us to focus on what matters. It's the perfect solution. 

Right now we're still in the daydreaming stage. We obviously have a lot to learn and a long road ahead of us, but that's okay. The very beginning is actually my favorite stage, because it's all about inspiration, motivation, and pretty photos. If you think living in an Airstream trailer sounds terrible - small and cramped and uncomfortable - check out some of the photos I've been pinning like crazy and see if your mind isn't changed. (Click photos for original links.) 


One of the reasons we've settled on an Airstream, in particular, is because we both love the curved ceilings. They're architecturally interesting, and when committing to such a small space, you better make sure you like looking at it. I also love the idea of hidden drawers for storage, like under this adorable couch. 


Personally, I've never understood the allure of having a giant master bedroom. I spend very little time my bedroom, and that little time is spent in the actual bed. So a room just big enough for a nest of blankets and pillows - and maybe a dog - sounds ideal. 


This kitchen appears to have more counter space than our current house, so that would be a pleasant adjustment. Even though I've gone minimalist in many areas of my life, my kitchenware is still a little excessive. Luckily, we have a few years before I need to make any difficult decisions. 


I love all the different kinds of wood in this one. It's probably the least "modern" of the trailers I've pinned, and I think that's why I like it. It looks so cozy! 


If I could just buy the Airstream above and move in right now, I would. 


I like Airstreams that have the bedroom at one curved end, and a dining nook at the other. Couch and kitchen go in the middle. This Airstream is probably the prettiest one of all - click the photo and it will take you to a full tour, but beware: it might make you want to throw away all your treasured belongings and move into an Airstream trailer, too. That's okay with me. We can be neighbors. 

As I've said, this is a dream that's still a long way off (it will be at least two years before we can buy a trailer, and then who knows how long it will take us to renovate it) but having a goal, even one so far off, feels good, motivating and exciting - a far cry from how I usually feel when I think about our financial future, which is how I know it's a good choice for us. 

Do you think you could live in an Airstream trailer or a tiny home? Have you lived in one before? How small is too small? Where will I put my KitchenAid mixer?  (F and M, I know you have and don't worry - I'll be emailing you a thousand questions when the time comes!) In the meantime I'll keep pinning my heart out and slowly paying off debt. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Girls Rock NC and the Power of Music

This past weekend I went on a short and much needed adventure to nearby Carroboro, a small town less than three hours from Wilmington. K, D, and I had tickets to the Girls Rock NC 10th Anniversary show, which I'd been looking forward to for months. What is Girls Rock NC? From their website
Girls Rock North Carolina is a non-profit organization in central North Carolina that empowers girls and women -- through creative expression -- to become confident and engaged members of our communities. We accomplish this by focusing on the"three Cs": creativity, confidence, and collaboration.
GRNC's biggest program is Summer Rock Camp for Girls, a one week summer program in which girls form bands, write original music with their peers, attend workshops, and perform their songs for a community at a concert at the end of the week.  
In other words: the coolest thing ever invented for teenaged girls. Learning about Girls Rock NC and seeing so many of the young attendees at the show Saturday night was probably the first and only time I've ever wished I could be 14 years old again. And that's saying a lot. 


The day was great from beginning to end. We stayed with some friends of K and D, who were kind and generous and made us a delicious breakfast the next morning before we headed back to Wilmington. We rocked out during the Saturday afternoon showcase performance, featuring girls who were camp alumni. We ate at a small bar near Cat's Cradle, where the concert was being held, and convinced Sally to drive over from Winston-Salem to meet us for dinner. Sally, like the majority of my MFA friends, left Wilmington post-graduation, so it was wonderful to see her and catch up. And then K and D and I went to the show, and I'm really not sure how to put that particular experience into words, but I will try. 

We saw three bands, mostly because we didn't want to give up our spot at the very front of the stage to see what was happening on the smaller stage in another room. This ended up working well - there was about thirty minutes in between bands, which was just enough time to get another beer, use the restroom, and gush about how great the performance we just saw had been. Mount Moriah was fun and lovely, and Ex Hex completely owned the stage.  And the final show of the night was none other than The Julie Ruin, Kathleen Hanna's new band. Needless to say, it was the performance the crowd was most excited to see. 


If you don't know who Kathleen Hanna is or why she's important, I highly recommend the documentary The Punk Singer, which you can watch right this very second on Netflix Instant. Basically, she's sort of the mother of the riot grrl movement, a feminist icon who paved the way for female performers by not giving a fuck. She's powerful, unapologetic, talented, and really, really fun. I first fell in love with her in college, and to this day Le Tigre is one of my top three favorite bands. The Julie Ruin has a similar sound - fun, energetic, and full of the same pro-women messages. Plus did I mention we were right up front for most of their set? Simply amazing. 

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was the crowd. It was about 75% teenaged girls, girls who'd been to rock camp, girls who were just discovering feminism for the first time, girls who had only begun to glimpse their own power and potential. Watching them scream for the bands on stage, sing along and dance to the music, hug one another in sheer joy and excitement, made me so goddamn happy, and reminded me that music can change a person's life. I remembered when I was that age, discovering Ani DiFrance for the first time, and how her lyrics and her story helped me take my first steps toward feminism. Listening to Ani's songs opened my mind to options I didn't even know I had. Watching as that moment I knew so well unfolded for a new generation was more than powerful. It was a privilege. 

At one point, between songs, Kathleen Hanna spoke directly to the girls. "I know a lot of you wish you were alive in the 90s, that you feel like you missed out on something. But you need to understand that back then, it wasn't so great. No one listened to me, no one believed in me, no one paid attention to what I was doing. You're lucky to be alive now. You're lucky that this is your time." I'm paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. It was a great message, for the girls and for me. 

Another great message I heard and loved was part of an awesome Girls Rock tradition. Someone yells out, "Hey girls, what's your instrument?" And the girls shout back, loud and proud: "It's my voice!" 

It's my voice. Damn straight it is. 

(And if you think Girls Rock is as awesome as I do, please consider donating to the cause. It's definitely worth a few dollars.) 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Tenth of December

photo credit
I finally read Tenth of December a few weeks ago, despite the fact that I bought a copy last winter and everyone I know had been raving about it. I'm glad I waited - it was exactly the book I needed in that moment, and was absolutely worth the wait.

In this collection of ten short stories, George Saunders examines relationships, the future, and our weaknesses through a view laced with sarcasm and tenderness. I tore through these stories in the span of three days, but only because I forced myself to slow down. What I loved most about this collection was the reminder that short stories can be fun. Sometimes I get caught up in the seriousness of writing, the THEMES and the MEANING and the BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE. Which are all well and good, as I love those things, but sometimes you just want to romp through a collection, and romping is the best way to describe how I felt as I read Tenth of December

That's not to say this collection isn't also full of beautiful themes and language. It is, of course - there's a reason George Saunders is considered one of the best writers of our time. There were a few stories in this collection in particular that were absolutely dazzling, full of language that dipped and twirled, voices that delighted and disgusted. I loved the narrative leaps so many of the stories took, the brazen style that might feel gimmicky in a lesser writer's book. 

One of my favorites was the opening story "Victory Lap." The way Saunders completely immerses the reader in three separate characters' heads, as they each experience the same dramatic moment, was thrilling. The characters - a teenage girl, a teenage boy, and a bloodthirsty criminal - would have been sort of ordinary, if not for how deeply we're plunged into their minds. 

"Escape from Spiderhead," another favorite, is a futuristic story that starts out funny but gets very dark very quickly. The language here swings just as widely, especially once the narrator is given a drug that makes him more eloquent. I loved the way his vocabulary ebbed and flowed according the powers of the drug, so that the same character could say something like "Heather soon looked super-good" and then "our protestations of love poured forth simultaneously, linguistically complex and metaphorically rich; I daresay we had become poets" just a few paragraphs later. The pacing of this story was perfect, and the ending! So chilling, and so great. 

My favorite story, the one that grabbed me and wouldn't let go, was "The Semplica Girl Diaries." Told through the diary entries of a middle class suburban dad who aspires to give his family the kind of life he can't afford, his voice was touching and felt so real. I found myself invested in his struggle, completely understanding his urges and even his mistakes - until it becomes clear, over the course of the story, what lengths he's willing to go, and what horrors have been normalized in his world. (I'm trying not to give too much away, even though most of the reviews I've read do, because figuring out what the narrator wanted was one of the best moments of the reading experience. Go read it now, and then we can talk in more detail!) Basically, it's a dark and futuristic version of "keeping up with the Joneses," with chilling consequences.

I really enjoyed this collection, and am so glad I read it when I did. Not only did it get me back into the habit of reading regularly, but it made me want to write short stories again. Read it, and let me know what you think! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

24 Hours in Asheville, NC

This past weekend, I spent a whopping 24 hours in Asheville. This did not include the 14 hours of driving that got us there and back, so you can imagine how productive the rest of my weekend was. Still, it was my first time in Asheville and I have to say: it was worth it. 


I was actually in Asheville for work, on behalf of the marketing team at Next Glass, the start up for which I've been blogging since May. We were tasked with attending Asheville's annual Brewgrass festival, drinking as much beer as we could, telling people about our soon-to-launch app, and getting email addresses so they can sign up. (I may have tasked myself with drinking as much beer as I could. Either way, I accomplished all my goals.) 


Even though we didn't spent much time in Asheville, it was long enough to eat two solid meals. Friday night we had a late dinner at Rosetta's Kitchen, where I gorged on peanut butter tofu, mashed potatoes, gravy, and kale. And Saturday morning, we hit Sunny Point Cafe, an adorable breakfast spot that grew their own produce, composted, and provided coffee while you waited for your table in their courtyard, which was full of sunshine and cute dogs. (Heaven, basically.) 


The festival itself was pretty fun. It got easier to approach random people after a few beers, but there was definitely a tipping point. Not for me - I was able to maintain a slight and totally professional buzz all day. But the people we were talking to got sassier and sassier, which was understandable. When piles of puke started to appear in between tents we decided it was time to wrap things up, and started the long drive home. All in all, a successful, albeit exhausting, trip.

I am very eager to go back to Asheville, especially when I can see more of the city and spend time with dear friends. That's the plan for spring break - we're going to meet Amy and David there, and eat all the food, hike all the mountains, practice all the yoga, and drink every beer I left behind. Until then, I will wait patiently while dreaming of peanut butter tofu and cool mountain air. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Reads

I've been saving up links over the past few weeks and finally decided it was time to hit publish. Most of these were written by friends and former professors; each one is lovely and perfect.

Enjoy, and happy Friday!


"today I am coming out as a person that is capable of large amount of love for other persons" by John Mortara (If you haven't read John's work yet, prepare to fall in love.) 

Two super gorgeous poems by Kathleen Jones in the new issue of MiddleGray Magazine (flip to page 34, but also read the whole thing). Plus an interview! "Kathleen Jones on Foreignnes, Home, and Flower Cacti"

"Portraits of Handwashing" by Eric Tran (so swoon-able.) 

"Mama Never Told Me There'd Be Days Like These Because She Met My Father in Kindergarten and Carried Only His Name in Her Notebook All the Years Since," by Sally J. Johnson (Everything Sally writes is gold.)

"A Guide to Surviving Your Father's Homelessness" by Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams (I was so lucky to turn Hannah from a professor into a friend!)

"Prayer for Gluten," by Wendy Brenner (I laughed and laughed, and then I ate a loaf of bread.) 

"Living Simply in a Dumpster," by James Hamblin. (I do not know the writer or the man in the dumpster, but I really enjoyed this article and thought you might, too.) 


Monday, September 08, 2014

The Dogs Days of Summer

This past week was a good one. Nothing crazy, or out of the ordinary, or especially adventurous. Just easy & pleasant & nice. Even though it wasn't the kind of week that makes great blog fodder, I'm going to give it a shot anyway. 


Nathan and I both had the whole weekend off, which hardly ever happens. As the Saturday approached, we made many grand plans. Camping at a nearby lake! Kayakying out to Masonboro island! Finally finishing the chicken coop! Unfortunately it rained the whole. entire. weekend. While this washed out many of our plans, we still had a good time. We decided to brew a batch of beer, the first one in a long while. We ended up drinking a beer at the homebrew shop while getting our ingredients, which was pretty wonderful - the folks at Wilmington Brewing Company really are the best. We ended up choosing an English Porter and after an easy afternoon brewing and hanging out with our friends K and W, we treated the chickens to leftover spent grains. Everyone was happy. 


This week was also the annual Pooch Plunge. I have blogged about it before (in 2011, 2012, and 2013, to be exact) so I won't flood you with the usual photos. I will say that it continues to be the best week of the year, at least according to Seamus and Calvin. In case you need a refresher, Wilmington's public pool closes after Labor Day, and the following week, before it is drained, they open the pool to dogs. It costs $5 per pup, and the money goes to the local animal shelter, so there's really no reason not to go. We went a record breaking three times this week, and it was great. Seamus loves to swim, and Calvin loves to chase a ball through the water, and I love to watch them having the time of their lives. Plus the Pooch Plunge is the only thing that will keep Calvin asleep past 6AM and that is priceless. 


The other morning I snapped the above photo of our living room and posted it on Facebook and Instagram. It reminded me that I still owe y'all a proper tour of our new house. One day. In the meantime, it's safe to say that this house is one of the main reasons things have been so nice and pleasant and easy lately. It's amazing what a difference actually liking the place you live can make.

As for today, it will be a busy Monday. A morning meeting, then a class to teach, then a rainy afternoon at home, catching up on some freelance assignments, and finally yoga. I'm recommitting to fitness this week, and I already have the sore muscles to prove it.

I hope your week is off to a relaxed and productive start. More soon.

PS: All photos from my Instagram account, AKA the lazy way to document my life in a semi-meaningful way. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Show Up

I enjoyed this article about The Psychology of Writing. It's fascinating and interesting and kept me from actually writing for a good ten minutes. Which is sort of ironic, considering the whole thing can be summed up with the following image: 


I also love that the mug in the illustration is clearly Dear Sugar's design, which I own and adore, but only allow myself to use those mornings when I am Actually Writing. Speaking of, I better get back to it. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Transitions


The fall semester started last week. I'll spare you my first day photo, even though I did head back to the classroom. I'm teaching a section of First Year Seminar at UNCW, which is basically College 101. How to manage your time, how to establish good study habits, how to use the library, etc. Compared to the classes I taught while in graduate school, it's a piece of cake. It's also exactly what I needed. 

Teaching three times a week provides just enough structure to my freewheeling freelance lifestyle (I'm putting on pants and interacting with humans on a regular basis!). It's a nice bump in my income. And it's eerily fitting. You see, each time I meet with my students, we talk a lot about transitions, adjustments, and survival strategies. How to make friends, form a community, and turn this university into home. The struggle of figuring out who you are and what you want and creating a life you can be proud of. And even though it's been 14 years since I was a college freshman, I find myself in a similar position. 

When you live in a college town, goodbyes are a part of life. People disappear in the summers, friends graduate and move away, programs begin and end, and you can't even count on tenure to keep folks around. Nacogdoches was a college town, and the seven years I spent there were filled with goodbyes until one day, I was the friend moving on. Now that we're in Wilmington, it's the same sort of life. 

I've said goodbye to a lot of people this summer, and each one has been a heartbreak. The last friend to leave was Erica, who took off two weeks ago for a job in Rhode Island, and that goodbye was especially devastating. Erica was the very first person I met in the MFA program, and we bonded instantly. Meeting her was a sigh of relief, the feeling of finally coming home to the friend you always knew was out there. 

Obviously, I'm still friends with Erica and everyone else who left Wilmington. But Wilmington is different now, and I feel like I did when I first arrived three years ago. Brand new all over again. 

So when I sit in that classroom three times a week, and I tell my students that change is hard and transitions are tough, but by the end of their college career - hell, by the end of this fall semester - they'll barely remember a time when this place didn't feel like home, I'm telling myself the same thing. "Listen," I say. "I've started over a bunch, and each time I've ended up with more friends, more love, and more joy in my life. Change is good, even though it doesn't always feel that way in the moment." 

It's hard to tell if they believe me yet, but that's okay. One day they'll look back and see that I was right. And so will I.