Thursday, January 16, 2014

The People Who Influence Us

There will be a bit of rambling here. And hey, maybe one day I'll read a book and talk about it.

I didn't sleep any last night. It happens every now and then--whenever the Sandman replaces his stash with cocaine, I suppose. So what happens when you lie in bed awake for eight hours straight? (After running out of Candy Crush lives?) The mind wanders into weird territory. All the blood rushes straight to whatever part of the brain is dedicated to soul crushing nostalgia.

It begins like this. I remember a tweet I made about having a nose like Cyrano de Bergerac. And how I have super smell capabilities. Then I think, "If I had to make a list of my favorite smells, what would they be?" Coffee. Laundry detergent. River rocks. Musty garages.

Oh, musty would I explain that one? Well, I have very fond memories of musty, oily, garage-y places. My dad's garage with its cool concrete floor, tools lining the shelves, the perfect place to practice dribbling a basketball. Or my cousin's old hideout: an abandoned shipping trailer in my grandparents' yard. After he moved away he stored his old things there: a punching bag, stashes of comics and MAD magazines, Metallica cassette tapes. It became my new hideout. And the smell of the place--"eau de garage moisi."

And how weird it is that twenty years later, and very far removed from the source, I can recall exactly how it smelled. It's like we have a smell-catalog in our brains, a smellalogue if you will, storing and organizing every scent we come into contact with. It's a much stronger memory holder than sight or sound, I'm sure of it.

Then I panic. I remember the trailer in the yard, but what did my grandparent's house smell like? For several minutes I can't remember. It worries me. I don't want to forget. Then suddenly it comes back in waves. Tobacco. Bleach. Vegetable soup. The perm solution my grandmother used.

And then I'm there. Coloring pictures at the kitchen table, catching minnows in the creek, watching The Price is Right with my grandpa. There's no distance between then and now--it's a wormhole, a direct path between two points in time. Maybe at times we forget the people who influenced us when we were young, but it doesn't change the fact that they're there in our lives, every step of the way.

Other than sleepless nights, the circumstances that usually lead us to remember the deep past is through death. Someone dies, and although we vaguely think about their life and their person, what we always come back to is their influence on us. How we interacted, what we learned, how things changed, what we experienced, saw, tasted and smelled.

I got a Facebook message this morning from my boss at my old job letting me know a shared acquaintance had passed on. I worked in the media department of a university library, and we helped this gentleman, a former professor, digitize a collection of photographs he took on his travels. Every morning this fiercely independent ninety year old man would drive his old pickup truck to the library and slowly walk the long distance to our door. Even though he had difficulty walking he would refuse to let us drive him the distance in our golf cart, only reluctantly agreeing to a ride on rainy days.

He had traveled all over the world. During my time helping him I must have scanned thousands of photographs. All professional, all breathtakingly gorgeous. We would often work together. Although he would at some points forget my name and call me "Jennifer," he could remember every detail of his global journeys. The peaks he climbed in Colorado, or the spiritual experience he had after coming across a forest carpeted with bluebells.

When I got to take a world journey of my own when traveling to Japan, I took inspiration from his techniques and tried to make the best photographic travelogue possible, albeit limited to the point-and-shoot camera I was able to afford at the time. Later when I showed him my photos, he urged me to continue practicing photography and to explore the world and its wonders. I haven't been able to travel far since then, but I've done my best to explore my own backyard and catalog its magnificence through frozen snapshots in time.

So I am sad today. The world has lost a true gem of a human being. But at the same time, I'm gloriously happy. He had such a fulfilling life, and he touched the lives of so many others. This nostalgia we have for things past, the memories, should be dusted off every now and then. Not just when death forces us to think about them. They're not stuck in some way way back--they're surrounding us every day.

So. Take out those photo albums, and exercise your smellalogue. Don't live in the past, but accept it, and acknowledge how it and every person you've come into contact with has molded you into the person you are today.

Thank you, Dr. Wine.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Purge

Not the movie.

During my freshman year in college a retiring English professor let students come into her office and take whatever books they wanted. She needed them gone so she wouldn't have to move them back into her house. I was flabbergasted at the time--who could just let go of their precious book collection?--but now I get it. If all goes to plan I'll be moving in May to another apartment, and just thinking about "the big move" has my bones hurting already. I've lived in one place for 5 years and collected quite a lot of..."stuff." Books in particular.

Not to whine, but I'm moving for financial reasons. The rent in my current apartment has gone up $100, and in a way that cleverly doesn't violate the lease contract I signed a year ago. So I'm cleverly moving the fuck out. It's sad that I'm 28 and at no point do I ever have an extra $100 floating around in my bank account. I live paycheck to paycheck every month. I've had to borrow an exorbitant amount from my parents in the past few months, who past age 22 I never wanted to have to mooch off of ever again. I've cut back on a lot, but unfortunately before my rent went up I bought a used car (which was not an optional thing to buy--it was sorely needed), so I'm paying it off as well.


To the point. I'm putting up my life for sale. Well, my books. I'll stop being dramatic. Selling books is a funny thing. What I bought for $15.00 a few months ago is now worth $00.15 on nearly every used book platform available. It hardly seems worth the trouble, so tomorrow I'll be donating 2 gigantic boxes full of unsellable books to the AAUW, who run a semi-annual local used book sale. So if you're in the Roanoke, Virginia area, come on out February 1-2.

The rest are going up on my page. So. If you're interested in buying some books, DVDs, or video games, maybe check out my page? Anything not sold by April-ish will be donated to BetterWorldBooks.

Highlights from the collection:

  • Maphead by Ken Jennings, which I talk about here.
  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind which I talk about here.
  • Madaddam by Margaret Atwood, which I haven't even finished reading yet! I'm selling because I can check out the ebook through my local library. I'm not making a very good sales pitch.
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which I never finished because I'm attention deficit and it's 900 pages, not because it's not fascinating. Because it is. Also, because every time I see it on my shelf I think "Team of Rivals: World Police" and it has just got to stop.
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • its followup, The Magician King.
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, which I talk about here.
  • LEON Baking and Desserts, the most beautiful cookbook I've ever laid eyes on. If this doesn't sell I won't be donating it. Actually, you might want to snatch this up before I change my mind about selling it.
  • And several children's literature books leftover from a class I took in college. Seven years later and I'm just now letting go of some of these.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year, A New Challenge

Since I apparently have trouble with reaching reading goals that involve numbers, I'm setting myself up for a different "challenge." This one I'm seriously excited about.

A few weeks ago a certain writer (who shan't be named since he's probably the kind of guy who regularly googles himself) wrote an article for Vice that listed 17 books he had given up on reading this year. I noticed in his list that every book was by a very specific author set: all men, and all white. Being the stinker I am I decided to leave a comment. "So the lesson here is stop trying to read books by white guys."

It was a joke. But it hinted at a bigger problem. I can't sit here and list to you every way the publishing industry, critics and readers have discriminated, consciously and unconsciously, against writers who are women and POC. It's a long history fraught with blood, tears and heavy sighs. But you should know it's not all history--it's still happening. "White guy" writers are more read, featured, reviewed, published, recognized and rewarded.

Don't believe me? Here are some numbers.



So. Part of the problem is exposure. It's not that there's some weird gigantic lack of writers out there who aren't white men. Pretty sure not everyone on earth is Jonathan Franzen (although what a terrifying idea for a scifi novel). There's just a gigantic lack of exposure and recognition for writers who aren't.

I can't change what you read. But I can change what I read. And more importantly, what I cover on this blog.

So in 2014 my reading "challenge" is not read stuff by white guys.

More specifically, to not read stuff by straight, cisgendered white guys. Hardly seems like a challenge. I've got quite a large ocean of literature to pick from. The hardest part will be dealing with any flack from dudebros I may get. Like some of the feedback I got for my joke on the Vice article. White guys, including the author, did not like my joke! Who'da thunk!

I will add one asterisk to my goal. *If by the grace of the old gods and the new George R.R. Martin finishes writing and publishes The Winds of Winter before the end of 2014, I shall be reading that shit.

But otherwise, MISANDRY, AWAY!!!