June 11th, 2021
|04:52 pm - Anonymous commenting turned off|
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December 22nd, 2014
starlady's post about quick food in Japan makes me think of my own year in Japan, when I was at Nagasaki University and staying at the international students dorm.
The international students dorm was about 95% Chinese. There was one kitchen on each floor, so maybe 8-10 students to a kitchen, and they usually used the kitchen as a place to hang out and talk to each other in Chinese.
Thanks to circumstances on my end, I spend my first year at McGill living more or less alone -- my dad was up there at times, but I didn't see him much -- and I had no experience of communal living and cooking. Partly it was because dealing with Japanese all day made me desperate for quiet and alone time, partly it was because loud conversations in a language I didn't understand made me feel awkward and excluded, but I started to get really anxious about going into the kitchen.
I developed a routine of buying a bento from a convenience store, and going back to my room (which was directly across the hall from the kitchen) and listening for quiet in the kitchen so that I could dash into the kitchen, microwave my bento, and dash out with as little human contact as possible.
Somewhere near the end of that year I started figuring out that I might have some social anxiety.
The thing is, I no longer think of social anxiety as something that's a big deal in my life -- working customer service for ~8 years has desensitized me to a lot, though I'm still prone to taking angry customers to heart more than I should -- but when I think about having a communal kitchen, I'm like DO NOT WANT, AVOID AVOID AVOID. (One or two roommates who I'm on friendly terms with is fine.)
Back then I was mad at myself for being so antisocial and unable to cope, but now I'm like "Yeah, wanting to avoid awkward small talk with people you just barely share a common language with, when you're tired and hungry and oversocialized, that's pretty reasonable actually."
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December 17th, 2014
My super's plan for replacing people's water valves is to bang on their doors randomly instead of giving people, like, any notice at all.
I do not like having strangers in my space. Especially unexpectedly. I am the person who yells "I'm not home!" when the Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door. And I have a lot of mess! Which I could make some attempt to clean up if I had any notice!
And now, after all that, he said he was going to change the faucet valve in the kitchen sink but he just took off a part and now the faucet sprays water everywhere. I would go to Home Depot myself and buy the part, except it's not a name brand faucet so I would have no way to figure out what's compatible.
I'm just here till the end of April. Even if I have to relocate myself to wherever. (For certain very limited values of wherever)
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December 9th, 2014
|05:26 pm - Favorite YA books, 2014|
Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
A beautiful verse memoir of a complicated childhood -- you can see a lot of pain and sadness, much of it oblique, on the edges, but mostly it's stripped down to the basic units of poetry -- single moments, single memories.
The Children of the King, Sonya Hartnett
A ghost story, and a story of World War II. A well-off British family evacuates to the countryside, where they pick up an evacuee, and run into some ghosts ... whose story is also the story their uncle tells about the Princes in the Tower. Beautiful writing, and thoughtful things to say about courage and responsibility.
Egg and Spoon, Gregory Maguire
In which Baba Yaga shops at Bloomingdale's and filks from "Fiddler on the Roof" -- Baba Yaga is the best thing in a book full of great things, from the immortal hen of the tundra to giant matryoshka dolls to empathy and justice.
Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, Isabel Quintero
Serious without being dreary, timely without being an issue book, surprisingly sharp and funny despite its darkness, perhaps the most feminist YA book I've read this year.
How I Discovered Poetry, Marilyn Nelson
This year we have TWO great memoirs-in-poetry for children and young adults by African-American women! And I feel like this one got a little overshadowed by Brown Girl Dreaming -- which deservedly won the National Book Award -- but it's excellent in its own right; I particularly related to the author's descriptions of moving around so much in childhood.
I'll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson
Complicated feelings! And not an unequivocal recommendation! It's a story of twins, and artists, and family secrets, and people being terrible to each other. It's easy to overdose on Nelson's magical-realism-touched, exploding-with-metaphors prose, but when it works, it works.
The Story of Owen, Dragon-Slayer of Trondheim, E.K. Johnston
It's rare for a story to be so much fun and also so deeply rooted in values of pragmatism, community, responsibility, and not having a ton of needless romantic drama.
This One Summer, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Oh, but maybe THIS is the most feminist YA of the year? It's such an accurate description of those awkward and uncertain moments on the cusp of adolescence, on the cusp of entry into the terrifying worlds of sex and romance -- and also on the cusp of realizing that your parents are actual human beings. And it's brilliant to use horror movies as a metaphor for all this.
Through the Woods, Emily Carroll.
This is a good year for Canadians and people named Emily and Canadians named Emily, huh? (E.Lockhart, who is not Canadian, and E.K. Johnston, who is.) It's a genuinely spooky horror graphic novel with great artwork.
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
I'm not a huge fan of twist endings and unreliable narrators, but I appreciated the clarity and minimalism of the prose, and the horrible inevitability of it all.
Why We Took the Car, Wolfgang Herrndorf
A road-trip novel with a strong voice, and pathos, and danger, and the realistic foolishness of young teenagers. There's something rough-around-the-edges about it, the kind of thing where you run out of ego and posturing and it's just people as they really are, a little bit shabby and a little bit pathetic but you still can't help liking them.
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|04:44 pm - Egg & Spoon, by Gregory Maguire|
Egg and Spoon is a great book almost all the way through -- funny and full of inventiveness, like J.K. Rowling at her best.
It also has a weird kinda racist non sequitor.
"You know the rules. Don't let anyone in, Mewster," said the witch.
"You and your rules," said the kitten, with admirable East Asian detachment.
I just... yeah, that came from nowhere. The kitten is Russian like everybody else in the book, as far as I can tell. I have no earthly idea why it's admirable East Asian detachment instead of some other kind of admirable detachment, or just plain admirable detachment.
And so it becomes one of those books that I regard with admiration and great affection but feel iffy about recommending to anybody else.
But I will make a case for the other 474 pages of it.
This is a story of 19th century Russia. Of Elena, who lives in a desperately poor village in a desperately poor family; her father is dead, her mother very sick. Of Ekaterina, raised in extreme wealth mostly in English boarding schools. Ekaterina is traveling across Russia to St. Petersburg, where she will meet the Tsar's godson and perhaps convince him to marry her (though it's not exactly what she wants for herself.) But lightning destroys a trestle bridge and leaves her stuck in Elena's village, where she and Elena become -- not friends, exactly, not yet. But people who are curious about each other. And then, by accident, when the train gets moving again it's Elena who's on board and Ekaterina who's left behind; which results in adventures for them both, involving a Firebird and its egg and a marvelous Baba Yaga who can quote Broadway musicals and namedrop her old acquaintance Dante Alighieri.
I like John Green's speech on YA in which he talks about needing "Encouragements that aren't bullshit." It's easy to be cynical about morality in books because books mostly can just tell us to do things that we already know we should do; compassion and empathy and justice aren't some nifty lifehack that you just found out about. And yet, once in a while, you read a book that argues so convincingly and so warm-heartedly for compassion and empathy and justice that you feel like you've been set back on the right road again. And it is a funny and rollicking book with plenty of adventure and plenty of colorful detail (and I liked it a great deal better than Wicked, which had that lit-fic thing of everybody being awful to each other, and which was therefore much more fun as a musical, once songs and morals got added in.)
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November 29th, 2014
I agree with people who say that "Mary Sue" is a thing that gets used misogynistically, to target female characters who aren't any more perfect or overpowered than Batman or James Bond, etc.
But at the same time, it takes a lot to get me interested in stories where the characters are high-powered or very lucky or the narrative brings them a lot of great stuff in a way that seems contrived or artificial. Give me weird, scruffy losers. Give me stories where the main character makes bad mistakes, and is proud or careless in a way that has real consequences. Give me stories that make me go "Nooo don't do that don't do that" and then they do it anyway because that's how humans work. Give me stories where the victories are small and hard-won. Batman and James Bond aren't that interesting to me either.
(Now I'm thinking of Chime, which I loved so much when I read it a couple years ago, which has a bit of a Mary Sue trope in that the MC thinks she's at fault for a lot of things where she really did nothing wrong, and she also winds up with Perfect Boyfriend at the end, but damn, she has to fight so hard for every inch of ground she gains. The narrative hands her very little.)
"Mary Sue" is an idea that's useful to me, when it's used in an equal-opportunity way. But perhaps the well is too poisoned for that!
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November 26th, 2014
|10:59 pm - An embarrassing misunderstanding|
When I first heard the song "Big Yellow Taxi," as a teenager, I thought "A big yellow taxi took away my old man" referred to some Logan's Run-type dystopia that would take away old people to kill them. It wasn't until many years later when I heard the whole album "Blue" that I realized that her "old man" was probably her lover. And it took me even longer to realize that he wasn't being taken away by the Secret Government, he was leaving because he wanted to leave.
And now I remember why that song meant something to me: across the road from my house was a wood where I used to see deer sometimes. And I watched them bulldoze it to put up more houses in my development. I was kind of bitter about that.
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November 14th, 2014
|10:10 am - Japanese Literature Ultimate Battle|
Because I was tweeting with laceblade about Soseki, and Japanese literature, this is the story of my Japanese Literature Ultimate Death Battle.
It's August, 2002. I'm towards the end of a one-year scholarship at Nagasaki University. I figured that it would be a lot easier to finish up my degree in 3 years at McGill than to try to get transfer credit for my Nagasaki U classes, so I wasn't worried about completing requirements for a major; I filled my schedule up with the required Japanese language classes, my advisor's Classical Japanese classes, some linguistics, some fluff that didn't require much linguistic competence (music, pottery), and a class in modern Japanese literature.
The classes in Classical Japanese were too hard for me, but my advisor more or less expected me just to learn to read the handwriting and sort of follow along with the story as best I could. But my professor in Modern Japanese Lit expected me to be roughly on par with the other (native speaker) students. We read The Dancing Girl by Mori Ogai, which was way above my head because of the prewar kana and kanji usage. We read Kokoro by Natsume Soseki, which was easier but still pretty rough. We read a Murakami Haruki short story that was later turned into Norwegian Wood.
So basically I was reading a lot about awful people and suicide, and it was very hard, all the time, on top of the expected language stress and homesickness and isolation.
It came time for my Japanese Literature final exam. There were three essay questions, and I answered two of them without huge problems, but the third was "Answer the question that was written on the blackboard in our last class."
To this day I do not know why I did not copy down the question on the blackboard. Did I skip that class? Did I write it down in the wrong notebook? Did I not notice it there? Anyway -- next week my advisor called me into a meeting to tell me that I was going to fail that class, but my professor was going to let me write an essay for partial credit. "You read Norwegian Wood, right? So just write a two-page essay on that tonight, and turn it in, and you can pass the class."
A careful reader will note that since I was not counting on getting any credit with McGill for any of the classes I was taking, failing a class was going to affect me in no way whatsoever. I did not think about this. It was TEN YEARS before I thought about that. (I mean, it would have been socially unacceptable to tell my advisor, "What the hell do I care if I fail that class?" or to not write that essay, so it would not have made that much difference, BUT STILL.) I was, back then, even more terrified of failure than I am now. It wasn't about consequences; it wasn't about the approval of others; it was just an unshakeable conviction that failing, at anything, was the worst thing imaginable.
There was one minor other point.
I had not read Norwegian Wood.
I had read, in high school, about half of Norwegian Wood in the original Japanese. This took me several months of very slow reading with a dictionary. I was liking it well enough, except that I got really worried that Naoko was going to kill herself, and that got all tangled up with being worried about the mental health of a friend of mine, and I got to the point where I just couldn't bear to go on.
I could not write an essay on a book I had only half read; I could not finish the book in time to write an essay; I could not tell the truth to my advisor; so I just said that I'd do it, and I'd try hard and do my best, and then I took the trolley to Kinokuniya and bought the English translation of Norwegian Wood, and I finished it while mostly sobbing into my donburi, and I went back to my dorm. I sat down to write my essay. Kids were setting off firecrackers in the streets, and there was music coming from somewhere, and I was crying on my grid paper.
And I wrote an essay on how Murakami correctly makes the case that everything is terrible and pointless.
And I turned it in and I guess it was marginally acceptable.
I still can't contemplate Soseki, or Mori Ogai, without thinking about that semester which was so full of books that made me sad and angry and made me feel like a Bad Student who was spending all her time reading yaoi novels and couldn't hack Real Literature.
A few years ago I was massively weeding my book collection and came upon my terribly beat-up Japanese copy of Norwegian Wood, and I thought I should throw it out -- I didn't actually like the book that much, and it was in bad shape. And I couldn't do it. It felt like a relic from a hard-fought battle.
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November 11th, 2014
I only have three reviews on Yelp.
1) That time my dental practice made me wait for two hours, was annoyed with me for wanting to know how long I would have to wait (I was trying to run errands and catch a train!), and lectured me about prayer while I was lying helpless.
2) That time FedEx not only failed to deliver my package, but lied about having attempted to deliver it and kept promising they would actually really deliver it this time!
3) Last night when I had NO IDEA how to get into my apartment because I was under the impression that my deadbolt only locked from inside, and I got to the point of going around the block to see if there was any way I could get up on my fire escape and break into my apartment that way because I couldn't get my super to pick up the phone, so in desperation I called a locksmith and he patiently, gently, told me that I could probably get in if I just turned the key one more time. (Which, in fairness, I tried, but it didn't work the first time because my door is weird.)
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November 9th, 2014
|09:45 am - Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero|
A novel told in diary entries from the point of view of Gabi Hernandez, a high school senior from a small town in southern California. One of her best friends is pregnant; the other has just been kicked out of the house because he's gay. Gabi's dad is addicted to meth. Gabi is trying to figure out how to deal in a positive way with her body image, her relationship with her mother, being seen as "too white" or "too American," and with relationships with boys -- when her mother's advice on the subject is "eyes open, legs closed."
But it's not really an issue book, or a problem book. It's saved from that by how real and honest and authentic -- and often funny! -- the voice is, a lot like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian</a>.
It's slice-of-lifey rather than plotty, but still really compelling to read -- I hardly got up after I started reading it. Gabi takes a poetry elective, participates in an open mic night, makes her own zine, and none of it is super-dramatic but all of it feels like you just want to cheer for this girl.
It's the kind of book that's entirely without gimmick or artifice, just an entirely believable girl coming of age. It's so good.
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November 8th, 2014
|02:40 pm - The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, by E.K. Johnston|
Canada managed to retain a portion of its traditional music, largely thanks to a statute that mandated 40 percent of everything on the radio had to be written by a Canadian or feature a dragon slayer. This allowed for the success of songs like "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," which told the story of the attempted rescue-by-dragon-slayer of a tanker's crew after they were attacked in the middle of Lake Superior. Even though the tragedy resulted in the death of everyone involved, and Gordon Lightfoot, the composer of the song, was no more a bard than [Bram] Stoker was, it still clung to the old heroic style.
This is a very Canadian book. It is Canadian as all of my aunts put together at a folk music festival which is probably in Saskatchewan. It is also entirely charming, and filled with people who are kind and sensible. And whatever Johnston's editor may think, I do not think it's a Socialist Tract; but it is a book about working together as a community, and doing the things that can be done to make your community a better place.
Siobhan is an ordinary small-town-Ontario high school girl, talented at the baritone saxophone, good at composing but unsure about whether she wants to go to university to study composition. Late for algebra on the first day of school, she meets Owen, nephew of the famed dragon slayer Lottie Thorskard, recently retired after an accident in Toronto. When they meet, he gains an algebra tutor and she gains a friend -- and pretty soon, he gains a bard, as well, as Owen's aunts make plans to turn dragon-slaying from an elite thing done by a select few to a thing done by, and for, the whole community. (Did I mention Lottie is married to Hannah, an American swordsmith who defected from America because of DADT? They're pretty adorable.)
There is a little bit of the Temeraire problem in that the book asks you to believe that so much of history would have gone down almost the same if humanity was in constant danger from man-eating fire-breathing dragons. I keep wanting to pick at the worldbuilding: surely there's anti-dragon infrastructure that could have developed? Surely we would have figured out more ways to cut our dependence on things that generated dragon-attracting carbon? Is it that hard to just completely wipe out a large and dangerous predator, considering that we've eliminated wolves over a huge portion of their former range? But once you take the premise as given and just go with it, it's hugely enjoyable in its voice, and its characters. There's something about it that feels very different from a lot of modern urban fantasy. Solidarity instead of love triangles, a protagonist who is plausibly asexual but certainly more interested in dragons and saxophones, and a bunch of characters who are just plain likeable. Good stuff!
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November 6th, 2014
I just remembered my 10th grade English class and the assignment we had to write songs. They were about war, I guess? Some of us read Night and some of us read All Quiet on the Western Front. Most people read Night because it was shorter. I read All Quiet on the Western Front because I didn't want to do what everyone else was doing.
And I filked one of the (English) Sailor Moon songs. (I also filked an Everclear song, but I think just about everybody filked pop songs of some variety.)
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November 4th, 2014
That time of year when I'm like "Do I take a loyalty oath that I don't believe in order to exert some infintesimally small measure of civic participation, and also so that I don't have to keep renewing my green card?"
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November 3rd, 2014
I still have limited access to my kitchen, but I can reach one of the burners on the stove, so I tried to pick up some veggie burgers as a break from salads, cheese sandwiches, and yogurt. (I don't have a microwave. I don't have much use for one normally).
It seems that while my local grocery store has a decent selection of Boca and Morningstar veggie burgers, they don't have anything that doesn't have soy protein isolate as its main ingredient -- which is probably a migraine trigger for me. But, I thought I would take a chance.
I also didn't know how old my mayo was, and couldn't find a date on it, but I figured it was probably okay.
Anyway, I got either relatively mild food poisoning, or a relatively severe migraine plus nausea, or something else entirely. So, that was my exciting weekend.
I think I will go to Trader Joe's and see if I can't stock up on masala burgers? But anyway, why is it that it's so hard to find non-soy veggie burgers? I should just suck it up and go to the food co-op more, I guess. (Sometimes you just want bread with preservatives in it!)
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October 31st, 2014
Oh! Have just now reached 20,000 words by my Entirely Inaccurate Word Count!
Novel about story games threatens to be steamrollered by theology arguments please send help.
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Here is what has been hard for me to learn:
That my relationship with writing is a thing that I couldn't fix all at once; that knowing the right things I should feel, and giving myself pep talks, was insufficient (though a thing I've become very good at). That coming back to it again and again, and accepting the hardness of it, and accepting tiny tiny word counts, and accepting all the times I felt avoidant and suddenly sleepy or preoccupied, and working at it like a thing I almost needed to learn from scratch -- that's been the only way to make it work.
And I still want really badly to sell a lot of books, and be able to write full-time, but I've got to be okay with not telling myself this story of "If you REALLY WANTED IT you would be working fifty billion times harder."
Some time ago I read an essay online arguing that most advice is going to be great for a lot of people and terrible for a lot of people, depending on where they're starting from. "You should work harder" and "You should take a break, you're working hard enough" are both true things for some people and false things for others. And the emphasis in online writers' spaces on "If you want to be a writer you have to write, you have to write a LOT, you have to do it on a SCHEDULE, plumbers don't get plumbers' block they just do their jobs" is understandable and good for a lot of people but if you're in a space of exhaustion and burnout it doesn't really give you room to recover and regrow.
I have to understand that I can work hard without shifting myself into "You have to write ALL the words NOW" mode.
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October 30th, 2014
I am kind of sad to be working on a novel but not doing NaNoWriMo!
But I guess it is a bad idea, even though they now allow WIPs, because
a) I will definitely not get 50,000 words this month, and my book will probably be over in another 50,000 words
b) Writing longhand prevents accurate word counts
c) At some point I am going to have to unpack my entire collection of books and it will take a long time.
Oh well. Rust Apothecary for Camp NaNoWriMo, maybe? Rust Apothecary and Occult Post-Apocalyptic Girl Gang will probably both take a fair amount of research.
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October 26th, 2014
|10:24 pm - "My first girlfriend turned into the moon." "That's rough, buddy."|
- Takahata Isao is making a Kaguya Hime movie!
-I am.... intrigued? But it's a weird story and it feels very alien to a modern mindset and most anime literature retellings are kind of dull and by-the-book. Also, the Kaguya Hime of my heart is the one with organ donor clones and lots of complicated love triangles.
- It's REALLY REALLY PRETTY.
- It's about PERFORMATIVE FEMININITY and also AUTHENTICITY and also how well-meaning people can end up exploiting each other for their own gain.
I really really liked The Tale of Princess Kaguya. It reinterpreted the core of the original story a lot to make it into a movie that's more intelligible to modern audiences, I think, but in a way that doesn't totally overwrite the strangeness and oldness of the original tale.
(My one complaint is that the whole "the boy you knew when you were five is your FIRST LOVE FOREVER" thing is a little too Ghibli. Kaguya rings truer to me as a girl who's too overwhelmed by the status games and fakery at court to willingly marry somebody she's never met, than as a girl who's hung up on the guy she knew back home. But there's a lot that the movie gets right with gender performativity, and it's interesting to see a Ghibli movie whose heroine is sad and weird and not spunky.)
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October 21st, 2014
My actual Free Will Astrology lololol:
Astronauts on the International Space Station never wash their underwear. They don't have enough water at their disposal to waste on a luxury like that. Instead, they fling the dirty laundry out into space. As it falls to Earth, it burns up in the atmosphere. I wish you had an amenity like that right now. In fact, I wish you had a host of amenities like that. If there was ever a time when you should be liberated from having to wash your underwear, make your bed, sweep the floor, and do the dishes, it would be now. Why? Because there are much better ways to spend your time. You've got sacred quests to embark on, heroic adventures to accomplish, historical turning points to initiate.
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October 19th, 2014
Reading Jacqueline Woodson's new verse memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, I was surprised to discover that she - like me - spent some of her very young years in a household of her mother, sibling(s), grandfather, and Jehovah's Witness grandmother.
It's always kind of great to find a book that speaks to your own experience - of being young and awkward and bored at the Kingdom Hall, let's say - but perhaps even more so when it comes from a place you never expected.
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