Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September Senses

As September begins I am...

Listening to... the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. I listened to the first episode of this show around Christmas time last year, but didn't fall in love immediately. After attending GeekyCon and meeting the Night Vale guys, I decided to give it another go. So, in August I listened to a few more, and in the last week, quite a few more than that. It's official: I'm totally addicted to this podcast!

Also listening to... a Great Course on the history of London as a city. Just started today, but it's helping me to get (even more) excited for my upcoming trip to the UK.  This course is serving as my bridge between "summer" audiobook listens and "autumn" listens.  I have three books lined up that I hope to finish before mid-November: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, Dracula narrated by Alan Cumming and others, and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.  Plus, I'm adding to that list both the Night Vale book and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet which debuts at the end of September.  Technically that last one feels more like a "summer" read, but I plan to listen to it as soon as it's available.

(Note: as expected, I quickly finished Felicia Day's book, and moved on to a short story called The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith. I'm told there's a movie of The Water Horse that is not very good, but the short story was just lovely. I'm consistently impressed with short children's fiction: another of my favorite audiobook 'reads' was Clockwork by Philip Pullman.)

Reading (in book form)... Alice in Wonderland and Coraline. I meant to do this ages ago, but now I have literally ten days left to get them re-read and to re-watch the cartoon versions of each.  Also, I may have bought the books for Maryellen Larkin, the new American Girl from the 1950s...

Seeing... golden early autumn sunset outside, best friends inside, fresh clean clothes drying on their drying racks, and two fuzzy kitties who currently want dinner pretty badly. I understand kitties, because it smells insanely good in my apartment since I'm...

Tasting... pulled pork, caramelized green beans and onions, and funfetti cupcakes!  When best friends cook, it's fantastic.  And, now that it's September, I can drink pumpkin ale with impunity!

Excited for... well, my upcoming trip, of course!  But also for the continuation of my job at Special Collections and the chance to see my current collection and its related collection through to the end. Best of all, I love my new work schedule.  It's perfect in terms of hours, and leaves me with time during the week to pour energy into new creative ventures-- and also to take up Spanish language-learning again (which I slacked on a lot during August).  And of course, I'm excited for the beginning of autumn! My favorite season!  As much as I love warm weather, September and October are my favorite months.  There's something about September and that 'back-to-school' feeling that has never gone away (granted, I usually am going back to school).  The cozy nights and crisp days and sweaters and boots and warm stews and crusty breads of fall make me tingly happy.  I can't wait for the World Series and Halloween movies and here's hoping that this year I might finally make it to an autumn festival or two!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Finally, an August Post!

I've been just terrible about blogging this summer.  I keep starting posts, then not finishing them.  Or finishing them, then deciding they are not worth posting.  I never blogged about my amazing trip to GeekyCon nearly four weeks ago, and my visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the Open at the Close event-- which mostly involved drinking unlimited amounts of butterbeer in Diagon Alley at 1:00 AM.  Aside from that event, the Con itself was fantastic, too!  I attended some really interesting panels, met some wildly creative people, reconnected with favorite artists, and discovered new artists to admire.  I fell in love with the artwork of Casey Robin (check out her etsy shop!), who was as nice as she is talented.  Most excitingly, I finally got to meet Mary Kate Wiles in person-- she is one of my favorite actresses (check out her YouTube channel!).  I listened to interviews with screenwriter James Moran, with the Hillywood girls, and with Anthony Rapp.  I bought a Hermoine time-turner necklace in the marketplace for only $5!  And on the last day, I went to Disney World.  Because really, how could I be so close and not visit?  A few laps around the World Showcase were just what my heart desired.  The potato-wrapped snapper at Flying Fish Cafe didn't hurt either, nor did the Polynesian Pearl cocktail at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto.

In the ensuing weeks, I've taken a short jaunt to the Outer Banks for Zan's family beach week, and this past weekend Zan and I visited Natural Bridge, VA.  For my birthday, my friend Kay gave me a night's stay at the Historic Natural Bridge Hotel.  The package came with tickets to the bridge itself, and to the caverns nearby.  Additionally, Zan and I spent an afternoon at Virginia Safari Park, feeding tons of animals and even petting a kangaroo!  It was an incredible weekend.

Most of my time, of course, I've spent processing my collection at Special Collections.  I will be wrapping up that project soon-- in fact, my last day of full-time employment is Friday.  After that, THE WORLD!  Err, no... after that, I'm a little uncertain.  Change is definitely in the air: from the cooling days and the sun setting noticeably earlier, to the sudden end of the pattern of my days.  I feel a bit like I'm on a ski jump, the kind that let off suddenly into mid-air, leaving the skier flying through the sky-- whoosh!  I'm trying to look at it as a fun adventure, to remain calm and even a little zen, but I've always been too nervous to try skiing.  I have some fun adventures lined up for the autumn (including a presentation at an academic conference in the UK), and I have some ideas for new projects that I hope take off, but I feel like I'm mostly making it up as I go along.  I suppose what I need to learn is that everyone feels like they are making it up as they go along, cobbling together days and activities and hoping for the best.

Before I go, quick book list (if I can remember them): a long while back I read Jade Green by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, an old favorite from middle school.  I've read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (to prepare for GeekyCon, of course).  I read all of Jenny Trout's hilarious/troubling recaps of 50 Shades of Grey on her blog (she read that one so I didn't have to-- thank goodness), which prompted me to read Trout's novels The Boss and The Girlfriend (written under her pen name Abigail Barnette).  I also read an incredibly sweet debut novel by Natalie Lloyd called A Snicker of Magic.  It's a children's novel (think Newbery Award age) with a lot of heart.  The writing is so unique; I can't even explain it.  As for audiobooks, I finished listening to Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and then pretty much mainlined My Antonia by Willa Cather.  Currently, I'm nearing the end of Felicia Day's audiobook You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) and I'm re-reading Alice in Wonderland in order to revise my conference paper.

Until next time, which hopefully won't take another month...  gonna get better at this...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Thoughts on a Re-Read; or, Potter Before Potter

I am re-reading the Harry Potter series.  I finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this afternoon.  Reading it again after all this time felt odd-- it has probably been a good decade since the last time I read it, certainly before the publication of Deathly Hallows.  In a way, re-reading the book felt like reminiscing with old friends about long ago: "Remember the Sorting and your first night at Hogwarts?" "Remember when you thought you'd be expelled but ended up as the Seeker on the Quidditch team?"  But that same nostalgia also gives some pain.  Characters that meant little to me at the time are suddenly fleshed out in my mind with all that I've read since.  I noticed that Lavender Brown got sorted into Gryffindor.  Fred and George are still complete and happy.  Scabbers, still only a rat.  Mostly, Neville: just a meek, nice boy with a toad and a propensity to get picked on, his backstory totally unknown. 

I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when I was eleven years old.  I read it before Harry Potter was *Harry Potter.*  I read it before most of my friends, even.  There were no films, or-- to my knowledge-- even talk of films.  The whole world that Rowling so clearly and carefully built I imagined without the aid of set and costume designers, or actors.  In my mind, Hermione had darker brown hair, like me (of course).  Minerva McGonagall was younger than Dame Maggie Smith, and a bit harsher looking with black hair.  Dumbledore was slightly madder.  Upon a re-read, I notice that the whole book has a whimsical Roald Dahl-esqueness to it that the movies don't quite capture.  And, as an adult, I also notice how wonderfully Rowling controls the prose and plot.  Her world-building is astounding in a way that I could not recognize as a child.  Moreover, the depth of it becomes apparent with the totality of the series, which I did not have when first I read this book.  I remember waiting for Book 3.

Then there's the fact that I've grown up.  I think I cry more easily now.  When I was little, my mom would always read The Polar Express to me on Christmas Eve, and she would always cry at the end when the protagonist says that his sister can no longer hear the bell, but that it rings for him as it does for all true believers.  When I was small, I poked fun at her.  Then, a Christmas came a few years ago when I started crying, too.  I think Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has undergone a similar transformation for me.  I teared up when Hagrid and Harry entered Diagon Alley (it was so magical!).  I felt myself crumbling a bit when Dumbledore spoke to Harry in the infirmary about love, and when Hagrid gave Harry a scrapbook of pictures of his parents.  I almost full-on cried when Dumbledore gave Neville ten points, because I just knew how much it meant to Neville. 

I've gained so much in the last decade of my life.  Still, a distinct sense of something lost accompanied my re-read.  The closest I can come to describing it is this: I will never again wonder at the cat that reads the street sign on Privet Drive.  I already know. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

as time goes by

Before work, I stop in to have my morning tea in the grad lounge.  A few friends from my cohort, and some from the year behind mine, teach summer classes for high schoolers on campus.  While I take my tea, they lesson plan and grade papers, and we catch up about our weekends, or our upcoming adventures.  There's a bookshelf just outside the lounge full of books free for the taking.  It's magical.  Last week, new books appeared on it everyday.  These are old books, full of markings, with breaking spines.  Or new books, that a professor decided they did not really need cluttering their office or home.  Regardless, I love it.  I love all of the books.  So far, I've managed to pick up seven titles, including Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness, neither of which I've read, and a few anthologies of short stories and creative non-fiction.  And plays, too.  I've taken from the shelf some Caryl Churchill and Tom Stoppard works that I've never owned before, but that I'm excited to read now, after having seen or studied a performance.

Then, the tea drunk, and perhaps some peanut butter crackers eaten, I walk the short path to the library to begin the days work.  I retrieve whatever part of my collection I need from the stacks, and I set up in the work room or the processing room, reading old correspondence, filing it into folders, imposing organization upon a cluttered mess of papers.  Many people today lament the lost art of letter writing, but I feel like I didn't realize how lost it was until the past few weeks.  My collection alone boasts hundreds upon thousands of letters.  Yet, it's not the number that's been lost; it's the conversation.  Perhaps it's simply that I'm reading letters from a rather literary crowd in the 1920s, so their turns of phrase ring with poignancy, but then, perhaps the 1920s was just a different time for the English language.  Certainly, it was a very different time for the average English-language speaker.

And while today the writing of a few select blogs and one or two e-mails makes me pause to relish the beauty of the words and the ideas behind them, most of them are written haphazardly, dashed off in an instant, or written to conform to some kind of lowest-common denominator standard.  Few writers pause, and thus, I think, few readers pause.

Worse, few friends take the care required to compose a worthy letter, or even e-mail, and thus, few friendships deepen via correspondence.  Fewer observations are recorded, and perhaps, fewer observations are made.  We are so hasty.  Not that the 1920s was a slow time-- there were telegrams and telephones-- but most of life did not move quite literally at half the speed of light.  A few things required an actual immediate response in the sense that we associate with immediacy (accomplished via telegram), but most 'immediate' responses could be given at the earliest a day later.  In general, correspondents had at the least a whole night to mull over a missive before needing to send a response.  Life moved much more slowly, and, in many cases it seems, thoughtfully.

Yet, before I wax all rosy-glasses, I must add: things haven't changed all that much in the last hundred years.  War was still horrific, lovers still faithful or untrue by turns, oranges delicious.  Americans still crave terrible boxed 'American' food even in the bounty of delicious foreign local cuisine, and everyone has plenty of room to wonder, "What kind of world are we living in?"  Just as my satire class last year proved to me that seventeenth and eighteenth-century writers critiqued many of the same things about their society that I find wrong with my own, these letters reinforce-- on a much smaller, more intimate scale-- the noble, terrible, humorous, and dull-- but essentially unchanging-- nature of humanity.