Little Miracles, Infinite Skies

Book One of Lauren DeStefano’s Internment Chronicles is set on an island in the sky. It’s a small place and it’s carefully controlled to ensure that the citizens live peacefully and as happily as possible. I don’t love dystopian novels, … Continue reading

Lauren Oliver and My 24 Year Itch

I’ve always been kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. I’ve lived in several different states, gone to several different schools; had bangs, short hair, long hair, and red hair. I always order the last thing I see on the menu before the … Continue reading

Monsters Abound

Sara Gruen knows how to write monsters. In her latest novel, At the Water’s Edge, I am struck by the bone-deep and frenzied evil of Gruen’s antagonist. Ellis Hyde is a selfish and manipulative husband who eventually tries to eliminate his wife altogether. … Continue reading

What I Thought I Knew about Rabbits

In an essay written for the Wall Street Journal to help save the New York City Library, famed architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable makes an interesting claim about print books. The issue in 2007 was that only 6% of print sources were being … Continue reading

Curiosity Killed the Cat, But I’m Feeling Inspired

Every time I read a book written by Michael Crichton, I’m amazed by his imagination. Not only that, because I like to think I have had an imaginative idea or two in my life, but I become almost embarrassingly humbled by the amount of research he must have put into any one of his books. Thinking about what it must have been like to write Jurassic Park, Timeline or even Congo, I’m overcome by the same hard-to-breathe-and-getting-sweaty feeling that happens when I think about maybe one day training for a marathon. Do I have the creative endurance and perseverance it would take to write a novel that impacts generations of people?

Yesterday, I let my husband think he was dragging me to see the recently released Jurassic World (ladies, if it’s always “your turn” to pick the film, you won’t ever have to sit through a Fast and the Furious again. As a rule of thumb, never reveal your hand on movie date night). After about two hours of mud, and blood, and gnashing, I was really quite pleased. Admittedly, I never saw the second and third films, which my husband said had similar plot lines, but I thought Jurassic World had a satisfying blend of logos, pathos, and guts. The cinema complex had six theaters playing the movie, so I would guess the reception of the film has been generally positive.

But everything started because one man had an idea, did some research, and wrote. I sit staring at my computer screen and imagine that if I were in a comic strip right now, there would be little speech bubbles blooping out from my mouth that read, “duhhh”. In James Cameron’s interview on NPR’s Ted Radio Hour, he discusses how curiosity led him to create Avatar, and Titanic, the two highest grossing films in American history. He explains that an interest in the sciences and a desire to explore the Titanic fueled his efforts. The “what”, “why”, “when”, and “hows” of the world can be some of our greatest tools. All we need to do is ask. I remember being a kid and wondering what would happen if I poured salt on a slug. Today, it’s more than likely I walk right past slugs without even noticing they’re there. This is going to be one of my metaphors for life. I think it’s important to retain childlike curiosity beyond childhood. Equally important: the questions should be more productive than strategies for slug torture, and the methods less cruel.

So although I don’t have a production studio funding my oceanic explorations or a medical degree from Harvard, I have curiosity and questions- the stepping-stones for innovation. And should the forest ever grow too dense and too dark, there will always be paths forged by the greats who wrote before me, reminding me to never stop wondering.

Going Somewhere

All morning, grad students and their parents have been trickling down the stairwell outside of my apartment building. As they step lightly in stylish strappy wedges, graduation caps in hand, I’m struck with the feeling that I should actively try to remember this moment.

Two weeks ago I moved into my new apartment. In three months my MFA program begins. Assuming I don’t blow it, two years from right now I’ll be graduating. My greatest question being: will it all be worth it? Most days I’m like Aladdin when he finds out about the power of the magic lamp- overwhelmed with possibilities and borderline cocky in the awesomeness of my situation. Today I’m a bit more reflective, realistic, critical. Will I get a job? Will I ever be published? Am I actually just running in a giant and mysteriously inconspicuous hamster wheel? Though it would finally provide an explanation for my longing for belly rubs and insatiable desire for snacks, I pray with all of my being that I’m not a hamster- that I’m actually going somewhere.

In The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards, the daunting task of planning for the future is made simple. Right brained all the way, I have yet to be confused by any of Richards’ suggestions. The book actually begins with an anecdote detailing how Richards, a financial planner by trade, failed to prepare for, or protect himself against the recession of 2008. He goes on to explain how he lost his house, was forced to relocate, and make the humbling choice to downsize significantly. While this cautionary tale may not have been the most upbeat way to begin a book, it stressed humanness and the inability to be perfect all the time. For a girl who every so often forgets to pay her credit card bill (don’t be mad if you’re reading this, Dad), I appreciated Richards’ honesty.

The problem is that I’ve reached the part when The One-Page Financial Plan is asking me to have goals, to envision my life several years from now. This, to me, is scary. Goals no longer float around the sky like white dandelion wisps, waiting for me to grab them. I’ve put in the legwork; I know what it takes to achieve goals. As I calculate my graduate school financials, I cringe at the thought of earning and saving and planning for something that just might happen ten years from now. Something that just might happen if I want it bad enough, and work for it hard enough, and know the right people, and have enough money, and if the stars align at just the right time. After all, graduate school wasn’t a goal of mine ten years ago, and look at me now. I just can’t wrap my mind around the “years from now”.

Maybe this is why I study children’s literature. Even while trapped in the chaos that was Wonderland, Alice seemed to have it so good. Where is the bonbon labeled, “Eat me”, that when consumed will help me grow up? Where’s my magic genie?

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Who needs a résumé when you have elephants and belly dancers to tell the world how fabulous you are?

Strout, Buddha, and Finding My Inner Zen

While visiting home for Mother’s Day, my father gave me a Buddha Board. Simplistic and sleek in design, this slanted piece of grey material rests upon a tiny well of water- a trough for the Buddha Boarder’s paintbrush to dip into. Once the fine hairs of the brush are damp, the board offers endless possibilities. The instructions say that by engaging in water painting I will find my zen, that as the water picture evaporates to a clean slate I will be encouraged to live in the moment.

As I sit here now, staring at the partially evaporated and childish smiley faces that were the product of living in a few moments ago, I realize I have some work to do in the zen department.

I was thrilled to find another novel by Elizabeth Strout at the secondhand bookstore a couple weeks ago. The people and places she create in her books feel so real to me that I don’t think I would be surprised to stumble across the town of West Annett while road-tripping through New England. In fact it would seem completely natural if the Caskey family showed up at my church on Sunday because Reverend Caskey happened to be visiting Pittsburgh. Strout’s characters breathe across the pages and I always grieve just a little when I read the final word.

I’m currently savoring Abide with Me, the story of Tyler Caskey and the small New England town in which he serves as Reverend. It’s a quiet novel but it’s full of dynamic characters from gossiping church ladies with hats and teacups to wealthy in-laws with lunchtime martinis. Their struggles are as unyielding as New England winters, and any assurances of discretion are as futile as pothole patches.

But what the people of West Annett lack in prudence, the scenery makes up for in beauty. I can begin to imagine finding my inner zen when I read passages like this: “It was still October when the first snow fell. It came in the afternoon, light as white dandelion thistles being dropped from high in the sky. They took their time reaching the ground, so light and sparse they floated.”

As I make my way steadily through Abide with Me, my desires are reduced to quiet and breath and maybe a porch at the top of a few sprawling hills. I don’t envy Tyler Caskey’s struggles, but I’d take his old farmhouse in a heartbeat. “He loved being far out in the country, walking to town with his boots squeaking on the packed snow… In the summer he loved swimming in the lake, bicycling for miles on a Sunday afternoon to unwind after his sermon. As he pedaled past farmhouses, large fields of young corn, seeing the winding stone walls that went off into the distance, he would feel The Feeling, and give thanks for God’s beautiful, beautiful world.”

I know that it’s true, that we live in a beautiful, beautiful world. But it seems that just as a water painting evaporates before our eyes, the real test is in the noticing.