Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I did not care for this book. About forty-five pages in, I realized I was unimpressed. I've been on such a dystopian lit. kick lately that I tried to figure out what made this book different and why I didn't like it. So here goes.

Both The Hunger Games (THG) and Divergent (D) have female authors; The Maze Runner (TMR) has a male author. Both THG and D have sixteen-year-old female protagonists; TMR has a sixteen-year-old male protagonist. Both THG and D are written in first person; TMR is written in limited third person. In both THG and D, the "monsters" are other people (mostly the government or ruling parties); in TMR (at least for the first 90% of the book), the "monsters" are actual living breathing (ridiculous, disgusting, impossible) monsters.

In THG and D, while both protagonists go on journeys and discover new information and conspiracies (which we discover along with them), we at least have some context. Information (settings, surroundings, current state of the world at large) is given in bits and pieces of the usual kind of exposition. The Maze Runner's whole gimmick is that there is no information. The protagonist starts with nothing, no memory, and we, as readers, have jack-squat right along with him. While it's an interesting gimmick, doing it for over 200 pages is frustrating/annoying/repetitive/a rather stupid concept.

It's the repetition that really started to annoy me. For how long can we listen to adolescent boys argue?
"What have you done?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
"What have you done?"
"I don't remember anything!"
Later, rinse, repeat for almost the entirety of this novel. In fact, I bet one could look at the majority of this book -- with its "no idea what to do," "just do what the older boys do" mentality -- as a metaphor for boys' sexual experience (or lack thereof) as teenagers.

Dashner's diction is also repetitive. I counted at least three times where Thomas "may not have had any memories, but was sure he just experienced the worst/saddest/most painful thing." I stopped counting after number three. Dashner also appears to know no other way to describe anxiety or stomach-dropping fear without using the word "acid." If Thomas has as much stomach acid or "acid in his veins" as Dashner says, I'm surprised he did not disintegrate before the end of the novel, consumed from the inside out by the ulcer that was surely eating its way out of his stomach.

Dashner also does not explain several things; I mean, other than the withholding of information. The annoying made-up "slang" the other boys use, for instance: "klunk" is explained, but the rest of the words are not. And the boys use the words ad nauseum. The resulting "dialect" is grating, annoying, and purposeless. If you're going to swear (or have your characters swear), just do it already. Don't rely on a made-up baby language to do it for you. (In order to view the teensy spoiler here, read the review directly on Goodreads and click "view spoiler").

Last but certainly not least, the characters are flat and therefore uninteresting. Perhaps that is symptomatic of them having no memories or background. Thomas is a blank slate as is Teresa. The only one remotely interesting is Chuck, the awkward and comedic chubby sidekick, and he's only marginally interesting by the fact that everyone else is not.

While I forced myself to finish this book, I will not be reading the others in the series. Feel free to tell me if anything interesting happens in those (though I doubt it).

Chicago Sucked

In May of 2000, I took a last minute road trip to Chicago.  It did not go well.

"Oh yeah, this just keeps gettin' better and better."
--Rick O'Connell (Brendan Frasier), The Mummy, 1999

That's what I was saying by my last night there. Yep, the Windy City sucked donkey butt. In fact, it started out bad before I was even in my car. I didn't have a hotel room until ten minutes before I left home. Granted, I shouldn't complain, because I neither made the reservation nor paid for the room, but I really was stressed and nervous anyway.

"Behave yourselves while I'm gone!"
I drove to Chicago for an audition. There was a full-page ad in a local newspaper about auditions for the Royal Carribean Cruiselines for professional singers, dancers, and male acrobats (yes, male acrobats). This was primarily for their newest ship, The Explorer, which was supposedly the most technically advanced to date. But they were also casting for their other ten or twelve ships, all of which put on full-blown musical and theatre productions.  I had been fired from a job almost a month earlier, so I thought, Hey, I'm unemployed and have nowhere to be! Let's go to Chicago!!"  I packed a bag, kissed the cats goodbye, and was on my way.

I was half an hour into the trip when I realized that I had left the clothes I wanted to wear to my audition hanging in my closet. I hadn't packed them in my bag because I didn't want them to wrinkle. Shit. So I drove another half hour back to my apartment, wasting one full hour of drive time, to grab those clothes, and by the time I left again I hit rush hour traffic leaving town.  I think I should have realized then that the Universe was telling me not to go.
Oh well. I'm stubborn.

So I drove.
And drove and drove and drove and drove. Speeding the whole way, in typical Leonard fashion.
I'd never driven to Chicago before, so I had clutched in one hand the directions I got from  (This is 2000, people.  GPS systems are nigh unheard of.) 255 miles of pure interstate.

I took a couple of wrong turns once into Chicago, because I didn't write down whether to go north or south or east or west on a couple of exits, et cetera. However, I did write down the mileage of each length of road, so if I went over that and wasn't at my next turn, I turned around.  Apparently the trip odometer in the car does serve a purpose!

Finally, I made it to my hotel, and in pretty good time, all things considered. I checked in, got my key, went out to my car to haul all my crap (one duffel bag, one purse, two hangers of clothes, a jacket, and sheet music) upstairs to my room. I got there, and the key wouldn't open the door. I tried several times, and no go. So I picked up one duffel bag, one purse, two hangers of clothes, one jacket, and two books of sheet music again, went downstairs to the lobby.

Only, I couldn't find the lobby.

The hotel I was staying in was set up in a circle with a courtyard and terrace in the middle. I wandered around that whole damn thing (carrying one duffel bag, one purse, two hangers of clothes, one jacket, and two books of sheet music) until I found the lobby again. (Apparently all I had needed to do was go the other direction, and the lobby was all of fifteen feet from my room.)

I got to the front desk and told the kid at the counter, who looked like he was all of 12, rather indignantly that my key didn't work. He said, "Did you leave it in the door, and then turn the handle?"
"Umm, no."
"Why don't you try that?"
And then he looked at me funny as I had come from the opposite direction of my room, and I kind of mumbled, "I got lost on the way here."

Once more I headed to my room with one duffel bag, one purse, two hangers of clothes, one jacket, dance shoes, and two books of sheet music in tow. The key still didn't work.  I even "left it in the door and then turned the handle" like he had said, but nothing.  After two or three more attempts and much swearing, I dropped my shit in front of the door, and went back to the lobby (the right way, this time).
Again I said, "The key won't work."
"Did you --"
"YES, I put it in the lock and then turned the handle.  Multiple times.  It still didn't work."
So the kid grabs the other keys and follows me back upstairs.

And the door opened smoothly and silently for him on the first try. He must have thought I was moron, the little punk. Oh hell, even I thought I was a moron.

I got inside and discovered that I didn't have a room; I had a suite. I didn't have a bathtub; I had a whirlpool.  I think those two factors were the only saving grace of this entire trip.
So I unpacked my duffel bag, purse, hangers of clothes, jacket, dance shoes, and  sheet music and swam in the tub before going to bed.

I managed to get to sleep in the giant bed, even though I was very nervous for the audition the next morning.  My first professional audition.  What the hell was I doing??  But I slept.  And while I slept, my body decided to tell me exactly what it thought of this spontaneous road trip.

I woke up at 7:30 that morning to the left half of my face completely swollen.  While I was sleeping one upper wisdom tooth (one of two that I still had at the time) decided this would be the perfect time "erupt," to cut through my gums, not to mention the flesh of my cheek.  I could barely creak open my jaw to brush my teeth. How on earth would I be able to open my mouth to sing?!  Well fuck.

But I didn't drive all this way for nothin'.  I got dressed (in the clothes that I had to make a return trip for), tossed my music and dance shoes into my bag, ran downstairs to steal a pancake from the free buffet breakfast, and left.

I drove in rush hour Chicago traffic, another sheet of paper clutched desperately in one hand with directions to the Lou Conte Dance Studio. On the way to the studio, there was a tollway that I was not aware was on my route:  40 cents for a car.

I had no change.  MapQuest had said nothing about tollbooths, phantom or not.

And these aren't small tollbooths with people inside. They're big city tollways, automated where you just throw in your "exact change." Panicking and starting to hyperventilate, I pulled up to the gate thingie, and there was a man at the gate thingie next to me, apparently working there, I guess?  I waved him over and said, "Excuse me? I don't have any change."
He kind of blinked at me. "You don't have any change?"  And for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, a person stared at me like a moron.
"No, I'm sorry. I'm....I'm....from out of town," I stuttered.  "I have a dollar. I don't need any change back, but I didn't know..."

He smiled and unlocked the gate and let me pass through anyway, not even taking my wrinkled dollar bill. I breathed a sigh of relief.  I was also grateful I put on make-up that morning for the audition and was looking sufficiently "cute."  Sexist or not, sometimes it pays to be a girl.

I found the studio, and a parking lot nearby. Turns out I couldn't park in that lot -- thanks a lot, Fannie May chocolates! -- so I went back to my car and found a spot on the street.  I still had no change for the meter, so I hoped I wouldn't get a ticket and went inside.

Before our individual auditions, the people in charge talked a lot about the "types" they were looking for and even showed us some clips from other cruise ship productions.  And right then and there, I changed my audition songs.  They weren't looking for pretty sopranos who sang pretty songs.  The clips of the production numbers were from things like Chicago and Cabaret.  They wanted sex and grit.  So instead of singing something from The Music Man, I made the executive decision to open with "Dance Ten, Looks Three" from A Chorus Line.

Choosing songs is always a gamble.  If they like what they hear, they ask you to sing again.  So do you open with your best number and then hope?  Or do you hope they ask you to sing again, and then end with your best number so that's the last thing in their heads?  I opted for the first.  My new song wasn't marked, though, and I did not have a writing utensil on me.  So I did the next best thing.  I marked my chosen sixteen measures with what I did have:  brown eyebrow pencil.  Brown eyebrow pencil, by the way, does not erase, so it's still on those pages now, fourteen years later.

My last minute changes worked to my benefit; they asked me to sing a second song.  So I sang my "pretty," non-sexy song.  Overall, I thought it went well.  Oh yeah, except for the fact that they said, "Thank you, Leonard, for coming today."  That's audition-speak for "You're not what we want and we don't care how far you came for us to turn you down."  They did not ask me to stay for the dance audition.  So all that for ten minutes of nothin'.  Oh well.

    But you see if it wasn't for bad luck,
    Trying to tell you son if it wasn't for bad luck, now now
    Oh, oh, I wouldn't have no luck at all
    --Ray Charles, "If It Wasn't for Bad Luck"
I headed back to the hotel, my ego bruised.   I had to stop halfway there at a gas station so I could get change for the tollway.  I didn't think what little luck I had would keep going. I also had to slam on my brakes once, thanks to a car in front of me, and thereby spilling the Pepsi I had purchased at that gas station (in order to get change for the tollway) all over my car. I got back to the hotel, and dug around my bag for my room key. Couldn't find it. I could have sworn I put it in my bag that morning, but it must have been in my room. So I went to the front desk, and the same twelve-year-old guy from the night before was there, and he said, "Checking out?"
And I said, "No, I'm staying another night."
And he said, "No, you're not. The reservation was only for one night."
And I said, "No, the reservation was to be for TWO nights."

He checked his paperwork and said, "No, only one night."
So I swore a bit and I glared at him, and he gave me the extra key (I never did find the first key, by the way), and I went upstairs -- hot, sweaty, hungry, disappointed, and thoroughly pissed off.

I called my friend who had kindly arranged this hotel room. He then called the online company through which he made the reservation. They insisted that it was only made for one night, and that was that.

Now I could have feasibly left then and there. It was only about 12:30 in the afternoon; I could have driven home. But I was tired, upset, hot, sweaty, hungry, and dammit I wanted to swim in that tub again! So I gave in, and told the front desk to charge the second night to my credit card.  Hotel suites with whirlpools for tubs are NOT cheap, my friends.  Just FYI.

I soaked in the tub to ease my muscles and my half-swollen face and my fragile ego.  I napped.  I got up in time for the hotel's free "happy hour" thingie. I dressed up, put on some make-up (again), and decided I was going to have a good time tonight.  I would pretend it was a vacation or something. There was an Italian restaurant across the street that looked good, plus they advertised a piano bar. So I thought I'd go there for dinner, have some drinks, and soothe my ego by singing a few songs with the pianist.  Fourteen years ago, I had no qualms about randomly singing in public.

I grabbed my purse, headed for the door, went to grab my car keys -- and they weren't there. No car keys.  I dug around in my purse to make sure they weren't lying on the bottom beneath everything else.  I looked in my duffel bag, around bras and underwear and various shoes. I gave the room a once-over.  No keys.  Finally I went downstairs, looked in my car (locked, as always), and there they were, lying on the front seat. Shit.

That's right about when I said, "Oh yeah, this trip just keeps gettin' better and better."  Now I was going to have to pay to have my car unlocked, in addition to paying for the second  night at the hotel.

The Italian Restaurant was across the street from the hotel, so I decided I would walk.  I would call AAA in the morning because I really didn't want to deal with it right hten.

I had a nice dinner, albeit alone. The waiters, all with thick accents, doted on me and shamelessly tried to flirt while I enjoyed my salad and lasagna and bread and wine. And there was a table across from me with what appeared to be a gentleman, his wife, and son. And this guy (probably 38 or 40, dressed in a nice suit) kept looking at me! Like unabashedly staring at me.
And I thought, Shame on you! Oggling me while out with your wife and child.  Oh well.

I finished my lasagna  and went to the bar. Only to be "accosted" by more older men in nice suits   Remember how I said sometimes it pays to be a girl?  This was not one of those times.  The pianist was very nice, though, and let me do a few numbers.  And now, fourteen years later, while I can picture that bar and restaurant, I cannot, for the life of me, remember what I had the balls to sing.

Unfortunately, sitting a seat away from me was a drunk Welsh man who would not shut up. Between his accent and the fact that he was three sheets to the wind, I couldn't understand a word he said.
There was another businessman a table over, watching the Knicks games, as he apparently had money riding on it. And finally, a bartender from Lithuania named Kestas who was more than happy to bum me a cigarette.

After an hour or so, the drunk Welsh guy finally left. The three other people in the bar and I were all incredibly grateful. Apparently he's been there before, and I'm not the only person he was annoying.
Plus, this now gave the second businessman a chance to talk to me and say things like, "You're kidding! You've never been to New York?? Surely as pretty as you are you have a nice boyfriend who takes you places."
"No, I'm single."
"Single?? A pretty girl like you? How come?"
"I'm pretty, but slightly psychotic."
That shut him up for a bit.

But only for a bit:  "Wish you lived in Chicago. I come here every week for business. I could take you to New York and show you around.  San Francisco? Yeah, I bought a condo there, but only stay there two weekends out of the month. Do you need a place to stay in San Francisco?"

I managed to close down the bar (at 11 p.m., party animal). And I went back to the hotel, alone, rather tipsy myself, and passed out in that giant bed.  I woke up with a terrible hangover, called AAA, packed, and checked out at the front desk.  The twelve-year-old desk clerk was, thankfully, not there.

AAA, miraculously, was on time.  They got my car opened, and I was on my way.  I was headed home -- home to my kitties, computer, and closet full of shoes. It's not a terribly long drive, about five hours (or four and a half if you drive like me). You'd think my trials and tribulations would be over, right?

An hour or so into my drive there was this black BMW in the lane to my left. I had some truck going slowly in front of me, and this BMW needed to either speed up so I could get behind him, or slow down so I could pass him. I was starting to get pissed off, so I looked over at this car, and the guy's got his window rolled down and he's shouting at me!  And he's honking and everything!

We're doing 75 mph into the wind, so I couldn't hear a word he said. But he starts motioning for me to follow him and pull over.

I'm trying to figure out what's going on.  Do I have a flat tire?  Is my trunk open?  Did something fall out of my car??

So we turn off at the next exit, and I get out of my car, and he gets out of his shiny black BMW.
He says, "I saw you last night. At the restaurant."

Jesus friggin' Christ! I shit you not, it's the same guy from the Italian restaurant who kept staring at me while out with his family.

Me, stunned:  "Yeah, I was there."
"Wow, what are the odds? It must be fate!"
"Yeah, must be..."   sadistic bitch that she is.
"I saw you having dinner alone, and I wanted to talked to you, but I didn't want to be rude, y'know," he says.
Doesn't seem to be stopping you now.
Then he just blurts out, "You're gorgeous!!"
"Umm, thanks?"

He kept talking, wanting to know where I was going, why I couldn't stay in Chicago another night.
Turns out he was divorced and his son was having trouble in school, so he and the boy's mother went out to discuss things, or so he claims.  I lost interest in his story almost the moment he started speaking.  I have other things on my mind, like how to escape.

"What do you mean you can't stay in Chicago??" he asks.  "Why not?"
"Because I'm going home."  I'm look around at this exit where we've pulled over.  There's not another car or soul in sight, not even a building or a gas station.  My mind is trying to calculate how fast I can get back into my car and end this nightmare.

"Well, when do you have to be back?"
"Oh, in three hours."  Big fat lie.
"So you can't have a beer with me?"
"Gosh, you smell great!"  king of the non-sequitor says.
Thanks, I remembered to shower today, ya pervert.

Then he looks at my car, which is a bit beat up because two weeks earlier my mother backed into it.  While it was parked.
But that's another story.
And there are CD's and snacks and soda cans all scattered about -- y'know, all the roadtripping basics, and he says, "You look like you need some money."

Who fucking says that?

"Goin' around in a broken down car..." he trails off.
"Oh my poor car," I laugh nervously.  "It'll be fixed soon," which was not a lie, for once.

But that money comment, while not entirely incorrect, irked me to no end. What does he think I am?  A prostitute??
But before I can contemplate the implied insult any longer, he says this:  "So ya wanna kiss a little bit?"
What?!?  "No thanks."
"Not even a little kiss?"
"No thank you," I say even firmer.
"Why not?"
"Oh, I never kiss on the first drive-by."  Sorry, I get flippant when I'm nervous!  Alright, fine, I'm flippant all the time.

"You're going to let a handsome, young guy like me just get away?"
Young my ass! my inner monologue snickers.  The rest of my brain is trying to figure out how I can quickly ditch this guy and get back into the safety of my sad, broken down car.
The best I can come up with is "Yeah, but if you have an e-mail address, maybe I'll mail you." E-mail's safe, right?  No commitment there.
"Yeah, e-mail me. I go to [your city] all the time for business. I can take you out to dinner."
"Yeah, sure."  Lies, lies, lies, all lies!

He scribbles something on a piece of paper.  I take it and practically jump back into my car.  I'm sure my tires were squealing as I drove like a bat out of hell to get back onto the highway and away from Mr. Creepy Pants.

From then on, the drive was pretty uneventful. But the whole trip was just bizarre and strange and bad and weird. So much so, that I haven't been to Chicago since.

Only now do I realize how much potential that last situation had to go terribly terribly wrong. I could have been molested, raped, maimed, killed, kidnapped, any number of horrible things. I'm so lucky that none of that happened. Only now am I far enough away that I can laugh about the whole thing.  Well, sometimes I laugh.  And sometimes I just drink and think about how young and stupid I was.

After this road trip, I also decided that I don't care if my car's on fucking fire!  I'm not stopping or pulling over for anyone who isn't a cop in a marked car.

Also, I kept his e-mail address.  It was an AOL account.  Even in 2000 that was laughable.  I do believe I used it to sign him up for lots and lots and lots of free porn.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Writers Write Every Day

It's true.  Writing must become a habit if one is to consider herself a writer.  And many of them us write on a schedule of some kind.  So my Unit decided to put me on a writing schedule.

I have some free time right now.  I'm not doing back to back shows.  I did not have to prep my current classes from scratch (for the first time in over five years of teaching).  So I have the time, just not the discipline.

"If you're ever going to write a book," she says, "you gotta start writing now."  For some reason my Unit does not believe blogging counts.

So every Tuesday and Thursday (days I don't teach) from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. is now my "writing time."  We even wrote it on my calendar (which makes it official).  "You have to write for three hours and come up with at least two pages," she said.

Today was the first day.

I started off with ten minutes of freewriting.  Freewriting (as defined by Peter Elbow; link is to PDF file) is the first thing I tell my students to do when they are stuck or out of ideas or say "I don't know what to dooooooo!"  So I took my own advice.

During that ten minutes I realized that it was going to be nigh impossible to keep my office door shut during the entire three hours because Poe-Poe meowed and cried right outside my door the whole time.  I even saw his paw come underneath the door and wave around.  When the ten minutes was up, I opened the door.  He sat there quietly and innocently next to the dirty sock he had brought up from the basement for me.  (It was one of my hand-knitted socks, too; he spared no expense.)

The freewriting, in addition to helping me write down some of my fears (rather than having them living in my head), generated some new ideas, which it's supposed to do -- so yay, it works!

Then I wrote for approximately three hours -- minus potty breaks, a snack break, eating lunch, taking an important phone call, and letting Doogie outside.  I had my two-page minimum done by 11:30 a.m.  I announced that to my Unit, who almost let me stop, then she changed her mind.

"No.  You have to write for three hours, even if you already have two pages.  DO MORE!"

There were also some moments of just staring at the screen with either a cat or a dog on my lap, wondering where I would go next.  I had picked up a comedic horror short story parody thingie I had started a while ago.  I'm not pleased with all 4.5 pages I came up with, but I wrote them nonetheless.  Write first, edit (and criticize) later.

So, I felt a little bit accomplished by the time I was done.  I'm hoping this is the beginning of a new, productive habit so that I can be published while I'm still young enough to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

To pique your interest in my fiction writing, here is something I had to look up today for said short story:

Review: Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I've seen lots of reviews that say everything from "this is a watered down Hunger Games" to "OMG, this is so much better than Hunger Games!" It seems to compare the two is inevitable.

They are somewhat similar: they both are written by female authors. They are both written in the first person. They both have sixteen-year-old female protagonists.

But not all dystopian literature is the same, people! Besides genre (YA/dystopia), the similarities really end there. I don't feel compelled to say which one is "better."

I enjoyed this book on its first read. I enjoyed The Hunger Games during its first read, too. I've taught The Hunger Games, too, so I will say that Roth's writing style does strike me as more mature than Collins'; however, if I had to reread Divergent for teaching purposes, I might change my mind on that. Much of Collins' writing -- her symbolism and metaphors -- struck me as simple and glaringly obvious the second time around; however, I am also not her target market, being a couple decades older than the average Hunger Games reader.
But I digress...

Things I enjoyed about this book:
Tris is almost an anti-hero(ine). She is not necessarily, inherently, "good." She enjoys the adrenaline and the danger and newness of her position in an almost hedonistic manner. I enjoyed that change from heroines who are usually "good" and even self-sacrificing. That pleasure for its own sake feels much more real to me.

New vocabulary words! As this is considered Young Adult literature, I really, really hope it raises everyone's vocabulary a few notches as "abnegation," "erudite," "candor," and "amity" are not in the Average Joe's vocabulary. I enjoyed those (and other words) quite a bit.

Not the only possibility. (in order to view the spoiler, you'll have to read the review on Goodreads and click "view spoiler")

I will be reading the next two books as well, as soon as my turn comes at the library. Maybe I'll even see the movie. *gasp!*
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stayed up past midnight to finish this book, whilst crying for probably the last fifteen minutes. But more on that later.

Initially, this was a hard book for me to continue reading past the first page or two. The reason for that is two-fold. For starters, it opens with the death of a dog (that's in the description people; it's not a spoiler). As a self-described "animal person," the description of Wellington's death was a little hard to read.

Secondly, it's hard for me to read or watch scenes in which a character is unable to communicate their needs to others. I can tell what's going on and empathize greatly, but the other characters can't. I point to scene in How to Train Your Dragon as an example: it's sometimes excruciating for me to watch how long it takes Hiccup to figure out that Toothless doesn't leave because his wing is injured. So my empathy for Christopher and frustration for his situation almost stopped me from reading, but I'm glad I didn't.

His very unique point of view is what drives the reader to keep going in this book. Don't let its small size fool you; it's incredibly dense and emotional (and makes excellent use of footnotes!). I kept reading (past midnight) because I couldn't stop with Christopher still in pain of any kind. I knew there just had to be some kind of "happy ending" or at least a bit of a resolution, and I refused to go to sleep before I got there. His pain and my own pathos would have kept me from an easy sleep.

If, at some point, I write a paper analyzing this book, I would probably tackle the subject of Christopher's mother's handwriting as I believe her writing is some kind of commentary on the kind of person or mother she is (and I'm not sure how I feel about that).

Lastly, there were some parts of Christopher's personality and his logic and way of relating to the world that resonated so much with me (and made complete sense to me) that I don't doubt my own placement somewhere on the autism spectrum. It's a bit of a relief to see in print ways that I feel and things that I experience but can't seem to adequately verbalize.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Hollow City

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, #2)Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First and foremost, I do not recommend reading this on an eReader -- at least not a little first edition one like mine. The photographs (which are a huge part of Riggs' writing) barely show up. I was able to view them on the electronic version on my laptop, but I still don't think that did them justice. That, of course, is not the author's fault, but mine.

However, I think I enjoyed the first book (and its photographs) more. This second book in the series does not contain the same creepy, Gothic feel as the first Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The photographs do not seem as "creepy" as before. And the reason is because the characters are not new, therefore not as startling to us. The novelty has somewhat worn off.

I still love the idea of his found photographs. I wonder if he creates the story around those photos, or has the story and adds photos later, or what kind of process it is.

Hollow City is still a good read. The plot takes a turn even I did not expect (actually two turns), so I was impressed by that. Along with book #1 and The Night Circus, I think this will be one I need to own a hard copy of for its visceral, physical qualities.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to Say No to a Date

Leonard is about to lay down some of the best advice you're going to get.  But first, a small story to serve as an example.

Last semester, I was sitting in my office (with the door open) chatting with the one office mate I see regularly.  Said office mate left, so it was just me and my colleague across the hall.  His door was open, too; sometimes we chat across the hallway.

So my colleague says, sort of out of the blue, "Do you like to drink wine or beer?"
Me:  "Oh, I like wine.  I'm not really a beer-drinker."
Him:  "Would you like to drive me to get a drink some time?"

At least, that's what it sounded like he said.  I think he actually said, "would you like to join me for a drink sometime?"

And I was caught off-guard and rather nonplussed.  I was momentarily confused because I had first thought he was asking for a ride (to a bar??  Who does that??), so my brain was catching up.  I was taken aback because I realized I was just asked out on a date.

Don't you see this ring on my finger?  Haven't you heard me talk non-stop about my partner??

Granted, it doesn't look like a traditional engagement right, but still!
More than that, I was shocked because I had somehow thought that in a professional, collegiate environment, I'd be safe from being asked out by random men.  Especially men who do the same job I do.  And especially men, doing the same job, who are quite literally twice my age.

Words tumbled out of my mouth in response as I was on the spot.  "Umm, I dunno, maybe.  It depends.  I often have rehearsal."

I do often have rehearsal in evenings.  I also have a forty-five minute commute to school, so when I'm done teaching, I have no desire to hang out; I want to get started on the long drive home.  I also don't socialize too much with co-workers.  Perhaps if a group was going out for a drink, where we'd discuss work type things, maybe.  But work is work and my friends are my friends, and the two don't usually intersect.

My colleague soon left to teach his own class, and I was still dumbstruck by what had happened.  One of his office mates had come in during the tail end of our conversation, so I asked her if she overheard.  "Did he just ask me out?" I asked her.

And I hated asking her.  Because it sounds arrogant to "assume" someone has asked you out on a date, right?  Besides, what's the big deal, right?  Shouldn't I be flattered?  Besides, maybe it was completely innocent, right??  (I'll answer these questions at the end.)  The office mate said she hadn't heard, and added, "Besides, I think he's married anyway."
You and I both know that doesn't stop a lot of people, but I thanked her and wandered back into my own office, trying to keep my embarrassment and discomfort to myself.

Fast forward to this semester, just a week or so ago.  Our office doors are open, and my office mate and I are laughing about the awkwardness of student crushes (they do happen).  Then she leaves.  And older male colleague across the hall again speaks to me.

"Hey, Lenny, so would you like to have that beer this weekend?  Did I tell you about the microbrewery --"

"I'm sorry, I can't.  My partner is going out of town, and I have to take care of the dog.  We got a new dog who can't be left alone."

While it sounds about as plausible as "I have to wash my hair," my statement was absolutely true.  Our new forty-pound puppy cannot be left to her own devices, and my Unit was indeed going out of town for work.  When we're not home, Dogzilla has to be in her crate (which she HATES), and she can only be in there for a limited amount of time.

I was also irked because 1) he said my name wrong.  It was the equivalent of calling someone named "Caroline" -- someone who has "Caroline" printed on the sign on the office door, on the business cards, and everyone else calls "Caroline" -- the equivalent of calling her "Carol."
2)  I had already said I don't drink beer, which is true.  Wine?  Yes.  Hard liquor?  Yes.  Anything pretty with an umbrella in it?  Hell yes.  Beer?  No.

I was not unprepared this time, though he once again waited until I was alone to approach me.  And my reason was absolutely legitimate.  There was a brief pause, and then he said, "I didn't realize you had a partner."

Me (super bright-cheery-chipper):  "Yep, I do!"
End scene.

So here's the point (yes, there is a point).  I shouldn't have to have an excuse or reason to say "no."  Actually, I shouldn't have to worry about being asked out at my place of work (don't shit where you eat, people!), but that's another rant entirely.

Somewhere, somewhen, we women were taught that we must have some "reasonable excuse" for turning down a potential date.  I don't know when this happened.  I certainly don't remember anyone telling me this when I was younger.  But nonetheless, the thought is there.  And if we don't have an immediate, logical reason, we should "give the guy a chance."  It's the same logic behind trying new foods:  how do you know you don't like it until you try?

Here's how:  fuck you.

No, seriously, there does not need to be a reason or an excuse.  You can simply say "No thank you" to an offer for a date of any kind.  You, be you male or female, do not need a reason to turn someone (be they male or female) down.  Even if, like the above example, it is not explicitly stated that said outing is a date, you can simply say "No, thank you."  You are not required or obligated to hang out with people socially for any reason whatsoever.

And sometimes, we do have a reason.  Sometimes things just don't feel right.  Call it intuition, or your gut; I like to call it the "silent alarm."  It's that nagging feeling, sometimes almost a physical sensation, that for whatever reason this person does not jive with you.  For me, it's usually been because said person is psychotic, but that's another story.  Listen to that alarm.  It's there for a reason, no matter how tiny.  That alone is enough for you to say "no, thank you."

I repeat:  you do not need to give a reason or an excuse.  You do not have to be in a relationship or "have other plans" that night.  You can simply say no.

I am so tired and frustrated of hearing stories from my female friends about feeling bad for turning someone down or worrying about "hurting their feelings."  And I'm really angry over my own past examples, like the one above and many, many more.

1)  We all take a risk when we ask someone out.  Disappointment is one of the potential outcomes.
2)  You are not responsible for how someone else reacts to your answer.  That's on them.

And if you're polite (but firm), you've done nothing to really hurt their feelings.  Yes, they might be disappointed, but like I said, that's a risk we know going in.

While this is mostly directed to women, it applies to anyone and everyone.  We need to stop feeling obligated to other people for no good reason.  We need to stop feeling bad for saying no.

Now, I'll address the questions you might have about my anecdote:
  1. He was just being friendly.  Really?  Then why wait until I'm alone and cornered?
  2. He just meant it as a social thing.  That's entirely possible, but I'm still not obligated to go be social.  Also, see #1.
  3. He meant as a group with other colleagues.  Then he should have said so.  Also, see #2.
  4. You should be flattered.  Maybe and maybe not.  While I fail to see what's flattering about someone twice my age crossing work boundaries, maybe it would be flattering to you.  But the discomfort I felt about being cornered and put into an awkward position, plus getting my name wrong, etc. outweighs any potential flattery.
But none of the above really matter; I am allowed to simply say no.  And that does not make me a horrible person, a frigid bitch, or a cunt with a stick up her ass. 

I hope women -- people, really -- read this and take this advice to heart.  I wish I had learned it years ago; it would have saved me some trouble in the long run.  In fact, not listening to that silent alarm and simply saying no, will take us into our next topic:  Dealing with Stalkers.
And that's not hyperbole; I do mean stalkers.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Bathroom Story

It began as any other morning.  I stumbled from my bed to the bathroom, still not awake yet.  In those days my mother was working ten-hours days downtown at City Hall.  This meant that she left early in the morning, often before I was out of bed (which is impressive since my first period started at 7:45 a.m.).  She would leave, and my friend Teresa -- well, Teresa's mom, really --would give me a lift to school since neither of us could drive yet.

Click to embiggen
I would get up, do my bathroom routine, then go back to my bedroom and get dressed.  I'd open the blinds on my bedroom window because Teresa (and her mother) and I had a system.  They would pull up to the building and honk.  I would wave from my window four floors up, and then take the old-fashioned, non-computerized, original-with-building Otis elevator down to the main floor, run down the sidewalk, and hop in the car.

You see, during my four years of high school, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my mother.  The apartment building had been built in the 1920s and had a beautifully renovated ballroom in the basement which was rented out for wedding and dances, including my own high school's prom.  Yes, prom was at my house (but that's a different story).  The building was U-shaped.  If you stood on the sidewalk facing the building, you'd be at the top of the U, looking down its center; a long sidewalk ran down the center of the U.  Four floors up (still at the base of the U) was my bedroom window.

So again, on this chilly winter morning I began my process as per usual.  It involved stumbling out of bed and blearily walking to the bathroom.  Because it was built in the 1920s, the entire building used delicious steam heat in the winter.  The radiator in the bathroom never turned all the way off.  As a result, 1)  it was always a bit stuffy in there, but 2)  I could put my towel over the radiator, and it would be nice and toasty when getting out of the shower.  Oh, and 3)  the bathroom door was permanently warped from the heat.  It would not completely close unless one slammed it.  We never closed it completely, let alone used the ancient turn lock.

So I stumbled up the step (yes, the bathroom had a step) into the bathroom and closed the door.  I have no idea why I closed the door when I was the only one home, minus the cat.   These days I never close the bathroom door, and I'm always surrounded by cats and dogs.

The bathroom routine involved peeing, of course, and then washing my hands and face.  I'd pop my contacts into my blind eyes and brush my teeth.  I would moisturize.  I would exit.  So I did all of those things, except the last one.

I went to open the door, and I couldn't.  The knob wouldn't turn.

Maybe I moisturized too much?  I wiped my hands on a towel and tried again.  Still no go.  The door was stuck.  The knob would not turn.

I tried again.  And again.  And again.  And -- was it getting hotter in there?  Or was it just me slowly panicking?  The radiator dutifully kicked out its steamy heat.  I was sweating, and my hands kept sliding off of the white ceramic door knob.

I must have tried for ten or fifteen minutes before the cold realization set in:  I was stuck in my own bathroom.

I was fifteen, home alone, and stuck in my own bathroom.

I tried not to cry.

How will I get out?  How will I get ready for school?  Who can let me out? 
I couldn't call anyone.  This wasn't Wayne Manor or a James Bond set; there was no phone in the bathroom.  Cell phones hadn't been invented yet.  I was cut off from communication.

Who will find me?  What if the fire department has to come and chop down the bathroom door with one of those giant axes?  My hair is unbrushed.  These were my concerns.

It'll be okay, I thought.  Soon Teresa and her mom will show up, and they'll see that I'm not upstairs in the window, and they'll know something is wrong.

Except my bedroom blinds were still closed.  I hadn't reached that part of my routine.  It happened after getting dressed, which happened after the bathroom routine.  Incidentally, hair-brushing also happened after the bathroom; I kept the brush on my dresser in my bedroom.

Whose bright idea was it to give me baseball pj's?
How will they know I am stuck??  My mind raced until I realized I could crack the bathroom window just a bit (it, too, was warped and only opened a couple of inches) and yell out.  The window glass was thick and frosted, and the window itself obscured by the shape of the building; they wouldn't be able to see me, but hopefully they could hear me.  What other choice did I have?  I resigned myself to my fate, and, in my pink flannel jammies, knelt down on the bathroom floor, put my head on the fuzzy peach toilet seat cover and dozed until I heard the honk of the car horn.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later -- or maybe it was only ten -- I heard the telltale honk of my ride.  I stood up and  put my mouth to the crack in the bathroom window.  "Teresa!  TERESA!"

Eventually a car door opened, and Teresa walked down the long sidewalk, looking around confusedly.  "TERESA!  I'm stuck in the bathroom!"

Trying to find the source of the yelling, she looked around.  "Leonard?"

"TEREEEEEEEEEESAAAA!  I'm stuck in the bathroom!"


"I'm STUCK in the BATHroom, and I CAN'T get OUT!"

"You're stuck in the bathroom?"

"YES!  And I CAN'T get OUT!"

I honestly hadn't thought past this moment.  My goal was to tell someone I was stuck.  I had achieved that.  I had no idea what Teresa would do with this information.  Like any good girl, she went straight to her mother, who was waiting impatiently in the car.  Soon, I spied the two of them making their way down the sidewalk, Teresa's tall, lanky figure next to her mother's large, waddling one.

They will save me!  But how will they get in?  They didn't have a key.  No one had a key except me and my mom.
And the building manager.

The building manager was ninety years old if she was a day, and she intensely disliked anyone under the age of sixty.  The fact that she leased an apartment to a woman with a teenaged daughter was nothing short of miraculous.  (I'm sure it helped that I was an exemplary teenager.)

I can't imagine the story Teresa and her mother had to tell Pat to get her out of her apartment, probably wearing a housecoat and slippers.  But within minutes I could hear the front door of our apartment opening, and all three of them trudging in.

Both Teresa's mother and Pat the building manager jockeyed for control of the situation, shouting instructions to me from the other side of the warped wooden door.  I tried opening the door again.  They tried opening it from their side.

"It's locked," the building manager said.

"But I never use the lock," I said.

"Try turning the lock," she said.

"But I didn't lock the door," I insisted.

"Try turning it anyway," she said.

I tried.  The lock was stuck, too, possibly in the "locked" position.  How did that happen?  I didn't use the lock.  I never used the lock.  But the door was nevertheless both stuck and locked.  Stu-locked, if you will.

This comedy of errors continued for a bit with no real progress.  "Turn the lock again!" Pat barked.  I did, and it turned as smoothly as a hot knife going through butter.  No problem.  It unlocked, and I was free.  I stared blankly at the women gathered in front of the bathroom door.  Now what?

Teresa's mom would take Teresa to school, for which she was now late while I got ready for school.  Pat the building manager said she'd drive me to school.  I shuddered at the thought of her elderly self behind the wheel of a car.

No, Teresa's mom insisted, she'd come back to get me.  Teresa's mom didn't like me all that much (in fact, she still doesn't), but heaven forbid someone else do her job.  Or get credit for my rescue.

I was able to get dressed and brushed and packed in the twenty minutes it took Teresa's mom to drive to school and back.  Once at school, I had to head directly to the dean's office for a note to admit me to class because I was horribly, horribly late.  I had already missed first period, second period, and homeroom.

I sheepishly entered his office.  This was not my first encounter with dean, nor would it be my last during my four years there.  He already knew me on sight.

"Why are you late?" he asked, getting out a pink slip to admit me to class.

I dutifully said, "I was stuck in my bathroom."  Two seniors who were working in the office during their study hall, collecting attendance slips and things, started snickering.

One of them said, "Yeah, a pink elephant sat on my car this morning; that's why I was late."

The dean managed to keep a straight face the entire time.  "I'll need a note from your mother," was all he said before sending me on my way. 

I don't know about you, but in my high school, when classes were in session, the halls were absolutely silent.  There was none of this "hanging out in the hallway" bullshit I've seen nowadays.  You were in a classroom or in the library.  If you were in the hallway, you better damn well have had a note saying why.

I clutched my note in my sweaty hand as my footsteps echoed loudly on the beige linoleum floors.  I think all Catholic schools have that same floor and the same beige wall tiles, too.  I had to go down the hall, down a flight of stairs to the second floor, then down another hallway to get to my third period class, Honors Biology.

I opened the door and tried to slip in as unobtrusively as possible.  But the teacher still looked at me, as well as twenty-four other pairs of eyes from their lab tables.  There was no way to not be obvious as I walked in late, even though I tried to be invisible (all five-feet, one-hundred pounds of me).

Mrs. B. regarded me and said, "Welcome, Leonard.  Why are you late?"

And again, I responded, "I was stuck in my bathroom."

While the classroom snickered, she, too, took it all in stride.  "You may take your seat," was all she said.  I slunk into my seat.

And forever after that, long after she had forgotten my actual name, ten, fifteen, twenty years later, she still remembers me as the girl who got stuck in her own bathroom.

Teresa and I both produced notes the next day from our mothers proving our story was true.  We were so terribly late to school because I was stuck in my bathroom.