Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

As I move through my thirties and am now almost 40, I am learning some really important things about myself that I wish my elders had shared with me. My younger readers need to understand that your body doesn’t start breaking down in your 50s and 60s. IT STARTS IN YOUR THIRTIES, CHILDREN.

Man, there are so many things that I just can’t eat anymore. I’ve been listing them as they arise, but one of the things is pizza and I’m just not willing to give that up. Fried seafood, tomato-based sauces, and raw onions are all there too. One of the literary agents I follow on Twitter said he wished someone had told him how much of his thirties would be spent keeping his stomach acid in the right place. Shit man, that’s real and I’m telling you now that it is true and you should watch out because it’s coming for you.

Also did you know your feet can swell even if you aren’t pregnant? It’s a new phenomenon for me, but it happened to me the first time this summer when I attended the Advanced Placement training. I walked the 5983492873432 miles from the building where my training was to the student center in my Kadie Croc Flats to use my free food voucher, then walked all the way back. Later that night I reclined and didn’t recognize my foot because it was a sphere instead of a foot. This happened again last week when I was moving into my classroom and walking all over my new school to attend meetings. One day my toes on my left foot almost disappeared, the next my right ankle bump was completely engulfed. The lessons I’ve learned here are that I need better shoes and that I need to limit my activity to walking from/to my car at work and walking on the treadmill at the gym. I have to be careful I don’t hurt myself so I don’t find myself in a situation where I can’t walk at all.

I am thirty-five fucking years of age and EVERYTHING HURTS. Some nights I can’t even roll over in bed without my right hip sending lightning bolts of pain up through my back and refusing to move. I do more with my right leg so sometimes my right heel hurts so badly I have to limp. Earlier this week I somehow injured my upper back so that moving my left arm was almost impossible and it still feels like a golf ball is wedged under my left shoulder blade today.

I have begun to have new kinds of headaches where it feels like someone set the top  of my brain on fire a la one of those flaming desserts they serve table-side at fancy restaurants. Sleeping doesn’t help them go away, only Tylenol has managed to make dents. I would like to send up a #blessed  for my usual migraines staying away during this difficult time but I have to say that I’m not a big fan of what seems to be replacing them.

Also apparently the husband found my first grey hair but it didn’t have the decency to sprout where I could see it, he found it in the back. I looked but I couldn’t find it. I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR FIVE WHOLE YEARS TO START GOING GREY AND I CAN’T EVEN CONFIRM IT’S HAPPENING. What a rip off.

I’ll just limp off to bed now. I bid all your creaking joints a pleasant evening. ❤

The Wedding Date

The Wedding Date

I don’t read a lot of romance novels. I’m not sure why that is, or why the entirety of my romance experience is Nora Roberts trilogies, but The Wedding Date was a new experience for me which has widened my view on what a romance novel is and can be.

The main characters get trapped in a elevator when the power goes out in their hotel, and in the time they have to meet cute and get to know each other he has nervously asked her to join him at the wedding he is in town for as his plus one. She agrees and pretends to be his girlfriend for both the rehearsal dinner and the reception. They discover that they are very attracted to each other throughout the course of the two outings and when they go back to his hotel room after the reception (that’s where she got ready for the wedding to help add to the girlfriend lie) they have sex.

The rest of the book is them having as much sex as humanly possible while working in two completely different cities that require them to fly to see each other on weekends. I enjoyed how Guillory also incorporated ideas about weight, race, and the tenuous situation of communicating via text. The number of times they almost break up because one of them assumes the worst over an emotionless text (or an intended joke) adds a bit of tension to their love fest.

I appreciated that Guillory gave me what I usually complain about missing in other romance series: the passage of time. Crazy, immediate attraction and constant sexing is a lot easier to believe when it isn’t followed up by being in love and getting married within a three month span. This book was believable. Even their stumbling blocks of texting and the distance were believable. It was a stumbly-bumbly beginning of a relationship that would feel familiar to anyone that’s ever suffered through those first few months.

My only critique is that after the initial anticipation of the rehearsal dinner and reception, there isn’t a lot of build up to the actual sex. The first time they have sex you’ll be like “YES THAT’S RIGHT” and then ever other time it’s just BAM THEY ARE TOGETHER SEX which I get because that’s what the honeymoon phase is but, I mean, romance me a little. They’re supposedly texting constantly, lemme see some of those sexy exchanges. This is a small critique though, because this book was really good.

You learn some things about how the world works AND you get a hot steamy romance. Learning and licking (LOL). Go get you some.

The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles #2)

The Wise Man's Fear

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles #1)

This book has taken me a little over a month to read, mostly because it’s 1,000 pages and significantly more boring than the first one. I can’t even remember now what happened in the first like 250 pages of the book – the basics are that Kvothe and his friends come together for a caper against his nemesis Ambrose Jakis that involved setting his apartments on fire and stealing back something Ambrose stole. While it cannot be proven that Kvothe did it, there is enough information at hand that in his current financial situation he would be unable to afford the very subjective tuition amount that he would be given by the professors at his admissions interview. So the professors that like him, along with his friends, advise him to go out into the world and seek his fortune for a bit to let things cool down.

One of his friends from the Eolian where he performs says he has a possible patron for him. The Maer of a city across the sea is willing to entertain having him  and has requested assistance with a delicate matter. So Kvothe takes a ship that is attacked and sinks, and he survives with nothing but the clothes on his back and his lute case and somehow makes it to Severen, the town next to the Maer’s estate. The Maer wants Kvothe to write songs and poems and things to help him win the heart of the eligible Lady Lackless from the neighboring  city so he can produce some heirs. Kvothe helps, but then he’s sent away with a band of mercenaries to deal with bandits that are stealing the Maer’s taxes from his tax collectors on the road.

I mean, I would tell you more but I’m not really interested in giving you a full book synopsis. I want to tell you how it made me feel, or how exciting it was. The story was still interesting in that how a sixteen year old boy survives on his wits alone and the occasional infusion of cash is enough tension to keep me reading for the inevitable fall from grace. Seeing Rothfuss expand his world beyond the University was interesting too. Kvothe has to learn the cultural norms of the Maer’s nobility and then, after he deals with the tax bandits he goes to the Ademre where he has to pass a series of tests to be accepted into their society as well. Oh, and he fucks a famous Fae creature that he stumbles upon on his journey. That interlude is looooooooooong but necessary because he encounters a creature there that might not be such a good thing for his psyche.

It’s a book 2, what can I say? I mean, was I expecting more information about the Chandrian that killed his parents in the first book and set him on this course in the first place? Yes. Am I constantly surprised when I am reminded that I’m reading about a 16 year old boy doing all this crazy shit? Yes. Was I just as irritated about the presence of Denna flitting about and advancing the plot not a whit? YES. But we moved forward in the story, we got a little info here and there, and he’s back at the University at the end right where he belongs. This sets up his future expulsion I guess? How it possible for a main character to go to so many places and still have the plot go nowhere?

The thing I’m the most upset about is the fact that the Amyr/Chandrian issue doesn’t move forward at all. There are seven of these terrible creatures and I know nothing about them. I can’t picture them. All I know is that they show up like Beetlejuice if you say their names too much and they kill everyone within half a mile of the naming. I’m just not convinced they are any worse than any of the other crazy shit waiting to kill Kvothe at the University, including his own mishandling of sympathy (magic). How am I supposed to feel tension and fear about a group of creatures I don’t even see more than once in 2,000 pages?

I’m a patient woman, and the storytelling in these books is quality enough to keep me reading. But some shoes have got to start dropping. Soon. Which doesn’t seem likely since The Wise Man’s Fear came out in 2011 and there’s no third book in sight.

You should still go read it. It’s a good book. Just know that there will probably never be a third.

The Myth of the Schoolhouse

Three things happened in the past week or so that, to me, indicated that teaching and public education in this country has taken a turn for the worse. All of the protests in the past 12 months aside, if you are listening, you can see that we are heading for a very large brick wall.

Private Schools

LeBron James opened a school in Akron for a little under 300 students where he provided everything for free. You can read about it there, and honestly unless you’ve been living under a rock you have to have heard a little bit about it. People are heralding it as a wonderful thing, and for that community there is no doubt that it is. But that’s only 280 kids. The Akron School District is the fifth largest in Ohio and 22,000 students are enrolled in that public school system.

This is a perfect example of why education must be properly funded by all members of the community through taxation or referendum measures. One incredibly famous and rich basketball player shouldn’t be responsible for saving at-risk kids. Our tax system should be set up to support every kid in every PUBLIC school. Kids going to school is a legal requirement, we force them to be there. It should NEVER be a financial burden to do something that we are forced to do, especially when the schools catch everyone. If the community requires extra supports for uniforms and food and transportation, then the elected officials and councilmen need to pass measures to spread that financial need across the community so those supports are funded and provided.

The pendulum is so far in the “if I don’t use it, I don’t want my tax dollars used for it” direction, that it is getting heavy and ready to swing back the other way. People are discovering that the crumbling of things that they don’t use is starting to have an effect n things they do use, and since we are in an age where people don’t are about things that don’t directly affect them maybe they will finally help.

I don’t want Amazon schools or Microsoft schools or Beyonce schools or Oprah schools. I don’t want to put celebrities and rich people up on a pedestal and throw flowers at them and applaud because they made a school for 200 kids. I want taxes and funding to be structured in a way that ensures that they all MUST contribute. I want schools that are a public service to the community that the community (businesses, individuals, families, etc) invests in with the understanding that an educated populace pays the community back by becoming responsible, informed citizens that will contribute to the world and continue the cycle.

Poverty

I am in my first week of school right now. In the first week teachers are in the schools alone setting up their classrooms and planning. This year I moved to a school that is a Title 1 school. This means that the population is at-risk and a high percentage of free and reduced lunch students. Apparently some teachers here are not…sensitive(?) to this situation, and so on the very first day we were put through what the Title 1 Facilitator from the district office called a poverty simulation.

Before I talk about that, two days before this activity the district sent out an email about a “storefront” that they usually have for things like families who can’t afford uniforms or kids who can’t afford prom dresses. Only this year they have opened it to teachers because they assumed that we have spent SO MUCH ON OUR CLASSROOMS THAT WE CAN’T AFFORD PROFESSIONAL WORK CLOTHES FOR OURSELVES. The email even included that accessories and shoes would be available.

So two days after receiving this email I am forced to participate in this poverty simulation to teach me, a teacher who might not even be able to afford their own work clothes, how to survive on not enough money and dodging obstacles that poor people face (car breaking down, kids in trouble at school, renewing food stamps) every day.

The tone deafness of this was amazing. You’re so poor you need charity but here’s what it’s like to be poor so you understand. I was so anxious and panicky at the end of that activity that I completely skipped the planned “debrief” because I didn’t want to hear older, less debt-ridden teachers talk about what an eye-opener the activity was and oh how hard it must be and how thankful they are to not have to deal with that kind of life. I’m trying to have a good start here and not make one million enemies, and if I had gone I would have spoken up for myself in an emotionally charged way, so it’s better I took a step back.

This only adds to my anger about how teachers and schools are funded and treated, but what really took the cake was…

Vroom!

this story about how a parent bought a teacher a new car so she could get to work. A similar story about people handing money over to a teacher on a plane is just as infuriating. Isn’t it nice how you can take advantage of someone’s poverty to make yourself a nice attention grabbing Twitter/Instagram moment? Never mind that if we all paid a little bit, single individuals wouldn’t have to pay as much.

It looks like an economy car, but let’s assume it’s the next level up, like a Kia Rio – $14,000 purchase price. If I used my current district as an example:

Total residents: 459,023 people
Total teachers: ~6,000

If the tax paying residents of *** County wanted to insure that teachers had a working car to get them to work and back, each individual person would need to pay a Teachers Get a Car Tax of $182 each. Of course we could, instead of buying a car, give every teacher a $14,000 raise. And of course every person wouldn’t pay $182, that would be the average tax burden. But you get the idea.

We all have to fund this stuff. If we do, then individuals don’t have to put up tens of thousands of dollars, and everyone benefits, not just one lucky teacher like it’s some kind of crazy lottery. This isn’t a game show, this is real life.

***

Those 200 kids get a new chance, but how many are still suffering and falling through the cracks? That one teacher gets a new car – how much would we bet that family brings that up at the next parent teacher conference? How many other teachers are doing the same thing or are just one car repair away from figuring out a bus route?

We have to stop accepting these flash in the pan stories as enough and start demanding that education is funded so that these stories don’t happen anymore. Their presence is a red flag, and honestly I’m worried.

As if there wasn’t enough to be worried about.

Second Reading: Six of Crows

Six of Crows

I read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo back in October of 2016 (original review linked). It is the inspiration for the team component of my current novel, and so I returned to read it again now to remind me how the elements and points of view worked together. This is not so much a review as it is a revisit to see if any of my opinions changed from the first reading and to encourage you to enjoy some of my favorite books.  

There are only a few authors that I trust so implicitly that I would preorder their books without taking them out of the library first. One of these authors is Leigh Bardugo. I have read every single one of her books and they all are amazing and I will sing her praises from on high until everyone that can hear me has read her books.

I was in a bit of a reading lull this summer. Every book I picked up seemed to make fart noises into my brain and I couldn’t get into any of them, even the ones that were identified as HOT SUMMAH READS. Eventually this got tiresome so I decided to return to the Grisha universe and reread Six of Crows.

This book goes from 0 to 60mph in 2.5 seconds and it never stops. Everyone is hot, and while you might think that’s creepy because they are all 16-18 years old I will repeat what I said in my original review and say that you forget all about that. Their age doesn’t matter. This story could be written with them as older teens or in their mid-thirties and it would still work. So I choose to see Kaz Brekker as a cranky af 32yo ready to get some crazy revenge and I AM HERE FOR IT.

The backstories are absolute gold. Kaz’s traumatic childhood experience with the death of his brother and being fooled past the poorhouse and into the streets of Ketterdam. You see exactly why he is who he is and why, and you understand that he has one purpose, which is to get revenge on Pekka Rollins for essentially murdering his brother and creating the bastard of the Barrel.

Nina is me and I am Nina – a Heartrender Grisha who can control people’s hearts, pulses, and consciousness. She longs for her home in Ravka and is wrapped up with Matthais, a soldier from the very anti-Grisha country where the prison is that they have been hired to break into and steal a scientist who has come up with a formula for a drug that will turn all Grisha into drug addled killing machines.

This book is just so fucking tight. It’s the perfect game of Tetris. Everything makes sense. Everything has a purpose. Everything fits. Bardugo does not waste a single word or action. Everything that happens moves us towards a goal, one of six mind you. Intertwined with the character stories and backstories is an unfurling of the world that they work in. All the different locations are mentioned and described in this book and you get a sense of what a person coming from each location might believe, especially in relation to Grisha and the use of “magic” (what they call the Small Science).

This book is one that I love so much that I have a difficult time describing why. I just want to shove it in your hands and then sit there and wait until you are done reading it so we can talk about it together because you will love it too.

If you haven’t yet, PLEASE, go get you some.

The Distance Home

The Distance Home

Book due to be published on August 7, 2018.

This book was provided to me by Random House publishing as an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review.

It is difficult to describe how growing up poor in a rural area is different. Even to my own ears it sounds like whining. Perhaps I’m too close to the issue, the kind of thing that happens when a teacher is SO smart about the content she is teaching but cannot break it into its pieces to help students understand it, it difficult for me to point a finger at exactly what elements made the whole thing so miserable.

This is why I am thankful for Paula Sanders’ novel The Distance Home. Reading this book was painful for me because so much of it rang so true and so deep in my bones from my childhood that at a couple of points I had to put the book down for a couple of days just to recover so I could read on.

Even sitting down to write this review it’s difficult for me to unwind the tangled web that is this novel. The distant father, the mother who hates her mother-in-law and plays favorites with her children. The homophobic environment of any rural area that enforces the manliest man idea while destroying anything outside of that definition. The restriction of women to certain roles.

The most tragic part of this tale is how the son, who is not homosexual, simply loves to dance, especially ballet. He is good at it, it makes him light up inside, it gets him through the day. It’s the classic story for why we should have arts in school – that for some kids that’s what they enjoy and put their efforts into, and that’s just as valuable as math and science.

But of course his dad is ashamed of him but proud of his daughter who eventually joins him at the dance studio where he studies. His mom and dad fight over how he is treated by his dad, how he is never encouraged or recognized for his skill and effort. His dad sends him to work at a ranch to get the “phase” to pass, he beats the ever-loving daylights out of him, and eventually it is inferred that he is raped by a photographer who takes him for a special photo session alone with his mother’s permission after providing photos for the dance studio’s advertisements.

It is passive neglect. Day after day hoping things will just happen and when they don’t (or happen but not how they expected) anger is the only way to address the disappointment. The lack of communication ability, the constant fights that reinforce anxiety and inadequacy in the children, the poor school system and insular community – everything is set up for these talented, passionate children to be forced into unhealthy patterns and habits just to get by.

I appreciate that Saunders made her ending realistic. These people are damaged, there isn’t a happy ending for them. The daughter escapes, but she doesn’t escape whole, she escapes with bites taken out of her and does what she has to do to stay away, successful, and “safe.” This pressure alone, the pressure to “make it” and escape where you came from, is still the pressure of poverty. The danger of making a mistake and backsliding is always there, so you must double your efforts to keep it at bay because there is no safety net if you fall. Only poverty and the abuse it fosters, both physical and mental.

I think amidst all these Cletus-safaris (stories about “real” Americans) and attempts to romanticize and explain rural America it is helpful to be reminded that these areas are harmful. They are real, but they are dangerous. So much of what we are seeing in the national spotlight: racism, sexism, violence, aggressiveness towards gender diversion – this has been the American reality for years, especially in the places where the national spotlight didn’t reach (until now). This is America, and it is damaging in the long-term for people who have no choice but to be born into its clutches.

If you were not born in a rural area you need to read this book. It’s perfect. It depicts what it is and you will feel what it feels like because Saunders’ writing is evocative and clear. It also serves as a reminder that in the midst of our current national crisis, there are probably millions of people living in very real fear due to nothing other than the element of chance in where they were born.

This is a real one. Go get you some.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Scaachi

Scaachi Koul is one of my favorite personalities on Twitter. I discovered her through other people that I already knew and followed, because they would constantly favorite and retweet her stuff. In my current online friends existence that was the best endorsement she could have received, and so I clicked a follow. I have not been disappointed. She’s fabulous.

Her collection of essays dropped in 2017, but I didn’t buy it until I saw it at the AWP writing conference in March. I brought it home and it sat on my bookshelf, waiting for me to work my way through my library holds that had deadlines. I finally put a hold on my holds (for now!) so I could focus more on my ARCs and owned books, and Koul’s collection was the first book I grabbed.

I have no contact with my family other than my grandmother. Finally taking the step to disconnect has made my life so much better than it had been. So when I began reading the life and times of Scaachi and her family, it seemed very close and boisterous in comparison to my no family at all. It was lovely to read about how much her parents cared about her, and funny when they seemed to care too much.

This collection of essays speaks to the pull of obligation. Obligation to family, friends, relationships, and yourself, and how you balance them all to cobble together a semblance of a balanced, fulfilling life. Because her connection to family is so strong, things like moving across the country (Canada) to go to college or dating a significantly older and white man were difficult, even when she knew they were what was right for her as an individual.

Obligation comes out of not only family but culture, because she struggles to remain connected to a culture that she has never truly grown up in. As a child of Indian immigrants that was raised in Canada, she talks about how she feels like she’ll never really be home. This discussion takes us through the racism she experiences as a result of her body type and brown skin in Canada, and then the privilege she experiences when she visits family in India and her skin is suddenly light there and a sign of being a part of the upper class. That her body and appearance could go from reviled to revered so quickly must have been (and still is) very confusing and strange.

This is an important collection to read in this moment in time. Understanding the different elements of the immigrant experience must come from as many sources as possible, and Scaachi is an amazing storyteller that will take you from Canada to India and back again. The reading that we do must include books like Scaachi’s, written by authors from all over the world about a myriad of experiences so that we can be sure to never let ignorance or inexperience stop us from being understanding, intelligent, accepting, empathetic, and supportive.

This was an amazing, quick, informative, wonderful read. Go get you some.