Off to camp, with a bag full of books.

First: oops, I got extremely sidetracked by the end of the semester. However, all final exams have been completed, all papers edited and turned in, and everything moved out of my apartment on campus and back home.

While I will miss Boston during the summer, I can visit, and besides, it’s nice to see a bit more nature. I’ve been home a little more than two weeks, and I’m still loving all the trees. I went for a walk through the woods/along the Charles last week. It was beautiful out. One of my favorite shots from the walk...I took some pictures, despite my camera being somewhat broken now. (The screen is cracked, and there is no other viewfinder, so everything was taken a bit blindly.)

I think, after unpacking the last box of stuff I haphazardly stuffed into my closet when I got home, I finally have everything put away and organized and I can start to relax and enjoy this summer vacation…

Which brings me to the second, and main point, of this post: I’m going to camp. Not a real camp, mind you, but Camp NaNoWriMo. If you’re familiar with NaNoWrimo, National Novel Writing Month, Camp Nano is much the same. It just takes place in the summer, for those who can’t commit in November or just want an excuse to ingest large amounts of caffeine and stay up until all hours of the night writing. The premise is this: write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Sounds easy enough, right? So, this June, I will be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. That means that starting this Friday, June 1, until 11:59:59 PM on June 30, I will be writing, writing, and writing some more. About what? Well, I have no idea. I have yet to go into a NaNoWriMo month knowing what I’m going to be writing about. It’s part of the excitement, though. Who knows what I’ll end up with when the clock strikes midnight? It could be a pile of crap. It could be… slightly less than crap. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’ve got some spare time, so I figure, why not? I’ll try to update here as my writing progresses. (And Camp NaNo runs again in August, so maybe I will do it again then!)

Of course, I can’t just focus on writing. I’ve got a whole list of books that I want to read this summer. I’ve come up with a list to help me keep track. They are as follows:

Books I am currently reading:

  • Sphere, Michael Crichton
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Geographer’s Library, Jon Fasman

Books I have yet to start:

  • Rozencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard
  • Waiting for the Barbarians, JM Coetzee
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris
  • The Tiger’s Wife, Tea Obreht
  • The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain
  • The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Books I have previously read all or most of and want to reread/finish:
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  • On the Road, Jack Kerouac
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
  • The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

If all goes well, I’ll have made some progress on my very big stacks of unread books this summer and I won’t feel so guilty for having bought them all.

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Books, books, and… more books

It’s been a while since I updated, and while I would love to say it’s because I’ve been off on a great adventure, it’s been… much the same around these parts lately. Then again, college counts as an adventure, right?

The semester is winding down, and once again, I’m left wondering where the months went. I could’ve sworn I just got back from winter break last week. The 80F weather would say otherwise, though. As is customary to the end of the semester, the amount of work to do increases rapidly, yet the hours in the day stay much the same. Hysterical laughter is common in the apartment when looking at to-do lists and calendars.

I’ve spent much of the last few weeks working on a paper for one class, and at this point, it’s safe to say the paper has been kicking my ass through the various drafts. I’m not ready to give up just yet, though. I’ve still got another week or so to come out on top, and I intend to do just that.

Besides that, I’ve spent most of my time the way I usually do: with books. Reading them, buying them, wishing I had more shelf space in the apartment…

I suppose I’ll end here with a bit of a round up of my recently read, reread, and purchased books:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling – Sure, I’ve read it (literally) about a hundred times. This time, though, it was for a paper. (The one that’s been winning all the matches.) Finally, a chance to combine academia and HP.

Passing, Nella Larsen – Read for my Literature of the Harlem Renaissance class. Very interesting and quick read. We had several very interesting discussions and debates about the book in class. Worth a read if you have a few hours to spare.

The Laramie Project , Moises Kaufman – Fantastic read. Assigned for my Feminist and Gender Theories class, but it’d been on my To Read list for a while. It’s a play, so it reads fast, but damn, it packs a punch. A lot of the time I was reading through teary eyes.

And, of course, I had to buy a few books recently. I went up to Brookline Booksmith last night and and wandered around the bottom floor’s used books. I came out with two for $4.50: Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Michael Crichton’s Sphere. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to read them.

Before I can do that, however, I’ve got to read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson for class. I’ve heard a lot of things (not all good) about this book and the author, so I’m interested to see what it has to say.

Read anything interesting lately?

Alone Isn’t Lonely

“I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.”

– Olivia Wilde

I love spending time with my family and friends, I really do. Just hanging out, watching a movie? That’s great. Going out to dinner or just hanging out in the city is fantastic, too. However, there are times when I want nothing more than to be alone. It’s not that I don’t love being around people–I do. But, I also enjoy being by myself. I enjoy being left to my thoughts and observing the world around me at my own pace.

I think it’s refreshing, really. When I’m alone, there are no expectations. I am free to do as much or as little as I please. I think that a lot of people confuse being alone with being lonely. Though certainly you can be alone and lonely, and I have been before, I find the two are not always connected. I’ve been in a room full of people and felt very lonely, and I’ve been in my small apartment, entirely alone and felt completely content.

One of my favorite places to be alone is a bookstore. I think that’s cheating, though–I don’t really feel alone when all around me are characters itching to come alive. But really, winding my way through stacks of books, running my fingers along cracked spines and faded covers, without worrying about whether or not another person is bored and ready to go somewhere else is one of the best things in the world.

I’m also partial to coffee shops. They’re fantastic for watching other people, if you’re into that kind of thing. (I am.) Sometimes, I’ll bring a book, my iPod, or a pen, to give myself something to do with my hands. Sometimes, though, I’ll just sit and watch. Sometimes, I listen. I know it’s rude to eavesdrop, but you hear some great things over coffee.

And then there are the times when sitting in an empty apartment or quiet room with a cup of tea (and maybe playing your favorite music in the background) is all you can do. Those times, I think, are my favorite. The world is often a fast and confusing place, but sitting with a warm cup of tea and nothing but your thoughts to keep you company can slow it down, make it less scary.

While my happiness can certainly be affected by others, I do not want it to be dependent on them alone. I want to be able to find comfort and contentment in myself. I think the first step is being okay with being alone.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite videos, “How to Be Alone”

 

A Well-Timed Message

As the semester moves closer to its end, all the things that I’ve got to do before that time have started to roll together. Every time I  look at my to-do list, it’s packed closer and closer together and I feel more and more stressed.

By the end of the week, I’ve got to have a (minimum) ten page draft of a paper combining literary analysis and feminist theory (that I’m still trying to unravel and understand) ready to submit and revise. Before the week is even over, though, I’ve got a film to watch and a long list of film-related terms to define and give examples of for one class, a presentation to give on Langston Hughes in another, and a research project to develop for a fourth.

On top of that, I have to do things like eat, do laundry, and, apparently, find the Sword of Gryffindor in order to slay the Basilisk that is trying to come out of the shower wall.

I'm convinced this leads to the Chamber of Secrets.

The tiles have started a rebellion. One of them slipped out and landed on my foot the other week, and last night four more were on the verge of jumping, so I took them down to avoid any more foot-related injuries. Of course, now I’ve got to go fill out a maintenance request, and in the meantime, find a plastic bag or something so we don’t damage the wall while shampooing. Ugh.

So, I’m feeling a bit stressed. As soon as I finish one thing, another comes up. As soon as I think I’ve fixed one problem, something else says, “Hey, fix me!”

It’s not all bad, though. After my roommate was gracious enough to let me back into the building this morning (I forgot not only my keys, but my entire wallet when I left for a meeting two hours earlier. Really off to a great start this week.), I was greeted by a little card. Thank you!

It was a completely unexpected, but entirely welcome, little message from my site manager at work. There was no reason for it that I can discern–it’s been business as usual at work, really. It was just a little note expressing her appreciation for the work I’ve been doing, but it put a smile on my face on a day where I was really feeling stressed out and panicked by all of the work that I’ve still got to do before the semester ends early next month.

Perhaps I should find some time to send a few notes and cards to friends that I know are going through the same stressful end-of-semester blues as I am. I’ve also got to remember to stop and take some time to relax, even if I don’t think I can afford the break. Do you have any simple and effective tips for relaxing during a crazy busy time?

The Hunger Games: “But it’s so good!”

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the novel-turned-blockbuster by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. (If you haven’t, I’d love to know your secret for avoiding the madness.) From what I’ve gathered, it’s a big fight to the death reality show starring teenagers. See, I’ve tried reading The Hunger Games. Twice. The first go, I got through about five pages. The second, I almost finished the first chapter. I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t feel any connection with Katniss. The writing didn’t impress me. In short, I was bored by it.

A lot of people I’ve encountered lately, from friends to family to people on the Internet, have been fans of the book (and its two sequels). Upon expressing my own (rather apathetic) views on the book, I’ve been met with much the same response: “But it’s so good!” For some, that seems to be enough to convince anyone to reconsider, as if their previously formed opinions were sorely lacking this bit of insight.

But, I want to know: why is it “so good”? What about the characters do you like? What about them do you dislike? (I’m much more interested in the flaws of a character.) Do you think the plot was interesting, exciting, and engaging? These are things I want to know! If you think I’m mistaken in being bored by the books, and you feel passionately about their merits, share them with me instead of saying, “Oh, but really, they’re great!” I want reasons. I’m not saying you have to write an essay – although I would not object – but give me some reasons with some meat to them (says the vegetarian). Make me reconsider. Give me something to gnaw on and say, “Hmm, maybe I was wrong.”

While I don’t see myself attempting the book again any time soon, I’m going to give the movie a shot. Jennifer Lawrence was enjoyable in X-Men: First Class, so maybe she’s got something to bring to the table that will make me like Katniss. (Bonus: I heard Donald Sutherland was in the movie.)

As I write this, though, I remain ambivalent about The Hunger Games. Did you enjoy it? Hate it? What shaped your opinions?

And furthermore, does it take more than just “It’s so good!” to convince you to read/watch something? What do you want to hear before you invest your time into the latest pop culture phenomenon?

Going Broke, One Used Book at a Time

I’ve got a problem, and it’s the used book store down the street.

On my way back from classes or work, I like to stop by the Dunkin’ Donuts down the street to get a pick-me-up coffee before I face the long night of reading and studying ahead. However, after purchasing my medium hot regular (and cringing as the man behind me orders a large French Vanilla with five Splendas–seriously?), I face a daunting task: walking the three minutes to my apartment without getting sucked into the used book store halfway between the two. I swear, it’s like they’ve got a bunch of dusty, slightly yellowed and dog-eared Sirens calling my name from just inside the door.

Alas, I’ve no beeswax to plug my ears with, so more often than not, I end up there for hours at a time. I once had to text my roommate to have her come rescue me. I’m no expert on time travel, but I’m convinced that by stepping through the door, I’m also stepping through some vortex that makes the hours go all wibbly-wobbly.

The real problem comes when I’ve finally convinced myself I really need to go and do homework, like, an hour and a half ago: checkout. After resigning myself to the fact that I’m not making it out of there empty-handed (and that, once again, I should have purchased the large coffee because mine is long since gone), I lose all restraint and end up with a precariously balanced stack of books. Fortunately, the wonder of used book stores is that they are cheap. “It’s only $10,” I tell myself. Unfortunately, I know I’ll be back within a day or two, when I’ll only spend $5 (lies). It’s starting to add up, but I can’t stop myself. I can’t read them as fast as I buy them, but still I keep going.

My most recent purchases include:

  • The Portable Oscar Wilde
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by JM Coetzee
  • The Geographer’s Library by Jon Fasman
Grand total: something under $15, so I didn’t feel (that) bad shoving the receipt in my wallet right next to the one from the previous day.

What are your latest book store conquests? What’s the best deal you’ve found so far?

What I’ve Learned from 4 Year Olds

There’s a bit of advice I’ve seen floating around the Internet once or twice before:

Spend more time with people over the age of 70 and those under the age of 6.

While I don’t have the opportunity to spend much time with people over the age of 70 (I should look into that), since October of 2010 I’ve spent at least three afternoons a week working as a tutor/assistant in a local Boston preschool. At first, I thought it’d just be a good way to earn my work-study money. How hard could it be working in a preschool?

Well, as it turns out, getting things done in a classroom of 20 kids ages 4 to 5 is actually a lot of work. I’ve found myself facing many challenges and having to think of new ways to handle all manner of situations. As the academic year winds down for me and the topic of our preschool graduation comes up (twice today alone), I find myself thinking back on the time I’ve spent with these children and smiling. While they will most likely not remember me several months from now when they’re off to kindergarten, I will carry with me many memories of them.

When I started working in the school, I never imagined how much you could learn from a person so young. Yet, I’ve learned some very important lessons that I’d do well to remember:

  • You’re never too old to play dress up. Go ahead and put on those ten bead necklaces, your biggest sunglasses, and the silliest hat you can find for a picnic of plastic grapes, cake, and tea. Pretend to be a superhero and save the day. Whomever you choose to be, put all your effort into it.
  • Always find it in yourself to forgive those you consider friends. Whether they knocked over your Lego castle or broke a promise, don’t hold a grudge. Life is too short to spend time fighting with those you care about. Apologize and mean it, and then move on.
  • A hug can solve many problems. Whether you’re having a terrible day, you miss someone, or you’ve got a case of the Mondays, a hug can go a long way. (They’re just as nice on good days, too.)
  • Sometimes, you really don’t want to do anything but draw pictures of zombies, and that’s okay. There are days when the only thing to do is draw yourself facing down an army of the undead. Go with it.

While I find myself sad that the children I’ve watched grow over the past years will soon be moving on, I look forward to meeting new children who have all sorts of things to teach me about life and zombie fighting.