Feb 192015
 

I’ve never much been a fan of the cozy mystery, though I’ve loved mysteries since I was small. I do, however, enjoy mystery series, watching the lead character evolve across installments. A cozy mystery, though, was always a bit too…cozy for my taste, the towns quaint, the characters a little too one dimensional, the tropes a bit forced.

Last year was a dark and stormy year – maybe not literally, but in 2014, I read 68 books; roughly 27 of those were cozy mysteries.

Literary fiction felt too hard last year, and that’s every bit the pathetic statement it sounds. Cozy mysteries, for all their fun, are easy reads. The characters don’t change much. There’s no real darkness to most of them, as often there isn’t even a murder with which to contend. They are, in essence, an excellent way to shield readers from anything too tawdry – no sex, no murder, no dark secrets.

I think last year’s hiatus from blogging (a couple posts here and there don’t count) was largely due to the constant stream of cozies coming in and out of my house, as I would return them to a secondhand bookstore and pick up a handful more. As a “serious book blogger,” reading cozies felt like cheating, and I guess in a way it was. So why on earth would I blog about cheating? And while I’m every bit a proponent of reading what you want when you want, something felt off – for me, personally. [I say this because one of my very favorite blogs Kittling: Books only really discusses cozy mysteries, and she is my go-to source for new authors of the genre.]

I started reading these as an experiment for writing one of my own. I loved Josie Belle’s books; I hated Joanne Fluke’s books with Hannah the baker as the protagonist. Yet if you look at the list of what I read, Joanne Fluke appeared most often. That infuriated/s me as each book begins the same way: the reader is introduced to a character that may have popped up in a previous book but whom the reader doesn’t know well. That person is killed, often with Hannah’s baked goods partially eaten or lying around the victim. Recipes abound. Hannah’s sister (wife of the police chief) and mother help out. Sometimes her younger sister appears. Two men, one the town’s dentist and the other a detective, vie for her affection, playfully, without so much as a hint of actual jealousy. And after each book I went back, not fully comprehending how Hannah (in the 21st century!) existed without a cell phone or laptop and what on earth made her so interesting two men would love (and be ok with loving) a woman who kissed both of them at random, always wondering which she should pick.

See? Doesn’t just the description make you a bit insane? The boyfriend, politely I must say, consistently wondered why I would show up with yet another baked goods mystery each time. “Don’t you hate those?” he’d ask (because yes, I do subject him to these conversations). “Yes,” I’d answer, and shove my nose back into the book.

Perhaps I’d forgive myself if 2014 were a rough year. If, say, I’d lost a job or been ill, or had a loss in the family, or, or, or. But I can’t use any of those excuses. 2014 was a wonderful year. My brother got married in New York. The guy and I celebrated a one-year anniversary. I loved my job and expanded the work we do. My only excuse was that I edited several manuscripts last year – one a serious memoir, another a piece of nonfiction, and yet another, a translated short story collection.

If I even tried to pick up something more serious, I’d end up a few pages in, bored or, worse, passive.

I’ve read some wonderful posts in recent months about the need for diversity in reading (Estella’s Revenge is only one), and while, yes, actual diversity in terms of race and experience and gender are all very necessary for our whitewashed Western world, these posts have only reinforced also my own personal need for diversity among genre and topic.

Cozy mysteries sucked me in. It was like a diet of all cookies, all the time. And I loooove cookies. Iced sugar ones, especially. But a diet of iced sugar cookies can only sustain one for so long. I binged last year, it’s true. And while I won’t say I’m quitting cold turkey, I’m modifying my reading diet.

2015 has already introduced me to wonderful nonfiction and fiction (one coming out in April that I cannot wait to tell you all about), and I’m determined to make 2015 a more well-balanced year.

Every now and again, when I feel the little gray cloud appear above my head, I’ll indulge in the “dark and stormy” variety of fiction. Until then, I think I’ll set my sights on more gourmet fare.

Jan 262015
 

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I have a guy I pretty regularly refer to as “my comic book guy” – we’ve never met, but a good friend of mine introduced us online years ago. My comic book guy is my go-to for anything comics related. As a latecomer to comics, I’m continually overwhelmed by the different iterations of certain characters or the backstory the blockbuster films usually only provide glimpses of, and Ryan’s blog The Signal Watch provides the answers to many of my questions.

So when I read Comic Book Guy aka Ryan’s post about the new Agent Carter, I was super pumped. You see, after I watched the last Avengers film, I wouldn’t leave my boyfriend alone, complaining that the Black Widow should rate her own film – and I still think she should. I loved how Ryan talks about his wife’s reaction to the show:

But Jamie was sitting three feet from me, and she was beaming the same way I do when Cap throws his mighty shield, The Falcon zips around on his wings or Rocket Raccoon pretty much does anything.  And I understand why.  As much as I like Gamora or Black Widow or Pepper Potts and think they’re good characters, they’re in a supporting role for Star Lord, Iron Man, etc…   Tonight, Jamie got her own Marvel hero.

Not only did I get my own Marvel hero, but I got her in my favorite time period! If you haven’t seen the show, it follows Agent Peggy Carter after World War II, after the events of the first Captain America film. Already, women are losing jobs as vets are returning to the States. Agent Carter was in the middle of the action during the war, but now her superiors expect her to get coffee and answer the phone. However, Howard Stark is accused of being a traitor and asks Agent Carter for her help. Weapons he’s created were stolen and are being sold and used stateside, so Peggy, with the help of Jarvis, one of Stark’s men, must protect the people from these weapons while at the same time following the trail of the mastermind, which she does – always one step ahead of her male counterparts, and clearing Stark.

I have to tell you, even though we’re only a few weeks in, I adore this show. Haley Atwell’s performance as Agent Carter is great: she’s tough, glam, witty, and efficient. Carter uses the rampant sexism around her to her own advantage while still fighting it when and where she can. Unlike Willa Paskin’s review in Slate, I think thus far Agent Carter has done an excellent job of highlighting the trials of women in the post-war workplace while still making a fun, entertaining action TV show. I also disagree that the action is ham fisted. What Willa Paskin seems to want is a show about a comic book character without any other snares of the comic world, and that’s not fair. She complains that for a show about a female character, there are very few women in the show…except that the show is highlighting what a rarity it was for a female agent to be in her place at that time. As of the third episode, Peggy is moving into an all-female apartment at the urging of a waitress she’s befriended, so I think the argument about the lack of female characters is thin as well.

A radio show featuring Captain America and another character based on Agent Carter consistently pops up, reminding viewers of Carter’s loss but also of the ways in which America made palatable the role of women in war – the damsel in distress, the nurse in love, etc. However, though this may sound heavy handed, one particular scene shows a fight on the radio show (complete with the hysterical female) interspersed with Agent Carter fighting and winning against an opponent. The juxtaposition is funny and timely.

Though Agent Carter is slated only for a short season – eight episodes – I guarantee I will be watching every one.

Dec 222014
 

So I have a confession. I am a lifelong nail biter. I’ve always been an anxious person, even when I was little. For me, as a child that translated to biting my nails. My mom and grandmother tried all the tricks to get me to grow my nails out. None worked.

Then two years ago, around my birthday, one nail had a bit of white on it. Then another. And it became a game to see if I could grow my nails out. I did, and my sister took me to get my nails done on my birthday. Then when the polish came off, so did the nails. Whoops.

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This spring, I tried again and succeeded! I even learned to paint my own nails, though it was frustrating because the polish only seemed to last a couple of days at a time.

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In the weeks leading up to my brother’s wedding in New York in November, I splurged for shellac, because it lasts and kept temptation at bay. I even went with some pretty bold color choices, for me.

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Alas, the wedding is over, and I’m back to the budget. I had the shellac removed at the salon and had them paint my nails in regular old polish. But! That polish lasted a full ten days without chipping. I know this sounds trivial, but if you like to paint your nails, this is a big deal! The polish? Morgan Taylor. I was impressed enough to actually buy some online, and I’m still impressed a month or so later. I gave my mom and sis a bottle each in their stockings, and Santa brought me a few as well, so my nail polish cup runneth over. :)

I’m obviously a newbie to this, but I’m having so much fun. At some point, the newness may wear off, but in the meantime, I’ll set up my manicure shop while I watch a couple episodes of The Mindy Project and have myself a good time.

 

 

Dec 172014
 

Once upon a time, I used to write. Not blog posts but fiction. Short stories. And then one day, probably around the time I began writing my thesis, I stopped writing fiction. My writing became academic in nature, focused on specific purposes – graduating, publishing, achieving. I miss those days of writing fiction every once in a while. But maybe every once in a while, I’ll post a snippet. Something to keep my hand in the game. Dialogue. A scene. Eh, we’ll see. [Notice:strong language ahead.]

********

He lay on his back in the grass, the blades pricking his skin. Her dog crawled all over him, lapping at his face. He could feel her approaching, could feel her hesitate as she neared him.

“Do you know what eternity feels like?” he asked her.

She sat down next to him, carefully curling herself so that none of her skin touched the grass.

“No, I don’t,” she answered.

“It feels fucking horrible. And every eternity makes me want to just end it, make everything go black.”

“But if it’s every eternity, then it ends, right? It’s not eternal.”

She didn’t get it. No one got it, and it’s partially why he had to scare them.

“I brought a knife to my face. I tried to cut myself, but I couldn’t. Because I guess even though eternity is the absolute worst thing, your brain or something in you still wants you to live. How fucked up is that?”

“Wanting to live is fucked up?”

He ignored her and played with the dog, his eyes narrowing as the dog stopped to search his face. The dog licked his nose, and he licked her back.

“See that? People think dogs are dirty. But I’m an animal. I’m dirty.”

“Well, technically, we’re all animals.”

“Nope. Not true. Some of us are much more animal than others.”

She hugged her knees and turned away from him, and he knew she was finished. No one could listen for long, not even people he paid to listen.

“You know what it’s like?”

“What?”

“Eternity. It’s like waiting in a fucking doctor’s office when you’re sick. And it’s cold, and you feel like shit, and sometimes you shake, and no one fucking cares. They’re there to take your money, which they always do first, and then they make you wait. And you start playing games with yourself. Maybe by the time the little hand gets to the three, you’ll go in. Except it doesn’t happen, so you make something else up. And of course you don’t have a book with you. A book would help pass the time. It would take your mind off the waiting, but in this kind of waiting, you just sit there, miserable, waiting for something you have no control over.”

His voice broke. “And you just want to feel better.”

She reached across the grass and touched his arm, and he gripped her hand.

He hadn’t slept in days. He thought it was about eight days, but at this point, he had no way of knowing. Day turned into night turned into day, and he walked the streets or rode his bike through the light and the dark, only pausing to ask for something to drink, like now. He mapped the neighborhood according to friends who would still speak to him, bright spots on a map, but even those were dimming.

She was bright now, but he could feel her light flicker. Each time he said something harsh or something he knew she didn’t like, her light dimmed, and even though he knew he could control that, he couldn’t stop it. He was a god. He saw parts of people they had no clue existed.

“Your light’s gone. You’re not real.” She took her hand from his.

“What do you mean I’m not real? I’m sitting here, talking to you. Doesn’t get any more real.”

“But you’re not real real. Your light’s gone.”

He avoided her eyes, knowing what he’d see. She was scared of him, and he hated her for it.

“I’m Satan. But Satan’s not bad. I’m Satan, and all Satan is is a dude who wanted to be something. A dude who knew he was really good. And that makes him bad. And nobody gets that.”

 ********

Dec 102014
 

Happy end of the semester! Oh, you don’t count your time like that? Whoops. I’ve thought a lot recently about marking time. My brother got married a couple of weeks ago, and the weeks and months leading up to that were thrilling. My entire family looked for places to stay, watched flight prices change ever so slightly, and hunted for dresses and clothes for the event obsessively. So obsessively, I’ve worried we might be depressed by the time it was all over. But here we are, and we’re all doing just fine. For me, though, it’s necessary to have points on the calendar to look forward to, places delineating the time before and the time after, special dates with friends and family.

Once upon a time, I had a Dilbert planner. And by Dilbert planner, I mean a black agenda with a foldover latch in the shape of Dilbert’s head. Inside were snippets of the cartoon and stickers in the shapes of the main characters, and I. Freaking. Loved it. For several years they had the refills for sale, and I would fill out my mail order form and get the next year to put inside. And then they discontinued that line.

For a few years after that, I wavered. I didn’t know what to do without Dilbert and tried the mini-purse-calendar route, which was largely unsuccessful. Then I found Pam Socolow’s Family Facts On-the-Go Organizer. It had everything I wanted – monthly calendars, the week on two pages, envelopes to store receipts or business cards, stickers, pen holder…and it went out of business after I used it for three years.

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I then entered what I call the “Dark Years” – the absence of a stable, reliable planner hit right as I entered my adjunct years, a dark dark time.

So last year when I got the job as Writing Center Director, I knew it was time to step back into the world of serious planners, but I couldn’t find anything I liked, so I just created my own planner from supplies I found at Target – essentially I found a spiral-bound planner that I liked and ripped out the pages to insert it into a much cuter and more functional mini binder. But it was homemade and started acting like it. My punched holes weren’t perfect, and some of the pages pulled out. The binder itself didn’t hold up well, though of course, I had used it daily since January.

Then in August, I got a request for a series of presentations in January and then in March. And no planner in which to mark these dates. Plus, my job includes both duties as a program director and a faculty member and faculty senator, and that sort of schedule gets crazy. I panicked and spent an insane amount of time over a few days in August searching for the best solution. There’s the Day Designer, the Simplified Planner, the Erin Condren Life Planner, the Plum Paper planner, and so many more, but these are all costly and only last for one year. I went deeper down the rabbit hole and discovered Filofax. And the heavens sang.

Filofax A5 in Nude

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I had a case of serious, serious lust and finally gave in to it, after making the boyfriend listen to me debate it for days. This bad boy is patent leather and a classic. Plus, it beckons to my much less classy Dilbert self of 12 or so years ago with its ability to last over the years. And this Filofax is sexy. It’s like Eva Green, best Bond girl ever. It doesn’t even have to whisper “I’m the money.”

So this is an investment at $105, but the refills are about $12 (and I actually designed my own and printed them at Kinko’s). There is an entire world of slightly crazy people who basically ‘roid up their Filofax like scrapbooks, but I’m not so into that. I want it to be cute and customizable, but I don’t want to spend the kind of time and money some people do. (Really, Google Filofax obsession.)

And I must say, I absolutely love it. This may be one of my favorite purchases ever. I love bringing it to meetings. I love leaving it open before bed and checking it first thing in the morning (to see if I need to dress up extra special for meetings). I love opening it up each morning and laying it on my desk. It’s just about perfect in every way.

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I thought perhaps my devotion to a planner had to do with aging, since I also bought a watch last year and now can’t believe I lived without it. But I think it’s more than that. As I recall the planners of yore, I think about when I recently redid my office and had to part with those old inserts, counting down the days until important trips, marking thesis deadlines. I also think about the days I marked with stars with no idea now what so special happened that day. Maybe it’s the tactile experience, but at least for me, time seems more meaningful this way, or at least more intentional. And it’s nice to know that at some point down the road, I’ll look back at these days, thinking back on the excitement, remembering days of heartache and joy, and wondering exactly how I got where I am.

 

 

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