Sunday, April 20, 2014

Re-reading The Diary of Anne Frank in Adulthood (& Other Musings)...

I didn't post last week, I know. Let's just pretend the last ten days didn't happen, then. Now we'll start anew.

I adore this picture of Anne. She looks so happy and alive,
the way I wish she'd had more of a chance to be.

I re-read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank recently, for the first time since I was 16. I knew I'd liked it back then, but for some reason, except for the basics, the only thing I could really remember about it was something about the families in the "secret annex" (Anne's name for their attic hideaway) cooking sausage. My brain is on weird terms with reality, I think. 

One of the first things that struck me in this re-read was how imperfect Anne is. I realize that this seems like a given -- she was a person, after all, and also, a teenager. But the thing about a tragic death is that we tend to put the dead on a pedestal, and with Anne Frank, that's no different. She was and is one of the most well-known voices of the Holocaust. But Anne was very much a 14 year old girl. She could be bratty, arrogant, but also insightful and funny. She tried to be good, but often talked about hating her mother. She could be full of herself in such a humorous way, giving details of all the books she was reading and all the languages she was learning, as well as flippantly remarking that so many of the boys in her pre-hideaway class were in love with her, so much so that: "I have strings of boy friends, anxious to catch a glimpse of me and who, failing that, peep at me through mirrors in class."

The other thing that struck me about Anne is that she wasn't always strong. She held it together well, adapting to the new reality of being stuck in this attic with people who she hadn't originally known very well -- and I include her own family in that observation - but she goes through some pretty intense bouts of depression. The lack of light and freedom sometimes gets to her so much and she writes about feeling like a coward because of it: "I'm currently in the middle of a depression. I couldn't really tell you what set it off, but I think it stems from my cowardice, which confronts me at every turn." I don't agree with her that she was a coward -- not at all -- but I think it's such an accurate look at being depressed: we don't always think the most rational thoughts, thoughts based on evidence, when we're feeling especially melancholy and down on ourselves. I also think that most would agree that Anne's depression was understandable, more than likely situation-related, and that it made her all the more heroic for facing those moments. Because, while I would never say that Anne was a perfect person, the way we often see people that we might describe as martyrs, she was heroic: She awoke daily and kept going. She kept writing and she observed everyone and everything as much as she could. She worked really hard in the editing process of her diary, actually hoping that someday it might be published. And she kept on seeing beauty in the world, even when she couldn't be an active part of that world. 


Now I am re-reading C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, another book I haven't read in YEARS and it's kind of strange to be reading it now, just as the weather is turning warmer. Narnia is, after all, so cold and snowy. I often think, on winter nights when there is a full moon and it shimmers off new snow, that it feels like Narnia -- especially on holidays, when the streets are semi-abandoned because everyone seems to be at home with their families. I forgot how magical this book is, and maybe it's re-reading all these stories that I read as a young child or as an adolescent, but I keep finding myself longing for the green fields of North Carolina and the quiet and nature, the dogwood and magnolia trees and the early warmth of spring. Chicago is finally turning, and I'm turning with it, though to what, I'm still not sure. I'm juggling a lot of thoughts and changes right now -- declining friendships, learning to move on from much of what's happened in the years since I've been back in Chicago, learning to re-focus and motivate myself. I've been fairly obsessed with self-help literature and working on me between therapy sessions, and I find that I like talking about that. I'm opening up. Blossoming somewhat, which may sound a bit hokey, but feels accurate. Next week is my birthday, it's spring and this is only the beginning. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART TEN

"So," I said, trying to break the ice, "a movie, then?"  

"Sure," Todd said. "There's that freaky new horror movie - the sequel to the one with the knife-fingered guy. What's that called?"
"Nightmare On Elm Street?" I said. "You know I'll have nightmares. Plus I've heard the sequel kind of sucked." 
"You're scared of everything," he said. "C'mon. It'll be fun. You can even bury your face in my shoulder if things get too scary."
I sighed and tried to smile. He was trying to be nice at least. 
"Sure, why not?" I said, shrugging. "I don't need to sleep right away, anyhow. I can probably watch something lame on television until I'm too tired to care about Freddy What's-His-Name coming to get me." 
"That's my girl," he said, putting one hand on my knee while keeping the other on the steering wheel. I almost flinched but once I realized what he was doing, it seemed a nice enough gesture. I let him hold my hand while until we pulled up to the theater.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Procrastination nation...

I missed posting the last couple of Thursdays - illness, social obligations, work obligations and the like kept me busy and the time that I did have online was spent wasting it on Hulu, Tumblr and Facebook, my usual distractions. This past Thursday was the first of the month, so now I'm behind on Turn To You installments as well. Readers (all two of you, haha) can expect that later tonight. For now, I thought I'd post something that I wrote as part of a free expression exercise in one of my writing groups earlier this week.

I'm sitting in a coffeehouse, half-asleep, looking at the moon, but wishing for a comet. I feel alien to this place and this experience: the experience of writing, much more so than I used to. I used to squat in halls of English departments, journaling like a madwoman, like my hand was on fire and words were the only thing that would extinguish the flame. Waiting for professors or fellow classmates to come by or congregate. I used to TALK about writing, but also, live and breathe writing, which is probably what nourished me in all those years that I was kept alive by caffeine and ramen. Not that it's that different now; I'm still the starving artist, minus the artist. And now, I'm looking through the keyhole from this life into my old life and wondering, "Where did the time go?" and "What's next?"

I've had a lot going on with me lately; you know I'm not going to elaborate on the personal stuff, but at work, we're short on manpower and that's overwhelming. I constantly feel like I'm not getting enough done. We need more shelvers and more volunteers, too, I think. Then there's the whole graduate school application process. Because application fees, plus the fees for all post-high school transcripts (meaning my community college transcripts and my university transcripts, both) are not cheap, I'm having to stagger my applications. That wasn't something that had occurred to me before I started the actual process. I do feel a bit jaded with things in my life right now, which is totally my own fault, I think. It's I who needs to harness my energy and figure out what to do about the weight of all these things...

Anyway, stay tuned. I'll post the next installment of Turn To You tonight.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Linky Dinks: The monthly Blog Roll post!

It's been a rough week. I've been struck down with some sort of illness that I can't name: a tenacious migraine that won't go away, aches in my neck and back, occasional chills, coughing, sore throat, dizziness and fatigue. I have probably slept about 19 hours between yesterday and today and I am finally feeling slightly more human. I still have this incredibly annoying ache in my ear and up into the left side of my head. I have done enough research online to become a full-fledged hypochondriac and I probably should go to a doctor if this continues. But for now, I am hoping I am on the mend and with that in mind, I am trying to get a jump on all these things I need to do. Like my weekly blog post! THIS week, I am directing you to some of my favorite posts on other blogs from this past month. As always, if you have or know of a blog you think I should be following, do let me know in the comments below! I love meeting new people, online and offline, so getting to know someone via their blog is always exciting for me.

Look! No more snow!

@Jaythenerdkid/Aaminah Khan wrote this thought-provoking post about quoting versus stealing someone's words on the Internet. It's a very important piece, I think, and something that I'm sure a lot of regular bloggers worry about. Once you're done reading it, check out her other posts.

Over at Queertiques, cinephile Roger reviewed the Israeli film "Cupcakes,"  which, unfortunately, hasn't been  widely released in the states yet, but looks like loads of fun!

You should also check out Yuri Hobart's lovely blog, Bookswept, which I recently stumbled on and am so glad I did! It's a pretty simple blog -- Hobart occasionally writes short bits about herself, but usually just keeps track of the books she is reading with a nice little quote from each one. She just celebrated her 25th birthday on the 13th of March (Louise's note: the same day as my nephew's birthday, but he doesn't celebrate for religious reasons and I'm not allowed to send him a card; therefore, I must spread joy to others instead), so if you happen by, wish her a belated "happy birthday!" I like Bookswept because of how many of the books featured I have loved -- and that suggests that I might really like the others that I haven't read. :)

I'm really into root vegetables right now, though it feels like such a fall/winter thing and we really are approaching spring right now (though it may seem like it is taking forever!). So I might have to try to make this recipe from Little Dinner Party before I am craving more warm weather foods (like pasta salads & picnics). Which reminds me: I really need to do some grocery shopping!

And finally, last but not least, Ora Uzel wrote an extraordinarily thoughtful piece over at Geek Melange that considers how transgender persons are portrayed in the media, touching on everything from film to comics. It's a good read, so get on over and check it out.

Now it's time for me to attend to priorities, like my growling tummy. As always, leave your comments below!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cover Me: Book cover of the month + the 6 things currently rocking my world

It's Thursday and, with so much work to do, I managed not to get much of anything done on the homefront. Therefore, my dear readers, you are getting the Louise who is stressed and overwhelmed and trying to figure out how she can get the most done in the smallest amount of time: laundry, cat-checking (it's not cat-sitting unless you're hanging out awhile), volunteering, coffee-drinking, blog-writing, tax-doing. What else? Oh, bother!

Luckily, it's time for the BOOK COVER OF THE MONTH (yes, I am making this a thing now), which means I don't have to be especially eloquent or verbose (but apparently, I am cashing in on those 10 cent words -- heh). For this month, I chose the lovely cover of Krys Lee's Drifting House.

I like this cover because it looks very melancholy. There is snow in one picture, fog in another and two shadowy figures seemingly captured in a double-exposed shot of some unidentifiable setting. The book, which I have yet to read, is Lee's debut story collection. It focuses on the people of North and South Korea, as well as Koreans/Korean-Americans who have traveled, for various reasons, to the U.S. To learn more about the book or Krys Lee, you can visit her website here.

In other news, I haven't had a wealth of time to or for myself lately. But when I have, I've been trying to partake of things that make me happy in an attempt to forget that this extended winter has been bringing me down. That brings me to this list, which I share with you because it's a pretty nifty list and I'd like to give you a chance to partake of these excellent finds, too!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART NINE


I was a little wobbly even in my flats and Rhonda had her hand on my elbow to steady me, but she was a little unbalanced herself. Betsy and Todd were ahead of us and we followed them closely and quietly as they followed the waitress to our table. I was praying we didn't draw attention to ourselves as the two drunk, underage chicks. The waitress didn't seem to notice. She was too busy ogling Todd.

"I'm Shelby and I'll be your server this evening," she leaned over where he'd just seated himself, her cleavage spilling out of her bright yellow V-neck like a drink in his lap. Her white-blond hair was teased so big that it seemed to shadow the whole table. She raised an eyebrow and looked directly at Todd. "So what can I get you to drink?"

"Yeah, Shelby," Todd said, giving her his perfect smile. "I'll have a Coke. Asha?"

I blinked - clearly I was not ready to be addressed. I had to focus.

"Um, Coke. I'll have Coke, too."

"Iced tea," Rhonda said.
"I'll just have a water," Betsy said. The waitress nodded as she wrote down our drink orders and then she sashayed away, sure to wink at Todd one time before she left. I looked over at him and he was smiling. I kicked him and he straightened up, then looked at me with narrowed eyes.

We all sat in silence for a few minutes, looking over our menus and avoiding conversation. I was having trouble with reading the menu and doing anything else at the same time. When the waitress came back and started asking what we'd have, I almost forgot to order my salad because I was so engrossed in the menu. Todd stepped in and ordered two large pizzas for everyone, asking what toppings everyone liked first. Then he poked me - hard, too - to order my salad. I always had a salad - I was pretty predictable. Usually. 

"I'll have the cobb salad with ranch dressing," I said and then, when Shelby walked away, I promptly returned to space-out mode.
"What the hell is up with you?" Todd said through his clenched teeth. "Are you drunk?"

Rhonda began cackling at that and Todd got wide-eyed.

"You are!" he said. "You're both drunk. Asha, what the hell? You don't drink!" 

He was sputtering now and I felt slightly defensive. Who was he to get angry that I may or may not be drunk when he and his stupid basketball buddies got high on at least a weekly basis. 

"So," I said, stubbornly crossing my arms over my chest. "What if I am?"

"You ok?" Betsy said softly to me from across the table. It wasn't until she said it that I realized I was getting loud. More importantly, I was turning a pale shade of gray as bile was beginning to rise up in my throat. I managed to swallow it back down with concentration. 

"I think so," I said, a little slower and at a lower decibel.

"Let me know if you feel sick," she said. 

"You'd better not get sick all over my car tonight," Todd said. I grimaced but didn't say anything else for fear of getting us kicked out.

The waitress delivered my salad and I picked at it for a few minutes before I took a bite of a tomato. I could feel the juice in my mouth and almost started to feel sick again, but I gnawed on some lettuce and the feeling went away. 

"Ooh, I love this song," Rhonda said when Duran Duran came up over the speakers. I was feeling a little better and eager for conversation. Rhonda seemed like the safest person to engage with.

"Me, too!" I said, happy to feel a little giddy again. I started to hum a little and Rhonda started to sing. I glanced at Todd but he was having none of it.

"Can you two knock it off?" he said finally. "You're embarrassing me. Probably your friend here, too."  He meant Betsy. That got my attention. I looked over at her. She seemed unpeturbed, though.

"I'm fine," Betsy said, confirming my observation. "No embarrassment here."

"Well you're still making idiots of yourselves," he said. "If you don't start acting sober, they're going to kick us out."

I slumped in my seat and attempted to finish my salad. When the pizza came, I was done and I took a couple of slices. I did pretty well getting through the first but the second was painful. I knew I needed to get to a bathroom soon, so I dropped the rest of my last slice on the plate and whispered to Rhonda that I needed to go. She slid out, letting me by and Betsy went with me, her hand on my back. Once we'd shuffled into the bathroom stall and locked the door, the bile rose in my throat again as if it had been waiting for just that moment. I dropped to my knees and let it come. I didn't know Betsy was still there until I felt her hand on my shoulder. Slowly I figured out that my hair being held back was due to her cool hands, too. I was too busy being sick to speak or show any kind of gratitude. I didn't realize I had started to cry until I'd already thrown up everything I had to. I coughed a little and sat up. Betsy let go of my hair and it tumbled around my face.  We both slumped to opposite sides of the stall and she reached over to flush the toilet. Down went the remains of my salad and pizza. The taste in my mouth was sour with a hint of butterscotch and pizza sauce. It was pretty foul. 

I felt so embarrassed that I buried my face in my hands. 

"I'm so sorry Betsy," I said, only slightly muffled by my drooping shirt sleeves. "I meant for this to turn out better, but I'm such an idiot."

She came over to me on her knees and put her arm around my shoulder.

"Don't worry about it," she said. "I'm not upset. I am...having fun."

I looked at her solemn face and smiled. Then, I couldn't stop smiling. I started to crack up.

"What?" she said, but she was laughing now too. "What are"

"You!" I said. "You are such a liar."

", I'm's...true." 

We were both howling by then and we kept laughing until someone pushed against the door. We both jumped up and then, she looked at me. Some of her uneven hair fell over her eye and the sideways look she gave me made my heart jump a little. I was still pretty embarrassed that she'd had to see me such a wreck - but the effects of the alcohol had mostly worn off, as had the anxiety I'd felt before. In fact, I was dissecting that anxiety for the first time with my blinders off and realizing what it meant. My mind turned over all those glances, accidental grazes that felt like static electricity and the feeling I got all over my body when she smiled at me that way. Like the look she was giving me now, with that sexy, messy piece of hair in her face. We had a moment - standing there like that, I knew it would have sounded cheesy to say it out loud, but it was what it was. 

Whoever wanted in was pushing against the door again and Betsy opened the door, snapping me out of my reverie. A pinched-faced woman in a yellow and black business suit huffed and pushed past us to get in as we came out.

Back at the table, Todd and Rhonda had eaten and gotten carry-out boxes for the rest. They waited for me to eat another slice - now that my stomach was empty, I was shaky and needed nourishment. Todd wasn't so patient about it, checking his watch every few seconds. Rhonda seemed to be fine and nearly sober, though - she'd started chatting with Betsy.

"So where do you want to go to school next year?" she was asking. 

Betsy shrugged and said, "I'm not sure. Somewhere in New York, probably. The New School or Pratt?"

"What kind of art do you want to study? I mean, those are art schools, right?" Rhonda said.

"Um, yeah. Music. Though I paint, too. No double majors, though. I can't afford that. Hell, I don't even know if I can afford a single major - or, like, college at all."

"Well we all know Asha can't," Todd said, reminding us that he was still at the end of the table. His words seared through my head and I felt like I might throw up again.

"What do you mean?" Betsy said.

"Todd, you're an asshole," Rhonda said. "Why Asha is with you, I have no idea. You know as well as I do that Asha can get just about any kind of scholarship she wants with her grades and all the great things she has going for her."

He just shrugged. I could tell Betsy was confused but I knew that Todd, as pissed off as he was, would refrain from any other derogatory statements about me for the night. He knew when he was outnumbered. 

"I have to go to the bathroom," I said, standing up suddenly. I needed to get away from everyone or I might cry. Betsy started to stand up, too, but I was afraid she'd come with me and I needed to get away. So I grabbed Rhonda's arm and she got the message.
"Yeah," she said. "Me, too. I gotta pee like a racehorse." 

We hurried to the washroom, leaving Todd and Betsy at the table alone.
Once in the bathroom, I started to hyperventilate - or what I imagined hyperventilating would be like.
"Rhonda," I gasped. She freaked and started pulling paper towels out of the dispenser and wetting them to dab on my face. I couldn't argue. I just let her do this without an attempt to stop her.

"Betsy seems really funky," she said. I was still gasping for air, or else I might have agreed. "I think there's definitely something there. I'd like to talk to her more. Do you think she'd give me a ride home alone? Or wait, you probably don't want to ride with Todd huh?"

My breathing was returning to normal. If it wasn't so pathetic, it might have been funny what Rhonda was asking me. I'd just grasped my feelings for Betsy and now my cousin wanted her. And why not? Rhonda liked girls. She was totally open about this fact. I, on the other hand, had my boyfriend - one who was being a real jerk. But he wasn't always like that, was he? Maybe he was jealous - maybe he had a vibe. Who knew? What was I thinking? Rhonda and Betsy should be together and I should see if things were meant to be with Todd. Afterall, he was going to be my prom date wasn't he?

"I don't mind," I told Rhonda. "He's being a jerk, but he's not this way all the time. He's really a nice person." 

"If you say so," Rhonda said. "As long as you aren't worried about being alone with him. You know him way better than I do."

"Yes, and you should get to know Betsy," I said, trying to sound natural. I wanted her to believe me so I had to believe myself. "She really is a great person and you'll like her." 

"I do already," she said and winked. It was as if the whole fiasco with her professor never happened and Rhonda was back to her old self. I was glad for that at least.

We headed out of the bathroom and down the corrider to where Todd and Betsy stood, already by the door. Betsy looked like she was forcing her smile and I tried not to worry about what they had talked about in my absence. Todd was grinning, but his didn't look forced at all. I was trying hard to believe that this was a good sign. 

"We already paid," Betsy said.

"I paid," Todd said. "You'll pay me back?"

"Of course," I said and I kissed him, hoping that it didn't seem like it was just for show. Then I looked over at Betsy and Rhonda. They were standing side by side. Betsy wasn't smiling any longer - she just seemed a little sad.  But I had to stick with the plan or Rhonda would kill me. 

"Oh, Todd," I said, leaning on his shoulder. "We should go dancing after this or maybe to the drive-in."

"What? You want to...really?" he said, seeming baffled. But then he smiled. "Yeah, I'd like that a lot." He frowned. "But who will bring your cousin home?"

I looked pensive for a second and then snapped my fingers, hoping that I was convincing enough and everyone believed I'd just thought of it. 

"Hey, Betsy! Would you mind dropping Rhonda back at my house?" I said.

"Um, sure. No problem," she said. Her expression was harder to read this time.
We had reached Todd's car by then and I climbed in. Already inside, Todd was starting the engine. Rhonda was standing next to Betsy and their arms were linked. My, that's cozy, I thought. Betsy was staring down at me from the passenger side, but the headlights had come on and Todd was beginning to pull out of the parking lot. She and I held each other's gaze for a moment.

"Goodnight," I said in a voice so soft that I wasn't sure she could hear me over the sound of the engine. I waved to Rhonda who was smiling with excitement in her eyes. Trying to show that I was happy for her, I waved with as much joy as I could muster.

"Goodnight, Asha," I heard Betsy say, once again stealing my attention from anyone else. Todd rolled my window up before I could say another word to her. He skidded out of the lot and we were on the road to the drive-in.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Your little house on memory lane...

As it approaches that first death anniversary of the year, I find myself becoming more and more pensive. Retreating into myself for awhile can sometimes be nice, and this year, I'm sick with a cold, too. Furthermore, it's still pretty chilly out and I'm in the suburbs, dog & cat-sitting for an older couple who are away in Mexico. Therefore, I have more than one reason for hibernating this March 2nd.

I always find myself wanting to write something about my mom this time of year, but I don't always know what I want to say. It's never NOT painful, but it has certainly eased up as the years have gone by. Sixteen years this year, but some things still remain vivid. I'm grateful for that - I don't want to forget, not even the most awful moments.

I don't often blog about personal stuff anymore. My blog is about books, film, writing and libraries. But honestly, the root of my passion for these things can all be traced back to my mother.

Here's something strange: no matter how much time goes by, I still sometimes find myself watching or reading something, or wandering through some shop or sitting in the window of some coffeehouse and briefly, there's the thought, "Mom would've liked this." Or, if I watch an older movie, I find myself wishing I could ask her what she thought. Months ago, I went through a kick where I was watching all these old romantic comedies -- ones with Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn. I could not help but think of how my mom might swoon about how "purdy" Cary Grant was or want to ask her if she loathed Doris Day's characters as much as I did (knowing mom, probably not -- but it would've been interesting to have that discussion).

My mom and I weren't really close when she died. In fact, I would say that she probably was in a phase of not liking me too much, and I don't blame her. I was angsty, kept to myself, snapped at any question she dare ask me. I was a terrible, moody brat for whatever reason an unhappy post-adolescent tends to be such. But in all my years with her, I was also a keen observer and in our best moments, I loved to listen to my mom share celebrity gossip from her day or tell me what movies I should see (I saw Mr. Smith Goes To Washington a few years after her death, but it was a movie she recommended). I liked to talk to her about books, and she listened well to what I liked, too, I think. My mom might have made a great librarian in reader's advisory. My very best Christmas ever was the year that she got me all of the Sweet Valley High and The Baby-Sitters Club paperbacks that had been released so far and that I didn't have already, back when paperbacks were a lot cheaper, and I opened a box that morning to all these glossy pastel books, with their new, inky scent. I don't even remember exactly what year that was, but I remember that it was the nicest gift I had or have ever received.

After her own mother, my Nana, died when I was 14, I remember my mom saying, sadly, and in sort of a warning, "You only have one mother. Once she's gone, she's gone." A little melodramatic, perhaps, and yes, I also live in a world where many have two mothers. But I get what she meant. You only have the people in your life for a lifetime - that's all you get. And when they're gone, even if you believe in heaven, you will have to live out the rest of your life on earth without them.

So here I am. Living.