Old new and new

You know I like to change things just often enough so nobody can get comfortable. And I have gone and done that again. I have moved platforms from WordPress, where I’ve been since 2008, to Squarespace, which I’ve always wanted to try. For reasons that are boring, things had to change eventually. Now seemed like a good time.

My blog is still in the same place and has a slightly different look, and the only thing you need to do is resubscribe if you follow using RSS. If you use Feedly, you can put my url in, and it will find the feed. If you need a direct link to the RSS, it is right here. Let me know if something isn’t working and I will try to help.

The change in design coincides with a slight change in content. I'll see you in September.

July Reviews

Books

  • Double Crossing by Carolyn Keene--I made a video about my love of Nancy Drew and was shocked to see how many could understand. Several people recommended that I check out the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys crossover books from the 1980s. So I picked up the first in the series and read it by the pool in Palm Springs. It was a fun and easy read, and I enjoyed being back in the world of Nancy Drew.
  • The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr--I picked this book up years ago after learning about Mary Karr from an article on the early friendship of Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, and David Foster Wallace. Then, you can guess what happened. The book sat unread on my shelf. I finally put it in the donate pile, but rescued it at the last minute and decided to finally read it. I’m so glad that I did! The Liars’ Club is a memoir of Mary Karr’s childhood and really the history of her parents. I loved it and look forward to reading her other memoirs.
  • The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem--This is a collection of essays more extensive than The Disappointment Artist. It expands further on the influence of, well, our influences. I can’t think of anyone who writes better about being a fan in the way that I am a fan. Lethem also has a way of writing about when he was young and pretentious without lacking sympathy for his younger self.

Audiobook

  • Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman--Another book I’d been meaning to get around to forever. I finally listened to the audiobook on my way to Utah and it made the nine hours fly. This memoir makes it obvious how much the television show is a television show. It’s Piper Kerman’s true story of going to jail ten years after carrying drug money and serving thirteen months in a women's prison. Her experiences with the other women in prison are heartwarming and her criticism of the prison system, especially the lack of resources for rehabilitation, is an important reminder of things I might have claimed to already know. And--finally!--I understand how the prison seems to have an A+ library including new releases: they were all sent to Piper from friends and family.

Movies

  • Dawn of The Planet of The Apes--I walked away from this movie without any strong feelings only to hear from other people, “It was amazing!” or “It was so terrible. Don’t go see it.” I don’t think it’s deserving of either the high praise or the harsh criticism. I love Summer blockbusters and BIG movies, but I walk away from all of them thinking that if they just had someone who could write about human relationships do a final pass on the scripts, they would be so much better. The effects in this movie are crazy, the plot is strong, but the backstory for the human characters is a shallow attempt at depth that makes for boring interactions on screen. The ape relationships are much more interesting and complex.
  • They Came Together--This movie was a lot of fun. It plays with every romantic comedy trope. I mean, Amy Poehler runs a store in Manhattan that makes zero money. The performances were great, but the nature of the story meant that it didn’t really, I’m sorry for saying this, come together. If you’re not expecting the emotional payoff of a romantic comedy, it’s a solid comedy.

TV

  • Drunk History, Season 2--I love this show! I talked non-stop about the first season, and I’m so happy to have it back on the air. Every episode teaches me something about both drunkenness and history. If you’re unfamiliar, they get a comedian drunk and have him or her tell a story from history. Then actors, many you’d recognize, act out the story as it is told.

Podcasts

  • Cameron Esposito on Slumber Party--Cameron is my new favorite podcast guest. I’d listen to her on just about anything. This is just one example. Her episode of The K Ohle is also fantastic.
  • John Green on Ear Biscuits--It’s easy to forget that "podcast" is a unique medium until you hear someone you know well interviewed on a podcast for the first time. I’ve seen a million videos from John and read his books, but this podcast was still so interesting and I learned more about the way John and Hank work together. Rhett and Link are surprisingly good at asking the difficult questions, and this is the only podcast that consistently interviews YouTubers.

Adventures

I had purple hair

"What we needed were not words and promises but the steady accumulation of small realities." --Haruki Murakami, South of The Border, West of The Sun

If you’ve been reading this blog for years, and I mean years, then you know I’ve always wanted purple hair. I don’t know why exactly I wanted purple hair or why I didn’t just make it happen, but everyone knew this was a dream of mine and several friends have threatened to make it a reality.

Finally, it happened. Thanks in full to Katherine. She bought the purple dye, brought it to VidCon, and told everybody, so that new friends were saying, “I notice your hair isn’t purple yet,” whenever they saw me

In the last couple years, I have made real declarations of my mid-twenties that I thought were symbolic somehow. I went to Germany, I saw a bear in real life, and I dyed my hair purple. None really changed things the way I imagined they would when I was younger. Symbolism works better in literature.

And, yet, I’m glad they were made real, because they were fun, and that is reason enough.

On my last night at Crater Lake, I thought, I should go to the rim of the lake and make some kind of grand declaration. I did drive back up to the lake, because I wanted to see it again, but I was lost for what big promise to make to myself. I know now that change isn’t really about grand declarations made in nature.

The purple faded quickly and I let it, but now that I see how easy it is, I’ll have purple hair again. As a symbol only of how cool purple hair looks.

Writing at capacity

“She could eat with one hand and write with the other—and, more than anything else in life, she wanted to get everything written down.” --Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

There is nothing like travel to make you feel like you’re always behind on everything. I will get done whatever needs to be done, but writing is often the thing that gets pushed to the edges. Unless I am going through personal turmoil, then it is the non-necessity.

I do, of course, bring my journal on every trip. And when traveling alone was new and scary, I would write in it a lot. Now that exploring on my own is no big thing, I have no reason to work my feelings out in print.

The problem is that the less you write, the less you have to write. Whenever I freak out about having run out of ideas, I just create one thing, and I am quickly flooded with ideas for many more. But when I don’t do that, when I’m driving hundreds of miles to climb around National Parks, I’m left with the vague sense that I am not writing at capacity.

I’m not living by the Annie Dillard philosophy of “give it, give it now, give it all.”

I prefer the feeling of having given everything I have rather than the feeling of not being able to articulate what is inside. What I learned from Writing Down The Bones is that reaching the depths is about practice.

The telling of a life tended to falsify it

“I said that while it was true that the telling of a life tended to falsify it, gave it a form it did not intrinsically possess, this was just a fact of writing things down, something we all accepted.” --Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted

I have been thinking lately about how difficult it is to write about my life while I live it. I don’t think this used to be an issue for me, but so many years into writing about myself, I’m starting to wonder what kind of story I’m telling.

I find myself resisting the idea that everything can be made into a simple story. I’m critical especially of the way people turn their own lives into simple stories. I read a memoir that read more like marketing copy where a self-described office drone changed his life by quitting his job. To read what passed for introspection, his problems ended the moment he started living his life on his own terms.

We all know life doesn’t work like that. That even as you change, you trade your old problems in for new problems. That our brains work in such a way that we can turn not having any problems into a problem itself. But the reason people keep writing stories like this is that they sell. We like them. We buy them. We believe them.

In the education panel at VidCon, John Green said that the most popular episodes of his series Crash Course were about the events in world history that made the best stories, but these events themselves resist such simplification and he raised the question of how we can get people to care about the unsexy, nuanced, hard-to-define stories that are difficult to tell.

This question was important to me, because I had never had anyone put it so plainly that people are less interested in messy stories. We like the triumphant hero more than the guy who keeps saying he’s going to do something and then never does. We define endings in terms of whether they are satisfying or not. If you are interested in telling nuanced stories, it helps to know that you’re speaking to a small group of people.

But the question was important to me for another reason: I had an answer. Literature. That’s how we get people interested in messy stories. That’s what literature does so well. Literary fiction has its own tropes, but it tells complicated stories about people you can’t always relate to, or don’t want to relate to, because they’re good and yet do things that are bad, they think one thing and do another, and lead lives of quiet desperation which they cannot escape no matter how many times you quote Thoreau to them. You see the real people on the wrong side of that war who had what seemed like valid reasons for doing what they did.

Most of the books I read leave me with this weird feeling that follows me for days.

So when it comes to telling my own story, I see the value in complicated and unsatisfying stories, I realize that putting abstract thoughts into concrete words always falsifies them to some degree, and I find myself a little more accepting of my own desire to tell a simple story that other people can understand.

June, she'll change her tune

“The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.” --Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

I have been, how do you say, stuck. Not being a particularly patient person, I have tried everything to get myself unstuck. I even tried sitting quietly, pretending to give into it all. That got boring quickly.

Then I got a push from the outside. The kind you’re not supposed to need. Just someone saying, “Hey, I think you could be doing more than you’re doing right now.” To which I could only say, “Yes.”

I don’t know that this push was in the right direction, but that doesn’t really matter. I just needed something to react to, because my normally VERY LOUD FEELINGS have become awfully quiet, which leaves me with no idea what to do.

This weekend at VidCon I got a little more clarity. It wasn’t in the crowds, though they were crushing, and it wasn’t at the dance party, though it was funnnnn. It was at the education panel. It was mostly men and mostly scientists, but I walked away inspired. I wanted to see more women and more than John Green alone representing the liberal arts.

It was actually VidCon last year that inspired me to start a channel about books. Very quickly it became the most successful thing I have ever done on the internet, and I have started so many projects that I can’t even remember them all now. It’s also really fun and rewarding. Talking about the books I love is something that comes naturally and getting other people to read classic literature is something I care about deeply.

Since before the book was even released, I have been thinking about Austin Kleon’s idea of showing your work instead of just the final product. I had a hard time applying the idea to what I was doing until he elaborated to say that sharing your work can mean sharing your learning process. In many ways, I feel like the reading I do is meant to fill in the gaps of my own education, and I like the idea of sharing what I am learning and encouraging others to take control of their own educations the same way.

This is the kind of focus I needed, and I am excited to take my videos in a more researched and educational direction, though they will still center around my own reading life. Things might change a little bit around here as well, though the writing will remain personal. It is hard to write when you’re lost, and writing about being lost becomes repetitive, so I’m excited to change my tune.*

*I would have said "turn the page," but that's a little too cheesy for me and not a Simon & Garfunkel lyric.

June Reviews

Concert

  • James Taylor--This was my third time seeing James Taylor, but my first time in several years. I declared him my non-romantic soulmate when I was 17 and it’s still true.

Books

  • Anthem by Ayn Rand--A surprisingly interesting dystopian novella from an author I never thought I’d read. [video review]
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin--An amazing novel set in Paris written by an author I loved in college. [video review]
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy--A charming post-apocalyptic story about a father and son written in a simple style that works most of the time. Not for the faint of heart.  [video review]
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston--An important and sometimes-forgotten novel set in 1930s Florida (the Everglades, specifically!) that introduced me to a couple movements in African American literature that I knew nothing about. [video review]
  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut--[review coming soon]

Audiobooks

  • Brain on Fire--A young woman suddenly goes crazy and no one knows why. Terrifying not just that your life can fall apart that quickly, but that your own efforts to explain to yourself what is happening might hide how truly bad it is.
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth--Half memoir. Half guide to life and career. The life of an astronaut is surprisingly relevant to finding success in any endeavor.

Movies

  • X-Men--My first X-Men movie and I think I chose a good one. I have loved the 60s since college, but the 70s are a bit of a mystery to me, and I loved spending time there, even if in an action movie.
  • Edge of Tomorrow--Exactly the kind of really good action movie you should see in the Summer.
  • 22 Jump Street--The kind of pretty good comedy that probably won’t stick with me, but I will remember Jonah’s walk of shame.

TV

  • Orange Is The New Black, season 2--I really enjoyed it, though some story lines became very repetitive. It was like they weren’t quite sure what to do with some of the characters. Still totally worth watching.
  • Comedy Bang Bang, season 2--CBB is one of my favorite podcasts. I didn’t take to the TV show instantly, but I didn’t take to the podcast quickly either. They both reward loyalty, so once you’re in, you’re in. And I’m finally in with the TV show!

Podcasts

  • Aisha Tyler on Totally Laime--A super solid combination of seasoned podcasters. A total delight.
  • Hollywood Bowl episode of Analyze Phish--The long-delayed final episode of this absurd podcast arrived just in time to fill the hole in my heart left by U Talkin’ U2 To Me. Surprisingly heart-felt and as funny as expected.
  • Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham on Hollywood Handbook--Mostly guests just play along with the Hollywood douchebag theme of this podcast, but Jessica and Lennon instead took over.
  • The X-Files Files--A podcast about The X-Files, which I haven’t watched since the 90s, hosted by Kumail Najiani. I intend to start watching the show again, since it’s available on Netflix, but the discussion doesn't really depend on having seen a particular episode.

Adventure

  • VidCon--This is the only conference/convention I attend each year, and I have seen it grown and change since 2009. This was the first year I was uncomfortable with how much things have changed, because there were SO MANY PEOPLE. Still I was able to get into every panel I wanted to attend and VidCon Prom was amazing.