Friday Things

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Happy Halloween! It’s been awhile since I’ve gone out on this sacred holiday, but tonight I’m dressing up, going out with friends, and partying like it’s 2008. I am predicting I will start out excited, and then as the night wears on I will start to feel old, come to face the inevitable truth that my glory days have come and gone, drink too much vodka to make myself feel better, and end up with a hangover tomorrow morning. But let’s see, shall we?

Here are three things I’ve learned this week:

1. This book is incredible. How had I not heard of it until last week? Go read it. Now.

2. These tacos are SO DELICIOUS. Go make them. Now.

3. You know that taboo about how straight men and women can’t be friends after a certain age? Did you know that’s not true for gay people? I was having this conversation with a new (gay) coworker who told me she has some very close gay female friends and her partner doesn’t mind at all. “Heterosexual people are so weird about that,” she told me. She’s right! More on this another day.

I found the above image on Pinterest but it links to a dead end; if anyone recognizes it please let me know so I can give credit!

The Marks We Leave Are Too Often Scars

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This is something that’s been on my mind for awhile now.

Have you read this article about how the Pont des Arts in Paris is starting to collapse under the weight of the “love locks”? It’s somehow become a tradition (if you can call something that popped up so recently a tradition) for tourists to go here and leave a padlock. To commemorate the fact that they were there.

But why?

“I want to leave a mark. But the marks humans leave are too often scars… We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths.”

Exactly, Augustus Waters.

Everyone is SO OBSESSED with leaving their marks on the world. Maybe it is something animal. Maybe we can’t help it.

And I am certainly no exception. I am a writer. I want people to read the stuff I write, both my fiction and here in this little corner of the internet. My words are the marks I make on your minds.

But–but–before I make my marks, I ask myself this question:

Is my mark IMPROVING the world?

If the answer is no, I believe it’s better not to make it.

In the case of the Pont des Arts, the answer is definitely NO. I’ve never felt the need to add a lock to that bridge. Is it really that thrilling all those years later to come back and see it there? Isn’t it enough that you were there?

This is one of the reasons I don’t write negative book reviews. I understand why people do. You take the time to read a book, and when something in it bothers you, you feel the need to complain about it. I just spent hours of my life with this book and it did that? This is especially hard for me as a yet-unpublished-writer: this piece of crap got published and no one’s discovered me yet? Blasphemy!

But really–what kind of mark does that negative review leave?

In the same vein, today I saw a comment on a popular blog saying, “I really hate those shoes!”

What is gained by posting that comment? You’re entitled to your opinion, of course. I’m not saying you can’t post what you want, comment on what you want. Free speech! But just because you can do something does not mean you should.

The best response to someone’s crappy outfit/art? Don’t comment on it. Don’t pay it any attention. You have a limited amount of time in the world–why do you want to spend that time talking about something you hate? Post about things you love. Compliment things you like. Have experiences–but don’t leave the places you touch (like the Pont des Arts) worse for the wear.

Don’t make lots of little negative marks on the world. Make only good ones.

John Green via Augustus Waters obviously says it better than me:

People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.”

And before John Green, there was Alfred de Vigny. From La Mort du Loup:

“Seul le silence est grand; tout le reste est faiblesse.”

Only silence is great; the rest is weakness.

Which is just another way of saying: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

If the mark you’re leaving isn’t improving the world–consider not leaving it at all.

Friday Things

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Confession: I really love lifestyle blogs. Like this one and this one and this one. I’ve always wanted one, but I am so not that girl–the one with the perfect outfit and the perfect hair and the perfectly curated apartment. I will never make the time to learn how to give myself a perfectly braided bun or make DIY doormats or bake my own recipes from scratch (actually that last one is a dream for another life in which I don’t have to work a 9-5).

I wasn’t even sure I should start a blog, to be honest–so many people are already doing it, and doing it so well, that what do I have to offer?

Well for starters, I wrote a book. So I do know some things about that. I’m also a bibliophile and a travelphile (and, like Shakespeare, I make up words when needed). So I know how to write and read and travel. Hence my blog was born.

But I am also a person who has been living for over 3 (!) decades now, so I know some other things as well. I decided to start a Friday series to document the little things I’ve learned lately.

This week I’ve learned:

1. If you leave your phone on top of a pumpkin candle overnight (this one is amazing) it will smell like pumpkin the entire next day, which is delightful.

2. Don’t walk over a subway grate while wearing a skirt unless you want to show off your underwear. Not sure how I got away with 7 years in NYC without learning that one.

3. Putting fresh sage and a little honey in hot water is delicious (and healthy!) and will get you through the draggiest of all draggy afternoons at work. (Thank you to Inga my new German cubicle mate for that cup of deliciousness).

(Above photo found here, via Tumblr. For another life in which I live in a tiny cabin in the woods and bake and write all day long.)

Anna and the French Kiss

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Image found on https://theduckandtheowl.wordpress.com/tag/anna-and-the-french-kiss/

Finally got around to reading the book I’ve seen all over the internets lately (I follow a lot of young adult-minded people, most of whom are probably actual teenagers, mostly on Tumblr.)

I really enjoyed this book. I read the entire thing in less than two days. It’s the kind of book you want to take to an airport, because even though your flight is delayed and they’ve run out of vegetarian meals and the guy next to you smells and Eliot Spitzer is sitting a few rows ahead of you with someone who could be his daughter but is probably not (ew, and yes that happened), you’re so engrossed in the story you don’t even care.

First of all, the voice is excellent. Anna sucks you in right away with her homesickness and slight awkwardness. She manages to be cute and likeable and not annoying all at the same time (most of the time). Secondly, this book manages to sound like a teenager wrote it while also being well-written. Not always so easy to do. Furthermore, I always like reading about my favorite city, though I wish they had ventured out into it a bit more. And I loved that the supporting characters were well-written and realistic, poor tomboy Meredith with her own hopeless crush, artsy Josh, the slightly off-putting Rashmi. So real. And then of course, Étienne is the perfect tiny man … except for one thing.

I really do hate emotional cheating. And I hate people who, for lack of a better expression, have their cake and eat it too (the French expression is vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre, to want the butter and the money for the butter, after French peasants who couldn’t afford to eat their own butter. Makes way more sense than ours, non?) Holding hands with, sleeping in a bed with, talking until all hours of the morning with a girl who is not your girlfriend is wrong, no matter how steadfast you are in not kissing her. If you’re having feelings for someone else BREAK UP WITH YOUR GIRLFRIEND. You’re seventeen. You don’t have a kid together. Grow some balls and do it.

So, emotional cheating: wrong on so many levels. Also? It’s INCREDIBLY realistic.

‘Tis not the writer’s job to judge people, ’tis her job to portray them realistically. I didn’t go to boarding school, but I did go to college, and this kind of thing happened ALL THE TIME, especially freshman year as people struggled not to break up with their high school boyfriends/girlfriends. So bravo to Stephanie Perkins for capturing this so accurately.

I don’t think Anna and Étienne will last, unfortunately; emotional cheaters tend to repeat themselves. But I definitely enjoyed being along for the ride of their Parisian romance.

We Were Liars

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God. This book.

The setting pulled me in. Rich cousins on a private island off of Massachusetts? Yes please. Love developing between two childhood friends? I’m a sucker for that.

“He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.

The voice was so well done, lots of sentence fragments filled with bits of beauty. It could have come off oddly in the hands of a less talented writer, but Lockhart did it wonderfully.

“It is good to be loved, even though it will not last.”

You know from the beginning something bad is going to happen, and then when something does, you aren’t even entirely sure what it is. To find out, along with Cadence, you keep reading. But before you even know the extent of Cadence’s struggle, you admire her strength.

“I’d a million times rather live and risk and have it all end badly than stay in the box I’ve been in for the past two years.”

“I lie there and wait, and remind myself over and over that it doesn’t last forever. That there will be another day and after that, yet another day. One of those days, I’ll get up and eat breakfast and feel okay.”

And oh, Cadence and Gat.

“When blood dripped on my bare feet or poured over the book I was reading, he was kind. He wrapped my wrists in soft white gauze and asked me questions about what had happened. He asked about Dad and about Gran—as if talking about something could make it better. As if wounds needed attention.”

“Someone once wrote that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. I get the same thing spending an hour with you.”

And the end. I did not see it coming, though in retrospect there were so many clues. That’s a real accomplishment, as an author. It was so good and so devastating. Think first-time-reading-Fault-in-Our-Stars levels of sobbing.

“They know that tragedy is not glamorous. They know it doesn’t play out in life as it does on a stage or between the pages of a book. It is neither a punishment meted out nor a lesson conferred. Its horrors or not attributable to one single person. Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing. That is what the children know.”

Go read this book. Now.

Good Books (as of late)

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I get asked for book recommendations a lot. Mostly because I read like a fiend. (And maybe because I have decent taste.)

My goal with this blog was to post glowing reviews after every wonderful book I read. But I read fast, and I review more slowly.

So here is a super-abbreviated version of reviews of the books I’ve read this summer, in case you’re looking for something good. I am only listing the ones I gave at least a 3-star review. Not a ton is accomplished in writing negative reviews, in my opinion. If you didn’t like something, why give it more attention? So I don’t write negative reviews (though I do give out the appropriate amount of stars–If you’re curious as to the books I didn’t like, you can check me out on Goodreads.)

5 stars:

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart (YA, Drama) Wealthy teenage cousins (and a step brother) on a private island over several summers with their fucked-up families. Unusual but beautiful prose, compelling voice, completely devastating. You’ve been warned.

The Secret Place, Tana French (Fiction, Mystery) It’s no secret I’m obsessed with Tana French. The Secret Place is like her others: perfectly-drawn characters, beautifully-written sentences, a compelling mystery, and ultimately heartbreaking.

Love Letters to the Dead, Ava Dellaira (YA, Coming of Age) I actually got around to writing about this one. If you loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’ll love this.

The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer (Fiction, Literary) I also got around to writing about this one! I adore stories about groups of friends, and how they come together and apart over the years. I adore awkward characters. I adore good writing. This book is light on plot, heavy on amazingness.

This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper (Fiction, Literary, Humor) This book made me laugh out loud. Tropper’s a beautiful writer and this story manages to be both sad and vulgar and hilarious and real. I heard the movie wasn’t as good, but I’ll be judging for myself.

4 stars:

Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell (YA, Coming of Age, Romance) What differentiates this from other YA romances? The characters are not conventionally beautiful; they are awkward and flawed and just so real. Why only 4 stars? The ending bothered me. But still well, well worth the read.

Delirium Trilogy, Lauren Oliver (YA, Dystopian, Romance) I liked these books very much. Lauren Oliver is a beautiful writer, they move along at a pace that makes them unputdownable. If I were to rate individually, I’d probably give Delirium and Pandemonium 4 stars, Requiem 3. Delirium did a great job of setting up the characters and the world and the romance. Pandemonium was my favorite, with the switching between past and present. Requiem fell a little flat after the other two, though still worth the read. All three were rather predictable, but the plot and the prose make them perfect escape novels.

Wild, Cheryl Strayed (Nonfiction, Memoir) I don’t read a ton of nonfiction, but I really liked this one. My favorite books make me want to insert myself inside of them, and after reading this I definitely want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed is such a compelling writer, I felt like I was right alongside of her the entire time.

The Rules for Disappearing, Ashley Elston (YA, Mystery, Suspense) A surly teenager and her family in the witness protection program. I like surly teenagers, I like mysteries, I like characters who stand up to the mean kids at school. The ending seemed to verge on the unrealistic, but I’ll still be picking up the sequel at some point.

3 stars:

We’ll Always Have Paris, Jennifer Coburn (Nonfiction, Memoir) I read this for book club; like I said, I primarily read fiction. This was the story of a mother traveling with her daughter over the years. It was cute and well-written. Not especially life-changing. Excellent if you’re in the mood for a wanderlusty, light read.

I hope to write full-on reviews of each one of these at some point. In the meantime, if you have any further recommendations, please let me know!

On Becoming an Expat

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Welcome to your beautiful new home! You know no one. Enjoy.

A new girl started at my office last week. She’s from Germany, and she’s wonderfully enthusiastic about everything. However, she just told me a story of how after going on a $300 Trader Joe’s shopping spree, she got to the register and her bank card wouldn’t work. She had no food, no phone, and now no money, and she just broke down at the register and started crying.

She’s fine now, of course. Her story got me thinking about my own first few weeks as an expat, and how incredibly difficult they were. So if you’re thinking of moving to a new country (especially if you’re doing it alone, as I did) here are some tips I hope will help.

Before you go:

1. Get your shit together This part is boring and annoying but so necessary. Save your money. Learn about the place you’re going. Pack what you need. Get all your paperwork in order. Ensure you have the necessary documents to get the things you need in your new country. (Moving to France? They need every document ever created about you since birth just to rent you an apartment. Have fun with that.) But be thorough, and get it done. Your future self will thank you when you’re not wandering the streets with your giant suitcases with nowhere to stay because you didn’t know you needed your birth certificate.

2. Research Ask people you know if they know anyone in the area, or at least within visiting distance to the area. Moving to the middle of nowhere, Normandy? Maybe someone knows someone in Paris. No one knows anyone? Look up organizations that are relevant to you–book clubs, running clubs, expat-in-France get-togethers. Correspond with people before you leave via social media. It’s scary to be alone in a country where you don’t know a soul. Acquaintances are better than no one–and the thing about these acquaintances, they can turn into friends.

3. Bring books Or something you can escape into during your stressful move, and upon arrival when life in your new country is inevitably lonely and overwhelming and scary.

When you arrive:

4. Find the grocery store (and wine store) Nothing is worse than being lost, exhausted, and also hungry. Buy food before you unpack. There was a point when I first arrived in Saint-Lô that I would have sworn a Nutella crepe and glass of kir literally saved my life, or at least my resolve not to run straight back to America. Food to fill you, wine to help you calm down.

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My first friends in France.

5. Walk Just walk around. Look at things, and not just the museums or landmarks that make wherever it is you moved to special. Wander into coffee shops, bars, down a country lane. I know all you want to do at this point is sit in your new apartment alone, emailing everyone you’ve left behind, but this doesn’t help. Trust me.

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My second friends in France. Par for the course in Normandy.

6. Talk to strangers So hard for introverts like me, but so necessary. Talk to your waitress. Your bartender. The person behind you at the grocery store. The overall friendliness of people depends on the location, but you will often find that there are at least a few people who won’t look at you like you’re insane (even in NYC!) If you’ve made contact with people before leaving, make plans to get together with them ASAP. Other people help immensely.

And the most important thing of all:

7. Don’t Leave You’ll want to so badly at the beginning. You’ll miss your old life. But like everything in life, acclimating oneself to a new environment takes time. Moving to a new country alone, leaving behind every single person and place and thing I’ve ever loved, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But also one of the most rewarding.

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I miss these guys.