On Themes

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I’m nearly done with The Secret Place. It’s one of those books that you want to rush through and savor at the same time. Rush through, because you just want to know what happens, savor because Tana French is just such a beautiful writer and her book worlds are so well-drawn and heartbreaking you don’t want to leave them. And I know it will probably be at least a few more years before I have the pleasure of delving into one of her stories again. Genius takes time!

Without spoiling anything, I just wanted to record my musings on a recurrent theme in Tana French books: friendship, the real kind, and how incredibly powerful it is. I’ve written about this before, but the best part of Tana French books are the relationships between the characters. And the most powerful relationships in these books, in my opinion, aren’t romantic or familial; they’re the relationships between friends. I think it’s a kind of love which is underrepresented in storytelling–I mean, just think about the amount of romances or family dramas out there.

Friendship love is powerful and precious, especially for the young. And it’s true that something so powerful can also be dangerous, how the threat of losing it drives people to do horrific things.

I can’t wait to finish this book. And I don’t want it to end.

Zen Pencils

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The other night I was talking to a friend of mine about wanting to quit my corporate job and write full time. It’s a wish I’ve had for years, that always ends with me talking myself out of it, because of money, stability, grass-is-greener syndrome, etc. So he sent me this.

It really struck home.

I am now a huge fan of this guy. Do yourself a favor and check out his stuff, if you haven’t already.

Wanderlusty Wednesday: Berlin

Die Reichstag III

Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world. Why haven’t I written about it until now? Mainly because I don’t have many great photos from my time there.

Berlin is not the most beautiful city in the world. However, it’s definitely in the running for the most interesting.

Reasons to go to Berlin?

1. The people are incredibly friendly. On our way into the town center from the airport, we struck up a conversation with a couple on the train. They invited us to a house party that very night. In the  spirit of carpe diem, we went. I honestly believe there’s nothing like seeing a new place from the eyes of a local. And that night, we boozed it up with several.

2. It’s incredibly safe. We were warned before we left not to jaywalk in Berlin. Why? Because since there’s virtually no crime, the police have nothing better to do than ticket jaywalking tourists. Seriously. There are no homeless people (because there is an abundance of abandoned buildings for squatters) and prostitution is legal. Don’t jaywalk! You’ve been warned.

3. The beer. Self-explanatory.

4. It’s mind-blowingly fascinating. If you go, do yourself a favor and go on this tour. You know how city tours can be such overpriced tourist traps? This is the exact opposite. 

It started at our hostel (which I will not recommend for a variety of reasons, although they do give you free beer upon check-in). This twenty-something British guy named Barnaby was offering eight-hour walking tours for a pittance. I’m not sure what possessed us to sign up–it was February, cold and snowing–but we did. We spent eight hours stomping around in the cold listening to this man who taught me more in one day than I learned in a year of history class. He took us to the Berliner Dom, which predates 20th century history. He spent a while educating us on the early life of Hitler. He took us to Checkpoint Charlie and explained everything about it that was fake. We saw the remains of the Berlin Wall, the Jewish Memorial, the memorial to the Nazi book burnings. We walked from East Berlin to West Berlin, and everywhere in between.

The tour ended in a parking lot. “Why are we here?” we asked. There was no monument nearby, no memorial, no markings in any guidebooks we’d seen that would have brought us here. Nothing but an inconspicuous plaque on the edge of the lot–informing us that we were standing over Hitler’s bunker.

“You’re standing over the spot where Hitler lived with his family throughout the duration of World War II,” Barnaby said. “And over there”–he pointed–“is where they started building the Berlin Wall.”

We were standing on what is arguably the most historically important patch of land in terms of twentieth century history. And we never would have found it on our own.

On Priorities

"Priorities" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately. I think it’s something any writer-with-a-day-job can relate to. Or really anyone with a side passion. Anyone raising a child. Anyone who’s working towards something that they don’t currently have. So basically, everyone.

You know how it is: we have a certain amount of things we need to accomplish each day to maintain the life we have. Things like showering and commuting to work and performing work at said day job and cooking dinner.

But then there are also a certain amount of things we need to accomplish to move ourselves towards the life we want. If we want to buy a house outside of the city, we have to save up some money. If we want to be healthier, we have to exercise. If we want to be a writer, we have to write a certain number of words each day (as well as query, blog, tweet…) 

When I get overwhelmed, I tend to make lists. I think I got it from my dad. So I made myself an excel sheet with all the little things I needed to get accomplished each day in order to move towards my goals.

And it was long.

Like, 30 items long. The only person who’d have time to get through my daily list would be someone who doesn’t sleep. Like a vampire. And sleep is kind of important for us mere mortals.

It was time to prioritize.

I remember reading somewhere that you should write down the three things you want most in life. And if any of those things conflict with each other, you are destined to be unhappy. (If anyone knows where I found this, please let me know, I can’t remember.)

So that’s what I did. Here’s my list:

1. Maintain strong relationships (People are important. More so than anything else.)

2. Be a writer (Yes, ideally, eventually, a published one who makes money off her writing. But that takes time. For now, just hone your craft. Being a writer is enough.)

3. Be healthy (Because if we don’t have our health, what do we have?)

So those things don’t necessarily conflict with each other. That’s good! They do require a certain amount of balance, though.

So that is my new goal in life. Balancing myself between these three things that I want. And also, being more forgiving of myself for not cooking elaborate dinners every night of the week or having the cleanest apartment or tweeting  five times per day.

I am a mere mortal. And that’s okay.

The Interestings

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(Image found here)

They all seduced one another with greatness, or with the assumption of eventual greatness. Greatness-in-waiting.

It’s going to be hard to put my love for this novel into words (and putting things into words is something I supposedly do well.)

It was definitely not the flap copy of this book that drew me in. This is a literary novel in the truest sense of the word. It’s about a group of kids who meet at a summer camp in the 1970s, and it follows them all, some more closely than others, as they grow up and move into middle age. That about sums up the plot.

But oh, “The Interestings” is so much more. I was drawn in from the first page, by the wry awkwardness that is Jules Jacobson, to the homely genius that is Ethan Figman. The full cast of characters was well-rounded, but it was these two that tugged on my heartstrings and didn’t let go for the rest of the book. They were the ones who kept me reading.

The thing I loved best was how truthful this book was. It was the anti-romantic comedy. No perfect relationships, no fortuitous twists of fate, no neat resolutions. Just a raw, honest look into these people’s lives and how they grow and change over time.

Everything is going to move farther and farther away from what feels familiar. I read somewhere that most of the really intense feelings you’ll ever feel take place right around our age. And everything that comes afterward is going to feel more and more diluted and disappointing.

I generally find adolescence to be the most interesting part of one’s life (which is why I became a YA writer). But the further away I move from my teenage years in my own life, the more I understand that those fears and uncertainties don’t necessarily go away; they morph into other things. You can be sixteen and plan on becoming a great writer (or artist or dancer or actress) but as you get older and you don’t become one of those things, what is the point at which you give up and do something else? And what does that make you?

This question is especially prominent for Jules, since she has to watch her best friends, Ethan and Ash, become everything they’d wanted to be, while she gives up acting to become a therapist. 

What’s more, she sees the live she could have had … if only things had gone a little differently.

That’s why meeting in childhood can seem like it’s the best thing—everyone’s equal, and you form bonds based on only how much you like each other. But later on, having met in childhood can turn out to have been the worst thing, because you and your friends might have nothing to say to each other anymore, except, ‘Wasn’t it funny that time in tenth grade when your parents came home and we were so wasted?’

But while constantly assessing her own life in comparison with that of her friends’, something happens which forces Jules to reassess. There are so many things that can go right in life, and so many things that can go wrong. Where do you draw the line between being grateful for what you have and striving for more? (A question I’ve struggled with myself.)

Just give me what we had, she heard herself thinking, or maybe saying. It’s enough now.

The novel hops around in time a bit, which I first found confusing, but Wolitzer makes it work. She lets you know up front how Jules’s life is turning out, then goes back and delves deeper into the specific happenings that made her the way she was.

She didn’t know if she was happy yet; she really had no idea.

There are a few quibbles I had with this novel. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the other characters as much as I did Jules and Ethan, and therefore whenever I got to a longer Jonah section I found myself less engaged. Also, I felt the ending was a little rushed–I didn’t quite understand Jules’ motivation for that late-in-life career decision she makes. 

But ultimately what made this book great was the characters.

It became a secret phase that referred not only to this specific event, but to any misguided action that a person might perform in life out of longing or weakness or fear, or pretty much out of anything human.

These characters were so flawed. So human. And I loved them for it. 

11 Travel Tips for Couples from 4 Travel Bloggers

wanderlustywriter:

Super helpful list of travel tips for couples (and not just the ones I contributed!)

Originally posted on Adventure To Anywhere:

I like to think that my boyfriend, Sean, and I make a pretty epic team of travel companions.  I cannot count the number of times that we have shared in a victorious fist-bump in airports, hotels, backs of tuk-tuks in Thailand, or in various other locales throughout our travels as a couple, to celebrate the fact that we accomplished something awesome together.  Whether it’s making a tight connection in an international hub, finding a wicked deal on a hotel room, or booking the tour of your dreams, travel as a couple brings about an entirely new range of emotions and experiences with each other.  Most of these are happy, but what happens when the inevitable tension arises?

Like any traveling couple, Sean and I have also had our fair share of arguments abroad.  Patience gets tested, privacy is a thing of the past, and comfort is not always a top…

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