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Monthly Archives: August 2013

5 Words That Don’t Exist in English, But Should

5 Words That Don’t Exist in English, But Should

*After reading my hilarious friend Allyson’s tumblr site, Does That Come With Cheese?, I’ve realized there’s fun to be had with animated gifs!*

Words are amazing! They can explain so much. But what if you can’t find the right word to describe exactly what you mean?
In his book, The Meaning of Tingo:  and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the Globe, author Adam Jacot de Boinod has collected words from all over the world that don’t exist in English, but he thinks maybe they should. Here are some of my favorites.

#1  Bakkushan (Japanese) A woman you think is pretty when you see her from behind, but isn’t when you see her from the front.

Eva’s note: Can we also have a masculine version of this, too? Let’s not be sexist.

 

#2  Drachenfetter (German) The presents a guilty husband gives to his wife. (Literally, “dragon’s food”)

Eva’s note: Not sure why a wife can be placated with dragon’s food. Or is the wife being compared to a dragon? Either way, it’s very Brothers Grimm, and I like it.  What do dragons eat, by the way?

 

#3  Lampadato (Italian) An adjective to describe a person whose skin has been tanned too much by a sun lamp.

Eva’s note: Fitting that the word is Italian. GTL, baby!

 

#4  Seigneur-terrasse (French) A person who spends a lot of time but very little money in a cafe.

Eva’s note: I think a lot of writers are Seigneur-terrasses.

 

#5  Zhengron (Chinese) A person whose looks have been improved by plastic surgery.

Eva’s note: What word do you use when the looks have not been improved?

Harry Potter, Aristotle’s Poetics, & Literary Magic

Harry Potter, Aristotle’s Poetics, & Literary Magic

*Check out my poem, “An Ode to Boys” on Burlesque Press*

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” – Professor Albus Dumbledore

My Ukrainian ESL student, Sergiy, is reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by recommendation of his eleven-year-old daughter. I mentioned this to my boyfriend on Friday, and suddenly his eyes lit up. “Do you want to watch a Harry Potter movie tonight?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, surprised. Paul doesn’t normally get that excited about watching movies, and he tends to spend his evenings reading, running, and doing math.

But he zipped off to the video rental store (yes, we still have those here in Seattle), and came back with not one but five Harry Potter movies (there are eight in all). And so began a binge weekend of red wine and wizardry.

We finished the last movie – Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part Two – on Tuesday night. “Now what are we going to do?” Paul pouted. He was already starting to go through Harry Potter withdrawal and was scrolling through articles on the Harry Potter wiki page to get his fix.

“It’s such a good story,” he kept saying, while humming the theme song.

“We could watch The Hunger Games,” I suggested, but I knew that was lame. The Hunger Games is OK and all, but Harry Potter is… well, it’s epic. And the more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I’ve decided that the Harry Potter series might just be one of the most incredible achievements in children’s literature…ever. I realize that’s a strong statement, but I feel pretty strongly about H.P.

Harry Potter, portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe.  Photo courtesy of Pixelsior.

Harry Potter, portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe. Photo courtesy of Pixelsior.

So strongly do I feel, in fact, that when I was getting my MFA back in 2007 (the same year the last book was published), I decided to write my big term paper for Literary Criticism on Harry Potter.This was a bold move. Lit Crit was a famously difficult class, taught by a famously tough professor, Bill Lavender. Bill was sort of like a combination between Snape, Dumbledore, and Voldemort: slow-talking and judgmental, brilliant and poetic, bald and frightening. In his class, we read some of the most difficult theoretical texts I have ever attempted to slog through, by authors like the terrifying Michael Foccoult and Jean Baudrillard. (Note, it’s only their terribly hard-to-comprehend writings that are terrifying; I’m sure in person they were quite lovely people.)

One of the few texts I actually felt I had a grasp on was Aristotle’s Poetics, which is why I decided to do my big paper on Poetics…and how it relates to Harry Potter.

“No, absolutely not,” Bill said when I told him my prospective topic. “You absolutely cannot do a graduate-level paper on Harry Potter.”

“Have you ever read the books?” I asked, knowing full well that Bill Lavender would never stoop so low as to read popular children’s literature when there were things like Ezra Pound’s Cantos lying around, waiting to be interpreted.

“Well, no,” Bill admitted. “But I hardly think–”

“I think it’s a good topic,” I interrupted, feeling as brave as Godric Gryffindor himself. “And I’m going to write the paper on it.”

“It’s your grade,” Bill said, his deep voice rumbling with annoyance and frustration.

“You’re gonna like it,” I said. “Just wait and see.”

Photo courtesy of bibicall.

Photo courtesy of bibicall.

And so I wrote a fourteen-page paper entitled The Poetics of Harry Potter: How Rowling Uses Aristotle’s Advice to Create a Modern Epic. And it was good. Even Bill had to admit it. He gave me a B. I got the paper out the other day to read to Paul, who, in addition to his current Harry Potter obsession, has a deep love for the Greek philosophers. Here are some excerpts from what I read to him. Note: Contains plot spoilers!  Note:  If you don’t like reading academic papers with parenthetical citations, just skip this part.

From The Poetics of Harry Potter: How Rowling Uses Aristotle’s Advice to Create a Modern Epic by Eva Langston, Fall 2007:

According to Aristotle, the best plots are complex and involve recognition, a reversal, or both (98).  “A reversal is a change of the actions to their opposite,” and a “recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge” or from “friendship to enmity.”   In the best plots, the reversal and recognition happen at the same time (Aristotle 99).  In the Harry Potter series, this plot device is most obvious in the seventh and final book.  Harry has set out to destroy his nemesis, Lord Voldemort, to ensure the safety of himself, his friends, and the world.  Voldemort has put seven pieces of his soul into physical objects called Horcruxes, and in order to destroy Voldemort, Harry must destroy all the Horcruxes first.  In the climax of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Harry learns that he himself is one of Horcruxes.  This is the recognition.  At the same time, there is a reversal in the action.  Harry has been trying to escape from Voldemort to stay alive, but now he realizes he must let his greatest enemy kill him, because the only way Voldemort can be destroyed is if Harry is destroyed, too.  The choice that Harry must make is an obvious example of suffering, which Aristotle says must be present in an epic (112).  Aristotle would probably find this a good, tragic example of recognition and reversal, especially because when the recognition occurs, the readers infer the probable reversal (Harry’s sacrifice), and Aristotle says that this type of inference makes for the best kind of recognition (104).

In addition to advice on plot, Aristotle offers many descriptions of good characterization, but perhaps his most famous idea is what we now refer to as the “fatal flaw” or “tragic flaw.”   He says that a plot should not show “decent men undergoing a change from good fortune to misfortune,” nor “wicked men [passing] from misfortune to good fortune.”  Instead, this best plot has a main character who lies between these two extremes.  This character is of high moral caliber, however, he falls from good fortune to misfortune “not because of wickedness but because of a great error” (100).  Harry Potter, then, could be considered a classic, epic hero with a fatal flaw.  He is brave and smart; a tough fighter and a loving person, who has to go on a long and arduous journey.  He continues to meet with tragedy and troubles because of his “great error,” which is his impulsive behavior and his wish to save people. Of course, the difference between many of the epics Aristotle discusses and the Harry Potter saga, is that although Harry’s flaw gets him into trouble and brings him grief, it is not his ultimate downfall.  Though the stories contain tragedy, the series ends happily.

Aristotle also recognizes that writers use traditional stories in their work, and he asks them to “use the inherited [stories] well” (101).  Perhaps the most famous story Rowling uses in her series is a religious one.  Despite the harsh criticism she has gotten from Christian groups for promoting witchcraft (Garcia para 14), there are both direct and indirect Christian references in the books.  In Deathly Hollows, Harry sees two biblical references on his parents’ tombstones: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” and “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  The first refers to 1 Corinthians 15:26 and the second is a direct quote from Jesus in Matthew 6:19 (Garcia para 6-7).  The true allegory, however, comes during the climax of the series itself.  Harry learns that in order to save the world and let good prevail over evil, he must sacrifice himself to Lord Voldemort.  Harry dies and goes to a strange, other-worldly place where he talks to Professor Dumbledore, who has always been a father-figure to Harry.  Harry learns that because he gave himself up to death willingly, the part of Voldemort that lived inside him was destroyed (Deathly Hollows 708).  However, Harry himself cannot be killed by Voldemort because Voldemort used Harry’s blood in his resurrection (Deathly Hollows 710).  To make a long story short, Harry comes back from the dead and saves the world from evil.  Naturally, this is an allusion to Jesus giving himself up to die in order to rid the world of sin, and then being resurrected with the help of his heavenly Father.

And so the “clichés” that some critics complain about are present for a reason.  Not because Rowling is unimaginative, but because she wanted to create a classic saga, complete with complex plots, a tragically flawed hero, and the use of inherited stories.  Without realizing it, perhaps, she employed methods of the ancient Greeks, as described by Aristotle, to help tell her tale.  By tapping into our cultural history, and maybe even our collective unconscious, she has created an epic and universally-appealing story that has affected millions of children and adults alike.

So there you have it.  And in re-watching the movies, I was overcome once again by the grand and epic story of Harry Potter. As usual, I wondered, how did J.K.Rowling do it?

I am always amazed by her plotting of the Harry Potter story, but during this most recent go-round, I realized another amazing thing:  the steady growth of the novels themselves. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a fairly short, simple, not-too-scary book; it’s about an eleven-year-old and written at a level appropriate for eleven-year-olds. But as Harry grows up, the books get longer, darker, and more complex. Was Rowling growing as an author, as some people claim? Or had she planned it this way all along – that Harry would mature with his readers so that they would both be ready for the reversal at the end of the series?

Rowling always says that the idea for the Harry Potter books “fell into her head” while she was riding the train from Manchester to London (Riccio). She knew how the series would end when she began it. It almost seems like magic the way it all worked out.

And I think it probably was. Writing is, in large part, hard work, but there is a mysterious element to it as well, and I think all writers, if they are brave and searching, can, on occasion, be visited by a muse who will drop of the golden nugget of a story into their open minds. It’s like Albus Dumbledore says, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”

WORKS CITED:

Aristotle.  “Poetics.”  The Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism.  Ed. Vincent B. Leitch.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Co.: 2001.  pp. 90-120.

Garcia, Elena.  “Harry Potter Author Reveals Christian Allegory, Her Struggling Faith.” The Christian Post.  (18 Oct. 2007).  15 Nov 2007.  http://www.christianpost.com/article/20071018/29749_Harry_Potter_Author_Reveals_Books’_Christian_Allegory,_Her_Struggling_Faith.htm>.

Riccio, Heather.  Interview with J.K. Rowling, Author of Harry Potter.  http://isabelguillermina.blogspot.com/.

Rowling, J.K.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.  New York:  Scholastic, Inc., 2007.

 

Student Massage Was a Pain in the Neck & Why the Pain Might Be Good

Student Massage Was a Pain in the Neck & Why the Pain Might Be Good

*Check out my fun promotional video for Evil Girlfriend Media’s Witches, Bitches, & Stitches anthology*

On Saturday, Paul and I walked downtown to get $25 massages at the student massage school. My masseuse was  a large, middle-aged man with lots of unruly dark hair, a dense beard, and round, Harry Potter glasses. His name was Norm, and he was dressed in a pair of jean shorts, white sneakers, and drooping tube socks.

When he asked what my goals were for the massage, I shrugged and said just relaxation. “Concentrate on my neck and shoulders,” I told him. “That’s where I like to be massaged. And if there are any kinks or knots or anything, you can work on those, I guess.”

“What would you put your pain level at?” he asked, his pencil hovering over his clipboard.

“Pain level?” I asked.

“On a scale of one to ten,” he prompted.

“Um…one?” I said. “I’m not really in pain.”

“One? Are you sure?”

“Well, OK, two,” I said, just to make him happy. “I guess.”

He left so I could get undressed and under the sheet, and when he came back, he started telling me about how he’d grown up in Alaska and been a fisherman for years. He was also a driver for Mitt Romney in DC, and before that he’d worked in Sudan for a Saudi prince. “That’s how I got interested in massage, actually,” he said, rubbing lotion into my back, “I used to massage the prince’s horses.”

“Interesting.” I mumbled from inside the face pillow. I was wishing he’d be quiet and just start massaging the heck out of my neck and shoulders. I was here to relax and zone out, not have a conversation with a fisherman-turned-masseuse.

“You have such nice skin,” Norm noted. “It’s so moist and supple. You must drink a lot of water.”

“Thanks.”

Finally he quieted down and he began to work on my neck. “Oh wow,” he said. “Oh, wow.” He laughed awkwardly. “That’s a really big knot.”

“Yeah, I carry my purse on my right shoulder.  It’s probably a little tight,” I said.

“Oh my. These muscles are really tight. They’re really inflamed, actually.”

“Are they?”

“I’ll do what I can,” Norm said, “but they’re pretty jacked up. They’re bad, actually.”

“I had no idea,” I told him. I really hadn’t. I’d only decided to get a massage because it would be fun – not because I actually thought I needed one.

Norm continued to work on the back of my neck. As he did, he explained to me the different muscles and how they all worked together. If one was inflamed or stretched or knotted, it affected all of the others.

“They’re all connected,” I mumbled.

“Exactly,” he said. He dug his callused fingers into the side of my neck. “Is this pressure OK?” Am I hurting you?”

“No, it feels good.”

“Wow,” he said for the millionth time. “You take pain really well. Most of my patients would be hitting the ceiling by now, screaming for mercy.”

I wondered why. I didn’t hurt at all. “No, it feels good,” I assured him. “You could even do a little deeper.”

“I’m amazed you only put your pain at a two,” Norm went on. “The way your muscles are inflamed like this, I’d have thought you’d be suffering. You must really take pain well.”

“I guess.”

“You must be used to pain,” he said. “You must have had a lot of pain in your life.”

Did he mean physical pain, or emotional pain? I didn’t really think I’d had much of either, so I made a non-committal noise into the face pillow.

“You have really nice skin,” Norm said again. “It’s so soft and supple. It just flows over the muscles.”

“Thank you.”  I would need to write about this on his feedback form: don’t tell female patients that their skin is supple more than once – it starts to get creepy.

“Did you go outside much as a child?” Norm asked.

“Yeah.”

“Really? Because most women your age have sun damage. But you don’t have any. You have such soft, supple skin.  So lovely.”

By the time the hour was over, Norm had complimented my skin twice more. He’d also massaged the heck out of my neck and shoulders.

“Well, we made some progress,” he said. “But your neck is still pretty bad. For therapeutic massage, you really need more than an hour.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’d recommend icing the muscles twice a day, and looking into a chiropractor.”

I told Norm thanks, and when I was dressed I went back to the waiting room. The receptionist informed me that there had been two cancellations – Paul and I could each have an extra hour of massage, free of charge. “Would you want to do that?” she asked. Would I?!

Back into the room with Norm I went.

Norm got his start massaging horses, not people.  Photo courtesy of  LarimdaME.

Norm got his start massaging horses, not people. Photo courtesy of LarimdaME.

Norm continued to work on loosening my inflamed and knotted muscles. “It’s probably from sitting at a computer all day, tilting your head slightly forward,” he said, digging his fingers into my neck.

When we were done with our second round of massage, he asked me to rate my pain level. “Umm, one? I mean, I wasn’t in any pain to begin with. But I can tell my neck feels less tense now. The muscles don’t feel as tight.”

And it was true. I felt like he had really done some good, therapeutic stuff for my neck and shoulders.  I felt less compacted.

But as I was filling out the feedback form, the muscles in my neck started to throb. By the time Paul and I were walking home, my neck and shoulders were hurting…bad. I dug my own fingers into the muscles, massaging them, trying to relieve the spasms.

“This sucks,” I said to Paul. “I hurt way worse after my massage than I did before.  I didn’t hurt at all before.” Not two minutes ago we had been gloating about getting two hours of massage for $25, and now I wondered if it was worth it.

By that evening, I was crawling up the pain scale and was forced to self-medicate with red wine. I sat on the couch with an ice pack wrapped around my neck, massaging my own shoulders and hearing the muscle crunch and pop in a most disturbing way underneath my skin.

What had Norm done to me? “He totally jacked me up,” I said to Paul. Maybe this was a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I’d taken my body into Norm’s shop, he’d opened me up and fiddled around, and now nothing was working right.

Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. (Photo courtesy of Eva Langston)

Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. (Photo courtesy of Eva Langston)

My neck and back and shoulders have continued to throb these past few days; they ache with a deep, twisting burn. The pain has made me more aware of how I sit at the computer, and on the couch. I try to tilt my chin up and keep my neck straight. I try to pull my shoulders back and down instead of letting them slump forward and hunch up to my ears.

I went to yoga yesterday, and for the first time, the instructor told me I’d been doing one of the integral poses wrong. “Try it this way,” she said. “It’ll help you elongate your neck, pull your shoulders back, and bring your chest forward.” And she was right. Apparently, I’d been doing the move wrong for years, packing constant pressure and tension into my neck and shoulders.

“You hold yourself together pretty tight, don’t you?” someone once said to me. I guess it’s true. I keep to a tight schedule; I hold my emotions close to the chest. It wasn’t until Norm loosened me up that I even realized I was in pain. It wasn’t until he went digging deep that I realized something was wrong.

I don’t think it was Norm who messed up my neck. It had probably been getting tighter and more knotted as time went on, and the more compactly something is held together, the harder it is to tell what’s really going on.

I’m not thrilled with the way my neck has been hurting, but I think it’s ultimately a good thing. When you don’t notice your own pain, you keep doing the things that are hurting you. Pain makes you more aware. Pain helps you change your bad habits.  It forces you to do things in a better way; it helps you to heal.  Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re broken until we loosen up and take a look at how everything is connected inside, underneath our soft, supple skin.

 

“30 is Not the New 20” & Why It’s OK for Twenty-Somethings to Waste Time

*A story I wrote in my twenties was just published here, in Front Porch Journal!*

I recently read a blog post that mentioned psychologist Meg Jay’s TED talk on why 30 is not the new 20. For some reason, it irked me, but I couldn’t figure out why. After all, most of what Jay said was reasonable: Hey people, she said, stop telling twenty-somethings that their life can start at thirty because then they think they can wait tables and date assholes for a decade because these years “don’t count.”

To all that I say, well, duh. Of course you should make your twenties count. You should try to make every day of your life count, no matter what your age. And it makes sense that your twenties, when you may not yet have a marriage or kids or other responsibilities, could be a good time to work on yourself and who you want to be. OK, Jay, I agree.

And yet, I was annoyed.

Maybe because a part of me was worried. Had I wasted my twenties? After all, I dated an awful lot of assholes. I worked for three years as a part-time orthodontic assistant – a job I don’t even include on my resume. I partied a lot. I watched My So-Called Life episodes over and over on my computer when I could have been reading books or working on stories.

Maybe Jay’s talk made me feel sort of bad about myself:  if I had only been more focused when I was in my twenties, maybe now I’d have something to show for myself .

“I wish Eva would be more serious,” my grandmother said a few weeks before she died. At the time, I was twenty-seven. I was working at the orthodontic office, going out a lot, and “dating” a dude who lived in a tepee in someone’s backyard and came to my apartment to take showers. I never knew she said this until a few weeks ago, and when my mom told me, it stung.

In my twenties, I did things like this.

In my twenties, I did things like this.

Not that all I did in my twenties was party. I also got my MFA in fiction writing. And I taught math for five years.

For two of those years I taught middle school math and had to deal with parents push-push-pushing to get their kids in algebra. This is the new trend – to start algebra earlier and earlier. The reasoning is that if kids take algebra in middle school, they’ll be able to make it to calculus by senior year, which parents (erroneously) think will get their kids into good colleges.

The problem with starting algebra earlier is brain development. Algebra relies on logical, abstract thinking skills that develop during adolescence. Studies have shown that for a large number of students, taking algebra before high school actually results in worse performances, not just in algebra, but in math classes down the road like geometry and pre-calculus (Urbano).

I currently write middle school math curriculum, and the learning goals for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade are all pretty much the same: fractions, decimals, basic geometry, etc. I can understand why people think, oh, let’s stop wasting time and get the kids started on algebra. But the people who say this are obviously not familiar with middle school kids. Middle school kids are busy paying attention to their friends and figuring out the social scene. They are busy obsessing about the opposite sex and worrying about their changing bodies. It’s a wonder we’re able to teach them anything at all during this stage. So it’s probably best to hold off an an important course like algebra until their prefrontal cortexes have matured a bit and they’re actually ready to learn the information.

Me, in my twenties, with middle schoolers.  Yes, I sometimes wore a side-ponytail at school.

Me, in my twenties, with middle schoolers. Yes, I sometimes wore a side-ponytail at school.

Meg Jay also mentions brain development in her talk, but she doesn’t go into much detail. All she says is that the brain is going through it’s last bit of changes in the twenties. And that’s true. The “adult” brain isn’t fully matured until somewhere around twenty-five (and some neurologists say by the early thirties.) Jay makes this sound like if you want to make changes to who you are, better do it before your brain has gelled into place.

The thing she doesn’t explain is how exactly the brain is changing. The part of the brain involved in keeping emotional and impulsive responses in check only begins to mature in adolescence, as does the thinking skills involved in decision-making, analyzing cause and effect, and considering different people’s perspectives.  That means, the brain is still developing in these areas during our twenties.  In other words, teens and twenty-somethings are often more emotional, impulsive, irrational, and self-involved because their brains haven’t finished maturing.

Upon hearing this, parents often have an ah-ha moment (that’s why my son/daughter is like this!), and I had one, too. Ah-ha, I thought, this is why I did all those crazy things in my twenties. This is why I dated crazies and played around.  I wasn’t quite ready for a serious boyfriend or a serious career.

And now we’re starting to hit on my annoyance with Jay. She acts like it’s so easy for twenty-somethings to just get serious and make their time count. Does she think they don’t care about making the most of their lives? Chances are they do care, but they’re still figuring out what exactly they want.

*  *  *

 Speaking of math, my boyfriend has a Masters in Applied Mathematics and spends a lot of time working on problems that one definitely needs mature abstract-thinking skills to understand. Sometimes he’ll pace around the apartment, eating Triscuits, or he’ll lay on the couch playing solitaire on his i-pad. “I know it looks like I’m not doing anything,” he says. “But I am. My brain is working.”

I understand. This is the way it goes with with writing sometimes, too. I get a lot of my ideas while taking walks or reading books or lying on the floor stretching. It might not look like I’m doing anything useful, but my brain is working on something, and I often don’t even realize it.

Maybe that’s the way it is with our twenties.

I had enough experiences in my twenties to fill a lifetime of books. And that’s not all the decade was good for. I also worked quite a bit on writing during my twenties. I wrote two novels, in fact. They were both terrible. I don’t think my pre-frontal cortex was mature enough for novel writing (I’m still not sure that it is.) But they taught me something about who I am as a writer, and I’m sure they strengthened some important part of my brain.

*  *  *

I was unfocused in my twenties, I’ll admit it. But I learned a lot during my wanderings and shenanigans. I realized I didn’t want to be an actress or a secretary or an orthodontic assistant. I learned that most important aspects of a relationship are reliability and communication, not hotness and how well he can dance.  And just recently I realized that I don’t want to be a teacher and that I want writing to be more than just a hobby. I couldn’t have gotten serious any earlier, because it took my entire twenties to figure out what to be serious about.

Meg Jay’s right that 30 is not the new 20.  But she’s wrong to say you should hunker down immediately and try to “get serious” at age twenty-two. Think about those kids who take algebra too early and suffer on down the road. What about the twenty-somethings who make huge life decisions before they’ve had a chance to play around and consider what they really want.  Perhaps this is why people who get married in their early twenties have a higher rate of divorce than people who marry later.  Perhaps this is why people come out of college with degrees that they don’t end up using.

At twenty-four, I nearly went back to school for a Masters in Math because I “didn’t know what else to do with myself.” It took me the entire decade of my twenties to figure that out.

So sure, maybe to Grandma it looked like I was partying and wasting time, but inside, my twenty-something brain was maturing. I was learning what I don’t want – and what I do. Every day of my twenties counted because there were always important things going on beneath the surface.

For the ultimate in adolescent brain development, watch Lena Dunham's Girls.  Here is the scene where her gynecologist says, "you couldn't pay me to be 24 again."

For the ultimate in adolescent brain development, watch Lena Dunham’s Girls, about a group of twenty-somethings. Here is the scene where the gynecologist says, “you couldn’t pay me to be 24 again.”

RELATED READING:

Starting Algebra Too Early?   Urbano, L., 2012. Starting Algebra too Early?, Retrieved August 23rd, 2013, from Montessori Muddle:

The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain

The Teen Brain:  Still Under Construction

Casual Sexual Encounters In Your Twenties

Interogation at The Space Needle, or, Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Interogation at The Space Needle, or, Ask and Ye Shall Receive

“What do you eat on a normal day?” Paul and I were recently asked by a gorgeous yet slightly judgmental Ukrainian woman.

“We try to eat pretty healthy,” I told her. “You know, salads, chicken…” We were sitting in the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, feeling slightly dizzy from champagne and the slowly-spining dining room.

Sergiy, a Ukrainian who I tutor in ESL, was visiting Seattle with his wife, Julia, and their two daughters, and they had invited me and Paul to dinner. We were having a great time, eating plates of pink salmon and taking in the breathtaking views of the city and the sound and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Paul and I were even enjoying this interrogation of our eating habits.

“Tell me exactly what it is zat you eat,” Julia insisted.

“Triscuits,” Paul said. “I eat a lot of Triscuits.”  (Paul has a thing for Triscuits.)

“What are Triscuits?” Julia glanced at Sergiy. “Do you know?” He shook his head.

“They’re like crackers,” I tried to explain.

“Shredded wheat,” Paul interrupted. “They’re basically shredded wheat.”

“No!” Julia slapped her hand on the table. “Tell me exactly what you eat every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Paul and I launched into a detailed meal-by-meal explanation of our food intake. This was even more intense than the last time I’d gone to lunch with Sergiy and Julia, and she had asked me, “how do you stay so thin? Do you exercise, or do you just not eat?” She had made me tell her my workout routine then asked clarifying questions – how fast were these walks of mine? Did I have a personal trainer? Julia herself is very fit, and I guess she’s always interested in learning other people’s methods of staying in shape.

“…And for lunch I might have a spinach salad,” Paul was saying.

“What kind of dressing?” Julia demanded.

“I don’t really use dressing,” Paul said.

Julia nodded knowingly. “Yes. You look like person who does not eat zee dressing.”

Once I understood that Julia really and truly wanted me to walk her through a day in the eating life of Eva, I didn’t mind doing it. It fact, it was fun. Talking about myself usually is.

“Well, for breakfast I have cereal, but sometimes yogurt and fruit,” I told her. “And always peanut butter. I have to have peanut butter every day.”

“Ah, you are truly American.” Julia smiled. .

“For lunch I might have leftovers, or a chicken and spinach quesadilla. Or a turkey sandwich with avocado and… What’s that cheese we like?” I turned to Paul.

“Smoked gouda.”

“Oh yeah. Turkey and smoked gouda with sprouts. We love sprouts.”

“What are sprouts?” Julia wanted to know.

Paul pulled up a picture to show her on his phone. “And pasta,” he said. “I eat a lot of pasta.”

“He’s Italian,” I explained.

“So spinach and chicken and fruits; maybe some pasta.” Julia seemed to be cataloging all of this into her brain to examine later. We had information she was interested in, and she wasn’t afraid to milk us for answers.

One thing we didn't mention to Julia was my sweet tooth.  Here is my current sweets stash.  The other day, I came home, and it was gone.  There was this picture on my cell phone with a message that my sweets were being held hostage until I gave Paul some Triscuits.  "Gimme Triscuits or no one gets hurt," the message said.  (Paul has a THING for Triscuits.)

One thing we didn’t mention to Julia was my incurable sweet tooth. Here is my current sweets stash:  chocolate, licorice, coconut-covered almonds. The other day I came home, and they were all missing from the cabinet! There was this picture on my cell phone with a message saying they were being held hostage. “Gimme Triscuits or no one gets hurt,” the text read. (Like I said, Paul has a thing for Triscuits.)

I don’t think I have ever interrogated someone the way Julia did to us on top of the Space Needle. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to. Often times I don’t ask people enough questions because I’m afraid of seeming stupid or sounding rude.  Sometimes I’m not even sure what the “right” questions are.  If they want to tell me about something, they will, I think. But maybe they don’t know that I want to know. Maybe they are waiting for me to ask the questions.

Now that I live in Seattle, I live close to friend and fellow UNO-grad, Lish McBride, who is the published author of two awesome YA books, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and Necromancing the Stone. Here is someone who has the information and experience I’m interested in, and yet, when I had drinks with her the other day, I didn’t pick her brain about what it’s like to get an agent and work as a novelist. I was afraid of asking questions that exposed my naivety, or that annoyed her, like how much money does she actually make, and how often does she travel, and basically how does the entire process go from getting an agent to seeing your book on a shelf.  Maybe it’s too personal to ask, I thought.  Maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it. Maybe, to her, it’s old, boring news.

What I realize from my dinner with Sergiy and Julia, however, is that most people like to talk about themselves, no matter how mundane the topic, especially when it’s with someone who truly cares about what they have to say. I mean, I’m not going to, unprompted, launch into a description of my daily food intake… but if you’re like Juila, and you really want to know, I’d be more than happy to tell you.

I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask questions. The worst that can happen is I won’t get any answers and I’ll be no better or worse off than I was before. But more often people want to talk about their experiences and give away their answers.  I bet if I ask Lish, I’ll get a pile of anecdotes and helpful info about writing and publishing books.  I’ll take a tip from Julia:  it’s better to interrogate than to go on not knowing.

necro

Check out this awesome promotion for Evil Girlfriend Media's new anthology:  Witches, Stitches, and Bitches.  For more info go to https://www.facebook.com/egmwitches

Check out this awesome promotion for Evil Girlfriend Media’s new anthology: Witches, Stitches, and Bitches. To check out my trailer video go here .

The Best Nonfiction Books for People Who Love Fiction

The Best Nonfiction Books for People Who Love Fiction

*Check out my sexy video on Evil Girlfriend Media, publicizing their upcoming anthology:  Witches, Stitches, and Bitches*

Currently, my boyfriend is reading a book called Surprises in Theoretical Physics. “Oh! Such surprises!” I tease when I see him reading it. I can be a book snob sometimes, I suppose. But I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be.

For many years, I snubbed the entire genre of non-fiction. For me, relaxing with a book meant meant reading a novel. I didn’t want a boring book that was going to teach me something, for God’s sake. And I got enough of reality as it was. I wanted a pleasurable escape.

What I didn’t realize is that sometimes non-fiction can be just as fun and exciting as a novel. And in recent years I’ve been dipping more and more into the pool of non-fiction books. Turns out, some of them are beautifully written. Some of them are funny or fascinating or heartbreaking. Some of them are real page-turners. Often the stories they tell are just as good as any novel.

So even if you consider yourself a fiction-reader, try out some of these titles. I guarantee, you’ll be entertained. And you might learn something, too.

THE BEST NONFICTION BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE FICTION:

Religion/Philosophy:  Life After Life by Rick Moody

Rick Moody investigates more than a hundred case studies of people who experienced clinical “death,” and describes the commonalities in their experiences. This book will not only have you pondering death, it will make you see your life in a different light. I found myself thinking about this book for a long time after I read it.

Psychology:  The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

I suppose Ronson is a journalist, but to me he is first and foremost a storyteller. His fast-paced tale of how he came to interview supposed psychopaths, both those locked up and those in corporate America, is fascinating, frightening, and often hilarious.

Animals:  Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees by Roger Fouts

Roger Fouts is a kind-hearted scientist whose life was forever changed when he met a chimp named Washoe and began speaking to her in sign language. Although this book discusses the psychology and linguistics involved in chimp language studies, as well as the politics surrounding primate research, it is really the story of one man, and how his friendships with a family of chimps changed his life. It’s a wonderful book – interesting, intelligent, heart-warming, heart-breaking, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Memoir:  Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild is everything a memoir should be. Not only is is beautifully written and excellently crafted, it tells an amazing story. Coming down off a stint with heroin and still reeling from the death of her mother, Cheryl tackles the demanding Pacific Coast Trail, as well as her own demons. By the end of the book, you will feel like Cheryl is an old friend, and your feet will ache in sympathy for the long, hard trail she traveled.

Neurology/Medical:  The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks rebelled against the idea that scientific writing must be objective and statistical; in his books he returns to the old-fashioned mode of medical writing: case studies. He writes about patients with neurological problems that cause them to see the world in the most bizarre ways. His case studies are more than just the facts of each case, however; they are thoughtful and intricate stories that often meditate on life and how we see it.

Biography:  Heavier Than Heaven by Charles R. Cross

Of course, we are always most interested in the biographies of people who interest us, and I must admit to having a fascination with Kurt Kobain and Courtney Love. Often called the most complete biography of Kurt, Cross was granted exclusive interviews as well as access to Kobain’s private journals and photos. This look into the musician’s troubled life is so intimate it gave me goosebumps.

Sociology/Media:  The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner

You know how parents are afraid to let their kids eat Halloween candy because there’s probably some psychopath neighbor poisoning the tootsie rolls and putting razor blades in apples? Yeah, it turns out there are actually no documented cases of any kid ever eating poisoned Halloween candy, or ever receiving an apple with a razor blade. In quick, confident prose, Glassner blasts dozens of other myths that mainstream media has made us fear, and tells us what we should really be afraid of.

Math:  A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart

I know, you’re wrinkling your nose at the thought of reading about math, but trust me. This book is about why math education in this country sucks (you can agree with that, right?) and what we can do to make it more beautiful and exciting. It’s straightforward and passionate, and by the end of the book, you’ll be wishing you’d had Lockhart as a teacher all along.

Science/History:  A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

You wouldn’t think that a book about the Big Bang, evolution, and geology would be a hilarious page-turner, but I couldn’t put this book down. Bryson’s prose is humorous and accessible as he writes the story of the zany characters who have helped us to understand our universe.  If you don’t read any other non-fiction, at least read this one.  It contains nearly everything you need to know.

Personally, I do not recommend this book.  But Paul says it's really good.

Personally, I do not recommend this book:  Surprises in Theoretical Physics. But Paul says it’s really good.

What the Heck Should I Read? Why Is Choosing a Book So Hard?

What the Heck Should I Read? Why Is Choosing a Book So Hard?

Sometimes I do book reviews for my amazing friend, Jennifer Stewart, over at the Burlesque Press Variety Show. She used to tell me what she wanted me to review, but now she says that I should read “whatever I want” as long as it’s relatively new. So all I have to do is find a relatively new book that looks fun to read. Should be easy, right?

Wrong!

First of all, how the heck do I decide what to read? People give me recommendations all the time, but I forget to write them down, or I forget where I wrote them down. When the titles do make it to my “books to read” list, I forget who recommended them to me, and why. Sometimes, it turns out that these people have really bad taste, and I should be wary of all their other recommendations…if I could remember which they were.  Sometimes, it turns out the person hasn’t actually read the book they’re suggesting.  (I once forced my way through a really long novel that I guy I was dating raved to me about, only to find that he’d never actually finished it himself.)

Sometimes I ignore my “books to read” list because it’s just a little too sketchy. I go to the great big smorgasbord that is the Internet. I google “new and noteable fiction.” I google prize winners. I look at librarian recommendations and Good Reads and and Amazon lists and people’s Twitter feeds. I read the descriptions and reviews of new books, but it’s still really hard to tell what I’m going to like. I have eclectic taste. Even with the same author it’s hard to know.  For example, I loved Jeffrey Eugenides’ first novel, The Virgin Suicides, disliked his prize-winning epic, Middlesex, and enjoyed with reservations his coming-of-age novel, The Marriage Plot.  So, all-in-all, I feel like it’s a crap shoot no matter what.

But, let’s say I decide on a few titles that sound promising. Now the problem is that I can’t actually buy the books – I’m too poor for that.

Let me interrupt myself for a moment to say that I’m all for supporting book sales, and I do buy a fair number of new books – I’ve bought at least five or six since the beginning of the year (an average of one a month). But I can’t go around buying new books all the time, and especially not new, hardcover books. I’m only going to buy a pricey, new, hardcover book if I’m pretty darn sure I’m going to like it, and as mentioned in the paragraph above, it’s always a crap shoot.

So instead of buying the books, I go to the library….

Let me interrupt myself again to say that I love the library. Love, love, love everything about it except maybe the homeless lady who smells like pee and is always talking to herself at the computer station. I check out books from the library constantly. And libraries are great about ordering new books. The problem is, people snatch up the new books before they’ve even arrived at the library. I’m serious. I don’t know who these freaky people are, but somehow they find out about new books and place holds on them before the books have even been released. Which means that by the time I figure out I want to read a book and go to the online catalog to place a hold, there are 155 people ahead of me on the waitlist. Meaning I will get to read the book maybe sometime in the next few years.

Which is normally fine for me. I don’t mind reading books from 2008 and not being able to participate in book conversations with my MFA friends who have somehow read every newly-released book on the planet. But reading old books won’t cut it now that Jeni wants me to review new ones.

Who needs a good novel when you can just read a tourist magazine about Wisconsin?

Who needs a good novel when you can just read a tourist magazine about Wisconsin?

So yesterday I realized, hey, I live in Seattle now – a land of book-lovers. There are probably loads of good new books at the used bookstores around town. So I walked down to Mercer Street Books in Lower Queen Anne and looked around. Immediately, I felt overwhelmed. So many books. Which ones are new?  Which one do I choose? I walked up to the clerk, a slim, twenty-something dude with floppy blond hair and tight jeans who I felt certain would have an opinion about which books I should be reading.

“Hi,” I said.

He looked up from his book. He seemed annoyed that I had disturbed him. “Yeah?”

“I do book reviews for a website,” I explained, “and they said I could read whatever I wanted, as long as it was relatively new. So I was wondering if you had any suggestions for me.”

He squinted at me. “Uh, yeah, I really can’t help you with that.”

“I mean, what have you seen around here, or what have you gotten in recently that’s a relatively new book? From the last year or so?”

He shook his head. “Yeah, I really don’t know. I don’t know what we have on the shelves.”

I stared at him. He was a person working in a small used bookstore, and he didn’t know what was on the shelves? I found that hard to believe. And so I pressed him. “You don’t have any ideas? Anything you happened to have seen recently?”

“No. I can’t help you.” He picked up his book again, and I had no choice but to walk away.

I strolled up and down the aisles, scanning the titles to see if anything jumped out at me. When the spines looked especially shiny, I pulled them out and flipped to the copyright date, feeling disappointed when I saw 2009 or 1975.

“Thank you,” I said loudly to the clerk as I left the store. He didn’t look up, and it occurred to me to go snatch the book he was reading out of his hand. I bet it was something new.

Luckily, here in Seattle, it is very easy to find free books!

I did get an old Barbara Kingsolver book out of this free library.

In my ideal world, there would be something like the Pandora radio station, but for books. I would type in  books I like, and this magic technology (let’s call it Calliope) would figure out the common elements of those books, and through some crazy algorithm, find other new titles I would enjoy. In fact, Calliope would actually download the books onto my Kindle the day they were released, and/or automatically place holds for me at the library – whichever function I chose. That way, I wouldn’t have to spend any of my precious reading time figuring out what to read. I’d always have a ready supply of books.

Hey, wait…Is there already something like this out there?  A quick search of google found some Calliope-like sites:  What Should I Read Next? The Book Seer, and Whichbook.  Thank you, Internet!  You are a fount of knowledge!  Except that when I tried out Book Seer, this is the result I got:

In case you can't read this, it says "Amazon recommends:  Nothing...Well, no books anyway.  Of course, you go ask your local bookshop or your local library."

In case you can’t read this, it says “Amazon recommends: Nothing…Well, no books anyway. Of course, you could go ask your local bookshop or your local library.”

Hmm.  It’s no Calliope, that’s for sure, but I’ll play more with these sites, and perhaps I will find them somewhat helpful.

In conclusion, I’m still not sure what I’m going to review for Burlesque Press or how I’m going to obtain it. I did manage to request a new book at the library that has no holds on it, but I worry that no holds means it’s going to suck.  Certainly the book-lovers of Seattle wouldn’t let a good new book slip through their greedy fingers. But, we’ll see. I’ll go pick it up on Monday, and maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Until then, I’ll continue reading old books, like The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.  (I requested the e-book from the library back in September, and just yesterday I finally reached the front of the line.)

And, of course, if any of you have a book recommendation, new or old, I’d love to hear it. I’ll put it on my “books to read” list, and maybe, one day, far far in the future, I might actually read it.  Will I like it?  Well, that’s a crap-shoot.