Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Vast Fields of Ordinary, Nick Burd.


This is one of my favorite young adult novels I've read recently, and without a doubt is also one of the best GLBT young adult novels I have read. I have read quite a few GLBT young adult novels now (although there are so many more to read!), but I feel like this is one of the more realistic portrayals I've seen, mainly through how Burd carefully crafts Dade's angst. He's able to capture that so-much-the-same-yet-so-much-different quality of the angst: it's the angst of every teenager, at the same time that it's also the angst of gay. So much the same, so much different.

The novel takes place during Dade's summer between high school graduation and college, such an interesting and underrated summer for so many people, and it has so many good summer novel qualities, the same qualities that go into a good teenage summer movie (and really, is there a more satisfying kind of movie?): aimless night drives into the wide open Midwest countryside; heartache and first loves; big rowdy parties; boring teenage jobs; lots of drinking; fireflies. There are also parts where, while still capturing the contemporary teenage voice, the writing is very lovely, which I think is easy to guess from the title alone. The Vast Fields of Ordinary: what an epic, teenage-angst title! I think what I liked so much about the angst in this novel is that it worked without being irritating, that although it crept to the rim sometimes it didn't teeter over the edge of being over-the-top and just tiring (which I felt with John Green's Looking for Alaska and a few others), and that importantly for the most part you really liked the protagonist throughout.

(I know there are many great works of literature where you're actually not supposed to like the protagonist, but I've learned I have a hard time actually enjoying a novel [as opposed to appreciating it] when I don't actually like the main character.)

Anyway, Dade's best friend Lucy is also an immensely satisfying and awesome best friend character, and the little quirky sideplots--the disappearance of nine-year-old Jenny Moore, mainly--give the novel a little more intrigue, a little more suspense, a little more well, quirkiness, than just being mainly a romantic coming-of-age story.

What also really made me like it was the fact that it didn't end the way I thought it would. Gay stories throughout history in both film and writing have an exhausting habit of always having to end up tragic, and I was worried something typically tragic would end this novel. And although something tragic did happen (slight spoiler alert), it wasn't what I thought it would be. And although in a way the tragic happening was slightly typical, I think it was also highly realistic for the very realistic situation in which it occurred. Uh, yeah. Writing about books without being specific is hard!

In conclusion, this was Burd's first novel, and I'd be interested in reading anything else he comes out with. And in second conclusion, I'd like to work on being better at book reviews.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Leaves in fall.


The leaves, the leaves, oh the leaves! They have not even started yet but the return of occasional rain to parched summer Portland and that certain occasional chill in the air; the return to school and the return of football season even though I will never be one for football; the slow and deceptive shortening of daylight; the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and advertisements for corn mazes on Sauvie Island in the paper; the return of month names with multiple syllables: Sep-tem-ber, Oc-to-ber, such lovely sounds on the tongue--all of it verges on the brink of my favorite time of year, the fall, not quite submerged in it yet but almost there. And the best part of all is of course the most obvious and brightest sign of the season, yes, even more than the Pumpkin Spice Latte, the leaves!

Portland is okay when it comes to fall foliage; the above picture was taken here and remains one of my favorite leaves pictures I've taken (and I've taken a lot), mainly because the light was perfect. (I also took it when we went to Jamba Juice for breakfast on our way to Seattle for the first time the first fall we lived here, and I was feeling excited and free the way one does on the morning of a road trip, so I also associate it with that feeling, making it doubly good.) And I must admit there is a brief window of time in October when all of the trees along our stretch of Powell turn the same brilliant shade of yellow and it makes even Powell seem magical and soft.

But there is really no out-doing the Northeast and the East Coast in general. New England is world famous for its foliage and so spending five years of falls in Boston wasn't shabby (even though I acknowledge that the foliage of the city can obviously not compare to the rolling hills and mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire and the like, which I haven't truly experienced in fall). But when I am really in heavy autumn reminiscent mode, my favorite place in my mind is my tiny town in Pennsylvania. Trees exploding in red and orange and yellow and all shades in between in my heavily wooded yard and along Route 507 and Route 6, circling the lake in a fiery, joyous display: the New York and New Jersey tourists are gone! Back to Wallenpaupack High; back to field hockey games and marching band; back to bundling up in sweaters. My falls were my busiest time of year, what with practice on the lush field behind the middle school every afternoon and football games on Friday nights, and even though I consider myself a pretty angsty person throughout most of my schooling in Pennsylvania, I know I was deeply happy at moments during those falls. Field hockey put me in the best shape I will probably ever be in and that felt good; it felt good to feel active and healthy, and even though we hardly ever won any games throughout my entire athletic career, I loved the way the late afternoon light slanted across the fields and the way the grass smelled. At home, I would lay on the floor of my bedroom and listen to Dave Matthews' Crash on repeat. The entire album always takes me back to a sweet, warm place; youth in a small town full of bright leaves in my memory.

It seems strange when one stops to think about fall in depth and in scientific terms, that all those colorful leaves in actuality represent death, but still fill me with such feelings of comfort and renewal. But I know poets have already discussed the irony and the meaning of this, and I am not a poet, so I'll leave it with them.

But I will say toodleoo, summer, I know you are the season of passion and romance and energy and fun, but I am ready for those leaves to start changing, because fall, you to me will always be the prettiest.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Project Runway.



I don't watch much reality TV, with the exception of a Real World every now and then in the '90s (before MTV's ruin), and the very important and big exception of Project Runway. Which is, of course, one of the best shows of all time. I usually get antsy after watching a couple of hours of TV or movies (ask Kathy), but I feel like I could watch Project Runway forrrreeeeevvvvver. It sucks me into its fashion vortex and it's hard to escape it. It has enough cattiness to make it entertaining, but still stays on a far higher rung than the rest of reality TV in terms of classiness: it's not about who's sleeping with who but is about an actual innovative and interesting artform and people's talents. Being that it's now in the 8th season I have a hard time remembering all of my & Project Runway's good times, but here's a list of my favorites from the show:

1) Tim Gunn. DUH. Tim Gunn has to be number one. My love for Tim Gunn is neverending, limitless, freeflowing. He is one of the loveliest men on the planet, and whenever he laughs my gut is filled with warm happy feelings. And when he is angry it is SO BADASS and always deserved. There was one bitch a season or two ago who kept talking smack about Tim Gunn, and I should say there is a difference between not necessarily wanting to take his advice and talking smack, and talking smack makes me want to rush my face to the TV and shout, "Oh no you di'nnnnnn't." You did, but you SHOULDN'T.
2) Chris March from Season 4. You know, the big, flamboyant costume designer with the fabulous laugh. Everything about him was fabulous.
3) Stella from Season 5, mainly just for this clip above. "Everything is LEATHA." So good.
4) Anthony Williams from Season 7. A sassy black gay fashion designer from Atlanta. What more do you need to know?
5) Ping, also from Season 7 because she was so wacky and kooky. I always love the wacky and kooky ones. Although when I looked up YouTube videos for her I found this one of her crying when she was kicked off and I remembered that horrible partner competition show where her partner, whatever his name was, was SO MEAN TO HER and it was SO SAD because I LOVE PING! OMG it made me cry.
6) Santino from Season 2. One because his Tim Gunn impression was amazing, and two because one of the first things I watched of Project Runway was him basically being a douche to everybody, and then when Tim visits him at home, he was all of a sudden this really sensitive soul and it was mindblowing.
7) Christian Siriano from Season 4. Ooobviously. Everybody loves him, and I do too. His fierceness never got old.
8) All the guest judges. Always so random.
9) Heidi, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia. I really don't like when they are downright mean (which I haven't seen that often, but sometimes, especially in later seasons), but I loooove when they are sassy. Especially Nina. Nina Garcia, you are so badass.

Who's to say what will happen this season, but I hope Mondo and Valerie stay on as long as possible. And although I like the occasional cattiness, the everybody-being-mean-to-Michael-C. thing is so irritating to me. Yeah, you don't like him or his clothes, whatever, grow up and stop being meanies. Cattiness is entertaining; meanies are just annoying.

There is probably more I could say, but my brain feels tired from trying to do all that remembering from 8 seasons. So all I'll say is, Project Runway gives you great advice for all things in life: the cards you get dealt suck sometimes, but in the end you have to make it work.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New bloggy blog!

Daily Daffodilly!

I have long admired photo blogs and have long tinkered with the idea of my own. Back in 2005-2006-ish I had a livejournal that acted as such and actually did document my life through somewhat daily pictures for awhile, but became sporadic at best after that. For years I've dabbled around in HTML to try to create a daily photojournal component for my website, but in the end that took too much work. In any case, Blogger is working for me at the moment, and my philosophy for this one is a bit different: no more ramblings or explanations with each post; this one is just for the pictures to speak for themselves. It's not to necessarily document my day to day life, but to look at things in the bigger picture: the things and the places I have taken pictures of throughout the years, a random surprise each day. I'm enjoying it a lot so far, so I'd love for you to take a look, too.

If you're interested in some real, professional, amazing daily photo blogs, I would recommend Joe'sNYC, A Walk Through Durham Township, and Daily Dose of Imagery, among many others. Especially Joe's NYC. I don't look at it every day, but if I did, it'd probably make me miss the East Coast just way too much.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.


(4th of July on the Charles, Boston, 2005)

If you have not experienced Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture live, played outdoors on some balmy summer evening, accompanied by real booming cannons at the the finale and followed by fireworks, you seriously need to add it to your Life To Do list.

Before we heard it tonight, performed by the Oregon Symphony Orchestra at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the amazing conductor gave us a little history lesson about why this little ditty is so popular in this country. When really, isn't it a little odd that this is always the finale at Fourth of July and other patriotic festivities, when it's by a Russian composer? As if we have a history of really loooooving the Russians. We were pleased to learn that it is in fact due to the Boston Pops (which of course made me feel even prouder of all those times I squeezed myself onto the Esplanade on the 4th of July with thousands and thousands of other sweaty bodies, with the Pops in the Hatch Shell somewhere far, far away, up yonder behind the trees). When ticket sales were down in the 50's for the Pops, some genius thought up a marketing scheme of: Hey, it would be super neat if we played this song and shot off live cannons at the same time the drums go boom at the end of it! This genius obviously understood Americans very well. We like loud things that go boom and make lots of smoke. It worked.

Even though it is obviously the very last section of the song that is most famous and most recognized 'round the world, I find the entire thing beautiful and mesmerizing from the very first notes. I have to admit that my knowledge of classical musical is close to zilch, although it is my dream to, one day when I'm rich and successful, be able to attend symphony concerts all the time wherever I'm living. (Although I'll be less snooty and wear brighter colors than my fellow frequent symphony goers.) I was a band geek throughout middle and high school and loved it to intensely nerdy degrees; I also have dreams of playing in a symphony band again (although this is perhaps even less plausible than my future-symphony-going). We played a Tchaikovsky song once in high school and although I can't remember what it was I remember it being one of my favorite things we did. That combined with the 1812 Overture pretty much makes Tchaikovsky my favorite composer. (Admitting that my knowledge is close to zilch allows me to name my favorite composer after knowing two songs--only one of which I know the name of--obviously.)

This entire song is all so dreamy and wonderful, all 20 minutes of it or however the heck long it is. I know whenever I hear it that most of the people around me are waiting for the cannons and the fireworks, which of course I love too--I am human, after all--but for me, the music could really go on forever. As Shakespeare says, "If music be the food of love, play on." I don't often quote Shakespeare--yeah, my knowledge of him is really close to zilch, too (add another item to my future dreams list)--but that's how I feel when I listen to the 1812 Overture. God Bless the USA! And, you know, Russia. And everybody else, too.