Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Some old graphics and I'm done.

 All Ryan Adams, All the Time

Over the past couple weeks, I have been engaging in the sickest forms of nostalgia.

Healthy Forms of Nostalgia:
- Looking at old pictures
- Laughing with friends and family about old times
- Listening to music you used to like.

Sick Forms of Nostalgia:
- Looking at bad poetry you wrote in middle school
- Looking at bad fanfiction you wrote in middle school
- Looking at anything you wrote before last week.

Things That Are Probably Healthier Than the Above:
- Eating five pints of Ben & Jerry's
- Sleeping all day
- Drugs and alcohol.


Okay, I may exaggerate a bit. A bit of narcissism (okay, self-reflection) is healthy for anyone; but past "a bit," it quickly devolves into an unhealthy spiral.

This trend of mine started for a variety of reasons, and if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I've been vomiting this nostalgia all over the place because it makes me feel so embarrassed and anxious I have to get it out somewhere and Twitter has been my current venting platform. Sorry, Twitter. In the past, it's been Livejournal, HTML typed into endless Notepad files, all the way back to Angelfire and Geocities. Jill: Vomiting Her Neuroses to the Internet since 1997. 

Hella Cute on the Empire State Building; real into Abandoned Pools.

I thought sharing some of this stuff would be funny, but I'm increasingly realizing it's not. I don't even feel comfortable sharing most of it with Kathy. Things I usually talked about in all of these forms of writing: Beauty! Passion! Love! Loneliness! Beauty! "My words"! It is like an overdamatic reading of a Chicken Soup for the Lonely Girl in a Small Town Soul, or a neverending Jewel album from 1997.

The only productive end to this sick habit I've immersed myself in is possibly having an empathetic moment for the youth I want to work with and help in my professional life; a potent reminder of how selfish, philosophical, and intense we are when we are young. Mostly selfish.

This isn't a bad thing, and by "selfish" I don't mean uncaring about your fellow human beings--contrary to popular opinion, even when being incredibly cruel, it's my belief that teens are probably more hyper-aware of the humanity around them than anyone else. They have a special ability to see everyone's beauty AND everyone's bullshit, a talent that often fades with age. The selfish part just comes in by being so wrapped up in your own shit that your brain almost doesn't have room for anything else.

Overanalyzing the Definition of Home, Over and Over

But I'm not 14 anymore--okay, or anywhere between the ages of 14 to 22--so there's no reason to keep dragging myself around in this. Sometimes I thought the things I wrote were hilarious (to me), but mostly they just made me feel weird. While I'll always be the person who wrote those things, I'm also not, anymore. I can grow some balls and put away the floppy disks and not open those weird folders on my ancient computer anymore, at least for now.

The only thing I kind of enjoy looking at are old crappy graphics I used to make; sometimes they were for webpages, sometimes they were just another form of angsty expression. By "graphics," I mean, taking pictures of myself and/or places and putting lyrics on them. Most of these are embarrassing too, but are in general somewhat more socially acceptable.

 Prom Dresses in Bingham Park

So anyway, to document these two weird weeks of awful nostalgia, here's some of these gems, accompanied by the related musical inspiration. (Only because it took some serious musical memory tweaking to remember what half of these lyrics were from, and so I have to share my sense of accomplishment. Don't worry, they're all really mopey and sad.) And then I'm done. Hear that, self? For Christ's sake, brain, get over yourself.

 The Epitome of My Hanson Fandom
(Hey)

High School.
(Coke)

How I Dressed Pretty Much Everyday / Oh, I Also Talked About Souls a Lot

I Actually Made Like 10 Graphics From This Song, Which I Definitely Didn't Know Was About One Night Stands

Screencapturing of iTunes For the Win

Yeah, done. Like that dude says to Keira Knightley after he pours out his heart outside her flat in Love Actually (even though he's actually supposed to be in love with the dude): "Enough. Enough now." 

Dear former self: It gets better. But do know that I still love you, embarrassing or not, anyway. Love, Me now, and Me always.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random hits from the playlist at work.

I am often surprised at how much I want to talk about the music at work. This may be because it's the only thing really worth talking about from my work. Or maybe it's because Starbucks music (sometimes) actually speaks my brain and soul. BUT OMG HOW EMBARRASSING IS ADMITTING THAT?! CORPORATE COFFE MUSIC BRAIN. Blech. Or maybe it's because I often compose blog entries in my head to myself when I'm at work to keep myself entertained and when I hear the same songs ten times in a night they sneak their way in? Anyway.

The most important musical event of my life recently has been Ceremonials, but to talk about that would involve serious and honest emotional thought. But the music that's been playing at work recently literally seems like it was ripped from my Napster and/or my Kazaa from my freshman year of college. And talking about that is just funny, so I'm going to do that.

Seriously. It is like, hit after random hit, someone stole my computer from the 8th floor of the LB. I didn't make many true friends freshman year of college, so to fill my time when it was too cold to wander aimlessly around the city, I downloaded a LOT of songs. Here are some quick examples, playing now at a Starbucks near you.


Greek Song, Rufus Wainwright. I always loved this song just because I really loved singing the line, "When I get back, I will dream in Barnes and Nobles." Geez, writing this has really made aware of my corporate whoredom.


Central Reservation, Beth Orton. I was sitting alone in my dorm room downloading Beth Orton songs, and it would still be like, two years until Kathy made me realize I was a lesbian. Shocking, really. Napster had known for months.


Birds Fly, Icicle Works. Uh, okay, this is just random. But I swear it's playing at work, and I swear it was on my Napster. I just really like this song, okay? It's weird. I think I first heard of it when it was mentioned in a Hanson fanfic, true story. Oh my god, everything in my life is imploding in on itself.


Delicate, Damien Rice. Oh bloody hell, Damien Rice. There are actually a few Damien Rice tunes on the rotation at work, which is fine because I listened to O like it was crack the first two years of college. And by crack, I mean the kind of crack that makes you want to curl into a little ball and never move, just feel sad about everything forever. A few years later, when I somehow felt I was cool enough to talk about music with Keegan, who likes cool music, I downplayed my love of Damien Rice because Keegan thought he was over dramatic. But I'm not cool anymore and I'm not fooling myself; I will always be blindly in love with the over dramatic. So make those strings swell, Damien! WHY'D YOU SING HALLELUJAH IF IT MEANS NOTHING TO YOU?! RIGHT?!?! WHY'D YOU SING WITH ME AT ALL, JERKFACE?! OMG WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN LET'S GO TO IRELAND AND SIT BY THE OCEAN DAMIEN.


Okay, and then there's this collection of tunes that actually weren't on my Napster/Kazaa freshman year in Boston, but are in a distinct category of Female Songstress Emotional Times.


Keep Breathing, Ingrid Michaelson. Oh dear, oh dear, you are a pretty one Ingrid, let me weep as I make pumpkin spice lattes, thanks a lot.


On the Radio, Regina Spektor. So this is a happy sounding song; let's be honest, it's probably one of Regina's most upbeat. But I like it and the lyrics so much that sometimes it makes me teary anyway. What? I don't know. I also have a hard time not singing along to the "on the RAD-EE-OH! (oh oh!)" joyful sounding refrain at the end of the song, so I normally sing it under my breath. "Here's your chai! (OH OH!)" Also, YOU SHOULD WATCH THIS VIDEO BECAUSE IT IS TRULY AWESOME. Oh, creative people on the Internets, after I get over my feelings of inadequacy you first make me feel, you then make me feel so happy about the world!


Breathe Me, Sia. OH REALLY STARBUCKS? REALLY? JUST STOP IT. Remember that time Kathy and I played this as we drove away from Boston on our way to Oregon on the Masspike and we cried and cried as we drove under that weird Shaws that hangs over the highway and thought about all the awesome people and times and memories we were leaving? I do. And maybe you do too because we talk about it a lot. Also, the official video is truly remarkably cool so you should watch it, I just can't embed it.

Also, wait, wait, this horribly punctuated video just made me aware--ARE THE LYRICS ACTUALLY "UNFOLD ME"? I MEAN I GUESS THAT MAKES MORE SENSE WITH THE IMAGERY OF THE SONG AND STUFF. But ever since I heard this song I heard "I'M FOR ME." LIKE THAT GUSTER SONG BUT A LOT MORE DREAMY AND WHIMSICAL AND WITH LESS ACOUSTIC GUITARS AND DUDES. WHAT. DEVASTATED. OKAY WHATEVER, IT WILL ALWAYS BE "I'M FOR ME" FOR ME. And for Claire Fisher. She's for herself, too. Duh.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

J & K Do Portland Food Carts: Months 7-10-ish?

Remember that time I wrote monthly posts about food carts? Right, you might not, since the last time I did it was in July. Oopsies. I just re-read that post and found it to be pretty funny and thought to myself, "Man, I don't know why I'm not the most popular blog on the Internet, after Hyperbole and a Half because I could never be as good as that, even though I never promote myself other than to my family and friends on Facebook?," which is a thought I have sometimes.

Anyway, we have still been going to food carts but in a much more sporadic manner because there were some months we couldn't afford it, and other months where we still couldn't afford it but said, "Oh wells!" and went to carts anyway, but none of it felt organized enough to do blog posts about. And yes, to us,  even though street food is supposed to be something poor-ish people do, being able to afford food carts feels like sometimes rich people do. I.e., hipsters who somehow have more money than us, and/or freelance bloggers who know the secrets to getting paid to visit food carts, which are secrets I do not know.

Anyway, here's a quick summary of the random food carts we've visited in the past few months.


#1: Azula Tequila Mexican Taqueria. In our favorite A La Carts pod off of SE 50th and Division, we went here with my dad and Cheryl when they visited way back this summer. I'm pretty sure my dad and Cheryl got tacos, and Kathy and I both got this smothered chorizo enchilada thing. The exact details are hazy. In any case, this was definitely yummy, and there were major pluses to this cart in general: 1) They served you the food in these fancy fiesta-ware-esque plates, which is pretty high-class for a food cart. 2) The workers were super duper nice. 3) They had many plastic bottles of their own house-made salsas, which from what I can tell is basically a necessity for any true taqueria, but still is always exciting to me. 4) The best part of all is that the food was truly cheap. For truly large portions of food, as you can see. While I can't remember exactly, I'm sure this dish was $5 or less. In other words, what I believe true street food prices should be like.

While I really enjoyed this place and would definitely return in a heartbeat, I still feel like I have yet to discover a Mexican/taqueria cart in Portland that really makes my heartstrings explode with love. In other words, I feel like I will be constantly searching in vain for my West Coast Anna's Taqueria. Sigh. It's never going to happen. And now I'm just going to be pining for Anna's all day. Dammit.

Anyway. < /taqueria angst > Next, we went on our first adventure to the new-ish cart pod along Division and 32nd, near the famed Pok Pok (which I obviously have not been to since I feel it's too fancy and I'm often scared of new things), D-Street Noshery

This was actually a little bit of a disappointing adventure, but this might also have been because we were both in horrible moods when we went. In other words, I think I was being a bit of a bitch. The exact details are hazy. What I learned from this adventure is that, when one is in a slightly bitchy mood, great food can really make you feel better, but mediocre food can just make you even more pissed off. Or, if you don't place as much emotional attachment to food as I apparently do, you'll probably be alright either way.



Kathy's Choice: A special of the day from Herb's Mac and Cheese which featured tomatoes, bacon, garlic, and blue cheese.

Now, these are all things that I LOVE, and so it sounds like it would be amazing. However--even though I only had a few bites of it--I remember being slightly disappointed. I think because 1) While I love both garlic and blue cheese, they are both really intense flavors, and there was a LOT of garlic on top, and I feel like having two such intense flavors at once almost cancel each other out, or allows you to not fully appreciate each one as you should. 2) All the toppings were just plopped on and baked on top. Now, I understand you are fully able to mix it into the mac yourself. I know I'm lazy, but I understand that. But at the same time--I feel like the mac would have a more consistent mixing and blending of the flavors into every morsel of pasta if it all actually marinated and bubbled together, toppings and mac as one.

That said, I feel like mac & cheese places are the New Thing, and since I love mac & cheese so much, I feel I have to be a little critical of them. Because let's be honest--most of the things I eat when I eat out are things I can't make myself at home. Which is why I'm paying a lot of money for it, right? But I can make a damn good mac & cheese at home, as I proved when I made that mac for the Mac & Cheese Off last year. (Note to self: make that again.) So if I'm spending extra money to buy mac & cheese out, it better be damn good and something I know I couldn't perfect myself (like the macs I highlighted in this entry. No way can I make any mac like Montage can).

That said, I'm looking forward to trying more of these new trendy mac places. In particular, for months I've been meaning to visit Baked!, a take-out establishment on Alberta which isn't exactly a cart but doesn't have an actual restaurant/eating area of their own yet which still makes it the kind of supporting-small-business-upstarts type of thing that I like feeling with (most) food carts.

[Little rant: I said (most) because with the popularity of cart culture in Portland, I've seen it happen where already established, popular brick-and-mortar restaurants open up food carts around town. And while it might be kind of neat to have your favorite restaurant suddenly be mobile, I think the true food cart experience should be unique opportunities for poor-to-middle-class folks to really start up something new, something small but rewarding and exciting, on their own, closer to the American dream than most other things. Wait, have I ranted about this before in my food cart posts? Maybe. The exact details are hazy. HOWEVER, the addendum to this rant is that it's also frequently the case that a food cart is so popular that the owners are able to open up their own brick-and-mortar stores (most notable case, Pine State Biscuits--my first EVER entry on this here ol' blog), and to keep their original roots they usually still keep their food carts operating as well. This I deem completely acceptable.]

Anyway, Baked! was started by an Emerson grad, and while I don't think I really know him I will always feel a fondness for and allegiance to Emerson grads. And I'm a fan of theirs on Facebook so I always read posts about their weekly specials and they always make me SO HUNGRY. And then upset I don't live closer to Alberta. And then upset about the fact that even if I lived closer to Alberta I couldn't afford to get the weekly mac specials every week, or eat at any of the numerous eating establishments on Alberta, and it's a whole vicious Facebook-food-money-self-pity cycle. But, still--I'll get there sometime.

Wow, that was a lot of mac talk.


My Choice: I got arepas with chorizo and plantains from Fuego de Lotus, a Venezuelan cart. I decided to get it because I thought it'd be good to branch out and get something new/feel cultural, and I'd never even heard of arepas before. Arepas are basically Venezuelan corn cakes often served with meat, apparently something like a poor man's (wheatless) bread. And hello, I love chorizo, and hello, who doesn't love plantains?! DON'T TELL ME IF YOU DON'T LIKE PLANTAINS BECAUSE I WILL IGNORE YOU.

While this was all yummy food, I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure the best way to eat it. Also, while I understand that chorizo is one of the greasiest things one can put down their gullet, normally I cook it as part of a dish so the grease just kind of all blends in and gives a rich flavor to things. But when you're just eating a big bunch of chorizo in a bowl, the grease all pools in a neon puddle at the bottom and makes one feel kind of gross. So overall, I would definitely try arepas again, but I'd maybe give this a B-.



However, any and all ambivalent feelings went away when we also visited the Pie Spot. Yeah, we really went all out at this pod. First of all, Pie Spot for sure wins for Cutest Food Cart Ever. Like, look at it! I couldn't even get all the cuteness in one picture! And all the adorable and delicious looking pastries are piled on cute plates! Gah!

The main thing Pie Spot serves are uber-mini pies they charmingly call pie holes. We got the chocolate hazlenut one. We shared it because we had already spent too much money on mac and arepas and the pie holes are maybe a little more expensive than I would prefer. However, they are SO GOOD. AND SO WORTH IT. AND IT WAS SO HARD SHARING JUST ONE. I AM ALSO REALLY HUNGRY WHILE I'M WRITING THIS WHOLE THING AND I WANT TO EAT THIS PIE HOLE AGAIN RIGHT NOW AND ALSO ALL THE OTHER FLAVORS OKAY THANK YOU.

This cart pod is also home to Slice, the delicious pizza that was our one real win experience from the food cart festival we went to earlier this year. We didn't get any because we wanted to try new things, but if I went back to the pod, Slice and Pie Spot would be an amazing and beautiful combination.

Since our D-Street Noshery experience, which I've just surprisingly written a book about, we've eaten at a couple other places but I wasn't on top of things enough to get pictures of them. Most recently, we got a couple of subs/hoagies/heros (depending on what you want to call them in your geographical location) from Shut Up and Eat, again in the A La Carts pod on 50th. This cart has some good press and for good reason; it advertises its menu as "Italian comfort food" and there's something about the place, the food, and the workers that has a real genuine vibe to it. I also absolutely love the name. It all just feels real East Coast-y, which always makes me happy. They also list in giant letters on their menuboard what farms all of their meat/ingredients come from, which is pretty Portland typical these days, but is still great.

Kathy got the Broad Street Bomber, which is basically a cheesesteak, and I got a chicken parmesan sub. Which, due to Tom Haverford I literally feel I will no longer be able to call anything other than chicky chicky parm parm. And this chicky chicky parm parm was great. The sandwiches are huge and definitely share-able, or good for two meals, which makes them especially worth the money (they are generally in the $7-$10 price range per sandwich).


This was fun to write even though it made me really hungry/angsty, because anytime I am hungry I am angsty. But still, hopefully this will inspire me to get this monthly blog tradition back into shape. And then maybe someone will pay me to write about them! OK, probably not.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November Goals.

Normally throughout the month I find myself noting in my brain ideas for goals I want to do for the following month. However, this month I seemed to lack the mental capacity to do this, or create any kind of neat list as usual. So instead I will give you a jumbled paragraph. Yay!

I want to be healthier. My eating habits were so atrocious this month and I hardly exercised at all, including riding my bike. I feel fat and unhealthy and gross. I want to start running again, I think it will help me with some of my anxiety I've been having. I want to eat more fruits and vegetables. I want to eat fast food less. I want to bike more. I want to get up earlier. I got up way early one morning last week because I was too anxious to sleep and ended up doing more before 8AM than I normally do in a day. I want to do that more. I want to read more. Like, schedule out time in my days to do it. I want to write more. I remembered one night this month that I kind of like TypeTrigger. I want to submit something to Gigantic Sequins. I want to spend more time with my pictures. This might be my only accountable goal, for Kathy and Matie: I want to finish reading Coin Laundry. I want to stop doubting myself. I want to apply for as many library and/or education jobs as I can. I want to actually contact UW's MLS program. I want to transcribe more. I want to not freak out about money so much. I want to keep the house cleaner. I want to start reading newspapers again. I want to talk to people I don't talk to enough that I love. I want to talk to my parents on a more consistent basis. I want to start organizing my life in my planner more. I want to be a better girlfriend. I want to use the car as little as possible. I want to listen to Florence every second of the day, but I already do that. I want to write about Florence. I want to get my shit together and be okay with myself.

Want, want, want! Buddha would be so disappointed.

In reality, I actually think I'm at a really good and important place in life. I'm feeling hopeful about you, November.

Friday, November 4, 2011

October Goals: Review.

So remember that time I made goals for October, and I ended my list by saying: "This is going to be a good month"? I also said things like "October is the bestest month!"? Well then. Note to self: never jinx myself like that again. October, in fact, ended up being messy and weird. Accordingly, most of my goals were shoved to the very back of my brain. But for tradition's sake, let's see what kind of a shitstorm this goals review will be anyway.

+ Get rid of our Bank of America bank accounts and open local ones, probably at Rivermark. Bye bye, big corporate banks! I may not be able to occupy the streets, but I can take my money away from yo' ass!
Half way. We did both sign up for checking accounts at Rivermark, yay! But I'm still waiting to get my debit card and official account information in the mail, and until I do I can't completely unravel my life from Bank of America. But this whole thing has made me realize how entangled I am in them. Blergh.

+ Pay off my bills. I got behind again this month. :\ Which always just makes them harder to pay off. :\
I did, just barely.

+ Once they're paid off: get my film pictures from our East Coast trip developed.
Not in the budget, but I want to so bad. The next time I have anything extra, this will be first on my list. Film pictures from New York, come to meeeeee.

+ To renew my education spirit, I want to finally subscribe to Rethinking Schools and VOYA.
Again, not in the budget. Looking over this list makes me realize how rah-rah I was feeling at the beginning of the month about education stuff, since I'd just gone to that social justice conference in Seattle. It's a good reminder though, because I go from rah-rah to blah-blah and completely doubting my ability to be a teacher really quickly. So anytime there's that obnoxious rah-rah in me I should take advantage of it. Whenever I do subscribe to these organizations, maybe they will help.

+ Also, so I can make my own opinion once and for all, finally see Waiting for Superman.
Yeah, no.

+ Another hopeful indulgence once bills are paid: get a tune-up for my bike, as well as getting mudflaps installed.
Hahahaha! Apparently I thought I was going to be rich this month somehow! I am hilarious.

+ More nerdy education/library stuff: start reading some books for upcoming winter Mock Newbery and Mock Printz Award workshops! I want to participate in both workshops and actually read all the books for each this year.
OK, yes! One success! I officially signed up for both workshops and read one of the Printz ones (Jasper Jones--it was intense!), started two of the Newbery ones, and put holds on all the other books from the library. Somewhat disturbingly, these holds have been fulfilled really quickly and I now have a huge stack of  pretty shiny books, the sight of which makes me want to hyperventilate a bit, and/or want to quit every thing I'm doing so I can sit home and read all of them.

+ Email my advisor about library practicums. Email University of Washington about MLS.
These might have been my most important goals on here, and all they were were sending EMAILS. And I failed. What is wrong with me.

+ Espanol! I'm going to get back on that train, people! Goals: finish current chapter in Harry, finish up to Chapter 30 in workbook.
I did read quite a few pages in Harry, but nothing to brag about.

+ If time allows, go on at least one hike with Kathy.
At first I was going to say no, but then I remembered that we went on a walk at Promised Land (did you know almost everything by my hometown is named after biblical references? Now you do) with my brother and his wife when we were in Pennsylvania. And it was a pretty lengthy walk, so let's call it a hike.


Kathy and Egypt Lake.

+ Also, make the time to go to at least one pumpkin festival. Pumpkin festivals in October = essential.
We also somehow made this happen. Yay! It was somewhat late in the season after all the good pumpkins were already taken and we went on an overcast Wednesday and so there was hardly anyone there, which was kind of nice. We got cider and bought local honey and walked around and it was real nice.


I love you, you weirdly shaped and dirty pumpkins!

+ Be able to put my entire transcription work check this month to a wedding fund.
No. Every cent of it went to bills. I'm actually really upset about this and thinking about how I'm going to pay for our wedding makes me really anxious. But if I talked more about it this would become a "Things That Make Jill Anxious" blog, which is much less fun, so let's not.

+ Start keeping track of all of my expenses on that really boring spreadsheet I used to have, again.
Hells no. I kept all my receipts for everything in hope of doing this, so now I have a bunch of receipts all over my desk and in all my bags. Does this count?

+ Make four new meals.
Four? Really? Wow, I was dreaming big 30 days ago. I somehow made three though, and I felt damn proud of that!


#1. Peanut soba stir fry. This turned out okay--better than the picture probably looks. I tend to like any peanut sauce anything, because it tastes like peanut butter and peanut butter is delicious. And the vegetables I put in were yummy, especially the cauliflower, because cauliflower is delicious. But the soba noodles I got were just so whole-wheat-y, you know? And I can't get down with those really intense  cardboard-y good-for-you noodles. I'm all, give me my unhealthy white flour so I can die earlier, bitch! They definitely didn't look like hers, so there must be some other kind of soba noodle I can find. 


#2. Spinach artichoke pasta. OH MY GOD THIS WAS SO GOOD. It's basically just like spinach artichoke dip turned into a pasta dish. OH MY GOD IT WAS SO GOOD. I WANT IT IN MY MOUTH AGAIN RIGHT NOW. I think what helped make it so delicious were the marinated artichoke hearts I bought which were delicious unto themselves. I WANT TO MAKE THIS AND THE SKILLET LASAGNA FROM LAST MONTH OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND EAT THEM EVERYDAY. These are also probably two of the unhealthiest dishes I have ever made, so, that's probably why.


#3. Cuban chorizo stew. A lot of the times I've made stew or soup-ish type things in the past they've always tasted a little bland or not as good as I would have hoped, but this stew had a really really good, substantial flavor that I loved. Maybe it was the chorizo, since chorizo makes everything better, although I really only used a small amount in here. Maybe I just really really love black beans. This also made a ton and I was able to have leftovers for many meals without getting tired of it.

So this month wasn't full of all bad things. This might come as a shock, but I can be a little dramatic sometimes. But overall October, I won't miss you. Until next year, because normally you really are the bestest.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Two LGBT short story collections for youth you should probably read.

Awhile ago, I mentioned in a post here that what I really want to be doing with my life is working with books. You might have missed this since it was nonchalantly squeezed into a longer post, but here I am to repeat it. Since I'm at somewhat of a weird life stage at the moment, figuring out what I want my life to actually mean has been forefront in my brain and I know books need to be a part of it.

Specifically, books for youth/talking about books with youth is what I want to be doing. I've settled on using the term "books for youth" at least on this blog, because while this is actually a huge and varied category, I feel like saying "kids' books" is almost demeaning for the quality of most of these books, and "young adult lit" seems to evoke nothing but poorly written, sexy books about vampires and/or blonde twins at Sweet Valley High. That said, I try to not be snobby about books, because if a teenage girl wants to spend every night reading about sexy vampires, MORE POWER TO HER. She is a girl who loves reading, and no matter what she's reading about, I love her for it. 

But I feel the term "youth" evokes more positive feelings of exuberance and strength than the unfortunately negative emotions "children" and "teen" often conjure (immaturity, silly in their abundance of emotions, etc). So I'm going with youth.

I've developed a three-pronged strategy for things I can do right now to help me toward my ultimate goal of being a youth librarian somehow someway (in addition to the things I'm already doing, like still volunteering at and accumulating way too many books from Title Wave):
  1. Start volunteering with Books2U, a really remarkable program started by former educators through the amazing Multnomah County Library that brings high-interest reading materials to low-income schools, mainly in East Portland and beyond. (Relatedly, people in Portland, you should probably read this excellent article about East Portland from the Willamette Weekly from a couple weeks back.) I feel like every single thing about this program is so important and good. I went in to talk with the director of the program the other day and left with two bags FULL OF BOOKS to start reading for future booktalking. It felt like Christmas!
  2. Take part in all three mock youth-award conferences put on by various library associations this winter: the Mock Newbery (for excellence in children's books), the Mock Printz (young adults), and the Mock Caldecott (picture books). I participated in the Mock Printz last year (which I don't think has an official OLA website, and appears to be reserved for people in-the-know, which I am not, but luckily I know one person who actually is in-the-know--thanks, Danielle! It also interestingly seems to be the only one that's free?) but I was a lazy participant and only read like three of the books on the list. This year I am committing myself to reading all of the books on all of the lists! I am already stressed out!
  3. Write more about books on here.
I'm excited about the contrast of #1 and #2 because #1 will get me better acquainted with books that kids actually like and that can be really important for varying reading abilities and interests, whereas #2 will make me aware of the most current high-quality books that, like, youth librarians like. (Speaking of awards and youth lit though, this is some serious shady balls, National Book Award.)

And I want to write more about them because 1) I need practice doing it, and 2) I feel like the world needs to know about how awesome books for youth in fact are right now. And not just because some shady authors think you can make more money doing it (I hated these authors so much after the first three paragraphs that I couldn't read the rest of the interview), and not because of the somewhat confusing upcoming Diablo Cody movie that I keep hearing is about a young adult author but doesn't seem to have anything to do with writing. But, because most of these books are really good.

And in fact, I think a whole lot of the world does know this. But a portion of the rest of the world, a portion that may be the most important--people who work with youth, coupled with people who work with books--still don't really know, and it's too bad.

While I love books for youth as a general whole, I also have a specific interest in books for LGBT youth, as I've mentioned here before. Since I honestly believe they can, you know, save lives, and stuff. So enough with my chit chat, GEEZ. This may honestly be one of my longest always-overly-long intros ever. But here we go. Here are two books of short stories for LGBT youth, one written over 15 years ago, and one that came out in 2009.


Am I Blue? came out in 1995 and was groundbreaking in that it was the first short story anthology for LGBT youth. Like, ever. There had been the rare youth LGBT book published prior to it (Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden, about lesbian teenagers, came out in 1982), but this was the first book that addressed the true breadth of issues that these youth might deal with.

I read a tattered used copy of it years ago, and the story the sticks most in my mind is the title story, by Bruce Coville. It features a fabulous, campy fairy godfather, who is like A REAL FAIRY IF YOU KNOW WHATIMEAN. Having such flamboyant characters in gay books/movies/TV can be a bit of a contentious issue, with some people claiming it solidifies a stereotype. But in my view, if you're a queen, you should be proud that you're a queen, and as a gay person even if you're NOT a queen, you should still feel proud that there ARE queens in your community. Because seriously, they are hella fun people, and everyone else should be jealous. Gay art needs to express all portraits of who we are, from the flamboyant to the straight laced.

So back to the point--there is this FABULOUS godfather, who floats down to Earth to help out a teen who's dealing with his own confusing questioning as well as some good old fashioned gay-bashing. Oh, and that fairy godfather? Died in a gaybashing. So there's something you didn't see in Will & Grace. Now, I love what this fairy godfather does for this boy so much I have to explain it, even if it might be a little spoiler-ish. To comfort the dear young boy, the godfather makes gaydar literal: he allows him to see everyone in the world in their true shades of gayness by coloring everyone blue according to their varying levels of gayness. Some aren't blue at all, sure. Some are (shockingly, to the boy) as bright "as a blueberry," and then others have just a hint of blue, some varying shade in between.

The reason I love this story so much is that it almost perfectly captures what my own view on sexuality is. When I try to articulate my thoughts on things, I'm always just tempted to say, "Well, have you read this short story Am I Blue?"

While I don't remember the rest of the stories in as great detail, what I do remember is the amazing variety of them all: stories about coming out, but also stories about being straight but having gay parents, a gay sibling. Stories about not knowing exactly what you are. Historical stories, science fiction stories. Stories about school, stories about different cultures, stories about disease, happy and sad stories.

Those who are against separating gay fiction as being "gay fiction" instead of just "fiction" would roll their eyes at this. Yeah, of course there's a lot of variety because there's a lot of variety in life. Gays are just people and of course there are a lot of different stories to tell, as there would be in any short story collection. But I think many of these stories are so specifically important for specifically gay circumstances that they ARE important to put into a gay anthology. Are they important to put into just a regular ol' anthology too? Of course. But if there's one or two gay stories inside of a hundred other straight stories, how are kids realistically supposed to find them? We do need our own books, sometimes.

Also, this is going to sound crazy I know, but some people in the media continue to relate homosexuality and queerness with one thing and one thing only: sex. So displaying the breadth and depth of issues around it all, explaining how big and wide this identity can be beyond what happens under the sheets, is in fact important, especially for kids who are trying to figure it all out. So it's an "issue" book. So what.



There have blessedly been many queer short story anthologies for youth since Am I Blue? but this one was one of the most notable in recent years. There are a lot of the same authors that carry over from Am I Blue? to How Beautiful the Ordinary, put together by the really awesome Michael Cart (his introduction is perfect): Francesca Lia Block, Jacqueline Woodson, William Sleator, Gregory Maguire (the Wicked guy). But the places some of these stories go really shows how far we've come in 15 years. 

Mainly, I mean the somewhat graphic yet eloquently told story of First Time by Julie Anne Peters. Right, so remember how I just mentioned sex isn't everything? Well, sex is still important, and this story made me go, "Geez, whoa!" and have to fan myself a little. And then I thought, "Well, this'll make the censors march in." And then I thought, "Holy crap, how awesome is it that this lesbian sex scene exists for teens to read about? Like, not just in some bad fan fiction they can find online (not that I'm necessarily knocking that either) but in a well-written, well put-together short story collection?" This shit is important.

There were some stories in this collection I wasn't as head-over-heels for, but there were some real standouts that made me love it: mainly the opening and closing stories. The opening story by David Levithan is in my opinion the best thing he's written yet. In A Word from the Nearly Distant Past, I have to spoil it a little because it is so cool: it is a little confusing figuring out what's happening at first, and then I understood. It's the voices of ghosts of men who died from AIDS in the 80's imploring (from heaven) the gays who are still alive how happy they should be, and how happy they are too as they've watched how things are changing. Like, whoa. I actually don't think I just explained that well at all, but it's powerful.

Gregory Maguire's piece, The Silk Road Runs Through Tupperneck, N.H. is the last in the book and by far the longest story and it drew me in completely. In fact I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a short story more. It deals with Faroukh, an Iranian-American boy who's taking a college credit music course at a small college in New Hampshire, and his fierce infatuation with that Jordan Catalano-esque aloof beautiful boy in class who everyone's infatuated with, Blaise d'Anjou (I know, what a name, right?). There were many things that drew me in about this story: 1) It's such a good and classic summer fling type of story, always full of so much longing and life, 2) It made me feel like I was in college, a feeling I always enjoy, and 3) It made me feel like I was in New England, another feeling I always enjoy. And the electricity between these young men--yowza.

However, the whole time I was inwardly groaning a little, because it's all narrated by an older Faroukh as a flashback type of deal. And it's like, I'm loving this all so much but it's so obviously leading up to it being a "that one summer I was gay, that was so fun before I grew up" cliche nostalgia gay story line. And I didn't want to meet Faroukh or Blaise's wives or know about their straight depressed adult lives or have one of them die or something else. But then--I was so happy. And I was actually surprised. And I won't spoil it completely, but I'll tell you, the ending is good.

One of my other favorite things about story collections these days is that there has to be at least one or two comics/graphic elements included. There are two included in this one, and I absolutely love love loved Ariel Schrag's Dyke March, which pretty much is self-explanatory--it tells the story of one girl's night during the dyke march in San Francisco--because it was just so simply perfect. It was refreshing to see in a collection like this because it was just real, and funny, and good.

Other queer lit books for youth I've talked about before:
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher [BRIAN KATCHER COMMENTED ON THIS (and I'm pretty sure it was legit) AND IT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY BLOG LIFE]
Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers
Freak Show by James St. James