Monday, January 30, 2012

People Are Awesome: Part II.

So, January. I know I made all those strong-sounding goals at the beginning of the month, so amped about life and the year and everything. But now, January? I am so ready to quit you.

To be frank, this month has sucked. A lot of good things have happened, but I've been so messed up internally that it's hard to look at things from a logical, balanced perspective. There's only about three people who know about any of these feelings, but I feel off-kilter and crazy most of the time. I know someday all the self-loathing I'm holding will go away, but telling yourself, "It's gonna get better!" just really falls flat sometimes when you really feel like shit in the present. I'm annoying myself even as I write this because it sounds so dramatic.

A quick story:

Earlier this week, we were blessed with a few days of really great sunshine in Portland, and one day when I was home on my lunch break I looked at our dead and dry Christmas tree, which yes, we still had hanging around even though I had taken off most of the decorations weeks ago. And I said, goddammit tree, I love Christmas and all but you are right in front of our best window and are just blocking all of our sun and I have been looking at you too long. 

And even though our tree was large and not quite a one-person-dismantling job, I was suddenly determined to get that bastard out of the house. So somehow, I got it out of the stand and out onto the porch, spilling old tree water all over the floor and spreading as many stale pine needles as possible every which way--including into every nook and cranny of my sweater--all while talking to myself in a somewhat mentally unstable manner for my animals and perhaps my neighbors to hear.

This monologue, spoken in a muffled-by-branches-in-my-face sort of way, went pretty much like this: "EFF YOU, WINTER. EFF YOU."

It was pretty much the most satisfying part of my week. And since then, our apartment has seemed so much more full of light. And in the sun, I saw that there are some green things starting to peek out of the ground. Just a few. My daffodils. And I felt a little better.

Last time I was feeling really down, I wrote my first People Are Awesome post and it also made me feel better. Because it's always good to remind myself that people are awesome.

While my reasons for feeling awful all the time this month are much more selfish and weird and less legitimate than my reasons for feeling stressed were then, people, luckily, are still being really awesome & life would be infinitely more tough without them. So here is my public undying gratitude for the folks that have helped me through recently.

Manda. Manda and I are Hanson friends from back in the day, and if you don't already know, Hanson friends are the best kinds of friends. Duh. This means that we have known each other for over 15 years. And that is special, people. We first met each other for a fleeting second on the streets of New York a long, long time ago before a Hanson show, and then met up in a more real way when we both lived in Boston for a too-quick moment of time. I remember going to her apartment in Brighton (years later I lived, like, a block away from this apartment, did you know this Manda?) freshman year when she hardly had any furniture yet, buying some crappy alcohol at the corner market, and playing board games on her floor while drinking said crappy alcohol. We also later took a trip to New York together for a Saddle Creek showcase concert, where we were apparently rocked by angst for over seven hours, according to Manda's old LiveJournal. HANSON AND BRIGHT EYES IS JUST HOW ME AND MANDA ROLL, AIGHT.

Anyway, anyway. Manda & I have recently reconnected in a major way & it is pretty much the best thing to ever happen in life. Perhaps unfortunately for her, this means that she has heard pretty much every single neurotic, awful thought and emotion spewing out of my brain over the last month. And every single time she listens patiently and is on my side, even when I don't really deserve to have anyone on my side. But it still feels good, to have someone on your side. And to be honest it's been more helpful than words could say. Also, she is hilarious and smart and beautiful and anyone who messes with her will get their ass kicked by me because I will always be on her side, too. Cool? Cool.

PS. Manda, I randomly found this picture of you on my computer; who knows when it's from. lolz.

Ellie. Ellie & Kathy were friends in middle school in North Carolina, and then, you know, went through a ten year period or so of not being in great contact, until a few years ago when Ellie was all, 'Hey! My boyfriend Matt and I are moving to Portland! Let's hang!' And it was the best thing to ever happen in life. OK, I know I just said reuniting with Manda was the best thing to happen in life, but a lot of things apparently happen in life and I think they're all too good to just be called good so they're all the best. Anyway. Both Ellie & Matt are two of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met in my life. They don't live in Portland anymore, sadly, but Ellie was recently in town for a class and stayed with us for the last week and a half. We were all incredibly busy while she was here, her with her class and us with our lives, but we were still able to squeeze in some time for what we do best when we're together--hanging out on the couch in our PJs and talking. Any story you tell Ellie, she listens like it is the most interesting thing she has ever heard, and she almost always gets it, whatever it is. It is remarkable, and truly comforting.

One day last week I came home from work and, suddenly hit with a weird wave of exhaustion, was acting very erratic and strange, to say the least, until I realized that my attempt at communicating with Ellie & Kathy like a normal human being was failing all over the place and I had to say, "Sorry, y'all, I think I'm going to take a nap." Normally naps don't actually do me very much good, but this one did. I woke up feeling at least 80% back to my normal self, and when I returned to the world of the living I started to apologize for my earlier cuckoo behavior. Ellie looked at me like I was crazy, saying, "Oh my god, Jill, shut up. We're family." So, I did. People are awesome.

Even though we didn't get to, like, go hiking in the Gorge or get some Pine State or a number of our other old favorite things to do together, just having her around this last week or so was a wonderful, positive influence on my psyche.

Ms. Talent. Okay, I don't have a picture of Ms. Talent, but she's a teacher I worked with last year and that I'm working with again this year as an AVID tutor. The few hours I spend tutoring each week are the only hours that my mind feels completely focused and clear and good, and I'm extremely grateful for them. I travel to a few different schools and work with a few different teachers within Portland Public for tutoring, but Ms. Talent is the best. She's one of those teachers who truly devote their lives to their students, who care about their well-being, who are committed to their jobs to the point of it irritating other, lazier teachers. She also normally spends time after class talking to us tutors about different students and issues, like we matter too, which most teachers don't do. While my future in education is still undefined (who knows what kind of job I can get), being around teachers like her is an opportunity I want to tuck away in my mind and constantly remind myself of, just in case one day I am in fact in charge of a classroom and need to rack my brain for reminders of what the hell I'm supposed to be doing.

Baby Jackson. Okay, so I haven't actually met him yet, and I won't until July, so I suppose you can't say he really helped my mental state this month or anything, but I just want the world to know that Jackson Zalasky now exists, and that is awesome, and this picture of him with my Aunt Barb kills me, and also my family is the best family, okay, the end.

Kathy. The fact that you are still unwavering in your devotion to me after this month, when I was for the most part a selfish, sad, closed-off meanypoo is mind-blowing. You defy words, and I keep trying to think about what I want to write in my vows to you but nothing seems even close to adequate. You are the best person I know & we will always be in stereo. The depth of your heart is endless. Thank you, a million times over, thank you.

Also, I'm listening to your iTunes right now and Ke$ha just came on, and for some reason this just makes me love you more. I mean, just sayin'. Let's be awesome forever, okay? Okay.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Books Are Pretty!: Part I

You know what's a silly phrase? And by silly I mean annoying? "Don't judge a book by its cover." Not because I don't think it's true. You shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But we all DO. I think every detail about a thing influences our perceptions of that thing, and to think otherwise is dumb and somewhat condescending. Like, "Tsk, tsk," *shaking head* "Don't judge a book by its cover, little ones! I mean, I would NEVER."

I could argue that a book's cover actually often resonates with or at least is connected to our personal, emotional attachment to a story--otherwise the dreaded Movie Covers wouldn't get me so riled up every time. But I also love admiring the art of the book cover for art's sake. They're fascinating and lovely and beautiful.

At the library-run used-bookstore where I've volunteered for almost five years now, I spend my hours each week in the backroom quickly rifling through stack after stack of YA novels, mainly inspecting for quality and publication date along with a few other things to deem it worthy of putting out on the shelves. This practice has made me incredibly familiar with a few things: copyright pages and back-jacket author bios, really shitty book binding jobs, and the fine art of the cover. I go through hundreds of books each week, so it takes a good cover to make me stop in my tracks and say, "WHOA. THAT'S PRETTY. LET'S LOOK AT THAT FOR ANOTHER SECOND."

The wonderful Jill D. over at Looks & Books has a feature called Coveralls, where she takes a book cover and matches it with corresponding fashionable outfits inspired by the cover art, which is a lovely and neat-o concept. I, however, lack the creativity, energy, and cute fashion sense that Jill D. has, so on this here blog, I've decided to just, like, post book covers that I think are pretty, just cause. I'm titling this series BOOKS ARE PRETTY! 

I know! I AM brilliant!

1) Imaginary Girls, Nova Ren Suma (2011)

This book was included on my reading list for the Mock Printz workshop I attended this year. It wasn't necessarily my favorite book of the year--I thought the writing was wonderful, and the story deliciously creepy, but I felt in the end she couldn't quite wrap up the mystery she'd woven for herself. To be honest, I had no idea what was happening half the time--even though the words always sounded so pretty! That said, a 13 year old girl who was in my group at the workshop loved this book so much she was hugging it to herself. So. There you go.

But without a doubt, I love this cover. The piercing blue combined with that red ribbon, so strangely wrapped around the floating girl's wrist, fluttering behind her--it is perfect. It feels as delicate-yet-haunting as the story did.

2) My One Hundred Adventures, Polly Horvath (2008)

I haven't read this one, but every time it's in my stack, I have to stop and look at that house floating away above the puffy clouds above the warm-toned ocean, and I want to read it. I love this cover.

3) Pretty Dead, Francesca Lia Block (2009)

Most of the time, I admit, I like the pretty, dreamy covers, the ones that make me go "Oooooh" and want to cuddle the book in a warm blanket. But I can appreciate sass, too. And the first time I saw this cover and really examined that dripping peppermint on those shiny red lips, I thought, "That is freaking genius." And very Francesca Lia Block. God bless her (and whoever designed this cover).

4) Crow, Barbara Wright (2012)

This is a brand new book and I know nothing about it, but it caught my eye this week when I was at Powell's and I stopped in my tracks to look at it more. The lovely grey & yellow combination, along with a bicycle in the corner? Done and done, my friends.

5) The Stranger, Albert Camus (1946)

Oh, well, this is strange. This is not a YA or a children's book (whaaaaa?!), and it's old, and as certain people (who may be) reading this know too well, not even a book I particularly like. (I'm sorry, truly.) However, this book for a variety of reasons has been resting on the bottom of our coffee table for awhile so I keep staring at it. And I have to say--this cover is perfect. Simple, and perfect. This is, like, kind of maybe my favorite cover ever.

(Does that make it at all better, M? No? Okay, I didn't think so.)

What are your favorite book covers?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"My huckleberry friend."

Hey, so, I have a question. Is it possible for anyone in the world to listen to Moon River without their heart melting into honey--a sticky, gooey, blubbering mess? Because it is so sweet and lonely and pretty that it makes you just want to die? And if you don't think so too, I, like, don't believe you?

I may or may not have felt the need to say this after watching the Gilmore Girls episode in Season 5 when Richard and Emily renew their wedding vows and all that shits goes down in the end (WHEN LORELAI SAYS "YOU AND ME, WE'RE DONE" TO EMILY AT THE END, OMGGGGGG) and it's awful and I may or may not have cried through most of the episode especially when Richard and Emily dance to that Bill song but Rory and Logan (eh) dance to Moon River and so here I am.

Why do the three words "my huckleberry friend" slay me so much? What does it even mean? How can you be a huckleberry friend? I don't know but IT IS LOVELY, DREAM MAKER. JUST LOVELY. EFF YOU, AND EFF YOU TOO AUDREY HEPBURN, AND ALL YOU LOVELY OLD CLASSY BROADS WHO SING PRETTY SONGS IN MOVIES THAT MAKE ME WANT TO CRY FOREVER. I'M LOOKING AT YOU TOO, JUDY, BUT THAT'S A STORY FOR ANOTHER DAY.

There's such a lot of world to see.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Florence + the Machine, Lungs

The end of my 2011 was spent being fully enraptured with Florence + the Machine's newest album, Ceremonials. I wrote about my obsession with it here, on a Tumblr called Unbest created by the amazing Rachael Maddux. This Tumblr also happened to be included on the Top 10 Top 10 Lists of 2011 by the NY Times Magazine, for good reason--Unbest is a brilliant idea that includes a lot of honest & moving writing about music. I couldn't recommend it more.

If you are too lazy to click on the above link, I'll tell you the gist of my piece on Ceremonials: OMG I LOVE IT SO MUCH I WANT TO CRY OVER IT LIKE A BIG BABY EVERY DAY OMG FLORENCE WELCH YOU ARE PART OF MY SOULLLLLLLL. Or, similar to that.

But in January so far, I have been backtracking a little & can't stop listening to Florence's first album, Lungs. Ceremonials feels like this overpowering, all-encompassing...thing, an overwhelming force of an album, where every song envelops you entirely in wonderful waves. But Lungs is a little different somehow. I love the songs just as much but they seem closer in a more bare-bones sort of way, in a way that I feel like I can wrap my hands around them and hold them tight, like they are mine mine mine.

A lot of them also make me want to dance a lot more.

Like Ceremonials, there is not one song on Lungs that I do not like. But there are quite a few that I like A WHOLE LOT. And that I've been listening to over and over and over. And singing to. And dancing to, a lot, when I'm alone, hopping around in my car like a fool as I drive or taking breaks while doing the dishes to break it down in the kitchen while my animals stare at me.


Howl. You guys. This is my jam. My dance moves to this one are SERIOUS BUSINESS. For reals. These dance moves mainly involve me flailing my arms around and bopping my head and moving my hips a lot. So, uh, basically the best dance moves. I get particularly excited when I get to flail around and lip-synch to: "IF YOU COULD ONLY SEE! THE BEAST YOU MADE IN ME!" I could angrily flail and lip-synch this line all day. Now picture me putting these SERIOUS BUSINESS DANCE MOVES to work while in a wedding dress. This is what's going to happen in six months, people. You aren't even ready for it, wedding guests.

Drumming Song. So. My dance moves to this one are less likely to be displayed in public, since they mainly just involve a lot of intense head thrashing and feet stomping. Okay, and some arm flailing too.  Mainly I just really, really like singing: "THERE'S A DRUMMING VOICE INSIDE MY HEAD THAT STARTS WHEN YOU'RE AROUND. I SWEAR THAT YOU COULD HEAR IT, IT MAKES SUCH AN ALMIGHTY SOUND." Like, when she says it near the end, with the insistent drum beats. Like. I really like it. (It is the "almighty sound" that does it. What great word choice. Jesus.)


Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up). I feel like a rabbit-hearted girl, a lot. But I try to be a lion-hearted girl, too, sometimes. This song. Right here. *pounds chest*

Cosmic Love. Wrap me in a golden glittery gauzy curtain, play this song on repeat, I will die happy and dreamy. Repeat, repeat, repeat forever and ever, the stars have all been blown out.

My Boy Builds Coffins. I don't know why I like this song so much, to be honest. It's not like the lyrics pierce my insides like most of the other songs listed here. I really can't relate to dating a boy who builds coffins. I don't really like coffins, or thinking about them. (DEAR WORLD: SCATTER MY ASHES UNDER A TREE. NO COFFINS. K THANKS.)  But I just LIKE IT. It may actually be my favorite song on Lungs? But I can't explain why? Just the way the music dips and sways throughout the whole thing. It's just lovely.

Also, this is the only video that isn't a boring just-showing-the-cover-art video, the rest of which I included here because I wanted to broadcast the studio versions that I've been singing and dancing to like a madwoman, in order to be most accurate with my mind. But I had to include this one to show HOW CUTE FLORENCE WELCH IS. You must listen to her rambly introduction in this video, if anything just to hear when she talks about "writing songs about air" in her adorable British accent. She is adorable. I want to hug her. :( 

(Also, thank you for showing me this video, cousin Annie. Let's go hug her together.)

Maybe there will be a time in the future where listening to Florence + the Machine isn't the #1 thing I want to be doing, at all times. But I can't really picture it, yet.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reading Recap 2011.

I am in slight denial that it's already 2012--like full on, two weeks into 2012--when I haven't even finished all of my sentimental end-of-2011 crap I had planned on doing! So I will just pretend it's still December and proceed with my OVER-ANALYZATION OF A YEAR for the rest of the month. Yay! AND if it's still December, that means I get to do that awesome vacation that happened at the end of December AGAIN! YAYYYYY life is wonderful! 

Last year I did a reading re-cap for the year, and it was interesting to do it again this year and compare notes from year to year.

Total Books Read: 53
Within those:
Children's or Young Adult Fiction: 44
(GLBT themed literature included in those: 3)
Picture books: 1
"Adult" books: 7
"Classics": 5
Graphic novels: 11
Nonfiction: 4 
Some of my favorites:

- The Amulet series graphic novels, Kazu Kibuishi [My students last year LOVED this series; I had a waiting list of kids wanting to borrow my copies. I loved them, too.]

- Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf [I had never read it before--I know, I know. Loved it.] My other favorite "classic" I read was My Antonia, Willa Cather. So basically, a bunch of lesbianic old ladies all up in here. Not shocking.

- Rapunzel's Revenge, Shannon Hale

- The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

- The Help, Kathryn Stockett [The "it" book of the last two years, but I still loved it & all of its characters, a ton.]

- Almost Perfect, Brian Katcher

- Debbie Harry Sings in French, Meagan Brothers


- Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey. [Those Aussies know how to do creepy-yet-funny-and-also-sad so well. Also, I've seen a few different versions of the cover online, but this one is obviously the best one. Those roots--it is the perfect lead in to that haunting grove. Who wouldn't want to read a book with this cover?]

- Anya's Ghost, Vera Brosgol

- Okay For Now, Gary D. Schmidt [I LOVE GARY D. SCHMIDT SO MUCH.]

- Flesh & Blood So Cheap, Albert Marrin [I read a few great children's non-fiction this year, but this one was hands-down the best. I was riveted the entire time.]

& even though it was a re-read, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton played a big role in my life for the first half of the year since I spent two months reading it with a bunch of 7th graders and THEY LOVED IT (I mean, who wouldn't love a good rumble) and it was definitely my most rewarding teaching experience. So thank you, Miss Hinton.

Overall, I actually read less books than I did last year, but there was SLIGHTLY more variety--although I know 44 out of 53 books being children's or YA probably doesn't seem like "variety." But come on, five classics, that's not bad!

2012, I have a feeling you are going to be my best reading year yet. You and me, books. Let's snuggle.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012 Resolutions.

1) Stop downplaying everything I do eternally. Kathy always comments on how, whenever I make a new dinner, as I give her her plate I say, "I think it's okay, but this soandso didn't seem right." After I invest time in something, even when it's just something like food, whenever I show it to anyone other than myself there always has to be an additional deprecating comment.

I submitted two things I wrote to different places in December. What I said about the first one: "I think it's way too long, sorry." What I said about the second one: "It sounds way dramatic and crazy. Oh, I think it's way too long, sorry." Enough, Jill. Enough now. One of the things I've understood better in 2011 when it comes to writing is that I need to be edited & I actually really welcome that; each editing experience is a good learning experience.

But that doesn't mean I need to be ashamed that I have a lot to say and that I want to say all of it, and that I often have a lot of Feelings about the things I want to say. Own it, woman.

2) It is a fact that I will spend the first seven months of this year positively freaking out about how we're going to pay for our wedding in July. Most people wait until they are responsibly financially stable until planning a big wedding, but, we have never really followed the rules other responsible people follow.

In order to help actually pull this off, I need to do a few things: A) Take more transcribing jobs, and when I work on them, actually work on them. No checking Twitter every five minutes. Or every three minutes. Or, okay, every thirty seconds. B) Take all the extra tutoring shifts I can. Here I come, Portland Public School children. C) Keep the dream of getting paid to write stuff alive. It's possible.

3) More biking. Always more biking.

4) More writing. Write as many blog entries as I want; make them as long as I want. Submit something to somewhere--a website, a literary journal, whatevs--once a month. I just had someone really cool ASK me to submit something to their really cool journal. Don't be an idiot and ignore the universe being awesome, Jill. Even though I'll never actually be good at writing reviews because all of my Personal Feelings get in the way of being objective, write more about books & more about music. Because that's all you want to write about, anyway.

5) More pictures. It's become overly apparent to me in just the last month that I need to think about investing in a new camera by the end of the year. Sorry, old Lumix, I'll always love you. More importantly, don't put off using that darkroom time Kathy got me for Christmas. Holy hell, excitement.

6) Apply to the University of Washington for my Masters of Library Science. It just has to happen. So you're going to be in school forever. It's okay, you're still lovable even with your reckless financial decisions and your lack of having a solid career until you're 40.

7) More books, more variety. The world understands you love children's & young adult literature. But your brain will actually probably enjoy some grown up stuff and some non-fiction, too. Remember that time you got a degree in literature and underlined & bracketed things in your anthologies just because you liked the way the words sounded? You can relate to teens but relate to yourself, too, you know.

8) Less pointless apologies; less guilt. This will probably be the hardest one, but really girl, you do not have to say I'm Sorry twenty times a day for things that are out of your control. You can show your empathy in other ways. So do it.

2012, I am so in love with you already. Let's make out.