Reflections from Last Night’s Talking Taboo Event

“It’s been a long time since we wrote these essays,” Bristol chuckled. “And it’s a scary thing, preserving somewhat permanently that part of yourself for other people to read. It’s my past, I can’t change my past experiences, but still. It’s out there … When you google my name, this comes up!”

As Atinuke Diver had said of other people reading our essays: “It can flatten you.”  Suddenly, we may only exist in someone’s mind as the five pages we filled in a book.

1460098_2151719597859_1585428693_nMeeting more of the contributors to Talking Taboo was, as i expected, a delight and a dialogue. At last night’s event, i was grateful for the solidarity of each of us speaking for ourselves gave way to an authentic, vulnerable conversation. It was refreshing and reaffirming, the reminder that all 40 of us had snapped wide our secrets made it easier to continue to speak against silence.

And i’ve not stopped chewing on what Tinu and Bristol said. There were so many insights, and since the whole point i want to make is reducing someone to one essay or one quip is dangerous, i’m already having trepidations. These are two brilliant womyn who each contain multitudes, as we all do. So i don’t want to wrangle down or warp what they said.

But it’s this idea of flattening, this confining the words your read by someone to being all of who they are that has sat the most with me in the remnants of our conversation.

I think about my favorite authors who are currently living: J.K. Rowling, John Green, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker. John Green especially has led a rather public career with his (excellent!) video blogs, but even he has on occasion had to remind the nerdfighter community that he’s a whole person, someone who has struggled with Depression and social anxiety as much as he is a New York Times Best-Selling author. Someone who has two kids to raise and most days is trying to be a dad and a husband with a kind of banality we forget about when all we see is a clipped-together four minute hoot on trademarks.

The first month i lived Edinburgh, everywhere i went i carried a small, paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I frequented the Elephant House reading it so much i felt myself oozing cliché. (The Elephant House Café, for those who don’t know, is where J.K. Rowling penned much of the first three Harry Potter books). I tucked it in the middle pocket of my backpack for one main purpose: were i to run into Jo Rowling, to have something for her to sign.

It was silly, and more than a little freakish, but also an emblem of my total devotion to the books that defined my childhood. I knew, if i ran into the famous author herself, that i wanted to earnestly thank her for the gifts she had given me in the world she had made with Hogwarts. For teaching twelve-year-old lizzie that “Happiness can always be found, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” 

But the more i thought about it, the less i carried the book around. I imagined running into her while she was out with her own children – imagined how clumsy and imposing i would be, asking for an autograph from a mum having normal old mum-time with her kids. I recalled times when i was out with my own mother, having normal mother-time, and members of her congregation interrupted our lunch to talk about their church-y needs. How as her daughter, i tried to be understanding of her position as counselor and confident to these people, but couldn’t help the irked sense that these congregants didn’t fully respect that my mom was a whole person whose whole life did not revolve around her church.

I think we do this all the time in our lives, in so many ways – we box people in. By race, gender, sexuality, class – but also by how we have conceived of them in our minds. Teachers don’t live in their classrooms, pastors have vices too, authors are more than their words.

I am so grateful for every message, email, and dining hall happenstance when someone says they’ve read my essay and it meant something to them. I’ve not learned how to stop turning a delicate shade of tomato, nor how to properly communicate how flattered and humbled and thank-you-for-holding-my-heart-so-gently i feel with every one of these encounters. More than once these encounters have made me weep. Bristol is right, a lot of life has happened between when pen was first to put to paper and publication. My essay rings to me now of too many run-on sentences, of how early in my now engagement i was writing about intimacy and the toughness of love. But what has not changed is the nakedness i felt writing it – the nakedness i feel when people say they’ve read the book.

So please, don’t get me wrong: thank you for reading, thank you for your kindness, for your affirmation, for your talk back and pushing and pulling and questions and comments. 

I guess what i want to say is thank you, thank you, thank you, but know there’s more. Not “just more to the body-image, sexuality, relationship journey, and not “just” more that i will never want to write or talk about publicly because even intercom-level-lizzie can be private. But more in the sense that some days i am a very boring, very not-creative, very not-roaring-feminist lion lizzie. I like eating cookie dough and really prefer days spent watching zombie movies in my pajamas with my brothers to any other activity and i know, acutely, that i talk about myself too much and i definitely over-analyze how much or how little this blog/my essay means to other people (i mean, really, i may wish i was Alice Walker, but let’s be real). Even now, i’m biting my nails and thinking will the twelve people reading this think i’m some ungrateful whiney snob with poor taste in adverbs?

So maybe this post is an over-analyzing, over-thinking mess and i should just pop in World War Z and pull out the tube of Pillsbury’s. John Green, after all, says over and over we as humyns must learn to imagine complexly, realize that the truth resists simplicity and that there is always more nuance than we want and more questions to ask than answers to find. I’m trying to find that balance of imagining others complexly as i ask others to do the same.

When asked how we found the courage to “talk taboo” in our essays, Tinu and Bristol had yet more fantastic replies: “I didn’t really find the courage,” they both said. “I wrote while i was still scared.”

buy our book!

current jam: “i’ll fly away.”

relevant resources: Atinuke Diver’s blog, the official Talking Taboo website

On Being Bold

The first thing i ever wanted to be when i grew up was a dolphin trainer. Who also wrote books. And sang songs. And invented things.

The hybrid of this all in my imagination looked like this: i was the musical star of the Sea World dolphin show, using my inventions to train dolphins in singing along. And then i’d write of adventures in books with plots that suspiciously resembled Harry Potter, but with dolphins.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

The hybrid of all of this in reality looked like this: a large cardboard box in the corner of my room overflowing with “inventor-y stuff” (matchbox cars, duct tape). As my friend Becca so fondly recalls, i had a plastic toy dolphin named “Trixie” because she did tricks. (Becca will also tell you Trixie’s tricks were a big flop, but that never stopped me from trying). I actually went pretty far with the singing gig – two years of voice lessons and five years of more choir than anyone with any sense of social skills should hope to take. (Actually, i loved choir, but that’s not the point. I still have no social skills.)

But what has outlasted even my tacky-ass black chorus dress and books of Italian arias is the writing. The desire to write books, perhaps without Trixie-as-Harry-Potter plotlines, remains central to my ten-year plan. It’s kind of why i keep a blog: to keep in practice, to keep writing. To preserve material for my someday egocentric and totally indulgent memoir about my romp through a historically women’s college and semester mucking about Europe.

But if i’m honest with myself, my writing about traveling is not the substantial stuff. It’s tremendously fun, and i know come next year when i have the missing-Edinburgh-blues i will be grateful for making the effort to memorialize what i have experienced. And i love travel writing best of all for keeping in touch with neighbors-as-good-as-kin, my parents, my friends back home.

The substantial stuff, though, that’s what i want to do. I remember telling my best friend in high school i wanted to write a classic – a Tolstoy, a Fitzgerald. She facetiously (and rightly) pointed out that no one sets out to Write a Classic. I look back now with a grain more of humility and heartily agree: people write what is meaningful and beautiful to them, and the power that comes from such truth-telling is what defines a classic.

I’m pretty sure i’m never going to write a War and Peace, as much as my self-important teen self may have wanted to. But i do think it is time for me to truly start embracing that fundamental asset i have seen in all the Good and Great Books i have read, from John Green’s teen fiction to my beloved Toni Morrison’s work.

I have to be bolder, take the risks that terrify me with my naked honesty. This doesn’t make me a Phenomenal Writer – it doesn’t even make me a great writer. It means i am writing, truly and deeply, from my gut. And the best i can hope for is that my vulnerability and lexical expression communicates those questions and feelings with authenticity.

So that is what i’ve done.

Tomorrow, friends and family and good-as-kin-neighbors, i have some exciting and anxiety-inducing and wonderful news to share. I hope you’ll come back to read about it, and i hope it doesn’t flop quite the way Trixie used to.

And, hey, even if it does, i’ll just keep trying.

current jam: ‘san francisco’ the mowgli’s (thanks, radha!) 

best thing: #talkingtaboo.

also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM, YOU’RE THE GREATEST. Thanks for the dolphin wallpaper and putting up with my “dolphin call” for the whole of second grade.

Of Blossoms & Boats: Van Gogh at the Hermitage.

Refreshed from our wine-and-cheese induced sleep, Abby and i awoke in Amsterdam ready to brave the cold and wanting to explore. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (have i mentioned the cappuccino machine?) we took a gander about the southern canal/De Pijp neighborhood, drinking in the quaint little bridges and houses stacked against each other.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some ten minutes away was our destination: The Hermitage Museum. Since the Van Gogh Museum is presently undergoing renovations, the bulk of their collection is temporarily housed here. I’d been waiting to see this exhibit really since my 12th-grade AP Art History class, when i’d first really studied Vincent.

It was sublime. Is there really any other word for visiting with Van Gogh’s work?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden, so i have no photos to share of the actual exhibit. In some ways, i find restrictions like this liberating because it means i’m truly present with the art instead of constantly fiddling with the shutter speed on my Olympus.

Some of my favorite things we saw, though, were not the most famous members of the collection (like Wheat Field with Crows, though that was transcendent). There was a whole section devoted to Van Gogh’s study of Japanese prints, and his painted recreations of some of the prints in his own collection. To see how these pieces really shaped Van Gogh’s perspective as an artist in his formative years was really cool – especially the harsh angles and vibrant colors.

But lest we forget, the more famous works were also amazing to see. I hadn’t known that Almond Blossoms was painted for Vincent’s newborn nephew. Somehow, this idea that the blossoms were meant to celebrate new life made this work all the more endearing.

And the greens! Oh, the greens! I’ve always been enchanted by Bedroom at Arles­ and its quirky, incandescent spirit (my Art History teacher said once he always felt like the chairs were about to start dancing around the room). But it is even more lively in person – the dark patches outlining the bed and making up the floor are such rich tones of emerald that they illuminate the whole work. I was utterly intoxicated by the greens – the fishing boats at Saint-Marie series had me entranced.

VanGogh_Bedroom_Arles

Bedroom in Arles, 1888.

almond-blossom

Almond Blossoms, 1890.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Some two hours later, we exited the gift shop (postcards in hand, of course) and made our way to Kerkestraat for the (aforewrittenabout) bike tour! Our afternoon was thus consumed by exquisite art and wheeling about town – what more could you want from a long weekend in Amsterdam, really?

That was really the bulk of our first day; the cold was too potent to spend too much time out with the sun going down. We returned to our new favorite bar/café, Onder de Ooivaar, for yet another round of wine and cheese. The next day promised a tour of the Anne Frank House, eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market, and GIANT YELLOW wooden shoes!

current jam: ‘tout doucement’ feist.

best thing: ravioli.

of note: photos of van gogh’s paintings from here. 

We are Not at Hogwarts Anymore, Toto: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

(Originally published in the Mount Holyoke News, Thursday October 18th, 2012)

It begins with a gruesome, tragic death.

J.K. Rowling was never one to casually draw her readers in; her prose has always been laden with clever allusions and believable character development. Her most recent work, The Casual Vacancy, is no exception – but Potter fans be warned: you won’t find a drop of magic here.

The novel is set in the quaint Southern English town of Pagford. This setting, rife with cobblestone streets and delicatessens, gives at first the appearance of a small-town fairytale. Yet the façade of proverbial English life is unearthed as the cast of characters begin to emerge as anything but picturesque.

The death of Barry Fairbrother at the commencement of the novel – a tragedy in and of itself – sets in motion a clambering in the town of Pagford for the Parish Council seat he has left vacant. The story follows a cast of some twelve major characters, each coping with a crippling, vulnerable flaw or source of pain. From teenagers who are the only family of color in town to men who abuse their wives, each character is convincingly and brutally realistic. Each human dilemma presented – be it a loveless marriage or a social worker struggling to keep a rehabilitation clinic open – somehow hinges on the now absence of Barry Fairbrother on the Parish Council.

Rowling leaves no stone unturned, and fiercely confronts social injustices every town knows, from the subtle and cruel reaches of racism to classist refusals to understand the meaning of addiction. Her supreme mastery as a storyteller weaves the intricate cast together in a yarn that is unlike any other. In a story that centers on something as seemingly inconsequential as a local election, Rowling conveys the depth and complexity of human life. Despite the volume of characters propelling the plot forward i never once felt like i was drowning in an overabundance of information. Rowling manages to keep you breathless over such woes as keeping a failing shop open through the unapologetically brisk pace with which each detail of Pagford’s narrative unfolds.

There are no sweeping epics or chosen heroes sent to liberate Pagford from the world it has wrought unto itself. The tagline of the book, “a big novel about a small town,” could not be more apt. Her ultimate protagonist becomes the town itself. A town, painted with cobblestone streets and quiet storefronts, that is boiling under the surface in the tension of old and new, rich and poor, educated and abandoned.

The complexity of Pagford’s narrative makes this a difficult book for me to recommend. Though my fall break was consumed by my journey though Rowling’s Pagford, i struggle to say i enjoyed my sojourn. I profoundly admire the brilliantly executed manner in which the story was written. I could not rest until i knew the fate of each character, even with a churning stomach at such revelations.

But Pagford’s nightmares have not left me alone in its wake, and i am convinced this is because the characters are so real i could place them in my own life. There was no fantasy in my escape to this new world of Rowling’s, no escape at all, really. The Casual Vacancy is a dark and dreary portrait of human existence. Yet the core of Rowling’s enchantment as a writer remains: she tells a damn good story. Your time in Pagford may be bleak, but i promise you won’t want to leave until you have thoroughly explored each winding street and storefront.

Just be warned: you might want to have a pint of butterbeer at the ready for when your journey is done.

(Other posts you might be interested in: An Interview with JK Rowling & JK Rowling is Writing Another Book! & maybe following my reviews on Goodreads!)

current jam: ‘howl’ florence + the machine

best thing: 22 days. 

Write Like Everything is at Stake: A Response to ‘The Pen is Mightier’ by Sarah Sentilles

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

It’s no secret i have a great intellectual love affair with the writings of the Mahatma. Plastered on the cover of my notebooks are curlicued, hand-scripted quotes from his prolific works, laboriously detailed with ink and marker when preparing my school supplies for the semester. My study and subsequent commitment to a life led in nonviolent practice began with a sophomore English class study of Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

I don’t pretend the man was flawless, but i treasure his words. I treasure these words most when i am writing. Often i stare at the flickering cursor on a half-filled screen, repeating a mantra to myself: be truthful. be gentle. be fearless. Be unbridled by the possibility of failure. Be unafraid of honesty. Be loving. Be kind. Be fearless.

But sometimes, i’m not truthful enough with myself. I fret over participles, furrow my brow over clumsy phrasing – worrying my work will never be satisfactory enough. My stomach churns and i turn instead to making cups of tea or re-organizing the bookshelf. Tangible tasks that enable me to see an end. Clean, unperturbed by the messy process of discernment and requiring little courage. Sometimes the task of writing even a small term paper seems daunting, because i fear my own inadequacy will rob my ideas of their merit.

And yet, writing is an addiction. Writing for me is more than an academic requirement; it is a passion manifested in leather-bound journals tucked in all years of my life, photos infused with words scattered to the four winds of the internet. The torturous stomach clenching and tea-making is a ritual i thrust myself through in unending cycles of crumpled paper and tossed-out ideas, for no simpler reason than writing is what my life depends on. The way to make sense of a half-filled cup emptied by my Earl Grey consumption. The way to cope with the millions of burning words from the authors on my bookshelves. It’s a religion, it’s a way of coping with and being religious. It’s my sacrifice and my offering.

Though i do not know the path my life from hence will take, i am certain writing is central to the journey.

But the fact remains: women writers face an inordinate amount of sexism, bigotry, and misogyny in the publishing world. And women who write within religious spheres face a double-scrutiny of secular and sacred sexism. I recently stumbled across a brilliant piece by Sarah Sentilles on the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin entitled “The Pen is Mightier: Sexist Responses to Women Writing About Religion” (thanks to a tweet by my friend Erin Lane). I highly encourage you all to read the entire piece. In it, Dr. Sentilles articulates her frustration with sexist reviews of her most recent work, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story. She uses this personal example to engage in a critical conversation with the scope of sexism women writers have faced and continue to cope with:

“Unfortunately, this distrust of women’s words and the assumption that women do not know what they are talking about, no matter what their credentials or expertise or experience, are widespread in the literary establishment (though they are often coded as ‘reasoned critiques’). “

This distrust of the validity of women’s words isn’t news to me; i’ve been working to live into my feminist consciousness actively since that same sophomore English class in high school. I work for both the on-campus Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Center as well as for Women’s Voices Worldwide, a nonprofit that empowers women to use their voices most effectively within all spheres of communication, with particular attention to the double-standards women in public speaking face. My focus within my religion major is on gender and sexuality. My copy of Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father is a highlighter and post-it note war zone.

But more than all of these put together, i have to defend my arguments and theological ideas daily by virtue of my gender. I claim saying “mankind” excludes me based on my sex, and somehow i’m whining or “overthinking it.”If i speak with too much authority, i’m pushy or aggressive. If i’m meek or apologetic in my tone, my opinion is overlooked.

Despite my sometimes crippling self-doubt or imposter syndrome, i refuse to be too afraid to not say anything at all. I will not apologize for speaking my mind. This doesn’t make me perfect, or always right, or better than anyone else. It means i refuse to buy into the idea that i should sit tight and hope for the world to change all on its own. But, as one of my favorite feminist authors Audre Lorde, once wrote in her essay “Uses of the Erotic,” women so empowered are dangerous. The threats against us magnify when we refuse to comply with sexist standards.

Writing and speaking out when we are told we aren’t good enough to is the exact reason we should keep talking. Dr. Sentilles articulates that:

“Those who have written from the margins—feminist and womanist and liberation theologians, black critical theorists, postcolonial theorists—have always recognized the need to write as if their lives depend on it, because their lives often do. Words are world-creating and world-destroying; they can be used to liberate and to enslave.”

To write can be a way to dismantle the master’s house with tools the master never wanted us to have. As quoted by Dr. Sentilles, Mary Daly wrote “[t]he liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves.” We begin our deconstruction of internalized misogyny in utilizing our voices.

But what about the days when i never get past the tea-making? When the writing sits, untampered and untouched and unpublished, because i feel like it’s senseless or pointless or wrong? I don’t claim everything i write to be publish-able or even good. We all have to slug through the suck sometimes to make a breakthrough.

I’m not convinced, though, that my personal self-doubt is a symptom exclusively of a universal writing process. This very essay is not up for any kind of major publication par to Dr. Sentilles’ works, and yet her articulation about the faceless, sexist trolling of the internet and anger at unjust critiques resonated deeply with me. The writing process may be a freeing space,

“[b]ut what happens when your words are published? What happens when they are released into a sexist world, into a patriarchal culture in which reviewers and anonymous trolls have the power to frame how your writing is received? Writing this essay has been a powerfully liberating experience for me, but it is also terrifying. I was supported as a feminist when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, but I was also disciplined for being a feminist, and I worry that I will be disciplined for writing this essay. I expect to be called whiny and strident and annoying and grating and hysterical and uninformed. I expect to be told I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

I so identify with everything she says here, from the trolls of the internet (i’ve been told i’m “too hot to be this smart” and i’ve been likened to a Nazi more times than i can count for saying patriarchy exists – because, apparently, calling out sexism as wrong is equivalent to mass genocide) to the simultaneous terror and liberation of writing. It’s almost meta, writing this, because as i do i wonder if the comments section will be filled with chastisement for talking about religion or gender.

In another portion of the article, Dr. Sentilles discusses how death threats have become normalized for women content creators on the internet. This past summer, one of my favorite vloggers, Laci Green, went offline for a few weeks because the police were investigating anonymous death threats that were sent to her accompanied by pictures of her apartment building. Laci, fortunately, is now back with a swing and fearlessly continuing to make her sex positive videos on YouTube. But the fact remains: she should never have been threatened like this in the first place.

Seeing what happened to Laci fills me with dread and hope. Dread that it happened. Hope that she persisted in putting content online despite the threats.

And ultimately, i have to chose to live in that space of hope. If i see only the bullying and violence women face, i miss the whole point of Dr. Sarah Sentilles’ article and Laci’s refusal to give up her online career. Right after Dr. Sentilles articulates her fear that she will be told she doesn’t know what she is talking about, she enumerates:

But I’m also hopeful that this essay will encourage people to engage in a conversation about what to do next, about how to respond concretely to sexism in the literary world—and to the sexism in our syllabi and on our reading lists for general exams, in the language of our liturgies and in the leadership structures of our communities and churches and synagogues and mosques. Because, really, when it comes right down to it, there isn’t much to argue with here. I am simply sharing data, stating facts. Facts that aren’t new. Facts that have been stated and restated for decades, for centuries.

I especially love the facet of conversation in responding to the sexism women writers (and content creators) face. In fact, it was this very prompting for a conversation that made me sit down and write this. I’m be-lieving i have something, as a young feminist and aspiring theologian, to contribute to this conversation. I’m choosing to not buy into imposter syndrome today.

Dr. Sentilles’ whole essay engages in the history of women writers, from Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a George Eliot) to today. Women have been coping with these double-standards in speaking and writing for as long as people have had voices, and the time has come for this conversation to radically grapple with the subtleties of such prejudice. For women who write about religion in particular, this has to occur in places wherein our faiths hinge: sacred spaces. Sacred places of worship, sacred places of conversation.

For, the fact remains: the work of feminism is not done. And, frankly, i don’t think there will be a time in my life when i look around and say “this is it, we’ve reached equilibrium.” But that is all the more reason to continue to try. To continue to write letters to the editors of magazines where reviewers use sexist language or the authorial staff is predominantly cisgendered men. To continue to engage in uncomfortable dialogue. And this means incorporating male-identified allies. It means educating ourselves and others in this transformative process. It means being in sisterhood with one another, in engaging critically with women writers and supporting one another as creative be-ings in a complicated world.

I think, for me, it means taking to heart the words scrawled on my Intro to Islam binder: “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

Be truthful: expose the sexism, especially where it hurts. Be gentle: love yourself, even on the days when the critics are going for the jugular or the words just won’t come. Be fearless: write like everything is at stake, fierce in conviction.

best thing: work & the internship.

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine

A Bookstore with a Tale to Tell: Nice Price Books

(Part 4 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series)

If books were edible in circumstances other than apocalyptic survival tactics, i’d be gargantuan; i consume books like the American economy seems to consume and acquire debt, and, like most politicians, i have no shame in such consumption. As much as i love prowling the stacked-shelf aisles of the public library, there really is a kind of magic to being able to re-read books you’ve held in your hands before. For this reason, i am a confessed shopaholic when it comes to literature.

But, ever a lover of antiquity and story, i have always had a particular fondness for books that, in their physical selves, contain their own story. John Green has said that what makes us human is our love, proliferation, and creation of stories (in so many words). We need those gathered-round-the-table tales of our parents as youth to remind us of the time before us, as much as we need treasured books from our childhood to remind us of the truisms we continue to value when growing older. And books, by virtue of being the messengers of tales, are a treasure – but so too, i think, there is treasure to be found in imagining who else might have cracked wide the spine to behold that book’s bounty before. Used books, old books, second-hand bestsellers, therefore, are often my preferred packages for uncovering new tales of the human experience.

My taste for old books is one that was perhaps started, and certainly nurtured, by monthly trips with my father to a nook of Carrboro, North Carolina, that is a haven for recycled tales. In a break with the streak of restaurant reviews in my Hometown Tourist blog series, i thought i’d share some recollections and thoughts on this particular cranny of Carrboro known as Nice Price Books. It’s a place that, like the books it contains, weaves a tale entirely of its own.

In preparation of my vacation last week, i decided to take a trip to my beloved bookstore and see what the walls had in store for my reading whilst in South Carolina. Along the way i brought a stack of old books i was looking to sell – easily, the second best part of Nice Price Books as a place is that you can sell your old books (or vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs…) in for store credit.

Whilst the incredibly friendly and funny clerk was appraising my hearty stack of Young Adult fiction and instruction manuals on learning Irish Gaelic (a hobby i regret i dropped after about, oh, a week of study), i contemplated my purchases.

Geographically, Nice Price has this really wonderful tumble-y feel; the aisles seem to bump into one another and, as i’m fairly certain this location was once someone’s home, you sort of have to wind, wiggle, and otherwise waddle your way around to navigate the unending sections. Like the sometimes-battered-ness of old books with creases where pages were marked or stains from coffee spilled an age ago, the store itself has a clean but warmly vintage atmosphere that constructs its own sort of narrative.

The best part of the mere looking, though, is that there is simply so much to look at. Unlike the spaciously grandiose monoliths of Borders, with its rows upon rows of freshly minted look-alikes, you really have to hunt for what you want on the shelves. Rarely do you see two of the same edition of books adjacent to one another, and as such the occasion calls for a close reading of all the titles and authors and genre headings.

(i aspire to one day dwell on this shelf)

And what genres there are to be had! Nice Price does a really phenomenal job of breaking down the quirky second-hand-helpings of former-hippie-commune-Carrboro into useful and particular groups. It’s definitely the used bookstore to go to if you have a very specific interest, but it also managed to capture plenty of favorites. To assist wandering book lovers, there are a number of DIY-type signs indicating the section you’ve wandered into – and some signs simply to indicate the store policies (my favorite of which can be found in the children/young adult section!).

(still my MO, i confess!)

(classics)

Once i’d amassed a stack worthy of a publishing house bent on leading-lady-young-adult-borderline-adult-fantasy-sci-fi-page-turners, I returned to the counter at the helm of the house-store. My horde of books collected in the store managed to balance out almost precisely with the store credit given to me for the Gaelic how-to’s and old Goosebumps; for a total $25, i purchase five new-old books in ace condition. Nice Price is very, very true to its name, and equally true to its standards of quality!

The books procured included: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by (duh) J.K. Rowling in British first edition paperback (not pictured, as it was a gift that has since been parted with!); A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (highly, highly recommended – review here!); The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (as yet unread, but i have high expectations per my love for her debut Secret Life of Bees (review here!)); Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen (the only work of hers i’ve yet left unopened, but i’m a big fan especially because she is from Chapel Hill and went to my alma mater!); and one of my all-time favorites, Into the Wild by Jon Krakaur.*

(the covers in prime condition, even a clearly-loved paperback!)

All in all, if you’re looking for really wonderful books from an authentic, welcoming, and warm place, look no further for a well-spun yarn than Nice Price Books. The store itself tells a story of its own!

For Future Nice-Price-ers: their website, facebook, and twitter.

current jam: ‘england’ the national.

best thing: walgreen’s one-hour photo!

*if you like books and like reading this blog (thanks for supplying my endless narcissism and need to write!) then you might-maybe-possibly would be interested to know we can be friends on goodreads!

NaNoWriMo

Well friends, it is that time of year again.

The stores are clogged with singing Santas and we’re not even bursting at the buttons with Turkey, the Occupy Wall Street protests are expected to end because of weather soon (more on that later this week), parents are taking their favorite candies from their children’s Halloween stash as “parental tax,” and i’m starting to count down the hours until i get to fly home to see my kitties be with my family.

But that’s not what i meant.

What i meant was that it is now, officially, November first. And this means i now need to start writing an average of 1,666 words a day from here until the thirty-first to reach a goal of 50,000 words written in the month of November.

Because on top of my one to two papers due a week, in addition to the four books i need to read before the end of the month, in spite of my panel presentation at the Five College Africa Day, and at the cost of my radio show and social life, i have decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo(which i am choosing to call NaNoRhiNo, as writing about Rhinos seems to be far less imposing than creating a work of fiction entirely spawned from my own brain spilled out in at least 50,000 words)). I am going to try to write a novel in the month of November.

Am i crazy? Overextending myself? Pushing my limit?

Yes. Yes, i am.

I don’t have time, i hardly have the skeletal framework i need to write a novel, i need to focus on school, i won’t be able to blog as much, i have no brain space. But i also don’t have time for excuses, and i have wanted to participate for three years now.

So i’m not letting myself make excuses, i’m just going to turn into a puddle of wordy mishmash. Three of the other ladies on my collaborative YouTube channel are also participating, as is my brother. At least i shall be in good company.

Should you wish to be my writing buddy, you can find me on the NaNoWriMo site under the name (shocker!) Lizzie McMizzie. I would be honored to enter into a state of exploding writing psychosis with you. Also, i shall be tweeting about my word count progress, should you care to follow me on twitter.

As of right now i do not intend to release any part of my NaNoWriMo “project” (a word that sounds less frightening than “novel”) online. It’s in part because i am a little wary of internet burglars, but mostly i’m kind of freakishly self-depraving about my fiction when i talk about it with other people. But as my dream man would say, Never Say Never*, so should i render a work worthy of a Pulitzer (doubtful) maybe i talk a littleteensyweensybit about it. However, don’t hedge your bets (i hear, though, the number 4 is a lucky one this year for the lotto…).

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

current jam: ‘any which way’ scissor sisters

best thing in my life right now: baby name search engines.

*by the way, in case the sarcasm was lost on you, there is no way in heaven or hell justin bieber is my dream boy man.

thoughts in my head: on my i’s.

You’ve all, undoubtedly, noticed a shift in the grammatical structure of my posts as of late. Some of you have commented, messaged, or anonymously posted on forums that my lack of proper grammar is intriguing, jarring, juvenile, or otherwise a little out of place.

For your dissensions, comments, and inquiries: i thank you. Really – i welcome disagreements (they make me better for them).

But i want to explain: this is intentional.

Inspired by one of my favorite poems, i thank You God by E. E. Cummings,* the blogs of my friends Thera and Joel, as well as five years of French class, i’ve decided the time had come for me to blog in the way i write for my own self in my journals, notes, etc.

When i was thirteen and i first learned the tenses and pronouns in French, my understanding and relationship to language underwent a radical shift. For, in French, you never capitalize “je,” the pronoun for “I,” unless it as the beginning of a sentence. As i’d never encountered anything but English (and a few songs about hot chocolate in elementary school Spanish class) this was fundamentally challenging my concept of how we referred to ourselves. It seems silly, but to realize that in French it was unnecessary to make yourself stand taller in written form was pretty profound.

In high school, my women’s chorus was invited, for three years in a row, to participate in a concert of regional women’s choruses, held at UNC-CH. At the closure of the show, we all sang one piece together. My sophomore year, this piece was Eric Whitacre’s musical rendition of the poem by E.E. Cummings, “i thank You God.” Enter my discovery and subsequent love for Cummings, his wordplay, and manipulation of meanings by reworking and rewording and redoing the English Language. Most particularly, i loved how this poem used the lower-case-ness of the “i” to emphasize smallness, finiteness, when compared to the ‘divine, unimaginable You.’

Nearly four years pass, and this summer i (as most of you know) lived in the Karamoja region of Uganda, where i lived with Thera and met Joel (and his lovely wife, Heather!) in South Sudan. If you’ve ever perused my friend Thera’s blog, you’ll notice she hardly ever uses capital letters – her reasons are her own (ask her!) but needless to say, we had a lot of really interesting conversations about grammar and wordplay. Similarly, my friend Joel’s blog posts utilize “I/i” in a way similar to the French language (though i’m uncertain as to his explicit reasoning, but nevertheless very much like the format!).

Which brings us to present. After some interesting writing exercises in my Speaking, Arguing, and Writing tutoring prep class, i realized how much i preferred the French system for capitalizing the notion of the self. For me, this symbolizes my own smallness, insignificance, and equality with words like “you” or “us” or “they.” I mean, why is it that we capitalize the pronoun that’s self – referential, but not the pronoun referring to everyone else? Inspired by all of the aforementioned people, poets, and grammatical lessons, i finally realized it was okay to be “grammatically incorrect” here on my own, personal, blog.

So there it is: my newly-revealed, but actually long-though-out, ideas behind toying with grammar. I recognize, by the very nature of having a blog and considering my ideas to be worth spouting out, i have a considerable, unhealthy level of narcissism. My lower-case’d i’s are a small way to remind myself that, at the end of the day, i’m just a human being with a slightly over-inflated ego and too much to say.

current jam: ‘meadowlarks’ fleet foxes

best thing in my life right now: you! (yes, you)

* who did, in fact, prefer his name to be capitalized