Jack Reacher! Finally getting my annual Lee Child fix. (Also, a limerick by a guest poet.)

File this under “Writing Updates Postscript.”

I mentioned on Tuesday that I’m digging into the submission work phase now that I’m happy with my manuscript. I forgot to mention what else I’m doing: I’m catching up on terribly overdue reading, starting, of course, with the new Jack Reacher (The Midnight Line, 2017). My Lee Child fix, at last!!!

I’ve only just begun, but a page has been dog-eared, so my copy’s been authenticated.

 

Lee Child’s 2017 Reacher (more than six months later)

 

My tower of books To Read is ten tomes high, so I’m not going to be wanting for reading material anytime soon. Lee Child comes first. OH Stephen King has a new novel out… make that pile eleven tomes high. And I just remembered that I’d ordered two others from Amazon the other day. Thirteen. Thirteen unread books, guys, all over the literary spectrum.

I’ve said that books and t-shirts are the bane of my minimalism efforts, and I wasn’t kidding.

Speaking of minimalism, I’m still planning a huge second sweep through the house. I have to wait until after I send 50+ queries, though, so that’ll be sometime in September.

So much to do. It’s fabulous. My list is jam-packed with household stuff, but I’m also looking forward to writing a new poem or two, and planning my next big writing project.

Speaking of poems, for those of you who joke that my poems are “15 levels above” yours, keep reading. One such joker has submitted to me a limerick with which he took creative license to bend the rules of limerick just to lampoon Yours Truly. I’m honored. His limerick is one part complimentary, one part inside joke, and one part smart-ass, which sums him up perfectly. He is an expert at playful lampooning (basically defining ‘limerick’).

I had to share it. If you “only understand poems that have the word ‘Nantucket’ in them,” then Ron’s got you.

Background: I texted him on Thursday last week to say that I wasn’t going to Body Pump because I was “indisposed” (e.g. tunnel-visioning my way through my final manuscript read-through). Here’s his text reply:

There once was a poet from Nantucket,

her talent was no drop in the bucket,

she’s indisposed but the shine on the rose,

“Though there is body pump today I’ll just duck it.”

Hahaha!! I love this. I should donate $5.00 to charity each time someone texts me an original limerick; that might get me a collection of guest poets (yes, Ron, you’re a poet now) to feature here. Limericks are cool. They’re underrated. They’re the class clowns of poetry, and we need them.

That’s all I’ve got for now… June Favorites coming your way next week Tuesday!

Brought to you by my bookcase. (Minimalism, post 5.)

Going through my bookcase the other day, I came across the literature that rooted the notion of minimalism in my mind years ago. It’s a book by Meryl Starr called The Personal Organizing Workbook: Solutions for a Simpler, Easier Life, published in 2006. Starr had published its prequel in 2003: Home Organizing Workbook: Clearing Your Clutter, Step by Step. Starr had already been an internationally renowned expert in this field.

The passage in Starr’s book that interested me the most was this:

When you walk into a room or open a closet door and you can feel your energy just drop, that’s your signal that you’ve found a perfect place to begin. Enter this problem area, close your eyes, and imagine what that space would look like with nothing at all in it. Just thinking about that empty space, you may notice your spirits beginning to lift already. Next, ask yourself: if you lost all that stuff, what would you really miss? Make a mental list… no peeking!

Based on this philosophy, she succinctly advises on various areas. The closet, for instance. She offers step-by-step guidance:

  • Get some boxes
  • Empty everything completely off the racks in your closet, and throw it all on the bed where you can see it
  • Divide your clothes into categories: shirts, pants, dresses, etc.
  • Pick out your favorites in each category… you can put them back in your closet.
  • Pull out items you don’t like, things that need repair, and clothes that don’t fit
  • Look at the pile you have left over. This is your pile of maybes – maybe keep, maybe donate, maybe sell. To help guide you when going through the items, ask yourself these questions: “When was the last time I used this?”, “Do I love this?”, “Do I have another one similar to it?”, “How does this make me feel?”

 

Meryl Starr’s book from 2006 (my minimalism journey inspiration)

 

I bought Starr’s book in 2006 and did absolutely nothing with it except take her initial quiz, acknowledge that some minimalizing was in order, and then fantasize about doing it. I may have made a false start or two; something held me back from getting started in earnest. Starr’s book lingered in the back of my mind, though, as her book has lingered on my bookshelf. It all came back as I encountered my post-its while flipping through the book the other day.

It’s funny that the one thing I (so far) refuse to minimalize is books, and that’s why I still have Starr’s book encouraging minimalizing!

That bit of personal history aside, on with my minimalism updates! I don’t have many. Since my last update about a month ago:

1). I replaced the high-tops I’d given away; the new shoes provide much better support with their thick, quilted ankles. They actually help me to keep my balance while doing lunges.

2). With reluctance, I went to Target to look for a dress (needed for a specific event), and I DID NOT allow myself to be lured by the camo bomber jacket that Target obnoxiously positioned between the dresses and the fitting rooms. I recognize a trap when I see one. I did not fail at minimalism that day.

3). I combed through our coat closet and identified five pieces of outerwear I can do without. I’d attempted this area before with no success. Meryl Starr’s book helped me over that hurdle.

With the holidays upon us, our house looks less minimal than before. We’ve got our Christmas tree up and decorated, wreaths, string lights, and other bits of festive decor. It’s cheery and fun, but I’m looking forward to baring the house more than ever in the new year.

Milestone reached. (Writing updates!)

I’m alarmed* thrilled to be able to share this update on the state of my novel! IT’S DONE.

The first draft is done, that is. It was very nearly done when I posted about it recently. Now it’s done-done.

It ended up at 84,590 words. Remember how my targeted word-count crept up from 50,000 to 60,000 and stayed there for a few months before I realized that I was going to need more words? Not long after I raised my target to 75,000 words, I laughed at myself and ditched the insanity of trying to approximate a word-count. Yeah.

I completed the draft on Tuesday last week, two days before Thanksgiving. It’s 398 pages long, but it’s the word-count that lands it in the widely-accepted “standard novel length” category. To think that I’d started with the idea that I was writing a novella-length piece shows how stories can tell themselves, unfolding in their own time.

*Needless to say, writing “THE END” came as sort of a shock. I went outside to take a deep breath and also a commemorative selfie. Somehow, the sun and the breeze and the warmth heightened my sense of accomplishment. It was a beautiful day.

 

Nov. 21, 2017 – wind-blown and done with draft 1.

 

Neither was I expecting this dual sense of exhilaration and melancholy. I’m at a loss trying to explain where the melancholy part comes from. Maybe it’s just the fact of reaching this milestone after 18 months… to have exited that world.

What’s next?

1). The second draft!

I’m starting work on draft 2 this week. This will mainly involve combing through the book from beginning to end, smoothing out any technical inconsistencies, and deciding whether to keep the novel divided into sections. As of now, I’ve got the manuscript marked with parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, the latter comprising the (hefty) remainder of the novel, which makes no sense. I just got to a point where I gave up on sections. Now I have to decide whether I even want them… and if I do, whether I want to name them or just number them.

2). Reading!

I’m eager to catch up on reading. I’m looking at Matt King’s superhero trilogy (I have the first book; the second and third should arrive this week), Lee Child’s new Reacher novel coming in the same Amazon order (can you believe I didn’t run out and grab it on its release date?!), and another novel that’s been sitting here for what seems like a long time.

That’s about it for now. I’m thinking I’ll post pics of my office in my next writing updates post, because it’s changed slightly since the last time I invited you in for a look. I know that some of you are like me in that you enjoy seeing other people’s spaces.

Happy Tuesday, Friends!

Heading into summer. (May Favorites!)

It’s a fine day for that customary list of my favorite Little Things from the month that just ended. It’s a fine day for some fluff: entertainment, edibles, and stuff to put on your face.

The month of May brought our late-to-the-party discovery of a dark crime dramedy series, the return of a favorite Netflix comedy series, and a book filled with short stories revolving around my favorite fictional character. It brought frozen veggies and yet another protein bar discovery. Also, I’ve got a slew of rave-worthy skincare products – more than usual, in fact. I don’t know what happened in May, but here we are with all kinds of goodness from The Body Shop and Yes to. If skincare products don’t figure in your life, feel free to pass this along to someone you know who may be interested!

In one word, the theme of this list is “refreshing.”

Starting with entertainment, as usual…

 

1). Master of None (T.V. series)

 

 

After 2015’s debut of this fresh, intelligent, and hilarious series, we waited (im)patiently while Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang went back to work. Season 2 of Master of None was well worth the wait! It proves again that a comedy television series can be an exquisite work of art. This is storytelling made rich with subtleties… nuance and mood, humor and wit. Throughout the season, vignette after vignette, a larger story unfolds, and yet that larger story itself is nothing more dramatic than a slice of life. That is the brilliance of Master of None. An artist first and foremost, Aziz Ansari brings life to life.

 

2). Fargo (T.V. series)

 

 

We love dark comedy, thriller-mysteries, and crime drama. We’re huge fans of the Coen brothers. So it doesn’t matter that we’re (inexplicably) three years late getting to Fargo, the T.V. adaptation of the titular film. Season 1 takes off on the shoulders of strong character development, plowing through a series of increasingly outrageous events after Billy Bob Thornton ever so gently nudges that first domino.

Evidence of the Coen brothers’ involvement abounds. Billy Bob Thornton is terrifying. The music is awesome and actually supplies a lot of the humor in the dark-humor equation. We couldn’t ask for anything more, really.

 

3). No Middle Name (collection of Jack Reacher short stories by Lee Child).

 

 

After devouring all of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, I’m finally reading all of his Reacher short stories, and very happily so. The first two installments in this newly released collection had me a little worried, I’ll admit, but my enjoyment’s increased with each story. I’m just past halfway through the collection, so I can’t comment on it as a whole, but I can say that seven stories in, I’m having a blast!

Jack Reacher is my favorite fictional brain candy, and in terms of reading, brain candy is what I need right now. Thank you, Lee Child… and thanks to my friend Bob, who alerted me to the collection’s impending release.

Heading into food…

 

4). 22 Days Plant Power protein bar in salted caramel.

 

22 Days Plant Power protein bar in salted caramel

 

We knew this would happen sooner or later. I’m back with another protein bar.

This one threw me off at first, mostly with its unexpected texture… but it wasn’t bad. The texture, I eventually realized, reminds me of caramel candy, which is appropriate for a “salted caramel” flavored bar. My enjoyment of this bar increased when I stopped thinking of it as a bar and started thinking of it as a chewy caramel treat. It grew on me.

Also, consider the macros in each of these organic and plant-based bars: 15g protein, 9g fiber, and only 4g sugar (20g carbs in all) and 150 calories per bar. At this point I’ve gotten very good at limiting my consumption of processed foods, so I don’t eat protein bars every day anymore… but when I do, I feel pretty good about reaching for this one.

 

5). Trader Joe’s Soycutash.

 

Trader Joe’s Soycutash

 

I’ve never been a fan of succotash because I never learned to enjoy lima beans. I’ve tried. I can’t. (Add lima beans to my list of permanent food aversions.) So when I stumbled upon Trader Joe’s version of it, I had to try it.

TJ’s “soycutash” contains three ingredients: edemame (replacing lima beans), sweet corn, and red peppers. It is delicious. I prepare it in the microwave and then eat it cold as a refreshing and satisfying side or snack. Fun fact: I grew up snacking on fresh, cold boiled soybeans, but I never knew they were called “edemame” until they became popular in western cuisine!

Getting into the skincare products…

 

6). Yes to Coconut Ultra Hydrating Facial Soufflé Moisturizer.

 

Yes to Coconut Ultra Hydrating Facial Souffle Moisturizer

 

How do I begin to describe this product?

I know I included a moisturizer in a recent “monthly favorites” post. The problem with doing a monthly favorites post is that you try a moisturizer, think it’s great enough to add to the list… and then the next month, you try a different moisturizer, only to discover that it’s your Holy Grail of moisturizers.

This one from Yes to Coconut is thick and very rich, but it melts into my skin and leaves it soft and dewy without a trace of greasiness. Its coconut scent is subtle and not at all overpowering. I love this. I love it so much that I already re-purchased it, so I’ll have it at hand when this first one’s used up.

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see another moisturizer on a monthly favorites post… at least not for a long while!

 

7). Yes to Cotton Micellar Cleansing Water and Yes to Coconut Cleansing Wipes.

 

Yes to Cotton Micellar Cleansing Water and Yes to Coconut Cleansing Wipes

 

My current favorite way to remove the makeup from my face involves these two products: I fold a Yes To Coconut makeup removing wipe into quarters, saturate it with two pumps of the Yes to Cotton micellar water, and smooth it over my skin… a refreshing treatment I’ll do even when I’m not wearing makeup.

Yes to has upped their game quite a bit!

 

8). The Body Shop Almond Milk & Honey Body Lotion, Hand Cream, and Shower Cream.

 

The Body Shop Almond Milk and Honey Body Lotion, Hand Cream and Shower Cream

 

I couldn’t stay away.

It’s safe to say that I’m enamored with The Body Shop’s entire Almond Milk & Honey line, starting a couple of months ago when I picked up the body butter. All of these lotion and cream formulas exist in TBS’s other lines, but the Almond Milk & Honey products are richer and more moisturizing than the others I’ve tried. I still love the scent. I hope TBS comes out with a body mist in the same line!

 

9). The Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter.

 

The Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter

 

I’ve been using The Body Shop’s camomile eye makeup remover since I discovered it well over a year ago, but when I finished up my last bottle in May, I decided to try something different from the same line.

After several tries, I figured out how to make this cleansing butter work for me: I take a little scoop onto my fingertips, massage it gently onto my eye makeup, and then (just as gently) wipe it away with one of those Yes to Coconut makeup removing wipes. I’m preferring this method to the application of the liquid eye makeup remover, which feels harsh in comparison; I’d used a cotton pad with that remover, and I always had to sort of work those rougher cotton fibers into my lash line to remove eyeliner and mascara.

I don’t use this cleansing butter on my entire face… just on my eyes. I do this first, and then I go over my face with the above-mentioned Yes to Cotton micellar water on the Yes to Coconut makeup removing wipe… this takes care of any eye makeup/remover residue, as well.

 

10). Freeman Beauty Infusion Brightening Overnight Mask.

 

Freeman Beauty Infusion Brightening Overnight Mask

 

I wouldn’t have tried this mask had I not gotten a free sample from a lady at Ulta when I went there with Mom a few weeks ago. I love this sleeping mask! Callaghan tried it at the same time I did, and he was also impressed with the appearance of his skin when he woke up.

I’m now alternating between this mask and The Body Shop’s vitamin E overnight mask (one each per week). I’m still doing TBS Honey & Oat 3-in-1 Scrub Mask one morning per week, too. They’re all wonderful.

That wraps it up for May!

La Fin.

 

Thoughts while reading “Night School” by Lee Child. (REACHER!)

Good morning. Due to medical-type shenanigans that extended late into last night, I wasn’t able to prepare for today’s post. But I’m sitting here drinking coffee with Lee Child’s 2016 Jack Reacher novel next to my laptop, and it’s been on my mind to talk about it, so I thought, why not today!

(Side note: when I’m asked the classic question, “If you could have coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” My answer is Lee Child. It would’ve been a tough call between Lee Child, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling if the latter two weren’t already demystified by countless interviews, public appearances of various sorts, and Twitter. Child remains somewhat of a mystery.)

So here’s my copy of Night School, exactly where it is at the moment:

 

2016's Reacher: "Night School" (Lee Child)

2016’s Reacher: “Night School” (Lee Child)

 

Night School takes us back in time: Reacher is younger and still in the army. I knew this before picking up the book, so I was already intrigued when I started reading. Of Child’s 20-odd Reacher stories, Night School is the third (I believe) to take place during Reacher’s active-duty years.

Some things I learned, things that stood out, and thoughts I had as I read Night School:

1). It was fun going back in time again to read about Reacher operating within an organized military unit.

2). How does active-duty army Reacher differ from present-day Reacher? It turns out not at all. Veteran Reacher does the same thing that active-duty Reacher did. When Reacher ETS’d out (left the army), he continued doing the same work… as a freelancer.

3). “Freelancer” being a euphemism for “vigilante” in his line of work.

4). Reacher is a thug, but being one part math genius and somewhat progressive intellectual (who speaks French) and one part pure thug with superpower fighting capabilities, Reacher is a thinking person’s thug. This has been the case from the beginning of Reacher time. This may explain how Reacher always attracts the women he desires, even though he’s notably not good-looking. Apparently, a rough-around-the-edges contradictory enigma of a vigilante is difficult for these women to resist. (Almost all of Reacher’s women are intelligent, powerful, and in positions of authority; Reacher has great admiration and respect for them.)

5). Also from the beginning of Reacher time, Reacher has had his characteristic threshold beyond which he has to go rogue to some degree or another, striking out on his own. In the army, he had no qualms about disobeying orders to follow his instincts.

6). Reacher’s part in group dynamics: in Night School, we can observe lone-wolf Reacher and his behavior when working with the people brought together by the case at hand, and how Reacher balances working together and going rogue.

7). Reacher chooses Sergeant Frances Neagley (always his number-one pick of enlisted soldiers) to help him in Night School, so we can see that his respect for Neagley and her considerable sharp work and badassery goes way back. Of the three experts tasked to take on the case, Reacher is the only one to choose a woman.

8). We also understand more about Neagley and her quirks, now, and about Reacher’s friendship and liaison with her.

9). Jalalabad, Afghanistan is “a hot desert climate, like Arizona.” (Not news to me; I just enjoyed that simile.)

10). Lots of Muay Thai techniques feature in Night School’s fight scenes. Reacher throws elbow strikes as efficiently as a professional Muay Thai fighter (i.e. what goes up must come down… as in a downward elbow chop taking out one guy after his up elbow took out another guy. Two bad guys with the same elbow on its arc saves time). And side elbows. And Neagley’s use of knee strikes, among other techniques. This comes as a surprise to no one who knows Reacher and Neagley, but still fun to read.

As always, I started looking forward to the next Reacher novel the second I turned the last page!

That’s all I’ve got for today. Happy Tuesday!

The writing.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a dear friend who asked me how the writing was going. From the start of this endeavor, my answer to that question would’ve been different with each passing day. Responding to the question yesterday, though, I realized how much the answer has evolved. I’ve arrived at a point of understanding some immutable realities of big-project writing, which include knowing that the learning process will continue, and I’ll continue to grow and adapt.

I said to my friend that the writing is hard. It’s harder than any work I’ve done in my career of sitting behind desks in the professional capacities I’ve filled, and it’s led me to learn a lot about myself that I wasn’t expecting to learn.

Not to my surprise, I’m also learning a lot about the writing process in the framework of a serious commitment, though I am surprised by the extent of this education. For instance, I didn’t suspect that writing would demand more thinking work than actual writing work. For me, the most significant work happens when my fingers are nowhere near a keyboard. In the last six months, I’ve spent endless hours thinking and strategizing, researching and making decisions, trashing those decisions and making new ones.

One stereotypical image of a writer’s life is a frustrated writer sitting at a desk, perhaps with a case of writer’s block or blank page syndrome, as you will, and a wastepaper basket across the room. The writer types, rips the page from the typewriter, crumples it up, and throws it in the direction of the basket. At the end of the day, the basket is full to overflowing with trashed balls of paper, and the writer is still sitting at the typewriter, surrounded by more balls of paper scattered on the desk amongst empty coffee mugs and tufts of yanked-out hair.

We have computers now, so if I had a wastepaper basket on the other side of my writing room, it would be filled to overflowing with discarded decisions and ideas and word choices. I would be buried up to my throat in heaps of writing debris left in the wake of my learn-as-I-go process, strategies trashed along with my premature glee at having surmounted some impasse.

Writing (as a primary occupation) is not a nine-to-five. It’s a 24/7 job, and one has to be self-motivated. I’m working in my head when I’m in the shower and in the car. I’m working while I’m pacing around the house, and when I’m talking “to my cat.” I know it sounds funny, but some of my conversations with Nenette and Cita have resulted in big progress gains. Fur-babies are excellent soundboards; talking through problems with them has produced many a solution. For me, at least 40% of the writing work is thinking work. (Okay, in all honesty, I do talk to myself more now than ever.)

Some days, I write for four to six hours. Some days, I write for 10, 20, 30 minutes. And a day with no writing at all isn’t a day off. A day with no writing is a day of thinking work, and it’s exhausting. The whole project is exhausting. I have sparks of inspiration at midnight and sparks of inspiration before the sun rises. I’m up at 5:30am every day, if not earlier. My posts in this blog have been more likely to be late since quitting my nine-to-five, and I’m still not sleeping enough.

But I’m not complaining. I love this work. It’s my passion, my art, my livelihood, and by that, I mean the thing that makes me feel alive. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m grateful that I’m able to do it full-time. I’m grateful for the support and encouragement lent by family and friends, especially by Callaghan.

I suppose all writers live this way… obsessed with their projects day and night, agonizing over the smallest details. All artists, may I add.

Here’s what an honest pie chart representing my writing “day” looks like:

 

kristis-typical-writing-day-pie-chart

 

A few points about the chart!

  • The chart represents my main-project writing day. It doesn’t include blogging and other writing.
  • “Thinking” includes NOT thinking. I find it necessary to not think about the writing for a period of time so that I can return to it with a clear head.
  • “Procrastinating” doesn’t feel so much like procrastinating, since my mind is working on my project while I’m doing things around the house that need to get done, anyway.
  • None of this is to say that there are never times that I’m not working. I do my share of errands, appointments, lunches out, social media, etc.

I can stop thinking about my project when I’m at the gym. I can stop thinking about it when I’m engrossed in a book or in a movie or an episode of some television series or another. I can stop thinking about it when I’m with Callaghan. I can leave the project behind to be in those moments.

The short answer to the question How is the writing going? is “The writing is hard. But it’s going well.”

And they all fall down. (November favorites!)

Let’s just jump right into this list of enjoyable little things I discovered in November!

 

1). Jacket weather.

 

Winter has come.

Winter has come.

 

Okay, I didn’t discover this, but it happened, and I love it. Jacket weather has arrived! (My hair isn’t this light; this pic shows an illusion of the aggressive lighting in the optometrist’s room in which I was sitting yesterday afternoon. My hair looks red under light, anyway, but this pic is beyond.) It doesn’t matter what the calendar says… if it’s cold enough to wear a jacket – in the 60’s – it’s winter.

 

2). Night School (novel by Lee Child)

 

Lee Child's 2016 Reacher release!

Lee Child’s 2016 Reacher release!

 

It’s here, and I finally got my hands on it! I’m about half-way through, and I’m hooked, as usual. I’ll probably devote a post to this new Reacher novel of Lee Child’s.

 

3). Nerve (film)

 

thatasianlookingchick-com-nerve

 

We were looking for a fluffy cinematic escapade for mindless entertainment one day, and we happened upon Nerve. We chose it because of Emma Roberts and the fact of having seen the trailer and remembering how we thought we discerned a unique premise for a sci-fi thriller… and that’s exactly what we got. And we were entertained. Success!

 

4). The Affair S3 (T.V. series)

 

thatasianlookingchick-com-theaffairs3

 

This season of The Affair is strikingly dark compared to the last two seasons, which were also dark, if that gives you any idea about this stunning series. Season 3 takes you down into an abyss, a drop that’s immediately evident as that eerie song of Fiona Apple’s in the opening credits now harmonizes with beautiful and morbid images of the characters sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

 

 

The Affair just gets better and better. The story seems straightforward enough as it begins in the first season, but by the time you’ve watched the first two/three episodes of the third season, you have no idea, really, what you’ve gotten into.

 

5). Acure night cream.

 

Acure night cream

Acure night cream

 

I think this cream may have appeared in a list from last year. It’s making a reappearance, as I’ve started using it again, and I still think it’s great. I’ve tried some very good night creams this year; my favorite is still Yes to Blueberries, but I’m enjoying using this one by Acure at the moment.

 

6). Amy’s organic lentil vegetable soup (light in sodium).

 

Amy's organic lentil vegetable (light in sodium) soup

Amy’s organic lentil vegetable (light in sodium) soup

 

I eat a lot of soup these days. I love homemade soup, but more often than not, I grab whatever can of soup we have on hand. It’s always Amy’s. This lentil vegetable one is my favorite. It’s “light in sodium,” but not to worry… it’s nothing a few twists of the salt grinder can’t fix! I load it up with pink Himalayan salt and figure I’ll deal with the repercussions of excess sodium consumption later. I’ve got to have some vices, right? At least one? And as far as processed foods go, Amy’s soups really aren’t that bad.

 

7). Clif Kid Organic Z bar (iced oatmeal cookie) with peanut butter.

 

Clif Kid Organic Z Bar (iced oatmeal cookie) with peanut butter topping

Clif Kid Organic Z Bar (iced oatmeal cookie) with peanut butter topping

 

This bar appeared on last month’s list. Its taste reminds me of Fig Newtons, which I love. But now I top it with peanut butter for some added protein, and the aftertaste takes it from Fig Newton to pure oatmeal cookie. I’m so glad I tried this!

 

8). Scivation Xtend BCAAs in strawberry kiwi.

 

Scivation Xtend BCAAs (strawberry-kiwi)

Scivation Xtend BCAAs (strawberry-kiwi)

 

When deciding on BCAAs to supplement my weight-training workouts and muscle recovery, my only concern was finding a good one that’s vegan. I’d never taken BCAAs before, so I dove into some research and came up with Scivation Xtend. I got the strawberry kiwi. The flavor is good, and it works well in getting me through a Body Pump session and recovering faster afterward. SCORE.

 

9). Sumo wrestling.

 

Grand Sumo Tournament 2016

Grand Sumo Tournament 2016

 

Sitting in front of the T.V. with Dad when we were in California for Thanksgiving, I got to revisit those favorite childhood moments of watching combat sports with him… only this time, instead of boxing, it was sumo wrestling! It never occurred to me to actually sit and watch sumo. Callaghan and I were instantly drawn in; we were surprised at how much we enjoyed it. I’m still pondering the mystery of how a match that can be over in 5 seconds can be so exciting to watch. The 15-day tournament ended on the 27th (It was the November Grand Sumo Tournament, or Kyushu Basho, in Fukuoka, Japan). We watched the last two nights here at home, on YouTube. The next tournament will be in January.

 

10). New tattoo.

 

Three swallows in flight

Three swallows in flight

 

Fresh out of the studio, freshly wrapped in plastic.

Fresh out of the studio, freshly wrapped in plastic.

 

I finally got my bird tattoos! I’ve been wanting swallows, and I love the way they turned out.

That’s it for November, and that’s almost it for 2016!

Halloween Merriment (and the unexpected adventures of Callaghan’s butt)

Happy Halloween Eve!

Callaghan and I have been celebrating Halloween all week, wanting to make up for the fact that we’ll be apart on the actual holiday. He left yesterday for a 12-day business trip in France (Normandy)… so yes, the week-long celebration was necessary. Priorities.

Actually, we’ve been in Halloween celebration mode all month.

I have no Halloween plans for tomorrow. At first I wanted to go to SCARIZONA Scaregrounds with a friend, but then I chickened out re-thought that plan because they promise to prey on “every possible phobia,” and there’s no way I’m risking the possibility of roaches (real or not). I’m thinking roachaphobia is common enough that Scarizona masterminds would use it in the creation of their haunted house “experiences.” I’m a risk-taker in some ways, but not in the roach way. NOPE. Not going.

Instead, kitties and I will enjoy a quiet, spooky Halloween together.

 

Bunny-butt Nenette and butterscotch Nounours checking out a jack-o'-lantern pumpkin.

Bunny-butt Nenette and butterscotch Nounours checking out a jack-o’-lantern pumpkin.

 

I’m looking at 12 days of quality bonding time with Nounours and Nenette. But fear not – I am planning on some crazy shenanigans for the duration. As they say, the cat will play while the Callaghan’s away.

Here’s some of what’s about to go down:

  • Reading (All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr)
  • Writing (I round-filed both of my neglected big projects, but this new one is actually a starting-over of one of the discarded ones.)
  • Watching Netflix (Yes, I’ve returned to Netflix. What can I say.)
  • Playing with furbabies (Nenette will learn that I can be just as fun as Daddy when it comes to playing.)
  • Taking the bus (to work – this is new) and walking (home from work). I still refuse to pay for parking at work when we live so close.
  • Eating simply. (For the next 12 days, I’m basically going to live on salad, baked sweet potatoes, broccoli, brown rice, quinoa, hummus, peanut butter, bread, and fruit. Because these are foods I love, I’m lazy about cooking, and I don’t want to spend time thinking about it.)
  • Getting my hair cut. (YAY new hair, plus I get to see my girl Melanie!)

And, so as to not make too much of a ruckus up in here:

  • Updating/cleaning up some of this blog’s details, i.e. the About page, stuff in the sidebar, some of the links and tags and categories, etc., etc. Long overdue.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but it captures the main agenda. You get the idea. It doesn’t take much to amuse me.

Case in point: I was too easily amused by this exchange with Callaghan yesterday morning when he was at the airport, texting to tell me about his pre-boarding adventures.

You know how a text conversation can get off-sync when you receive a message while you’re texting, so after you send the one you were writing, you immediately answer the new one that came in, and the messages accumulate out of order because the timing got messed up, plus you were talking about two different things at once, so now your phone displays a merging of replies on different subjects, and it either doesn’t make sense at all, or it just looks wrong?

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Callaghan-AirportScreenShot

 

This is what happens when you’re texting about airport security procedures and breakfast at the same time. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a scone up his butt. Of course, it had to be Callaghan.

What I’m Digging Right Now – September Favorites

I can tell it’s October. The shorter days, cooler mornings, proliferating Spirit Halloween stores (not to mention the Halloween decor and things in all of the stores), and the pumpkin spice explosion everywhere we look gives it away. I love October. I’m not sure if September seemed so long this year because I’ve been impatient for October, or if September just really kind of blew. I’m thinking it was the latter. However, September wasn’t without its list-worthy Little Things, and I’m happy to share them with you!

 

1). Empire (T.V. series)

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-Empire

 

We discovered Empire (created by the brilliant Lee Daniels) just a couple of weeks ago. Once we started, we couldn’t stop, and we didn’t stop until we were current, right up to Season 2, episode 2. Magnetizing.

First of all, Empire is Shakespeare from the very start. There was a funny moment when I turned to Callaghan to say, “This is King Lear!!” And right then, one of the sons actually said, “What is this, King Lear?” (Unsurprisingly, that son is one of my favorite characters.)

There’s no aspect of this series that isn’t rendered with spectacular quality and flair. Every detail is exquisite… every song could be a hit, and every rehearsal could be an award-winning video in its own right. The acting performances! The writing! The direction! The costumes! THE MUSIC. We’re Hooked with a capital “H.” (And that last episode! Lucious’ new song! That ending! Okay, I’ll stop.)

 

2). Modern Family S7 (T.V. series)

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-ModernFamily_S7

 

All month we were eager for the return of our favorite comedy, and since September went on forever, the wait seemed terribly long. But Modern Family is finally back, and its unique humor is more on point than ever!

 

3). Make Me (novel by Lee Child)

 

Lee Child's 20th Reacher novel

Lee Child’s 20th Reacher novel

 

Obviously, this book was a favorite. Reacher re-appears in a small town, and he’s more bad-ass than ever. Make Me is actually one of my top-five favorite Reacher books.

Speaking of Reacher, can we talk about pancakes?

 

4). Arrowhead Mills Organic Buckwheat Pancake & Waffle Mix.

 

Arrowhead Mills Organic Buckwheat Pancake & Waffle Mix

Arrowhead Mills Organic Buckwheat Pancake & Waffle Mix

 

THIS.

This is your perfect, wholesome, five easy-to-read-ingredient pancake and waffle mix. The pancakes it makes are delicious, and that’s using egg replacer and almond milk to make them vegan. I took this pic last Sunday, when we ate them with Field Roast smoked apple sage vegan sausage, everything dripping in melty Earth Balance and pure maple syrup. The combination is sublime.

 

5). Raspberry Emergen-C.

 

Raspberry Emergen-C

Raspberry Emergen-C

 

Somewhere in early September, I mixed a packet of raspberry Emergen-C into a glass of cold water, and the resulting fizzy pink beverage was so refreshing, it became a daily afternoon treat. It wasn’t like I was an Emergen-C virgin or anything, but it just really hit the spot in that moment, and it continued to hit the spot every day throughout that long month. It’s wonderfully energizing, and even though I take my normal supplement combo every morning, who doesn’t like an extra 1,000 mg punch of vitamin C?

 

6). Pink Lady apples.

 

Pink Lady apples (this is a Cripps Pink)

Pink Lady apples (this is a Cripps Pink)

 

So sweet. So tasty. So crisp. It needs nothing! We’re still eating fresh pineapple like it’s nobody’s business, but with these apples, the first flavors of Fall have arrived.

 

7). New reading glasses.

 

New reading glasses

New reading glasses

 

I think I figured out why my old pair of reading glasses became ineffective: I cleaned the lenses exclusively with pre-moistened lens wipes. I’d been thinking that I just needed to take the strength up a notch, but these are the same strength as my old ones, and when I tried them on, I couldn’t believe how much better they worked! I guess reading glasses aren’t meant to last forever, anyway. Also, it may be a case of “all reading glasses aren’t made alike.” I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I have these now, and they’ve made a huge difference in my life!

Also, I only clean these glasses with soap and water. No more pre-moistened lens wipes.

 

8). e.l.f. Essential Volumizing & Defining Mascara.

 

e.l.f. Essential Volumizing & Defining Mascara

e.l.f. Essential Volumizing & Defining Mascara

 

I ran out of mascara, went back to the e.l.f. section at Target, decided to try this new (revised?) Essential formula, and a new favorite mascara was discovered. Two bucks, guys. Two. $2.00. That’s it. Stuff like this helps to balance out my more expensive cruelty-free products a lot.

 

9). The Body Shop Honey & Oat 3-in-1 Scrub Mask.

 

The Body Shop Honey & Oat 3-in-1 Scrub Mask

The Body Shop Honey & Oat 3-in-1 Scrub Mask

 

Okay, so speaking of more expensive, this isn’t the cheapest facial mask around. I processed a twinge of doubt while standing at the cash register, because honey & oat? Wasn’t this a ridiculous thing to purchase for such a price ($18.00) when I could probably mix up something similar in my own kitchen?

But I bought it, feeling appropriately reckless and guilty. And then I used it. And now I’m borderline obsessed, and to be honest, I’m kind of kicking myself for having gotten sucked in, because I’m going to want to re-purchase it when it’s gone, and I really don’t have room in my budget for luxuries like this right now. I can’t even explain this mask! It defies explanation. The entire experience and after-effect of it is fantabulous.

(See? That $2.00 mascara helps. Thank you for making awesome, dirt-cheap make-up, e.l.f.!)

 

10). It’s a 10 Miracle Styling Serum.

 

It’s a 10 Miracle Styling Serum

It’s a 10 Miracle Styling Serum

 

Due to the uncharacteristic and relentless streak of humidity we experienced all month, my hair was more impossible than usual (if there can be such a thing as “more impossible”) in September. It would have looked even more unruly if it wasn’t for this product by It’s a 10. I had a coupon for it, so I thought I’d try it; it’s cruelty-free, and it doesn’t have the overwhelming-fragrance feature that turns me off of most hair products. This is just a nice, mild serum that works okay for me. I’m glad for it.

That’s it! Happy Friday, All. =)

I finished “Make Me” by Lee Child. (This is not a review.)

Lee Child’s latest Reacher novel, Make Me, delivered. The story is tight and the tension is high, and Reacher is his usual, taciturn self. Reacher “said nothing” about 20 times. I kept track of all the “nothing” that he said. It was deafening.

If last year’s Reacher novel left me disappointed at all, Make Me more than made up for it. Reacher gets off a train and the story takes off, engaging instantly with intrigue (heightened by the knowledge that very little is extraneous – a perk of being a seasoned Reacher reader, though you absolutely don’t need to have read previous Reacher novels in order to enjoy this one), but I particularly loved this story with its details that correlate to details in my reality. It’s always fun when personally relatable aspects leap out at you from a novel.

There’s the female agent being Asian-American (which I am), and the tertiary character, a journalist, being a science editor with a background in molecular biology (I’d worked as a science editor in bioinformatics and molecular biology in the past), and the moniker ‘Callaghan’, “which at least was Irish.” (Hello, Callaghan! I’d written a blog post about how my French husband’s nickname is an Irish name.)

So here’s Reacher hanging out with this Asian-looking chick, and they find themselves, at one point, right here in Phoenix, where familiar places and things are mentioned. (Sky Harbor International Airport. Maricopa County sheriffs. Scottsdale. The “baking desert heat.”)

All of this coated the bad-assery with an icing of familiarity that added amusement to a reading experience that was already supremely enjoyable. But even without those details, there’s nothing like an excellent, well-developed, well-paced thriller/mystery to facilitate a much-needed escape.

If I ever find myself having coffee with Lee Child, I’m going to thank him for this one, especially.

 

Lee Child's 20th Reacher novel

Lee Child’s 20th Reacher novel

 

Make Me gives us classic Reacher, yet it deviates from the Reacher formula in a surprising way, at the very end. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

The problem with Reacher is a classic one, too… you can only hang out with him for the time it takes to finish the book. Then you have to wait a year for him to come back. I remind myself to be grateful that he comes back at all… surely Reacher will retire one day, and that will be the end. Meanwhile, the countdown is on for Reacher’s return.

The New Reacher is Nigh.

Today is September 4. This means that we’re T minus four days from the tentatively scheduled release of Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Make Me.

You regulars here know how I feel about Reacher.

Last summer, I so eagerly counted down the days until 2014’s new Reacher novel appeared in stores that its release seemed almost anti-climactic, though admittedly this may have been related to the fact that we were frantically preparing to move. We moved almost immediately after I picked up Personal. It was the end of August, and I had very little time for reading in the month of September, as unpacking consumed the entire month. (We’ve been in our house for a year now? What?!)

Non-stop domestic activity kept me from such tantalizing pursuits as pulpy reading, but even when I did find time to open the book, moving-fatigue dulled the experience. I remember reading two pages at a time before passing out late at night, and that was only once or twice a week, if that. I was tired, busy, distracted. I finished Personal with little enthusiasm, and I may have mentioned to Callaghan that the story seemed somewhat… reduced to its formula. I liked Personal, sure, but it just didn’t thrill me. Again, I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been different had life been routine and uneventful at the time.

This year, though? The cells in the part of my brain responsible for escapism have been salivating since I read the synopsis for the 20th Jack Reacher novel. Methinks that Make Me will be a super intense ride, and life circumstances right now are ripe for it!

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-LeeChildMakeMe

 

In honor of Reacher’s return, I present the reappearance of Callaghan’s drawing of Reacher (this is becoming an annual tradition):

 

Callaghan's drawing of Jack Reacher, as described in the novels.

Callaghan’s drawing of Jack Reacher, as described in the novels.

 

So let’s raise our glasses, fellow Reacher fans, because may we all remember that blond, blue-eyed, NOT-handsome, NOT-glib, super tough, tall and inhumanly strong BADASS Reacher would toast us with a whole pot of coffee. We’d say, Tchin! with respect to his French mother… but Reacher would say nothing.

Not Self/less Enough.

thatasianlookingchick.com-SelfLess_movie

 

 

You know how it is when you’re terminally ill and someone slips you a business card offering help, and, despite all the medical expertise your bottomless fortune could buy at the most prestigious of world-class medical facilities, you call the number, thinking that going rogue with your healthcare might resolve your mortality crisis… and if it doesn’t, you have nothing to lose, anyway?

That story.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went with Callaghan and two friends to see the newly released sci-fi action-thriller Self/less (directed by Tarsem Singh) on Saturday, but I’d seen the trailer, and I was intrigued. Though it’s been nearly 20 years since my college metaphysics class, my copy of John Perry’s A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (1978) still occupies a sliver on my bookshelf, and it was partly because of this pamphlet-size book (required reading for the course I needed to complete my philosophy minor) that I wanted to see Self/less.

 

A relic from college metaphysics.

A relic from college metaphysics.

 

Metaphysics had been one of my favorite philosophy courses, and A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is a text that’s echoed in the ravines of my memory ever since, as personal identity theory interests me greatly. My penchant for sci-fi action-thriller-type movies would have been enough to propel me into the theater for this movie, but academic curiosity heightened my anticipation. What were the writers of Self/less going to do with this challenging metaphysical topic?

Turns out, nothing. The people behind Self/less took on the subject by not taking it on at all. This is anything but a toothsome philosophical study; about a quarter of the way through, I accepted the fact that Self/less is a dumb sci-fi action movie, romping around the casings of the ideas.

But no matter! I was really there for the fun of it and the thrill of an action-packed ride… and sometimes, truth be told, the dumber the sci-fi movie, the more I enjoy it. Before I knew just how insubstantial and mediocre Self/less was going to be, I settled back for good times, but a part of my mind remained occupied, needled by the ghostly recollection of Perry’s book. I made a mental note to pull it down from the shelf when I got home.

An hour later, the credits rolled, the lights came on, and the four of us left the theater somewhat underwhelmed by what we’d just seen. The movie fell short of delivering in the “good times” department, as well.

When I retrieved A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality from my bookshelf the next day, I opened it and read the first sentence to greet my eyeballs:

“Memory is sufficient for identity and bodily identity is not necessary for it. The survivor remembered Julia’s thoughts and actions, and so was Julia.”

Just as I’d thought I’d recalled! I flipped back a few pages, read a little more, and couldn’t help but wonder if the Self/less script-writers had been inspired by Perry’s paper. The story behind the above quote reads:

“Julia North was a young woman who was run over by a streetcar while saving the life of a young child who wandered onto the tracks. The child’s mother, one Mary Frances Beaudine, had a stroke while watching the horrible scene. Julia’s healthy brain and wasted body, and Mary Frances’ healthy body and wasted brain, were transported to a hospital where a brilliant neurosurgeon, Dr. Matthews, was in residence. He had worked out a procedure for what he called a ‘body transplant’. He removed the brain from Julia’s head and placed it in Mary Frances’, splicing the nerves, and so forth, using techniques not available until quite recently. The survivor of all of this was obviously Julia, as everyone agreed – except, unfortunately, Mary Frances’ husband.” 

This, essentially, provides the premise for Self/less. The “body transplant” procedure described in A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality is called “shedding” in Self/less, and Perry’s Dr. Matthews correlates to the Self/less character Albright (Matthew Goode).

In Self/less, the (cleverly named) company offering to perform the body transplant/shedding, Phoenix Biogenic, has made an exclusive private industry of the procedure, available to the 1% who could afford it. The company’s slogan? “Leaders in Consciousness Transfer Technology.”

Consciousness Transfer Technology. The door is open here for a re-con mission into the complexities of mind, consciousness and identity in relation to the body, but mostly what we get is Ryan Reynolds playing a character vacationing in another character’s body until flashes of memory from the original owner of said body clues him into the reality of his situation. A bunch of predictable shit hits the fan. “Soon I’ll be gone,” Damian (Ben Kingsley/Ryan Reynolds) intones toward the end. “I can already feel myself fading.” Our protagonist gallantly bows out after Doing the Right Thing. Imagine that!

All snark aside, I have to say that Self/less deserves points for coming up with the most elaborate suicide I can remember seeing in cinema. The movie encompasses a long, slow self-destruction from beginning to end, with Damian unwittingly employing a convoluted and roundabout method of killing himself. This path proves to be beneficial in allowing him opportunities to tie up some critical loose ends along the way, such as banging a succession of hot chicks in his borrowed body (freshly shedded Damian remarks that his new young and healthy body “has that new-body smell,” and he wastes no time in taking it out for a few joy rides) and delivering a heartfelt letter to his estranged daughter, who believes him to be dead (atonement and closure, check and check).

Self/less wasn’t the worst sci-fi action movie I’ve ever seen… I thought it was marginally better than last summer’s disappointment, Lucy… but I’m thinking it rather dulls the luster on the resumes of some of its talented actors. As Albright astutely remarks, “Immortality has some side effects.”

I saw American Sniper. Here are my thoughts.

Somewhere around October-November, we found out about the upcoming film American Sniper. It was set to open on Christmas day. We were looking forward to it, and I liked the idea that two years in a row, the newly released movie we’d see on my December 27 birthday would feature Bradley Cooper.

As it turned out, the movie’s release date got pushed into January, so we didn’t get to see American Sniper on my birthday. Interestingly, though, the holiday movie we did go to see on December 27, Big Eyes, also featured an actor from last year’s birthday movie: Amy Adams! We saw American Hustle (Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper) on my birthday in 2013, and Big Eyes (Amy Adams) on my birthday in 2014.

I like Bradley Cooper. It’s not a crush. I’m not obsessed with him, and I don’t race to the theatre just because he’s in a movie, but I am a fan. I’ve never seen him flounder in a role, and I’ve never seen a film of his I didn’t enjoy or appreciate in some way. Bradley Cooper in a movie usually means that I’m going to like the movie, and this is also true about Amy Adams and a few other actors (Jake Gyllanhaal comes immediately to mind); Callaghan and I are almost always on the same page, which is good. It’s more fun spending money on movie tickets if we strongly suspect that we’ll really like the movie.

So we saw Big Eyes on my birthday, and we enjoyed it, and we continued to anticipate the release of American Sniper. When the day arrived, we went to the theatre with our favorite action-flick movie-watching partner-in-crime, Jason, and I didn’t know what I was walking into. Somehow, I had the idea that the film was about a veteran who was using his lethal military skills for some grand operation in the civilian sector. I didn’t know that I was walking into a war movie. Neither did I know that the story was based on an autobiography/events that happened in the life of a real person.

And I’m glad. I’m glad that I didn’t know it was a war movie, because I generally avoid war movies. Had I known, I would have dropped American Sniper off my to-watch list, and I would have missed out on an incredible movie.

Yes, I know. I’m a Buddhist and a mostly-vegan vegetarian and I’m all about peace and compassion, but I highly appreciated American Sniper. This might seem incongruous, but it’s really not. For one thing, just on the artistic level, I thought it was a brilliant, finely-wrought film. I thought Bradley Cooper gave a tremendous, nuanced performance. I thought Clint Eastwood’s handling of the project was masterful.

Where can I even begin to try to explain my appreciation beyond that?

I guess I should start with the disclaimer that I’m not motivated by politics when it comes to art. I’m a registered Independent, anyway… my political views do tend to lean in a certain direction (if you know me well, you know what direction that is), but there’s a reason why I won’t join a particular party. Also, I generally stay away from the subject of politics on social media sites. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t intend to talk politics here today or any day. I get that it’s hard to avoid politics where this film is concerned, but I’m going to try to avoid the damn politics.

Then I should point out that I’m a combat veteran. I spent six months in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait during Operations Desert Shield, Storm and Sabre, from the beginning of December 1990 to almost the end of May 1991. The ground war in January took all of two days, and the whole thing was rather anti-climactic after the airstrikes, but somehow I managed to get embroiled in the only real action American foot soldiers saw pushing through Iraq. I ran Commo (wire, radios) in a segment of a ground ambulance unit, and our convoy was comprised of mostly medics from my Garrison unit in Germany, along with some infantrymen, American National Guardsmen and women, and a few British soldiers. We were ambushed, and it was intense, and I brought that personal history with me going into the movie theatre to see American Sniper, not knowing, as I’d said, that it was going to be a war movie.

Now, about that Buddhist thing, since I know that it’s confusing to many people. I’ve been Buddhist all of my life, and I’ve been a martial/fighting artist for more than half of my life, and no, contrary to the popular opinion of our times, this does not create a contradiction. Buddhism and the fighting arts are not mutually exclusive. If you can understand this, then my admiration of American Sniper shouldn’t seem contradictory, either.

Rather than going into a tedious academic tangent on the principles of eastern philosophy, including the meaning of the yin-yang symbol, I’m asking that you hang with me for a minute here!

Buddhist monks in the Shaolin temple of ancient China were resourceful and inventive. They developed seitan, a popular protein-rich meat substitute made of wheat gluten, so they could avoid eating animals. They also developed Shaolin Kung Fu, a martial art that enabled them to kill with their bare hands and laid the groundwork for basically all eastern martial arts thereafter. What’s more, the full spectrum of the Shaolin martial arts system includes fighting with weapons. The “Buddhist warrior” is actually a thing, and it always has been. I’m not saying that ALL Buddhists are warriors. I’m just saying that warriors in the ranks of Buddhists have existed for ages, at least as long as there have been temples to protect. Long before Bruce Lee, there were the Shaolin Buddhist soldier monks.

Hard to believe that there’s a history of martial arts bad-assery in Buddhism, right?

Enough about me and my background. Returning to American Sniper, I want to talk about the “problem” of the veracity of (every detail of) Chris Kyle’s story. He apparently made some claims in his book that aren’t true. In my opinion, just from my perspective as a literature major, this is normal. Biography/autobiography/memoir/creative non-fiction and, loosely, historical fiction all rely on facts and factual events for the backbone of the stories within, but there’s usually good reason and/or artistic justification for alteration or invention in some places, and authors take this kind of creative liberty all the time.

Take, for example, a staple of children’s literature well-known and loved by most Americans. The Nellie Olson character in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series of books didn’t actually exist… she was an amalgamation of two real-life figures from her childhood. Because Laura Ingalls Wilder also altered the chronology of her family’s travels (reportedly for the sake of simplicity), she took two classmates from two of her schools in two different geographical locations and blended them together to create the one insufferable character we know as “Nellie Olson.” (The real Nellie Olson was one of the two classmates Laura Ingalls Wilder used to create the fictitious one.)

This is a well-documented fact, and yet I’ve never heard anyone say that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories are meaningless because she “made up” the character or “lied” about the trajectory of her family’s pioneering path, nor have I heard of anyone calling her out on any of the other half-truths, embellishments or omissions that resulted for artistic purposes. I never heard anyone say that because of all this, Laura Ingalls Wilder is not to be trusted or believed, and that the attention paid to her stories is undeserved. I never heard anyone say that the worth of other art based on the books she co-wrote about her life – namely, the world-famous Little House on the Prairie television series – was invalidated by her “lies.” I never heard anyone complain that the T.V. show was “mendacious” because Laura Ingalls Wilder changed some things, omitted things, and flat-out made other stuff up.

We know that she did these things, but we still accept her work as autobiographical. That which wasn’t real didn’t cancel out all that was real. Her story is still her story, and Chris Kyle’s story is still Chris Kyle’s story, and just because Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tone was demure and so many people dig stories about pioneer life more than they dig stories about soldiering life doesn’t mean that by majority opinion, we can have a double standard. If we’re going to call Chris Kyle a liar, then we’re going to have to call Laura Ingalls Wilder a liar for the exact same reasons, and we don’t want to do that, now, do we?

And while we’re on the subject, let’s think for a moment of how Laura Ingalls Wilder “glorified” and “romanticized” how her Pa decided to drag the family into Indian Territory and knowingly illegally squat on the Native Americans’ land, and how Laura Ingalls Wilder plainly recounted her parents’ racist attitudes and sentiments regarding the “savages” (sound familiar?) – have you ever heard anyone lambasting her for this dubious aspect of their “courageous” pioneer life? Neither have I. Needless to say, the storylines in the television series’ episodes conveniently omit any mention or reference to this part of the Ingalls’ “adventures.” Most everyone still loves the show.

But people are sure enjoying harping on Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper for “glorifying” and “romanticizing” the darker sides of Chris Kyle and his story.

Finally, I want to say that it’s interesting how the people shouting the loudest about how Chris Kyle was a lying psychopath (and no hero at all) are the ones who never spent a day in his or any other soldier’s boots. Now, I didn’t know Chris Kyle. I didn’t know him before, during or after his service, nor am I a psychiatrist. For all I know, he could have been a psychopath or a sociopath or whatever other -path you want to call him… but I don’t care. I don’t care if Chris Kyle was the kind of guy who’d help an old lady cross the street, or the kind of guy who’d push an old lady off a cliff. Because what I do know is that combat military training and circumstances change you in ways that civilians can’t even begin to fathom. What you were before is rendered nearly irrelevant. Even emerging from regular old Army basic training (Chris Kyle underwent Navy S.E.A.L. training, which is much more intense), you’re different than you were before you went in.

In basic training, you’re broken down from the inside out, with the whole point being to re-build you into something you probably weren’t before you went in: a killing machine that can be set into action when the circumstances call for it. The mental and physical conditioning you undergo in order to serve in combat is complete. I’m talking about the average person here. Now imagine that instead of being an average person, you were already an expert shot accustomed to taking lives (as a hunter)… and imagine, too, that your military occupational specialty is killing.

Someone’s got to do it, guys. The military is an establishment in which there’s a need for many roles, just like in civilian society, and while all soldiers are required to be conditioned in the basics, everyone has to choose an occupational specialty. Some soldiers are cooks. Others are band musicians. Others work in supply. There are the tankers, the ammo soldiers, the administration office-working soldiers, the morgue soldiers and the medics and the mechanics and the military cops and the JAG (legal) corps and the signal corps, the soldiers responsible for ensuring communications in the field (what I did – my 31K occupational title was “Combat Signaler.”) And so on, and so forth… and then you have the soldiers whose specialty is killing. These are the infantry, the “grunts.”

Regardless of your occupational specialty, though, all soldiers function the same way in combat zones, and again, to reiterate, this is what basic training is for. When thrown into a combat situation, the conditioning deep inside you surfaces, enabling you to automatically act according to the situation, and I’m sorry, but combat situations don’t usually involve making butter, choosing fabric for dresses, or embroidering. Pa Ingalls is not going to bust out his fiddle at the end of the day and make everyone laugh merrily as they sing along to his folksy songs.

When I was 18, I went to basic training and came out different than I was before, because that is what basic training is designed to do. Not only are you different, but you’re also no longer your own person. You become government property, calibrated to respond and operate on a situational basis. The minute you raise your hand and take that oath, the Constitution you’re charged to protect no longer even applies to you. You opt out of those rights in order to protect them. It’s the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for you!

A day or two before Christmas 1990, we were out there in the vast, cold and empty Saudi Arabian desert when we were told that Sadam Hussein had threatened an attack as a “Christmas present” for the Americans lying in wait, meaning, us. We went into high alert for an indefinite period of time. I remember my 22nd birthday very well. I spent the entire day in a foxhole in the biting cold, suited up in MOPP 4 (head to toe chemical protection gear) with a full bandolier of ammo strapped around my chest and my M-16 at the ready, and again, I came out different than I was before, because that’s what happens when you spend hours on end with every cell and nerve of your being waiting to either kill or get killed. Just being in that situation day after day changes you. Even if “nothing happens,” you can’t ever be the same again.

A few weeks later, the ground war started, and we switched gear from alert to action. We convoyed out of Saudi Arabia to follow the front line through Iraq, destination Kuwait. We were a ground ambulance convoy in our Cut-V’s and Hum-V’s, and we saw and dealt with everything you’d expect to encounter on a battlefield. Then we were ambushed. There were Iraqi snipers. There were detonating landmines. There were casualties. Afterward, there were smoke grenades and medevac helicopters. I’m not going to go into the details of what I did and saw, but you can bet that again, I was a different person by the end of it.

Now, take my modest little combat experience and quadruple it and give it another hefty boost for increased severity. Chris Kyle couldn’t possibly have ended up being the same person he’d been before any of his four tours of combat duty, whatever that may have been. He killed people, as we were all prepared to do, as Navy S.E.A.L.S. were expected to do, and I would venture to guess that he saved many more people than he killed. Whether I “agreed” with the Iraq War or not, I’m grateful to Chris Kyle for his service, and for the service of all men and women in uniform in all the branches of the Armed Forces, regardless of the conflict or the reason for it or behind it, or the duration or severity of it, or the number of times they deployed, or my opinion of it or your opinion of it or anyone’s opinion of it, or anything else.

I’d like to think that if I never lived the experience of being broken down and built back up to human war-machine specs, if I never set foot in a combat zone, if I never mentally prepared to suffer and die under chemical attack or by gunfire or other ordnance, if I never swallowed 12 mysterious pills a day “in case of chemical attack”… if I never lived a day of my life serving my country… I would recognize that I’m not in a position to judge Chris Kyle.

Like him or not, Chris Kyle was a hero. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who voluntarily raises their hand and swears away their own constitutional rights in order to protect yours is a hero, whatever else they may be, and whether they go to war or not. To try to posthumously shame Chris Kyle for being the lying asshole he maybe was is to miss the point of American Sniper. Deriding Eastwood and Cooper for taking part in “glorifying” anything is also an exercise in missing the point.

Aside from all of this, what’s really important here, of course, is that we found American Sniper to be a great piece of cinematic art in and of itself. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper did a damn fine job, along with everyone else who put their energies into the making of the film. I’m saying this, and I don’t even like war movies!

So, American Sniper? We recommend it. It’s not easy to watch, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it “enjoyable,” but it’s an amazing film.

On that (hopefully cheerier) note, Happy Friday, All!

(Here are some photos I took in the war):

 

The first Hum-V ambulances....

The first Hum-V ambulances….

 

Random tank in Iraq

Random tank in Iraq

 

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

After the ambush, we continued on without stopping to sleep. This is what Kuwait looked like as we approached it.

 

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

As we moved through Kuwait, children came running out from nowhere to greet us, happy and excited

 

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

After the ground war in January 1991, this was mostly my view until we left in May.

 

Thanks for scanning them, Callaghan!

200th Post! Le Deux Centième!

Well. Today marks a milestone for this blog, because today, exactly one month short of two years since my first post, I’m writing here for the 200th time!

 

Capture200

 

*throws confetti*

Of course, I got to feeling reflective as this milestone approached.

This blog began, in part, because I missed LiveJournal, which I’d more or less abandoned several years earlier. Facebook eventually replaced the social aspect of it, in a sense, but I wanted to journal again. Moreover, I was living in France, in limbo, not working, and I could feel my brain cells disintegrating while my writing muscles atrophied. I did write some poems. I also intermittently worked on a big writing project, but fiction really isn’t my forte… I missed writing creative non-fiction. And when I tentatively returned to writing in LiveJournal, it just didn’t feel the same. For me, the old LJ magic had left the room (but that had happened before I’d quit, which was why I’d quit). Something had to be done!

I went to create a WordPress account, and I was promptly reminded that I already had one. I’d just never used it. How convenient! I named it “That Asian-Looking Chick,” bought the domain and jumped in with the goal of posting two or three times per week. It’s been hella fun, and rewarding, and instructive. I never missed a week, but it wasn’t until March of this year that I fell into a twice-weekly schedule that stuck. By April, it’d evolved into a Tuesday/Friday thing, and eight months later, I’m still comfortable with that.

Surprisingly, getting settled in a regular posting schedule coincided with going back to work. In the same month, Callaghan and I established a consistent routine at the gym. It was interesting how once I was anchored at a job, other things like blogging and working out sort of fell into place. It was like a “structure begets more structure” kind of thing.

I typically just glance at my blog stats and search engine terms, since the superficial layer is right there before my eyes, but in honor of my 200th post, I took a more in-depth look. Some fun facts include:

–Since Netflix released the second season of Orange is the New Black in June, hundreds of views have resulted from searches for the Asian girl who plays a character in those episodes, as I’ve already mentioned. Yes, the OITNB Asian girl madness continues to rage on today! It’s been five months now. (I still wonder whether Kimiko Glenn has any idea of the scope of her popularity.)

–WordPress stats include visitors’ countries. I did a country count and found that, as of yesterday, people have read this blog from exactly 100 different countries. I’m ashamed to admit that a couple of the places on the list are countries that I hadn’t even realized were actual countries. This blog has opened my eyes to the world, and that is fabulous. (Also, if I needed any proof that English is a language spoken, or at least read, world-wide? I’ve got it.)

–You’re mostly a silent crowd on my posts, except for when I wrote about the casting in the film Jack Reacher.

–A few of you have commented with helpful tips in response to my posts, and your sharing has been wonderfully beneficial. For instance, thanks to your awesomeness, we’re hooked on The Following (T.V. series), and I found my favorite Korean facial sheet masks – the Epielle ones I’ve raved about several times – at Big Lots! For an amazing price!

 

Epielle sheet masks at Big Lots!

Epielle sheet masks at Big Lots!

 

–Because of the search terms, I also know that I’m far from the only one looking for that old (1970’s) Charleston Chew candy commercial, the one featuring King Louis. I trust that if anyone finds it, they’ll come back here and share it.

So, as I reflect back to the beginning, I wanted to thank you for reading and hanging out here with me over the last 200 posts/23 months, or however long you’ve been here. I don’t know about you, but I have no idea where all that time went!

Those of you who’ve been here the longest remember when I was an American ex-pat in France who had no clue that she’d move back to the States. You were here when I was an Arizona girl in Texas who had no clue that she’d move back to Arizona. You spent two birthdays with me, you share my “Little Things” (monthly favorites) joy with me, and you’re privy to my enthusiasm for pop culture and martial/fighting arts. You tolerate my kitty blather and pics (mostly Ronnie James, aka the Wrah-Wrah) and “NOT UNLIKE” comparisons. You read about Callaghan’s shenanigans, and you read my embarrassing stories. You follow my occasional cultural comparison observations. You hear me out when I feel the need to rant. You’ve been there during more personal moments, too, such as when my Mom set off on her journey to fight cancer (she’s doing really well, by the way)! And you laugh with me, which I love.

Some things I want to do here in the future? Well, I’d love to get more active as a blogger, reading more of other people’s blogs. I’d also like to mix it up more, spend more time writing about topics that matter to me profoundly. While my routine is fixed, time is actually a constraint (as it is, I’m usually up at around 5:00am to write here). I’d still like to find time to carve out for non-blog writing projects, as well – I currently have a prose piece in the works, and I’d love to pick up on the poeting – so we shall see what transpires over the next two years!

 

Monday lunch hour selfie (October 27, 2014)

Monday lunch hour selfie (October 27, 2014)

 

And who knows… I may yet divulge the story of My Most Embarrassing Moment.

What I’m Digging Right Now – September Favorites

It’s time to pay homage to the Little Things that made last month wonderful! The real magic of September, though, is that it brought us to October, my favorite month… so, in honor of fall and the splendor that comes with it, let’s start with home things…

1). Mainstay candle in Mulled Cider.

Mainstay Mulled Cider candle - autumn in a glass jar.

Mainstay Mulled Cider candle – autumn in a glass jar.

This candle turned out to be a big surprise. It’s basically a $5.00 candle with the quality and fragrance pay-off of a $20.00 candle, and it can be found at Walmart, where we go after the gym sometimes, since it’s next door. I was doubtful when I bought it… I’ve had such meh experiences with other cheap candles that I’d stopped trying with them. I’m so glad I decided to take a chance on this one! This candle’s lovely aroma fills the room just as well as a pricier one would. I’m just so impressed. With its intense yet rounded fragrance of spiced cider, the Mulled Cider candle is fall-scented perfection for a fraction of the cost of a Yankee candle, or one from Bath & Body Works, or one from Crabtree and Evelyn, or elsewhere.

2). Eiffel Tower backdrop.

Ronnie James gazing at the Eiffel Tower in our Paris-inspired guest bedroom... don't tell my parents he was on "their" bed, haha!

Ronnie James gazing at the Eiffel Tower in our Paris-inspired guest bedroom… don’t tell my parents he was on “their” bed, haha!

SURPRISE! It’s the Eiffel Tower in our guest bedroom, haha!

What can I say? I love the Eiffel Tower, and I thought it would be fun to do this room with our French houseguests in mind.

When I recently wrote about the abundance of Eiffel Tower-themed things all over the place here in the States and listed a few of the Eiffel Towers we have in our house, I didn’t mention this particular one that’s printed on a fabric panel and serving as a headboard behind the bed in our spare room. This “tapestry” comes from Urban Outfitters. We have three others from them throughout the house… one in our bedroom (forest theme), one in my office (mystical sunset theme), and another in the guest bathroom (wrought iron country gate theme).

Ronnie James knows he’s not allowed in the guest bedroom, so naturally, when we were distracted showing his Auntie Margaret around the other day, he seized the opportunity to dart in the second we opened the door. This photo busts Ronnie James in his big carpe diem moment of the month. He ran in, jumped on the bed and went straight to the Eiffel Tower. It’s not so strange, though… he is French, after all!

Moving along to entertainment…

3). Personal by Lee Child.

Reacher is back!

Reacher is back!

Because yes, Reacher is back, and this time, the shenanigans begin in Paris!

I loved it, and I had an intimately thrilling moment when Reacher took his CIA companion through the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and mentioned Jim Morrison’s grave, the subject of my “greatest first-world problem” post! As the two are naming several famous people buried at Père Lachaise, Reacher pointedly adds, “…and Jim Morrison… from the Doors.” I couldn’t believe it… Reacher brought me to the place I regretted missing five times. This is escapism at its finest. Thank you, Lee Child!

4). Modern Family, season 6 (T.V. series)

thatasianlookingchick.com-modernfamilys6

The start of our beloved Modern Family’s sixth season launched our fall television agenda, and the premiere left us cracking up, as usual! The particular humor in this comedy just does it for us, and that makes it pure gold. Comedic timing is a tricky thing to learn… one has to have an innate sense of it. There’s just so much talent on this set, and we just think the show is excellent in all respects. We’re so glad these crazy guys are back.

Now for beauty products! I had a couple of cosmetic item favorites in September that I’m continuing to love…

5). L’Oréal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Makeup.

L’Oréal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Makeup (in N3)

L’Oréal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Makeup (in N3)

If you know me well, you know that I’m constantly on-and-off boycotting L’Oréal, and I don’t think I’ve ever used a foundation of theirs before… but it’s hard to find a foundation that I love (for a long time, I just used BB creams), so I decided to take a suggestion and try their True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous makeup. Frankly, in my opinion, it’s perfect. I love its lightweight feel and flawless finish, and its extensive range of shades makes it user-friendly for everyone. This medium-coverage makeup is a fabulous drugstore alternative to expensive department store brands. I once tried a sample of Chanel’s Vitalumiere Aqua foundation, and the L’Oréal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Makeup seems to be a good dupe for that lovely product. Win!

6). Revlon Colorstay Moisture Stain in Stockholm Chic (055).

Revlon Colorstay Moisture Stain in Stockholm Chic (055)

Revlon Colorstay Moisture Stain in Stockholm Chic (055)

This is simply the best lip stain I’ve ever tried, and I do mean ever. It’s light and long-wearing, and it feels like I’m wearing nothing while doing exactly what a good lip stain should do – it leaves color on the lips even after it’s worn off, and, being less drying than most, it doesn’t gunk up in a patchy way when you reapply it. Not only that, but it actually comes in the perfect “my lips but better” shade… Stockholm Chic is a darker neutral that strikes that elusive balance between rust and wine. Sometimes I just apply lip balm over the stain after it wears off, and then it looks like a well-pigmented gloss. This is good stuff.

7). Aussie Miracle Moist shampoo and 3-Minute Miracle Moist conditioner.

Aussie Moist shampoo and 3 Minute Miracle Moist conditioner

Aussie Moist shampoo and 3 Minute Miracle Moist conditioner

I’ve been using Aussie products here and there for years, including their 3-Minute Miracle conditioner that’s been around for a while, but their “Moist” line is newer, isn’t it? Or did they just re-name it? Whatever the case, I’m finding it to be quite wonderful these days. I have another brand of shampoo and conditioner in the shower that used to be my favorite, but I keep reaching for these Aussie products. I just re-purchased the conditioner. That’s saying a lot!

Now, because you know I’m all about carb and protein-packed treats…

8). Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Cookie.

Lenny and Larry's The Complete Cookie in All The Flavors.

Lenny and Larry’s The Complete Cookie in All The Flavors.

Can we just start with dessert? Our gym got us hooked on these cookies by displaying them boldly on their exit counter one week. Thanks, gym. We’ve tried the lemon poppy seed (which tastes like cake), chocolate chip (really good chocolate chip!), pumpkin spice (OMG amazing) and double chocolate, and Oh. My. Goodness. There are no words, my friends. No words. Our gym sells these vegan, organic, high protein and kosher cookies for a ridiculous price at $3.00 a pop, but we actually found them on sale at Whole Foods one day – three for $5.00! – so I couldn’t say I went to “Whole Paycheck” that day. I highly recommend these delicious cookies, but take caution… they’re huge, and the nutritional info label reveals that one cookie equals two servings. To save money and calories, I break them in half and store them in the freezer in individual ziplock bags.

9). Dave’s Killer Bread (Blues Bread).

Dave's Killer Bread Blues Bread... it's to die for!

Dave’s Killer Bread Blues Bread… it’s to die for!

About one-third of the employees at Dave’s Killer Bread are ex-cons. If that right there isn’t cool enough – who doesn’t love a company that gives second chances? – throw in the fact that the bread they make is completely out-of-this-world fantabulous. Our favorite is the Blues Bread. Inspired by Dave’s love of Blues music, Blues Bread® is rolled in organic blue cornmeal, giving it a crunchy crust and sweet flavor. It’s vegan and high in fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. All of DKB’s breads are organic.

10). Clif bar in Sierra Trail Mix.

Sierra Trail Mix Clif Bars.

Sierra Trail Mix Clif Bars.

The classic Clif bars are a bit more calorie-dense than bars I’d typically consume, but they’re designed to supply energy while hiking (I think that’s how they got started, anyway), and sustainable energy means calories. The reason this gives pause for thought is that the Sierra Trail Mix flavor is so good, I don’t want to stop after eating after half the bar… I want the whole thing! We’re hooked on these bars. Clif bar flavors are hit or miss with me, and this flavor is most definitely a hit. Well done, Clif bar people. Well done.

That wraps it up for September… now I can start keeping track of the awesome things October’s bound to bring! First of all, my parents arrive today for their weekend stay with us. They’ll be the first visitors to stay in the Eiffel Tower room. =)

Happy Friday, All!

The First-World Problems of an English Major.

A fact of life: One never knows how many Stephen King books one owns until one moves. And yes, “Stephen King” is an adjective.

Decent progress has been made in the unpacking arena. I’ve now arrived at the books part of it, and… and nothing. I’ve just arrived. And I’ve taken the books out of the boxes – go me! But that’s where my victory dance ends, because now I have to decide how to sort all the books, and for some reason, I’m overwhelmed.

Well, I know why. It’s because this move is the last move for the foreseeable future; as far as I’m concerned, this abode is the forever abode, so my OCD-tendency-leaning self won’t let me get away with shoving books on the shelves every which way “because we’re going to move one day anyway” anymore.

I’ve carried books around with me all of my life. Over the years, I’ve sold, traded, donated and given away hundreds of books. I’ve lost some; I’ve “lent” some. But somehow, I still always move with at least ten good-size boxes of books.  My current collection includes some that I’d left in France (a pile of Shakespeare and some Russian lit, some of them duplicates, mysteriously enough) in my attempt to bring down the weight of our overseas shipping, and I have a small stack set aside for a garage sale we’re planning in the upcoming weeks. Still, I’m now confronted by piles like this:

 

Book piles in the living room.

Book piles in the living room.

 

And this:

 

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

 

And that’s not all of it. I also have a pile of books about Buddhism/eastern philosophy beneath the Butsudan, a pile of cookbooks tucked away in the kitchen, a pile of random books on the big bookcase in the dining area and a smattering of books in my office. And these are all just my books we’re talking about… Callaghan, too, has lots of books in his office.

This is what the inside of my mind looks like when I’m standing before these books:

Should I group them by century? Should I separate the American lit from the British lit? Should I separate them by century and group the Americans and Brits within the centuries? Should I group all the anthologies together, or should I put the poetry anthologies in the poetry section? Should I mix the pocket-size books with the trade paper and hardcover books? If I lump all the pocketbooks together, should I organize them by genre, or alphabetically by author, or both? Should I categorize the books by genre, only? Should I nest genres within nationalities within centuries (i.e. 19th-century British Romantics)? Should I mesh poetry and prose within those groupings, or should I keep poetry and prose separate? And which groups should I position where in the bookcase? Should I group the Russian lit alongside the British lit alongside the American lit, or would the Russian lit make more sense neighboring the philosophy section? Should I line the entire top of the bookshelves with poetry volumes, using them to bridge the two? Should I shelve the poets in alphabetical order? How should I organize the poetry… by era, or by style? If the era and style are inseparable (as with the confessionalists, the post-modern poets, the New York School, the avant-garde imagists, the Black Mountain poets, etc.), should I attempt to merge all the books similarly? What about my textbooks and essays about poetry and prose… should I put them with their authors, or in a category of their own? Should I put the surrealism section next to the magical realism section, or should I put the surrealists next to the poets? Should I put the biographies and autobiographies of poets and authors with the books those poets and authors have authored, or should I make a separate category for biographies and autobiographies? What about the smaller sections like classical Greek lit, medieval lit and non-Shakespearean drama? Should I separate Shakespeare’s poetry from his dramas, or keep them all together in the Elizabethan section? (Would it be weirder to have a poetry section without Shakespeare’s poems, or to have a Shakespeare section without his poems?) What about the contemporary literature? The non-fiction? Should I separate the political non-fiction from the general non-fiction? What about creative non-fiction? What about my western religious texts? The feminist texts? Should I group my books in French together, separate from the books in English, or should I merge them?

Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

I’ve been staring at these piles of books for a few days now.

I’ve already decided to put reference books and instructional books, including all of my French grammar books and dictionaries, in the big bookshelf in the dining area.

I’m hoping that somehow, my collections of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Lee Child, J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and the like, along with random other books, will all fit in the tall, narrow bookcase in the guest bedroom. I like the idea of stocking that room with brain candy for visitors who are on vacation (Callaghan’s going to add some books in French for our visitors from France).

None of these considerations came into play in the apartment we’d just vacated. I knew it was temporary, so I created double rows of books in some parts and didn’t care that the ones in the back rows weren’t visible. In this house, though, I want to be able to see every single book, and I want to be able to find books easily. In the past, I’d typically arranged books alphabetically, by author. I’m craving that level of organization in my life again because I’m craving rootedness. I feel like if my books are in order, then my life will be in order. When I was a kid in grade school, some of my friends used to tease me about my reading, saying, Kristi’s going to turn into a book! Maybe that’s finally happened.

On that note, I’m off to spend the day away from the office, going to appointments, seeing people, running errands, and so on. Happy Friday, All!

But It’s “Free-Range”!

My weekend started on a serrated-edged note of dark humor when, during a business meeting at a restaurant, my dinner companion and I snorted over a particular menu item:

 

Free-range rabbit on the menu.

Free-range rabbit on the menu.

 

As you can see from this photo of the menu, the restaurant offers rabbit with the assertion that the rabbits are “free-range.” Fantastic! Happy little bunnies hopping hither and thither over a grassy knoll.

But then we read that the rabbits are “slow-roasted” and “hand-pulled.” Hand-pulled? We exclaimed in unison. My visual instantly went from happy little bunnies to torn-apart bunnies. The menu’s brief description concludes with a touch of poetic, seductive frill, the “black trumpet mushrooms, thyme, Pecorino” part elegantly cloaking the macabre “slow roasted hand pulled” part. Perhaps they thought that starting with the nationality of the rabbit would smooth the way for the rest of the description… better these misfortunes befall a Canadian rabbit than an American one, though the dish is Croatian, not Canadian.

Coniglio Pljukanci: “Canadian free range & slow roasted hand pulled rabbit…”

Following this template, Callaghan and I – ever on the look-out for ways to amuse ourselves – later came up with a list of menu items featuring animals humanely kept before their inevitable demise:

Boeuf Bourguinon: “French grass-fed cow, guillotined, braised and immersed in a Burgundy wine sauce…”

Jaegar Schnitzel: “German open pen pig surrounded by barnyard friends, then bled out through the throat and filleted…”

Lamb Stew: “New Zealand petting zoo lamb executed by firing squad, cut into chunks…”

Kobe Beef: “Japanese cow tucked in at night with a bedtime story, then slaughtered & grilled…”

There’s probably something slightly wrong with us for having so much fun with this, but in my defense I was more reminded of Dr. Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay “A Modest Proposal,” in which he advocates the killing and eating of babies and children as a way to alleviate the poverty problem in 18th-century Ireland:

A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.

He had many ideas, in fact, and applied a great deal of thought to the matter:

 

Excerpt from Dr. Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick" (Eighteenth-Century English Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1969)

Excerpt from Dr. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick” (Eighteenth-Century English Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1969)

 

On that note, I’m going to go put something together for lunch today. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, anyone?

Jack Reacher Day Approaches!

It’s nearly May. Summer’s coming fast, and I’m so excited because August 28 is coming fast, too, and August 28 is JACK REACHER DAY 2014.

By that, I mean, it’s the day on which Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel will be released!

Needless to say, I’m grateful to belong to a fandom that’s spoiled rotten by a prolific author who works hard to ensure that we “Reacher-Creatures” get our Reacher fix on an annual basis. (I’m not sure how I feel about that nickname for us, but I don’t mind it.) I’m truly grateful to Lee Child for his solid work ethic.

I wait almost a year for a book I’ll read in a few days, after which I spend the next 360 days or so anticipating the next one. I don’t take Lee Child for granted, though. He’s not a book-producing machine. He’s human, and life happens. He could decide to go on hiatus for a year or two, and one day he’ll retire and kill off Reacher or otherwise vanish him somehow. The end of Reacher is inevitable.

I already know how I’m going to handle Reacher’s demise or ultimate disappearance into the ether: I’m going to celebrate him by reading the whole entire series of novels all over again, and in chronological order this time.

To paraphrase Doc Holliday in Tombstone, “My obsession knows no bounds.”

 

Callaghan's drawing of Jack Reacher, as described by author Lee Child.

Callaghan’s drawing of Jack Reacher, as described by author Lee Child.

 

Jack Reacher intrigues with his complexity; over the arc of his 17 Reacher novels, Lee Child created a fictional portrait tight with detail resulting in a dimensional and well-developed action character who embroils himself in situations ranging from tricky to cataclysmic everywhere he goes. Reacher’s physical characteristics are explicitly defined and described consistently throughout the series – which is important to the stories, as Reacher needs that specific physique in order to do the things he does – and Reacher has a complete background with life details and personality traits from childhood on up.

 

Jack Reacher's "CV" appears at the front of many of the Reacher books I own, and it came in handy. While reading, I often had to refer back to Reacher's physical stats as cited on this page in order to gauge whether some of his more outrageous "activities" could be humanly possible.

Jack Reacher’s “CV” appears at the front of many of the Reacher books I own, and it came in handy. While reading, I often had to refer back to Reacher’s physical stats as cited on this page in order to gauge whether some of his more outrageous “activities” could be humanly possible.

 

Did you know, for instance, that Reacher speaks fluent French, because his mother was French? And that she lived in Paris, where he went to visit her on a few documented occasions? True story, as far as fictional stories go. Reacher is half-French, and he enjoyed dining with his maman and brother at the Restaurant Polidor, a Parisian eatery that was established in 1845 and still, to this day, won’t accept credit cards.

Actually, I discovered Reacher while living in France. I spent much of the summer of 2012 wandering alone through le Vieux Nice (Old Nice) and the surrounding streets, and one day, it occurred to me that La Fnac, a French counterpart of the States’ Barnes and Noble, might carry some books in English. I wanted to read. Moreover, I wanted the instant gratification of plunging headfirst into fiction and losing myself in its depths. Struggling through French text with a dictionary in one hand and a fistful of my own hair (clenched tightly by the roots) in the other would be educational, but it wouldn’t suit my purposes. Or my hair. I wanted escapism.

I was happy to find an abundance of Alice Munro, T.C. Boyle and Joyce Carol Oates, all of whom I adore – Munro’s short stories, especially – and then I wanted some fun pulp fiction to round out my selection. Action, thriller and horror (as well as any hybrids of the three… and if we’re talking fiction genre hybrids, you can throw some science fiction in there, too) are my favorite pulpy genres, and I had no idea where to begin looking. I’d already read all of the available Stephen King, who works masterfully at the intersection of literature and pulp fiction (like no one else does, in my opinion), and I wasn’t familiar with any of the other authors on the shelves. So I started picking up novels at random and reading the blurbs on the back, choosing, in the end, The Affair by Lee Child.

That’s where I met Reacher.

It turned out that The Affair was a good place to start, because it’s one of just a few Reacher novels written in the first person. The majority of the novels are written in the third person. I felt like I got to know Reacher through the lens of his own perspective.

It took a few pages to get acclimated to Child’s writing style, but he had me hooked in no time. I finished the book in three days and headed back downtown. I knew La Fnac had another Lee Child novel on the shelf, because I’d deliberated between the two before selecting The Affair. I went back for Gone Tomorrow, and then I embarked on a Reacher search expedition wherever I could find books in English throughout the French Riviera, including Virgin Records (also in the Le Vieux Nice area, on la Rue Jean Medecin), and Les Galleries Lafayette (a French equivalent of Macy’s) located in Cap 3000, a mall at the end of the Promenade des Anglais between Nice and Antibes. I also scoured the Nice Etoile, a much smaller mall located down the street from Virgin Records on la Rue Jean Medecin.

Somewhere in there, Callaghan picked up one of my books (Gone Tomorrow) and got hooked on Reacher, too. We needed to find more!

Back in our little wilderness corner of the world in le Vercors – we divided our time between Rhône-Alpes and la Côte d’Azur – we searched for Reacher in La Fnac in Valence, as well as in Cultura (similar to the States’ erstwhile Borders).

Out of all of those places, we were only able to find one more Reacher novel, at Virgin Records in Nice, I believe. Bad Luck and Trouble.   

But – surprise! – we found many more at the Frankfurt airport in September, when we stopped over in Germany on our way to Los Angeles. Of course! Reacher novels aren’t just great pulp fiction – they’re great airport pulp fiction. With plenty of time to enjoy some good German beer and browse every newsstand we could find, we ended up boarding the plane with something like seven or eight Reacher novels. When we got to Los Angeles, we went to Barnes and Noble with The List and picked up the remaining six or seven. We headed back to France with 14 Reacher novels in our suitcase, then in possession of all 17.

The following summer – last year – we were in Austin, Texas when Child’s 18th Reacher book hit the shelves. I was thrilled to be right there!

That brings us to Child’s 2014 release. August 28. I’m waiting patiently, only glancing at the calendar every other day or so.

I’ve been asked which Reacher novel is my favorite, and that’s difficult to answer. I’d say it’s a tie between Gone Tomorrow and Bad Luck and Trouble. Persuasion would probably come in third.I also really enjoyed the three most recent titles, those that chronicle Reacher’s adventures post South Dakota debacle: Worth Dying For, A Wanted Man and Never Go Back (last year’s). It’s difficult to say, though. They’re all fantastically entertaining!

I can’t wait to see what Reacher gets himself into in this year’s installment of the ongoing adventure….

“A Room of One’s Own”

I return with pictures! As I’d gleefully noted before, my books are up, which means I once again have, as Virginia Woolf would say, “a room of my own.” It’s such a simple thing, but it makes all the difference. After being away for over two years, I’m feeling truly at home again, and I’m grateful for it; my office is our living room, and it’s like a big cozy library. All the relics are here… the Chagall prints I’d scrounged from a dusty pile in that thrift store in West Germany almost twenty-five years ago, just before The Wall came down, and also from West Germany, the iron dragon candlestick found on a stroll through a street fair on a cold wintry night. My brother’s old Six Million Dollar Man thermos (c. 1974) and the white porcelain cat a friend gave me when I was sixteen. The fresh flowers, childrens’ books and pocketbook-size literature and pulp fiction in the dark bookcase by my desk, and, on the other side of the room, the bulk of my book collection awaiting detailed organization in the larger bookcases. The butsudan my Grandfather refurbished for me before he died. The candlestick a beloved friend sent from France. And so on.

 

My desk...

My desk…

 

 

...with the old Chagall prints

…with the old Chagall prints

 

 

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

 

 

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

 

Corner detail by the butsudan.... I positioned the clock so we'd have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

Corner detail by the butsudan…. I positioned the clock so we’d have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

 

 

So this is our living room. We’ve clustered our loveseat, ottoman and my beat-up old German trunk (serving as a coffee table, as usual) under the window on the wall between the two sides of the room.  Callaghan’s all set up, too… he’s got the larger of our two bedrooms for his art studio, and it’s perfect for him.

In other news, I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving week already!

Getting Settled

We left Texas a week ago today, and it doesn’t feel like it at all. In other words, time flies. In yet more words, holy crap, we’ve already been gone a week?! Much progress has been made, though. We’re not quite finished unpacking, but we’ve got all of our books situated, which means that we’re home. Home is where the books are arranged on shelves, I always say.

On the kitty front, Ronnie James and Nounours are thrilled to be here. We have a little bedroom hallway in this apartment, an interior configuration they’ve never seen before. We put their favorite rug and one of their scratch pads there, and they adore it.

“It’s not a hallway,” Callaghan remarked wisely. “It’s a hangway. Where they hang out in the way.”

Living with Callaghan is a treat for a lover of language. Hangway. I never would have thought to invent such a word!

Here are the kitties chilling in the dining area, another favorite spot of theirs:

 

From the French Alpes to the desert in the American southwest, Ronnie James and Nounours are a well-adapted pair.

From the French Alpes to the desert in the American southwest, Ronnie James and Nounours are a well-adapted pair.

 

Ronnie James on alert, as usual. Nounours crashed out, as usual.

Ronnie James on alert, as usual. Nounours crashed out, as usual.

 

Sleeping and yoga - the two things kitties do best.

Sleeping and yoga – the two things kitties do best.

 

 

 

Happy Friday, All! Excuse me while I dive into the remaining boxes!

“Go then, there are other worlds than these.”

…said Jake Chambers in The Dark Tower epic series by Stephen King. Better words to capture the essence of escapism have never been spoken.

Whoa! This last week’s been about packing, cleaning, taking stuff to the dump, hanging out with a friend who came to stay for a couple of days, and working around technical difficulties – up until this minute, in fact – with both our internet connection and my computer AC adaptor malfunction.

I’m flipping through my agenda, the book in which I keep track of exciting things coming up. I like looking forward to stuff. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with secondary clinical depression, so looking forward to stuff is like the key to my well-being.

Mainly, right now, I’m looking forward to moving, and that’s a big thing. It’s exciting, but it’s big. It’s so big that it’s not on my list of things that I’m looking forward to, even though I am. It’s the small things that make a difference, because they don’t carry the caveat of stress that the big things do. The small things are just there to be anticipated. They are fluff, and fluff cannot be underrated.

Here, I’ll share this with you… Fluffy Things I’m looking forward to, in no particular order:

1. The return of Arrested Development (T.V. series) in May. The Bluth family. Because the chicken dance matters.

2. The next episode of The Following (T.V. series). Thank you again for this recommendation, Arne F.!

3. Stephen King’s The Wind through the Keyhole. Because Roland “The Gunslinger” Deschain, aka Roland of Gilead in the aforementioned Dark Tower epic series, is my fictional boyfriend.

I’m not an aficionado of the fantasy genre, but I’m obsessed with The Dark Tower, which is a brilliantly crafted literary collage of fantasy-horror-western-drama. When I finished all seven books in the series, I sought out the short stories that featured Roland. After that, I had to accept the fact that I’d read everything with Roland in existence. Life went on. Then, last week, we were browsing through the books in the English section at Cultura, and guess what! I discovered The Wind through the Keyhole. How did I not know about this publication? It came out last year. It’s a new installment in the Dark Tower series, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel, too. I’m forcing myself to wait until I’m on the airplane to crack it open.

Yep. Settling down on the plane over the Atlantic with this new Dark Tower book on my tray is going to be my reward to myself for surviving the stress of moving.

4. Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel Never Go Back (August). Because… Reacher!!

5. American Horror Story, Season 3 (October). This new season is called “Coven,” and a lot of it will be filmed in New Orleans. I’m sure it’s going to be as richly atmospheric as the first two seasons. Can’t. Wait.

(If we’ve been friends forever and you’re confused because you never knew me to watch T.V., let me explain what happened: Netflix streaming. And we started to watch Bob’s Burgers. That was the beginning of it. Or the end of it, depending on how you look at it.)

I also used to think that I’d never be interested in reality T.V., but then? Cake Boss.

For those of you who don’t know, the Cake Boss is this guy called Buddy who owns Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. The show follows Buddy and his family and crew as they create these freaktastically detailed specialty cakes custom-ordered by people for various occasions and events. The Cake Boss takes on some spectacular challenges; he seems to be the type of person who works well under pressure, thriving in merging funnels of drama and disaster, always managing to deliver his splendiferous works of sugary art in style. “NOW WHO WANTS TO EAT SOME CAKE?!”

Callaghan and I have an ongoing banter about what cakes we’d order from the Cake Boss. Callaghan knows that I’d love to have one for Valentine’s Day. Every once in a while, I’ll suddenly ask him… wait, okay, let me do it right now…

“What cake are you going to order for me?” I’m calling it out, since he’s in the other room.

“It’s a surprise… you’re not going to know. Heheheh! Coquine! You thought I was going to tell you, hein?”

See? He answered immediately, like he was waiting for me to ask! He has no idea that I’m writing this, and that I just keyed in what he said, word for word.

Shoot. I mean, okay, I’m not desperate to know. I’m not going to secretly administer a truth serum so he’ll tell me. I’ll enjoy being surprised.

It’s just fun to think about what he might order. It’s fun to think about getting, say, a Jack Reacher cake from the Cake Boss. Or a beautiful Dark Tower cake, featuring red roses and lobstrosities.