“To understand just one life you have to swallow the world.”

– Salman Rushdie

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We Are the Shadow

Lunar_Eclipse_Sequence_on_Winter_Solstice_Dec_21_2010There are times that the universe seems too big, and human beings so impossibly removed from it…

I spend most of my time in front of a computer screen. That little glowing rectangle holds my job, my far-flung friends, and half my hobbies. And from what I can tell, this is not unusual for my generation. And most of the time, I don’t even think about it.

When I do think about it, it’s that fact that scares me most.

I am a child of the Internet age. I am just as at home in cyberspace as I am in physical space. Sometimes more so, depending on the day. I have come to understand and accept that there is no longer a meaningful distinction between the Internet and “real life.” A person only has one life, and all of it is real. And it doesn’t matter that websites are housed in far-off servers or that Facebook isn’t face-to-face. If our brains understand and interpret and process these aspects of our lives as though they were “really” happening, then they are really happening. And the world will not end because of it.

What bothers me sometimes is not the idea that I spend so much of my time on something that isn’t “real.” What bothers me is the fact that this reality that I and most of my friends spend our time in is one created by people. Because it seems to me at times so utterly absurd that in this big, wide world – in this big, wide universe – that we were not content to exist in and build our lives around the multitudes that already exist. that instead human kind had to create its own reality, one with only the most tenuous of holds to the physical reality from which we arose.

The universe is so vast, and so beautiful and delicate and powerful. And there are times I feel that we are slipping away from it, losing our tether and drifting entirely into a universe of our own making, one that is also vast, and beautiful and delicate and powerful, but that can never be complete without the one that was here before.

1259652975_f17683b93a_oTwo weeks ago I sat on my back porch the night of the blood moon, the first of four lunar eclipses in the next two years, shivering in the April chill, sipping a glass of wine, watching a shadow swallow the moon. And it occurred to me that the thing about lunar eclipses is that, unlike a solar eclipse when the moon blocks the view of the sun from Earth, in a lunar eclipse it is the Earth that blocks the view of the sun from the moon. Instead of being a show for our benefit, we are the show. We are the event.

We are the shadow on the moon.

And so as I watched the moon disappear behind the shadow of seven billion people and their thousands of years of civilization and the millions of years of evolution – I watched the moon disappear behind the shadow of the Earth, and it occurred to me that we will always be part of the universe beyond ourselves, whether we know it or not.

I only hope we don’t forget.

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‘The Gallery of Vanished Husbands’: The Kind Of Book I Really Should Read More Of

Gallery of Vanished HusbandsIt’s been a long time since I read a piece of literary fiction that was just a solid book. Nothing innovative or amazing, but still just a well-written good story. And in reading I realized that I should probably read more fiction that falls into that category, because even if you aren’t blown away by a particular novel, that doesn’t mean you won’t get a lot out of it.

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is the story of Juliet Montague, a Jewish woman living in 1950s London as what’s called an aguana, a woman whose husband has left her without giving her a divorce. Juliet supports herself and her two young children by working at her father’s spectacles factory – that is until a chance encounter launches her into the London art scene where she becomes one of the city’s few female gallery owners. Independent and unpredictable, Juliet breaks rules and breaks hearts, cultivating an improbable but successful career and an unconventional love affair that lasts for decades.

There are lots of interesting touches in the novel, from Juliet’s name which is probably some sort of allusion to the fact that whirlwind romance doesn’t necessarily work out even if you get married, to the way in which each chapter is structured around a portrait of Juliet. The dialogue rings a bit false in some scenes, but this is more than made up for in the vivid characters and the deft way that the author, Natasha Solomons, handles the leaps and bounds in her decades-long story.

The book is interesting an entertaining, even if it doesn’t have you frantically flipping pages. It’s well written, even if the language is mostly straight forward. It is, in short, a good book. And it’s made me realize that I need to read more just plain good books. Because I liked Juliet’s story. I liked the themes the author played with and the motifs she worked in. I liked the way in which she managed to capture 1950s London and the various communities within it that she drew upon. I liked this book.

And even though I’ve more or less given up on reading books that I don’t enjoy just because they’re supposedly “Great” with a capital “G,” I’ve realized that the reverse is not true: I haven’t started reading books that I would probably enjoy even if they aren’t anything to write home about. And I really should, because yes, it’s true that there are already too many Great and great books to read in my limited time; but the flip side of that is that if there will never be enough time to read all the books we ought to be reading, then we might as well just read what we want and what we’ll enjoy. And for me, that means reading more books like The Gallery of Vanished Husbands.

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“Be not angry t…

“Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” –Thomas à Kempis

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Little Failures

There certain things that I do that I know make me feel better the rest of the time. Writing is one of them – when I have a fiction project going and it’s going well, everything in my life just feels better. Exercise is like that, too. And yet, unlike writing, which I often times will do instead of projects I strictly speaking should be working on, getting myself to actually get up off the couch and exercise is a struggle, every single time. And I sometimes find myself just wondering why?

Why is it that something that makes you feel better, that you know will make you feel better, is so hard to actually will yourself to do?

I get frustrated with myself often over stuff like this. My seeming inability to exercise or do the dishes or return phone calls in a remotely timely manner. I make long to-do lists for myself every day, and most days I don’t get to half the items I put down. I break promises I’ve made with myself everyday, and sometimes the reasons are understandable, and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes I just couldn’t bring myself to actually do what I’d promised.

A part of me hoped that this tendency would go away once I graduated, not because of some idea of what “real adults” are like, but because I thought that once I had less stress, the daily tasks of life would seem less tiring, more worthwhile. And yet I am beginning to suspect that this tendency in myself is never going away. That I am always going to fail, at least some of the time, to do the things I know I should, that I have promised myself I would.

Socrates once theorized that the fact that people do things they know will have negative consequences, or fail to things they know will have positive rewards, makes no sense at all. I remember reading, for one of my courses as a freshman in college, a dialogue in which he grappled with this question, and I don’t really remember his conclusion, but I do remember finding it inadequate.

Socrates’s problem in approaching this whole issue was assuming human beings were inherently rational. He could not understand how a person would make such an irrational choice, but human beings make irrational choices all the time. It is what makes us human and not machines. We fail to do the things we know we’re supposed to. We wind up doing the things we promised ourselves we wouldn’t. We’re only human.

I’m trying to learn to forgive myself for this little failures. I’m trying to learn to let them go. It’s harder than it sounds. It’s hard to accept that there will always be this tendency in yourself that you will never like.

I went to the gym this morning. I feel really good because of it. I fully intend to go back tomorrow. I have no idea if I actually will.

I’m not exactly happy about that last part, but I’m at least trying to be okay with it. Because otherwise, I’m going to spend my life just making myself miserable over something I can’t change.

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‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’: Delightfully Odd

Miss Peregrine'sMiss Peregrine’s Home of Peculiar Children is one of the oddest books I’ve read in a long while, but it works brilliantly. The story, by Ransom Riggs, is a quick read, but an ingenius one. It’s also one of the most fun books (that isn’t also YA) that I’ve read in ages.

The book’s protagonist, Jacob Portman, is fifteen and too old for his grandfather’s stories about the incredible house where he’d lived in England after fleeing Poland during World War II, a house full of strange children with magical abilities. But after his grandfather’s sudden, violent death, Jacob realizes that his grandfather’s stories were true all along. Looking for answers to questions he can’t explain, he travels to England, hoping to find someone who might still live in the old orphanage or remember where the other children might have gone. And from there, things just more and more complicated.

The book is one of the more imaginative works I’ve ever read, and the story never quite goes where you expect. It’s one of those rare books where the paranormal systems it sets up are highly original, yet don’t have giant holes. The magical universe Riggs has created is certainly odd, not really derived directly from other magical universes, but it’s still internally consistent, a feat most writers can’t quite manage.

But what really makes the book shine are the pictures. The writing itself is straightforward, but the antique photographs that accompany the text give the book a depth regardless. Ransom Riggs is a collector of antique photographs, and all the photos in the book are authentic photographs from either his own collection or those of other collectors. Yet it’s hard to believe that at least some of them weren’t taken specifically for the book, they work so well with the text.

The books is weird, no doubt about it, but it’s also awesome. It doesn’t follow most conventions, from the fact that the protagonist is faced with genuine dilemmas with no good choices or third options, right down to including the photographs that are as much a part of the book as the text. The story itself doesn’t go where you’d expect, and that just makes it all the more fun to read. And I have no idea when the sequel is coming out, but it needs to happen soon.

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Love Letter To Veronica Mars

Dear Veronica Mars,

First of all let me apologize for not re-watching you in a few years. After seeing the Veronica Mars Movie and embarking on a marathon viewing of the TV series that preceded it, I see what a mistake this was. Because you, Veronica Mars, are truly excellent.

I will say that you go off the rails a bit in the third season, but I understand. That was right after your original network merged with The WB to form the CW, and whoever was in the writers room was just not doing you justice. I confess that my re-watches usually sputter out somewhere in the third season for that reason. But even the problems that crop up then only serve to highlight how truly amazing you were before.

You were amazing, Veronica Mars, and you were exactly what I needed in high school. You gave me a heroine who was smart and strong and brave, yet also flawed. She was not perfect, nor was she some blank outline meant for teenage girls to project themselves onto. She was her own person. And who she was was not passive or meek or confused or in need of saving. She was bold and in your face. She was strong and tough. She saved herself. And she was not beloved; people hated her. And she made mistakes. She screwed up. Her trust issues were understandable but still unhealthy. The same things that made people drawn to her often pushed them away. She was a great character.

And most importantly, she was always the hero of her own story. She was not remarkable because of the people around her, or for the role she played in other people’s lives. She was remarkable for herself.

I don’t think I need to tell you how rare that is. In a world where female representation in film and television is abysmal, there are very few female characters like Veronica. And so while she would have still been an amazing, engaging, fascinating character even if she was only one of many well-rounded female characters on television, the fact that she was so unusual makes her all the more important, for me and every girl who fell in love with her.

VeronicaMars1But more than anything, Veronica Mars, I want to thank you for holding up over the years. Because I am not the same person I was in high school. When I go back to watch shows from that time in my life, I often find myself noticing how problematic they are. In almost every instance, something falls apart, just a little. Maybe I realize that all the characters are white. Maybe I realize that half the women are manic pixie dream girls. Maybe I recognize that a relationship that seemed romantic was actually very unhealthy.

Yet you, Veronica Mars, you hold up. All these years later, having been exposed to new ideas about class and capitalism and globalization and intersectional feminism and so many other ways of looking at the world, you still hold up.

You never shied away from the big issues. Class and inequality are glaring throughout, and there are no neat morals or cheap silver linings on that front. Then, not only are there multiple main characters of color, but the issue of race comes up, naturally and often. And those characters of color are not sidekicks. They don’t let themselves be. You don’t let them be. And even though you broadcast in the early 2000s when such things weren’t common on teen TV – and arguably still aren’t – gay characters not only appeared but were well rounded and sympathetic. And the way you treated sexual assault (at least until that awful third season) – I’ve never seen a television show do that. Never.

You are amazing Veronica Mars. You always will be. So I just wanted to say “thank you” for meaning so much to me as a teenager, and meaning even more now. I want to thank you for being so wonderful that I can still hold onto you all these years later. Thank you, to Rob Thomas who created you, to Kirsten Bell, Jason Dohering, Percy Daggs, Francis Capra, Enrico Colantini, Tina Majorino, and everyone else who brought you to life. Thank you, Veronica Mars. 

Love,

Emma

 

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