Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Hypochondriac's Guide to Books: Station Eleven

This is a review of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was my book club's selection in December. We pick our books in a pretty simple way: at a meeting, a few people will nominate books they'd like to read, and then we vote on the three or four books suggested. I never once voted for this book, and it came up again and again, month after month. Finally, it was selected, and I had to stop pouting about it and read the dang thing.

Symptoms: This was pitched to me as a story about how 99 percent of the world's population gets killed off by the flu. NO THANKS.

Examination: Well sure, there's the flu. There isn't actually much description of the flu. I mean, people are tired, and sick, and they die, but the flu is not the point of the story, and so it isn't played up for dramatic effect or anything. It's so matter-of-fact.

The point of this book is what happens after so much of the population has been killed. The phone lines go down. People try to escape the cities they're in (to go where?) and they run out of gas and abandon their vehicles on the highway. People are stranded with no way to get in touch with loved ones that are not immediately close at hand. TV stations eventually go dead.

The story begins with an actor who has a heart attack on stage while performing King Lear, the night the flu pandemic begins. (No, the heart attack is not described graphically, and other than the fact that it happened; it is an impetus to move the plot forward, and not an event unto itself.) A child actress witnesses the actor's collapse and a man from the audience's attempt to revive him, and suddenly there are so many things happening, different characters affected by this one event, followed by another event that changes everything, and how they get on with their lives now that nothing will ever be the same.

The medical stuff that stuck out to me: There is a group of people that, post-pandemic, find themselves living in an airport after all the flights have been grounded. There is a woman who has some kind of mental health condition (depression? it's been a while since I read it, and this wasn't that important), and asks all the people in the airport if they have the prescription she needs. (It's unsafe to leave the airport, and looters have already done their work in a lot of the towns.) She is unable to find it, and eventually leaves the airport, because she is unable to cope without her medication, choosing instead to see if it's possible to find help out "there." There is also a man who talks about his family, one of whom was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and it is implied that the same thing must have happened — eventually they would have run out of insulin, and would have been out of luck.

Diagnosis: Turns out, this isn't even really about the flu, so stop being a pansy. This caused me to pause and consider the end of the world for a long time after I had finished reading, and I didn't waste a second thought on the flu that caused it. What struck me most about this book was how thought-out it was; regardless of what causes the end of the world (whether disease, or nuclear holocaust, or something else), I could absolutely picture this being how people would react, and what the outcome would look like.

Prognosis: You'll be fine. I loved this book and gave it five stars. (Sorry book club friends!) The post-apocalyptic aspect has really stuck with me, and not a lot of books continue to follow me around once I'm done with them. It was very good.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Closest Thing to Skydiving

I love having adventures, making a point to do new and cool things. My mom is always telling me that I have such an exciting life, and that hers is boring. I tell her it's all about saying yes to things, but she gets nervous and doesn't always like trying new things unless someone is doing it with her.

So two years ago, for Christmas, I bought her a gift card to iFly. It's one of those indoor skydiving places, where you're basically just hanging out in a giant wind tunnel, floating over a huge fan. We had driven past the place several times over the years, and she always mentioned that it sounded like so much fun (and to be honest, it's the closest thing to real skydiving that either of us would ever do), but I knew that she wouldn't go out of her way to do it on her own.

Well, a whole year passed, another Christmas come and gone, and we still hadn't put that gift card to use, so we figured we had to make a plan or it wouldn't happen. Matt and I were in Texas over Memorial Day weekend, and mom and I booked a session to go iFlying in advance, so we'd finally get her that adventure!

So that Monday, the two of us (plus Matt and my dad for support) drove out to Plano, signed our lives away and got scheduled for a class! There's a 10 minute or so training class you do before they suit you up and get you into the tunnel, since it's super loud in there and they have to make sure you understand the four hand signals that they will use to give you directions. (The signals are: bend your legs, straighten your legs, chin up, and relax. Spoiler alert: Mom and I are bad at relaxing.)

We got our gear (suits, earplugs and helmets), and filed into the tunnel. There was a booth where someone was controlling the tunnel, filming the sessions and controlling the clock so the instructor would know when it was time to switch us out, and a narrow seating area where all us flyers sat waiting for our turn. We each got two flights, one to get our bearings and figure out how our bodies should be held, and then another where we got to try cool moves, like floating way up high in the tunnel!

Mom in flight!

It was kind of nerve-wracking at first! When you get into the tunnel, you're hit with this massive wall of air coming up from below, and the instructor is telling you to keep your chin up, and I'm like, "but I can't breathe with all this air rushing up my nose!" There was a moment of panic when I was like, crap I've gotta figure out how to not die while I'm in here! But thankfully that passed within a few seconds, breathing was totally possible, but Mom later told me that I looked super freaked out for the first little bit!


After we'd all gotten our turns, the instructor got to show off some moves also, like shooting up high really fast, doing loops around the tunnel and flipping around!

Our instructor, Dominic, was really awesome, and very helpful. We got certificates at the end where they noted all the moves we accomplished (things like "flew in a stable body position," "turned 360 degrees left and right," and "flew in the tunnel with minimal assistance"), so that's pretty cool. :) He also told us that we were the stiffest people he'd ever worked with, so ...

It was an awesome experience, and Mom said she had so much fun, and I'm so glad we got to do it together!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Snippets of Summer

Hello friends (and grandmothers). It's been a while, huh.

Matt and I were talking at dinner the other night. (We are adults now, and I've been pushing for sitting at the dining room table, now that our house is set up enough to get to it [oh right! we moved this summer. to a house two blocks over from our last place, our first standalone house of our married lives!]. It's kind of nice, having conversations instead of watching TV while we eat.) Over bowls of cauliflower chili, he mentioned that he kind of wished he'd kept a journal or something during his grad school years, so he could remember what his headspace was like, instead of looking back and realizing he had no idea what he was thinking during some parts of life. And I thought, this blog has been a record of my life for so long, and yet I've lost the drive to write on a regular basis.

I have lots of things I'd like to say, of course, but the thought of putting (figuratively) pen to paper, and figuring out what is worth sharing sounds more tiring than I'd like it to be.

But here's the thing. The more I choose not to write, the easier it is to keep not writing. I've got a whole, unwritten summer just behind me. The more I choose not to pour out my memories, the more I realize that I have forgotten the details, that I don't remember as well as I thought I would. Life stays full-to-bursting even when I choose not to write. And when I choose not to write, the good (as well as the mundane and bad and boring) is lost. And later, Matt will ask me, hey remember when we were/did/saw XYZ, and I will not remember the specific thing he's mentioning, and I'll worry again if my memory is shorting out a little earlier than it should.

From Summer 2016: I want to remember the wedding with the grits bar, and laughing as we sipped our drinks awkwardly on the lawn, and how happy we were on the dance floor. I want to remember hugs and walks and tears and Zumba and time spent quiet with close friends. I want to remember the sweet, puckering taste of that lemon cocktail at the fancy restaurant we went to for our anniversary, to celebrate FIVE YEARS, as my dad would say, and how Matt kept calling me "raven" because I'd had my hair dyed a bright, dark shade of purple that morning.

I want to remember the feeling of panic I first felt before I got my bearings when my mom and I went indoor skydiving over Memorial Day weekend, and watching cheesy '70s game shows in the little studio we stayed at in Boston when we road-tripped up through New England. And what about the creaminess of that long-awaited lobstah roll, and the dog on the field of Fenway! What about appreciating whiskey for the first time? And squeezing through the rocks in Georgia, and chatting on the patio in Chattanooga?

The visits from our parents, and the surprise 29th birthday party that I wish I'd gotten some photos of, because I was not expecting it at all (he lied about looking for a lawn mower!) and all my Virginia friends in one place at one time. The car breaking down in Dallas, and how we laughed when we thought we might miss the concert because of the absurdity of the whole thing, and the pool party with all my relatives. Being so excited to see Matt's cousin's performance in North Carolina, since we never made it up to Broadway.

I realize how much I will lose if I don't write. And so I'll try harder to find words for all this fullness.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Things That Are Not The Color They're Supposed to Be

When we first moved to Virginia, I was browsing on Pinterest for cool things to do around here, when I came across this image.

I have no idea what the original source is. I have looked and looked and looked.

And I immediately thought, "I want to go to there." The pin described it as "Cherry River, West Virginia." So I looked up Cherry River, saw it was a 2.5 hour drive from us, decided that we would go when spring came, and stopped thinking about it.

So. It's now spring. Last week, I told Matt I wanted to go see Cherry River on Sunday, now that things are blooming. And we searched high and low and could find NO MENTION of pink trees. No other photos from people who had been there. No travel blogs listing it as a place to see. I asked my boss, who is from West Virginia, and she said she'd never heard of this, but went ahead and asked some of her hometown friends, none of whom had ever seen anything like this either.

They suspected someone took a picture of a river and stuck a pink filter on it. Plus, none of the other photos of Cherry River I found look like this at all.

I was disappointed. LIES, ALL LIES.

But that's okay. Matt and I decided that we'd go out and do something new on Saturday instead, so we found ourselves at a roller derby bout in Roanoke. It was pretty awesome; I'd never been to see roller derby before, and it was a fun experience, the two of us trying to figure out how the game was scored and watching the derby girls try to hip-check each other out of the rink.

(Side story: Matt and I went for a walk after work yesterday, and I told him I wanted to do some blogging. He said, "About your hair?" and I said "No, about Cherry River," and he said, "You could call the post, 'Things That Are Not The Color They Are Supposed to Be,'" and I laughed and laughed, so there you go.)

BTdubs, I LOVE MY HAIR. I went in Saturday and it took like three hours to get all the bleaching done and lavender added, but it turned out so awesome and I love it, and my colorist said it would still look good as it fades into lighter purple, with shades of pink and silver and blonde. It's like My Little Pony in the best possible way. 

Also, thanks to the bleaching experience, I now know that a whole head of blonde is not something that looks good on me, so now I don't feel like I have to try that anymore.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Hypochondriac's Guide to Books: Introduction

When I was in the seventh grade, our science teacher read the first chapter of The Hot Zone to our class. It was not a good experience. I have always been a worrier and a hypochondriac.

Emphasis on TERRIFYING.

After class that day, the teacher had to call my mom, because I was visibly not okay. I had never heard of ebola before, and after The Hot Zone's graphic descriptions of the symptoms, I subsequently spent the next 15 years worrying that I was going to get it, despite having never left the United States.

(I finally got over that worry — you know, as you do — as soon as that first case of ebola actually made its way to Texas. Because I don't worry about realistic problems.)

But to this day, I generally try not to read things that I think will freak me out. And more than once, I have googled "hypochondria [insert book title here]" to no avail. Apparently that's not something people think to include when they write book reviews.

But I decided that someone should go ahead and start this vital service! Because I have had several book club picks come up where I have been very worried about the month's selected or potential books, and people don't tend to take me seriously when I ask them if they think it will make me freak out. (It doesn't take much to freak me out.)

The first book I'm going to review is actually the one that I resisted for months in my new book club. Someone suggested Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, and I asked the other members about the hypochondria factor, and they all told me that it was fine, I'd be fine, etc. etc. and yet I refused to believe them or vote for it and was basically a baby until finally they picked it anyway.

I'm actually pretty excited about revisiting some of the books I've read recently with illness factors, and maybe I can help someone out who does the same googling that I do.

Do you have any irrational worries? What do you look for in a book review?