Can you die from too much librarianing?

Ah, the age-old question that has long plagued my profession. If the answer is “yes,” I haven’t learned it yet. I’m hanging in there. Back in May I moved out of my old place to a new city about a couple hours away. I wish I could say I’ve gotten unpacked and suitably settled, but that would be a lie. I’m still surrounded by boxes and potato chip crumbs. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll get it together. But that day is not today. And it’s probably not tomorrow, either.

I had this idea in my head that a change of scenery would get me out of the rut I was in. And for the most part, it has. I can’t afford to spend too much time down in the dumps because frankly, I’m just too busy to wallow in my own self-loathing. The Alexandria Archives and my writing have gone largely neglected as I struggle to adjust to a new lifestyle that’s pretty different from my old one. Well, not entirely different – I still spend my free time vegetating in front of the TV, but exhaustion is largely to blame. Lately I’ve been marathoning the new MST3K, which has been a fun watch. And I’ve picked cross stitch back up, so I’m not being totally unproductive. But there’s definitely a sense of “grass was greener.”

I like my  new job. I like it a lot, actually, despite horrific papercuts, screaming children, and collapsing boxes. But there’s still that fear of ending up back in a rut where I’m not making any progress professionally or personally, like I’m just existing to take up space. So I’m trying to take initiative to change things. Tonight, I’ll begin recording my audio for episode 16 of the Archives. Tomorrow, I’ll go to a writers’ meetup and maybe spend some time with a new friend. And I’m going to finish that damn cross stitch. If life’s what you make of it, I’m going to make sure mine involves some dainty embroidered flowers.

Book Review – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hot on the heels of Dumplin’, and I’m glad I did. It prolonged that sense of feelgood nostalgia that had me looking back on my high school years and how much they changed me as a person. That’s not to say that they were great years – in fact, there was a lot of awful stuff that went on – but they certainly were formative.

I never found it easy to make friends. I was always receptive to new people, but not great at going out and engaging them. It’s something I’ve gotten better at as I’ve worked at it over the years, but when I was young, it was nigh impossible. Like the protagonist Simon Spier, I had a small group of close friends. In Simon’s case, the dynamics between himself and his friends Nick and Leah has been complicated by the addition of newcomer Abby. A once comfortable arrangement has become a little terse and awkward, a situation Simon sometimes struggles to navigate.

Theater nerd Simon has been exchanging emails with the mysterious Blue, another gay student at his little Georgia high school. The catch is, he doesn’t know who Blue really is – but he desperately wants to find out. Things are further exacerbated when he’s halfheartedly blackmailed by classmate Martin, who’s stumbled across Simon’s emails with Blue. Simon’s troubles are, for the most part, relatable – he struggles with his sense of identity at odds with how others have always seen him, coming to terms with aspects of himself that he’s not quite ready to share with the world yet.

Identity is a major theme throughout the novel. Simon isn’t the only character struggling with their place in the scheme of things, or keeping secrets. The world seems so much simpler when you’re young – you think you know all there is to know about yourself, and the people around you. Like Simon, we can all remember what it felt like when we began to realize that we were wrong.

Writing LGBTQ romance can be a tricky thing, in large part because the “queer experience” is so varied. I remember being hurt when a favorite writer depicted a character’s sexuality as yet another misfortune laid at his feet, just something else that made him weird and “different.” Perhaps because my own experience was so similar to Simon’s, I found it almost refreshing. His identity isn’t portrayed as the end of the world, a battle to be fought or a misfortune to endure. He accepts himself, and even dealing with the (sometimes negative) reception of his queerness isn’t made out to be the defining conflict of the novel.

I rated Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda 5/5, a rating I don’t give lightly, though it might look like I do given how many great reads I’ve come across lately. I’ve been on a reading roll, haven’t I? It’s a good feeling, and it’s made my upcoming transition to a new job just a little easier to swallow. I’ll be reading Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy next, though there’s no telling when I’ll finish, considering that I’m a week out from my move. I just hope this momentum can power me through everything that’s in store for me, next!

 

Book Review – Dumplin’, Julie Murphy

“Go Big or Go Home” reads the subtitle of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin. And it’s a great fit – Dumplin’ is big smiles, and big heart. After slogging through a few heavy reads, it was exactly what I was looking for. “I need something cheerful, damn it,” I told my friend Skye of the Spork Review after my last melodramatic cliffhanger. After hearing about this book left and right, I finally picked it up from the public library a couple days ago.

I love the library, and not just because I’m a librarian. Since I signed my soul over to academia, my life has felt consumed by work. My recent reading roll has been a welcome break for that. Lately the public library has become my home away from home. It’s one of those treasured public spaces for me, a bit like the movies, an exercise in communal entertainment. Only the library is so much more. It truly is one of those limitless public places, there to serve everyone.

But existing in public spaces can present some challenges. Willowdean Dickson, unapologetic fat girl, is all too aware of this. We catch up with Will on her summer vacation, just a few months after the death of her beloved Aunt Lucy. Will’s summer plans – hang out with her best friend El and save up some cash by working at fast food joint Harpy’s – are disrupted by a variety of complications, ranging from the attention of handsome “Peachbutt” private school boy Bo and a parade of zealous would-be beauty pageant queens.

Though her mother is pageant royalty, Will has never been considered a contender. Why would she be? She’s fat. But as the school year starts back up and her relationships begin to change around her, Will finds herself changing with them. She can only be the beauty queen’s daughter and the pretty girl’s chubby sidekick for so long. The addition of big (athletic big, Will clarifies) football player Mitch makes for a sort of love triangle, one of my least favorite tropes, but mercifully this one is low-key and largely free of drama.

Murphy makes it abundantly clear that it’s never about winning for Will. Her decision to enter the beauty pageant isn’t about proving herself to anyone but herself. Being a big girl shouldn’t disqualify her from the same things other girls want, whether it’s to get the guy or wear a cute red swimsuit. In the end, it doesn’t matter who does win the pageant – what matters is that Will has finally come to accept that she deserves as much as any other girl, something she lost sight of along the way.

It’s hard to capture exactly what made Dumplin’ such a wonderful read. It’s rare that a book will make me “Awww” out loud, or smile like my face is about to crack open. Dumplin’ did both. It was such a sincere, sweet read, and exactly what I needed with all the stress and complication currently going on in my life. Murphy’s characters are all remarkably believable, endearingly human and easy to relate to. I can’t recommend this book enough! I only wish it had been a bit longer, to be perfectly honest – as I turned the last page, I found myself missing the protagonists already. I’ll definitely be reading more of Murphy’s work in the future, and I hope you will too.

 

100k Downloads!

It’s hard to believe this day has come. When we first started The Alexandria Archives podcast, we never thought it would get much of a listener base. Really, it was more about entertaining ourselves than anyone else. But we put a lot of work into the podcast, and little by little it started to pay off. Our audio quality got a lot better and we even started to receive listener submissions! And fan art!

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But it wasn’t until we hit 100k downloads that we started to realize we’d actually Done a Thing. We took a vague concept, played with it, and eventually managed to produce something that other people listen to and apparently enjoy. There’s no denying that we still have a long way to go, but it’s a good time to take a step back and recognize that we’ve come a long way already. And that’s really awesome.

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Stitch Fix Box #4

It’s that time of the month! Or rather, it was that time of the months two weeks ago, and I was too busy/stressed out to blog about it. My fourth Stitch Fix box came in, and it was a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll get to that. In other news, my place is mostly packed up. I’m waiting on an official start date before I make any announcements but it looks like I’ll be starting a new position by summer’s end. Exciting!

So, Stitch Fix: I was really specific about what I wanted this month. And to my stylist Ashlea’s credit, she met my requests.


I requested a new cardigan, because librarians love their cardigans. Unfortunately, the Olivina Hooded Slub Knit Cardi was a bit big on me. It hung shapeless and dull. I considered trading it in for a smaller size, but I wasn’t crazy about the sleeves either, so away it went.


I REALLY liked the Jake Distressed Cuff Short. I liked it so much I already owned another pair of shorts exactly like them. As much as I wanted to keep these, I just couldn’t justify it.


This top. I hated this top. It fit, it just looked awful on me – shapeless, saggy, and way too sheer. Enough said.


I’d specifically pinned the Chester Cargo Short, so I was SO excited to see them included in my box. Then I tried them on. They made my butt look great. They were also way too big in the crotch area. I didn’t even understand it. Is my butt to pelvis ratio off? With great sadness, these were a no.


I’d really wanted some d’Orsay flats, but according to Ashley there were none available in my size. I’d also pinned some laser cut flats, so these would’ve been a perfect substitute in any other color. The price point was great – I was so sad to reject these! But I already own one pair of gold flats, and I just didn’t need two. If these had been in tan or black, I would’ve kept them in a heartbeat.

This was my first time returning all 5 items to Stitch Fix. I can’t blame Ashlea – she really did work hard to meet all my requests. To be fair to her, there were outside circumstances: I’ve lost a bit of weight recently, affecting the fit of my clothes, and the move has me ultra wary of my spending. It just didn’t work out. But I’m not giving up on Stitch Fix! I’ll continue receiving boxes until I’m comfortable with my wardrobe, and given that I’ve donated a ton of clothes in preparation for the move, I’ve got a lot of room for growth. Let’s see how well I up my Librarian Chic game this year.

The move is going to bring a few changes with it. My new position will likely mean a lot more reading, so you can expect more book reviews on this blog, and I’ll be picking up a couple new subscriptions as well. I’m really looking forward to them! And hopefully you are, too.

Onwards

These days, it’s been hard to drag my nose out of a book to do much else. But recently I started packing. I’ve sort of jumped the gun on that, because I have no idea where I’m moving, or even when. All I know is that I’m going…somewhere. And somewhere is better than nowhere, right?

Recently I’ve been obsessing over the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. I’ll do a proper review of it eventually, but holy cow. It’s been a long time since I was this invested in a YA series. It has its hits and misses, but the hits are pretty solid, including a particular scene in Heir of Fire that scent chills down my spine. I’ve been told that Hulu is going to be making a TV series based off the novels, which I’m excited about, but also a little anxious. I’ve fallen in love with more than a few of the characters (TEAM BLACKBEAK) and I really hope they’re done justice when the time comes for casting.

I’ve decided that whatever my living situation is like come this Fall, I’m definitely going to try to be at Dragon Con this year. I had a blast last year, and I’m itching to put together an Ironteeth witch costume. I’m also looking forward to seeing some podcast people, including hopefully the crew behind The Blood Crow Stories podcast, which is another recent discovery. It’s wonderfully produced and a fascinating story, with a really interesting and diverse cast! I can’t recommend it enough.

My day job has been kicking my butt lately (hurray, academia!) so it’s nice to have some fun new media to turn to when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m infinitely grateful for the friends and family who ply me constantly with recommendations, even if I do end up hating them a little bit for contributing to my tendency to obsess over things. I’ve got a long week ahead of me, but at the end of it I’m looking forward to…well, more packing. I’ve taken apart one of my bookshelves, and I’m in the process of breaking down my YA and comics shelf in the office. My closets have been mostly emptied and I can probably put away the kitchenware I don’t use on a regular basis.  Because even if I don’t know where I’m moving, or exactly when, I know I’m moving forward – and that’s the part that matters to me the most.


 

Book Review -The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis

My reading has slowed down a lot in recent years. I guess as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten slower, or maybe I just don’t have the time I used to. Point is, it’s been years since I read a  book in one sitting…possibly since undergrad, even. Then my former housemate Ashley, a teen programming librarian, suggested I check out The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.

I picked this book up at the library on my way home from work. By 8:30 that night I’d finished it. I was left sitting in my bed unsure of what to do with myself until I decided to go to sleep. The Female of the Species follows three teens in a small Ohio town. There’s Alex, whose older sister Anna was murdered just a few years earlier; Big Man on Campus Jack, the boy all the other boys want to be; and Peekay, the preacher’s kid.

Anna’s violent death was Alex’s baptism by fire into a violent life.  It becomes almost all she knows – hurting, being hurt, avoiding being hurt. But there are cracks in the facade, and that’s where Peekay and Jack make their entrance. Peekay is introduced as the preacher’s sort of “wild child” daughter, though none of her behavior could really be called wild in today’s world. She drinks, she smokes, she fools around with her boyfriend, and she’s honestly a decent kid. The same could be said of Jack, who comes across as your average teenage guy. He’s good at sports, he has a decent relationship with his parents, and he has a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the school’s “easy” girl.

Alex and Peekay volunteer at the animal shelter, a job that’s presented with surprising realism. They don’t just get to play with cute puppies and kittens all day – they’re the ones who get called when someone dumps a bag of dead pups on the side of the road, and they have to watch as animals languish neglected and unwanted day after day. Meanwhile Jack, desperate to save up enough to get out of town, works at the local slaughterhouse. Our protagonists are thrown together their senior year with explosive consequences.

To quote Ashley,  I’ve never seen the idea of “boys will be boys” presented so elegantly. Mistakes are made, and it’s the young and vulnerable ones who are left struggling to choose to do the right thing when they’re not even sure they’re worth the trouble. The hardest part is, there’s no “big baddie” to hate. Even the villains, McGinnis takes pains to explain, are people who made bad choices. The end of this novel hit me like a punch to the gut and left me reeling. It was like taking a swig of good whiskey – satisfying, but oh did it burn on the way down. I can’t remember the last time I read anything like it. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I have before.

I give Mindy McGinnis’s The Female Species 5/5 stars, and welcome it into the Devastator’s Book Club, an arrangement by which myself and several friends attempt to outdo each other with heartbreaking fiction. Seriously, read this book! You won’t regret it.

Red Ink

Once upon a time, many moons ago, a chipper young college grad set off to teach English in South Korea. The experience that followed was one of the most draining, worldview-shattering years of her life, flipping her values upside down and forcing her to tap into reserves of energy she didn’t know she possessed. And it all started during training. Only it wasn’t really training – it was more like one of those reality shows where you have to impress the judges, and if you don’t, you’re SOL in a foreign country trying to find a way to get yourself home. Oh, and you didn’t know this until the first day.

So that was fun.

But this is about red ink. In Korean culture, we were told during training, you aren’t supposed to write anyone’s name in red ink – it’s bad luck. So with the company’s values being what they were, we were encouraged to write the names of our misbehaving students in red ink on the board to really shake them up. I never did this, because frankly that’s kind of fucked up. And while I occasionally use a red pen for journaling purposes, I stick to blue or green for editing. I told a writing group member once that I find it less threatening. He laughed, but you try handing someone a page covered in red ink and watch the face they make.

For the most part, I like the writing group I meet up with. It’s a little chaotic, like lots of things in my life are, but it makes for good company. I do wish we were a little more organized – group exercises would be fun, and a little more productive than 2+ hours of kvetching about what a pain writing can be. It’s up to members whether or not they’d like to share something with the group. So at the meeting  before last, I decided it was time to make good on one of my goals for the year: have a novel chapter completed by the end of March. I handed out copies of what I’d written thus far and patiently waited for the next meeting to roll around.

I got one copy back.

It was a little disappointing, but hey, it was something. Eventually, my writing buddy posted some comments to the Google Doc. So did one of my podcast collaborators. And finally, I had feedback to work with. It was no less intimidating than red ink. It takes a lot to share such a big part of yourself with other people, knowing that they’ll find you lacking in some way or another. But unless you’re willing to take the risk, how can you get any better? With the feedback I received, I’m on my way to making my goal. One chapter down, the rest of a novel to go. You have to start somewhere. For me, becoming part of my local writing community is a big step in the right direction. Who’s afraid of a little red ink?

In Repair

My first attempt at a post explaining my absence came off as embarrassingly whiny. My second attempt was curt. Third time’s the charm?

So, things have not been going As Planned. I’ve hit a bit of a writing roadblock of late, and it’s a relief that the podcast is on hiatus as we get our older episodes remastered. It’s crazy how much we’ve learned since we started The Alexandria Archives just a few months ago. But in that short time, we’ve come a long way. I’m pretty proud of everything we’ve accomplished. Unfortunately that’s more than I can say for my day job, which I’ve been struggling with for a while now. It’s been some time since I felt pride in my work, and while I suspected that my current arrangement would only be temporary, I’m forced to admit that it may not work out much longer. There’s a (RADICALLY different) position I interviewed for recently that I’m waiting for news on. I’ve also sent out applications in other states, and it’s looking like my move this summer – if it’s even as late as summer – might be a longer distance than I’d anticipated. While I think a change of scenery might do me some good, part of me feels a bit like I’m running away. It’s a weird, kind of sheepish feeling at this point in my life. The current political situation has been another drain. I know better than to read the comments, right? So why do I keep reading the comments? Keeping abreast of what’s going on in the world has never been so bone-deep exhausting. It’s like everywhere I turn, there’s another piece of bad news waiting. And it doesn’t look like it’s about to let up anytime soon.

But back to writing.

Before there was The Alexandria Archives, there was Eldritch Nonsense, a NaNoWriMo project that was a  mishmash of some story concepts I’d been working on since I was a lowly undergrad. I signed up, I wrote, I finished. Hooray! And then the project sat untouched for over a year while I worked on Other Things. Work on the podcast has gotten me thinking about that old story once again, and I thought I’d dust it off and give it another go. Easier said than done, turns out. Gone are the days where I could churn out content without so much as a coffee break. These days, getting a word down is like pulling teeth. And getting feedback has been even harder. My podcast collaborators are busy with work/school/family stuff, my writing buddy is knee-deep in revision, and my writing group is…well, they’re an odd lot, so I’m not exactly sure what they’re up to at the moment. But whatever it is, it’s not reading the excerpt I handed out at our last meeting. I’m stuck. And I’ve got the anxiety about my finances, my depression, my job, and my move hanging over my head, further complicating things. I feel a little lost.

Life doesn’t come with instructions. I’m doing all I can to move forward – I know that – but process is a little more sluggish than I’d like. And it’s ok to feel like that. The problem comes when you get bogged down and trapped, wrapped up in your preoccupations and fears. I’ve been fighting that. I’ve got the tools I need to get to a better place…I just have to use them. So I’m sticking it out, doing the best I can where I am now. And that’s all I can do.


 

Stitch Fix Box #3

It’s that time of the month, again! This month I asked for navy blue and gold items, an homage to my beloved Hogwarts house after falling in love with Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. I also asked for items suitable for layering, as the winter chill has come to South Texas at last.


The first item in my box was my first piece of jewelry. I wasn’t a fan. This silver necklace was frankly a bit boring, and I couldn’t see its appeal.


My stylist chose this blouse for me after I pinned a couple Daniel Rainn blouses to my Pinterest board. I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about it from the sneak peek, but once I tried it on I really liked the fit and color. Definitely a keeper!


I initially intended to return this shirt. I thought the fit would be a bit boxy and boring from the front. But it actually fit me pretty well, and though it’s a bit more sheer than I’d like I was leaning towards keeping it.


I pinned several plaid shirts last month, so this wasn’t really a surprise. While I wish the material of this item was thicker, I liked the fit and style enough to keep it.


Last (but not least), the Market and Spruce vest I pinned came in! It was also thinner than expected. It fit well and look led good on. I decided to keep it as well, if only because it’s so rarely really cold where I live.

All told, I kept all 5 of my items this month. There was only one I didn’t much like, and it wasn’t worth losing my Buy 5 25% discount over. Stitch Fix wins again!

I won’t be receiving another box until April, due to some travels I have planned, but I do recommend the service for those looking for a little guidance expanding their wardrobes.  Interested in trying Stitch Fix  yourself? Use my referral link here: http://stitchfix.com/referral/9734090 to check it out!