Category Archives: weirdness

The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and you will be disappointed if I give away the ending, that’s just tough because the book was written 35 years ago and you should have read it by now.

If I’m honest, I only chose to re-read Douglas Adam‘s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (or The Guide as it will now be referenced) because it’s short. At the moment, my life is timetabled into so many compartments (work, email, sleep, work, not writing, reading articles posted on Facebook, looking at videos of cats on the internet, email, sleep) that adding even the most pleasurable of activities needs a flow-chart, Venn diagram, spreadsheet, and series of calendar apps just to formulate if I have time to finish a task such as reading a book.

Yet, this is a very worthy project, and Emilie does not take “I don’t have time to read” as an excuse. So, I cleared the chocolate wrappers, budget reports, and file folders containing single receipts from 2007 off the desk of my day job. I told my colleagues not to bother me. “Please turn down the Christmas music”, “No I don’t want to come to the office party”, “I don’t have time for mulled wine, mince pies, and discussions about how Cindy in Accounts really shouldn’t wear her hair like that.” I was doing something important. I was organising my time so I’d know if I had time to re-read a book. Not a moment for office frivolity.

After seven hours and thirty-two minutes of focused analytics and statistical analysis, I came to the conclusion that I would indeed have time to read the book…if I held all calls, cancelled my appointment with the chiropodist, and cracked on with it.

Realising that I had left my copy of The Guide in a box in my father’s closet in a house on a different continent, I opted to download the Kindle version. The beauty of this platform is that it doesn’t waste time with silly things like page numbers. Instead, it gets straight to the point and tells you how long you can plan on reading.

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Three hours and thirty-nine minutes later, I was quite happy that Emilie is a tough task master and forced me to make time for a novel I’d already read. Twenty-six years after the first reading, the book seemed to change slightly from science fiction to a handy list of contemporary technology. Back then, it was sci-fi and every piece of it was weird, wonderful, and completely fictitious. Reading it in 2014, Adams seem like a fortune teller, able to foresee gadgets of the future:

[…] he also had a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press-buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice.

 “And you are not,” said Fook, leaning anxiously forward, “a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker […] which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard.”

And of course, we currently have the infinite probability drive…don’t we?

Actually, the deeper revelation I had while re-reading this book was not about the miracle prophecies – as most science fiction will get lucky and predict something if it sits on a bookshelf long enough – but it made me realise how miserable my life has become. This realisation was completely unfathomable when I first read the book as a sixteen year old living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1988 – ten years after the story was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4, nine years after it was first published into a book, and six time zones away from where it was written.

I am no longer a high school student with a future ahead of me and enough free time to read a book while swinging softly on a hammock in my parent’s back garden. Instead, I sit at a dreary desk on an even drearier winter’s afternoon, sun down at 4 pm, cheap tinsel lining the cubicles, and the soft seasonal tunes of Bob Geldoff insulting an entire continent playing in the background. As I re-read the pages in which the Vogons vaporize the Earth to make way for an intergalactic motorway, I realise that if this were to happen in ‘real life’—while I might be a bit unnerved and discombobulated—I don’t think the personal distress would last for long. Granted, if the Earth were vaporised and I was on it, I wouldn’t be much of anything. But, let’s say I was rescued by a passing spaceship and I cast my eyes down at the dark space where the Earth (and that infernal desk to which I was chained) used to be, I can’t imagine I’d feel much at all. Or, maybe—like Arthur Dent—it would be too much to take in.

England no longer existed. He’d got that – somehow he’d got it. He tried again. America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he though, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.

He passed out.

As a teenager reading The Guide, I thought I was irreverent, interesting, and terribly witty. I thought I would grow up to be a maverick author who plays by her own rules, and I would be lavished in kudos, awards, and cash for recognition of writing a society-changing novel. The reality is very different. It’s the end of 2014, I live in Dundee, Scotland; I’m middle-aged and any notion of actualising anything less than mundane disappeared long ago.

How similar my life is to that of Arthur Dent – pre-destruction of the Earth – is what first struck me about the book: wandering through existence, not taking in the grandeur of the Universe, an unrewarding adult life obstructed my view. Of Arthur, The Guide states, “He worked in local radio, which he always used to tell his friends was a lot more interesting than they probably thought.” I, on the other hand, work in fundraising, which no one thinks is interesting. Because it isn’t. Arthur, upon being picked up by an inter-stellar ship in infinite probability drive, is most concerned with finding a cup of tea, and he spends much of the story allowing the plot to unfold around him. I can imagine that, if placed in a similar situation, I would become preoccupied with finding a cup of coffee.

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he reaslised what it was.

“Is there any tea on this spaceship?” he asked.

Other than stumbling upon the manufacturing of Earth 2.0, Arthur’s presence is of no consequence. Towards the end, he finally becomes important as he is the last surviving member of the human race who was on Earth moments before its destruction. He has stamped upon his brain an imprint which will answer the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Yet, there is a giant hole in this argument, for there is another member of the human race on board that ship, Trillian. So, despite a last minute attempt to make Arthur relevant, he is – actually – quite inconsequential.

As a kid, I saw Arthur Dent as a character who was swept away, but still acted heroically in the face of it all—a bit like a Doctor Who companion. As an adult I have come to the realisation that Arthur Dent is much more ignoble, an object to follow so that a story can be revealed. If we were to compare him to a 70s film, he would be neither Smokey nor the Bandit; he’d be the car, an important device but not one that’s terribly interesting.

A re-reading of The Guide has helped me to realise that unless you’re one of a small host of famous do-gooders like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Maryam Mirakhani, or Amy Poehler, your life is fairly inconsequential. We are all Arthur Dent; our very existence happened at the odds of 7887602006 to 1, and despite the great fortune that we even exist, we do nothing with our lives. Instead, we are pulled haphazardly through the universe unable to completely grasp the vastness of it all.

The second thing I noticed about re-reading The Guide is how much the satire is a dig at being British; something I most certainly would have not “gotten” as a 16 year old American. Now, with over a decade of living in Britain stamped on my passport, I can see the subtle Britishness of the book. And I mean real British. None of that Downton Abbey drivel.* The Guide is “two up two down”, “Tetley Tea and Penguins”, “Rule Britannia”, “spending your Costa del Sol holiday searching for a Greggs” kind of British.

Yes, as a teenager I recognised the deeper satire within the novel, the sentiments that are so very British few teenage Americans would recognize their context. However, there was one thing I did pick up from The Guide as a teenager. Something that has seeped into my subconsciousness. This book taught me the structure of funny. It’s the simple rhythm of the long game. No quick crack falls. It’s the set-up then the punch. Here’s how it works: profound, profound, profound, mundanely simple.

I have carried this rhythm with me throughout life. The ability to find the mundane within the outrageous. The knack for ending a list of the wondrous with the banal. The chance to shut down amazement in lieu of boredom. This book has taught me that being a combination of Arthur Dent and Marvin is okay, because if it’s satire you’re not miserable, you’re just witty.

With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre – nothing you could actually take offence at – Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror at all things human.

Meta author photo

Meta author photo

Rachel Marsh blogs about being a creative writing teacher and writer at www.rachelmarsh.co.uk, where pretends to be upbeat and completely ignores the fact that she works a day job. At heart Rachel is a truly miserable individual and she blames it all on Douglas Adams.

 *Editor’s  Note: Emilie would like to stress that she doesn’t think Downton Abbey is drivel, even if she was a bit disappointed with one particular plot twist. You know which one.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg Three: Soaring Gardens to Philly

In my last update from Soaring Gardens, it was Day 28 and I was trying to both enjoy my last bit of time there and get on the road. I’d planned on being in Philadelphia by about 3 and I didn’t leave the house till after 3! I was running so late. There was so much to do and I ended up talking with Joanne when she arrived to work on the alle. Here’s a picture I took after locking up the house, just as I was about to get in the car and take off.

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I stopped to take some pictures on my way out, leaving by a different way than I’d come home from tango the night before, so I could say goodbye to all the sights. Swung by the post office to drop off some last postcards and then I was officially on my way.

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My drive through Meshoppen was enjoyable, but just as I was arriving on the outskirts of Tunkhannock, there was a long line of eighteen wheelers that were forced to go less than 20 mph because we were going down a steep incline. The rest of the trip went downhill from there, emotionally as well as geographically. After the logjam outside Tunkhannock, I was funneled through the wrong lane in a toll passage and many miles later, when I exited the interstate outside Philadelphia, I was asked for my ticket at a toll stand. But, I didn’t have one, so I had to pay the flat rate. I’m mostly over it by now, but I was pretty pissed at the time. All told, it definitely could’ve gone worse, but it wasn’t how I wanted my exit from idyllic, peaceful Soaring Gardens to go. It wasn’t an easy transition back to the real world.

However, I had a safe and welcoming place to land in Philadelphia. Returning to Anne’s house after our weeks together in creative isolation felt very comfortable and I enjoyed catching up with her husband Hiro, seeing how his month had gone since I’d last passed through town. We had a great dinner together, polished off a bottle of Malbec and then Anne and I decided to have a bake off. 🙂 Sort of. We’d meant to make apple pies while at Soaring Gardens, since we had all those apples, but there was never enough time. I make a mean apple pie and Anne has a killer family recipe, so we had a collaborative think tank night of apple pie making. Anne taught me how to make spectacular homemade pie crust, as well as a butter crumble top (ah-mayyy-zing) and I shared my secret apple pie ingredient. We both signed nondisclosure agreements first, of course.

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While the pies were baking there was, naturally, a cutthroat game of rummy. Which Anne won, of course. But I couldn’t be too sad because then there was pie.

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The next day, I had an early morning coffee meeting with photographer JJ Tiziou. Last year, around this time, JJ’s Kickstarter campaign, Everyone is Photogenic, was winding down. I heard about it via Upworthy and for me, JJ’s project was a perfect storm, distilling many of the personal and universal issues that were coming up as I began work on the dance memoir. I responded as both a writer working on a parallel project and as a human being who needed to hear this philosophy. I pledged support to the project and received backer updates from JJ that would drag feelings and thoughts straight out of my soul (any single one of these feelings and thoughts could’ve sparked a full-out essay). I started emails to JJ several times, but never sent them, feeling too shy. Unfortunately, the project didn’t get fully funded, but it was a game changer for me (and you can read on JJ’s blog all the things he’s learned and what’s happened since the project “failed”). I couldn’t stop talking about it and I would get occasional backer updates from JJ about his work.

Another project of his called How Philly Moves is about showcasing dancers in Philadelphia. A while back, I started to plot a tango-inspired road trip and one of the cities I had on my list was Philadelphia. If it all panned out, I thought I should visit with Damian Lobato and JJ. The road trip as I envisioned it didn’t work out, but the Residency Road Trip did and, coincidentally enough, I was going to spend time in Philly. So when Anne asked me if there was anything I wanted to do or see there, I said, “Dance tango, of course, and you know, there’s this photographer who lives there named JJ T–” She laughed and said, “I know JJ. You should definitely reach out.” There just wasn’t enough time on the way up and there was too many unknowns (I was driving for 12+ hours to get there). But knowing I’d come through Philly again and stay for a few days, Anne encouraged me to stop being shy. So, I did.

We met at an awesome spot called Milk & Honey Market where we had coffee and talked, about my time at Soaring Gardens with Anne, photography and writing, my dance memoir, tango and the gaze (in photography and dance). After all those unsent messages, I got to tell him, finally, how awesome I think Everyone is Photogenic is, both the project and the philosophy. JJ had a gift for me, some swag from the How Philly Moves project, which he’s doing a new iteration of (in case any of you live in Philly). And before he left for another appointment, JJ and I took a selfie together (technically, two):

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Later, JJ shared the second photo with the backers of the Everybody is Photogenic campaign and when we talked about the picture, I told him: “In the past, I might’ve cringed at it being made public, because my eyes are shut or any other reason I’d find to hate it. But, now…this is what I saw instead: I used to laugh just like that in photos when I was a kid all the time. That kind of laugh, for me, translates to being completely relaxed and in the moment and *not* thinking about how I look or how I should look, etc. So, I love the photo.”

I stayed behind at Milk & Honey to do some work for a few hours. And, enchanted with this vending machine, I bought a chapbook (“The Art of Destruction” by M. Elias Keller):

Book vending machine + self portrait

Book vending machine + self portrait

Day 29 late lunch

Day 29 late lunch

Back at the house, Anne and I made another meal together before we dispersed for the evening, one that’s become a favorite of mine. I’d decided to check out a class and practica with Lesley Mitchell and Kelly Ray. It was a serendipitous choice, made initially because Damian Lobato (who has taught several times in New Orleans) didn’t have a class on the night I was in town. I’d heard good things about Lesley and Kelly and I wanted to dance in the city, so I went for it. I couldn’t initially find the studio and was walked to the door by a woman I passed on the street and then I arrived at the same time as a tanguero, who led me upstairs and back into the studio. Like Blanche Dubois I, too, depend on the kindness of strangers. And I’ve always found that they are, generally, kind. Once I arrived in the class with the stranger who would soon be no stranger, but a dancer partner, I realized that the lady assisting Lesley was a friend of mine named Kristin, who I hadn’t realized had moved to Philadelphia. Small world, this global tango community. When the class was over, we squealed and hugged and it was wonderful to find a friendly face in a new place. She, Lesley and Kelly, as well as all the dancers at the class and practica, made me feel so very welcome. My dance stamina has been *ruined* by the last few weeks away from regular dancing, but they wouldn’t let me sit down! And they were such wonderful dancers that I just had to keep going. It was one of those lovely, satisfying tango evenings dancers live for.

I made my way back to Anne’s, thoroughly exhausted. And even though we were both tired and I had a long drive ahead the next day, we stayed up talking about our respective nights and played one last game of rummy (do I even need to tell you who won?). It was so nice and also a little sad. For the time being at least, our late night chats over a nightcap and rummy have come to an end. It was a nice ritual while it lasted and helped make the residency at Soaring Gardens everything that it was.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg One: New Orleans to Atlanta

My last night in New OrLast night in Nola 8.23.14leans, I watched the Saints play the Colts at Pelican Bay with a few members of Peauxdunque. It was a great way to say goodbye (for now).

In the morning, I began the first leg of what I’ve decided to call the Residency Road Trip (like my Grandma Road Trip from a few years ago). I haven’t seen my family for more than 6 months, so I decided to head to Atlanta first and IMG_3548spend a few days.

I set off fairly early after filling up the car with everything I might need for the next month+. I’ve made this drive a few times over the years and usually it’s a headlong rush to get there. This time, I felt a lot more leisurely and some pretty cool things happened along the way.

First, in Mississippi, I made a new friend at a rest stop along the way. In the women’s restroom, of all places. Some of you may know that I’m not the biggest fan of birds (I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds waaay too young, plus relatives have had some as pets over the years). This first picture will give you an idea of how the Mississippi Restroom Incident began:

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus...

Just a handy reminder in case you forget where you are. Plus…

A lady had brought her pet bird into her stall, but he followed me around the bathroom. It was exactly like a scene from Jurassic Park, except an unseen lady inside a bathroom stall was reassuring me the bird wouldn’t peck me. I asked her if I could take a picture and she told me she’d take one of me with the bird.

I was thinking, “Um, no thank you…” and yet, this happened:New friend? 

“I’m glad you’re not afraid of birds,” the lady said. “I actually kinda am,” I told her. But you wouldn’t know it from this picture. Maybe this has cured me of my ornithophobia.

 

 

Later, in Alabama, I stopped for lunch at a place called The SThe Shrimp Baskethrimp Basket. I couldn’t resist the advertised “jambalya bites.” I’m usually pretty skeptical of any Louisiana foods ofjambalaya bitesfered elsewhere, but I was too curious to pass it up. I would’ve thought that if it could be deep fried, we’d have it in New Orleans, yet, I’ve never heard of such a thing. The waitress said she doesn’t eat spicy things, so she couldn’t tell me how they were. I didn’t find them terribly spicy, myself.

After lunch, I stopped in and saw Sis and her two boys, which was really good. I spent a few hours with them before getting back on the road to Atlanta. I’m excited to be here – looks like I’ll get to catch up with some old friends and dance tango while I’m here. I’ll let you know in the next Residency Road Trip post.

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NaNoWriMo 2012 Day 24

After my last update yesterday, I wrote another 379 words, then went to bed. Today, I wasn’t very good at keeping myself on lock down, because I volunteered for the library sales as usual. I’d forgotten about that when I said I was on lock down for the weekend. Well, and to be honest, I’ve been fairly distracted and excited today. There’s a lot going on and a lot coming up next week. Next week’s going to be insane! All the more reason to write right now. Considering how distracted and excited I am, I feel kinda impish, like I might wipe out all my characters and let the zombies get them. That’d be pretty fun to write and must be worth 10,000 words if I really draw out the gory details… Okay. Who am I kidding? I can’t kill all my characters. I care about them too much. I still haven’t killed that one character I was trying to kill off back on Day 12 and Day 9. Other people die, sure, but not that one Teflon character. All this to say, I haven’t written any more words yet today. But I will. I have two hours to bank some serious words. And maybe kill some characters.

Day 24 word count (so far): 379

Total word count (so far): 39,530.

10:41 p.m. Update:

I just banged out another 570 words. I thought it was worth updating because it got me over 40K. I have fewer than 10,000 words left! I can see the finish line. Now, going back to get more words in the good ol’ word bank.

Day 24 word count (so far): 949

Total word count (so far): 40,100.

11:46 p.m. Update:

So, I quickly wrote another 459 words, then word warred with Maurice for a half hour. I was in the middle of a scene when we started, a very emotional one, so the words just flew out of me. So, I ended up with 1,492 words at the end of the war. And since the war ended literally in the middle of a sentence, I continued writing and got another 397 before the scene was finished. So, since the last update an hour ago, I wrote 2,348 more words, bringing my totals to:

Day 24 word count: 3,297

Total word count (so far): 42,448.

I think that’s going to be it for Day 24, but I’ll probably keep writing even so and have an early start on Day 25.

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Childish things

At the public library today, I stood at the counter and watched an unaccompanied little boy of about nine or ten years old give a librarian his card and say, “I want my old card back. I have that number memorized.”

Two of the three librarians at the counter searched for his old card and found it in the trash. Alas, it had been deactivated because the young boy had graduated from a kid’s club card to an adult card. They tried to explain to him that the system didn’t recognize the old number and that he would memorize the new number soon enough.

Quietly, with mature dignity and childish stubbornness, the little boy said, “If I go to the main branch and talk to member services, can they re-activate my old card?” The two librarians were dumbfounded. “It doesn’t work that way,” one of them said quietly.

The little boy’s lip trembled. I sidled closer and said, “I’ll teach you a trick to memorize the new number.”

He barely glanced at me as he said to the two librarians, “I want my old card.” A line was forming behind him. His lip still trembled, but he was defiant.

They handed him both cards and he walked away.

After concluding my own business, I walked to the library sale behind the main building (though I really shouldn’t buy any more books). I went to the children’s section to scope out some books to gift to a kid I know. A man and his young son, maybe about five, came in to the section and looked at the movies on the bookcase next to me.

“Oh, look!” the little boy exclaimed and grabbed up a movie. “They have the next one!”

“We can’t get that one, honey,” the dad said sadly.

“But why can’t I have it?” the little boy said.

“That’s called a VHS and we don’t have a player for it.”

The little boy argued, not understanding. A volunteer came by and said, “All our VHS tapes are only a quarter.”

The man said again, sadly, “We don’t have a VCR.”

The little boy’s tantrum was the quietest, most puzzled one I have ever seen, as if he had no energy to fight but just couldn’t let it go.

These two boys, the looks on their faces as they dealt with these incomprehensible roadblocks that they just couldn’t navigate, maybe for the first time in their lives so far, they pretty much expressed my anxiety and discomfort of late. Something is coming, everything is changing. I can feel it in my bones.

I know the first boy will memorize his new card number and he’ll probably forget all about this incident in his life. The look on his face, however, said that nothing would be alright ever again, that something important had truly been taken from him. The second, younger boy, probably doesn’t even remember the incident now, just a few hours later, but his inability to comprehend that the thing he coveted was out of his reach and he had to change his desires, that spoke volumes to me.

Even good change can be stressful, can knock us for a loop. I’ll just have to remember all the tricks I’ve learned to stay on my feet and open my heart.

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My Banksy tattoo

So, it’s been a while. I’m working on a film, which tends to keep me very busy. The holidays kinda swept me up as well (still haven’t taken down the decorations, let’s add that to the to-do list) and then there was my birthday.

As I’ve said before, I selfishly consider my birthday to be the true New Year’s day since it’s a week into each new year. For the past few years, I’ve been working on a project that I was both incredibly aware of and a bit unconscious to: birthday tattoos. I established rules for myself because I realized from the get-go that I would get addicted to body art.

Rule #1: Don’t get a tattoo you haven’t considered for at least a year. For me, this meant designing all of my tattoos with the artists who tattooed me. Nothing from the wall.

Rule #2: Only get tattoos on odd-numbered birthdays until your 30th, when all bets are off.

So, starting with my 25th birthday, I’ve gotten a tattoo every other year on my birthday. I broke both my rules only once by getting a tattoo of a fleur-dis-lis on my foot. It wasn’t my birthday, and I hadn’t really thought about the tattoo much before I got it.

The only other time the rules were broken was last year, on my 29th birthday when I got my Ganesh tattoo. After work, I rushed to Hell or High Water to get my tattoo and shortly after I arrived, the power went off because there was a devastating fire at a church nearby. I ended up getting it the next day, January 8th, right before the Saints lost their playoff game.

It’s ironic that there were so many obstacles to getting that tattoo of Ganesh last year: since he is known as the remover of obstacles. But he is also the Lord of Beginnings and a patron god of artists and writers and so he is very special to me.

As many of you may know from reading this blog, Banksy is also pretty special to me, including my favorite Banksy graffiti/art. While I like a lot of Banksy’s work and he intrigues me, there’s really only one image of his that I like enough to tattoo it – forever – on my body.

This image invokes hope and childhood, but also poignant nostalgia and unfulfilled desire. It is immediately evocative for most people who see it, yet it is a complete contradiction, both delicate and stark. Of course it would become part of my birthday tattoo project.

Hence, my Banksy tattoo:

I went to Hell or High Water again and while Tony was tattooing me, he surprised me completely by asking me why I’ve gotten all my tattoos. I don’t strike most people as the type, I know.  How did I become a girl who has five tattoos? And why? My brother is covered in tattoos and I don’t think anyone’s questioned why he’s gotten them. It just seems like a natural extension of his personality. Well, actually, I know our family has questioned WHY he’s gotten so many tattoos and while they disapprove, his tattoos probably do make more sense to them than mine make.

But that’s okay, because they make sense to me. My tattoos are each important reminders to me that I am always seeking balance in my life between extreme contradictions in the world and in myself. Which is why, except for my first, most of my tattoos are visible to me. When Tony and I were discussing the placement of my Banksy tattoo, I stressed how important it was that my tattoo be facing me, something I could look at whenever I wanted or see accidentally. He came up with a brilliant placement for it that accomodated the necessary size.

I told Tony this was my only tattoo that I hadn’t designed in some way, the closet to an “off the wall” tattoo, one that any number of other people are also carrying around on their bodies. He told me how much he enjoyed Exit Through the Gift Shop and  we started joking about how Banksy sort of stole the documentary that started out about him. Ultimately, we decided that Banksy should make another documentary, this one about the people who tattoo his work on their bodies. I would watch that documentary and it really seems like something he would do.

I’ll be your first subject, Banksy. ;”)

Shortly after getting my Banksy tattoo, I realized that it may very well be my last tattoo. It might not be. Who knows? But the birthday tattoo project is over. I got 5 tattoos between the ages of 25 and 30. They were done by 5 different tattoo artists at 4 shops on 3 of my important birthdays and in 2 different cities. All of these tattoos have a central theme of balance and they remind me daily of  things and people I love. They also remind me of who I have been and who I want to be. I’m happy with the results.

 

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A patriotic, coincidental brag

No matter what my politics or my conflicted feelings about the media storm around Osama bin Laden’s death, I always celebrate and support the people who sacrifice any number of things – time, security, health and their lives – in the name of this country. I think a good way to help me brag on these folks, regardless of how you feel about the wars we’re involved in, is to check out these links for sending books to troops.

I love the idea of not only entertaining soldiers who can’t be home or safe, but maybe even changing their lives with a powerful book. A former soldier recently told me that they all got hooked on the Sex in the City tv series while he was stationed overseas and I loved how that attacked my own foolish expectations of what soldiers would find interesting.

This idea of enriching the lives of soldiers with the written word has been in my mind a lot lately. I keep remembering a picture that Jeanne Leiby showed me of two soldiers (in Afghanistan, I believe) reading copies of The Southern Review. They had their guns at the ready, leaning against their chairs, and copies of a literary magazine in their hands. And hopefully, in their minds and hearts afterwards. I wish I could find this picture to share with y’all. In inspires me.

And, of course, I have been thinking of Jeanne a lot lately. Partly because of her death a few weeks ago in a car accident. Maybe because, at the time she died, I was driving 11-12 hours a day for work and was actually on the same road as her, a few miles away. Possibly because I was in a car accident myself recently (I’m fine, though my car is not). But it’s not so much these uncomfortable vehicular coincidences I think of when I think of Jeanne. I think of that picture of the soldiers she showed me, things she said and things she loved.

Which brings me to my closing brag. I might never have reviewed Mark Richard’s House of Prayer No. 2 if it weren’t for Jeanne. She was so glad to publish a chapter from his memoir in The Southern Review, she talked him up so passionately, that I requested a review copy, read the book, loved it and came up with this nontraditional review of it for 225 Magazine. So, without my even fully realizing it, the tangential brags in this post are tied together by Jeanne, by her passion and enthusiasm. I’m glad for that coincidence.

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Farewell, Jeanne Leiby

I woke this morning to the news that my friend Jeanne Leiby died yesterday afternoon in Baton Rouge. She was a writer, the editor of The Southern Review and a beautiful person. I worked with her on a few small projects related to the Review and LSU and my work for 225.

Our mutual friend Alex Cook wrote a beautiful elegiac post on his blog that encapsulates what I feel about Jeanne and now, her death, but I’ll say a few words here as well.

The first time I officially and really met her was in her office in The Old President’s House. We recognized each other immediately as like-minded spirits and within five minutes of meeting, we were talking and laughing like decades-long friends and plotting a benevolent new world order. This was Jeanne’s magic. She was so vivacious and passionate that she couldn’t help exciting the people around her, encouraging grandiose ideas as being very, very possible. She recognized the passions in others, which helped them see it themselves.

She was a wonderful editor, tough but compassionate. She was generous and warm, funny and bold. And while I am not her oldest or closest friend, I feel that my life is enormously bereft without her in it, without the possibility of her.

I still can’t believe it.

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LJ Smith: Strange Fate

A little while ago, Borders sent me an e-mail and said I might like to pre-order Strange Fate, the tenth and final (?) book in the Night World series by L.J. Smith. I couldn’t help but laugh as I scrolled through the comments from readers that all generally said the same thing, “I love this series, but I’ve been waiting for it FOREVER.” The comments are generally the same over at B&N and Amazon, where there’s even a forum called “When is this REALLY coming out?”

I’m not laughing to be cruel, it’s just that I’d be willing to bet money I don’t have that most of these readers/commenters, a lot of them anyway, have not been waiting over a decade to read this book, as I have. Most of them don’t even know that Lisa Jane Smith’s books were originally published when I was a teenager, before they were born in some cases. Strange Fate‘s original publication date was shortly before the new millennium and accordingly, the plot of the earlier books reflects that.

When the Night World books were published, 1996-1998, I was 14-16 years old and L.J. Smith was my favorite writer. Her books meant the world to me and I was bewildered by the inscrutable, almost entirely unexplained delay in the publication of the last Night World book. I went to college and still periodically checked in on a giant fan site for updates. L.J. was sick, we heard, but was back to writing and the book would be published soon.

Years passed and I started to believe that the book would never be published. Then, just a few years ago, all of her books were re-issued in new editions that would appeal to rabid fans of Twilight. The Vampire Diaries series was adapted into a t.v. show, which I watched for a while. I had to stop, though, because the t.v. show didn’t reflect either the books or my experience of them as a teenager, or both. But then, I knew they wouldn’t. To be successful in this millennium, they couldn’t. The Secret Circle series is being adapted now and I’ll probably watch a few episodes out of curiosity and because I like Britt Robertson from Life Unexpected. I think she’ll be a great Cassie.

I’m a little annoyed that when (if?) Strange Fate is released, it won’t match my series (though, yes, I have bought all of the reissues). On the left is what MY Strange Fate should have looked like a decade + ago and on the right, what Strange Fate will (maybe) look like when (if?) it’s ever published. And that’s something Lisa Jane’s newest fans may be learning, which her most senior fans have long known – I’m not going to invest my money (and hope) till I hold the book in my hand.

Many of the teenagers reading Lisa Jane Smith (or L.J., as I’ll always think of her) don’t realize these are not new books, as evidenced by one of the comments I read that said Lisa Jane should stop writing multiple series of books at the same time and just finish Strange Fate. 🙂 I feel sad and nostalgic when I think about these books now, especially Strange Fate. Now that I’m almost thirty, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience it the way I would have when I was 16 years old, moving to Louisiana and completely adrift.

But just like a teenager, I’m waiting… and waiting… and waiting… to find out.

P.S. While researching online for this blog, I found the following paragraph on the Wikipedia page for The Vampire Series page. This horrifies me as both a fan and a writer:

Unfortunately, Smith stated in her blog on the 9th of February, 2011 that she was fired by Alloy Entertainment and that ‘Midnight’ is her last book. Alloy Entertainment will be hiring a ghostwriter to continue the series. She will still be mentioned as the creator of the series on the covers of the new books but she will have nothing to do with them. Smith has asked her fans not to boycott Harper. L.J Smith has also already given Alloy Entertainment her manuscript for ‘The Hunters: Phantom’, although there are no guarantees that it will be released, let alone with any of her input.

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The Emily Curse

Earlier this month, Maurice sent me a link to a Radiolab story called “Finding Emilie”. It is a phenomenal story about an art student, her tragic accident and her boyfriend’s conviction that she could recover. It WILL make you cry, regardless of how stoic you think you are.

There’s a point partway through the story where Emilie’s mother talks about how, of all her children, Emilie always seemed to get the bad stuff and she asks, “Why? Everything bad seems to happen to Emilie.” My automatic, flip answer was…”Because of her name!”

Having been an Emilie my whole life (except for a period in my early teens when I tried to make everyone call me Rachel), I have long studied this phenomena. Yes, it is a phenomena and it is real. And here is my evidence.

All of the really famous Emilys are generally creative, often writers, are usually unlucky in love and/or depressed and die early:

Emily Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights, died at age 30 and never married.

-The poet Emily Dickinson lived till age 56, but never married and barely left her room in her later life. Her poetry dealt extensively with death and mortality.

Fictional Emilys seem to fare even worse than real-life creative Emilys (even Maurice admits he has an ill-fated fictional Emily in his work):

-Emily Grierson from A Rose for Emily, who kills a suitor and presumably sleeps beside his corpse in a wedding suite until her own death.

-Emily Webb from Our Town who dies giving birth.

-Emma/Emmeline in the song by Hot Chocolate, who wants to be a famous actress and kills herself because she can’t achieve her dream. (Minute 3:12 will give you chills, but you have to listen to the whole song to get there.) This song is probably based on lead singer Errol Brown’s mother, I’ve read.

More scientific Emilys seem to be longer living. Not quite as famous as the creative ones, they are just as successful. But that makes sense because one of the meanings of the name Emily is to strive or excel or rival. I’ve also heard that Emily means “industrious one.”

I don’t buy into the Emily Curse… but I’m getting a little ticked off by this perception around the name. Doomed, fragile Emilys vs. hard-working scientific Emilys? Why does everything happen to Emily?

And that’s what I like about the Emilie in the Radiolab story above. Though there’s tragedy in her story, I get the impression she is the most stubborn, persistent person. And that she will continue to triumph. I want more Emily/Emilies with her spirit and determination in fiction and in real life.

In that vein, there’s Emily the Strange, a goth teenager with attitude, who doesn’t entirely fit the mold. While she wears all black and never seems to smile, she’s strong and sarcastic. I hear Chloe Morentz may play her in the movie version. All I can think is that after her roles in Kick-Ass and Let Me In, she is NEVER going to smile in a role again.

But, check out a coincidence I stumbled upon while putting this post together:

Emily the Strange

Emilie the not-so-strange

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