Category Archives: reviews

David Swenson’s new dvds are terrific!

For various reasons I ended up taking a few months off of yoga this fall.  I never quit entirely–a practice a week or every other week.  I watched my backbend go, then my lotus, then my forward bend.  Pretty scary how fast it happened.

I came back with just surys, gave myself permission to quit at any time once I’d done those, started adding standing.  I’m doing about 4ish half-primaries a week now, so I’m back.  It’s hard, even after a short break, when you are 44!  More reason never to take breaks, I guess.

Swenson Digipak 6 Panel (Half Series)But thinking I could use a boost, I started poking around a was stoked to discover that David Swenson, one of the old school Ashtangis, has put out two new dvds!  One is a full primary, the other a 1:08 (108 being an auspicious number in yoga, the number of beads on a mala, among other things), that is 1 hour 8 minute HALF PRIMARY.  Oh, hell yeah!  Here, take my money, David!

David’s older Primary dvd (the one with the crazy purple tank and the mood furniture) was one I cut my teeth on six years ago as a baby ashtangi (along with his book) for one, beautiful reason: VARIATIONS.  He’s so supportive and friendly, do what you can do today, try these variations and find one that works for you right now, no worries, enjoy your practice.  No judgment, no competition, no stinginess, just do what you can do today.  He’s the best.

I actually made a slide show on my ipod, back in the day, from pics I took of the variation I needed for each primary series asana, from the photos in David’s book.  I used that back when I was brand new and needed a cheat sheet to help me remember what to do next. And his dvd was great, full of options that let me get through a practice when so much of it seemed impossible.  I feel I owe him a lot.

His new dvds have plenty more of this generosity!  Only now with inset vids for variations, and a separate variation section for more detailed explanations.  They also have a streamlined aesthetic (black on white), high production quality, multiple camera angles, and David’s clean, effortless-looking practice.  There isn’t a count, but he talks you into each pose, easily giving a few bits of info about each asana, while still leaving some silence and space.  His personality comes through the most in the variations section (especially the vinyasa section with a half-dozen options to choose from, a great section), funny and warm.  He has such a great sense of humor and you don’t get that in the clean main practice section, so I was glad to see it show up somewhere.

He also has a little “five elements” sections talking about vinyasa, gaze, breath, etc.  Actually, breath is a huge theme he returns to repeatedly, not alignment (he does some of that), not perfection in poses, but breath.  “Think of your practice as one big breathing exercise.”  He talks about the “inner practice” (breath, your mind, bandhas, the invisible things) being where the goodies are, not the outer-practice of asana.  It all feels very grounded and doable, without a bunch of ego.

I highly recommend these videos to anyone who wants to learn the practice, or who, like me, would like a led practice every now and then, with not-too-much talking.  Excellent videos, really good.  Don’t hesitate.

Oh, but here’s one nitpick: I couldn’t decide between the two, so when I saw that there was a discount if you got both, I did that.  I was disappointed, however, when I realized the 1:08 vid is exactly the same as the full primary, minus the second half of seated and the applicable variations.  Said another way, getting the Full Primary disk gives you all the content and you can just fast forward from navasana to backbending. The 1:08 is a repeat.

On the other hand, if you want to be able to just ride through without fiddling with fast-forward, the 1:08 vid is great.  It’s the one I’m using right now (actually I ripped it and put it on my ipad, but same thing).  I just would have liked to have known more clearly that they were the same.

On the OTHER, other hand, is the second half of seated (and its variations) worth an extra $14 bucks?  Well, absolutely.  David is a master and this is a top-notch production.  So yeah.  Get’em both.  Get the Primary because, duh. And get the 1:08 if you like half primaries sometimes (or haven’t worked up to the full primary yet) and for the convenience.

Thank you, David Swenson!

And here is one my favorite videos of David demoing Intermediate series as performance art, or possibly stand-up comedy.  If you ever come to North Carolina again, David, I’m there.

 

review: The Girl With All the Gifts

For a long time, zombie stories focused on the human survivors trying to get out of a zombie infested territory to safety.  But lately, zombie-as-protagonist stories have shown up, like iZombie the graphic novel by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, or My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland.  The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey is one of these—only with more literary chops, complex characters, fascinating science, and freaky-horrific world building than a dozen lesser zombie titles combined.  Add in a super compelling voice and you’ve got a sci-fi/horror/literary bomb to blow your mind with, even if this isn’t your usual genre-taste.
Melanie is the ten-year old protagonist, a genius in a strange boarding school where she is muzzled and locked up at gun point at night, along with the other children. Although it doesn’t seem to bother her much—she’s more focused on the adoring crush she has on one of her teachers.  Her bright, inquisitive mind makes her extremely likable, and indeed, one of the most amazing parts of this book is Melanie’s arc, what she retains of her idealistic and open-hearted beginnings, and what she lets go of as she faces the truth of her world and her nature.The middle part of the book is the classic “road trip through zombie country” but the book is never a series of action-sequences or feats of bad-assery. This isn’t that book.  The moments of violence and conflict are terrifying and desperate, with mounting stakes and hopelessness that make the intensity of the reading almost too much to take by the end. I kept having to take breaks, just to get my breath and get out of my own stew of stress-chemicals.  The point isn’t the fight.  The point is how the characters endure, or not, and what it means to survive all of this.  Or not.The science is fascinating.  Not a tacked-on “reason” for zombies, but a thoroughly believable scenario, terrifyingly depicted.  Carolyn Caldwell is the scientist trying to understand what has happened and save humanity—making her hunger to dissect Melanie’s brain to understand why Melanie is a thinking, feeling zombie (and not a cannibalistic human-shaped husk) compelling and understandable.  Although, in that way, Caldwell is more of a brain-hungry zombie than Melanie.

But could Caldwell’s brutal practicality save the human race?  And does that justify…anything? How about the live-dissection of children?  But why ARE Melanie and the other children the way they are?  Is it partial immunity?  Perhaps a cure, or a vaccine, could be created, if only Caldwell can finish her research.  Which you can’t help but hope for, even as you detest her methods and want Melanie to win.  Conflicts like these are the meat of the book.  No easy answers, no black/white.

Miss Justineau is Melanie’s teacher, and, for her own reasons, determined to keep Melanie alive. But perhaps compassion is the wrong feeling to have for the infected.  Is it just a knee-jerk, foolish reaction to the appearance of a “child”?  Trying to hold onto her own humanity—and the way she offers what she has to Melanie, from kindness to Greek mythology—might be the thing that saves Melanie, or it might be too little too late for this world.  Sgt. Parks, the soldier who tries to keep the rest safe with his single-minded focus on security, certainly thinks so. His arc, more subtle than Melanie’s, starting from monster-soldier, is deeply moving.

The strange world of the zombies is revealed layer by layer.  But the remnants of our destroyed society, now shaped by profound fear, is possibly more horrific than the zombies themselves.  The strange hope that springs out of the Melanie’s final choices is simultaneously devastating and transformative.  Like Caldwell, it is equally balanced between poles: terrible and hopeful.  Disturbing and compelling.

I’ve been feeling the echoes of the book for days.  For example, I keep catching myself marveling (in a kind of terrified and disgusted way) at my frivolous caring about things like lipstick or cell phones or tv shows while the environment is degrading around us as a rapid rate. Heavy stuff. It’s a book that can make you take stock.

Highly recommended.

Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand, amazing, gorgeous

This isn’t really a review, just a rant, because I’m stalling.  I’m supposed to be getting ready to go to the dentist but I’m writing this instead.  Don’t tell the hygienist.  There is this great line by comic Steven Wright that I always think of when it’s time again for a dental torture visit.  He says, in that totally deadpan voice of his, “My dental hygienist is cute.  Every time I visit, I eat a whole package of Oreo cookies while waiting in the lobby.  Sometimes she has to cancel the rest of the afternoon’s appointments.”  I’m kind of in the mood to follow his advice.

Which brings me to the rant.

I finished reading Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delany last night in the bath—and nearly threw it across the room when I realized it’s only the first half of the story, it ends on a cliffhanger, and it will probably never be finished.

WHY, WHY YOU DO THIS TO ME.  An amazing, brilliant, complicated, weird, eye-popping, thought-provoking, hard to read at times, gorgeous, BOOK.

But it’s ONLY THE FIRST HALF!

GAHHHHHHHH.  I suppose I’ll have to go get a goddamn copy of Review of Fucking Contemporary Fiction 1996 to read the goddamn mystery chapter of the unpublished sequel (that’s the only place it appeared, from what I can glean in my googling), even though it sounds like reading it will probably only piss me off more because it doesn’t really answer any questions. Or so they say.  SCREW YOU MR. DELANY for making me CARE SO MUCH ABOUT YOUR GODDAMN CHARACTERS AND WORLD and then hurting them so awfully at the end of Stars, only to ABANDON them to live out their miserable lives in your head, where I can’t see them.

Big MEANY.  Stingy!  Cruel and unusual punishment to readers, that’s what this is!

[panting]

And here’s the weirdest thing.  Even so, I still wholeheartedly recommend Stars in my Pocket as one of the best Sci-fi books I have ever read.

The book basically takes a can-opener to your brain, with its ideas and images about aliens and culture and identity and so much moreand then leaves your skull-lid all hanging open, ragged and jagged, to tear at the edges of your pitiful life, oh the suffering of a cliff hanger.  Oh oh oh.

Seriously, it’s really that good.  Even with only being half the damn story.

Jo Walton, a terrific writer herself, has this to say and I completely agree: “Samuel Delany is intimidatingly brilliant, and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is (arguably) his best book. Even though he’s been one of my favourite writers since I was a teenager, and I’ve read all his books multiple times, I try not to re-read him when I’m writing because he sets such a high standard I feel that I might as well give up now.”  (The rest of her review is here.  It is excellent and gives a good sense of some of the more amazing content of the book.)

Yes.  That.  Imma go lie down and whimper for all the “writing” I have ever attempted.  I am ashamed.

MAN I just…I’m so…UNRESOLVED.  I have CLOSURE ISSUES.  I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO RAT AND MARK.

Sob.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want.  Just look at poor Mark Dyeth.

Oh god—was this the point?  To leave the READER (me!) hanging like this, unfulfilled, in just the way that Mark is left hanging?  So that I can feel the same (or at least an echo) of his misery?

TOO CRUEL, MR. DELANY.  TOO CRUEL.

(See my actual review of Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders and my musings on his Dhalgren.)

Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders by Samuel Delany…WOW

ThroughValleyNestSpidersShort version: incredible, astonishing, I loved it.  It’s difficult, but worth the effort.  Not for everyone.

Long version.  Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders by Samuel Delany (author of Dhalgren one of my favorite books) begins with young Eric Jeffers, a gay, white kid from Atlanta, raised by his black step-father, about to turn 17, moving in with his white mother in a rural, coastal Georgia town.  On the way, Eric meets Morgan “Shit” Haskell, a black, 19 year old, illiterate, self-described pervert, and Shit’s white father, Dynamite, a meeting that changes Eric’s life.  Soon he begins working with Shit and Dynamite as the town’s garbage men, at the same time becoming their lover and friend.  I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers to say the rest of the 800 pages takes you through Eric and Shit’s lives together on into old age, beginning in the year Obama was elected, and finishing in our future, some time in the late 21st century.

The scope of the book is astonishing.  The subjects it tackles—racism, sexuality, morality, aging, religion, memory, being marginalized, I could go on—are hard and deeply explored.  After 800 pages I was left with a feeling that, as a whole, the book is about what it really means to live a human life: the tragedy of it, of aging, of living through the changing times, changing technology, changing cultural expectations, of seeing everything and everyone around you passing away, of day to day life through wave after wave of change.  But especially, the beauty of it.

Honestly, it’s also one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read.  I sobbed at the end. Real, ugly crying for the last fifty pages that made it hard to see the words, and then for a good while after I just threw my head down on the table and wept. For the next few days I walked around feeling like I was a different person.  No, I am a different person.

That’s damn hard to pull off.  That’s rare.

But look, before I can recommend this book (which I do!) you have to sign this informed consent.  You need to know: there is a ton of sex in this book (however much you just imagined, times it by a factor of ten), that’s tons of gay sex, and that’s fine, but then it starts to get…weird. Sexualized mutual nose picking, piss drinking, shit eating, incest, beastiality, taboo language, nail biting—

Wait, whoa…what?

Therein lies one of the primary tensions of this book. Yes, I can say unreservedly, that this book is one of the most beautiful I’ve read.  Even as the language alternates between sublimely beautiful and gaggingly difficult to read.  It eases up, changes significantly in the second half, but it’s there all the way through.  There is something to gross out everyone here.

I’ve read Dhalgren over and over, I love it, each reading gives me more. So I was stoked to learn Delany had written another monster-sized novel.  But after TVNS came out and I had read a few reviews…it took me months to work up the courage to read it.  Nose picking? I thought.  Shit eating?  Seriously?!  Why they hell would Delany put that in a book?  And then…he must have his reasons…?  And then, to hell with it, if Samuel Freaking Delany wants to write about nose-picking and all the rest of it, I want to know why.  So in I dove.

I think TVNS is aware of this difficulty.

In the second half of Eric’s life, he is given a copy of Spinoza’s Ethics, and proceeds to spend the next forty years reading it over and over.  His early attempts are comical and recognizable (to me, anyway) the way my eye will slide off sentences in difficult books, sentences that I can see are written in English words, but for which I have zero comprehension. Eric says it took the first decade of struggling with Spinoza just to learn how to read it.  I think that’s true for TVNS, too—well, not the decade part, maybe, but the first hundred pages or so.  For example, in that first encounter between 16 year old Eric and 19 year old Shit in the Turpens truck stop restroom, the vocabulary, the group sex, whoa, it’s shocking. (Me: he’s doing what? They said that? And now he’s doing what?!) and I had to keep rearranging what I thought was happening because the Standard Narrative for those sorts of events is, well, A BAD THING IS HAPPENING.  But TVNS refuses every standard narrative.  That’s the point.

The first fifty pages were the hardest for me.  It got easier (although the book keeps upping the ante all the way through) as I went.  Probably I just got better at reading it.  The last pages are like light.

Try this.  When I was maybe thirteen, I was at a friend’s house, hanging out, bored, and in a giggly, showing-off fit of “let’s do something,” she showed me a copy of one of her older brother’s porn mags (an actual paper porn magazine! I’m getting old.). It was “Jugs,” an issue devoted to especially large breasts and wow, it kind of freaked me out, even as it fascinated.  I remembering feeling shocked and kind of dirty and intensely curious, as in, Is this for real?  Guys like this?  Why?

Parts of reading TVNS were not un-like my thirteen-year-old-self looking through that issue of “Jugs”…somebody else’s porn.  Sexual, sort of, but not a turn on, a little disturbing, strange, interesting as the shock wears off.  Only TVNS doesn’t stop there.  Next came compassion, humor, questioning.  Love.

Jo Walton did a thoughtful review (of TVNS, not Jugs) over at Tor that I highly recommend, and in the comments, someone wrote, “It’s odd that people are resistant to reading about characters who engage in sex practices they would not themselves indulge in, and perhaps even find discomfiting, when they would not balk at reading a book with a character who murders or violently destroys whole planets.”  Yeah, good point, why is that?  Delany himself has happily called TVNS a book at the intersection of sci-fi, literary fiction, and pornography.  One of its main themes is something like there is no normal.  Maybe it’s desensitization, maybe its just how much I came to love Eric and Shit.  But yeah, the weird became less weird for me as I went along.  So Delany keeps adding more, new weird….

I think that uneasy feeling is another part of the point.  Whether it is the sex, or the language (the swearing is intense but even more so, the regular (and rather fond) use of the word nigger), or the incest, or the shit/mucous/piss consumption…getting through that material is part of what changed me and made the ending so powerful.

Because I do feel changed.  My perspective, my perception, my self-acceptance.  This is a life changing book.  And the ending is amazing.  The pay off in those last 50 pages is profound.

Man, that sounds like hyperbole.  Sorry.

Interestingly, this morning I picked up my old copy of Delany’s essays, About Writing, many of which I have been unable to penetrate before—that eye sliding thing.  I found them very easy to read this morning.  Have I taught myself how to read Delany?  At least a little?

Sidenote: everything, every weird sex act in TVNS is consensual.  There is no non-con, no rape, and consent is taken seriously by everyone, especially around the younger people.  This isn’t a book about mean people doing mean things to each other.  That’s another part of the point.

And here’s the thing: At the end of the book, none of my thoughts were about the fetish-y sex.  All of that had ceased to be important in any of the ways those parts of Eric’s story were so loud and overwhelming in the beginning.  By the end, the particulars of what got them hard had become fairly inconsequential to me.   Maybe being in relationship with Eric and Shit for 800 pages, exactly as they are, and coming to accept them—and they are wonderful people!—is part of the book’s transformative power.

Switching gears now away from the loud and “nasty” parts (Shit’s word)….

A “normal” novel, meaning, the vast majority of the novels I’ve read, has a certain shape: an inciting event propels a protagonist with wants and needs into confronting (or running from) a problem she has with meeting those wants and needs, often in the form of an antagonist.  There are a few try-cycles where the character does different things to solve her problem, these succeed and the problem gets bigger, or the character fails and tries again, the stakes increase, right up into the final showdown where the problem is finally resolved (in some fashion) and the character gets (some of) what she wanted (or possibly doesn’t, if its a darker book), growing and changing in the process.

TVNS does not follow this shape.  Eric says it right out at one point.  He says about some young people he meets who have been to Mars and back (I haven’t talked about it much here, but this IS science fiction, and the world-building of our near-future is fascinating), “They have stories. (I guess other people mostly do.  I just have a life….”

Right.  There is no plot here.  This is Eric’s life. Instead of plot and try-cycles you get layers upon layers of moments, building up like sediment.  Someone reading the first one or two hundred pages might give up in frustration saying, nothing happens! But the emotional whammy, the textured experience of all those layered memories by the end, it’s tremendous.  A totally different way to shape this thing we call a “novel.”  And that whammy couldn’t have been achieved, I think, any other way.  Because life isn’t a story.

And unlike stories, even in a good life, which Eric has, there isn’t a happy ending.  Don’t get me wrong, Eric IS happy.  He has a great relationship with someone he loves, he has work he enjoys, he’s part of a vibrant community.  The world happens around him (much of it in our future), sometimes to him, and he makes choices, but nothing bad really happens here, no major events, beyond the death of friends as he get older, or aging itself.  That’s what I mean: the best possible human life still ends in the loss of everything you love, and then you die.  Full stop.  Living a long and happy life, with people you love, and dying of old age, that’s the best outcome we wish for as humans, right?  (Unless, maybe, you’re Achilles and you wish for fame and honor, instead…)  But the best we can hope for…and it has this shitty, terrifying, sad end!

Who invented this system??  What a stupid ride!  I want off!

This is the material of this book.  Not a story.  A life.

And believe me when I say I can’t tell you about the book—I mean, I AM telling you about the book, but you have to read it, experience the effect of the words, to get what it is offering.  It’s experiential, not informational.  That’s why there aren’t any spoilers.

TVNS took Delany seven years to write.  When most writers I know are working hard to create multiple novels a year, to create stories that draw in a reader and hold them tight, with likable characters and compelling events (all of which is, I think, a perfectly fine way to go about writing), Delany is doing something different, a hard book that puts up obstacles the reader has to overcome in order to become the person that can receive the nuanced and powerful impact of the end.

Other themes….

samueldelanyDelany works masterfully with time—Eric really feels like a 17 year old kid in the beginning, and a 90 year old man in the end, plus all the stages in between.  Plus the way time goes so slowly when we’re young and so slippery-fast as we age.  How the world around us changes, in sometimes bewildering ways—technology’s advance, the falling down of buildings, the passing of businesses and structures that once were part of our daily life, all of that is in here in such a visceral way—oh and the crazy-making part of the passage of time: that all we have to go on is our memories, and those are fleeting and subject to significant erosion.

And what’s it like inside a 70 year relationship?  Having read this I feel like I understand things about my Grandma and how she faded so quickly after the death of Granddaddy after nearly 70 years of marriage.  I wish I had read it years ago, wish I could have known these things earlier, for her.  So many stories are written about the beginnings of relationships, the first times, and TVNS is that, too.  But what about what it’s like after forty, fifty, sixty years?  My husband and I are at twenty years now, and I saw us in Eric and Shit as they hit their forties.  I liked that; there aren’t many stories about twenty-year marriages that aren’t boring, depressing as hell, divorce stories.

One of the biggest experiences of the book is what it’s like to grow old—not just to be old, but to be young and to gradually become old.  To be surrounded by people who weren’t alive when you were doing your thing, who see the era of your childhood as “history” and somewhat mythical, people who get it all wrong, but think they know better.  The physicality of it.  The way thinking processes change.  The wisdom and the foolishness.

Another one: FOOD.  So much food!  And described with such detail and direct experience.

I was struck on this reading (when I got to the end, I turned it around and started reading it again, how strange to return to those early shocking scenes with nostalgia this time) by the parts about long-term marriage, the parts about aging, and even the parts about living in a Southern, coastal town.  I grew up on the North Carolina’s Outer Banks, very similar in look, feel, and culture to the Georgia island that Eric and Shit live on.  The way Delany describes the change of one of those thin islands from dunes and trees to a developed town sooo matches my experience of watching my childhood island change over the last forty years!

Other readers (or me, in later readings?) might draw more from the explorations of race, or the parts about being a gay man.  Or the philosophy of Spinoza.  Or the near-future technology, which is drawn so believably it feels like reading history.  Or other facets that just went over my head.  There is a lot here.

Delany’s descriptions of the sky and sea are gorgeous.

Eric says, “So little of life is direct experience…Only an instant of it at a time.  That’s all.  No more.  The rest is memory.  And expectation…and memory is what so much of time’s failings had struck away.”

So.  Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Beautiful and terrifying.  A masterful piece of fiction.  Not for people who just won’t be able to get past the “nasty” parts (that’s Shit’s word).  Difficult going at times, in different ways for different people who will be squicked by different things, but SO WORTH IT.  Huge payoff in the end.

Thank you so much, Mr. Delany, for writing this, and for Magnus Books for publishing it.  You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been moved to thank a publisher before! But I can imagine this book was not an easy one to publish. Not a slam dunk, best-selling, airport reading book.  I hope it stays in print.

Thinking of that, hmm, I bought it as an $9.99 ebook (a steal!) but maybe I should get a paper version, in case of the zombie apocalypse.  I don’t want to risk losing my copy.

I’ll leave you with Shit, a hilarious, wonderful, kind person: “Would you at least call me a goddam motherfuckin’ piece of mule shit, so I’ll know you care?”

The missing chapter 90, inadvertently left out of the book can be found here.

Jo Walton’s review for Tor. Shaviro’s review.  Paul di Filippo’s review for Locus.

A great interview with Delany, lots of spoilery discussion of the text.

And another interesting interview with Delany about the book….

adorable japanese picture books are adorable — ehon navi ftw!

I started studying Japanese almost two years ago (January).  That is shocking.  I am simultaneously impressed that I stayed with it this long, dismayed at how much time I have put into this essentially useless-to-me hobby, and shocked that I’m not further along by now because wow, Japanese is really hard.

But yeah, I’m still at it.  I love it, this interesting puzzle-solving hobby that has zero stress because it has zero connection to anything else in my life.  I think its like people who do the daily cross-word puzzle in the morning, or play a few round of solitaire to help them get to sleep.  Wani Kani, iKnow, Genki, Imabi, Tae Kim, Textfugu, and Japanese the Manga Way are my Japanese drugs of choice.  (Not all at once!  WaniKani is daily, the rest is in a complex rotation system that not even I fully comprehend.)

Plus this new one:  Ehon Navi.  First, if you click that link, you’re going to get a page full of Japanese except for one little English phrase, “Picture books for happiness!” which I love.  Yes!  A good picture book definitely is a happiness-inducer, isn’t it?  Second, Ehon is Japanese for children’s picture book and Navi I think is connected to navigation.  Basically the site has over a thousand Japanese pictures books scanned in that you can read for free—one time each (no going back!).  You have to register but it isn’t hard, and the reader-app they have is quite usable.  It’s basically having a Japanese children’s library on your laptop.  How cool is that?  And wow, Japanese artists KNOW THEIR CUTE.

I found Ehon Navi via Liana’s Extensive Reading blog.  Extensive Reading is the language learning strategy of, basically, reading a ton in your target language, at or below your fluency level, just gobs and gobs of stuff, casting aside anything you don’t enjoy (and don’t use a dictionary!).  It’s how I learned English so well, so it makes sense to me.  Plus, it’s super fun.  Ehon Navi gives someone who wants to try some Extensive Reading in Japanese, but has a low reading level (raises hand), a chance to level up through access to so many easy books.  Bonuses: gorgeous, funny art and charming stories.  It’s a win-win-win-win, really, with some win on top.

Liana has a walkthrough on how to register, and some clues about how to use the site if you can’t read Japanese well enough to navigate it.  Thanks so much for putting that together, Liana!  I have been enjoying this so much.  It’s been a shot in the arm of my Japanese, studies, really.  I can get lost in the slog sometimes and forget why I’m doing it.  Oh yeah, I like reading Japanese!

Plus, I used to read so many children’s books when the kids were little, and loved it, but I haven’t read picture books in years.  It’s surprisingly delightful to get back to it, even (especially?) in Japanese.  Simple stories, cute pictures, funny jokes.  Highly recommended.  If you’re studying Japanese and can’t read manga yet, maybe get over the fear of all that Japanese by jumping in to picture books.

sunglasses, tirimisu, the GALAXY BRA, and how to be a woman

My daughter Sophie and I had quite a haul in the mailbox yesterday.  For me, my very-first-ever pair of prescription sunglasses, scored from Zenni Optical for $45 bucks, because I finally have had ENOUGH of wearing sunglasses perched precariously on top of my glasses when I go anywhere bright and actually want to see in focus (what a dork I am, I know, I know).

For Sophie, the mailbox contained her very-first-ever grown-up BRA.  As opposed to those cute, cotton bralettes they sell in the “junior” department (basically very short tank-tops), this bra sported adjustable straps, a back closure, and LO! actual cups.  So cute!!!!

So.  Cool Wayfarer stylin with polarized lenses for me, and injection molded foam for wire-free support with a simply gorgeous image of Space emblazoned on the cups for her.  It’s a wonder the mailbox didn’t pour out blinding golden light when we opened it up.

Online shopping is amazing, isn’t it?  On the Zenni site you enter in your prescription and your various desires (lens material, fancy coatings, etc), then you upload a picture of yourself upon which you can “try on” any of their frames. Sweet.  Click order and they send you your glasses in a week, and the prices are jawdroppingly low.  I uploaded a crap-tastic picture of myself, (because I don’t want to have to look good for my glasses, you know what I’m saying?  I want them to make ME look good, not the other way around) and a week later, here I was, mugging in the rear view mirror.

Sidebar: Seriously, I love my eye doctor (who is, I have to say, hot), but at $400+ for a pair of his glasses, I do not see how he can possibly compete with Zenni which gives me the same (or better, because they have a huge selection) glasses for 1/10th the price.  $40 vs $400, there really is no comparison.  Although I seriously pray this boon to me is not coming out of a sweatshop-for-glasses scenario.

Anyway.  Back in the car, Sophie is ripping open her package from Herroom.com, another online wonder, this time a knickers emporium with 100,000 bras to choose from. It even has a sizing page where you enter various measurements, hit calculate, and boom, it gives you your bra size.

What witchery is this?  No older woman “fitting” you for a bra while making veiled snarky comments about your back-fat and trying to sell you a bra that clearly does not fit?  How can local bra shops compete?  I was dubious that a web-applet could produce a proper size—but damn if the bra we purchased (for $9 bucks!) fit Sophie exactly.  Amazing.

$9 bucks!!  My stupid yoga bras are more like $40 and I pass out from sticker shock every time I go to buy one, resulting in me wearing them to tattered rags.  $9 bucks!  Maybe I need to rethink the yoga bras.

Sophie put her new bra on the car as we headed out to do errands.  I sang the Star Wars Theme because it is, after all, the Galaxy Bra.  Seriously! it’s a Maidenform “Softie Contour Bra,” and when we found it on the site, the color options were black, nude, white, or ‘Galaxy’.

“Which do you want?” I asked.

Sophie gave me a look. “Duh.  Galaxy.”

That’s my girl.

“How is it?” I asked, driving through the autumn colors.  Sophie peered down, stretching left and right.  “They both look the same size now.”

I laughed and sang Star Wars some more, the wind blowing my hair back from my new jaunty shades—which are excellent, by the way.  I’ve never been able to see in focus, and without glare, BOTH at the same time.  I can’t believe I waited this long to get these.  “Mom,” Sophie said, “Please.  My boobs do not need a soundtrack.”  Ha!

“Of course they do!  And you know you’re a woman when you discover what yours is.”  We were both cracking up.

galaxy braAnd let me just say, it isn’t just bra-selling technology that blows me away, it’s the bras themselves.  Holy cow, I’ve been wearing my cotton yoga bras forever, and, I have to admit, nursing bras before that, I am WAY behind the times on the high-tech, molded foam, wireless possibilities out there.  The Galaxy Bra is soft, comfortable and according to Sophie, very supportive.  Amazing.  The dang thing is just shy of a levitation device for breasts. On top of all that, it’s dramatically pretty.  My first terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bra was a no-size-fits-anyone disaster that I had to jerk down in the front every time I moved because it rode up constantly—for a year.

In comparison, the Galaxy Bra is a work of art, both engineering and aesthetic.  It’s goddamn beautiful.  (And my little girl!  In a real grown up bra!  I can’t even tell you have astonishing that is.  My life, it’s passing before my very eyes.)

Anyway, what with the sunglasses and the bra, we felt so celebratory (celeBRAtory, heh heh, cough, sorry) we ended up at a coffee shop.  It just happened, I swear.  But online shopping had yielded us life changing treasures!  Clearly we needed sugar to commemorate the moment.

Staring at the bakery case I said, “Should we get a chocolate chip cookie, a cannoli, or tiramisu?”

Sophie gave me a look. “Duh.  Tiramisu.”

That’s my girl.tiramisu

We sat outside in the sparkling fall weather, beneath a juniper tree and a red maple the color of fire, and shared the tiramisu, me with the sun on my face and NOT in my eyes, and her in her secret, fancy underwear.

“This is awesome,” she said, through a mouthful of espresso soaked cake and mascarpone.

“Yep,” I said.

It was.

Later, in the yurt, Luc, 9, said, “So, what the heck IS a Galaxy bra?”

“It’s a bra emblazoned with Hubble deep space photography,” I said.  “It’s lovely.  I want one.”

“But why would you even want a bra with stuff on it?” he said.  “No one is going to see it.”

“Dude.  Fancy underwear can change your whole day.  It makes you feel like a million bucks.  It’s an instant boost.”

“You need therapy.”

“A bra is cheaper.”

Sophie started to lift her shirt. “Want to see it?  It’s really comfortable.”

“NO.  Definitely not.”

how to be a womanWhich brings me to the painfully, wonderfully funny memoir of Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman, in which she says, “The bra is, perhaps, the rudest item of women’s clothing. If you do not doubt this, try this simple test: throw a bra at a nine-year-old boy. He will react as if he has had a live rat winged at his head. He will run, screaming, away from you – like that Vietnamese kid covered in napalm. He cannot handle the rudeness of bras.”

Too true!  And listen, there is so much truth in the chapter on bras alone that I was laughing so hard reading it I fell off my chair at the kid’s aikido class.  Very embarrassing.  Basically I was trying so hard NOT to laugh (aikido being a rather serious endeavor) that my butt just…slipped…and I ended up half-wedged between seats, hanging onto the appalled parent next to me, concerned that Sensei was going to need to bring in a crane to get me out.  Imagine a hilariously funny British stand-up comedian giving you the feminist 101 download on an array of topics from clothes to childbirth to wedding receptions to journalism, all while telling her own life story and making you pee your pants.  I highly, highly recommend.

I also highly recommend Zenni Optical and Herroom.  And bra shopping with your daughter in a way that makes you both laugh.  And tiramisu.  Lots of tiramisu.

Bonus Level!

Overheard just now as I was typing this out:

Sophie: “I’m going into the man cave.”

Luc: “Says the person wearing a Galaxy Bra.”

Sophie, thoughtful: “Maybe you can’t go into a Man Cave in a Galaxy Bra.  Maybe it would cause them both to combust, like matter and anti-matter.”

Luc: “Which one is which?”

Good freaking question.  I have no idea.

stop action parkour, super cool vid! plus, ORCS

Ran across this today, SUPER FUN:

Amiright? How cool is that? And then, of course I clicked on the “see our previous video” link and it went to this, amazing and moving story of one, lowly orc’s trials and desire for supremacy.

What a terrific idea, to tell a story from the lowest orc’s perspective. I always wonder about those poor losers. I mean, to be the Low Orc on the Orc Totem Pole, the bottom guy in a world of bullies and meanies, that’s got to suck. What can I say, I’ve got too much empathy.

And then Sophie and I really liked this “making of” the Mordor video, I mean, wow, these guys are bad-ass. I love it when people do cool things in the name of art/fun! I wonder who they are, who is funding this venture, how they learned all of this? I’m totally impressed.

And there went the rest of the morning, the kids and I watching more and more of these terrific vids….

I’m late to the party on this. Digital Corridor has been putting out videos for years. Very cool. Two thumbs up. Youtube is amazing, or rather, what some people do when given a platform like youtube…is amazing.

strange weather in tokyo by hiromi kawakami

strange-weather-in-tokyo-bookI can’t stop saying wonderful things about this delicate, moving, sweet, quiet, sad, lovely novel. Grimmly, if you see this, thanks so much for the recommendation, you made my night.  I loved this book, though it made me cry and, unbeknownst to me, my mascara ran everywhere, startling Luc, 8, who said I looked like a melted demon. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a quirky, sad-sweet love story.  Which this is.  The way “Starry Night” is a a painting of the night sky.

Indeed, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a slow-simmering romance between a fiercely independent, 37 year old, never-married, Tokyo office lady (what the Japanese call female office workers) and her 30-years-her-senior high school Japanese teacher, someone she hasn’t seen in twenty years.  They run into each other in a bar and get to chatting over sake and amazing food.  Friendship ignites.  Prickly, quirky, funny, independent people finding connection is one of my favorite sub-genres…and Strange Weather has got to be one of my favorite examples it, and one of the best, and most masterfully told.

Atmospheric, beautifully written and translated, the story, and their relationship, advances slowly, sideways, indirectly.  They argue about baseball.  They go mushroom hunting.  They drink endless beer and sake.  They wonder through Tokyo, see shops, museums, bars.  They play pachinko.  They eat, oh how they eat.  Briefcase Cover 1The descriptions of Japanese food alone are worth the price of admission.  They struggle to connect, or to stay away from each other.  For what can pierce our defenses when we have become perfectly comfortable with our own loneliness?  I felt like my own jaded heart was being sneaked up on by this book.  I would find myself moved by subtle descriptions and not even know why.  The plot, such as it is, might seem the world of romcom, but the telling is gorgeous, subtle, and deeply felt.

The title is Sensei no Kaban in Japanese, which might be translated as the Teacher’s Briefcase (or, since ‘sensei’ is written in katakana instead of kanji—giving it an odd emphasis, perhaps making it a name instead of a job—Sensei’s Briefcase), and simply The Briefcase in the US.  It comes highly recommended by me, but if that isn’t enough, it’s won multiple literary awards.  A short novel, quickly read if you want to push through, but I suggest savoring it, or reading it twice, back to back, as I found myself doing.  I adore these characters with their idiosyncratic flaws and sweet vulnerabilities.  Maybe it just hit home for me.  Grim, how did you know???

I also adore the cover photo on the UK edition, pictured below, which captures the emotion and magic of the story for me, a surprising floating feeling found in a prosaic Japanese bar.  The photo is by Natsumi Hayashi, and is of herself.  She photographs herself levitating all over Tokyo (link to her blog), so please go check out her delightful work.  (She uses a timer or an assistant and jumps to capture the images.  I love that.)

Strange-Weather-in-Tokyo

highlights of my recent surfing-fest, or, cool shit FTW

Linky linky post!  Here, have a look at some of the tabs sitting open on my browser.  There’s some super cool shit out there, and that’s ain’t no lie.

For example, my twitter feed today served up self described sex scientist, Emily Nagoski PhD doing an all day Q&A answering all the questions about sex you can think of.  She is awesome, the  “sex nerd” who delivers Actual Science instead of the usual garbage on the myth<—>bullshit continuum that you tend to get when looking for real info about sex.  Go check it out! I’m curious what questions are going to come through…

I am waaaaaaay too bitter and cynical to enjoy things like this next video and yeah, the first 30 seconds were making that wounded, sardonic part of me cringe.  But I kept watching it because a friend sent it to me and INSISTED and WOW, wait till you get to the dancing!  I really loved this thing by the end!  I might have even—wait, I’ve got something in my eye.  Shut up.

On the yoga front, here is the phenomenal and beautiful Laruga, an ashtangi whose blog I’ve read for years, doing a rock star yoga video, wow.  Her practice is so smooth, so pretty, and she is SO STRONG.

On the other side of the effort scale, Have you heard about the potato salad kickstarter?  Nearly $50,000 bucks and counting?  I kind of love it, it’s like a palliative for all the kickstarters I’ve looked at—good ones, too, this isn’t exactly a complaint—that talk about how amazing, world changing, life altering, and numinous their project is (or will be, if you fund it).  Sometimes we can’t do the amazing.  Sometimes we can just make potato salad.  Apparently a lot of other people enjoy the whimsical as well, because the thing has gone ballistic, shocking the heck out of its creator.

Oh, I also ran across this wonderful, kick-in-the-pants essay, The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You, which I think has made the rounds, but it was new to me, so I’m posting it. Sometimes a slap across the face with a raw fish is what you need to wake you up.  Or is that just me?

cosmos

That essay, in a round about way, got us watching  Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which is FREAKING AWESOME.  It’s the updated, ramped up, 2014 version of the old Carl Sagan Cosmos, and it is blow your mind stuff.  Highly recommended. Makes me wish we had a bigger tv.

And now, I’m heading off to walk Henry.  Have a good weekend!  I’ll leave you with this, because we all need inspiration sometimes to be our better selves:

holyshitthatwasawesome

funniest japanese/english learning tool ever. plus, swearing!

I’m totally getting a copy of this when I do an amazon.jp order (I also have my eye on the gorgeous Mushishi aizoban artbooks, watercolor paintings of one of my most favorite manga/anime characters of all time, it caaaalls to me in my sleeeeeeep….but the shipping, man, it’s a bitch).

Hilarious! And such a needed bit of knowledge in language learning.

I think this book would be useful either way, Japanese to English or the other way around. Swearing is so important to understand!  It’s everywhere, and it isn’t taught. And swearing is awesome. Actually, I adore swearing, it’s my most favorite vice, right up there with chocolate and quickies. I’m interested and amazed when people get super offended (like, really, seriously upset) by swearing, that is, making this set of sounds versus that set of sounds (which we do, of course, by squirting air through our meat)(from “Meat,” possibly my most favorite SF short story ever). Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I love the power of words.

creativecursingBonus round!  For a fun and informative (it’s educational!) look at the etymology of English swear words, I highly recommend Expletive Deleted by Ruth Wajnryb.  And for maximum swearing hilarity you simply must check out Creative Cursing by Sarah Royal and Jillian Panarese. You will wet yourself.

And for an essay I wrote on swearing, that I totally forgot that I wrote (which is scary), but just found by accident looking for something else on my own blog (aging sucks), go here.  I just (re)read it and thoroughly enjoyed it, so maybe you will too.  Good to know I can entertain myself, at least.