Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The daily card, week 36

This week was all California. (Which, of course, was FANTASTIC. I'll hopefully be sharing more thoughts and photos soon.)  Before we left, I printed off four stock images of the four major places we'd be spending time - in San Francisco, Napa Valley, on Highway 1 down the coast, and in Newport Beach - and used them as the background to the cards.

Since we were road-tripping and moving so much, I brought fewer supplies than I do when I'm headed to one place (like on a work trip) and can spread out all over one desk. There really isn't much artistry and not a ton of creativity in this set. But it was a nice way to get down a few themes, thoughts, or highlights from each day while keeping up with the daily rhythm. For Sunday, after we arrived back from LAX, I took the leftover scraps and wove them together. It sort of mirrors what it feels like getting back from vacation - a smattering of images and memories that blur together in one big scenic highlight reel.

And if you're keeping score at home, here is what all the California cards look like together:

That's about it. This week made for a nice break in real life and a nice break heading into the last quarter of the daily card challenge. As much as I sometimes find myself looking forward to December 31 when I stamp the last date-stamp on the last card, it really is crazy how quickly this year is going by.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Book Review: The end of the world as we know it - Station Eleven

(You can read part one of my apocalyptic summer reading book review series, on The Last Days of Californiahere.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel | Recommended by Elise

Favorite line: "No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in doing so, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars."

Oh man, so much to say about this one. As much as I loved the poetry and teenage angst of Last Days, this book was for sure my favorite of the three. I found it completely engrossing to follow the Symphony, which travels around the Great Lakes performing Shakespeare twenty years after the Georgia flu has eliminated 99% of humanity. (It was extra fun to be reading this while in northern Michigan visiting my family and passing highway signs for the same cities Mandel references in the book.) In some ways, it reminded me of Bel Canto - both describe bands of people brought together by art after a catastrophe.

Art and the power of storytelling are central themes here. The characters perform Shakespeare because it represents the best of the old world - though Mandel does well not to dwell too sentimentally about the uplifting power of art. But as another reviewer aptly commented, memorized Star Trek episodes and a tattered copy of an independently published graphic novel survive alongside the Shakespeare and end up being just as significant to the characters. So the book is, in large part, about the eclectic mix of cultural artifacts that survive from the old world and how people hold onto them to make meaning out of their lives in the new one. One of my favorite chapters is from the perspective of a minor character, a teenager in the Symphony who wonders if they shouldn't let go of Shakespeare and start telling new stories for a new world, and starts writing a play of her own.

The paragraph I quote above is from a two-page chapter describing the end of the world - one of the best two pages I've read in recent memory. The book starts off with one character doomsday-prepping-but-this-time-for-real as the flu begins to subsume Toronto. But then in lieu of a big montage of bridges crashing down and fires burning and zombies* on the loose, there are two pages describing all the things that cease to exist. It feels like a giant silence right at the core of the action and such a fitting way to evoke the end of civilization. I love the line "no more avatars" in particular. It describes a world in which there's no more buffer between us and a world that is nasty, brutish, and short, not just in terms of social media but all of the other advances and comforts that have extended our life expectancies.

The book moves back and forth between the post-apocalyptic world and the immediately pre-apocalyptic one, focused on a famous actor and his series of wives. I enjoyed that story line too, though the use of multiple perspectives made it feel like it was retreading familiar territory by the end. But I wanted more post-apocalyptic world-building - I wanted the Symphony to cover more ground, meet more cults, face more action, paint a bigger picture. So ultimately, this book left me wanting more in some respects. But as long as you're not expecting a lot of gory zombie* confrontations, it is a fantastic read. And it unexpectedly made me want to read the Walking Dead graphic novels since I fell so in love with the post-apocalyptic setting.

What I also found interesting is that the book never lets you forget the sadness of billions of people dying in the Georgia flu. The characters themselves, when walking past cars left in traffic jams by people desperate to get out of the city, to get to the airport, to get anywhere else, think about what their final moments would have looked like. The narrator, when describing the pre-apocalyptic world, consistently references how long it would be until the character died or watched as everyone else did. The world Mandel creates is not one where people have killed enough zombies* that they're totally cynical. And that makes it a relentlessly human story.

*Note: there are no actual zombies in this book.

Next up: The Circle.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The daily card, week 35

Every time I think I'm totally over this project, I get into a groove again - and I am really happy with what I came up with this week.

Highs: The "I love you" card is one of my favorites this year... it's blurred not because it's anything truly secret or inappropriate, just some inside jokes that I figured I would keep inside. And starting with The Last Days of California, I've had fun this summer recreating the covers of the books I read. Then we took off for California and got started with some pre-made travel cards... more on that coming next week.

Lows: I messed up my back again but, more importantly, there was renewed focus on the Syrian refugee crisis as the body of little Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach. The "no one puts children in a boat" line is one I'd seen circulating on Facebook, and is from a poem by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire. This is my very minor tribute to one heart-wrenching moment in a long, intractable conflict full of them.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: The end of the world as we know it

I think this is one of the great narratives in literature - the world as we know it is ending, something new is quickly coming our way, and we can't go back to the way it was. It reminds me of my favorite scene in Mad Men, when the series has gotten further into the 60s and there are race riots and beat poets and women in the workplace and Don's old life in the suburbs no longer feels like the norm, Roger Sterling says something like, "When is everything going to get back to normal?"

Unintentionally, my summer reading this year - The Last Days of California, Station Eleven, and The Circle - all focused on worlds ending. Though they all have a futuristic/dystopian/apocalyptic premise, they were three very different books with different narratives about individual and societal change.

I was originally going to do this all as one post, but at last count it was approaching 1500 words and I think that is doing blogging wrong. (The English major inside me must have been more desperate to write about books than I realized.) So they will be broken up book by book over the next week - as popularized by the Serial and Limetown podcasts. ;)

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller | Recommended by Kelsey

Favorite line: "And just like that, she wasn't a vegetarian anymore. It was strange how you could be something and then not be that something so easily."

This book is ostensibly about the world ending (it's right there in the title), but is very much rooted in reality - in the very relatable story of a teenage girl, Jess, dealing with her insecurities and fighting with her sister and experimenting with her sexuality on a family road trip to California. It just so happens that that road trip is driven by her father's conviction that the Rapture is coming. He decides that the West Coast will be the best vantage point from which to watch God smite the unfaithful, one time zone at a time.

I loved the emotional intensity and the short story feeling of this book - I read it slowly since there were so many sentences and moments to relish. It's not an apocalyptic book outside of the premise - but it is very much about the world as Jess knows it ending as she makes the awkward transition into being a grown woman. (Cue this song.) Over the course of the book, she gains new knowledge into her family that she can't un-know and a new awareness of her parents as flawed and fragile humans. This book so resonated with my inner teenager and the part of me that still has those insecurities and is still not quite sure how to exist as an adult in the world.

Also on point is her ambivalence about religion - sometimes she thinks about what their lives will look like post-Rapture, other times she thinks it's all baloney, but she is as preoccupied with boys and her body as she is with the will of the Almighty. It reminded me of that stage when you're a kid and the rumors are spreading that Santa isn't real, but you still sort of think he is, and it somehow doesn't bother you that you don't have a definitive answer. That ability to sort of believe two contradictory things at once pretty much sums up what it feels like to be a teenager - or maybe just a human.

Next up: Station Eleven.

Illustrated by the daily cards I made for each book cover... in large part because the actual books had all been returned to the library by the time I wrote this post.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The daily card, week 34

I love the late summer palette (unintentionally) creeping into the cards. This week was a fun one in art and in life: participating in the 30 Lists blog hop, prepping and throwing a Middle East-themed potluck dinner party with my friends from high school, hitting Virginia for a wine-tasting, and (as always) playing with pattern.

I also started sharing the cards on Instagram. (One of these days I'll figure out how to have nifty little icons for all my social media profiles on my blog sidebar, but that day hasn't come yet.) It felt disproportionately daunting for such a minor thing - but somehow it is less intimidating to share my various endeavors with people, many of them strangers, in this space than it is to slap them in the Instagram feeds of my colleagues and my high school classmates and whoever else may be following me. It felt like vulnerability for sure - getting out of your comfort zone and daring greatly and all that jazz.

But putting myself out there also meant I could link up with the #yearofcreativehabits crew that inspired this whole project. It's part of the process of owning who I am and what I like regardless of who my audience is. And those are very good things.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The daily card, week 33: notes to self edition

On Sunday of this week, Austin and I were listening to Weekend Edition as we worked on some writing (him) and made muffins (me). In between segments on dying villages in Galicia and dogs who can detect cancer, a French swimmer came on to talk about his upcoming swim across the Pacific Ocean. Speaking to how he handles the mental challenge of such a daunting physical task, he said, "I try not to think about the entire ocean. Instead I pretend I'm swimming in a pool, and the pool is moving with me."

It's one of my favorite things I've heard in a while - it's hard to think of a more poignant way to talk about not getting overwhelmed by an entire project but instead just getting started and taking one step at a time. And he had a shark follow him for five days once, so he has definitely earned the right to come up with motivational sayings. It reminds me of the E.L. Doctorow quote: "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

Otherwise this week is full of notes to self- the little themes and lessons each day holds that may or may not stick with me in a lasting way but, taken together, are what's going on in my head these days. Also inspired this week by: my Rifle Paper Co phone case and my Method hand soap. (Neither of which furnished any promotional consideration.)

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Currently: September 2015

Sharing the best jumping/self-timer photo I have possibly ever taken. And I'm not ashamed to say so (even less than I was ashamed to set up this shot in front of other winery-goers in Virginia last weekend).

Exploring coastal California this week - we'll be in Napa when this goes live and then traveling down the coast, ending up in Newport Beach to see my sister.

Packing warmer layers and so excited to be missing a week of muggy heat in DC.

Feeling incredibly lucky to get to do so much traveling at this stage in my life - from big international trips to last-minute weekend jaunts to see friends and family. Between big adventures in the shoulder seasons (Central America in May and now California in September) and weekend trips to NYC, Michigan, Maryland's Eastern Shore, and Virginia, it's been a fantastic summer.

Adulting. Inspired by some combination of turning 26, getting kicked off my parents' health insurance, getting the Get to Work Book, and - let's be real - procrastinating on other stuff, I made a list in July of everything I need to do to be a better adult, and I've been slowly working through it. This has included getting a credit card, finding a primary care physician (and then a chiropractor and a dentist), starting contributions to my retirement savings, and renewing my driver's license (and soon my passport). It's been annoying at points, but the peace of mind - and the empowerment that comes from feeling like an adult - is well worth it.

Discovering that most of those adulting tasks were so much easier than I thought. I have procrastinated getting a credit card for years. Once I'd done some good-enough research online and picked out a card, I was approved within seconds. Because often the hardest part is getting started.

Trying to remember that in every area of my life.

Dealing with some gnarly lower back pain. Hence the chiropractor. Hope that this is not the beginning of my inevitable physical decline now that I'm closer to 30 than 20.

Harvesting tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, basil, and peppers from the community garden. Not doing so hot with the squash or cucumbers, but - since I got a late start with planting and since summer in DC lasts through September - there's still time to turn that around. But also...

Letting it go in the garden. This is the time of year when I give up, just a little bit, on getting every last weed. And I've been benignly neglecting it a bit this summer, usually just watering it twice a week. It's what's worked for me this year and I'm totally okay with that.

Choosing photos for my Week in the Life album. But with the way things are rolling these days, I will probably still be finishing up when Ali and her crew have moved onto December Daily. Once again, I'm totally okay with that.

Editing Austin's writing... and remembering how much I enjoy that creative process.

Hearing wild geese on the Eastern Shore, which always heralds the change of seasons, and...

Embracing it. Summer goes by even faster as an adult than it did as a kid - but, at least this year, the end of summer doesn't mean going back to school. So I am excited for apple picking and dinners outside on our patio and all the other good stuff that cooler weather will bring.

Screwing up my courage to figure out what's next. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The daily card, week 32

Favorite techniques this week - "cloudy day" is from a mod-podged Anthropologie mailer. And I have a feeling more JCrew ladies, like the one from August 13, will be back with life and career advice before this project is over.

Failed techniques this week - wax resist. It didn't work with water-soluble crayons (go figure, I guess) on August 14 and it didn't show up with regular crayons on August 16. I like the sentiments from those cards, but the execution flopped a bit. No big deal - onto the next. :)

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.