Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Universal Harvester


"It's not that nobody ever gets away: that's not true. It's that you carry it with you. It doesn't matter that the days roll on like hills too low to give names to; they might be of use later, so you keep them. You replay them to keep their memory alive. It feels worthwhile because it is."

●●●

I finished reading Universal Harvester by John Darnielle literally minutes before his event started at BookPeople on Saturday night, and (like most everyone else I've talked to) I wasn't really sure what to make of it. It is very well-written and intriguing, mysterious and creepy. It's one of those books that you have to ruminate on for a few days before you can really decide what you think of it–or, at least, that was my experience.

The story takes place in the late 1990s–a time before the Internet made video rental stores obsolete and everyone still had a VCR–in the small town of Nevada (neh-VAY-duh), Iowa. Jeremy Heldt works at the Video Hut in town where he sees the same people every week. He goes home every night to eat dinner and watch a movie with his widowed father. Sometimes they talk about Jeremy finding another job, trying something new, but it never goes beyond that. It's all a part of the routine, which is fine with Jeremy.

Then something breaks his routine. When a customer returns her rental of Targets, she makes a point to tell Jeremy: "There's something on this one." A couple of days later, another customer complains that a tape of She's All That cuts out in the middle and another movie starts playing. The scenes patched into these films appear to be home videos, but are somehow ominous, sometimes violent, and always unsettling. Despite himself, Jeremy is drawn in.

As the story unfolds, it poses more questions than answers. If you're expecting all loose ends tied by the last page, you may initially be disappointed, but I say give it a day or two. You'll realize, like me, that this story wasn't really about the video tapes. I would argue that it's not even a horror novel, as some have dubbed it. There were definitely parts that sent chills down my spine (including a passage on page 74 that was so good I read it aloud to anyone who would listen), but it's much more than that. It's a novel about grief and loss and coping–maybe not getting over, but moving on the best we can.

-Maggie

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

February Goals


01. APPLY FOR MY PASSPORT (ASAP!) | Applied, paid the extra $70 to expedite it (just in case), and received it a couple of weeks ago! I'm so thankful passports are good for ten years because getting my application in was an ORDEAL.

02. STUDY FOR THE GRE FOR ONE HOUR, THREE TIMES A WEEK | Done! I didn't always study three separate times, but I actually studied for more than three hours every week! I mean, I still feel incredibly unprepared and will probably still fail, but that's okay.

03. FINALLY GET MY BOOTS FIXED | Picked them up last week! It was so easy and inexpensive and why didn't I just get it done three years ago?

04. POWER DOWN BY 10:30 EVERY NIGHT | I was good about this for the first part of the month, but then our new president was sworn in and everything kind of went to shit, which made it really, really difficult to stop myself from obsessively checking social media for more terrible news...

Three out of four isn't bad way to start the year though. On to February!

01. ACTUALLY POWER DOWN BY 10:30 EVERY NIGHT
For my own sanity, I have to learn to do this. It's important to stay informed, but I won't be any help to anyone if I'm mentally and physically exhausted.

02. TRY ONE NEW RECIPE A WEEK
This was an unofficial goal of mine last month (which resulted in a very good omelette and some mediocre chicken fettuccine alfredo) but I'm hoping to find a few more easy recipes I really love. Open to any and all suggestions!

03. FINISH TWO BOOKS
Remember when I was like, "Maybe I'll finish my first to-read list before the new year!"? I was way too optimistic, as it's now February and I'm not even halfway through. I'm currently working on Us by David Nicholls, and am hoping to finish that up plus one more (whether for book club or another from the list) before the end of this month!

So that's it for February! What are your goals for the month? As always, I'm linking up with Nicole at writes like a girl and encourage you to do the same!

-Maggie

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

This is what democracy looks like.




The day after the inauguration, millions of people across the country and around the world marched for equality in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington. There were over 50,000 people in Austin alone, and I was one of them. (Apparently, we broke the record for the largest protest in Texas history.) It was the most incredible thing I've ever been a part of, and I'll remember it for the rest of my life.

A few friends and I met up for breakfast at Counter Cafe before the march and walked to the Capitol building, the starting point of the march, together. The closer we got to Congress Avenue, the more people we could see wearing pink "pussy" hats and purple shirts (the chosen color of the Austin march), carrying homemade signs that said "WOMEN'S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS" and "HEAR OUR VOICE." I started getting choked up once we turned onto Congress and could clearly see the mass of people walking towards and surrounding the Capitol building. I thought (for not the first or last time that day), "I'm going to cry a lot today."





People of all ages, ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds gathered on the Capitol grounds to wait for the march to start. A girl-power playlist boomed over the loudspeakers while everyone talked and laughed, took pictures of each other and their favorite signs, and searched from friends and family in the crowd.

If you saw a wild-eyed blonde girl running around, asking to take pictures of strangers, that was probably me. (I literally chased down a woman carrying a Dr. Seuss-inspired sign.) The pictures here are only some of my favorites, but I shared all that I took in a public album on my Facebook, if you're interested.




I've never been good at estimating numbers of people. I obviously had hoped a lot of people would come, and, standing among the crowd, I knew there were a lot of people there. But if you had asked me for a number, I probably would have tentatively said, "Thousands?" Certainly not tens of thousands–not fifty freaking thousand people. It was estimated that it would take about an hour and a half for everyone to complete the march route and arrive back at the Capitol, but an hour and a half in people were still funneling through the three gates to exit the Capitol grounds. Those at the front of the march had already made it back before I was even close to the street.

An older lady behind me (who carried a sign that said "WE WILL NOT GO BACK" in bright red letters) told me that of all the marches she'd been to, this was the "slowest" one. "It's just because there are so many people here," she said, "which is amazing!" There were people hanging out of open windows and standing on balconies, waving their own signs and chanting with us. A large quilted banner that said "LOVE TRUMPS HATE" hung from the side of a parking garage, and even more people were lining every level of the garage.

It was amazing to witness the unity, the love. We marched for women, for Muslims, for black lives, for LGBTQ, for Natives, for all people of color—for everyone whose rights are being threatened and for those who still do not have their rights. It was never about any one of us, but about all of us. As a straight white woman, I have a TON of privileges, and I hope that I can continue to use my position to elevate the voices of those who do not have the same privileges as me. We are so much better together.



The last eleven days have been hard (I can't believe it's only been eleven days), but I'm trying to keep in mind all of the good things–all of the sister marches around the world, the spontaneous protests at airports across the country, lawyers working pro bono to help those who'd been detained, all those using their platforms to speak out and fight.

There are so many people fighting! It's important that we keep fighting, and there are so many ways we can do that. The organizers of the Women's March on Washington launched a campaign for ten actions to take in the first hundred days, and Cup of Jo shared a few links on their wrap up of the Women's March. This site helps you make five calls a day to your congresspersons, and here are helpful tips on how to make those calls when you have social anxiety (c/o Nicole).

Take care of yourselves, guys. Stay loud.

-Maggie

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Few Things



Evening, all. How was your long weekend? Mine was full, but full of really fun and inspiring things. Here are few links I curated for you to peruse on your lunch break (or, more likely, to use as an aid in your procrastination).

→ If you didn't get a chance to on Monday, make sure you make time to read through Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". The part that really stuck with me: "I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice... Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating to me than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

→ Did you catch President Obama's farewell address? What about the surprise ceremony to award Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom? I guess what I'm really asking here is how much did you cry last week?

→ One more: Transcript of an interview with Obama about books, what they mean to him, and why they're important.

→ I've been seeing a therapist since April, but I decided that my session on Friday night would be my last (and wept like a child when we said goodbye). I'm in a good place, but would not be here now had it not been for therapy–and I don't know if I would have found my therapist had it not been for the advice I received from Nicole. If you've ever considered therapy, but have no idea where to start, read her post on how to find a therapist.

One of my favorites heard on Sunday night at Austin Writers Resist at BookPeople.

→ This Saturday I'm participating in the Women's March on Austin in solidarity with the march in Washington and others across the world. I don't know if "excited" is the right word to describe my feelings leading up to Saturday. Perhaps "energized" is more appropriate. Will I see you there?

→ To end on a lighter note: More Reasonable New Year's Resolutions for 2017.

-Maggie

Monday, January 9, 2017

January Goals



The last time I participated in Nicole's link-up was... October. Maybe I should just start doing quarterly goals rather than monthly because that's how good my consistency has been. Nevertheless, I am here to try again! Let's recap October's before we move into what I'm hoping for January.

01. DRINK (AT LEAST) ONE LITER OF WATER EVERY DAY | I did this! In October, at least. After that, I promptly forgot about it, but I know I have been better about drinking water... just maybe not one liter every day. Work in progress!

02. GO TO ONE EARLY MORNING WORKOUT | I did it! It was so hard to drag myself out of bed and I'm definitely thankful it's not something I'll have to do every week, but dammit I did it!

Two for two! I'm looking to push myself a little more in January and set a few more goals. Hopefully I will have the same success!

01. APPLY FOR MY PASSPORT (ASAP!)
I'm hoping to visit Vancouver in March, which would be my first trip out of the country! I know I should've had my passport taken care of a couple of months ago, but I didn't know that I was (possibly, hopefully) going to Vancouver a couple of months ago. I'm probably going to have to pay the extra $60 to expedite the process, but it'll be worth it, right?

02. STUDY FOR THE GRE FOR ONE HOUR, THREE TIMES A WEEK
I signed up to take the GRE on February 18th, which will be here before I know (or am ready for) it. I know if I don't set aside a minimum amount of time that I will either forget completely or put it off and try to cram the night before (which you obviously can't do with the GRE). Wish me luck!

03. FINALLY GET MY BOOTS FIXED
Once upon a time, I found the perfect pair of vintage cognac leather ankle boots at Room Service Vintage that were cheap and in my size, and I promptly scooped them up. Then, only a few days later, I nearly fell to my death when the heel came off the right boot while I was walking down the stairs at my grandparents' house. I've been meaning to get them fixed for awhile now... and a few days ago I realized that "awhile" is actually four years. That's right–that happened four years ago.

04. POWER DOWN BY 10:30 EVERY NIGHT
I'm a notorious night owl, so a few days off with no obligations can easily throw off my sleep schedule. I feel like I'm still catching up from the holidays, and I'm still struggling to get to bed early. I know a large part of the problem is my phone and TV habits, so I'm going to work on "powering down" by 10:30 every night so I can get some sleep.

What are your January goals? Don't forget to link-up over at writes like a girl!

-Maggie 

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