February 9th, 2016

book talk // a tale for the time being.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki was, in a word, unexpected.

I picked it up because a remaindered copy was on sale at my local bookstore and I liked the cover art, plus I had a vague understanding that it was about Japan.

The story itself involves the lives of two different characters and takes place in two different times: Ruth, a novelist (who is both the novelist of this story, and not) living in Whaletown, Canada and Nao (pronounced: now) a bullied teenager who lives in Tokyo, Japan. The diary and Ruth’s reality exist about a decade apart.

Ruth, living in a secluded part of Canada, finds Nao’s diary, along with some other letters and a watch, washed up in a plastic bag on the beach. Immediately, Ruth begins to piece together the elements within the bag, weaving a living tapestry of a Japanese teen, despite Nao’s story being told an ocean away, and in the past tense — something Ruth (and the reader) often forget. Nao’s story is so personal, witty and intimate that I found it impossible to not like her. Ruth’s story is more reserved, withdrawn, as she delves deeper into the mystery of the teen’s timeline.

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

In what appeared to be an epistolary novel, interspersed with present time commentary, A Tale for the Time Being is actually realistic fiction with some magical realism elements and lots of philosophy. There are also postmodern, metafictional elements (which I wasn’t expecting at all), such as footnotes, appendices and the novelist herself who is trying to write a memoir and is, but also isn’t, writing the story we are currently reading. There’s intellectual discourse on ocean flows, gyres,  indigenous / nonindigenous species, Zen Buddhism and a smattering of quantum physics toward the end (which I admittedly skimmed).

If you have patience, it’s all immensely interesting.

Patience is essential for a book whose most persistent theme is time and appreciating the here and now (Nao, get it?). The symbolism for time is heavy without feeling oppressive. First, Nao’s diary is bound in the hardcover of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time, there is also the blunt discussion of suicide (wasting the now), Altzheimer’s (losing one’s memory and therefore sense of time), the constant resurgence of both crows and cats (animals with attachments to archetypal mysticism and the crossing of planes — just a personal note: I think there’s only one cat in the story) and, finally, a kamikaze’s (sky soldier) watch which needs constant tending, winding, much like one’s own life.

“Life is fleeting. Don’t waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!” 

In the end, the lives of the women overlap, blur together, as Ozeki toys with our understanding of time, letting past and present wrap together in a slowly revolving gyre that skirts both reality and illusion.

Overall Rating: 4 stars
Recommendation: Man Booker followers, anyone wanting to wake up

February 1st, 2016

book talk // some thoughts on harry potter.


I read Harry Potter as an adult. I read it while I was living in South Korea and, somehow, my days were longer, stretched thin like gossamer, and words poured more easily into me. I read a lot that year, but Harry Potter lingered in a way that the others did not.

I didn’t read the books as they came out. I was determinedly reading whatever could attain the most AR points, pointedly ignoring anything that was on a reading level beneath my own.

I lived almost entirely in my own head, but constantly strove to learn new words and achieve, achieve, achieve. As a child who believed she could find Narnia in the back of her father’s wardrobe, I can now say, that skipping Harry Potter was a mistake.

But, I made up for it eventually. And with rather interesting results.

What new can be said about Harry Potter? Probably nothing. But I would like to outline my own take on the novels just for posterity’s sake.

The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets:  Less than extraordinary, to me. Perhaps because I found the youthful Harry unrelateable. Perhaps it’s because I have been a teacher and having a student like Harry, who is so often deliberately getting himself into trouble, would inspire Snape-like feelings in me. I found myself identifying far more with the Hogwarts educators than the wayward youngsters.

The Prisoner of Azkaban: Shit starts to get real, siriusly.

The Goblet of Fire: I watched the movie directly after finishing this one. It’s still one of my favorites (movie and book) because of the Yule Ball, the other wizarding academies and Harry’s unintended entry into the competition forcing him to really accept his role as “hero.”

The Order of the Pheonix: The one with all the angst. I really disliked Harry in this book, he behaves rather selfishly throughout and I found myself enjoying the subplots more than what was happening with him.

The Half-Blood Prince: It’s been a while since a book made me ugly cry like that. It actually gives me goosebumps just reliving the ending.

The Deathly Hallows: Easily the most well written story in the series, and just dark enough. I did, however, feel as though the ending was a bit rushed after weeks and weeks of Horcrux hunting. Or maybe I just didn’t want it to end — that’s probably more accurate.

The books mature in a way that few stories can accomplish — something that, I think, truly showcases JK Rowling’s masterful storytelling. In all the ways that the first book felt young, the final book felt almost shockingly adult.

These books provided me with a wholly developed magical world that I could happily imagine myself into as easily as Narnia or Middle Earth. Perhaps more so, as the journey begins in London, somewhere more realistically accessible than The Shire.

The saga of Harry Potter wove itself into my being; the adventure of an epic hero on par with Bilbo Baggins and Luke Skywalker. I identified as a Ravenclaw. I wanted to be a Muggle Studies professor. And then, I visited Harry Potter World this past summer and was offered the unique chance to live out scenes from my imagination. I bought a wand, I cast spells, I drank butterbeer, I got motion sick on a broom (no Quidditch for me).

Then, Alan Rickman died. I watched via the Internet as someone left a lily at the Potions door and others raised their wands together in silent tribute. It seems silly, but Snape was one of my favorite characters and it struck me that his role would never be reprised by one of my favorite actors. We mourned him in real life as we mourned Dumbledore in the novels.

Then, I got a Snape tribute tattoo. I’d been thinking about it for a while — how to permanently showcase the effect these books had on my life, my imagination, and how they saved me from mentally breaking down at several points in my adult life. I got it because it’s real for us. I got it because tattoos fill me with endorphins. I got it because I’m a huge geek and I want to start conversations with fellow geeks.

Now the transformation is both whole and complete.

January 18th, 2016

book talk // carry on.

Sometimes when I finish reading a book, I am hesitant to begin another one immediately because I feel like I am cheating on the former. It’s silly, but I am a very monogamous book reader.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was one of those books.

I didn’t want it to end and immediately wanted to discuss it, with ANYone, but I was banished to a cone of silence because no one else I know has read it.  Instead, I trolled Goodreads reviews and re-read my favorite parts over the next day or so. I rarely re-read parts of books — but I was curious to re-examine my own emotional attachments to the characters and Rowell’s development of her magical world.

I also wanted to determine why I wanted to re-read it forever. I’m still not 100% sure.

I don’t read a lot of YA — this is beneficial in that it helps me avoid the inherent hype of a new novel, but I rarely have anyone to discuss YA with, which is another reason I avoid it. I read Fangirl by Rowell last year and, much to my surprise, I greatly enjoyed it. I’d read Rowell’s other books and had experienced very little prolonged interest in the characters, but I latched onto Cath in Fangirl because she so closely exemplified myself at that age.

So, Carry On was a book based in part on Cath’s fanfiction which was based on a fictional Harry Potter-like story she was obsessed with in Fangirl. To clarify, this is a book, based on a fanfiction of a fictional book, inside of another fictional novel written by Rowell in our plane of existence (super meta).

The thing is, when I was reading Fangirl, I, like many readers, didn’t really care about Simon and Baz. Cath’s obsession with building on a quirky, magical world, to me, only served as a plot device to further her relationship with Levi and develop her character. Carry On has little to no connection to Cath’s story, and instead reads as the original story she was perhaps basing her own fanfiction on.

The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I followed suit. Simon, the “Chosen One,” goes to a magical school and has a vampire roommate, Baz, who’s naturally perceived as “evil” and Simon’s obvious nemesis — they also have complicated feelings toward one another. Penelope is Simon’s quirky, smart, and driven bff, Agatha is his friend / sort-of girlfriend. The book boils down to the fantasy side-story of the politics and goings-ons in the World of Mages and the more character driven story-line of Simon, Baz, Agatha and Penelope (plus, the gay wizard romance — let’s admit, the main draw of Rowell’s novel is her adorable romantic plots, and this one is no exception).

Overall, I liked all the characters and thought they were quite well-rounded. They made me giggle and, as much as I hate to admit it, I got REALLY wrapped up in shipping Simon / Baz. As a reader, I could have used more scenes of tension and perhaps a bit more introspection on behalf of Simon. Baz knew what he wanted.

One thing I think Rowell did very well was developing her world in one novel. She referenced things that had happened to the characters in previous years and built on that without having actually written a prequel / sequel. Also, despite disliking Agatha’s character, I did like the ending Rowell created for her. I also appreciated the character diversity Rowell strove for.

One thing I will acknowledge is that Carry On might not have been as successful without Harry Potter blazing the initial trail. As a culture, we have already accepted the existence of a magical wizard college that “Normals” can’t see. We have accepted the inherent controversy that comes with seeking power within said magical world. Perhaps, without this implied acceptance, Carry On would not have tugged at my heartstrings the way it did.

That said, this is not the Harry Potter series. It is it’s own story. And, while the first third of the novel is a little slower than the rest (I didn’t find it unenjoyable, it’s just slower, more character-building) — the last third of the novel is just…. yeah. And, with the overwhelming amount of novels that provide us with unhappy endings, sometimes my favorite novels are ones where the characters are put through the ringer and left still standing at the end. Better for it all.

This book is adorable. Read it immediately. Then tell me, so we can talk about it.

Overall Rating: 4.5 stars
Recommendation: Fellow geeks, anyone willing to get lost in a magical world, Harry Potter / Rainbow Rowell fans

January 13th, 2016

book talk // the story of my teeth.

imagesI first saw The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli featured prominently at a local bookstore. Then, a friend described it to me as their “favorite book of 2015.” Naturally, I had to check it out.

However, days later, I still feel about The Story of My Teeth the way I do when I wander out of some ultra modern art exhibit made of gum, a dirty urinal, and an excess of stranger’s clipped fingernails. I walk outside, blink the light from my eyes, and think, “What the eff did I just witness?”

The book starts strong with a narrator named Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, or Highway, who first works as a guard at the local Jumex factory, then becomes a late in life auctioneer. I loved Highway’s voice, his hyperbolic spin on the world around him (thus making him a successful auctioneer, a seller of stories) and his endless procession of advice bearing “uncles.”

My uncle, Solon Sánchez Fuentes, a salesman dealing in quality Italian ties, used to say that beauty, power, and early success fade away, and they’re a heavy burden for those who possess them, because the prospect of their loss is a threat few can endure. 

The novel, lacking a substantive plot, instead remixes storytelling into something new where Luiselli layers story upon story upon story until we are witnessing the evolution of some sort of postmodern meta-story.

Halfway through the book, the narrative takes a very surreal turn with some horrifying talking clowns in an actual art exhibit much like the one I described above. Highway finds himself having an existential conversation with his estranged son via an animated clown art installation (yes, this is where the book lost my interest a little). The extreme dip into surrealism, followed by the epilogue that essentially punctures the dream Luiselli has spent the entire novel concocting, left me slightly unsatisfied. There is also much name dropping (Dostoyevsky, Woolf, etc.) and much that I feel my ex-MFA compatriots would have drooled over.

My interest was piqued once more at the end when Luiselli explains the process she took in writing The Story of My Teeth. Luiselli wrote the novel in chapbook installments that she sent to Mexico City, where the actual Jumex workers read them, provided feedback via recordings and, in turn, helped shape the course of her novel. Jumex really does sponsor the art gallery that features so prominently in the book. Luiselli even provides photographic proof of the clowns (which I could have done without, so frightening). With this revelation, her novel again finds entirely new ground in collaborative story-telling.

I understand the importance of this novel as a work to be studied, but as a work to be enjoyed — it was good, but it wasn’t my favorite. Such is the risk in reading experimental fiction, I suppose.

End of review.

Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended for: fans of postmodern literary fiction and anyone interested in the Mexican literary scene (her sense of place in Mexico City is wonderful)

January 9th, 2016

2015 // in review.

I stopped reading self-help books a few years ago.

In 2011, when I was unemployed, I obsessively trolled minimalism websites, read self-help books and became a vegetarian in an attempt to regain some semblance of control over my life.

Now, free from the assistance of self-proclaimed gurus, I feel more secure in myself. This comes from experience, self-awareness, hard work, and flexibility – although patience too has its merits, I am not well-versed in the practice.

I’ve seen a lot of posts lambasting 2015 as one of the worst years on record.

For me, this year has been one of the wildest, and one of the best.

In 2015:

  • The year began with us digging our car out of the snow, using pizza boxes as shovels  – that roadtrip really set the pace and tone for the rest of 2015.
  • I snowshoe hiked up a mountain in Lake Tahoe.
  • I got engaged in Golden Gate Park.
  • Two months later, I got married in Las Vegas.
  • I lived in San Francisco, then rural Texas, then San Francisco again.
  • I loved and lost a brood of Buff Orpington chickens.
  • I was a teacher — and then I wasn’t.
  • I read 50 books.
  • I took a week long solo trip to Mexico — my first time traveling alone.
  • I took a family vacation to Disney World and Harry Potter World.
  • I spent long weekends in Austin and Joshua Tree and and Napa and New Orleans.
  • I finished graduate school and earned my M.Ed.
  • I got a job working as an academic advisor at a private art university.

I will turn 30 in 2016 and I’ve honestly been trying to conjure up the fear society promised me. The panic. The heightened sense of time’s passage.

I find myself slightly disappointed when I keep coming up empty.

Of course, there are always new things to experience, to learn, to achieve. But, I’ve accomplished all the goals I set for myself (and some I hadn’t — like falling in love and moving back to the Bay) and I plan to enter the next year with heightened self-awareness and more confidence than I’ve possessed before.

September 2nd, 2015

newlyweds.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that Jared and I got married this summer. I’ve kept the whole experience fairly close to the chest, mostly because I didn’t feel like splashing everything all over social media. We wanted a quiet wedding, time to process our new life, and space to keep it to ourselves for a while. But, I suppose it’s time to tell a bit of the story.

Jared and I met in college. He had long hair, a bandana and a laid-back attitude that continues to both baffle and comfort me. I found him immensely interesting, and I guess he thought I was okay too, because we have been close friends for about ten years now. Five years ago, we decided to see what would happen if we took that friendship to a courtship level. It went very well. We started dating, we moved to South Korea, then Houston, then San Francisco. We traveled a lot. We learned a lot. We supported each other in myriad ways.

When I went on my solo trip to Mexico in April, Jared was very supportive of my introvert’s need for quiet. However, when I came back, he proposed to me with sushi, champagne and a question hidden in a ceramic fortune cookie in Golden Gate Park. I was very surprised! I joke that he realized he didn’t want to ever miss me that much again. He even bought me a ring from Paxton Gate, despite my prior statements about not needing one.

A day after getting engaged, we set a date for two months later in Las Vegas, the place where we first said “I love you” many years ago. We invited our immediate family. I ordered my dress from a Chinese warehouse for $120. We booked a hotel suite and a time at the chapel. And, somehow, the wedding photographer I wanted was available on our date, and only our date. Just like that, we were getting married!

We were married at Little Vegas Chapel (not by Elvis). We rode in a white limo down the Strip, holding hands and laughing, and arrived to our friends and family greeting us. The wedding was short and sweet, I loved every minute, then we took photos and had a casual dinner at the Bellagio buffet — we got to skip the line, don’t worry. It was intimate, kitschy, a little weird. and so very “us.” We stayed in Vegas for four days to relax and spend some alone time together. It was such a unique experience and easily the best decision I’ve ever made.

Now, we’ve been married for almost three months, reality has settled, and it seems like everything was just a hazy, daydream. I still feel a little floaty.

All photos by Gaby J Photography

August 4th, 2015

weekend getaway // new orleans.

School starts soon. I’m already making lesson plans, studying my teacher’s edition lit book and spending all of my money on classroom supplies. I decided we needed one more weekend adventure before I start drowning in stacks of essays. With our newfound proximity to the Louisiana border, I realized we are quick getaway distance to New Orleans! And so, off we went.

I have visited New Orleans a few times, but not since Hurricane Katrina, and Jared had never been — so with approximately 48 hours to spend in the city, I chose to situate us in the French Quarter. Yes, it’s the more touristy neighborhood, but it’s very walkable and has a high concentration of restaurants, history and shops in a small area. We stayed at the Inn on Ursulines, a quiet guesthouse that also gives a teacher discount (fellow teachers: always ask about discounts!). It had a quirky, historic feel, but in a rewarding way that made me forget to resent ducking under our doorway.

New Orleans is one of those authentic cities that embraces its grit. The French Quarter style is a mix of ornate iron, exposed brick, wild balcony greenery spilling over onto gas-lit alleyways; everything is accompanied by an abundance of music, a different sound around every corner. We were completely comfortable getting totally lost. New Orleans also has this magical ability to make you feel as though you’ve found an 1800′s Parisian alleyway; few American cities transport you so wholly.

After putting our bags in the room, we commenced wandering down the street, and accidentally inserted ourselves directly into an already rolicking street festival. Unaware of the festival’s premise, we paid a nominal fee and found ourselves swept up and into the Satchmo Summerfest, a celebration of Louis Armstrong. We listened to jazz and swing bands, watched people Lindy Hop and danced to “When the Saints Go Marching In.” We had authentic Snowballs (coconut & cream, forever), and sampled both jambalaya and fried chicken. It was the perfect way to start the trip.

Let’s be real, New Orleans is all about the food. Jared and I are fairly adventurous eaters, so we usually feast our way through a city. The first day, after walking off our street festival snacks, we stopped at Cafe du Monde for beignets, chicory coffee and hot chocolate — the hot chocolate is a spiritual experience, I swear. For dinner I made advance reservations at Cafe Amelie, a courtyard cafe that turned out to be mere steps from our hotel. We both opted for lamb meatball pasta (sometimes we order the exact same thing, it’s why we’re married), which was quite good, but a little too heavy in the oppressive Gulf coast heat; and, while the restaurant was lush and lovely, the vibe was fairly overwrought with a loud bachelorette party in attendance. In search of a more subdued atmosphere, and some air conditioning, we ended up at Arnaud’s where I tried the much lauded French 75, a local cocktail made from cognac and champagne.

The next day, we woke up early, around 7, as we tend to, and had a quick breakfast at Cafe Beignet. We intended to walk around and do some antique shopping, however, we quickly learned that New Orleans is a city of late risers and nothing really opens until 10. Finally, when people began to stir, I insisted we stop by Faulkner House Books, a former home of William Faulkner, and where he wrote his first novel. The boarding house now operates as a specialty bookstore. Of course, I came away with a few souvenirs. We continued our hunt for New Orleans weirdness in the voodoo shops and antique / second-hand stores. Antique stores always hold the secrets of a city and I try to seek them out wherever we go.

We hit our walking limit and decided to stop in at Royal House Oyster Bar for chargrilled oysters, fried alligator and a Pimm’s Cup. After a quick nap at the hotel (hey, we got up early!) and some diligent relaxing, we got ready for dinner at Kingfish. We decided to order small plates instead of two huge entrees in order to more widely sample the menu — so, we tried fried pimiento cheese fritters, a boudin tamale and “nachos” with pulled pork and cracklin’s substituted for the more common tortilla chips. Heaven! This place is a must stop, and I am already planning a trip back with an empty stomach. I wish we had tried some cocktails, but we made up for that by stopping off at Carousel Bar & Lounge in the Monteleone Hotel to conclude our evening.

We left early the next morning, echoes of big bands ringing in our ears, driving down streets lined with Spanish moss, that used to have Spanish names. I thought about the French settlers who gave this vibrant city life and the diverse culture that has manifested itself in the intervening years. New Orleans, I like you. We will be back.

July 21st, 2015

book talk // swamplandia.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell is a book about the alligator-wrestling Bigtree clan living, essentially alone, in the Florida swamps. Chief Bigtree, who is not a native-American at all, runs a fairly successful tourist attraction called Swamplandia! where his wife, Hilola Bigtree, is the star — each night she dives into a pit of alligators (whom they lovingly call “Seth”, or “the Seths”) and emerging, unscathed, at the other end of the pit. However, when Hilola dies of cancer, she leaves behind her legacy: three children, Ossie, Ava and Kiwi, along with a slightly delusional husband who thinks he can somehow resurrect the now defunct Swamplandia! in a way that he could not save his wife.

Separated from any children their own age, the story delves into the imaginary world the Bigtree kids create for themselves — a survival tactic that holds the tenuous threads of their understanding together. Ossie begins to retreat further and further from reality and begins “dating” ghosts that she calls up from her homemade Ouija board and a creepy old book. Kiwi considers himself a genius and, with a letter composed of Thesaurus-laden adjectives, he departs Swamplandia!, defecting to their competition, World of Darkness, to save money for his family. When the Chief leaves and Ossie runs off, Ava is left in charge of trying to hold the family dreams together. With a Bird Man as her guide, she departs on a haunting and harrowing journey. The narrative switches between Kiwi’s (third-person) story of real-world problems with lousy paychecks, not having a high school diploma, and constant teasing from his co-workers and Ava’s (first-person) supernatural one. In many ways, his story is the more accessible. Ossie’s story, however, isn’t developed wholly after her disappearance (and I found myself irrationally angry at her selfishness, even though Ava never was), the reader can make logical inferences regarding the missing pieces, but Russell doesn’t fill in the gaps; instead, it’s Ava who truly acts as the book’s guiding compass, and her story diverges dramatically from her brother’s “mainland” experiences in night school, eating at fast food restaurants and learning curse words — Ava’s journey is a bit of Through the Looking Glass meets The Inferno, only swampier.

I think this book can be read in a variety of ways — a coming-of-age novel, magical realism or a parable using the Florida swamp as a mythical archetype. There are far too many references to hell (the World of Darkness is a hell-themed amusement park, the visitors referred to as “lost souls,” constant references to Ossie’s “underworld,” and the Bird Man who acts as Dante’s, I mean Ava’s, guide to hell) to not consider the archetypal implications. It’s a coming-of-age / loss-of-innocence novel for Ava especially, but also for all of the Bigtree children. Ava’s realization is the most drastic, and her enigmatic red Seth acts an important talisman for her experience.

It took me a while to read this book, not because it isn’t unique and enthralling — it is — but because I only wanted to read it in small pieces, to savor the setting and consider the characters. Russell’s use of time in her book paralleled my own reading of it in a way. Kiwi’s life on the mainland lasted for “weeks and weeks,” while Ava’s journey took mere days. At first I thought this disjointed timeline may have been due to bad copyediting, but the more I thought about it I realized that real life, when one is struggling to survive, feels like an endless journey with no true destination. On the other hand, Ava had a place in mind, a purpose, and her childlike (and perhaps naive) belief kept her cocooned in a dis-reality. Ava had no school, no friends, very few hobbies — her world was an endless twilight. Whereas Kiwi, with his myriad “adult” responsibilities, had a stricter schedule. I suppose childhood seems to many of us like a lost twilight and I believe Russell captured that in her novel. Additionally, prior to reading this book, I doubt I would have described the Florida swamps as “magical,” but I might do so now.

Essentially, Swamplandia! is based around an improbable ghost story, but really it shows a family struggling to cope with changes in their lives and how they manage to stay together and survive. Also, this is the second novel I’ve reviewed (Night Circus was the first) that centered around an amusement park / magical realism theme, I guess that niche genre speaks to me for some reason?

Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: fans of magical realism, gothicism or teen angst, lovers of mosquitos, questioners of time

July 16th, 2015

twenty-nine palms.

Our decision to leave San Francisco was a drawn out conversation with a quickly punctuated conclusion. Suddenly, it was mid-June and time to leave. We left the city at six AM, chasing the sunrise, knowing we’d only lose time as we crossed the country. We pulled away from the curb, leaving behind a mattress that I can only assume was snatched up and now resides in the homeless encampment a block away. We never bought a bed, that mattress was a large part of our world for over a year. I was a little sad to see it go. We drove 8-hours into Southern California, with a specific destination in mind.

You have no idea how much you could love places you never intended to go until you get there. Take Joshua Tree for example — two years ago, I had no idea where Joshua Tree NP was, let alone would I have endeavored to camp there. As it turns out, I loved the rarified landscape so much I just had to go back this summer when we made our final ride from San Francisco to Texas. There is no sunset like a desert sunset, and I wanted to soak up a few more. Camping, however, was out of the question in the 100+ degree heat. We stayed at an inn, and used the time to recharge, like solar cells in the desert sun. So, we swam, read, listened to live music and ate some really good food. The only stressor was our car’s a/c going out as we crossed the Mojave Desert. In a lightly humorous way it harkened back to forgetting our tent and sleeping in the car on our first Joshua Tree sojourn — it’s all part of the adventure.

I’ve been so busy it’s taken me a while to compose anything about the past month, but, even now, I am still conjuring up images of golden sand, cactus gardens and jackrabbits dotting the barren landscape. My recollection of this scene suffuses me with a comfortable warmth that I want to hug to my chest forever.

July 14th, 2015

a nerd in harry potter world.

I’ve been absent from the Internet for a week whilst exploring Orlando based theme parks with the unwashed masses, and my family. Of course we went to Disney World, however, pre-Disney I had the rarified opportunity to obtain a VIP experience at Universal Studios. I just happen to know a guy who knows a guy, and it was his birthday, so he took his friends and family to Universal. The innocuous VIP pass appears, at first, to be simply an inoffensive piece of monogrammed plastic, but its implications are both magnified and multifaceted. First, we were allowed to skip ahead in all the lines — I felt moderate guilt as I jumped ahead of a multitude of wide-eyed children, thankfully it wasn’t a lingering guilt as I literally did not wait in one line. Our group could re-ride rides, explore the backlots, eat free food, and we had a tour guide (Kendra) who ushered us around, peppering us with interesting park facts all day. Finally, and most importantly, this line skippage also applied to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — coincidentally, the only place in the park where you can’t use your (overpriced) expedited tickets — and this experience came with a complimentary Butterbeer tasting. I acknowledge that this was a once in a lifetime experience, unlikely to every be replicated, and it was awesome.

We visited Hogmeade first. The snow-capped rooftops looked particularly out of place in the sweltering Florida heat, but a storm rolled in mid-afternoon which provided an adequately moody backdrop. Once oriented, I hopped straight into Ollivanders with a single purpose — to find my wand. The rest of the group was not as enthusiastic at the prospect of wand shopping and I went solo through the stacks. While browsing, I discovered that some of the wands are interactive! How did I not know this before? The interactive wands come with a map of spell casting locations and the proper wrist-flicking combination to cast each spell. I chose a 15″ reed wand because the description spoke to me: “Reed wood is associated with scholarship and knowledge. Reed people are good with words, and steadfast in their beliefs. They are deeply rooted and extremely flexible. Reed people should trust in their ability to adapt to new situations without ever losing sense of who they are.”

Wand in hand, I set off to ride the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley. I only though Hogsmeade was impressive, Diagon Alley actually blew my mind. I tripped because I was blatantly gaping at the carefully created setting, every minute detail intended to spark both memory and imagination in the mind of any HP fan. Predictably, Escape from Gringotts was my favorite ride — because, dragons. I get motion sick fairly easily, so I didn’t enjoy the virtual broom flying ride inside Hogwarts (sorry Harry). In the inevitably awkward ride picture, I was leaning against the side of the cart looking particularly green — and it wasn’t from Gillyweed. Eventually, the rain started up in earnest and I retreated back to the Hogshead tavern where I procured another frozen Butterbeer (although they do have Firewhiskey as well), and then de-camped to Honeydukes for some chocolate frogs. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but if you like Harry Potter (the books or the movies) even a little bit, then this is a must-visit destination. Now, if I could only make it to Mordor…