I haven’t written much lately. Life seems to have gotten in the way, as it so often does. But a recent loss in my family has somehow brought me back to writing.

My grandmother (aka Nonny) recently passed away. Near the end of her sickness, as the entire family was trying to get affairs in order, the topic of an obituary came up. My dear aunt, who knows of my secret desire to write, volunteered me to tackle the task.

My first thought, panic. I had no idea what I would write. How could I possibly write about her and her life in a way that truly expressed how much I love her and how deeply I would miss her? But suddenly, and quickly, it came to me. I wrote it down immediately, afraid I would lose it, thinking I could always edit later. However, the more I looked at it, the more perfect it seemed.

Through unforeseen events (family drama, weird right?), it turned out my obituary was not destined to be used. But that’s okay. I still wrote it. It still exists as a testament to how I feel about my grandmother. It may not ever appear in the Sunday paper, but it can exist online. Here on my blog. On social media. And that is enough. I will miss my Nonny immensely, here is my written farewell to her. Rest well, Nonny, rest well.

“Wouldn’t that be fun?”, Patti Leafgren spoke those words often. Mother, wife, grandmother, aunt, sister, friend, these are just a few of the roles Patti filled throughout her life. For Patti, sitting around a table talking and playing games with those she loved was the best way to spend an evening. She loved sunshine and crafting (and enjoying the occasional glass of wine). But no matter what she was doing, she always made it fun. Patti passed peacefully in her sleep on the morning of June 29th, 2015, after a battle with cancer. She leaves behind her husband, Tom, her children, Jodi, Dan, and Michael, her grandchildren, and many others. She was a wonderful woman who will be missed by many. Wherever she is now, we know she will be having fun. IMG_1277


Writing Class: dabbling in some new styles

It has been awhile since I have posted anything on the blog (I do feel ashamed of this), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing! I have been doing quite a bit of old school, pen and paper writing thanks to the weekly writing class I have been attending. Sadly, tonight will be the last session of my writing class, but I have learned and written quite a bit, so I am very thankful for the past 5 weeks. This also means I will  be putting a little more focus back on the blog! First some pieces from writing class.

This class is focused on personal writing so it is a lot of “write whatever you feel in this moment” style of writing. The teacher has provided us with a variety of prompts and told us to go wherever our mood takes us. My writing has been mostly journaling and essays (though I have dabbled in a little fiction writing! However that is not ready for sharing quite yet). So without further ado, here is a little something I wrote last week.

My memory is like a vast expanse of land covered in varying degrees of fog. Nearest to where I currently stand it is simply a fine mist, easily seen through. The further away I travel, the denser the fog gets. And yet, sprinkled randomly throughout are large, glowing objects, visible no matter how thick the fog.

Some of these objects are dark, looming figures which give off an ominous aura the closer I creep. I don’t enjoy visiting these, though sometimes their pull is too strong to ignore. Other objects are bright, shining beacons which dispel all the fog nearest them. These are pure joy and I visit them frequently. However, they can be just as dangerous at the dark objects if they are visited too often.

That is the key to this fog laden land. Spend the right amount of time with both dark and light but never forget to return, through the fog and mist, back to where the sky is clear.

A few of my favorite things: books edition

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am currently taking a writing class focusing on personal writing. One of the prompts for this week was to write about your five favorite things, books, movies, music, etc. I thought, wow this will be easy and perfect for the blog! Though I think I could write about my five favorite of any of those, I am choosing books because I believe there is a direct correlation between my desire to write and my love of reading. So why not write about the books I love to read! So here they are my five favorite books.

  1. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. When someone asks me what my favorite book is this is the first title I throw out. My first copy of Gone with the Wind was a paperback I purchased at a library sale which cost me a whopping fifty cents. If I had heard of the book or the movie at that point it was only vaguely, so I am not sure what initially drew me to this book. Perhaps it was the dramatic cover featuring Rhett grasping Scarlett, while Atlanta burns in the foreground (after seeing the movie for the first time it is apparent the cover figures on this particular edition were modeled after Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, which only makes me love it more). I’m sure the back cover synopsis also played a role. A story that takes place during the Civil War with a strong headed heroine as the central figure. Sold! If I had to sum up why exactly I love Gone with the Wind I would say it’s that it is truly an epic. The span of this story is part of what contributes to this, it takes place over the course of more than a decade, but it’s also the story of the downfall of a society and the end of a way of life. Of course it was entirely necessary for this society to fall, it was based on  a morally corrupt and reprehensible system, but the story of this downfall and how the characters who lived within this society, the perpetrators of the crimes of this system, respond to it makes this story an epic. The fact that the heroine is flawed and mostly unlikable, only adds to the appeal for me. It isn’t an easy book and it certainly has its issues, for example that the author seems at times to be writing a troublesome love letter to the Old South, but I think you can use this romance about a young woman surviving the Civil War as a way to launch a discussion about the larger picture of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. If nothing else, it is a captivating story with memorable characters, and certainly a piece of American literary history.
  2. Anything by Jane Austen. Okay so this isn’t a specific title, but I felt this list had to include something by Austen and I couldn’t quite bring myself to choose just one. Pride and Prejudice is the first Jane Austen novel I ever read, and it is probably the novel I have reread the most times, but I truly love her entire body of work. The books are romances, yet they are also sharp critiques of the society in which Austen lived and women’s role in it. Plus, they are legitimately funny. Her heroines have a wide array of traits and personalities, but each of them is the hero of her own story and that is so refreshing.
  3. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. Again not a single book, but this story is a series and I think it is best discussed as such. I am a part of the generation which grew up with Harry Potter. I remember reading books one and two in 5th grade and I attended a midnight release for the 7th book the summer after I graduated from high school. It is because of this that these books will always hold a special place for me. It also happens to be one of the first series of books I ever read. The anticipation of waiting for the next book to come out, the sadness when the series that you have spent the past several years with has finally come to end, the first time I really experienced these feelings intensely was with Harry Potter. Of course it also helps that it is the story of regular boy who ends up saving his world, and that is a story that will always appeal to me.
  4. A Song of Ice and Fire Series, George RR Martin. I know, I know I keep counting multiple books as one entry on this list, but I feel this is legitimate when it comes to a series of books. They are generally one overarching story told over many installments. One story, one entry. I started reading this series the year the fifth book came out. I devoured all five of these monstrous tomes in about two months. To say I enjoyed them is an understatement. The thing I love the most about this series is the thing that everyone loves most, the characters. George RR Martin has created these vivid, flawed, realistic characters and everything from their histories down to the smallest bits of dialogue is captivating. Another great aspect of these books is a cultural one. You can sit and discuss and dissect these novels for hours (and believe me, I have). Anything that brings fellow readers together in such a way deserves a gold star in my book. (Note: Yes, yes the show is amazing too, however I strongly believe everyone who loves the show should check out the books. But don’t worry, not in a snobbish ‘the books are better’ way…though in this case I do think they are).
  5. This fifth slot is a tough one for me to fill. Not because I cannot think of another book which I love, but because there are so many other books that I love. The first four entries came to mind immediately when I was thinking about my list of favorite books. They are the ones that will always be at the top of my list. But when creating a list of merely five, the fifth slot seems more difficult to fill. It fluctuates depending on my mood and what I am reading at the time. Classics, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Modern fiction, Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. Contemporary Young Adult, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. Fantasy Young Adult, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Genre Fiction, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I read a lot of books and there have been many that have touched me in some way, many which have inspired me to read more and to write. So I am saving this slot for whatever book I fall in love with next.

Hurt so good: television that makes me cry

I noticed something recently, the older I get the more I like crying during movies, television, books, etc. I don’t think I am alone in this, sad stories have been around forever. ‘Tearjerkers’ is arguably a genre, or at the very least a Netflix category and isn’t that more important anyway? So what’s the deal, why do so many of us like these stories that make reach for the tissues? For me at least, I think it can be a sort of catharsis. I don’t cry often in real life, especially compared to how much I used to when I was younger (hint: it was A LOT), so maybe I am filling that void by tearing up during the stories of fictional characters.

In an attempt to solve this mystery, I decided to take a look at the things that make me cry most frequently. I’m using examples from television specifically because two shows immediately popped to mind, but also because we often tend to get more attached to television. We spend several episodes, sometimes over the course of several years with a set of characters, so we, perhaps foolishly, get attached to them and feel invested in their stories. The two shows that get me nearly every time? Parenthood and Doctor Who. (Obvious note: no doubt there are a myriad of reasons why people enjoy the feel good cry. This is merely a study of one, me. Using purely anecdotal evidence, me openly crying on my couch).

NBC’s Parenthood is a known tearjerker. It commonly leaves people curled up next to a pile of used tissues by the end of each episode (evidence: a friend’s Facebook update after watching the series finale, which included a real pile of used tissues). It hits us in a place that can’t help but stir the emotions: family. Even the happiest of families have issues. These issues are further complicated by the fact that we didn’t choose to have these people in our lives, yet (in most cases) we love them and (again, in most cases) we feel the need to preserve the relationships, at least somewhat. Parenthood knows this and it uses it to give us all the feels. The show has dealt with teenage romance, health issues, absent fathers, abortion, separation, job loss, aging parents, and a whole mess of other high emotion topics. Even if we can’t relate with a specific storyline or character (we can’t all be wealthy Californians after all), we can relate to the character’s emotions and their relationships with each other. Above all else, many of us can agree with what is arguably the show’s main thesis, family is hard, but you love them anyway.

Doctor Who may not make me cry during every episode like Parenthood, but it has me in tears quite a bit, and far more often than I would have thought. Unlike with Parenthood, it isn’t the close to home effect that gets me with Doctor Who, the best way I can describe it is as the ‘the universe is incredible, wide eyed with the possibilities’ effect. The Doctor is this powerful being who gets to travel throughout time and space meeting incredible people and seeing remarkable places, but he’s still lonely. The companions get to tag along for a short while, but in the end they are still human, with all the virtues and flaws that come along with that, and must return to their normal lives. But the fact that they get to experience it at all, even if for just a short while, is amazing. Life, the universe, the places you can go and the things you can do, in Doctor Who it is all so amazing and beautiful, and that beauty is what often brings me to tears.

What does this say about the elusive, feel good cry which I have come to adore? Well for me, it is either something which moves me on the closest, most intimate level or on the widest, big picture level. I want it to hit me close to home or make me in awe of the world. The dramas of familial relationships or the beauty of existence itself, throw either of those into the picture and you’ll likely get a tear or two from me.

Reading rut

Every avid reader has been there. You think about the books you’ve read most recently, you glance over your to-read list. A pattern emerges, the same authors, the same genre, similar themes, similar stories. You’re in a reading rut.

I found myself in such a rut a little over a year ago. The genre: Young Adult (side note: I could write an entire treatise in defense of this genre. Granted, it has already been tackled on both sides in The Guardian, Slate, the New York Times, and countless other places. I may still write my own piece one day, but in sum: No, it does not begin and end with Twilight. No, it is not about people wanting relive their youth. It is about deep and meaningful stories, which allow the reader to relate much more than many other genres because the themes of finding yourself and discovering your place in the world are things we continue to grapple with throughout our lives).

Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having certain genres that you love. Ones that you come back to over and over again. Even within the most well trodden of genres, you can find someone who is subverting old themes or doing something new altogether. But I also think it is important to broaden your horizons a bit every now and then and read something outside of your comfort zone. To get exposure to new ideas and different writing styles, but also to keep your reading skills in tip top shape. So what can be done once you’ve realized you’re in a reading rut? I set some reading goals for myself.

Goal One: read more modern, literary fiction. The reason behind this is twofold. By reading works that are more modern I can be part of the discussions which always surround new books. Book clubs, book reviews, online communities, the forums for discussing books are plentiful, and everyone seems to want to discuss the ‘hot new book’. Second, by focusing on the literary end of the spectrum, I can give myself a bit more of a challenge, and who doesn’t need that?

Goal Two: read more graphic novels. Graphic novels are EVERYWHERE. They are infiltrating every aspect of pop culture. And with topics ranging from World War II told through mice, to a young girl’s experience in post revolution Iran, to (of course) Superheroes, there seems to be something for everyone.

Goal Three: revisit my love of the ‘classics’. I found Jane Austen in high school, and thus began my love affair with the classics. Dickens, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, the Bronte sisters, I devoured many of the authors whose works are typically deemed classics. But there are still many more sitting on my to-read list. Plus much of what I have read is very euro-centric, and it is far past time that was corrected.

The realization of my reading rut was over a year ago, so how have I done on these goals? Goal One has been a minor success. Marisha Pessl, Gillian Flynn, and Sarah Waters have all been added to my read pile and my list of to-read in this category is ever growing. Goal Two has been a bit slower. I did finally find a graphic novel series that really clicked with me and which proved to me that there are stories which are best told as graphic novels (The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman, in case you were wondering). Plus, through the help of some friends and the Internet, I have many more which I am eager to read. Now Goal Three, honestly I have not been successful with this one, but I did start re-reading an old Austen favorite the other night, just to get a taste of the old favorites. All in all, two out of three isn’t bad.

Setting a few reading goals was good for me. I discovered new authors and genres, and read things I may not have picked up before. I now find myself adding new goals in my head (read some Science Fiction and adult Fantasy, try short stories, crack open that copy of selected poems by Lord Byron). Will I accomplish all of these? Probably not, but having them has made me a better, more rounded reader (and hopefully it will ultimately lead to me becoming a better writer). So c’mon, let’s all set some goals. Happy reading!

A study in the re-watch: TVD Season One

Well, it is twenty-two episodes later and I have finished Season One of the re-watch (it is still slightly painful to type that “re”) of The Vampire Diaries! To be perfectly honest I am already well into Season Two. It turns out that just sitting there and allowing Netflix to auto-play the next episode is far less work than writing up a “review”. Who knew? With that being said, I am going to try to keep this review to Season One only. I think it is fair to say that this review will have spoilers (but honestly if you haven’t watched it yet, you probably never will). I think there are three key pieces to TVD: the characters, the romance (obviously), and the plot. Some of you may read that last one, laugh and say, “What plot?”. However, I would argue it is a pretty plot driven show. Whether you genuinely find that plot interesting, or simply want to see what ludicrous lengths the writers will take it to next (this applies more to later seasons), will vary depending on the viewer. Either way, plot is a reason to watch this show. Now on to some Season One specifics!

The cast of characters of TVD can be pretty large, so I will just stick to the core set of characters:

Elena: Obviously we have to start here. Elena is the narrator as well as the audience surrogate. As the show opens she is a sad teenager trying to get over the death of her parents. One thing that comes up in many recaps and reviews of the current season of TVD, is a critique of how Elena’s character has become increasingly selfish and difficult to root for (and really kind of an asshole). I tend to agree with that sentiment, and I do even more so after going back and re-watching Season One. For the most part Elena is kind and genuinely cares for her friends and family in the first season. However, there are also some grating aspects of her character. Everyone is in love with her and sometimes it is difficult to see why. The only answer that’s really ever given is that she is nice, which is a great quality, but I don’t think it is going to have everyone falling head over heels for you. She also begins to put her boyfriend above everyone else as the season goes on, which is something that happens far too often in fiction. Speaking of the boyfriend…

Stefan: If I could only describe Stefan is one word it would be boring. He is just kind of a dud. His defining character trait at this point is that he loves Elena and would do anything for her. Oh, he also secretly has serious self control problems, combined with a holier than thou attitude. Awesome! I think Stefan is the opposite of Elena, in that his character gets better as the show continues. When we begin to see more of his flaws, it adds depth to his character and makes him more likeable. Whereas Elena’s flaws make her appear more shallow and far less likeable. I really don’t have much more to say about him. Wait, he is also brooding (the show loves to call attention to this in a ‘in on the joke’, snarky sort of way) and he hates his “evil” brother who is always ruining everything…

Damon: Stefan’s brother. The villain to Stefan’s hero. He is also probably the most interesting character in the show (at this point). A romance novel would say he has a devil may care attitude, and this has made him a fan favorite. At the beginning of the season he appears to simply be a murderous jerk who values nothing and is motivated only by blood lust. As the season wears on, we find that he is actually motivated by love (twisted love, but love none the less), and may even value friendship and his relationship with his brother. GASP! Most of this changed is sparked by his budding friendship with Elena.

Bonnie: Bonnie is Elena’s best friend and also a WITCH! She is just starting to learn about her powers in Season One. She is very suspicious (with good reason) of Stefan, and hates (again, with good reason) Damon. She struggles with her newfound power and relationship with the vampires throughout this season.

Caroline: Caroline becomes one of my favorite characters in later seasons, but in Season One she is portrayed as neurotic, clingy, and sometimes a bitch. She is manipulated by the evil brother above and jealous of perfect Elena. I’ll talk more about Caroline in later reviews.

Matt: Elena’s ex-boyfriend and  the love interest of Caroline. He is a football player with a bad home life. Matt is boring in this season, which is a common theme throughout the series.

Jeremy: Elena’s little brother. He is dealing with his parents death through drugs and partying. He’s a sad, emo loner. Jeremy dies several times throughout the series and I think he should’ve stayed dead on one of those occasions. He actually doesn’t bother me as much in this season because he is a peripheral character. He should have stayed that way (or dead).

Tyler: Matt’s best friend. The only bigger asshole than Tyler is Tyler’s dad. He is a very minor character this season up until the final episode, when we find out that he and his father have a SECRET! More on that later.

Alaric: The new mysterious history teacher who turns out to be a vampire hunter out for vengeance for the death of his wife! He also ends up dating Elena’s aunt. Alaric is yet another character who becomes more interesting in later seasons.

Now on to the romances, and in case you couldn’t guess this show is chock full of them! I have not decided if I am going to use the language commonly used when talking about romance in TV/books/etc. (especially teen/YA). Of course I am talking about the dreaded ‘ship’/’shipper’ and the name combinations (Stelena/Delena/etc.) we’ve come to know and love. Considering that I have already mentioned them, I am guessing it isn’t long before I devolve into using them. But for now I will use real, adult human language!

Elena/Stefan: On my first watch of TVD I enjoyed this romance, I still also enjoyed the Elena/Damon flirtations, but I was pretty on board with the Elena/Stefan romance. Maybe it is because I am older and wiser (code for more cynical and disillusioned), but upon rewatching I am just not that into it. They are sweet, sickeningly sweet. It is very much a typical high school ‘I love you now so I am going to love you FOREVER!’ relationship. Which makes sense for Elena, but Stefan is pushing 140 plus years, so I would think that he would know better by now (yes, he only ever loved Katherine. And yes, he spent years being a ruthless murderer not concerned with love. But still, his first love turned out horribly and he’s had a lot of life experience. Don’t be such a love sick puppy, dude). They do the whole break up and get back together thing a few times during the course of this season, but they always come back to each other because they are (currently) the OTP (God damn it! So much for avoiding the terminology. For those of you not “in the know”, OTP is a term used when describing a relationship between two fictional characters that is meant to be/written in the stars/whatever other romance euphemism you would like to use. It stands for One True Pairing. Now please excuse me while I go shame myself for using that phrase).

Caroline/Matt: Caroline has many boyfriends over the course of the series and I would like to take this moment to address all the hate towards her because of it. She is young, cute, strong, and will (eventually) live forever. She can have as many boyfriends as she wants! Get off her back and quit slut shaming (this also applies to all women in real life). With that out of the way, this is Caroline’s least interesting relationship. For approximately one second I thought this relationship was cute, but then it is simply used to make Caroline seem extremely jealous and insecure, so I was no longer on board. Also, as mentioned above, Matt is boring. Moving on.

Elena/Damon: I know not technically a relationship yet, but I forgot how much sexual tension there is right from the get-go. They are merely friends this season, but even that is interesting. It goes from fear/hatred to acceptance/liking, back to hatred, and finally settles on friendly “platonic” love. It’s nice and their scenes are some of the best of the season.

Let’s close this review out with some plot talk! Season 1 is probably the slowest moving TVD season plot wise. It spends a good deal of time setting up the world, and on Elena finding out about, and then dealing with, Stefan’s vampiric state. Then we have some vampire hijinks (including Matt’s sister being turned and ultimately killed), a secret council made up of the town’s founding families hell bent on destroying vampires, a vampire hunter history teacher with his own agenda, and of course bickering between the Salvatore brothers. All of this leads up to the big reveals of why Elena looks like Katherine (Damon and Stefan’s former lover and the one who turned them into vampires), who Elena’s biological parents are, and what the council plans to do to rid the town of vampires. Like any soapy drama, Season One of TVD leaves us with a juicy cliffhanger: Katherine is back! Yay for doppelganger shenanigans! The plot will thicken in Season Two (and continue to thicken until it reaches the consistency of three weeks old bad milk) and I will be writing about all the juicy (rotten) details!

Overall: Season one has a slow start but I think the latter third of the season makes up for it, and clearly it held my interest enough to compel me to watch Season Two (this may say more about me than about the show however). It is has the outlandish plots points and cheesy romance I’ve come to know and love from TVD, with some added heart that may be missing from later seasons.

Rank: Well this is the only one I’ve reviewed thus far so… season 1 is NUMBER ONE!

Lingering Question(s): So what happened to the whole Damon controlling the fog and (possibly) turning into a crow thing? We’re just going to drop that and never bring it up again? Okay, probably a good call.