Comerica Park, Detroit

16 Aug

In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

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Although I’m wildly excited about returning to school in a mere three weeks, it has forced me to make some lifestyle adjustments. I’ve had to cut my spending down by a lot in order to compensate for cutting my work hours and pay for tuition, textbooks, etc. So instead of traveling to far away and exotic places, I’ve been trying to take mini-vacations, like the one I took in June with my sister to Detroit.

I settled on Detroit by looking at the Seattle Mariner’s schedule and seeing where they were playing within flying distance of New York. After seeing Anthony Bourdain’s piece on Detroit in his “Parts Unknown” series, I wanted to experience the city for myself. A lot of people gave me baffled looks when I told them that was where I was spending my vacation, but I’m lucky enough to have a sister who I knew would be game to explore the area.

The biggest draw, not surprisingly, is how cheap everything was. The city has shrunk a considerable amount, and it’s true that there are huge abandoned buildings everywhere you go, but this has also driven a lot of rents and prices down which has started to attract young artists and entrepreneurs. We were never at a loss to find delicious food, trendy bars and random art installations.

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The Hiedelberg Project

But let’s not forget the real reason I flew to Michigan. Baseball. A couple of days before I flew to Detroit, I checked on Stubhub for tickets and was blown away to find seats directly behind home plate for only $40. For reference for those not familiar with major league baseball ticket prices. Similar tickets at Yankee stadium are roughly $700. But that’s just the nature of supply and demand. They were easily the best seats I’ve ever had.

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Around the third inning, a group of middle-aged guys stumbled to the seats next to me. A bunch of Midwesterners who get together to watch their beloved Tigers. In true Midwest style, they were super kind to me, asked all about the Mariners and told me a bunch of anecdotes about a variety of hometown baseball players and about the field itself. Everyone I met in the stadium was kind and welcoming, despite the fact that I was wearing the opposing team’s jersey.

Comerica Park has been open since 2000 and is still beautiful and well kept. The Tigers have an interesting advantage in having a real, concrete mascot. When I started thinking about it, most other teams have abstract names that don’t inspire a solid image. Mariners, Red Sox, Athletics, Yankees, Royals. A tiger is a readily identifiable thing, and so the stadium is dripping with them.

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It’s also bursting with Detroit pride. The Mariners lost the game I attended, but I wasn’t too broken up about it. The fans were so nice to me, and I admire any baseball fan that loves and supports their team that much. Detroit is definitely a struggling city, but the people that live there consider it their home, not a ghost town. And the pride they take in their team and their city made it a great place to visit.

Book Roundup #9

8 Aug

“Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Adichie seems to get more famous by the day. First for her amazing novel “Americanah” , then because Beyonce quoted one of her speeches on feminism in her song “Flawless.” The woman is a feminist leader, an icon, but above all, she’s an incredible writer. This is one of her earlier books, set during Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960’s. Her characters are vivid and complex, and every word is strung with beauty.

“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.”

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion Another book about the 1960’s. This is a collection of Joan Didion’s essays from that time. Didion spent the 60’s living in California and writing about the hippie movement in San Francisco and about the younger generation. It’s interesting to think that these are the people that are now the older generation and to read a lot of the criticisms about them are similar criticisms about my generation. Lazy and too idealistic. Too caught up in a movement to think about the greater realities of the world. Spoiled American children. How quickly some seem to forget history and their own experiences.

“Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee-A Look Inside North Korea” by Jang Jin-sung Another memoir of a survivor from North Korea. I can’t get enough of the hermit kingdom. Jang Jin-sung was a high official in the North Korean government under Kim Jong-Il, writing propaganda poems. He was commissioned to write an epic poem and asked to return to his hometown to do some research. When he arrived, he saw how his family and neighbors were starving and suffering. Upon returning to Pyongyang, he lends a ultra-classified book to a friend. His friend loses the book on the subway, and the two decide they have to escape North Korea or else they will be sentenced to life in prison for sharing the book. This memoir differs from the other ones I’ve read in that it takes place mostly in China as Jang Jin-sung and his friend hide from the authorities and depend on other North Korean defectors to help them. Obviously, they make it out and escape to South Korea. But it seems that it was mostly luck, and it’s sad to think about how many don’t have that same luck.

“Hour of the Bees” by Lindsay Eager My librarian sister also studied Children’s Literature while earning her Master’s in Library Science. She has always been a fan of young adult and children’s literature and passes her favorites onto me. I wouldn’t say this is one of her favorites, but we were on vacation together and she lent this to me to read on the plane home. Most readers have the habit of thinking of young adult and children’s literature as dull and puerile. But there is a lot of good, introspective work being produced, and I’m glad my sister can open my eyes to that on a regular basis. This book was about a young girl in New Mexico whose family spends a summer on a ranch with her ailing grandfather. She learns about her past, about her family, and about the value of home. It was a quick read but entertaining nonetheless.

“Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman” by Stefan Zweig I became fascinated with Marie Antoinette a couple of years ago when I was visiting Versailles with a friend, and we both realized that we didn’t actually know the details of her life besides the sensational. “Let them eat cake.” She was beheaded. She wore huge wigs. But what else was there? This is a great biography of her, because (as it suggests in the title), she was an average person. She had nothing inherently special about her, good or bad. She was born into wealth and royalty and was married off for political reasons. She was spoiled as some wealthy people are and had no sympathy for the poor, because it was a part of society she never saw and never understood. This book paints her as a person who was caught up in history, in the changing fortunes of empires, and came to represent what was wrong in a greater political system. It was a great read that delved into the history of the French revolution which never ceases to be interesting.

Moving Day

26 Jul

The last month and a half has been a whirlwind. I’ve been doing everything I can to just catch my breath and stay afloat. But now that things are calming down, and I’m feeling settled, something has felt missing. And, it was only a couple of days ago that I thought about my poor, neglected blog. So excuse me while I stretch my typing fingers out and try and remember how to do this again.

 

To make a long story short, perhaps to be discussed in another post, I thought I was moving to Vermont for a while, then I decided to stay. It made me happy and sad, and it’s complicated. But through it all, I kept in contact with my landlord to make sure it was okay that I stayed through the summer (my lease was up in June) and when I decided to stay, that I could resign a 12-month lease. Through it all, I was told this was fine.

Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend, when I get a text from my landlord that says that they are actually going to give the apartment to a family member, so my roommates and I need to be out by the end of June. I was essentially being evicted. I was covering for co-workers for the following 13 days straight, no days off, and I had also just received a jury duty summons in the mail.

Of course I’ve been through tougher things, but it felt like nothing was going right. How was I going to find a new place in time, in my price range, not to far out from the city, not in a horrible neighborhood? That night I drank Tequila and cried on the phone to my mom. Finding a new place and moving in the space of a couple of weeks felt impossible.

Fast forward to now. I’m sitting in my adorable apartment, in a cute house with a rose garden out front. I’m in a vibrant neighborhood that makes me grin ear to ear when I get off the train and walk home. My new roommates are friendly and keep the apartment clean and homey. All in all, I’m in a much better place. My old apartment (albeit my enormous) was always dirty due to my negligent roommates, my neighborhood was a Chinatown without a quality grocery store or bar around, my landlords were rude and inept at fixing things in the apartment. But I was settled. It was where I had lived for years, and I was happy enough. Not really happy, but happy enough.

But I didn’t know how wonderful things COULD be, and even though things felt overwhelming and frustrating during the weeks of apartment hunting nonstop, all the annoyance and pain brought me to a much better place. It made me think about other times that has happened in my life. When I got my reception job at the Veterinary office five years ago, I lamented to my then-boyfriend that it was a dead-end job, unworthy of my ambitions. But I didn’t realize it would lead me to a career I have loved and to another one I’m truly excited about. Almost two years ago, I sat at a bar with a friend of mine, crying about a recent break-up, certain I’d never meet anyone ever again, and I’d never find happiness. The bartender that was working that night became a friend of mine and over time has become something even more than that. And he’s the one that, with genuine excitement, helped me pack up my old apartment and move into my beautiful new one, keeping me calm through the process and sharing beers with me afterwards.

It’s hard to remember it in the moment, but sometimes the frustrating or difficult parts of life are making room or preparing us for something better. Maybe I’m lucky or blessed, and I try to keep in mind that in a lot of ways, I am. But I also think things do happen for a reason, and to quote one of my favorite poems “The Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, “…whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should be.” I don’t subscribe to any religion, but I do have faith in the fact that good things can happen, good things are on the horizon, and in the end, it’s all just trivial nonsense. I look back at the stress and tears over having to move in a short amount of time, and it feels like nothing in the greater scheme of my life or even my year or even this summer. Some way somehow, it is all going to be a-ok.

 

Book Roundup #8

13 Jun

The last month has been ROUGH, friends. A lot of difficulties and frustrations seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny of my life. And I definitely had my share of meltdowns and crying jags. But through it all, friends, family, and co-workers all rallied to my side, offering comfort, support, and help. And knowing I have that, made all the troubles in the world seem much smaller.

It’s also been a rough go of reading the last couple of weeks. A couple of amazing books that I rushed through, and a couple that I couldn’t even finish.

FOUR BOOKS I DIDN’T FINISH

I hate not finishing a book. It’s quitting at its worst. But when I’m stuck in a book that I’m not enjoying, I end up thinking of the millions of amazing books that exist in the world. It’s a tragedy that I can’t possibly find time to read them all in my lifetime, so why waste time on something I’m not enjoying. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut the losses and move on. Otherwise reading becomes a chore instead of the pure pleasure that it can be. So these are the books I abandoned.

  1. “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” by Sydney Padua– For starters, this was a graphic novel, which I don’t tend to enjoy anyways. But it was about the 19th century friendship between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, and how they came up with some of the earliest concepts of a computing machine. It sounded interesting enough. But the structure was odd, and I couldn’t fully tell what was true and what was fantasy, although most of it was fantasy. A lot of the narrative was grounded in footnotes which were lengthy and often about mathematical theories. I was in over my head.
  2. “Awakenings” by Oliver Sacks- I was excited to read my first Oliver Sacks book. He was a neurologist who also wrote a lot of books that have great reviews. This one was about patients of his that suffered from a paralyzing form of Parkinson’s. In the 1970’s, Sacks and his team put the patients on a new drug, L-Dopa, that pulled them out of their paralyzation. Some of the patients had amazing results, others struggled with bizarre side effects. I’ve seen the Robert DeNiro/Robin Williams movie they made from this book and loved it. But the book was dry and just had patient histories and outcomes. Also the book was loaded with footnotes, drunk with them. I’ve learned I can’t stand footnotes. They ruin the flow of reading. Too distracting.
  3. “This Old Man: All in Pieces” by Roger Angell- Dr. G lent me this book to read. Mr. Angell is a client of ours, and Dr. G was given a copy of this book, signed and dedicated. Roger Angell is famous for writing pieces about baseball (particularly about the Mets) for the New Yorker. Dr. G and I share a profound love for baseball, so he assumed I’d enjoy the book. It was hard to get through because so many of the pieces were about people he worked with at the New Yorker, whom I had never heard of. There wasn’t even a whole lot about baseball. At one point, Dr. G asked me how I was enjoying the book. I was honest about my struggles, and he confessed to me that he never finished it for the same reasons. If Dr. G doesn’t deem a book worth finishing, I’m sure as hell not going to spend any more time reading it.
  4. “News Whore: The Prequel” by Mandy Stadtmiller– I like Stadtmiller as a writer. I’ve mainly read her pieces on XOJane where she works as an editor-at-large. She writes about love and relationships in a neo-Carrie-Bradshaw way. This book is a collection of her essays about her twenties. The problem was that they weren’t really essays as much as they were one page snippets of her life, interspersed with selfies and random pictures of her apartment that had nothing to do with anything. It felt like reading a boring person’s diary. I didn’t feel like there was a narrative or anything to be gained, so I gave up. She can do better. I know she can.

FOUR BOOKS I FINISHED AND LOVED

  1. “The Stand” by Stephen King- My Stephen King obsession continues as I read one of  his most famous books, “The Stand.” It’s a giant, epic novel about a super-virus (Captain Trips) that wipes out more than 99% of the human population. The scant survivors band together in two tribes, one good, one evil, and they try to rebuild society while worrying about the looming other tribe. It’s long, but engrossing. Like most other Stephen King novels, below the entertaining reading experience, there are deeper themes of religion and destiny. Do we choose our fate? Or are we preordained to be good or bad?
  2. “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith- I was reading this book on my lunch break, and one of my co-workers commented that it was a book that everyone was reading on the subway “like 10 years ago.” Only in New York could reading a book be “so last season.” But there’s a reason everyone was reading it. It’s beautiful and hilarious, and that doesn’t diminish in 10 years. Her writing is fluid and quirky as we follow characters through the streets of London. It also touches on the idea of immigration, and how immigrants lives are affected by the melding of their past with their present.
  3. “How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter” by Sherwin Nuland- In one of the first scenes of the show, “The Knick,” Dr. Thackery gives a speech about medical advances in surgery in the early 1900’s. “We humans can get in a few good licks in battle before we surrender,” he said. And the truth in medicine is that we can fight battles but never win the war. Our bodies are not designed to last forever, and this is a blessing and a curse. This seemingly morbid book breaks down the ways in which our bodies are most likely to die: heart disease, cancer, trauma, including others. The human body is an incredible piece of engineering, and the death of the machine is just as interesting. The book was hardly morbid though, it was introspective.
  4. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver- Kingsolver is known as a novelist, but this book follows a year in which her family moved to a farm in Virginia and pledged to only eat food they could grow themselves or find locally. Most of the book is a treatise on the food industry in America, which is always a terrifying topic. Our meat is gross. Our fruits and veggies are gross. Our breads are probably killing us. Although I try to buy organic and almost never eat at fast food chains, I didn’t realize how much farther I still have to go. I’m absolutely guilty of not knowing when certain fruits or vegetables are in season. And I have no idea about how far the foods at my grocery store have had to travel to get to me. If anything, this book made me more committed to trying to buy foods from farmer’s markets and avoid processed foods even more than I already do.

30 Before 30: Go to a Live Taping

24 May

In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

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I’ve been wanting to do this for years! But it’s not as easy to score tickets to these shows as one might think. The tickets themselves are free and are often snatched up by tourists. Over the years, I’ve tried to get tickets to the Tonight Show, to the Daily Show, to the Colbert Report, and of course, to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. All to no avail. It seemed such a fruitless endeavor that I kind of gave up.

As far as television goes, other than the occasional Netflix binge (currently obsessed with “Jane the Virgin”), the only shows I watch on a weekly basis are “Walking Dead” and “Last Week Tonight.” But I recently added a third show to my weekly, lazy tv time: “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

I was interested by the first late night show hosted by a woman. (Really? It took till 2016 for that to happen?) But I already had my hands full with number-one-love-of-my-life-John-Oliver. I wasn’t looking for any more political satire in my life. Go women and all, but do we really need another one of these shows?

Yes, yes we do. While she tackles major issues like the presidential election and the Syrian refugee crisis, she doesn’t shy away from dedicating major chunks of her show to women’s issues. Abortion laws, fraudulent pregnancy centers, unprocessed rape kits. She makes my feminist heart pitter-patter.

So I added my name to a list of hopefuls for tickets to the show, not expecting to ever get a call. But a couple weeks later, on a Monday morning, I got a phone call from someone who works for the show. They had a bunch of cancellations and had tickets available. I dragged my friend Lauren with me, and we went to the live-taping.

It was quite unglamorous, although I didn’t expect it to be much. We sat in a holding room with about a hundred other people, until we were ushered into the studio. After 30 minutes or so, Samantha Bee came out to greet everyone and answer a couple of questions. She also introduced some personal friends she had in the audience including her father and her gynecologist. Of course she would invite her gynecologist. Of course she would.

Once the show got underway, it was a bit odd, to be cued on when to clap, and to watch most of the pre-recorded show off a screen. But I was starstruck to be in the same room as that tiny, feminist bastion of hope in her signature blazer and high heels. In between taping and setting up for the next segment, a DJ played “Bad Girls” by MIA, as Samantha Bee danced around while assistants fixed her hair. What. A. Boss.

New Beginnings

21 May

I’ve been weighing in my head for months how to write this post, and I think there’s no better way to write it than to just dive in.

I’m leaving veterinary medicine.

It weighs on me, because I have accumulated a number of vet tech readers, and I know a lot of the traffic I get to the site is about my experiences as a technician. And while I’m not quitting completely anytime soon, I’m going to begin transitioning out of it.

Why?

It’s difficult for me how to explain how I’ve arrived at this fork in the road, because many things that happened in the last 6-7 months that led me to this decision. If you’ll humor me, a list:

  1. PENN FOSTER ABANDONED ME- I’ve talked in the past about the benefits of the program, and I’ve since considered deleting that post. But after years of doing practicums and acing all the tests, I came to the final practicum which required me to do film x-rays. Most clinics are digital, so it took months for me to find a place. When I did, the program waterlogged me for months and didn’t approve my location until the clinic had transitioned to digital. The head veterinarian at my clinic, Dr. S, even called the deans of the vet tech program to try and fix the situation. “We have an intelligent, talented technician here,” I heard him say on the phone. “And we are going to lose her to another industry, and I don’t want that.” Penn Foster continued to not follow through on their promises to rectify this situation. So here I sit after years of work, unable to take my licensing exam and without the vet tech degree I worked so hard for. Dr. S’s compliments rang in my ears as I decided it wasn’t worth it to me to fight Penn Foster, that maybe the industry should lose me.
  2. I DATED A MIRROR IMAGE OF MYSELF- Last fall I was dating someone who had a penchant for moping. He wasn’t where he wanted to be in his life, which I understand. But I found a deep well of frustration at him for not doing something about it, about not chasing down avenues that would move him forward. I would nag him and found myself losing respect for him. But at some point, I saw my own hypocrisy. I am not where I want to be in my life, and I have a lot of things lacking. I tend to mope and whine about it. I don’t know how many times I’ve added to my to-do lists “Figure Life Out” half-joking, half-serious. So I took my own nagging to heart. I broke up with him and decided I had to set myself on a new path.
  3. I WEARIED OF MY NEW YORK LIFE- Around this time, newly single, I found myself sliding into old patterns. Online dating, staying out late drinking with friends, complaining about how poor I am. Like waking from a dream I realized these weren’t things I wanted to do. These things were not making me happy anymore, and it was time to tackle the biggest item on my to-do list. I decided I had no time and no interest in dating. I stopped spending time with friends whose lives revolved around bar tabs and nursing hangovers. I took three days off of work and camped out in my apartment and hashed out what I REALLY, TRULY, DEEPLY wanted to make happen in my life. What my experiences and what my talents can lend themselves to.  I researched careers. I talked to a variety of people. I looked into schooling length and costs. I spent countless weekends alone at my apartment with delivered Thai food sorting through all my data.
  4. I STARTED DIPPING MY TOES IN THE WATER OF SOMETHING NEW- And I realized that this wasn’t suffice; it was better to dive in. I’ve made a commitment to pursuing something different and yet somewhat similar. It’s terrifying. It’s uncertain. But I feel more alive and more excited about the years to come than I have in so long.

So I’ve started taking the necessary steps toward becoming a Physician Assistant. All the whys and wherefores are better left for posts to come. And like any transition in life, although I’m poised to do something great in the years to come, my heart stirs with a subtle melancholy at what I know I’ll leave behind.

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This is a one-month old rescue kitten found under a porch in Queens. After I gave it a deworming solution, put some ointment in its tiny infected eyes, it nuzzled its whiskers against my cheek in a kitten kiss.

OF COURSE I’M GOING TO MISS THAT.

The four years I’ve had as a veterinary technician have been so meaningful to me and led me to understand that I’m way better at science than I had ever realized. That I have a passion for medicine. That I have to be in a field where I alleviate suffering and improve quality of life. I have to be challenged and excited. I’ve loved being a veterinary technician, but I always felt it was a stepping stone to something else, and I’m ready for that next step.

Like I said before, I’m still a full-time technician for the next couple of months, and my “family” at the clinic are being nothing but supportive, offering to work around a school schedule and allow me to stay on part-time. So this isn’t the end yet. And I’ll be writing about each step of my PA journey. But for now, that’s all I wanted to get off my chest. On to the next thing.

30 Before 30: Visit One World Observatory

19 May

In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

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Manhattan from so far above

On a clear and sunny day, my friend Zach and I trekked downtown to visit the One World Observatory at the top of the Freedom Tower. My obligatory tourist indulgence in a city overflowing with them. At this point, I’ve done Top of the Rock, top of the Empire State Building. So I knew at the very least, I’d get some great views. The whole thing was so orchestrated; though, it ended up feeling surreal.

After going through airport-level security, everyone was shoved into elevators that as they rose to the top floor, displayed on screens a 360-view of Manhattan developing over the centuries. From when it was home to Native Americans, to the first Dutch traders, to the Industrial Revolution, and present day. It was the most interesting part of the visit, but it went by so fast, and everyone in the elevator expressed varying degrees of nausea.

Upon exiting the elevator, we were ushered into a theatre, showing “street scenes” of New York, the kind of imagery constantly fed to people who aren’t from here. Women in high heels catching taxis, smoky hot dog stands, the rumble of a subway train. It’s a little less exciting and hypnotizing when it’s just an expression of your day-to-day. At the end of the movie, the wall lifted to reveal a floor to ceiling window, showing off Manhattan. All the tourists gasped and then clapped before we were ushered into a room where they tried to sell us interactive iPads to carry around. Then we were taken through a gift shop. Then we were forced to take a picture which Zach ended up convincing me to buy, because he’s a sentimentalist, even though I wasn’t ready and look like a goon.

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The green screen photo I CLEARLY wasn’t ready for, but Zach somehow was.

Finally we got to the floor with the views. My phone promptly died after one picture, but it felt better that way. Instead of worrying about the perfect picture, we took our time wandering around, admiring the city from every bird’s eye angle we could find. Once we felt like we had absorbed most of it, we left, caught a cab, giving the driver an address on the West Side highway.

“Oh, you go to the bar!” Our Island cabdriver said.
“You clearly know us.”
“I should park my cab and join you,” he said.
“I’d buy you a drink, man!” Zach told him as we all laughed.

At the Frying Pan, a bar on a pier, we drank cold Pale Ales and ate sandwiches. We laughed about the morning and chatted about innumerable things, the kind of conversation only possible between two people who have known each other 12+ years. Once it got too breezy, we wandered through Chelsea and stumbled upon another dive bar we like, and we grabbed one more beer to cap the day.

THAT’s New York to me. THAT’s the thing they will never be able to appropriately sell to the hordes of tourists. It’s a city full of lovely, kind people, chance encounters, wanderings that usually result in something memorable and familiar. It was great to take in the city from above, but it’s so much better to be living right down in it.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

17 May

I had written before about how I had read a book filled with essays about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy and how it was boring. This book was not. This book was a more biographical survey of Ginsburg’s life coupled with her legal legacy. I loved this book so much, I bought a t-shirt.

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The book comes from a popular Tumblr account put together by a law student, Knizhnik, along with a reporter from MSNBC, Carmon. Together they created a narrative about the amazing work Justice Ginsburg has done in her lifetime, especially in the realm of civil rights. I found myself getting choked up during various sections by how much the world has changed for women as a result of this tiny powerhouse. The fact that I am allowed, as a woman, to pursue a career and an education that interests me, is a relatively new development in American culture.

The authors also paint the picture of a complete human being that lost her mother at a young age, that faced gender discrimination, that bonded with her ideological opposite (Scalia) and sang opera with him in DC, that enjoyed a deep love with a man who was more than willing to subsume his own ambitions to help her pursue her own. She has lived a life so meaningful and robust that an autobiography of her is naturally fascinating.

The book itself is a joy to read. Full of annotated dissents to help the reader understand the legal jargon, a description of her workout routine (this octogenarian still does 20 push-ups a day!), and numerous artistic tributes to her over the years. The last couple of pages of the book talk about how to be more like the RBG, and I soaked in every word. I’m so grateful to this woman for the work she has done and hope to live a life as full as she has. I think every American with even a slice of inclination toward equality should read this book. We truly do stand on the shoulders of this tiny legal giant. An absolute hero. An absolute legend.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her wellbeing and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

-RBG during her confirmation hearing for the position on the Supreme Court

30 Before 30: Compete in a Crossword Competition

27 Apr

In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 30 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

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At the finals of the 2016 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the three best cruciverbalists were readying themselves on the stage in front of their giant crossword boards, their ears covered with sound-canceling headphones. The two announcers (one a puzzle constructor, the other a Connecticut sports radio personality) discussed crosswords.

“So what does it take to become good at crosswords? What makes someone enjoy them enough to come here and compete?” The sports radio personality asked.
“Two things. It takes a desire to acquire and retain a great deal of knowledge. And it takes a passionate love for language and words.”

I sat in the crowd (SPOILER! I wasn’t a finalist) and nodded in agreement. I think those are two of the biggest things that define me. An unending need to learn more and an obsession with the beauty of language and how we communicate with one another. As I told friends, co-workers, and family that I was competing in the competition, they all responded with a resounding “NERD.” So be it. Perhaps I am. But it was a special experience to spend the weekend with others who are as wordy nerdy as me.

I took the Metro North train from Grand Central up to Connecticut, and as I walked to the hotel where the competition was held, I started to see people wearing crossword shoes, scarves, dresses. In the lobby of the hotel were stacks of xeroxed copies of the crosswords that had come out that morning in various publications. Everyone was scattered around, chatting about the puzzles, discussing different themes and puns.

Since I didn’t know anyone, I headed into the ballroom and settled at my seat. As other contestants filtered in, I made friends with two of the ladies sitting near me. A retired science teacher from Long Island and a retired Internist from Michigan. They talked to me about past years’ competitions, their favorite crossword blogs (that’s a thing!), and pointed out to me some of the crossword “celebrities.”

“Oh, I just feel so star struck when I come here,” my friendly neighbor said as she pointed out her favorite blogger.

The competition consisted of 7 different puzzles. 6 on Saturday, and the final, large puzzle on Sunday morning. Top scorers then got to compete on an eighth puzzle, Sunday afternoon. My friends (despite relentlessly teasing me for being a nerd) had also encouraged me and almost convinced me that I could win the whole thing. But as soon as time was up on the first puzzle, I realized it wouldn’t be the case. Points are rewarded based on correct answers, finishing the puzzle early, and a bonus for a completely correct puzzle. I decided to take my time and make sure my answers were right. This led to me only being able to finish one puzzle. And it hurt my pride to see so many of the people around me raising their hands and finishing when I hadn’t even gotten around to all of the clues. I’m also used to doing the puzzles on my computer and had to adjust to doing it on paper. I kept losing my place, looking at downs when I was trying to fill in acrosses. Classic rookie mistake.

540-6-scan

The one puzzle I finished: #6.

I didn’t get to stay for the Saturday night festivities, since I had to cat sit in Manhattan, and it was my friend’s 50th birthday party in Chelsea. And I was sad to run out when the “party” was just getting started.

Sunday morning, I dragged myself back to Connecticut, feeling a bit down that my ranking was 542 out of 576. I didn’t think I’d do THAT bad. Puzzle 7 was Sunday-style, meaning it was much larger, and I learned from the previous day’s mistakes and worked through it a lot faster. At the end of the day, I bumped my rank to 536 out of 576 which made me feel a little bit better about myself. After the puzzles were done, there was a talent show dubbed “Crossworders Got Talent,” and it featured song covers about crosswords, spoken word, comedy. It was incredible and weird.

THEN, the finals. If you think that watching other people finish crossword puzzles isn’t fun, you’re wrong. You’re dead wrong. There were three final rounds, with the top three finalists in three different division. What I thought was interesting is that all three divisions had the same answers, just different levels of clues. For instance, a division C clue was “Dots on i’s and j’s,” the answer is Tittle. Difficult, and a term I’ve never heard before. The clue for division A? “A trio in Beijing.” Get it? Because there are three tittles in Beijing?! That’s one I would never have gotten…in either division, honestly.

So the finals were Division C, then Division B, then Division A (the big guns). Everyone in the crowd had the clues in front of them, and by the time Division A got up, we all knew the answers. In the center of the Division A was a man who has gotten first place in the tournament for the last 6 years. If he won this year, he would have the longest winning streak in ACPT history! And he had a 8 second head-start, since he had scored higher on the puzzles. Everyone was sure he was going to win. Then, the second place contestant started to pull ahead. A gasp stirred through the crowd as everyone realized, he was almost done, that he might just dethrone the champ. Then he filled in the final answer, turned around yelling, “Done!” The crowd exploded! He had won!

Okay, maybe it was a “you had to be there” moment, but I had a blast. Not just watching the finals, but the whole competition. I met smart, kind, interesting people. And despite my poor showing, I learned so much about crosswords and improved a lot. I now find myself actually finishing Fridays and Saturdays, which I had never been able to do before. I learned some lessons in solving, and I’ll be back. I have to go back. I have to somehow make my way to that Division A stage.

I took the train home, exhausted from my hectic weekend. I changed into my pajamas and crawled into bed. I took a long deep breath and sat there for a moment before I reached into the backpack sitting at the side of my bed, pulled out some of the xeroxed puzzles I had collected and started working on them until my eyelids were so heavy, I feel asleep pen in hand, puzzles spread out on my comforter.

Book Roundup #7

25 Apr

As I sat down to write this post, I came to the sobering realization that I haven’t written in a month. What on Earth have I been doing with myself? I’m not even entirely sure. Some fun things have happened which I’d like to write about in the coming days, but I guess the answer is that it’s Spring in New York, and everyone wants to hang out and do fun things. Who am I to say no? But lots of train travel has led to a lot of reading.

The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Ed. by Scott Dodson

 

RBG is legit. She’s amazing and incredible, and all American women owe her a great deal of their freedoms and opportunities to the work she has spent her life doing. I delved into RBG scholarship by reading this book of essays about her work. I read the first third (the portion about the gender equality cases she championed) with gusto, but I’ll be honest I didn’t finish the rest of the book. The last two sections were about her much less sexy work, mainly her obsession with Swedish civil procedure. This book was more geared for law professionals which I am not. And this book made me realize how happy I am that I’m not.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

After how much sleep I lost while reading “The Shining,” I decided I needed even more Stephen King twistedness in my life. In type A fashion, I googled a variety of rankings of his novels and decided “‘Salem’s Lot” was a good next step for me. It’s about vampires taking over a small town in Maine. I wasn’t too wild about it. Maybe because in the last decade, the vampire thing has been beaten to death and forever tarnished by the abysmal Twilight series. But I also think my adolescent adoration for everything “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has skewed my perception of anything vampire.

In any vampire story, rules are created. How to kill vampires, how to make them, what their abilities are. I subscribe to the Buffy rules, and I don’t stomach other worlds’ rules well. Secret fact about me: Sometimes when I’m at kickboxing class, I pretend I’m Buffy.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

My sister is a librarian and got an advanced copy of this book at a library conference that she attended. The cover was dramatic, while the title seemed benign. I was skeptical when she said she liked it, but I ended up loving it. The plot is odd. A Korean woman decides to become a vegetarian after a dream she has. It throws her whole life upside down and creates turmoil with her family. Sounds like a stupid plot, but the book was beautiful. The imagery, the hint of insanity. It was poetic, and I couldn’t put it down.

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

Unknown

Another book that my sister picked up at the library conference and worked its way through the readers in my family. It follows the investigation of a missing child through the eyes of the mother and the eyes of one of the detectives on the case. Another title that I found to be melodramatic. But the unraveling mystery was fun. Macmillan does a good job introducing suspects and revealing clues. A great, easy read.

 

 

 

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