Category Archives: READS

HELLO, IT’S ME.

Before you say anything at all: yes, I know, that joke is going to feel so old and tired in about one more week. And yet! I cannot resist. Even the non-dads among us can, shamelessly and tirelessly, make dad jokes.

Anyway: I’m here now.

I’m in this place where I’m not writing as often, here, on my beloved blog.

Instead, my creative energies are dispersed in other places, but it’s not a 1-for-1 substitution – not really. Rather, like my friend Omar asked this week, the collective question seems to be: are we still doing this? Blogging?

I’m scared of self-branding, always have been, so I admit that it’s been freeing to walk away. Like, take that, BLOG! I am rebelling! Next thing you know, I might skip Tweeting for a week. Or delete Instagram from my phone. Who knows! I’m living on the fucking edge.

But I confess, Reader: I miss this.

Not “blogging,” per se. Writing. Writing for moi.

Is there a difference? Maybe. At some point, blogs became precursors to businesses, and you know what? That was great. Blogs helped a lot of us find jobs, and I am no exception. So thank you, blogging, and even a sheepish thanks to you, branding, you wiley mistress.

Sometimes, when I’m in the mood for long form, I dip back into the well of my favorite online writers: Sarah Hepola, Ruth Pennebaker, Omar, Mary Miller. Weirdly, I know all of these people, so reading them gives me inspiration, not to mention a little voyeuristic thrill. It’s like, you thought those things, friend? You shooed everyone away, closed the door, and thought up those beautiful things?

Writing is such an intensely private act, that reading someone else’s work always feels conspiratorial. Most of the time, anyway. I remember hearing a Real Housewife of New York shriek about a fashion book she wrote “all on my Blackberry!” and it must have pained me enough to sear its own memory. Not that I or any of you should be taking writing advice from the Real Housewives, I’m just saying that it made the whole writing enterprise feel so cheap in the moment that it generated feelings, real feelings that I should probably let go of now. (Though I’d watch my back if I were you, Kelly Bensimon!)

Dance is utterly different, because it has to happen in front of others, unless you are Billy Idol, or perhaps Robyn. Let’s just make it easy and say the rule is, if you have a bleach blonde bouffant, you don’t have to dance in front of other people if you don’t want to. As for the rest of us: we get an audience, whether we like it or not.

That vulnerability – will they mess up? Will their bodies fail them? Will freak injury occur here in front of me? – gives the whole experience a specific frisson that you don’t quite get from writing, and that’s why I’m attracted to it. Dance, I mean.

We’re still in the lazy afterglow of the holidays right now, so while all of my dance stuff is gradually coming back online, it won’t truly feel full-force until about a week and a half from now. Next week, here, I start teaching a splits class, and the week after that, silks is a lot more game-on. Modern, ballet, and jazz (!!) are all in the mix as well, and sometimes I wonder, should I write about those things? Here? I’m inclined to say ‘no,’ that would be boring, because what’s the old saw? ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture?’

Maybe I could switch those around and successfully write about dance, while someone else – everyone else, now that I think about it – could dance to music. Did I just blow your mind?

Anyway. Mostly, I wanted to steal this hour (or has it been two?) and check in here, feel what it’s like to write again. Writing, or as Billy would say, writin’, with myself.

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TOLLY THE TURKEY.

I have been immortalized in literature!

Well, my name anyway.

Did you know that I’ve only met one other Tolly in my life — and it was a dog?  That all changed a few days ago, when I got this sweet package in the mail from my friend Addie. It contained a little children’s book, written and illustrated by Addie’s husband, Ian. Inside, there’s a turkey named Tolly!

(Me)

Ian’s new book, Tolly the Turkey and Polly the Pumpkin, is all about teaching children the value of gratitude. It features a talking turkey and a talking pumpkin, who become best friends linked together by their mutually thankful natures.  The idea came to Ian when he, Addie, and their son Julian (also a character in the book) went on a Thanksgiving vacation together. Ian and Addie wanted to congratulate Julian for being so selfless, so they came up with this mini scavenger hunt that rewarded Julian with small toys — but like the Tooth Fairy or Santa, a special deliverer was needed. So Ian came up with “Tolly the Turkey and Polly the Pumpkin” who rewards Julian (and now, children everywhere) each year for grateful behavior.

Can you see the resemblance?

I meant to tell you guys about this around Thanksgiving, but you know how I can be. However! There’s plenty of time to make this book a nice stocking stuffer or holiday present for your little ones. And then every time you do the scavenger hunt you can say, “TOLLY LEFT YOU PRESENTS!!”

Which — even though your child is envisioning a talking turkey and not a frizzy-haired white girl — will make me very, very happy.

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WHATCHA READIN’?

Hello, Reader. Today’s post is about — surprise! — books, but before I say anything else:

The show‘s release got delayed by a teensy few days. I know!  I’m terribly eager to see it. Rest assured I’ll shout it from the rooftops (by which I mean, this blog) when it does release, though.

Did I tell you the very first one is set in New York, hosted by my buddy Josh Ozersky? Josh is a food writer for Esquire and Time Magazine, but more importantly, he’s the most knowledgeable and proud meat lover I know. His agressive carnivorousness is enough to make my Austiny, latent-vegan tendencies slightly nervous, and though I’m not actually a vegan, I know I have to stow away all my quinoa when Josh comes to town. And he is coming to town, by the way: He hosts a cross-country, multi-city event called Meatopia, which is basically a giant open meat bar. Soon, he’s bringing it to Austin.

Anyway! What else have I been doing this week, besides waiting on pins and needles for our little show?

The truth is this: I’ve crawled into a long, dark, book cave, and I’m not sure I’m getting out. At least until I’m finished.

The instigators of my exile: Gone Girl, a thriller by Gillian Flynn, the book that seemingly everyone I know is either reading or has read, gripping my arm and hissing with wild eyes, “YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK,” and the decidedly non-thriller, but very popular and extremely lovely Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, a collection of her “Dear Sugar” column advice on The Rumpus.

Because of these two books, I’ve neglected self-imposed writing deadlines. I’ve stayed up too late, forcing my eyes open. I literally received an email this morning from a (very dear) friend using the word “harass” in the subject line, to imply what one has to do these days to get me to open my email.

And I can’t help it!  Because it’s the best kind of addiction, can’t you see?  I am always reading, but it’s been so long since I was pulled in this deep, reading on my lunch break, reading a few sentences at stoplights, reading while my husband is milling around and meeting his deadlines, while I sit in a rocking chair, oblivious to his productivity. Tra-la-la! I am in love!

For the uninitiated: Gone Girl is the story of a marriage wrapped up in a murder mystery, where we hear chapters narrated by the husband, and then by the woman. I haven’t unspooled the mystery yet. But it’s paced just so, so that even if you haven’t figured out the killer, you stay hungry for clues. But are they clues? Or am I just being manipulated?  I’m not sure I care. Manipulate me all you want, Gillian Flynn.

The author of Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed, will be at Texas Book Festival this year. My friends and I have all decided that we want Cheryl to be our best friend. She’s also the author of Wild, which seems to be on track to be the new Eat, Pray, Love, and that book is about her 1,100 mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail at age 26. But Tiny Beautiful Thing is about other people; it’s about the people who’ve written into “Dear Sugar” and dump love problems, floundering life choices, and desperate questions at her feet. She answers them, but not in the way most advice columnists do; she gives them little gifts of her own story, and does give them advice, but without the plucky cliches. There’s one question/answer, titled “Write Like a Motherfucker,” that moved me so, and whose title phrase I might have to print on a coffee mug, if only it didn’t scare/worry guests drinking out of said coffee mug.

I hope, wherever you are Reader, you’ve got something juicy and delicious to read right now. If you are a reader. And I know that you are.

So, what are you reading right now? I was in a deep, boring book rut for a while, so if you find yourself there now, may I recommend these two? I’m still shunning the Kindle, so you’re welcome to borrow my copies when I’m finished.

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WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS AS A KID?

And by “kid,” I mean eight or nine to about twelve or thirteen.

You’re past Berenstain Bears, but you haven’t hit Beverly Hills: 90210 viewing quite yet.

You are, as the book industry is so fond of saying, a Young Adult.

My friends and I got into a discussion the other night about our favorite books as kids, and how much they meant to us. There was Ann M. Martin, who taught us how to run a business. Judy Blume, who taught us about our bodies. And Christopher Pike, who didn’t impart any long-lasting life lessons, except that one should never, ever, participate in chain letters.

I absolutely adored the library as a kid. Also, book fairs, the bookstore, and thumbing through that Scholastic book catalog that came around every so often in the classroom, where you could check off what you wanted, take it home to your parents, and have them order the books — which later came delivered, right to your school. It was terribly exciting.

When I was in the 4th grade, it seemed like all the cool girls liked horses, so I tried getting into The Saddle Club series for a while.  It didn’t stick. The Dollhouse Murders, however? DUDE. I still talk about that book. I’ll tell you about it right now.

So a sweet girl named Amy goes to live with her aunt for the summer, right? It happens to be the same house where her great-grandparents died. But that’s OK, people die.  Amy soon discovers a cool old dollhouse in the attic, and everything is going just great, until she starts hearing disturbing noises coming from the dollhouse at night. She realizes the dolls are moving when she’s not there, and when she tries to explain the situation to people, the adults in her life say things like “moving dolls, huh?” and “boy, what an imagination!” Come to find out, the dolls are acting out Amy’s great-grandparents unsolved murder. Then the adults are like “wow, Amy, we should have listened to you” and “I know, let’s keep going to bed at night while the creepy dolls move around and give us more clues about your great-grandparents grisly death” and because you are ten years old and impressionable, you hang onto every single page while they execute that horrible idea, and terrify yourself so thoroughly you consider hastily getting rid of all of your dolls/action figures and possibly your stuffed animals, just in case they too decide to one day up and act out some murders for you.

But not all of the books I read were kiddie thrillers.

I also dabbled in Sweet Valley High (where I was, and still am, most decidedly an Elizabeth — not a Jessica). I devoured Nancy Drew. I tried to embrace The Boxcar Children, but frankly, their life was a little too feral for me. I preferred the civilized entrepreneurship of The Babysitters Club instead, and wanted one of the girls’ Kid Kits sooo badly.

Kids these days think they invented edgy sex scenes, and to them I say: Have a seat children, and let me tell you about a little story called Flowers in the Attic. Or better yet, for a story not quite so twisted (i.e: incestuous), Judy Blume’s Forever …, which as Megan so eloquently put it, “was the book the got passed around, with key sections highlighted.”  No vampire bedroom scenes here!  Just an actual boy, and an actual girl, actually having sex. (Actually on the floor.)

There’s a pretty new library up the street from my house, and while Ross and I don’t have any kids yet, I sometimes fantasize about walking up there with our future toddler. I envision Story Hour, and puppet shows, and helping them write their name on the book’s check-out card, in a space underneath the messy, scribbled names of all the other kids who have borrowed it.  Check-out cards still exist, right?  Don’t break my heart and tell me some cold scanner has stolen our check-out cards.

But eventually, our boy/girl will discover books that maybe they don’t want us to see. Books that discuss sex, the embarrassment of junior high, and the joy of finding a best friend. Or the joy of finding a really hot vampire. Whatever. That’s what’s so magical about grade level 4-7 literature: It’s ushering you through this confusing time, but it’s not doing it through pure fantasy. (Maybe a little fantasy.) It’s showing you a life that could maybe be your life, with recognizable people and stuff in there, only with much more grown-up themes. It’s titillating. Educational. Sometimes scandalous. And 20 years later, you may find yourself gathered around a small table, splitting a bottle of wine, giggling about the first time you read the word “penis” in a library book.

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What were your favorite books as a kid?  Also, is this a gendered thing?  Are girls more frequent bookworms than boys?  I’m curious.

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(Fun factoid: The books in Moonrise Kingdom weren’t real books, but pretend books that artists created especially for the movie. To make them, they studied books of the time, and invented titles that sounded appropriately 1960s.  Wes Anderson even commissioned those artists to make animated shorts of the story snippets Suzy reads in the movie.)

(Another fun factoid: Austin lady Sarah Pitre hosts an absolutely kickass YA blog called Forever Young Adult. She is married to one Henri Mazza, creative director of the soon-to-be-world-dominating Alamo Drafthouse, which officially makes them my favorite Austin power couple.)

(OK LAST ONE I PROMISE: The Austin Teen Book Festival is September 29 this year at the Palmer Events Center, and is free.)

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FRIDAY TATTOO, AND GOING OFFLINE.

I’ve been meaning to share my friend Fannie’s tattoo with you, Reader, because it really is just beautiful.

Fannie got this tattoo to remind her of the qualities she looks for in a person’s heart. What a great concept, right?

I’ve been thinking of writing a post called “10 Ways to get Offline” or something like that, and “getting a tattoo” has been floating around in my mental list lately of alternate activities you can do rather than surf the web.  (Probably because I’m craving another tattoo, and just haven’t had the discipline yet to save up for it.)

In the meantime, check out this interesting article I came across in the New York Times about a computerless private school in Silicon Valley, where the CTO of eBay, employees from Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and etc. all send their kids. Is there a direct correlation between how imaginative you are, and the amount of unplugged time you have in your day?  That’s what those tech-savvy parents think.  I’m inclined to agree.

As a blogger, it’s easy to carry around a gadget all the time, documenting your life constantly so that you can go share it on the web.

But I crave — and maybe this is part of a larger, collective craving — much, MUCH more time spent not fiddling on a gadget or typing on a computer, but being offline completely.  Just experiencing life as it comes to me. I know I know, the irony! What a curmudgeonly blogger! However, as this other New York Times article suggests, those draw-you-in, immersive social media networks (Facebook) may soon lose their luster.  The “get offline” apps (Foursquare) are in fact a reaction to those.  I’ve never been a checker-inner, but I do see the beauty in simply logging on one time, then putting away your phone and eating your dinner.

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop blogging (I like to write too much), but I do think this past year and a half, of doing aerial silks, yoga, samba, and other offline hobbies has made me a lot happier. Funny, because I used to think that happiness was a famous blog.

This post reminds me of another I’ve been meaning to do, “Cell Phone Etiquette” (and then I really will have made it full-circle to my inner Emily Post / School Marm). But we’ll get to that eventually. I’d love to hear from you though if you have an opinion: Are you craving more offline time? OR has Internet-fatigue not hit you yet?  (Nor will it ever?)

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