Your First Travel Video

Do you find yourself taking a bunch of videos when you travel? Interested in putting together a beautiful, polished video collage to show your friends and family? You’ve come to the right place. Here is an easy, 10-step guide on how to make your very first travel video!

  1. These first few steps are for your hardware and software setup!
    • Win a GoPro at your work’s holiday party. Try to sell it because your life is not extreme enough to warrant an action camera. Give up. Keep it.
    • Spill water all over your hand-me-down MacBook. This is crucial: it will prompt you to buy a better computer, one which will not only be able to run a weighty Adobe program, but will also let you play all your old Steam games again!
    • Optional step: procrastinate on video production by playing Team Fortress 2.
    • Download Adobe Premiere Pro. Your favorite people on YouTube use it. How hard can it be?
  2. Go somewhere. Do stuff. Record it. (Important!)
  3. Download your videos from your camera to your computer. Watch them all. Realize that this step is extremely tedious and that no less than 98% of your footage is trash. Put it off for months (not recommended); revisit optional step in #1.
  4. To choose a song that encourages a particular vibe, leave your music library on shuffle for a month. Agonize.
  5. Throw clips haphazardly into Premiere. Try to construct a narrative completely free-form. Spend weeks wondering why this is so hard. Why it won’t work?
  6. Return to step 3. Stress out under self-imposed deadlines. Decide to Get Serious™.
    • Map out the song you’ve chosen. How many seconds are there per line? Verse? Chorus? This helps understand how much time to dedicate to each segment.
    • Select video clips so that they fit into these time constraints.
    • What? That’s it? That’s so much easier. Why didn’t you do that from the start?
  7. Watch dozens of instructional videos on YouTube on how to add cool effects to your video. Spend an entire day doing a single title sequence. Decide that that is enough. Who are you trying to impress anyway? You know your family will be stoked to see whatever garbage you churn out.
  8. Brief interlude for creative crisis and/or impostor syndrome.
  9. Watch your video all the way through no fewer than 100 times, scrutinizing for any possible mistake. Realize that you’re actually enjoying your own content. This indicates that you are, in fact, finally finished.
  10. Post your completed video to your social media. Congratulations! Watch those likes roll in!

In all seriousness, though, I have a lot of fun making videos. I’m struggling still to understand Adobe’s Premiere, but the more I use it, the more ideas I get for other videos to do, traveling and otherwise. It motivates me to get better!

Here are all of the videos I have made so far, in chronological order. Thank you for watching!

 

 

 

 

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Intermittent Fasting

Our deployments are frequent but short: eight weeks, a few times a year. Two months is the perfect amount of time to experiment with something new, especially if it can lead to a positive habit.

Last time, I was out for twice as long, and I didn’t shave the entire time. It was a psychological struggle from start to finish, and I was relieved to finally get rid of my body hair when I got home. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I tried it. It wasn’t for me.

This time: intermittent fasting. It was a lot easier. (???)

I got the idea from the people I work with. “Metabolic window!” one of them shrieks about halfway through the day, like a ring of a bell to bring pigs to the trough. They all swear by it, though, saying that it helped them stay lean but also maintain muscle mass.

These were not my goals. My issue – my perpetual torment – is that I feel completely ruled by cravings. Being hungry makes me miserable, and, for some reason, I am always hungry, always thinking about the next meal. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I am, and I don’t want to be. My hope was that regular, daily fasting would help calibrate or at least manage my appetite such that it didn’t consume so much of my brainspace.

Anyway, the idea behind IF is simple: you fast for longer than you feed. Different people use different techniques, but most common seems to be 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of feeding – which, in practical terms, amounts to skipping breakfast or dinner. No caloric intake at all while in the fasting phase.

It is particularly interesting how we seem to be moving beyond the “six small meals a day” trend that was so pervasive only a decade ago, at least in terms of popular nutrition. Intermittent fasting is almost exactly the opposite.

I didn’t execute this perfectly, especially at first. I didn’t want to give up my coffee-with-sweetener at the start of the day. Then I had a bottle of Black Blood of the Earth shipped to the deployment site, which provided my morning go-go potion and kept me in the fasting phase for an extra few hours. (Black coffee allegedly does not break the metabolic window.)

We can’t drink while deployed, and I try not to eat any of the vast abundance of delicious desserts on prominent display at the galley (again: my eternal misery). So no alcohol or sweets. Besides that, though, I didn’t really change anything. In fact, I ate like trash. People assume that because I don’t eat meat, I’m very healthy, all the time. Not so, I promise you. My deployment diet was 90% potato with the previous food-service contractor, and when they changed over, it became 90% bread in the convenient form of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So, yeah, not a particularly balanced diet.

“Please,” my body wailed. “Feed me a vegetable. Just one, once, please.”

And that’s the wild thing: despite that, it sort of worked.

Dealing with the hunger pains was extremely challenging at first, especially during the last hour or two of the fast when I knew feasting was imminent. In time, though, it became surprisingly easy to tolerate, an annoying but manageable ache. Let’s take a moment here to appreciate how incredibly, horribly privileged this sounds: while I was whining from being hungry, I always had food nearby, ready to eat as soon as I was within my window. I knew, at all times, that the hunger was self-imposed and could be terminated at any time. There are so, so many people who are hungry in the world, and not because they choose to be for the sake of a strange body experiment. And that sucks. I think that made this exercise worthwhile possibly even in a moral sense.

After a time, then, being hungry didn’t feel like the worst possible suffering anymore. I could walk by the donut counter and not feel actual agony over not being able to eat any of them. IF significantly reduced my biggest weaknesses: my appetite and my cravings for sweets. That alone is a (Borat voice) great success.

A downside, though: after six weeks of uninterrupted, fairly reliable intermittent fasting, I started noticing a significant decline in energy and difficulty sleeping. This could have been attributed to any number of other things going on in a deployment setting, but in case anyone else experiences similar symptoms, it might be a good idea to take a break for a while. And also to talk to a doctor before starting any new diet!

Overall, I’m glad I gave this a try. It’s the sort of thing I could stick to for some time, possibly even longer than eight weeks. Will I, though? Probably not. But I know that intermittent fasting is something that works for me if I need to stop being such a baby about being hungry and wanting donuts all the time.

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An Obituary for Alice Gleba, My Grandma

Grandma wrote her own obituary. She wrote down what song she wanted to play at her funeral and what clothes she wanted to be dressed in. She last updated it in 2014. This is a comfort: she was ready.

She wanted to be remembered for her family, of course. Her parents and siblings, all of whom predeceased her except for one brother. Her children, two daughters and two sons, and her seven grandchildren.

Grandma was the daughter of immigrants, first generation Americans from Austria. I wonder often about what their experience was like, coming to the USA at the turn of the century. Grandma was born in 1928, only a year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Her family owned a farm and a bunch of land in New Britain, CT, which must have mitigated somewhat the effects of the Depression, but my grandma was always ruthlessly frugal. So is my mom, who shared a bed with her sister during their childhood. She and I would share that same bed when we stayed over Grandma’s.

Grandma worked at Precision Grinding in New Britain, CT for fifteen years. Her children walked to school, just a few blocks from their home, and she wanted to be there when they came home for lunch. She must have given her children a decent childhood. They all turned out very well.

Her husband, my grandpa, died when I was still very young. I don’t remember much about him, besides the oxygen and dialysis machines which kept him alive in his final years. Mom told me that he volunteered for the army during WWII and stormed the beach at Normandy. She said it was a horribly traumatic experience, that he saw his friends dying all around him from a hail of bullets and from drowning. He didn’t talk about it much. He was so poor that the army was his best chance at a better life, if he came out on the other side of it. He did. I don’t know how he and my Grandma met. I don’t know much about him at all. He was very quiet.

My mom and my grandma were very close. Grandma would come see us in Rhode Island, taking us kids out for a day so my mom could have some time to herself. She would walk us down the street to the Newport Creamery. One year, when my leg was broken in a skiing accident, she pushed me in a wheelchair all the way. She would order a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour a tablespoon or two of coffee over the top. As a kid, I thought it was gross. Now, as an adult, I think it’s very cool.

In her obituary, Grandma wrote that her “favorite pastime was working in her garden and taking care of her yard. She also enjoyed reading and making trips to the library for new books. She liked to take nature walks, ride her bike, and cook her favorite meals.” This is a beautiful and simple summary of a life that spanned almost an entire century.

In her backyard, Grandma had a big tree that cast the whole lawn in shade, like a giant umbrella, and a statue of the Virgin Mary. She kept old road bikes in a small shed, along with her gardening tools. She would ride her bike around the neighborhood even in her 80s. It took getting hit by a car to get her to stop. Even then, she still took daily walks, picking up trash in the street as she went. More than once, she was sprayed by a skunk, which we all thought was super funny. Neighbors recognized her. All of that land used to belong to her family, Mom told me. Now it is just the one house, the house my mom was raised in, and soon, not even that.

Growing up, the whole family went up to a German family resort in the beautiful Catskill Mountains during the summer. We would hike and hit golfballs at the driving range and swim and eat and eat and eat. Someone always got stung by a bee. One time, my brother got stung by about a dozen bees, and it was sort of my fault. It seemed like everyone there knew Grandma, and she knew everyone else. She tried to teach me how to dance the polka. She would clap along to the music and she knew the words to some of the traditional German songs.

She had a sly sense of humor. She liked to play Rummy. Whenever she wrote to me – for my birthday and Christmas and Easter – she would apologize for her bad writing and spelling. It hurt me that this was something she felt like she had to say, because there was nothing wrong with how she wrote. She didn’t think she was smart, maybe because each subsequent generation of her family was more educated than the previous one, but there are many different ways to be smart. My grandma was an intensely practical person and capable in ways that I will never be.

I would video-call her and my mom on Sundays. When I’m on deployment, it was the highlight of my week, giving me a boost in morale that would carry me through the next few days. She had been losing her memory for a while, and when I was away, she would ask me every week: where are you?

“I can’t tell,” I would say awkwardly.

“She’s in West Hartford!” my mom’s fiance John would yell in the background. He had been in the Navy. He knows how it is sometimes.

“You can tell me,” Grandma would say. “I won’t squeal.”

She told me I had a nice smile and, when I expected her to give me a hard time about my haircut, she said she liked it, said it must be much easier to deal with. Grandma got it.

“Do you regret joining the service?” she would ask in a low voice, heavy with confidentiality and some other emotion that I couldn’t quite pin down.

“No,” I would say, trying to sound positive. The word would hang there, suspended between us, never really touching down. I think we both knew I was lying, at least a little bit. I think my Grandma understood what the military takes from its members, even when it tries to give them back something in return.

In the last few years of her life, my mom went to see her every weekend, being there for Grandma as Grandma had been there for her so many years ago; “the circle of life,” my mom says. Grandma knew it was Sunday because her caregiver would help her into her sneakers in the morning. Mom brought her to the mall to people-watch. They ate at the same restaurant and everyone knew her there. She would watch funny animals on youtube, asking John if he knew the animals in the videos personally, and that’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

Even as her health began to fail, she was charming and funny and stubborn. She refused to move out of her home for an assisted-care facility, clinging to this last shred of privacy and ownership that often gets taken away during one’s old age. It was a source of controversy and, sometimes, frustration for my family – where does her autonomy end and overriding concern for her safety begin? – and demanded a revolving door of lady caregivers, a compromise. For Grandma’s happiness and pride, it was worth it. She was in the most comfortable and familiar place possible when she began to slip away.

Grandma died peacefully on June 23, 2018. My brother, a doctor, was at her side in her final moments. This, too, is a tremendous comfort, and he is very brave. The rest of the family was on their way to my uncle’s surprise birthday party. They were rerouted to the hospital instead. “You know how hard it is to get everyone together at the same time,” my mom said. It was a surprise of another kind, but at least everyone was there.

This is my first time dealing with grief from a grown-up perspective. I’m thinking – constantly, much more than I want to – about what it might have been like for her to die. Did she know it was time? Was she afraid? Did she think about her husband? Her kids? Did she know that her children and grandchildren were on their way to her, rushing, frantic?

“Don’t be sad,” my mom told me over the phone, still in the hospital room. “She wouldn’t want you to be.”

It’s a common idea, but it is true. Grandma didn’t have time for all that.

She was 90 years old. The scope of the history that she lived through is almost inconceivable to me. I think often about how different the world was when she was my age and what things were like for her then. I hope my mom lives as long as her mom did. I hope I do too, and see as much as she did, and be as vivacious and strong and tenacious as she was. I will miss you, Grandma. You were our connection to a whole different world of triumph over hardship and tradition. I’m lucky to be part of your family.

Grandma

Alice Gleba, 1928-2018

 You can find her official obituary here in the New Britain Herald. You can leave a condolence for our family here. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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Making Time for Yourself

Someone asked me recently what I would be doing to entertain myself if I was back home. I didn’t have an answer. This is, I think, for two reasons:

  1. I haven’t lived in Hawaii for long enough to carve out a familiar, comforting routine. Of the past nine months (whoa) since coming to Hawaii, I’ve been away for almost six of them, and the others were seeped in an overwhelmingly liminal feeling.
  2. Almost all of the things that make me happiest are portable.

Think about it: if you were to leave home for a while – a few weeks, or many months – what is it that you would miss? If you have a family or spouse or even a pet, they have to stay behind. That’s rough, but this is about you. Who are you, apart from everyone else? What entertains you? What activities make you feel like you are fully yourself?

I like to ask people what they look forward to doing when they get home from work and all the chores and errands are finished. My dad would never let us pick up an activity if there was work left to be done; it made really appreciate my leisure time and, more importantly, live fully inside of it, free from to-do lists nagging at the edge of my attention. So when it is time for you to put your feet up and relax, what do you reach for? If it’s something you can carry with you, then, I think, you’ll always have a little bit of home with you wherever you go.

I’m sure I have a biased perspective. It took a long time, but now I am used to living away from my family and friends, and I had to learn how to make myself happy without them around for support, filling up my time and space. And I guess I’ve always been a quiet, introverted nerd. Outdoorsy and athletic, too, but my parents wanted me to be, and I’m not sure how many of those impulses are inherent and how many are the result of habit and upbringing. In fact, even those physical activities are, for me, solitudinous – running, swimming, hiking: all alone.

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Illustration by Chris Buzelli (from a great essay, titled “At Home in the Liminal World“)

When your principle form of diversion is depends on you alone – your creativity or motivation – almost any hobby can be carried along with you. I do things alone. I associate solitude with home. In a way, then, I can bring a little bit of home with me wherever I go.

Even amidst the roar of propeller blades and the chatter of the crew on the headsets, when I open up a book, I am transported to a different place, any place of my choosing. I can play my Nintendo Switch in a crowded, noisy lounge and forget that anyone else is there. Even writing this post, or any creative writing – I keep a notebook in my backpack, ready to seize the opportunity when inspiration strikes, and my phones “notes” app is filled with scraps of ideas and descriptions that I want to remember or revisit. When I run, it’s just me and the music (and suffering). I’m getting back into video editing, which requires a surprising amount of concentration and a challenging learning curve and a lot more invested time than I remember from before. All of these things bring me the most joy, and I can do all of them whether I’m at home or on the road.

Sometimes people get their “me” time, some comfort of home, from being around other people – group activities, team sports, spending time together. They could feel comfortable wherever they go. That is wonderful, a truly enviable characteristic. But this post is not about that.

I am deeply interested in people who make it a priority to carve out time for themselves, who have some quiet interest that draws them away from the company of others. Now, more than ever, it is so easy to waste time. (I’m guilty of this just as much as everyone else my age; I spend a truly appalling amount of time scrolling through memes and watching the same youtube videos over and over.) I’m fascinated by people who have clear priorities, who set boundaries on the time they’re willing to give to others and the time they insist on keeping for themselves. It takes some bravery and focus, and sometimes awkward explanations, to detach from the world around you and turn the focus inward instead, to be wholly and authentically yourself. I have a lot of respect for people who make it look natural and effortless, especially since I’m pretty firmly entrenched in the “antisocial weirdo” camp.

So if you have some secret hobby or passion, something that you do for you alone when no one else is watching, I’d like to hear about it sometime. I think I understand you a little bit already, and I’d like to know more.

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My First Big Race

Here is one of the productivity mind-games that I play with myself: I think of two tasks that must be completed that day and only do one of them.

Wait, you might be thinking. Doesn’t that mean you’re only half as productive as you need to be?

This is a strategy I learned by taking care of small children. Instead of asking them to come up with something to do on their own – which, if you’re familiar with the amazing and terrible natural creativity of children, could be conceivably anything – instead give them a choice between two plausible options, two things that you’re willing or able to accommodate. It’s a subtle tactic for letting them feel like they’ve made an authentic decision, one within realistic parameters of your choosing. Usually everyone ends up happy.

I guess I need to treat myself like a toddler.

Anyway, knocking out one to-do item every day is a good way to eventually and systematically accomplish all important chores. I find that it encourages me to triage tasks naturally; the things that I think need to be done immediately can actually be put off without consequence. This strategy has relieved a lot of self-imposed stress in my life.

But this post isn’t about time management. You can take that advice with you to the bank, free of charge, a gift from me to you.

For the past few weeks, when I come home from work, I’ve said to myself: okay, you’re either going to write about the big race or you’re going to go for an actual run.

Looking at the date of this post, you can figure out what I’ve been choosing: actually running, every single time. For someone who loves writing and hates running, this has been an inscrutable development. Do I like running more than I think I do? Do I have some sort of writer’s block about the subject of running itself?

I don’t know yet. But the result is that I’ve been running every day, so that’s all right. That’s what I like about this time management technique: even when I’m putting something off, I’m still getting something done.

Today I want to rest, so today I will write.


I trained for eighteen weeks using a program on the Nike running app. I was deployed for all but three of those weeks. I did very little strength training during this time, focusing instead on the four or five runs per week in the program. As time went on, so did the mileage. Towards the end of deployment, on my “long run” days, I was finding myself on the treadmill for two hours or more. My toenails turned black and fell off. I replaced my sneakers and wore down the cushioning almost immediately.

I started to realize that there was a lot more to a race than the big event itself. Preparation demands a huge time commitment.

I’ll come back to this idea later.

It was unbelievably humid on the day of the race, something I didn’t realize until about a mile or so in. I was already soaked through with sweat. The announcer at the starting line had pleaded with participants to stop at each aid station along the way to stay hydrated. I’m glad he did, otherwise my stubbornness and fear of stopping (what if I couldn’t start again?) might have led to very serious dehydration. I grabbed a cup of water or sports drinks from the outstretched arms of volunteers, slowing to a walk while I drank, then launching myself back into the fray before I could talk myself out of it.

I feared, more than anything, my own mental fragility. How easily could I talk myself into quitting?

As it turned out, it was the aid stations that kept me going – not just physically, but psychologically. As faster runners left me in the dust, as my legs and lungs began to hurt, I told myself: just make it to the next aid station. If you need to stop when you get there, you can, but for now, keep going.

Somehow, I did. I threw back the water and kept going.

I had expected the last few miles of the race to be the hardest due to elevation changes; it was a surprise when I struggled throughout the first half. I think I was pushing myself too hard to keep up with other runners. Over and over, I shrieked inside my own head: slow down! Save energy! So I pushed through the discomfort of the humidity, struggling to breathe, and puttered my way around downtown Honolulu. Slowly, willing myself to go even slower.

I started seeing runners coming from the other direction, runners in clusters of twos and threes, surrounded by motorcycles and vans. Cameras and shouts of encouragement from their teams. The real runners, those in the chase, those with something at stake in this race. It was incredibly humbling, and it put things into perspective. What did I have to be anxious about? I was competing with no one but myself. All I had to do was get through it.

By the time we had circled back around and approached the starting line in downtown Waikiki, around mile eight, I started to feel better. My pace felt comfortable and sustainable. At the same time, though, I dreaded what was ahead.

And here it comes, I thought, seeing Diamond Head looming in the distance. The first big hill began at the nine-mile mark, where an aid station offered nutritional gel packs. My sweaty hands struggled to tear it open. It made my mouth feel like glue, but it worked: the runners in front of me started to stop and walk up each of the hills around the crater. I kept going. My run had slowed down to a degree that was almost cartoonish, but I was still running. I didn’t stop. I was passing more and more people.

By the ten-mile mark, I realized there was only a 5k run left to go. “Only” a 5k! I felt a surge of adrenaline when I realized that I was going to finish. It helped that the worst was over; the elevation began leading downhill, and I was seized with giddiness. I road it out all the way to the finish line. But by the time I slowed to a stop, I didn’t feel much of anything at all. Just glad, I think. Glad that I did it, and glad that it was over.

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My goal time was 2.5 hours, factoring in a very slow pace. I worried that if I got ambitious, I would burn myself out too fast and might not be able to finish at all. Given the weather conditions that day, I’m glad I allowed myself to freedom to be slow. Crossing the finish line, I saw a time below 2.5 hours. I didn’t care about anything more specific than that. When they put a medal around my neck, it said “Finisher,” not “Finished but did it real slow.” All that mattered was that I got there.

And I did it! I didn’t stop, I didn’t quit, and I maintained a consistent pace. I was proud. I am proud. I had never run at all before I went to boot camp. And now here I was! Your body can do a lot more than you think it can. It was a great experience – challenging, especially at the start, but worthwhile.


So now that I’ve run a half marathon, the next step is to go for a full marathon. Right?

At the start of this post, I mentioned how time consuming it is to train for a long race. I hadn’t realized it until I had gotten myself pretty deep into the program. The question, to me, isn’t whether or not I want to run a marathon. I do. I would like to, someday. It seems like a tremendous accomplishment. The real question is: am I ready to invest the time into preparing for it? And right now, the answer is no.

This happens a lot. I meet some goal, and although I feel happy and proud, I find that the journey to that point burned me out and makes me want to avoid that thing in which I’ve saturated my life. It happened with weight lifting, then swimming. Now running, too. I still run, but even on the best of runs, after 30 or 45 minutes, I think, all right, that’s enough. I want to do something else now.

The race itself – the experience, the medal, the photos – it is just the final, visible, demonstrable product of months of unseen effort. The resulting pride is rooted not just in that one run, but in all the runs that led to that finish line.

What makes distance running so special – something I knew factually but realized on an emotional level standing in the middle of a crowd of ten thousand runners, people of all ages and ability levels and backgrounds – is that any able-bodied person can do it. Any age, any income level, any range of athleticism. All one needs is a pair of sneakers and time and willpower. Running is an astounding equalizer. I felt swallowed up in that crowd, like I was being carried along on a flowing river. And it felt good.

As long as I have legs to carry me forward, running will always be there. Even if I put it aside for a while. I will get older and I will get slower. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be about the time on the clock. It’s about how the journey to the finish line changes you, changes how you think about yourself. There will be a time in my future when I need that change. God willing, my body will let me run through it.

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I Didn’t Shave For Four Months. I Hoped It Would Free Me.

Most folks “let themselves go” a little bit while deployed. Our socializing is restricted to those on our crew, so eventually we stop worrying so much about putting up appearances, for better or worse. (Like all good things, this can get taken too far: on the ship, some people get disciplined into performing basic hygiene, like showering.) It is a refreshing reminder, for example, to look in the mirror after months without makeup and realize you’re still cute!

I was going to a cold and dry environment. Most of the time, my legs would be covered. And there would be no liberty, no seeing new people or new things, so there wasn’t much of a point in shaving. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to not shave and see what happened. I was hoping the experience would liberate me, like cutting my hair short. I thought I would cross a new threshold and realize it was so much better on the other side.

The hair on my legs went from stubbly to bristly to long, shockingly long, long enough that I could feel the wind through the hair when I walked around outside. (This, I realized, was a sensation I had never felt before, not once in my life. I started shaving my legs when I was so young, still in middle school, before I even had the chance to actually grow adult body hair.) The hair was dark but not particularly thick; it looked like the hair most guys get when they first start trying to grow a mustache. Frankly, it looked like pubes. It was longest by my ankles, disappeared by the tops of my calves, and returned, thinner and lighter, on my thighs. It was not soft, but then again neither is the hair on top of my head. My family has thick, coarse hair. My legs, it turns out, are no exception.

I hated it. I hated it at first, I hated it throughout the duration – it looked wrong, it felt wrong – and I hate it now, even with weeks of retrospect. I hate myself for hating it. I read many, many articles by women who stopped shaving and loved themselves more for it. I am deeply envious of them – and ashamed of myself for not feeling the same way. Being ugly, after all, is one of the worst sins a woman can commit. Almost anything else is excusable: be crass, be cruel, be empty, but for God’s sake be easy on the eyes while doing it. What does it mean when I find myself ugly? How much of this feeling is reducible to my own personal preference, and how much of it is the product of social pressure, drilled into my head since I was a child? How do I even begin to separate the two?

It is one thing to buck social convention when you feel well-liked and comfortable. You can take solace in knowing that you have people who will love you and want to be around you no matter how hairy you are. During this experiment, though, I felt lonely – something I feel not when I’m actually alone, strangely, but when I’m deprived of solitude and forced to socialize – which added to a general malaise of low self-confidence. This demanded a whole separate exercise in bravery, one that I struggled with a lot.

(To be fair, throughout the deployment, no one said a negative thing about my body hair to my face. In fact, the few people I confided in about it were very supportive and kind and understanding. I’m grateful for that. But being in an environment of constant negativity gets under your skin after a while. It amplifies that personal negative voice droning on in the back of our minds, the one that tells us we are ugly and stupid and terrible. It makes it seem more real, more manifested.)

But it wasn’t all bad. I didn’t mind the underarm hair. It grew into a soft and reddish tuft, a surprise. If I wasn’t such a social coward, I wouldn’t mind keeping it grown out. Another discovery: there is a spot right below my left knee where only a patch of hair grows, alone in an otherwise hairless area. It looked like a little goatee. It was hilarious.

From this experience, I also got to reflect (more than I wanted to) on how much of my self-worth comes from the perception of how attractive I am to others and how much of my personality is rooted in a desire to be liked. Who am I when I’m not trying to be more socially palatable? To be sweet and funny and smart?

I’m still working on those answers. In the meantime, though, I started shaving again. There is some shame in letting social pressure win, but that defeat is quiet and personal and invisible. By contrast, body hair is a public, noticeable thing, an consistent opportunity to invite embarrassment. It was a serious emotional challenge to post these photos here, evidence of something now gone – never mind wearing it on my body every day.

A few years ago, I would have been mortified to see a photo of myself without makeup. That doesn’t bother me anymore. Maybe someday in the future, then, I’ll be brave enough to be hairy, live and in public. Not now, though. Not back here in sunny Hawaii, where everyone is always sun-kissed and in swimsuits and groomed. Not yet.

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Anatomy of a Flight Suit

On the ship, we wore coveralls. They were designed to be easily donned in the event of battle stations or, more realistically, being late for watch. The newest variant is even fire retardant so they won’t melt to our skin in the event of a casualty. Fires happen onboard ships a lot more often than you might think, so thanks, Navy! They’re also a very dark blue – one might say Navy blue – for an important tactical purpose: if we were to fall overboard, we would be completely camouflaged with the ocean and thus impossible to visually locate, quickly freeing us from our miserable contracted servitude as we sink down to Davy Jones’ cold, dark locker and are united at last with our father King Neptune.

Too much? Sorry, a lot happened last year. No worries, though; I’m in aviation now. In this community, the most danger I’m regularly exposed to is Taco Tuesday and an unbelievable amount of whining.

Anyway, what makes a flight suit different is that it was designed to have pockets that can be comfortably and easily utilized while sitting, which makes sense, because flying is mostly just sitting still for many hours. Seated accessibility: isn’t that the sexiest idea you’ve ever heard? It didn’t get the screen time it deserved in Top Gun.

So what does one do when she has so much holding space on her person ready to be utilized at any time? Look no further: here is the stuff I keep in my pockets when I fly.

flight suit

  1. Can you imagine starting your workday with your supervisor checking your clothing to make sure your ID card is in your left breast pocket? We’ve got a regulation for everything. Welcome to the United States Navy, FORGED BY THE SEA! I don’t follow this rule in the other working uniform, but by some convenient accident, it happened naturally with this one. Also here: dogtags, earplugs, chapstick, one or two of the 300 Splenda packets I packed for deployment. Look, this is war. You have to be prepared.
  2. The right breast pocket is my dedicated utensil drawer. Someone once asked around the plane if anyone had an extra spoon, and I pulled them all out in a flourish and handed one over. “Do you mind a pocket spoon?” I asked. He didn’t. I guess this is who I am now: a plastic cutlery hoarder. Sometimes they stab me in the sides, or I break them in half if I move around too much. Worth it. You never know when you might need to snack, and snacking is 99% of my in-flight tasking.
  3. Under the flap, you’ll find slots for pens. I keep one (1) pen in there. I saw another flier stick a spare fork in the other slot. The flap won’t close over it, so he had a fork sticking out of his sleeve. This is a very distinguished look. One piece of plastic conveys an impressive message: anytime, anywhere.
  4. This is where I keep my bullet journal/external brain, which contains my planner and flight notes. No jokes on this one: bullet journaling is very good and useful. Okay, one joke: use of the word “bullet” makes using a day planner 100% more tactical. (“Tactical” word count so far: 2)
  5. There’s a long pocket along the left inseam, with the bit of white string hanging out. It’s supposed to be for a knife. Doesn’t that sound cool? On the ship, I kept a multitool on my belt that I bought at the Exchange for about $30. On the plane, I carry a knife that retails for $129.  This demonstrates that I am both bougie as hell and also ready to cut open a carton of soy milk at a moment’s notice. “That’s a nice knife,” I have actually been told, in real life. It was a gift from my dad, okay? You can be sentimental and tactical (3).
    UPDATE: I have learned that this pocket is, in fact, for a piddle pack. This is in some ways much better and, in other ways, much, much worse.
  6. I didn’t know what “FUD” stood for until I started flying. Play along with me: read on and see if you can figure it out from context clues. The plane has a bathroom but we’re not supposed to use it – sort of. Understandably, no one wants the terrible job of having to clean everyone else’s dookie, so the entire community came to an agreement that pooping on the plane was restricted to trash bags, to be tied up and hung belowdecks (or whatever the plane equivalent is, I don’t know) where they will be exposed to the external temperature and freeze. This means that everyone sees you coming out of the head carrying a bag and they know immediately about your bowel-related crimes. If you have gripes about pooping in public, this is the walk of shame of your nightmares. Naturally, my sweet mother thinks this is hysterical. She is right: it is. I haven’t pooped on the plane yet (fingers crossed), but I can’t go that long without peeing. Can anyone? Women lack the requisite bodily infrastructure to pee into the portable urinal, which is removed from the plane and dumped out after flights. In comes the FUD, out goes my pee, which is at least 75% coffee. I’m proud of how skilled I’ve become at peeing while standing up; it is probably the most useful thing I’ve learned in aviation thus far, and I went through some truly buckwild training last year, so that’s saying something. Also included in this pocket is a small package of wet wipes. I’m not an animal.
  7. If you put anything dense in these pockets, it will bang against your shinbones while walking. For something small and heavy like a knife (!), this will actually hurt quite a bit. I fold up my ball cap and flight gloves and tuck them in here. They are light enough that they move easily, at the same rate as the legs of the flightsuit itself. I often forget that they are there and then panic thinking I left my gloves behind. A time-honored military tradition is slapping various parts of your body until you find which pocket you put something in. I made that up just now – everyone does this, probably. Hopefully?
  8. Disregard first sentence regarding previous pocket. I keep a plastic water bottle in here and sometimes a small paperback for sneaky tactical (4) reading.

I bet you’re still reeling. Eight whole, functioning pockets – what an unimaginable luxury! All of this can be yours, too, if you make some small concessions, such as all personal autonomy and thousands of miles of physical and emotional distance between you and the people who care about you the most. Did I mention there was a pocket for a knife, though?

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2017

2017 is over. We did it, everyone! Good job!

2017

EVENTS
In January, I did a practice parachute jump in air crew school that didn’t go so well. Something felt wrong, but I wasn’t in pain, so I pressed on until the adrenaline wore off. I was shocked when the x-rays showed two fractures because, though my foot was swollen as hell and I couldn’t put any pressure down, it didn’t hurt at all. This is a sharp contrast to when, at a different school in May, I felt back pain so severe that I thought my kidneys were failing. Despite the pain, the ER said there was nothing wrong: a pinched nerve, maybe? They gave me a shot and I slept it off. It spooked me pretty bad that I could experience sudden, intense pain for no reason.

I bought my first car. It is a 2013 Hyundai Accent and it spirited me across the country from Florida to Washington, seeing some amazing stuff along the way. Maybe I should have been nervous, driving so far all on my own, but I wasn’t, even when situations might have called for trepidation. I’m glad I did it; this solo road trip was the highlight of my year. It showed me that there is so much of America that I haven’t seen yet.

The Patriots won Super Bowl SBLI in one of the most exciting games of all time. I will never shut up about it and I’m not sorry.

I completed some of the most challenging training of my life, forcing me to face a lot of fears. Someone once told me that you either have a good time or a good story. Some of it was good times. Almost all of it makes good stories.

I moved to Hawaii. Thanks, Navy, for letting me spend a few years in paradise. I’m going to make the most of it.

I went on my first aircrew deployment. They call them “dets” but I have a compulsive need to be contrary in the most pointless and petty ways imaginable. Anyway, I’m still out here, and it has confirmed two suspicions: that the aircrew life is offensively easy, and that I still want to get out of the Navy. I was afraid that I was going to fall in love with this stuff and struggle with the temptation to reenlist.

RESOLUTIONS
To write a blog post every month. I did it! I’m going to continue this goal. It has demonstrated to me the value in simply putting something out there, especially if it’s not perfectly polished. Usually, my attitude when submitting a new blog post is: here’s a new piece of trash for the garbage heap! But once in a while, I’ll scroll back through what I’ve written and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was at the time. Some of it is even okay!

To get back to (arbitrary weight). I made this goal before I broke my foot literally in the first week of the year. Then I moved from Florida to Washington to Hawaii. I am, of course, making excuses, but this was not the year for stability. The hardest part about staying committed to any body-related goal is that I’m more or less fine with how I look. My body is okay. It always has been okay. It is really hard to maintain a weight-loss goal when it’s not motivated, to some extent, by self-hatred. Is this what getting older is like? Just accepting your fleshy meat prison the way it is? That said, I haven’t given up completely. I still have to fit in to uniforms for another 34 months and I will not buy more!

Read as many books as last year. 32 last year, 48 this year. My TBR list grows faster than I can chip away at it. I’d like to be better and braver about quitting books that don’t grab my attention, but I have a hard time leaving them unfinished. This is ironic for someone who, at the moment, has 15 unfinished blog posts in the queue. (Soon, 14.)

I wanted to stop swearing. What was once edgy and is now so commonplace that it defeats the point. Cursing has evolved into verbal laziness; sailors substitute swears in place of any word at all, making the things they say ironically, unintentionally bland. Conversely, the recent rise of ironic wholesomeness and the use of creative non-swears packs a much more interesting punch. I like saying things in funny and, hopefully, memorable ways. So if I’m going to swear, it had better be a necessary component of the idea. Otherwise, I’m going to try to find a more accurate word.

I haven’t thought of any new resolutions for 2018. These are all okay, besides the weight loss one, so I guess I’ll just keep on with this sort of thing.

FAVORITES
MUSIC: I WAS BORN by Hanson
I finished a write up about another artist a few weeks ago. I let it simmer. When I came back to this post, though, I realized what I really wanted to talk about was Hanson. Yes, MMMBop Hanson, from our childhoods. Remember them?

I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a Hanson fan specifically, but I am almost certain that you have heard a Hanson song, enjoyed it, and had no idea who you were listening to. They are like that: every few years, Hanson steps back into our cultural consciousness, releases a top 40 banger, and humbly fades away.

Hanson released a two-disk, 26-track greatest hits album a few months ago: “Middle of Everywhere,” which I bought immediately after watching them perform on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert (it’s worth a watch). What amazed me the most was not how much they had grown or changed across more than two decades of making music together, but how much they had stayed the same. Not only do the older songs hold up over time – MMMBop was 20 years old in 2017, and it still has its youthful sing-a-long charm and positive, hopeful message – but Hanson has maintained their essence over their entire lives. How many of us figure out our artist niche as children? These guys did. In the NPR concert, when they play “This Time Around,” I found myself remembering the all the words, despite not having heard it in two decades. Hanson is like that: subtle, memorable, enduring.

There is something about Hanson that is quintessential to American pop, a slice of our music culture at its best: pure, upbeat, hand-clapping tunes with joyful harmonies that only siblings could pull off. Hanson makes good music, then and now. They deserve a lot more attention than they get.

I want to see the sights unseen
I want the extraordinary
Everybody’s waking to the same clock
I could never be another chip off the block

Runners-ups:
“GONE” by ionnalee
“Echo in the Hills” by Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt (2014, but listened to it a lot this year)
“New Rules” by Dua Lipa

MOVIES/TV: TERRACE HOUSE: ALOHA STATE
Terrace House is seriously underappreciated.

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It is a reality TV show in which six young people – three guys, three girls – live together in a house, and everything they do is filmed. Think MTV’s Real World, but not quite so 90s and much more Japanese. The biggest difference is the tremendous, echoing absence of the kind of drama we have come to associate with American reality TV. Much of Terrace House is, as a friend put it, “delightfully mundane.” We watch them go to work and school. We watch them cook and clean together. We get to see their outings to beautiful places. Sometimes they fall in love. The best part about the show, though, is the extremely Japanese tradition of having a crew of commentators routinely interrupt the program to discuss what had happened and what they expect will happen next. They are hilarious; I can’t believe the US hasn’t adopted this practice yet.

When drama does happen –  well, first of all, it is incredibly low-key, since the Japanese are traditionally not super confrontational. But the tensions and arguments that do arise are emotional rollercoasters because they are entirely organic and authentic, not contrived by producers behind the scenes. When things get tough, you realize that these are real people with real lives and real feelings. You become invested in them and their happiness. You share in those quiet frustrations and awkward conversations because they are so deeply relatable. Terrace House captures the entirety of real lives: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What makes it so great, though, is how it shows that life is mostly good.

Aloha State – the first iteration of Terrace House to be filmed outside of Japan – was released on Netflix (worldwide) in late January, when my foot was broken and my own fate regarding living in Hawaii was up in the air. The second part was released shortly before I high-tailed it out of Pensacola, fully healed and confident that I was inching my way closer to the Aloha State. The third part came out when I was in Washington, only one school away from completing that wretched pipeline. Finally, the last part came out when I had arrived in Hawaii; I finished the last episode on the day I signed the lease to my apartment. I made it. So, yeah, this pick is a little sentimental, but it’s a good show and it gave me hope that I would make it to Hawaii someday.

Runners-up:
Get Out
The Last Jedi
My Brother, My Brother and Me
The Great British Bake-Off
Brooklyn Nine-Nine

BOOK: PRIESTDADDY by Patricia Lockwood
Boy, is it hard to pick just one, but it seems right to pick something that was published in 2017.

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Priestdaddy is a memoir about the author moving back in with her parents after her husband’s health troubles render them financially unstable. Her dad, somehow a Catholic priest, is a caricature of a man, especially a conservative man. Lockwood describes her childhood and adult interactions with her family in the most delightful, tender, earnest ways possible, but also with an edge of smarmy, self-aware standoffishness that I imagine must come naturally when writing about one’s family as though they were specimens under a microscope.

Seriously, though, Lockwood writes like a dream. She makes me want to write a book just like this one. It is the only book I read this year that made me laugh out loud like a maniac – multiple times. It is so, so funny – a perfect memoir.

Another reason why I chose Priestdaddy as my book of the year – and, argh, looking at the runners-up below, it was a tough choice – is that I could give this book to almost anyone and I know they will enjoy it. Lockwood’s family, despite being somewhat unusual, is described with such a familiarity that I think anyone can see their families in hers. It shows that you can be different from the people you love, and who love you, and still be important to one another.

If you read only one book this year, it should be this one.

Runners-up:
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (1953)
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2006)

GAME: LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
zelda

I’ll be honest: I struggle to maintain interest in video games lately. I’ll play for an hour, tops, then be ready to do something else. This is a huge departure from years ago, when I would block off entire segments of my day to play MMORPGs and online FPSs. My entire college experience consisted of having nervous breakdowns over my courseload and evading depression in the forgiving arms of World of Warcraft. Probably less destructive than alcoholism, but definitely more embarrassing. Anyway, all of this to say that it was a surprise to find myself sinking many, many hours into a game again.

I have some discussion of the plot here, but I don’t think anything constitutes a spoiler. If you haven’t finished the game yet and don’t want any preconceptions, skip it. Otherwise, you’re probably in the clear.

A criticism that I often hear about BOTW is the lack of story. We have come to expect video games to be so cutscene-heavy that they are primarily movies and secondarily interactive. In BOTW, there is as much plot as one is willing to find. The “lack of story” criticism misses the point: Link wakes up completely devoid of memory. The story is revealed mostly through found objects, locations, and conversations – things that jog Link’s memory. The entire plot of the game is figuring out what went wrong a century ago so he and Zelda can make it right.

(And this game’s version of Zelda is so human, so unforgettable – a young princess with a destiny so important that she’s deeply insecure about her ability to fulfill it. Early memories show her as abrasive and arrogant, distrustful of Link and resentful of his presence, lashing out because she’s so afraid that she’s not good enough. I’ll admit that I got a little emotional watching Zelda’s anguish over her failure to accomplish what had been set out for her, especially as the fate of Hyrule rested on her shoulders.)

Here are some more accurate criticisms of BOTW: controlling the camera is extremely annoying, especially in battle; the world is so vast and full of things to discover that it is basically impossible to fully complete (at the time of this writing, I’ve finished the main story and am working on the DLCs, and I’m barely 25% of the way done!); the Blood Moon cutscenes are frustrating and intrusive and sometimes unskippable; the final boss fight was easy and a little underwhelming (though I didn’t play it on Master Mode).

And here are some more good things about BOTW: the secondary characters, especially the Champions and their descendants, are wonderful; the game is fun to play even if you’re just exploring the open world, and it feels like there is always something to find or do; the game design and music are so, so beautiful; Link’s ability to climb on and over anything (an unbelievably important but underappreciated development for this franchise) makes the world feel completely open to the player; the impermanence of weapons feels authentic and realistic; the physics of the game are extremely good and allow the players to find creative and unusual solutions to puzzles.

BOTW is the best game I’ve played in a long time. It has completely revived the somewhat stale, predictable “The Legend of Zelda” games in a really exciting way. I’ve put more than 100 hours into it, and I still have a long way to go. I’m okay with that.

tldr: Link is my son and I love him very much.

Runners-up:
PUBG
Bury me, my Love
Super Mario Odyssey

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“Is it better than Episode VII?” my brother asked via text, more or less immediately after I walked out of the theater. I was still digesting what I had seen.

I thought about it. I talked about the movie with other people. I read about it. It’s only been about 48 hours, but I think I have answer: yes, The Last Jedi is better than The Force Awakens – not just on its own merits, but also what it establishes for the Star Wars universe as a whole.

Spoilers below. These are scattered thoughts without much explanation or summary, so it might not make sense without seeing the movie.

Negative stuff first, because it’ll be quick: it could have been 30 minutes shorter. The Last Jedi is 2.5 hours, and it absolutely feels that way. The sidequest on Canto Bight had an important message and great character development, for sure, but it felt like a strange detour from the overarching story and probably could have been omitted. Sometimes the pacing of the story felt off, and some situations felt like pure fan-service (not necessarily a criticism, just an observation). There are also a few jokey moments that might not hold up on a second viewing, especially with the porgs as (admittedly very cute) comic relief. Some folks complained that this is the “Disney-fication” of the series, but the original trilogy had its share of these moments, too. It would be a bummer to endure 2.5 hours of war and dying religions and family melodrama. Besides, it just feels good to laugh in a theater where everyone else is also laughing, even if the jokes are a little silly.

Now that that’s out of the way, the remainder of this post is dedicated to what I really liked about The Last Jedi, and in particular what stood out to me after one viewing. I will rewatch this movie before Episode IX’s release in 2019, and I’m curious to see how these first impressions hold up over time.

First things first: I was dying to know who Rey’s parents were. It felt like the entire theater was at the edge of its seat as Kylo Ren tormented Rey with this information. The reveal was not what I was expecting at all. It was perfect. I think the Star Wars franchise needed this to sustain itself. If we trust what Kylo Ren had to say – and I think we should, at least for now – Rey’s parents are nobodies, not any part of these enduring Star Wars lineages. Instead, Rey’s rise from obscurity is a powerful and completely necessary development, reminding us that a new hero can come from anywhere, even a backwater like Jakku. This point is driven home by the final scene of the movie, in which a child on Canto Bight grabs a broom using the Force (now affectionately dubbed Broom Boy by the internet) and gazes up at the stars while the camera focuses on the Resistance signet given to him by Rose.

One of my biggest ongoing issues with the Star Wars universe is that the Sith are not credible or relatable villains. Rarely do they demonstrate motivations that outsiders can relate to. “Kill them all” is one-dimensional and meaningless without emotional context, and no previous Star Wars films did this convincingly – yes, even Episode VII. In fact, I think part of the reason that Episodes I-III failed so spectacularly was not only because of Jar Jar and bad acting – they failed in forcing the audience to truly empathize with Anakin. We need to see not only how he came to choose the dark side, but to be able to put ourselves in his shoes and think, yeah, if that had been me, I might have done the same thing.

Here, in The Last Jedi, we see how perception matters more than objective reality: Kylo Ren glimpsed his master’s dark machinations, spooking him enough to reject everything that Luke stands for. Can’t we all relate to betrayal by someone we trust, someone we thought had all the answers? Kylo Ren’s dilemma is one of the most significant takeaways from this movie. It’s something we can forgive him for, which puts us precisely in the same position as Rey. It makes him a great antagonist and a great character. I never thought I’d say that after seeing Episode VII.

In a similar vein, I thought that Rey and Kylo Ren’s psychic connection across space and time was hugely beneficial for both of their characters, and it left me desperately eager to find out who was going to be the dominant influence. But while it was a great device for character development, I wasn’t convinced by Snoke’s motives in linking the two. How could he have not seen how conflicted Kylo was and how easily an outside influence, especially one sympathetic to Luke, could have further exasperated his turmoil? I’m also not yet onboard with the romantic angle that other fans seem to have seen. The two have great chemistry, made abundantly clear during their joint fight scene against Snoke (more on this later), but the power play between the two – their separate and shared suffering, their allegiances to opposite but somehow, sometimes overlapping ideals, their competing destinies – strikes me as much more compelling. Rey and Kylo seem to be two halves of one whole, but to what degree, I’m not yet sure.

There are two scenes that deal with the past that I’d like to talk about, because I think they mirror each other in some ways.

The first is Luke’s attempt to burn down the tree which housed Jedi religious texts, which he had carefully preserved despite his voluntary rupture with the Force. He hesitates, torch in hand. An apparition of Yoda intervenes – not to stop Luke, but to finish what he started, summoning a bolt of lightning to set the tree aflame. Luke tries to run inside to salvage the texts but is forced back by the blaze. Luke grieves over the loss of ancient Jedi wisdom, but Yoda sets the record straight, reminding Luke of a sentiment he himself had just recently expressed to Rey: the dangerous deification of the past. This was some striking symbolism – literally setting fire to the holiest of holies – and at first it seemed like a hilarious middle-finger to purist fanboys. All that you hold sacred is gone, gone, gone, destroyed by the very arbiter of those truths! But there was more at play here, I think. It established a theme that would arise between Rey and Kylo Ren later: mistakes aren’t cause for complete erasure, to start over and pretend like the past never happened. “Failure is the greatest teacher,” Yoda says. Go ahead and hold something dear, but see it for what it is: imperfect, mired in mixed motivations, but worthy of improving upon going forward – a direct reflection of the Star Wars franchise’s recent rebirth. Learn from the past. Do better in the future.

The second scene comes after Kylo Ren betrays Snoke and, together with Rey, issues a spectacular beat-down to his security team. Rey assumes Kylo Ren is repentant and ready to turn a new leaf, but he has other plans: to join with Rey, light and dark together, and start a new order, a similar agenda to his grandfather before him. Rey begs him to save the Resistance, the remains of whom were being bombed out of the sky as they retreated from their final spent cruiser, but Kylo Ren is firm. Let them all burn, he says, the First Order, the Resistance, the Jedis, the Sith, their families, the past. It is time for the new generation to take their place. Rey, of course, rebukes him, pleading with him to join her and the Resistance instead. They enter a stalemate portrayed visually by a force-battle for Luke’s lightsaber which neither of them win – another piece of powerful symbolism. Rey, too, has a painful history of betrayal and abandonment, yet she is the only one with a plan for the future that doesn’t demand destruction of the past. She wants to carry the good forward and leave the bad behind, in its proper place, while both Kylo and Luke can’t foresee the next step without a clean slate, perhaps a symptom of their lingering regrets. Even as Leia gives up on her son, Rey continues to embody reconciliation with the past and forgiveness of mistakes. She is the spark of hope.

This next part is going to generate some wailing and gnashing of teeth, but don’t @ me. Look, representation matters. It really does. And if you disagree, consider the possibility that you’ve always been represented. The way you feel when you see an abundance of characters who don’t look like you – well, that’s everyone else’s experience, all the time. You’ve probably never felt the surge of joy in seeing someone who looks like you, for once, portrayed heroically on the big screen. (Rose’s sister’s valiant death, and later Rose’s intervention on Finn’s suicidal plan, struck a particularly emotional chord with me.) As a white woman, this is something I can relate to only in a small way. I always had Leia, for example, revered princess and general, to look up to, though back in the original trilogy, she was a lonely island in a sea of white, male faces. Now, seeing lady fighter pilots and admirals and even First Order soldiers gave me a rush of exhilaration. Can you imagine how people of color, especially children experiencing Star Wars for the first time, must feel? It is direct, visual evidence that this movie, this world, this struggle: you’re part of it, too. The Last Jedi is more representative than ever, and despite what cranky pissbaby fans might say, this makes the Star Wars series much more realistic and convincing. It is a big, wide universe out there. It can represent all of us. It should.

I’m glad we got a final meeting between Luke and Leia. It was all the more tragic remembering Carrie Fisher’s recent passing, which leads me to this: we know that Leia, too, has to die. This is what I expected when she was sucked into space from the Resistance cruiser, that she dies alongside her admirals and generals. It would have added to the gravity of the situation and really driven home the point that the Resistance could have been crushed right there, right then. But she didn’t die. Leia’s use of the Force to propel herself to safety was… well, I’m not sure. Not believable? We’ve seen crazier stuff happen as a result of this mysterious space-magic. Not necessary? Then we never would have gotten the aforementioned reunion of Luke and Leia. Leia’s presence was also important for resolving the power-struggle between Poe and Holdo, particularly for the latter’s redemption. I guess the glorious space-death would have been a convenient time to say goodbye to Leia, but the Star Wars franchise thrives on keeping things complicated. I’m curious to see how Leia meets her end in Episode IX.

It hurt my heart to see Carrie Fisher on the big screen, remembering that she has passed away. She was a treasure not just for the series, but for the world.

On a similar note, here is one last theme that I noticed a few times throughout: women intervening on men’s well-intentioned but foolhardy plans. Rey and Kylo. Rose and Finn. Holdo (and Leia) and Poe. Each time, they seem to say: it doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself or put others at risk. There has to be another way. They represented the voice of moderation in a situations seemed to demand extreme solutions. It’s a different kind of bravery, one that I wish we saw more of.

All in all, The Last Jedi is a fun movie and a great addition to the Star Wars canon. It bridges the gaps between generations (and canonical inconsistencies) in a meaningful way. This is an exciting time to be a fan, even a casual one like me.

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ABANDONED BOOKS, 2017

For someone who starts and abandons projects all the time, I have a very hard time quitting a book once I’ve started, even if I don’t like it. Especially if I don’t like it. Part of me feels like I can’t criticize a thing that I’ve given up on. Part of me is afraid of missing out on something beloved by others. And, of course, part of me is a sucker for a challenge.

It only ends up hurting me, though. It puts a huge roadblock on all of my productivity. I feel like I can’t do other leisurely activities until I’ve first dedicated time to this task. But reading shouldn’t feel like a job at all – it should make me happy. I’m trying to get better at putting books aside that I’m not enthusiastic about. Here are the books that didn’t maintain my interest this year.

 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
austen

I want to be the sort of person who reads and enjoys Jane Austen. I’m not. This book bored me to tears. Sorry! I’ll try again in another few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
jordanFantasy nerds rave about this book! There was an entire episode of Judge John Hodgman dedicated to it. So when I saw it in a bookstore in Whidbey Island, I thought it was a great opportunity to see what all the hype was about.

I really wanted to become immersed in an expansive fantasy series again, and the Wheel of Time series is certainly qualifies as huge: 14+ books with an average page count surpassing 800. But I only managed about 150 pages in the first book before I had to put it aside. The writing was too stiff, the characters too one-dimensional, the portrayal of women too… well, let’s say the Male Gaze is strong with this one. I’ve heard that the story and the system of magic in particular makes this series worthwhile, though, so someday I’d like to pick it up again.

 

 

Believe Me, Eddie Izzard
izzardEddie Izzard is one of my favorite comedians. Every time I mention him, I end up falling down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching video after video of his stand-up comedy. I didn’t get a chance to see his documentary, so when I saw his autobiography at the library, I grabbed it immediately.

I have the same complaint for this book that I had with the collection of stories published by The Moth this year (All These Wonders): sometimes stories spoken aloud don’t translate well to the page. Believe Me is written just as Izzard speaks. To do it justice, I think this story deserves to be heard in his own voice, with his characteristic tone and cadence. I will listen to this book on audio instead.

 

 

 

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
whiteheadI put it off and put it off until suddenly it was due back to the library. I returned it. There is a good chance I will give this book another go in the future, but this year was not the right time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attack on Titan (series)
attackI consider this abandoned because I lost interest after reading three of the ten manga available at the library. It was very exciting at first and a lot scarier than I was expecting. But the plot became very transparent by the second manga, and I felt like it was positively dragging along by the third. Those two – the obvious and the slow – really diminished the horror aspect of the story. I will probably pass on the anime, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some books I completed which I should have abandoned:
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., Neal Stephenson
I love Neal Stephenson, but at 750 pages, that is many hours of my life I will never get back, and this story was not engrossing or memorable.

Georgia, Dawn Tripp
A romance novel thinly veiled as historical fiction. No shade on romance as a genre, I was just expecting to learn more about Georgia O’Keeffe as an artist and a person, and I didn’t.

Finally, some books that I almost abandoned and was glad I didn’t:
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
What started off as slow and meandering quickly became incredibly charming, especially the voice of the narrator. This story about the rapidly changing Russian social and political structures across one aristocrat’s life was filled with some of the best characters I’ve read in a while.

The Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley
This story is one of a kind: an all-woman space opera. It was a little hard to follow at the start, and it deals with some very gorey and gritty subject matter, but was an incredibly fun ride and rewarding in the end.

 

You can follow all of my reading on my Goodreads page here!

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