Category Archives: recommendations

The most important thing is that people read…

“[D]on’t ever apologize to an author for buying something in paperback, or taking it out from a library (that’s what they’re there for. Use your library). Don’t apologize to this author for buying books second hand, or getting them from bookcrossing or borrowing a friend’s copy. What’s important to me is that people read the books and enjoy them, and that, at some point in there, the book was bought by someone. And that people who like things, tell other people. The most important thing is that people read… ” — Neil Gaiman

Now, it wouldn’t be the end of the year without an end-of-the-year best-books post, would it?

Here’s the problem, though.

I was totally broken this year and read NO BOOKS.

Well, I read SOME books. But I used to read hundreds of books a year. I’m not even exaggerating. I just counted, and this year I read – ready? it’s totally embarrassing – 53.

Fifty-three books. This is utterly shameful.

Here’s the problem. The stretch of unemployment (or, I guess you could call it, overemployment, as I was working a LOT) kind of made it so I had a choice: read or blog. Or, I suppose, read and blog and don’t sleep. But sleeping isn’t really something that’s on the table and able to be cut, you see. And that was a big chunk of my year. (4.5 months! That’s over a third of the year!) Since I started working at my new job, I’ve had a little more time (not a lot, but a little) and have actually read a few books (well, plays, but that’s what I have to read right now – I’ve mentioned, I think, we’re in the middle of play selection at the theater so I have to read a billion plays so we can decide what we’re doing next season…but I have high hopes that once that’s over, I can read REAL BOOKS again) since. So I have high hopes for 2013 and upping my number from – UGH – 53. FIFTY-THREE. What am I, in KINDERGARTEN? This is EMBARRASSING.

Also, my most abject apologies to my beloved Susie, because this lack of reading means I can’t write reviews for Insatiable Booksluts, and oh, I want to. So badly. I feel terrible that I haven’t been able to. Because it’s something I love doing. Writing for IB is one of my proudest achievements, and I’m not able to do it right now. So, yeah, that’s kind of killing me.

But! Like an intrepid soldier! I went through my meager list of books and picked out the top ten books I read this year, because I’ve done this every year since I moved here, and I didn’t feel like I could stop now, even though I embarrassed myself with the number of books I read this year. 2013! I WILL CONQUER YOU BOOK-WISE!

So here are my top ten books of the year – again, much like the music post, these books weren’t necessarily published in 2012, but I read them this year, so they make this year’s list. Amazon links included for those of you who like such things, of course, and in case you end up with a bunch of giftcards for Christmas and are wondering, hmm, what should I BUY with these, I wonder?

10. Us – Michael Kimball (my review of this one at Insatiable Booksluts here)

I like books that make me cry. I like all things that make me cry, let’s be honest. Television shows, movies, music, books. This made me cry. It’s a teeny little book about love and the fragility of life and how well we know the ones we love and it just tore me apart. It was so beautifully written. Just an absolute gem of a book.

9. Deathless – Catherynne M. Valente

This is a gorgeous retelling of Russian folklore. I’m a sucker for anything fairy-tale related, and this one doubly won, because I wasn’t aware of the fairy tale it was based on (the Russian tale of Koschei the Deathless) so it was all new to me. And it was beautifully written – it had a very modern-fairy-tale feel, with just enough mystery and magic and romance to make my heart swell. I loved it so much. (sj, if you haven’t read this one, I think you might like it – I know we both have a love for all things fairy-tale related.)

8. Zazen – Vanessa Veselka (Susie and I discuss the book at Insatiable Booksluts here)

This is a dark, poetic, powerful book. It’s an alternate reality, but not so far from our own, in which bombs drop all the time and it’s just the way things are; people live in constant fear, talking about leaving, going somewhere that’s safe – but where’s safe, really? The narrator is lost, but trying her hardest (oh, how I relate to that) and the writing is just gorgeous. This is the author’s first book – and if a book like this is your first book, whoa. Good for you, you know? Think of what you can do from here. The mind utterly boggles.

7. Wildwood – Colin Meloy

I’m fairly sure this is for children. I don’t even care. It made me happy. Prue’s younger brother is kidnapped by a murder of crows and brought into the Impassible Wilderness just outside of Portland, Oregon and she has to go rescue him with the help of her friend Curtis and some totally kickass talking animals (oh, you know I love talking animals.) It’s also written by the lead singer of the Decemberists, which kind of makes me smile, because you can sing AND you can write? Well, you might just be the perfect guy, I don’t know. (I like The Decemberists. I don’t LOVE The Decemberists, but I like them very much. I appreciate what they’re doing. I’m just waiting for that one perfect song from them, I guess. In the meantime, I like what I’ve heard.) Plus the illustrations are GORGEOUS.

6. Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion

Yes, yes, again, I think this is for the kiddos. Well, the kiddos of the young-adult variety, anyway. Don’t care, loved it. It’s zombie fiction and it’s a love story and it’s WONDERFUL. The zombie apocalypse has hit, and we’re seeing it from the zombies’ point of view – or one zombie, really. And that zombie falls in love with a human girl. And that love starts to change him, somehow. And it’s not at all cheesy or stupid or childish. It’s funny and dark and twisted and intelligent and it made me both laugh and cry and I was so happy I gave it a chance. Also, the trailer for the movie actually looks pretty decent. A little campy, but good. And it has John Malkovich in it! Come on, you know I love that. WHO DOESN’T LOVE THAT!?!?!?!

5. Americas – Jason Lee Norman (review at Insatiable Booksluts here)

I’ve been randomly thinking of this book on and off all year. It’s just that good. It’s lyrical and poetic and beautiful and it will make you laugh with the discovery of new and magical things and it will make you cry with the realism and heartache and sorrow. I can’t recommend this enough. Just a perfect little book. I can’t wait to see what Norman comes up with next; I predict great things.

4. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson (review at Insatiable Booksluts here)

This book made me laugh probably harder than anything I read this year. Also, it hit me out of nowhere with sneak-attack tears, but mostly all the laughter. You all know Jenny Lawson as The Bloggess, and I’m sure most (if not all) of you read this book this year – it made a LOT of best-of lists this year, and with good reason – but if somehow this book escaped you this year, please do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s funny as hell. You deserve that, don’t you think?

3. Citrus County – John Brandon (review at Insatiable Booksluts here)

Such a gorgeous, sad, beautiful book. Written so, so well. And just utterly filled with longing. Longing so thick and so deep it just welled up and off the pages. You could feel the humidity of Florida and you could hear the insects and you were just utterly immersed in that longing for something not…quite…tangible. And when the book was done, it stayed with you.

2. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I love Gillian Flynn, and have read (and enjoyed) all of her other books – but this one. Whoo. I can’t even describe. It brought you one way, then another, and I am not even a thriller person, and her other books weren’t so much thrillers, and this one was, and holy HELL but did this book work for me. I had no idea where it was going or what was coming next and I could not put it down. And it wasn’t like one of those thrillers that you buy because you’re about to get on a plane and there’s nothing else in the store and it’s KIND of thrilling but meh, throwing peanuts at the guy sitting across from you on the flight would be, too, I suppose. Nope. This was well-written and twisty and intelligent and not your typical stupid thriller. This woman can WRITE.

1. In One Person – John Irving

I loved this. Well, it’s not overly surprising – I mean, I’m a total John Irving fan, I’d read anything he’s written, gladly. But this one hit all the right levels with me. I related to the characters; it had that gorgeous Irving storytelling I know and love; a very gay-friendly storyline; a lot of big, deep thoughts and ideas that made my headarea super-happy; and there was a section in the middle with some flirting that was completely conducted with German poetry. Oh, well THAT made me grin. Then also cry, because it was so melancholy and also beautiful. Nice job, Irving. I will continue to read anything and everything you publish until the end of all time.

So, there. I read a few other wonderful books this year, but these are the top ten. And next year there will be more. THERE WILL. I have the BEST OF INTENTIONS ABOUT THAT. *shakes fist at world*

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My Annual End-of-Year Music Post, Which I Again Did Incorrectly (Part 1 of 3)

So, last year I did this, and I did it wrong.

Doing it again this year, and doing it again wrong. Don’t know any other way.

It’s the time of year for reflection and end-of-the-year best-ofs, and never let it be said I don’t jump off the cliffs with the rest of the lemmings, no no not me! It’s also the time of year I gather up all the various pieces of paper where I’ve written the names of all the songs I’ve loved this year, hit iTunes, download them all, and make many CDs for BFF, who looks forward to such things every year. (I also burn copies for myself so I can listen to them in the car all year long. I just listened to one of last year’s the other day and still rocked out. I have them going back four or five years, I think. They make me happy and they are excellent road-trip music.)

But, before you start reading my picks and wondering what the hell is wrong with me, you need an explanation.

  • I listen to terrible music.
  • I have very bad TASTE in music.
  • Probably you’re not going to like most of these.
  • Some of them are kind of embarrassing.
  • I think you’re supposed to narrow your picks down to your top 10 or something but I’m not at all capable of that.
  • I also think you’re supposed to only put on songs that came out in 2012 but I put on any song that I loved that I heard for the first time in 2012. This made me have to leave off one song that I love very much and that I’ve been listening to a lot over the last month, but I’d heard it before and that broke the rules. I’m really quite a rules-stickler. Especially when I make the rules.

The worst part of this is that I have two very close friends who are VERY GOOD at music and take it VERY SERIOUSLY. Why they still choose to spend any amount of time with me, I have no idea. So, in advance, Ken and sj, I send you all the apologies. There are going to be songs on here that make you put your hand over your mouth and make your eyes all wide and shake your head and say “no no oh Amy no no.” HOWEVER! There is at LEAST one song that will make you happy, Ken, and at least…I think…three?…songs that will make you happy, sj, because you introduced me to them this year, because you are both individuals of very good taste. You’ve both been excellent musical influences and I thank you kindly.

And now…without further ado…numbers 30-21. (If you’ve been paying attention, that means tomorrow you get numbers 20-11 and Saturday you get numbers 10-1. I know! I can totally count.)

30. “Bottom of the River” – Delta Rae (Carry the Fire, 2012)

Hold my hand/Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down to the bottom of the river

I like how old-timey this song sounds, plus I like the lead singer’s voice. She can belt, yo.

29. “Dizz Knee Land” – Dada (Puzzle, 1992)

I just robbed a grocery store/I’m going to dizz knee land

Sometimes I like songs that make me grin. Not usually; as you will soon be able to tell, I like the sad songs the most. A sad love song is my kryptonite. But sometimes I like to grin at a smart turn-of-phrase and a song that makes me laugh, and this song is one of those. Also, in 1992 I was starting college so that explains why I didn’t know about this until now. I went the longest time without paying attention to anything but parties and boys wearing flannel.

28. “Foolish Girl” – MaryLeigh & the Fauves (The Docks, 2011)

I’m a foolish girl for falling for a broken soul/Ravaged by a woman who stole his heart for her own

Sorry, you don’t get a pretty video for this one; it’s a local group and I heard them on the channel that plays the local music around here and fell in love with this song. So you have to be all old-school and click on the link and click on ANOTHER link and you don’t even get to see pretty PICTURES when you’re listening to it. It’s worth it, though. I promise. She has this pretty, clear, ethereal voice. I think you’ll like it.

27. “Home” – Phillip Phillips (The World from the Side of the Moon, 2012)

The trouble it might drag you down/If you get lost, you can always be found

Shush. I DIDN’T KNOW HE WAS FROM AMERICAN IDOL, OK? I just heard the song on the radio and I like the part where the music swells and he’s all “settle down, it’ll all be clear” and he has a nice voice and I like the lyrics. I like the idea of home. I like to think about it. I like to think about what it means, what it means not only to me, but to others; I like to think about what it’s meant to me at different points in my life. Then I was researching this post and found out he was an American Idol winner and I was not the most proud of myself. But listen, Kelly Clarkson was an American Idol winner, and I love the hell out of her, so I guess sometimes it works out alright.

26. “I Could Be a King” – The Dunwells (Blind Sighted Faith, 2011)

I could be a king/I could be anything I want/I could be a poem/I could be some writing on the wall

I like this song because it’s joyous, but I also like the message. It’s optimistic and it’s also joyous. I’m not always doom and gloom. Sometimes I like a healthy dose of optimism. I know, try to control your shock and awe.

25. “Watching You Watch Him” – Eric Hutchinson (Moving Up, Living Down – 2012)

But I’m a window pane/A phantom limb/When I am watching you watch him

I like songs about yearning. It’s a thing with me. This is a very good yearning song. But it’s not total sap; it’s actually kind of fun and a little boppy. But with a sad, yearning message. So it doesn’t rip your heart out TOO much. Also, I like this guy’s nose. I do so have a thing for a guy with a good nose.

24. “Turn to Stone” – Ingrid Michaelson (Everybody, 2009)

And maybe we won’t feel so alone/Before we turn to stone

I saw Ingrid Michaelson this year and fell even deeper in love with her than I already was. She’s fantastic. I can’t say enough good things. She’s fun and she has an amazing voice and she writes kickass songs that make you smile and sometimes make you weep (this is one of the sadder ones) and I’ve been listening to her a lot this year. I can’t guarantee she’s not going to pop up again on this list later on. No, I cannot guarantee that at all.

23. “Someone to Love” – Fountains of Wayne (Traffic and Weather, 2007)

Don’t give out/Don’t give up/One of these nights/You might find someone to love

Honestly? I totally like this song because it says “Schenectady” in it. How can you not like a song that says “Schenectady” in it? The answer is, you cannot HELP but love such a song, especially if you live right NEAR Schenectady. (Plus I strangely love this band. They remind me of bros, but I think they’re fun and kind of weird.)

22. “(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World” – Wreckless Eric (A Bunch of Stiff Records, 1977)

I’d go the whole wide world/Just to find her

This one’s roundabout credit to Andreas. He told me this year I should find and watch Stranger Than Fiction, which I did (and I loved.) If  you’ve seen the movie, you know this is the song that Will Ferrell uses to eventually court (and win) Maggie Gyllenhaal. (If not, I just spoiled you. Sorry. See it anyway, if only to understand what “I brought you some flours” means.) I totally fell in love with this song and had no idea it was from when I was a wee, wee Amy, and before there was even an Amy’s brother. Oh, well. According to my rules, it can still go on the list. That’s why my rules are very GOOD rules.

21. “Flathead” – The Fratellis (Costello Music, 2007)

They don’t come much more sick than you/I could go on if you want me to

This one is loud and fun and makes me bop around. Listen, after all that sadness, sometimes I need to bop around, can you even blame me? No you cannot.

THERE YOU GO MY LITTLE SONGBIRDS! Tomorrow, ten MORE. Oh, what a wondrous time of year, where everyone thinks they are a critic. (For the record, I don’t think I’m a critic. I just thought it would be fun in a terrible way to tell you what I’ve been obsessed with this year. And I promise…they get better from here.)


Remember when I was mad I wasn’t dreaming? I take it back. I TAKE IT BACK.

Five more days of work until this hellishness is over. FIVE MORE DAYS. I’m crossing days off my calendar like a person incarcerated.

For fun, the system where we release our efiles went down earlier in the week. It came back up today, only it was running…veeerryyy….sloowwwlllyyyy. So it took me four and a half hours to do a two hour job today. Four and a half very, very painful hours. Without Twitter. Still. My mother, who is the IT person at her company, swears it is not the fault of my IT department that I have no Twitter. Others are in agreement; they think, as I suspected, that if IT had blocked Twitter, I’d get the traditional THIS SITE IS BLOCKED page, rather than the weird “this page can’t load due to a slow connection” page I’m getting. It’s a moot point, though. It’s not like I can ask my IT guy about it. “Hey, IT guy, so I am having problems with my internet? Can you look at it? What site am I having trouble with? Oh, Twitter. Yeah, it’s not at all work-related. I’m using it to keep my sanity during tax season. Sooo…what’s up with the weird screen, any ideas?”

In news of the adorable, The Nephew was on vacation in Florida for the past few days. He just got home, and my mom saw him tonight. His mother said, “Ask The Grandson about the alligator!”

My mom said, “The Grandson, did you see an alligator?”

The Nephew was confused and said, “Noo…”

His mom said, “But he did EAT some alligator when we went out to dinner one night, didn’t you, buddy?”

Aw, Nephew! Please don't eat me!

“The Grandson! Did you eat alligator?” my mom asked him. He nodded. “What did it taste like?”

He thought about it for a minute. Then, “It tasted like food,” he said.

I LOVE MY NEPHEW MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WHOLE WORLD. “It tasted like food.” AWESOME. Not chicken, like everyone says. Nope. He cut right to the chase. It tasted like food. Just like food. Nice call, pumpkin. I love your brilliant little brain, and the thought of watching you grow up and getting to talk to you and to share your life with you makes me so happy I’m grinning until my face hurts.

This is going to be random, guys. Sorry. My brain hurts.

I was reading this article today about something. I have no idea what. It’s been a day. And apparently? In Germany? There is a political party called The Pirate Party.

This is their LOGO. It is a SAIL. Come on, how jaunty is this?

They are also known as the Pirates. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about this party. Ken can probably fill you all in if you want details. I’m woefully inept about politics. From what I can see on Wikipedia, they look like they align with good things that I like?  But they could be all evil weirdos, I don’t live there, I don’t know. ANYWAY. You know the minute I saw Pirate Party I immediately had a mental picture of pirates in political office, wearing traditional pirate garb. With parrots on their shoulders. Saying “arrr” and “avast ye mateys” and when someone lied or got caught schtupping an intern, they wouldn’t be impeached, they would walk the plank.

"Arr! Vote for us or we'll pillage your homelands!"

I totally like this idea, and it has made me very happy for at least an hour. If Ken comments and says the Pirate Party are a bunch of weirdos and everyone in Germany hates them, I apologize in advance. But I don’t regret my happy mental picture of pirates running the government. They would drink grog and they would have pieces of eight and they would sing jolly pirate songs. IT WOULD BE AWESOME. It would be like the Rent Is Too Damn High Party guy, only SO MUCH MORE FILLED WITH AWESOME.

Sorry, Jimmy McMillan, but pirates are cooler. However, you have somewhat piratical facial hair.

Oh, I know you’re probably totally all wondering? Raylan did NOT take his shirt off last night on Justified. It was a great episode. There was gunplay, and fisticuffs, and some awesomely gross gory stuff, and at one point I cried until my eyes hurt, but NO SHIRTLESS RAYLAN. Siiiigh. Oh, well. I suppose there’s always next season.

I am currently watching episode after episode after episode of The Good Wife because I have allowed myself to get shamefully behind on it. It’s like eating an entire box of cream puffs. IT IS SO DAMN GOOD. I am finally caught up and it is AWESOME. Seriously, you’re all watching this, right? It’s like a who’s-who of all the best actors in the land. And it’s INTELLIGENT. Also, sometimes it makes me cry. I do so like a show that makes me cry. That’s my favorite.

Also, it has Kalinda, and I have a crush on her a mile wide.

Oh, also, I have HBO now, because of Game of Thrones (WHICH IS AMAZING THIS SEASON) and saw a preview for Aaron Sorkin’s new series, The Newsroom? And it looks AMAZEBALLS. Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT, HBO. I do NOT want to keep you, because you cost an extra $20 a month. I do not like spending money I don’t have. However, if it comes out this summer, I suppose I’ll already HAVE HBO, for True Blood. So maybe I can be two-birds-one-stone-y. I have a serious Aaron Sorkin addiction. It’s kind of worrisome, actually.

These glasses are too small. Small glasses make me laugh. SO SMALL, AARON SORKIN!

Oh,shit, also, ZOMG. SPEAKING OF ADDICTIONS. OK, you know how I am obsessed, obsessed, ob-SESSED with musicals, correct? One of my favorites: Les Miserables.

Just SEEING this makes me happy. Bee tee dubs, this is coming to the fancy theater near me this year. Am I going to see it again? Yes. Yes, I am.

I’ve seen it four times now, I think. Listened to the recording so many times I can randomly quote lyrics. Once, on The Simpsons, Principal Skinner was at a garage sale, and he picked up a prison helmet. On the helmet? The number 24601. I SQUEED SO DAMN LOUD. If you are a Les Mis wonk, you are squeeing right now, too. If you’re not, you’re all, “WTFFFF.” 24601 was Jean Valjean’s prisoner number in Les Miserables, so it was this tiny shoutout to the musical. It was SO EFFING AWESOME. Also, I’m obsessed with Eponine? Because I’m totally Eponine. I am ALWAYS EFFING EPONINE. Dammit, it is not always the most fun to be Eponine. Spoiler alert: Eponine dies bloody with no boyfriend. And Marius was an asshat, because Cosette was weak and annoyingly perfect and Eponine RULED.

Another one of my obsessions? Neil Patrick Harris.

What happens when you put these two things together in the MOST AWESOME WAY POSSIBLE?

ZOMGGGG. NPH playing Javert and adorable Jason Segel playing Valjean and THEY ARE SO SO CUTE. Even though I won’t watch their show. Because, laugh track.

Also, this just illustrates my point: every day would be made better if made into a musical. Obviously, they make every day a musical at work. WHY CAN’T I DO THAT AT WORK. I try, but people give me all the glares. So mostly I’m just humming randomly under my breath all the time. Lately, it’s been The Civil Wars’ “Poison and Wine.” You all know and are duly obsessed with how sad and wonderful this is, right?

I got my lovely friend B. obsessed with this recently so we like to tweet each other our mutual obsession with listening to it OVER AND OVER AND OVER. I’m sure we’re mega-obnoxious to everyone following us. To that I say, TOO DAMN BAD. My current favorite lyric is “I don’t have a choice; I still choose you.” Seriously, click and listen. The harmonies are gorgeous. B. and I would love to get others as obsessed as we are so we can feel a little less alone in our obsession with the prettiest, most melancholy song in the history of ever.

Alright, kiddos and kidlettes, it’s late, I’m exhausted, this post has had no point, and I’m sure you’re all scratching your heads? Yep. Me too. LISTEN. I am not getting enough sleep; I’m waking up every hour or so GASPING. Like I’m a fish out of water. It’s off-putting. However, remember how I wasn’t dreaming because maybe The Sandman had stolen my dreams in an evil plot or something? I had TWO DREAMS recently! I know, it’s all very exciting. I forgot one. The other one was really the oddest? I won’t say the people’s names, because it will make them nervous in case they happen to read this. A friend and I were walking on the beach. EXCITING! BEACH! And he said, “I don’t think I can hang out with [REDACTED MUTUAL FRIEND] anymore.” And I was sad! Because I love REDACTED MUTUAL FRIEND! So I asked why, and he said, “Well, because he’s in love with me.” And I said, “I don’t think he is. He’s married. To a LADY.” And Friend was all, “No, he is. And you are, too. Everyone is.” And then I got VERY MAD at Friend, and was all, “WAY TO BE FULL OF YOURSELF ASSHOLE” and then we started making out and then Dumbcat jumped on my bladder. In real life. Not in the dream. So that dream was over.

My dream-beach was rockier than this. Lots of rocks. I'm sure that means something, interpretation-wise. Like, "rocks mean you have HURDLES TO OVERCOME," right? Shit, I'm good at this. Someone should pay me.

According to a totally shady and pop-uppy dream interpretation site I found that I’m not linking to because I think it’s trying to give me a virus, the beach means I’m torn between the mental and the physical; walking means I am progressing toward my goals; the friend means I’m about to get some positive news; the argument means I have internal conflict; and the making out with a friend does NOT mean I am in love with him, which I am SURE he would be pleased to hear if I wasn’t being so secretive about who he is, but “represents your respect and adoration for your friend. You are seeking some intimate closeness that is lacking in some waking relationship. It may or may not signify a romantic interest for him or her.”

Oh, shit, wait, “may or may not.” SHIT SHIT SHIT.

Maybe it was better when I was NOT dreaming. Now I’m all torn between two worlds and goal-oriented and getting good news and internally conflicty and possibly in love with one of my close friends who I TOTALLY WAS NOT EVEN AWARE I HAD FEELINGS FOR BEFORE NOW. Well. Thanks a LOT, dream. Now the next time we interact, it’s going to be VERY awkward, and I will NOT know where to look. And possibly, I’ll accidentally say something like, “HA HA HA just like when we were MAKING OUT THE OTHER NIGHT ON THAT BEACH.”

Eff. Is THAT ever going to make things tense. THANKS A LOT DREAMS.


It’s only a matter of time before I’m riding a pegasus with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this is going to be great.

OK, first, before I get going:

EVIL ROBIN UPDATE.

SO MAD.

I called home tonight and I was all, “Hey, what’s up with the robin?” and Dad said, “That stupid robin is gone.”

The robin was gone when he woke up! It didn’t even come back today! This is the worst. I wanted CLOSURE, dammit.

Jim found us a link that explained the robin was attacking its own reflection because it thought its reflection was a competitor or some such nonsense. Well, good gravy, Robin, why so fighty? Make love not war, Robin. Especially not with my dad’s window, he didn’t like that one little bit.

OK, now on to the festivities. WHAT. We’re totally having festivities. EVERY DAY IS CARNIVALE AT LUCY’S FOOTBALL. Isn’t it?

So we were discussing dreams the other day on Twitter. More specifically, how I am broken, as I don’t have them. I mean, I DO, I suppose. “They” – the all great and powerful nebulous “they” – say that even if you can’t remember your dreams, you’re having them.

I totally feel ripped off. I think I would have the BEST dreams. I would WIN dreaming. I’m very creative. I can make up a story out of NOTHING. I do it ALL THE TIME. So therefore, my dreams would be full of bunnies made of rainbow yarn and being able to fly and staplers that talked. OH SHIT AND PEGASUSES. Right?

Well, who the hell knows, because I don’t even remember the last time I dreamed. Dreamed? Dreamt? Doesn’t dreamt look stupid and affected, like a hipster would say it? Spellcheck says it’s not a word. However, spellcheck says 99% of my posts aren’t words, because I make shit up. I think I’m sticking with dreamed. I don’t know if it’s the meds I’m on or just that I’m so damn tired but I can’t remember a single dream going back to last summer, that I recall clearly. And that one sucked, I was back in high school. WAY TO RIP ME OFF, LAST DREAM I REMEMBER.

ANYWAY, so I was thinking, you know what I want? My dreams back. Because I think they would be great and just a little added chance for awesomeness. I mean, I like to multitask.

So I went online to look for ways to make this happen. What, the internet can make ANYTHING happen.

(SIDE NOTE. You know how Google starts to autofill things when you start typing in questions? Some random autofills I found recently? “How to have twins” [um…genetics? Prayer? Luck?]; “How to insert a tampon” [this one made me utterly despair for the youth of America – there are INSTRUCTIONS inside the BOX of TAMPONS, come ON!]; “How to jumpstart a car” [hi, future thief, welcome to the internet!]; and “How to make moonshine” [YEE HAW!] Also, everyone seems to want to make something called a “fishtail braid.” I didn’t know what that was, so I looked it up.

Apparently it’s this, which is some sort of fashion craze:

Pretty enough, I guess. I can’t do braids. I have slippery hair. It just SLIIIDES out of braids and then goes back to being unruly. It’s all WILD HORSES CAN’T BE TAMED, my hair. I’ve stopped despairing, what’s the point.)

So, back to the dreaming conundrum. I looked up “why don’t I dream” and this poorly-designed site tells me that:

Would you please tell me why people do not dream?

Everybody dreams! This is a scientifically proven fact. Research has shown that all human beings in a study exhibit brain activity during their sleep. Just because you cannot remember your dreams does not mean that you do not dream. So why is it that some people don’t remember their dream? This may be attributed to alcohol consumption, certain antibiotics, fever, lack of sleep or too much sleep, high levels of stress, and/or unconscious fears about the content of your dreams. Some researchers believe that certain people have a genetic dispositions to forget their dreams as they come out of their sleep.

A ROBOT WROTE THIS THERE ARE NO CONTRACTIONS IN IT AT ALL IT IS ALARMING BEEP BEEP BOOP

Well, hell, I am all kinds of strikes against me if this is true. Lack of sleep – CHECK. High levels of stress – CHECK. Genetics all wonky – CHECK. Drinking – eh, haven’t been lately, only because I had to stop because of the antibiotics I was on, then didn’t start again yet. I don’t think I have a fever. If I did, I know the cure is more cowbell, so I could clear that right up. I don’t know if I’m afraid of the content of my dreams. As stated, I’m sure they would be AWESOME. One time, I dreamed the boy I was in love with all through school showed up at my house and we…um…wooed. There was wooing. That was a nice dream. MORE WOOING PLEASE. (In case you’re wondering, wooing is a euphemism. For boning.)

So apparently there’s not much I can do to get back the dreams. My dreamer is broken. I suppose I could take acid or some such foolishness but I don’t believe in that. You know I’d end up all weird like Jim Morrison or something. Have I mentioned my irrational hatred of all things Jim Morrison? I HATE JIM MORRISON. So, so much. I don’t understand why everyone lionizes him. At all. You can enlighten me, if you want. I think he was a burnout, and I don’t think The Doors were all that good. Also, his poetry was AWFUL. It read like a NIGHTMARE OF SUCK.

But then I found this link that was all, “How to lucid dream” and clicked it and THIS IS TOTALLY EXCITING.

So apparently, once you master this shit, you’re totally going to be like the people in Inception.

I don’t especially want to be like the people in Inception. I REALLY don’t want to be Leonardo DiCaprio. He has the weirdest head. He looks like a pissed-off Kewpie Doll. I just don’t get the appeal. BUT, I am hoping, once I master this, I will be able to lucid dream my way into Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s lucid dream, the one in which he’s wearing those kick-ass Inception suits. Yowza.

Also, I SWEAR one of my blogger people that I read talked about this. And I DOUBLE swear it was Andreas. But I can’t find it, even with a total stalky-stalk of his blog. ANDREAS. Did you cover lucid dreaming somewhere on your blog? If you did, I so apologize, and please link in the comments, I’m an asshole who doesn’t know how to use a search box, apparently. (Also, SIDE NOTE, you know what’s fun? Watching the evolution of a friendship through blog comments when you’re supposed to be looking for a link to someone’s lucid dreaming post. Because I found this old comment I made on one of Andreas’s old posts and it was like I was all FORMAL and STUFFY and TRYING TO BE A GROWNUP! Then you see the comments now and I’m totally comfortable and wearing sweatpants and hanging out on a beanbag chair because we are BONDED NOW, yo. So that was fun. I think we may have figured out why I don’t ever get to sleep on time. It’s because I CAN’T STICK TO A TASK.)

OK. Back to it. So. Lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is when you’re dreaming, but you KNOW you’re dreaming, so you can CONTROL your dream. Fun stuff, right? AMY, you’re wondering. HOW CAN I DO THIS?

Well! I am HERE TO TELL YOU.

I learned all about how to do this from WikiHow, because I learn good things from there. Like How to Flirt and How to be an Actress and How to Stop Thinking About Sex and How to Make Cheese out of Yogurt Also Known as YoCheese.

It’s a really long article. I’ll recap the important parts. I know you’re going to want to get to sleep and try this shit out. I’m saying shit a lot today, what’s up with that? I’m not even especially cranky.

  1. All day long, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming?” and pinch yourself. Then when you are sleeping, you will remember to ask yourself the SAME QUESTION! And apparently…um…give yourself a different answer!
  2. Keep a dream journal! According to WikiHow, this will “tell your mind you are SERIOUS about remembering your dreams!” Mine would be empty. I’d end up writing shopping lists in it. Or blog post ideas. It’d be the saddest dream journal ever.
  3. Research when is best to have a lucid dream. The article implies it is best to wake up, then take a nap a few hours later. Yeah, I think that’ll work out great. My boss will really enjoy me just crashing out around 9:15am. I’ll print out the WikiHow article, it’ll serve as a doctor’s note, right?
  4. Torture yourself. OK, the article didn’t say that, I did. But it said to set your alarm for four hours after you fall asleep, then wake up, write down what you were dreaming about in detail, then lie back down, repeating to yourself, “I will remember I am dreaming, I will remember I am dreaming” over and over. If I set my alarm for 4am, I’d be up at 4am. I’d never fall back to sleep. And if I repeated a stupid mantra like that I’d REALLY never get back to sleep. This is the worst.
  5. OH WAIT NO IT GETS WORSE. Then, THEN, it says to set your alarm for five hours after you fall asleep, make yourself stay awake for an hour concentrating on lucid dreaming and LUCID DREAMING ONLY, then fall back to sleep. LISTEN. Who has all this TIME for this shit? I’m lucky if I sleep 4-5 hours a night, lately. I don’t have time for effing with my alarm clock and talking to myself and nonsense like this. I just want to fly a magical dream pegasus. WHERE IS MY DREAM PEGASUS.
  6. Then it tells you to meditate for a while and that might make you lucid dream? This one’s confusing, let’s skip it.
  7. Ugh, this one is also about meditating. If you fall asleep while meditating, you might be doing it wrong.
  8. Write the letter “A” on your hand with a magic marker. Look at it ALL DAY LONG. It will remind you that you are awake! A FOR AWAKE! And then when you are asleep, you will look at your hand! And there will be NO A! And you will BAM! Realize you are DREAMING! Or maybe you’ll think, “No A. A for asleep” and then go right back to regular boring non-pegasus dreaming, I don’t know. Also, writing on your hand makes you look like a crazy. SIDE NOTE. I always have writing on my hands, do what you will with that information.
  9. ZOMG this one is the best so far, ready? OK, so WikiHow wants you to perform “reality checks” throughout the day, and then you’ll also do it in your dreams, eventually, and then realize you’re dreaming. Therefore calling the pegasuses. Pegasi? I don’t know. Here are some reality checks, according to WikiHow. (Also, please ignore the numbers in front of these, I can’t make them go away and WordPress is being a jerky jerk and it’s REALLY REALLY LATE AT NIGHT)
    • Looking in a mirror (your image will most often appear blurry or not appear at all in a dream). However, your figure can be horribly disfigured in a mirror, frightening you into nightmare or a dream; WTF THIS IS NIGHTMARISH
    •  Pinching your nose closed and trying to breathe; UGH NO THANKS
    •  Glancing at your hands, and asking yourself, “am I dreaming?” (when dreaming, you will most often see greater or fewer than five fingers on your hand); AAAHHHH
    •  Jumping in the air; you are usually able to fly during dreams YES PEGASUSES HERE I COME
    •  Poking yourself; when dreaming, your “flesh” might be more elastic than in real life; a common reality check is pushing your finger through the palm of your hand; WHY ARE YOU RUINING THIS FOR ME WIKIHOW
    •  Try leaning against a wall. In dreams, you will often fall through walls. STOP IT STOP IT RIGHT NOW
  10. Apparently you can prolong your lucid dreams by spinning around in your dreams (and maybe turning into butter?) or rubbing your hands (like Mr. Burns?) Odd.
  11. Look through your Dream Journal constantly. It will give you signs. Ooh! Will it tell me to swing away, Merrill? Will the aliens melt when touched by water, even though they came to a planet that is mostly water? Will asthma SAVE MY SON’S LIIIIIFFFEEE?

OK. These are not very good tips. None of them seem to make Joseph Gordon- Levitt appear in a suit, or pegasuses.

FINE. I’ll do it MYSELF. Stupid lucid dreams.

ZOMG. What is happening here WHAT IS HAPPENING. Unicorn! Pegasus! FIGHTING? And there's a wizard? Are they in the air? How did that unicorn get up there, unicorns can't fly. I'm getting this airbrushed on my panel van.

Aah. This makes it all better, right? Right.


The Lighting of a Fire

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” –William Butler Yeats

As you are all undoubtedly aware, I love English. And words. And language. And grammar. And all things related to such. Not just English, either. I love other languages equally as much. Yesterday, Andreas taught me the word Jötunn, which means a Scandinavian troll. HOW AWESOME IS THAT. The most awesome, is how. (Per Andreas, it is “the origin of the word giant – jätte in Swedish.” You all only WISH you had a friend as awesome as Andreas who knows about not ONLY science but ALSO geekily kickass foreign words with umlauts! Oh, how mouth-watering, a well-placed umlaut! I SWOON FOR YOU, UMLAUTS!)

I’m reading a book right now, which we will soon be discussing over at Insatiable Booksluts (OH! HEY! By the way, are you reading/following/obsessing over Insatiable Booksluts? Because you should be. It’s awesome, and me writing for them is only a teeny portion of that awesomeness. It’s all things that are amazing in the world of books and publishing and related things on a well-written, intelligent, humorous blog. So go, go go. Follow. Read. You’ll love it. I promise. I mean, I’d promise you your money back? But no money is expended, so that’d be an empty promise. Also, I have no money to give. THIS WELL IS DRY) so I don’t want to spoil that or anything, but anyway, this book has some of the most gorgeous phrasing I’ve come across since I read Swamplandia! last year. It’s got some sentences that I read, then I re-read, aloud, to myself, two or three times, just to hear them in the air, and to taste them in my mouth, it’s that well-written. I’m that much of a fan of the beauty of language, and the power of language. I want to be MOVED by words. I want to weep when reading, or become enraged, or laugh out loud. I don’t want it to be a passive experience; I want to be engulfed, I want to burn with the words on the page. I want to be swept away, I want to drown.

I was lucky enough to have parents who believed very strongly in books and reading, and instilled that love in me from an early age. My mother read to me until I was old enough to take that duty on myself (much to both her glee and chagrin, that happened earlier than expected – glee because who wouldn’t be proud of a child reading to herself at three? But chagrin because that three-year-old was all, “DO IT MYSELF!” and she became irrelevant in the world of book-reading.) I’ve talked about this here before. My father, not a big reader, read to me when she was unavailable, and taught me the value of making books fun, of using voices and gestures and facial expressions when reading to make the experience richer and more fulfilling for a child. So really, my dad was my first well-narrated audiobook, I suppose. I remember reading to my younger brother, making him laugh until my mother would beg me to stop because he was getting red in the face with giggles and having trouble catching his breath.

All of this to say, I’ve always been a reader. Once I learned how to laboriously print my name, then the intricacies and beautiful loops and whorls of cursive, I became a writer as well. Maybe not the kind of writer who gets published (or, at least often), but there haven’t been many times in my life that I haven’t been writing SOMETHING. Short stories. Unfinished (and, horrible) novels. Poetry. Diaries upon tortured diaries. Long letters to friends in far-flung locales. Plays. Emails that take up pages and pages. And, obviously, more recently, blogs and tweets and (non-emo, thank you very much) Facebook statuses. And I’ve never been happier. Do I think my words are moving people to tears? Not often, probably. But they seem to be making people laugh, most days. And that makes me (to quote The Bloggess) FURIOUSLY HAPPY.

So yesterday, All Over Albany (one of my favorite local blogs, and my favorite local news/happenings blog) posted this. And because it was from them, and because it had the word “poetry” in the title, and because it was grammatically incorrect (but in quotes, so obviously not All Over Albany’s grammatical inaccuracy), I of COURSE had to click through to the article and read what was happening.

Oh, ouch. OUCH MY BRAIN. On so many ouchy levels.

So for those of you who are not aware of how the New York State educational system is set up, I’ll give you a quick crash-course. As a junior-high/high school student, you can follow a Regents track, and I believe there’s also a BOCES/VOTECH track, where you attend BOCES and vocational technology classes off-campus (my mother works in a building where these students attend classes so I believe this is still occurring as it did when I was a student.) (When I was in school, there was a non-Regents option. This has been phased out.) (There are a lot of parenthetical asides in this paragraph. Hee.) Regents are exams given at the end of the year (or, in some cases, I think after a semester – I feel like our government Regents was only a semester-long course? I may be misremembering this, though, and now that I think of it, did we even HAVE a government Regents? It says there’s one now, but I don’t remember if there was one then. Man, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been a student!) in a variety of subjects – 3 separate math exams (Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry), 4 separate science exams (Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), 2 separate Social Studies exams (global history/geography and US history/government) and an English exam. If you are a New York State student who passes the exams, you graduate with a Regents diploma (or, maybe since they changed it, it’s just a “diploma,” since everyone takes the exams now? Not sure about that, honestly.) If you graduate with high enough grades on them, you can get a Regents diploma with honors. (I’m not going to braaaag, or anything, but…yeah, that’s what I got. SHUT UP YOU KNEW I WAS A SUPERSTAR.)

If you want to know more (you probably don’t, it’s not all that interesting, I don’t think, to anyone but a New Yorker, or maybe people who get off on testing) here’s the Wikipedia page. It seems fairly accurate.

The exams weren’t easy, but I’m one of those annoying bitches who tests well (no, seriously, there really are people like this, we seem to have a sixth sense for what’s being asked for in test questions. I know. It’s annoying to others. Sorry), so I breezed them all but Algebra, Chem, Physics and Earth Science, which were my worst four subjects in school. Well, and Phys Ed, but you (THANK YOU ALL THE HEAVENS ABOVE) didn’t have to take a Phys Ed Regents exam. You can also re-take the exams as many times as you want to get your grade up, so I re-took three of those tests, and aced them the second time around. I did NOT retake Physics, because I had graduated high school at that point, already had my diploma, and wanted to hang out with my skeevy emo lead-singer-in-a-band skaterat boyfriend more than I wanted to study for an exam that had no bearing on my life, since I’d been accepted early into the college of my choice. Yep. Never looked back. Hated Physics. HAAAAATED IT.

Now, in that article from the New York Times I referenced like a million years  ago above, which I know you’re not clicking because a., you like me to recap shit for you, and I’m happy to do so, and b., you hate clicking on things, it’s like a phobia with you people, it talks about how the standards for the English Regents in New York State have fallen. OH HOW THEY HAVE FALLEN.

Teachers (again, I remember this from AGO, so correct me if I’m wrong) can make a little (WAY LITTLE, don’t even get me started on how much teachers get paid, don’t even) extra money if they sign up to score Regents exams. They’re given a sample scoring booklet. There’s a short-answer section on the English Regents (supposed to be a paragraph long) where the score is zero or one. According to the article, the following comes from a paragraph that would score a one, therefore the FULL POINT LEVEL, for one of these sections:

These two Charater have very different mind Sets because they are creative in away that no one would imagen just put clay together and using leaves to create Art.

Now, you do have to hand-write the exams, so yes, kids today are used to spell-check, I get that, even me, Queen of Spelling Bees (oh, I SO have to tell you all about my reign as the Queen of Upstate New York Spelling Bees someday), relies on spell-check a little more than I should, and even then, spells things wrong now and again, I AM NOT INFALLIBLE I AM NOT THE POPE. But reading this makes me think of the mythic “automatic 200 points” you were supposed to get if you put your name on top of the S.A.T. I mean, I guess, since the kid wrote SOMETHING, and it’s not GIBBERISH, and your choices in scoring are ALL THE POINTS or NO POINTS, you’d give him all, rather than none? But oh, my. Random capitalization! “imagen” and “charater” and “in away!” Run-on sentences!

(Please bear in mind that when you take this test, you are at the end of your junior year in high school. So you are between sixteen and seventeen years old. Not 12, as this sample might imply.)

According to the article, since the change where there is no longer a non-Regents track option, and all students must pass the Regents to graduate, the Regents board had one of three options: leave the tests difficult, leave the scoring as-is, and risk failing a lot of students; “dumb-down” the tests; or “dumb-down” the scoring. They seem to have gone for the third option. Scoring seems to be a very “just show up, Sally and Brian, and we’ll do our best by you” situation. And this is so, so sad to me. And it is failing our students. No, not “failing” them in a “you fail, repeat senior year” way; failing them in a “here, go forth unto the world without knowing how to write, spell, or think critically” way.

This one was my favorite. This was, according to the scoring booklet, supposed to get full marks on the long-form essay – four points. The assignment was to analyze Goethe’s quote “No two persons regard the world in exactly the same way.”

In life, “no two people regard the world in exactly the same way,” as J. W. von Goethe says. Everyone sees and reacts to things in different ways. Even though they may see the world in similar ways, no two people’s views will ever be exactly the same. This statement is true since everyone sees things through different viewpoints. 

ZOMG you guys. TOTAL FUTURE POLITICIAN. Every one of the sentences IS SAYING THE SAME THING. Just re-worded. Actually, I might be tempted to give this kid full marks for bullshittery. His grammar and spelling are perfect, though, I have to say. But the content in this? There is none. He (or it could be a she, don’t mean to be sexist) didn’t fulfill the assignment. I have no idea what the kid thinks of this quote. Because the kid just rephrased the quote FOUR TIMES. Brilliant way to get around doing any thinking, though. Gold stars for that.

And then there’s this, from the article: “Sad to say, during the Bloomberg administration, little if any progress has been made, if test results are to be believed. In 2003, 52.5 percent of fourth graders were proficient in English, compared with 51 percent in 2011. In 2003, 32.6 percent of eighth graders were proficient, compared with 35 percent today.”

Yes, I know test results are to be taken with a grain of salt. I know. And I know test results often don’t represent how much a child actually knows, and that some people test poorly, and on and on and on. But 35% of our eighth graders are proficient in English? THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT?

Here’s the thing. They don’t get any JOY out of language. They see English as I see Physics – a joyless soul-suck. And even I got some joy out of Physics – seeing how and why things worked the way they did was kind of cool, even though I couldn’t totally wrap my mind around it.

What’s the fix? Shit, I don’t know. I’m not an educational reformer. I just know that something’s terribly broken.

I have some ideas. They’re not fixes. Just ideas.

We need to bring the joy of language back to our students. We need to make it fun and cool again. We need to show them the worlds that books can open up for them and the magic in those worlds and the escape hatches contained therein. We need to show them the utter awe of having the exact right word available when needed. We need to teach critical thinking and debate skills. We need to show them the humor innate in any language, because you know what makes kids want to learn? HAVING FUN WITH IT. We need to drill the rules of grammar into their heads like we drill the multiplication tables in there, because they’re equally important. We need to cultivate a nation of children who will grow into a nation of adults who are proficient in the language they speak and write. Is this so hard? Is this so difficult to achieve? Obviously, it is. Why?

English teachers were some of my favorites, over the years. Because they, for the most part, absolutely dig what they do. They understood how a beautiful poem could burst in your mouth like a ripe fruit. They understood how a good short story took hold of you and shook you until you were limp when you closed the book. They loved when the students got something, really GOT something, when their little sponge-like minds soaked up knowledge and put it all together and were able to connect the dots.

What’s the fix? I don’t know. I couldn’t begin to tell you. But I’m despairing a little today. As someone who loves language as much as I do, who sees it as a constant companion and guide and friend? I’m despairing for the youth of America. They’re bereft, and this is a sad state of affairs. We’re failing them. There has to be a fix for this.


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