On Being Bold

The first thing i ever wanted to be when i grew up was a dolphin trainer. Who also wrote books. And sang songs. And invented things.

The hybrid of this all in my imagination looked like this: i was the musical star of the Sea World dolphin show, using my inventions to train dolphins in singing along. And then i’d write of adventures in books with plots that suspiciously resembled Harry Potter, but with dolphins.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

The hybrid of all of this in reality looked like this: a large cardboard box in the corner of my room overflowing with “inventor-y stuff” (matchbox cars, duct tape). As my friend Becca so fondly recalls, i had a plastic toy dolphin named “Trixie” because she did tricks. (Becca will also tell you Trixie’s tricks were a big flop, but that never stopped me from trying). I actually went pretty far with the singing gig – two years of voice lessons and five years of more choir than anyone with any sense of social skills should hope to take. (Actually, i loved choir, but that’s not the point. I still have no social skills.)

But what has outlasted even my tacky-ass black chorus dress and books of Italian arias is the writing. The desire to write books, perhaps without Trixie-as-Harry-Potter plotlines, remains central to my ten-year plan. It’s kind of why i keep a blog: to keep in practice, to keep writing. To preserve material for my someday egocentric and totally indulgent memoir about my romp through a historically women’s college and semester mucking about Europe.

But if i’m honest with myself, my writing about traveling is not the substantial stuff. It’s tremendously fun, and i know come next year when i have the missing-Edinburgh-blues i will be grateful for making the effort to memorialize what i have experienced. And i love travel writing best of all for keeping in touch with neighbors-as-good-as-kin, my parents, my friends back home.

The substantial stuff, though, that’s what i want to do. I remember telling my best friend in high school i wanted to write a classic – a Tolstoy, a Fitzgerald. She facetiously (and rightly) pointed out that no one sets out to Write a Classic. I look back now with a grain more of humility and heartily agree: people write what is meaningful and beautiful to them, and the power that comes from such truth-telling is what defines a classic.

I’m pretty sure i’m never going to write a War and Peace, as much as my self-important teen self may have wanted to. But i do think it is time for me to truly start embracing that fundamental asset i have seen in all the Good and Great Books i have read, from John Green’s teen fiction to my beloved Toni Morrison’s work.

I have to be bolder, take the risks that terrify me with my naked honesty. This doesn’t make me a Phenomenal Writer – it doesn’t even make me a great writer. It means i am writing, truly and deeply, from my gut. And the best i can hope for is that my vulnerability and lexical expression communicates those questions and feelings with authenticity.

So that is what i’ve done.

Tomorrow, friends and family and good-as-kin-neighbors, i have some exciting and anxiety-inducing and wonderful news to share. I hope you’ll come back to read about it, and i hope it doesn’t flop quite the way Trixie used to.

And, hey, even if it does, i’ll just keep trying.

current jam: ‘san francisco’ the mowgli’s (thanks, radha!) 

best thing: #talkingtaboo.

also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM, YOU’RE THE GREATEST. Thanks for the dolphin wallpaper and putting up with my “dolphin call” for the whole of second grade.

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: a Review.

It’s no secret i am a voracious consumer of Young Adult fiction. I have yet to start what surely will be the brilliant The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but this is only because i have been utterly enthralled and consumed by another YA novel for the past three days. When not running around Manhattan, i have been glued to my recently acquired copy of Libba Bray’s most recent masterful work: Beauty Queens.

I’ve been a fan of Bray’s writing ever since i checked out A Great and Terrible Beauty from the local library some five years ago; she is fresh, manipulates a story with ease, and has one of the most wry and clever senses of humor i’ve yet encountered. Having read a smidget of the review for this book on Spark, i knew it promised to be a book of equal calibar to her other works, if not completely different in its setting and style (A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in Victorian England, as i recall).

Beauty Queens is unlike anything i’ve ever read; in its concept, it is nothing unique, and yet it somehow manages to achieve exception both through the quirky narration style and Bray’s masterfully interwoven social commentary. The book begins with an enormous, devastating plane crash: the contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant have fallen on an unknown island somewhere south of Florida. Hell breaks loose, as the collection of the surviving teen girls try to survive the unruly and unimaginable jungle they have found themselves in. Peppered with hilarious footnotes written by ‘The Corporation,’ the apparent official sponsor of the book (by which Bray is making a pretty snarky commentary on product placement and the cult of the celebrity) and rich character development, the book stands incomparable to most other YA i’ve read.

Unmistakably, the premise reeks of Lord of the Flies; and while the fact that the characters are stranded on an island with no adults to supervise certainly lends credibility to the parallel, the commentary Bray is making on humanity is far different from that of William Golding’s (in my humble opinion). To begin with, the characters are women – and women who embody a spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities, races, and religions. These women may at first appear to be nothing but vapid products of a consumerist beauty aesthetic impossible to achieve, but as the tale weaves on we learn that not all is as it seems with the pageant wannabees.

In this, Bray has created a beautiful (pun intended) portrait of the expectations forced on men and women in today’s media.  Through hysterical allusions to contemporary pop culture icons like Larry King and Sarah Palin, Bray has created a not-so-alternate universe from our own. She handles such ideas with charm and humor, but simultaneously manages to give space to the gravity of what she is speaking about. Hair removal creams can become explosives, gender lines and expectations are blurred, and no sex ed program will ever be thought of as a scapegoat for “loose women” in her saga. Oh, and pirates. As if feminist theory told in a stranded-island form was not enticing enough!

I adored this work; i recommend it to anyone and everyone to read, be you a teenage girl seeking for some supremely well executed feminist theory or an intellectualist wishing for a more creative vessel by which to consider the implications of the reality TV-like quality governmental elections seem to have taken on.

current jam: ‘heard them stirring’ fleet foxes.

best thing in my life right now: books books books.