moving day

What was surprising to me was how hard it was to say goodbye to the people who work at the local places I shop. Their familiar friendly faces greeted me every time I ran down the street to get coffee (“it’s supposed to be nice out this weekend”), picked up a bottle of wine for a party (“are you having people over for brunch?”), or bought a new book (“I think you’d like this one”).

They assured me there are fun things to do in Chicago–my coffee shop’s other office is there, the leader of my book group knows the manager at a Chicago bookstore, the man who runs the wine store said Chicago has really fun beer gardens–but are Chicagoans as friendly and warm? (I’m sure they will be.)

What wasn’t surprising at all was how hard it was to say goodbye to my friends. (The best thing about New York seems to be the people in it.) Thank you guys for your love, for teaching me how to be a better friend, and for filling New York with wonderful memories.

The nonhuman thing I’ll miss the most, though, is the skyline. Even still it’s beautiful, I can’t get used to it. On the way to my train I can see the Statue of Liberty if I look to the right. My office has a breathtaking view of the Brooklyn bridge. On the walk to my local coffee shop, I can look up and see the new World Trade Center.

The Empire State Building is my favorite thing to pick out of that skyline. If I can see that, I know where I am. I know what’s uptown or downtown, which way is east or west. What if I’m lost when I lose sight of it?

Luckily, I have a few people I love to show me the way to Chicago. I even have a GPS for the trip. And for everything that comes after that, I guess I’ll have to wait and see. (But I can’t wait!)

reblog: on new york

I originally posted this on July 10, 2012. But since it’s my last week in the city, I’m posting it again.

My friends and I used to say that the highs in New York are very high and the lows are very low. This is true literally–we have both the Empire State Building and the subway–but we meant it figuratively. The high you feel making new friends on a beautiful rooftop you didn’t know existed a few hours ago is amazing. As is the giant party the city turns into every year on every holiday. My favorite is Marathon day where my friends and I celebrate other people’s athleticism by cheering them on and getting drunk brunch. But the lows are terribly, terribly low.

Public crying and puking are kind of a joke to New Yorkers–we’ve all been there, we just won’t all tell you about it. You don’t always have a car to retreat to or an easy (or private) route home. Groceries are heavy and winter is the worst. I can’t explain the awfulness of New York winters. It’s dark and cold and dreary and your friends are hours away on a cold, dark, dreary train and your tiny apartment can only hold you for so long before you go insane but insane is better than waiting for a bus that may never come with a fever you can’t shake. We’ve all had days where going home is an epic tale of bad weather, crowded trains, pickpockets, and violence. You’ve heard these stories before. Mine aren’t new.

I find myself telling my friends not to come. “It’s too hard. It’s way harder than you think.” “It’s too cold and too expensive.” But what I can’t quite articulate is how this city has a unique way of completely kicking your ass when you’re down. How many other cities actually fight back? Actually actively try to kick you out, like you’re a virus invading its system?

And yet. My favorite thing about New York is probably what others hate the most. It really doesn’t give a fuck. So I can do what I want and wear what I want and go where I want, and, you know what, it doesn’t matter. The city doesn’t care. It’s allowed me to relax and just be what I want to be. I started knitting as a way to pass the time in a small apartment where I live alone. I love it. Other people like it, and some people don’t. I see it on the train. There is always someone worse at it than me and always someone better. The same applies to my hair or my clothes or whatever other activity I’ve picked up. So relax. Stop trying to be the best–someone else has it covered. Just do your thing. You’ll fit right in because no one fits in. It’s perfect in its carelessness.

And when the city doesn’t care, the people do. One of my favorite nights out in the city was a Sunday night where me and my friends took over a corner of a bar and just hung out. We danced and chatted and shots were poured and stories were shared. I think it was raining, but we didn’t mind. We just made some friends and passed the time and tipped our bartender. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions. People might not know, but the ones that do are eager to share the city. (I’m convinced that people like to help out to prove they know more about New York than you do. Don’t hold it against them.) I once saw an entire subway car help a tourist get directions in their own language. That sense of community and that we’re all in this together is overwhelmingly fun.

New York doesn’t define me, but it’s helped me be me. I could go somewhere else and be happy, and I miss my family a lot. I believe other places are just as valid and almost always more logical than New York. I’m not married to the city, but we’ve had a very torrid affair. Well, on my end anyway. New York probably doesn’t care.

by the numbers: packing

#fatcat among the boxes

This weekend…

2 of my best friends helped me pack 21 boxes (and I’m not done yet). Thank you Meredith and Laura! Your help and company was magical.

Frozen played on my TV 5 times.

I bought 70 feet of bubble wrap.

We had, er, many drinks. (if you look carefully, you can see an empty wine bottle.)

so many boxes

I have 7 days left in New York.

I read 8 articles on the TV show Hannibal. You could say I’m interested.

(I lied. I played Frozen 7 times. You know when you just want some background noise?)

And #fatcat took countless naps in his new cage, which will be his temporary home during the trip.

#fatcat in his cage

My funny friends suggested a hashtag for my relocation: #raelocation2014. Follow along on Twitter and Instagram.

new outfit: thawing out


It is supposedly spring now, but I’m not getting my hopes up. Today is beautiful, sure, but next week there is snow in the forecast. And I am tired, so tired, so so tired, of winter! I’m ready for a break and some sunshine. To take advantage of the weather today, I wore orange wedges, a chambray shirt, and my navy blazer. All of these are from regular old department stores, I think, but the purse is from H&M. Sunglasses from Target.

Now that it’s (relatively) warmer and it’s not dark every second I’m not working, I should be able to start posting more outfits again. In the depths of winter, it just got too tricky for me to work out. And let’s face it, all I wore were boots and winter coats anyway.

Happy Friday!

annihilation (embroidery no. 21)

embroidery from annihilation

I know we just had St. Patrick’s day, but in my house, it might as well be Halloween. Everything I watch or read lately has been super creepy, and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (Kindle here) is near the top of the creepy list.

Annihilation is the diary of a woman, known only as the biologist, as she goes on a mission to explore Area X. Every member of the mission is required to make a record of their findings, and to keep it private so they don’t contaminate each other’s results.

Area X is a section of land that’s been blocked off by the government. Each team member on a mission brings a certain skill set: The biologist’s teammates are the psychologist, the surveyor, and the anthropologist. The linguist backed out at the last minute. No one uses their names, referring to each other only by their occupations.

I’m not totally sure which government is in charge, or what year it is, or where they are. Area X oozes weirdness almost immediately, when the biologist and her team happen upon a tower with a long, winding staircase. As they walk down the stairs, the biologist starts to see the writing on the wall–literally, and it’s made of plants.

embroidery from annihilation

This super creepy vine-and-moss scrawl inspired my embroidery. It begins “where lies the strangling fruit” and only gets weirder and more nonsensical as it spirals down into the darkness.

The biologist’s story is deeply unsettling. Between hallucinations, new forms of life, and plenty of death, she’s not sure what she’s exploring, dreaming, or seeing. And when plants learn how to write, and no one has a name, and you can’t trust what’s alive or dead, holding on to your humanity may be impossible.

Annihilation is the first of three books in the Southern Reach Trilogy. The next book comes out so soon! The publishers decided to do an expedited publication schedule–which I think is really cool–so you can pick up the second book, Authority (Kindle here), on May 6 or preorder it now. The third book, Acceptance (Kindle here), comes out on Sept. 2, and you can preorder it, too. Annihilation was a quick read at just less than 200 pages, so get to it! And watch for plants creeping in to your nightmares.

embroidery from annihilation

I am working on a project to sew some of my favorite quotes and images. You can see the other pieces of my embroidery project here:

(I picked this book out on my own and was not being paid to write about it. But if you buy through my links, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it.)

outfits of boy from boy, snow, bird

clothes from boy, snow, bird

Using The Fashion Sketchpad to help me draw and watercolors to help me paint, I imagined what Boy, one of the main characters in Boy, Snow, Bird (Kindle here) by Helen Oyeyemi, would be wearing.

Boy is an icy blond who once took a magazine quiz called “Are you frigid?” and got the highest (coldest?) score. Boy’s stepdaughter Snow said that Boy’s wedding dress made her look like a statue. So after she was married, when her life got more complicated and she kept her emotions even further under the surface, I pictured her in creams and whites.

It’s often mentioned her skirts hit the floor, which I think makes her seem more regal, like an evil queen stepmother. Her skirts aren’t very swishy, and she wouldn’t have a lot of bows or frills. She is statuesque and hard to read, and she knows what flatters her figure. Boy’s clothing is her amour, and she doesn’t let many people in. Even after she’s been “interfering” with Arturo, she stays tied up tight in his white shirt and tie, always with her snake bracelet around her arm.

I pictured her in her red date dress, which she got when one of her father’s girlfriends left it behind. It was a kind of silk, and probably didn’t fit her exactly right, but I bet she was still a knockout. The next outfit is after she was married, as Bird describes her on a regular day. On her wedding day, her dress was simple and sleek, and I imagined a few red roses to match Arturo’s red bow tie. And her navy coat is the one she wore when she was saw her mirrored self, right before she kissed Arturo.

You can see my post on Boy, Snow, Bird here.


boy, snow, bird

boy, snow, bird by helen oyeyemi

Helen Oueyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird (Kindle here) was dazzling. Fairy tale tropes got so twisted they became almost unrecognizable. But there’s also something familiar about Boy Novak and her daughter and stepdaughter, Bird and Snow. They are daughters, sisters, mothers–just like the ones we know. Boy and Bird are such whole, fully formed characters that I want to call them up tomorrow and buy them a drink. (Snow, though, remains elusive–but not to the story’s detriment.)

Boy is a young girl who ran away from her abusive father. She made a life for herself when she got off the bus at the end of the line at Flax Hill, a town full of craftsmen who make beautiful things.

Boy is a beautiful thing herself, and she knows it. She gets lost in mirrors, but her beauty won’t give her the thing she wants most–a family. For that, she turns to Arturo, a widower with a daughter named Snow. As Arturo’s wife and Snow’s stepmother, Boy eventually becomes pregnant with her daughter, Bird. When Bird is born, everything Boy thought she knew shifts into a slightly new reality.
Bird’s birth indicates a shift for the reader, too. What was a kind of love story (Boy loves her town and her friends, if not her husband) turns into a story of race, values, family, and what it means to lose yourself.

Boy isn’t perfect. I believe she loves her husband, but she isn’t so sure. She gets jealous and hurtful, she can lie with the best of them, and she can be vain. To Snow, she might even be a wicked stepmother.

And for all of this, I like Boy. She is real and human and makes real and human mistakes. No one has a perfect family, so everyone can relate to hers and how she survives in it.

There are few times where the stories Oyeyemi tells go a little over my head, but if I never get the point of “La Belle Capuchine” it doesn’t hurt the book and it’s still entertaining to read. (Actually, I just looked up Capuchin, and maybe now I get it after all.)

Some things I loved, or liked, or thought were just OK:

Women: This story is full of women. Strong women, weak women, old and young, beautiful and ugly. There are mothers and daughters and wives and single women and on and on. The variety of wonderful female characters is refreshing and beautiful but most importantly it’s interesting. You don’t have to be a woman to read it, either–you just have to want to read about fantastic characters you won’t find in other books.

Judgment: Or rather, lack thereof. Oyeyemi respects her characters no matter their background, their appearance, or their choices. Oyeyemi presents their behavior as matter of fact–as if she is saying this is who they are, and that’s OK. These characters often make mistakes or make choices different than our own, but they are all accepted and are just as much a part of the tale as anyone else.

Structure: Boy, Snow, Bird is split into three parts. The first two belong to Boy and Bird, and because of the title, I expected to hear from Snow. I was slightly disappointed when she didn’t get her own part, but I was so thrilled to hear from Boy again I wasn’t sad for long.

Tall tales: There are fairy tale references all over Boy, Snow, Bird, often pointing to the perverse instead of the happy-ever-after. (The more I think about the name Snow in this particular family for this particular girl, the sadder and more twisted it gets.) Lies are abundant, and magical realism pops up a few times–which works whether you take it literally or symbolically.

Language: Oyeyemi’s language is a delight. Her structure is simple, using carefully selected words to make a sharp observation or tell a funny story. Some of my favorites:

“Webster was seventy percent all right and thirty percent pain in the neck, one of those women who are corpselike until a man walks into the room, after which point they become irresistibly vivacious.”
“There’s something about being chased by a big strong man with yellowish eyes that makes you feel like an antelope in a bad situation.”
“I could see a woman trying to cover all the bases, searching for things her daughter would need in order to make friends with life.”
“…whatever it was that gave Alice the guts to stick up for herself when Tweedledum and Tweedledee informed her she wasn’t real.”
“It was the kind of house you went to in order to get well.”
“The general advice is always be yourself, be yourself, which only makes sense if you haven’t got an attitude problem.”

This was a book I was looking forward to this year, and it totally surpassed my expectations. Read it, please, and come talk to me about it because I finished it a few days ago and it has never left my mind for long.

(I picked out this book on my own and am not being paid to write about it. But if you buy through my links I will receive a little bit of money for it.)