July

Books:

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart ~ I think I was one of the few people who was not in love with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I did like this book – I found it very cinematic, and it was a fine airplane read.
  • Winger by Andrew Smith ~ I liked We Were Liars, but I liked Winger more. It’s just such a lovely boarding school / rugby / first love / brotherhood kind of a book.

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  • Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer by Susan Gubar ~ I recognize the importance of Susan Gubar as a scholar and the importance of this work, but that doesn’t mean I could get through the whole thing. Maybe one day.
  • Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns by John Green ~ Re-reads. They hold up pretty well. I liked Paper Towns more this time around, mostly because I kept picturing Nat Wolff as Quentin, which made the whole thing that much more delightful. I don’t think I’m emotionally prepared for the Sarah Polley film adaptation of Looking for Alaska, but I trust what it will become in her hands.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ~ Probably the best book I’ve read this year.

Movies:

  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes ~ Perfectly enjoyable. I really like these ape movies.

TV:

  • No TV of the year has matched Playing House for me, so I just keep watching it. It’s currently available on USA On Demand, at least on my cable box, and here.

Music:

  • In keeping with that theme, I’ve been listening to the opening titles song a lot this summer. Back Before We Were Brittle by Say Hi:

 

Favorite things on Internet:

  • Price Peterson’s recaps of So You Think You Can Dance. Anyone who loves Cat Deeley as much as I do is fine in my book.  He and Joe Reid, who contributes excellent parenthetical editorial comments, just get it:

Seriously, is there a more joyful show on television than this thing? The question is rhetorical, because no there is not. For two hours every week SYTYCD presents a total reprieve from the seeming nonstop darkness and cynicism of nearly every other hit show, reality or otherwise. It’s earnest, it’s unhip, it’s undeniably celebratory.

  • An intensely wonderful essay about The Fault In Our Stars. I keep wanting to go back and read this again, but I don’t know if I can because it’s so beautiful it hurts to read it, much as Jordan Catalano was so beautiful it hurt Angela to look at him. But seriously. I’ve read a lot of things about John Green, and about this book. I’ve read mostly everything there is to read. I mean that in all seriousness. But this one is something special.

Best Food Eaten:

A very saucy First Descents friend came down to New Orleans, and we had a rather crazyballs delicious brunch, including bacon stickybuns at Dante’s, which is always perfect. And there’s a new pork place nearby, and I don’t know what has come over me, but I’ve wanted to eat all of it.

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And this was God’s perfect cupcake at my beloved neighborhood coffee shop.

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Best Trip

I flew to Hilton Head to visit my friend who moved there, and I’m here to tell you that Hilton Head in the summer is a beautiful thing. We biked on the beach, ate at Chow Daddy’s, kayaked in a creek, jumped in the warm waves, went to a low country boil, and I just kept thinking about how much Pat Conroy’s books meant to me when I was a teenager, never mind how cray they seem now, and about the Wingo kids rescuing the porpoise.

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Best walks:

I went on a long walk one day with the boy next door and his dogs, and we stared up at the trees and sang songs and I will always be so grateful for my neighbors. The best baby of the month was his baby brother, who was born and is so yummy and delicious.

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Best visitors:

My sister and her family and our brother all came to town at the same time in July, and there was lots of swimming and eating, swimming and eating, and guitar strumming and fun.

Best reading:

I went to church one Sunday in July because my dad the deacon was giving the homily, and this was the second reading, and it struck such a chord in me that I whipped out my phone and took a photo of it right in the middle of mass.

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Flowers, Plants, and Trees:

Crape myrtle season blazes on, and I trespassed on a walk one day into someone’s yard to take a photo of his lily, which I guess is a spider lily but I’m not 100% sure. I’m kind of obsessed with it, though.

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Poem of the month:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame.

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

–Rilke, Book of Hours

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June

Books:

  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell ~ Grateful that darling Melissa sent me this but I was honestly disappointed in the book. I still love RR and believe in her as an outstanding writer and human. This one just wasn’t for me.
  • The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham ~ Will anything ever be as good as The Hours? Probably not. But this was mighty beautiful even though not much happens. It is so gorgeously written that I didn’t care.
  • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying by Carol Leifer, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton, Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour ~ All decent airplane reads, none life-changing.

Movies:

  •  The Internship ~ I thought this was kind of hilarious, but I watched it on a plane, when things are always way funnier or way sadder, so it’s probably not a valid assessment.

TV:

  • Playing House ~ The obsession continues. I also went back and watched every episode of Best Friends Forever, also created by and starring Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham; sadly, there are only six episodes. Thank God for these two women. They just make me happy. I can see myself going back to watch these shows over and over. If Playing House is not renewed, all is dross.

Music:

  • This is currently my favorite song.

Favorite things on Internet:

  • Ramin Karimloo’s final vlog for Broadway.com. Worth watching if only for his adorable children at the end and his nice Avetts cover.

Best Awards Show:

  • During my final round of chemo, my dear friend/neighbor was sitting with me and declared we needed to plan something big and fun for when this was all said and done. Apparently I said, “Let’s go to the Tony Awards.” I have no memory of this as chemo days are basically lost to me thanks to Ativan + IV Benadryl, but she booked our plane tickets and when Tony tickets went on sale she bought those, and so she & my sister & I put on fancy dresses and up and went to the Tony Awards like it was a totally normal thing to do.  The day before the Tony’s, I was in Brooklyn with Molly, who told me she wished I could meet her friend Emilie’s friend Elizabeth. And when I got to my seat, who was in the seat next to mine but this very person. That was just one tiny part of what made this night so crazy and unreal. And I also got to meet lovely Emilie in person for the first time.  Also – Hugh Jackman hosting. Alan Cumming performing as the emcee! Performances by Sutton and Idina. Carole King joining in the Beautiful performance. Too much. Anyway, the whole thing was surreal and dreamy and wonderfully fun and it still feels impossible that it happened.

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Best Food Eaten:

This bowl of goodness at the bar of Totto Ramen, where the noodles and cooks are serious business.

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And God’s perfect sandwich at good old Grey Dog’s Coffee, which S. introduced me to a million years ago and still tastes exactly the same.

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Best Shows:

  • Beautiful – Saw this Tony weekend, and while it wasn’t a perfect show, the music was great and Jessie Mueller was FANTASTIC, and in the opening line and chords of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” the whole audience held its breath and the tears started to flow. “Tonight you’re mine, completely…” Ridiculous. So beautiful.
  • Hedwig & the Angry Inch ~ Seeing this with NPH was one of my New Year’s resolutions.  I fell in love with the movie/music in 2002 and it’s been in my heart ever since. (This is a good oral history.) It was spectacular and thrilling to see it live onstage in ways I cannot explain, and Neil Patrick Harris was perfect. I knew he would be, but he is such a master thespian and was so strong vocally and embodied the bravery and heartbreak of this character so profoundly, from his high heel boots to the tips of his eyelashes, and it was just magical on every conceivable level. “With all the changes you’ve been through, it seems the stranger’s always you.” Devastating! It felt like a dream coming true.

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  • tick, tick … boom! ~ Much like Hedwig, I have loved this show for more than a decade but had never seen it onstage. When I read that it was being staged for Encores in a four-night run, I knew I had to be there, so I trekked back to New York at the end of the month to meet up with my beautiful friend Anne to see it. The best parts were seeing Jonathan Groff, possibly my most exciting celebrity spotting of all time, sitting right in front of Tommy Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler (director and choreographer of In the Heights, both major celebs and rock stars in my eyes), and being there with Anne. The show was wonderful and what my beloved Lin-Manuel Miranda may lack in the singing voice of someone like Raul Esparza (who played Jonathan originally) he makes up for in overall genius and heart. Read this. I will love this show and obviously beautiful Anne forever.

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Best walks:

Walking through Central Park with my sister at the beginning of June and through miles of Ikea with her at the end of the June.  Walking all over Manhattan with my friend/neighbor, looking up and thinking about Nora Ephron. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and turning around and seeing lower Manhattan from a whole new perspective. Walking through Molly’s neighborhood with her and through the Brooklyn Flea and eating fancy hot dogs and buying this ring (much cheaper at the Flea than on this website, score) for myself.

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Flowers, Plants, and Trees:

Central Park is a very green and very beautiful place.

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Best Fountain:

My sister and I went to visit the Bethesda Fountain and read the end of Angels in America: Perestroika, which I read over and over through the winter, and it was basically tears and sunshine and love and life. And then we sat on a bench and ate popsicles.

This is my favorite place in New York City. No, in the whole universe. The parts of it I have seen … This angel. She’s my favorite angel. I like them best when they’re statuary. They commemorate death but they suggest a world without dying. They are made of the heaviest things on earth, stone and iron, they weigh tons but they’re winged, they are engines and instruments of flight …

The fountain’s not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter, ice in the pipes. But in the summer it’s a sight to see. I want to be around to see it. I plan to be. I hope to be.
This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
Bye now.
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
And I bless you: More Life.
The Great Work Begins.

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A story for another day:

June was a banner month in so many ways and some of the highlights are posted here to help me remember. What will have to wait for another day is the story of what was ultimately the most important thing to happen in June and probably all year, the week I spent whitewater kayaking in Oregon with First Descents. I don’t have the words yet but will hopefully find them soon.

Lyrics of the month:

I have often asked myself the reason for sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby
If there’s any answer, maybe love can end the madness
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try

You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes, you will
That you’re beautiful as you feel

–Carole King, Beautiful

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May

Books:

  • I don’t know what has happened to me but for the first time in my life I lack the attention span to focus on a book. I keep trailing off mid-way. I hate this and feel like I need THE BOOK to kickstart myself back into reading. Where are you, book?
  • (Thankfully, after I wrote the above, Melissa sent me a giant box of books, including Landline, thanks be to God.)

Movies:

  •  Captain America: The Winter Soldier ~ Solid entertainment.
  • X-Men: First Class ~ My first movie in this series. I don’t know that this is supposed to be the first movie through which a person experiences the visceral thrill of Michael Fassbender on screen, but oh my God. FASSBENDER!
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past ~ Fully entertaining to the max. Also, more Fassbender. And James McAvoy is perfect.
  • Million Dollar Arm ~ Saw this with my friend M. and her family. She thought it was about a baseball player with a prosthetic arm. It was not, but it was interesting to see Jon Hamm in a different role. It was cute. I’d say fair. I like Lake Bell a lot.
  • May’s Best Movie Night: One night M., B., and I went out in torrential rains to drink rose’ and line up for a sneak preview at a local film festival, not knowing what it would be. We thought it might be Godzilla or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. After an extreme comedy of errors involving tickets and lines and joking around with random film geeks and insane security and having to go put our cell phones in the car and signing nondisclosure forms, etc. and almost not making it in the door of the theater at all, the manager ushered us in hurriedly as the movie started and said, “You’re seeing The Fault in Our Stars.” My friend and I clutched each other’s arms and gasped so dramatically that we startled those around us. I could not believe it. COULD NOT BELIEVE IT, STILL CAN’T. We were seeing this fully a month before its release date. Everyone who cares already knows the story of this movie and I won’t spoil anything; all I’ll say is that Shailene Woodley is pretty much a revelation, Ansel Elgort is adorable, my love for Nat Wolff remains true, and throw Laura Dern and Amsterdam in the mix and dreamy, dreamy, dreamy. I wept basically the entire time, partly because of how much I admire John (and Hank) in general, partly because I was so surprised this was happening, and partly because cancer. Anyway – I’ll never forget that soaking wet surprise of an evening. It was fun and cathartic and like a gift from the rainy, rainy spring skies.

TV:

  • The Strategy episode of Mad Men reminded me why I loved this show in the first place after feeling ho-hum about it for a while, and Sepinwall’s review reminded me why I love when he writes about shows I love because he writes how I feel. Don and Peggy – it’s too much. Breathtaking! Ridiculous.
  • Next to Mad Men, every other drama feels dumb to me lately. But I am laughing out loud at Veep and Silicon Valley (extremely lovely tribute to Christopher Evan Welch, who played Peter Gregory), miss Broad City all the time, and stumbled upon Playing House thanks to this post, and it is REALLY KIND OF WONDERFUL.

Music:

  • I like Ingrid Michaelson’s new album — in fact, I like all of her albums — and I am not even ashamed one tiny bit. And I am not alone!
  • Late this month, I fell down the Lydia Loveless rabbit hole thanks to my friend A., her #1 fan, and have yet to emerge. Also, let’s just all listen to this as many times in a row as possible.
  • I enjoyed the 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame special so much that I thought my heart might melt out of my body. Bruce Springsteen does something to me.

Favorite things on Internet:

Best Race:

My friend M. and I made last minute plans to meet up at a 5K with a few other friends and ended up having so much fun. I am still a lousy runner, but I ran the whole thing, even up an overpass twice in the blazing heat, and that felt like a victory unto itself. It was a festive race with beers and a band, and you can’t beat that on a spring night, truly. Burritos and patio daiquiris with more friends and children afterwards made it an excellent evening overall.

Health:

This month I visited a couple of times with a girl my age I never knew before but with whom I have many friends in common. We also have Cancer 2013 in common, which I guess means you can blow through small talk to head nods and tears in about 2 seconds. But in a good way. I hate thinking about cancer and thinking everything on me that seems weird or new is cancer, but at the same time, it doesn’t panic me as I feel totally zen about accepting that I will probably get it again and it’s only a matter of time. I just don’t want that acceptance to bring it on. I don’t know. I stopped mainlining snack sized Snickers at work after a legislator looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Sugar is like gasoline for cancer.” So, there’s that.

I keep a list in my head of the Good Things About Getting Cancer. So far, they are:

(1) No more hours of life wasted on blowdrying hair.

(2) No strands of hair blowing into lipgloss on windy days.

(3) First Descents, the brightest of lights at the end of the tunnel.

(4) Yoga, because if I hadn’t gone to that first Cancer Yoga class, I don’t know if I would have gone to regular yoga almost every day since, and life is so much better for it.

I think looking on the bright side of cancer — other than the bright side which is surviving, obviously — is kind of idiotic because eff cancer, but I hope I can continue to add to the list as life goes on.

Best Food Eaten:

This pineapple salsa, which I made with my friend A. We were super proud of ourselves for making up the recipe and basically killing it in terms of deliciousness.

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Sidebar: I woke up at 3 a.m. the night we made this with my hands aflame. Literally burning like I had placed them on a hot stove top. I was convinced I was having a stroke or had a brain tumor. I was like, “I have cancer again. This is the beginning of the end.” But a quick Google search led me here. Thank you, Newley Purnell, whoever you are, because even as the pain intensified, the anxiety ceased, as I was able to giggle through the comments and all of the crazeballs solutions that desperate people have tried. I felt true solidarity with all of the dopes with jalapeño hands. The salsa was so awesome that it was almost worth it, but next time: gloves.

Pets still alive:

Both, though I finally took my ever-barfing cat to the vet, and she apparently needs thyroid medicine twice a day. Super! By some miracle straight down from heaven, she is actually eating the pills in the pill pockets, which shocks me, but knock wood, hope it will help. I hope the meds give her some relief. The pre-barf meow is the most horrible sound in the world, I think. She’s been on the meds a week now, though, and doesn’t seem very interested in eating and is getting skinny. It is worrisome. She spends a lot of time like this. I love her.

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Best Show:

Saw my old friend perform in a sketch comedy show that she helped write and I was very amazed by her courage and her skills. Coupled with a nice patio dinner with old friends and an old boyfriend in New Orleans – good times.

Best random activity:

Somehow this kept happening, which was kind of dumb but somehow endlessly entertaining.

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Best walks:

May was such a great, great month for walks. There have been more baby ducks and other spring delights all month long. My favorite walk was with my neighbor and her two-year-old son. We watched a turtle lay eggs and leaned over a pier to talk to the geese and it was truly a wonderful thing.

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I’ve also started walking to yoga when time permits, and I don’t know why this did not occur to me until this month. It’s an easy walk, and one day I passed this and it did my heart so good.

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Flowers, Plants, and Trees:

Variegated flower petals are among my favorite things on earth, I’ve decided. I love the word variegated and its definition: having patches, stripes, or marks of different colors; including many different things: full of variety. We are all a bunch of variegated mofos at heart, I guess.

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I was pretty pleased when I walked past a bush I’ve passed a thousand times and noticed it for the first time as a plumeria bush in full bloom. Stick your nose in a plumeria if you can; it will carry you away for a moment and make you happy.

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Also, May was the month of magnolias for me, all the way.

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In the spirit of communing with the geese, I revisited this poem that I love so much.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver

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