The Month in Books: February

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Well, it’s March 12 and I’m finally posting this. Oops? February was a good month, full of theater (Bring It On: The Musical), concerts (I went to a Vanilla Ice concert, because why not?), and a fantastic library book sale. Here’s what I read last month.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism (Grady Hendrix)
This was so much fun, and Hendrix is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. It was genuinely creepy AND the ending made me cry. I don’t read a lot of horror, becasuse i feel like a lot of horror authors take themselves (or their stories?) too seriously, but this is the opposite of that. So good.

Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich)
This should be required reading. I would love to read an updated version. I’d like to think our systems have gotten a little better in the 17 years since Ehrenreich did her experiment, but maybe not. I’d also like to see a version where this experiment was done in rural or suburban areas.

On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
What can I say about Zadie Smith that hasn’t already been said? I didn’t like this as much as White Teeth, but it was still superb.

The Next Always (Nora Roberts)
Well, it happened. I cried at a Nora Roberts book. I’m not ashamed.She’s just SO GOOD at what she does–good enough that I can look past the fact that she really needs a copy editor and a thesaurus. It doesn’t matter. This book had romance, a casual ghost, and PUPPIES. This is a recipe for success.

Dietland (Sarai Walker)
Don’t let the cover and title fool you–this one is dark and I loved it. It made me wish I was part of a book club, because this book needs to be discussed.

Talking As Fast As I Can (Lauren Graham)
I put off reading this for a long time, because I knew I would love it and I wanted to save it. (Also, the waiting list at the library was a mile long.) This did not disappoint. Celebrity memoirs forever!

What are you reading lately?

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A Fan-tastic Time

It was the first weekend in May, and I was going to a fan convention.

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I’d been planning it for a year and had convinced two friends to go with me. We had originally planned to attend one in October, but the tickets sold out way faster than we had expected. Tickets had almost sold out for this one too, but I had pounced on them at the last minute, desperate to make sure this was really going to happen.

Going to a fan convention has been high on my bucket list since watching the documentary Trekkies in a college class. After that, I became, in many ways, a fan of fans. I loved the fact that people were willing to go against societal norms and boldly profess their love for some fictional thing. I loved the creativity that so many fans had, and the sense of belonging people seemed to find from being part of a fandom. Whenever I met someone who had attended a convention, I would quiz them extensively about it. What was it like? Was it fun? Did you dress up? Did a lot of people dress up? Was it crazy? I had this notion that attending a fan convention would be like entering a different world. It seemed a little weird, but in a good way.

When I found out there were conventions for the television series Supernatural, I was thrilled. After reading some blogs and watching some videos, I knew I had to go to one. Supernatural is my favorite show—it’s about two (incredibly, ridiculously handsome) brothers who fight evil. There are demons and angels and a whole mess of monsters, along with a gorgeous car and a classic rock soundtrack. It plays with American and religious mythology in a way I think is completely unique and compelling, and is also willing to break the fourth wall and make fun of itself.

Basically, it’s the perfect show.

After lots and lots of planning and a five hour drive from Ohio to Arlington, Virginia, my friends and I arrived at the convention hotel. As we searched for a parking spot in the underground lot (noticing several show-themed license plates in the process) and gathered our things (including a pan of show-themed baked goods), I was filled with a happy kind of panic. This is so freaking exciting. I might lose my mind. “I don’t know if I can be cool about this,” I told my friends.

The first thing we saw as we entered the hotel lobby was someone dressed as Castiel, Supernatural’s trench coat wearing angel. He reached behind his back and a pair of handmade wings sprung from his jacket impressively. We turned the corner and the actress who plays Sheriff Jody Mills was sitting at a table, chatting with fans. The room was packed with people in costumes and so much plaid, all laughing, talking, waiting for the next panel or photo-op to begin.

By the time we reached the check-in counter, my face hurt from smiling.

Initially, I had hoped to go through this experience with an air of “otherness,” observing and analyzing and trying to figure out what was at the core of fan culture. One thing I was cynical about was the price of everything. We went the cheapest route (still over $100 for 2 days), which gave us paper wristbands and unreserved seats in the very back of a huge hotel ballroom. Silver and gold tickets were much more expensive (almost a grand for a gold weekend package), and gave you access to autographs, special cocktail parties, and a laminated pass on a lanyard. Then there were photo-ops and meet and greets with key cast members, all of which sold out in a snap. Why would someone pay so much for this? I wondered. How do you justify that kind of expense? Like I said, I wanted to be cynical.

But then I got there. Almost immediately, I morphed into the overly-excitable fangirl I am at heart.

If I could describe my convention experience in three words, they would be “silly, weird, fun.” Maybe also “magical,” although that might be pushing it a bit. What can I say? There’s something truly special about attending an 80’s themed karaoke party where fans and cast get onstage together to belt out the best of Journey. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of a cheering crowd, or gasp when the actors give hints as to what’s coming next on your favorite show. It’s weird to see an elevator full of your favorite actors or stand in line next to someone you’ve seen on tv. It’s enough to make anyone a little starstruck, I think.

But I think my favorite thing about the convention (and I guess this shouldn’t surprise me) was the fans. I was pleasantly surprised with how kind and open everyone was. Every long line (and there were many) was an opportunity to strike up a conversation, even if it was just to gush about how handsome Dean Winchester is in person. I met a mother and daughter who signed up for photo ops to help the daughter get over her shyness. I met a middle-aged lady who was attending the convention alone and having a blast. I met a couple who had splurged on gold passes and assured me they were worth every penny. One girl was sharing a hotel room with friends she made at the previous convention. I ended up sitting next to two Star Trek fans and having a fun discussion about the differences between fan-run conventions and corporate ones. Everyone was so different, but we were all there for the same reason. It was fantastic and very comforting.

One night after the day’s activities were over, my friends and I decided to visit the hotel’s revolving rooftop restaurant for a mint julep (it was also Kentucky Derby Day). On the elevator, we met a pilot who was staying in the hotel and was baffled by all the plaid-wearing people in the lobby.

“What on earth is going on down there?” he asked us.
“Oh, it’s a convention for Supernatural!” I told him.
“What is that?”
“It’s this great show about two hot guys who fight evil. You should definitely watch it!”
“Oh…okay, then.”

The elevator doors opened and we filed out, leaving him behind. He was grinning and doing some sort of karate-chop motion when the doors closed. I don’t think he understood my description of the show, but that’s okay.

So was attending a fan convention everything I’d hoped it would be? Pretty much. It reinforced my thoughts on fan culture (basically just that it is important and lovely and helpful to a lot of people). It reinforced my love for Supernatural. Will I go to another one? I’m not sure.

But if I do, I might spring for a weekend gold pass. I’ve heard they’re worth every penny.

Lost and Found

On the first day of 2014, I drove to the grocery store and back without getting lost. It was the first time I had done so since moving to this new town in October—usually a trip there and back had resulted in at least one wrong turn, one moment of reaching for the OnStar button in my car, one moment of I have no memory of this place. Am I still on Earth? I had kind of accepted it.

When I posted about this spectacular feat on Facebook, several family members responded with congratulatory messages: “We’re so proud of you!” “Good job, Amy!” “We knew you could do it!”

We celebrate small victories.

I can do a lot of things, but going somewhere without getting lost at least once is apparently not one of them.

I don’t know what’s to blame for this character trait, but it probably has something to do with the fact that as a kid, I spent every car ride in the backseat with my face in a book, oblivious to the world around me. When I got my driver’s license, I could barely get out of my hometown. I’ve gotten better since then, but barely. I get in the car to go somewhere I’ve been a thousand times before, and then somehow I end up in the wrong neighborhood, on a winding country road, or just generally in the middle of nowhere. I try to embrace it. Like they say on the bumper sticker: Sometimes the journey is the reward.

Sometimes getting lost helps you remember the beauty of the where you live. Once I found three old cemeteries and an abundance of quaint country churches on a beautiful fall day after taking a wrong turn in the middle of Ohio. Another time I ended up taking an accidental tour of Pittsburgh at two in the morning, cruising through Lawrenceville and Bloomfield and then somehow ending up downtown, where the bright lights from theater marquees made it look like midday as their reflections glittered on the snowy sidewalks. I had to see the city while everyone was sleeping to understand its inherent charm.

For a while I worked in southern Kentucky, and there were many spring and summer mornings when I unintentionally discovered rolling hillsides, dilapidated farm houses, a fish hatchery, so many river lakes, and once, a small-town library book sale. During one trip I cruised past a trailer with a big-screen television parked on the front porch and the door wide open. Some horses grazed nearby.

I eventually got where I was supposed to be going.

Even when the road seems too winding and you can’t see the end goal, if you take your time and pray for the best, thing usually work out.

I am always getting lost.

But that’s okay, because there’s a lot to be found.

The Time I Jumped

2011 taught me that if your New Year’s resolution is to be fearless, God will send you to the top of a mountain in a third world country and expect you to jump.

When I made my resolution that year, I meant it.  I’ve spent my whole life being cautious and pragmatic, never taking enough risks.  It was time for that to change.  A few weeks into January, I got invited to join a local church’s July mission trip to Guatemala, and i said yes almost immediately.

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Six months later, I was in the beautiful city of Panajachel, three hours from Guatemala City.  We spent the days traveling to neighboring villages, laying the the foundation of a house and playing soccer with kids.  We spent the evenings wandering through the street markets and eating in restaurants, one of which featured a guitarist who bought everyone a purple friendship bracelet and told us that he was channeling Jim Morrison and we were all so, so connected.

On the last day of the trip, our group piled into a van and drove to a nature reserve, where we spent some time looking at monkeys and then signed up to go zip-lining.  Most of the group stayed, but some went back to the city for an afternoon of coffee and shopping.  With my New Year’s resolution in mind, I stayed.

I don’t like heights.  I don’t like speed.  Yet without really thinking, I decided to go zip-lining in a third world country.

After being fitted for helmets and and going over the rules and technique, we began our trek to the top of the mountain.  It was almost a mile, mostly uphill.  To get there, we crossed several tiny bridges that wobbled menacingly if more than one person walked on them.  (More than one person always walked on them.)  By the time we reached the top and faced the first line, I was breathless and exhausted.

If this was a story on the back of a Sunday School pamphlet or a televangelist’s testimonial, at this point in the story I would have looked around at my beautiful surroundings, smiled, and said “Philippians 4:13!” before cheerfully jumping off the mountain and flying through the air.  Instead, I took one look at the line and burst into tears.

It was then that I realized I had signed up to jump off the side of a mountain at extreme speed while attached to a cord.

I made it only a few feet before reaching for the cord I was attached to and stopping, leaving myself hanging in mid-air, sobbing.  I went a few more feet this way, stop-and-go like a fool, before finally letting myself go.  By the time I made it to the end of the line, it was already my turn again.  At this point, I was completely out of my mind with fear and adrenaline.  Out of pity or a fear of having a crazy blonde American girl trapped in mid-air on their zip-line, the man who was accompanying our group offered to ride the next line with me.

I kept my eyes shut and screamed bloody murder the entire time, but I made it.  Somewhere during the next two line, the man who I was attached to noticed that I was still keeping my eyes firmly shut, although I had finally stopped screaming.

Mira, mira!”  he yelled, pointing to our left.  I finally did.  A blanket of green, tropical forest, and in the background, the lake and volcanoes that defined the landscape.  It was maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  I kept my eyes open from then on.

I eventually grew brave enough to want to zip-line on my own, but my new friend refused.  “Too dangerous,” he told me.  We began to chat as we flew through the air, exchanging names and pleasantries.

“Mucho gusto! Gracias!”  I yelled, trying to remember high school Spanish.  “Mucho gusto!” he replied.

We finished our adventure and went back to the city, where we met up with the rest of our group in a coffee shop.  They asked me how it had been.

“I cried the entire time.  It was so much fun!”

I guess the moral of this story is that if you want to become fearless, you should probably expect to end up flying between two mountains with a Guatemalan man strapped to your back.