03 June 2020

To the Graduates: A time capsule of life and advice


From a time when we could attend commencements in person and get sunburned. Photo by the author.


"Bloom where you're planted."
// attributed to St. Frances of Sales, Bishop of Geneva (1567-1622)


Graduation ceremonies were pretty different this year. Instead of baking under the sun or freezing in the rain, friends and family members sat in front of their computers, dressed in their caps and gowns. Their names were not mispronounced in front of their classmates and colleagues. Speeches were shorter than usual, since giving (or watching) Zoom speeches can be ... well, you know. Acting as dean, my cousin moved the tassel of his daughter’s mortarboard from one side to the other. She and many others have graduated, but this year's milestone was muted by pandemic, injustice, and unrest.

In these strange times, I offer the words of friends who, four years ago, shared glimpses of their college lives with me. For various reasons, those words had been forgotten and unread until now -- but I am so glad I rediscovered this treasure trove. Although these friends wrote during pre-pandemic times, their stories remain relevant. They spoke of uncertainty and disillusionment. They spoke of hope, and even assurance, in the midst of the expanse of life ahead of them.

Here I have included a curated portion of their responses, which are lightly edited but still speak for themselves. I only regret that, for attention span's sake, I am not able to include more of the words and stories I received. (I originally asked sixteen questions.) Some of the participants permitted me to use their first names or first initials, while others chose to remain anonymous. See the bottom of the post for some more information about them.

Whether you are in the class of 2020, the class of 2016, or are simply going through a transition, I invite you to explore this time capsule with me.

And in the time-honored tradition of graduation songs that stir up memories and nostalgia, I've included some musical accompaniment for this look to the past, in order to look forward.

04 December 2018

Bookishness / Umbertouched by Livia Blackburne


Read _ in the midst of a move and its aftermath

When coming home brings
death and destruction ...



Brokenness is usually not an admirable trait. Neither is failure. These have been weary times, and sometimes I just want my heroines and heroes to succeed and thrive, not botch things up like I and the rest of the world do! Yet they are made more human for it. And in Umbertouched (2018), Livia Blackburne's sequel to Rosemarked (2017), I found myself repeatedly rooting for the very human Zivah and Dineas. These characters at the helm of the story are scarred, visibly and invisibly, and yet they endure in ways that make me hopeful for myself.

17 May 2018

Bookishness / The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden



Greetings from a faraway land, a land that has been bereft of books ... until now. I haven't been able to write for a while, for various reasons personal and procrastination-ish, but this book has lingered in the back of my mind. Yes, I had committed to writing this review, but more importantly, I wanted to do it but I didn't get to it in a timely manner. And so I thought, "Maybe I'll reread the book to refresh my memory so I can write a proper review." Then, "I won't read any other books until I write this review."

Then life happened, health happened, and a few months later, nothing happened.

Until I decided to pick up another book and read.

I intentionally chose a book in a different genre, a lighter dose of realistic fiction to get me turning pages but that wouldn't mix too much with my memories of Vasya and medieval Russia. And it worked. I started reading without guilt, and I've now started writing bits and pieces again.

And because I have followed through in writing about a book a read several months ago, you'll know it's good.

/ / /

Read _ during the remnants of summer -- yet still, I shivered...

Political intrigue, complex relations,
and a dangerous masquerade ...



I read. Shivered. Went back to reread sections. Savored. But at some point, many months overdue, a review needs to be written.

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight #2) was a very welcome follow up to The Bear and the Nightingale, and, already, I can't wait for Vasya's story to conclude in The Winter of the Witch (forthcoming in January 2019). (Truly, does this series have to stop at 3?)

13 June 2017

Bookishness / Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner


Read _ While planning my next adventurous escape for the summer

A daring escape through desert and mountain,
where nothing is what it seems


Two years ago, the Tall Man and I embarked on a cross-country road trip. With a new car and adventure in mind, we plotted a zigzagging route from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, connecting the dots between friend's houses, meeting relatives, and nature's wonders -- plus the odd man-made creation like the Jolly Green Giant (Blue Earth, Minnesota). Although I had visited various national parks in the past with my family, the sheer diversity in the landscape still wowed me. There was an immensity to our trek, a pilgrimage of sorts through all of America's textures and faces.

Reading Thick as Thieves, the fifth installment of The Queen's Thief series, was a little like this trip. The book focuses primarily on a journey -- a physical one across varied landscapes, but also an emotional one, charting the trajectory of a friendship, of identities, of belonging.