Rambling Review: The Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides

References to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides kept popping up around me recently, so I decided to check out this modern classic for myself. I can’t deny I’m into darker/heavier stories like the synopsis suggests (5 sisters kill themselves within a single year) and was intrigued right off the bat by a collective narrator (the story is told by the neighborhood boys as a whole).

Because it’s a relatively slim paperback, I brought it along on vacation, intending to read it on the beach or during down-time between activities. This encouraged a lot of horrified feedback from my friends, who always ask what I’m reading. They then spent the week checking in by asking “how many girls have died now?” then following my answer up with a head shake and a “why do you read stuff like that?”  That’s how I discovered pretty much my entire group of friends consists of happy, shiny people like my husband who prefer little depth and pain in their entertainment.

Leaving aside my friends’ responses, this is not a good beach read. In the way of most classics, the story needs your attention for good chunks of time. I found myself re-reading sentences and chapters and getting frustrated because I couldn’t devote more focus to it.

The story is beautifully written. There are some of the lovely descriptions and word-pictures that I love, and the fact that it’s like the neighborhood boys have sat me down to tell me their observations adds a touch of near-innocence to a tragic experience. Rather than being a novel about suicide, it’s more of a love letter to the sisters from the boys who grew up watching them.

It is sad. The parents are misguided and in my opinion arrogant in their negligence. The novel does discuss suicide, the ways the sisters end their lives, in just enough detail to make the reader uncomfortable without turning it into a caricature. Suicide should make a person uncomfortable to read about.

But it’s also a subject that is treated with respect. Eugenides captures the bewilderment and guilt and shock and grief that lingers over those left behind. The narrator shows how suicide affects a neighborhood, the process one goes through to try to understand something no one will explain outright.

It is a heavy book. It’s tragic and inevitable and beautiful. A modern classic, indeed.

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A Movie Date With Myself

I love going to the movies. A small contingency of Wildcards would enjoy weekly “$5 Movies” on Wednesday nights at the local theater. We still do on occasion, but now that some of us have moved, and life has gotten busier and more “adult-like”, it’s been harder to make Wednesday night (sometimes any night) work.

As an experiment of sorts, I recently went to the movies by myself. I’ve always liked the idea of being brave enough to go alone while simultaneously thinking it’s weird to go to the movies without someone else. Also, I have social anxiety mixed with a desire for a stronger self-identity, so it seemed like a great idea to stretch my comfort zone and gain a little autonomy.

I chose the movie Gifted with Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer (because I just adore both of them), and decided to see to in the early afternoon on a Sunday, when the theater theoretically would be less crowded.

The theater I went to lets you choose your seat when you buy the ticket. I always try to sit dead-center in the theater, usually in the middle of the group I’m with. My instinct this time was to snag a seat in the back row, so no one could sit behind me and judge how alone I looked. However, the back row was all taken. And since there was no group to keep me feeling like my edges were protected, I defaulted to an end seat for an easy escape from those prying eyes I was sure would be judging my every solitary move.

Now, even though I’d just had lunch, I stopped at the concessions for my usual order of popcorn and bottled water. This is defensive mechanism two (or three if you’re counting my seat-choice-strategy as two moves), performing a familiar habit in an unfamiliar setting. Plus, munching popcorn could give me something to focus on other than wondering what that back row is thinking about the weird loner on the end near the front. Concessions roadblock: there were only two popcorn sizes — regular and large — and I usually get the itty bitty “junior” size at my usual movie spot. Of course, a rational person might have simply asked if they offer a kid’s size, but remember — social anxiety! I ordered my ridiculously large “regular” and strutted as confidently as possible up the stairs in search of my theater.

Even though the lights were up and shining like a freaking spotlight on my lonely little self, and the people in the back were whispering and giggling, I settled into my seat as casually as I could. I allowed myself one text to my husband letting him know I’d survived thus far, then put my phone away (this is something I’m working on in general, to not depend on my phone in “vulnerable” social situations).

The lights went down and I relaxed. For two blissful minutes, I settled deeper into my seat and focused on the previews.

Then an older couple came and sat right next to me. Right. Next. To me. No buffer seat. It didn’t make sense. Literally the entire theater, other than the back row, was open — which they would have seen on the screen when they bought their tickets — but they chose the seats directly beside the one single person. My heartrate kicked up a notch, but I realized I was more annoyed than anything.

It did make me a little more conscious of myself throughout the movie, if I laughed at something they didn’t, when I had to brush tears from my eyes. I’d get brief anxious whispers: what if that was rude to laugh at? What if they’re judging me? However, the movie itself was so good, I kept getting sucked back in, until the next moment I’d giggle or sniffle and remember I wasn’t quite as “alone” as I might have liked.

The high that carried me home was fantastic. I’d done this brave, out of character thing that turned out overall pretty great. I felt fearless and confident.

Now, when I think about trying it again, that familiar anxiety rears its head, but I’m able to remind myself I survived it once. Even better, it didn’t feel like I just “survived”; I felt — for a little while at least — almost invincible. It’s worth the fear to give it another go.

Rambling Review: And I Darken

Okay, the next book in this series (Now I Rise) comes out in July, so I was putting off rereading And I Darken until the end of June to get ready for it, but I just noticed it’s currently $1.99 on Kindle so I need to share my love for it RIGHT NOW.

That being said, I’m a little foggy on all the details that make this book great and can’t really remember anything glaring that made it difficult to read.

It’s one of my favorite young adult books out there. I love the opportunity to learn things while reading historical fiction, and Kiersten White gives a great little blurb about her research and the areas she took liberties and tweaked timelines.

I love the imagination behind turning Vlad the Impaler into a woman and exploring what might have been different (and what might have stayed the same). Lada is a beautifully written character, with depth and strength and fierce rejection of her weaknesses. Even though she is rough and hardened, she’s relatable. I could relate to the little girl trying desperately to make her father proud, to the woman afraid of losing herself in love, in the man she loves, to the fighter who refuses to lose sight of her end goals, no matter how hopeless they can seem at times.

It isn’t a light-hearted read. The book explores the dark side of a person’s character. It exposes flaws in heroes and muddies the waters between right and wrong. It’s full of painful sacrifice and selfish choices, hurt and betrayal and love and ambition. It ripped holes in my heart and put the pieces back in ways that weren’t neat and tidy, but satisfying in their “rightness”. For the bright and shiny people, those like my husband, this isn’t the book for you. But if you like books that blur the line between hero and villain, books that spit on your expectations and make you question your own nature, your own response to a hostile world, this book is everything.

A New Beginning

Do you ever get really into something, then life comes along and distracts you just long enough that returning to that thing feels a little awkward? You start to wonder if you really loved it, since you haven’t really missed it, but at the same time you feel like you should really get back to it?

It happens to me all the time, especially with blogging. I’ll be on a roll for maybe a week or two then something else pulls my attention and the next thing I know, more weeks have passed without a single post. I start to feel guilty, but rather than motivating me to write, it shifts into a bundle of anxiety that I shove to the back of my mind. I’ll get to it, I tell myself, as the anxiety builds each day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something brilliant, I reassure myself, as the anxiety drips down my throat and curls around my chest.

The longer I give it free reign to grow unsupervised, the darker it gets. I tell myself there’s a simple explanation — not as simple as “life gets in the way”, but something more damning — I’m lazy. I’m a dabbler — not a true writer. I don’t belong in the blogging world, I don’t belong in the writing world. If I’m so easily chained to everything but writing, why bother keeping up the facade? Just give up already.

You already have.

It’s a metaphor for my life lately. My thoughts are scattered, too jumbled to untangle, too time-consuming to fit into a blog-length ramble. My life is on the precipice of some huge changes, both exciting and scary. And I know I should cut myself some slack, even though it’s hard.

I’m leaving my current job at the end of this week. My husband and I are moving halfway across the country so he can go back to school full time. And even though I’ve been relatively silent on the blog for the better part of this year, I want to share the adventure with you. I want to be better at making time for the things I love, and I’m hoping these changes will bring with them a shift in focus. A way to make time for things that can be hard, even though they’re enjoyable. A kick-start to get out and experience things worth sharing. An incentive to pause the Grey’s Anatomy Netflix marathons and take time exploring — either my community or my inner self.

I want to be better at this. And I thank you for sticking with me and my sporadic posting.

Rambling Reviews: These Vicious Masks

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Do you like the X-Men series? Do you like Victorian England? If not, this is not the book for you.

If, like me, you are intrigued, then let me tell you about These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas.

I became so hooked on the characters and their stories I immediately downloaded the sequel (These Ruthless Deeds) and let me tell you, this series does not disappoint. There are terrifying and clever powers, an explanation for such powers that is plausible yet not overly explained, and interesting characters who wield said powers. You’ve got a heroine who grapples with what it is to be a “hero” (and one might argue she doesn’t quite live up to the title) while stopping at nothing to reunite with her sister. You’ve got a charming suitor and a mysterious, brooding gentleman — Jane Austen would swoon — who trap our heroine in a delicious love triangle. Dangerous escapades and comic misadventures balance well throughout the novel, making for a quick and enjoyable read.

The writing is not flawless, and some things seem to wrap up too neatly, but nothing that sticks out as blaringly awful or even memorable once the story is through.

I adored the ending of the sequel. I won’t say anymore than that because I’ve tried wording my feelings a dozen times and I can’t figure out how to convey my thoughts without somehow spoiling it or creating an expectation that I did not have going into it, so I will leave it at that. It was fascinating.

The first book is $4.22 for paperback, $7.09 on Kindle ($14.89 for both books on Kindle). I highly recommend checking them out!

Rambling Review: 13 Reasons Why

*UPDATED WITH FINAL THOUGHTS*

Ok full disclosure again: this is not a book review. I did *almost* purchase the book from Barnes and Noble two months ago, but then saw it was soon to be a Netflix show and decided to save my dollars because Netflix has really impressed me with their original shows and adaptations (see: A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I just started watching the show and I’ve made it through four episodes. It’s wonderful. It has drama and mystery and heart-wrenching situations all around. I find myself feeling angry along with the narrator, then so sad for those who she claims has ruined her lives. It makes me think of my own interactions, even now, long after high school, and how one little look or joke or terse word could so adversely affect someone. It looks at how interconnected we are all, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I’m pretty glad I decided to wait for the show, because I have a terrible habit of harshly judging the movie/tv version of a good book. Now, I can enjoy the twists and turns without sighing or complaining “that’s not like the book!”. I do still want to read the book, and this way, I know I won’t stay up reading it all night to find out the next reason. I’m frustrated by the pace of the main character moving through the tapes, because I’m a binge-watcher/reader/listener. It doesn’t detract from the show (though I do appreciate the characters who point out how long he’s taking) — and I think it would have detracted from my enjoyment if I were reading, because I would devour the book too quickly. With episodic shows (and a husband who interrupts my binge sessions with things like “walks” and “dinner” and “the March Madness Championship”), I’m able to slow down (a little bit) and digest a chunk of episodes before plunging ahead.

As it handles a teenager’s suicide, I think the show does a good job of showing how different people are affected. The parents and their relationship, the careful, “be sympathetic but cover our ass” approach by the school, all the different students processing (their selfishness, their guilt, their callousness, their pain) all feels authentic to me. The mom is so well-played; I’ve loved Kate Walsh since her days as Addison Montgomery-Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy, but her performance is raw and achingly beautiful as a mom coming apart at the seams, just trying to understand, to find some sort of justice.

As I’m not even halfway through, I’ll reserve full judgment until I’ve reached the end, but so far, I would highly recommend this show.

Updated–

I blew through the last few episodes. The last four made me cry for different reasons (PS — I tend to cry a lot over good books/movies/shows/songs/art). They were very emotional and intense, and I would definitely say they should come with a “trigger warning” for anyone struggling with issues like self-harm/suicidal ideation/depression/etc. Or if your life has been touched by these, it can be hard to watch.

Immediately after watching, I still felt this was a well-done show. There was some discussion online about the possibility of a Season 2, but I like to think that — much like real life — some things are left unanswered or at the very least not tied up perfectly in a nice little bow. I felt hollow and sad for how many lives had been changed, not all for the better, and I think the show does a great job of showing the ripple effect of one person’s actions, and how everyone’s lives intertwine.

However, I was shocked that there were only two “graphic scene” warnings, neither of which pertained to the episode in which the suicide actually occurred. There were no hotline phone numbers offered, or blurbs at the end of the episode advising viewers to seek help for themselves or loved ones struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In fact, in one scene, self-harm is explained away almost as a “healthy” alternative to suicide. The more I think over the show, the more I uncomfortable I get with recommending it. The most important subject matter is dealt with carelessly. There isn’t any discussion of mental health or how a person’s mental state affects how they process and respond to external issues. As one friend of mine pointed out, two people could experience the same bullying and respond in vastly different ways; if someone is already predisposed to negative self-talk and hopelessness, she will internalize her problems much differently than a healthy person. Yet the show never delves into any sort of examination of her mental state and blames her suicide fully on the actions of others, and makes it seem like the only option to avoid her problems.

I would strongly recommend viewers keep this in mind while watching. There are many aspects that I think are well-done and well-acted, but the mishandling of such an important issue as mental health awareness makes me hesitate to continue to recommend the show.

 

Killing Me Softly

How is it that a song can so perfectly capture a complete stranger’s heart? Phantoms drift through a soul, nameless but achingly present, without words to explain the ache or hope or love burning holes through a chest. Then a song will come on and suddenly it all makes sense. Every single lyric is a word plucked from within my heart, every description a tale of my own life.

Lyrics put words to the feelings inside, and the melody spells out in the clearest language the nuances of those feelings, of aches and dreams and faith and fear.

Avalanche by Amasic (originally by Bring Me The Horizon) kills me softly every time. It’s like all of my neurosis and darker days are spelled out in the straightforward yet anguished strums of the guitar.

If I want to dwell on the tragic beauty of the human condition, I can dive into We Fall Apart by We As Human. If I’m in the mood for a darker reflection, I’ll turn to the haunting and desperate Still Alive by Breaking Through.

Nothing reminds me of joy and hope and sunshine like Suburban Legends’ Bright Spring Morning. This song is fun and adventure and a reminder that I can roll down my windows, crank up the radio, and fly away.

I’m not very picky in my music tastes. I’ll listen to anything as long as it moves me in some way — even if just with a really catchy beat. Music infects every part of my life. There’s almost always some song playing on repeat in the back of my mind. If my playlist won’t load, I’ll have an extremely hard time at the gym or driving anywhere. It isn’t a road trip until I’ve rapped along to Forgot About Dre, it isn’t a party until someone starts belting out Don’t Stop Believing, and it isn’t a good writing day unless I’ve started with Waiting in the Moment. I think better with music playing, I write better to a soundtrack, cooking, cleaning, anything is better against a backdrop of tunes.

What about you? Share some of your favorite songs in the comments — I’d love to check them out!