Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I guess that's the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.

High school can be epic, amazing and rewarding, but not always. People, and teenagers especially, often forget that for some, high school is dark, disturbing, and ultimately devastating. Who were you in high school? The Breakfast Club comes to mind here, as it always does when discussing high school stereotypes. So which were you? Jock? Princess? Brain? Or were you the loner? The basket case? How did the other kids see you? How did you see yourself? Maybe more importantly, how did you see everyone else? Did you scoff at the jocks and laugh at the plastic princesses, imagining that they had everything, while you had nothing? Or were you popular, pitying and ridiculing those who didn't "fit in?" What if you didn't fit into any category at all? It is often those teens who find it hardest to survive the mayhem that is the high school world. They have no identity, nothing to cling to, nothing to be passionate about or to rail against.

In his debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher brings us into the world of Hannah Baker, a girl who didn't fit into any of the normal categories. She wasn't disliked, but she wasn't popular either. All she wanted was a few friends to make high school bearable, maybe even memorable. And was it too much to ask for a cute boy to be interested in her too? She wanted what everyone wants on some level: acceptance and friendship. The books opens, though, with Clay Jensen at the post office, mailing a package with no return address. And he mentions his dread of returning to school, where Hannah Baker's desk is. Empty.

The day before, Clay had received a package containing seven cassette tapes numbered 1-13. You know, the old fashioned kind with two sides? He digs out a cassette player and puts the first tape in, confused and nervous. The voice on the tape is chilling, like a haunting, because it is Hannah Baker's voice, and Hannah Baker is dead. Hannah Baker committed suicide.

"Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo...No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests...I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you're listening to these tapes, you're one of the reasons why."

Intrigued? You should be. Everyone should read this book. In fact, if you read no other book this year (except for maybe The Hunger Games), this is the one book you want. And you're going to want to pass it on, trust me. It is the story of your actions and how they affect the people around you. All of the little things, the words and the insults and the slights that you don't remember or never meant to give. Jay Asher chose the right subject, the right emotion, the right everything for his debut novel, and I hope that it makes cracks in every person's existence.

Thirteen Reasons Why is dark, disturbing and ultimately devastating. It is the world that everyone is afraid to look too closely at, and the world that we have all touched in some way or another. Let this book impact you, let it open doors and encourage change. Let it teach you, and most of all, let Hannah Baker rest in your heart.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Send me away with the words of a love song

"Don't take anything for granted." How many times have we all heard that? Our parents said it to us when we were children, and in high school when we were selfish and sometimes mean, as all teenagers can be, our teachers reminded us. The first time death claimed someone we loved, and we learned what real heartbreak, the choking, painful kind, feels like, someone in the wings told us, "Don't take anything for granted."

And yet somehow we all slip into the complacency of a life that is solid and routine, and we begin to do the very thing that everyone always warned us about. We begin to take things for granted. And not just things, like our cars, and cell phones, and computers, although surely we are all guilty of that, but worse: we begin to take the people around us for granted. We expect them to be there forever, waiting on our call, or posting on Facebook, or Twitter. In our increasingly interconnected world, we simply assume that everyone is always a click or a text away. Maybe that is part of the problem, our reliance on technology to do the connecting. We forget to reach out to physically be with someone else.

Shawn Christy taught me a lot of things, although he probably never realized it in between all of the drinks and laughter and fun. When I began working at the Greene Turtle, I was afraid more than anything else. Not of the work, that was easy enough, but of myself. I was afraid of who I was going to be in a world where I was suddenly free to make all of my own choices. I could be selfish, I could be giving, I could be strong, weak, different, the same. The fact that I chould choose was overwhelming to me. Trust me, over the next few months I made a lot of bad choices, but somewhere in there, I emerged with this new family at the Turtle. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by people who accepted whoever I wanted to be, and trust me, sometimes that changed daily. In the center of that family, playing cornhole, encouraging another round of shots, giving out hugs, was Shawn Christy.

Shawn was bright. There really isn't another way to describe him. He shined through his smile, his outlook, and his devotion to his son. He was flirtatious, and I know he kissed me more than once. He was just playing, just goofing off, but somehow that was exactly what I needed. He was so at ease with himself that he inspired me to reach for the same thing for myself.

Two days before his accident, I was rolling silverware at the hostess stand, absorbed, singing absently along with the band. I felt arms go around me from behind, and although he didn't work there anymore, and I hadn't seen him in a couple of months, I just knew. So I turned around, and hugged him, and told him which manager was on duty. And that was it. Two days later, he was gone.

And so I'm left with the same regrets that everyone is when they realize that they've taken something for granted. I wish that I had texted, or tweeted, or facebooked more since he left the Greene Turtle. I wish that I had let him know that I am happy that he was my friend, even though it seems like I only knew him for a heartbeat of time. I can wish, and regret, and cry forever, but I won't. You know why? Because Shawn was always smiling, and he would want everyone to do the same.

Please visit this link to donate money toward a fund for funeral expenses and Shawn's sons, Shawn Jr. and Da'lyn.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What is love?

Since the end of the school year is almost here, I've tried to turn most of my students' thoughts to social issues. I figure that in the end, it's important for "kids these days" to learn how to have intelligent, thoughtful conversations about the world's issues. I also stress appreciating the opinions of others, of course, which is probably the hardest part for my kids. Nevertheless, they seem to respond well to topics that make them angry, or sad, or passionate.

We began the week with the question, "Who should decide who lives and who dies?" When I posed this question to my students, I mostly got the answers I expected, like God, fate, and in some cases, ourselves. In one class, we ended up in a religious debate that lasted at least twenty minutes. It was off-topic, but I think that it was a worthwhile distraction. We then discussed major issues that may or may not play a role in the upcoming presidential election: abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. We wrapped it all up with the same question we started with: "Who should decide who lives and who dies?" I was proud of the students that used our discussion to really reevaluate their original answers.

Today we began class with the question, "What is love?" Some of you may be like me, and immediately launch into "What is love?" by Haddaway, with accompanying "Night at the Roxbury" dance moves, but trust me when I say that my students did not find it funny. Instead, we started down a winding conversational path during which I learned a lot about the softer side of my students. One of my most obnoxious protegees, who shall remain nameless, surprised me the most. When I asked him "What is love?" he immediately answered "trust." I pushed them further, asking whether there are different kinds of love, and whether people feel love differently. I was easing them along the path toward a revelation, you see, that not only does everyone experience love in some form or another, but that people should be able to express that love in whatever way makes them the most happy.

Some of you may already see where I'm heading with this, especially if you've watched the news, caught a glimpse of your online home screen, or checked any social networking site in the past twenty-four hours. President Obama, in the wake of a hug uproar over North Carolina's proposed ban on gay marriage, FINALLY did what sane people everywhere have been waiting for him to do. He hopped off of the fence and declared that gay and lesbian couples have the right to get married. Go Obama! I may not agree with everything he's done as a president, but to take a stand in a country where the public is still split 50/50 over the issue takes courage and conviction.

I'm going to ask you, readers, the same question that I posed to my students: who gets to determine what love is? God? Fate? It's funny how life, death and love have all come to the same stalemate. I'll tell you the answer, if you're wondering. Who should decide who lives and who dies? No one. Live your life as if every day is your last and know that death is inevitable. Who gets to determine what love is? NO ONE. It simply exists, meaning different things to different people. Who gets to decide what marriage is? The bible? The Quran? The Talmud? And what about those of us who don't live our lives by a book? Marriage is simple, the union between two PEOPLE who love each other.

It's simple really, and my students seemed to get it. Gay marriage is just marriage, plain and simple. It's not affecting you any more than the gay and lesbian couples who have been committed to each other for decades before this "great debate." Let it go. Live and let live, because in life and marriage, no one should have a say except for you. As for death? I'll just leave it up to whoever deals with those things...maybe you should too.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sometimes, the beauty is in the attempt

So, someone very dear to me requested a story. Here's a start, let me know what you think!!


Maybe he had a point. Who, you ask? Why, Charlie Dashing, of course. Come to think of it, I'll bet that's not his real name. No matter, it's not important. What's that you say? Who is Charlie Dashing? My dear, have you been living under a rock? Oh very well, if you have to ask, you must really need an explanation. I'll tell you, and then maybe you'll understand what I meant when I said that he had a point. Well, maybe he had a point.

I met Charlie Dashing just downtown, at this cute little place called Lola's. Well, downstairs it was Lola's, upstairs it was Herbert G. Farvel's Stationary Shop. Ah, but that was the twenties, darling, dreadfully dull on the outside and shockingly glamorous on the inside. Prohibition was in full, ugly swing, and everyone was living for the nighttime, when the law abiding citizens of Baltimore would go off to bed. Of course, that left those glorious hours of darkness to us, the ones who just wanted a nice cocktail and maybe a dance or two.

So one of those nights, I slipped into my feathers and sequins and headed downtown toward Lola's. I had never been there before, you see, and had only heard the password by chance from a dear friend of mine. What was her name? Oh it doesn't matter, where were we? Ah, yes, Lola's. I entered in through the back door of Herbert G. Farvel's, and walked down some rather creaky old steps to a door at the bottom. A man was standing there, a monster of a fellow with his cap pulled low to completely cover his hair. He towered over me, and I remember thinking that maybe I had made the wrong choice, heading downtown tonight.


I cleared my throat and licked my lips, mentally cursing myself for smearing my red lipstick. “Dandelion?” The monster said nothing, and for a second I was sure that I had gotten the word wrong, and that he was going to pick me up by my sequined dress and toss me out onto Chase Street. After letting me sweat for a full five seconds though, he moved aside and pushed open the heavy door. I breathed a sigh of relief, pressed my lips together, and stepped inside.

Lola's was a cramped place, as most gin joints were, but it had a little stage in the corner, where a negro saxophonist was playing some decent jazz, and a bar on the far wall. I spotted my friend, Maude, on one of the stools and made my way over. She looked lovely as always, her bobbed auburn hair caught back with a sparkling pin and a short, fringed black dress. I had always been jealous of Maude because she was so slender, a true flapper. I, on the other hand, was utterly cursed with  brown hair, curvy hips and a generally buxom figure. All of the loveliest dresses just didn't seem to fit me the way they fit Maude.

It has just occurred to me that I have been unpardonably rude. We've never been properly introduced, have we? Here I am, going on about my figure, and you don't even know my name! Ah, well, age will do that to you. My name is Cordelia Van Hart, but in those days, most of the young people just called me Dilly. A carryover from my childhood, you know.

Anyway, where was I? Ah right, Maude. As I made my way over to the bar, she was deeply engrossed in conversation with the man sitting next to her. A mobster by the look of it, so slick he was slimy. I approached the bar, and accidentally knocked his fedora to the floor, three feet away. He shot me a look that might have knocked me off my heels if I hadn't already sat down in between him and Maude. I raised my left eyebrow in challenge, and he stalked off to retrieve his hat. The single eyebrow always seems to work my dear, never forget that.

Maude grinned at me, her jade eyes sparkling. “Dilly! Now what if that man was my soul mate? You may have just scared him away forever!”

“Maude, darling, if that man was your soul mate, I'm afraid it doesn't say much about your soul.” We smiled in easy camaraderie.

Maude turned back to her tea cup, which by the looks of it was full of a gin martini, her favorite. I flicked a manicured finger at the bartender, who was miles more handsome than the mobster, and smoothly ordered the same. My martini came in a tea cup as well, pink and white with tiny flowers around the edges. As if the tea cup would fool the Feds if they came knocking. I wasn't worried though, the neon owl light outside of the Owl Bar hadn't been blinking on my walk down, which meant that the Feds weren't in town.

“That fellow at the door really gave me the heebie-jeebies Maude, I was afraid you didn't give me the right password!”

“Oh Dilly, sometimes I swear you are so easily scared. Door men are supposed to give you the heebie-jeebies, that's what they're hired for.” Maude rolled her eyes, which somehow made her look more attractive, and took a sip of her martini. “So what do you think of the place? I rather like it.”

It's small.”

It's cozy. Comfortable, like you could really get to know everyone that comes here.”

Why would you want to do that? Isn't part of the fun not knowing every sheik in the place?”

Well sure doll, but every now and then, I'm keen to try something new. Oh look! There he is.”

There who is?”

Why the reason we're here, Dilly. It's Charlie Dashing! I'm practically goofy over him already.” Maude pointed toward the door, where a tall gentleman had just entered the dimly lit room. He looked up and caught my brown eyes with his blue ones. Charlie Dashing, indeed.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Perhaps I've spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high.

As I was perusing Pinterest, as I seem to do every twenty minutes of every day, I kept coming across these pictures of hot actors. Good day on Pinterest, right? I thought so, too. Even though I could already see the hotties perfectly well, I clicked on them anyway...just to see them a little bit bigger. Who wouldn't? Well, as I was clicking around, mentally adding names to my "elevator list," I began to notice something. Most of these pictures had the following caption: "Christian Grey?" Interested, especially since everyone that was commenting seemed to be really invested in this question, I googled Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

I read a couple of articles which detailed how James' book knocked The Hunger Games out of the top spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. As any bibliophile would be, I was intrigued. I also noted that there seemed to be a lot of conversation about the BDSM aspects of the novel, and almost decided against reading it because honestly, that stuff freaks me out. To counterbalance that though, Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction, and I am a huge Twilight fan. The Twilight-loving, bibliophile side of me won out, and I downloaded the book from Amazon to my eReader.

So I curled up in bed, which is my favorite place to read, and began what would end up being a shocking journey on many levels. The story is simple, and if you deleted all of the freaky sex scenes, it would be a typical boy meets girl, boy sweeps girl off of her feet, boy has issues, romance. Keep in mind though, that James springs the BDSM on her audience pretty quickly. My first shock was that (sorry Ms. James) this book is terribly written. James uses a first-person narrative, which is fine, but although most of the novel is written in present-tense, there are quite a few moments where she switches to past-tense and back to present. Plus, it almost seems like she put every third word through a thesaurus, using words like "beguiling" and "paradigm" in what should have been normal conversation. Yes, those are words, and when used properly, I'm sure they could work, but PEOPLE DON'T SAY THEM IN NORMAL CONVERSATION. Not even stuffy, billionaire Christian Grey-types. I am completely cognizant of the fact that E.L. James is British, but if you are going to write about people who live in America, you need to be aware of the language difference. Things like that really irk me, and normally I don't make it past the first chapter of a book that is so poorly written, but to my dismay, I couldn't put it down.

Before I go any further, I want you to know that I would have kicked Christian Grey to the curb so fast he would have gotten whiplash. He's bossy and controlling with some worrying, stalker-like tendencies. We wouldn't have even made it past the coffee date no matter how disarmingly gorgeous he was. Regardless, it was interesting to see the unrealistically innocent Ana fall for him.

This book is what I would imagine cocaine is like: horrible and addictive. It has been almost a full twenty four hours of reflection since I finished it, and I still can't quite put my finger on what made me like it (against my will). Okay, so it might be that I imagined Ian Somerhalder as Christian Grey through the whole thing (thanks Pinterest). Or it could be that I have always fallen for the bad boy with hidden scars. You know, the one that needs some work, but ends up being the prince in the end? Okay, so even beyond the bad writing and all of the shameful BDSM stuff, which I'm still freaked out about by the way, by the end of the book I did actually start to like the characters. I actually like Ana much more than Stephanie Meyer's Bella because she actually has some guts. She stands up for herself even in the face of Grey's overly controlling personality.

I have been recommending this book to my friends, but I'm pretty sure it's only so we can be shocked by/make fun of it together. That being said, I will probably read the second installment, Fifty Shades Darker. Just out of morbid curiosity, of course.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Casting blame

Because no matter where you run, you just keep running into yourself

When I was a junior at Elizabethtown, I wrote a paper. Okay, I wrote many papers (way too many to count), but I was really excited about this one, which was for a cultural history class taught by Kevin Scott. I had to pick an item of popular culture from any era and explain how that item represented the time in which it was made. I spent days Googling and searching through the vast amount of primary documents that I had already accrued in the hopes of using them in my classroom one day, but no luck. As much as I was enjoying the class, and as much as I love history, nothing was really speaking to me. I was frustrated, sitting on my bed in my dorm room, when I glanced over at my desk, where I had some DVDs stacked on the corner. And then it hit me. Breakfast at Tiffany's! I had always loved the movie, and recently finished reading Truman Capote's original novel. Once I had the idea, I was on a roll.

Holly Golightly speaks to every woman. She's classy and beautiful and most of all, she is independent. If it was one thing I knew, it was that the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s marked a shift in the paradigm for women. This movie represented that shift. Between Holly's origins as a wife in Tulip, Texas to her fight for independence, the movie chronicles the struggle women were having at the time. Honestly, it's the same struggle that women are still facing today: career or family? And if we want both, when do we have time for anything else?

Capote's novel was miles different from the movie when it was finished, but gay, nameless narrator or George Peppard as a love interest, the theme remains the same: women's needs were changing. So I wrote my paper with passion and a love for my subject. To this day, that era remains my favorite one to teach about because the struggles going on in a woman's mind, or between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., or in the post-war man's psyche are fascinating.

Three years later, my little sister handed me a book that she had just bought for me at the New York City Public Library on 5th Avenue (incidentally, we were on our way to have breakfast at Tiffany's). It was 5th Avenue, 5 a.m. by Sam Wasson. I was excited, as I am for anything regarding Breakfast at Tiffany's, so I began to read it as soon as I could.

Imagine my frustration when I realized that this book, published more than two years after I had written that paper, was about pretty much the same thing! Granted, the research that it must have taken to turn the idea that apparently Wasson and I shared into this New York Times Bestseller must have been intense, and there's no way that the college version of me could have written a book.

Despite my disappointment that it was Wasson, not me, who was the bestselling author, I was enthralled. Fifth Avenue, 5 a,m, is entertainingly written and concise, and arranged in a way that the chronology is not confusing. It is a book about Audrey Hepburn, and her desire to be part of two worlds: Hollywood and the home. It is a book about women in the 1950s and 60s, and how they shared Audrey's same desire. Mostly, it's about how Tiffany's changed what was considered "acceptable" at the time and made it seem okay for a call girl to fall in love with a kept man. In fact, it managed to make the whole thing classy, with Givenchy's landmark dress as the cherry on top.

I wholeheartedly recommend this to fans of Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, or history in general. I am usually not one to enjoy non-fiction, but this book was amazing. And besides, if I can't take the credit for the idea, at least Sam Wasson did a lovely job with it! So what are you waiting for? Go pick it up!