What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 19.5: Boston, MA to Stockholm

I say “19.5” because with a flight out of the country in the evening, this wasn’t exactly a whole day in Boston. I spent a smidge over 24 hours in town, so should that count as two days?

I woke up a little before Diana’s alarm and futzed around a bit on my phone. She showered and got ready for work, and I got dressed in my lazy bum traveling clothes and we were off.

My morning wasn’t too eventful. I dumped my travel bag at the station, and then spent the rest of the time I had until burritos with Diana and Walter writing in Boston Common and then wandering through the botanical gardens.

The Massachusetts state legislature on a sunny day.
Much State. Very Legislature. Wow. So Government.

 

A plaque commemorating the dedication of the Boston Common, gold text on a black background set in a white marble facade.
I appreciate the bird photobombing but not dude in the fannypack.

 

A zebra on a carousel

A fountain in Boston Common on a sunny day.

It was SO. HOT. that day and I very much wanted to jump in any and every body of water I saw. Fountains, duck pond, the little kid wading pool…all of them.

All of this was right after Nazi demonstrations and protests and tiki torches and all of that good stuff. (I picked a helluva time to be back in the US!) It was a topic of discussion when we were at dinner in Old Orchard Beach. Seth (Walter’s boyfriend) was amazed that Nazis would even dare to turn up and show their faces in Boston, of all places—the city is so progressive and liberal and etc.

I shook my head. “Nah man, what I’ve heard from non-white friends of mine who live there…it’s a different experience.”

There were leftovers of protests and rumbles on the Common.

"RACISM WILL NOT WIN" in pink and white chalk on black asphalt.
The text spraypainted on the ground reads “Racism will not win.” We can only hope. =/
Close up of a monument to The Pilgrims in Boston Commons, with graffiti: "$ IS POWER X FREEDOM I$ RESISTANCE"
And on this monument to I guess the Pilgrims? “$ IS POWER XFREEDOM I$ RESISTANCE.” I don’t know if I hold entirely with that logic, protest artist. The first half, yes. But I don’t know it’s connected to resisting or freedom. Maybe “resistance is freedom”? Otherwise you’re maybe putting the cart before the horse.
A Civil Mar memorial to white officers and black rank and file.
Civil War memorial to “white officers” and “black rank and file.” It feels like a lukewarm attempt at Black History TM by throwing them in with the white officers but on the other hand if they fought together, shouldn’t they be memorialized together?

I finished my writing and my photo-taking and wandered in the direction of the public gardens, because I guess that’s what I do on vacations now?

A sign for the Boston Public Garden, founded 1837. City of Boston Department of Parks and Recreation. Martin J. Walsh, mayor.

Purple and pink roses in the Boston Public Gardens on a sunny day.

Overheard in Boston:

“The flowers are dyin’ ’cause they don’t water ’em.”
“They do water ’em, every day.”
“Why are they dyin’, then?”
“‘Cause of the sun.”

Purple hyacinths and other flowers in the Boston Public Garden on a sunny day.

A pond in the Boston Public Gardens on a sunny day, lined with weeping willows. A duck boat tour is turning around a small island in the middle of the pond, and a goose and some ducks are swimming in the lower left corner in the shade of a willow tree.

More overheard in Boston:

“MOM! A duck bit my thumb!”

There were a couple buskers out in the park. An elderly Asian man playing what I think was an erhu, and then a hip young white dude with a tenor sax: “Careless Whispers,” “What A Wonderful World,” etc.

A tree with an interesting pattern in its bark on a sunny day.

I wandered over to the burrito place to meet and Walter. It was a take-out place for nearby young professionals, and since I was eating with young professionals, that meant there was no place to really sit or any time to really talk.

We said our goodbyes and I walked around the city a bit, despite it being SO. HOT., because I figured if I’m going to say that I visited Boston, I should have at least seen some of it? The other times I’ve been in Boston, I’ve been sequestered away indoors at anime conventions so I wanted to say that I had actually been in Boston. Or whatever.

Psychadelic-style street art on a utility box: guitar outlines with different stained glass-like images against a backdrop of abstract color swatches.

A light gray cupid and sun stenciled on white concrete. The cupid has the planetary symbol for Venus painted in black on its wing, and another alchemical symbol painted on its groin.

I was due to meet another friend, Amy, at a marketplace in the afternoon, though I turned up quite a bit early so I could browse around a bit and enjoy the air conditioning. I bought some yarn for one of my knitter friends back home, and picked up a business card from American Stonecraft. I love rocks, and I love New England, and this is exactly the kind of thing that my mother-in-law loves, so I’ll probably buy something online for her birthday or Christmas present. (Probably a coaster or two.)

Pots of sunflowers at an indoor farmer's market.

Once in a green time a flower
Oh, fell in love with the sun.
The passion lasted for an hour
And then she wilted from her loved one.

A cash register with a sign on the tip jar that reads 'SCUSE ME WHILE I TIP THIS GUY and features an image of Jimi Hendrix shredding.
I appreciated the tip jar humor but was fresh out of any cash at all by this point. Nor did I feel like buying some nuts, even as the guy behind the counter was really friendly and offered me some free samples. Womp womp.

Amy did the very smart thing and brought GAMES because two people with low-key (and sometimes not so low-key) social anxiety need all the help interacting they can get! Or at least I do, even if meeting Internet friends is always less fraught than I expect it because it’s not like I don’t know them at all or anything. Although I was still a bit of a traveling mess—piecey hair, clothes chosen for comfort rather than fashion, indescribably sweaty—so props to and everyone else that day for spending time with my unattractive self!

After we got chocolate and chatted a bit and I saw some Andy pictures I hadn’t before (ATTACK OF THE FIFTY-FOOT TODDLER!), we played a couple rounds of Hanabi, which I sucked at but enjoyed nonetheless and have since added to our small roster of games (Munchkin, Dixit, Magic: The Gathering).

After that it was off to the station to pick up my bag, which I had to pay some extra for by all of ten? fifteen? minutes. Ugh. Nonetheless, it was worth the convenience. I had a hell of a time finding the bus to Logan, and then the check-in line for Norwegian was FOREVER LONG. It wasn’t as stressful as it would be if it were my flight going in—I had no pressing plans back in Sweden that would suffer if I got bumped back a few hours or even a day—but it still made me anxious. The family behind me, on the other hand, realized they had the wrong passports, and it was a rush of phonecalls and sending out teenage son to meet dad and etc. to fix it. So someone was having an even more stressful wait than I was!

We boarded on time, though, and everything went smoothly. My layover in Copenhagen was slightly shorter this time around, so I didn’t try to do any more exploring. I just hung out at one of the terminals, charging my phone and letting my boyfriend know that I would be at Arlanda in a couple of hours.

Friday 5: The Shine of a Thousand Spotlights

A dozen blazing spotlights focusing on a distant figure on a stage, framed by darkness and dark silhouettes.
Image courtesy Jacob Morch on Unsplash

What physical trait are you (or have you been) self-conscious about?

Hi guys, I could write a whole novel on being fat! But so many other writers handle it better, so rather than go into it myself I’ll just post links to two writers whose perspectives helped me get right with Fat Jesus.

Dances With Fat

Jill Grunenwald (and her memoirs Running With a Police Escort)

Even though I’ve gotten right with Fat Jesus, small things remain. Mostly my nose. I don’t hate it enough to go under the knife, and my human brain recognizes that it’s a perfectly normal nose, but my lizard brain can’t stop comparing it to adorable ski jump button noses. Even actresses who are constantly put on “quirky beauties” or “big noses” or whatever lists don’t have the same kind of nose I do.

When did you last do something risking injury?

I guess going for a run always risks injury, right? So depending on when this post goes up, either Wednesday or today.

Why do critics and the general movie-going public never seem to agree?

I’d say the operative word is “seem.” I suspect most of the time critical opinions and the public’s opinions are generally in line. Otherwise I imagine that the contributing factor is that movie critics are a self-selecting group of people who gravitate towards the arts and appreciate, even crave, novelty in the form and as a result they’re generally more appreciate of movies that are subtle or unusual. Most people watch movies for comfort or entertainment rather than critical engagement, and so they’re more drawn towards predictable (or surprising-within-predictable-schemas) and comforting rather than challenging or difficult.

How do you feel about Hugh Jackman as an actor?

#NotMyWolverine

Who is the best singer you’ve seen in live performance?

I don’t really go to live music performances that often. (Aside from the odd years where I can make it to Musikfest.) I guess two come to mind:

Ssingssing, with lead singer Lee Hee-moon

 

Black Masala, with singer Kristen Long (though my memory of their Musikfest performance seems to have a different singer?)

My Real Children: Book Review

I decided that I’m no longer bound by space and time when it comes to book club reads. In other words, I don’t have to wait for a respective book’s month, or even read them in order! Which is why I dug into My Real Children last week, even though it’s not on the Austin Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club docket until June.

Cover of "My Real Children" by  Jo Walton

Author: Jo Walton

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.76

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: Patrician Cowan is living out the end of her life in a care facility for dementia patients. Unlike most dementia patients, however, she also remembers two lives. Which one is the truth? Which children are her real children?

Content warning: Some scenes of emotional abuse; a couple of uncomfortable, coercive sex scenes

Recommended audience: Alternative history fans, actual history buffs, people who are anxious over the life choices they’ve made, readers looking for LGBTQ+ historical commentary

In-depth thoughts: My Real Children takes a very personal, intimate look at history and chaos theory. Walton gives us two (alternate?) lives of Patricia Cowan, with different spouses and different struggles and different triumphs.

Of course, it’s not just Patricia’s life that’s different between the two. History also takes two different tracks (though both are different from history as it tracked in our world). Walton sets up a delicious little tension there that’s never entirely resolved: did Patricia’s choices in any way affect larger world events? Or did those larger world events have any effect on her? Another author might have been tempted to draw a line between Patricia’s choices and world events (like Charles Wallace body-hopping through different people in A Swiftly Tilting Planet), but Walton just leaves those differences there.

While My Real Children is put out by Tor, an imprint famous for fantasy and science fiction, I wouldn’t classify it as science fiction myself. (I was actually surprised to see it was a Tor book!) But maybe that’s because I already comfortably half-accept the idea of there being alternate reality versions of myself leading different versions of my life. There’s no attempt to explain why those lifetimes are converging in Patricia’s memory, or why she’s drifting between two timelines (it’s most certainly not a metaphor for dementia; she has dementia in both lifetimes, unrelated to the timelines crossing); it’s simply a narrative device that shows how differently things can turn out on the micro- and macro-scale.

Whether or not you want to consider it “proper” science fiction, My Real Children is a great option for ESL students: no weird alien races, no futuristic technological terms, no fantastical elements to try and keep straight. It’s simply two alternate histories that readers may already be familiar with, side by side.

Stockholms Litteraturmässan 2018

Utställarhallen Hörsalen Kulturhuset Stadsteatern Stockholms Litteraturmässa 2016
Image courtesy Kulturhuset and Stockholms Litteraturmässan

Another year, another successful Litteraturmässan! Or, at least, it was successful from my perspective. I guess it’s up to the vendors and the sponsors to decide if it was successful in a more typical sense. The panels I attended and my thoughts on them:

Vi minns Ursula Le Guin

It took me twenty years to get into Le Guin, but I made it eventually. Still, interesting to hear people talk about her who fell in love with her writing from the get-go. (The difference: half of the panel seemed to get into her via The Left Hand of Darkness, whereas my first attempt was either A Wizard of Earthsea or The Dispossessed.) Also weird to hear a discussion about Ursula K.  Le Guin in Swedish when English and Swedish pronounce the name of the letter “K” differently. (It’s the little things.)

Tema Fristad: Housam Al-Mosilli

Al-Mosilli was engaging and so was the moderator (interlocutor?), Kholod Saghir. Here’s an interview with him in English from Sampsonia Way.

Sveriges dolda historier

I don’t know if it was because I had a hard time tracking the discussion in Swedish or because the topic wasn’t as engaging as I thought it would be, but I confess to ducking out early of this one. It might have been better if I had read the books in question prior to the discussion: Aednan and Släpp ingen jävel över bron, both of which sound interesting in their own right.

Tema Fristad: Zurab Rtveliashvili

While I found the discussion frustratingly limited (John Swedenmark seemed extremely uncomfortable with silence and therefore didn’t allow Rtveliashvili as much time to answer as maybe he needed), the poetry readings and performances were engaging. Here’s a clip of Rtveliashvili reading a poem he also read at the panel (though without the instrumental accompaniment).

De värnlösa

Never a bad time to discuss Nazis and their nonsense. I picked up a copy of Lilian O. Montmar’s book (same title as the discussion panel) in the market for my sambo.

Tema Fristad: Basim Ahmed Jamal

An accomplished musician who sort of stumbled into opening Mosul’s first bookstore in the 1990s, Jamal was an absolute delight and maybe my favorite presenter. I may be biased because he also played some songs on the clarinet (an instrument I kind of, sort of play myself) to open and close the panel.

Flora Nwapa and African women in world literature

I didn’t get to see as much of this panel as I would have liked, but I liked what I saw. Heard? I hope that the library will get in more copies of Flora Nwapa‘s books in soon, because now I’m quite curious about them!

Tema Fristad: Tesfagiorgis Habte

Habte was perhaps the most at-ease speaker in all the panels I attended, or at least the one most willing to crack jokes. It helped that Sami Said was also a great interviewer: they had good banter and he allowed Habte time to answer questions. Habte spoke about his years in prison, but there’s only so much to cover in twenty-five minutes. His piece at PENeritrea touches on many of the things he talked about, and then some

Nudiustertian: Sesquipedalian Word Post

It’s Friday the 13th, so time for another sesquipedalian  paraskevidekatriaphobia word post! Despite the date on the post, I actually finished this early, on the nudiustertian morning.

The what?

Calendar image by alice10 at morguefile.com
Calendar image by alice10 at morguefile.com

When it comes to single-word expressions, English conceives of time and the relative positions of days in just three categories: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Other languages have single words for what are in English slightly more complex phrases; Korean has 모레 (rhymes with “moray” in “Moray eel”) and even 글피 (“geul-pi”) for “the day after tomorrow” and “two days after tomorrow,” respectively, and Russian and Swedish have позавчера (pozavchera) and i förrgår for “the day before yesterday.”*

The equivalents in English, on the other hand, are largely forgotten, including this obscure adjective dating back to the 1600s: nudiustertian.

The eagle-eyed among you, knowing that we’re talking about days, might wonder if the “diu” in the middle comes from the same word as “diurnal,” an adjective to describe daytime activities. (Some people tend to keep pretty nocturnal hours, but most humans are by default diurnal.) And you’d be correct! The base form of this word is actually dies, which you might remember from English teachers telling you to carpe diem, or from your requiem masses as Dies Irae.

There are two other bits of Latin in there: nu is from nunc, meaning “now,” though not seen often in English (and not to be confused with nuntiare in Old French, which relates to many speaking verbs: announce, denounce, pronounce, etc.). Ter, on the other hand, turns up in “tertiary” (after primary and secondary comes tertiary) and isn’t too far from the tri- morpheme for three-related words (triple, triangle, triune).

So we can see how the word has the most important bits of the original Latin phrase: nunc dies tertius est, or “now it is the third day.” As in, if the event happened on the first day, then the second day would be yesterday and the third day would be today, so “now it is the third day.”

It’s not hard to imagine why, when English already had the purely Germanic ereyesterday to do the same job. Why use a convoluted Latin mishmash instead of the much more intuitive Germanic option that’s already in use? It’s visually much cleaner and (to my mind) involves a less complicated numerical concept. (If the day before yesterday was two days ago, how can today be the third day?) What’s more puzzling is why ereyesterday hasn’t stuck around, either. Is “the day before yesterday” that much easier to say?

 

*I want to say that I’ve heard häromdagen much more often than i förrgår, but while the former is more like “the other day,” i förrgår refers specifically to “the day before yesterday.”

Cowboy Pug: Book Review

This was another birthday gift for a student. I’d never heard of the series before, but this student likes pugs so I thought Cowboy Pug would be an appropriate enough gift. Again, I can hardly be expected to buy a book for a student and not read it first!

The cover of "Cowboy Pug" by Laura James

Author: Laura James

Illustrator: Églantine Ceulemens

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.95

Language scaling: A2+

Summary: Lady Miranda and Pug are set to be cowboys for the day, but first they need to find a horse…and stay on the right side of the law.

Recommended audience: Elementary and middle school students

In-depth thoughts: After Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Cowboy Pug was a refreshing, if vacant, little read. The story is a little dragged-out but cute. It’s apparently the second in a series, which would explain why I felt a little lost going in. (Why does this small child, Lady Miranda, have a huge house and servants and a sedan chair and apparently no need to go to school? Are we in a semi-fantasy world or the real one?) I can’t imagine the actual target demographic will be thinking much about that larger context, though. It’s a cute pug! In a rodeo!

Adults might not be so easily charmed (unless they love pugs or horses), but it’s innocent and imaginative fun.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 19: Walden Pond and Escape Room in Boston

We hit the road early the next morning, while Theophanes’s brother and his girlfriend and her nieces were still asleep. First order of business: a picture of this thrift store sign, which caught my eye even on the delirious and sleep-deprived drive up in the middle of the night. Unless Mildred Wymen was really into Stephen King? Orthography is hard!

Then breakfast at a greasy spoon and we were off to Concord!

I was originally going to bus down from Maine to Boston, but Theophanes  volunteered to drive and do Boda Borg with me and my hostess with the mostess in Boston, Diana. I broached the subject of stopping by Walden Pond on the drive down, since it wasn’t too out of the way and I didn’t know when I’d be in New England again. (I mean, I’m sure I will be—I just don’t know when.) She puzzled it over in the GPS and agreed, since it wasn’t ridiculously out of the way. It just would have been a little far for a day trip from the cabin.

It’s really hip these days, at least among the people I like and admire, to hate on Thoreau and Walden. And I guess I get it—he was only able to stay at the cabin as long as he did because of the good graces of other people and he was an obnoxious houseguest to boot, he’s maybe (even inadvertently) the foundation of modern American libertarianism, he was kind of a pompous ass, etc. etc.—but for a weird, thoughtful kid in high school to read about this dude being weird and thoughtful by himself in the woods was reassuring. Even as I drink tea and continue to use a doormat.

I was surprised to see so many parents of very small children trying to do the educational, dutiful thing and go through the assorted signs and the replica cabin and whatever tourist center is also on-site (we didn’t visit it, though). Maybe I’m underestimating kids, but I don’t think a 6-year-old is going to be super interested in, or at least appreciative of, someone living by themselves in the woods. I’m pretty sure they just want to go swimming in the damn lake.

I have to admit, sometimes a cabin out in the woods sounds like the most appealing thing I can imagine. We peeked inside and it was easy to imagine me holing up in such a space for the rest of my days. Maybe in a place a little bigger, only because I’m less stingy than Thoreau when it comes to books worth holding on to.

It was then very weird to see that the plot of land where he went to live simply, away from people and society, so filled with people. In addition to all of the signage and statuary and sites associated with Thoreau, the pond itself is now a local swimming hole. The sound of people talking and laughing and splashing in the water was the background sound for most of the trip. Incongruous, but at the same time, maybe it’s better that such a spot be appreciated by the general public rather than forgotten.

(I still did my best to get this picture of the lake without any people in the shot, though.)

There were also these assorted illustrations from some kind of Walden ABCs book where I’m not sure if it’s actually for kids, or a kids’ book for adults (a la Go the Fuck to Sleep), along the assorted paths. This was by far the reach-iest one of them all:

and I, when we saw the first one (“C” or something), started speculating as to what they’d do for the trickier letters. I thought “X” would be for “fox,” but no. “Z” either was or should have been “zephyr.” I was right, though, that “Q” would of course be “quiet.”

If the pond and the museum-type stuff was relatively packed and full of people, the site of the actual cabin was mercifully quiet. Theophanes pointed out that many of the trees in the area were fairly young, so one wonders what happened to the patch of forest between when Thoreau was here and when the site was discovered in 1945. (Or perhaps it was never actually discovered; perhaps that’s just a random spot along the lake that they decided to declare Thoreau’s Cabin in order to give visitors something concrete to experience.)

People also left little stacks of stones next to the cabin. For me, this is something people do in Korea (maybe East Asia?). I saw this all the time, especially in temples; from my understanding, it’s part of a folk Buddhist tradition that has to do with making wishes or requests. (Do ones this small still count as cairns?) For example, here are some I saw by Cheonjiyeon falls in Jeju in July, 2012:

And an anonymous Korean woman building one at Bulguksa in Gyeongju, January, 2010:

And yet maybe last year or two years ago, my crunchy granola friends started sharing articles like this one, as if making those tiny towers had suddenly become a widespread Thing in the US as well. It was certainly a Thing at Walden, anyway, and I left my own, because it’s a way for me to connect my time in Korea with the places I visit elsewhere.

Other people left messages or drawings on stones, which I hadn’t seen in Korea. (Though at temples, you can buy a roof tile for X amount of won and leave a message on it.)

The weather was warm enough that by the time we were back at the lake I was regretting leaving my bathing suit in the car; Theophanes as if reading my mind, said, apropos of nothing, “I’m going to take off my shoes and dip my feet in.” I followed suit. The rocky shore of the lake made the barefoot journey less than appealing, but the payoff was worth it. The water was ice cold and stung pleasantly at the myriad mosquito bites I had acquired at the wedding (open-toed shoes and a knee-length dress means lunchtime for bugs). We stood in silence for a while and watched some small fish come and dart around our ankles. I splashed some of the water on my arms and face and filled up a tiny pocket of my heart with the experience to draw on later, when I feel like garbage. I also picked up a white piece of something (quartz? marble? I’m a bad junior geologist, guys!) as a souvenir.

When we used to visit Emerald Lake State Park as a family, I (and maybe my brother?) would always want to take home a rock or two from the bottom of the lake. Dad, a former Boy Scout and adherent to the “leave it better than you found it” ethos, would always make us put them back: “What if everyone took one? There’d be nothing left!” (I totally managed to get one out with me once, still, when I was maybe eight.)

The thought crossed my mind as I washed the grime off the rock and dried it with my shirt: “What if everyone took one?” I’m an adult now, and that means I get to violate Boy Scout prescriptions on nature preservation whenever I want!

Diana had been anticipating watching the eclipse with us (this was the day of the eclipse), but we ended up spending it at Walden instead, which I’m kind of okay with. Spending a significant astronomical event at a site that’s personally meaningful is a pretty okay way to spend it, in the end.

Another friend from the wedding, Walter, wanted to meet up in Boston once he knew that’s where I was going, but he couldn’t make it out in time for Boda Borg, so it ended up being just me, Diana, and Theophanes. This was probably for the best—they say “up to five” in the groups, but anything more than three people would have been cramped, really. It was my and Theophanes’s first escape room and I suppose we did OK, although the first room we picked was obnoxious and we couldn’t get it. Fortunately, it seemed to be way harder than many of the other rooms, and we still managed to solve a few puzzles and pick up a few stamps.

Before Boda Borg was Vietnamese food and introductions. Afterwards was boba tea and farewells. Theophanes was off to her mother in Rindge, not super far from Boston (certainly closer than the Maine cabin). and I spent the rest of the evening with Diana watching The French Revolution episode of The Supersizers Eat and talking about stuff. I left most of a six-pack of Yuengling (I am trash and love my regional PA trash beer that would be prohibitively expensive and thus pointless to acquire here) and the last of my roadtrip music (Black Masala, Gangstagrass, and I think also Galactic?) in exchange for an autographed stand-up album. Before we hit the hay, I solidified plans with people the next day: lunch with Diana and Walter, then later meeting up with a blogger buddy  before the long flight home.

And like the other Maine parts of my trip, Theophanes also wrote about it. There are a lot more pictures of Walden and some more details about Boda Borg over on her blog.

Friday 5: Mist It by That Much

This week’s Friday 5 is a delightful callback to one of my childhood favorites, Mel Brooks’s Get Smart. 

If you didn’t pick up on that before, you know now!

What did you most recently spray out of a can?

Dry shampoo. I like having bangs but after about a day they get really piece-y, so I sometimes touch them up between washes.

What’s your favorite food (or food product) that’s sprayed from a can?

None of them? The options are either cheese or whipped cream, as far as I can tell, and I don’t care for either of this. I guess the cheese wins by a slight margin, as a “whiz with” is a Philadelphia favorite.

When did you last spray-paint something?

Probably when I was helping touch up a metal trash can when I worked at Lost River Caverns a million years ago.

What’s something that’s not sprayed from a can but would be pretty cool if it were?

Pancakes! Too tired to make breakfast? Just spray out some pancakes! Got a case of the munchies? Even the most chemically impaired person in the world can manage a spray can. Want to get a perfect circle every time? Just make sure the nozzle’s clean and that your aim’s straight.

What’s conceptually the oddest thing sprayed from a can?

Honestly, dry shampoo. It’s up there with dry cleaning in terms of how counter-intuitive the concept is.

National Poetry Month 2018: Nayyirah Waheed and Instapoetry

I actually stumbled across Waheed’s poetry last November, but since I’m always at a loss when it comes to recommending and enjoying poetry, I kept it under my hat until my annual National Poetry Month post.

As it turns out, poetry on Instagram–Instapoetry–is a thing. A popular thing. This is what I get for not being on Instagram, I guess? I first came across Waheed last November, when a member of my Facebook book club shared a link to the free Kindle downloads of Waheed’s collections, salt. and nejma. I didn’t realize that Waheed is part of a larger movement that includes New York Times bestsellers and international book tours and full-on celebrities.  As this take from the Guardian points out:

Despite their popular success, the Instapoets’ style of angsty heartbreak poetry and daily outpourings of emotion is not to everyone’s taste. Nor do they undergo the same rigorous revising processes of more conventional poets. Gregson has said he never edits his 17-syllable haiku – “because it felt like betraying the exact emotion of the time” – and Leav says anything she posts online should be considered a first draft.

And while Instapoetry may feel insipid and bland at times, does poetry need gatekeepers? If Instapoetry is the poetry of capitalism, is that such a bad thing? Surely Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and Langston Hughes would have been sharing early drafts of facile, ambitiously vague poetry on Instagram if it had been around sixty years ago? Are we only sneering at Instapoetry because young women like it?

I don’t know. I can only know what I like.

As someone who’s had a life-long fascination with patterns and structure and rhythm, it’s not really surprising that when it comes to poetry I am naturally attracted to closed verse, with its underlying regularity in meter and rhyme. No surprise, then, that I tend to prefer my poetry in the form of song lyrics.

Waheed’s poetry, on the other hand, is thoroughly modern: free verse, fragmentary, and with an interesting relationship to punctuation. Unsurprisingly, I was not consistently blown away at every page, but there are some gems in both collections.

As Rishi Distidar says in that Guardian article:

What makes you a poet is learning the craft, spending time reading other poets and bringing writerly tools to the emotions you are trying to convey. I think it’s great if people are enjoying poetry through social media but the next step would be to read more poetry and understand what else is out there. Contemporary poets offline are incredibly vibrant – it’s just directing people into that world.

However! Such short little bursts of language are perfect for EFL students to work with, in the classroom and outside of it. You can order paperback copies of her work from Amazon if you want copies for students to browse in your classroom, or you can follow Waheed on Instagram for little bits of poetry in your Instagram feed.