Paul and I kicked off this past weekend by finally using my Groupon for Kentuck Knob, which was basically a pretty solid two-for-one deal. Kentuck Knob is one of two local Frank Lloyd Wright houses–the other being Fallingwater–and while they both tend to be quintessential field-trip fodder around here, I somehow missed out on both of them. I went to Fallingwater once in college with Marion when we discovered neither of us had been, and I’ve been meaning to make it to Kentuck Knob ever since. I’ve been meaning to take Paul to Fallingwater since we started dating since he’s never been, either, and it’s the kind of house he’d love.

Fallingwater is definitely my favorite of the two, because duh it has a fucking waterfall in it, but Kentuck Knob is still really pretty and great to visit. I’m not super into architecture, but I’m definitely a Frank Lloyd Wright fan. I like his ideas of incorporating nature into the house, as well as his use of space. Our tour guide mentioned that he disliked attics and basements because he felt they promoted clutter, which I do agree with, however essential they both seem to be.

Frank Lloyd Wright also sounds like he would’ve been extremely difficult to work with, but when the end product is such a damn gorgeous house, it would be worth suffering through.

Our original plan was to go for a walk in the mountains after our tour, but it was a pretty shitty day in the mountains. The drive up was really foggy–though not as bad as it was the day we went rappelling–and it rained the whole time and was kind of chilly. It didn’t dampen the tour too much, and it was worth powering through anyway, but it did shoot down the possibility of an Ohiopyle hike. So we went to breakfast and lounged instead, then got takeout from Fiesta Azteca while we hung out at my parents’ house later. He asked me to hang out with him at his parents’ place and even though his mother was just fine the last time I saw her, my boycott continues and I won’t be lured into a false sense of security. Plus I’m pretty sure she’s just the type of person that’s best handled in small doses anyway.

Paul being relatively close to good ol’ Fayettenam means I’m now more inclined to truck it out to his place instead of crashing at my parents’ when I’m in for the weekend, which is kind of nice. So I spent the night there Saturday and didn’t feel like doing a damn thing Sunday morning, so I got Paul to stay in bed with me just about as long as possible. Full disclosure: “as long as possible” was basically “until he had to go buy condoms.”

After that, we took advantage of our one real chance to make it to the Renaissance festival, as we’re going to Gettysburg this weekend and I’m seeing Erasure next weekend while he runs off to State College. With any luck, we’ll find a way to cram Shakespeare in the Park into that, but I’m not counting on it.

I fell in love with Renfest last year, somewhat surprising myself. It was one of those things that I’d been wanting to check out, and then I discovered I’m a big fan of jousting and the whole general atmosphere. Our first order of business was to eat, and then we walked around and bought some stuff, caught a little show, and I got a henna tattoo all over my hand. Some of it smudged overnight thanks to my hand sweating because I wrapped it to protect the henna as long as possible, but otherwise, it’s a really cool crescent and star with swirls up my fingers and random little stars on my hand. I’m hoping the smudges fade first and leave the badass design behind–especially considering the swirls on my fingers are pretty dark.

I also discovered I find glass blowing fascinated and could see myself taking it up as a hobby. And naturally, I bought an expensive hand-blown mug that’s really pretty and my new favorite cup.

Friday Five: Spending

  1. What crowd-funding projects have you supported? If you haven’t supported any, were there some that really intrigued you? Shit, I’m all about crowd funding. I think it’s really awesome, especially for artists, and I’ve backed a good bit at this point–and this is a huge reason why I always make sure to follow my favorite outcasts from The Voice on social media because a few now have used crowd funding to continue their musical prowess. I’ve joked before that my apartment’s gonna end up packed full of things I got from crowd funding. My most notable backings are probably Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter for Theatre Is Evil and the recent Reading Rainbow Kickstarter. I’ve also pitched in to help save the bees, Solar Roadways, the Galactic Cap condom, Midas Whale’s debut album (which was fucking fantastic), Dawn and Hawkes’ debut album (which isn’t done yet), Cody Belew’s music video, and SLC Punk 2: Punk’s Dead.
  2. How much of your monthly bill-paying is done online? Very little, mostly because I’m more likely to remember to pay a bill if I have a physical, paper bill to send off. Also, my gas company charges like $2.50 to pay it online. What is that shit?
  3. What are some of the more memorable things you’ve bought or sold in online auctions? Sold a “Nobama” shirt my dad bought me because I guess he likes to waste money on stupid things I’d never use. Mostly I del old clothes, books, CDs, and DVDs I don’t want anymore to clear out my apartment and get myself some spending money. I’ve bought a few signed things in online auctions, but nothing too interesting. Mostly I use them to get stuff really cheap.
  4. What experience do you have with purchasing digital entertainment (music, movies, TV shows, or live web shows, for example) online? This is another one I don’t do too much because I tend to prefer a physical, tangible product for various reasons. I’m big on still buying and using CDs, for example, and I don’t like e-books and e-readers. That said, sometimes only a few songs are worth paying for as opposed to a whole album, so I’m a fan in being able to buy individual songs online. And that’s about as far as my digital experience goes.
  5. What kind of stuff have you bought or sold from personal online craft stores, such as are found on Etsy? I haven’t sold anything, but I do have a crafty side I’d love to explore more. I buy plenty from Etsy, though–that’s where most of that eBay spending money I mentioned adds up. Etsy appeals to me for multiple reasons. I’m a big believer in supporting small business, and I see crafty people selling their wares online as a form of small business. I’m supporting someone’s creativity directly, and a lot of those people make really awesome shit. My favorite lip scrub is from Etsy (as is my new favorite lip balm from the same seller). I recently bought underwear that says “You shall not pass” across the ass. They’re no longer available, but they’re from Nerds with Vaginas and I’ve got my eye on their “Mischief managed” underwear next. I’m a fan of Black Lamb’s and my former geometry teacher Larry Orlando’s cards. A pair of my favorite earrings came from Les Creations dAna, while this is one of my favorite rings. My iPhone case is a variation of this, and this is one of my current bookmarks in use. In fact, when my mom asks what she can get me for my birthday or Christmas, I just direct her to my Etsy favorites, which is how I ended up with these booty shorts. Here I come, Rocky Horror!

Booking Through Thursday: Your Recommendation

If a friend asks you to recommend a really good book—good writing, good characters, good story—but with no other qualifications … what would you recommend?

Generally when someone wants a recommendation–and not just for books, by the way, I request a genre. It’s mostly so I can narrow down my personal list, but also because some people are very particular about what they read. Some people won’t read fiction, some won’t read nonfiction, and sometimes people get picky about their genres. For the record, I’m of the opinion that you should never dismiss something outright because there’s probably something lurking somewhere in that genre that you’ll like, especially with as many writers and books as there are in the world.

So to make this really easy on myself, I’m gonna pick my favorite of the books I’m currently reading, which would be The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. It’s a re-read from college–sort of. I never actually finished it in college because keeping up with college reading, especially as an English major, can get tough, and The Diamond Age is kind of long and complicated. But don’t let that put you off!

It’s science fiction, playing maybe a tad with the ideas of utopias and dystopias. And technology, of course, because, duh, sci-fi. It deals with an interactive primer for little girls and what happens when a copy gets stolen by a boy who gives it to his little sister, Nell. There are lots of details surrounding who made it, how it works, where he got it, and what the fallout of that is, but much of the book follows Nell as she grows up with this primer as not just her teacher, but practically a substitute parent while she’s neglected by her mother and abused by most of her mother’s boyfriends.

In short, the primer molds Nell into a certified badass.

I feel like I’m getting sick, which I blame on Paul for being sick, coughing on me a couple times, and kissing me with said sickness. That said, I’m about due. I can’t remember if my last illness was in late 2013 or early 2014, but either way, it’s been awhile. But I’m hoping I can kick its ass and feel fine by like tomorrow.

It was another lazy weekend for us, mostly. We did have a little reception to go to for his uncle and aunt–they have two kids together, live together, and just never got married for whatever reason until back in June, so they held a sort of reception at Paul’s grandparents’ house and by some miracle managed to squeeze 100-some people into their yard. Paul was expecting a shit show, but it was actually pretty nice and things were calm and went well. And they had this red-velvet cake with cream-cheese icing in little mason jars that was like the best fucking thing I’ve ever tasted.

I guess there was a little drama regarding who helped out and who didn’t, but my argument is although the couple and hosting family has every right to ask for help, the bulk of the responsibility to get shit done is theirs. This is one of the things that’s always irritated me about Paul’s family–there seems to be this expectation that everyone has to get involved and pitch in with something, but it usually ends up being pretty big, intensive tasks as opposed to little helpful things.

His mom did pull a Helicopter Mom a tad with asking me when he was away how he’s doing now that he’s moved out, which is understandable, but this notion that moving out is something earth shattering for him is silly. She told me not to mention to him that she’d asked, but of course I did anyway, and he was like, “Oh, did you tell her how much happier and less stressed I am?” And although he quite obviously is, I didn’t go so far as that. She also expected him to truck into MedExpress the next day if he wasn’t feeling better, even though he only really had congestion and it started Friday night. This was Saturday. Ain’t no need to be going to MedExpress because you’ve had the sniffles for a day.

We ended the night watching TV, mostly, with some of the siblings and cousins. And I’ll grant Paul a pass because he wasn’t feeling well and heartily complains about his extended family these days, but I felt like holing up inside at a wedding reception, essentially, no matter how low-key it may have been, was some kind of rude bullshit. Like, your family’s all outside celebrating a marriage, so you can pull yourself away from TV, get your ass off the couch, and go be happy for them for a few hours.


Friday Five: Swimmingly

  1. Where and how did you learn to swim? I feel like it was kind of spread out over various pools, but probably through a combination of relatives teaching me.
  2. How far away is the nearest swimmable body of fresh water, and how’s the swimming there? I’m guessing that would be the Yough River, which in some areas is decent swimming. In others, the water’s barely ankle deep, and then in still others, people drown. I think they’re also probably drunk, though.
  3. How long has it been since you’ve been for a swim? A couple months. I don’t think I’ve gone since Paul’s brother’s graduation party.
  4. What’s the nearest community swimming pool like? I don’t know where the closest one to me is, actually, but Paul and I did just take a walk past the YMCA pool near his apartment, which looks pretty nice.
  5. What experience do you have with jumping off stuff and into water? Like, none. I don’t like it. I even refused to jump into Ik Kil in Mexico.

Booking Through Thursday: School Discoveries

We all had to read lots of different things in school—some of which we liked, some of which we didn’t. Are there any authors that you’ve grown to love because you were introduced to them in your English Lit class? Or—the contrary. Are there any you hate because you were forced to read them? Did you ever go back to try them again?

In both high school and college, I found a lot of writers I liked. The one that stands out the most from high school is Emily Dickinson–and I was the weird kid defending her, Shakespeare, and Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” which Paul and I have since bonded over liking, so I was obviously super popular. I was also first exposed to T.S. Eliot and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in a high-school English class, which I’ve only grown to love more since. But college was packed with writers I liked, which is one of the major perks of being an English major. So far, my reading list is so huge that I’m still sort of delving into checking out works beyond my required reading for some writers. There’s a lot of poetry I wanted to check out, and while I hated William Carlos Williams when I first encountered him in high school, I fell in love with him in college. I attribute this in part to an excellent professor who conveyed not just the importance of Williams but also how his poetry isn’t quite as simple as it seems–plus college probably brings with it a greater appreciation of simplicity in general anyway. I also fell in love with Wuthering Heights, David Sedaris and Jon Krakauer.

I’ve never hated something solely because I was forced to read it, but you can’t love all of your required reading, even if you are a bookworm. I talked last week about my dislike of The Scarlet Letter, so I won’t revisit that. I hated Heart of Darkness, which I unfortunately had to read twice. And while I enjoyed the Ezra Pound poems my professor selected for us, I didn’t like Pound so much when I read more of his poetry on my own. I found it quite pretentious, honestly. I’m also currently rereading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and I don’t really like it. That said, I did quite enjoy the also-required A Moveable Feast, which I’ve enjoyed every time I’ve read it. It also makes the movie Midnight in Paris much more enjoyable.

Nine summers ago, over this very holiday weekend–though not the same date–I was in my mom’s bedroom when she got the call from her friend Sherri’s uncle telling her that Sherri had been killed in a car accident.

My mom and Sherri–along with my mom’s best friend Lisa and their friend Laura, who lives in New York–had been friends since high school, and Sherri lived pretty close to the house we moved into when I was 13. In fact, we’d looked at a house even closer to Sherri’s.

I remember going over on occasion, and I remember her kids, Andrew and Ashley, who were 6 and 13 when Sherri died. And then after she died, we all kind of lost touch.

Then, within the past few months, Ashley saw my mom in the mall, walked up to her, and said hi. If I remember right, Ashley’s seen us all out before but just wasn’t sure if we’d remember her, but we all absolutely do. I wouldn’t have recognized her had she approached me, but the second she said her name, I’d know who she was. My mom, however, did recognize her, and she says she looks a lot like Sherri.

Ashley filled my mom in a bit on the past nine years–her dad started dating not too long after Sherri died, they were still together until the past few weeks, and she and Ashley never got along well. It’s a relationship that all around sounds like it’s been a cause of stress and conflict between not just Ashley and the girlfriend but Ashley and her dad, too. But Ashley mentioned wanting to get together with my mom, so they went out to lunch one day, and it was probably good for Ashley.

Since Paul moved, I haven’t been back in the area much. In the meantime, Ashley’s seen the rest of my family out and about quite a bit, and maybe a month or so ago, she messaged me saying she’d love to get together sometime. I explained that I hadn’t been home in awhile but said when I was gonna be around for a substantial period of time, I’d be in touch.

That finally rolled around this weekend. I had a hair appointment and whacked down what little hair I do have, then I met up with Ashley for lunch at Shogun. And really, all we did was eat and talk for a couple hours about everything from family troubles to friend troubles to just general chat about animals and jobs and stuff. I think it was good for both of us, and she’s pretty cool. And when we were planning it, she was telling me how cool I seemed and how excited she was, and someone having that high praise for me and that much interest in spending time with me–not counting Paul, duh–is pretty new to me.

My mom mentioned later that it was kind of weird, too, that we were almost like the second generation of Sherri and my mom and that we met up over Labor Day weekend, the same holiday weekend when Sherri died. To make matters even creepier, Sherri died in a car accident leaving Kennywood, and we ended up driving down that very road past the park on our way to Burgatory to celebrate Brandon finishing college, which was a fun trip.

Burgatory’s a really cool place, and I appreciate that they make veggie burgers. I know it seems really counterintuitive for a vegetarian to want to be included at a burger joint, but I really do love when businesses have vegetarian-friendly menus that aren’t extremely exclusionary. It’s really easy for people to throw together a pasta and a salad and call it a vegetarian menu, but at Burgatory, you’re not really limited. Sure, some of the menu items aren’t cut out for you, but you have the option to create your own burger, and it’s awesome. While they don’t taste like a proper burger, you’re still getting a great sandwich and nearly the full Burgatory experience with it. Good job, Burgatory, cornering that vegetarian market!

Meanwhile, I expected to have to try to convince my mom that I’m not a hoarder, but the subject never came up. Oh, she’s still pissed about the dissatisfactory state of my car, but she didn’t call me a hoarder, and I’m trying to just let it slip by without turning into a fight, especially because she and I have very similar tempers and can fight nasty. But I do have an appointment with my therapist tomorrow night to discuss this, and I fully expect him to tell me she’s wrong. When I tell her that, if I tell her at all, is up for debate, what with avoiding a screaming match and all.

I went to church Sunday for once, since mass was for Grandma Pawski, and we went out for breakfast afterward. I hung out for a little bit and then spent the rest of the long weekend at Paul’s, mostly lounging. We ventured out earlier today to buy him a vacuum and have lunch at Chipotle, but mostly we write, play on the internet, and try to work our way through a very large Netflix queue.

And listen to his gecko crawling around her little cave in the middle of the night, of course. And apparently, I had a small conversation in my sleep with Paul last night after he came to bed late.

Friday Five

As always, from the Friday Five.

  1. What’s the last thing you experienced that could be called a reunion? Man, I don’t even know. I haven’t recently seen/hung out with any of my friends who don’t live in the area anymore, I didn’t go to our family reunion last summer, and I missed my class reunion for Paul’s college graduation two years ago. The closest might be when we all hung out with Stephanie for the first time since, like, her wedding over the summer.
  2. When you spend time out with friends, how does your group handle the bill? Almost always split it according to what each person had. If it’s something like, say, a pizza, even split.
  3. What are you picky about when you order something in a restaurant? I’m a vegetarian, so I can be picky about that. That aside, I’m not too picky about much–I just run into difficulty sometimes because I’m pretty sensitive to spicy food.
  4. When did you last spill a drink on yourself? I’m not positive, but I could swear I had an incident in the past few weeks where drinking didn’t really work right and I got whatever my beverage was all over my chin. The drink was not alcohol, and I was sober.
  5. When dining out, what’s your approach to dessert? I very rarely get it because my meal usually fills me up just fine. When I go out with Paul, he normally inhales everything and I end up getting half of mine in a box because I can’t finish it, but he jokes that means whoever is paying just gets their money worth because I end up with two meals (occasionally more–I’m looking at you, Mad Mex burritos) out of the trip. But sometimes, especially if I’m in a place like, oh, Hofbrauhaus with delicious apple strudel, I’ll have my meal boxed up before I’m full just so I have room for dessert. Occasionally, I push it to the limit and eat more than I should. Sometimes, I’m smart and go to, say, Nguyen’s and order soup, sushi, and dessert instead of the pad thai that could easily end world hunger. And yet I’m also living proof that actually bringing out a dessert tray rather than just a menu is more effective marketing and is more likely to result in a sale. You can’t put cakes and mousses and creme brûlée in front of me and think I won’t give in.

Booking Through Thursday: Enmity

Any books or authors you hate? Why? Is it the writing? The stories? The author’s personality? And—would you read their work anyway?

It’s rare, but there are a few. I hated The Scarlet Letter when I read it in high school–I thought the writing style made a very interesting plot into something very boring, but I’ve thought about giving it a second chance. Also, I loved Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short fiction I had to read in college. If you’ve never read “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” get on that shit and click that there link because it’s excellent, especially if you’re a fan of sci-fi/horror. Yeah, I know, you probably wouldn’t think the dude who wrote The Scarlet Letter would’ve written in those genres, but that’s basically what “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is, and it’s great. And I don’t know that I would’ve ever read any Hawthorne again–at least not for a long while–if not for that class.

Meanwhile, I worry that David Sedaris is an asshole. I mean, I think he’s brilliant and he comes off wonderful in his interviews but not so much in his writing. That said, this could also just be part of his style–he’s pretty blunt, and there’s a good chance that he’s just willing to be blunt about things that aren’t unique to him but others would probably keep quiet. All that said, he’s gonna be in Pittsburgh in October and I really want to go!

Now for the two big, obvious ones–Ayn Rand and E.L. James.

First, Rand. I hated Fountainhead. I hated it early on, and I hated it hard. That mostly had to do with the writing. I’ve complained about it before, but I thought the writing was bad and the characters were all boring and hard to distinguish from each other, as well as being pretty terrible people. The real kicker was the end of the book, when Rand’s philosophy really comes into play and we get a who spiel about how terrible it is to give a shit about other people. And that philosophy is why I hate Rand. On top of being a hypocrite and benefitting from the very systems she criticized, it’s just a super shitty, selfish, and simplistic attitude to take when it comes to other people around us. One of my favorite one-sentence summaries of her philosophy was on Tumblr–“I got mine, so fuck you.”

But the most hate in my heart is reserved for E.L. James.

Look, anyone who’s read this blog or follows me on Twitter knows how much I hate Ayn Rand and Foundtainhead and everything I’ve read so far of the 50 Shades trilogy, but James makes everything worse. I’ve talked a lot about why I think 50 Shades is the worst book I’ve ever read, but in a nutshell, Christian and Ana are the worst couple of all time because he’s abusive and she’s kind of a hypocrite. While Christian’s severe jealousy throughout the series is extremely alarming, Ana displays a good bit of jealousy and animosity toward his female friends, too, yet we’re supposed to accept Ana’s jealousy as normal and justified and Christian’s as overbearing. Frankly, they’re both overbearing, and neither of these people should be in a romantic relationship at all, let alone with each other, before they sort out a lot of deep personal shit. 50 Shades is a handbook on abusive relationships masquerading as erotica, from Christian’s extreme control to Ana’s behavior, which has been shown to be a pretty accurate depiction of what abused partners go through.

I typically don’t agree with the idea that books, movies, or video games promote certain ideals. Generally, I think they’re put into the world for those consuming them to reach their own conclusions, with some exceptions of things like Rand’s philosophy or known allegories and such, so I’m really hesitant to say that 50 Shades promotes abuse because it’s telling a story, not pushing an agenda. That said, it absolutely does paint Christian and his abusive behaviors as positive–he’s controlling and jealous because he loves Ana. All these red flags are treated as qualities women should admire and be happy to have. And on top of that, a recent study found that 50 Shades fans are more likely to be in abusive relationships.

My boyfriend is nothing like Christian Grey, which is probably one of the highest compliments I could pay him and makes me pretty damn happy that I obviously didn’t land a shitbag.

What I find most alarming is that James doesn’t understand how any of these behaviors are abusive, which leads me to fear either she’s been abused herself and is suffering consequences of that or she’s just really, incredibly ignorant. And I’d almost be willing to forgive her either way were it not for how terribly she’s handled the criticism.

I once read an article in which James was confronted with this criticism, and she brushed it off as readers not understanding S&M. The S&M isn’t the problem–it’s the fact that Christian controls Ana, from his contract in the first book to his buying out of her employer and meddling within the company to control what she can and can’t do, and James doesn’t understand this. And she apparently doesn’t understand S&M herself, either, as one of the huge criticisms is that it’s an incredibly inaccurate depiction of the lifestyle. James claims she researched it heavily, but I have a feeling she means she researched sex toys.

Worst of all, James has been confronted multiple times by women who see their exes in Christian, and she regularly brushes or laughs it off and blocks any naysayers on Twitter. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be happy, either, if my Twitter feed was flooded with criticisms of my (nonexistent) books, but shaming abused woman or the people speaking out on their behalf is not okay. It makes you look like a dick who can’t handle intelligent, concerned analysis of your work or their personal experience. If someone is coming to you and telling you your romantic protagonist ain’t so romantic because they’ve been abused by that type of man before, you ought to listen.