Thursday, July 2, 2015

Progress

Between the summertime weather (hot, humid days, punctuated by thunderstorms) and Kevin being out of town (leaving me responsible for both of Kina's daily walks and Kevin's mom's cat's food and medicine), I've had a hard time getting bike rides in. I went two whole weeks with only one 7-mile ride. So when we finally got a perfect day on Sunday, Kevin and I decided to take advantage of it and go for a nice, long ride.

The problem is that everyone else had the same idea.

I don't do well with crowds. It's the reason I couldn't finish the 5K I attempted to run a few years ago. It's the reason I nearly had a meltdown in a Spanish train station. It's the reason I completely clam up at parties where I don't know many people. It's also, in a related way, the reason I used to fall nearly silent when I'd get high with more than 1 or 2 close friends. There's so much sensory input that my brain more or less shuts down any unnecessary functions (and then the necessary functions, like breathing). The difference is that pot also turned off the part of my brain that cared. I just let everything wash over me instead of stressing out about my inability to interact with the world.

Back to Sunday. We went for a bike ride, and there were a ton of people on the trail. It was difficult to pass anyone, both because people were going both ways and because there were large groups and families all riding together. West of Vienna there's a nice, long, downhill stretch of trail where I can typically maintain a speed of 17 mph for at least 2 or 3 miles. Getting to that speed, that feeling of flying through the world, is one of my favorite parts of riding my bike. But with so many people it was difficult to maintain any speed at all.

Anyway, this all culminated about 6 miles into the ride. There's a bump, and I usually enjoy flying down the back side of it. But there was a big family with a couple of kids who were wobbling all over the trail. And this had been going on the whole ride with no end in sight. And my heart rate was already elevated from going up the hill. And I was quickly losing sight of Kevin and getting dizzy and so I puled over and sat down.

It wasn't really a full blown panic attack. I caught it early enough and I knew what was happening and I was able to calm myself down. It also helped that I knew, in my blood knew, that Kevin would quickly realize what had happened and come back to find me. Which he did. I got my breathing under control and readjusted my mental frame. If we kept going, I'd have to go slower and accept that we'd be going slower, with all the people on the trail. The mismatch between expectations and reality is something else I don't always handle so well, and was another contributing factor to becoming completely overwhelmed.

We kept going and the trail cleared out as we hit less populous areas. We ended up doing a 23 mile loop, which isn't bad, though we maybe could have gone farther if I hadn't been scared of a repeat episode.

As scary as it was, it feels like progress. I recognized what was happening and forestalled it. I never felt like I couldn't breathe. I was able to keep going afterwards. As Kevin pointed out, I will get better at reading the trail, it just takes experience. And I'll become more familiar with that stretch of trail in particular. Both of those will help prevent this from happening again.

I've come a long way in the past four years. Keeping this blog has helped me see just how far, and it's provided the quick reference point I needed to help me see that quickly. Which also went towards making this feel like a more minor episode. So. It was scary, and I probably could have done a better job of recognizing the symptoms a little earlier. I still have some ways to go. But I'm counting this one a win.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven

When I try to describe Station Eleven, the word tapestry comes to mind. Or maybe jigsaw puzzle. This book is about an apocalyptic event that destroys civilization as we know it and the years following. It's about finding hope again, and love and inspiration, in the wake of a catastrophe.

Station Eleven deals with the fallout of a strain of flu that is highly contagious, highly lethal, and very quick moving. Most people are dead within a day of showing first symptoms, and anyone who comes in contact with them is dead a day later. Only those who mange to avoid exposure are spared, but they're faced with a world that has ground to a halt. Survival is the first order of business. But the Travelling Symphony, who wander between settlements performing music and plays, have decided that Seven of Nine was right: Survival is insufficient.

The book bounces back and forth, between timelines and characters, creating a picture of what happened during the outbreak and in the decades following.It doesn't take long to realize that all these characters are connected. They all knew an actor, Arthur Leander, who died of a heart attack hours before the outbreak hit. The comic books his first wife drew are also key in informing the new world views of those who survived, giving them a common and specific touchstone.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It provides an amazing view of a post-apocalyptic landscape and the people who refuse to believe that the apocalypse has actually happened. After all, they're still there. Putting the pieces together is a lot of fun, and I managed to stay just half a step ahead of the characters in figuring everything out. But it's the quieter moments, when they realize that there are still things worth living and fighting for, that make this story so wonderful

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Book Review: Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander is a fun, quick read that follows the Alice in Wonderland template pretty closely, but with a few key changes that add a lot of emotional resonance. Gregor doesn't fall into the Underland alone, he follows his baby sister in, which means he spends a lot of the book taking care of a toddler. He's also reluctant to stay, knowing how much his mother will worry when her kids don't come home. It takes a lot - the promise of finding out what happened to his missing father - to bring him around to the idea of adventuring.

Then again, there are parts of this book that remind me of nearly every other book in this genre. There's a quest and a prophecy. Friends and enemies met along the way. A world to be saved by a chosen one, and a map for how to do that. There are more twists, though. I'm not sure I've read many of these books that contain actual death and betrayal, and then deal with the shock and grief that come in their wake. I saw Henry's death coming a mile away, but it was done very well and ended up affecting me more than I expected it to.

Ultimately, though, this book just made me want to revisit Redwall. Between the human-sized animals and the riddle-prophecy, I was getting longings to return to the mice and rabbits in that little abbey in the woods. I'll have to see if my brother still has those books somewhere.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her

This is How You Lose Her is a series of short stories about failed and failing relationships. All but one of the stories is about Yunior, the narrator of most of The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (he dated Oscar's sister). The one that isn't about Yunior almost feels like it doesn't fit in the book at all, but it might be my favorite of the stories for that very reason.

Yunior is an asshole. A jerk. A cheater. A mysoginist. A bad, bad guy despite his opening claim that he isn't. He never quite seems to grasp that "keeping" a woman involves respecting her and talking to her and treating her like a person. As far as Yunior is concerned, women are sums of their beautiful parts: hair, breasts, ass, pussy. If one isn't up to hanging out, it's no big deal to go pick up another one. And so he cheats continuously, and he never sees anything wrong with it.

I was less interested in Yunior's failed relationships than the bits of his life that are revealed around the edges of them. His first winter in America, spent trapped in the apartment because his father felt it was too dangerous to go outside. His brother's long battle with cancer, and Yunior's unfocused grief after his death. His god-given punishment at the end when, after it is revealed that he cheated on his fiancee with 50 different girls (how? Seriously, how?), his body slowly starts to fail him. Every new injury made me cheer a little, because the last thing this guy deserves is a second (or hundredth) chance.

And then there's the story that doesn't fit: Otravida, otravez. It's about a woman who has come to America to find work and falls in love with a man who came to America after his son died, leaving his wife back in the Dominican Republic. Theirs is a life of hardship, but they have each other. They are ultimately able to buy (not rent!) a house, slum though it is. It's really just a beautiful meditation on the things we leave behind and the things we carry with us and the reasons for both.

Ultimately I didn't like this book as much as Oscar Wao, which is funny because it's the one I was more eager to read. But it didn't grab me in the same way. There wasn't that hint of magical realism to add spice to the story, or characters who actually learned from their mistakes (unless you count the string of women who leave Yunior behind). It was just a man who is baffled by women and makes no effort to change that.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: Gone Girl

Holy shit.

This book is the perfect example of how (and maybe why) I tend to be so behind the times in the book world. It came out three years ago, and there was a ton of hype. Everyone was talking about it. They read it in on sitting! The twist was so incredible! No one saw it coming and no one could put it down.

I was skeptical (I had somewhat recently been burned by the Twilight hype). I found out what that twist was (Amy did it!) and decided I didn't want to read it. My mother-in-law even lent it to me and it sat on the side table for months while I studiously ignored it, refusing to be pulled into the hype. And then it got turned into a movie so the hype continued.

But then an interesting thing happened. I continued to see people talking about Gone Girl. About Gillian Flynn's other books. I read one of her short stories and was intrigued. It seemed like there might be something more here than an unexpected twist midway through the book. So when I saw it at the used book store for $2, I figured it was worth checking out. (Yeah, that is more than I'd have paid if I'd just read it two years ago with everyone else. But I couldn't very well ask to borrow it again. Especially since I'm currently playing the same game with Haruki Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which, ironically enough, is referenced in Gone Girl as the kind of book Amy would like to have read but Nick looks down on.)

So yes, this book is a psychological thriller. A murder mystery with a shocking twist that I already knew about. Knowing it was coming pulled me through the first 200 pages, as I waited for the reveal, and then I found myself in the same conundrum as so many other people - continuing to read late into the night because I simply could not put the book down. But there are so many other twists I didn't see coming. And twists I suspected that never happened, which was almost as surprising. (I was sure, at one point, that her father was in on it with her.)

But beyond the mystery, it's an interesting rumination on our performance of gender roles. On the harm we do when we try to be who we think we should be instead of who we are. On failing to trust the people closest to us and how manipulation can be both premeditated (in Amy's case) and accidental (Nick). It's about a horrifying worst-case-scenario of a marriage between two deeply damaged people. And the most horrifying part is that they're going to make a monster of their own.

This book was gripping on so many levels, and I'm so glad I finally gave into the hype and read it. And that Kevin hasn't gotten around to canceling the HBO yet, because I'm definitely watching the movie this Friday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review: The Path of Daggers

Somewhere along the way, the Wheel of Time books became comfort reads. I don't necessarily need anything to happen. There are 6 books left to tie up loose ends (and one prequel that details how two characters met). I know many of the big plot points that are yet to come. In the meantime, I'm content to sit back and hang out with these characters in this world. Some still bug me, but it's the sort of affectionate annoyance you get for younger siblings. Oh Perrin, I'll think as I shake my head, will you ever figure out this marriage thing?

Kudos to Robert Jordan for creating such an incredibly detailed and immersive world. With so many well-realized characters. Yes, I still have to look many of them up, especially the tertiary characters who only seem to show up once every other book. But a quick trip to the WoT wiki is enough to jog my memory. In the meantime, I'm learning more about the geography, history, and politics of this world than I think I ever knew about America. And I love watching things change. There are so many ripple effects at play here, so many contradicting agendas and unforeseen consequences and Jordan really does a fantastic job of juggling all of them.

So things are slow. But thanks to various subplots, there's still a lot happening. Especially at the end of this book which is largely transitional. The big battle comes 100 pages before the end, leaving Jordan with plenty of time to tie off some loose ends and transition into new subplots. It's still a whole lot of table-setting, but I'm excited for the back half of the series. People mostly have more power, and it'll be interesting to watch them try to hold on to it and to see what they decide to do with it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Beer, Bourbon, Barbecue, Bumblebees, and Moonshine

This past weekend was the annual beer, bourbon, and barbecue festival in National Harbor. We've been attending this for years now, and it's always a great excuse for some summertime day drinking. A ticket gets you unlimited tastings from a variety of breweries and distilleries. And we always purchase the VIP tickets, which get you in the door two hours earlier than the general public. Totally worth it.

We had a smaller group this year than in past years. And we didn't drink nearly as much (or as long) as we have in years past. At one point, Kevin, Sarah, and I even left to go sit in an air-conditioned restaurant and cool off with some lemonade and iced tea. We must be getting old.

But despite our inability to keep up with our younger selves, we had a lot of fun. We didn't get the fancy VIP food, but we spent some time playing skee ball and giant jenga. I remembered more of the bourbons this year, many of which were pleasantly smooth. And there was even one station that served moonshine and moonshine-derived drinks like apple pie and lemonade. They were delicious, and they came with ice, so Sarah and I kept going back for more.

As I said, we left earlier than usual, and Roy kindly drove us all back to Zach and Sarah's place in DC. We drank some more beer, which may not have been the greatest idea, and played some games. Then a tropical storm rolled in and Kevin and I attempted to get home in between downpours. Which we almost accomplished. It wasn't raining when we got off the train, but it started soon after. Kevin made a run for it, and I just got soaked, and ruined my wallet and possibly my purse in the process. Oh well. It was worth it. Especially since I then zonked out for a solid 11 hours. It was glorious.