Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 5 of 2013

In no particular order:

  • got married
  • welcomed new sister-in-law and nephew (born three weeks ago!) into our family
  • watched all 5 seasons of "The Wire", the bestest show ever. Seriously.
  • moved into a new house closer to the city
  • watched "Breaking Bad" series finale two months after it aired WITHOUT getting spoiled first (and yes, Wire > Breaking Bad)
Ok, it's kind of odd that two of my top five involved television shows.  If I thought about it more, I'd add my new job, or the fact that two of my grandparents are in their nineties and still living in their own houses. Or any number of things.

But the truth is I haven't been able to dedicate myself to a longer and more thoughtful blog post in months.  When I've tried, I feel myself turning inward and becoming melancholy.  This happened when I was single, living alone, but I didn't mind feeling a little sad then.  Part of me enjoyed indulging the melancholy.  I don't want to do that now, though.  So I close my blogger tab without saving.  Without posting.  This is one of the things I'll work on in 2014.

Anyway, it's been a good year.

Friday, October 4, 2013


I have thirty minutes until my husband comes home.  Let's see if I can write anything.  Not that he would mind me writing--in fact, he encourages it, daily. "When's the last time you worked on your book?" he asks, noticing me on Facebook, or the Reds homepage. "Why don't you write?" he says, when I suggest watching an episode of Homeland or The Wire.

"I know. I should," I reply.  But then I don't.  I don't open up my book, I don't open up blogger.  I just can't do it when he's around--when anyone's around, really--unless they're, separately, working on their own tasks.

But I don't want to write about my lack of writing.

This has been an exciting summer, with my wedding and then my brother's wedding providing the bookends.  My dad flew in from Kenya at the start of May, and returned after Jonah's wedding in the middle of September.  It was nice having him home such an extended period -- and the day he returned to Nairobi was the same day the mall was attacked by terrorists from Somalia.  He's safe and was nowhere near it, he assures us.

Anyway, the bookends: my brother's wedding was beautiful, and I can't believe he's married.  They had an ice cream truck, and it was as awesome as it sounds.  His wife is actually our real estate agent, and helped us buy a house.  We close at the end of October.  So I guess this is my excuse (an excuse) for not writing.  Searching for houses, getting approved for loans, these things take time and energy.  When I wasn't doing that, all I wanted to do was watch TV or look at Facebook.  I knew there was something better I could do with my time, but I just didn't have it in me.

I always feel like such a dork, standing next to my handsome brothers.  But here we are, looking very related.  (My mom is awesome, and I love her dearly, but I don't have a similar picture with my brothers and her!)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"The Hardest Part of Marriage"

I haven't found time to write here.  Between work and family commitments, I haven't made the space.  Luckily, I was asked to participate in George Rede's Voices of August series again, giving me a chance to craft an essay for the Rough and Rede blog.  Check out my contribution here, and then check back the rest of the month to read insights on a variety of topics from a wide range of perspectives.

It made sense to write about married life, as a new wife.  But it took a few false starts before I found an angle that (I hope) added something new to the discussion and that didn't disparage me or my husband.

Anyway, thanks again George for inviting me to participate.  I feel honored to be included among such intelligent and insightful voices.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In Brief

Time goes so quickly at my new job.  Before, at the public branch, the day was divided into hour-long increments: checking in bookdrop, one hour; looking for holds, one hour; being on the desk, one hour; eating lunch, one (half-) hour; back on the desk, one hour--and your day still isn't over.  Have a long-term project you want to work on?  Good luck, squeezing it into all your other hours.  The longer I worked there, the better I got at accomplishing my day-to-day goals while still making progress on larger ones, but it wasn't easy.  The immediate demands of working directly with the public necessarily took precedent over any other ideas.  It seemed like there was never enough time to do what I wanted, yet the day could drag.

I still don't feel like I have enough time to do everything I want, but because I can dedicate two or three consecutive hours to a task, I make substantial progress.  It feels extremely rewarding.  Fulfilling -- that's the word.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

All the Best

Two weeks ago, the rain held off long enough to have a wedding.  The ceremony was lovely, and I was honored to have so many friends and family celebrating with us.  There is much I'll cherish and remember from that day, moments not captured by our photographer--my best friend, chauffeuring me from home, to the mall where I had my makeup done (because I'm clueless when it comes to makeup), to my mom's, and then to the ceremony site, on her birthday, in good spirits; my dad, sitting with me as I hid in the back of the venue, waiting for it to be time to walk down the aisle; both my grandparents, ages 91 and 97, respectively, being there to cheer me on...

But my youngest brother stole the show.  Shy, like me, and with a dry sense of humor, Jonah gave a toast that had people crying tears of laughter.  It was clever and teasing, but never embarrassing.  He's getting married this fall, so hopefully we'll be able to return the favor.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

10 Days and Counting...

So in ten days I'm getting married.

I've ignored the part of me that wanted to be a counter-cultural hippie, getting married in the woods with a dozen friends and family, wearing a flowing dress (maybe white, maybe not) that I found at a thrift store.  But that hippie wasn't loud enough.  Instead, I've rented a banquet center in a park.  They'll be serving a buffet dinner, and I'll be paying an extra $65 for them to cut my cake.   My dress was bought online, but it's still white.  It's still wedding-dressy.

I guess I decided that, more important than having an inexpensive, quiet ceremony was having something that all the people I love, and whom my fiancé loves, can attend.  They can celebrate with us.  By coming, they are showing support for us and our marriage.

Starting a new job just as the wedding date is approaching has been interesting.  Because I'm new and shy, I don't really talk about it with my new colleagues beyond superficial conversation.  They don't know me, yet, and they don't know my fiancé.  I'm not sure how to jump forward besides wait it out.

This wedding, this marriage, feels strange and ordinary, unexpected and fated, and scary and exciting all at the same time.  The closer I get to the date, the more sure I am that I made the right decision.  After all, marriage is a choice.  Commitment is a choice.  And I know this is a good one: I don't have an ounce of doubt.

I can't wait.

Monday, April 29, 2013


For the first time in years, I'm working a job with a regular schedule.  I work 8-5, Monday through Friday, and have every single weekend off.  While a part of me misses having Thursday mornings off, and the occasional Friday all to myself, the larger part of me loves the routine.

Before, my days were bookended by stressful drives through traffic, creeping along the interstate at 30 mph and silently cursing the car that peels into the curb lane in order to get 50 feet ahead of where it would have been.  When I came in my door after driving home, I felt spent.  I was frazzled and didn't want to do anything.

I started my third week of taking the metro downtown.  Now, instead of becoming annoyed by other drivers, I read.  Instead of looking at my gas gauge, thinking about how much money I'm spending and how much pollution my car is creating, I read.  I'm on my third book, George Saunder's marvelous collection, "Tenth of December."

In a strange way, I feel like my daily commute as a passenger has given me the gift of time.  I have home life, which is great, work life, which is challenging and interesting, and bus life: bus life is when I don't have to think about anything but passing time, and I feel so lucky that I get to spend 45 minutes, two times a day, reading.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ch- Ch- Changes

I mentioned in my last post that I'll be starting a new job next week.  I'll be working in a basement, literally, helping to bring library books to schools, nursing homes, and home-bound readers.  Part of my job will be selecting these books, part of it will be office manager, which entails a host of duties.  This week I've been telling some of my favorite patrons--those friendly men and women who regularly visit my branch, who know me by name (and vice versa), who chat with me after checking out their books--that Saturday is my last day there.   There's a sense of finality with most of these good-byes.  I'll keep in touch with my coworkers, I'll go to their parties, I'll like their Facebook posts.  But for the families who come into the branch, whose faces and book tastes are so familiar to me, the library is the only context we share.  It's easy to imagine I'll never see them again.  Not everyone was nice or friendly.  But many were.  And that's all I remember.  That's all I'll carry with me.

One woman, after I described my new position, how I'll be working less with the public, said, "That's too bad.  You're such a people person." It was the type of brief conversation where I couldn't protest and say, "But I'm an introvert!  People drain me!"Because, to her, I am a people person.  In that context, I'm friendly and outgoing.  I love finding the books and music patrons want.  I love helping people with using a computer, downloading onto their Kindles, etc, or finding library books.  I enjoy my brief chats.

I'm always so tired in the evenings.  I feel empty, like I have no energy left, having spent everything I have being friendly and outgoing for hours on end.  So that's my hope with this new position: that it will be more challenging intellectually while not taxing my emotional reserves.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Gift of Time

The wedding is in less than two months and, fortunately, I've become only more confident that we're making the right decision.  I was never uncertain, really, but planning a wedding is stressful: it had the potential to cause conflict or to bring us closer.  It's done the latter.  Neither of us wanted it to be a big event.  Neither wanted something very expensive.  Both wanted it to be secular.  And we're achieving all of those goals without argument.

In just over a week I start a new job.  It's still within our library system, but in a new capacity.  I'm very excited--I think my previous experience in the branch and in education will make me a good fit--but I'm also sad about leaving my current location.  My coworkers are kind, considerate, and hilarious.  I'll miss them terribly.

Planning the wedding and preparing for the job interview have dominated the past few weeks of my life; writing has taken a back seat.  I'll be able to take public transportation to the new job, which will be  over 30 minutes each way, and I feel like I've been given the gift of time: time to read, to write, or simply to stare out the window!

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Scalpel Won't Do

I've been listening to an audiobook in my car, San Miguel by T. C. Boyle.  It's set on a small, fictional island off the coast of California.  The closest city is Santa Barbara.  The first two-thirds of the story take place in the late 1800s and focus on a woman and her adopted daughter who, against their wishes, move to this small island where there are none of the comforts of civilization.  There's an outhouse, no indoor plumbing, and few protections against the elements.  The woman suffers from consumption, and the girl struggles with being a teenager, far from peers or any excitement.  The last third of the book jumps forward in time, to the 1930s, as two young newlyweds become caretakers of the island.  The island has modernized, somewhat, and they're thrilled to be on their own.

The writing is good, the characters are interesting, but throughout the narrative I find myself surprised that the story doesn't go deeper.  That plots are neatly resolved.  That minor conflicts don't carry over from one chapter to the next.  I still have a couple of discs left, so I may be surprised still, but right now I judge it as a good story, not a great novel.

That's a bit harsh.  But so much of what I read, now, I analyze what works and what doesn't in order to apply what I learn to my own work.  In revisions, I'm up to the clunky last third of my book.  I say "clunky" because, rereading it, the story feels forced, and the descriptions redundant.  Maybe it's not horrible for a person writing her first novel, but it's not great.  With all my procrastination and with all my distractions the past couple of months, I can look at it more objectively.  I'm not as attached to leaving things as they are, to tinkering at the edges.  A scalpel won't do--I need a hacksaw.    

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Skydiving GIF

This is me jumping out of the plane -- I love how my cheeks and forehead wrinkle as I fall!

What Might Have Been

So I took February off from blogging.  It wasn't something I planned... it just sort of happened.  Maybe March will bring bigger and better things--blog things, that is.

Last weekend we met with the man who's going to officiate our wedding.  We didn't know what do expect, so he went through a generic ceremony: here's the procession, here's the invocation, here's a reading, here are the vows, etc.  Together, we'll fill in the blanks.  Decides how the procession goes, what the invocation is, what the vows are.

He asked how I wanted to get up the "altar" (i.e. spot on the patio): walk with my dad?  walk alone?  walk with both parents?

And at that question--"Do you want to walk with a parent on each side?"--I started crying.  Not heavy tears, but a noticeable stream of water from my eyes.  The idea, the image, of having both my parents with me, apart since I was 8, is almost too much.  I'm close to both my parents and have a separate relationship with each of them.  There's not "my parents" but "my dad" and "my mom." Whenever I think or talk about the idea of one parent on each side, at the same time, I get emotional.  I get a brief glimpse at the life I would have had if they had stayed together.

My dad leads a life that he couldn't, were he married.  He travels back and forth from a third-world country to Ohio.  He often lives in conditions that would be unacceptable to most Americans, used to our comforts of hot running water and reliable electricity.  My mom remarried when I was fourteen, and once I became mature enough to respect and acknowledge this relationship, I realized what a good man she had married, and how lucky she is to have him.

I never had that dream that my parents would get back together, maybe because I was so young when they split.  But now, as an adult, I can wonder what that would have been like.  Would I be more confident, less insecure, less picky?  Regardless, I'm grateful to have two parents in my life to celebrate with me as I move into this next stage.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Update on the Book

I spent about a year and a half writing the 80,000-word first draft of my novel, and another year revising.  The fact that I've had a full time job the past year helps me feel better about how long this is taking.  I know it's stronger for the changes I'm making, and I'm glad I didn't rush to send it out, eager for "professional" feedback (that feedback would have come as a series of form rejections!)

I've revised and edited about 54,000 of the 80,000 words.  So I'm more than halfway there.  Unfortunately, the second half of the book was the weaker half.  It's going to take more than minor tweaking to get it into the shape I want it.  But it should be easier to fix than it was to write it in the first place...

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had read Ayana Mathis' "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" -- it's a great book, each chapter telling the story of one of Hattie's twelve children, and it stands out to me primarily because of the writing.  Good plots and good characterization, but GREAT writing.  After I read that, I decided to do something completely different. I'm finally reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" books.  I read the first one in just a few days, and I'm a third of the way through the second one after just starting it yesterday.  My fiancé can't believe I'm reading it so quickly, but I tried to explain that when plot is the best thing in a book, it's easy to skim over large portions of paragraphs.  It isn't that I'm not reading everything, it's that I'm not reading everything very closely.   But these popular books remind me that, at least when I'm just trying to move the story forward, I can use plain language.  I can be straightforward.  Sometimes it's nice for the reader to just be able to relax and read quickly and not feel like she has to examine each sentence.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Through the Eyes of a Kenyan"

Hi all,

Head on over to Rough and Rede to see a guest post I wrote about our Kenyan friend Ben Lotiang'a and his experiences both home and in the States.  I've previously contributed posts to George Rede's Voices of August, and I'm happy to help kick off what will be a monthly series.

Today at my grandma's, I said goodbye to Ben and to my dad, who fly back to Kenya tomorrow.  My dad will be back home in May, in plenty of time for my wedding.  I hope we'll get to see Ben again, whether here in Ohio or when I finally make it over to East Africa!

Friday, January 25, 2013

If You're Going to Have a Wedding...

There's a series of children's books by Laurie Numeroff that are about the chain reaction that occurs following a simple action.  One of the first book goes,

If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk.  When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask for a straw.   
When he's finished, he'll ask for a napkin.  Then he will want to look in the mirror to make sure he doesn't have a milk mustache. When he looks in the mirror, he might notice his hair needs a trim.  So he will probably ask for a pair of nail scissors.   
When he's finished giving himself a trim, he'll want a broom to sweep up.  He might get carried away and sweep every room in the house.  He may even end up washing the floors as well!  When he's done, he'll probably want to take a nap.  You will have to fix a little box for him with a blanket and pillow.  He'll crawl in, make himself comfortable and fluff the pillow a few times.   
He'll probably ask you to read him a story.  So you'll read him one from one of your own books, and he'll ask to see the pictures.  When he looks at the pictures, he'll probably get so excited he'll want to draw one of his own.  He'll ask for paper and crayons.  He'll draw a picture.  When the picture is finished he'll want to sign his name with a pen.  Then he'll want to hang the picture on your refrigerator.  Which means he will need... scotch tape.  He'll hang up his drawing and stand back to look at it.   
Looking at the refrigerator will remind him that he's thirsty so... he'll ask for a glass of milk.   
And chances are if he asks for a glass of milk... he's going to want a cookie to go with it.

There are other books that follow similar patterns.  If you give a moose a muffin... If you give a pig a pancake... You get the picture.  Sometimes when I think of my wedding (just four months away), this story comes to mind.  If you're going to have a wedding, you're going to have to find someone to officiate.  You're going to want guests, so you'll have to send invitations.  You're going to have to buy a dress.  Pick out flowers.  Find a photographer.  Pick a venue and a date.  If you have guests, they're going to want something to eat.  After they eat, they'll want something to drink.  After they drink, they'll want to dance.  But before they dance, they'll want to see the bride and groom dance.  If the bride dances, she'll trip over her two left feet and fall and sprain her ankle and have to go to the emergency room in her wedding dress....

I wanted something inexpensive and laid-back, something that proved I didn't buy into the whole "wedding industrial complex."  But no matter how simple my intentions, the very act of having a celebration with more than fifty people requires some degree of planning.  There's putting a deposit on a venue, giving out save-the-date cards, picking out a wedding dress (I ordered mine online!) and getting it hemmed because apparently the female intended for this dress is six feet tall.   I'm incredibly lucky to have friends and family members (both on my side and my fiancé's) that support my vision.  And while I wouldn't have minded just eloping or getting a justice of the peace, I think this is better.  By including all these people in our celebration, they become invested in our marriage.  Our family.  Our future.  As a natural loner, I need friendly people to keep me in the light.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Sunday Ritual

No, not that one... It's been over three years since I last went to church.  I'm talking about the other Sunday ritual that millions of Americans partake in: watching and following the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals made it to the playoffs this season, despite starting the season 3-6, with a Pro Bowl receiver, A.J. Green, and a stellar defense.  I've also enjoyed seeing Peyton Manning succeed in Denver, and will be rooting for the Broncos now that the Bengals have been eliminated.  I can't wait to see Manning vs Brady next week, assuming both the Broncos and Patriots win this weekend.  In the NFC, it's been exciting to see the success of rookie QBs Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, the latter leading the Seattle Seahawks to a first round playoff victory.

Yesterday morning it was confirmed that Junior Seau, one of the best linebackers in the history of the game, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a "a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss and depression."  He shot himself last May, shocking friends, family, his community, former coaches and teammates, and the NFL world in general.  CTE is caused by repeated hits to the head, like the kind sustained while playing football or while boxing.  CTE can only be diagnosed post mortem, as doctors look at a slice of the deceased person's brain.

Chris Henry, the former Bengal, had CTE.  He died after jumping from the back of a moving vehicle.   Dave Duerson, a Pro Bowl safety with the Chicago Bears who retired in 1993, committed suicide in 2011, leaving a note that requested his brain be donated to research: he was found to have had CTE.

It's just not so fun anymore.  These players that we watch each Sunday--husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons--aren't just at risk for getting bruises and fractured bones.  They are damaging their most important muscle, their brain, for our entertainment.  This is why whenever there's a labor dispute between the owners and players, I'll always side with the players: give them more money, more guaranteed money, give them assurances that they won't be cut if they're injured to discourage playing through it... give them health care for the rest of their life.

But is that enough?  Are there fixes they can make to the game, or is it the game itself?  Should millions of us find a new Sunday ritual?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Rachel on Books

I think the main reason my blogging decreased and my tweeting virtually disappeared was because I lost purpose.  I blogged in order to figure things out and, as a quiet person trying to find her way in life, to have a space to voice her thoughts.  I tweeted not to figure things out but to connect with others.  I started blogging and tweeting before I really understood the words "social media."

I'll keep blogging here because I like the lack of topic constraints.  Politics, art, family, it's all fair game. I just need to make more of a point to take time to stop by.  But the nature of this free space has necessarily changed, as it is a reflection not just of myself but my soon-to-be husband.  So we'll see how/if marriage affects my perspective.  As with all things, I'm probably over-thinking this.

Twitter is a whole other story.  It is a giant conversation that I fell out of, except for accounts that I do with the library.  But my writing partner shared a link with me to a publishing company that is looking for people to review books.  Who can participate?

"Do you have a love of reading? How about an active Twitter following? A blog with a nearly exclusive focus on book reviews? If so, we want to talk to you!"

Looking at the types of books and the time commitment required, I don't think this is for me.  However, it did spur me to create a new twitter handle, @RachelOnBooks, exclusively to follow authors and publishers, and to tweet about books I've read or am interested in.  Again, we'll see how it goes.  It's so hard to get started on twitter, gain followers, and enter conversations.  And because I wanted to take the  user id while it was available, I also obtained rachelonbooks.blogspot.com and rachelonbooks @ gmail.com.

On NPR today was a conversation about freelancers, and how the percentage of the workforce freelancing instead of working a regular full-time job with benefits is increasing.  Folks who lost their regular jobs started freelancing until they were able to get another regular job, but that other job never materialized.  While I don't plan to leave my regular full-time job with benefits anytime soon, it would be nice to know how to market myself; to know how to make money through other means.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I'd Rather Be Reading

One of the many benefits of working in a library is the quick access to free (for three weeks, at least) books.  Not only can I easily request a book I see mentioned in a blog post or magazine article, but I can also read this book on work time.  When it's late in the day, the branch is very slow, and all my other tasks are completed, I can actually read books and get paid for it!

But I don't do it often.  Even when we're extremely slow, there is constant interruption.  The phone rings.  Someone is checking out at the desk.  Anything that requires me to look up from my book takes me out of the story; and the current one I'm reading is a good one.  "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" by Ayana Mathis is one of those books I can tell is great just by the first few pages.  Hattie is just seventeen when we meet her.   From page 5:

A grainy dawn misted up from the bottom of the sky.  Hattie closed her eyes and remembered the sunrises of her childhood--these visions were forever tugging at her; her memories of Georgia grew more urgent and pressing with each day she lived in Philadelphia.

Immediately engrossing with a narrative voice that's almost epic, this is the kind of book I want to disappear with for a day.  When I'm finished, I'll write a longer review.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


If 2012 was a time of changes--going full-time at the library, writing a first draft of a novel, becoming engaged--2013 will be a year of finishing what I started.

I intend to improve my skills at the library by either starting an MLS program or completing an internal program within our system.  Either would make me better at my job as well as a more valuable employee.

I intend to finish revisions and query the novel to agents.  I'm excited about the changes I'm making and hope they result in a successful book.   By "successful" I mean read by more than my friends and family.

Finally, and most importantly, I intend to become a good wife.  I want to be unselfish without losing sight of my individual aspirations.