Update

While I have failed to write any reviews in the past couple of months, my life has not been devoid of reading and writing. For national poetry month, April, I have been writing a poem a day. These poems include free form, haiku, and others.

I also participated in a prayer writing class at my church during Lent. That was a neat experience. I learned a lot about the structure of prayers and how each style works for the situation that it is needed. My favorites were collects, which are short prayers dedicated to a specific theme. The theme permeates the poem and is great to use as an opening prayer for a service, or simply as a short prayer alone.

Here is one of the first ones I wrote for the class:

Come Holy Spirit,

You are the everlasting fire upon our shoulders. Purify us from our negativity and our sins, so that we may live more fully in the warmth of your love.

Thanks be to God, the Refiner of our souls. Amen.

The basic form of a collect is: address to God (a name), characteristic (who He is), petition (request), result (“so that” something happens only He can accomplish), doxology (conclusion using another name along same lines as address).

Example of a poem I wrote in April:

Dreamer!

Where are you going?

How far will you stray?

I’ll be here, waiting.

/

Dreamer!

Don’t stray too far now.

You’re all I have left.

I am here, waiting.

/

Dreamer!

You have now left me.

Have you traveled far?

I’m still here, waiting.

I hope to start back with some book and comic reviews in May!

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up

By Marie Kondo

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I listened to an audiobook version

I debated waiting to write this ramble until after I had tried out the KonMari method, or at least a modified form that fits my style. But since I thought I would start in early April, I figured I would at least gather my thoughts on the book first. The KonMari method allows its participants to create a home filled with only the items they love. In a way, it feels similar to the minimalist living that I have heard so much about lately.

Before diving in, I will give my mom a shout out for all she has taught me about organizing, planning, cleaning, etc. I realized I knew quite a few of the “tricks of the trade” already thanks to my mom’s dedication and example.

The KonMari Method of Decluttering

With the KonMari method you do all your decluttering at once. At first, this terrified me. How am I supposed to declutter my entire house in one day?! However, Kondo doesn’t expect that to happen. She means you tackle everything in as short of a timeframe as possible. There are only two steps to the process and you absolutely must do them in order.

Step 1: Discard (donate, throw away, get rid of in some form or fashion)

Step 2: Decide where to keep or store things

Kondo said it is essential that you don’t consider where you might keep an object while you are decluttering. The point is to only keep those items that bring you joy. In turn you must respect and thank those items you are discarding. No one has ever had trouble finding space for the remaining items after this process, so there is no need to consider its place in your house until you have finished decluttering.

The KonMari method requires you to think of your objects in categories, rather than cleaning room by room. A room by room method causes problems because most people keep the same item in more than one room for convenience sake. This category method intrigues me. I like the idea of knowing that everything I own in a specific category is in a central location before I assess what I should and should not donate or throw away.

The categories are:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (Miscellaneous items)
  5. Sentimental items

Kondo does not tell you what you should or should not keep. In fact, she declares that her clients have the final decision on what they should do with their own belongings. The only way to effectively declutter, and not rebound, is to hone your own decision-making skills and understand what brings you joy personally. Something may bring joy to one person, but be absolutely pointless to another. There is no standard there. Therefore, the best way to declutter is to gather everything up step by step in the categories as listed in order. Clothes are the easiest. There is often less sentimental value associated with them and it is a great way to practice honing your decision-making skills, which will be needed in the later categories.

Before You Start

Before beginning the decluttering process, Kondo says we must answer these questions:

  1. What do you want your life to look like post-clutter?
  2. Why do you want it to be that way?

During the process, for each and every item you hold you must examine and ask yourself: does this item bring me joy? Your goal in the decluttering process is deciding what to keep, not what to get rid of. That is a very important distinction. If you decide it does not bring you joy anymore, you must thank the item for its role in your life and be willing to part from it clean, like a breakup gone right. When she says each item, she means each item. You must touch every single item you own during this process, no exceptions. This will probably mean touching thousands of items over the course of the project, but that is a good thing. When done this way, you can be confident you are not making mistakes and you will know exactly what you own.

After Effects

Decluttering the home declutters the mind. It is through decluttering that we are able to not only organize our living space, but we also have a clearer mind with less distractions, such as “I should clean this space instead of thinking about actual issues I am dealing with right now.” Kondo points out that people often use cleaning as a distraction to keep them from focusing on their next test, big project, or life event. Through the KonMari method we are only surrounded by items and things we love, so we don’t have that excuse anymore and are able to more fully focus on living our lives to the fullest. Kondo states that this method allows people to gain self-confidence in their own decision making skills in general and allows people to move forward with their lives.

Kondo argues through decluttering we will also be able to change our life both inside and outside the home. She says that at the core people do not really change, but the way our passions are manifested may change over time. As people consider what objects in their home truly bring them joy, they in turn realize what brings them joy in life. People have switched their careers and been so much happier because, through decluttering, they rediscovered their passion that had been buried under all the mess. An example she used was a young employee for a corporation (I don’t remember her details) went through the KonMari method with Kondo. After she had finished, she realized the only books she had left were on social work. She recognized that had actually been her passion all along, but she was so busy with everything else that she hadn’t noticed. After a year or two, she had been able to become a social worker and is much happier. This situation will not happen to everyone, nor is it a sure-fire way for fixing our lives, but it helps us think and gain confidence in our ability to make big life-changing decisions ourselves.

Organizing

Kondo also gives tips on organizing and setting up the home post-decluttering. I will not go into too much detail at this time, I may make it a post in the future, but one thing that stuck out to me was emptying my purse when I get home for work. There must be a reserved place for the contents while I am at the house, but it gives the purse a chance to rest and allows for me to know exactly what I did that day. It also allows for less confusion when switching purses, as I am fully familiar with the contents at all times. The most important take-away for organizing is that we must respect our belongings by being grateful for their service to us and know that everything has its place and it must be returned to that place for rest when our need for the item that day is done.

Conclusion

I am interested in this process mostly to have a better grasp of what I own. I also like the idea of it helping with processing what brings me joy in life. Why own a bunch of items that you don’t like? It just sits there unused and unwanted. It reminds me of Toy Story 3, when Andy gives his toys to the girl who loves them and plays with them again. While Kondo regularly talks about discarding this, throwing away that, she really emphasizes the need to respect what we own and focus on the positives of the objects that we do want and/or need.

Criticism

I sometimes did not like her attitude and she also boasted a lot. Granted, she has been extremely successful, but constantly being reminded about how great her method is was not enjoyable. Also, she seemed harsh on what she thinks should be thrown out. I know she’s trying to challenge her clients to really get to the meat of their items, but sometimes she came across as rude. Though I would not say she was ever judgmental. To the contrary, she was very respectful of all her example clients and their idiosyncrasies. Lastly, I believe she does not own an animal. If I am wrong, I will be surprised. She never addressed what to do about litter boxes or anything related to toys or other pet supplies. I would have liked to hear her thoughts on how to keep tidy with a pet.

Final note: This book is part of my 26 book 2017 reading challenge as my “non-fiction” book.

VLAD

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The fifth novel for my 26 Book 2017 Reading Challenge has probably been my most disappointing so far. I read/listened via audiobook to Vlad by Carlos Fuentes, a short novel originally written in Spanish. I had such high hopes for the novel. Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is one of my favorite books due to the grotesque descriptions that are almost beautiful. I was under the impression that this short novel was meant to be a follow-up to the Dracula legend. The basic plot is Yves Navarro and his wife, Asunción, help a new gentleman, Vladimir Radu, set up a home in Mexico City.

While the novel was well written, had vivid descriptions, and caused a deep uncomfortableness to set in at just the right moments, it felt lacking in something. Maybe I expected it to be a retelling of the Dracula story in Mexico City and it really wasn’t? The story focused on Navarro and his relationship with his wife. They had lost a son to the sea. Navarro said they need to move forward and live on. However, Asunción would have drained the sea to discover a body. She never fully recovered from their son’s death. Their individual decisions at the end of the novel echo how well they were or were not able to survive following their son’s disappearance. They had a daughter too. She ended up being an important part of the novel and a foil to the short lived life of their son, but you hardly see her until the little girl until the end. Since the book is from Navarro’s POV, the lack of discussion of his daughter demonstrates that Navarro did not really pay attention to her until he desired to rescue her from the vampire’s clutches. He discussed his wife throughout the novel, but mostly when describing their sex life in great detail. She seemed to be merely an object of his life otherwise consumed by work. Work was the most important thing to Navarro and he had done much to make sure he succeeded in his job as a lawyer.

Overall, it was an intriguing and grotesque story. If you enjoy reading magical realism novels by Latin American authors you would enjoy it. His writing style matches many of the short stories I read in my Spanish classes in college. Latin American storytelling tradition has a beautiful way of incorporating magical realism into its stories, which is probably why I had expected so much from Vlad.

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed By Kelly Blanchard

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My next novel in the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge is Someday I’ll Be Redeemed, a self-published novel by Kelly Blanchard. This blend of fantasy and sci-fi is a work of art. I love the combination of the kingdoms. Each kingdom is unique and has its own sets of codes and values regarding technology, magic, and morality. Blanchard has woven together a fantastic tale of love and hate that makes you eager to pick up the next book in the series.

I’ll start off by saying I discovered this author through an online writing group. I liked her encouragement and support in the group. Some time after learning she had a sci-fi fantasy book published, I ordered a signed copy through her directly! I love supporting local authors when possible and am always excited to see what kind of stories they craft.

I am an odd reader in the sense that if there is a book I truly enjoy I want to sit down and plow through it, but if my schedule doesn’t allow for this I put it on my desk in plain view for a time when I can sit down and finish it with fewer breaks. Therefore, some of my favorite novels will sit on my desk right before the crazy action is sure to begin. It will sit and wait. Wait for me to return. This is a horrible habit of mine. This situation occurs most often when I am reading The Dresden Files for some reason. It happened with this book, which means it must have caught my attention and I was super excited about what would happen next in the story. Right before Blanchard takes us on the journey to finding answers I stopped reading for a few busy weeks. I wanted to have the time to sit down and read it all at once. Eventually, I picked it up again and was not disappointed.

The characters are fun and intriguing. However, I had a difficult time keeping up with all the characters, not to mention remembering what country they were from. I ended up determining who my favorite characters were: Lorrek, Vixen, Therth, Erita, and Heldon. Then I focused on their stories and simply kept in mind the other characters they interacted with regularly. Part of my difficulty had to do with changing character perspectives. At the beginning of the novel I would finally get used to one character and their voice, but then I would be yanked to another character who I hadn’t built any connection with at that point. Building connections with characters is extremely important to me, which is why I was so excited when we would be delving into Lorrek’s head at a certain point of the story. However, it ended up reading more like a global flashback than a memory that belonged to him alone. Regardless, this section was still my favorite part of the novel, as the author continued developing the world and the plot in a concise and stunning way. I will also note that the transitions got much smoother in the later chapters and by the end of the novel I hardly noticed the changing perspectives.

Overall, I recommend this novel if you’re interested in sci-fi, fantasy, or both. Blanchard builds a beautiful world and crafts an intricate plot. It is a good read and makes you want to know more and see where the journey takes our protagonists.

Writing and Scrappy Little Nobody

Last week I participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story writing contest! It was intense, but I had the chance to expand my writing skills. The contest works like this: you are assigned a genre, subject, and character and then you have 8 days to produce a short story. I had horror, retirement, and a security guard. In case you were unaware, I don’t write or watch horror. Though, I read some classic horror, such as Edgar Allan Poe. So, I tried to channel my favorite story of his, The Cask of Amontillado. One of the reasons I love that story so much is that it isn’t necessarily scary, but does it make you feel wholly uncomfortable. The contest was a lot of fun! My best friend and fiancé went over some of the drafts with me to help with developing the characters and increasing the elements of suspense. I went through at least 4 different drafts before settling on one to send. I still feel that it is lacking, but I had a 2,500 word limit. I doubt I’ll formally publish it, so maybe after I get feedback from the contest judge, I’ll post it on here for y’all to read!

A photo by Aaron Burden. unsplash.com/photos/xG8IQMqMITM

I also finished listening to Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody (2016). Anna Kendrick is one of my favorite actresses. As she is not an author, I am using her book for the 26 book 2017 reading challenge for the category of “a book by someone who isn’t a writer.” One thing I do enjoy about these celebrity novels (I’ve also listened to/read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please) is that they remind us how human celebrities are, amidst all the celebrity worship. They have fears, courage, love, joys, and sorrows just like every other human on this Earth. I prefer reading these autobiographies over magazines of interviews with them. I don’t need to know all the latest scoops about their personal lives, but I want to know what they think is important to know about them.

Anna Kendrick is a down to earth girl from Maine, who knew she wanted to be in theater since she was five or so. Her parents and brother were supportive and even helped her take theatre opportunities in New York. When she was seventeen she moved to LA, where she had no money, no car, and no friends. While it did not happen quickly, she eventually made friends and caught breaks in some big movies, such as Up in Air and Pitch Perfect. The first movie I noticed her in was Twilight, as Jessica. Her discussions of what happened in those movies were great. I love that she was only on set for two weeks of the final movie, which was nice for her because it was supposedly super cold. They filmed in Canada.

It was also nice to learn about some of Anna’s insecurities. She experiences impostor syndrome in that she feels fake in a world of glam. It was comforting to know that someone who has won and been nominated for so many awards still suffers the same insecurities I do. By admitting this, she challenges readers (me) to just go out and do it. Be who you are and the rest will fall into place. It will feel weird. It will feel uncomfortable, but that is how you grow as a person and as a professional. I am glad I took the opportunity to read/listen to this autobiography by Anna Kendrick.

Scarlet Spider

By Chris Yost

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Consider this. First, you are a clone. Second, you are a failed experiment. Kaine lives with both realities. Kaine used to be an assassin and a supervillain to Peter Parker Spider-Man. The first volume was a tad confusing until the end of the volume where I read a bit about the history between Peter Parker, Ben Reilly, and Kaine. I could have done research beforehand, but I didn’t want to spoil any of the story. I also know my fiancé has told me the story of Kaine’s past, but I couldn’t remember all the little details.

In the first volume Kaine wants to move to Mexico and chill on the beach with a drink. However, he only makes it to Houston before he reluctantly helps saves a girl who is being smuggled across the border. After saving her from near death, he takes her in to keep her from being deported. Aracely can read people’s minds and can connect with other’s emotions, even evoking a sense of fear from her opponents. She eventually takes on the superhero identity of Hummingbird during a mission she goes on with the Scarlet Spider. Despite his best efforts to remain a loner, Kaine develops friendships with a cop and doctor couple, Officer Wally Layton and Dr. Donald Meland, and a woman at the hotel, Annabelle. He befriends them all fairly naturally, considering his constant inner dialog of being a monster and wanting to be alone.

Kaine confronts this monster inside him in volume 2, when he nearly dies from an attack by a Wolf gang who are after Aracely. This scene seemed to be a defining moment in Kaine’s acceptance of himself. He is trying to be a new man in a new city trying to get away from all his evil deeds of the past. However, the monster is still inside of him and it will always be. Accepting that came at a price, but he was not without another savior. One thing that makes this series great is Yost’s way of maintaining Kaine’s constant struggle between good and evil. He never seems to become fully evil, yet at the same time, he can’t feel truly good.

I enjoyed many aspects of this series. I loved the fact it took place in Houston, Texas. Texas is a fantastic state (I am biased). I was amused that they included a rodeo issue in the series to allow for some “traditional” Texas elements. I was also pleased to see that Houston accepted their new superhero with open arms. They praised him and indicated they were happy he was there to be their personal superhero. Their acceptance was probably one of the reasons that Kaine found a home among these Houstonians. I also enjoyed seeing the Rangers featured for a few issues in volume 2. The Rangers are a team of superheroes (like the Avengers) that help out areas located in the Southwest United States.

Scarlet Spider is my “a book you can finish in a day” book/series for the 26 book 2017 reading challenge. I knew I wanted to do a comic for that category, but it would be too easy to just read a single graphic novel, so I decided to read a short series. This comic is 25 issues with a one issue special (12.1) for a total of 26 issues in four trade paperback editions. I completed them all in one day to accomplish the task. This series is one my fiancé has been trying to get me to read for over a year now. I am glad I finally got around to reading it! It was well worth it.

Bridge to Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson

Warning: This ramble will include spoilers.

I am participating in a the 26 book 2017 reading challenge I found on a post circulating Facebook, it originates from Hannah Braime’s website though. The Bridge to Terabithia is the novel I selected as “a book from your childhood.” I am glad I did!

My mom recommended this book to me when I was a kid. The first time I read it I was probably around 10 years old, give or take a year or two. It was one of the first chapter books that really impacted me. I still remember the feeling of sadness and happiness waft over me together like a wave. Looking back, and after listening to the audiobook as a woman in my mid-twenties, I realize that was the first time I really understood God and Death.

Jesse is an artist and Leslie is a tomboy with a knack for writing (clearly inherited from her parents). To kick things off, I feel an instant connection with these characters as I love art and writing. Jess is stuck in a rut, feels unappreciated, and wants a friend to cherish. He finds that with Leslie. Friends are the best thing for a person to have. The number of friends is irrelevant, as Leslie firmly declares she has one and a half friends, but we all need at least one other human being to share our lives with. “No man is an island…” (John Donne).

Imagination is at the center of the novel. Terabithia is a made-up land ruled by a king and queen, Jesse and Leslie. They fight trolls and wander through their kingdom that is all their own. Nothing can touch them there. They can conquer all their troubles through play. By acting out their insecurities and problems they are able to better deal with real life situations, such as Leslie facing and later sort of befriending the school bully, Janice, after she was betrayed by those she considered friends.

A few chapters before Leslie’s death, the author has the Aaronses go to their yearly church service, Easter. Leslie asks to go because she had never been and she is all about experiencing new adventures. When it was over she said it was fascinating. Jess laughed and exclaimed how boring it was. Then, Leslie responds with, “You have to believe it, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.” Leslie is able to find the beauty in it because it is something she went to on her own volition. She wants to experience life as it is presently and church just happens to be another stop along her short journey. When I heard that quote again, I remembered reading it as a child on my bed with my back resting against the wall. From an early age, it affected what I believed about Christianity, God, and Salvation. I learned God is beautiful and He is always present with us. No matter what happens in life, God will continue to walk along side us. Did the little girl die in the novel still? Yes. Was she too young? I’d say yes. Why would that happen? Because Leslie made a choice to swing over the river in the rain. We all have choices and consequences, good or bad, for our decisions. In this case, the consequence was death. I cry and cry every time I read it, but you know what came out of this story? New life. The imagination was not stifled. Instead, a bridge was built to allow a new queen into Terabithia, for a new queen to explore and imagine the world as only a child can. This novel teaches kids that death happens and we will mourn, but we will also continue to live and love to honor the memories of those we have lost.