Where in the World

 

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I am writing this at an old wooden table, sitting on an old wooden chair, with the above lush landscape directly in front of me. Gorgeous doesn’t even begin to cut it. Breathtaking might.

I recently realized that in the midst of the working two jobs, test-taking and friends-visiting madness of July, I haven’t made it super public that I’m spending this whole month of August out of the U.S. of A doing the things that nourish my spirit: yoga, writing, and exploring new places. So I’m using this post partly to brag about being in Italy right now facing the picturesque view and also to articulate just what it is that I am doing during a full August off, and why.

The best way to explain this is also my favorite way to plan for a yoga class: through themes. Each leg of this five-week trip has a different theme. I’m sharing them below.

Italy: Pleasure

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photo via cocceto.com

I am currently in Tuscany on a yoga retreat with the talented Francesca Bove and a dozen-plus lovely yogis. It’s only day two and so far, I went on a run / walk through the hills surrounding the villa we’re staying at, dined on a breakfast of fresh-cut prosciutto, eggs and muesli, took an hour-and-a-half-long yoga class, and sat by the pool to read and nap. The theme of this trip is pleasure because too often pleasure gets misused in the work-hard, play-hard culture New York City immerses itself in. Pleasure, in a relaxed way, means (for this trip) not only drinking a glass of wine with dinner, but going on a wine tour. It means eating slowly to taste the most subtle flavors of artisan olive oil…and attending a tasting at the vineyard it’s made at. It means practicing yoga with an abundant view of the Italian countryside, and it means putting sunglasses on during savasana and letting the sensuous sensory experiences Italy is so known for marinate so that there can be space to take it all in.

England: Literary

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photo via britishtours.com

Right after this retreat, I’m going to England to take two continuing education creative writing courses at the University of Cambridge. This year, when I took Teaching of Writing as part of my graduate program, I had a lot of feelings surrounding wanting to make sure that I am a teacher-writer / writer-teacher, and not only a teacher of writing (I’m studying to be a middle school English teacher). In other words, I want my practice as an educator and as a writer to disrupt the narrative of “those who can’t do teach” and change it to “those who can do teach.” I also have an extraordinarily hard time writing in New York City, and I’m sitting on quite a few works in progress. I would say that I need to carve out the time, except for the fact that with my working-grad school schedule, the time just simply doesn’t exist, and I’m starting to think that small geographic changes to encourage creativity can be a good thing. We can do it all…just not all at once, after all. But back to my plans for the trip! While I am spending the weekdays intensively writing and attending plenary lectures, I’ll spend the first weekend in Oxford doing a tour of the medieval literature that was born there and hopefully getting enough free time to go to the Bodleian Library for the Jane Austen exhibit! That second weekend, I’ll be in London (yay!) and plan on going to the British Library, as well as both Daunt and Persephone Books!

Finland: Design

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photo via finland.fi

I’ll be spending my last 10 days of this trip in Finland with my boyf who’s moving there for the academic year. He’s moving there to study wood architecture and I’m traveling there so that we can experience Finnish culture together before his courses begin. Finland has a magnificent history and practice of design in both broad and specific ways. Finnish society seems to set itself up for success using infrastructural and architectural design. During this trip, I want to attend some art festivals going on and explore the amazing architecture throughout. I want to focus on something that I really do believe is the backbone of how society functions: design. I want to be able to carry that knowledge with me into all that I do because it can only help when we see the world through a variety of lenses including though not limited to pleasure, literature, and design.

Those Summer Reads: The Reprise

Taken out of context, I must seem so strange. – Ani DiFranco

It’s been almost a year since I published Those Summer Reads as one of my inaugural posts on Growing Up On OM. I find myself touched by and resonating with what I wrote last September, even though so much has changed in these eleven and a half months. Here is my reprise of an introduction to this rather lengthy post:

While this is not true in life, when reading, I find myself again and again returning to my first love: young adult fiction. In many ways, this blog is about me learning what it means to be a full-blown grown-up, having been out of teenage-hood for over four years at this point. Yet why do I find myself returning, again and again, to books that leave permanent, gorgeous, wrenching imprints on my heart? 

Because there are parts of being a teenager that are timeless, the age itself encompasses a liminality that I find myself drawn to, especially during a time like this when I embody the space of my own many transitions. The words of Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars; see below) both haunt and inspire me: “our own little infinity.” At 22, I find myself grateful for having experienced many infinities, that leaping into the unknown. 

And so this summer fiction-wise, I read a relatively even blend of literature about people younger and literature about people older than me. It is almost as if, in order to get into the present moment, I return to the past and gaze into the future and try to mediate the practical and figuring-out muck of adulthood with the drifting-away innocence of what it means to slowly grow up with meaning.

Now, to get au courant, the books I am sharing below I’ve read since April ended. April was the most stressful month of my professional life. I was consumed by work. Once it ended and May began, it was like my brain professed its hunger for what makes me…me: a deep and abiding interests in the books I unabashedly love. This year, there seems to be a geographic theme: European royalty (both historical and based on totally fake nations). There are few things better than being captivated in a book, missing bus stops in a flood of fictional emotions and crying on MAX (the subway-like trains in Portland) because your favorite characters die or fall in love or both. These books have done that to me, and I am thrilled to share them with you.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

This book is based on something tragic and within that something tragic all these sweet moments are found. When I began reading this book, I had no idea what it would be about. From the first chapter, the first few pages, I thought it would be about London, glamour, sex, lust, careers, intrigue…you get it.

I was wrong.

Jojo drew the reader in with the same unexpectedness of tragedy that tragedy itself entails. It is a story about totally different traumas that unexpectedly intertwine. The result is a breathtaking portrayal of the complexity of love and life, and the loving that makes life on life’s terms worth it.

Me being me is exactly as insane as you being you.

Royal Wedding: Princess Diaries Book 11 by Meg Cabot 

The anticipation for Royal Wedding was super, super intense for me. I think I discovered that M.C. was publishing her first adult Princess Diaries book about a year ago. I was eager with a need to read the amazing protagonist voice of Mia Thermopolis since then. She so, so did not disappoint.

We want endings that leave us with a sense of hope, possibly because the world we’re living in seems to be falling apart right now.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

From the author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series came a very different kind of read. The Here and Now, a futuristic take on YA dystopias took me about two days to read. I highly recommend it as a beach read – definitely to be taken less seriously than the Sisterhood books, but I’d say it’s a worthwhile library rental.

Paper Towns by John Green

When I teach literature – in my future classroom of dedicated learners and writers – I want to teach its intertextuality, not teaching only the core text but all the texts that surround and influence it, showing how books, like people, are so interconnected and interdependent. In Paper Towns, John Green did just that for his readers. He wove traditional poetry into a mystery of his own creation. If you don’t compare Paper Towns to The Fault in Our Stars (I made that mistake when I first started reading it and those expectations thoroughly dampened my experience), it is an artful coming of age novel by a man who puts the literature in the genre of YA Lit.

But a poem can’t do its work if you only read snippets of it.

Talking to a drunk person was like talking to an extremely happy, severely brain-damaged three-year-old.

It is so hard to leave–until you leave. And then it is the easiest god-damned thing in the world.

Forever is composed of nows.

The King’s Grace by Anne Easter Smith

I am fiercely obsessed with Tudor England. When I finished reading almost all of Philippa Gregory’s novels, I moved on to Anne Easter Smith, who writes gorgeous works of historical fiction on the Cousins Wars (the generation, which preceded the Tudors). This novel, told from the point of view of King Edward’s “illegitimate” daughter, Grace, displays the intricacies of historical mystery in the vivid ways Smith is known for. What I loved most about this novel was its connection to A Rose for the Crown, the first – and best – book I read by Anne Easter Smith. I loved seeing some of those old and familiar characters pop up in new ways in this iteration.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks + Jessica Morgan

Oh, my goodness gracious, I cannot recommend this book enough. Reading it was like eating a really fantastic bar of dark chocolate. I totally adore Bex, the protagonist – a Cornellian who studies abroad at Oxford only to befriend – and then date – the prince of Wales. What was so great about this novel was that it was most definitely NOT a fairytale. It shone a light on the difficulties of having a life that is constantly judged and surrounded by unforgiving press. The love and lust these two authors portrayed, though, was fantastically written…and so FUN to read. I laughed out loud repeatedly at the smart wit of the writing that felt as if it was coming straight out of the lovable first person protagonist’s mouth. While I read it, I highlighted the places in London this book made me want to visit. I just can’t even begin to describe how fun this book was to read. Definitely a summer read that should be brought everywhere…including the beach (though I finished this one on my plane back to the east coast).

I told myself to carry this moment as a talisman of a time in my life when I was both truly content and lucky enough to realize it.

The breath right before you kiss your beloved is the sweetest one of all, because you realize you’re about to get exactly what you want.

Boxed wine–the official drink of emotionally confused women on a budget.

I’d never been the sort of girl who willingly took a seat on the bench without fighting for a starting spot.