A Weekend in Washington (original poetry by me)

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In college I took a poetry class that required us to write different forms of poems. One was a sonnet, which is a series of fourteen lines where each line has ten syllables. The lines are written in iambic pentameter, or when an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. This is a series of five sonnets that I wrote about Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2012 based on a trip I took there to visit my brother. Little did I know I would actually end up moving here…

A Weekend in Washington

I.

The monument towers over the crowd.

It’s tall and white with brick and gleaming stone.

Summer tremors that came were very loud.

The damages make travelers postpone.

 

Yet still the people look and admire.

The history is there for all to learn.

Evoke and think imagine; inspire.

A symbol of the strength the nation earned.

 

Origins date to 1840s time,

in honor of first president’s success.

But then the Civil War made us entwined

and stopped the start making no such progress.

Resulting halfway up the colors switch,

but still it has the power to enrich.

 

 

II.

The metro comes and goes all day and night,

serving public and visitors alike.

A substitute for cars and skates and bikes,

the cut in time lessens the stress and fright.

 

The train roars down the track with lights so bright

and sends the air around to sudden spike.

People, careful, stepped back, prevents a strike.

They sit on seats with bags and books, and write.

 

The map’s colors are green and red and blue

and orange, they indicate the routes plainly,

to shops and stops to see and view, brand new

The train then halts at stops in the city.

Escalators bring people up and through.

A signature of Washington, D.C.

 

III.

Buildings are built as rectangles and squares.

But this is one that is not either shape.

Unique in size, stature, extremely rare.

People look up, surprised and stare, agape.

 

Rising from ground, it’s grey, circled, adorned,

part of Smithsonian’s places to see.

Museum’s name: Hirshhorn, after Joseph Hirshhorn.

Collected art from the two centuries.

 

 

It’s filled with art, antiques, from years ago

On three levels in hallways all around.

Sculptures, paintings, pictures, with Picasso

Artists from all countries, meant to astound.

 

Outside fountain, sits center and its spray,

shoots high into the air to show the way.

 

 

IV.

The view from steps confuses those who look.

Instead seeing reflection, water’s gleam,

the pool in front of Lincoln’s seat they took.

Construction is upon this sight it seems.

 

A sign out front is telling what is near.

In order to avoid a standing pool,

reroute Tidal Basin’s current to here.

And then water will flow and fuel.

 

Pictures taken show how progress has been

At first was dirt and now cement is there

Results are close, are coming soon and then

people will walk upon the pool’s new flair.

 

For now people just stand and stare a bit

and lean against the fence surrounding it

 

 

V.

Across Potomac’s stretch is Arlington.

Walking across the bridge we look and see

the hill, national cemetery,

commemorates veterans and not just one.

 

A tribute for soldiers who fought in wars.

The rows of stones are white and all the same,

except for fronts and backs who bear the names.

The years are there to see and look for more.

 

Seeking somebody’s grave we know is here,

we walk down roads across the huge landscape.

We talk and look, the Pentagon is near.

My dad’s old friend is somewhere in this place.

And then we reach the spot and it’s all clear.

Robert L. Cook, the name that slows our pace.

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13 Little Blue Envelopes

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Handwritten letters, despite not being as popular anymore, have become a trope in several different novels. A novel I recently reviewed, Keep Me Posted, uses them as a central plot device, as does the popular YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. As indicated by the title, Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes focuses on letters as well.

Seventeen-year-old Virginia “Ginny” Blackstone has idolized her Aunt Peg for most of her life. Unlike Aunt Peg’s sister (Ginny’s mother) who settled down and had a kid (Ginny), “Runaway Aunt Peg” spent her life residing in New York City as an artist and traveling the world. When Peg dies unexpectedly of a brain tumor, she leaves a package of 13 blue envelopes full of instructions for Ginny to read and follow. The letters take Ginny all around Europe, where she meets diverse people and explores different places.

The international aspect of this plot was pretty accurate. Ginny being unfamiliar with the customs and language of multiple countries, meeting random people along the way and staying in hostels reflects the experiences that overseas travel brings. Being to some of these cities myself, it was easy to visualize the places where she went.

However, the rest of the plot was a little confusing and left me with a lot of questions. First of all, there’s no mention of Ginny’s parents. How on earth would they let her travel to Europe alone at 17 with no phone or form of contact whatsoever? The lack of communication with her parents is apparently part of the “rules” stated in the letters. But even when I studied abroad at 19, I made sure I let my parents know that I was safe by phone, email, Facebook or some other way.

Also, some of Ginny’s decisions seem a little questionable. Her choices include following a random guy back to his apartment and instantly forming a crush on another guy a mere day after meeting him. Granted, she is only 17, but applying common sense to some of these decisions wouldn’t be too difficult.

I did find Ginny’s recollections of Aunt Peg to be a good element. Although Peg has passed away, Ginny doesn’t like to think of her as deceased. I could relate to this, as there are several family members that I know are no longer here, but live in my memories.

Overall, this book is a nice, quick read but lacks a solid plot.

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Educated

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For most people, schooling begins at about age three with preschool, usually followed by kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and then college. Being in school for almost 2 decades gives you plenty of education and knowledge. But imagine not setting foot in a classroom until age 17. This is what the life of Tara Westover, PhD, was like, as described in her memoir Educated.

Dr. Westover was born in September 1986 in rural Idaho as the youngest of seven children. She was taught to read and write at an early age by her parents and would study religious books and write in a journal. However, this is the only form of education she would get. Tara’s mother worked as a midwife, while her father owned a junkyard. He also believed at the government had infiltrated most of society’s institutions, including school and doctors. This lead to Tara and her siblings never being enrolled in proper school, never going to a doctor and some not even having official birth certificates. Days were spent working at the junkyard, breaking their horses and doing other chores on the family farm. As Dr. Westover described in an interview with the Economist, “the thing about being a child is, whatever life you have, as far you know, that’s normal. And so whatever world your parents build for you feels like the world the way it should be.”

But as she grows up, Tara’s attempts at being normal amongst others and discovering there’s more to life outside the farm begins to have repercussions on her life. She’s also verbally and physically assaulted by one of her older brothers. Motivated by another brother’s actions of going to school, Tara decides to get educated. She schools herself with textbooks and is admitted to at Brigham Young University when she is 17. It’s there she expands her knowledge and becomes more aware about the world. She ultimately would go on to attend Harvard and Cambridge and earn a PhD in History.  All the while, she maintains a strained relationship with her family.

Dr. Westover’s observations about your life being what you considered normal fascinated me the most. As someone who grew up in a small town, it was normal to do certain things- go to church, hang out with friends, go on dog walks, and more. It wasn’t until I got to college and met people from other places that I discovered how many different lifestyles there are, that people don’t have the same perceptions towards situations. College not only offered an education on academics, it can teach you how to handle the real world.

In a way, Tara’s story sort of reminded me of Jeannette Walls. While Walls did go to proper school, she and her siblings learned to take care of themselves, and eventually found their way out of the dysfunctional lifestyle of their parents and succeeded in the real world. Jeannette had a distant relationship with her parents as she got older, similar to how Tara does.

I definitely recommend this memoir because if shows how one can overcome obstacles and become successful and the importance of education, no matter how you are.

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Big Little Lies

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Nowadays, many television shows and movies are based off of book series, with some authors being involved in the production. I had first heard about Big Little Lies as an HBO series and saw some clips. Then I found out it was a book by Australian author Liane Moriarty, and decided to check it out.

This book is the story of three women- Madeline Martha Mackenzie, Celeste White and Jane Chapman. They all live on the fictional Pirriwee Peninsula in Australia, and have children who go to school together. The first chapter tells of a murder that occurred during a trivia night fundraiser. It then flashbacks four months before the night to the beginning of the school year. Through the third person narrative, we learn about the three women’s lives. Madeline has just turned 40 and is dealing with her teenage daughter from her first marriage wanting to live with her biological dad (Madeline’s ex-husband) and stepmother. Celeste, the same age as Madeline, is busy raising her twin boys, but is trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband Perry. Meanwhile, Jane, much younger than the two at 24 years old, is new to town and grappling with single motherhood and where her life is going to go.

I liked this book because it shows how not everyone’s life is the same. Despite being the same age and married, Madeline and Celeste have completely different issues. Madeline is dealing with her ex-husband, while Celeste must cope with being abused by Perry. I found the domestic violence part to be extremely important, because it highlights a very realistic problem and how a marriage and relationship can seem perfect from the outside. It also shows how an abusive spouse can affect the children’s life as well.

Meanwhile, Jane, a single mother and much younger than the two, is still trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life and get back onto the dating scene. She is able to form a friendship with Madeline and Celeste even though they are several years apart. I didn’t find this unusual, as my friends range in age from early 20s to mid-30s. Madeline and Celeste are able to offer guidance to Jane. Being the visual person that I am, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the actresses as the characters in the book- Reese Witherspoon as Madeline, Nicole Kidman as Celeste and Shailene Woodley as Jane. The major difference is that the novel is set in Australia, whereas the TV series sets in Monterey, California.

I recommend this book because it tackles a lot of real-life subjects through the dynamic of families and friendships.

Behind the Scenes: Daylight Falls #1

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Los Angeles is the city known for Hollywood, but there is more to it than that. This is the setting of Dahlia Adler’s YA novel Behind the Scenes: Daylight Falls #1, the first novel in a series.

Ally Duncan is in her final year of high school. Despite being the best friend of starlet Vanessa Park, Ally doesn’t desire to go into show business. Instead, she plans to go to Columbia University in New York City. Her life and future seem to be going well, but that all changes when her father is diagnosed with skin cancer. With the medical bills piling up, Ally’s parents admit they need to use her college fund money to pay for them. Not wanting to accept a loan from Vanessa or take out student loans, Ally instead becomes Vanessa’s assistant on the set of the hot new teen television show Daylight Falls.

While working, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with Liam Holloway, one of the most handsome costars. They bond over their common ground of having family members who have or had cancer.

This story was a good example of how a family member’s illness can affect different aspects of a person’s life. Ally visits her father at the hospital constantly, but she also tries to live the normal life of a teenager. She complains about not being able to reach Vanessa or Liam at times, when she knew they would be super busy. Also, she seems to take some of her friends for granted, especially close friend and one-time crush Nathan. These were times when I wasn’t sure about Ally’s attitude or decisions, but slowly realized that the possibility of losing a parent can put tremendous pressure on someone and the feeling of not wanting to be alone. I’ve never experienced a parent being sick, so that type of situation is not familiar to me.

There were also parts of the story that focused on the effect of fame. Liam is one of the hottest teenage stars around, but there is more to his backstory. He confides in Ally that he only got into acting because it allowed him to get away from his overbearing father, not because he wanted fame, something he doesn’t like that much. This is an interesting take on the reasons why most people pursue an acting career. Some do want fame and fortune, while others just enjoy the work. There’s also the case where parents push their kids into acting, a trope that that Liam’s situation was the complete opposite of, which I found refreshing. Meanwhile, Vanessa is trying to deal with having normal friendships with people, but is caught up in the whirlwind of filming and movie premieres.

I recommend this novel because it shows how not everybody who lives in Hollywood wants to be an actress and how those who are in the business have a different side to them.

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Keep Me Posted

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Once upon a time, there was no Facebook, Twitter, email or even personal computers. Communications were done primarily through the handwritten letters, which is central to the plot of Lisa Beazley’s debut novel Keep Me Posted. 

Set in the present day, the story focuses on the two adult Sunday sisters, Sid, who lives in Singapore with her husband and children and Cassie, a married mother of twins who resides in New York City. During a Christmas Eve celebration, Sid, who doesn’t use any electronic communication, proposes and she and Cassie write letters back and forth as a way to keep in touch. What starts as a fun experiment soon turns into a major way of reconnecting for the two as they reveal secrets about each other, their families and work through their problems. Wanting to document the experience, Cassie scans and saves the letters in a private online blog, which unexpectedly becomes public after the server crashes.

I liked the thought of a story that focuses on exchanging letters because it shows how different communication was before we had the modern-day ways. People kept each other informed using written correspondence and therefore wouldn’t find stuff out until days or even weeks after it happened. Not only that, letters can be a valuable personal record of people’s friendships and relations. (Earlier this year, I reviewed Words in Deep Blue, another novel that uses letters as a major plot point.) Cassie uses Facebook constantly to keep her family and friends updated about her life, which reflects society’s fascination with projecting a certain image of a perfect life.

However, I found the character of Cassie frustrating. The story is told from her first-person perspective and she constantly complains about her life as a mother and her marriage. Granted, she’s over a decade older than me and therefore at a different place in life, but she seemed to be taking her comfortable stay-at-home-mom life in Manhattan  for granted. Her situation involved many of the mid-life crisis cliches- reminiscing about the past, reconnecting with her boyfriend and so on. The whole plot about the letters going viral didn’t even seem to get that much of a place in the book. I would have liked to see Sid’s point-of-view too, as I found her character of interest since she doesn’t use technology at all.

I recommend this book because of it’s interesting take on using letters to reconnect with one another, but Cassie’s character might make it more worth borrowing.

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Hidden History of the Finger Lakes

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My hometown sits along the Erie Canal in Upstate New York. While that waterway is world-famous for its 200-year history, just south of it is a region known as the Finger Lakes. Comprised of eleven long, skinny lakes that run north to south, they got their name from resembling the fingers on a hand. The Finger Lakes are a popular tourist destination for people both near and far, known for the numerous wineries along their banks. However, there’s more to this region than the grapes that grow on the vines.

Patti Unvericht’s book Hidden History of the Finger Lakes documents historical happenings around the region that most might be unaware of. Twenty chapters detail accounts of families, landmarks, events and more, some of which are actually pretty famous. For example, Rod Serling, creator of the popular TV series The Twilight Zone, is a Syracuse native. There’s also Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. There are even some more unusual ones, like a suspect in the famous Jack the Ripper murders in London in the 1800s.

One of my favorite chapters was Chapter 5, detailing the Hamlin Civil Conservation Corps Camp, which provided jobs during the Great Depression and later served as Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War. Having learned about these historical events on a national angle, it was interesting to read about a local connection.

I recommend this book because it shows just how much history a region can have.

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