Posted in 2018, Non-Fiction

My Own Devices by Dessa

Dessa is one of my favorite underground rappers. She was recommended to me by Spotify and I was not disappointed. Her verses are smart, raw and poetic….her book is no different. If you could add background music to this, I’m pretty sure we can have ourselves a musical.

The story begins with love: love of a person and love of an artform. It transitions to experience and it ends with acceptance. We are rewarded with sprinkles of complex moral and philosophical ideas.

We learn about the start of Doomtree and their touring routine. We learn about Dessa’s past work experience and we even get a front row seat on some family history. My favorite thing of all though is when Dessa lets us into her brain. This woman has experimented with science and spirituality (do not confuse it for religion) and has been molded into an observational thinker. She thinks about things that wouldn’t normally reach topics of conversations at dinner parties. It’s addictive, really.

She always ends each chapter with a statement, question or observation. It always feels profound and creative. She holds time and meaning between the pages. This is definitely one of my favorite non-fiction books this year. I would definitely recommend this.

Now, some of my favorite quotes:

“I wanted to be considered a success and I wanted to be on the right side of a hard fight. But I wasn’t sure what job or even what field to pursue.”

For any person who ever had unguided ambition, this quote is extremely relatable. We aren’t afraid of hard work, we’re just afraid of pointless tasks. We don’t want to waste our time. Time becomes a theme in this book.

Finding a place that aligns our spirits and our abilities is one of the hugest struggles we fight.

“Stage was a place for all of the outsized feelings that didn’t fit neatly into daily life. “

I mean, wow! This is so true. When I was in band (marching band…not a cool rap group like Dessa), I remember always feeling better after the performance was over. That first breath after knowing I survived yet another performance was always sweeter than the others. Playing music is therapeutic. You never realize how many troubles get released until you become deflated after giving it your all. The reason why muscle memory is so important for performers is because we need to rely on our instincts. We become our most vulnerable self when it comes to art.

“There’s no best-practice handbook for the pursuit of unlikely dreams.”

Bumper sticker idea! Or a shirt idea.

“This is the Tinker Bell model. She’s only real because she is clapped into existence. The children refuse to entertain any alternative, and the force of their desire and their determination has metaphysical consequences.”

Same as Santa Clause. He is real. I will fight you on this.

This model is also why the Wizarding World of Harry Potter became so big. People’s need for this type of reality to exist transcends any reason.

“When I first had that idea, it kicked back like a shotgun I hadn’t known I was holding.”

Thoughts can be deathly. Once aware, it’s hard to hide.

“Lonliness is the fare that you pay to be free.”

I remember this conversation would appear a lot in both my high school psychology classes and in all my English classes. What does freedom mean? Freedom means the right to feel. It’s why in every dystopian and utopian novel, emotions are always controlled. They instill fear, or they instill a promise of safety. But to be free to think can lead you into a rabbit hole of inner turmoil and self-doubt. Eve bit the apple and found that she was uncomfortable with her mere existence. We risk unhappiness and separation from our community when we pursue the path of knowledge. Alcoholics drink to forget. Book readers read to remember. Remember that in the end, this is all worth it. To remember that our loneliness only goes in vain if we stop trying.

“The sense of purpose squared my shoulders and liften my chin. Purposeful might be my favorite feeling–even better than happiness.”

Yes! I have a lot of coworkers who tell me that being charitable makes them happy. I wish I could say the same thing but, I’m a bit more selfish than they are. However, being charitable gives me purpose. I’ve felt happy and I’ve felt purpose…and I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to sleep when you know you belong and that you have a reason.

“It’s impossible to know which stories are crusual to your narrative until the story is over.”

I love this quote because I always think of this whenever I’m in the pursuit of new friendships. Some people are worth having in your life because they shape you (again, I’m not afraid of hard work). Some people are just there to help the time pass by. Some are just there. Each adds to the overall story, but some become mentors to a lesson you didn’t know you needed to learn. It’s amazing to be aware of each interaction and how it shapes you. It’s amazing to see how you, in return, contribute to their story.

“Even if you dodge all the landmines and retain the starring role, you might find yourself in a story that wouldn’t interest you. That’s why I don’t buy lottery tickets: I’d hate to win. A million-dollar jackpot would pivot my whole narrative on five random numbers–that would be the biggest story of me, the one I’d ask to tell at cocktail parties with my new rich friends and it’d be one that would strain all my phone calls with my old poor friends too. A story signifying nothing.

My concern isn’t about legacy, exactly. That’s an old man’s game. It’s more about agency, about trying to minimize the role of chance and maximize the role of will. If you can’t parse the merit from the luck, it’s hard to know what to think of yourself.”

“But I didn’t want to conceptualize myself as a quicksand pit of changing variables. I wanted something permanent, stolid–a cinder block of a self.

Maybe self works like the word here— the referent changes as you maneuver through the world. You just drag the word along, like PeterPan with his shadow sewn to his heel.”

This was just mental foreplay, really.

“If there are heaven, and it has walls, I doubt they’re hung with mirrors. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to pick ourselves out of a lineup. Maybe we wouldn’t recognize ourselves from any other red-lipped angel passing on the stairs.”

When I read this I imagined cars. Like dealership cars. Where they all look the same in the lot, and what makes it yours is when you get to decorate it the interior (i.e, we all have bodies but it’s our characteristics that define us). It’s also why, when it’s really dark, a lot of people just look for cars that look like theirs and can approach the wrong car.

I also don’t think our self-conscious isn’t really aware of our looks which is why our dream bodies are usually different. 

But then there is an argument to be made with trans people. They don’t relate to the body they have, so trying to personalize the car feels awkward and suffocating. So if there was a line-up, they probably wouldn’t want to choose their given bodies.

But do we get to choose? Or is like, our bodies are created for our souls? What about people that have out of bodies experiences, but then get to return to their bodies? Or people who’ve actually temporarily died and then were resuscitated, could there have been an instance where the spirit returned to the wrong body. But then that implies that reincarnation is real. And the whole theory that when one person dies, another one is born, the soul could transfer over.

What are your thoughts on it? I am for sure overanalyzing this.

“But the art that really blows my mind usually violates the assumption I didn’t even realize I’d made, eliciting some variation of Holy Shit, I didn’t know you could do that.

Basically, anything that alters my reality and rewrites “impossibility” is what I define as art. I can go to a museum and stare at the sculptures and portraits and think “this is talent, but not memorable.” Then there are those that scratch that itch of curiosity.

“Nobody gets to save up their health and beauty for redemption at a more convenient date. Living more or less celibate and alone, I feel like I’m squandering a resource, like part of me is being wasted.”

It’s really sad how much pressure there is on looks. I know the pressure was always there but now that online dating is mostly based on looks rather than compatibility, it becomes more intense.

“Freewill is just the ghost we strap into the machine when the manual gets confusing.”

Speechless

“Charisma is an excellent attractant, but lousy glue.”

I should tell that to my friends…

“Maybe loyalty is just love fossilized.”

I believe this. People that I have loved, still hold a piece of my heart even if the feeling isn’t there anymore.

 

Cover copied from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38526745-my-own-devices?from_search=true

Posted in Fiction, Non-Fiction, short stories

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

Since this book didn’t provoke much thought, I decided to bundle my review to one post. That’s not a slight to the author. Her writing was more emotional than mental.

Introduction
The introduction built up the author really well. It was written by one of her teachers. Based on her description, I was expecting Marina’s writing to be someone overwhelming. (It wasn’t. However, it was original.) Without knowing Marina, I already felt a connection to her, just based on how much love and respect her teacher had for her and her potential. Whoa, too many pronouns.

The Opposite of Loneliness
This was a commencement speech that portrayed Marina as this lively, loving, energetic, insightful ambitious person. She starts off with “we don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness” and immediately I’m hooked. “I’m going to like this girl!” I thought after realizing that there really isn’t a word that opposes loneliness. Not really. Not sufficiently. Like most commencement speeches, she continues to inspire hope and courage. I was really excited to read what she wrote next.

Fiction

Cold Pastoral
Ironically, this short story made me feel…lonely. Not what I was expecting. I must admit that Keegan is not afraid to delve into those insecurities. The story centers around Claire. She had a friend with benefits relationship with a guy named Brian who suddenly passes away. Brian’s ex-girlfriend convinces Claire to steal his diary so his parents wouldn’t find it and read it. Claire, however, decided to read it herself. I won’t mention what was written, but it was definitely a conflicting situation. Grief and reality, all at once. Kudos for going there.

Winter Break
Another story that leaves a sense of loneliness. However, in this story, Addie and Sam are in a happy, passionate relationship. Addie is back for winter break and finds her parents miserable, although they weren’t quite ready to admit it till they saw the spark between Addie and Sam. A story with a glimpse of the dysfunction of a “normal” family.  I liked the contrast of the relationships. The young, passionate couple versus the older, no longer compatible, married couple.

Reading Alone
Reading Alone was perhaps the most original of art her stories. I have never read anything like this. The story is about this elderly woman, Anna, who has bi-weekly sessions reading to a blind man, Sam. It was recommended by her doctor since she started feeling pain after her husband decided to get out of retirement to work again. What made this story interesting is that Anna would undress as she read to Sam. Weird, right?

The Ingenue
This is a story of jealousy, distrust and “cha-cha-cha”. Our main character is intimidated by her boyfriend’s on-stage girlfriend, Olivia. Danny, the boyfriend, is adamant about being the originator of saying “cha-cha-cha” between birthday songs. She felt a strong sense of betrayal by him after he cheated on a game of Yahtzee. My take, it was a metaphor for her doubt in his loyalty in regards to Olivia. But I could be wrong since they wound up getting married.

The Emerald City
The Emerald City seems out of place. The story is a set of e-mails sent from a William Madar. He works for the Coalition Provisional Authority and has been stationed in Afghanistan. Not as a soldier though, he’s the Deputy Secretary of Housing Reconstruction. We see the e-mails he is sending to a Laura Kenzie, whom we never meet, nor do we see her responses, even though it is stated that she does reply. The story progresses with him getting a new translator, Haaya. Haaya and Will try to negotiate with a reformed member of Al Qaeda in order to get a list of names of those involved. It’s definitely a change from her other writings.

Baggage Claim
Baggage claim was the shortest of all short stories. It was about a soon-to-be-engaged couple (the girlfriend doesn’t know Kyle has a ring in his backpack) who decide to go to Unclaimed Baggage Center. They sell luggage and the equipment inside that was never claimed. Kyle, the boyfriend, decides to leave his backpack (with the ring) there because he started finding her annoying. Before the story ends, he returns to buy the ring again from the luggage place. The ending was cute, his back-and-forth conflict was nice to read. You could tell he was nervous.

Hail, Full of Grace
This feels like a story that wasn’t quite done. It has the potential for a romance novel. The story is about a woman, Audrey, who is back in her hometown for the winter. She adopted a kid by herself. She runs into her ex-boyfriend, a man who she previously had a kid with but gave the baby up for adoption since they were really young. Her new baby, Emma, has been cast to be the understudy of baby Jesus for a Christmas play. She runs into her ex-boyfriend, Julian, at a store and invites him to the play. It ends with him showing up…late. See, potential. However, I should note that he is married and has kids of his own with his wife. So, a very controversial romance story.

Sclerotherapy
This story starts with the explanation of Karen getting a tattoo of a Chinese character that supposedly said “Inner resolve and outer peace, a general levelheadedness and tranquility” only to find out by her brother’s Asian roommate that it actually meant “soybean”. It became her shame and she tried to cover it up. Finally, during a sclerotherapy session, she was asked what her tattoo meant. She first said that it meant “inner resolve and outer peace, a general levelheadedness and tranquility” but then admitted it actually meant “soybean”. This story reminded me of the struggle of being honest and acceptance towards the curve balls life throws.

Challenger Deep
If any of her stories were to make it into the big screen…I would bet on this one. Well, maybe the ingenue as a Sundance film or something. These 5 people were stuck in a submarine thirty-six thousand feet under. They were in complete darkness and couldn’t see. They were all slowly losing hope, with the exception of Ellen, who was recently engaged. Little by little, they all begin to crack. What makes this suspenseful is that there are 5 shifts needed to run the submarine….so all are needed and can’t be replaced. Therefore, it is important that everyone stay. They are all haunted by their dreams and the lights they can see in those dreams.

NonFiction

Stability in Motion
This is basically a love story for her car. She talks about how her grandma used to own it and took very good care of it. But once it was passed down to her, it started becoming messy and filled with memories of her own life. It ends with her clearing it out and passing it down to her younger brother. She reminisces about her break-ups, her first kisses, her newspapers and all other important events in her life that were lived in this car. This car that once belonged to someone else, and will now belong to someone else. In other words, it’s kind of like a country song.

Why We Care about Whales
Her writing style here was irresistible. My favorite quote:
“I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans. There’s less risk associated with animals, less fear of failure, fear of getting too involved. In war movies, a thousand soldiers can die gruesomely, but when the horse is shot, the audience is heartbroken.” How true is that?! We care about the pets more than we care about the people. She goes on about how we should care about people but that during the heat of the moment, it’s hard to be philosophical. Her description of the dying whales that washed into the shore was hauntingly beautiful.

Against the Grain
So…her mom…is the best! In this story, Marina describes the lengths her mom went through due to her (Marina’s) dietary restrictions. See, Marina was allergic to gluten during a time where there wasn’t that much information about it. Her mom, nor the doctors, could figure out why she kept getting sick, until her mom found the definition of Celiac Disease. Her mom made all new foods, researched like crazy, and tried her very best to make sure Marina didn’t feel like she was being left out. But of course, all that effort made Marina feel completely different. Who among us haven’t felt ungrateful for our mother’s efforts every now and then?

Putting the “Fun” Back in Eschatology
This is just talking about how the world will eventually end. She hopes that humanity can survive it…if we don’t fuck up. It’s just a two-page opinion piece. I personally don’t see how we cannot fuck up.

I Kill for Money
With that name, you wouldn’t think that this is the funniest story. But it is! It’s about an exterminator. Get it…he kills for the money. Clever. Tommy, the exterminator, AKA Dr. Death, is sixty-three-year-olds and loves his job. He is filled with lame jokes (depending on your sense of humor, I’m into dad jokes so is jokes were up my alley). I felt for Tim. He’s made fun of a lot but he does good work and he tries his best to be nice. The world needs more people like Tommy.

Even Artichokes Have Doubts
I never figured out why she picked that title. I can tell you that it was about doubt. In this story she talks about her personal experience regarding receiving a letter from McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm. This got her to question what her peers thought about this, especially those not studying for the finance industry. She received some feedback about the doubts her classmates felt about not being able to make a living in a non-profit, and how most feel like starting here would be a good step. Many justify it by saying they’ll get valuable experiences.

The former dean argues that you can get those experiences doing something more interesting. He continues by pointing out that “if you’re like most people, you’ll do one thing for two to three years, then something else for two to three years, and then–somewhere in that five- to seven-year distance from Yale–you’ll see a need to fully commit to something that’s a longer-term project” but what made this quote eye-opening is that he ended it by saying “If you think of your first few jobs after Yale in this way–holistically and in terms of your growth as a person rather than as a ladder rungs to a specific material outcome–you’re less likey to wake up at age forty-five married to a stranger.” But his advice was not all that extreme. He believes that you can do more good working for a corporation (even though they have a stigma about being evil) than working for consultants or banks. It’s an unproductive use of Yale graduates.

She ends it with her fears: that people are settling due to fear of not being able to succeed otherwise. She mentions how excited she gets when her classmates are passionately doing the best they can for a project and how proud they become…and how she can’t imagine a world without their visions coming to life.

The Art of Observation
I won’t go too into this one since I didn’t get much out of it. Here, she and her boyfriend are tourists in India and get asked to have their picture taken…a lot. Her boyfriend is quickly annoyed whereas she enjoys it for as long as she can. Then, late at night, she wonders how her face will be in dozens of strangers pictures….and she takes a picture of a complete stranger. A circle of silent understanding.

Song for the Special
Here she talks about how every generation thinks they’re special. She talks a lot about jealousy and how she sees other people succeeding and she wonders why she didn’t think of it. Then she gets deeper, she mentions how nothing is permanent and that the world will eventually end. “Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library” I found this amusing because I believe every person should have their own memoirs. Not for money, or fame…just so that people can know you existed. That you were here and you contributed, no matter how small, to this world. That everyone’s story, no matter how horrific, tragic or boring should be told.

“I’m so jealous. Laughable jealousies, jealousies of everyone who might get a chance to speak from the dead. I’ve zoomed out my timeline to include the apocalypse, and, religionless, I worship the potential for my own tangible trace. How presumptuous! To assume specialness in the first place.” See…if we had our own memoirs, this desire might diminish. It’s true, I’ve read about it in a utopian novel…that ended horrible bad…hmmm….my thoughts are flawed somewhere.

“There’s a really good chance I’ll never do anything. It’s selfish and self-centered to consider, but it scares me.” I understand this feeling too well. My biggest fear is that I’ll never be more than average. I was taught to strive for greatness…but realistically….not everyone can be great. It’s like a lottery game. Hard work is not enough. There are many hard-working people who don’t get to where they want to be. Luck plays a big role. Opportunities help. It’s why many people say the journey is what matters…because the journey is obtainable. The destination isn’t promised. Marina, herself, didn’t get to where she wanted to be. She worked hard, won many awards but I’m sure she had bigger dreams. That’s why the book was created. To help her dreams come true. But what if her friends and family didn’t care enough? This book wouldn’t exist. Her hard-work would have disappeared. My point about luck would stand strong. It was luck that she was born to the family she was born in. Not everyone has the good fortune of caring parents.

But it is scary. The deepest quote I ever heard was “the place with the most treasure is in the cemetary….it’s buried with potential.” (it was by my friend’s mom, not some famous person…unless she got it from a famous person and I just never did my research.)

 

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. Her writing was untamed and doesn’t follow any style I’ve read before. If you know of a book similar to this, please let me know.

 

(Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18143905-the-opposite-of-loneliness?ac=1&from_search=true)