Review: Eleanor and Park


Eleanor and Park
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a tough sell when it comes to YA books. Most of them are too obvious for me to enjoy, either as dystopian hellholes or glossy music videos. But when a friend recommended “Eleanor and Park” to me, I was ready for either hellhole or music video, as long as it was a fast read for a chilly autumn evening.

What I read was a savvy paean to young love between two misfits amidst the myriad land-mines that dot adolescence. Darker issues also lurk in the background of one of our protagonists, but these are written so gracefully that they don’t feel like plot devices. (Trigger warnings apply, however; this is not a Hallmark card.)

The most remarkable thing about this remarkable book is that the two protagonists are completely believable human beings that aren’t forced to change what makes them unique in order to find acceptance, to find happiness.

I enjoyed every moment of reading this, not least for the nostalgic dip into my own awkward youth in the 1980s. I read it in one sitting, tearing up often and crying wholeheartedly at the ending, which leaves its characters with hope that is neither saccharine nor contrived. This was a beautiful book and I look forward to reading more of Rainbow Rowell’s fiction.

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This Week and Last Month

In the manor garden


I’m writing to a prompt today, just for the hell of it: “I can do strange things, believe me.” The strangest thing I do these days is ponder Mendelian genetics in order to better breed virtual cats in a dying world. (It’s not really dying, or it is, depending on who you ask. Does it matter?)

Did I ever do stranger things, or did I only trick myself into believing that my brand of normalcy was So Different? Yesterday I read David Orr’s article in the Paris Review about the most misread poem in America, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, and I admit to feeling a little vindicated. And perhaps a little sad.

Like many other nascent lit-nerds, I memorised this poem after misreading it heartily and shoving it in front of myself like a badge, a shield, a sticky post on the blog feed of my identity. I might have scribbled it across notebooks in high school, or inked it on the hem of a jacket, or used it for earlier posts on this very site. (I haven’t looked but they’re probably there.)

I won’t blame my younger self, or anyone. How could I? That tattered shred I clung to was choice. Choices. The ability to say to oneself, to the world: I could do this thing, but then I could do something else. Isn’t choice the foundation of hope? To rub off the bravado of American identity from the poem and really read it again to discover that the speaker knows the paths are not all that different. He knows and yet he will someday tell someone — someone impressionable? someone who knows better? — that that single choice made “all the difference”.

I don’t think I could have understood this meaning before I moved here and was forced to confront my American obsession with choice. How many times have you read my laments on the lack of peanut butter brands in Scotland, where peanut butter isn’t even a thing that people want to put on sandwiches hardly ever, let alone shove into their maws slathered on a Nutella-dipped spoon? How many times have I been utterly stumped by blasé responses to my suggestions at work? Not that people here don’t value choices, but I believe they’re less starry-eyed by the illusion of it. How much choice do we really have, and how much does it matter when our older, wiser selves evaluate how it’s all gone by?

It is startling to ponder how comforting an illusion can become. A couple of weeks ago I had to face a demon in the form of a minor medical procedure. Since I’ve encountered this demon before, I know some tricks that can help, mostly deep-breathing exercises. Creative visualisation doesn’t do much for me when I am panicking, even as much as I love falling into daydream. But the deep breaths weren’t doing too much and so I conjured an apparition of our wee lost Torgi. I could see him in front of me down to the bristliest whisker. Calmed me right down. Illusion, comfort: thank you. Call it whatever you want.

Sometimes we know we’re lying to ourselves and we do it anyway.

I can do strange things, believe me.


JDB1745 is still lightly napping as the thesis takes the foreground. Every once in a while it twitches in its sleep and I jot some notes down for the next phase, and then we both go back to focusing on other things. For now.

The weekend gig has picked up steam for the first weeks of the new semester. I’m back down to only one day of overlap with most coworkers right about the time when I could use more days of overlap just to stay in the right loops. That’s the most challenging bit of the job: keeping on top of the input streams, and sifting through them all to ensure I retain the bits that are relevant to the weekend staff. Once a week, I wish we would all use Slack.


Illicit Ink’s Jura Unbound show in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, “Happily Never Ever”, was a blast as you can see from the photographic evidence.

And finally, finally I have made a breakthrough in this story that has been wrecking me to write. I owe that to a dear friend who talked it through with me in a very non-pressuring (yet gently nudging) way. If you do anything creative, I hope you have a friend like this, someone in your area of creativity who challenges you to be better at it. Or just to finish drafts.


Instead of trying to hit arbitrary benchmarks like step goals in Misfit, I’ve been using Exist to explore trends and correlations in the data I’m collecting. Mood tracking has been particularly useful, as I can see on my Exist dashboard that my mood is better when I am more active and get solid sleep. So do more of that, self.

The weather has turned colder once more, and the days are shortening, so it will be time to break out the light-box before long. I’m kicking around the idea of training for a fun-run in November just to keep my body moving.



Have I have been reading Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves” forever, or does it just feel like it? I don’t know if I am enjoying it, either. Two-thirds in, the timeline jumped ahead five thousand years, so everyone I cared about was long dead. I will say this for Mr. Stephenson: he has gumption. And pages. So many pages.

My to-read pile is starting to organise itself. I fear it shall revolt soon.


Music underwent a redesign and reduced the functionality of the site significantly. I’m not going to complain about it here because has a support site for that. For now I’ll list a couple of things I’ve listened to recently.

Radio Riel, mostly their Ragtime stream: I found out about Radio Riel through a community in Second Life that I visit called New Toulouse which is “loosely themed after New Orleans and the bayou, 1900-1925.” (If that sounds like someplace you’d like to visit, let me know and I would be happy to give you a tour.) If you just want to hear the soundtrack of the place, give this Ragtime stream a listen.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist: This is all over the place, like my listening habits, but I’m enjoying what the robots have suggested for me so far. Nadine Shah is the best new listen the playlist has given me.


The Black Tapes Podcast: Recommended by a Writers’ Bloc comrade, this docudrama gives me the whim-whams in the best way. Think “Serial” crossed with “The X-Files” (and now that I’ve looked at some of their social media streams, I see that I didn’t come up with that description).

If you are new to podcasts, or simply don’t know how to get started with listening, try PocketCasts. It is the easiest and best way to subscribe and listen to podcasts from your Android device, Windows Phone, iOS device, or web browser. And if you’re a Twitter user, view my Podcasts list for some other recommendations.


  • Alphabear (iOS/Android): Spry Fox made another fun game, this one with word-building and power-ups in the form of cute collectible bears. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen some of my Alphabear tweets.
  • Fallen London (Web, and soon iOS): Billed as “a free, browser-based, literary RPG of sorts” it’s no wonder why I enjoy it. I also like a game that I can dip into whenever I like and don’t lose (much) progress.



FunkyPlaid and I re-watched “Firefly” and then “Serenity” and loved them all over again. We are now about to finish the first season of “The Trip” which is painful and terrific all at once.


“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: ★★½.


Festival season was eventful! I saw several shows, including two Bloc comrades in the SHIFT/ Spoken Word series and Puddles Pity Party.


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Ink o’ the Week

Diamine Ancient Copper: the colour of crunchy autumn leaves. Badass orange-brown with super shading, made all the sweeter because it was a gift from someone super.

Photo credit: Just a pretty garden in Second Life that I found. (If you’re reading this via email or RSS feed, I’m not sure it will show up, so click here to see it.)

This Week and Other Weeks

2015-05-09 19.47.45


I have tried to write this several times now. It never goes well. I find unsettling analogies, or take refuge in bluntness, or just pretend the thing that happened didn’t happen at all so I can get through the first paragraph. But it happened. And it derailed the tail-end of my spring completely.

I keep thinking that I will be ready to write about it, and then I will, and then these entries (which were supposed to be weekly status updates, and nothing more) won’t loom in my to-do list like horrible chores.

But I am still not ready to write about it, the thing that happened, and so I’ll just say that at the start of May one of our cats died and he was so much more than “one of our cats” and it was so much worse than I imagined it could be and it continues to hurt every day and I don’t want to write anything more about it so we’ll just move on from here.

Okay? Okay.

The thing that happened disrupted everything. Because I let it, and because my everything was already so precarious. So any good tracks I was on, consider those derailed. Any good habits I had forged, consider those discarded.

Rage, even now, two months past, blindsides me. The smallest things irritate me past rational points. Most social media channels are unbearable not because they have changed but because I have. I don’t know if I will get my old self back.

I don’t know if I want my old self back.

The strangest part of grief is the compulsion to keep pressing myself against the serrated edge of his absence. I am mostly over that phase now but sometimes it comes over me, the need to prod that wound, like I still don’t believe it, so that the pain will make me believe it.

I still don’t believe it.

But I make myself believe it.

Before the thing that happened, I had planned to travel to the States in June to celebrate a milestone in my mother’s life. When the thing happened, the trip carried another weight: I needed to escape, both geographically and mentally.

And then right before I left our other cat had surgery for a fibrosarcoma on her back. She’s doing fine for now.

Grief and worry have a way of clouding memory but here’s some of what I remember of my life from the past few months.


Not much to report on JDB1745, and this will likely continue through the end of the year. There will be small refinements to make but FunkyPlaid must focus on finishing his thesis now so we can’t undertake any major movements. I’m squirrelling away all sorts of ideas for the next phase of our project, and the more I do, the more I look forward to working on it.

The weekend gig is more intense project-wise over the summer, plus many folks are away on leave, so I feel more isolated than usual. I continue to struggle with the balance of wanting to throw myself completely into a job and only being there three days a week.


The guest post I wrote for Cat Rambo’s blog on motivational tools for writers was published. The timing was darkly amusing; my own writerly motivation had ground to a halt.

But now I am recovering, and I am currently working on two projects:

  1. Assembling some short stories together into chapbook form.
  2. Writing a short comedic piece for the Book Festival. Illicit Ink will present a show called “Happily Never After” for Jura Unbound and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.


Misfit changed their app and I no longer have a weekly tally of points, so here I’ll start tracking how many days in the last week I hit my fitness goal: 2. Not great.

In April, May, and June I was around the 2-3 days per week mark. One day in May I somehow managed almost twice my goal and my personal best since I started using my Shine by having a normal workday but tacking on a social event in the evening that was 1.5 miles away.

So yeah. I need more exercise.



Since the end of March I’ve read some good books, fiction unless otherwise specified:

  • “The Bees” by Laline Paull
  • “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig (memoir about depression)
  • “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler
  • “The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion” by Elle Luna (figuring out what you want to do with your life, then following through)
  • “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews
  • “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

And that leaves me at 11 books this year. I will have to seriously hustle to make my goal of 50.


I am giving Apple Music a whirl. So far I love the playlists it suggests for me but it doesn’t have built-in scrobbling capabilities like Rdio or Spotify. For those of us who love tracking what we listen to with, that is a disappointment.

My top artists for the past three months:

  1. Chouchou
  2. Ratatat
  3. Louis Armstrong

A friend made a Neo80s mixtape (mixCD?) that I’ve been enjoying too. Lots of M83, White Lies, HAIM, Grimes … really good stuff.

How do I not have a podcast section? I’ll fix that now. My top podcast listens for the past three months (and I am stealing the blurbs from their websites):

  1. Judge John Hodgman: You might know John Hodgman as the PC from those Apple commercials but those are the least of his comedic accomplishments. His podcast is laugh-out-loud funny as well as also thoughtful and interesting.
  2. RISK!: Listen to real people tell true stories. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes disturbing, always intriguing. Like The Moth’s more worrisome cousin.
  3. Mystery Show: I never thought I would care enough about Jake Gyllenhaal’s height to listen to a 40-minute podcast about it. Then I heard Mystery Show.


  • 80 Days (videogame, tablet): I am not good at this game, probably because of the timed element, but I keep going back to it for the interactive story parts. I still have not made it around the world in 80 days. Will I ever? Who knows.
  • Splendor (boardgame, 2-4 players): FunkyPlaid taught me how to play this and I think I like it. It feels similar in some ways to Dominion, which I love and don’t play nearly enough. I’d like to play it again.
  • Gone Home (videogame, desktop): I finally purchased this on Steam when it was on sale and played through in a few hours. The plot and execution were both excellent, and the experience was worth much more than the price I paid.
  • Fallout Shelter (videogame, tablet): I tried. I really did. But I got so bored.



FunkyPlaid and I finished “Les Revenants” at the end of April and went on to “Orphan Black”. The first two seasons were so good; the third became unwatchable for me. We stalled out partway through and finished up the season of “Outlander” instead. As of last night we are on the second season of “House of Cards” (US version).

I stopped watching “Game of Thrones” after the infamous episode with Ramsay and Sansa’s wedding night. With that source material and that cast and that budget, there is no excuse for lazy writing. Later I heard that the show has diverged even more from the books, so that’s probably it for me.


I finally saw the film “What We Do in the Shadows” on the plane ride to the States, which was even better than I thought it would be. If you like mockumentaries and Flight of the Conchords, don’t miss this.



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Ink o’ the Week

Daily carry

  • Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku: I raved about this ink before and my excitement has not abated. It is a perfect ink in my Lamy 2000. If you are looking for a saturated blue-green with ridiculous amounts of shading, try this one.
  • Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-Budo: This is in my new Pilot Metropolitan, a gift from a pen-loving friend, which surprised me with how well it writes. Despite the fine nib the Yama-Budo provides a nice shading between dark fuchsia to light burgundy. It is an elegant ink.

Wish list

Photo credit: my Instagram.

Turning Pro – Day 7


This is the seventh day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “My Own Moment of Turning Pro” to “The Professional Lives in the Present”. I don’t have much to say about this part of the book, because what I found most valuable was the reiteration of the qualities the professional possesses that Pressfield listed in “The War of Art”. (I won’t list them all, because I think that book is definitely worth a read, but my favourites include “The professional shows up every day” and “The professional does not take failure or success personally”.)

However, I think we can all have a feeling or two about this quote:

The amateur tweets. The pro works.” 

But I love Twitter! 

… I know.

I have been guilty of tweeting about cool things, or retweeting others’ cool things. And it’s not like I’m going to stop altogether, but it is easy to convince myself that I have made movement toward becoming a writer by retweeting other writers or tweeting about the act of writing. Even this meta-talk about writing is a bit amateurish on my part. (I’m choosing to forgive myself because all this reflection is in the name of turning pro.)

Pressfield adds a nice juxtaposition at the end of this section: the professional is ruthless with himself and the professional has compassion for herself. Yes, we should not hesitate to murder our darlings, as the famous phrase goes, but we should also guard the joy that comes from creating. It is a difficult balance.

Turning Pro – Day 6


This is the sixth day in a series of posts for Desk’s digital book-club pick, “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield (Open Library). The series begins here.

Today I read from “The Amateur will be Ready Tomorrow” to “Rosanne Cash’s Dream” on my lunch break at work. And then I uncapped my fountain pen, cracked open a brand-new Rhodia dot-grid A5 notebook, and wrote a full page of fiction.

It’s not good writing, but it felt great.

I read the section called “The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Shit” with amusement. This is a part of the process, maybe the only part, that hasn’t bothered me much personally. I know fantastic people in this world and yet I have never once felt as if I am part of a group of people I need to impress. Pretty early on I internalised the knowledge that I should just do what I enjoy doing and not worry if I fit in anywhere. In Pressfield’s words:

“When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was. Our lives are entirely up to us.” 

So Pressfield keeps talking about going pro and I want to know what he means already. I want steps. I want something to act on. He senses this like magic and tells me, finally:

When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.

Fair enough. I’m pretty sure I know what this means. It means that when I sit down to write, I write. I don’t let the fear of never being good enough stop me. When I have an idea, I write it to completion, even if it goes off the rails and can never be rescued. I write. I finish. I do the work.

I got this.