How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less / Sarah Glidden

  Every time I write a post about a comic book I have to resist the urge to write a long post about why I disdain the term "graphic novel". It's a struggle.

   So: Sarah Glidden and her friend took a Birthright trip to Israel, on a tour that focused on the history and politics of the places they went as opposed to being focused on shopping or all-out sight-seeing.This book is the result of that trip, and Glidden manages a level of even-handedness and openness that is impressive. She goes into the trip with a certain set of ideas about Israel and the situation there, and has many of them challenged. She talks about propaganda and preconceived notions and the history of Israel and it's all very well written and drawn. Read it! Or at least consider reading it.

   It is a bit difficult to write a post about this book. It's very good, Israel is very complicated, you will probably gain some insight by reading this wee tome. 

   Maybe you are unsure of the literary value of comics, or you just haven't tried out the medium to see how you like it, or you are a comic lover who doesn't know what to read next. I think I can safely say that I speak for myself and the comic lover when I say that comics are worth your time, and can deliver stories/messages/ideas in a way that no other medium can. Yes: there are ridiculous comics, but there are also ridiculous books and TV shows and movies and newspaper articles and things from every other media source. Comics get a bad rap sometimes, which I attribute to the 90s, but let me encourage you to give them a go. There are some true gems out there, and you don't even have to look very hard to find them.

   Some comics other that How to Understand Israel which may expand your ideas about comics or which you might enjoy: Persopolis / Marjane Satrapi, Jerusalem and Burma Chronicles / Guy Deslisle, and Magneto: Testament, Red Skull: Incarnate, and Battlin' Jack Murdock from Marvel. One I've read and loved but which comes with a lots of violence, it is classified as a horror story warning is Locke & Key and if you've ever talked with me about comics for more than five minutes I've probably a) talked about how much I love Locke & Key, b) peered at you through narrowed eyes while wondering if you'd like it, and c) lent you a copy of the first volume and then pestered you for your opinion thereafter.

   I love comics, I think you might too, you just have to get the right ones. It's like books! Some people love some of them and some love others. I have a friend who hates 1984 but I love it and have 1984 shirts and a "doubleplusgood" necklace and that's just life, ain't it? You gotta find what you like. 'Nuff said.


Tom Longboat

   Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant fame published a comic about Tom Longboat today, and I am sorry to say that I didn't know about him before. Now I do though, and he was awesome. Also, my low-level googling has led me to this picture, which I love:

   Look at their faces!

   Anyways, I advise you to type "Tom Longboat" into google dot com and do some reading.


HHhH / Laurent Binet

   SO: this book took me a very long time to read. I started it sometime last year, and have been sending it back and forth to the library ever since. I took a long break from it when I was listening to the audiobook of Army of Evil : A History of the SS. There are only so many books about the SS or the SD or Nazism in general that you can read at one time before it starts to tell on you. But, after some consideration, I sent Army of Evil back to the library and picked up HHhH again and at last: I have finished it. I'm glad I made the switch.

  Laurent Binet wants you to know the struggles behind writing a historical account and the allure of fictionalization. The book is labeled as a novel on the cover, but Binet goes to great lengths to research the events he's writing about, and loathes making up conversations or situations (or so he says. Reading William Goldman has given me a severe distrust of authors who break the fourth wall). He agonizes over what to include and what to leave out and how to do justice to the people who were the Czech (and Slovak) Resistance during WWII. He's been studying Operation Anthropoid for years and this book is the result.

   Operation Anthropoid, what is it? The year is 1942 and Reinhard Heydrich is the man in charge in Czechoslovakia. He is also the person who came up with the Final Solution, and was instrumental in the development and organization of the SS and SD. "HHhH" stands for Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich, which means "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich". Basically, this is an evil man. So: two men, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, are tasked with assassinating him.

   While they weren't initially successful in killing Heydrich, he did die a few days after the assassination attempt due to some sort of infection, no one really knows the exact cause. Cue reprisals. The Gestapo couldn't find Gabčík and Kubiš at first, but that didn't stop them from completely destroying two villages, Lidice and Ležáky, killing hundreds of people, and offering rewards until finally a man came forward and betrayed Gabčík and Kubiš, as well as much of the anti-Nazi organization in Prague. The story of the assassination comes to an end when Gabčík, Kubiš, and many people who were working with them are all either dead or soon to be dead. Karel Čurda, who betrayed them, went on to act as a Gestapo spy for the rest of the war. He was hanged in 1947.

    I believe it is important to remember what has come before, and that doing so helps us understand how we got here, and maybe somehow honours the people who were brave and true, and reminds us to be vigilant, and that using "but it's sad/depressing" as an excuse to not read history is the worst. And so I encourage you to find events you don't know much about and then find books about those events and then read them. Maybe it'll be this book, maybe it'll be another one, either way, reading about history is important, don't fail to do it.


body image

   I feel like I am doing "pretty alright" in the body-image area, and I want (and don't want) to talk about it. I'm not sure if this is the right platform, and I'm not sure exactly what I want to get across, but I've been feeling that I ought to write about this for awhile (hence this post being in my draft section is some form or another for several months) so here goes.

   Maybe I should set some parameters first. I'm not looking for any sort of pity/sympathy, and I'm not fishing for compliments. I want to be honest and so I'll be writing a few things that I don't really talk about very often and outlining a few things about the way I see myself that not many people know. I've gotten more comfortable with talking about body image, so maybe I talk about it more than I think I do, but I don't think it's a super common topic of conversation for me. This post is going to be largely about physical appearance, which is odd considering that my journey away from hating my body has been largely one of de-emphasizing the way I look and concentrating more on an interesting thought life and fostering the fruit of the Spirit, which are way more important. It started with appearance though, so that's what I'll write about here. 

   I'm not really sure how to start, so I'll just say what people probably can guess: I, like nearly all women (and some men) that I know, had some fairly severe body image and self esteem issues growing up that I carried into adulthood. Basically: I used to hate my body, and now I don't, and I'll tell you how/why. 

   When I realized that something had to be done about the toxic way I viewed and talked to myself (lots of words like "fat", "ugly", "stupid", and "boring" were involved) I also realized that the way to change the way I felt/thought/spoke about my body was not to make my body smaller. Hating my body was not only pointless and unproductive, it was also extremely harmful. If I had such strong dislike for it at the size it was, losing weight wouldn't suddenly make me love it. The problem wasn't my body, it was the way I thought about and viewed it. That realization took a long time to come, and my initial efforts at body-acceptance were pretty much the same as my previous patterns of self loathing. I thought that if I only lost weight, or changed my hair, or wore make up correctly, but mostly if I changed my weight, that I would finally accept and like the way I looked. Of course, that didn't help me with how I looked at the moment. 

   After a long time of attempting and failing at diets and exercise methods that had the solitary goal of "get thin", I knew that it wasn't working and I had to do something else. It was hard to change what I thought about my body, so I took the tack of thinking about my body as little as possible. Whenever negative thoughts about they way I looked cropped up, I would turn my mind to something else entirely. I had been advised to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, but replacing "I'm ugly" with "I'm beautiful" felt like a giant lie and it was easier to switch from "I'm ugly" to "it looks like the floor needs vacuumed" or "it's time to get ready to go to work" or "where is my pencil" or anything else, as long as it wasn't about my body or my looks. This got surprisingly easy, and eventually I didn't really think much about my body much at all. I stopped looking in mirrors as much as I had before.

   In the meantime, I had taken up yoga and was learning to enjoy the poses and the strength that comes with them. The focus of yoga isn't on being the best in the class or on looking the best, but on what the body can do and how you can gently push yourself to lift the limit on your abilities. The focus is on function and kindness and encouragement, not on looking good. The mirrors in the yoga studio were there to keep me from injuring myself with bad form, not for me, or anyone else, to judge how I looked.

   Taking not-thinking-about-looks and yoga together meant that my mind shifted from thinking about and putting value in my appearance and put the emphasis on what I was capable of. I took a slow trip from "my body is fat and ugly" to "my body is a body" to "my body can get into increasingly difficult poses, and if I keep practicing I will keep getting better". Form to function. My legs can walk, my arms can lift, my hands can hold, my face shows my emotion, my belly helps me breathe deeply. It mattered less and less what I looked like and more what I did with the machine I live in. 

   That last sentence shows the next step I took: I am not my body; I live in my body. It is a machine (an extremely effective and amazing machine, really) and I am a soul. My value doesn't come from what I look like, or how good I am at physical activities. I had been looking at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. 

   Presently, I eat for enjoyment and to be healthy. I don't permit myself to feel guilty about what I eat. I understand that excessive bad food makes me lethargic and makes it more difficult to be active. I exercise in order to improve in things I love to do. I rock climb and bike and I continue to practice yoga. I work out so that I can be better at those things, and so that I can be healthy. I am gentler and kinder with myself, which enables me to push myself further. I wear clothes and make up that make me happy, I don't wear them to please others. 

   I'm not always good at this, as evidenced by my emphatically declaring "I just want to look nice!" to a friend of mine just the other day, or by sad mirror glaces when shopping with my much thinner friends or how I often react to compliments by laughing. I still have days where I slip back into negative self talk, and days that I just really want to be conventionally pretty. I sometimes catch myself worrying over what other people think of the way I look, and worrying that I don't look good enough or normal enough or any other "enough". However, it gets more and more simple and easy to stop a body hate spiral before it gets going. My body is a body, just like everyone else's. It carries me around and responds to what I put into it. I have a choice between working with what I have or wasting energy on hating it. 

   I still call myself chubby sometimes, but I usually mean it in an observational as opposed to a disparaging way. After all, I'm not even entirely sure where the line between pudgy and chubby and fat is, or what the hell "curvy" means, or why there seems to be a construct of body-image issues as the purview of a certain body type. When I call myself "chubby", I usually just mean that I am a large-ish size and therefore my high waisted jeans sometimes dig uncomfortably into my belly if I sit slouched for too long, not that I look down on myself or my looks. "Chubby" isn't a value statement, it's just an adjective.

   I won't tell you that I think I'm gorgeous or that I never compare myself to other women or that I don't often suck in my belly or wish I had less back fat, because that wouldn't be true. Here's the truth: I am now, usually, indifferent to my looks. When I do consider my looks I usually come away thinking I look remarkably average, with the occasional pretty day and the occasional "what is happening, why do I look so weird" day. I don't mind it, though, and the time I don't spend on fretting over my appearance I get to spend on reading or figuring out what I can do instead of how I look or investing in relationships or conceivably anything else. If I can take the energy I used to spend hating my appearance and put it towards learning to be more kind, then I am doing alright.

   To sum up: I stopped thinking harmful things about my looks and body by making an effort to stop thinking about my body altogether. Eventually I could think about it again, because my default thought pattern had changed to an ability focus rather than a looks focus. After all, how much do my looks really matter? Not very much, and that's okay. The human body is a truly remarkable machine, and I'm glad I have one and that it functions well and that I can climb and stretch and swim and it just keeps going. I want to encourage you to look at your body as just that: a body. Your arms are arms, your legs are legs, your torso is a torso, and that matters more than what they look like. Your body is a machine made of meat, and you get to be the spooky ghost that operates it.


movies 2014

   By now I think we all know the drill. I keep lists of the movies I watch and books I read, blah blah blah, here are the movies. Here is the link to 2013's list. I set a goal to watch no more than 52 movies this year, and I'm pleased to say that I watched 45. This is the fewest I've watched in a year since I started keeping track, and I feel good about it. The goal is the same for 2015, with some added intention of having fewer re-watches and fewer watched mindlessly by myself.

   Listed in the order I watched them. An * means it is are-watch, italics means I saw it on the big screen, the release year is in brackets.
  1. Frozen (13)
  2. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (11)
  3. An Affair to Remember (57)
  4. Barbara (12) (German)
  5. *West Side Story (61)
  6. The Lego Movie (14)
  7. *The Invasion (07)
  8. *Sahara (05)
  9. *Ferris Bueller's Day Off (86)
  10. *Sweet Smell of Success (57)
  11. *Citizen Kane (41)
  12. Captain America: Winter Soldier (14)
  13. *The Godfather (72)
  14. *Princess Bride (88)
  15. The Chalk Garden (64)
  16. Snow White and the Huntsman (12)
  17. Noah (14)
  18. *Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (08)
  19. *The Fall (06)
  20. *Bonnie and Clyde (67)
  21. Veronica Mars (14)
  22. *Somewhere (10)
  23. *Prometheus (12)
  24. Psycho (60)
  25. Rebel Without a Cause (55)
  26. X-Men: Days of Future Past (14)
  27. Cool Runnings (93)
  28. *Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (09)
  29. Nordwand (08) (German)
  30. *Hanna (11)
  31. *Notorious (46)
  32. *Cat Ballou (65)
  33. Silver Linings Playbook (12)
  34. *Dial M for Murder (54)
  35. Escape Plan (13)
  36. *Les Miserables (12)
  37. *Anastasia (97)
  38. Phantom of the Opera (25)
  39. *Secondhand Lions (03)
  40. Interstellar (14)
  41. *The Dark Knight (08)
  42. *Cowboys and Aliens (11)
  43. Rounders (98)
  44. *The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (05)
  45. Meet Me in St Louis (44)
    One of my favorite benefits of keeping track of what I watch is that when I look over or type out the list, I can recall the circumstances of my movie watching. For example, I got a tattoo on the same day that I watched Psycho (veeery late at night) with three good friends. I watched Cool Runnings with some Australians before they flew home after a day full of paintball. I cried when I watched Noah. A chihuahua sat on my lap while I watched Snow White. Silver Linings Playbook made me laugh at reactions to Hemingway while sitting on my friend's small couch in her small house in the mountains. I learned to play poker then absolutely had to watch Rounders. When I watched Les Miserables with my sister and two of our friends (my sister is also my friend), one of them couldn't stop singing along. Cineplex continued with showing classics and I was glad to see several favorites on the big screen. I got to see Phantom of the Opera on Halloween accompanied by live organ music.

   Basically, this list is like a treasure trove of memories, the vast majority of them good. It's like scent memory, but with movies. I highly recommend keeping track of your media consumption, for this and many other reasons. ALSO: if you want to know what I thought of these movies, click on the "movies" tag and viola: the posts about movies.


best of 2014: books

this gif has nothing to do with this post but I couldn't resist it
   Oh, the difficulty of picking out a mere few books from a year that had a spate of good reads. I read quite a bit this year and I'd probably recommend all of it (but not necessarily to everyone). And so: four stand-out numbers from the year:
   Homage to Catalonia was by turns hilarious, heart-breaking, poignant, confusing, gentle, and passionate. I recommend it to one and all. If you read my post about Neverhome you know how I feel about it already, and I take none of it back. So good. I didn't write about Antarctica because most of the people I know are probably sick of hearing about my deep and abiding love for our southernmost continent and my ongoing desire to winter over at the South Pole despite my struggles with a lack of vitamin D. BUT if you want to read an excellent tome about past and present life in Antarctica with quite a bit of awesome science thrown in, read Gabrielle Walker's book. Sometimes I forget that I love Cormac McCarthy, until I pick up one of his books and say "WHAAAAAAAAT, this is amazing" and then proceed to speak in staccato sentences for the duration of my reading time. Go forth and read these books, but maybe skip the McCarthy if you are sensitive to violence.

   OKAY, here it is, the LIST. What I read in 2014, in the order I read them, sans comment because uuuugh that would take forevvvver and this post would be roughly 18 million words long. An * means it is a re-read, italics means non-fiction, underlined means comics.
  1. Jerusalem / Guy Delisle
  2. *Hunger Games / Suzanne Collins
  3. Fatale v. 1-3 / Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips
  4. The Girls of Murder City / Douglas Perry
  5. *Catching Fire / Suzanne Collins
  6. A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting / Guy Delisle
  7. Book of a Thousand Days / Shannon Hale
  8. Rabid / Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
  9. The Rook / Daniel O'Malley
  10. Three Cups of Deceit / John Krakauer
  11. X-Files Season 10 v. 1 / Joe Harris
  12. Attachments / Rainbow Rowell
  13. Locke and Key v. 6 / Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez
  14. I Am Legend / Richard Matheson
  15. How to Lie With Statistics / Darrell Huff
  16. *Siddhartha / Herman Hesse
  17. The Haunting of Hill House / Shirley Jackson
  18. The Virgin Suicides / Jeffrey Eugenides 
  19. At The Mountains of Madness / HP Lovecraft
  20. The Never List / Koethi Zan
  21. Shadows / Robin McKinley
  22. A Life in Stitches / Rachael Herron
  23. And Then There Were None / Agatha Christie
  24. Anne of Windy Poplars / LM Montgomery
  25. Fully Present / Sue Smalley, Diana Winston
  26. Batman: The Dark KNight Returns / Frank Miller, et al
  27. In The After / Demitria Lunetta
  28. Fun Home / Alison Bechdel
  29. Boxers and Saints / Gene Luen Yang
  30. The Madman's Daughter / Megan Shepherd
  31. The Bear / Claire Cameron
  32. Never Let Me Go / Kazuo Ishiguro
  33. The Diary of Edward the Hamster, 1990-1990 / Miriam Elia, Ezra Elia
  34. Redefining Girly / Melissa Atkins Wardy
  35. David and Goliath / Malcolm Gladwell
  36. The Rose That Grew From Concrete / Tupac Shakur
  37. The Old Man and the Sea / Ernest Hemingway
  38. The Talented Mr Ripley / Patricia Highsmith
  39. Drive / James Sallis
  40. No Country for Old Men / Cormac McCarthy
  41. Good Bones / Margaret Atwood
  42. The Spire / William Golding
  43. The Diet Trap / Jason Lillis
  44. Steppenwolf / Herman Hesse
  45. Foundation and Empire / Isaac Asimov
  46. The Remains of the Day / Kazuo Ishiguro
  47. *Perelandra / CS Lewis
  48. The Turn of the Screw / Henry James
  49. The Practice of the Presence of God / Brother Lawrence
  50. The Case for the Psalms / NT Wright
  51. Antarctica / Gabrielle Walker
  52. I Capture the Castle / Dodie Smith
  53. Invasion of the Body Snatchers / Jack Finney
  54. True Grit / Charles Portis
  55. Neverhome / Laird Hunt
  56. The Shining / Stephen King
  57. Any Empire / Nate Powell
  58. Love Does / Bob Goff
  59. Relish / Lucy Knisley
  60. What Every Body is Saying / Joe Navarro
  61. Lexicon / Max Barry
  62. Homage to Catalonia / George Orwell
  63. The Pearl / John Steinbeck
  64. The Imperfect Board Member / Jim Brown
  65. Herland / Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  66. *Inkheart / Cornelia Funke
  67. *Beauty / Robin McKinley
  68. The Ocean at the End of the Lane / Neil Gaiman
  69. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less / Sarah Glidden 
   And there you have it! My initial goal for the year was to read at least 52 books, and I am pleased to say that I exceeded it by 17 books. This is the most books I've ever read in one year; I'm excited to see what 2015 brings.

   Some notable bookish things from 2014:
  • "Discovered" Kazuo Ishiguro and Jeffery Eugenides, finally finally. 
  • Kept up with reading nonfiction
  • Read more about the American Civil War era than I ever have in my life (???)
  • Became more and more comfortable with tossing books I am not enjoying or getting anything out of
  •  Participated in a Mini Readathon, which was delightful.
  • Read a great deal about feminism and communication, in non-book form
  • This isn't bookish but I finally have picked up a guitar and am more determined than ever to learn.