Book Review: Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner by Michael Hebb

When I told my therapist that I was reading this book and what it was about she was thrilled because, according to her, I needed to adjust my own attitude toward death. Suffice to say Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner certainly succeeded in this purpose.  Despite the universal truth that we are all going to die, death is rarely discussed with the depth and breadth that it deserves.

The premise of this book is to act as “an invitation and guide to life’s most important conversation”. The book begins with two introductory chapters that explain the premise of death dinners and is then followed by a series of prompts for participating in a conversation about death.

As with many nonfiction and self-help books, Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner does not precisely need to be read in order, as Hebb himself acknowledges in the introductory chapters. In a similar vein, the text does not need to be and should not be read all at once. In the introductory chapter the author warns that this book shouldn’t be read in one sitting, and I wholeheartedly agree. Usually, when I read a fiction book I speed through it and then once I know the ending go back and re-read parts that I have bookmarked. With nonfiction such as this I take much longer, and it can sometimes take me over a week to finish a slim volume such as this one. The sheer amount of powerful content makes this a book that takes time to digest. While the first two chapters of the text are traditional chapters, the majority of the book is formatted with sections starting with a question about death that functions as a prompt that one could ask at a death dinner. To supplement each prompt, the author included stories that people had shared at previous death dinners as examples of both how people can answer the prompt and how answering the prompt at their own death dinners had improved the lives of the people featured in each story.

I will whole-heartedly admit that this book caused me to cry a great deal (which was difficult when I read while on my way to work as I got many concerned looks on the subway) and yet I still enjoyed every moment of reading it. Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner made me cry not because of any fault with the text, but because the heavy emotion behind each of the stories tugged at my heartstrings so to speak, and any time that I saw anything of myself or those that I loved in the text, I empathized to an uncomfortable extent. Nevertheless, I did keep reading because the storytelling nature of the text is both compelling and well-written, and I simply did not want to stop at some points. That said, I did make sure to take breaks from my reading – part of why this review took so long to write – in order that I could process everything that I had read in terms of both understanding and settling some of the emotional turmoil within myself.

A major concern of the text is in discovering where our discomfort with death comes from. Avoidance compounds fear, and this text argues that sitting down over a meal and talking about what makes a good death, what we want for ourselves, and how we grieve is an incredibly useful and necessary experience. Not only is an open and honest conversation about death cathartic, but it has practical use in that we can discover the wishes of our loved ones in regard to how they want us to handle their own deaths.

I have to say that I have always been fascinated with death, in particular the impermanence of our existence and the all-encompassing fate that is the inevitable heat death of our universe. On a large scale, I talk about death and destruction in a deadpan voice all the time, but I rarely feel the emotion behind it, acting glib in the face of needing to express genuine emotion. This text forced me to engage with that emotion directly and to confront things I did not want to confront, such as what I am afraid of with regard to death. What I realized is that I am not afraid of non-existence, or even of physical pain at or toward the end, but rather I am afraid of the consequences of my absence and of what actions those who have known me will undertake after my death, as well as the emotional pain that the loss of others causes within my own self and how that pain influences my actions and thus affects those who remain around me in my grief. While I always knew that to some extent, the ability to talk about these emotions without reservation is a great gift that this text has given me.

This book probably isn’t for everyone. I know that, were I to read this at certain earlier points of my life, I would not have liked Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner, and I would not have gotten as much out of the experience of reading it. Nonetheless, I feel that for readers who approach this text with an open heart and an open mind, and give themselves time to process as they read, this text is an invaluable one. Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner will be released on October 2nd, 2018, and I highly suggest that y’all get a copy when it comes out!

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

Book Review: Landwhale: On Turning Insults Into Nicknames, Why Body Image Is Hard, and How Diets Can Kiss My Ass by Jes Baker

When I first picked up what became my copy of Landwhale, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. To my own shame, I did not know very much about the body positivity movement, and I’d never even heard of Jes Baker. All the same, I’ve made a commitment to myself to read broadly and engage with my activism intersectionally, and so I committed myself to reading this book. I am happy to say that doing so was one of the best decisions I have made in a while, because Landwhale is not only informative, but also a general delight.

I couldn’t possibly fit everything I loved about this book into one review,[1] though the thing that sticks out to me most as I write this is how Baker embraces the nuance that comes with one’s relationship to their body. By this I mean not only that bodies come in diverse shapes and sizes, but also the belief that one can be confident in themself and yet still have internal doubts and insecurities. This memoir means so much to me, not only because it discusses bodies in such a liberating way, but also because it incorporates meaningful commentary regarding mental health that acknowledges that fatness can be a symptom of mental or physical illness, but does not accuse fatness itself of being a mental illness.

I haven’t been skinny since elementary school, and before reading this book I never realized how much I have subscribed to diet culture since the weight gain that puberty and antidepressants bestowed upon me as a teenager. Reading through Landwhale gave me a profound relief in that it made me feel as though I had permission to both love and hate my body. That it was OK to eat what I wanted because my life is mine, and I can live it by my own rules.

On Sunday I wore a bikini for the first time since I was ten, and as I lounged in my beach chair with this book resting on my belly rolls I read the list of diets that comprise chapter thirteen and thought to myself of all the different diets that I have put my body through in the name of losing weight, and how zero of them have worked in the long term. Right now, the only diet I am subscribing to is the one where I avoid the things that I am allergic to, and I am OK with that.

The tone of Landwhale is conversational, and radiates that perfect medium of sincerity and humor. Baker has a talent for discussing difficult topics with sincerity and without airs. She emphasizes her own insecurities about sharing her life and her experiences, but does not let that stop her from sharing them. Baker pulls no punches when it comes to revealing her vulnerability and pulls back the curtain to show that even idols have their moments of doubt.   The struggles depicted in this book are at times hard to read because of the depth of their truth, but that is exactly why they have a place and are necessary to consider in our conversations and consequent actions.

I do not consider myself an expert in body positivity by any means, and I fully realize that I have my own privilege in that while I am rather pudgy I do have privilege in many things because of my smaller size in comparison to many others. That said, I do feel that I am much better informed, especially as I consider all of the ways that I have contributed to many of the sizist issues that all people are negatively influenced by and that actively hurt fat people, threatening their safety and/or comfort. I’ve stayed silent too many times, and I refuse to do so any longer. The idea that fat people are allowed to exist and be happy with themselves as they are should not be such a radical one, and yet it seems to remain so.

In the past, I’ve absolutely participated in diets, and I’ve even posted about weight loss with selfies on Instagram and Facebook. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with someone changing around their diet and exercise habits for their own personal comfort or goals, but the problem isn’t necessarily with the people who buy in to diet culture themselves. The systemic and insidious nature of said culture is what oppresses people. I am skeptical of diets because, as I have learned from this book and from reflecting upon my own experience, diets can be incredibly harmful to people’s mental and even at times physical health. I know that they can help, but they can also hurt.

The ideal goal for me is that people feel comfortable and healthy within their own realm of being, regardless of size, and that is not what we as a society experience when we participate in diet culture. Our relationship with food and our bodies is treated as inherently suspicious, pitted against one another, and their interaction is seen as a source of shame rather than one of sustenance.

Entire books have been written about these subjects. I recommend that you read this one. Even if you may disagree with the message as you understand it, read Landwhale anyway, and to do so with an open mind.

Happy reading!
Cheers,
Talia

[1] My favorite aspect of the book is hands down the footnotes. Many people have varied opinions regarding footnotes, but I promise that even if you are not usually a fan, they are expertly used in this text. Equal parts informative and humorous, the footnotes are balanced in their placement. At times they elaborate, at times they make a joke that doesn’t fit in the main body of the text, but in every instance they are absolutely relevant to the conversation Baker is engaging in with the reader.

Book Review: My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

THIS is the book review that I’ve been excited to write for weeks. Not just because the author is one of my favorite professors (hi Steve!) but also because My Ex-Life is a genuinely fantastic book. I stumbled across it while waiting for my fiancée at one of our favorite book shops and just from reading the first few paragraphs I was instantly hooked. The primary setting of My Ex-Life is summertime in the town of Beauport, Massachusetts, a fictional locale that has all the characteristics of the North Shore, including and especially the weather.

Filled cover to cover with humor, biting wit, and compassion, My Ex-Life generously but realistically tells the story of David Hedges, a man made uncomfortable by his life falling apart, and his unexpected reconnection to his ex-wife, Julie Fiske, who is in the middle of her divorce from her second husband and the college search for her daughter, Mandy. As it just so happens, the one area of David’s life that hasn’t crumbled (his younger lover has left him and his long-term lease is cancelled by his landlady because said lover and his new beau plan to buy the house) is his profession  helping high school students apply and receive admission to the school of their (parents’) dreams.

David somewhat-successfully escapes his own troubles by trading San Francisco for Beauport and his real estate problems with Julie’s. Her second husband, Henry, is determined to sell the house entirely instead of letting Julie buy him out, and she is having trouble scraping together the funds. As someone who is only just renting her own apartment for the first time, I greatly enjoyed this peek into the world of real estate, though I have no idea as to how accurate it may be. (See previous note about renting my first apartment as of July first). A constant point of fascination for me was the frequent reference to Airbnb, which I have never used, but feel that I know a great deal more about now that I have read this book.

The text exudes life experience, in that every emotion put in to the page  be it sarcasm or sincerity  is one that can be palpably felt, fully formed, as if the character was someone that we could meet on the street, or run in to at a bar. Even the secondary characters had the air of someone who could have a whole book written about them that would be just as riveting.

I wouldn’t say that I particularly identify with any of the characters, but I can empathize with Julie’s desperation at not wanting to lose her house, and appreciate how her marijuana habit plays in to her relationships in ways that at times seem helpful, but in the end are harmful. Similarly, I am not a gay man in my 50s, but David is easily the most empathetic character in the novel as he does his best to take care of everyone and help them to best succeed. For better or for worse, he is a man moved by his heart and prepared to make sacrifices for those that he cares about.

All that said, my favorite character is Mandy, a seventeen year old girl who is being pulled in to so many different directions that she falls prey to making bad decisions because at the very least they are hers to make.

My Ex-Life is a highly recommended read, and I urge y’all to get yourselves a copy.

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

I don’t have a book review, but I do have Harry Potter memes

Food poisoning is no joke, and combined with other ailments I have gotten behind on both my work and my study schedules. As a reward for patience, both Tuesday and Friday will be dedicated to book reviews next week. In the meantime, please enjoy this compilation of Harry Potter images, cartoons, and screenshots that I’ve found on the internet. It’s full of spoilers, so you have officially been warned.

Oh and by the way HAPPY FRIDAY!

Cheers,

Talia

Terrific and Troublesome Travels

As a graduation present, my gramma took me on a two day cruise to the Bahamas, and it was amazing.

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Selfie of me and my gramma near one of the pools at the Grand Lucayan resort Saturday morning

We left Friday morning, which meant I got to spend Thursday night with my mum since she was driving us to the airport, and therefore I also got to spend time with Sasha, who is one of the most adorable creatures on this plane of existence.

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As I told my Instagram followers, we know that we’re cute, but feel free to tell us again

Speaking of planes, our flight to West Palm beach was delayed, but we were not disheartened because it was only by half an hour, and for me that was a whole half hour to listen to more of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, which I am determined to be caught up on before the start of next semester. After my airport adventures of last summer, I decided that airports are a place of inherent chaos and it is best to roll with it or you’ll get consumed. (*Spoiler alert* this was not the only delayed plane of this trip!)

Getting on to the boat was relatively smooth sailing (haha, get it? Smooth sailing, I should take up comedy, I really should) and our cabin was small and cozy, and I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy organizing my book pile (I only brought five which is so unlike me) BUT I can guarantee that it was a nice place. We weren’t able to get in to our cabin right away though, we had to wait before they let us all in, plus it was lunch time and we were hungry.

This was the part I had been dreading. Food. As a person with food allergies, I can attest to the fact that it sucks not being able to control what I eat, and I’ll readily admit that I loath buffets for the nightmarish amounts of cross-contamination they are capable of. That said, the staff were all super accommodating of my allergies, and I made a good friend out of the head waiter, who helped me plan out all of my meals on the ship.

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My dinner from Saturday night. Simple, but delicious.

Friday night was nice (wine tasting, a musical show, and then a smaller but still excellent Donna Summers tribute in one of the lounges) but Saturday morning was when I was able to visit the above mentioned resort and spend time at the amazing beach. I have a few pictures, but they were mostly all taken after I had my hours in the sun because I was adamant that I would enjoy the beach as it should be enjoyed – that is to say I swam in the ocean and read my books in the sand without my phone. I love my phone, but sometimes we need some space.

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None of the above is a false statement, but I did in fact take some selfies once I was done swimming

As it got to the later afternoon we left the resort to walk around the marketplace for a little while, and stopped to have lunch in a restaurant where I faced a mirror and thus had to constantly stop myself from getting in to a staring contest with my own reflection. (A battle I will always both win and lose)

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I also made friends with some of the copious amounts of newts in the marketplace. This one was pretty much the only one who stayed still enough and let me get close enough for a proper picture. I call him Bartholomew.

After catching the last bus back to our ship, we perused even more gift shop areas near and on the ship before investigating the rumor of a library (it was tiny, but bilingual!) heading to dinner, where I had the above-pictured chicken/rice/green bean combo. I also had sweet potato fries but they were so yummy I ate them all before I thought to take a picture.

After dinner we looked around more shops (the place was filled with them, around every corner they were, I swear) before gramma headed to bed and I went up to one of the upper decks and to the spa. I’d never had a facial before, but they were offering a discount, so I decided to try it. The entire process was incredibly relaxing, and when it was all over and I went back to my cabin I fell asleep quite peacefully.

Sunday morning when we got up for breakfast I got to sit on the side facing the windows and I watched the sun rise over the sea. I don’t have a picture because by the time I stopped staring at it the sun had risen and before I knew it we were pulled in to the port of West Palm Beach again.

Now, here is where it gets to the part of the post that explains why the word “Troublesome” is in the title of this post, and why I spoiled you earlier about having more than just one delayed plane. We were considering the idea of exploring West Palm Beach a bit before we went to the airport — our flight was at four and we got off the boat at eleven — however, I got this text message:

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Naturally, having a flight at four, we were confused and went straight to the airport. The person who we talked to confirmed that it was a small mistake, and that our flight was still scheduled to leave on time. We had four and a half hours at this point, so we decided to stay at the airport and have a long lunch at one of their restaurants. And then I got these messages:

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All of these came at the same time, which did not help my confusion

Long story short, because this post is already pretty long, there were thunderstorms where we were and thunderstorms where we were going, so we left for home about half an hour after we should have already been there. When I finally got home at quarter to midnight I wanted to go straight to my bed and pass out, but I was incredibly hungry, so I decided to eat a quick dinner first since the hummus and pretzels I had on the plane wasn’t cutting it. Unfortunately this lead to me hitting my third wind and didn’t properly crash until quarter past two, which made waking up at seven for work particularly unpleasant.

Overall, while the return was less than ideal, I greatly enjoyed my weekend, and am feeling very thankful to my gramma, with whom I had a lovely time. ❤️

Cheers,

Talia

P.S. My toaster was recovered from my mum’s house, and more importantly so was my WAFFLE IRON! Keep watch on my Instagram in the next few weeks. 🍽️

Editorial note: I got food poisoning 😔 still had a good time though!

On Writing About Harry Potter

It is with regret that I tell you all that I do not have a book review for this week. The book that I was so excited to write about is lost in the chaos that is my half-unpacked bedroom and I didn’t have time to finish it by my Thursday night deadline, a combination of physical therapy, work, and travel getting in my way. In lieu of a proper book review, I would like to discuss my favorite book series, Harry Potter.

Writing about Harry Potter is difficult these days. Things were much more straightforward when we only had the seven books, but with the advent of Pottermore, what is and isn’t canon has become more and more of a question. In the beginning, I tried to keep up, but recently I have been more of an advocate for returning to the original seven texts whenever I am in any sort of doubt.

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I’m not sure that I would pay them to stop, but I do think that the situation has gotten slightly out of hand.

When I write about Harry Potter, I try to stick to the main text as my base of evidence, though I will admit to a certain amount of cherry-picking when it comes to the extended Harry Potter universe. The fact of the matter is that I had to come up with a system, because I do tend to spend a great deal of my time thinking and writing about Harry Potter.

One of my primary missions while I was in college (other than simply graduating) was to make sure that every semester I made a significant Harry Potter reference in at least one of my graded assignments every semester. I am pleased to say that I succeeded, and my final Harry Potter essay was worth 60% of my grade in the last class I needed to complete my major. I’m quite proud of this paper, which I worked on with no small amount of dedication (as anyone who had an essay worth 60% of their grade would) which is why I posted it on this site in the first place. The paper is concerned with the representation of fate and free will and agency as a concept in the Harry Potter universe, and is very much tailored to the religious philosophy that predated modernity, which was the primary focus of that class. If you would like to read the entire essay you can do so here, though I recommend setting some time aside to do so, since it is on the longer side.

While I wrote many papers about Harry Potter during my undergraduate career at Brandeis, the only other one that I felt was worth posting is an essay that I wrote for my Introduction to Global Literature course, which I took spring of my sophomore year. The essay compares how morality is conveyed via fantastic literature versus how it is conveyed in realistic literature, contrasting the Harry Potter series with Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. If you would like to read that essay you can find it here, and I do promise that it is shorter than the other one, having a different length requirement and being worth a much smaller portion of the grade – 20% I believe, but I’m too lazy to track down my old syllabus.

I’m considering digging up some of my older Harry Potter essays that I wrote back in middle/ early high school, when I felt the pain that many teenagers feel of the world having turned its back on me, which is when I turned to the Harry Potter series. Depending on how much I agree or disagree with the thoughts of my former self – not to mention my former self’s attention to grammar – I might end up posting them, or at least my revised commentary on them.

In any case, don’t expect this to be the last discussion of Harry Potter on this blog, and tune in next week for mystery topic on Tuesday and a guaranteed book review on Friday.

Cheers,

Talia

A General Update

They say that time flies, but I didn’t quite believe it until I woke up this morning and realized that we’re already halfway through July. So much has happened in my life in the past few months that I feel as though I’ve got whiplash. So many good and bad things have happened since I graduated college a little over two months ago.

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Our engagement rings!

I can confidently say that the happiest news is that my girlfriend is no longer my girlfriend because she is now my fiancée. 😊 That said, it is a bittersweet happiness, since it comes on the heels of the death of my aunt Malika, who I continue to love even though she is no longer with us.

Meanwhile, I am still in the process of unpacking from my big move, and my toaster continues to be evasive, but I will find it eventually. 🕵🏾‍♀️ I suspect that it and the waffle iron are conspiring to stay hidden together.

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time working. Especially since due to a series of events I’m not going to talk about on the internet my hours for my internship have increased. So I am spending more time at the office than I was earlier in the summer.

As the school year inches closer and closer I am both nervous and excited. The excitement comes from my usual source of anticipation when it comes to the fall, the start of a new semester. The nervousness comes from the fact that a significant portion of the people that made Brandeis home for the past few years will be gone, as only a handful of my fellows from the undergraduate class of 2018 are staying for graduate studies at the university. I’m not overly worried about the rigor of classes, since I have been taking graduate level courses since my freshman year and specifically took some as a graduate student my senior year, but I will miss my friends. Those of you who subscribe to this website can expect to see some of the contents of what I am studying as I full intend to discuss what projects I am working on through this website.

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My library before I organized it aka proof that I have plenty of books to write about 😎

For those of you looking for more book reviews, don’t fret! I’m still reading and writing about it afterwards, and I’m quite excited to write my review for Friday as I quite like this book! No spoilers about which one it is though.

In any case, I’m about to catch a train so I must bid you adieu!

Cheers,

Talia

Book Review: Trans Like Me by CN Lester

I usually try to start off these reviews by relating to the text in question, but the fact of the matter is that as a cis person I can never fully understand the experience of being trans, just as a white person could never fully understand my experience of being mixed. Marginalized identities are not interchangeable. All that said, Trans Like Me by CN Lester has definitely broadened my mind to how intrinsically intersectional the movements of different marginalized groups are, or rather, how intersectional they need to be.

Part memoir, part educational nonfiction, Trans Like Me is a wealth of information, history, and recognition for those who have shaped our perceptions of gender and continue to do so. A particularly poignant issue tackled within this text is how trans identities are nothing new, only the ways that we have adapted language to describe them. Furthermore, when describing those who came before us, it is best to exercise restraint in using modern terminology, particularly when ascribing an identity to someone who no longer has a voice with which to claim that identity for themself.

In several distinct places within the book, Lester does their best to reconstruct what we can cannot know about the past, voices lost to us through violent silencing and through destruction of our history. Yet, as much as they focus on the past, Lester uses it to construct the context of our present and how our current time and place is at a tipping point.

The issue with tipping points is that things can go in either direction. The final chapter of Trans Like Me is titled Futures and contains a thoughtful analysis of not just where society is and has been, but also where we are going. Other chapters focus on past and present characterizations of trans folk, and deconstruct how media representation can be beneficial, harmful, or a combination of both.

Throughout the text, Lester examines the responsibility that those with influence have to lift up others, how trans folk have been excluded from movements that they helped start, the cost of intersectionality, as well as how despite the fact that many might think that feminism and trans advocacy are diametrically opposed, they are actually inherently compatible. Lester also debunks many myths surrounding trans folk, and informs on their truths, such as how puberty blockers for trans kids merely delay puberty, and do not permanently prohibit it. Lester also dismantles the idea that all trans folk are straight and furthermore the portrayal of all trans folk as being the same, especially in regard to the trans folk who are non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, or otherwise fall outside of the binary gender system that is socially reinforced.

As someone who is well versed in much of the language used in this book, I did not need, but nevertheless appreciated the care that Lester took to make their book more accessible to those who might not have much experience with gender studies. Having a open, honest, and respectful discussion is impossible without the language to do so, but many people who want to broaden their perspective may feel shut out if they don’t first get a chance to learn that language.

I consider Trans Like Me to be another one of those books that should be mandatory reading for anyone and everyone, and I highly encourage y’all to get your hands on a copy.

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

Airport Adventures

A little over a year ago I was on a week-long vacation in Costa Rica, and while I got there just fine, and had an amazing vacation, coming home was another story. On a related note (I promise) as many of you know, I just moved in to a new apartment and while unpacking I found quite a few of my old journals, including the one I took with me to Costa Rica. Lo and behold, in all of its color-coded glory, I found my original account of how my thirteen hour stay in the San José airport went down. I couldn’t possibly keep it to myself:


My flight has been delayed. By 5 hours and 58 minutes. I’m pretty much guaranteed to miss my connecting flight, unless that flight also gets delayed. This line doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter, though relatively speaking I am pretty high up in the line. Maybe I’ll try and read or something.  
In a stunning turn of events, my flight delay has led to missing my connecting flight, and I am now spending the night in Panama. The airline is putting me up in a hotel, and hopefully I will have a little bit of time in the afternoon to see the city. It’s not something I was planning on, but getting delayed going home is not nearly as bad as getting delayed on the way to vacation. It’s more of an extension on it actually, and seeing as I am me, I even have the spare clean clothes and allergy medicine that I won’t have to go without given the extra night here. I am sad to be missing another day with the doggies, but on the other hand they will still be there when I get home & this way I get to see a little bit of Panama! 
This has been a time, let me tell you. The delayed flight was delayed again, and now we aren’t leaving until 3:19, and I got here at 4:30am. Which is just shy of 11 hours in this airport. I won’t actually get to see Panama other than my hotel room. I mean, it’s another stamp on my passport, but I’m still iffy about the whole thing. Meanwhile, I desperately want to clip my fingernails because they are getting annoyingly long.  
On the plus side, free food via these vouchers that the airline keeps handing out have kept me from going hungry, so there is that. I admit that I am still annoyed about my seat change. I went from window seat in row 8 to aisle seat in row 33, which means it’ll take forever to get off the plane, and if the people next to me don’t want to wait it out getting off the plane then I’ll have to get up anyway. If it is solely my choice though I don’t intend to get up fast and dart out; I have spent the whole day waiting, and I will be taking my sweet time on this, let me tell you. I hope they have hot water at my hotel, I really want to take a shower.  
Okay, it’s 2:19, which means boarding is soon – dare I to dream? Who knows? How will the tides turn? I did have a nice little power nap earlier, and I bought some little gifts from my cousins. There was a delightfully soft sloth toy, but there’s no way I would get it for the price that they were asking, no matter how plush. 
The plot thickens. The flight is purportedly on time, but it is 3:05 & we have not boarded, and many people are clustered around the personnel at the desk for this terminal. My Spanish is not good enough to discern the exact topic, but the crowd seems uneasy. Some disappointed, some angry, and some resigned to their fate. Me? I’m just going with the flow. As long as I’m home by Friday I am good. I’m debating going to the bathroom again, because I’ve stayed so hydrated that it is a necessity. That said, the flight is scheduled to leave in 10 minutes. Even more people are starting to get angry, but I don’t really see the point in that. I wish my phone was charged, but it’s not, so in the meantime I’m just gonna stand back and let all the other people do their thing. I’ll find a place to sleep at some point, and if not these benches are comfy.  
So my new flight is cancelled, and I’m spending another night in Costa Rica. The more you know.  
“I just want to go home…” 
“I want to sleep in my own bed.” 
“I miss my dog!” 
“I miss my mom…” 
“I even miss my neighbors…”
                                        —– Overheard at the airport 
I’m really hoping that they can un-check my bag, because that is where all of my clean underwear is. At least I put my toothbrush and toothpaste in my carry-on, so I’ll have clean teeth. Thank Godric for the little things. The hoard surrounding the people at the terminal is getting thinner, so I’ll let my phone charge for a little longer and then brave the crowds. It’s not the biggest deal that I’m not going to Panama extra, because that was never part of my original plan. And they cancelled these flights because of mechanical issues. Personally, I’d rather be stuck in a foreign country for a couple days than die in a fiery crash because of a lacking in proper safety procedure.  
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The plot thickens (again). I have been scheduled for a 5:40 flight. Will I reach Panama? Who knows? I think this one is actually boarding though. Huzzah! 
It’s official. I. Am. On. The. Plane. Oh happy day! I was in that airport for thirteen hours. For a 57 minute flight. At this point I just want food and a bed. But honestly I never thought I would be this happy to be on an airplane. And yet I am. What a day. What a day. I know that it is such a first world problem to have, which is why I am trying to stay chill about it, and I’m glad that I did. There were a bunch of people shouting and pitching absolute fits, and they all stood there for 20+ minutes being angry. I knew it wasn’t any use, so I went off to the side, charged my phone, and when everyone was done yelling I walked up and just by being nice I got a seat on this new plane in five minutes. 
Uh-oh. The customs forms are completely in Spanish, and they have a ton of spots I don’t understand/don’t know how to answer. I hope someone at the airport is nice enough to help me. [There was, he gave me a form in English and helped me fill it out]. 
Omg, this hotel is so brilliant I can barely handle. I’ve got this huge, soft bed and lush pillows and I took a shower and the towels are so fluffy! And I ordered room service! And there’s a giant TV that I can’t figure out how to work, but it’s shiny. And there is a mini bar that’s locked up, but it’s there! And the lights! There’s fairy lights in the shelves and reading book lights attached to the headboard and bedside lamps and there is stationary and three telephones, including one next to the toilet?? Ad there’s a comfy chair and light-dampening curtains and the shower pressure is amazing and everything is just so nice and clean and comfy. I investigated this hotel and this room is something like $200 a night list price. This is awesome. I’m going to just lie in bed and enjoy this until I fall asleep.  

panama hotel


Thus concludes the saga of my airport adventures. I’m headed to the Bahamas a week from Friday, so here’s to hoping that the airlines are a bit more cooperative this time, and that if they aren’t, that all my troubles come on the return trip.

Cheers,

Talia

 

 

Note regarding featured image: I could not find any pictures of the airport, so I substituted a picture of the Arenal volcano near our rain forest tour.

Book Review: What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison by Camille T. Dungy

Lady, my one regret / is that we don’t have appetite enough / to make you break every damned plate inside this room.” As a person of color, I am undeniably drawn to works that discuss race in a way that does not skim over the harsh realities that we face every day. As someone who appreciates a little dark humor, I also appreciate a joke thrown in the face of a racist white person and I like imagining the sour looks on their faces. “The Preachers Eat Out” is the first poem I ever read by Camille Dungy, and it exemplifies what I like most about her style. Dungy manages to tie in racial themes, and tell stories not her own while still giving us true impressions of the people within the tales. Almost none of the people that she paints pictures of within her poems have names outside of the notes at the top of the poem, and she still gives us rich impressions of the characters within them.

We learn so much about the characters within “The Preachers Eat Out” just within the 14 lines. We know that the waitress who is serving them is not doing it because she isn’t racist – she is; she just wants the tips because she has children at home, presumably is a single mother, and needed tips in order to support them. She also breaks the plates, whether of her own volition or the restaurant’s, meaning that she works at a place that can afford to break plates and is therefore slightly upscale, meaning that the preachers have money enough to pay for a nice restaurant. She does the breaking behind the building however, meaning that she doesn’t want them to know she is breaking the plates, and is making an effort to be civil. The preacher also calls her ‘lady,’ which could be seen as either a measure of respect or disrespect, depending on tone, and makes it clear that he knows about her racist actions despite her trying to hide them

Dungy’s ability to call out racist actions in a subtle and artistic manner is a skill that I greatly admire. Someone who is not as familiar with the tensions that black folks face in the United States, or not as comfortable with seeking out material explicitly written about the struggles that we face, will find a book of poems such as Dungy’s much more approachable. Through Dungy’s poems, the statistics become not just statistics, but people. Though they are unnamed, the connections that Dungy sparks allow the reader to experience much more. One can read in a history book about the segregation of buses, but when reading Dungy’s “Greyhound to Baton Rouge” there is a much stronger feeling as the listener hears “Arm around his wife, the new father stood, / relieved to see his baby still sleeping. / Small piece.” Hearing the story of this small family, the tired mother, and the bus that was completely stopped because the driver refused to go on with a white woman holding a black child, brings things into focus for someone who might not have previously have understood how things were for the non-whites in America, and the racist attitudes that we face.

These two poems are some of the ones that stuck out to me the most of Dungy’s work, as they exemplify her talent for weaving a story into a lesson, and they are the ones that I enjoyed the most and feel I got the most out of. They taught me that it is possible to be both concise and yet rich in detail and that you can give everything and nothing away about the speakers and other participants in the action of the poem.

Another poem of Dungy’s that stuck out to me was “Requiem.” The idea of someone accepting their death, and being in love with their own crooked and broken bones; the horror of those surrounding them, witness to their untimely demise – it has a sort of macabre allure. I can identify with the speaker of the poem because even though I do not desire my own death, the idea of that moment – that teetering on the edge where one looks at everything around them in that final moment and finds it beautiful – is fascinating. I think that everyone is a little bit in love with death, and when Dungy’s line reads: “Will you believe me / when I tell you I had never been so in love / with anyone as I was, then, with everyone I saw?” I can’t help but think that, yes, I can believe that. As someone who has recently experienced the loss of someone who I know was suffering, I agree with the adage that death is much better for the one dying than for the ones left behind.

When the speaker in “Requiem” starts to talk about the woman who has witnessed her death, I can’t help but think about how well Dungy has captured this intrinsic human reaction. This other woman has no connection to the speaker, yet feels all of this grief, feels the pain that is what comes with the connection that humans have when life suddenly stops. Dungy shows us how as humans we react to death, how we see it, and how, while we cannot imagine life without it, we do not expect it. In the first stanza the speaker says: “I could have lived forever / under that sky.” And yet, when the speaker’s life does end, they accept that ending with love.

It is an admirable lesson that Dungy is giving us about how death is not something that one should fear, but something that happens when the time should come, and yet again we have her artistry shining through as she does it in such a subtle way, enchanting us with words.

I learned a lot about how to write from Dungy, as she writes many poems from a third person point of view and masterfully presents the characters that appear in those poems without going into arduous detail. It was not until I read several poems by Dungy written with such provoking figures that I even realized how many of my own poems were written in the first person. Overall, the lessons that Dungy teaches throughout the book are ones that I think anyone and everyone would benefit from, and I highly encourage people to read her works.

 

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia