Back in the Saddle

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Every time I see someone from my "old life," the one that existed back in NYC, I get asked if I ever miss it. The truth is, I do miss New York sometimes, but it's really just a few special little things that I grew to love or that took on meaning for me. For instance, I'm convinced there are few things better in life than walking home through Central Park on the first warm day of spring. The driver who picked me up at Charleston's airport last weekend and I waxed poetic about how amazing New York is around Christmas and the holidays. When it comes down to it, though, what I miss about living in New York falls into two categories: my friends and the routine I had there.

You learn very quickly to make apartment decisions based on what's immediately around you in your neighborhood. It is so nice to be able to walk to a Starbucks, a post office, a gym, a CVS. I really lucked out my last three years in the city. I lived on the Upper East Side around Third Avenue, up in the 90s. Yeah, we had Second Avenue subway construction happening and the 4/5/6 trains constantly broke down, but I had everything I needed nearby. After I started writing full time, this was key--I had plenty of excuses to leave the apartment, even in the dead of winter. 

One of the biggest routines I fell into was going to the gym for spin classes. Real talk: I am NOT athletic. I have never been athletic. The one year I tried to play JV basketball in high school, I threw out my back and spent six months with a persistent chest cold that always felt like it was on the edge of becoming pneumonia. During that WONDERFUL time in my young adult life, I found out that I had exercise-induced asthma, and that was why my chest always got so mucus-y and tight when I exercised, which made it almost impossible to regulate breathing... which made it impossible to build real stamina... which made me hate most forms of exercising. Weeee.

But writing is such a sedentary job, even with daily walks built in. I'd had a gym membership nearby that I used pretty half-heartedly, on and off. Finally, after realizing I was winded just climbing up three flights of stairs to my apartment (I refused to live above the third floor, which is a true case of recognizing and accepting your own laziness), I decided to try out a bunch of different classes my gym offered.

The only one that didn't immediately scare me off was spin. The reason it didn't immediately scare me off was because I was going at 9 AM, when, shall we say, the more elderly residents of my neighborhood would come. For that reason, I ended up in classes that didn't make me feel like I was spinning for my life in the Thunderdome, being blasted by rainbow lights from every direction. The instructors focused on form and the physiology involved with spinning, so I had time to build my endurance. Eventually, I was going between three and four times a week, and was even that person who had her favorite instructors and would follow them around the various New York Sports Clubs nearby. 

When I moved out of NYC, I definitely fell off the wagon in terms of spin. I really didn't enjoy driving around Alexandria and there wasn't a spin studio or gym nearby to walk to. Then I got Tennyson, and he really struggled with being left alone as a puppy... and, well, I never got back on. After being chased out of Alexandria by spiders (don't ask), I landed back in Arizona.

I tried a number of different studios that were closely modeled on Soul Cycle, but... wow, I do not like that style of spinning. Mad respect to everyone who loves it. My experience is that I feel dizzy if I'm spinning in a dark room and the music is always just a little too loud to hear the instructors' cues. I also still have some back issues, so doing a lot of the up-and-down out of the saddle and the arm work really made things worse. My old spin classes conditioned me to like riding in a bright room that was closer to cycling outside on a nice day than an awesome party. 

I gave up on it for a while, thinking I would try something else. But I really, really loved spin. After that initial hurdle of about two weeks of torment, I had understood why everyone else loved spin, too.

So, now that I'm in a new house and have a little bit more room for it, I decided to by an at-home bike (a Peloton, which probably costs more than my soul would fetch in a market down in hell, I can't lie). It's definitely an investment, but one of the things I'd been struggling with lately is trying to fit the exercise into a truly tough deadline schedule. I now have zero excuses because it is literally RIGHT THERE (I have to walk by it to get to my bed) and the classes that are offered through its screen (roughly the size of my Mac desktop??? Jesus, Peloton.)/subscription program range between 20-60 minutes, which is nice because sometimes I only have 20 minutes to spare.

It was delivered on Monday, and I basically gave it a hero's welcome. All that was missing was the shower of rose petals over its gorgeous form. I took my first class on Tuesday--one of the pre-recorded ones vs the livestreaming ones because I'm not ready to ride with the other People of Peloton, because omg the People of Peloton. I scrolled through the list of on-demand rides, wondering inwardly if the saddle had always been this hard, and decided that I would test my current endurance with an Advanced Beginner ride, because oh ho ho, I am no Beginner-Beginner. I once rode like the wind, with the fleetest of feet.

Reader, I just about died. If I had been in an actual class, and not in the privacy of my own home, I think someone would have called 9-1-1. Yes, I was huffing and puffing and sweating THAT HARD. Thankfully, only Tennyson was there to judge me silently from his comfortable bed. By the end of thirty minutes (THIRTY! MINUTES!) I barely had the energy left in me to clip out. It was Not. Good.

There's this thing that people who don't ride--bikes, stationary bikes, actual animals--might not know about, which is saddle soreness. Which is exactly what it sounds like. Here's another thing you might not know: that feeling does go away. Your body gets used to it and you no longer feel it days after a ride. I don't totally understand it, because #science, but I've been reminding myself of this fact all week, while I work at my job in which I spend upwards of six hours sitting. 

Today, I took another thirty minute Advanced Beginner class. It was not much better. I did not expect it to be.

Aside from being incredibly humbling about how little physical strength I have in my body these days, my recent return to cycling has reminded me quite of bit of what it feels like to jump back into a writing project after being away for a while. Or, you know, just jumping back into the habit of writing. It always feels so, so painful and awkward when you first start again--there's that voice that's constantly there, telling you that you don't remember how to do this and that it is HARD HARD HARD. 

But really, with cycling and with writing, it's all about building muscle. It's about getting through that initial period of painful adjustment and adapting your body and brain to the level of focus and work these tasks demand. I spent the first seven chapters of my current YA bemoaning how hard it felt to be writing YA after such a long break with Prosper, and how slooooooooowly the words were coming. Now I'm twenty chapters in, and flying. In the end, both with spinning and writing, it all comes down to perseverance. So many people quit before they ever truly begin, discouraged by how hard to feels to start.

Don't quit. Take it easy. Take it slow. Readjust at your own pace.

Just.

Don't.

Quit. 

 

 

 

 

TDM Special Editions Virtual Signing!

Before I jump back into my regular blogging schedule, I wanted to let you know about another opportunity to pre-order the TDM special editions. Good Choice Reading is graciously hosting the virtual signing again! I won't be touring for the release of these editions (in fact, you probably won't see me out and about until next fall), so this is your chance to get them signed and personalized. 👍🏻

As a reminder, TDM has a prequel short story centered on Liam and Cole, NF has a prequel story about how Vida came to be with the Children's League, ITA has a story centered on Clancy, and TtD has very special TO BE REVEALED bonus content. I'm DYING to share what it is, because I think you guys will be suuuuper into it. At least I hope you'll be!

These paperbacks will be on sale January 2, 2018 in the United States. I've had a few people ask about translated editions of the short stories, and I wish I had more information for you. They've been offered to the international publishers, and it's up to them about how they want to use them. I'll keep you updated! In the meantime, if you're desperate to get your hands on them and you're outside of the US, Good Choice Reading ships internationally. 

 

 

Barcelona Adventures, part 1

Hi all! First thing: if you're in Arizona, please come see me, Erin Bowman, and Rae Carson at the Phoenix Changing Hands location tonight (November 8th) at 7 PM! We're celebrating Erin's new book, RETRIBUTION RAILS, and would love to see you!

I, of course, have to start with an apology... My plans to dive right back into blogging were rudely interrupted by vacation. ;) I'm on a really tough deadline (this manuscript is due at the start of December, so I only have about two and a half months to write the first draft), so the last few days before we jetted off were spent packing and trying to hit the end of act one. One thing I really struggle with is the guilt associated with not working when I know I could be--hence why I put off posting for almost a full week after returning home. I feel a little more comfortable with where I am in the story now, and I have NaNoWriMo to keep me motivated, so I thought I'd cheat on the manuscript and tell you a little bit about my recent Barcelona adventure. I'm going to split this post in two, both because I know it's going to be a long one and because I have to go pick Erin up from the airport in a bit...

The first thing I have to tell you is that, yes, I accidentally timed this adventure with their big push for independence. My mom and I booked this trip back in April with the specific intent of traveling in celebration of her birthday, so it was a total coincidence. We debated back and forth over whether or not to cancel, but we got plenty of reassurances from people in Barcelona that the situation wasn't nearly as dangerous or dramatic as the news was making it out to be. It was going to be a judgment call after we read the situation there. And that situation ultimately was incredibly peaceful. Most people went around living their lives, business as usual. That said, we did see increased police presence as the week went on, and we were just taking off to fly back home when they declared independence. 

I was talking to Agent M about it when I got home, and I thought she made a good point. You could throw a dart at a map of the world and it would likely land on a place where there's civil unrest. That seems to be 2017's speciality--it has been eleven months of this shithead of a year stirring endless pots of trouble. And, actually, this trip really reaffirmed for me how important travel is, if its within your means. I tried to read up on the situation in Catalonia before we left, but I gained a much deeper understanding of the independence movement by being there and talking to Catalans. There were flags everywhere around the city (the triangle with the star on top of the stripes is the independence movement flag), but the desire for independence seemed even stronger out in the countryside, where whole villages banded together to declare their desire to be independent from the rest of Spain. 

 

DAY ONE

One thing I definitely underestimated was how long of a flight it is from Arizona over to Spain--I think my brain is still conditioned to think in terms of when I lived in NYC... In any case, we had a mega layover at JFK (again, cheap tickets) that ended up not being too bad in the end. My poor mom sat next to a screaming child--literally screaming--the whole AZ -> NY leg of the trip, and I still feel guilty about it since I picked the seats.

One of my favorite Mama B fun facts is that she refuses to sleep on long distance flights because she wants to maximize her movie watching time. (Meanwhile, I've somehow trained myself to fall asleep anywhere and within five minutes of sitting down on an airplane...???) She spent that seven hour flight very happily moving from one movie to the next and I passed the hell out after eating the airplane food version of ravioli they served with dinner.

The Barcelona airport is really beautiful and modern-looking. I'm not sure if it's just when we flew in, but we just sort of... walked through security and passport control? It was the easiest passport experience of my life. Then, after picking up our bags, we were off to our hotel. We stayed at  an adorable boutique hotel in the Gothic neighborhood of Barcelona (P.S. the best meals we had were all in the El Born neighborhood, just next door). Refusing to give into jet lag, we got a recommendation for lunch and then went to walk around. 

One important thing to know about me is that I was born without any sense of direction. The streets in the Gothic Quarter are amazing--they're so narrow most cars can't pass through them, and they wind around and through one another. Either I lived in medieval Barcelona in a past life, or it's actually much easier than the maps imply, because I somehow managed to figure them out pretty quickly. Speaking of maps, it took me forever to realize the reason I was struggling to navigate with them: the streets were MUCH shorter/smaller than I was estimating, so we were constantly blowing past our turns. 

Without really planning on it, we found the Barcelona Cathedral. I've visited a number of very beautiful churches in my travel, but WOW. There was something about this one that really resonated with my spirit--maybe the gorgeous way the light was filtering through all of the windows? The incredible artwork? The cathedral was constructed from the 13th-15th centuries and really reaffirmed how incredible human creativity and determination can be. 

After walking around a bit more, jet lag finally got the better of us and we scooted on back to the hotel for a nap, dinner, and then back to bed. Total party animals, right? ;) 

DAY TWO

The reason we called it quits early on night one was knowing that we had a day tour planned for a number of big sights. Usually I'm pretty good at planning a trip itinerary and getting around on public transportation, but Mom and I were total strangers to Barcelona and I ended up deciding we'd have a better time if we went on actual tours and really learned about the city and the surrounding areas. A few days before we left, I sort of panic-booked three day trip tours for us, including the one we were taking on day two.

We were on a mini bus--actually, it was like a mini mini bus--and had an early start, because it was a Sunday and we were heading up to Montserrat to see the monastery. Montserrat means something like "serrated mountain," and was named that because, you guessed it, it looks as if the top half of the mountain has been sawed off. The drive up is so winding that I felt like I was white-knuckling it a bit, but the amazing views more than made up for it. Our mini-mini bus deftly navigated around all of the brave cyclists who clearly love torture and the hikers who seem to love it even more. I can totally see why Montserrat is a popular weekend destination when the weather cools off. It's a gorgeous place for recreational sports. 

The monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat, enshrines the image of the Virgin of Montserrat, a black Madonna statue. (The Madonna and St. George share duties as patron saints of Catalonia.) The statue has some intriguing legends surrounding its discovery (or rediscovery) in the mountains.

Montserrat ended up being a surprise favorite of mine. It was an incredibly peaceful place. Aside from driving, you can also take a kind of train up--at one point the track looks so steep that it's basically vertical, but our tour guide assured us it was an optical illusion. Right next to the monastery is a school for the boys who sing in the famous boys' choir. We ducked our heads into the service that was being conducted during our visit but couldn't stay to hear the boys sing. Our tour guide described them as being the next best thing to hearing actual angels sing.

After leaving Montserrat, we returned to Barcelona to walk around La Sagrada Familia. Here is where I confess to being totally under-read on Gaudi and Sagrada Familia, beyond knowing that it's perpetually under construction (though they apparently have completion date in mind: 2026, the centenary of Gaudi's death) and that slow construction has been due to the fact it's funded solely on private donations. The famous facade that most people are familiar with is the side that depicts the Nativity, so it's overflowing with life and growth, the opposite side depicts the Passion, and is much starker and restrained in its design. The main entrance is a nod to the Glory. So the sun rises and strikes the Nativity facade first, then, at its highest point is over the Glory facade, and sets facing the Passion. 

We didn't end up trying to get tickets to tour inside--you have to leave a few things for your next visit, right? 

After that, we continued our Gaudi adventure by visiting Park Güell. Tip: you also need tickets to get into Park Güell now, and, according to our tour guide, it's for the best because it spaces visitors out in such a way that people aren't constantly on top of one another. Which, yes, is good because the park is probably a lot smaller than you think it is--it definitely was smaller than what I had imagined! 

The park was conceived as being a public space for a new neighborhood of expensive homes, but the full project was never finished--only two houses were ultimately built (though Gaudi lived in one of them--the pink house--for about twenty years). Being pretty unfamiliar with Gaudi (I know, for shame), his ideas and point of view really clicked for me at the park, and, actually, helped me pinpoint the overall character of Barcelona, which feels like such a warm, inviting mixture of French and Mediterranean cultures that has resulted in something uniquely its own. Gaudi's work is so organic and thoughtful about how it interplays with the natural environment around it (recycling pioneer!). There's a touch of whimsy that really lifts your heart when you see it. I loved the bright colors of the mosaics, too.

After that very full day, we headed back to the hotel to figure out dinner. My mom laughed her ass off showing me the photos she had taken of me falling asleep on the bus ride back (I told you--I can sleep anywhere!). Aaaaand I'll leave it there for now, because Erin's flight just landed! 

See some of you tonight at Changing Hands, hopefully! Remember--Phoenix location!

Revisiting Old Favorites

Lately, all I've wanted to do is go back and revisit old favorites. I have no idea how or why this started--actually, no, I take that back! I know exactly when: November 9, 2016, when I sat down in front of the TV and started rewatching The West Wing from the beginning, because I literally needed to delude myself into thinking that the world was still sane, and everything would be fine. And, really, what I've discovered is this: old favorites are pop culture comfort food, and I have basically not stopped snacking since last fall. 

It's not even just TV (though I'll get back to that in a second)--I've been in the worst reading funk, too. This is embarrassing to admit, but I've only been able to finish a few of the books I've started since January. I keep skipping between them, reading a few chapters of each at a time. I think it's partly because of a toxic combination of generalized stress and deadline angst (and therefore guilt about reading and not working on my own stuff). For whatever reason, I can't get hooked. 

So, in an attempt to try to keep my creative well filled with some kind of fiction, I've gone back to reading old favorites, exploring some manga I left behind when I graduated college, I've been listening to CDs I haven't touched since high school, and I've started taking on marathon TV projects.

Not to brag, but... I am a sloth QUEEN. My mom and I marathoned TV shows and movies before that was a Netflix phenomenon (and, you know, socially acceptable) during summer breaks when i was home from college. This came in the form of rented DVD sets or, if we were desperate and Hollywood Video didn't have a series or season (RIP Hollywood Video), actually going out and buying them from Best Buy (RIP Best Buy's formerly amazing DVD selection). I like to think of it as determination and drive to see a job done and done well... but I really just like sitting still for twelve hours sipping tea and eating a feast of pizza.

My latest veg-out project has been...

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ALIAS! (This disguise is ICONIC, right?)

Oh man, this show. I have so many random memories attached to it. My intense crush on Agent Vaughn, for one thing. But this was the show that convinced me I could potentially work for the CIA one day (as an analyst, because let's be real, my exercise-induced asthma and low tolerance for high stakes situations would take me out of the field). One of the reasons I ended up going to college on the east coast/in the DC region was because I asked my dad where CIA agents went to college and he gamely guessed Georgetown. In this same conversation he also told me I could never do drugs if I wanted to work for the CIA because they'd ask me about it in a lie detector test, and I still, to this day, have never done drugs. (His drug-free strategy was a long game. Props to you, Dad.)

I'll be the first to admit the show really went off the rails in the later seasons. It's actually a really good storytelling lesson: the deeper you get into the mythology no one really understands or cares about, the more confusing it becomes and the harder it is to connect to the characters (aka the reason most people are watching). The first three seasons are so grounded in universal themes of wanting to gain control of your life, family, struggling for balance and love; you still get degrees of that later, to a lesser extent. I love the human story of ALIAS more than anything.

The first thing that really struck me during this rewatch is how confident and competent Sydney is. If you don't know a thing about ALIAS, here are the basics: Sydney is a grad student who works for a covert branch of what she thinks is the CIA, called SD-6. As you could probably guess from my set-up, it is not, in fact, affiliated with the CIA, and she's unwittingly been working for the bad guys all along. When she confesses what she does to her finance, SD-6 has him killed and sets her on a path of revenge: she begins working as a double agent for the real CIA to take down SD-6 and the rest of the shadowy Alliance. Oh, and her dad (played by the fabulous Victor Garber!) is also a double agent. And her mom is... well, you'll have to watch. ;) 

Back to Syd, though, it's amazing to me how much nuance I missed when I first watched the show. Back then, I was focused on the literal asskicking that was happening every episode (and holy smokes does Jennifer Garner SO MUCH ASS), I missed the subtler notes: that she's extremely good at her job, is valued by her shady af spy organization for her skills, and Sydney knows it. In fact, in the pilot, she calls Vaughn (her CIA handler and Spy Cutie (TM)) out for wasting her time. She goes through a horrible time with, you know, the dead fiancee and discovering her dad has been a spy this whole time, and also the whole part where SD-6 tried to assassinate her, too, when it seemed like she was trying to get out. But Sydney never loses that sense of self-possession. It's even visible in how she walks:

Spy strut!

Another thing I noticed on this rewatch was how hard Syd worked to keep the balance between her "real" life and her covert life, and how much she struggled with the fact she was lying to her friends. Actually, on a whole, I was significantly less invested in her love life this time around--maybe because knowing how it ends robbed a lot of that unresolved tension? The family and friendship dynamics were so much more compelling to me, likely because they provided much more storytelling tension and because, well, Sydney very clearly doesn't need a dude to feel fulfilled, even a Spy Cutie (TM). 

Her friendship with Francie is so wonderful and genuine--I actually forgot how much I loved it and how supportive they are of each other. But, um, here's why I think I forgot: that Francie twist in season 2. Super problematic on the rewatch and robs the series of one of its only true female friendships (arrrghhh). Maybe the best thing you can say about it is that it gave Allison Doren, Francie's actress, another interesting role to play...?

You know what's even worse, though? They really missed the mark with how they represent some of the non-Western cultures. And, worse than that? They have Sydney in brownface and yellowface a few times while in disguise. Y-I-K-E-S. That never sat well with me, even when I was younger, and I STILL don't know why they felt like they had to do it, other than FOR SPY DISGUISE REASONS which... find another way, people. It was bad then, but in today's world, it was somehow even more jarring.

I don't think we should forgive our old favorites for flaws, especially big ones like these. I certainly have messed up out of ignorance in my own work. But I think it's become more important than ever to call them out and learn from them so as not to repeat them moving forward. The last decade of my life has taught me a lot--and I mean A LOT--about privilege and these deeply ingrained storytelling tendencies to default on white, and how some storytelling decisions can come at the expense of non-white characters. 

Anyway, I could go on and on. Life experience really becomes a lens through which we view all of this pop culture, so I'm curious to see what other shows will or won't hold up on rewatch, or how differently I'll interpret them. Have you guys revisited any of your old favorites recently?

On that note, I'll leave with with another recently rediscovered favorite I can't stop listening to: