Books & TV in 2014

Yes, I know, I stopped posting my monthly “Books read in ___” sometime back in August. It hasn’t been a great year for reading fiction–too much movement, other demands on my mind, etc. I read something like fifty books this year, the list you can see here: Books Read in 2014. I’m sure that if I hadn’t had to read at least 2,000 pages of student writing I would have read far more books this year than I did.

You might notice a few odd books on this list–The Encyclopedia of the CatBirds of the Carolinas–I’ve found that nature books are good reading for nights I can’t sleep because of anxiety.

But, for the most part, I’ve been getting my storytelling from television. It’s been a year in which all of my mental spoons have been going to work and day-to-day life; as a result, I haven’t had any mental spoons left to get my fiction from books. Let me know declare my shameless enjoyment of:

  • Fringe (5 seasons) — Fringe/weird science meets FBI procedural, plus alternate universes and time travel. Set in Boston and NYC. Strong female lead and great characters.
  • Doctor Who (8 seasons)– Adventures with a madman in a blue box. Classic “monster of the week” episodes, but very fun and sometimes very serious. Set in all of time and space. You can’t go wrong with the Doctor. (And I’m so glad Clara is staying with Twelve for another season!)
  • Torchwood (4 seasons) — spin-off, sort of, from Doctor Who. Strange science, similar to Fringe, but with aliens and British humour. Set in Cardiff. The third season/mini-series is a magnificent piece of science-fiction.
  • Continuum (3 seasons) — Time travel and conspiracies meet police procedural. Interesting storytelling because the characters you sympathise with might not be the good guys, but they are dynamic characters, too. Set in Vancouver and also has a strong female lead.

And here is my dilemma: I’m two episodes away from finishing season three of Continuum and the fourth season isn’t released yet. What show do I watch next? If you haven’t guessed, my “type” of show is a sci-fi (not supernatural) procedural with a female lead and good character development and dynamic. I’m not into the whole “discovering secret superpowers thing” either (yes, that was in Fringe, but it was at the end of season one). Netflix suggests Alphas and Warehouse 13, but I don’t know anyone who’s seen them to be sure.

Any recommendations for a show à la Fringe or Continuum? Or knows how or where I can catch up on Castle?

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Re-entry shock (9 months later)

Some would say, “Chera, you’ve been back in the U.S. for nine months now. Get over yourself and this reverse-culture shock thing.” Or at least, I think some people might say that.

Reverse culture shock, or re-entry, is simply a common reaction to returning home from [being] abroad. It is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to your initial adjustment to living abroad. Symptoms can range from feeling like no one understands you or how you’ve changed to feeling panicked that you will lose part of your identity if you don’t have an outlet to pursue new interests that were sparked abroad.

(definition provided by Marquette University.)

I left the UK at the end of February of this year. I travelled a little bit, then returned to the U.S. in March. Between May and July I travelled again, visiting five countries in a two-month period (six if you include the U.S.). I wasn’t in “one place” until September, when I finally was able to move into my flat in North Texas, where I have lived for the last three or so months.

I still get really confused in a supermarket. I still have to call one of my best friends and ask, “Where would I find ___?” and have her answer be a section where I wouldn’t have even thought to look. Sometimes I just leave the supermarket without getting some of the items on my list because I was overwhelmed by choice. I still automatically veer to the left side of the road when I first get on my bike. (Thank heaven I never drove a car in the UK.) In the kitchen, I still automatically reach for the right-hand tap for hot water, because the house I lived in for three and a half years in the UK had the taps switched around.

And other problems add to the confusion, the frustration. Long-time readers of this blog will remember my Recipe Tuesdays; I used to be a good cook, but now I burn, over- or under-spice, over- or under-cook, drop on the floor, spill over the stove, you name it, pretty much anything I try to cook that is beyond boiling an egg or making porridge in the microwave (and I still don’t get the egg right two-thirds of the time). I’m clumsy. I forget what I was doing. I’m not used to an electric stove. I can’t handle a recipe that has more than two or three steps to it — and those have to be simple steps.

When typing, I find myself making strange typos. Not misspellings of words or simply hitting the wrong keys, but different words altogether. Typing “was” when I meant to type “what”, or “prophetic” for “option”. I have to proofread what I write more carefully than I have had to do before. It feels, a bit, like my brain is short-circuiting. Things I used to be good at, that I could do with ease, now spin sideways when I touch them. I have to take more care with what I do; everything takes more time than usual.

A lot of this confusion and disorientation, I was relieved to find, is still reverse culture shock. I have the other symptoms: I miss the UK desperately, especially Scotland. I hate that my main form of transportation here is driving; that I live in a town of concrete and hanging wires, in a land that is so flat and featureless that I partly feel agoraphobic when driving on the state highway. I hate that I haven’t found a park or somewhere that has trees and dirt and wildlife. I hate the consumerism, the materialistic mindset, the polarized politics, and the sense of entitlement the society I am in seems to have. I hate that my accent is changing. I could go on.

It makes sense that the longer you were out of the country, the longer it will take to readjust to being in your “home” country (especially if it hadn’t been “home” in a long while). Coming back from my seven-month study abroad in 2006 was hard enough, made more difficult with the onset of rheumatoid arthritis; it took me, what, almost a year to adjust to being back? Two years? Now I have come back from five-and-a-half years of having lived overseas. I came back reluctantly, not in the best of emotional circumstances, and entered a situation of uncertain employment and financial instability. I have a job now, yes, but despite having the equivalent to a full-time teaching load, I’m not being paid enough to live on. I’m applying for, and being rejected from, job after job after job and I have no idea where I am going to be living come July 2015. Sorry folks, my reverse culture shock is going to last longer than nine months. According to some accounts, it might even last years. After all, it wasn’t until my third year in St Andrews that I really started to feel at home there.

So yes, I am frustrated with life. Yes, I am probably irritable and withdrawn. Yes, I am tired and exhausted, confused and disorientated, clumsy and absentminded. To those, if any, who would expect me to be “over it” by now: I’m not. Be patient with me, as I try to be patient with myself, too.

Additional reading about reverse counter shock, or re-entry shock:

The Old House

Autumn, Part 4: The Old House

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Somewhere in rural South Carolina there is a house nestled on the side of a hill surrounded by trees, with an old barn still standing, and where blue jays flit in the trees and deer walk unafraid in its shadows. A house my great-great-grandfather built, where my great-grandparents had a farm, where my grandmother lived, and where I used to go in summer. It’s my mom’s house now and my parents are planting fruit trees and grape vines. I’ve told them to add rose bushes.

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I don’t really know how old the house is. We have family stories on this side of the family stretching back to the Civil War. According to genealogical records, an ancestor of mine who fought in the Revolutionary War lies buried in a nearby churchyard. My family emigrated to South Carolina in the eighteenth century and didn’t really leave until the twentieth with WWII. But our roots are here, the Old House is here, and it draws us back. I can travel the world, live in distant countries and walk on distant shores, but still one of my most favourite places on this earth is that front porch, looking out at the trees. I may never have lived in the Old House, but seeped into the bones of that old house are the memories of my family for generations. Just as I can stand in an ancient, crumbling castle on the other side of the sea and feel the history of that place, so too do I feel the history of the Old House — simpler, less grand, but mine. The Old House is home in a way few other places can be.

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Thanksgiving

Autumn, Part 3: Thanksgiving

November was bookended by two holidays: Guy Fawkes at the beginning of the month and Thanksgiving at the end. For the past several years it’s been “tradition” to spend Thanksgiving at with my brother and his family in South Carolina. (I put “tradition” in quotes because the last time I had Thanksgiving in the U.S. in 2007. My parents spend Thanksgiving in South Carolina, which means I do, too.)

I was eager to go to South Carolina because it had been a couple of years since I last saw my brother and his family and I had a new niece to meet, too. I’m afraid my nieces and nephews don’t know me very well — one of the downsides to living abroad.

Holidays with this side of the C family always appear a bit chaotic. How couldn’t it with at least five adults and at least nine children? (I say “at least” because sometimes my sister-in-law’s family is there, too.) But it also means there is never a dull moment. Between board games, reading books aloud, dancing to Disney soundtracks, and of course, eating, there is always something going on.

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My eldest niece is now a teenager and she’s taller than I am. My second-eldest nephew is a avid reader and we talked books. I braided another niece’s hair (she had Frozen on her mind). I did puzzles and talked about monsters with my youngest nephew. Another nephew built a Dalek King out of Magformers. And a whole lot more.*

Tune in for the final installment of Autumn tomorrow.

 

* Including my three youngest nieces and nephews giving me their colds, which, for me, became an awful case of sinusitis. I can’t hear very well and I can’t breathe out of my nose. My students today were more cooperative than ever out of sympathy. I guess I don’t hide my misery very well.

Bonfire Night

Autumn, Part 2: Bonfire Night, or, Guy Fawkes

Friends and long-time readers of this blog will know that Halloween is one of my favourite holidays. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to celebrate Halloween this past IMG_1329October because I had choir rehearsal from 7-9 PM — right when I would have hosted a Halloween gathering. To make up for it, and in homesickness for the UK, I decided to celebrate Guy Fawkes the following week instead.

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes was a seventeenth-century terrorist who was part of a plot to assassinate King James I. He is best known for his failure to blow up Parliament on the 5th of November, 1605. Naturally, they named a holiday after him. Why not? His effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire on November 5th — but really, it’s kind of an excuse to have a giant bonfire, lots of food, and fireworks, on what would be a rather wintry night in Britain.

November 5th was on a Wednesday this year, so I had my small gathering on November 7th. We made a fire and roasted marshmallows. I attempted to make toffee for dipping apples in (keyword: attempted). And while we didn’t have full-scale fireworks, we did have sparklers.

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I think this might become an annual tradition.

Tune in tomorrow for Autumn, Part 3.

#smithieswed

It might seem like I have only been teaching this semester, and while that has been most of what I do, it hasn’t been all that I have done this Autumn. I even have the pictures to prove it.

So, as we transition into Winter, let me finally post my pictures of Autumn.

Autumn, Part 1: #smithieswed

#smithieswed was the hashtag used for everything related to the Arellano-Fryer wedding. It was a play on #smithieslead — which I don’t know what was used for, but both Lola and Crystal went to Smith College, so I got the connection. When it came to be late-October, I went to Sudbury, Massachusetts for Lola and Crystal’s wedding. I arrived a couple of days early, which meant catching up with the brides, apple picking, and spending a lot of time with Lola’s extended family (if Lisa can be a Tia, can I be a cousin?). The wedding itself was at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.

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I don’t have any pictures of the wedding itself, considering that I was a bridesmaid, and most of my pictures from the reception didn’t come out well because of the lighting (I’m looking forward to seeing the official photographer’s photos). But it was artful and beautiful, a wonderful blend of traditions — Mexican, New English, and even Jewish. I’d never been to a wedding with so much live music: a string quartet for the ceremony, a mariachi band to serenade the wedding party during photos, and a jazz band at the reception.

And in all honesty, even though Lola and Crystal might have been terrified, the Hora was the best spontaneous wedding moment ever.

hora brides flying high
(These photos are taken from the #smithieswed Instagram feed. I was dancing in one of the circles, of course.)
As Lola put it: “I always wanted the Hora at my wedding but never thought I could. Then the Jewish side of my family revolted!”

Autumn, Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.