It’s 1999. Krissy and I had our first house. Our daughter was newly born. I had gotten my first book contract, or was about to, and was successfully freelancing as a writer. On the evening of one of those days, Krissy was bathing our infant daughter while I talked to her about the day. Our dog Kodi napped contentedly in a corner, and a song was playing in the background.
It was a simple, ordinary and absolutely unremarkable moment in my daily life, and yet in the moment I had the presence of mind to recognize that in that simple, ordinary and absolutely unremarkable moment, I was absolutely and transplendently happy with my life and the people in it. I was happy. We were happy. We were all happy together. It was a clarity of joy that one gets only a few times in one’s life, and here it was, while my wife was bathing my daughter and talking to me about nothing in particular. It was at the time, and remains in my memory, a perfect moment.
Why was I listening to this song? Because I was a music critic at the time, and Trio II, the album it was on, had come out recently, and I was planning to review it. There was no planning for it to be on at that moment; I had put it on and then checked in on Krissy and Athena, and then quite accidentally stumbled into this small perfect moment. I’m glad I had the presence of mind to remember it. I’m pretty sure having this song, with its close harmonies from Ronstadt, Parton and Harris, helped anchor it in my mind.
Listening to it now does not take me back to the moment. But it reminds me I had it, and that is more than enough. The memory of a perfect happiness is in itself a happiness.
It’s why, among other things, I’m choosing this song to close out this series. We are ending, emotionally and in the case of Dolly Parton’s harmony line, literally, on a high note. Thank you for coming along with me on this tour of music that has mattered to me. I hope you enjoyed reading and listening to it as much as I enjoyed presenting it to you.
Fantasy is a world of your making, and for New York Times bestselling author Victoria Aveyard, she wanted her world to be inclusive. Read all about how she wanted Blade Breaker to take place in the world that teenage her dreamed of.
I like to say that all writers share three things. Hard work, talent, and luck. I feel that I’ve had far more than my fair share of the third, with my debut series Red Queen reaching a stratosphere of success I never dreamed of. And now I have the particularly strange and gluttonous experience of trying to do it all again. To make lightning strike twice, if not strike somewhere nearby or at least in the same neighborhood. It feels ludicrous to ask readers to follow me into another sand box, but here I am. Here we all are, telling stories and hoping people continue to listen.
Realm Breaker started with questions. What did I want to write next? With Red Queen behind me, I was in the driver’s seat, and my publisher a willing passenger. That’s both liberating and terrifying, to know I could tell whatever story I wanted. So what was it?
Well, what did I want to read when I was fifteen years old? What did the awkward, bespectacled, spotty dork want to spend her time with? That’s an easy answer. I read The Lord of the Rings more than a dozen times through middle school and high school, screened the films more than I care to count, devoured and wrote endless pages of Tolkien fanfiction. All to feel some measure of connection to Middle-Earth, to somewhere as far from my small town and my misfit self as possible. But that connection never really formed. Because Middle-Earth, as wonderful as it is, was never built for me, a teenage girl, as it was not built for many, many people. And while I dearly love the world Tolkien gave us, I also loathe it for being so wonderful – and so excluding at the same time.
But the world is changed. And I’m not that weirdo teen anymore. I’m a weirdo published author with four bestsellers under my belt. Maybe that’s enough to take some steps of my own, down a path Tolkien half-blazed for me?
Another question took form – one of my favorites. What happens when the heroes fail? What happens when the Fellowship of the Ring, the best and most noble warriors, set out on their quest – and they die? Where do we go from there? Who steps up? Who’s the JV team of saving the world?
From this, Realm Breaker spiraled together from all the collected dust in my brain, like a planet forming out of black space. I knew what tale I wanted to tell. A rollicking adventure, a daring quest, gigantic set piece battles and the most delicate personal moments. Bravery, betrayal, slow burning romance, comedy, and tragedy. Not a disembodied dark lord in a distant fortress, but flesh and blood villains with real evil and real emotion in their hearts. Not classic heroes, but the misfits and idiots and criminals who just want to save their own skin, and unfortunately have to save the world to do it.
The world of Realm Breaker was a joy to build. I grew up making imaginary maps and only started writing so I could jot down what was happening in those scribbled rivers and shaky mountains. The land of Allward was a little more precise, built to reflect Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East in the 12th century. I approached with an eye to making the world feel as wide and lived in as possible, and to me, that means diverse. The medieval world was far more diverse than classic storytelling would lead us to believe, with crossroads of trade and culture all over the map. Allward is the same, a realm with many nations in constant states of flux and connection. A place where all kinds of people exist, with the space for readers to see themselves. More than anything, I wanted to make the world feel bigger than the story, existing beyond the characters in one room.
Those characters, of course, are the beating heart of Realm Breaker. I do my best to both honor and break tropes, with each character doing both. The main heroine, Corayne, is very much the wide-eyed Chosen One called to adventure, but also whipsmart and practical, the bastard daughter of a deadbeat hero. Her companions range from an immortal warrior with zero social skills to a painfully realistic assassin, despairing of heroism at every turn. And the villains threatening the world? Try to hate them. I dare you.
It is terrifying to publish a book, and that fear never gets easier, at least for me. It might even be scarier now, knowing the pressure of doing this as a career, with the whims of a publisher and many readers in the balance. But it also feels more rewarding, especially now that Realm Breaker is out in the world. This series in particular was written so entirely for myself, for who I am today and who I was at fifteen. It’s a delightful surprise to find readers who connect to this book in the same way I do. Almost like looking in a mirror, and finding a different reflection, that is still somehow your own.
I hope the same can be said of the sequel, Blade Breaker. Somehow, even more than Realm Breaker, this book feels written for me. I can’t wait to get it into the hands of readers, even while I dig into the third and final installment.
The Realm Breaker seriesis both love-letter and loathe-letter, inspired by and in spite of Tolkien. I am indebted to The Lord of the Rings for too many things. My personality, to stay the least. But also the want I carry inside myself. The hunger. Tolkien gave me a gift, but pushed it just out of reach. And with every book I write, I feel my fingertips inching a little closer, padding the edges of wrapping paper and ribbon. And maybe there’s a little bit of Elvish writing on the tag, revealed only by flame.
This one’s appearance on my personal playlist is not complicated: It’s just so delightfully and almost innocently randy that it just makes me laugh and be happy. Whomst amongst us has not been where Charli XCX is in this song: So blissfully wrapped up in thinking about the objects of their affection that everything else just plain fades out? She admits she wishes she had better excuses for zoning out, but in the end, come on: Boys. It’s okay, Charlie XCX, I get you. Boys aren’t my personal heart-tripper, but otherwise, boy, do I ever know where you’re coming from.
There are better songs on this list. More meaningful songs. Songs with more cultural and social impact and import. Is there a song on this list that gets me in a better mood? Maybe not! I can’t not be happy when I hear this song. That’s all you need, sometimes! Well, that and puppies, which the video has an abundance of. So there’s that, too.
Cosplay. You know it, you love it. And so does author Andrew Liptak. Follow along in the Big Idea for his book, Cosplay: A History, to see how cosplay isn’t just about costumes, it’s about community.
When you’re doing something that seems patently ridiculous, it helps to have friends who’re there with you.
I’ve had a variation of this thought over the years as I’ve changed from street clothes into a suit of plastic armor, sometimes in a frigid parking lot, sometimes in a cramped bathroom or storeroom, and sometimes in a well-furnished dressing room. There’s always a strange, awkward transition as you bring something that was fictional into the real world. I’m a stormtrooper with the 501st Legion, and it’s an exercise that I’ve done literally hundreds of times over the past two decades as I go out into public to take part in all manner of events.
A good friend of mine in my local group had a funny saying that has stuck with me for years: “one stormtrooper is a dork in plastic. Ten is a platoon.” It’s good to have backup.
This is a thought that I came to realize was the central core of the book I wrote, Cosplay: A History: The Builders, Fans, and Makers, Who Bring Your Favorite Stories to Life. This isn’t just a straight-up book that charts the extraordinary rise of cosplay to the point where it’s become a mainstream thing; it’s a story about community, and how we come together to share our interest in some common thing through the art of costuming and prop making. By donning the armor of an Imperial Stormtrooper, Darth Vader, Spider-man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Starbuck, T’Challa, Zelda, Link, James Holden, James T. Kirk, or any other beloved character from decades of books, games, movies, TV shows, and more, we’re sending a signal out into the world that “I am a fan of this thing.” Inevitably, whether you’re at a convention or an event in a store, at Halloween, or something else, someone will come up to you and take a picture, or tell you that they’re a fan of that thing too. And thus, a community is born. You’ve made a connection with someone based on a common interest.
Some of those communities are small: I don’t think there are too many people who’re clamoring to dress up as Sam Bell from Duncan Jones’ 2009 film Moon. But the people who know, they know. The 501st Legion counts more than 15,000 people amongst its ranks of active members (in total, there’s something like twice that if you could everyone, even past members) across the world. Going to a convention like Star Wars Celebration is like visiting an enormous, boisterous family reunion, one where you can fall into easy conversation with folks that can turn into fast friendships in minutes.
This is a thread that snakes through the history of cosplay. At the very first World Science Fiction Convention in 1939, two fans, Forrest Ackerman and Myrtle Douglas (aka Morojo), dressed up as characters from the film The Things to Come, an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ book, The Shape of Things To Come. These were the early days of fandom, but while people were initially confused about what they were doing, they’d found a vibrant and passionate community of fellow fans, and the next year in Chicago, more people showed up in costume, and the year after that in Denver, even more followed suit. Costuming became a fixture of just about every world con since (with one or two exceptions.)
When Star Trek debuted on NBC in 1966, it introduced a huge number of people to the concept of science fiction, and they joined the ranks of fandom. There were some tensions and cultural adjustments, but these new fans not only found their fellow nerds, but they went out and formed their own spaces and put their own spin on fandom: they brought fan fiction and hall costuming to the forefront. Star Wars brought even more people to fan circles a decade later, while the rise of anime and video games has done in the years that followed. Each time, a broad umbrella of fandom grows just a little bigger. This isn’t limited to just folks who’re fans of science fiction and fantasy, either: groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), reenactment groups, and living historians have all found that costumes are powerful tools to connect people to stories, and help create their own communities of friends and colleagues.
Along the way, the foundational building blocks that underpin these communities have changed and evolved. Where costumers might have once only gone to a regional or national convention once or twice a year, we now have hundreds of cons taking place across every single weekend around the world, ranging from behemoths like San Diego Comic-Con to small, locally-focused events that fit nicely in a local library, community center, or school campus. And, cons are no longer the exclusive purveyors of cosplay: the internet brought with it forums and message boards dedicated to connecting cosplayers to one another, where they could coordinate group costumes for cons, trade fabrication tips, or buy and sell parts and entire costumes to one another. The most important tool for the cosplay world isn’t the introduction of the 3D printer, but of social media, which has supercharged the cosplay movement with networks like Facebook and Instagram and TikTok allowing cosplayers to show off their builds, costumes, and photoshoots with astonishing ease.
Each step along the way grows the community just that little bit more. Every new person who joins adds their voice and expertise to the cosplaying world. Those newcomers might bring a new perspective, a new building hack or technique, a renewed appreciation for that one character from that one film you saw years ago, and a new person to strike up a conversation with while you’re waiting for your flight to or from a con. That new member of your group might be someone who’ll become your next best friend, trusted build buddy, or partner. All of them have your back when you step out onto a convention floor, into a store, or along a charity walk. Being the single dork in plastic can be fun, but it’s so much better when you have a group to hang out with.
Cosplay is community. It’s a community that’s gone from a maligned, misunderstood, and thing that was often made fun of to a global movement of makers and builders who put their creativity literally on their sleeves to bring their favorites stories and characters from something that lived in our shared imagination into the real world. That’s no small thing: stories have the power to inspire us and bring a bit more joy into our lives to help distract us from the state of the world. A growing community of cosplayers helps make the world a better place, one costume at a time.
Julie Miller feels like secret knowledge, and someone who have to know someone else first to meet. She’s a contemporary of musicians like Sam Phillips, Shawn Colvin and Victoria Williams, all of whom had far higher public profiles in their day. She’s written songs for or covered by some hugely prominent country musicians, including Lee Ann Womack and Emmylou Harris. She’s married to and musically collaborates with Buddy Miller, himself a bit of a secret weapon in country and Americana music. There are all these doors to find Julie Miller, you just have to walk through them.
My own door was through Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, on which Harris sings Miller’s “All My Tears.” Harris and producer Daniel Lanois turn the song into a haunted, gothic bit of gospel; you can almost hear the Spanish moss hanging off it. When, a few years later, Julie Miller released a new solo album (Broken Things), I was curious to hear what she herself sounded like, when not filtered through Emmylou Harris.
The answer: Not haunted, and not gothic, but still, really, really good. Miller’s voice is a plaintive tremolo, singing poetry, and in “Ride the Wind to Me” that poetry is of the “you’re shattered but you can get better” sort, in which Miller consoles a heartbroken friend, and promises more and better. “Someday your tears will turn to diamonds,” she sings, which is just one of several really excellent bits of lyricism Miller spins. The song is a healing spell, and whoever that heartbroken fellow is, if he’s not in love with Miller by the end of the song, the problem is with him, not her.
Few storytellers alive can spin a tale like Elizabeth Bear, and in this Big Idea for The Origin of Storms, the concluding novel of a trilogy, Bear digs just a little into the elements that make this particular story the one to tell right now.
What if you inherited a broken world from your ancestors and had to try to fix it?
Okay, it’s 2022, and maybe that doesn’t sound very much like fiction. But it is the premise of The Origin Of Storms, my new book out this week.
The Origin of Storms is the final volume in the Lotus Kingdoms trilogy and the culmination of the series begun with the Eternal Sky trilogy. It’s about a diverse group of people with an existential crisis on their hands and only one thing in common: They didn’t ask for this, Mom and Dad.
Well, life isn’t fair. And neither are apocalypses.
In the land of the Eternal Sky, the very earth and heavens were shattered and re-knit strangely by ancient cataclysms. As you move from nation to nation, the skies change depending on what rulers and gods hold sway. The Lotus Kingdoms are a microcosm of that broken land—bound together by an Alchemical Emperor, torn apart by his death, and in competition for scarce resources and the “rightful crown.”
But this world is marked by deep history and deeper trauma, by the ruthless choices of prior generations, by intentional obfuscations of past events and terrible crimes. So what I found myself asking, processing, working through as I wrote this book is: How do we stop compounding our own generational trauma, and the evils perpetuated by the people who came before us?
Where do we eke out the space to heal and make room for others to heal, to interrupt cycles of exploitation and abuse?
How do we find for ourselves and provide for others that tiny bit of grace? What do we have to sacrifice in order to free ourselves from the ruins of a world we didn’t make or ask for? How much courage is required to walk away from a broken system and find a better one?
It’s not by blaming individuals for the ongoing evils of systems. It has to be by reforming the systems themselves, or if we don’t have that power, working to subvert them.
I don’t mean to make this sound like a philosophical treatise. It’s an adventure novel! But the title of this feature is THE BIG IDEA, which sort of invites the discussion of deep thematic questions!
So don’t get me wrong: this book is full of escapades. It has a really kickass dragon, a loudmouthed magic pen, a chainsmoking volcano goddess with a bad attitude, necromancers and spies and the undead avatar of a terrifying god (who happens to be one of the good guys, don’tchaknow?)
The Lotus Kingdoms also has the normal things you’d expect from an Elizabeth Bear novel, which is to say queer people, old people, and disabled people having adventures; intricate plotting that (hopefully) comes together in the end with a few surprising revelations; and perhaps a passing acknowledgement of the unreliability of memory and perception. Also a giant messy battle, and a big scary guy made out of metal who hits things really hard once in a while.
Dessa is the one musician in this series who I met prior to hearing her music. She and I were guests at John and Hank Green’s NerdCon: Stories convention in 2015, where among other things she and I participated in a team debate event in which we expounded the value of putting on foot attire in a sock, sock, shoe, shoe fashion rather than in the (obviously inferior) sock, shoe, sock, shoe fashion. Dessa was great fun to hang with and exuded cool from the moment she stepped into a room. I was a fan before I heard a single note.
I have heard, shall we say, several notes of hers in the time since. Dessa is one of my favorite working lyricists: Ferocious and vulnerable, smart and witty and true, and with the ability to take a turn of phrase and use it to hook your heart and your head. Her lyrics read like poetry (no surprise, as she is a published poet) and are often as dense as an essay (also no surprise, as she is a published essayist) and revealing as a memoir (if you did not guess at this point she is also a published memoirist, you’re not paying attention). Dessa is reporting from the front, and the front is the world and her movement through it.
Which brings us to “Fire Drills,” which I think is, to date, her finest hour. In it, Dessa lays out what it takes to be a woman in the world, because she has been a woman in the world, among other things touring with Doomtree, the rap collective she is part of (and was the CEO of, for a time) and doing her own solo work and other appearances and projects. Being out in the world means she knows what it takes from her to be in it, and how much of it isn’t available to her. As she says in the song:
You can’t be too broke to break As a woman always something left to take So you shouldn’t try to stay too late or talk to strangers Look too long, go too far out of range ’cause Angels can’t watch everybody all the time Stay close, hems low, safe inside That formula works if you can live it But it works by putting half the world off limits
“Fire Drills” is reportage, presented relentlessly and to a beat, and tells you a simple fact: That so much of a woman’s life in the world is running the fire drills of the song title. Doing the cautionary heavy lifting and planning that men don’t have to, and don’t have to think about — or, because, we’re so often blessed in our often willful ignorance, even know was a thing that had to be thought about at all.
And, of course, this is bullshit. “I think a woman’s worth, I think that she deserves, a better line of work, than motherfucking vigilance,” Dessa raps in the song.
She is 100% fucking correct. Dessa deserves more than vigilance. So does my wife. So does my daughter. So do all my friends and peers who are women. So does every woman anywhere, regardless of whether I know them or not. None of them are getting it, and, how to put this, recent events in the world and particularly in the United States make “more than vigilance” harder for them all. “Fire Drills” is more relevant in 2022 than when it came out in 2018, and that is infuriating.
“Fire Drills” was brilliant since the day it dropped, but today, now, here in this time, it hits me like a punch in the face. It starkly reminds me of what I get for free that others get only at high cost, and sometimes not at all. There’s nothing in Dessa’s words here that to me tries to make the individual male listener to feel guilty about this, and guilt is not what I feel in any event.
What I feel, and what Dessa’s words pull from me, is a sense of responsibility; first to bear to witness to and to acknowledge the truth of what Dessa is saying, and then to put in some work, in support of women and others whose rights are being threatened today. People who have privileges in the world tend to sort into two camps: Those who believe privileges must be horded, and those who believe privileges should be shared. The hoarders are having their moment right now. My work needs to be in making this hoarding moment as short as possible, and, in support of others, help to bring things around to sharing once more.
I’m glad that meeting Dessa inspired me to seek out her music. I’m even more glad that Dessa’s work is challenging me to do and be better, and serves as a reminder of what this moment asks of me, as one who does not have to lead a life of vigilance. Dessa didn’t write this song for me or about me, or to require me to do anything. It inspires me to do it anyway. Listen to the song, maybe it’ll do that for you, too.
I’ve written about this subject extensively here on Whatever over the years, but it’s worth saying again here in 2022, and also, not everyone who follows me on Twitter comes over here. I posted this tonight over there, and am reposting here for archival purposes and because not everyone here goes over to Twitter.
1. Over on Facebook a post is being passed around in which an author is telling other authors not to take political positions because our job is to entertain, not alienate “half our readers.” So, let me speak on this general concept of authors shutting up and staying in lanes.
2. Basically: Nah. Don’t shut up, if you would prefer to speak. Also, as a human here on Earth in 2022, you’re in a bunch of “lanes” including “a political stakeholder who has opinions on events that affect their life.” You may decide that “lane” is the important one right now.
3. Will you alienate readers expressing political opinions? Sure. But, as someone who once received a flaming kiss-off from a reader for expressing a mild operating software preference, I assure you that you can alienate readers by expressing any opinion on anything whatsoever.
4. You could try to never express an opinion on anything ever again, including in your writing (this is a neat trick if you can manage it, good luck with it), but living a life of never publicly expressing an opinion so as to never lose a sale seems enervating and futile to me.
5. Also, think about the math for a second, for crying out loud. To grossly oversimplify: The US adult readership is about 200 million people. If you alienate “half of them” by talking politics, you have 100 million left. 99+% of books sell 20k copies or less. YOU WILL BE FINE.
6. More realistically, the market pool for any book will be smaller based on genre, etc. But even then, if you lost “half” the potential readership, you’d still have more readers available to you than you are likely to sell to, even if you are a genre or mainstream bestseller.
7. But you want to sell more! Well, good for you! Also, have you noticed that bestselling authors on social media tend to be a politically mouthy bunch? It’s almost as if their having a loud public political opinion did not impede their book sales! Curious, that!
8. Also, look: you could lose readers by expressing opinions. You can also gain them. There are readers who factor a similar worldview into their purchase choices, or when trying out new authors. Other readers don’t care. In my experience, these things even out in the wash.
9. You don’t have to express political or other opinions out loud if that’s not how you roll. Be who you are. But that is how you roll, don’t limit yourself because of worries about sales. I suspect you will also find being your authentic self is important in the long run.
10. On a personal level: With full acknowledgment of who I am and the privileges I get because of it, I have a full and extensive history of being publicly political, long before I was writing books. Lots of people wish I would shut up. But it’s not their call and it’s my choice.
11. I could not and can not in good conscience be silent about politics and the world, especially now, when fellow Americans are having their rights stripped from them by cowards and bigots and fools. I will speak and not give a damn how many sales I lose. This is an easy choice.
12. So, yeah. Speak your mind, authors, if that what you think the moment requires of you. You don’t need to be silent against your will, just for the sake of a sale.
And now, to close the thread, as always, here's a cat.
And what a glorious last day it was! My friends said they wanted to give me what they consider “the TOUR” of LA, or at least enough of it to fill about six hours. I had no idea where we were going, but I had a strong suspicion that the first stop would be coffee. I was correct.
When people speak of hidden gems, usually they don’t mean literally hidden out of sight, but in Dayglow’s case, it really is obscured from the passerby’s eye. Which is a shame because it’s an extra cool, hip little cafe with a ton of personality, and really fantastic drinks. It’s built right into the side of another building, and you have to go down some stairs into what is basically a little alley to get to it. But you’ll know it when you see it, thanks to their neon lights.
Besides a friendly staff and cool decorations, you can also get incredibly cool drinks, like this one called “Totoro”!
This was some kind of sesame, blood orange, vanilla, coffee drink. I’m not entirely sure, but it was so good. I’ve genuinely never had any drink like it before. It tasted like sesame candy, but was cold and creamy. I loved the cup, I wish I could’ve bought one! I was going to try the “Howl’s Moving Castle”, but they were out of it.
After getting our day started with a tasty drink, we headed to a bookshop called Skylight Books. I was specifically on the hunt for a postcard that said “California” or “Los Angeles”, and my friends told me they had them here.
The bookstore was super cute. It felt very cozy, and had some neat stuff besides books, like stationery. I ended up getting this sticker sheet and my highly sought after California postcard.
After that, it was time for lunch, but the place we were originally going to go to wasn’t open until dinner time, so we went to another cafe. This one was called “Go Get ‘Em Tiger”, a local chain with almost a dozen locations all across LA! We went to the one in Highland Park, and it was so cute! It was like in a little glass box inside the indoor part of the structure, and then you would leave the glass box to go sit in the seating area, either indoors or outdoors.
They had a display case of baked goods, but I could not get the glare off the glass, so here’s a picture, full of glare:
I opted to get something a little more nutritious, so I got this soft scramble with avocado on an English muffin:
This was undoubtedly the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had from a restaurant. Every time I make scrambled eggs, they come out as like, rubbery individual little pieces, rather than being a soft, cohesive pile like this. Plus, the flaky sea salt on the avocado was a really great addition. This was around twelve dollars, I think, and I also got a housemade iced chai which was a little over six dollars:
The chai was definitely on the less sweet side, which is fine but not my preferred version of iced chai, though it was still good, especially if you’re not really an over-the-top sugary person.
They also had a cute mobile order pickup station outside their glass box! Seems convenient.
Following the super yummy lunch, I got to see the Hollywood sign! Though, only from the car, so I didn’t get any good pictures. Not that I really wanted to get out and try to walk to see it. It’s not something that has ever seemed worth it to me to hike up a literal mountain for. But it was still pretty cool.
Then, we decided it was high time for another sweet beverage (I’m kind of obsessed with sugary drinks if you couldn’t tell by now). So we went to Boba Guys, a boba place in Hi-Fi.
The inside had a clean sort of simple look to it, with a pleasant atmosphere and nice music. I thought the menu/display area was cute, too.
My usual order for boba is either brown sugar milk tea or Thai tea, which my friend actually did get:
But I had just had boba the day before, so I wanted to try something a little different, and was shocked to see that this place offered horchata. So I had to get it.
This horchata was so sweet and creamy, and had the perfect amount of cinnamon in it to spice it up. I felt good in my choice to try something different, as this was some of, if not the best, horchata I’ve ever had. It was so much lighter than boba would’ve been (not that I don’t love boba, because obviously I do).
I also snapped a pic of a stranger’s drink when it was ready on the counter, because it looked amazing. It was the strawberry matcha drink.
I also got this pin (ten dollars) and this (free) sticker!
I am obsessed with anything that looks like a stamp that is not a stamp, including stickers, pins, washi tapes, anything along those lines. I have several stamp-style washi tapes and stickers, but this is my first pin of that style.
Also, I love hot air balloons. So really this pin is a total win in my book.
That was everything we got up to on our tour, but on the way back, I saw this cool painting.
I would be very interested to hear the story behind this painting.
So, yeah, my last day in LA was super fun! I got to be driven through Hollywood, Silverlake, Hi-Fi, Little Bangladesh, and see so many cool things, plus have some really fantastic food and drinks!
If you’re from the area, have you been to any of these places before? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
Still on the plateau of meh. It’s the good side of awful and the bad side of okay, if you grasp what I’m saying. Today, I’m mostly just feeling tired, which corresponds with me being extremely bored with resting up. But there’s nothing for it. I understand the secret to keep COVID from messing with you in the long term is actually listening to your body about it in the short term. So I will be napping soon, is what I’m saying.
Because I am a hopeless, story-seeking nerd, I have created a whole backstory to the video to the Kyla La Grange song “Cut Your Teeth,” which is taken from the album of the same name. Very briefly, La Grange and her background singers are in hell, for whatever reason they have found themselves in hell, and their eternal damnation is to be part of a kitschy music box-like existence, in which they perform for whatever devil spawn happen to be wandering by and want to be momentarily entertained. There’s more to it than that — I could go on — but that’s the gist of it. Whether this has anything to do with how La Grange and her collaborators imagined this particular video is aside the point. This is my fan fiction and I’m sticking to it.
Mind you, I wouldn’t be whomping up a whole backstory to the video if the song didn’t work for me so well that I made a choice to listen to it over and over. And in fact this song, and the entire album it’s part of, are very much up my alley, icy electronica paired up with stories of loneliness and heartbreak (sometimes La Grange’s, sometimes someone else’s), sung in a sweet but disaffected voice by La Grange. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t listen to albums all the way through very much anymore, but Cut Your Teeth is one I put on and let run. It’s a whole mood, and sometimes I want to spend an hour inside a mood.
That mood is enough that it’s fair to say that La Grange is my favorite “new” artist of the last decade or so (“new” in quotes here because Cut Your Teeth is from 2014; as I get older my definition of “new” stretches). She in fact just put a new album this year, which makes me happy. There are new videos. I have no made backstories for them. Yet.
I’m finally reaching the tail end of my trip, and though I have loved it here, I’m definitely ready to go back home. One thing I don’t have back home, though, is boba tea. So that was the first thing I went out and got today. There are quite a few places in the area, but the closest one was a place called Boba Lab.
I was perplexed by the painting they had on the side of their building.
I was curious about what constituted this boba place as a “lab”, but figured it out once I went inside. There were beakers and safety goggles laying around as decoration, and a periodic table of elements on the wall, with the bottom row of the table being different types of boba. They had two self-serve computer stand thingys to order at, and you just customized your drink however you wanted it, and then paid at the stand with your card (they are a cashless business). Once they finished making my drink they just put it on the end of the counter. So I actually didn’t interact with the workers at all.
There was no room inside to sit down, and no outdoor seating either. It was a very small place. But the tea itself was great! I got brown sugar milk tea, which is sort of my go-to.
After that, I walked back home and read webcomics the rest of the day until dinner rolled around. It actually ended up being pretty late by the time I realized I wanted dinner, so a lot of places had closed already, or would have been closed by the time I walked there. After some looking around, I decided on a Vietnamese restaurant called Cassia. Well, actually, Apple Maps says its Vietnamese cuisine, but Google says its a Southeast Asian restaurant. I’m not sure which is more accurate.
I’ve never had Vietnamese food before, so I was excited to try something different.
When I got there, I was surprised to see how lavish it looked. The outside seating area was incredible, and probably the nicest I’ve seen in LA, or possibly ever. There were string lights, outdoor heating lamps, and a black gate-type-wall thingy with greenery wrapped all around it. The inside was open and spacious, with a modern and “too cool for you” feel. It was crowded, so I had to sit at the bar. Though, I was the only one sitting at the bar, and remained the only one throughout the hour I was there.
The first thing I got was a limeade.
Every place I’ve been to so far has given me paper straws for my drinks. This was the first time I’d been given a metal straw, and for some reason I found that really interesting. I kept hitting my teeth against it, though. The limeade itself was good, though. It was very refreshing. And it had nice ice cubes. I was told that everywhere seems to have nice ice here because nicer places use filtered water for their ice. It makes a difference, I think!
Someone the other day in the comments mentioned I should try a green papaya salad, so I ordered that first.
There was a TON of green papaya on this plate, it was a huge portion. I wouldn’t say I actively disliked it, but I didn’t really care for it either. It had a pleasant enough fresh flavor, though admittedly kind of odd, but the papaya was sort of tough to chew, so I didn’t really like that. Plus, the walnuts were fuckin’ SPICY. I had to down like the last quarter of my limeade to stop the burning. So, after a few bites of that, I decided just to try something else.
Next up was something called Kaya Toast.
The menu says it has coconut jam, butter, and a slow cooked egg accompanying it. This shit was fucking delicious. I was absolutely shook by how good this was. It was crispy on the outside, fluffy, buttery goodness on the inside. The waiter told me the chef recommends I break the egg yolk in the cup and dip the toast in it. Lord have mercy, it was unbelievably tasty. The egg yolk was pure, runny gold. I could eat this dish every single day. Arguably one of the best things I’ve tasted in my life.
Following that sweet, incredible goodness, I put in an order for cold sesame noodles. The menu says you can order them spicy or not, so I went for not.
Underneath all that green, there are noodles, and a lot of them. This bowl was another giant portion. Though, it was listed as an appetizer, so I guess it’s meant to be shared? The noodles came with edamame, walnuts, cucumber, and a whole lot of cilantro. This was also an incredibly tasty dish. The whole time I was eating it, I thought it tasted a strange amount like peanuts, or peanut butter. Then I realized that’s just the flavor of sesame. Peanut butter adjacent. I mostly avoided the walnuts since they pain me to eat, but the edamame and cucumber were great fresh additions to the noodles. I thought eating cold noodles would be odd, but it was actually really light and refreshing. I would love to eat this on a hot summer day instead of something like a burger or hotdog. Seriously, why do we hot foods on hot days?!
Here’s a better shot of the noodles, since I felt like they weren’t really visible with all that cilantro on top.
I wish there was a place that served this kind of stuff around me back home, I would for sure frequent this dish.
I was going to get a dessert, but I thought the bar looked so impressive that I should try a drink, especially since the bartender was my waiter. I got a piña colada, but the menu said “try it as a lava flow”, so I did. Apparently that just meant they add strawberry hibiscus syrup to it for a dollar more.
I am someone who does not enjoy the taste of alcohol, even a tiny bit. When people say “oh you can’t even taste the alcohol” or “it tastes just like juice”, I never agree, because alcohol always tastes like alcohol, no matter what. So when I say this did not taste like alcohol, I fucking mean it. The alcohol was completely undetectable, it tasted like a sweet, creamy dessert in a fancy glass. Never in all my one and a half years of drinking have I ever had anything where I couldn’t taste the alcohol. It was glorious. And delicious!
Finally, I got my bill, and it came attached to a post card.
I asked if I could keep it, and the bartender said “of course!” I’m not sure yet who I’ll send it to.
My total came out to $84 (before tip), though twenty of that was for the cocktail. So, $64 for three dishes and a limeade. It’s not cheap but it isn’t terrible. I would definitely recommend this place if you feel like having bougie noodles and the best toast of your entire life. And try to sit outside, if you can.
So, that was my whole day, really! Lots of chilling and noodle-eating.
One thing I have long admired about Bjork is how unapologetically weird she is, musically speaking (I don’t know how she is in her personal life, and it’s not my business anyway). The less ambitious version of her could have made a decent career out of being merely quirky, but nothing about Bjork could ever be described as “less ambitious.” And thus, a musical career that has ranged from, yes, quirky pop hits to entire albums done acapella, because that’s what Bjork wanted to do and who is going to argue with her, she’s Bjork.
There’s a lot to admire about Bjork’s entire discography, but the album I’ve connected to the most is Homogenic, and of all the songs there, “Bachelorette” is the one that stands out for me. Part of it is the lyrical imagery (any song that begins “I’m a fountain of blood/in the shape of a girl” is one that is trying for something different than your average pop hit), and part of it is the relentless thrum of the music itself. This song is going places and it’s taking you with it. Do you want to go where it’s taking you? It hardly matters, you’re going anyway.
I love it. I love that you have to take Bjork on her own terms; it seems doubtful to me she’s worried about having a hit single since the 90s at least. There’s something to be said about having to take the walk to wherever an artist is and appreciating them on their terms, not yours. And if you can’t or don’t, that’s fine! They’re going to do their thing no matter what. I don’t want everyone I listen to (or every creative person whose output I admire) to be this way. But I’m glad Bjork is like this. I honestly can’t imagine her any other way.
One of these days, I’ll finally go to the beach, but today was not that day. The UV index was at 10, and I didn’t feel like looking like a lobster, so I held off. I did, however, go to lunch at a Mexican restaurant called El Cholo with a different family friend from Hollywood.
The entrance to the restaurant was one of the most unique I’ve seen in the area, with an outdoor section right in front, underneath cloth coverings and string lights. The stone walls around the outdoor section were surrounded with greenery.
The inside had white pillars and arches throughout, and tons of hanging plants all around.
As per usual, they brought us out chips and salsa, so we snacked on those as we looked over the somewhat small menu. I wanted the crab enchiladas, but they came with a jalapeno cilantro pesto cream sauce on top, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle the heat of the jalapeno. The waitress assured me that it wasn’t spicy at all, but those are always famous last words.
Nonetheless, I took the risk, and I’m so happy I trusted the waitress because the sauce was delicious. I couldn’t even taste any jalapeno at all, but the cilantro really shined through. The crab enchiladas themselves were good, but wouldn’t have been even close to as good without the creamy pesto sauce.
Normally, I never eat the rice and beans that comes on the side, just because I’m really not a fan of either in a general sense, but both the rice and black beans that came with this dish were superb! Especially if you got the rice mixed in the enchilada sauce.
We passed on dessert, but with the check, the waitress brought us both a tiny little bag of pecan praline candies, which were super sweet and perfect little bites to end the meal.
Best of all, the prices were good! I’ve been having a bit of sticker shock whilst I’ve been in LA, and I’m trying to adjust, but I really have been spending what feels like a ton on what seems like so little. Though, that is just kind of the world is right now, anyways.
After lunch, I just rested at the house and wrote a post, then went to dinner.
I headed back to Longitude, inside the Marriott, despite having a dozen other places on my list to try out, just because it was close, I like the hotel lobby atmosphere, and they have food I like. (Though, to be fair, there isn’t much food I don’t like.)
This time around, I wasn’t as hungry, so I just got the cheese and charcuterie board.
It came with two types of cheeses, one was brie, and I wasn’t positive what the other one was, but I think they said it was some type of drunken goat cheese. It certainly tasted funky like a goat cheese. Other than that, there were three kinds of meat, and again I literally had no idea what types they were except like the most basic salami one. One was strangely like a baloney. I wasn’t much a fan of the two unknown ones, but the salami was good. There was also whole grain mustard and fig spread, both of which I’m a fan. And of course, cornichons. Normally, I love pickles, but these little ones packed way too much of a punch for me, and I couldn’t eat more than one.
I wasn’t hungry enough for any more food, so I just tried one of their craft cocktails (which are eighteen fucking dollars each). I got the cherry thyme cocktail. It was made with vodka, cherry-thyme syrup, lime, cucumber, and ginger beer. It mostly tasted like rubbing alcohol, but it had this cute little sprig of thyme in it! So that’s something.
I wanted to try something else, since the cherry thyme was a bit disappointing, so I got the watermelon smash. This one also had vodka, muddled watermelon, mint, and lime. It was vastly superior, and I really enjoyed the fresh watermelon pieces that accompanied it.
I decided I couldn’t leave without trying their other dessert, the croissant banana bread pudding. It was underwhelming, to say the least. The lighting certainly isn’t doing it any favors, but it wasn’t that great. It was too dense, and I hated the strawberry sauce. Definitely get the slightly over-torched creme brulee instead.
So, another pretty chill day. If you can’t tell by this point, basically all I do is eat. I don’t see landmarks, I don’t go to museums, I just want to try as much food as possible. Trying new restaurants, experiencing new foods and flavors, that’s the best part of traveling to me. That, and shopping, but I’m trying not to do that here. My food bill costs enough as it is, I don’t need to add my shopping addiction bill on top of that.
It’s amazing I’m this close to the beach and still haven’t even walked on the sand, gotten in the ocean, or visited the pier. I know it’s a must, and I’m almost out of time, but I keep finding reasons not to go. Maybe I’ll just go walk there right now.
Sometimes you connect with a musician for only one song or one album, but that connection, when it’s made, is a strong one. I feel that way about Jane Siberry; most of her oeuvre is not for me for various reasons, but then there’s When I Was a Boy, an album-length mediation on life and what surrounds it, before and after. It turns out that this was extremely my thing, or at the very least, Jane Siberry’s take on it was my thing, none more so than the song “Calling All Angels.”
I actually connected with “Calling All Angels” before the album it is on, because it was part of the soundtrack album for Until the End of the World, a science fiction film directed by Wim Wenders. The movie itself is a bit of a mess, but the soundtrack is magnificent; Wenders went to a bunch of musicians during the production of the film (it came out in 1991) and asked them to imagine where music would be in 1999. Uniformly the answer from these musicians was that would be in a dark and moody place (thus the later irony that, when 1999 actually hit, it was the realm of boy bands, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera). In this collection of dark moodiness, “Calling All Angels” was a contrast and counterpoint: It was moody, but that moodiness was ultimately hopeful. The song is better integrated in When I Was a Boy; that album was all of a piece.
I think it’s interesting when you have such a small window with an artist. Jane Siberry’s other work is excellent, it’s just not something I connect with or come back to in the same way that I came back to When I Was a Boy. I don’t think that’s a bad thing; it is what it is. I’m glad we had that particular moment, and I treasure it.
I have COVID and my brain is not in a place to write anything substantive about it right now. So I will say what I already noted on Twitter: This court will continue to take rights from Americans as soon as it can. If you’re an American and you don’t think that this will affect you or someone you love, you’re a fool.
More perhaps later when I have more brain for it. In the meantime, I’m disabling comments on this post because if I’m not in a mental place to write substantively on this topic, I’m also not in a place to ride herd over a comment thread.
I feel… meh. Mostly fuzzy and distracted and a little ache-y. I have congestion and a runny nose. I don’t feel horrible, but I certainly don’t feel good. I do retain my sense of smell and taste so far, so that’s a good thing. I think it’s accurate to say the thing I feel most at the moment is boredom and restlessness, since apparently COVID for me combines a desire to focus on things with a complete inability to focus. Sneaky COVID!
The good news, such as it is, is that I don’t feel any worse today than I did yesterday. It’s a perfectly reasonable plateau of meh, and I’m okay being here rather than, you know, feeling worse. My plan for the day is to do more of nothing, take some naps, have some ice cream and otherwise let my body to its recuperating things. I think it’s a good plan. I’ll let you know how it works out.
I had big plans for my fourth day in town, but upon waking up I decided I didn’t feel like leaving the bed. So I didn’t! And I went back to sleep. I ended up sleeping about thirteen hours. I had to keep convincing myself that I wasn’t wasting my day, because rest is important, and I’ve jam packed the past few days with so much stuff that it’s okay to take it easy.
I finally got up in the afternoon and got ready to go out to dinner with family friends. They told me they wanted to take me out to a fancy dinner while I was here, so I let them pick the place. And fancy it was!
They decided on taking me to a place called Hatchet Hall located in Culver City. Upon arriving, there was a large outdoor section with tables and chairs on gravel, and those big outdoor fire lamps that I’ve only ever seen in places like California and Arizona. The transition to the indoor part of the restaurant was practically seamless, as it was all open and you could see everything, including the bar.
The menu was a small piece of paper, but was laid out in an interesting fashion.
I was then informed it was a small plates style restaurant, so we were going to get a lot of things and share them all. I was a huge fan of the idea, and I’m not picky, so I told them to pick everything.
We started with the honey dates that come in brown butter with date vinegar topped with sea salt. I did not get a picture, because I forgot that documenting was a thing, but they were the best dates I’ve ever had. Which is an odd thing to have a “best I’ve ever had” of, but it’s true. They were soft and sweet and the perfect little bites to start the meal off right.
The next platter that came was half a dozen oysters.
I had never had oysters before, and was having dubious feelings towards them. I like mussels well enough, but oysters are raw, which freaks me out a little. I knew that if I were going to have oysters, they might as well be from the coast and at a fancy restaurant, so I oughta give these a try.
And I actually liked them! I put cocktail sauce on the first one, and it was quite nice. I had been preparing myself for unpleasantness, but was glad that was not the case. For the second one, I tried the vinaigrette, and that was pretty good, too.
Next up, I got to have one of these ultra-fluffy, perfectly golden brown rolls. Hopefully you can see the pinch of flaky salt atop the honey butter on the side, because that really took this to the next level. I’m a sucker for flaky salt… and honey… and butter.
Following the rolls, we had this grilled peach, burrata, and prosciutto salad. I’m not saying my favorite fruit is peaches, my favorite meat is prosciutto, and my favorite cheese is burrata, but that is exactly what I’m saying, so you can imagine how much I loved this salad. The peaches were fresh and juicy, the burrata was soft and creamy, the leafy greens balanced out the richness of the prosciutto, ugh, it was amazing.
And don’t even get me STARTED on the next dish!
Grilled carrots with a cumin yogurt sauce, topped with fresh cilantro and dill, accompanied by honeycomb?! I was stunned. It was too delicious for words. The brightness of the herbs with the creaminess of the yogurt, the honeycomb alongside the soft cooked carrots, it was incredible. Quite possibly my favorite dish of the night.
We did have one other dish before the appetizers came, but I forgot to take a picture of that one. It was the braised collard greens. I had never had collard greens before, and they were pretty good, though probably the thing I was least impressed with throughout the night.
I was starting to get full, but the entrees were arriving. Here we have some King Salmon, with labneh and herbs. I haven’t had labneh since like 2016, so this was a welcome reunion. The salmon, underneath that crispy skin, was cooked more medium than I’m used to, but it wasn’t a bad thing, in fact it was delicious!
Underneath the giant garnish of cilantro, we have braised pork belly, with grits and cannellini beans. I don’t think I’ve ever had grits before this, but I quite liked them. My friend told me they’re a lot like oatmeal, you have to do something to them or else they’re extraordinarily bland and boring. As for pork belly, I had it once at a Jamaican restaurant, so having it again was nice. It was tender, the grits were creamy, and it was a savory medley.
Which was the perfect end before dessert.
We all decided to pick our own desserts and not share. Mine was the lil’ vanilla panna cotta on the right, with sour cherries and mulberry crumble. If I were a dessert, I feel like I’d be vanilla panna cotta. I did end up trying one bite of the giant meringue, specifically because it was so big and she needed help with it, and it was ridiculously good. Like make you reevaluate your whole life good. Of course, the panna cotta was excellent, too, as was everything that night.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and the meal was over. It was amazing, and I hope I get to go back someday. Preferably soon.
Some interesting things I noticed about this place was that none of the plates matched. Heck, even some of the chairs didn’t match. It was like they got everything from a thrift store and just had mismatched silverware and plates now. Not that that’s a problem at all, it was just unique.
Oh, also, my friends informed me that their menu changes with the seasons, to ensure everything is always in season and fresh. Man I love California.
If you had eaten here, what would you have picked? Which dish looked the best to you that I tried? Are you a fan of the small plates style? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
For this series I’m picking one song per artist to represent them and why they’ve mattered to me. Usually, this isn’t too difficult — sometimes it’s that one particular song that’s resonated for me, and other times there’s usually one song above several other equally worthy songs that I thing be represents what I like and admire about the artist. In the case of Regina Spektor, however, I had an excruciating time picking between two songs: “Fidelity” and “On the Radio.” Both songs resonate almost equally for me; both songs are on my Forever Playlist.
That’s because both songs, each from Spektor’s Begin to Hope album, really quite excellently nail what it feels like to surrender one’s self to love. “Fidelity” covers the effort it takes to make that surrender in the first place, to really let someone in, and by doing so, open one’s self to the terrifying everything that comes with love; “On the Radio,” goes into what opening one’s self actually entails. Of the two songs, “Fidelity” is the more complete and lyrically coherent song on the matter; it’s also arguably Ms. Spektor’s signature song.
“On the Radio” is more scattershot — its first verse feel more like stream-of-consciousness lyrical warming up than anything else — but when it gets into gear in the second set of verses, it’s so devastatingly correct and beautiful about what it means to be in love with another person that is literally breathtaking to me:
No, this is how it works You peer inside yourself You take the things you like And try to love the things you took And then you take that love you made And stick it into some Someone else’s heart Pumping someone else’s blood And walking arm in arm You hope it don’t get harmed But even if it does You’ll just do it all again
This song is sixteen years old as of this writing, and I’ve heard it dozens if not hundreds of times, and rare is the time that I get out of this verse without tears. This is it; this is indeed how it works, and how wise of Ms. Spektor to recognize that fact.
And it’s a lot! You can understand why, in “Fidelity,” she’s reluctant to surrender into it at all, or why anyone who actually does understand that terrifying everything of love, can hesitate to give themselves over to it. You have to really want it and you have to accept responsibility for yourself in it. It’s certainly easier not to take it on. I don’t fault anyone who chooses not to.
But if you do, there are rewards. Are they worth it? That’s up to each person to decide. In my particular case, I can say: Absolutely, so far, and I’m working hard to make sure it stays so. I play “On the Radio” every now and again to remind myself of the feeling that saying yes to it all has gained me.
To begin: I’m fine. I’m double-vaxxed and double-boosted, and my symptoms so far have been those of a mild flu; and in point of fact I felt worse yesterday than I do today. Yesterday I wanted to sleep all day, and mostly did; I was in bed at 6:30pm and didn’t get back out of it (save for a ten-minute interval at about 10pm where I ravenously ate all the cheese in the house) until 9am this morning. Today I’m mildly achey but not overly tired. My brain has been useless for the last few days, which I should have taken as an early distant warning, but did not because sometimes one’s brain is just useless. My sense of taste and smell is perfectly functional, for which I am grateful. I’ve called my primary care physician’s office to report in and see if I should get Paxlovid; I imagine I’ll hear back soon. In the meantime, and again: I’m fine.
I find it mildly ironic that when I finally definitively have gotten COVID, it’s when I’ve been at home for weeks; I traveled all over the US between March and May and got through unscathed. My assumption at this point is I may have caught it when we were out and about on our anniversary, or when we went to see Lightyear. The moral of “never leave your house, ever” is not lost on me.
My immediate plan is to do nothing and to eat all the food in the house and see where things go from there. In the meantime, I would note that my prophecy that if I did ever catch COVID, my double-vaxxed-and-boosted ass would find it a mild inconvenience rather than a life-threatening issue, seems to be panning out pretty well. So, please, if you’ve not already been vaxxed and boosted, please do that. It’ll make a difference.
(Also, for those about to ask: Krissy’s fine and I’m staying away from her. Athena is in California and also perfectly fine. The pets are fine, too. Everyone’s fine! Don’t worry.)