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TBTW: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

This is one of those books that I got to read courtesy of the bookcase at Forum, which means that I’ve read it and I can suggest that you head over to Amazon now, order it today, and read it the day the book comes out (Sept. 16). Did I mention that I liked it?

I’ve read a lot of books and I’ve read a lot of different types of books over the course of my life, but I don’t know that I’ve ever really read a book like this. I could read it again and again and probably find new details every single time. I could read it again and again and never really understand it. It feels like something from Toni Morrison, in which you know there is something to be read and something to be found, but that you really don’t know what it is or even if you are supposed to know.

jpegNothing is hidden in Wolf in White Van, because the end happens first. And yet, it is a maze, exactly like the cover. You know precisely what it says, but you have no idea how it actually works. Every so often, the story transitions from where we are to some point in time earlier in the narrative. Sometimes the jumps are so sly as to be almost unnoticeable; sometimes they are abrupt and awkward. But every transition is designed to be exactly what it was. We follow the main character through the recesses of his mind, through his imaginary game (Welcome to Trace Italian!) that is anything but imaginary, and through the truth of life. Which is, of course, that we really don’t know what life is.

With a book that captures your imagination first and your intellect second, John Darnielle grabs you from page one with this book and makes it really hard to leave the story, even when you put the book down. I can’t help but imagine that this is a story he’s been working out in his head for his entire life. The book is really a story in a game in a story, and it feels almost like Darnielle has opened up his brain to us by putting this story in a game in a story into words. The words aren’t always my favorite, but they are certainly compelling. They make you think. They make you wonder. And they make you imagine, which is really the point of a novel anyways.

 

I’m Published!

The summer has come to an end, which means that my internship at Forum is over and I have moved on to what is shaping up to be a crazy fun, crazy busy, and crazy difficult senior year. But, over the course of the summer, I was working on something at Forum that I haven’t written about here. Namely, I was writing!

In addition to my internship duties at Forum, helping with researching shows and finding guests and everything else, I’ve been working to write blog posts for other parts of KQED based on Forum shows. In essence, the station tries to connect online, TV, and radio coverage as much as possible by cross-referencing. Things that get put on air are often written about online, and the articles include the audio clips. Forum has a social media specialist who usually writes posts like these, but she was on leave this summer. I like writing, so I tried to write some posts along those lines. I wrote and had four posts published for both the State of Health blog and the Science blog:

Using Disney Movies to Reach a Son with Autism: This was the first post I wrote and, interestingly, the last one that actually went online. From the beginning, I helped with this guest for Forum, reading most of Suskind’s book before he joined us on air (book review here), and even having a really interesting conversation with him about Sleeping Beauty after the show. This post was fun to write, and was based a little bit on the Forum hour and a little bit on the book itself; it was the only of the four posts I wrote that dealt with our second hour, and the hardest to write but a lot of fun.

5 Things You Should Know About Sun Protection: The second post I wrote and the first one online, this was a lot of fun but also a bit challenging. I listened to the full hour twice over, collected all the experts’ tips, and then distilled them down into a single post of five tips. I got a lot of suggestions from the State of Health editor on how to make it a better post, which turned out well for my next two posts also.

Sleep Apps, Myths, and More: Strategies for a Good Night’s Rest: I wrote this post on my very last day at Forum – the hour was Tuesday morning, I wrote the post Tuesday afternoon, and the post was published later in the week. It was nice to get a rapid turnaround for the site, and to show myself and the KQED editors that I was able to get it done. Also, this post was published on the State of Health site, but also linked to and visible on the Science page, which I found exciting.

Gardening in the Drought: What Makes a Plant ‘Drought-Tolerant’: My only post for the Science page exclusively, this one was the only post for which I did serious research in addition to listening to Forum. Instead of basing it exclusively on the hour, I used our drought-friendly gardening hour as a peg for a post that answers a question I’d been asking myself – why are some plants called ‘drought-tolerant’? I did the research and wrote the post from both my research and our guests’ quotes, which was an interesting challenge that I think I was able to complete.

As someone who isn’t a journalism major, I came into my internship feeling a little bit out of place. But the conversation we had at the beginning of the summer, in which we were encouraged to write for the KQED blogs, I felt a little more in my element. After all, I write a blog on the regular, so to speak. Once I got started, I actually enjoyed the process much more than I expected. I received a lot of valuable editorial suggestions, and was able to publish four posts on the website of the largest public radio station in the nation, and one of the biggest news sources in the greater Bay Area. I got compliments from the editors, who said they were impressed with my writing and my ability to take corrections/make edits. Most importantly, I discovered that I really enjoyed the process. Even though three of my four posts were primarily health-based, they all have at least a bit of a science spin to them. I don’t know if science journalism is something I want to actively pursue, but it would certainly be some good fun, and it is (yet another) idea to keep in mind.

TBTW: Life, Animated

Note: This post was originally written in June, but I waited to publish it until this post on KQED’s State of Health blog came out. But now it has, so check that out too!

Every so often, I come across a book that I love not because the story line is particularly exciting or because the characters are well written. Sometimes I love an author’s way of writing, or perhaps I’m just entranced by the cover. (They say don’t judge, but if we judge positively, who cares?) This time, though, I got obsessed with Life, Animated because of Disney. Ron Suskind is an author of epic proportions – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of a bunch of expose-esque political books – but as far as I can tell this is his first non-political book, and the most meaningful one. That’s because it’s all about his son – Owen.

Owen has autism. He was diagnosed after he stopped speaking at age 3. From that point forward, his typical childhood obsession with all things Disney exploded into an incredible way to understand the world.

At this point, it is hard to believe that anyone doesn’t know something about autism. Hopefully everybody reading this knows that autism is NOT caused by vaccines, so if your child isn’t up to date on their vaccinations, please stop reading. My blog will still be here when you get back from the doctor’s. But people probably also know that most kids with autism find it incredibly difficult to interact with the world around them. The inability to read emotions makes social interactions exhausting to the point of impossible.

For Owen, the only way to deal with the real world is through Disney-colored glasses. As a preschooler, he watched Disney animated movies – like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin – on repeat, watching and mimicking the faces to learn how to speak. For years, he could only converse through Disney dialogue, until his father (the author) had their first heart-to-heart. Under a blanket. Pretending to be Iago, the bird from Aladdin. In elementary school, Owen essentially taught himself to read by sounding out all the names in the credits; at the same time acquiring encyclopedic knowledge of the voice actors, animators, and everyone else involved in the creation of Disney magic.

The book was beautiful. It was fun to read. It was informative. It was inspiring. Even though neither myself nor any of my family has autism, I related to the Suskind family. I sympathized with their challenges and simultaneously learned from them. I watched the story unfold, watched the parents discover Owen and watched Owen discover himself, and I was rooting for them the whole time. It is clear that the author is skilled, both as a writer and as a father. I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone looking to understand a life with autism or a life with a family member who has autism.

Day 2. Learning.

I’ve now had two days of classes, and I’ve had at least one class meeting of every class but one. (That one is just on Mondays…) I couldn’t be more excited about them; I’m pretty happy with that fact, since I can’t really drop any of them or anything like that. I’m already learning oh so much, but I can’t help but sharing the few things that I’ve learned and really enjoyed.

First of all, I’ve installed a dictionary app on my phone, which means when I’m reading or my friends are reading, I look up the new words. Not only new words, but also words I know in context but have never actually looked up to get a sense of the nuances. Just today, I’ve looked up five words. Think of it as GRE studying (even though I’m not taking the GRE). Or just living life.

  1. Ineffable – too great, powerful, beautiful, etc. to be described
  2. Heady – causing feelings of excitement or dizziness
  3. Lumpen – of or relating to dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified
  4. Trenchant – very strong, clear, and effective
  5. Chicanery – actions or statements that trick people into believing something that is not true, deception or trickery

In addition to the words, and the Chinese and Japanese history, (interestingly, I am currently studying Japanese history in my Political Science class, where we are looking at the beginnings of Japanese-American interactions, but I am also studying general Japanese history in my Japanese class in Japanese, of course) I am also learning little pieces of African wisdom in my Dance class. Like these:

Energy is like wisdom – the more you use, the more you get.

Listen now, hear me later. 

I’ve also been reading a lot (60+ pages so far today) and setting up my house. I’ve discovered that the necessary steps to living an independent life, like making and cleaning up after meals, keeping the house clean, etc. take more time when you don’t have parents and siblings to fall back on. Life is a lot easier when one person cooks and someone else cleans…

Life is busier than I expected, but I’ll continue posting as much as I can!

One Door Closes, Another Opens

This post marks the end of an era. Technically, the end of a summer. An amazing, fabulous summer filled with friends and fun and camping and the most amazing internship I ever could have asked for.

When I decided to apply for and eventually accept the internship at Forum this summer, I didn’t expect it to be what it was. I expected to go in, sit down, get some work done, go home. I expected to love it at the start of the summer, and merely like it (if even that) by the end. I expected it to be just another job that I worked on for a few months. I expected to learn a lot and meet a lot of cool people and work with a lot of radio personalities and have a good time.

But Forum was a lot more that that. I met so many amazing people at KQED who go above and beyond every single day in trying to get the most and the most interesting news to the public. They inspired me with their commitment and their critiques and their professionalism and their passion. I got to see people in a hundred different professions come through, got to talk to them and ask them questions about their jobs. (Too bad I haven’t found my perfect profession yet!) I worked on every single part of the live show process – the research, the calling, the pre-interviewing, the meeting & greeting, the screening, the reading, and the thanking. All that’s left is the actual hosting! I actually looked forward to Mondays. (I was going to continue with the amazing-ness of my summer internship, but I think that pretty much sums it up.)

So one door is closing. I said goodbye to my internship for the last time yesterday. But another one is opening. I’m leaving tonight to start my senior year. I’m super excited for all my classes, and I’m excited to be living off-campus with my three best friends.

I sent a box yesterday that weighed 22 pounds and was full of books. (Don’t worry, I sent it Media Mail, and it cost < $15.) But if you looked in that box, or you looked at my Amazon orders list, or you looked at my class schedule, you might be a bit confused. Because … well …

  1. Particle and Nuclear Physics
  2. International Relations Seminar – US Foreign Policy in East Asia
  3. Advanced Japanese
  4. Physical Chemistry
  5. Literature of Haruki Murakami
  6. African Dance

I expect this semester to be a bit difficult, to say the least. I expect Japanese and Physics to have the hardest classes and tests, Lit and East Asia to have a lot of reading and essays. I’m hoping Chemistry is easy, but we shall see. And yes, they’re all part of my majors/minor. (Except Dance. That’s just fun.)

Breaking News Room

Last Monday, exactly 7 days ago now, Robin Williams committed suicide. Last Monday, like every Monday this summer, I was at work from 8am-4pm. The news about Williams was announced a bit after 3pm. This is significant only because it meant that I was at KQED when the news broke. In fact, one of the Forum producers broke the news.

She lives in Marin, so she always has a tab open to the Marin Independent Journal; Robin Williams lived and died in the jurisdiction of the Marin Sheriff’s Department, and they led the investigation. They wrote the press release and the Marin IJ were the first to see it and publish it. Our lovely producer saw the press release, and told us about it so fast that nothing came up on Google. (Because, as Dan pointed out, Google is an important source: “If it isn’t on Google, it isn’t true!”)

After a simple email to the entire news room with the news and the link, everyone was moving. Within about three minutes, Forum producers had determined if Williams had ever been on the show (he hadn’t). About three minutes after that, the emails started and the people walked down to ask if he’d ever been on the show. Since photos don’t exactly come across well on radio, people were looking for audio clips, which we unfortunately couldn’t provide.

We’d planned a show for the 9am hour. In fact, there were two shows planned (each 30 minutes). As sometimes happens, however, breaking news replaced the previously selected topics, and a Robin Williams show was instantly being crafted. By the time the decision was really made and the potential guests lined up, it was nearly 4pm. And, with the time sensitive nature of the show, the producers did all the work anyways. They know who’s been on Forum in the past, who they’d most like on the show, etc, without needing to ask questions, which always slow down a process.

It was fascinating to watch the process of breaking news being digested, interpreted, and reported on in the station around me, as tragic as that news may have been. I certainly didn’t expect anything along those lines when I began my internship at Forum, but it was certainly an interesting experience from which I learned a lot.

You Are Carrying…

Curtain rises, two boys sit center stage. A dilapidated building with a ladder propped against the side is in the background.

KHALID: Jamie, what are we doing here?

JAMIE: Sitting.

KHALID: But, I mean, why are we sitting here?

JAMIE: Because my bike tire is flat, but I don’t have my pump, so I can’t keep riding. And you’re supposed to be fixing that barn, but you’re lazy.

KHALID: I am not lazy!

JAMIE: Yeah you are.

KHALID: Am not!

JAMIE: Then why are you sitting here, doing nothing but staring at the sky with me?

Khalid stands, exits SL. He returns, carrying two buckets.

JAMIE: What’re those?

KHALID: Stuff.

JAMIE: Well, what’re you gonna do with them?

KHALID: Fix the barn. And you’re gonna help me.

JAMIE: No I’m not.

KHALID: Yeah you are. Do you want the tar or the stain?

JAMIE: What do I do with them?

KHALID: Well, one of us has to tar the roof, and the other one has to stain the walls.

JAMIE: Which one’s easier?

Khalid pauses.

KHALID: Tarring, definitely.

JAMIE: Well then, I want the tar.

Khalid smiles.

KHALID: Here you go.

He laughs and runs to the barn to begin staining the walls.

JAMIE: Khalid! You tricked me! Staining is totally easier than tarring, isn’t it?

Jamie slowly walks to the barn and begins to climb a ladder.

Blackout.

Lights up.

In blue light, a young girl wanders across the stage, staring up.

Time passes.

She walks across again, in the same direction as before.

Blackout

The young girl begins across the stage again, nearly falls over a wicker basket that is on the floor downstage center. 

MARY: Oh!

Mary sits. She looks around, then pokes her head in the basket. She lifts out a pen and puts it back. She lifts out a hand-held air pump and puts it back. She lifts out a piece of parchment, then reaches in and pulls out the pen again. She shifts, lying on her stomach, and begins to write.

Jamie and Khalid enter together, laughing.

JAMIE: Hey! What are you doing?

The boys run to Mary.

MARY: I’m writing a letter.

JAMIE: But that’s mine!

MARY: I just found it in the grass. I didn’t know it belonged to someone.

KHALID: Well who’d you think it belonged to?

MARY: Well… I don’t

JAMIE: Yeah! What, did you think aliens put it here or something?

MARY: No. I just thought…

KHALID: Hey, wait. What is this? He looks up from the parchment he has been examining.

MARY: That’s my letter. I’m writing a note to my dad.

KHALID: No, under the note. Not on the back. Just…under.

JAMIE: Let me see… It’s like a watch or something. Or a clock?

MARY: It’s a chronometer.

JAMIE: A what?

MARY: A chronometer.

KHALID: What’s that?

MARY: It’s kinda like a clock, but really really specific. Like, it is really good at telling time? I’m not really sure how to explain it. But my dad collected them before he died, so I could show you what they look like…

The three kids walk offstage, picking up the basket on the way.

Fade to black.


This post was my response to the Weekly Writing Challenge from a couple weeks ago, which was to make a post with a random list of words. My words were these:

 

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