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October 2013

Master Disaster: A Bianca by any other name would smell as sweet

Dear East-Coast Bianca Hernandez,

We’ve never met, and most likely never will, yet we share a crucial bond. You see, we have the same fucking name. While it’s not shocking to share a name with someone it is odd to be receiving their mail. Especially when it comes from businesses located on the opposite side of the country from my current residence.

Which is why I’m writing you, dear Bianca. You seem to not know your own e-mail address. That’s fine, it could happen to anyone. My issue is that you keep giving my gmail address out as your own.

I’ve been getting notices for your rent for years, but recently your apartment management has gotten more aggressive with maintenance updates, flooding my inbox with what I’m sure would be helpful information for me if I lived in your apartment (but I don’t).

Adding insult to injury, your recent trip to the doctor has resulted in me getting rather urgent sounding emails. Now, I’m no doctor, but that seems rather serious.

So I implore you to memorize your gmail address so that this madness can stop.

Thanks,

California Bianca Hernandez

Master Disaster: Write Way

My excitement for this year’s NaNoWriMo is fueled by the fact that this will be my first year of participation in which I am not in school, meaning I can actually focus on a story. Since graduating in August I’ve also been wanting to get back into journalism (though that word apparently leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths), but I’m nervous about writing for publication again after such a gap.

In order to prepare myself for the rigors of publication I’ve been writing more here reading more diverse texts (grad school assigned reading was very topic specific). I know fiction isn’t journalistic but the goal of good storytelling transcends style differences.

I may submit some of my book reviews to small, local publications just for the byline. I guess this means I’m trying to *gasp* FREELANCE.

Does anyone have freelancing advice? General writing advice for someone who hasn’t done it professionally in awhile?

Re(al)-tale: Crossing the line

Since I’m working holiday retail to save up for a camera kit I often have interesting encounters that solidify my much researched idea that humans (generally) suck. So I’m going to share the more amusing events of my workdays and pepper them with my usual upbeat, positive perspective (hahaha, just kidding).

Recently I worked during a really busy weekend rush and the line was huge. People were asking to put orders on hold and come back later, when the checkout would be faster. Because of the size of the store the line snaked along the wall and you had to pass through the line in order to get to the other side of the shop.

So there I was, running to the store-room to get different sizes for customers and one woman steps up to me and says, “That line is too long.”

I assume she doesn’t want to wait in it, like so many others, and offer to put things on hold for her. No, that’s not what she wanted.

“I want to look at some items over there, but the line is in the way,” she informs me.

“Well, we can go over there and see if some people will move so you can get what you’re looking for,” I say.

“No. I want you to move the line.”

Yes, she wanted me to move the line of 20 people for her convenience. I looked at her, then back at the register area, then back at her.

“Well, as you can see, there really isn’t any other place for the line to form besides in front of the registers, so I can’t exactly move it, but if you want me to I can get whatever items you want from that area and bring them to you, or ask some of the people to move.” I thought this was reasonable.

“If you won’t move that line then I won’t shop here.”

I don’t understand what right people think they have to ask for the impossible or just be rude to others. Especially in retail or food services. My dad, a bartender for decades now, still gets people who try to tell him how to make a margarita properly.

Luckily I’ve worked with customers in office jobs, so I understand the array of interactions I get to experience on a daily basis and can shrug off the rude ones, but I love regaling others with the more ridiculous requests because it is unbelievable that humans can be complete asshats to strangers.

(NOTE: I may make this retail experience an ethnographic study of worker/customer relations during a hectic time of year.)

Descriptions

Check out my next documentary film project! Jane Austen and travel, why we do it and what we’re looking for.

Looking for Mr Darcy

lookingforDARCYposter2

What is this all about?

Short answer: A film about those that visit sites bathed in the mystique of Jane Austen and why they do it. Are we all in search of Mr. Darcy?

 

Long Answer: Literary tourism around Jane Austen has been reaching new heights as her books celebrate major anniversaries. From Bath to Chawton, fans flock to see the places she has called home, even if only for a short time.

Tours, teapots and toffee can now be seen sporting Austen’s name or silhouette. Festivals are held regularly to entertain the masses be reinterpreting specific classes of Regency era society. Are these signs of a steady revival of an author, or perhaps a more romantic interpretation of her world?

Who travels to these places and why? What are fans looking for in their trip into Regency England? How do those that work at these attractions feel about…

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Book Review: Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey

This follow-up to the chronicle of Lady Almina is a stunner. In Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey the (current) Countess of Carnarvon weaves the story of the Carnarvon family with significant events that leaves readers with a greater appreciation of one family’s contribution to history. There are times that I had to remind myself that this was, in fact, a real family and not some fantastical fiction.

What was so different about this story, centered around Lady Catherine and Porchey (6th Earl of Carnarvon), was the vast changes that occurred in the tradition of great English houses during this generation. Two World Wars changed the way that society viewed status and income, altering the fates of those upstairs and downstairs.

The dynamics of the home were not the only things to shift during this era. From the start of this novel, the courting between Catherine and Porchey, we see that customs are becoming much more liberal when compared to Almina’s story. The couples eventual divorce is also a major revision of the expectations of a high class family. Their divorce highlights the major gender inequalities still inherent in society at the time when we learn that Catherine’s first real home is bought through her settlement earnings.

World War II takes center stage in this book. The Countess often gives enough context to understand the war beyond what the family is experiencing, but never takes us too far out of the main stories she is telling. She creates an excellent balance between individual biographical information and a sweeping historical background.

I think one of the strengths of this book is how well it shows the reordering of society during a critical period in history. Because the Countess includes the stories of the Carnarvons, their friends and their employees readers can track the changes going on through multiple classes. I also appreciate that she has chosen to focus on the wives in this (her) family. Often history has focused on the men, but the women have shown themselves to be equally, if not more so, dynamic and fascinating.

History and biography buffs will enjoy this. Thanks to the publishers, Crown Publishing, and NetGalley for the advance read.

Book Review: Dancing on Air

The thrill of a Victorian romance meets the drama of the ballet world in Dancing on Air. Lisette has known only the world her aunt has allowed her to see between the seemingly endless dance practices and performances. It’s no surprise that the theatre is her home, but this ingenue is perfectly content in avoiding the limelight, and all that comes with it, until a certain young Lord catches her eye.

What makes the love story compelling is way that the poor, neglected Lisette finds solace and salvation in the arms of Lord Gainsworth in a Cinderella-like performance worthy of a ballet in itself. Both are concerned about picking a happy future with each other over the wishes of those around them. In Victorian England one could not easily choose the whims of the heart over the expectations of society.

While the lovebirds are caught up in deciding their fate there is a perfect storm brewing behind-the-scenes of the theatre. Lisette’s aunt and Lord De Vale have a long history and soon the stakes in their games become too high. Strange things are happening to the ballerinas and Lisette’s swift rise does not come without a price. The concluding chapters leave all in suspense and agony, hoping that the love of Lisette and Lord Gainsworth will prevail, even though few ballets have happy endings.

Overall I thought this was a carefully written story, weaving the past in subtly enough that it did not take you out of the present action, but did give you hints at the motives and backgrounds of some characters. The descriptions of the ballets and theatre were very vivid and sometimes made you feel as if you could smell the dusty curtains, feel the creaking floorboards or hear the roar of the audience. There is a good balance of intrigue, love and menace, making this a perfect book to curl up with on a winter’s evening.

I wish there had been a bit more development between Lisette and her theatre family, since she does reference her connection to them frequently. This is a short read, so I wasn’t expecting to read full bios on every character, but I would have liked to have had more details on the characters themselves. The villains seems to be given the most back-story, while I was hoping the even Lord Gainsworth would get to tell a few tales. Though the year is given at the start, we get few reminders that this is set in the Victorian era, or even London itself. This would have been a huge, bustling city, a few hints at that could have gone a long way in portraying the world beyond the theatre.

Short review: Quick afternoon read. Nice ballet details (for the appreciation of dancers). Kind of predictable.

Master Disaster: Going the Distance

I’ll give you a moment to sing Cake before getting to the blog itself.

So I’ve been bad about posting consistently after getting two part-time jobs over the last couple of weeks (humble-bragging?).

Having to work most days a week and commuting hours at a time has really put a stop to my usual workout routine. At first just dragging my lethargic body around a city was enough, but I realized that if I got to San Francisco early, and left late, I could have enough time for a short walk around town.

The office I work at isn’t far from Powell St/Union Square, so I take a brisk walk past the shops, lines of trolley-ready-tourists and homeless every morning to wake myself up (and people watch). My afternoon walk is slightly different since there are many more people milling about, and I have to dodge the advocacy groups hounding me for money. Plus the extra half hour means I miss the afternoon rush of people cramming themselves like sardines into BART.

My point: Figure out a way to include more exercise in your busy routine. Whether it’s getting to work early to walk an extra mile or two, parking a bit farther away so you can strut your stuff to the cubicle or picking a lunch spot that requires an uphill walk (easier said than done), just try it.

Note: I pick (brisk) walking as my workday workout because it doesn’t require me to get on the floor or wrinkle my office clothes. I assume most other work peoples feel the same.

Book Review: Best American Travel Writing 2013

For many of us Fall means being cooped up in offices during the limited daylight hours, swaddling ourselves in layers of fabric and hunching over warm cups of tea. If you are like me, and long for an escape, then you find this time of year the perfect time to fantasize over future vacations in remote locales.

What Best American Travel Writing 2013 offers readers is not just a collection of articles, but the feeling of having been there, experiencing the adventure with the author. Elizabeth Gilbert is the guest editor for this edition and her introduction makes the distinction between the travel articles that map out your three-day trip and those that make you feel as if you already took that trip. By that logic this collection is a success because each author brings a unique voice to the locations they describe, making you feel the adrenaline of running with the bulls, the fear of a gravity defying airplanes and feel the creak of boardwalks beneath you as you taste freshly caught fish from Maine.

If this isn’t indulgent then maybe the true meaning of the word can be found in Lynn Yeager’s Confessions of a Packing Maximalist. Here she highlights the joys of packing heavily, an opinion often railed against and not seen in such a playful, thoughtful way. You can take a walk through Dickens World with Sam Anderson, marveling at the ingenuity around literary tourism. Better yet, sit down with David Sedaris and laugh at another one of his perfectly tailored stories about Paris.

A compelling element of travel writing is its ability to touch on underlying economic, political, environmental and human rights issues. I found that this anthology offered a good balance between the almost leisure trips and the ones with powerful issue driven themes. From Marie Arana’s Dreaming of El Dorado, which take you to the harsh mining cities still existing in Peru, to Dimiter Kenarov’s look at the winter sports push in Serajevo, still tinged with the wars that ravaged the area. Then there is Colleen Kinder’s first-person account of walking through Egypt that will haunt you as you walk down the street in whatever city you live in.

In the end I was amused that, though this is a book of travel writing, so many of the authors take a moment to reflect on their homes. Somehow these experiences are not lone events, but another thread interwoven in the fabric of their pasts, presents and futures. Even in the most exotic locales we never stray far from home.

 

Master Disaster: Staying Busy

I’m behind in reading, writing and my Netflix queue, but I’m employed again!

It’s been awhile since I’ve been running around doing multiple things, so it’s been a bit of a re-learning experience. I’m also becoming a master of commuting and GET THIS – I may be developing a social life. I’ve heard those are fun.

What am I up to?

  • Documentary internship
  • Holiday retail job (GLAMOROUS!)
  • Working on two documentaries in development
  • Trying to help a friend maintain content on a webpage (I’m failing at this majorly)

What am I not doing (that I really should be)?

  • Prepping for the Anthro conference
  • Finishing some Etsy things
  • Finishing book reviews on time
  • Working out at home as much
  • Watching more BBC stuffs

What would I rather be doing?

  • Sitting on my ass and getting paid for my reviews (again)

That seems rather simple. Is it really too much to ask for?

 

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