Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

9781565126800-250x372Book: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Rating: 4/5 miles traveled from home

Recommended if you like: Stories that follow a character as they grow up, stories that discuss race and identity, stories that discuss the female experience

First Lines: “You my lucky piece,” Grandma says. Grandma has walked me the half block from the hospital lobby to the bus stop. Her hand is wrapped around mine like a leash.

Published: February 16, 2010 by Algonquin Books

Review: I am always happy to find another book to read that talks about the experiences of mixed race people, since they are relatively uncommon. I mostly wanted to read The Girl Who Fell From The Sky because the main character is mixed, but I got more than I expected from this story.

The book begins when the main character, Rachel, is nine years old and has just been sent to live with her grandmother. She is the sole survivor of a family tragedy, and it is unclear why her father (the only remaining member of her immediate family) has not sent for her. Rachel’s mother was Danish, and her father is a black GI that has been stationed overseas for as long as she can remember. It’s immediately apparent that she gets noticed because she has light skin and bright blue eyes, and she is living with her black grandmother. We follow Rachel from when she first moves to Portland, Oregon with her grandmother to when she’s about to turn eighteen. Throughout the narrative, we witness her growing up, the friendships she makes (and the racially driven reasons behind them), the relationships she finds herself in, while the underlying mystery of what happened to her (since Rachel can’t remember what happened that day). Meanwhile, the story sometimes shifts points of view to a young boy who calls himself Brick, who witnessed the tragedy firsthand out his living room window, and goes on a quest across the country to find Rachel.

I have only gotten around to reading a few books that are from the perspective of a mixed-race protagonist, but the ones I have read tend to focus on this the most. I appreciated that the story organically showed what it was like to be mixed, but also inserted the experience of being a teenage girl and fitting in with your classmates, interacting with your family, and navigating relationships. Rachel deals with being told she isn’t black enough, the experience of unwittingly passing for white, and being seen as “exotic” by romantic interests. I also found it very compelling that as Rachel grows up, she acts rather reckless. When confronted by her grandmother about her behavior, she simply says, “I wasn’t supposed to have a future…It doesn’t matter what I do. This is my life. It’s my life to throw away.”

Read this book if you like being able to peek into a character’s life, if you like seeing a fully-shaped version of what life is like for someone else. Read it if you like figuring out an underlying mystery about the characters you read. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, and definitely recommend it.

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Why Aren’t You Listening to “The Bright Sessions”?

The Bright Sessions is an audio drama about therapy for the strange and unusual — otherwise known as people with special powers, known in the show’s universe as atypicals. The podcast is a compilation of the recordings that Dr. Joan Bright makes of her sessions with her patients. She specializes only in atypical people, helping them to harness and control their powers and be able to live a relatively normal life once they have control. Her work also helps to avoid her patients fall into the hands of more nefarious people looking to exploit or abuse them.

This podcast is well-written, sensitive, brilliantly voice-acted and gripping to listen to. Each character you are introduced to has a different ability and different ways of coping, and are well-rounded. You’ll fall in love with them quickly, and care about their well-being, their lives, and their mundane everyday struggles that can be made harder by their ability. Their stories progress in a natural manner, which I appreciated greatly when listening to the series for the first time.

http://thebrightsessions.tumblr.com/

Most episodes are relatively short (especially in the first season), so they’re easy to binge-listen in a short amount of time. The creators also post original bonus content often, such as blogs for the characters, notes from Dr. Bright’s desk, and more. The podcast is on hiatus for the month of February, so it’s a great time to get caught up and wait anxiously with me for more!

It is best going in knowing as little as possible, so I’ll stop here. You can find The Bright Sessions on iTunes, Stitcher, or at thebrightsessions.com/listen.

 

Journey to Silver: Part 1

I adore League of Legends. I started playing in 2010, when Boyfriend thought it’d be a good game for us to play while we were apart over my college Thanksgiving break.

I was TERRIBLE back then. I’m still comparatively terrible now, but then I played with camera lock, didn’t use a mouse, and couldn’t even stay alive against beginner bots.

I spent time away from the game for about 2 years, playing World of Warcraft mostly. It wasn’t until Season 4 that I actually began playing again and started to really see improvement in my play. That’s when I started playing ranked.

I was atrocious in ranked placements, but somehow managed to make it to Silver 5. To make a long story short, I’ve played much less ranked than is required to actually climb, and was placed in Bronze 5 in Season 5 and again in Season 6, despite a 5-5 placement ratio.

My goal this season is simply to make it to Silver.

I actually started recording my games this season recently, to be able to look back on what I did wrong and mindfully figure out how to not make those same mistakes again in future games. It’s also nice when my recordings capture an awesome moment, like a three-person shockwave on Orianna that causes all three people caught in it to flash. I don’t play enough ranked to climb fast, but I am happy to have climbed to Bronze 4 so far and haven’t fallen back down yet.

The first games after my placements were crazy. It felt like I was with the worst of the worst of the League community – both skillwise and attitude-wise. People were yelling at each other, flaming, and doing absolutely atrocious plays and dying left and right. I think after my placements I lost at least 6-7 games in a row. I just kept going, figuring I’d have to win sometime. Then, I started to gain LP and climb through the tier. It was like something just clicked into place, and I actually won my first promotional series ever, and celebrated my promotion into Bronze 4 by dancing in my chair a bunch. I’ve stuck to mostly three champions – Ezreal and Lucian for bot lane and Orianna for mid. I feel that it is going to be easier this season too, since you only NEED to know two roles rather than all of them (jungling randomly in past seasons was NOT fun). I enjoy that I am good at and enjoy playing champions that are not banned often and mostly aren’t picked away from me.

As I reach each threshold, I am reminding myself not to be discouraged. I know that after that losing streak at the beginning, if I just keep playing the climb will continue. Right now, I’m in a ranked bounce house – I’ll lose one, win one, lose one, win two, lose two, and stay at approximately 50% winrate consistently. I know that eventually I will fix something that I’m doing wrong (or will get really lucky with my teams) and I’ll continue to climb from here. I still have until Worlds to climb to Silver 5 at minimum.

For me, having something that I like to do competitively is a new thing. I have never been competitive, not liking sports games and people worried so much about winning. But finding an outlet where I can compete and improve my own gameplay and mechanical skill is incredibly satisfying to do, which keeps me going back, wanting to play at least one game per day, if not more. It makes me want to read each patch notes as they come out, searching for changes to my favorite champions. It makes me want to watch professionals stream and learn more from their play as well. And ultimately, I am having fun, which is the most important part.

I will update you on my progress as the season goes on. Please leave any advice, encouragement, or ideas for music to listen to while I play in the comments! 🙂 

Review: The Turner House

“The Turner House” follows the story of a black family of thirteen children, and their family home on the east side of Detroit. I listened to it on audiobook, and finished it last night. Usually, I’d just write a review on Goodreads and leave it at that. However, something about this book just thrilled me altogether. My only complaint is really that I wanted to know mo
re. I wanted more information about what happened after the book ended. But the big thing was that it reminded me of so many things within my own family, on both sides, and made me laugh and smile and nod as I listened.

In the story, each sibling is grown and out of the house, and the siblings that still live in Detroit are gathering together to try to figure out what to do with their childhood home, the house on Yarrow Street. The mortgage is upside down, and is worth far less than they owe on it. If you can imagine what trying to come to a decision among thirteen kids is like, that’s what happebjcx-square-1536ns throughout the book.

The story weaves in Francis and Viola’s (the parents) story, of how Francis left Viola and their oldest son Cha-Cha in Arkansas while he went north to Detroit to find a job and come back for them eventually during the 1940’s. We follow the oldest son Cha-Cha, while he deals with seeing a haint at night; Troy, one of the youngest, who is now a police officer and is attempting to find a solution for the Turner House on his own, and Lelah, the youngest, who has a gambling problem and has lost her house and her job. These three are the main focuses of the story, but we get enough perspective on the rest of the children to understand what they’re like and laugh when something that could be perceived an inside joke is said within the story.

Like Francis, my grandpa (on my dad’s side) left my grandmother to find work and send for her later, except he went to California from Oklahoma. I was never able to meet either of them, much as I wish I had, and it was interesting to read about a couple’s experience of going through this time apart in order to help propel their family toward a better future, and the difficulties that could present, both because of the time spent apart, and the time period they were living in, where although there might not have been Jim Crow laws necessarily, but there was surely racism and segregation to deal with while each of them were in their separate places.

On the other hand, my grandma (on my mom’s side) is the oldest of thirteen. They grew up in New Mexico, and she was the first to come to California, and led the way for the rest of her family to follow her. Sometimes when I was reading about Cha-Cha and his leadership of his family, it reminded me of my grandma. My grandma is tough as nails, and is definitely highly respected in the family.

The ability to relate to the characters in this book helped make me enjoy the story that much more. All of this aside, it is an incredibly well-written book and is Flournoy’s debut novel. She also did a good job of making Detroit itself into a character, and inserting narrative about the housing crisis, redlining, and other issues facing the city without hitting you over the head with it. And ultimately, all around it made me feel a huge swelling of appreciation for my own family.

I’d recommend it highly. I am really intrigued by what Angela Flournoy will write next.

Why You Should Try Podcasts

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I started listening to podcasts a couple of years ago. At the time, it was just the weekly book news oriented Book Riot podcast, and it has slowly grown from there. I started listening to their other podcasts that included book recommendation, new book releases and their form of Dear Abby podcasts. I’d added the podcasts from Blizzard Watch as well, their main and Lore Watch podcasts and thought I was pretty set.

Then, I read this post about story-driven horror podcasts.

I’d heard about Serial, but hadn’t really thought about the fact that there could be podcasts that had continuing story, that were heavily produced and edited. I decided to try Limetown first. It started a down-the-rabbit hole spiral of finding other similar podcasts to listen to, and binge-listening each one while cooking, playing video games, cleaning, and even just sitting in bed playing simple games on my iPad. I was hooked.

Listening to podcasts has started to help me understand why radio was such a huge source of entertainment for people before television became widespread. It helps me understand why people thought that the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds was happening as they listened.

I know almost all of the podcasts I have been listening to lately are fictional docudramas (with the exception of Lore), but they are so brilliantly produced, written, and acted that it feels like it could be real. I’ve enjoyed the anticipation of waiting for the next episode; of reading discussions on Reddit for the podcasts, exchanging theories and discussing the parts you liked best; and, of course, having that feeling where you want to know so much more but you look at your phone and realize there’s only two minutes left and you’re going to have to wait until the next one.

These podcasts have created a respite for my ears when I’m in between audiobooks (or even regular books!) to listen to while I do other things. I think if you like stories, like audiobooks, or even enjoy watching/listening to TV while getting other things done, you will enjoy podcasts in general, but especially the “docudrama” types. Here is a list of the ones I’ve been listening to and see if any of them look interesting!

  • The Black Tapes by Pacific Northwest Stories & Minnow Beats Whale
  • TANIS by Pacific Northwest Stories & Minnow Beats Whale
  • Lore by Aaron Mahnke (folklore and stories passed down in real life that are based on supposedly true happenings)
  • NoSleep Podcast (horror stories written by people on Reddit and then produced for audio)
  • Limetown (currently on hiatus, but I highly recommend the first season)

Do you listen to any podcasts? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments! 

Toxic Messages: They Need to Stop

While turning over the idea of this blog post in my head for the past few days, I feel like I’ve written this before, in some capacity. I’m not a person who likes to complain much (or at least without rationalizing away reasons for complaint). Or ask for help, much to the chagrin of my family and boyfriend. But this recent story about a 25-year-old employee at Yelp’s firing from her job and the response of most people to it has really gotten to me.

I don’t think she should have written an open letter on Medium or rage-tweeted at her CEO. There are other reasons people have dug up on social media why she was fired and that suggest she may not be “as poor as she seems” (which ugh, let’s not get into the problems with that statement). However, a lot of the concerns she brings up about living in the Bay Area (or, in many places) are valid.

Rent prices are outrageous. Completely, and utterly. I am lucky to have the rent price I have where I live right now, even with it being raised last June. I still pay at least $400 less than most people that live in a smaller apartment than I do. I live in a quiet mountain town and it’s hard to get anywhere, but my rent is low. I’m thankful for that, honestly. But the prospect of moving anywhere else and finding a job that can pay for that is daunting.

People want to get on this girl’s case about “not planning ahead” and not budgeting for living in the Bay Area…but someone has to fill those entry-level jobs in any city. Often, for a college graduate, that is all you’re going to get. These jobs may have once been intended for people in high school or college, but people have to eat. They have to live. They have to find a job where they can get one. People love to bash on “millennials” for whatever choice they make. If they stay at home and live with their parents, they get called entitled and lazy. If they complain about the fact that they have a college degree and still can’t be paid a living wage, they get called entitled and lazy. If they have a few years of work experience under their belt and still can’t get an interview for anything above $15 an hour, they get called entitled and lazy. There’s really no winning in the situation. And that’s part of the problem I have.

No one is perfect. This girl who wrote this open letter certainly isn’t. But there’s no need for people to dogpile on someone who spoke out about it (however right or wrong her approach was) when several facets of what she said are true. People commenting on this article say “Well if you don’t like it, find another job.” When’s the last time they job-searched? Do they realize how difficult it is to do so? That even if you are working, that finding something else can take years? Especially something that pays more than you are currently making. Even if you have been paid more money in the past it’s more likely you’ll be able to find a job that pays less because you need to get something right away than something that pays you what you have actually earned through the work you’ve already done.

Ultimately, I’m just tired of being told that my generation is entitled, lazy, stuck-up, and can’t do anything for themselves. It’s a toxic message and it needs to stop. The reality of the statistics and numbers for what our generation experiences are real. Why do people think we are getting married and having kids later? Why do they think we’re not buying houses? Why do they think that we’re not saving any money? Why do they think we’re not moving out of our parents’ houses? Do they think we want this? Do they think that we’re stupid enough to not think that saving, buying a house, or living on our own are good ideas?

I don’t pretend to know what the solutions are. I only know what I’ve dealt with and what kind of situation I’m in. I don’t know the details of why a business that makes millions can’t manage to pay a living wage to even their lowest level employees. But I still think that the overarching message to millennials and the blaming of people who have no power needs to stop. We are all at the mercy of what people bigger than us decide. There are several ways to deal with it, but those methods shouldn’t come with criticism and shame. It’d be great if for a change, we could all lift each other up instead of tearing each other down.

Did you read the former Eat24/Yelp employee’s letter to the CEO? What do you think? Let me know in the comments. 

Scary Things About Trying Something New

Something you may not know about me – and may seem odd considering how little I watch television – is that I ADORE YouTube.

In the past couple of years, I started watching a lot of YouTube, mostly WoW-related machinima and other videos at first. I really liked Nobbel87‘s lore videos, and SlightlyImpressive‘s machinimas, and then discovered Nixxiom and Moocluck and fell down a rabbit hole. Now I’ve added people to my sub list like ShoddyCast who do Fallout and Skyrim lore (and an amazing “Rethinking” series, where they use in-game problems and relate them to the real-world), and people like Laci Green and Feminist Frequency for food-for-thought type videos. I’ve got a really long sub list, now.

It got me thinking about making my own videos.

Part of the reason I thought about doing videos is that currently, I do not have the capability to stream. My internet download speed is 6Mbps, my upload speed is…something I don’t want to think about. It’s definitely too slow to stream anything without major hiccups and freezes. My computer is a beast and so can handle it while laughing at Twitch, probably, but my internet would have a field day. So, I thought about doing videos instead.

I took a film class in college where I learned the basics of using video editing software. I know essentially how it works, and downloaded Lightworks to start with. I began recording a few of the games I play. It’s nice that recording is relatively simple with my graphics card and ShadowPlay, and so have a nice recording of one of my first League games of the season and the first hour of my playthrough of Rise of the Tomb Raider.

I was pretty confident that I’d be able to video edit easily. I learn new software super quickly, and I’d done video editing before, albeit 5-6 years ago. What could be hard about it?

Turns out, a lot.

For full disclosure, this does not mean I’m giving up. Or that this is too hard for me, because it’s not. But the types of problems I’ve had are incredibly frustrating and it’s scary to think you’re going to do something relatively easily and then have obstacles all along the way.

First of all, I’ve been using Audacity to record my voice separately from the Shadowplay mic recording because it tends to make the game audio far too loud while my voice is drowned out by dramatic music, no matter what game I’m playing, and it doesn’t separate the tracks by default. This means I have to add in the audio later, and with something like a League game where I’m only going to upload highlights or funny moments, isolating the audio to the right parts of the game is mostly very time-consuming. This is something I need to expect, but something I hadn’t thought about much before beginning. I have a video from that game that I’ll likely upload soon, but it’s most likely going to be a shorter rendition of what I had originally planned, but hopefully will be much more entertaining.

Then, I thought of the fact that I was eagerly anticipating the Rise of the Tomb Raider release for PC. I had been incredibly disappointed that it had been released as an Xbox exclusive, and was admittedly smug when they announced the PC release date about a month after the Xbox exclusive release. (They released it the same day as Fallout 4. Probably not a good idea.) I thought I’d start a Let’s Play of the game since I adored the first game and love Lara Croft as a character so much that I had a hard time getting into other games because a. they weren’t Lara and b. they weren’t ladies, usually.

I recorded about a full hour of gameplay with webcam and separate audio on the Monday after I bought it for PC. I excitedly uploaded the video into Lightworks to separate it into 15-minute intervals to edit together and upload to YouTube. However, I ran into a concerning problem – the audio and video did not match up. By quite a lot.

This is a problem that is fixable in post-processing, but I was confused as to why it would even be out of sync. I read a ton of forum posts, and most people who had asked the question hadn’t received a satisfactory answer, and were usually using a different editing program. I downloaded a trial of Adobe Premiere and tried it there, and had the same result, possibly even worse. I downloaded Handbrake and re-encoded the video for constant framerate vs. variable framerate, but it didn’t help – if anything, it made things worse. At the moment, I’m still trying to find a solution, and trying to avoid having to record the whole thing again, or completely readjust the audio by hand over four 15-minute segments where the audio could be in one of the other segments I’m splitting it into. Recording it again wouldn’t be the worst thing, since I could actually make sure to time myself and stop a little before 15 minutes so I wouldn’t have to split it, but I’m still not sure which direction to go at the moment. If you have any suggestions or have had this problem before, please let me know!

Honestly, I’m not discouraged as far as I’m going to throw it on the ground and say “Nope, this isn’t going to work”. It is frustrating, though, and I’m going to have to fight a little bit of an uphill battle to get started on this thing I want to do. I’ve been thinking about if I have this much issue with this type of recording, what would happen if I wanted to do machinima? Having to use green screens and WoW ModelViewer? The main thing is for me to try to push down my own self-doubt and keep my own stubborn willpower going. I can do this, even if I have to hop a bunch of obstacles along the way.

What obstacles have you run into trying out something new? Do you have any advice for me? Do you know how to solve my audio/video sync problem? Let me know in the comments!