Save My Former High School!

This week,  I learned that my alma mater, North East School of the Arts is in danger of closure by San Antonio’s North East Independent School District. “NESA” is a magnet program housed on the campus of Robert E. Lee High School and offers majors in seven artistic disciplines: Cinema, Creative Writing, Dance, Instrumental Music, Musical Theater, Technical Theater and Visual Arts. Students are selected via a competitive audition and application process in each major. I majored in Dance (and later, double-majored in Musical Theater) and fulfilled my academic requirements at International School of the Americas (another magnet school on the same campus).

The district wants to close NESA for budget reasons. Arts programs are often the first to go when the economy is poor and funding is tight. NESA also provides small student-to-teacher ratios which, along with other factors, means that NESA students “cost more” than students at other schools. Here, I can sympathize with the district. Sympathy becomes more difficult to procure when I look at the places where the district is planning to spend money in upcoming months. For example,  a $1,250,000 bond to renovate the fine arts facility of another high school and six-figure salaries for district administrative staff. I’m all for the improvement of arts facilities but it’s silly to make additions to the arts program of one school with one hand while shutting down an entire magnet program with one’s left.

NESA students and faculty won’t be the alone on the losing end of NEISD’s financial quick-fix. Lee High School–a school with often ranked among the lowest in the district academically–has benefited greatly from NESA’s presence on campus. NESA students are some of Lee’s best students with over 99% passing the state-mandated TAKS test on the first try, most with commended scores. Last year alone, NESA students received over $10 million in scholarship offers from some of the best universities and conservatories in the nation. (It turns out when you’re actually excited about learning you actually, you know, learn.)  NESA students are active participants in the Lee community serving in student government, performing at pep rallies and assisting with campus-wide events. Lee is a fine school on its own and NESA is a wonderful program, but the community they create together makes the campus one of the most exciting, diverse educational institutions in the city. In college, I often find myself craving the energy I experienced as a member of the NESA/ISA/LEE community. While I love college classes, I miss the exceptional NESA faculty (now in danger of losing their jobs), the challenging ISA projects and the wonderful people at LEE. To remove NESA from this campus is to remove an essential factor of this magical equation. Lee will not be the same without NESA, NEISD will not be the same without NESA, San Antonio will not be the same without NESA.

Faculty, students, parents and NESA supporters are currently brainstorming ways to reduce NESA’s financial burden on NEISD. I hope and pray their efforts are successful. NESA has produced so many bright, talented young artists and people. There are no other schools in the city that send students to the Sundance Film Festival. There are no other schools in the city where young dancers take a Chemistry test in the morning, then work with world-renowned choreographers in the afternoon. ,  I not only cultivated a passion for dance at NESA, but an interest in creative writing, cinema, music and technical theater as I admired and supported the work of fellow students. I maintain a high GPA in college and have received scholarships for dance and writing, all thanks to the self-discipline and work ethic I earned at NESA. As I begin to venture into the world of professional dance, I am more prepared than many dancers my age. NESA taught me how to audition, how to perform and most importantly, how to work hard.

Enough sappy testimonial. The point is, North East School of the Arts is worth saving. Please, NEISD. Don’t lose (or “reassign”) some of your best teachers and best students. Let NESA live!

Show your support by signing the petition here and joining the Keep NESA Open Facebook group.

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A Painful Love: James Joyce and Ballet

Last night, while struggling through another few pages of Ulysses (I am still in the double-digits of page numbers, by the way) I started wondering, “Why do I like James Joyce so much? This is hard and, at the moment, slightly boring.” Thinking about this Very Important problem was probably more of a clever excuse to take a break from the page and rest my horribly incompetent brain, but it also makes for good blogging material.

I routinely name Joyce as one of my favorite authors. I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners in high school and became inexplicably intrigued by his idiosyncrasies and narrative style. I don’t love Portrait and Dubliners the same way I love Harry Potter or Emma. I don’t read Joyce for the story. If anyone reads any Joyce for the story, I highly pity them. I read Joyce for all the many layers beneath the story–for the allusions and the word play and the social/religious/political commentary. Books like Harry Potter and Emma are at once accessible in their prose and vehicles for hidden meanings, allegory and/or social commentary. They contain plot twists and elements of mystery–narrative drives that make you want to keep reading. Joyce doesn’t bother. In fact, he often seems to strive for the opposite. It’s the little things that matter.

After a few minutes of mulling this over it occurred to me that I often ask myself the same question about ballet: “Why do I love it so much? It’s so hard and often painful.” My friend Mia often says that the only reason to dance ballet is because it’s hard. I think she’s right. I also think that’s the only reason to read Joyce: it’s hard and you can do it over and over again and never get it right. I mean, scholars still haven’t really reached a consensus on what Finnegan’s Wake is even ABOUT. (Okay, I’m exaggerating but not by much.) Just like no ballerina in the world is perfect. (I can think of a few that come close, but I tell myself that they’re hiding their gross imperfections to make myself feel better.) I think that’s why I’ve taken to ballet more than any other kind of dance. Like, I love theater dance but it’s so much about the spectacle–the “plot twist” and the performance. Theater dance takes immense skill and technique and years of hard work, of course but not the same way that ballet does. Ballet, like Joyce, is all about those “in-between” steps, the technique, the foundation beneath the performance.

Maybe it’s masochistic but there’s something so satisfying about working so hard at all of the subtle, almost unrecognizable nuances. I’ll never be a Joyce scholar or a prima ballerina (ha) but just as Joyce helped me realize how much I loved English as a senior in high school, ballet helped me recognize how much I loved dancing and performing as a ten year old. As I grow as a dancer, reader and writer both continue to teach me about all the little pieces of perfection.

Blogging Monsters and Sucking at Productivity

Sometimes it’s past midnight and you keep meaning to go to sleep but then the little blogging monster in your chest starts getting restless. Right now my little blogging monster is doing cartwheels to keep me awake. I told him that I have NO REASON to blog but he INSISTS on cartwheeling until quelled by the magical “publish” button.

It is a new year and everyone is blogging about their New Year’s resolutions. Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have any. I have the same goals I had back in 2009, only now all my goals feel colder because it’s January, the month of cold, depressing doom and EVERYTHING is colder. I totally understand why bears hibernate now. In fact, I’m strongly considering joining them this month.

Instead of talking about goals, and resolutions and stuff, let’s talk about how little I’ve accomplished in the first few days of this new year. Like, the most productive actions I’ve taken include buying plastic drawers, taking ballet class and making vegan macaroni and cheese.  My school semester doesn’t start until February and I promised myself I would, like, save the world between now and then. I have two auditions coming up–one for a contemporary ballet company, one for a summer intensive–and I’d really like to be in shape by the time they roll around in, oh, a week. After realizing I actually lost weight over December without really trying, I sabotaged myself by indulging in way too many fatty, comfort foods over New Year’s including fried (vegan) stuffs and the aforementioned mac and cheese. This is the first year in a long time I haven’t made any resolutions about weight, calories or food and it feels SO GOOD. Every January I end up miserable because I try to “atone” for my holiday sins by fasting or detoxing or whatever. This year, I’m just focusing on maintaining a healthy diet, taking lots of pilates and dance classes and listening to my body. It turns out I actually lose and maintain weight better when I’m NOT dieting. Surprise, surprise.

Remember how I’m supposed to be reading Ulysses? Well. Yeah. I started it. I did. I’ve read just a few chapters but it’s super slow going as I find myself pausing every other paragraph to consult my “Bloom’s book” guide just to figure out what the heck is going on. I’m also journaling through it, so hopefully I’ll share some of my thoughts on the book here at some point. At this rate, I should finish the novel by 2050 or so.

I think my blogging monster finally went to sleep. I shall follow suit.

Books I Read in 2009

This is probably not a comprehensive list but in the spirit of moving into a new year I tried to remember all of the books I read over the past year.   Titles in bold are those I read for the first time this year that I recommend most highly.

In no particular order, books I read in 2009:

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowing*
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling*
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling*
  • Harry Potter’s Bookshelf by John Granger
  • Harry Potter & Imagination by Travis Prinzi
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante
  • Carrie by Stephen King
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • The Name of This Book is  Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (the author’s “real” identity, like the book, is secret)
  • Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
  • Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
  • Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty
  • Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty
  • Mexican High by Liza Monroy
  • The White Rose by Arthur R. Schulz
  • Faust by Goethe
  • The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht
  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis*
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger*
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  • The Mysteries of Udulpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • Dangerous Liaisons by Francois de Laclos
  • Pamela by Samuel Richardson
  • Moll Flanders by Daniel DeFoe
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  • The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs
  • The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs*
  • The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs*
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green*
  • Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle*
  • The Donkey Gospel by Tony Hoagland
  • The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
  • America’s Prophet by Bruce Feiler
  • The Rover by Aphra Behn
  • A History of the Church in the United States & Canada by Robert Handy
  • The Female Brain by Louanne Brizandine
  • Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge
  • Waking the Dead by  John Elderedge
  • How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
  • About a Boy by Nick Hornby*
  • Paper Towns by John Green*
  • Churched by Matthew Paul Turner
  • The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder*
  • An Excellent Marriage
  • Geektastic (various authors)
  • Fear & Trembling by Kierkegaard
  • Dante in Love by Harriet Rubin
  • The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
  • Counterfeiter by Moritz Nachstern
  • The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare*
  • Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare*
  • As You Like It by William Shakespeare
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare*
  • Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
  • Henry IV part I by William Shakespeare
  • Henry IV part 2 by William Shakespeare
  • Henry V by William Shakespeare
  • The Tempest by good ol’ Billy Shakes
  • Letters to a Young Evangelical by Tony Campolo
  • Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher
  • Angry Conversations with God by Susan Isaacs
  • Paul was Not a Christian by Pamela Eisenbaum
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
  • A Seat at the Table by Joshua Halberstam
  • What Would God’s Pottery Do? by Gideon Lamb and Jeremiah Smalchild
  • The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit*
  • Wet Magic by E. Nesbit
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  • The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leeanna Renee Hieber
  • Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

This includes most of the titles I read for various courses which is why there’s so much Shakespeare and 18th Century/Restoration literature. I’ve had a lovely start to my “reading year” with about a chapter of Ulysses tackled along with the new Eldredge book Love & War and the first half of Megan McCafferty’s Perfect Fifths, the final book in her beloved Jessica Darling series. It’s hard to concentrate on one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century when you just want to find out whether Marcus Flutie and Jessica Darling finally get back together, let me tell you. It’s sort of embarrassing, but what can you do? Sorry, James Joyce. I’m trying.

What were your favorite reads this year?


Writing About Dance: My Story, Part 2

“So the day after I turned 18, I got on a Trailways Bus and headed for the Big, Bad Apple . . .”

(Okay, actually I was 17 and actually it was an airplane . Actually, I’d never use a phrase like “big, bad apple” unless I was telling you a story about over-sized, rotten produce. I just couldn’t resist. )

Anyway, the adjustment to city life was harder than I expected but also easier, in a way. I became very involved in the Harry Potter fandom in New York and made tons of new friends from all over the country when I started working for a short-lived fandom website in my spare time. My social adjustment at college was much more difficult. I found it really hard to relate to and connect with any of my classmates. Although there were many nice, lovely people at my college I didn’t “click” with anyone. Because I’m a nerdy, anti-social, introverted former-homeschooler I kind of suck at going out and making friends, unless those friends happen to live miles away and really like Harry Potter. I became even more self-conscious when I realized how much of an outsider I was at dance classes and auditions. I’d always felt at home in a dance studio, but the scene in New York was so totally different. I attended classes and auditions but felt invisible, like I was barely seen. Thanks to my eating disorder, my metabolism was slower than ever and I gained that dreaded college weight. My weight gain made me even more self-conscious and I started drifting out of class, going to auditions less and less. I felt guilty and depressed. Even though I’d discovered friends and other interests, nothing felt right if I wasn’t dancing all the time.

In the spring, a choreographer asked me to dance in a few small showcases. I was ecstatic to be able to perform again, even in small shows. As I started taking class more and more, my body rebelled against me and I twisted my ankle before the last set of shows. I’d had ankle problems before, but never to this extent. I hobbled around for almost a month, took some floor barre and pilates classes, but wasn’t able to dance until very late in the school year. I gained more depressing weight and while I wasn’t over weight, I was about ten pounds above my ideal dancing weight and felt ugly and useless. My injury made me realize that life without dance was miserable and empty and I made plans to take a semester off from college and go back to full-time training. My parents opposed this plan, saying I could only take time off school if I got a job in the industry. I’m glad they squelched my existential-crisis driven impulses.

That summer I became determined to overcome my injury and eventually made it back to ballet and jazz classes in my hometown. A lot happened that summer–I met and became engaged to my now-husband for one–and by the end of it I had lost about 7 lbs. and felt ready to dance full-time again.    My sophomore year, I overwhelmed myself taking too many credits and working too many jobs. It became impossible to get to the dance studio very often which frustrated me, but I desperately needed money. I did a few more showcases that year and started getting more and more confident at auditions. Summer saw another relapse in my training. With wedding planning and working full time at a temp job, I made it to class once or twice a week if I was lucky.

Last fall I started taking classes at a smaller, more ballet and modern-oriented studio. The atmosphere is just completely different there–more supportive, more focused, less competitive. I’ve found teachers that push me and encourage me and I feel like I’ve been reborn as a dancer. Every time I try and imagine myself doing something else with my life, it always seems like someone else’s life. Sure, I want to write but my identity isn’t intertwined with writing the same way it is with dance. Writing is a field in which I’d like to succeed, but dance if a field in which I have to succeed. The other day after a theater dance class, I had the sudden feeling that the old high school me was back. Not the insecure, anorexic girl, but the girl who knew without a doubt that she could and would succeed. I think getting a glimpse at the life I could have if I weren’t a dancer was enough to make me realize that this is all I want. I guess I had a sort of “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment only with fewer angels and Jimmy Stewarts.

Now that Graham is filling out college applications and starting to think about that phase of life, I have another dilemma. I will move with him wherever he goes to school, but I have to wonder what will happen to my dance career. Sure I’ll audition for companies and theme parks and shows and whatever else I can get, but what if I get a job offer far away from where we live? What if the town where he goes to school doesn’t have a dance studio or company or any sort of performance job at all? This is the moment. If I’m going to do this I have to do it now, jump in head first right after graduation. Even worse, what if I keep auditioning and no one gives me a job and I just fail and all those years were for nothing?

I know God will place us wherever he wants us, but it’s still nerve-wrecking. I’m putting all my eggs in this basket and I’m paranoid a big, ugly giant is going to smash the basket with his big toe. Terrible metaphor, but f’realz. Freaking out.

Writing About Dance: My Story, Part 1

Recently, a friend mentioned that I might want to pursue dance journalism somewhere down the line. Maybe that should have been my plan all along–I mean, my two greatest passions are dancing and writing–but it honestly never occurred to me that the two could, like, go together. I’m now working on a piece for an art newsletter about an up-and-coming choreographer and it’s strange. Dance means using my body, using motion to tell a story. Writing means using my own voice to tell a story through words and symbols. Writing about dance feels so foreign and wrong like trying to describe a sunset to someone with no eyes.  With some practice, however, I think I could really love it.

It occurred to me when working on the choreographer story, that I’ve never really blogged much about my dance endeavors. I’ve had to make some Big Decisions about dance recently so it seems like now’s the time to fill you in on how and why dance is such a huge part of my identity:

I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a dancer. My earliest memories involve twirling around the living room in my sister’s old pink costume tutu to a worn-out tape of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.” I begged to take dance classes and finally started taking pre-ballet and tap classes at a local studio. After my first recital I was hooked. I got sucked into the whole thing–the costumes, make-up, lights, the sense of accomplishment. It was a five-year old’s version of a legal addictive stimulant. Soon I started taking more and more classes and joined the studio’s competition dance team when I was about 8. “Competitions” are mostly just money-making machines that involve too much body glitter, lots of stage moms and dumb plastic trophies but it gave me the chance to perform almost every weekend and wear pretty clothes, so I was game. After a few years, I started growing tired of competitions and quickly became obsessed with ballet. I read practically every ballet book in existence, painted my walls with ballet slippers and dreamed of dancing in a “real” company. At 11, I hung up my tap shoes and began focusing on ballet exclusively.

I started training at the school of the only professional ballet company nearby and attended my first summer intensives away from home. When I realized my technique was lacking thanks to my years of less-than-perfect training, I worked three times as hard to catch up. I was obsessed. Since I was homeschooled, I could take five or six technique classes a day and a few private lessons every week with no worries about falling behind in school  I improved and excelled immensely but my perfectionist attitude only lead to increased frustration as teachers demanded more and more. I also encountered numerous physiological challenges as I entered my teens. . Thanks to genetics, I don’t have a “ballerina body.” I became increasingly frustrated with my body’s natural limits. The summer before I started high school something snapped–physically and mentally. I’d just been made a trainee with the company but I could not finish a class without bursting into tears. I’d lock myself in the studio bathroom and tell myself I’d never be good enough–as message echoed by some teachers and classmates, at least in my imagination. My back was also a mess thanks to the years I spent contorting my back into weird positions to “make it more flexible” and “lengthen” the muscles. Several vertebrae were tweaked entirely out of place and required expensive physical therapy.

My sister Rachel was in her final year in a high school fine arts program where she studied musical theater. I decided to leave the ballet company and major in dance at the same school.  That same fall a regional theater company based in Austin needed ballet dancers for one of its shows and after a few weeks of performances with them, I was hooked on new kind of dancing. I set my sights on musical theater. I refashioned myself as a dancer, taking voice lessons, jazz, tap, modern, anything I could to make myself more well-rounded. A teacher even had me in a hip-hop class for a while to “loosen me up.” That was a mistake. But dancing became fun again. I danced in musicals, I worked with choreographers from around the world and after a summer workshop in New York vowed that I would do this professionally or die trying. I almost did. Again, my perfectionist tendencies collided with several years of negative self-image and fear of being fat. I crash dieted on and off all through high school at no one’s suggestion but my own. Since this blog ins’t about my eating disorder I won’t go into too much detail, but by my junior year my disordered tendencies had spiraled into full-blown anorexia, depression and over-exercising. Thankfully, my teachers, friends and parents recognized my illness and intervened before I needed hospitalization, but at that point I wasn’t sure I’d ever mentally or physically recover. With some perseverance, I overcame my eating disorder before graduation even more determined than ever to succeed even without the “perfect body.” I was lucky that my first-ever job at sixteen involved performing at a theme park. And by “performing”  I mean smiling and posing a lot while wearing weird unitards, but still. You do what you can, y’know?

Fast forward to high school graduation. I only applied to a handful of schools–one conservatory program where I’d study modern and ballet, one liberal arts college where I would study theater dance, one liberal arts college where I’d study modern and ballet, and one joint program between a university and well-known dance company/school in NYC. (Not using the names just ’cause.) Some programs rejected me, some accepted me.  Because I had certain requirements and desires as far as cost and location I had two options. I could train with the dance company and school in NYC without earning a college degree or I could go to a private, liberal arts college in the city and dance independently. My parents insisted that I earn a degree and because the training program wasn’t quite right for me, I complied. I never  in a million years thought I would major in anything other than dance, but there I was– 17 years old in Manhattan, dance bag on one arm, backpack on the other. I was determined to conquer both worlds. I’d get a liberal arts degree while taking advantage of the New York City dance scene, auditioning at every opportunity, taking time . I knew  it wouldn’t  be easy but I wasn’t prepared for the challenges I’d face as a young dancer on my own.

Continued soon. This is way longer and more boring than expected.

Christmas ‘Round These Parts

Happy third day of Christmas!

These last few days of year I try hard to practice a virtue a tend to neglect the other 358 days–patience. While the advent season (roughly the first month before December 25th) is all about anticipation as the world awaits the arrival of a savior, the week between December 25 and January 1 always makes me strangely nostalgic for the past and anxious about the future. To combat my anxiety and indulge my nostalgic urges, I cling to the fleeting year as long as I can refusing to think about the things to come. It’s a full 180 degree turn from my usual mode of operation: obsession about the future. The last few days of December act like a suspended window in time in which I forget about my to-do list, my worries and my insecurities and actually manage to enjoy moments as they come.

Moments I’ve enjoyed over Christmas break so far:

  • Reading and finishing The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Friends recommended these books to me months and months ago but I only just got around to reading them due to a busy course reading schedule. The publishers classify The Hunger Games trilogy as “Sci Fi” and you’ll find them on the Young Adult shelf , but if you’re not a science-fiction-enthused teenager you’ll still find Collins’ novels difficult to put down. I’d probably call it a futuristic dystopian adventure novel tossed with a dash of romance and served alongside a hearty portion of warfare. The last time I was this engrossed in a novel I was finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time. Read these books.
  • Spending Christmas Eve with my husband. We slept in and hopped on the subway to midtown to the Morgan Library to see A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy. I don’t meet weekly to discuss Austen over tea or anything, but I consider myself a seasoned “Janeite”  and this was an appropriately nerdy way to kick-off Christmas. Dozens of Jane’s handwritten letters, first printings of all her novels and even an original manuscript were displayed in the small exhibit hall. I could have spent hours there. After  watching a film in which a lot of spacey academics with crazy hair and creepy eyes talked about who they would invite to a dinner party with Austen (answers included Freud, Jung, the Bronte sisters, “my granny” and “nobody”) we slipped out to take a look in some of the other rooms. We stared open-mouthed at the surviving first manuscript of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and wandered around Morgan’s study for a few minutes before leaving for Rockefeller Center. I think the average age of the museum’s visitors increased by about twenty years when we left. We visited the famously large tree, shoved our way through the crowds on fifth and sixth avenues and bolted uptown for a quaint dinner at a little Dominican/Cuban cafe on the Upper West Side. Traditional Christmas Eve activities included the consumption of hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, the viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, the reading of  the Nativity story in Luke and opening Christmas pajamas sent by my mom.
  • Despite the fact that Graham had to work a nine hour shift on Christmas morning, this Christmas day was one of the best I’ve had in a while. I rose early, made cookies to bring to Graham’s work, delivered said cookies and returned home to watch assorted Tim Allen Christmas flicks while preparing way too much food. I think I spent a total of like 7 hours in the kitchen. When Graham got home we opened presents, finished cooking and finally ate dinner: Steak with whiskey-pepper sauce for Graham, Fried Eggplant with the sauce for me, mashed potatoes with an amazing chickpea gravy, homemade rolls, (vegan) caesar salad with homemade croûtons and gingerbread apple pie for dessert. There were two of us. We have a lot of leftovers.

In case you care, I received a lot of wonderful presents. My parents got us a new monitor for my old laptop with a cracked screen so that Graham and I don’t have to share my laptop anymore. This will come in very handy on days when I take my laptop on wild adventures in the school library. Graham’s brother Ian gave me A.J. Jacobs’ latest book The Guinea Pig Diaries. I didn’t enjoy it as much as his previous books, but that’s as much criticism as I can muster for Jacobs whose writing is always thought-provoking, engaging and wonderfully funny. In true Badger fashion, my in-laws also gave us two John Eldredge books and a couple of other books about conflict resolution and leadership. Looks like Graham and I have a lot of reading and character-quality building to do in the new year.

From Graham “the mega-gifter” Badger I received a new copy of Ulysses, The New Bloomsbook (A Guide to Ulysses), a Fawkes the Phoenix journal, lots of dark chocolate, a James Joyce sticker set and a shiny red tea kettle to replace my old electric one.

Now I have no excuse not to read Ulysses and I’m excited and scared out of my mind. There’s a reason I’ve put it off since I first discovered Joyce’s shorter, more accessible works a few years ago. More about how I feel about Joyce soon. I think I might even blog my way through Ulysses. Maybe start a new internet phenomenon? ReJoMoJa (Read Joyce in the Month of January)? Okay, wishful thinking.

What did you get for Christmas? Would you like to join me in reading an allusion-heavy book by an Irishman with an eye-patch this January?