10 Things This Summer That Brought Me Joy (and that you might not know about)

Durham is home to two universities and is spitting distance from two more plus a number of small liberal arts colleges and community colleges. It doesn’t matter if you’re in school, you know someone who is, or you have a friend who teaches for a living. This week the city gave a collective sigh as teachers and students alike acknowledged the end of summer. As a former teacher, I couldn’t help a moment of schadenfreude as I cackled with delight.

Don’t worry; I felt guilty about it later.  It got me thinking about what I had enjoyed the past few months. I’m sure there will be numerous top ten lists of the summer arguing which was the definitive movie or song. I saw my fair share of blockbusters involving superheroes and cheered on John Oliver’s turn at the Daily Show desk, but I wanted to share with you the things that delighted me and fed my creativity that aren’t likely to receive as much press.

10. Searching for Sonny: I would never have found this movie if not for my fellow die hard Veronica Mars friend. We’ve both participated in the VM movie kickstarter campaign, which has been a joy all of its own this summer. Searching is a small indie starring VM’s Jason Dohring. I found myself absolutely delighted with the characters, plot, and zany humor. Everyone who watched that evening enjoyed it, and no one else even had any Veronica Mars nostalgia for Dohring.

9. The Middle: Despite already being on for four years and coming on before Modern Family, somehow I knew nothing about this show. After asking around my social groups, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Let me clear it up for you. It’s about a family living in the fictional town of Orson, Indiana which is in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know if this show would appeal to everyone, but as someone who is from nowhere, Indiana, I laughed so hard through the pilot that I frightened the cat. My husband, who is from the Washington, D.C. area, is constantly asking, “Do they actually do that?”  Yes. The answer is always yes.

Will Gordon headshot

8. Will Gordon: Gordon would probably rank even higher on this list if he’d write more often or if I could find a regular blog for him. So far I’ve only been able to find his food/beer related posts on Kinja and Twitter. I’m not even interested in most of the topics he writes about, but he is so freakin’ hysterical. If Gordon wrote about tax law, I would probably read it. He’s foul mouthed and steps way over the lie sometimes, but I can’t drink anything while I read his posts for fear I’ll choke.  Eureka!  He does have a blog, although it’s somewhat neglected.

Bianca Giaever

7. The Scared is scared: I might have actually seen this first in the spring, but it continues to delight me into the summer. It’s a student film that a friend of mine at NC State brought to my attention. He’s a design guy, and I think the filmmaker Bianca Giaever runs in his circles. It’s eight minutes of exquisite storytelling with a 6-year-old narrator. It also happens to hold a huge amount of wisdom on how to face fear.

Warning:  The Silver Linings You Tube clip below contains adult language.

6. Silver Linings Playbook: Yes, by now you’ve probably heard about this movie, but have you actually seen it? I didn’t get around to watching it until it came out on DVD. Still, I don’t know how many times I’ve started a conversation this summer with, “Have you seen it?” and been shocked to have the conversation immediately halt when the person has to admit they haven’t. Part of the problem I think is that people don’t know what this movie is. Romantic comedy? Drama about mental illness? As one of my friends put it while watching, “I’m feeling all the feels.”  It’s everything, and it’s fantastic. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. As much as I enjoyed Argo, I’ll admit now that SLP should have taken best picture. One of the best scenes is Bradley Cooper’s completely appropriate reaction to reading Hemingway.

5. Hamish and Andy: My husband and I lived in Australia for a few months, and while we were there, we discovered the gem that is Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year. It’s somewhat difficult to describe as we don’t really have an American equivalent. Two nutty guys go to a different country or continent every summer and explore the oddest things they can find and participate in crazy schemes. For example, the summer they went to the United States, they staged a fake dating show in New York to get Andy a date, launched a whole campaign to get Hillary Clinton to invite them for a BBQ, and entered a “hollerin’” contest in North Carolina. This summer they’re in Asia, and we’re laying bets they’ll get arrested at some point. The TV show is our favorite, but they also have a year round radio show.

Daisy Cakes bakery in Durham, NC

4. Daisy Cakes: All right, I know this one is a little cruel, because unless you’re local, you can’t really enjoy it. Still, I couldn’t talk about summer joys without including it. Daisy Cakes is a small but cheerful bakery downtown that serves Counter Culture Coffee (another Durham institution, but one that is available nationwide) and mouth-watering baked goods. They also do a mean carnitas sandwich. Every writer needs a favorite spot to escape to, and Daisy Cakes is mine.

3. Lowland Hum: I have never been hip to “the local music scene.”  Mostly because I’ve never been hip. However, I have made an exception to my complete lack of music coolness for this folk duo. I’ve heard them do a number of short sets this summer and attended one full house concert, and I’m enchanted. Their concerts are multisensory with an art installation behind them, lavender oil burning, fresh flowers placed around, handmade lyric books to hold, and even bread to taste. It’s hospitality in music form. They’ve just started a tour with the release of their new album Native Air, so they might be coming your way.

2. Orphan Black: You might have at least heard murmurings about this show by now, produced by BBC America. Perhaps you have a friend like me that every time you see her, she whines, “Have you watched it yet? C’mon, watch it already!”  I’m not one given to spoilers, but I’ve decided it’s okay to tell people it’s about clones. Clones! All of them are played by the masterful Tatiana Maslany, who was robbed! Robbed, I tell you! She should get all the Emmys! All of them!

Price Peterson head shot

1. Price Peterson: It was a sad day in Whoville when Price Peterson left TV.com in January to work on a TV pilot. He returned this summer with a quip about dreams dying (sorry Price!) but then immediately launched back into his TV recapping genius. I was a little bit sad for him, but very happy for me. Much like Will Gordon, I don’t care what he writes. I will read whatever Price recaps, even if I don’t watch the show. He’s just so earnestly funny. It’s my good fortune that one of the shows he does is The Vampire Diaries. If you’d like to try a quick taste of Price, you can try his Sharknado recap.

So that was my summer. What brought you joy this summer? What hidden treasures can you share? I’m sad to say I couldn’t offer any fantastic books on my list. I seem to be on a spree of ho-hum books. I did read a couple good ones this spring, but nada this summer.


Description Envy

In the last few weeks I have been captured by some particularly vivid description. The writing was so delightful that the image the author created has lingered with me. Even after just one reading or watching, I can remember the exact phrasing.

I know this case of description envy is worse because I need to improve my skill at adding detail and metaphor to my writing. For some reason, I just thought it came naturally to some people, but while reading yet another book on the craft of writing, I was disabused of this notion. Those perfect phrases I wish I wrote are the hard work of a writer who has discarded the first, second, and perhaps even the third or fourth thought that came to them. Only after digging deeper does the author reject the cliché, then the slightly overused, and the done before, to land on the fresh idea.

To help inspire you to excavate your own creativity, I thought I’d share some of the wonderful phrases that had made me so envious. The two sources are remarkably different, but both are impressive in their genres. I’d like to note here, too, that neither is the genre I write (fantasy). One of the best ways to get fresh ideas is to read and watch outside your niche.

House of Cards

Yes, it’s been available on Netflix for a while, but I was busy binge watching Arrested Development and Orphan Black. HoC’s recent Emmy nominations and a friend’s nagging finally prompted me to watch it this week. I’m only two episodes in at this point, but I might have to start watching with pen and paper in hand. Kevin Spacey’s character has a knack for metaphor that reveals as much about his character as what he’s describing. His dialogue repeatedly distills complex situations and emotions into perfect short phrases. Here are few of my favorites, which I wish had come out of my characters’ mouths:

In reference to his wife and their rather peculiar relationship: “I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood.”

On having breakfast with the Speaker and Majority Leader of the House: “They talk while I imagine their slightly salted faces frying in a skillet.”

While the martyr falling on his sword is a cliché, HoC did it in a fresh enough way it was clever again: “What a martyr craves more than anything is a sword to fall on. So, you sharpen the blade, hold it at just the right angle, and then…”  Spacey looks to the martyr character and waits, “3,2,1…” and the character metaphorically falls.

A Food Blog on Beer

I’m not really a beer drinker. There are a few I don’t mind, but in the hot of summer, I’d much prefer sangria or a good mojito. Honestly, if given the choice, I’ll drink water before beer. So why did I read an article online entitled 36 Cheap American Beers, Ranked?  Because a beer drinking friend of mine couldn’t stop laughing while he read it in my presence. After about the third excerpt he read out loud to me, I made him text me the link. Taste, smell, and touch are some of the least used senses in fiction writing. The descriptions of the beers were so overflowing with details from these neglected senses that I got grossed out a couple of times. I’m never going to drink any of these beers, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be challenged by word pictures like the following:

“Keystone separates itself from the rest of the crap pack by augmenting the typical stale/sour flavor profile with notes of brown bananas and green armpits. Keystone is worse than Heineken and murder.”

Rolling Rock. Smells like three fat guys in a two-man tent.”

Miller Genuine Draft. Tastes like the brown ends of corn silk, plus lemon.”

“It’s[Stroh’s] marred by a rubbery slickness that leaves your tongue feeling like third-day deli ham.”

In another brilliant example of changing a cliché for a startling and hilarious effect: “Milwaukee’s Best. It’s easy to mock the Beast, but it’s all I drank in college and I turned out.”

My friend’s personal favorite, which even two weeks later he’ll remember and then start laughing again: “Olympia. This one smells a little bit like the produce section of a carpeted grocery store, but it goes down pretty smooth otherwise.”

The whole article is worth reading.  Both because of its content and language, I would say the MPAA would give an R rating, so be advised. 36 Cheap American Beers, Ranked by Will Gordon.

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