Review: Uprooted

uprooted

I finished Uprooted by Naomi Novik and promptly burst into tears. This novel grew inside me as I read, vines snaking around my heart. I am always delighted when I find a book so utterly enthralling; I was completely enamored. Novik is a splendid writer. The language of the book is lovely and musical, yet straightforward and at times beautifully blunt, in much the same way Agnieszka, our heroine, and her thoughts can be. The characters leap off the page. I fell deeply in love with Agnieszka and the Dragon and Kasia and this whole wonderful world that Novik has built. I very much enjoyed following their growth and development in the face of increasingly urgent dangers. This book is a fantasy that feels both rooted in its history and also entirely new. Its magic is innovative and breathtaking. The story feels familiar, like a fairy tale, but also original and wholly captivating. The whole time it felt like I was walking with an old friend, a very, very engaging old friend.

The story itself is about Agnieszka, a girl who has grown up in the shadow of the corrupted Wood, kept only at bay by their liege lord, the Dragon. Every ten years, the Dragon chooses a girl to come to his tower and serve him. Everyone in the village, including Agnieszka, thinks her best friend Kasia will be chosen. But that’s not exactly the way it goes. The choosing is the beginning of a tale of magic and growth and home and life that is heartbreaking and beautiful and terrible and wonderful. Uprooted is an utterly transporting tale that I cannot recommend enough.

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

A group of women in Texas recently attended a legislation session dressed as Handmaids, characters from Margaret Atwood’s classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, in protest of the anti-abortion measures being considered by the state. It’s a powerful gesture. In light of these trying times, it’s impossible not to read Atwood’s book politically. What it means to be a woman, to have rights, to have freedom, to have choice is something that’s been on my mind. What does it mean to govern? What does it mean to be a democracy? The Handmaid’s Tale examines all of these questions in the setting of a dystopian America that is frighteningly plausible.

File_000
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Story: Offred is a Handmaid. We do not know her real name, her true name, from the time before. The government has been overthrown by religious zealots who worship fertility and have created Gilead, a new world order based around procreation. Once a month she lies on her back and allows her assigned Commander to try to get her pregnant. She is a “walking womb.” It is her job to procreate for the elite of society, for her Commander and his barren wife. Offred does what is expected of her to keep her life but is haunted by her past and memories of all she’s lost, memories she only confesses to the reader.

The Handmaid’s Tale is incredibly timely despite having been published in 1985. We live in a world where men are debating women’s health, making decisions about their reproductive rights often without consulting any women at all. Atwood’s world is that taken to the extreme. It is simultaneously matriarchal and oppressive. Women are prized so long as they have something to offer (fertility) but also are expected to fill their assigned roles with dignity, acquiescence, and silence. Offred lives in a state of fear. Anyone could be a spy. Any little thing might give away her rightfully traitorous thoughts, her hatred of a regime that has taken her family from her. Offred’s ability to compartmentalize in the face of so much trauma gives the book a sense of unreality, sometimes dreamy and unsettling. The world in which she lives is almost too awful to face head on, but through Offred’s narration you have to. The reader experiences what she experiences: the violations, the violence, the atrocities, the fear, her memories, but also her hope, slight and intoxicating.

The success of the book is in how the reader must bear witness to Offred’s suffering and in doing so cannot help but reflect on their own life. I couldn’t read this book without taking into account my own life as a woman. Offred’s fear resonates with the reader. I believe in contraception and I believe in choice, both of which are not options in Gilead. The tension between the real world and the imagined unsettles. This is all joined by Atwood’s prose, which is both beautiful and achingly precise.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially with the impending release of the Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss. It’s an artfully crafted book and a terrifying thought experiment worth your time.

Show me what democracy looks like?

20170121_1523201
Photo credit: Jessica Greco & Neil Johnson

On Saturday, January 21st, I was proud to join the Women’s March for America in Boston, Massachusetts, in solidarity with millions of inspiring women and men across the globe. It was an invigorating experience that made me feel for the first time in months a fragile spark of hope for our future. I marched to support the rights of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, refugees, immigrants, Muslims, and anyone and everyone that feels afraid or oppressed by our new administration. I marched because what is happening in this country right now isn’t normal and should not be normalized. But I’m also increasingly aware that politics and justice in the United States have always been far from normal or fair. I don’t really feel qualified to discuss politics. I feel like an impostor and a fraud, lacking the skills to speak authoritatively on any political subject. I’ve said this before. But I can’t be silent, even if I lack eloquence.

I’m white and I benefit from the privilege that comes with being white. I acknowledge it. I also acknowledge that there are people of color, LGBTQ folks, activists, immigrants, Muslims, refugees, and on and on that have been fighting a battle for social justice long before I have. I acknowledge that diverse voices are what we need right now. I acknowledge their stories are different than mine and I need to hear them. I want to listen to you and your anger and your sadness. I acknowledge that 53% of white women voted for our new president despite his hateful rhetoric and are complicit in not being able to see past their own self-interests and their own bubble. And quite frankly, that is some bullshit. Feminism is only useful if it is intersectional. Justice is only true if it serves ALL people, regardless of race, religion, creed, gender, sexual preference, and sexual identity. This is not a movement that should only benefit white women. This is about EVERYONE, especially those who are most vulnerable. Everyone has a different experience and that must be taken into consideration in our fight. Just because something doesn’t impact you personally doesn’t mean it’s any less of an issue. It’s very, very real for the people suffering injustice.

Often, I feel very powerless, despite the privilege I know I have. I feel very small and lacking. I’m working to educate myself and listen: to read diverse voices and accounts of American history and feminism. I’m trying to read good journalism and find the truth. I’m embarrassed that I don’t know more, that there’s been a lapse in my education when it comes to social justice, but I’m trying to fix it and become a better informed citizen and openly acknowledge my faults. I’m going to do what I can to serve all our people. And I’m sorry we failed you not just in this past election but over and over again throughout history. I’m sorry we weren’t there when you needed us. This system is so bent and twisted with systemic racism. White people are responsible for centuries of oppression, something that has never quite gone away no matter how many people want to claim that “racism is over now.” (Spoiler: It’s really, really not.) I recognize there are terrible, invisible institutions embedded in the foundation of this country that need to be confronted and dismantled before we can move forward.

It feels impossible to change people’s hearts and minds, to get them to see what they perceive as other as human. We’re all just blood and flesh and life. But people can be truly monstrous. Likewise, it’s hard to see the political right with anything other than fear and contempt, especially when it seems like all they want to do is hurt us and take away our basic rights. But the politicians serve us: the people. We are the people of this country, and people shape this nation if they are willing to work for it. And I am here to serve you, all of the people of these United States, however I can: marching, making phone calls, showing up, speaking out, calling out injustice whenever I see it, listening, learning, having hard conversations, handing out flyers. Whatever you need. I want to help.

I come to you humbly, acknowledging my privilege, and hoping for something better.

Yours,
Jordan

P.S. The Women’s March has put together a political agenda entitled 10 actions for the first  100 days. I hope you’ll join me in resisting and taking action together: https://www.womensmarch.com/100/.

To IUD or Not To IUD?

I’ve spent the last couple months or so agonizing about whether or not to get an IUD (an intrauterine device). If you’re not aware, an IUD is a little bit of plastic or copper they place in your uterus to prevent pregnancy. It’s one of the most effective birth control options out there. To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable sharing personal details about my reproductive health choices with the Internet, but I feel like this is something a lot of people I know are going through and I wanted to add my voice to the conversation. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I have been on the birth control pill for about 10 years. And it’s fine. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. I have a permanent alarm on my phone to make sure I remember to take it. (9 PM, destroy all babies.) I’ve been thinking about switching to an IUD for a number of reasons. I’m curious if it will alleviate some of my moodiness (as I know birth control pills are loaded with a lot more hormones). I’m also a little worried about being on the pill for such a long time and what that might be doing to me. (Though I’m also of the attitude if it isn’t broken, why fix it? So many questions.) But mostly I’ve been constantly meditating on this because of the current political climate in the United States.

There are a LOT of dudes in government that want to take away my access to birth control. They want to make it more expensive and harder to get. The last few years I have spent zero dollars on my birth control. This is thanks to the Affordable Care Act (seriously, thank you Obama, you are the best), something the Republicans are desperately trying to repeal as we speak. Under the ACA, I get my birth control pills for free! I also, if I choose to, could get an IUD inserted at no cost to me. But I’m not sure how long that will remain an option. Because of my anxiety about whether or not to get one, I’ve hesitated. And now I’m worried it’s too late. If I got one next month, would I still be able to afford it? And if not, what will I do? There will certainly be a cost if I remain on birth control pills. Should I just do that? What if they try to take that away too? What if I can’t afford it at all? Why is this even a thing that I’m wasting valuable worrying space in my brain on?

Ignoring the mounting political chaos, from what I’ve read and what I’ve spoken to my health care providers about, there are a lot of benefits to getting an IUD. So many women sing its praises: shorter or no periods and super duper effective at preventing pregnancy (even better than pills). You set it and forget it. Wham, bam, no more cell phone alarms! I’ve heard the insertion process can be very painful, but it varies from woman to woman and the right cocktail of painkillers and anti-anxiety medication might ease that. Many, many of the stories I’ve read are women saying how much they love their IUD.

But the possible negative things I’ve read about are TRULY HORRIFYING. It could perforate the wall of your uterus and end up in your stomach and you’d have to have SURGERY TO GET IT REMOVED. It could fuse with your uterus and you’d have to have SURGERY TO GET IT REMOVED. These are very rare occurrences (about 1 in 1ooo women). That’s 0.001%. It’s very unlikely, but it does happen. And the accounts I’ve read are harrowing enough to give me pause. Also it’s very effective at preventing pregnancy but only if it remains in place. From what I understand, if it falls out of position (which is possible), you could get pregnant, so proper maintenance is key. There’s also a risk of ectopic pregnancies (i.e., when a fertilized egg stays in the fallopian tube and not your uterus) and that could potentially kill you. Again, this is highly unlikely, but POSSIBLE. I’ve read some women don’t like the hormonal ones (it made them ill or worsened their acne) and some women don’t like the copper one (it made their life a nonstop Carrie). The possible cons are very real and very scary, but also fairly unlikely (or so I keep hearing).

I’m not sure what to do. Currently, I’m looking at the Mirena, which is the 5 year hormonal option. I’m pretty scared about all the possible risks and am very afraid it will hurt horribly, but the benefits are pretty amazing so long as I’m not the 1 in 1000 women. The one thing I am certain about is that I want to make sure I have access to adequate and affordable birth control options. I take birth control not only because I want to prevent pregnancy but also because I suffered for years from difficult and extremely painful periods, something I really do not want to go back to. So currently I have a bunch of leaflets from my gynecologist and an open invitation to make an appointment, if I so choose. And I need to choose, soon.

I’d love to hear your stories and any advice you might be able to offer. Feel free to comment or shoot me a message!

 

So this is the new year…

The new year is always kind of a letdown. It’s new! But everything feels the same. This year in particular I am wary, bordering on hopeless. I want many, many things. I make lists. I’ve started a bullet journal. I plan for a future that seems to be getting farther and farther away from my reach.

I find it difficult to speak eloquently about the issues facing our country and our world. Who am I? Just one citizen, armed with a New York Times subscription and a liberal Facebook echo chamber. I’ve been doing my best to educate and inform myself, but everything moves so quickly. I feel vastly unqualified.

The political situation in the United States has been a test of my compassion. I read about people who may lose their health care and people who still remain uninsured. I read about hate crimes. I read about fear. I read about women fighting for their rights, our rights. I read about the danger to our climate and environment. Everywhere around us there are vipers, dangers close at hand. Since the election’s close, I’ve felt a constant state of crisis. It’s paralyzing. It might sound insincere, but I worry about everyone. These stories tug at my heart and cause a tightness in my chest. I’m just concerned and I don’t know what to do with those feelings without letting them swallow me up. It’s difficult to see the people on the other side of the aisle complexly when I can’t understand why they’d want to pass legislation that would do so much harm. Why can’t they see? Am I missing something? Is it me? It’s tempting to just unplug and retreat.

But that’s not really an option now, is it?

I have publicly announced my One Word for 2017 to be “Fight.” This term has many applications. Personally, I want to fight for myself and my desires: my career, ambitions, and future. This means prioritizing myself, even when it feels like it isn’t the right thing to do. I have a tendency to accumulate projects, specifically other people’s projects. I am a pretty good manager. I like to help other people get things done. I take a great sense of pride and accomplishment in that work and dedicate myself fully to what I do. But I want to have something that is mine, where the stakes feel higher, and where I care so very deeply because it’s mine. This might mean having to say no to certain projects, which isn’t something I’m good at. I hate feeling like I’m letting people down.

There are projects I’d like to complete and work I’d like to do, if I just gave myself time and permission to do so.

I want to fight for this country, whatever that entails and whatever I can contribute. I know I come from a more privileged position than some people. I hope I can use whatever influence I might have, even if it is very small, to guide this country in a better direction, even if that means calling Congress every week or marching up and down all the streets of Boston in the cold or just saying something when I see an injustice.

Today I was sitting at my desk, listening to Michelle Obama speak publically for the last time as First Lady. As I listened, I wept, silently wiping away my tears. What a gift the Obamas have been these last eight years. I came into my adulthood just as President Obama was first elected. I want to be strong and hopeful. I don’t want to be afraid. But I am. It’s so hard not to be when it feels like so much is at stake, when I fear for myself and millions of strangers. In the face of so much unknown, we will just have to keep trying: be vigilant and wait and see where we can be useful and what we can accomplish.

Year in Review: 2016

img_0096

It’s hard not to feel like the world is in peril. So many of my personal heroes have died this year. American leadership is questionable at best (and downright devious at worst). As this year comes to a close, I have not felt merry or bright. I’ve spent the last few months feeling small and hopeless and afraid for the the future.

This has not been a great year.

While it feels like the end of the world, it isn’t. Probably. And good things DID happen this year and will continue to occur in small and large ways, I’m sure. These days I often find myself overwhelmed by fear and doubt of whatever is to come. It feels natural, almost reassuring, to lapse into paralyzed grief. But instead I want to fight. I want to read about all the things I do not know, to educate myself and make myself a better and more informed citizen. I want to help those who cannot help themselves and protect those at risk. 2016 was a disaster, but 2017 will have its own series of battles. Instead of wallowing, I vow to fight back, whatever that entails, and I beg for the strength to keep going when everything gets hard, as I know it will.

I’m not going to dwell on the bad things that happened this year. We all know them. We lived them. Drumpf. The election. The loss of so many great artists: Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, among others. War and horror in Syria. Black lives lost over and over and over. Terror attacks. Gun violence. Hatred. Homophobia. Racism. Misogyny. The list goes on.

Instead, I’d like to look back at what good I was able to find in an otherwise very difficult year:

  • I turned 25.
  • I watched Singing in the Rain and O Brother Where Art Thou? for the first times.
  • We had many lovely friends over for brunch and dinner and games.
  • I finally finished Gilmore Girls just in time to watch A Year in the Life (I loved it).
  • I invested in replacing all our bulbs with CFLs.
  • I tried to say no to projects that weren’t bringing me joy.
  • All my friends came over and dyed Easter eggs at my house.
  • I successfully explored New York City on my own.
  • I SAW HAMILTON WITH THE ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST (minus Jonathan Groff).
  • We saw Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder talk about Serial at Symphony Hall.
  • Got to go to PAX East.
  • I helped run the very small Cambridge Community Comics Arts Fair.
  • We saw a special screening of Don’t Think Twice with a special Q&A with Mike Birbiglia and Chris Gethard following. (I also met Mike and he was very kind.)
  • We went to Neil’s cousin’s wedding and it was just so beautiful and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it.
  • PODCASTS. All of them. What a glorious time for radio.
  • I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $18,000.
  • I was a second round reader for the Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest.
  • I visited my dear friend Ross for a summer weekend in New York and we saw WAITRESS on Broadway.
  • I apparently wrote “God help and forgive me I want to build something that’s gonna outlive me” at least three separate times in my diary.
  • I was the Managing Editor for Boundless, which is a real book I helped publish.
  • We threw what may have been the best summer house party of all time.
  • We drove out of state to a casino to see a free Hellogoodbye concert.
  • I was stalked by house centipedes (I know this doesn’t sound like a good thing, but I really learned a lot about myself and my relationship with insects with too many legs.)
  • I work with some of the best people on Earth.
  • We went on a Pacific Northwest tour of Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Vancouver, British Columbia and got to catch up with some truly amazing friends.
  • I ate SO MANY gluten free treats. I made a lot of them myself.
  • I get to eat apples again (in reasonable quantities).
  • I started playing Vampire: The Masquerade with an absolutely phenomenal group.
  • Neil and I celebrated four years together by watching Wolf Children and eating cookies and strawberries and drinking wine.
  • I saw Built to Spill and Hop Along.
  • FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.
  • I helped found Robot Camp, a comics collective.
  • I took care of a lot of people’s cats.
  • I helped plan, organize, and execute the 2016 Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo.
  • I printed my very first comic: CATSTAR (illustrated by the illustrious Olivia Li).
  • We finally caught up on Steven Universe.
  • I invested in multiple pairs of long underwear for the winter.
  • I am executive producing an audio drama podcast.
  • I saw The Scottsboro Boys, which was one of the most brilliant performances I’ve ever seen.
  • I made new friends.
  • I saw MOANA!
  • I had a Christmas that felt truly special for the first time in years.
  • I started reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Also known as Game of Thrones. (God, it is taking me forever to get through.)

If you want to see my full book list, click below. It’s a little small this year, but I’m hoping to do better in 2017.

Happy New Year everyone.

Continue reading

HP 7

*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*

After many months of silence and distraction, I will be concluding my Harry Potter series. It was truly glorious to revisit my beloved Harry, especially now with all this Cursed Child business (more on that later). For now, let’s delve in to the seventh and final book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (for the previous installments of this series, please see here, here, here, and here).

IMAG1358

I started re-reading shakily. It’s a very emotional experience for me, even after all this time, to read the final Harry Potter book. I started crying at the dedication: “And to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” Gah! The thing about this book is it isn’t just a book to me and to so many others. It’s the end of an era. It’s the end of a crucial piece of my childhood and development as a person. Harry Potter is an absolutely crucial and vital part of me. I grew up with these characters. I know them inside and out, like family. I love this series fiercely and nearly blindly. But there is so much more to it than just a fan’s headstrong affection. There is an undeniable and magnificent art to the final book. So much is explained and revealed and tied together. Deathly Hallows is the culmination of so many years of work and planning and tiny details. It’s truly J. K. Rowling’s magnum opus.

Continue reading

Boundless Kickstarter!

You may have been thinking, where has Jordan been? The answer: Working on Boundless, a science comics anthology from the Boston Comics Roundtable that I’ve been editing. We just launched our Kickstarter for the project (link here).

BoundlessCover_spreadRGB_FRONT

 

Boundless is our love letter to science: a comics anthology that celebrates, explores, and infuses science into tales about our real (and imagined) world. Our goal is to present stories that are both informative and engaging, beautiful yet accurate, and ultimately compelling in their depiction of all the wondrous allure science so regularly brings to our lives.

The 200+ page anthology consists of over 30 different pieces from nearly 40 artists and writers exploring a whole host of scientific processes, technologies, methods, and historical moments in a number of fields including biology, medicine, physics, optics, and astronomy, among others. This anthology aims to examine the many facets of science as well as act as a tool for educating comics enthusiasts and science buffs of all ages.

Boundless is being produced and published as a part of the Boston Comics Roundtable, the oldest and largest community of independent comic creators and cartoonists in the Boston area, and an organization of which I’m a member. As a volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization, we don’t have very much funding, which is why we are turning to Kickstarter. Our goal is to raise enough money to pay our artists and writers, cover the costs of printing the book, and cover any marketing and Kickstarter expenses. The more we raise, the more our artists and writers can be paid!

We are also REALLY close to reaching the halfway point of our funding goal:

SOCLOSEtohalfway

I’m really quite proud of this anthology. It has some wonderful stories to tell. Everyone’s been working so hard to put it together and I’d love to see it become a reality. Please check out our Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/231372143/boundless-vol-1-a-science-comics-anthology for more information on our campaign and backer rewards. Consider supporting us and helping to spread the word.

 

 

HP 6

*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*

This week we will continue our examination of the beloved Harry Potter series with a peek into the wonder of the sixth book. For a look at my commentary on the previous installments, please see herehere, and here.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the calm before the storm. It’s tone is similar to that of Prisoner of Azkaban. There aren’t any upfront and personal confrontations with Voldemort, though he is still omnipresent and in this case the danger is more real than ever as people are dying and going missing left and right.

2016-03-30 21.50.13

Continue reading

HP 5

*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*

This week we will continue our exploration and analysis of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. For a look at my commentary on the previous installments, please see here and here.

2016-03-13 11.54.27 (2)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may be the most difficult book in the Harry Potter series. From the very beginning the tone is immediately different. It’s darker and much more adult. Even Harry is changed, being described as having the “pinched, slightly unhealthy look of someone who has grown a lot in a short space of time.” The book is based on confusion, lack of communication, and misunderstanding as well as an element of distrust. Nearly all the book’s problems stem from those roots. There’s just so much that goes wrong in this book and it’s painful to read because I care so much. We can connect some of the dots, but often, especially on the first reading, we’re just as lost as Harry and for that we feel his injustices and confusion doubly. In retrospect, it’s just as frustrating, but for different reasons. It’s somehow worse to see it all coming and not be able to do anything to stop it.

Continue reading