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Fasttimes at Sarah Lawrence College

Since I live practically at east coast ground zero for the COVID hotspot, my school actually cares about whether or not we breathe each other’s air. The current policy is that I’m only allowed to interact with people in my “living pod,” so I only get to spend time with my suitemate, Bella, the only person I’m allowed to mouth-breathe on/near. Together, we watched “Malcolm & Marie” on Netflix, cramming our faces with white cheddar cheese popcorn, milk duds, and other movie theatre junk food. Then we watched “The Price of Everything,” my favorite documentary about the world of contemporary art, which also happens to be the only documentary I’ve ever seen about the world of contemporary art. Bella wants to be an art restorer, so I thought it’d be a good fit and as it turns out, I was correct. 

We tried to play a Valentine’s Day themed card game that the school provided us, only to find that you need more than two players. So instead we played war, attempted a card castle on her bed, and played one of those get-to-know-you-question-games. I just got a legitimate deck of bicycle playing cards and we’ll be learning how to play gin rummy. Thursday night was “sit in the hallway and socially-distance paint” night. I painted a bunch of lemons as part of my attempt to be optimistic, because when life gives you lemons you should paint the lemons or some shit.

Thursday was also the day that the school blessed us by paying for a Greek food truck to give us free lunch and a special empanadas food truck to give us dessert empanadas stuffed with nutella, strawberries, and brownies. It was exactly as amazing as it sounds. 

The food truck that served these is called “Wanna Empanada” btw. Be sure to give them a google search

Then I made even more preacher cookies, this time showing Bella, and then made something called “copycat subway cookies,” that I undoubtedly made wrong.

I don’t think that they were supposed to come out salty

I’ve since been able to zhuzh up my blank walls with posters representing my favorite things in the hopes of making this self-isolation a little better. Above my head, I have Jane Fonda’s mugshot, so that she can watch over me while I sleep. Some of you may recall having had a poster in your weird cinder block dorm room that said something like “Frankie Says Relax.” Instead I have Wednesday Addams, Fleabag, and President Bartlet. 

Please ignore my messy desks

Wednesday Addams, from “The Addams Family” is, per her usual, drinking some poison. I put her up on my wall because she reminds me of childhood-me (don’t read too much into that). Fleabag, from the show “Fleabag,” is another woman who reminds me of myself, seen here cheekily turning towards the camera as she says something no doubt crass. President Bartlet, from the TV show “The West Wing,” is in Obama-style coloring, like any good president. Finally, my large tapestry of a Portugese Vogue cover hanging over my bed should immediately tell anyone who enters that I love fashion and am probably cultured (wink, wink). I got all of my dorm room decor from a website called “RedBubble,” which allowed me to set up my shrine to sassy women in black and white and President Bartlet.

A shot of my bed, made-up just for you guys

Most of them fell down shortly after I took these photos. Sigh. 

The newest addition

I can’t wait until I can spend an afternoon watching a mediocre movie in theatres and ordering the wrong thing off a menu at a really great restaurant. I also miss the Slo parties, which take place at “slo 7” , a series of dorms on campus, where you have to venmo people for drinks and act like you’re having a better time than you are. In the coming weeks Bella and I will be watching “Jojo Rabbit,” a newfound favorite of mine and I’ll keep you updated on how the gin rummy is going. 

Much love and also Happy International Women’s Day!

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Even more Galentine’s Day Love

A goofy Galentine’s Day image, that I did with a limited amount of art supplies, but I think it sold my point.

If you’re anything like me and you think that this year is already taking its toll then you’re probably struggling to have a loving and affectionate Valentine’s Day in quarantine. It also doesn’t help that I am and always have been single, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I like to add a sense of occasion, even to the simplest of western holidays that my society forces me to celebrate and Valentine’s Day is no exception.

This time last year, Valentine’s Day marked the end of my pre-COVID activities. After that, my school clamped down hard with its restrictions, being an epicenter for this new virus, and I went back to live with my parents. I honestly can’t believe that I’m coming up on a year, a full rotation around the sun, abiding by limitations put in place due to a global pandemic. So without knowing it, I had to make that Valentine’s Day count and I therefore want to make this one count.

Drinking some Valentine’s Day lemon tea

Like most people on Valentine’s Day, I want to be sipping a virgin pina colada and wearing my black tights, because black tights are made for Valentine’s Day, as are pina coladas, at least in my mind. But I have no way of getting a pina colada and I left my tights at home. I could pick up some of the beloved chocolate covered strawberries from “Topps Bakery,” but since my school is actually strict about leaving campus for things that aren’t priorities, I might just wait until after they lift some of the restrictions. Then, I will practically live at Topps bakery.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to live here, right?

So what is a single girl, locked in quarantine to do on Valentine’s day?

Well, as many of you know, I am a strong proponent of “Galentine’s.” Galentine’s day is an alternative holiday in which you celebrate your best gal pals, brought to us by Leslie Knope, the fierce feminist voice of the fictional TV show “Parks and Recreation.”

It has occurred to me that I have never read a book in which one of the themes was female friendship. I’ve read several books with great female role models, like Hermoine Granger, but even in that example Hermoine only had friends who were boys. Many of my favorite films are about gal pals, such as “Booksmart” and “The First Wives Club,” but I’ve never read a book that actually depicts and celebrates female friendship. It is for that reason that I’ve decided to observe Galentine’s day by reading a book that has been praised for its female besties, preferably one that doesn’t overcomplicate the matter.

One book that was overwhelmingly recommended to me when I google searched this was “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. So I decided to spend this holiday season reading, which is probably the safest way to celebrate anything while in quarantine. I also thought that in the spirit of “Galentine’s Day,” I should make some cookies for myself and my suitemate, the only other person I’m allowed to interact with because we share a living space together. 

My Valentine’s Day gift to myself! I haven’t give him a name yet, although I’m thinking Griffin for some reason

They’re called preacher cookies, although I have sometimes heard them called “no bakes,” since you make them completely on the stove without an oven. That also makes them incredibly convenient and easy to make. This was my first time making them alone, even though I have made them several times before with my mother. I stood over the stove the whole time, stirring together a full stick of butter, an obscene amount of sugar, and some whole milk. What I’m saying is, this is not the cookie you eat when you’re on a diet. I got globs of peanut butter over everything and stained a few surfaces with cocoa powder, but they came out perfectly. 

An obscene amount of sugar
A full stick of butter
The butter softens
Stirring
Stirring
The finished product
And my suitemate made brownies as well!

My mother has promised to send me some girl scout cookies if she ever stumbles upon them, so I’ll be supporting female entrepreneurs and eating sweets for Valentine’s Day. I’m wishing everyone a happy Valentine’s/Galentine’s Day and if anyone else out there has any recommendations for stories about positive female friendships, please send me your recommendations. I’d love to read them.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Back to School

So, after being shuffled around a bit: staying in Massachusetts, and, prior to that,living almost full time in Valdosta, I finally finagled my way back onto Sarah Lawrence campus. I’m back baby and I’m living in my school’s notorious Hill House, without a roommate, which is the best way to enjoy Hill House. 

I’m looking forward to boxy rooms, broken radiators, allergen-safe, mostly vegan cafeteria food, chipper RAs, and the skunks that roam the campus for which I have no words and tremendous fear. Other than that, there’s the northeastern cobblestone architecture that looks like it’s straight out of “Dead Poets Society,” classes that I’m doing well in, and old friends who I’d like to see but cannot due to COVID-restrictions. So far, I’ve experienced a system that forces me to only leave my dorm room to pick up food that is to be eaten in my room and a water shortage, in which my building and several others were without running water for a few hours, because of a water main break.  

My desk is already messy, the dishes are already stacked, and I’m always one Netflix binge-watch away from being behind on my school work (calm down though, I’m not there yet). 

My mother and my aunt dropped me off and when they did I got a chance to show them a bit of Bronxville, under the guise of strict COVID protocol, of course. They definitely understood why I love the place so much. We enjoyed the character and the style of the downtown, making an obligatory stop at “Slave to the Grind” and “Topps Bakery,” where my mother got me a box of sweets as a farewell treat. 

And just as I showed up, so did the snow. The snow keeps on mounting and just when I think it’s starting to thaw it snows all over again. A fresh batch of snow makes everything seem briefly calm, making me want to sleep all day. Snow and cold days are fun until I remember that snow turns dirty and that I have to wear all of those layers whenever I walk out. The only time I’m allowed to walk out of my dorm room is when I have to hike all the way up to the campus center to get my food, which takes a bit of time seeing as to how Hill House is several minutes away from the nearest anything. 

I’ve recently ordered some new posters and tapestries for my dorm, so that I can decorate it with all of the things that I love. I’m spending all of my time learning the things that they don’t teach you about college like how groceries are expensive, credit cards are dangerous, and disappointments can be frequent. Yet, hopefully the friendships aren’t fleeting, the food improves, and I can continue to do well in school, since it’s the whole reason why I’m up here.

I’ll keep you posted on how I progress.  

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel 

Retrieving a package in my pajamas

A Piece of Northern Winter

If you’re anything like me, you call any little shift in routine “an adventure.” This might be a way to cope with small changes, rather than to let them irritate me. In order to go back up to college, I had to first quarantine for two weeks in a state that borders New York and since my aunt and uncle live in Massachusetts, in a suburb of Boston, they graciously allowed me to stay with them for the two weeks.

As part of my adventure, I’d stare out of my second story window, as it occasionally snowed, feeling like I’m in that scene in the third Harry Potter book, where Harry gets to spend time in Diagon Alley in the weeks leading up to school. This might be a good time to mention that I watched a Harry Potter marathon while there, reaffirming how much I love Harry Potter. 

Since I’ve only seen snow a handful of times in my life, the mystique of snow has not yet left me, so I spent a few hours traipsing around outside in the snow and throwing a ball around for their chocolate lab, Lola. I read “The Alchemist” for school with Lola on my lap. I also had her with me on my bed while I worked on my novel, reinforcing my dream that I will one day be doing the same, except with a German Shepherd in my own apartment. When their dog isn’t outside tiring me out, she’s sitting directly in front of the fire, probably burning her retinas with how intently she stares into it. 

My mother arrived a week or so later and even though this is a woman who I once heard describe herself as a “furnace,” she still bundled up with multiple gloves at the urging of my father. I, meanwhile, wore my clunky snow boots, also at his urging, to ensure that my feet didn’t turn to blocks of ice. I was raised in a sub-tropical climate after all.

My mom, my cousin Olivia, and I went to the nearby quarry that was iced over. I once heard an artist refer to a similar scene as being in “James Fenimore Cooper country” and even though “The Last of the Mohicans” is still on my reading list, I know exactly what he means. 

This is what greeted us on our way to the quarry. I’m guessing that maybe we weren’t allowed inside after all

I rewatched “The Queen’s Gambit,” simply because I love it. I started everyday off with hot tea, kept up with the news, and mentally prepared to go back to college. There were plenty of great meals, with some amazing desserts in the mix. Aside from tiramisu and lemon mascarpone, we got special ice cream from “Richardson’s Ice Cream,” my treat once, and experimentally-flavored cookies from “Crumbl,” where you can buy cookies almost as big as your head, the only real metric of food in America. I am on my way to being a glutton for desserts, just in time for me to return to allergen-safe, COVID-restricted cafeteria food on campus.  

That’s just how the cookie crumbles
Just one more

Overall, I had a great time hanging around with my cousins, even when the pandemic made it very hard to do anything fun. If ever I’m in a bind again, I take heart in knowing that I’m welcome at my aunt’s house.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

New Year’s Resolutions

Is it too late for New Year’s resolutions? New Year’s resolutions still remain the same. There’s always eating healthier, exercising more, spending more time at the office, or spending less time there. The whole idea of a “new year, new you” is frankly not true. For my part, I never want to force a New Year’s resolution on myself, so I tend to just not do them. My therapist told me once that a person can’t just change their behavior, they must first change their beliefs.

New Year’s resolutions also have a tendency to make you feel like there’s something wrong with you, as opposed to focusing on all of the things you’ve done right. 

However, recently I’ve been thinking about the small changes I want to implement in my life, and thought that I might as well make these changes and call them New Year’s resolutions. I’ve already changed my beliefs, so here is the rough draft of what I want to do differently this year: 

I hope your New Year’s Eve was as lit as this random one from when I was 9 and playing Pictionary

Less Social Media

I’d like to preface this by saying that I use social media less than most of the people around me. I’ve felt ambivalent towards social media for a while now, but my sudden interest in unplugging comes from the Netflix special “The Social Dilemma.” For those who’ve never seen it, it’s a hybrid of a documentary and a dramatization of how corrosive social media platforms are. The panelists are early employees and designers for every major social media platform, who state, unequivocally, that their product is not being used with the spirit with which it was intended. Not to sound like an alarmist, but these experts consider social media to be nothing less than an existential threat, that could bring about the end of civilization. The best case scenario is that in about two decades, the global economy collapses, unless some major modifications are made, which will only happen if immense public pressure is applied to these companies and it becomes more financially sound to solve the problem than not to. 

I am not holistically abstaining but I want to stop mindlessly scrolling on the Instagram explore page, where there is an algorithm set up to show me what I like by monitoring how long I linger over a certain post. I’m frequently exposed to political opinions, some that I agree with, and some that I decidedly do not, but I no longer want to see any of it. 

I understand the irony of me blogging about how the internet is bad, but I don’t think that all of the internet is inherently bad. It just needs to change. Until it does, I have all of my notifications turned off, I’m not getting any new platforms, and I am not clicking on a single video or news article that is recommended for me. 

More photographic evidence of the Pictionary that we played

Getting News Solely from News Sources

Once again, I feel like I already do this more than others. Recently, I’ve taken to watching the news and I know that the news comes with its own warning label when it comes to bias, but Kornacki will never tell me that there’s a pedophile ring at a pizzeria being run by the Clintons. My point is that it’s safer. I started watching the news when the election lasted days, then during the runoff, then during the certification of the vote, and then during the ensuing insurrection and honestly it feels good to be informed.

Also this New Year’s Eve when I hit the non-alcoholic Welsh, sparkling cider pretty hard for no discernible reason

Caring less about what celebrities do

I don’t really care who’s starting a book club, who’s writing a cookbook, who’s playing games with Fallon on his show or what reality show is coming to an end. I also don’t care about their politics or lifestyles. In the past I’ve enjoyed seeing their apartments in Architectural Digest and their 73 questions with Vogue, but I think I’m just through caring. Sure, I’ll probably watch them tell their funny stories on The Graham Norton show and keep up with Jane Fonda’s activism, but those are my only vices. At times it almost feels hard not to care about what they do, because I feel so constantly bombarded by their concerns, rather than what I’m actually interested in. Hopefully, now that I am going to be on the internet less, it will be easy to shut celebrities out.   

I have a few more personal resolutions that are just between me and the universe, so I’ll be keeping those to myself. By correcting these small things, it’ll hopefully allow me to achieve other things along the way. I want to feel unencumbered and less manipulated and exploited, as I’m sure we all do. 

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

And one last photo of me at the only New Year’s Eve party that wasn’t with family friends or relatives

Things I’m going to miss about Valdosta

I’m going back to New York, baby! 

I’m starting the New Year off right. I’m on my way to being back where I belong and back in action.

Me rejoicing

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve wanted to do when I get back to New York, once I’ve gotten the vaccine and the whole world has reopened up. But first, I think I need to make mention of where I spent a majority of the year 2020. I spent two months shy of a year in Valdosta and while I love my family, I understand why living with your parents is so made fun of. It’s pretty unsexy to live with your parents but my bedroom managed to stay cool, when it wasn’t cluttered with junk. I’m going to miss my tranquil, matcha-green walls, which are covered in postcards of icons and museums from around the world, an orgy of evidence that I love all things cosmopolitan. Then there’s the rococo mirror that I got, courtesy of the Turner Center’s Gogh-Green initiative, where they auctioned off previously-owned paintings and other artistic bits. I’m pretty sure that the word “eclectic” is used to refer to mix-matched home decor, so that’s how I’ll justify the fact that I matched a golden mirror with a silver bed and portrait frame, a far-throw from the symphony in coordination.

Speaking of my silver portrait frame, Marilyn Monroe now hangs in my room again, just like she did at my old house, and Raquel Welch stands guard on the adjacent wall in her subtle furry underwear. My painting of an exotic femme-fatale, who I have since named Scarlet, hides behind my door, right beside my aforementioned mirror. This and more is how I made the space my own.

Now, I’m on my way to a charmingly cramped dorm room at the notorious Hill House. I’m going to have to get used to shared toilets, a possible roommate, and little to no room for style. Yet, there are some things that I am going to miss in particular, such as: 

My kitten Calypso:

She ate me up and left no crumbs

There’s a reason why she’s named after a goddess… and no it’s not because I’m pretentious. 

She is a regal-looking cat, with amber eyes and slits for pupils like a snake’s eye. They say that a person’s cat is exactly like them, which is really fitting since we have the exact same personality. She’s antisocial, aloof, doesn’t like to be touched, has huge eyes, and wants the finer things in life. She’s always either lounging around in her hammock all day or she’s trying to steal every bit of human food she can find. I love her. She loves food. 

Apollo: (probably)

Apollo is more my mother’s cat than mine and my mom’s cat is a himbo (a male bimbo for those who don’t know). He claws holes into my clothes and likes to scratch a bit more, but that’s just because he’s snuggly and affectionate and purrs like a motor when he’s lying in your lap. He is sort of like a happy idiot–I say this in the nicest way possible–who always foils Calypso’s plans because of how loudly he clobbers around, while she slinks around the house undetected, up to no good. Apollo is our little lion cub: a mini king of the manor.

Tea from a local tea shop:

“Just Love Coffee” is an aptly named and savory alternative to Starbucks. My brother and I love it there so we took our 91 year old Great Aunt Mac there for a trip, since she loves getting coffee with us. It’s calm and uncrowded, exactly what a local coffee shop should be. 

Before & After
We explained to her what a selfie was as we took this picture
One last one

My mother’s tea

Throughout my year-long quarantine, my mother and I made tea almost every single day. By the end of it, I got to return the favor and make her some tea when she was in bed with COVID. I make my Earl Grey with cloves, half-and-half, and some valhalla spices. Usually, I had a cat in my lap while sipping tea. 

My pool house/art studio/conservatory:

It’s a pool house that I use, as did the previous owner, as an art studio, but she probably didn’t use it as a place to store all of our potted plants when the weather got cold. The plants being inside the pool house made it balmy and humid, so when I went to paint in the winter time, it wasn’t chilly inside. I regret not painting more, but I’ll be able to return and hopefully then I’ll know exactly what to paint. 

My job at the Turner Center

Since working there many of the people in my life have received some lovely artistic gifts from the Turner Center Gift Shop, whether it’s a hand carved pot or a locally-manufactured necklace. I’ve also sold a few pieces of art, manned the desk, answered the phone, and sold some of the gift shop merch to people who aren’t me. It was a great start to entering the workforce, because it offered me a great foundation that I can apply to so many other jobs. 

The house we just moved into

You’ve probably got to be surprised that this wasn’t higher up on the list. The shut down, having started when we were still stuck in our prior small house, was the impetus for our move. Over the summer we swiftly moved into our new house after eyeing it once. I unpacked, swam in the pool, painted in the pool house, played with my cats, and slept for copious hours upstairs in my bed, all while in that house. I also zoomed in for the first semester of my sophomore year and did all of my schoolwork, which included presentations, essays, and learning a second language, in that house, usually seated comfortably at the kitchen table.


Now that I’ll be up at college, I’ll get to witness the first one hundred days of the Biden administration and experience some college normalcy. Obviously, I’ll miss my parents and the few friends that I managed to see during this pandemic, but I am excited to be going back up to the place that I love.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Reading in 2020

I don’t need to tell you guys that this was a trash year. If I’d read a book that had this year as a plotline, I wouldn’t have made it to the end, because I would have considered it to be “too unrealistic.” Thankfully, I read several books this year that managed to make the year marginally better. Honestly, I wish I’d read more. I thought that this would be “the year of downtime,” where I’d do nothing but sit around and plow through book after book. However, I soon realized that sitting down with a book when your mind is on so many other important things (global pandemic, presidential election, racial injustice, California being on fire) isn’t the easiest task in the world, nor is it your first priority. Of course, there are so many people who didn’t make it through 2020, so if not reading as much as I wanted to is my biggest complaint, then I suppose I had a pretty great year. That and the fact that I had COVID, but let’s sidebar that for a moment. I’m sure that there are a few books that I forgot to include, but through the books that I am telling you about now, I will be putting very beautiful and complicated novels into your hands. 

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an incredibly written memoir, written in the form of a letter to his son, chronicling his first-hand experiences with racism. He clearly lays out his points, making it read more like a lengthy and compelling New York Times article, than a full-fledged letter to his son. He makes it personal by relating relevant anecdotes from his life. The most searing part of the whole novel for me is when he becomes embittered because he has pondered how much effort, energy, time, discipline, and love must be poured into a person, only to have it all wiped away in a senseless tragedy; like the frequent deaths of unarmed black men. Coates employs an uncommonly candid and highly powerful voice.   

Mrs. Bridge (Evan S Connell)

I didn’t take a single good photo of myself with a copy of this book

Mrs. Bridge is uncommonly introspective for a novel from the 50s and offers no nostalgia for the era it takes place in. Mrs. Bridge looks into the unfulfilling life of a 1940s housewife and how she must raise her kids. The story has many themes including the ending of innocence. As a child, reading a book that is told from the perspective of the parent was interesting because I have never felt the moment when a parent realizes that their lecture has fallen on deaf ears or that their reverse psychology isn’t working. The book doesn’t really follow a plot, just the realistic lifestyle of a woman who often acts as the foot soldier for her husband. This novel is an underrated classic that needs way more hype than it receives.  

Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)

Invisible Man is one of those novels that is so jam-packed with everything that the author wants to say that you almost feel like you can’t unpack it all. His look at the realities of racism in this country may shock those who have never experienced or witnessed what he is talking about, as was the case with many of the people I read the book with in class, but that alone should be reason enough for people to pick up and read it. Regardless of your level of exposure, “Invisible Man” is a provocative think piece and now, with so many people in this country, “waking up” to the realities of racism it might not be a terrible book to revisit. When it was first published, it was instrumental in the civil rights movement. 

Beloved- (Toni Morrison) It’s no wonder that Toni Morrison went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature seeing as to how she wove this deeply haunting and profoundly disturbing (in a good way) novel. Many people use words like “beautiful” and “haunting” to describe novels, but none so deserving as this one. Many themes such as intergenerational trauma and the horrors of slavery, come across in this novel. There is a looming constellation of trauma that surrounds the family, as they live in a house that is practically a character of its own.  

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) Reading “Pride and Prejudice” was a big feat for me because I have attempted to read it over the past few years. I was always too young and the language was always too much for me to get through. I also watched the “Pride and Prejudice” BBC mini-series from the 90s, which is practically verbatim from the book and I was always disinterested in reading a book in which I knew almost down to the letter what was going to happen. One of the things that you cannot tell from a film adaptation is the compelling way with which Austen writes it (something I can now appreciate). 

Ms. Eliza Bennett perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Jane Austen heroine. An Austen heroine’s genuineness and ability to “go against the grain” can get her married so long as her authenticity is not being used to this end, or to any end. Although Austen never got married herself, she clearly saw the value in it and rewarded her heroine’s unwillingness to conform with the greatest reward a woman in her society could receive: marrying well. It’s ironic, rewarding a woman for her nonconformity by allowing her to conform as best she can. 

Steering the Craft (Ursula Le Guinn)  Le Guinn presents you with several intensive writing tasks that target specific aspects of writing. These tasks, which often focus on such topics as pacing, dialogue, adjectives, or ambiguity, get watered down until you eventually know how to form proper sentences. In order to get the full effect of the book, you must do every writing exercise. With a confidence and a smoothness, Le Guinn explains to the reader, in great detail, why you are doing these tasks and the importance of them. Conversations surrounding the art of storytelling can get very conceptual and abstract very quickly, but Le Guinn never allows it to go there, remaining accessible to the reader until the end. This book will undoubtedly make any person a better writer in ways that they can’t possibly know.   

Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)

Wanting to read more modern novels, I decided to settle on this one, because, not unlike “Normal People,” it was a New York Times Bestseller with a highly-anticipated Hulu adaptation. When I first read it, I loved it. I thought it was complicated and was always eager to see where it was going next. I do remember thinking that the ending was a bit anticlimactic, but otherwise fine, which is more than I can say about its lackluster adaptation. Overall, it was a strong and taut novel, but despite it taking place in the 90s, it felt very contemporary. I can’t put my finger on it, but modern novels have a feeling and a tone to them that I’ve noticed when reading “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins and others, and it isn’t just the absences of the smudged typewriter font. Perhaps it is the pop-culture references or the lax tone of the storytelling. Whatever it is, this book has it.

Normal People (Sally Rooney) People who’ve read my blog before will already know my views on this novel, but to be fair to its lovely novelist Sally Rooney, it is probably excellent if romance novels are your cup of tea. They are not mine. Rooney does seem to be deeply interested in human relationships. The most common in literature being, of course, romantic. She and I both definitely want to take a look at human intricacies, but we both seem to want to go about them differently. I was mostly frustrated by her lack of quotation marks (as you might be too) and can’t for the life of me figure out the reasoning behind that decision. It was just lines of dialogue not bracketed off by quotation marks. It pained me. 

The Queen’s Gambit- (Walter Tevis) This has got to be one of my all time favorite novels. It had a compelling female character, which is not always a guarantee, who subverted my expectations time and time again. It was a gritty look at drug addiction and alcoholism. Other themes included feminism, introversion, and chess fundamentals. They were all handled well, even if you are not a chess enthusiast. The pacing was surprisingly good since we follow a young woman throughout most of her early life, ending when she is nineteen and at the top of her craft. Most people will recognize this entry by its adaptation. By the time I read it, 60 million people had watched the Netflix limited series by the same name. My plan, as with three others on this list, was to read it and then watch it. The two versions were virtually identical, except for one fundamental difference.

Enola Holmes (Nancy Springer) Technically this book is for preteens, but I started reading it when I was a child, didn’t finish it, and then accidentally gave away my copy. When I saw that Netflix was making a version of it, I decided to buy it again and read it. It is not bad a little novel, albeit a bit immature for me at this juncture. It is a proto-feminist novel geared towards young girls, so what can be better?

A Study in Scarlet (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) So long as I was reading “Enola Holmes,” I thought that I might as well read some actual Sherlock Holmes, so I started with the first book in the series. It wasn’t very long, but it might as well have been because of how slow-moving it was. The whole middle section about the Mormons in Utah, took the life out of me. The last time I read that much about a Mormon in Utah, I think that Mitt Romney was conceding the 2012 election. Much of the glamor and the hype surrounding Sherlock Holmes came later, I am now sure. It was great, but perhaps not as great as some of its modern day adaptations. 

This little slice of a book

Carrie (Stephen King) They say that reading for just six minutes a day can reduce your blood pressure by up to 60 percent. Unless of course you’re reading Stephen King, in which case, your blood pressure is liable to go up. I bought “Carrie” about a year ago at a bookstore in Maine, which, as you can imagine, had an extensive King collection. I’ve been trying to get into his work for a while now and since “Carrie” is a story about a misfit teenage girl who gets even with her classmates, I thought it was a good place to start. King has a very distinctive voice; he writes in fragments, shifts perspective, and uses parenthesis constantly, three pretty big no-nos in the industry, but, as usual, it works for him. I was going to read “Emma,” but decided that I wanted something a little bit more plot-driven than character driven. So, I was having to choose between two young women: either Emma or Carrie.

I chose Carrie and decided to leave Emma, so that I can have something waiting for me in the New Year. I just received an amazing collection of books for Christmas that’ll keep me occupied throughout 2021. Hopefully, they will be just as good if not better than the books that I read in 2020.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

My Post Christmas Post

On Christmas morning, I had my hair set in waves and my nails painted cranberry red. My pajama shirt had a New York scene on it, telling Santa directly what I wanted for Christmas this year. My family likes a big Christmas, with an obscene amount of gifts wrapped around the Christmas tree. Christmas was a bit of a somber occasion without my aunt, who always spends Christmas with us. Unfortunately she lives out of the country and therefore couldn’t make it this year due to COVID restrictions. She seemed to have a good time in Singapore though, and we likewise tried to make the best of our situation here. For Christmas Eve dinner my mother and my brother made Beef Wellington and Risotto, which they learned how to make with the help of Gordon Ramsay, and on the actual Christmas day we had “It’s a Wonderful Life” playing on repeat. 

The Beef Wellington, cleverly decorated with a “G”

This year I decided to only buy ethical gifts for Christmas, all naturally sourced and sustainable, purchased independently, avoiding Amazon. Not to do too much virtue signaling, but I’d like to do a bit of a humble brag and inform everyone of how ethically I shopped this Christmas. Yes, I did break my rule once or twice so that I could order a few last minute gifts in time for Christmas, but for the most part, I was discerning with where I put my money and discovered some amazing companies in the process. 

A copy of Richard II, given to me by my good friend, Sofia.

Since Bobby is going through his anti-big-business and his I-will-only-wash-my-hair every-other day-phase, with my full support, I decided to get him ethically sourced Bombas socks. Bombas is a company that gives a pair of seamless socks to a homeless person, with every pair that you buy. I also got him a pair of boots to go with it, making up the toes in the head-to-toe ensemble he got for Christmas. 

Bobby insisted that we have a photoshoot with our new Christmas clothes and of course I would never say no to that

My father also got a pair of bombas. The theme inadvertently became “dad’s optimum comfort.” I got him a comfy sweater from “Toad and Co.,” a pro nature business, because every person needs a comfy sweater. His one rule for buying gifts is “any color, so long as it’s blue,” so I got it for him in cobalt blue and a corresponding pair of slippers to match. I wanted to get my dad a fiction book, since he usually only reads business and self-help books, and after consulting GQ’s “The 92 Best Books to Read in 2020,” I decided on “The Fall” by Camus, an older book of repute. I also bought him “Becoming a Writer,” by Dorothea Brante, a book that has been used by many for business and entrepreneurship, because of how universal her messages are. They were both bought from “The Strand,” one of the best independent bookstore in the world, located, of course, in New York City. 

The family zoom call

My mother’s Christmas gifts were some of the best I’ve ever purchased. I decided to get her an assortment of bath supplies. Since “Lush” began the ethical-and-sustainable bath movement, I started with them and their matcha exploding soap and twilight bath bomb. Then I got some body wash from “Bath Culture” and a “Honey Moon cleansing bar” from Solo eclipse, which is a renowned black-owned business. 

A “neatly” wrapped gift

I’ve gotten lotion, perfume, bath salts, bath crystals, bath bombs, bath elixirs, and even more moisturizer, so I should be smelling great from now until judgement day. I’ve also received books and canvases so the artist in me will never die. I received some clothes, but mostly gift cards, so your girl will be hitting up her favorite second hand boutiques before she returns to college.

The haul

In case you’re interested in what those ethical companies were, here’s the full list:

Lush

Bath Culture

Solo Eclipse

Bombas

The Strand

Toad and Co. 

Oh and by the way,

Happy New Year (and this time we mean “happy”)

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

The Solstice

“Some days you’re the windshield. Other days you’re the fly.” A man tweeted this out after the show he created got cancelled during its first season and I’ve wondered since then if I’d ever know that feeling of being the fly and not the windshield. I’m sure that many of us have felt that way this year. 

I respect the night sky’s unwillingness to be photographed

I’ve never considered myself a very social person, so this entire year has made me realize what I actually care about, based on what I started to miss. For as long as I can remember I’ve broken bread with the village that raised me on Christmas Eve and honestly, I’m not sure how to celebrate without them. 

This year I decided to throw a solstice party. 

Bobby arrived!

The solstice is on December 21st, within spitting distance of Christmas and right in the throes of the festivities. It’s the longest night of the year, perfect for a dusk to dawn party if you’re up for that, or, if you’re a sane person, it is a nice night for a bonfire and being outside. It’s dramatic, mysterious, and non denominational. Welcome all ye to a yuletide celebration! The plan was for my mom to make her famous spinach-cheese dip, I was going to make chocolate cupcakes, and Padgett was likely to bring peach flavored peace tea and hot chocolate bombs, hoping that they wouldn’t clash. But none of it was to be. We ended up cancelling because it’s just not safe. Together, my family and I stood beneath the stars trying to figure out which stars were actually part of the planetary alignment.

We also voted on the Solstice

As I wrap up the holidays listening to Christmas carols, I like to think that Judy Garland was right: “Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” and “faithful friends who are near to us, will be dear to us once more,” although I suppose this year it would be more accurate to say, “faithful friends who are DEAR to us will be NEAR  to us once more.” She really summed up a 2020 Christmas when she said: “someday soon, we all will be together/ if the fates allow/ until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow/ so have yourself a merry little Christmas now.” 

Like all people who get their party plans cancelled, I spent the evening with my cats

So, here’s to muddling through. Have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

And a happy solstice!

The Tragic Queen,

Tis the Season…

Tis the season to be jolly, but also tis the season to go into debt, break the bank, and rush to get work finished. Christmastime is a time of high stress. The holidays cost money and that isn’t made any easier by them sneaking up on us, the way that holidays always tend to do. For me, it always feels like I’ve just amassed the right amount of money in my bank account just for the holidays to come around and suck it all up. 

Is it just me or does this look like a Christmas photo from the 60s?

The holidays have become notorious for making people blue, and rightfully so. What other time of year do we question our lives and the decisions we’ve made? It can easily be a time of hopelessness and despair. If you’re not careful, you’ll spend the whole season trying to just get past the season. 

Me getting into the Christmas spirit. Photos by Lauren Pyrzenski

I get through the holidays the same way that every other sane person does. I avoid Hallmark movies and skip all of the Christmas songs that I hate and trust me there are quite a few. I love Paul McCartney as much as the next person, but once I’ve heard “A Wonderful Christmastime” on the radio five times, it no longer is “a wonderful Christmastime.”

I just finished my semester and by the end of it, I wasn’t just done, I was overdone. Essays have been turned in, finals have been performed, and now all that’s left is to finish up my Christmas shopping. But I am determined to not let this Christmas season pass me by. In order to ensure that this Christmas, of all Christmases, is full of high spirits, I will be sending Christmas cheer to everyone in the most literal way I know how. I have sent out my first ever Christmas cards. Please excuse me while I be a diva. 

The front of the card
The back of the card

The list of recipients was longer than I expected, seeing as to how I keep the circle small. There were professors from college who need to know that I’m not dropping their classes, friends from school who need to know that I still love and miss them, friends of the family who will be on the acknowledgements section of my first ever book, family friends who make up the village that raised me, and of course my whole extended family. If you didn’t make the list, because you are a local friend of mine perhaps, just know that I still love you, but holiday cards are expensive, as I’ve recently discovered.  

Me with my holiday card.

I intend to keep up these cards throughout the years so that my people will be able to measure my progress through life. I want them to be like a polaroid of wherever I am in life at the moment. It has also occurred to me that people only really do Christmas cards once they’ve gotten married and had kids, but since there’s no guarantee that I’ll ever do either of those things, I still want to send out my card every year, regardless of my relationship status. 

While it’ll be awhile before anyone gets their card, my friends from college have just received their gifts. I bought them handmade pots from the Turner Center, where I still work. Some of you might recall that I gave my gal-pals some succulents in observation of “galentine’s day.” Now their succulents have a little home. 

My friend and her cat with her new pot

And speaking of the Turner Center, I attended a small, socially-distanced holiday party for my office. We had a secret Santa exchange that resulted in me getting socks, tea, and Ferrero Rocher, all because I put on my list that I always need more socks, love chocolate, and solely drink tea, never coffee. Ironically, my secret santa pick lives on coffee so for her I got her a Christmas mug filled with special coffee grinds. The night was topped off by playing massive jenga in the center of the room and in a perfect turn of events my boss happened to be the one to top it all over. 

Now Christmas is just around the corner and I feel that not only am I in the proper spirits, but that I’ve done my part to make sure that everyone else is. I can’t wait for the feeling of glorious anticipation on Christmas Eve. I wish everyone a similarly blissful holiday season.

And a happy new year (fingers crossed)

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

A spare photo of me doing Christmas stuff even though this picture was not used in any of my Christmas cards