slubs in the city

Slub (adj): Maverick; unorthodox; independent in behavior or thought.


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this is for you.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 7 billion people sharing our planet today. There are 7 billion people eating breakfast, talking on the phone, walking to work. 7 billion of us are brushing our teeth, becoming a parent for the first time, battling a disease, losing a loved one. Throwing a baseball, throwing a tantrum. Doing our homework. Singing and dancing. Shouting and fighting. Giggling. Weeping.

Over 7 billion people are living today. Isn’t it ironic, then, that in a moment any one of us can feel alone?

To date, our blog has been mostly about happy events and solitary reflections. But to me, the purpose of blogging – more broadly, of writing in general – is to chronicle a variety of emotions and experiences. Not every day is going to be a happy one. It can’t be, and it shouldn’t be, and that is a reality which every person in this sea of 7 billion must reconcile himself or herself to. Sometimes our day doesn’t end on a good note, but that’s all part of being one in 7 billion, and in certain instances a lack of Hollywood-like resolution should be embraced.

Aside from serving a functional purpose, in taking the bus I have found that public transportation can also provide a study in the human condition. I have overheard plenty of congenial and warm conversations, but I have also been witness to tense phone calls and outright verbal warfare. Some people quietly read a book or fiddle with their technology. A few listen to music.

Others, though, stare listlessly at their hands, at the passengers sitting near them, or out the window. Sometimes these individuals convey a sense of thoughtfulness, and I wonder what images or stories must be playing through their preoccupied minds. Sometimes they seem to imply a sense of weight, and I wonder what their lives have witnessed.

I was struck by these same reflections yesterday as I served an afternoon meal at a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. Many of the individuals who wandered through the doors of House of Charity were polite, well-spoken and well mannered. They said “please” and “thank you”, just like my parents taught me to do, and they sat down to their meal with friendly conversation for whoever wished to join them at one of a few dozen communal tables.

Like on the bus, though, some of the individuals seeking a warm meal and a sturdy chair came to the shelter wearing their unhappiness on their sleeves. A few stumbled through the line, clearly intoxicated. A couple chatted nervously to themselves and to the servers. Many held their trays out to receive food, neither speaking with the volunteers nor making eye contact. Who has the right or the responsibility to judge their story? Who among us at the shelter was spotless enough to throw the first stone at the drunk, the drugged, the mute? I wondered at their lives as I passed out rolls and slices of bread. Some of those individuals no doubt had every reason to be heartsick. But while I was serving food from the other side of the table, with my own lunch waiting for me back at work, I couldn’t help but feel that our experiences might in some basic way be similar. I have felt the expressions of contentment and doubt that are reflected on the faces of bus passengers and meal-seekers alike register in my own features.

And yet their experiences are not mine, and mine are not theirs. Our world may be tumbling into the dangers of overpopulation but we each have our own lives to straighten out.

When I spend time wandering aimlessly through an internal dialogue on the human condition – what makes us be happy, and what makes us be sad – I find personal inspiration in the poetry of Brian Andreas. His written work is a mixture of simple statements and bold theories, and is illustrated by strange and fantastical representations of human beings that oftentimes I don’t understand. It’s one thing to document experiences with strangers on the bus and at the soup kitchen, but since Andreas has captured that quiet part of me that resonates with beauty and despair alike I wanted to end this post by sharing one of his best pieces. This is for you.

[image credit: here.]

con amor,

shan

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slub of the week: The Hunger Games

In the 282 days since graduating from St. Olaf, I have started and then abandoned approximately a bazillion books.

Fortunately, amidst the graveyard of discarded books in my room are 2 that I actually have read. One of those books was the final installment in the Harry Potter series, because of the corresponding film’s release this past July. As fellow slub Kathryn points out in her truly lovely ode to all things Potter, it isn’t hard to completely devour J.K. Rowling’s imaginative series so I’m afraid reading The Deathly Hallows may not count as having accomplished much in the way of literary consumption.

Then again, you could say the exact same thing about the only other book I’ve managed to fully read since graduation: The Hunger Games. For a while, without any good reason, I resisted the craze. Multiple friends had recommended that I read the series some time ago, but I was too lazy to go to the library. Plus, the waiting list for the books is truly astronomical.

Then, Kat and Anna had a viable conniption over the series in early February.

[PLEASE NOTE: I have made every attempt to keep this review as high-level as possible. Don’t expect me to drop any spoilers.]

[image credit: here.]

They absolutely sped through all three stories and undoubtedly sacrificed sleep and their social lives to read every last page in a matter of days. They raved about the series and then went on to rave about the impending movie production of the first book, coming out on March 23rd. They adamantly claim that they will be attending the midnight showing dressed as tracker jackers. I give in to bandwagon syndrome more easily than perhaps I should, so having been directly surrounded by such enthusiasm for the phenomenon I decided to crack open the first book a few days ago.

I think I read the entirety of The Hunger Games in two nights, pausing only to do normal human things like go to work and sometimes eat and perhaps even maintain one or two vital relationships.

What is it about this series that’s so instantaneously appealing to the masses?

I’ve often wondered what the critically elusive formula is to creating a written sensation. What makes an idea like Harry Potter catch fire? Why in the world is Twilight so damn popular? How have certain classical works withstood the test of time, with novels like Pride and Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird and One Hundred Years of Solitude appearing again and again on Top 100 lists? What makes Suzanne Collins’ story about one girl’s bid for survival so engrossing to read?

Perhaps it’s because Collins’ fictional world of Panem — ruled with a heavy hand by a central dictatorial government — is so well conceptualized in the first book of the series, titled The Hunger Games (the name by which the series in general is also known). The novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, the political and social landscape of which looks in many ways different from our nation today. In reality, the United States is basically a strange experiment in the longevity of the democratic dream. Though I am proud for so many reasons to be an American, it is important to realize that democracy is neither an iron rule nor an immortal organism; the structure of our current political system doesn’t guarantee that the United States will not one day slide into the depths of a dictatorship. Collins explores this idea with creepy imagination, and I believe that her dual conversation on the nature of government control, and the ever-present will of the individual to thrive under repressive circumstances, is made all the more poignant by situating her books in the very real Appalachian region of North America.

[image credit: here].

Maybe The Hunger Games is so addicting because it’s hard for the reader to predict exactly what will happen next. Sure, some of the concepts in the novels are relatively recycled. The love triangle between Katniss, the main heroine, and Peeta and Gale, her two love interests, is a bit overdone. Who will she pick – the brooding and impassioned handsome rebel, or her steadfast and brave partner in the Games? While the answer isn’t revealed until the third installment, and the romance itself is a guilty pleasure to read, for me it’s neither the focal point nor the redeeming plotline of the book. What’s more, the very concept of the Games itself sounds a bit like The Lord of the Flies…although I must admit that I’ve never read that novel before.

OH THE ANGST OF IT ALL. [image credit: here.]

Collins’s virtue as a writer lies is in her ability to reiterate on older storylines and make them her own. I found myself skipping ahead whole sentences while reading the first book because I was dying to know the results of the Hunger Games themselves, a bloody and psychologically twisted fight to the death that is also the highlight of entertainment in Panem’s richest city and government headquarters, the Capitol. Though the concept brings to mind gladiator fights from Roman times, Collins relies on modern technology and her own projections of the future of American culture to reconceptualize the main event. And while the notion of rebellion against a dictatorial government seems to ring a fairly classic tune, for the most part Collins’s use of the Games as a unique metaphor for complete social and mental control supplies just enough surprises to keep the reader guessing. After all, we’ve never seen the Hunger Games themselves in any other book – so Collins has a monopoly on that particularly imaginative concept.

you know, just bein a bamf, nbd. [image credit: here.]

For real though, all attempt at reviewing aside: it’s just a really fun read.

It is with great pleasure that the slubs present the Slub of the Week award to The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins, accept this honor with great pride. It may not be a Nobel Prize for Literature or a Pulitzer, but really it’s the next best thing.

So, dear readers, tell us: What is your opinion of The Hunger Games hysteria?

Before you run off to read the book yourselves (that is, if you haven’t already…and if that’s the case you seriously need to get with the program), here is the trailer for the much-anticipated movie:

con amor,

shan


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share a smile

It’s been one of those weeks. You know, when it isn’t necessarily a bad week, but nothing seems to be quite right? Unhappy events take place. Like when your pancakes won’t fry up, so you turn the batter into a (very flat) cake that tastes mysteriously like cheesecake and you eat brussel sprouts for dinner instead. Or when you try to be creative and knit an afghan, but you end up starting over four times, before a failed 3 hours at trying to fix it forces  you to start over for a fifth time. Or when you forget your lunch at home, even though you took the time to pre-pack it the night before like an adult. Or when it rains, snows, and sleets and the sky is perpetually grey. Or when you realize that supervising people is  really difficult. These are just possibilities of what may happen to you. And you may be a bit flustered or upset. And you may decide you need a weekend away in Chicago to deal with it.

Let’s just say that has essentially been my week, with a few more misplaced keys, cards, and jackets thrown in there to mix it up. Yes, to you this may not sound like a difficult week. It really hasn’t been. But it has been…off. Until today.

Yes, today I forgot my lunch and stepped in a few puddles, but good things happened also. I showered and did my hair before work. I made it to work on time, even though I had to scrape my windshield. Rush hour wasn’t bad at all.

Most importantly, I learned today is Share a Smile Day AND National Pig Day! Today is about being happy and pigs. Today is a good day.

Although I love pigs, I am going to focus on smiling instead. Today, I smiled. I smiled a lot. Much more than I had all week. I hadn’t really smiled until I begrudgingly drove myself to Panera to get lunch today. I held the door open for these two women. They were extremely grateful, and I smiled saying, “not a problem.” They both then proceeded to walk through the door at the same time. The door frame was a bit smaller than the two of them. They got wedged in the doorway. It was hilarious. We shared a laugh. I couldn’t stop smiling. It reminded me of this Ted Talk:

Rod Gutman, the CEO of HealthTap, talks about the hidden power of smiling. It is absolutely worth the time to watch him speak! Here are some cool facts about smiling  that he mentions:

1. Babies smile in the womb. HOW COOL IS THAT? Well, at least it looks like they are smiling and content.

2. Children smile over 400 times a day. Have you seen people with more energy and joy than children? Probably not. Children definitely know their way around a good smile.

3. Smiling is contagious.

4. The brain stimulation of smiling is equal to eating 2,000 bars of chocolate or $25,000. Smiling is a lot easier, cheaper, and healthier.

5. Speaking of health, smiling can make you healthier, even lowering your blood pressure.

6. Smiling makes you look more competent. New meeting tactic! No longer will I look confused, I will instead smile. Easy.

So share a smile today. Look at miniature pigs online. Read a good book. Reconnect with an old friend. Commit a random act of kindness. Smile with someone who looks downtrodden today. You never know whose day (or week) you might be brightening.

And I would like to say thank you, ladies at Panera. You have had me smiling all day. Even at the prospect of ripping out my knitting tonight and starting over. Thank you for sharing a smile with me and truly uplifitng my week!

with a smile,

Kat