One of my hobbies, for those of you who don’t know, is photography. Every now and then I get a chance to take advantage of this love and bum a dSLR camera from my sister to take photos. Recently, I decided I wanted to experiment with some fashion and portrait photography. As it was my first foray into any such thing, I wanted to be sure I was working with someone I was comfortable with. So what better model to use than my utterly gorgeous younger sister, Elena? In California, almost every day is sunny and warm (though we pray for rain on a regular basis), so we picked a weekend and went for it. These photos are our favorites, edited for light and color only. About half of them are her edits; the others are mine.
Posted by Amira K. on February 22, 2015
The sky is bright today
The sky is bright today
Pitter-patter, says the rain, beating on my thigh
My hands are alive
The water falls in myriad ways
A fern swallows me
The sky is bright today
This poem is meant to accompany this photo, which is a visual representation of an epiphany of sorts I had while traveling in Hawaii. The photo, taken at the exact site and the exact moment of this experience, is in fact the sight that inspired the revelation. In Zen Buddhist literature, which I have begun exploring, there is a tradition of writing a verse to describe the moment of these moments of enlightenment, and so I decided to write one myself, and share the accompanying image.
Posted by Amira K. on February 18, 2015
Great granitic catacombs, hollowed out by flame
rust inside my soul.
Magma cracks through the crust of my earth, smoking.
Metal, molten, seethes at my core;
the history of my formation, tumultuous,
written in every layer
of my skin.
Black ash spouts from my mouth,
volcanic, I erupt, bursting, spitting, lashing,
lava tongues and rocky clattering teeth,
beating against the earth, fuming at the sky.
The landscape changes.
Chill, the air. Grey, the sun. Black, the earth.
And I retreat, cooling, hardening, growing stronger: a new layer of history forming on my earth.
Still I simmer, calamitous, cavernous,
waiting to ignite.
This poem was, hilariously enough, inspired by the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which, by the way, if you haven’t watched it, get on that shit, right the fuck now. I watched Avatar with my sister and identified very strongly with the Firebending people, who are fiery at heart and draw strength from their anger. This poem came out of a desire to personify and characterize the fierce anger and desire for justice that defines my personality. But I don’t think this is unique to me. Not everyone experiences anger, strength, and resilience this way, but for me and likely many others, fire is one of the best metaphors to relate to all of my emotions, including love, forgiveness, happiness, sadness, confusion, and yes, anger.
This poem isn’t the best it could be, but it was the best raw translation of my emotions into something textual, something readable, at the moment. I hope to make it better one day. Until then, this is it.
Posted by Amira K. on January 29, 2015
So, fellow readers, you’ve just added twelve books to your Kindle queue and bought three used books at your local indie bookseller. If you’re anything like me, by this point you’re starting to experience chest constriction, loss of vision and muscle control, and a powerful desire to curl up under your bedsheets and never make a decision ever again. If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed by how many unread books are on your bookshelf, and the ever-diminishing number of days left to you in this life to read them all. If you’re anything like me, one hand is already unconsciously reaching out for that half-empty bottle of whiskey on the counter.
But thanks to years of experience self-medicating reading anxiety with booze, you, dear reader, don’t have to wallow in the straits of indecision – whether picking your poison or picking your prose. Here’s a quick and by no means comprehensive list of book-and-booze pairings that will get you through the worst moments of bitter regret over the unflinching reality that, really, you’re probably never going to read War And Peace.
1. Suspense Novels // Petite Sirah
Picked up Stephen King’s newest novel (or the last baker’s dozen)? Sat down with one of the new Gillian Flynn stories? Made it your personal mission to read every single Jack Reacher novel in existence? Time to pour yourself something as dark and deadly as your reading material. Nothing says suspense like inky black wine, as thick as blood and as dangerous as the gun pointed at your hero’s heart. A glass might get you through a few pages; a full bottle will get you through the sick plot twist at the end that makes you want to punch a baby (and maybe the author, too).
2. 20th Century Classics // Whiskey Cocktails
If you’re reading anything Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Vonnegut, Kerouac, Heller, Woolf, Eliot, Salinger, or any other such authors, you goddamn better have an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan in hand. Gin cocktails, such as a martini, negroni, or gin and tonic, will do in a pinch, but really, only the smokiness of whiskey can adequately pair with the maddening intensity of these classic authors. Nothing suits the Great War and Post-War literary period like the rich and supple flavor of a well-made Manhattan.
3. Science Fiction // IPA
I’m not sure why, but science fiction just always makes me think India Pale Ale. Maybe it’s because, once upon a time, India Pale Ales were a kind of science fiction. In the early days of British colonialism in India, the Brits started making beer in India, where it was vastly cheaper to produce. The only problem was how to transport it back to England before it spoiled in the heat of summer and the length of transport. The solution? Hops. A natural preservative, the English realized that by adding hops to their brews, they were able to withstand the long trip in barrel across the seas back home. Not to mention that the British were exploring a whole new world, much in the way science fiction heroes explore strange new worlds of literary creation. The bitterness and acidity of an IPA will keep you on your toes, just like the new worlds, fancy technology, and twists and turns of your average science fiction novel. Keep your eyes fresh and eager with a bottle or several of your local microbrew’s IPA while reading some sci-fi, and beat the shit out of those aliens while you’re at it.
(PSA: Colonialism sucks. No amount of good beer can change that, as much as we’d all like to think otherwise.)
4. Romance // Sparkling Rose
Nothing says romantic like the color pink, and nothing says seduction like a glass of bubbly. Get your Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, or Rebecca on with a crisp, dry, sprightly glass of sparkling rose, which is one of the most underrated wines in America. Living in the lap of luxury? Go Champagne, all the way, baby. On a budget? The Spanish are making some fantastic rose cava (which basically just means ‘sparkling’ in Spanish, although my translation is far from literal), which is so delectable it will practically force your star-crossed lovers to blow kisses at each other.
5. (Contemporary) Literary Fiction // German Riesling
Getting cozy with Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace? Diving into Alex Shakar’s Luminarium or Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow? You need something as ephemeral, strange, and strong in flavor as these powerful (and, quite often, weird) works of fiction. An excellent bottle of kabinett or spatlese will have notes of sweetness, and, hopefully, the pungent flavor of petrol that is both foreign and intoxicating in good Riesling. Pretentious wine to match up to your pretentious literary habits (not to mention that it’s German, and what literary snob doesn’t love German?), Riesling is the perfect escort through the demented world of modern literary fiction.
6. Poetry // Argentine Malbec
For generations, the French had a monopoly on the romance of language. Then Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda swept the French off their feet and redefined Spanish literature and poetry, and in doing so, the global literary scene. (There were a lot of other badass Spanish dudes involved too, but I don’t know them because I don’t speak Spanish.) The same thing happened with Malbec. The French though they had that shit under control. Then some priests started growing it in Argentina, and turned it into some pretty bitchin’ wine that was totally different from the way the French had been doing it. And then Borges threw a glass of Malbec in Jean-Paul Sartre’s face, and that’s how World War II got started. Just kidding. That didn’t even remotely happen. What DID happen, though, is that Malbec was finally given its day in the spotlight: as a svelte, lush, high-intensity wine that can seduce even the most un-poetic of drinkers. This pairing isn’t restricted to Spanish poetry, by the way. Feel free to drink your Malbec with everything from Apollinaire to Whitman to Frost to Gibran. It’s all good.
Perfect pairing: Cuvelier Los Andes’ Coleccion Malbec with Jorge Luis Borges poetry collection entitled Dreamtigers.
Got enough to get you started? Good. Go get your boozy booking on using these fantastic pairing suggestions, and tell me how they work out for you. Want more “What To Drink With What You Read” ideas? Drop me a note in the comments and maybe with enough positive encouragement I’ll pull myself away from the bottle of wine for long enough to write another post.
Posted by Amira K. on January 20, 2015
I quit writing this year.
Not on purpose. It was definitely not on purpose. Unlike my friend J. Edward Paul, who gives up writing every other day and is only lured back to it by the fact that his stories are simply bursting out of his skull, I quit quite by accident and it took me a while to realize I was no longer a writer. In fact, I kept calling myself a writer long after I had ceased to be one, and it’s only been recently that I’ve faced up to the fact that I am no longer a writer.
My sister told me yesterday that, despite the fact that she’s very good at art, enjoys making art, and has studied art for many years, she does not currently consider herself an artist. “An artist is someone who makes art on a regular basis,” she said. By this definition, she argued, she is not an artist.
So, too, is a writer someone who writes on a regular basis.
I am not a writer.
I was, a few months ago. I wrote quite regularly. Every day, even. I couldn’t imagine myself not writing. I wrote some mornings before work. I always wrote after work. I wrote blog posts, I wrote short stories, I wrote poems, I edited my TBR-novel (it’s since been released), I wrote in my journal, I wrote letters.
Then I stopped.
In my defense, a lot of things got in the way. My workload at the winery doubled. I met someone new. My sister and I moved in together, and started a life together, which included much more cooking, gym visits, housecleaning, and grocery shopping than I had ever previously done. The holidays happened. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, my birthday. Between all of these things, I have had an immensely fulfilling few months and I am not in the least bit upset about the way any of this has turned out.
But during that whole time, I’ve written nothing more than a few introspective journal entries and a chapter or two of a novel draft. I stopped writing. Therefore, I am not a writer.
This, of course, is a short-term problem. I can become a writer again quite easily, as you might imagine. Just by writing this blog article, I’m taking a positive step back towards the ability to call myself a writer.
Because, you see, much in the same way as prayer, meditation, sports, art, or academic study, writing is a devotional act. You cannot be a writer unless you write. You cannot be an artist unless you make art. You cannot be a basketball player unless you play basketball. It just doesn’t make sense. Writing, like any craft, like an pursuit of excellence, requires devotion. You must do it regularly. You must do it with passion. You must do it with the same fervor you eat, breathe, and experience the world around you.
If you want to be a writer, whether amateur, freelance, professional, ghost, or National Book Award prize winner, follow these simple steps to success:
Posted by Amira K. on January 6, 2015
A few weeks back I won something in a random draw contest. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever won something at a raffle-style event, so that alone was special. It was made even more special because the thing that I won happened to be a paperback copy of Who Is Evelyn Dae, signed by both the author and illustrator, Sarah and Matthew LaFleur. I’d been meaning to read LaFleur’s debut novella for ages, and Christmas vacation seemed like the perfect time. So when I finished my last read and had a lazy Sunday afternoon to myself, I opened it up and dove in.
“Dove in” is an excellent way to describe reading this book, because it starts off with a scene loaded with tension and mystery: teenager Evelyn Dae stands on the edge of a cliff, staring down into the ocean, longing for the courage to jump. We don’t know what’s driven her to the cliff side, or who man is she’s pining after. All we know is that something is wrong, and Evelyn isn’t quite what she seems.
First-person narration is interspersed with diary entries and illustrations, and the story is told out of chronological order. First we see Evelyn on top of the cliff, and then we jump back a year to the beginning of Evelyn’s previous school year. We go back and forth in the narration as we follow her journey to self-discovery, to learning her true identity, and the fullness of her past. Evelyn’s secret is cleverly unraveled, and we follow the different threads of her life through the book until we are finally reunited with her once again at the top of the cliff, and this time, we know what brought her there.
The illustrations don’t contribute much to the plot, but they do wonders for the ambiance of the book as a whole. Although Who Is Evelyn Dae is ostensibly a book about a young adult, it could easily be read to a precocious child in elementary school, and is certainly lovely to read as an adult. The simple illustrations contribute to the childish, innocent feel, and yet the black and white sketches lend a sort of ominous character to the narrative. The diary entries are kept simple and short, and each chapter is no longer than a few pages. The mystery churns through the story, keeping you guessing, compelling you to turn the pages, even as you grow more and more certain of the answer to the question posed by the title. There’s no sense of rushing, though – I never felt as though I needed to skip to get ahead. On the contrary, I wanted to linger on every word, wondering how the whole picture would eventually lead to the answers I sought.
The one weak point of the novel is Evelyn’s friends – Jean, Margery, and Stacy. While the other characters – Evelyn, Oliver Knight, Evelyn’s parents, and even one particularly odd character who pops up near the end – are all interesting, complex, and/or humorous, not enough space is given to Evelyn’s friends to flesh them out into real people. That’s okay, in the end – the pacing is perfect, and her friends aren’t really necessary to the plot, so there was no real reason to build them up further. But despite that, I found myself wishing that they had either been more realistic or simply not there at all.
As this is a review, I feel compelled to mention that there were a few typos, but then again, I’ve found typos in some of the most famous books in the world, so it hardly seems fair to use that as a basis for criticism. It certainly did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.
For all other factors, this book succeeds marvelously at what it set out to do. It’s a charming love story, replete with self-discovery, artistic expression, and a fierce, independent protagonist. Not to mention I read the whole thing in under two hours, because I just couldn’t put it down. I give it 4.5/5 stars and recommend it to fans of all things whimsical, fantastical, and delightful.
For more information or to purchase the book, click over to the Amazon page. It’s available in e-book format, but since the illustrations are such a key part of the reading experience and the purchase price doesn’t top eight dollars, I’d recommend reading it in print.
Posted by Amira K. on December 29, 2014
I don’t usually do these games. In fact, I haven’t done one in almost a year. I think the last time I did a blog chain or tag game was January of last year. But because I haven’t blogged much in a few months, and I’m trying to remember how to do it, I’m going to humbly thank AUTHOR DREAMS for getting me back in the game and tagging me in this Book Confessions blog chain.
1. Which book, most recently, did you not finish?
IRONWEED, by William Kennedy. It inspired a blog post about what one ought to do when one finds one hates a book that is generally recognized as literary masterwork: What Happens When You Don’t Like A Book You’re Supposed To Love?
2. Which book is your guilty pleasure?
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austen. I try to think of this not as a guilty pleasure, but it definitely is. I come back to this book time and time again, charmed by the elegant yet feisty language, the spunky heroine, the enigmatic love interest.
3. Which book do you love to hate?
DIVERGENT, by Veronica Roth. I really love to hate that book. I can’t really explain why. I didn’t even really hate it that much when I read it, but I definitely hate it now. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I found Tris to be mostly boring and occasionally insufferable.
4. Which book would you throw into the sea?
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, by Neil Gaiman. Not because it’s a bad book. Not by a long shot. More because I feel that its rightful place is with its namesake.
5. Which book have you read the most?
A tie between HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, which I must have had memorized word for word at one point in my life, and THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman, which has continued to influence me as an adult as I’ve tried to understand why fantastical stories, child heroes, and fierce heroines captivate me so powerfully.
6. Which book would you hate to receive as a present?
Anything sold at a grocery store.
7. Which book could you not live without?
CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller. Actually, I might have read this book more than either of the above. For about a decade, this book was essentially my Bible. I could open to any page in the novel and find a line to laugh at, ponder, or contemplate the grim realities of war and death. No other book has influenced me so much.
8. Which book made you the angriest?
THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST. I don’t even know who the author was, and I’m not going to do him/her the dignity of googling the title to find out. It was one of those books that was forced on me as a child – I had to read it in 7th grade English class – and it absolutely infuriated me, for reasons I can’t even remember now. I’m going to trust in my 7th grade self that my judgment was good and the book still sucks.
9. Which book made you cry the most?
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. I’d actually never cried at a book – and I haven’t since – until I read this one. It slew me.
10. Which book cover do you hate the most?
There are so many bad book covers out there in the world, there’s literally no way to pick one single terrible book cover to hate.
THE END! What did you think of these questions? I’d love to hear from you in the comments what your answers would have been. And don’t forget to check Daryl’s and Nillu’s blogs in a few days to see what their answers were. Thanks for reading!
Posted by Amira K. on December 3, 2014
Warning: This is a controversial post on a controversial subject. If you don’t enjoy having your assumptions challenged, please close this tab now and feel free to return when I’m writing about lighter, happier matters.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Not least because it’s one of the few times of the year when we are allowed to stuff our faces without restraint, but in equal parts because it’s a holiday that encourages a bit of introspection. What are we thankful for? In years past, I’ve had different things on my mind, and different things to be thankful for: that my aunt’s battle with cancer was going well, that she was out of the hospital and able to share a meal with us; that I was lucky enough to have a job in the depths of recession; that I had returned home safe and sound from traveling abroad. But this year, there are some different things I’m thankful for, that I wish I didn’t have to be.
Here are some things I shouldn’t have to feel grateful for:
1. My skin is colored in such a way that I will most likely never need to fear unwarranted police violence and brutality;
2. My skin is colored in such a way that I will most likely never be automatically assumed to be a criminal, a drug addict, or a lazy bum profiting off the work of others;
3. My skin, and that of my family members, is colored in such a way that I will most likely never have to worry about losing a parent, sibling, or child, to violence that results from stereotyping, misunderstanding, or wrongful assumption.
I wish I didn’t have to be thankful for these things. As it turns out, I’m not really thankful for them at all. I’m thankful for them in a superficial way. I’m thankful that I, personally, will likely never be hurt as a result of the ingrained racism in our society, as a result of the systematic discrimination that people of color experience on a daily basis.
But I wish I didn’t have to be.
Because no one should have to fear for their life when playing with toy guns. Because no one should have to fear for their life while wearing a hoodie. Because no one should have to fear for her life when knocking on a stranger’s door to ask for help.
In the newest installment of The Hunger Games film series, Katniss Everdeen, the heroine, takes the battle to the streets of the districts and the capitol in order to fight against the oppressive system that has taken her freedom and her right to life away from her. Millions of people across America have read or watched Katniss’ story. We have sympathized, empathized, and wished we had her courage, her strength, her charisma. We love Katniss, and we love her story.
In the first two books of the series, Katniss is literally forced into violent conflict. There is no way to be a pacifist and survive the Hunger Games, which she does, two years in a row. She hunts her enemies, she kills, and in most cases, she has no regrets. But in the third book, MOCKINGJAY, Katniss steps into a new role, one for which she volunteers. She becomes the symbol of the revolution. She fights, not because she has to, but because she believes the system is unjust and cruel. She knows there’s a better system, one which doesn’t starve her family and her friends, one in which no one is ever sent to the arena in a fight to the death. She knows that freedom is something she can believe in; something to fight for. But she fights willingly. She shoots planes out of the sky. She hunts soldiers in the streets of the Capital. She films videos encouraging other people to do the same, to fight for their freedom, to kill in pursuit of liberty. And we, as onlookers, love her for it.
So why is it that when hundreds of thousands of people of color take to the streets to demand freedom from an unjust society, one which puts them in prison at nearly six times the rate of caucasians, one in which they are nearly two and a half times more likely to live below the poverty line, one in which health care and education consistently fails people of color, depriving them of equal opportunity to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, we as white Americans cry foul, declaring them “violent” and “angry,” calling them “looters” and “rioters”? Why, by extension, are we arguing that the people who live and breathe in our world have less right to protest, to revolution, to liberty, than a fictional character who will never draw breath, will never have children, will never have life outside of our imaginations? Why does Katniss Everdeen deserve glory, admiration, and even a tint of envy, when real people who do the same things she does, on the streets of America, are devalued, dehumanized, criminalized? Why is Katniss a celebrity, while the protesters in Ferguson are vilified?
After all, Katniss killed soldiers of the capital to achieve her ends. The only person who has died in connection with the Ferguson protests is Michael Brown.
This Thanksgiving, what I’m most thankful for is that I live in a world where people are not afraid to fight for their rights. I live in a world where the American Revolution liberated the thirteen colonies from the colonial British rule of the 18th century. I live in a world where half the world united to liberate Europe from the oppressive and maniacally destructive rule of the Nazis in the 20th century. I live in a world where African-Americans united in the 1950s and ’60s to liberate themselves from Jim Crow, the realities of public lynchings, and “separate but equal”. And I live in a world where people are not afraid fight to liberate themselves from systematic oppression in the 21st century, for people like Michael Brown, who was condemned to death for petty theft, for Trayvon Martin, who was condemned to death for ‘looking suspicious’, for Tamir Rice, who was condemned to death for playing with a toy gun, for Renisha McBride, who was condemned to death for knocking on a neighbor’s door for help.
I am thankful that people are unafraid to fight for their rights. But I wish I didn’t have to be.
Posted by Amira K. on November 27, 2014
“Sweet, so would I,
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing,
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night ’till it be morrow.”
What a thing, I say, to say,
You breathe petals into my ears,
Hum bees into my heart.
In my fragmented mem
There is nothing but p
What a thing, I say, to say
Shades of olives and lemons bite my cheeks
Bitter and sweet like
Oh, you k
“Please don’t go, I need you whole,
I love you so I love you so.”
Posted by Amira K. on November 18, 2014