On Blue Hour

My boyfriend snapped this photo by some train tracks in Berkeley over the weekend. After a week-long heat wave, the city settled into its cool and breezy self. We crossed these tracks during blue hour, a time made memorable by Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. You can read her description of blue hour here.
I’ve lived in Berkeley for almost two years now. Most young people land in this city because they’ve been accepted into UC Berkeley. They spend four years here and then decide to take a giant leap into cities that promise to be even cooler, like Oakland or San Francisco, which is actually just a few miles away. I moved to this collegiate hub a couple years after spending my own four years at UCLA. My velcro-fastened acceptance letter from UC Berkeley had offered spring admission, which felt like a backhand compliment. That is the equivalent of being invited to a party on the condition that you show up several hours late. Because there is only so much food, drink, and room on the dance floor, you may arrive only after the first-string guests have settled in, only after enough of those guests have left early. Then there will be space for you.
UCLA gave me the the opportunity to live in Los Angeles and love it because I didn’t have to deal with the discomforts that would make me hate it. Admittedly, my version of LA is skewed because my travels were limited to where my feet and the bus could take me. Given that my everyday revolved around campus, I saw no utility in owning a car in a city that vows to make driving a gut-wrenching experience. “Driving” is putting it far too kindly, as what LA traffic actually requires is that you sit in your motionless car, surrounded on all sides by other motionless cars. As the exhaust slips in to mix with the stale air blowing from your AC, you unwillingly gaze at a sky littered with billboards worshiping famous people and their movies. If I did that every day I would be so anxious thinking about how much time I waste, how much time I spend thinking about getting somewhere yet not getting anywhere. Like a quarter-life-crisis in driving form. It leads to daydreams of using my feet to traverse pedestrian-friendly cities, swimming in the color blue. And now I’m in Berkeley. Though Joan Didion promises there’s nothing like blue hour in New York…

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Post-Reading: Eleanor & Park

Unlike I imagined, Eleanor & Park tells a fairly serious story. The painful moments are frequent and the happy moments are fleeting. The book’s cover, showing young protagonists listening to music through intertwined headphones, once again proves true that adage about judging and book covers.
Initially, I had thought there was far too much emphasis on the physical appearance of Eleanor and Park. Eleanor is fat, her hair is red and wild, freckles smother her skin, and holes litter her jeans. Park is half-Korean, short, skinny, and sometimes wears eyeliner. The reader is constantly reminded of these details. Given that the book is pretty short, it gave me the impression that physical traits saturate the story.
But at some point I finally thought, When was the last time I read a book, in particular a book driven by romance, in which the main characters are fat and/or Asian? Maybe Eleanor and Park’s physical traits come off so strongly because they are not carbon copies of attractiveness. If you visit Rainbow Rowell’s blog, she actually addresses questions like, Is Eleanor Fat? Or Does Eleanor Just THINK She’s Fat? and Why is Park Korean? Sadly, Rowell is obligated to answer such questions because she gets them from us readers all the time. Eleanor and Park are not idealized (read: thin, attractive, white) fictional characters. This kind of nonstandard beauty in books is rare and important, so if anything, it should be emphasized. Also, maybe it isn’t that physical appearances dominate the story, but that we are simply more sensitive to what is different. We are hyperaware of things only when there is something unusual about them.
I had also thought Eleanor’s homelife was far too abusive to simply be a backdrop in the story. Her alcoholic stepfather is a monster. She shares a closet-like room with four siblings. The neglect is horrifying to the point of distraction, that by the time Eleanor is on the school bus, it’s hard to be excited about her reading X-Men with a cute boy. I kept thinking Eleanor’s homelife has to be addressed, it has to be resolved.
But the terrible truth is that a difficult homelife can in fact simply be the backdrop of someone’s life. There is no resolving, there is only surviving, and Eleanor goes beyond survival. She finds love and connection and good despite her circumstance. I may have been too distracted to focus on Eleanor reading X-Men with Park, but Eleanor wasn’t. The story does not promise a happy ending, far from it. But it does promise readers that it can happen, it is possible for people to find good in a sea of bad.

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