In Which Beth Keeps Her Books by David Malki!

“You do realize you have two copies of this book?” said the Barnes and Noble’s cashier. She held up the offending copies of  Jo Walton’s Farthing.

My boyfriend and I nodded, grinning. I had a feeling we’d be asked why.

“You can’t share?” she asked.

“We live a bit too far away for that,” I replied.

And it’s true. The Atlantic Ocean means that reading a book together simultaneously requires two copies. While we do have a fairly fluid library, we’re two bibliophiles. We enjoy reading books, we share favorites with each other. When I moved back to America, we wanted to come up with something we could do together apart from watching TV shows.

So we started simple. Both of us are fantasy/science fiction fans. We looked to an author who we both enjoy (and a book in his collection he hadn’t read yet): Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. We started slow, a chapter or two a week as he is finishing his PhD and I was interning/job hunting. Plus, we weren’t sure how well it would work.

Every couple of days we would read a chapter or three and then discuss what we liked/didn’t like about it, with the aim of finishing before his visit so we could watch the miniseries together during his first visit.

Mission accomplished!

We’re now in the middle of Farthing, an alternative-WWII murder mystery largely taking place at a wealthy home in the English countryside. It’s fun to read a book at the same time as a friend, to discuss what’s going on. “Can you believe what happened? What do you think will happen next? I really don’t like this part” are common phrases from us while we Skype.

Now, we think about which books to read well in advance. We’re thinking of reading Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker soon, and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s fun to pick out a book and say, “we might both enjoy this, let’s read it together!”

Our international book group is a great way for us to talk about things we both love: books and reading. We still recommend each other books to read (from he, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, from me, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother). But we have books that we read and discover together, even across the Atlantic Ocean.

So I’ve left She Thinks Too Much quiet again. A pity, really, but there have been some fun, exciting things brewing here.

Firstly, Far Off Places Issue II is underproduction and in my care! I’m again doing the layout (and some illustration, which is also part of a project a friend and I are working on). I’ll do a preview of my illustration when the ‘zine goes live. Also, if anyone is interested in reviewing it, email submissions[at]faroffplaces.org and I’ll send you the promo link.

Secondly, I started another blog! It’s called She Dresses. It’s a style blog for those transitioning from student life into the workplace (such as for internships, etc) and it will be updated at least once a week. There are only two posts at the moment, but I’ve got plenty to write about.

Shortly before 3 on Monday, 15 April, I looked on Twitter. The BBC reported that there were two explosions at the Boston Marathon’s finish line. A quick Google search revealed nothing.

45 minutes later, my dad sent me a text message letting me know the same thing. Friends in Scotland started sending me messages, ‘Are you okay? You weren’t in Boston today, were you?’ Friends in the Boston area used Facebook to let their friends and family know that they were safe. It was a relief, the ability to look at a specific friend’s page and see the word ‘Safe’ as a status update.

The outpouring of support to the victims, to the first responders. The video of fans singing the national anthem at the Bruins game. Tears, relief, all present in the days immediately following the Marathon bombing. Steven Colbert’s hilarious and touching tribute. The words Boston Proud, Boston Strong.

When the FBI released the images of Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev on Thursday afternoon, within minutes their faces were plastered across Facebook. A friend shared a photo that a citizen photographer had taken that captured both of thems, crisp, clearer than the ones released by the officials.

Friday morning. I woke up before seven, having tossed and turned a bit. I grabbed my phone, and jumped on Facebook. My alma mater (a Boston college) had a post saying that the college was closed for the day. I learned about the assassination, the shoot out, the ensuing man hunt. The car and license plates. That Dzhokar Tsarnaev was hiding in a boat, on land, in Watertown (and the ensuing ‘I’m on a boat’ jokes). Most importantly, that my friends were okay.

Social media is a powerful, powerful tool, spreading stories of heroism, images of national security, and messages of hope (rather than kids asking for a puppy). Sadly, it took a tragedy to see just how positive, powerful and effective it is.

This is what social media is good for, the rapid sharing of information. People watching out for each other. It was embraced, not only by the common man and journos, but by the police, the feds.

Facebook gets a bad rap. There’s the narcissism, the ill-thought drunken photos, that friend who posts memes left, right and center. The images of the bombers spread quicker than any meme I’ve seen. It’s a positive use, a ‘keep your eye out.’ You can’t run for long when the entire nation knows your face, and as it has been made clear (by, naturally, memes and viral videos) that you don’t mess with Bostonians.

It’s been nearly three months since I left Scotland. Strangely, I fell back into the rhythm of living back home without too much difficulty. I expected to be pulling my out my hair, moaning, mourning. But I’m not.

There have been a few things that have made the transition back to America easy. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get lots of foods I had grown accustomed to, the ale I grew to love, and miss the friends I had made.

The food isn’t too difficult. Mostly I ate things like risotto, which I can easily make in America. I miss the sweets quite a bit, but have been sent care packages from friends with delicious delicious chocolate. Walker’s shortbread is an easy fix, too. Tea isn’t an issue, as my mum and I are very picky tea drinkers and prefer the finest in Tesco supermarket tea (my rent is tea bags. I brought back 800. And McVities digestives. I’m good for a few months).

The real trouble? Haggis. Oh my goodness. It’s so good! Especially with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).

The ale, that was a real concern. I developed a taste for Scottish ales. Innis & Gunn is a real favourite. Imagine my surprise when I found that a local sandwich bar had it on draught, a rare enough thing in Edinburgh, where it’s brewed. That was an amazing discovery. And I can get it bottled at some specialty grocery stores! Win!

Friends, well, thank goodness for Skype! Every day I’m speaking to someone I met in Scotland, some days more than one. And the Far Off Places crew has had conference skypes, which has been awesome to speak with everyone. I’ve even managed to have lunch with one of my Edinburgh friends (he was visiting Boston from LA, was awesome to see him).

And there is always the possibility for visits, both to Edinburgh, and around the world. I’ve friends on nearly every continent, it’s now just a case of traveling to see them!

Far Off Places, the literary magazine I cofounded with three friends from Edinburgh, launched on 9 March at the StAnza Poetry Festival in St Andrews, Scotland.

We’re currently selling single issues and subscriptions on our website. They’re digital copies, and coming soon, an iOS subscription as well (and we’re hoping to release a Kindle ebook version, starting with issue 2).

We hope to release a printed edition and pay our contributors! So that’s why we’re selling it.

Not content to take a break after our launch (or, more accurately, DURING production of issue 1), we opened submissions for our second issue, with the theme of the back of beyond. Submissions are due on 31 March!

Poetry should be no more than 40 lines (though we do accept short poetry as well), and short prose of 1,200 words. No serial novels/stories, etc, as the theme changes with each issue.

I did the graphic design/layout for the magazine! Like making our spiffy hot air balloon logo.

faroffplaces_logo

I have short hair.

As it, I couldn’t dream of pulling it back in a pony. A pixie cut, with long fringe (Anne Hathaway stole my hair cut. And I wear it better).

Which is great. I love having short hair, it sets me apart (especially in the US). It’s stylish, different and far more ‘me.’ However, having short hair means that I can’t fall into the ‘I can get a hair cut anywhere’ camp. Too boxy a cut and I look like a soccer mom. Too short, and it just looks awful (as anyone who has seen my undergraduate graduation day photos can attest to. My hairdresser thought that ‘can you fix my fringe’ meant ‘cut them away completely’).

In my various stints as a temporary expat, I’ve found the need to get a good haircut. And when you are completely unfamiliar with an area (and in some cases, with the language) you need recommendations.

My first international hair cut was courtesy of an Italian man named Fabio. He spoke enough English to cut hair, and I knew enough Italian to end up with something cool. There was, of course, a little bit of confusion.

“Can I have something cute? Feminine? But short,” I said (in Italian).

Fabio looked at me, confused. “But Italian men like women with long hair.”

“But I prefer having short hair.”

Bear in mind that at this point, my hair was just below my chin and rather shapeless. There was no way that I was going to have long, flowing tresses without years of growing my hair, or expensive extensions.

Fabio blinked. “So, you want…sex appeal for women?”

Si,” I replied, not processing that he had just asked if I wanted to appeal to women. Fabio’s inquiries into my alleged preferences didn’t matter, and I ended up with the best hair cut I had had to that date.

The result? A cool, choppy, assymetric look. I was hooked. And had to go over two years without something similar.

The next awesome international haircut I got was in Edinburgh. I had been to another salon and just wasn’t happy with the look (it grew out into a bob, which just doesn’t suit me), so I went to Hot Head salon. A lovely pink-haired Scottish lady named Sabrina cut my hair–and it was awesome. She consistently did a great job (particularly when I switched to my current ‘do, a Frankie Saturday inspired Pixie cut). I joked that I would have to return to Scotland every six weeks so I could get my hair cut.

Sadly, trips to Scotland every 6 weeks are not doable at this stage of my life, so I had to find a new hair salon. A tentative call to a new salon yielded a same-day haircut, with a lady named Jackie.

As soon as I stepped into the salon and saw her purple hair, I knew we’d get on well. Result? I guess I don’t need to go abroad for one of the best hair cuts I’ve had.

Oh dear, another month gone and I’ve not made any posts!

Life’s been very busy here. Job applications, interviews, working part time, and my current project of Far Off Places. I’m doing layout for the magazine, which is really exciting. It is very time-intensive, but coming along nicely.

We’ll be officially launching the magazine on 9 March at the STAnza poetry festival in St Andrews. Which means that I’m finishing up the magazine, and some individual pamphlets. It’s a lot to be doing, but a lot of fun.

Also really good for refreshing me! Placing things in InDesign is actually really calming.

I’ll have a link here when the magazine does go live.

Also! We’re now accepting submissions for Issue II! Theme is ‘the back of beyond.’ We’re accepting subs through 31 March (of the written variety, but I’ll also accept sandwiches and yellow submarines).

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