#bookportrait: Show Me The Sky, by Nicholas Hogg

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show me the sky bookportrait

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Restraint

Commentary

You may or may not know I’m from Cyprus.

You may or may not have become aware of the economic crisis that’s hit the island hard.

And because I may or may not have money to spend on new books, I’ve decided to make a comprehensive list of books I have on my shelves that I have yet to read, as a form of inspiration. For once, I’m happy that I have so much pending material. A list is provided below for those interested in any of the covers. I shall be posting my progress here, as a means of encouragement. You can see the current book I’m reading on my Goodreads page (see widget on sidebar).

reading list

P.S.: I know! I can’t believe I’ve amassed so much unread material either. Am I the only who does this?

Don’t let me down

Commentary

You won’t often find me admitting to be in the wrong, but I think it’s high-time I face the music. My problem is that I always set the bar too high. Some of you may think that this is surely a good trait: after all, what’s wrong with a little aspiration? And better yet, how great is it when that unachievable task you set on your list is conquered and quite determinedly crossed off your list?

It’s not that great, really. Ask any perfectionist. Any high goal achieved will automatically mean that the next time, the goal should be even higher. The adrenaline of a challenge is unparalleled, the threat of defeat such an ulcer-inducing experience, the fervor of achievement only a punch-drunk second. I fall for it again and again and again.

I first realized this in December. I greeted the 12 days of Christmas with utter anti-consumerist spite and had decided to do something more personal and genuine for our long list of friends for Christmas 2010 (last year). I ended up baking a series of cookies and treats, boxing them up with personalized gingerbread men and adding Dutch stamps and twine in an attempt at a faux-parcel. It was a great surprise for everyone, but mostly for myself, for pulling off 12 boxes filled with at least 5 different baked goods by yours truly. This year, I knew that if anything, I had to exceed expectations, if not meet them. The overachiever in me wanted to go all out, convinced that I couldn’t bake the same goods. What complete shame to deliver the same box of goodies a year later? I scavenged for recipes that would impress, I drafted ideas for a theme, in fact, I spent entirely too much time on something that didn’t really merit it. Testament to this was our friends’ response: 1 second appraisal of box, before ripping it open to begin devouring contents. Who cared about presentation? Who stopped to think, Boy I’ve eaten this before

No one. And that’s normal. Now I know this.

And though I recognize my over-ambition as, perhaps, my biggest flaw, I can’t help but feel disappointed at myself whenever I underperform by my standards. Take the summer, for instance. Come this glorious season of smelly armpits and drones of mosquitoes, I make a list of goals I wish to see through by the end of my two month vacation (the perks of teaching, I’m afraid). And on my list, around the top, float the same words year in, year out: Read a lot of books. I assume that this is on the list of most ordinary people in the summer, with the possible omission of the words “a lot of” for obvious reasons. Now, the problem this year,  is that sometime in December again, I decided to join the online book community Goodreads, which eagerly prompted me to set a reading goal for 2012. At that point I had just received an order by Amazon for 15 books and I was overjoyed and optimistic at my reading capabilities during the year. So I decided to set the goal to what I considered an acceptable, if not essential, target of 50 books in the year. During the two-week Christmas vacation, I read four books and I was in such a high spirit that I thought I had regained my peace of mind and my fast reading pace. That number dwindled to a staggering three books until the next vacation, Easter, during which I managed to trudge through a mere 130 pages of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. What an embarrassment.

To think, that in college, I read at least 25 books per semester and that’s not counting the ones I devoured for pleasure. At the back of my mind, this was my most productive reading time, I assume, and for that I hold on to it with a competitive ardor that even intimidates me on some days. You see, in all honesty, a part of me knows that it doesn’t really matter how many books I read this summer. In fact, I’m doing quite well, I’ve managed to go through 5 books in the last month. But yet another, more empirical side of me, seeks the quantitative data with strong desire to hold it up as a trophy of achievement, so I can look back at my former younger self who is quite surely disappointed at my sluggish reading. And even when I’m trying to not think of anything, there’s still that parenthetical reminder on Goodreads that furtively informs me: “Congratulations! You’ve read 13 books out of 50. (At your current pace you’re 18 books behind).”

It’s a castigation of sorts. It inflames my inner pride. It makes me the wrong kind of reader, too. Immersing myself in a book has nothing to do with numbers, after all. It’s about striking that connection, getting lost, even momentarily, from lists and personal insecurities and entering a world that I’m sure I value more now, in my 29-year-old worrisome head, that I did as a 20-something student.

My 2011

Commentary

2011 has treated me well. I travelled, I explored the world through the lens of my diana and lx3 and I read plenty (though not as avidly as I would have liked). Here is my year breakdown.

Note: Most of these are in no particular chronological order

1. The most anticipated item of the year: the stache! After much begging and volunteering to start a fund for movember, I was given the privilege of the stache preview in December. I’m happy to announce that this look is now a permanent fixture in all our joint portraits.

2. November brought a new person into our family unit of two: the Bear. He’s still nameless though he’s much of a character. I caught him reading on my wing chair that night, but I’ve even come home to him watching TV and eating cereal and his most recent feat was climbing the Xmas tree á la King Kong style. We don’t know what he’ll do next, but he sure fits in.

3. Lomography featured largely in 2011, mainly because it was my Xmas present to myself last year. This two-shot was quite a good accident. The third shot, of our other partner in crime, George, brings the photographic trio full circle.

4. Reading in Dublin was a pleasure. This was a small park right outside the biggest park ever, that we traversed on a two-seater bicycle (that was fun!). On this trip I had the lovely company of Margatet Atwood and The Year of the Flood, which I miraculously read through, while managing to do quite enough touring.

5. The beauty of the lomo lens: This colorful scene was straight out of Little Miss Sunshine almost, and lucky for me, just outside my home. The large puddles / lakes that form near the area make for the most spectacular reflections.

6. This birdcage has been in the family for about a decade and it used to be white. Living by the beach has turned it into a wonderful rusty peppermint color that I love. It’s  something that’s not coming off of our veranda wall anytime soon.

7. My grandmother had a rough 2011; in July she broke her ischial spine on her pelvis and was bedridden for about 2 months. She is now mostly recovered and able to walk without the help of a cane, but she’s spent quite a few hard months. This photo was taken during a drastic cleanup of her house. Quite unlike my normal photographic habits, I decided to take a self-portrait in my grandmother’s yard during the big mess.

8. Taking it easy with the kids: the cutest niece a person could have. Learning to be patient: the only thing that got me out of 2011 reasonably sane.

9. Discovered gloriously delicious tea from tea pigs, palais des thés bubblegum tea and generally stored up in herbal goodness in 2011.

10. Tried my first, and most likely last, bitter ale at the Guinness Factory. Trying out the 120 format on lomo was fun, but also disappointing: I had a whole 120 color film completely ruined by overexposure, and thus forever a mystery.

11. The year of many notes, by no letters, sadly. Friends across the world (you know who you are), I will make it up to you in 2012!

12. The endless pursuit of great indie coffee/ tea shops continues. I have just added a great one in old Nicosia:  Τα εφτά κλειδιά

13. My lovely, lovely mom. 2011 came along with a new resolution: more portraits. This is as candid as it gets.

14. Taking dark alleys and forgotten routes has always brought out the best exploration photos. If you exclude the rancid smell of urine, that is.

15. I love feet shots and always will. Our other addition to the household is Pingoo, our friendly bed penguin. My friend Gigi, understands my feet addiction and follows suit.

16. Paying closer attention to detail really got me out of 2011. As a perfectionist, I’ve got the bug for getting lost and sidetracked in intricate details that really have no use for the purpose at hand. It’s a problem I am gradually coming to terms with.

17. Back in the middle ages, maps read: There be dragons here. Discovering the wonderful Custard Factory in Birmingham was a resulted of our chat with an art gallery personnel, who ended up drawing a little map of how to get there in my journal. After walking for hours past the commercial junk recommended to us by the air host, we finally got there and it was wonderfully refreshing.

18. My belated Xmas present arrived sometime in January. A new toy and a new perspective. It was quite amusing that we got each other cameras for Xmas. It also made shooting more difficult now with so many choices.

19. Bicycles everywhere in the city of Dublin. Renting some off the bike stations resulted in some near-death experiences, but ultimately great fun. It also led to the sad realization that Cyprus will never be bike friendly, thanks to all the reckless drivers.

20. A quiet vigil at Phoinikoudes, Larnaca after the explosion at Mari. This really shook up the whole island and those days were dark and bleak. I can’t say that that there will be much light on the case, in due time. Disappointment prevails.

21. My bike was a birthday present from 2010, but it really travelled great distances in 2011. On the last day of 2010, I remember riding across timid rain capturing the very last moments of the year. Here, we were riding across the vast expanse that is Oroklini lake, near my apartment. It felt out of this world, but all those mosquito bites put things in a realistic perspective.

22. The year of Catan, surely. The game was a gift by a fellow friend, but was neatly tucked into the closet because its instructions were a goddamn booklet. So after a year of storage, my friend was in Cyprus and he finally showed me how to play in less than half an hour. It soon became an addiction. Midnight Catan sessions that progressed way into the early morning hours, fueled by cookies and hot tea and when hungrier, Indian cuisine. It really left its mark on 2011, and now we’ve got the expansion pack and I’m convinced we’re turning into the Cypriot version of the Big Bang Theory somehow. Who’s Sheldon?

23. One of our most beloved agrotourist locations in Cyprus is 3 Elies. It’s the most authentic little resort smack in the middle of nowhere. There’s fireplace, nature trails, great trout for dinner made my Androulla, and many many cats. This multiple exposure hides two.

24. Met my nieces and nephew in the summertime for the first time. This was a walk on the beach, when my niece was so excited to see the sea. It makes me blush that I take it for granted.

25. 2011 brought with it a lot of new recipes. For Easter I attempted to make candy pops, that tasted OK but didn’t look like the real thing. Luckily no one knew the original idea, so considered my own works of art. The bows and sticks featured were in preparation for the choc pops.

26. The sun sets on Oroklini lake. Discovering the beauty of my area has surely been a highlight of 2011. I have just recently taken up jogging along the beach every morning before work and I’m surprised that I never made the most of the what is available to me here until now.

27. A hurried trip to the city of my heart: Chania, Crete. On the weekend of Monday of Lent, we escaped to Chania to revisit memories, old friends and favorite spots.

28. My failed resolution to pick up rock-climbing as a hobby. Maybe 2012 will be kinder to this resolution. After observing a group of climbers, we headed for Ayios Nicolas for some biking and I almost fainted on those altitudes. It resulted in a half-hour surprise nap by a river, while my other half was having fun taking photos of me passed out from fatigue.

29. Beautiful dusk from my window. Those reflections, those colors — make me remember why I could never leave here.

30. Pimped rides with pegasus, but 2011 was the year I bid my little old car, Dot,  goodbye. Just as I wasn’t looking, I managed to get myself a deal on my car, and ended up with a brand new Toyota Aygo. Its flaming red is more to my taste than the old black. But Dot was my first car, and as such, very dearly missed.

31. Kids will be kids, but grownups need to be kids too sometimes. Relearning life through a 4-year-old’s perspective ain’t easy, but it’s good.

32. Having the sister to myself has been a treat. Here, we went on a great photowalk across town and I snapped this great portrait of her. Hopefully 2012 will bring a collaboration that could result in some monetary fruit, if she ever agrees to listen to my ideas!

33. I’m thankful for having friends who will willingly drop everything for an existential conversation about the meaning of it all. 2011 has taught me that I am definitely a lot more complex than even I ever imagined. I’m slowly learning to accept the most unexpected things about me, and more importantly, to embrace risk and learn from it.

34. 2011 changed the way I saw my life. Taking hard decisions is part of life, and being honest with what you like and don’t like is equally important. You need to be passionate about what you do full time, and if you’re not, you must change something. I’m changing things in 2012, but without 2011’s insight, I would be nowhere.

35. There’s a lot of home, in homemade, and I carry it with me in whatever I do: From jewelry, to writing, to photography to baking. You can’t separate the past from the present and carrying it with you is a good thing, really.

36. This unconventional portrait of my mom makes me think that there’s always a hidden side to us. And we sometimes hide it from ourselves even, but it’s there. I’m trying to reconcile myself with my hidden side, which is full of flaws and misery and pessimism, but hey, I’m not there yet. I’m trying, and that counts, doesn’t it?

Hope you have a great 2012. I await for it eagerly.

Get me the gear

Commentary

I was always the kid whoshowed up all red-eyed on the first day of school because of no sleep the night before. You can blame it on the stress of the first day, or the excitement of returning to routine, or downright weird, but it happened every single year. Now, on the more responsible end of classroom, my problem is mostly managing to wake up on the first day of school not sleep. But if there’s one thing that merits excitement at the beginning of the new school year, it’s nerdy supplies. And whenI say nerdy, I mean nerdy. 

These are some of my most coveted items for the new school year (take note, readers):

it's an achievement during the school year

*sigh*

Summer bummer

Commentary

Photo credit: gege.gatt

They usually count me among the lucky ones who get to sit around during summer. Formally speaking, that may be true; but I’m here to convince you otherwise. The little voices in my head are telling me that there is no way I can get everything I need to get done within the entire month of August.

Go ahead, roll your eyes, wince at me. It doesn’t stop it from being true. Even the ants here are staging a retreat below the keyboard – some brave lookouts comb the white plains of the ibook for the deathly fingers of yours truly much to their utter bad luck (the fingers are lurking). What am I on about? Is it the heat? Or maybe it’s the stress of  knowing I won’t get all my to-dos done that makes ants miraculously appear out of nowhere on my laptop, in my bowl of cereal and most likely swimming somewhere in my stomach too. As you wonder whether I’ve now become positively insane, let me take a moment to explain everything that I plan, but won’t have time to fulfill.

The Summer Wishlist

Thank you magazine articles for constantly letting us know what the best summer / beach reads are. I have feverishly read all the summaries, religiously circled the ones I might be interested in and now all I have to do is pack a beach towel, head for the nearest beach and root myself in the most cancerous looking spot of sun. It’s what I did every other year, but this year it seems like the hardest thing on earth possibly because my perception of hard has changed dramatically. There’s one reason for this, and you can blame it on the kids.

And yes, thank you too billboard ads, mailings, radio and TV advertisements. I now know that I can’t afford even the best deals in travel packages. My financial situation is so dire that I can hardly even get to the average hotel that’s down the street (not that I would want to anyway). Yet at night, when I tend to get more delusional than usual, I search the web frantically for ticket prices and accommodation and convince myself with midnight maths that I can afford it. I wake up with a number hangover, but luckily with no great debt as of yet, at least.

And oh, let’s not forget sleeping late, going out, meeting with friends and the general paralysis of all things normal in your schedule. In the 100% humidity we’ve been experiencing lately, the only paralysis I feel is that of my brain.

I think the message is clear: Get out – even the ants are vacating. I would hide under the table for a week until people start wondering where I’ve disappeared too, but that’s not possible because the carpenter will be delivering the dining table in September. I don’t even have a bed to crawl under, for shade if nothing else. I could of course sandwich myself in the bookcase; perhaps surrounded by books I could feel a touch of the escape from the mundane even briefly, before the bookcase topples over me.

It’s going to be a short one month, I’m sure.

Nerd with me

Musings

I had a fun little surprise in the mail yesterday. It was enough reason to get out of my pjs and promptly rush down the stairs to pick this sweet package up:

What lovely packaging!

What lovely packaging!

This came all the way from LA, from Gabbi, who hosted this giveaway on her blog. As I was reading her blog entry, I was pretty much with my jaw to the floor with the photos of books and actual libraries. It made me reminisce back to those years in the US, with library days and comfy armchairs and the general acceptance of being a little nerdy. The libraries I have seen here in Chania are in dire need of:

  1. space
  2. books
  3. librarians
  4. armchairs
  5. technology
  6. atmosphere

So I was head over hills to receive this giveaway. It brought back memories of times that now seem pretty unreal.

Reading IS sexy!

Reading IS sexy!

I’m definitely going to put that sticker on my car when I return to Cyprus in August! And what a great extra surprise to get a pair of earrings from Gabbi too — in a little re-sealable Hello Kitty bag!

So girly!

So girly!

And since reading is sexy, time to get back on that Berlin travel guide. What have you read today?

Stranded

Musings

You all know the classic hypothetical situation: If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 items (or one if we want to be strict about it) would you take with you?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because to be honest, it feels like I’m stranded on this desert island for a week now. A desert island of no communication.

Sure, I have all of my material needs, I go out for walks, enjoy the sea and do all of the things I’d forgotten about before I got entangled in the world wide web, but sometimes, I really do wish I could kick my legs up, get my laptop and travel across the distance to feel like I connect with what’s beyond my four-walled room.

Yeah it’s great that this past week, I’ve read four books, I’ve had great me-timing that I’ve been neglecting, I’ve written letters and postcards, I’ve organized my workspace. I’ve even watched a couple of movies. But have I metaphorically travelled beyond my geographical location? Nope. It’s strange how caging that can feel.

It strikes me that Chania could be the desert island — all this water around me and not an internet signal near me. In fact, this is the fourth attempt to post this blog entry, and in the meantime we got our phone connected.I am now one step closer to human contact, and if you want ring me up! The sound of the phone ringing is so startling and fresh, I still get excited over it because to be honest, I’ve been convinced the phone company is secretly laughing at all these chaos its caused and was determined not to fix anything just because.

But don’t listen to me complain. Secretly I’m enjoying all of this new free time: it’s given me a new perspective on my priorities.

So back to the classic dilemma: What would I take on a desert island?

1.

A good book to read through

A good book to read through

2.

A typewriter because it doesn't need require and lets you WRITE WRITE WRITE

A typewriter because it doesn't need recharging and lets you WRITE WRITE WRITE

3.

Some beads to keep me busy and accessorized!

Some beads to keep me busy and accessorized!

What would you take?