Fast Review: “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

All the Crooked SaintsAll the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“All the Crooked Saints” is so strangely paced that it was hard for me to get into it. I loved the premise and was really into this sort of agnostic-take on miracles. But by the time it felt like the book was finally moving toward something concrete, and not just Stiefvater waxing poetic or dropping proverbs, there was only a quarter of the book left.

If this book had been written by anyone else, literally anyone who doesn’t have the slinky, clever, tricky verbiage that Stiefvater has…it would have been horrible. Given that it was her who wrote it, it’s still a good book, but it’s not great. The ending feels rushed and disappointing given how full of description the rest of the book is. Otherwise, it’s worth reading just to get a taste of what masterful description and character-building look like.

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When I Said I Only Write What I Know

I’ve wanted to be in love many times. I’ve only been in love once.

I was fresh out of high school. Impressionable. All-in, yet detached.

There’s something about youth that makes you want to make excuses for saying you were in love. Diminish it. Like what I felt as a girl could never be as legitimate as what I’ll experience as a woman.

That’s not true.

It feels like it’s true sometimes.

There’s a chance the person I loved grew older, as I have, and realized they didn’t love me then. That as they dated, as they became an adult experiencing life and new affections, they realized the time they’d spent with me as teenagers was simply time spent.

I can appreciate that.

I used to write poems about it. Being in love. About him. What I learned.
They were the kind of poems that went viral. It felt good, validating, seeing thousands of people tell me they could relate, they felt what I was saying, that they too have loved.

Those poems kept me in love with him, or perhaps the written version of him, or perhaps the him I never pushed away but only loved loved loved. Those poems made it hard for me to leave, long after I’d left.

Do you know what I mean?

It’s embarrassing to admit I still think about poems I wrote six years ago, I still think about a boy I last kissed at 19, I still fear being truthful in writing. What if the people I’m writing about read what I have to say?

What if the people I’m writing about don’t read what I have to say?

I’m 24. I’ve wanted to be in love many times. I’ve made the mistake of judging every relationship on whether they make me want to write.

I once saw a guy who made me want to write after we had ended. I wrote ugly, honest things that made me cry. There was no love in those poems. There was no love in me for him and my frustration at not being able to reanimate ghosts of feelings past spewed from me in sharp lines and rough cadences.

Those poems were popular too. I read them out loud at a spoken word gathering and imagined he was there to hear them. The closest humans will ever get to secreting poison is break up poetry.

I can appreciate that.

I stopped forcing myself to create love where it wasn’t, to write about it when I couldn’t. Trying to recall what it felt like to be immersed in someone started to resemble sitting under a lamp in the dead of winter and saying “This is what the sun feels like.”

For the someone who asked “why don’t you write love poems anymore?”…this is my answer. Because I’m not in it. Because the one time I was, seems so long ago. Because love makes me think of him, and he is somebody else, and also somebody else’s.

Because when I do write another love poem, I hope it’ll feel like the first storm of spring, like the midday sun in June, like the last few days of August.

New and familiar, all at the same time.

7 Things to Know If You’re Visiting Minneapolis for the Super Bowl

The Wall
The state line between Minnesota and Iowa.

So you love football, or love somebody who loves football, or love seeming like somebody who loves football, so you got yourself a plane ticket and you’re finding your way through the metaphorical Wall (I just watched Game of Thrones for the first time, I will not apologize) of ice and snow to the city of Minneapolis, the unofficial capital of Minnesota, for the first time.

Great.

No, really, that’s great! We love visitors, especially ones from outside the Midwest. It gives us a chance to really turn on the Minnesota Nice™. You’re the only ones who will hear our tales of survival with a look of fascination and not roll your eyes. You probably have no idea what -33 degrees Fahrenheit feels like (nothing, it feels like nothing, like your skin and your entire self have ceased to exist and all that’s left is a bitter chill you’ll never quite get rid of) which gives us a chance to brag about our suffering. It’s great. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Can you drive? Cool. Don’t. The roads are mostly one-ways that definitely don’t provide access to the street you’re trying to reach, and I can guarantee if you haven’t driven in snow before, you won’t like it. Have you played Mario Kart? Remember Rainbow Road? Yeah, driving in Minneapolis in the winter is a lot like that, except if you drive off a sharp turn on I-94, there’s no adorable gremlin on a cloud to place you back on the asphalt. Your car belongs to the snowbank now. You can have it back in the spring. Just call an uber or take the train since Super Bowl ticketholders are the only ones allowed on it anyway…

2. Mock our accents and prepare to see the most passive aggressive way to say “fuck you” that you’ll ever experience without crossing into Canada.

3. Say anything about the stadium except good things. No decent person who lives in Minneapolis has anything good to say about our football stadium. It looks like a giant ship. It’s aggressively ugly. We miss the skyline without it and don’t want to hear anything good you have to say about it okay???

4. Minnesota Nice™ is a real thing only if you can tell the difference between being nice and being kind. Niceness involves smiling for appearances sake, feigning politeness, and saying sorry just so no one judges you for not actually being sorry.
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Kindness involves genuine acts and feelings. People in Minnesota are not kind. We are distant, passive, and not very easy to mingle with due to our penchant for staying indoors 6 months out of the year. I had a mom push me in a Target once because I was blocking the Babybel cheeses. Approach Minnesotans with caution, as we bristle at aggressive personalities and straightforward attitudes. Beat around the bush a bit. Phrase all statements as a question. You’ll do fine?

5. Know that not all of us feel positively about Super Bowl. Minneapolis folks are a lot of things, but you can’t say we aren’t passionate. We fucking love this city. We know its strengths, and we fight against its weaknesses. And honestly, us hosting the Super Bowl is only bringing out a lot of our weaknesses. Our transit system doesn’t put its locals and employees first. The road closures are affecting medical and blue collar service workers without supplying them with fair alternatives for parking and travel. The homeless are being removed from shelters and motels to make room for you. And a bunch of other issues. It’s not necessarily your fault for wanting to enjoy yourself while you’re here, but know that your sports party is negatively affecting more people than it’s helping. You can love football and speak out about the ways it’s contributing negatively to different places/cultures/people. Don’t be surprised to see or hear about protests. We aren’t taking these issues lying down.

6. Ultimately, we live here. You’re a visitor. One that we’re truly happy to see, but wary of, under the circumstances. So make sure you do something that leaves our city looking and feeling better than when you got here. And for the love of god, buy a proper winter jacket before you come. There’ll be no rising from the dead as a blue-eyed zombie if you freeze to death here. You don’t have an excuse when there’s a Target every five blocks.

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Me on my way to Target for the 4th time this week.

7. Be cool. Enjoy yourselves. No one does winter like The North.

On Pets and Anxiety

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When I went to the Humane Society, my hands were shaking despite the fact that I was very certain of the type of dog I was looking for. Not breed-wise…I didn’t really care about that…but that I wanted a quiet, medium-sized pup that liked to cuddle and was at least 8 months old. My therapist had given me a written letter prescribing me an emotional support animal, and I was thrilled. And terrified. Going to a shelter when you have a specific idea of the kind of dog you want can be hard, because it just might not be there. I couldn’t tell if I was more worried about going home without a pet, or going home with one.

However, as I walked along the kennels, a dog caught my eye that seemed to fit every criteria I was looking for. She was 40 pounds, ten months old, silent as the dogs around her barked their heads off at the visitors, but still came up to lick my hand when I walked up to her. She was beyond cute.

I flagged an employee down. “Can I visit with her?” They gave us a small, concrete room to play in, and this pup walked up to me and set her head right in my lap like we’d done this before. She looked up at me with mismatched eyes — one was blue with speckles of brown, the other brown with a blue streak coming out of the iris — and I fucking melted. I put a hold on her immediately, and took her home a few days later.

I think it only fitting that an anxious person ended up with an anxious dog. Or fearful? I can’t tell which one it is, but listen…Nova does not like doing new things. A list of things Nova was scared of the first couple days after she came home:

  • Going into the car
  • Walking into buildings
  • Going up stairs
  • Going down stairs
  • Playing with toys
  • Going into her kennel
  • Going into the hallway
  • Walking past cars

You get the idea. All of these things seem ridiculous when you’re an adult human, but I tried to imagine being a creature that was low-to-the-ground and possibly hadn’t spent much time outside of a cage…it became easier to be patient with her.

I quickly learned that “patient” does not mean “without anxiety.” Every time she didn’t listen to a command, my pulse would rush. Even though she’s now doing a good job at all of the things she was initially afraid of, there are still moments when she misses a command, or doesn’t want to go into her kennel, and my brain goes wild. What if she refuses to ever go in her kennel again? What if she gets loose and doesn’t come when I call her and gets hit by a car? If I bring her to puppy training, will she be okay? How come she didn’t do this thing? Is it my fault? Should I have a dog? What if I can’t take care of a dog? What if I can never take care of anything except for myself for the rest of my li-

My brain on its anxiety setting is the actual worst. Imagine thinking this way about…literally everything?? I’m a goddamn mess. I haven’t written on this blog for about two months because I was anxious about it. In fact, I haven’t written anything, not even just for myself. What if I’m wasting my time writing? What if I’m actually a terrible fucking writer? What’s the point of practicing writing if I suck so much that I’m never going to do it professionally anyw-

Again. You get it.

But having Nova, and working with her to get past the seemingly-silly things she’s anxious about, has been nothing short of amazing for me. I look at this puppy and think, “If you would just get into the kennel, you’d see that nothing bad would happen.” Then I look at myself and wonder, oh shit…what am I avoiding that, if I just did it, I’d see that nothing bad would happen? What’s the car I’m afraid to jump into because “what if?” When Nova doesn’t follow a command, am I anxious because I always expect perfection in my life, and that’s unreasonable with a puppy? Why am I uncomfortable and anxious about imperfection?

My therapist has fucking loved our last few sessions.

Nova’s done some amazing work in the past week. Repetition and forcing myself to stay calm when she doesn’t want to do something has resulted in a scared pup turning into a pup who loves her kennel, enjoys meeting people when we go on walks, comes when I call her, gets into the car (as long as there is a treat involved), and runs up and down the stairs like she was born to do it. All my anxieties about her were just that…anxieties. Thinking of “what ifs” in a loop doesn’t make them true, and she’s helping me realize that every day.

So here I am, in my favorite cafe, writing my first blog post in months because my beautiful, lovely, anxious puppy got into her kennel so I could have a couple hours to write and read.

Cheers!

preface: about taking trips

If you asked me, I’d tell you that I’m not good at making plans. This is a lie. I would also tell you I don’t enjoy making plans. This is sometimes a lie, sometimes the truth.

I didn’t talk much about my first trip to Europe this year, when I visited London and Amsterdam, mostly because I was mentally really fucking over it. I’d planned the entire thing. I went with two other people, but I was the only one who put in effort to figure out the plane tickets, and the airbnb (which I’d never used before and now use almost exclusively during my travels); I was unofficially in charge of figuring out how to get to airports and train stations, I found/booked the hostel we stayed in in Amsterdam…you get the idea. All of this on top of planning fun things I wanted to do and see.

And I did have fun! I got the chance to explore the cities both by myself and with the one of my companions who was/is still a good friend of mine (the other companion was someone I have a weird history with and frankly it was a mistake bringing them along). It was my first time leaving the country! Amsterdam was the first city I’d been in where the main language wasn’t English (which was exciting to me), and I loved that place more than I’ve loved the many cities I’ve been to. But my god…

It was fucking exhausting. I resented that trip by the end of it. I hated that I’d planned the entire thing. I hated that I’d brought someone I didn’t want to hang out with (and once we returned, never hung out with again in true “you’ll either hate them or be closer after a trip together” fashion). In the weeks following, I would think about that trip and get frustrated because I felt like I’d spent the entire time being bossy and annoyed, neither of which are core aspects of my personality but show out when I’m anxious. But I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for what was a huge privilege to get to do. So I just didn’t talk about it.

All of this to explain that despite what I might say, I’m actually great at planning, but depending on the circumstances, I don’t always get a kick out of it. ((However, if you ever wanna pay me to put together an affordable and lovely trip (or an expensive and bougie one) to someplace for you though, just let me know. Will perform labor in exchange for currency.))

So when I decided I was going to go a second time, I knew it had to be either alone (like my trip to San Diego this spring that was truly an amazing time) or with someone who’s personality complimented my own.

Planning this trip to London was so much better than the last time. My companion, Allie, bought her own ticket and didn’t need me to walk her through it. In fact, we only met up once to decide on where we’d stay. We each have day trips we’re going on solo in the middle of the week to focus on our separate interests. Like, it’s been the least stressful experience. It’s even been fun figuring things out because I’ve barely felt, and still haven’t really felt, anxious. She, like me, doesn’t always feel the need to talk because there’s so much to see and make mental notes of to write about in the future.

The personality of your companion makes a world of difference when it comes to how much you’ll enjoy yourself on a trip!! Don’t go someplace with someone you argue with a lot, or who’s anxiety adds to your own. If you wanna be extra safe, take a short trip somewhere with someone first before you travel to another country. Magnify the way they act on that trip by ten and then decide if you can do 1-2 weeks with them elsewhere. Learn after my mistakes, kiddos, it’s what I’m here for.

So that’s how this trip has come to be.  More on “why london” and what I’ve been up to while I’m here, later!