Station Eleven

Imagine that a deadly flu took out most of the world’s population and now, as a result, people are forced to live without electricity, gas, or internet, and learn live off the land to survive. This is the premise of Station Eleven, a novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

images

Station Eleven reminded me a lot initially of the (now sadly canceled) tv show Revolution. It’s a post-apocalyptic survival story, and the characters are traveling across the North American landscape with no electricity and no “United States”. In the novel’s case, however, the destroyed world is more of a background setting for an exploration of how humans have become disconnected from the natural world and how some interactions, moments, or choices can have an inexplicable lasting impact on someone.

The most interesting feature of the novel is how the story is told. Mandel jumps around constantly from moment to moment, and setting to setting. It feels almost carefree on her part, but you know it can’t be because it’s done in such a way that it’s not causing the reader to have to do any additional work, and everything makes sense. I don’t know how Mandel kept straight in her head what information she had and had not given away as she was writing, but she’s done a great job. You’re constantly waiting until the end to find out what happened in the future to the characters you’ve connected with in the pre-flu world and you’re wanting to know more about the origins of the people you’ve connected with in the post-flu world. It’s not a mystery novel, but as you read it feels like you’re following lots of mini-mysteries which are all these characters’ life stories and how their interactions, chance or otherwise, have profound effects on their lives.

Mandel really makes you think about how the world is structured today. We constantly hear about how much knowledge we have available to us in the information age, but we don’t often consider that just because it’s available to us, doesn’t mean we have it. All the tasks necessary to run our society are divided into separate careers. A banker probably doesn’t know how to hunt, a hunter probably doesn’t know how to generate electricity, an electrical engineer probably doesn’t know how to run a successful government, and a politician, whatever he or she may say, probably doesn’t know how to set up an efficient economy. We know we have all of this information available at our fingertips with the internet. But, if we lost that magnificent tool, the knowledge in today’s world is so subsetted that we’d probably be lost for a long time too.

Ironically, as I was reading Station Eleven, I kept coming across an ad on TV by America’s Natural Gas Alliance. It starts, “Someone once told me that working for the power company is a noble calling. I believe that it is. People don’t have to think about where their electricity comes from. They flipped a switch, and the light comes on. It’s our job to make sure that it does.” Obviously this type of system has helped our world develop much more quickly than if everyone tried to be knowledgeable about everything – there’s only so much information a human brain can hold. Nevertheless, reading this book made me think that it probably couldn’t hurt to learn a little more about how I get things like running water, electricity, food, and clothing!

All in all, I’d give this book 8/10 stars. It’s narrative is a little choppy (unexpectedly picks up and slows down through the book) but the style is unique and does work. The characters aren’t ones that will stick with you forever but their stories are engaging and will probably make you think about the interactions you have in your own life. Finally, if you, like me, are interested in the post-apocalyptic genre but can’t stand to read another book revolving around a sordid teen romance, then you should definitely check this book out!

Have you read Station Eleven or any other books by Mandel? What is your favorite post-apocalyptic or dystopian book? What do you think of the genre? Let me know in the comments below!

Advertisements

The NYC Street Fair

I love that New York goes so out of its way to bring elements of rural life into its whirling metropolis. Whenever you look, especially in summer, there is a lush park, bustling farmer’s market, or vibrant street fair to be found, nestled right into those mad-dash streets. My favorite days in this city have been the ones when I stroll down the avenues, walking 50-80 blocks at a time, and just explore the things around me. I had one such excursion up Lexington Avenue this past weekend.

My journey actually started on the West Side, at Gotham West Market’s Blue Bottle Coffee, where I was meeting a friend for a drink. There, we discovered some free post-cards with a post-box and a sign with an offer to mail them for you. One of of my goals for this year is to send more snail-mail, so I really liked the idea. We each mailed a postcard, and I kept a couple more that I feel might have inspired the rest of my day.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

I hadn’t explored Lexington Avenue in midtown too much at that point, so I decided to walk it. Right at the start of my journey, I discovered a new little Indian clothing store in Murray Hill called “Vintage India“. Most of the items were goods I would never bother buying in the US, since I can find more variety and cheaper prices in India, but the shop was colorful and fragrant and I was drawn in. (Plus it reminded me of a shop that we used to visit in college called Mexicali Blues, so there was a nostalgia factor.) I discovered a bin of $10 paayal (silver tinkling anklets) and was immediately sold.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again... nostalgia is clearly highly effective on me.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again… nostalgia is clearly a highly effective sales tactic on me.

From there, I kept walking up Lex, right into a street fair. I have been to several street fairs around the city, but I particularly liked this one because there was more than just food. The stalls all around me were selling jewelry, clothing, plants, and carpets – with a bit of imagination I could picture myself in a foreign marketplace, picking up things that I would have described as a child as “treasures”. I gave myself a cash budget for the day, and set off on my street fair adventure.

The first stall I came to had what seemed like hundreds of long, bronze-chained lockets hanging down from its railing.

Something about this feels magical to me... like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

Something about this feels magical to me… like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

When I looked closer, I realized they were clocks. I chose one with pretty engraving and bought it for $8. I love the look of pendants on long chains, and this piece felt timeless (no pun intended).

A little treasure

A little treasure

As I kept walking, I saw a few stalls with colorful cotton clothing. I am on the look out for comfortable, good quality but affordable harem pants, so I was intrigued. As I looked through the racks at one stall, some beautiful figurines caught my eye. I could instantly tell that they were from South Asia. I spoke to the seller, Anil, who confirmed that he was Nepali.

Anil making a sale to another customer

Anil making a sale to another customer

He showed me the various pieces he had depicting Hindu and Buddhist deities and we talked about his childhood in Darjeeling. In the end, I bought this beautiful Buddhist wall-hanging for $20.

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

Next, I spotted a $3 jewelry stall – how could I resist looking? I found these earrings and this locket amongst all the choices:

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2/$5 and totally worth it!

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2 for $5 and totally worth it!

Finally, I decided I really wanted to look for something different that I would not normally buy. I had to walk for a bit longer, but I found a man who was selling beautiful plants.

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

I asked him what was required to take care of bonsai (I definitely do not have a green thumb) and how much they cost. I assumed it would be very complicated and expensive. However, the seller explained the care process to me – just submerging the roots in water 2-3 times a week and keeping in indirect sunlight – and sold me this Chinese elm for just $18.

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good “beginner’s bonsai”.

The seller was so kind that as I was packing up my purchase, he told me to wait and brought me this gorgeous orchid for free (he gave me instructions on taking care of it too, of course!):

First orchid I've ever owned... hopefully I can keep it alive!

First orchid I’ve ever owned… hopefully I can keep it alive!

Days like these make me so happy because I feel like I can have an adventure right in my own city. It makes me want to discover what else New York has to offer and to go and explore other places the same way.

What’s the best adventure you’ve had in your city? How do you like to explore new places?

Hillary Clinton

It’s taken me a few days to figure out what I want to say in this post. All week, when my friends have asked me what it was like to see Hillary Clinton, I’ve told them it was “amazing”. In fact, I even posted this Instagram picture and caption:

And seeing Secretary Clinton was amazing – in that it was very cool to see a woman whom I’ve admired and supported for so long in the flesh. It was awe-inspiring to be in the presence of someone who has traveled so much and represented the U.S. on such a massive scale, who has weathered a world of scandal thanks to her husband and come out on top, and who, somehow, still managed to seem like someone’s wonderful grandma.

But in terms of an event, or a chance to get to know your candidate, it was disappointing. The event was three hours long but Hillary was on stage fore barely half an hour of it. Most of the time it felt like we were at a strange concert where DJ Cassidy was playing great music but most people felt too awkward to really dance. Olivia Wilde came out to introduce Hillary, which was awesome in theory (House, M.D. is my all-time favorite show), but again felt stunted and “campaign-y” – she could have been acting out a role.

Olivia Wilde (aka Thirteen) introduces Mrs. Clinton

When Hillary finally came out, I did love everything she had to say. She talked about issues that are very much in the national spotlight, but also highlighted issues that aren’t talked about enough. That’s what I liked about her in the last run for presidency too – she doesn’t only speak about the “hot-ticket” items. She talked about having universal pre-kindergarten, which would make a such a long-term difference in the development of this country and its people. She spoke about how excited she was to meet her granddaughter, Charlotte, but she felt that, “you should not have to be the granddaughter of a former president or a former secretary to have opportunities.” She talked about the need for mental health issues to fall into the realm of open dialogue – for the crazy healthcare system surrounding it to be cleaned up and simplified, and for the stigma to be wiped away. She spoke about how people often feel embarrassed asking for help so she said,  “So during this campaign I’m going to talk about substance abuse. I’m going to talk about mental health.” She spoke about how this country is built upon basic bargains – like if you work hard you’ll have opportunities. The themes of the Clinton Global Initiative (making long-term commitments) and her own book/phrase (“It Takes a Village“) rang through her message without her overtly mentioning them. “At the end of the day, what really matters is how we treat each other. I’m going to try to remember that, I want you to remember that.” That was my favorite thing she said, because it’s such a simple a true message, and not the kind of thing you’d necessarily expect to be the message of a campaign speech today.

So if Hillary was so great, why was I disappointed?

“…and God Bless the United States!”

It’s because as much as I wanted to hear and did agree with Hillary’s campaign platforms, I didn’t want to just see “campaign Hillary”. Attending the event felt like I went to a sad concert and then watched Hillary Clinton give a speech on TV. I had thought that for $100, on the night of the first fiscal deadline, I would get at least a longer speech from her, or at least more speeches from her supporters. Everyone who spoke kept mentioning that Zach Braff and Uzo Aduba were in the audience – why didn’t they speak themselves? Why didn’t we hear more from the volunteers who work in her campaign headquarters, especially given that it’s based in New York?

I understand that in today’s world, political advisors (and politicians themselves, in turn) are extremely wary of doing anything where they can’t control the outcome. Any situation can be spun. But what I feel like they (and a lot of people trying to use today’s instant, Internet-driven culture to their advantage) fail to understand is that its authenticity and honesty that works. An example from the fashion/beauty world – sure those air-brushed models get a lot of admirers, but look at how the untouched, un-photoshopped pictures that occasionally come out are celebrated!

This is not to say that Secretary Clinton came off at all as artificial. Just… tailored. I kept feeling like there was so much more she could have said on any given point and so many questions the audience could have asked her that would go deeper than any interview she’ll give in the coming months. Now I’m not sure if this blog post will ever reach the right eyes or if the political pundit behind those eyes would even care, but here is my challenge to Secretary Clinton and to all the candidates running for office in 2016:

Give the people a chance to actually talk to their candidates. Let them interact. Let them ask questions. The beauty of today’s world is that the lay person has the ability to talk to anybody in the world, regardless of whether they are famous or powerful. People love that. Take advantage of that. I realize it’s scary – what if someone asks a question you don’t have a perfectly scripted answer for? What if someone says something awkward or embarrassing? It’s the world of the internet – every video clip lasts forever! But you’re running to be the leader of a great nation. You’re running to represent this country on a global scale and you will (and have) faced unexpected questions from world leaders and swarthy media-people – much more intimidating, I would think, than your average constituent. I’m sure any question I could ask you would be easier than what Brianna Keilar will present you with tomorrow. Don’t just talk to the people, speak with them. Have real conversations, in person. Don’t try to play the internet game – just be real and the internet will automatically love you for it.

Readers, please let me know what you think in the comments below. If you agree and would like this election to be about real dialogue and not just constructed sound-bites, please share this post on your own social media and with the candidates you want to have dialogue with. I think it applies no matter what your political leaning. Thanks!