Neutron in Time Square

Jameyanne standing in front of a crowd in Time Square with Neutron at her side. Both person and puppy are smiling.As I write this, I’m flying home from Seeing Eye, with Neutron at my feet under the seat in front of me. This is Neutron’s first plane flight. I’m glad to be going home, but this has really been a fabulous class with a great group of people, and I’m not sure I’m ready to get back to the real world. There have been a lot of things I’ve been putting off while I’m here, saying I’ll deal with it when I’m back from Seeing Eye. Well, I’m almost back from Seeing Eye, so now I’m going to have to deal with all that stuff. (Note: At the time I’m posting this, I’ve arrived home, been mobbed by dogs, and started unpacking, organizing my life, and catching up on sleep).


I’ll talk about arriving home in the future, when I’m awake enough to string two words together. This post is about my last week of training with Neutron.


We cruised through our second solo. There were a lot of challenges: dog distractions, planned and spontaneous; an idling bus sticking out of a driveway; the facial salon Neutron was intent on taking me into; people not looking where they were going and nearly mowing us down. Neutron was fabulous the whole way through, and we had a lot of fun. I’m not sure when, but somewhere between our first solo and our second, things really clicked into place for us and we just started zooming along.


After our solo, we began freelance work. During freelance, we did some standard things as well as work that was similar to what we might face at home.


We started with escalators. Yes, it is possible to take a dog on an escalator, and no, the dog doesn’t have to wear shoes to do it (though I must say Neutron has some super snazzy shoes for snow storms and extra hot summer days). The trick with escalators is to keep your dog resting at your left side and reach out along the railing with your right hand, and the second you feel the railing start to flatten, you and your dog start moving and walk off the escallator. If your dog is moving, there’s no chance of their feet getting caught. Neutron is a huge fan of escalators. His tail was wagging all the way, and when we got off, he was all wriggly and prancy because he did it right.


Revolving doors didn’t go so well. On our second morning of freelance, we went to do revolving doors. I never learned how to do revolving doors with Mopsy—I always took the regular door—and once I found myself in a situation where the regular door was locked and the security guard refused to open it for me, so we had to wing the revolving door and it stressed everybody out. So I wanted to make sure I actually learned how to work Neutron through a revolving door. We practiced primarily on manual revolving doors, the kind you push. The trick with these is to keep your dog on your right side, rather than your left, so they’re in the widest part of the door. Keep them up as close to the glass in front of you as possible, and push the door with your left hand. I didn’t do so well my first try, and I accidently bumped Neutron’s butt with the door, which caused him to get nervous and not trust me so much on revolving doors. The second time I did better. And yesterday, we went to another, bigger door to practice on (because I wanted more practice to feel confident), and we nailed it. Neutron was super happy about it. We learned how to do the automatic revolving doors too, but we didn’t actually practice on them, and honestly those freak me out so we’re going to generally stick with the regular door to the side, which by law they have to have (so there, random security guard who wouldn’t let me in with Mopsy).


We also did work on roads with no sidewalks—country work. Neutron and I walk on the left side of the road, so we’re facing oncoming traffic and I’m between Neutron and the traffic (I’m  more visible and it makes Neutron feel safer). We went to a grocery store and practiced using a cart with Neutron. I said it seven years ago and I’ll say it again: there’s a reason I didn’t pass driver’s ed. We wandered through the Morristown courthouse, which was a maze of interconnected buildings with lots of trick staircases and short turns and narrow hallways. We also went to the pet store, where I got Neutron another bone and an ID tag and we worked through all the distractions (there was literally a wall of dogs). We worked on how to deal with medians in the middle of streets, and we cruised around a shopping mall where we practiced getting directions for different stores and in general dealing with the public. Personally, I prefer Amazon, but we found Neutron some nice lacrosse balls to play with, and we fended off small children who wanted to pet him and people who were trying to take sneaky pictures of him. Folks, I can hear your phone make the little camera noise and I will chew you out for it, because taking pictures of my dog can distract him and possibly endanger my safety, and also it’s just rude and an invasion of my privacy. Flip the situation and ask how you would feel if someone was sneakily taking pictures of you without asking and you get it. Just don’t do it. Rant over.


We worked with buses and trains as well, and we used the clicker to get Neutron to target the bus stop (more training me to use the clicker than Neutron). We did a trip in downtown Morristown at night, so I could practice with Neutron when my residual vision isn’t nearly as good, and we rocked it. And of course, we took a couple trips to get ice cream, because ice cream is life and we had to make sure Neutron had proper exposure to ice cream shops with me.


Finally, we went to New York City for a day. We started at Port Authority and walked down to 30th Street, where we encountered a lot of construction. I wanted some construction work because there’s a lot of construction in Boston. We worked on how to deal with construction that blocked the sidewalk and funneled you out into the street with a barrier between you and the cars, as well as scaffolding slalom, both things I had to handle this summer on my way to my internship. Then we took the subway up to Columbus Circle. In the subway station, we worked on platform awareness with the dogs in the subway. If you tell the dog forward thinking you’re facing the way to go but you’re actually facing the platform, the dog won’t take you into the platform but will steer you right or left, guiding you along the platform. Neutron brought me close, following my direction, saw the edge, went “oh nope,” and then steered me away. When I insisted, he steered me even farther away from it. All indicators that, if I was confused and thought I was heading somewhere else but was really facing the platform, I would need to reassess where I was. We also did more practice with the clicker, teaching Neutron to target the turnstile to get onto the platform. When we got out at Columbus Circle, Neutron took me right to the turnstiles even though it was a totally different station. From Columbus Circle we walked down Broadway to Time Square, where we worked through the crowds of people and dogs over to a burger place for lunch. And after lunch, we walked back down to Port Authority and went back to the Seeing Eye. Neutron was just flying through New York, weaving around pedestrians, poles, dogs, pigeons, bicycles, mail carts, gratings, and the one guy in a wheelchair with three off-leash chihuahuas in sweater vests. It was really an incredible experience, and I feel like if we could handle that, we can definitely take on Boston.


It’s taken me longer to write this than anticipated, because Neutron was a bit anxious during take-off and landing on the plane (it was his first flight and there were so many noises so he tried to climb into my lap). But he was zooming through the airport. I can’t wait to get home so I can see Mopsy again and Neutron can meet her and our pet black lab, Rocket. We’re going to have a relaxing couple of weeks as much as we can, letting Neutron settle in and get familiar with home and my new apartment at school.


It’s the sleep-deprivation talking, I’m sure, but all of this still feels really surreal to me. I just can’t believe that I went to Seeing Eye, was matched with this super smart, sweet, curious little boy, and now I’m almost home with him. But we did it. For me, training at Seeing Eye this time was almost all about learning to listen to this new dog, and this new dog learning to work with you. Training’s over now. We’re a team, and off we go.


Neutronian Physics

Picture of me sitting on the wall outside the downtown training center with Neutron at my feet with a big puppy grin on his face. Exactly one week ago, I was matched with my second Seeing Eye dog. He’s a sweet little black lab golden retriever cross named Neutron. He’s 22.5 inches tall and weighs 55 pounds, and he’ll turn two years old in September. So he’s roughly the same size as Mopsy. I’m actually told that he bears a striking resemblance to Mopsy (based on the pictures I’ve sent home).


It’s hard to believe I’ve only been working with Neutron for a week. It feels like it’s been at least a month, if not longer. Part of that is because I’m tired. We’ve been going from before 5:30 in the morning to after 8:00 at night with very little time to stop, and the last few days the heat has been incredible.


In our first week of training, we do set routes with our dogs. The first route was a big rectangle—down four blocks, left for one block, up five blocks, left one block, and then left again to find the training center. At first we did it with our instructor coaching us through each crossing. Then our instructor backed off until, Sunday morning, we were doing it completely independently. There was a barricade and a planned dog distraction we had to work past as well, but otherwise it was pretty straightforward, and I could focus on learning to feel Neutron’s signals through the harness rather than on where I was going. Even though I know how to work a dog now, Neutron is still different from Mopsy, and we need to learn how to dance together.


After our successful solo Sunday morning, we started our second set route. This one was more complicated both in terms of the crossings and obstacles and the general orientation. It’s like a quarter of a pie with a hook on the end, if that makes sense. The street crossings are wider, and the sidewalks are narrower with trees, telephone poles, and sometimes trash cans. It’s a significantly greater challenge, but this was the point where Neutron and I hit our stride, and we’ve been flying. He’s had to wear his booties a couple times because it’s been so hot, and he goes even faster with those on. Like the first route, there’s a baricade set up to block the sidewalk that we have to work past. This baricade is more complicated, because it blocks the sidewalk but also extends to block us on the left as we approach, so we either have to approach the barrier and turn out of it to get to the street, or we have to turn before we reach the extension at all (that choice is up to Neutron). There’s also a more complicated dog distraction, where we have to work past a poodle who then follows us down the street. I’m pretty sure Neutron thinks poodles are part of a weird religious cult. We’re doing our solo for this second route this morning.


This afternoon we’re going to start our freelance work, where the training is tailored to what we’ll face when we go home. We’ll learn to work escalators, elevators, and revolving doors. Seeing Eye has two rows of airline seats to practice sliding our dogs under the seat in front of us or situating them in the bulkhead (I’d prefer to slide Neutron under the seat in front of me because it’s safer, and I think he’ll fit there, but we’ll see). We’ll work through department stores and shopping malls, and we may practice on roads with no sidewalks, paths through the woods, and college campus settings. We’ll also do buses, trains, and subways, and one day we’ll be going into New York City.


It’s been a lot so far, and it’s going to be a lot to pack into our last week here. Of course I’m also grooming Neutron, cleaning up after him, and playing and cuddling with him. He really is a sweet little lab. He loves belly rubs and cuddles. When he has a toy he likes to run around holding it in his mouth and making little snorting noises. He likes to claim me with his paws, and if I’m sitting next to him on the floor giving him scratches, he’ll put his paw on my arm and sort of wrap it around my elbow like a hug.


And of course there are all the science puns I can do with his name. My favorite nickname for him right now is Neutron Star, and I’ve already determined Neutron’s first law of motion: a Neutron in motion tends to stay in motion; a Neutron at rest wants to get moving.


I’m still considering Neutron’s superdog name (Mops was Mopsy the Magnificent). A friend suggested Neutron the Wonderdog, and I came up with Nuclear Neutron, but I’m not sold on either of those. Any suggestions are welcome.


Obviously at this point we’re both still learning how to work with each other, but we’ve come leaps and bounds in just one week, and I’m sure we’ll go leaps and bounds this week too.

And the New Dog Is…

Just kidding. I don’t know. I will be meeting my new superdog partner tomorrow morning. But I wanted to write about what I’ve done since I arrived at Seeing Eye yesterday before it gets overwhelmed by the excitement of the new doggy.


I arrived at lunchtime on Monday. I’d forgotten how good the food is here. Also one of the instructors in my class was my instructor when I was here seven years ago training with Mopsy. She isn’t my instructor this class, but it’s cool that she’s there.


After lunch, my instructor gave me a tour of the campus so that I could navigate independently. I remember bits of it, but they’ve renovated the building since I was here in 2010, and they’ve changed things just enough that I’m a bit confused.


After the tour of the campus, we went on a juno walk. A juno walk is when I hold the harness handle and the instructor holds the other end and measures my pace and pull on the harness. These are the most important factors in matching me with a guide dog. Of course there are other factors. There are different lengths of harness handles, but no one’s going to give me a Great Dane or a Chihuahua. For this first juno walk, we went up and down the Seeing Eye driveway. We worked a lot on my pull on the harness handle. It’s different with a person rather than a dog, but apparently my arm position was wrong, so either I’ve forgotten how to hold the harness or I’ve been doing it wrong for who knows how long. To be fair to me, they’re teaching a different grip on the leash than what I learned and did with Mopsy, so that might have thrown me off. Still, I’m figuring it out.


After the juno walk, I had some time to unpack. Then it was dinner and a welcome meeting. After going over the schedule for Tuesday, they handed out our leashes. It’s funny because Mopsy’s leash has become super soft and either dark dark brown or black, I can’t tell. But the new leash they handed me is all stiff and rough and this light light brown.


We were up at 6:00 this morning. After breakfast we came to the downtown training center for a brief lecture on what class is going to be like, and then we took another juno walk, this time in a much busier area. I learned that actually I haven’t been doing anything wrong with Mopsy, but because Mopsy and I were so familiar with each other that I didn’t need to do a lot of the things that I’ll need to do with this new dog, like coming to full stops before turning. To work on my issue with keeping pressure on the harness handle, we did an exercise where I held the leash as if it was a harness handle. The instructor explained it out the difference between towing a car with a chain and towing a car with a tow-bar. If you tow the car with a chain, it could be flopping around in the back. I have to maintain pressure so that the dog can feel me. It’s just as important as me being able to feel the dog, because if the dog loses the pressure the dog isn’t sure I’m still with them and could become anxious. With just the leash, rather than the rigid harness handle, it was much easier to feel when I was losing pressure and correct for it. It was really effective in showing me just how important it was to maintain pressure, because if I lost the pressure I felt like I was floating in space with no direction.


We did another juno walk this afternoon, and it was really great for cementing the pressure thing. I still have to work on waiting for the dog to go when I say “forward” instead of leaping into action myself. This has resulted in me trying to both move and not move at the same time and doing what one instructor called “quite the charleston.”


With every hour that passes I become more and more excited. This afternoon, we had a terrifying demonstration of silent cars (they are really silent!), and the lecture on the history of the Seeing Eye while our instructors decided which dogs we’ll get tomorrow. By the time we sat down to dinner, they knew, but they won’t tell us anything. In a few minutes, we have a cheese and wine party, which will be our last chance to eat food with our hands without our dogs’ leashes dangling off our wrists. Then it’s off to bed to try and sleep despite the anticipation. Morning comes early here (once we get our dogs it will come even earlier).


Tomorrow morning, we’ll get up, have breakfast, and have a quick meeting while our dogs are being bathed. And then we’ll meet the dog. Despite my best efforts, my instructor has given me only a few hints. The dog will either be a male or a female, and it will have four legs, a tail, and soft ears. The suspense is killing me.

New Beginnings Are Not Endings

It’s been a while since I posted, but let’s just skip my whole shpeil where I apologize for that and swear to do better and post more often. Okay? Okay.


I’ve been thinking a lot about endings for the past few days. For one thing, after writing fifty thousand words on the first memory-wiping Academy novel in April and another twenty-five thousand so far in July (meeting my Camp NaNoWriMo goal both times), the ending is finally in sight. For another, Mopsy has retired and I am on my way to Seeing Eye as I write this, on my way to meet my new doggn. In fiction, my favorite kind of endings are the kind that feel like beginnings, like there’s another story waiting to be told if only you turn one more page, even if that next story only exists in my imagination. But this begs the question: are new beginnings always endings?


On Friday, I finished my internship at the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in Boston. I learned a lot this summer. I have a much better understanding of how Cambridge and Boston are laid out. I can still use my cane without hurting myself, or anyone else. And, most important in my book, I can work a nine to five job and still write a lot. Then I spent this weekend not only packing up for Seeing Eye but also packing up all my school stuff to move to my brand new apartment as soon as I return from Seeing Eye with the new puppy.


There are a lot of things coming up that feel like new beginnings. A new school year—one or I plan to have more time to write and do social and extracurricular activities. A new apartment that is not a dorm and has a real kitchen where I can cook real food. A new Seeing Eye superdoggy. But it’s hard not to see new beginnings as endings. Right now, I’m trying to convince myself that’s not always the case.


School is more continuing than ending and starting again. And moving out of the dorms and into a new apartment is simply the next step.


But it’s hard to see that with Mopsy. I’m on the way to the airport as I write this, and I left Mopsy behind. Seven years ago, I graduated from high school and hopped on a plane to Seeing Eye. I didn’t know Mopsy yet, but two days later, our trainer placed her leash in my hand, and Mopsy has been by my side ever since. We have literally been attached by the harness for seven years. We went to college together. Then to Italy. Then we worked at the Disabilities Rights Center together. Then we started Harvard Law together. Mopsy was with me when I lost my eye and she was with me when I finished novels. Mopsy hasn’t been working for about six weeks now, but she’s still been with me all summer. And even though I’ve been trying to transition her so my parents are the ones who are feeding her and taking her for walks and everything, this morning when I picked up my suitcase, Mopsy still came running, tail wagging.


I tried to get Mopsy to work with me this summer, but after a few weeks, it was clear it just wasn’t going to work. And she’s been happy as a retired dog. I feel like she’s discovering her inner puppy. She comes running, wagging her whole butt, a toy in her mouth, grumbling happy and sometimes spinning right around a few times. She’s going for long walks with my parents in the woods, smelling everything along the way, which she couldn’t do while she was working. And after seven years of me trying and failing to get her to go swimming with me, Mopsy has decided she likes the water after all. But that doesn’t make it easier when she comes running as I walk out the door.


It feels like an ending. It feels like one chapter of my life, the chapter with Mopsy, is ending, and a chapter with a new doggy is beginning. But I hate to think of it like this. Mopsy is a healthy, happy dog, and since she’s living with my parents, I’m going to get to see her all the time. I’ll need to exercise restraint this fall and not go home every weekend to see Mopsy, because she needs to cetime her relationship with my parents, and I need to bond with the new doggy. But in three weeks, I will be returning home with the new doggy, and Mopsy will be there waiting for me. This is the beginning of a new chapter, certainly, but it’s a new chapter in the same story, and thinking about it like this makes all the difference in the world for me.


I’m still a few chapters away from the end of my novel, but I already know how it’s going to go. Keeping this as spoiler-free as possible, here’s what happens: the main characters are sitting on the back of a wagon. They’re riding to safety, but they’re still looking back the way they came. Then, at the last minute, they hop off the wagon and turn to face their next challenge head on.


I’m planning on this book being the first in a four-book series, so the story will continue. And that’s how I have to think of this next chapter in my life too. I can’t deny that as sad as I am about leaving Mopsy at home, I’m excited to meet the new puppy and see what adventures we get up to.


It’s a tough schedule at Seeing Eye. We’re up at 5:30 AM and we’re going all day, as far as I remember. But I’m planning on posting regularly over the next three weeks to keep you all updated on how the training is going and most importantly, who my new partner in crime will be.

Facebook Author Party for the Young Explorers Adventure Guide

Hey everybody. I’m participating in an author party on Facebook for the 2018 Young Explorers Adventure Guide anthology, which will include my story “Polaris in the Dark.” The anthology is scheduled to be released in December, but in the meantime we have a week long event where the authors in the anthology talk about their writing and answer questions. I’m on from 3:00-6:00 PM next Wednesday, June 27. So come hang out and chat with me. The link to the Facebook event page is here.

Seven Years a Team

Jameyanne and Mopsy cuddling on the floorYesterday, June 21, was our dogiversary.  Seven years ago, my sidekick came wagging into my life. Okay, she wasn’t wagging. She doesn’t have a tail, which is a shame, so I wagged enough for both of us.


Since we met seven years ago, my sidekick and I have been all over the world, having all the adventures. Four years of college at Kenyon, where I learned all about literature and Italy and how to sing in tune with my sidekick’s clarinet and also why chocolate chip cookies are bad for me and bounding through the snow is the best. Then a year in Italy, where we conquered the sidewalks cars and motorcycles liked to race on, mastered the art of jumping into trees without dropping any gelato, and taught a small Italian town a thing or two about what a Seeing Eye dog and her sidekick can do given a chance. When we returned victorious from Italy, we spent a year at home. I got to explore where my sidekick grew up and meet her high school friends while we learned about disability rights and applied to law school. And last year, we started law school together at Harvard, which mostly involved my person learning the basics of world-saving (she could have just talked to me) and me reminding her when she’d been studying long enough and it was time to play. We got out and about and explored Cambridge and Boston some too.


Towards the end of the spring and at the beginning of the summer, we started going out a lot more into the city, which was fun, but I realized I can’t guide my sidekick as well as I used to. I was nervous in crowds, and even when my sidekick and I had the whole road to ourselves, I got startled when another person or a dog came too close to us. I felt like I had to tell the other dogs to stay away from me because I was so nervous, so I started barking at them and lunging at them. My sidekick tried to remind me that this was not proper Seeing Eye dog behavior. She even tried to bribe me with treats to get me to stop—as if I, a well-groomed Labrador, would stoop to the level of doing things for food. Nothing helped, not even the treats. I just didn’t feel like I was able to guide my person the way I used to, and I wanted her to understand that, because I didn’t want her to be relying on me for her safety. So my sidekick had a talk with the trainers at the Seeing Eye, and then my sidekick and I had a talk. We decided that it’s time for me to retire.


Don’t worry, I am not giving up my place on this blog. I have way too much fun writing these posts, I’m looking forward to telling you all about retired life and giving my sidekick’s new superdog partner some friendly advice. I’ll be going to live with my sidekick’s parents and their dog Rocket. Rocket isn’t a superdog because he’s never guided anybody anywhere, but he’s a black lab too, and he’s nice enough, for a crazy puppy. We’ll be good friends, and I like my sidekick’s parents lots too.


My sidekick will be going back to Seeing Eye at the end of July to meet her new superdog. I can te’l that she doesn’t know how to feel about it. She’s excited, because she hates using her cane (that long white stick that for as long as I’ve been with her, she only uses to fish one of my toys out from under the bed). But I can also tell that she feels bad for being excited, like she feels like she’s replacing me or something. I want to tell her that’s stupid, and I think she wants to tell herself that’s stupid too. Sometimes feelings don’t listen though. But I don’t want to work anymore, and I want my sidekick to have a superdog partner who will keep her safe, so I’m glad she’s going back. Also I’m sure the new superdog and I will be great friends.


And my sidekick and I aren’t done having adventures. We have sunbathing and cuddling to do, ropes and bones to wrestle for, walks and walks and walks to take. And who knows? Now that I’m learning to be a retired superdog, maybe I’ll try that swimming thing again. No promises though. My butt sinks.

“Polaris in the Dark” to be Published in the 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide

I’ve been sitting on this for about a month now, because there wasn’t a contract and I didn’t want to jinx it. But it’s really happening, so I am super excited to tell you all that my short story “Polaris in the Dark” will be published in the 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology! It’s an anthology of science fiction stories about diverse characters aimed at middle grade readers. My story is about a blind girl indentured on the train that runs around the rings of Saturn… until she escapes. This isn’t the first story I’ve written about a blind character, but it is my first ever science fiction story, which is really cool. I had a lot of fun inventing gadgets that I actually want in the real world. Also it’s my first professional sale, so yay! If you’re interested, you can vote for the cover of the anthology here. I’ll keep you all posted as the anthology develops.

The Benefits of Reverse Zombification

This is my first post of 2017. Yes, I know, it’s April. Yes, I know, I haven’t posted since December. It’s been a long, hard semester. I’ve had weeks where I felt like I had to drag myself from one unending fifty page assignment to the next. It’s been a struggle to write fiction, let alone blog. And let’s be honest: you really don’t want to hear about my contracts class anyway.


But things are looking up. Boston finally seems to be considering springtime (or it was yesterday), my appellate brief is complete and I have my moot oral argument tonight, I have my final negotiation for my negotiations workshop on Saturday, and then there’s only two weeks of classes left. Two weeks where things are a little less crazy before we hit reading period and have to study nonstop for finals. I intend to use those two weeks wisely. Actually, now that I have a better sense of what law school finals are like and how to prepare for them, I’m going to use reading period wisely too. (We’ll see how this actually goes but I’m going to try.)


So since I never posted my goals for 2017—whatever those actually were—here’s my goal for the rest of 1L year and the summer: I don’t want to be a law student zombie anymore. I want to become a human being again. And here’s how I’m going to do it.


First, I’m tired of being a desk potato, so I want to get back in shape. I like feeling strong, and I miss moving. Added bonus: exercise isn’t just healthy. Whenever I actually get up in the morning and go to the gym, I feel great for the rest of the day. Yay endorphins!


Second, and along similar lines, I’m going to try to get myself onto a reasonable eating schedule. This means I need to stop eating dinner at 10:30 at night, even if the kitchen is busier earlier. I don’t think I need to explain why eating at a sane hour of the night is just overall better.


Third, I’m going to write more. Like really write, the way I was writing in college or in Italy, or as close to that as possible. I’m tired of feeling like a few paragraphs is a victory.


Fourth, I’m going to get back in touch with my inner extrovert and do fun things with friends. I feel like I live in my dorm room, and that just has to stop. The sun is shining. The grass is not quite green yet. We’re almost finished 1L. I have every reason to do social things.


I’ve already started on all of these goals. I’ve been exercising regularly and mostly eating around 8:00 at night, which is earlier but still not prime kitchen time. I’m also doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, the full 50,000 words of it, to hopefully stretch my writing muscles and actually make some progress on revisions to my memory wiping academy novel. I’m participating in another twitter pitch slam this week for my middle grade fantasy novel, and I’m planning to take an online writing course this summer to give me some more structure. Finally, this past week I went to trivia and participated in a scavenger hunt, and had a blast at both. I have felt infinitely better this week than I have in a while, so I’m planning to keep it up. It’s something we were told over and over again during orientation, but apparently I didn’t really get it until now: self-care is really important.


It’s a good start, and I’m looking forward to keeping it up throughout the spring and summer. I’ll be working  in Boston this summer at the U.S. Department of education Office for Civil Rights, so this will be the perfect opportunity for me to actually get to know Boston better, and since I shouldn’t have homework outside work, I’ll be able to able to exercise and write and do fun social things and set a good routine for myself for the start of my 2L year.

And of course, all of this includes blogging more. It’s been a really hard school year, but I’m finally starting to feel like I have the hang of this and I can take the time to have a bit more fun and take care of myself.


So happy almost maybe spring!

Favorite Books of 2016

New Years is not complete without a round-up of my favorite books of the year. So with just a few hours left in the year, I’ve updated my book recs page to include my favorite books of 2016.


I did not reach the Goodreads reading challenge of 100 books I set in the beginning of the year, or even my reduced challenge of 75 books. Unless you count the nearly 5000 pages of legal cases I read in the last four months, which I don’t because that’s depressing. I didn’t even manage to finish all the books I’m currently reading before the end of the year.


Still, I read 69 books in 2016. There was a fair amount of rereading as well. I reread all the Harry Potter books in preparation for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which you will notice is not on this list because it was a huge disappointment. And in the run-up to finals, I reread all of Tamora Pierce’s Tortoll Books. I also read the first two and a half Harry Potter books in Italian. I’m hoping to get back to that project in 2017, but it was temporarily interrupted by my first semester of law school.


On the whole, despite the number of books I read, I just didn’t find that many that I was absolutely in love with—not enough to add to my book recs page. I read plenty of books I downright hated this year (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Throne of Glass); plenty of books that were good, even enjoyable, but had significant flaws that really put me off or just didn’t click with me (Pastel Orphans by Gemma Liviero, The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare); and a handful of books that gave me attacks of the feels and made it onto this list.


So without further ado, my favorite books of 2016:


Ever After High Trilogy by Shannon Hale: So these books were super fun.  I loved the first two books, and the third book was also really good, but as the ending of the series, it was weird because it had different protagonists and didn’t really resolve the ongoing conflict of the first two books.  (Spoiler alert: Even the ending of the third book was weird because everyone forgets all the events of the whole book but still retains their emotional character growth from the experiences.) I know the books are based on a TV show, so that may have something to do with the weird conclusion, but I haven’t seen the show yet, so I’m not sure (it is on my list of things to watch if I ever have free time ever again).  But I still really enjoyed these books and would definitely recommend them, with some significant caveats about the ending.


2016 Guide to Literary Agents edited by Chuck Sambuchino: This book was exactly what I needed when I set out to query agents about my novel.  It’s a comprehensive guide on writing queries and synopses, choosing agents to target, and what to expect from an agent, as well as a list of a thousand agencies including specifics on what they represent.  It helped me figure out how to approach this whole thing.  And it wasn’t just helpful.  It was also motivating and energizing.  Or maybe I just get excited about figuring out how to organize myself into a plan of attack.


Princess Academy series by Shannon Hale: This is one of those rare series where each book is better than the last.  Usually, with series, I find the opposite is the case.  I read the first book a few years ago, but I forgot to add it to my book recs page when I first created it, so I took the opportunity to reread it, and when I did, I discovered there were sequels.  Each sequel took what I thought was a perfectly wrapped up ending but extended the plot to show the logical—and not very nice—ramifications of the characters’ choices and actions.  The world and the magic system were really unique.  And the ending—oh, the ending! In short, these books were great fun and I definitely recommend.


A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr: Though at times this book was a bit slow, it was overall a fabulous read.  It’s the true story of the legal battle over the water pollution that caused multiple child leukemia deaths in Woburn, Massachusetts.  I was working at the NH Disabilities Rights Center and waiting to hear back from law schools when I read this—and when I visited Columbia I actually attended a civil procedure class with a guest lecturer working on a similar case—and it gave me a lot of insight into the legal system.  But even if you’re not the lawyer type, this is still an excellent book and I highly recommend.  Not only does it explore the flaws of the legal system, but it also digs into the flaws of people—their fears and obsessions, their pride and their greed.  I’m not usually one for nonfiction, but this book is definitely worth it. Also it was really helpful when I took civ pro because it was a concrete example of what I was studying.


Stars Above by Marissa Meyer: This is a short story collection based on Marissa Meyer’s fabulous Lunar Chronicles series.  From a writing standpoint, I was a bit underwhelmed by some of the stories, which didn’t feel like complete short stories so much as detailed accounts of incidents in the characters’ backstories that were mentioned in the books.  On the other hand, there were certainly some fabulous stories in there as well, and honestly, it made me so happy as a squealing fangirl that I didn’t really care about anything else.


Many Genres, One Craft edited by Michael A.  Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller: I got this book way back during Alpha 2011.  I wasn’t able to find an accessible copy, so I scanned it myself, and I’ve been reading it, one essay at a time, ever since.  Over the past five years, I have learned so much and been inspired so many times by this book that I can’t even begin to quantify it.  I feel like this is the sort of book I will go back to again and again as I write.  So, if you like to write popular fiction of any kind (fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, mystery, etc), I highly recommend getting your hands on this book.


The Martian by Andy Weir: I usually don’t like hard science fiction like this, but I have to admit I really enjoyed this book.  There were times when it got a little too technical, even for my astronomy-obsessed self, and the writing really got under my skin—it was way too cinematic, and we never actually got to see anyone’s emotions in real-time and sometimes not at all.  But at the same time, the book felt so realistic like I was sure everything it described had really happened, and despite my issues with it, it was a gripping story from start to finish and I would definitely recommend it.  Sidenote: The Martian is one of those rare instances when I actually enjoyed the movie a little more than the book, because it fixed the writing problems I had with the book, even though it got rid of lots of fun science.


The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne Valente: This book was a fantastic finale to a fantastic series.  I loved every bit of this book, loved it so much I don’t have words.  And if you disagree, I will chew you up and spit you out the way Blunderbus makes laws—which in my opinion is the best way to make laws—and I’m a budding lawyer.  There was just so much to this world that is amazing and beautiful and perfect.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so suffice it to say that finishing this book left me both thrilled with all the awesome and heartbroken that it was all over.  But nothing is ever over, as the narrator says, and I can always go back and reread.  And I shall!


Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate: This was the first book I’ve read in a while that I just zipped through—couldn’t put it down—and then wanted to force on people to read so I would have someone to talk about it with. So read it guys because so far I don’t have anyone to talk about it with. I’m not usually one for contemporary young adult—I’m more into the fantasy and sci fi side of the category, in case you didn’t know that.  But I was hooked right from the start of this book.  Seven high school juniors, each representing one of the seven deadly sins, each with their own issues and secrets and stories, and an anonymously reported student/teacher affair combine to make a really great read.  Seven point of view characters is a lot, and normally I would shy away from it, or read expecting a train wreck, but Riley Redgate pulled it off really well.  Not only that, but the writing was excellent, vivid and beautiful without seeming pretentious or unrealistic, which is one of the big reasons I usually don’t like contemporary young adult.  The one thing that wasn’t perfect about this book was that it felt like the climax happened too soon—only halfway through the book at Juniper’s party—and I kept expecting a further escalation of conflict and stakes from that point forward.  And while the characters did blow up at each other and do things that were super not cool, it didn’t feel like enough of an escalation to me, and it ended up making me feel like I’d been dropped, if that makes sense.  But on the whole, this was definitely a really good book, and you should read it.  It raises a lot of important issues—teen drinking, sex and sexuality, parental relationship trouble—in an intriguing, creative way,, and despite the heavy subject matter, it was definitely a fun read.


Birthday Surprises: Ten Great Stories to Unwrap Edited by Joanna Hurwitz: I really enjoyed this book.  Some of the stories were a bit young for my tastes—I prefer upper middle grade to lower middle grade, personally, but it was a nice, fun break from serious, high-stakes fiction I’ve been reading.  And I really like the concept of an anthology tied together by a shared premise—in this case the idea of a child receiving an empty box for their birthday—and all the different possible takes on that premise.  Some of the stories were a bit predictable, but some were really unique and heart-warming.


A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty: This is the third book in Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Colors of Madeleine series (I read the first two books last year).  A Tangle of Gold surpassed all my wildest expectations.  It was full of twists and turns, all of which surprised me but still made sense.  I found myself continually saying, “Wow! I did not see that coming!” It was the first book in a really long time that kept me up all night reading.  It had none of the problems of the first two books, and in fact, knowing what happens in this book, it actually fixes the problems of the first two books and makes the whole series shine.  And on its own, it was still fantastic, fast and furious and fun.  I felt like the plot picked me up and held me in a gut-wrenching stranglehold and didn’t let go until the last moment.  I loved how the characters were so flawed and I loved the ambiguity of not being able to decide whose side I was on or how I wanted to see things turn out.  And the ending was just perfect! While the first book may have been a bit of a slog at times, it was worth it, because this whole series is fabulous and I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: I did not expect to like this book much. I certainly didn’t expect to love it. But I did. I loved it. I loved it so much! I was hooked right from the start, and I couldn’t put it down. There was a bit when I was concerned it was going to be a tragedy. All the references to Eleanor and Park being like Romeo and Juliet didn’t help that impression, but it was not a tragedy—thank goodness. I would have been really mad if the ending had gone south on this one, but it didn’t—it left everything open and inviting, in a good way. Everything about this book, the writing, the dialogue, the characters, the plot, was perfect, and I definitely recommend for everyone, not just people who like YA.


A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz: This book was another fun one. It’s a collection of all the Grimm fairy tales that feature Hansel and Gretel and puts them together into a novel. I have a soft spot for Hansel and Gretel, because the first retold fairy tale I ever wrote myself was a retelling of Hansel and Gretel set in World War II Germany. But my own soft spots aside, this book was great, and I was super excited to find out there are two more in the series. So you know what I’ll be reading in 2017.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: This book was beautiful. Just beautiful. Beautiful in every word, every image, every emotion. It wasn’t a page-turner, but it held me fast. It’s funny, because I usually think of historical fiction as something written now about the past, but I now realize that was a dumb idea. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is historical fiction, written during World War Ii, about the a girl growing up in the years before World War I. I could go on about the poignancy of every moment and the dual simplicity and complexity of the story, but really, if you haven’t read it, just go read it now.


Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente: This is a retelling of Snow White in the old west, and it was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. It got a little weird at times, but it’s Snow White, so I knew the wicked stepmother had to show up and put Snow White into an enchanted sleep. If that’s a spoiler for you I’m sorry–there’s a Disney movie you should go watch. Six Gun Snow White was beautifully written. The voice was vivid and real, and just as when I read other Catherynne Valente books, I find myself wanting to talk like her narrators. Finally, this book had the perfect ending, the ending the real fairy tale should have had.


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the Amereacan City by Matthew Desmond: I read this as part of my first year reading group. The reading group was called Storytelling for Social Change, about how lawyers can tell stories to create social change. You can see why it attracted me. But I have to say, not only is Desmond not a lawyer, but the writing just wasn’t as fabulous as our professor made it out to be. The book followed too many people to be fully effective, and it dropped several people halfway through and picked up new ones. But I still recommend because it is a fascinating, thorough, and very important look into the grave flaws in our country’s housing system. Warning, this is a heartbreaking book, but it is a necessary book.


The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan: I’ve been going back and forth about whether I liked this book enough to include it on this list. I had a really hard time with the first two-thirds of this book. It was slow, and the protagonist was really hard to sympathize with. But things really picked up in the last hundred pages—suddenly I couldn’t put it down—and there was in fact a perfectly good reason for the unsympathetic nature of the protagonist that I won’t spoil but was done very well and made the book work. There are sequels to this book too that I’m planning to read in the new year.


Though I didn’t find as many completely riveting books in 2016 as I have in past years, there are more books to read in 2017. I have 435 books on my to-read list—thank you Goodreads for keeping me straight. So I better get reading. Happy New Year.

How I Conquered the World in 2016 and Other Stories

I’m still having trouble believing it, but 2016 is drawing to a close, which means it’s time for my annual round-up of the year. And what a year it has been.


Twelve months ago, I was working at the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center. I’d only been home from Italy for a few months, and Mopsy and I were still working through our nerves about other drivers while walking around town. I’d just submitted my final law school appplication—and I’d already been admitted to several fine schools. Now, I have just completed my first grueling semester at Harvard Law School, and when we aren’t studying, which isn’t that often, Mopsy and I are cruising around Boston like pros.


The only goal I set for myself this year was to not be afraid. I think I was mostly successful, though it was hard to keep that in perspective when I first realized I was going to have to do a lot more cooking than I originally anticipated, or when I was exhausted from studying for seven days straight and terrified I was going to fail my civil procedure exam, or when I woke up from my recurring hospital nightmare this morning feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Or when the election happened.


But with my signature optimism, when I look back at all the things I did this year—so many of them brand new—I have to give myself credit.


Everything I did at the DRC was totally new to me, from attending hearings to investigating voter accessibility. After I finished my internship, I went on a road trip to visit all the law schools I was still considering. When we were in New York visiting Columbia and NYU, my mom and I also went on two tours of Alexander Hamilton’s New York—one of the financial district and one of Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights, and Morningside Heights. They were fascinating. Then my Italian host parents, Stefania and Bruno, came to America for three weeks, and we visited Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, New York City, Boston, and of course New Hampshire with them. my older brother got married. I went to the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind for the first time, where I tried ballroom dancing, swing, and 1Touch self-defense. Then I spent the summer learning my way around Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston.


And then I started at Harvard Law School, where every single thing I’ve done has been new. I’d never read a legal opinion before. Now I feel like I read nothing but legal opinions. I learned how to do legal research and how to write in legalese. I learned how to think in a completely new way that I’m still not used to and I can’t describe. For the first time, I took final exams with no indication of my grasp of the material—an experience I’d never like to have again but unfortunately I will have to repeat five more times. And right now I’m in the middle of my first ever job search, complete with cover letters. So many cover letters.


But I haven’t done only law stuff. I joined a book club with some of my amazing sectionmates. So far, we’ve read Kindred by Octavia Butler and Cinder by Marissa Meyer (the last one was my recommendation if you hadn’t guessed). Right now we’re reading The Dinner by Herman Koch (well, I haven’t started it yet). I also tried out for the law school a cappella group—I didn’t get in, but it was fun to try—and I also applied to write for the law school parody—didn’t make that either but it was both the first script and the first parody I’ve ever written.


I’ve also started becoming politically engaged this year. I’m not going to go into the election too much here, because it really isn’t what I want this blog to be about, but I have written about my feelings on the election,and of course you’ve seen my posts on Braille literacy and the Foundation Fighting Blindness’s #HowEyeSeeIt campaign. I was chosen as a section representative for HLS’s law and government program, and I’ve applied to volunteer for a 2017 gubernatorial campaign.


All along, I’ve kept writing. At the beginning of this year, I started queryingagents about my novel. I paused when law school hit, but I’m going to send out a new batch of queries in January.


My story “Dissonance” was published in Abyss and Apex in April. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it right here. And over the summer, I wrote and revised three more stories in the Phoenix Song universe—what i’m calling the world where “Dissonance” is set. I also wrote a poem set in the same world, my first poem since tenth grade. With a lot of luck, you might see those some day ever.


Once law school started, while I did write less, I did keep writing. I made sure to find time to write at least a couple times a week, not only because I love it, but also because I’ve found if I don’t write, I become first cranky, then miserable, then practically nauseous. When I feel like I’m drowning in law, my stories keep me sane. I finally got back to revising my memory-wiping academy novel, and I succeeded at my summer writing goal of getting the number of projects I’m working on down to two. And in the last couple months, I’ve been trying new things with my writing too. I wrote my first ever 250-word flash fiction story. I usually have the problem that every short story I write turns into a novel, so I was convinced I wasn’t going to be able to do it, and I was pretty darn shocked when I actually did. And right now I’m almost finished with the first draft of my first ever science fiction story. This story was actually inspired by whatever happened with my left eye back in January when my vision went all dark and shimmery for a day. Funnily enough, that was the same incident that inspired my first blog post of the year, about my decision to be brave.


Finally, I added some new sections to the blog this year too. Now, in addition to links to my published short stories, you can also read the stories behind the stories to find out what I was thinking when I wrote the stories and why I made the choices I did, as well as other fun facts and even some of my own illustrations. I’ve also been having a ton of fun writing the posts from Mopsy’s point of view, and I hope you’ve had fun reading them, because there’s more to come.


And after I don’t know how many New Years resolutions, I finally learned to use Twitter. The secret was  linking my Twitter and Facebook accounts so I only had to worry about one. I also entered a couple Twitter pitch slams for my novel, which not only got me in touch with some agents but also got me into the habit of checking Twitter and tweeting—twelve hours of tweeting and constantly refreshing does that sometimes.


I didn’t really conquer the world in 2016. In fact, especially in the last few months, between the pressures of law school, the election results, and the feeling that I just wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to or moving forward with my writing career as fast as I thought I would, I’ve often felt like the world was doing a good job of trampling me into the dust. But looking back on all I’ve done and all the new things I’ve tried, I’d say all and all, 2016 was a reasonable success. Now that I have a handle on how law school works, I feel like I can balance things a little better second semester. We’ll see how well that actually goes, but after a few more good nights of sleep, I’m ready to hit the ground running in the new year.


So bring it on, 2017.