Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Month in Books: November

After last month's "All Joyce Carol Oates All The Time" reading adventure, I didn't really have a theme going into November. I knew I was going to travel for Thanksgiving, so I figured I'd get through several books, but I unintentionally read almost entirely nonfiction this month. A lot of it was really good, though, so here's what I read and what I thought about it in November.

1) The Pocket Guide to the Afterlife walks you through the post-death options of forty world religions (or thirty-nine, if you don't count atheism as a religion) and the ninety-one places that those religions think death could leave you in. Want your own planet? Here are your religious options. Want to hedge your bets and get somewhere nice with minimal effort? You have a few choices. It also gives a one page summary of each religion and has a lot of really cute graphics.

My friend Jackie disagreed that atheism could be considered a religion, but the book made an argument that it's a religion whose belief structure is science. There are laws that must be obeyed, faith in things not yet proven, people who identify as atheists, etc. I guess that doesn't make it a religion, but it's a group that mimics some of the behavior of a religion and has a belief that something happens to your body after death (SPOILER: that "something" would be "decomposition"), so I'm ok with it being in this book.

There's not much depth here, but as an overview it was interesting.

2) I don't remember what book I was reading last year that kept referencing Patrick McGovern's Uncorking the Past, but whatever it was intrigued me enough to add this to my wish list, and I got it for either my birthday or for Christmas.

An interesting tour through the ancient world's fermented beverages and how they were brewed and consumed, the book explores humanity's long fascination with getting drunk, and discusses all of the reasons why we did and continue to do so. It manages to cover almost every continent (I wasn't expecting to see anything about Antarctica, but Australia was noticeably absent) and moved effortlessly from the ancient past to the present day without getting boring or overly academic.

3) Did you know that Stephenie Meyer had a new book out? It somehow escaped my notice, but when I saw The Chemist at the used bookstore I picked it up immediately.

It was so much worse than I thought it could be.

The main character constantly changes her name because she is a lady on the run. For most of the story, she's Alex, and Alex used to be a government interrogator for a secret black ops agency. They tried to burn her, and now she sleeps every night in booby-trapped hideaways, having survived three attempts on her life. When she receives an email saying the agency needs her help to stop a massive biological terrorist attack, she kidnaps Daniel, the suspect, to interrogate him before the agency does so that she can see if this is real or an attempt to draw her out of hiding, and that's where this starts going off the rails. She immediately starts to fall in love with Daniel for no reason, immediately abandons her three years of safety measures, and now that she's in love wants to find a way to come out of hiding.

And that's before the secret agent evil twin, superintelligent dog, and the sinister vice-president (not Biden) show up.

Seriously, this book was so bad, and so full of the same clichés as her other books: mysterious love at first sight for no reason, a beautiful woman with adorable flaws, and buildups to big fights that kind of fizzle out. I'm so glad she didn't get any of my money out of this, and so ashamed to admit that I read it.

4) Just after seeing a production of "The Crucible" on campus, I noticed that Stacy Schiff's The Witches was available in paperback, so I picked it up with the idea that it was thick enough to be a good book for a travel day. It was! It lasted through an entire day of airplane travel and a four hour drive downstate.

Carefully researched and easy to read, Schiff's book walks us through the entire outbreak and aftermath of the Massachusetts witchcraft panic in 1692, from the political and historical groundwork through the lingering effects on the families and their attempts at restitution. She clears up misconceptions that were added to the story later (it didn't take place only in Salem, and nobody was burned, among others) and lets the facts (the few that remain) speak for themselves rather than dropping in a lot of her own commentary. The only thing I wish she would have gone into more detail on (but the book is already just over 500 pages, so I can totally understand not doing so) is giving more of a look at the present day, and how the community of Salem continues to profit off of what should be something more shameful.

5) Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened was the first (of two so far) book I received from the latest version of the Facebook book exchange pyramid scheme. My friends told me not to participate in it, but I only had to send one book and received two, which means the exchange worked for me and I came out ahead.

Back to this book, I'd read a few of her blog entries before, as they were getting linked around on Facebook for a while, and she's very funny a lot of the time. At the same time, though, she's very funny in small doses of a couple of blog entries at a time. Over the course of a whole book I kind of needed a break, so reading this took a little longer than it should have because I kept having to put it down, because sometimes reading about her many psychological problems was mentally exhausting, due to my own psychological problems.

6) My friend Kate, who knows I like weird Americana, sent me Robert Schneck's Mrs. Wakeman vs. The Antichrist a while ago, possibly more than a year, and I just now got around to reading this brief sampling of American cults, Bigfoot hunts, Ouija board panics, killer clown sightings (suddenly relevant again this past summer), and other weird bits of American lore. Some of this I had heard of, but I never knew that in the early 1900s it was common practice for people to visit slaughterhouses across the nation to drink fresh cow blood, for example. America is, and always has been, a weird place. (See book #4 up above for another example of that.)

This was entertaining and enlightening.

7) Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction was a fast, fascinating read. It was also kind of sad, because we're slowly murdering our planet and everyone on it, but she took a lot of heavy science and made it breezy and easy to devour. I liked the way that she doesn't belabor the point that global warming is killing everything, but manages to bring it up enough times that it's always in the back of your mind while thinking about meteors and breeding pairs and dead bats. The basic premise of the book, that man has impacted the planet so severely that it will register in the geologic record for whatever intelligent race (most likely giant rats) comes after us, seems inarguable after reading this.

8) Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats did the opposite of the book before it: it took a lot of data and a premise that should have been interesting and made it a slow, dragging read that eventually turned into a chore to get through. I thought it might help me understand a little more where our new president is coming from, but oddly enough none of the stories of affluent excess included him.

I really should have finished the book I'm reading on the kindle this month, too, but it's so bad that I keep finding other places to walk besides the treadmill, just so I don't have to read it.

I guess there's always hope for December.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Buzzfeed Science Experiment

The other day I saw this article on Buzzfeed that said that if you put Skittles in liquid, the S will float off, rather than dissolving. The article had pictures, but you can't always trust pictures on the internet.

Hmmmm, I thought. The office is filled with Halloween candy. I bet we have Skittles here.

We did!

Floating Skittles S

And then I thought, I bet we also have water.

And we did!

Floating Skittles S

And so a science experiment was born:

Floating Skittles S

Unfortunately, I don't get paid to conduct science experiments with Skittles in my office, so I mostly just ignored it from this point forward and looked at it every few minutes.

First I learned that the dye they use for Skittles is not lighter than water:

Floating Skittles S

As the Skittles continued to dissolve, small pieces of white something began to float up:

Floating Skittles S

None of the pieces were intact letter S shapes, though.

Floating Skittles S

Nope, still no floating S.

Wait...could it be?

Floating Skittles S

That is a letter S. Definitely an S.

By the end of the hour, there were several:

Floating Skittles S

There weren't any Skittles, though. When I dumped out the cup in the office kitchen sink, there was nothing left.

Not even an S.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Month in Joyce Carol Oates Books

As you may recall from the September book review entry, my plan for the month of October was to read only books by Joyce Carol Oates, because I noticed that I had a lot of them scattered through my "books to be read" piles and figured that I might as well make a theme month out of it. At the end of the month, I still have two of her books in my piles, but I made it through several of them, which goes to show how many I actually had amassed without reading.

I need to read more, and get those piles under control.

There's also one book that's not by Oates, but I read that one on my Kindle.

1) In Joyce Carol Oates' Jack of Spades, Andrew Rush is a popular New Jersey writer of neat little mysteries. He has a wife and family and a big country house, he donates to the local library and the hospital and the youth sports league, and he has a secret: he also publishes violent, gory crime novels under the name Jack of Spades. He has little forgetful moments, maybe drinks a little too much wine, and sometimes isn't aware that he's speaking out loud instead of just thinking, but for the most part his life is happy and calm. The two worlds of his fiction are always kept far apart until the day a woman he's never met sends a summons for a civil suit, accusing him of plagiarism and claiming that she deserves justice.

For a minute, my thought was, "Stephen King already told this story. Twice," and Oates seems to recognize this, shading the story heavily in the direction of "Secret Window, Secret Garden" and "The Dark Half" and even namechecking Stephen King several times, leading you to believe that maybe this crazy woman suing him doesn't exist at all, but then there's a twist, and it turns out that she's the town crank. No one believes her or her many accusations against anyone, and Rush realizes that means he could do anything to her, anything at all, and no one would believe her, and at that point this turns into a very different story.

I enjoyed having my expectations completely upended, and even though it was a short read it was pretty interesting.

2) The Mulvaney family of Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvaneys seemed to lead a charmed life, enjoying a prosperous business and country club membership, a beautiful home with horses and animals and a hobby antique store in the barn out back, and four amazing children who were the envy of their peers. One night in 1976, something happened to the Mulvaneys, something that shattered their idyllic existence and led to decades of slow decline. Now, some are driven to escape the family, some are driven to vengeance against their enemies, and some want nothing more than to return to the earlier, happier times.

This was a slow read at times, but a fascinating look at the dynamics of a family that felt real even if they weren't. I did spot one mistake: the novel is set in Upstate New York, and Oates writes that a Mulvaney wins blue ribbons at the State Fair in Albany. The New York State Fair takes place in Syracuse, not Albany, and has since the late 1800s. Much like she did in Carthage, Oates writes about real places but can't be bothered to fact check them. It irritated me way more in "Carthage" because I'm more familiar with the geography there, so it's possible that every time she writes about New York State everything she says is wrong and I just don't notice because I don't know that region of the state as well.

3) In Joyce Carol Oates' Beasts, a string of tiny arsons ripples through a small, private women's college in New England. At the same time, Gillian, a student, has been taken in by her poetry teacher and his wife, Dorcas, the sculptress. They have her over for meals, and they have her in their bed, and they tell her over and over that she must keep their love for her a secret. It's the same thing they told her housemate, Sybil, who mysteriously left school, and her housemate Marissa, who barricaded herself in the laundry room in the basement and attempted to commit suicide there. It's the same thing they've told a number of girls through the years, a winking, knowing-grin secret among the students on campus. Gillian, though, will be the last girl they tell it to.

This was a fast, short novel, but very intense.

4) Ariah Erskine is "The Widow-Bride of The Falls", a young bride whose husband brought her to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon and promptly threw himself into the falls the next morning. During her seven day vigil, waiting for his body to be found, Ariah meets Dirk Burnaby, wealthy lawyer and favorite son of the community, and within the month she is married again. Settling into a life of marriage, home, and children, all seems well until Dirk becomes obsessed with a case no one else will take, involving the poor, sickly residents of Love Canal, and then Ariah finds herself alone again, raising three children who are never to speak of their father, never to leave the family, and bound by Ariah to stay by her side. This is a book about love, both how it can save you and how it can destroy you, and how quickly you can slide over the line between the two.

I've read some of Joyce Carol Oates' books over the years, but this is the first time I've read so many in a row, and I noticed some recurring minor motifs in her work. For example, someone in two books so far has been partially blind in their left eye due to a detached retina. Out of the thousands of people I've known in my life, this has only happened to one, so I'm wondering if it happened to someone she knows and she started incorporating it into her work as a character detail. Also, this is the second book of hers where a character has explained that it's a rule of drama that if you introduce a gun into a play then you have to shoot someone by the end, or the audience feels mislead. Interestingly, neither character who says this shoots anyone in either book. (The shooting in this book is implied but not shown.)

As for this book, it was ok. I didn't dislike it, but nothing about it really stands out, either.

5) Joyce Carol Oates month continued with Man Crazy, in which we meet Ingrid Boone, known as both Doll Girl and Dog Girl. Her father is a fugitive from the law, her mother is a fugitive from her father, and Ingrid is so starved for male affection that she descends into a spiral of mental illness and self harm until she ends up as one of several brides of Satan, living in a cult and subservient to hypnotic cult leader Enoch Skaggs. Ingrid survives, but barely, and I didn't get the feeling of hope that the dust jacket said I would. Instead, she just seems to be counting down to her next disaster.

6) Gordon Merrick's One For The Gods, the second book in the Peter and Charlie Trilogy, picks up several years after the first one, but it's the same story: Peter loves Charlie. Charlie has trouble accepting that love. Peter and Charlie spend the novel together, separated, and then back together again. Even the sex gets boring after a while. It's significantly less racist than the first book, but only because they only encounter white people in this one.

This was my Kindle book. I started the third book, but I've been walking outside a lot, so I haven't really been reading the Kindle much this month.

7) Joyce Carol Oates' The Female of the Species is a collection of short stories about women in all sorts of trouble, mostly involving a man. Most of the trouble also involves murder, a lot of murder. Some of these were interesting, but a few days after reading it none of the stories really stick out in my mind.

8) Franky Pierson is the troubled middle child in Joyce Carol Oates' Freaky Green Eyes. She sometimes has trouble speaking up, so she lets her internal monologue, Freaky, do the talking, until the day that her mother disappears and the media decides that her father, a famous sports broadcaster, had something to do with it. Franky doesn't know anything about what happened, or about her father's explosive temper, or about the shouting behind her parents' closed bedroom door, but maybe Freaky does. Will either of them talk to the police? Will Franky be true to her father, her mother, or herself?

This was a fast read, but interesting. Also, someone must have used my copy for a paper or a book report, as I found numerous post-it's with comments about the plot stuck in the pages.

So, that was my month in Joyce Carol Oates.

For November, I have nothing specific planned.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Kodiak Cakes

My friend Todd (not to be confused with my first year of college roommate Todd, who is also my friend), who often eats garbage foods on purpose (seriously, if there was a nice restaurant on one corner and a gas station with microwave burritos and those hot dogs in the spinning heat racks on the other corner, Todd would go to the gas station; I know that sounds mean but I guarantee that this is an actual choice that Todd has made at least once in his life), casually mentioned to a few of us online the other day, "My microwavable pancake in a cup is pretty tasty."

My immediate response was, "WTF?", because "pancake in a cup" doesn't sound like anything that should be possible or acceptable, and I say this as a person who actually liked the hot dog-flavored Pringles.

Todd isn't the only one who sometimes likes garbage food.

Todd explained that he had eaten something called a Kodiak Cake Flapjack On The Go, and that he'd bought it at Target. We peppered him with questions, because it sounded kind of awful, but the other night at Target I decided that I would just have to find out for myself:

Kodiak Cake

I won't say it's the best two dollars I've ever spent, but it wasn't bad.

It didn't look very appetizing, and smelled like nothing when I opened it:

Kodiak Cake

I added 1/4 cup of water and mixed until blended:

Kodiak Cake

and it did smell a little bit like pancake batter. I popped it into the microwave for a minute and fifteen seconds, and when it came out it looked like this:

Kodiak Cake

It looks like mush in that picture, but it's solid. The top springs back when you touch it with a fork, and it smells so good. I got the cinnamon and maple flavor, and it smelled so maple-y (maple-ish? My spellcheck will not suggest any words for "smelling of maple") that I was suddenly excited about trying it:

Kodiak Cake

Kodiak Cake

It's light and fluffy, like a pancake should be, and it tastes pretty good. If you work in an office or someplace like that where you want a somewhat filling snack or small meal (one of these is 260 calories) and have a microwave, this might be good to keep in your emergency desk drawer.

It's not a pancake, though. It tastes like a pancake, but it's not flat or seared on either side. This is a pancake-flavored muffin that you bake in the microwave.

It was pretty good for breakfast, though.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Arizona

I spent Monday through Friday of last week in Arizona, for a conference. Since the conference had pretty solid blocks of activity every day, I didn't really get a lot of sightseeing in, so I don't have as many pictures as I normally would on a vacation trip. I saw a lot of friends and colleagues, though, had a really good time, and brought back some good ideas.

Our trip started before dawn on Monday, when I dressed in a shirt that I got on clearance at Kroger:

Scottsdale

It was on clearance because the score printed on it is wrong. I wore it all day, and even though several people commented on it and talked about the game, no one noticed that mistake.

Dawn came while we were on the plane:

Scottsdale

but it wasn't the only thing. The flight attendant brought me a stroopwafel, a strangely sweet cookie that I'd never had before. After reading the ingredients, I gingerly tasted it, and then immediately devoured it.

I also spilled my ginger ale on the plane, and helplessly blurted to the (attractive) flight attendant, "I SPILLED!" as if I am a toddler. I'm sure he noted and was impressed by my highly articulate vocabulary. I'm still not sure how it happened, as I was reading, sipping, reaching for my cup, and then all of a sudden ginger ale and ice in the aisle.

They left the cubes there to melt.

Once the plane landed, we knew we were on limited time and pretty much only had Monday afternoon free, so we dropped our bags and took a car to historic Old Town Scottsdale:

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

That last one was inscribed on a bus stop, of all places. While in Old Town walking around we did some shopping, poking into a lot of touristy stores filled with touristy crap:

Scottsdale

Nothing says "America" like a fringed leather bag made out of our flag. Even better, I saw the same bag in multiple stores.

We also got some food. I had some delicious chorizo and jalapeno corn cakes at the Daily Dose:

Scottsdale

and I have to say that I ate more chorizo last week than I have at any other time in my life. If I was ordering anything and it had a chorizo option, by God, I got the chorizo. All of it was very good, as was the Golden Nugget that I got at the Sugar Bowl, a charmingly pink ice cream parlor that looked kind of like a soda fountain counter in Barbie's dream house:

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

I was less pleased with the Meat and Potatoes Martini that I got at Cowboy Ciao later in the week:

Scottsdale

The deep fried bacon was delicious, but the cocktail itself had a strong, almost sour taste. The mac and cheese I had with it was wonderful, though.

Other than that one day of sightseeing, the only scenery I saw on the rest of the trip was when I went for walks:

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

Scottsdale

but that's ok. I was there for work, not for sightseeing.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Month in Books: September

I didn't really have a theme to my September reading, which I bring up because I will in October.

I'm also bringing it up because I'm thinking of a secondary book project: reading or rereading all of my Stephen King books. I know that there are other blogs already doing this, reading them in publishing order and such, but I've been a Stephen King fan since high school. I have an entire bookcase in my apartment that is nothing but hardcover Stephen King books, and once I even wrote Stephen King a fan letter.

That turned out kind of hilariously, as I wrote to ask for an autographed photo. He wrote back and explained that autographed photos were more a practice for actors, not authors (Oh really, Stephen? So what were you doing appearing in all of those movie and television adaptations of your work? Writing?), and invited me to send a book to be autographed instead. I was so mad about it that not only did I never get around to sending a book, but I also threw the letter away. I wanted an autographed photo of Stephen King, and I threw away a signed letter that he wrote me because I was mad.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, I haven't read some of those books more than once, and some of them I haven't read at all. Over the years, Stephen and I have drifted apart a little, and I don't automatically buy and read his books as soon as they come out anymore. Some of them I don't even buy in hardcover, because I didn't feel like spending the money after Dreamcatcher, which I remember reading once and thinking, "Jesus, this is so bad." I'm wondering, though, if those books will mean the same things to me reading them as an adult that they did when I read them as a teenager, or if I will see them differently through a lens of different experience.

It's an idea for a New Year's resolution, but in the meantime I need to get some books out of the house, which means attacking the "books to be read" piles. That was the theme for September, and ties into the theme for October.

1) Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism is a love letter to the 80's. It's 1988, and even though high schoolers Gretchen and Abby have been friends since 4th grade, their friendship is a little strained after a night of skinnydipping and LSD. Gretchen's acting a little weird, and bad stuff keeps happening around her. Abby is concerned, but when she starts asking questions, that's when the really bad stuff starts happening to her, to their friends, to their school, and maybe to the whole world. Is Gretchen possessed by a demon, like the weightlifting exorcist Abby consults believes, or are high school girls just bitches? And can their friendship survive?

This book was fun, but also a little disturbing. There was some really intriguing imagery, and when I got to the end I was kind of just plowing through because I wanted to see what would happen.

2) I don't really know how to sum up Welcome to Night Vale except to say that it's just not the novel for me. I don't remember which friend said, "You don't have to listen to the podcast to read it! Go ahead! You'll love it!" but I listened to that friend, and I stuck this book on my wish list, and then my parents bought it off of my wish list for Christmas, and now I wasted a Christmas present on a book that was more interested in being cleverly surreal than in actually telling a story that might interest a reader, and I wasted time reading it.

Maybe I just didn't get it, or maybe there's not really that much there to get.

3) Holly Madison's Down the Rabbit Hole offers the incredibly shocking idea that Hugh Heffner, a man who dates seven interchangeable women at once, might be a man who mistreats women and ignores their feelings. Who could have predicted such a thing from a man who presents this image to the world:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

I'm sorry to mock her struggles to find self esteem and happiness, but throughout the book she seems incredibly naïve for a woman who willingly agreed to move into a shared bedroom with another girlfriend in a mansion with a curfew so that she could group-date a seventy year old. And not just agreed to, but requested. She sought out this lifestyle, and then was perpetually amazed that she wasn't treated like an individual and nobody cared about her feelings.

I'm also kind of surprised that Criss Angel didn't sue, because the part where she talks about him being emotionally abusive and stealing her jewelry after she broke up with him could be construed as defamatory, unless he agrees that's what happened.

4) Back in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, a lot of people had an impression of Pat Tillman, the NFL player who walked away from a football contract to join the Army. In Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer tells us about the man behind the propaganda: who he was, what he believed in, and why he thought it was his duty to help others. This is both a biography of Tillman and of the US involvement in Afghanistan going back several decades before the fighting, the tragic way in which the two histories collided, and the way that the US government did their best to obscure the fact that Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

This book is ultimately frustrating, because it's a story about how Tillman thought he was doing the right thing, and trusted the government to tell him and the American people the truth. Since that didn't happen, you're left with the feeling that his sacrifice was a terrible waste.

5) Gordon Merrick's The Lord Won't Mind is a trashy romance novel. There's crying, emotional outbursts, a whirlwind romance, a little bit of violence, sinister machinations to keep the lovers apart, and a lot of sex. A lot of sex. More sex than "50 Shades". The kind of sex you awkwardly read on the treadmill while hoping that no one else is looking at your Kindle, because there's so much of it and it's so graphic. The surprising parts of this, though, are that it's a gay novel from 1970 that doesn't end in horrible tragedy, and that it's really super racist to the point that I assumed it had been written prior to the 1950s.

It was an interesting read, but drags in places. It also didn't clear anything off of my reading pile, since I read this one on the kindle while on the treadmill.

6) I realized at the bookstore a few weeks ago that I've never read anything by Robert Heinlein. That seemed odd, since he is a legendary science fiction author and I like science fiction, so I went to the science fiction section and grabbed the first Heinlein book I saw: Methuselah's Children. It tells the story of the Howard Families, a group of people in the near future who have managed to extend their lives by a few hundred years through decades of selective breeding and concealed identities. Regular humans are hunting the Families, convinced that there's a secret to their long lives, and the Families have a wild, desperate plan to steal a newly constructed interstellar starship and leave Earth behind.

This felt like half of a book. Up until they actually got into the spaceship and took off, everything was moving along, but once that happened the book seemed to fall apart. They go to a couple of planets and, eventually, back to Earth, but that whole half of the book seems directionless, like Heinlein wasn't really sure what kind of story he wanted to tell or was just throwing things at the wall until it got long enough to be publishable. I should probably try at least one more book before I decide he's not the author for me, but it may be a while.

I'm open to suggestions for another book of his to try. I was thinking of Starship Troopers, because I've heard that it's good and also because Casper Van Dien was really cute in that movie, but now I'm not sure that's a good reason to read a book, because a lot of times now I can't tell Casper Van Dien from Grant Show, so I'm open to other ideas.

For October, the theme is Joyce Carol Oates, because I have a number of her books in the "to be read" pile, so I might as well read a bunch of them all at once.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My Heart Will Go On

In considering yesterday's race, it's possible that I may have been too hard on myself.

This is a typical problem for me. If I do a presentation and receive five positive comments and one negative one on the evaluations, I only remember the negative one. I've never in my life walked out of anything I've done, a play or a presentation or a workshop or a training, and not dwelled on something that I could have done better.

Now that I've had a good night's sleep and some time to think about it, I wondered if this might be the case. Just this morning, I asked my good friends Angelina Jolie:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Dolly Parton:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and Jennifer Lawrence:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

if they thought I was being too hard on myself, while my friend Orlando Bloom asked to see my finisher's medal more closely:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Those two jerks from "Twilight" tried to see it, too, but I pretended not to hear them.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Angelina, Dolly, and J-Law suggested that yes, maybe I was dwelling excessively on the negative. Yes, I was unhappy with my race time, but that was partially my own fault, and I was definitely overlooking the fact that I finished at all. Lots of people wouldn't have.

Thinking about that, I asked a few more friends what they thought.

Brad Pitt wanted me to hit him, as hard as I could.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

I wasn't really down for that.

James Dean thought self doubt was tearing me apart.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Maybe he was right. After all, Katie Perry thought I was a firework.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

And Dale Jr. thought I was a champ.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Adam Sandler was slightly skeptical of this whole exercise:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Cameron Diaz was bored by the whole thing:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and I didn't really care what Shia LaBeouf had to say:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

but Taylor Swift advised me to just shake this off:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and Tom Hanks reminded me that races are sometimes like a box of chocolates, and you never know what you're going to get:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

I had a bad race, but it's not the end of the world.

As Channing Tatum and I stared off into the distance, contemplating the race after this one:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Jack Dawson reminded me to never let go:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and I decided that yes, my heart will go on.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

There's another race after this one, and I'll do better.

But I also completed this race, and that's also an achievement.