Archive | August, 2011

[How Tired ARE You?]

29 Aug


I had some crazy deadlines recently and they made for some bad sleeping habits–I’ve been perpetually tired and running on empty (but still working! hi ho hi ho hi ho!) for the better part of a week. I was vaguely disgusted with myself because I used to keep crazy hours when I was in college–crazier hours, really–but here I’ve been more of a zombie than I ever was as an undergrad. What gives? Did I get out of the habit? Was it because my roommate, neighbors, and fellow dorm residents were also up at all hours, so I wasn’t alone? (Misery loves company?) Did I not work as hard, back at school?

Have you noticed that when you tell someone you’re tired, it’s sort of like telling them that you’re brunette (if you are) or short (if that’s the case) or covered in freckles (aren’t you adorable!). A declaration that you’re less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is no news headline. What, you’re tired? We’re all tired!

But sometimes I just want to say, “No, you don’t get it. I’m really tired.” Or, it would be nice if the other person would play along, stand-up comedy-style. 

“Whew. I have been working like crazy lately and man, am I tired!”

[“How tired ARE you?”]

I’m SO tired, that when I was taking a break from work to chat with a friend online, I spelled “fun” p-h-u-n. Yeah. Phun. A minute later I got an email from the college I went to, declaring that they would be taking back my diploma and revoking my English degree. “Fine,” I replied in a followup email. “Then I demand a full rephund.”

I’m SO tired that when the dogs wouldn’t stop barking at a speck of dust or a neighbor walking by or whatever the heck they were barking at, I started barking with them. “Arf arf arf arf arf! Auouuuuuuuuuuu! Arf arf arf arf!” That’s about the time my dad walked in. “I’m not even going to ask,” he said. “Grrrrrrrrr,” I said.

I’m SO tired that the skin on my face weighed two tons and I had to use my hands to keep it from collapsing. The phone rang and I thought, there’s no way I can answer that. I sat in my desk chair and listened to my mom leaving a message, wondering where I was.  Can’t come to the phone now, Mom. I have to hold up my face.

I’m SO tired, that at lunchtime, I punched in 2o minutes on the microwave, instead of 2 minutes. I watched the numbers slowly count down and thought, something is not right. My lunch exploded in the microwave and it came to me. I’m going to need a fork.

I’m SO tired, that when I blinked my eyes I felt like the alien in Men in Black that Will Smith chases. You know the one I mean. He has two eyelids that are really two gills, which Tommy Lee Jones tells Will Smith back at MIB headquarters. So then I thought maybe I’m an alien. Which means that Will Smith will probably chase me. Score.

I’m SO tired, that reading the word “yawn” made me yawn. So then I tried typing and reading “awake awake awake awake.” Unfortunately, the power of words is selective.

Well, that’s it folks. You’ve all been great! Tip your waiters and waitresses! Grab some shut-eye and 40 winks. Hit the snooze button. Zzzzzzz.


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It’s My Birthday and I’ll Stalk If I Want to!

23 Aug

It’s my birthday today! Yipee! Wahoo! Commence applause, joyful cheering, and prayerful thanks for my existence! It’s the 23rd, I’m turning 23, and it’s a Tuesday, which is the same day of the week I was born on 23 years ago. Clearly, this will be a magical, epic year.

A lot of people have certain birthday traditions that help make their special day memorable–whether it’s a favorite meal, a standing date with friends, or birthday margaritas. My grandma used to take a picture of me sitting in her rocking chair every year on my birthday. When you flip through, you can watch me go from a baby that needed propping up to a 5’10 gal who blocks the chair. I’ve always been grateful for my grandma’s creative idea, and I know it’s something that I will do when I have kids of my own. 

My family has a special Happy Birthday song that we’ve always sung to each other on birthdays. The lyrics go like this:

Today, you’re one year older
and you’re growing up the way we want you to
So we planned a big surprise
walk with me, and close your eyes
Oh look, your friends are waiting here for you! 

[traditional Happy Birthday song: Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you etc.]

Make a wish and blow out the candles
wishes for good boys and girls come true
Now hurry and cut the cake, we can hardly wait
As you open your gifts we’ll sing once more to youuuuu

[repeat traditional Happy Birthday song]

Now, since several people in my family are slightly tone-deaf (okay, very tone-deaf–sorry Grandma), we always played the actual recorded version of this song, too. My grandma had the record for a long time and somewhere a long the line, somebody transferred the song to a cassette tape. My little branch of the family has since lost this precious tape.

Nobody remembered who sang the song, or what the album was called. Nobody knew the title of the song, but everyone guessed it was some variant of “the Happy Birthday Song.” I didn’t despair, however, because I knew most of the lyrics and I imagined I could just type them into Google and the song would pop out. I’m a child of the internet age and I trust the mysterious Web to answer all my questions.

I picked a portion of the lyrics and plugged them into the search engine. I got three–count ’em three–results. One led to someone who was also searching for this song, for the same sentimental reasons. (I feel ya brother!) The other two were completely unrelated. Over the course of several more days, I logged hours and hours of internet searching. I tried different variations of the lyrics. I searched each individual line of lyrics. I tried quotations marks around the words, the words by themselves. I thought maybe I’d strike gold with Youtube. There is a lot of birthday music on Youtube. I found the Beatles’ Birthday Song, a tribute by Elvis, and then this odd version. Then there was a great musical birthday moment from Boy Meets World, a diddy by The Three Stooges, and Burt and Ernie’s celebration for the letter U. And of course, who can forget Marilyn Monroe’s breathy performance?

This all made for some good entertainment and hours of distraction, but where-oh-where was MY birthday song? I found dozens of other people who were also searching for this song, but it appeared that no one had been successful. The very fact that this song didn’t seem to exist according to the internet–an impossibility, since everything can be found online–turned this whim of a hunt into an obsession.

Then, by some magical combination of search terms and with some lucky clicking, I found it. Sort of. I found a woman’s ancestral blog, a blog dedicated to her genealogical research and family tree. This woman devoted a blog post to a relative’s birthday and included a lovely slideshow of mostly black and white photographs that highlighted his early years. The slideshow’s background music was–you guessed it–the song I’d been searching for.

Although this woman’s blog was public, I assume that it is intended for her and her family. I felt a little, well, stalker-y as I watched her relative’s childhood flash on my computer screen. I was so excited to hear this music that I actually played it several times and even held the phone to my computer so my grandma could listen.

Now, of course, I could just play this slideshow full of strangers whenever I want to celebrate a birthday with this song. However, I haven’t given up hope of finding my own personal copy.

That’s why I clicked around until I found this woman’s contact information and emailed her with a plea for song information–artist, name of song, album title, anything. I tried to phrase my email as un-creepily as possible. I tried to downplay my musical desperation. Hopefully, since this woman’s blog is devoted to family, she’ll understand how much this music means to me. I don’t know if she’ll read my email or not, but I figured it was worth a try.

So that’s my little birthday stalking story. Okay, so it definitely doesn’t rival Kim “The G is Silent” Pugliano’s Passat Saga. (Check it out if you haven’t already–you gotta love an addicting neighborhood mystery told with wit and humor). But I think I’m at least in the stalker-with-good-intentions minor leagues.

I hope you all will have a bubbly drink or a slice/scoop of a snazzy dessert (my birthday cake is a homemade Baked Alaska, in case you were wondering) to celebrate my birthday. You deserve it.

Oh, and P.S
If  the universe decides to mess with me and one of you reads this and knows exactly what song I’m talking about, I swear I’ll have a freaking heart attack.

Cheers!

Lessons From My Creative Writing Class: Art Imitating Life, Girl Imitating Writer

15 Aug

Week 8 of my online creative writing class begins today and I had a d’oh moment last night when I realized that hey, I could have been blogging about the experience from the get-go. (Yes, I did sort of write about it here, but then…nothing.) I’ve been overcome with this hindsight feeling so many times since this blog began that it’s become sadly familiar. I like to think of it as the v8 Blog Effect–Gee, I could have had a blog topic!

Each week of the class has a different theme and prompt relating to writing, story development, craft. One week focused on story openings and first sentences; another, dialogue. When Week 5 hit, I was not feeling the prompt. I didn’t know what to write about, I didn’t have any ideas for characters or plot, and I made the mistake of reading a few classmates’ stories before I wrote mine. This totally intimidated me because:

a) They had gotten their work done so early that they had posted it before I had even started my story.
Perhaps their brains had more throbbing, intelligent veins than mine. Maybe they are genius schedulers who know how to prioritize and do not get sucked into watching youtube clips for hours. It’s possible that when they write, they don’t wail and pause the plot to type THIS IS SO STUPID or ACTUAL GOOD DESCRIPTION HERE into the Word document.

and

b) Their stories were Good.
Enough said.

Anyway, lost and bewildered but determined to turn something in, I ended up writing a pretty true-to-life scene of an encounter between me and a friend I lost touch with several years ago. This meeting has never actually happened, but I’ve thought about this friend a lot during space-outs and daydreams and had already imagined what it would be like if we ran into each other. Basically, the narrator of the story was me, and the friend she runs into was this friend from my past. Oh, I gave the narrator a few twists so that she wasn’t an exact duplicate of me–but the way she talked, the thoughts that floated through her head, her sense of humor–they were all mine.  

I was perusing Ryan Gosling’s imdb page recently (I had just seen Crazy, Stupid, Love and had heard angels singing when he took his shirt off –so of course I had to be a creeper and look him up. See? This is how I get off the writing track.) There’s a quote from him–and it’s on the internet, so it must be accurate–where he talks about the characters he plays and how they relate to him. 

All my characters are me. I’m not a good enough actor to become a character. I hear about actors who become the role and I think ‘I wonder what that feels like’. Because for me, they’re all me. I relate to these characters because aspects of their personality are like me. And I just turn up the parts of myself that are them and turn down the parts that aren’t. 

This is how I feel about the characters I make up–thus, I’m pretty sure it’s a sign that Ryan Gosling would find me fascinating and familiar and probably witty and beautiful. Every perspective I write from, every character I try and create, has to have a little bit of me in them or else it’s like I’m swimming against a really strong current. (And I’m not a very good swimmer.) 

That said, this Week 5 story character was so me–even with the little details I gave her that had nothing to do with my life–that I was basically writing a fantasy staring myself. And when I posted my words to the class board, I failed to consider what it would be like to read my classmates’ and teacher’s comments about a character that was me.

“You capture the subtle boredom and desperation and confusion in the narrator’s life nicely,” one person said. And I thought Huh, I guess I am subtly bored and desperate and confused…sometimes not so subtly.

The teacher was particularly  interested in the narrator’s voice and sensibility. “She has a super high degree of self–consciousness,” he observed, “which leads her frequently to comment on and critique her own behavior. Lively, self–deprecating, ironic, rueful—the voice is at times all of these things, and it’s hard not to feel some warm feeling toward her.” Well, I’m glad somebody feels some warmth towards me. But aw man–am I basically characterized by a high degree of self consciousness? I wonder if everybody finds me insecure. Do they? DO THEY?

Another person suggested that I further establish the “unreliability” of the narrator. “I’m not getting enough subtext between the narrator and [the other character],” she said. She advised that I go ahead and acknowledge that the narrator’s memories of the friendship are significantly flawed and full of regret and doubt. Woah, this is getting weird.

It was a little surreal to read other people’s reactions to and interpretations of my personality and insecurities. It was like anonymous therapy with well-read therapists who majored in English. I read through all the comments on this story that could have been my life and I sat at my desk thinking about protagonists and writers, and art imitating life and life imitating art. I mean, wouldn’t it be weird/neat/interesting, if someone wrote an unfiltered “me” character and submitted it to a class just to see what other people thought about the hot mess of strengths and weaknesses that that person lived with every day? And actually, wouldn’t that make a great story? (DIBS!!! I CALLED IT! YOU HEARD IT!) It would be a little like the film Adaptation and a little like the recent A Midnight in Paris–one of the best movies I’ve seen lately, even if it didn’t include a shot of Ryan Gosling’s abs. But it also would be completely different. Get it?

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the wheels in my head spinning.

If I had to define the lesson I got from Week 5 of this creative writing class, I’d say it was something about characters as reflections of authors/real people. What? I didn’t say I would define it well. Okay, I guess there’s also a lesson in there about the evolution of plot ideas. There, are you happy? Two (vague) lessons. 

If any of you are working on writing projects of your own, I hope (but don’t expect) this was helpful. Really, good luck. If you’re like me, you’ll need it.



Eavesdropping as Entertainment and Kids These Days

3 Aug

"Abner! Abner!"

Since the weather has been so nice lately, I’ve been reading and working outside a lot. My neighbors have also taken advantage of the sunshine, and I’ve gotten quite a kick out of eavesdropping on the backyard goings-on around me. I feel a bit like James Stewart in Rear Window–only without the murder suspicions and broken leg. Okay, I guess if you take those factors away, there is no Rear Window. Maybe I feel like Gladys Kravitz (from Bewitched, for all you lame-os), but with less shrieking and magic. Whatever, it’s been fun to listen in on the neighbors.

There’s been lots of entertainment from what I assume are the teenage girls from across the way. They always start by cranking up their music–for a whole day it was Beyonce, another day it was all club-type stuff, jerky and synthesizer-heavy. Then, I imagine, they lay around in the sun. They gossip in loud voices about boys–apparently Jason has been texting Emily even though Emily is like, totally not into him–and every once in a while I hear a phone ring and some squeals. It’s amusing, and sort of sweet in an I’m-glad-that’s-not-me kind of way.

The little boy who lives in back of us is named Liam. I’ve never met the kid, but his mother must say his name every other minute. I feel for her– poor Mom sounds like she’s got an imp on her hands.

Ewww! Liam, put that down! Come and wash your hands this second!
Liam, if you leapfrog over your sister ONE more time…
Liam, the hose is not a rope!
Liam, I know you’re not rolling around in the dirt in your new pants!

I usually can’t hear Liam’s responses to his mom, but I imagine them to be charmingly contrite. I have heard his voice, though, because he tends to narrate when he’s playing pretend.

Liam runs through the jungle and uses his lightning vision to blast through the zombies. BAM BAM BAM! The zombies surround Liam and he makes them fall with a huge karate kick. HI-YA! Liam is the only surivor! Liam saves the whole world! Woooooo! Wooooooooooo! I am Liam the Great! Woooo!

(No, I have no idea what zombies were doing in the imaginary jungle, but don’t you love this kid?)

Believe it or not, the time slots for the teenage girls and Liam the Great haven’t competed with each other. That is, until today, I’ve listened to either the girls or Liam (and his mom). Maybe the two groups don’t have the same days off–who knows?

Anyway, I thought today was a Liam Day. I was listening to him and his sister (who’s only a supporting role on The Liam Show–she walks on every once in a while and says a funny line but then you don’t hear from her) bounce around on their trampoline. They were having such fun and it was nice to sit and listen to their squeals and laughter. Then, the unprecedented happened. The teenage girls started their music. It was like I was watching one show, and the universe turned another one on at the same time.

At first the girls listened to the kind of music you’d expect from them. Bruno Mars’ “Grenade.” Some Lady Gaga tunes. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” Certainly not my favorite songs (actually, whenever any of these come on the radio I immediately change the channel), but nothing you, or Liam, wouldn’t hear while out and about in the world. But then things changed.

A song, and I use that term loosely, came on that was 3 parts rap, 5 parts hate. For the sake of Oh My Words! google search results (and, of course, your innocent mind), let’s just say that unsavory names for females were used liberally in these lyrics and sexual acts with those females were bragged about pretty graphically. The chorus, which repeated often, suggested that a woman is only good for one thing….and boys and girls, it wasn’t her mind or her sense of humor. I sat there, shocked at my giggly teenage neighbors’ new musical tastes, when I noticed that the trampoline sounds weren’t as steady. 

Were Liam and his sister….listening?

Nooooo! I wanted to yell for them to cover their ears and run away singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” I wanted to hunt down those girls and demand that they turn that off and list ten reasons why it was degrading to women and insulting to the whole of humanity. And no repeats!

Luckily, while I was picturing myself as a tyrannical, censoring, avenging angel of the neighborhood (with teacher tendencies), Liam’s mom was on it.

Liam! You guys! How about coming in the house?

[indistinguishable, uncooperative kid noises]

Yeah, come on, we’ll do something fun in here. It’s hot out!

[more noises–imagine the kid version of the wah-wah adult noises in Peanuts]

You wanna watch some tv?

[I can tell Mom’s getting desperate, but the kids aren’t taking the bait. Meanwhile, the icky song continues…]

Come on! Everyone inside!

Just then–heavenly music drifted through the air, pushing back the awful other stuff like Harry’s Potter’s red wand or Luke’s green lightsaber. A lifeline. A cure. A timeless miracle.

The ice cream truck.

There was a  mad dash of kid-feet, trampoline forgotten. Their excited cries were shut off once a door slammed, but I pictured them inside, asking Mom if they could please go and run to the truck. Maybe it’s something their mom doesn’t normally agree to (We have perfectly good ice cream here! Not before dinner! It’s too expensive!) but this time she hands out money like a trooper, keeping her relief to herself.

During all this (imagined) frenzy, the Bad Song from the girls’ yard ended, and Maroon 5 came on. I’d like to think that that one song was a mistake, that maybe it was a mix cd from an acquaintance with scary, schizophrenic musical tastes. Or maybe the girls were listening to a really weird radio station? Anyway, that sort of “music” didn’t drift my way again, and Liam and his sister got an ice cream out of it. (Well, in my mind they did.)

The moral of the story is that eavesdropping is fun and ice cream cures everything.

Interpreting Dog Thoughts….Or, Why I’m One Bark Away from Being a Crazy Dog Lady

1 Aug

I had to take my dog Mona Lisa to the vet the other day and because I am a mystical, empathetic, imaginative person, I could hear every little thought that ran through her head.

Leaving the house:

Oh boy! We’re going somewhere without the other dogs! I’m special! I always knew it! Hurry! Hurry! FASTER.

In the car:

Are you sure I can’t drive? I want to drive. Here, I’ll just…..hey! I don’t want to be in the backseat! Hey! Hey! I don’t want to be back here! Hey–oh! You put the window down! You know, there’s nothing better than sticking your head out and….ahhhhhhhhhh. 

Driving up my grandma’s street:

Oh boy, we’re going to Grandma’s house! I love Grandma’s house! How many cookies do you think she’ll give me? Oh, I can’t wait! First I’m going to lick her feet, and then I’m going to lick her face, and then I’m going to sit on her lap, and then…..hey! Wait! You didn’t turn! Grandma’s house is back there! Oh no. Where are we going? Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Oh Dog. Where are you taking me? WHERE??

Almost at the vet’s:

Oh Dog. I know where we’re going. Oh no. Oh please. Hey. Let me out! Let me out! I’m not going back to that place! Don’t ignore me! I’m back here! Turn around! 

In the waiting room:

Oh Dog oh Dog oh Dog oh Dog. Hey, listen, I know I don’t always come when you call me. I’ll do better. Just take me home. I’ll be good, I swear. Please! 

When someone else walked in the room:

Hey! Hey you! Do you want  a dog? I’m a really good dog! I’ll go home with you, no problem. Oh, her? No, I’ve never seen her before in my life. Just take me home, handsome. 

When the vet came out to take her to a back room:

Ahhhhh! Stay away from me! Devil! Monster! Cat! Get back! You–Girl! I will never forgive you for this! Never! Never!  Are you LEAVING? Are you just going to LEAVE me here? Come back here! Come back here this minute!