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Irish Soda Bread and Putting Off Procrastination

16 Mar

This post was supposed to be about procrastination….but I’ve decided to write about that later. 

I know. I love me some irony.

I have a good reason, though, for putting off today’s intended post. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and I wanted to share my tried-and-true Irish Soda Bread Recipe. It is fool-proof easy and I will be making it today as I avoid the rain and attempt to clean up the house. We have Company arriving tonight, so this is not a drill. The difference between visiting relatives and Company? Relatives know exactly how messy you are and are pleasantly surprised when your home reflects something different. With Company, you clean with the foolish hope of tricking them into thinking that you’re better than you are.

Personally, I think that true love means never having to pretend to be something you’re not….and my family just happens to not be organized. This might just be my fear talking, though. I’m terrified that the visiting Company will open the closets or look under the beds. As you know from my 5 Stages of Cleaning, that would not end well.

Anyway, let’s get on with the show–Irish Soda Bread. I love raisin bread and I love Irish Soda Bread for its denseness. It’s one of my comfort foods, really, and it helps that it’s so easy to make. I first saw this recipe in Marin Magazine–see the original recipe here. I think I will be skipping the caraway seeds when I make this bread today, but I have used them in the past.

Joan’s Irish Soda Bread

Makes one large loaf or two medium (four cup) loaves.

Note: For the most tender texture, don’t overmix the batter–combine the dry and wet ingredients just until there is no dry flour left. For all you Catholics (fallen and otherwise), Joan suggests mixing only as long as it takes to say an “Our Father,” a “Hail Mary,” and a “Glory Be.” As for my own suggestions: for the best results, listen to this and this while baking. 

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups raisins

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two medium (four-cup) loaf pans. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, eggs, caraway seeds, and oil together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and sprinkle the raisins over. Sweeping your whisk thoroughly over the bottom of the bowl, mix the batter only until uniform; do not over-mix. Scrape into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the soda bread rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto a rack to cool.

Happy Baking! Check back soon for my thoughts on procrastination and life as an ostrich. Yeah, that’s right.

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5 Scary Things That Happened to Me Today and Why I May Be Having a Mid-Life Crisis

25 Jan

5. While writing something, I could not figure out how to spell silhouette. I was misspelling it so badly that spell-check couldn’t even get a grasp of what I was trying to say. Finally, urged by desperation and impatience, I just looked it up.
s-i-l-h-o-u-t-t-e. Huh. Okay.
So I continued with my work until I got flummoxed again. Jiminy Cricket is a …conscious? No, wait…consiounce?  Oh God, no. Five minutes later, I had confirmed that the word conscience has “science” in it (since when??) and established a growing fear that I had lost all my smarts. Plus, I kept thinking of this 
great (if wince-worthy) comic by For Lack of a Better Comic that depicts an English major getting his English Major Badge taken away for bad spelling. 

4. I decided to treat myself to a mug of hot chocolate, what with my spelling nerves being so frazzled. I got a mug out of the cupboard, got the milk out of the refrigerator. I poured the milk into the mug, put the mug in the microwave. I put the milk back in the cupboard….
wait a minute…

3. Tomorrow, I will be chauffeuring a friend of my grandma’s to a doctor’s appointment. (I have a feeling that this experience will require its own post. The possibilities for hilarity and insanity are endless.) Today, this lady called to confirm what time I would pick her up, then said seven terrifying words: “I have you for the day, right?” The last time this particular woman asked this, I ended up spending 4 more hours with her than I had intended, pushing a grocery cart through Starbucks like a crazy person, reading the nutritional content of every single frozen dinner in Trader Joe’s, cleaning out her fridge, and doing her laundry. 

2. I applied for yet another job that I could potentially be excited about. ‘Nuff said. 

1. During an afternoon phone call, Grandma expressed her concern about me not meeting new people, living with my parents, not finding a job–the list goes on because, apparently, my life is very concerning. Grandma concluded with: “You really need to meet more people your own age. Your life is half over.”

I’m 23. I’d just like to put that out there. I’m 23, and Grandma has me in the middle-aged category already. Gee,  I thought I’d have accomplished so much more by this point.

“You’re 93!” I shouted. “If I live to be your age, then I’m definitely not at the halfway mark!”
“What, so I rounded up.” Grandma said.  And then: “Still, I think something’s half over. Your child-bearing years. Your brunette years. Your freedom years.”
“GAH! STOP TALKING! JUST STOP TALKING!” 

The Truth is, I Never Left You…

6 Jan

Well, okay, I did leave you.

I left you for about two months. Two months without a word. Two months without my words. I’m not sure how you survived without me and will admit that I got a warm and fuzzy and guilty feeling when a couple of folks inquired about my disappearance. (Hi Allenavw! I’m alive!)

I’ve been an irresponsible blog parent. I’ve been a grade-A procrastinator. I’ve been working on a secret project that will remain unmentionable until it isn’t. 

If you’re at all grateful for my prodigal return (fatted calf burgers anyone?), then you must be grateful for my friend Lisa and the New Year. Lisa is out of town, so I am dog sitting for her. With an empty house–apart from Ginger the sweetheart golden retriever, that is–it seemed like the perfect opportunity for some blog writing/brainstorming. Thus the where and the when blogging puzzles were solved. As for the why….

One of my New Years resolutions is to get back on the blogging horse. No more M.I.A. Oh My Words! This is actually my only resolution that made the cut. Those that have already hit some bumps in the road include:

1. I will not buy another book until I’ve read all those that are lining my shelves, piled on my floor, propping up lamps, hiding under coffee tables etc. etc. etc. 

In theory, this resolution is top notch. It’s practical, fun, and good for the soul. I’ll feel so accomplished if I can finally read the books I’ve been meaning to read. The hiccup? There is another library used book sale coming up and, if you’ll recall, the last one had me swooning from sheer joy. I can’t not go to this sale. Can’t do it. And I can’t go and not buy anything. That would be Hell, pure and simple.

So, within 24 hours of making my book buying resolution, I was forced to amend it. I will try to go easy on the book-buying, I really will–but a book nerd and bargain hunter only has so much strength. For my new goal, I will tackle my To Be Read list and occasionally post about my reading. I’m not into book reviews (more specifically, the idea of writing them gives me the heebie jeebies), so this will likely mean just quotes or random thoughts. But look at me, combining one resolution with another! I. Am. Good.

2. I will spend more time on my creative writing.

The vagueness of this resolution is a problem. “More time” is relative, since I haven’t seriously devoted myself to my writing for quite a long time. I could spend a minute writing today, and it would be more than I spent yesterday (or the day before, or the day before that). Also, this blog doesn’t count. I know, I know–but it’s still writing! It’s still engaging the right (write?) part of the brain! Let’s not forget the blogging resolution already! All good points. What would I do without you?

What I need is a writing schedule. Or a daily word count goal. Or some stick-with-it-ness. What I need is a writing resolution without a lot of wiggle room. (See “more time,” discussion, above.) What I need is a cookie.

Other resolutions I’ve bandied about: working out/exercising more diligently (cliche and vague!), being braver (just vague), and following all horoscopes and fortune cookie fortunes to adventure (call it what you will).

For now, you can rest assured that I’m back, baby! As always, thanks for reading. You can expect more words soon!

“More” being relative, of course…..


Today, a Telemarketer Made Me Cry

3 Nov

I’m not proud of it. It was not a shining moment of maturity, nor an example of my sanity. But, yes, today a telemarketer made me cry.

She happened to call at a particularly bad time. Let’s just say I had recently dunked my fifth post-Halloween kit-kat (“fun size” my left foot) into my third cup of coffee and was trying to ward off a so-much-work-so-little-time panic attack. This was at least the gazillionth time the same organization has called asking for my mother. In the beginning, it was funny because they added “Dr.” to her name. She’s not a doctor, but my family likes to joke that she could have been so the first (and even the second and third) call was amusing.

When I answered today’s call–teetering on an emotional cliff, even as I reached for the phone–the familiar request for my mother the doctor hit me hard. “Who is this?” I demanded.

The woman remained cheerful. The fool. “This is a political call,” she said. “We’re looking for donations–“

I cut her off right quick. “Well, the person you want isn’t a doctor. And she won’t give you money. And anyway, she’s not here. She works–particularly on Wednesdays, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Like. Most. People.”

At this point, my voice was breaking and I’m sure the faceless woman could hear that I was two kit-kats past crazy. “Someone from your group keeps calling. Do these calls even work, anyway? Could you stop? Could you take us off your list and stop calling? Please? PLEASE JUST STOP.”

There was a pause and for a moment I thought that she hung up on me–a first, in my experience with telemarketers.

“I–I understand.” She finally said. “I do apologize.”

I felt a twinge of guilt. She sounded shell-shocked, hesitant. I generally don’t like to be rude (or batshit crazy) to telemarketers. “We’re not interested” is my go-to phrase. (Not sure if that’s a royal we or if I am speaking for the household. Either way, I’m a queen–right?) If they mispronounce our name in a particularly creative way, I politely tell them they have the wrong number. If I’m really feeling non-confrontational, I just say he/she isn’t home. Of course, then they call back later and I have to mentally choose my own adventure: continue the cycle or end it?

So I felt sort of bad for talking to this woman like I was a supporting role from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Until…

“Ma’am?” She ventured. “Would you be interested in providing a donation?”

A Story About the Kindness of Strangers and Musical Miracles, Told in Song Titles

27 Sep

The picture above is an approximate representation of how I feel. I’m happy. Like, spin-around-in-a-mountaintop-meadow-while-singing happy. Actually, since I’m supposed to be taking vocabulary steroids in preparation for the GRE, maybe I should be using a better word than happy. Gleeful? Ecstatic? Joyful? Thrilled? Jubilant? Elated? Tickled pink? Man, if this turns out to be one of the questions on that dratted test, I am set. 

I know what you’re thinking: Oh my words! Why are you so very happy, Abigail? Well, first of all, I like you’re enthusiasm. You’re all right. Secondly…I’ll TELL you why I’m happy! Because the universe is awesome and I have been rewarded with a stupendous gift! 

You may recall that I have been searching for a special Birthday Song that is part of my family’s birthday tradition. Well, a wondrous, serendipitous event happened. Someone who visited this little ol’ blog (Kasi, if you read this, you’re my new favorite person in the whole wide world) appreciated my desperation and my story, and left a comment that included a link to the MP3 for the song. Isn’t the universe amazing? Isn’t the internet incredible? Is the sky bluer than usual today? Are my dogs cuter? Don’t you just feel like smiling and laughing all the livelong day?

Really, though, I am so happy that a perfect stranger helped me out and am grateful that I now have this song in my itunes possession. I was taking a blogging break to focus on studying and working and other unpleasant -ings, and when I finally allowed myself to return to my blog baby, it was such a thrill to find this long-lost song. See? You can rely on the kindness of strangers. Ask and ye shall receive. Music does make the people come together!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s this about a story told in song titles? Oh my word, Abigail, was this post’s title false advertising?

First of all, woah Nelly! You’re a tough audience, aren’t ya? It’s okay though, I forgive you because a song title poem-story is quite exciting.

Below is my epic hero’s journey–the significance of the Happy Birthday Song, its absence, its recovery–told through song titles, to honor this miraculous musical moment. I’ve linked a few of them to their youtube selves and encourage you to listen and enjoy.

(Note: You may need to read the original Birthday Song post for some helpful context….or you can just muddle through and listen to the music….woah-oh-oh, listen to the music… )

~

Music. Foundations. We Are Family. Songs We Sing. Memories Are Made of This. All the Small Things. Precious Love. Part of My Life. Hooked on a Feeling. Groove is in the Heart. Hidden Away.

I Got Trouble. Something’s Missing. Those Sweet Words. Can’t Find the Words. I Have Nothing. Lost. Harder to Breathe. It’s the End of the World as We Know It. I Hate Myself for Losing You. What Did You Do. Don’t Blame Me.

Heartbreak Hotel. Today I Sing the Blues. Irreplaceable. Incomplete. Inaudible Melodies. Here Without You. Crying Shame. When You’re Gone. I Want You Back.

Help! Rescue Me! Not the Only One. We All Want the Same Thing. Searchin’. Luck Be a Lady. Simple As It Should Be. Needle in a Haystack. Creep. The Things We Do For Love. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.When You Were Mine. Wasn’t It Good.

Worrisome Heart. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Trouble Sleeping. On My Mind.  I’ll Do Anything. Nothing but a Miracle. Makes Me Wanna Pray. When You Wish Upon a Star. I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.

Takin’ Care of Business. It Ain’t Over Till the Fat Lady Sings. You Can Get it if You Really Want. Never Going to Give You Up. I’ll Find a Way.

People Get Ready. Something Good This Way Comes. Teardrops Will Fall. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Fairytale. Love is All Around.

You Don’t Know Me. Beautiful Stranger. You Give Me Something. The Gift of Song.

Listen.

Oh!   You’re the One.

Back Together Again. Celebrate. I Feel Home. Breathe Again. Oh What a Day. Because of You. You Rock My World. Hallelujah. Wonderful. Bubbly. Overjoyed. Zip a dee do da. This Magic Moment.

From My Heart to Yours. Thanks and Praise. Danke Schoen. Thank You For the Music. Thanks For the Memories. All Because of You. Earth Angel. You’ve Got a Friend in Me.  

What a Wonderful World.


What’s The Meaning of All This?

16 Sep

You may have noticed that I’ve been M.I.A lately. If so, you are awesome and amazing because that means you were observant and missed me. (The former is good, but the latter is more worthy of praise…) I meant to write, I really did. I meant to write about my Grandma’s 93rd birthday on August 31. (She had a rockin’ good time and my mom and I made a cake that was EPIC.) I meant to write about the weird dreams I’ve been having. (A few nights ago, I dreamed that I was eating tomato soup in my car. That’s it. Nothing else happened. Tomato soup.) I had plans, I tell you. Plans!

However, I’ve been busy. I’m not going to go into all of it because I subscribe to the superstitious belief that I will jinx myself and the universe will punish me for sharing too soon. This sounds very doom and gloom, but I’m pretty sure there’s something to it. Of course, it’s not unlike the reluctance of J.K. Rowling’s characters to speak the name Voldemort. This might mean that if I do talk about certain decisions that have been made and actions that have been taken, they will lose their ability to inspire fear and self-doubt.

Meh.

Well, I will tell you that I am taking the GRE in a little less than a month and have been trying to study. I was never very good at studying, and I hardly had to do it in college. I was an English major. We mostly had essays instead of tests. When there was an exam, it was on a book or something we’d read…and we wrote an essay. (Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, that’s all I’m essay’n.*) You either knew the material, or you didn’t. For four years of higher education, I rarely had to memorize anything. (Rote? Is that anything like “wrote”?) I watched my friends and roommates study and recite formulas, dates, chemicals, economic principles, Chinese vocabulary. It looked hard.

While I don’t want to bomb the math portion of the GRE, I don’t care all that much about it. It’s important that I do well in the verbal part because it’s generally assumed that an English major should know that crap section. I’ve been doing some vocab exercises, and I’d like to share with you some words I got wrong:

hoary
What it seems like it should mean: difficult and sketchy
         ex. When she found herself surrounded by skanks with no way out, she knew she was in a hoary situation.

What it means: White or grey from age. 
         ex. My neighbor’s fourteen-year-old golden retriever has a hoary muzzle. 

somnambulist
What it seems like it should mean: A person who speaks loudly, incessantly, and without recognizing his/her audience.
         ex. Her boyfriend was such a somnambulist–droning on and on–that he reminded me of a car alarm.
What it means:  a sleepwalker
         ex.  Oftentimes, a somnambulist will wake up in another part of the house, having no recollection of leaving his own bed. 

cozen
What it seems like it should mean: a dozen covens? A cozy oven?
         ex. 1 I worry that Michelle Bauchmann has a cozen of followers ready to do her bidding.
         ex. 2 Spooning in the two-person sleeping bag, we were as warm as a cozen.

What it means:  To deceive; to cheat; to act deceitfully.
         ex. Sometimes I jingle the leashes and stomp my shoes to cozen my dog to come out of hiding. Yes, she is probably smarter than me.

perigee
What it seems like it should mean: A type of falcon
         ex. If Cory was an animal, he would be a flying perigee–the hunter of all that is fuzzy wuzzy.

What it means:  The lowest or closest point; the point of a satellite’s orbit that is nearest to the earth.
        ex. Tonight, for the first time in a kazillion years, the moon will be at its closest perigee. 

picayune
What it seems like it should mean: A particularly spicy pepper native to the southeast region of Peru
        ex. Before our trip to Machu Picchu, we decided to eat a picayune. Santa Maria! I still can’t feel my tongue!

What it means: Small coin; something of little value or importance.
        ex. If I had a picayune for every time hour I spent studying–wait, this feels like math…

Just to warn you, my posts will probably be sporadic and shorter than usual in the coming weeks. Go ahead and miss me, it will warm my vocabulary-filled heart. Oh, and don’t any of you mention that I could have used this blog-writing time to study and review. This is a vituperation-free zone.

*essay’n? Oh man, I apologize. I have no excuse, except that it’s nearly 2 am and my brain is toast.

[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.


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.