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Take a Look, It’s on a Book: Book Title Poem

9 Feb

I was sick last week with a bugger of a cold and gave myself a pass from blogging. I thought I was going to have to wuss out of this week’s post, too, since I had no news, no motivation, and no clue what to write. Unfortunately, this is getting to be a familiar feeling. You remember my New Years resolution to maintain a habit of creative writing? Yeah, not going so well. My Giraffe Story is giving me problems because I can’t decide who’s narrating/what perspective is most appropriate to write from. It’s not exactly writer’s block….more like a split personality disorder. I have–no joke–six drafts saved that are ALL from different perspectives.

We are not amused.

So I’ve abandoned the Giraffe Story for the time being, just until I can sort myself out. Today I played with a horse of a different color. I was really impressed and inspired by Judy Clement Wall’s post This One is a Poem on her blog Zebra Sounds. She wrote a really lovely poem composed almost entirely of book titles. Is that a great idea, or what?

Do you know where this is going? Yes, I totally stole her idea.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was time consuming and guilt-inducing. (While going through my bookshelves to collect titles, I realized how many books I own that I have yet to read…) I still haven’t put all the books that I used back on their shelves. (Ugh. Seems like a lot of work.)  But it was fun! You should try it! I like the prettiness of Judy’s poem better–and don’t get me started on my photography skills–but clearly poetry is a window to the soul and mine is trying to get a message out…
(Read the poem in normal text after the photos) 

 

Humor Me:
What should I do with my life?

This is a story of
A girl named disaster
playing with books
becoming a writer
the real pretend

She is
the woman warrior,
the bitch in the house,
the blind assassin
searching for Mercy Street.

Watch her
hopscotch
through
the art of choosing,
blink
away
one hundred demons
blame
the known world
till the cows come home

The funny thing is,
the heroine’s bookshelf
is
a map of the world
a gesture life
a contract with God

Finally,
the plot thickens
the awakening
the 3 am epiphany
when you are engulfed in flames
where the lightening strikes
seeing things
truth and beauty
wild magic
miracles

 

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This Will Make You Chuckle

17 Jan

Baby Ninja?

Last week, in a nod of respect to my New Years resolution to write more, I started writing a short story involving giraffes. It’s probably not as interesting as it sounds; if you’re thinking, for example, that it’s a story with talking giraffes, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. (That does sound like a good read, though.) I was a giraffe for Halloween once, but I’m not sure I could put the right words in this particular animal’s mouth. I’m not even sure what a giraffe would sound like or who would listen–however, my guess would be the opposite of David Schwimmer, and anyone who’s smart enough.

There are actually no giraffes in the story, just a lot of conversation about them. I spent several hours, in the name of research, reading  interesting facts about the giraffe. The trouble with this was that I got sucked down an internet rabbit hole and ended up spending my writing time surfing giraffe trivia. Most major city zoos have a special page of their websites devoted to the giraffe. In case you need some interesting dinner table conversation or unique pick-up lines (hey, it’d probably work on me), I’ll be glad to help you out:

The average giraffe tongue is about 20 inches (50 centimeters) long.

Female giraffes give birth standing up and babies can walk within hours after being born.

Giraffes can go weeks without drinking. They eat moisture-rich foods such as acacia leaves and usually seek water every few days, lowering themselves in a splay-legged drinking stance that leaves them vulnerable to predators.

Giraffes sleep only about a half-hour a day, and this time is usually broken up into about six five-minute naps.

I sort of just assumed that animal information on zoo websites was guaranteed fact. Since zoos are all about education and preservation, I figured that fact-checking would be a high priority. Most of the sites I visited had the same basic giraffe content. All except one, that is.

Which brings me to the chuckle I promised you. Thanks for hanging in there.

The Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri, devotes a page of its website to the Baringo Giraffe. Among the giraffe information listed is this:

Giraffes can run 35 mph and can kick with all four legs at the same time.

Go ahead. Re-read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, now picture a giraffe kicking with all four legs at the same time and don’t laugh or smile.

IT CAN’T BE DONE!

Did you just envision a ninja giraffe kicking out at four different enemies while screaming “HI-YA”? Did you imagine a giraffe that looked something like a bear-skin rug?

Now, I have a feeling that this tid-bit of info is a mistake–but I’ll take my amusement any way I can get it.

This chuckle was brought to you by Oh My Words! and the Dickerson Zoo. You’re welcome.

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…..


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.



I’ll Take My Criticism Sandwich With Extra Cheese, Hold The Pickles

6 Jul

So, the online Creative Writing course I signed up for right before the apocalypse-that-wasn’t started last week. It’s an interesting experience, taking an online class. Though there is a system and certain expectations, I can log in as my schedule allows and post when I have time. The other students are eager and enthusiastic and, in general, a good deal older. That last distinguishing fact means that they seem to have a a good grasp of their abilities, goals, confidence. And they write!

We are reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as a class–no hardship, since this is one of my favorite books and never fails to be inspiring and reassuring. One of the most re-readable parts is about the writer and self-doubt:

Typically you’ll try to comfort yourself by thinking about the day’s work–the day’s excrementitious work. You may experience a jittery form of existential dread, considering the absolute meaninglessness of life and the fact that no one has ever really loved you; you may find yourself consumed with a free-floating shame, and a hopelessness about your work, and the realization that you will have to throw out everything you’ve done so far and start from scratch. But you will not be able to do so. Because you suddenly understand that you are completely riddled with cancer.

and later…

Many of [my students] have been told over the years that they are quite good, and they want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout–the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia.

The class’s first writing assignment was due today and of course, I decided at midnight to completely rework the story I had mostly finished. Part of what makes midnight the witching hour is that at that time, horrible, deformed, delusional ideas seem like good ones. Your common sense is infiltrated by insidious what-ifs that have all the charm of a used car salesman and the diabolical temptation of a second cookie. When I had a roommate, I could occasionally be talked out of creatively suicidal actions like last-minute writing makeovers. Left to my own devices and stuck in my own brain bog, I become tangled in good intentions and panic.

It doesn’t help that I’ve had one successful eleventh hour idea. The night before my senior thesis presentation, the world aligned, the matrix grid decoded itself, and I saw a way to organize my speech to be more thoughtful, clear, and engaging.  It was a crazy plan–why not just go with the perfectly fine version I had prepared? But no, never! Perfection flirted with me (the saucy minx) and I had to pursue it.

The final copy of my speech was better. Was it worth the agony? Yes. Well, probably. But the horrible puce lining was that after this one success story, late night ideas are harder to suppress. It’s like when someone fixes a couple up and it happens that the two click and make a nice go of it. It could have been a fluke or a lucky guess, but it doesn’t matter–now, that matchmaker will try pairing people off like a busybody Noah.

So I started over last night, trying to approach my idea from a different angle. (The first draft was round, and I wanted it sharp, if you know what I mean.) Then, I decided that some of the sentences or paragraphs from my first draft should be kept so I started copy-pasting. Then, I got confused about which version had which background. Had I copy-pasted a section on eating without ever mentioning that the characters were having dinner? Was a character talking, having a big dialogue-y moment, who was never introduced or explained? Had I cut out the scene that had been my inspiration in the first place?? Hysteria bubbled up around 1 am, my brain started twitching soon after. 

I ended up wrestling my short story into something resembling a short story and turning it in (posting it) this morning. I wasn’t at all satisfied with it, and not just in the I’m-never-satisfied-with-my-writing sort of way. I knew I had botched up my naive attempt to make my draft better but I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to turn it in before I went crazy (okay, crazier). So I closed my eyes and clicked “post,” and then ran away from the computer.

Then, the responses started coming in. Well, okay, one response. Critiques are an essential part of the class and for that matter, a vital part of the writing process. That said, when I read my classmate’s comments I was like a raw collection of nerve endings, the Phantom of the Opera’s less stable sister, a woe-is-me maiden from the olden days–all rolled into one. I know,” I thought. It’s terrible. It’s not my best work. Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t flow. No, that part doesn’t make sense to me either. Yes. Yes. Of course. Yes. Stop! Stop reading! Don’t look at it! Avert your eyes! Save yourself!”

“The good news,” Anne Lamott says, “is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it. […] And often the right words do come, and you–well–‘write’ for a while; you put a lot of thoughts down on paper. But the bad news is that if you’re at all like me, you’ll probably read over what you’ve written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are.”

The good news is that I completed my first assignment and received straightforward, constructive criticism. The bad news is that I sort of miss the elementary school days of gold stars and compliment sandwiches, and I’m still learning not to mutilate my first drafts.


What Meryl Streep, Salsa Dancing, and the Circus Have in Common

16 Jun

damn damn damn damn


My internship ended this week and that means a lot of crazy mixed emotions started bubbling inside me. But instead of crowing about my temporary freedom or waxing whiny about finding a job, I thought I’d get one last work anecdote out.

I was asked to write a profile–a blurb, really–about a client who requested that my writing tone be “fun, exciting, sophisticated, and direct.” A few emails later, the client added “chic” to the list of stylistic demands.

You should also know that the company I interned for aims for a writing tone that is friendly/informal and engaging.

Hokay. So. my poor little words needed to suit up and be fun, friendly, exciting, sophisticated, direct, and chic? I don’t even know how to make my writing chic (unless I put it into French, for which I would need le google translate) let alone have it encompass all of those descriptive terms. There are a lot of exclamation points in the articles on my work’s website. It’s sort of an unwritten company policy to use them generously, and I suppose it goes with the vibe they’re trying to create. For this client, though, even one exclamation point seemed to spit in the face of “chic” and “sophisticated.” On the other hand, “fun” and “exciting” almost demand exclamation.

I sat for far too long, trying to come up with an opening sentence for this mountain of a molehill. Blink blink blink went the cursor. Curse curse curse went my mouth. Who were these people, to want my words to conform to these labels? Did they have split personality disorder? Were they testing me? Was this one of those unsolvable riddles?

To boost my spirits, I started thinking about who or what could be described as fun, friendly, exciting, sophisticated, direct, and chic. Initially, I thought that if I could identify something/someone, using all these words, then I would prove that it was possible and my task would be less daunting. Eventually, however, I just got a kick out of trying to create a list….

  • Meryl Streep
    She can sing ABBA songs as good as any dancing queen, she wears high fashion, she’s earned and won awards. She can act high and mighty and just plain high. She’s brilliant, she’s a chameleon, she’s all of those damn words that the client wanted. Wouldn’t it be funny if, for the client profile, I just wrote MERYL STREEP in a larger than life font?  And then pulled an Emperor’s New Clothes and acted like that was perfectly reasonable and anyone who thought otherwise was crazy? Not your usual Meryl Streel fantasy, but a good one…
  • Salsa Dancing 
     Well, really, the first descriptive I think of for this dance is sexy…but “exciting,” “sophisticated,” and “fun” work well too. As for “direct” and “friendly,” well, if you’ve ever watched two people salsa you’ll know that the graceful touching, twisting, stroking, is beyond friendly and pretty much cuts to the chemistry chase.
  •  The Circus
    Clowns. Fire. Animals. Acrobats on high-wires and other twisty people. Ladies wearing feathers and leotards and long eyelashes.
    I’ve been to the traditional circus once, when I was little. (And I was slightly scarred by the protesters outside yelling about animal cruelty and other grown-up concepts.) I saw a Cirque du Soleil show once, when I was a brand new teenager. (Impressive, but a little above my head.) It seems like either could be described using the aforementioned list of words. 

That’s all I got. It’s hard coming up with fun, friendly, sophisticated, exciting, direct, and chic examples! (Can you think of any more?) You want to know the ending of this story? How I possibly managed to adhere to the client’s wishes and produce the ideal requested material?

I ignored the adjectives that were inconvenient to me (chic? what the heck?) and just directed my words to be the best they could be. The customer is always right….except when they’re oh-so-wrong and weigh you down with unhelpful labels. No word back yet on whether they were satisfied with what I wrote, but I happen to think it’s pretty good. Although, since I’m not working there anymore, I probably won’t get notice of their approval. That’s probably just as well. If they had major problems with the blurb I turned in, my mind would probably churn with a few choice words for them–they wouldn’t be fun, friendly, sophisticated, or chic……but they’d sure be direct.



Friends Dragging Friends and Absent Words

14 Jun

Even in 2-D, running sucks

Bad Abigail! More than a week without posting? Bad! And what were you doing that whole time? Well? What was that? That’s what I thought–nothing! 

In high school P.E, the teacher used to make us run around the gym for a certain amount of time. (In my mind, it was long, painful hours–who knows how long it was in reality?) Those who stopped, failed. If I recall correctly, the teacher’s rule was that you had to have one foot in the air at all times. Sometimes, to amuse myself while running in circles, I would play with my feet placement. Up, down, up, down, airborne, on the ground. I probably resembled a drunk gazelle, only less graceful. 

Our teacher’s pièce de résistance, however, was that she would idly pick off runners and make them pull over to the side (these teacher-approved stops didn’t count as stopping) while she put two fingers to their neck and counted their pulse rate. If it was high enough, she sent them on their way, back to the running masses. If it was too low–fail. 

I was always picked out for a pulse count. Maybe it looked like I wasn’t running to my full potential (which I probably wasn’t) or the teacher had a particular place in her heart-region that was reserved for me, but there was never a time that I wasn’t obliged to halt my unremarkable-but-still-mobile progress. The uncomfortable wait, with the teacher’s fingers on my neck, usually felt longer than it really was. I never failed the pulse rate test, but it was agonizing all the same. It wasn’t the embarrassment of  being singled out, or the possibility of failing P.E (that was, after all, always a possibility for me). It was that after my heart succeeded in beating the proper number of times, my P.E teacher would tell me to get going again. “Okay, you’re good. Now, get running again and keep running until I say otherwise.”

Now, I may have passed high school physics by the skin of my teeth (and the grace of a teacher who recognized that matter didn’t really matter to me), but I know that a body at rest abso-freaking-lutely wants to stay at rest. To start running again, after being stopped for more than a heartbeat of time? Agh. Commence groaning.

Luckily, my friend Nikki was in my class. She was rarely stopped during these runs, but when she was, her heart rate impressed our teacher–something about the speed with which it dropped. While I stood with the teacher’s fingers on my neck, Nikki enthusiastically kept the faith, running in circles without slowing down. When my count was finished, and the idea of getting one foot in the air again was more than a little daunting, Nikki would actually take a hold of my arm and pull me into motion. You know that Albert Camus friendship quote that goes: “Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Nikki makes me think of that, only our quote would go something like “Don’t run away from me; I definitely won’t follow. Don’t run without me; I won’t be inspired. Just take my arm and pull without mercy while I struggle behind you…and be my friend.”

I posted more than a week ago and intended to do so again a few days later. A few days later, I claimed to be uninspired and vowed to write the next day. I met a friend for coffee on Monday and Oh My Words! came up in our conversation. I really should post something when I get home, I thought. I had time to watch itty bitty rappers on slightly trashy tv, I had time to see amazing garments made out of paper, and I had time to ponder phobias, dogs, and true callings. But I did not blog. Once you’ve stopped and taken an unintentional blogging break, it’s hard to start again. My words have been absent from the internet universe for all this time because it’s hard to take a hold of your own arm and drag yourself until something good results. 

Except that I sat down to write a quick word about writing, procrastination, and my leave of absence, and now have 700+ words that form a story that form a blog post that breaks my blogging silence. So I guess I can yank myself into action.

I almost wish there was someone around to time my heart rate.

aorta be a law against running

Oh My Words — I’m Versatile!

4 May

versatile (ˈvɜːsəˌtaɪl)

–adj

1. capable of or adapted for many different uses, skills, etc.

2. variable or changeable

3. ME!

You are reading the words of a versatile blogger! I have been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award by both Scriptor Obscura and The Novice’s Journey. (Special note to The Novice: I’m so sorry it has taken me so long to write about and pass along the award–but please know that I am very grateful that you read and enjoy my blog.) I am very happy for readers like these and very happy to be labeled “versatile.” When I started this blog, when the only people reading it were two of my best friends and the occasional lost googler, I worried that my blog topics were too bouncy. A story about grandma here, a quick word about a quirky news story there–it wasn’t like I had a theme. But as it turns out, my words weren’t wandering–they were versatile.

Anyway, like anything worth having, there are a few responsibilities and stipulations with this award. They are:

1. Post linking back to the person that gave you the award.
2. Share 7 random things about yourself.
3. Award 15 recently discovered blogs.
4. Drop them a note and tell them about it.

And so, here we go.

15 Versatile Blogs I Enjoy Reading (in no particular order)
Some of these weren’t “recently discovered,” but as a versatile blogger I reserve the right to veer from the rules by just a little bit. I know, I’m a rebel.

1. Gone for a Walk
2. Away with Words

3. Gin & Lemonade

4. Girl on the Contrary

5. Let’s Talk Cookies

6. Drunk Literature

7. A Full Measure of Happiness

8. English Major Junk Food
Can I use EMJF? Ash, are you technically a blog? Oh well, I’m pleading ignorance and listing you anyway.
9. How Did I Reach Sixty?
What happened to you Nan? Haven’t read your words in awhile…
10. Sea Sweetie’s Pages
11. Belle of the Carnival

12. A Striped Armchair
13. The Edmonton Tourist
14. After I Quit My Day Job
15. Your Servant in the Kitchen

And, because you must be dying to know….

7 Random Things About Me

1. I have size 11 feet. (I didn’t know what to put for my first Random Thing, so I decided to jump in, feet first.) For me, shoe shopping can be as emotionally taxing as bathing suit shopping. I am this close to shopping in the men’s section–and actually, that may not be a bad idea because  I’m pretty sure that men’s shoes are 1,489,263 times more comfy than women’s shoes.  

2. I studied abroad in Milan, Italy during my junior year of college. I had an amazing experience and was lucky enough to travel all over Europe. I saw Obama give a speech in Prague, soaked up art at the Louvre, felt a tug on my soul in Greece, and gelato-d my way around Italy. I am so grateful for the amazing experience, but I still have regrets–things I wish I had done or things I did but wish I had done better. When I’m in a proper state of mind, I remind myself that I can always go back. I have a Europe To-Do list and it gets longer every day!

3. I have weird, physical reactions to awkwardness or embarassment. It doesn’t matter if the undesired awkward/embarassing moment is mine or someone else’s, all I need to do is think about it, see it, or remember it, and I feel squirmy. Sometimes I have to close my eyes or clench my fists, and I often feel an awkwardness-inspired shiver scurrying down my back. I’m pretty sure I experience vicarious embarassment (it’s a real thing!) and I figure this makes me a better, if squirmier person.

4. When I say “wash,” there’s an “r” right in the middle. Basically, when I say “wash,” it rhymes with borsch. I get this from my grandma and mom, and since they’re both from Pennsylvannia, I figured it was a Pennyslvannia thing. So far, though, I’ve never met another Pennsylvannian who says “warsh.” Go figure.

5. During college, I had to choose between taking a second-level creative writing class and being a tutor for an elementary school student. I had tutored at my college’s community literacy center two times before, and absolutely loved it….but I love creative writing, too, and it was my last chance to take it. I chose tutoring, and I don’t regret my decision–I had the cutest, sweetest student. But I do occasionally wonder what I would have accomplished writing-wise if I had taken that writing class.

6. It really annoys me when people are prejudiced against small dogs. If someone says small dogs aren’t “real dogs,” within my earshot, they better be ready for a lecture or a damning judgement of their character. I’m not saying Bubba the Biker has to love terriers, but he should be aware that they have just as many loveable characteristics as any “full-sized” dog. It’s the size of the heart, not the size of the dog, dontcha know.

7. Without fail, I tear up when watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Specifically, I tear up when they move the bus and the family sees their house for the first time. This is puzzling to me because I do not cry easily–although, technically, tearing up isn’t crying. Anyway, seeing the people so happy and excited and crying tears of joy is some sort of trigger for me.

Another definition for versatile? Being able to kick butt and rock a purple mini dress

Floppy Disks and Shitty First Drafts

19 Apr

My family is finally getting rid of an old computer we’ve had for years and I’ve been combing through the documents on it, trying to determine if there’s anything worth saving. This is an old relic of a computer. It’s bulky and solid, and when I forced it to boot up last week, for the first time in years, it wheezed ominously. I had a brief flashback to the Flintstones because it almost sounded like a little critter was inside trying to power the computer through sheer physical energy.

This computer has a lot of my old school reports and essays on it, and I hate to think of the agonizing hours I spent picking just the right words to describe the colonial revolution because now the results of those hours are going to be deleted permanently. I can almost see the specter of my past self sitting at the desk with a word-choice headache and a half-finished essay. I want to reach out to her and say “you know, that perfectionism is going to be a real pain in the ass in college,” and “you can sit here until 11 obsessing, but you’ll just end up deleting this essay in five or six years.” That’s a bit doom and gloom though, so I guess I could also throw in something reassuring, like “don’t worry, you will get a good grade on this” or the more helpful “don’t worry, in college you’ll obsess over your writing but be accompanied by gallons of grown-up coffee and hours of laughter from your roommate.”

Besides school stuff, this is also the computer that had the duty of storing my early attempts at creative writing. I’m talking poems written when I was in middle school, and short stories from high school that were slightly dark and more than a bit wobbly–like the moody drunk that everyone avoids. I feel actual, physical pain when I read some of these pieces because I can remember feeling inspired enough to write them, thinking that I really had something, and the truth of the matter is: they’re just not that good. And yes, this was years ago and I was in high school and you really can’t expect anything good to come out of high school. I know. But still, it’s more than a little disheartening to read these bits of writing and realize that it was no great tragedy that they were locked away on our family’s ancient computer for years and years. In fact, maybe that plastic block was containing them for my own good, acting as a sort of asylum for the creatively deformed.

I consider Anne Lamott a patron saint for aspiring writers. Read her book Bird by Bird and just try not to be motivated and inspired. Bird by Bird is my bible, my self-help book, my continual aha moment. I am currently rereading it, because Ms. Lamott herself is going to be speaking at a nearby bookstore this week and I plan to make the pilgrimage to hear her talk about her new book. (I regret that I have not read her new book, but it’s on my ever-growing, ever-lovin’ To-Read list!) I am SO excited about this book event. It’s the same level of excitement that someone else might experience for a concert or when meeting a movie star. Anyway, one of the chapters in Bird by Bird is called “Shitty First Drafts,” and it is the sole reason why I have not sentenced my old creative writing to be deleted and forgotten. “For me and most of the other writers I know,” Lamott says, “writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

I am saving those old pieces of writing, poor souls that they are, because it occurred to me that they might be really, really shitty first drafts. And that’s a good thing! Maybe, beneath and between the awful transitions and stiff dialogue, there’s a gem of a sentence or a character that’s desperate to be developed. (“Make me three-dimensional!”)  I’m definitely going to find whatever hidden treasure awaits because, as part of this file conservation process, I have to re-type the horrendous poems and short stories of my high school days onto my laptop. See, the old clunker computer only has a slot for floppy disks (USBs were a distant dream when it was made), but a floppy would do me no good when it came time to transfer the documents. (My nice, relatively new laptop has never even heard of a floppy disk, although, I do happen to have a few that have been saved from being tossed out thanks to the what-if-I-need-it-someday philosophy.) So I’m being forced to confront my old words as I transfer their ugliness to a new computer. It’s possible there is a more efficient way to go about this, but at least this way I am reading and typing and thinking and mentally calculating possibilities and ideas. I am trying to be loyal to the originals, trying not to automatically edit as I re-type, because then I’ll get bogged down and lose the whole point of the exercise and probably miss anything worth saving.

I imagine that Future-Me is looking at Now-Me and nodding in approval, or maybe saying “Don’t worry, it’s for the best—you’re gonna want to save your old words, no matter how cringe-y they are. Wonderful, beautiful new words will follow!” That’s nice. I like Future-Me. But then, that’s to be expected. I imagine Future-Me is very wise and patient and happy and successful and has great hair with a part that isn’t crooked.

Or, she’s working on Now-Me’s shitty first drafts and is miserable and wants company and expects Now-Me to have to deal with Past-Me’s shitty first drafts. Wow. Future-me is sadistic. 

A Watched Life Doesn’t Boil and Other Grandma Trickery

29 Mar

A watched pot never boils!

I recently completed the second stage of applying for a job that I really want and waiting for a response has been agonizing. It’s probably totally unrealistic to expect a reply this soon, but that didn’t keep me from staring at my gmail this morning, willing the number of messages in my inbox to change. Instead, I had to suffer through several fake-out false alarms–I have never hated spam more, or hit the delete button with such vengeful force. I talked to my grandma on the phone around lunchtime and she was not on board with my immobile waiting. “How about coming over and doing my laundry?” she suggested. “I’ve got a big grocery list, you could go to the store for me. A watched life doesn’t boil, you know.”

“Pot, grandma. A watched pot doesn’t boil.”

“Oh, whatever.”

I went over and took her laundry up to her community laundry room. Even as I was pouring detergent though, my mind was employed by thoughts of employment. “There are at least two people applying for the job,” I speculated when I got back to grandma’s house. “But actually, there are probably a lot more.”

Grandma was unimpressed. “Psh. There’s going to be a lot of people applying to any job. Here, this is my grocery list. Don’t forget the yogurt, I really need it. And I want English Breakfast tea or Earl Grey, none of that fruity tooty stuff.”

“Maybe I haven’t heard back from them because there’s THAT many people applying. Maybe they have to comb through a zillion applicants.”

“Well then, they’ll get to you, won’t they? …Are you leaving, or not?

I went to the grocery store and wandered around. When I’m grocery shopping by myself and don’t have something I need to get home to right away, I tend to take my time to look at things and explore. The odd thing is that I’m also a fast walker, even when I’m relaxed, so my wandering never has the appearance of aimlessness. I did slow for the ice cream aisle, though. I take my ice cream selection process very seriously. You have to consider cost, size, long term flavor enjoyment, what you already have at home, what you’ve been craving. It’s very scientific, really.

On the drive home, Dancing in the Moonlight came on the radio. That’s one of my favorite songs to sing along to–you can’t listen and stay uptight, it’s a supernatural delight! It was unusually warm today, so I had all the car windows rolled down and the music blasting. It was a very spring-y, happy moment.

I got home, put the groceries away, and turned to look at Grandma playing solitaire at the kitchen table. “They probably won’t get back to me for a while. Maybe next week, maybe I won’t hear from them until next week.”
 
 “Go up and get my laundry,” she said as she moved a stack of cards. “It’s done by now.”
 
“I think one of the other applicants has a lot of writing experience.” I mentioned casually later, as I was folding grandma’s shirts.
 
 “Good for her,” she said, and refolded the top I had just placed aside. Apparently I’ve been folding shirts wrong for years. “Hang up my hummingbird feeder, would you? Those birds have been bugging me all week–they’re hungry.”
 
 “I’ll bet all that writing experience is really desirable. It probably looks really good.” Some of the sugar water spilled on me as I hung the feeder up.
 
 “Mmmm. If you’re going to wash your arm off, you could do those couple of dishes in the sink. You know I can never see if I’ve gotten all the food stuffs off.”
 
 I scrubbed a crusty dish for a good ten minutes and wondered aloud if I’d at least get an interview. “Unless they think my writing really sucks, I would hope they’d want to meet me after all this. But then, maybe there are too many applicants for that.”
 
 “I spilled orange juice on the kitchen floor yesterday and it’s still sticky–see if you can clean up some more, would you?”
 
 I mopped her floor, dusted her blinds, fixed the time on her clock, changed her hearing aid batteries, figured out that the funny smell in the fridge was from moldy cheese, and got the mail. I moved her reading chair three inches to the left, found the necklace she’s been hunting for a week, and put pretty patterned paper in the back of her breakfront. I’m thinking Grandma was reenacting her own version of If You Give a Moose a Muffin…something like, If You Distract a Granddaughter With Chores. I’m also pretty sure Mr. Feeny did this exact thing to Cory on one of the early episodes of Boy Meets World. Or maybe it was Eric, and a high school episode. Anyway, I think grandma pulled a Mr. Feeny on me. (Which is actually sort of exciting, since I’ve always wanted my life to resemble Boy Meets World.)
 
When I got home and logged into my email, I still didn’t have any new messages. So I guess an unwatched life doesn’t boil, either. Or, I didn’t not watch long enough. Grandma may have expertly gotten all her chores done, but I think Mr. Feeny’s moral would me more clear…

 

Someday, Chuck, we'll both get mail.