3.31.2009

If I wasn't so tired, we could make out right now.

I find myself in that special stressful place where I just read a bunch of work emails after a day off and now I'm supposed to go to bed, but my brain is all preoccupied. And I know if I lay down and try to go to sleep on the air-mattress, I'm only going to worry about what our booth should look like at the Expo and how many emails I have to respond to tomorrow and what the appropriate time to begin responding to work emails is when you're in a different time zone. In short, I need to do an activity to cleanse my thought palette if I am to have any hope of sleep.

It's kind of like when you eat garlic. And you don't want to kiss someone right after. You want to chew some gum or a mint to have a buffer between the garlic and the next activity. Oh blog, you are so minty and non-stressful! Let's cleanse away and recount today's adventures, shall we?

Today I:
* read an entire book
* broke my Lent resolution of no dessert for an ice cream cone
* got a stupid sunburn on selections of my forearms, my nose and three fingers (Yep, looking hot right now.)
* dressed up like a pirate
* went to my first NBA game
* thought I might die in a bus (HOLY HILLS, SAN FRAN!)
* drank a Peartini at lunch
* lived through a 4.3 earthquake!
* took a ferry twice
* saw a famous blogger in PERSON but was too shy to say hello
* walked approximately 11,000 miles

Yes, I would say I had a very luxurious day. And now that I've been reminded of all of that goodness, stress is a bit further away.

Minty fresh! Voila!

3.30.2009

Greetings from a crazy time zone

"Watching TV in HD is so weird... you can see everyone's skin problems."

Such is the hilarity of Laurie, my friend Jay's lovely wife. I'm posting from San Francisco (all the way across the country!) and had such a fantastic day of lying in the sun, drinking chai tea lattes, eating bagels and spending time with friends. I miss this. It reminds me of flying to Nashville to spend three days making crafts with Skersh and almost completely missing every touristic sight there is to see. Or taking off to France to sit around and drink beer with Erica in our favorite tiny, dark pub. It feels good to value traveling for friendships' sake... 

Tomorrow will be my first day as an official tourist here as Jay and Laurie head back to work. I think the plan is to take the ferry to Sausalito, a little town on the other side of the bay, where I can poke around the shops and enjoy the sunny weather. Then Jay's taking me to a Warriors' game (my first official NBA situation!) and on Tuesday I'm back to work, albeit at the Web 2.0 Expo. 

I'll leave my traditional psycho-analysis of San Francisco and its people until the end of the trip, but so far it's been a frickin' good time.

3.23.2009

A word chain I made up on the walk home

El autobus (Sp)...
Autobahn (Ger)...
Bahn (Ger)...
El bano (Sp)...
Un beignet (Fr)...
Un peignoir (Fr)...
Por favor (Sp)...
Danke (Ger)...
Ducharse (Sp)...
La Duche (Fr)...
Deutsch (Ger)...
Deutsch Haus (Ger)...
Maison Francaise (Fr)...
Casa Espagnol (Sp)...
Casa (Sp)...
Casa Blanca (??)...
Maison Blanche (Fr)...
Weiss Haus (Ger)...

Home.

Codes and numbers and ghosts

My grandpa's cousin Myrt died last week. She was 94 and in a nursing home; apparently she spent the past few months talking about how everyone she knows is gone.

Myrt lived in the house across from my Nana. She never had kids but she did have a swing set in her backyard when we were little. I remember riding on a swing shaped like a horse and eating Jello-fudgesicles. I never had fudgesicles anywhere other than Myrt's house. I remember them being delicious.

When I think about getting old, I'm always profoundly sad thinking about what it will be like to be alive without any of my friends. Who's to say that they'll all die before me, I know... but the prospect of being one of the last ones brings on a fear of such intense loneliness. How will it be, I wonder, if I say goodbye to my husband first? Won't I want to believe that there's somewhere we'll both meet up again?

Death Cab has, of course, written about this exact feeling. So has this indie dude.

-------------

I've mentioned before that we've been watching the first season of Lost. When we notice Hurley on the television in the background of someone else's memory or see Sawyer drinking with Jack's dad in a bar months before they would end up together on the island, it feels like warm, familiar literature. It feels like someone dropping clues that I have to be smart enough to notice. With two pair of eyes, we're better at the noticing.

This type of scouting reminds me of close reading. It reminds me of my freshman year poetry class when I was pissed off at all the people around me who could make sense of the words on the page. Then one day my writing assistant took a few colored markers and showed me how to mark up a poem. "Circle all the verbs," she said, "and underline the words that relate to fire. Then highlight the references to re-birth in blue." Among the incomprehensible, suddenly there was a system to understand. Suddenly I had tools of interpretation, tools that allowed me to find even the most terrible of poetry interesting.

After I read Paradise Lost junior year, I found myself secretly searching for women and apple references, for "downfall" language, for adjectives that related to light. I even purposely slipped some biblical references into a short story I wrote, not because it was about God, but because I wanted to play. I had learned the code and I wanted to use it.

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I loved the Harry Potter series so much. A new world, a new code to crack, all beyond the limits of the reality that I knew. Secret platforms and a new history of mankind that had, all this time, been living right alongside the humans. It made me wonder what if! And so what! And how could it be! If J.K. Rowling could present such a rich, compelling world that lived underneath normal society, couldn't something like it somehow truly exist?

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I don't know what I believe. I look for signs in coincidences, wonder at the notions of time and space, and miss people when they die. Miss them and wonder if I'm going to know them again.

I remain conscious of the notion that people who look for patterns in numbers are called crazy and people who believe blindly are called faithful. I make friends and boyfriends promise they'll haunt me if they die, promise they'll come back and tell me what it's like. If they can.

I run quickly from the bathroom to bed in the middle of the dark night, avoid staying at my parents' house alone at night if I can. I'm interested in codes, but not at night! Not in the dark! DO NOT revisit me past 6pm, dead people, not unless you're prepared with 911 on speed-dial to call in a heart attack.

A couple of highlighters and maybe some number patterns would do fine, though. I'd like to figure it out myself. I really would.

3.21.2009

Demonstrating a point

Here's the same exact post, this time in bitch-mode:

1. It's sunny, but still so chilly outside.
2. Yesterday I Rollerbladed around my neighborhood for 40 minutes and almost fell about 10 times.
3. I woke up feeling like I'm getting a cold. Just the other day I thought about how I hadn't been sick in a long time. Typical.
4. Just found out I'm going to a conference in San Francisco next week. I'm stressed about getting Oscar a sitter, worried about spending money to stay 3 extra days, feeling shy about asking friends to stay with them.
5. I forced myself to make an Excel spreadsheet of all my purchases. I hate having to track how many chai tea lattes I buy from Starbucks. I wish I had more money.
6. I watched my first Telenovela DVD from the Spanish library and wish I understood more than 20%.
7. Chris and I have started watching Lost from the beginning and it seems like we never have enough time to watch as many episodes as I wish we could.
8. Kate showed me this blog a few weekends ago and it makes me feel bad about not cooking healthy more often. Also it makes me feel crappy for not running more often.
9. Sometimes I don't know how to feel good in a negative environment at work.
10. It's now officially spring and it's still officially cold out.

Happy freakin' weekend, people.

----------

Isn't that AMAZING? I purposely left the last line the same... and now it reads as sarcasm.

I had a good conversation with a colleague the other day who told me getting older allows us to care less what other people think. It made me rethink how much I feel passively pushed around. It also made me think about the ways I change my outlook depending on who I'm around and where I am... New Yorkers can be huge freaking complainers. Living as a foreigner abroad, I remember being constantly refreshed by Maddy and Katie and Erica and others who were as ecstatic about living a poor, yet beautiful existence in Paris. We were eternally grateful for even the opportunity to have a work visa over there. There was bullshit at work, at the post office, sometimes when meeting a stranger, but those girls were such positive forces to be around.

Note to self: it may be time for some spring cleaning in the life department.
Note to readers: this doesn't mean I'm leaving NY for Paris!

Things that are making me happy today

1. It's SUNNY.
2. Yesterday I took to the streets on my new Rollerblades for 40 minutes POST-WORK, which means that the evenings are staying light much longer...
3. I woke up feeling like I'm getting a cold, but after 2 cups of chai, I'm good to go.
4. The crappy news about how much I owe in taxes killed the dream of taking a spring trip somewhere. Luckily, I just found out that I'm going to San Francisco next week for a conference! I'll be spending 3 extra days there before the conference and hopefully visiting Laurie and Jay, among others... looking forward to checking out the funky bookshops and cafes too. Any recommendations?
5. The Great Tax Disaster was bad, but inspired me to create a crazy spreadsheet of spending tracking. Excel + Mint.com = awesomeness.
6. I watched my first Telenovela DVD from the Spanish library and understood the gist of it.
7. Though we never got into it before, Chris and I have started watching Lost from the beginning and it's ridiculously fun to watch it with someone else... especially someone who pauses each episode during the ending credits and says "ok, what do we know now?" Ha! What a super-sleuth.
8. Kate showed me this blog a few weekends ago and although I don't read it every day, it's RIDICULOUSLY positive. The writer posts about a bunch of healthy recipes and she's so upbeat; it's infectious.
9. Challenges at work are forcing me to rethink how to succeed. Although that's sometimes frustrating, it's very stimulating for the brain. Nothing's perfect and learning that lesson over and over again reminds me that I need to embrace the uncomfortable and push through negativity to find a different way to attack problems. Such is life!
10. It's now officially spring.

Happy freakin' weekend, people.

3.19.2009

I foresee much cheap pasta in my future.

"How big is your office at home?"
"Oh, I'm terrible at this kind of thing. Do you mean in feet?"
"Yes."
"Hm... maybe 20 by 40?"
"800 square feet? How big is your apartment."
"Oh, no. That sounds way too huge. The thing is, I really don't know... maybe from that poster to the desk over there?"
"Let me put it to you this way. If your apartment is 100, what is your office?"
"... 100 what?"
"Just 100."
"Square feet?"
"No, just, if your apartment is 100, what is your office?"
Mind races to figure out what the eff is going on.
"Um... maybe 30?"
"Fine, let's move on then."

...

"What's your occupation?"
"Well, I'm a Communications Specialist, but you can put anything for Marketing or Communications."
She scans her list of codes. Types multiple codes; none work. Seems to be a bug in the software.
"I'm just going to put 9999999. That covers unknown occupations."
"Right, that sounds about right."

...

These were the better parts of the conversation I had with my H&R tax representative this morning, who not only found that I owe almost $1000 MORE than I thought I did, but also charged me $400 to redo my taxes. In one hour, all vacation plans within the next 4 months went up in flames. It's amazing how quickly one shuts down the gates of spending. I found myself making up new life rules as the totals kept creeping higher.

"Bring food from home for lunch EVERY DAY for the next 6 months."
"Stop buying any chai tea lattes from Starbucks."
"Get Oscar cheaper cat food."
"Stop drinking organic milk."

Don't get me wrong; I like paying taxes. I like having nice roads and libraries and all that jazz. If I was anti-tax, I sure as hell wouldn't live in New York. But when your job doesn't take out NYC taxes all year and then you have to pay them all back at once? Well, I feel a little like NYC taxes just took me out back and gave me a Thursday morning beat-down.

3.17.2009

The one in which I scramble to hold onto my old self.

Bob and Betsy were in town this weekend and we spent Sunday morning sitting around the living room eating pancakes and talking about books. We started talking about why Eat, Pray, Love could be a threatening read to a guy (see: the smart, beautiful woman you've built a life with suddenly decides she's not living the life she wishes she was) and moved on to discussing why some literature can be dangerous- and even threatening- to your happiness.

There is part of me that wants to smack myself in the jaw because I just typed that.

There is another part of me that knows deep down, however, that it's at least a little bit true.

Bob is reading Kundera right now and mentioned all the sex and adultery that happens. If you've read Kundera, you know what I'm talking about- the gritty way he reaches for your human instincts and reveals them within you. On the one hand, it's an utterly enlightening read- on the other, it's dangerous to draw these truths about yourself because it threatens the reality you've built.

Betsy had a good compromise: literature takes true moments (the instinct to be unfaithful, a murderer, etc.) and fleshes them out into an entire novel. In this way, literature becomes The Worst Case Scenario, a medium in which you're allowed to play out all of the tiny mischevious instincts you have without any threat to your happiness outside the book.

In a strange way, I feel that Rosenwasser (one of our English profs at Muhlenberg) would call me out on this blog post. He'd call me a Republican, a puritan, a stuffy, prudish girl who's lost all her edges. Afraid of reading literature because it's too dangerous? Or, more accurately, noting a moment of comfort and happiness that perhaps exists because I haven't been reading much lately? Worst English Major Ever.

I admit that the fiction I'm working on attempts to start with a "true" moment, something that will resonate with someone. A break-up. Death. Where are all the happy moments and why do they never resonate as true? The truth is, they're not half as interesting to write.

I think this is why I admire The Feast of Love so much as a work; Baxter finds a way to expose true moments while not ruining the lives of everyone involved. I won't argue that he was trying to write a happy novel- only that he's found a way to write these difficult emotions faithfully and not fully depress me as a reader.

Are there thoughts? Does anyone hesitate to read Kundera or Kafka or The French Authors because it's so overwhelming? Or do you think I've become a total lame-ass since removing France and literature from my daily life? Comment away... I'm off to spend my day in pixel-land, where it seems that truth and morals are defined by whether people close their "div" tags or not. Sexy!

3.10.2009

Back from the dead... and on a podcast.

I listen to the BBC World podcast every morning while I get ready and the reporter who narrates the whole thing has a name that sounds suspiciously like Oliver Cromwell. I'll be in the middle of putting mascara on and hear him sign off at the end:

"I'm Oliver Cromwell, and 'til next time, good-bye."

I know his name isn't actually Cromwell, but my ears trick me every single morning. It's like being named Abe Plincoln. Someone's going to make the jump every time.

3.05.2009

10 Questions I would have asked if I had my wits about me

when two women on 3rd Avenue asked me where the Taco Bell was this morning at 9:57am:

1. Do you know how many Taco Bells are in New York?
2. Do you know that it's breakfast time?
3. Do you mean to suggest that you eat tacos for breakfast?
4. Are you meeting someone there?
5. What kind of person suggests meeting at a Taco Bell?
6. Why did you ask that old woman after I told you I had no idea?
7. Do you honestly think that old woman knows where the local Taco Bell is?
8. Is Taco Bell even open this early?
9. Are you trying to beat the lunch crowd?
10. Have you never had a bagel?

Wow, insulting Florida yesterday and Taco Bell today. Snarky, indeed!

3.04.2009

You know it's a recession when...

Every day you get 29 emails about airfare deals. This morning I got one that said:

"AirTran from $46 OW."

I clicked on the link. SHOW ME THE $46, I thought. I will go anywhere for $46. Even Florida. (Maybe.)

Survey says: $46 = the price from Atlanta to Charlotte.

Now I'm no southerner, but it seems to me that Atlanta and Charlotte are close enough that you could probably take a bus. Surely there is a cheaper bus or train route that takes a very short amount of time to get from one to the other. Or maybe you could walk! Why, I'd guess if you live in Atlanta that you even have a sweet family member who is willing to drive you to Charlotte AND bake you a pie to eat on the way. Again, my interpretation of an area of our country I know nothing about.

In short, $46 from Atlanta to Charlotte seems as if they are RIPPING YOU OFF. Which they are, of course, since my own cheapest option leaving the New York area was a $81 OW ticket to Miami. (No thanks!)

I realize this is all rather laughable when you consider that I was ready to spend $563.70 last night for a RT flight to London in April. I know it's much more, but you get to use your passport! And people like Maddy await you on the other side of the plane doors! Not to mention all that delicious porridge and brown bread.

Plus the fact that it's not Florida.

3.03.2009

Notes on a Short Story

This is a list of things I want to remember about writing as I begin my next piece later this week. It's basically impossible to have a sense of clarity about your work when you're in it, so I'm taking advantage of this quiet space between pieces to nail down some writing lessons that will make the next go-round much easier if I can manage to trust them.

A quick scope for the non-writing readers:
I finished a short story this weekend and sent it off as part of my application to a summer writing conference. I won't hear if I am accepted or not until May. If I do get accepted, I'll get to spend two weeks working closely on a manuscript (see: short story, either the one I submitted or a new one) with a small group of writers and a couple of well-known authors. It's kind of a dream.

Ok, now I'm just going to dive in.

Listen for the story
This story came to me while I was sitting on my couch one Sunday evening last fall listening to a Conor Oberst song. I didn't get the whole story, just one character, and really just one moment. I put the song on repeat and let him tell me his side of things. This resulted in about four paragraphs, which I conveniently tucked away in a file somewhere never to return. Until...

Revisit old scraps when the going gets tough
When I originally heard about the conference, I was going to apply as a fiction writer. Then, after 3 or 4 long afternoons spent toiling at Starbucks, it seemed that fiction writing was out of my league. In a moment of self-pity and frustration, I opened every file in the Fiction folder on this laptop. I stumbled upon the Conor piece. I put the song on and suddenly content started pouring out again.

Don't forget to read
It had honestly been a few months since I'd read fiction and I felt like I needed to keep nourishing my piece with some models. I picked up The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao and Water for Elephants, which are very different types of novels. Both, however, were fun reads and reminded me how stories and characters work.

*Note: My parents' attic is filled with approximately 20 boxes of my books. It breaks my soul a little bit knowing that they are there and that I've been moving around for the past 5 years without them. I'm hopeful that I can install shelves and bring a larger chunk of them to my next apartment just to have them handy. I would have given anything to have my William Trevor books near me while I was writing this piece... reading his work is like listening to a walz. I get the rhythm stuck in my head and it has a beautiful result on the page.

Share the piece when it's time
The single most important thing I did while writing this story was share it with someone else. I was resisting. Oh, how I resisted! "Send me your story when you're ready," friends said, "I'd love to take a look!" And while I appreciated their offers, I just wasn't at a point where I could release this mess of paragraphs to anyone.

There came a time, though, when I'd spent three weeks avoiding my computer entirely because I felt I'd boxed myself into a corner with the plot. I wasn't getting any bright ideas about how to move forward, though I spent most of those three weeks frustrated and anxious about the problem. You'll notice that I've barely written on this blog recently. I felt like I needed to spend what little time I had for writing working towards the piece... spending brain space and words on this blog made me feel guilty. Guilt/anxiety/frustration = badness. I decided to phone a friend.

Share it with the right person
Without going too far into detail, I'll just say that I first sent my piece to a girl I've never met. We correspond over email (she's a fellow NIFW writer) and it felt right to send my piece to someone whose presence in my life is due to a mutual love of the craft of writing. She had some great feedback, but the most surprising thing to me was the she completely misunderstood the scope of what I was trying to do. Seems like some of the last few paragraphs aren't necessary in this short story! was the gist of what she wrote. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I wasn't writing a novel, I was writing a short story.

Know what you're writing
This is tough. Imagine you're working on a sewing machine and all you can see is the part that you're stitching. Emma's comment about my piece being a short story was equivalent to someone walking into the room where you're creating a dress and saying "wow, great skirt." It totally changed the game for me and it wasn't something I was able to see myself.

Don't let yourself be intimidated
Even after Emma's brilliant feedback, I still avoided working on the piece until Saturday when Chris said "hey, when is the deadline for your conference?" I didn't remember exactly and I was too intimidated to look it up online. Ridiculous, but true! So he set about finding the dates and when we found out it was sooner than I thought, I immediately left his place and went to Starbucks where I finished the next round of edits. What can I say? Sometimes you need a kick in the pants.

This last point is interesting because I think writing it on this page sounds as though it's a lesson that I've learned. I haven't. I know I shouldn't be intimidated, but I am; perusing the information about the conference makes me incredibly excited and simultaneously self-conscious. I don't know if my writing is strong enough yet to be accepted to one of these things. When I look at the bios of people who've gone in years past, it seems as though they're leagues and miles ahead of me. That affects me.

But honestly, even if I don't head off to writing summer camp this year and even if my story gets passed over as too young or too inexperienced or too anything, there is this small, yet important part of me that's proud. Writing is a difficult hobby to have because it doesn't afford you many goal lines. I spend most of my time psyching myself up to even dedicate 60 minutes in the morning to this hobby that I say that I love. I truly fight a difficult battle with myself every time I sit down to the page.

Phew! Lots to think about, lots to remember. The great news is that I already have a few ideas for what story needs to be told next (they seem to come to me most often when I'm in a subway or a bus, so I've invested in a couple of new Moleskins to capture the inspiration at inconvenient moments).

Fellow writers, does any of this resonate with you? Or fellow creatives? What's your biggest advice for getting over the humps in your creative process? Would love to kick off a discussion in the comments if anyone has things to share... creating can be a very lonely process and it's always good to hear how everyone else is making their way through it.

3.02.2009

March 2, 2009

Things that happened today (in no particular order):

1. I wore a skirt despite the blizzard. I froze.
2. I laid down The Law when I needed to.
3. I watched (and openly mocked) the season finale of the Bachelor.
4. I almost died laughing while watching this hilarious video of a dog who sleepwalks.
5. I finished a short story and submitted it to a summer writing conference.

Whoah, what's that last one? I finished a story? Yeah, THAT'S RIGHT, people... three months of sleepy morning work is now out in someone's application mailbox.

I have lots to share about how that process went and how it feels to have finished something (in short: SURPRISED and PROUD), but I'm taking the night off of thinking about writing. Stay tuned for some writing process thoughts soon, though, cause I have them coming out of my ears.