Saturday, November 07, 2009

I'm procrastinating on today's wordcount

So I'm gonna make this short. I just wanted to call your attention to some links on the right hand side of my blog. I added links for the music I'm working on right now...the bands and orchestra that challenge me musically and thus (somehow) make my writing all the richer for it.

Also, if you're in the DC-metro area, the Sinfonietta is having a concert tonight. It's my first time playing first violin, and we're doing some killer 11th-position stuff. It's gonna be SWEET. See the link at right (NEW!) for more details.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The de facto writing exercise I happened to amuse myself with this morning

So, I'm sure you've all heard of FML. It's an anonymous gripe board for when your life just seems like one ridiculous (possibly ironic) mishap after another. Well. This morning, my husband sent me a link to MLIA--My Life Is Average. But as I read, I found that the stories were not average at all. Many of them, in fact, were tales of unusually humorous or strange situations. For example:

"Today, the woman's rugby team I am on was traveling to Texas for a game. Our van stopped at McDonald's to get something to eat. As 10 girls order their food, a man approaches our male coach. The guy looks at all us girls then at our coach then asks, 'Are all of these your daughters?' My coach, without missing a beat, says, 'No. They're my wives.' The look on that man's face was priceless. MLIA"

The complete non-averageness of this exchange disturbed me. So I took it upon myself to rewrite it to make it actually average (except for the spelling and grammar, upon which I improved). To wit:

Today, the women's rugby team I am on was traveling to Texas for a game. Our van stopped at McDonald's to get something to eat. As 10 girls are ordering their food, a man approaches our coach. The guy looks at all of us girls, then at our coach, and asks, "Is this a field hockey team?" My coach, without missing a beat, says, "No. It's a rugby team." Then we ate our food. MLIA

Now that's average!

Here's another one from the site:

"Today, I was walking across campus near the end of the day. I look out over the lawn to see two HUGE leaf piles. When I got closer to see what was going on, I see my History teacher hiding behind one of the piles with a water gun about to attack my English teacher in the other pile. They were having a war. I feel like I chose the right school. MLIA."

What? How is a water fight between teachers average in any way? That seems downright unusual, to me. Here's how I would write it:

Today, I was walking across campus near the end of the day. I look out over the lawn to see two huge leaf piles. When I got closer to see what was going on, I saw two groundsworkers raking the leaves. MLIA.

Much better.

Ok, one twisted my arm. From the site:

"Today, I was waiting at a main bus stop with a few other people. A man started to smoke and a young boy fell to the ground and crawled away on his hands and knees. His mother asked what he was doing and he pointed to the man and yelled 'Smoke is bad! Get down low and go go go!' I hope he still acts this way when he's in his late teens. MLIA"

And my take:

Today, I was waiting at a main bus stop with a few other people. A man started to smoke and he got a few dirty looks from the other people at the stop. He had to put the cigarette out when it was about halfway done because the bus came. Then we got on. MLIA.

I thought I would share that with you, in case you were bored at work or something on this lovely pre-Halloween Friday. The link is can make your own fun!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Real Live Writer

I found this link just in time! I can enjoy it with the knowing nod of an insider, having just received my first real rejection.

In addition to a line regarding the personal thing I wrote to the agent, here it is:

"I regret to say that I don’t feel that I’m the most appropriate agent for your work.

However, opinions vary considerably in this business, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation."

It's not so scary or bad, and I have to say that I'm not really depressed about it at all. Every good novel gets rejected at least once. And really, the idea is to get someone who will be passionate about my work...if he's not the guy for the job, then he's not the guy for the job. I hope I find someone who is!

I also hope I'm this sunny after rejection #18.

In other putting-myself-out-there writing news, I did enter that screenwriting contest. I wrote my scene, sent it in, and never heard back. Yep. That's right. The score they promised never showed up. I sent an extremely polite e-mail about it to their customer service address (which apparently they never check). Then today, I got an e-mail from the competition that basically said, "mea culpa, if you never got a score, e-mail me personally at the following address." So, I sent another extremely polite e-mail (excerpted from the last one, actually) and am hoping--enfin--for a response. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Waving Goodbye

All right...we're closer to having a band name now!

Anyway, have a listen to this one and let me know what you think!

Waving Goodbye

If anyone knows how to get a player embedded in a Blogger blog, let me know!

Things have been suitably busy around here. Pat's play opened this weekend. He's doing The Laramie Project at Rockville Little Theater. The direction is wonderful, the cast is quite talented, and the story is beautifully told and completely raw with emotion. The information can be found here, if you'll be in the neighborhood next weekend:

My rabble-rouser of a husband decided to let the good folks at the Westboro Baptist Church (I refuse to link to them) know that he's doing the play, especially because there was an equality march this weekend that they were coming to protest. But as far as I know, they didn't show up at the theater, and nobody had to tell anybody to eat a bag of dicks. I'm sorry, was that crass? It's hard for me to find love for people whose primary message is that God hates certain people (you can guess which ones, based on context, if you haven't seen these clowns before). It doesn't even make sense. I'm no religious scholar, to be sure, but why would an omniscient and omnipotent being create something that he/she hated? The thing about this world is that even the ugly things have something beautiful about them. Even the Westboro Baptists think that their hate is somehow helping people go to heaven. That's completely asinine, of course, but the thought is there, right? QED, God loves everyone.

I didn't mean this to become a mini-treatise on religion, but it's a big theme in the play, and I've seen it twice, now. Yes, I do go to Pat's plays more than once. I'm a good wife. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of the story about Pat's doing Antigone in college. I went a lot, even though it was during finals. Between finals and seeing Antigone over and over again, I just about wanted to off myself. So...uhh...The Laramie Project. Yeah.

Anyway, I apologize if you've gotten this blog post emailed to you a number of times before it was filled with content. I kept trying to get the embedded player to work, which it didn't.

Hope you enjoy your Columbus Day!

Sunday, October 04, 2009


I had a really bad day at work on Friday. I know it's not the best idea to discuss specifics and such on a blog, so I won't. I tried to write about it in generalities, but that didn't work, either. Suffice it to say, I did nothing wrong, but I keep replaying everything in my head to figure out how I could have done it better. Any solution I can come up with clearly falls into the category of "not my job." Now, I really just don't want to go to work tomorrow, as I'm dreading facing this ridiculous bullshit all over again. But other people are counting on me to be there, so I'm gonna put on my big girl suit and haul arse out of bed tomorrow morning like everyone else.

Maybe someday I'll hit it big--sell my book (and the next one) and then write full time. I bet it'd only take me 6 months to finish a book, instead of a year! At least I'm seeing the light at the end of this one. I can't believe NaNoWriMo is coming up again. I signed up, and I've heard tell that there may be a little writing group starting up for November.

The book I'll be writing is the first in a four-book series. That's a bit ambitious, I know, but all (except the last one) can stand alone. I don't want to spoil it (for me or anyone else!), but I can at least tell you the tag line: "Love, war, and cupcakes at the end of the world."

My October is already looking crammed...not only do I have to finish the edits on this book, but I have to get my query letter ready to go and send it out. Then I have to start seriously planning the next book. I have the generalities down, but I need a little more of a plot outline before I'll feel comfortable writing in November.

I'll also be practicing extra hard this month for next month's concert. I survived the last rehearsal for the sole reason that my ear is not terrible. We had to play this ridiculously high passage by ourselves, and I actually did it (maybe not as confidently as I might have liked, but hey) and didn't make a fool of myself. By our next rehearsal (in two weeks), I intend to know all that music cold. you have any advice for navigating office situations that seem more like "The Office" or "Office Space" than they should? Or, conversely, can you distract me with your tales of excellent projects on your horizons?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Get Your Earbuds Ready to Groove

So I may have alluded to the fact that I've been playing with a band recently. Well. We don't have a name yet, but we're close, I think. In the meantime, I can tell you who's in it:

Ethan -- the mastermind...vox/guitars/computers
Amanda -- the cellist...she works with Ethan's wife
Ashley -- the violist with the mostest...she's the one who knew Ethan and got us involved
Theresa -- the violist who is playing violin and rockin' it
Me -- violin

As for the super exciting part of this post, here it is:

Part of our demo...let me show you it!

Side of Life

This one is called "Side of Life." Ethan wrote it. The strings you hear were recorded last night. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wikipedia Prevents Me From Taking Myself Too Seriously

This was going to be a navel-gazing post about self-actualization, and how I've always wanted to do certain things, and how I just decided to go ahead and do them, and how much happier I am as a person because I just went for it. But I wanted to make sure I meant the right thing when I said "self-actualization" (I was pretty close, actually) so I looked it up.

I'm not sure how visible this picture will be, so I will explain: it's a screenshot from the Wikipedia page for self-actualization. Some jokesters have renamed this first section "Self-actualization in Degeneres' Theory." It's not some scientist named Degeneres. It's Ellen Degeneres. Some hilarious fan changed Wikipedia to reflect Ellen Degeneres's theory of self-actualization, which is (as indicated by the purple arrow), "Just dance!"

It may be historically inaccurate, but I like it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beethoven Festival Was Beethoven-y

The Washington Sinfonietta's Beethoven festival concert has come and gone. It was good! It was a relief, really...that last movement of the symphony was HARD. I mean, it's not technically that difficult...until you play it as fast as the conductor wants it. My arm still sort of feels like it's going to fall off!

There were mixed feelings among my friends about the piano concerto. They really got into the bombast and showy fun of the Egmont overture, and it's hard to argue with a Beethoven symphony: they don't call these things "classical music" for nothing. The concerto, however, bucked expectations. The listeners said that they thought they knew where it was going, and all of the sudden, it veered off into something else. The change, they thought, was not altogether welcome. I found that it had a lot of repetition, but not necessarily productive repetition.

Afterward, we tried to hit up Palette, the restaurant attached to the Madison hotel, for some food and drink. Palette, unfortunately, was closed. However, they sat us in the lobby/lounge area of the Madison and served us from Palette's bar menu. The fried oysters were revelatory (sorry, no photos, but they weren't much to look at anyway), and they also had a mixed plate of small sandwiches (burgers, duck with provolone, and crab salad) and sweet potato fries that were all delightful.

The highlight may have been the cocktail I had, the Park Avenue:

This was a mix of bourbon, vermouth, and bitters, up with a cherry (but could also be served on the rocks). I'm usually a fan of sweeter cocktails, but I think I am learning to appreciate a well-made bourbon or whiskey drink.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Colorful Pittsburgh: The Strip District

I was a little confused when my parents told me that Daniel was taking us to the "Strip District." It's one of those things that sounds dirty, but isn't! It's a bit of floodplain along the Allegheny River, formerly home to industrial stuff like warehouses and probably some steel mills, seeing as how it's Pittsburgh and all. After the collapse of American industry (longer ago than you'd think!), this vacant industrial area was taken over by produce merchants, followed by fish markets, food importers, restaurants, and bars. Here's a history of the place, better than I can tell it.

The places that aren't selling food are usually selling souvenirs, with a few bookstores, culinary tools stores, and hippie clothes sellers thrown in there for good measure. There were also vendors of Italian pastries, shish kebab, and anything else you might want, either set up on the sidewalk or parked on the side of the street in brightly colored food trucks or tents. I took a couple of photos of the strip itself:


I got Pat a terrible towel as a souvenir...the one that has all the Super Bowls on it.


Yes, that's "Yinzers In The Burgh."

There were a couple of places that we really loved, such as the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. It was an Italian market where you could buy olive oil from big vats. I mean, there were lots of other cool things there that I actually got photos of:


This is what you see right when you walk in:


Food is so beautiful!

This is the mural on the way out of the store:


We ate at Wholey's fish market that day (pronounced "woolys"):


It was a great fish market, very famous (see? the photo says it!), and the food was excellent. It was just simple food...I got a fried cod sandwich with some freshly fried hush puppies. The hush puppies were interesting...full of onions and mushrooms, so the bread was really moist instead of dry and crumbly like hush puppies sometimes are.


Oh, yeah, that was good. Fish all hot and crisp, fresh tartar sauce, hot sauce for the hush puppies. Yeah. So good.

We ended up going back to the Strip District another day for breakfast. The sign (and everything we read on the Internet) said that DeLuca's had the best breakfast in town:


(Yes, the dude eyeing me with suspicion is my brother.)

I had cinnamon French toast from a HUGE brunch menu:


I also had bacon, and if you really want to see a picture of bacon, you can find it on my Flickr. This was good, solid food. Nothing fancy, but very tasty!

So, all in all, the Strip District was great! Lots to see, good, decent food...and if we'd gone back at night, it probably would have been lots of fun! There were a lot of restaurant/bars with outdoor seating. In fact, we probably should have gone out. Buying beer in Pittsburgh is the most ridiculous endeavor...and we're originally from a state with fairly restrictive blue laws!! We discovered this about Pittsburgh when we went out there for my brother's graduation back in 2006, but we still haven't gotten over it.

1. If you want a six-pack of beer, you must purchase it from a bar.
2. If you go to a beer distributor, you may buy beer---by the case or keg ONLY.
3. You may not buy a half-and-half case, even though bottles are boxed in half-cases.

It's much easier to just get a bottle of vodka, which may explain why cocktail hour with my family was almost as colorful as the Strip District itself.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Under Construction

This blog is under construction, so if it crashes your browser or looks weird...well...that's why. It'll be better soon. Prettier, I hope!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Practically Overnight

Hey! Do you remember when I said that you should go out and play because autumn would be here soon?

Well, let me tell you something: when I blog, the weather gods of the DC Metro area read it. I went away to Pittsburgh this past weekend for my brother's housewarming party (more on that in a later post, with non-BlackBerry photos, even!), and when I came back, it was FALL. No lie, there was a tree in our parking lot that had, practically overnight, browned all its leaves and dropped them in the walkway. I came back from the airport and crunched through the parking lot to get to my door.

This week, highs are in the low 70's with rain in the mornings, and peep that photo of today's sunset through a fractured sky. I took that on my way out of work this evening, over the Verizon Center. There is no denying it anymore: meteorological fall MEANS BUISNESS.

While on my trip (and enjoying the Labor Day holiday), I had the opportunity to finish the book, "The Post-Birthday World," about which I had mixed feelings. I think that if you click my Goodreads thingie on the right there (not the photo of the book, but the widget itself), you may be able to see my review of it.

I'm kind of unfair...I really only write reviews for books if I don't like them (or have such remarkably mixed feelings), but I try to justify that to myself by saying that the good books make me more introspective and I would rather sit and contemplate them than review them.
This is probably a partial truth.

Tonight, I have to practice because I have two really interesting things coming up. Tomorrow night, I'm headed to this guy's house to play with a band he's trying to put together. He went to school with a couple of violists from my orchestra and he's already written (and fully scored for strings!) an album's worth of mellow rock songs that I really enjoy. If we gel, maybe we'll get serious and gig or something, which could be a completely awesome experience.

The other reason to practice is that I'll be playing a Beethoven concert with the aforementioned orchestra on Saturday, and the rest of the week will be filled with rehearsals for that. If you want to check that out, here's the URL (which I will make into a link later if it doesn't automatically become one):

In any case, autumn is lovely, so I'm still going to tell you to go out and play. I definitely count having a beer on the balcony as "play," and if I manage to find any time this week, you can be sure that that's what I'll do.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blogging Outside

Alas, the food at brunch was so hastily devoured that even the camera with the fastest digital shutter could not have captured it.

If you are ever in the Washington, DC area, the Tabard Inn is an impressive place to take either a date who likes delicious food or a stodgy gentleman who likes his atmosphere dripping with eau de wooden library and leather chairs.

This is a photo of the adorable reception desk, as The Tabard is actually an old-style publick house.

It has been alluded to in many books, though I imagine it's not quite as literary as the original Tabard! I'm told that the guest rooms are equally charming, but I have not seen them myself.

Then the food: we ordered the house special doughnuts for the table. Fresh, warm doughnuts with thick-whipped vanilla cream...covered in sugar...really, they were quite like the little beignets I had yesterday, sans lemon. The thing about these doughnuts is the freshness...if you didn't know that they were fried in the kitchen just moments before, you'd swear they floated down from heaven and happened to land on your plate. On Top Chef Las Vegas, Wolfgang Puck criticized a contestant's doughnut for being heavy, throwing it at the cameraman (or in that general direction). If he could have mustered up the cajones to throw a Tabard Inn doughnut, it would just fly away and keep on going. They are THAT GOOD.

Then I had the eggs Benedict with house-made Tasso ham. It came with potatoes and onions. Everyone else had the omelette, which I think had asparagus and goat cheese. Jim asked for Tobasco, as he is technically on shore leave from France and I'm pretty sure it's hard to get hot sauce in a restaurant there, even if you know how to ask for it. Anyway, I put some on my potatoes, even though they already had plenty of other flavors from the onions and whatever herbs they'd cooked them with.

This other photo is of the pool at Jim's condo complex. After brunch, we went to hang out there, enjoying the unexpected sunshine. Also unexpected: the sheer number of babies we saw. Blair said that babies were the hippest new pool accessory, putting Jim's neon pool noodles to shame. This is, of course, patently untrue. Pool noodles are AWESOME.

I'm hoping to get a good GoodReads widget onto this blog so you can see what I'm reading (and maybe suggest more?). I just finished Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is actually kind of about geekery. I didn't realize that until after I started reading it! I recommend it, but if you haven't read Watchmen or The Lord of the Rings, I suggest you get those out of the way first. A viewing of Star Wars and some basic Star Trek may also be in order, just so you don't feel totally left out of everything.

And that's that! Go outside and play...autumn will be here soon enough!

Friday, August 28, 2009

A restaurant review: Eric Ripert's West End Bistro

If your city doesn't do Restaurant Week, well, maybe it should. Restaurant Week is the way for poor young professionals on a budget (like yours truly) to eat a slice of the good life while not breaking the bank. Twice a year, local restaurants offer prix-fixe lunches and dinners that, in most cases, showcase the strengths of the restaurant. Not only does it drive up numbers for that week (or two, if the restaurant generously extends the RW menu), but if they leave a good impression, they can hope that it will increase business in the future (when you start dating a sugar daddy or someone's rich parents are visiting).

Thursday night, Pat and I went to Adour at the St. Regis Hotel, which I would highly recommend for the ambiance alone: they've somehow managed to refurbish and modernize this gorgeous old hotel without making an abomination of it. More specifically, they've added contemporary touches (furniture, light fixtures, and the glassed-in wine rooms) but the juxtaposition of old and new is only pleasantly jarring. Luckily, I would also recommend it highly on the merits of the food alone. It was probably the best Restaurant Week meal we've ever had.

Unfortunately for you, I didn't have the presence of mind to take photos then, so you'll have to trust me when I say that the food was lovingly cooked and painstakingly plated. Pat's ceviche appetizer was melt-in-your-mouth and topped with some tasty hot and spicy popcorn. I described my watermelon and tomato gazpacho as a "gateway gazpacho"...while I'm not the world's biggest gazpacho fan, this light, beautiful, spicy soup made me understand what all the hubbub was about. We both had the lamb, which was practically fork-tender and dripping with flavorful juices. My strawberry and vanilla vacherin looked and tasted like something I could have made (this is a compliment, for those of you who have not had the privilege of my cooking), but I was so happy that they had gone ahead and done it for me. That's why I go to restaurants! Pat's orange sachertorte looked difficult, even for me, and tasted amazing. They also pampered us with plenty of extras: warm mini-baguettes with perfect salted and unsalted French-style butters, four one-bite gougeres as an amuse-bouche, garlic hummus with crostini as a second amuse-bouche, and six mini-macarons with dessert! We felt loved.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, this post is about the Restaurant Week lunch I had on Friday. Pat really wanted to go to the West End Bistro because he's into the celebrity chef thing. (N.B., Adour is chef-owned by Alain Ducasse.) I picked up this reservation not knowing anything about it other than Pat's interest, thinking that he'd be accompanying me. He ended up having to work, so I got my friend Caroline to come with me.

Now, I am quite bright in many ways, but I will go ahead and tell you that I am mental-map challenged, and that I experience the directions-induced anxiety that comes with that. If I haven't been to a place on a regular basis, the chances that I will recall its location from an address or even a set of directions are slim to none.

Imagine my surprise when I walked up on this restaurant today, in the pouring rain, and saw that it was smack-dab in the middle of the Ritz-Carlton! I'd been there before, eaten there, even (at another of their restaurants)! But I couldn't put the address with the place. Anyway, I was glad I hadn't worn a dress because of the rain, but when it turned out that I'd be having lunch at the Ritz, I kind of wished I was wearing a dress! Once I got over the initial shock of arriving at the Ritz in my pants and my soaking wet flats, I met Caroline at the bar and we took our seats.

The first thing they brought was bread, sliced, with a big pat of butter on a butter plate. The butter had a few beads of condensation on it, and it looked enough like the butter from last night that I went for it. Quelle surprise! This butter was much too salty! This made me worry about the rest of the meal.

Fortunately, the tomato consomme allayed my fears. It was as though someone had taken bruschetta and made it into a light vinaigrette, and made that into a dish of tangy, cool soup, served with plain crostini. You can see the bit of crostini floating in my soup because it was the kind of thing that tasted like it oughtta be mopped up by a crouton. Also, I'd placed it on the side of the bowl for the photograph and it promptly slipped off into the soup.

The second course was pretty fantastic. Caroline got the fish burger with greens and some sort of thin aioli sauce.

I got the potato gnocchi with asparagus, tomatoes, and supposedly some kind of cured meat in the sauce (but I couldn't taste that), with a duck egg on top.

I don't think I've had a duck egg before. I didn't detect a difference between the duck egg and a chicken egg, except for the size. I don't think that poaching is necessarily the best cooking technique to bring out differences in flavor between different types of eggs, but I didn't mind was delicious as a whole dish. I love eggs as dressing for salads, pasta, all sorts of things.

Anyway, then we had dessert, which was lemon beignets with basil ice cream. WOULD EAT AGAIN. I've never met anything made with basil that I didn't like. For that matter, I've never met anything made with lemon that I didn't like. A tart lemon substance had been injected into the little beignets, making them explode with bright lemony love when you bit down on them. They were also dusted with granulated sugar. The tart of the lemon brought out the best in the basil, all the sweetness and earthiness. In all, the dessert was heavenly.

It was an excellent lunch. There was a bit of a mishap with my glass of sparkling wine: I ordered it and had to remind the waiter after the first course was finished. Of course Restaurant Week is much busier than usual, so I will give them a pass for that. I don't suppose I ought to rate the restaurants I talk about here. I'm not interested in being rigorous about a rubric or doing any math, so if I gave a rating, it would likely be arbitrary. And I am nice, so it would probably also be inflated and not as useful as, say, Yelp, or other sites that do this sort of thing on purpose.

As for this blog, I think I've limited myself too much. I know the prevailing suggestion is to specialize...find a niche and blog the hell out of it, right? But my life isn't like that. If I have to write about just one thing, I get bored and run out of things to say. So, watch this space for something! I'm alive, and I'm trying to make time for everything, as usual!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

gang aft agley

I had a steamship chugging along at the end of 2008, ready to carry this blog across the Atlantic in its capacious hold.

Somewhere near Greenland, the ship struck an iceberg and has steadily been sinking. The rats abandoned ship but the blog went down with it. For this, I apologize.

Because this isn't a personal blog, I will not go into the details of the iceberg. Needless to say, it was stealthy and huge, and came under cover of night to tear a gaping hole in the ship's hull. Shortly thereafter, the engine ran out of steam.

They've been dredging for the blog, and I think they've sent divers after it. Until it can be fully recovered, updates will be sporadic at best. Thank you for your understanding.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Six Sentences

Check it out:

After learning about the six sentences blog, I went back through all my fragments, the little bits of writing I've been putting on this blog since I opened it. Can you believe that none of them are six sentences long? There were a couple of fours, fives, sevens, and eights...but no sixes. Unbelievable!

Perhaps I think in strange cadences, requiring that extra breath, that last word. Could you write something incredible in six sentences? Every time I think about what I might write in six sentences, I feel afraid to suck. I think I'm going to have to just keep doing what I do, and hope that some day, something works out to be six sentences by lucky accident.

That last paragraph was four sentences, by the way, as was the one before it. Maybe I do tend to think in multiples (and factors!) of four.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recession jokes!

In the coming months, we'll be seeing more and more effects of the recession in every aspect of our daily lives. Here's some of what you can expect:

Automobiles -- American cars will now be replaced with cuter, cheaper, more fuel efficient foreign models.

Spouses -- American spouses will now be replaced with cuter, cheaper, more fuel efficient foreign models.

Weddings -- Fabulous nuptials will be scaled-back; no more huge feasts with carving stations and sushi bars and cotton candy martinis. Let them eat cake!

Cakes -- The cake industry isn't getting a bailout! Buttercream and fondant will be replaced by that canned frosting crap and sheets of construction paper.

Food -- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich that doesn't give you salmonella is now considered a lavish meal.

Paychecks -- Executives of companies receiving bailouts will have their pay capped at $500,000. Most of that money will go toward their extravagant lifestyles, but the rest will go right to offshore accounts in the Caymans. The rest of us will, on the whole, have our pay cut. The money we don't pay in taxes will go toward gasoline and salmonella-free peanut butter.

Houses -- Please feel free to trade in your ridiculous adjustable rate mortgage for a cardboard box. Cardboard boxes can be obtained for no money down, and no money ever.

Entertainment -- Because those digital converter boxes will be a long time coming, I suggest that you check out a book about Euchre from your local library.

The Internet -- Scammers will no longer be looking for your worthless bank account numbers. Take care to guard your precious bodily fluids while online.

CNN -- Anderson Cooper won't stop using Kiehl's products, but he'll use a little bit less.

Awards shows -- Award statuettes will be made of brass. Swag bags will contain canned food and drugstore toiletries.

MTV -- Kids on "My Super Sweet 16" will only receive one car for their birthdays, instead of two.

Rap songs -- Lyrics will reference Andre sparkling wine and unattainable female acquaintances.

Electronics -- The boom box is making a comeback. Dig out your old mix tapes. And boom boxes.

Fashion -- Trends to watch out for: burlap; galoshes.

Shopping -- Go ahead and put that shelf for your cardboard box on layaway. Buy now, own later!

Births -- To save money, drugs will not be administered.

Funerals -- Natural resources are at a premium, so burial is out of the question. Everyone gets cremated during a recession, and put in a utilitarian stainless steel urn, to be kept on a shelf in your home. If your cardboard box does not come equipped with a shelf, and you don't have the one you put on layaway yet, you can leave the urn outside. Stainless steel urns are weatherproof.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's My Motivation?

Right now, the main purpose of my writing this blog post is to avoid working at home.

I read an interesting post over at this blog, where the guy is working on a novel and journaling the process. He mentioned something about not understanding a character's motivations, and I found myself nodding along right away. One of my characters is like that. Unfortunately for me, she's the main character. I'm going to have to a) figure out why she's acting that way and, b) change her a little bit so she's less like a robot maid and more like a human being.

Sometimes I forget that the people I'm closest to are their own people. Rather, I think of them in terms of their relationship to me. I think this probably means that I'm selfish and/or self-centered, but maybe it's not just me. Are you consciously aware of the inner monologues and personal demons of the people who are closest to you? I know that my husband goes to work and school, and thinks about writing a play sometimes, and likes cigars and acting and drinking with friends. But what's really going on in there, moment by moment? What does the voice in his head sound like? What is it telling him to do, and why?

I think that's sort of what happened with Lily, my main character. Because I quickly came to regard her as a close friend, I didn't really question her actions. I trusted that she knew what was best for herself, and let her loose in her plot. But now that I'm coming up on the end of the story, I don't know why she acted the way she did. I want to believe that she had a compelling reason, and not just the one that the plot gave her.

It's tempting to say that sometimes, people just do things for "the usual no-good reason," as Douglas Adams would say. But it's not true. People think they do things for no reason, but they usually just don't know (or are denying knowledge of) their motivations. I used to peel off all the white parts of my fingernails and toenails when I was younger. My mother took me to a psychologist, who basically determined that I was odd but fine and my mother needed therapy for completely unrelated reasons. Was I an overly anxious child? Yeah, sometimes I would lie awake at night and worry that my parents would die before I learned how to cook for myself or braid my own hair. Is that why I peeled my nails? Maybe. Probably not.

I know now that I just hate having nails longer than a few millimeters. If they're too long, I can't play the violin with them, I can't type with them, I can't avail myself of as many sexual opportunities with them, and I always manage to slice into them with a good sharp kitchen knife while cooking with them. They're pretty when manicured, but otherwise, what good are they? My short nails are just as fierce under a couple of coats of black cherry polish, and they don't make me feel so utterly useless. So I cut them. Frequently.

So, here's the trick: in a first person narrative, how do I convey to the reader that there are reasons for a character's behavior that she doesn't even realize? That's kind of a rhetorical question, as I know it'll take some gentle massaging in the rewrite. She'll have to tell you things about herself that she doesn't realize she's telling you. That's always the trick.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Creativity and the fence

These days I'm employed to prevent people from writing so much about something that the very essence of that thing is lost. But it turns out that I've been doing the same thing. I've been writing on and on at length about creativity, and in doing so, I've completely lost track of what it actually is.

Creation is the act of bringing into existence something that did not previously exist. Usually, you see creativity most often in the arena of problem solving. A problem is a roadblock, and a solution is a way around it. If the roadblock is a tall, electrified, barbed wire fence; and the gates on either side of it are locked; and the sides of the road are sheer vertical rock faces, then the solution is going to have to be creative. Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention.

Often, in life, you will come up on a problem like the barbed wire fence, and someone on the other side will tell you: "Hey! Slip me ten bucks and I'll give you the access card." If you swipe the access card, the electricity goes off for sixty seconds and the gates open up. It's--you got it--the easy way out. It costs you even more than the $10, though. Every time you take the easy way out, you lose a little bit of the drive and passion that once pushed you into getting shocked and cut in pursuit of your own way over the fence.

But here's something to think about: the guy who sold you the access card. How did HE get over the fence? And, more importantly, what's his motivation for keeping you from getting over the fence your own way? This blogger had a couple of ideas about that. It's fairly obvious, really. The guy on the other side stands to profit if you don't want to go through the trouble of figuring out a way over the fence. Not only that, but he retains his power over you. If, however, you make it over by yourself, you can stand there and either a) sell access cards for $5 and undercut his business or b) tell others of his nefarious scheme. Either way, his own creativity (the way he got over the fence) goes unrewarded. The major downside to this is that we never find out if your creative solution over the fence was the same as his: it's an innovation blocker.

Thankfully, creativity doesn't always have to occur in the service of a solution. Some of the most interesting stories and poems that I've read do little more than highlight and explore a problem. If I approached the fence, climbed it, and, blistered and bloody, ultimately refused the indignity of paying for the access card, leaving my body to die a slow and painful death on my side of the fence, that could be an excellent story. But there is little to no reward in life for someone who merely reiterates a problem, even if it's done in an interesting way. That's one reason why it's so hard to write a good, lasting story. You have to balance your self-indulgent exploration with the value to society that you might be able to offer.

Fiction writers: how do you balance your thoughtful self-indulgence with the value you want to present to society? How do you find your big picture issues? Do you start with issues and come to the story, or does the story ultimately dictate its own issues?

I find that getting shocked and bloodied trying to find my own way over the fence is sometimes its own reward, but sometimes I'm curious about the other side.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I have not forgotten about the blog!

I'm making good progress on the novel, so I haven't been able to write many short things, or really much of anything else. I have an interesting post coming up on creativity,'ll see!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Weighing in on Elizabeth Alexander's Inauguration Poem

While I lay here, recovering from a bout of InaugurationSARS, I figure that I should probably record my two cents on the poetry that attempted to kick-start this historic presidency. I should comment on the poetry (and the poet) chosen to commemorate what was, no doubt, one of the biggest days in America's lifelong struggle with political, racial, and social identity.

What you may not know about me is that in my other life, when not scribbling down scraps of fiction, working on my novel, or just plain working for a living, I'm a poetry scholar. If I'd continued with my graduate school journey, I probably would have ended up writing my dissertation on some topic in 21st century American poetry/poetics.

To add to that, I was there to hear this thing (hence the InaugurationSARS). Here are my photos.

As a result, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this poem (transcript courtesy of the New York Times).

Here's the deal, folks: it was terrible.

The Guardian's books blog characterized the poem as "too prosy" but that's not the real problem with it. That same blog suggested that Alexander's idea of using African praise song form was a good one, but that she lacked follow-through. That's getting closer to the crux of the problem.

The biggest problem with this poem, in my humble opinion, was that the poem completely lacked lyricism. She must not have fully understood the magnitude of her task: not only was she setting the tone for a historic presidency on an amazing day, but she was also supposed to set the tone for Obama's continuing engagement with the fine arts as a person and as President. Whoops. Not much art went into the writing of that poem. It's like she didn't read it aloud to herself while she was writing it, and the first time it was ever spoken was on the 20th.

The poem's title "Praise Song for the Day" would have been great, for a poem that was actually about The Day, or for something that actually resembled a praise song, in form. Check out the example of praise song that the Encyclopedia Britannica gives.

When I read this, I see nobility, power, beauty. Even in translation, this praise song has a lyricism to it (no doubt a credit to the translator's skill). There is music in the words, and the praise soars so high it nearly reaches godhead. Let's see what Elizabeth Alexander wrote:

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

I don't even have to read past the first line to realize that she has it all wrong: "catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking." The line is clever, sure, but what does it really mean? It means, of course, that we make the noise that is around us. That we don't ever truly listen. Is that really what she wants to say to us at a moment when we have just devoured the words of our new President as though we'd been starving for wisdom? Yikes.

"Someone is[...] repairing the things in need of repair." Oh, really? So it's all taken care of? Great! What did we want this Obama guy to do, again? I know she was trying to raise our consciousness about the importance of the little things, the simple things. By raising our consciousness, she hoped to glorify those small acts. That's why she chose the uniform, and the tire. These things have connotations: service, utility. I'm certain that's what she was going for. It was a nice try, but who, standing on the mall or glued to their CNN, was really going to take that extra step? Also, why is there no music here?

Of course, there's no music here because someone is trying to make it somewhere else, with an eclectic collection of instruments, and is apparently failing miserably at it. The list of instruments itself has no music. It almost hurt to hear her awkwardly rattle them off: "a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice." Look at the syllables of the last four instruments: 2, 2, 4, 1. The consonants are unyielding and there's no rhythm to the words. I'm sure she considered her choice of items carefully, but it's clear that she didn't think about the words at all.

I can barely even describe how infuriating the next bit is, to me. It's everything that everyone who hates poetry hates about poetry. She thinks she is doing the world a service by elevating the mundane, but it comes off as nothing more than a laundry list of observations. There is absolutely nothing in the text (nor was there anything in her delivery) that signals that these were simple acts made glorious. Below, I will link you to a poem in which the poet glorifies a trip to the coffee shop, even while contrasting it with the wonders of a trip abroad. It's possible to do exactly what Elizabeth Alexander wanted to do--just, not like this.

"We encounter each other in words," to your detriment, Ms. Alexander. She later goes on to say that in the sparkle of the day, anything is possible, and that we walk forward to see what lies ahead, which as far as I can tell is just a brief paraphrase of every stump speech Obama gave during his campaign. She also throws in something about "figuring it out at kitchen tables," which I can only assume is her one-line homage to Joe Biden's stump speeches.

Combined with Alexander's lackluster delivery, this poem was quite clearly a clunker. If it had been a car, I wouldn't have been able to drive it off the lot without something crucial falling off of it.

It's a damn shame that Gwendolyn Brooks did not survive to write this poem, because I know she would have known exactly how to do it.

President Obama managed to get superstars to cover every other aspect of his Inaugural festivities, especially the music: Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman. Why not a superstar of poetry? And, if the idea was to accentuate the glory of the mundane, why not choose a superstar poet whose entire oeuvre is based on that very idea? I'm thinking, of course, of former poet laureate Billy Collins. As you can see from the linked item, Billy Collins is the biggest superstar in popular poetry for good reason. This man creates the idea of home for Americans like no other poet alive today. He's not Gwendolyn Brooks, but he would have gotten the job done.

For more analysis of the poem (line by line, very thorough) please see the University Diaries blog:

Now that I've spouted off on the subject, let me know what you thought of the inaugural poem. Yea or nay?

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Blast of Writing From The Past

I Googled myself today, just for shits and giggles. Something interesting usually pops up whenever I do this, and this time was no exception. The first thing I found was the headline:

Dishonest scholar deserves punishment

Now, why would I ever have written about that? The most probable explanation is that my friend was an editor for our high school paper and desperately needed to fill some column inches on the op-ed page, way back in October 1998. (This very same friend just defended her Ph.D. thesis this morning, by the way. Congratulations, Dr. Courtney!)

When I stumbled upon the article, I couldn't imagine having written something so banal. I must have been trying to pad my journalistic portfolio or something. But as I read it, I recognized more and more of myself in it. I was most certainly a dramatic young lady, as you will see from the article, provided below:

Lon "L.T." Grammer was a model student. He had a 3.91 GPA and brilliant recommendations from his former teachers at Cuesta Community College in California. He was a perfect candidate for transfer to Yale University in the fall of 1994. So why would such a shining political science student copy a take-home exam? And why would he choose to copy an exam that was clearly no better than an F paper? These were the valid questions that led Grammer’s professors and Yale authorities to begin investigating Grammer’s character.

What they found was startling: Grammer had falsified his transcript, raising his GPA from 2.077 to 3.91, and forged the recommendations of several fictitious teachers. Grammer had also created information for his driver’s license applications in both New Hampshire and Connecticut. He is currently fighting a court battle with the town of Meriden, and another with Yale is yet to come.

However, a court case is not a strict enough punishment for this deviant from the system. Many high school seniors work themselves ragged to get into educational institutions like Yale. These honest students agree that someone who repeatedly broke the law, falsified his entire transcript and has a C- grade point average should be thrown out of the school, prosecuted to the fullest, and embarrassed thoroughly.

Grammer should be blushing already; he was caught because he cheated off of someone of near-equal academic standing. Yale should make an example of him, maybe by testifying against him in his court cases for driver’s license fraud, just to make sure he gets the punishment he deserves. Perhaps he should be sentenced to repeat twelfth grade, or maybe he should be blacklisted from the top 25 undergraduate schools in the nation. Yale should teach Grammer to work his way up from nothing by leaving him alone with the aftermath of his self-destruction.


"aftermath of his self-destruction" --> that's how I knew it was mine. The bit about being sentenced to repeat the twelfth grade, as I was embarking upon my own senior year experience, was a dig at high school. I was probably mad at some administrator for censoring something with genuine artistic merit (I spent a good portion of my junior and senior years that way). This flimsy opinion piece, which I probably didn't even care much about, is written such that it is able to remind me of exactly who I was at the time, even 10+ years later.

Do you ever go back and read things you've written in the past? Do they stand the test of time? Is there a voice that you recognize as "you," and has it changed in the interim?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Like the Great Flood, but with "aliens"

It's like we're flying along in our spaceship, minding our own business, and suddenly, aliens hail us and tell us to prepare to be boarded. That's how Washington, DC, feels right now. We know they're coming, but we have no idea how many and we're not sure exactly when. They may already be here, among us. Spying on us. Learning our ways. Paying through the nose at our hotels.

The intersection nearest to my office had a pile of cement barricades on each corner, ready and waiting. I looked at them, puzzled. As anyone who has ever lived as a pedestrian in a city with an underground train system can tell you, riding the Metro tends to make you compartmentalize the city in your mind. Bits of city only exist around their correlating Metro stations. My office is a mere 1.3 miles away from the White House, but I never really think about it that way because the White House is on a completely different Metro line. (Yes, I did look up that distance on Google Maps.) The barricades, I realized, are waiting here because there's going to be an official inaugural ball in the beautiful museum across the street from my office. Of course.

I'm used to seeing soldiers in fatigues: we have a branch of the Army headquartered on the fourth floor of my building. But this morning, I saw a soldier in full dress uniform, carrying an important-looking silver briefcase. He saluted a man in fatigues who was entering my building in front of me, and both men turned and looked over their shoulders to share a decidedly un-militaristic smile. I like to think that they smiled because they're prepared to be boarded. And perhaps, they smiled because the word on the street is that when all the aliens leave, we'll have something new. Things will be different, maybe even better.

Things are gonna change, I can feel it.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Under pressure

Click here for 40 Inspirational Speeches in Two Minutes.

How do you get motivated to create? If it were easy, everyone would do it. Creativity is hard work, and it takes time. I started this blog because I wanted to make time for my creative work. That's the same reason why I did NaNoWriMo.

Having completed NaNoWriMo for three years running, and having worked in deadline-driven publishing environments for four years, I have determined that I work extremely well with deadlines. NaNoWriMo's deadline may be somewhat arbitrary, but it works for me.

The blog that I linked to at the top is run by this guy I went to high school with and his friends from college (he made the video!). The blog ran a contest in September/October for a movie script with strong female characters. I ended up writing what I consider to be a comic book-type movie, for the teens-and-early-twenties-comic-book-fangirl set (is that too specific? Probably!). I actually didn't finish by their deadline, and consequently, didn't submit it. However, because of the deadline, I now have more than 100 pages of screenplay to my name. That's 100 pages more than I had in August. It's amazing what a little bit of deadline pressure can do!

Do deadlines work for you? Do you set them for yourself, or do you let others set them? And if deadlines aren't your thing, what is it that drives you to create?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy New Year, Internet!

The secret is out: I have a giant crush on Wil Wheaton's writing. He loves it and he works hard at making a vocation of it, which I admire. A discerning reader can tell that his writing has been carefully crafted, but his voice is strong and refreshing, and he always makes sure that the reader is rewarded (usually emotionally, but sometimes intellectually as well) for the time spent reading. The truest indicator of his skill is my ability to follow his posts on gaming, a subject in which I have little to no interest.

Anyway, I'm telling you about this because a recent post of his on the demise of Ficlets has brought a couple of Internet "writing opportunities" (for lack of a better term) to my attention. A commenter there suggested that he check out quillpill, which is a Twitter-esque noveling site. When I poked the Internet a bit more, I came up with textnovel, a similar app but without the character limit. These two programs are apparently the U.S. versions of the Japanese "Magic Island," which is a platform that has allowed angsty Japanese girls with cell-phones to hit the best-seller list. According to the New Yorker article, 4 out of the top 5 literary fiction books in Japan were cell-phone novels.

Cell-phone novels! Novels written by and for the age of mobile technology! For once, I sort of don't feel as though I am behind the curve. I've updated this fiction blog from my mobile device more than once or twice. When I am riding in a car and we go past something that makes me think, that puts a phrase in my head that I can't stop hearing, I love having the ability to write it up on my BlackBerry and e-mail it straight to this blog. But I'd be curious to see one of these published cell-phone novels in person. They sound like picture-less manga, more or less. Too bad my Japanese was never very good and is rusty now, otherwise I'd try to order one.

Cell-phone noveling: is it something I should look into? Would you be interested in reading/writing that type of literature? Why or why not? And do you think it even counts as literature?