Monday, November 01, 2010


May 4

“I thought The Bureaucrat was gonna ask me to file a goddamn TPS report after that meeting, iswhat I wasthinking,” Jannon slurred her words only slightly, despite having had a three-margarita lunch. Her voice crackled through the phone because she was underground, and Graham struggled to talk back to her in hushed, work-appropriate tones.


“What? I can’t hear you, I’m—whccsshhhttt—fucking metro,” her voice popped through the static.

‘Christ,’ Graham thought. “Ok, well, I’ll see you at home, baby,” he said. As he hung up the phone, he couldn’t help but wonder why she went and got drunk in the middle of the day, and how she could get away with begging off from work by telling her boss that she was ‘sick’. Graham opened up an IM window to Sean.

Graham281: You heard from your girl J?
xcSeanxc: jannon? what up?
Graham281: Some new boss is a bureaucracy freak, so she got drunk during lunch. She’s on her way home.
xcSeanxc: thats my sister for ya :)
Graham281: It blows my mind that she can do that in the federal government, while I’m afraid to take a day off for pneumonia over here. If I’m out sick, nobody else is going to meet my deadlines for me, and all hell would break loose trying to get the magazine out on time.
xcSeanxc: i dig
Graham281: Oh, well. Our tax dollars may be hard at work, but at least I know that our government isn’t.
xcSeanxc: lol
Graham281: Back to work.
xcSeanxc: ya, i got a final tomorrow
Graham281: Good luck.
xcSeanxc: thx

Graham turned his attention away from his computer and cell phone, toward the stack of index forms that had accumulated on his desk. If he could only finish them now, he wouldn’t have to worry about them come October. But all he could think of was how agreeably tipsy Jannon would be when he got home later.

It had been a long winter, and a short cold spring, so people were relieved when the air today was so warm that they wouldn’t catch their deaths if they went out with bare necks. The last of the melted snow and ice ran through the streets and down to the gutters, where it trickled down with an audible tinkle. And in this city, the private alleyways of the tony little houses had turned into private creeks, overlooked by the houses’ open windows and the hired help in the front yards, hurriedly getting rid of last year’s leaves to make way for this year’s grass.

That’s what Jannon saw as she stumbled gamely through her neighborhood, high on the beautiful weather and on her own cleverness. “Ah,” she said aloud, to nobody in particular. “If only more of my problems could be solved by getting trashed in the middle of the day!” There was no doubt in her mind that her supervisor knew what was up, but because he was also a little bit slarmied (only Jannon knew about the flask he kept in his desk drawer), then it was fine. And though her perception had been somewhat tempered by the drink (curse you, Lauriol Plaza, and your delicious mango margaritas!) it had seemed to Jannon that he was in more of a rush than usual to get rid of whatever it was on his computer screen when she came in to see him. ‘Such is life in this city,’ she mused, lustily inhaling the green scent of the late spring thaw. ‘You don’t ask questions, you get what you want.’

Though she was a bit higher on the totem pole than a staff ass, Jannon’s job was mostly clerical work. She was too highly educated for that kind of job, and everybody knew it. So they let her finish her work in half the time that she was allotted, and goof off for the rest of it. She spent a lot of time on the internet, and today, she’d spent a lot of money on drinks at lunch. Life was good.

Then she saw her.

A girl stood on the corner. She looked to be 25 or so, about Jannon’s age, but a bit shorter and even paler in complexion. Her long, dark hair swirled around her head in waves, and everything about her, from her crisply ironed pastel blue tennis outfit to her huge brown-black eyes—it all seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. The only detail out of place was her shoes: tall, white galoshes with deep purple soles and a smattering of forget-me-nots printed all over them. Jannon stopped walking for a moment, struck by the vision of the girl (and a short wave of nausea: perhaps she shouldn’t have had that last enchilada). There were no cars on the road, but the girl did not cross the street.

“Excuse me,” Jannon said, approaching her. “Can I help you get somewhere?”

“Not all who wander are lost,” she mumbled under her breath.


“I’m not lost, thank you,” the girl said. Her voice was velvety and seemed to disappear by weaving itself into the warm May breezes.

“Oh, do you live around here?” Jannon was not the sort to make idle conversation, but she was tipsy and her nostrils were full of early flowers, and there was simply something almost magical about this girl that made Jannon want to get to know her.

“Yes,” she said. “I moved in—a couple blocks that way—just last week.” That voice was like butter, melting into the warm air and coating Jannon with something that was somehow pleasantly unctuous.

“Well! I’m Jannon!” she stuck her hand out. “I live down there.” She nodded in the direction of her house. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

The girl shook her hand and smiled a bright white smile. “I’m Maddie. And, thanks.”

They stood on the corner, smiling at each other in silence for what seemed like five minutes.

“I guess I’ll be seeing you around,” Jannon said.

“Sure,” Maddie smiled, and started to cross the street toward the metro stop.

“Oh hey,” Jannon called after her. “I like your boots. But it’s supposed to be…”

“Thanks!” Maddie called back.

“…sunny.” The sky had gone dark while Jannon and Maddie were standing there in conversation, but Maddie’s smile had been so bright, Jannon hadn’t noticed. A stiff breeze rustled the new leaves on the trees. The water started to fall in fist-sized drops, and Jannon ran the rest of the way home, dodging the rain until it started falling faster and smaller.

There was nothing about this day that would have made him think of Charles, but that’s where Graham’s mind wandered as he walked home in the rain. The forecast hadn’t mentioned rain, but luckily, he had his emergency umbrella. Perhaps it was the reminder of his Boy Scout-like preparedness that made him think of Charles, his friend and mentor in Eagle Scouts, and his beloved older brother. His brother the soldier had been an officer, and a gentleman. He laughed a little: the most prepared person that Graham had ever known could not have possibly prepared for 9/11. A raindrop blew under the umbrella and landed on the top of Graham’s head, running down his face like a tear. It had been almost five years since Graham had started shaving his head in memoriam.

Even in the rain, it was a beautiful day. The wind rustled the tree branches and whirled the raindrops around like miniature tornadoes. Charles used to like rainy days, Graham recalled, reaching into his pocket to grab his keys.

“Jannon! I’m home!” he called, making sure to rustle the keys in the lock particularly loudly. Jannon didn’t like to be startled when somebody came into the house, and she was even more prone to fits of anxiousness when she was tipsy.

“Graham, daaah-ling!” she effused, breezing into the room in her kimono. ‘Classic Jannon,’ he thought, as he wrapped his arms around her. He liked the way her hair smelled like Herbal Essence shampoo.

“Did you get caught in the rain, babe?” he asked.

“I did,” she grinned. “But I met the most wonderful new neighbor!” Her cheeks were flushed with her enthusiasm. Graham liked the way that she had put her short, dirty-blonde hair back with sparkly clips, and he liked the feel of her soft, white skin against his dark brown hands. He liked looking at her without her glasses on, so he could stare directly into her watery blue eyes.

“Oh yeah? Was he cute?”

She pouted, her eyes narrowing. “Come on! You don’t even know—”

“All right, all right, tell me about our new neighbor!” he chuckled.

“She just moved in a little while ago. Her name is Maddie. And she’s gorgeous. I’ve never seen anyone quite so beautiful in my life.”

“Mattie?” Graham asked. “Like, short for Martha?”

“No, Maddie, like short for Madeline.”

“Well, I’ll have to keep an eye out for this Maddie, then, won’t I?”

“You won’t have to be on any kind of special lookout,” Jannon smiled. “You’ll just see her, trust me.”

“Any chance of…” Graham started to ask.

“Nope!” Jannon laughed. Whenever she came home praising a female friend, Graham took the opportunity to ask for a threesome. It happened often enough that he didn’t even have to ask the entire question anymore. “But if it were to happen at some point…which it won’t…but if it were, it would be with someone of Maddie’s caliber.”

“Wow!” Graham laughed, too. “Now I’ve got to see her.” Jannon whacked him in the arm once, for good measure. He started trying to tickle her, and Jannon started trying to strip him, because his clothes were still wet from walking in the rain. Jannon wanted him dry so he wouldn’t soak their bed by accident when she pushed him onto it and had her way with him. She wanted him dry so that he could sit at the table with her after that, eating leftover Chinese food and drinking Yuengling while they talked about their days. She wanted to tell him all about the new boss, the flask, the computer, and the margaritas. But first, she wanted him dry.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How time flies with nary a blog post!

Hello, world! I have been quite busy with work and music lately, and I will be the first to admit that I haven't spent nearly enough time on my writing.

Luckily for me, National Novel Writing Month (links at right!) is coming up soon. If nothing else, it's an excellent excuse to tell the rest of the world to bugger off for a bit while I get some writing done.

This will be the fifth such noveling event that I have participated in. To commemorate that (while doing something moderately useful with this blog space), I have decided to release my first NaNo novel (which is novella-length and will likely remain so) throughout the month of November.

Yes, that's right. I'm going to give you (my loyal 10-person readership) my first novella. For free. I'll chunk it up into digestible bits and edit for loose ends, and put it on this blog for you to read throughout November. I think it's a pretty interesting story, especially considering that I started with four names and mental pictures of characters, and just let them tell me what their story was. Feel my frustration as I don't get through two pages without writing an IM conversation. (I very nearly abandoned the entire endeavor after that.) Revel in my freewheeling use of 2006 slang. Be shocked (and moderately appalled) by the plot twist in the middle, where a simple story about four young adults making their way in post-9/11 Washington somehow becomes a twisted tale of conspiracy, betrayal, and madness. There are some overwrought, maudlin bits...and a couple of really good bits that I can't wait for people to read. 

So, starting November 1st, this space will be home to my first novella, _Aftermath_. I hope you'll join me for the ride.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Pictures Worth Approximately 960 Words Each

Hello, readers! Here are some pictures that show what I've been thinking about and doing for the past couple of weeks.

NRIs 007 This is my band, The NRIs (linked at left), playing the Black Cat. I was hopped up on cold medicine and looking forward to the single bottle of Dos Equis that I allowed myself at the end of the night. (Thanks Jess for the photo!)

I didn't take this photo, but if I had, I would have gotten to talk
 to them. I would have asked so many weird questions.
Yes, this is a photo from Wil Wheaton's Flickr. Yes, it's Wil as Fawkes and Felicia as Codex, from The Guild, season 4, which is supposed to come out in time for ComicCon. Yes, I do know when that is. These people inspire me to make things.

I took this photo of Theresa at The Red and the Black before a Machines on Vacation show. It looks so awesome because I used a "retro camera" app for my Droid Eris, the lighting was perfect, and the bar is a throwback to a French Quarter bordello.

Illustration by Michael Byers, Washington Post Magazine
I participated in the 3rd annual Washington Post Hunt, solving puzzles downtown with my good-looking, dirty-minded, married or almost-married rock star friends. We solved the three easy ones right away...then overthought a bit on the super easy one. We were opposed to the execution of the football one (as many other people were, judging by the boos Dave Barry received). And we were a bit flummoxed by the endgame anagram...but all in all, it was a fair showing. We'll rock this thing next year, now that we know what's what. This is only worth about 900 words, but it is an illustration.

Thanks Peter for the photo! Clicking will take you to his Flickr.
And here's some orange and black. These photos are out of order chronologically, but again...high-functioning ADD, here. This is how my mind is processing all these things right now.

That's it for now! I have some more blog topics on the backburner, including a rant about dressing up to drink, a flash fiction contest, and an opportunity for guest bloggers. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 14, 2010

One Hundred

Okay, I finally made it to my hundredth post! It's only been, what, four years? Here's to hitting the next hundred before 2012!

I was looking for cute images of the number 100,
but I saw one made of cupcakes, so this
is the photo you get. I made these.
Pretend they spell out "100." 
To celebrate, I thought I would go back into the Critically Ambiguous Truth in Drinking archives and actually finish one of the many story fragments there. After reading the beginning of this story over and over to refamiliarize myself with it, I'm excited to say that I can definitely see some improvement in my voice and narrative flow since then.

This was the story about the woman who comes back to her apartment and finds a strange gift. The beginning can be found here:

And now, for the thrilling continuation:

"You again?!" my landlord's mobster voice barked through the earpiece of my Blackberry. "What, ya got another rat or somethin'?" Last month, I had a dead rat decomposing between layers of drywall in my bathroom. Getting it out of there was the apartment equivalent of open-heart surgery. But for my landlord, a thoroughly misplaced New Yorker, it was just another rat.

"No, Mr. Angelos," I said. "Nothing like that. I just--"

"Ya got bees?" he asked.

"What? No, I don't have...bees?"

"Okay, good," he said, relief in his voice. I couldn't help but laugh a little. This conversation was distracting, at least.

"I'm calling because I had a package delivered yesterday, and I wanted to ask you about it."

"What package?"

"It's a gift box, with a bow on it. I'm sure you saw it, because someone had to open my door to put it inside, and you're the only one who has a key. Right?"

"I ain't bin to yer building since Thoisday," he said. "No packages."

"Are you sure?"

"I keep a hundred tenants' full names, phone numbuhs, and payment statuses in my head and she asks me if I'm sure I ain't dropped by?! Oy. Ya need anything else, or can I go about my Satuhday now?"

"That's all," I said into the phone. "Thanks, Mr. Angelos." He hung up without saying goodbye, which only served to punctuate the problem at hand: what was I supposed to do about this mysterious gift?

I paced a little before settling onto the couch, where I could keep a watchful eye on it. If something so strange was so insistently exerting itself into my life, would it be prudent to accept it? Or would that be dangerous? I was so terrified of this gift that I'd put it out in the hallway before going to sleep. I did the lock and the chain, both of which were still done. Yet, the gift had somehow made its way inside again.

Starbucks is where I go on awkward first dates, to see whether the guy orders something more frou-frou than me. I rationalized the decision to myself as I made it: 'It is clearly meant to be mine, so I can take it to Starbucks to open it if I damn well please. If it turns out to be evil, I'll see if it orders a decaf nonfat soy caramel macchiato.' So I showered and got dressed.

Nestled under my arm, the gift seemed to lurch with every step as I walked to the coffee shop, like the box was anxious to be opened. It was a short walk, but each step seemed heavier as I went along. I ordered an iced Earl Grey and sat in an armchair by the front window.

When my fingers slid through a seam in the wrapping, I felt a chill course through my body. The sensation on my fingertips was like touching my own freshly-moisturized face--warm, soft, familiar. I pulled on the flap. The wrapping fell away from the box as though my gentle tug on the flap had started a chain reaction in whatever machinery had been holding it together. And, in fact, it was a box that I held in my hands, a sturdy affair made of stiff, white, glossy cardboard. This box did not suffer from the same affliction as the wrapping the night before: it was immediately clear that I had to lift the lid of the box from the bottom to see what was inside. I set the box on the table and sipped my tea.

When I looked around for the discarded wrapping, I thought that some fastidious Starbucks employee must have cleared it away. But as I hadn't seen a fastidious Starbucks employee since 1996, I had to assume that the wrapping paper (or whatever it was) had vanished just as mysteriously as the entire gift had appeared. I quickly looked back at the box, just to be sure that it hadn't pulled the same kind of vanishing act. It was still there, on the table, radiating the same soft glow as it had when it was wrapped.

"What's in the box?" said a voice behind me. The force of my startlement nearly launched my cup of iced tea at the window. I wanted to admonish the man for sneaking up on me, but my voice caught in my throat.

"Well?" he said, glancing--furtively?--alternately at my face and the box.

"I don't know," I said.

"Only one way to find out," he said. Before I could answer him, the barista said his name, causing him to pick up a coffee from the counter and leave the store. It was me and the box, alone again.

The lid of the box, I found out, was not heavy at all. It came up from the box easily and quickly. By opening the box, I had fully committed myself to finding out what was inside, whether the contents more greatly resembled those of Pandora's box or Marcellus Wallace's suitcase. Inside the box, a machine made of metal and some other materials I couldn't identify gleamed expectantly.

I wrapped my hand around it in order to lift it out of the box, so as to better examine my prize. As soon as my skin came in contact with the machine, it leapt into motion. The machine was reminiscent of the kind of perpetual motion machine you might find on a boss's desk, a shiny affair with what appeared to be a visible clockwork inside. On Monday, I took it into the office and set it on my desk. Its glow brightened my tiny cubicle and its silent motion often served as a welcome distraction from the daily grind.

I thought nothing of it for three years, other than to pack it carefully with my framed family photo and my ceramic tea-for-one service whenever I moved from desk to desk up the corporate ladder.

It happened to catch the eye of an intern who came to my desk on some errand or another.

"What is that?" she asked.

"What, this?" I had grown so accustomed to its presence on my desk that I was practically immune to its charms. She nodded.

"It's a perpetual motion machine, I guess," I said.

"What do you mean, you guess?" she asked. "How does it work?"

I looked at it for a long time. The gears in my brain turned at the same rate as the machine, its shiny parts tumbling and resetting endlessly. The machine had no discernible source of power, and yet, I'd never had to restart it from rest.

"I don't know," I said. I stood up from my chair, picked up the machine, and pushed the chair under my desk. I put on my coat.

"Hey, where are you going?" the intern asked, still holding the sheaf of papers she had brought for me.

"Somewhere," I said. "You'll hear something from me soon."

The machine caught the harsh light of the winter sun and glittered in my hand. Now that I finally knew what I had, what should I do with it?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My 99th Post

My 99th post will, as usual, not fit into any of the categories I've previously used on this blog. I have written almost a hundred posts and I still have no idea what I want this blog to be about. But, unlike me-at-this-blog's-genesis, I am okay with that. It turns out that I pull myself in so many different directions. This blog goes a million ways because I go a million ways. It's like I have ultra-high-functioning ADD. See Figure 1 for a true picture of what this is like.

Figure 1.
Actual photo of me
(with straight hair!) being
distracted by someone else's cake
I like to cook and eat. I like to drink cocktails, beer, wine, tea, and water. I like to play music.  I like to write, and I like to learn new things.^1 I like gaming and doodling. I like gadgets and thinking about tech policy. The list goes on and on. I am jealous of people who can sum themselves up in pithy observations like, "I like making complex desserts" or "I'm really into crocheting naughty things."

What the heck, Blogger? No footnote functionality?^2

Okay! Anyway. I really wanted this post to mostly be about books that my friends either have published or will be publishing soon. No lie. I know a lot of smart, funny, fabulous people who have written books. This morning, I finished reading my friend Adam's book, "Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School" (linked at right on my Goodreads widget).

Adam is one of the funniest people in the world. He's also got a Ph.D. in molecular biology. He works on malaria research. And when he's not in the lab, he's out on the road, doing standup. Really funny standup. So he took the two things he knows best (graduate school and funny) and combined them into a book, which you should immediately acquire and read.

I'm cheating a bit on this next book, because it won't be released until early August. However, I was able to put it in my Goodreads widget's "The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time" by my friend Jeff and his friend Ben. Jeff and Ben run a fabulous band of renegade copyeditors known as TEAL (the Typo Eradication Advancement League). This acronym conveniently allowed them to choose a pleasant color scheme for their blog. I will be purchasing this book as soon as it comes out. Anyone who laughed at Allie Brosh's alot will surely appreciate it. (Also, you should apologize! It has feelings, and I care about this alot!)

And that about wraps it up for books. In case you haven't noticed from my multiple tweets about it, my band The NRIs is having an EP release show in May at the Black Cat. On the mainstage. The show is going to be huge, and if you're in the DC-metro area, I hope you come. Info is here.
These CDs look like candy! -M on Twitpic
Photo actually taken as soon
as I had the CDs in my hands

I'm going to have to think a lot about what I want my 100th post to be like. It will have to be some kind of reinvention of this blog, because that's what my posts always are. Or maybe I'll go back through the archives and find one of my cool short-shorts, and write something like it. Or continue it. Or maybe I'll have a contest. Or I'll do a collaborative story or something. Well, in any case, I won't take too long deciding, because I am trying to keep this blogging thing up. Life always tries to intervene, but I hope to be able to fend it off more successfully in the future.


1. The Internets cleared up the Colbert portion of the bear question for me (thanks, Margaret!), but as far as I'm concerned, the rest of it is still open for interpretation.
2. It took me 99 posts to figure out that there's no built-in footnote functionality for Blogger. I suddenly understand why "traditional journalists" are all "up in arms" about "the blogosphere."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Must be something in the air...

...I'm looking for agents again!

I don't think I'm ready to send anything out right now, as I have been thinking about more revisions. I also recently sent a copy of my novel to my friend in Uganda. If she sends any comments back to me, they will improve everything so dramatically that it's not worth querying again at the moment. I've also been toying with the idea of putting this novel (or parts of it) up on this blog. So, I'm going to put a few pages after the jump. Let me know what you think.

In other news, my band Machines on Vacation had a successful show last week. My friend Reed Sandridge, of the awesome personal philanthropy project Year of Giving, attended the show and took some excellent videos of our set. Thanks, Reed! One of the videos is also after the jump, because it doesn't appear to want to work on the main page.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

All right, Internet. I have a question.

This is probably going to make me hideously unpopular with the Internet, but I have to know. WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH BEARS? And while I'm at it, I might as well ask what the deal is with SHARKS and DOLPHINS, too.

As you can see from my Goodreads widget at right, I read eeeee eee eeee! by Tao Lin. I haven't read too many other books this year, mostly because I'm afraid they'll ALSO be about bears, dolphins, and sharks. As you can guess from my intermittent posting, I am the sort of person who is only vaguely aware of things that happen on late-night television. If something particularly awesome is on late-night, I try to find it on the intertubes the next day. Although I know that Stephen Colbert has it out for bears, I can't for the life of me figure out why. And don't say that it's because they're vicious mauling machines/culturally relevant/begging for it. That's just ridiculous.

Who started all this hubbub about bears, and WHY?

Okay. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I wanted to tell you that my band Machines on Vacation is playing a show tonight at the Velvet Lounge in DC. As always, we're DC's premier string quartet rock band. Give us a listen, then come out to the show! We have some new music since the last time you saw us. Here's the poster I made for our show:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dispatch from #PAX -- part 3 (fit the final)

Part of the reason I was able to justify going to PAX is that I have a bunch of friends in Boston whom I would not normally see (except at Reunions and the occasional wedding). So I made plans to have brunch with a group of them on Newbury St. that Saturday morning. I had a little time to kill before brunch, so I planned an excursion to the consignment shops in the area. Since becoming interested in fashion (yes, this is a comparatively recent development for me), I've felt more able to identify things in consignment shops that are a good value and that will fit with my personal style, so I was super excited to exercise that new skill. I found a bright orange lightweight cashmere sweater and a nice printed shift dress that may be silk (but if it isn't, that's fine--I didn't pay a ton for it).

Then, I met everyone for brunch. Ben (the guy I'd been hanging out with at PAX) came out for the brunch as well. While he was there, he told me that his friend had come into an extra weekend pass "because Bob's kids didn't want to go." Dan asked, "Who's Bob?" but somehow I knew that it was folly to ask such a question. After all, strange people were offering me another chance to experience PAX (partially at Bob's expense) for the low, low price of $20. You don't start asking questions in the face of that kind of opportunity, rather, you start digging in your purse for Mr. Jackson and you make it happen.

To satisfy your curiosity, however, I will tell you that Bob was a person from the internet whose "damn kids" didn't want to go to PAX after he'd bought passes for them. Ben's friends Pat and Lindsay sold me their extra Bob pass. The very best part about this, however, was actually getting to meet (and game with) Lindsay and Pat. We played Pandemic (hint: it doesn't work with 5 people unless you have an expansion for it) and later we found some people who went to college with my brother (because Pat was there pretty much when my brother was!) and played Bang! I was really excited to get to know this game because it's so bizarre: it's like Mafia with cards, but the cards and all the instructions are written in a combination of Italian, English, and pictograms, and the whole thing has a Wild West theme. It's a "spaghetti western," if you will (har har). Ridiculous. Great fun. And if you're playing with opera singers, as I was, they can actually read the cards for you in flawless Italian (or realistic Italian accents) which improves the hilarity of gameplay by at least 35 percent.

Sometime between these games, I played Fluxx with Ben, Kratville, and a couple other people. I kind of think that Ben wasn't a fan of the lack of strategy involved, but we still had fun. Then this other guy had Zombie Fluxx. I'm impressed by the Fluxx variants! I will have to think about this the next time there is money in the budget for gaming!

I also watched some of the Perfect Dark tournament in the classic console room, where Ben and Kratville were competing. Ben had a good shot at the medal, but then they switched from N64 to xbox for the final round and he got pwned.

After that, I sort of crashed my friend's girlfriend's birthday dinner, which was funny because it was Ethiopian food. Why would I ever go to Boston for Ethiopian? If you've had it in DC, maybe you know what I mean. It was good, though, and I'm glad someone else had left a vacancy in the reservation so I could go and not be too bothersome! It was great to see a mini-preview of how awesome Reunions are going to be this year.

And that was that. No Wil Wheaton sightings/signings/recurrence, but no regrets either. I did end up getting this for myself, though. :) I had such a great time. I met people. I did the Iron Guard. I admired Wil Wheaton from afar (but definitely not as far as usual). Will I go to PAX East next year? Probably. I'll even get a full weekend pass, and maybe even get one for my husband! Conclusion: PAX East is made of win.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Dispatch from #PAX -- part 2

I didn't know then that the guy in the blue sweater was going to be so important to how the rest of my day played out, when he finally let me onto the escalator. I didn't want to be a dick, so I didn't run up the moving stairs, but I did walk briskly and with purpose. The Hynes Center is a bit of a contemporary labyrinth, with angles and arcs all over the place. While we waited at the doors of the main theater, someone another floor up was visible to a bunch of people right behind me. He did something which got people excited--then he did something that made them sad. I had never seen quite so many people get so excited at the same time, and then all say, "aww!" in unison. "Yay! Awww. Yay!! Awww. YAY!!!!!! Awwww." It reminded me of being in Band again.

That's really when I realized: all these people are here to have fun. They do not care about looking stupid. They do not care about what other people may think of them (and that goes double for the few cosplayers I saw).  They do not care about anything but having a fantastic time and learning new things and meeting new people and not getting conSARS. THESE PEOPLE ACTUALLY DID THIS. And you know what? So did I. But I digress.

Walking into the main theater, I was able to take a seat very close to the aisle in the stage right section, very close to the front. I was going to see Wil Wheaton's keynote, by god, and I wasn't going to have to use the jumbotron to do it. That's what I came here for, after be near one of my greatest writing idols while he exuded amazingness. Of course he's not just a writing idol for me--I was obviously the biggest tween ST:TNG fan back in the day, and I was just getting to the point in my life when Wesley was starting to look pretty fiiine (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean?) to my little nerd-teen-in-the-making. This won't be any huge admission to the people who actually might read this blog on a regular basis, but I have kind of a crush on Wil Wheaton. But who doesn't? Amirite??

Didn't I say at the beginning of this post that the guy in the blue sweater was going to be important to the story? Well, at about 2:30--half an hour before showtime--I decided that it was necessary for me to go to the bathroom so I wouldn't be all uncomfortable and whatnot throughout the show. After all, I had been waiting in line, and if you'll recall, sitting on concrete for the past 3.5 hours. I had to go. So I put my coat on my chair to save my seat and I ducked out.

When I returned to the door of the main theater, the guy in the blue sweater was very loudly announcing that the doors were closed and that nobody else was going to be allowed into the theater, per the fire marshal's orders. He calmly told someone who protested that he had no qualms about calling the police if things were to get unruly. My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. I had come all this way to see Wil Wheaton's keynote, and that was it? My lovely winter coat was going to get to see him from my plum seat and I was going to have to watch on YouTube?? I felt my mouth fall open, and my eyes go wide. This was not how I had wanted this to go, at all. But I didn't want to be a dick, so I tried to take a few deep breaths while considering my plan of action. 

With only a little hint of panic in my voice, I said to the guy in the blue sweater, "My coat is inside, on my seat. Can someone get it for me or something?" He looked at me and probably saw the broken dreams all over my face. Then the heavens opened and a ray of unearthly light illuminated him as he said, sotto voce, "Stand to my left. Wait until the crowd is gone." I swear I heard a choir of angels. 

Thanks to the man in the blue sweater, those of us with problem bladders were eventually able to retake our seats in the main theater, just in time for the speech. Thank you, blue sweater guy. I owe you like eleventy Guinnesses.  

This photo, which I took with my phone, doesn't even accurately convey how close my seat was to the dais. I could see the design on Wil Wheaton's ThinkGeek t-shirt and I could see the different looks in his eyes, a mistiness when he choked back tears or the mischievous gleam he'd get right when he was about to be cheeky (that's my favorite, fyi).

I was close enough to wonder what it would have been like if someone had introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons when I was twelve. As it was, I spent most of that time writing stories about bard guilds and knights and boarding school (somewhat unrelated, but true) anyway. Having a reason to do it and people to do it with probably would have made it all the more enjoyable. The more Wil spoke about how gaming taught him to use his imagination, the more I realized that I was lucky enough to have gone about it exactly backward: I used my imagination for fun when I was a kid, and, much later in my life, it brought me to gaming. 

As it stands, I still haven't technically been introduced to serious roleplaying games. It may happen. It may not. But the most important takeaway from Wil's keynote was that even though I technically was there alone, I was not alone. Wil talked about hot lava in the grocery store and finding adventures around every corner. I saw the people nodding around me, and felt myself nodding along. I hadn't played RPGs, but I read so many fantasy books that I had always just naturally made my life into one big RPG. Even though I didn't have a character to call my own, I had characters in my head--hundreds--living and breathing and some even dying like Aeofel...all the time. It was an entire convention center full of people who thought about things the way I did. I was, as he said in the speech, home.

I very quickly met up with my friend Ben and did the Iron Guard with his friend Dave. Then I wandered around for a little bit after the keynote, wondering where I'd have to go to get Wil to sign the books I'd brought. There was a panel I wanted to see on Interactive Fiction, so I went to that with Ben and Dave. I'll probably discuss that a bit more in the next installment. Then I pretty much had to go back to my hotel room, even though I had a wristband for priority seating for the Metroid Metal show. We'd gotten up fairly ridiculously early that morning to drive up to Boston, so I was pretty much ready to have a bath and pass the heck out. I did those things consecutively.

And as I had a Friday pass for PAX, I suspected that I'd just missed my opportunity to meet Wil Wheaton. Oddly, I was okay with that. I'd gone to PAX a Wil Wheaton fangirl and came out of it with a fresh, delicious pile of self-awareness.

I will let you know, however, that there will be another installment of this dispatch from PAX. What happened? How did I get in? Find out next time...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dispatch from #PAX -- Part 1

Friday, 11:00a.

I am sitting by myself on a cold, concrete floor, surrounded by thousands of busy, bubbling strangers with shiny electronic devices in their hands and little picture-cards meticulously placed around them on the floor. I do not yet know who I am.

While my posterior slowly falls asleep, I gather what I know about myself and try to organize the facts into some sort of meaning. I am a geek in many ways: I can tell you why nobody can accurately reproduce a Stradivarius violin (it's the varnish--nobody knows what's in it); I can properly use a semicolon in a complex list; and I will always take pains to insist that the fourth game in the King's Quest series is called The Perils of Rosella, and that it was the first computer RPG to feature a female protagonist. (I also know how to use words like "protagonist.") While these bits of niche trivia are occasionally handy, it occurs to me that they are but the merest shadow of the collective niche knowledge in the room. This is, after all, a gaming convention. The sheer volume of rules, procedures, and facts that the couple sitting next to me must keep in their heads at any given time is awe-inspiring. They are playing Magic. It has been fifteen years since I have seen anyone playing Magic. There are thousands of couples just like them, all around me.

I have made the mistake of coming alone to this event. I figured there might be some other loners, considering the sometimes solitary nature of gaming. I was entirely wrong about this. Looking at the line around me, I feel like the only person who has come here alone. I feel strange standing up by myself to let the blood flow back into my arse, so I halfheartedly do some kind of yoga stretch whenever I start to lose feeling in my buttocks. There is some comfort in the fact that I do have at least one friend attending the event, and while I wait, I discover (through the magic of Facebook) that there will be at least one more. I wonder if I will find them easily among these tens of thousands of unfamiliar faces.

One of the games I've brought in my bag might give me a little bit of geek-cred. It's a second edition of Fluxx, by Looney Labs. I used to play it a lot when I was in high school. Unfortunately, it requires friends to play. I also brought Set (which is probably not worth any geek pointz) which I also played a lot of in high school. If I weren't so introverted, I probably would have met someone in line to play with by now. Yes, that's right. An introvert came to a gaming convention alone. I feel like that's the punchline to something, but the only possible joke is my life. Being on the periphery of the periphery reminds me that I've always lived with one foot in each of two worlds--races, classes, spheres of societal influence. Now this: I'm geek/not-geek. I'm here, but I don't belong.

(Much of this was written while sitting in line, so I'm going to add an editor's note here. Pro tip: sitting on concrete saps your joie de vivre. AVOID.)

An enforcer (what they call the volunteers they have to answer questions and herd cats) walks through the crowd shouting for Jacob Wilson. After each repetition of his name, some wise guy shouts things like, "Your Mom's here!" or "You forgot your lunch!" and people laugh. Sometimes applause erupts, and I worry that I'm missing enforcers spiriting Wil Wheaton through some hidden door. Most of the reason I decided to come in the first place was because he said he'd be doing the keynote. The applause, however, is usually because someone has managed to take down one of the oddly flimsy metal line barriers--the material is strong, but the construction is faulty. The crossbars are very easily knocked off the posts. Other times, the applause is for some kind of game that's being projected on the wall across the room from where I'm sitting. People are standing and waving their arms. Enforcers are also walking around handing out small prizes for trivia contests.

Strains of rock music ("Carry On Wayward Son," among others) float up out of nowhere and die out as quickly as they arose. Roving camera crews pump up the crowd as they pass through the doors. They have to set up for the keynote, so they get to go first. When the door opens to let them through, the crowd doesn't need any more pumping up. There is a guy playing that sailor jig on a concertina just because he can. They are excited. They are passionate. They are one hundred percent ready to not be sitting on concrete anymore, and so am I.

Friday 2:00

When the doors open, it is a mad dash to get inside, but we are all hurrying up to wait. Once you enter the main hallway, there is a set of escalators going up to the main theater, where the keynote will be. I can see the bottom of the escalator when a man in a blue sweater cuts the line off, starting with me. There are too many people on the escalator. They will be utterly screwed if it stops, so they decide to let people up in waves. I am the very first person in the second wave.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Object lessons

My husband gave me a book about writing song lyrics for Christmas. (If you're reading this, hon, I need a book about writing music next time.) I decided to read a little bit of it today because we're barricaded in by a wall of wind and snow. Again.

There are some writing exercises in the beginning of the book where they ask you to write about an object or a sensation or something, to mine the depths of your sense memories. I did two, and I always feel like I go off track with these things, because I end up following a story. Here they are, for your snowtime enjoyment. The first was an object of my choosing, the second was a sensation prompt in the book. See if you can guess what they were.

The tastes of honey, of smoked meats and dried autumn leaves mix in the air while you breathe, more deeply than usual, and I drink from your glass of port, red and sweet. It's dark, but the light is coming from somewhere, and the wine is flowing, and my dress is flowing, and my arms are warm in your tuxedo jacket. You in your shirtsleeves, hair rumpled, bow tie sticking out of the pocket at my breast, I feel the glamour of the day in my heels and toes, cramped for so long in shining gold straps. This is the party of the year, and I'm not sure whether I'll remember it in the morning, except for that smell--which will last for two days, at least.

This is not the way I intended for it to happen, me, submerged and soaked, air trapped in my lungs by closed mouth, puffed cheeks, stubborn nostrils. You threw me in the pool and I stayed down as long as I could out of spite, letting out a bubble when the old air started burning my throat and I started to get dizzy. I was spiteful, but only because I didn't know how to tell you I loved the attention. A part of me--the oxygen-starved, lightheaded part, no doubt--wished that I would pass out so you'd have to jump in after me, warm arms around my unconscious, clammy flesh. You'd have to breathe for me, then, salty mouth on my chlorinated one, lips, pressure, hot breath, you, me, a long moment before I breathe again. I can't hold my breath anymore, so I surface, air foreign to me, sunshine, your gaze, which I can feel prickling at my skin like the boundary between pool water and hot July air.

Monday, February 01, 2010

capturing the moment of heartbreak

"Are you happy?" she asked. It was the first time in a long time that someone had even thought to ask about my happiness. 'Yes' wasn't the right answer, and saying no wouldn't be entirely truthful, either. The reality was that I hadn't given my own happiness a moment of thought in years. A seemingly simple question had revealed that I'd been living a life where happiness was nothing more than an abstraction. She was still standing there after all my deep thought, waiting for me to say something. All I could do was smile--wryly, I hoped--and shrug.


"What did the doctor say?" he asked. The doctor had asked me about my diet--vegetarian? Vegan? No, and no. There were the beginnings of osteoporosis, she'd said, and a vitamin deficiency. So strange for one so young, with the balanced diet I claimed to eat. She'd asked about my drinking habits, and I'd told some socially acceptable lie--a glass of wine with dinner and a couple of cocktails on the weekends, something like that--and she'd just nodded, slowly, her head tilted slightly in an expression of pity. She'd prescribed a vitamin supplement and given me a sheet of phone numbers to call "in case I felt like I needed to."

I told him, "She gave me a clean bill of health," which I regretted immediately. But I could never take it back, and it felt easier not to want to. That's when I knew: I'd let myself down the way everybody else had let me down, and it was no use to try to make amends now.


As we loosened up on the starting blocks, the guy in the lane next to me said, "good luck," in this tone of voice that might have been sarcastic. I didn't reply, but at the gun, I shot out into the water and started channeling my response into an exhausting kick and fast, strong strokes. Muscles burning, heart pounding in my mouth, cheers of fans muffled to a wavering whimper: this was it. I owned the flip turn and practically shot myself into the middle of the pool with my legs. I focused on my rival to distract myself from the thought that this could very well be my last chance. I didn't see him, so he was either way out in front of me or way behind. I reached the end of the pool and surfaced, gasping to ease my oxygen debt. I'd beaten the guy next to me, but the scoreboard told no lies: my lapse in concentration made me miss my Olympic dream by three tenths of a second. "Better luck next time," he said, his tone sincere. I knew there couldn't be a next time for me, but I tried to say, "you too," like I meant it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The EP

I'm listening to the first master of the NRIs' first EP, titled 8:42AM. It's almost perfect now, and we're getting ready to get a bunch of copies printed, and to get the songs up on iTunes and everything. It's the first time I've been involved in something like this, and frankly, I'm really excited.

Growing up listening to my dad play the guitar, I always had this vague idea that I wanted to be in a band--sing in a band, really, because I didn't think there would be too many band opportunities for me as a violinist. It's one of those things I would fantasize about sometimes, in the shower, or after that first season of American Idol (when it was good), or if I'd just heard a song that I really liked. It's a popular fantasy. I could say something grad-schoolish about celebrity culture and all that, but I think this is more of a human nature thing. People like to be recognized. They like to know that their sphere of influence extends beyond themselves and their immediate families.

I have a fairly clear memory of sitting in front of Saturday Night Live one winter when I was supposed to be researching my junior paper on Hamlet, watching some sketch where the players left it all on the stage. I was sitting there under my laptop and books, thinking, "How did I miss my opportunity? Why am I hidden behind this computer, making these inane and mostly unoriginal observations about Hamlet and its interpreters, when I could be on a stage somewhere, putting it all out there? Where did I go wrong?"

Of course, that particular thought was imbued with all the histrionics of a frustrated student whose idea of foresight was seeing the end of the semester. At 20 it felt like the best part of my life was rapidly drawing to a close. My next stop, as far as I could tell at that point: administrative work and the "secretary spread" that came with it. It always feels like doors are closing, and okay, sure, I'm too old to be on American Idol now (not that I would want to be). But those doors have a tendency to close so loudly that they drown out the subtle appearance of new doors.

I got back into music in graduate school, and then when I moved to the DC-metro area, I eventually found some musicians to know and love. I waited for my new doors. They appeared. At the end of last year, I tried the knobs.

I've performed at the Velvet Lounge and Iota since then, two venues where I'd always gone as a spectator. Usually when I play in a string quartet, we're background music, but I performed in my very first featured string quartet at Silver Spring Stage. I've got a show coming up with the Machines on Vacation at The Red and the Black (Valentine's Day, opening for Barton Carroll). And the NRIs are going to try to do up this EP release party right: big venue (maybe), writeup in the Post, press release, everything.

Performing scares the hell out of me. I breezed through my Machines show--maybe it was because I knew half the audience, but it was probably because the lights bouncing off my glasses rendered me completely unable to see any further in front of me than where Ethan was sitting. At Iota, I had a moment of complete and utter panic ("WHAT AM I DOING???"), from the jaws of which I managed to snatch a decent performance. But what's the point of living if you never do anything that scares you?

I really appreciate all the support thus far, you guys. Why write--why make music--why make anything if nobody else can enjoy it? I wish I could promise that our EP show won't be snowed out like our last one was, but for now, please plan on coming. It will be so much fun.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dear Blog,

I had food poisoning. It was so bad, I couldn't even blog. And then I found five dollars. Except that I didn't, I only wish I did.

The way I got it was fascinating--complete user error. When you are cooking dried kidney beans, here are the steps you should follow:
1. Go back to the store and buy some canned kidney beans.
2. Open cans.

Dried kidney beans are a nutritious staple food. But if you don't cook them enough, or if you have the foolhardiness to taste them before they are fully cooked, you are in for a world of hurt. Don't believe me? Check it:

The long and short of it: raw kidney beans contain high levels of a poison that binds to your intestines to prevent absorption (of nutrients or anything else, for that matter). When you heat the beans to about 80C (not quite boiling), the poison's strength is multiplied. Undercooked beans are even more toxic than raw ones. This sounds like a big pot of crazy, but these are TRUE FACTS. I must have had 3 undercooked beans, tops...I missed 3 days of work and am still not really eating normally.

Canned beans, however, have been cooked and cooked and cooked again. They are safe to eat right out of the can (as long as you don't get dented cans), but you can also put them in your recipes.

In case you are wondering, the chili turned out fine (delicious, actually), and the undercooked beans currently residing in my freezer will have the hell cooked out of them before I attempt to eat them in the future.

Don't say I never learned ya nothin'.

Friday, January 08, 2010

a fragment and some musings

"It's not like everyone else is having more fun than you. I mean, everyone else is probably having just as much fun as you, but there are different time zones, you know, so it's like, you're already passed out when people in California are just starting their freakin' nightcaps or are already holding some chick's hair back in the ladies' room, you know? But it's ok because when you've already had your McMuffin or some shit and you feel better, they're just waking up with cotton shoved in their ears and that film in their mouths, especially if they drank milk drinks, like Bailey's milkshakes, I love those, but that's not the point. The point is that nobody parties all the time. And you are an idiot if you think your life is boring because you don't. You dig?" As soon as she finished talking, she snapped her gum and started to pull on the ends of her hair, a habit that belied her wisdom.


I've been making a lot of music recently. My husband is assistant directing Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden at Silver Spring Stage. As a special opening night thing, I'll be playing the first two movements of the Schubert quartet with my friends Theresa, Kellie, and Kate. I know the quartet is used to great (negative) emotional effect in the play, but it's still my very favorite piece of music in the world.

I think I like Schubert because he was squarely between periods (Classical and Romantic) and just happened to be working at a time when he had this solid Classical framework to innovate around and all this nascent Romanticism going on around him. That's a bit technical, but the upshot is that this quartet tells one of the greatest stories (ill-fated lovers--you know it's a great story because it's always retold) and really conveys the romance of youth, the passion of maturity, and the finality of death. It's amazing.

There are lots of rehearsals on my calendar, in addition to a random recording session that Kate recruited me for on Tuesday. There are going to be some extremely talented local musicians at this session. I'm terrified, of course, but at the same time I'm excited about it. I'm a musician because I love it, but I have to work pretty hard at it. That's not a bad thing, as I've been discovering recently. It's good to pour my creative energy into things that are somewhat immediately gratifying, such as performing music.

In other news, I'm trying to get 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Have you noticed that my blogging has been more frequent? The sleeping is why I'm coherent again. Hooray!

Readers: are you seeing results from your New Year's Resolutions?

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Serious posts kind of bum me out, but I've been reading a lot of things lately that are showing how our culture busts on women...maybe without even meaning to. Felicia Day posted a link yesterday to an article in Vanity Fair about the women of Twitter. Here's the article. But if you click it, promise me that you will also click the link right after it:

You can read it in the url: Why does this Vanity Fair article hate the women of Twitter? The geekweek blogger summed it right up, and Ms. Day herself reposted the second link when someone sent it to her. She said that she was finding it difficult to argue with the blogger's points (although the pic was sweet). It's outright misogyny. I mean, yes, Twitter celebrity is a little bit of a fluffy topic. But the women they chose for this article are highly impressive entrepreneurs, creative powerhouses, and--at the very least--pioneers in the successful use of social media technology. If they were men, this article would be "Six Social Media Pioneers To Watch" or something with equal gravitas. But instead, we get this horrible fluffy profile that talks about these powerful women like they're the frontrunners in the race for homecoming queen.

It reminded me of this article I'd recently read, in which a female author analyzed the new PW Top 100 books of 2009 list. Women in the top 10? Zero. Women on the total list? Twenty-nine. But women are, by and large, keeping the book publishing industry afloat--we are the largest segment of book consumers in the market.

What's going on, here? It doesn't matter, as Ms. Baggott explained, that the author of the offensive VF profile was a woman herself, or that there were women on the committees that chose the PW list. The male hegemony (oh crap, a graduate school I know I'm in trouble) may be so deeply ingrained that outside the domestic sphere, the accomplishments of men are automatically given more weight than those of women. Women have to work twice as hard to be considered as equals (but are still earning, according to some reports, less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for equal work).

I've never really considered myself a feminist, precisely because feminists who came before me paved the way for me to have choices in my life--opportunities that women in previous generations only dreamed about. But now I'm a person who has written a book. And maybe someday I'll sell that book. And if it's good, maybe it'll be considered for prizes or honors. But if I were to lose that prize to a man's book of equal (or possibly lesser) quality, simply because the author is a man, that would be pretty soul-crushing. Even though it hasn't happened to me yet, my soul feels a little crushed knowing that it has happened to someone else.

What do we do about it? Is there anything we can do about it?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tying up the loose ends from 2009

I left you hanging on a number of fronts, and for this, I apologize. Please have some closure, on me:

Screenwriting Contest
After the guy in charge claimed to have confirmed that my score had been re-sent, I continued to send him enough extremely polite e-mails to prompt him to ask me to send my entry directly to him so that he could score it himself. He did this quite promptly, and I was surprised to receive a fairly decent score and some rather positive comments. In fact, it was quite conveniently the highest score one could get without qualifying for the second round. I wonder how scoring my entry on time would have changed the outcome of the contest.

Novel Queries
I heard from one other agent, who is currently not taking any new clients. That's rejection #2, I suppose. I believe this means that I currently have one query (to two agents at the same firm) still floating around in the wait-space.

Tweet Me a Story
Those who follow me on Twitter may have seen a few plaintive tweets from me, asking for votes on my 140-character stories for this contest. That's partially what the title of the last post was referring to, but I'm not bitter. (I'm not, really. Amused sarcasm doesn't really translate to the blogosphere the way I'd like it to.) I did not move on to the second round of the contest, but I still consider it an accomplishment to have two stories that made it into the top 25 in my group.

Economic Crisis
Oh, sorry...I don't actually know how this one ends.

National Novel Writing Month
You may have noticed that I went on blogging hiatus for National Novel Writing Month. Happily, I achieved my word count (as seen in the celebratory graphic at right). The story leaves something to be desired, though. I won't be finishing it without massive revisions. I learned, in this experience, that third-person omniscient storytelling is not a strength of mine. While it may be a bit limiting to write in character in terms of being able to express what other characters are thinking and feeling, I find it much more personally satisfying. This particular story may require 3rd person narration, though...hence the massive revisions.

Yes, I am doing that again.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

more letters = more majesty

people drive fast/people drink deep/people smoke weed/people skip sleep

"Pimpin'. Ain't. Easy," she said. "And neither is this." The wintry air was beginning to penetrate the layers of sweaters she'd told me to wear under my wool overcoat. She plastered a bright white smile onto her face and turned toward the cameras. How did she stand there for so long, just smiling in her thin sweater and puffer vest? It was a cheerful Hollywood knockoff of a winter ensemble, the kind that looks perfect but doesn't have the wherewithal to block out the cold. A sympathy shiver shuddered down my limbs as I thought about how many more takes they might need to do before they let her go inside.

A man wearing headphones as big as his head started waving his arms and cursing at the wind, which was whipping through the trees. "Take ten," the director said, his voice at once authoritative and defeated. "Let the wind die down." It took less than fifteen seconds to clear out the set as people bolted for the little cabin. Inside, craft services had laid out a few snacks and what seemed like one hot beverage urn per person.

"Is it always like this?" I asked her. She smiled again, handing me a styrofoam cup of steaming brown liquid. I wasn't sure whether it was coffee, tea, or cocoa, but at least it was hot.

"It's not always so cold," she said. "But I wouldn't trade it for any other job in the world." She smiled again, a couple of smiles in rapid succession. I think she was testing her face for thawing. After sipping in silence for a few minutes, I felt the hot drink start to work its magic, warming me from the inside. She looked at her watch and caught someone's eye across the room. Then she said, "Well, I guess I'd trade outdoor commercials in New York for outdoor commercials in California. But when I get out there again I'm going to look like I love it. All of it. And I won't even be acting."

I thought about her while I was driving back home later that night, the window rolled all the way down to accommodate my chainsmoking. The cold slapped my bare hand until it was numb, but it was easier to mark time in cigarettes when I drove long distances. I stubbornly squeezed each filter between my fingers until the smokeable part burned itself out. Three-pack trips always went faster with the window down and my foot pressed firmly to the floor.

We were friends from when I first knew she'd be an actress and she first knew I'd be a n'er-do-well, which was shortly after we entered the third grade. I spent a lot of that year indoors at recess, always writing about how I could work to be a better person until the teacher was satisfied that I'd "learned a valuable lesson about myself." She spent a lot of time indoors at recess too, acting like she had migraines or something so they wouldn't make her stand outside where the popular girls could taunt her.

"They're jealous of you," I'd said once. A kid who spends a lot of recesses forced to think about how to be a better person learns some interesting things about human nature, even though all I thought I'd learned was better penmanship.

"You're on crack," she'd said. That was a very popular thing to say at the time, despite the fact that most of those sheltered, suburban third-graders didn't actually know what crack was.

"No," I'd said. "You're cute, like a kid in a commercial. And you always seem to get what you want."

"I guess that's true," she'd said. "I'm inside, right? Maybe they are jealous." And that was how I found myself, 20 years later, speeding down I-95 once or twice a month and burning through gallons of gas and cartons of cigarettes like someone who could afford either luxury.

I knew that my roommate (another n'er-do-well) would be passed out on the couch when I got back. He'd have spent the evening smoking a bowl and eating ramen on Doritos, which is pretty much only appealing after smoking a bowl, at which point, it's the best food on earth. He went to med school but dropped out to be a full-time bartender--"The hours are about as grueling, but you get free booze and it's rare for anyone to die during your shift," he'd said--and just spent the rest of the time going to rock shows and playing video games. He paid the lion's share of the rent, though, which allowed me to use my meager freelancing income to drive back and forth to New York. So even though he was kind of an asshole, I never told him that to his face. It was a sweet situation, most things considered.

If I were to consider all things--like the fact that she isn't my girlfriend, and the fact that she will never be my girlfriend, and the fact that I couldn't hack it in New York as a writer, which is why I have to live in Richmond with my asshole roommate--the big picture would be a bit less sweet. Let's just say I try to think about this as little as possible.