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.

And now an excerpt from my novel, Everybody's Ghost.

Chapter 1

While I was cooped up in my office, nursing a cold coffee and tapping and clicking my way through pretending to work, a moving truck was driving all of my earthly possessions across town. I’d asked Sean for permission to leave work early today to meet my things at their destination, but there was still an hour before I would be allowed to go. I couldn’t focus, wondering whether my couch and chairs were stuck in traffic, whether my books had passed the Ellipse, whether some bored federal drone had looked out a rare office window just in time to see my life in boxes go rumbling by. So I leaned over to Ryan, the guy who sat at the desk across from mine, and said, “Wanna hear a joke?” He tilted his head to look at me, his eyes taking a moment to adjust to the light outside the glare of his monitor.

“Sure,” he said. He took a sip of something through a straw sticking out of a convenience store cup the size of my head. I started speaking slowly, quietly.

“One day, Jesus and Satan are arguing about who is a better programmer, so they agree to have a programming contest, which will be judged by God. They sit in front of their computers and start typing furiously, lines of code streaming up their screens for several hours straight. Just seconds before the end of the allotted time, a bolt of lightning strikes and the electricity goes out. Moments later, the lights flicker back on and God announces that the contest is over. He asks Satan to show his contest entry. Satan stares at his blank screen and just starts crying, right? And he says, ‘I lost everything when the power went out!’ So God says, ‘Very well. Let us see if Jesus has fared any better.’ Jesus presses a key and the screen comes to life in vivid colors while the voices of an angelic choir pour forth from the speakers. Satan is astonished. He says, ‘But how?! How did I lose everything while Jesus lost nothing? How did he do it?’“

At this point, I paused for dramatic effect. The messy-haired man at the desk across from mine was hanging on every word, and in my peripheral vision, I thought I could see some other people craning their necks to hear me. So I quietly continued, “God laughs and says, ‘Everybody knows that Jesus saves.’”

When Ryan laughed, green liquid shot out of his nose, and everyone who had turned away from their monitors to look at him—that’s just about everyone in the office—suddenly burst out laughing too. I think I managed to smile, but I’m pretty sure the look on my face was of mild horror, which made Sean ask, “What did you do to him, Lily?”

Like most everyone who works at the software firm where I am employed, Sean is at least ten years older than I am, but could easily pass for my age, 26. I think computer geeks have a tendency to look younger than they—we—are because we don’t spend as much time in the sun as we probably should. Besides, we’re all dressed like it’s Saturday (even though it’s a regular Wednesday) in geeky t-shirts and jeans.

I looked under my desk at my shoes, a pair of sleek grey Pumas with pink detailing. I’m technically “the designer,” and I’m the only girl in the office, so by default, my shoes are always cooler than everyone else’s. I’m also the only one who ever notices this, or cares. “I just told him a joke,” I said. I told a bad joke that I was certain he had to have heard before. But no: this guy, this rumple-headed father of three who sits at the desk facing mine had somehow escaped years and years of computer science education and experience without ever hearing this particular stupid programming joke. From the desk drawer where he keeps leftover napkins, chopsticks, and plastic cutlery from delivered lunches, Ryan pulled out a wad of paper napkins to clean up his keyboard, his face.

“Try not to take such a big sip of Mountain Dew when Lily’s telling you a joke next time, eh, Ry?” Sean said. “Back to the salt mines, everyone. Show’s over.” A few of the guys grumbled playfully at Sean while others kept giggling. I received no less than five instant message requests for an e-mailed copy of the joke. One of them was from Sean.

As I packed my commuting bag and mentally prepped myself for the long, arduous unpacking ahead, it dawned on me that telling a bad joke to a 36-year-old man and making Mountain Dew come out of his nose might very well be the most exciting thing that I’d accomplished since graduating from college. Of course, buying my condo in the Aldridge was pretty exciting too, but that didn’t quite seem real yet, even as I rode the Metro in a different direction to my new home. The walk from the station to the Aldridge presented me with new sights (a dog park!) and smells (a French bakery!) that, I reminded myself, would soon be familiar. I walked in through the main doors of the beautiful old building and couldn’t help but pause. The sheer beauty of this old place was thrilling, and I realized it would probably take some conscious effort on my part to keep from staring, open-mouthed, at the scenery every time I came in. Whoever had the original idea to turn this gorgeous old city mansion into condominiums was a genius, I thought, as I stared into the dusty crystal chandelier, its light temporarily dazzling me. The cream-colored marble floors shone and the matching grand staircase invited me into the heart of the house. I’d taken the elevator with my real estate agent, but for my first trip up to my new place, I decided to take the stairs.

The wide stairs swept halfway around an invisible axis before depositing me on the first-floor landing. For some reason—affectation or earnest character, I wasn’t sure—the Aldridge considered the foyer a rez-de-chaussée, and this floor was the first. Residents lived on the second, third, and fourth floors. On the first floor, however, was this stunning grand ballroom, complete with antique parquet floors and more chandeliers. I’d ignored the words “charming” and “historic” in the original ad, knowing that those were often real estate buzzwords for “dilapidated” and “shabby.” I was glad I did, though, and insisted that my real estate agent take me to see this place. It was old, but well maintained, and now, at least a part of it was mine.

All of this only really started to feel real as I climbed the rickety narrow staircase (servants’ stairs, I guessed) up to the second floor and found the door to my new home. When I turned the key in the lock and saw all of my things there, boxed, wrapped, sterile, I felt like a different person starting a new life. I spent that afternoon unpacking, figuring out where to put things in the strange kitchen, how to make the strange bathroom feel more comfortable.

That night, there was some kind of event in the ballroom downstairs that kept me staring at the ceiling until well past midnight. I lay on my back in my freshly made bed, feeling the pounding massage of techno beats through the box spring. I’ve never expected to spend the first night in a new place in complete comfort. Whenever I moved into a new dorm room, or into my last apartment, there was always some sort of strange smell or unfamiliar night noise that would keep me awake until I could settle into the new pattern of living there. The walls, unflinchingly bare, also imposed themselves on my peace. But the music downstairs was more distracting than any of those: when I closed my eyes, I could see light pulsating to the beat. It reminded me of college.

In college, I’d defied expectations and joined a sorority instead of a math club. It was fun, but the social experience was almost impossible to replicate in real life. The few of my sorority sisters who’d also moved to D.C. had jobs as staff assistants on the Hill and spent their money on happy hours and looking fabulous at said happy hours. That wasn’t really my scene: when I first moved down here, I went out with them a couple of times and got hit on by socially inept frat boys in pastel Polo shirts who thought I’d be interested in participating in a “takedown.” Like I said, not my scene. I wondered whether I’d find any friends among my new neighbors, wondered why the hell it was necessary to have what sounded like a rave in the ballroom downstairs on a Wednesday night, and as the night wore on, wondered whether I’d ever fall asleep again.

New dorm rooms notwithstanding, I used to be able to sleep like the dead. When I was in college, I had to set three alarms every time I went to sleep so I could be sure that I wouldn’t miss my classes, meals, even parties. From the time I went off to college to the minute I moved into the Aldridge, it was like I was taking a mental vacation. Somehow, lying there awake, staring at the ceiling—my ceiling—I suddenly saw my life for what it was: office work and sleep, with rare bouts of making Mountain Dew come through a man’s nose.

After that long first night at the Aldridge, whenever I had the opportunity to meet my neighbors, I had the strangest thoughts appear, unbidden, in my mind. The second night I was here, I was coming back late from work. When the elevator opened on the second floor, there were two girls waiting to get on board, maybe eighteen or nineteen years old, dressed like extras from Cabaret. My mind raced: had I missed Halloween? No, of course not, it was only early October. Then what was with these getups? “Hi,” said the dirty blonde one who was wearing something petal pink that looked like a teddy. “I’m Taylor.”

“I’m Morgan,” said the brunette with the Minnie Mouse ears. She wore a hot magenta tunic blouse over a pair of black micro-mini hot pants. Black suspenders completed the look.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Lily. I just moved in yesterday.”

“Oh, into 2B?” Taylor asked. “We’re in 2D. We’ll be seeing you, neighbor!” That’s when the images started forcing themselves into my head: Morgan and Taylor holding hands, waving goodbye to an older couple, probably their parents; the girls going out to see and be seen, getting tanked on cheap vodka; an older woman and a policeman standing in a doorway, the woman crying, the policeman stoic; Morgan and Taylor holding each other, crying themselves to sleep. I wondered what these images might mean, why I was seeing them, and why I suddenly felt so cold.

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