Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Opportunity in Limited Selection

I subscribe to Shelf Awareness. This morning, their quote of the day was from Paul Krugman, with a link to his recent discussion of science fiction. Mr. Krugman said:

As I’ve often said, you can shop online and find whatever you’re looking for, but bookstores are where you find what you weren’t looking for.

For me, this is absolutely true. I’m not saying that I don’t go to buy a book on the internet and, two hours later, look at the clock and realize that the internet gremlins grabbed hold of my mind. ‘Cause that happens far too frequently. The sheer limitlessness of option is overwhelming. It's wonderful and reminds me that there are still millions of books out there that I've yet to read. Which is always a nice thought. But as I traverse further into that labyrinth of choice, sometimes it's more than my mind can process. My eyes glaze over. There may or may not be some drool. 

Basically, I become a zombified version of myself, grunting things like "Book" or "Read" or "Brains." When I finally pull myself out of this, I often end up getting exactly what I'd planned on. Or something strikingly similar. So, not really a tool I use to broaden my horizons, as far as book buying goes. But stick me in a bookstore and who knows what I’ll end up with.

Sure, I’ll initially walk straight towards whatever section holds the book I came in for. But on the way, there are so many tables of other books. It’s a mental impossibility for me to walk past without out at least giving them a short look. And then after I finally get to what I came in there for, all the other rows beckon me to explore. When it comes time for me to leave, I nearly always find my shopping bag heavier and my wallet lighter than I expected going in.

However, even more so than regular bookstores, I find that the place where I discover the most new fiction is the airport. Even though I always travel with a book, I try to pick one up when I’m getting ready to fly. For one, you never know if your flight is going to be delayed for umpteen hours. But also, I know that frequently whatever I get at the airport is not something that I would have bought otherwise.

I think this has to do most with the limited selection. I don’t have the luxury of dancing through cyber waves with the internet gremlins or walking through dozens of rows of books. A lot of airports now have small bookstores, with limited shelves spread out in the narrow space. Or you can go to one of the other shops in the airport where they have one bookshelf next to all the Starbursts and Chex Mix you could want.

This is where I tend to go – and not only for the food (though that doesn’t hurt). But here among the thirty odd books displayed, I can always find something that sounds interesting. Authors I hadn’t yet heard of. Subject that I probably would not have read about if I had been distracted by the cornucopia of choices that a bookstore provides. On rare occasions, I end up with a story that I am not a big fan of. However, far more frequently, I find a new author to follow and a new world to love.

So, the next time you travel, I suggest checking these little nooks out. Even if you don’t read print books anymore, stop in and check out what they have. Make a note of what sounds interesting and go find it later. You may be opening yourself up to your favorite new stories.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

First Day Fears

When I was in third grade I went to a new school. It ran Kindergarten through 8th grade. So, I knew that most of the kids would have already known each other for three years.

I had never been the new kid before. At first I didn’t really think about it. I was so excited about this school. My parents and I had visited two and this one had the better library. I remember thinking it looked like the one from Beauty and the Beast. (It totally didn’t.)

Anyway, the first day of school rolls around and it suddenly struck me that everyone would already know each other. And I would know no one.

My sister started preschool there the year before. Now that she was in Kindergarten, we’d have the same lunch time. I told myself that I would just find her if by the time lunch rolled around I didn’t have any friends.

That first morning, my mom drove us to school. My sister hopped right in, excited to see her friends again. I took a deep breath and followed. Once I’d said goodbye to my mom, I didn’t look back. Mostly because I was pretty sure I was going to cry. And I might be able to handle being the weird kid who didn’t talk to anyone, but I was not going to be a crier on top of that.

My teacher was a very sweet woman, who I had already met. She smiled when she saw me and told me where my seat was. It was all the way in the back of the classroom, by the class’ bookshelf. Looking at the books, I felt a little better. I mean, I could always read if no one would talk to me.

But, seeing as kids are often on the friendlier end, I had barely sat down before the girl next to me said hi. Tentatively, I started talking to her. She had been there since pre-school and was fascinated by the fact that I hadn’t. Still, this conversational track could only go on for so long. And we ran out of things to talk about. So, searching for something, I looked back at the books.

Over the shelf, in big construction paper letters, was written, “Dive into reading.” It was surrounded by construction paper waves and fish. In my panic, I awkwardly made a joke about literally diving into reading and then pretended to actually dive into the book shelf.

It was a desperate gamble. And I looked like an idiot.

But she laughed so hard she nearly fell out of her chair.

Was it really that funny? No. But as kids, we’re an easy bunch to amuse. So, feeling bolstered by her appreciation for my comedic genius, I continued to make dumb jokes about reading and diving for the rest of the morning. And she continued to laugh. We talked about the books we’d read and the one we wanted too. We gave each other suggestions on what to read next. And we laughed a lot.

This girl and I were friendly for the rest of our time in that school. We were never best friends. Ultimately, other than big birthday parties, we did not end up hanging out together all that much. But every time I pick up Stuart Little or see one of the classroom signs inviting me to “Dive into reading,” or anything similar, I smile and think of the girl and the books that made me feel comfortable on a day when I thought I could never be more scared.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Sometimes when I’m writing, it can feel like a very solitary pursuit. Picture me, sitting in a dark room. Harsh light emanates from my computer, illuminating a face that has turned gremlin-ish due to concentration on my literary pursuits. My back is hunched, from hours at the keyboard, in a manner that would make Quasimodo’s posture seem exemplary. I mutter in a Gollum-esque fashion, skittering under my desk and crying over my Precious if the Roomie dares turn on a light.

Not really a pretty picture. (And truly sincere apologies to the Roomie for the number of times she’s had to see that crazed look in my eyes.)

But wonder of wonders….I have discovered that I am not alone.

Last week I mentioned that I was headed to the Backspace conference. I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday up to my ears in all things writing. Not only was I finally able to put voices to the agents whose blogs I follow, but I actually got to speak to them about my work. Which was both supremely exciting and mildly nauseating. I got some positive feedback and some really constructive suggestions on how to make my work better.

I listened to published authors talk about their books and journeys. I heard presentations on how to more effectively use social media. And in perhaps one of the most helpful sessions, I took down questions from Donald Maass designed to make my characters’ lives harder and my story better.

All of these things made this the most useful conference I have ever attended. However, the best part of this experience was meeting all the other people who are trying to do exactly what I’m trying to do. Dozens and dozens of individuals who have also completed books and are now embarking on the fairly terrifying road to possible publication. I heard so many different phenomenal story summaries from these people and I got to talk to them about how nervous they were about being there. And about reading their work out loud in front of people they’d never met. And about accepting both criticism and praise gracefully.

So, I am going to head back to my computer and revert to my gremlin-y ways. Only now, I know what new directions to explore when I’m writing. And now, I know that when I come up for air, there are a whole bunch of people with whom I can email and commiserate.

And that’s just a world of awesome.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Back on Tuesday

I'm not going to be around for the next few days. I’m heading to New York for the Backspace Conference. Super, super excited, but also very nervous. So, basically, I kind of want to throw up….but in a good way.

I hope everyone has a fantastic rest of the week and weekend and I'll be back on Tuesday. In the meantime, don't forget, fun weekend plans should not distract you from the continuing fight against the Squirrel Menace. The ability to multitask is essential to the destruction of this threat: For instance, celebrating an impending marriage whilst waging ferocious battle.

The Struggle Between Good and Evil

Horror movies and superhero movies have a lot in common.

For starters, no one ever really dies. In terms of the big characters, that is. Sure, they may look like they’re dead, you can even watch them in the dying process, but odds are they’ll find their way back at some point. This leads to the second similarity – these two types of movies, more than any others it would seem, have endless sequel possibilities. Since you can always count on people not really being dead, there are always more stories to explore. Both these types of movies tend to tell stories with moral applications. They show both attributes to aspire to and those that need to be fought.

Like superhero movies, horror movies often have a main protagonist that shows up in subsequent movies, and is forced into fighting the bad guy once again. And in both types of movies, while the threat may subside for a time, it never goes away completely.

The plight of the superhero never ends. They never achieve the ultimate victory where they can easily pack away their cape, shield, lantern, spandex body suit, or what have you, and think, Well, now that that’s all finished, I can finally open that profiterole shop I’ve always dreamed of. No, there are always new and returning bad guys.

The surviving victims of the crazy serial killer from movie one may think that they’ve gotten their lives back and then bam, crazy serial killer returns to show them they’ve had no such luck. Or in the case of C. Thomas Howell in The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting, the character just keeps allowing homicidal strangers into his car.

And the cycle goes ‘round and ‘round.

Despite the similarities, I find that I hate horror movies almost as much as I love superhero movies.

Now, I don’t mind if a movie is scary or suspenseful. I can deal with occasionally jumping while I’m watching the film. But I don’t want to feel all creepified for hours after the movie is over. I get that residual emotion is a sign that a movie has done its job. My hatred of horror movies has nothing to do with their quality. Some are definitely top notch. I just know that if I watch one, regardless of whether or not it’s well made, I’m going to be sleeping with my lights on. And by sleeping, I mean sitting in my room with my lights on thinking about how I’ll probably never sleep again.

Even more than not wanting to be scared for long periods of time, I don’t want to feel depressed after watching a movie. I want to know that the good guy will, nine times out of ten, succeed in saving whoever needs saving. I want to know that the same good guy will be back in the subsequent movies and not be killed off in the second or third so that loved ones are stuck continuing the fight against the never-diminishing evil. And if the good guy does die, I want it to be in some heroic sacrifice. Not because he or she ran upstairs when they should have just gone outside, or insisted on walking through the house without turning on any lights even though they know that someone wants to kill them, or just because they keep picking up those damn hitchhikers (seriously, just stop it). I want good to prevail.

Now, I’m sure some of my friends who are devout lovers of the horror genre could make some legitimate arguments in favor of these movies that I avoid watching. But what it comes down to for me is that when a superhero movie is over I think, Why not me? And when a horror movie ends, all I think is, Why?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Phrasing Pioneer

I’ve mentioned my interest in the origins of words, so it’s probably not surprising that I’m also curious about popular phrases.

According to family legend, my grandfather coined “Get off my back” during World War II. The validity of this assertion can, I’m sure, be challenged. But, the fact is that at some point in the past someone strung some words together and everyone else eventually decided, You know that really sums up my feelings perfectly. I’m going to start saying that too.

And a phrase was born.

I happen to know a gentleman who seems to be trying very hard to become one of those phrasing pioneers. Once, when describing how another individual was going to react to something, he said, “He’ll be happy as….straw….or whatever…..or grass.”

“Happy as a clam” just didn’t cut it for this fella. Which I kind of get. Why should clams have the monopoly on happiness? I bet both straw and grass are just as joyful on any given day.

Anyway, that particular phrase didn’t quite land, but he hasn’t given up. Even better than that is that he acts as though the things he says are already commonly known. For instance, when people looked at him strangely after he said, “It’s like a lobster dip,” he didn’t balk. Instead he just went on to say, “You should only take bites, not eat the whole thing,” as if everyone else was ridiculous for not immediately understanding that. And no, the conversation that sparked this observation had nothing to do with food.

This guy hasn’t struck gold yet in his endeavors to coin the next awesome phrase, but you have to respect the effort. Because as ridiculous as all these things might sound, all those years ago, someone was probably thinking, What the hell does that mean? Get off my back. I’m not on his back. Clearly. I’m all the way over here. That guy’s so weird. Acting like I should know what he’s talking about. What a clown.

So if you find yourself discontent with the current array of phrases at your disposal, go ahead and try to make one up yourself. Will they all be winners? Absolutely not. But, odds are someone is eventually going to say something that one hundred years down the line is just part of the accepted common vernacular. And why can't it be you? Until you find the perfect phrase though, you can just take the bits work from your trashed phrases and leave the rest behind.

When you really think about it, the whole phrasing process? It's kinda like a lobster dip.*

*You know, unless you're like me and would totally just eat the whole thing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

And the strange dreams continue...

This one, though, was not nearly as fun as my ghostly employment opportunity.

In the dream, my sister was possessed by a candle. The best way I can figure it out is that the candle acted in the same vein as a horcrux. The longer she was in proximity to the waxy thing, the more evil she became.

I knew that destroying it was the only way to get my sister back, but every time I tried to, she would thwart me. Thinking back on it, she was kind of acting like the little girl from The Bad Seed.

In the dream my sister also had the crazy eyes that this young lady is sporting. 
Plus, those bangs? Straight out of old family photos of the little sis. Except hers were shorter. 
Which is really more terrifying than anything else I’ve discussed here.

But, finally, I was able to get rid of the thing, but by that time, she had done some evil magic on a can of paint. So, the horcrux-ish nature of the candle was now in the paint can. And the paint can was on a wall of paint cans.

I was just getting ready to start the laborious process of figuring out which paint can to destroy (destroying all the paint cans never occurred to me, for some reason), I woke up.

Now, I don’t know why my dreams have been particularly vivid lately. Roomie has accused me of having the weirdest dreams of anyone she's ever known, but I think that's an exaggeration due to the fact that her craziest dreams generally have to do with being late to work or picking out which shoes to wear. Riveting stuff. She did once dream about walking down a street where all the trees were on fire. That was kind of cool. She blamed me for it. Not entirely sure how I caused such a mental wandering, but I'm happy to take credit. (One of the earliest signs of my zombieist tendencies.)

Anyway, back to my recent dreams. They’ve had Harry Potter elements throughout. The only explanation I have for that is that I haven’t read any HP books or watched any of the movies since last summer and maybe my mind is rebelling against that and once I read the books again, the weird dreams will disperse.

Or the candle one could have just been my sister getting back at me for all the times I was a dream jerk to her.

Regardless of the reason, I’m going to steer the sister away from candles and paint for the time being. You know.....just in case.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Possible Future Job Opportunity

So, I had a totally awesome dream last night.

I was in what can only be described as a Hogwarts-esque castle and had just been informed that I’d died. Which doesn’t sound all that awesome, except for the fact that I was also told that I was going to be employed as a ghost for the castle. I was pretty pumped about that. I’d be a great haunter.

I was also allotted a certain amount of ghost magic to use in the aid of those in the castle worthy of such a boon. However, I was warned that if I used the magic for my own personal gain, not only would it blow up in my face, but I would become corporeal and visible to everyone around me for a few minutes, so that they could all know who was causing the problems. I’ll be honest with you, there was one point in my dream where I decided to test this and it ended exactly as I was told it would – poorly. Weirdly enough, at that point I was in the part of the castle that the Jetsons were apparently inhabiting. They weren’t cartoons, but real live versions of these characters. Can’t really remember what I was trying to do for my own personal gain in the Jetsons’ wing, but odds are it had something to do with stealing flying car plans.

What I do remember was that Judy was arguing with her parents about not being able to go to a concert. Which makes sense, ‘cause Judy was pretty much always talking about going to concerts. Anyway, I used the magic and everything went to hell. Also, I apparently had roped Roomie into going on this mission with me and she was not a ghost and therefore, fairly visible from the get go. Probably not my stealthiest move, even if the magic had worked. In the ensuing fiasco, I somehow ended up being pushed off a balcony and falling three stories to the ground. As I was punished with corporeal-ness, that kind of hurt. But I shook it off and went back to my job, sufficiently chastised for my selfish actions. Not really sure what happened to Roomie (sorry, buddy) though she did turn up again later in the dream, seemingly no worse for wear.

Other than the celebrity appearance by everyone’s favorite space-age family, all the other people who I ran into in the castle were either family, friends or generic strangers. I could stop and chat with them whenever I wanted, which is totally something I’d want the ability to do if I were a ghost. And I could be visible to people and impact the physical world whenever I wanted, if I really, really concentrated on it. Also a plus. I remember throwing books at people in the library, a classic ghostly pastime.

All in all, my short time as a ghost wasn’t really all that different from my life now. I just had magic and a really kick ass job. Sure, it’s not a job that I have any desire to be eligible for at this point in time, but I hope it’s one that actually exists. Because, oh, I don’t know, maybe eighty plus years down the line, I'll probably be looking for work. And I think I’d really enjoy this career path.

Until then though, I’ll just think of the dreams as a training course.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Assembling the Avengers

So, last night I got a super awesome fantastico graduation gift….

Greatest things ever, right? Not only have I not gotten any new Legos in forever, but Captain America and Iron Man? Hello, most badass Lego team in the world. And, to top it all off, there are pictures on the back of both boxes showing a superhero hybrid, combining pieces from both sets. 

My life is complete.

Even amid eardrum-shattering excitement (apologies to the Roomie, whose ears were bleeding a little), though, I couldn’t help but notice that Lego was kind of trying to mess with my head. First of all, what’s with the age range? 

I’m pretty sure what you meant to write was “6 and Up.” Or “Fun for all ages, as long as you don’t try to eat the pieces!” (Which only the Iron Man box really seems all that worried about anyway.)

And then there are the translations. 

Stop trying to confuse me, Lego.

Of course, all box confusion got pushed to the side as I ripped the things open to assemble my Avengers. And assemble them I did.

And it was awesome. 

  I feel much safer knowing these two are watching over my apartment.
And I kind of want to go see The Avengers again. For, maybe, the third time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gonna get worse before it gets better

I subscribe to the StoryPeople “Story of the Day.” If you don’t know who StoryPeople are, you should really check them out. ‘Cause they’re awesome.

Last week, one of the stories was called Before Dawn,” and read:

“I’ve always liked the time before dawn because there’s no one around to remind me who I’m supposed to be, so it’s easier to remember who I am.”

Being a night owl, I liked this one. There is absolutely something about the quiet, when everyone else is asleep, that is very centering. Reading this quote I could hear Sky Masterson singing “My Time of Day” in the back of my head.

But the story also made me think about the less literal moments before dawn that show who people really are.

A couple of months ago I was reading a post by the Authoress on the merits of Blake Snyder’s “beat sheet.” It’s a tool designed for screenplays, but can also definitely be helpful in mapping out a novel. I’m trying it for the book I’m working on and finding it very helpful. But that’s not the point. The point is that the twelfth “beat” is called “Dark Night of the Soul.” This is the point in the story were everything seems lost and the heroes seem beaten. It’s Han Solo encased in carbonite as Leia and Chewbacca are led away by Stormtroopers and Luke is getting his hand cut off. Basically, it’s when the mean writer decides to torture the poor characters in the bleakest way possible. It’s kind of depressing and entirely necessary to the story.

This is something I’ve read in a lot of different writer or agent blogs. As an author, you have to be willing to be cruel to the characters you create. Otherwise, you’ll never show the reader what your character is really made of. Because it’s when everything is at its worst that you really see who someone is.

Now, in real life, some of the dark moments are truly life-altering-ly horrible, but they can also occur on a smaller level. You can learn a lot about a person by how they react to the small things that pile up on not so great days – work frustrations, laundry coming out of the drier damp, someone cutting you off on the road, dinner getting all burn-y. All those little things that alone don’t really matter, but when strung together in a twenty four hour period can drive you to the far edge of your good mood. 

In stories, there isn’t always as much time to develop these sorts of insights, so the “dark nights” are often really dark. This can just mean that the worse thing these characters could imagine is happening, or it can cross right on over into apocalyptic. And when it’s all said and done, you get to see which characters fade to the background, which fight the good fight, which come out heroes and which small number are even more than that.

So, if you're reading, watching, or writing stories and getting bummed about how hard the characters have it (the way I sometimes do), know that this is just their "dark night." They'll come out of it stronger and if they finally make it to their happy ending, they'll have earned it.

‘Cause remember, Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez was just a normal kid (albeit very good at baseball) until the Beast escaped. Then he became a legend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

It was a dark and stormy night...

...actually it’s more than that. It’s been a dark and stormy couple of days. And even though I love the rain, I love it more when I get to stay home and have sweatpants dance parties in the living room. Alas, I have not been able to do that during this rainy spell. Silly work. So, I turn to the next best thing, a happy song playlist.

Now I don’t know about you, but my happy song playlist changes depending on the day. There are a few songs that stick around -- as Roomie has pointed out, if someone woke up every morning to Destiny’s Child’s “Happy Face,” they could probably change the world -- but for the most part, it's pretty fluid.

Here’s my current Rainy Day Cheery Tunes* playlist:

-          Happy Face – Destiny’s Child
-          Everything – Michael Buble
-          I Feel Better – Gotye
-          You’ve Got the Love – Florence and the Machine
-          Wannabe – Spice Girls
-          King of Anything – Sara Bareilles
-          Singing in the Rain – Gene Kelly
-          Man in the Mirror – Michel Jackson
-          Sweet Darlin’ – She & Him
-          In Your Light – Gotye

If there are any songs here you haven’t listened to yet, I highly recommend giving them a chance (even if it’s not raining where you are). It is legitimately difficult to do a convincing grumpus impression when these come on. Also, if you’re looking at this list and thinking, How...How could she have left out that song??? That’s the happiest song ever! In this world or any other!, please let me know what this epic tune is. I’m always looking for more happy melodies.

If you’re having a really rough morning and just listening isn’t quite enough, I suggest a little dancing. How much depends on your work environment and how upset you would be over the possibility of being shunned by coworkers. Of course, the argument can also be made that if they don’t immediately join you in your dance break, they’re the ones who deserve the shunning. I’ve heard it both ways.

Wishing you a happy day and whatever kind of weather you like most!

*This playlist can also be used to keep spirits up during the continuing battle against the Squirrel Menace. (I’m pretty sure they know I’m on to them. A small group of them have built a nest in the tree outside my living room window. Terrifying. Thank goodness for cheery tunes, right?)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Recreational Spending

I think I need another bookshelf. I don’t really know where I’m going to put it. I already have four in my room. But, I’m starting to have to store books on the floor again, which generally means it’s time to start looking for another shelving unit. If I mention this to Roomie, she'll roll her eyes and shake her head.

It’s not that Roomie doesn’t like reading. She does. But when she was a kid, she didn’t dream about owning the library from Beauty and the Beast, so she doesn’t quite see the point in spending money on yet another bookshelf. That works out though, because I don’t really get spending money to swim under live wires.

Roomie did the Tough Mudder this past weekend. I, sadly, wasn’t able to watch her complete this because I was all preoccupied with graduating. Last night though, she told me all about it. Of course, to make the story complete, she had to first don the orange sweatband she received whilst running.

She showed me a map of the course and took me obstacle by obstacle. There were twenty-one and each of them sounded horrible, but some were a little worse than others. Roomie said that the one she hated most was charmingly named, “Arctic Enema.” It was a dumpster filled with freezing water and a couple inches of ice cubes floating atop. She jumped in and then had to fully submerge herself to get past the wood board in the middle and over to the other side where other runners were waiting to pull her out. Apparently it took about ten minutes before she could stop shaking.

Then there was the one where she ran through bails of hay that had been set on fire. According to her recounting, the smoke was worse than the fire. So she would just open her eyes to see far she’d be running straight and then run that with her eyes closed to protect from smoke. When she saw my shock over running blind through flaming hay, she assured me, “Yeah, but when we got to other side, there was an aid stand where we got banana halves.”

I couldn’t tell you if she knows someone who has stated that half a banana is so delicious they would walk through flames to get one, but I can assure you, it wasn’t me.

And of course, my favorite, the “Electric Eel,” where she had to slide on her stomach through water, above which dangled live wires. She got shocked about five times. At this point in the story I asked why in all of hell she would pay to do this and she said that the money went to charity. I pointed out that she could also just donate money to charity and skip the whole potential electrocution thing. She waved this off, saying, “It wasn’t really that bad. It was just like you got punched real fast.”

The one thing that made this whole thing a little less Hunger Games to me was the fact that everyone there was apparently more than willing to help everyone else. Roomie said that most of the obstacles couldn’t be completed on your own, so other runners were always around to help you finish the ones they’d already completed. Which is kind of awesome and a pretty clear example of why, in a zombie apocalypse, these are the people you’d want by your side.

That being said….I think I’m going to stick with my bookshelves.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Forest and the Trees

Every day when we were little, my mother used to sit my sister and I down on the couch and ask “So, what happened today?”

Now, this may seem like a simple question, but it generally led to at least an hour of conversation. Because when my mom asked about the events of our day, she wasn’t looking for a general overview. She wanted the details.

“So, what happened today?” meant, “Starting with the moment your foot crossed the threshold of this house, please give me a minute by minute description of your thoughts, conversations and reactions, as well as those of the people you came in contact with.”

You’d think that having company at the house would have postponed requests for such detailed recounting, but not if grandma was over. You see, my mom came by her detail oriented-ness honestly. If both ladies were in the house when we got home it was a surefire guarantee there would be more follow-up questions than usual. As my grandmother once joked, “Don’t you know we’re starving for information from the outside world?”

My other grandmother like stories well enough, but they weren't her passion. She loved words. The forest was fine, but she was more interested in the trees. 

She was a whiz at Scrabble. I don’t think there was another activity in the world that she enjoyed more than that game. I played countless games with her over the years and I did not win once. The young age at which I started out and my self-proclaimed irresistible adorability never even came close to prompting her to let me win.

This is not to say that she didn’t help me along in the process. In addition to her handy Official Scrabble Dictionary which was never more than an arms length away, she would also have me show her my tiles and help me find words in them. If we found more than one, she’d help me figure out which would get me the most points. It took time, but I slowly came into my own. And while I never won, there were a few times I gave her a run for her money, without any assistance, which was enough of a victory for me.

Though, sadly, my grandmothers aren’t with me anymore, I still feel their influence. Every time I start to write a story, I always ask myself two questions: Am I offering the right amount of detail to make this world real? Am I making the right word choices?

And every time a story turns out well, I know that they had a hand in that.

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend. And Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In conclusion, I'm basically a metaphorical zombie

As I’ve mentioned, I regularly ask Roomie weird questions without any sort of context. Sometimes they’re related to a story I’m working on, sometimes they’re just what happened to pop into my head at that moment. But last night something shocking happened. Something that was completely unprecedented in our years of friendship.

Roomie asked me one.

I waiting to order my quesadilla and she asked, “If you were to wake up tomorrow and I wasn’t there and then you gradually realized that no one was there and that no electronics worked, what would you do?”

I stared for a second in shock at the uncharacteristic query, then got some clarification before answering. To be clear, in her question, I did not wake up to some post-apocalyptic slaughtering ground. No bodies. Everyone had just disappeared. The lack of electronics ensured that I could not call or see on the TV if this was world wide or just within the city in which I live. Roomie allowed that my car would probably work, but I’m guessing that navigational systems and gas pumps would be a no go.

My answer:
I would pack a bag of books and kitchen knifes (in case this all really goes sideways and turns into a zombie-type situation). Then I’d get in the car and drive as far as I could in the direction of my childhood home in search of other people. Once I ran out of gas, I’d continue on foot.

My choice in destination was two fold, as my family all still lives in that area and I could find it without the help of a navigational system. And there are not many places that I could say that about.

Roomie then gave her answer:
I would gather all the food I could and find a home base I could hide it in. Probably not our apartment. I’d find a nice house. I’d go to the grocery store and fill the granny-cart with jugs and jugs of water. Once I’d secured that I might drive around to see if I could find other people. I wouldn’t take too many of my supplies cause that would make the car heavier and slow me down.

I found out after I had her answer that Roomie was mildly disgusted that food and water never even entered in to my thought process. Whoops. Guess you don’t want to be stuck with me in a post-apocalyptic world. Unless you’re a fan of brevity. When Roomie demanded to know what in all the world I would bring a bag of books with me, I explained that if I get stuck somewhere, I don’t want to have just dwell on the fact that I may starve to death if things go well and the zombies don’t find me first. I’d like the option of enjoying a nice story.

What it comes down to, I guess, is that if everyone in the world started to disappear, Roomie would make sure you had shelter and sustenance, while I would be prepared to entertain and fight zombies to the death on your behalf. So, really, you’re best chance of happy survival is for neither of us to disappear.

As this conversation was coming to a close, I had to ask what prompted Roomie’s question. Her voice got a little high as she said, “You ask me weird questions all the time!” Believe me, I wasn’t complaining. So, I explained that I just wanted to know what inspired this so I could ensure that it would happen again in the future. She gave me a little smile and shrugged, clearly unable to pinpoint the origin of this thought process.

And that’s when I came to a shocking, yet satisfying, realization. In the story of Roomie’s life, I am the zombie.

It’s taken me almost eight years, but I’ve finally gotten to her brain.  

In other terrifying news, here is the Squirrel Menace Update: Do not be distracted if they pull the old “ears on fire” trick. It is just a distraction!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Word Problems

When I was a kid I used to wonder who the first person was to come up with a word for something and why everyone else agreed to call it by that name. I imagined these scenes where Man 1 pointed to a dog and said “dog” (not in English, of course, but considering I think in English, I just went with it) and everyone around him shrugged and was all, Okay, fine. We’ll call it a dog. Now can we focus on getting out of the way of this stampede of mastodons? (Once again, the influence of the Flinstones on my young brain shows itself.)

But what, I wondered, if Man 1 had actually been pointing at the tree the animal was relieving itself on when he said “dog” and not the animal itself? And in all the confusion of the whole mastodon stampede, the other folks had simply taken note of the wrong thing? Now, thousands of years later, we’re calling dogs, dogs, when really trees were supposed to be dogs.

Or what if Man 1 had been pointing at the dog, so the people around him were correct in their word usage, but Man 6 (the poor guy bringing up the rear of the mastodon-fleeing group) had seen the animal first and called it a “rock,” but the others couldn’t hear him over the stampede? After making their way to safety, Man 6 realizes the animal followed them and says, “Hey, it’s the rock!” and everyone else (feeling all arrogant because they managed not to get crushed) snorts derisively, whispering amongst themselves, “What an idiot. He doesn’t even know it’s a dog.” And Man 6 gets all flustered and tries to save face, “No, of course that’s a dog. I was talking about the little thing over there on the ground. That’s the rock. Obvi.”

Given that this was the weird mess going on in my head, I constantly pondered if other people were thinking about the same thing that I was. After doing a little informal survey, I found that the vast majority were…..not. I lost track of the number of times friends looked at me strangely when I asked if they every thought that maybe their beloved pet was supposed to be called a tree, or their parents’ garden was actually meant to be referred to as a forest. Their response would almost invariably be, “It’s not a forest. It’s a garden. Forests have lots of trees.” And I’d say, “Yeah. But what if it was supposed to be that forests are just flowers and gardens have lots of trees? And people just got mixed up.”

And then they’d walk away.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was probably crazy. At that point I was still basing this belief off the assumption that if the majority felt one way, then that was the sane path. Then, wonder of wonders, I made a fantastic discovery. When it came to word origins my dad thought about the same things I did! Albeit with less Flinstones involvement. Probably.

I was talking to my mom about it one day and she told me that she’d had similar conversations with my dad. So, I naturally went off, running through the house, screaming like a banshee, until I found my father. I explained the whole dog/tree/rock conundrum and not once did that let-me-get-away-from-this-crazy-person look that I’d seen on so many of friends cross his face. He just sat down and told me that he often thought about the same kind of thing.

After that, I stopped worrying that I was crazy and just focused on my queries into word origins.

I mean, I knew I probably was. Crazy, that is. But, at least I came by it honestly.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Just call me Raw Enthusiasm Girl...

All that anticipation has finally paid off….the summer movie has arrived. In the form of The Avengers. Roomie and I saw it this past weekend. There are already about a floppityjillion reviews out there telling you how flip-floppin’ awesome this movie is, so I won’t go too much into that, except to agree. And to say I'm already planning another visit to the theater for round two (and possibly three and four). 

As predicted, I felt that bittersweet twinge as the previews came to an end and the movie began. I’ve been waiting so long to see this movie and I was now so close to it being over. Of course, then the first scene kicked off and the “bitter” faded away. As, in my excitement, did the higher functions of my brain. I’m pretty sure I sat there, smiling, with a thought process akin to the Hulk’s.


And, of course, this movie also brought out my “why not me?” feelings. I had that basking period after it was over, when thoughts like, I’d be an awesome Avenger, were flitting through my head. As I was in the basking period, facts like me lacking any significant upper body strength, or having the flexibility of dry spaghetti, or the marital arts skills of someone without any martial arts skills, ceased to matter. I sat in the car, secure in my knowledge that if only they knew me that super hero squad, would be all, Yeah. Let’s recruit that one. Sure, she has no real superhero skill set. But look at how excited she is. We shall call her Raw Enthusiasm Girl.

Basically, I’d have the power of heart without the possibility of telepathy. And I could live with that. I mean, having an actual power would be cooler, but I’d be happy just to be part of the team.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, this desire to be a member of the superhero realm has been a constant in my life. Only last summer, Roomie and I were waiting for our food in the Arbie’s drive thru and I mentioned that if she were going to be a superhero I thought her name should be Little Green Hawk. The reasons for this were three fold:

  1. She was, at that point, sporting a faux-hawk.
  2. I thought she should dye it lime green (she disagreed)
  3. Whenever I said Little Green Hawk, Roomie quoted Andy Samberg’s last line in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
She asked who I was in this world and I responded that Little Green Hawk was my sidekick. Roomie did not take kindly to what she saw as a demotion (but, seriously, did she really think Little Green Hawk was the power player here?) and the conversation devolved from there. It got the point where one of us may or may not have threatened to throw a quarter at the other one’s eye. This (most likely) empty threat prompted Roomie to declare my name in this superhero realm to be Quarter Eye. Now, whether this name implied that I had a quarter stuck in my eye for all eternity or that I only had a quarter of an eye, I’m still not entirely sure. Regardless, the name sounded more like that of a supervillain, than a superhero. I chose to embrace it. Not overly difficult given the number of times I played Robbers & Robbers as a kid.

I haven’t completely figured out the story of these archenemies yet. But I can say that in a universe where Little Green Hawk is the reigning superhero, Quarter Eye operates in a Snidely Whiplash-esque fashion. Otherwise, that poor little bird wouldn’t have a chance.

If any of the Avengers happen to be reading this, please know that I am fully dedicated to superheroism, despite my apparent villainy as Quarter Eye. It’s really just about trying to get in the enemy’s head, so I’m ready when it comes time for battle.

And, you know, you gotta throw the Roomie a bone every once in awhile.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Walking a mile in her shoes...or something like that

I often credit my mother for my desire to climb into the heads of different characters and view the world from their eyes.

Like any kids, my sister and I would occasionally argue when we were youths. When this happened, there were never any timeouts or groundings in my house. Rather, my mother would lead the two of us to the den and close us in.

I know what you’re thinking….steel cage match. But, no. Before shutting the door behind her, my mother would leave us with very specific instructions. We were to continue our argument. Only now I had to pretend to be my sister and she had to pretend to be me. Basically we had to argue the other person’s side.

Once she left us alone, my sister and I would try to follow the rules laid out for us. I would say that, in these situations, it was probably a pretty even split between times when we ultimately saw validity in the other’s argument and found a compromise, and times when we just got confused and tired from trying to remember which side we were on. But one thing was sure, when we walked out of that room, we weren’t fighting anymore.

This quirky parental choice not only saved my sister and me from a number of prolonged battles, but it also left me with an interesting writing tool. Whenever I’m writing and I hit a block where my brain stops working with the story, I pick two characters from it, select a topic related to the story and then argue it from both sides. Even if this doesn’t tell me exactly where I want to go next with my tale, it does solidify the personalities of the characters in my head and gives me a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses.

Little did I know, all those years ago, as I stood across from my sister (trying to push the knowledge that I was totally right out of my head, so I could concentrate on her side of the argument), that I was building helpful working tools. Huh. Guess parents really do know what they’re doing.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bad Movies/Good Party Themes: Spice World Party Like It's 1997 Party

The first Friday of the month has arrived and so has our new party theme!

Here is a fun fact about me, throughout my academic career I have found one thing above all others which expedites my paper-writing process and that is….the music of the Spice Girls. Now, some of you may be sitting out there, thinking, That’s ridiculous. And while you’re not completely off base, I would encourage you to give it a try if you’re ever engaged in the lengthy process of writing something that is meant to be serious. Here are some of the reasons Spice Girls work:
-          Spice Girl songs don’t require a great deal of mental effort to listen to, so they won’t distract you from the task at hand.
-          When you’re writing something serious, you can get weighed down in the process and start to wonder how you’re ever going to successfully incorporate everything you’ve researched into the set page limit (or wonder how you’re ever going to meet the set page limit). Enter the Spice Girls. It’s really hard to feel weighed down when listening to “Wannabe.” Seriously, try it. It’s hard.
-          In my experience, every paper that I have successfully written has hinged on the dance break I have taken mid way through. And when I’m jumping up and down next to my computer tray table (high tech) as “Spice Up Your Life” blasts on iTunes, I can feel writer-y greatness rising up in my chest.
-          Sometimes you need to take a resting break from writing, but if you let it go for too long, you’re not going to come back. So, lean back and close your eyes as the dulcet sound of “2 Becomes 1” washes over you. When it’s done, so’s your break.
-          When you've finished your paper, you’ll still have the songs in your head for some ready to go celebration singing.

In conclusion, it’s always worked for me. Therefore, it seemed appropriate that the Bad Movie during the final month of my academic career should be Spice World. Even just thinking about the film makes me hearken back to the year it entered our lives.

Ah, 7th grade Kelly, I remember you fondly. You favored knock-off Jnco jeans, t-shirts (either intensely oversized ones depicting Star Wars characters or advertising roller coasters, or ones that belonged to your nine year old sister and were therefore far too small for you) and hoodless sweatshirts. Your hair was still growing out from the Amanda Borden cut of 6th grade. It was a strange length and intensely poofy, as it would be years before you discovered the magic of the straightener.  But you were definitely right, crimping it made you look cooler. Or like a mad scientist. But aren’t they kind of one and the same?

With the help of my friends, it was decided on a simple theme that allowed us to revisit our childhood selves.

As for the movie? It was just as great as I remembered. It actually improves upon the group’s music, which I never thought anything would ever do. But you know what the music just didn’t have enough of? Aliens and Meat Loaf.

Problem solved.

Crackerjack dialogue to look forward to:
-          “Listen up, take my advice – we need five for the power of Spice.”
-          “They’ve got fire in their eyes, hunger in their bellies…and great big shoes on their feet!”
-          “When the rabbit of chaos is pursued by the ferret of disorder through the fields of anarchy, it is time to hang your pants on the hook of darkness.”

Tagline: “They Don’t Just Sing!”

For a Spice World Party Like It’s 1997 Party of your very own, here’s what you need (Caveat: Your 1997 may have been different than mine. Go with your gut.):
-          Spice World (1997)
-          Homemade decorated posters with plenty of Lisa Frank stickers. ‘Cause it doesn’t matter what year it is, she’s always awesome. 

Oh, Willow....always jumping in for the photo bomb.

Ignore Baby Spice's wonky foot. That was an accident. Stop judging me.

-          Snacks: Now, depending on your age, what you ate in 1997 might be different than what I did. So, go with your own experience here. If you were born after 1997 or are just looking for suggestions, here are mine:

-          Clothes: Dig through your closet, there’s probably something back there that can at least look similar to something that would have been worn in ’97. Roomie and I were both able to find clothes that we actually wore back then. (Included in my outfit was a sweatshirt that Roomie hates. She lists the following reasons as why: It’s hoodless / It’s white / It doesn’t have a front pocket / It has a big seal of a historical event / It’s not awesome. I dispute the last fact, but the rest of them provide a fair description of my sweet souvenir from Fort Erie circa late ‘96.)
-          Glittery face tattoos.
-          Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC music videos for before and after the movie
-          Group of Girl Group/Boy Band groupies and/or late ‘90s enthusiasts and/or people you wouldn’t mind being hopped up on sugar with.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bumper to bumper

I find bumper stickers really interesting. There this odd little window into the lives of total strangers. I’m always fascinated by what people choose to reveal about themselves through car decoration.

There’s a wide spectrum when it comes to bumper stickers. On one end, you’ve got people who paper their car with stickers. Trying to process all their causes, likes and dislikes during the time it takes for the light to turn from red to green can cause sensory overload. But still you try to take it all in. With these, the really interesting part is trying to figure out what one topic trumps the others in this individual’s hierarchy. For instance, I saw one car the other day that, among a menagerie of other stickers, had no less than seven proclaiming that they heart their dog.

Far on the other side of this continuum, are the people who refuse to adhere anything sticky to their automobiles. These drivers maintain their air of mystery whilst on the road. And then there is the vast range of people who fall somewhere in the middle, generally choosing to focus only on one or two interests in their decorating.

There are the people who are proud of some aspect of their life. Lots of alma mater stickers. And who hasn’t sat behind someone in traffic whose kid is an honor student? Or behind the person who was so incensed by the honor students that they felt the need to respond with a sticker declaring that their kid could beat up the honor student? Recently I’ve also seen a rise of the family stick figures. Thanks to these little fellas, not only do I now know that the person driving in front of me has four kids and two cats, I also know that the eldest is a cheerleader and the youngest an equestrian.

Political bumper stickers are, of course, old favorites. But sometimes even these are not as simple as they seem. Roomie and I were driving along the other day and noticed that the car in front of us had but one bumper sticker. It read “Reagan-Bush ’84.” Now, in my experience, it’s not uncommon for cars to have bumper stickers endorsing candidates of decades past. If the car had been old, this choice might have been interesting only because it was the lone sticker on the car and there have been so many elections since. However, what really struck me about this car was that is was fairly new. Made long after the campaign the driver was endorsing. And this left me thinking about what might have been crossing that person’s mind as they made the choice to place that one bumper sticker on the rear of their vehicle. The best I could come up with was something along the lines of, It may have been almost twenty years ago, but let’s keep the spirit alive!

And then there are those people who choose to highlight only one small thing about themselves. These tend to be the ones that I’m the most intrigued by. Roomie and I were driving to work yesterday and a very expensive looking BMW was in front of us. This driver had placed a sticker on his bumper that declared, very simply, “I’d Rather Be At A Journey Concert.” 

Now, I enjoy Journey. Probably not quite as much as J.D., but when “Don’t Stop Believing” starts playing, I start belting it out. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. And, to be completely honest, I’m a little suspect of people who don’t. But this is beside the point. The point is that, for this BMW owner, the love of Journey was vast enough to be the only thing worth sharing with the world. And as he drove away, I believed that he’d rather be at a Journey concert. And I hoped there was one in his near future.

The sentiments expressed on bumper stickers often make me laugh. On rare occasions they can annoy me. And with regularity they leave me with more questions than answers. What they always remind me of, though, is that everyone is a storyteller in some capacity. And the people who shellac their vehicle with stickers are choosing to share a little bit of their story with the world.

As a member of their audience, I certainly appreciate the effort.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The seaweed is always greener...

Disney’s The Little Mermaid really bothered me when I was kid. I mean, I knew that Ariel had gotten her wish. She got to be human and live with her prince. And he was a pretty decent guy, even if he was a little slow on the uptake. An accomplished sailor and musician, plus willing to take on Ursula? Definitely a nice fella.

But I was still bothered.

You see, I really didn’t care for the fact that she was never going to really get to spend time with her family and friend again. Sure, Scuttle could visit her and bring back word to the others. And Ariel could arrange beach excursions, where she could yell things out to her father who would have to stay in the deeper waters further off the shore. It wasn’t the same though. Even as a kid, I wondered if her “happily ever after” was really happily every after, or if she would later regret her choice to leave for a man with whom, at that point, she’d never actually had a substantive conversation.

So, even though I loved the music and would watch the movie ad nauseum, it still kinda bummed me out.

My dad helped me out with this. I don’t know if he felt the same way about the movie, or what, but he used to tell my sister and me stories of the characters from the movie. The thing was, in his stories, Ariel was still a mermaid. Eric showed up sometimes, but for the most part it was the adventures of Ariel, Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle. And it was awesome. My dad would pit them against all sorts of watery villains. I remember one in particular, involving a very scary octopus, which had me very worried the gang wouldn’t make it.

Like any good storyteller, he took his audience into consideration. My sister and I could make requests as to who or what might appear in the night’s tale. And every once in awhile there would be a song thrown in.

After hearing all these stories, I was able to watch the movie without too much issue. Cause I knew the secret. It was a great film, but they’d gotten the ending wrong. Which was fine. Everyone makes mistakes. And I had my dad to ensure that I knew the truth. Ariel doesn’t sail off into the sunset (sorry Eric). She decides to stay in the sea (at least for the time being) with her friends and family. She continues her adventures. Based off of some of my dad’s stories involving Ariel saving the day, it seems that her love of humans and her success at saving Eric’s life was likely to lead to her creating a highly successful and respected underwater rescue team that looks out for mariners.

Also, after listening to my father’s stories, I have to believe that Ariel, with all her curiosity and brains, would want to make informed decisions. Eric would come out and visit when his crew went sailing and the two actually got to know each other. Their decision on whether or not to try to make this whole inter-species relationship work was based on more than how cute he is and the fact that she has a killer singing voice. Ariel also learned more about human life, so she didn't make her life-changing choice off of the assumption that we’re always jumping, dancing, strolling along the street and just staying all day in the sun.

I can’t say for sure that Ariel didn’t ultimately make the same decision as the movie has her making. But, thanks to my dad, I know that she didn’t make it without all the facts. And that regardless of where she eventually ended up, she’d probably still be kicking ass.

So, sorry to all of you who were, like me, misled by the honest mistake made at the close of the movie. If you ever want the real story, I’m sure my dad would be more than happy to share it.