Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Friday Video Break

I recently joined Twitter. I'm not sure I quite have the hang of it yet, but it's been fun trying to figure it out. What has really been great, though, are all the awesome things other people post.

Roomie said that my joining Twitter has markedly increased the number of links I send her way. She didn't follow that statement with a "thank you," but no worries! It was totally inferred. So, you're welcome, friend!

But the real thanks goes to the folks of Twitter. You see, I am historically bad at finding cool things until they've been around for a couple years. With all the time I spend roaming around the internet, one would think I'd be keeping pace with the times, but, alas, this is not so.

Or was not, until Twitter. Now, other people, who are far more with it than I, tweet links to phenomenal videos and I get to reap the benefits. It's really a lovely situation.

Anyway, it's a summer Friday. Which means it should be a relax-y day. So, I offer you a tiny break from your work day in the form of two awesome videos having to do with books, that I found thanks to Twitter. If you've already seen these, you'll know they're worth a second (or tenth) look. And if you haven't, you're welcome.

If You Love To Read

If I could have a theme song, I'm pretty sure I'd want it to be this.

Jane Austen is My Homegirl Rap

"My dowry brings all the boys to the yard, and they like, start quoting the Bard...." 
I don't really think anything else needs to be said about how fantastic this is.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to seeing what was cutting edge on the internet in 2010. 

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Such a Pretty Face

From when we are very young, we are warned against judging a book by its cover. But, I’m not going to lie, I’ve done it.

The cover’s important. It’s the first introduction the reader has to the world and tone of the book. And when people have such large selections of books to choose from, the cover is the best way to make a lasting first impression.

Look at Vicki Pettersson’s The Taken, for instance. I was in the bookstore the other day with no specific story in mind. Just meandering about. And this cover grabbed me. Once I read the back flap, I knew this was a story that had awesome written all over it and I’m very excited for reading time this weekend. But I wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place if it hadn’t been for the cover.

With the need to catch the bookstore wanderer’s attention in mind, certain works of classic literature have gotten facelifts in recent years. In an effort to appeal to the young adult market, a few have been given the Twilight treatment. Romeo & Juliet is dubbed “The Original Forbidden Love….” This cover of Wuthering Heights, not only proclaims that “Love Never Dies,” but also plainly states, “Bella & Edward’s Favorite Book.”

Dressing up old favorites in some new garb makes sense from a marketing standpoint, and while I enjoy the classic covers, I support pretty much anything that gets people to read more. And if new covers accomplish that goal, awesome. Plus, some of them are pretty cool looking.

There’s a certain aesthetic appeal to the simplicity of the images on the black background trend, but I have always preferred covers that have a bit more to do with the characters. A partiality that has also led to my biggest book packaging peeve. It drives me absolutely bizonkers when the physical description of the characters in the book do not match the image of the characters on the cover. If it is mentioned that a character has black hair, but on the cover they have light brown. If two characters have a significant height discrepancy in the story, but are of comparable heights on the cover. Annoys the bejeepers out of me.

Now it’s pretty much impossible for the person/people on the front cover to look exactly as I imagine the characters and that’s fine. Just looking for the specifically mentioned characteristics to be the same. Certain covers avoid this problem all together by favoring silhouettes. My sister picked up this copy of Pride & Prejudice while waiting in an airport last year. I love it. Main characters are present and accounted for, as are some of the secondary. All the detailing fits in with the story and the lack of clear features means I’m never going to be flipping to the front and thinking, Well, that doesn’t match. Added to all this is the fact even without seeing facial expression, these characters have personality.

For another beautiful cover utilizing silhouette, check out Mindee Arnett’s upcoming The Nightmare Affair. Tor also offers a really cool look at the process of choosing this particular cover.

So, what about all of you? What books have you judged by their covers and how has that worked out for you?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wizards, Jedi, and Farm Kids....Oh My!

I was reading this post yesterday and it got me thinking about the movies that had a big impact on me when I was a kid.

My first real movie obsession was The Wizard of Oz. I was probably around three when I really got into it. According to my parents, as soon as we hit the credits I would ask them to rewind it and start the magic up again. I had a collection of character dolls that I kept out on my dresser. (Except at night when I had to put the Wicked Witch in a drawer. She was already invading my dreams; I didn’t need her watching me.) My Dorothy doll was regularly played with. She had a tragic accident one Thanksgiving when I thought it might be interesting to see if she could be a Rockette. To this day, Miss Gale only has one leg.

When I was in fifth grade I was introduced to my next cinematic love. Sure, there had been countless movies I had loved between the ages of three and ten, but none to this magnitude. In 1997, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope was re-released in theaters. It was my first time seeing any of the Star Wars movies. I can remember sitting in the theater and thinking, “Yes. I want all things to be this.” Afterward, I went home and combed through my parents taped VHS’s until I found the ones that held the next two movies. Of course, I would go and see them in the theater, but while I waited for that, I would watch the originals on grainy tapes and read all the books I could get my hands on. I was good and hooked.

These movies that I loved as a child continue to be favorites to this day. My desk at work is adorned with lunch boxes from both and my home is strewn with various examples of nerdom. But what I’m really finding interesting as I look back on my younger self’s fascinations are the connections between my favorite films.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

-          Both The Wizard of Oz and A New Hope star farm kids raised by an aunt and uncle.
-          Dorothy and Luke begin their stories with a sense of dissatisfaction in their home lives and they look to the skies for a cure (Dorothy: over the rainbow/Luke: flight academy).
-          Their adventures really begin when their small, non-speaking friends run away and get themselves into trouble (Toto: Miss Gulch/R2D2: Tusken Raiders).
-          Because of these small friends, staying at home is no longer an option (Toto will be taken away/Stormtroopers have burnt home to the ground in search of droids).
-          Following these unfortunate revelations, both characters take to the sky, though Dorothy’s trip was, admittedly, not by choice.
-          Both characters
o       Find worlds they weren’t expecting (Oz/Destroyed Alderaan and Death Star).
o       Seek aid from the mystical in achieving their goals (Wizard/The Force).
o       Pick up friends along the way:
§         The wise friend, who knows more than he/she is letting on, and has a history with the villain that is not fully explained to the hero (Glinda/Obi Wan).
§         The friend who downplays his intelligence, while also being a bit of a know-it-all (Scarecrow/C-3PO).
§         The allegedly heartless friend, who turns out to have had a heart the whole time (Tin Man/Han Solo).
§         The rather hirsute friend, who occasionally finds himself a little jumpy, but is brave when it counts (Cowardly Lion/Chewbacca).
o       Face off against villains who favor black capes and head wear, while wielding power over large groups of uniformed minions (Wicked Witch/Darth Vader).
o       Ultimately discover (with the help of the wise friends) that the strength needed to win lay within them from the beginning, they just didn’t realize it.

Really, the biggest difference between the two films is that Dorothy’s desperate to get home, whereas Luke has no plans of ever going back. Well, that, and the lack of musical numbers in A New Hope. (No disrespect to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes. You guys are great.)

In conclusion, apparently kid-me (and subsequently adult-me) had a definite type. And I think I’d label it under “awesome.”

And just to make sure she’s not left out of this post, click here for a picture of kid-me dressed as Princess Leia!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Laughing Is Always Worth It (Though It Sometimes Makes You Look Like A Jerk)

There has never been a day in my life when I haven’t laughed.

Even on the really bad days, there’s always been something humorous to find. And I enjoy the search as much as I do the destination.

And, as I love the laughing, it doesn’t really take that much to get me going. Great jokes, cheesy puns, offhand comments…they all tickle me. I’ve mentioned that I’m one of those (I refuse to believe I’m the only one) weird people who occasionally likes to hear the dialogue of a book out loud. On more than one occasion, a line from a book has struck me as so amusing that I can’t actually say it because every time I try, I laugh too hard.

Then there are people in my life who I think of as carriers. They’re the bearers of contagious laughter. The people who, for whatever reason, if they’re laughing, I’m laughing. I don’t even have to be in on the joke. They’re just downright infectious.

All this laughter is fantastic, but it does come with a very slight downside. Given my proclivities, I often find myself laughing at inopportune times.

When Roomie's annoyed by traffic and cursing at other cars and occasionally herself. When a coworker inadvertently tells another that he needs to "strap on a pair," and then after a inordinately long pause, "of snowshoes." When my sister tells me that the woman we're listening to speak bears a striking resemblance to a turtle.

The list could go on for days. And I would laugh every time I read it. 

And then there is the situation that makes me look like the biggest jerkboat. You know how babies can really get going when they cry? I mean, it’s impressive. I don’t have that kind of lung capacity. After about a minute and a half, I’d probably just fall asleep. But they can go on for an extended period of time, just wailing. And I'm not talking about when they actually fall and hurt themselves. But just when they're in a crying mood. Well, if I’m holding a child who decides it’s time to let loose, I can go about 45 seconds before I start laughing as hard as he’s crying. And let me tell you, you know who looks like an ass? Someone who’s laughing at a crying baby.

It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to whatever baby crisis the kid is having. I’ll do everything I can to try and figure out what the issue is and fix it. Honest. I’ll just laugh while I do. I think it has something to do with knowing that if the child wants to cry for the next hour, nothing I can do is really going to make a difference. So, I can despair over that fact or I can laugh and think about how when this kid grows up I can tell him all about the time he cried for three hours (my parents have dozens of these gems). And, when given the choice, I will always opt for laughter over despair.

So, while I’m sure if people see me, they think, Look at that creep. Laughing at the crying baby. I’m going to go over and kick her in the knee. Make her cry and then laugh. See how she likes it, occasionally this inappropriate laughter has positive results. This doesn’t work all the time. It doesn’t even work a lot of the time. (I think maybe it worked once.) But in a certain miraculous instance, I found myself pacing with a crying baby who suddenly became distracted by my laughter. Looking up at me with that scrunched little face, all tear streaked, the child just stared for a moment, as if unsure how to handle such a bizarre reaction. And then as if all the stars had aligned perfectly, like unicorn-dancing-on-a-rainbow-of-dreams-and-skittles perfectly, the baby started laughing with me.

So, while I will try my best not to laugh when I shouldn’t, I’m not going to feel too horrible when I inevitably fail. Because sometimes magic comes out of such mistakes.

And how about the rest of you? What makes you laugh (whether or not you should)?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tying Up Loose Ends

A friend was complaining to me this weekend about a book she’d just finished. It was a thriller, where a female CIA operative was chasing members of a drug cartel. There are apparently a number of points in the story where it seems like she’s going to catch up with them, but each time something goes sideways.

All of this sounds like what you’d expect from a thriller, but my friend who generally enjoys such stories was very angry about this particular one. Why? The ending. According to her, there wasn’t one. After being thwarted yet again, the CIA operative finally gets a tip from a source regarding where these bad guys are holed up.

And that’s it.

The story ends with the protagonist going off to follow this latest lead.

My friend was not pleased. Particularly since the night before she’d watched a recently released movie that had a similar lack of closure. It was a big weekend of ending-lackings.

I’ve heard arguments that books and movies and what not that have these sorts of non-endings are more realistic. Situations in life rarely have the nice wrap-up that most stories give them. This may be true, but I, personally, am not someone who reads books to confirm what I already know to be true about real life. If they do, that’s great. But I’m generally looking for a little more poetic justice.

This isn’t to say that all the loose ends of the story have to be tied up neatly at its close. That depends entirely on the world of the book. When I read a romance novel, I’m going to be annoyed if the hero and heroine don’t find a way to make it work before I reach the last page. But this doesn’t mean that all the other life issues that have presented themselves need to have total closure. If the guy and gal are together at the end, I’m fine working on the assumption that they’ll face all these other problems together.

If I’m reading a mystery starring some hardboiled detective, whose life is in total disarray because of choosing this line of work, I don’t need for her life to be all unicorns and rainbows at the end of the book. But I will not be pleased if I don’t get to see her solve the mystery that was set before her.

And if the hero has to die at the end of a thriller for the sake of the greater good, so be it. Will I cry? Yeah, probably. But, I still tear up at the end of Newsies, so that may not mean much. (Of course, if you don’t get emotional when all those young urban workers come to support that group of idealistic newsboys, I dub you heartless.) But, back to the point, I’m not going to be thrilled if the protagonist gets killed off at the end of the book, but if they first accomplish an important goal, I can tolerate it.

As a fan of Lost, I knew going into the finale that there was simply no way that all the questions I’d pondered over the course of the series would be answered. All I was looking for was a sense that I had seen the story through and had an understanding of where these characters I’d been so invested in ended up. And, that’s what I got. Do I still have a bunch of questions? Absolutely. If I think about it too much, my brain starts to feel a little woozy.

Endings don’t have to be neat or perfect, but I do want there to be an actual close to the story. I don’t want to feel as though I entered this world, started walking around getting to know people, and then got pulled out by the scruff of my neck before I could say goodbye.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I'd even settle for the Eenie Meenie Miney Moe method...

Do you know the song “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” by The Lovin’ Spoonful? It starts off with:

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
Pick up on one, and leave the other behind
It’s not often easy, and not often kind
Did you every have to make up your mind?

I can remember this because I used to sing it to my sister. You see, it got on her nerves and being a kid, this, of course, made it hysterical to me. But, the song came to mind today when I was reading a post on problematic protagonists. The list provided here was excellent, but I would add one more to the catalog: “Unable to Make a Decision.”

Have you ever read a book and felt like things just keep happening to the main character? It’s not that the protagonist is making them happen. Nope, just along for the ride.

In times of action, this is the person who fights the good fight only when forced to. Strong beliefs are sometimes professed, but rarely do they lead to an actual choice. No, this character waits around until the surrounding circumstances whittle down the options, then participates with an sense of resignation.

When more than one alternative presents itself (employment opportunities, love triangles, gelato flavors, etc.) the protagonist is truly stymied, bouncing back and forth between options, never happy, always tortured by the difficulty of the choice. But the excuse is always that the options are just all so flip-flopping fantastic, never that this individual’s way of deciding is to passive-aggressively force someone else to, so that no responsibility ever need be taken. So our hero just waits around allowing things to work themselves out. I mean, they’re bound to run out of some of that gelato eventually, right? No effort needed.

These characters drive me straight on up the wall. They prompt me to throw books, which then leads to hours upon hours of me apologizing to the book, ‘cause it’s not its fault that these characters are acting like dinkuses.

I want a character who makes a choice. Who sees that something is coming down the road and preemptively says, “I’m not going to wait for that to get here, I’m going to [insert decision here].” Now, I don’t care if I agree with the choice. I could hate it. Maybe I think it’s the dumbest decision anyone has ever made heretofore on this planet. Who cares? The protagonist didn’t wait for an event to just happen to him. He took control of the action and I applaud that, regardless of how dumbass I may think the choice is. Because the character proved that he was not so scared of the fallout of the decision that he would avoid making it.

And that’s a character I can support. One who looks at a situation, takes control of his role in it, and is willing to deal with the consequences.

How about you? Any character types who make you want to run for the hills, screaming like a tiny baby monkey?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The great trifecta: A Pool, A Paddle Boat and A Library

So, it’s pretty hot today. The air conditioner in the office is a-pumping – to the point where I’m a little shivery in my long sleeve sweater. But even at eight this morning, walking outside was like getting punched in the throat by an angry heat goblin. It seems as though the first day of summer came and thought, No, no! This mild weather will not do! Let’s heat these suckers up.

The result: today.

This has me harkening back to the summer jobs of yesteryears, of which I’m going to share a few classics with you.

-          Swimming Instructor’s Assistant
o       This was my first real job ever. That lovely summer between freshman and sophomore year of high school. Ah, nostalgia. Now, seeing as how I’ve never really been a swimmer, in the traditional sense (I mean, I can keep myself from going under, but it looks less Olympic level and more like a demented frog seizure. But I don’t drown! So…win.), it was probably a good call on the pool’s part to only hire me on as an assistant. My services were generally called in when we had classes on the far ends of the age spectrum. I jumped in the pool, made sure I was nearby in case anyone was struggling. And in my free time, I sat on the side of the pool, chatting with the other assistants, completely oblivious to the fact that the rough concrete was slowly wearing away at the seat of my bathing suit, until it became so sheer that you could see right through it. Awkward. All in all, though, it was a pretty good job. Not overly strenuous. Got to hang out by a pool every day. Even when a kid had a not-so-originally-named “Code Brown,” or the even less subtle, “Someone just puked,” in the water and we had to clear everyone out of the pool to disinfect it, the days went by pretty smoothly. And I still remember what I did with that very first paycheck. My sister and I went with a friend to see Legally Blonde. Worth. Every. Penny.

-          Crew Member of Large Paddle Boat
o       One of my shortest forms of employment, yet also one from which I have the most stories. This paddle boat took people out for three hour tours around the bay (and yes, every single time I think of this all I hear in my head is the Gilligan theme song. Which then leads to the torturous question of why? WHY did those folks pack so many outfits if they were only going out for a three hour tour? But I can’t get sucked down that hole right now. So, stop it.). People would rent it for a vast variety of get-togethers: birthdays, graduations, class trips. One afternoon we had a very touching wake. Another day we hosted a Red Hat party with a Hawaiian theme. I have never heard so many jokes about getting “lei-d.” I cleaned, I polished, I changed water and oil. I was tapped for bathroom detail after we ferried around a group of kids who were particularly prone to motion sickness. I had a short stint of bartending and spent one afternoon as a caterer’s assistant. More than once, I hung off the side of the boat to lasso it to the pier when we came back in. The job may have only lasted a month, but somehow I don’t see myself ever forgetting it.

-          Counselor in Children’s Section at Local Library
o       By far my favorite summer job of all time. Not only did I get to decorate the section in an Ancient Egypt theme, but I got to do Story Times with the kids and work on craft projects related to the books we read. I spoke to parents about more book suggestions for the kids who were involved in the library’s summer reading program and those who hadn’t really shown an interest, but had parents who wanted to find something that would turn on that light for them. And I got to sit with the kids and listen to them talk about all the coolest things they had just finished reading. Let me tell you, nothing is quite as awesome as seeing kids completely jazzed up about a story. And finally, I got to karaoke “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” with one of the librarians at an afternoon event. In conclusion, it was a summer of magic. And a job that I still miss.  

How about anyone else? Do phenomenal past jobs spring to mind on this very hot of days?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gonna start looking for a purple blur

On our route to work, Roomie and I pass many bus stops, but only one is really worth mentioning.

This particular stop consists only of a sign, no overhang, no bench. Just a pike in the ground. There is also no sidewalk. It's just stuck in the curb. The only way to avoid standing in the street if you’re waiting there is to wedge yourself into the overgrown bushes that have taken over that little curb. And as this is situated on the side of a six lane road, people seem to prefer to take their chances in the bushes than in the street.

This leads to another question: How do people get to this stop? There only seem to be two possibilities. The first is playing a human game of Frogger. The second is cutting through the golf course, hopping the fence, and fighting past the bramble to arrive at your public transportation pick-up spot of choice. Neither of these seem ideal.

And then we come to the final mystery. Roomie and I are not entirely consistent with what time we drive past this landmark (mostly due to my inability to process five alarms and the length of time it takes me to notice that the Roomie is pounding on my door). So, we’ve driven past it at a variety of times. While there is often someone waiting patiently at that nearly hidden pike, we have never once seen a bus on that street.

All of this evidence has led us to only one conclusion. This is where the Knight Bus picks up local wizards. That’s why we’ve never seen it and that’s why all these folks can get to that precarious location.

It’s really the only thing that makes sense, though I’ll admit to feeling a little hurt that there are wizards in the area and I’m not one of them. But who knows, right? Maybe I’m just a late bloomer and one day soon I’m just going to start apparating all over the place.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the way it’s gonna go.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

When you want to kick a pigeon, it's time for a break

The imminent arrival of summer has both positives and negatives for city life.

We’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first. The heat. Sweet baby monkeys, it will be stifling. Not really looking forward to that. But it may give me the motivation needed to finally create my air conditioned pillow suit for summer traveling. So….silver lining.

On the plus side, though, we have tourists. Now, some people don’t love when the tour buses roll into town, but let me tell you, there are few greater opportunities to people watch. (Really the only thing coming to mind is the airport the night before Thanksgiving.)

It rarely takes more than a quick scan to tell at which stage each group of tourists is. There are the bright-eyed and bushy tailed. They’ve just arrived at their first sight of the day. And they are pumped. The world is glorious and everything laid before them is both interesting and fantabulous. It shall be the best of days. To commemorate this epic event, they shall purchase an article of clothing proclaiming the city’s name, which makes them look like the victim of a vicious paintball attack (that was perpetrated by the 1980s). And it shall be good.

Then you’ve got the folks a little bit further into their day of fun. They’ve seen about a quarter of what they planned on getting to and it was great. But now they’re starting to wonder about the feasibility of seeing everything else. I mean, it’s a lot of things. So, they’re taking a break. Grabbing a pretzel and some Gatorade at a stand that’s also selling CIA sweatbands (just like all the real intelligence officials wear whilst they are intelligencing). And they’re re-evaluating. Some of the groups will make the choice to cut down on their expectations, make the day a little more relaxing. These are the same people who you’ll see laughing as they partake in their outside seating suppers.

And then there are those who decide to push through. They admirably soldier on, determined to see every single sight. They often meet a fair amount of success, if their tales of heroic effort are to be believed. However, they also pay a hefty price. You can see it in their faces as the wander by. They’ve seen too much. Deprived of both food and rest, their bodies are beginning to rebel against them. Circles appear under the eyes. Smiles are drained away. Shoulders slump further and further forward. They are left with only one choice. They must find sustenance.

When last the tourists came to our city, a family in this situation was observed. Parents and a boy around ten or eleven. The adults were trying to figure out where to go next, while the boy eyed up some of the local wildlife. Finally, the fatigue got to him and he spoke to his mother, gesturing to the bird:

“That’s a fat pigeon…..can I kick it?”

The mother did not hesitate to respond:

“No. We need to eat lunch.”

There was no shock at the question. No commentary on the morality of kicking animals. The implication here was that such activity could not occur on an empty stomach. And they shuffled into a nearby restaurant, leaving those around them to hope that the pigeon got out of the way before the kid was full.

And so, with past observations such as these, I look forward to the newest crop of tourists. I have no doubt that they will leave me with more stories. And I thank them for it. But I caution all of you who plan to visit this fair city: Stay hydrated, take breaks, and stop threatening the pigeons.

'Cause we're going to need them on our side when the squirrels mount their offensive.

Monday, June 18, 2012

To sprint or to savor....that is the question

How do you read?

I would say that at least eight out of every ten books I read are completed in one sitting. When I was kid, this would have been ten out of ten. But with work and whatnot, this percentage has taken a hit.

This kind of reading is both good and bad. Good because I get to know what happens faster. Bad because that means the book is over.

From the second I start to read, I am at a constant war with myself.

On one side, we have the savor-er. She’s been waiting to enjoy this book, either for months, or since she picked it up at the bookstore twenty minutes ago (both can seem like an eternity). She wants to take note of every detail. Wander through the world of the book until it’s a second home. She plans on knowing the characters better than they know themselves, on shaking her head, small smile lighting her face, when they do something foolish and feel a swelling sense of pride in these folks when they find their way of out of the corner they’d boxed themselves into. She is the strong, silent type. Calm, cool and collected.

And in the other corner, we have the sprint-er. She can see the finish line and she wants to know what’s waiting on the other side. She’s in love with the world and wants to run through it with wild abandon. Rather than stopping to smell the roses, she’s gonna give them a wave as she log rolls down a hill. She’s not at all convinced that the characters know what’s best for themselves, but she’s willing to help them out. She starts out with some helpful suggestions. But they just don’t listen. That’s when the yelling begins. It’s not that she wants to give them a hard time, but come on…she can’t just sit there. And she certainly can’t put the book down and go to sleep, when she knows that they’re struggling. When they eventually get her message and start getting their lives together, she knows that they couldn’t have done it without her. She’s a little kid. Hopped up on Nesquik, pixy stix, and Mallomars.

You see, I consider myself a (relatively) sane person, but put a book in my hand and all bets are off. Battle lines have been drawn and the fighting has begun. On rare occasions, the savor-er wins out. She calms the Tasmanian devil within. More often than not, though, the sprint-er seduces her over to the other side with promises of answers to all those questions she has about the characters and why they are the way that they are and where they’re going to end up. Well, answers and Mallomars.

And then the book is over and the sprint-er looks over at the savor-er and asks, Why’d you just let me run through that?? Now it’s over! I don’t want it to be over! What were you thinking? The savor-er loses the calm, cool and collected vibe she’s so proud of and just starts yelling, You never listen to me, you crazed lunatic! You just bolt through everything like you’re a damn roadrunner. Sprint-er: Yeah, I’d like to see your gravity lessons! Savor-er: What does that even mean? Okay, hold on. This is going off the rails here. It’s fine. We can just reread the book later.

And with that all sorted out, I put the book down and the two sides coalesce back into one.

Until next time.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sharing, Censorship, and Conversations

My father has always loved reading. We had bookshelves lining our breezeway when I was kid and I can’t remember a time where there wasn’t at least on book on his bedside table. I’d find him reading in the car when he was waiting for me to get out of rehearsals or voice lessons. And I’m pretty sure his eReader has become an extension of his hand.

But for him it wasn’t enough just to read. He wanted to share the stories he loved. By the time I was in seventh grade, I was reading the books that he read. In non-fiction, it was a lot of American history. In fiction it was generally thrillers, sci-fi and historical novels.

He would read something, pass it on to me, then we’d have a discussion about it. As someone who remembered conversations much clearer than lectures, the hours he and I spent discussing historical events did more to help me succeed in history classes than any amount of studying I could do.

We talked about fictional stories with as much dedication as we did the non-fictional ones. The only difference here was that, on a couple rare occasions, I didn’t have all the facts.

You see, my dad wanted to share books with me, but he also was concerned about protecting my young mind. This resulted in an interesting phenomena.

My father had given me a book to read and I was naturally excited. I took it from him and turned to flee back to my reading spot*, but he stopped me. He gave me one simple instruction: “Don’t look under the index cards.”

I was a little confused, but this was a man who asked very little of me and fed my book habit, so, I agreed.

About a third of the way through the book, I found my first index card. It was taped into the book and covered a paragraph of maybe five or six lines. Later in the book, there was a full page covered. These deletions didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book or make it difficult for me to understand the plot. They were just curious. Particularly the first one. I mean, what could have possibly happened in that one paragraph that was inappropriate enough to censor, but did not bleed into the surrounding paragraphs???

One of the great unanswered questions of my life.

This censorship initiative was not long lasting, maybe two or three more books after this sported index cards. Instead, we moved on to talking about the parts that had my dad questioning appropriateness. While our historical conversations almost always took place in the kitchen, the talks about novels were generally conducted in the car. We’d drive, sing some oldies and talk about some books. And I learned a lot, not just about books, but about my dad and about life. Lessons that I still rely on today.

So, I wish a Happy Father’s Day weekend to all those dads out there. Thank you for both feeding, and worrying about the states of, our minds. And for being willing to tackle the uncomfortable conversations. It’s greatly appreciated.

* My reading spot was the bathroom because I see all the corners of it. This was important when I was reading a scary book. It was the only way I could be sure that the bad guy wouldn’t find a way to jump out at me. Many an evening was spent sitting on that floor or in the empty bathtub.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Battle Rages On

It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything substantial on the Squirrel Menace. This does not, however, mean that the danger has lessened.

Nay, it grows more severe.

You see, the squirrels know where I live and have set up shop. Not only is there what looks to be a squirrel habitat in the tree next to my little balcony (seriously, I have never seen that many squirrels nesting in one place), but they are venturing closer.

Recently, Roomie was getting ready for work when she heard a rustling at her window. Glancing over at the noise, she was horrified to see a squirrel holding on to the screen. Just staring in.

The realization that squirrels are not only bent on human destruction, but Peeping Toms to boot, would have been bad enough. But Roomie also is now haunted by the question of how the squirrel arrived there. We live five stories up and, unlike mine which is connected to the balcony next to the squirrel tree, her window is well into the side of the building. There are no ledges around it, nothing but brick and concrete. So, how did the squirrel make its way over there with nothing to hold on to?

Right now, we’re guessing suction cups on the paws or a grappling hook.

Needless to say, she’s been keeping her blinds closed as of late.

And then there is my family. Far off, in another state entirely, they are also being harassed by the little demons. They have a tree of bird houses to further attract the aerial forces we will need in the battle to come, but the squirrels have gotten wise. Every time that my parents put seed out for the birds, the squirrels come a knocking. They pilfer the offering to our winged friends in an attempt to undermine our relationships and sew seeds of distrust among the troops.

On top of this, my father arrived home one night to find a squirrel sitting on top of a garbage can. The creature showed no interest in what was inside. Instead he just sat there, staring at my father. Watching his every move. When my father moved towards the garbage can in an attempt to scare the squirrel off, the little creeper didn’t bat an eye. He sat there, continuing to stare, letting my father know in no uncertain terms that he would move when he damn well felt like it.

I can only assume that these squirrels are studying human behavior in preparation for some kind of body snatching initiative. So, beware, my friends. Beware.

But, worry not! I will continue to bring you news whenever possible. My family will not be intimidated by the squirrels’ heavy handed tactics, whether they come by land, sea or sky.  

Together, we will prevail.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Idea of Music

Roomie overheard the following conversation between coworkers:

Coworker 1: I really love music.

Coworker 2: What kind do you listen to?

Coworker 1: Oh, I don’t really listen to any. I just like it.

So….I’m confused. Does she just like the idea of music?

Of course, it’s possible that she felt it too personal to provide an inventory of her musical tastes. After all, the kind of music a person listens to can reveal a lot about them. For instance, Roomie’s gentleman caller recently said that on car trips he has a preference for techno. I’m pretty sure this stems from his refusal to ever sing. Techno doesn’t really afford you that many opportunities to join the tune. Still, after finding this out, I’ll never be able to look at him quite the same.

I go in the opposite direction, you see. One of the biggest factors in my music selection is sing-a-long-ability. There are many truly beautiful instrumental works, but they will never be my first choice. I prefer, frequently to the chagrin of those around me, to be able to belt out whatever happens to be playing.

As a kid, I tried my hand at many an instrument:

-          Piano (my parents still speak of a recital of mine they went to where they wanted to run up to the stage, grab me and run out the door....possibly because I was so awesome they were afraid some other parents would try to claim me as their own prodigy....but possibly not)
-          Clarinet (the first time I practiced, my mother jumped out of the shower because she thought ducks had gotten in the house….it didn’t get better after that)
-          Saxophone (pretty sure at this point I was just moving my fingers)
-          Guitar (have owned one for twelve years…still can’t play a song)

And for one terrifying weekend, I tried to teach myself to play the harmonica. To the great benefit of everyone in the world, none of them stuck. I just didn’t have the talent or the discipline. Singing, however, was always there and always fun. And, seeing as I like music in more than just theory, singing is something I continually come back to.

So, I gravitate towards the songs I find most sing-able, though I am always happy to try out something new. With one recent exception, rap doesn’t really show up on my playlists. However, I still listen to it from time to time, as, it turns out, the Roomie is particularly adept at joining those who are proficient at busting a rhyme.

We’re like Yin and Yang. If Yin really liked soccer and rap. And Yang didn’t at all.

How about you? What music do you love? Or are you someone who just thinks it’s a nice idea?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rewarding Bad Behavior

One of the exercises we were asked to do at the Backspace conference a few weeks ago was to think of a scene where your main character is dealing with someone they don’t like. What do they do? Then write down what they want to do, but don’t, because it’s impolite, or it’s against the law, or because people won’t like them anymore.

We were told to look at what we wrote. Did it make us smile? Did we enjoy having our character act out? Okay, so go back to the book and make that what happens instead.


Because bad behavior is more interesting.

In all great stories, the main characters say and do things that people in real life rarely do. Not because people don’t want to, but because the consequences are too overwhelming. It’s what prompts people to cheer as their reading a book or watching a movie. The main character tells someone off in a manner that the audience has always wanted to and the words come out perfectly. The hero who’s willing to do whatever it takes saves the day, despite questionable choices made.

The consequences to these actions are just as important as the actions themselves. If a story doesn’t show the fallout of the main character acting against the norm, then what was done just becomes another norm in that reality. If there is no negative reaction, the initial choice is much less impressive. Because what really makes a character noteworthy is when they go against the grain, knowing full well that it will make their lives harder in the long run.

Now, in reality, we would probably all avoid relationships with the characters we so love. Why? Because that’s a whole lot of drama to invite into your life. Someone who flaunts rules and niceties that much? That’ll just be tiring.

Then there’s the fact that when you meet real people, you only see them in specific situations. You’ll never see all the interactions. So, if a coworker is a jerk in the office, you’ll probably never know that to someone else in a different part of their live, they’re a hero.

In good stories, however, you get to see the contrast. You’re privy to both the way a character alienates other people and the way they pull them close. The way their poor behavior yields both positive and negative consequences. Their strengths and insecurities, and how they handle both.

And, knowing all this, you like them better for the moments they live outside the lines.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Killing Me Softly With Their Songs

I’m a fan of oldies. If it was performed at least twenty years before I was born, odds are I enjoy singing along to it. As well, as partaking in some car dancing when it comes on the radio.

Certain tunes stick out in my mind more than others. The Brooklyn Bridge’s version of “The Worst That Could Happen,” used to be a real head scratcher for me. As a kid, I would belt out the story of a man whose ex is getting married - an event which is bumming him out a bit, despite his assertions that he will never get married as it is not his scene.

That was all well and good, but when the chorus came around, I was always left confused.

“And baby, if he loves you more than me….”

What? I thought this guy was upset his old girlfriend was getting married, but now it seems like he’s annoyed her intended loves her more than he loves the singer of the song. What’s that about? I hadn’t even gotten the idea that the two men knew each other in the early verses. And now the subject of the song and the singer of the song are in contention for this second guy’s affections.

Needless to say, I was confused.

So, I talked to my mom about it and she cleared up that what the singer was trying to say was that if the second guy loved the girl more than this first guy did, then it was the best thing for her. Which made more sense.

All this befuddlement of my young mind (and my older mind, ‘cause let’s face it, this still bothers me every time I hear the song) could have been avoided if this song had simply used correct grammar.

“And baby, if he loves you more than I….”

That would have been much clearer. It’s not like the “me” in this line really needs to rhyme with any of the other lines, either, so the song flows just as smoothly.

And, on a side note, if someone sings “I don’t really blame you,” they do. It’s the “really” that tips the scales. Just strips that sentiment of all its sincerity.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must listen to BSB croon “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.” ‘Cause I’d really like get to know it “a little more better.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

Letting the Beautiful Stuff Out

As most know, Ray Bradbury died earlier this week at the age of 91. He was a wonderful author, who wrote beautiful words. 

Mr. Bradbury once said, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

I used to have a really bad habit of saying “Um…” and then not following it with anything. It wasn’t that I was just looking to fill the silence. Generally, when the thought to speak was first sparked it was because I had something to say. But somewhere between that idea and its verbalization another thought got in the way. I remembered that I wanted to speak, but couldn’t quite figure out which of the thoughts I wanted to grasp. There’d be so many thoughts that my brain would overload and suddenly go blank. The only thing remaining was the memory that I had planned to say something.

Hence the “Um…”

Needless to say, it drove people around me crazy. Particularly the Roomie who had to deal with it the most. I’d say “Um….”, she’d stop what she was doing to listen to me and then there’d be nothing. Just me, staring off into space.

I’d like to think I’ve curbed this impulse and that this doesn’t happen as frequently anymore. (If it does, I'm pretty sure Roomie’s gotten desensitized to it.)

Still, regardless of the possibility that I’ve increased my mental organization, there’s still a whole lot going on up there. As I assume is the case for most.

This gets particularly bad when I’m writing a story. What happens for me is that I picture scenes. They play out in my head like a movie. I tweak dialogue and direction a bit before putting it down on the page, but the first draft is generally pretty faithful to the scene in my head. But every scene that appears goes off into any number of directions. My brain starts to process the scene immediately following this one, but it also jumps to a scene in the future (sometimes the very far future) where something from this first scene will be found to have relevance. Or maybe something that one of the characters said sparks a thought for something a few scenes away.

The scenes battle for superiority in my head, intruding in ways that makes it nearly impossible for me to focus on just one. So, I sit, staring at my computer screen, thinking “Um……” and then, for awhile, there’s nothing. Eventually one scene wins out over the others. Occasionally, it’s the one that’s way down the line. The scene that may not even be usable in this story, but will have to wait for the next. But I write it down anyway because it’s running around my brain like a little kid hopped up on Yoohoo and will not calm down until I have gotten it on the page.

I certainly get the feeling that my brain is always being filled. I just don’t think I’ve quite figured out Mr. Bradbury’s trick yet. Sometimes when I tip over, nothing at all comes out, leading to one of my “Um….” moments. And often when something does emerge, it can’t quite be codified as beautiful. Mildly attractive, maybe. But I figure this is the fun of writing. Throwing some half-baked idea on the page and then working until it becomes something solid.

Someday maybe I’ll reach the point where I’m better at letting the beautiful stuff out. But for now, I’ll take comfort in the words of Faber in Mr. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

You’re afraid of mistakes. Don’t be. Mistakes can be profited by.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Possible Career Change

I’ve mentioned before that I have a number of alleged doppelgangers. Apparently there’s something about my appearance that defies nationality, as well.

I had a teacher once who used to tell me I had the “map of Ireland” on my face. A classmate in college said that I bore a striking resemblance to a close friend from her native France. A husband and wife from Georgia (the country, not the state) came up to me on a train platform to ask me if I was Armenian. When I said no, the husband didn’t believe it. He just smiled and said, “Talk to your parents.” (They’re still holding out on me, by the way.) 

My accent has also been cause for speculation over the years. As a kid I had a strong New York accent, which made sense because so did my parents. However, somewhere along the line, I lost it. I can’t explain it. A few people say that they can still tell that I’m a New York, but many others have disputed this.

People started asking me about it in high school. A couple of my classmates asked if my parents were originally from England and that was why I spoke as I did. Nope, Brooklyn and Nassau County. After I told them this, their next explanation was, “Well, it’s because you read so much.”

I can’t even explain the logic of that.

Working in a group project in college, I was asked by my classmates what country I was from originally. It wasn’t that weird of a question, I guess, since the school I went to had a fair number of international students. But, when I said New York, they didn’t seem to entirely buy it. And it was awkward. 

When I moved into my house and got the cable installed, the gentleman asked, “Why do you sound like you’re from Australia and your dad sounds like he’s from New Jersey?” I honestly didn't know how to answer that. Not only was it wrong on both counts, but I didn't say "g'day mate" once....while he was there.

What all this clearly adds up to is that I have the makings of the world’s greatest spy. I apparently look and sound like I could come from every country across the globe. (Except in my head, of course, where I still sound like that three year old girl from Long Island.)

The only thing standing in my way is my total and utter lack of stealth. But how important is that in the long run, anyway? I mean, Maxwell Smart did pretty well without it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ruining lives with a smile and a wink

I’m a big fan of fictional villains. After all, the best measure of the protagonist’s heroism is how he or she holds up against the bad guys. So, the harder the villain makes the life of the hero, the more appreciation I have for them.

In my opinion, the scariest villains are not the dark, rage-filled ones who fly off the handle at the least provocation. No, the ones who stick with me are the bad guys who carry out their evil with a calm, jovial demeanor.

Roomie and I have watched the Buffy series many a time. The show is chock full of wonderfully flawed heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. But the Big Bad who creeped me out the most? The Mayor, Season 3. Why? Because he was the always so freaking cheerful. Never before have I gotten a chill from hearing someone say, “There’s nothing uncool about healthy teeth and bones.”

Heebie. Jeebies. 

And for me, Voldemort was not the worst villain of the Harry Potter series. Sure, he was rotten straight down to his fragmented core. But, I never hated him even a fraction as much as I loathed Delores Umbridge. In fact, I can’t think of any other character to which I’ve ever had such a viscerally negative reaction. Why? Because she wrought her evil with an air of moral superiority and a giggle. She justified her diabolical actions with the line that it was for everyone else’s good. And she took away the one true haven our hero had.

Basically, her character served its purpose beautifully.

While I’m pretty sure I will always feel a rising rage when I get to a page where she’s mentioned – or when Imelda Staunton (who is probably a delightful woman, in real life) does that high pitched throat clearing – I am as invested in how her story ends as I am in how Harry’s does. And that’s what I want.

I want an emotional response to these characters. I want to care about their journey. When I reach that epic conclusion, I not only want to be happy the hero won, I want to be happy the villain lost. Because that’s a story I’ll remember.

So, I’ll keep looking for the character who smiles, lauds the health benefits of a glass of milk, cuts out the heart of the person he’s talking to, and calmly laments how difficult it will be to get the small blood stain out of his favorite tie. The character who dresses demurely, speaks softly, lays a comforting hand on the shoulder of a sad friend, ruins the lives of innocents, and brews herself a lovely cup of tea.

And I will be awash with warm and fuzzies when they reach their Crappily Ever After.

How about everyone else? What makes a villain memorable to you?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sharks of the Sky, or something like that

So, it’s summertime and the living is easy. Or maybe you’re working. Regardless, it’s summertime. Almost. Well, we’re within a month. It’s been warm out, hasn’t it? And warmth means that some people are spending their free time at the beach. Which brings me to my point. 

For all you beach-goers out there, I offer you this piece of advice…Don’t go in the water. J.Kidding, that’s not really it. Though, if I’m being honest, I’m still freaked out by Jaws. And rightly so. 

After that movie, sharks really had a name for themselves as the terrors of the beach. But, don’t let all the hype fool you. They’re not the real danger.

So, here’s my actual advice…Beware the Gulls. 

Those brazen little creepers are out to get you. (Or at least your food.)

A few years ago, I was having a nice lunch on the beach with my mother and sister. Just minding my own business. I took out my egg salad sandwich and was just about to bite into it, when the attack came from above.

The seagull swept down and took the ENTIRE sandwich out of my hands. The. Whole. Thing. He was like the Grinch taking that last can of Hoo Hash.

And if that weren’t bad enough, one of his brethren came over and tried to rifle through my sister’s purse. Almost pilfered a chapstick. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for us meddling kids.

I know what you’re thinking, But that was years ago. I’m sure they’ve mellowed with age.

Not so.

Only last week a friend on the other side of the world had her sandwich wrenched from her grasp.

Now, I’m not saying to start fights with seagulls. Not at all. We’re going to need their aerial prowess when the struggle against the Squirrel Menace reaches a head.

Just be careful.

And maybe eat your sandwiches inside. Or, at least make enough to share.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Prohibition of Urban Equine Hiking

There’s a hiking path not too far from my apartment. Being in a city, there aren’t a ton of these, so I tend to take note when I see one. This path is of particular interest to me because right at the start of it is a sign that reads, “Walking Path, No Horses.”

Now, I’ve lived in this city for many a year. Do you have any idea how many horses I’ve seen in this time? Nary a one. But clearly someone thought equine hiking to be a big enough issue to merit the commissioning of signage.

Which leaves me with just one question….where are all these hiking horses?

When I first started college, I remember feeling like I didn’t want to go to sleep because I was sure the second I did, something super awesome would happen that everyone would be talking about the next day. And I would have missed out on it and all subsequent inside jokes. So, I avoided sleeping. Which was probably why I courted a fairly constant cold that entire year. Well, lack of sleep coupled with a diet of pizza, grilled cheese, and any other food that involved almost solely cheese and bread.

By the time sophomore year rolled around, the manic need to be in on everything had, thankfully, subsided. At that point I figured, Forget it. I’m sleepy. If something epic happens, they can tell me about it tomorrow. And there weren’t too many stories, so I figured I wasn’t really missing out on too much.

Now, I think I was wrong about that. That not only were supremely exciting things happening after my bedtime, but that they involved horses. And hiking. So much of it, in fact, that someone was all, For heavens sake, we need to put a stop to all those kids and their late night horse hiking. It’s just getting absurd. I know! A sign! That’ll stop them.

And, of course, being the rule following folk that they are, it did. And they were probably so bummed about having to move their horses out from under their loft beds, and back into actual stables somewhere outside of the city, that it was just too painful to talk about. Which is why I never heard anything about these nocturnal rides.

Now I feel a little bad about how angry I was thinking that all my friends had horse hiked without me. With them being heart-broken about losing their horse privileges and all. But, at least that’s one mystery solved, right?*

*There is also the very slim possibility that the sign is referring to the horses stabled in the park which the hiking trail runs through. ‘Cause apparently they have a Horse Center I just found out about. So, it could be that. But I’m kinda leaning towards the late night college kid horse hiking theory.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bad Movies/Good Party Themes: Parent Trap II Pepsi Challenge Party

Happy first Friday of the month everyone! I’m reaching back into the past for this month’s theme.

Growing up, many a sister sleepover involved a Hayley Mills movie: Pollyanna, Summer Magic, That Darn Cat!, and, my personal favorite, The Trouble with Angels (seriously fantastic movie), were strong contenders. And, of course, there was always The Parent Trap. Because of this, Ms. Mills has always held a special place in my heart (plus she got to teach Zach Morris!).

So, when The Parent Trap came out on DVD, my sister and I rushed to buy it. And, wonder of wonders, the disc also contained The Parent Trap II! We didn’t even know there was a Parent Trap II. The excitement was palpable.

This film takes place twenty-five years after the first. Our beloved twins are all grown up with families of their own. Sharon is divorced and raising a daughter. She plans on moving them to New York City, which her daughter is not at all pleased about. The daughter and her best friend decide the best way to prevent this is to get Sharon to marry the best friend’s father. And how to go about that? Call in twin Susan for a little identity swapping. And let the hijinx begin!

Not only do the twins switch places without each others’ knowledge, this movie also has a plethora of wonderful 80s fashions. So, pretty much everything a movie needs to be awesome.

For the theme, we went the route of the Pepsi challenge. I always wondered if I would be able to tell identical twins apart as the people in these movies never could. Well, there were no identical twins on whom to test my observational skills, so I turned the question of “Can you tell which is which?” in the direction of food.

Were there stomach aches? Maybe. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Crackerjack dialogue to look forward to:
-          “If their date is half as good as these cookies, we’ll be sisters in no time!”
-          “Nikki’s mom was the pretty blonde with the terrific body.”
-          “ ‘Passionately yours.’ That’s the way Rob Lowe signs all his letters in Sixteen Magazine.”

For a Parent Trap II Pepsi Challenge Party of your very own, here’s what you need:
-         The Parent Trap II (1986)
-          Party partner who is willing to dress identically to you.
-          Challenge foods included pretty much anything that there are two versions of. Some of my suggestions are:
o       Pepsi/Coke
o       Oreo/Hydrox (if you can find them)/Newman O’s
o       Lucky Charms/Generic Store Brand (generally named things like Happy Shapes or Marshmallow Mateys. This challenge can really be done with any brand vs. generic cereal. I just happen to like Lucky Charms. I mean…it’s got marshmallows.)
o       Lay’s/Herr’s Kettle Cooked BBQ Potato Chips
o       Hostess/Tastykake chocolate cupcake
-          A blindfold for the challenge.
-          Group of Hayley Mills sentimentalists and/or lovers of all things identical and/or individuals who you’d be willing to swap identities with.

And remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s still The Parent Trap III and The Parent Trap IV: Hawaiian Honeymoon (which also features Leanna Creel, aka Tori Scott from Saved by the Bell. The connections to Zach Morris are pretty much endless).