Archive for January, 2011


For everyone today

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WRITE, dammit

Like, seriously. I need to write. I have no valid reason not to. No invalid reason not to. No excuse, even. Not excuses, excuse. Like there isn’t one.

That is all. Continue on with your regular doings. I shall return to my word document and my hand-wringing and head-against-wall-banging and my hopes that 17 hours of “research” on tvtropes will at some point pay off in my coming up with an ending for my flipping novel.

I hope you’re having a lovely day/evening/night/snowpocalypse.

Freedom rocks, y’all

So. Like months ago, I finally managed to tell grad school to fuck right on off. It was simultaneously awesome and soul-destroying: it was like giving up on a dream that I’d finally realized I should have given up on years earlier (because, had I given up on it years earlier, I’d have been a much happier person in those intervening years).

Waaaaah.

Anyway (I have a cat curled up on my chest in an awkward position, and she’s making it difficult to type. Also alcohol. So if there are typos, I apologize). I went out for dinner tonight with my husband on the occasion of his 33rd birthday, and I figured something out. Namely, if you talk to bartenders about the wonkiest and weirdest of alcohols they have hiding behind the bar, you’re quite likely to get free samples of the said alcohols without actually asking for them. This phenomenon explains my tasting tonight of both black walnut and pistachio liqueurs, as well as getting a complementary full-on serving of apricot-infused grappa. (Like I said, also alcohol, as it were).

The thing that ties these two disparate things together – the graduate school quitting and the random booze-questioning/-getting is this: now that I’m out of grad school, it’s like my brain is opening up in all kinds of weird ways. I don’t have the preoccupation with a predetermined subject that I had while in school, so I’m free to pursue whatever seems fun or interesting at any given moment without the guilt that I should be spending that mental energy on my studies.

As a result, I’m actually studying more than I did for the last few years of grad school. It feels awesome. Moreover, grad school was basically a lot of fail and criticism (despite having a stupid-high GPA), so I’ve learned that I can handle immense quantities of criticism. And that I can learn veritible shit tons about totally weird topics.

End result A: I will be a licensed and registered sommelier by next January if it kills me, because I know I can assimilate that much information in that amount of time and because I know I can trust my palate.
End result B: I’m learning to do things I never would have considered having time for before, like (at present) learning how to critique creative writing in a way that’s helpful to the author. Doing this is also helping me with my own writing, and I feel hugely happy to have time to devote to my own writing.
End result C: I’m actually learning more day-by-day now than I did for the last few years of grad school, because learning feels fun and new and interesting and not like it’s trying to kill me.
End result D: This may be the nectarine and apricot grappas and black walnut liqueur and pistachio liqueur talking, but I feel smarter than I have in years.

Anyway. For everyone locked in a grad program and feeling hopeless, please consider this a reminder that life does actually exist (and get better) post-grad school, whether or not you end up with another pointless degree. For everyone else, enjoy life.

Smooches.

Also, black walnut liqueur is completely awesomesauce.

Vocabulary

I was reading a novel last night (as per non-writing night usual). Great story, terrible writing. TERRIBLE. Like the kind of writing that kept interrupting the flow of my immersion in the story because I kept stopping to think “ACK END SENTENCE AND STOP USING CONJUNCTIONS SERIOUSLY.” It’s one of those things where I kind of wonder what happened in the editing process, because a lot of it was just editing choices that made me bonkers.

But then a word happened. Twitterpated. The character announced she was twitterpated.

Twitterpated is a fucking fantastic word. I love it and feel it is sadly underused. I also feel like it described the character well in that moment. It’s just that there was no way in this world or any other (even the one the character was in) that this particular character would EVER have used the word twitterpated. So in reading the word I was yanked out of the story, wondering how on earth an otherwise not-overly-bright-seeming character would have seized upon that particular word.

The thing is that the character never would have. The author, on the other hand, was likely either saving up the word to use at some point, or perhaps had hit the thesaurus in search of something new and shiny (the latter of which I suspect to be probable, given the number of other times the same sort of sense crept up on me while I was reading).

The moral? As an author, if you’re writing along and feeling like you’re overusing a word, then yes, hit a thesaurus. HOWEVER, make sure that you keep in mind the voice of the manuscript/character/etc in mind so that you don’t seize upon a word that doesn’t ultimately work with the rest of the script. And please, please make sure that you know precisely what the word means – choosing the wrong word really does hose a reader’s ability to stay involved.

Three other thoughts on writing:
– All the advice about using adverbs sparingly? DEAD ON.
– Ditto exclamation points. One per page is too damn many. One per chapter, maybe. MAYBE. They tend not to go well.
– Ditto dialogue tags. “He said” or “she said” are all you need 90% of the time. Seriously.

The Snow Theory

For the second time this week, we have Impending Winter Weather of Doom in the KC area.

The first time was yesterday, which was a total bust. We were supposed to get ice. In preparation, Tony and I went out and got the makings of chicken stew – we had everything set up so that we wouldn’t have to leave the house at all yesterday. We did not, in fact, leave the house at all.

Neither, however, was there any ice. I maintain we probably saved the area the ice storm through sheer preparedness.

Tonight, we’re under another Winter Storm Watch – this time for snow, the predicted amounts of which keep rising every time I see the forecast (which, being Midwestern by location/birth/education etc., is a frequent occurence)(it’s a bad idea to live in the Midwest and not check the forecast at least twice a day). The poll of customers at work today netted me guesses in the 2-8 inch range. I’m guessing it’ll be in the low to middle portion of that range.

Q: Why assume it won’t be a bad storm?

A: Because the customers at work were still referring to it as snow.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed through several years of weather watching/dealing with the general public: if the impending storm isn’t going to be too bad, people talk about the snow. As in “how much snow will we get?” “Has the snow started yet?” “Hey, it started snowing,” and so on.

There’s a certain level at which the weather conversation shifts. When an impending snow storm is going to be *bad*, no one talks about snow. They talk about “it.” As in “is it going to be bad?” “Has it started yet?” “*resigned sigh* It started. I hate it when it gets like this.”

So far as I can tell, it’s like the general sense people have is that the weather is out to get them at some point, and it’s almost like they’re trying to avoid thinking about the oncoming mess by refusing to call it what it is (i.e., snow/sleet/ice/whatever). Moreover, the worse the storm is going to be, the earlier the word use shifts from noun to pronoun.

Anyway, my theory at the moment is that tomorrow evening’s snowstorm won’t be that bad because it’s “snow” in the minds of the populace, which ultimately means we’re looking at 6 inches or less. “It” tends to mean 8+ inches – that sort of point where the snow stops being pretty and starts being an unholy pain in the ass.

I’ll update y’all on Thursday with a report on whether or not I’m snowed in.

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ETA as of 1:30pm, Wednesday: it is in fact dumping snow outside. When I went out this morning, the sales clerks were saying variations on a theme of “has it started yet?” – meaning this storm is likely to be worse than my optimistic outlook last night.
Here’s what it looked like about five minutes ago:

I’ll update if it gets interesting.

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ETA: as of Thursday when it stopped snowing, my suburb had officially gotten 7.2 inches. I’d say my theory was dead on. [/dork]

A livejournal post

Seriously, this post is all navel-gazing wankery. 1,000 words of navel-gazing wankery. If you’re not into navel-gazing wankery, skip on past.

I’ll even spare you it all and let you know now that my navel is, in fact, sans lint.

Everyone gone now? Good.

Here’s the background. On a forum which I frequent, someone started a thread about working retail. The said thread, within a matter of a few pages, was already filled with all manner of grossness and bitterness and everything that makes the idea of working in retail sound so generically repugnant, and topped off with the self-satisfied smugness of someone who was no longer working retail and felt the need to point out that she had a “real career” or whatever words she used. I don’t care enough to go back and quote directly, because it doesn’t matter. An hour and a half later, none of it actually matters.

So what happened is that I read the thread and immediately emosploded on a few friends in a sort of “OMG THAT’S MY LIFE NOW HOW DID I FUCK UP SO BADLY 😦 😦 😦 “-type way. This is despite the fact that I like the customers, find my bosses to be nice, helpful and supportive, and am genuinely interested in learning everything I can in the job before moving on. So I had a mini-implosion, wrote out an entirely-too-long-and-self-righteous post in response to the whole parade and then, before clicking ‘post,’ took a moment to wonder why the fuck I’m feeling so in need of defending myself. I erased everything without posting and decided to avail myself of my blog, since emowankery is theoretically why it is one has one of these. Besides, at this point, my writer-brain has taken over and feels the need to analyze so I can throw all of this on a character at some point.

Fundamentally, so far as I can tell, the problem is one of identity. During the seven years I was in grad school, I was able to use “grad student” as a fundamental description of who I was. I wasn’t always comfortable with that description – especially toward the end – but it was one I knew, one I was familiar with, one that I understood.

Then I quit (reasons for which could fill another blog, easily) – which is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, other than the decision to marry my husband – and we moved back home.

I immediately failed to find a job.

Then I continued to fail to find a job.

And I became a mess of all giant messes.

The problem with defining myself in some fundamental way as “grad student” for seven years meant that I’ve spent the past seven years defining myself by my career path, as though I am my job and my job is me. I suspect this is true for everyone to some greater or lesser degree – after all, one of the first questions anyone ever asks someone they’ve just met is inevitably “what do you do?” – because getting an idea of what someone does as a job gives us a useful way to categorize and therefore begin to understand that someone. What I’m saying is that self-definition by means of job is something we learn early and often, and something we’re reminded to do everytime we hear that “what do you do?” question. I don’t think this is healthy, but that’s yet another blog post.

The thing with my current job is that I feel lucky to have it. Not in a sort of “I’m lucky to have any job at all in this economy” – although that is true – but lucky because I can go to work without anxiety, without hating it or dreading it or wondering what sort of horrid thing is going to happen to ruin my day. Lucky because I like my bosses and like my coworkers* and like the customers. And really, really lucky because they’re letting me do a lot more than just stand at a register and ring up purchases – among other things, I’m doing the type of writing that I can turn into a portfolio for freelance or marketing work, And I’m LEARNING. I can turn dusting bottles for an afternoon into a mini-course in wine regions of France because I am a giant overachieving dork read the labels on the wine bottles with far too much attention. So yes, the hours sometimes suck and yes, the pay sucks and no, it isn’t glamorous, but it beats what I was doing and how I was feeling a year ago.**  And I do genuinely love the product and do genuinely feel that by selling it I am improving someone else’s crappy day.

This all brings me back around to my initial point, which is “why the hell did I emosplode over some dumbass thread?” The answer is, as far as I can tell, that I don’t know how to define myself anymore, and the definition for “retail worker” that became apparent in the thread DOES NOT FIT. For this definition, feel free to insert any stereotypes or characteristics or ideals of retail workers you so choose – whatever you’re inserting here doesn’t actually matter. It could be a dead-on description of me and it wouldn’t really matter; I’d still freeze up and freak out and second-guess myself and my words and my feelings and write and wank and write some more.

What happens is that I basically feel so far out of what used to be my comfort zone, used to be my safe space, my identity, that I don’t feel like anything applies anymore. And I’m so afraid of redefining myself into a new miserable existence that I’m petrified to label myself, and any label that I do try on is likely to be thrown out with all available angst because my lack of internal touchstones is wrecking me. By which I mean “turning me into a hyper-sensitive twit with occasional speshul snowflake emo tendencies.” Sincere apologies to everyone who saw the emosplosion (if anyone has made it this far) – I’ll be much cooler once I’ve re-established some sort of secure base/touchstone/something like that.

Essentially, wah wah wah boohoo wharblgarble fnarf. I’ve been super-extra-touchy lately, and I’m guessing this why. I’ll get past this. And I will continue to not hate my job in the meantime.

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*This gets an asterix not because I have any sort of exception to make, but because I’m really quiet around my coworkers without really meaning to be, so I suspect the fact that I do like them quite a bit is probably difficult for them to tell.  Me being Shy Awkward Introvert Person at work will no doubt get its own post at some point. For the moment we’ll just call it another symptom of my being profoundly off-balance.
**That said, being mauled by lions gladiator-style would be an improvement over how I was feeling a year ago.

My phone is smarter than me

So I joined the year 2008 the other day by purchasing my very first smart phone. Before that, I’ve always proudly owned a stupid phone, one capable of texting and taking pictures – but not emailing me the pictures – and nothing else. It served its purpose (texting, mostly, as I’m sort of talk-on-the-phone-with-real-people-phobic), but it wasn’t anything special. When everyone around me had upgraded to smart phones, I named my phone “Stupid Phone” and was happy.

Then I started blogging.

The thing with the blogging is that when I’m writing about beer (or wine, at this point), it’s really nice to be able to break up the textwall of words with a picture of the beer (or wine). But I couldn’t do that, since I couldn’t send pictures with Stupid Phone. So I blogged on, describing the color of the beer as best I could, hoping no one minded that my blog was something like 99.5% words.

Except for the one time pictures did appear, in one short series of beer reviews wherein I reviewed flavored Michelob Ultras because they sounded too awful NOT to. The pictures appeared courtesy of my Mother’s Crackberry.
Seriously.
I had to have my Mom take pictures for me because I had no quick and easy way to do so myself.

That moment, back in September, marked the beginning of the end of my relationship with Stupid Phone. That’s when I decided a smart phone would be in my future.

This past Monday, after roughly 90 minutes of researching different phone plans, I ended up switching phone companies and purchasing myself a Samsung something. Um, a Transform, I think. I should know this, because the first question I get when people hear I’ve gotten a smart phone is to ask me what I got. So… I got an off-brand Android, basically (which potentially makes it an off-off-brand iPhone, but the last thing I need is for Apple to get its hooks any farther into me). I like it. It’s cheaper than an Android but uses the Android apps market, so I too could, were I a douchebag, say “there’s an app for that” and gleefully show off the glorious workings of my phone.

The problem here is that I’m convinced I’ve figured out how to work roughly 3% of my phone. I can sort of surf the internet, but I end up frustrated that I don’t have my nicely laid out browser configuration, with my legions of bookmarks and pre-entered passwords. But I can get straight to facebook. I can take and email myself pictures. And – this is the coolest thing – I can click on the screen and have it pull up the local weather conditions, which I can then click into a short-range forecast, which I can then click on to see the local radar.

Dude. My phone can tell me what the weather’s doing at any time I want to know. I LOVE THIS. (Yes, I am from the Midwest.)

However, there are still a millionbillion things I need to figure out. Like my phone number, which I keep forgetting. And that I need to text *almost* everyone I know with my new number, because I haven’t done that yet. And I need to figure out how to text more than one person at a time, which has been slow going, which is why next to no one has my number yet. I’ll get there eventually.

I’m sad to lose Stupid Phone, however, because it’s been fun. Stupid phone has been wonderful and loyal and has worked beautifully during the 2.5 years we’ve been together. Stupid phone is an awful shade of Barney Purple, which means I’ve never lost it. And Stupid Phone has all sorts of pictures on its tiny little Stupid Phone Hard Drive, pictures which I’m determined not to lose even if I”m not sure how to get them off without paying an arm and leg.

So onto the great wide pasture in the corner of a box in my room, Stupid Phone. I’ll miss you.

And hopefully one day I’ll figure out something more like 50% of what the still-nameless smart phone can do, and I’ll feel like this was all a good idea.

Read This Book. Do It.

Like most of the rest of the blogosphere, I contemplated doing some sort of “Best of 2010 in My Unhumble Opinion”-style series. I opted not to.*

But. There’s this book. It’s called The Sky is Everywhere. The author is Jandy Nelson. You should read it.

I will attempt to summarize the plot by saying that it’s about a 17-year-old girl, Lennie, whose sister has very recently died. The book chronicles Lennie’s attempts to deal, which admittedly sounds like the most depressing thing ever. It’s not.

This book flattened me against a wall, had me crying in approximately three paragraphs, had me laughing through my tears in another three, crying again in seven, and falling in love in ten. Reading this book was this intense, crazy, wild suckerpunch of an experience. Like, it physically hurt.

I couldn’t put it down.

By the time I finished, it was uncomfortably close to 4am and I felt like I’d lived an entire lifetime’s worth of emotion. I remember staring blankly at the wall for a few minutes after I put it down. I felt drained, but happy. Really, really happy. And like life is worth trying to enjoy even when it sucks.

Honestly, there were a ton of books I loved this year, especially in the YA realm.** But The Sky is Everywhere blew me away . I’ve made it a mission to make sure everyone I know who reads any YA whatsoever reads it and will be loaning my copy out the moment I get it back from its current borrower.

You should read it. Like, tomorrow. Seriously. Read it.

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*Honestly, I got stuck on the music category. STUCK. Plus there’s the issue that most movies this year flat sucked. However, Best New TV Show would go to “Archer.” No question.

**Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy, Kristen Cashore’s Fire (and Graceling, which isn’t from 2010 but which I didn’t discover until May), and Stephanie Perkin’s Anna and the French Kiss all come to mind immediately.

Resolutions

I have this thing about New Year’s Resolutions which comes from a few years of working the front desk in a gym. Every January, I’d watch as a new crop of random people would come, pat themselves on the back for coming*, show up for a few weeks, dwindle, show up again armed this time with excuses for why they missed the week before, and then be completely defeated by the time Valentine’s Day and its omnipresent boxes of chocolate showed up.

This parade happened with depressing regularity each year. The worst part was the inevitable week in early February when a bunch of people who had been around for the first couple of weeks in January would show up and give me their guilt-laden excuses for missing their workouts, as though their presence or absence meant anything to me beyond a few more towels to throw in the laundry. The Giving Of The Excuse To The Desk Clerk was usually the death knell of the Resolution. By Valentine’s Day, the gym would be back to its usual crop of regulars.

I always got the feeling the ones who delivered excuses to me wanted me to care. Perhaps they were hoping something I said in my role as Desk Clerk and Towel Bitch could help alleviate what sometimes looked to be a crushing mound of guilt. Truth is, however, that I never know what to say to someone who, having never previously worked out a day in her/his life, comes up with a goal like “go to the gym five times a week” and then fails to live up to it. I mean, “that obviously wasn’t going to work out” doesn’t seem helpful. And “how about shooting for a realistic goal next time, Sparky,” probably isn’t the best thing to say to someone who is already beating themselves up underperforming.**

I think that starting something big, like changing a routine, is probably best not done at the beginning of the year. For one thing, the people I was watching at the gym constantly came up with much higher, more unrealistic goals for themselves for New Year’s Resolutions than they would bother with any other time of year, thus setting themselves up for all kinds of failure and guilt. I recognize of course that there’s an obvious poetry to the idea of starting fresh every year, but there’s an equally depressing counterpart in realizing, four weeks later, that you’re still roughly the same person you were when number on the calendar was one less than it is now.

I’ve found for me that with new routines, it’s kind of nice *not* to start at the beginning of the year: it takes longer mentally to calculate how long it’s been that I’ve been doing something new, meaning that I’m less likely to bother calculating how long the change has been in effect.**** The upshot of not knowing how long I’ve been at something is that I never expect anything to change, until one day I wake up and some unknown quantity of weeks sweating through Jillian Michaels videos has produced noticeable shoulder muscles. At that moment, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. (Like shoulder muscles. Seriously. SO COOL.) Meanwhile, if I have a routine for a week or two and then quit it, I don’t have the weight of a New Year’s Resolution to make me feel like I’ve somehow failed myself.

The point here is that I don’t generally like the whole New Year’s Resolution thing (when taken seriously, that is) because of the guilt people seem to feel when they (inevitably, perhaps) shatter it. I think most of us live with way too much guilt in our lives to need any more added through something like breaking a Resolution. Consequently, I make Resolutions that won’t bug me when I end up breaking them.

With much ado, then, allow me to present this year’s New Year’s Resolution: I hereby resolve to spend less time listening to Radiohead’s song “Like Spinning Plates [Live]” – having listened to it over 100 times since I bought it last May, I think I should give it a rest and find something else to obsess over.

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*I’m not snarking here at all. I think showing up at the gym and working out deserves a pat on the back, because it’s a damnably difficult routine to get oneself into if one isn’t already working out with some degree of regularity.

**Something I’ve noticed in life: people who have failed to reach a goal tend not to want to hear that they should try shooting for a less ambitious goal in the future. Being told to try for less seems to reinforce the feeling of having failed or something like that, I think.

***Especially in the food/eating/weight/body image category, but that is another post. Or another blog, potentially. But not one that I’ll be writing – that shit is HARD.

****For those of you who didn’t know, sloth is probably my most commonly committed of the deadly sins.

Happy New Year

I awoke this morning without a hangover for the first time in roughly a decade. I figure I should take this as a sign that 2011 won’t suck.

Beyond that, I was planning on doing some sort of year-end navelgazing, but I never had time. Therefore, I’ll likely spare you all of that at least until the mood strikes at some point soon.

Mostly, given I’m leaving for work in three minutes, I wanted to wish you all an off-kilter-in-a-good-way 2011. I’ll write more as soon as time permits.

SMOOCHES

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