Monday, November 22, 2010

Shakespeare on the Fly

I had one of those dreams last night where I'm in a play, but haven't rehearsed any of the lines in weeks, don't know the part very well, and don't have a costume, and am also playing someone against type (in this case, I think I was Falstaff. Perhaps I feel like I've been eating too many Christmas cookies?). I had to go onstage first. When I peeked through the curtains, the seats were mostly blank, but when I went onstage (with the play strategically smuggled in the front of my shirt), it was a packed crowd. I warbled and chortled about (as Falstaff does), while also realizing that I wasn't emphasizing the right words. The line would be something like, "Is that a dagger I see before me?" but I'd say it like, "Is THAT a dagger I see before me?" As if there 4-5 things in my line of vision. The cast and director were not pleased with me and told me so after the show. I was upset, not just because of my poor performance, but also because I felt like it was unjust--it seemed that the director purposefully cast me in a part where I would fail.

This hearkens back to an acting class I took at Florida State; some kind of upper level Shakespeare scene study course where most of the students were in the BFA program, except for 3-4 of us who were in the lowly BA track. The teacher, Jean someone, would only pair the BA's with other BA's for scenework, as though our acting would permanently mar or impair the gifted ones, something akin to allowing a Special Olympics member to assume a first -string position on the JV basketball team. In addition, she assigned me a scene from Othello, a play that was at that time in production for Main Stage. The girl playing Desdemona was in my class, and so I guess it was the teacher's way of showing the girl what not to do. I sucked and it was humiliating, but hopefully, Keely learned something from it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Had a Dream

And Barack Obama was in it. I dreamed I was in some kind of shopping center and he just walked in to look at a table of books. He was wearing a red Polo shirt. In the dream, I kept thinking how I had to act cool, you know, not stare or faint or anything. It was so vivid. I could see the freckles on his arms. He had a surprisingly deep voice and also wasn't surrounded by any body guards or security. I thought he might notice how unaffected I was acting and want to talk to me. He did not. It must be so odd to be famous enough that you make cameo appearances in the dreams of strangers.

Here is a photo of a set back blue house I pass on my walk down South Street.

This is my shadow. Hair was biggish that day.

The campus. It's so pretty in the fall.

I guarantee that even though you can't see them with the naked eye, there are at least 16 squirrels hidden in this photo somewhere.

A little street flair.
And the corresponding house. Seems as though Home Depot was having a sale on their lilac paint.

Not sure what this ad is for, but I like it's retro-ness.

Cat in a bag.

Cat in a bag in profile.
Cat in a bag from afar.
This is where Henri sits every night while I'm on the computer.

And then sometimes these two get together. It's more for actual warmth than companionship.

And voile! The first Christmas window on my street. I'm sure there will be many more to follow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Workshops

We went over essays/stories the other night in the class I'm taking at Penn. Last week, we all had to turn in drafts of our work, even if we're not being reviewed for several weeks. This is odd to me. Usually, you turn your piece in the week before it will be workshopped. That way, you can continue working on it up until the last minute. So, for the next four weeks, I am not supposed to make any changes to my story. Of course, I could anyway, but then that means that the class critique might not be relevant by the time we get around to doing it. An older woman in the class unintentionally said the funniest thing. We were going over her piece and talking about comments and she said, Oh, did I need to write comments for my own piece? Sure, yes. "The writing here is hard to follow and I didn't know what was going on."

We also did something I've never done in a grad class before--we had a training session on how to give good feedback. The teacher read aloud a passage and then we were asked to write up the most negative comments we could think of, followed by positive comments, followed by a suggestion for improvement. As we had already written up our comments on the essays for the week, it seemed somewhat futile. I think a conversation about how to best comment in class is helpful; practicing writing the comments less so.

It was also suggested in class (please note the lack of agency here) that one technique for letting the reader know what your first-person narrator looks like is to have her catch sight of herself a mirror or spoon or a window or some other reflective surface. I realized after hearing this that I seldom describe my narrators--it just doesn't seem important. Well, I know in a story I wrote a long time ago that one of the protagonists does see herself in a window, but she's then startled to not recognize herself at first and instead wonder who that little hick is in the denim jacket. It's more about her seeing suddenly that she's not as sophisticated or urbane as she thinks she is. In short, I disagree that you have to describe the physicality of your character unless it's integral to the story itself. How would that work anyway: "I looked in the mirror and noticed that I still had shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes." Or, "I looked in the mirror and realized that I was a redhead." It doesn't work. If you'd like, go ahead and send me an example of a first-person describing himself effectively.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The South Street Bridge Opening Has Changed My Life

For the better. I can now take the subway three stops, get off at South and Broad, and walk the rest of the way to work in about half an hour.


And it's a nice walk. Lots of little shops and restaurants. I bought two Clemintines, an apple, a Greek yogurt, and Health Nut trail mix at a little store somewhere, along with pumpkin-flavored coffee. It was there that I had a brief conversation with another woman trying to pour coffee. I didn't like her because she seem exasperated that the guy ahead of us was grabbing drinks for his work crew, but I talked to her anyway. Later in the walk, I saw this black homeless-looking guy fiddling with his belt in a doorway. Another woman was walking toward me and I saw she was looking at him too, and frowning. I said, What is he doing? She said, He's peeing. He's peeing in those people's doorway. I said, That's a nice way to start your morning.

They're also doing construction near Penn for the new Penn park. Here is a crane with flair.

I'm indecisive as to whether I like this door or not. It's kind of cool, but it also looks as though you should be on the side of a stable, not a row home. Maybe they're boarding ponies?

Did not steal this bike, though would have liked to.

I like the architectural detail here with the two dogs standing guard.

Random graffiti.

Overall, it was a nice morning. I need to leave my house a little earlier to avoid being late though. Jen B. and I will be walking home after work. Yay!

-Number of dogs petted: 2
-Number of random conversations with strangers: 2

Friday, November 12, 2010

Where the Squirrels Are

In our office! Sweeten has always had a little squirrel problem, but I think we've now reached critical mass. Yesterday, Jason and I watched a fat squirrel run back and forth across his desk. It had arrived from the hole in his floor (see below). Even though we've set feral traps, the squirrels will not go for the peanut butter. Why should they? There's plenty of chocolate around that tastes much better and doesn't cause you to be trapped in a cage.


This is Franco, Leigh Ann's cat. I went with her yesterday to pick him up for the vet, where he had his teeth cleaned. They gave her liver-flavored toothpaste to periodically rub on his teeth.

Know what my cats get? The occasional can of smelly wet foot, divided by three.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's a Sin

That's what the Philadelphia ladies say when something is dead wrong. "It's a sin..." That's what they were saying today at lunch when I was describing L.'s mom to them--how she has moved into yet another house that he will not be allowed to stay in because of (1). dust or (2). the smell of something burning or (3). electrical problems or (4). lawn fertilizer at the next door neighbor's house or (5). a dog that stopped by once ten years ago or (6). the possibility of disaster, harm, germs, dirt, smells, lightning, banana peels, etc. (image is from www.toothpastefordinner.com)

The reading/discussion went well last night; several of my co-workers/friends showed up, which was nice. No one heckled. The guy who supposedly goes to all of the readings and asks dumb questions wasn't there, thankfully. I also turned in a story draft for my grad class last night; it needs work. It's a story about what it was like to work at the organ transplant place; how we heard about death every single day, including this nonstop overhead announcement, "Referral on line 1..." signaling that a hospital was calling to say that someone had died and might potentially be an organ or tissue donor. In writing the story, I went over a couple of my old journal entries from when I worked there. I've forgotten many of them (we heard new ones every Monday morning at what they called Quarterback meeting), but one I remember was about this teenager who hung himself on a piece of exercise equipment in the family's basement. I just can't imagine what that was like for the person who found him; likely a member of the family (or NOK as we called them--next of kin). How would you ever get that image out of your head? How would you ever forgive that person?

Also, please never say harvesting when referring to organ donation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reading Thing Tonight for Philadelphia Noir

If you need to see me this evening, I'll be taking part in a reading of Philadelphia Noir, edited by Carlin Romano at the Penn bookstore at 6 PM. You can read about it here. We're not actually reading from the book, because that would take forever, but I guess we're supposed to say something about the process of writing the story--how we came up with our ideas, etc. I made Dan talk with me about it yesterday so I could try to remember how the idea came about. I was just rereading some of the story, and the narrator just really isn't very likable. The situation too is a bit of a stretch. But I can talk about how I determined where it would be set. I was writing it when I was also looking for a house, and so I got to see the inside of all of these different South Philly homes, and started noticing similarities among some of the places where you could just tell the owners were older. Dark paneling, furniture covered in plastic, Jesus-es all over the place, and, oddly, old-fashioned pencil sharpeners in some of the basements. That stuff went into the story.

Oh, and I just looked up the anthology's review in Kirkus Review and my story got a mention:
"In Aimee LaBrie’s 'Princess,' a humble pug dog gets to foil a homicidal maniac." Is that true? I guess sort of. I think it's more the Virgin Mary statue that saves her. Here's another review from The City Paper (I think?): "Aimee LaBrie writes wrenchingly but with cool detachment of a server at Ray's Happy Birthday Bar, held captive by a local."On another page, I'm a trivia question. That's it. That's my claim to fame. My fifteen minutes of local notoriety.

Also, was paging through a copy of Amy Sedaris' newest book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People today at the bookstore and couldn't stop laughing. She has these photos of her doing terrible yoga (to prepare for crafting) that were just so awkward and awful and funny. But don't just take my word for it:























Here's the chapter list:

1. Coconuts
2. Fake Candle Making
3. The Joy of Poverty
4. Handicraftable
5. Safety Meetin’
6. Crafting for the Dead, and Other Celebrations
7. Confectioneries
8. Sick Room
9. Crafting for Jesus
10. Hay Burners
11. Making Love
12. Sausages
13. Teenager Crafts, or Teenagers Have a lot of Pain
14. Unreturnable Homemade Gift Giving
15. Knowing Your Knack for Knick-Knacks

But sure to put it on your list of things to buy me for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Clothes Horse

This is some interesting graffiti that I encountered on my morning walk across South Street Bridge. I think it's a rabbit. A rabid rabbit. I am very happy that the construction is done on South Street--it'll make my Tuesday evening commute home from the Penn Museum so much easier.

This is the outside of two shops I like. Spool is a fabric store and Loop is a knitting store. Clever, huh?

Thanksgiving bears on my street.


Oh, and these are the Halloween decorations in my window. Luke made the witch on the broom.

And Dan made the vampire. I did the ghosts. Hey spell out Happy Halloween!!

A bat and a warty witch. Luke made the pumpkins. Please note that he copied my multi-cut out technique above.
Frankenstein and black cat.

Okay, and this week at the Princeton Green Street, I totally scored on stuff. Black hat from Banana Republic, Nine West shoes, and that's a real brand new tank top directly from BR that I forced Dan to buy me.

This is an earlier--an olive-studded dress.

And a black dress from BR.

Brown skirt from Anthrolpologie and a v-neck lacy shirt. I will not wear these together.

Denim skirt and a black shirt that I bought accidentally. For real. I didn't realize it was in the pile of stuff I brought to the counter. I like it though.

This is Dan and Luke at the Princeton vs. Penn tailgate this Saturday.

And Luke. He has lost two teeth so far.

A sign we saw on lunch yesterday. Does not make me want to eat there.

Orange tabby through a screen.

Emma Carol's doppelganger plus some weird decoration.



That's it for today. Class tonight and I have to turn in my donation story. Needs revision.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Philadelphia Noir on WHYY

I heard a story this morning about Philadelphia Noir on WHYY, our NPR affiliate. That's the collection that one of my stories is in, and it also has stories by two of the women who took my Philadelphia Stories writing class, Halimah and Laura. AND, Laura was interviewed on the radio program about her story set in Rittenhouse. I tried not to be jealous. I listened in vain for my name or a reference to my story,"Princess," which takes place in South Philly. Nada. I guess the reason they chose Philly for the newest series is because the annual Noircon Mystery Writer's Conference is being held in the City of Brotherly Love this year. It starts today, in fact. I was going to send you to the website, but it sucks. But I think the flier is kind of fun. In any case, if you want to come out and hear readings, they're holding one on Sunday at Robin's Bookstore and then another at the Penn bookstore (36th and Walnut) on Wed., Nov. 10 at 6 PM. I'm going to that one. I hope people don't try and read their entire story. We would be stuck there for 3 hours.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We Welcome the Amish (on Wednesdays only)

Every Wednesday morning, an Amish family sets up a fruit stand outside of the Penn bookstore. They're not the only ones there--we also have a tent of fruit and vegetables starring the handsome apple seller guy, who has a cleft chin so deep, you could store change there. He looks a bit unreal, attractive in a kind of super hero comic book way. Like this except picture him wearing Dockers, a baseball hat, and carrying apples:


And then the bakery also has day-old cookies for sale. But the Amish offer this really excellent yogurt whose name I can't think of right now. I guess it's locally-made and fresh, which accounts for its deliciousness. I'm always cheered up on Wed. mornings when I rise up from the trolley stop underneath Sansom and see them setting up their tents for the day. It means the week is half-way over and I will have a good breakfast, thanks to the Amish family.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Get Out There and Vote for the Cutest Candidate

I was very proud of myself for going to the polling station before work this morning. It was held at South Philadelphia High School, where the students have to go through metal detectors every day before school in case they might have a gun or a knife or other sharp objects to wound each other with. I figured I would be waiting in line for like maybe an hour or so, but no one was there. It was also early--like 8:15, so maybe it picks up, but there weren't any signs on the front of the school or calls to vote or much of anything. My neighbor who yells at her kids all day was also there, helping out. I wanted to ask her who she would be voting for, but that's probably illegal. Anyway, the whole thing took four seconds and I was then able to feel like I'd really done something important and citizen-like, even though I know I probably wouldn't have voted if it had taken me out of my way or been difficult to do.

Also, Michelle Obama was on campus yesterday and I didn't even see her. But here she is:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween in South Philly

I bought Tootsie pops and Milky Way bars at Super Fresh yesterday afternoon, in case I was swarmed by dozens of trick-or-treaters, but I only ended up with two rounds of candy-giving. The first was an African-American family; mom and dad and four kids. I can't remember what all of them wore, but one little girl was an angel and I think another had on a Snow White costume (I'm glad that Snow White can be multicultural now). Then the second group was three boys--the oldest was maybe ten and he was dressed as a Heineken bottle. The other kid was a convict, and I believe the littlest one was in his pajamas. That was it. I spent some of the evening watching the Law and Order SVU marathon, but didn't see any really scary movies I wanted to see. The choices included: Prom Night, Sweeney Todd, and Van Helsing (I did watch some of this between commercial breaks. What is this crap about? There were vampires, werewolves, zombies, Igors, Frankensteins, bats, jesters, monks--I couldn't figure out what was going on. Here's what The New Yorker says about it, if you don't believe me).

My co-workers and I were talking this weekend (we all had to work for Homecoming) about scariest movies we had seen. Someone mentioned Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, the Karen Black horror flick that no one should see at the impressionable age of 5---I believe that's when I saw it and the couldn't sleep for fear of little albino trolls in the basement who might want to drag me down with them and make me their Queen. Now, it appears that they remade it and it will be released in January 2011 with Katie Holmes as the star. Here's the trailer:



Other favorite scary movies that came up were The Ring (didn't see it), The Shining, any of the Friday 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Halloween movies, The Exorcist (of course), and, for me, the movie Jaws. I saw that about a year or two before we moved to Florida. Or maybe I didn't see it in the movie theaters--maybe I just saw the trailers for it? No, I think we did go see it. I was certain I wouldn't survive to see my seventh birthday.