Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I took a class at Penn this past semester, and found myself having to think again about grades. Not worrying about them, exactly, but knowing that what I was turning in would them be evaluated and given some kind of concrete value. That doesn't happen so much in the working world. We get evaluated each year, and I guess raises are based on performance, but it's a different kind of incentive. It's odd to go from spending 16 years of your life and a few more years with grades in grad school then switching to an ungraded system and then back again. It's harder to take it seriously; especially in graduate school when it seems like unless you really screw up, you get an "A." At least I thought I was blase until the other day when I got an email from some ominous unnamed administrator saying I hadn't turned in my final paper and was in academic jeopardy. What? I knew it was a mistake, but I imagined it would be impossible to prove, I'd be kicked out of the program, the director would think I was a bad student, etc. It wasn't that difficult to find out what happened--I posted my paper to the wrong place, but everything was time-stamped and the professor was fine with it. It's not like I had to go explain myself before Academic Affairs. But it was an odd feeling to be worried that I wouldn't do well; that I could get a bad grade.

I'm working on a story now about a teenager who wants to audition for the gifted high school program. I will rely on my own dorky experiences from that time (giant, Coke-bottle glasses; odd notions about what romance would be like--I thought that eventually, Steve Crosset would surely take me out on a moonlight rowboat date. Even though my curfew was like 7 PM and there were no canoes to be found). Look:

I'm sure my mom made that cake from scratch (it's got to be angel food) and she also did make that blouse I'm wearing. You can see that I've curled my bangs for the occasion, though I refused to wear hair spray, because I was so political and didn't want to contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer through aerosol Aqua Net.

And then:

The "S" in front of the house is the scarlet letter...It stands for my stepdad's last name. This shirt I'm wearing in this photo is also one my mom made. Lots of detail. I liked what I thought were somewhat romantic looking shirts. And yes, in this one, I do look a lot like a young Heathcliff.

Here is my latest article in Philadelphia Stories, "Writer as Creator, Not Conduit." I hope you like it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cats for Christmas

This is what happens in the morning whenever Dan stays over and the cats are in the basement all night. I get to set them free!


Friday, December 17, 2010

JJ Comes to Town

Last weekend, Brooklyn Liz and her five-month old baby came into Princeton on the train and visited us for a few hours. This is a good baby. He hardly fussed, and he was just really smiley. Luke was so excited about meeting him that the night before, he said, "I can't fall asleep! I can't wait to see J.J." Never mind that he never met him before. Here they are in the Princeton Library. Luke would not stop wanting to hold him.

Notice how he's touching the soft spot in the baby's head as if the baby is holy.

Reading books. J.J. already likes books, which is not surprising, since his parents are big readers.

J.J. liked Luke too.

See what I mean about being smiley. When I held him over my head, he puked on me a little.

I love his little monkey socks.

And Dalmatian coat. And strawberry hat. He may have an identity crisis when he gets older, but for now, he's just cute.

This was the day Luke learned about breast milk.


I was pretty sure Luke was going to drop him, but he really wouldn't stop asking to hold the baby.

Dalmatian ears.

Okay, and then that night, we bought a Christmas tree and decorated it. The tree wouldn't stay upright, so Dan hammered a nail to the windowsill and tied it with a string.

The blanket is one I'm lending them.

Oh, and finally, a beautiful Christmas window for you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Christmas Wish List

I know that you are all wondering what I would like for Christmas, and so here is a list. Please do not veer from it!

1. Cat toys/accouterments, such as cardboard box lids.

2. Something to sit in while I'm watching The Bachelor so that I feel like I'm part of the action (this one was actually my friend Kelly's idea).

3. A real one, not a fake one. Dog too.

4. Elective surgery can be purchased on gift cards now.

5. Remember when Jane Seymour was in that movie, Somewhere in Time? And Christopher Reeves played a guy who falls in love with a stage actress from the turn-of-the-century and is somehow able to go back in time to meet her and then they both die and are reunited in heaven (not to spoil it for you)? Well, Superman is gone, but Jane Seymour lives on with this lovely, Open Heart jewelry. Perfect for if you want to wear something around your neck that looks like butt cheeks:

Thank you in advance for your generosity!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Your Entire Cat

I've been working on this story to turn in for the final paper for my Penn class, and it's still not quite hanging together. I forget what I used to do with revisions--would I start over? Mostly, I think I used to just keep writing until I figured out where the story was going. In this case, I can't get the ending right. It's too contrived.

Writing about the experience of working with organ donor families reminds me again how emotional it was--how I would get these emails from out of nowhere that would have the photo of a dead child attached to it and a note from a family member saying, "I just miss him so much." And then I'd open the file and it would be a two-year old with his puppy or a ten year old girl on a bicycle or a 40 year old man holding up a fish. The stories were infinitely interesting--I learned so much about death and ways to die--more than the average person would want to know. I think it's part of the reason I'm still a cautious driver. Lots of brain deaths are the result of car accidents. That, or drowning, or falling down the stairs, or being shot, or OD-ing, or suicide.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Lap of Luxury

Every other week, a very nice woman named Jiselle brings a crew in to clean my house. I have a certain amount of middle class guilt about this, while at the same time really loving coming home and finding that finally, someone has vacuumed. I keep the house picked up, but I don't sweep, mop, or dust. Here is an example of the kind of detail Jiselle brings to her job, this bow in the box of Kleenex, which, in this context, appears to be being blessed by the noseless baby Pope.

Some holiday cheer for you.

This is the same house--the decorations they placed in the side window.

Nothing says holiday time like Holiday Excitement Barbie.

Snoopy and wreaths.

The little baby Jesus behind bars.

A stately wreath.

This is how my cats stay warm.

Because I sometimes turn the heat wayyyyyy down.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last Class

Had my last first writing class Tuesday night and we talked a little bit about how people get unstuck from writing--like how you might write yourself into "a pickle," as the teacher put it. Someone suggested writing dialogue; someone else said to go back to description. I did a little writing this morning (revisions of the story are due next week) and realized that when I get stuck (at least during revision), I tend to go back into the story and find a specific paragraph that needs work and go with that. Or write something ridiculous. Or write a different ending. But the truth is that I'm so rusty with writing that I'm not quite sure what it is that works best. I think I've found a different ending to the story I'm working on--one that doesn't tie up so neatly, but gets closer to the core of the matter, I hope.

I had a moment the other day where I was walking on this really windy day and I had left the house feeling relatively cute, but then a huge gust of wind blew up and turned my umbrella inside out and made my hair fly straight into the air like this:*

I couldn't help but thinking at that moment that it would be a great thing to put in a story--girl showing up for a blind date, about to arrive at the restaurant and a blast of wind totally decimates her look and the guy she's supposed to meet sees it happen through the window and leaves. And she can't blame him.

*Thanks to Leigh Ann at Cats in Baths for the inspiration to add drawings to my blog.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Photos: cookies, cakes, and cats

My 3 favorite words! A couple of weeks ago, I decided it would be fun if Luke, Dan, and I used the Christmas cookie cutter things my mom bought me at the Christmas Tree Shoppe in CT. So, we bought the ingredients, though did so before realizing that Dan doesn't have a rolling pin or an oven. Whoops! We ended up using a tin can of some kind and the landlady's oven, along with her ancient flour-sifter. The cookies had some rust in them, but only a little. Here is the second batch, after I gave up on the cookie cutter idea.

And a few from the first batch--candy canes, Christmas trees, stars, and a Santa blob. The cookie dough was Pillsbury sugar cookie brand. Totally delicious.

This is a cat in a window.

The moon.

Random Philadelphia art--I think taken on Lombard Street.

Left-over Halloween decorations.

And again.
Oh, this is Ernesto, lounging in the living room the other night.

Aerial view.
Then, last night, Lisbeth, Nicole, and I attended a cake decorating class in Center City, courtesy of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. About 20 people showed up. We each got our own yellow cake, a tub full of frosting, and the various utensils needed to frost a cake, including those long plastic pieces of paper to put the frosting in. Here is Lisbeth's cake. Pretty nice, huh?

And mine. The pink frosting in the middle was the last thing I did, and you can see that it had started to melt. I'm glad I took pictures, because as soon as I put the cake back into the box, the top of it got stuck to the lid and messed everything up. We got to keep the spatulas. Free cake at my house this weekend.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When I Sing Out Loud in the Car

I have this recurring fantasy that I'm in a bar somewhere singing karaoke with a large group of my friends and peers, and I totally amaze them by having this awesome singing voice. They have to stop what they're doing as I sing, because they're so enthralled, and even strangers around us pause to listen. I think it's because I (like most people?) secretly think I have a good singing voice. This contrary to the fact that when I did musical theater in high school, the director opted to allow me to sing one line "Somewhere...Over the rainbow..." before he brought on a real singer to do the rest and my character slowly vanished upstage. I think it must be the acoustics of the car that trick me. I did take singing lessons once from a friend of mine in college. She was a music education major and in one of her classes, she had to pick someone with a moderate singing voice, train her/him for a few months, and then the person would come into class and perform--like a Pygmalion--bad-to-good kind of change. I can't remember what I sang ("Ave Maria?"), but the class wasn't inspired to burst into a spontaneous standing ovation.

I imagine my karaoke fantasy would go something like this: