Sunday, December 18, 2011

But What Color Are Her Eyes?

In my fall fiction writing class, a common suggestion during critiques went something like: "I couldn't tell what kind of haircut she had...I wanted to know what color her eyes were. I just couldn't tell what she actually looked like!"

Sometimes, another person might  try to help the writer along toward a more concrete description by suggesting that the central character give us this information by catching sight of her reflection in passing mirror or window, or in the bend of shiny spoon, or the wavery pool of a lake. Whenever someone asked wanting to writer to pause to describe the protagonist, I wanted so suggest that we refer back to any of the published stories we'd read for class. Very seldom does E. Annie Proulx have a character stop and ponder the amber sheen of her own eyeballs or the flowiness of her blond hair.  Raymond Carver, though he may describe the blind man in "Cathedral," doesn't pause to ponder his own bloodshot eyes in the bathroom vanity. But both writers do give us a sense of the characters through the action of story--by how they behave, by how others react to them, by how they feel about themselves in general.

The genre makes a difference too. In a novel, the writer has more time to give us the physicality of the characters. In a short story, you have to make every sentence count.

The other problem with this suggestion is that, particularly if you have a first person narrator, it's very difficult to have him describe himself without sounding awkward: "At 5'2" and 187 pounds, I realized I was a real fathead."  So, I say, if it doesn't matter to the overall arc of the story if the narrator's hair is blond or brown, frizzy or in bouncy ringlets, skip it. Otherwise, you end up writing what Janet Burroway calls All-Points-Bulletin (APB) descriptions, like the one mentioned above; descriptions that give us the same generic detail a witness at a crime might mention to the cops but not much insight into the interior life of the character.

Perhaps what the workshop critic meant was that she didn't have an overall clear sense of the characters; couldn't see whether she sailed tripplingly down the sidewalk or clomped like a Matterhorn across the cement. 

Unfortunately, this suggestion led to subsequent drafts where writers were trying very hard to let us know if the person had blue eyes or brown. In a book like Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, this detail is necessary and important to the plot. However, in a story about a girl going to the grocery store to try to pick up the last available ham for a last minute family reunion, brown or blue doesn't matter. Unless she's adopted, or perhaps a model or if a plot point in the story will feature her eyeball being poked out by an angry customer angling for the last ham.

In the latest issue of Poet's and Writers, there's an article called "Get a Job" by Benjamin Percy, where he gives this advice about how to write good physical descriptions (though the piece is primarily about another good bit of writing advice, to consider the character's job and how it impacts his life):  "The trucker does not describe his laugh as a booming bassoon. The trucker laughs like a hot tire ripping apart at eight-five miles an hour. The kindergarten teacher has Crayola-blue eyes, not gunmetal blue eyes. Unless of course the title of the story is 'Mrs. Snodgrass Finally Snaps.'"

So, the next time you start writing a story, worry less about communicating the eye/hair color of your character and more about how you're going to use each sentence to create an interesting visual image of her movement through the world. I suppose it doesn't hurt to know in your mind how she looks, but unless her long hair is going to get caught in the machinery of a Ferris wheel, or her azure eyes are going to give a Jewish woman entre into the Third Reich, let those details slide and focus instead on what can be revealed about her internal life and conflict through exact descriptions. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Bob + Writing Prize

My friend Janell is also into the humiliation of pets for personal gain. Here is the evidence:

I also got some good news today. I won first prize in Zoetrope's all -story contest, which means some money for me and possibly action from literary agents. My story as chosen from 2,200 entries, so I feel good about that. It's a story I wrote last year in one of my Penn MLA classes.

As with anything, I only allow myself to get excited for about 35 seconds, and then, I'm usually like, Well, but that's in the past. What's next? But maybe I'll try to enjoy this for a little while. The other thing it does is remind me that I really need to be sending my work out. Not to sound like a jerk, but I usually get a fairly positive response from my fiction. For this particular story, I even received a nice rejection from Tin House earlier this fall. So, you never know--what one journal might reject, another might really like.

It also makes me self-conscious about my blog, because people I don't know (other writers, in particular) could now be coming to it and noticing that my content is a little on the light side (read: cats and subway photos). I could write more about writing. Maybe that's a promise I'll make now. That I will try to do one post a week about writing stuff.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dashing Dasher

Ernesto proved no easier to reindeer-ify. I promise that one of these days, I will write a post with some substance and no cats. Until then, maybe you can vote on your favorite.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Abusing the Elderly

Henri is 105 years old, but that didn't prevent me from forcing him to wear antlers. Please do not report me. Mostly, it was his pride that was damaged.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Leigh Ann has graciously loaned me a cat torture device---a set of reindeer antlers with a jingley bell attached.

Emma Carol was the first victim. This is the best of about 500 attempts.

Stay tuned for Henri (Comet/Vomit) and Ernesto (Dasher).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Here is a photo of what 65 percent of people are doing on the train (myself included). I wonder--is he surreptitiously taking a picture of me at the same time that I'm snapping his?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for Dog Beach in Longport

I love this Blogger app--let's me blog on the fly. We're on our way to Dan's mom's house in Sussex County. Here is an adorable pic of us from last weekend for y'all to give thanks for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wed AM subway

Here is the scene. One thing about the subway in Philly; if you hear it approaching as you're on the steps, you've already missed it. Don't bother rushing-- you will only be left standing forlornly on the platform as the doors shut and everyone who made it in stares at you with pity.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dogs of Atlantic City

This is just a test to see how it us to post a blog remotely. Not sure how it will turn out...If it does turn out, what you're viewing are a bunch of dogs we saw this weekend on the dog strip of the beach in Ocean City, NJ.

Be happy for the little miniature collie above who looks like he's about to mount the bigger one. His name is Lucky and he's 15. Still living it up, as you can see.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Now I'll Have to Learn to Cook

Well, it's mostly done. The appliances are in (thank God) and the light switches have been changed out. Overall, it was both harder and easier than I thought it would be. Harder because things came up that I didn't anticipate (needing a shut-off valve for the oven, having to put in two extra electrical lines for the microwave and dishwasher, appliances not fitting through the door the first time around) and easier because it's not like I really did any of the work. My friend Colin took care of the design and hand-holding in picking out the specifics and the installer and electrician and plumber did the other stuff. Well, I would say that pulling out the cabinets (with Dan's help) was a chore, but that was also the fun part. Now that it's done, I feel a little out of sorts--like I need something else to obsess about. The bathroom is next, but not until I recoup some of the savings I just shelled out for the kitchen. And here you have the final product. 

Stove, it fits! Microwave, it works!

Side view.

I'm already messing up the look by adding magnets.

Aforementioned way too expensive garbage can.
Everything is silver now.
Note matching cat water dish on the floor.
Interior door with my piddly seasonings.
And the four things I eat.
All of the light switches have gone from white to black and silver.

And that's it for now. I will have to figure out the lighting at some point and I'm also thinking about adding shelves, but we can call this mostly a wrap.

How Much is that Garbage Can, Again?

Did you know that you can buy a garbage can from Lowe's for $104? And it is not self-cleaning, it doesn't go around your house and collect the trash on its own, nor does it double as a back massager. It's just a garbage can with a step pedal and a slow moving top, so that as it closes, your cat is allowed extra time to leap into the trash. I would like to also add that it's not super cheap to buy dimmer switches and the like. One could spend $18 on a black light switch to match the decor. What kind of fool would do such a thing?

I also bought a mission-style bed frame from IKEA and Dan and I spent about two hours putting it together last night, only to get the very last step (putting on the box springs) to discover that I'd purchased the full-sized side slates; not the queen-sized ones that would actually allow my box spring and mattress to fit on the bed.  So, will now have to disassemble side pieces and haul them back to IKEA, in hopes that they will allow me to switch them out for the proper size.

These are such bourgeoise problems, I know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Everything but the...

Kitchen sink? I've been listening to too many Will Shortz quizzes on NPR lately. I can tell you that if I ever had to compete on that program, I would fail every single question, because I'm sure I would be too nervous to think straight. Well, and plus, the questions are sometimes hard and require the kind of mental gymnastics my brain won't perform, like, "Take the first letter of the last word and switch it with the second letter of the third word to come up with something that rhymes with the clue given and reveals the name of a Canadian sports team."

Anyway, the counter tops were put in on Monday, thanks to Dan being willing to stay at my house to let the guys in. They also added in the under mount sink. Supposedly, it's all the rage these days.

Don't be fooled. There's no plumbing under there. 

I put him up there. He didn't like it.
Next steps: electrician comes on Wed. to look at putting in outlets for the dishwasher and the microwave and then plumber has to come to hook up the sink, dishwasher, and the garbage disposal, and I also have to get the rest of my appliances. And then do the lights. And then we should be pretty okay.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wherein I Try on 20 Ill-Fitting Black Dresses

We have a black-tie awards ceremony tonight for work. This means we need to dress up in ball gowns or something like that. I always tell myself that I'm going to get something really pretty and nice, and I sort of half look for dresses all year. Then, the day before the event, I realize I have nothing new. I try on everything in my closet and realize that most of the dresses either don't fit or are too low cut for work friends. And then I wear the same black sheath I always choose by default. I also bring heels to fancy it up, but then only can stand to wear them on for about 15 minutes. I was not meant to be glamorous.

Except this year, I found something really special.

Just as an aside, thanks to Carrie for sending along this link to a blog that recreates famous album covers with cats. Love it!

Here's my favorite so far:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I Dreamed a Dream of a Kitchen

Seems like every time I think I'm going to move forward with the next step of the kitchen, there's an impediment. Today's non-installation concerned the dishwasher. It's a mini-mini, 18" piece of technology that they were going to put in today, except...Of course, I have no sink and no plumbing yet, and so they can't actually install the dishwasher until that happens. Instead, they just set it into the cabinet where it will eventually function.

I guess I didn't realize the steps. Like, you have to have the sink in prior to the dishwasher. It seems like common sense in retrospect, but having never done anything like this before, I didn't consider it. I also need to have an electrician install another box? canister? plug thingy? into the wall for the dishwasher and for the microwave, which was also put in today, but doesn't work either b/c of the lack of a plug.

The stove guy was able to put in a shut-off valve without further complications. I also got a call from the counter installation people and they're on for Monday AM. I'm hoping Dan ca be there to let them in because I don't like to miss work for this stuff.

God, how bourgeois of me to complain about my kitchen renovation.

Here's the non-working bitty dishwasher. It's like something you might find on a ship:

And here it is in a larger context alongside the makeshift counter that the cat jumps on a nearly breaks every night:

The microwave--it's so much wattage that I need a whole new power source:

I should put in a good word for the guys who installed the cabinets and then came back out and put in the microwave lickety-split. They are from John Mitchell Renovations. They will also offer you advice about other household projects and warn you if possibly your dining room light might one day burn down the house. I recommend them highly.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Limbo House

This title does not refer to a house where much dancing is done. It's a house in a state of anticipation. Rather, a kitchen that is holding its breath for the remaining pieces to fall into place.

My whole Saturday was taken up by waiting with some trepidation for the Lowe's appliance delivery guys to bring my fridge and stove. They showed up earlier than expected, but quickly figured out that the fridge wasn't going to fit through my narrow doors. The guy than checked my stove to see where the gas turn off was. He couldn't find it and told me that I also needed to get a plumber in to install a shut off valve. And I needed to find a way to get the storm door off. I looked at the storm door. It doesn't have like two screws on it--has massive security screws that require a special bit to remove. I asked him if he could take it off. He said that he wasn't allowed to do it. I said, "Well, who's going to do it then? God?" I wasn't on my best behavior. I even dropped the f-bomb. I was a little like Veronica from Willie Wonka, stomping my foot and saying, "I want it now!" But truly, wouldn't you think that Lowe's might have let me know that I should anticipate these two things so I could've had them taken care of ahead of time? Tomorrow, the dishwasher people are coming to put that appliance in and I have arranged for them to also install the shut off valve. And the counter people (one person named Dan, actually) came on Monday to measure that portion out. Is this so boring or what?

To counteract that, here are some pictures from the Halloween party at Jane's house on Saturday night.

This is Doug. He works in IT at Penn.

I forget this guy's name, but he had the best guy costume of all. And he brought a date.

Very cute witch girl brought along by Colin and Jeremy. They were Mormons. I took a couple of pictures of them with my phone, but they didn't turn out very well.

Greg's brother, Bill.

Colorful witch. Jane's Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good picture of her.

She is an extremely generous hostess.

Lisa Marie's was the best girl costume. She is a futuristic Lady Gaga.

Jane's devil-eyed dog, Lola.

The demure Snoopy.

Chicago Dog.

Notice the warning sign to the left.

I often choose costumes that are puns. Can you guess the pun here?
Luke as a Super Mario Brother

He was allowed no candy with nuts even near it.

At school.

That's all for now. Will update you with dishwasher pics later.............................................