Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Fargo, the FX Version

You know that guy who was in the British version of The Office and also in the newer Sherlock series? He's a Casper Milquetoast kind of guy--nondescript but attractive in this bland way. He's in a new show that I read about in US Weekly this weekend. If you ever have to choose between getting your viewing or book recommendations from say, The New Yorker or The New York Times and a weekly pop culture mag, I say, go with the cheap mag. They gave a thumbs up to his new show, Fargo, a series based on the Coen Brothers films, which happens to be one of my favorite movies, in large part because the main character is a pregnant cop, and the pregnancy part of the story has little or nothing to do with the plot. We watched the season premiere the other night and it was engaging, to a point, but also kind of boring.  Billy Bob Thorton is the bad guy, and Dan's stance is that he's holding it all together.

My only concern is that they've created this really sad sack of a man who seems to have no back bone, and that the basis of the first episode is a strangers on a train type of concept, where BBT kills a bully who has been plaguing the main guy. There were a couple of surprises, such as two unexpected deaths, which will leave this woman cop as the main character, and the writers appear to have painted themselves into a cliffhanger, leaving the viewer to wonder, How's he going to get out of this situation? I don't know how they will sustain this past the first season--is it going to be an extended search for this one bad guy for the next five seasons? Or will it be like The Killing, where they have trouble keeping the narrative going because they eventually have to solve the murder? We'll give it a couple of more views, but it's no Breaking Bad, that's for sure.

Vulture likes it. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Your Thoughts on Time Travel in Books?

Checked out the Glowing Girls or the Luminous Girls from the library and it's an interesting story. You slowly begin to realize that the serial killer character, Harper, is time traveling to get his victims--all women from different time periods in about a 70 year time span and in the same location. The location happens to be Chicago, so that's compelling to me, but the time travelling aspect is less so.  His mode of recovery is this old house where he goes as a haven. He goes in the house, and time stops, and then he can think himself into another decade, with the limitation of those 70 years--he can't move beyond the 1990's, I guess probably because the author decided not to also try to figure out what kind of cars we're driving in 2090. And then there's this one victim, Kirby, who survived his attack, and has become a cop or a private investigator who is  highly motivated to figure out the identity of her would-be killer. How, though, will she make this leap in logic to determine that he's able to time travel to get his victims? How will we, as readers, do the same?

I have another book in my queue, The Time Traveler's Wife, and that will be a similar trope, and I can recall reading and liking Jack Finney's book, Time and Again, and let's not forget about the movies that do this, like the classic Somewhere in Time, probably one of the worst acted movies from the 80s that, if it had time traveled to present day, would never made it to the big screen, but would've been instead a Lifetime original movie. That's the one where Christopher Reeve falls in love with a photograph of an woman from another time and then figures out a way to rub a penny and get back to where she lives. She miraculously falls in love with him, but the problem is that he can't stay in that time period, and so there's this scene where he gets sucked back into his present day, in an effect that's like one you've seen in a Tidy Bowl commercial where he sort of swirls away down a hole with Jane Seymour screeching, Richard! as he's pulled down the time drain. I couldn't find that scene, but here's a different one. In the end, I believe he dies from starvation or heart disease or something and he meets her in heaven.

But my point is that I am not into time travel, even in a book that is well written like the aforementioned one. Sci fi general has not ever appealed to me, I guess because I have trouble predicting what will happen when I don't know the exact rules.

In any case, enjoy this scene from Somewhere in Time

Monday, April 28, 2014

One Good Thing About Plainsboro

Once a month, the Plainsboro Library has a book sale. On the days they don't have a book sale, they still have some crappy novels out on this one table (stuff like every Danielle Steele and Maeve Binchy novel ever written and other bodice rippers). But I happened to be out and about on Saturday, and so popped in and discovered that they have a basement where the books are stored, and it's around eight full shelves of books in all categories, and the books are in good shape, and written by authors with some literary merit. And they are cheaper than the one at the Princeton Library. I bought 9 books for $6.50. Here is photographic evidence. Some of the books are gifts, and some are for the beach.

The full list is: Mystic River, Ooku (for Luke--this is a kid's anime book), Candace Bushnells's Lipstick Jungle (trash for the beach), Civilwarland in Bad Decline (short stories by  George Saunders for Adam at work), Walter Mosley's A Little Yellow Dog (my favorite title of the bunch), a novel by Russell Banks, another collection of short stories by Tobias Wolf, Stephen Dobyn's The Church of Dead Girls and a book about how to be a step mom. I started the step mom one, and it's pretty depressing. Basically, if you're a step parent at all, you should realize that you have no say in the child's daily life and should not discipline them in any way and must steal yourself for inevitably hearing, "You're not my mom."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mommy blogs

Blogger allows you to look at the next blog on the list and I had some time to kill yesterday after work and so I did that and realized anew that there are a hell of a lot of mommy blogs out there. Like, 90 percent of the blogs I saw were mommy blogs.

And they were kind of sad mommy blogs, where the writer was this woman who's about 26 and married to her college sweetheart, who has a crew cut. Both are attractive, and you can see that she was probably a popular girl in high school, and the guy is handsome in this new car salesman way and you can also see how he will start to get heavier and heavier and his neck will thicken with time until he will become this formerly handsome guy. And they are on their first kid, a boy named Caleb and in every baby picture, Caleb's nose is slightly running, but they are posed in front of their new house and everything is okay. And each post is about how great everything is--how they had an Easter egg hunt and Caleb found the blue egg, and how they went to church and then there will be a poem about God inserted into the post somewhere.

And all I can think is how much more interesting it would be if the writer could talk about the good and the bad, instead of just insisting on the good all the time. It's the same thing on Facebook--when all you see are the happy family pictures, and then you compare those photos with your life and wonder what you're doing wrong--you aren't doing anything wrong, it's just that many people want to present their lives as perfect. And to be fair, at least for Facebook, I guess it's not the forum to share your child's gum disease or the 15th potty training nightmare, but on blogs, I feel like the mommy's could try to be a little more on candid, if only because of other pre-mommy's who walk into an early marriage and early kids thinking it's going to be one way, and then discovering that it's not that way at all. And so then they start a mommy blog to pretend that their just like every other mommy who is not telling the truth. It's a vicious mommy cycle. I don't think I've written the word "mommy" so much in one paragraph in my life.

The worst thing is that the last blog post is sometimes like years ago, like January 2011 when they made this resolution to do more adult things with their time, and you wonder what happened to them. They disappeared.  They were swallowed up in their momminess.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing Advice, Part 87

Just finished another round of fiction story selections for Philadelphia Stories, and was reminded again how quickly a story can get rejected for seemingly minor reasons. Don't get me wrong--I read the whole story every time, but if I'm not intrigued or hooked by the beginning, it's going to take a while to reel me back in. If the first sentence is weak or if the first paragraph limps along and the subject matter seems cliched or even if the title feels off, I am already rejecting it in my head. This is because there are 15 other stories to get through, and if yours isn't standing out in some way, I'm ready to move on to the next one--the one that doesn't immediately remind me that I'm reading a made up story by a struggling writer.

In the body of the story, there are a few things that will make me race to the finish and not in a good way. I'm not a prude, but if there is a scene that appears out of nowhere that includes graphic sex or violence, I feel like the writer is trying to shock me into liking her story and that turns me off. This is especially true when the scene doesn't forward the narrative or reveal character in any way, but just is sort of a weird aside, like the writer might have possibly have lifted it from another story he wrote in tenth grade and just added it in because he liked it so much

I also don't like stories that end in death--and especially not those that end with the death of the first person narrator (how? why? what?). I don't like stories that end with someone staring off into space, thinking, though I have written those stories often enough.

The ending should be changing something and it can be based on a character's epiphany or decision to think about something differently, but the decision needs to be put into action somehow--it needs to be shown instead of thought about. Two of my stories in my capstone collection need work on the endings.  But then in the stories that I've read for the New Yorker lately are ending  in the following ways: the woman at her name inscribed ina  book, but that's after an explosive encounter with this young guy. Or  the dude in the Roddy Doyle story sitting in the dark, believe that his wife will return to him so that they can watch their DVD collections together. Or the guy in "Pending Vegan" having the dog lick his nose at Sea World. These are not earth-shattering endings, but they still feel fitting and justified with what's gone on prior to this last moment. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Novel by Siri

Can you write a novel in tweets? I hope not. Can you write a novel in fifteen minutes a day while also being distracted and Googling things like "novel in 15 minutes" and checking Facebook every three minutes? I should always decide I'm going to write when I have several other unpleasant things to do, such as paying bills, because when I have another task in front of me that I don't feel like facing (writing), I will allow myself to attack those third tier annoying things I've been putting off. Why is that? Note: I am currently resisting the  Googling of:  "Reasons for Procrastination" or "Writer's block" or "Death of David Foster Wallace."

Which might lead one to believe that I don't want to write fiction anymore, and so what is my problem? Is it an identity thing--like, that I have thought of myself as a writer for so long that I wouldn't be able to figure out who I am if I'm not writing? No, it's not that, because I would continue to write--I write in my job and I would keep writing in my blog, so that wouldn't go away. It's that I think I still have this dream, oh, so distant now, that I would one day publish something great that would allow me to just teach writing at the university of my choice. Does that happen to all writers who do well? Or do they keep working at MRM Worldwide during the day as communications managers? Does every fiction writer go on to be a fiction teacher? I think many of them, if they're really prolific and widely-published, give up their day jobs and write full time or write ten months out of the year or whatever. And some are so popular and rich, they hire other writers to create their books for them (like the more serialized writers of genre fiction). But there will be not writing a novel in ten minutes a day and I can't seem to get my act together to spend three hours a night after work writing feverishly by candlelight in my turret. Option three would be to go on a writing retreat, but I can find reasons not to do that too, such as the fact that I don't get unlimited vacation time and so it might come down to a retreat or a trip with Dan. All right, let me just finish this capstone and then we will see where I am--then we'll revisit our options here. Meanwhile, maybe I can use my hellish time in the car each day to dictate my novel to Siri.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Nearing the End

I hope I am not jinxing anything by saying that I'm almost finished with my capstone project for Penn. I took my last class a year ago in the spring--a feminist theater class that I really liked--and  then thought I might get to the final project in the summer, but didn't. I then thought I could do it in the fall semester, but the project got lost again in moving to a different city and starting a new job and living with this guy Dan, and all of those adjustments. But this spring, I worked on the project more and had lots of good feedback from Professor Zhuraw, my first reader (even though she sometimes yells at you over email by writing to you LIKE THIS AND WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM WITH SEMI-COLONS?) and so I think I might finish this time (unless Rebekah reads this and gets mad and refuses to sign off on this, but she has a good sense of humor and so I am praying to God that's unlikely).  I didn't work on my fiction as much as I told myself I would. I thought that having deadlines would motivate me more, and it did, a bit, but I still wasn't inspired. The stories in the final capstone will be okay, but not great. A few are better than they were, but I've lost touch with how my stories used to evolve. Did I sit with them for hours on end? Did they go through seven revisions? Did I write long and then cut a bunch? I don't recall. I think most of them were workshopped at least once (and all of the stories in the capstone have been workshopped as all were written during classes I took while at Penn), but then what? I wish I could remember. Maybe it's the end of my fiction writing too. That could happen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Doggie Surprise in "Pending Vegan"

Catching up on the fiction in The New Yorker, and so just read Jonathan Lethem's story from April 7, "Pending Vegan." Have I read any of his novels before? I have a vision in my head that he has a book with fat stars on the cover or am worried that he might be the guy who wrote Incredibly Loud and Too Close, or whatever that title is for the book about people trapped in elevators (I am joking, of course! I know that it's about 911. I have zero interest in reading it, even though it might change my life. I feel weirdly resistant to reading books from a kid's point of view, as I think it's really hard to do well without sounding saccharine. There are exceptions, like Mark Haddon and Ian McEwan in Atonement and Dorothy Allison, but get off my back, will you?).

Okay, I just Googled him and he's written nothing else that I've ever read, though he is a prolific and successful writer.

This story is about an anxious taking his twin girls to Sea World. The first line is great, "Paul Esperth, who was no longer taking the antidepressant Celexa, braced himself for a cataclysm at Sea World"  And then there are many, many other lines to love in the story, surprising descriptions that make me feel like I'm not trying hard enough in my writing, such as "...his wife had performed judo on his argument..."  and the perfect description of orcas."The killer whales, with their Emmett Kelly eyes, were God's glorious lethal clowns. Like panda bears redesigned by Albert Speer."  His wife is barely looks at him, and there's this resentment between them that's grown since the birth of the kids, a small part of it hinging on his having gotten rid of a rescued Jack Russell terrier when his wife was pregnant. And then, they go to this pet show at Sea World, which is filled with shelter rescue dogs and cats, and lo and behold, when a terrier enters the stage, it sees him and leaps over the enclosure to sit on his stomach, licking his face. It's their dog from years before, and they are reunited. Or is it the same dog? It's kind of an unpleasant ending, and if it were a story in workshop, I would probably critique the coincidence factor or the plausibility of this happening. And then I get preoccupied as a reader wondering if they will actually be able to take the dog home or not, since they can't at all prove that they used to own it.

But then this is the second story in a row from the magazine where unexpected and not character driven things happen at the climax of the story. I have to think more about how that works--it would be nice if I didn't always feel like the action of the story, the unfolding of the plot, has to hinge on the character at every second. I was working on a story yesterday and things started to happen just because I was putting in the time, but my endings are typically pretty small and non-explosive---someone stealing a picture of Jesus or turning herself in to the retirement community or whatever--they are never about some sudden twist or reveal in the story. Maybe I will try to do that for this other story I have about  a woman dating a guy in a wheelchair. Just have to figure out how to have the ending seem inevitable in some weay.

New Yorker, I love you. Again they have the inside scoop from the writer, explaining the behind the scenes mechanics of the story,

Here's a quote from the interview that makes me instantly label Lethem a sweetheart: "My parents bred Siamese cats for a while, and in a lot of baby pictures I’m seen swimming in a mass of kittens..." And," As in the case of my character, dogs are a problem I can’t solve; they throw me back into the question of self and other. For a writer, that’s good. Writing a story about a cat would be like writing a story about my arm or my ear."

Here is an interview with Lethem in The Paris Review from 2003 where he talks about writing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to End a Marriage in Five Years

19 and Counting is this show I see sometimes while I'm at the gym about a religious family with a thousand kids. In the five minutes I could stomach yesterday, the parents were playing mini golf with their daughter and her boyfriend. They had this ongoing discussion about how the guy was a terrible mini golfer, like he couldn't get the ball in the hole, and then, at the same time, they were talking about how the girl wouldn't even allow him to hold her hand. Two teens explained how they were going to wait until they got married to do any of that stuff, let alone kiss on the mouth. The parents were laughing and joking around about how terrible the boy's stroke was and no one acknowledged the parallel. The girl  just said how she's fine with not holding hands or doing any of that icky sinful stuff because she's not a touchy feel-y person. Or maybe she's not into him, which is a distinct possibility. I mean, what if she's gay? Would that be okay? They would pray about it. They would pray for strength in fighting off the devil behind those thoughts.

And the parents were just encouraging their naive, completely inexperienced daughter to marry this similarly clueless kid who requires eight strokes to sink a ball.  It's depressing, because you think how far women have come and then you recall that there's still a huge pay gap and you look around at the people in power and they remain uniformly men and then you see shows like this where the girl is being groomed for disappointment and they're laughing about it. The guy is groomed for it too, but she will suffer more because she will be bound to these other rules they have like no birth control and she will be pregnant right away and always after three seconds of foreplay. If that. Maybe they should make a law that stats that you can't get married until you've slept with one another. Or until you're thirty, whichever comes first. Of course, maybe that's what's attractive about the show--it feels completely out of step with this time period. It's like watching Little House on the Prairie as a reality show except in this version, Ma Ingalls has never learned to push Pa off of her and uses a curling iron daily.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wherein Tweens Discover that Man Walked on the Moon

Enough with the videos on Facebook that are supposed to make me cry or render me speechless with wonder, because they almost never do. I mean, I still click on them sometimes, but usually only if the subject focuses on a dog or a cat supposedly doing something interesting, and then the interesting thing is usually not all that interesting. It's usually the animal walking on its hind legs. 

But what I see more and more now are links to older videos, as kids born in the nineties discover stuff that happened decades ago. For example, there was a link this morning  to Jane Goodall releasing a chimp into the wild. Jane Goodall spoke at my alma mater in 1991. That's when she was kind of in the cultural spotlight. I didn't watch the video link, because my guess is that she lets the chimp go and then it comes back and leaps into her arms again. I guess if you're still in your teens or early twenties, you may not realize that there are historical milestones most people older than you are familiar with and no longer shocked by.  Just because you never saw it in real life on actual television when it happened (because your parents were still wearing footie pajamas),  doesn't mean that it's not a familiar moment in American history.

It would be like linking to the following stories and thinking your readers had no clue that these things happened:

1. Amazing footage as man literally walks on moon for the first time ever.
2. Horrific assassination of American president, right in front of Jackie O.
3. Crowd goes wild for hip-thrusting star in spangly jumpsuit.
4. Baby rescued from a well turns out to be alive
5. Incredible high speed chase of famous basketball guy accused of killing his wife
6. Did you know there used to be an East and West wall in Berlin?

I can't think of any more, except the obvious ones like Nixon resigning and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Really, it's my fault for continuing to fall for videos that read, "Heart-warming story of side-burn wearing dog rescued from well after astronaut owner is shot and chased by East Berliners." 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Lambertville

We drove to Lambertville yesterday for a couple of hours to see the sights. In case you haven't heard of it, Lambertville is a small town near the Delaware River, somewhere off of I-95, very close to New Hope, so it's on the border of Pennsylvania. It's a cute town--not a cute little town, because it has a vibrant downtown and thriving antique businesses all over the place. Also, they have a Green Street consignment shop there; so you know it's a real place. The houses are great; these old Victorian style homes vs. the identical condo enclaves you see in Plainsboro and elsewhere.  I'm sure there's an extensive and history for the town, something about how the Lamberts came and conquered it and massacred the native people while wearing Daniel Boone raccoon hats and set up the first post office in 1881, etc.

Oh, actually, I just discovered that you can read all about it on the Lambertville Historical Society website. In my brief skimming of the text, I learned that it was an old factory town where they made everything from underwear to rubber bands, and possibly even scrunchies made of boxer briefs.

It's a good place to live if you appreciate antiques, which I don't. Since I know nothing about antiques and wouldn't ever be able to recognize a rare item, I distrust all antique dealers and imagine they are automatically marking up this junk by 500% so it will seem valuable. For example, yesterday I saw a kind of cool mirror. I mean, it was a little rusty and bent, but in this distressed way, but the price tag read $5,900.  It may be from a palace in Versailles, but unless you are the type of person who likes to explain that the crappy-looking mirror is a valuable jewel, why would you hang it up in your house?

We walked around and petted some dogs, and then we went to a just opened ice cream shop called OwowCow. You can read about it here and like their Facebook page here. It was so new that the building smelled like paint, which is maybe not something you want to be smelling while eating rocky road.

This is what it looks like on the inside, very modern.

It was a good find, and right across from a natural food store where again everything normal seeming (cereal, toothpaste) is marked up by 500% because it's presented in a recycled box.

My friend from work Adam met us and showed us a sofa he had left out on his front lawn. He also walked us almost the whole way to the town hardware store.

Then I was also able to take a picture of a cat in a window, though I had to make it quick, because the cat meowed loudly at me and I worried the owners were going to appear, demanding to  know what the hell I was doing.

Dan drove us home and I picked a fight about how impossible it would be for us to live there and how that was the only thing I wanted out of my life, alongside some animals and a little time to myself.  The case remains unresolved.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spa Day in New York

Yesterday, Dan, Luke, and I took the train to NY to meet Dan's family to celebrate his mom's 75th birthday. I always forget that you can be in New York in a heartbeat by jumping on a train--we hardly ever go. You have to buy tokens to park in certain sections at Princeton Junction, and for some reason, you must purchase these with cash, and they don't give change. I didn't read the instructions properly, put in a twenty dollar bill, and got back four tokens when, of course, I only needed one. Total scam--I'm sure that happens to people all the time and then you seldom end up using the extra tokens. Luckily, a lady came by and bought two of mine. We were fortunate also to get the top row of the train, which Luke was gunning for.

We got into Penn Station with no problems and headed to Bryant Park to meet everyone. It was a quick walk and the day was so warm and beautiful that I thought about leaving my winter coat hanging on a tree for someone else to find. Seemed like everyone in the park was also visiting from worlds away.

Not a great photo above--I was trying to capture this woman's cute red shoes, which had a heel. I would never choose to wear them to walk around the city, but I saw lots of women in similar styles, so maybe they're more comfortable than they look.

I took this photo because of the woman sitting on a chair to the right--an older lady with a suitcase, hat and coat. She was clearly waiting for someone and she looked like she had just stepped out of an Edith Wharton novel.

This couple was in front of me and it took me a while to figure out that they were mentally challenged. And in love. The guy talked a lot in this loud voice about nothing interesting, and then I wondered about the woman--like, would you get to a point where you were like, Okay, I know I'm supposed to date someone who has a similar mental capacity, but this guy is a blowhard.

We met up with Jodi, et al at Chipotle and then split up, as Jodi, Lillian and I headed for the Red Door Spa on 5th Avenue. Short walk, and we were there, in the lap of luxury. First, they take you back to this room where you remove your clothes and put on a plush robe and slippers (or you can leave on your pantyhose and shoes, as Lillian did. It's optional). Then, they lead you to the relaxation room where you can lay on these soft chairs and read trashy magazines and sip lemon water through a straw. Jodi curled up on a long window seat and fell asleep for 45 minutes, because her appointment was later. When she woke up, she said that really all she needed from her spa day was that nap.

I signed up for an eyebrow waxing and a 25 minute facial. I've never had a facial before, and was a little worried that the woman would spend most of the time popping blackheads. She did not. She told me that I have lovely skin, a little dry in places, and then she put hot wax on my eyelids and ripped it off. Here is me before the procedure. I never noticed before that I seem to be missing most of one eyebrow. I didn't opt for the eyebrow weaving procedure though, so she had to work around it.

And here are two versions of the finished product. I took the first photo and Jodi took the second.

Part of the time I was lying there on the warmed seat (which is like a dentist's chair only comfortable) and the woman was massaging my face and a machine was wafting hot air into my pores, I was split between feeling guilty that I was forcing this woman to pay such close and attention to my face, and thinking about how easy it would be for her to slit my throat. You feel vulnerable just prone there with you arms held down by heavy blankets. I promise that I did enjoy it, but from my usual split consciousness.

After the treatment, the Elizabeth Arden people do an optional make up refresh and Lana, the girl who did mine, had a cute pixie cut and liquid eyeliner. I asked her to make my eyes look just like hers. I tipped her four dollars.

Lillian had a full body wrap and something done to her hair that took two hours. She turned out beautiful.

And here we are in the cab on the way to Scarpetta in the meat packing district.

We all reconnected at the restaurant and everyone was on their best behavior, including Juliette and Emelia--we played tic tac toe and drew pictures and Emelia bested me in hangman several times. The food was incredible, especially the warm bread they brought that had pieces of cheese and pepperoni folded into it. We had something like five waiters taking care of us.

Afterwards, Dan, Luke and I hopped into a cab to head back to Penn Station, and I was reminded of my first time in a cab in Chicago, how precarious it seems, and how I just had to keep thinking, well, if we crash and die, I probably won't feel anything. You just have to go with the flow, man.

We caught the 8:03 train, which was crowded, but a nice man moved so that Dan and Luke could sit together. This is him. The woman sitting next to him later asked if she could borrow his laptop to look up something, and he very politely said no, he didn't have much of a charge left and needed to finish something before he arrived at home. It occurred to me that if he hadn't been so nice to us, I might have made the assumption that he was a jerk. The moral of this story is that saying no doesn't make you a jerk, it just means you know your limits.

Here's Luke and Dan on the ride home. A good time was had by all and now I want to go back next weekend and the next and the next.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tessa Hadley Explains Her Odd Short Story in The New Yorker

I just discovered the coolest, nerdiest thing--I wanted to write this blog post about "Under the Sign of the Moon," which is the latest Tessa Hadley short story in the March 17 issue of The New Yorker. I was basically going to write something about how I didn't understand the story--and then lo and behold, the online version has a section called, "This Week in Fiction" where they interview writers about the stories that have just appeared. I haven't read the author's explanation yet, so I'll say that the story starts with this older woman, Greta, who is on the train, going to visit her daughter in Liverpool. While she's traveling, she meets an odd young man dressed in this old-fashioned way, who seems to take an interest in her that's beyond the normal polite conversation. There's something about him that's unsettling, and he seems like he's spent lots of time in the company of older people. She tries to avoid him so she can just read her book, and she's also distracted with memories of her first love, this man she used to know and their love affair in Liverpool. That man, Ian,  is now dead and she's with someone else, but there are a few scenes of her remembering her time with him. I guess this sets us up for her encounter with the present day young man, but he seems very different from how she's described Ian. So, she eventually encounters the kid again at a bar and he has brought her a book, and all along, she doesn't quite trust him--she feels like he's putting on his behavior, acting like a chameleon of sorts to adapt himself to whomever he's around, but then you wonder if she's right or if she's projecting somehow. The story ends with him leaving in dismay after embarrassing himself by spilling a drink on her and then making a pass at her, despite their 30 year age difference, but the book he gives her has her name written in it, even though he didn't know her name from the train. It was his mother's name, he has told her earlier. But I don't know what to make of it. Is he some kind of ghost symbol from her past? But now, see, I can read what the writer has to say about it and try to find the answer.

Here is the interview, if you would like to read it for yourself. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Adam Made This

I see Kathy B. every day and she's the best. Here she is discussing her typewriter as captured by Adam's Videolicious app (the jury is still out about whether or not we like this app).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stealing Sugar

Stealing Sugar seems like it should be a title for a young adult novel about a girl and her quarter horse. 

But what I'm talking about is this part of me who still remembers being poor in Chicago--not poor like impoverished or needing food stamps, but poor like having five dollars in my checking account and a week left until pay day, living off of a waitress' salary and tips and somehow managing to pay rent and never really having any savings to speak of except for the annual $20 my grandma used to send me for my birthday.

And honestly, until Obama was elected and offered that tax break to buy a new house and I got $8,000 back, I never had more than $1,000 in savings. Getting that lump sum all at once somehow made it easier to squirrel the money and spend a part of it on house renovations.

But why then, when I'm nearly out of Sweet and Low for my morning cup of coffee, does my mind first go to the arduous task of stealing packets from the coffee shop? Not like a lot of them--you know, two extra with each purchase, while rationalizing that Starbucks can afford it. But then there's the elaborate palming of the extra packets and then, like, trying not to look around to see if anyone is paying attention and attempting to make it seem like this is the extra sweetener you will add after you've settled in at your desk. And then I'm thinking, but this only covers tomorrow's coffee--I'll have to keep up this sugar packet crime spree on a daily basis or go without.

And then this weekend, we went to the grocery store and I miraculously remembered to look for the packets in the baking aisle. And they're not at all expensive. You can buy 700 packets of Sweet and Low for about $1.36. I bought them and put them in my sugar bowl and thought, okay, we're safe again for at least another two months. Same goes for coffee filters, to an extent. I am almost out of them, and they come in packets of 500, so the last time I bought them was a year and a half ago. Also, they are practically free to purchase, but I was already calculating if maybe I could take some from work, after all, I bought those for work a while ago, so they are technically mine. Just go buy some more!

This is why people shop at Costco and this is why people get on the show Hoarders. Multiply my minor coffee-accoutrement anxiety by 1,000 for a real trauma, like having your house burn down when you were six and all of your pets dying and your stuffed animal collection turning to cinders and you can see how it would be difficult to let go of things.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Discovery

Went to the public library yesterday and was over-joyed to discover a new book by Sara Gran. She's a youngish writer whose heroines are often damaged (and sometimes they are heroines on heroin) and her endings can be shattering--I think I've written here about Dope and Come Closer. One of those--I forget which one--ended with the first person narrator dying, which I thought was a cheat. But she writes interesting plots with main characters who are damaged but not hopeless and never cloying and always active in trying to get what they want. This latest is the second in a series about a female detective named Claire; it's called  Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway.  I had a bad moment last night when I was reading it and wondered if maybe I had just erased the memory of having read it before from my mind. Like, I knew that I'd read one of her Claire books, and had this fear that I'd already read this one but that my memory is so bad, I didn't recognize any of it. To be fair, she did tread back over familiar territory by recounting how she came to be a detective and so there was some repetition of information.  But it wasn't until I read the back of the book and someone wrote how this was the sequel that I relaxed. I mean, the story line didn't seem familiar, but it has happened to me before that I've gotten twenty pages into a book and thought, Wait...Actually, that mostly happens with books by another similar writer, Kate Atkinson and also, it has happened with Sarah Waters. I think that's because I like those writers so much that when I see a book by them, I'm so excited to get to it that I block out the fact that I've been through it before. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

More Lists of Nonsense Advice

I know I've written about the list problem that exists online now, but it still bugs me.

BuzzFeed and related faux news sites have created this love of lists that goes beyond the "10 Things That Will Drive Your Man Wild in Bed" type articles that Cosmo has had on every magazine cover since they launched. Now, you can get these short snippets of life saving-ish advice via numerous shared links on Facebook, and the titles are usually a tempting promise to make a real difference or tell you something you must know---  "15 Short Cuts to Saving Money while Losing Weight," or "How to Sleep Better to Improve Your Brain Power" or else their just weird and possibly topics you could try to work into any dead conversation to liven it up like, "What Abraham Lincoln Kept in his Beard."

But then you click on the link and the lists are cliche ridden and not startling or interesting at all. The title will be like, "How to Be Happier Every Day," and the list (written in probably ten minutes by a staff college intern) reads: "Stop and smell the roses. No really. Research shows that people who pause in their day to appreciate things like the smell of roses live longer and have lower blood pressure."

And maybe, could I please be a little ageist here and claim that I don't really care what a 23 year old has to say about long term relationships.  I am skeptical of any 23 year old's claim to have advice for me, and especially if it's relationship advice, given that her longest partnership would have had to begin in 7th grade, before her brain stopped developing, and couldn't be much longer than ten years.  I saw one the other day that was like, "How I Met My Husband Online and Married Him in Two Months." (I honestly think this might have been in The NY Times style section. Please tell me I'm making that up).

All I could think was to say to the author, Get back to me in five more years. Let me know how it's going then.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Life Changing Event

I'm getting my hair cut today for the first time in almost a year. I just don't go for regular hair cuts. I don't know why. Partially, it's because I spent most of my kid hood wishing for really long hair, like Jane Seymour long, like to the floor long. And so I would never cut it and it would grow, but it would be all straggly and crazy. And then I would decide to get it cut and remember what it's like to have a hair style, but then slowly forget as the cut grew out and I started to want it long again. I really couldn't tell you how much of wanting it long was because I liked it that way, or because I thought guys liked it that way. I had a dream last night that my hair was to my waist and it surprised me, because and I hadn't realized it had been growing for that long.

I'm a little embarrassed to go to this new hair cutting guy, because I feel like I need to explain to him that I realize I have a bad dye job. That my hair is multi-colored and not in a good way. This is because I go gray so quickly and when you combine that with my impatience about taking half an hour to color it or not wanting to pay $100 to have it done every six weeks, you get something that is not of this earth. But I will resist the urge to apologize. I'm sorry, but I'm trying not to say "I'm sorry" so often.

Here is how it looks right now, today. Not as long as I thought. I will take a picture after and we can compare, but always say that the haircut looks much better.

The other thing that happens when I go to get my hair cut is that I am at the complete mercy of the stylist. I usually don't go in with an idea other than wanting it to look as beautiful as possible and requiring no care to have it remain that way. I basically just tell them to do whatever they want short of shaving up the back of my neck or giving me a bowl cut like I had for most of sixth grade.

Okay, here is the result. I do not know why my phone camera insists on this soft fuzzy lighting, but I'm sure it's something I could fix easily if I spent more than 30 seconds on it. This is me after the hair cut.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Puddin' Shelf

Dan noted the other day that we have a shelf in our refrigerator that contains only pudding. He is not wrong, but let me explain.  We bought three different kinds of pudding the other day to accommodate everyone's preferences--almond milk pudding for him, peanut-free chocolate for Luke, and low-fat tapioca for me. He called it the pudding shelf. He's been noting lately that since we moved in together, he gained about five pounds, because my grocery shopping habits tend to skew towards those of a twelve year old with her parent's credit card, whereas his skew toward a hummingbird (i.e. I return with treats like yogurt covered raisins and ice cream, and he returns with dried fruit and twigs). If you ask me, he needed to put on a little weight--mostly because it's humiliating for me to be with someone who weighs less than I do.

On the whole, I eat better now that we are together, because I have actual meals at dinner time vs. microwave popcorn and cheese. He cooks almost every night and I encourage him. So, I think there is some balance in the universe. He has allowed himself to indulge a little more and I've gotten used to vegetables at dinner time. We are growing together. And he is literally growing.

This morning, he couldn't quite get into his khaki's and he said, "You know how women call that extra roll above their pants a muffin top? Well, I have a puddin' shelf." I believe he then decided on a different pair of pants. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What Days Would You Relive?

I'm reading a short story from the March 17 issue of The New Yorker by T. Coraghessan Boyle called "The Relive Box."  I haven't finished it, because I keep getting interrupted by my book (Moss in No Country for Old Men got killed off last night with no fanfare. I knew that might happen, but his murder was so understated that I wasn't at first sure if he was killed or if it was a different victim). And I also haven't finished the story because I'm not in love with tales that have a futuristic angle. For example, I love George Saunders' short stories, but I didn't love that one story where you could buy those Russian slaves as decorations--can't think of the title now--they seem like an almost too obvious critique of how shallow and disconnected our culture has become. In any case, this story so far takes place in the not too distant future where you purchase a devise called the relive box. This is like a DVD player that allows you to sit quietly watching certain moments in your life like an observer. You can pick any date and time in your personal history and watch it play out, just like in a movie. You can also stop and pause and stare at a person's face or rewind or skip the boring parts or whatever. You can't change anything that happens, and you can't actually be there--you're watching your younger self in action, but you can smell, hear, and see everything that's going on. The narrator in this story opts to check out of his real life and spend most of his time in 1982 with his first love; neglecting his teen daughter, who wants to go back to being nine years old, before her mother left them.

But anyway, it makes you wonder what moments you might choose to go back to and watch again if given the choice. I imagine I would spend a lot of time in college, trying to figure out why I chased after so many disinterested theater boys. Or maybe I would pick being really little and living on the farm and hanging out with our German Shepherd, Oscar, who I loved more than people. I would like to see my grandpa's face again and my uncles when they were younger and working on their souped up Mustangs in the gravel drive way and my mom too--as a twenty year old with cat eye glasses and hair that got "did" at the local beauty parlor every Saturday.

But I think most of that would also be painful and sad; those people are far away from me now or gone for good, and as for my younger self--I can't imagine feeling any other way than dumb for not seeing that I should have expected more for myself than the scant attention of some theater kid tripping on acid who was just as lost as I was.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Character Choice

Oh, by the way, it's April Fool's Day, so beware of bad jokes.

I am still not done with No Country--maybe 35 pages to go, but it occurred to me yesterday, as I was reading the italicized first person chapters that (I think) are the thoughts of the sheriff, that I could write more of my fiction in other voices. I almost never try on characters who are not like me, which means, essentially, that my stories all center around some quirky white girl of varying ages who is searching for a home or connection.  I never write a story where the main focus is an older black man from Africa. And I probably never will, because to do that well, you have to be a genius.

I actually don't even like it when authors write in other genders; more specifically, when a male author tells the story from the first person perspective of like, an aging female prostitute. I don't mind it so much if the story is told via the third person perspective--Stephen King does this in a couple of his books and Ian McEwan does too. 

The thing is, you don't see it the other way that often. Like, you don't see that many women writers who decide they want to write as a five year old boy or a nineteen year dude or a thirty-five year old man. 

Hey, what do you know The Atlantic Monthly has a recent article about men writing from the female point of view. You can read it here.  The author mentions one book written by a woman that's told from both points of view, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I cannot recall if I've read that or not, but it does sound familiar. 

The guys in my stories tend to be based on ex-boyfriends and so they are all uniformly jerks. But the girls are jerks too. Sometimes, the women are even bigger jerks than the men.  And I did write a whole book with a boy in it who was really good kid for my final thesis. I killed him off though. I will never write a book from the point of view of a dog, I promise. I'll leave that to first-year writing students.