Friday, May 30, 2014

The Unattainable

We've been talking for the last several months about getting a dog, so much so that a part of me thought that maybe one would appear at Christmas, and when that didn't happen, I thought maybe it would occur on my birthday last week. No dice. Anyone who knows me for more than five minutes understands that I love animals, and especially dogs and cats, and then anyone who knows me for more than fifteen minutes learns that I miss my cats, who are now under the constant care and supervision of my mom back in Philadelphia.

I never had a pet growing up, unless you count fish, and I don't. To me, animals you can't pet or interact with are non-pets. Real fish are 1,000 times worse than say a stuffed pretend fish, because they require care and they appear to be trapped in these small containers and they don't interact and then they die, sometimes in dramatic suicide- like events where they throw themselves out of the tank, and you find them later, when you step on their dried up bodies and crack them in half. So, no thank you on the fish.

Cats are infinitely more engaging and, depending on the cat, they at least seem to notice that you exist, and will even run over and say hello when you walk in. But you can't really take a cat with you in the car and let it hang out the window, or take the cat on a hike or a bike ride or whatever, whereas dogs want to be your companions and they seem to really be into you. Maybe I would hate owning a dog. I can immediately become sad in thinking about having a dog and then having it for fifteen years and then having to put the dog down. That's where my mind goes. I think the act of buying a dog is sort of like telling the universe that you embrace heartache, you relish it, you are aware that this will only end in tears. But along the way, imagine how much fun you could have. ]

The breed I'm currently interest in is the Wheaten Terrier, because they are hypoallergenic, smart, and not crazily expensive like some of these golden doodles. And also, look at that face.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Medieval Ages

Until like, three days ago, I always thought of "middle ages" as a particular year---and then, only a year. I never contemplated the topic very closely, wanting to perpetually believe that I am about 23. I remember reacting with irritation when a colleague of mine was lamenting the fact that he was middle-aged at 40. I thought he was being overly-dramatic and that he should just go ahead an buy the convertible hot rod already. But then my friends and I were talking the other day and it dawned on me that "middle aged" is a span of time in your life, like the teen years, only closer to death. I'm not sure what decades signify middle age--is it 40s to 50s? Does it end when you qualify for social security? Or does it end when you start relating to the late night commercials about osteoporosis and Viagra? Do the middle ages begin the first time someone calls you "ma'am?" And then also, what are the thirties called? Pre-middle ages or post-college years? We need new terminology. And then the other day, when Peaches Geldolf died at 25 from what is likely some kind of drug overdose, I found a way to relate her death back to me, by thinking, I can no longer die young. If I died tomorrow, people would be like, "Oh, she wasn't that old!" But they wouldn't be like, "Oh, she was taken in the blush of youth." The blush of youth is gone.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Red Herrings

I don't know why it is over the last couple of years that I've forsaken most novels about love and family and coming-of-age for the one where ten girls are murdered and one troubled detective tries to solve the case while also struggling with her own demons. I've never really written any genre work around police investigations or crime. The closest I've come is that noir story for Philadelphia Noir. And yet I'm now reading almost only books that are Edgar Award winners or, more often than not, regular mysteries and detective stories that don't spend so much time nursing relationships. Escape, is that what these books are?

Anyway, I skimmed one the other day by Lisa Scottoline, a book my mom checked out from the Plainsboro Library and said was a page turner. She liked it okay, but said it wasn't the greatest, so I started it and was immediately suspicious of the set-up, and forced her to tell me if I 'd guessed the plot of the book within twenty pages. She said, no, no, the killer wasn't who I thought it was. But the writer so definitely wanted you to think something was off with these two characters, and so the scenes played this out in a way that I can only classify as cheating. Basic synopsis: a soldier comes home from the war to find that his wife is dead by suspicious suicide-ish circumstances, leaving behind their baby daughter. The dead wife's sister and husband take in the baby, because they can't have children and then they are weirdly territorial about not wanting the dad to be around the baby. To me, this suggests motive for murder, especially when they keep thwarting him from actually holding the baby or seeing the baby and when they bring up this weird custody document giving them guardianship, so there you have the red herrings, and most of the book is wasted on these pointless scenes, because, in the end, my mom was telling the truth--they had nothing to do with the murder, and it was some other random character who popped up in like the last 30 pages of the book. Cheater.

However, there was something moderately engaging about the writing, in as much as I wanted to know how it turned out and so I skim-read the last 200 pages in about half an hour to get to the end. You can do that. All you have to do is read like the first word in a sentence and see if there are an exclamation points in the paragraphs and if not, you can keep going. I got the gist of it and made it to the last page where they were all reunited and he got his baby back.

The other thing I'd like to point out to the publishers who I'm sure will see this post is that the cover should actually reflect the plot. The cover of this book shows a dad carrying a five year old daughter on his back, even though in the book's timeline, the baby never ages out of babyhood. That set up another poorly dealt with expectation as I kept waiting for the jump in narrative time that never happened.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fifty Steps Backwards for Women:The Newest Reality TV Show on Fox

The premise of Fox's newest reality show, I Wanna Marry Harry, is that you get together a bunch of single, moderately attractive American women who have been told that they're on a Bachelor type reality TV program with an eligible man, but that's all they know. As the show unfolds, they are introduced to the bachelor, who, in this case, is a doppelganger for Prince Harry. The producers work hard to make the set up plausible, by flying this look alike in on a helicopter, surrounding him with secret service guys, giving him a British butler ala Chris Harrison who refers to him cryptically as "sir," and situating it all in a stone castle. I mention all this to explain the total heinousness of the program, whose sole purpose is illustrate how stupid and desperate women can be. And it does seem pretty dumb to think that the Prince of Wales would agree to go onto a reality show to find his wife. If you know even a teeny bit about the royal family, you might question the plausibility of Queen Elizabeth and her entourage endorsing such an endeavor, even if meant that they would be raising money to save all the corgis in the world. But then you have to match that against the producers efforts to make it as plausible as possible. The upside of the show is that it only last for an hour, unlike The Bachelor, which stretches out for two to three to four hours. And then again, there is yet another reality show I saw a preview for that's a mixture of three shows in one--I can't recall the title, but it's honestly something like, Real Tiny Housewife Gypsies of L.A. It's about a bunch of rich little people with a lot of money. I guess they couldn't enough wealthy little polygamists hoarders living in California willing to go onto the show.

Kimberly questions whether on not it's really Prince Harry, because she can's figure out why the royal family would consider letting him hang out with a bunch of crazy Americans. Rose gets the first fantasy date and she comes to breakfast wearing cut off short shorts and a tank top. She is pretty bad, giggly and fake. The helicopter lands and Rose gets to go up it. They all have the same baby talk voices as if they've been sucking on tanks of helium in between takes. Rose and Prince Harry go to the Isle of White. I am not sure I can keep watching this though. It's super trashy. But is it trashier than The Bachelor/ette? That show has an antiseptic quality that this show lacks, and it's just as constructed, it tries harder to seem sincere--it tries harder to pretend that the contestants aren't just there for their 15 minutes of fame. Case in point, one of the girls just said, "Don't you dare call me a mean girl, you bitch." I don't think there is any swearing on The Bachelorette, but these girls drop the f-bomb with every shake of their booties.

Rose and Harry stand awkwardly in the water as his blinding white flesh causes her to fall into a sink hole.  He brings her back thankfully and the girls are pretending to know how to play croquet and to enjoy drinking tea. The producers make it seem like he has had to be whisked away for some security reason, but like, what would that be? Prince Harry has to be rushed back because...

Okay, that's it for me. I find it also too boring to write about because it's the same scene over and over.

Monday, May 26, 2014

One or None of These Men Could Not Be Her Husband

I don't know why the producers of this season hate Andi so much, having given her the biggest group of doofuses that have ever been on the show. Quick examples: knit cap in April, the Gold's Gym worker with the Dippety Doo hair style, no on owning a razor.

First date goes to Eric, who died later in supposedly unrelated para-sailing accident. It will be impossible to comment on this date in any kind of snarky way without sounding like a total jerk They are making sand angels and he did say, "I feel like we've already known each other for months already..." CBS has sent a helicopter for them to ride in and no pilot appears to be present. What if that was your job? The helicopter driver for The Bachelorette. Would that be depressing, or, if you were like me, would you bring it up in conversation whenever possible?


They go from sand angels to snow
boarding and Andi is way better at it than I would be, which means that she sucks. I am not saying anything about his eyes being really close together. They drink hot chocolate while sitting on an giant orange sled, which is foreshadowing for them going down the mountain together and that's also not how he died, but did this show, with all of its fake risk-taking, inspire him to go on the para-sailing adventure that would lead to his death? Like, before this show, was he timid-ish and the show inspired him to take chances, leading to him hitting the side of a mountain? On the other hand, his job title is "explorer," so this is probably not the case.

At their romantic date on Bear Mountain, Eric tells a story about how he watched a bunch of people get killed in Syria and had to hide from some men with grenades. Way to set the mood for a kiss. Andi makes a sad face with her mouth turned down to show that she is listening. Will she have a cold this whole season or does she always sound like she has post nasal drip? Eric describes how he wrote a text to his parents telling them that he loved them and then he also didn't get killed. That time. Andi has only been to Vegas and so she can't really relate. His goal is to travel to every single country, but his biggest goal in life is to have a family. And to get another peluka bracelet. She gives him a rose and then they go to the fireplace and roast marshmallows on a huge three pronged instrument with really sharp points. He does not get impaled on one of them, thankfully.

Group date with these jerks. They are going to have to learn how to become strippers. If they had them women doing this, I would be freaking out. Oh, I was just reminded that the women did have to get naked for a photo shoot in Andi's season. Cody will totally be into this, since he showed up fully slick with baby oil and wearing a wife beater. I HATE how muscular he is--it's obnoxious. (Another knit cap). All of the proceeds from the strip show go to men who have blown a gasket from lifting weights that were too heavy for them, so again, Cody will be supportive. Emily, don't read this next part, but I'm dying to know: will they have to shave "down there?" Do they know how itchy that can be later? One poor guy has to dress as the tin man in a costume that someone's mom made and it's way too big.  The other guy is stuffing his package though acknowledging that he doesn't want to support false advertising (please see previous post regarding shoe size). Marcus is pretending to be shy and freaked out, but he really loves it. He's dressed as Tom Cruise in a Few Good Men and has obviously done this work before to pay his way through salon school.

Who is this guy with the black eye? He's a gym coach, I guess. Brian, who loves to wears khaki dockers, has continued to be impress Andi, though I am not sure why. The baseball player wants her not to stereotype him as a dumb jock, while at the same time acting just like one. "You are beautiful, and I like you for that. girl." Craig is getting shit-faced and so will be kicked off. Chris gets the next one on one date. He is not really a farmer. Unless you count having a collection of cacti in his LA apartment being a farmer. Another opera singer! It would be great if after he finished the song, she just goes, "Here's Sharlene's number. Call her." The drunk guy jumps into the pool with all his clothes on, including his white sneakers. Andi is flabbergasted by his behavior, as if she's never once in her life been to a frat party, a bar, or an outdoor bbq with her. They are acting like he just took a dump on the marble floor and then used his finger to try to spell out Andi's name with it. Get a grip.

Chris is preparing for his one on one by trying to "put lipstick on a pig." I hope he's not going to spend the date trying to sound like a farmer and talk about John Deere tractors and fertilizing things. His neck may be too big. She arrives to the date costumed as Eva Perron.

They go to the horse races because of course where else would you take a farmer? He wears a bow tie and looks like a super handsome version of Pee Wee Herman. With a thicker neck. Blow your nose, Andi. They meet an old couple, also dressed as the senior citizen versions of Perron and Herman (the old guy also wears a bow tie).  Swanky race music plays in the background. Andi likes the fact that he's sweet and here for the right reasons and she politely doesn't mention the obvious fact that he is sweating like a....race horse! Here comes the story where he almost got married, but then he accidentally ran over his girlfriend with a combine (this is also not how Eric died though). His bow tie is getting limper and limper as he tells this half-assed story about asking his country girlfriend to marry him when he didn't feel it in his gut. She gives him a rose, but it's actually not just a single rose; it's one of those wreaths you give when your thoroughbred wins the triple crown. Cue the Dave Matthews Band or whoever this guy is with the Amish beard. He kisses her and she  keeps bending farther and farther backward to avoid it until her hair bun is almost sweeping the floor.

Final cocktail party and all the guys pretend to be nervous, including Nick S., pro golfer, who will most definitely be kicked off. She has her hair down and wavy like a brunette mermaid who needs a better support bra. Nick V. gives her a date card. He has a checked shirt with un-matching handkerchief, which I think is kind of charming. He immediately brings up his parents, so that's less charming. She says that it feels like he's reading her mind right now, even though he just said he wished they hadn't made him shave his balls. Was THAT what she was thinking? The black guy steps in; he is totally clashing with a flowered tie and checked shirt and striped socks. Like, pick one bit of flair, this is not a TGIFridays audition. She finds him hilarious, she says, reinforcing the African American as comic trope. Someone else breaks plates and another does tricks with his socks. For real. The baseball player basically tells her to help him stop talking and he puts his hand over her entire face, again reinforcing the stereotype of the baseball player who abuses his girlfriend. He says he has "putter flies" in his stomach. Shouldn't the pro golfer make that claim? Craig the drunk guy plays the guitar to show how sorry he is about doing too many shots and jumping into the pool, and the chorus goes, "Oh, Andi, please let me stay." So sad. And then he starts drinking again.

The only question on my mind is: when will her titty pop out of that dress?

Final rose ceremony. The farmer and the dell are safe because they got roses on their one on one dates. Chris cautions that this is where it gets tough. Who is this guy with the crooked smile? One of the black guys will go home, as will Cody, I hope.

First rose: Ron. Wait, that's one of the black guys.
Second rose: Dylan. His hair is too slicked back to hide the balding spot, but he's still cute.
Third rose: J.J. Crooked smile.
Fourth rose: Marquel. The other black guy!
Fifth: Andrew, who needs to shave like 75% of them.
Sixth: Tasos. The Latino man. He does not say "si" when he accepts the rose, as Dan anticipated. Racist.
Seventh: Josh?
Eighth: CODY? She is a fool!
Ninth: Bixie? Who is Bixie? He got the first impression rose as well.
Tenth: Badger.
11th: Brian
12th: Breck. I cannot understand what she is saying.
Final rose: Chris reminds them that there is one rose left. Baseball player will get it. She holds it up like a divining rod. It's Bradley the too serious and too old for her opera singer, who is dressed as Clark Kent. The baseball player who face palmed her will be going home? Or was he safe from getting a rose before? No clue.

Going home: Drunk guy, guy with the fake glasses, and some other dudes. She makes a sad face at the guy with the Buddy Holly glasses whose body is covered in tattoos like that guy from Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. What's his job, snake charmer? Also, are vests back in? Guy  who is most obviously losing his hair and wearing a pink shirt goes back to Kississimee, Florida.Craig seems like a good guy to have at your bachelorette party, but maybe not on your bachelorette show. Maybe now he will finally be convinced by his friends and family to attend an AA meeting? Why does she keep saying "ya'll?" Is that to remind us all that she's from the South? Who cares?

Oh, no, next week, the show is on for two full nights. If you minused the previews, replays, and commercials, you could have it done in 45 minutes.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Oh, No. The Bachelorette is On

I was at my mom's house with my bestest long lost friend visiting from Idaho via Iceland on Monday, and so unable to blog for the season premiere of The Bachelorette, but we did watch it. About ten minutes in to it, my mom said, Why are you watching this when all you're doing is making fun of it? That's the whole point, mom.

Synopsis of two hours of nonsense: No variation in approach or style. They still say, "I'll see you inside!" every time. The guys were nothing to write home about, unless you were wanting to write home to say how average and douche-y each one was. Can you say that each one was more douche-y than the one before? The show is led by 26 year old criminal prosecutor attorney cum Land's End model, Andi Dorfman. She's a pretty straight-forward brunette with a kind of softball-playing persona who will nevertheless cry 15 times over the next several weeks as she's forced to go in helicopters, jump off waterfalls, kiss on the beach with fish flopping at her feet, perform at a One Direction concert, etc. As far as the intros go, it blows my mind that the people being introduced don't spend a little more time coming up with a better introduction. Like, you have at least a couple of weeks notice that you'll be on the show, why not spend some time finding an interesting way to say hello? Bring a baby picture of yourself dressed in drag of whatever.
Remember Ricky Schroeder? This is him in the movie version of LLF with the exact same haircut as the doctor guy. 
One guy brought her the hotel lamp, another gave her these creepy voodoo dolls, another guys with a Little Lord Fauntleroy haircut announced that he was doctor and then diagnosed her as being too hot. I think she ix-nayed all of these guys, but for some reason, kept the guy with the shitty mo-hawk who looks like he's the receptionist at Gold's Gym.

"You want I should spot you on that machine?"
OMG, in searching for this picture of Cody (above), I stumbled on the "cast member" headshots and brief bios from the show. The guys all have to list their shoe size?? That is ridiculous, and yet perfect. It's like they're cattle, in a way. Which breed is the best one for her? Two of the guys list Led Zeppelin as their favorite band and they all seem to love Dumb and Dumber.

I can't guarantee I have the stomach for this next season, but I will try.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wherein the I Do Not Know What is Happening

I'm attempting to read The Janissary Tree and it's largely incomprehensible to me--like, I'm not sure what's happening ever. In part, that's because my brain shuts down whenever I'm faced with geographical or historical details, or anything involving the military. I tend to quickly go into skim mode and lose the thread of the story or the significance of the pause in action.

A sentence like "Along the rolling hills, just west of the banks of the Tigris-Euphrates, the General Zwick of the Napoleonic army commanded 500 men to hoist their bayonets above their heads and engage in one of the most strategic battles in the Crimean War" has me folding down the corner of the page and possibly throwing the book across the room. I tried very hard last night to keep focused on the action and the asides, but the best I can tell you is that the book is about a(n?) eunuch trying to solve a few murders that have occurred near a sultan. Said murders may or may not be the work of a fringe political group, the Janissaries, who have named themselves after a type of tree that means something significant.

Perhaps I'm frustrated because I know that I won't be able to guess the murderer or motive since I can't follow the story line or identify the main players except for the eunuch. I'm sticking with it because I don't have anything else to read at the moment and because it was an Edgar Award winner, but for the record, I'm not enjoying it very much.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Brother Did It

Dan Chaon wrote one of my favorite short stories ever, "Fitting Ends."  I stole some of the ending of the story for a couple of my own stories, where the narrator tells you how the story ends, and it all wraps up well and then you realize that the conclusion is not true, it's just the ending the narrator wishes had happened. I haven't read Fitting Ends in a while, but I remember that it's about two brothers.  One dies or runs away (Dale?) and the other brother feels responsible for his demise, like he betrays his sibling and sets in motion this chain of events that lead to his bad ending. In this way, it's similar to what Briony does in Atonement. Maybe I should write a story where the narrator believes some tragedy is her fault and the reader knows that really, the whole thing would've turned out badly regardless of how she behaved.

Last night, I finished Chaon's Await Your Reply. In this book, there are three different stories happening at one time--a young girl runs off with her high school teacher, a kid reunites with his deadbeat dad to start stealing identities online, and a twin searches for his missing schizophrenic brother who may or may not have murdered their parents. You think that all three stories are happening simultaneously and that they'll intersect at some point, where the twin will meet the young girl or whatever, but this never happens, because you realize at the end of the book that two of the characters (the high school teacher and the deadbeat dad) are the actually the same person, the lost twin the other brother has been seeking. Surprise! I didn't see that coming and wasn't even exactly sure what happened even as it was being described. My thoughts are that it was interesting throughout, and ultimately unresolved and unsettling, because the brothers never found one another and

Here is an interview with him from The Believer. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Writing Poetry is a (Ginger) Snap (Trap)

This is an essay I wrote for the last issue of Philadelphia Stories about poetry. 
  
Here's how you start a poem. First, find a subject matter that’s dear to your heart (and try to work the phrase “dear to your heart“ into the poem if you can). Possible topics include: death of your grandma, death of your cat, death of your friend’s hamster, death of your virginity. Once you have a topic, begin constructing your lines with the intent to confuse the reader. Never use an obvious word when you can choose a mysterious one. For example, instead of writing the word “yellow” substitute “corn,” so that a line that could read “her hair glowed yellow” will instead be more intriguing as “her hair glowed corn.” The whole point of poetry is to prove that you are smarter than your reader; you want the person reading your poem to wish she could call you up and ask, “What did you mean when you wrote ‘with moon so deep the harvest purple’?”

Rhyming is also something I highly recommend, my friend. A poem isn’t really authentic unless you are able to easily memorize it and rhyming helps with this goal, along with making the poem lyrical (the evidence is empirical). See? Easy-peasy. Be careful of making your poem sound too much like a limerick. You can avoid this by just never starting with the line “There once was a man from Nantucket.”

Another thing these poetry people talk about endlessly is line breaks. When should you break a line of verse? I vote for whenever you feel like it, but preferably when you: (1) run out of space on the line; (2) are trying to make the poem into a particular shape, like a cat’s head for a poem about Halloween; (3) have a word like “the,” “and,” or “or.” Again, it goes back to leaving the reader wondering, “Why did he want the emphasis to be on the word ‘because’?” Well, that’s for you to figure out, dear reader. Poets aren’t required to know what they mean; they must only know what they feel and put that down on paper for us to puzzle over. Have you ever met a poet in real life? If you haven’t, go to any coffee shop right now and look for the man in the flannel shirt who hasn’t shaved or combed his hair for three days or the woman in striped stockings rocking back and forth in the corner with three pencils sticking out of her top knot. Those are poets and they need caffeine to access the Muse. Caffeine and Internet access to do Google searches to find words that rhyme with “ennui.”

Lots of teacher-like people recommend that fledgling poets read the masters—sonnets by Shakespeare, the nature writers, Emily Dickinson, Muhammad Ali, Jack Handy. But I disagree. Reading other poets leads you either to feel like you can never be as good as they are or to believe you could do even better. I once read a poem by T.S. Eliot and ended up accidentally copying him for a homework assignment by turning in a poem entitled “The Dumpland.” So, it’s dangerous to read other writers. You could be accused of plagiarism by your English teacher Mrs. Bytheway (I swear that was her real name), or worse, be expected to continue to produce more poems as good as, if not better than, your faux original.

I’ll leave you with the immortal words of one of my personal favorite poets, Pat Benatar. I think her advice about writing and love is a slam-dunk bull’s eye for all aspiring writers, big and small. “Hit me with your best shot. Come on, hit me with your best shot. Fire away.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

Whole Rudeness

Met Dan at Whole Foods in Princeton for lunch today, and had two negative encounters in the store within ten minutes.  The first one wasn't even directed at me. Dan ordered a tea from the dreadlocked guy behind the gelato counter and the guy said, "What size?"

Dan said, "Tall."

The guy made a face and said,"Man, just so you know, if you order it that way again, you're going to take a lot of shit from the staff. That's not what we call it here." The dude then turned to this lady who was sampling gelato and said, "I already told you that's coconut. I am not lying to you." 

I thought we had descended into another retail world, like Lowe's where you expect none of the people working there to want to talk to you. I get that it sucks to be in the service industry and this guy is sick of people using Starbucks lingo, and maybe he's studying to get his PhD in linguistics and hates how corporate America has bought the colloquial speak of the masses, but I mean...

The second act of rudeness wasn't from a store employee. I decided to write a complaint about the guy (because my life is so small now), but I didn't want to do it directly, so I was waiting at customer service for the person there to be free, and a lady came up next to me and started to say to the guy, "Excuse me--" and I interrupted her and said, "Wait a second. I was here first."

She said, "Oh, my God, I just wanted to ask a question."

I said, "Me too. I am stranding here waiting to ask a question too." Then of course my question required the guy to run off to find the comment form, and so I stood there next to the lady, staring off into space and hoping she wasn't gathering together her thoughts to say something nasty to me. As soon as I saw that he had the form, I sprinted toward him to get away from her.

I do not like confrontation, but I also do not like this "me first" attitude that I see all the time--mostly on the road when cars will cut you off or pull out in front of you, knowing that it will cause you to have to slam on your brakes. I actually flicked someone off today because he kept driving at exactly my same speed so I couldn't move over into the turn lane. 

Ultimately, though I wrote out the complaint about the rude guy at the gelato counter, I didn't turn it in. I don't know his story or if he had a crappy day or he just learned that his band got dropped from the label or his mom is sick or whatever.  But more than that, I mostly didn't want to be the kind of person who writes out a complaint while buying a $4 smoothie. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Vine by Grybowski that Represents Life

I can take partial credit for this because this is my coffee maker. It has stopped working.

He would like me to be sure to mention that this is a metaphor for life. How, like, you just keep pushing the button even when you know something is not working and it makes a bad buzzing noise.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Shallow Thoughts on Writing

I'm reading this nonsense book by Jack Handey (the guy from SNL who writes the "Deep Thoughts" pieces as in "just as bees will swarm about their nest to protect their honey, so will I swarm about my basket to protect my chocolate eggs). Okay, that wasn't very funny, but sometimes, they are. His book is called The Stench of Honolulu and it's just goofy, making fun of the hard boiled detective genre and having a joke of some kind in every paragraph. It reminds me that writing is supposed to fun, not painful. Or that you can write to make yourself laugh, which I can do sometimes.

 Here's an excerpt from the book( 3 paragraphs melded together):
When my friend Don suggested we go on a trip to the South Seas together and offered to pay for the whole thing, I thought, Fine, but what's in it for me? I had been dating this woman and we were really being in love. I can't remember her name right now, but she's great. I knew Don would ask me again. He doesn't have a lot of good friends. That's because he doesn't hang around in bars a lot, like I do. That's where you make really good friends, in bars., Don spends most of his time at work. He's a counselor for deranged children.
 I suppose I could try to write something funny for the funniness of it, like David Sedaris does sometimes. We were just talking about his newsletter concept from Barrel Fever, "Seasons Greetings to Our Friends and Family."  That's the story that's written like one of those annual mass Christmas family newsletters from an overly cheerful mom. In  his story, the mom has some not so great news about her husband and an exchange student, but it's all spun with a maniacal positivity and many exclamation marks!!!!!!

Maybe I will try that for me next writing project.

You can listen to part of the Sedaris story here, read by Julia Sweeney (also from SNL) for "This American Life."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Wherein I Read 4 Chapters of a Book and Find It Not to My Liking

Had an impulse book grab at the Plainsboro library yesterday as we were checking out with a movie. We went there so that Luke could get his own library card, even though he has one for Princeton--at least he and Dan can now go get movies if they want them over the summer. The movies there are free, as long as you return them within four days (aside, we got Spiderman 3. If you haven't seen it, don't bother. Tobey Macguire, whom I usually like,  couldn't be less palatable of convincing as a superhero, and there are like fifteen subplots, now of which make much sense and then movie is also about fifteen hours long).

Anyway, I grabbed this book after just a cursory glance, catching the phrase, "as good as Alfred Hitchcock," but later, after reading the actual plot synopsis on the book flap and the first few chapters, I decided that it wasn't for me.

The plot involved a judge who dies on New Years Eve in his office, and his two legal assistants who decide not to tell anyone, because of some weird rule that if a judge dies, his employees must get paid for the remainder of what's left for the year (is that for real?). But of course, if he dies on Jan. 31, that only means four more hours for the assistants before they're hanging in the wind. I can see how the writer probably thought this was a brilliant concept on which to base a story, but maybe it's because I am not into courtroom-type dramas (having overdosed on John Grisham in high school), or maybe it's because the plot seemed too contrived, but I decided to go ahead and skip to the end to see how it worked out (the bad guy was killed, and the other assistant fell in love with a clerk and was rescued). Then I thought about how the writer might feel, knowing that his book, this thing he probably worked on for at least a few months, was picked up and discarded in less than twenty minutes. And then I imagined the writer shrugging and going, "Hey, if she doesn't like it, that's fine. There are plenty of people who do like it, like my agent and the publishing company." But you can't guilt me into reading a dumb book. There are too many good ones out there to waste time on one that makes you roll your eyes.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Story idea

I want to write a short story where the title is "She Got Fat." Start with that title and the first few sentences, something like, "Somewhere along the way, Marjorie had gotten fat. It hadn't happened all at once, but slowly, over the course of several years and two babies and however many Boston Cremes from Dunkin Donuts."

Or maybe it's not about Marjorie, but it's about that phenomenon that occurs almost exclusively on Facebook now where you connect with friends from high school or college or wherever and you haven't seen them in ten or fifteen years, and the first thing you think is, Oh, my God, she got fat.  And also, Oh, my God, she got old. And "she got fat" and "she got old" can't be happening to me, because even though others might be balloon up around the face and getting this crusty middle age look, I can't possibly be among them because I'm still about seventeen years old. RIGHT?

In the olden days before you were able to digitally review your past and that of all of your acquaintances, was it only at high school  reunions and funerals that you ran into people you hadn't seen for years and had that same experience? And so, then, the rest of the time, were people able to be in a little more denial about their age or looks, because they weren't constantly being nudged by reflections of themselves in the form of the former captain of the cheer-leading squad and her toad-like husband?

Most of the time, when I see pictures of myself, if they haven't been choreographed from above at a certain angle and with that really good lighting that you get in some of the higher end dressing rooms (lighting that makes you look gorgeous in any outfit, and that I wish I could carry around with my like an umbrella wherever I go), I don't like the way I look. I have this double take, like, That's me? That's my body? That's my face? Those are my crooked little teeth? Dear god. And that's when I go to take 150 selfies, erasing each one until I have a version of myself that's filtered and palatable.

This one only took about 10 tries.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Bark, by Lorrie Moore

I've been waiting for Lorrie Moore's newest collection to come out (let's be real, I've been waiting to be able to check it out from the library--I didn't buy it), and then yesterday, in between doctors appointments, I found it at the li-berry. If you haven't heard of it, the title is Bark, and it contains eight short stories, the first of which is pretty long and could almost be a novella.

Padhraig read it too, and he finds her verbal cleverness and word play to be distracting sometimes; I don't usually have that problem with her stories, but I know she's prone to writing characters who are academics and say nerdy, funny things. This collection is...maybe not as interesting as others? Maybe less shiny? It's not like she's trying to hard, it's like she's not trying much at all. Like her agent said, Snap, snap! We need a book. And she coughed up these stories while also maintaining frequent status updates on Facebook (I could be projecting).

I've only been able to resist reading what others think of it for about twenty five seconds. The New York Times doesn't love it or hate it. I will finish the collection and possibly let you know what I think after I've read them all.