Friday, April 29, 2011

Books I Want: Green and The Beatles Cookbook

I've never read Jay Lake before, but I've heard a lot about him, and this book looks incredible. The writing in the first chapter is very deliberate, squeezing in tons of information without making it an overload.

It's about a girl who doesn't remember her name, who is sold by her father to become a courtesan and an assassin. That right there is all I need to go holy crap I need to read this! There is also magic in this book, and gods who meddle with people (think Greek myth).

I found this book on our sale table at work. We've been clearing out lots of used books and sometimes little gems like this pop up. I bought it right away. I haven't actually made any of the recipes yet, but it's good as a humor book too. There are recipes like With a Little Help From My Frankfurters, I've Just Stuffed a Steak, And I Love Herb, I Saw Her String Beans There, I Am the Eggplant, We Shall Shrimp and Save... You get the idea.

There are little tidbits to go with each recipe, plus extra trivia about The Beatles and pictures throughout. There's a two-page spread on John Lennon and the number 9, a list of the artists who've covered Day Tripper, and the history of the song Eleanor Rigby. The list goes on, as does the book. I think we may have to have a Beatles-themed move-in party after we get a place in Wisconsin.

My favorite recipe title so far? Penne in the Squash With Onions (after Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Alien-Infused Rubber

Today begs an entry of lighter heart than the last one, so I present you with a random list I discovered, made by myself nearly four years ago, when I was living and taking classes in Chicago.

From beginning to end, the list says:

1. Postcard piece: "stay in touch"
2. McDonald's drink holder
3. translucent leaves
4. combination of postcards
5. painting over them
6. making new art from old art; making it original
7. What the hell was the idea in the rubber?
8. Site of former: a beacon easily overlooked
9. stages of a relationship: artists & personal

Even if this did make sense once upon a time, it's still likely the most bizarre thing I've ever written. At first, it seems to be either ideas for an art project or a description of someone else's "found art" project. But then number 7 comes along.

I have no idea what the "idea in the rubber" is supposed to be. If it does have something to do with the rest of the list, it would suggest that found-art project has rubber in it, and the rubber made no sense to me. That or there's an idea literally hidden in the rubber and I couldn't extract it. Or maybe it's supposed to be like "the proof is in the pudding" (whatever that stupid phrase means, plus pudding is a bad place to hide stuff because people eat it). It could be a metaphor for... something. A metaphor for the idea being stuck in my bouncy head and I couldn't get it out to describe it? No clue.

The next line, you'd think, might provide a clue, but it seems to talk about the rubber's location more than anything else. And why wouldn't you overlook the almighty beacon that is rubber?

I know this has something to do with an art exhibit or something that we went to, but the thing that makes most sense to me is that at the exhibit, I had started my list and then an unusual rubber dripped on me from the ceiling, causing my brain to freak out. The rubber melded with my skin and became a separate brain, full of its own ideas and fusing with my nervous system to take it over.

I became a supervillain.

What I wrote down on that list continued to be ideas from my own brain (not from the external rubber skin-brain), and my brain couldn't connect to the rubber in any way and was completely out of the loop. Number 7, therefore, is my brain trying to figure out what the rubber was doing to me.

Meanwhile, the rubber skin-brain took me on a rampage of the city, destroying various art venues full of snooty pretension and splashing their precious wine on passersby. I became known as Rubbergirl, and such a ridiculous name was still able to strike fear in the hearts of vain artists everywhere. Real-life superheroes like Cory Doctorow tried to fend me off in fear that I'd take on the Internets next, but the rubber made me nearly invincible.

My real brain continued trying to work something out with number 8 on the list, which gave clues about where the rubber came from and what it wanted with me - why it was here. I remembered the rubber had dripped from a flying saucer-shaped skylight - it was infused with an alien presence! I was being bodysnatched! I had to hurry and disconnect it from my system before it took over everything!

But the problem was how connected it was to my nervous system - it was gaining more and more power, and I had little to no means of fighting it. In lucid moments when my brain still had control, I attemted to rip the thing from my arms, tear it from my legs, to no avail.

At this point the alien living in the rubber realized I'd become a threat and began its move to replace my human brain with the entirety of its rubber self. I continued to struggle, as you can see in number 9 - I tried to guess where the rubber infused with alien presence would strike next. But that last word - "personal" - is where my brain was finally overpowered, because clearly the alien wanted nothing to do with my personal connections.

It wanted my artistic connections, so it could sneak in undetected at art openings and galleries to spread its vile hatred throughout the city. Really, the alien could not have chosen a worse host, because I have practically zero artistic connections. But I wasn't going to tell it that. It could find out on its own, for all I cared. It probably tossed my real brain in a garbage dump somewhere to make room for its rubber self.

Number 10 on the list is blank because most aliens don't know English, and it didn't have my brain to draw on for that knowledge anymore.

That's what I think the list means, anyway. Makes the most sense.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Shouldn't Have To

I am afraid of many things.

I am afraid of change. I am afraid of sharp objects. I am afraid of things without shape and questions without answers.

But I shouldn't have to be afraid of walking a block and a half across a nice campus on a Tuesday night.

The bookstore held a poetry event on the local campus tonight. Spousal Unit and I also live on said campus, so it was a hop, skip, and a jump away for me to walk home - a much shorter walk than usual. Several coworkers inquired if I would like a ride, and I assured them I would be fine and went on my merry way.

Two steps after leaving them, I called Spousal Unit, as I always do when walking home. Yes, I call him because I love him, but I also call him just in case someone who sees me should have mischief on his mind - something I learned while living in Chicago. My being on the phone sends an immediate signal that if you mess with this girl, someone will know right away. It says "pick a less obvious target" without my having to wear spiked shoulder pads and brass knuckles.

Women, by and large, tend to worry about certain things more than men. Among those things, the largest fear at night, when alone, is the fear of being raped. Usually it's in the back of the mind, but when you're alone and someone you don't know yells at you in the dark, it comes immediately to the forefront.

So when I was walking through a small parking lot behind graduate housing, with my apartment in sight, and someone with a deep voice yelled, "Yo, bitch!" my first thought was, Don't turn around - don't show your panic. Get away as fast as possible.

"Someone's yelling at me, someone's yelling at me," I said to Spousal Unit, voice quiet but panicked.

I should not have to worry about things like this.

It didn't stop at that. Next thing I heard was, "Yo, bitch in the white dress! I'm talkin' at you!"

I should not have to worry about what he might want to "say" to me.

"What's going on?" Spousal Unit was starting to freak out - his voice held that tense, no-nonsense tone.

I kept my pace and didn't turn around, knowing that if I stopped, if I stuttered, if I acknowledged this voice at all it would only cause me trouble. My best bet was to get out of the parking lot, under a street light, around people. Home, which I could see from where I stood, behind a locked door.

"I'm going across the street," I told Spousal Unit, "and when I get to the park I'm going to run. Please come outside!"

Around the bend of the other graduate apartments, I picked up my pace, fairly certain that the faceless yeller could no longer see me. I heard no approaching footsteps as a car drove by ahead of me. I hitched my skirt up enough to free my feet and ran.

"What's going on? Where are you? Which stairs are you coming up?"

Spousal Unit was frantic now. I picked up speed, still not daring to look behind me, and I saw Spousal Unit tear down the stairs and turn to the park. When I saw him, I was a bit relieved, but still terrified.

"What's going on?"

"Let's just get upstairs, let's get inside, now."

We raced up the stairs. I slammed the door, he locked and chained it, then pulled the blinds and turned off the outside light.

I write this about an hour after coming through that door, but I still don't feel safe. My heart is still in my throat. I'm afraid of the what ifs in what just happened. I'm afraid of what if the Faceless Voice saw where I ran and watches for me later. I'm afraid of the 33 percent of rapes that happen in the daylight, the 40 percent that happen in the victim's home.

When this happened, I could see my home from where I stood. I shouldn't have to be afraid.

Campuses everywhere need better lighting. I don't care if it's a campus on the sun; there need to be more lights. Light discourages would-be offenders; in the light, a victim can get a glance of her attacker and report him later. It makes women feel safer - and men, too.

Campuses need better layouts. The parking lot I was in was sequestered between four buildings with no clear view of the street - something that didn't occur to me when I walked through there because I've walked that path so many times before. I've walked that path with Spousal Unit and felt no fear. I walked home from work five days a week in the winter, in the dark, for the last three years, without incident.

But I couldn't make it one fifth of my way home tonight before I was more terrified than I've been in years. Yes, I've been in a situation like this before. It is never any better.

Half the problem tonight was the manner of address, too. It doesn't take a genius to know that someone whose salutation is "Yo, bitch" isn't planning to offer his arm to walk you home.

I am tired of being disrespected. It is 2011. Our advances as a society are incredible. Our technology, our science, our understanding of the world, are immense. Rights between genders are so much improved. What makes it so difficult for us to respect each other and help one another live our lives to our fullest and best potential? What makes us so angry and mean?

Why can't we help instead of hurt?

This has always been one of my deepest confusions about mankind. It burns me so deeply that people will steal, cheat, lie, kill, or just invoke fear for the hell of it. Whether it's in the name of religion, out of anger, for revenge, or because some part of them loves seeing another human being in pain... I just don't understand it.

If we each - every human being on Earth - were granted the compassion and desire to help one another, would the next generation grow up with that desire as well, or would everything collapse on itself again? It doesn't matter; it's not going to happen. But that doesn't stop me from wishing it would.

I should be able to walk two blocks home without fearing an attack. Girls should be able to work with a male coworker without fearing slimy behavior, without the fear of being branded "girl who cried rape" and losing future job prospects. Women (and men) everywhere should be able to feel safe at home, at work, with their friends, or anywhere they go without fearing disrespect or worse. I know that's not the way the world is, and maybe it's naive of me, but we should not have to fear other human beings by instinct.

Next time it's late and a coworker offers me a ride home from work, I'll accept it.

But I shouldn't have to.

Sunset with a Side of Tenderness

A brief foray into my relationship with Spousal Unit: he had a desktop wallpaper up of the scene from Empire Strikes Back where Han and Leia are about to kiss onboard the Falcon. So I started reciting the scene.

Me: "I happen to like nice men."
SU: "I'm a nice man."
Me: "No you're not, yoummph!"

Silence on my part was not caused by him kissing me. It was caused by him shoving a chocolate bunny wrapper in my mouth.

And now for your regularly scheduled sunset!

Monday, April 25, 2011

There and Back Again: A Norwegian's Tale

This weekend, Spousal Unit and I decided to climb Hermit's Peak and throw the ring into the fiery pit of the volcano at the summit. Er, wrong story. Let's try this again.

We've been meaning to climb it together since we've been out here. Spousal Unit made it to the top with a friend before I moved out here, and we tried it once about a year ago with no success - a thunderstorm made us abandon our efforts, lest we get crispified by a lightning bolt.

Our second attempt did not start off very well. For one thing, I was not terribly happy in the morning.

Yeah, like that. Spousal Unit wanted brie and a baguette to munch at the top, and I would have none of it. We had a bottle of wine and regular cheese would do just fine. But according to Spousal Unit, "If it's not brie, it's not cheese."

Considering where we live, he may be right.

Things seemed to look up for us when we ran into The Donkey.

He was a very friendly donkey, who told us his owners hadn't been giving us enough hay. "Yes," he said, "I'd love to go with you to Bremen and become a fine musician. We'll make an excellent team."

Sorry, wrong story again. All he really said was, "Watch out for that bird!"

I should have heeded him. Not long after we said goodbye to The Donkey, a beautiful greyish-brown and white bird with a couple of red markings ran out into the road. In front of my car. And just stood there.

Next thing I knew, I was pulled over bemoaning the fate of the bird, crying, "I'm a bird killer! I killed a bird!"

I made it through seven years in Wisconsin behind the wheel of a car, without hitting a deer, without hitting a fox, without running over anything beautiful at all. Then I moved out here, where you're lucky to encounter anything non-human (seriously, there aren't even any squirrels in town), and the bird chose my car for his kamikaze episode.

Spousal Unit tried to comfort me, saying, "Think of it as a serial killer bird who just finished off his wife and kids."

Right. That helps.

At that point, I really wanted to turn around, go home, and cry over a glass of that wine while watching X-Files or something equally realistic. But we pressed on.

After taking a left instead of a right and doubling back to take the right instead of the left (which we always do when we go to the peak), we arrived.

Okay, we were a little closer than this when we actually arrived.

By this point I'd managed to put on a happier face, or at least a stupider one.

We are terribly attractive people. Spousal Unit is looking at squirrels playing in a nearby tree. Lucky for them, I was no longer driving.

We began hiking the trail, Spousal Unit carrying the backpack of wine and munchies because he's been working out, while I've been sitting on my butt as a lazy writer does.

The trail was all kinds of pretty.

The trail was really steep at times, and the rocks often made it difficult to find purchase for our feet. I bruised the arch of my foot somehow. The top of the arch.

But we pressed on, managing to keep in pretty good humor. It helped to encounter some really weird stuff along the way. Like this random hat hanging in a tree.

It was shortly followed by a sweater lying over a fallen limb. I was very glad the trail of clothing didn't continue - I had no desire to find someone's underwear or skin dangling from a tree. Talk about awkward.

Sometimes it was hard to tell exactly how to follow the trail, or which branch of it to take.

I'm on one part of the trail, taking the picture. Spousal Unit is on the other part. Silly tree, getting in our way.

After several grueling hours and encountering other nice people/dogs on the trail, we finally made it to the top. It was totally worth it.

It hasn't rained or precipitated in any way out here since February, but of course it happened that there was cloud cover for the first day in weeks, or we would have had a much better view. It was still a really great view; I'm not complaining, just appreciating the irony.

We were very glad for our bottle of wine when we stopped at the top. It was very delicious - a wedding gift, along with the picnic backpack Spousal Unit carried, from my bosses. Yay awesome bosses! We didn't stay at the top too long, though - the breeze was absolutely frigid.

Going back down again only took about an hour, as opposed to the three getting up there. I managed to not kill anything on the way back, in case you were wondering. Other than my feet, but that was unavoidable. And we were tired when we reached the bottom, but still in fairly good humor.

When we reached home, it was a different story. I was totally zombified.A nice hot bath with lots of bubbles helped.

I'd definitely climb Hermit's Peak, or another mountain, again sometime. But I still think that one guy (you know the one) who wrote "Climb Every Mountain" in The Sound of Music never climbed even one.

I don't need to add another to my list quite yet.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stuff You Could Buy

The craft fair at which I have a booth is now a week away. I'm nervous to have a booth, but I hope someone will think my items worth purchasing.

For good merchandising, I've created tags with my logo.

On the back, there will be information about each item for sale.

So far, I've got 12 items to sell and am working on another. My goal was to have 10 to 15, so I'm doing well. Here's one of the scarves, in the same style as I made for Spousal Unit's mom last year.

I love the super-colorful trim on the edge of this one. Trim is alpaca, and the body is acrylic.

Remember the flowered wristlet I made? I made a few more of those in other colors, all in baby alpaca.

The purple shawl with the gold coin-like edging is the crowning piece, but this one comes close, too. The orange is mostly merino, and the edging is wool.

Close-up of edging.

I've put a lot of work into this so far, and if I got this much made in a month, imagine what I could do with more notice.

But I've already decided that after this craft fair, I'll be putting my crafts on the back burner for a while. I'll still do them on a regular basis, while watching movies or something, but it's time to bring the writing back into focus. I believe they call that prioritizing. Hopefully this will succeed; I tried once before to scale back on the yarn crafts and failed miserably.

This time, though, I'm more determined. I'm going to rock those words.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

Some random pictures taken throughout April.

Spousal Unit with his newest weird facial hair. It's already changed.

The area where the sun sets. Except in daylight.

Creepy, creepy donkey in a restaurant. He stared at me from behind his giant corn cob - for the entire meal. Have you no shame, sir?

Also in said restaurant, shortly before my haircut. Pay no attention to that lady behind me with her tongue sticking out. I think she would appreciate that.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Freak Out!

And now for an announcement most of you are already aware of.

We are moving very soon.

We are saying goodbye to the Land of Enchantment and heading back to America's Dairyland, where the cows are actually happy and our families await us in clover-filled fields of awesomeness. Well, Spousal Unit's family is in Illinois, but you get the idea.

Spousal Unit's thesis will be complete enough that he can finish most of it from afar. We love the friends we've made here, and I love my job, but it's time for us to move on. We've wanted for many years to end up back in the heart of Wisconsin, so that's where we're going. A couple of our friends are generous enough to host our corporeal ghosts in their basement until we find jobs and are able to stand on our own feet, rather than theirs. I was a cellar waif once before; I shall soon be one again.

Ideally, here's how it will go: we'll both get good jobs within a month or so. Spousal Unit will head off to France for a week and a half, to enjoy the freakin' sweet anthropology gig he just got there. We'll both apply for the next segment of schooling at UW-Madison - he for a PhD, me for an MFA - and we'll both get in. In time, we'll buy a house in the area.

I'm pretty sure it's not going to happen that way. But that doesn't mean we can't try for it.

Spousal Unit's getting really excited about our move. I am too, but he's excited to the point that he packed six boxes of books yesterday, and now our hallway shelves are bereft and naked. The boxes fill the hall, waiting to devour our other beloved items.

We still have about six weeks before we undertake the actual move, which to my mind, at least for right now, still seemed like a fair distance away before I got home last night. But now, this moving thing is totally for real.

I'm nervous. I'm worried. I haven't gone job-hunting for a while. The job market sucks. We'll be getting used to a new place all over again and I'm going to completely weird-out our friends with my adjustment anxiety. And (this is a big one) I'm going to be around people again.

I've more or less lived as a hermit with Spousal Unit for the past several years. I think I've forgotten how to be social. I'm afraid I'm going to be surrounded by my friends again and I'll get so nervous and excited at once that I'll pee on the carpet or something. I'll chew up their shoes and bark uncontrollably, and then get embarrassed and hide in the basement for a few weeks, like a bad dog.

This is going to be pretty bizarre for me. And I am really excited to be back where most of our friends and family are... but this is freakin' scary, too.

*deep breath* I got this. Bring it on.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Flaming Red Shirt

Ever since I was able to dress myself, I've liked to wear my favorite clothes on my birthday.

The year I turned sixteen, my favorite shirt was a soft red faux turtleneck, made of rayon or acrylic or some other man-made fabric that can be really soft. The softness was my favorite part - that and it looked good on me, despite being a color I didn't usually wear. I'd only had it for a couple of weeks, so the exciting newness of it had yet to wear off.

I went to school and actually had a marvellous day - a hard thing to achieve in high school. I don't remember what we had for my birthday dinner, but Mom has always been awesome about trying to feed us exactly what we want for our birthdays. Even when we had meager means, she found a way to give us steak for my sister's birthday dinner.

For dessert, I had requested cream puffs, not exactly the easiest dessert in the world. But I had only recently discovered them, and it was a rare delicacy to me. Mom didn't even bat an eye, but made them and had a whole plateful ready after dinner.

I sat at the end of the table, with my cream puff in a bowl, happy as a squirrel in a peanut factory. It was delicious. It was delectable. It was the best thing I'd tasted since the last time I'd had cream puffs (which was about six months prior to my birthday).

After I'd had a couple of bites, Mom exlaimed, "I forgot to put a candle on yours! Just a minute! Stop eating!"

As I said, the cream puff was amazing, but I was willing to stop eating if it would make my dessert last. Our dining room table was an oval shape, and I sat at one end of the oval. Mom came rushing back in and stuck a candle in what remained of my cream puff, then proceeded to light a match.

The first one broke. So did the second one, and possibly the third.

"Well, this is riduculous." Mom fought furiously with the next match, determined that it would light, and struck it hard against the matchbook.

As if in slow motion, we watched as the match that finally lit gathered life of its own, propelling itself out of my mom's left hand, arcing over my cream puff and landing right on my favorite red shirt.

There was never such commotion all at once in that house. My sisters yelled, my mom, yelled, I yelled. I smacked my shirt repeatedly, trying to put out the vicious arsonist match. At that point, I remember thinking how my shirt was made of something man-made, whatever it was, and that it was possibly very flammable. I had a brief vision of my entire shirt bursting into flame. Mom reached to put the flames out too, but I had them out before she could hardly move.


I looked down at the hole in my shirt. It was barely large enough to stick a finger through, about the size of a cigarette burn with crispy brown edges.

My mom just threw a match at me and set me on fire, I thought.

I started laughing - because really, what else do you do in that situation? It was instantly hilarious in my mind. My mom's mind works a bit differently than mine, though - she immediately started crying and apologizing.

"It's okay, Mom, really," I said through the laughter, smiling all the while.

"But it's your favorite shirt!" Mom bawled.

It was just a shirt, though. I really didn't mind. After all, there was still a glorious cream puff in front of me, which I ate with even more enjoyment. I changed (after begging Mom to let me wear my burned shirt) and headed to youth group.

When I got back, Mom had gone out and gotten me another red shirt. An exact replica of my favorite one (except without a burn hole in the front). I ended up using the old one for my Scarlet Letter project in English class.

Even if she occasionally throws matches at me, she's still the best mom ever.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Desert Living

It has been astoundingly dry here the last several... well, months. Dryer than an empty bottle of vodka in an alcoholic's liquor cabinet. Dryer than a pair of feet cracking at the heels without lotion. Dryer than a camel's floppy hump.

This is what happens sometimes. The last precipitation we had was in February. There has been no rain. The "river" in town is pitifully small, and severe water restrictions have been put in place already. It's only mid-April - I can't imagine what the summer will be like if this continues.

On top of the dryness, we've been getting the usual "windy season." There pretty much isn't a spring, fall or winter here. The seasons go windy, summer, windy, barren. And when it's been especially dry, like it has of late, the windy season is particularly obnoxious.

Sometimes when I walk to work, a wall of sand roars toward me. I can close my eyes and mouth, but I still taste the sand afterward. It wasn't until moving out here that I began to appreciate my eyelashes for their functional purpose: catching sand so it doesn't blow into my eyes. Thank you, eyelashes. Even if windows stay closed, a film of dirt builds up on the windowsill pretty quickly. It's disgusting. I think of how much worse the Dust Bowl must have been, and I'm glad for not having to live through it.

It's during spring and fall that my allergies strike, especially when I'm constantly blowing nothing but dirt out of my nose. Disgusting, but true. But that's not the worst of it.

This is the tree in front of our apartment. Budding green and beautiful, right?

This is that same tree, about two days later. Two freakin' days, and there's already trouble seeing the branches.

I try hard to avoid taking an excess of pain relievers, just because they're not good to take in large amounts. But it's hard when my head gets to pounding at the end of every day. The only thing that helps is to just stay inside sometimes, but I don't want to do that when it's so nice out.

I have one dose of Tylenol for severe sinus pain left. No, you can't have it. I'm hoarding it, saving it for when my brain feels like it's been transplanted for a bowling ball covered with spikes. I don't want to buy more because a) it's expensive, and b) I want to avoid taking anything extra with when we move. Yes, it's small, but the less we have to schlep, the better. The headaches aren't debilitating - just obnoxious.

I hope that last dose is the best thing since morphine, though.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Books I Want: Beautiful and Pointless

First off: I don't think poetry is pointless. Poetry draws out emotion in a world where many people prefer not to think about what's going on around them, prefer not to question their environment, the past, anything that might come up complicated or controversial. Poetry is the rule-breaker in literature: it doesn't have to follow any specific conventions to be poetry. It is the most finely crafted tool for questions, expression, rebellion, and almost any other situation you can think of.

The catch? The above only applies to good poetry, and we all know there's lots of really awful verse out there. David Orr takes on all the crappy modern poets he can get his hands on in this book - starting with Jewel.

I owned Jewel's poetry book when I was in high school. I loved it (I was in high school). Now that I'm more aware of what constitutes good poetry, I'm interested to see what Orr has to say about her and other modern poets who threw some words together and called it poetry. Many of them are on par with the guy who wrote his name on a urinal and called it art (though to be fair, he did have some great ways of challenging perception of art).

The thing that's got me wary is this: Orr is a poetry critic. Not a poet - a poetry critic. So while he may be able to point out good verse, it's possible he couldn't write a poem to save his life from the masochistic bad guys who are emotionally damaged and will fall apart at the seams after reading one vaguely autobiographical verse. This bothers me a bit - I don't like that someone can so easily critique others on something he doesn't do himself.

That said, poetry critics are a somewhat necessary evil. They're the ones who hold out new compilations to us, yelling, "Hey this is the stuff of angels!" or "Don't touch this or you'll get leprosy!" It would just be easier to take them seriously, in my mind, if they handled the craft themselves - and could actually write good poetry. True, you don't need to write poetry to separate the drivel from the delightful, but I think it adds a certain appreciation when the good stuff crops up.

There's also something to be said for deliberately picking on poets who will never be glanced at twice in an academic setting. Sure, Jewel's poetry wasn't great. But she wrote pop tunes - what do you expect? Basically, I think the "pick on someone your own size" argument applies here. I don't know who else Orr examines in this book, but I'll be more intrigued if he starts talking about Billy Collins.

I'll be reading this one mostly to see what he has to say about modern poetry as a whole, and to see if a non-poet can give any good advice. But I'm keeping the book as a whole at arm's length.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Becoming Neinetlolo Gaiwintnerlupi*

You're going to start seeing more creative stuff from me.

There's a creative writing program in Madison that has me very intrigued. It's a two-year program, and from what I can tell, many students have gone on to publish good books and become fairly important people. If you get in, tuition is basically free, you get a stipend for teaching one class each semester plus a scholarship for the first summer, and students get the same health care package as the faculty. Health care, people. I haven't had that for three years.

All in all, this looks like an amazing program. I already know I love the Madison area, so that's no problem. The creative writing program is fairly new, but I've only heard great stuff about it (if you know otherwise, please tell me). If (and this is a big if, just because we haven't asked questions yet) Spousal Unit can also in at Madison for his PhD, we'll be set for pretty much forever. And then we'll skip down Lollipop Lane together, holding hands while hot pink butterflies float about our heads and fairies sprinkle my head with pixie dust and induce allergies. (Which is to say I know it won't be perfect. But it would be really, really nice.)

Now comes the catch: they only admit six students every year. SIX. I haven't asked yet what the competition is like because I'm terrified that they get something like 200 applicants every year and I'll be stampeded in the mad rush to stardom and the comfortable, do-nothing lifestyle that comprises a writer's existence (ha ha).

Only twelve students are in residence each year: six in poetry, six in fiction. This year, they're accepting fiction applications for the 2012-2013 school year. That's another problem: I'm pretty sure I want to take the fiction courses, but my style (or at least, the style I want to have) is extremely poetic. So would fiction or poetry benefit me more? I'm pretty sure it would be fiction - another question I can ask when I have the guts to do so.

I also have to make sure they are okay with genre fiction (meaning scifi and fantasy in particular). I think they are, but some programs have a strict policy against it.

Applications are due Dec. 15, so that gives me a good chunk of time in which to read, write, and revise like a madwoman. I'm more or less starting from scratch again, so I'll have to be pretty hard on myself - more than willing to do that. It will be hard, but fun. The application needs 30 pages of writing. I can polish up 'Souvenirs,' my college-era short story, and compose a new one. Maybe with zombies. Or maybe I'll just save the zombies for my novel.

When I first came across this idea (sometime last week), I felt kind of odd about wanting it. I kind of felt like a poser, almost, because it's been so long since I focused my skills and really wrote anything. But I started reading some poetry and trying to write some poems, which seemed like the place to start, and now my heart is much more in it. I'm awakening from years of hibernation and tasting the beauty of language again. And writing terribly composed prose, but I'll get over that in time.

Those of you who know me on face-space know I posted a thingy saying I want to write like Neil Gaiman, Jeanette Winterson, Pablo Neruda, and Paolo Bacigalupi. Let me expand on that. I want Neil Gaiman's mythology and simple beauty, Jeanette Winterson's phrasings and knack for the impossible, Pablo Neruda's commentary on war and humanity, and Paolo Bacigalupi's world building. It's a lot, I know, but I have plans to make this happen.

And then I will win the National Book Award, the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in the same year. Hey, I've never been one to have small goals; why start now?

*This is so my new pen name.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Wealth of Sunsets

Yes, that's what a group of sunsets is called, if you ever see one. (At least, that's what I'm calling 'em.) Enjoy, and don't forget to click to enlarge!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Our Sponsored Child

This weekend, Spousal Unit and I got a packet from Children International. We sponsor Roselle, a little girl who lives in the Philippines. The envelope was the same size and shape as our usual update packets from them, which usually include a new picture and info on her living situation. But for some reason, when I saw this one I freaked out a little.

Maybe the writing on the outside ("Open immediately!") was a different color than usual. Whatever it was, I was right to freak out: Roselle and her family have disappeared, and all CI can tell us is that they've "unexpectedly moved out of our sponsorship area and can't be located."

The letter said things like this happen fairly often to low-income families, that they have to pick up and move whenever the chance of better work comes up. I personally find it odd than no other families in the area knew where they went - maybe CI knows and, since the family is out of sponsorship range, just isn't telling us. Makes me feel oddly lucky, though. Most of us, we move to be closer to loved ones, or to go to school, or for a better job, but we don't have to just pick up and go overnight. We have too much stuff to do that. We are lucky people.

Whatever it is, we don't get to sponsor Roselle anymore. She was our sponsor child for two years - we got a new picture of her once a year, and she sent thank you letters with crayon drawings of her home and family. It makes me sad to lose another sponsored child. Before I met Spousal Unit, at the beginning of college, I started sponsoring Surya, a little boy in Nepal. CI ended up being kicked out of the country - they're a semi-Christian organization, and locals were starting to act violently (either toward them or toward other Christian groups, I'm not sure).

Our packet included a new child for us to sponsor - Ryza, also in the Philippines. She's nine years old, soon to be ten, and is the oldest of six children. Her only sister is one year old. Their home is only one room, and they have a single bed - I imagine someone has to sleep on the concrete floor. They live on $160 a month.

We'll be sponsoring her, of course. But we're going to miss Roselle. Funny how you can miss someone you've never met, who's on the other side of the world, and you've only corresponded with two or three times.

Her picture's been on our fridge for two years. I hate to take it down.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sadie, the Bookstore Kitty

This is Sadie, the beautiful and talented bookstore kitty who keeps me company in the dungeons of the bookstore (aka the back). She comes and pesters me every morning to pay attention to her - she doesn't have to try very hard.

When she first moved in at the bookstore, she was terrified (as all small kitties are in strange new surroundings). I had house-sat her before though, and I think having another familiar person around helped her adjust. Now she loves being petted by customers and even joins the older group of kids for story time.

My devious plan was to post a video here of her enjoying her favorite pastime. Unfortunately, this blog host continues to be stupid and I had to create a youtube account just to post this video. Seriously, I tried twice to upload it here, and nothing happened. This makes me rather not pleased. I have a life too, evil blog-host. I guess that's one more point for The Universe. If this post looks sloppy, it's because I'm beyond the point of caring anymore and I really need to get some caffeine.

Anyway. Go here to see Sadie being adorable. I promise to post something more substantial on Monday.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love the Beatles

I used to think the Beatles were the N'Sync of the '60s.

I had heard many of their vibrant tunes before, but without pinning their name to the sound. I liked them, certainly; I just didn't know their genius. To me it seemed each decade must have its own terrible pop music sung by talentless peons seeking wealth and fame. The Beatles, in my mind, had taken that lackadaisical effort to a new level and made a living of it.

Then I met a certain Boy, later to become Boyfriend, later to become Spousal Unit. I liked Boy, and the Beatles, to him, were the best thing since sliced bread, since the wheel was invented, since we came down out of the trees and said, "Right-o, let's get a move on." The Beatles, in his mind, could do no wrong (except when it came to "Act Naturally").

Who are these bowl-haircut, guitar-plucking youth, that they hold such sway over so many? I thought. Boy was not an average hanger-on; he was intelligent, musically mature, creative. Perhaps I just needed to give Beatles a chance.

Not knowing where to start in the enormous lexicon of illegally downloadable tunes, I chose at random and listened with fervor, as I had with Radiohead when I first discovered them. I was determined to understand. Needless to say, one song at a time was not the way to do that, but it was better than nothing.

I was all prepared, then, so that when Boy glanced through my music and said, "You don't have any Beatles?" I could readily respond, "They're under 'the,' for 'the Beatles.'" (It was not the smartest music program, the one I had.) And he was satisfied with my collection, at least enough to for me to seem an acceptable human being in his eyes.

The Beatles helped me find true love, in several ways. Spousal Unit was one, of course. George (the shy Beatle) easily became my favorite once I discovered their later albums, despite (I Got My Mind) Set on You and entirely because of Something. But they also taught me, through their genius vocals, that harmony is my favorite thing about music. For that, I owe them my undying allegiance and possibly my spleen.

I realized pretty quickly that the Beatles have nothing to do with N'Sync. The Beatles played and wrote their own music. Their lyrics were often just as inventive as the instrumentation and harmonies. Their charming of the masses was based less on performance and more on good looks and musical ability.

They also had better hair. Way better hair.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Old Man Gloom

Some of you may have been wondering what that beautiful fiery creature worked into the banner above has to do with my blog, and where it comes from, and why. Even if you haven't, you're going to find out now.

That creature is Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom, in his death throes and screaming in his evil way for mercy. But he shall have no mercy.

Zozobra is a festival held every year in Santa Fe. People write down terrible memories or events from the previous year and put them in the Gloom Box, which is dumped as a whole into Old Man Gloom's massive paper-mâché body (he is fifty feet tall). He leers at the crowd from his place on stage, still as death, until the sun begins to set and he starts roaring like a madman. And roar he should, because the whole crowd begins to shout, "Burn him! Burn him!"

Zozobra is burned to send all those bad memories of the previous year up in smoke, to send the bad on its way in the past and make room for a new year ahead (and a chance to create more bad memories for next year's Zozobra).

Yippee, you might say. You drive over an hour to find a parking spot in Santa Fe, walk a mile or more to stand among a bunch of crazy, stinky strangers for two more hours just so you can watch a marionette catch fire? Big whoop.

Not just big whoop, though. It's the biggest whoop ever. Old Man Gloom is strung up to move around as he roars at the crowd, shaking our ear drums and pissing us off that he dares personify our bad history. He flaps his jaw and reaches out with enormous arms, seeking to add to his already monstrous dark persona. But then the fire dancer comes out, and he knows he's done for.

Imagine seeing this creeper in person, and knowing he'll be gone forever in just a few hours:

Okay, so this particular year (2009) we felt a little bad for the guy. If you look really closely at his hands, you can see that his arms are attached on the wrong side. His thumbs should be on top, but they're not. When our little posse realized that, we couldn't help whispering, "We're burning a cripple. We are so going to hell."

But then the fireworks started, and Old Man Gloom really started letting out a racket. And we yelled "Burn him!" along with everyone else. Because no one wants a party pooper like him around. I wish I had a better picture of him so you could see how much he looked like a certain former president (his ears especially).

So that's why Zozobra is my banner. He represents all the doom and gloom going up in smoke and a chance to start from scratch. Plus that deviant feeling you get from destroying something with fire.

He'll be back next year, though. And next year he'll burn all over again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sunset Time

Sunset from last week. There have been high winds and lots of dust in the air, hence lots of good sunsets lately. View this one larger - it's gorgeous.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Egg Rolls and Ecstasy

A few weeks ago, while grocery shopping, Spousal Unit and I encountered a package of egg roll wraps on sale for an exciting low price. We screamed with joy and threw them in our shopping cart with zeal. When we got home, we put them in our fridge and forgot about them.

Until now.

Their expiration date was drawing nigh, and we wanted to give them a proper send off, so we braced ourselves mentally and physically for the insanity of ingesting fabulous fried food.

I was practically shaking in my boots over cooking these unassuming little rolls. After all, I've made tempura before, which resulted in oil burns on my armpit. (I was wearing a tank top, and the oil splattered when I lifted the lid.) Unless you've made some splatterrific fried goods before, you have no idea what a pain it is. The extra drops of tempura batter resulted in an extra splatter factor, along with condensation built up on the lid. The entire stove gets oily, and you can never quite get all the grease off the teapot.

Thus did I don my long-sleeved shirt and begin the arduous process of dinner. The garlic was simmered, veggies were cooked, and (most fun of all) the veggies were wrapped all snug in their little packets of stretchy dough. Seriously, that part was more fun than I ever have with food.

Then came the oil. It came to a temperature that freaked out when splashed with water, so I grabbed the fork-ended cooking utensil (no clue what it's actually called), loaded it with floury egg rolls, and sent them on their merry way.

At first, I was terribly confused. The pan did not immediately erupt in oily splashes of doom. Had I done something wrong? But no, it began to bubble around the base - gently. In short time I turned the egg rolls, and the first batch was done. Minimal doom involved. Hurrah!

As I put more egg rolls in, the oil did get more turbulent, but never reaching the epic proportions seen with frying tempura. That was super awesome for me. No burns!

And so the egg rolls were prepared. Dinner was almost ready for us, though we lacked one crucial ingredient: a dipping sauce or two. Or three.

Okay, so we had four. The ones in the dishes are teriyaki and a goopier ginger teriyaki. Delicious, but I loved the horseradish sauce on them, as seen below.

Food is definitely a good thing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Fest Thing, In Which I May or May Not Participate

At the end of April, in conjunction with what is unofficially "Earth Month," there will be a fest-thingy in town to recognize locally made items, energy conservation, natural living, and all things earthy. I might get myself a booth.

I've been wanting to sell my knitted items for quite a while now, and it's a personal goal to sell something before my next birthday. I think this could be my best shot at that. Plus, I came up with a simple, fun pattern that's likely to sell at a spring event, where no one wants to buy sweaters.

Tada! It's... What is it?

Oh yeah. It's what I'm referring to as a wristlet. A springy wristlet that will come in many colors, made of alpaca yarn. I think I can sell these for $5.

I also made an awesome "capelet" that will be my "crowning glory" item (the most expensive thing that I put the most work into). This will be about $40. I don't have any great pictures yet, but these give you an idea of the style. This is 75% wool, 25% acrylic.

Now I just have to get some more stuff made. As of now those are the only items I have to sell. Time to get more yarn!
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