Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Slight Vent; Not Really

Lately I've felt like I could stay in bed all day and still feel tired. I love the library, but my schedule's been such that I've worked many days in a row with only Sunday off. I find myself wondering if I should look for other part-time jobs, or more actively commit to going back to school full-time. A part of me is frustrated about my job; staying motivated, despite how little I make, despite how little I'll ever make there, regardless of how many "extra" things I do.

And so I remind myself of why I made the choices I did: I worked this job and taught for the past three years; I was perpetually tired--energy was the exception; I had a pang of stress and anxiety that was with me always. Writing propelled me then, and I will continue to let it do so.

I've just been so tired lately. Need to work on that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Cost of Ignorance

Timothy Egan had a piece in yesterday's New York Times that addresses the epidemic of ignorance among Americans today. He cites the large number of republicans--and people in general--who believe Obama's a Muslim. He mentions how many think that Obama was responsible for the bank bailout. From climate change to Michelle's trip to Spain, he says, we are being fed misinformation; lies are promulgated.

While "it would be nice to dismiss the stupid things Americans believe as harmless, the price of large, messy democracy," Egan asserts that ignorance has a price:
False belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is led by a Holocaust denier.
It's enough to make me want to pull out my hair. How do you combat this? CNN, MSNBC, Fox News -- their primary responsibility is to their shareholders; not to us, not to the government, not to the truth. Their aim is to make money, not to make us smarter.

Maybe it's just another ugly August news cycle. Last year it was the town hall debacles. This year, the Mosques. And maybe, come September, the debate will be elevated.

(Actually, I'm pretty sure it won't be; I'll just have to find a better way to deal with my frustrations than pulling out my hair!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Novel Ideas

I have always loved books about writing. One of my favorites, William Zinsser's "On Writing Well,"helped shape my nonfiction writing style. I also adore Annie Dillard's "The Writing Life": she discusses not the craft of writing but the process; the writer's journey and struggles. She writes,

This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader's ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word.

From Natalie Goldberg ("Long Quiet Highway" and "Writing Down the Bones") to Anne Lamott ("Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life"), I can't get enough of writers on writing.

And so it is that I have a strong desire to go out and buy more books about writing. There's the "Portable MFA in Creative Writing" -- why pay upwards of $20,000 for more schooling when I could get a book? There's the "Idiot's Guide to Writing a Novel"--I don't think I'm an idiot, so the book should make it really easy to write a novel! Oh, and there's"How to Write a (Damn) Good Novel"--it has "Damn" in the title, so I know it must be excellent.

But sometimes I think that reading these books is just another way for me to procrastinate. So I'll go for some time on my own. I spent four hours at a bookstore today sketching out the plot and characters of a novel. Just like the Ronald & Cynthia story, I've had the idea for this one in my head the past year or so. And while staring at my notes, I realized I had to eliminate one of the characters altogether. She had been a major character; in fact, she was possibly going to narrate! But once I got rid of her, things made so much more sense and the story began to come together.

I'm excited. After I had decided not to jump in immediately to an MFA program, I felt a little lost: What should I be doing? But this gives me direction and an achievable goal.

And as for "Ronald and Cynthia," I've finished the draft; I think a lot of it works, but I need some distance from it before revision.

(Cross-posted at wordpress)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Small Things

I received the kindest note from one of my former students the other day after I'd posted a link to the Writing Insight interview. She said she had really enjoyed my class and that I was "inspiring if at times misunderstood." This made me smile and laugh.

My grandma was tickled pink after receiving a call from her nephew; Tuesday he's going to take her to the casino. She'd left her home in California for Ohio more than sixty years ago. Her four siblings have all died. But her nephew (temporarily here for business) is the son of her favorite brother, Leo. When she hears her nephew's voice, she hears Leo. I wonder if her nephew knows how happy he's made her.

Last, the Reds won again. After being swept by the Cardinals--and looking absolutely awful in the process--we've won 8 of our last 9. Even the national press is starting to notice!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Colliding Worlds

There's an episode of Seinfeld where George's fiancée, Susan, has a short-lived friendship with Elaine. George doesn't like this. From his view, the two women are part of two different worlds, and he relates to them in two different ways. Around Susan, he is "Relationship George"; around Elaine, he is "Independent George." But if Susan and Elaine are friends, his worlds collide ("Relationship George," he says, "will kill Independent George!")

I was thinking of this today as a couple of my worlds collide. This morning I was featured on Writing Insight, a website dedicated to supporting new and aspiring authors. With my permission, my real name was used. When I was teaching, I was uncomfortable linking my real name to my blog or twitter stream for obvious reasons. In the same breath I might complain about conservative pundits and "it's"/"its" confusion.

I like this better, though: standing behind my own words and ideas; being the same person among my friends as I am among my family as I am among my colleagues. I've been faulted (complimented?) for being too honest, and I used to laugh at that idea. Maybe I thought that because I'm quiet, I withhold more than I share, and isn't that dishonest? But as my various circles collide--through wine tastings, through library functions, through the internet--I feel this great big world, the one we all share, finally coming into view.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This Writing Life

For some reason, I thought this shift from non-fiction back to fiction would be natural. I have been writing so much the past few years, from entries to my own blog about politics, my life, my family, my teaching, to contributions to the library blog, to lessons and examples for my students. I feel comfortable writing what I know and doing research to write about what I don't know. It's as natural as breathing. I inhale -- think -- and exhale -- write. In, out, think, write.

But fiction is its own beast, isn't it? To make stuff up! Invent! Create people, settings, situations! This isn't quite breathing to me yet.

And so I practice.

Ronald and Cynthia, they're still figuring things out. A couple thousand words in, I felt like Ronald's point-of-view (even third person, slightly detached) was too creepy; I inserted scenes that were more removed from him to give the reader (and me) a break. I'm not sure how successful those breaks are and what, ultimately, it means for the story. But I'll try to finish the draft today and move onto something else tomorrow.

(Cross-posted at wordpress)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cold Dose of Reality

Today I work at the library, where I feel we're at the front lines of the recession. The branch I work at is relatively affluent; at the same time, we have people come in to use our computers for job searches and resume-building. Some are very skilled at computers and simply don't have access at home; others struggle to attach a document to an email or to write a simple reply to a job request. I love talking about books and helping people find the types of books that they're looking for, whether for a school project or their own interest. But this isn't my favorite part of the job.

What I'm best at, I think, is helping that gentleman who lost his job five weeks ago get to that website he needs to connect to job possibilities; it's informing him about all the resources the library has to offer. It's empowering him by not doing everything for him but by sitting with him, patiently explaining what to do. One man thanked me, saying, "It's like I'm learning to ride a bike. You're giving me my training wheels so I can practice until I can do it on my own."

Since finishing my teaching job, I've been scrambling to put together a good application package before the September 1 deadline. I've written and revised my application essay, built a website to house stories as well as some of my favorite posts, and--for the first time in years--I've written some new fiction. I've thought, "This is perfect: finish one job, ready for the next!"

But of course, life doesn't follow a straight path, and I'm putting on the breaks to my own bicycle before I lose my way. It isn't feasible to put together a satisfactory application by September 1, complete with samples, recommendations, and essays. I've been writing feverishly, and I will continue to do so.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quick hits

  • My dad came to five after five! The food and wine samples were ok--they've definitely been better--but it was awesome having him there with my friends, seeing how I spend my Friday nights.
  • The Reds, after getting mauled by the Cardinals last week in three straight games, swept the Marlins this weekend to regain first place. Take that, St. Louis!
  • Finally, I'm having a quiet night at home. Tomorrow, write write write.

Edited to add that I put my senior writing project on the wordpress site. I read the stories now and think of them as practice for bigger and better things!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I spent last night at my grandma's. I came home after watching the Reds lose (again) to the St. Louis Cardinals and found my downstairs neighbor, beer in hand, telling me "power's out." My bedroom's in the attic; the temperature midday gets to 99 degrees with the fan on. Without packing so much as a toothbrush, I got back in my car and drove the 30 minutes east of my apartment. It was worth it to sleep in an air-conditioned house, watch The Daily Show, and eat bacon and eggs for breakfast.

The wordpress site is coming together. I have a nonfiction page with a selection of posts from the past two years. I thought they were ones that could stand without context. I also have a "works in progress" page, where I'm posting pieces of a story as I write it. Of course, a story will get changed a hundred times--in ways big and small--before it's finished.

It's incredibly scary putting stuff out there: admitting, this is what I'm doing, this is who I am. It's just a start; I've got a long way to go. But I need to start somewhere.

Monday, August 9, 2010


On Sundays, as we wait for Reds pregame to start, my dad, grandmother and I often watch Fareed Zakariah and GPS on CNN. It's one of the few things we can watch on cable that doesn't seem to propagandize or make us less intelligent. He has on interesting guests with divergent points of view, and he asks very insightful questions. This past Sunday, he started his show by talking about the debate over the proposed Muslim cultural center.

"I can't believe they want to build a Mosque at Ground Zero," Nana said.

I replied that during the commercial break, I'd refute her.

"What did she say? Did she say that she'd refute me?"

(I certainly didn't say I'd refudiate her.)

But GPS, instead of going straight to commercial, went to its first two guests: former secretaries of the treasury Robert Rubin and Paul O'Neill. They discussed how difficult and complex economic recovery is, and while they disagreed what the correct course of action should be, there seemed to be some common ground. By the time the show went to commercial break, my dad said, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Nana was asleep in her chair. Even if she'd been awake, I would have let it go.

I see fear and ignorance and emotion as the biggest enemies to progress. Because when we leave those things out of the discussion, the right answer seems clearer. I may be biased, but I believe truth has a liberal slant.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Drinking Locally

My grocery store had a beer tasting Friday night with a local theme: all beers and food served were brewed and produced here in the Cincinnati area. One girl joined us who was in the midst of a round-the-world journey. She's from Melbourne, Australia, and drove from Alaska, across the Canadian Rockies, and back down into the states. What did she think of Cincinnati, I asked? Diplomatically, she said she loves the outdoors and isn't too fond of cities. Up next for her is Scotland and Israel.

Station One:
  • Mild Wild Ale - this was a pretty dark beer to start out with, but it's described as "an English session ale with a nice malty flavor which is meant to be drank in large quantities" (of course, we only had 2 oz).
  • Ratatouille - eggplant, local zucchini, etc; I skipped it.
Station Two:
  • No. 42 Cream Ale - this was yummy; made with corn!
  • Sloppy Joes - these weren't so sloppy, but they were still delicious.
Station Three:
  • Smoked Bock Beer - this supposedly had "a great smoky bacon flavor and who doesn't love bacon!!!" (I love bacon, but not in my beer)
  • Italian Beef Sandwiches - small but thick slice of beef was served in a pita.
Station Four:
  • 186,000 MPS Craft Malt Liquor - the server made sure to point out this was 10% alcohol, twice the amount of other samples. Good thing are portions are so small.
  • Baked Zucchini Fries - skipped
Station Five:
  • Enter the Beagle IPA - this was my favorite of the night, just a classic IPA, not too heavy but still flavorful.
  • Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese - small cubes of local cheese paired with roasted almonds; these were awesome together.
We went to Buca Di Bepo for dinner where my awesome friends paid for my share of the food and wine. Two other tables were celebrating birthdays; as the staff joined in a second rendition of "Happy happy birthday" I made everyone promise not to tell them it was mine also: they obliged.

The Reds are fifteen games over .500--this is a great time to be a fan, or a great time to jump on the bandwagon. After so many years of disappointment, I think much of the city is still skeptical. But I say just enjoy it; winning seasons don't come around that often, even if we don't ultimately win the pennant.

Friday, August 6, 2010


After about a day of self-doubt, I finished my application essay to Warren Wilson, wrote another 500 words of a story, and started the transition to a new website to house fiction and non-fiction. While I love blogspot for adding entries short and long, I really like wordpress and how stream-lined it is. I became comfortable creating and linking to pages while maintaining a site for my class.

The new one, perfectsand.wordpress.com, doesn't have much yet, just a couple brief samples. But I like the professional look to it. I plan to use this one the same way I have been while wordpress will be "cleaner," for lack of a better word.

Regardless of what happens with grad school, exciting things are on the horizon. I'm amazed and blessed by the support of my family and friends. Also amazing is the incredible community I've found online: writers from all parts of the country (world) in every genre, all with a passion for words or expressing themselves or creating or sharing or entertaining or connecting, or all of the above!

I'm still 30. No new wrinkles or aches; in fact, I ran Wednesday and didn't feel any effects Thursday. We'll try again Monday. Repetition creates habit.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thirty feels like twenty-nine. Great day with my family. Wondering if my second thoughts about grad school are based on logic or fear...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Anger Management (or, "People Are Weird")

"You never get angry," a friend teased. "I want to see you blow up. Yell."

"I don't get angry," I said. "Or if I do, you'll never know it."

What's there to get angry about? I have a job, great family, friends. Even during the worst of times--running into an ex-boyfriend and his date? paying $10 to see a movie then falling asleep during the middle? coworkers not asking if I want anything for lunch before they order out?--I may get annoyed or embarrassed. But never angry.

"I'll keep working on it," the friend said.

"You do that."

Slowly Beginning This Writer's Life

I went running yesterday morning for the first time in months. My friend (the conservative one!) and I are planning to meet twice a week and run for a couple miles. Or at least I hope to build to that. This morning I woke up, legs like jello, muscles I didn't know existed aching. I don't remember this happening before!

Tomorrow we'll run again. I suspect it will be a little easier making it up that first hill, and hopefully the next day I'll hurt a little less.


Slowly beginning this writer's life. Thinking (and rethinking) the importance of going back to school. In the mean time, I run, I drink coffee, and I write.