Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Nap Or Not To Nap...

Another weekend, another pile of work. Don't get me wrong. Some of the work I really, really want to do, like reading the entries for the Julia Mood Peterkin Award. Unfortunately, I decided that I must do my other work first, and it's far less interesting. Steve's gone for the weekend to Gatlinburg. (He sent me pictures of beautiful scenery from his phone. How unfair is that?) So I'm free to work away and not worry about anyone or anything. Why does it never actually play out that way?

Yesterday was fun...mostly. I planned to go eat lunch downtown with Terra. So of course, monsoon season began, and we were afraid to head downtown where we might have to park far away and traipse through the rain. But Doc Chey's proved to be a fun alternative. (I got my edamame fix.) We ended up staying at the restaurant so long that they sorta-kinda threw us out! Very cool. Then it was on to gelato @ Whole Foods. I had planned to finally try the new gelato bar downtown, but Whole Foods' gelato was an acceptable substitute. Unfortunately, hanging over this afternoon of fun and frolic was transcript drama. I found that they need a copy of my transcript for this one class I took at Spartanburg Tech about a million years ago. When I called Spartanburg Tech, I was connected with a woman who apparently was overlooked at the DMV hiring fair for lack of personality. She was SUPER helpful. Oh, well, there goes my Monday.

So, last night I slept terribly! Sure there was no husband snoring away, but for some reason I just couldn't sleep for more than hour at a time without waking up. Now, I'm trying to get homework done, and I'm getting drowsy. Then there's tonight. It's Game Night for our Life Group. I was looking forward to it. Now, not so much. Why do I do that? I always talk myself out of things. Don't worry. I'm going, and I'll probably have fun. It's just that suddenly a quiet night at home looks so attractive. (Imagine me in my comfy clothes, reading JMP entries and sipping hot tea...very literary.) Tomorrow's church, of course, and I still have to decide what to take to Life Group. (It's potluck night.) So my weekend of R&R hasn't turned out exactly as planned. Such is life, I suppose. On the upside, the house is clean(ish), the laundry is done, and Steve will be home tomorrow...probably trailing a cloud of friendly dirt behind him.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Taken To The Movies

So tonight, Steve and I took a little trip to the cinema. I was cautiously optimistic as our last few movie outings have had mixed results. (Coraline good, Benjamin Button bad.) From the first time I saw the trailer for Taken, I knew it would be a movie for Steve. He does love his revenge flicks, after all. I share his love for all things violent, but I was skeptical. We had heard several recommendations of the film, though, so we braved the ridiculous ticket prices and headed to the movies.

Allow me to begin with a note to all Hollywood producers/screenwriters/directors/guys who write checks. People who go to movies like Taken don't want a lot of extra plot. They don't need back story. CUT TO THE CHASE. There. I've said it, and it's out of the way. Taken begins with about 25 to 30 minutes of back story that I didn't need in order to appreciate a man's desire to rescue his daughter from human traffickers. It is enough for me that Lliam Neeson is angry, and those bad Albanians messed with the wrong guy.

Once we got through the whole divorced-dad-feels-conflicted back story, things got good. Neeson's daughter is kidnapped while he is on the phone with her, and I'm not sure what was more disturbing: the violent abduction or the calm with which he instructs his daughter on what to do. This man is infinitely cool in a crisis, and you got to love that. From that moment forward he is a one man killing machine. There is no monologuing or veiled threats here. Just "tell me where my daughter is" and then BANG! you're dead.

Steve read a review that panned the writing in the film. I will concede that the dialogue is far from stellar. But once again, who goes to an action/revenge flick looking for pitch perfect dialogue? He's just a pissed off guy with a gun (or fist or pipe or whatever's handy), and that's all I really needed him to be.
On an unrelated note, am I the only one who is tired of the shameless product placement in movies? It seems unlikely to me that everyone in Paris drives an Audi. Then at the end of the film credits, it lists Audi. Oh was a really nice car...

Monday, February 23, 2009

"I thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives. You know one time I secretly wanted to be a writer."

Sometimes life gets a little too real. You're coasting along thinking everything is crazy but manageable, then BAM! you get knocked flat by a little taste of reality. For the past couple of weeks, I have been tasting all the reality I can choke down. Last semester I was bemoaning the fact that I had no writing classes...just easy little GEP courses that I needed to graduate. Enter Spring Semester. I am presently so loaded down with work that I am in danger of becoming bowlegged. (And with my skinny legs, that's quite an image!) It isn't just classes either. There's Concept Literary Journal, grad school applications, the writing center, church stuff, and countless other committments. May has gone from being the quickly approaching end of all things school to a distant light at the end of a very long and winding tunnel.

In the past two weeks, I have written way too many essays about myself. While I love navel gazing as much as the next writer, I think too much introspection can lead to backward thinking. (How's that for an image?) I have analyzed and dissected myself to such a degree that I'm practically unrecognizable. With essays for scholarships, classes, and applications, I have explored my feelings on school, relationships, my writing, you-name-it. I should now be the most well-adjusted writer on the face of the earth. Alas, that isn't the case, which is probably a good thing for my writing. I have written about my literary influences (love Harper Lee, can't get enough of Jhumpa Lahiri) and my plans for the future. All these deep thoughts and decisions, and I still don't know what I'm going to wear tomorrow.

So here I sit, putting off writing yet another essay (this one for my grad school application.) I know writers are by nature introspective people, but this is ridiculous. No wonder some of the greats lost it and killed themselves. You've got to go out and live, not just write away in your little hole. So that's what I'm doing. Sure I still have a mountain of schoolwork tottering over my head, but I also am going to have a life - a life that involves leaving the house and being with real, live people. Friday, when I probably should have been buried in homework, I went to help with some stuff for church. That afternoon, I met a friend at Starbuck's, and we talked for two hours. I cannot tell you the last time I did something like that. Talk about catharsis. (On a side note, we did manage to solve all the problems of the world in that time. Aren't we clever girls?) Saturday night, we had a couple over for dinner, and I swallowed my guilt and played Rock Band and Buzz for hours.

Of course, you do have to pay to play. Friday night, I was still cleaning the house at 11 o'clock. I've been deep in essays and a prospectus all day long today. Tomorrow it's back to classes and craziness. I have to maintain a balance though: a little reality, a little fun, a little deep thought. Maybe one day I will look back and decide that's the secret to being a writer...or I'll be that scary, old lady recluse who lives with 30 cats. One or the other...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Risky Business

I don't make New Year's resolutions. I see nothing magic about the date, January 1, and I always let it pass without a single vow to give up sweets or exercise every day (as if either of those would ever happen.) Apparently, somebody didn't get the memo, however, because a resolution has forced itself upon me. I'm calling it my "Risk Resolution" because at every turn for the past couple of months, I have been faced with one challenge after another that requires me to take a risk - hold my breath, make the dive, and hope for the best.

The year began with a major change - Steve and I decided as a couple to change churches. This was not a decision we came to lightly or quickly, but once it was set into motion, it snowballed into Risk 101. Suddenly, I find myself going to church with 500 people I've never met. I'm going to Bible studies and small groups and dinners with total strangers. While no one who's met me would ever describe me as shy, the word reticent might come to mind. Just like when I first started at Converse four years ago, I find myself making little deals in my head. Okay, Sarah. Just speak out at least once during this get together...even if its only to ask where the bathroom is.

Then there's grad school. Sure I wanted to go to grad school. And yes, I planned to apply before the school year was out. I've been working on my manuscript for Senior Seminar, and I planned to use that for my grad school applications. Then about a week ago, I got an email about a scholarship opportunity. While I was thrilled about the possibility of being nominated for a scholarhship, this did accelerate all my plans. So I'm meeting tomorrow with Professor Tekulve to go over my manuscript as it stands to see if it's grad school ready. Scary. I have to send my baby (my manuscript) off to total strangers who will tell me if they think I am good enough for their school. No pressure.

Apparently, I decided I didn't have enough risk in my life, however. I had an essay due tonight in my Creative Non-Fiction class. I decided to expand on something I wrote for a previous blog entry (see "The Secret Life of Cupcakes.") I am intrigued by the lyric essay, and we read a wonderful essay for this class that also followed a more experimental structure (See "The Pain Scale" by Eula Biss.) So I sat down to write a lyric-style essay using my blog entry and weaving it with some additional writing. By the time I was finished with my first draft, I was practically in a cold sweat. Professor Howie said he would reward those who took risks, but what if the essay was so bad that he couldn't even see what I was aiming for? I frantically called a writer friend and asked her to read the essay. She generously did so and gave me her comments and suggestions. After working some more on my essay, I was still terrified about turning it in. (This was a reflection on my writing, not Martha's wonderful advice.) As my panic reached its zenith, I sent my email to the long suffering Professor Howie. A portion of the text follows:

I'm freaking out just a bit about my essay that I'm bringing in tomorrow night for next week. For some reason that I can't even remember right now, I decided it would be really exciting to try a sort-of-lyric arrangement for my essay. I just didn't want you to think that I thought it was good. I just decided to experiment, and, now, I'm just going to have to go with it. I know this email is getting more bizarre by the minute, so I'll end it before I start sounding too needy.

Though Professor Howie was very comforting, class tonight did little to allay my fears. Very few of the people in class are writers, and as we workshopped other stories, I found myself disagreeing with most of the things the non-writers said. Next week's workshop of my story may end up a blood bath, but, alas, I have offered up my story as gift to the writing gods, and I shouldn't whine if I get a little singed. I took a risk with the essay, and I'm going to stick to it. It may be a cliche, but I'm going to say it, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Filet Mignon in a Skirt Steak World

I hate it when people preface something they're about to say with "I'm not bragging but..." because everyone knows that means they are about to brag, big time. So I've decided to just embrace the bragging tonight. I'm going to tell you about my Valentine's Day...and I'm going to brag. I'm not going to candy coat it. My husband is ridiculously wonderful. Where shall I begin?

Friday was just another day in the interminable trial that was this week. Enter Steve with his arms full of groceries for Valentine's dinner. It was not just groceries, however, that burdened him. Check out the roses and chocolates to the left. Needless to say it was a nice little pick-me-up from a day spent cleaning, watching even more Buffy episodes, and pretty much avoiding the whole personal hygiene thing. He even sat through some Buffy episodes with me. (Adversity makes us stronger, right?)

After a late night of accomplishing very little, it was not with the most joy that I greeted the alarm this morning, but it was worth it. We went to the dog show here in Greenville where we got to hang out with all the amazingly cool Komondor people. (We even got to puppy-sit Ella the Komondor for a few minutes.) In addition to the Komondor crowd, we also got to hang out with our friend Veronica and her dog, Cash, a pointer. He is quite possibly the most affectionate dog I've ever met, so it was pretty much a love fest. (He actually gives hugs. It's something you just have to see.)

After the dog show, we came home and Steve fixed dinner, and let me tell you, the man had a plan. Lists, recipes...he even made part the first half of his sauce the night before. So shall I tell you the Valentine's Day menu at Chez Gray? Medium rare filet, crab cakes, sauteed vegetables, baked potatoes, and a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon. He may dirty up every pot, pan, and bowl we own when he cooks, but I guess you can't argue with results. Here's a picture of my plate. Unfortunately, I had already dug in before it occurred to me to take a picture.

So here I sit at my laptop, certainly ten pounds heavier, putting off homework and wondering what I did to deserve my husband. This concludes my evening of bragging. I have exorcised the demon of oversharing, and I will promptly return to my significantly less pie-eyed optimist self! I'm sure that Sardonic Sarah is simply hiding under a layer of steak and good wine.

What's Black and White and "Read" All Over?

Here I sit propped up in bed next to a softly snoring husband and looking back on a week that nearly spun my head 360 degrees. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and I have a wonderful day ahead of me. We are going to a dog show here in Greenville (where we will get to see lots of Komondorok) and then home to a wonderful dinner cooked by my oh-so-thoughtful husband. He even came home with roses and Godiva chocolate tonight. Even so, all I can think about is the mass of homework that looms over me like some sort of sentient cloud. I shouldn't feel as overwhelmed as I do.

I'm left to wonder - what changed? I've had far busier semesters than this. Usually total meltdown doesn't rear its ugly head until a month or two in. Perhaps it's just a case of "senioritis." I certainly wouldn't be the first senior to be struck with a case of the I-don't-care's. It just isn't that simple, though. My insatiable desire to achieve and excel remains undiminished. I just feel like I'm fighting through a fog in order to accomplish anything.

I look at my classmates, and I see them stressed and harried as they try to arrange their future (jobs, grad school, etc) all with the economic crisis tempering and tainting their every decision. It makes me grateful that I'm not 21 and starting out. What a time to be entering the "real world." I can't imagine how frightening that must be.

I don't think my mental mush has anything to do with the current economic situation, but it may have something to do with life after college. For the past four years, I've been defined by my student status. It's certainly a role I've relished. I've never fit in with other women/wives my own age. Of course, that's nothing new. My whole life has been one long succession of not fitting in. At Converse, I am surrounded by people who are basically like me. It is nice not to be the freak, and school has given me that. So does that leave me with only two choices after school? Sell out and become one of the mob, or return to my outsider status. Selling out doesn't really seem like a viable option since I wouldn't even know where to begin. My attempts to blend always end with my being outed as the weirdo eventually.

That leaves the solitary weirdo option. Admittedly not the popular choice, at least it is familiar, like a soft, old sweatshirt - far from stylish, but oddly comforting. Besides, I'm certain that being understood is highly overrated. Women are supposed to have an air of mystery, right? Anyway, I'm grateful for a husband who seems to embrace the whole brooding-nerd-chick persona which I have perfected after years of raised eyebrows and glassy-eyed stares.

Somehow this entry has ended up sounding far darker than I intended. Apparently in my case, stress induces self-indulgent navel gazing. Soon I'll be writing really bad poems and listening to whatever emo band is permeating the airways this week, and black really isn't my color...

If I don't go to bed soon, I'll be a walking zombie tomorrow, so I'd better sign off. I promise my next entry will be full of stories, wit, sarcasm, and photos in glorious technicolor.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird (or at least a college student)

School is back, and homework has taken over my life. I had all these intriguing ideas for blog entries, but I'm afraid they have all gone the way of my free time and sanity. I have so much to do that I've had to resort to my favorite way to de-stress...list making. When all else fails, seeing everything I have to do written out in a nice, organized list with due dates makes me feel better. The hardest thing for me this semester has been all the required TV watching for my Buffy class. It just feels plain wrong to be watching Buffy episodes when I have TONS of work to do. I guess I'll just have to get over that.

There are bright spots in all my craziness, however. One of those is Senior Seminar. Professor Tekulve is working hard to prepare us for our senior project, which includes not only my manuscript, but also an 8 page critical introduction where I talk about my writing/influences. That's really exciting to think about. When I look back over my past four years, names like Ann Pancake, Diane Gilliam Fisher, and Lee Smith immediately jump to mind. In my opinion, there are no better teachers of narrative voice than these writers. I guess I also have to be completely unoriginal and sing the praises of Harper Lee. It just doesn't get any better than To Kill a Mockingbird.

On a related note (and also very exciting), I will be starting the whole grad school application process next week. Once again Professor Tekulve comes through. She has nominated me for a scholarship competition (a big deal since there is essentially no scholarship money for low-residency MFA programs), and she has agreed to take a look at my manuscript to offer suggestions for polishing it for submission to the programs I am looking at. (Maybe they will be able to teach me not end my sentences with prepositions.) I am so grateful for all the help and guidance I have received from the faculty at Converse. Their generosity is astonishing and, at times, overwhelming.

Because I don't have enough homework to do, I have also joined an amazing women's Bible study. We are doing Stormie Omartian's The Power of a Praying Woman. It has been really wonderful so far, but it does increase my already crazy homework load. It's worth it, though. Michelle, the leader of the group, is such a wise and quiet spirit, and the other ladies are so kind and open. I'm grateful that they have taken me into their group as if I had always been there. I guess I'm just seeing generosity at every turn.

It's after midnight now, and I am fully aware that this blog is probaby not my finest work. It's been a very long, very busy day. I'm exhausted and more than a little overwhelmed, but I just have to remember that this journey will be over all too soon. It will be replaced by another equally challenging one. I'm just going to have to take it one day at a time, cliche or not.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What's At "Stake"? or How I Learned to Love the Slayer

School is back with a vengeance! Sure I've been back since Christmas break ended the first of January, but January Term hardly counts as "school." I got to spend a month working on my Senior Seminar project with an amazing writer and listening to all my fellow writers discuss the craft. Not exactly torture. Wednesday, however, was my first night of class for Spring Semester, and Thursday was my first full day of classes. How can I already have this much homework after only 1 day? So far I have a collage due Tuesday, along with several readings, two videos to watch, a response blog to post, and journal entry to write. Plus I have to write something for Creative Non-fiction that is due the following week, while critiquing some other students' creative non-fiction pieces. All this, cleaning the house, and dinner too! Why am I blogging again?

Of course, it's not as bad as it sounds. I'm taking some amazing courses this semester with some of my favorite professors. First and foremost is Senior Seminar. This class is really the culmination of everything I've been doing for the past four years, and when it's over, I should have a manuscript that will (I hope!) get me into grad school. The best part? I get to spend time with all my favorite people while I'm there...Professor Tekulve (the coolest professor EVER) and all the seniors in the Creative Writing department. Then there's Creative Non-fiction. I'm excited about this class because Professor Howie (my boss at the Writing Center) is the teacher. Another bonus is that I get to have class with some people that I don't see all the time, and we get a chance to catch up. Then there's my last two honors classes. These classes are great because they give you a chance to take stuff that you would never imagine there being a class for. (Yes, I know that sentence was a grammatical nightmare. Don't tell Professor Tekulve, okay?) I'm actually taking a class on housewives and housework in America. How cool is that? The most surprising class, however, is the one I'm taking on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, that's right. That is not a typo. I am taking a class on the television program Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We sit in a big room and watch Buffy episodes. You've just got to love a liberal arts education, right?

I am not daunted by my deluge of work, however. This is my last semester, and I'm determined to enjoy it. And even if it is a ton of work, it's only a few months, and then I'm a college graduate. I've had bad haircuts that took longer to grow out than that! I can do anything for a few months, and then WHO KNOWS? But I could rhapsodize about the end of school for pages and pages, and all this writing about classes and homework and housework has made me anxious to put a dent in the work that is piling up as I type. Okay, maybe anxious isn't quite the right word. I'm feeling guilty about sitting here typing when I should be washing, vacuuming, reading, and gluing. So Buffy out!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Secret Life of Cupcakes

For the past month, my fiction professor has been talking about how little details in your story should do more than one thing. Your main character shouldn't just have a friend named Breeze. Her friend named Breeze should be a bit flighty and easily pushed around. Maybe your character seeks out people she can control. Nothing in your story should ever be wasted. After reading the opening paragraphs of a story in class, one of the girls said that she suspected that the main character's haircut was really a symbol of a much deeper conflict. I jokingly said, "As is often the case," but isn't that true? No one decides to change their hair or buy a new color of lipstick or name their dog based on nothing more than random chance. Even in "real" life, nothing is wasted. Every name, idea, word, or decision is a result of something going on "under the surface."

Which leads me to Sunday afternoon. I had volunteered to make cupcakes for our life group's Super Bowl party. I baked the red velvet cupcakes on Saturday, and planned to make the frosting on Sunday afternoon. We ended up getting a late start on the food preparations. (Steve was also making wings at the same time.) So combine frantic timing with sticky cupcake tops on which the frosting refused to spread without getting little pieces of red cake mixed in, and you have the beginnings of a kitchen meltdown that rivaled anything you see on those cooking reality shows. After fighting with a few cupcakes and declaring them the ugliest cupcakes EVER, my nerves were starting to wear a little thin. When poor Steve (who has never baked in his life) made a suggestion, I grabbed hold of it like a drowning woman clinging to a floating seems like a good idea until the carboard gets all soaked and you start to sink. When his helpful hint not only didn't pan out, but actually made the situation worse, things took a dark turn. It was only intervention on Steve's part that saved the cupcakes from being forcefully chucked into the nearest trash can.

We made it to the Super Bowl party (late), and everyone ate the wings and cupcakes. Everyone said the cupcakes were yummy, and I eventually relented and ate one myself. They were pretty good...just really, really ugly. After the party, our hostess was diligently packing up everyone's containers. When she started to put the two remaining cupcakes back into my carrier, I protested. I never wanted to see those red and white disasters again.

When I got home, I was exhausted, and it wasn't just because of the day's relentless pace or the excitement of watching the Super Bowl. (I still don't get why people like football.) Why had I gotten so upset about those stupid cupcakes? Why was I so angry with myself for taking Steve's well-intentioned (though ill-fated) advice? What did it really matter that my cupcakes looked like they were decorated by an intoxicated four year old? That's when it hit me. This was one of those details that mattered. I wasn't upset about the cupcakes. My stress about the party itself - mingling with a large number of people, some of whom were strangers, and knowing that football games last for HOURS - brought about my meltdown. Sure I wanted to bring great cupcakes. I could control cupcakes (or so I thought.) The cupcakes could give me a purpose and identity. I'm the girl who brings tasty baked goods. I may never be a conversationalist or life of the party, but hey, I can put everyone in a sugar coma. I know, that's a lot of responsibility to place on an inanimate object made up of flour, sugar, and eggs, but in my defense, there was cream cheese icing involved.

This afternoon, I am working on a rewrite of a story that my professor recently critiqued. As I am trying to fill in the gaps left in my last draft, I am going to try to make my details do my work for me. It's not just the simple "show, don't tell" advice. It's more like: Show, and then show how what you've shown shows so much more than you could have possibly shown by telling! :)