Monday, June 29, 2009

If You Can't Take The Heat...

This past week and weekend had a theme: heat. Wednesday dawned bright and humid, and I began the day quite innocently expecting that my air conditioning would continue functioning as it always did. While the compressor was replaced on Friday afternoon, it was nighttime before the house truly cooled down to its usual temperature. The theme was by then well-established. Sweat, sweat, and more sweat. Even with the somewhat cooler house, there was much sweat-inducing work to do on Friday to rid the house of it's open window and fan induced grime in time for my dad's arrival on Saturday afternoon.

On Saturday morning, I was repaid for all those times I've moved in the worst heat of summer and asked friends to lend a hand. Steve and I helped some friends move into their third floor apartment in some of the worst heat we've had all summer. Boy, am I glad I started working out the other week. I may not be Jane Fonda yet, but I'm certain it helped me through innumerable trips up three flights of stairs. The downside of helping non-family members move in the extreme heat? I had to keep reminding myself not to lift up my t-shirt to wipe my face!

Sunday meant church and returning the much appreciated fans to our friends. I can't remember when I've ever felt such a fondness for an electrical appliance as I did for those two white plastic fans. In the afternoon, I headed back over to my friends' house for the fun part of moving...unpacking, hanging pictures, and making things homey. Like the grunt work of moving, this is an area in which I am very experienced (as is my friend), and we powered through all kinds of jobs like a well-oiled machine. Okay, maybe the well-oiled machine analogy is a bit strong. Too bad there wasn't video of us hanging pictures. Two crazy women beating on the apartment wall trying to find the stud while her husband wanders by making a well-worn stud finder joke. Is there really a man alive who can walk by someone looking for a stud and not say, "Here I am"?

When I got home, Steve grilled hamburgers for dinner. They were amazing. Nothing tastes like summer like hamburgers on a charcoal grill. Maybe that's what prompted Steve to suggest we go get some ice cream. I must say I nearly fainted when he mentioned it. It very well might be the first time in our 9 years together that he has made such a suggestion. Sort of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Greer Edition.

Of course, there have been upsides to my drama-filled week of heat. First and foremost, I was reminded of the kindness and generosity of the people at Holland Park Church. In addition to the fans, we had offers of hotel rooms and guest bedrooms. It's such a blessing to be surrounded by such wonderful people. Another upside? People share their no-air-conditioning horror stories. As a writer, this is a gold mine. My aunt even sent me a massive post on Facebook that included not only her air-conditioning history, but also linked everything back to my own. I'm going to chalk it all up to future material. After all, isn't that the cliche: suffering for your art? I certainly felt I was suffering as I sat between the two fans, grateful that I had lost my sense of smell. Perhaps one day I'll write a story about someone sweltering away or about a family getting their first air conditioner or about....never mind. It's time for me to step away from the blog and get some serious writing done. I think I know where my main character would probably get a little overheated and need to sit in front of a white plastic fan that makes a vibrating hum when it oscillates to the right.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

You Say You Want A Revolution?

Today, Steve's birthday present, a new amplifier for our tv's surround sound, arrived. After several fevered hours hovering over wires, remotes, and cantankerous equipment, he finally got everything set up to his satisfaction. Then out came the Blu-Ray disc to test out the new sound. He tried all the ones we owned that had big sound, Pirates of the Carribean, Chronicles of Narnia, and also V for Vendetta. Watching clips of the latter reminded me of the review I wrote of the film for the school paper, and I thought I'd post it. (Forgive any dated material, like a reference to the impending election.) If you've already seen V, good for you. You already know. If not, then keep reading...

You Say You Want A Revolution?

With the presidential elections just around the corner, it is easy to find yourself disgusted with petty politics and puzzling policies, and the ongoing financial crisis does nothing to improve your mood. Maybe a reminder that things could always be worse would make you feel better, so you decide to check out that movie you missed in the theaters, V for Vendetta. Suddenly you are not sure whether you feel better, or just worried.

V for Vendetta is based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore, and the screenplay was written by the Matrix creators, the Wachowski brothers. The film is set in London and shows our world in the near-future, with the U.S. in civil war and Great Britain under a totalitarian regime. Out of the chaos walks a revolutionary in a Guy Fawkes mask and black cape intent on bringing about change at any cost. This man-in-black goes simply by the name “V” and is played by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix). Natalie Portman plays Evey, a young woman alone in the world with little to lose. Together they work to overthrow corrupt leaders, both political and religious.

While the film takes liberties with the original story (and what book adaptation doesn’t?), it manages to capture the look and mood of the graphic novel. Because the main character remains behind a mask for the entire film, you might think that it wouldn’t matter who they cast. Somehow Hugo Weaving manages to make the mask work, though, and soon the viewer feels like they can see subtle changes in a face that never actually moves. Natalie Portman manages to be one of the few non-British actresses who can pull off a decent British accent, and her portrayal of Evey, the conflicted revolutionary, is compelling.

Music plays an important role in V. Apart from the soundtrack, there is also the highly symbolic music that “V” chooses to accompany his terrorist activities. You will probably never feel the same way about the Overture of 1812 ever again, and as anyone who knows Morse code will tell you, the three-short-one-long beats of Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 (or V) are code for the letter V.

Aside from the great acting and stirring music, however, there is the all-important plot twist. For the viewer who loves a good head-scratching surprise, V delivers in a big way. In fact, this twist is the very thing to keep the film on the entertaining and touching side and away from the dogmatic.

If you have already seen V for Vendetta, don’t worry. There is still a new experience waiting for you…the V for Vendetta blu ray disc. Not only will you get the most amazing HD picture ever, you also get tons of bonus features that give you the skinny on all things “V.” Most importantly, though, if you have already seen V and you have a friend who has not, don’t give away the surprise. Just hand them your copy and maybe hum a little Tchaikovsky to yourself.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trapped On The Set Of A Time To Kill

Welcome to Day 2 of "Sarah Goes Back to the Dark Ages Before There Was A/C!" Yesterday started out innocently enough. I got up and ate my customary oatmeal, worked out (yes, I'm still doing that), and then took a shower and headed to my dentist appointment. I probably should have taken the dentist appointment as an omen of bad things to come. It took my dentist (whom I absolutely love) 3 separate attempts to get my tooth numb enough to pull of the temporary crown and glue in the permanent one. Good times. 2 hours later, I headed for home, my drooping lip dragging behind the car. As I walked into the house from the garage, I thought, Wow, it doesn't feel much cooler in there than in the garage...what's up with that? A quick check of the thermostat revealed that it was 83 degrees in the living room, and it was even hotter in the back of the house.

Fast forward to last night. I went to church for drama practice. I threatened to extend practice several hours so that I could remain in the lovely air conditioned building. Unfortunately, no one went for my suggestion. As I was reluctantly dragging myself out to the car, I ran into a friend whom I told about my a/c woes. This lovely person offered us the use of 2 wonderful, glorious, beautiful fans and even offered to meet me somewhere halfway between her house and mine. May I take this moment to say that these 2 fans are quite possibly the most innovative inventions ever conceived by man? They saved us last night. After a few miserable hours together in the living room (heat does little to improve my mood or geniality), Steve and I headed back to our sweat lodge, I mean, bedroom to pretend to sleep for a few hours. Mostly I watched TV until the wee hours, and poor Steve cuddled with his cool, wet cloth. You just can't buy memories like that.

The a/c repair guy came bright and early this morning. (Was it my heat-addled brain or was he the kindest man and did he not have a glow about his angelic face?) He informed me that our compressor had gone to that great air conditioning in the sky and that he would have to order us a new one. I wanted to cry. Not because of the money. Not because the air conditioner is only 3 years old. I wanted to cry because he couldn't fix it today.

After he left and I called to break the news to Steve (who was sleep deprived and less that cheery), I headed back to my bedroom and laid on the bed between the two fans to try to get a little sleep. I did manage a couple hours before the sun started doing her worst. Now, I'm holed up in the cavelike house with all the blinds and window closed, strategically poised between the really exquisite fans. Did I mention that I love the fans?

The good news is that the a/c people called, and the compressor will be here tomorrow. So only one more night of sweaty misery. Of course, the kitties don't have a great grasp of time, and so they suffer on in the heat, wearing their fur coats and looking at me reproachfully from time to time. At least, my dad is still in Spartanburg, and I can go meet up with him later in some well air-conditioned place. I"m thinking some ice cream may be in order.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


When did I become that person who perpetually has a phone attached to their head or whose fingers are frequently found to be flying over a tiny keyboard texting away? I have become so addicted to all this technology in such a short time. Less that 2 years ago, I believed I was as likely to join Facebook as I was to start shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch. (That's who I imagined populated Facebook - the 20 year olds who people the A&F ads.) I also scorned texting and was only able to gaze longingly at the iPods that everyone but me seemed to own.

June 2009: I sit at my laptop typing away at my blog while my cell phone sits on the arm of my chair just in case I get a text message. While I type, my iPod Nano plays my favorite tunes that I purchased from iTunes. I just finished uploading pictures from tonight onto my Facebook profile.

What changed? When did I go from being the girl who didn't even own a VCR 9 years ago to this plugged in, logged on, status updating woman I am now? The first and most obvious answer would, of course, be Steve. Nobody loves technology like my gadget craving sweetie. When we first started dating, he would bring his DVD player to my apartment so we could watch movies. (I didn't have cable at the time.) I remember being so impressed that he owned a DVD player.

Then we got married.

I got a cell phone "just for emergencies," since I would have such a long drive to work. While Steve always had the newest, coolest phone, mine was the most basic model in existence. I was okay with that. What did I need with some fancy phone that I probably couldn't figure out anyway?

I suppose another reason that I've slipped into this hi-tech addiction is my return to college. Nobody is more technologically savvy (at least when it come to communications and music storage devices) than college students. I watched my new (and much younger friends text during class without even looking at their phones. I saw them checking their Facebook pages as if their lives depended on their friends' status updates and pictures.

Then these new friends started texting me.

At first I was indignant that anyone would assume I had a texting plan and would send me text messages over seemingly small things. It didn't take me long to realize 2 things, however. #1 - This is the way these people communicate, so I'd better get used to it. #2 - I've never been big on phone conversation with its awkward pauses and meaningless chatter. Texting was the perfect solution to my phone anxiety. Of course, the other way my college friends communicated was Facebook, so I soon found myself signing up for an account "just so I could access things for school."

The third reason I have gone from retro recluse to high-def devotee? I've made friends. When I think back to even 2 short years ago, I am amazed by the number of really wonderful friends I've gained. I've never made friends easily, and consequently, I've always kept to myself. Now, between school and church, I've have this huge (at least huge for me) circle of friends that I want to stay connected to - with texts, status updates, tagged photos, phone calls, and blogs about random nothingness. I don't know how it happened. Apparently I underestimated the sneakiness.

So the cynics out there can say that my cravings for cool phones, downloaded music, and Facebook surfing is just a result of commercialism or that technology isolates us. I'm going to go ahead and disagree with that. Sure I "friend" people on Facebook that I haven't seen in years and may never see in person again, but I also plan lunch dates, read my friends' good news, and share photos.

Though I may have become a bit of a techonphile, I haven't become jaded yet. I still get a little thrill when I get a text message from someone (beside Steve and my mom, they have to text me.) I check my Facebook "Wall" frequently for postings from friends and find myself beaming when I see a comment on one of my pictures. I see the cool acceptance of others as they smoothly respond to a text or return a voicemail. I'm not there yet. There's still a part of me that thinks, "They must have called/texted me by accident."

Maybe one day I'll see all these texts and postings as a nuisance. Perhaps I'll be able to call up a friend on my cell phone "just to chat." Not today. Today I rush through my blog entry so I can check Facebook. Maybe someone has looked at my latest pics....

Monday, June 22, 2009

My I-Don't-Have-To-Run-Day(s)

After a long and less-productive-than-I-had-hoped-for week, the weekend did finally arrive. Friday dawned hot and muggy with a side of ick. That's when the phone rang. It was my friend, Martha (or Bess, depending on where you meet her), wanting to meet for lunch. Usually, Friday is my housecleaning/laundry day, but I threw my plans to the wind and decided to spend a few hours with one of my favorite people instead. I was feeling kind of blue anyway, and it seemed like the right choice. So, off for pizza and laughs with Martha. Lunch turned into late afternoon as we sat and talked for 3 hours. It was a marathon of catching up, deep discussion, and bizarre stories. Good times.

After finishing up with Martha, I headed to the grocery store and then home. My journey into the so-thick-you-could-cut-it summer air left me feeling a little snoozy, so I stretched out on the couch until Steve got home. Then it was off to the Barkery Bistro for doggie treats. Downtown Greenville was a madhouse (as usual), so Steve just slowed down and pushed me out of the car when we got near the store. (Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but not much.) Inside, the lady behind the bakery display case asked me if the dog I was purchasing the treats for was a girl or boy. (Steve later suggested that I should have said, "I hope so.") After I told her my purchases were for a little girl dog, the woman filled a bag with doggy treats shaped and decorated like butterflies and flip-flops. Then she put bright pink tissue paper in for a final touch. Is that classy or what? I hope the dog appreciates it!

After a pit stop at Best Buy (Steve's suggestion for killing 30 minutes), we headed over to a friend's house for dinner. Did I mention that my friend has a Golden Retriever named Molly, and that I LOVE Golden Retrievers? No? Well, now you know. Though the food and wine were wonderful that night (and the company wasn't bad, either), I was pretty psyched about getting to hang with a Golden. Oh, and for the record, she loved the treats. She didn't say anything about the tissue paper, but I'm interpreting all the licking as her doggy endorsement of its pinkness.

We didn't get home until very late Friday night. (I'm certain that most everyone had turned into pumpkins, except for us.) So, Saturday was good for a lie-in, and then we got to work. Mostly, I got to work. You want to see the list? I cleaned the house, did the laundry, reorganized the pantry, and cooked a giant pot of spaghetti. (Steve mowed the grass.) That's okay. Steve had a hard week, and he needed some rest. He had special permission from me to be a vegetable for the entire weekend. (You notice I said be a vegetable, not eat one. He didn't do much of that.)

Sunday involved lots of relaxing, after church and a Sam's trip, that is. I took an epic 3 hour nap, and Steve played video games with a friend. The evening wrapped up with a little movie watching. Steve rented Capote for me, and he watched it with me - even though I'm certain that he couldn't care less about Truman Capote or anything discussed in the film. Such a good sport. It was an amazing film, however, and I'm glad I got to watch it.

Now, it's Monday, and it's back to work. Last week, I struggled as I worked on my story. I'm praying that this week will be better. I'm also hoping that my weekend of rest and doing anything but writing (I did, at least, read) will aid my attempts this week. So, enough rattling on. Here goes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Last night was the second performance of the Theater of the Galaxies (a rather grand name for the VBS skits, isn't it?) We had to do our skit three times, and it got funnier each time. Perhaps the finest moment of acting was my friend Kayla's imitation of a quail (or was it a chicken?) while dressed in Biblical garb. Not something you see every day.

Being the Always Prepared Girl, I brought my camera, and first chance I got, I passed it off to someone who took pics of us during the performance. A very generous man he was, who snapped away faithfully while we said our lines, did jumping jacks, and shushed wiggling kids. If only the camera had been so generous. Alas, when I got home and downloaded the pictures, I found that it was not.

Fast forward to today. After breakfast (my daily oatmeal, Cinnamon & Spice flavor only), I dug the dreaded DVD out the bottom drawer of my dresser. You know the DVD. You probably have one, too. The exercise DVD. I bought it about a year and a half ago. I used it for about a week, and then my life fell apart for a while (hospitalization, broken kneecap, bronchitis, it was a fun time.) So, I pulled the DVD out from under some winter clothes, brushed the dust off my tennis shoes, and I actually.........exercised.

It wasn't pretty. In any sense of the word. I am so out of shape. Even the cats were horrified. I actually heard them hiss at each other. I think they were so disturbed by my appearance that they needed to vent their disgust in the only they knew. Maybe they were unnerved by the elevator/club house music that all aerobics instructors love. That or they were just in shock at seeing me do anything that makes me break a sweat. I'm not big on sweating. Ever.

So, I've exercised, done my devotions, eaten my lunch (a sandwich without cheese), and now it's time for work. Lots of writing to do, and this is my warmup. I hope it's moderately more graceful than my messy marching and contortionist crunches. I know it'll involve better music.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cooking by the Recipe

Miracle of all miracles: Today I've actually gotten some writing done. Ever since the last day of the residency, I've been plodding along with my newest story idea one paragraph (and sometimes one word) at a time. Then a few days ago, I had a long talk with a writer friend who asked all the right questions about my story and my characters. Since then I've just been thinking, letting everything "cook." So, today, I have nowhere I have to go and no big chores hanging over my head. Enough cooking. Time to write.

I've been very disciplined today (here's hoping that catches on.) I didn't sleep in, I did my devotions (instead of putting them off 'til the end of the day), and I jumped right in on my work. When I sat down to write, I didn't feel any more inspired or clear-headed than I have for the past week, but things started to clear up the more I typed. I'm now up to 7 pages, and I'm feeling super-productive. So, just a little more writing, then it's back to Holden Caulfield.

Now there's a transition. You try making a segue from thanking God for my productive day of writing to JD Salinger's angsty lad who looks at life through crap-colored glasses. I do love Holden Caulfield, though. He's such a cheery fellow, what with his drinking and swearing and penchant for prevarication. To steal his favorite line, he absolutely kills me.

So, here's hoping my week continues in this organized and productive manner. Lots of writing. Lots of reading. Less cooking. Well, except for dinner, that is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nerd Wars: A Review of Fanboys

Kyle Newman's Fanboys is a 90 minute reiteration of all my nerd theory philosophizing. From the multiple scenes of Fanboy on Trekkie violence to the repeated comments of scornful Star Wars Fans mocking lowly Trekkies, the lack of unity among the I-live-in-my-mother's-basement crowd permeates the entire film. With cameos by Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner, and Carrie Fisher, there's plenty of campy fun and nit-picky allusions to satisfy both the casual movie watcher and the hardcore fan. However, I doubt that someone who's never seen Empire Strikes Back or who think Jar Jar Binks is hilarious would seriously appreciate the film.

Fanboys follows four friends as they travel cross country in 1998 to break into Skywalker Ranch (for the uninitiated, that's the home of George Lucas) and steal a rough cut of Phantom Menace six months prior to its release. The one friend's terminal illness tempers the absurb nature of the plot and gives it an almost touching twist. He is, after all, a true fan and couldn't possibly consider dying without having seen the much anticipated film. So it's easy to believe that he would risk everything to steal the rough cut and breathe the rarified air of Skywalker Ranch. Of course, there is the overriding irony that every Star Wars Fan recognizes - Phantom Menace sucked.

As for stars, there aren't many in this film, and that is part of its charm. There are no big names among the main characters (with the possible exception of Kristen Bell who plays the ultimate girl nerd sidekick.) Seth Rogen makes some appearances as minor characters, though in his first appearance as a periodontally challenged Trekkie, he is almost unrecognizable. There are also the memorable cameos that I mentioned before, but mostly it's just a bunch of guys who were probably nerds in high school making a film about guys who were nerds in high school. The exuberance with which the actors approach these gleefully socially inept characters is charming and hilarious.

Both the director and the actors described Fanboys as a "love letter" to the work of George Lucas. The description seems apt. From the scene in the Lucas vault where the gang fondles all his movie memorabilia to the perfectly timed trip into the Lucas trash compactor, there was nothing but love for all things Lucas. While this film is a laugh a minute for Star Wars Fans, it may not be for everyone. Though it isn't as "colorful" as some of the other like-minded films (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Zack and Miri), it does feature a cameo of Jay and Silent Bob, and as every nerd knows, Kevin Smith is somewhat synonymous with less-than-lily-white humor. They did manage to avoid the crude-for-crude's-sake humor that can sometimes lead to boredom.

If you're the type of person who can quote Star Wars dialogue like Scripture and thinks Dog the Bounty Hunter is a Boba Fett rip off, then this is the film for you. Watch it and enjoy philosophical debates about Luke and Leia's nefarious kiss. Watch it and know you're not alone. And may the force be with you.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

To Do: A Day Late and a DVD Short

I am something of a small time movie buff. I don't claim to have the movie prowess of some of my older and wiser friends, but I can certainly hold my own on trivia night. My husband and I have a fairly extensive dvd collection, and I Tivo everything I can from IFC and any of the premium channels' free weekend offerings.

The best part of being a self proclaimed Movie Geek is that other Geeks find you and want to talk shop. Inevitably, my obsessed friends mention some film or films that I've yet to catch. They breathlessly explain the plot and highlights of their favorite flicks, and I make a mental note either to look for the film or avoid it scrupulously (depending on their description and tastes.) Of course, as soon as I am separated from my enthusiastic friend, the titles begin to slip my mind. So as I sit in bed watching The Purple Rose of Cairo (which I've never seen before), I think I'll make a list of movies I still haven't seen, but fully intend to:

The Deer Hunter
Schindler's List
The Professional (I've only ever seen the last half.)
To Kill A Mockingbird
On Golden Pond
Sweeney Todd
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest
Roman Holiday
Bottle Rocket

Okay, my brain hurts trying to think of more. It's like I said, five minutes away from the movie talk, and I can't remember a single recommended film title. I guess it's not enough that I'll be playing literary catch up for the rest of my life. I have all these movies hanging over my head. And the new ones just keep coming. Maybe I'll start requiring friends to only mention movies that they own and are willing to lend. Otherwise, it's going to be a case of Will-Work-For-DVD-Rentals.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's Five O'clock Somewhere...

Today was Day #3 in "Sarah is a college graduate/housewife/graduate student." It's so weird to have nothing due until August and no classes again until January. The freedom is dizzying, and I must admit, it has turned my head just a bit. I probably need to get on some kind of schedule before I turn into one of those people who sleep all morning, write all night, and drink in the afternoons.

Therein lies the problem, however. I function better at night. I like to write at night. I procrastinate my writing all day, and then, as soon as Steve starts snoring away next to me, my fingers fly across the keyboard. Maybe if I get more disciplined about doing my reading during the day, the writing discipline will follow.

What reading you ask? Well, let me tell you about my reading list. I have twelve books, both fiction and craft, that I have to read over the next semester and write critical responses to. (No, I won't end sentences with prepositions in those responses.) Actually I'm very excited about my reading list. That's the great thing about an MFA program. Unlike undergraduate work, you get to have a say in what books you read. My advisor and I chose a great mix of classic and contemporary and even one book I've already read that I just want to reread. Curious what MFA grad students are reading? Wonder no longer...

Lost in the Funhouse, John Barth; The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor; Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri; Monkeys, Susan Minot; Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan; The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien; Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger; Ellen Foster, Kay Gibbons; The Tiny One, Eliza Minot, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor; Burning Down the House, Charles Baxter, and Best American Short Stories 2009, selection of 4 stories.

Are you jealous yet? I know I can hardly wait for the FedEx guy to show up with my great big Barnes & Noble box full of literary goodness. I am so glad that a couple of wonderful people gave me B&N gift cards for graduation. It's been a lifesaver with all the book buying I've been doing.

Right now, I'm still trying to finish Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Of course, I don't mean trying to in the sense that I'm having trouble finishing it. It's just that I started the book before the residency and then had to stop. Now I'm having to get back into it and remember who's who. I really love the book, though. Makes me want to read some of his fiction. I guess there's one for another semester's reading list.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Five Degrees of Separation

Just the other day I was informed that I was a “professional nerd.” When I asked what that meant, my friend explained that I wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill nerd. According to her, I embrace my nerd status and make a study of it. I make nerdy cross-references and study the implications of nerd philosophy. While I have never attempted to hide my less-than-cool status, I had never thought of my place in the nerd hierarchy in those terms before my friend’s casual comment.

As I consider my place in the kingdom of Movie Geeks, Comic Book Collectors, Star Wars fans, Gamers, and Trekkies, I realize that while I dabble in several areas of “nerdom,” I have never specialized. Each of these groups considers itself as slightly superior to the others, except perhaps Trekkies who seem to have accepted their rank at the bottom of the totem pole. Hang out in any of these circles for long and you’ll hear comments like, “Well, at least I don’t collect comic books,” or “It’s not like I play D&D in my mother’s basement.” Yes, even amongst nerds there is no solidarity. The cliques and prejudices of the popular crowd plague the nerds, too. Maybe that’s why I’ve never picked a side. I guess I’m more of an equal opportunity nerd. I accept all types of freaks and geeks, well, except for Gamers. They’re just weird.

Let us examine those I view as the highest functioning of the nerd set: the Movie Geek. This brand of nerdiness manifests itself in compulsive purchasing of DVDs including, but not limited to: classic cult films, sci-fi flicks, indies, complete television series, and childhood favorites. The average Movie Geek will probably have The Princess Bride, The Original Star Wars Trilogy, Pulp Fiction, Caddyshack, The Godfather, and Office Space in their DVD library. Of course, the title of Movie Geek is not bestowed on every person with a DVD collection in their closet. No, the title involves far more responsibility than simply maintaining an impressive list of films. There is the movie quote/trivia knowledge factor. A true Movie Geek can always think of the most appropriate movie quote for any situation. They always win at “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” (If you aren’t familiar with that game, don’t worry. It just means you’re not a Movie Geek.)

I must confess that I have a soft spot in my heart for this type of nerd, as it is a vital part of my own nerd makeup. When my husband and his friends spent a year speaking to each other in quotes from the film, Snatch, I could join in and hold my own. When my friends talk about a movie but just can’t remember who played the girl-who-killed-that-guy, I always come to the rescue. Movie trivia games at my house turn ugly, fast.

Many times, different nerd groups overlap. This is often true of the Movie Geeks and the Comic Book Collectors. While hard core Collectors certainly scoff at the “inaccuracies” of film adaptations of their beloved comics, they still line up to see the latest attempt to bring one of Stan Lee’s creations to life. Many films even celebrate the Comic Book Collector. Writer/Producer/Director/Actor Kevin Smith features comic books and collectors heavily in his films. In Smith’s Mallrats, one of the main characters has an epiphany after an encounter with Stan Lee in front of a comic book store. Even a blockbuster film like Live Free or Die Hard includes a brief interlude where Kevin Smith plays an uber-nerd who helps save the day. The Comic Book Collector may be mercilessly mocked by people both in and out of nerdom, but if Hollywood is any indication, their stock may be rising.

Closely related to the Comic Book Collector due to the similarity of subject matter is the Star Wars Fan. When I asked my husband what a fan of Star Wars was called, he said, “Cool.” Unfortunately for my husband (and me), that’s mostly wishful thinking. While Lucas’ recent offerings may have upped Star Wars’ popularity, the true Star Wars Fan still stands alone. Many a Fan has scoffed at the Star Wars neophyte who commented that Phantom Menace was awesome. The Die Hards know who they are and that Empire Strikes Back was the best Star Wars movie ever and that Admiral Ackbar can always spot a trap.

While I do claim to have a toehold in the Star Wars Fan realm of nerdom, I have to surrender to the greater power in the Force, my husband. One of his greatest regrets in life is that he never got a Millennium Falcon as a child. He actually plays a game with other Fans where they name random characters and decide who is “better,” a nerdy variation on the more risqué “Who Would You Do?” game. He recently lost this game to a seven-year-old boy. They were having an argument over who was better, Chewbacca or the Ewoks. My husband was arguing for Chewy while his little friend insisted that the Ewoks were better. When my husband asked him why, he simply said, “Chewbacca was fooled by a piece of meat.” No one could argue with that. (If you listen closely, you will hear all the nerds laughing at this story. They get it.)

Like the other layers of nerdiness that I have already explored, the next level of nerd flows nicely from Star Wars Fan – the Gamer. Once again, we have some overlap. Gamers like to live in a world of their own (or someone else’s) imagination. The same people who love LucasLand, also love to play Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D as it is affectionately called) and video games like World of Warcraft. The D&D Gamer hand-paints tiny figures to represent their characters whose fates are decided by the roll of 12-sided die. The D&D game is led by an all-powerful person called the Dungeon Master – also known as the guy who never got a date in high school. Gamers speak a language all their own and often see their imaginary worlds as a place of escape. Though this is the nerd group with whom I have the least affinity, I do have to salute their commitment to their own nerdiness. They make no attempt to hide their Gamer label. If anything, they seem to wear it with pride. You’d have to admire their bravery in parading their obsession in front of a cruel, uncaring world if you were sure they accepted this world as their own.

The final group in the nerd hierarchy deserves a paragraph without transition or link to the discussion of previous groups. In the land of nerds, Trekkies, or Trekkers as those in denial prefer to be called, stand alone. The devoted fans not only watch and memorize episode after episode of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Enterprise, they also attend conventions where all their fellow Trekkies gather, many of whom are dressed as their favorite character. They tell each other to “Live Long and Prosper” and translate Klingon love poetry.

For some reason that I can’t quite grasp, other nerds view Trekkies as the weakest of the Pocket-Protector Pack. They are the butt of jokes that nerds tell each other. To be called a Trekkie is considered an insult by many. This seems unfortunate to me since I have found Trekkies to be some of the nicest people I have ever met. Maybe it’s just my inner Trekkie bonding with a kindred spirit. Sure, I’ve never used the offer of a Vulcan mind meld as a pick-up line, but I do love the show and feel deep indignation at the fact that J.J. Abrams (of Lost fame) is bastardizing the series into some overblown action flick. Oh, no, my Trekkie is showing.

This explication of nerd-theory and the organic hierarchy of nerds across America has brought me to a higher understanding of my place in the cold, dark world of the uncool. Maybe my title shouldn’t be “Professional Nerd” as much as it should be “Nerd-For-All-Seasons.” I like to think I celebrate all the different areas of nerdom, and there are many. After all, I haven’t even started on the International Nerds. Great Britain has “Whoies,” a group obsessed with the show Doctor Who, a long-running program about a time traveling alien who regenerates into a different actor every time one Doctor “dies.” And as everyone knows, Tom Baker was the best of all the Doctors, and can I offer you a jelly baby?

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

So it starts today. The residency is over, the house is clean, and I've slept my brain to mush. The real work of this MFA begins this very afternoon. No one is standing over me with looming deadlines, pop quizzes, or midterm exams. It's just me and my laptop and a big blank screen. Sure, it's a little intimidating. I have so many voices bouncing around in my head - professors, characters, my own self doubt. Now I just have to shut everything out and try to write something.

At least I'm not alone on this journey. Ever since the residency, I've talked daily to a friend in the same boat. He's been sending me pieces of his hilarious story and making me feel like a complete slacker. I've got to get working so I have something to read next time he calls.

In the vein of trying to get motivated and focused, I made Steve watch Wonder Boys with me last night and shock of all shocks, he liked it. Well, he didn't wax poetic about it or anything, but I did hear him laugh out loud several times, and he admitted it was "okay." In Steve-ese that's practically effusive. So he may never give more than an "it's good" as a critique to one of my stories, but at least he sat through of one my favorite writer movies. Small victories, right?

Well, the day is speeding by, and I have writing to do. So it's time to go. I have lots of rejection letters to earn.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dead On Arrival, Or How I Survived My First MFA Residency

So after a prolonged absence, I am back. Perhaps a little worse for wear. I had 9 whole days of break between graduation and my first residency in my graduate school program. If I had known how tired I was going to get during the residency, I think I would have slept the entire 9 days between graduation and the residency.

The Converse College MFA Program's inaugural residency was amazing, but it was also very intense. For 9 days, I was either in a lecture, workshop, reading, or huddling over my laptop and wishing I didn't have to squeeze in a rewrite. The other students were great, however, and the faculty was unbelievable. Every day ended with a reading (both faculty and student) followed by a reception, which involved drinks and laughs. (One reading actually began with a student reading an epigraph by W.C. Fields in the voice of Christopher Walken. You can't make that stuff up.) I guess that is one theme that ran through the entire week and a half - laughs.

Of course, I learned lots of stuff during my week of intense study, and much of what I learned will greatly benefit my writing. Then there were the things that have absolutely nothing to do with writing. For example, my friend Rebecca taught me at least one new word meaning (which I won't be sharing in print.) I learned that people in the south put mayo on everything. I also learned that sleep deprivation and alcohol are an interesting combination. It's amazing the effect that one beer can have on someone who's had 4 hours of sleep. And by somebody, I mean me.

Then there was Rock Band night. Yes, my Rock Band obsession has spread to my professors, and we actually had a Rock Band party during the MFA residency. It was so great to see everyone loosen up and participate after they saw someone else make an idiot of themselves at the microphone. And by someone else, I mean me.

My favorite part of the week, though, was simply the time spent with friends and fellow writers. There were deep conversations and all that heavy stuff, but there was also a lot of flat out cutting up. Why are writers so much fun? There was truly a sense of solidarity among all of us, students and professors both. I got to meet some new people, and even more importantly, I got to spend time getting to know some of my Converse friends even better over Thai food and chocolate chip cookies and tapas and overpriced cocktails.

Of course, there were a few occasions when we almost got to know a little too much about each other. With 9 days of constant contact, everybody starts to let their real selves show. I read somewhere that if you are sleep deprived for long enough that it is like being intoxicated. If that is really true, then most of us were, in fact, quite buzzed most of the time. There were oversharing incidents and Freudian slips and invasions of personal space on a daily basis. Just a lot of glorious, messy life. One professor commented that she couldn't remember what her real life was like after so many days on the Converse campus. I must admit, I'm looking forward to remembering what my real life is like. At least until January.