Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nerdish Delight

Because you weren't convinced of my total descent in the nerdy abyss, I am posting these AWESOME pictures I found online.

So, this is a double nerd delight. All eleven Doctors as Simpsons characters! (If you don't know who the Doctors are, I'm not explaining it to you.)

Here are David Tennant as the Doctor and his faithful assistant, Donna Noble, also as Simpsons characters.

A Simpsons version of the Weeping Angel from "Blink."

And last but not least is this SUPER AWESOME poster that I also found online....

Am I ready for the return of the Doctor in 2011 or what?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Books + Bubbles = Motherhood

I'm not beginning this entry with an apology. There's a week and a half until my final packet of the semester is due, and I have a nine-month old baby. I post when I post. That being said, I am looking forward to more regular posts during my nearly two-month break before the next semester starts. (And yes, I am aware of the paving material for the road to Hell.)

Despite the irregularity of my posts since the arrival of Superbaby, I have tried to keep one thing consistent: no torrent of baby-related posts. This is not a poke at my friends who have child-centric blogs. That is the purpose of their blogs, and I read them with relish (mostly.) My blog, however, is about my life as a student and writer, and also a place for me to rant about films and books. I'm afraid I'm going to have to break my rule, however, as these two areas of my life (books and baby) have intersected.

I have already written about my obsession with children's literature and my joy at having an excuse now to revist old favorites. Only recently, however, I got do the one thing I have looked forward to since the day I found out I was pregnant (and even before that)....I took Lucy Addison to the library.

Deciding when a child is old enough for the library is a tricky thing. If I'd had my way, I would have been wheeling her in there for a load of books on the way home from the hospital, but alas, the library is a quiet place, and squawling infants are met with stern looks over ancient reading glasses. So I waited. At eight months, I decided that I'd been patient long enough. We made our first trip to the library.

As I carried my twenty pound infant on my hip (a mistake I didn't repeat...stroller from here on out), I half-expected bright lights and an angel choir. I was, after all, introducing Lucy Addison to the library. Here she will choose books, find her favorites, go to storytime, win summer reading contests, oh, wait, I digress. Back to reality. Things weren't quite like I remembered from my childhood library visits (and there were many.)

First of all, Greenville libraries have automatic sliding doors now. How unromantic is that? I was prepared for the computerized card catalogs and infrared scanners and book barcodes, but not the sliding doors. It was a little disappointing. Then there's the whole smell thing. When I was little, my favorite thing about the library was the smell. I was the only five year old who got a contact high from the scent of musty books. Since I can no longer smell, something of the whole experience was diminished.

The visit improved greatly, though, when I got to the children's section. As I wandered (as much as one can wander when their right arm is numb from carrying a baby) through the picture books (set in shelves at kid height), I spotted the sign for storytime. Every Tuesday at 10 and 11. It was Wednesday. We'd have to wait a whole week for it to come around again. "Lucy Addison," I said, "we'll be back." She didn't seem particularly excited at the prospect.

We checked out her very first library books and rushed home to begin reading them. That part was as good I'd hoped. I remembered all the books my mother had read to me, all the trips to the library lugging the maximum number of books allowed from library to car to house and back. Checking out favorites again and again. Was Harry still a dirty dog? He was. Was Lyle still the most clever crocodile? Turns out yes.

Then came the day for storytime. I followed the other mothers in with their squirming toddlers and even a few infants. A smiling librarian with a Clifford puppet on her hand met us at the door. "Clifford" spoke to each child as they entered. Lucy Addison inspected the red dog from the safety of her stroller, looking a little skeptical with furrowed brow, and then we rolled into the auditorium with fifteen or twenty other children for the main event.

May I say that I never felt more like a mother than I did for that half hour. It was magical. There was singing, story reading, and even a rhythm/marching band where Lucy Addison got her own instrument (a rice-filled plastic egg.) There was even a bubble break. Part of me didn't want it to end. The best part was that Lucy Addison really seemed to enjoy it. That's it. No clever quips or funny anecdotes. It was perfect. The librarian even read Harry, The Dirty Dog.

Cue the music. This was the moment I had built up in my mind all those years. I am the mother of a little girl, and I just took her to storytime at the library.

And we get to do it again next week.

For anyone who's curious, here are the books we've checked out and read so far:

Thirsty Baby, Catherine Ann Cullen

Olivia and the Missing Toy, Ian Falconer

Olivia Forms a Band

Angelina Ballerina, Katharine Holabird

Angelina Ice Skates

Angelina's Baby Sister

Princess Baby, Karen Katz

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Bernard Waber

Harry, the Dirty Dog, Gene Zion

LMNO Peas, Keith Baker

Too Many Frogs, Sandy Asher

Maisy Goes to the Library, Lucy Cousins

On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, Rachel Isadora

Bears on Chairs, Shirley Parenteau

Lyle and the Birthday Party

Eloise: a Book for Precocious Grown-Ups, Kay Thompson (we didn't finish this one. Too much for LA)

Wee Little Bunny, Lauren Thompson

Plus these that we checked out this week and are in progress....

A Beautiful Girl, Amy Schwartz

Emily and Albert, Jan Ormerod

Emma and Mommy Talk to God, Marianne Williamson

Martha Walks the Dog, Susan Meddaugh (Martha is after my time, but I'm in love with her!)

Angelina at the Fair

Angelina and Alice

Angelina at the Palace (Noticing a pattern here?)

Say Cheese!, Lauren Child

Katy and the Big Show, Virginia Lee Burton

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dead Dogs Tell No Tales: A Rather Late Review of Australia

I've decided I'm going to revise Chekhov's famous gun rule this way: If a dog is introduced in the first act, it will die tragically in the third. Filmmakers everywhere apparently have a tacit agreement that dogs can and should be included in a film as a means to manipulate the audience's emotions when said dog is senselessly shot/poisoned/has its neck snapped. Dogs have become the new version of the obligatory unnamed Star Trek cast member who appears and dies in every episode.

Why am I ranting about this particular little movie tidbit? I finally got around to watching Australia. Yes, I know it's not my usual movie fare (not to mention two years too late), but everybody kept telling me how wonderful it was and how I had to see it. So I Netflixed it. And yes, the dog dies.

Every person I talked to raved about the beautiful scenery, the exquisite cinematography. So while I didn't have high expectations for the film itself, I was prepared to be blown away by the breathtaking experience that is panoramic vistas in Blu-ray. So imagine my disappointment when I watched the actual film. Yes, there were certainly a few scenes with the stock Australia-type footage. Everything in between, however, appeared to have been filmed in a studio in sunny LA. Even the big outdoor scenes were split by badly transitioned close-ups that were obviously shot in a studio. One second Nicole Kidman or Hugh Jackman would be kicking up dust astride a horse, and the next second there would a poorly-lit head shot of them with a Sears Portrait Studio background behind them and a oscillating fan to the side. The shift between location and studio shots was so poor that after a while it became physically jarring.

Of course, dead dog and bad filming aside, the biggest problem with the film was that I'd already seen it. Yeah, I saw it back in 1992 when it was called Far and Away. Different time period, you say? Different country and no Tom Cruise, you point out? Well, it doesn't make any difference. The films were so similar in feel and circumstances to be laughable. The boy narrator even refers to Kidman once as the "Far, far away lady." Did the writers intend that as a joke? I hope so because it would be the only clever writing in the entire film.

Now, I must temper my harsh words with the reminder that the sweeping historical romance is not my usual choice when it comes to film, so I went into this whole experience with a bit of bias. Nevertheless, I watched the movie with as much of an open mind as I could muster hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Alas, I wasn't. The expected people died. The predictable misunderstandings and moments of poignancy went off like clockwork. No new ground was trod by this film or its director/writer, Baz Luhrmann.

All that being said, the film was entertaining and full of suspense. Nicole Kidman's costumes were beautiful, and she looked like an ivory goddess (as usual.) Hugh Jackman was appropriately craggy and emotionally unavailable, and love conquers all in the end.

Love wasn't enough, however, to overcome the bad writing and poor cinematography. It also didn't save the dog.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Moore Work (Pardon My Pun)

The work continues. I have had to give up on the whole writing-during-the day thing for a while. I've always worked better at night, but before the baby got here, I could make myself eek out a little work during the day. Now that Lucy Addison is here and demanding more and more of my daylight hours, I find that whatever daytime concentration I'd been able to muster in the past has now completely disappeared. After two weeks of trying to be the disciplined, dedicated writer who gets up and writes before her child is awake, I've had to resort to writing at night while she is asleep. The downside is that evenings are also the time when Steve is home. Oh well, I suppose we're must suffer for our art, right? And besides, it gives Steve a chance to play Red Dead Redemption, and, after all, we must have priorities. Video game banditos need love, too.

In addition to my creative work (I'm still plugging away on the old novella), I am also trying to finish up the books I'm reading for my critical paper this term. I believe I mentioned this before, but in case you're just tuning in, I am [planning on] writing my critical paper on non-linear narratives in twentieth century lit with female authors, and more specifically, Lorrie Moore. So far I have read, Self-Help, Anagrams, Like Life, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, and I'm about half-way through Birds of America. After I finish it up, I will only have A Gate at the Stairs left to go.

So far, I am loving her work. Like Life was probably my least favorite thus far (and also the least related to my critical project), but I am IN LOVE with Self-Help and Anagrams. It is almost unfortunate that I am not writing my paper on her use of word play because, quite frankly, her word play is AMAZING! Not only does she do really subtle stuff in the narration, but her characters are very intelligent and witty, and they make hilarious puns and turns of phrase that resonate with so many layers of meaning. Wait a minute. Can layers resonate? So maybe the cold medicine is kicking in a bit...never mind me. Lorrie Moore's words, metaphors, connotations, and references are brilliant. I swear that if I went through her stuff with a flourescent highlighter marking every time she blew me away with her mastery of the English language, the books would glow in the dark.

Besides her word play, an aspect most impressive to me is her use of the second person in Self-Help. She manages to write successful second person stories that are also entertaining and moving - not just exercises in edginess. This is a feat I've rarely seen accomplished so elegantly - though Leslie Pietrzyk's "Ten Things" would also fall in that amazing second person story category.

Of course, all of these aspects, though very intriguing, have little to do with my paper, which is about non-linear narratives. She does do some pretty impressive things with her handling of time in her stories, and I look forward to exploring that in more depth. So thanks to Bob Olmstead for nudging me toward such an amazing writer.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rambling [Wo]Man

I'm frantically trying to get my writing done for Monday's deadline, so, of course, I'm going to take some time to blog. Actually, I'm a little stuck, and I'm hoping this will shake something loose. Okay, that's kind of a disturbing metaphor, but I digress.

Lately, my days have been one long succession of baby, baby laundry, and feeling guilty/worried about my schoolwork. I can't seem to work for very long periods of times these days (for both practical and unknown reasons), so it's looking like I should have started this one-page-a-day installment plan a little sooner. I just need to get something on the page for this chapter so that I can start editing. The problem is that I keep editing in my head before I put anything down, and then I stall. Plus, I really wasn't planning on writing on one story for the entire semester, but I somehow got convinced that was the thing to do. Apparently, flattery will, in fact, get you everywhere, and telling me that you like my story and want to see more is enough to get me to agree to continue on with little, lost Michelle's adventures. What was I thinking?

So here I sit, knowing that the baby will wake up at any second from her nap and that we both have a cold and I still haven't eaten lunch and the dishes need to be put away and at some point I should probably wash my hair.

Okay, enough with the rant. Every semester I am convinced that this will be the time I don't get everything in by deadline, and every semester it all works out just fine. So I guess that means that this really will be the semester when I'm late and everyone realizes I'm a fraud and the health department really does declare my house unfit and we all run out of clean clothes.....and there she is, awake and ready for a bottle. Break over!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense." - A Review of Alice in Wonderland

Every time I heard Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland described by a friend or acquaintance, I heard the word "weird." Upon its release in theaters, Facebook lit up with comments about the "bizarre" film adaption of Lewis Carroll's classic. Of course, I had seen many of the previews, so I had already accepted the fact that the film would have little or nothing to do with the actual book, but the weirdness intrigued me. After all, even if the filmmaker combined Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Saw There, there probably wouldn't be enough to create a traditional plot/story arc. My hope, then, was that Tim Burton got the mood right - the feel of this truly twisted story, the beautiful "unlogicalness" of it.

This week I finally got to watch Tim Burton's latest...all by myself. I tried to keep my expectations low, since that attitude toward movie watching has paid off recently. Unfortunately, Mr. Burton let me down, and I'm having a difficult time forgiving him this trespass against one of my favorite childhood books.

The first sin was one that has become quite common in Hollywood. Why do filmmakers feel compelled to turn every female literary character into a put upon feminist? We are introduced to Alice as a free-thinking, imaginative child whose one kindred spirit is her father. So you can guess what happens to him. Next we see Alice as a young woman about to be married off to a creepy, young aristocrat who was a blatant rip-off of Spalding from Caddyshack. But Alice won't be tied down, no matter what her mother and sister say or expect. She's going to be a rule-breaker - she's going to change the matchmaking traditions of her generation (cue kicky Joan Jett song.) Seriously? Is Tim Burton jealous of Lewis Carroll's legacy of creepiness that predates his own, and now he's punishing him by completely eviscerating the childlike wonder of his character, Alice? I'm so disappointed.

Then there's the mish-mash of details from the two stories that are shuffled together into a completely new plot that is one part The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, one part Labyrinth, and about twenty parts special effects. What happened to the chess game aspect of Through the Looking Glass? There is only a brief nod to that detail when the final battle scene is set on a checkerboard. Plus, I always thought that Alice's entrance through the mirror was far more intriguing than her initial entry via rabbit hole. Don't misunderstand me. I realized that the story would be new, but surely there was a way to create a story that felt like Carroll. Look to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film adaption. It had very little to do with the books, and yet they managed to maintain the gist of the message and the essence and quirkiness of the characters....which leads me to my next (and biggest) complaint.

Everybody kept saying how weird this film is. I would argue, in fact, that it isn't nearly weird enough. Obviously, those people never actually read the book, which is full of delightful conundrums, tongue-twisting rhymes, and jumps in logic and story that boggle the mind in a way that just feels right...especially to a child. At the age of ten (or whenever I read this book), I so got the writing, the kookiness, the meandering acid trip of it all. And, honestly, this is the area in which I thought Burton would excel. Nobody does creepy and bizarre like him, and yet he appears to have sold out to Disney or whomever suggested that he bastardize such a great book into this extremely accessible movie. Because, let's face it, Alice in Wonderland (the book) is anything but accessible or mainstream.

Lest I sound unfair, I will admit that the film on its own is entertaining. It is well-paced, and the acting is decent. Burton relied on his usual cast, and they didn't let him down (even if Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter did feel a bit like a reheated leftover of his Willy Wonka performance.) I am certain that viewers who never read any Lewis Carroll probably enjoyed it immensely, especially if they are addicted to special effects and elaborate wigs and makeup.

The question I am left with is, Is it enough to be entertaining? Doesn't the filmmaker owe something to the author? Carroll created a masterpiece that used childlike logic to explore very adult injustices and to point out the ridiculous in our world, and yet, the ridiculous is what is missing in the film. There is plenty of silliness and slapstick, but it all appears to be there for no other reason than to solicit a laugh from the audience. About the only thing separating this film from other Disney pap is its lack of a power love ballad. Hey, maybe Burton could give Celine Dion a call, and she could hook him up. Maybe Alice could become the next Disney Princess.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Coming Attractions

Once again I've been slack in the blogging department. I haven't written a new entry in over a month, and I am suitably ashamed. Truth is, I haven't been working on school writing like I should, and I feel guilty if I do "fun" writing for my blog when I should be chipping away at my novella. All kinds of blogging ideas flit through my head and then either wither away or get dismissed as I remind myself of all the schoolwork I should be contemplating instead.

So, I resolve to do better about both. I've been working on my schoolwork fairly faithfully this week, and tomorrow I intend to reward myself with some blogging time. I finally got to watch my most recent Netflix arrival, Alice in Wonderland, and I'm dying to review it. What will I say? Will I give it a thumbs up or say "Off with Tim Burton's head?" I guess you'll have to check back tomorrow to find out!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mr. Sandman, Bring Me a Metaphor

I had the weirdest dream the last night. Words that send even the most devoted listener running for cover. What could be more boring and irrelevant than hearing someone tell you a story that didn't happen? Not that I'm completely innocent of this conversational sin. I've had bizarre dreams that involved people I know and then felt the need to tell them about it the next day. It's a habit I'm working to break. If I ever do it to you, you have my permission to just walk away.

The only thing worse that telling me about a surreal, disjointed nightmare is writing about it. While I know that as soon as I say this, someone will give me an example of some brilliant writer who uses dream imagery expertly. But I am going to stand by my statement (and ignore the fact that I am about to do exactly what I am speaking against.) Dreams in fiction always feel like a device to me. How often in life do you have a dream that so perfectly reflects your inner thoughts/answers some deep question/reveals deeper truths? And yet, in fiction it happens all the time. A haunting visage or piercing incantation follows the dreamer into their waking hours chasing them into some life-changing realization. This shadowy image somehow becomes the hinge on which the entire story swings, and I, as the reader, can't swallow that the writer just stumbled onto that by accident. It had to be on purpose, and forcing an image just doesn't work.

Allow me to give an example.

The other night I had a dream. (Bear with me.) The dream started off as standard fare. I was being chased. Nothing new. That's when things got different and creepy. I came upon a towering mansion with doors that were a couple stories high. As I opened the doors, I stepped into a foyer area that was completely dark, except for a strip of light underneath two more doors in front of me. As the original doors went shut behind me, I somehow understood that they couldn't be reopened. I could only move forward. I opened the two doors in front of me and walked into yet another black foyer with two more doors with that same strip of light. Let me interject now that I am extremely claustrophobic. I desperately wanted to get out of the cramped, dark foyer, and I knew that the only way to get out was to keep moving forward, even though each new set of doors just led to another. This went on for awhile before I finally reached a marbled room complete with unlit chandelier. Then it was back to being chased.

I awoke shaken and temporarily afraid to move. Once I was awake enough to shake off the post-dream jitters, I couldn't stop thinking about the endless doors. It was one of the freakiest images I've had in a dream (that I can remember, anyway.) And at four o'clock in the morning, it seemed very original, very apt, very ripe for inserting into some story. I even considered writing it down so I wouldn't forget it. Fast forward to several days later. Sure the dream was scary, especially for somebody who won't even ride in the backseat of a two-door car. But original? Not so much. In fact, it seems like pretty standard horror movie schtick. So imagine, if I had decided to use this image in a story? I would either have to build a story around the image (can a dream be derivative?), or I would have to wait for just the right story to come along and then plug it in.

Of course, not every story or novel that uses the dream makes it central to the plot, and if you're going to use dreams, subtle is definitely the way to go. Just ask yourself, if it's really the only way to say what you want to say. If you're writing and completely lost in your story with the character acting seemingly of their own accord and he or she has a disturbing dream, go with it. Maybe. But ultimately, it's important to remember that you're already writing a story that didn't happen. Do you really want to include a fiction within a fiction? Will that create some sort of temporal disturbance causing your created world to spontaneously implode? Something to consider.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wibbly Wobbly Time-y Wimey - MFA Summer Residency 2010

I logged onto my blog today to do my MFA Summer Residency entry and discovered that I haven't posted since April. While I knew I'd been laying low in blogland while I finished up my second semester work, I had no idea I'd been so negligent. I really must try to do better...especially since I met several people over the past month or two who actually read my blog....people I'd never met. At this residency, I got to have the completely unnerving experience of meeting someone and having them say, "Oh, I know you. I've read your blog." Talk about inequity. This total stranger knows all kinds of stuff about you, and you know absolutely nothing about them. I got over the weirdness, though, and it was pretty cool to know somebody reads this.

Back to the residency. For all those interested (and even if you're not), I am officially halfway through my Master's. Of course, the biggest chunk of work remains, but if I can get through a semester that included a newborn baby, I can survive anything. This term, in addition to my creative work, I will be completing a 25-page critical paper which will serve as the basis for the craft lecture I'll present at the fifth and final residency. After a lot of thinking and some consulting with my faculty mentor (more about him later), I have narrowed the subject matter of my paper (a bit) to an exploration of time and non-linear narratives in the work of fiction writer Lorrie Moore. I'm really excited about my topic since it's something I've been exploring in my smaller critical papers over the last two semesters.

With each semester, I am assigned a new faculty mentor. The first semester it was the amazing Leslie Pietrzyk, and last semester, I had RT Smith (also amazing.) This term I will be working with Robert Olmstead. In addition to meeting with him regarding our semester plans, he also ran the workshop for our half of the fiction group. Allow me to describe the Bob Olmstead fiction workshop experience...no wait, I can't. The man is, for lack of a better word, intense. His insights and advice were spot on, but you'd be hard pressed to find a more deep discussion of the ethics, morals, and philosphies of the characters, stories, etc. Between the laser precision of his story dissection and the hours-long novella (out loud!) readings we did, we all (Bob included) were wiped out every day at the end of our sessions. I feel like I learned so much that I need a little rest before I can really understand how much I learned. And yes, I realize that sentence doesn't make much sense...except maybe to the three other people from my workshop.

Residency isn't all work, however. We had readings every night, both faculty and student. Of particular note were Leslie's next installment of her novel in progress (hurry up and finish it so we can READ IT!), Dan Wakefield's touching reading of a chapter from his book-in-progress, and fellow student Kate's AMAZING reading the last night of residency. The great and powerful LUCY ADDISON also made her Converse College MFA program debut on the final night. Alas, she didn't give a reading.

The best part of residency is getting to see all my writing friends. As a writer, you are often isolated from others of similar interests, and so when we get together we all talk like mad to get all the literary fellowship stored up until next time. The process of workshop is intensely personal, and a special bond forms between fellow students as we dissect each other's creations, trying to be helpful while treading lightly on each other's feelings.

Now, it's the hard part - buckling down and doing the work....and maybe remembering to do a blog entry or two.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Ten Commandments of Writing

I just finished reading John Dufresne's The Lie That Tells a Truth, and it has become my new favorite book on craft. It's full of mind-blowingly practical, and yet brilliant, suggestions, rules, and prompts. About a quarter of the way through, I came across his "Ten Commandments of Writing," and I decided I'm going to write them on a card and post them near my writing desk. As an MFA student, I hear these things all the time, but it's helpful to see them gathered together in one place. What are the Ten Commandments of Writing, you ask? They are as follows:

1. Sit Your Ass in the Chair.

2. Thou Shalt Not Bore the Reader.

3. Remember to Keep Holy Your Writing Time.

4. Honor the Lives of Your Characters.

5. Thou Shalt Not Be Obscure.

6. Thou Shalt Show and Not Tell.

7. Thou Shalt Steal. (No, that's not a typo.)

8. Thou Shalt Rewrite and Rewrite again. And again.

9. Thou Shalt Confront the Human Condition.

10.Be Sure That Every Death in a Story Means Something.

The Lie That Tells a Truth, John Dufresne, 2003

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tradition on Toast

The mad rush of Packet #4 continues. I have less than a week and a half to finish my mountain of assignments, but what a payoff - a month and a half of essentially no schoolwork! Just me and Lucy Addison hanging out and watching way too many movies. Of course, this mad dash to finish has cut into my cooking and housecleaning time (and blogging too.) So the dreaded question every night has become: What's for dinner? (Yes, that was a dreaded question before my schoolwork deadlines, but it's worse now, okay?)

So today as I contemplated (briefly) what to prepare for our dinner, my mind flipped past the usual quickie suspects. Leftover spaghetti? Had that Monday night. Tacos? The ground beef is still frozen, and anyway, tacos? Again? Steak and peppers. How many nights have we done that over the past couple of months? Then it hit me. I knew what we were having for dinner. I swear I could almost hear trumpets playing a fanfare as the revelation came to me.

Tonight will be a turning point in our relationship. Tonight, we will go where we have never gone before. Tonight, I will fix Steve Chipped Beef Gravy. Yes, dear reader, my husband has never tasted of that culinary delight so often enjoyed on toast or waffles, that creamy goodness that belies its oh-so-common name. Despite my family history, (I come from a long line of chipped beef gravy enthusiasts) I have never prepared this delicacy for Steve. I don't know why. I have no excuse. As a matter of fact, every time my cousin or aunt mentions chipped beef gravy in their Facebook status (yes, it's happened more than once. What can I say? We like to talk about food.), my mouth waters, and I vow that soon I will make chipped beef gravy for dinner. Alas, until tonight, I have never followed through.

I will not be documenting this occasion with step-by-step photographs as I did with the sugar cookie experiment. There's not really anything dramatic about the process...just a little fried meat, a little flour, a little milk, you get the idea. I do have high hopes for the evening, however. I may have struck out with the whole Slumgoyan thing, but I am determined to make Steve love chipped beef gravy. He doesn't care for waffles, and we're out of bread, so I'm flexible. I plan to serve it over a football sized baked potato. I can compromise. Too bad I didn't eat it while I was pregnant. Maybe then I could have at least guaranteed one future fan to eat my family favorite with me. If not, well, there's always my fried chicken gravy. I swear Steve would eat that poured over an old shoe. As a matter of fact, so would I.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monkeys, Maids, and Other Polically Incorrect Things

I am a reader. This is not a new thing. I have been a reader since I was born. (Okay, someone else was doing the reading then, but I still enjoyed it.) When I was little, my mom read my books to me so many times that I could recite many of them, and it was a family pastime to have me do this for company. I guess it's fun to make people think your three year old can read. I had favorites back then, and some of them have stayed with me over the years. I loved Curious George. (So I'm not super original. Sue me.) I loved Dr. Seuss and Madeline and Corduroy and all the other books that mothers read to their babies. Some children's books I discovered as an adult. I'm obsessed with A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. I adore anything by Beatrix Potter (so much so that I even sat through that mediocre sapfest of a film with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.)

I am also a book collector. It is not enough for me to love a book. I have to own it. My children's book collection is significant, and I have been lugging it from house to house for my entire adult life. And now, my book hoarding has finally paid off. With the arrival of Lucy Addison, I now have a legitimate excuse to display and read from all my childhood favorites. So every day, I pull out the Boppy, prop up the baby, and read a good book.

This revisiting of my old favorites, however, has brought to my attention the politically incorrect nature of some of the classics. Now, I am not one to be particularly P.C., but I must admit that I did get a little chuckle thinking about how they are selling these less-than-modern tomes to children at your local B&N. In a world where everything has a non-offensive title (I'm not short, just vertically challenged), it's nice to know that we can count on classic children's literature to take us back to a different time.

Amelia Bedelia - The story of an artless, hapless maid with a penchant for taking things much too literally was one of my childhood favorites. Upon re-reading, however, I was shocked to find our friend Amelia working away in what amounts to a modified French Maid outfit, complete with lace apron and cap. Nothing says, You're my inferior, like making your employees dress in what would now be considered a Halloween costume. Then there is the cavalier way with which Mr. and Mrs. Rogers hire, fire, and re-hire poor Amelia Bedelia. I'm certain that she's not getting any health benefits at that job. Perhaps the president could use the frequently unemployed maid as his new poster child for the health care bill. I'm sure it would improve his standings in the polls for the under ten set. Also hearkening back to a time long ago (and maybe never) was the way which Mrs. Rogers lives. Not only does she have a maid, but she has a sewing circle, for crying out loud. Neither Mrs. Rogers nor any of her lady friends have jobs. So why do they all need maids? Oh, that's right, to clean their mansions. Now there's some relatable characters for today's youth. Either you're so rich that you have a staff to wait on your every need, or you're so poor that you must wander the streets looking for work (See Come Back, Amelia Bedelia.) Don't worry, A.B., you're still one of my favorites, and I swear I don't find it offensive that the only reason the Rogers take you back at the end of each book is because you can bake.

Curious George - So this little primate was definitely before the days of the Crocodile Hunter and Animal Planet. We are introduced to our long-limbed friend as he swings happily about his jungle binging on bananas and just being, well, curious. Then along comes the Man in the Yellow Hat, or as I will henceforth refer to him, The Man. The Man tells George that he knows somewhere where he'll be very happy...the zoo. Are you kidding me? Our monkey friend seemed just fine swinging on vines in his (probably doomed, let's be honest here) rainforest. The Man honestly thinks he'll be happier in the ZOO? Never mind the fact that he tricks George into a bag to trap him. Now there's some light reading for children. Just when you thought it couldn't get any more politically incorrect, poor, little George gets thrown in jail for playing with the phone and calling the fire department! (And while we're on that subject, what fire department has the number 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9? And shouldn't a monkey that can work a rotary phone be congratulated not imprisoned? I have trouble dialing the numbers on my cell phone's touch screen.) Of course, this is a children's book, and it simply must have a happy ending. So what becomes of our mixed-up monkey? Does he hop a jet back to the jungle and live happily ever after? No. He gets dumped in a zoo where The Man buys him and all the other trapped animals balloons. That's right. Balloons. And let us not forget that there is actually a book entitled, Curious George Gets a Job. I wonder if his employer pays for insurance.

Beatrix Potter's stories - Forget the outrage over violent television and video games. Miss Potter had it all covered way back in the day with her fantasy-meets-horrific-realism stories or as I would like to rename Peter Rabbit's story, When Farmers Attack. That's right children. This is not just a morality tale of do good things or bad things will happen. This story is VERY specific. Do what your mother says or you will get eaten and die. Kudos to Mr. MacGregor, though, for his clever mocking of the naughty Peter by hanging his jacket on a stick in the garden. That's not disturbing at all.

These are only three small examples of the politically incorrect nature of the books I treasure, and it is these very details that, in part, make them so dear to me. I'm not naive enough to say they hearken back to a simpler time, so we'll just say a different time. And yes, Lucy Addison will be hear about Madeline and her life in a Catholic girls' boarding school where the parents never visit their children. At some point, she'll probably even read some Mother Goose in all its Gothic horror.

She will not, however, be sung "Rock-a-bye-Baby" as a lullaby. A song about a child falling out of a tree? A girl's got to draw the line somewhere.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Deadlines - with the operative word being...well, you know

I'm sitting at my desk in my upstairs study, and I feel the panic. Just over a week until I must get my next packet in the mail, and I have two pages of one story written, one book read, another half-read, and no exercies or papers written. So why am I writing this blog entry instead of pounding away on my laptop?

I'm stuck.

It seems that I have been rescued from the clutches of pregnancy brain, only to be delivered into the hands of some sort of postpartum mind mush that has no name. I have my story in my head. I know what I want to do. So why the heck can't I just sit down and do it? Even doing my reading has become a challenge. Of course, it probably doesn't help that the book I'm trying to wade my way through is Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Seriously, I want to lay down and die (or at least sleep) every time I pick it up. The crazy POV shifts, wildy varying voices, and intermittent sections of stream-of-conciousness are making me crazy...that is, when I can stay awake long enough to read it.

I can't blame this on the baby.

She's a good girl. Most days, she sleeps like a little lamb between her feedings. So what is my problem? Why do I suddenly feel far more drawn to reading Dr. Seuss and Curious George? Why is every word I type on my story dredged up with great pain and deliberation? Why do people watch Lost? (Okay, that question isn't related. Just something I wonder about.)

I've tried the If-I-Get-Myself-Made-Up-In-The-Morning-I'll-Feel-More-Productive method. Didn't work. Today, I didn't even make the effort. I'm wearing a sweatshirt and black yoga pants that are covered in Abby Tabby hair. My hair is pulled back, and makeup is the farthest thing from my mind. I thought that maybe the I'm-Too-Wrapped-Up-In-My-Work-To-Wear-Makeup method might get me inspired. Instead, I'm just the grungy looking chick with only 2 crummy pages to her story, baby clothes that need to be put in the dryer, and raw chicken breasts lying in the sink and serving as a partially frozen reminder of the dinner I need to start.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Delicious Dishing

Tomorrow's the drop-dead mail date for my first 2nd semester packet. I still have so much to do between this afternoon and tomorrow that it's not even funny, but I wanted to take a minute to thank all the amazing people who have made it possible for me to get any schoolwork done while adjusting to life with a baby.

First there was the grandmothers. Sure they had ulterior motives, wanting to get their time in with the new grandbaby, but they were still a trememdous help once Lucy Addison came home. Not only did they do things like laundry and housework, but they were also real grown-ups to talk to during the day!

Then there have been all the lovely people who've called, written, and otherwise sent their best wishes. This can be a challenge for someone who's not particularly good on the phone (I break out in the same sweat as if I were standing there talking to the person), but it was still much appreciated.

The last group has been the most amazing help, however. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, we are consistenly overwhelmed by the kindness of generosity of our church family at Holland Park. So many amazing ladies have been providing us with meals, and let me tell you, we have eaten well. In addition to the generous culinary offerings, these food deliveries give me a welcome adult visitor with whom to converse, and despite my very tongue-in-cheek blog on friends' and visitors' dire warnings, I love these visits!

So now, it's back to work. I've still got papers to write on novels and short stories and a short story to edit. And baby laundry to wash. Maybe this time I'll remember to put the detergent in when I wash it (don't ask.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Baby and Books Blog Break

As anyone who has been on my Facebook page is acutely aware, Lucy Addison has arrived...six weeks early. After a weeklong stay in the NICU, she is home and ruling from her throne...I mean, crib. Actually, she's a very good baby, and we're so grateful that she's healthy and easy going. Of course, her early arrival has played havoc with all my schoolwork plans (I had 2 deadlines scheduled before her predicted delivery date.) So, after a quick shuffle (thanks to my understanding professor), I have a new schedule and a new looming deadline. It's back to work now, baby or not. This means that my blogging will suffer for a while as it takes a backseat to my mounting pile of writing, reading, and laundry. Never fear, however, I will return...possibly a little sleep deprived and incoherent, but won't that be entertaining?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You Might Be A Writer If...

I've written before on the human need for identification with a specific group. Nerds love to be associated with their own kind, Jeff Foxworthy has made millions uniting rednecks, and we've all watched VH1's I Love the [insert decade] while nodding our heads and saying, "Yes, I remember the Monchhichi!" Well, writers have their own funny little ways, too, and after a week and a half of hanging out with my own kind, I have compiled a short list of "You know you're talking to a bunch of writers when..." (Jeff Foxworthy, eat your heart out.)

1. You correct someone's grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., and they don't get mad.
If a writer is reading this blog entry, right now they are probably saying to themselves, "She really should have used angry since mad technically means crazy, and you know what? I'm okay with that. Nothing like a bunch of writers to keep you honest, at least from a language perspective.

2. You sit around discussing the finer points of your personal language/writing pet peeves.
Mine include people who say, "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less" and people who misuse the word "nauseous" (which includes almost everyone these days.) Nauseous means causing nausea, as in "these gas fumes are nauseous." It does not mean "to feel nausea." So when someone says, "I feel nauseous," I can only agree. Their abuse of the King's English is making me queasy.

On the final night of residency, several members of the fiction group (including some faculty) sat around a lovely dinner at Spartanburg's Inn on Main discussing their own language obsessions. One woman was on a personal vendetta against the use of "alright" in writing since technically it should be written as two words, all right. Another woman crawls out of her skin whenever someone says the non-word, irregardless. (I have to say, I'm right there with her on that one.) The best part of the evening? No one thought we were being nit-picky language snobs. Everyone at the table "got it." No judgements were made...except of those violating our grammatical code of conduct.

3. You make stupid writing puns, and everyone thinks they're hilarious.
There's always the classic, "Avoid cliches like the plague." (Yes, Martha, it's funny every time you say it.) Then there's the one I made up the other day, "She abuses adverbs horribly." (The best part? Steve, my non-writer husband, thought that one was amusing.) Basically, any play on words gets us chuckling. What can I say? We love the language.

4. You begin every shared anecdote with the phrase, "Okay, I'm going to tell you something, but you can't use this."
Writers are fiercely protective of their ideas for future work, and rightfully so. Writing is hard work, and you just can't make some things up. Cow-milking Dalmatians and possessed bedside lamps are like gold in the writing world, and a writer must store up these little gems like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. You never know when an idea draught is coming. And no, you can't steal either the lamp or the Dalmatian. They're all mine.

This list is, of course, not exhaustive. There are as many writerly tics as there are writers, and it is wonderful to be with a group of people who understand the shorthand that all us writing nerds speak. So if you're ever at a cocktail party and you walk into a small group scoffing at some author's multiple point of view shifts or debating the use of the frame story, you'll know you're in the company of writers. (And that you better watch what you say since they'll certainly be judging you by it.) You probably don't have much to worry about, though. We don't get invited to too many parties.

***Due to time constraints, there are probably typos in this blog. Feel free to alert the author to any mistakes you find, but beware: she is a writer, so be sure you know what you're talking about!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"When I Get A Little Money I Buy Books" Erasmus - Winter Residency Part II

Perhaps I should begin this the second installment on my winter residency with an explanation of the low-residency program. I had no idea when I entered this program how many times I would have to explain it to people. Sometimes the listener looks at me like I'm making it up. So allow me to assure you that these low-residency programs exist across the country and that we actually have several nearby (Queens College and Warren Wilson, both in NC.) The purpose of the low-residency program is to offer an MFA degree to the student who is unable to relocate to a city whose university or college offers a residential MFA program. It also allows the student to continue to hold down a real job. This is accomplished through two 10-day residencies that are held on campus, followed by a semester-long study and writing plan coordinated with a faculty mentor. Packets of the student's work are sent in to the faculty mentor throughout the semester. The workload is fairly extensive, but the student is free to schedule their semester work around their lives. Acceptance into these programs is based on the quality of the manuscript submitted. Because many potential MFAers are grown-ups with jobs and families, the low-residency program is increasing in popularity.

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, I feel more free to share the rest of my week with you, the well-informed reader. As you can imagine, winter residency (and summer, too, for that matter) is an intense week of workshops, lectures, and writing with little time for sleeping or resting. As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, however, our benevolent leader did schedule a bit of a break for us on Wednesday that was much appreciated (especially by the 8 months pregnant lady with puffy feet!) Wednesday night I did return to school for a screening of the film, New York in the 50's, a documentary based on Dan Wakefield's book by the same name. Though the film did have the misfortune of being shown in the scorchingly overheated Hartness Auditorium, it managed to rise above the steamy circumstances to entertain and charm. The only downside was that Mr. Wakefield was ill and unable to be at the screening. So we're all saving our questions for the summer residency when we hope to see him again.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday went by in a haze of workshops, lectures, and vain attempts to find a comfortable chair and a place to prop up my feet. There were a few standouts, however. R.T. Smith's (yes, he's my mentor!) lecture on place in short fiction was amazing. Who else could read their lecture and still be so interesting and enlightening? Plus, he brought his Edgar Allen Poe action figure! Albert Goldbarth also made a last minute appearance in both a reading and lecture. On Thursday night he read with the always brilliant (and funny) Susan Tekulve, who read an essay on Scottish food and beverage. I also picked up a copy of her new book, Savage Pilgrims, which I can't wait to read. Albert Goldbarth's reading and lecture were both mind-blowing (and as always, entertaining.) My only regret was that the reading had to be held in Cleveland Hall, which managed to be both cold and uncomfortable. At least I got to sit next to the charming Peter Meinke and his wife during the reading. I can't remember the last time I met two kinder or more friendly people. (He's an amazing poet, too.) I can't wait to go to his reading at Converse at the end of the month (January 26.)

So, now it's all over. It's just me and my computer and a UPS guy loaded down with a massive book order. I have two deadlines before the baby gets here (let's hope she's not an early bird, which doesn't seem too likely considering her parents), not to mention the deadlines and work I'll have to do after she gets here. Here's hoping the muse does not forsake me. I've certainly been given more than enough practical advice and inspiring speeches to carry me through. I guess, now, it's up to me.

For those interested, here is a list of the books I purchased during Winter Residency and also my Reading List for the semester. Feel free to read along with any of these and let me know what you think!

Books I purchased:
Savage Pilgrims, Susan Tekulve (fiction)
Uke Rivers Delivers and The Calaboose Epistles, RT Smith (fiction)
To Be Read in 500 Years, Albert Goldbarth (poetry)

Winter 2010 Reading List:
Fiction 100 (anthology)
Lie That Tells The Truth, John Dufresne (craft book)
On Writing, Eudora Welty (craft book) *
Naming The World, Bret Anthony Johnston (craft book/exercises)
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (fiction)
The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers (fiction)
The Optimist's Daughter, Eudora Welty (fiction) *
I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, William Gay (short fiction)
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (craft book)

* It's like Rod read my mind! I was so wanting to reading some Eudora Welty this term. I mean, I did go Flannery O'Connor mad last term, so it's only fair.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tight Schedules and Tighter Shoes: MFA Winter Residency Part One

I realized this morning that I have been missing from blogland for nearly a month, and what a month it has been. I went to Maryland for a week to visit family and just missed their record-breaking Christmas blizzard. I celebrated Christmas with Steve in a very quiet, laid-back way, and that was followed by a less than stellar new year as we lost our precious cat, Hobson to cancer and congestive heart failure. So while champagne was already off the menu for the New Year celebrations this year, it wasn't exactly with sparkling grape juice and noisemakers that we welcomed in 2010.

On a happier note, January 2nd meant the return to school as the Winter Residency began. Since Saturday (Jan 2), I haven't stopped. My life has been a whirlwind of lectures, readings, workshops, and traipsing across campus in the coldest weather Spartanburg has seen in a decade. A fine time to have ridiculously cold weather - when I'm too big to button my coat! The good news is that the program director has worked in a nice little break into the middle of all this craziness, so today I can (quite literally) put my feet up for a few hours, do some writing assignments, and just enjoy my home furnace and humidifier. I even have a nice, warm cat (Abby Tabby) cuddled beside me to keep me warm. Of course, I'll be back at school tonight for a showing of the film adaptation of Dan Wakefield's New York in the Fifties, but I'll be refreshed and ready to go by then. Besides, I'm really looking forward to the film, and Steve has promised to go with me.

Being pregnant during the residency has certainly made it more challenging, but I don't mean to imply that it's been 5 days of torture. The lectures have been great, and the faculty and fellow students are amazing. There have been plenty of highlights (or hi-lites, as I saw on a beauty shop sign near my house yesterday) to celebrate.

  • RT Smith, editor of Shenandoah (and my mentor this semester!) gave a reading of his new fiction on Saturday night, including a Southern re-telling of Rumplestiltskin.

  • Sarah Kennedy's lecture on the prosy poem. I will now think of her at every poetry reading I attend, wondering if the next poem will "outstrip" me or simply take me along for the ride. Here's hoping for the former rather than the latter.

  • Leslie Pietrzyk's (my fantastic former mentor) lecture on finding the story in your novel or short story. I love the practical way in which Leslie approaches writing. She always has such amazing tips and tricks to suggest, and it's so comforting to know that a writer of her caliber has to work hard and use tips and tricks, too.

  • Having a 3 hour gab session with my favorite fellow student at Jason's Deli. I think we solved the problems of the world and completely dissembled each other's workshop pieces. Good times!

  • Peter Meinke's reading of his poem about the undercover poetry reader.

  • Tim McKee's (editor of Sun Magazine) lecture on "Surfacing Pearls" where he actually gave us lists of what he looks for as an editor and what not to do in your stories. Way to be the first editor/speaker we've had that was willing to be that specific!

  • C. Michael Curtis' reading of some of the crazy cover letters he's received as editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

  • Looking at really, really old issues of Concept while taking a workshop break in the Coker Room.

Today, I enjoyed a bit of a lie-in and a little blogging time, and this afternoon I have lots of writing to do after my weekly doctor's appointment. Here's hoping I'm able to write my re-imagining of "Hills Like White Elephants" and my point-of-view switch exercises before heading to the movie. Tomorrow it's back to the insanity, and Friday I get workshopped. I better start psyching myself up now.