November 30, 2006

I Did It!

Well, despite my negligence in posting on this blog every day as challenged with NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) I remain extremely proud of myself as I am an official winner of the NaNoWriMo challenge. Yes, I have written a 50,000-word (and then some) novel in a period of thirty days. After several rewrites you will see it in bookstores all over the country. Give me about ten years to get that all worked out.

I never thought I could do it. But now that I know I can, I look forward to next year's challenge. Thanks to all the people at NaNoWriMo for making so much work so much fun.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

November 21, 2006

An Age-Old Ponderance

A chicken and an egg were laying in bed. The chicken had a blissfully satisfied look on its face while laying back and smoking a cigarette. The egg was agitated and annoyed. While angrily pulling the sheet up and rolling over the egg said, "Well, I guess we finally answered that question!"

November 17, 2006

The Mane Event

I've always liked Martha Stewart. I used to tape her pre-prison show every day, and watch it in the evenings to relieve the stresses of the day. The music between segments was so soothing, as was her voice, no matter if she was polishing silver or harvesting home-grown potatoes. She had great guests who had creative ideas and taught us how to execute them. Martha made me want to be a good homemaker. She made me want to cook to my heart's content. She made me want to hand-craft every gift I would ever give to another person. She was an inspiration.

During Martha's days as caged heat, something changed. I don't know if something happened to her, or if the people who took charge of the company in her absence decided it was payback time. Martha's lovely show turned into a live talk show that is anything but inspiring. Her website took a turn for the worse. And I became completely bereft when I was recently paging through the November issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. Imagine my shock to see Martha Stewart serving her guests Thanksgiving dinner in ... a horse barn.

I'm sure it was presented for us to think, "oh look, how quirky and unique." It's a damn horse barn! Have you ever been in a horse barn? There's dust and dirt, hay and oats abash. They're full of horse poop. And flies are swarming because they love to wallow in horse poop. Wouldn't it be easier to deter poopy-legged flies if one served Thanksgiving dinner in, say, a dining room? I suppose Martha would scrub the horse barn thoroughly before serving food in it, but still, I don't think I'd enjoy a full Thanksgiving meal with Mr. Ed whinnying in the background. It would remind me that I'm in a horse barn. Who would even suggest serving a holiday meal in a horse barn?! I'm so disappointed.

So what's next? Will we be spending our champaign and shrimp cocktail Christmas Eve in the chicken coop? Will we be delighted and amused to join Martha in her glorious Turkey Hill home for a New Year's Eve cocktail party while the alpacas traipse through the house, mingling freely with the other guests?

I believe she has completely lost her mind. Next thing we know Marc Morrone will be lecturing on the finer points of beastiality.

November 15, 2006

Ebony And Ivory

It seems that lately I've been overwhelmed with the horrific state of our planet, and most disturbingly our country. I am finally convinced that we are, indeed, becoming more stupid with every passing year. In certain circles it is acceptable to say words like "ax" instead of "ask." It's a fashion statement for young men to wear their pants below their butts and for young women to bare all rolls of fat on their bodies. Little children are fighting like pit bulls while their parents and other adults cheer them on. While the hip-hop, gansta, whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it culture has grated on my last nerve and makes me throw up in my mouth a little, the lily-whites ain’t exactly making this country proud either.

This handsome young man is the “Property of Jolene,” according to the tattoo across his forehead. What a lucky girl! Above his right eye is tattooed “Skin,” and above the left, “Head.” As you can see his is giving up the pure white look for an all-blue appearance. Doesn’t that make him colored?

Cause for concern is this guy, whose tattoo really caught my eye. “Reject.” Clever, concise, and probably very appropriate. His signage gives onlookers ample warning as to what they’re dealing with.

Here’s a beauty. He’s looking kind of sassy with his smirk and cocked head. Look very closely at the tattoos masquerading as eyebrows:

This guy is just sad. He’s like a cartoon. I pity him. He looks like a grown-up shaken baby. Poor guy. Let’s have a pool on who can guess his IQ. I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10.

And may I present to you, the Devil. This has got to be the most frightening-looking creature I have ever laid eyes on. Where did it all go wrong, scary man? He’s another of our friends in the Aryan Brotherhood with the tattoos “Aryan” and “Honor” above his eyes, and a swastika on his throat. Really, I think this guy is channeling Satan himself. The pointy-looking ears and glowing red eyes make him look even more demonic.

So let's all hold hands and celebrate diversity!

(Mug shots courtesy of The Smoking Gun.)

November 14, 2006

Writer's Block

I’ve been feeling so ashamed that I haven’t posted a blog a day for NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). I thought it would be much easier than NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but there were many glitches to be had as I lost my Blogger editor's toolbar and eventually had to switch to Beta. I’d also really like to know what the people at my day job have done to my work computer to prevent Blogger from operating properly. Clever little bastards think they’re going to keep me from working on personal writings? All they can do is keep me from posting. Which, of course, is the main objective this month, so I guess they win. I’m having a little better luck posting from my home computer, but I don’t get to play with that until after 5:00 p.m. I’d much rather be posting blog entries on company time than on my own personal time. Who wouldn’t?

As for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been making steady headway, but am sorely short of the 23,338 words I should have written by now. I’m finding it isn’t really so hard to write 1667 words a day if I actually sit down and write them. Thinking about them isn’t enough. Wishing I had time to write them down isn’t enough either. I have to actually put all those words on the computer screen for a legal count. However, my word count is consistent with my region’s average word count. Does that mean those of us in Minnesota are complete slugs when it comes to sitting at the computer and writing a novel? Or are our fingers just too stiff from the cold to actually type? I, and the average Minnesota NaNoWriMo participant, am short about 17,000 words. I am still determined to write 50,000 before the end of the month.

What makes all this writing interesting is actually making it public. For example, I’ll post this entry on my blog and people will read it. A few months from now, or even a few days, I’ll read it again and will be all embarrassed that I thought it was ever worthy to post on the internets. It’s a very stupid entry right now, and it will seem more stupid in the future. With NaNoWriMo, I can write as much stupid stuff as I want, and no one will ever have to see it if I don’t want them to.

So here’s my question: How many times do you have to read and rewrite something to finally be satisfied that it’s not stupid? If a piece of writing is stupid, and there is no one to read it, should the author be embarrassed? Does it remain stupid until you get a masters degree in fine arts? Is an author ever really satisfied with his/her writing?

What’s the point? Why do I even bother participating in NaNoWriMo if I know that anything I attempt to write will flow onto my screen with the inspiration of many muses only to look like horse hooey when I read it three days later? My rewrites will also be inspired and poetic, yet those too will turn to shit in the span of three days. Tell me, does this frustration occur in all writers, or do I just suck?

November 13, 2006

Give Little Yippy A Spin

So, I’m in the card store looking for that perfect sympathy card for an old family friend whose wife died and I see a category of cards entitled “Sympathy-Pet.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. The picture on the front was a colored drawing of animals - a horse, a turtle, a cat, a dog, etc. - with wings, flying in the clouds. Like little animal angels. On the inside it said, “May the memories of your special friend remain with you forever. So sorry for your loss.”

Special friend? If you refer to an animal as your special friend rather than your dog, your cat, or your pet, you really ought to get out more and take in some human socialization. Also, if you spend money on and send a card like that, you are a serious enabler and should seek some counseling. But that’s just my opinion.

I’m reminded of the time I attended a family reunion. We were all getting together in honor of my great grandma, Lucy. She was well into her 90s, and someone figured we better have one last crack at getting five generations together before she died. And so we did. We were all having a marvelous time, eating, drinking, and laughing. Great Grandma Lucy was having a lovely time too, even though she had no idea who all these people were, or why they kept coming up to her, one by one, holding her hand, and talking to her like a child. Yes, five generations of a family. Quite impressive. Of course with all those people you know that at least one of them had to bring the family dog along for the festivities.

It was one of those little dogs. You know, the kind that thinks it's so tough when it chases squirrels. The kind with high-pitched, yippy barks that make you want to rip your ears right off your head and plunge hot pokers into the holes that remain. Such an adorable little creature. Well, my cousin Diane thought so, and so did her kids.

After having a nice picnic lunch on the lawn of the nursing home, Diane and her kids decided that, instead of talking to family members who had traveled far to be together, they would take Little Yippy across the street to the playground. Some of the other children went along also, to play on the jungle gym and to swing or slide. The rest of us did what we were there to do – shouting at Grandma Lucy so she could actually hear our explanations of how we were related, and catching up with other family members while grazing on left over brownies, cookies, and other various sweet snacks brought to the pot luck.

All of the sudden there was a blood curdling scream, followed by “Oh my God! Oh my God!,” and much wailing. Those of us on the nursing home lawn experienced adrenaline shock as we sprang up from our picnic benches to see which of the children had been impaled. There was a car on the road and the old lady driver and her equally old passenger were getting out, seeing the damage they had caused. It was the dog. They hit the dog. The little, yippy dog. We were all relieved that the kids were all right. But Diane was completely devastated, as were her children.

My brother walked over to the scene of the accident, and saw that the dog was still breathing, but not too regularly. He knew it would be dead soon, and stepped back while Diane and her screaming children got their grief out. Little Yippy listened to them bargaining with God to let her live, and then took her last breath. Diane and her children, as well as the other dumbstruck kids that were playing in the park, walked back to the nursing home lawn. Diane could not be consoled.

Meanwhile, my brother thought the dog should probably be dealt with and volunteered to take it to the town veterinarian’s office. He got a garbage bag from his car, and wedged the edge of the bag underneath Little Yippy in an attempt to not touch her (out of respect, I’m sure!). Little Yippy was flipped down to the bottom of the bag. Satisfied that the dog was safely contained, my brother gave the bag a spin, tied it up, threw it into the trunk of his car, and went on his way to the veterinarian’s office.

Whether Diane's incessant screaming was due to the fact that her Little Yippy was so stupid to wildly run into traffic, or that she had no control whatsoever over her precious little pet, we won’t ever know. What we do know is she threw a major wet blanket on what would otherwise be a pleasant family gathering on the nursing home lawn. Yes, the mood was certainly ruined, not by the death of a dog, but by the hysterics displayed by Diane.

Boyfriend and I were sitting at one of the picnic tables rolling our eyes over the theatrics Diane was displaying while my grandpa was shuffling with his walker behind us. Then Grandpa paused and turned to walk the other way. We heard him mumble, “I better not get too close to the road.”

November 07, 2006

Higher Education, Part II

Boyfriend and I went to our 2nd and final session of Writing a Novel Later In Life. The lady on disability and the ghost writer wannabe failed to show up, so there were only four of us in class. Angry sheet metal worker/musician/song writer/political/religious guy and radical, too-controversial-to-be-published-in-the-U.S. guy seem to be as serious about writing a novel as Boyfriend and I.

Yeah, we're serious. We're so serious we're attending a continuing education class rather than earning a degree in the arts or journalism. But again, I have to say that the little old man who taught the class was cute as a button and so proud of his novel. I also have to say again I felt inspired listening to him tell his story.

It was also especially adorable when he told of his conundrum, when writing the novel, of getting his main characters to fall in love at first sight - in the setting of a concentration camp. In his whisper of a voice he told us his secret. "I had to make it a sexual attraction." There's just something really strange about hearing an oldster talking about sexual attractions. It made me a little uncomfortable, but Dr. Author seemed rather proud that he pulled it off. He read an exerpt from his book about the "stirrings" experienced by his female character, a woman dying from starvation and brutality in a concentration camp, when she first laid eyes on the handsome U.S. officer. I've never been close to death, but it seems to me that "stirrings" would be pretty unlikely under those circumstances, and if they did occur, they would be quite an annoyance. But according to Dr. Author, sexual attraction can and did happen in a character in the throes of Nazi Germany, dying, and feeling pretty darn bad.

We had the opportunity to buy his book as he brought a few copies with him to class. I felt kind of bad not buying one, as the poor guy is self-published and this class was probably some kind of promotional gig for him to sell books.

I think Dr. Author liked me the most of all his students. All four of us. I think he knew I romanticize the idea of being a writer, and he was proud to be living proof to me that one can indeed become a writer, even when one is entering the twilight of his life. I felt an encouragement from him that was unspoken. I know if I ever do write a novel, or have any story form published, I'll try to locate him and tell him that I did it. He'll probably never remember me, but it will make him feel good to know that he and his story mattered to me, and helped me on my way to success. I can only hope that I'll be able to write about "stirrings" when I'm his age.

November 06, 2006

You Too

I like U2 as a band okay, but this Bono character is something else. I remembering seeing U2 in concert way back in the '80s at an intimate venue, and even then I thought Bono was way too full of himself. Now he thinks he's got all this influence over the American public because he's a big, old rock star. People pay big money to hear him sing, not to get on his political soap box. This little tidbit was sent to me, and filled me with hope.

At a U2 concert in Glasgow , Bono asked the audience for some quiet. Then, in the silence, he started to slowly clap his hands, once every 3 seconds.

Holding the audience spellbound, he said softly into the microphone "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies."

A voice near the front pierced the silence;

"Well, stop fuckin' doin' it then."

November 05, 2006

Mr. Grinch

Did I ever tell you about the time I tried out for the high school choir?

Everyone knows about high school choirs and bands. It was (and still is) my feeling that the kids in band and choir were much cooler than the athletes, which just goes to show you what a nerd I was (and still am).

My story begins back in middle school where we were required to be in either band or choir. I chose choir because I was already taking private piano lessons and figured that was enough practicing to deal with. Everyone knows that instruments require practicing at home, and a half hour a day on the piano was enough for me. Choir didn’t require at-home practicing. It was enough that those songs stayed in your head day in and day out.

So I’m in Mr. Carson’s choir throughout 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Mr. Carson was a complete idiot and couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket. I remember once being in choir class going over the songs we were going to present at the Christmas concert. He made us all look like idiots because he couldn’t read the words to Oh Holy Night:

Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining…

But Mr. Carson, obvious pagan that he was, told the entire choir that the word was “pinning.” “In sin and error pinning.” Of course we had to do it his way to get the good grade. I felt like such an idiot at that concert, up there on stage in front of all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and various local townspeople, saying not only the wrong word but a word that doesn’t even rhyme. I made sure to tell my parents that I indeed knew the correct words of the song.

So, after three years of dopey Mr. Carson and one year sans choir, I decided in my junior year of high school I wanted to join the high school choir. Not only would it be an easy credit in the liberal arts, I would be able to spend quality time with my secret crushes. Both of them were a year older than I, and I would have done anything to be able to go on the annual choir trip with them.

The thing is, you had to try out for the choir. Choir class wasn’t about learning how to sing like it was in middle school, it was all about making the director look good at the concerts. The director could never actually look good, as he was the obvious inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. He had a long, hangy face like The Grinch and he was evil like The Grinch. On top of all that, he smelled like a wet ashtray. In order to be in the choir, to go on the trips, to be close and personal with my secret crushes in order to flirt with and otherwise impress them, I had to pass the muster with The Grinch.

My friend Nadie and I decided to sign up for tryouts together. We walked into the choir room one Tuesday afternoon, and there at the piano sat The Grinch. He directed us to stand on opposite sides of the piano facing him, and asked if we knew the first two lines of Swanee River. Of course! Who doesn’t know the words to Swanee River? I could almost feel one of my secret crushes holding my hand in the bus on the choir trip. Swanee River. Sure, I knew the words. What I didn’t realize was that The Grinch chose that particular song for tryouts for its intervals of thirds, and most importantly, the dreaded octive skip between Swa and Nee.

The Grinch played the intro, and Nadie and I started to sing together. We got the words right, but he made us do it again. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” Again. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” One more time. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” Something wasn’t right. The Grinch’s face turned Grinchier, and he asked us to do it separately. Nadie was first. The Grinch responded to her performance with, “fine.” Then it was my turn. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee…” I knew right then I was dead. I missed that octive by a half step. I was flat. My “far far away,” quivered in my throat as I saw, in my mind’s eye, the choir trip bus pull out of the parking lot without me. The Grinch heard me flat. Nadie heard me flat. I heard me flat. But The Grinch made me do it one more time. And once again, I was flat.

Because my mother thought it important for me to have extra curricular activities, and because I was just too damn flat to become part of The Grinch’s precious choir, I pretty much had to become a dumb tennis jock. I became very good friends with both of my secret crushes despite not being in choir. But to this day I’ve never been comfortable with singing out loud where anyone can hear me. I’m the flat one.

The Grinch died this past summer. As a tribute to him and all he meant to me and the development of my self-esteem, I recently went to his grave and smiled. Out loud, in front of God and all the dead people, I belted out Swanee River. And I hit that octive clean, and clear as a bell.

November 03, 2006

Who Remembers You?

Sick people, dead people, and funerals seem to be the theme lately. I can’t help but have the melodic quote running through my head frequently throughout the day: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Yikes.

Death brings out the best and worst in people, but most interestingly of all, it brings people out of the woodwork. My parents received a note of condolence a couple of weeks after my brother died, handmade from a recycled religious greeting card. It informed them that a Mass would be offered up in memory of my brother. The sender also wrote a short paragraph describing a memory she had of my brother. Before closing the note she wrote, “Meredith, where are you?” It was from my best friend in grade school.

I was touched that she sent my parents a card, and even more touched that she was interested in my whereabouts. I’ve thought of her many times throughout the years, wondering what became of her. When my parents gave me the condolence card I felt compelled to write her a letter.

I was surprised to discover (from the return address label) that she had married; I figured her to be the type to become a cloistered nun. We attended Catholic grade school together, but went our separate ways when we entered public school in seventh grade. I don’t remember spending time with her throughout middle school and high school, nor do I remember even seeing her around. For all I know, she could have gone to a completely different high school than I did.

We were doomed to be nerds from the start. However, as we grew we chose different paths. I’m sure Jean would be horrified to learn of the life I lived as a young adult, smoking, drinking, and dirty dancing at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. I engaged in premarital sex on more than one occasion. And yes, I even used swear words. While my lifestyle has toned down a bit, I can safely say that it is probably still a bit more brazen than Jean’s has ever been.

She responded to the letter I sent her, hand-written on notepaper of a religious nature. She told me of her mother recently becoming ill. She also told me of her marriage and how they adopted a nine-year-old child, whom she home-schooled. Her child is seventeen now, and “is seeing a young man.” The daughter can spend time with her “young man” in the presence of family members. Such different lives we have, yet I feel a desire to continue contact with Jean. I’m a little afraid she would disapprove of what I’ve been and what I’ve become, despite the drearily average lifestyle of my middle age. (Except I still swear on a daily basis.)

Why am I drawn to communication with a person with whom I have very little in common? Why do I feel that pursuing a renewed relationship with Jean will provide me with some kind of comfort?

I’ll write another letter, just for fun. I don’t need to ask the psychological and metaphysical questions right now. Such a funny little person Jean was back in grade school. She was peculiar to me back then too. But she was my friend. And without old childhood friends, our memories would be so lonely.

November 01, 2006

Happy Halloween

Halloween was a marvelous evening had by all in our neighborhood. There was actually a windchill factor going on, but we saw many bundled up ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, a few lame hockey players (kids in their athletic uniforms), and tons of characters we couldn't even identify. They were having a blast begging for candy, and the parents were having a blast out in the street watching over their little beggars while schweeling to keep warm.

I heard tales of the Doggy Halloween Ball, which I was unfortunately unable to attend because A) I'm not a dog, and B) I don't own a dog. However, I was able to procure photos of some of the attendees.

I hope your Halloween was fun.