Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Morning Wanderings

Today I am determined to be productive.  The deadline for the PNWA contest is coming up on the 17th (received by, not postmarked -- thanks Colleen for the reminder) and I must revamp my synopsis for Ashford again before I send it in.  I am a little hesitant to send it this year, as I've sent it already two years running, but my scores and critiques were better last year than the year before, and I want to give it one more chance.  But because I'm submitting the same one again, I would like to get the current project sendable as well.  However, it still needs both a complete synopsis and a title, which I find to be the two most difficult things to produce.  I am also determined to send off at least one more query today, and I need to make a run up to Colville to find supplies for headpieces for Flower Festival.

So now I am up in the study, listening to the new album Intriguer by Crowded House (yes I'm going through a Crowded House phase, don't judge me) and alternating between this blog, the query, and the new novel.  It still needs a title.  Grrrr...  It's extra confusing because personal preference is such a big part of publishing.  Apart from the obvious things such as spelling and punctuation, so much of your success or failure depends on choosing the right person to send it to, someone who shares some part of your vision.  Last year at PNWA's summer conference, I was able to talk briefly (in completely star-struck fashion) to Andre Dubus III after his speech.  It was a book signing, and we were all waiting in line for our chance to get his autograph.  It was completely worth the wait.  He took time with everyone, asked each of us what our books were about, and wrote little personalized notes rather than just signing his name.  Anyway, when he came to me, he asked what my book was about, so I told him.  Then he asked what the title was.  When I said Ashford, he said, "Great title!"  So that was, you know, awesome.  Then the next day I had a meeting with an agent.  I gave her my pitch.  She wrinkled her nose and said she didn't like the title.  So often it feels like you're putting together an especially confusing jigsaw puzzle -- the kind where it's all sky and about twenty pieces look like they should fit, but only one of them really does.  I'm sure when you find the piece that fits it's a glorious moment, but meanwhile trying everything that looks possible feels a lot like trying to find matching socks at 5 AM when it's dark and you don't want to turn on the light and wake your husband but you have to go to work.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

People vs. Confectionary

With Valentine's Day looming on the horizon, as I am constantly reminded every time I walk through the grocery store, I thought I would write a post concerning my thoughts on that particular over-hyped Hallmark Holiday of paramount guilt and anxiety.

In case anyone was left in doubt of my feelings toward the holiday by that last sentence, let me be clear -- I do not care for Valentine's Day in general.  It is, or at least has become, merely an excuse to collect candy, flowers, and an array of useless objects in pink or red which are usually found in other colors.  How many Pepto-Bismol-colored teddy bears does one girl need?  Personally I'm under the impression that one is too many.  To my shame, this trend seems to be perpetuated primarily by women, resulting in frequent February sightings of distressed men and boys wandering about the mall laden with various bits of bric-a-brac and expressions of anxiety and gloom.

Now, just so I'm not misunderstood, I am a woman, also a bit of a romantic, believe it or not.  I like chocolate, and I adore getting flowers... pink or red stuffed animals not so much.  But I would rather get them from my husband spontaneously, because he thought of me and wanted to, than on a specific day because he felt compelled.  I'd also rather be taken out to eat on a random weekday evening at a quiet restaurant than have to make reservations a month ahead and spend the meal having to shout in order to be heard.  On our first Valentine's Day together, my now-husband presented me with a machete.  I like to think that's when I knew we had something special.

To continue in a similar vein, I also don't understand the urge (prevalent among the romantically attached) of referring to each other as pieces of confectionary.  I clearly remember nearly taking an ex's head off for referring to me as "cupcake".  Once again, I like eating cupcakes as much as the next girl, but I have a distinct aversion to being compared to one.  Wrong shape, and not even edible except to cannibals, which I hope you are not, thank you very much. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

It is a dreary day of mixed rain and snow, of peevish low clouds obscuring the mountains, and wet, cold, slushy streets.  A restless day, when the things which usually keep my mind and body busy seem dull and drab, as if they've united themselves with the weather to put a blight on the day.  Days like this are rare for me, but this time of year they arrive more predictably, as the end of winter nears and I grow impatient for spring.  To drive away the restlessness I try to imagine what spring will be like, to think of the budding trees, the fresh spring rains, the feel of new grass under my bare feet.  It will come soon enough.  Meanwhile, there is writing to do, query letters to send, laundry to fold.  Today it all seems rather pointless.  I know that will all change -- if not tomorrow the next day.  The clouds will disperse, the sun will come out, and the mundane daily tasks will reclaim their magic, until even laundry folding regains a sort of simple charm.  Meanwhile, I shall make myself a cup of tea and dream about the spring, and my dreams will make the laundry and query-writing less tedious.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Inspiration From Strange Places

I feel I've been most remiss in my posting lately, but it has been a week of insanity in many ways, good and bad, and time is the one thing that always seems to be running short.  However, a burst of writing inspiration, stemming from an unexpected source, has much improved the last few days, though it has also left me somewhat sleep-deprived.  At least I feel I have certainly earned this weekend, and I may even sleep in until (gasp) 7 AM tomorrow!  Seriously, that's two and half hours more sleep than I usually get.

So, writing!  The inspiration is finally returning, after a long dry spell when I began to seriously doubt whether I had anything even remotely resembling talent.  The flow is steadily improving now, however, mostly owing to an angry paragraph written several days ago.  It was meant to be therapeutic writing, because I was seriously pissed off, but it has been gradually turning into something longer and much more interesting.  So far it's still in the vague developmental stage, but it's coming along nicely in my imagination as well as on the page, and someday soonish I may even feel comfortable enough to divulge some plot details, or at least basic themes.  For now I'm more comfortable leaving it vague.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Crowded House - Private Universe

I love this song in the first place. The fact that the video has the weirdness of a Salvador Dali painting is an extra bonus.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Health, Life... and the Lost Elephant's Leg

I had my annual cancer check yesterday and came away with a clean bill of health.  Eight years now, going on nine.  Somehow that makes me feel old in a way turning twenty-five doesn't.  It's weird to go back now.  My oncologist is the same, just as kind, with his cheerful briskness and Indian accent -- only a little greyer.  One nurse is still the same, and one receptionist.  The rest have all changed.  I walk in with my husband and remember being there with my mother and Rhiannon.  The smell doesn't make me sick anymore.  I barely notice it now, that sanitary smell.  For years I couldn't walk into a hospital or doctor's office, or even catch a whiff of my mom's antibacterial hand lotion, without getting nauseous.  Every two weeks I would go into that office and spend five hours in a chair, while a steady stream of poisonous fluid was pumped into me by IV.  Small wonder I developed an aversion to the smell.  Such an odd thing, chemotherapy.  The idea of keeping a person alive by slowly killing them and hoping the thing that was killing them before dies before they do.  Oddly enough, it works better than any other system we've concocted seems to.

It sounds awful, and yes, okay, it was.  But there were good moments too, though it's hard now to explain them.  Rhiannon and I would always try to make the nurses and doctors laugh.  After my hair fell out, Rhiannon shaved her head as well, and the next time we went in she wore a wig and I had a scarf on.  Then when we went into the exam room we switched, and she sat on the table and I put on the wig and sat in the chair.  Then the doctor came in and we got the best double-take ever out of him.

It is weird to go back, but nice too.  I am one of their success stories.  Fun to hear the doctor and the nurse who remembers me tell the newer staff members that I am their poster child.  I am also the reason they take extra precautions, though that is more of a position of infamy than anything else.

There is a shot they give you the day after your treatment, designed to boost your white blood cells and make you more resistant to infection, since chemo really devastates your immune system.  It was fairly new when I was beginning treatments, and all the talk was about how wonderful it was, how it allowed you more of a normal life while you were going through treatments.  Anyway, I got it, and we headed for home.  About an hour later found me being rushed to the ER, mostly unconscious and with plummeting blood pressure.  Nobody had ever heard of anyone reacting to that drug before.  To my knowledge no one else ever has.  I ask, every year, if any other similar things have happened, and the answer is always no... but they religiously keep everyone in the office for a set amount of time after their first shot, just in case.  So that is my legacy.  I had hoped to become famous for some great literary endeavor.  Instead I will go down in history for my weird drug allergies.  Still, I feel a strange sort of (is it pride?) something when I see a television commercial for Neulasta, and hear them mutter very quickly at the end, "In extremely rare cases, a severe allergic reaction may occur as a result of taking Neulasta."

Anyway, going back always gives me a new appreciation for life, for breath, for the energy in my arms and legs, and for them -- for my wonderful doctor and nurses.  It can't be easy to work in such a place, surrounded constantly by death or the threat of it.  They need us, I think, the ones who lived, to remind them why they do it.

Oh, and about the elephant in the title: one of my lucky elephant earrings has lost a leg.  I don't know how, poor thing... but perhaps a three-legged elephant will bring me even more luck.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

111 on 1-11-11

I must have some sort of celebration.  It is the eleventh day of the first month of 2011, and at this moment my blog has been viewed 111 times so far this month.  So thank you, anonymous 111th viewer, for turning a rather dreary day into something more auspicious.

It's cold today, not just ordinary winter cold, but that fierce biting cold that creeps into your bones until you feel like you'll never really be warm again.  That type of cold doesn't seem to care what the thermometer says.  Sometimes I can feel it on a summer day, although it does come more often in the winter.  It's cold the way some people's houses are cold.  It doesn't matter what the thermostat says.  It's simply cold, uninviting.  It doesn't want you there.  It wants to freeze you out.  Of course, this could only be my overactive imagination, but I don't think so.  The only solution is to warm it somehow, like trying to thaw open the car door with a hair dryer.

This afternoon my warming solution is hot cocoa in a tea-cup, one hour of silence, the music of A. R. Rahman, a ballet class, and a quiet evening with my husband.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bundle of Spiny Adorableness

Okay, I've wanted a pet hedgehog ever since I was little and a woman had some at the Valley Fair.  Then I saw one a few years ago in the wild, basking in the glow of a streetlamp in the Lake District when I was in the UK.  Someday... Meanwhile I indulge in online photos once in a while.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Unselfconsciousness of Age and The Coffee Myth

One aspect of my job that never gets old is the opportunity of observing people.  As a barista you are perfectly placed for this type of observation.  To the customer you are almost, at times, like a piece of furniture.  You are part of the room, you belong there as much as the tables and chairs.  They seem to forget that you have eyes and ears, until they need something, and then you must possess superhuman hearing and the arms of an octopus.  Of course, no one reading this blog will never make that mistake again.

In any case, what I was much struck with this morning was something I've noticed before, but never with two such striking examples within minutes of each other.  That is: that in general, older people are much more ready to ask for what they really want, where the younger set seems much more image-conscious.  This is, perhaps, no great revelation in general, but still it amuses me.

First, there was the older man.  I'll call him Aristophanes, just to be different.  He came through this morning and said, "I want a 16 oz hot chocolate, but make it light on the chocolate and only half full, and I want the rest filled up with whipped cream."  Now there's a man who knows exactly what he wants.  I admire him for the same reason I admire the one (call him Hieronymous) who comes in and gets eight shots of espresso -- straight.  Both beverages are incredibly intense in their own very different ways, and both Aristophanes and Hieronymous are completely alright with themselves and the world.

Then there was the younger one (shall we call him Mortimer?) who came in a few minutes after Aristophanes and ordered drip coffee with cream, though I always get the impression that he would much prefer a latte -- if he dared.  Afterward, he stealthily steals over to the table where the other pot of coffee and the cream and sugar are kept, and treats his plain coffee to such an inundation of sugar that I nearly always have to refill the shaker after he is gone.  Similar is the case of the young man who orders (let's face it) a very sweet, barely caffeinated, and highly caloric drink, but when you give him straws will disdainfully remove them with the exclamation, "No sissy sticks!"

These are only a few examples, but I think it's safe to say that there is a very persistent myth in circulation which says that your maturity, strength, and masculinity are somehow tied to how you take your coffee and whether you drink it straight from the cup or suck it through pieces of hollow colored plastic.

May I say that I find this myth to be completely bogus?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year, a day late

Happy New Year, and Happy Birthday to me!  Twenty-five today.  I have a feeling this is supposed to be a milestone of sorts, but I really don't feel any different than I did yesterday.  

Looking back at the past year, I see good and bad things, things I wish had happened that didn't and things I never expected to that did.  I wanted to finish my novel, and I did, but I'm still waiting for that acceptance letter.  I started a new one, but am not quite as far along with it as I would like.  Aaron and I bought a house, and I have to be glad and amazed that we could actually manage it so soon.  Altogether it has been a good year.

Oh, the latest Reanimated Rags project is a dress made from curtains, which, appropriately enough, I've been referring to as the "Scarlet O'Hara".  Still not quite sure I have any right to try to peddle these things, but people do seem to like them.  Hopefully I'll get some pictures up soon-ish.

I don't generally make New Year's resolutions, as I'm quite prone to guilt, but I do set goals.  Somehow "goals" sounds a little less, well, resolved, thus there is less guilt if you fall short, or so I tell myself.  Maybe I'm just weak.  It's quite possible.  In any case, we shall see soon enough if the goals set for 2011 end up fulfilled or not.