random quarter: the minn edition

January 24, 2014

for this post, i used the writing prompts from the book 642 things to write about, which was given to me by my friend and neighbor, minn.

one. the worst thanksgiving dish. we pretty much have the same thanksgiving dinner year after year. my father, like me, is a creature of habit. so it's always turkey, stove top stuffing, my maternal grandmother's cranberry sauce, one of my paternal grandmother's recipes (which i can't think of at the moment... because my mom forgot to cook it last time), green bean casserole, some sort of jello, fruit, cool whip concoction (that's actually pretty yummy), sweet potatoes... you get the idea. and i like all of it. so worst... i guess sometimes the turkey's too dry.

two. something stolen. i tend to keep a lot of my cds in my car in some sort of a case. when i was in college... a friend of mine and i went bowling. i used to smoke, and sometimes i wasn't so good about rolling up the cracked window. i'd neglected to put it up on this particular night. i'd tucked the case under the driver's seat. and when we were leaving the parking lot, i reached for it and got nothing. a hundred cds. gone. and a lot of them had been gifts from my brothers.

three. beloved family tradition. we spend a short week, every summer, in huntsville, utah visiting my great uncle who is a trappist monk. my mother's brothers and their families join us. and sometimes her sister's son can, too. it's particularly fun when my cousins, who are working boys now and can't always get away, are there. there's nothing to do there but appreciate the scenery and the company. but it's five days of blissful quiet and camaraderie.

four. something badly wanted, but once gotten was never used. the only thing that comes to mind is the keyboard i asked for one year for christmas. i think i played it maybe twice. it spent a LOT of time on the floor, at the back of my closet. but i can't say i never used it. i can't think of anything that fits that category. it was black and made by yamaha. it had all kinds of neat gadgets and whatnot. but... it was more like a toy. i, who can't play the keys, had wanted a good one.

five. something lost. i'd left my truck keys on the counter of amy's ice cream at san antonio's quarry market. my friend and i checked every store we'd visited. i'd asked the staff at amy's twice, so certain was i that they were there. and they insisted they were not. so we sat outside the ice cream shop until they'd closed and asked them one more time and were told one more time. so he and i sat out there some more until he'd assured me that no one was gonna take my truck. i used the code on the driver's door to get my garage door opener out, and... somehow... we must've called a cab... we went back to my place. the next morning, the folks at amy's called to tell me they found my keys. and he took me back up there to get them. it's the only time i'd lost something of value and had it returned to me.

six. something found. my keys?

seven. things stored in my closet. books, waterford china, bills and my first mac.

eight. comfort. the walls of my room. flannel sheets and a good duvet. advil. claritin. typing (i know. that one's weird. but for some reason it soothes me). showers that are almost scaldingly hot. good shower gels and scrubs. music. always music.

nine. a guilty pleasure. ice cream, especially of the blue bell variety. i know i shouldn't eat it. i know it's gonna make my head hurt like hell the next day. but some vanilla bean with bananas and brown sugar.... yummy.

ten. what does writer's block feel like? like you're walking in a desert. and it's flat. so there's no hope of just-get-to-the-top-of-that-hill-because-there's-water-on-the-other-side. just the wind and the sand and the sun.

eleven. favorite hiding place. one of the fm's on the far outskirts of conroe. at night. just me and my car and my music. but i'm not telling you which one exactly, because then it wouldn't be a hiding place anymore.

twelve. a present from mother. for christmas one year, she gave me a ceramic sculpture of a woman in fancy attire with a basket of flowers. a southern belle. and i didn't like it at first. but it's grown on me, and now it's one of my favorite things.

thirteen. something you'd like to know more about. love.

fourteen. favorite film. dedication.

fifteen. favorite book. charles dickens' our mutual friend.

sixteen. favorite quote. i think we live our lives so afraid to be seen as weak that we die perhaps without ever having been seen at all (james spader as alan shore in boston legal).

seventeen. favorite tree. the century tree.

eighteen. what was for breakfast? cinnamon bagel and cranberry juice.

nineteen. a strange girl who hides herself under layers and layers of clothing. me.

twenty. a favorite passage from a book. if i had known how, i would have joined grant in prayer. i would have prayed for him, for his goodness, his loyalty, and his improbable love. i would have prayed for him to give up, to let go, and to start over. i might have even prayed for forgiveness.

but i didn't know how to pray (victoria jones in the language of flowers, p. 195).

twenty-one. worst experience on an airplane. there was a time when we visited my uncle, a series of years where we'd all catch this godawful stomach bug. we eventually deduced that it had something to do with the pipes and the water. but... i got sick the night before i was to come home. and i got sick on the airplane.

twenty-two. my best birthday. we'd gone to washington, d.c. for spring break, which had coincided with my birthday. my mother's brothers and their families joined us.

twenty-three. that day in paris. i don't speak french. i took german in college, okay? the romantic languages... not my thing. and all i wanted to do before our group met up for dinner was find the hard rock cafe and get my shirt. but i had a panic attack in the tube system--WAY too many people, i could not figure out the map, and i could not find a person who could help me make sense of it. so i walked. and it was a VERY LONG walk. i hadn't thought it would be.

twenty-four. worst experience playing a sport. i screamed at my swimming coach for making me swim a five hundred freestyle. after i'd finished swimming it. so... twenty laps. and every lap just made me angrier because a) i wasn't a distance swimmer, and b) i wasn't a freestyler. in the middle of a meet. while both my parents (my father was the school superintendent) were watching. stormed out of the water, marched right over to him and told him to never, ever make me swim that again.

twenty-five. the richest you've ever been. when i worked stock at one job and sales at another. but this was also the most miserable i'd been in a decade.

a week of wonder

January 17, 2014

it started off sunday night. i came home from work, changed into my jammies and had dinner with my parents. i settled down to watch the golden globes. the thing is... i always forget how much i don't like watching award shows. this is for two reasons: i generally find the role of the host pretty unnecessary, mostly because i don't need the stupid commentary (case in point... whomever that was hosting the critic's choice awards last night was RIDICULOUS. and no, i did not choose to watch that. it was on when i got home); the winners of one are often the winners in all the rest (because, yes, i wanted to see matthew mcconaughey say alright, alright, alright again). what's the point of the oscars AND the golden globes AND the critics choice AND the people's choice? i just don't get it. i LOVE film. and yes, good work should be rewarded. absolutely. and when i was an adolescent, my favorite thing to do on a sunday night this time of year was watch stuff like that.

but as i've gotten older, the interest has waned. so at half past nine, i turned the television off, changed into my jeans and tee and went to the movies. i was gonna see saving mr. banks.

as i approached the theater, i ran into one of the servers from pappadeaux's. he and some of his colleagues (i love that word. i don't know why). they were going to lone survivor. they let me tag along with them.

and yall... THAT's a film worthy of high praise. THAT's great cinema right there. not just because of the impressive story, but because of how it's told. peter berg did a phenomenal job. mark wahlberg, ben foster, taylor kitsch and emile hirsch (i didn't even recognize him!) were superb! it was so good, yall. SO GOOD.

and it was nice to spend some time with some good guys. i don't get to do too much of that.

my cousin and his wife had their first child on the fifteenth. a daughter. they are beautiful people, and their daughter is beautiful. you would think, of course, beautiful people have beautiful babies. but for this particular branch of my family's tree, this isn't always the case. two of my cousins--brothers--they each have children. some are biologically theirs. some are adopted. some of those biological children are healthy. but for each of those brothers, one child was born with severe genetic defect. two babies. a boy and a girl. the girl died when she was eight or so. the boy still lives, in part because of hospitals like shriner's. so, there was this small part of me that worried that my cousin's daughter might be affected as well. and i'm grateful that she seems to be fine.

on this same day, my friend and neighbor... a woman who has been a wonderful source for faith for me... a friend who was diagnosed with cancer not too long ago... she lost the fight.

i learned of this moments before going to see saving mr. banks. bawled like a baby. it's a hard film to watch. because of the story. because i'm a writer, and it's about writing... about a writer. about family. about loss. and i'm not necessarily talking about death here. i'm talking about the sense of wonder we have in childhood and how life eats away at it.

i cried because life's eaten away at much of mine. i cried because it's a powerful tale. i cried because i mourned for my friend.

and when i came home the other night, instead of a black sky it was the lovely shade of deep, deep indigo. and somehow the night was brilliant. crisp and clear. quiet. so peaceful. and my friend would've loved that, i think.

i stood outside in my yard and wondered at it.

she would've liked that, too.

by the way... i was more impressed with paul giamatti's performance in that film than anyone else's.

and last of all... also on the fifteenth, i made myself a novel to do list:

one. strengthen chapters six and eight: more angst about isabel's mother; more allusion to her madness. (here a few well-placed, well-crafted sentences would suffice.)

two. in chapter eleven, incorporate scene in which isabel and august discuss isabel's relationship with her mother. (ditto.)

three. in chapter twelve: retell chapter one (which was the original chapter twelve... i moved it to to the first and consolidated ten and eleven)  from isabel's perspective. 

(this sounds easy enough, but i just wasted five sheets of paper, time and brain power, in addition to getting a lovely bit of pain in my hand because i started it in the wrong place.)

four. in chapter seventeen, incorporate a scene detailing isabel's having acquired a second job and an apartment. (here a few well-placed, well-crafted sentences would suffice.)

five. make chapter nineteen better. less telling. more showing. (of the tasks at hand, this is my least favorite one.)

six. write chapter twenty-two: isabel meets her mother for her birthday; she discusses her relationship with her mother with reese, but does NOT discuss reese with her mother.

seven. write chapter twenty-four: good date montage.

those chapters? they don't have to be long. five pages or so. sounds easy peasy, right? the amount of work i have to do could, in theory (so long as the muse cooperates) be done in a week or so.

this has basically been my to do list (though i've not really written it down) since june.

and there is why the thing still isn't finished. because i am never satisfied with the fucker.

i need good date ideas. fork'm over.

how to love

January 5, 2014

why i read it: i remember reading about it on some web site. and the author rec on the back sold me.

how to love is epic. i crushed so hard on this book. a roller-coaster ride with all the euphoric highs and stomach-dropping lows of falling in love. the writing is as beautiful as the love story. i adored it (siobhan vivian).

what i liked: she and roger had introduced my father and my mother to begin with, and when my mother died of complications from multiple sclerosis when i was four and my father was too busy raging at god to think about lunches and clean socks, lydia was the one who  hired soledad to move in with us, not realizing that she'd found him a second wife just like she'd found him the first (p. 10).

he tended bar at the restaurant and showed up to class when he felt like it and ignored me, for the most part: not in a malicious way but in the way you ignore a message on the side of the building you see every day. i was part of the scenery, blending in, so familiar as to be completely invisible to the naked eye (p. 11).

it was frustratingly dark out here; fine for brooding, sure, but for all the world i wanted to pull him into the light and just... look (p. 36).

suddenly, even the backyard felt sinister, familiar places gone strange and threatening in the dark (p. 40).

we were sweethearts. it's a thing that happened. it's over now. it's fine (p. 44).

shelby flew back to broward in the middle of her freshman year to help me deliver hannah, memorizing all the bones in the human body between my contractions and charming the nurses into helping her with her homework (63).

she looks like she wants to say something else, and for a moment i almost ask her how it's possible that my father can eat a friendly dinner with sawyer's parents, size up the culinary competition, but can't find it in his heart to look at me (p. 80).

he picked up shelby from work every night for two weeks before i realized he wasn't doing it to make shelby's life easier.

"you realize i'm not fun," i told him, the first time he asked me out. "i have a kid. i'm not fun. even before i had a kid, i wasn't fun" (p. 87).

"you haven't wanted anything to do with me or hannah in years," i tell her shrilly. i think of broken dams, walls closing in. "you don't talk to me. nobody talks to me. about me, maybe, but maybe not, even. i wouldn't know because this is first sunday since hannah was born that i've been invited to dinner" (p. 255).

cade told me once that the night our mother died, our father sat in the pitch-dark of our old, cracking house and played piano until the dawn came up orange and dripping behind him. scales, cade told me. scales and mozart and billy joel and anything else he could think of, melodies made up out of the thin air that no one, including my father himself, could remember once morning finally broke (p. 278).

what sucked: pretty much the whole of it. i tabbed a bunch of pages near the beginning, but when i went back to review them, i couldn't for the life of me figure out why i'd turned down the corners. it never captivated me.

having said all that: i did not crush so hard on this book. and if it's a roller coaster, it's one of those baby ones that crawls along the slightly wavy tracks. there's no euphoria, no gut-wrenching drama. beauty? meh. not so much. it was really kind of disappointing. but i wanted to finish it.