Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Luggage Locators and Priceless Commercials...

I'm heading home to the warmth of my parents home tonight so blogs may be a little few and far between over the next few days. And while I'm being poetic about the warmth of my parents home, I'm also being literaral. You see, I have discovered that my lovely apartment has one slight problem: It has a nasty draft coming through my patio doors. This is all very well and good when the sun is shining but when I sit on my couch to watch the very silly but entertaining Prison Break or the suddenly awful Grey's Anatomy, I suddenly feel the draft.

It's time to make some draft stoppers, I think. Fortunately, I have a very crafty friend who can always offer tips on how to do these things. She even has a blog. I plan on attempting making a draft stopper or two this weekend based on her tips. But, for now, my living room is drafty which makes being a couch potato a little chilly.

Anyway, while I was sitting on said drafty couch last night, I was flipping through some store flyers and I found something that intrigued my Monkeypants Brain: A Luggage Locator. It was in the Bed, Bath and Beyond brochure. Apparently, you attach a thingy to your luggage and then you have this handy-dandy remote control activator thing that you hit when you lose your luggage. Naturally, this got me to wondering a few things. Firstly, what happens when you hit the button? Does it emit a high pitched alarm that only the owner can hear? Does it have something like a car-alarm that goes off when you lose it? If so, can you imagine Airports of the Future? Getting your luggage would be even worse than it is now. Already, it becomes a question of trying to position yourself in front of the carousel so that you can dive in should you spot your luggage. The diving in is usually complicated by someone who is far more aggressive shoving themselves in front of you in order to hoist themself practically onto the carousel, pulling the luggage off with a vigourous swing that inevitably accidentally clomps you on the leg, head or whichever body part you couldn't move fast enough, only to discover that it's not actually their luggage.

The Luggage Locator I have created in my mind would simply add a horrifying "BWAM-BWAM-BWAM" sound to all of that in efforts to locate its lost owner. Do they all make different noises? If so, do you have to have practice sessions so you know which noise yours is making?

Maybe it doesn't make noise. Maybe it flashes a light which then leads me to wonder what the point of that would be. What if the baggage is facing the other way? You wouldn't see the light, right?

And how far is the range on this thing? Is it like one of those car unlocky things where you have to be in range in order to hit the button and hear your car toot back as you unlock it? That's really not going to be helpful if you're in an airport full of people? What are you going to do, shout "HEY, EVERYONE, CAN YOU ALL BE QUIET FOR A MOMENT, I'M TRYING TO LOCATE MY LUGGAGE?" I don't think so. I mean, anyone who's ever been to an airport knows they are full of crotchety people who really just want to teleport instead of flying but since that hasn't been invented yet, they have to wait while their plane from Chicago to Fort Wayne, Indiana is delayed yet again even though the sun is shining, the plane is at the gate and it's already been delayed five times. Uh, not that I'm projecting.

What would be cool is if it were like a remote control device that would find your luggage anywhere it might be lost and wheel itself to you. The problem with that would be luggage that lacked wheels. However, I'm quite certain that I might just have been reading too much Harry Potter lately. I always did fancy that Accio spell that brings items to you. I've tried it a couple of times when I can't be bothered to get up and retrieve the remote control from where I left it. The spell doesn't work. If it did, there probably wouldn't be a need for a Luggage Locator in the first place.

I'm quite sure all the answers to my Luggage Locator questions could simply be answered by Google. However, sometimes, I like to remain ignorant because I like to make up things and visualize things the way I've made them up in my head. Reality is so much less entertaining once you know how something works.

Advertisements always get me thinking. Have you seen the latest Mastercard ads? I used to like those "Priceless" commercials. They used to be sweet and entertaining. Now they're just dippy. The one they keep showing is this perky little ad where a lady goes into a store with a basket and grabs scary things that make odd noises that the calm and reassuring Voiceover Man says are "smiles", "hugs," and "contented sighs." I won't go so far as to say the hugs freak me out but, really, I don't think I'd be quite so excited as the lady with the basket if that's what hugs looked like. They look like Sock Monkey mated with Kleenex Box and may have had an affair with Ms. Potato Head. Then again, the lady in the commercial then takes her basket full of weirdness and sits on her beach with her family where she divvies out the smiles, hugs and contented sighs which is the Priceless part of the commercial. I find that weird. It's like one of those Stephen Spielberg Alien Futures in which everyone has robot children that are programmed to be happy but then go bad. Maybe that'll come in a later commercial: The Dark Side of Mastercard.

As I've said before, I like commercials. I find them entertaining. Now that the holidays are approaching, there'll be more of them and more brochures to flip through. I'm curious to learn more about this Luggage Locator. Usually, I'd be flying back to the Midwest from L.A. this time of year; I'm thrilled I can just drive home to my parents now. However, I will miss the inflight magazines. I'm addicted to SkyMall. I bet there are Luggage Locators in there this year along with other weird products that are targeted for the Bored Travelling Executive Who Has Everything but a Brass Plated, Personalized Massager that Sings. Or something to that effect.

Still, without SkyMall, I'll survive. There's always TV commercials to get me thinking. I'm quite thankful for that. And since it's almost Thanksgiving, isn't that a nifty tie-in?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rainy Days, Mondays and Friends

It's pouring with rain this morning, it's gloomy and just plain miserable. Yet, naturally, I love it. The only problem with days like this is that they should be enjoyed at home, not in the office. These are my best writing days, ones where I can sit in front of my computer and let the words fly. Still, I'm in the office, drinking my vile coffee and I can hear the rain. Well, it might be the bathroom sink since I sit very near to the men's bathroom and I know the faucet is leaking. However, I'm going to believe it's rain because that just seems like a nicer way to go.

I'm not a big fan of sitting near the men's bathroom, by the way. It's not very soundproof. I'd say I put my iPod on to tune it out but, well, iPod is no longer responding to commands and sounds. Little does iPod know that I have a nice generous friend who is donating his iPod to me because he has replaced it with one of those newfangled G1 phone things. Technology geeks are very good to have as friends. Also, in spite of some of his awful taste in television (he's proud to be watching Knight Rider which, by the way, I finally watched and all I have to say is ugh...they cancelled Pushing Dasies and Dirty Sexy Money- Why is Knight Rider still on the air?). Thus, iPod mini will give way to NanoPod. Yes, I have pre-named my incoming iPod.

But basically, what it comes down to, is I have a very good friend. I actually have a couple of them. Unfortunately none of them live near me which makes hanging out with them rather hard. This time of year is a mixed bag as far as friends go. I love being closer to my family now but I've also spent the last seven years in California, flying home for the holidays just a couple of days before Christmas. There are traditions I have in California that I'm going to miss this year.

My favourite California Christmas Tradition is Disneyland. I know some people think it's a bad place and that it's for kids but, really, it's not. It's a place where you can go and be a kid and no one looks at you twice. I think one of the reasons I loved it is that it involved playing hooky from work. My friend and I would trade off yearly: One of us would take a vacation day, the other one would either take a sick day or 'schedule a doctor's appointment' that day. We'd head out early, usually stopping for breakfast at Denny's and then getting to the park with enough time to enjoy the day.

Sometimes we'd go to Disney's California Adventure first. I like this park for three reasons: 1) It has Soarin' Over California, a ride in which you fly over California landscape, the air softly scented to match the scenery, 2) The burgers and beer at the place next to California Adventure and 3) The ice cream on the pier. That ice cream is seriously good stuff.

But we'd always end up at Disneyland in the end. We'd enjoy the Christmas parade in the evening. We'd try to go on Space Mountain a couple of times, knowing exactly where the camera was so that we could pose for it, (we'd try to imitate the warning signs that showed stick figures leaning out of the cars in a strangely aerobic fashion) and indulging my love of pirates by going on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride a couple of times. We'd enjoy the Haunted Mansion that had been redecorated with the Nightmare Before Christmas theme, the Small World ride that should always be enjoyed at night. We'd stop for sustenance at the McDonalds shack which was the best idea ever: Just serve french fries. They always tasted better there.

But, best of all, was the snow. Disneyland makes it snow nightly during the holiday season. We'd grab a mug of hot chocolate, position ourselves under one of the designated snow spots and then, after the fireworks, we'd be showered in snowflakes. Ok, so they weren't really snowflakes but it didn't matter. When you looked up to the streelights and saw the whirling clouds of gently falling flakes, it looked just like snow. We'd let it land on us, watching it 'melt' and we'd stop and take in the lights and beauty of the holiday season.

This year, I'll have real snow. Which as you know, I love. Something about a carpet of snow makes the holidays more real, more magical. Sitting on the Santa Monica pier in 70 degree weather in December was always a fun thing to brag about to my family and friends but it never made Christmas feel right. I'll miss the annual Disneyland tradition but it's not like Disneyland is going anywhere. The scenery will change, the seasons will change but the one constant in my life is that I have good friends.

Happy Monday.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thoughts of Thanksgiving Dance In My Head....

Oh, I am so glad it's Friday today. It's been a long week and I'm not even sure why. It's one of those weeks in which not much has happened which is not a bad thing at all. Maybe it's because it's the week before Thanksgiving. Next week is the Official Start of the Holiday Season.

I'm very much looking forward to Thanksgiving. This is because I love turkey. I love my mother's turkey. Though we don't really celebrate Thanksgiving because we're British and all, we have enough American Interlopers in our family that we host the dinner. Which I suppose means we do celebrate the holiday really, doesn't it? I love that my mum makes it with all the British trimmings, roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing, brussel sprouts, Bisto gravy and parsnips. I love the smell of the turkey, gently scenting the air with its meaty goodness.

I think this is the part where I'm supposed to say I love having my family around on Thanksgiving day. The thing is, Thanksgiving Day is chaos. I think it's supposed to be, that it's a tradition to have a nutty family gathering or something. Our gathering is truly nuts. There are four children who are five and under. I love these children. They're my nephews and nieces. Singularly, they're sweet (most of the time), nice children who are fun to play with. Collectively, they're a hurricane of energy and noise that suddenly stops hearing and comprehending the word "No". The house is too small for this hurricane. Add five small dogs that get excited by excitement to the mix and you have all the elements to a backdrop of absolute havoc.

I like Thanksgiving night. I like that sudden quiet lull that falls over the house as soon as my oldest brother and his family leaves. Sometimes my oldest brother stays until almost midnight. I usually wait up. There's something about that inevitable lull that I need.

This is not to say I don't love my family because I do, very much. I love having them around. It's just something about Thanksgiving that is this huge crazy blur of activity in my mind. It gets in the way of the food.

But that's a week away. At the moment, the weekend lies ahead and I'm looking forward to that. I think it's mostly because of sleep. I like it when I can stay in bed and not have to get up for work. Then again, that's sort of a given for everyone, isn't it? The only thing better is when it's rainy because the beat of the raindrops on the windowpane and the howl of the wind is the best thing in the world to listen to when you're you're lying in bed and you don't have to get up.

I don't think it's supposed to rain this weekend. It was supposed to snow but the forecast has changed. Which is probably good for you because then I'd probably have to wax poetical about snow in at least one more blog.

My goal for the weekend is to email a query letter to at least 10-15 agents. Again. I'd love to say "This is it, this is the one!" but, frankly, I'm also rather jaded. I've done this before. Granted, it was with another book but I've still done it before. The nice thing about email submissions is there's no postage required and there's no delay in getting the letter to the reader. The bad news is that rejections also come more quickly. I've had rejections less than ten minutes after sending the email. I'm trying to thicken my skin, to not take rejection so personally but, well, frankly, that part is hard. When you put a little bit of your heart and soul into a book, it's really hard to condense it into the perfect query letter. It's also tough to read contradicting advice from agents: One says the query letter is everything, another says that he'd rather effort went into editing the novel rather than be spent on crafting a great letter. It's disheartening. What's even more disheartening is when the rejection letter has a spelling/typo in it. That's happened a couple of times, believe it or not. That does not make things easier.

However, I will try and continue to try though I sometimes hear a little voice telling me to give up. I can't listen to that voice, no matter how loud it gets because, at the end of the day, I love writing and that's ultimately why I do it. Sometimes it's hard to remember that but, fortunately, I've got good people around to remind me.

So, on this Friday morning, I shall look forward to the thought of sleeping late tomorrow, of the hope of snow and of the lazy, crazy day that will Thanksgiving next week. I shall put a little piece of my heart in that query letter and hope that it resonates for someone out there. And, if not, I will keep trying. Wish me luck.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

James Bond in a Small Town...

It's almost Friday. I say almost because it's still Thursday which is the danger day. It's the danger day because it's so close to the weekend that it's very easy to rationalize that it is the weekend. This can range from staying up too late to going out and having fun and then realizing that you still have to get up in the morning for work because, after all, it isn't quite the weekend yet.

You see that in a little college town like the one in which I live. Thursday nights are lively. You see a lot of packs of students bar hopping and dawdling in traffic. Because it's a small town, students seem to think they're immune to being hit by a car, that everyone will stop. Unfortunately, since I've already been rear-ended this year, I can't mow them down like sometimes I'd like to do. The worst ones are the text-messagers. They actually cross the street while trying to text. They don't actually look to see if anything's coming. They get to a crosswork, get wrapped up in their texting and bam! A sometimes too near miss. The really annoying thing is they barely notice that the driver actually has smoke coming from beneath his tires because he had to stop so quickly. That driver almost had a heart attack, the student is to busy LOL'ing or TTYL'ing to notice.

Last night, I actually got to explore the town a bit by having dinner and seeing a movie with some coworkers. It was a lot of fun and considering it's a small town, there's some great places to eat and drink here. I tried a key-lime martini, just for the experience and because it came highly recommended by my coworkers. Well, it tasted like key lime pie in a glass which was the point, I suppose. It even had pie crust crumbs dusted on the glass. Personally, I've decided that key lime pie is better as a pie because it sort of freaked me out a little that I was drinking a pie. Which is strange given that I don't like pumpkin pie but am more than happy to scarf down a pumpkin-pie latte. But then, that has no pie crust in it which is definitely for the best. I do not like crumbs in my drink. It's revolting

I did have the experience of going to a small town movie theatre, something I haven't done in a long time. I just moved from L.A. Not to sound pretentious but, well, it's the lands on which Hollywood sits. This is a fancy way of saying I've been spoiled rotten when it comes to seeing a movie.

This is a classic little place. The concessions seller is the same person as the ticket taker. They just move desks quickly and efficiently to scoop out the popcorn and drinks. I didn't order popcorn because I'd just had sweet potato fries and a hamburger for dinner. (Which, by the way, I could write an entire blog about the deliciosness of sweet potato fries because, frankly, they're a little like crack and once I start, I cannot stop eating them. Not that I've tried crack, in case you were wondering...I just like saying "it's like crack".)

But the popcorn smelled nice which is a bonus. Although, since it was freezing outside, I think it had something to do with the fact that it represented something warm and toasty.

The theatre itself was...tiny. It had a screen that looked half the size of a stadium-style theatre's screen. The floor was sticky and it made that schloup-schloup sound when I lifted my feet. The chairs were wobbly and worn. But I loved it because places like that are so hard to find anymore. I loved it because there were only 12 people in the whole theatre. I loved it because you could hear the whirl of the projector. Mostly, it felt so comfortable and intimate that I knew that it's the type of place I can go to when I just need to escape from reality for a bit and get lost in the fakeness of the movie-world. I can bury myself in a movie, good or bad and duck out from life for a bit.

We saw "Quantum of Solace", the new James Bond. I love Daniel Craig as Bond. I love that hardness to his face, his flintlike eyes, the fact that he can convey emotion through those eyes without having to make a single facial expression. "Casino Royale" was an excellent film; it gave us a new Bond and a far less farcical take on the franchise. Ok, so Pierce Brosnan was nice to look at and he was funny but the movies had become ridiculous, almost spoofing the Bond of the former years.

Mr. Craig plays Bond with grit. His body is lean and hard and scarred. When he gets hurt, he has to clean himself up and he bears the injury for the rest of the movie. He doesn't miraculously escape unscathed in his tuxedo, he climbs out from the rubble, dusty, beaten but ready to fight again.

"Quantum of Solace" is interesting. While "Casino Royale" had great moments of dry and subtle humour, this movie doesn't. Bond is angry and he wants to bury his anger and pain in his work. And he does. A lot. He's ruthless, vicious and very deadly in his rage. I know some people have said this is a boring movie but I have a feeling it's one of those films that will improve on each watching. It's like "The Two Towers" in the Lord of the Rings series or "The Empire Strikes Back"- both were rather boring in some ways but they complete the series of movies and when you see the complete picture that the trilogies painted, those movies became the hinge for the entire set. I can't say it entertained me the way "Casino Royale" did but it was effective. My only complaint is that James Bond gets chased a lot in this one and he does a lot of chasing. In fact, in some ways, the movie is a series of a lot of people chasing each other with some dialogue thrown in. It's effective because it shows us that James Bond really is a human, his anger is for the death of a woman he actually loved but he masks it by being a robotlike-agent, efficient and brutal and wiping out all those who get in his way.

But there's a lot of chasing in this movie. There's a car chase, a rooftop chase of foot, a boat chase, a plane chase, another foot chase in a hotel, another footchase in an opera house, another car chase.....you sort of get the point. I suppose it's symbolic. Mr. Bond is chasing a peace and resolution to his grief and anger. Naturally, because, he's Bond, he wins in the end but he's still a man, chased by shadows and regret and scarred both on his body and in his soul.

To be honest though, I'm still not quite sure what a Quantum of Solace is. I mean, I know how it plays into the movie but I'm a little baffled by why any organization would name themselves that. Wouldn't something like "Circle of Baddies" or "Secret Traitors of the World" be a little easier to say?

Despite that, I enjoyed my evening. I ignored the giant "Twilight" poster in the lobby like a good Monkeypants. I may have irritated one of my coworkers because I snorted with disgust when they showed us a preview of "Angels and Demons" the new Dan Brown adapation. How was I supposed to know she's a huge Dan Brown fan? She loves that book. A lot. It's one of her favourites. Ooops.

But, in truth, it was my first evening out since I moved from the big city to a small town and it was fun. I love having a movie theatre that close, even if it is the size of a postage stamp. I love being able to walk from dinner to the movies, the frost starting to glitter around us, my gloves still in my pockets because somehow I ended up with two right gloves and no left glove (and wearing them upside down just doesn't work right). I love that a town like this changes with the seasons, that the summer will bring long, lazy days with concerts in the park and winter will bring hurried walks from one place to another. It's supposed to snow again today and if it settles as it's supposed to, the town will change again, dusty with snow and telling me that it might be ok to start thinking about Christmas now.

And, at the very least, it gives me an excuse to drink hot chocolate and think about my weekend which is only a day away.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

By the Power of Giftcards! (And yes, say it just like He-Man did.)

Triumph of triumphs today: I have succeeded in being the first one in the office and thus got to make the first pot of coffee. I'm hoping this means it won't be vile. Though I'm growing accustomed to vile coffee. I know I bought a coffeemaker so I could make coffee in the mornings but making a pot of coffee for ones lone self seems a little extravagent. I suppose I could measure it out so that there's just enough for me but so far, I haven't quite done that. I drive by a Starbucks every morning. I have a Starbucks gift card that will buy me at least 3 cups of coffee depending on if I decided to go premium or whether I stick to the plain old coffee that they put in those pumpy things at the front of the store when they hand you an empty cup.

Speaking of Starbucks, here's a question for you. I get that using their fancy words for sizes, they set themselves up as a 'fancy' coffee chain. There's short, tall, grande and venti. But doesn't it sound like grande is the biggest? Every time I go in there and I'm craving mass amounts of caffeine and coffee, I plan on ordering the largest. So, without thinking, I generally order a grande. And then I realize, "Oh, wait, it's the venti size I wanted." Grande sounds like a big one. Venti doesn't. Venti actually sounds like a coffee cup with holes in it (if you're me). Like it's trying to air out the coffee or something.

However, since I'm not a frequent Starbucks goer because fancy coffee is a luxury and I don't like to spend almost $5 on a fancy cup of coffee so driving by the coffee shop daily isn't too much of a temptation. Usually.

Except at this time of year. They're tempting me with their pumpkin spice lattes, starting to make me rethink that Christmas doesn't begin until after Thanksgiving because I really love their peppermint mocha, their eggnog lattes and sometimes, even, their gingerbread latte though that one is very sickly and rich and should only be consumed in a tall size. Which again, sounds a bit odd because tall sounds...well....tall and if you just want a small cup of coffee, do you really want it to be tall?

I'm overthinking that. I know.

So far, I haven't succumbed to the call of my Starbucks gift card. I'm notoriously stingy when it comes to spending gift cards in general though. To me, a gift card is a form of power. Whenever you go into the store, browse the website or even smell the coffee of the place for which you have a giftcard, it means you have the power to buy whatever you like. You aren't held back by pesky finances. You don't have to say, "Well, I could buy this new Neil Gaiman collection of short stories but it's $14.99 and I really should save that money for Christmas gifts." You can say "Ha! I have a $25 gift card and a coupon. I can own you, Neil Gaiman...well, at least your short stories...." (then again, I wouldn't mind owning my own Neil Gaiman. He's really funny and charismatic (especially for a writer) and he's got a lovely reading-stories voice. But that would be weird because I'd have nowhere to keep him at the moment and, well, now that I think about it, having a pet Neil Gaiman probably isn't the done thing within society, is it? It'd probably be considered a bit Misery-esque. Ok. Forget I said that.)

The thing is, I don't usually end up buying the Neil Gaiman book or whatever else I had in mind to buy. It's not easy to give up that power that you have in the gift card. I may finally succumb but it takes a few store visits before I decide what I want.

I know, you're probably saying "but you could just as easily buy people gifts with your gift card-isn't that the same concept as spending cash?". My answer is "NO!!!!!". In the immortal words of Mr. Bean "These are MINE!".

Uh, yeah. Generally, I like to think I'm quite generous. But if someone gives me a gift card as, you know, a gift, it's mine. I will spend every cent in my checking account on gifts but that $25 Border's gift card? That. Is. Mine.

There are some exceptions to the "Gift card is power and should not be spent easily" motto I live by. When I was moving from L.A. to Ohio, I received some Shell gas station gift cards from some good friends. Those were very, very useful particularly when you have to fill up your little gas tank every 463 miles or so. I also had a Target gift card from another good friend which is how I bought my coffee maker and blender.

(Speaking of the blender: It scares me. It likes to take walks. It's ok when it's on low but if I press that 'high' button and then try to blend....it just starts to move really fast from one side of the counter to the other. If I hold onto it, pressing down, I tend to move with it rather than stop it from walking. There's nothing more alarming than seeing your curried parsnip soup flying across the counter and having to make a dive to hit the 'off' button before it hits the floor.)

But aside from making a big move into a new place, I hoard my giftcards until it's time to spend them. Sometimes that time comes when you just need to shop. Sometimes a book comes out that you really, really want to own in hardcover even though you just read it from the library. With the Power of the Giftcard, the guilt is gone. That book can be yours for the low price of whatever Borders is charging, minus the nifty 30% off coupon you-printed-from-your-email-because-they-stopped-sending-the-even-niftier-text-messages-with-the-coupon-code-attached.

As far as my Starbucks giftcard goes, I'm ok with sharing that one. I mean, if you say "I'll buy you a cup of coffee" and you have a giftcard, that's very cool. Generosity AND smart spending. Nothing wrong with that one. But the Borders one I still have is mine. That's my power. That's my ticket to wandering around the bookstacks of Borders, smelling the new paper and the cellophane of the DVD and CD wrappers and feeling completely and utterly at home. It's my ticket to knowing that I can buy whatever I want (as long as it's not over $25).

So, that's my random musing for the day. And, by the way, the office coffee isn't vile today. It's still Maxwell House which is FAR inferior to Folgers but it's better. I used a lot of coffee though. Strong coffee is good coffee. It may not be good coffee here but, today, at least, it's not vile. Triumph is mine!

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Snow, Writing and Other More Lyrical Musings Than I Had in Mind When I Sat Down to Write This

So, I told you yesterday it was snowing. It made me very happy. Happier still was the me that got to drive home in the twirling, whirling cascading snow that threatened to settle but never did. By the time I got to my apartment, it was snowing quite hard.

I've been waiting for it to snow since last year when I stood out on my parent's deck on Christmas Night, looked up at the snow and told myself that I had to come back to the Midwest. I missed snow. I missed my parents. I missed my brothers and sisters. I missed my nieces and nephews. I felt like it was time to come back.

When I left Indiana to move to L.A., I had a dream of being a screenwriter. I think almost any writer who does move to L.A. has the same dream. It wasn't an easy path to take but I tried anyway. I didn't get very far in my quest. I learned to write dialogue by writing screenplays. I entered contests. I got an agent to request a script but I didn't get further than that. And then, one day, I got stuck on an ending to a script. It wasn't working and I needed to rewrite it. I brainstormed how to do it, thought of everything and nothing worked.

So I decided to try writing a novel. I'd just read Stephen King's fantastic book, On Writing, and he made me think I could write a novel. So I tried it. And it was good. You know in movies where the hero or heroine has a sudden ephiphany and you hear the "Hallelujah!" chorus to signify the magnitude of the moment? That's how I felt when I sat down to write a novel. I could hear the Hallelujah chorus in my head. It was like a rush of air, a feeling of warmth slowly flooding through me. I always compare screenplays and novels to lying in a bed. A screenplay is like lying in a small twin bed in which you have a limited space. You have to show a story and convey it in dialogue tightly, concisely with nothing extraneous. And then, with a novel, it's like moving up to a king size bed. You can spread out, take your time to explain things, describe things, the dialogue has to be good but it doesn't have to be rushed. For me, it was almost like coming home.

And so, I wrote a novel. Then another one. Then three more in the series. After that, I took a break but I heard Green Day's "American Idiot" album and I needed to write again. I took that album and I let it guide me through a story, not stealing from the album but, rather, letting it weave through my story like a silent, invisible spiderweb. After that, I wrote a few query letters but nothing happened. I buried my disappointment in another novel, one that was supposed to be light and fluffy but ended up being somewhat dark and twisty. I took another break and wrote short stories but again, got disillusioned by rejection, becoming slightly bitter.

I wrote another novel. This one darker and drier than the other fare. I have a dry sense of humour. It tends to show through in my writing. You might have noticed that.

And that's where I am now. Eight novels under my belt during a seven-year stint in L.A. That's not a bad effort but it's also a good place to stop and wonder if I had to live there. And I realized I didn't. I could live anywhere.

So I moved. I'm back in a place where it rains and snows. Where the trees turn beautiful colours in the Autumn. When the dark, cold days of January and February bleach the world of all colour and show a landscape of barren nothingness, often coated with ice or rain. But it's also a place where, in March, a few balmy spring days let the crocuses and daffodils that have shyly and bravely pushed their stalks up into the cold frozen ground suddenly decide that it's time to bloom. And so the world begins to change into a spring landscape; the ice and snow melt, the flattened soggy ground begins to dry and spring hits, full force.

Last night, I stood on my balcony, my hands wrapped around a mug of Williams Sonoma Peppermint Hot Chocolate (SO worth the splurge) and let the snow fall on me. Snow is peaceful to me. There is nothing more tranquil than looking out onto a world covered in freshly fallen snow, sounds are muffled, the light is brighter in reflection. Seeing the snowflakes fall eased the back-of-my-mind worries that I'd done the right thing in leaving the friends I'd made in L.A., the life I'd carved out for myself. I miss them a lot. I miss my routines, the restaurants, the movies, USC football...everything that defined my life there. But standing there, watching the snow, calmed those worries and eased the last of my doubt.

This morning, I got up and found that the sun was shining but the telltale signs of the snowfall were still around, encrusted onto my windshield, patches of unmelted flakes clustered in the shadows. I woke up to a song on the radio that actually inspired my first novel, a song that fills me with the remembered passion I felt while having that epiphany that this was it. This was what I was supposed to do. And now, with the first snowfall of the season melting away, it's time to begin again. To write again. To stop looking at the things I left and look at the life I have now, car wrecks, speeding tickets included.

It's supposed to snow again on Thursday. I hope it does. I love this time of year. I heard that it's in the '80's in L.A. I like this weather better.

Ask me again in February though. I never said I couldn't be fickle.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Snowy Monday Morning

Once more, it's a Monday. In the true spirit of a Monday morning, I was going to be grumpy. I had every intention of being grumpy because, honestly, it really doesn't take much effort and, on some days at least, I'm rather good at being grumpy.

Except, there are a few reasons for me not to be grumpy. For example, my clock radio woke me up with Green Day's "American Idiot." This may not sound like much but my regular radio station plays very little Green Day, favourite the more generic and boring Midwest rock like Hinder and Seether and a lot of other '-er' bands.

(Side note: How come we seethe but we do not hinde? I mean, we hinder something but we don't seether in silent fury, we seeth. Anyone else find that the English Language is somewhat inconsistant?)

Anyway, so hearing Green Day was a nice start to my day. Granted, it didn't mean that I didn't hit the snooze button after the song was done but it was still a pleasant surprise.

Then, I went down to defrost my car only to discover that it was snowing! Now, apparently, I'm considered odd because I like snow. But I adore it. I've mentioned that before but I'll mention it again. I got to drive to work and enjoy the snow, wet enough to melt as it hit the ground but also falling in big, fluffy snowflakes. I'm like a five-year-old when it snows. I like to tilt my head back, and let the snow land on my nose and eyelashes. These are a few of my favourite things.

Yes, there was a silent snicker at the end of the last line.

So, at the moment, the snow is gently cascading down. It's not supposed to settle which is good because I haven't been a good Midwesterner yet and bought winter shoes. This might be a problem. I wear skate shoes like Vans and Airwalk. These are not good on snow. I own boots but while looking cool, the 3 inch heel does not go well with ice. At the moment, I'm wearing boots with heels. i think a trip to J.C. Penney or some other store that sells practical shoes is in my near future.

I also found out a coworker had a baby yesterday. He was very premature but he's doing well as is the mother. This is very good news.

So, it's hard to be grumpy today though I have a couple of reasons. I was driving through Indiana en route from my parents and got a speeding ticket. I was not a happy Monkeypants. I was going 58 in a 45 mph zone. The thing is as I accelerated to 58, I passed the 55 mph zone so I think it's questionable. Also, I know police have a job to do and, technically, I was speeding but I was going 13 mph over the limit and it was literally JUST as I was moving between posted signs. I haven't had a ticket in over ten years. I can't help but think, wow, seriously, Mr. Policeman, don't you have anything better to do?

When I was in L.A., I spent six weeks with a friend in a civilian's police academy. We got to hear from the L.A. Sheriff's department on various subjects, tour a jail and go on a ride-along. We got to learn a lot about why police have to be the way they are. It did make me see the other side of the story, so to speak. I got to watch what the police have to deal with and how much paperwork it entails. It changed my perception of them because I realized that a lot of their attitude is a self-preservation technique. At least in L.A.

In Indiana, I'm not so sure. The policeman was polite but he wasn't nice. He lectured me on not having local plates. I told him it was a rental because I had recently been rear-ended. I admit, I was hoping for a little sympathy. Instead, I got a ticket which is going to cost me $130. Yay, me.

I know, I know, that's what I get for speeding but honestly speaking, for the most part, I tend to be a very tame driver. I don't speed more than 10 miles per hour normally. Yesterday, i was on autopilot. I accelerated too early. And now I have to pay. Never mind that the holidays are approaching and never mind that the economy blows at the moment. I still have to pay because I made a mistake.

And, to put the icing on the cake, when I got home, I checked my email and found a rejection. I had forgotten about that submission so the rejection was a nice smack on the head to tell me, hey, look, loser, we don't want your story. In not so many words, naturally. It means that, once again, I must plod onwards, ever forward and hope that someday people actually want to read my stories and novels and, when they do, they don't say, 'not for us' or 'not right for us at this time' but they say "we'd love to publish your work" or "I'd love to represent you." That's my dream and it never hurts to dream, right?

So, these are the reason I was going to be grumpy. Except, it's not happening because there are enough reasons not to be grumpy today as well. Yes, it's a Monday, yes, the weekend is still five days away but it doesn't mean I have to be in a bad mood. After all, it's snowing, my coworker and baby are healthy and I also got a phone call from one of my oldest childhood friends from England last night which was absolutely awesome. It's amazing how much people change but stay the same, isn't it?

Thus, I'm going to attempt to be positive. I'll try to take pleasure in the little things. Like the fact that office coffee doesn't taste quite so vile today. Like the fact that Robert Downey, Jr. was on the cover on Entertainment Weekly. And the fact that it's supposed to snow through Wednesday, scattered showers that will land quickly, melt quickly but make the world beautiful while it falls. Sometimes it's the little things that are the best.

Happy Monday, everyone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Office, Weatherly and other Random Babble...

It's been a very long week. I'm sure most people will agree. As I've mentioned, I've been stuck in training all week. It hasn't been bad. It's been exhausting. Paying attention is always exhausting. Weatherly continued to be a pain in the bottom. She even went so far as to demand one on one with a trainer yesterday during the regular training time. He didn't want to give her the time but she just kept interrupting our session and so, sheepishly, he lead her out of the room.

She came back, armed with even more knowledge which she proceeded to demonstrate to the other instructor who was currently lecturing. Weatherly interrupted a lot with questions that proved she had no idea what was going on and, worse, she thought she did.

Still, she's leaving today. It's a Friday and I'm so ready for the weekend, I can't imagine how the day will pass quickly enough to get through it. I'm tired and I'm ready to get out of here.

I never did finish my book last night. I had to watch Grey's Anatomy. Normally, that's my Thursday evening commitment. I record The Office and 30 Rock and watch Grey's. I'll be blogging about that show in my CaptainTV blog but let's just say I'm rather worried about the show. And not in the "I'm so committed, I care about the characters" way but I think the show is taking a scary turn for the absurd. I can stretch my imagination so far but when a show like Greys, always slightly farfetched but always entertaining takes a jump into the absurd, I worry. On the other hand, The Office was awesome.

The funny thing about The Office is that when I first heard they were making it into a show in the U.S., I dismissed it. I was and am a huge fan of the BBC version, Ricky Gervais is genius in his role- making you squirm and grimace with the sure disbelief that anyone could be that oblivious. I loved my Gareth and I loved my Tim and I was certain that the American remake was going to be awful.

Before you assume I'm a snob, bear in mind that I love the UK version of Coupling too- a Friends type show that is a lot more frank, blunt and upfront about sex and situations that arise in relationships. Hilarious- if you haven't seen it, watch it. The U.S. tried a version of that. It was horrendous. It was actually worse than horrendous. They took the UK script and remade it with American accents. It. Did. Not.Work. UK and US humour is very different and what was funny and slightly naughty in the UK translated as baffling and very stiff. That's what she said [a Tribute to Michael Scott].

But The Office is different. I ignored the first season but finally decided to rent it when I was bored. It took a couple of episodes and I was addicted. Season 2 is still my favourite, Office Olympics one of the sweetest, funniest portrayals of cubicle life I've seen on TV. The writers of that show get the office dynamic- how coworkers may hate each other but being stuck together for 8 hours a day does form a sticky bond. They tease each other, they mock but they're really cruel. Steve Carrell in the Ricky Gervais role is strangely lovable, cringeworthy and worthy of much pity, a pretty complex way to play what could be a silly role.

I won't keep on- I have TV blog for that. I will say though that as soon as The Office struck out on its own, moving away from the recycled BBC plots and smoothly shaping it to an American sense of humour, it hit its stride and if you haven't watched it, you should.

Anyway, I'm babbling. I think we've established we do that. I love to blog but sometimes it's hard to be deep all the time. Besides, it's Friday and I'm tired and can't wait to go home. I'm waiting for the next session to start and it's going to be complicated.

So, on this gloomy and early Friday morning, I will end this blog far more quickly and poetically than usual. Next week, I'll be back at work and I promise to be more entertaining. Thanks again for reading and have a great weekend.

Happy Friday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In which I Tried to be Nice but Failed Miserably (Sorry, Stephanie Meyer)

I promise I'm going to try to hold back from complaining about anything related to Twilight, Stephanie Meyer or anything resembling syrupy, unoriginal, annoying vampire fiction. At least for today. I think I need to read something else that's really bad; then again after I read The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown that sent me on a rant that still isn't quite over, even though it's been several years since I read it. To be fair though, Angels and Demons, the prequel to The Davinci Code. was much worse. I mean, that one had the self-proclaimed 'Harrison Ford in Tweed' hero, Robert Langdon falling from a high flying helicopter and he escaped with nary a bruise.

Here's a confession though: Sometimes I read Dan Brown's fiction because it's so bad, I relish it. There's still a couple of his books I haven't read and I'd like to think I can restrain myself. It shouldn't be too hard. After all the last one I read was so silly, I can't believe it got published. It was something like Digital Fortress or something. There's a couple of them that sound the same. All I know is that he started writing the book with a female heroine who was supposed to be smart but she ended up getting pushed to the sidelines because the men around her were much smarter. It was bad. Though the book had one of my all-time favourite "Don't Write Like This" phrases: "Her olive gaze was keen." To this day, I'm not quite sure whether he meant she had green eyes that turned everything around her green and keen or whether she had mysteriously replaced her eyeballs with pimento stuffed olives. Both of them make for an interesting visual, you have to admit.

Other than the Strictly Research Harlequin books I read, I haven't read anything bad since Breaking Dawn. I've read good books. I don't know if that's because I've just picked good books since then or because that book was so atrocious that everything else pales in comparison.

At the moment, I'm reading a popular fiction book: The Time Traveler's Wife. I wasn't sure about it at first. The time traveling was a bit confusing in the beginning but then it evened out and it got interesting. I also wasn't sure about it because I was afraid it was going to be some silly, too fictional to be real love story. Not that there's anything thing wrong with a love story but if the lovers in question don't at least have a couple of scenes where they're ready to throw knives at one another, it's not realistic to me. Then again, I am the person who couldn't get through Wuthering Heights. Talk about a couple of drips. They actually probably would have thrown knives at each other, come to mention it. Most of the time, it seemed like that hated each other. I think it was one of those grand passions that are so famous in fiction. Unfortunately, they were both so despicable, I really wished they'd both just ride off into the moors and get eaten by the Blair Witch or something.

Um, yeah, Captain Monkeypants may still be feeling a little snarky. Sorry about that.

Back to The Time Traveler's Wife. It was a loaner from a good friend who insisted I finish it. So I perservered even though I don't do well with the concept of time travel. To me, it's the same level of confusion as concentrating while trying to brush my hair in the mirror. I'm not terribly good at the whole reverse image thing. I get befuddled. Time travel befuddles me. All that paradoxical stuff in which future people can travel back and talk to past people but not be seen by their present people or whatever...it's all rather perplexing. It's one of those things I'd rather be perplexed by rather than have someone try to explain it. Like all things I don't understand, it's magic. That's good enough for me.

But this book isn't confusing now I'm into it. I'm intrigued. I'm almost done and I think I might have figured out how it's going to end and if I'm right, I don't think I'm going to like it but I might love it. I confess, sometimes I'm a skipper. This means that I cheat, I skip to the end of a book because I can't wait to see what happens. I'm trying to be better about that lately so I'm not skipping to the end of this book.

The reason I might not like it is that it's not going to be a completely happy ending. I might love it because if I'm right, it means the author did a brilliant thing in placing an almost throwaway scene strategically towards the beginning of the book and I almost didn't think anything of it. I love it when that happens. I love that I'd have to read the second time to see if knowing the ending spoils the book. I'm weird like that, I suppose but I love to reread a good book, particularly one with an excellent ending.

Endings are hard for writers. There are some writers I enjoy who cannot write a decent ending to save their life. Stephen King comes to mind. He falls into the trap of building it up so much that the ending is almost a complete letdown because there's nowhere to go. I think It is the best example of that. I loved that book until the end. The flashbacks were clever, the story built up, it was creepy and scary and then when you found out that the It in question was really just a glorified giant spider, it was a bit of a letdown. Pennywise the Clown was WAY creepier. Dean Koontz is also pretty bad at endings. I think horror writers have it hardest because creating the horror is much easier than explaining it. After all, it's really just a variation on the old saying that there's power in a name. There's a power in knowing in a horror novel. Once you know what the Big Creepy is, it's far less creepy. It becomes an object that can be confronted because it is known. It's the not knowing that's the scariest thing of all.

Stephen King's son released a novel fairly recently. His name is Joe Hill and the novel is Heart Shaped Box. For a first time novel, it was actually quite a good read. It definitely had some moments of creepiness. When he released it, he didn't publicize who he was but one look at his photo on the back cover and it was pretty obvious to anyone who spent vast amounts of their teenage years reading Stephen King novels that the two were related. They look extremely alike. It wasn't a mystery. Joe has a lot of similarities in his writing to the earlier Stephen King. I can't say it was the best horror novel I read but as a ghost story, it's definitely worth reading. But I will admit, the ending of that wasn't anything I really remember. I remember the hero and his unlikely love. I remember the ghost. I remember how the ghost came to being and I remember being very sad for the dogs. I just don't remember the ending very well. That's probably not a good sign.

I won't lie and say I'm great at endings either. They're hard. Really hard. The more you write the characters and the longer you spend with them, the harder it is. I've written eight novels now. Of those eight, there are five that are a series. I spent a couple of years with the main characters, my boys as I like to refer to them: John, Michael and David. They're all wonderful, even when they're evil and they do bad things. I killed one of them. Actually, no, I killed two of them. That was hard. I'd say that was a spoiler because nothing is ever what it seems, especially when I'm making up the details.

But the hardest part was writing the last book in the series and realizing that their story was done. Though I knew how it would end, getting there took a long time. I've rewritten the ending several times and I don't think I'm 100% happy with it. It needs to be edited more. It needs to be tidied up. It needs to be tighter. But I couldn't quite let go of them because I was afraid that would be it. Those boys would leave me and I'd have to move on.

Those boys haven't left me though. They're in my head all the time. I call it my literary schitzophrenia. They've been joined by a couple of other characters who've stuck with me but whose ending I had no trouble with. I usually don't start to write towards the ending until I know what it will be. Sometimes I know the ending before I know the beginning. Other times, I think I know the end but my characters tell me otherwise and I'm at their mercy.

I'd love to share my books with the world. I've dabbled with query letters but I haven't really jumped in feet first. I want those boys I wrote to get out into the world. I want them to grab the readers the way they grabbed me, their tale of good and evil, friendship and brotherhood and the sometimes brutal way they have to act to carry out their purpose in life. And I love how they take that purpose in life and stomp all over it.

But when I think about jumping in feet first, I think about poor Stephanie Meyer. She might be rich but there are always going to be people like me, brutally stomping on the ending to her Twilight saga and ranting about what a pile of crap it is. I'd like to think she was terrified to let the world read that, that it meant so much to her she almost didn't want to publish it because her heart was in that novel. But I've read it and as brutal as it sounds, there is no heart in there. To me, Breaking Dawn is just the self-indulgent whim of a writer who stopped remembering to let her characters tell the story and forced them into submission so she could write the ending she'd always visualized instead of the one that belonged to the book.

So, though I planned on finishing The Time Traveler's Wife tomorrow, I think I may stretch it out. The ending isn't too far off now and if it's anything like the rest of the book, it's going to make me think. Against my expectations, I like the characters and I like how unconventional they are. I especially like that though the time traveler and his wife are in love, they fight and argue like real people. I like thinking I know how it's going to end but knowing I might be wrong. I just hope that I'm not wrong about how good it's going to be. Endings are hard, in every sense of the word. But sometimes they can be as good as a beginning when it leaves you with a hope, a thought and a memory of how much it meant to have it, even for a little while. It's true for writing and it's true for life. It's always hard to say goodbye.

On that note, it is time for my ending for now. I know I said I'd be nice and not rant about Stephanie Meyer but, well, like I said, I can't always plan for how I write. It just happens. And I said I'd try. Clearly even the best of intentions go awry sometimes. I'll try to read something else awful so I can move on. Recommendations are greatly appreciated.

Happy Thursday, everyone.

There's always a Weatherly....

I am at a workshop all week. I think I mentioned that. Yesterday, I had to put in 13 hours of work. I'm playing two roles at the moment, one as a trainee which means I forced to cram a lot of information into my brain and the other as an employee of my company since they're providing the training. This means that I am expected to retain the learning.

I'm trying. I mentioned I wasn't good at meetings yesterday. I probably should mention today that I've never been particularly good at listening to lectures. I don't mind if it's a good lecture for which I have an interest in the subject but if it's remotely dull, I don't do to well.

This is not to say I don't keep trying. It just means that if the lecture is slightly dull or boring, i'm doomed.

Take yesterday for example. I had to learn some rather complicated stuff about how the software our company develops works. I managed to take in almost all of the first session. After that...well, it was spotty.

I did spend some rather interesting time observing people. I have learned in every training session, there's always one person whose head you wouldn't mind chopped off and served on a platter. Um, wait, maybe I should make that less barbaric lest you think I'm some kind of weirdo. There's always a person you would like to throw something at. Yes, much better.

In my session, we shall call her Weatherly for that is almost her name. Weatherly has used our software for a few years and thus, is an expert. Or so she claims. My first interaction came when I sat at her table for the obligatory welcome-and-introduce-yourself-by-saying-something-witty session. Bad idea. I didn't have a name badge on so she had no idea who I was. I got to listen to Weatherly talk about how tiny this training was compared to last year. I discovered afterwards that she hadn't been to the training last year and that she was thinking of a conference from two years ago. The conference is an annual event with over 200 people. Trainings average about 10-15 people. This one is 25 people.

She also managed to bad mouth several staff members who I know and like and respect. After a few too many moments, I reached across the table and introduced myself, pointedly. All this did was earn me a somewhat condescending sneer and meant that she began to whisper to her companion instead of talk full voice for the rest of the session.

She also likes to talk. A lot. Except it's never about anything useful, just very much about what a wonderful and fascinating person she is. She also likes to read the New York Times during the training sessions and then, during the exercises in which we apply what we've just learned, she spends the whole time asking the trainers questions because she's confused.

Fortunately, she's not the only distraction. We get a lot of breaks. I have a computer. This is dangerous as I'm a chronic surfer. I'm actually supposed to be listening but Weatherly just asked a question. She just arrived. 20 minutes late. She missed the discussion that would have answered her question. I'm trying to be patient but it's first thing in the morning. If the people who are from a time zone that's 3 hours behind can be here on time, I don't get why Weatherly, from a place within this time zone has to be late.

So I surf. I've read my Entertainment Weekly for the day. Normally, I like that website. Lately, it's been all about the Twilight movie. Once upon a time, I was curious about that movie. Then I read Breaking Dawn and I've retroactively reformed my opinion of the Twilight story. I hate it now. I'm so thrilled that teenage girls are fainting at the site of Robert Pattinson whenever they happen to catch a glimpse of him. He's playing the lead vampire in the movie, the swoony, perfect Edward Cullen. I say that with full sarcasm.

The funny thing is, in reading the Entertainment Weekly, I realized that Mr. Pattinson doesn't seem to care for his role much. Stephanie Meyer, the author of the novels, seems to think this movie is going to set him up for Leonardo DiCaprio levels of fame because it's such an amazing role. She makes a few slightly disparaging comments in the article about him disguised as compliments. I found that amusing.

More amusing, I found that both Robert and his costar, Kristin Stewart, don't seem to be taking their roles as seriously as both Meyer and the fans would like. They both seem to want to make sure that this isn't the defining role of their careers, that they'll be able to be actors without forever being able to be referred to as "Bella" and "Edward." I'm glad for them. It's quite a commitment they've made and neither of them seem to have known exactly how insane the fans and their mothers are.

So, seeing that they have teenage girls swooning before the movie comes out, makes me smile. I think it's good to have that sort of passion. It worries me a little in their mothers but...well...maybe it's a bonding thing. Maybe those mothers don't really fancy themselves a seventeen year old vampire. Granted, he's been 17 for a long time now but, well, that fictional character...he's still seventeen

Anyway, along with that surfing, I've also managed to read my email, make a move in my online scrabble-type game and read WAY too much on Facebook. And I still manage to get all my work done.

I'd say I'm proud of that but I'm really not. It's just the way I get through the day. I can't help it...I really want to be a good little student but I'm not. Not really. After all, I am the one who, in high school, tried to read Moby Dick, read the first page and then decided I could not read that book. I managed to do quite well in the discussion and on the paper; it's amazing how much deep thought you can make up when you read the back cover of a book. This is even before Wikipedia.

Anyway, I'm just babbling today because I don't have the usual time or brainpower to be able to write anything too funny or deep. Besides, Weatherly has sucked what little brain power I had away. She's currently asking why she can't connect to her home network on her personal laptop. My response would be much less polite than the instructors. Then again, her office only paid a few hundred dollars to send her here; why on earth would she need to learn anything?

Clearly, Captain Monkeypants is feeling snarky and crabby today. I apologize. I promise to be perkier tomorrow. Well, maybe not perky, perkiness in me is a little alarming. But I don't have to work quite so long today so maybe I'll this will help.

Then again, Weatherly is here all week. I can't wait.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Monkeypants Guide to Surviving Meetings

I'm going to try to attempt to blog in the evenings this week due to the fact that I have a conference training thingy at work that is going to eat my life away for a week. On the plus side, I've been told that the food is good and I get fed, at least for lunch, every day. The downside is that I've also been told the training is boring and dry. So...while I will try to be a good little new employee, I have a feeling that my mind is going to start to wander as it always does when it's not terribly thrilled with paying attention, most commonly occuring during meetings.

Work meetings have always been hard for me. I usually like my actual job. I just despise meetings. Very rarely does anything actually get accomplished in a meeting. Instead, people talk about what should be accomplished but, inevitably, the people they will have to talk to to do any accomplishing aren't at the meeting. Which means another meeting will have to be set up to include that person. And then, sometimes, that person needs to talk to another person and so on and so forth. It ends up being a vicious cycle of meetings.

The worst are phone meetings. I hate phone meetings. I've sat through many a phone meeting in which we all have to dial a special number, go to a web page and then wait until everyone else arrives. Then the host of the meeting hits a magic button and all 'attendees' can see his or her computer screen. Sometimes, they were interesting. For about five minutes. The rest of the time, I would try very hard to pay attention but when the host of the meeting is spending fifteen minutes tweaking his screen so the program he's demonstrating runs right, it's quite understandable, I think, that I zone out. Sometimes I surf the internet. The bad part about this is that occasionally the host of the meeting will switch the setup so that my screen is the one everyone can see. I've had some near misses with those. Emailing with a friend in which you're mocking the host of the meeting is not a good idea if there's a chance everyone could read your screen. However, after a particularly near miss of getting caught being a naughty Monkeypants in a phone meeting, I took up other hobbies like paperclip sculpting, drawing with crayons and sudoku. Generally speaking, I was still quite able to get the gist of the meeting and find out what I was supposed to do in the last five minutes of the meeting so, you see, it all worked out.

Live meetings are a little more fun though. I make sure to take paperclips so that I can sculpt and occupy my hands when I am ready to doze off. I realized one day I wasn't the only one who was a bit bored in a meeting after I had sculpted a particularly fine little paperclip man. My coworker reached over, quietly took my man and hung him from a rubberband noose he'd just finished making complete with a paperclip scaffold. And yes, that is a true story.

My other meeting pasttimes include looking at the attendees and figuring out one of the following:

  • Which Harry Potter character would they be?
  • If they were an animal, which animal would they be?
  • What would be their karaoke song if criminals came in and held us at gunpoint, threatening to kill us if we didn't sing karaoke. (This, of course, would lead to the inevitable musings of what would cause the criminals would come into the meeting in the first place and what would they look like?)
  • What would they do if I decided to dance on the conference table like Michael Flatley and his Riverdance chronies. (I can't actually Riverdance. I just like the idea).
  • Who would I like to see naked? (Very cliche but it's SO hard to not go there when you're trying to NOT go there). The answer was usually a resounding no-one. I haven't had much luck in my offices where there is anyone I'd like to see naked or even just partially clothed. A sad fact, I know.

There were plenty of other daydreaming techniques I have. As a novelist/writer, meetings are an excellent way to solve writing dilemmas. More than one ephiphany has come during a meeting. In fact, I wrote the opening of my last novel while sitting through a particuarly boring meeting about hardware firewalls. My boss asked me to go in his place since he couldn't make it. He'd only signed up in the first place because there was a free lunch. Perfect place to start writing a new novel. I got a free Subway sandwich and chips, a break from work and a quiet place to write. And best of all, it looked like I was taking notes. Actually, that was a good meeting now that I think about it.

There are some tricks to being an effective meeting goer. Naturally, it involves looking like you're paying attention. This usually means you nod a lot at the speaker and make good eye contact. You look like you're taking notes, even if you're really making a shopping list for groceries to buy on the way home from work. Don't let your brain detach completely if there is a chance you will need to speak. This is tricky because sometimes you don't know when it will occur. If caught off guard, quickly glance down at the agenda to remind yourself what the meeting is about. Then look as though you're pondering something and drag yourself back to reality and find a way to pass the responsibility onto someone else. This is usually effective when you say something like, "Well, I know Frank was working on that and though I keep trying, he's reluctant to give me a response. I'll check with him as soon as I get back to the office." This not only buys you time but also has the bonus effect of making Frank look bad. Unfortunately, this sometimes means another meeting in your future to which Frank will be invited but, the general Monkeypants Rule of Meeting Survival is to always blame Frank. Or whoever your Frank might be.

Of course, there is another type of meeting- the motivational group meeting. My current job, so far, hasn't had any of these. My old job had yearly ones in which we'd be forced to get our entire department together and work in groups to promote unity, positivity and whatever slogans the managers had recently seen when browsing Successories for motivation. Personally, I prefer the demotivators but they didn't seem to go over so well with the managers.

And the problem with these motivational meetings is that no one really wants to be motivated. They want to continue to be bitter and angry because the managers are clueless as to the real problems they face on a daily basis. They don't want to get together in pre-arranged, specifically-manufactured-to-make-coworkers-who-are-enemies-get-along-for-an-hour groups to make up songs that are supposed to be funny, clever and gently mock the daily activities of the department. They don't want to sing Kumbaya for an hour together because after that hour is up, Coworker X will still be a pompous twit, Coworker Y a lazy but slick politician who manages to do nothing and still reap promotions and rewards and Coworker Z will still be playing computer games all day long while the rest of the office has to pick up the slack because everyone knows it's useless to say anything.

All in all, you probably figured out that I'm not a huge fan of The Meeting. I don't mind small meetings that have a point. I don't mind if there's a real, honest purpose to having a meeting. I especially don't mind if, at the end of the meeting, there is a cold, hard solution to a problem on the table, or, at the very least, a result that doesn't call for another meeting but gives the attendees a reason for being in that room for an hour.

Fortunately, I haven't had too many meetings lately. Instead, I've had training. At least with that, I learn something...theoretically. I'm hoping this week is educational, even if it is dry. At the very least, I'm looking for a new writing project so maybe I can come up with one. As long as the food is good and there's coffee, I can survive.

As long as they don't ask us to sing.

Sometimes We All Do Silly Things...

I'm not one to recap my weekend in a blog because I honestly can't imagine anyone being interested in the minute details of my life. Besides, it's Monday morning and I barely remembered that I had to get up for work so remembering every detail of my weekend is not likely.

However, there were some parts of my weekend that I remember rather well and which I think I'll share with you today. Mostly because, as you HAVE to have figured out by now, I'm a ranter. And sometimes I just like to get things off my chest.

For example, this weekend I decided to go shopping. Not Christmas shopping but just...shopping. I went with my mother who is a very good shopping companion. Our first mission was to replace my parents coffee maker because it had recently exploded. And no, that is not an exaggeration. From my mother's accounts, it actually blew up. So, they needed a new one and we decided to make that our mission for the day.

And so we went to Linen's n' Things because it was going out of business and it was selling everything 20% off. Now, an experienced shopper knows that 20% off is the very beginning of a store going out of business and it lasts for a good long time because it's not that much of a discount. This way the store can still make a tidy profit but prey on those lunatic shoppers who feel that Everything Is A Bargain and thus must Shop Til They Drop. And, trust me, they do.

The thing with Linen's n' Things is, besides the fact that it's almost the EXACT same store as Bed, Bath and Beyond, is that they published a weekly flyer. On the back of the weekly flyer for the past years has been a coupon for 20% off anything in the store. Better yet, Linens' N' Things also accepted competitor coupons from Bed, Bath and Beyond which also had a weekly 20% coupon.

So, following that rationalization, I was expecting the store to be quite busy with people seeing what's what and deciding if it was worth buying a potato peeler for $10.40 instead of $12.99. (Note: Captain Monkeypants would like to say at that price, buy a knife. Seriously. There are much more uses to be gained from knives. Just ask Dexter Morgan). But I didn't think people would be too excited because it wasn't like they couldn't have bought that potato peeler for 20% off before with their coupon.

Unfortunately, I made a bad decision. For Linens N' Things was not merely busy. It was a zoo. It was like the day after Thanksgiving. People were insane. They were seeming to singlehandedly trying to say "Whatever" to the bad economy. You couldn't browse without someone barrelling down the aisle with a cart and trying to mow you down. I understand the need to shop wherever the bargains are but in my humble opinion, these weren't bargains yet. They might be in a month or so but for now, the prices were about the same as any other store having a REGULAR sale. I could almost hear the store walls laughing, rubbing their hands together and saying "SUCKERS!"

However, they did have the coffeemaker that my parents specifically wanted and that was a pretty good price. And so we waited in line. For 30 minutes. At least waiting in line was fairly safe. By this time, shoppers had reached that deflation that comes after grabbing as many items as one can cram in a cart and realizing that now it's time to pay. It's the time of Second Guessing the Impulse Buy. Some people take one look at the line at the checkout and decide if it's not worth the wait and they then ditch their items anywhere they can. This is why those random items that Don't Belong There litter every aisle. The item-ditchers are usually the people who found one or two items they thought was worth the price. For the three or more item buyers, the fact that they just survived the battle zone of a store clearance sale in order to get those three or more items leads to the decision that they may as well wait. Sometimes, like us, you have been specificially looking for an item (in this case, a coffeemaker) that you haven't been able to find anywhere and you're fed up of looking and so you end up waiting in line anyway.

On the plus side, it was good practice for Christmas shopping. Especially as Linens N' Things, despite the fact that they're going out of business, still decided to set up their Christmas Aisles. This meant there were ample objects for people to wind up and hear a never ending loop of "The First Noel" as they waited in line to pay. And when I say never-ending loop, I mean never-ending. I suppose it could have been "Frosty the Snowman" which is one of my least favourite Christmas songs ever.

Note to self: Avoid Going Out of Business Sales on weekends. So, that was The Silliness of Captain Monkeypants, incident #1.

Incident #2 came last night when driving home from my parents. It's a two hour drive and I have found that audio books are fantastic for passing the time. I love listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks because Jim Dale reads them. Jim Dale is awesome. He does different voices for every character and it feels like it's a whole new story, even if you've read the Harry Potter book many times already.

However, audiobooks can also be a bit troublesome. Especially when they make you miss your turnoff. Now, I've driven back and forth between my parents quite a few times by now and so I finally have the route memorized. However, I was so busy listening to Harry Potter last night that I forgot to turn. It was about three miles before I realized I had gone too far. Being the midwest, and being on an Interstate, there aren't many exits. Fortunately, I have this handy dandy GPS in my car that I borrowed from my dad. I plugged that in and thankfully, the nice lady who talks to me when I don't hit 'mute' guided me home. Granted, it was a strange way to go and being southern Ohio, it was very hilly. There were a couple of hills that made me feel like I was on a roller coaster. They were almost a straight incline and straight drop. Terrifying. I don't like roller coasters.

I do like the GPS though. Although the one my dad loaned me makes me laugh. She actually sounds exasperated when you don't do as she says and she has to recalculate. I think it'd be fun to design a whole line of GPS in which you can choose the type of voice you have. I would like a voice that was little nuts and would randomly shout factoids as you were driving long boring stretches. That would be funny. Anyway, there was no harm done. I just felt silly for missing my turn.

My biggest "duh!" moment came last night. Since I moved into my apartment, I have noticed how warm it is during the day. I always assumed it was because my windows were east-facing and thus the sun had a greenhouse effect on my flat. Last night, I came home from my parents. Over the weekend, the temperature outside had gone from warm and balmy to flat out cold. My apartment was still warm. And then I heard it. The heating came on. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my heat has been on for weeks and I didn't know. In my defense, it turns out my thermostat is labelled wrong. I had it set to "off" but this, apparently means "heat". Since my electricity bill is due any day now, you may hear a very loud, piercing scream of terror when I get it, no matter where in the world you are.

And so, those are the top three dumb things I did this weekend. I find the dumb things we do far more entertaining than the smart things we do. Perhaps next time I'll tell you how I was making mushroom soup last weekend with shitake mushrooms and didn't realize that the recipe was asking for dried mushrooms and I'd bought fresh. So, when I soaked the mushrooms in water as directed, I couldn't figure out why they weren't puffing up with the water until I read more closely. Well, I suppose I just told you that, didn't I?

Hey, I never said I was a genius. Happy Monday.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Let's Not Deck the Halls Just Yet...

So, it's Friday. It's all gloomy outside, as though the sky is thinking about raining but doesn't quite have the energy to do so. It's like all mornings at the end of the week where your alarm goes off and you think, "five more minutes," and roll over, trying to get up the energy to sit up and eventually crawl out of bed. Not that weather has an alarm clock...but you get the idea. It's supposed to rain a lot today. I'm going to my parents tonight and it's supposed to snow there, even though it's a mere two hours north.

But it might be good for it to snow. You see, apparently, it's almost Christmas. I know this because my TV tells me so. I've never made a secret of the fact that I watch a fair amount of television. I have my regular shows for the week. I've also told you that I don't have TiVo. I actually don't have cable. I also have to get one of those digital converter box thingies. I even got the $50 credit towards it. Note to self: Buy digital converter box.

Anyway, so, without TiVo, I tend to watch most of my shows live. Which means I also watch the adverts- or commercials- depending on which side of the ocean you're from. Now, I actually don't mind watching commercials, especially now the damn election ads are done. (Hooray for that, by the way). I enjoy the PC/Mac commercials because I'm a bit of a geek and they make me laugh. My favourite one is the one where the PC demonstrates the line of teas that Microsoft has invented to soothe harried Windows users (Refresh Raspberry being my favourite). I'm also a sucker for the adverts that have funny acts of violence in them such as the one for Sprint (I think) where the two men were comparing phone features and one of them claimed to have theft deterrent which he demonstrated by throwing the phone at the other man's head. Outpost.com had some my all time favourites in which they'd try to make an impact on viewers of the commercial by unleashing packs of wolves on high school bands and firing gerbils from a cannon.

Ok, yes, let's get it out of the way: I have a bit of a dark sense of humour. It's not like any real band kids or gerbils got hurt. And throwing a cell phone at someone's head is probably a little mean but it still made me laugh because it was so unexpected.

Anyway, so I actually pay attention to the commercials. I like them, particularly if they're entertaining. I'm a good little consumer: If the ad makes an impact, I might be inclined to consider checking out the product. After all, I love that little Cockney Geico Gekko so much, I actually switched to Geico for my car insurance needs.

And, um, actually, that's true. Mock all you like. He's cute. I even have a little statue of him on my desk. So there.

Back to the blog topic at hand. Now that the election is done (did I mention...hurrah!?), I've been paying more attention to the ads again. And, well, I've noticed a disturbing trend.

Christmas. My TV is showing me commercials for Christmas stuff.

Here's the thing: I adore Christmas. I love the snow, the holly, the decorating of the tree, the delicious baking that surrounds me, particularly my mum's sausage rolls and mince pies, the gift buying, the gift wrapping, the carols...all of it. I love the comfort of the holidays. I even love the crazy shopping, most of the time.

It's just...well...I'm not ready for it yet. I don't think we're supposed to be. It was Halloween a week ago. Thanksgiving hasn't happened yet. It's still three weeks away.

I suppose we're lucky, really. I've noticed that Wal-Mart has subtly been sneaking in Christmas stuff into their garden section since late August. Lowes too.

I know it's an attempt to get people spending money sooner. I know that stores think the earlier they start selling stuff, the more money they can make. I just don't like that.

I'm ok with Christmas hitting in full swing the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, last year, I was one of the psycho-shoppers looking for the bargains at 4 a.m. It was an experience, that's all I'll say. I just like to be prepared.

The thing is, I actually have started Christmas shopping. I try to buy gifts that I think people would like when I find them. This means I don't have a mad dash right before Christmas and also allows me to spend more wisely. But that was my trick and I liked being able to peruse stores WITHOUT the insipid "Frosty the Snowman" type songs being played on a repeatable track and without everyone crowding in in case they just happen to find that Tickle Me Elmo v.5000 that also works as a personal assistant as well as having maniacal giggling fits when you tickle it.*

I also don't like Christmas to be forced on me like this. I want it to sink in, slowly. I want the first snowfall in November to be quiet and stand on it's own merit; I don't want to have it ruined by a sudden rush of Christmas cheer. I want to be able to still have a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks until Thanksgiving and THEN I want to have the option of a Gingerbread Latte instead. Pumpkin comes before Gingerbread and it spans two holidays- Halloween and Thanksgiving. Let me have my Dryers pumpkin ice-cream for a couple more weeks until I have to dig through the Candy Cane Crunch to see if Wal-Mart still has it.

And, Wal-Mart, DO NOT turn put your Christmas food stuff in the juice aisle. Seriously, I want to go buy my Juicy Juice without being distracted by the increasingly large array of candy-cane flavours. Seriously, candy canes=peppermint. What is up with with the cinnamon chocolate ones? I love licorice but even I would not consider eating a licorice candy cane.

Well, not until Christmas, anyway.

So, that's my rant for now. In a couple of weeks, I might be ready to hit the department stores and start shopping. This means it will be freezing cold out so that you have to wear a heavy coat and then when you get inside, you will almost die of heatstroke inside the department stores. That's a Christmas tradition in itself I think.

Some traditions I could deal with now. Like mum's baking. Particularly the sausage rolls. Those can be a year-round thing. Or even a this-weekend thing. And yes, Captain Monkeypants is nothing if not a subtle hinter.

But as for the rest of Christmas, I don't think any of us are really ready to start decking the halls, going on sleigh rides, dreaming of a white Christmas or roasting chestnuts on an open fire. We all have rotting pumpkins to clear away, Halloween candy to buy at 75% off and Thanksgiving turkey to think about first. Only when the blissful peace of a Thanksgiving Night after all the guests leave settles upon us should we turn our thoughts to Christmas.

And until then, I will try to ignore the commericals I see on my tv and avoid the juice aisle in Walmart. Maybe I'll start drinking fresh juice instead. I really like that Florida Orange juice commercial with the man on a crate talking about things that he likes....

Happy Friday. Have a great weekend!

*Note: There is no such thing as Tickle Me Elmo v.5000 to the best of my knowledge just in case you decided to go looking for it or something. I made it up. Obviously.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Random Rants

I'm in the mood to randomly babble and rant today. I have no idea why. Well, actually I do. I just woke up, I don't feel like being a morning person today and I'm drinking the vile office coffee.

On the plus side, I did manage to get rather a lot of good Halloween chocolate, lollipops and candy at CVS yesterday at 75% off so I brought it into the office. I have learned that one of the cardinal rules of getting your coworkers to like you is to give them a copious amount of sugary items. These items are best when in the form of chocolate. However for those smart sucker-uppers like me, you have learned that there's always someone in the office on a diet. Thus, you bring in lollipops (about 1 weightwatcher point each) and Twizzlers- low in fat, high in sugar. I have learned that basic dieters (not the hardcore ones who are truly following a diet) will look at the fact that something has no fat, decide that's a good thing and eat it. I confess that I do this. In my world, when a food is low calorie/no calorie and low fat/no fat, it is good to eat it because it is healthy.

Yes, I am aware that this does not really mean something is healthy. Nor does it mean it's not having a negative impact on my digestive system. There are a lot of other things in food I should be worried about like fiber, transfats, sodium...all that. And, oh yeah, those carbohydrate things. The problem with that is my favourite foods are all high in carbs. I love bread. I love potatoes. I love pasta. So, I've found away around the carbs-are-not-good-for-me-obstacle: I just ignore them and rationalize why I can eat foods anyway. Bread has grains which are good for me. Potatoes are a vegetable and thus, by the Rule of "Because it's a vegetable, it's always healthy", they are good for me. Pasta...well, I usually try to put a tomato-y sauce on my pasta and so I invoke the rule of "Because it's a vegetable" again. By adding a vegetable to pasta, it automatically cancels out the badness of the carbohydrates.

And yes, Captain Monkeypants is fully aware that she is under a self-imposed spell of delusion. Captain Monkeypants is also attempting to be a professional writer and thus, delusion is a necessary survival tool to have in her armory.

I was planning on ranting about Twilight again and why the poster for the movie makes me cringe. So I'm going to. Now. Not to Movie Promoter People: Edward looks like he's about to fall asleep. Also, his eyes do not look like "liquid amber" as described so frequently in the books. They look like he might have had a few too many psychotropic drugs. Also, I know he's supposed to be pale but he's also supposed to pass for a human because otherwise, how could he have been going to school for, like, two hundred years or whatever? The poster makes him look like he's a zombie. It also makes me wonder what he's looking at down on the floor. Did he drop something? Did he spot a particularly juicy spider that he's thinking about eating since he's a 'vegetarian' vampire (only drinks the blood of animals so take that, PETA!)? And Bella...well, actually, she looks as boring as expected. I never could understand how such a drip could get someone like Edward but I suppose that's the point- ordinary girls can find extraordinary men to love them. It's been the premise of every successful romance from Cinderella to today's Chick Lit avalanche so, clearly, it's a formula that works.

Since not everyone has read Twilight, I'll stop now.

Also, the ladybugs are back. Not the same ones since I did end up committing genocide and leaving the poor little buggers (HA!) in my vacuum bag. No, their friends are here. I could hear the flapping of their wings when I woke up in the night. I tried to ignore the fear in me that they would decide to swarm in retailian for the fact that I'd murdered their friends. I was also afraid they'd enlist more jumping spiders to join in the fight. They didn't but the fear was there anyway and so I didn't sleep that well. I'm going to try NOT to vacuum this batch up. But I'm telling you, one indication that they're forming a Gathering and those things are gone.

At least it's Thursday. Thursdays are good. I'm a fan of Grey's Anatomy. Although, I just found out that ABC ordered the show to fire Dr. Hahn....well, actually the actress who plays doctor Hahn who was the lady from Silence of the Lambs who had to put the lotion on (It's way more effective when Buffalo Bill says that in the movie). It's something to do with the fact that the network doesn't like the storyline she's involved in because her character just came out and admitted she's gay. The storyline wasn't that compelling but it was actually pretty natural. It wasn't some ratings stunt but an organic progression of two women who started as friends and grew much closer. I suppose the show did go into a fair amount of detail about the sex between the women but it's on at 9 p.m. It's not like they showed it. I think the show has bigger things to worry about, honestly. I mean, Izzie is still on it. I can't stand Izzie. She's a self-righteous whiner who gets on my nerves.

I'm digressing. I already have a TV blog so I won't go into any more detail. If anyone's interested, it's http://captaintv.blogspot.com/. It's very TV heavy but I love TV so that explains that.

Anyway, that's my ranting for the day. I'm going to go to work now and attempt to put myself in a better mood. Maybe I should have some of the Twizzlers I'm bringing in. They're fat free! This means they're good for me.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A (slightly gory) History Lesson

I shall start this day with a little rhyme, I think:

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

No, that's not my opinion on the election. I am not holing up like the Unabomber, ready to unleash gunpower and treason on my government, friends or family. I'd be a lousy Unabomber anyway; I'm not good at being out in nature unless it involves a fancy cabin or hotel room with a working shower and a fluffy pillow. Thus, holing up in a ramshackle cabin....not for me.

The rhyme is one from my youth, one we used to say in school all the time on this date. It's a reminder that today, in the UK (and parts of Canada, South Africa, Australia and other countries that used to have something to do with with Britain) it is Guy Fawkes Day, aka. Bonfire Night. As I mentioned, when I was a kid, Halloween was not big in the UK. Instead, we moved quickly past it onto Bonfire Night.

First, a little history for those of you who don't really know what it is or you haven't see V for Vendetta. Guy Fawkes was a major part of a group of English Roman Catholic revolutionaries who weren't too happy with the King and government of England in 1605. King James I hadn't been very nice to the Catholics and so Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators decided to take action. Long story short (and cutting out all the politics and all that), they decided to blow up the houses of Parliment and get rid of the government and King, once and for all by putting a lot of gunpowder under Parliment and blowing it up.

Except they put Guy Fawkes in charge of the job and, well, his group wasn't any Oceans 11. Some of the group were a bit upset that they'd not only be blowing up the government but also killing quite a few Catholics who were members of Parliment. So they got cold feet and warned one of the members of Parliment who proceeded to discover the plot and all the barrels of gunpowder. Problem is, they didn't tell poor Guy. Who, naturally, got caught on November 5th, 1605.

A few days of torture followed, Guy and his conspirators confessed and they were hanged, drawn and quartered For those of you who've heard the phrase and don't know what it means, well, it's not very nice. And I feel a bit bad about describing it but I will anyway so if you have a weak stomach, you can skip this part:

Basically, the victim was hung by his neck until he was almost dead. Then, before he could escape his misery, he was drawn. This means he was disembowelled and emasculated, his genitalia and entrails were then burned in front of him. Then he was quartered meaning that it was cut into four parts and beheaded. Finally, the pieces of the criminal were displayed in various places as a warning to those who might be thinking of committing treason.

Did I mention that the British have a bit of a violent past?

So, you'd think that would be the end of Mr. Fawkes. And, physically, it was. But from that point onwards, Britain has celebrated the fact that the plot failed and Parliment still stands. Nowadays, the day is most commonly known as Bonfire Night.

Bonfire night, I admit, is a bit of a strange celebration. Until recent years, children would make a "Guy", a scarecrow-like effigy of Guy Fawkes that they would push around in a wheelbarrow, pram, shopping cart, whatever wheeled-device they could find that would let their "Guy" ride around. They'd collect pennies for the "Guy" and people would donate money, supposedly based on how good the "Guy" looked. The children would then use the money to buy fireworks which they would light on Bonfire Night. Well, actually, I'd like to think that those children would actually give the fireworks to their parents who would light them.

In recent years, it is no longer legal for kids under 18 to buy fireworks. I don't know how big the "Penny for the Guy" tradition is anymore. Most of the time, even when I was little, not many people collected money from their "Guy". Instead, most kids built a "Guy"for Bonfire Night.

Bonfire Night usually consists of a feast of traditional Bonfire Night Food: Baked potatoes (known as jacket potatoes in the UK), sausages, baked beans and other hearty and homey dishes. Often the potatoes are cooked on the bonfire (side note: SO tasty). Brits gather round bonfires, throw on the effigy of "Guy" and watch him burn up. Then they have fireworks.

It's fun. I loved it when I was younger. It was exciting and I liked a good firework or two. There's nothing more fun as a kid than holding a sparkler out on a crisp, chilling November night, writing your name and smelling that acrid smell of gunpowder. I suppose it was a good way to remember that gunpowder can be used safely and effectively and didn't have to be used to blow up people.

Granted, when I write it out like this or, actually, try to explain it to people as I have in the past, it does sound a little brutal. And paganistic. And not very nice. Yet as I pointed out in my "Deer, Dexter and the Darkness Within" post, the British have always been a little, um, vicious. Back in the days of Guy Fawkes (and a couple of centuries afterwards), there was no messing around with criminals. They'd be hung or killed in whatever method was most effective in demonstrating why you DON'T cross the monarchy (and/or government). In Mr. Fawkes' case, it was drawn and quartering. I suppose it was effective, no one's tried to blow up Parliment since, at least not that I know of. It was a little brutal though. On the plus side, no one ever forgot about Guy so I suppose you could say at least he made his mark.

So, that's today's history lesson. I couldn't bring myself to talk about the election because there are enough blogs out there doing that today. Also, I'm sick of it. Congratulations, Obama. I hope you can fix everything and be magical and be a fantastic leader. And, if you're not, it's ok. Nowadays, we have ways of getting ridding of leaders without using gunpowder, treason and plot.

Just kidding. I'll let the experts analyze the results, the reasons and the hope of the Nation. Me, I'll stick to saluting this dark and awesome British Holiday. I have my jacket potatoes cooking, my sausages ready to go. I may not be able to light a bonfire but I can, at least, drink a toast to the bizarre history of the UK.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!