Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Rant: Serving Sizes Suck!

So, in the spirit of Friday, I've decided not to blog about snow. Yes, I know you're shocked but it'll pass, I'm sure.

Instead, I'm going to just do a teensy-tiny bit of ranting. I think I shouldn't listen to media in the morning. I've stopped listening to the awful "Two Angry Guys" from Cincinnati because, frankly, all they do is shout over the top of one another and talk about stupid things. Now, normally, stupid topics don't bother me when they're discussed well. But when it comes down to two men shouting to see who can talk the loudest, I have no patience. Instead, I've been turning on the TV and listening to the news. This is fine. It's the commercials that bother me.

For example, this morning, it was a Progresso soup commercial. Perhaps you've seen/heard it. There are several women talking about their diet's- one's on the Manhattan Clam Chowder Diet, another a Chicken Noodle Diet, etc. Naturally, it means they're eating Progresso soup because there's only 100 calories per serving.

The thing they don't mention is that in one of those Progresso soup cans, according to the nutritional label, there are 2.5 servings per can. Which means in order to stick to the 100 calorie promise, you'd only be eating less than half a can. That's not much soup. If you live alone, like me, chances are that can of soup will be your entire meal. Yes, on the scale of things, it's still pretty healthy but, of course, just reading the label alone and realizing you're eating enough soup to feed three dieters makes you feel a bit like a giant hippo.

Then there are those little cups that you put water in and microwave. Confession time, I love Stovetop stuffing. I don't like it as much when it's been stuffed into a chicken nor do I like it as much when it's been roasted into stuffing balls. I like it freshly made from the saucepan. So, imagine my delight when i saw that you can get little cups of instant Stovetop. Ok, so they don't have the sage flavour I like best but the Chicken isn't too bad. It's put in a little cup that clearly looks like a Serving for One.

Yes, then I read the back. There are at least two servings per cup. Which means you have to double the nutrition facts. Ok, I get that if you're on a strict diet, Stovetop Stuffing probably isn't really much of an option. Yet if you're trying to just be mostly healthy like me, it is. What am I supposed to do, give someone else a spoon and say "Hey, wanna share my Stovetop Cup?" NO! First of all, NO ONE eats my Stovetop and secondly, that would be kind of silly.

Same goes for crackers. Usually a serving is anywhere from 10 to 16 pieces. When you're hungry, that's not many crackers. Besides, counting them out to put in a baggie is tedious.

Yes, I know. The serving size is just a guide. If you eat more, you can double it. Yet then you feel like a hippo again.

I think my problem is that I should just stop looking at nutrition facts. I mean, who really can just eat one slice of pizza? Usually, without an appetizer, the average portion is 2.5 to three pieces of pizza. Then, when you go to view the nutrition facts, you realize "Crap! I just ate over 1,000 calories".

I know, I know. If I was really on a diet, I wouldn't be eating pizza. I know that. Yet on a normal day, i tend to eat at least 5 to 7 servings of fruit and veggies, often as a main course. So, once in a while, I splurge. The problem comes when I report what I've eaten. I have this neato site that keeps track of my nutrition and exercise. It's great, except it grades you. I've been averaging about a B to B+ for the last two weeks. Then I ate pizza. Bad idea.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that while serving sizes are supposed to moderate you, they don't because a normal person who isn't constantly trying to be a size zero needs more food than that. If I stick to the serving size, I feel good for a little while. Then I'm suddenly hungry again and I'll eat whatever I can find which is usually something not good for me. I mean, honestly, when you've got the munchies and can choose between salt and vinegar crisps, a bar of Cadbury's chocolate or an apple, who's really going to choose the apple? Small serving sizes lead to big cheats. They lead to sudden and inexplicable needs for McDonald's french fries or a big old slice of gooey cheese pizza.

So while those Progresso soup commercials aren't lying per se, they're not telling you the truth. They're not telling you that when you've measured out the one serving and realize that it's a little bowlful, you're going to look at the can and think, "will I really eat this again tomorrow and the next day?" and then dump the rest of it into the saucepan to heat.

Ok, so there's some self-control involved with being on a diet. This might explain why I define my own diet: Lots of healthy fruits and veggies, flavoured with something slightly naughty (like cheese) and balanced with some George Forman cooked stuff. I also sort-of exercise but you'll never see me being one of those die-hard joggers who runs in place until they can cross the street.

And I also do eat junk food because otherwise, when I decide to cheat, I'll really cheat and spreading it out over time, in my book, is better.

Or at least that's what I tell myself.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Adventures in Ice-Scraping

This week's blog is turning out to be all about the snow. I'm going with it so hopefully you don't mind too much.

So, yesterday, we had our snow day. It was truly good. I got to exercise a little longer, be lazy a little longer, do part of a jigsaw puzzle, drink hot chocolate and....clean off my car.

"Oh", I can hear you saying. "Why did you have to do that, Captain Monkeypants? You weren't going out in that nasty weather were you?"

Well, no. However, I knew the next day I'd have to get up for work and would not feel like cleaning off my car. So I ambitiously thought that maybe I'll clean off my car, pull and and back into my space so that in the morning, I could just pull on out slowly and be on my merry way to work.

Have you ever noticed how life never turns out the way you plan?

So, I got dressed into my winter boots and coat and gloves and went to face my snowy car. I have this handy sheepskin ice-scraper mitt-thingy that I got as a Christmas gift so I naively thought that would clean the snow off nicely.

The only problem was that I'd forgotten about the sleet. You see, in between our first four inches of snow and our second 3 inches, we had about 3 inches of sleet. This means that my car was covered by an ice sandwich.

Instead of scraping nicely, I ended up having to use my ice-scraper as a chisel. After much whacking and hitting, some of the ice began to chip away. This may be because I had turned my car on and being the sweet creature it is, it was heating the inside so the windows warmed up thus making the ice slightly easier to scrape.

I ran into a slight problem with my ice-scraper though. The top kept flying off as I chiseled. And yes, I did hit myself in the head with the ice-scraper. After all, I am Captain Monkeypants, Mistress of the Calamity. I also got a little too excitedly vigourous in my chiseling and didn't think about ice flying up and hitting me. Of course it did but, thankfully, I was wearing my glasses and they protected me from my own enthusiasm.

Because of the ice-sandwich on my car, it was slightly easier to remove some of the snow. There was enough room under the ice to maneuver the scraper and, with a lot of energy, thusly lifting, allowing the frozen stuff to be lifted off in sheets. I frisbeed those off to the grassy space where few people dare to walk when it's icy.

Finally, my car was rather clean. I decided now would be the time to pull out and reverse back into my parking space. That was a lovely notion but, alas, I was stuck. I used my handy icescraper to try to free the wheels but that did not work. I was still stuck.

I needed a shovel. I live in an apartment building and recently moved from California. There is no reason I believed I needed a shovel. Well, that was until my car got stuck. I wasn't the only one. There seemed to be few shovels in my apartment complex. I saw a girl with one and was going to ask to borrow it but she disappeared before I could get a chance. I put my car in neutral and decided to give myself a push (yes, not the wisest idea ever but it seemed like a good idea at the time). That didn't work.

Deflated, I went upstairs and called my friend/coworker who lives in the same complex. Sadly, she did not own a shovel and was also stuck. We decided I'd head to her place and I would push while she tried to reverse. Yeah, that didn't work. We pushed quite hard too.

Fortunately, someone had a shovel and helped us dig. Freedom! We borrowed the shovel and drove down to my car. After much digging and pushing and pushing on the gas, I, too, was free. I managed to neatly back my car in and dig a little more to ensure I wouldn't get stuck in the snow in the morning.

All of this took about three hours. I used two ice-scrapers, both had flying heads on them. My muscles are sore from the pushing and digging and vigourous scraping. It was actually sort of fun. Then again, as I've been told many times before, I have a strange sense of fun.

This morning, I managed to pull out of my parking spot whith no problem whatsoever. The roads are a little vile and there are many idiots out there driving, one of whom cut me off as I was going through a green light today. I'm glad I could stop without skidding. I honked my horn loudly at him. It's those people that cause the problems, not the ice and snow.

I know I'll be called crazy again for this but I can safely say I love winter. It's a challenge and it makes life much more interesting. The layers of snow and ice add a layer of complication and puzzle solving that summer does not. I do, however, think I might need another ice-scraper. I'm also going to buy my very own shovel. I think I'll name it Digger.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Gift of a Snow Day

Snow and I are happy again today. It's currently coming down so fast that it looks like a fog hanging over the world. It's been snowing all night, we have about 7 inches on the ground and a couple of inches of ice in between.

And, best of all, I have my long-desired gift of a snow day from work.

Yes, blog readers, one of the advantages of working for a university is that they cancel school for both students and staff. Granted, it's more likely they'll cancel classes and make us minions, um, I mean staff, go in anyway but when it's really bad out, it seems they do think of us. Thus, after waking up at my normal time and finding out I had a two hour delay then, slowly, getting out of bed to discover if I really had to go in because, frankly, it looks like the North Pole out there, I finally discovered I have a snow day.

I'm so glad. I hadn't even started to get ready for work yet which is a huge bonus. Usually, these things happen as I'm about to walk out the door and then I wonder why I bothered getting myself all nice-d up, just to stay home. Not today, however. Today is all about the snow day.

I'm going to have a real snow day. I'm going to have my hot chocolate, edit my novel, watch movies and probably head over to my coworkers for "Lost" tonight since she lives in the same apartment complex and a walk through the snow might be fun. That's it.

Yes, I should probably do other things like cleaning. I might do some of that. The nice thing is though is I don't have to. This is a bonus day, one that is spontaneous and unscheduled. These days are meant for doing exactly what I want.

Have I mentioned how happy I am?

Ok, so I know there are people who don't get it, who see the snow as an inconvenience and a cold, wet blanket of winter overkill but I'm not one of them. If I was in California right now, I'd probably be hoping it rained, just to add variety. Yet it would never snow. That's why I love being back in the Midwest.

Now, as I sit here from the corner of my spare bedroom, glancing out the window at the pouring snow, let me once more proclain my love for the fluffy white stuff that makes life so much more interesting.

I'm still in my pajamas, something that wouldn't be happening if it wasn't a snow day. I am actually wondering why this Crest toothpaste does have the aftertaste of marijuana every time I use it. Not that I am a marijuana user but if you've been to as many rock concerts as I have, you learn how it smells. Ok, so when I was in college and constantly exposed to the aroma, I didn't know it and just thought it was chinese food but I'm older and wiser now. I know what it smells like. I'm just wondering why my toothpaste makes me feel like I'm back at a Green Day concert for a split second after I've brushed.

You're probably wondering where that randomness came from. Never ask. It's safer that way. Just know that the snow makes my random thoughts randomer because I don't have to be anywhere else today. I just get to stay home and enjoy the winter weather.

Have I mentioned that I love snow?

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hey, Snow...Do we need a Time Out?

So, you know that snow for which I'm constantly professing my love? We're going through a slightly difficult time in our relationship on this day and I think you should you know.

You see, last night, we had a winter storm. I went to bed and there were icy patches of snow but the yellowed grass was visible in cracks and rivets in the snow. This morning, the world is white.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's beautiful. From my apartment, I thought it one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a long while. An entire world, cloaked in the soft carpet of snow, the flakes still delicately pouring from the sky. I even did a dance of happiness. You know, a "Yay! Snow!"sort of thing.

Silly me. I had a strange notion that since the snow was so deep (we had at least four inches and it's still coming), we, like every other university and school in the area would be closed. When I clicked on the website, I saw that we were. Well, two of our branches were. We have three branches. Our branch....not closed.

So, realizing I was not going to get my jigsaw-puzzlin', hot-chocolate drinkin' day I'd secretely wanted, I went down to clean off my car and warm it up. The snow was deep. My jeans and boots got wet.

By this time, I was a little rankled that we had to go to work when, obviously, it was not a good day for driving on roads. What the university for which I work does not seem to realize is that not everyone is like me, living (on a normal day) ten minutes away. There are a lot of commuters. However, they're expected into work and thus, so was I.

In the back of my mind, I was already grumbling. Our office is slightly more flexible and a lot of people can work from home on a day like this. However, we local folk are usually expected to make the trek in because it doesn't take too long. Supposedly. Also, we single, child-free folk have an extra layer of expectation thrust upon on us. All the local schools are closed. Thus, anyone in the office with kids who go to those schools can plead the need to stay home with the kids because there's no one else to take care of them. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining because they have to stay home but I wish I could say something like "My car is from California and thus hates driving on snow. I'm going to work from home because it won't bring me to work."

I probably could say that actually but then I'd feel guilty.

Anyway, so being intrepid and still being excited about the snow at this point, I cleared off my car and slowly attempted to navigate the parking lot of my apartment building. Ok....not so bad. A little iffy but I didn't hit anyone and I didn't fishtail so...bonus.

And then I pulled out onto the road. Not a great idea. I fishtailed. Fortunately, I was taking it easy so I was able to catch the slide and correct it. Then I realized that there's a massive hill just down the road from my building and no way to avoid it. Given that the roads were barely cleared, I was a little worried about going down and sliding off the road. Fortunately, that was the one area that the snowplows had dilengently cleared so I made it up and down without incident.

It wasn't until I made my first left turn that I really slid. I was a little frightened because the snow was thick and there was no traction at all. It didn't help that I had a moron behind me who obviously thought I was being a wuss and literally took the left turn so that he ended up a foot away from my bumper while I was still sliding. He stayed close for a while but I saw him fishtail and, finally, he slowed down.

There were a couple of these drivers who thought they were superior. I'm a wimp. I go slowly. Really slowly. I'd rather get there late than smash up my poor car.

It took me about 25 minutes to get to work.I usually make it in eight. When I got to one was there. No one. Just me, my little California car and a big, empty, unplowed lot. So, once I actually find the driveway and get into the car park, I naively think, hey, I could do a donut.

I didn't do a donut. I pulled into my space and started to slide. But it was a good thought, right?

Now there are more people in the office; not many but a few brave and intrepid made it in. I'm leaving at noon today because it's supposed to get worse and my car is begging me to leave. Well, ok, it's in my head that it's begging me to leave and I might be projecting but who's really to know...

We're supposed to get ice tonight and more snow. Don't get me wrong, I still love snow but I've decided that I love it very much when I'm at home and I don't have to drive on the roads. Otherwise, snow can be a little scary especially in such volume. If I had a pack of sled dogs, it might be ok but my car doesn't have the same traction. Also, other drivers scare me. I can control my own driving but not theirs and when they tailgate me as I'm taking a left turn, it doesn't help my confidence.

Then again, it's not snow's fault that my employer is not terribly thoughtful and it's not snow's fault that students like to jaywalk and don't seem to realize that we can't slam on our brakes to avoid hitting them. It's not snow's fault that the snowplows pile up the snow behind our cars so we have to drive through a drift to get out of our parking spot.

So, maybe I am slightly less enamoured with winter and the snow at the moment but I'm sure it will pass. As long as I don't have to drive to work in it anymore.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Morning Blues...

What is it about Monday mornings that make it so hard to get going? For example, today it's a grey and snow-dusted Monday, the temperature gauge read 17 degrees and the minute I uncurled myself from my warm and comfortable down comforter, I realized that I'd like nothing more than to get back into my bed.

It never matters how much sleep I get the night before. I could go to bed at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night and wake up at 6:45 a.m. and still not feel like I had enough sleep. Any other night, I'd be fine but Sundays lead to Mondays and that makes them different.

Now it's a Monday morning and I have a strange feeling of uncertainty in the pit of my stomach. I remember having those when I was in school and I had a large test the next day or I'd had a fight with a friend and was nervous to face them in school or, the very worst, a bully had targeted me and wouldn't stop calling me names. As far as the bullies went, that old theory of "they'll leave you alone if you stand up to them," is crap. I tried that. They'd just get meaner. No, the best strategy was to not acknowledge them, to laugh at them and look slightly down your nose at them as they mocked you. They got tired of that quickly and moved on to another vulnerable target. These bullies were rarely violent but they used words to hurt instead, somehow finding the most fragile area of your self-esteem and then attacking. No matter how much you tried to laugh it off and ignore it, the words still did their job, making you doubt, second guess yourself and secretly accept that they were true.

I'm older now and the bullies are much easier to handle. They're usually at work in the form of a coworker or boss who try to use you to get ahead. My strategy with those is to let them; chances are they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot eventually.

On the plus side, we're supposed to have a major snowstorm tonight. If I were going to be a Pootle, I'd worry about the bad roads, of my family having to drive in it. I refuse to be a Pootle though and thus, I'm going to allow myself to get excited about it. We're supposed to get up to 6 inches. I can't wait to see the cascading flakes fall from the clouds and cover the world.

I can feel my mother cringing and curling herself into a ball as she reads this. As I've mentioned, she hates snow. I tried to get her to tell me why and all she says is that "it's cold." I don't get it. Then again, she thinks I'm mental because I love it. I think she should go out and build a snowman and take time to appreciate the uniqueness of a world that's covered with freshly fallen snow. The world is so much more silent like that. Sounds are muffled by the ground covering and the echo of life is much more apparent.

Yet I'm going to choose to be happy about the snow. I was going to write a miserable little blog about how cruddy I feel because I got rejected again, I was going to talk about loss and grief because I lost a friend a year ago.

I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to enable Monday to throw its shadow of simply being over me. Instead, I'm going to wait for the promised snow. I shall enjoy the fact that "24" is on tonight and though poor Jack Bauer's already had six really bad days, he's having another one and I can't help but watch.

So just because it's Monday and I'd much rather be in bed reading, I'm not going to think on that. I'm going to remind myself that I just had two days off already and they were good. I'm going to remind myself that there's another weekend in less than five days.

Now, if only that would work.

Happy Monday.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Hate the Smell of Mouldy Cat Litter in the Morning!

The hallway outside my apartment smelled vile this morning. It was the sort of smell that makes you want to see if something died in a corner or if something's quietly mouldering away unnoticed until now. I know it wasn't coming from my apartment because currently, my apartment is scented in three layers; there's the remnants of the roasted chicken I made last night, a cumin-like burned scent and then the sent of my Glade Essential Oil Dewberry Candle that I lit to mask the other two smells.

The cumin-like scent isn't a good one. I took a shower last night while my chicken was roasting in the oven and came out to smell this strange, spicy, slightly burned smell. Naturally, i thought it was the chicken but since I had rubbed it with olive oil and rosemary before roasting it, I wasn't sure where the cumin came in.

(In case you're unaware of how cumin smells a bit like sweaty feet, like curry that needs to take a shower. Not a good smell but it tastes good in food...seriously!).

So that's when I lit the Dewberry candle thinking it might mask the odd smell. Only an hour later when I was on the phone with my mother did I realize where the scent was coming from. My lamp cover on my floor lamp had slid down and the lightbulb had been so hot, it was melting the plastic.

Yes, it took me an hour to discover that. How was I supposed to know melted plastic would smell like cumin? Well, I remedied that issue immediately and the smell started to drift away though a slight imprint of it remains. I'll try to chase that away with my Yankee Tart Burner thingy. That usually covers up a lot of scents with it's lovely wafting fragrances.

So, anyway, back to the scent in the hall. It smelled like neither roast chicken or Dewberry and there was definitely no cumin. It was rotting...something.

When I left my apartment and walked down the hall, I realized that some really inconsiderate person had left their trash in the hallway. Obviously, it smelled so bad that they couldn't keep it inside so they were kind enough to share it with the rest of the building.

Now, I get that there are some days when it seems like a lot of effort to walk to the dumpster. However, compared to some of the buildings in my apartment community, our building is one of the closest and it takes about three minutes to walk there, less than a minute to drive. Usually, I'll either walk it there or I'll throw it in the boot of my car as I'm headed out and then stop, dump my rubbish and continue on my merry way.

So, what I'm trying to say is that taking the rubbish out is not terribly hard. Ok, so maybe the person inside the apartment is sick or disabled or too exhausted to take it out. I get that. However, we all have balcony/decks in our building with these handy-dandy sliding doors that open to the outside. Perhaps the nasty bag of trash could have been placed there temporarily instead thus wafting the vile stink out into the open rather than into our living spaces.

Fortunately, I don't live in the hallway. I only had to endure the stink for the two minutes it takes me to lock up and leave the building. It doesn't mean I'm ok with it though. Especially since I know the owner of the trash has cats, cats have litter and there was a suspicious undertone to that smell.

Ah well, I suppose I could have taken it out for them but I wasn't sure if they wanted to keep it close. Also, I was carrying a heaped laundry basket full of clothes which I shall take to my parents this weekend. It's nice not to have to put quarters in a washer and dryer to get clean clothes.

Also, their house smells better than mine at the moment.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Clean Desk IS a Sign of an Organized Mind, I promise!

I had to clean my desk today at work. It was thrilling stuff. It took me all of about ten minutes at the very maximum. That's a very big advantage for only having worked at a place for three months. I even discovered that I had a tape dispenser! Yes, three months at the same desk and I didn't know that. It was a good discovery. I'd say it was an exciting discovery but that would put it on a level as discovering, oh, a new breed of monkey or a new island in the middle of the Atlantic inhabited only by bunnies or something. So, we'll just say it was a good discovery. Tape is a very useful office tool.

The reason I had to clean my desk off is that our company is being sold and the potential buyers are coming in to check us all out next week. Thrilling stuff. So we all have to dress nicely and clean our desks and workspace. I get that but part of me wonders that, if you were a new company scoping out your potential employees, wouldn't you rather see a slightly messy desk than a pristine one? I'm not saying that there aren't people who are capable of keeping their desks clean. My best friend, Sarah, is one of the neatest, tidiest people I know and I guarantee that her workspace is as organized as you've ever seen especially as she works really hard every day and doesn't just sit around straightening up her desk for lack of anything better to do. I admire her for that. I've tried to be like that but as the days pass, papers slowly stack up and take over the desk, chapsticks fall in because I'm a bit of a collector, pens start to leave their nice holder and stray into the thicket of papers and, voila!, messy desk!

No, what I'm saying is that while there might be neat people like Sarah in companies, there are also the people like me who, once engrossed in a project, tends to forget to be tidy and desk-chaos ensues. I can usually find stuff because in my head, it's organized but to other people, it might look a bit messy.

Yet that means that I'm working. To me, a lot of clean desks is a bit suspicious, like you're trying too hard. I think there should be one clean desk thrown in amongst three haphazardly messy ones. I mean, there's always going to be the Sarah's who are impecabbly neat and organized but there's usually a lot more me's. My old manager used to have a placard in her office that said "A messy desk is a sign of an organized mind." Her desk was always overflowing with papers and books but she was great at her job.

Every now and again, I will happily clean my desk. It's usually on one of those days where my day feels muddled, I can't get anything done and I need some order in my life. Then I will clean my desk. It's therapy and cleaning, all mixed up into an hour at work. After that, I usually get a lot accomplished because I'm so thrilled to see the surface of my desk gleaming that I want to get a lot done.

So, you see, cleaning my desk should be a natural reaction, not one to impress my potential employers. I'd be suspicious of me if I were them. Also, I had a discussion with a coworker as to the need to remove personal stuff from our desks. I'm a bit of a toy person. I usually have a collection of toys and fun objects to amuse me during long phone calls or office meetings. They're harmless but they make workspace feel like mine. Currently, I have my Green Day Superhero Action Figures, the Geico Gekko statue I have (that I imagine talking to me in his adorable cockney accent) and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. The reason I have Aragorn is to accompany my coworker's same-sized and style Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. My other coworker has a William Shakespeare action figure. We're a nerdy, weird group but it works.

Now, I understand that having Aragorn and Jack Sparrow might not make us seem too serious about our jobs but they're also symbols that we feel like we're comfortable enough to reveal our personality at work. It's not like we're sitting around playing games with them; they're harmlessly sitting there, minding their own business.

I see her point, that we should take all that stuff away because it would make us seem very serious about our work. Yet, again, I ask, is that what I would want to see? I love to walk into an office and see that the people there can be a little goofy, that they're not all robots who live to work and do nothing else. I might not want to see an office that's full of toys and nothing else but if all those people have a proven work history, if they do well at their jobs, what difference does it make if they have a few toys on their desk?

Yet everyone's different and I know there are rules that have to be followed which is why I cleaned my desk like a good little monkeypants. I haven't removed my toys yet. I think I'll keep the Green Day boys out though for the sake of peacekeeping, Aragorn may have to go back from whence he came for a while.

But at least my desk is shiny and clean. For now.

Happy Thursday.

ps. It just occurred to me that I think I told you all that I imagine my Geico Gekko talking to me. Perhaps you should just forget I said that. Now I reread it, it makes me sound a little....odd.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At Least Let us Sing Before you Boot us off the Stage!

Is it sad that I'm already ready for the weekend? I know I've only been at work for one day this week but I'm really ready for another couple of days off. I don't think that's a reflection of my job but, rather, that I actually stopped to appreciate the slowness of life this past weekend and I don't quite think I'm ready to give it up.

Still, if it were a normal week, it'd only be Tuesday rather than Wednesday so I'm going to try very hard to appreciate that fact today.

Last night, I took a look at my novels to see which one I was going to enter in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. That's the nice thing about having a pile of them; there's several to choose from. My original intention was to enter my favourite one, Rainlight, but I've since realized that chopping out over 14,000 words will not be easy nor will I be satisfied with the finished product. I'd rather keep it as is and try to shop it around. I sent out some more queries on it. Sometimes I do wonder why the agents and publishers make us bother; I get the feeling that the query letters we send are rarely actually read and digested but, instead, are skimmed but when they see we're yet unpublished, we get the badly xeroxed letter or the standard email rejection.

I'd like to believe that it is possible to get an agent to read my letter and the first ten pages I send. That's why I keep trying. I'm not bitter at the moment, just frustrated that this should be so hard when the writing is so easy. I've been told that I should go to conventions to meet agents. I would love to but given that the average entrance fee is at least $300 and I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck trying not to incur more debt, it's not as easy as just signing up for one.

That's not going to stop me though. At the very least, there's the Amazon contest. The nice thing about being a somewhat seasoned writer (even without any publishing credit) is that I have almost everything ready to go. They want a pitch this year- essentially, that boils down to the meat of a query letter. Since I'm the queen of queries, that's the easy part. I have one of the potential novel candidates already edited and ready to go. I might have the other one I'd like to try edited too. The only thing with that is I can't find my hard copy with my edits scrawled across it. I have a sneaking suspicion I loaned that to a friend before I left California but said friend isn't returning my emails or calls to confirm. I think the only thing to do is to hit the manuscript freshly and re-edit, just in case. That's not exactly torture, to spend hours with those characters.

And if I get rejected from Amazon again this year, I will try very hard not to be too depressed, too bitter or too disheartened. I will try not to be jealous of fictional characters who magically send a manuscript to an agent and voila! publishing contract.

(That just happened in that book I mentioned on Friday, The Baker's Apprentice. One of the characters happens to write a memoir/fictional novel and sends it off to an agent. The agent likes it but wants it completely rewritten. Then after the rewrite is done, the writer gets a nice-sized publishing deal.)

I'm sure that happens. However, all the writers I know, including myself, never quite get that chance to completely rewrite the manuscript to change points-of-view and structure. We just get the "thank you for submitting. Unfortunately, we do not feel we are the right agents for your work" email. For us, it's like getting to the auditions for American Idol, filling out our form and being rejected before we're even allowed to sing because we're not pretty enough for TV or we aren't wearing the right clothes.

Ok, so maybe I am a teensy bit bitter. Maybe I'd like the chance to get to 'sing for the judges' before they decide I'm not worthy. Maybe I don't want to be the girl who wears a bikini just to get Simon Cowell's attention or the person who dresses up in a Star Wars costume just to prove I'm unique.

Maybe I, like so many other fledging writers, just want the chance to "sing", to prove that while I might not have a famous name or face, I can write and my novels are worth reading. Then, if I'm rejected, I'll at least feel like I had a fair chance. That's not to much to ask, is it?

Ah well, 'tis all experience. That much I do know. One of these days, my efforts will pay off. Until then, I'll keep dreaming and writing. That's all I can do.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mr. Obama, Please Save the World Market!

It's back to work today. I suppose I should write about the inauguration since that's definitely the topic on the radio and everywhere else. I know places that have closed for the day out of respect. Not us. Maybe we'll watch it on the internet at work since we no longer have a TV. It's hard to say. Yet, by the time I go home tonight, we'll officially have a new president.

The last inauguration I watched was that of Bill Clinton. I was still in high school then. Maya Angelou was reading an inaugural poem and our English teacher wanted us to see and hear history being made. She was a great English teacher, probably one of the reasons I'm a writer now. I'd like to tell stories of how she believed in me, how she made me believe I could become a published writer.

She didn't. Mostly she was just good at giving feedback and giving me lower grades on papers than I expected which, I suppose, made me work harder. I craved her praise because it meant something. When it came, it would make me happy. When I got a lower grade than my best friend, I would be miserable, wondering what I'd done wrong. I was much more competititive then and I wanted to be the best. I don't think I ever was. My other friend was also a writer and went on to major in it in college. Of the three of us, I'm the only one who ended up wanting to be a full time writer. Maybe there's something to being the average one in high school; who knows?

What I do know is that I remember that teacher more than any other. I remember everything about that Inauguration Day. My best friend and I were in the 'pub' room where we'd be pasting together the latest issue of our high school newspaper. Back then, we used to use a waxer to do layouts, sticky tool-lines to break up content, cropped clip-art to make it more graphic. We didn't yet have the technology to make a shiny, professional looking paper; instead, we thought it was great if the tool lines were straight.

That was the nice thing about being in journalism; we got to spend our lunch hour being silly in the pub room instead of having to sit in the bleachers at the gym, waiting for the bell to ring. When it came time for the Inauguration, our teacher gathered us around a TV set that had been purloined to a classroom. We got to hear Maya Angelou's "A Rock, A River, A Tree" poem live, to see Bill Clinton at his freshest, before the years in office wore him down and aged him.

It's funny. Today is one of the most historic inaugurations ever. Naturally, I think that it's a great thing that we now have a black president but I'm also sad because it's such a big deal; it's one of those things that should be unremarkable, the best man or woman should win the job regardless of their skin colour, race, sexual orientation or sex. Yet I suppose it's still a step forward to the day when none of that does matter and for that reason alone, it is historic.

I'm hoping Mr. Obama does a good job in office. I'm hoping that he lives up to the hopes and dreams that so many have pinned on him. I'm hoping he magically restores our economy so that I don't have to hear horrible things like the local Cost Plus World Markets are closing. I love the World Market. I love that you can buy British goods, German chocolate, wine glasses and Strongbow Cider all in one place at a very decent price. I love the way they give free coffee and tea samples. I love that they have an old-fashioned toy section where the toys don't beep or flash but rely on a child's imagination to make them come alive.

But I digress. I don't think Barack Obama can save the World Market though that would be very awesome. I do think he can start to lift us out of this scary economy where so many have lost their jobs and the threat of more victims looms. It will take time but today is a good start to hope. Sometimes it takes a fresh view to get things going again. Here's hoping President Obama can do that.

Happy inauguration day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nostalgia and a Lazy Weekend

This is a late blog, for a Monday. I've winding up my wonderfully lazy weekend and am trying to be excited about going to work tomorrow. Not that I don't like my job but there's something so routine and blah about getting up early and having to be productive after three days of doing exactly as I please.

And I have done exactly as I pleased. I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom on Saturday. I made it through the entire Rent musical as well as through The Who's Tommy. I forgot how much I like Tommy. I saw it when I was in college on Broadway and it became an obsession. Oh, what, you're surprised I had an obsession? Seriously, I still love the score and the finale remains one of my favourite ever; who wouldn't get chills when hearing a good rendition of "Listening to You"?

My love of Tommy was huge. So huge that when I was a junior in college, I had an internship with a successful Musical Theatre company in New England. Being an intern was fun but my position was pretty useless. I was a Company Management Intern. This translates as being at the beck and call of every person in the company. I had to set up housing, do paychecks, place calls when an actor had a problem with his or her housing and do whatever else people threw at me. Still, since I was, technically, administrative, I also got to work in the office and listen to the gossip. At the end of the summer, a survey was sent to the audience asking what shows they'd like to see the next year. I was in charge of counting the ballots and tracking the responses. Some smart person suggested Tommy. There were quite a few votes for that but, being in a community that had an, um, older audience, shows like The Music Man and Carousel were a little more popular.

Here's my confession and how my obsession with Tommy played into it. I fudged the results. For every one Tommy vote, I added about four points. By the end of the summer, Tommy was in the top four choices. Taking a risk, the directors of the company added to the season for the following year.

I went back the following year and somehow got my dream of working on Tommy. When I'd seen it on Broadway, I'd been impressed, in the beginning, how the follow-spot operators got to climb up to a tower at the beginning of the show, as if they were part of the show itself. I'd muttered to my friend that I wanted to do that. Somehow, I got to. I don't know what fates aligned but I got to operate a spotlight for the entire show, got to see the show every night and fall in love with it all over again.

It all worked out for the best. Tommy sold out every night. We got a younger audience into the theatre. People would line up at the door to try to get tickets. It just goes to show, I might have been obsessed but I also knew that was likely to happen if it a was a good production, which it turned out to be. Best of all, I got to live my dream. It was a tiny little dream but one that worked out.

So, now, over ten years later, I listened to Tommy again. I think I've put it in my CD player and half-listened to it. Yet this weekend, it was the first time in years I've really re-appreciated it. Yes, it's a bit of a farfetched concept- young child sees a murder in a mirror and becomes traumatized, rendered deaf, dumb and blind. His handicap make him a whiz at pinball; he becomes a Pinball Wizard. Then, when he's older, the mirror in which he saw the tragedy that stole his childhood is broken and his senses are returned.

Yet it's a powerful show. It's fun. It's full of energy. It takes me back to the days of my younger self in which I was still in college, the most stressful thing that could happen was to fail a test or I missed a lighting queue when I was working on a play or show.

It's amazing how much we look back as we get older. I like who I am far more now than when I was in college; I know who I am and what I want. Yet those days were fun. I'd stay up until 3 a.m., go to Taco Bell for midnight runs, have dinner with a bunch of boys and think nothing of it.

Nowadays, life is complicated. Gone are the days of being a theatrical intern; days full of working ridiculously hard and enjoying our freedom more because of it. Those were days in which we got one day off every two weeks and how we enjoyed that. We'd go to Boston or up to Bar Harbour, stay up late drinking Boones Strawberry Hill wine and destroying unwanted furniture just so we had wood to burn on the beach. There was the night in which I realized I was a softie because I'd hit a racoon while driving on the backroads of Maine after dark and had to pull over to cry. They were days in which we pooled our coins to be able to go out for ice-cream from the stand down the street that charged a dollar a cone.

Nowadays, I'm an adult. I have rent to pay, job responsibilities to fulfill. I'm a writer which adds an extra level of work and stress to my life yet also lets me find an outlet when the days are roughest. I've seen tragedy and loss but discovered that without family and friends, I truly would have nothing. Every now and then, I try to take a step back from the cocoon of my life, to ignore the rejections and occasional loneliness in my life and see that I'm lucky, that my life is one to appreciate, with all its flaws and issues.

After listening to Tommy, I got to spend the rest of my weekend in utter lazy bliss. I'm working on a Harry Potter jigsaw. I've watched a ton of movies including a Richard Gere marathon. (Seriously, $5 at Walmart for a Richard Gere set including: "Primal Fear", "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Runaway Bride").

It was "An Officer and a Gentleman" that I enjoyed most. I saw it a long time ago, probably around the time right before I got addicted to Tommy. Back then, I thought it was interesting, an older movie that I still enjoyed. This weekend, I viewed it as a grown-up and realized that, deep down, regardless of my realistic outlook on life, it would be really nice if someone like Richard Gere would come into my office, lift me into his arms and sweep me away while a swelling soundtrack accompanied the gesture.

Of course, I'm a realist. I know that won't happen. When I woke up today, I had already forgotten about my romantic longing because it was snowing. I got to stand at my window, hands wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate and just enjoyed the snow. Normally, I'm rushing off to work, to my parents, to the grocery store...somewhere. Today, I got to stop, to enjoy the life I've recently relocated and appreciate everything that's worked to make me as content as I am.

I may still be single. I may still be unpublished. I may be away from the friends that know me best. Yet when I put in my cd of Tommy, when I watch "An Officer and a Gentleman" or when I watch the snow fall in the solitude of my apartment, I realize how much I love being an adult. The experiences I've had are one-of-a-kind. I'll never drink Boones Strawberry Hill without thinking of my friend Rachel. I'll never hear Tommy without thinking simultaneously of the first boyfriend I ever probably loved and the second summer of my independence- no longer an intern but an apprentice who gets to use mouldy paint and worry because our Tommy is losing his voice.

It's been a few years since I sat in the St. James Theatre on Broadway and watched Tommy. I saw Les Miserables the next day and though I had already loved that show and knew it back to front, it never wowed me the way that Tommy did. I suppose it's like life, really. You might think you know what to expect but it always surprises you, taking your breath away when you least expect it.

Now it's over ten years later. I threw Tommy in my CD player, thinking it would motivate me to clean. It did more than that; it threw me on a nostalgic, amazing journey of memories that made me stop for a while and appreciate what I now have in my life.

It's amazing what one CD can do. Happy Monday.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Frigid Friday Morn'

Have I mentioned that it's cold outside? I thought so. Let's just say that when I drove to work this morning, the temperature display on my car said it was minus nine degrees. That's without the wind chill. That is so cold that there is no way to stop ice forming on the inside of your windows, no matter how well insulated you are. It's so cold that if you leave your hands outside of your pockets, they ache in a matter of seconds with the cold.

It's lovely to be inside at the moment, that's all I can really say. It's nice to look outside and know it's that cold and wrap your hands around a cup of coffee, even the vile office coffee that I'm currently drinking. It's not that vile at the moment but it's the first pot. It only increases in vileness as the day goes on. Yet I continue to drink it because it's coffee and on a day like to day, coffee helps the world not freeze.

I think I had a topic for today's blog but I can't actually remember it momentarily. I'm having a little trouble publishing because I now have two blogs- one for TV and this one. I love my TV blog but I don't update it daily. I keep accidentally posting my TV blog here. I've moved both of the newest entries over to the TV blog but they may show up here for a little while, at least. My apologies for any confusion.

All I can say at the moment is that I am glad it's Friday. Tomorrow morning, I don't have to set my alarm. I can bask in the warmth of my down comforter and the extra warm blanket I threw on top so that I could turn the heat down without freezing. I can lie in bed and read. That is one of my favourite easy luxuries. There is nothing better than curling up with a good book and reading in bed. I don't do it as often as I'd like which is probably why I appreciate it so much. The only other runner up is reading in the bath with a nice glass of wine. The problem with that is, naturally, there's danger of getting the book wet, the water inevitably gets cold and unless you've got a great bath pillow, it can be hard on your neck.

I love reading. I think I've mentioned that. I will give anything a chance. Of course, if I don't like a book or author, I'll have a rant but for the most part, I tend to like any good fiction. I'll read lighter fiction- Marian Keyes is one of the best for that. She's mistakenly called "Chick Lit" a term that is starting to grate on my nerves. Yet she writes fiction that manages to wrap itself around the realities of life, treat it wryly and make you care about her characters. She's one of my favourites.

Yet I'll also read not-so-light stuff. One of my favourite all-time books is Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True. That's one of the greatest books ever. It's heartbreaking, brilliant, poignant and believable all at the same time. My mother just got his new book, The Hour I First Believed which I really want to read but, as mum said, it's heavy stuff and drains you to read it even though it's excellent. I like some of the classics which I will read for fun now that I'm no longer in English classes and forced to analyze the symbolism of a tree or a fish or something. One of my favourites is Dante's Inferno though I don't read it too often. I love to read it for the language, the poetry of such a dark subject. I'm also a Jane Austen fan because I love her witty humour disguised as social grace.

At the moment, I'm reading The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Hendricks. It's a pretty easy read and the sequel to her other novel, Bread Alone. She's a good writer. I forget I'm reading a book and I feel like I'm observing someone's life. That's the mark of a good author to me, someone who can make me forget where I am.

Aside from being lazy and sleeping, I have to clean, as I mentioned. If it warms up, I may venture out but part of me just wants to stay local, to be able to semi-hibernate in the warmth of my apartment and enjoy the glittery ice-topped snow that lies outside the window. Of course, next week, it's supposed to get up to 37 degrees. Heatwave! You L.A. folks can mock all you want. It's pretty....from the inside.

Yet, at the moment, 37 degrees is still something to look forward to. Compared to now, it will feel balmy, I'm sure. Not exactly going-to-the-pool or laying-out weather but it means you can walk without your cheeks being frozen to your face or your ears feeling like they've been slammed by a pack of frozen peas. I can't wait.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's Bloody Freezing!

It's bloody freezing outside. That is significantally different from it just being merely freezing out- "bloody" freezing means it's cold enough to freeze your wiper fluid as you try to use it to get rid of some of the ice on your window which, of course, means you then have a new layer of ice to scrape.

Bloody freezing also means that if you leave a twelve pack of Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi in the boot of your car, it freezes and then explodes. Naturally, being a somewhat-intelligent Captain Monkeypants, you'd think I would have realized this. I did- after I went to get out a can to take to the office and found my twelve-pack covered in (frozen) Diet Wild Cherry. I suppose the good part about it being bloody freezing is that cleanup will be easy- I can remove the frozen explosion before it gets too sticky.

The freezing temperatures can be deceptive. Last night, I went "downtown" for a belated birthday celebration with some coworkers. We went to this cool German restaurant with good beer and food. Then we walked down the street to another more upscale place for a final drink. Stepping outside of the first building, it was cold. It had snowed but it didn't feel too bad. Then, as we proceeded further down the street, the wind blew. Have you felt a wind chill of -15 degrees? Say it with me now- it's bloody freezing.

The cold blast took our breath away. The snow was thrown at us, ice-cold pellets attacking our faces, no matter how we tried to shield ourselves. The cold got through my coat, my boots. I forgot my gloves so my hands were freezing. For a three minute walk, it was pretty intense. Needless to say, i ordered a nice hot Irish-type coffee when we got inside. Nothing like a spiked cup of coffee to warm the chill off your bones.

This morning, it's not snowing yet but the snow is the dry kind that is easily scooped up by the wind and tossed around, mini snow-tornadoes flying across the road and unexpectedly leaving drifts.

It's supposed to stay this cold all week. I think it's going to be one of those deliciously lazy weekends in which I start a new jigsaw puzzle, put on my little (fake) electric fireplace, make a cup of tea and settle in. After I've cleaned, of course. I haven't had much of a chance to clean other than pick up and it's high time I did more than wipe the counters and run the vacuum round. I figure if I put on some happy cleaning music- often the soundtrack to Rent, Green Day's American Idiot or even some Madonna (older stuff), the cleaning might be fun. It's quite fun to boogie while cleaning the toilet. It makes you almost forget that what you're doing is quite vile.

It's actually a long weekend for many people this weekend, being Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That thought alone makes me cheerful. It's a rather nice feeling to know that come Monday morning, I don't have to set my alarm, I can lie in bed and listen to the howling wind and know that I don't have to get up at all, if I don't want. Then again, sometimes, the howling wind is drowned out by the howling students. Seriously, there are a group of students living below me that have taken to howling and making rather odd noises at night. I'm not going to think too much on that being that they're students. It's probably better that I imagine them being a pack of werewolves rather than what they're actually doing.

Anyway, once more, i seem to have just ambled the blogging time away with no real point other than to just let my thoughts flow. I hope that's ok- since I got my fan fiction rant off my chest, I'm feeling much lighter. However, there's never a rant far away, especially as long as Stephanie Meyer gets to publish new fiction.

Just kidding. Mostly. Happy Thursday. Stay warm (unless you're in L.A. where, apparently, it's been nice and warm all week.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday Musings about Life, Writing and, of course, Snow

I'm late blogging today for a number of reasons but here I am, blogging as usual. I actually quite enjoy writing on a daily basis. I don't always get to write anything in a day and so this gives me a bit of a fix to tide me over. At the moment, it's pouring with snow. It's the hard, fast and furious kind that doesn't have time to drift and wait but wants to get where it's going as fast as it can.

It's also freezing outside, almost Siberian temperatures again. It's supposed to get colder. I don't mind as long as I don't have to be outside and that I don't have to drive on icy roads. You've probably noticed, I'm a big fan of snow.

I've been spending the last month or so editing my manuscript for Rainlight. My intention is to enter it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I don't really know why. Last year was such an abysmally depressing affair that I don't know why I'm willing to subject myself again. But I want to. I like that I have a deadline.

The only problem is the word limit. They want novels of no more than 150,000 words. My novel, after all my cuts and edits is still 162,000. So the question is, do I pick another novel, use that one but cut large chunks of them out with hopes that, if I'm ever published, they can go back in? Or should I be ruthless and just cut scenes out, scenes I love?

The thing is, I've tried to be ruthless already. I've cut portions out that I liked but weren't necessary. Now I have to cut a lot more and I'm not sure how I'm going to manage that. I'm hoping I'll find away. I do have a backup plan though- I have another, much shorter novel, ready to go. There's always that option.

I've mentioned in the past how hard it is to kill a character. I've now realized that no matter how many times I do it, it never gets easier. I was just editing a novel that I wrote seven years ago and I still couldn't stand the fact that I'd killed this character, John. I feel guilty. I see the course the novel takes and everything that could be done to prevent his death and yet...still he dies. He has to; without his death, the next four novels in the series couldn't happen. It's hard to reread what I wrote all those years ago because I know what happens and even though it's my creation, I'm powerless to prevent it. Rereading his death scene is almost as hard as when I wrote it. I'm angry that he didn't fight harder but I also know that there's only so much one sixteen-year-old can take and he reached his limit.

I suppose that the power I have as a writer could be used for ill. I can create and kill, give life and take it. It's a scary power to have but I try not to wield it unwisely. That's why, as I've mentioned, I listen to my characters and don't tell them what to do. It's their story; I let them tell me. Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it doesn't but, when I'm done, I always have a finished book and it never ends the way I planned.

I know this blog isn't as interesting as some of my other ones and for that, I apologize. I will try to do better tomorrow. It's snowing harder outside, a cascade of flakes that blind you. I'm happy about that. I know my mother is not. She's not a winter person. All I can say is that in a few short weeks, the snow will subside a little and you'll see the snowdrops fight their way out of the earth to bloom, even when snow still surrounds them. I, for one, have to enjoy winter because, without it, spring would have less meaning.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday Rant: Why I Hate Fanfiction

It's Tuesday. I'm giving up believing in weather forecasters. Part of me thinks we were more accurate before the days of Doppler 55,000 or whatever it is these days. Back in the days where shepherds used to tell the weather from the sunsets, when people relied on their bones to tell 'em it was going to rain....what's the difference really? Those shepherds probably got the weather right as often as the modern weatherforecasters. This morning, we were supposed to get an inch of snow. It's raining. Yes, I know that meteorologists can't tell the future'd think they'd be a little more accurate once in a while.

Anyway, today feels like one of those days where I need a good rant to get me kickstarted since it's a soggy Tuesday morning, it's not light outside yet and my brain is still waking up. So, lucky readers, todays rant is all about Fan Fiction.

Are you familiar with fan fiction? I wasn't really until recently. It's one of those things I knew existed but I had no interest in it so I ignored it completely. Lately though, it's been crossing my path as I surf the web and I finally decided to figure out what it was all about.

Frankly, I'm slightly appalled at the amount of it out there. In short, fan fiction is written about already existing characters usually from TV shows, books, even theatre. It can be innocent fiction that basically fulfills someone's fantasies, allows unsuccessful writers to change their shows/books/movies/theatre storylines in the way THEY would do if THEY wrote for TV or it fulfills some rather twisted fantasies on the part of the writer.

I'm sure there's more to it than that. What I have figured out is that fanfiction writers have to honour the canon of the original material; they can't change what's happened already on the show, in the book, in the movie, or whatever. They can't change the personalities of the characters they write about just to suit their needs. They have to respect the parameters of the worlds that the real writers who created them have set up.

Some of it is fairly silly. Some fanfiction writers focus on what is called 'shipping. That is to say they take an existing romance on a tv show and write about those two characters. They also take two opposite sex characters who are not romantically involved and write romance between them. There's also alternate universe in which they find ways to change the history of the tv show/book or whatever and write a different version of events.

The one that disturbs me a little is slash fiction. I had no idea what this was until I looked it up on Wikipedia. This particular brand of fan fiction takes two same-sex characters and gets them romantically or sexually involved, regardless of whether they're gay or not. Usually, they're not. The more I read about it, the more disturbed I got. One of the most popular themes is Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Seriously, what is wrong with these people? Harry Potter started as a children's book. Yes, it got darker as the series progressed but it was still aimed at children. Nowhere in the book is there any scene with Harry and Draco having a romantic or sexual moment.

Here's the part where I give the obligatory "I'm not homophobic" explanation. I'm not. We can't help who we love and are attracted to. We can fight it but, ultimately, it's in our genetic makeup to be sexually attracted to someone, whether the same sex or the opposite one. I know that being gay is a lifestyle and all but in my mind, it still boils down to who's in your bed at the end of the day. I'm British with stereotypical reserve: Whatever someone does is up to them but don't make a fuss about it. It doesn't bother me who the heck someone sleeps with. I've never understood the need for gay people to "confess" or "come out". It's not like I'm running around saying "I'M STRAIGHT! I ADMIT IT!" It should just be something we are. Yes, I'm an idealist. Knowing is half the battle as my character, John King, would quote.

Anyway, enough of that. What I'm trying to say is that if J.K. Rowling had made Draco and Harry a couple, it would be different. It would definitely be a different sort of book but given J.K's genius, it would still be very readible, I'm sure. But she didn't. She wrote a book about a boy wizard who grows up, vanquishes the evil villain and falls in love with Ginny Weasley. There's plenty of fan fiction about Ginny and Harry too, by the way.

It's the same with TV shows. I love Grey's Anatomy even if I think it's on crack at the moment. But Meredith and Christina are NOT a couple. They are friends. Derek and Mark Sloan are also JUST friends.

You can tell, slash fiction bothers me. I think of it as a form of porn. I actually have no problem with porn, as it happens. It fills a need, some people consider it art. It's there if you want it.

Which makes me question why I'm so bothered by slash fiction. It's probably because it's out there for anyone to see. They do have a rating system so readers can make sure it's suitable. Yet it's out there. The best reason I can come up with is that becasue I am a writer. I find it offensive. I have a series of books, as I've mentioned, that have three teenage boys who are good friends. I know if it were ever to get published and get popular, slash fiction would be born and I'd be horrified. Those are MY characters- get your nasty fanfiction hands off them.

Yes, I'm a selfish writer. I have a moral beef with stealing other people's ideas. It's the same reason I refuse to read "sequels" to books like Pride and Prejudice or Gone with the Wind. Unless a sequel is written by the originating author, it's not really a sequel. It's fan fiction, regardless of the cover price, publisher or level of prestige that goes with it. There is NO way to know what a deceased author would have written about their character in a sequel and so it's not fair for another writer to assume they do.

I apply this logic to everything, even books I despise. There are 'alternate versions' of Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn floating around, books that were written by angry fans who hated the way she wrote the ending of the Twilight series. As I've mentioned, I hated Breaking Dawn and thought it one of the worst books I've read in several years. Yet that doesn't mean that I have the right to change it. It's Stephanie Meyer's baby, her creation. Even if it is a self-indulgent, twisted piece of anti-feminist rubbish, that's the way she wrote it. End of story. Unless she decides that it is, indeed, absolute crap, recalls every copy she published and issues a better version, that's the way the series ends. No amount of fanfiction is going to change it.

I can hear the opposing arguments: At least fanfiction writers are writing, using their imaginations, finding ways to get through bad times in life. It's an outlet, a way to inspire creativity. Sure, that's fine, I suppose. Some of them are actually quite good writers and I can't help but wonder if, maybe, they applied the same energy to original stories with their own characters, we'd have less Breaking Dawns and more Harry Potter type novels.

I know that writing fanfiction is almost like a drug; a way to escape into a world that is more interesting than the real one around us. It's a way to 'talk' to characters that are loved, adored, hated, admired. It's a way to crawl inside those characters head's, to be a part of that world we've read about or watched. It's a way to be a part of it, to wrap ourselves up in the lives of the people we've only ever observed before, voyeuristically or otherwise.

So I get it. I do. I still hate it. I still hate the violation of an original idea. I still think the fanfiction writers should step outside of fantasy and project that creativity into the real world around them but, like any vice, I don't suppose they can help it, not really. I really have no right to condemn them and, really, I'm not. I'm just stating the fact that I, as a writer, and as Captain Monkeypants, do not really understand why there is so much fanfiction out there and why it's tolerated. I suppose imitation is the highest form of flattery which is why some of the "canon" writers don't mind but I can safely say, it would bother me if someone took my characters and used them for virtual sexual gratification. Whatever reason the fanfiction writers do it, I still don't like it. I suppose it's like shrimp; you either love it or you hate it. I, personally, hate shrimp. The taste is ok but the texture and feel in my mouth is vile. Fan fiction is like shrimp. I like the canon but I feel dirty when reading the fan fiction, like I'm commiting a violatation against the original writer.

I'm sure I'll offend with this post and I do, honestly, apologize. It's just my opinion. I have friends who like fanfiction, who even write it. Maybe there's more to it than I've ranted about here. Maybe there is something I don't get about it. If so, tell me because, as I said before, knowing is half the battle.

Happy Tuesday

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Morning Blahs

It's another Monday morning. It's cold outside and is apparently going to get colder this week, below zero, I think they said. A local weather channel is running a contest for "pick the date' of the first day the temperature hits zero. I think that's a little silly given that they're telling us that it's going to be Thursday. Of course, that's giving the weather forecasters a lot of credit; most of the time they're wrong, anyway.

You'd think in the age of Doppler 7000 or whatever we're up to now, the weather reports would be right more often than they're wrong but I haven't found that to be too accurate. Ok, so I know we have to allow for Mother Nature to interfere with the weather but I can't help but wonder why the weather reports are wrong so often. But that doesn't stop us from watching the weather though, does it?

Weather reports can be amusing. My parents, being in a different television broadcast area to me, have a different weather lady. She not only wears the strangest outfits but also acts like the End is Nigh when the weather threatens to do anything. The same channel also has this poor little newbie reporter who inevitably gets to stand by the side of the Interstate whenever it's snowing, freezing raining's cold. She gets to tell us's cold. Ok, so I know that new reporters have to pay their dues but really chances are that those of us watching the weather have figured out that it's cold outside. We really don't need a reporter to tell us something so obvious.

The other thing that makes me smile about the local weather people is that they're using a blue screen- you know that nifty screen that moves behind them as they tell us about the incoming weather? When I was in college, I took a Journalism for TV class and the first thing they taught us was that if you're using a blue screen, you shouldn't wear blue. You see, it blends into the screen. I often see local weather reporters with floating heads and such because they're wearing blue. It's actually rather amusing.

Anyway, we're not actually supposed to have any major weather over the next week so they're emphasizing the fact that it will be really cold. Yes, it's January. This is the Midwest. It's sort of expected. We really don't need to devote ten minutes telling us how cold it's going to get. This is the kind of reporting that sends the panickers to the store where there's a run on bread and milk.

I don't get that, either. Whenever bad weather looms, people run out and get bread and milk. Why? Milk usually has a shelf life of less than a week these days. Bread goes mouldy. If we're going to get snowed in, that's not really the only thing you can live on. How about some nice pop-tarts, some canned soup, some crackers? Why bread and milk?

Anyway, so it's cold outside and it's a Monday. This is a combination that adds up to the fact that I'd dearly have loved to have just stayed in bed and slept this morning. Again, what else is new? I'd love it if employers would, along with sick time and vacation, give you some "sleep in" hours. Wouldn't that be great? You get, maybe, two hours a month for that. By the end of the year, you can combine them to take one day off if you don't use them. If you do use them, you have the luxury of looking at the clock in the morning and opting to take them.

Yes, I know logistically, this would wreak havoc. Everything does, these days. Chances are, you'd still have to call your boss to tell them you were using your "sleep in" hours which would interrupt sleep. If you didn't call, it'd be hard for bosses to keep track of you. Still, the idea sounds nice, doesn't it?

I didn't sleep well this weekend. I had odd dreams. I won't bore you with the details because second-hand dreams are always a little boring when they're not your own. I did dream I was going to County Cork, Ireland. That was a weird dream because it was so specific. Maybe it was because I was at my parent's- who knows. I did manage to beat the bad weather and get there on Friday night. Unfortunately, the weather on my birthday was crappy and I didn't get to do much other than stay home and do a jigsaw. That's actually not a bad thing, necessarily. At least I was with my parents who made the most of such a horrible-weather day.

Yet now it's time for another week. I don't feel any older than I did on Friday. Nothing much has changed. My feet are as cold as they were on Friday. I have the same work to do. Life is the same as it was. I am older though. They say with age comes wisdom. I'm still waiting for that...

Happy Monday.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Birthdays and the Like...

I'm glad it's Friday. I think that's pretty much the tagline for every blog I write on a Friday. This seems like the longest week in ages. Most likely, it's because I haven't worked a full week in a while. That's the nice thing about the Thanksgiving-New Year stretch of time. From Thanksgiving onwards, there's enough going on with holiday parties and the like that even regular length weeks go quickly. This week, it's the first New-Year slump week so that means it's dragged by.

Still, it's Friday now. It's my birthday tomorrow so I'm hoping today flies by. Yet, since it's my birthday, the weather is supposed to be horrible. I'm hoping it isn't since i have plans to drive to my parents. Yet if the weather makes the roads impassable, I won't be horribly surprised. That's the penalty of having a birthday in January. Living in California was actually rather nice for my birthday- it might have been chilly but it was still the sort of weather where you can find yourself taking a walk and enjoying the fact that you're not bundled up to the nines in multiple layers of clothing and a sensible pair of winter boots.

Yet even when I lived in England, I remember my birthday having horrid weather. It's always freezing. We always manage to have a snow or ice storm. One year, I wanted to go to see a movie and though my parents were kind enough to take me anyway, the drive took forever because there was no road visible, just clumps of solid ice.

When I was much younger, my mother would get me a couple of small things for my birthday but then, on my older brother's birthday in May, I'd celebrate my birthday too. It was a nice idea. I'm not sure how my brother felt about it but I didn't mind. It always used to be tough as a kid anyway- the stores are all closing out from Christmas and by January 10th, all that's left is the stuff no one wants.

Not that birthdays are about presents anyway but when you're a kid...presents are good. Ok, fine, as a grown-up, I still love presents. To be fair though, I also love to give presents. It's fun to pick out gifts for people.

I suppose birthdays are about getting older. I'm not a big fan of that anymore. I've reached the stage where I'm happy the way I am and I don't want to be any older. Then again, I never really see myself being the age I am- which I choose not to reveal to you. I still feel like I did ten years ago with perhaps a few more aches and pains and, perhaps, a little more wisdom. Nothing much is going to change tomorrow when the calendar shows I've officially passed another year on earth. I'm still going to adore Harry Potter, I'm still going to love Green Day and I'm still going to eat Cheetos with a fork (or toast tongs, if I have them on hand).

As a kid, I used to think people my current age were grown ups, creatures who were never children. Now, I know I was silly and I probably read too much Enid Blyton. In those books, the grown ups were barely acknowledged, creatures too old and dull to be part of the adventure or fun. Now I'm one of those grownups. It's a little scary when I think about it. I'm not really sure I like being a grownup.

Then again, when I go to the store and buy a bottle of wine (and hopefully not spill it on the floor) or I get to order appetizers and dessert instead of a real meal or I go home, bake cookies and then eat half of them while they're still hot from the oven, I do appreciate the fact that I'm a grownup. I still get a thrill from buying a 2-litre bottle of Coca-Cola all for me. When we were kids, we only had Coke on weekends and we had to share a 2-litre. It was pretty cool and I still appreciate it now. I had pretty great parents- they knew when to say no but never deprived us. It made for a pretty great upbringing, even when I was a bit of a monster in my teens.

So I suppose there are some things to be said for being an adult. Although now I am one, it would be rather nice to stop aging now. Still, it is rather nice to have a birthday. People are extra nice on birthdays. I already have a couple of gifts from my awesome best friend. I've been very good and haven't unwrapped them. This is pure torture for me. I'm horribly nosy and usually have to know what's inside a gift. I'm being good though. It'll make it all the more special when I unwrap them tomorrow.

I've decided that instead of making new year resolutions, I'm making birthday resolutions. After all, I wasn't born on a new year and thus had to wait almost 355 days AFTER I was born to celebrate one. I don't exactly know what those resolutions will be but I'll work on it. I do know that this is the year I'm going to get published in some form or another and I'm not talking about publishing this blog. That's one resolution, at least.

I apologize, once again, for the babbling nature of this email but by now you should be used to it. Sometimes I have a topic, sometimes I don't. Today, i didn't. I just thought, hey, I should probably blog about my birthday so I did. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

These Boots are Made for Walking...on snow...

It's freezing outside last night. When I went to bed, the wind was howling around my apartment building, rapping at the windows and generally just making a lot of noise. It was a nice night to sleep. It had snowed earlier in the day. It was the perfect snow that makes the ground and trees white but miraculously doesn't stick to the roads. That's the best snow.

My feet are cold now even though I have my furry boots on under my jeans. I bought my boots this year realizing that my nice skate shoes, flipflops and heels from California weren't exactly going to cut it in the midwest when it's icy and snowy. The boots I bought are comfy. They're mostly warm, very waterproof and are great on snow. On ice, however, it's another matter. I know, aside from spikes, there's not much that will grip on ice. Yet I do think there are degrees of grippage. My boots are at a zero degree of grippage. If they so much as see ice, they start slipping. It's a little like ice-skating. If I get out of my car after a bout of freezing rain, I have learned that unless I grip onto my car for dear life and then slowly make my way across the parking lot by gripping other cars, I'm fine.

You might wonder why I don't just walk slowly. Well, I can't make any sudden movements in my boots. I tried that once. Let's just say I came microscopacally close to falling down, my legs in the air, resembling a fly in its last minutes of life. If I were braver, I'd go ice-skating in my boots but since ice-skating to me is a bad idea, I think I'll leave that to my stray. My idea of ice-skating is clinging to the rail of the rink, slowly getting up enough balance and courage to move away. I can usually make it round the rink after about half an hour as long as I don't stay too far from the edge. I still end up falling down but it's still quite fun.

You're probably laughing at me now, and my desire to live in a place that actually has snow. Whatever. I still love snow. It's ice I'm not a fan of. Ice is mean. It hides. You can be looking at the snow around you, ambling slowly along and admiring it's beauty and then, boom! you hit a hidden patch of ice, concealed by the snow and then, hey, look- pretty sky! is too sneaky for me. It's also a lot more brutal. The ice storm I mentioned a few weeks ago in Indiana was brutal. Beautiful, yes but also much crueler than snow. Snow falls, landing softly, a soft coating of cold whiteness. comes down in the guise of rain, harmless, wet, gloomy and cleansing rain. When it hits the frigid landscape, it changes form, forming a hard coat of ice on everything. The more the rain falls, the thicker the ice gets. It's heavy stuff- tree branches that are tired to begin with can't withstand the weight and they crack, hurling downwoods until there's nothing but a pile of wood on the ground.

No, ice is nasty stuff. It makes roads impassable, takes out power lines and still makes for a breathtakingly beautiful sight with its crystaline glaze.

My boots don't like this ice. They like the snow. Yes, that's probably projection. By now, you're probably thinking I lost my mind- writing an entire blog about my boots. All I have to say to that is you're just now thinking I lost my mind, I'm highly flattered. I can assure you, it's been gone for a while. Probably somewhere around the time I wished George Michael would propose to me.

It's suppose to rain this weekend. I hope it remains rain and doesn't turn into sleet or freezing rain. It's my birthday this weekend and I'm really looking forward to actually be able to spend it with my family. It's been a very long time since I had a birthday with them and it would be lovely to be able to drive the two hours north without worrying about sliding off the road. I'll be wearing my boots, just in case though.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Why I Once Would have Loved Twilight: The Obsessive Nature of Captain Monkeypants

I've always been a creature of phases. And I don't mean that like I'm a werewolf or anything but, rather, that I've always had a bit of an obsessive personality. Ever since I was a child, I've had a tendency to get stuck on something and it becomes my most favourite thing in life.

For example, one of my earliest obsessions was with a British children's author named Enid Blyton. As an avid reader anyway, I discovered that she had hundreds of books. They were books about boarding schools, fantasy lands that could be found at the top of trees, child detectives, mysteries and even had my most favourite character: Noddy. Noddy was a little elf-like thing whose best friend was the grumpy Big Ears. I used to call him "Biggy Ears" before I knew better. I absorbed Enid Blyton's books like a sponge: I used to go to the library and come home with a stack of five books, all by her. I wanted to go to boarding school, to have midnight feasts, to do all the things her characters did. Actually, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, also read her share of Enid Blyton when she was younger. There are definitely some good Blyton-esque scenes in her books, especially the earlier ones before the world of Hogwarts got too dark.

Anyway, my obsession got to the point where, I believe, a teacher even told my mother that I should probably read something else to give me some variety. You see, I didn't know it then but Enid wasn't, um....a good writer. She tended to use the same words over and over and being as young as I was, I didn't realize how dated her books were, even when I was a child.

Sadly, I got my hands on some Enid Blyton books fairly recently, books that I'd loved as a child about St. Clare's school. I was horrified. They were terrible. They were full of terms like "fiddlesticks" and "golly gosh" and they were absolutely horrendously written. Needless to say, I was mildly crushed that such a staple of my youth wasn't the paragon I believed her to be. Yet she'd given me an impetus to read voraciously as a young 'un and there was value in that.

My obsessions continued. They veered in music in which I am now sort of embarrassed to admit I was a huge Wham! fan and was in love with George Michael. Ok, I'm more than sort of embarrassed. Hey, I was ten. We didn't know he was gay then. My best friend and I would had recorded two Wham! videos- "Careless Whisper" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (and yes, ok, I know technically "Careless Whisper" was a solo effort by George but that's irrelevant to my story). We would run home at lunch EVERY DAY and watch them. My poor mother- she had to suffer through that. Sorry, mum. Really.

From Wham! I moved on bouncing from films to television to books and back to music. I went through a heavy metal period in my teens, wearing the black band shirts and thinking I was cool because I liked hair bands. Again, hindsight is 20-20 but at the time, they were a metaphor for my painful awkward teen years. My friends and I would have lotteries to divide up who had 'custody' of a band for the week. Yes, again....I was an unhappy teen for a while but, then again, show me a happy one. As teens, we all think that we're misunderstood and unliked by our peers. It's only fifteen years later and you realize that all those people you thought hated you really were just as messed up and befuddled by life as you and suddenly they all want to be your Facebook friend.

Uh, sorry...I digress. After that phase, I changed friends. I think it's because I suddenly realized that life really didn't suck and I was just a dork in a black shirt listening to music from men more effeminate then me. I made new friends and started to listen to happier things like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.

It was a new phase. That one lasted me a while. During that phase, I also went through an Anne Rice phase in which I loved vampires again. I've always liked vampires but Anne Rice made them more romantic and less, you know, fangy and bloody. Phases can overlap, you know.

Since then, I've probably had a dozen more phases. I went through a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer phases but, then again, that one is still ongoing merely because Joss Whedon, the writer and creator of the show is a genius and I will follow his creativity wherever he goes because he always keeps me amused, spellbound and fascinated by his ability to write and create such original stuff.

You may wonder why I'm telling you all this. My snarky answer is that it's my blog, I can tell you what I like. Surprisingly, however, I do have a point. This whole reverie was sparked by a visit to a bookstore this weekend in which I saw two teenage girls grabbing several copies of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books and literally being so excited you could see them jumping up and down.

Surprisingly enough, given my past rants and blogs about Ms. Meyer, this isn't actually a tirade against her and her mediocre books. It's mostly because when I saw those teens being that excited over a book, I could relate to it. Maybe the reason I hate those books so much is because I know, as a teen, I, too, would have wanted to be Bella Swan with her sparkled-skin, bronze-haired hero to save her from her mundane life. I would have felt catharsis in Bella's unhappiness too. So I can't even mock them as I normally would. Mostly, I'm excited that they are that excited over a book. Ok, so I wish it was someone more deserving like Neil Gaiman, Celia Rees, J.K. Rowling or even Stephen King but, well, at least they're excited over a book of some kind.

The only thing that I wonder, especially as I surf the pages of the internet, is how those Twi-hards are going to feel in a few years. At the moment, every entertainment site I read likes to talk about the sequel to the blah Twilight movie and who will play who and if the new director will be good. With each online news story, there is room for comments and that space is filled with devoted love from Twi-hards about how amazing the movie will be, how much Robert Pattinson resembles the Edward in their head and all of that. Yes, I read them. I used to be a quasi-journalist- I'm a firm believer in reading the good as well as the bad.

The comments are often written in that annoying shorthand used for text messaging, so fluidly done that it's obviously a teen. They love their Twilight. They love Stephanie Meyer. They love the books so much that they've read them multiple times.

There's nothing wrong with that. Whatever gets 'em through the day.

Yet, as I mentioned, in a few years, when those devoted fans are a little better adjusted to life, when the awkward teen years are behind them and they find themselves becoming adults, will they really be able to go back to Twilight and see the same beauty and brilliance they see now? Or will it become one of those slightly embarrassing obsessions that got them through middle school or high school but now needs to be forgotten?

I can't answer that because I don't know. What I do know is that when I was fourteen, I read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I fell in love with the book. I read it and reread it. I memorized the opening. I wondered what would happen if I met Ponyboy. I watched the movie. It wasn't great but I was willing to overlook that because there were Sodapop, Ponyboy and Johnny on the screen.

I reread that book a few years ago. I get why I loved it. It's the tale of a teen who doesn't fit in but eventually, after some crappy experiences, realizes that he has to stay true to himself. Something like that, anyway. I don't know why I could relate to it. I was from an unbroken, nicely stable, loving middle-class family- completely the opposite of any of The Outsider's characters. Yet I also cringed a little that I'd loved it as much as I had. I recognized that value it gave me in my teens but, as an adult, like any youthful obsession, I couldn't remember why I'd loved it to the point of obsession.

I suppose, maybe, The Outsiders was my Twilight. Minus the sappy romance and drippy descriptions, of course. I know now, having the hindsight and something resembling wisdom, that had I loved Twilight in my teens, it would now be one of those shelved memories along with Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and crushes on skateboarders who should have bathed more often. I'd be slightly embarrassed that I loved it but in a way, it made me who I am, for better or for worse. I like who I am now and that means everything. I hope those Twilight fans have a similar experience.

Sorry for the long blog but thanks, as always, for reading. Happy Wednesday.