Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When I am Perky, I Frighten People....

I sit in an office area in which there are three cubicles, all in a row. One end of the cubicle row faces into the hallway. The other end, my cubicle, in fact, faces a space at the bottom of the staircase. Each end of the cubicle row has a door that could, in fact, close, shutting out the hallway and the space at the bottom of the stairs. However, if the doors were closed, the area would instantly lose its openness and begin to feel like we were trapped in a box.

So, we keep the doors open. Since I am at the bottom of the stairs, I have learned to recognize the sound of who is coming down. For example, my boss is instantly recognizable by his loud clomping that actaully shakes some of the pictures on the wall. He has a heavy tread, that one. Some of the technical staff also have heavy treads but they are decipherable by the speed in which they come down. The sound of slow, steady high heels means a specific female coworker is coming down; she moves slowly in case her backless shoes slip off her feet.

We get a lot of traffic on those stairs. Our break area is just around the corner from where we sit and so in the mornings, a steady flow of coworkers comes down to see if there's any coffee made. As the bottom-of-the-stair sitter, and the first person in my area in the office, I am often the recipient of the coffee in the bottom of the pot. It's rather a luxury, actually, even if the coffee isn't exactly Starbucks level. I get served, waitress style, by whichever coworker wants to make a new pot of coffee. They want an empty pot, you see, and they don't want to dump it down the sink. I suppose if I look at it another way, I'm the equivelent of a garbage disposal.

Which, actually, is probably rather true if you ask my family. I hate to see food go to waste and when I'm at my mum and dad's, I usually have the treat of a delicious Sunday lunch. I'm usually the last one eating, picking slowly at the leftover potatoes, or finishing the enormous bowl of salad.

Anyway, aside from being the dumping grounds for leftover coffee, I also get to hear conversations, all day. Mostly they're very social, catching up from the weekend, discussing the latest weight-loss scheme, babies, husbands...all of the normal stuff you get in an office. We don't have a watercooler but we have a fridge, a sink and a coffeepot. Here is the social hub of the office.

Of course, when I and my two coworkers are trying to concentrate, it gets to be a bit distracting. Most of the time, I just pop on my iPod but occasionally, it gets to the point where we tend to just look at each other and roll our eyes. Days like this, it's hard to get as much work done. Yet we try. For better or for worse, we try.

We have a couple of new people in our office. One is the CEO who lives above me. The other is our new HR-type person. They both are very perky people. I am not a very perky person. As I've mentioned, when I am perky, people around me tend to check to see how much coffee I've been drinking or if I've been exposed to high-sugar content. Extreme perkiness gives me goosebumps and not in a good way. I just don't really know how to be perky without frightening people. If I try it and I say "Good Morning!" very brightly, people get this wary look in their eyes and begin to back away slowly. I can tell I've scared them because they won't make direct eye-contact. Those who know me well will say, "Uh-uh, what's wrong?" even when I'm just trying to be friendly.

This leads me to believe that I was not born to be perky. I was born to be the person in the corner who observes, listens, makes mental notes and occasionally interjects something mildly dry-humoured bordering on sarcasm. I do have days where I am a little chipper but it manifests itself in ways in which...I tend to worry people. When I'm happy with something, I say "Party in my Pocket!" Usually, this leads to a discussion on whether I'm being crude. I am not. I just like to say "Party in my Pocket" because it sounds funny. I picture a party in my coat pocket, if you have to know. I think it started when I kept a small stuffed meerkat (Timon from the Lion King- free with a Happy Meal years ago) in my pocket and I pictured him gathering friends to have a party. Yet, if I tell people this, I get that look, the one that says, "Oh dear, Sam's gone mental." When, really, I haven't. I mean, that's how I always think.

I'm not trying to be weird or funny, it just happens. It's the curse of having an imagination. Yesterday, my friend who is having construction done on her house told me that they were putting a hole in the roof. I started to wonder why. First, I thought, maybe they were putting a chimney in. Then I wondered if maybe it was a skylight which naturally made me think of a crazy person climbing onto the roof and staring down at the inhabitants of the house. Finally, I thought how cool it would be if they put one of those air-tubey things in the house like they have at drive-through banks; you know, you put your deposit in the tube, it sucks it up with a "Thwupp!" sound and then moments later, it's in the bank teller's hands. I love those; they're like high-tech banking at its finest.

Then, once I came up with the air-tube-in-the-house idea, I began to think what my friend my use it for. Notes to her mother was the most obvious reason since she'd be living in the back part of the house, her mother in the front. Then, naturally, I started to think of little baby chickens with helmets on, harnessed for safety, going for rides in the tube. No chickens would be harmed in the usage of the air tube.

My friend, being the great sport she is, discussed this with me, pointing out the flaws in my plan. Finally, the discussion digressed into whether it was ok to deep-fry baby chicks and eat them on a stick. I think that's a horrible, cruel thing to do and would never endorse it, just for the record.

I'm telling you all this because that was a normal, chipper, perky conversation for me. It took less than ten minutes to have this conversation over email. I'm glad it was with my friend who knows me because if it was a discussion I had with my coworkers, they probably would have stopped when I said "air tube thingy". Actually, they might have been alarmed when I started talking about the skylight and the person staring down. It's hard to say.

So, you see, although I am exposed to perkiness and trying to smile through it instead of mentally choking the person, I simply am no good at being perky. Chances are, I've probably alarmed you with oversharing how my mind works. I promise, I wouldn't really hurt those chickens. Really.

Oh, and by the way, the hole in the house was for some mundane purpose like a support column or something. I prefer my chicken-in-an-air-tube theory, personally.

Please don't be scared away.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Facebook and Attempts at Normalcy

Wow, it's already Monday again. It feels like I was just here, blogging away about looking forward to the weekend. It's amazing how time flies by when you're actually doing things you want to be doing...like on weekends.

It's not that I don't enjoy my job and that coming to work is a torture. In truth, I quite enjoy my job. I have a lot of different projects, I'm usually busy and the days go by quickly. Also, I like my coworkers which is a huge part of any job. It's a very good thing to like your coworkers, I mean, spending 40+ hours a week with them is quite a percentage of one's life and if you hate them, well, it just makes work difficult.

Yet there's something about weekends that makes you feel like you wish you could hold onto them and not let them go. I tend to be a little different at work than I am in my personal life; I mean, I never break out into a private dance party at my office the way I do at home. Well, not yet, anyway. Though I will say at my old job in California, there were nights when I was the last one in the building and my iPod and I would have a good old dance/flail around the top balcony of my office building. Very therapeutic. Also, tons of fun although occasionally I would boogie on down to the bathroom on the first floor and realize that though the windows to the building were tinted, there was a chance that people could see me and, well, it probably wouldn't do to have the Systems Analyst dancing around the building after hours.

I haven't started doing that at this job. I'm never the last one here. Also, I'm still trying to maintain some attempt at professionalism and normalcy. I don't want these people realizing exactly how strange I am. Although since the URL to this blog is posted on my Facebook page and I am friends with some of them on Facebook. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they realize that I am a wee bit quirky at times.

Yes, I am on Facebook. I used to be on Myspace but everyone slowly migrated over to Facebook and I decided that I, too, would give it a whirl. Wow, has that become a strange 'place' to be. I have a lot of friends. This is not to brag that I am popular because, I'm not. It's mostly to illustrate how much of a global monster Facebook has become. Through the wonder of facebook, I am now back in touch with my old friends from England, the ones I grew up with. My aunts and cousins are on Facebook and so I can keep tabs on what's going on with the British side of my family. The oddest thing is that a lot of people I went to high school with are on Facebook and they are my friends. They weren't really my friends in high school. Now I look back, I realize that when I was an insecure, shy little creature with low self-esteem in my high school days, I wasn't the only one. Back then, I truly thought that all the other kids in my class had their act together, that they really were as cocky and confident as they acted. Now, thanks to the wonders of television shows like "One Tree Hill" and "The O.C.", I see that all teenagers are neurotic messes and that most likely most of my high school peers were struggling as much as I was.

I'm just kidding about "One Tree Hill" and "The O.C." by the way. Any show that has twenty-something actors playing seventeen year olds can't be taken too seriously.

I'm not kidding about Facebook though. I actually do in enjoy it. It's a way of keeping in touch with friends, even when you don't have too much time. You can comment on their 'wall', a casual way of interacting, you can 'message' them which is to send them a real email message or you can 'poke' them which means you're letting them know you're still around and haven't forgotten them. There are a billion other things you can do via applications but most of the time I ignore these. There's only so many times you can have a stapler thrown at your head or be sent a virtual drink before you realize that you don't really want to install all the applications that you're invited to join. Still, I do enjoy reading the notes people put up there. Recently the "25 Randoms Things About Me" note was popular. Everyone posted 25 odd facts about themselves. I actually enjoy reading those; you get to know people that way and it's fun to realize that everyone's a weirdo.

I hear a lot about Twitter now, not quite so much about Facebook. I'm still not 100% sure what Twittering is or what it entails but I'm trying to resist it. I already have enough distractions with Facebook.

I'm rambling, yet again. However, being that it is a Monday morning, I hope you'll forgive me. My brain is always a little slow on Monday mornings. Actually...most mornings...but I'll try to do better tomorrow. As always, thanks for reading...

Happy Monday.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random Musings on a Friday

I've said it before and I'm saying it again: I'm glad it's Friday. As I said yesterday, the week has gone quickly but I'm so very ready for a weekend.

I still don't seem to be able to sleep. I'm not sure why. I wake up every night at approximately 2:38 a.m. and cannot get back to sleep. I think I might have read Stephen King's Insomnia one too many times because I thought about looking out the window to see if there were men creeping around with scissors outside. If you haven't read the book, you probably won't get that but it actually is a very good book, one of my favourite Stephen King novels, as a matter of fact.

It's been an odd week. I've been trying to wean myself away from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award message boards. There's an issue that is infuriating me and I'm trying to distance myself from it. I won't go into details other than to say that I hope next year, I hope Amazon implements a rule that if you make the top three finalists in the entire competion, you should not be allowed to enter the same novel again, no matter how much it's been edited. That is all I will say on the subject since I am fortunate and blessed enough to have been selected as a quarterfinalist and, having read some of my competition, I know that I would be extremely lucky to move onto the next round. There are way too many good writers out there. It's a good thing as a reader but as a writer, it's a tad intimidating.

As for the rest of the week being odd, I've newly discovered one slight disadvantage in moving back to the midwest: Allergies. I never had hayfever as a child and in the years before I left Indiana for Los Angeles, I had the sniffles a lot during the summer and would occasionally sneeze a lot if I spent too much time outside or around flowers. It was nothing that some Claritin wouldn't fix. During my years in L.A., the same thing happened, sniffles, sneezes but nothing too severe. Now I'm back, I've discovered that as much as I love springtime, it's not loving me too much. My sinuses seem to disagree with tree pollen and the Claritin isn't doing as well as usual. I'm hoping it's temporary and that as Spring progresses, my allergies will subside. Probably wishful thinking but I'm not going to let it interfere with my enjoyment of the flowers and trees. Now that it's not likely to snow much, I have to find something to wax poetical about, don't I?

Then there's my new neighbour who lives above me. She's very nice. She also happens to be the CEO of our new company. I have to confess...it's a little intimidating. Now I have to think about what I'm doing because we have thin walls and ceilings. Not that I'm doing anything incriminating but I do have rather a tendency to talk to myself and my characters. Occasionally, I forget that my windows are open or that I'm standing on the balcony outside. I also occasionally do have a one-person-flailing-dance party in which I burn off excess energy by having a dance. That's fun. I usually end up losing my balance. Inevitably, it involves thuds.

I probably don't really need to worry about it. It's just one of those factors I have to take into consideration. When you have anonymous neighbours, it's easier to not worry. When you actually know a neighbour, it's a little different. I don't even see her that often, only when she's walking her dog.

Speaking of walking (and in the most random transition manner), I saw a girl walking today in flip-flops. Now, I love flip-flops. They're comfy...in the summer. It was 36 degrees outside this morning, my car said so. I couldn't help but wonder what on earth made her think flip-flops were a practical foot choice. If she were dressed to match, I suppose vanity would have played a part but she sort of looked like she had bundled up to stay warm which is why I'm baffled by her choice of footware. However, I digress....

...I seem to digress a lot, particularly on Fridays. Thus, I apologize for being somewhat random today. As always, I thank you for staying with me and reading my blog.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Persephone in the Springtime

This week is going by so fast. I don't know if it's because I've been swamped at work or because I have been busy in my free time but whatever it is, I feel like the weekend is already rushing up to greet me. It's nice when that happens. It means, most likely, I'll start the weekend feeling like I've been tremendously productive at work, that I've got a start on a new novel, and I'm relieved that I no longer have to feel obligated to look on eHarmony, because my membership is up. It's nice to look on the bright side of life.

Not that it's particularly bright outside today. It's another gloomy day, the rain lightly misting my car which, by the way, mysteriously smells like something died in it. I'm not sure why. I took out the rubbish the other day on the way to work. The dumpsters are on the way to the exit for my apartment complex so I through the rubbish in the boot of my car. It was only there for less than 3 minutes but it was long enough to make my whole car smell like mouldy potatoes. I bought one of those odor neutralizing air fresheners that wasn't supposed to be scented. Well, now, in addition to the rotting vegetable smell of my car, I now have a cloying layer of scent that smells like someone filled my car with SweetTart candy and then sprayed it with water. At least, that's what it smells like to me. I'm leaving my windows cracked open today in hopes that it returns my car to its usual unscented glory.

As I was driving in, I was noticing that, even in the gloom, Spring is taking over the world. I saw forsythias this morning, in bloom for the first time. For the ungardeners among you, forsythias are a shrub with really happy yellow blossoms. They're almost banana-yellow and manage to transform a drab yard into a thing of beauty with their casual cheerfulness.

I've been reading a book of Classical Myths and Stories in an attempt to be inspired to write another short story. It's fun reading; so many of the tales are familiar in title but I've never read them. The reason I bring this up is because I read the story yesterday of "The Seven Pomegranate Seeds". It's a story of how Core, the daughter of Demetra and Zeus became Perspephone. You see, she was a nice girl, very beautiful as all the Greek heroes and heroines seemed to be. Hades, the god of the Underworld, fell in love with Core and asked her father, Zeus, if he could marry her. Knowing that Demetra would never agree yet not wanting to anger Hades, Zeus says that he can't marry Core. Hades reads this as a "non-no" answer and decides that if he changes her name to Core, then Zeus' 'no' doesn't apply. So he takes Persephone to the Underworld.

Her mother, naturally, is worried when her daughter goes missing. When she discovers from Helios, the Greek god of the Sun who sees everything that goes on under the sun, that Hades now has Persephone as his wife, she is horrified. For a year, she uses her power over the world to bring drought and death to much of nature. Hades hears what is happening and when Zeus tells him that if the world above dies, so will his power, Hades relents to letting Demetra see her daughter and, perhaps, rescue her. However, there is a condition: If Persephone has eaten so much of a crumb in Hades' world, she can never return to the world above.

Unfortunately, though Demetra manages to be reunited with her daughter, it turns out that Persephone, during her year in Hades, ate a total of seven pomegranate seeds which, sadly, means she now belongs to Hades. Demetra ended up working out a deal with Hades so that Persephone got to spend nine months of the year with her mother and the other three months with Hades. Thus, it became that during the 3 months that Persephone spends with Hades, the earth dies for three months, thus giving us winter. When she comes back up to earth, Spring begins.

I love stories with endings like that because I'm not a scientist. I'm an imaginationist (yes, I made that word up). Thus, when I hear stories that explain nature and life, it makes me happy. I'd much rather believe that Spring is caused by the joy of a mother being reunited with her daughter than anything to do with the sun and earth's rotation. Now, whenever I see the first crocus, daffodil or forsythia, I will know that Demetra and Persephone have been reunited and Hades, once more, is alone for 9 months.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Apartment Living...

It's a rainy, dark Spring morning. The temperature is balmy but it's just dark and damp out there. It's another one of those days where staying in bed and listening to the rain would be a treat.

Yet, here I am, early into the office, ready to start the day anew. I'd say I'm fresh-faced and all that but, truth is, I'm probably not too many steps away from being a zombie. I used to not be a morning person at all; preferring to sleep late and stay up late. Nowadays, though it takes me at least an hour or two to fully wake up, I'd rather be up early and get a lot done then go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Of course, living in a college town, that can be difficult. Though my apartment building is supposed to be for grown-ups, no college kids, the rules seem to have been relaxed lately. Or perhaps I'm just getting older and they're graduate students and adults and they look like kids to me. Oh, I hope not though.

Now that the days are getting longer, there's often a game of Frisbee or ball-throwing going on in the open field behind my apartment building. It's like something from one of those CW-Gossip-Girl-One-Tree-Hill type shows except, you know, not. So far, these boys keep their shirts on. Mostly, though, they like to stand around and drink beer in the field. I'm not quite sure why the field seems like a good place to stand around and drink beer but who am I to question the ways of students?

For the most part, these frisbee-playing students don't both me. The only time they do is when their girlfriends decide to come out on their balcony and carry on a conversation to the boys who are drinking beer in the field. You see, these girls have very loud voices. The topics of conversation that they like to shout are not particularly intellectual. I did learn yesterday that one of the girls had her tarot cards read and was now a little freaked out. Poor thing; if she hadn't been shouting her conversation to the girl standing next to her on the same balcony, I might have a little sympathy.

Then there's my downstairs neighbour. Remember when I complained about the man shouting at his girlfriend in the middle of the night? Well, it turns out that the shouting wasn't coming from above, it was coming from beneath. Now he's taken to standing out on his patio and shouting at his girlfriend. It's nice to share his relationship problems with others. While, overall, I would prefer him to perhaps break up with his girlfriend instead of shouting at her on the phone, I'm a teensy bit relieved that he's no longer only bothering me.

Still, I will say that there's something about living in an apartment building that keeps life interesting. There's always something going on. In case you were wondering, my stray is still around. Usually, once a week, he asks for a ride. I still wonder why he hasn't got his car fixed but since I sort of go his way each morning, there's no reason not to give him a ride. He did buy me dinner once as a thank-you.

Now it's Spring, I expect to see more of my neighbours now that we're not just dashing from one place to another to get out of the cold. I'd say that's a nice thing but sometimes I don't like having people around, especially on days like this where I'm a little crabby because I need more sleep. However, I'm trying to be positive and maybe it's a good thing; it's a sign of the season I suppose. Spring is officially here, if the daffodils don't confirm it, the frisbee games do. I'm wondering if they last all summer or, as in the case of Spring Break a couple of weeks ago, the apartment complex empties out and it's just us permanent-livers, the grown-ups who don't depend on school semesters to determine our living arrangements. I'll just have to wait and see.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adventures in Onling Dating

Today is one of those days where I don't know what I'm going to blog about so, chances are, I'm going to ramble. So, pretty much, it's a normal blogging day.

It really seems to be Spring now and not just because the calendar says so. Daffodils are blooming so there's my sign. I always had this idea that I'd get married in the Spring so I could have spring flowers but then again, I always fancied a Christmas wedding. Nowadays, if I have a wedding, I will just be happy.

I'm not good at meeting men so I've been doing the eHarmony dating thing. While I know this method has worked for many people, I'm not so sure it's working for me. It starts out all good and fun because you suddenly have this thicket of men with whom you can connect. At first, it's fun. Then...it gets very, very tedious. You see, eHarmony starts you out by requesting communication between you and a match, depending on who initiates the request for contact. First off, you start with a list of questions provided by eHarmony. You can pick three to ask. Then...he answers them. From there, you move on to "Must Haves/Can't Stands" in which you have a list of things that you either must have in a relation or you can't stand to have in a relationship. You pick three of each. He picks three of each. Trust me, after about five matches, the list stops being relevant and you just want to move on to the next step which is....more questions. This time, you can write your own OR you can use some provided helpfully by eHarmony. These questions are a little more in-depth, at least.

After this, FINALLY, you're allowed to directly communicate with a match. From there, the matches are on their own. We can exchange emails or phone numbers.

As I said, in the beginning, the process is fun. Then it starts to get old. You find yourself asking every match the same questions. You find yourself answering the same questions. The frustrating part is sometimes, you actually find someone you think sounds interesting. These communications end in one of two ways: 1) You communicate with them for a while or 2) They never communicate back.

Yes, eHarmony is a whole new way to experience rejection. Rather than simply 'close' the match as you're able to do, some matches prefer just not to respond. Personally, I think those that don't respond are like me, people who have been doing the process so long, it's just boring.

I've met some interesting men. My first match was easy to talk to on the phone. He had a few red flags such as telling me I didn't sound at all like I looked in my photo which he seemed a little disappointed about. He also told me that he hated when women cut their hair so he hoped my hair was still long. Both flags were a sign that he might be a wee bit shallow. We decided to meet. It turns out that he was still a giant frat boy trapped in a 42-year old body. We went for a drink in the town where I live which, as I've mentioned, is a college town. He couldn't stop staring at the college kids and reminiscing about his own drunken, stoned days of college. He also was more interested in watching the hockey game on TV than talking to me, even though that was the whole point of the evening. I never saw him again.

My second match was a very sweet man who told me he was fairly recently divorced. He had great manners and finally formally asked me on a date. He even made reservations which, to me, is definitely a good sign. We had a lovely dinner. We hung out afterwards. I quite liked him. It wasn't like...Casablanca or anything but..he was nice. I thought we'd definitely see each other again. Then, two days later, he sends me an email saying he's only been divorced for a two months and he's just not ready to date. Yes...well, had I KNOWN he had only been divorced for two months, I would have told him that but since he asked me out....well, I'm an idiot. So...never saw him again.

Since then, I've had a few more matches, a few more conversations, a few more emails and so far...nothing. I find the odd ones. For some reason, I get matched with outdoorsy types. My idea of the outdoors is to find a nice spot to write, sit there and then go home. Or, at the most, go for a lovely walk and then...go home. I don't like camping unless it's in a hotel. I'm not big on fishing because I'm dangerous both to others and to fishing equipment (I think I still owe my friend Eric a fishing rod or reel or something because I got a bit enthusiastic when fishing one time). I don't like riding a bike much unless it's an exercise bike. I fall off a bike. I get distracted way too easily and before I know it, I've hit something or someone.

Recently, on eHarmony, I've been matched with a man who likes to eat crayons, someone who uses about 50 exclamation points per email and someone who told me his favourite book ever was "The DaVinci Code." If you know me, you'll know "The DaVinci Code" is NOT the way too my heart. Trust me, I'm not writing them off for such shallow reasons; I'm trying to give them all a chance. Yet there comes a point when I have to admit I'm tired. Finding Mr. Right shouldn't be so difficult.

Then there comes a point where I have to admit it's me. I know what I want; someone who has his own life and doesn't mind me being solitary so I can write and have some alone time but not someone who disconnects and disengages completely so that he forgets I exist. I know, I know, it's probably impossible to find what I think I'm looking for. I probably don't really know. I suppose it's like my writing really; it just takes a little patience.

I have about a week left on my eHarmony membership. I don't think I'm going to renew. I need a break from feeling obligated to respond. It just feels like so much work and I can't help but think it shouldn't be quite so exhausting. For now, I think I'm going to proudly accept my Bridget Jones status of Singleton-ness and just go with the flow. If, in a few months, I have more energy back, maybe I'll try Match.com. I'll let you know.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Karma Hates Fake Sick Days...

I'm a strong advocate of the three-day weekend. Today is one of those Mondays which feels that it should belong to the weekend, not the anti-climactic start to the week. It was a beautiful weekend; yesterday was pure spring, in weather, temperature and mood. I got to drive with the windows down, letting the warm breeze in, listening to my music while the sun beat gently down. I like spring.

Don't think I'm fickle; I like winter too. I think we've established that. Yet to live in a place that has an obvious change in season is nice. I missed this during my L.A. years. Here, it's an obvious transition from winter to spring; there, it's obvious only to those who know their flowers and trees and the blooming patterns of each.

I had a nice weekend; the wine tasting was very nice. I like wine tastings because you get to try wines that there's no way you'd be able to afford normally. Well, at least people like me. Let's face it, if I spend more than $7 on a bottle of wine, I'm splurging. That's not to say I don't like nice wine but my budget doesn't allow for the luxury so I'm happy with my Sutter Home and Woodbridge for now though it is a happy day when Boujoulais goes on sale. My naughty little secret is that I adore french wine. Yes, I know, I'm British, I'm supposed to be anti-French. But....they make great wine. And bread. And cheese and their pastries are pretty nice too....So, uh, yeah, about that anti-French thing...

Just kidding. I really don't have anything against the French aside from that historical sense of nemesis they breed into us Brits as children. For now, it's little more than an acceptance that the French are rude. Now, if we ever go to war with them again because, say, Queen Elizabeth decides she wants to rule France too, we might have a problem.

So, aside from that, I got to be lazy. I laid down some ideas for my new novel but didn't get anything written. I ran out of time, which always seems to happen on weekends. Hence the fact that today would have been a great day to add to the weekend. However, I have this nagging sense of duty to my job and I have a ton of work to do. I've never been particularly good at faking sick days. This is not to say I haven't done it a few times but usually only when I know I'm not going to miss anything.

Of course, that sometimes backfires too. For example, two years ago, my good friend/coworker and I decided to go to Las Vegas for a weekend. As was our habit, one of us took a vacation day, the other took a sick day. It was my turn for the sick day. When we headed back to L.A. from Vegas, we got stuck in horrible traffic. The type where you just sit still for hours and get excited when the car in front of you rolls forward three feet. We discovered that the only way back to the city was closed off due to forest fires. We thus got to spend the night in lovely Hesperia, California. I had to fake yet another sick day while my friend had already planned on being off the next day anyway. Then there was the time I called in sick because I really, really wanted to work on a novel and I figured I'd use a mental health day. So I sat down to write and my computer monitor literally exploded. It had smoke pouring out of it and everything. On the other rare days where I've skived off work, they usually end up with me actually being sick which sort of takes away from the fun of a fake sick day.

I have since learned that I'm not destined to be a good fake-sick-day taker. Karma works against me.

Yet that's ok, really. I do have a lot of work to do. It's supposed to be another lovely spring day so I'll take a walk at lunch to enjoy it. Hopefully the day will go fast. If not, it'll go slow but it'll still be the same amount of time than if it went fast. It's just a matter of perception, I suppose.

Happy Monday.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Musings....

It's a Friday morning and I'm very glad for that. It's been a good week but I'm ready for a weekend now. I could use a little sleeping in and relaxing. Weekends are good for that.

As far as an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest update goes, I'm not going to plug my excerpt again. You can find it if you follow my blog. I've still been checking out the forums because it's nice to keep in contact with the other writers. Now, as a rule, writers are a competitive bunch. Being rejected stinks. Yet now, because of an error on Amazon's part, the 'clique' and all of its cronies are now ruling the contest 'a farce'. They're slamming many of the entries that made the quarterfinals, naturally stating that theirs were better. Perhaps they were, in which case I'm sorry for those that didn't make it. But here's the thing: Those of us that did make it may feel like we deserved it. I've worked so hard to try and get somewhere with my writing and, finally, I have. It may not be a major accomplishment in the grand scheme of things but, for me, it is. It's a validation for me, it's a reward for the several years of fighting an uphill battle to get my name out there. So, again, while I'm sorry that those forum-posters are so bitter and truly feel like their works, collected, are far superior to many of those that made it through to the next round, have a little compassion, please.

I know it's easier to see things through rose-coloured glasses when you're on the winning side of the street but it really is the first time I've stood there; I know the bitterness that comes with rejection but, more than anything, I think it's doing little but making those naysayers look petty and sour-grapey.

I could go on but I won't. I'm staying away from the forums for a while until the wrath has died down again. Those people are mean. I'm not going to plug my work on those forums at the moment because I know whatever reviews I got would be jaded and shaded with a side of bitterness. Last year, I thought about reviewing some excerpts but I knew, as soon as I downloaded the first one, that it would be a bad idea. My own rejection from ABNA 2008 was still too fresh and I couldn't have written a fair review.

I'm going wine tasting with a friend this weekend. It's at Jungle Jim's, that lovely big grocery store that goes on for acres and has its very own 'Sherwood Forest' full of good British food. I usually go armed with at least one shopping list from my family, most likely two. Add that to my own purchases and I never leave the store without spending a small fortune. Yet, it's such a lovely, comforting feeling to go into my pantry and see all those British products there. It gives me a tiny piece of home when I look at it and, even more, when I eat it. Heinz beans on toast, Marmite on toast, packets of Walker's Smoky Bacon Crisps, Branston Pickle, Strongbow cider....the possibilities are endless.

For the rest of my weekend, I'm going to write. That new novel is burning its way into my mind and giving me happy butterflies when I think about it. That's always a good sign that it's meant to be; it means I have a character just waiting to have his say and tell me his story. I know most of it but it'll be interesting to hear his point of view.

The weather is supposed to be nice again this weekend. I'm hoping to see some daffodils start to bloom in people's gardens. I caught sight of a crocus or two last week and even a hyacinth. Yet the daffodils seem to be biding their time. Hopefully this weekend, since Spring will officially be here. I can't wait.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shadows of Greatness

I'm very glad it's Thursday today. This is mostly because it's closer to Saturday and the thought of sleeping in is positively delicious in its temptation. I really haven't been sleeping well; my mind is either racing, my neighbours are being noisy or I just can't get comfortable. I go through periods like that. Of course, they give me some really odd dreams but they're often quite helpful in my writing. It'll most likely be followed up by a period of intense sleeping where it takes me less than 60 seconds to fall asleep and I don't stir until morning.

It rained last night. It was the kind of rain that comes on suddenly; one minute it's a sunny day and the next minute it is bucketing down. I left my window open and listened to it as I read in bed. I'm reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the moment. I've never read a Sherlock Holmes novel before. I'm enjoying it. I love the foggy London settings that jump to the moors of England and back to London again. Holmes himself is quite interesting. He's so smart but he's a little arrogant. I'm already feeling bad for Dr. Watson who'd do anything for Holmes, admires him so much but is treated rather like a useful child by the literary hero. It had to have been hard to live in the shadow of greatness like that.

That seems to be a theme at the moment, or at least one that I'm noticing. Last week, on Grey's Anatomy, we discovered there was actually another neurosurgeon at Seattle Grace, one who's lived in the shadow of Derek Shepard (aka: Dr. McDreamy played by Patrick Dempsey). No one knew he was there, they even called him "Shadow Shepard". I felt so bad for this character, whose name was Jim but everyone thought it was John. He was probably a good doctor, not a legend like McDreamy but good enough to get himself hired at Seattle Grace and stay there for years. Yet he fell into the shadows because Derek Shepard waltzed in and became the hero. Now that Derek Shepard is going through his own dark period, Jim is finally able to step out from behind the shadows but it seems to be too late; he's really become a shadow.

I used to worry about that when I was younger. I always had friends who seemed to shine brighter than me, whether they got more attention from boys because they were prettier, whether they were just much smarter than me and knew how to get attention because of it, or because they were better writers. I used to worry about that a lot. My two high school best friends were both writers, one very crisp, clean and knowing precisely which words to choose to make a point, the other a poet/creative writer. At the time, I didn't know that I wanted to write. I just did it. Yet somehow, I always seemed to fall back into the shadows of those two. I could never figure out how to make myself stand out.

As I grew older, I realized that high school didn't mean that much, it was just a foundation for building who you'd become as an adult. I realized that those shadows had only been there in my imagination. I think the torture of being a high school student is that you don't have enough experience at being a person to know who you are yet. You can fool yourself, you can be on the verge of knowing but it takes a few more years before you've lived enough to really start becoming the person you're meant to be. I'm still close to both of those high school friends; they've become amazing people. I could choose to live in their shadows, even now. Yet what would be the point? We're seperate people; there's enough light for all of us.

That's what I like about being an adult. I think you do get a little wiser with age. You can look back with perspective. When you're living through high school, there isn't as much perspective. It's hard to see it because everything is so raw, everything is about you, even when it isn't. I used to think that everyone thought I was weird; I had no self-confidence. Now, many of those people I thought hated me are friends on Facebook and I've realized that they, too, probably had just as much as a struggle with their identity when we were at school. Nowadays, we pretty much know who we are and it's fun to learn about people all over again.

Nowadays, I think there are still shadows that fall on us; for me, they're ones I make myself. They're the ones that I let creep up because life isn't going the way I want it to, the way I expect. They always vanish eventually, sometimes for a long time, sometimes for short spells. Yet instead of hiding from them and being afraid of them, I have learned that sometimes those shadows are necessary; being in the light all the time is bad for us. I'd like to think that's why Holmes keeps Watson around, because he occasionally needs a little shelter and time to collect himself. It has to be hard being Sherlock Holmes sometimes. Yet I still can't help but feel a little sorry for Dr. Watson. I plan on reading more so I'm sure I'll find out.

Happy Thursday

ps. For those of you that have asked how they can review my book on the Amazon site (and for those of you that might want to), I did a little investigation. If you follow this link, you'll be led to my entry. At the top, you'll see some small text asking you to write a customer review. If you'd be so kind, I'd really appreciate it. I'm feeling a little lonely, not having any reviews next to my entry.












Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Springtime Signs of Renewal

It's a springlike morning again today. It was a wee bit chilly as I went out to my car but at least today, the condensation wasn't frozen as it was yesterday. It's been getting up into the 70's over the past couple of days. I went walking over lunch and it seems to be a fact that Spring has arrived early. While I'll miss my hot-chocolatey, snow-covered days, I like the fact that I can open my patio doors and let the breeze come in to freshen up my living room. The grass is almost completely green again. It's such a contrast to a few weeks ago.

And, of course, it helps that I'm in a fantastic mood. I'm actually flooded with a ideas for new stuff to write at the moment which is something that hasn't happened in a while. I have a new novel teasing me in the back of my mind. I'm trying to decide if I want to make it the story of one of the anti-heroes, Gaz, from my latest novel Sleep (concidentally, the one that's a quarterfinalist in the ABNA contest and, seriously, I would love your reviews if you have time). It's a story that would work great for this character; it actually is eerily fitting him but to write it would mean that I'd have to redefine our world a little for him; do I make it a world where the impossible is real or do I let him live in a normal world and create that world for a completely new character? It's a good question and I've asked him to help me figure it out and while sometimes he doesn't stop babbling in my head, it's never when I want him to talk. He's always a little contrary, that one. He's fiercely loyal to the people he cares about and hates everyone else. He cares about maybe 3 people in the world. If I hadn't already written about literary schitzophrenia, I'm sure that would sound a little batty. However, I can't help it. It just happens.

I always get a little giddy around the start of Spring; it's always been my most fruitful writing time. When I look back, I think, honestly, most of my novels have started in late winter/early spring and been finished in the autumn. I never thought about it before but usually I'm at the rereading/editing stage when Daylight Savings Time ends.

Which means, being that it's spring, it's right to look at starting something new. It is, after all, a time of renewal of life, hope and nature and, for those of us who do so, writing. This weekend, I plan on cleaning thorougly; the problem with the new, longer days and brighter sunshine is that dust and smudges are a little more visible and you realize that there's probably a reason people do actually spring clean.

I love the change in seasons; everything always seems so fresh even though sometimes the transition is so subtle. The grass has slowly greened up and is now starting to show it's spring colours; thes snowdrops are already blooming, the daffodils, hyancinths and crocuses have pushed up and are getting ready to introduce us to the new season. For my part, I feel as though the writer part of me that has been hibernating, been hiding from starting something new, is ready to start again. I think maybe I need those darker periods in my life to let my writing lie dormant for a while, to allow myself to recharge. If I could just learn to accept that there are ebbs and flows of writing without trying to push myself all the time, I think it would be easier. I think part of me is afraid that, like with exercise, if I stop, I won't start up again. But I don't think that's likely. Exercise is a necessary evil if I want to feel better about myself; writing is just necessary in order for me to be...me.

I'm looking forward to starting something new, to writing with the breeze blowing into my room, the smell of the springtime in the air. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So...I got this Email....

So. I have this Blackberry phone that I got last week after leaving my nice LG Chocolate phone on a Delta aeroplane. I'm an audio person. I like to have my phone make different noises when I get messages and phone calls. I have this little 'chirp' that it does when someone Instant Messages me. At 3:02 a.m. I heard that chirp. I'm a light sleeper, it woke me up.

I do have a point. Bear with me.

I had gone to bed fairly early. I haven't been sleeping well and I was tired. I had spent the evening watching House and 24 and resolutely tried not to be glued to my email and the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award message boards. You see, yesterday was the date they were notifying the quarterfinalists. I had made a vow that I would be ok with the outcome because just the fact I had enough novels finished and edited that I could choose which one to submit was an accomplishment. I felt pretty good.

By the time I went to bed at 11 p.m. EST, ABNA administration had still not notified us. I decided that I'd wait until the morning. Then, at 3:02 a.m., I woke up to check because of my Blackberry chirping. It turned out that it was a spammer. At least I think it was; I didn't recognize the weird number attached to the request and anyone who knows me should know that at 3:02 a.m. I'm not really in the mood to chat on my Blackberry because, you know, I'm sleeping. It's quite a common thing to do at that time of night, believe it or not.

However, while I was groggily looking at my Blackberry, I decided to check my email. I had an email from ABNA. I skimmed it, thinking it was a rejection. Then after I'd closed it, it occurred to me that the word "happy' had been used. I was pretty certain that the ABNA administration wasn't sadistic enough to say they were happy to reject me so I read it again. Yes, ABNA administration is pleased to inform me I MADE THE TOP 500 quarterfinalists! Even if the 10,000 entry limit hadn't been reached, I had managed to get through on my pitch and then, when given to reviewers to read, they liked it. They even compared me to Neil Gaiman. If you read my blog regularly, you'll know I love Neil Gaiman's writing. He's my favourite writer aside from J.K. Rowling.

Needless to say, at the moment, I'm on cloud 9. I didn't expect this. My optimist glass is worn a little thin these days and I find myself relying on the pessimist glass instead. I think this means I get to throw that one away for a while and get a new half-full one. I actually submitted under a pseudonym as an experiment. I'm going by Sam Hoffmann, and my book is a fantasy entitled "Sleep". It's open to customer reviews so if you get a chance, pop on and read my excerpt. You can view it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001UG3CFS .

I don't think I have to tell you I'm in shock. I am. I'm also ridiculously happy. I am sad for those that didn't make the cut though; from what I read, there was some tremendous competition and I'm honestly flattered and honoured that my entry was selected. I'm sure there were some great entries that slipped through the cracks. I was one of those last year and I know that feeling of deflated disappointment. I refuse to be superior and say I'm better. I'm not. More than anything, I feel like I won a raffle; my number was picked and I won a prize. I think good writing is involved but one thing I've learned since I started seriously writing and trying to get published is that I'm one of millions of good writers who are struggling to get read.

I will say that it really is about perseverence. I've whined about giving up writing a few times in this blog but when it comes down to it, I don't think I can. It's such a rollercoaster of highs and lows. I never like rollercoasters until I'm on one. I usually panic, kick up a stink and make myself nervous the whole way through the line waiting to ride. Then, as soon as it starts moving, I realize I do like that adrenaline rush a lot; it makes me feel alive

For me, this is my very first success with fiction. Even if I don't go further, I got this far. I got a review of a book I wrote that made me feel like a real writer. I got compared to Neil Gaiman. To me, that's a success in itself. I won't lie and say I don't want to make the next round, I do. Badly. Yet if I don't, I have something to boost me when I'm down. I've said all along that when success does comes for me, I'll appreciate more because of my struggle to get it. It's true. At the moment, I can't figure out who to thank at the moment, God, my mum, my sister, my friends and the strangers who've read my blog and offered me words of support. So I'll thank all of them/you. It's that kind of day.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Signs of Spring

It's a gloomy, dark Monday morning. I've already complained about not liking the earlier Daylight Savings Time. All I'll say is that it's been a week since the clocks moved forward and it's not any easier to get out of bed.

However, Spring is almost here. In fact, on Saturday, it will be the official first day of Spring. While I've enjoyed my first winter back in the Midwest after eight years, I am now looking forward to Spring. I went to my parents' house this weekend. They live out in the country and have a lovely big yard to walk around. The weather was mild enough that I got to take a few walks around it. Whereas a few weeks ago, the landscape was a bleached, muted sea of yellows and greys, there is definite signs of Spring creeping through.

I noticed that the grass is starting to subtly start to green up. It's hard to see unless you're looking for it but under the surface of dried winter-worn grass, there is a flash of green beginning to push through. Soon enough the lawn will be a fresh new green but its happening so covertly it's hard to notice unless you're looking for it.

The flower beds are starting to renew themselves too. Green shoots of daffodils are pushing up through the dirt, getting ready to bloom just in time for Easter. Crocuses and hyacinths are also getting ready to add their purples, whites and oranges to the sea of yellow daffodils. I love daffodils, their happy yellows a promise that warm days lies ahead. Soon the garden will be completely alive. I especially love my parent's garden in spring and summer. There's always something to eat. My absolute favourite is picking tomatoes from the garden and eating them when they're still warm from the sun. They always taste so much better than the ones you buy at supermarkets.

The birds are starting to build their nests. I watched one intrepid sparrow fly to the same spot at least eight times, a different piece of construction material for her nest in his mouth each time. It's nice to see them build their nests somewhere safe from the brutal wind. Too often I've come across nests that have been victims of strong gusty windstorms and the eggs lie broken on the ground.

I also almost got divebombed by some sparrows yesterday. My parents have this little shed in which they store their flowerpots and statuary during the winter. One year, we went in there only to discover the corpses of at least 12 sparrows. It was a little eerie. This year, I went in there to see what type of pots my parents had and discovered several sparrows frantically trapped in there. They seemed a little giddy from panic and thus, they flew at my head. It was, naturally, rather alarming. They didn't seem to know what to do to free themselves. The poor things kept throwing themselves at the same window, the 'clunk' as their heads hit the glass quite heartbreaking. I finally tried to herd them towards the open door and after one last kamikaze mission to fly into the window, two of the three birds found the open door.

That left one sparrow. This one seemed to have flown into the window one too many times or it wasn't that bright to begin with. It didn't want to leave. I felt bad for it, knowing that the safety of the shed was probably quite comforting to a little tiny bewildered creature but I also knew that if it didn't get out, it would die. I spent ages trying to herd that bird out. Finally, when I had my back turned, I think it found the open door. I didn't actually see it leave but I couldn't hear its thin, reedy chirp anymore and I think that means it had been freed. The thing is, we don't even know how the birds got in there in the first place. I've resolved to check that shed every time I'm home, just in case more birds get trapped.

It was nice to be able to walk outside. It's very muddy at the moment, boglike in some places but being able to survey the garden and not be freezing while you're doing it is a treat. I know we can still have some more winter weather; around here the danger of frost doesn't pass until early may. Yet even if we do have snow, it won't stick around. Spring is on its way, there's no doubt about it. Even if it is still pitch black in the mornings, the days are getting longer, the nights just a little shorter. Once the daffodils bloom, Spring is here.

I'm looking forward to it.

Happy Monday.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Three Days to ABNA Quarterfinals

It's Friday, a Friday the 13th to be exact. I didn't realize that it was Friday the 13th until I heard it on the radio. We had one of those last month. It turned out to be a rather lucky day because that was the day I found out that I wasn't going to lose my job as I had feared.

I'm hoping that today might be a lucky day too though I'll have to wait to see how the day unfolds. I know on Monday I'm going to try to focus greatly on not stressing about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. The semi-finalists are supposed to be notified on Monday. I don't want to care, I don't want to stress and yet a teeny-tiny part of me is hoping that I at least made the quarter-final rounds.
I hadn't been on the forums on the ABNA site for a while so I went on yesterday, just to see what was happening. One of the entrants in the contest is also an Amazon reviewer (known as Vine reviewers) and though she can't review any of the ABNA entries this year because of conflict of interest, she still has access to the reviewer forums. Yesterday, she was kind enough to post just a few of the comments that had been made by the Vine reviewers who are judging the ABNA entries. I thought it was nice of her. She made a point of saying it was only about 10% of the reviewer's opinions but the forum exploded in a mess of stress and panic anyway. Apparently, the Vine reviewers were fed up of first-person narratives and stories, women finding themselves after a midlife crisis and stories that were filled with profanity and bad language.

As is natural, the commentors on the forum began defending their own use of first-person narrative. They began to argue whether it was ok to use bad language in writing. They began to offer up examples of successful novels that defied what the Vine reviewers had said. I can't say I can't relate: The first thing I did when I read the Vine reviewer's comments was to mentally run through my novel and remind myself that I tend to write in third-person as a rule. I hadn't written a book about a women in a midlife crisis. I probably used a little profanity but only because that's how my character's talk. They're 20-30 something males who've had rather unhappy lives, they're going to say some bad words once in a while.

However, had I chosen to do any of those things in my novel that the Vine reviewers hadn't liked, I'm not sure that I would be one of those people stressing and getting defensive in the forums. Firstly, I tend to lurk and not post because of the constant thread hijacking, because I'm not fond of cliques because I find them a tad off-putting and intimidating and mostly because after my humbling experience last year, I am a little shy because there are some semi-professional writers in there who are way more experienced than me. Yet the main reason is as the initial generous poster said, it was only about 10% of the reviewers. For all we know, the other 90% of those Vine reviewers might have hated third person narratives, fantasy books, romances....any of the myriad of other things that weren't mentioned in the original post.

But I can't make fun of those people because I do understand them. We're getting close to the wire. It's like when you're waiting for an event to start, something you're so excited about that you've barely been able to wait. It's like you're waiting for something, anything to happen on that stage in front of you so that the waiting is over. A backstage worker comes out to adjust something and the whole house goes quiet for a second wondering if things are finally going to start. Warm-up music filters over the waiting audience and for a moment, you wonder if it means things have begun. Everything is something to get excited about because it's the only way to deal with the waiting. Yet it has been my experience that the event is always worth waiting for and when the lights finally do go down and the band or show begins to play, you'll know when it's happening and suddenly all that tension and excitement seems so worth it.

At least that's what I'm hoping on Monday evening. If not, well, I'll keep trying. One thing I've learned after my last brush with rejection is that I need to stop dwelling on those and write anyway. Whether short story, helping with a research paper on Machiavelli or a new idea for a novel, as long as I can find enjoyment from putting down words on paper, I think that means I've already won. When those words start flowing and I don't have to think, there's nothing like it in the world. Maybe it's not really about winning contests or getting published. Maybe the big event is the excitement of letting my passion for writing out, to weave the stories they find as they leave my brain and hit the paper. Whether it is or not, I like the idea anyway so that's what I'm going to believe, no matter what happens with the ABNA contest.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Daylight Savings Time: Wintering Forward

It's a gloomy Thursday outside, cold and grey. There was a magnificant sunrise starting to happen on the horizon. It was still dark when I got up. I hate when Daylight Savings Time happens. I had got used to the dawn twilight peeking in my window at 6:45 a.m. as if urging me to get up. As it got lighter, I became more awake. When I'd get home from work, it would be getting dark around 6:30 p.m. so that by the time I ate dinner, I could pull the blinds and settle in for the night.

Daylight Savings Time has ruined that pattern. Now when I wake up, it's still completely dark. When I woke up Monday morning, I seriously couldn't figure out why my alarm clock was going off. It seemed so early that I almost turned off the music that was trying to wake me up. Then I groggily realized that it was, in fact, time to get up. My body was not fooled. It knew that it was really only 5:45 a.m. but thanks to the conspirators of the universe, I had to go along with their sadistic plot to pretend it was an hour later.

I know that recently, they've moved the dates around as to when Daylight Savings Time begins and ends. It used to be a little later in the Spring and a little earlier in the Autumn. That made a little more sense. It gave the earth a little more time to spin so that it was not quite so dramatic a change to us. It also used to let us say "Spring Forward", "Fall Back" to remember which way to move the hour on the clock. Naturally, I find it necessary to point out that when move Daylight Savings Time up to WINTER, that nice little adage doesn't really help. Yes, it is still winter. Spring begins on March 21 (or 22, depending where you are). Daylight Savings Time happened on March 8th. Yes, people, we are now Wintering Forward but still Falling Back. That's a bit odd really, isn't it?

I know it's all about saving electricity and all that but some of us humans are already just a few steps away from wanting to hibernate in the winter (and yes, mum, I am actually talking about you). Thus, like a big fuzzy bear who is planning on sleeping until late March but is rudely awoken while it's still pitch black and freezing outside and then isn't allowed to sleep anymore, the new, earlier Daylight Savings Time is a little intrusive. There real sign of spring outside except for the fact that it no longer looks like Siberia but, rather, a grey soggy version of it and so it's a little unfair to expect us to instantly accept the change in time. It might not be so bad in places like California where their season exist of "Sunny with a chance of heavy rain", "Sunny with a less chance of rain but it's still possible," "Sunny and hot with no chance of rain whatsoever unless it's that weird drizzle that's just wet enough to make the cars look dirty" and "Sunny with a rare chance of rain but since it's Autumn, it could happen." Yet here, in the Midwest, it's still completely dark in the mornings. Also, I like it to get dark earlier at night. In the summer, it's nice to have long days. In the winter, it's nice to be able to cosily settle in the evenings and enjoy the glow of an electric fireplace.

I can still do that but I've been cheated. I have less time with my fireplace in the evenings and instead, that useful darkness is being forced on me in the mornings making it extremely hard to wake up. I'd like to be able to keep that darkness in the evenings a little longer, the way it used to be. I didn't like the change in time much then but at least it wasn't so dramatic, it evened out day and night a little better, rather like balancing just right on a see-saw so that it remains perfectly still rather.

I know in a week, darkness in the morning and light in the evenings will seem normal. Then the days will start to lengthen more noticeably and I'll wonder what I was complaining about. Then we'll have to move the clocks back and I'll complain about it not being dark in the mornings any more and have short the day feels because of the earlier night.

Yet, for now, I'm grousing about this side of the see-saw, the side that leaves my bedroom dark and inviting in the mornings when I have to leave my warm bed for the coldness of the late winter day. It's hard enough to get up in the mornings but when it's still dark, it can be nearly impossible. Of course, if I went to bed earlier, that might help but what fun would complaining be then?

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

I lived in the Midwest for quite a number of years before I moved to L.A. Yet somehow, in the eight year period of time that I lived in California, I managed to forget that just because you have a nice day in March doesn't mean that Spring is here. Yesterday, it was 75 degrees. It wasn't terribly sunny but the air had that balmy feel that made you want to stand outside and let the breeze wash over you. I stood on my balcony last night and had a glass of wine and it was as warm in the dark as it had been in the day.

This morning, it's freezing. My temperature gauge on my car read 39 degrees. That's a big difference. Instead of strolling from my car and enjoying the warmth, I scuttled, trying to stop my nose from getting cold. My nose gets really cold and I hate it. Just one of those odd quirks I have.

Yet in a way, it's quite nice to have variety. There's something quite nice about unpredicability. It's always there to surprise and sometimes you need that. Same goes for variety. It'd be nice if it were Spring but I'm still not quite ready to relinquish winter. I've missed it too much.

I tend to be a creature of habit. I have my comfort zones and I rarely like to stroll out of them. Yet, occasionally, I will try something new just to see if I like it. For example, this weekend, while I was flying on my oh-so-relaxing trip, I read a borrowed copy of the graphic novel, Watchmen. It's not the first graphic novel I've read. I wouldn't be much of a Neil Gaiman fan if I hadn't read his Sandman graphic novels which are amazing. I've read a few others too just because I'm fascinated by how great writing can be combined with great art. I knew Watchmen was highly regarded yet I wasn't sure what to expect. I figured it'd be a quick read but as soon as I encountered the first text-heavy excerpt from the fictional Behind the Hood novel, I realized it was going to take a while. I did still manage to read it on the plane but, by the time I was done, my head was spinning. It wasn't like anything I've really read before.

Watchmen is not a superhero novel. It is, in fact, an anti-hero novel. The main characters are a second generation of a group of masked avengers who originally banded together to stop crime in a way that the police could not. This generation is not so naive. Except for two of the Watchmen who now work for the government, the rest have been forced to retire or go into hiding because of an amendment added by Nixon that outlawed masked heroes. Now these former superheroes are a group of bitter, nihilistic wanderers who can't quite let go of the past but are trying to find their place in a world that supposedly doesn't need them

My favourite character is the tragic Rorschach, a man who now believes the mask he wears is he real face. His mask is an Rorschach inkblot, seemingly alive as it changes shape constantly with the movement of his face muscles. He is the last true avenger, refusing to go into hiding and executing vigilante justice because he feels the world is a morally blank canvas and if he rids the earth of the scum, it might at least have a chance. He's called a sociopath yet he seems to feel so much that it's turned him inside out. He's violent and cruel but his moral compass will never let him betray the belief that the world is black and white and you are either against evil or against good. He's a fascinating man, the only one of the Watchmen who doesn't give up on trying to save the world one villain at a time.

I saw the movie last night in Imax. I wasn't sure what to expect. The graphic novel is so long and intense that I couldn't imagine how it'd be adapted. However, I must say, I was impressed and amazed at how well it was done. There were shots that were real-life exact replicas of panels from the novel. The nihilistic tone was there, the characters flesh and blood rather than inked figures on a page. I don't think it's a movie for anyone who doesn't like a dark and twisty story and definitely not for someone who is uncomfortable with violence because it is spectacularly violent, gory and slightly twisted. They left out a couple of the story lines which I think was to their credit. Yet they kept everything tight, respectful of the original material and added just a touch of humour with some of the music choices.

I read this weeks Entertainment Weekly review of the movie. I don't know why I do that, honestly. Rarely do I agree with the reviewers who seem to have put themselves on a pedestal and have lost complete touch with what makes a movie good. They have their own ideas but they seem to forget that movies are supposed to entertain and inspire thinking rather than to have thesaurus-heavy meanings. The Watchmen review was written by Owen Gleiberman who said at the end of the review:

[Director Zach Snyder] doesn't move the camera or let the scenes breathe. He crams the film with bits and pieces, trapping his actors like bugs wriggling in the frame...
...On the page, Watchmen was a paranoid, mind-tripping pastiche of everything from The Incredible Hulk to Naked Lunch. But when characters who are knowing throwbacks are literally brought to life on screen, they can seem more like half-hearted ripoffs. A no-future nihilism bled from the very grain of Moore and Gibbons' pop vision of the 20th century. But that's a real problem for the movie, since the Cold War nuclear fears of the '80s never did come to pass. Watchmen isn't boring, but as a fragmented sci-fi doomsday noir, it remains as detached from the viewer as it is from the zeitgeist.

Here's the thing: If Mr. Gleiberman really did read Watchmen, he should have felt the exact same way about the graphic novel. The novel doesn't let you breathe, it's so crammed with action, emotion, metaphor and horror that you feel like you need to put it down just to be able take a full gulp of air. And the entire time I was reading, I felt detached from it and I think that was the point. I loved it, I devoured it but I never felt like I was part of the story. Rather, I felt as though I were being warned. So what if the Cold War fear of the '80's never came to pass? It still could. It's not like nuclear weapons have become tame little puppies that just need a little love. They can still kill us in a second. It's not Russia anymore, it's the Middle East.

No, I think what Mr. Gleiberman fails to recognize is that Watchmen in movie or graphic novel format is not about the Cold War, it's about human nature. It is doomsday noir but that doomsday is a darkness that has spread through human nature until the American Dream realized has become the American Nightmare. It's a long-distance warning, something that doesn't seem possible because it's so other, so fictional that it doesn't seem plausible. Yet, like with every good work of fiction, if you peer closely, you'll see that the fibers that hold the story together are familiar, something that we see every day even if we don't want to.

If you're into fiction that is so dark that it sometimes makes your skin crawl, I highly recommend reading Watchmen. It will make you uncomfortable but, at the same time, it will make you think. Just because it has pictures doesn't make it one of the best contributions to literature that I've read in a while. Now I just need to buy my own copy.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Finding Wonder in Modern Technology

I'm a little late blogging today. I took the opportunity to grab a couple of extra hours of sleep this morning to catch up from the weekend. I'm feeling a little more awake now and even managed to bring my phone to work today instead of forgetting it or mistaking it for an airline snack.

I was watching TV last night, my normal hour of Jack Bauer on a Monday night and I saw this advertisement for a car. I'm horrible about cars, to be honest. I know what I drive. I sort of know what my friends and family drive but when it comes to identifying, I tend to use terms like "it's blue," or, "it looks like a bar of soap" or "It's boxy". I don't know names of cars very much. So, I can't actually tell you what type of car it was I saw advertised.

I've probably seen this advertisement a few times before and other similar versions of it but last night, I actually watched it properly. This car is scary. Basically, you call out things to it and it does them. You tell it to play a certain CD and the car puts it on. You command it with your voice to do things like turn on the lights, turn up the heat, all kinds of fancy stuff like that.

Nowadays, it's really not that surprising. I mean, we now have technology on our phones or PDA's that allow us to pull up a map and see where we're standing and even to sync up with someone else to see their exact location on the same map.

Seeing this commercial got me thinking. We're living in the future, the shiny sci-fi future that people in the 1950's and earlier could only imagine. When I was watching that car commercial, I suddenly wondered how someone from the early 1950 would feel if they were flash-forwarded to 2009. Back then, they had those cute little cars with the wings on the sides and the most advanced thing you could do with them was step on the accelerator and try to go faster. It was a world in which teenagers used to pin one another with an ACTUAL pin, not some sexual metaphor that it would be today.

Sometimes, I think it would be nice to live in the 1950's. I'm sure there were problems then but I like the fact that it was slower world, one seemingly less jaded. Of course, if I were in the '50's, I'd be a lost cause. I wouldn't be a Bridget Jones-esque singleton searching for her Mr. Right, I'd be a spinster, written off as unmarriable and still living with my parents. Well, maybe. Then again, maybe I wouldn't have been so picky and I would have been married to my high school sweetheart. Maybe I actually would have had a high school sweetheart since I am sort of rewriting history.

Then I do stop and think about the components that make up our lives today. I'm an internet junkie. Living in the 1950's would seriously put a damper on that and if I tried to get someone to invent it, I'd probably be locked up for being crazy. Can you imagine trying to explain to somone in 1950 that in 50 years time we'll be driving around in cars that can do everything but steer themselves (and I'm sure THAT's not far behind)? Can you imagine telling them that everyone has cell phones, even children, that you can order pizza on a computer, that you can order pizza through your Tivo? Actually, can you imagine explaining Tivo? Because then you'd have to explain satellite TV and how you can pick up channels from around the world. I, for one, would rather like to sit Mr. 1950's down in front of, say, TFC (the Filipeno Channel) and the show WoWoWee. Now, talk about a surreal experience. It's a variety show and sometimes they play games. My favourite is "Coca Cola" where they compete for cash and prizes by calling out squares on a screen and seeing what's underneath. Contestants get so excited and they shout "Coca-Cola!" so enthusiastically, they make you want to grab a Coke and shout with them.

I digress. As usual. Anyway, what I'm saying is that in the space of 59 years, our world has evolved. I'm not talking monkey-to-human type evolution but, rather, evolution of life as we once would have known it. It makes me think of "Back to the Future" and the comic books that George McFly would read. They weren't so far off, not really. I'm not dignifying the sequel to that movie, it just wasn't worth it. Yet even since the 1980's, we've gone from super clunky home computers that needed cassette tapes and tape recorders to load games and programs and would crash if you so much as bumped the tape recorder during a load to sleek computers that boot up almost instantly and load everything automatically.

The world is changing constantly. In a few years, I'm sure the technology will exist to put a car on autopilot. After that, they'll figure out how to make cars fly or something like that. Now given my experience with flying over the past weekend, I could get behind that one. It doesn't really matter what the next development will be just that it makes even brand new gadgets obsolete. Technology is changing too quickly; it's an expensive hobby with which to keep up. My iPod mini can attest to that, once my believed music player, now relegated to a glorified external hard drive. What scares me most is the Kindle and other electronic book systems. As an avid reader, I can't get behind that one. I like the smell of a book too much, the feel of the pages, the thrill I get when I pull it off the library shelves. I like to hug a really good book when I'm done and I don't think it would be the same with the Kindle. I get that it means thousands of books at my fingertips but I don't want that. I want to be able to take my time and browse to find my next read in a bookstore or library and feel that excitement when I turn the pages and know that until I turn that last page, it's like I have a friend waiting patiently for me to find time to spend with it. I hope the Kindle isn't going to replace books, that's all I can say.

My point is that so many of the things we use we take for granted. Technology is just there. We forget to view it as a wonder. Taking a mental trip back in time and then attempting to look at what we have today is a great way to appreciate how far we've come, for better or for worse.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why I Hate Flying by Captain Monkeypants

Firstly, I must apologize for the lack of blog on Friday. I didn't get a chance to post, unfortunately. However, I am back today after a bit of a crazy weekend. You see, I very recently decided to take a trip to L.A. For a weekend. At the time it seemed like a great idea. On paper, it seems so smart, fly in early Friday morning, fly out Sunday- plenty of time to hang out with friends. I'd also get to see "Rent" which is one of my all-time favourite musicals.

Except things never really turn out as planned, do they?

So, it started with the trip to the airport. I have a GPS that is sometimes possess by what sounds like the voice of satan. I'm not the only one who has heard this voice now. My poor mother was in the car a few weeks ago and we were driving in my car. I hadn't needed to enlist the aid of GPS because I knew where I was going. That didn't stop my GPS from interjecting with a rather scary sounding "BLEEUGH!" in the middle of a conversation between my mother. It sounded like "BLEEUGH!" anyway. For all I know, it could have been my GPS saying "I'm going to kill you and eat you." Who knows? It made my mother jump a little, that's for sure.

Anyway, so I asked my GPS to take me to the Cincinnati airport. Stupidly, I think I must have hit the "shortest distance" option rather than the "fastest route" option. I ended up going through all sorts of scary Kentucky woods, up hills that were almost vertical and being scared to death I was going to tumble down a ravine. That was a little alarming. By the time I got to the airport, I made a vow to always choose "fastest route" on my GPS because I don't like wondering if I'm going to end up murdered by a chainsaw in some backwards of Kentucky merely because I thought seeing "Rent" in L.A. with two of the original cast members was a good idea.

That should have been the first sign that the trip was not going to be smooth. Then my flight from Cincinnati was late leaving. Ok...as long as I landed with enough time to make my next flight. Except when we got to Minneapolis where I was supposed to hop on my connecting flight, we ended up circling the airport for at least 30 minutes. By the time we landed, my next plane was literally supposed to be taking off.

Here's where I add a strongly worded editorial note to Northwest Airlines and Delta.

Dear Delta and Northwest Airlines,

Congratulations on merging. I think that's lovely. One slight problem I have though: I booked a flight on Delta. You put me on one Delta Flight and one Northwest. You would not let me check in online because your computer said they were two different airlines. Also, because both of you are housed in completely different terminals at most of the airports, it makes getting from one flight to another virtually impossible. Also...at this moment in time, I despise both of your airlines. A lot. Please make sure I get my frequent flier miles.

Sincerely,

Captain Monkeypants.

Yes. I landed in Minnesota with the promise from Delta that there'd be carts standing by to take those of us with tight connections to our gates. There were no carts. None. I discovered my gate was seriously about a mile away. Picture an airport with a hub, each one having little sun-like rays coming off it. Now picture a gate at the end of one of those rays and the gate that would be opposite on the other side of the hub. Now try running from the first gate to the second gate with luggage. Yes, that was me. It was a very, very long run. I had heavy luggage. All I can say is thank goodness I've been working out. I was a big old wheezing, sweaty mess by the time I got to my second gate. They were about to close the door. I made it. Of course, I discovered my row had assumed I wasn't coming so the middle seat person and window person had shuffled. Middle-seat-lady had wanted to sit by the window. She was a big lady. It took a while for her to get to the aisle so the real window-seat-person could take his actual seat instead of mine. Middle-Seat-Lady was very angry at me and muttered in Spanish. I don't speak much Spanish. I think I was glad then. She spent the entire flight accidentally elbowing me as she tried to get comfortable. She had an enormous blanket that kept creeping into my space. I'm not usually mean but she was a big lady and she leaked a into my space rather a lot already. I ignored her and tried to sleep. It didn't work but at least I tried.

Of course, somewhere between Middle-Seat-Lady's 'tsk-ing' and me actually getting my breath back, I realized I'd lost my phone. Yes, my lovely little Verizon Chocolate phone had fallen out of my pocket somewhere between my bolting from one plane, dashing through the airport and making it to my second flight. This was my fault and pure stupidity. You see, Delta gives you these tasty Biscoff cookies. They quite a large packet and, if you're a little punchy and tired from flying and taking the scary way to the airport, they have about the same size and shape as an LG Chocolate phone. I was wearing a sweatshirt with a big pocket in the front. I put the cookies in this pocket because though I didn't want to eat them, I wanted to save them for later. During my mad dash to the second gate, I patted this pocket and thought those cookies were my phone. So I kept running, got on my flight and pulled out my 'phone' to text my friend who was picking me up from the airport.

Have you ever tried to text on a package of Biscoff cookies? Yeah, not easy. In fact, sadly, not possible.

It was then that I realized I had been prematurely parted from my Chocolate phone. I loved that phone. I knew I could attempt to track it down but given that Delta and I have rarely had a smooth flying experience together, I doubted that I'd get it back.

Thus, my first morning in L.A. was spent talking Verizon into letting me renew my contract a little early. Verizon does not like to do this. Fortunately, I managed to convince them that while I did, indeed, have one month left on my current contract it was only a month and wouldn't they rather lose a month of my contract that have me leave them for another phone company? They agreed. I now have a Blackberry Curve. I refuse to allow it to become a 'Crack'berry. I've seen 'Crack'berry addicts. While they have the world of the internet at their fingertips, they seem to forget that there's actual life going on around them and that sometimes, you just have to ignore the beeps and glow of the Blackberry's little red light that indicates yet another message is waiting. I am working on fighting this urge to check my new phone. It doesn't help that it no longer seperates my text messages from my emails and so whenever any type of message comes in, it alerts me. I think I need to figure out how to seperate the notifications. At the moment, it's got a lot of shiny icons and i don't really know what they do.

Once I had the phone, I felt better. I didn't have my address book which made it hard because I would have liked to have called a friend in L.A. to say hi but I didn't get a chance. However, the weekend was a whirlwind anyway. So many people, so little time. It was fun but I can safely say that next time, I need more time to not only recover from my rather horrid flying experience but to actually stop and have a vacation.

I will say that it was nice to see my old friends and haunts again, even briefly. Seeing "Rent" was nothing short of amazing. It's been a show I have loved for years but, I confess, as I grew older, I was a little worried I was losing touch with it and I wondered, just a little, why they didn't just pay their damn rent instead of singing about it. However, this production reminded me that "There's No Day but Today", the theme of the show. Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp were unbelievable. It felt historic seeing those two 'legends of Rent' perform their roles as though they were brand new to them.

I did get to eat all the food I miss from Ohio: Vietnamese pho, Zankou chicken with taboule and hummus, and Filipeno palabok and chicken. Aside from my friends and my West Coast 'family', the food is probably what I miss most. Sad but true.

Naturally, flying home didn't prove to be easy. My first plane tried to land during a thunderstorm. I watch too much Lost on TV. I half expected a sudden flash of light and then finding myself stranded on a desert island. I like that outcome more than crashing to my doom, splintered into a hundred pieces on the ground. That flight was horribly bumpy and a bit hairy for a few minutes. The second flight got stuck because of a computer issue. We were almost an hour and a half late taking off. Thus, I arrived at my apartment at 1 a.m.

Lessons learned from this trip:

1) Biscoff cookies do not make good cell phones
2) Always sit at the front of the plane so that you don't have to run people over when trying to get off to make your next flight.
3) Travelling to a place that has a three-hour time difference during Daylight Savings weekend makes it really, really hard to get up for work on a Monday morning.
4) Wear tennis shoes to travel so that running is a little easier.

I'm sure there are more lessons there but this blog is already long enough for one day. Of course, I just realized that I left my stupid Blackberry at home but, at least I know where it is this time. I think.

Happy Monday.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

TV Promo Overkill and an Ode to Nathan Fillion...

So, I watch a lot of TV. This might explain why, in addition to this blog, I also attempt to maintain a TV-related blog. Lately, it's been more of a "Dissecting Grey's Anatomy" blog because that show, formerly one of my favourites, is rapidly going down on my "Top Five Shows to Watch on a Weekly Basis" list.

I don't have cable or satellite. I know I've told you that before so I'm sure it's not a new revelation. I used to not have cable or satellite because I couldn't afford them; nowadays it's by choice. I won't say I don't miss having the endless ability to flip channels. I am a sucker for those travel shows where people eat odd foods like bugs. I watched on the other night at my parent's. It was Jeff Corwin who I believe used to be on Animal Planet after "The Crocodile Hunter." He went to Thailand, travelled throughout the country and ate all kinds of bugs ranging from ants that apparently emit an acid when threatened and that taste rather good in a salad with chilli to cockroaches (or something resembling them) that were deep fried and spicy. Not my sort of snack but I quite enjoy seeing what other people are willing to eat.

I digress. My original point is that I have rabbit ears on my TV and thanks to that "convert to digital television" warning that flashed across every television program for, like, two years, I have a nice little analog-to-digital converter box on both of my tv sets. It makes the picture better even though they've extended the time for people to switch over in case they were unaware they had to. My slight issue with that is that anyone who watches TV currently had to have known about the switch. Aside from the distracting scroll across the screen, each network had handy little commercials with celebrities TELLING people to get a converter box, just in case someone couldn't read. Chances are, if you needed to switch, you'd know about it already. I am aware that there are poorer areas of the U.S. who are a little behind on news like that but, seriously, if they had a television that they had to convert because they watched it regularly, even they'd know that they had to switch. Nevertheless, I have a better picture now even if I do get digital static rather than analog.

I digress. Again. So, due to my lack of cable, I watch a lot of network TV. It has come to my attention that the Networks are killing their own new shows by advertising them too much. For example, I watch Lost on a weekly basis. During each episode (including the nifty "Pop-up Lost" that plays before each new episode), ABC has decided to promote their new show Castle. Castle is a show staring the fantastic Nathan Fillion and the lady who played Nina on 24 and tried to kill Jack Bauer. This makes her my enemy.

However, the first few times I saw the preview, I thought it looked like a lot of fun. The premise is that Nathan Fillion plays a bestselling mystery writer. Nina-from-24 plays a detective. Nathan wants to base a character on her so he shadows her. He's a womanizing smooth-tongued playboy, she's a no-nonsense cop. It's not the most original premise but, well, it has Nathan Fillion in it. If you are unawre of Nathan Fillion's brilliance then you clearly haven't seen Firefly or the big screen sequel "Serenity". You must not have seen him play the evil preacher who almost killed Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You also must have missed Dr. Horrible's Sing-along-Blog which is, in my opinion, bloody brilliant. It's a musical by Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy and much other brilliance). Fillion plays Captain Hammer. He has a line "The hammer is my penis." He's a ham, he's a used-car-salesman but he has that naughty charm that makes you just adore him.

However, I have now seen the preview so many times that I feel like I might have seen the entire first episode. I no longer think it looks like a more relaxed version of Bones, only funnier. I'm fed up with it and the show doesn't even air the first episode until Monday. Fox has also done this with their shows in the past though not so much with the new Joss Whedon show Dollhouse which NEEDS promoting because Fox has put it in the exact same time slot that killed Firefly a few years back. NBC...same thing. I know they have to promote their shows but they could cut back a little. It's really not just the major networks, either. When I watch BBC America at my parents, they promote their new shows to death. I think there is such a thing as overkill.

You may wonder why I didn't post this in my TV blog. Well, I did have a reason though I've digressed from it. There is one good thing I saw in the Castle promos. There's a scene where Nina-from-24 and her team of police are wearing those bulletproof vests that say "POLICE" in large letters. Nathan Fillion's character isn't a policeman but he's wearing one anyway only his says "Writer." I thought that was hilarious and, instantly, I wanted one. I think it would be not only a silly fun thing to own but I think it would be a great symbol. It could be my 'rejectionproof vest', one that would save me from feeling so hopeless and despondant when I get the toughest rejections. When I saw it, I was having my weekly Lost viewing party with my friend. She wants a Dharma Initiative jumpsuit like the ones they sell on Lost. And yes, those are available in ABC.com's Lost store. We made a deal, if I get that vest, she gets the jumpsuit and we wear them to work. That would be cool. And silly. But still rather cool.

Seriously though, I loved that vest in spite of the fact that I'm sick to death of Castle already. I think it would be a great thing to own. It probably wouldn't look as good on me as it does on Nathan Fillion but I don't think that would matter.

Sorry to ramble again but it's that kind of week. At least it's not about panda bears again. Thanks for reading.

Happy Thursday.

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