Monday, October 31, 2016

#NovelSnip: Havoc at the Drama Board

#amwriting, #novelsnip, fiction, women's fiction

It's been awhile since I've shared a snippet of my creative writing project! Here's a longer bit - the inciting incident for the antagonist. If you want, you can leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

Elizabeth pulled her black Mercedes E-Class into the Liston High parking lot at 2:28.  She cut the engine in a visitor spot in front of the Performing Arts entrance and watched the doors for activity.  

As a member of the Theater Booster Board, surely she was justified in her desire to review the cast list.  She’d then be able to contact the parents of the first-time actors, welcoming them the LHS theater family and coordinating their donations to the Theater Booster Fund.  She could even, after double checking addresses - god forbid any lead characters be enrolled from outside Liston - suggest carpools.
She double-checked the pocket of her down jacket for her cell phone.  Her idea was to snap a quick photo of the cast list, leave before Andrew or Tracy saw her, and zip over to Starbucks to speculate about Derus’s choices with Helen.
Elizabeth clicked open the driver’s side door and hurried out, looking left and right on her way to the theater entrance, betting that, as usual, a student hoping to catch an illicit smoke over lunch, had left it propped.  Sure enough, she pulled open the door and beelined for the bulletin board, stopping short when Alice Thompson, the arts teaching aid, stepped out of her office ahead of her.  
“Damnit!” Elizabeth thought, inhaling sharply and twisting her mouth into a smile.  Alice glanced over her right shoulder and stopped, surprised.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

On Hating Fun

hate fun, halloween, team building, grammar police

Everyone knows that I hate fun. Dan was the first to name this trait, but once he did, I felt kind of free. I knew in my heart that I've pretty much always hated fun, and frankly, it felt good to finally be myself.

Group ice breakers?

Teams-building courses with colleagues?

Easter egg hunts and rolls?

Pumpkin carving?

Even happy hour if there are too many people there, and it's too loud?

I don't really like any of these things.  I'll do them out of politeness or professionalism, but I definitely won't enjoy them. Even if I'm laughing and looking like I'm having a good time, I'm probably not. I simply refuse to enjoy things that are fun.

So, it should be clear then, that I also hate Halloween in general, and costumes in particular. Some of my super cute students, though, have been asking about my costume for Monday.

"Oh," I told them, wrinkling my nose. "I'm not dressing up." They stared at me, maybe thinking I was kidding. "I don't like fun," I continued. They blinked.

"But I have an idea for you!" one of them said, adorably hopeful.

"Tell me," I acquiesced.

"You should be the grammar police!"

Now that IS an idea. "I'll keep it in mind," I told the sixers, raising my index finger for emphasis. And sure enough? I think I might actually dress up this year. I need a white t-shirt and a Sharpie, on which I'll write snarky messages like, "An apostrophe won't make your family's name plural, I promise." I also need a police cap (Walgreens?!) and a red felt-tip correcting pen.

Easy peasy AND super not fun. Can you think of a bigger buzz kill than someone who corrects you're your grammar? This is the perfect costume for me.

Mac also hates things.

Three more things I hate from the This American Life blogging challenge.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: Picking Up Steam

Writerly Wednesday, Anna Quindlen, Liane Moriarty, Ann Patchett, women's fiction

It seems like I've read quite a few books lately that are good in the beginning, but absolutely wonderful in the last third. I'm reading one like that - Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen - right now. Quindlen has been on my list of favorite authors since my early twenties, but she moved up a few notches when I heard her speak in September. 

Here are some tidbits from her talk that made me feel awesome:
  • Quindlen doesn't care for the descriptor, "women's fiction." Of course, just yesterday I researched the genre for my own fiction writing project, and it's probably "women's fiction." This is a term you use to sell your book to an agent or editor, but it all - literary fiction, genre fiction, upmarket fiction, book club fiction - gets shelved together in the same section of the bookstore. Do you know why Quindlen hates the "women's" distinction? I bet you can guess. It's because it relegates writing by women, with a primary audience of women to a lesser status. As she puts it, it reveals a "lack of respect for women's lives." And, all of it is really "women's fiction" because women purchase about 80% of hardcover fiction sold.
  • After Quindlen finishes a manuscript, she reads the entire thing aloud to herself. Connection! I also do this, but with every blog post and every important email. She says it takes a week. And when, she's finished reading it, she proclaims out loud, "This is good work." She does that because the concept of "audience" is slippery. It's her own voice that matters.
  • Reading, according to Quindlen, is a democratic act. We practice empathy, we gain knowledge and perception of nuance. There's no "I'm too busy to read." Reading is always worth the time. It's how we stay in the light as a people and as a society.
Don't you want to read something by Anna Quindlen right now? I think you should. I like One True Thing quite a whole lot, and this latest one is fantastic, too. Or you could check out this column she wrote in 1992 ('92!) suggesting that Hillary Clinton would be a fantastic president.



Every feminist has a "slacks" story.

Whispering feminism to high school boys.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Arts Round Up


Theater: I saw Sense and Sensibility at the Guthrie Theater last weekend. It was utterly delightful, with all the heart I remembered from the novel (Austen, obvi) and the movie (Thompson, natch). I can't be alone in favoring stories wherein people who are wholesome and good and filled with integrity win out in the end. This is one of those. Also, the staging was cool with a large turntable in the middle of the set, meant to symbolize movement between spaces and also the whirling and unpredictable alliances and dissolutions of well-to-do society. I like plays, as it turns out. I'm going to another one, called The Oldest Boy, soon. The same gal who directed Sense is taking on this one. It'll probably be just as good.

Audiobooks: I'm in the middle of The Boys in the Boat, narrated by the warm-voiced, and I choose to believe warm-hearted, Edward Herrmann. The story of a scrappy eight-man crew headed for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin is riveting all on its own, but I think it's made even more so by Herrmann's perfect narration. If you like underdog stories, true stories, sports stories, or just any old good story, you might want to consider this recording. I can already tell it's going to make my list of Favorite Listens of 2016.

Music: Although I've reviewed music at least once, I'm not good at it, and I don't have any music to review today.

Podcasts: I like all of the usuals, but the one I won't miss these days is The West Wing Weekly. Of course, I also watch the corresponding television episode each week - the one they're going to discuss. Last week's was the one where people are mean to Ainsley Hayes, and to make up for it, Sam, Toby, Josh, and CJ decorate her office with Gilbert and Sullivan posters. As the podcasters pointed out, there were a few problems with the episode, but I don't care. I love that moment when they sing the HMS Pinafore song. The lesson to me is this: sometimes things that aren't perfect still work.

Media Report: February 2016

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Please Stop Flipping Your Water Bottle

example of a water bottle, water bottle flipping

There's a fad right now that's driving me insane. Kids (and I guess some adults), enjoy filling water bottles to a certain level with liquid, flipping the bottles in the air, and hoping they land either on their bases or, extra excitingly, on their caps. 

Kids are doing it in the hallways, in the classrooms, on the sports fields and aboard their busses. They're doing it all, excuse me, the flipping time. They're doing it right here on my kitchen counter way more often that I would like. Which is ever. 

The fact that I hate the flipping does, I admit, make me feel old. Yes, I feel crotchety when I tell kids that I hate the sound they're making with their hobby. And that they're driving me generally crazy. And please, for the love of all that is good in the world, to stop flipping that stupid thing.

I might be experiencing a new nervous condition related to the water bottle flipping fad. I don't know what it's called. Maybe, Generational Misunderstanding Due to Plastic Bottle Flippage? Whatever it is, I need relief.



Monday, October 17, 2016

Annals of Elimination Dieting

quitting sugar, quitting caffeine, elimination diet, anxiety,

Can we just talk for one hot second about how I quit coffee last week? 

Yes. I did it. 

When I went to see my new doctor last Tuesday, she asked me how much coffee I drink. 

"I mean, all of it," I said.

The doctor laughed pretty heartily then, and I felt gratified that she thought I was funny.

I think she also thought it was just generally funny that I chose to drink a pot or two of coffee per day, while also complaining of anxiety and psoriasis.

When the doctor stopped laughing, she said, "You can't do that. You can't drink all the coffee." She wrote as much on my homework and said to wean off of it by cutting a quarter per day.

I did that last week, and now I haven't had any coffee since Saturday.  I do have a low grade-type headache, but otherwise, the symptoms aren't that bad. My energy is high, my mood is good, and I can drink green tea now. That has caffeine, but it doesn't cause the same digestive problem. There's something that happens to the coffee bean when its roasted, you see, which alters its chemistry or something and makes it tough to digest. Green tea, though, has caffeine to stem my headache and also a compound in it that actually acts like Xanax, but isn't habit forming.

My doctor told me all of that herself. I'm paraphrasing.

I also want to talk for a couple more seconds about how I quit sugar last week, but I hate to brag.


When Shef and Dan told me to "try harder" at tying skates.

The November 2015 Bragging Challenge.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Annals of Fall: Hanging in There

teaching, school, writing

Can you even believe it's the end of the first quarter? It's true. Grades are just about due, and conferences are on the horizon. Here's a list of random things that are on my mind:

At school this week, one poor little sixer called me "Mom." The children are mortified when this happens, but I think it's cute.

I've made a list of all of the things I have to grade this weekend. The list is long.

The piles of laundry that have to be folded are obvious to all, as is the stinkiness of the dog.

I'm going to submit 3000 edited words to my writing teacher by tomorrow. My writing group is getting another 1500-2000.

My new integrative medicine specialist told me that while 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise works for depression, if your problem is anxiety, you need 40 minutes of moderate exercise 4-5 times per week.

This morning I took the dog for a run around the lake. In addition to being stinky, he has a bit of a weight problem.

I plan to write an audiobook review of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead sometime today, before I go see Sense and Sensibility at the Guthrie Theater.

And, right now I'm getting into the Dead Sea salt bath with a side of stress-relieving meditation app. Before I start all of that other stuff.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Annals of Medicine: The Elimination

annals of medicine, psoriasis

The last time I had an Annals of Medicine, I talked about three people looking up my butt. Today, I'm going to tell you something different. 

It's great news! And mostly not at all like a bulbous, purple hemorrhoid that I showed to a room full of people. 

Here it is: I went to see a specialist in integrative medicine who will take a giant swing at my psoriasis with nutritional coaching and an investigation of my gut biome! Yaaay!

Here's what happened: First I had to give the doctor a comprehensive run-down of my odd and sundry medical history, including the Epic Face Infection of 2014.  

Remember that time my face blew up?! That was so weird and ugly.

Interestingly enough, my doctor thinks that exact infection may have had a lasting impact, in that it could have altered the balance of bacteria in my intestines. We won't know if the doctor's hypothesis is viable until she gets the results of my poop test back. For the poop test, I have to defecate into a tray. The tray is like the kind you get cheese curds in at the Fair. Then, I have to carefully divide the feces into a couple of vials with the included tongue depressor and mini spoons. There's a big reminder card in the box that says, "MORE IS NOT BETTER." Apparently, they lab only wants a certain amount of my poop. After I've followed all of the directions, I Fed Ex my feces to the lab in the biohazard bag. 

Obviously, I spent a lot of time laughing at the doctor's careful and extensive directions about poop sampling. 

The other data point the doctor needs is the results of a complete elimination diet. She thinks my problem might be something called leaky gut. One cause of that is food sensitivity. To check that next hypothesis, I can't eat any of my favorite foods for the next four weeks. While I wrote this, though, I had gluten-free oats with banana, apples, and some pumpkin pie spice on top. 

That's not a bad way to start an elimination diet, I don't think, except you'll notice there was no coffee.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train


My friend Adriana got more than she bargained for when she accompanied me to The Girl on the Train on Friday night. We both liked the novel (it's on my list of top-five audiobooks of 2015), and although I was worried about it being too creepy/scary, I looked forward to seeing it.

Well, Adriana and I have hugged before, certainly, but on the occasion of our movie date, I spent the better part of 112 minutes hanging on her arm and/or burying my face in her shoulder. We were very, very close during this film. I'm not even sorry because I didn't have a choice.

It's not like I didn't know what was going to happen in this suspenseful flick. It's faithful to the blockbuster novel, with most scenes just as I recall them and in the order I expected. I kept hanging on her because the violent scenes I knew were coming are really brutal and disgusting. I guess violence in real life is also that way, so maybe the artistic choice makes sense. But, as a viewer, it felt gratuitous. At one point, in anticipation of a scene where I knew there'd be a gruesome death, I excused myself to the bathroom, only re-entering when I knew it'd be over.

The sex is nasty, too. I leaned over to Adriana and said, "There's a lot of f&*ed up sex in this movie." There totally is - explicit copulations enacted for all the wrong reasons. That happens in the book, but it pained me to watch.

All of the discomfort might have been worth it if the movie had something interesting to say.  
If it does, I didn't get it. The ending - meant to reassure me that things turned out okay for the main character - seemed heavy-handed and cheap. There is a series of shots that I think are the Three Muses, meant to represent the interconnectedness of the three main characters. I hate to say this, but that seemed kind of dumb.

Also not super great were the tight, tight close-ups of the three main characters' faces. In the book, they're all hopelessly unreliable as narrators. In the movie, it the uber close shots are saying, "Hey, Viewer! Word to the wise! You're not getting a larger picture!" It seemed too literal and distracting.

Of course, I'm glad to have seen The Girl on the Train. I'm not saying you shouldn't see it. But, I do like most movies and I was only "meh" on this one. Probably you shouldn't see it if haven't read the book, or if you read it and didn't like it. If that's your situation, I think you might hate this movie.



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Quarterly Review

Quarterly Review, book reviews, links, change, psoriasis

It's that time again. Actually, it was that time four days ago. But you know what? I'm trying my best. Plus, better late than never.

HERE is the 1st Quarterly Review of 2016; HERE's the second.

Now this is the third:

The Three Best Books I Read in the Third Quarter:
  • It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. Hilarity and history meld in a heartfelt story that takes place in Newport Beach, California during the Iran hostage crisis. The sixers just finished reading and discussing this. They really liked it. I'm not surprised because it has a great mix of laughs, friendship, cultural conflict, and middle school.
  • The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. I wrote a full review of this at Literary Quicksand. In the review, I reported that I "flat-out loved" it.  It's true. Short version: this compassionate and witty novel is a feminist story for all ages.
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith. I got obsessed with Smith's memoir and couldn't stop tweeting about it. Once again, I reviewed it at LQ, the audio version, this time. This will certainly make my top 5 nonfiction picks of 2016. If I listed the top 3, it would still make it. It would probably make the top 1.
Three Changes I Made in the Third Quarter:
  • All food dyes are really bad for me. I already knew Red Dye 40 activated my psoriasis terribly. Now, every time I eat anything that has artificial color, I get super itchy. It's not worth it. I quit food dyes for good. It's like the time I quit Diet Coke.
  • I take baths every couple of days. I put salts from the Dead Sea in the water, and add a couple of drops of essential oils. While I'm in there I meditate and read and no one talks to me. This has been good for my mental health, as well as my chronic skin condition.
  • I've gotten really into essential oils, in general, not just for my bath. This happened because of our former babysitter Claire. Claire's no longer in a sorority at the University of Minnesota, which is where we found her when Mac was born. Instead she's an occupational therapist and a mom herself. She told me a story about how she applies a blend of essential oils before she works with a difficult family, and things go more smoothly. When she said this, I yelled, "I'm in!" in her face.
Three People I Know Who Do Good Work:
Ok! see you in December! You know what else is in December? The year-end book reviews. I'm pretty sure the book I just finished will be the best book I read this year. But just in case, I'll keep reading.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

3 Reasons My Life is Sad

Jay Cooke State Park, Hiking, Aging, Trail Running

Reason #1: My idea of a good time these days is two and-a-half hours in the car. Here's the story: Shef was dying to run a race in Duluth, a picturesque city located two and-a-half hours north of home. But he couldn't catch the bus because of stupid hockey try-outs.  I quickly agreed to drive him up there, asking, "You'll want to take the bus home, right?" Because if he did, do you know what would happen? I would be alone in the car. I would listen to the audiobook I've been trying to finish (Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad this time.) And, I would be free to stop at the State Park pictured above, which leads me to..

Reason #2: I stopped at Jay Cooke State Park with the idea of taking a power walk in the woods and thinking about the characters in my novel. Anna Quindlen says she does this kind of composition on the move, and who wouldn't want to be like Anna Quindlen? Well, the day was so beautiful and the designated Hiking Club trail was so inviting, that I began to jog.  Immediately, I began sucking wind. Still, I willed those feet in motion, alternately walking fast and running slow. What's sad about this is that I'm in not-so-good physical condition. Also sad is the other topic I fantasized about, after I realized several helpful things about my main characters...

Reason #3: When I arrived home, I set time aside to do some online shopping. I'm really pumped because this year, I'm getting new control-top tights. I'm partial to Spanx control-top tights. They're spendy, but mine have lasted more than two cold-weather seasons! And you just wash and dry them like regular with your other clothes! Unheard of! Especially exciting about the new crop of Spanx  is that I ordered a purple pair of tights! Purple! In the same shopping session, I also splurged on some orthopedic boots from Schuler Shoes. That's the old people's orthopedic footwear shop.  In more sad news, I feel my plantar fasciitis creeping back over the soles of my feet. Do you know what it's caused by? It's caused by arthritis in my big toes. Do you know what THAT's caused by? It's caused by degeneration due to aging.  I'm old.