On a return to writing

I started this blog several years ago, during a period of personal transition.  I dubbed it my “journey of self-discovery.”  It was a means of navigating the shit life threw at me without actually having a nervous breakdown.  We all go through such times – pivotal points of change where what was is no longer, but what comes next is unclear.  The uncharted path forward littered with the debris of uncertainty and self-doubt.

I have always found writing cathartic and have long been fascinated by the first-person, introspective essay.  Especially when written in the vein of  philosopher Michel de Montaigne.  He dared to pose the indelible question, “Who am I?”, and then spent a lifetime seeking to find the answer through the art of composition.  As an introvert prone to spending a great deal of time stomping around inside the cluttered recesses of my own head, I find the prospect of introspection both enlightening and liberating.

So what changed? 

Life. 

My last blog post was nearly 3 years ago.   A lot has transpired in the intervening time period.  I changed jobs, sold my soul to my daughter’s band booster club,  started playing tennis, came down with a bit of cancer, saw my daughter graduate high school then stood on the sidelines as she navigated her way through her first successful semester of college.  To say it’s been a roller coaster ride would be an obvious understatement.  The highs were invigorating; the lows gut wrenching, at best.  

Now, all these years later, I find myself once more standing on the precipice, Grendel’s mother at my back – the ever present reminder of challenges faced; before me, the uncharted path forward, littered with the debris of uncertainty and self-doubt.   

I have come full circle.   

      

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad passed away almost six years ago.  Today would have been his birthday.   In celebration, I’m sharing with you a few of his favorite songs – songs that make me feel close to him.

Enjoy.

Things I learned this week

I learned this week:

…that Historical Geology is not going to be a cake walk.

From the course material:

“The study of sedimentary rocks can involve many scientific disciplines.  Considerable knowledge of mathematics, biology, and physics is required to fully understand the mechanics and processes associated with weathering, transportation, lithification, the preservation of life forms, and the postdepositional alteration and changes that may occur.”

My horror at seeing the words “mathematics, biology, physics, and required” strung together in a cohesive sentence was only compounded by my professor’s declaration that Historical Geology is not for the “faint of heart.”  And, just when I thought for sure it couldn’t get any worse, I spied logarithms in lab assignment number two.

Excuse me while I vomit.

It seems college algebra has risen from its darkened mire to torment me once again.

Of course, maybe it won’t be so bad.  The first thing I thought after I typed the word “mire”:  low energy environment; muddy sediment with fine clay particles; decaying animal and plant matter; peat; bituminous coal.

…that I have been paying out-of-state tuition for the last several semesters even though I live in the state, and haven’t moved since my house burned down in 2006 – which was prior to my enrollment.   It took two full hours to convince them I haven’t been commuting in from some faraway place every semester – you know, to take advantage of their renowned education opportunities.

I’m not sure this is the spirit of efficiency Max Weber had in mind when he penned the six characteristics of bureaucracies.

…that Roger Federer has made it into the semi-finals of the Australian Open.  This is usually the point where he lets me down and has his ass handed to him by Rafe Nadal.  But maybe there is a ray of hope this year.  Federer’s chief rival is out with a knee injury.  Could this ensure victory for my favorite aging Swiss tennis pro?

I think.  Maybe.  Yes.

Wait?  What’s that?

Novak Djokovic defeated David Ferrer today to move into the finals at the Open?

Damn it.

Update:  Federer lost his semi-finals round to Andy Murray. 

<facepalm> 

Update 2:  Djokovic defeated Murray for the title.  I’m okay with that. 

…that Beyonce Knowles – aka Mrs. Jay Z – likely lip-synced the national anthem during President Barak Obama’s inauguration.  Big freaking whoop.  I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but do I need to remind the media that there are more important things happening in the country and around the world?  Don’t make me list them again.  I’ll do it, you know.

…that I have been nominated for a couple more blogging awards.  I am getting behind in my acknowledgements.  Let’s see if I can fix that.

From jazzytower over at thoughtsandentanglements, I received a nomination for the Beautiful Blogger Award.

versatile-blogger-300x300From Kevin at nittygrittydirtman, I received a nomination for the Liebster Award.

From Kitty over at kittyb78, I received a nomination for the Versatile Blogger Award and the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

If you guys keep this up, I’m going to get a very big ego and begin to channel my inner Sally Field again.  You know how messy that got last time.

(please, don’t stop)

Thanks to Jazzy, Kevin, and Kitty.  Go check out their blogs.  I’m sure you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Okay, as always these things come with rules and regulations.  I’m going to try to combine them to save space and time.  First, here are some interesting – or not – facts about me:

  1. I am a hardcore grudge holder.  I’m still mad at the snot-nosed brat who broke the personalized license plate my dad gave me for my bike when I was ten.  Her name is Melissa, and she is the devil.
  2. Last summer, I taught myself how to swim.  I’m not going to be competing in the next Olympics, but I can get myself from one end of the pool to the other without drowning.
  3. I still prefer traditional print material to digital, though not because I think physical books are somehow superior.  I just can’t seem to remember to charge my eReader.
  4. As an introvert, I find a lot of social interaction exhausting and awkward.   I’m learning to adapt, though there are times when I wish I had a t-shirt that read:  “Do this introvert a favor and shut the hell up.”  Too much?  I’ll have to work on that.
  5. I am addicted to the History Channel – H2, not the one that plays hours of Pawn Stars and Top Gear, the other one that plays marathons of Ancient Aliens.  A girl has to have standards, right?
  6. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist – until my dad told me I would have to board a boat, sail out onto the ocean, and dive into the water.  You know, with all those scary things that live underwater.  Yikes.
  7. I love picture frames.  The only issue – I tend to forget to have photos printed to put in them.  So, all around my house you will find frames displaying generic photos of people I don’t know.  I’m looking at one right now on a shelf in my office.  I should fix that.
  8. I like to cook, but I hate cooking dinner.

Okay.  That’s all I’ve got.  I’m not all that interesting.

Now some questions from Kevin:

  1. What is your favorite time of day and why?  My favorite time of day is first thing in the morning, just as the sun in coming up over the horizon.  I love the stillness that comes with dawn.  For me, there is nothing more peaceful. 
  2. How and when did you first discover your passion, whatever that passion is?  I first discovered my love for writing in the third grade when I penned a short story based on the Aesop’s Fairytale the Tortoise and the Hare.  I wrote it as a class assignment, and it wasn’t received well, but the process really did foment my passion for the written word.
  3. Hopefully, you’re familiar with The Breakfast Club for this question.  When you were in high school, in which social group did you best fit?  I suppose I was a social misfit, though likely not in the true sense portrayed in the movie.  I was always introverted, unpopular, and walked to the beat of my own drum. 
  4. Where do you write your posts and why did you choose that place?  I write anywhere I can find a quiet corner: at school in the common areas between classes, gymnastics practice, the bagel shop, the coffee shop, the library, the carpool lane.  Just about anywhere and everywhere.
  5. What always makes you laugh and why?  This is going to sound cliché, but my daughter makes me laugh.  She is probably the funniest person I know.  Sarcastic, witty, insightful, cynical, silly – she’s the whole package.  I look at her sometimes and wonder how I got so lucky.
  6. If you could appear on a televised talent show, what would your talent be?  Oh, geez.  I can wiggle my ears.  What kind of show do you go on to highlight that talent? 
  7. Which flower reminds you of happiness?  Big fat yellow sunflowers, bluebonnets, and poppies.
  8. What is your favorite book and why?  Pride & Prejudice.  What’s not to love? 
  9. It is important to eat your vegetables, but which vegetable to you always resist/avoid eating?  I honestly cannot think of a veggie I will not eat.  Fruit on the other hand – I hate apricots and mangos.
  10. What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day? I love to curl up in my favorite chair, with a cup of tea, and read something frivolous.
  11. Who is one celebrity, past or present, you would like to meet – what would you ask that person?  Jennifer Garner.   I’d love to ask her why she keeps making all of those pathetic Rom-Coms.  Put us all out of our misery and bring back Sydney Bristow. 

Passing these along is tough.  Not because I don’t know anyone deserving, but because I know a lot of people who are.  I’m going to stew on this for a while.

…this week’s awww moment of the week is brought to you by a girl and her dog.

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Things I learned this week

“A spy, like a writer, lives outside the mainstream population. He steals his experience through bribes and reconstructs it.” 

John le Carre

I’m on a bit of an early Cold War era spy kick right now.  Two reason for this:  I am writing a paper for my African-American history class that explores the Cold War’s influence on the civil rights movement; and I recently picked up a couple of John le Carre novels at my local second-hand bookseller.

I don’t have the luxury of a lot of free time this semester.  I spend most of my days immersed in a bubbling vat filled with school, work, and family obligations.  However, I have been able to sneak in a few minutes here and there – mostly in the carpool line – to delve into the 1963 classic The Spy who Came in from the Cold and the dark world of aging British spy, Alex Leamus.  It’s not a book packed with action.  Indeed, most of the story plays out within Leamus’ head as he struggles to find moral justification for his life’s work.  I find his introspection fascinating.  John le Carre is a master of his craft, and I am more than a little jealous of the intricate and thrilling story he weaves – without blowing anything up.  Amazing.

Alright, so now that I’ve bored you to tears with my spontaneous book review, let’s get down to business.  I’ve learned a lot this week.  Some good; some not so much; all of it meaningful to my journey of self-discovery.

I learned this week:

that I missed having the BFF around.   This week she and I were able to meet in the middle of the day, on a whim, for a little coffee and girl talk.  It’s been years since we’ve lived close enough to do that.  It was a fabulous way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

(rant of the week)

…that sometimes I expect too much from of my higher education experience – and my professors expect too little from their students.   As I’ve said before, I am in the midst of the group project hell.  In general, I struggle with these sort of things because a) I am a control freak; b) anything less than perfection is failure; and c) I am an introvert who finds prolonged interaction with people I don’t know (or necessarily like) exhausting.  It is no different with this project, though I do generally like the members of the group.

This assignment is two part:  written paper and oral presentation.  Everyone has an individual part to play, but success is contingent upon cohesion.  Bearing this in mind, I took my portion of the paper to my professor for help with an unusual citation.  I would hate to get it wrong and the group grade suffer for my incompetence.

He took it from me, read the first line, looked up at me over his reading glasses and said:  “Are these your own words?”

I said:  “What?  Of  course, they are my own words.  Why on earth would you ask me that?”

I glanced down at my paper because, by this time I couldn’t remember what I had written to illicit such a reaction.  It was a simple opening statement, short and to the point.  No fuss, no muss.  No ten dollar words.  Nothing complicated or provocative.  As you might imagine, I went through a medley of emotions:  shock, indignation, anger.  He backtracked then, but the damage was done.  I walked away from the conversation feeling irritated, more than a little offended, and wondering why I was voluntarily subjecting myself to such nonsense.

Over the next few days, the group began to email me their portions of the paper for editing.  My professor’s cynical attitude solidified before my eyes.  It turns out that decent writing in these sort of survey courses is not necessarily the norm.  Needless to say, I was flabbergasted by the lack of quality, and dare I say, effort, I found in their work.  While I understand everyone has different writing skills and styles, I had expected by this stage in the game, they would have gained the ability to produce a passably intelligent product – with complete coherent sentences.  You know, with a noun, a verb, and the occasional adverb or two thrown in for good measure.

I was wrong.  Lesson learned.

…that my dog’s most prized possession is his raw hide chewy thing, and it is imperative that it be kept stashed in a secret spot until it is time to finish it off.   As a novice dog mom, I am perplexed by canine behavior.  Cats are easy and predictable.  They expect to be fed, acknowledged upon demand, and left alone to nap wherever they choose.  Dogs are different.  Mine reminds me of a mischievous toddler – left to his own devices, mayhem ensues.

While in the backyard this week, I  watched Rocco dig feverishly in a remote corner.  I went to investigate.  He was burying his chewy thing.  I’m not sure why he thinks such a drastic thing is necessary, but there was an air of desperation in his actions.  I suppose he could be worried about a cat uprising.  He is, after all, the only dog in a houseful of felines.  He would be stupid not to feel a little paranoia.  I’m sure even as I type this they are plotting something diabolical.  Hmmm…it seems I understand Rocco a little better than I thought.

…that Skyfall is the best damn Bond movie I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen them all.  Multiple times.  In the beginning, I wasn’t thrilled with the choice of Daniel Craig for the part.  When they announced it, I was peeved.  He didn’t fit.  He wasn’t right.  I swore I wouldn’t see Casino Royale.  I was convinced it would be complete shit.  Then  I saw it.  I was speechless.  Bond had evolved.  He was grittier, rougher around the edges.  There was a vulnerability emulating from him, giving him a new level of humanity and mortality.  Despite all of my efforts to the contrary, I liked the film- I liked Daniel Craig as Bond.  I went into Skyfall with high expectations.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with another review.  If you like this sort of thing, go see it for yourself.  Tell me what you think.

…that my daughter has suddenly decided that jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets is not so repulsive after all.  I’m not real sure what to make of this sudden shift, but rest assured there is a boy involved.

that last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a ladybug I stumbled across in the garden.  He was an uncooperative subject who dodged my best efforts to shoot him from his more photogenic side.  It was almost as if he was mooning me.  Surely not.

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On the agony of writing

I’ve written in some capacity since the third grade.   My first completed work was an alternate ending short story inspired by Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare.   I was very proud of that story.  I sat for hours, hunched over my desk, No. 2 pencil biting into my short stubby fingers, the eraser worn to the quick, and labored over every single word.  When I finished, I felt proud.  I had written a story.  From beginning to end.   I turned it in to my teacher, confident that I would earn an A for such blinding brilliance.  It was a great story.

My teacher saw things a bit different.   The evil Mrs. Rupe promptly tore my work to shreds, citing a laundry list of flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings.  She gave me a C.

I always hated Mrs. Rupe.

I’m not bitter about it.  Really.  Though, I do hold a special place for her at the top of my list of unforgivable grudges.  She was a miserable human being who should have retired from teaching long before 1980.   But for all of her petty viciousness, and she was awful for so many reason beyond just giving me a C, she did teach me a few important lessons:  writing is subjective, rejection is a rite of passage, and criticism keeps a writer grounded.

Of course, such lessons are meant for those who can actually finish something in a timely manner without falling victim to the hazards cluttering the road to success.  I seem to be having a bit of trouble navigating that thoroughfare, at the moment.   Or perhaps, it’s my mode of transportation that is faulty.  I blame the outline – I think it has a flat.

For several days, I’ve struggled to write a single scene, introducing a solitary character.   My trouble started when I made the decision to give Anna a brother.  His name is Aaron and he is a total pain in my ass.   I thought he would add an emotional depth and focus to the story, but instead he’s done nothing but cause me heartburn and an endless headache.  The latter may be from banging my head on my desk out of frustration.   I’m not really sure.  It’s hard to differentiate.

The way I see it, I have three choices:  delete him completely – move on and pretend he never happened; kill him slow and painfully – my novel is titled Retribution; or scrap the scene as it is and start over.

Oh lord, maybe I should tweak the outline again…ugh.

Writing is brutal; its hard; its agonizing.

I think I hate it.

But, I love it.

Note to self:  buy more Advil.

10 things I learned in my 30s

Yesterday, when I sat down at the computer, my intent was to write a new blog entry updating my outline revisions and finish last week’s “Things I learned.”

That didn’t happen.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was having one of those days when every neuron in my brain was misfiring.  Ideas banged around inside my head like jumping beans, but I was powerless to capture and harness them.

Eh, it happens sometimes.  So, I checked my email, trolled Facebook, hit a few entertainment sites, and wondered if Catholic school is really the best choice for Suri Cruise.

That’s when I noticed the date.

July 16.

Hmmm…it appears that I have survived the month since my 40th birthday without suffering any adverse side effects.  A stark contrast to a decade ago.  Turning 30 nearly did me in and I spent four years recovering.    However, the years that followed were a time of great personal growth for me.  I discovered a lot about myself, the world around me, and my place in that world.  Here are 10 things I learned in my 30s:

10.  Eating junk food makes you fat.  In my twenties, this was a foreign concept.  I ate what I wanted, drank what I wanted, and suffered very little in the way of consequences.  In my thirties, my body rebelled.  All of those excess calories translated into excess pounds and my jeans size suddenly expanded – from size 4 to size 14.

9.  Losing weight requires effort – and sweat.  With excess weight gain comes the desire to shed those pounds.  Of course, laziness and gluttony made me fat and my first instinct was to find a method to lose without exerting too much energy.  A quick fix.  I tried the Cookie diet, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the starvation diet, the “screw it I’ll just stay fat” diet.  I bought pills and potions and patches.  Nothing worked, and why would it?  The fact of the matter, and something I had to learn the hard way, is that if you want to lose weight, you have to change your lifestyle.  And by change your lifestyle, I mean you must put down the potato chips, get your ass up off the couch, and sweat – a lot.  Every single day for the rest of your life.

8.    Love the skin you’re in.  Cleanse, hydrate, and moisturize.  Do it twice a day, everyday and your skin will reward you with a healthy, youthful glow.  Trust me on this.

7.    Change is painful; change is good.  I’ve never been one to embrace change.   Early on in my thirties, I shied away from it, built a nice safe bubble around my life, and stared out as the world passed me by.  Then suddenly, that world shifted.  In the span of just a few months, I lost my home to fire, my father to cancer, and learned my mother had breast cancer.  In the blink of an eye, everything changed.  It was devastating, yet empowering.  I discovered through it all, that I am strong, capable, and resilient.

6.    Take heart in lessons learned.    Contrary to what I like to tell myself, I don’t know everything.   I have found that life is more than happy to fill in the blanks.  I just have to pay attention and take heed.

5.   A happy life begins with happiness within.   In Henry V, Shakespeare wrote, “Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.”  I’ll admit, I’ve never completely comprehended the true meaning behind Shakespeare’s words, but I like the quote just the same.  To me, it embodies the struggle of self-acceptance I endured throughout my 30s.  I am a personality fraught with flaws and quirks and insecurities, and I have learned to like me just as I am.   After that, the rest came easy.

4.   Being a joiner is not a bad thing.  I am, by nature, an introvert.  I prefer to stand on the periphery – watching, assessing, judging.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that – most of the time.  However, to fully engage with life, I found that sometimes I have to step off of the sidelines and into the fray.   It’s scary, but the rewards are endless.

3.   The only way to conquer fear is to face it head on.  Anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, knows that I have a laundry list of phobias.  I am scared of flying, boating, drowning, camping, bears, sharks, brain-eating amoeba, and math.  If there is one thing that I learned in my 30s, it is that one can’t live their life defined by fear.  It stunts personal growth and makes for a boring existence.  So, in the last few years, I’ve gone whale watching in an inflatable raft (yikes), taken a sunset cruise into the shark infested waters off the Keys, flown a dozen or more times, and taken four semesters of math – back to back.  I’m still working up to camping with bears and swimming in a lake full of brain-eating amoeba.  I don’t feel the need to rush.

2.   Nurture healthy relationships, eliminate the bad.   Relationships are hard.  They are even harder when they don’t work.  It took a long time for me to accept that sometimes it is best to cut my losses and walk away.  Once I did, I was free to devote my energy to the relationships in my life that do work.

1.   Youth is relative.  If you perceive yourself as old, you are.

My Writing Buddy

He doesn’t contribute much, but he keeps me company and never snores.

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Things I learned this week

I learned this week…

…that two months of twice weekly physical therapy sessions for a yoga-induced hip injury will result in thinner, more defined thighs.   I still have hip pain, but my thighs look much better in a pair of shorts. 

…that while I was able to eke out 30,000 words during JuNoWriMo, I am now questioning the relevancy of about half of them.  I suppose the point of the exercise isn’t to create a work of literary genius, just to get the juices flowing.  I succeeded in that, though I think I may need a big roll of Bounty to sop up all of that flowing juice.

…that the agony of defeat is a bitter pill to swallow (whoa – cliché much).  For weeks, I have engaged in a battle of wills with the bunny who lives in my front bushes and has made my ornamental sweet potato vines a dinner staple.  I tried everything short of the BB gun the scary man down at the local home and garden store suggested to deter his incessant munching, but nothing works.  He continues to dine freely, and my garden looks like it was hit by a swarm of locust.   I have come to realize that I am waging an unwinnable war against a rodent whose addiction far outweighs my need for the coveted “yard of the month” honor.  I am going to bow out now before I end up sitting on a bar stool next to Elmer Fudd and Carl Spackler slamming whiskey shooters.

..that I have become numb to Texas summers.  This week my mother asked me if it was hot outside.  I said, “No.  It’s only 95.”

…that Katie Holmes has left Tom Cruise.   I really wish I had something witty to say about this, but in all reality, who didn’t see this coming?  Tom Cruise, that’s who.

…that Roger Federer has pulled his head out of his ass overcome injury and secured a place in the Wimbledon final.  I have threatened for years to pull my allegiance and endorse a younger, up and coming player.  Federer, after all, is long in the tooth  and his days in the sport are numbered.  So far, though, I haven’t been able to bring myself to actually do it.  Of course, if he loses to Nadal one more time, I’m outta here.  I swear it.

…that nothing sucks the fun out of doing something nice for someone than the expectation that it be repeated for everyone.   Feeling obligated to do or to give something,  especially when it involves someone I don’t particularly care for, tends to bring out some of my least attractive personality traits.  I become spiteful and petty, almost competitive in my passive/aggressive rebellion.  I’m not proud of myself, but that won’t stop me from finding a new more creative way to avoid doing what everyone expects me to do without uttering a single word of protest.

…that I didn’t learn all that much this week. 

…that this week’s awww moment is really more of an ahhh moment.  This week we went to our local lake to partake in the Fourth of July festivities and fireworks show.  I snapped this picture from the bank while kicking back, watching the half-baked drunken crowd, and crunching on a sno-cone.  It was a fabulous night.

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Things I learned on vacation…

…and beyond.

You might have noticed that, with the exception of a few photographs, I’ve been largely absent from the blog in recent weeks.

Or then again, maybe you haven’t. 

That’s okay.  Sometimes, I don’t even notice when I’m missing. 

June turned out to be busier than I anticipated.  I had an impromptu week-long visit from two of my nephews, participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, turned forty, traveled to our nation’s capital on vacation with the family, and had an unexpected sharp increase in caseload at the office.  This inability to adequately judge my level of anticipated activity seems to be a recurring theme in my life.  You would think by now I’d have worked out the kinks.

As you can imagine, all of this activity came with a laundry list of new things learned.  Over the last month, I learned…

…that no matter how you try to spin it, turning forty sucks.  And, please, spare me the “forty is the new thirty” bullshit.  Turning thirty sent me into a depression so deep it took four years to recover.

…that my nephews think that I may not be completely human.  Here’s how that conversation went:

Nephew #1:  Aunt Peggy, don’t you ever get tired of typing (I was working on my NaNoWriMo word count).

Me:   No.

Nephew #2 (in a hushed voice):   Aunt Peggy is a cyborg.

This revelation was followed by a fit of giggles.   Of course, in response, I gave them my best stink eye.  I have a reputation to uphold, after all.  This earned me a fresh round of giggles.  It seems my stink eye needs an upgrade.  I’ll have to work on that.

…that as humans, we have been conditioned to stand in line, to patiently wait our turn. It is ingrained in our psyche even as we whine and cry and complain about it.  If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. or any tourist hot spot, for that matter, you know that a great deal of time is spent standing in line.  There are lines for transportation, lines for security, lines for admittance, lines for viewing.  It is the way the world works, and something that we’ve come to accept as the natural order of our day-to-day lives.  It brings us comfort, gives us a sense of organization, and takes the thought process out of our hands.

At the National Archives, they like to mix it up a bit.    Sure, they shuffle you in like herds of cattle.  Force you through a line for the metal detector, another to search your bag, then corral you into a long snake-like line at the base of the steps into “the vault.”   However, once you cross the threshold into the room that holds our nation’s most revered documents, the rules of the game suddenly shift.   You will be instructed to go against your intrinsic nature.  Lines are not permitted.  You must move freely about the room and view the displays at your leisure.  Such a radical departure from the norm will cause you to cast a panicked look at the person standing behind you.  They will appear as shell-shocked as you feel.  No lines?  Crazy talk.  That’s simply not the way these things are supposed to work.  Of course, in reality such instructions are futile.  Humans behave invariably in the manner in which they are most accustom.  On my visit to the National Archives, that’s exactly what the masses did – they filed into the room, walked directly to the exhibit at the far left, and worked steadily to the right, in a nice neat single file line.  Myself included.

No line?

That’s the most barbaric thing I’ve ever heard.

…that in large metropolitan areas where public transportation is consistently utilized, there are rules of etiquette that must be followed when riding the escalators that lead to and from the underground metro system.  Stand to the right, or get your ass run over.  Lesson learned.

…that my family doesn’t understand or share my love for history.  This week I learned that some of the Dead Sea scroll fragments, along with other artifacts from the time period, are on exhibit just up the road in Ft. Worth.   So thrilling!  After a little digging, I discovered that in addition to the exhibit, there will be a series of lectures offered on varying subjects related to the scrolls and their impact on the history of Judaism and beyond.   I enthusiastically shared this news with my husband, my mother, my best friend, and my daughter.  All of them metaphorically patted me on the head and said “you have fun with that.”  I guess that means I shouldn’t buy them a ticket.

…that taking 5 days off in the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo is detrimental to the success of the project.  I did manage to rack up 30,000 words in the first 20 days.  That’s pretty darn good for me so I’m going to take a page out of the Book of Sheen and declare myself a winner.

…that the path that hugs the Tidal Basin and offers up a view of the Jefferson Memorial across the water, looks better in my head than it does in person. I will now have to adapt a scene I’ve already written to accommodate the lack of suitable spots for a clandestine meeting.  Bummer.

…that my daughter thinks my detailed character profiles complete with photographs are “cute.”   I’m not really sure, but I think she is mocking me.

…that last, but not least, this week’s (month’s) awww moment is brought to you by a duck I encountered while visiting the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.  I had the distinct impression that he was a waterfowl on a mission.  His waddle was very determined.

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Week one – Camp NaNoWriMo

Life is all about choices, and accepting responsibility for those choices – good or bad.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I am in the midst of rewriting a novel that I have struggled with for a very long time.   At the beginning of the year, I tried to force myself into a whirlwind of writing in order to finally complete it.  That backfired on me and I wound up walking away from the entire project.  In March, I picked it back up and decided to approach it differently.  I drafted a detailed outline.  I hated every minute of it, but it helped.  In mid-May, I started the rewriting process in earnest.  It was slow and tedious – almost as painful as the first go around.

In the last few days of May, one of the members of my writing group mentioned a June installment of the November NaNoWriMo challenge.  I’ve never participated.   November is a crazy month around my house between school, work, family, the incoming holiday season, and my irrational desire for sleep.  By contrast, June is a relatively easy month.  I took the plunge.  I signed up.

I’ll be honest, the prospect of writing 50,000 words in 30 days scares the shit out of me.  Not because it is this great unattainable thing, but because I have never before produced that volume of words in such a short time frame.   I see other writer’s do it and I am in awe.  Julie over at Word Flows is a prime example of this.  She is a writing machine.  I envy her free-flowing ability.   I’m not like that.  I’m a slow, methodical writer.  I tend to write for a bit, stop, go back to review and reassess, ponder my position, let things percolate around in my head for a while, and then rewrite it before I move on.  In my professional world, this works out great for me.  Unfortunately, in my creative world, its debilitating.

When I went into this challenge, I knew that I was going to have to let go of my notion of perfection, understand that the story wasn’t always going to gel completely, and accept that I was going leave a trail of mistakes in my wake.   The thought of that made me all itching, but I chose to do it anyway.  The first few days were tough.  Around day three the little perfection troll that shares my head with my phobia troll pulled out all of his hair and ran screaming from the building.   That was the best thing that could have happened.  My head is much quieter now and I am letting go of old habits, rereading only the proceeded paragraph, and referring to my rough outline for guidance.

As of last night, I was right on track with 12,034 works written.  Each day it gets easier to just let it flow and I find that I am enjoying myself.  It’s been a long time since I felt a connection to my writing like this.  It seems this is exactly the kick in the pants I needed.

Only 23 days and 37,966 words to go.

Just Write: Self-shaming Sunday Update

June Camp NaNoWriMo!

I’m not going to ramble on too much in this update.  I just posted one this past Wednesday – a few days later than usual – and not much has changed since then.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  Camp NaNoWriMo started on Friday and I’ve been busy working to keep up with the daily word count quota.  I’m pleased to say that I’ve kept up nicely, though I did have to skip my weekly “Things I learned this week” entry.  Those take a bit of time and consideration to compose and I thought it best to focus my energy on the task at hand.  For my followers who only stop by for those entries, I apologize.  I promise to have one up by next Friday providing that my brain hasn’t imploded by then.

Last week’s goal:  Finish up what I lagged on this week; begin the frenzy that is Camp Nanowrimo; have a very nice word count to show for my efforts.

Goal met?:  YES!  I have caught up and am navigating quickly through the scenes that deal with the explosion and the immediate aftermath, setting up what is come.  I am volleying through a handful of scenes, introducing key characters, and foreshadowing their roles.  Eventually these characters will come together, but for right now they are doing their own thing.

I have accumulated 5334 words since Friday.  Not too shabby.

Next week’s goal:  Continue moving through the scenes listed on the outline;  keep word count on par for the projected 50K by June 30.

Just Write: Self-shaming Sunday…er…Wednesday update

When I last left you, I was struggling to find Anna’s new voice.  I received some great suggestions from my fellow writers and bloggers, and I thank you all for that.  It helped.  I must say once I reconciled myself to the fact that she was not who I initially intended her to be, things began to flowed and the scene came together quite nicely.  The tone has been set and I am largely pleased with it – and myself.

This week’s process has been hampered by another stumbling block.  A need for a few additional scenes that were not on my original outline.  And, as Anna needed to change, so too did another essential character – one who used to be a contributing villain.  I’ve cleaned him up a bit, given him a purpose, and put the burden of national security upon his war-weary shoulders.  I think I sort of like him now. Maybe I will have to kill him off about midway through.

So on to some news.  I’ve decided to participate in this summer’s Camp NaNoWriMo.  Every November several members of my writing group delve into the madness of NaNoWriMo and they’ve produced some pretty impressive stuff.  I always feel a twinge of envy, when they do.  November is a crazy month for me and to commit to such an undertaking would land me in an institution, and maybe even divorce court.  Except for a family vacation near the end of the month and my dreaded 40th birthday, I have nothing going on in June.  I have no obstacles and no excuses.

Bring. It. On.

The nitty-gritty:

Last weeks goal:   Work out my characterization problem with Anna and her team; write the aftermath and resulting mission; and accumulate a word count in the 5000 range.

Goal met?:  Yes and no.  I have worked out my character issues with Anna and her team, written the initial disaster but am still working on the aftermath – it is a more complicated situation that requires additional scenes.

Next weeks goal:  Finish up what I lagged on this week; begin the frenzy that is Camp Nanowrimo; have a very nice word count to show for my efforts.

Evening glow

There are a lot of things I should have done tonight – a blog update, a hospital scene for my WIP, a load of laundry or two – but the setting sun cast an inviting glow across my backyard and it seemed like the perfect time to work on my manual setting skills. 

I liked this one.

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Things I learned this week

I learned this week…

…that it’s turning out to be a rough year for music.  This week we lost another great – Robin Gibb of the Bee GeesAs I said last week, the Bee Gees were a staple in my house growing up.  Many of their songs rank among my favorites, many of them from the disco era, but the tune that I love to listen to over and over is this one:

No surprise that it was released in the sixties – the greatest musical decade in the history of rock & roll.  RIP Robin Gibb.

…that I smell clean, or so a woman at my local mall informed me this week.  I’m going to take her unsettling observation as a compliment, because to do otherwise would cause my overactive imagination to kick into overdrive and I will begin to believe that I am destined to die at the hands of a deranged serial killer whose taste for blood is triggered by the April fresh scent of my fabric softener.

…that the loss of my tooth crown virginity is a momentous occasion – at least to the staff at my new dentist’s office.   I have to say, I’m confused by their level of excitement.     This is how the conversations went:

Hygienist #1:  How many crowns to do you have?

Me:  None.

Hygienist #1:  None?  This is your first?

Me:  Yes.

Hygienist #1 (with a giant grin on her face):  Awww.

One week later at final fitting and placement:

Hygienist #2 (as she studies my panoramic x-rays on a computer monitor):  You don’t have any other crowns?

Me:  Nope.

Hygienist #2:  Really?

Me:  Really.

Hygienist #2:  Oh wow!  Your very first.  Awww.  (she then gives me a motherly pat on the shoulder)

I think someone should inventory this office’s supply of nitrous oxide.

…that a bit of positive feedback goes a long way in boosting my creative confidence.  I unveiled the opening scene for my work in progress rewrite this week to my writing group.  I’ve agonized and obsessed over this particular scene for weeks.   I was apprehensive about their reaction.  They can be a tough crowd, but the scene was well received.  I made it through an entire read without any snickering or side jokes regarding some unintended sexual innuendo or inadvertent Yoda-speak.

…that I have a new theme song.  Sara Bareilles is on of my favorite singer/songwriter/performers at the moment.   She just finished a grueling tour schedule and is now going to enjoy a little time off before she heads back into the studio.  As a parting gift she gave her devoted fans a five track EP.  It’s musical perfection, as usual, and I have a new favorite.

***Warning:  This is not a song you want to crank up at work or in the presence of your children.  There is quite a bit of crude language so considered yourself warned.  Enjoy.

…that last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by the elusive Blue Jay who feeds in my backyard.  I’ve tried for weeks to sneak up on the wily little bastard to snap a picture or two.  My patience finally paid off.

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Things I learned this week

I learned this week…

…that Donald “Duck” Dunn has died.  You might not recognize his name, but I guarantee you that at some point, you’ve heard his telltale bass line.   He was a member of the studio band at Stax Records in Memphis and played with such artist as The Blues Brothers (he was in the movie), Eric Clapton, Arthur Conley, Neil Young (with whom he extensively toured), CCR, Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan (who you all know I loathe), Rod Stewart, Otis Redding – just to name a few.   One of my favorite songs is a little ditty called “Green Onions” by Booker T & the MGs.   He wasn’t the original bassist on the 1962 recording, but I think he does it best.

…that Donna Summer has died at the age of 63.  I often talk about how my father’s love of old school country, early rock & roll, and 60s R&B influenced my taste in music.  However, in all honesty, my mother probably had a greater impact on my personal “musicology.”  She is a lover of all music.  She doesn’t discriminate – from old Dean Martin and Sinatra to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the Beatles to Gordon Lightfoot and Simon & Garfunkel and everything in between and beyond.  When I was a kid, one of my mother’s favorite things to do was to throw open the windows, cue up a homemade reel to reel tape and crank the volume until music filled the house – and the neighborhood.   Sometimes we listened to oldies, sometimes to folk, sometimes to country, but more often than not, we listened to disco.  What could be better than doing your Saturday morning chores to the infectious beat of ABBA, the Bee Gees, and yes, Donna Summer?   She will be sorely missed in my house.  My friend Kelly said “disco died today.”  Perhaps it did.

…that I have been nominated for the Kreativ Blogger Award by kittyb78.  She’s a fellow writer who just happens to be a Black Dragon Kung Fu instructor.  I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds very cool and makes me want to write her into one of my stories as that bad ass character who…okay I digress.   Many thanks to kittyb78 for bestowing such an honor on me.  I appreciate it very much.

Of course, these things come with rules.  I’m supposed to tell you seven interesting things about myself and then pay the award forward to a few bloggers I think are deserving.

  1. I give good stink-eye, and not always intentionally.  I have an odd face with a heavy brow and a natural frown.  It makes me look angry – even when I’m not.  It serves me well.  People leave me alone.  Usually.
  2. I hate the sound of people eating.  Seriously.  I hate it.
  3. I am cynical by nature, but I try very hard to use humor to stave off the negativity.  It’s made me a happier person.
  4. I am a James Bond fanatic.
  5. I have no natural rhythm and no amount of alcohol can change that.  Ask my BFF how long it took her to teach me the Electric Slide back in the day.
  6. I have an affinity for dates.
  7. I love striped pants.
Now to pay it forward:kreativbloggeraward
Check ’em out.  They are all creative, innovative, and worthy of your time.

…that yoga for a grade is like a bad penny.  It just won’t leave me in peace.  As a memento of our time together, it has left me with a little hip injury.  Nothing too serious, just some tendonitis.  They tell me it will go away – with a little time and four weeks of physical therapy.

…that I am captivated by the train-wreck that is Ancient Aliens.  I spend the entire hour yelling at the television, snorting in disbelief, and cursing their flawed logic, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to change the channel.

…that last, but not least, this weeks awww moment is brought to you by a pair of small woodpeckers who distracted me from my gardening this week.  From their behavior, I can only assume they were a mother and her lazy child who refused to get off his ass and get a job.  I could be wrong, though.

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Cake for everyone!

One year ago today, I posted my very first blog entry.  I did it in an effort to find out who I am in life and to find my creative voice.  I think I’ve largely succeeded, though I imagine with every passing day, every new entry, I grow and evolve, and will continue to do so.

If you’re up for a good laugh, you can read my first blog attempt here

Now, who wants cake?

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After the Rain

The night before my photo taking excursion to the Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum, it rained.  When I was sifting and sorting through the photo files, I discovered that I took quite a few pictures of the water droplets that covered everything that morning.

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A disorganized spider web draped along one of the sculptures.

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More organized spider web with a little fog in the background.

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Lily bud.

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Gardenia bud.

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Enjoy.

At the Dallas Arboretum

Over the weekend, I went with my writing group to the Dallas Arboretum to photograph the Dale Chihuly exhibit, currently on display.  It was spectacular and I took a ridiculous amount of photographs.  When I was going through them, I came across some shots I took of the creepy crawlies that make the arboretum their home.  Here are couple of those photographs.

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Honeybees were hard at work all over the park and seemed to be a little camera shy.  I was surprised to see that I actually got a decent shot of one.

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Snail!

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Unlike the bees, this little guy was in no great hurry.  He seemed more than happy to sit and pose for me.

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Of course, the highlight of the trip was the sculptures. 

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Just a snippet of the giant “Yellow Icicle Tower”.

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“Float Boat” was one of my favorite exhibits.  It was also the hardest for me to shoot.  My inexperience is evident in this shot.  I plan to experiment with some effects on this series of photos, but that’s blog for another day.

As I said in yesterday’s blog entry, if you are in the Dallas area and have the opportunity to check out the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the arboretum, do it.

Chihuly at the Dallas Arboretum

Yesterday I went on a little photo taking excursion with my writing group.  From now until mid-Fall, the Dallas Arboretum is displaying glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly.  As a novice photographer, I found that while they are brilliant to behold, they were a bit overwhelming to shoot in their entirety.  So, I narrowed my focus to more intricate parts of the pieces.  Here are few of those photos.

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Dallas saw a bit of rain the night before we went, so everything was dripping wet.  It made for some very nice effects.

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Spider web draped across one of the exhibits.

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Just a little burst of color.

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These violin scrolls were my favorite pieces of the day.

A Chihuly exhibit is a must see.  To learn a bit more about him [click here].

Things I learned this week

I learned this week..

…that I’ve successfully conquered another semester – with all A’s, thank you very much.  It’s a great feeling, like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders and the road to a carefree summer is now within my grasp.  As I drove away from campus yesterday, I was feeling good.  I had the windows down, the wind in my hair, and my new Sting compilation cranked up for the whole world to hear.  I’m not a believer in a lot of intangible things, but sometimes, ever so subtly, the universe speaks to me.  As if on cue, a song with a distinct island vibe began to play.   The hustle of midday traffic faded away and I found myself standing on a beach with velvety sand between my toes, a warm sea breeze caressing my skin, and a frozen rum-filled concoction in my hand.  Swaying in time to the intoxicating rhythm, I danced in slow drunken circles across the sand, feeling blissfully numb, and raised my glass in one final salutation to the sun as it descended into the abyss…

HONK!

Sigh.

Reality bites.

Yes, I realize that this imagery is probably not what Sting intended when he wrote Love is the Seventh Wave.  More likely his intention was to protest Cold War proliferation and all of the evil that went along with it.  I’m going to choose to overlook that (and the ridiculous 80’s video) and focus on the drunken beach vacation aspect of it instead. 

…that yoga for a grade is over.    Of course, as one final insult to the emotional injuries we’ve sustained over the course of the semester, my instructor decided it would be fun to have a party on the day designated for our final exam.  If you will remember from last week, we had our final early.  We were instructed to bring food – preferably something healthy, in order to keep with the spirit of the class.  We all brought store-bought cookies.  It was our little bit of revenge.  Of course, revenge is one of those things in life that tends to come back and bite you in the ass.  In response to our cookie rebellion, she made us watch the video she made of our final.    Oh, the agony of defeat.

…that in all the years I’ve watched the summer Olympics, I have never bothered to sit through any of the Equestrian events.  It’s not that I don’t like horses, I do.  It’s just that I’d much rather watch paint dry than watch a horse and rider navigate through a mindless obstacle course.  This year it will be different.  I don’t usually watch real-time television.  I rely heavily on my DVR.  But the other night I happened to catch Rock Center when I was supposed to be studying for my Sociology exam.  Harry Smith (who I really sort of despise) did a story about a horse and rider who have both been through serious hell and have barely lived to tell about it.  Needless to say, I bawled like a baby and have now committed myself to watching every Equestrian event these two will compete in.  I feel that, as an American, it is my patriot duty.   Check out Harry Smith’s story Horse Power, but grab a box of tissues first.

…that the Blue Jay who visits the feeder in my backyard teases and taunts me.  For weeks, I’ve seen him feeding – nearly every day.  For weeks, I’ve tried to sneak a few photographs of him.  For weeks, he’s alluded me.   No worries, though.  I will prevail…if its’ the last thing I do.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by my fat cat, Rollo.  Aptly named, he is enjoying a little nap in the warm afternoon sun.  What a rough life he leads.

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