Things I’ve learned

It’s been a while since my last real blog post.  Even longer since my last “things I learned” post.  I wondered at that.

But only for a nanosecond.

Let’s get to it.  What have I learned?

I learned:

1.  I’ve missed yoga.  Three years ago I took a yoga class to fulfill a college credit requirement.  I registered for the beginning class even though I had previous experience and was probably more transitional intermediate than beginner. I did so out of fear.

A costly miscalculation on my part.  As it happened, the instructor was the Antichrist and seemed woefully unaware the course was entitled “Yoga for Beginners.”   Think wine-soaked ballerina with severe Adult Attention Deficient Disorder.  Who teaches a yoga class set to swinging show tunes?…and sings along…and twirls…oh, so much twirling…She taught the class from her own private padded bubble, offered no modifications, and failed to understand the core principles of yoga.

I have many personality flaws.  Chief on the list:  Type A.   I’m an overachiever. That is especially true if there is something I value at stake.  At the time, it was my GPA.  I wanted an A and it is not in my nature to quit once I’ve committed.

Oh, the clarity of hindsight.

Three years later, I am still suffering the repercussions of that earned A.  My diagnosis: persistent grade 2 hip flexor strain with severe pain and limited ROM. Could be worse. Could be better.  But I’m making progress with the help of some wonderful physical therapists.  Last week, at their badgering urging, I started to practice yoga again.

I’m not going to lie.  The first few dozen sun salutations were rough.  But, at the same time, it was an incredible feeling.  Of course, I needed an extra day of physical therapy to recover, but they assure me it will get easier.  I’m going to choose to believe they are right.

Namaste.

2.  The X-Files is returning to television.  I’m conflicted.  I always loved the X-Files.  It was great television.  But reboots, remakes, and sequels annoy me.  A few years ago, I wrote about it. On the one hand, I am curious to see Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and Cancer Man reunited.  They were fascinating characters.  On the other hand, I think it is often better to remember something beloved in its original, unblemished state.  I probably won’t watch.

Of course, for all of my righteous indignation, I am a total hypocrite.  There are two films looming on the horizon – one slated for release later this year, the other next year. Jason Bourne and James Bond.  Both are sequels/remakes/reboots.  Both make me giddy with excitement.

I thought about arguing the merits of these franchises and how they differ from all the unoriginal rubbish out there.  But I don’t need to explain myself to you. Instead, I offer you a peek at the new Bond.

Savor it.

3.  I don’t like cherries.  I’m forty-two.  I’ve spent most of my life believing that I don’t eat cherries because I am allergic to them. Turns out – not true.  I just don’t like them.

Strange.

4.  Spring in Texas:  Bluebonnets and bees.  What else is there to say?

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5.  Miles Davis makes the perfect background for writing.  As a general rule, I don’t listen to music when I write.  It’s distracting.  I do much better with everyday white noise. Well…unless, it’s “screaming toddler Tuesday” or “”where’s the damn coffee in this place’ octogenarian Thursday” at my favorite coffee shop.  The latter is always a special treat.  There’s nothing quite so entertaining as a group of filter-free, half-deaf senior citizens out for their weekly breakfast social.

Last week, I discovered Miles Davis.  I’ve never been much of a jazz fan.  I much prefer old-school soul, sixties R&B, anything touched by the hands of the almighty Sting, and Florence and the Machine.  Jazz always seemed like too much work to fully appreciate. Does that make sense?   Probably not.  Sorry.

Anyway, I was researching Jazz artists/albums in reference to a character development I am doing for my current WIP and happened upon Sketches of Spain, a Miles Davis work conducted by Gil Evans (fun fact:  Gil Evans and Sting recorded a live album, Last Session, in 1987).  I liked the title; the cover art was warm and inviting.  I took a listen.

It was spellbinding; yet, subtle and unobtrusive.

I bought it.

This week on “screaming toddler Tuesday”, I plugged in my headphones, turned up Sketches of Spain, set it to repeat, and just wrote.

Fantastic.

Here.  Have a listen for yourself.

Things I learned this week

“Proof brevity does not protect against dullness.” 

– Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in regard to Twitter.

I learned this week…

…that I don’t have to worry about those pesky little logarithms, after all.  My Historical Geology professor announced this gem during our last lab session.  It seems he’s not a big fan of the evil math, either.  He just might take over the top spot on my favorite professor list.

…that there is a new spy thriller on FX called The Americans, and I’m not too sure I care for it.  Don’t get me wrong, the concept intrigues me: Soviet KGB operatives posing as Americans during the early days of the Reagan administration, stealing intelligence.  Sounds right up my alley, right?  It is – for the most part.

So what’s the problem, you ask?

Keri Russell.

Yes, I know.  I should let my aversion to Felicity go; after all, it was the show that launched Jennifer Garner into Alias stardom.  Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But still, I don’t like Keri Russell (as an actress – I’m sure she’s a lovely person), and her character, Elizabeth Jennings, seems even less appealing.  She is cold and detached with a glint of something homicidal in her eye.  Perhaps this is the writers’ intention.  Maybe I’m not supposed to relate to her, to sympathize with her, to like her.  If that is the case then they are doing a superb job.

Bravo.

…that for the first time in a long time, I found the Grammys enjoyable.  Usually, it’s a tortured affair, one that leaves me feeling old and out of touch, yet strangely fixated.  It’s like witnessing a horrible train wreck – the pitchy performances, the excessive bleeping of lyrics too inappropriate for primetime, the painful acceptance speeches by artists scarcely worthy of the name.  I want to look away, but I just can’t.  Most years, I am doomed to disappointment and will spend a solid week bemoaning the sad state of music and vowing to do something more productive with that three and a half hour block of time.

This year was different.  This year there were (by and large) real musicians on stage, playing real instruments, and producing real music.  I enjoyed most of the performances and tributes – Mumford and Sons, The Black Keys, fun., Jack White, Dr. John, Carrie Underwood and her hypnotic dress, Ed Sheeran, Sting, Sting, and Sting.

What?  He wasn’t alone on stage?

Funny.  I didn’t notice.

In all seriousness, I felt renewed hope.  Maybe music has turned a corner; maybe the manufactured, auto-tuned sludge we’ve been subjected to for two decades will finally give way to the return of the vocally and musically talented singer/songwriter.

Maybe?  Please?

The only dark spot on the night – besides Elton John and Taylor Swift – was the Florence Welch snub.  I may hold that against Kelly Clarkson for a very long time.  I’m a grudge holder, you know.

On a side note:  Ratings for the 2013 Grammy Awards were down, and critics panned it for its somber feel.  Mature…somber.  Whatever.  Click here to read one of the more scathing reviews.

…that listening to an audio book in the carpool line will cause me to do something I rarely do – nap.  It’s problematic for a few of reasons:  1) I’ve never gotten around to tinting my windows; 2) the telltale head bob that accompanies vertical napping is embarrassing; 3) inevitably I will have to rewind (can you rewind an MP3?) the audio book because I end up missing vital chunks of the story.   Yesterday, I missed the whole part about Chiara being kidnapped from the villa in Italy.  I woke up in the middle of a shit storm and had no idea what the hell was going on.

I panicked a little.

…that ginger tea is the elixir of the gods.  For the last year or two, I’ve suffered from a stomach quirk and steadily over the months, my tolerance for many of foods has waned.  I am a notorious self-diagnoser, so I tossed around the idea of a gluten allergy, a fructose intolerance, a faulty gall bladder.  I cut a lot out of my diet.  Sometimes it helps; sometimes it doesn’t.  After a recent upswing in symptoms, I took to the internet for advice – because if it’s on the internet, it has to be true – and discovered ginger tea.  It takes a bit of getting used to, but I have to say it has helped a lot.

<covers ears to block out BFF’s (licensed RN) screams that I need to stop with the internet diagnosing and see a professional>

I did finally make an appointment for next week with a specialist.  But I already know what he’s going to tell me.  I looked it up on the internet.

…that I am not irrational.  Okay, yes I am, but not when it comes to cruises.  My friends go on cruises – they love them.  They tell me I should go, too.  I would love it, they say.  “You forget you’re even on a boat.  It’s so much fun.  Go.  Try something new.”  I have no desire for the obvious reasons:  big ship; inflatable “life” boats; tiny windowless cells staterooms; crushes of people breathing my air; lack of wide open sandy beaches; and the Norwalk virus.

Here are few more reasons:  no power; no ventilation; no working toilets; Soviet era bread lines for a daily hot dog rationing.  Read more here.

No, thank you.  I’d rather risk getting my head loped off by the drug cartels in Mexico.

…and last, but not least, this week’s photo is a macro I took in November, at the Dallas Arboretum.  It’s always a nice surprise stumbling across these shots and I am a sucker for water droplets.

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A book signing

I went to a book signing yesterday.

A bit out of the norm for me.  There are very few things that can entice me enough to schlep down into the city, fight crowds of rude strangers,and waste hours standing in line doing nothing but waiting.  I won’t do it for a Black Friday deal.  I won’t do it for a movie premiere.  I wouldn’t do it to meet Sting.

I will do it for Daniel Silva and his master Israeli spy/assassin/art restorer, Gabriel Allon.

I went early in the morning with the intention of getting some writing done.  I did, though not as much as I would have liked.  You see, I have a problem.  I am an addicted people-watcher, so writing in public often proves distracting.  Yesterday was no different.

While I sat in the café, sipping a venti unsweetened iced green tea, my writing flow was continuously interrupted.  First, there was the two women who wanted to know if my name was Kristin.  No, not me.   Then there was the older woman in a burnt orange blouse, lime green Crocs, holding a moderately sized postal box.  Her fidgeting was what initially caught my eye.  She didn’t order a drink, couldn’t sit still, and at times, paced.  At first, I thought maybe I should be worried about the contents of her box.  I mean, if I were writing this scene, there would be something like wires, a brick of C4, and a cell phone detonator in that box.  After ten minutes or so, I realized she must be waiting for someone.  I imagined it was a date with a man she’d met on a matchmaking website.  I wondered if she shouldn’t have maybe picked a different shirt to go with those shoes.  She definitely was not dressed for husband nabbing.  Turns out she did not have a bomb, and she wasn’t on a blind date.  She was a calligrapher.  Inside the box were beautifully addressed wedding invitations.  The bride-to-be was late, paid by check, and didn’t seem to notice the older woman’s lack of fashion sense.   I was disappointed.

Around eleven, a flash of movement in my peripheral drew my attention away from Anna and her troubles.  It took a second or two for my brain to register what my eyes were seeing.  Jerry Garcia, wearing a brightly hued Hawaiian-style bowler shirt over faded blue jeans and Birkenstocks, was unwrapping a straw for his blended frappuccino – caramel macchiato with no whip, if I were a betting gal.  As he walked away slurping, I texted my husband.  His reply: “You know he’s dead, right?”  Killjoy.

At noon, I moved my party upstairs.  I wanted to get my choice of seats.  I did.  Row one, seat 4.  Right in front of the podium and signing table.  A half an hour later, an older gentleman sat down one seat over from me.  He quietly read his book – not a Silva novel. Tsk tsk.  A few minutes later, a bulldog of a man with a shiny bald head sat between us.  They were friends, but their meeting here was by chance.  They chatted like catty women.  First, bemoaning the pros and cons of employment.  The bald man has a job in the surgical department of a local trauma center, the other was an IT technician who failed to keep up with changing technology.  He blames his troubles on his age – 68.  As happens, they soon began to compare their various health issues.  These conversations always make me smile.  It’s like a competition.  Who has had the most surgeries?  The most chronic diseases?  As it turns out, both men have had prostate cancer – with troubling complications.  I could describe for you in grave detail the extent of their complications, but it would likely scar you for life.  I know I will never be the same.

Thirty minutes out from the main event, the venti iced green tea I drank earlier came back to haunt me.  I needed to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to give up my prime seat.  I asked the elderly woman to my right if she would hold my spot while I ran downstairs. She smiled, patted my arm, and pulled a menacing cane from underneath her seat.  She said: “Go right ahead, honey.  I got my cane. I’ll whack ‘em if they get too close.”  Yikes.

silvaAt 2, Daniel Silva arrived with little fanfare.  He was much as I expected.  Handsome in that scholarly way, with an unassuming air and an intelligent wit.  He spoke of his characters with the love of a proud father.  I found it endearing.  I also thought he exhibited a great deal of patience with the group gathered, especially during the question and answer segment.  Some asked interesting questions; some did not.  A few even bordered on offensively stupid.  He handled it smoothly, though there were two occasions when I swear I saw his right eye twitch.

Or maybe not.

I had two books signed, took several photos for the little old lady with the cane and her friend, and left before the SRO crowd swooped in for the kill.

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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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Just Write: When ideas strike

Every Thursday my writing group meets at our favorite coffee shop.  We crowd around little round tables, in wooden, straight back chairs and shoot the stink eye at the losers taking up space in the comfy chairs – our comfy chairs.

Okay, maybe that last bit is just me.  Damn you knitters and internet daters!

We sip our poison of choice, nibble on something that is not at all diet-friendly, and commiserate.  We complain about our process or lack thereof, offer encouragement to those feeling disparaged, and argue over such things as alternating points of view and plot twists.  Thursdays are my favorite day of the week.

A few weeks ago, one of our members mentioned that the piece she brought for critique was inspired by a dream.  This sparked a lively conversation about how dreams influence a writer’s work and the best way to capture these little fragments of inspiration, in the dead of night.  I sat quietly as the group debated the benefits of a bedside notebook versus a mini voice recorder.  This is a conversation I’ve heard before.  Indeed, the first time was in Patricia Burroughs’ Basic Novel Writing class five years ago.   As I did in class, I listened with a sense of wonder, a lot of confusion, and a dash of self-doubt.

I have never been influenced creatively by a dream.  Ever.

I rarely remember my dreams and when I do it’s usually because I’ve done some mentally exhausting activity right before bed and my mind is unable to let it go.  When I was in the homestretch of a hellish four semester math marathon, I frequently found myself solving quadratic equations or finding an inverse in my sleep.  Last semester, I had a night of fitful sleep after I made the mistake of studying the Reformation and the Renaissance together, right before bed.  It was a weird, yet interesting dream, but not worthy of an earth shattering storyline – well unless I was working as a consultant on the new Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure movie.

Eek.  I shudder at the thought.

The conversation at the coffee shop started the gears in my brain turning and once again I began to question my ability.  Is there something wrong with me?  Is this something I need to be worried about; something I need to work on?  Then, Agatha Christie whispered in my ear:

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Vindication!

I don’t plan a book, or a scene, or a blog entry while doing the dishes.  It’s not my chore anymore, but I do find that I am the most creative in two places:  the shower and the gym.  When an idea strikes, I am either soaking wet and naked or in the middle of a workout without my trusty notebook close at hand.  Unfortunately, my memory is shit, and even more so if I am having one of those over-stimulated days.  I’ve lost some pretty brilliant stuff that way.

Get your mind out of the gutter – not that kind of over-stimulated.

I’ve been chugging away on my novel.  I’ve set a weekly goal for myself, and so far so good.  Because of this, my story is on my mind a lot.  I’ve been slowly working through some early plot problems and character development.  Things are taking shape, but I’m not all that far into it.  Maybe a little more than one-third is down on paper.

So, Monday afternoon, I was trucking along on the elliptical, sweating like a pig, silently seething because not a single television in my direct line of sight was tuned to anything worth a damn.  I guess I could have gone to the perky little girl behind the desk but…oh wait…what was I talking about…squirrel.

I was plugged into my digital music library, listening to one of my favorite live albums by The Police – only the greatest band ever.  Don’t judge me.  The song King of Pain began to play.  It’s one of my favorites, especially when performed live, and it never fails to effect me emotionally.  So, I suppose it’s not too surprising that it was during this song that the little idea troll in my brain decided it was the right time to reach out and give me a good slap to the back of the head (Gibbs style for all you NCIS fans).

Bam! I had a vision.  It was as clear as if the scene was unfolding right in front of me, between the row of elliptical machines and the recumbent stationary bikes.  A catalyst scene – a point in the story where one character does irreparable harm to another – and one I’ve not spared one thought beyond a few scribbles in the margin of my rough outline.  But suddenly there it was, a vivid picture in my mind’s eye, the echo of their dialogue reverberating through me, their tension palpable.  All of it just begging to be written, to be cast out of my head, and down onto paper.

Who am I to argue with such clarity?

I spent a good half an hour hunched on a bench, in the gym locker room, surrounded by women with no sense of modesty, scribbling away in my notebook.  I couldn’t chance it getting away.  It was too powerful.  Too real.

Of course, I spent the better part of my evening trying to decipher my chicken scratch so that I could incorporate this new, pivotal scene into the work in progress.

I suppose the point of my nonsensical rambling is that there is nothing wrong with me.  At least, not where this is concerned.  Everyone is inspired and struck by ideas in different ways, be it in a dream during the dead of night, or in a vision at the gym while listen to The Police.  We are merely slaves to its creation.

Yeah, I still don’t see the correlation between King of Pain and my scene, but again, who am I to argue.

Things I learned at the Sting concert…

Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images North America

Sting, my favorite musician of all time, made a stop in Dallas on his Back to Bass tour this week.  I was fortunate enough to be there.  I won’t bore you with too many details of the show.  Suffice it to say, Sting is a God.  Head and shoulders above the rest.  Still a class act after all these years.  This I know to be true.  I have seen him perform before.  His vocals are flawless, his backing band without equal, his set list a great mix of commercial hits and lesser known glittering gems that set a true fan’s heart fluttering with excitement.  All in all, it was a superb show.

While Sting may be top on my list of favorite things, people watching comes in at a close second.  What better place to people watch than a rock concert, right?  Right.  I can’t help myself.  It’s all in the name of character inspiration.  At least that’s what I tell myself as I gawk unabashedly at the masses swirling around me.

Here are a few of the things I learned at the Sting concert:

I learned that…

…that it was not hard to spot the husbands and boyfriends who were dragged kicking and screaming to a concert of an Englishman they couldn’t care less about.  They were the ones whose faces were illuminated throughout the concert by the light from their iPhones and Blackberries.  I image they do not have very happy relationships and are one banana peel away from a nasty, hate-filled break up.  While it is true that they may have earned “points” by showing up, they prove just how uncommitted to the unity they really are.  It’s sort of like when you go on a date with your husband or boyfriend and instead of engaging you in conversation over dinner, they browse their mobile twitter feed.  I feel pretty certain that their deeds will not go unpunished.  We women are a spiteful lot.  Their wives/girlfriends will make them suffer.  Even if done subtly, revenge can leave its mark.

…that there is something inherently wrong with women over a certain age showing their faces in public while wearing thigh high leather boots, skin-tight leather pants and skimpy glittering tank tops.  Denial?  Not just a river in Egypt.  Look, I know that age is relative.  You are only as old as you feel, but have some self-respect.  60 and dressed like a hooker at a Sting concert?  It just reeks insecurity and is, frankly, pathetic.

…that walking ten steps behind the aforementioned 60-year-old hooker and carrying her swag bag, is her mate – a short, pudgy, bald man who she has dressed up to look like Charlie Harper.

…that I should start carrying around a small travel size bottle of bleach in my purse to sanitize my eyes.  The gentleman in front of me was kind enough to flash me a good two inches of his butt crack every time he stood.  I’m not sure I will ever recover from the sight of his hairy ass.

…that there are those among us who will pay a premium price for tickets and then spend the entire show engaged in an activity that does not involve watching or listening to what they have paid to see.  I don’t understand this.  I paid $200 to see Sting.  I want to see Sting.  I want to hear Sting.  I want to feel his music seep into my pores and surge through my veins.  I don’t want to continuously have to pull my eyes away from the stage in order to let these inattentive people in and out of their seats at regular intervals.

…that copious amounts of alcohol will make the man sitting behind me who, by his own admission, had never seen Sting and didn’t really seem to know who he was, a very vocal and ardent fan.  I’m just grateful that he didn’t spill his super-sized wine on me.

…that though I felt like one of youngest people at this concert, it was nice to see children scattered through the crowd.  There weren’t many, but I am encouraged by this.  There is perhaps a smidgen of hope that this younger generation will know real musical talent when they hear it.

…that I am still sad I missed the reunion tour.