Thursday, December 31, 2009

And it poured sweet and clear

Today I wished someone happy new year and they said that they hoped next year would be better. And I started thinking about my 2009. Do I want next year to be better? And after thinking about it for a bit, the answer is no. No way. Because although it's been a year of crazy highs and lows, I know that this is what I want. I want to look back and think, holy crap, a lot went on there! And, you know what? Most of it was good stuff!

Sure, there are things I never want to go through again. There are things I'd like to take back, things I'd change. There were periods I thought I'd explode due to stress. There were times I wish I could have just hit fast forward. But I'd go through it all again for the rest of this year. Because the good stuff, it was really good.

This year was technicolor. This year was an adventure. This year was more interesting than I'd ever hope, usually in a good way. I learned so many things about what I could do. I look back on this year and I'm pretty impressed about everything I did (if I do say so myself). And you know the best part? Most of it is just the start of better things to come! Isn't that exciting?

Of course, you always hope the next year is better than the previous year. How could you not? But this was a damn good year, challenges and all. I'm tempted to go back and read my postings from last year at this time, but that would be a cheat. I know it's better now. My life is richer right now. And I'm crying tears of happy right this very minute.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Not very Christmas-y

Warning: this is not a Christmas post. Of course, it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Christmas travel, but if you want heartwarming today, well, come back some other time. It's a minor, bitchy story of bad service and wrong answers.

Wednesday I drove up from Maryland to the parents' in Ohio. I wanted to get about half way before I grabbed lunch (I left after a half day of work) and also wanted to avoid the crazy in Breezewood. I dive down the PA turnpike a while and get to a stop about 50 miles later. I'd like to point out that this travel day was December 23, a day one would expect a lot of folks on the road, right? I'd also like to point out that I did not get off the turnpike, I stopped at one of those places that are meant for travelers to quickly get in and out. So, fast service is not asking too much, is it? Now, I'll admit, I picked the Chili's-to-go, which I knew probably wasn't going to be as quick as the hot dog place, but still. In a rest stop, not the sit down experience.

There are three of us in line. One cashier. Okay, still not a huge deal. But then there's an order up and she has to leave the register with a tray full of food and find the people who ordered it and deliver it to the table. So, no cashier. Now, I see a couple of workers off to the side, running in and out (one an older woman). But no one to cover the register. Eventually, the cashier is done delivering and comes back. When I finally go to place my order, I asked her if there was anyone else working the register and she told me the other girl was on break, do I want to talk to the manager? And she goes to leave and maybe if I wasn't tired and cranky and had been stuck in traffic I would have said, no, that's alright, but I let her get the manager. And out steps this older woman, who I had noticed hadn't been helping earlier.

I swear, I kind of just want to defend the poor girl behind the register (who was great, if the CEO of Chili's is reading this.) So I asked the manager (Joan, by the way, CEO) why there wasn't anyone else working on this obviously busy travel day. Okay, let's role play. You are the manager of a Chili's in the middle of Pennsylvania that probably gets crazy-busy about four times a year. What is the correct response:
1) I don't make the schedule.
2) This isn't the busiest day; the day before Thanksgiving is.
3) Didn't you see the line?
4) I apologize for the wait. We'll have to be more careful when we make the schedule for these busier days. (or something along those lines.)

Apparently, if you're Joan, all answers but 4) are correct. And, oh Joan, you picked the wrong chick to pull out the ornery on. (By the way, I'd like to point out that after I talked to Joan, suddenly she decided that helping out behind the register would be a good idea, so I must have been on to something.)

I understand that it must have been a crazy day. I also understand that if they were understaffed (which they were), there's not a lot you can do at that point. But if a customer wants to talk to you, at least pretend to be nice. Yeah, I'm probably not going to be back anytime soon, but that's part of being a manager. Just be a little bit nice, don't make it worse.

There was no god in that Chili's that night.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pretty things get in my car

Let's play a game. Let's pretend that all jobs earn the same amount of money. I have waved the magic wand: poof, we're all equal. Okay, what are you doing for a living? Here's the rule: you gotta work for someone. Oh, and you can't change your job every week or something like that. You actually have to stick with it for a while. Okay, are you still doing the same thing?

The thing is that if I played that game, I'm not really sure what I'd be doing. If money wasn't the issue. I'd love to say that I'd still be doing the same thing, but I'm not so sure. But, that said, I'm not sure what I'd do. What would fulfill me? What would make my heart sing? Does my job have to make my heart sing? I'm not so sure it does.

For now, I am happy doing what I'm doing, but keeping myself open to possibilities. I am enjoying the things that surround my job. I am happy with my hobbies and my non-job activities. I am working on balance.

(See where we were.)

We all have our stories to tell. But that's just it, isn't it? They're stories. They're our version of the events, a weird blend of nonfiction and fiction. What we saw, what we remember, what we were feeling when it happened. Our version of the story is what we own. It's not all "facts be damned" or made-up lies, but it's not history either.

When I write about things in my past, my stories, I'm giving you my memoir, not my autobiography. There aren't any endnotes, there was no fact checker. It's my version: right or (probably at least a little bit) wrong. I try to tell the truth, but I am sure I am coloring it with other things: emotions, other stories that I've mixed up in there, new perspective now. I'm not crosschecking or interviewing other participants or getting the whole story; I'm just telling mine. Perhaps it's a bit selfish, but it's what I have for now.

There's a great story in the afterward of my copy of "Autobiography of a Face" (or maybe in "Truth and Beauty" -- either way, both very good books) where Lucy Grealy was at a book signing and someone told her how amazing it is that she remembers all those details from when she was a child. They asked her how she could remember all of that and she replied, "I didn't remember it, I wrote it. I'm a writer." Exactly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

While I looked around for my possibilities

Today I was thinking about everything I need to do, all the stuff I want to do. I want to write, I want to chat with people, I want to sort my photos, I want to wrap the presents. I want to get sleep (ah, that's the one that gets you every time.) There's so much to do, so many possibilities. And, for once, this didn't stress me out. For once, I thought to myself, isn't that great? Isn't it wonderful to have all of these things to do?

I guess I need to do more of that, I need to embrace the positive. I need to keep in mind that being busy is a good thing. That having all this stuff is great! It's fun! Who wants to be bored? Who wants to be at home in the evening thinking, there's nothing to do?

I am choosing to not be overwhelmed. I am choosing to decide it's a blessing. And I am smiling, looking at that stack of presents that needs wrapping.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Apple: Bite me

Hey, Apple: today, I am a hater and it's going your way. Here's the deal: today I get an email from Apple. Free on iTunes: a Christmas sampler. Yay, right? I mean, who doesn't dig some free holiday music? Just upgrade your iTunes, and it's all yours. No problem, I've been getting that "hey, you need to upgrade" message for a while, so this is what I need to actually do it.

I go to upgrade, and the stupid thing acts like it's a whole, new application. Which involves dinking (yeah, I said dinking) with it for a while. Finally, it seems to go. But wait! If I want to access the iTunes store, I have to upgrade my Safari, which involves a search for software upgrades. Of which none are actually Safari. So I search for the Safari upgrade, which I find and go to download. Which, after waiting to download, I get the message that I need to upgrade my whole operating system. Excuse me?! I don't think so.

So, now I'm stuck with a new "improved" iTunes where I can't access the store. Oh, yeah, I still don't have the free holiday music.

I say it again: Apple: Bite me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The power of the words

So, the original plan was that I would write the 50,000 words and set it aside for a few weeks, then start to edit. It seemed like a good plan. But we all know about the best-laid plans.

I really wanted to stay away from it for a while, to actually miss writing The Book. I wanted to really need to write and I figured it would be at least a couple of weeks until that would happen. But last weekend (only five days later!) I really wanted to add some things to The Book. I suppose that's a good thing, but I'm already breaking the little rules in my head.

I have a copy of what I've written so far printed out. It's ready to be edited. If I'm being honest, I'm a little bit afraid of it. I'm not thinking it's the Great American Novel or anything, but I don't want it to be awful either. I'm a little afraid that when I read it, I'll realize that it's not very good. Or interesting. Or, even worse, I'll think that it's good but anyone else who reads it will be less than enthused.

I have people who believe in me, which I completely appreciate, but not one of these people has read a word of what I've written, so their belief is completely based outside of this exercise. It's wonderful to have people who trust what you do so much, but I do have a bit of a fear of disappointing them. That they will read it and, in an attempt to be positive, offer praise like, "wow, those margins are straight!"

But, let's be optimistic and say that I somehow get it to a point that I have strangers read it. I don't know if I'm ready for that. Ever. I'm not sure I could take the criticism from a person who doesn't have a reason to be nice to me, to sugarcoat the issues they might have with it. ("Look, these margins are crap!") But getting to that point, that point where I think someone else might appreciate what I wrote, that's both horrible and kind of exciting to me. Am I ever going to be at that stage?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hey Grandma!

When it comes to technology, sometimes I am so hopelessly behind. Sure, I can play the game. I have the blog, the twitter account, the facebook page. I maintain my calendar on Outlook, I'm connected to the internet. But, beyond all that simple stuff, I'm at a dead end when it comes to technology.

I use the wrong terms. Someone told me that they've RSSd me, and I am smiling and nodding (but I have no idea what that means.) Another friend asked me about sms-ing and I was, um I don't do that but you can text me. (Oh, how I wish that wasn't a true story. And that it happened more than a few weeks ago.)

My hard drive on this mac is almost full and I know it's because I have some junk on it that I could just delete and free up a ton of memory but I have no idea how to do it. (I probably have, like, 4 versions of Word or something kicking around.) I can't get my ipod touch to pick up the internet anywhere, not even in my house. (And, yes, I have the wifi on when I'm trying to find it -- I've since shut it off as that I don't run my battery down to nothing.)

I feel like if I got somebody to sit down with me and teach me, I could do it. Clearly, I have some capability. But talking to an IT guy, forget it. They use weird words and get mad when I try to explain that I clearly don't get it. Or they go about 10 steps too far ("here's how you can connect to the internet while water-skiing in the Bahamas and competing in a Magic tournament!" No, I just want to connect to the internet in Gaithersburg.) Or they want to tell you five ways to do the same thing ("you can connect though this button or this command or by spinning the computer three times in the air..." Just tell me one way -- stop confusing me!)

I feel like if I could figure it out, my life would be more efficient, more sleek. It's like finding the perfect handbag. It would pull everything together.


So, have you heard this one? Congress (yeah, our Congress) is discussing a bill that would mandate a college football play-off system. I know what you're thinking; you're thinking, thank God they're taking the time to address this important issue. Because, as you know, everything else is going so very well: no issues with the economy, war, health care: not a thing to worry about.

Look, I happen to like football. College football, even. And I even think that they way they determine who is Number One is kind of stupid (the system favors the big schools and certain leagues, for example), but, really, so what? Basketball has a play-off system (and, frankly, that's a sport where it makes a little more sense because you can play more than one game a week), and you still sometimes end up with a champion that people argue over.

Look, there's no one perfect system. And I actually think that having a little controversy is good for a sport, gives you something to argue about over beers with buddies. Look at Nascar: Jimmy Johnson is over there dominating, and they're all up in arms about how boring the sport has become. There are people who think the sport should be changed to get rid of the domination, but most of us are just bored. I personally like it when there isn't that obvious winner all the time.

Friday, December 4, 2009


I may be a cynic, but I always hope for the happy ending. To an unrealistic extent. Like, when I was watching "Milk" (oh, hey, spoiler alert), I was thinking to myself, maybe in this version he won't run into Dan White. Maybe someone will see Dan White break in and stop him. The crazy thing was that there was a part of me that really truly thought this was actually a possibility.

And, yes, every single time I reread "The Diary of Anne Frank" (and, believe me, it's been more than a few times), I hope that they can stay hidden for a few more months. Or maybe she'll get a little more to eat so she can survive the camps.

I just want it all to turn out alright. I just want everyone to have a chance.

I suppose there are worse things than having hope. But, of course, that means I'm disappointed sometimes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oh Christmas tree

Today I bought a Christmas tree. I got a fake one this year, which was the right choice. Yeah, a real tree smells nice and everything, but it's a lot of work. So, lazy wins this year (and, since it's gonna last, lazy will last for years to come.)

I wanted a just a plain, basic tree. Do you know how hard it is to find a tree that doesn't have lights or fake pine cones? And looks decent? Why are they all coming with lights these days? I know it's easier, but lights burn out. And sometimes you have special lights you want to use. Or maybe one year you want colored lights and the next year you want all blue lights. But if you don't want to buy a tree with lights already on it, that eliminates about 75% of the trees.

And, because you don't want lights, clearly, you want ugly, fake pine cones. Maybe the logic is as follows: don't want lights = must like "natural" things; pine cones are natural things; therefore, you must want the pine cones! Um, no. Not at all. So, now you're left with about three trees to choose from. One is just wimpy and ugly, one is one of those skinny trees, so you're left with that one, I guess. So, I bought that one.

I'll take a picture, I promise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I swear I didn't make this up

A question for you. Or, not a question, exactly, but maybe you can explain this. Give me a reference or something. Some time when I was in my 20s, I had heard that, in general, Catholics use colored Christmas lights, and Protestants use white lights. And, I swear, it was presented to me like, yup, this is the way it is. I must have heard it somewhere. It's a stupid stereotype. There's no good reason to have it. But now that I'm trying to confirm that there's some truth behind or something, I can't seem to find any confirmation. I've googled a few things, but, for the most part, nothing. I wouldn't have made this up, right? So, why is this in my consciousness? Any help out there?

Oh, and can you tell me why the church doors in Philadelphia are red?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is that all you blighters can do?

Last month I wrote over 50,000 words. For a novel. Yeah, really. That’s a lot of words, even for a babbler like me. It required a few things: whenever I had a chance, I wrote; no editing at all; just throwing those ideas on the page -- no pondering or thinking out those ideas or putting them in any sort of order; and using “down time” (such as walking to work, that sort of thing) to focus my thinking on ideas for “the book.”

Why did I do it? It was a crazy time at work and there’s really no good reason, but I guess I wanted the challenge. Maybe because it was a crazy time at work, maybe it helped me think of something other than work. I can’t be grinding my teeth about this nut-so work project when I’m trying to think of what to write in the next chapter.

There were a few times I didn’t think I’d make it. There was a point at about 20,000 words that I thought, okay, there’s no way I have any more to say about all of this. Story is over. I was stuck with a short story. But then I had this weird little burst of creativity that kept me going until about 47,000. And maybe because it was near the end, both word count-wise and time-wise, those last few thousand were killing me.

The NaNoWriMo site has all sorts of tips to help increase your word count, but they seem like cheats to me. Like, have your character think something, then say it. (For example: “John thought he should order a pizza. ‘I should order a pizza,’ said John.”) These strike me a bit as cheats. Look, if you’re going to commit to 50,000 words, make them as real as you can get them. Don’t pad just to pad (that said, I’m sure I did some, but I tried not to.) Or another thing NaNoWriMo does is they give you “dares” (such as “we dare you to put a submarine in your story! Then sink it!”) Oh, please. Just write your story. If you really want people to write a novel in a month, then the silliness needs to be set aside.

So, what's my book about? Yeah, I'm not ready to tell you yet. Sorry. It's been such a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing that I have no idea if it's any good or if the ideas fit together or anything like that, so it's still a private thing. If it makes you feel any better, I haven't shown any of it to anyone, so it's not you.

But I have a book. A short book and an unedited book, but a book that I wrote. For now, I've set it aside, at least for a couple of weeks. Then I'll get out the editing hat and see if there's anything there. I'll keep you posted.