Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here's to the gradual decline of someone else's housework.

My friend Sarah reads pretty much everything that's worth reading, and she's always been generous when it comes to sharing her interpretations on those readings with her friends. Fortunately for us, she's really smart and insightful--so her opinion adds to the conversation, instead of stopping it cold in its tracks.

It's always surprised me that Sarah didn't have a blog of her own. So when she started asking about blogging platforms, I let myself get a little hopeful. Well, it's out there now--in the great, wide blogosphere--and wow.

This is going to be one to watch.

I'm adding her to the blogroll, so you can get there from here. But if I were you, I'd bookmark it--just in case: The Adventures of Ernie Buffalo.

Image, Sophie Wellbeloved Poetry.

I think she needs a Twitter feed, too. I wanna see what she can do in 140 words.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Got a minute?

I've got two Comp I classes who are mighty sick of looking at me. In order to get them to show up for their last class today, I've promised them an in-class writing-for-credit exercise.

Actually, I sorta threatened them with it.

That seemed like a better idea when I said it in class on Monday than it did at 9:30 Tuesday night. You would think that this would be as simple as pulling a topic out of the air, throwing it at them, and saying, "Get started," but it's not. These people know when I've shown up without having done my prep work.

So I sat down and thought up a topic, along with a little something about how I got the idea. That way they know that I was thinking of them instead of sitting on the couch, eating Kettle Corn, and watching Fringe. Yeah, I've got TiVo, but they don't have to know everything.

Next semester, I'm going to incorporate The One-Minute Writer blog into my course outline, and I'm using this opportunity to recommend it to you. If you wish you could write a little something every day but don't have the incentive of a comp instructor's threats, this could be the ticket. Even if you already have your writing routine set, The One-Minute Writer is an excellent warm-up exercise.

Nothing cures writers' block like a little dose of the hair of the dog you wish would bite you.

Image, NYPL Digital Gallery.

EDIT: If you prefer to be visually nudged, try EasyStreet Prompts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More pressure I don't need.

My world is a mess.

And I think it's because there's just no room in my life any more for chores. I'm not speaking figuratively, here. Ever since I moved into this teeny-tiny apartment, me and my stuff grapple for real estate like it was the Intervención Estadounidense en México.

Because I don't have room
for the stuff I have, the stuff I need but don't have yet has to wait until there's a vacancy.

This is why my wine lives under the sink with the flower vases and ant spray, and why my empty tea pitcher can be found in the refrigerator. There's a cache of Diet Coke under the bed, and I've reached a standoff with the laundry--knowing that if I wash it, I'll just have to find a place to put it all away. It's important not to mess with the status quo--the slightest shift could tilt the whole thing on its axis, and all my crap would go tumbling out into the street.

So a couple of weeks ago, when my friend David told me that contrary to popular belief, the freezer was not really the best place to keep the vodka, I said, "Really? I had no idea!"

What I was thinking, though, was "Please don't tell me this. There's no place else to put it!"

In the fourteen days since, every time I reach for a handful of ice cubes or a sack of peas, that bottle of Smirnoff is sitting there, reminding me that I'm doin' it wrong. The clock is ticking, and I need to find another place for that bottle to live, before I ruin a perfectly good future Bloody Mary.

It's almost as bad as having lettuce in the crisper.

Image, Arkiva Tropika.

This post was written while listening to the gently falling rain.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Making cake and making do.

I had a dream this morning in which I needed a dozen eggs to bake a friend's wedding cake. Unfortunately, I only had money enough for nine. The grocer, though, agreed to give me the remaining three eggs if I would write an explanatory synthesis essay for him in exchange.

I'm not in any danger of obligating myself to bake a cake of any kind, I still have plenty of grocery money for the time being, and I don't write essays anymore--I assign them. What's important to note here, though, is that I'm so creative my mind keeps churning out ideas, even when I'm slobbering all over my pillowcase. Not everybody can pull that off and make it look so easy.

There are lots of stories about these types of transactions back during the Great Depression. In fact, bartering kept lots of people from doing completely without when nobody had any money.

I'm a big fan of the barter system, having spent a goodly portion of my life without any discernible discretionary income. In fact, working a trade is as old and comfortable a maneuver to me as is brushing my teeth. I once paid a friend to install new kitchen tile in exchange for a case of beer. Times were lean for him, and he didn't feel like he could justify spending the little money he had on beer. But he had a Saturday afternoon to kill, and I had a case of beer and a box of tile. By 4 pm, everybody was happy--although, I suspect he was happier still by 8 or 9 o'clock that night.

Now that lean times has become sort of a universal theme, I predict that a great many more people will be stretching their resources by swapping kind-for-kind among themselves. Creative-types do this kind of thing all the time, but there's nothing to say that the less artistic of us can't also get in on the action. This system works well any time you know how to do something your friend does not, and vice versa.

But it won't work if what you need is to have your interview suit dry-cleaned. And when my car needs new tires, I'm going to have to pony up the cash. I'm fairly certain Wal-Mart has all their explanatory synthesis essays written for them in a factory in China.

Image, Noreen's Cake Studio.

This post was written while listening to Robin Thicke's 2007 release, The Evolution of Robin Thicke.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Every bit as glorious as I remember.

I haven't written anything hilarious or moving for you to read today because my creative juices are blocked. And I have no one but myself to blame.

Not long ago, an acquaintance asked if I would be game to attend a mock prom as his date. And although I can't be sure, here's what I think may have happened next.

I heard the word "date," and associated it with "dinner"--the extra special kind that I don't have to cook or pay for, and that's when I said, "Sure. I'm up for that."

What was I thinking?

I've had a chance to eat since then, and so the idea of a free meal has lost some of its appeal. In fact, having had time for some clear-headed reflection, I can see now that this may very well be the stupidest thing I've done all year.

It's my teen nightmare come true--it's time for the big dance, and I don't have anything to wear.

Six months ago, I had several of Muffin Uptown's old prom dresses, a couple of bridesmaid's dresses, and an incredibly trashy rhinestone getup that I once wore to sing with the ATU jazz band. But part of the big move was to divest myself of things I would never, ever need again, and so it all went into the donation bin.

And it must have been pretty good stuff, because it's gone already. In fact, it looks as though all the middle-aged sized teenagers have already done their resale prom shopping; there's just nothing left.

But that's not the only problem. Because my skin heard me say "prom," it immediately began production on a yes-I-know-we-just-had-menopause-but-I'm-not-done-with-you-yet pimple, conveniently and prominently located directly between my eyes. It's going to be huge and unattractive by Saturday, and I know this because it has sent out a press release. This Saturday, I'm virtually guaranteed to be the only inappropriately-dressed, 49-year-old woman at the prom with a big Cyclops pimple on her head.

Who knows if the possibilities for disaster end there? Even if I could manage everything else, the fact remains that I don't know this guy very well. This could be one of those Charlie Brown situations--you know what I'm talking about--where you're counting on him having all the information, but then you show up and find that it's some sort of serious thing that requires actual couture and an updo? I just can't get away from this nagging feeling that it's only Nancy Allen and a bucket of pig's blood away from full-out disaster.

So that's why I can't blog today. I gotta find a way out of this mess, and I need to do it now, while he still has time to find another date.

And before he picks up the corsage.

Image, Square America.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Repeat after me.

"Everything is going to be okay."

When I have particularly anxious students (or formerly, technical writers), I ask them to put their hands over their hearts and say this, or something like this. Sometimes I also tell them to close their eyes, or to take three deep breaths, but the magic words are the same. I can tell that this makes them feel silly and self-conscious, but they do it anyway. Mostly because they trust me, but also because they are the teensiest bit afraid of me.

Lately, I seem to be administering this exercise more and more, and not just for my students.

There are a lot of freaked-out people walking around these days. And I'm not except. Back during Christmas break, when I was wrestling my Christmas tree into submission, I noticed that I was way more anxious than could be accounted for by merely a morass of malfunctioning Christmas lights. That was when I realized that Katie Couric was on the television in the background, doing her damnedest to convince me that the sky was falling.

The news is no better four months later. For a lot of people, the handbasket is nearer its eventual destination now than it was back in December. A slide show on the NYT Web page on Sunday damn near put me into a funk.

So I have to keep reminding myself--at least for me and mine--the challenges thus far have been overcomeable. I'm focusing on that. You'll have to do what you have to do to make your peace with "these uncertain times."

But maybe if you start with, "everything is going to be okay."

Image, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where have you been all my life?

I'm sure Amazon thinks I'm breaking up with them, since they haven't heard anything from me since Christmas. In terms of self control, I think that this may represent a personal best.

But I was there on Saturday, ordering a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and as long as I was in the neighborhood, I decided to throw caution to the wind and blow a couple of those dollars I'd been saving on Stephen King's Kindle novella, Ur.

The price was far less than I would've spent on a mocha latte, if I weren't also breaking up with Starbucks. And even though I don't own a Kindle, the title downloaded instantly to the Kindle application I have on my iTouch. I didn't have to synch the iPod, or make a wish and blow out the candle, or chant, "Mecca-lecca hi, mecca hiney ho."

One minute it wasn't there, and the next it was.

When I opened up the app and saw the title, a little shiver went straight down my spine. Who thought of this? The person who came up with this idea is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. This person knows what I need to be truly happy and fulfilled.

Friends who own a Kindle tell me that reading on the iTouch can't possibly compare with the Kindle reading experience; because the Kindle screen is larger and isn't backlit, it feels more like reading off the page and less like reading a computer screen. That's okay.

I couldn't stand for it to be any better than this.

Today's post was written while listening to 1974's Virtuoso by Joe Pass.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How a college degree can go so terribly wrong.

Two things you should know about me:

(1) I drink a lot of Diet Cokes, and
(2) I don't like to pay full price for anything.

In fact, I may very well be the most carbonated cheapskate on the planet.

So, when heading to the settlement for supplies, I like to have a plan. Since I am going to need to restock soon, I took a break from grading papers Saturday to peruse the Kroger circular. I know from experience that big-meal holiday weekends are the best time for getting the most bang from your Diet Coke dollar.

Sure enough, Kroger had Diet Coke on sale in all its incarnations. But I got all waylaid when I stopped to consider, which was the better deal?

First, some calculations:

There are 12 ounces of Diet Coke in one can and 33.8 fluid ounces in a liter. Thus, in a 2 liter bottle there are (33.8 x 2) 67.6 fluid ounces. 67.6 fluid ounces / 12 ounces per can = 5.63 cans of soda in one 2 litter bottle.

Diet Coke 12-packs are on sale at 3/$11.00, which is $3.66 for a 12 pack, less my $1.00 coupon/2. If I use my coupons to buy the canned Diet Cokes, I will pay $1.33 per 6-pk.

The 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke (5.63 cans) are on sale for 4/$5.00, and I have no coupon for those, which means that I will pay 1.25 per 5.63 cans'-worth if I buy the 2-liter size.

And this is as far as my liberal arts degree will take me. I can't figure out if that final .37 can's worth of diet coke is worth the 8 cents' difference. I need someone with a Ph.D. in economics to get on the horn and tell me whether I should buy the 2-liter bottles or the 12-pk cartons.

And as long as I am soliciting opinions, can someone shed some light on why I should feel compelled to split hairs over 8 cents that I would not even go to the trouble of fishing out the bottom of a handbag before donating it to Goodwill? It is this very compulsion--to shave minute units of measure off an already-negligible difference--that has prompted Muffin Uptown to ban me from ever asking, "what's quickest way to get there?"

Which becomes all the more imponderable if you happen to know that I made my new-car choice based on the color the dealer had in stock at the time.

Serendipitous postscript: Chocolate bunnies are 25% off.

Incredibly cruel postscript: More than one person has since asked me, "Did you not know that price-per-unit info is posted there on the shelf?"

Image, Chicstories.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Doctor my eyes.

I'm told that there's some sort of crisis in the housing market. You'd never believe it if you happened to be sitting as I am now--looking out one of my upstairs' windows, directly into a big-ass picture window situated over what will somebody be my neighbor's bathtub.

They are building a monster house on the lot directly behind my place, and it's as big as a Safeway store.

When I moved here in January, I had the movers place my desk directly in front of the window. The cat can sit on the desk and dream of the birds, and I can take advantage of the view and the morning sun.

As you might expect, it's distracting as hell.

But not distracting in a good sort of way, like it might be if I were looking out the window and daydreaming up the plot of my next big novel (you probably missed my first, small novel). This distraction wears dew rags, flannel shirts, and steel-toed boots. I can't get any writing done, because I'm too busy watching today's episode of Knots Landing: The Construction.

There are burly workers all over my backyard, y'all.

I doubt you would hear me complaining if the construction crew in question looked like the guy in the old Diet Coke ad, or--I don't know--your typical firefighters, say. If they looked more like Bob the Builder--even that might be an improvement.

They certainly aren't eye candy, but they are entertaining. They bicker like old ladies. They loll about on one side of the house while the supervisor is on the other. They make unnecessary trips, carrying practically nothing and then turn around and make the same trip all over again. They do dangerous, careless things that make me stand up and say "Watch it!"

Yesterday, one didn't show up for work, and I found myself wondering what had happened to him.

I watch them and I think about stories of pushed-back completion dates and slightly-less-than-perfect construction standards, and I say to myself, "Well, no wonder." And then I stop to consider the fact that they will--in spite of themselves--eventually finish the job. What am I supposed to do for entertainment, then?

But then I remember that gigantic picture window over the bathtub.

Today's post was written while listening to Jackson Browne's 1977 album Running on Empty.

Image, Square America.