Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Panting at the Finish Line

Candle Blown Out
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
I did it! I finished my nonNaNoWriMo novel and the candle held out til the bitter end. Whoo Hoo! And panting right along with me are Diana and Julie who also made it all the way to THE END. Congrats! (And Congrats to B who finished yesterday!)

Some stats:
Time at which I typed “The End”: 9:59 PM PST
Number of characters killed off: 4
Number of words written tonight: 3,725
Final Word Count: 51,624

I feel pretty good about the whole thing, to tell you the truth. I’m always quite pleased when I find a way to trick myself into finishing an overwhelming project.

Exhaustive post mortem and evaluation to come tomorrow.

I’m sure everyone will look forward to that.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Opportunity to Be Deceived

The message below (purportedly from the Highlands of Scotland) showed up in my blog’s In Box a few hours ago. It’s easily the most unusual e-mail I’ve gotten in response to a blog entry. What am I to make of it?

Hi rozanne its XXXX here in the highlands of scotland HELLO! i was browsing the net looking for a picture of a amethyst deciever and found your wonderfull picture. I run a wildfood business and the one mushroom we never sell is the ametyhsts as they r the most amazing magical fungi each time u eat one they seem to taste completely different like a new exotic meat every time. I read that u would like the chance to eat more wild mushrooms and thought it would be a nice gesture to send u some dried. I like giving mushrooms to people who appreciate them. my e-mail is i look forward to hearing from u

Hmmmm. I should mention that the name given in the body of the message is totally different from the sender's name. Not that that necessarily means it's a weird fungusy SPAM/SCAM.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Burning That Candle

Beezel Candle
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
This is the candle I burn every time I sit down to work on my NaNoWriMo novel (or I should say NonNaNoWriMo novel, since I’m not quite abiding by the official rules). The postcoital droop of the candle could be a metaphor for how today’s writing session (something like five or six hours long) went. I understand now why so many promising novels fizzle disappointingly at the end. I’d much rather just write a series of amusing (to me anyway) vignettes, than devise a carefully crafted plot. But when I got to the mid-30,000s, I realized I’d better buckle down because nothing much was happening! Yow!

I can’t say I’m really enjoying this latter part of the novel. It seems contrived and predictable, but I’m determined to finish it, so I’ll just keep plowing forward and then see what I think when the dust clears. It’s probably not helping that I decided to re-read Brideshead Revisited* after writing this post. I am just blown away by Evelyn Waugh’s virtuosic characterization and dialogue—and his seamless exposition. If I had time I’d reproduce some of it here, but B and I are off to see The 40-Year-Old Virgin at one of the pizza-and-beer movie theaters. We are both in need of some lowbrow entertainment.

Word Count as of this very moment: 45,328 words. Need 50,000 by Midnight November 30.

*Actually, I’m not reading it really. I’m listening to Jeremy Irons read it to me while I do other stuff like put laundry away. It's nice to have Jeremy Irons at my beck and call, I must say. Time—I don’t have enough of it!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Nontraditional (and Cranky About It)

Had I gone back to Chicago to have the “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner at my dad’s house, here’s what would have been served up to me:
  • Butterball turkey (frozen)
  • Gravy (reconstituted from a mix in a paper packet)
  • Stuffing (from a box)
  • Mashed potatoes (instant)
  • Sweet potato casserole (with burnt marshmallows on top)
  • Green bean casserole (frozen green beans, cream of mushroom soup, canned mushroom odds and ends, and Durkee fried onion bits)
  • Pillsbury dinner rolls (cracked open from a tube)
  • Cranberry gel (from a can)
  • Pumpkin pie with canned whipped topping (both from the supermarket)
  • Riesling wine (sickeningly sweet)
Instead, I went to a Thanksgiving potluck given by some friends of ours. In the following (unorthodox) order—over the course of several hours—I consumed:
  • Spanakopita
  • Baba ghanouj and pita bread (my contribution to the feast)
  • Pastitsio
  • Greek salad
  • Dolma
  • Spanakopita (a different kind from the first kind)
  • Baklava (homemade and awesome)
  • Tiramisu (ditto)
  • Pumpkin pie (very tiny sliver with even tinier blop of Cool Whip)
  • Lamb
  • Roasted potatoes
  • Ouzo
Is it any wonder I opted to stay in Portland? I have to say I do not care for the so-called traditional Thanksgiving meal. For one thing it’s a far cry from what the Pilgrims actually ate in 1621. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, they probably had wild goose or duck. And guess what? The Indians showed up uninvited, but since they brought venison, fish, eels, shellfish, and beer, the Pilgrims graciously decided not to kill them.

I know lots of people love the not-at-all-traditional Thanksgiving meal. And I have no doubt that many people (Jamie springs to mind) prepare a much tastier and wholesome version of it than my dad does.* The problem is: I detest turkey. I feel that mashing potatoes is the very worst way to prepare them. And with the exception of the Pillsbury rolls, nothing else on the menu does a thing for me. It mystifies me when people act shocked or feel sorry for me because I didn’t have a "traditional" Thanksgiving. I’d just prefer not to eat food I don’t like and participate in a phony tradition—that’s all.

Anyway, I had a happy Thanksgiving. And because I avoided turkey, I’m wide awake, blogging away in a chipper fashion and ready to move right on to a marathon novel-writing session. How many people that partook of turkey can say that? Nevertheless, I hope everyone else who celebrated Thanksgiving enjoyed it as much as I did, and that if you did the turkey/mashed potatoes/pumpkin pie thing, that the meal you ate was less pummeled and processed than my dad’s rendition of it.

Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day. I plan to observe it. Last year, I went on and on (ad nauseum) about how bothered I am by the mad spending binge that starts tomorrow and rages out-of- control throughout December until it crashes into Christmas. If possible, I feel even more sickened by it this year, and it hasn't even started yet. It irks me to hear news stories speculating about how much spending will be done this year and making the spurious claim that if people aren’t out there buying up a shitload of crap, it will be “bad” for the economy. I don’t get it. Someone please explain to me how it benefits individuals and society as a whole for people to go out and rack up ever greater amounts of credit card debt purchasing useless and meaningless items such as a “talking comedy calculator,” “a tiki head tissue box cover,” or an electric garlic roaster? I could go on.

This is my least favorite time of year.

*We’ve tried to ratchet up the quality of the meal from time to time. For example, we’ve made real cranberry relish from fresh cranberries, but my dad will have none of it. He wants his slices of jiggley maroon gel with the can marks impressed into them. Go figure.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Lint in Portland's Bellybutton

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Ahoy! Avast! Why is this dinghy (if indeed it is a dinghy) and its Old Salt captain shipwrecked in the middle of the woods? What’s with the cannon? Got me. All I can tell you is that B and I saw it when we took a break from novel writing yesterday to go for a walk and to, as my sister put it, “keep from developing love handles like a P.E. teacher!”

We’re slowly but surely working our way through the walks in Laura O. Foster’s oft-mentioned and much- praised (by me) book, Portland Hill Walks. Yesterday’s walk (Walk #3) included a pleasant romp through the northernmost reaches of Forest Park, followed by a precipitous descent down Firelane 9, which spit us out in Linnton,* a neighborhood of Portland that, I'm sorry to say, failed to charm me.

True it’s backed right up against Forest Park, but U.S. Highway 30 slices right through it providing a relentless din of traffic. True, also, that there are great views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood, and the tippy tops of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier, but it’s hard to ignore the Port of Portland’s massive Terminal 4 (part of a 6-mile-long Superfund site) in the foreground. But evidently, people are willing to shell out pretty good coin to live in Linnton. For $424,000 or so you can buy a smallish condo unit in a building that was once a school (and, incidentally, the alma mater of Portland’s premier drag queen Darcelle). I don’t know—you could buy a very nice, good-sized house in my neighborhood for dough like that and you wouldn’t have to do all your grocery shopping at 7-11—Linnton has almost no business district. Just a couple of restaurants—notably the Decoy Saloon (Special: spaghetti and meatballs and pie a la mode)—a gas station, the aforementioned 7-11, and the Linnton Market (a sort of arts and crafts collective [I think] that I fear isn’t doing too well).

I don’t mean to Linnton-bash. I’m sure no one in Linnton wanted U.S. 30 to be routed right through it, thus sealing the fate of the once-thriving business district that included a department store, a winery, a grocery, a barbershop, lumber mills, and a horsemeat cannery, which, Foster reports intriguingly, sold its products to “the European market.” (!?) Anyway, clearly, if people will plunk down nearly a half million dollars to live in a dinky condo there, it’s got something going for it that I was unable to detect.

*Didn’t Brad and Janet of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame hail from a place called Linnton?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Colossally Bad Day

I’m having myself a glass of wine right now, because today—a day during which I had intended to make very industrious progress on two work projects—turned out to be pretty much a lost cause, and I feel I need to do something proactive to erase it from my memory.

It really wasn’t anything all that bad. Just sort of a pile-up of minor irritations that just kept accumulating, e.g., a snippy e-mail from a guy I dislike who’s my contact person on a project I dislike (intensely) and a screw-up by another client that resulted in my having to spend 45 unpaid minutes printing out files; and the knowledge that time is ticking away and deadlines on both projects are fast approaching.

By noon, I’d hardly gotten anything done except to make nice with the guy I dislike and print out those files. It was then that I decided that in order to salvage the day and give me the energy necessary to be ultra-productive for the remainder of the afternoon it was imperative that I immediately go get a Colossal Burger (and fries) from Burgerville. So I got in the car and drove there, dressed in sweat pants with Led Zeppelin blaring out of the stereo (sweats and Zeppelin, could I sink any lower?). I didn't even get out of the car but got in the drive-thru line, pondering just how enormous my ecological footprint must be at that very moment and realizing that I was canceling out any eco Karma points earned yesterday when I rode my bike to the bank instead of driving.

It was a beautiful day today, too—sunny with temps in the ‘50s, and I started descending into a rut I sometimes get in when I feel pressured with work deadlines (and the weather is nice) that goes something like: “Why do I have to work? It’s not fair!” It’s totally irrational and self-pitying, I know, because most people would give their eye teeth to be able to work from home and to have the flexibility to run to Burgerville on a whim. I try to snap myself out of it, but there it is: I’d rather be loafing.

So I got back home, snarfed down the burger and fries and, hmmmm, somehow not all that much productivity occurred. A lot of papers got moved around and scribbled with indecipherable notes, but I didn’t actually get through the shuffling and scribbling phase until about 5:00 at which time I should have just called it quits. But I dinked around for about another hour, and now I have a Word document on my computer labeled with the name of the assignment and 28K of actual content. Very good. Not!

Oh, well. It will all get done somehow. It always does, but I think I may be turning into one of those people who works best under pressure and waits until the 11th hour to get started. How did that happen? Where’s that college girl who used to have all her papers written a week before they were due?

On another topic, I am really enjoying writing my (non)NaNoWriMo novel, even though it means that I never get to bed before midnight. I’ve got this little ritual where I turn out the lights and light a pillar candle and just start pounding away at the keyboard. I’ve always thought that the concept of “writing rituals” was sort of hokey, but I’m telling you, I don’t think I’d be nearly as far along as I am without that candle (even though I’m still behind on my word count).

Sometimes I’m keenly aware that what I’m typing is doing nothing to move the action forward. And I’m often aware that I am churning out crap, but I’m hoping that somewhere buried in the crap are a few salvageable paragraphs. Actually, I don’t care that much that it’s not very good and that the characters are ludicrous, the dialogue unrealistic, and the plot meandering and implausible. I realize that part of my motivation for doing this is to gain closure on that job I left eight years ago, but part of my motivation is also revenge (what does that say about me?). I think I actually need to be doing this—it's become clear to me that it's baggage I need to rid myself of. Plus, it’s such fun to find ways to incorporate actual events, conversations, and mannerisms into the manuscript. Fodder was shoveled at me (and all my colleagues) daily while I worked there, so I've got plenty to work with.

It’s also fun to make stuff up out of whole cloth. I like the process, the way the deadline forces you to just write full steam ahead and not linger and agonize over gross and glaring imperfection. It’s kind of amazing sometimes what can happen. I remember once going to a Sherman Alexie reading at Powells City of Books, and people in the audience kept asking him over and over again about where this or that particular scene or character came from. He just kept shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I have no idea! Ya got me! I don't know where this stuff comes from!” And that’s sort of how I feel sometimes. Once you really let your imagination take over and toss your internal editor in the dungeon, you don’t know what will happen next—who will show up or what unforgiveable social faux pas they’ll commit—and that’s what’s fun and exciting. It’s definitely a new experience for me, but it’s a good one. I hope I do make my 50,000 words by November 30, although—holy crap—I am really going to have to pull out all the stops to do so. I've got 27,474 words to go.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Twenty Random Things

One of these days I may post a “blogifesto” and one of the things I’ll probably proclaim off-limits is memes, but until that time (and because I’m 6,000 words behind on my NaNoWriMo novel) they’re fair game. I saw this one three times today (on Diana’s, Jamie’s, and Stacy’s blogs), so I’m taking that as a sign. Besides, a long time ago, I ambitiously tried (and failed) to come up with the vaunted "100 Things List" that all bloggers worth their salt post on their blogs. I only made it to 48 and then abandoned the project. So this is my chance to do something with it. Here’s the cream of the crop (i.e., stuff I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before):

1. I’m a mesomorph with slight ectomorphian tendencies.
2. I have poor manual dexterity.
3. Try as I might, I am unable to see the appeal of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR, or “loater”) trilogy. I have many friends whom I like and respect who think it’s the caterpillar’s kimono. Let’s just say it’s beyond me.
4. The smell of sun-baked fir needles makes me happy.
5. The most advanced yoga pose I can do is Bhujapidasana (Note: That’s not me in the photo.)
6. The one food I never get tired of is buttered toast.
7. My least favorite actor is Willem Dafoe. The very mention of his name makes my skin crawl.
8. My least favorite actress is Natalie Portman. Her voice and demeanour send me around the bend.
9. I have only the slightest flicker of interest in watching competitive sports, with these exceptions: minor league baseball, the Winter Olympics, and the Tour de France.
10. Both my parents worked as professional musicians.
11. I am a logomaniac but not a metromaniac.*
12. I prefer borrowing books, CDs, DVDs, etc. from the library to buying them (in most cases).
13. Delaware is one of the few states I’ve never visited.
14. I will never ever visit Disneyland or Las Vegas--not even if I win all-expenses-paid luxury vacations there.
15. I hate steak.
16. I’ve never voted for a Republican.
17. I’m a garrulous drunk—not that I get drunk that often.
18. I don’t subscribe to any magazines (anymore).
19. My favorite metal is copper.
20. I don’t feel like a grown-up.

*According to my Forgotten English Word-a-Day desk calendar, a logomaniac is “one who is insanely interested in words”; a metromaniac is someone who has a “mania for writing poetry.”

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Olga Sorebutt

Yesterday, I apparently put far greater demand than usual on my gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus (especially the gluteus maximus). Evidently, planting 40 tulip and daffodil bulbs is more than my ass can take, because today it is exceedingly and deeply sore. It’s bizarre, I mean, I could understand if I had sore shoulders or forearms from digging all those four- to six-inch holes in heavy clay soil, but what was my butt doing getting so involved in the process? I guess I probably did a lot of repeated squatting and kneeling, but aren’t I in better shape that that? I do hike up a lot of hills (and mountains) and I’m never sore after that. It’s pretty pathetic when gardening is capable of putting your ass out of commission.

It’s weird to be so keenly aware of my derriere. I’ve been dragging around the house moaning and giving B updates on its status (I think it’s getting worse!) all day long, which inspired B to quip, “If you were a gymnast, your name would be Olga Sorebutt," which I thought was a riot. I have such a weakness for bad puns.

I think two paragraphs about my bum is enough.

I have another body part that requires discussion. Remember my boring hair? Well, as so many people urged me to do, I called up M, my stylist, and told her I wasn’t at all pleased with her efforts of the previous week, and that I wanted something more dramatic and contrasty and life-altering. She was very cheerful about the whole thing and booked me in for a re-do—at no charge (triple underscored!) I went in Friday. The first thing she did was haul out these big heavy books of color swatches. She pulled out one swatch that was the color of a stop sign! Not quite what I had in mind.

She had a few other more natural-looking choices, but she warned me that they might end up looking pretty carrot-y and that it was a bit difficult to predict what the outcome would be (which she hardly needed to tell me, given what happened [or failed to happen] before). I sat there with the swatch book on my lap, placing the various red options on top of various dark- brown swatches to try to gauge the overall effect. Because my hair is already so color treated, the bottom line seemed to be that she was probably not going to be able to achieve the results I had dreamed of, i.e., dark-brown hair with striking coppery streaks in it. I thought about just telling her that I would stick with what I had and then leave—the spectres of stop signs and carrots were scaring me. After all, my hair was totally nice looking, just boring. And boring is better than catastrophic electric carrot hair, right? But I was there and it was free and I’m not all that good at being decisive, so I did what was easiest. I stayed and picked the most middle-of-the-road (and, I hoped, the least likely to go carrot on me) choice.

M put in the foils and then dyed the rest of my hair a shade or two darker brown (to help heighten the contrast). I’m happy to report that there is not a trace of carrot in my hair and, as for the highlights/streaks, well, you can’t miss ‘em.


But what color, exactly, are they? I’ll tell you: Zinfandel.* I figured that out last night while at a wine and cheese party. I realized that I was basically drinking my hair color. I did get at least half a dozen compliments from people at the party, so at least I know I achieved my goal of being noticed. But whether my hair truly looks good rather than freakish, is not so easy to determine. People fib to be nice sometimes, you know. No one (at least no one who’s a friend of mine) is going to come up to me and say: “Your hair looks like shit! Shit with Zinfandel poured over it!”

I do sort of like it. I think it’s an improvement over what I had before, but it’s a bit more radical and edgy than what I originally wanted. Also, the Zinfandel color will definitely start to fade after a few washings (all reds do), and I’m kind of living in fear that it will fade to some dreadful shade like bubblegum pink, which is why I haven’t washed my hair since I had it colored on Friday and why I am wondering if I can let it go a few more days. Oy!

*The streaks may not look Zinfandel to you, but, trust me, they are. It is nearly impossible to take a photo of one's own hair, just so you know. I spent 20 minutes and took 40 different photos of my hair, and I didn't get a single one that accurately captured the color. I posted one of them anyway, just to justify the ridiculous amount of time I spent contorting myself into different poses in a vain (in more than one sense) attempt to get a good photo of my hair.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

That's Better

I can’t stand looking at the photos of the banished coffeemaker any longer! They remind me of tobacco-stained teeth straight out of Deliverance or something. Here’s some prettier stuff to gaze upon until I can get a new entry posted.

Canterbury Bells

Roses at Peninsula Park

'Etoile Violette' Clematis

Much better.

The top photo is of some Canterbury Bells I grew in my garden this summer. Pretty but they require inventive and labor-intensive staking and cosseting.

The middle photo was taken at Portland's Peninsula Park rose garden.

The bottom photo is of my 'Etoile Violette' clematis in early summer. Looking out at my garden now, it's hard to believe anything ever bloomed there.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fed Up!

I am just going to take a moment to record a few recent housekeeping triumphs. This is the first thing I see every morning when I walk into the kitchen. Whose genius idea was it to make a white coffeemaker? Coffee penetrates and stains plastic, people!




I cannot tell you how much it bums me out to see that permanently stained thing every time I am in the kitchen. I don’t even use it. It belongs to B who, like many guys, is not bothered by its scuzzy appearance. He bought it about six years ago, when an identical white (and brown) Mr. Coffee croaked during an extended summer heat wave. He went out immediately and bought the one we have now—even though black coffeemakers (a color that does not stain) were available!

I couldn’t believe he had screwed up a legitimate opportunity to replace soemthing I hated with something I would like, but I don’t remember why I didn’t go exchange it. Possibly the packaging had already been destroyed by the time I learned of the new purchase. Anyway, since my upbringing does not allow me to replace something unless it is broken, I have lived with this loathsome eyesore for six or so years, and endured daily spasms of honked-offedness whenever I look at it and the way it imbues the otherwise bright and cheery kitchen with dinginess.

But as part of the ongoing clutter-elimination rampage (which is coming along nicely), I have decided that I am going to do away with all esthetically displeasing things that impinge upon my quality of life. So yesterday, when I happened to see a black Mr. Coffee* on sale for $17, into my cart it went. I feel positively joyful about the prospect of taking the white (and brown) one over to Goodwill today and being shut of it forever!

I’m also fed up with this.

Kettle o' Disgustingness

Horrifying and esthetically displeasing in the extreme. I’m not sure quite how it reached such a fever pitch of disgustingness. I’ve tried without success to clean it several times. Yesterday, while in the grip of the same force that impelled me to buy the Mr. Coffee, I purchased a product called "Goo Gone" that combines “Citrus Power and Scientific Technology to defeat the toughest stains and gummy messes.” Just the ticket! I spent about 25 minutes this morning directing Citrus Power, Scientific Technology, a Heavy Duty Scotch Brite scrubby sponge, and a quantity of Elbow Grease at the surface of the tea kettle.

Burnished and Bright

Not bad. And I must say, Goo Gone smells delightfully of oranges and tangerines. I’d take a swig, but it contains petroleum distillates.

I’m not through being fed up, though.

65-Year-Old Window

This is what the view out our living room window looks like every time it rains—i.e., all winter long. Cold outdoor air strikes the outside surface of the window and makes its way through the single pane of glass where it meets warm indoor air. Result: I am blinded by science. Horrific view-obscuring condensation forms on the inside of the pane and black mold multiplies on the wooden watchamacallits that divide the pane into segments.

Now that I think about it, it is somewhat incredible that we have lived with these single-pane, 65-year-old windows for nearly five years. There are no storm windows for them or screens. You can’t open them in the summer either. I guess the main reason we haven’t replaced them is that I am under the impression that it is going to cost an arm and some fraction of a leg to get new windows. I also believe I read somewhere that replacing the original windows of your “period” home can reduce its value. This has just got to be a spurious claim. You’d have to be a halfwit to prefer heat-leaking, dripping, mold-encrusted windows you can’t see out of to insulated, double glazed, mold-free windows.

How is it that I have all this time to devote to buying new coffeemakers and scrubbing tea kettles? Don’t I have work to do? Aren’t I supposed to be writing a novel? The short answer is: no and yes. I took yesterday and today off because I am temporarily between assignments. (I love it when that happens. It will end tomorrow, though.) And, as for the novel, well. I’ve been working on it, but I really don’t think it needs to be novel length. I think it should a long short story, so I’m not going to kill myself to make that 50,000-word quota. I think I’ll shoot for 20,000 or 30,000. That way I can still have a life. Maybe.

*I know that there are probably better brands of coffeemakers out there, but B once read a Consumer Reports article that rated Mr. Coffee as the best coffeemaker for its price, and he will countenance no other brand. He also things Yuban coffee is acceptable. I don’t—which is why he uses the Mr. Coffee to make his awful Yuban and I use the tea kettle, a single serving cone filter, and a sustainably grown, organic decaf blend to make my coffee.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

That Low Door in the Wall

That Low Door in the Wall

"I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city."

I’ve always loved that quote (from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh), and it’s sorta-kinda appropriate as a caption for this photo I took today, so I’m whipping it out and using it. Yeah, it's really more of a gate than a door, but it is low and it is embedded in a very handsome stone wall, so—good enough! And, yes, if there are any Waugh scholars out there, I know that the quoted passage isn’t literally describing a low door in a wall. But the image of a literal low door in a wall leading to an enchanted garden captured my imagination back when I first read the book, so I’m always on the lookout for one, even though it's not the kind of thing you find much in the United States. Maybe that’s why I like the image. It has a mystique that promises adventure.

B and I went out for a walk today and was it ever a good thing to do. I have been sitting on my arse almost nonstop since last Sunday. I felt like I was turning into a typical American, i.e., inexcusably sedentary.

Both last Sunday and this Sunday B and I took took “hill walks” described in the unbelieveably excellent, informative, and beautifully written book Portland Hill Walks by Laura O. Foster. Both walks were in Northwest Portland, which is where the heavy-wallet brigade lives. B and I are not members of that particular brigade. Consequently, we really hadn’t spent any time roaming the terraced streets of the Willamette Heights, Nob Hill, and Kings Heights neighborhoods.

They are absolultely lovely—with roller-coastery streets that have evocative names (like Hermosa Boulevard and Alpine Terrace), secret mossy staircases, expansive views out over the city and beyond to the snowcapped peaks of the Cascades, and swanky mansions that sell for well over a million dollars. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the White House-like home that belonged to the inventress of the curling iron, but to give you some idea, this abomination is selling for $600,000 and is probably about the cheapest thing available in those neighborhoods. It has an air of the trailer park, I think, and it’s UPS brown to boot. Amount of curb appeal? Zero or less.

The streets meander all over the place because they are built into a steep hillside generally known as the West Hills. Foster calls the West Hills the "Tualatin Mountains," which I’m sure is the correct name—she’s a stickler for accuracy. True, they do rise to about 1,000 feet, but here in Oregon, where we have several dozen real mountains that are more than 9,000 feet tall, it seems ludicrous to call them mountains. Plus they’re traversed by countless paved streets. Then again, some of those streets dead-end abruptly with a footpath that leads right into a 5,000-acre forest: Forest Park. I don’t think any other city in the U.S. has a forest that large within its city limits. Yet another reason why Portland totally rocks!

The walks had us dipping in and out of Forest Park and then emerging to give us the opportunity to goggle at more heavy-wallet abodes and to gaze out over the cityscape from the exalted height of the Pittock Mansion (about 1,000 feet above sea level), where I found a birch bolete mushroom (a choice edible!!!) among the rose bushes. (Sadly, it was teeming with teensy writhing worms, so I didn't eat it, but I must report and document my unexpected find nonetheless.)

It’s stimulating enough to just walk through the neighborhoods and the forest, but the reason I’m so in love with Foster’s book is that she provides tons of great background on the history (and natural history) of the stuff you see on the walks, which, I hardly need mention, is right up my alley! For example, Henry Lewis Pittock (1834-1919), the original owner of the Pittock Mansion, was an outdoor enthusiast, which may explain why he built his home at the top of a mountain (albeit the top of one of the shrimpy Tualatin Mountains) in the middle of the forest. One of his daughters lived in Camas, Washington, and he would routinely ride his bike to her home—a round-trip journey of 45 hilly, unpaved miles, with a killer 1,000-foot climb at the very end to get back to his mansion. And get this—he was doing this when he was in his 70s, possibibly riding a contraption that looked like this!

So, pretty amazing. Work and the rain and NaNoing (don’t ask) have forced me into an unnaturally housebound state, so I’m really glad we got out of the house for the afternoon today, and (figuratively, this time) went through that low door.

A few other sights in the vicinity.

Abandoned WPA Building in Forest Park

Red Maples on NW Thurman Ave.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Different Kind of Brainwork

I’ve come to the conclusion that I should try to finish The Blight of Beezel Tower. I always need to really overthink something before I decide to do it. And I believe I did a very thorough job of overthinking whether or not to revive The Blight. So, as long as NaNoWriMo is going, I might as well take advantage of its slipstream and see if I can finish up by 12:00 AM, Howard Island Time, November 30, 2005. Maybe through the process of engaging in a different kind of brainwork than I'm used to, I'll work some flab off the old brain cells, even though it may not be the best use of my time. I’m sure that guy who wrote Seven Habits of Highly Effective People would disapprove, but I despise all books of that ilk, so who cares what he thinks? Perhaps I need to work a reference to Seven Habits into The Blight, so I can mock and skewer that guy and his dumb book.

I’m still going to be blogging here. I’ll post two or three entries a week as usual and will work on the novel on the days I don’t blog. At least that’s the plan. We’ll see just how laughable and ludicrous that goal turns out to be. As of today, I feel optimistic that both are do-able, especially if it keeps raining.

For me, there’s nothing like torrential rain to enhance productivity. I got a lot of work (the paying kind) done today, because it rained all day long. I just hunkered down and blazed through my assignment, taking short, refreshing breaks every hour or two to go look out the window and admire the growth of the mammoth puddle at the end of our driveway (which I am sort of in love with--the puddle not the driveway). Of course, I love nice weather, too, but when it’s nice on a workday, I’m always a bit put out that I’m stuck indoors working (very immature of me).

Sure, I’m self-employed and could just blow off part of the day and take a walk. I seldom do that, but I definitely don’t work as efficiently when the Sun is out. Kind of psycho and self-defeating, really, because if nice weather motivated me to be efficient then I could finish work an hour or two early (maybe) and go out and enjoy the beautiful weather. I don’t know how I got like this, but, clearly, choosing to live in “Puddletown” was a good move on my part. Imagine what would happen if I lived in southern California, where it never rains (at least that’s my impression). I’d be parked in front of the computer for ten to twelve hours a day in a sort of stop and go work/fritter pattern. Gah! I hate that.

One other thing I accomplished today was to put up a blog where I will be entering installments of The Blight of Beezel Tower. That should help me actually stay on task with it, I hope. (I know that making my journal be a public blog has kept me at it for more than a year now—something like a tenfold improvement over any previous diary/journal attempts I’ve ever made.) There are four installments of The Blight up so far, and I’ve probably got six to eight more ready to go before I have to buckle down and start grinding out new stuff. Go here if you want to see what’s up there so far, or click on the link in the blogroll. Start at the bottom with Installment 1 and read up from there--but only if you really, really want to. I must reiterate that it is the roughest of all rough and unpolished drafts!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Mulling Things Over to a Ridiculous Degree

Even though I don’t really have a huge deathwish to write fiction, I admit I find the concept of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) intriguing. Several people on my blogroll are giving it a whirl (Diana, Jane, and Julie) as well as my nonblogging friend, TC, in Chicago, so yesterday I thought, why not? Why not use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to finish a piece of fiction I started writing when I quit my last job about eight years ago?

After I quit I gave myself five months off. Part of it was spent decompressing from the soul-shriveling job and trying to reclaim my identity and maybe tap into some elusive and previously unreachable reserve of creativity. I decided it would be good therapy to write a modern-day satirical gothic horror novella about what it was like to work at that wretched place. It was cathartic. I made no attempt to create realistic characters, but it sure was fun—like jabbing pins into a literary Voodoo doll. Of course, despite the fact that I had all that time on my hands, I still found a ton of excuses to not write—a common and perverse problem among writers so it seems. But whenever I did force myself to sit down and work on it, it was a good thing and it made me laugh.

I opened the novella-to-be up yesterday and took a look at it again. Parts of it aren’t bad; parts of it suck shit. Still, maybe it would be a good thing to finish it, and get some sort of symbolic closure on that particular chapter of my life. NaNoWriMo might be just the thing to get me to do it. A firm deadline and the remote camaraderie of thousands of other frenzied writers. Plus, I’ve already got 10,000 words, so I wouldn’t have to actually write every day—I'd need to be only semi-frenzied. And it might help me become a more spontaneous writer—something I’m always striving for. I always tinker as I go and I’d like to break myself of that habit. Spew now; tinker later.

So I got all stoked about NaNo-ing—especially about being able to display that snazzy little NaNoWriMo pencil-jogger icon in the sidebar of my blog. Weird, I know. I logged onto NaNoWriMo’s site and signed up. Then I made the fatal mistake of reading the FAQs. You are not allowed to work on a work-in-progress (WiP)! You have to start at Ground Zero on November 1. Bummer! Of course, there are no NaNoWriMo police who will impound my computer and bundle me off to the hoosegow, but it just so happens that I am a rule follower par excellence and now that I know it is illegal to use NaNoWriMo to finish a languishing WiP, I just don’t feel right about participating.

Of course, I could just get on with it. But it seems I need artificial motivation and goals. Plus, after the letdown of realizing I wasn’t going to be able to display the icon and—even more importantly—the fabulous progress bar that tells everyone what percentage of your 50,000 words you’ve written, my enthusiasm has faded. I started thinking about how I really hardly have time for blogging let alone another mammoth nonpaying writing venture. Plus, I need to spend eight hours a day earning a living and—time permitting—hunt for mushrooms, remove every last piece of clutter from the house, hike, knit a sweater (or finish an afghan), drink beer with friends, scrub toilets, chase down dust bunnies, make apple pie, sleep—any number of things more crucial to my continued existence and/or that might yield a better sense of satisfaction. Bottom line, I really shouldn’t make finishing a piece of fiction I started eight years ago a top priority.

And yet, I’ve never deleted it, and I’ve transferred it from hard drive to hard drive through three (or four) generations of computers. I’m hanging onto it for some reason. Maybe it’s just a piece of virtual clutter? Or maybe I should crap or get off the crapper. I could just do my very own thing a—NonNaNoWriMo—and get the thing done. Dither, vacillate, waffle. I can’t decide.

Newsflash! B just told me he’s doing NaNoWriMo—and starting from scratch like you’re supposed to! I had no clue until this very minute. (He's always keeping important pieces of news to himself and then springing them on me.) He says his NaNo is really crappy. But I told him encouragingly, “Good! Good! It’s good if it’s crappy, because that means you’re being spontaneous!” What a supportive partner I am.

Anyway (and you knew this was coming) here’s the excerpt (taken from about the second chapter) that I would have pasted into my NaNoWriMo author’s profile if I had decided to lie and cheat. Remember, it’s very, very rough. It was done in the spirit of NaNoWriMo—I just let it spew. Don’t feel you have to say something nice about it. I’m just posting it to see if it will sort of prime the pump, and I’ll feel inspired to go head finish the bloody thing.


"Come on in and close the door behind you." said a voice.

It took Kim's eyes a few moments to adjust to the near darkness of the bell-tower office. All shades were drawn and the only light, if it could be called light, came from the screen saver of a computer monitor upon which a single white chessman spun counterclockwise at about 50 rpm. Kim tried not to become mesmerized and attempted to make out the face of her potential employer. Just then he moved his mouse and a document, which turned out to be Kim's resume appeared on the screen. By the additional light produced by the large amount of white space on Kim's resume, she made out the following physical details. Mr. Beezel had carrot-red hair drawn back in a ponytail. He held an unlit cigar in one hand and the kind of lighter you have to fill with lighter fluid in the other. His feet were propped up on his desk and clad in expensive cowboy boots, which sported a red chili pepper on each toe. In fact, it appeared that he had probably moved the mouse with the heel of his boot as both his hands were full.

"Let me just read through your resume for a minute," he said leaning a little closer to his computer. Thirty seconds later he said, "So do you want to know more about the job and our company?" Not waiting for an answer he continued. "We are a national leader in the design and production of communications resources for our clients, whether that be newsletters, internal communiques, videos, interactive multimedia products, annual reports, what have you. We take over those duties from our clients and we do it better and more cheaply than they could ever hope to do it. Your role, should we make the decision to hire you, would be as a proofreader. We've interviewed 40 or 50 people for this job and, to be frank, we're not seeing what we're looking for. Let me ask you a few questions."

"How old do you think I am?"

Kim was caught off guard. Her interviewer looked about 30, but it was really impossible to tell in such poor light. Should she highball or lowball? "About 30," she finally said. He looked at her with raised eyebrows, turned the computer screen away from her and typed something in.

"Insects. What do you think of them?" Kim could see that this was going to be one of those "unconventional" interviews, designed to rattle and confuse hapless interviewees and to winnow those who couldn't think on their feet from those who could. Fortunately, her boyfriend Rick had helped her prepare for this kind of interview.

"It depends. Some insects, such as spiders and ladybugs, are very beneficial, while others such as the gypsy moth are very destructive."

He typed something in and as he typed he informed her condescendingly that spiders were not insects, but, of course, arachnids. "Oh yeah, I knew that, it just slipped my mind," she backpedaled lamely.

"Do you eat red meat?"

"Well, most of the time I just eat..."

"Yes or no?" he snapped "this isn't a trick question. I just want to find out if you'd be happy eating lunch in our cafeteria."

"No." Kim's salary didn't allow her to eat much more than the discounted offerings at the Starbuck's counter, all of which were vegetarian, so she felt that she could truthfully say no.


"What's the best kind of pencil?"

" A number 2."

"No, the correct answer is a mechanical pencil. Do you know why?"

"No." Kim said, dejectedly.

"Less wear and tear on the environment!" Beezel crowed.

"OK, I only have a few more questions for you and then you'll need to talk to my sister."

"If your nickname were Bette what would your full name be?" he queried.


"Or Bertha or Isabelle or Hephzibah or Elspeth, to name a few possibilities. Don't always go for the obvious. In this business it pays to keep your mind open. I'll be frank. Our most important goal here is to make money. The more the better. Our best employees keep that goal in their minds at all times. Always go for that extra dollar. Whatever it takes. I started this company five years ago and our profits have increased at least 20% each year since. But that's not enough. I'd like to see a much larger increase this year. That's why we need to hire more staff. My last question: Can you start tomorrow?"

Kim was confused. Was this a hypothetical question or was he telling her she was hired? As far as she could tell she hadn't really answered his questions very satisfactorily, except for the red meat question. She decided to be bold.


"Excellent. I'm delighted. I think you'll fit right in here. I can tell you're a person who doesn't mind working hard for the right reasons. Also you're not a complainer like so many of the young kids just out of college who think they need two weeks of vacation right off the bat and never want to work an extra minute. You'll need to see my sister about details like salary, insurance, and that sort of thing. She's on the fourth floor. Titian Beezel-Dalrymple.

Kim was astounded but managed to murmur her thanks. "Thank you Mr. Beezel."

"Call me Brancusi," he said tossing the lighter aside and extending his right hand. "Be sure to close the door behind you."