Friday, December 30, 2005

Ode to My Sister

Three Little Old Pigs
This Three Little Old Pigs ornament belonged to my grandmother and now hangs from my sister’s Yule tree. It’s probably about 50 years old, I’d guess. It’s a minor miracle that it didn’t get broken or eaten* at some point along the way. Now that it’s in my sister’s safekeeping it should last another 50 years. She loves Yuletide and has a jaw-dropping collection of Yule decorations and accoutrements.

Here’s the 9-foot Frazier fir—it has to be a fir and it has to be a Frazier. She schlepped it up to her apartment by herself and then decorated it with hundreds of lights and thousands of ornaments.
Frazier Fir

Here are some porcelain figurines that once belonged to my grandmother (the Three Pigs Grandma, by the way) that my sister has decked out in Yuletide attire. The attention to detail is staggering is it not? Note: Figurines such as this are not my taste (at all), but somehow my sister makes them work with her retro '50s '60s decor. Even here they somehow look charming rather than tacky.
Decked Out

And here are some insanely cute March of the Penguins appetizers I helped her make. How does she even know about stuff like this?
March of the Black Olive Penguins

My sister’s prowess as a hostess, entertainer, decorator, and cook have left me reeling, dazzled, and awed. And as if it weren’t enough to host a Christmas Eve party and a Christmas Day party, she threw an impromptu party on the 27th and is giving her annual New Year’s Day Brunch in a few days. She’s done more party throwing in one week than I’ve done in my entire life! She always manages it with grace, style, and good humor. I was constantly being bowled over by nice little touches such as the special antique shaker she has for sprinkling nutmeg over eggnog, which, of course, was served in a festive glass pitcher. I don’t even have a pitcher, and you can bet your boots I don’t have an antique nutmeg shaker.

I don’t know how my sister turned out to be such a stellar hostess. It is not my family's forte. My mom and dad never gave parties (except kids' birthday parties, which were not the extravaganzas they are nowadays). The only time "company" ever came over was on Thanksgiving. It was an ordeal and a source of anxiety and friction. Often as we got close to the final hour—and the house was still catastrophically messy and dirty—my dad would explode into action and haul out the vacuum cleaner. He would invariably be in a foul temper and just be rampaging full tilt through the house with the huge vacuum cleaner (with a headlight) roaring over the carpeting and bashing into the walls. It was rather terrifying and we knew better than to get in his way or try to talk to him. My mom would be randomizing in the kitchen, trying to tackle a million tasks all at once. My brother and I would be setting the table and taking, like, an hour to do it.

There was no nutmeg shaker.

Once the relatives arrived, my brother and I would run to our parents’ bedroom and hide, probably leaving the table with knives and spoons but no forks. My mom would race back there, too, frantically trying to change out of her grungy clothes and to roust us out of there, so it wouldn’t look like she was raising a pair of sociopaths. My sister never ever hid. Not even when she was a toddler. She loved all the relatives and would greet them with hugs and kisses. My brother and were mystified. We stood there awkwardly and stared at our shoes, hoping no one would grab us or speak to us. I guess it was evident early on that my sister was not cut from the same cloth as the rest of our family.

I had a wonderful time staying with her and my saintly brother-in-law. Some highlights (and lowlights) of my visit:
  • Tucking into a big plate of takeout Indian food on Christmas Eve.
  • Helping my sister finish wrapping several hundred presents (it seemed like) at 1:00 AM on Christmas Day and getting so punchy I stuck a few labels on upside-down (and just left them that way).
  • Listening to my littlest brother puke his guts out during Christmas dinner while also claiming he was hungry. (!?)
  • Interviewing my dad about his life and finding out that at one point he seriously considered jacking in his job as a band director to go back to school and become a librarian.
  • Having lunch with my best friend from high school and her high school boyfriend (now her husband) whom I hadn’t seen since 1987. She has the same haircut she had in high school!
  • Taking a chilly evening walk with my sister and brother-in-law to look at Yule lights and ending up at a favorite neighborhood bar for an Irish coffee. The cold weather hat acquitted itself admirably.
  • Playing Fictionary at the impromptu party. (I won.) Most hilarious (albeit transparently incorrect) definition: melton—a subatomic particle of an Australian actor**
  • Getting a chance to spend some quality time with a few friends.
  • Going to the Art Institute of Chicago with my brother, his girlfriend, and my sister to see the amazing For Hearth and Altar African pottery exhibit. Check out this interesting pair of pots. Bonus: We saw the Walking Dude while we were out in front of the museum!
  • Taking my sister out for a cocktails and a light dinner at Club Lucky. The Club Lucky Salad is my favorite salad of all time. I took this photo so I can attempt to re-create it.
  • Discovering the Dutch Angle (courtesy of my brother-in-law who's a professional photographer), an unbelievably simple photo trick that makes snapshots of people less static and a lot more interesting. Do try it at home!
*My oldest brother used to eat tree ornaments. You have to admit many of them look pretty darn tasty.
**My sister came up with that one.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
This is the ex-Möbius strip—now a fully fledged Cold Weather Hat. I finished it up late this morning after devoting most of yesterday afternoon to it. It turned out pretty well, all things considered (e.g., the Möbius debacle), although I wouldn’t recommend that anyone scrutinize the crown too closely. Luckily, the nubbly yarn is forgiving and hides any number of boo-boos.

Of course, when I spoke to my sister (in Chicago) this morning she told me temperatures were in the 40s and that I wouldn’t need to bring the hat. Ha! Who does she think she’s talking to? And what is she thinking? She knows as well as I that the temperature could plunge to less than zero at any moment. I am taking the ding-dong hat, and I know I will be grateful to have it! If nothing else, this hat is toasty—so toasty, in fact, that here in Portland I could barely stand to have it on my head for more than a minute. It will be perfect for Chicago temperatures and windchills.

I spent much of the afternoon dicking around with a professional-quality DAT tape recorder and microphone that I for some reason own but never use. I spent a good 20 minutes with the mike plugged into the headphone jack and vice versa, completely baffled. After figuring that brain bender out, I could only get it to record intermittently and crappily—the playback sounded like a tone arm being scraped over an antique 78 LP. I feared the mike was shot, which would mean no interview with my dad. I’m totally psyched about doing that interview now, so I was getting pretty bummed out (and annoyed). Then I discovered (after about an hour of troubleshooting) that the tapes I was using were duds. What a lot of time down the crapper, though. Why is it that things like this—thinking I’m just going to spend 10 minutes refreshing my memory about how to use the tape recorder—always take 200 times longer than I think they will?

I guess the bathroom isn’t going to get cleaned before I leave tomorrow. It will be interesting to see the state of it when I get back. B usually makes some attempt to clean when I’m gone, which is very sweet and I do appreciate it...but how shall I put it? He finds rather unorthodox and original uses for the cleaning products, e.g., Comet cleanser gets used on the kitchen counters and he goes hog wild with the bleach in the bathroom. I think he uses it on every surface. Maybe even the mirrors. But at least it leaves no doubt in my mind that the bathroom is sanitized for our protection.

I have my reading material for the plane in order—nothing that requires any real brainwork, as my brain turns into lump of jelly while it is airborne. Here’s what I’m taking: Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live and Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, which must have been written specifically with me in mind—just kidding. It's actually a collection of short stories and essays—not a yoga book for extra-lazy people, although I think such a book would probably sell briskly.

Back on the 29th unless I turn into a permanent popsicle.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Writers, Teachers...Screwballs!

The Northwest Film Center has been running a film noir series since November and I decided I was in need of a nice strong dose of snappy dialogue, no-good dames, hardboiled gumshoes, and tank-like Buick Roadmasters (or similar). I was primed and ready to go see City of Fear (1959), in which an escaped convict mistakenly steals a vial of radioactive cobalt thinking it’s heroin. Not only would it have big cars and private dicks, as far as I was concerned, it was guaranteed to be a laff riot—chock full of shaky “scientific” theories about all things “atomic." The cheese factor was bound to be off the charts! Sadly, B found some reviews that convinced him that it was a terribly, terribly bad movie and refused to go see it.

As a compromise we went to see The Dark Past (1948) instead. Here's a synopsis: An escaped convict (William Holden with a brush cut that I found unaccountabley distracting) and his cronies break into the weekend cottage of psychology professor Lee J. Cobb and take him and his guests hostage. Meh. It was pretty tedious and static. About the only "action" the film offered was some harried pacing back and forth in front of a fireplace. There was little snappy dialogue except for when William Holden was interrogating Cobb and his guests, all of whom were writers or professors. After Holden finished questioning them, he threw up his arms in disgust and declared, “Writers, teachers...screwballs!”

I found that line to be extremely hilarious. You don’t hear the word “screwball” nearly enough these days, although it was uttered plenty of times by William Holden throughout the movie. And Lee J. Cobb called him on it, too, pointing out that he applied the screwball label to anything he didn’t like or understand. In the end Lee J. Cobb works his psychology professor magic on Holden by interpreting a laughably symbolic nightmare that Holden has been having since he was a kid. And—surprise—it turns out that Holden has blocked out a childhood memory of killing his father and the reason he keeps killing people is that deep in his subconscious every time he kills someone he’s killing his father. And now that he knows that, he’ll never kill again. It makes perfect sense! If only society would place more faith in psychology there’d be a lot less crime! Yep—that was the film’s preposterous conclusion/message.

Since The Dark Past was such a clunker, my noir needs remained unsatisfied. On Saturday, we made a second noir attempt and went to see Side Street: Where Temptation Lurks (1950), starring Montgomery Clift knock-off and virtual nonentity, Farley Granger. Farley, or Farfela (as his pal Shelley Winters referred to him in her memoir), is a part-time mailman in New York City. He's so low on the Post Office totem pole, he doesn’t even have a uniform. He just delivers the mail in shirtsleeves and the 1950 equivalent of Dockers.

Anyway, poor Farfela lives with his pregnant wife in her parent’s apartment and agonizes over his poverty and the ignominy of having to sponge off his inlaws. One day while delivering mail to a lawyer’s office, the lawyer puts a big envelope of money into a file cabinet right in front of Farfela's eyes. Hmmmm. A few days later, when Farfela delivers the mail, the lawyer is out, having helpfully left a note saying he'd be gone for a full 15 minutes. Farfela executes a number of facial contortions to let us know that he is thinking about stealing that money and then he tries to open the file cabinet. Locked. Shucks!

He walks back out into the hall and what does he see? An axe—just sitting there in the hall! How convenient! He hacks open the drawer and steals the envelope. Turns out it contains 30 Gs! Wow—now he can get his wife a private room at the hospital! He goes home, proudly hands his wife $200, and then makes up a story about how he bumped into an old army chum who gave him a job in Schenectady. How likely is that?

For reasons that aren't fully explained (in fact not explained at all), he goes to stay in a hotel where rooms cost only 75 cents, I guess to think things over. Question: Why stay in such a cheap joint when you have 30 grand? He stays there for a few days sort of writhing on the bed and decides he’s got to give the money back. He then makes the screwball mistake of returning to the crooked lawyer’s office and fesses up—giving him the shady lawyer his correct name and even his address! The lawyer, who’s mixed up in all sorts of dealings with the underworld, claims no money was ever stolen but immediately sends a heavy to tail him. Poor befuddled Farfela goes to retrieve the money, which he had previously wrapped up and trustingly left with a bartender he hardly knew, telling him it was a surprise gift for his wife (a nightgown). While Farfela was cooling his heels at that 75-cent hotel, the bartender opened the package, sold the bar to new owners, and vanished—with the money. All this was accomplished in about 48 hours.

I don’t think I need to do a full recap of the movie, but I hope I have conveyed how superior (and more true to the genre) Side Street: Where Temptation Lurks is to The Dark Past. A few highlights:

  • Farfela goes on the lam after seeing his mug splashed across the front pages of every newspaper in town—as the chief suspect in the murder of the bartender.
  • While on the lam, he breaks into the maternity ward to tell his wife he’s OK and has to hide under the bed when a big scary nurse shows up.
  • He meets up with a lounge singer reeking of ragwater, bitters, and blue ruin* and liquors her up with a bottle of Dubonnet so he can get the scoop on her thuggish ex-boyfriend.
The movie ends with Farfela madly driving a taxi through the streets of New York, while the thuggish ex-boyfriend points one gun at Farfela's head and with another gun shoots willy-nilly at the coppers chasing them. Two fisted!

So mission accomplished. I got my noir fix. And there was plenty of cheese for everyone.

*Thanks to Tom Waits for that highly descriptive phrase.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

When Bad Things Happen to Bad Fruitcakes

Because there’s been a dearth of photos on this blog as of late, here’s a photo of the best Yule card I’ve received thus far:

Fruitcake Ritual

The annual fruitcake jettisoning ceremony—as imagined by Edward Gorey. Please notice that people and animals come from far and wide to dispose of their fruitcakes, braving foul weather and using makeshift transport. Hilarious. (Note to Jamie: Clearly this would not be the fate of any of your homemade fruitcakes. This is what happens to the fruitcakes originally purchased from a Piggly Wiggly [or similar] back in 1967—the ones that were regifted year after year until Edward Gorey discovered a surefire way to get rid of them forever.)

In other news, I have regressed as a knitter—not that I was ever particularly skilled. I just spent a couple of hours working on the Cold Weather Hat only to realize after knitting more than an inch of it that I’ve been knitting not a hat but a sort of Möbius strip. It’s a bone-headed, beginner mistake. I know better, but wasn’t paying attention for some inexplicable reason. The only solution is to rip out everything I’ve done and start over. Blah.

I could blame the weather we’re having. There’s a brutal wind blowing and it’s snowing, which hardly ever happens and throws Portlanders into a panicky tizzy—my former Midwestern self included. I ventured out soon after the ice pellets began to fall, because I had to pick up an order of Yule chocolate I’d ordered and today was the only pick-up day. Unlike Chicago, Portland has no snowplows (to speak of) or salt trucks, and the streets were icing up rapidly. Everyone was creeping along at 10 to 15 mph and applying the brakes (ever so gingerly) hundreds and hundreds of feet before a stop sign or a stoplight. Even so people were fishtailing all over the place. It’s nice to see the people who own Escalades drive cautiously and defensively for a change. It wouldn’t take much for one of those behemoths to total my 1989 Honda Civic, which has a Blue Book value of probably about 74 cents.

Had the weather not deteriorated, B and I would have gone for a nice long walk and gotten some sorely needed exercise this afternoon. Instead I sat inside and squandered a good part of the afternoon knitting the Möbius strip and trying to resist the impulse to gobble Yule Lads right and left*.

Yule Lads

Yule Lads and Snowflakes

Hard to believe the Yule Lads were made by an adult, isn’t it? Like me, they appear to have not a glimmer of fashion sense. I had fun making them, though, and that’s the main thing. By the way, Yule Lads are Iceland’s answer to Santa Claus. They're a group of 13 gnome-like men, each with his own special revolting habit (e.g., pot licking, milk slurping, sausage snatching). I first learned about Yule Lads on Alda’s blog, and they immediately captivated me. For more about them and the tricks they get up to, read Alda’s excellent post here.

*I did successfuly resist the temptation to eat a plate of Yule Lads, but probably only because at the moment I'm all cookied out after attending several parties last week. The real test will be tomorrow. Because of the weather, there isn't much in the way of real food in the house, and I may have to resort to eating Lads for all three meals, although I pray not.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Favorite Yuletide Memory

I’ve resolved that this year I’m going to adopt a less grinchly attitude toward the Yule season. I am also going to refer to it as the Yule henceforth because Yule has only four letters and Christmas has a lot more—and I'm a lazy sod. I know that’s totally ignoring that fact that at this time of year lots of people celebrate other holidays, but let’s face it, Christmas is what’s causing all the angst and heinous overspending and I’d like to see if I can just find a way to delete all traces of the angsty stuff and revel in the fun, noncommercial stuff. So Yule it is. It has a nice paganish ring to it as well.

B and I never put up a Yule tree, because it’s a hassle to put up and it's a depressing hassle to take down, but I do like them very much. We always had a tree when I was a kid, but my mom was very big on Advent and to her that meant that you spent most of December in sober and respectful anticipation of the birth of Christ. Translation: No galavanting off to parties or putting up the Yule tree the day after Thanksgiving like everyone else. We had to wait until the evening of December 23 to haul the box containing the dismembered Christmas* Queen out of the basement. The Queen was basically a green broomstick with holes punched in it at staggered intervals. The Queen's "branches” were lengths of twisted wire with fringy Space-Age Polymer™ needles sprouting from them. Each branch had a dab of colored paint on it that was meant to clue you in to where on the broomstick that branch was was supposed to be inserted—different colors of paints for the different branch lengths. After about two seasons the paint wore off, and we were reduced to eyeballing the branches and trying to decide what tier they belonged to. The tree never looked quite as regal once the paint wore off.

While putting together the Queen, we always, always, always listened to a recording of the Canadian Brass playing Christmas carols. Not carols that make you want to put your head in the oven (e.g. "Frosty the Snowman," "Winter Wonderland," "White Christmas"), but classic carols like the "Here We Come a-Wassailing," "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella," and "Good King Wenceslas." If my mom was in a particularly lenient mood, we might even be allowed a few glasses of viscous eggnog. Once the Queen’s branches were inserted, my Dad would string on all the lights. This was not something he enjoyed because they were always hopelessly tangled. At some point, my sister—the family peacemaker—made it her job to prevent my Dad’s annual lights meltdown and preemptively detangle them.

Then came the really fun part: the actual trimming of the tree. We had a lot of ornaments, many of which came into being after an ornament-making binge one year when I was about 12 and my sister was about 8. Most of the ornaments we made looked something like this, but some of them had freakish udder-like appendages like this. My sister now has all the family ornaments and we still—decades later—argue over who was responsible for the comically lopsided and amateurish ornaments. I claim that she, being younger, was. She claims that I, being innately clumsier and less dexterous than she, was. The truth is now lost in the mists of time.

We put all the ornaments on—the handmade ones, the handed-down ones (like the tarnished Porky Pig ornament that belonged to my grandma), the clip-on birds that shed glitter all over the place, the plastic saxophones and trumpets that really played (well, they squeaked a bit if you blew into them), and the countless construction paper assemblages my littlest brother made over the years. Then we’d turn out all the lights and admire the Queen basking in her own muted but gloriously colorful glow.

That was my favorite way to look at and be with the tree—with the room lit only by the tree lights and preferably with no other family members about. Actually—I might as well admit it—my absolute favorite thing to do was steal some Yule cookies out of their well-known hiding place in the dining room closet and wedge myself behind the tree where there was a heat register. I’d sit there happily and cozily in the quasi darkness nibbling away on the purloined cookies—warm and toasty. Family members might walk by on their way to other parts of the house and usually didn’t know I was there—a novel experience when you’re part of a family of six living in a small house.

I don’t know why that’s such a vivid and happy memory for me exactly, but I know the warmness and snugness of it was a significant factor—our house was kept at the Jimmy Carter-ordained temperature of 65 degrees and my mom was always nudging it down a few degrees more just to be extra virtuous. I wore sweaters, but I was still always chilled to the bone.

The forbidden cookies, too, were part of it, of course. As I’ve mentioned before, real cookies (made with white sugar and white flour as opposed to wheat germ and blackstrap molasses) were something we rarely were allowed to have, and I still don’t know why my mom sanctioned a big Yuletide cookie-making extravaganza, but she did so we didn’t question it.

And mixed in with all that was the fact that school was out and presents were imminent. Probably most of all it was just the nutcrackery allure of the tree.

Last year I was so anti-Yule. I felt really stressed and angry by all the wanton consumption, even though I didn’t much participate in it. This year, I’m not feeling that way. Maybe all that anger burned itself out, and I’m in a kind of white dwarf phase. Whatever. Anyway, I can’t do anything about the commercialism except to continue to boycott it, which somehow seems easier this year. I’ll go to the parties I’m invited to and enjoy the convivial atmosphere; I’ll take evening walks with B to look at Yuletide lights; and I might even bake a few batches of Yule cookies, although that would entail going out to buy some cookie cutters and sprinkles, and I’m not sure I could or should do that. I’m really tempted, though.

*I'm making an exception to the Yule rule just this once, because it really was called the "Christmas Queen" not the "Yule Queen." Note: I don't know if "Christmas Queen" was the brand name or the model. It was from Sears and for all I know they still make it. And for all I know the Queen is still in my dad's basement, although it's likely she went into decline and got sold for $3 at a garage sale some number of years ago.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Corporate Culture Is Toxic and Scary

One of my fears is that sometime down the road, all my sources of freelance work will dry up and I’ll be forced to get off my 40-plus, 50-plus, or 60-plus ass and go out and look for employment and that the only job my aged ass will be able to land is one where I have to scour out the giant rendering vats at a slaughterhouse in North Dakota. Graveyard shift.

I’ve been focusing on this fear a little more than usual, because I happen to be reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. Like her book Nickel and Dimed, she decides to go undercover to see what’s really going on in the job market, only this time she’s trying to land a white-collar job. She decides that as a freelance journalist she can remake herself as a public relations person (“journalism’s evil twin”) and get her feet on the rungs of the corporate ladder that way. So she makes up a resume and then signs herself up with a couple of career counselors. They spout corporate buzzwords and est-like mumbo-jumbo at her and make her take meaningless and horribly ungrammatical multiple-choice personality tests, from which one of the career-counselor jaboneys concludes that she probably has weak writing skills (NB: Ehrenreich is a contributor to Harper’s and The Nation and has been a columnist for the New York Times). One tries to explain the corporate philosophy to her using Wizard of Oz dolls. They all charge her hundreds of dollars and are eager to sign her up for more sessions. What a bunch of predatory charlatans!

She also attends this extraordinarily depressing executive "boot camp" thing populated by middled-aged victims of corporate downsizing. The guy running the session hammers them relentlessly with the idea that they have no one to blame but themselves for getting downsized. Gosh! That’s harsh. No wonder several of them break down in tears. They’re also told that they need to turn finding a job into a job in and of itself. No sleeping in. No slouching around in sweatpants while you troll the Internet looking for jobs. No! You must be dressed as if you were at an office job. Right down to the control-top pantyhose! As Ehrenreich points out, not setting the alarm clock and not having to don the awful corporate monkey suit are probably among the few pleasures/freedoms downsized workers might harmlessly enjoy. In the end she makes no valuable contacts from the boot camp or from any of the several "networking events" she attends, she just wastes hours of her time trapped in a suburban Atlanta Shoneys (my idea of Hell) with nothing to eat but breaded chicken strips.

Probably the thing that struck the most terror into my heart was the Ehrenreich’s account of her visit to an image consultant. As a self-employed person, she has very little in the way of a professional wardrobe (I can relate to that!). And even when she does have to turn up for a publishers meeting, there’s more leeway than there is in the real corporate world. She tells one anecdote about going to some sort of schmoozy bookish shindig, where she me the writer Grace Paley. Paley was dressed in a flowery, loose-fitting pink dress. Ehrenreich complimented her on the dress and Paley told her it was a nightgown. I found that hilarious and it really resonated with me, because I’ve always worked in places where no one would think twice if someone showed up dressed like that. In other words, business suits are a mysterious and foreign garment to me. I had a few once. I wore them to interviews and then never again. Here’s a chilling little tidbit about the corporate uniform from the book:

Robert Jackall’s book impressed on me that corporate dress serves a far more important function than mere body covering. “Proper management of one’s external appearances,” he writes, “simply signals to one’s superiors that one is prepared to undertake other kinds of self-adaptation.” By dressing correctly, right down to the accessories, you let it be known that you are willing to conform in other ways too—that you can follow orders, for example, and blend in with the prevailing “culture.”

I find that horrifying and dehumanizing. It’s toxic. I am not willing to “undertake other kinds of self-adaptation.” What the hell does that mean anyway, Jackall? (What an apt name!)

Back to Ehrenreich and her image. She was told that she can never ever again wear black or gray because they “drag her down.” Of course, her entire wardrobe happens to be gray and black. Also all her makeup was wrong. According to the image consultant, there were hidden gray tones in all her makeup—even her pink lipstick—and there was a colony of foul microbes multiplying on her pressed powder! She’d better buy a slew of the consultant's special line of gray-free makeup. Is this consultant guy full of horseshit or what?

I confess to being horribly fascinated by this book, but I wonder if Ehrenreich is painting an entirely accurate picture of what a person trying to re-enter the job market has to do (if she is, I'm screwed). I’m sure that if Ehrenreich were really looking for a job in corporate America and not simply gathering research for what is essentially a piece of stunt journalism, she would have discontinued her consultation with all these bogus career-counseling parasites after the first session. She clearly views them (rightly) with much disdain, although I will say that her descriptions of the sessions with the counselors are highly entertaining.

Anyway, the book is churning up all sorts of insecurities and freak-outs that I am normally able to suppress. I don’t know what I could do to snazz up my resume to make it look even remotely enticing to any white-collar employer. For one thing, I think most of them will assume self-employed = unemployed. They’ll think that I just lolled around year after year dibble-dabbling while my husband brought home the bacon. That is not the case AT ALL, but I can’t really prove it, short of showing them my tax returns. I’ve only had two grown-up jobs in my life, both of which were not exactly corporate (i.e., I could have worn a nightgown to work). Plus, there’s lots of stuff I can’t do, like give a PowerPoint presentation, draw up a project budget, or make sparkling and intelligent conversation with people I don’t know. I have only a measly BA degree from a Big Ten school. I am the squarest of all square pegs and the longer I remain self-employed in Portland, Oregon (where, by the way, there are no jobs), the squarer I become.

Everyone please keep your fingers crossed that the work I do doesn’t all get outsourced to India, because if it does then I will be moving to Bismarck, North Dakota, where it is currently –6 °F (–21 °C ).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Busted at Fred Meyer

Portland is a small enough city that I find myself continually running into friends and acquaintances when I’m out and about. Today, while at Fred Meyer today I ran into not one but two people I know. And I realized that I don’t necessarily want people seeing what happens to be in my cart. The second person I ran into was one of my former yoga instructors. And what was I doing when she approached? I was wrangling with a pair of tights that I had (perhaps unlawfully) removed from their little cardboard sheath for closer examination and was trying to stuff them back in. I was making a hash of it.

Now this yoga instructor is a very nice person—a very yogic and virtuous person. But for some reason I have never been able to “connect” with her. It’s like I’ll say something and I’ll just get a blank stare from her—a smiling blank stare, but nonetheless a blank stare. She does not pick up the conversational ball and run with it unless asked a direct question. So when this happens I get all flustered and start blathering and blithering and spluttering in order to avoid "dead air." After blurting out that I hadn’t taken a yoga class since September (look of shocked dismay), I moved right on to the topic of the tights—just to prevent awkward silences. I went on and on about them—how they looked black at first but how I now realized that they were brown and consequently no longer wished to buy them. And how that even if they had been black they’re the largest possible size they’re still freakin’ tiny—like they wouldn’t even fit a 10-year-old. Look at that tiny waistband!

Ugh. I hate that. Just the most inane stuff. And while I blathered on, I noticed her eyes wandering over to my cart and zeroing in on a package of bacon and two bottles of wine. I totally felt like I’d been caught committing a crime of some nebulous description. Like I should have had a cart brimming with life-affirming/life-prolonging cruciferous vegetables. I could just see her mentally judging me for my blatant disregard of ahimsa. I also got this sort of defensive urge to reach into my cart and pull out the fresh mushrooms (packed with selenium!) and fresh leeks (bursting with iron!) and say, “See I’m not a total bacon-gobbling, wine-swilling hedonist who blows off yoga and opens packages of tights when, technically, she probably shouldn’t. Look at this stuff—healthy!”

You know, probably she wasn’t judging me at all, but I guess I like to project or pretend to project this image of healthy/conscious living, that I pretty much fall short of most of the time. Something to think about the next time I go grocery shopping: Am I buying food that I’d be ashamed/embarrassed to have other people see? And if so, why?

But—no—wait that's not really it. There's nothing that shameful/embarrassing about bacon and wine—it's not like I had a cart piled high with Hostess Ding-Dongs and Preparation H. I think the chief issue is that I resent being in the dodgy position of making small talk with a person who won't meet me halfway. I know entirely too many people like that. Whenever I encounter them I spew endless bibble-babble or attempt to draw them out with questions (that get one-word answers) all the while frantically trying to formulate a polite yet believeable exit strategy. I inevitably walk away feeling like I've made an utter fool of myself. I'm trying to envision what would happen if the next time I find myself face to face with one of these nonstarters, I just say "Hi" and wait (silently) to see what (if any) kind of blundering attempts at chit-chat they make. It would be nice for once not to be the one trying singlehandedly to prop up a conversation that doesn't even need to be taking place.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What Was I Thinking?

Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
About a year ago (shortly after I learned to knit), I decided to knit an afghan. I bought all the yarn and knitted close to 100 squares before realizing—only yesterday—that the colors look HIDEOUS together. Particularly unbearable (as you can see) is the Chemlawn™ green color, the hideousness of which is doubled or trebled whenever it is in the vicinity of the gold color. Together they resemble a freakin’ junior high football jersey!

How did this happen? How could I blithely knit on and on and on and not notice the garishness of my color scheme? I recall wanting to go with “jewel tones”—emerald, topaz, garnet, sapphire, onyx—and I swear that’s how they looked in the yarn store, but in my living room where the afghan, once finished, was to reside, they look more like Chemlawn™, harvest gold, bing cherry, goofy grape, and black. The black/onyx color is really the only one I’m happy with.

What am I to do? I’ve already put so much work into knitting all those little squares, I don’t exactly want to abandon it, but do I really want to spend the time to knit up six more harvest golds and eighteen garnet/bing cherry squares and then endure the tedium of stitching them all together just so I can have an afghan that will have to live out its life in the basement because it is too ugly to be seen by the general public? The whole raison d’etre for knitting the afghan was so I could use it to cover up B’s hideous 80s chair. Cruelly and ironically the afghan is going to be more hideous than the chair. Is there any way I can salvage this thing? What if I knit up all the garnets, and swap them out for the Chemlawn™ squares? Then maybe, just maybe, would the thing look somewhat OK?

Also, what is the deal with oysters? I had this enormous oyster po’ boy last night and a few hours later I conked out with the lights on and a book in my hand. I thought oysters were supposed to have aphrodisiac properties, but clearly they had quite the opposite effect. An effect that was still with me when I woke up this morning. I dragged around in a completely unmotivated and lethargic state—too sluggish to put a load of laundry in the washer and far too dopey to do something as ambitious as cut down the dead dahlias by the doorstep or saw up the gigantic Christmas-tree sized Doug fir branch that snapped off and crashed down into the garden a few days ago. I didn’t even want to read—too energy consuming.

I was ready to spend the day staring out the back window watching these astonishingly fat squirrels frolic. Seriously, that was all I had the energy for. I truly felt like I was under the influence of some really potent soporific/hypnotic drug. B finally talked me into getting outside and marching up and down a bunch of hills and breathing in lungfuls of damp and chilly air, which more or less eventually snapped me out of my stupor, but still—what the heck? Do oysters have a totally undeserved reputation or what? And what is going to happen when I eat the other half of the po' boy for lunch tomorrow?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Exhaustive and not-at-all-objective critique of the draft of my nonNaNoWriMo novel, The Blight of Beezel Tower, follows:

The Good
  • I finished it.
  • It actually has a plot! Who knew I was capable of such a thing?
  • For the most part I did a decent job of moving the plot along, although there are stagnating sloughs here and there.
  • I enjoyed making all the pieces of the puzzle fit.
  • The ending is not as far-fetched and absurd as I had feared it would be.
  • There are surprisingly few inconsistencies.
  • It amused me to write it.
  • It was therapeutic and cathartic.
  • It’s creepy.
  • I got to document (and embellish) many of the actual stomach-churning eccentricities of the people I worked for and then I made them die horrible deaths.
  • Good triumphs over Evil.
  • The Hooch Hut.

The Bad
  • Amateurish (but to be expected).
  • Most descriptions are not in the least bit evocative.
  • There’s no sex in it, even though a naked penis (a small one) makes an appearance and the protagonist spends about half the novel dashing hither and thither in a very short dress and no underpants. In the end, though, I just couldn’t make the protagonist have sex with her boss. It would have been too gothically horrific. (Sidenote: There’s a weird fixation with underwear. I wonder why that is? Do I secretly want to expand my own underwear collection to include edible tap pants?)
  • Plot may be too predictable.
  • At least one character is a stereotype.
  • Internal monologue: Too much spelling out; it would be better to let the reader figure some things out for him/herself.
  • Excessive use of locutions such as “he replied sneeringly” (although good for boosting word count).
  • Some scenes are very much like other scenes.
  • My seams show. For example, when I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, I tended to just type out my thought process and make it be the protagonist’s thought process. “Kim thought she might do this, but if she did that then blah might happen. Perhaps it would be better is she did blah instead....”
  • Limited vocabulary and overuse of certain words, e.g., cackled, croaked, and smirked.

The Ugly
  • Clumsy sentence structure.
  • Exceedingly pedestrian sentences.
  • Incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, and sentences that don’t make no sense, e.g. “Near the other eye it was just caked in with the eyeshadow.” Huh?
  • Terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE punctuation. I give myself an F in punctuation. I’m normally not such a horrendous punctuator (only semi-horrendous). It must not be possible to use the part of the brain responsible for creativity and the part of the brain responsible for punctuation at the same time.
  • Typos and misspellings galore.
  • Sloppy grammar.

Actually, I’m not overly concerned about the bad bits and the ugly bits. They can be fixed if I ever want to dive back in and revise, say, during NaNoEdMo (also known as the month of March). I don’t know that I’ll do that.

Mainly, I’m glad I was able to prove to myself that I can—yes indeed—finish something I set out to do. And I feel that I achieved my goal of processing some old baggage, which is always a good thing to do.

I have a word of advice for anyone who is considering doing NaNoWriMo next year. Consider writing in a genre that doesn’t put too many restrictions on your imagination/creativity—one in which suspension of disbelief is a given from the outset (e.g., horror, fantasy, sci-fi, romance). I’m really glad I chose gothic horror—it was an excellent choice for the kind of story I wanted to tell and the way I wanted to tell it. Plus, I didn’t find myself constantly thinking, “Oh that could never happen” or “Real people don’t act like that.” I did try to keep my characters and situations consistent within the parameters I set for myself, but I know I would have had a much more difficult and frustrating time if I’d attempted literary fiction or a historical novel. Those genres have just got to be so much harder to do, and I’m all about taking the path of least resistance.