Monday, June 12, 2017

Iceland: the first

I am newly returned from Iceland.
I am trying to remember what I did and how I did it, but oye! I think I was sleep deprived for 95% of the time I was there. I may very well still be sleep deprived. We shall see.

So, I always have this idea that I will follow these very exact rules for how not to get jet lag, but first, I can't really sleep on planes. So that. The main rule is to start eating according to the time where you are going the day you leave. So, I didn't do that, and then when they offered me free salad and free wine on the flight, I took it! Yeah!

Then I maybe got two or three head-jerking, superficial hours of "sleep," and then arrived at Reykjavik! I had already booked a shuttle to town, which takes about 45 minutes. Then I transferred to another bus that dropped me off about a ten minute walk from the place I was staying.

The place, basically the lower floor of a house, was awesome, and right next to the University of Iceland, where my conference was. After consulting a map, I figured out which way I was going and found the place. I dropped off my extremely too heavy back pack, and got my bearings. I believe this was when I walked around the neighborhood, found a grocery store but was too confused to do much except buy coffee and a banana. I took the long way home and got a bit lost, but saw some cool stuff. I went back to our flat, dropped off the stuff and headed over to the University.

I couldn't register for the conference yet, so I bought a salad, which was not too expensive, in the student center. Then I registered for the conference, ran into some friends, and went to a roundtable with one of them, Laura. She was presenting, but there were so many people that each person just read for about 5 minutes. Overall it was pretty amazing, and one woman played a song she had written on her fiddle. She had an amazing Scottish accent. During this panel, I felt like my face was melting.

After this panel, there was free wine! Always drink free wine! So I drank some wine and talked to people I knew, all the while feeling like my head was a balloon being blown about by some invisible wind. I was going to go back to the flat, have a handful of trail mix and crash, but Brenda, my flatmate, convinced me that I should eat dinner.

We went to the Nordic House and I had fish, I think it was cod, with a rhubarb reduction and roasted vegetables. It was delicious and $40!! Then I went home and crashed, and I had a great night's sleep, with my eye mask and my ear plugs!

top: my adorable flat!
bottom: view from my walk around the neighborhood

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Small Dose of Nothing

Because in all things I want to be like Hightouch, I am blogging, though I have no breaking news. But, hey, even I can write a list, if the list is the thing to write. Which, apparently, it is.

  1. Every day, I think, "This is it! It's all going to come crashing down!" And by "it" I mean, the end, how can we go on this way? But, apparently, we can, go on this way, I mean, so it goes on and we go with it, like a child being dragged by a very strong dog. But hey, it can't go on like this forever. CAN IT???
  2. I finished a draft of one novel (regular, literary fiction); am now making chapter outline for almost finished novel (written before other novel, mystery!!). My other novel (yes, that makes three) is out with some small publishers who have been silent, so that probably means no. But I have almost three manuscripts, so that can't be bad...can it?
  3. Meditating on the nature of empathy and sympathy. You don't want to hear about it, but it involves an argument with Middlebrow and the idea that some of us should just "buck up." Hey, I'm all for bucking, but sometimes isn't feeling bad justified? And can't we empathize with those who are feeling bad and even, maybe, feel bad on their behalf even if they are feeling bad about first world problems? Empathy can't be a bad thing, can it?
  4. So there's the theme...can it? The rhetorical question that actually, right now, from me, requires an answer. What is one to do in such perilous times?
  5. I find myself turning away from news, reading books about alternate universes, fantasizing about living in a cabin right by a lake where there is no internet service but there is a canoe. That's my mental state right now. 
  6. I think the answer is NO. As in no, it can't go on forever; no, it's not bad that you have three unpublished manuscripts; no, empathy isn't bad. And no, there's nothing wrong about indulging my escape fantasies.
  7. The end. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

20th Century Women

Ever since the Oscar nominations came out, I have been obsessed with the idea of seeing all the movies. Have I actually seen any? I said. Obsessed. Idea.
But today I drove myself downtown to the little theater to see a movie by myself. Seeing a movie by myself during the day feels like even more of an indulgence than just seeing a movie. I should say that I did, in fact, see a Sundance movie during the day about two weeks ago, but that's ancient history now. On with the Oscars!!
So I should just say that, before today, I had seen Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and La La Land. Of those, Moonlight is my favorite. I love the look of it, and the acting, and the emotional melancholy of it. Also, it felt real and emotional without being sappy or trite. (Also, aside, am I the only one who thinks Andre Holland should star in a Prince biopic? I mean, eyelashes!!) I liked Manchester by the Sea, I think Casey Affleck was amazing in it (but he's also an asshole?), but it's all white people all the time. La La Land was good, but ultimately disappointing (sorry!!).

Which brings me to 20th Century Women. Oh. My. God. I love it so much that I'm probably not being completely honest about its flaws (it must have flaws, right?). But I LOVE the form of it, and I LOVE Annette Bening, and I LOVE the kid who plays Jamie. I love Greta Gerwig more than I have loved her in other things and holy shit, Billy Crudup. I mean, I can't believe it didn't get nominated for Best Picture.  I think the script is better than La La Land for sure. Oh well.
This movie is especially powerful/heartbreaking for those of us with sons, and maybe particularly with sons who are the exact age as the son in the movie, Jamie.
The movie is witty and wry and smart and sad. If you haven't yet, you should read this profile of Mike Mills from The New Yorker. Once I read it, I became obsessed with seeing the movie. I found his comments in the profile interesting, especially about making art and his relationship with his wife, Miranda July. For some reason, he thinks she is more of an artist than he is, but I would disagree. I thought her movie was flat and self-indulgent. His movie, I think, is transcendent and emotional and real, as well as being formally innovative and interesting. 

It is just so, so good that I would see it again if I weren't so obsessed with the idea that I can see nine movies in 19 days. Oh, that's totally doable. Except that I'm rather ho-hum at the prospect of seeing Hacksaw Ridge, so I might not see that. But I would totally see the rest, but I might not get to.
What is your favorite movie of the year?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sundance: First Weekend

This is my second year volunteering at Sundance, at the Grand Theater on the SLCC-South City campus. It's a huge (huge!) venue, 1100 seats!, so I see a lot of people during the two movies that play during my volunteer shifts.
This year I am part of the "inside theater" team, which means I do a variety of things. On the first day, Saturday, I worked re-entry on the balcony. On Sunday, I handed out and collected ballots for the first movie, and ushered for the second.
Saturday was pretty easy. It had snowed over night, so the first movie was pretty slow. Overall, all of that day was pretty calm.
I'll run down the movies in order and give you my reviews!
"Novitiate": This movie was set in the '60s. It was about a young woman, Kathleen, who grows up and decides to become a nun. Most of the movie was set in the convent and followed the young women as they take their first vows, confess to their flaws (yikes!), and then go through the changes as a result of Vatican 2. This movie was interesting. It dragged in parts, but I certainly learned a lot about convents and nuns. I anticipated the obligatory lesbian love scene, but was disappointed when it actually happened. I'm sure it's accurate, but it feels cliched. In any case, I'm glad I saw it as it wasn't a movie I would ever have chosen. And I learned a lot. I'd give it TWO stars (out of five).

"Their Finest": This movie follows a young woman during WWII as she becomes a writer for a propaganda feature film that is supposed to increase morale. This movie was occasionally heavy, but overall it was a comedy, based on a true story, or true stories. I thought this one was very good. All the actors were great, especially Bill Nighy. He's always great. Parts seemed heavy handed, but all in all, I would recommend it. THREE stars.

On Sunday, I worked as a balloteer. This meant handing out ballots as people went in, then collecting them in a ballot box as they left. Crazy town!! People going in were very serious about rushing in and getting the absolute best seats. It was so hard to hand out ballots quickly. My co-balloteer said, "That was the worst ten minutes of my life."
I got to see the movie "Chasing Coral" which was probably the MOST beautiful movie I have ever seen. When I heard it was about coral, I thought it would be boring. First, they have the most amazing footage of underwater scenery I have ever seen. Sea Dragons!
Also, they have amazing scientists, etc. But the main character, besides coral, turns out to be Zack, this adorable young man (he's probably in his 20s) who LOVES coral. So some of the movie follows him as he documents coral bleaching.
The whole thing is incredibly heartbreaking. Basically, global warming causes the water temperature to rise which kills coral, which kills all the other life forms that live on coral.
Also, you probably knew already, but coral IS AN ANIMAL.  I still can't get my mind around that. It seems like a plant. It is not a plant.
This movie is excellent. Everyone should see it. Warning: you will cry. About coral. Yep, you definitely will. FIVE stars!!

Luckily, the second movie was not balloted. But it had Robert Redford in it. Sadly, he was not there. But people were crazy for this movie and the theater was pretty packed! I worked as an usher. Basically this means hovering around seats that have magazines draped over them and trying to enforce the "no seat saving" rule.
"The Discovery": Basically, RR is a scientist who discovers proof of the afterlife. People start killing themselves in droves. The movie centers on Jason Segal and Rooney Mara and what happens to them. I liked much about this movie. It kind of seemed like an extended thought problem. A lot of it worked. I liked the visual representations of the afterlife. As in any movie like this, at the end, there were many questions! I had to explain parts of it to a woman sitting next to me. But it made a certain amount of sense to me. I agreed with a co-worker who said the main couple didn't really have chemistry. Agreed! I like both of them, so it was hard to see that when they spark. But, that said, I still liked the movie and would recommend it, especially if you like the premise. FOUR stars.

I'm excited to see some movies this week, but also exhausted!! It's fun to volunteer and see movies. I also get some tickets, but last year I didn't use them all. So, I probably won't this year either. Oh well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Writing

Now that I am trying to be more regimented about my sabbatical writing, I sat down and wrote out a few things, long hand, in a notebook.
Later, I discovered a few stories I had written last summer, and I "fell in a hole" by which I mean I read them and that took some time.
But then, then!, I started a new story with these same characters and I wrote quite a bit on that.

All this to say that I should be/want to work on my non-fiction project, but I find it much easier to work on the novel, because I can just write whatever.

But! part of my research was looking up hit songs from my past, and so I give you this list:
Dancing Queen, ABBA
My Sharona,The Knack
TUSK, Fleetwood Mac
Jessie's Girl, Rick Springfield
Jack & Diane, John Cougar
Missing You, John Waite
Careless Whisper, Wham!
Broken Wings, Mr. Mister

I look forward to see what writing might be inspired by this titles....

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Donald Trump Poem from 2005!!

Here's a poem I "wrote" using the Google Poetry generator. I found it on this very blog, from 2005. It's like a time machine!!

Donald Trump: Luddite Boy Scout

Dawns the new era when the Boy Scout
Motto "Be Prepared" is, for example,
a luddite described as having more than a color TV

Sad: An electrical accident at the Boy Scout
Jamboree in Virginia has killed four.
Call me old-fashioned, call me a Luddite, I don’t care.

Whether You are a technophile or neo-luddite or if you are (choose one):
1) Donald Trump
2) Richard Branson
3) Martha Stewart
4) Bill Gates
5) Oprah

It's a tough decision to make.
Or, if Trump was a boy scout
before he (never) went to Vietnam

Or if he was a cat or a hooker or a Girl Scout
Cookie. Donald Trump wants to fire you.
Donald Trump wants to. . .

Listen: Even Donald Trump is complaining. Is this Luddite
environmentalism? Is this positive thinking?
Or a gimmick? Like a new breakfast cereal or a press conference.

Donald Trump eats this way, chews this way,
Head in the sand, sad, a Luddite, oh—
He’s my boy, Scout, he’s a mogul.

On Books

Will there come a time when books will be obsolete?
Honestly, I don't think so, and I certainly HOPE not.
But a recent visit to the University library (research!) got me thinking. I was wandering around, looking for books, and all around me I was surrounded by young people on their computers. Were they studying? Perhaps. Probably.
But it begs the question, why do we need this library for them to study in? They could study in any structured space that gave them some privacy and some quiet. None of them (none!) was looking at a book. Not one!
On the plus side, when I walked among the rows and rows of books, I felt at ease. The smell of the books, many of them old, was familiar. I know my way around a library.
But for how many of the younger people (how many? how young? who can say!) is information and the idea of a text a wholly virtual and non-tactile thing?
My son certainly loves books, but he grew up with me and my husband. My husband, whose philosophy is "one cannot have too many books!" If my son expresses an interest in an idea, my husband buys him a book about it. Which is a great thing, and has made my son a fantastic and broadly read person.
But so many others don't know and don't care about books.
I suppose I (and others like me) are dinosaurs in our love of the actual, physical book. I know others love the book, but enough others?
And I don't necessarily think the death of the library as a place that houses books as a bad thing. I often go to the downtown public library and I think of it more as a social hub than one whose focus is primarily books. People go there to use the computers. And yes, to find books. But also to hang out, to find shelter, to use the bathroom, to sit at a table and exist.
So what is the future of the book and what is the future of the library?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


As I was walking on the treadmill (don't ask), I watched two young girls and one young man on the ice below. One girl was twirling, one was skating, and the boy was leaping and spinning. "They're so lucky," I thought, "to be able to do that." But do they think they're lucky? They looked like they were having fun, but I bet, at their ages, they never once thought that maybe something would happen, an injury, that would prevent them from looking like magic on the ice.
I am feeling sad/sorry for myself that my injuries/pains prevent me from doing things I want to do, like run or lift heavy weight. I know, things could be much, much worse.

I saw a Cadillac Escalade with Virginia plates parked at the U, and wondered, "Why?" I mean, that is one giant vehicle. It made me think about how, when I was in college, I had a bicycle. But, it's true, I had friends with cars. Sigh.

I am quite happy that Moonlight won Best Picture at the Golden Globes. I thought it was amazing.

What I've read/been reading:
"California Dreamin'" by Tad Friend (about Mike Mills) from The New Yorker
an excerpt from The Theory of Absence (on my phone!)
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (so far, pretty good)
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (about Ted Bundy; SO CREEPY)

Deep Work by Cal Newport
This one has affected the way I work. I'm trying (!!) to stay off social media all day and FB forever, thus the blogging. I have lists for every day, including a writing schedule and writing goals (which I need to make more concrete). I'm trying to be a "rhythmic" deep worker, which means I set aside time each day to do deep work. I'm also trying to be a person who sops checking her email & looking at her phone at like, 6, each night. Trying!! It's a good book with good advice about being productive which, thankfully, includes a section on Being Lazy. Hooray!

Also, I've realized I'm a highly distractable person. Back to Deep Work!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

On Doing Two (or more) Things at Once

I'm sure there is some science somewhere that explains how different parts of your brain can work on two different problems at the same time, and, in fact, how you can be better at solving two problems because one part of your brain is distracted by one problem and so the rest of your brain can sub-consciously work on that second problem.
This is my philosophy anyway, and explains why, in addition to trying to write this amorphous memoir-crime-history book I am also trying to put together a collection of poems. Also, today I started working (again) on a crime story I started. When I was looking for the notes I had made for this crime story (still lost!), I saw the manuscript of the mystery I wrote, oh, a few years back that I sort of promised myself I was going to finish and then try to find an agent for. Maybe?
Well, my point is, and I tell students this often, that when you have ONE BIG thing to do, it sometimes helps to do something else. Usually I recommend walking or working out or writing something that you tell your brain you don't care about (a blog post?). It's just fun! Just write it! It doesn't matter!
So, because of that, I easily tacked 1,000 words onto this crime story that I have NO IDEA where it is going....and that's okay, because it's just an exercise while I work on this very serious, totally important book project. Which is probably why that seems to be going nowhere, because it is so serious and important. Actually, I've written a few things for it, and I sort of like them.
The problem, speaking of amorphous, is that I've read a few things lately that have this sort of formal aspect to them, which, in theory, I like. In the two instances I can think of, however, the form sort of interfered with what, for all other purposes, might have been good novels.
This discovery has made me paranoid about the form of my amorphous project. Am I thinking too much about form? Maybe. However, when I try to write a straight narrative I realize that my life is actually pretty boring and no one would want to read about it that way. (trust me, it's true)
This leads to some long stretches of self-reflection that don't result in my "producing one thing." Though today I can at least say that I produced some words and that, by the end of next week perhaps?, I should have a draft of the story.
And with that, I'm going for a walk. (I hope I don't freeze out there!)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

On Lists

So here I am on the first *real* day of the year, that is, the first WORKING day, because no one does anything of note on January 1. That's the day when you are getting ready for the year. January 2 fell on a Monday, so that's the day we pretend is a holiday because if a holiday is a Sunday, it's a rip off, because Sunday is already a day off. So.
That brings us to Tuesday, a fine day to start things, just as good as any other day, and the day in which I began to implement my PLAN. That makes it sound like a book that could be featured on Oprah, but in reality, it's just a wee plan to help me get/be/stay motivated to DO THINGS! in the new year.
What, pray tell, do I mean?
Well, there's this sabbatical project/s that I should be/totally am doing. Then also fitness and converting myself from a sloth into a person with a god-like body (but I'm giving myself until the end of the summer for that, because what good is a god-like body when it is covered in sweats and giant sweaters? no good is the obvious answer). Also healthy (non-sugar, alcohol free) living.
Which means life needs lists. Lots and lots of lists. But, it turns out, lists help me manage to do the thing that needs to be done while not doing the thing that can obviously be done later, i.e. during my writing time.
Writing time! That's a thing. That I schedule. So in addition to lists, schedules. I need one and not just to plan out my exercise for the week (done! something I can cross off my list).
Here's what's on my list:

  • Blog (ON IT!!)
  • Look for flights to Iceland (I KNOW!!)
  • Get up and walk for 5 minutes every hour on the hour between 9-5 (so far I am 4 out of 6, but given that I spent 12 to 1 swimming, I'm going to call that a win. )
  • Read Deep Work (pm)
  • Produce 1 thing per day (I have to be loose because I don't know what I'm writing. What is a thing? It's the text that I've written, whatever that is. WIN!)
  • Find a family volunteer project for MLK, jr Day
So, good bloggers of blogville, I am on my list. I am running my list and my list does not run me. When I think of a thing I want to do that day, I write it on my list. Today I have crossed out: write 2 hours (!), Swim, Lunch. Now I can cross off "Blog." Also produce 1 thing. I did that and more during my two hours. Take that, list!
I feel like Toad who writes a list in the sand so he can cross off Go to Sleep. I think all lists should be treated like structures of sand that might be erased by an incoming wave.
Oh well, it's only a list.