Friday, September 29, 2006

Flickr Fiction: Sanctuary

I sigh with relief; the key still opens the padlock, even though the lock is rusty and I have to jiggle it around.

The sun is high when I walk into the place, but inside it's cool, damp, woody-smelling, just like it always used to be. It smells the same. It feels the same. In the corner is the old couch cushion I salvaged from my parents' garage, the brown tweed ripped, stuffing poking out of the corner, a cloth-covered button hanging off by a thread. There are probably mice living in it now.

I put my huge backpack down on the rotting planks, stretching my shoulders. It's been ten years, but the sun still hits the same spot in the afternoon, streaming through a wide crack in the wooden walls and hitting the old ochre plastic chair my junior-year boyfriend, a German exchange student named Axel, stole from the school library. I don't think anybody else has been here in all this time. Why would they? I don't think anybody knows about this place; or if they do, they don't care. It's always just been...mine.

I go over and sit down in the chair. Just the smell of this place brings back memories. Some good, some bad. Here's one of the good ones: I'm seventeen years old, my hair dreadlocked and bleached blond instead of short and plain like it is now--easy wear for crossing country. I ditched school with Axel, David, and Rennie. We're all sitting around a makeshift incense burner, a ceramic shoe that David made in ceramics class with a stick of incense poking out of the top. We're passing around a joint, a big fat one that Axel rolled. We are celebrating. It's the day before spring break, for one thing, and for another, Rennie's dad bought her a car for her birthday. We weren't stuck in stupid Grant Line any more. At least, that's what it felt like.

I look down; lean over and pick up an old cassette tape lying on the ground next to my totally burnt-out tape deck. It was on its last legs when I got it at a garage sale when I was thirteen. The tape is a mix tape that Ed, a different, much younger boyfriend, made for me. We were fourteen. Heavy metal ballads, Whitesnake and Poison, side by side with sappy Motown from his parents' collection and eighties new wave emo shit. OMD and crap like that. I never did like that tape much. I pretended to.

The same question comes to me now that came to me so often then: where do I go from here?
***

This week's piece was inspired by this photo by Flickr user DarkTranquility. This doesn't really feel "done;" it's more like just a scene this week. Check for more Flickr Fiction on the sites of The Gurrier, Tea and Cakes, Elimare, Chris, Mina, TadMack, and Linus.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm Surrounded By Idiots

As if yesterday's brush with obesity weren't enough, today I had another encounter with someone who really shouldn't be dealing with the public. This happened when I called my doctor's office. Now, I really like our doctor, and his nurses are pretty good, but I cannot stand his office staff. They are, to put it mildly, not too bright. Moreover, one of them is what I would call mean in a patronizing sort of way.

So I called today and of course got the mean one, who also handles all the appointments. I was asking them if they had any suggestions for a referral to a psychologist who was covered by our insurance (yes, I'm planning to rejoin the world of therapy after a few years of hiatus). The office lady said yes, but that I really wanted to see a counselor or a psychiatrist, not a psychologist, because "all psychologists do is give tests."

I refrained from pointing out that that is not, in fact, true, and I know this because one of my undergraduate majors was psychology. I figured at least one of us should resist the urge to act like a know-it-all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Complaint #1 About My Gym

I started going to a gym last week. I like our gym, considering I'm not exactly in love with going to the gym in general. Mainly I'm joining to use the pool, take a class now and then, and perhaps use a few of the exercise machines. As part of the enrollment package, we got a handful of sessions with a personal trainer, which I figured would be useful in terms of learning how to use the machines, 95% of which I have no clue how to operate and would probably injure myself trying to use on my own.

Today I had my first session with the personal trainer, which consisted mainly of discussing a rather lengthy health and fitness questionnaire, clarifying my fitness goals, and taking some measurements. These measurements included the infamous caliper body fat test, which I haven't taken since I was in early high school (anyone else remember the Presidential Physical Fitness Testing?).

Anyway, according to some dubious statistics which supposedly come from the American Council on Exercise but which I couldn't actually locate on their website, I have 33.1% body fat and am therefore obese. OBESE! Now, most of you reading this have probably seen me relatively recently and can attest to the fact that, while I'm not what you'd call majorly ripped or anything, one thing I am not is obese. I calculated my body mass index, which is the governmentally accepted method of determining obesity; it's perfectly normal. It's not even in the overweight range, which, incidentally, this chart from the gym did not actually include. The chart goes from "acceptable" straight to "obese." (I demanded--okay, asked nicely--if I could take a copy of their dubious chart home with me.)

I also did a little research online and found that caliper tests vary widely in accuracy depending on who is doing the testing (big surprise) and that you're really supposed to take the average of two or three measurements (which of course my personal trainer did not do). Sigh. I know I have plenty of room for improvement--after all, I've never been quite the same since A) moving to Modesto, the land of obese people, and B) taking corticosteroids. I've also never been quite the same since meeting Rob, who increased my weight to a healthy, above-100-pounds range. Age also probably did that--I was 19 when I met him, and ten years later, I've gained about 20 pounds. But 118 pounds is NOT OBESE, I'm sorry. I might believe that if I were totally sedentary, but I exercise 2-5 times a week for 30-45 minutes.

Still, when a chart and a personal trainer tell you you're obese, even if you don't quite believe it, it still has a negative psychological effect. In other words, it put me in a really pissy mood. I'm going to go drown my sorrows in alcohol now. My friend the bottle of empty calories.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rejection with a Twist

I was looking a little more closely at a rejection letter I got a few days ago for a manuscript I sent to the Phelan Literary Award competition at Intersection for the Arts. It was a rather lengthy letter, announcing the winners and even mentioning my manuscript by name (probably mail-merge) as well as encouraging me to apply again, blah blah blah. The usual.

Then I got to the bottom and noticed there was an actual signature, in actual ink. Then I noticed the name under the signature, and realized that I know this person. Yikes! It was signed by their Program Director, who we vaguely know because he used to work at Kala Art Institute when Rob was an intern there. He's a really cool, nice person. It's weird to get a rejection letter signed by him, especially since we haven't seen him in years. I doubt he would even make the connection with Rob, since we weren't married yet at the time Rob was working with him.

Anyway, that also reminded me there's a Phelan award in printmaking, too. Maybe I'll apply for that instead. I'm feeling a little blah about my writing right now, so I may focus on visual art for a bit and take a short mental break from writing (except for a paid gig I'm working on for the Mills Quarterly, which is an entirely different animal). I'm sort of thinking about illustration, because a few potential leads have come my way and I'll need a better, more appropriate portfolio if I want to do anything in that area. I'm working on a few fine art pieces that might work in an illustration portfolio, but I really need to keep those as separate as possible (lest my fine art be dismissed as "illustrational"). I've always felt uncomfortably stuck in the middle between fine art and more commercial forms of art; though my art is fairly conceptual, I usually depict things representationally, I'm very figurative, and I don't work on a large scale. And I have no problem with illustration as an art form. In fact, I'm very interested in artists who blur that line between art and illustration--many of them are/were printmakers. Frankly, I think it's valid to call art depicting religious or Biblical themes illustration, in a way, yet nobody has a problem with hanging that in fine art museums.

But anyway. My rant seems to have run out of steam. My point is that I'm feeling a little lost in one creative area, so I think I'll turn to another for a bit and hope that energizes me again. Tomorrow we're going to an art opening for a friend of ours, so maybe that will get my mind going.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

World's Largest

Corey sent me a link to this giant lamp, which is just seriously insane. I mean, look at the picture, for god's sake. It's larger than the height of a man, unless those are carefully crafted miniature people complete with expressions of alarm at the giant lamp clearly about to...uh...blind them with its monstrous bulb.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How I Spent My Summer Vacation...Working

I've been a sporadic blogger of late. This week I had two projects I needed to get mostly finished by today: the first set of essays from Rob's online Art Appreciation classes needed grading, and I needed to finish designing the program for the Prospect Theater Project's first production of the new season, which opens this Friday. (Yes, they/we are a bit behind.) That's my newest gig--graphic designer (programs and, sometimes, posters--see image) for a small black box theater in town. The theater's founders are friends of ours, so I'm excited to be helping them out in a very tangible way, even though there's not a lot of compensation (just season tickets). And, frankly, the poster looks damn good if I say so myself.

Today I'm also basking in the knowledge that I have been personally sought out and contacted by an editor at a big-name publishing house. This sounds much more exciting than it really is; it has nothing to do with my actual YA novel. But it's still quite cool. (And a girl can always dream...) Anyway, an editor at Penguin Putnam found our YA book review blog, apparently did some puttering around to find my e-mail address, and contacted me to ask where he might send a book (for reviewing, I assume). I had, in fact, seen this editor speak on a panel at an SCBWI conference in 2005, but it took me a while to remember where I'd seen his name before.

So of course I e-mailed him back to say, yes, please. He seems to currently be promoting this book, which I hope is the one he wants reviewed, because it looks cool; plus it was illustrated by the author, and you know how I feel about that sort of thing.

And now I can spend the rest of my day blissfully daydreaming about editors asking me if they may have the privilege of seeing my novel and, by the way, would I also like to supply the cover illustration? Please? Oh yes, of course, I'd love to.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Flickr Fiction: Broad Side of the Barn

"You never could hit the broad side of a barn, Adrian." I knew his aim was bad; really bad. And I couldn't help taunting him. I don't know why I did this, only that I felt compelled to do it, and all the time.

That day he dropped his arm, let the tennis racket swing at his side, and smiled sheepishly, nodding in agreement, like he did every time I said anything. Anything at all.

"Adrian, you suck at typing. Give me that letter." He'd hand me the letter, nodding and smiling.

"Adrian, you know you're a sloppy drunk. No more Long Island Iced Teas, only coffee for you. It's getting late." Enthusiastic nod; simpering smile. Coffee was drunk.

"Come on, Adrian. Hurry up." His steps would quicken so he could catch up to me, nod, and smile.

No doubt you've noticed a trend.

It didn't matter if it was his aim that was in question, or his excruciatingly slow walking pace, or his irritating habit of cleaning his glasses by audibly breathing on them with garlic or coffee or sandwich breath. It was as though I was compelled by some irresistible force, a geas, if you will. I lived to torment Adrian Bell.

I broke up with him six months ago, after I got sick of all those little things that first endear a person to you, the things that make them them, all the habits and tendencies and quirks. After a year, they all drove me nuts. Bonkers. Crackers. Apeshit. I realized that everything I had once loved about him now made me hate him.

So I ended the relationship. Oh, we were still friends. But it was one of those uneasy friendships, the kind where they hope every smile of yours might mean something, and you're afraid every smile of theirs does. We would see each other every week or so, to play tennis, or see a movie, or some other activity that doesn't require talking. Still, at every opportunity there was to open my big mouth, there I was saying something like "Don't you realize how silly that sounds?" or "You really shouldn't do things like that; it's so disgusting." Picking and picking and picking.

Until last weekend. We were on one of those rare outings that involved a long car ride--prime territory for our usual sort of one-sided conversation. The car wound through countryside on the way back from a concert in some podunk-ville winery town. Adrian was driving. That was one thing he could do well. I, on the other hand, woudl swerve every time I had to talk to someone.

It was a gorgeous day. We had the windows down and the smell of plants and fertilizer wafted through. The low, rolling fields were bright green with rows of shrubby crops and tethered grapevines. Every so often you'd see a truck in one of the fields, or a rotting barn way out in the distance. One of those barns was coming up real close on the right-hand side, all decaying weathered wood and peeling reddish paint. Inside, you could see it was an empty, abandoned husk.

The road curved slightly and suddenly you could see that the side of the barn used to have some kind of billboard painted on it. I chuckled.

"It's cute, huh," Adrian said, brightly.

"Cute?" My voice rose. "Because some poor sap of a farmer sold out his wall space to some company that would never be of any use to him? Can you imagine a farmer in Guess Jeans and a pair of fancy Ray-Bans? Maybe in Brokeback Mountain, but not here. God, Adrian, you really missed the mark again that time. Cute." I snorted.

Suddenly the car veered to one side. I screeched as I was thrown against the gearshift.

"Adrian! Don't be psycho!" But the car was inexorably turning, quicker now, bumping over the reflectors on the side of the road and right out into the field. Adrian drove expertly over one of the raised levee dirt roads that I hadn't even noticed, dividing a cornfield from the grapevines.

He accelerated, the car bumping faster and faster, me screeching the whole time. I could see the building getting closer and closer. I could see every detail of the peeling paint, the woman's once-perfect face rotting away like a million years had passed. And then there was an impact, a giant crashing noise, and splinters of termite-infested, flaky, musty wood were raining down on us through the windows. I spat a wood chip out of my mouth as the car ground to a halt in the middle of the barn. I could smell ancient manure.

"What," I panted, "in God's name, do you think you just did?" I gathered my breath to give Adrian the tirade of his life.

"What did I do?" he said. "I just proved you wrong, is what I did. I, Miss Nay-sayer, just hit the broad side of a barn."
***

This week's piece was inspired by this photo by Flickr user tangent. I have no idea what I was thinking here. Just some garbage I hacked up at the last minute. Check for more Flickr Fiction on the sites of The Gurrier, Tea and Cakes, Elimare, Chris, Mina, TadMack, and Linus.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Flickr Fiction: The Alchemist's House

The hallway was pitch-dark. A gauzy curtain or wall hanging kept brushing up against her bare arms, rustling and cobweb-light, raising gooseflesh and making her throat catch, but if she didn't hug the walls she wouldn't be able to find the right room. Dennie hadn't thought to bring a candle. Her flashlight was back in her room...at home.

Dennie shook her head violently from side to side. No reason to think about home, now. She wasn't going to get back there any time soon. The Alchemist had seen to that.

The Alchemist. Dennie paused for a moment in her slow creep, listening for any sound, any footfall, any creak of a door or floorboard. Silence. The Alchemist had been imaginary, a fable to scare children into obeying their parents. If you don't come here this instant, the Alchemist will mark you on his list. Good children stay, but bad children stray; the Alchemist finds them and takes them away.

The rhyme echoed in her ears like a whistle from far away, even though Dennie hadn't heard it in years, not since she was in second grade at least. Seven years. Two times seven. She shuddered. Sevens were the Alchemist's number, two. Seven, fourteen, twenty-one--all considered to be inauspicious at home, the tiny backwoods town of Los Brujos. The warlocks. Nobody could prove where the name came from, but everyone whispered it. Him. HE used to live here. When? Nobody knows. A long time ago. Don't talk about him; he might hear you.

SsssSSSSssssSSSSssss... Dennie heard something. She held her breath; it wasn't the hissing of air going in and out of her own lungs. It was too regular. Her own breath caught; juddered; blew; caught again, like a frightened animal. She closed her eyes, even though it was dark, and strained her ears to listen. She crept a little further down the hall. Her fingers, trailing along the wall, hit a smoothly polished wooden surface. Hinges; carvings; the doorknob.

Here she paused again, and brushed her tangled hair behind her ears. She put one ear to the door, gently, silently. SSSSssssSSSSssss... It was louder now, punctuated with clicks and slight groanings of machinery. If Dennie was lucky, she might find a way out of this horrible house, this maze of black corridors. If the Alchemist got her here--wherever "here" was--he had to have some way of getting her out. None of the old stories ever told of anybody who was stolen by the Alchemist and then returned again, to live happily ever after, but here she was, wasn't she. Dennie. Here. Dennie, who all the boys were afraid of but secretly wanted to be with more than any other girl. Dennie, who, in sixth grade had beaten up every boy who tried to kiss her; who, in seventh grade, was repeatedly suspended for smoking in the girls' bathroom between classes; who, one month ago, almost lost her virginity to one of the off-duty soldiers from the air force base, until he found out she was fourteen.

She was Dennie. NOTHING scared her. She pushed open the door with trembling fingers, and the slight crevice of light became a dim column about eight feet tall. The door opened silently, without squeaking of hinges, and she opened it until she could slip through.

She stopped, the darkness of the hallway pressing on her back almost tangibly. The room was dimly lit by a few lone candles in sconces set at intervals just above the wainscoting. Strange machines were everywhere, whirring and clicking to themselves. Test tubes and beakers lay on bare wooden tables with sinister-looking clips, wires, and pins. Yellowing jars of formaldehyde housed floating creatures from her nightmares, lifeless and rubbery as the frog she'd dissected last year. She half-expected to see cages of children lining the walls, bad children like her who'd been snatched for persistent misbehavior.

There was a soft click at the back of the room. And footsteps. Heavy, unmistakable footsteps. A figure entered, shrouded in darkness that the candles couldn't quite banish, and stopped next to one of its machines. It seemed of average height, but its shadow stretched crazily up the wall, reaching nearly to the ceiling. It chuckled, and she could see a flash of white teeth.

"I know what you did," he said. Dennie's knees felt like they were about to give out, but she put one hand on the doorframe and dug her fingernails in. "And there's something you...Dennie...can do for me."
***

This week's piece was inspired by this photo by Flickr user masticanotte. This is interesting...I might decide to explore this one more later. Anyway, check for more Flickr Fiction on the sites of The Gurrier, Tea and Cakes, Elimare, Chris, Mina, TadMack, and Linus

.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Not the Brightest Bulb in the Chandelier


090306_2230a.jpg
Originally uploaded by Aquafortis.

I like that saying. It accurately describes some of the drunken spazmasters who were seated in front of us at the Tool concert we went to Sunday night in Oakland. I took this photo between the performance and the encore. Normally, these days at concerts you see people holding up cell phones instead of lighters (at least that's what happened at the Red Hot Chili Peppers show) but this crowd had lighters in abundance.


I know I haven't posted in a few days. I was stuck in computer hell--Rob's laptop had to be wiped clean and everything reloaded, but at least I was able to retrieve our files first. However, the whole process was exceedingly time-consuming and annoying.


Yesterday I finally finished the job, but then I was scheduled to conduct a phone interview for the Mills Quarterly. I found the subject of this interview to be very intimidating, plus because of the computer fiasco I wasn't as prepared for the interview as I should have been, so I think I came off sounding kind of dim. Rob points out that she's probably been interviewed by some VERY dim bulbs over the years and that this couldn't possibly have been all that bad. He's probably right, but I can't help but think she had to be underwhelmed by my incisive line of questioning. "Um, uh, so, could you talk about your, you know, time at the Fine Arts Museums, like, what led up to you working there?"


Phone interviews are tough anyway, because you can't really gauge how the person is reacting to you or your questions. I had started to think I was actually better at interviews than I thought, because my last two for the Quarterly went so well. Now I realize I'm good at in-person interviews; I'm not so good at phone interviews. Oh, well. You can't be good at everything. But I try.