aqua fortis

Friday, December 10, 2010

Put It In My Veins

Sometimes it amazes me how much drawing is like a drug. I haven't had time to do more than the occasional sketch or doodle over the past few months, so tonight, going to a figure drawing session that Rob organized on campus for his students, I was pleased nearly to the point of mania that I was finally able to take a break from everything else I've been doing and exercise the old drawing muscles.

And it IS like a drug. Really. I'm an addict. It doesn't even have to be a GOOD drawing session for me to think, AAAHHHHHHH, that's the stuff. Fortunately, tonight was pretty good. Not outstanding, but good, considering I'm a little out of practice. I've seriously been jonesing to do some artwork for months now. Luckily, I was at a good breaking point in the revision, having just struggled through rewriting a chapter that seemed to have nothing right with it and everything wrong. Now, I'm hoping it's more good than bad.

Anyway, here are a few of the drawings I did tonight. The two using Conte pencil on toned paper are just 20-minute sketches, and the large charcoal drawing (left) took a little over an hour. I'm pretty happy with how that one came out, considering it took me 10 minutes just to get started because I couldn't figure out what medium I wanted to use and because the pose was surprisingly challenging. But I loves me some vine charcoal. Once I got started, it flowed pretty well.

I'm looking forward to getting back in the habit again.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

My Virgin Ears

Strangely, I have not listened to an actual audiobook yet. Nope, not once. There's no one particular reason I can point to. I tend to prefer listening to music on my iPod, but I'm not anti-podcast, for instance. I like books. (That's obviously not the problem.) It's just that I have an uncanny ability to forget about the possibility of audiobooks when I'm planning for a long car trip. I'm not in the habit, so I don't think about it until it's too late.

Well, NO MORE! I have officially checked out my very first audiobook from the library: White Cat by Holly Black, narrated by none other than Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network movie fame. It's a book I was interested in reading, so I'm hoping I get just as much enjoyment out of the audio version. And it's just a slight bit longer than my drive down to SoCal is likely to take, I think, so it should be perfect. It was a pretty exciting day for library pickings, actually: Magic Thief Book 3, Northlander Book 2, POD by Stephen Wallenfels, Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus (YAY YAY YAY), and the first book in a new series by Herbie Brennan (author of the very funny Faerie Wars books) called The Shadow Project.

Not that I'll have a huge amount of leisure reading time for the next few days, buried as I am under articles to write, art appreciation essays to grade, and a big revision I foolishly thought I could get done much more quickly. I don't even want to THINK about Christmas shopping yet, although I did get a little of it done already. There's not even any time to shop online. My so-called free time is generally devoted to cooking ('cause you gotta eat) and cleaning (just enough to not feel like we're living in a pigsty) and sleeping (because that is non-negotiable). Every time I check something off the list, I want to celebrate with great jubilation.

Oh yeah. No celebrating for at least 5 days.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Poetic Interlude

To be perfectly honest, I haven't blogged lately because I've been experiencing extreme blog performance anxiety and existential blog-related angst. What if I don't have anything interesting to say? What if nobody cares about [insert random topic here]? Is it even worth blogging when there are so many other blogs out there with far more profound, useful or entertaining content than mine? You know, the usual.

So, while I recover from this funk (and, let me tell you, this particular type of funk is a lot less fun than it sounds) I offer you a couple of poems I wrote when I was a kid. These were written in one of many partially-filled journals I used to jot things down in. People seemed to really like giving me journals and diaries  when I was young, and I had a tendency to use maybe the first ten or twenty pages and then put them aside. I was not a good diary-keeper, though I tried. Entries were usually along the lines of "Dear Diary, today I went to the dentist. I got McDonalds afterward. On Saturday I had to visit my dad. We went to a movie but it was boring." Not even very descriptive.

Mostly I preferred the less diary-oriented blank books, in which I doodled, wrote random poems and stories, and practiced weird styles of handwriting. (When I was older, this changed to song lyrics and increasingly angsty poems.) Anyway, I was rummaging in a box in the garage earlier tonight and found a couple of these journals. One poem, appropriately enough, was about Thanksgiving. I wrote this when I was about nine:

Thanksgiving is a happy time,
A time to stuff your face;
Thanksgiving is a thankful time
To say a prayer of grace.

That's my punctuation--no after-the-fact editing. Apparently my unholy love of the semicolon had already started. And I really liked rhyming poetry.

I also wrote this strangely prophetic untitled poem about being an author. I had no intention, as you know, of actually being a writer until about ten years ago. However, at age 10 or so when I wrote this poem, I did already love the act of writing. Evidently the career didn't appeal quite so much.

If I were an author, I'd wonder who
I would dedicate all of the books I wrote to. 
Maybe my mother or father or uncle or aunt or cousin or....WHEW!
Or who I would write all my books for...
I don't think I want to be an author any more.

I find this highly amusing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Writer's Block

One of my blogging friends recently talked about a corollary or, perhaps, expanded definition of writer's block that includes the difficult-to-ignore feeling that one's writing, to put it plainly, sucks. That the suckitude is all-encompassing and inescapable. And that feeling of suckitude keeps you from writing.

I'm very familiar with this species of writer's block. I guess if you're prone to it in the first place, it never really goes away. And I wonder how other people deal with it. Sometimes I have a deadline, so it's a matter of B.I.C. - Butt In Chair. I have to do it. It's my work and somebody needs to see it by a certain date. Then, it's like homework: there's just no getting out of it, and if it sucks, too bad. It still has to be done.

Other times I spend days or weeks in a funk; that seems to be my preferred M.O. I eventually get over it and want to write again; eventually get to the point where I'm willing to risk the suckitude. Why? How? Who knows? I guess because ultimately creating stuff is the only thing I really want to do, no matter how hard it is or how much it sucks sometimes. I can't help it. It's just what I'm meant to be. Nothing else will do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Self-Aggrandizement Sure Takes Up a Lot of Time.

I guess I'm spending all my time lately on things like new websites and Facebook "pages" and networking and book-related junk. I did an uber-long blog post over at the YA blog recapping a conference I went to over the weekend--I seem to be doing most of my posting there lately, as well as at the Cybils blog, where I'm the blog editor. I'm blogging a lot. Just not here.

I'm hoping to remedy that. I think I'm making progress on my Gigantic List O' Random Crap that needs doing. I usually put blogging here at aquafortis fairly far down the list, sadly, but again, I hope to change that. Unfortunately, I get all exhausted and antisocial when I've been doing a lot of networking-type stuff and might disappear from the virtual world for days at a time. Sometimes I DON'T EVEN TWEET! Shock! Horror!

Anyway, speaking of horror, here's a great link if you're looking for some Halloween reading: a friend of mine, Colleen, got a good scary story published in Strange Horizons.  I keep pushing it on people because it's such an awesome piece. It's not TOO scary. You know me and scary: we're like two peas in totally separate pods on completely different planets. But I read and enjoyed this story, so there you go.

More soon. I swear.

Friday, October 01, 2010

And You May Ask Yourself, How Did I Get Here?

Every so often, when I think about the fact that my first novel is about to be published, I get this feeling of surreality. I think to myself, this is not how I would have pictured my life if you'd asked me fifteen years ago, when I was an undergraduate in college, or even ten years ago, when I was working at my first (hmm, and last) full-time salaried job.

It's not like I suddenly woke up one morning as a Type-A, high-powered stockbroker, or a doctor or a trial lawyer, and wondered to myself, "Who am I? WHO AM I??" It's just that it didn't even cross my radar that I might pursue a writing career—at least, not until that job ten years ago at when I started doing some on-the-side freelance humor writing and thought to myself, "Remember how you always loved writing? Yeah. Maybe I could do this every day. Perhaps I should think about looking into this further."

In retrospect, this logic seems flawed, as I ended up transitioning from one unlikely, competitive, low-paying career goal (art) to another equally competitive, difficult and low-paying career goal (writing). But you have to understand—in 2001, when I quit my job at IGN and decided to go back to graduate school for creative writing, I was still coming off a massively career-shifting and aggravation-inducing year of post-baccalaureate study at the San Francisco Art Institute. After spending all my spare cash applying to 13 art MFA programs (in those dark days of 1998, you had to send most places slide carousels of your work), I was offered only one option—a year of post-bac study—so I took it.

Moving even further back in my career planning, when I started undergraduate school as an Art Practice (and Psychology—but that's a story for another time) major at Berkeley, I had this general idea that I'd end up in illustration or design. But then I was confronted with the dichotomy that is High Art vs. Low Art, or Fine Art vs. Commercial Art, or whatever you want to call it (great post on this at Yat-Yee's blog). I learned, in my fine-art-oriented program, that words like "commercial" and "illustration" were bad things when applied to fine art, so I did what I needed to in order to succeed in the milieu I was thrust into—or I tried, anyway. I didn't exactly banish my entire aesthetic; I just focused on art for art's sake.

In further retrospect, I think my idea was that I'd enter grad school, get my MFA, and then go on to work in illustration or design or whatever other art-related job I could find. I didn't really have a clear idea of what that might be, but I knew I wasn't interested in teaching, which is what most MFAs end up doing. (Or they end up in a mindless day job so they can make art at night.) But since I didn't get into an MFA program--after tons of effort, I might add—I was a little lost after finishing my post-bac year. I was like, now what? I don't feel ready to plunge into the art world. I was traumatized by various unpleasant experiences in my graduate department. Rob was still struggling with the politics of the MFA program there. I was also feeling embittered by the fact that I'd finished my BA summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, etc. etc. and it hadn't seemed to do me much good career-wise.

So I ignored the dilemma and applied for work. It seemed like a good time. The internet boom was…well…booming, and we lived in the Bay Area. Entry-level positions abounded. I got one marketing job, didn't like it, and quit after two weeks, when I was offered the IGN job.

Which brings me back to the writing. Inspired by my manager Mike, who also wrote articles for the site and was going to transition to a full-time content writing job, I offered myself as a freelance writer. Sadly, the internet boom stopped booming, I got a new set of bosses, and I wasn't able to make the transition to full-time writer. But it got me thinking. Why put up with the constant fear of layoffs, the excruciatingly dull morning marketing meetings and the recurring chastisement for my occasional lateness to said meetings when I could REALLY be doing something with this desire to write?

Not having any formal creative writing training beyond some childhood enrichment classes had never stopped me from writing before, but I figured I needed some more learnin' before I tried to actually get published, or get a job as a content writer, or whatever. I applied to MFA programs, and lo and behold, I got into one this time. (A much better acceptance rate, too—one out of two. …What was I thinking?)

By that time I was starting to think about being a freelancer full-time—writing, design, illustration, whatever. And that's a pretty good description of what I do now. That's how I got here. So I guess that answers that question.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

C'mon...You Know You Want to Read It

My litany of excuses for not blogging, that is. I was supposed to follow up on my last post and everything. I fully intended to for a few days there, too. Then I got busy. It's not as though I haven't been blogging--after all, I've put up close to twenty posts over the past two weeks on the Cybils blog, and I did manage a post or two over at the YA blog recently. I did some other webmastering duties at other sites. And I even worked on a couple of major (to me) web design projects--namely a new personal/professional site and a Latte Rebellion site to accompany/pimp my book.

Speaking of the book, that's been keeping me busy, too...I got an advance review copy of it at the end of last month, which got me excited, just in time to receive my next (and final) round of edits. Not long after I finished those edits, I got a phone call from a member of the publicity staff at my publisher, and had a discussion about things like going to ALA and doing a book launch and contacting media and other stuff that left me flabbergasted yet excited. I talked to a couple of friends here in town, who have teacherly and librarianly connections, about talking to classes or holding a library reading when the book is launched in January.  Today I got my galley proofs, and my next task is to review them and e-mail my publisher with any changes. It's a whirlwind that comes in gusts--lots of stuff at once, alternating with periods of waiting.

Oh, and I've been doing lots of writing, mainly articles interspersed with a little work on another fiction project. So lately it's seemed like every spare second has been taken up, because of course there's other stuff happening in my life besides work. Nothing particularly notable, except Rob's return to teaching classes after being on sabbatical for a year. That's been a smack upside the head for both of us. So if I seem to be a bit dry and dull at the moment...I guess I am.

I did have two odd conversations today, though. One was remarkable because it's highly possible the exchange consisted entirely of lies, and the one person I could guarantee was lying, was me. Packing up my car after shopping at Trader Joe's:

Random Large Dude: (paraphrased) Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help out, I can give you my address, my phone number and everything, but me and my family are trying to get to Vallejo.

Me: What, like on the train or...?

RLD: No, we've got a car, but it's (broken down/ran out of gas/something I can't remember).

Me: I'm sorry, I don't have any cash on me.

Now, that latter was, sadly, a lie. I didn't have any cash I wanted to GIVE him. I only had a twenty. And pennies, which would be rude. But I still felt bad. And then, as I got in my car and drove away, I told myself, he could well have been pulling a scam and just lying about the family, about Vallejo, about the car, about everything. He looked normal enough, if startlingly obese, but who knows? All I know is, he could have been lying. I was definitely lying. And that felt weird.


The other strange conversation I had was with my sister-in-law. I think she's in New York this week, visiting friends, but I wasn't thinking about that when she called earlier today. I picked up my cell phone.

Me:  Hello?

Sis-in-Law: Hey, It's [REDACTED].

Me: Hey, how's it going?

SIL: Good! Listen, what do we push, D or F? We're here!

Me: ...[long silence]...Wha?

SIL: What button do we push, D or F?

Me: Um...what do you mean?

SIL: What? I'm outside!

Me: Outside MY house? Right now? [I look out the front window. Nobody's there.]

SIL: Yeah, we're coming up the front stairs and don't know if we should push D or F.

Me: do realize you're talking to Sarah, your sister-in-law?

SIL: Oh no! Oh! How funny. Gotta go.

This struck me as highly comical afterward because I had been so INCREDIBLY confused by what she was saying to me. It didn't make any sense to me whatsoever until she started saying she was outside the house, and referred to front stairs, which I don't have. Only then did it occur to me that she was probably talking about apartment buzzers and thought she was talking to someone else.

It was very surreal, but also funny.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

About that Fasting Thing...

Especially if we've known each other since my childhood, you'll know that me deciding to observe even one single day of Ramadan is a highly unusual occurrence. You'll probably remember that I did not always get along well with my dad while I was growing up. I fasted a few times (not really by choice) when I was nine or ten, and was frustrated by the fact that I didn't have much say in the matter.

I was also confused about it. When I was small, when my parents were still married, neither was particularly religious. Oh, we observed holidays from two sets of religions, and pork was not a part of our diet, but that was about the extent of it. I have clear memories of me, my mom AND my dad gathered around the piano, singing while my mom played Christmas carols, just as I have clear memories of my mom exasperated at the insane amounts of traditionally butchered halal goat stored in our freezer after the observance of Eid. Me? I liked extra holidays. I was a materialistic little 1980s child, and more holidays meant more presents. (Incidentally, my dad's not in the picture above...I assume he was the photographer. It's my aunt, uncle, cousins, mom and grandfather.)

So when my father remarried—I was about nine—and started to become a more observant Muslim, that change reached into my life as well—when it was his visitation weekend, I went (reluctantly) to Sunday school and mosque. And on a couple of occasions, yes, I did observe the fast. But as soon as I was old enough to really assert my opinion, I refused to do it any more. I stopped going to Islamic Sunday school, avoided going to mosque as much as possible. By the time I was twelve, I was able to choose when I wanted to visit my dad, and although the frequency of visits didn't decrease by much, I was able to avoid having religion forced on me by anyone.

I'm still not a religious person. Neither is Rob. I generally feel like it's one of those cocktail party, polite company no-no subjects, along with politics. As for tomorrow's fast, we're not doing it for religious reasons. I'm not doing it to make my dad happy, although he is pleased we're making this small attempt. (I'm not sure how pleased he would be at our less-than-strict implementation. We're not going to adhere to the letter of every rule. More on that tomorrow.)

Why ARE we doing it? I guess it's complicated. I'm not doing it to connect with my dad, though it might help me do that a little. If I'm being honest, it has very little to do with that. What got me thinking about it was actually Rob's cousin Patrick. Patrick posted a Facebook update about how he's fasted a few times in the past to express support, kinship and solidarity with Muslim friends. And seeing him say that was very freeing for me. I had this realization that I don't need to let my own conflicted feelings about my relationship with my dad get in the way of me making a connection with my heritage, even if it's a tiny one, just for one day.

And I've felt really strongly about that heritage lately, with Muslims apparently being personae non grata in certain circles and Islam being denounced left and right. Like in the days after 9/11, yet again I'm afraid for my Muslim family members here in the U.S. I may not observe Islam, but I don't want anything to happen to my family and I want them to be able to practice their faith with dignity and respect. There's so much misunderstanding and disinformation circulating right now, which I suspect stems primarily from the fact that a lot of people don't KNOW, or haven't bothered to get to know, any actual practicing Muslims.

I'm not going to go off on a rant about that, though it would be easy to do. I'm just going to conclude by saying that this is going to be a very interesting experience for both Rob and myself. I'm hoping that it reminds me a little of where I come from, connects me with that a little more, even if my usual M.O. is to forge my own path, something that isn't likely to change. And maybe others will be encouraged by what I've decided to do—or at least take my words to heart—and open themselves up to their Muslim friends and neighbors a little more. I'm going to sound like a hippie here, but mutual understanding means we as Americans truly can be a "we" as opposed to an "us" and a "them."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Breaking News: Wimp Survives Hike

This past weekend, our friend Travis—an experienced hiker—invited us to go on a full-moon trip up to Yosemite's Half Dome. Yosemite by moonlight? Awesome. Hiking? Cool. We said yes, even though I was a bit on the fence about it. After all, we were going to be driving to the park at 8:30 at night, arriving a few hours later, hiking until nearly dawn and then hiking BACK. A round trip of over 16 miles. And people have DIED on this hike. (Usually in storms, though.)

Some might call it gorgeous, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, etc. It would also be fair to call it a brutal and grueling death march. In fact, I almost titled this post "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," with apologies to David Foster Wallace. But that wouldn't be fair. Because it really was awesome, and you get views of the park that would be impossible otherwise.

And we saw a fair amount of wildlife (thankfully, no bears this time—who wants to run into a bear in the forest at night? Not me.). In the dark, we saw at least three scorpions (yikes) and a few bats, and in the day we encountered a few marmots, tons of ground squirrels and oodles of lizards. A beautiful Steller's jay. One coyote. An elk (or was it a mule deer?) Unfortunately, some extremely aggressive mosquitoes as well, who scoffed at my bug spray.

We started down in Yosemite Valley, where we parked the car, readied our backpacks and put on our headlamps. (Note: Don't buy headlamps at Sports Authority because they will suck.) We hiked up to the Vernal Falls Bridge, where we branched off onto the John Muir Trail for a few miles. We continued steadily uphill for about 8 miles, navigating rocky terrain and hoping no bears jumped out to consume us or steal our PB&J sandwiches. Quite a few people were out hiking in the moonlight, but not many were INSANE enough to start from the valley floor. Most normal people camp partway up, at Little Yosemite Valley, and then hike the rest of the way. Not us.

We stopped for a small meal at the top of Nevada Falls, where the John Muir Trail meets up with the Mist Trail. Then we continued on up, up, up. It got much more strenuous as we gained altitude (Half Dome is around 8,000 feet up), and we had to rest frequently. As a result, we missed checking out sunrise from the top of Half Dome, but we did catch some amazing views of it from the hills just below. It was morning (about 8 am) by the time we got to Half Dome. I wasn't sure I was going to make it—we were all (except Travis) in major pain and suffering massive sleep deprivation at this point.

Then, when I saw how steep the cables were leading up the side of the dome, I was convinced I couldn't do it. But after a good rest, I was able to summon the mental fortitude, don my gloves and creep slowly up. And, much to my surprise, climbing up the dome and being rewarded with the awesome views at the top was my favorite part of the ordeal. It was actually WAY easier to shinny up and down the side of the dome than it had been to dodge rocky debris and climb half-broken giant stairs on the way there. And it was definitely easier than hauling my aching body back down for 8 miles, including a couple of miles of brutal Mist Trail action.

The worst part of THAT was the fact that we had been hiking for about 15 hours by then, and were completely spent and in pain, and had to dodge a million other hikers who had way more energy, plus numerous rude tourists. By that point, I was not going very quickly. My eyes were tired, my balance was fading, and my legs were trembling like crazy. It was a good thing we all brought plenty of Advil.

Oh. Did I mention it was 99 degrees when we were hiking back? Fortunately, we stopped at Little Yosemite Valley camp on the way back and plunged into a large pond there, refilling our water bottles, too (Travis brought a most excellent water filter pump). And, slowly but surely, covered in sweat and dust and dirt, we made our way back down via the Mist Trail and down into the valley, where we hobbled to the car, drove to Curry Village and rapidly consumed cheeseburgers and fries. On the hike, we brought what I would say was just enough food—PB&J sandwiches, dried apricots, craisin trail mix, beef jerky—but we should have brought more. It seemed like Rob and I were hungry every couple of hours.

Then we had to rush home to meet an overnight houseguest, which made everything just utterly crazy. We were in pain the whole day after the hike, but not immobile, which is good. I think we're both still exhausted from the whole thing, especially the lack of sleep (and if you know me, you won't be surprised that I didn't sleep well the night before the hike, either). But. Overall, I'm glad I did it. I may not do it again—at least, I definitely wouldn't do it again without camping in the middle. But I'm amazed that I made it. It was a very humbling experience. I'm not entirely out of shape, but this is a whole other level of physical conditioning.

I'm here. I'm alive. I can still walk--and in fact, today, I'm not in much pain at all. This feels like a minor miracle. And, I decided at some point during the hike that a character in one of my future novels will need to experience a grueling trek on foot. This made me feel considerably cheered.

More pictures here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dubious Advice from My Teenage Self

A few days ago my mother e-mailed me a scanned copy of the salutatorian speech I wrote and delivered at my high school graduation. My grandfather had kept a copy (that's his handwriting in the upper right) and my mom recently unearthed it, apparently. Note the top-quality dot-matrix printing, ha ha.

Reading it, I was shocked by how similar my writing voice was to its current incarnation—despite the fact that, at the time, becoming a writer was not even on my radar. I enjoyed writing, and I always have, but as you probably know, until about ten years ago I fully intended to devote my career to some form of visual art.

The other thing that struck me on reading my sixteen-year-old self's words was the fact that I still seem to be struggling with some of the same writing-related issues 17 years later. Despite a few specific details, the speech is almost painfully generic. And even now, I feel like one of my weaknesses as a writer is tendency to fall back on cliché and genericness.

But there are a few things I love about it, too. I love the fact that I inserted a pause specifically in order to "look cosmic." I love the fact that I pretended I was tearing up a fictitious "bad" speech I'd allegedly written in favor of delivering these, er, nuggets of wisdom—a rather theatrical segment which I had to argue for keeping, and was only allowed to perform on condition that I word it carefully so as not to appear controversial (cf. the "this is the speech I could have written" part). I also love the fact that my dad took a picture* of that moment and captioned it with a post-it note ("now you are tearing your speech!").

In some ways, I hardly know what to think about it. Part of me can't help noticing what a risk-avoider I was, in the sense that I could easily have performed my speech with my originally intended wording on the day of graduation with little or no repercussion. But then, in some ways giving a speech at all is a risk of sorts. So I guess it evens out.

*Could not find the picture despite repeated searching. I know it exists, because I remember seeing it in a box a few years ago. Which box? Who knows?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Flashbacks, the Horrible Flashbacks

I had a bunch of weird and disturbing dreams last night. (Yep, it's gonna be one of THOSE posts.) In the one I remember most clearly, I was back in college as an undergraduate, and it was the first day of classes. I went to my first class, a morning class in a big lecture hall that looked like one of the auditoriums in the Berkeley Life Sciences Building. I hustled back to the dormitory dining hall for lunch and felt lucky that I made it--it was after 1:30 and they were getting ready to close. I grabbed a couple of unappetizing-looking slices of cold pizza and some sort of apple pastry that strongly resembled a McDonalds apple pie.

Then, as I sat down and started eating, I was suddenly outside in Sproul Plaza and realizing that I was supposed to be heading to another class that started at 2:00, and I was going to be late. There was no way I was going to be able to make it across campus in time. Maybe they wouldn't notice me walking in.

I checked my schedule printout and saw, to my horror, that this was actually the third class meeting because it was an "early start" class (whatever that means) and it had already started meeting a couple of weeks before. I was sure to be hopelessly behind, and I despairingly decided that I would have to drop the class. Then I noticed that the class didn't have anything to do with my major after all, and was on some trivial and unrelated subject. But I was still going to have to find another class to add to my schedule.

Then the dream changed to something I can't remember clearly now, but I know I was still on campus, and our friend Jess's wife Alyssa was there distributing beverages out of a padded cooler.

Then, later in the night/early morning, I dreamed that I was in a shiny metal rowboat trying to paddle upriver while avoiding all sorts of obstacles like rocks and rapids. Seems like a horribly belabored metaphor, doesn't it? I thought so, anyway. Eventually my boat arrived at a visitors' center alongside the river. I went in. My mom was there for some reason. Can't remember the rest.

Stupid stress dreams.

Friday, July 23, 2010

On Caution

By nature I'm a cautious individual.

So cautious that I talk myself out of taking risks as often as I talk myself into them. It may seem like I'm sending out queries, entering writing contests, but that's nothing compared to the contests I haven't entered, the agents I haven't queried. It may seem like I manage to do a fair amount of artwork still, compared to the free time I (don't) have, but that's nothing compared to the ideas I'm too afraid to begin because I'm not sure they're ready, not sure they've percolated in my brain long enough, not sure I can do them justice. Not sure they're worthwhile or that anyone will care.

So cautious that I tend to keep my distance in personal relationships, because I don't want to get hurt or I don't want to hurt someone else or I don't want to acquire an annoying stalker like that one ex-boyfriend back in college. (Two months of relationship, six months of stalking! What a bargain! Plus, as an added bonus, pages and pages of letters!) I'm very skilled at it. You might not even know which me you're talking to, the surface me or the one hiding underneath.

So cautious that I'm often second-guessing whatever I say, do, or even write. It's enough to drive a person nuts. Please bear that in mind the next time I say something goofy or weird...which could be any minute now.

So cautious that my blog posts sometimes never make it out of my head and onto the page, let alone onto the intertubes for posterity, for fear that they're not clever enough, or not my best work, or whatever.

All of which makes it a little counter-intuitive that I've always had my eye on vocations that include a good deal of throwing caution to the winds...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Creative Person's List of Laments

….Because we creative people have the amazing magical power to create neuroses out of thin air!

I may not be as helpful or clever as Merlin Mann, but hopefully this is reasonably entertaining. I enjoyed writing it, although I'm vaguely embarrassed at how many of these neuroses—er, laments—I have personally indulged in on repeated occasions.

So You've Got a Bouncing Baby...Whatever That Is 

1. I'm not even sure this is a very good idea in the first place. Perhaps I: am getting old / killed too many brain cells in [insert college name here] / should have been a [insert more lucrative career here]. (select all that apply)

2. I'm never possibly going to finish [project title].

3. I'm never going to finish revising / perfecting [project title].

Once Your Project Is Done. Or IS it? 

4. Is it really done? Maybe I should just tweak this word / sentence / line / stray pencil mark.

5. It's not done. I never should have sent it off to that literary magazine / editor / agent / contest / juried show.

6. Another rejection? I'll never find an agent / a gallery / a publisher. (See #1. Repeat as needed.)

Break Glass In Case of Unexpected Non-Rejection 

7. They're never going to like it as is. They're going to ask me to completely recreate my drawing / painting / sculpture / main character / plot. 

8. Nobody's going to read / notice / like my book / poetry / artwork.

9. My work will never be as good as [insert name of more talented and accomplished colleague] or [name of ridiculously successful professional in prime of career].

10. The reviews and sales figures will only prove my unsuitability for this career / lack of creative ability / mediocrity / insanity.

When It's All Over...Lather, Rinse, Repeat. And thank your lucky stars you're doing this instead of anything else in the world.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Son of Figure Drawing: Escape from Monster Island

Just kidding. No monster island. But I am happy to report that the first ever figure drawing session held in our home art studio was a success. It's a closed session--just five of us total for this first one (not counting the model), and honestly, that's as many as can comfortably fit in the room along with enough tables and easels and chairs for everyone. Anyway, Rob's idea behind the private sessions was to have more control over poses and timing than is usually available with the sessions that are open to the public in our area.

It ultimately costs the same amount per person, but it's much more comfortable for us, and also affords us the chance to focus on whatever type of drawing we want to do that day as opposed to what's set by the organizers of the open session. We've been hoping to set this up for a while, so it was satisfying to actually set a twice-monthly schedule and hold the first session. Next time, we iron out the kinks and really get down to business. Honestly, though, I can't complain much because I got two good drawings out of it. It took me about half of the three-hour period to get warmed up, but once I did, the results were pretty fair. I'm looking forward to producing some useful sketches in the near future, and maybe even a few finished pieces. I've been wanting to put my artmaking time on more of a regular schedule; this should really help.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Me As Pathetic Victorian Child

Among other things that have been keeping me pretty well occupied lately, I finally started the laborious long-term project of scanning old childhood photos into digital format. I'm putting some of them into Flickr (sorry, you won't be able to see them unless you have a Flickr account and I've marked you as a friend/family), including this one of me in London in 1981.

We were visiting Hampton Court Palace with a friend of my Mom's and her nephews (pictured). I look a bit disgruntled in my frilly dress. I have no idea why my mother put me in a frilly dress, but there you go. I guess I can blame it on the 80s, like the socks-and-sandals look I'm also sporting, and the bowl-cut/pageboy hairdo.

My parents had met in London, and lived there before I was born. On this trip, we were touring around England and Wales, visiting old friends of my parents and sightseeing. I actually have quite a few memories from the trip, thanks to a travel journal that my mom kept. She'd write in it with me every evening, jotting down about a page about the events of the day. Back in Southern California, I would read it over and over again for years afterward, cementing some of the memories in my mind.

That day at Hampton Court Palace, my mom wrote, "We saw some lovely costumes from 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' (BBC Production), and the king's kitchen, the beautiful gardens full of trees and flowers and interesting rock paths; and best of all, we went into a maze!" The hedge maze is nearly all I remember now of that day--scary but fun, with kids running and screaming down the rows, gleefully getting lost and finding each other again.

I have one other memory of that day, something that was significant to my child-mind but seems so ordinary now--finding a strange but interesting rock on the ground, somewhere amid the otherwise-unremarkable gravel of the paths. It looked broken, split open like a tiny hemisphere, with the broken side showing both dark greyish-brown as well as a lighter beige center. I remember showing it to my mom, who was sitting on a bench. She let me keep it as a souvenir. I'm not sure what ultimately happened to it, but I kept that for years with my other mementos of the trip--which included other stones, beach-smooth ovals from the ocean at Tintagel (where King Arthur was born, according to legend). Apparently I really liked rocks.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eat This

I don't really post recipes here, mainly due to the fact that there are plenty of other bloggers who do a much better job of it than I do. Not only that, I'm not the most creative cook. I love working with other people's recipes, and I will customize them to some extent, but in our house, Rob is the one who invents recipes. I'm the one with a cookbook fetish.

However: occasionally I do come up with something worth saving, and this one might be the best yet. I liked it enough that I'm going to share it here. But first, here's the story behind the recipe. Last night, we ate a completely vegan meal. This isn't entirely unheard of in our house, but neither of us is vegan. We're not even vegetarian. I'd call us equal-opportunity eaters. But we do love vegetables and try to consume as many as possible, so the menu I settled on last night was pita chips, beet hummus, and some sort of vaguely Middle Eastern salad. The beet hummus was really tasty (though I ended up adding about a tablespoon of olive oil to increase the smoothness) but I was very proud of myself for inventing this salad. Sorry, no picture. The salad was consumed before I thought of busting out the camera.

Cucumber-Mint Salad

2 large or 4 small servings

1 cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and sliced thickly
1 tomato, diced
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 avocado, diced
2 tbsp mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

juice of ¼ lemon
olive oil

Combine salad ingredients and toss. Whisk dressing ingredients and drizzle over salad.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mythbusters Volunteer Recap, Part II

Those of you who read my Mythbusters Volunteer Recap Part I, written way back when in February, were clearly anticipating with glee the eventual Part II, in which I could write about what actually happened without releasing any spoilers. Well, several months after the fact, and a couple of weeks after the airing of the episode—entitled "No Pain, No Gain"--here it is. The story of  


So, in Episode I, I talked about my arrival at the studios. After they processed all the volunteers—all women, that day—we waited around in the front room and the hallway to get called in for an individual debriefing before going down to the workshop to participate in the experiment. First things first: everybody met with their house EMT, Sanjay, who asked a few health-related questions to make sure nobody had any heart conditions or anything that would prevent them from taking part. Sanjay is now on my list of awesome top-notch individuals, for reasons which will become clear later in the story.

After talking to Sanjay, I waited around some more, feeling totally out of place among the volunteers—though not due to driving distance, for once. There were volunteers who drove in from San Luis Obispo, so my measly 90 miles seemed like nothing at all. When they called me in for the debriefing, I went into the office where they sat me in the ejector seat from a previous episode and explained what would happen during the experiment. At this point, they also attached a microphone to my sweater.

They told me it would be a pain tolerance experiment, involving submerging my hand in ice water for as long as I could tolerate the pain, up to a maximum of three minutes. I was to tell them when it first started becoming painful, then I was to sit there with my hand in the ice until I couldn't stand it anymore. Then they asked, "do you still want to take part?" Of course, I said yes. EMT Sanjay (not to be confused with Dr. Sanjay) would be standing by to look us over after we finished. We'd be given one of those post-skiing hand warmers to squeeze, to thaw out the frozen hand. It was all straightforward. Anxiety-producing, to be sure—if you're me (not a big fan of being on the "hot seat," here)—but straightforward.

And then I was descending the staircase into the workshop famously shown in Mythbusters episodes from time immemorial (okay, slight hyperbole)--the intriguingly labeled boxes on shelves lining the wall, the worktables and tools, the special chair set up with the glass bowl of ice water for me to be tortured with—and, oh yeah. About eight or ten associated producers and camera crew watching my every move. Cripes.

I got my picture taken with Adam and Jamie—a very cool thing they set up for the volunteers—and proceeded to sit in the, er, cold seat. Time ticked by. Not a lot of time ticked by before I decided that, yes, OUCH, this hurts. And it kept hurting. OK, ouch. Ouch, ouch. Ow. But eventually I got to a sort of plateau where it hurt a lot, but didn't hurt any WORSE. So I sat there for a while, wondering when I should take my hand out. At some point, I realized it just DID NOT feel good. I felt weird. So I thought I'd take my hand out. Not so much because of extreme pain, but because my body was unhappy with me for putting it through this discomfiting situation.

At this point, I was having center-of-attention anxiety and failed to look at the timer to see how long I'd lasted. Probably no more than a minute and a half, but I guess I'll never know for sure. I stepped off the chair, they thanked me, handed me a hand warmer for my hand (which I now could no longer feel), and I walked off camera and into the next room where the EMT told me to have a quick seat.

Here's where I became the problem volunteer. There I was, sitting in the chair, minding my own business, squeezing the hand warmer, when suddenly I felt a tad bit woozy. I felt my hand loosen around the hand warmer, my eyes closing. A moment later, EMT Sanjay was talking to me, asking me very calmly but very concerned, "did you go out on me for a second there?" Me: "Uh, I guess I did. That was weird." "Was it the pain?" "No, no, I doubt that. It wasn't really excruciatingly painful." Not to mention, this was quite a bit after the fact. "Do you have anxiety issues?" Oh. Huh. "Yeah, I guess that could be it."

So we're talking, and he has me relax in the chair for another minute, and then I pass out AGAIN. Just momentarily, not completely—I never dropped the hand warmer or fell out of the chair or anything like that. It was more like I had temporary narcolepsy. For the record, I've only ever completely fainted once before—over 12 years ago—so it's not like this was a regular thing. So then Sanjay busts out the oxygen mask, which is really embarrassing with other volunteers walking through and getting their uneventful post-experiment cursory examinations and me sitting there in the chair with a breathing apparatus. He monitored my blood pressure for a minute or two more, but at that point I was feeling a lot better, I could feel my HAND again, and I was more than ready to flee in humiliation.

Fortunately, this was all off the record, not captured on camera for posterity. Sanjay finally let me go, with strict instructions to go to the cafe next door and eat a sandwich—we figured part of the problem was the fact that I'd eaten breakfast in the car around 7 am and then nothing at all for the next five-plus hours. So, to sum up: Sanjay kicks ass. The Mythbusters rock. And I am apparently a wimp when it comes to not eating for hours and then subjecting myself to physical strain and anxiety.

Although, as a post script, a doctor I mentioned it to suggested that it may have also been A reaction to the actual warming-up process having to do with blood vessels suddenly constricting, or un-constricting, or something of that nature that I don't remember because I'm not a medical professional. That made me feel a little better.

So there you go. How I became the problem volunteer with temporary narcolepsy. But hey: at least I looked normal in the TV broadcast. Not only that, I had more screen time than I ever expected—I wasn't even relegated to the montage. Not too shabby.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"I'm Not Dead Yet."

Monty Python quotes aside, I'm still here. I've just managed to mostly intimidate myself out of blogging by making it seem like an agonizing and mountainous chore. That, and I've been trying to avoid doing anything extraneous that would distract me from finishing my revision. Which, by the way, is DONE. Almost. I'm having Tanita look at it and let me know if I've committed any egregious no-nos before I give it one last once-over and send it back to my publisher. 

I've also been spending a lot of time writing such gems as this and generally getting caught up after being away for a week and a half. I have a new freelance project that involves social bookmarking, so I am now far more familiar than I ever wanted to be with a handful of social bookmarking websites. If you want to find me on Digg, Mixx, Propeller, Reddit, or Mister-Wong, just look for MeddlingScribe. I may or may not accept your friend request, since I need another online social outlet like I need another hole in my chest cavity, which is to say, I really don't need ANY. (I'm not counting my belly button, since it's not technically in my chest, and it's not really a hole per se, but I digress.)

Anyway, tomorrow I anticipate additional article writing and what-not, but while I'm still here and have your attention (or is it BLOGGER which has MY attention? oooooooo trippy), why not donate books on behalf of Native American teens? Operation Teen Book Drop is LIVE and all you have to do is buy a book or two on Check out details here. Also, please enjoy these photos of Kilauea Volcano by day and by night:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Art, Work, and Other Time Drains

It's been busy around here. That's for sure. My absence has been long and filled with not only toil but also some much-needed relaxation and getting away from it all. The Big Island of Hawaii is a great way to do that, since it's in the middle of the ocean, far away from EVERYTHING.

The week before we left, Rob and I went to another of the local figure drawing sessions and I did these two pieces. The one on the left I did using Walnut ink, a reed pen, and a brush for wash. For the one below, I used a combination of vine and compressed charcoal. Neither is my best work, but on the whole it wasn't a bad drawing evening. In any case, it's all about practice, practice and more practice.

Not unlike with writing, which has comprised most of my workload lately.

I've had my hands full, actually, which is a pretty good thing. Plenty of articles for All Star Directories, like this one, but also working on my latest novel revision for my publisher. Of course, as I go through and edit the manuscript, I keep finding little things I want to change, and it's taking a lot more time than I thought it would because I have now entered the land of the obsessive-compulsive perfectionist.

I've also reached a point I never thought I would reach: I'm officially sick of even looking at this project. Until a couple of weeks ago I was still totally in love with it, but now I only have eyes for its flaws, which is a difficult place to be mentally. I've gotten to that point much more quickly with most of my other projects, but it took a lot longer to get sick of this one, and I was hoping that day would never come. But still I'm plugging away, and hopefully I'll feel better about it once this round is done.

And yep, we're back from our trip to visit friends in Hawaii. I'll post about that later in the week. Plus photos. I promise.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Non-Controversial Book Cover Discussion

Sooooo...I heard back from my publisher. Needless to say, this was an occasion of great excitement and celebration, perhaps even minor squealing and drunkenness (figurative and literal). At any rate, I found out the next steps in the process: I'll be doing another round of edits (which I expected), not quite as drastic as the last round but fixing lots of small issues. Due May 3, so obviously the original publication estimate of April no longer applies, but I was just happy to hear my book was still on the radar.

Then, I was asked to generate some alternative title ideas for the editorial staff to consider, which was an interesting task considering I am CRAP at titling anything. Plus I liked my existing title. Fortunately, I get to keep my title (The Latte Rebellion), which is good considering the alternatives I was able to come up with (a few choice examples were Beyond House Blend: The Official Autobiography of Agent Alpha and Skin Deep, Coffee High, so it's no wonder the existing title seemed fine by comparison). So that's one reason I'm quite happy right now.

I was also asked--and this occasioned more happy spazzing on my part--to generate some ideas for the book cover. It's not common for an author to get much say in what the cover looks like, so I was basically overjoyed to have input. I looked at a lot of existing covers, including those pictured here, and evidently the cover artist they've chosen has a good idea of what to do,'s just a matter of waiting to see what she comes up with.

What was extra funny about this is, a couple of months ago I had a very vivid dream having to do with the title and cover of my book. I dreamed that my publisher had decided to change the title to Deep Woods (which, incidentally, has zero to do with ANYTHING in the book) and had sent me a sample of the cover, which looked a lot like this sketch here only in color, lots of dark browns and greens and ambers: the main character, her back turned, regarding a crow on a branch; the main character with two shirtless guys (was I thinking about Twilight, maybe?) in the lower foreground; everything framed by two trees at the left and the right and looking an awful lot like the cover of a DragonLance novel.

I think, in the dream, I was appalled.

Fortunately, I don't think I'm in any danger of my book looking like this and I now can be certain there will be no utterly random retitling. Reason to celebrate. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Found First Line Experiment #1: Speculative Politics

What's the Found First Line Experiment? Well, I just made it up, sort of. It's vaguely based on a writing exercise I read about in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. I clicked into Google News, picked the third article down, took the first line, and wrote a story starting with that line. I'm trying to post more creative explorations here, and also trying to do more "fun" writing experiments that I can use to simply let go and enjoy myself...and why not share some of the results? If you decide to try it, too, leave me a link.

Not every rookie political wannabe gets to have his campaign announcement on national TV. It's why I felt lucky. Not charmed; not privileged; but lucky. I didn't have any famous family members, I wasn't part of any East-Coast old-money political dynasty. I wasn't involved in the city council or the school board. I'm not even very telegenic. I'm told I have big pores.

What do I do? Well, I used to teach. I volunteered at hospitals on the weekends.

So when they picked me, I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Mythbusters Volunteer Recap, Part I

I've been meaning to post my Mythbusters photos for quite a while now. I've been informed that, with good reason, they would like us NOT to post the photo we got to take with Adam and Jamie, because it was in the room where the experiment took place and they don't want to give anything away prior to the airing of the show. So I'm also not going to say much about the experiment itself until then (though, if you know me well enough to e-mail me about it, I'll probably tell you one-on-one). Anyway, just the lead-up to the experiment itself was a novel experience. After responding to their Twitter call for volunteers, I was selected to be part of a group that would be experimented upon on Wednesday, January 20.

That morning, I left the house at 6:30 a.m. in order to ensure I could get to San Francisco, specifically the edge of the Mission/Cesar Chavez area, by 9:30. This may sound like overkill, but it turned out I needed that entire time (plus a little) due to the fact that it rained heavily throughout the trip and didn't let up until I got there (of course). But it was worth it, of course. Once I arrived, I knocked on the door of what appeared to be a sort of warehouse, which houses the Mythbusters/M5 Industries offices and workshop. In the photo above, you can see the check-in table and a few of the other volunteers (there were about 25 of us). We got name tags and proceeded to wait in what seemed to be the kitchen/break room area until we were called down for our turn to participate in the experiment.

While we waited, we were asked a few inevitable questions such as our ages--at which point I found out, happily, that I was NOT the oldest person there by a long shot, though the group was a bit skewed towards 20-somethings. Also, we were asked The Ethnicity Question. That's always been a fun one (or not) for me. As a child, I enjoyed giving the most complicated possible answer by going into excruciating detail about every single fraction of my ethnic makeup. Now I try to suit the answer to the situation, usually going for less rather than more detail. But this wasn't a multiple choice situation, just the check-in guy going around and writing the answers down.

So I opened my mouth and said "Pakistani, Czechoslovakian, and Caucasian." And then realized how that sounded, after everybody else was all "Caucasian" or "Scandiavian" or "English and German" or whatever nice and simple answers they were lucky to be able to provide. The guy kind of laughed and said "Cool," and then I was glad I hadn't given him the really detailed answer but instead just went for the largest fractions. For a second I thought I should have given him one of the mashup ethnicities that Rob and I came up with--Pakislovakian or Czechistani--but figured I sounded weird enough already. He didn't need to know that anything my maternal grandmother said about her heritage is suspect except for the Irish and probably the English parts, nor did he need to know that the Pakistani part actually originated in India but has quite a bit of Arab blood mixed in, too.

Despite the fact that discussing my ethnicity makes me sigh sometimes, and also that my answer to that question at the Mythbusters studio probably made me "the weird volunteer," I had a good time. As for the experiment itself--I'll just have to give you a post-airdate debriefing, during which you'll find out why I'm also probably now "the problem volunteer."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Check Me Out

You may have noticed that the blog has a new look. That's what I did most of yesterday instead of, well, possibly more productive work. But I'm happy. I really wanted to make this blog more of a home for my creative burblings as well as occasional random thoughts, so now there's a nifty menu up top where you can check out some artwork posts, some creative (and not-so-creative) writing, or just browse my day-to-day blathering. My sidebar widgets are much improved, though still under construction (gotta revamp my link lists in particular) and I'm ridiculously pleased with the new graphics. I have to give props to the excellent Blogger Templates site and the template that I reconfigured to create this new look--it doesn't look much like the original, but I REALLY needed someone else to put the Blogger code together because I'm sure as hell not going to do it. Tinkering, I can do, and did.

So...enjoy. I'm planning to post a bit more creative work here, show what I'm working on on a day-to-day (or at least week-to-week) basis, and hopefully encourage myself to do more.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Ideas

Yeah, I'm still behind on my promised photo post...I scanned in a few that needed scanning (that's right--in the early 2000s I did not yet own a digital camera) so I'm almost there, I swear. In the meantime, I'm wrestling with a new idea that may or may not be either wise or a good use of my time but nevertheless, it's tugging at me. Ever since writing my first found poem as part of the New Year's Poetry Challenge (a challenge I have yet to complete...) I keep coming back to that form in my mind, especially after Tanita sent me this link. I keep wanting to write more. I'm not even sure I'm doing it "right" or creating anything particularly meaningful, but I've written one other since then and it's fun. It's intriguing, like a word puzzle. A brain puzzle. Finding some hidden meaning in somebody else's writings. I of course wish I'd thought to do what Austin Kleon is doing, but it's a bit late for that.

What I AM thinking about is creating a blog that would be a sort of found poetry experiment, using articles (as I have been) available online. I have minor concerns about legal issues that might arise, though I would hope that providing a link to the articles I use would help to prevent that.

Alternatively, I could just post them here. But this poor blog is already a cluttered mishmash of random crap, so I'm thinking a separate space would be better. Maybe some artwork to go with the poems, from time to time. Not that I have any extra time for extra stuff. It would be an occasional diversion. IF I decide to do it. I get a lot of ideas I don't really have time for...Plus the "what's the point?" monster rather quickly shows up in my head. Of course, the answer is, just for fun. For enjoyment. To see if it leads anywhere interesting. I might just make it a poetry/flash fiction blog in general, so I can keep the formal writing separate from this very casual rambling that I tend to do.

We will see. Or not, as the case may be.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Zeroes in Prose, Part II

I promised youse the rest of my noughties, and here they are in all their prosaic glory. (God, I enjoyed writing that sentence.)

My nephew Miles was born. I started sending out proposals for the novel I'd started writing as part of my graduate thesis. More of my friends started blogging, and I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for jobs on Craigslist, if my blog entries from that year are to be believed. I also started co-blogging with Tanita on what is now Finding Wonderland.

During the year, I tried to juggle temping with getting my own freelance business going. Meanwhile, Rob was awarded tenure at the end of the spring semester. I went to his summer color & design class for fun and a refresher, and also took a mixed media painting class. In the fall, Rob turned thirty. I established contact with my half-sister in Australia—or rather, she found me in the process of looking for her dad, that is, our dad. I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. I got a lot of rejection letters, but on the more encouraging side, I got third place in a short story contest. I also was elected vice-president of the Cymdeithas Madog Board.

Nice new kitchen linoleum was the latest step in our house renovation saga. I started some early forays into the heady world of being paid for my article writing, though I still had to juggle the writing with temping. I also got runner-up in another short story contest, started some (paid) freelance research work and became (unpaid) graphic designer for a local small theater.

Early in the year, I found myself in the awkward position of having to take over a bit earlier than anticipated as Board President. At the same time, I was the main local organizer for bringing a 75-person Welsh course to California in the summer. Unsurprisingly, I started getting hives again due to stress of epic proportions, which only ended after the course did.

In May, we took a trip to China with Rob's uncle and aunt. We got Tivo and celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary (not necessarily in that order). I met some Irish friends when I joined an online Flickr fiction writing group. In the fall, I joined a gym for my physical health and I started seeing Dr. Yoda (not his real name) for my mental health. I participated in the Cybils for the first time, and during National Novel Writing Month, I started writing The Latte Rebellion. I got to be on a local NPR program and talk about it, which was super cool—my first (and only, so far) radio appearance.

I got Adobe Creative Suite. (Yes, this was a major event.) We went to Hawaii's Big Island to visit friends there and enjoy the 70-degree "winter weather." I started cartooning again, for the writing blog this time. I turned thirty, and felt every single one of those years when I enrolled in an indoor soccer class. My second nephew, Avery, was born, and we attended our second summer Pig Roast (which we'd helped organize this time). We started getting our CSA vegetable box. I was a bridesmaid in two different weddings. We got our second cat, Zelda. I got busy with a lot more freelance work, which was gratifying, and did a lot more blogging. I continued as President of the Cymdeithas Madog Board, and then stepped down in the summer. I visited New York for the first time, and Venice, Italy. Our massive household construction project commenced.

Kicked the new year off with a Mars Volta concert in San Francisco. My dad ditched his Quizno's franchise (an ill-advised get-rich-quick-in-semi-retirement scheme), de-stressed considerably, and started coming to terms with my career choice. I took a Spanish class. I started doing a bit more painting again, and then slacked off...again. I did some more freelance work—graphic design, mostly—and got some more writing rejections, as well as a few actual article acceptances. My younger cousin graduated from college, which made me feel old.

Our local soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes, was reinstated, and we became what my sister would call "soccer tragics." In the summer, we went on a lot of rafting float trips with the boat we'd purchased the prior year. Our college friend Beth got married, and we went to Seattle to attend the wedding. I played Rock Band for the first time, and signed up for Twitter. We drank an inhuman amount of sake in celebration of Obama's presidential victory. The quality of my blog posts improved, though their number drastically decreased. My final blog post of the year said, "I don't want to make any unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky resolutions, like resolving that 2009 is the year that I'm going to land a literary agent and/or a book contract."

I landed a book contract, no thanks to my pessimistic soul. Prior to that, though, I did a huge revision of my novel, followed by my query, tentative interest, and another huge revision. Rob started teaching figure drawing, and I went to his spring semester class so I could get some drawing practice. I also participated in a ten-artist collaborative print project, and wrote my first poem in years. I fought my way out of some major emotional doldrums (a regularly recurring battle for me). Reviewing my blog tells me that I formulated a lot of good intentions which I later forgot about.

I spent most of the summer working my butt off on the post-publisher-interest, pre-novel-acceptance revision—rekindling my confidence that perhaps I was indeed in the right line of work—and on a new freelance article writing job. Rob started his sabbatical for the 09-10 school year. We saw the King Tut exhibition, and saw our friend Jess for the first time in a couple of years. I got the novel acceptance and a contract, and waited on tenterhooks to find out what would happen next. Our transmission in the Honda busted, costing us over 4 grand before we left for Italy and Spain for a month. The Euro also kicked our asses. We came back and had a very modest holiday season, during which I wrote a few more poems.

...And then it was 2010.

Potentially embarrassing photo retrospective to come in a later post.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Interlude: Temp Jobs I Have Known

Any look at the previous decade of my life would not be complete without some small tribute to the many years I spent working as a temporary secretary. This list is by no means comprehensive. Some temp jobs I've had are too boring to relate; others are so forgettable I've, well, forgotten them. But here, in order of most recent (about a year and a half ago) to least recent (circa 1996), are a few gems.

  •   Stanislaus County Office of Education (various jobs)
  •   City of Modesto Wastewater Treatment Plant and Composting Facility (reorganized an entire file system that hadn't been touched since the 1980s)
  •   Front office support at a school for problem students
  •   Frito-Lay (didn't actually happen – I showed up and nobody knew who ordered the temp)
  •   Stuffing envelopes with fliers advertising various strains of bull sperm for artificial insemination
  •   St. Mary's College (Letters & Science Dean's Assistant – pretty posh gig)
  •   Corporate Interior Services (bookkeeping assistant for office furniture supplier)
  •   Roche Molecular Systems (severely underappreciated receptionist)
  •   John Muir Health Network (helping draft medical group contracts)
  •   Aetna U.S. Healthcare (stuffing and labeling envelopes)
  •   Licensing Office, City of Westminster, London (mostly typing letters, scribbled by a boss with abominable handwriting and a tendency to call people "wretched peasants")
  •   Phaidon Press, London (assistant to a high-strung woman, also with execrable handwriting, who was unable to keep a secretary for more than two weeks)

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Zeroes in Prose, Part I

Soon to be followed by the Zeroes in prose, part II, and the Zeroes in pictures. This was an interesting exercise--it's amazing how much you start to forget when you're constantly busy, moving on to the next thing and the next. I feel like I should do this more often, this documentation thing.

I turned 23 years old. Also, Y2K happened and nothing imploded.

We were living in El Cerrito. Rob continued his harrowing grad school experience at the San Francisco Art Institute. I'd been working in San Francisco at, mainly putting together e-mail newsletters about dudely topics like video/PC games, comics, wrestling, and so forth. This was the heyday of the internet boom; there was an IPO party, I got to attend E3, we were encouraged to play video games at work, and I produced immortal gems of quality writing such as this, while still being paid a rather unremarkable salary. It was a perfect distraction from the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in the immediate term.

Then the internet bubble burst. In the summer, we took a trip to London, Bath, and the South of Wales. When I got back, there'd been layoffs. The company reorganized and I found myself in corporate marketing; instead of a cool nice-guy boss I suddenly had to report to Scary Bitch Woman; and the whole atmosphere changed. I wrote for the site in my spare time, but I realized I'd never be able to make it an official part of my job. But that got me thinking about writing...

An eventful year. During the early part, I hung on at my job as Rob finished grad school. I enrolled in my first fiction writing class, an online workshop at UCLA Extension. I also started writing freelance articles about Welsh language for Suite 101. By March, I couldn't stand to be at my job anymore, and quit a few months earlier than I'd planned. I went back to temping. Then Rob completed his MFA in printmaking and applied to some teaching jobs. We both agreed that if he got a full-time job with benefits, it would be a good time to tie the knot, since I was now without any health insurance. (Yeah, I know, we're incurable romantics...ha.)

One day that summer, when I was working a temp job at St. Mary's College, I got a phone call from Rob. "Will you marry me?" he said. "YOU GOT THE JOB!" I squealed. We got married (some might say "eloped") with one witness at the Marin County Civic Center, a Frank Lloyd Wright building where the movie Gattaca was filmed. Soon after, we moved to Modesto, and Rob started teaching at Modesto Junior College that fall. I did some more temping, and enrolled in another writing class and a lit theory class at Cal State Hayward with the intention of preparing for grad school in creative writing.

The morning of 9/11, we were asleep, in the rental house we'd moved into just a couple months before, until my mother-in-law called and told us to turn on the news.

We rang in the New Year in Paris—a wedding present from my mom—and witnessed the changeover to the Euro in near-frigid temperatures. Rob continued his first year of full-time teaching. I applied to the only two graduate creative writing programs within reasonable driving distance, a calculated risk, and was admitted to Mills College for the fall. I also got braces, using my new and snazzy insurance. In the late spring we went to Japan on a shoestring budget, staying with our friend Beth (who was teaching in Osaka) and visiting Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nara, Kobe, and Tokyo. In the summer, I was elected to the Board of Directors of Cymdeithas Madog. We also went house shopping, hoping to buy before the market really went sky-high. We were fortunate, and we hadn't spent thousands of dollars on a wedding. I had a small inheritance from my grandfather, who'd died in 1997, which was just enough for a down payment. We moved across town, and I started grad school. During finals week of my first semester, I started getting hives.

The full-body hives (plus occasional random facial swelling) lasted six months, cause unknown. My braces came off in May, a couple of months early because I'd been good; not long after, I took a course of steroids, my second semester of grad school ended and my hives went away. The most likely cause seemed to be stress. In the summer, I went to my 10-year high school reunion, where I was inexplicably voted one of the "Least Changed" since high school. We continued never-ending house renovations. I became Board secretary. I kept writing for Suite101 and in the fall, continued grad school. I took classes with YA author Kathryn Reiss, and a group study on crafting graphic novels. I started working on my master's thesis project. I think this was also the year my grandmother died, my mom's mom; we weren't close. The housing market started to really spin out of control.

The first half of the year I was focused on finishing grad school and writing my thesis project. In May, I had a brand-new MFA in Creative Writing and was officially a Master O Fart, as Rob likes to put it. May is also when I started up this blog in rather unspectacular fashion. That summer I joined a writing group with some other recent Mills graduates. Also that summer, Rob and I dusted off our role-playing dice and joined a game with a few other faculty from the Junior College.

There was some minor travel: I went to Ottawa, Canada; we both went to Mexico City and, from there, to Celaya, Guanajuato, for our friend David's wedding; we also drove 11 hours to Seaside, Oregon to reunite with college friends at a beach house. Rob had a solo art show at the MJC gallery. I did some mind-numbing and poorly paid temp work in environments such as the wastewater treatment facility, while stressing about finding a long-term job and trying unsuccessfully to get published. Somehow, George W. Bush got re-elected. I ran a 5K for the first time...and the second time.