Thursday, September 13, 2012

Refuge of the lazy

... or as it's also known, the numbered list.

1. We spent all of August doing a community theater production of "Annie." I say "we" because while G was actually performing in the show, I was working stage crew: moving scenery, setting props and helping the grown-up actors get into their costumes. With 16 performances over four weeks, it was a huge time commitment, but it was fun.

2. Now, G's rehearsing at the same theater for another show, which runs late October through mid-November. I'm a little doubtful about how this is going to mesh with school - rehearsals don't generally go past 9 pm, but during "Annie" the show itself ended at 10, and with the time it took to get out of costume and makeup, plus the drive, we often didn't get home until 10:45. She can go to bed at 11 and still get up on time, but it'll mean having every bit of homework finished before the 6 pm call. However, she can be very motivated when she wants something, so she'll probably figure out a way to fit it all in.

3. Speaking of school, it started a week and a half ago, and all seems to be well so far. She's in eighth grade this year and is taking four honors classes - English, physical science, U.S. history and Algebra I - plus concert choir and PE. The algebra class actually counts as high-school credit, which is nice because it'll let her get the college math requirements out of the way faster, hopefully freeing up some time in her senior year for other things. I would be extremely surprised if she picked either a major or a career in any of the STEM fields, valuable though they are - she does well in those subjects and is in the school's high-achiever program for math and science, but the arts are her real passion. (No, I'm not going to steer her away from them, and yes, I'm prepared to help her out financially for a long, long time.)

4. I think that's it for now. It's been a long, hot summer (and it's not over yet; the high is supposed to hit 97 tomorrow) and my brain feels drained!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Life, don't talk to me about life

Last night I took G to see Hot Chelle Rae. It was her first real concert and she loved it - she turned to me afterward and said "I'm hoarse from all that screaming and singing," and I said "That's the sign of a good show." I actually kind of like HCR even though I'm clearly at least 15 years older than the target demographic (doesn't hurt that the lead singer is hot), and I knew a few of their songs well enough to sing along, so it was fun for me too. Cold, though - one day I'll learn that even in July, it's chilly outdoors at 10 pm.

On a slightly related note, I've been thinking lately about what people mean when they talk about "having a life." To me, there are all sorts of different lives, all equally valid. If you spend your time going to your kids' soccer games and ballet lessons, that's a life. If you're a musician in a band and you tour 10 months out of every year, that's a life. If you dress up as a cartoon pony and go to conventions, that's a life. If you wander through museums alone and sit under a tree in the park to eat your lunch, that's a life. If you attend snooty parties and disparage the wine, that's a life. Whether you're married or single, have kids or no kids, cook fries at McDonalds or teach law at Harvard, that is your life, and no one but you should get to decide whether it "qualifies" as one according to any external standard.

As you may have guessed, this is on my mind because I get a fair amount of judgment concern from people who think I don't have a life. This baffles me because as far as I'm concerned, I do have one. I work and look after our home and pets. I take G to school and activities. I go to movies and plays and concerts. I shop, read, listen to music. When I can afford to, I travel. It sounds like a life to me, but maybe people don't recognize it as a "real" one because most of it only includes me and G, or because I don't fit the typical suburban social mold, or because I don't do things like camping and barbecuing that other people love (nothing wrong with those things, they're just not for me). And it's not that I need anyone's approval to like what I like and do as I please, but it would be  nice not to get the thinly veiled pity from people who think my life is defective or nonexistent because it isn't enough like theirs. Or almost as annoying, the overly hearty approval when I do happen to do something they deem valuable. "Oh you did X? Good for you! I'm so glad you got out." Uh...I wasn't paroled from federal prison, I just met some friends for breakfast, but thanks.

Anyway, it's Friday night, so I suppose I should go and do something people with no life do, like watch Star Trek and knit sweaters for my cats*...except even Star Trek-watching, sweater-knitting cat ladies have lives**, goddammit!

*Actually I'm going to watch The Bourne Supremacy and maybe bake some cookies.
**I bet there's a Star Trek Cat Sweater meetup group out there somewhere.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Unclean!

G and I have both been sick for days with a virus I've dubbed the Venusian Swamp Plague. It starts with a sore throat, then rapidly evolves into all sorts of other nastiness, including sneezing, coughing, dripping, congestion, and a fever that lingers on and on. She's about a day behind me in the course of the disease, but we were both too ill on Sunday and Monday to do anything but huddle in my bed together, drink hot beverages, and watch Netflix.

By Tuesday, I was still weak, and I sounded like a whole pond full of frogs every time I opened my mouth, but was well enough to do a few hours of work. G spent the time nursing her cough, watching more Netflix, and feeling bitter that our tickets for the midnight Spider-Man premiere had gone to waste the night before. (We went to the first IMAX showing today, and I think that mostly made up for the disappointment.) This sort of thing should not be allowed in the summertime.

In other news, I've been in the mood to read time-travel stories for some reason. Right before I came down with the Swamp Plague, I read The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, which started out strong but ended up being not so great, with virtually no character development and a plot that was alternately rushed and snail-slow. After that I read Robert Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, which was much better in every way, but had a happy-ending romance that I found deeply creepy. Then just for nostalgia, I read Heinlein's Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which has nothing to do with time travel, but which I remembered reading and enjoying when I was around 10 or 11. Next up I have Replay, and after that I'm wide open, so hit me with your time-travel fiction recs if you've got 'em.

I've also been working my way through the original Sherlock Holmes stories - just finished A Study in Scarlet and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and started The Sign of Four, featuring the introduction of good old Mary Morstan. I quite like Mary in the Guy Ritchie films; not so sure how I feel about her here, but we'll see as I get further into it. I'm on vacation until next Monday, so I should have plenty of time for reading.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's been a while

What have I been up to since February? Let's go in reverse order:

 1. Our cat Malcolm, normally a chow machine, last Sunday stopped eating and started throwing up all over the house. On Tuesday, I came home at lunch to check on him and found him looking so sickly that I packed him up and took him to the vet, where X-rays revealed that he was constipated to the point of total blockage. After three enemas, two manual disimpactions*, one night in the kitty hospital and $650 in bills, he came home feeling better, but looking traumatized by everything that had happened to him. I'm supposed to be giving him canned food with a laxative mixed in, but the little bugger won't eat it, making me worry that we're going to be back there any day now.

2. When I was leaving the vet's office, all distracted by thoughts of the ailing cat, I put my Droid phone on top of the car for just a minute while I looked for my keys. If you guessed that I forgot it was there and drove away, congratulations; you win a chocolate cake and a great big kiss on the lips**. I have another three months until I'm eligible for an upgrade, and since Verizon refused to move that date and I'm not going to pay eight hundred bucks for a new phone, I'm temporarily stuck with an old flip phone that used to belong to G. At first I thought "well, it won't be so bad, I used to get along just fine without a smartphone," but then I realized how much I depended on that stupid device. Not only did I use it to text all day long (texting: the saving grace for people who hate to talk on the phone) but it was my camera and my alarm clock, plus I read Kindle books and watched movies on it. I think the hardest thing will be getting used to carrying a separate camera again - I do own a pretty nice digital camera, but have almost never used it because the phone did just as good a job. Oh well, first-world problems, right?

3. In more pleasant news, G tried out for the spring musical at school and won a part in the ensemble. At first she was a little disappointed not to get a speaking role, but I pointed out that it was still an accomplishment: her school's drama department doesn't do "everyone gets a part," so being in the ensemble means that she beat out about half the people who auditioned in order to get there, plus she's a seventh-grader and nearly all the speaking roles went to eighth and ninth graders. She cheered up after that and is very excited to start rehearsals next week.

4. Over spring break, we went to New Mexico to spend some time with my side of the family. It was a nice visit and a more or less uneventful trip, except that we were five hours late getting home because the train was delayed. Luckily, I had caved in and upgraded to a "roomette" in a sleeping car on the return journey, so at least we were comfortable. (We laughed so hard while trying to follow the instructions for converting our seats into bunks that I thought we were going to get thrown off the train. OMG, the comedy.) G asked if we could take the train up the Pacific coast next, and I've heard it's a beautiful trip, so I'm looking into that for sometime this summer.

 5. Before that trip, I took G to see the re-release of Titanic in 3D. I hadn't seen it in at least 10 years, and she had never seen it all (though she recognized some scenes, like the "flying" one at the bow of the ship, because they've been parodied in other shows/movies), so we were both coming to it relatively fresh. I remember liking it more when it was originally released - the clunky dialogue bothered me a lot this time, I suppose because I'm older and more jaded, or possibly just because I know more about writing now than I did then - but I did still enjoy it for the grand over-the-top spectacle it is. G loved the costumes, but otherwise thought it was just okay. She's seen the episode of Being Human where George's dad, masquerading as a ghost, suggests that watching Titanic is part of his "unfinished business," so as we were leaving the theater I told her, "Well, you can cross that one off your to-do list now" and we both laughed.

6. G was invited to join her school's advanced math-and-science program for honor students. It's a great opportunity, but we nearly fell over laughing (again) at the part of the brochure that said "In 9th grade, students will complete weekly math projects expressing concepts through other mediums, such as art and song." I wish I could sing you the "I Love Numbers" song that we made up on the spur of the moment, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) you'll just have to imagine it. Lots of jazz hands were involved.

7. I finally went to the optometrist for the first time in six years and got a full physical for the first time in at least seven or eight. I was figuring all sorts of things would have gone wrong in that interval, but I got a clean bill of health, aside from the usual warning about my cholesterol. Why I always have borderline high cholesterol when I haven't eaten meat since 1992 is anyone's guess, but I do. Sigh.

 Aaaand I think that's all the news that's fit to print.  

*The vet and I conferred on the phone between the first and second disimpactions (you haven't lived until you've discussed your cat's fecal issues within earshot of your colleagues) and she said she was going to try sedating him for the next go-round because "he didn't like it very much." You don't say!

**Not really.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Silence of the clams

I wasn't born with a naturally perky, outgoing personality. I'm not shy; I like people fine; I'm just not chatty unless I know someone fairly well, and sometimes not even then. The up side of this is that people confide in me because I'm a good listener. The down side is that a lot of them have said, "Wow, when we first met, I thought you totally hated me!"

(Did I slash your tires? Spit at your feet? Eye you meaningfully while spraying myself with Eau de Loathing cologne? No? Then I probably didn't hate you.)

Because I've been told this so many times, after an ordinary interaction like the passing chat I had with a neighbor yesterday evening, I walk away all paranoid, thinking "Did I seem friendly/happy/enthusiastic enough? Did I end the conversation too soon? Shit, did I forget to smile? I'll bet I forgot to smile. Great! Now they think I hate them. They're going to point out my house to visitors and say, 'That's where the witch lives.'"

Long story short, if you meet someone who's not bubbling over with small talk, please don't think they're snobs or jerks or that they wish you would die in a fire. They're probably just like me and will talk when they have something to say.

Maybe.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

End-of-year survey

What did you do in 2011 that you had never done before?
Well, for one thing, I kept a list of things I did that I'd never done before, specifically so I would know how to answer this question at the end of the year. :-) Here are the things I did: Tried Peruvian and Ecuadorean food, visited Medieval Times, saw live performances of Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night, entered an original story in a writing contest, became the parent of a junior-high student, built a costume prop from scratch, and turned 40.

Did you keep all of last year's resolutions?
My only resolution was to try new things, so yes.

Have you any resolutions for next year?
Keep working on doing new things. I was thwarted in some of what I wanted to do this year because I had a lot of unexpected expenses.

What countries did you visit?
None.

What would you like to have in 2012 that you didn’t have in 2011?
Last year I said I wanted a refrigerator and an air conditioner that work, and I now have both of those things - go me! I also said I'd like to have a sense of personal fulfillment through some sort of creative endeavor, and that still applies. I'd like to get all the broken stuff around the house repaired, too.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Surviving it.

What was your biggest failure?
Not finding that creative endeavor. Although, I did verify that I still suck at art, so I can scratch that one off the list of possibilities. :-P

Did you suffer any illness or injury?
I pulled a calf muscle in July. That was really the worst of it; I had the usual allergy and migraine issues, but nothing out of the ordinary.

What was the best thing you bought?
The new refrigerator, my MacBook Pro, theatre tickets.

Where did most of your money go?
Aside from living expenses, most of it went to car repairs.

What did you get really really really excited about?
I don't think I got really really really excited about anything.

Compared to this time last year:
i. are you happier or sadder? About the same.
ii. thinner or fatter? Fatter.
iii. richer or poorer? About the same.
iv older or wiser? Older. I'm pretty sure "more cynical" doesn't count as "wiser."

What do you wish you'd done more of?
Traveling, reading, anything creative.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Procrastinating.

How will you be spending New Year's Eve?
At home with G - I tried to convince her to go to a local all-ages event, but she doesn't want to.

What was your favourite TV show?
Sherlock - it may have come out in 2010 but I didn't see it until this year.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No, but my opinion of some people has gone way down.

What did you want and get?
A new laptop, a refrigerator, an air conditioner, various DVDs, theater tickets.

What did you want and not get?
Travel. We really didn't go anywhere except for a couple of short weekend trips.

What was your favourite film this year?
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

What was/were the best books you read?
To Say Nothing of the Dog, and all the Terry Pratchett books I read in the first few months of the year.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
Florence + The Machine

What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
Went out to lunch with friends from work, then G and I went to San Diego and saw Twelfth Night at the Old Globe. I was 40.

What one thing would have made your year more satisfying?
Less stress - this year was intensely stressful for a variety of reasons.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
About the same as last year. In fact, it is the same because I barely bought any new clothes all year long.

What/who kept you sane?
Who said I was sane?

Which political issue stirred you the most?
None I can think of. I try to avoid politics because they decrease my already tenuous faith in humanity.

Did you fall in love in 2011?
God, no! I'm trying to reduce the stress in my life, not add to it.

Single greatest moment of 2011
Hmm...probably G's promotion from sixth grade. She had just finished first grade when her father died, so I really got her through almost all of elementary school by myself. I may not have done everything perfectly all the time, but I did do it.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned.
I seem to keep learning again and again that it's a bad idea to rely on other people for just about anything.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year…
I´m breaking through
I´m bending spoons
I´m keeping flowers in full bloom
I´m looking for answers from the great beyond

- R.E.M., "The Great Beyond"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Making Christmas



This year, my goal is to put some effort into Christmas again. Holidays aren't difficult for us anymore, but during the two or three years when they were, I got into the habit of doing the bare minimum, and then inertia took over and I never bothered to ramp back up.

On top of that, for a couple of years now G has been in the Preteen Killjoy phase that most of us went through at the same age, during which you don't want to do anything that might be remotely embarrassing or make you look childish. (She was mortified that her school had "Santa's Village" out in the quad last week, until I said "They don't actually think you believe in Santa, it's for fun. Remember fun? That thing you'll have again once you're old enough not to worry that someone will think you're immature?") This eliminated most of our traditional leading-up-to-Christmas activities, such as visiting Santa, riding the Polar Express train, making snowman crafts out of cotton balls, etc., and made it even harder to get in the Christmas mood--a condition that a friend of mine described last year as "lack of Christmas foreplay."

With these things in mind, this year I'm taking a combined approach of:

1. Not being a lazy slug. I put the tree and lights up in early December and have plugged them in every night; I went out and bought new ornaments to replace the ones we lost, and I'm actually sending a few cards for the first time since 2005. I also bought an additional, tiny, real tree to put on a high shelf in hopes of infusing some pine scent into the house--we can't have a full-size real tree because one of our cats likes to eat greenery--but somehow I managed to choose a totally odorless one. Oh well, it looks nice.

2. Finding acceptable Christmas activities.
In G's defense, she's right: a lot of local holiday-themed events are geared to very small children--we had the same problem at Halloween, when she would have loomed like Gulliver among the Lilliputians at the various face-painting, pumpkin-decorating, costume-parading festivals, but was too young for haunted houses aimed at teenagers--and she doesn't have younger siblings to give her a reason to attend anyway. Instead, we've been watching more grown-up Christmas movies, listening to Christmas music together at home, and drinking hot chocolate and apple cider, all of which she's enjoyed. Hopefully we'll get around to baking cookies sometime next week.

This year is also a little different from previous ones in that for once, there's no place we're required to be on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. G, whose idea of a perfect day involves pajamas, video games and not much else, is ecstatic, and I'm looking forward to spending the time quietly at home. I may be putting more into "making Christmas" this time around, but I'm still all about doing things my own way.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Things to be thankful for

In honor of tomorrow's holiday, here's a short list of things I'm thankful for - in no particular order, and mixing the momentous with the mundane.

G, with all her many gifts and talents
Our pets (but not their messes)
The 12 1/2 years I got to spend with P
Having a job and a place to live
Health
That my parents brought me up to be independent
That I live in a society where women can be independent
Friends, both online and in person
Literacy
Things that are vanilla or coconut-scented
Chipotle burritos
Hot coffee and tea
My iPod (it's old, but it works) and my MacBook
Rainy days
Central air conditioning
Netflix instant streaming
The smell of coffee brewing
Air travel
Black nail polish
Mountains, oceans, forests and deserts
All the different languages in the world
Green glass bottles
Books, bookstores and libraries
Vaccinations and antibiotics
Indoor plumbing
Digital cameras, especially the one in my phone
The sound of a full orchestra...and a single instrument
Electric lights
The Arnolfini Portrait
Silly cat videos and pictures
Calvin and Hobbes
My new favorite website
The entire Internet
Poetry
Flannel PJs
Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman
Texting and email
Loving v. Virginia
Sparkly white Christmas lights
The increasing availability of vegetarian food
Having lived in so many different places
New office supplies
Tim Burton's movies
Freedom of religion (it may not be as free as I'd like, but at least you're not going to get shot for it)
New York City
Birds in flight
Dark and milk chocolate
The smell of wet pavement
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab perfume
Museums

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2011

40

Last Wednesday, I woke up feeling a little congested, and by late morning, I had the headachy, feverish, slightly unreal sensation that is usually the harbinger of some hideous virus o' doom. I felt so rotten that I went home after lunch, slept, woke up long enough to collect G from school and order pizza for her dinner, slept again, got up to feed the cats and make sure G went to bed properly (i.e., not with unbrushed teeth and still wearing all her clothes) and then went back to sleep.

I don't know what miracle my immune system pulled off during the night, but somehow by the time I woke up on Thursday morning, I was completely fine--every trace of whatever had been ailing me the day before was gone. Which was a good thing, because Thursday also happened to be my 40th birthday.

(!!!)

I went to work, where friends had baked homemade brownies for me and turned my cube into a mystical black-draped tent lit inside by battery-powered tealights, and then after being taken out to lunch, I left early (again) so I could pick G up immediately after her last class. We had tickets to see Twelfth Night at the Old Globe in San Diego's Balboa Park, and it's a good thing we got on the road as early as we did, because the traffic was so heavy that it took three hours to make a trip that usually takes an hour and a half at most. Luckily, G and I are good traveling companions--we like lots of the same music and usually pass the time by singing along loudly to the favorite artist of the moment-- and we still got there in plenty of time to check into our hotel and relax a bit before heading over to the theater.

The director had decided to set the play in India during the British Raj, and it made me a little uncomfortable to see some of the cultural appropriation that involved, but the production was so good I couldn't help loving it. It was a black-box theater, and we were in the front row, so there were several occasions when the actors came right up near us or actually sat just offstage beside us to watch the action. In fact, thanks to our position, I suddenly found myself part of the show during the closing song, when the actor playing Feste zeroed in on me in the front row, climbed up on the raised area surrounding the stage, and sang this verse directly to me with a hand outstretched:

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive
For the rain it raineth every day


This raised a roar of laughter from the audience and nearly caused G, seated to my right, to spontaneously combust with a combination of hilarity and tween-girl embarrassment. After the lights came up, I leaned over to her and said "Apparently I'm the Fool's girlfriend," and she said, still laughing, "I'm glad it was you and not me!" Hee.

The next morning, we had room-service breakfast and then hit the highway again, stopping along the way to do some shopping for G, who had earned a pair of coveted, trendy Toms shoes by doing work around the house, and also for me, because it was my birthday and I intended to indulge myself. :D We had chocolate cake at Corner Bakery (can't have a birthday without cake, right?) and finally got home in the late afternoon, tired but satisfied. All in all, a good birthday, and while it wasn't the crazy over-the-top celebration you're "supposed" to have for a milestone year, it was just right for me.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A day in pictures


It was raining when I went to the supermarket yesterday.


I got my coffee for free because I had to wait five minutes for them to finish brewing it. I didn't mind, but the guy said "This is Starbucks, we should always have coffee ready" and gave it to me on the house.


It seemed like a good day to make soup, so I did.


I had to go back out and saw these pretty sunflowers outside the natural-foods store.


G made Catherine pose for a photo.


The two of them spent the afternoon watching anime in G's room.


Meanwhile, Malcolm chose to watch the BBC's Sherlock with me.


Eventually we ate soup for dinner.

The end!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

She so did

Me: Did you eat breakfast?
G: Yeah. I didn't eat breakfast food, but I ate it at breakfast time.

(pause)

Me: You ate leftover Halloween candy, didn't you?
G: ... Maybe.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Commotion

Last night G and I watched Iron Man 2, which was quite good. It ended at about 11:30, and I sent her off to brush her teeth while I filled a glass of water in case she got thirsty in the night. When I brought it in, she was already in bed, and I could hear voices in the driveway below her window. We live in a condo complex, so imagine two rows of townhomes with attached garages facing each other and a long driveway (actually a little street with its own name) running between them and then letting out onto the main road.

As I switched off G's bedside lamp, the voices erupted into a full-blown argument:

Man (screaming): Fuck you, bitch!
Woman: [unintelligible]
Man: [unintelligible] Don't you ever [unintelligible] again!

At this point I heard the sound of several loud slaps and ran upstairs to my own bedroom to get my phone. When I came back about 30 seconds later, the argument was still raging and G said "Mom, what is it?" I said "Sshh, I'm going to call the cops" and pulled aside her curtain just in time to see the man reach through the driver's-side window of his car and shove the woman, who was standing just outside the car as if he'd thrown her out, so that she fell into the driveway with the contents of her handbag spilling around her. Then he peeled out onto the street and roared off, leaving her lying there in the dark.

I thought of going outside, but didn't want to rush out there right away in case the jackhole in the car decided to come back and perhaps beat us both up, or worse, run us over. So I opened up G's window and called down to the woman, who was starting to move around a little, feebly, "Are you okay? Do you need me to call anyone for you?"

She sat up, seeming stunned. "I think I'm all right."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah...I just need to pick up my stuff. It's okay. Thanks."

"Okay, if you're sure," I said.

I closed the window, but kept watching through a gap in the curtain while she slowly collected her fallen belongings and put them back into her bag. G said, "What happened?" and I said "That guy was an ass, he hit her and pushed her down. Never have a boyfriend like that." She said "What are you going to do now?" and I said "I'm going to wait and make sure she's really okay."

After a minute or so, the woman got all her things together, stood up and walked out into the glow of the streetlamp just outside the driveway. At this point I finally got a better look at her--she was youngish, maybe 30 or so, with dark hair, and dressed the way you would dress to go out on a Saturday night, in a black tank top and black pants, with heels. She stood there in the pool of light for a moment and then turned left and disappeared from view, digging through her bag as if she were looking for her phone.

I thought about calling the police anyway: even if the guy was long gone, they could have caught up with her easily since she was on foot, and perhaps taken a report or at least found her a ride. But it also crossed my mind that there was a small chance it could be a prostitution-related thing--I didn't think it was, but having grown up in a terrible neighborhood where prostitution was rampant, I knew it wasn't impossible either. If that had been the case, I could have caused her a lot of trouble by getting cops involved, and she was already having a hard enough night, so I let her go. I hope she got home or to a friend's house all right--our area is quite safe, so she was almost certainly in less danger walking, even alone at night, than she would have been with the guy who smacked her around.

G has an unshakable belief that I can handle just about any emergency that might arise (zombie apocalypse? no problem, Mom's got it) so she stayed calm through the whole thing and went tranquilly off to sleep afterward, but I was full of adrenaline for a long time. The most worrisome part is that not a single other person in any of the surrounding buildings so much as looked out a window to see if this poor woman was alive or dead. It wasn't even midnight yet, so I can't have been the only one awake. It's nice to know that the neighbors would be right there for me if I ever screamed in the night. Jeez.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gimme a [letter of your choice]!

G's school had tryouts for the middle-school cheer squad last week. G wanted nothing to do with them because she prides herself on being a sort of anti-cheerleader--if you remember your early adolescent stereotypes, G is the Artsy/Goth Girl, although she hasn't yet embraced the music that goes along with it--and also because, as she accurately observed, "I can't do a split to save my life." The newly anointed cheerleaders appear to include the usual complement of popular girls, with one exception: G's friend "Penny," whom I think made the cut due to sheer dance/gymnastic ability.

This fascinates me for a couple of reasons:

1. How do the cheer coaches know, six weeks into the school year with a brand-new crop of seventh graders, who is popular and who isn't? Does it show somehow, or do the popular girls just tend also to be the bouncy, outgoing type who have taken lots of dance lessons?

2. If you become a cheerleader because you have actual skillz, does this automatically make you popular too? Can you be a cheerleader and be socially shunned by the other cheerleaders? Penny is a cute, sweet little girl, but kind of like an overeager puppy who does whatever she thinks will please whomever she's with at the time, and I can imagine the cheerleading crowd dismissing her as a wannabe.

To show her total rejection of cheering and all that goes along with it, G instead used last week's club rush to join the newspaper, which is much more her sort of thing. The meetings happen during zero period, which means she'll have to be there by 6:45 a.m., but she's pretty motivated and I think she'll do fine. She's been like a different kid this year in terms of the morning routine: where last year I had to drag her out of bed and she was late a shocking number of times, this year she gets up on her own when her alarm goes off, gets dressed without being told, finds her own breakfast (not the healthful bowl of whole grains and fresh fruits I'd like her to eat, but at least she does it herself) and is usually downstairs waiting at the door to the garage while I'm still brushing my teeth. I don't know why this happened, but I'm glad it has. We had quite a few no-holds-barred cage matches over getting ready last year, and I wasn't up for another 10 months of that.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Said is NOT dead

Last night G informed me, "Mrs. M (her English teacher) told us we shouldn't use 'said' in the stories we're writing," and then showed me this handout she got in class:



ARGH.

"Well," I said, trying to be diplomatic, "I see what Mrs. M is getting at, but I don't actually agree. It's fine to throw in a different dialogue tag here and there, for variety or emphasis or color, but 'said' is really the best one to use. It's straightforward and not distracting, and if you're writing your story and your dialogue well, you won't need anything else 90 percent of the time. Also, if every other line of dialogue ends with 'he laughed' or 'she divulged' or 'he nagged' or 'she smiled*' it's going to sound awkward and overwrought. This is my professional opinion, by the way."

"Really?" she said.

"Yes," I said. "And not only mine. Here, look at this." I grabbed the nearest book and showed her that in three pages of mostly dialogue, the only attribution other than "he/she said" was one instance of "he roared," and that one was used when it was really called for. Then for good measure, I showed her places where the author had written some of the dialogue so as not to need a "he/she said" at all, and explained how that worked. I did tell her that of course her teacher is the boss in her classroom and she has to follow these instructions at least somewhat or she'll get marked down, but not to go overboard with it.

I suppose what they're trying to do is teach the kids that there are other words available if they need them, but kids are literal, even in their early teens, and most of them are probably going to take this handout to mean that "said" is evil and they should never use it. This is why so many adults are convinced that it's wrong to write in the second person and that starting a sentence with "and" or "but" is verboten--their seventh-grade English teacher said so and they've never forgotten it. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that's really forbidden in writing is doing it badly (she pontificated), and even that isn't true if you happen to be entering the Bulwer-Lytton contest. Save the droning, drawling, giggling and stammering for then.

*I have a special hate for "smiled." I used to read a decorating magazine that used it at least twice in every article with an interview--"'We love our kitchen's new look,' smiles Susan"--and it nearly drove me around the bend. Not only does it sound smarmy, it's impossible; you can say something with a smile, but you can't smile your actual speech any more than you can hammer it or swim it. Gah!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sometimes you win

In the autumn of 1985, I was a freshman in high school and my younger brother, J, had just started kindergarten. To say it hadn't been a good year for our family would be an understatement; I've had other bad years since then, but that was my first glimpse at just how wrong things could go, and how quickly.

Now it was Halloween, and J and I both wanted to carve a jack o'lantern, the way we'd been used to doing in previous years, but our mother said, regretfully, that she didn't have any extra money to spend on a pumpkin. J was crushed as only a five-year-old can be, and I wasn't too happy myself. But I was also a stubborn kid who didn't like to be beaten at anything, and I wasn't planning to give up yet.

"Don't worry," I told J. "I'm going to fix this."

I dug through my pockets and my school bag and scraped together all the change I could find, and then I took J by his sticky little hand and marched him to the supermarket down the street. There, I read the price on every kind of squash in the produce department and weighed them until I found one I could afford--it was a yellow spaghetti squash about the size of a Nerf football, with a nice flat bottom so it could stand up--and I paid seventy-nine cents for it and walked J home again. Standing in our dingy kitchenette, I cut that spaghetti squash open, and I scraped out the seeds and pulp, and I used the point of a steak knife to carve a miniature face with triangle eyes and nose and a gap-toothed mouth, just like a jack o'lantern. Then I stuck a single skinny birthday candle inside and lit it with a match, and I said to my brother, who had been watching the whole process with ever-increasing delight, "Here you go. It's a squashkin."

In the quarter-century since then, I've carved many real jack o' lanterns, and I'm sure J has too. As adults, we don't talk much or see each other often--it's been more than five years since the last time--and I don't know if he even remembers the squashkin. But I do. I remember it, and sometimes when everything is rotten and I feel as if I can't do anything right, I think about it and smile. It may have been a tiny win, but that day I won at life.