Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Overheard: Shuttle to Bethesda


[Saturday, 9 am. Shuttle bus to Bethesda. Phone rings. It belongs to the young man next to me, who reeks of booze.]

Yeaaaah, whassup.

You still sleepin'? I know you don' wanna go into the story, but who is dis bitch?

Rully?

Are you surrious?

She should get attempted murder. Nah, attempted assault. Wait, she tryda strangle you, das attempted murder.

Man, dem Calvary bitches is crazy.

Who she tryda cut? DeVon? Why DeVon? Ohhh, cuz she retaliatin'. Das crazy. Dey better not let her out. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Reviews: Some winners and some stinkers


The Olive Tree, by Carol Drinkwater
I recently wrote about the fundraising dinner I attended called A Literary Feast. The feast I attended was based on The Olive Tree, by Carol Drinkwater. I'd never even heard of it, so I used my Amazon Prime membership to get a copy overnight. It's lengthy, but as it's a travel memoir I figured I could blaze through it in time for the feast.
Wrong.
I read eleven pages, and then I couldn't read any more. It reaches new heights of pretension, and new depths of tedium.
Drinkwater and her husband have an olive farm in Provence, France. Just as a hobby, though. Whatever they do for real garners enough money that an olive harvest destroyed by insects is just a bummer, rather than a travesty. Drinkwater would rather her crops be destroyed by bugs and birds than preserve the vulnerable olives by way of pesticides-- give her organic, or give her death.

"I am not an olive farmer by profession. It is my passion, but, had it also been our livelihood, this unheard-of turn of events would have been sufficient to cause financial disruption, if not ruin."
Don't you hate it when your finances are disrupted? Good thing it's just an expensive little hobby for these folks. They don't have the fear other olive farmers do, of starving to death.

"We bottled our new oil and celebrated its arrival with friends, as was our tradition, though I genuinely believed its quality and taste had been compromised. Still, it was fine, I had to admit it."
I'm trying to think of a more boring party than one centered on oil, complete with a snotty host who would rather have no oil, and probably no party.

Setting up the point of the 407-page tome: "My quest for ancient stories of the olive tree, of those who transported it to remote, watery inlets within the Mediterranean, still held true."
Snore.

I've already printed the labels to send it back. At the dinner, we all discovered that everyone had trouble with this one. The furthest anyone had gotten was the third chapter, and that was only because she had gotten the audio book to listen to on her commutes. Even the hostesses confessed that they knew the kind of feast they wanted to prepare, so they just picked a book to go with it.
 ***
 
These Is My Words, by Nancy Turner
I was surprised at how much I loved this book; I read it in two days and cried at the end. A fictional diary of a girl growing up in the Arizona territories, These is My Words is a sweet coming-of-age-and-beyond story with genuine emotions, surprising moments of hilarity, and a heroine who will make your heart pound with pride.
***



Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
I really wanted to like this book. I was expecting a riotously funny satire, along the lines of The Importance of Being Earnest. Plus, it features Oxford and World War II-- two of my favorite topics. I picked it off Time's 100 Greatest Novels (1923--Present) list, for that review sold me. Maybe I didn't get it. Maybe my expectations were too high. But after the first third of the book, I was bored. Trudging to the end, partly to see if it got better and partly just so I could check it off The Shelf.
***



East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
Ho.ly. Mo.ley. Most amazing book I've read in years. I had developed a crush on John Steinbeck after reading this letter to his son, posted a Facebook status about said crush, and had multiple friends demand I read East of Eden immediately. So I did. It's a huge book, and one I hated putting down. Steinbeck has a easy way with words, the kind that's so fluid, perfect, and accessible that you forget you're reading one of the most brilliant literary minds of the American canon. His characterization is nuanced and consistent. The greatness of East of Eden means anything I say about it is the equivalent of "It's, like, totally awesome." Read it.
***
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I really enjoyed One Hundred Years of Solitude, and it's typically my go-to book recommendation. I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera years ago at a used bookstore, and finally got around to reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's arguably more famous novel. The verdict: it was alright. Similar to Solitude, it has a ton of characters, and I probably should have taken notes to even have a prayer of keeping them all straight. The female protagonist Fermina Daza has three beautiful love stories, with two men: one in her youth, one in her prime, and one in her twilight years. There are beautiful moments throughout, but overall I found the male protagonist to be unlikeable, even in his doggedly romantic pursuit of Fermina.
***



What are you reading lately? What would you recommend? What stunk? Have you ever quit a book only eleven pages in?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nerdy Saturday





Yesterday was one of my favorite days since moving to DC.

I hit up a six-hour creative writing workshop through The Writer's Center, and I left feeling exhilarated. We did short exercises-- only about fifteen minutes each-- and then a few people would volunteer to read what they had written. There was no criticism, only smiles and nods. I had two major breakthroughs:

1) Using something/someone/somewhere I know to write about something I don't know. For example, the instructor gave us fifteen minutes to describe a museum or tourist destination we had been to, in the greatest detail we could. After that, she told us to place two people in that setting and introduce a conflict. We began writing in one person's point of view, and then halfway through the time she told us to switch and write from the other person's point of view. I'll be the first to say that fiction is not my strong suit, but all of a sudden it felt less daunting, just because I could actually see where my characters were.

2) During each fifteen-minute segment I wrote between 350-550 words. Surely I can find fifteen minutes every day to exercise my craft.

* * *

In the evening, I attended A Literary Feast, to benefit the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. Thirty-four homes across the Hill had volunteered to cook feasts, each based on a different book, and then over 350 people bought tickets to attend the feasts. After, everyone congregated at the Hill Center for dessert and music.  I had seen a sign at a bookstore advertising the event within the first week of living here; I signed up for the waitlist the same day. I got a call on Wednesday saying a spot had opened up at the feast based on The Olive Tree by Carol Drinkwater (book review forthcoming). It was an incredible feast, and the company was absolutely delightful. Everyone was welcoming and made an effort to include me in their conversations, as well as take an interest in my new life on the Hill. I met dozens of people last night, and everyone raved about their neighborhood. It made me even more excited to be a part of this community, and they might wrangle some volunteer hours out of me yet.

[photo of Capitol Hill Books is my own]

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

My friend Dot posted this article to Facebook: Would your 15-year-old self listen to you?

The article and accompanying comments are hilarious and thought-provoking.

Here's what I would say:


1. You’re not fat. And if you’d just stand up straight you’d look even less fat.
1b. Accutane and contacts are going to do you a world of good, so hang in there.

2. That whole thing where you don’t smile for pictures because what if you smile and you look ugly so it’s better to make a weird face so then at least people don’t think you were trying to look good is really annoying here in the future. Smile. Your orthodontist did a good job.

3. Being friends with boys is possible, but you have to talk to them, and you have to talk to them like you’re not constantly fretting over what it means. Be kind, be sincere, and be funny.

4. Ask your parents for their opinions. You don’t want to be put into a box of assumptions, so don’t put them in one, either.

5. Read The Communist Manifesto, and you’ll do way better on the AP Euro exam.

6. Moving to Colorado is one of the best things that’s going to happen to you, so stop pining after the Southern life you might have had. Spoiler alert: you keep in touch.

7. Even at your angstiest, Avril Lavigne does not and will not express your thoughts and feelings better than you do and will.

8. Write more.


Would I listen? No. I would burst into tears, stomp up the stairs, and slam the door. But then Old Me would knock on the door and promise to tell Young Me about her first kiss, and Young Me would be both excited that it actually happens and disappointed that she'll lose the first-kiss bet with her friends by years.

The morning of my 16th birthday.
Photo courtesy of my still-existent, needs-to-be-destroyed Myspace account.
See what I mean about the smiling thing?


What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Home sweet home.

I've been here three weeks now, but it feels like ages. I'm getting the hang of the lingo ("in transition" = "used to be ghetto but slowly getting un-ghetto), walking really fast for no reason (even on the way home), and wearing headphones so weirdos don't talk to me on the metro ("hiya, which stop are you getting off at tonight?").

Though, until Monday, I still felt entirely unsettled. While you wouldn't know it from the state of my room (more on that in a sec), I really like having all my ducks in a row. I like orderly processes; I have to know that doing A will get me to B. So when A doesn't exist, I go into lockdown mode.

For two and a half weeks, A was a permanent place to live. So for two and a half weeks, I lived in vacation-but-not-vacation limbo. I was staying in someone else's house and eating all my meals out and watching six-hour marathons of New Girl, but I was also trudging through a 45-minute commute and wearing clothes more than once since I couldn't ever snag a place in the laundry line and getting completely lost any time I ventured out in the borrowed van.

In the end, I didn't have to look at that many places before finding The One. And now, it's my pleasure to give you the tour of my home base. Come visit any time. The couch is quite comfortable.


I've always wanted a) a rowhouse and b) an address with a fraction in it.
Living room, which is connected to the...

kitchen!

The unfortunate state of my room. We'll talk about the mattress situation at a later date, as well as my notable lack of any furniture in which to put my clothing.

Now that A is firmly established, I can't wait to see what B through Z have in store.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Adventure is out there!


Sometime during my senior year of college, I came to the conclusion that my next destination had to be Washington, DC. If I ever wanted to make something of myself with the degrees I’d chosen, I was going to have to migrate to where there was food.

But one thing led to another, and I stayed in Kansas City. At first, it was supposed to be for just a few months. Then my “summer internship” turned into a job, I moved into a cute house with cute friends, and I stuck around.

Quickly, sticking around turned into stuck.

By the end of this summer, I had a plan in place to quit my job by mid-October, move back to Colorado to catch my breath, and then get to DC by November, hell or high water, job or no job.

A friend had told me that out-of-state job searches take months, so I started applying mid-August. One Saturday morning, the parade of canines began their time-honored stampede above my head at 8:00. Rather than lay in bed seething, I decided to channel that energy into the job hunt. I was at Panera with my computer in under ten minutes.

A few days earlier, someone on Facebook had posted a guide for how to muddle through the application process on USAjobs.gov. I took a crack at it, and worked for over an hour on an application for a vaguely-described position called as an aide at a federal court. I filled out page after page of the questionnaire and carefully tailored my resume to match their posting. This is such a waste of time, I thought. I am never getting a call.

Ten days later, I got that call. They wanted me to fly out and interview in five days.

The day of my interview was my first time in DC. As my Uber driver rounded a curve on the way to the interview, the Washington Monument materialized, and I gasped. The driver laughed, and said, “You’ve never been here before, have you?” I divulged my reasons for being in the car, and my indecision to throw up or burst into tears out of nerves. He waved his hand dismissively. “You’re going to be fine,” he said. “It’s going to be great.”

He was right—the interview was the smoothest of my life. Two days later, while I was still in DC, the personnel office called and told me they were very interested in me, and asked if they could start my background check.

Twenty-four hours later, the job was mine.



I’ve been in DC for ten days now. I flew in on a Wednesday night and started my job bright and early Thursday morning. The court is a magical place. I’ve been told my curiosity and fascination will disappear fairly soon, but I really hope it’s not the case. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on—petitions, briefs, previews of upcoming cases, articles on those cases, hate mail, fan mail, bios of the judges.

Fortunately, the court has a lot of  employees who are my age, so my initial worries of being without a built-in friend base have dissipated significantly. Between that and looking for a permanent place to live, these past ten days have had more social activity than a whole month in Kansas City. And as a new friend pointed out to me, few people in DC are from DC, so everyone remembers what it’s like to be the new kid, and pretty much everyone I’ve met has given me a phone number and encouraged me to call if I need anything—including a friend to hang out with.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am entirely overwhelmed. In some moments I am so excited I want to start running laps, as my dog used to do at the sight of a hot air balloon. In other moments I am so homesick I can’t breathe. With this being my tenth home, everyone I meet reminds me of someone else I love, which simultaneously comforts me and breaks my heart.

And now, some notable events from the last week and a half:

  • Paying almost $600 to check all my suitcases.
  •  Getting told I was going to have to check my giant tote bag, which was carrying my laptop and my fancy camera, freaking out, and then getting told that the person who told me that was a giant idiot.
  • Learning to drive a tractor on the farm where I’m currently living.
  • Looking at an adorable apartment on Capitol Hill, only to meet the live-in mother, who insists she’s a roommate and not a house mom.
  • Hearing someone say, “I work at Atlantic Media Company.”
  • Signing up for federal benefits! Getting insured! Saving for retirement!
  • Driving myself to the metro for the first time, missing the turn, getting stuck like a clot in an artery of traffic, voyaging on to the next metro only to find there isn’t a parking lot, trying to go back the way I came, sitting at a light for fifteen minutes in an attempt to turn left, trying to determine (once again) if I was going to vomit or cry, taking advantage of some old men puttering through the intersection and careening through the turn in front of them, getting to the original metro station, parking, arriving at work a mere five minutes late, and then returning to the metro to discover that the van won’t start.
  • Overcompensating the next day by getting to work an hour and a half early.
  • Reading a whole book (the only book I was able to pack) in 1.5 commutes
  • Falling in love with the Eastern Market neighborhood and a cramped used book store whose precariously stacked books threatened my life and whose avuncular owner told me to “have a good two” when I thanked him for my books and told him to “have a good one.”
  • Discovering the meaning of “sex positive” in Craigslist housing ads. I’ll give you a hint—I am not that.

Here goes nothin’.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Helplessness.

My heart is heavy tonight.

[Saturday afternoon. My photo.]
While I was home this weekend, a wildfire started near Colorado Springs, about 30 miles from my home. The place is practically a tinderbox after a year of almost no precipitation, and a decade of below average precipitation.

By the time I left on Sunday, the air was acrid with smoke, and the mountains were hardly visible.

Today, the first homes went down. The fire has scorched tens of thousands of acres. Hundreds of firefighters have been working around the clock, trying to contain the flames, but to no avail. National news programs are lamenting the loss of tourism; my community is mourning its very destruction.
[Today. My sister took this from her office window.]

Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, blizzards-- all are predictable, measurable, definite. But a wildfire-- how can you know when it will start? When it will end? How you can fight it? What lives and livelihoods it will claim? Its power and boundaries are infinite, able to inspire both awe and fear.

I can't remember a time I've felt so helpless. My newsfeed is inundated with photos and prayers and fragments of facts. My throat is tight, my brain is buzzing with anxiety, and my lips can only form one-word prayers.





Rain. Help. Stop. Please.



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Four Ways to Get People at the Gym to Hate You

1. Choose your workout clothes wisely. What do you want people to know about you and your gym habits as soon as they look at you? If you're supremely confident in your physique, wear spandex. And if you're self-conscious about your extra rolls, wear spandex anyways. The confidence will follow once your outfit convinces everyone else how serious you are about your workouts. Alternatively, if you want people to know for sure that you're sweating more (and therefore working harder) than them, wear a wool hat, fleece sweatshirt, and cotton sweatpants. Preferably all in gray. Other options include boxer shorts with an undone fly; saggy, unlaced combat boots; and t-shirts with sleeve holes down to your hips. Keep in mind: your main goal is to bring as much attention to yourself as possible.

A special note for the ladies: If you have breast implants, don't bother with a bra. Also, it is recommended that women working out before 7am wear makeup similar to what they would apply before hitting the clubs on a Saturday night.

2. Grunt. With each motion of exertion, let out either a YA, EHH, or SSSSS. After each grunt, pant heavily two times, and then repeat. Remember, the more enthusiastic your grunts, the more people who will look in your direction and admire your strength and endurance.

If you're not quite comfortable with the world of grunting, you are welcome to narrate your workout to someone on your cell phone, giggle maniacally when you fall over mid-lunge, or wail miserably in the face of your personal trainer.

3. Since you've been working so much harder than everyone else, feel free to take a rest on the machine you've just been using. No one else needs to use it as badly as you need to bring your heart rate back to its resting level. And what better place to do that than on the thing you're already sitting on?

On a related note, never reset the machine to its original state. If other people really want to use it, they won't mind putting away your weights and dragging your weight bench across the gym to its proper location. If you can't teach them to really want it, then who can?

4. Men: look at every woman's butt as she walks by. Throw in an eyebrow raise, appreciate frown, or brief nod to maximize the flattering effect. Women want to know their time at the gym is paying off. If you're not ready to deliver this overt compliment, practice by looking at her butt in the mirrors. She'll never know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sellout.

I caved.

After years of railing against them, I got both Twitter AND Instagram (handle = melodious47).

Within seven minutes of each other.

I don't know what to do with them.

Someone please teach me how to be un-lame.

Slash how to use them to get famous and stuff.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Most Genius Marketing Strategy

One of my co-workers had a little glass bowl of Dove chocolates on her desk. As I'm sure you know, the inside of the foil wrapper of a Dove chocolate has a little inspirational message printed on it-- not quite a fortune, but a little pick-me-up.

I ate two (unashamedly) while filing the other day, and the secret of Dove's success smacked me right in the mouth.


Here it is:

Dove chocolate is delicious in its own right. But Mars went so far as to put these pampering messages on the inside, which subliminally point the consumer right back to the product.

My train of thought was something like this: "Filing is boring. I'm going to stretch my legs. Oo, Jamie has chocolate on her desk. I'm going to eat one while I walk back to the filing shelf. What does the wrapper say? Think of something that makes you smile. Uh, that delicious piece of chocolate made me smile. Once I finish filing, I'll reward myself with another smile. By eating another piece of chocolate. What does this one say? Make time for yourself. I could certainly make time for myself with another piece of CHOCOLATE." Fortunately, the bowl was now empty, cutting off my cycle of self-indulgence.

Dove's slogan is even "Savor Your Moment." You don't have enough you-moments, they say. You spend all your days doing things for everyone else. You deserve time for yourself. You deserve to smile. You deserve chocolate, you selfless humanitarian, you. 

How often, though, do those you-moments become our sole focus, pursuit, and reward? How often do we begrudge our time to others because it interrupts all the time we want to spend on ourselves? How often do we fool ourselves into thinking that we're annoyingly busy because everyone else demands all our time, when really, we just don't want to give it?


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Overheard: Liberty Chick-fil-a

Okay, guys, like, I think I'm going to stop talking in Sunday School from now on. Because, like, the past couple weeks I've asked, like, really dumb questions, and like, I don't even realize it until everyone is, like, staring at me.

Like, we were learning about Moses? And how, like, God was going to kill the sons in that town? So I raised my hand and was like, If they kill the sun in that town, does that mean they kill the sun, like, everywhere? Do they have, like, extra suns?

No, I really thought they were talking about, like, the sun-sun. Not like, first-born sons or whatever.

So, like, I'm just not going to say anything any more.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Had I The Art to Stun Myself

Things look a little different, huh? Well, here's the new beginning. If you've ever wondered, the URL (and now title) of this blog come from an Emily Dickinson poem that you can read here.

I stunned myself today. But it wasn't very artful.

It was a long Friday. A last-minute phone call at the office meant I didn't get out of there until almost 5:30, and time had stopped at around 3. As I drove home, all I could think about was how much I was looking forward to crawling in bed and indulging in a lazy Friday night.

But on the way there, I decided to run into Wal-mart to pick up a few things. I hate the Wal-mart by my house. Hate. It's cramped, dim, noisy, and everyone there-- employee or customer-- is cantankerous. It more closely resembles a bazaar in a third-world country than a convenient shopping location in Johnson County, Kansas. And today was no exception. The already-narrow aisles were teeming with rogue shopping carts and rambunctious children, and there wasn't an employee in sight to ask wheretheheckthelightbulbswere.

Finally, I had acquired my seven items and forged my way to the registers. The express line was five people deep, naturally, and all of them had interpreted the ten-item limit in a most creative way. After fifteen minutes of listening to the mother and children behind me bicker about the merits of Reese's cups vs. Kit-Kats, and a rousing, one-woman game of How Much of Demi Lovato's Picture on the Cover of Cosmopolitan Has Been Photoshopped, I was next.

The cashier scanned my items and read me the total in a tone that was as flat as her faded-dyed-red hair. I opened my wallet and instinctively grabbed the card behind my driver's license. But it was a Starbucks card, not my debit card. My face flushed and moisture sprang to my underarms as a rapidly shuffled through the rest of my cards. Nada. My panic drew the attention of the quibbling candy-buyers behind me, and their stares joined that of the cashier's. I raked my fingers through my bag-- nothing. "I can't find, I, I can't find--" I kept muttering-- "I can't find my debit card." I looked up at the cashier, who looked back at me with the same level of interest as one of those eyeless cave newts looks at the Mona Lisa. For a split second, the back of my brain prayed that someone would take pity on me and pay for my stuff. It didn't happen. "I have to leave," I said. "I'm sorry." The cashier said "'kay", rolled her eyes, and turned to scan the piles of candy on the belt.

As I rushed out of the store, shaky, sweaty, and panicky, I relived the past few hours in my head. I definitely used my card at the post office around 4:30. It wasn't in my pockets, bag, car, planner, or gym bag. It could only be in one of three places: the office, the mail slot at the post office, or alone and shivering in the gutters of Westport. A glance a the clock revealed that the bank would be closing in half an hour-- not enough time for me to go back to work, look, report the card missing, and visit the bank for a new one before the weekend hit.

The panic continued on the drive to the bank. I saw visions of bank statements replete with online gambling, subscriptions to Playboy, Affliction t-shirts, and the Cheesecake Factory.

But luckily, canceling the runaway card and obtaining a new one all happened without incident-- other than standing in miles-long lines again. While we waited for the new card to print, the bank lady and I made small talk. I told her about my saga in the tenth circle of Wal-mart, and she asked if I had a back-up card of any sort, for emergencies. "Yeah," I said. "I have a debit card linked to my account in Colorado."
I paused. "I think it's on my nightstand in my room."
She tilted her head a little farther.
"I don't know what kind of financial emergency I thought I'd have in my bedroom."

With a smile and the humiliating suggestion that I put my emergency card somewhere I could access it in an emergency, bank lady shook my hand and sent me all away.

To teach myself a lesson, I went to Wal-mart again, hunted down my items again, dodged toddlers again, stood in line again, and paid.

And that's why you never lose your debit card.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Five Ways to Make Sure Your Intern Never Wants to Leave

Melody Rowell | 2012
Today was my last day as a PR intern for Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The past eight weeks were such a productive, valuable, and uplifting experience; I'm so grateful for the opportunity and for the wonderful people I got to know.

And so, here are five ways to ensure that your intern leaves your place of work oozing the same sentimentality I feel tonight.

1. Make sure the job description you posted matches up with what your intern will actually be doing. With Kauffman Center, I knew exactly what I was getting into. No assignment seemed out of place with the objectives of the internship that I agreed to.

2. Give your interns valuable assignments. If they aren't getting paid, don't add insult to injury by giving them the crappy jobs that no one else wants to do. My supervisor at Kauffman Center entrusted me with several meaty projects that will be visible to the public, which gave me even more motivation to perform well.

3. Include your intern in the office's culture. My supervisor did a great job of introducing me to other staff members and involving me in events. Everyone I met seemed genuinely glad that I was there, and approximately 98% of them used the phrase "Welcome aboard!" Make sure your intern knows that in the real world, office friendships can and do extend beyond business hours.

4. Get feedback from your intern before the term is over. Halfway through my stint, my supervisor sat me down and asked me to evaluate my experience thus far. What did I enjoy? What took me by surprise? What did I want to do more/less of in my remaining time? A short conference like this makes your intern feel that this unpaid gig is a productive use of time. I put in a lot of work and felt like I got a lot out of it-- which made me want to put in even more work.

5. If you can't offer your intern a job at the end of the term, put in some effort to aid in networking, to help prepare resumes and cover letters, and to impart general career advice. It meant a great deal to me that several of the women I worked with invested hours in helping me with all three of those things. After eight weeks, I have new skills, new confidence, new contacts, and best (cheesiest) of all, new friendships.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Change is Gonna Come.

Over the past few weeks, I've had a series of conversations that have challenged, discouraged, inspired, uplifted, and motivated me.

The first was with a National Geographic photographer named Mattias Klum. I met him while working at the Kauffman Center; my supervisor Kristin invited me to go along to the KCUR studio for his interview. While in the car, Kristin and I peppered him with all the questions we could think of-- I mean, how often do you meet a NatGeo photographer? Klum is kind, humble, and his twinkling blue eyes reveal the genuine joy he gets out of his work. The day before, he had done a meet-and-greet session at the Kansas City Zoo. He told us that a teenage girl and her parents approached him. The parents said that their daughter had an interest in writing, photography, and was interested in some kind of journalistic career. But, they said, how can she ever make any money doing that? Klum turned to the daughter and told her, "If that is what you love, if that is what you want, if that is what brings you joy, then you will find a way to make it lucrative." He said her furrowed brow relaxed and her whole face lit up. Klum told us, "I could tell she went from thinking it was totally impossible to suddenly having all this hope!"

The next conversation was with a Kansas City writer who has been published in many prominent publications. I'll leave names out of it. I appreciated the time he took to meet with me, but our conversation left my head spinning. When I said I'd like to hear his advice on being a writer, he first told me, "Don't do it." He told me my blog wouldn't work because it wasn't specific enough. "Think 'space technology for kittens,'" he said. In referring to my favorite magazine, my absolute dream, he said, "They're perfect. You just have to be better." At one point, he also offered this suggestion with a shrug: "I mean, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this, but sex and drugs always worked for me." I saw him exactly four nights later at an event, and he apologized for being too harsh on me. He said he felt bad, and then said he's met young people who say they want to be writers, but when he asks for them to write 500 words on ________, they never get around to it. Clearly, they don't want it. "So," he continued. "How's it going specifying your blog?" My brain was screaming IT'S A TRAP! but my mouth couldn't keep up. "Uh, um, well," I stammered. "I'm still working on it. I don't know. I'm thinking about it."
"Hm," he said, with a knowing look and sharp nod. When we parted ways I felt queasy and humiliated. This guy thinks I'm a fake. He's a big deal and he thinks I'm totally full of it. He thinks I'm not hungry for it.
In the midst of this mental meltdown, I knew he was on to something. I remembered back to our original conversation, when he brought up these haunting ideas: What would you think if you knew someone who wanted to run marathons, but never went out running? How do you know a runner is a runner? Is it because they tell you? Or is it because they go out and run every day? Would you know I was a writer without me telling you? Can I even call myself a writer when I don't write every day?

The third conversation was with a colleague from Kauffman Center. When I told her of the conversation above, she looked at me dumbfounded. "You don't have to get specific," she said. "You're twenty-two years old. You don't even know what your voice is yet." She reiterated that, yes, if I am ever going to be any good, I have to write. every. day. "You can't plan out what you're going to write for the rest of your life," she said, "but you can decide what you're going to write today." She encouraged me to find ways to do what I love when I'm currently not in a job that even remotely involves those passions. "Some day, you'll have a job where your boss will tell you, 'I want this many words about this exact thing and I want you to include these certain ideas and avoid these certain words and I need it by tomorrow.' So enjoy the time you have now when you can write whatever you want!" And yes, maybe some day I'll look at my blog and realize I talk about some things more than other things, but for now, I have to actually talk about things.

How this is all going to play out, I'm not sure. This first-born perfectionist wants to have everything planned out, but it may be better to just jump in. I'm getting rid of the rules. Maybe I'll post on Fridays, maybe I won't. Maybe it'll be 500 words long, or maybe I'll have a series of snippets throughout the day. Something has to change-- I can't keep dreaming without the work to back it up.

So please, stick with me in this journey. I probably won't post to Facebook every time I write, so bookmark this page now.

Let the overhaul begin.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Shelf: A Progress Report

Remember The Shelf? And how I said I was going to read 36 books in 2012?


Let's revisit that.


First, let me say that shortly after making that goal, I discovered Downton Abbey. As we all know, one episode of Downton Abbey is the equivalent of reading a book. So when we do that math, I'd venture so far as to say I've surpassed my goal, number-wise.


But as far as the list itself goes, I'm ashamed to say that thus far, I've only finished two books. Two. In four months. It's pitiful. Probably my worst track record ever.


But hey, those two books were pretty darn good.


The first was Jane Austen's Persuasion. Anne Elliot is the main lady, and, as is common for Austen's novels, Anne is surrounded by bumbling, selfish, embarrassing, entertaining family members. Seven years previous to the action of the novel, Anne falls in love with the dashing Frederick Wentworth, a navy officer below her social status. He proposes, but Anne's mentor persuades her to turn him down. In the action, the two cross paths again while Anne visits her sister, and it seems he is intent to marry another. Meanwhile, the rightful heir to the Elliot fortune pops up and starts to woo Anne. Unlike Austen's other novels, I wasn't sure how this one was going to turn out. Persuasion, Austen's final work, has a bit more serious tone to it. Anne's disappointment is heavy on the heart of the reader, and while she isn't fiery like Elizabeth or straight-forward as Elinor, I found myself rooting for her more than other Austenian protagonists. Her gentle confidence evokes empathy and self-identification, and thus quietly wins over the reader as well as one of the male characters.






Last week, I finished Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. While I'd hastily studied the SparkNotes in preparation for Oxbridge comps, I had never gotten past the first chapter of the actual book. Not because it's not engaging, but probably because something else came up. Like my degree. Nervous Conditions a post-colonial bildungsroman. Tambu, a young girl growing up in rural Zimbabwe in the '70s, gets the opportunity to attend school after her older brother dies. Torn between her cultural traditions and the promise of advancing her situation through education, Tambu keenly and fairly observes the women and men around her as they also try to establish a homogenous identity amidst a schizophrenic society. It's a haunting examination of patriarchy and colonialism, and the complicated outcomes they render.




Currently reading: Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Unfinished books I need to go back to: Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh; In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lacey Crough Photography

My friend Lacey is a really cute photographer who takes really cute photos. Recently, she asked me if I'd run around downtown Kansas City with her for some picture-taking fun. How could I resist?

We had a blast on our 90-minute shoot, and I love the way the images came out. It was quite the ego boost-- I don't think I've ever felt so pretty! I'm planning on picking one out to be my professional image around the interwebs.

See the images here, the video here, and be sure to "like" Lacey on Facebook.

But wait! There's more!

Readers of The Friday 500 have the chance to win a 90-minute shoot of your own with Lacey Crough Photography! All you have to do is leave a comment in this post. Tell us-- if you could have a photo shoot anywhere in the world, where would it be?

[edit: Sarah Hartenberger is the lucky winner!]


Friday, April 27, 2012

Frankentoe.



I don’t cope with gore very well. I don’t mind blood in movies such as The Godfather and Gladiator, but anything that’s icky gives me a prickly feeling in my sternum that threatens to move to my stomach. If I’m ever struck by curiosity over a medical issue and turn to Wikipedia, I load the page with my right hand hovering in front of the screen, ready to block any gross pictures intent on implanting themselves in my brain.

Unfortunately, disaster struck almost two weeks ago, and it’s not possible to hover my right hand over the offending image at all times.

It was as innocent as a Saturday night can be for a 22-year-old. Clark was in town, and I had spent the evening cleaning and doing laundry while he was at a fraternity dinner. When he came back we talked while I folded clean clothes and put them away. My antique dresser, which stands on legs rather than resting on the floor, is a solid oak hunk of furniture, and the warmer and more humid weather has caused the wood to swell ever so slightly. I had folded some shorts, but couldn’t get the bottom dresser open with one hand. Still talking to Clark, I set the shorts on my bed and gave the drawer a two-handed tug. It still stuck, so I tried again.

This time, the drawer came flying out and landed squarely on the nail of my big toe. I yelped, mostly from surprise, and then I started hopping around my room, trying to ascertain just how much pain I was in.

“Maybe you should sit down,” Clark offered. I did, and playing part of damsel in distress, I asked him if he would get me an ice pack. In the short time he was gone, the magnitude of the pain set in, and by the time he got back I had big, juicy tears rolling down my cheeks.

I managed to fall asleep, but the feeling of my heartbeat in my big toe woke me up around 3am. I hobbled upstairs to get another ice pack, which I then shoved down at the bottom of my bed.  I woke up again around 6, again unable to control the tears. I laid awake and tried to distract myself, imagining how someday, in the midst of childbirth, I’ll look back on this night and chuckle.

When that didn’t work, I finally got up and took off my turquoise nail polish, mildly annoyed at how badly it had stained my nail. Then I realized it wasn’t stained—that blueish gray was the actual color of my nailbed. I remembered hearing a family legend about an uncle smashing a finger, and an aunt sticking a hot needle through the nail to relieve the pressure. In my crazed agony, I became convinced that this was the only course of action open to me.

And by me, I mean Clark. I went and roused him, and he didn’t even flinch, much less question me, when I told him my plan. In the end, it was a hot thumbtack, and while not that much blood came out, it relieved enough pressure that I could go to sleep.

I hobbled around the next day, to church and the grocery store, and then Clark came to my rescue once more with a giant pot of warm water and Epsom salts. Soaking my toe helped some—at any rate, the water was hot enough to take my mind off the pain.

Below the jump lie the rest of the gory details, in bullet form.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Priorities.

A couple weeks ago I read something that has firmly planted itself in my brain. For the life of me, I now can’t remember where I read it, so if you read the same thing, let me know.


Here’s the gist of it.

Humanity’s favorite excuse is I don’t have time. I don’t have time to clean my room. I don’t have time to cook. I don’t have time to call my family. For some reason, we take pride in appearing busy. It’s as though we think others will commend our hectic schedules, and condemn anything else as laziness.
This thing I read (wherever it was) called this line of reasoning a total cop-out. It has nothing to do with not having time and everything to do with what we deem priorities. Regardless of how we want others to perceive us, our days are exactly as long as everyone else’s. The only thing that differentiates my schedule from yours is how I choose to spend those hours. The writer of the original article I read suggested this tactic for breaking out of the mental habit:
Instead of saying I don’t have time for XYZ,say to yourself,XYZ is not a priority.
How does that sit with you?
Going to the gym is not a priority. Having a sit-down meal with my family is not a priority. Searching and applying for a better job is not a priority.
Kind of makes you cringe, right?
I’ve been trying to make this phrase a permanent tool in my mental arsenal, but it’s still tough. I’ve been avoiding grocery shopping for a while because I don’t have time, so I’ve been eating weird combinations of foods I already had in my pantry. But the truth I’m actually operating under is Eating well and taking care of my body is not a priority. Eek. Yesterday I found a new recipe I wanted to try, but it was going to take a trip to the grocery store and then an hour or so of prep time. I was tempted to eat the can of beans that was already sitting on my pantry shelf, but then I caught myself. Eating well and taking care of my body is a priority. It should be one of the highest. So right after work I made myself drive to Whole Foods, pick up the ingredients, make the dish, and clean the kitchen. It felt good, and I had enough food left over for lunch today, saving me time this morning to do all the other things I didn’t do last night.
A similar mantra is one I saw on Pinterest: If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.
What’s your experience with making time for priorities? Have you had to make any tough decisions in cutting out activities or habits to make room for more important things?




[update! Thanks to Karen, I've found the original thing I read. It was this post on Cup of Jo, one of my favorite blogs, and it was about this article from the Wall Street Journal. Both excellent reads.]

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Sabbatical


It’s been quite the month. Actually, I think this is the first time I’ve sat down on my couch in all that time.

Let’s hit the highlights.

-Towards the end of February, I visited my widdle seester at Baylor University.
-We ate delicious barbecue.
-We watched Sing, an intense, musical-revue-like competition between Greek organizations. The talent, costumes, and sets were incredible. I kept having to remind myself that the people I was watching were all younger than me.
-Meagan kept me up past my bedtime to go tortilla tossing. Which is exactly what it sounds like. But way more fun than it sounds like.
-We ate pancakes the size of plates. I had a Gingerbread Pecan pancake that was particularly scrumptious, along with a chocolate chip pancake. Spring break!
-Dressed in striped jerseys that mark members of the Bear Pit, we made our way to the Baylor v. Oklahoma game. Thanks to one of Meagan’s hallmates, I had a student ID that got me into the game for free and a seat practically right under the basket. I got to learn the traditional cheers, and embarrassed Meagan with a few improvisations aimed at the referees. Baylor won.
-That night we played cards with our grandparents. I did not win.
-After two and a half days back in KC, I got on another plane—this time to London.
-I spent an amazing week in Oxford, reuniting with dear friends and revisiting some of my favorite places.
-Except for The Perch. My favorite pub. Which was closed. When we walked miles (lit’rally) to get there. If I’m honest, I felt a little teary.
-I drank lots and lots of tea.
-And ate lots and lots and LOTS of good food. Whoever said England isn’t known for its cuisine clearly has never eaten a meal in Wheeler 5 with Abbie and Fran.
-After forty-five minutes of deliberation, I bought a Cath Kidston bag. I love it.
-I played tourist and got to take lots of pictures with my new camera. I’m still working on uploading and editing all of them. Stay tuned.
-I got back to KC with exactly $1.35 in my bank account. I still can’t decide if that was a brilliant or bone-headed move.
-Jet lag and Daylight Savings Time hit me hard, and at the same time, so I was exhausted for another week after getting back.
-That didn’t stop me, though, from having an incredible time on the front row at the Avett Brothers’ concert in Wichita.
-Since then, I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of things.
-But then, one of my favorite professors from Jewell emailed me with an ad for a Public Relations internship at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Google it—the building is astounding.
-I submitted my cover letter and resume last Friday.
-Within five minutes, they responded and asked when I could interview.
-I interviewed on Tuesday. I wore a suit and pearls.
-On Wednesday, they called and offered me the position.
-I start tomorrow! It’s unpaid, so I’ll be at the Kauffman from noon to 6 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and then I’ll continue to work at the law office the rest of the time. I’m so excited for everything I’m going to learn, and for all the writing I’ll get to do.
-And now, I promise I’ll never, ever leave this blog again for so long. Thanks for sticking with me.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oxford Bound

I'm getting on a plane this afternoon and returning to my old stomping grounds. It feels like Christmas-- I don't know how I'm going to sleep on the plane!

In my absence, enjoy my posts from the first time I was in Oxford. I can't believe it's been almost two years. Here are some of my faves:

If America Conquered England

A Tale of Three Gingers

Overheard

Back in the UK

Valentine's Day

Weirdest

Merrily, Merrily

The Beginning of the End


Have a wonderful week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Heads up.

I am on the cusp of two weeks of adventures, so please forgive the sporadic nature of this blog for the time being. I'll post when I can, but I can almost guarantee it won't be on Fridays, so check back early and often!

To make up for it, please enjoy this photograph. It's my favorite I've ever taken.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, 2008.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On Growing a Spine


In my job as a receptionist, my standard mode of operation can be summed up in the mantra You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I have to make a lot of phone calls about things I don’t understand, and usually I can play dumb long enough that the person on the other end will give me more information than what I asked for.  Or if I have to ask a court clerk for a particularly annoying favor, I always say, “I’m so sorry… I’m new.” When I’m the one answering the phone, I try to be as helpful and overeager as possible. All in all, I have an awesome phone personality.

But there have been times that no amount of sweetness on my end can soothe the irate client or defendant on the other end. Once, a woman screamed at me for a while, and then said, “You have a nice day, bitch,” before slamming down the phone. I had sat there frozen, mouth hanging open, totally silent.

I’m not a confrontational person. I rarely get in fights. I’m never rude to waitresses or customer service representatives. I think I’m oversensitive to others’ feelings, and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt—which doesn’t always end well.

But on Tuesday, I saw a whole new side of myself emerge.

I received a call from a man who said he’d been incorrectly served notice of a lawsuit, but that that the information on it wasn’t for him. He said, “I tried to tell the process server that, but she told me it was my problem and then she drove away. I swear, if I could get my hands around her neck, I’d strangle her.” I laughed uncomfortably and then in my pleasantest voice said, “Sir, all we need you to do is write us a letter—”

“No!” he interjected. “I’m not wasting any of my time because someone else screwed up! Why should I have to write a letter?!”

Still calm, I said, “Sir, we need to have it in writing so we can file it with the court and get the correct defendant served.”

He raised his voice to a full-blown yell, repeating his story about the woman showing up at his door and the fact that he’s the wrong person. “Sir!” I said, taken aback. “I’m trying to help you!”

He kept yelling about what a “stupid bitch” the process server was, and that he shouldn’t have to waste his time to fix this.

And that’s when I snapped.

I raised my voice’s volume to match his. I clenched my fist and extended my pointer finger, jabbing the air to italicize my words.

LISTEN,” I said. “I AM THE RECEPTIONIST AT THE LAW OFFICE. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PRIVATE PROCESS SERVER. SHE TOLD YOU THAT IT WAS NOW YOUR PROBLEM, SO I’M TELLING YOU HOW TO FIX THAT PROBLEM. YOU CAN LISTEN TO ME AND FIX THIS, OR DON’T, AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE COURT. I DON’T CARE.”

“But I should have to do anything!” he said. “I don’t want to do what you’re telling me to do!”

“THEN I’M DONE TALKING TO YOU,” I replied. And I hung up the phone.

I don’t know who she was or where she came from, but she was calm and she was quick. She didn’t mumble or stutter. She stood up for herself. And when it was all over, she didn’t break into a cold sweat or need to repose on the couch to calm her shaking limbs and racing heart.

Instead, she googled the belligerent man and discovered that he was a former attorney who was now the president of a successful wealth management company. Maybe he can bully other people into giving him what he wants, but not this girl. Not this time.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Five Chick Flicks I Don't Hate

When I was a freshman in college, two of my best friends (one of them being my roommate) wouldn’t let me watch movies with them. One too many snide remarks got my privileges revoked, and any time I inquired after the title of their chosen film, they would tell me and then say, “You would hate it.”

Which was probably true. If I’m going to spend an hour and a half escaping from my world of womanly woes, I want to spend it watching a woman of Substance! Depth! Profundity! Who doesn’t need a man if she doesn’t want one! Who might be a little bit clumsy and socially awkward but doesn’t pander to her less sophisticated audience members with prat falls and wardrobe malfunctions!

I’m about to give you a list of five chick flicks I don’t hate. The following list is in no order and is by no means exclusive, and they might not even meet the snobby criteria I laid out above. I don’t hate them because I don’t hate them, okay?

You’ve Got Mail. I have a big-time crush on Tom Hanks, and I’d bet most women do. He’s so husbandly. He’s attractive, but not unattainably so. He’s funny without being annoying, and he’s just sensitive enough to bring you daisies when you have a cold, but not so sensitive that he can’t quote The Godfather when times are tough. Also, it’s a movie about books. And who doesn’t love Meg Ryan and her shadow-boxing behind the counter of her independent children’s book store?



Pride & Prejudice
. Obviously. It’s my favorite love story. I like the Keira Knightley version for its length, beautiful cinematography, and soundtrack. But I love the BBC miniseries—it’s an indulgence. When I read the book, I have a mix of the two casts of minor characters in my head, but Elizabeth and Darcy are always Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Speaking of—Mr. Darcy Takes A Bath.



The Princess Diaries
. Abby and I watched this a couple of weeks ago. What girl doesn’t feel ugly and unnoticed in high school? What girl didn’t wish her grandmother was secretly the queen of a microstate after watching this? Who didn’t want a head-transplant-type makeover? Who didn’t wish she could utter Because you saw me when I was invisible when the boy of her dreams comes through at the last minute? Incidentally, this is still the only thing Anne Hathaway has done that hasn’t annoyed me.



Little Women
. I’ve identified with Jo March since I read the book at age 7, and I will never, ever forgive Louisa May Alcott for keeping Jo and Laurie apart. Especially when Laurie looks like Christian Bale. After watching this for the first time as a little girl, I went through a stage of making newspapers for our family and pining after a secret-message-mailbox of my very own. This was also probably the first movie I saw in which someone really nice dies, so that was, and still is, quite a shock to my delicate system.


While You Were Sleeping. The perennial favorite. Sandra Bullock in her early days. She has bad bangs and wears frumpy sweaters. She is kind to the creepy son of her landlord. She dreams about seeing the world while she sits in her token booth at the train station. Okay, so she goes along with the untruth that she’s the fiancĂ©e of comatose Peter Gallagher, but when she’s so lonely and his family is so exuberant, can you really blame her? 


Thursday, January 26, 2012

The First Sick Day


I reached another milestone in the land of independent adulthood this week: The First Sick Day. Sure, I’ve been ill since I graduated high school, but I never missed class because of it. I got a couple of sinus infections and one raging bout of bronchitis, but I got the flu while at home over a Christmas break and mono during finals week of my senior year, so I never had a sick day all through college.

But this past Monday, I woke up at 5:30 to get ready for the gym and while I was packing my bag, a dizzying wave of nausea hit me, and I puked. I rarely throw up, so I’m a huge wimp when it happens. I always cry, I always get shaky, I always feel really sorry for myself, and I always tuck myself back into bed after strategically placing a trash can next to it. This time, I also had to text my boss and say, “I puked. I’m going back to bed. I’ll be in later.” Being an hourly employee without health insurance, I cannot afford to miss work.

I woke up again around 9 and dragged myself to work, still feeling very sorry for myself. I don’t remember much of the day, other than wondering why I didn’t stay in bed. I went to bed on a mostly empty stomach, determined to feel better in the morning, even setting my alarm for 5:30 again.

On Tuesday I got up at 5:30, put on my workout clothes, and ate a cereal bar so I wouldn’t be working out on a totally empty stomach. Ten minutes later, as I voided my stomach of said cereal bar, I acknowledged in the self-punishing recesses of my brain that some day in the distant future I’ll be doing this every morning for, like, three months. The joys of womanhood.

Still in my workout clothes, I repeated the (crying, shaking, pitying) routine from Monday morning and went back to bed. At 8am, I learned one of the best lessons thus far since living on my own: if you can’t live with your mom, live with a nurse. When Jessica got home from the night shift, she responded to my SOS text message by coming in to check on me, then going to the store to buy me lots of chicken noodle soup and Sprite. Incidentally, the only comfort Lil Smoky offered was contingent on my possession of said soup. When I ate it she wasn’t interested in me any more.

As far as sick days go, this one was a pretty good one. I was too sick to get out of bed, but not sick enough to be consigned to the bathroom floor. I spent the morning watching episode after episode of Downton Abbey (which is why-didn’t-anyone-make-me-watch-this-sooner good), and then I slept the afternoon away. I completed my self-prescribed regimen of crackers, Sprite, and British accents by watching Pride & Prejudice and then going to sleep again. I was back at work on Wednesday, still a bit foggy but not pukey, and after a restful weekend (in which I may watch every episode of Downton Abbey again) I’m sure I’ll be completely back to normal.

But that’s not to say that I still don’t miss my mommy when my tumbly is rumbly.