Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

She's Weary from All This Effort Too

Do you know how exhausting it is to listen to me read essays and stories aloud, over and over again?
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

It Is An Important Day in Application History

I have completed all of my applications, I have submitted all of my writing samples, I have ordered all of my transcripts. My final letter writer is getting his recommendations out next week.

I am done done done. Now I start the financial aid begging and the long, scary wait.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What Does it Mean When the Time Capsule Looks a Lot Like Your Current Life?

So as you all know, since I talk about it ad nauseum, I'm applying for MFA programs. The list is rather short and centered around geographical and cost considerations. That is, I am happy to endure some geographical contortions if the school in question is not only a top-ten school, but if they also offer waiver of tuition and a living stipend. I'm less inclined to dive into debt for fifty grand a year at a program that may do nothing more for me than give me a community to write among for a couple of years. Having an MFA shows that you're serious about your writing and helps you polish your craft. A top program can also provide networking possibilities and the opportunity to learn from the best writers. It can also open doors for teaching, if that's a course you'd like to take. (And it's something I'm interested in, from the viewpoint that I feel strongly about what I've learned this far about approaching writing as a craft and also from the viewpoint that writers have to earn a living if they're not publishing best-sellers. Focusing on helping others improve their craft allows me to immerse in creativity as a vocation, which is much more conducive to what I want to accomplish than copyediting.)

In short, it's a tension between getting into the best school I can and balancing realistic considerations like age, debt worries, partner aspirations and career goals, and what I'm likely to get from the whole endeavor. It's a lot to consider, and I worry a lot that I'm selling myself short, or dreaming too big, or wasting time on the schoolin' when I should be writin'.

In a lot of ways, I wish I had thought to follow this course when I first graduated. I would have been on a more traditional track, with fewer detours. I think about the time when I was flopping around for a direction, terrified to just find a job. I sent our resumes, I researched graduate programs. I liked the cocoon where I was, so I determined to apply for library school at my alma mater. I knew people in the program, I liked books, I worked in a library, it seemed sensible. I took the GRE, I collected my paperwork, I filled everything out. Then I lost the application right before the deadline. I never found it. I took that to be the ultimate sign of ambivalence and gave up on library school.

So in my current endeavor, I am similarly busily filling out online applications. However, I found myself flummoxed trying to remember my GPA and credits earned as an undergrad. I have my transcript requests at the ready, with a request for my own unofficial copy. Alas, this solution doesn't do you much good when you're trying to save you hard data-entry work on screen seven and fill in the crucial information later.

While I cursed and fruitlessly beat my desk, it occurred to me that I have a filing cabinet in my attic, which I've been lugging around with me every since I graduated college. It represents my earliest attempts to put my life on some sort of track--each goal and aspect is represented by tidily labeled hanging folders. Thus I could label, categorize, and slide things into their appropriate folder. Soothing order amid the chaos of a life that I had to, for the first time in my life, direct the course of.

So I climbed into my attic and unearthed it from amid the dust and shingle debris from my re-roofing. Here are some of the folder categories: "short-term job search" ("How do I not starve while I figure out what I want to do?"); "long-term job search" ("What do I want to do as, like, a career?"); "bills" (Attempt to assert financial control as a Real Life Adult); "writing," in which I had stuffed the one good piece I had written thus far and hoped to collect more; and "grad school." When I dug through the grad school folder, the only thing I found was a copy of my unofficial transcript from college. Brilliant! So very helpful in the current circumstances and exactly what I was looking for.

In this case, I take it as a good Freudian turn that I could remember enough to actually locate something I stored so many years ago. It's like my brain is onboard with the ultimate plan as opposed to sabotaging it. But I can't help but be a bit humbled and disturbed that my categories haven't changed all that much. I have a career that I'm not enamored of or growing in. I can open the want ads and apply to be an "X" with the following skill set. But I'm still trying to touch base on the same goals, still trying to figure out how to earn a living, figure out what I want to be when I grow up, and figure out how to write things I'm proud of. I just hope that some of this is converging.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We Begin the Final Countdown to Turkey Fest 2009

Hope your preparations, if you are doing any, are progressing well. We did the final pre-prep checklist last night, and I think we're good to go with ingredients and accessories. We reiterated menus, we ascertained cooking times and temperatures, we set up a schedule of food-preparation. So tonight is the first round of cooking and baking, plus the house prep. Then tomorrow, we launch Mr. Turkey on his voyage to, we hope, carnivorous splendor.

Fingers crossed that it all comes off well, but if anything does fail, we have at least twenty bottles of wine, some beer, some champagne, and port to carry us through. (Yes, my wine rack has actually been pressed into use and been allowed to accumulate.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

When I Am Rich and Famous, I Will Never Forget You Little People. Yes, You. You Made It All Possible.

So I'm furiously revising my stories for MFA applications, and they're coming along pretty well. I don't want to speak too precipitously, but I believe I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I've completed the actual application for one school, am gearing up for the other two (one started), and am following all that up with a flurry of transcript ordering and mailings to departments.

I was perusing through some old drafts of one of them on Saturday, looking for things I had cut in past versions, and I was surprised at just how much revision I had done on the piece in question. I think of myself as noodling around the edges and making superficial changes, but it's been a long evolution on this story. It's heartening, really. One of my references, a former teacher, showed me a draft of his letter of recommendation, and he noted that I grasped the importance of revision. It reinforces a view of myself as hardworking, looking to improve, and taking in constructive criticism. I like that view a lot.

The part about this whole endeavor that really runs contrary to my makeup, though, is the schizophrenic melding of the solitary artist with the self-promotion machine. You can write the most beautiful pieces in the world, but unless you send them out in the world and work toward getting published, you might as well leave them in a dusty drawer.

So, it behooves writers to network, promote, send things out, withstand rejection. I had a couple of offputting classmates in previous classes who pelted everyone with their myspace pages and facebook fan sites, all promoting their work. It's uncomfortable to get blatantly networked for someone else's career aspirations. I'm supportive of other people's work and am happy to spread the word if I think it's worthwhile, but at the same time, there's a line between cultivating relationships that enhance your ability to spread news about your writing and treating people like their sole purpose is to help you.

Which brings me to friend X, whom I met about fifteen years ago. We both loved books, talked about writing, and followed a similar trajectory from our unsatisfying technical jobs to editing and academia. After I moved away, she kept me posted for a while on stories she was getting published (which I would diligently and mostly unsuccessfully try to look up), but we lost touch a couple of years ago, at the time her first novel came out. At her exhortation, I bought the novel, told all my friends, mindful that sales figures would determine the fate of the book itself and her eventual career. After that, I sent her emails, to which I never got replies. I figured she had changed email addresses. From other sources, I learned that her press was good, and she's launched what appears to be a great career, for which I'm very happy. I know she worked really hard for it and is very talented.

Recently, she friended me on facebook, which was awesome--I was excited to see how she was and tell her what was new in my life, on the cusp, as I am, of new frontiers. I sent her a quick email commenting on her kids (one more than last I spoke to her), effusing over her successful and good work. And I heard nothing back. And what was initially a personal page when she friended me has morphed into a professional promotion page, pictures and personal details gone.

So I kind of feel like I've been used to up the facebook promotion footprint, and that she really doesn't give a shit what's going on in my life anymore. Which is, to say the least, depressing.

Ergo, I vow to not be one of those power-hungry, fame-hungry people who will only trade personal banalities with you if you promise to sell ten copies of my Great American Novel. (The one that I'm writing right this very second. Um. Yeah.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

And Today I Am Somewhat Charged and Creatively Energized

I got some boosting feedback from one of my old writing teachers, who is writing a letter of recommendation for me. Not that it's helpful to have only praise singing (he did offer concrete fixes to the stories I sent him), but damn, it helps buck you up for the ego-slamming of applications and writing in general. Plus, seeing yourself as hard-working as reflected by others helps to affirm that, yes! I'm working, improving, and hopefully going to produce better and better things. It's also helpful that he harangues me to send things out, for that is the bane. I wish I could outsource that dreary research and administrative work to someone else.

But, as a result of the confidence infusion, I rode in the train this morning jotting notes to myself on the various pieces I'm working on.

It's tough to stay on track. That picture up there is my work desk and provides an uncanny depiction of my schizophrenic life at present: I'm celebrating! Happy! Great things! contrasted with "Oh, my god, don't make me push this thing again, it's just going to come back down and squash me."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cranky R Us

You know the feeling, when you want to gnaw carrot sticks, not because you're hungry, but because the sound and the crushing of your teeth on the tender carrot fiber is so satisfyingly forceful.

I swear that I've not spoken to a human being all day, apart from the guy at the DMV, who was not amused at my jokes about spending years of your life stuck with a bad driver's license photo. Possibly this was because as I was working my feeble attempts at mood-lightening, he was looking at my new photo, in which I look like a hypnotized soccer mom. Which is not to say that soccer moms are bad, it's just that when you've been carrying a ten-year-old photo around, it's a bit jarring to see yourself looking like you should be in a mini-van commercial.

Also, this day may never end. Notwithstanding that a paycheck is important these days especially, it's irritating sometimes to spend the bulk of your day-to-day running in useless little hamster-wheel circles.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I've figured out how to do everything on my spiffy new BlackBerry . . . except make a phone call on it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Holidays Are Fast Approaching

It's had to believe it's almost Halloween, isn't it? Doesn't it feel like summer was just starting a second ago? Then of course we'll have Thanksgiving festivities coming up soon. On that last, I'm kind of excited because I'm hosting my first official holiday in ten years. Yay! I'm pondering exciting mashed potato recipes and all the variables in cooking a turkey. I'm ill prepared to be in turkey-land on account of being a vegetarian, but I hear they have help lines and everything. Plus, B is a knowledgeable carnivore and thus will be helping to game things out. It shall all be fine and fun, if for no other reason than we'll make sure to have plenty of alcohol flowing all around.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I feel like I'm running at top speed through fog. There's so much to do that I can barely keep track of it.

In other news, I'm in happy technology land. Here are things that are way fun: slingboxes and Blackberries.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Contemplating Writing and Cupcakery

I declare it to be a universal good to be away from the daily routine of ineptitude to lounge, beach adjacent, watch hummingbirds flit from nearby palm trees, and think about your day's adventures. To write? To wander down to nearby shopping and cupcake bakery? To nap? To do all of the above? Why, yes!

Man, the only thing I miss is my cat. If she packed up tidier, you'd all get that "no forwarding address" sticker tout suite.

Saturday, however, we explore new grad school horizons. I'm very excited.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ah, Higher Learning

I have my first information session at an MFA program on Saturday. I like them already for speedily answering my battery of application information, though they need to do a better job of providing directions, like where recommendations should be mailed besides, "directly to the college."

I feel like a wee young lass of eighteen again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Referendum

Measuring your life choices against other roads not taken (and other people who chose those roads), mid-life style, amid the economic downturn.

Yes: the Referendum gets unattractively self-righteous and judgmental. Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others’ as selfish or pathological or wrong. So it’s easy to overlook that hidden beneath all this smug certainty is a poignant insecurity, and the naked 3 A.M. terror of regret.

The problem is, we only get one chance at this, with no do-overs. Life is, in effect, a non-repeatable experiment with no control. In his novel about marriage, “Light Years,” James Salter writes: “For whatever we do, even whatever we do not do prevents us from doing its opposite. Acts demolish their alternatives, that is the paradox.” Watching our peers’ lives is the closest we can come to a glimpse of the parallel universes in which we didn’t ruin that relationship years ago, or got that job we applied for, or got on that plane after all. It’s tempting to read other people’s lives as cautionary fables or repudiations of our own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I Will Never Be a Vegan

I made this really fantastic vegetable stew (Enchanted Broccoli Forest; I am a dedicated Moosewood adherent) that featured an interesting blend of Greek and Mexican flavor influences. A day later, my house was still fragrant with the delicious combination of cumin, cinnamon, and garlic. Yum.

Alas, within two hours of snarfing a good quantity of the delicious vegetable concoction, I am starving again. Like I will never be able to eat enough to fill the void.

It's like eating Chinese food.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It Is Friday, Allowing Us to Focus on Our Inner Selves

Random music, peeps, gets you through the day.

1. if she wants me, belle & sebastian
2. quiche lorraine, the b-52's (damn, I'm hungry)
3. when my baby's beside me, big star (see Sound Opinions!)
4. that's entertainment, the jam
5. bank holiday, blur
6. one chord wonders, the adverts
7. the happy birthday song, andrew bird
8. round the hairpin, the long blondes
9. loaded gun, the dead 60's
10. the new face of zero and one, the new pornographers

And random music random question: Who is this Dylan in the movies, of which Belle & Sebastian speak?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wherein We Learn to Keep Our Mouths Shut, Smile, and Just Let Things Happen

Pursuant to the usual craziness at work, I piped up about my stress--in a dispassionate, productive way--such that management might be inclined to consider my views, weigh my worth to the enterprise and my years of service, and do something to address the concrete problem raised. Alas, not so. I think there's a file on me and my many attitude problems.

I'm not quite sure how I got to this point as a problem child, but I guess this is the way things work in offices--it kind of snowballs when you're unhappy, and complainers are a downer. I've had such positive experiences in work environments and am so used to being hypercompetent and a people pleaser, though, that it's odd for me to contemplate anyone not thinking I'm a total asset.

It's a learning experience, to be sure. I would handle things differently, just in professional terms. I'm too emotionally invested in most things, and take conflict personally. I do tend to let things build, then flip out. When you're in flip-out mode over a pattern of behavior, you tend to make generalizations that can be picked apart.

And it's all about the big picture and the people--i.e., my big picture and people. Grad school, baby! God willing.

'Tis a shame, though, because I obviously stayed way too long. Personally, I like these people, but I've lost a lot of respect professionally.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Architecture Tours

They are a great deal of fun, particularly when they end in a drink. However, I recommend, when considering signing up for a two-and-a-half-hour-long walking tour, that you do not wear uncomfortable shoes or visit a museum--wherein you do a lot of walking--beforehand.

Possibly, the lingering effects of all this explain why, despite driving to work and doing no walking at lunch, I can barely contemplate getting off the couch.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Things I've Learned This Weekend

  1. That whereas I, as a young tot, wrote epic poems of broken bones and swingsets, others wrote odes to their mothers' roast beef.
  2. That there exists a school whose sports teams are known as the "Pretzels." The sports metaphors write themselves, and the marching-band configurations take on an added dimension of difficulty. If, for instance, their signature formations involved dimmed stadium lighting and colored hat lights, imagine the possibility of collision and injury! (Although this risk would possibly bring higher rewards at state competitions.)
  3. That floating along in a tank of saline solution can involve zen-like peace, but also salt in one's ears.
  4. That brunch is, by far, the best meal of the day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sometimes You Need a Bit of Clarity

Occasionally things transpire that are so silly and ridiculous, such that it becomes abundantly clear that you are not operating in the known universe. As such, all you can do is laugh and shake your head. Then you can do the following: (1) realize that emotional involvement is a bit like pining for the approval of a person who not only doesn't care about you but can barely remember your name, (2) be your fabulously professional self and let the chips fall where they may, and (3) when tempted to worry about the resume black eye, recall the book you approved that had the author's name misspelled on the spine, and (4) control the things in your purview, not related to anyone else, and come up with a plan.

Then, of course, there is remembering the things, and people, that are way more important.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

But . . But . . the Assistant? The Raise? The Title Change?

My long rise to power (hah hah hah!), and my year working toward assistant director status, has officially ended. No interim steps. Salaries are frozen. On the bright side, I am fully employed. I'm bungalow ensconced, keeping the cat in the premium food, etc. And I'm only here from 9 to 5, not counting the occasional special event. I have insurance. There's a free gym around here somewhere. Many people have it much much worse.

That said, this place is still Crazytown with a side of Dysfunction City.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Labor Day Labor

I'm trying to get my grad-school application ducks in a row (a finite universe, at the moment, which is good and bad; easier to manage, more stress about acceptance). I'm also cranking on the house tasks. In addition to yesterday's yard output, we have the above: painted front attic windows.

I was trying to come up with some clever plan to paint that trim above the dormers, such that it wouldn't require the crazy, terrifying, ladder-plus-ladder setup my friend J had to use to work this the first time, but I couldn't come up with anything. Nonetheless, it looks tons better.
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Knocking Out the To-Do List

Paint for the trim, a color from six years ago that they no longer make. But! If you keep your old cans, they can color match with the formula.

Back door, edging done to maintain B's excellent work.

This looks sad, but it used to be a nest of overgrown grass. Voila! Tidier!
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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Getting a Handle on Your To-Do List

The thing about looking at your house, and what needs to be done to it, through objective eyes is that there are a metric ton of things--small and large--that should be tended to, beginning with but not limited to: bulb replacement and repair of fixtures, finishing of cat-yak-stained floor, replace storm windows (the process for replacing piecemeal having come to a halt some time earlier), gutters to be cleaned (hire a company?), trim to be touched up (hire a company?), front-step cracks to be filled, cracking walkways to be repaired (??), languished weeding to be tended to at least to some cleanish baseline, something to be done with the gigantic overgrown shrub in the front yard, garage door to finish cleaning completely, basement to be Dri-Locked, bathroom drains to be fixed, bathroom woodwork to be finished, and so on and so forth.

People tell me how much work we have all done on this place, and I agree, but then I think how I've really dropped the ball since.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Day: Less Than Ideal

Not that this is new, or anything.

I should never have been lured by siren songs of assistant directorhood. Anyone want to hire me to telecommute? I swear, tanking quality of product here aside, I'm awesome at what I do.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Kingdom for a Furminator

I have wads of cat fur languidly drifting across all of my hardwood floors. We brush and we brush, and alas, petting her still yields clumps of the stuff.

Sounds like an exciting weekend, right? No doubt you're jealous. But I am working up to mowing my lawn and swiffering/vacuuming up this fur everywhere. I'm also noodling around on some writing that I'm pulling together for grad school applications. I want it all to be maximally eloquent, moving, etc. etc.

It's surprisingly difficult. I feel like all of my brain cells have been sucked dry, such that the only appealing thing for me to do is sit amid the cat hair and generalized clutter, eat ice cream, and watch past seasons of Mad Men on itunes. I imagine that this is how Jane Austen played it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Laura's House of Bird Drama

If they're not in my basement, they're wee young babies cast out of their fallen nests, hunkered by my back door. What do you do with that? I fear it won't end well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Because You Need More Evidence That Our Healthcare System Sucks

I watched Frontline last night: their special, "Sick Around America." I continue to be baffled by opposition to healthcare reform, particularly when you look at it from an efficiency standpoint. Even if you have no moral qualms about the suffering of some unfortunate soul who didn't have the proper virtue and forsight not to be uninsured, can you really argue that it makes sense to spend so goddamned much once people get so sick that they require immediate medical care?

I mean, they profiled a woman who suffered from lupus and who spent years bouncing around trying to get coverage. Consequently, she received no regular treatment to allow her to keep her disease in check. Ultimately, she wound up receiving better than half a dozen surgeries before she finally died. The cost for this futile treatment was close to a million dollars. How stupid is that?

Friday, August 7, 2009

More Graffiti

This is really starting to piss me off. Is the deal now that every time they wash off our garages, kids come and make sure they're marked again?

Pre-Vacation Celebratory Random Song List

1. two characters in search of a country song, the magnetic fields
2. somebody made for me, emmit rhodes
3. quicksand (demo version - 1971), david bowie
4. running the world, jarvis cocker
5. that teenage feeling, neko case
6. hate & war, the clash
7. getting ready, patty griffin
8. this fire, franz ferdinand
9. knock 'em out, lily allen
10. this wheel's on fire, the band

And once I manage to migrate my music off the old pc and onto the mac, I should be grooving even more.

Happily, it appears to be a quiet day here, so the key is to power through to get to the good stuff. Hope you all have a good weekend in store.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Reasons I'm Anxious to Go on Vacation

1. More graffiti on the ole garage, twice in about a week, in fact. Happily, the online complaint filing for the city is super-speedy, and in both cases, it was cleaned within a day.

2. Do you know what difficulty arises from attempting a multi-prong medication administration on a finicky cat? Said cat starts developing an interest in shopping around for more interesting offerings, that's what happens. Tuna? Again? Bah. How about those smelly treats? Or those scrambled eggs you're making. Milk? Liked it for a few days, but today . . . more in the mood for crunchy salmon. Longing for the days of tossing out a goddamned bowl of food and calling it a day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Job These Days Is Beginning to Feel a Bit Like This

With me being the one with the flailing arms.

The drama will pass, but damn, am I tired of people at the moment.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Finally, Tomatoes and Basil and Green Beans, Oh My

It's amazing how much better tomatoes taste from your own garden.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Why Perhaps It's Best Not to Send the Vegetarian Out to Find Your Meat-Related Products

I spent about an hour hunting through the grocery store for pizza sausage and pepperoni, then having located the relevant products, cross comparing and mulling over the options (mild? spicy? Italian? Italian-style?). Has there always been this many meat products, or has sausage gone the way of toothpaste and proliferated into a dizzying assortment from the days of yore?

Related to the above: We're going on vacation! For a solid week, la famille de Laura will be ensconced in a lake-adjacent vacation house. Certain parties will be getting a crash course on la famille de Laura, but as we are all fabulous and fun people, I expect the crash course more to resemble a beer-drinking class than high-school calculus.

T-minus six days and counting.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summer, When It's Civilized

It's eighty degrees out and not at all humid. The sun is out, and the breeze off the lake is merely comfortable. As it's the middle of July, these sorts of things need to be savored. So I spent my lunch hour reading a book in the park. Frankly, this is the way things are supposed to be.

Remind me of all this when it's negative ten, and I'm hanging from my garage door, trying to use my body weight to get it to close.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Gardening Bounty

I am in possession of:

a. A large number of radishes
b. green beans

It would be lovely if my tomatoes would start in already, because the basil looks delicious.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Signs That Perhaps the Control Issues You Have in Your Job May Be More about You Than You Thought

I'm sitting here trying to jot down a quick note to my petsitter--the one who was previously flummoxed by the battery insertion in my autofeeder--to include with her check for last weekend's services rendered. In doing so, I'm trying to, diplomatically, explain why I prefer she not load up my cat's dish with tuna and leave it for 24 hours.

Or, I should say, I'm not exactly explaining why I "prefer," at this point, because she has noted in response to my directions, "I know I give her more than you prefer..." What does it say about me that I'm arguing with someone that I'm paying to perform a specific service per my directions? And that I'm not just arguing but losing?

Ah, Travel, Travel, Travel

Does anyone know any particularly cool things to do in Minneapolis besides toss one's hat in the air and spin around? And don't say Mall of America.

Also, if you're hankering to go someplace, Southwest is having a really good sale on all of their routes. The sale ends today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Politics and Food

As most of you know from my navel gazing if not my in-person speechifying, I'm obsessed with food, nutrition, and how industrialization of our food production has made us sicker, fatter, and less aware of what we're putting into our bodies.

I haven't seen Food, Inc. yet, but I hear that it's very much worth seeing. And here's a new regular column on food and politics.

On that note, I'm partaking of the first radishes from my garden with my lunch today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Was Going to Hold on to That There Bottle of Wine

I have a theory that people are inherently lazy, and they will refrain from having to do tedious shit, even if you're paying them to do it and they could get more money by spending more time doing the tedious shit.

For instance, I spent a good chunk of change out of my ancillary funds to pull in a professional to help me clean up some really ugly manuscripts. This seemed to work out swimmingly, and I passed along said manuscripts to Outsource U, which, as we may all remember, is the solution to all of my publishing needs (because once your outsource it, you don't have to deal with it, amiright?)

Alas, I got the biggest, ugliest manuscript back from Outsource U, because, the rep says, the footnotes/numbers don't match up. I told the rep I'd do the painful line-by-line comparison, realizing that my paid professional had punted on renumbering everything (she figured the copyeditor would fix; not an illogical conclusion).

I am knee-deep in footnotes, approaching number 146 (yes, the footnote/text ratio is something like 60/40). And the problem, it turns out, is that my handy rep has deleted a random assortment of footnotes. So I'm spending my whole day fixing a "problem" which was really her self-created mistake.

I think we can say I'm the idiot here. Jesus.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How Does Nigel Stay One Louder Than Everybody Else?

Find out via this one-hour BBC radio broadcast with the lads from Spinal Tap.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Larouche-ies

They're out, in the middle of streets (near me, at least) with signs, such as the following:

No Money for Universal Health Care! More Money for Wall Street!

I flipped them off as I drove past. Idiots.

Friday, June 19, 2009

This Is About the Size of Things Here Today

The whoosh of rain coming down the freight elevator is followed by the hum of shop vacs wielded by frantic maintenance types.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I'm Pretty Sure This Makes Me Old

I have just bought shoes because they are comfortable. And because they were half price.

It's a relevant question, though, whether these make me a sad, sad lady trying to get hip like the kiddies or whether they just make me old-lady practical.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Praise Be! An Even-Handed Sotomayor Piece on NPR

Have you too had your teeth set on edge by listening to the hand wringing over Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comments and the furor over the plight of the New Haven white firefighter? I wish I had a dollar for every story that just laid out the complaints, then had some whining by the people making the charges. Really, how useful is it to hear Juan Williams pontificate on how "some people" are making allegations that she can't be impartial?

Thus, imagine my surprise to hear Nina Totenberg actually address the question on whether Sotomayer is a "bully" or "mean," using actual interviews with judges who have worked with her, audiotapes, and numerical assessments of how often she "interrupts," compared with other judges (answer: she doesn't, any more than anyone else, although the aired version is slightly different than the print version of this piece, so you don't get the actual numbers on that here).

I'm sure this will be shocking to hear, but the fact that she is a woman may just affect how people perceive her behavior:

Judge Guido Calabresi, former Yale Law School dean and Sotomayor's mentor, now says that when Sotomayor first joined the Court of Appeals, he began hearing rumors that she was overly aggressive, and he started keeping track, comparing the substance and tone of her questions with those of his male colleagues and his own questions.

"And I must say I found no difference at all. So I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn't stand being questioned toughly by a woman," Calabresi says. "It was sexism in its most obvious form."

And what if such criticism came from a woman lawyer? Well, says Calabresi, women can be just as sexist as men in their expectations of how a woman judge should act.

Research has shown that women and men are peceived differently in authority roles. Among people with preferences, both men and women prefer male bosses, for example. And women bosses carry all sorts of expectations of how women "should" act, so when they act authoritative, i.e., like men, they are peceived as less nice.

Predicament 3: Competent but Disliked – Women Leaders Are Perceived as Competent or Liked, but Rarely Both. Respondents’ comments revealed that when women behave in ways that are traditionally valued for men leaders (e.g., assertively), they are viewed as more competent, but also not as effective interpersonally as women who adopt a more stereotypically feminine style.

Depressing, but it's nice to hear NPR do a bit more than skim the surface.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Equals Happy Hour

God, I need a drink.

I Believe This Is Unprecedented in Today's U.S. Healthcare Environment

I got a check in the mail from my doctor's office, along with a statement that I had been overcharged. Further, this was after my insurance paid for the full visit. They refunded me my co-pay.

Huh. I'm almost afraid to cash it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

“My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

This article in the New Yorker, which discusses a book about the impact of creative-writing programs on American fiction, is timely food for thought for me as I consider writing programs and the next stage of the process. Yes! I'm looking into MFA programs! A waste of time and money when I should just be writing? Maybe.

When I worked for a creative-writing program, making coffee, fetching snacks, and listening to MFA students enviously snipe about best-selling visiting writers who they saw as undeserving hacks--the whole enterprise seemed to me to exist to create teachers who could support their writing by training the next generation of teachers who could support their writing, and so on, ad infinitum. And my experience an undergraduate taking a class from one of these jaded MFA students didn't change that perception: we students read each other's work--giving either ostentatious and overbearing suggestions or vague and meaningless praise--and got vague scribbled feedback from our teacher. As I think I've mentioned, it was enough to send me screaming into more concrete endeavors, like accounting.

But my recent experiences with fiction-writing classes have made me much more open to the prospect of how writing can be "taught." One of the things that I had to power through was this idea that writing was something that just happened: you're either a superstar, or you're someone who's wasting time that could better be spent learning something concrete and productive, like, um, accounting. If you're not dazzling them on your first efforts, you might as well give it up. But the thing is, writing is about practice and trial and error, just like any other creative endeavor. Part of what you learn in a class is to treat writing like a process. Not everything that is given life by your keyboard is going to set the world on fire, but if you pick up some tips from people and books you love and plug away at it, your writing's going to improve. Having a class structure gives you permission to start somewhere and end somewhere better. So when I see something like this
Most readers of “The Program Era” are likely to be persuaded that the creative-writing-program experience has had an effect on many American fiction writers. Does this mean that creative writing can, in fact, be taught? What is usually said is that you can’t teach inspiration, but you can teach craft. What counted as craft for James, though, was very different from what counted as craft for Hemingway. What counts as craft for Ann Beattie (who teaches at the University of Virginia) must be different from what counts as craft for Jonathan Safran Foer (who teaches at N.Y.U.). There is no “craft of fiction” as such.

I'm sympathetic, but at the same time, I think that teaching writing isn't that different from teaching any art. Talent is talent, but "craft"--where you take it and synthesize it from--is most definitely learned. Whether it can be imparted by a teacher, as opposed to learned by reading is probably arguable. I can't say that I've picked up specific mechanics from my teachers directly through the example of their work, but I absolutely learned from them to be aware of aspects I can learn from. Perhaps this was a feature of being in a program that emphasizes "finding your own voice" over doing it the [Fill in your pet methodology] way. And the things that we learn from other students, who have different influences, can't be discounted. Mr. Experimental Fiction in my last class, for example, may not have been offering me a whole lot of useful advice on setting up my scenes or introducing my characters, but damn, did I pick up a lot from his way of describing how his characters felt.

But I thought this was awesome. It makes me want to work on an affect, you know?
Writing teachers may therefore cultivate their own legends. Once, on the first day of class, Angela Carter, who taught at Brown, was asked by a student what her own writing was like. She carefully answered as follows: “My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.”

While I'm at Work, the Cat's Looking into This Ark Business

And it continues to rain. At this rate, my roofers may get to fixing things by about September.

Monday, June 8, 2009

As the Employees of My Roofing Contractor Take Turns Driving by to Puzzle over This

We can start up a pool to ascertain exactly what the heck this is about. It goes all the way around the roof, with random shingles snapped off.

My dad says wind, but I'm postulating a raccoon hit ordered by the starlings who've suffered in my basement. Or could it be human meddling wrought by neighborhood toughs who travel with collapsible ladders?

It's hard not to take it personally. This is what I get for going on vacation.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Laura and the Spinach Versus Abelard V-VI: Gardening Notes*

I'm pleased to announce that all of my bunny-proof fence is officially installed, not a moment too soon, it seems, as I've discovered some nibble marks on my basil plants. It looks all pretty and official, like I mean to be gardening with energy. I only wish this determination carried over to all of my planting beds currently overrun with weeds.

I did notice one odd thing while outside puttering, though. Because I'm an essentially lazy person, I still have the planters I used on my stoop last year by my garage. I never cleaned them out, dumped the dirt, or trashed the dead petunias, therefore they are sprouting their own spring assortment of weeds. But, incredibly enough, among the weeds in there are petunia plants, looking like they're about to bloom. Given that our winter featured sub-sub zero weather, repeatedly, what are the odds of that? Did they make wave petunias perennials when I wasn't looking?

*All of my bunnies are named Abelard, even the girl bunnies. This is because my garden statue is named Eloise. I'm a literary person.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden Goodness

Another year, another garden. Admire our handiwork! More tomatoes are forthcoming, and of course I have the basil going. Yum.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Man, It's a Bummer When Vacation Ends

You know what sucks? Sitting back at your desk and re-tensing back up after you've spent a week un-tensing and having fun. But, we all suffer though the best we can, no? My plan is the slow immersion: Amid a lot of tea and chocolate, I will choose one task to power through in totality. Juggling to be added later.

To brighten the day, some funny from our friend E.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I Haven't Read This Yet, But What's Been Teased Looks More Appalling Than Seems Possible

A new (long) GQ article on Donald Rumsfeld's tenure as defense secretary.

on the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Whatever You Do, Don't Throw Away Her Juice Box

I'm really glad that this hasn't happened yet with our office fridge, though I think that it's arguably only a matter of time.

(CNN) -- We've all been there: reached for our food in the office refrigerator, only to recoil from the stench from the crammed containers of decomposing food.

When a worker at an AT&T building in San Jose, California, took it upon herself to clean out an office refrigerator during her lunch hour Tuesday, the smell from the moldy food was so noxious that it sent seven of her co-workers to the hospital and prompted the evacuation of all 325 people in the building.

"It was like a brick wall hit you," employee Robin Leetieh told CNN affiliate KGO-TV. "Stopped you immediately."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ah, Yes, We Commenced with the Weeping

In our class, my friend C bravely trudged forth with writing about her mother's death. Yay! She had a really nice meditation on faith, family, loss, and she told me before she started reading that she migh have to hand it off to me if she got choked up.

It got too intense for her, so she handed it over to me, at which point I made it through a while before I started to lose it and had to hand it to the woman next to me. I think they thought it was really a testament to the work that I was crying, but really, it's hard to see your friend remembering what she went through at the time and reliving it. It was really solid work on her part, though. By the end of it, a lot of people were misty eyed.

Then, of course, we dove into reading my piece, which I have read aloud a zillion times, tweaking this and that. The last part of it was completely matter-of-fact to me, nothing too raw about it. Naturally, I started crying again.

The kiddos were all looking at me, like, "whoaaaa. Some deep shit and connection to the material right there." Then we all congratulated each other on our digging into the depths of our souls.

Last Class!

It will seem so strange to not have to pack a dinner of a Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Have I Mentioned I Love Sushi?

My new favorite lunch place. Spicy tuna, spicy shrimp, unagi, plus fruit smoothies. Color me happy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Next Project

Do you, like me, have stacks and stacks, and hangers and hangers, of vintage clothing bought in the days before they sorted all this stuff out of the Salvation Army, when you could get armloads of pieces from the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies for less than five bucks a pop? Stuff with stains and stuff that's the wrong size? Things that are made of exquisite fabric but are more suited to Betty Draper-hosted dinner parties than the office?

Then, behold this book. And start contemplating how you can rip it all apart and reuse it.

The Final Push

Wednesday is my last writing class! In preparation for same, I'm doing the final round of revisions on my piece. It's in pretty good shape, but there are a couple of puzzles I'm still trying to figure out.

On class ending, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I've got senioritis, summeritis, and various other -itises, and I cannot wait to plan long weekends without factoring homework into the equation.

On the other hand, I have loved working on the material I'm doing in here. While everyone else has been complaining nonstop about how boring it all is, worrying whether other people will care what they have to say, I've been really connecting with mine. I'm pleased with what it's turned into. Not to say it hasn't been difficult and very personal.

Thanks, you guys. I appreciate the reminiscences and, B, I greatly appreciate your feedback as an independent set of eyes removed from all the characters and events. The plan from here is to get it down to a manageable length and into a publishable form for shopping around. Woo!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Know of Some Farmers in a Certain Idyllic Town Who Aren't Going to Be Happy if This Happens

Obama administration is considering reducing the corn ethanol subsidies:

The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed renewable-fuel standards that could reduce the $3 billion a year in federal tax breaks given to producers of corn-based ethanol. The move sets the stage for a major battle between Midwest grain producers and environmentalists who say the gasoline additive actually worsens global warming.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ah, It's Spring and the Curmudgeon's Back in the House

Upon arrival home, I found the following:

  • signs from my weed-control people, advising all to stay off my lawn because of treatment
  • small children, throwing dirt from under my shrubs onto my walkway
  • small children, digging in the dirt where the tree stump used to be
  • small children, running into my side yard.

I have on two separate occasions so far gone out and asked that they not do that, as, you know, not their yard, plus chemicals. Alas, they keep coming back, and adults on porch next door seem not to care. Sigh. Do I ask too much that folk keep offa my lawn, I ask?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

As You Hunker in with Your Hand Sanitizer

Here's some good news about the swine flu:

As the World Health Organization raised its infectious disease alert level Wednesday and health officials confirmed the first death linked to swine flu inside U.S. borders, scientists studying the virus are coming to the consensus that this hybrid strain of influenza -- at least in its current form -- isn't shaping up to be as fatal as the strains that caused some previous pandemics.

In fact, the current outbreak of the H1N1 virus, which emerged in San Diego and southern Mexico late last month, may not even do as much damage as the run-of-the-mill flu outbreaks that occur each winter without much fanfare.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wow, That Time Flew

After tonight, only two more classes to go. And the last one is basically us reading our final pieces to each other and patting ourselves on the backs for our inspired prose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sixty Democrats in the Senate!

Contingent on Al Franken getting through the morass of legal challenges on his race, of course. Go, Arlen Specter!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Something That Would Be Weird and Amusing

I've been researching all the aspects of this MFA program in anticipation of a meeting I've requested with the head of the department. Just for kicks and an arbitrary measure of comparison, I looked up the program I used to work for as an undergrad work-study kid back in the day. (Which offers full tuition and living stipends and is a 2-year program. By comparison, I would have to pay half of a 6-credit load per semester, a schedule that would take me 5 years to complete.)

Then I had a fun picture in my head of how entertaining it would be to go to the program director there and say, Yo, man! Remember me? I used to fetch your snack foods and tea? You had a punny cat's pajamas mug? Who's the poor sod washing that these days?

"Our Beale Street Is Somewhere Under I-75"

This was an interesting story on NPR this morning, about Detroit not being able to develop a tourist industry around its rich music history.

Apart from the economic implications of all this on the city, it's a real loss of recognition of an important aspect of American music.

I Blame It on the Culture, and Old Dudes

Have you been following this Supreme Court case on strip searches in schools?

Adam Wolf, the ACLU lawyer who represents Redding, explains that "the Fourth Amendment does not countenance the rummaging on or around a 13-year-old girl's naked body." Wolf explains that he is arguing for a "two-step framework," wherein schools can use a lower standard to search "backpacks, pencil cases, bookbags" but a higher standard when you "require a 13-year-old girl to take off her pants, her shirt, move around her bra so she reveals her breasts, and the same thing with her underpants to reveal her pelvic area." This leads Justice Stephen Breyer to query whether this is all that different from asking Redding to "change into a swimming suit or your gym clothes," because, "why is this a major thing to say strip down to your underclothes, which children do when they change for gym?"

This leads Ginsburg to sputter—in what I have come to think of as her Lilly Ledbetter voice—"what was done in the case … it wasn't just that they were stripped to their underwear! They were asked to shake their bra out, to stretch the top of their pants and shake that out!" Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.

Ah, yes. That was my experience at 13 in the gym locker room. We lounged on benches, we giggled and tickled each other. We posed for the peep hole from the boys locker room.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Know What's More Fun Than Work?

Thinking about vintage-style swimwear for summer vacation.

This just calls for gigantic screen-siren sunglasses and red lipstick.

Happy Earth Day!

Here, at least, the weather is warming up enough that (1) I'm contemplating that I need to mow, (2) the weeds are starting to flourish, as they are wont, and (3) the bunnies are at the back door. On that last, seriously. They were there when I came home, just casually watching me walk in the back door. I told them, "have I got a fence for you!" (And I do--just got it the other weekend. Those buggers are not getting my spinach this year.)

And there's a new political culture in Washington. First, Michelle Obama created a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. And now, the Department of Agriculture is creating the People's Garden. Power to the people! I mean, Jesus, that's like socialism, like Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." I see now why sinister rumors of Obama's extremist tendencies held such sway.

Somewhat relatedly and more locally, I'm just finding out that this exists: a vegetable garden in Grant Park.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wow, This Reminds Me That I Have Music I Haven't Even Put on the iPod Yet

A random sampling of the shuffle mix of a Friday.

1. deceptacon [bbc evening session], le tigre
2. sister midnight, iggy pop
3. more adventurous, rilo kiley
4. both have to pay, the mystery meat
5. falling through your clothes, new pornographers
6. woman's world, squeeze
7. dimmest star, pernice brothers
8. it wasn't me, jenny lewis with the watson twins
9. top of the pops, the rezillos
10. dub latina, calexico

Hope everybody has a good weekend in the mix. Mine will be about revising my monstrous final essay for class (which is coming along very well, I think), some yard work, and some house cleaning/fridge clearing. The scary leftovers and takeout containers are starting to take on a life of their own. And it occurs to me that I haven't been in my basement in a while to survey the bird situation, so I have that to look forward to as well. Yay.

This is why I live near a big city, you know. For the excitement.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Damn You, Seductive Dungarees

I believe that this constitutes codgery-ness:

Akst's summa contra denim is grand as far as it goes, but it only scratches the surface of this blight on Americans' surfaces. Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly.

And I think this says it all:

This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.

Yes, it's a great tragedy that it's no longer 1955. Every day, I wake up lamenting that gloves, heels, and girdles are no longer the thing. But I do love fashion musings from a man who wears a bow tie without irony.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Friends with Quirks That Irritate You? Or Things That You Fear in Yourself?

I have this friend who I adore but who sometimes exasperates me. For the years that I've known her, she has been a planner of things, a meaning-to-do kind of person. She's got various creative projects she can't manage to muster up steam to finish--or in some cases, even start. She has trips she's been just about to plan, she's got vague plans of getting married someday and definitely having kids. Usually, though, she's caught up in the details of day-to-day life, there's always a crisis to endure, a problem to be sorted out, better weather in the future.

As someone who has been yammering about writing for over ten years, I really empathize. I've lingered in miserable jobs longer than I should, and, as most of you know, I've always been that person to duck the whole concept of dating in favor of tucking in at home with a good book. I'm not one to cast stones.

And this is perhaps why lately I want to weep with frustration at her vague plans. Does she know how sad it is to live your life waiting for a better time to do something, at some unspecified time in the future? Does she know that if her past is the pattern, she will never do any of these things? In yet another decade, she'll be in the exact same place, only now options will be closed off to her. We none of us are getting younger, and age 38 is not exactly a point where you can wave off the whole kid concept to some theoretical future.

I believe that things happen in your life when they're supposed to and that maturity and wisdom make you a different person. Could I have written what I'm writing now ten years ago? Maybe not, but maybe. Perhaps if I'd actually started the hard work of writing instead of talking about it, I'd be closer to where my friend, the published novelist, is. She, with whom I used to talk, over lunchtime taco salads, about shared dreams of writing. But, of course, she actually did it, and as a result, she's spent years I haven't spent doing what she loves.

Maybe this inaction just all feels contagious to me. I spend so much of my day-too-day life surrounded by people who mean to do all sorts of lovely things--who talk about it and pursue earnest research--but who never do.

Personally, I don't feel like I've got the time to waste anymore.

It's So Precious You Could Die, Isn't It?

Imagine this, blue, with a bear in a sailor suit instead of little miss up there with ribbons. And you have my solution to hauling home fifty environmentally unfriendly and undrunk water bottles from my various classes, lunches, and road trips.

Yes, it's for kids. But I'm a petite person.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ah, I Love the Hideout. And Neko Case. Plus More Fridge Drama to Make a Person Weep Gently in Despair

Chicago's music scene: impacting national policy.

Spotted: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introducing flame-haired indie goddess Neko Case at the 9:30 Club last night. But ... why? Is the Cabinet member a devoted Neko fan, or is she a big supporter of education reform? (A friend who was at the concert said she put in a good word for Obama's education plans.)

As it turns out, the backstory proves, yet again, just how tied the administration is to the Chicago scene. Last week, the Department of Education hired Tim Tuten, co-owner of The Hideout, a hip Chicago club, as assistant secretary for communications and outreach. (He's also been a schoolteacher in the Windy City.) Tuten is friends with Neko, a fixture in recent years at The Hideout, and he set up Duncan's introduction. "That's all Tim making something like that happen, connecting those two things [education and music]," Duncan told The Chicago Tribune through a spokesman on April 1. "No one thinks like him. We need more of that here." And Tuten's not the only music promoter on board at the DOE: He was brought on by Peter Cunningham, "a Chicago musician and media specialist," according to the Tribune.

Completely unrelatedly, I watch with amusement the never-ending drama of the Office Fridge Police. Does every office have their own? I don't doubt it. Ours are people compelled, driven to ensure that the fridge capacity, content freshness, and temperature are monitored at all times. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that if these people performed mail merges with the same amount of diligence, we could quadruple the amount of mail processed onsite.

Anyway, periodically, one of these vigilant souls wanders around, interrogating people, trying to figure out whose spoiled Chinese that is or whose carrots are sprouting. For some reason, it's important to know the identity of the culprit and to burn a lot of time figuring this out before tossing the offending item. Or possibly the goal is to summon the owner of said spoiled food to personally pitch it into the trash--a sort of disciplinary gesture. Or, more likely, it's fear of germ-i-ness. Which, frankly, really makes me conjure up the various ripple effects of OCD on a system.

Long have I argued in favor of the more efficient "Fridge is cleaned on X day. Take or mark what you want to keep, the rest goes into the trash" approach. But, alas, I just went into the kitchen to see someone had posted our new policy, in which, due to lots of food in the fridge, we are all requested to each please go in and toss our stuff every Friday.

Yeah, that'll work.

Ever on the Look Out for Happy Chickens and Cows

You realize that all of those marketing claims--"free range," "no growth hormones," etc. etc.--are pretty meaningless, right? And factory farms are trying to muddy the waters even further by coopting and inventing friendly sounding phrases that make you think you're buying cruelty free products.

Check out this website on a nonprofit program certifying humane animal treatment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


PMS plus oversized bags of processed salty snacks plus Easter candy equals . . . nothing pretty. This is why they invented islands and isolation tanks and furniture to crawl under.

I would wail against a woman's fate, but I saw this just yesterday:
Lay this latest I.Q. news atop the pile, and you find yourself reaching the same conclusion as Dr. Dolores Malaspina, a professor of psychiatry at New York University Medical Center, who has done some of the schizophrenia research: “It turns out the optimal age for being a mother is the same as the optimal age for being a father.”

Women aren't the only ones with biological clocks!

In a just society, of course, this would mean that we'd all get pelted with lectures ("What do you mean, 'maybe'? Don't you know you're not getting any younger?") and warnings against impending doom: spongy eggs, geriatric sperm, and the like.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I just had my mid-semester meeting with my writing teacher. She told me that my stuff was "kicking serious ass." She also asked if I had thought about an MFA program or had talked to the department head about a course of study.

I'm way way excited.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Laura's Basement Aviary Continues to Be the Hot Spot for Starlings in the Know

I believe that I once promised to faithfully update on any bird-related drama chez Laura. New to the ongoing tale of Laura and the birds? Merely gone numbly blank after my latest retelling? Let me start at the beginning.

One morning about a year ago, I was going about my business, puttering, tidying up, making coffee, when I heard a skritching and scratching coming from my bathroom plumbing access panel. Naturally, I thought: cat! Until I discovered that the cat was likewise trying to find the source of the noise. So I decided to go Nancy Drew and suss out the source, in the floor/basement ceiling. Tromping down into the basement, flashlight in hand, I looked at the appropriate spot in the ceiling. I could still hear the skritching and while I craned around to get a better look, a beak, then a head popped out of a small hole in the ceiling plaster near some pipes. I screamed, ran, dug out my phone, and proceeded to call every. single. person. programmed in it. What do you do??! Call animal control? Get a sledge hammer and start cracking through plaster? Finally, my local friends K and M both agreed to come over and help me figure it out.

K arrived first, power tools in hand. She drilled a hole to make a bird-sized exit space near the pipe. Then, we took brooms, swatted the ceiling, flushed the bird out of the ceiling, then out of the basement and through the back door. M arrived in time to do a judicious search into the source of bird entry. He proclaimed himself mystified.

A dead bird or two in my basement later, and my father did some expert sealing up of my soffits. Nests? From which a bird might find himself dropping, Alice-in-Wonderland-like, into some strange realm? Seemed logical, and we figured problem solved.

However, after we did all of this, I scampered to do laundry and found yet another dead bird on the floor. Then, yesterday, I woke up to some wall noises. Again. Figuring sooner or later said bird would drop into the basement, I was unsurprised to find one flying around as I went down to find a piece of furniture. Calmly fetching a broom, I shooed it outside. Problem solved!

Except I went down later and was completely unnerved to find another goddamned bird in there. Same one back for another joyride? A different one who heard the vacation rumors? Shuddering and cursing (it's the element of surprise I can't stand), I set after him with my broom.

It's starting to feel like a Hitchcock movie in here, so if you have any theories, I'm all ears. On the other hand, if I fail to answer phones or show up for work, look for my pecked body in the basement.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wow, This Makes Me Feel So Old. But It Explains So Much

Did you know that some people hate voicemail and subsequently never even check messages? Huh. Not that I adore wading into the phone tree myself, but I come from the old "hey, how rude not to respond to someone who's tried to contact you" school. I can't imagine just blithely ignoring people.

I am so old. And I don't even have caller ID at home. I have an answering machine.

You Wanted to Know about My Diabetes Risks, Right?

If you're curious (and why wouldn't you be!), I got to the bottom of my mysteriously high diabetes risk assessments: It originated from my employer's workplace screening company, which is, I'm told, not allowed to share this information with my health-insurance company. So they're just "trying to be helpful."

I'm thinking through all the implications of this health screening as a business model. Do they get paid for enrollment in preventative programs? If my blood pressure is consistently higher as monitored by them as opposed to my doctor, does that mean anything apart from normal variations? Is it all just what happens when you measure people by numbers on a page, without a doctor assessing individual circumstances?

Is all this benign and helpful or sinister?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Let Us Celebrate My Long Weekend!

Jealous, aren't you?

1. la ferassie, tokyo police club
2. bookshop casanova, the clientele
3. boogie chillen, dale hawkins
4. guero canelo, calexico
5. wear you out, tv on the radio
6. novelty, joy division
7. more adventurous, rilo kiley
8. what do you think, the sundays
9. this is pop, xtc
10. michael, franz ferdinand

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quite Apart from Everything Else in This Economic Meltdown

This guy, AIG Financial Products President, gives me nightmares. I imagine him lurking around corners, sidling up, scaring the shit out of me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Free South By Southwest Music Sampler

Here. Includes ten songs by bands at the festival.

Amazon has one too, with artists that don't include the Decemberists.

I Want Whatever He's On

The guy at the Panera just told me to have an "absolutely fabulously awesome day," and to "be sure to tell your grandkids about this place." And a whole bunch of other stuff I didn't understand.

I'm hoping it leeched into the tomato soup.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rejection Number 2

Poor poor story. I had hopes for this place, but c'est la vie.

Weather: Still Springlike. Thoughts Turning Toward Busting out the Organic Gardening Book Acquired for Christmas

I'm not exactly motivated at the prospect of yard work. Which is pretty ominous, because I can usually count on a winter-incurred rush of optimism and ambitious planning by about this time every year. Sure, it all falls apart by June, but while the rush lasts, it usually allows me to get some good things going for a bit.

But it occurs to me that I got this book as a gift. (Side note to reviewer geniuses at Publisher's Weekly: "groundbreaking" equals pun; it's a gardening guide? Get it?) So while I'm not psyched to put together a rustic woven twig fence, I might be able to contemplate some soil amendment and some kitchy garden accessories. Anyway, subsistence farming is making a recession-fueled come back, so I might as well try to get with the program.

My god, last year I actually had little sketches. Can you believe it?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today, I Enjoy a Well-Earned Comp Day

I completely blew my (twenty-four-year-old) classmate's mind yesterday by recognizing the intro music at our obligatory writers event yesterday, by these guys.

Ah, well do I remember being at the 9:30 club being pelted with chicken. Good times.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Via the Laura Yard: Spring Officially Documented

Well, hello there, Mr. Daffodil!

It's almost, almost enough to make me want to yank out all the weeds I didn't get to last fall.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm Thinking About Printing This Out and Shoving It Under a Door

Non-hierarchical management principles!

Point 8: Fire ineffective people.

Firing people is hard. It’s probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do. People go to absurd lengths to try and make it easier (“we’ll just try him out for a month and see how it goes” is a common one) but they never really help. You just have to bite the bullet and let people go. It’s your job. If you can’t do it, find someone else.

Firing people isn’t just about saving money, or petty things like that. It’s the difference between a great organization and a failure. Inefective people drag everyone else down to their level. They make it so that you can’t take pride in what you’re doing, so that you dread going into work in the morning, so that you can’t rely on the other pieces of the project getting done. And assholes, no matter how talented they may be, are even worse. Conversely, there are few things more fun than working hard with a really nice, talented group of people.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big Brother Is Watching You

Did you know that I'm at a risk for diabetes? Yeah, me neither. But my insurance company seems to think so ("A review of your claims history indicates that you're either being treated for or have risk factors for diabetes"). As such, they just sent me a helpful mailer for New Services I Can Take Advantage Of!

I think they meant to send me the one for asthma. But here's the thing: I don't want them to think I have health issues I don't have, because what happens if I have to get insurance on the individual market, and they think I'm pre-diabetic, and they'll gouge me with sky-high rates, and I'll go bankrupt, or they won't cover me at all, and I'll die of an asthma attack even though my asthma is mild and allergy-related only . . .!

Am I being paranoid? Should I call and ask for expunging of any pre-diabetic implication in my records? Should I report my weight, blood pressure, and family history? Should I indicate my vegetarianism?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Let Me Say Again That You Guys Are Awesome

Because of your thoughts and comments, I have had the serendipitous brainwave for how to focus my vast and currently unfocused glut of material for this final essay. It's a direction I hadn't even thought about, frankly, because I viewed the PK material as pretty tangential to my mission here--at best, a standalone piece.

I'm really psyched about this, thanks so much! That's the good news. The bad news is that I may ask follow-up questions to get angles and details I hadn't considered. I hope that's okay.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I'm sure I mentioned that in this writing class, we're digging for autobiographical material. And as a result of the broad-based topic I stumbled into based on some strong earlier in-class pieces, I'm in depressing-land here for all of my writing material. (I will certainly make a note of this for future in the next creative nonfiction class I take.)

Anyway, as part of this process, I wrote about PK (for those who knew him). I thought it would be pretty easy, given the distance and the subsequent expunging of the guilt, but it was harder than I thought. The piece that come out of it was relatively strong and cohesive, though. Naturally, this meant that my teacher picked it for me to read out loud tonight.

I'm kind of mortified that I choked a bit, and I also had some funny-to-me-only guffawing instances on the weirdness that he was. Jesus. It's like goddamned therapy in there, I swear.

One of Those Irritating Days

Does this happen to you: You are some unspecified, incoherent species of annoyed with the world? Where service workers are likely fortunate not to have to deal with you? Where, if your mood were to physically manifest around you, you'd look something like Pig Pen from Peanuts, lost in a cloud of grunge and blackness? And the incoherence of the source of the irritation (and thus your inability to address same and get rid of it) increases your baseline level of irritation?

It could be the sudden cold snap or the time change. Or it could be the fact that it takes me eons to fall asleep these days (random coworker greeting from this morning: "Jeez, did you have your late class last night? Your eyes are all red"). Bah.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So That We May Better Serve You, Please Identify Your Nerd Type

Okay, There Are Approximately Three of Us Left Watching Heroes

Do we want to talk about it? Personally, I thought it was kind of dull. Yet, aspects of it were somewhat amusing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rain. Day 2.

It being March in Chicago environs, this counts as a Good Thing, and those lazy days where you are obligated, obligated to sit inside and sip hot beverages are sadly few and far between. I can't think of a better day to get some grade-A musings in on the new crop of incidents that I'm trying to write. I'm going to try for some lighter, funnier stuff because I'm starting to get drained from the relentlessly dark.

Work went, so that's also a good thing. There was a paucity of cinnamon rolls, because we were all on our own recognizance, and I had a wrong perception on where the place was. Bummer for me. There was also minimum of chaos because there weren't that many people at our event. I mainly spent the day sitting in back of a desk and smiling at people cheerily. Overheard chatter in the lobby was that the event itself was first rate. And reports back from the performance portion that I missed were that it too went well, and that our conductor ruled the place and was a "sex god" (that last observation coming from my friend M after an unspecified amount of wine; no one told me there would be an open bar).

I get a comp day out of it, so that's good. I also got vaguely insulted by a prominent music and cultural critic.

Friday, March 6, 2009

It May Be Friday, But Alas, I Must Work This Weekend

You may remember my last conference hell experience round about this time last year. (Hmmm, it seems like I bitched about it more at the time, but I guess I was too tired to.)

Anyway, we have a mini-deal going on this weekend, for which I have to work but one day. And there will be cinnamon rolls, which always offset a lot of grief in my book.

Random ten, since it's Friday.

1. bricks & mortar, the jam
2. dimmest star, pernice brothers
3. heart shaped bruise, elvis costello and the imposters
4. take your carriage clock and shove it, belle & sebastian
5. beetlebum, blur
6. dirt, the stooges
7. i don't want to hear it anymore, dusty springfield
8. take me with u, prince
9. always for you, the album leaf
10. 19-2000 (soulchild remix), gorillaz

bonus number 11: big night, megachoir.

I don't need to point you to the link in the sidebar there, do I people?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Where Bjork is Bjork, and the Elves Are Under the Mountain

Want to read about Iceland's fascinating economic meltdown?

Just after October 6, 2008, when Iceland effectively went bust, I spoke to a man at the International Monetary Fund who had been flown in to Reykjavík to determine if money might responsibly be lent to such a spectacularly bankrupt nation. He’d never been to Iceland, knew nothing about the place, and said he needed a map to find it. He has spent his life dealing with famously distressed countries, usually in Africa, perpetually in one kind of financial trouble or another. Iceland was entirely new to his experience: a nation of extremely well-to-do (No. 1 in the United Nations’ 2008 Human Development Index), well-educated, historically rational human beings who had organized themselves to commit one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history. “You have to understand,” he told me, “Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund.”

Speaking of Bjork:

Because Iceland is really just one big family, it’s simply annoying to go around asking Icelanders if they’ve met Björk. Of course they’ve met Björk; who hasn’t met Björk? Who, for that matter, didn’t know Björk when she was two? “Yes, I know Björk,” a professor of finance at the University of Iceland says in reply to my question, in a weary tone. “She can’t sing, and I know her mother from childhood, and they were both crazy. That she is so well known outside of Iceland tells me more about the world than it does about Björk.”

And this is all kinds of awesome:

Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people”—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sign 'o the Times

Your quarterly 403(b) statement arrives. The envelope says: "Take a Deep Breath. It's Still a Great Time to Contribute to Your Retirement."

Do you: (a) laugh, (b) weep gently, (c) hibernate until 2020 when this thing should start turning around.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another Question for the Ages: Why? Why Do They Do This?

Call me practical, but if I were going to launch my career in politics, I would have a few guiding principles in mind that I've acquired from years of observation.

1. Don't embezzle, do favors, engage in quid pro quo, even if it seems insane to "fucking give it away." In the latter case, I would most definitely not comment on the injustice of the arrangement while I'm being wire-tapped.

2. No sex scandals. Assume that even if that hooker seems trustworthy or that club where fellow rubber-hose fetishers congregate seems discreet, you will be found out.

3. No embellishment of really good stories. I know it's tempting to think this stuff will fly under the radar in normal conversational matters, but truly, they've got really awesome technology these days that let you record. It's a bitch to be famous.

So with principle 3 in mind, I'm left to wonder just what Bobby Jindal could possibly have been thinking, because he seems like a smart guy, Rhodes Scholar and all.