Monthly Archives: November 2012

in which I write a novel in thirty days

Today is November 30, the last day of November.

Meaning it is also the last day of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Across the country, hundreds of almost novelists are furiously scrambling to get those last ten thousand words written on a barely readable draft they have composed over the past thirty days. And if your novel isn’t barely readable, you are doing it wrong.

I have attempted NaNoWriMo twice before this year without success. Once in a sort of misguided attempt my freshman year of college where I signed up for an account, and then totally forgot about it until around November 29, at which point I decided that I was already too far behind to catch up. Then again my senior year of college, when I was in that shaky “what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-maybe-I’ll-write-books” phase. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo as sort of experiment to see if I could actually write a book. This was a total disaster – November of my senior year was the month the proverbial crap hit the proverbial fan in terms of pretty much everything. So after failing to write for the first week of November, I surrendered1.

Then it’s 2012. I had no expectation for finishing or even starting NaNoWriMo, primarily because grad school is just sort of an extended version of NaNoWriMo, in which you are constantly asked to write more than you think you can under an unreasonable deadline and it’s really stressful. But then I told the MT about NaNoWriMo, and to my very great surprise, she said, “I want to do it!” At which point, my big sister instincts sort of kicked in – both the “I must be the Gandalf to her Frodo and guide her on this quest” sort and the “anything you can do I can do better” sort. But mostly the first one. So I said okay, look, if you do, I’ll do it too.

And suddenly, my little sister and I, with two thousand miles  between us, were writing novels together.

Writing with the MT actually kept me on track. I felt like I was reporting to her, and when she got ahead of me, I felt a push to catch up. I knew I would never hear the end of it if she finished a novel and I did not. And just as much as my competitiveness kicked in, I also wanted to cheer her on, and she cheered me on. We sent each other our first chapters, and asked each other questions when we got stuck2. We frequently sent each other “I CAN’T DO THIS!” texts, and responded accordingly when the other was freaking out. We helped each other with names, and jokes, and settings, and just provided general encouragement and inspiration.

And really, without the MT, I would have given up. I would have quit, because this month was busy, and my novel was terrible.

But because of the MT, I finished.

So the result of NaNoWriMo is this: I wrote a terrible novel. A really terrible novel. An unreadably terrible novel. A novel that is so fantastically bad, I will probably never revise it. I’m just going to let it fester and gangrene in my folder until I amputate it3 in the form of deleting it permanently from my hard drive. But more importantly, I wrote a novel. In thirty days. On top of grad school and work and life. I made time each day for writing, which is something I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life. I wrote in a genre outside my comfort zone4. I did not go back and edit, which is really hard for me. I did not plot ahead of time, which is also really hard for me, and resulted in my characters suddenly running off in a direction I did not intend.

Over the course of November, I wrote some really great lines5. I wrote some really terrible lines6. I wrote some utterly ridiculous lines solely for the purpose of making my future self laugh when I go back and reread everything7. I left myself a slew of snarky notes in regards to the quality of the manuscript8.

But the unexpected result of NaNoWriMo, and the best, was what I got out of doing it with the MT. We are far apart now, and so we don’t share things the same way we did when we were kids. Our experiences have become our own in many ways now, and as our lives have veered in two different directions, I feel myself more and more explaining my world rather than sharing it with her.

But for thirty wonderful days, we have occupied the same space in a way we haven’t since childhood. We have shared an experience across states and it made me feel closer to her9.

So thank you, NaNoWriMo, for giving me thirty days of literary abandon, a fantastically terrible zombie novel, and a better relationship with my sometimes-distant sister10.

  1. In the end, this was probably a good thing. The novel I was going to write for NaNoWriMo, I ended up writing a few months later and it turned out infinitely better than it would have been if I had written it quickly and grouchily during that hellish November.
  2. Me: I have a zombie problem. The MT: May I suggest a bazooka?
  3. Still in the zombie novel mindset. Sorry for the graphic metaphor.
  4. I might be the least likely person in history to write a zombie novel. I frequently texted the MT with basic zombie knowledge questions like, “Do zombies sleep?” “Do zombies understand English?” “Do zombies dream of brain-eating sheep?”
  5. “It was lighting through her soul, and Carolina Rose was seared, scorched, up in flames. Then, just smoke.”
  6. “Her heart was pounding, racing with the speed of something that moves really fast.” – see these are the sort of things you write when you can’t think of the right word and you are writing just to fill a word count.
  7. “Stiff Thompson was leaning against the bar, thumping his hook in time to the music.” This still makes me laugh every time.
  8. After the paragraph detailing the first kiss of hero and heroine – “I’m throwing up in my mouth a little.”
  9. *cue throwing up in mouth*
  10. Don’t tell her, and I will never admit to this if asked, but her novel is infinitely better than mine.
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in which I make good use of my local library

Today, I learned a lesson the hard way, and that lesson is this:

There is such a thing as too many books.

So back in my home turf of Salt Lake City, there is a limit to how many books you are allowed to put on hold at the library, and that limit is ten. A totally reasonable amount. Brookline, apparently, does not have these same restrictions. I discovered this when I got an email from the Brookline Library the other day with the subject line “You have 25 books waiting for pick up.”

Twenty five? I thought. There’s no way.

But I checked my online account, and it was confirmed. It would appear that i have been blissfully putting books on hold for the past few weeks without thinking and then they all came in AT THE SAME TIME!

Now if I were in Salt Lake, the easy solution would be to just check out the books I really wanted/needed, then ignore the books I didn’t want/need, wait the week until they were re-shelved, then proceed with my usual library check out-ness as per ush. But the Brookline Library also charges you for any books on hold that you don’t pick up within a week – $1 per books. This is another lesson I learned the heard way. But usually, when you have just one or two books you miss, it’s not a big deal. When you have 25 books, that’s like a week’s worth of diet coke money, and I am not about to sacrifice a week of diet coke for a bunch of books I did not pick up.

So I knew I needed to get me to a library and rescue my 25 books. But how to do that without a car, and without killing myself on the walk home. I was certainly not fit to carry 25 large books the five blocks to and from the library, even with the help of my Duluth Pack1 and my Newsies tote bag2. There has to be another way, I told myself.

Then I remembered something I had discovered last night while cleaning out the spare room in our apartment: it was a grocery cart, like the sort little old ladies use to get their produce home from the supermarket.

And, Matilda-style3, I made that cart my book cart.

Image

I am pretty sure that a) I am a genius, b) I have a massive amount of reading to do before Christmas break4  and c) This is one of those really ridiculous posts where I think I am insanely clever and the rest of the right thinking world just goes, “Okay….so?” But really twenty-five books. Come on — THIS IS A GOOD STORY, OKAY!? A great story!

You know what else is a great story? The story of the time last Tuesday when I got to meet JJ Abrams, director/creator of “Lost” and “Super 8” and “Star Trek.” That was a good story….maybe I should have told that story instead of a story about me and my over-zealous library escapades….perhaps I need to rethink what I blog about….

look! It’s JJ Abrams, the only person in the world who understands the ending of “Lost”!

 

  1. Still the best purchase I’ve ever made.
  2. The second best purchase I’ve ever made.
  3. Ah nerds, you can’t really see the book wagon in this picture. But you get the point.Image
  4. On that note, I have had a slew of disappointing books recently! Anyone got any knock-your-socks-off good ones? Because I need a few…actually no, I don’t need anymore books right now. But soon I will. Very soon.
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in which I give thanks

Happy day after Thanksgiving everyone!

I was going to write a post last night after my own Thanksgiving festivities, but I got home much later than intended from the most kick-ass Thanksgiving ever, so this is coming a day late. But let me tell you about how a girl far from home spent her Thanksgiving yesterday.

Let’s back up. First of all, Thanksgiving and I don’t have a great track record. My family’s never been super big on that whole traditional Thanksgiving. Usually the highlights of my day are either skiing or watching that National Dog Show, which is bigger than the Super Bowl in our house. But in general, Thanksgiving is not the mega holiday for us that it is all over the country.

So when I moved to England and had my first Thanksgiving away from home, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. And really, it wasn’t. But that was the only day of my entire time in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter, that I’ve ever been homesick. Granted, this homesickness lasted for about twenty-five minutes, and was probably a result of me being actually sick at the time. But overall, it was a weird and uncomfortable day.

So I didn’t know what this Thanksgiving would bring. Perhaps it would be me, Charlie Brown-style, at a folding table with pretzels and popcorn. Maybe it would be spent in a McDonalds. Maybe I’d just take a heavy dose of Ambien and sleep through the whole thing.

But then a friend from my program invited me to what she lovingly termed a “homeless Thanksgiving” for students who didn’t have anywhere to go. With some trepidation, knowing that I am incredibly inept at situations that require interaction with people my own age, I accepted.

And it was freaking fantastic. One of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had, if not the best.

We were thirteen people strong – five Americans from four different states, two Nigerians, four Singaporeans, one Indian, and a Canadian. For some people, it was the first Thanksgiving, and while we ate, we explained why we cook turkey, the origins of the holiday, and about how eggnog comes from the noxious nog mines of eastern Kentucky1.

We had traditional Thanksgiving food, and we had curry. We also had a black forest chocolate cake2. I stayed for a lot longer than I planned, mostly because I just felt really welcome there. Instead of doing what I generally do at parties, which is get social anxiety and sit in a corner with a diet coke all night, I actually found myself contributing to the conversation3. And enjoying it. I even made a few witty retorts, the sort that I usually keep sheathed when I’m around people I don’t know for fear of coming off as weird, because sometimes my sarcasm can be so advanced people think I’m actually stupid4. But that didn’t happen – my personality was well received! And my brand-new red t-strap high heels helped me rock a killer outfit.

The whole night made me think about this past week in my literary criticism class, where we had what I thought was a very frustrating discussion about race theory. By the end of it, the class, much to my dismay, basically came to the conclusion that white Americans are terrible, racist hooligans who had no respect for other races and cultures and that interracial communication is near impossible because we’re all racist. It pleased me greatly to watch every one of those ideas be proven wrong last night. This Thanksgiving wasn’t about where you were from; it was just a lot of people, really far from home, who were looking for somewhere to be a part of, and so became simultaneously the welcomers and the welcomed, givers and receivers. Those who made this community, and those who inhabited it. And that is, for me, what I’ve always thought Thanksgiving was about, that elusive thing that had always been missing in every celebration I had ever been a part of before. Last night, I think I finally figured out why everyone likes Thanksgiving so much.

It was a Thanksgiving I will never forget, and it made me thankful to be part of a global community of people who can sit down together on a Thursday night in a stranger’s apartment and enjoy a huge amount of food.

  1. Everything we told them might not have been true.
  2. Less relevant, I just really wanted to mention that.
  3. Especially when the conversation turned to Sherlock, as it so often does when I’m around.
  4. This definitely happened with NPR.
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in which I get decorate-y

Recently, my housing situation has not been great.

And by recently, I mean for the past six months of my life.

As far back as Chicago, really, where you may remember I lived in a one room apartment with two girls and Cat1. For one, this was cramped. For two, I only got along with 1/3 of the apartment’s occupants2. For three, this was real just a terrible idea from the start. Even the chalkboard wall was not enough to make up for the fact that the Chicago studio was a less than ideal situation.

Three months later, I find myself in the exact opposite situation. I am living in a house – a large, four story colonial house, with a grand piano and newly refurbished kitchen and a bathroom that was bigger than my room at my parent’s house. And, for reasons that I griped endlessly about so they do not need to be mentioned again, I was unhappy. Extremely unhappy. The unhappiest I’ve been in a while.

So I had almost forgotten what it’s like to live somewhere that is peaceful and happy, where the thought of coming home doesn’t make me moan. Somewhere I actually want to be.

Guys – my apartment in Brookline is awesome. And it just got a million times better.

When I first came to this apartment, I decided, much to the dismay of my parents and my debit card, that I was going to get settled here. Like really settled. Like buy paint and furniture sort of settled. And I wanted to do it fast, because I was tired of feeling like I was drifting. I know myself pretty well3 and I know that, for me, a big part of being happy is being settled. Feeling a part of somewhere, rather than a guest. So these past two weeks have been dedicated to me trying to transform my bedroom from four windows and a hardwood floor to somewhere I actually wanted to hang out. Somewhere I could call my own.

I am happy to say that MISSION = ACCOMPLISHED.

My room is awesome. Totally awesome. So awesome it makes me sad that probably no one will ever see it, since I never entertain, particularly not the sort of guests that one usually shows one’s room to. So instead I have decided to show my room to the interwebs. Because you guys are like my virtual friends that I never see.

I am kicking myself for not taking before pictures to make these after pictures all the more awesome. In fact, even as I’m looking at them now, I realize there is nothing particularly special about my room. It’s just a normal person’s room4. But – and I cannot put too fine a point on this – I AM INSANELY AND DISPROPORTIONATELY EXCITED ABOUT MY ROOM!

Alright, alright, enough build up, I know you’ve all scrolled down anyway because pictures are way more exciting than words. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, my room.

…the suspense was sort of killed by the fact that you can’t see the whole room. Let’s take it in sections, shall we?

Ah. And there’s the other half. Now, for the close ups!

The above photo is my lamp, on which I wrote my favorite Hamlet soliloquy. Because what is lighting if it isn’t fantastically nerdy?

I know it looks like my dresser is in front of my closet, but this is not an actual closet – it’s a connecting door thing to the living room. Also I’m very big on photo ledges.

I painted the inside of this shelf. I was very excited about this idea.

And then, of course, my Mona Lisa – the hats! I am way prouder of this idea than I should be.

And I promise after this, I will stop talking about my awesome apartment in awesome Brookline that is FIVE MINUTES from a train stop and FIFTEEN MINUTES away from school, because I know nobody wants to hear about that. So I will stop…

…Until we get the living room finished.

  1. *shudder* Ugh Cat…
  2. Though what an awesome 1/3 Nevada was.
  3. This is a lie.
  4. If that normal person was really into books and liked to show it.
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in which I zip to a Swedish furniture store

Most of the last week of my life has consisted of me putting together furniture.

In the past week, I have put together a bed, a lamp, an end table, a mirror thing with a stand, and a bookshelf1. I have learned a lot about putting together furniture in the past seven days. Primarily that I do not enjoy it.

But my total room makeover project is coming to a close. I am starting to feel awesome about the new digs, and no longer sleeping on the floor on thin mattress like a heroin addict, so that’s good.

I decided to wrap up Project “Make the Corner Bedroom Liveable” with one final grand adventure – a trip to Ikea, the Swedish Walmart, meccca of the under-budgeted home improvement project.

There is no Ikea in Boston. There is, however, one in Stoughton, which is a thirty to sixty minute drive depending on traffic and aptitude of driver. And since I really wanted to go to Ikea, I thought it would be a great idea to grab myself a ZipCar and go. Zip on over, if you will.

Along for the ride was my friend Marx, so named because we discovered we are both white Mormon girls from Utah after she courageously announced her faith in the middle of a presentation on Karl Marx2. Marx agreed to come along and serve as navigator, as long as she got some Swedish meatballs and disassembled furniture out of the trip.

And so, tonight, at 6;00, we picked up our ZipCar, which was named Darold.

At approximately 6:06 pm, while trying to make a nineteen-point turn out of the parking lot against a cement wall, a horrible realization struck me.

Friends, I am a terrible driver.

Miserable. Hopeless. Shocking. Simultaneously sloppy and petrified.

In the six minutes it took me to figure out how to start the car3, I realized I have never driven in any state other than Utah. Never driven in any city other than Salt Lake. Never driven in downtown Salt Lake. I also do not drive on highways, and rarely drive a stretch of road that is not the one between my house and my old high school. I’ve also only ever driven two cars in my entire life. Of the three cars my family owns, I’ve been behind the wheel of one.

Suddenly, this seemed like a terrible idea.

I did not mention any of this to Marx. I hoped this would help her keep a cool head and rational state of mind. Because that would make for at least one of us.

So here I was, driving in a strange city, in the dark, in a car that was not mine, with a license that has not been used since it was renewed4.

It was easily one of the top ten most stressful experiences of my life. There were times I actually had to turn off the heat because I was sweating5.

And yet somehow, by some strange act of the God of ZipCar or Thor6, an hour later, with the neon blue and yellow sign above us glowing like a beacon of hope, we had arrived. And I was only honked at three times7.

And a set of storage boxes and a floor lamp later, I am home. Safe. Alive. And slowly, gradually, unwinding.

  1. Even though I do not, as the UPS guy asked me, have a “big strong boyfriend to put it together for me.” Feminism FTW.
  2. This may be the greatest thing that has ever come out of a reading of Das Kapital.
  3. How I wish I was exaggerating.
  4. A pink haired picture to boot.
  5. When we got out of the car, Marx said, “My feet are freezing!” And then I felt bad. Though not as bad as I did later than night, when she said, “Can you drop me off at home so I don’t have to carry my new area rug on two trains to East Cambridge?” And I had to say no, because if I didn’t have her, there is no way I would have gotten Darold the ZipCar back to where he needed to be one time.
  6. Who is not Swedish, but I think I get points for being Scandinavian.
  7. And only swore once. I was really controlling myself because Marx is a much better and more sensitive person than I am.
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in which grad school is a paradox

A few things you should know about my life before we continue:

  1. It is November. While for many of you this means turkey and no shaving, for me it means NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month1. This means that on top of my usual avalanche of work, I am also writing 1600-2000 words a day on a novel that I know has no commercial potential or likeliness to go anywhere2, I’m just writing it for fun. And guys – I love it. It’s liberating. And awesome. But also sucks the life right out of my blog writing time.
  2. It took me twenty minutes to get to work today – TWENTY MINUTES! I AM ECSTATIC ABOUT THIS! I love my new apartment!3
  3. Yesterday, the sequel to one of my all-time favorite books4 came out – Days of Blood and Starlight. In trying to acquire it, I felt for the first time the true impact of last week’s hurricane, because as it turns out, most bookstores here have warehouses in New Jersey, and those warehouses and shipping schedules were still in chaos in the wake of Sandy. Meaning that nowhere had this book in stock. I called twelve bookstores and about had a meltdown on the corner of Harvard Square before I finally found one. Children’s Bookshop of Brookline to the rescue!
  4. Allow me to speak for one moment to election that happened last night5. Since I have a lot of Mormon friends, my social media this morning was flooded with people mourning the downfall of Mitt Romney, and vowing to move to Canada in protest. Allow me to say two things to this – one, they have socialized health care and gay marriage in Canada. So if you’re searching to relocate to a capitalist paradise where you can throw rocks at gays and you don’t have to share your hospitals with poor people, you’re going to have run further. May I suggest the Congo? That seems more your style. Two – here is the realization I came to last night while hitting refresh on the NPR homepage – we can sum up the entire future of our country in three words: It goes on. No matter who won last night, it wouldn’t matter, because the country is going to keep moving forward. In the end, no matter how outraged you are about the election results, if you voted, that’s all you can do. And really, your world probably isn’t going to change that drastically either way. We all go back to our jobs, back to our families, back to our homes, and move on with your lives. More importantly – our facebook newsfeeds return to their normal state as cesspools of vapidity! I never thought I’d be homesick for the days of LOLcats and baby pictures.

Now. Moving on to what I’ve really called you all for today.

I would like to talk about the trouble with grad school.

On Sunday night, I found myself in the kitchen, staring at my literary theory textbook with a glazed expression. I had one hundred odd pages to read about reader response theory, and I just…couldn’t make myself do it.

Which gave me pause.

Self, I said to myself. You spent countless years of school reading hundreds of pages on topics that did not interest you in the slightest, longing for the day you would have textbooks full of children’s literature. Now that day has finally arrived – you have readings about the one thing in this world you feel passionately dedicated to –and you cannot make it more than a few sentences before your train of thought derails. What is the matter with you?

The matter with me is grad school.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my program. It is fantastic and awesome and there are so many great people with awesome ideas and I’m ecstatically happy to be a part of it. I think I’m going to come out of it infinitely better equipped to work in publishing and as a writer.

That being said, the very nature of grad school is to take the thing you love and make them work. Not work like “Eureka, this works!” Work like, “Ohmygosh I have to read five young adult novels by tomorrow this is so much work!” And it’s not that I don’t enjoy those young adult novels. It’s just the nature of how they have been forced upon me that makes me resistant to them. Because work is just that: work. If it wasn’t, they’d call it homefun instead of homework. And the nature of work, even work you enjoy, is that it can wear you down and make you weary of something you love.

This is the paradox of grad school: trying to find the motivation to do something that you passionately love. Reading it there, it doesn’t make sense, even to me, who is in the middle of experiencing the so-called grad school paradox. But none the less, it is true.

Grad school has by no means destroyed my enjoyment of the subject that I am studying, but it has changed it. But that’s okay – I guess it’s boring if things always stay the same. You can’t move forward if you’re standing still6.

  1. NaNoWriMo is a national event for crazy people who band together through the interwebs and try to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. The goal is not to write a good novel – it is just to write a novel. I love this, because it gives me permission to suck.
  2. My novel is about zombies, Mormons, and a hook-handed man. Guys, it’s rocking.
  3. Even though I am sleeping on a mattress on the floor and kind of feel like a squatter.
  4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – you remember, that book I DO NOT SHUT UP ABOUT.
  5. In case you live in a hole, allow me to be the first to tell you that there was an election last night. Nothing too important. Spoiler alert: the black guy won.
  6. If Gandhi didn’t say that, I’m claiming it.
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in which I move

As you may or may not have noticed, I have had a bit of a trouble settling into life in Boston, primarily because of a terrible housing situation.

This terrible housing situation was living with an elderly couple in a huge Revolutionary-era house at the top of a monster hill in Lexington, MA. Now on paper, this does not sound like a particularly bad way to live. But things get rough when your landlords are fairly crazy, the house is a mile away from a bus station, and that bus station is leagues away from where you actually need to be, putting your total commute time between an hour and a half and two hours.

Yeah, Lexington kind of sucked.

When I first agreed to live here, I was…I don’t want to say misled. Let’s say I was not totally informed about just how long of a commute it would be for me to get to school. I was also not aware that the MBTA1 is the seventh level of Dante’s hell2. You’ve all read my angry posts railing against the MBTA. If you are at all close to me, I’ve probably called you and railed to you over the phone about it. But really, just getting to school and work have been a test of my patience. Plus, the whole “living in somebody else’s house” thing really sucks. It’s incredibly hard to get settled when every time I set something down, my landlady was over my shoulder sucking in her breath, cringing when I put pasta sauce in the microwave, shuddering when I set down a cup without a coaster.

So for the past two months, I have been itching to get out of Lexington.

And I am happy to say that I finally have.

I am posting this live from my brand-new3 apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts4, AKA fifteen minutes from school. Guys – it takes me FIFTEEN MINUTES TO GET TO SCHOOL! DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS?!

No more walking up the steepest hill I’ve ever seen every night in the dark! No more waiting for hours at Alewife Station5 with the homeless guys sorting through the trash all around me! No more swearing at the bus as it pulls away without me! No more being stranded on the weekends because the buses don’t run! No longer will it take me an hour and a half just to get into the city! Life is again beautiful and shining!

Really, I feel like a whole new world has opened up to me. I feel liberated. Like I can finally make a life here, make this city my own. I could not be happier.

Now, to Ikea! I gotta get me something more than just a mattress on the floor to call my own.

 

  1. Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, i.e. the public transit system here
  2. Seriously Boston, you have been a major world city for three hundred years, get your act together!
  3. Fifty years old, but still! New to me!
  4. Albeit a furniture-less apartment, but hey! You can’t have everything.
  5. Which smells like pee and pigeons.
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