Monday, December 31, 2012

Out With the Old...

I turned 30 this year.  Apparently, it’s a big milestone birthday.  I say apparently because I didn’t really think all that much of it, but everyone around me kept making a big deal about it.  “Oh, that’s a big one- how are you going to celebrate?” and “You need to really have fun on your big day; birthdays mean less and less as you get older” and “It’s a natural time to pause and reflect on your life thus far, don’t fight it” and still other unwarranted words of wisdom I don’t remember or have chosen to forget.  There was always encouragement to overindulge in introspection and contemplation and I had to fight pretty hard to stay out of that hole.

Because I’m disturbingly introspective as is- I don’t need anyone encouraging it.  And the single greatest struggle of my life has been to take myself less seriously.  Reading back on old journals I’ve kept shows me that I’ve made A LOT of progress in this area.  But momentary reflection on my thoughts on most given days proves that I’ve still got a LONG way to go.

So towards that end, I’m not going to take this evening to self reflect.  I’m not going to list off my goals for the year and recount each success or (more often) each failure.  I’m not going to overindulge in self-flagellation and give myself still more opportunities for such by making yet another list of goals for the next year.  It’s just not productive.

I know what I’ve done and what I haven’t done.  I know what I did too much and what I need to do more.  And yes, I have some goals for the coming year.  But I’m not going to publish them here- because I think that’s a prime example of what I’d like to do less.  No, I’m going to keep them for myself.

And I will try very hard to keep this space for the things that may actually be useful to others like fiction pieces and book reviews and utilitarian insights I’ve learned the hard way.  And I suppose that’s the rub- because even in my attempt not to make any resolutions, I’ve made one.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#BestReads2012

I signed up for the Book Vixen’s 2012 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge and gave myself the personal challenge of reading a book a month for the year.  With only a few days left in the year I’m gonna come right out and declare that I have epically failed to meet that personal challenge.  Of the 12 books I set out to read I have actually only read 7.  Well, technically 7 and a half if you count the fact that I’m stuck in the middle of Nicholas Nickelby and have little to no desire to finish it.  Everything sort-of fell apart in August and I have absolutely no valid excuse in the world as to why.  (Other than that I’m lazy and that’s the worst excuse of all.)  However, I did succeed in reading at least slightly more than I did last year, so that’s something.

Of the 7 books I have read I loved three of them, moderately enjoyed another two and really would-have sooner skipped the last two.  Since the title of the blog hop is “Best Reads” I’m going to focus on the three that I loved.  (Hmm… I’m sensing a theme in numbers here…)

1)      Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Her best seller Eat, Pray, Love topped my list last year so it’s no shock that she’s topping my list this year.  E,P,L introduced me to a woman who I am proud to say is one of my most favorite authors of all time.  Committed convinced me that her voice is so compelling that I’m likely to love just about anything she writes.  I plan to test this theory out next year by reading more of her works: I just received both Stern Men and Pilgrims for Christmas and am eagerly looking forward to seeing if her amazing voice is as lovely in fiction as it has been in non-fiction (I suspect it will be). 
I already wrote a lot about why Committed was so important for me so for the purpose of this post I’ll just sum it up thus:  For a topic as unimaginably complicated as marriage Gilbert does an amazing job of addressing a large variety of important points and concepts by looking both at historical trends and personal accounts and she does it all with the voice that I have come to absolutely adore.  It’s by far my best read of the year.
2)      Wicked by Gregory Maguire
This was my first exposure to Maguire as an author and I think it’s safe to say that he blew me away.  It was also a pretty novel (no pun intended) experience as I haven’t had a lot of formally ‘classic children’s tales’ turned into really intriguing adult literary experiences.  And this is certainly an adult tale- complete with sex, war, racism, religion, moral quagmires and all the self-loathing that comes from a character’s personal inquiry typical of coming-of age tales.  While I certainly wouldn’t sum it up as that, I will say that Elphaba’s journey is one of the most absorbing I’ve read and I’m more than willing to follow her son into the next level of the story- Son of a Witch is on my reading list for next year.

3)      You Suck by Christopher Moore
Another repeat offender here, with the sequel to one of my top reads from last year.  Christopher Moore is another one of my favorite authors.  He’s one of the funniest fantasy authors I know of, right up there with Terry Prachett, and his stories are like really delectable chocolate desserts: they’re really rich, seriously tasty and you can tell they took some intense effort to make.  His characters are both endearing and frustrating and they take the plot on a rollercoaster ride every time so you end up in a place you couldn’t quite have seen at the start.  And again, since You Suck is the second in a trilogy, it’s guaranteed that I’ll be reading Bite Me next year and will most likely love it just as much as I loved the first two.

I hate to end this best reads list in exactly the same fashion as I did last year’s since it seems indicative of a lack of progress.  But then again, if I have a perpetual resolution to read more next year I suppose that’s really not the worst thing since it means I still love reading, even if I don’t do enough of it.

Now hop along to another blog and read their Best Reads:
1) John Wiswell
2) Katherine Hajer
3) Cindy Vaskova
4) Johann Thorsson
5) Chaz Dillon

6) Elephant's Child
7) Chuck Allen
8) Katherine Nabity
9) Maria Kelly
10) T.S. Bazelli
11) Sonia Lal
12) Linda Wastilla
13) Danielle La Paglia 
14) Alexia

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tis the Season

I’m not religious so I’m not at all insulted by the much bemoaned lack of Christ in Christmas.  Nor am I that deeply enamored with the holiday in general.  In all honestly, Christmas has been on a downhill slope ever since I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real.  (Which, needless to say, was a pretty long time ago.)  However, I do tend to get sentimental over holidays that are fabled as being a time for family togetherness and the warm fuzzy feelings that come from basking in the glow of your loved ones.

It is because of this that I still get a little caught up in the holiday season.  I still put up a tree, still decorate my office at work, still order Christmas cards with disgustingly adorable pictures of my dog plastered across them, still bake cookies and pies and other assorted holiday goodies and still buy, wrap and give presents to the people I care about. 

But even I, with my lowered expectations given the removal of the mythical man and constant attempts to self care in hopes of avoiding making myself nuts with the whole thing, have been feeling a bit overwhelmed this year.  I don’t necessarily think that the capitalist machine that runs this great country of ours is on anymore crack than usual, but that's not saying much given that the usual amount of crack is A LOT.  Granted, no one got maced on black Friday this year but people still got trampled, shoved and injured in the truly horrifying rush of shoppers.  People are still going bankrupt trying to pay for all this crap.  People are still stealing, car jacking and committing other illegal acts in order to obtain gifts.  And people are still being unabashedly bat-shit crazy in general.

As much as I try to avoid commercials, ignore the holiday catalogs clogging up my mail box, stay away from the mall whenever possible (which is not easy when the mall takes up about two thirds of the land mass of the town you live in) and otherwise shelter myself from the madness I can’t help but ask the question that many other people have been asking for years: is this really what the season’s all about?

I mean, that's been the biggest source of stress.  Mainly the money and not having enough of it.  But also the fear that what you got that person isn’t enough.  Which, of course, drives you to buy more in attempts to fix that.  Which brings you back to the issue of money.  It’s a vicious cycle.  And because I’m that kind of a person, I can’t help but think that I’m being brainwashed into participating in the whole cycle in the first place.  I’m plagued by the thought that perhaps I should just hand-make some really loving cards for everyone and nix presents all together.  Lord knows it would save a lot of headaches.

But part of me still likes wrapping up that box, handing it to that person, and seeing the expression on their face when they open it.  It makes me happy, I can’t help it.  However, I don’t want to go broke doing it.  And I especially don’t want to go broke because of some mass-produced external pressure to do so.  I am much like the turret pleading “I’m different!” in my own little voice.

So perhaps I need to find another way to try to get some of the warm/fuzzy feeling that comes from giving.  And we all know that giving without receiving is always a good way to give your soul some much needed TLC.  Given that fact, I am struck by the staggeringly large number of ways to do just that this time of year.  Toy drives, food drives, coat drives, blanket drives, blood drives and pretty much every other type-of drive you can think of are abundant right now.  Just about every organization in existence is eagerly accepting volunteers to visit with a senior, serve food to a homeless individual or donate their expertise in accomplishing a particular task.  Not to mention the fact that a large part of the Atlantic sector is still in a state of emergency because of the giant storm that struck a month and a half ago and they desperately need help. The possibilities are near-limitless and I’m guaranteed a bigger bang for my buck if I spend it on non-perishable goods rather than another present for a family member who probably won’t remember it in a month’s time.

So if you’re at all like me this holiday season, I remind you of the same thing I’m reminding myself of: the season is about giving, not buying.  So whether it’s dropping off a grocery bag full of food, a garbage bag full of old coats, a box of toys, a pint of blood or simply some time you’ll be doing good.  And our world could really use some more of that in the midst of all this madness.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck-it Ralph


I think it's safe to say that I was destined to love Wreck-it Ralph before I ever saw it.  I grew up in the dawn of the magic that is the in-home gaming system, right on the cusp between arcades and the new consoles which would become a staple in most people's homes.  My brother and I spent our childhoods blowing my poor mother's hard-earned cash in both arcades and at home where we devoutly worshiped our NES.  Additionally, I've been known to absolutely love animated movies that are deliberately made to be adorable.  Put those two things together and you've got Wreck-it Ralph, a movie which has absolutely stolen my heart.

They grab you in the very beginning by throwing just about every single gaming reference they can possibly think of at you.  In one of the first scenes we see Bowser, Dr. Eggman, and the ghost from Pac-man leading Ralph to try to come to terms with his villain self in what must be the most endearing support group yet.  Then Ralph passes Q*bert on his way to Tapper's where we see the paperboy from Paperboy, most of the fighters from Street Fighter, Frogger- hell, even the paddles and ball from Pong are there.  The first fifteen minutes of the movie had me excitedly squeaking every few seconds as another reference was made.  And when the primary antagonist shows his true colors for the first time he uses the Konami cheat code, which made me absurdly happy.  They span the world of gaming by having main characters from an old-school or "retro" arcade game, a racing game and a first-person shooter and they capture the worlds, the graphics and the typical canon of those games really well.

But as with all of these movies, the characters are what makes Wreck-it Ralph the masterpiece that it is.  First we have Ralph who reminds me, and I imagine most people out there, of their dad or their uncle.  He has the personality of a truck driver or a construction worker (or in his case, a demolition crew leader)- he's a bit gruff on the outside but on the inside he's a big 'ol teddy bear.  John C. Reily was the perfect choice for him and fleshes him out beautifully.  Then there's Felix who is perfectly voiced by Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock and has all the innocent quirks that made us fall in love with Kenneth the page.  Then we have Calhoun from the fast paced first-person shooter which Jane Lynch brings home with the quips and sarcastic remarks she's so famous for.  And of course Sarah Silverman who was way more adorable than she is when doing her characteristic comedy as Venellope.  And, the interactions between her and Ralph are so endearing that you can't help but fall in love with the both of them.

Yes, Venellope, you are.

And last but certainly not least is King Candy, the main antagonist who we later find out was the one who embedded the whole arcade with the fear that we see in so many interactions.  He's voiced by Alan Tudyk who I already worshipped from Firefly and came to see as ranged from Dollhouse.  He's got a very Alpha-esque vibe here as he starts out flighty and becomes one of the most devious villains around.  He's so devious he's able to convince Ralph that the biggest betrayal he's ever done is in the best interest of the person he's trying to protect.

I sense a boss battle coming...

The plot, needless to say, is spot on and has all the conflict, drama, humor and redemption we would expect from such a movie and the last scene is so heartwarming it made me cry.  That's right- I said it!  I cried at a kid's movie and I'm not afraid to admit it.  I would argue that if you don't have some kind-of serious warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of that movie then you must be dead inside.

I can't say that Venellope took the place of Agnes and Boo in my heart or that Ralph replaced Gru as the best villain-turned dad ever.  But I can say that I haven't loved a movie this much (or cried this much at the end of such a movie) since Despicable Me.  And given my unending adoration of said story that's saying a hell of a lot.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

50k

Tuesday night I had a panic moment.  Sill 9k words from the monthly goal, and several thousand words under where I was supposed to be I had a distinct, acutely terrifying thought: “What if I don’t make it?”  Winner’s badges and triumphantly purple word count bars and a really cool winner’s t-shirt flashed before my eyes and then poofed out of existence like a magician’s disappearing act.  I walked downstairs to break for dinner feeling defeated and really, really sad.

I told my boyfriend about the source of my woes and after his initial reassurance went unheard he tried a novel approach: he held our dog hostage. 

He said “You have to finish, you know why?” 

I shook my head at him, looking very much like the kid who’s just lost his ice cream from off his cone in an overzealous lick.

“Because if you don’t Buddy’s gonna die.”

At first I thought he meant karmically, like a curse or something.  Until he promised to crush our little dog’s teeny-tiny head with a single kick.  He said all this as if it were the most reasonable, logical response to a failure to reach my word goal.

I stopped my pouting, looked at him and said “That is the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Over the next few days, with my little guy sleeping next to me on my bed, totally unaware of the danger he was in, I wrote.  I wrote with abandon.  I wrote without giving a rat’s ass whether or not what I was writing made sense to the plot or whether or not that was quite the word I was looking for or whether or not that was something that character would actually say.  And every time I found myself wanting to stop and research something on Wikipedia or look up that word in the thesaurus to see if there was something better to describe what I was trying to get at I would look over at my dog, so innocent and unaware of his impending doom, and keep on writing.  Because I didn’t want him to die.
*NOT Dead!*

I managed to play a serious game of catch up Wednesday when I met my word count goal after being 2k words behind.  Then tonight, because I’d just written over 3600 words the day before, I figured that another 3300 to cross that goal line was nothing.  A one-hour word war helped significantly and the promise of actually crossing the goal line and getting all of those things I mentioned above (not to mention my dog living through November) was enough to get me through.  I now have a triumphantly purple bar with the word “WINNER!” on it, a kick-ass badge- check it out, on your right, it’s so pretty!- and I will be ordering my awesome winner’s t-shirt (because even though this is my fourth year winning, I’ve never bought a winner’s t-shirt before). 

BUT, ah hem, I have not yet finished.  I started this month saying that even more than winning this year I wanted to finish my story because it was so terribly rewarding when I did it for the very first time last year.  Now, with only a day left and a pretty busy schedule for that day, it seems unlikely that will happen because I’m nowhere near the end so far as my story arc.  To sum up why, let me explain that my story is about a group of seniors who go to a haunted house to do a paranormal investigation and at 50k words in, I just had my first actual paranormal moment.  So, yeah- I've got a while to go.

In my frenzied, excited state I’m thinking of all variety of ways I can challenge myself to keep going and finish the thing.  I could do NaNoFiMo again like I did three years ago.  But that didn’t result in the end of that novel and ultimately just made me more frustrated.  I could extend Buddy’s hostage situation until I finish, but without a concrete end in sight that just seems sort-of silly.  I could say that I have to finish by December 5th because that’s when the sale of the winner’s shirts ends.  Or I could come up with something so ridiculous, so devious, that I can’t even imagine it in my current elated state.

Whatever I choose, I know I have to keep going.  Because if this story deserved to reach 50k, it definitely deserves to be finished.  Wish me luck.

Monday, November 12, 2012

NaNo Magic

I spent several hours yesterday staring at my computer screen.  I'd read and re-read and re-re-read the last sentence, maybe come up with one or two more and then get stuck again.  I watched several Nanowrimo youtube videos to get in the mood.  I read pep talks.  I hoped on the twitter word sprints.  I even allowed myself to take breaks rather than beating my head against my laptop in exasperation.  Nothing worked.  And at the end of five hours when I'd planned on pumping out five thousand words in order to catch up, I had 2600 which I'd gotten through a process very similar to pulling teeth out of an alligator's mouth.  (At least I imagine.)  It was torturous.

Then today I managed to bang out 4,188 words.  Now, that is by far not my largest single-day word count ever, but it's certainly up in the top five list of word count days.  And I have no idea how I did it.

I didn't go back to my outline and flesh out my timeline anymore.  I didn't use contrived tricks to beef up my word count (some recommend not using contractions.  I don't have any characters that live in a world without contractions.)  I didn't sell my soul to Satan in exchange for words.  I just wrote.

Which leads me to believe that as much practical advice as is there is out there it's not the only thing that's going to get you to 50k.  There's a little bit of illogical, immeasurable and wonderful magic to the whole thing.  When you hit those days when the words just flow and all the questioning and doubting and judging goes away and you just type as fast as your fingers can go.  You don't worry about whether or not it's any good, you don't question whether or not it fits what you had originally contrived in your head, you just go.

Your characters' dialog comes naturally because they're starting to have their own voices as characters.  Your plot unfolds at a good pace because your words are flowing naturally.  The events that you had planned fall into place like dominoes pushing the next one down and you just let it happen.  It's the most organic way of writing I've ever encountered and I'm one thousand percent positive that I never learned how to do it- it just happens sometimes.  And I've had enough experience in this crazy noveling world not to question it or try to quantify it.  I'm just grateful for it.

Because today, for the first time since I started this thing two weeks ago I am back on par.  After spending every day of the past two weeks falling behind or staying as behind as I was I am finally back to where I need to be.  And it feels really, really good.

20,267 words and counting...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Planning Vs. Pantsing

In NaNoland, they like to talk about different kinds of wrimos.  Originally settling on two living on polar opposite ends of the spectrum, they’ve now differentiated five.  The new varieties are those overflowing with good ideas (or horrible ones, there’s not really any difference in Nano) who cannot stick to one plot, those who completely forget about the event until November first hits and then panic, and those who have all good intentions and no action and find their Novembers slipping away from them in the form of youtube videos, online games and the countless other ways that one can kill time on the internet.  But those first two- the planners and the pantsers (i.e. those who write by the seat of their pants) are the ones that have been on my mind.

I’ve never been a planner.  Not in life and most certainly not in my writing. My ideas are always amorphous blogs of stuff- some inspiration, some memories, some images and ideas from movies and books I’ve read, some daydreams, some nightmares and some of that weird mental goo that seeps out from you while you’re sitting in the car stuck in traffic.  And just like the original blob, those idea blobs can suck up whatever comes into their path and I’ll find myself including a variation of the conversation I just had or the household chore I just did in my novel.  The point is that they’re blobs- not story arcs.

When it comes to hitting 50k words this is not a problem.  In fact, it can be very helpful. You’ll write pages upon pages about all variety of stuff- some of which may ultimately end up being useful to plot or character development or theme but very little of which will actually move your story forward.  And the problem, of course, is that if you ever hope to actually get to the end of your story this method could be highly problematic.

A great demonstration of this is the fact that my first two Nanowrimo novels are both somewhere between 80k and 90k and both very far from the end despite their impressive lengths.

Last year was the first time I actually got to the end of my novel.  And I did it without bulking up the word count (final length was somewhere around 59k).  Now, I rushed to get to the end and the last few chapters probably wouldn’t make much sense upon re-read.  I undoubtedly skipped some stuff that may have been fun to write and possibly even useful for making the characters more than one dimensional.  I have no doubt that there is absolutely zero sense of flow to the story and some sections probably drone on with more detail than necessary while others flash by quicker than you can blink.  But in the end, it was still the end.  And the sense of satisfaction I got from that was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in writing.

Now this year, it seems like all the advice I’m getting from pep talks, youtube videos, blog posts and even newspaper articles is about how to reach the end.  The completion of the story.  The cessation of action, resolution of conflict, closing of the story arc.  The end.  So, I’m trying to reach the end of my story.

Like I did in past Nanowrimos, I have the basic arc in my head.  I have a beginning, a build up of conflict, and an idea of where I want it to end.  But all of the words and scenes and dialogues that connect those idea blobs together are unknown to me- and that’s where the pantsing comes in.  And that’s where I’m likely to fall into the trap of writing for word count rather than to move the story forward.  And that’s where I’ve been finding myself pausing and wondering “where is this going?”  At which point I will look at another youtube video or play a stupid online game I have no business playing.

There has to be some kind-of happy medium- because that’s the key to everything.  I have to be able to keep a general idea of where I’m going- a coffee-stained road map to lead me to the next plot point- while still letting the words flow.  Because what I’m doing right now isn’t working too well.  I’m not woefully behind (yet)- I’ve managed to keep myself only about a day’s worth of word count away from where I need to be.  But it has not been easy going.  And every time I’ve wondered “Where is this going?” it hasn’t helped me get to the point- it’s made me feel frustrated to the point that I procrastinate writing.  And that is not gonna get me to 50k by the end of the month.

So I’m going to try planning a bit more- see if I can’t come up with the key scenes of what need to happen to get me from where I am to where I need to be.  Something beyond the basic plot that involves more specific ideas about how my characters will interact, what will happen to them, and how they will transition to the next event.  And I will try my damndest to stay away from zuma.

If you have other suggestions of what’s helped you plot out your road map, please share them with me.  I am nothing if not open to suggestion.

Other than that, wish me luck!
Bev
(10,323 words and counting)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Franchise

Many people who are far more eloquent than I have already weighed in on this topic.  I wish I had some of their abilities.  But I’m just me.  So I’m going to talk about me.

I vote.  I vote because it is my right as a citizen of this country.  I vote because I recognize that it is my responsibility as a member of a democracy.  I vote because it’s the easiest way to tell the government that I still give a shit about what they do and will hold them accountable for it.

Some of those eloquent people I mentioned earlier have already spoken about the fact that voting is a responsibility.  And I recognize that if I expect to enjoy the benefits of a democracy that takes my voice into account then I have to participate in that government.

You wouldn’t go to a town hall meeting and complain about the fact that there’s no traffic light in that dangerous intersection if you didn’t live, pay taxes and participate in the activities of that town.  And you cannot complain about the policies of government that affect your life if you do not participate in that government.  It’s that simple.

And on a broader note, I will add that a majority of the things we’re proud of in this country- free speech, the ability to live the lifestyle that you choose, shared identify- are all based in democracy.  Voting is the first amendment.  Voting is patriotism.  Voting is being an American.  Voting is what separates us from so many people in other countries that we feel so much empathy for.  And those people have and will continue to fight wars, raise civil protest and kill for that right that is given freely to us.

So go vote if you haven’t, celebrate if you have and shut the hell up if you’re not going to.  Because if you don’t accept the responsibility of participating in this government than you have absolutely no right to state your opinion about what it does.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

Obviously, writing is something that I struggle with.  As many grand ideas as I have in my head and as much of an insane need as I seem to feel to write I am constantly plagued by this “Not good enough” feeling that overwhelms me and kills my desire/ability to write.  It’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I’ve written and after so many years of practice I have perfected the art.  It’s my own particular breed of madness.

And four years of college with amazingly gifted writers throwing every trick they knew at me wasn’t able to change that.  Feedback and support from many gifted writers I know personally wasn’t able to change that.  A write-or-die web app, intricate reward system and threat of severe consequences were not enough to change that. 

For reasons I still don’t understand, Nanowrimo changed that.  And three years running I have participated in the event, hit the 50,000 word mark within 30 days and had the unparalleled feeling of glorious, wondrous success warming my very soul.  So obviously, I’m doing it again.

Over the next 30 days I will purposefully embed myself deep in my imagination, desperately seeking out pens and keyboards to jot down my ideas as facets of my characters, plot twists and simple devices to bulk up my count occur to me.  I will sit in front of my computer screen for hours and use every procrastination device I can think of whilst trying to come up with my next scene.  I will soar above the clouds like some untouchable God when I hit my word count goal and hit the deepest recess of depression and self hatred when I don’t.  And I will drive my boyfriend, friends and family nuts worrying about me in the process.

I know that there will be moments when I will want to quit.  I will conclude that my plot (or lack thereof), my characters, my setting and my words themselves are irredeemable and I will decide that there’s no point in going on.  I will actively plan on signing off of Nano forever and may even bury my laptop under my bed because I’m so disgusted I can’t even look at the thing.  But I will always come back to it, I will always get that glimmer of hope when a new sentence arrives in my thoughts and I get it down and see that word count go up just a little bit more.  I will always be buoyed by the words of those writers who do this crazy thing with me and those now published authors who know that I can do it.  And in the end, I will hit 50,000 words. 

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!


 
How I Spent My Night

One of the things that I am most grateful for in my adult years is the fact that I am mellowing in a lot of ways.  Halloween has always been a big deal for me and I have always struggled not to put an extreme amount of pressure on myself to celebrate in grand style.  In the past, if I was throwing a party, it had to be the party.  If I was going to a haunted house, it had to be the best, scariest haunted house ever.  And if I was celebrating Halloween, I was celebrating Halloween.  Of course, the problem with all that is that the more you build something up the more destined it is to fail.  Cause, you know, reality.

Now I'm incredibly grateful for the fact that it doesn't take nearly as much to make me happy.  Sure, I went a little nuts baking in preparation for our Halloween potluck at work- but I like baking.  And the simple fact that there was apple pie and cupcakes was enough.  Just listening to the Monster Mash while chatting with coworkers was enough.  Just carving a simple jack-o-lantern was enough (though it certainly helped that it came out well).  Torturing my poor dog by dressing him up as a pumpkin and then cooing over how overwhelmingly adorable he is was enough.  Handing out candy to the cute kids in the neighborhood was more than enough.  And ending it all by settling on the couch to watch this year's Treehouse of Horror was all I needed to complete the perfect night.

It's been a great Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sleepy Hollow Trip: Lucky

So, having just regained power after a mere 24 hours without and having that be the worst thing we encountered in this storm that destroyed people's homes, flooded people's cars and took people's lives I have to begin this post by stating the obvious: I am really fucking lucky.  I'm lucky I'm alive.  I'm lucky my home was unscathed, especially since my in-laws had a tree fall on theirs.  I'm lucky we had no flooding when others watched their cars float down the street.  And I'm really amazingly lucky that this trip wasn't ruined a second year in a row.  I feel stupid focusing on that in the midst of so many bigger issues, but as I said, I'm really lucky.  So I'm going to talk about my wonderful Sleepy Hollow trip, cause that's the big news in my world.

Of the four events I had planned, we made it to three of them.  I'm going to skip the story of why we didn't make it to one of them and focus on what we did make it to, because they far overshadow that one miss.
Legend Celebration at Washington Irving's Sunnyside
I've been to Sunnyside before and I remember it, so that certainly wasn't the highlight of the day.  But I can't recall being to it during an event with lots of entertainment, Halloween goodies and freakishly adorable little kids in costume.  Those are the highlights.  Seeing an actor incorporate the passing train into his story of King Arthur and Sir Gawain's defeat of the Green Knight.  Hearing the balladeer play the chords from stairway to heaven during the performance of The Devil and Tom Walker.  Seeing little kids dressed up as candy corn and the Marvel superheroes- I saw Captain America pushing the Incredible Hulk around in a stroller!  Those were the highlights.  And how lucky were we to enjoy all of this rain-free the weekend before a hurricane?  It was a great day.
The Great Pumpkin Blaze
This event was definitely the best part of the weekend.  They advertise it as consisting of "over 5,000 hand-carved pumpkins" which sounds impressive, of course.  But to see it?  That's overwhelming on a level I was not prepared for.  Pumpkins as far as the eye can see arraigned in more elaborate ways than I thought physically possible.  Pumpkins covering the entirety of a tall tree- each one hand carved and lit up.  An entire graveyard with tombstones made out of the tallest pumpkins I've ever seen and skeleton hands reaching out from those graves.  Giant dinosaurs made entirely out of pumpkins- T-rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops!  Not quite life-sized but not much smaller.  A zoo complete with giraffes, gorillas, elephants and a hundred monkeys.  Big Ben with a moving clock face and working pependulum.  A seascape with all the fish, crustaceans, coral and other sea creatures you could think of.  A giant bee hive with hundreds of bees.  Giant jack-in-the-boxes made entirely of pumpkins carved with intricate geometric designs.  Celtic knots out the wazoo, an entire house made of jack-o-lanterns- I can't even remember everything we saw!  Even now I find it overwhelming to try to recount everything- it was that insane!  And so, so awesome.
Sleep Hollow Cemetery
No visit to Sleepy Hollow would be complete without a visit to the cemetery, the Old Dutch Church and the man who made the legend centered there.  Seeing Washington Irving's grave first hand seemed like an appropriate way to pay homage.  And seeing the rest of the cemetery was just cool for historical purposes.  Our walking tour was not a spooky one so there were no ghost stories.  But there was a whole lot of information about how cemeteries worked before the dawn of the industrial revolution, why certain symbols appear on grave markers, what a foot stone is, which stone wears best over time (it's not marble, fyi), how Andrew Carnegie designed his company and why William Rockefeller's estate is missing a mansion.  My inner history buff was loving the info and my inner child was just giddy from walking around in the gorgeous fall landscape complete with a cool wind blowing brightly colored leaves around spooky tombstones.  And again, how lucky were we to see all of this rain-free the day the hurricane was scheduled to hit the shore?

It didn't start raining until we were less than an hour from home so we made it with no issues and we were tucked safely inside by the time the storm started in ernest.  And on Monday when our power went out our biggest problem was boredom after we finished the fifth board game- rather than a flooded basement or a tree falling on us.  And now that Sandy has past I'm still marveling at how incredibly lucky I am to have made out so incredibly well this weekend.  And I am truly grateful.

Friday, October 26, 2012

1:45pm


1:45pm.  It was a good time.  It was the most logical time, he’d concluded, after several hours of debating when the best time would be.  The store should be as empty as it gets during the day and he would have the best chance of striking up a conversation with her in the most nonchalant, seemingly uncalculated way possible.  1:45pm was it.  He’d fallen asleep repeating it to himself like a mantra.

He looked at the clock. 1:38pm.  He was already sweating.  He clenched and unclenched his hands, then wiped his wet palms on his apron.  He shook them, trying to air dry them, and told himself to stop it.  This was the plan.  He would not let himself deviate from it, no matter how nauseous he got.

He’d waited so long for this, refusing to let himself make a move before he earned the promotion.  Now, newly settled in the deli department and proudly managing the responsibility of  the high-quality deli meats there was no way his inner judge could justify not making a move.  He wasn’t monstrous looking, he had a good job, he had an uncanny ability to mimic great moves from classic kung-fu movies and several other quality characteristics he’d been reminding himself of all day.  He was just as much of a catch as Charlie Gelecki if not more so because he wasn’t perpetually stoned.  Plus, they’d broken up 5 months, 21 days and 6 hours ago anyway.

He looked up over the counter and caught her arraigning a garland of brightly colored fall leaves around the salad bar.  She had a slightly far off look in her eyes and a small smile crossing her perfectly shaped lips.  He instinctively looked down to avoid her seeing him staring.  Dammit!  How had she snuck up on him without him noticing? 

“Breathe, Jeff- breathe,” he chided himself.

“Dude, you ok?” a voice came from behind him.

He jumped and let out a small, started grunt as he turned around to see Niles looking at him sideways.

“Sh-sh-shit!” he stammered.  Goddammit- he was already stuttering.  No, no, no!  This couldn’t happen, not now!  He bit his tongue and tried to breathe through the obstruction in his partially opened mouth.

“Wow- what the hell is going on?” Niles said.

Jeff looked down at his feet and reminded himself of how perfectly ordinary and not on fire they were.  They felt like they were on fire, of course.  And his stomach felt as if it was about to empty out the remainder of the breakfast he’d barely managed to choke down before coming on his shift.  And his head felt like it might fly clear off his body and rattle around the giant building like a pinball in a really big machine.  It was all he could manage to move his head in her direction.

“Oh, is it time?” Niles asked him, the dawn of understanding in his voice.

Jeff forced himself to glance up at the clock.  1:42pm.  He opened his mouth and inhaled, his tongue bouncing the way it did when his stutter was acting up.

“Dude, it’s ok- seriously.  Like I said, we got the best job in the store, you got the best sense of humor and if she’s too stupid to no- yeah, sure!  I’ll go get it right now,” Niles interrupted himself, rapidly darting his eyes at Jeff.

Jeff turned and nearly swallowed his tongue at the site of Chelsea standing right in front him, her smiling eyes shining at him.

“Hey” she said, her ponytail bouncing slightly as she tilted her head at him.

“Hey Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-“ he stopped and bit his tongue, hard.  Not now!  He couldn’t choke now.  It must be 1:45pm and 1:45pm was the perfect time.  He took a breath, closed his eyes and breathed out “Hey Chelsea.”  It sounded normal if a bit a winded.  He opened his eyes, looked directly at her and said “How’s it g-going?”

“Good,” she smiled at him.  He studied her face.  Her smile hadn’t wilted at all and she seemed to be completely ignoring his stutter.  It strengthened his determination.

“List-st-sten,” he stumbled.  He bit his tongue again and tasted blood.  He swallowed, sang the sentence to himself in his head and proceeded, “I was wondering if you wanted to go that Ha-ha-ha-halloween party with me.”  It was not the way he had practiced and the ‘halloween’ had come out in a shout.  But there was nothing he could do about it now.

He was just starting to curse himself for epically screwing up when the sound of “I’d love to” slammed into his ears like a sonic boom. He blinked and looked up at her.

She was smiling, even wider than before.  She wasn’t joking.

“I was actually gonna ask if you wanted to go- I love Halloween, it’s my favorite holiday, like, ever, and I really wanted to go but I kind-of felt stupid going alone and I thought that if you wanted go then we could go together and it might cool and I-“ she stopped herself mid sentence and looked down.  Jeff waited, holding his breath.

“I’m babbling,” she said as she raised her head, her lower lip tucked firmly under her perfect top lip as she grinned at him.  He’d been studying her facial expressions since he first saw her.  He knew the look.  She was embarrassed.

He exhaled.  His tongue stopped jumping down his throat.  The room suddenly cooled and his head settled heavily onto his neck.  He smiled at her and forgot all about looking like an idiot.

~

He’d forget the rest of the conversation they had after that.  He’d wonder if she said yes because she liked him or just really loved Halloween.  He’d wonder if she had been nervous because it was him or because she just really hated going to parties by herself.  He’d drive himself to the brink of madness with anxiety until he’d drop her off that night after the party and she’d place a small, tentative kiss on his cheek before getting out of his car.  And after that day, whenever he doodled in his notebook at school, he’d doodle “1:45pm”.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sleepy Hollow v 2.0


I grew up in a small town in Westchester county New York, only about 20 minutes north of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, so I was familiar with the story of the headless horseman very early on in my childhood.  I recall an animated version of the story being aired on television somewhere around October 31st which stuck firmly in my memory and became inextricably linked to Halloween in my mind.

The story, whose proper title is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was written by the American author Washington Irving.  Irving, for those of you who don’t know him, was born in Manhattan.  His earliest writings, naturally, were satirical pieces about the political, social and financial issues of that city at the time.  When he was 14, there was an outbreak of yellow fever in the city so his family sent him up river to live with a family friend in Tarrytown, sister town to Sleepy Hollow.  His young imagination fell in love with the place and his experience there lead to the creation of the story.

Though he spent the bulk of his young adult life in Europe, Irving was famous for his works set in that area of New York and he ultimately returned there to live, write and die at the age of 76.  His home, Sunnyside, is now a museum and historical site where visitors go to learn about the man, his writings and the cultural legends that informed his writings.

Now, I can only image how much his story informed the town of Sleepy Hollow and placed a certain expectation on how they mark the spookier holiday of the year.  So it’s no surprise that the town tends to go all out with festivities.  Being a huge fan of the holiday and thinking of how wonderful it would be to plan a vacation around such festivities, I started to plot such a trip early last year.

I had everything planned out, the tickets were bought, the itinerary was set, the hotel booked and the visit to my parents who still live only 20 minutes away all set up.  To say that I was excited would be a massive understatement.  And wouldn’t you know that that very weekend there was a freak snowstorm that blanketed the northeast in several inches of thick, slushy snow and shut down the whole town?  I was crushed.  And angry.  Who ever heard of a giant snowstorm in October?!? 

But the event did nothing but steel my resolve to make this trip happen.  So this year, I bought my tickets early.  I put in for my time off from work months in advance.  I printed out several pages of pictures and information about the events and made up a little booklet.  I’ve been daydreaming about it daily since at least August.  And come hell, high water or any kind of freak snowstorm, this is happening!

So tomorrow, after posting my new #fridayflash, I will be leaving for the super awesome fun-tastic mega magnificent Halloween weekend in Sleepy Hollow.  And it will be everything I’ve been hoping for all these months.  And I will write all about it all when I get back on Monday.  Stay tuned.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movie Review: Sinister

It’s hard to get a really good feel for exactly what this movie is about from the previews.  There are videos of rather disturbing things that are freaking Ethan Hawke out.  There’s some kind-of demon who may or may not live in the images depicting it.  There’s a little girl who sees… dead children?  And there’s a seemingly possessed child unfolding itself backwards out of a cardboard box while screaming.  Just pictures, moments and little snippets of information that don’t form any kind of story line.  This is the first step in making a great horror movie.  (Because one of the worst feelings is getting to the end of a movie and realizing that all the scary moments were in the trailer.)

The second step is mystery and Sinister starts out with a lot of that.  The very first thing you see is some old Super 8 footage of a family being murdered.  It’s disturbing enough to make you wonder what exactly happened.  Enter the main character Ellison Oswalt (Hawke) who gives my alma mater a bad name by showing up in a Bennington College t-shirt and acting like a dick.  He’s just moved his family- largely against their will- to this new house in suburban Pennsylvania so that he can write his new book.  He’s investigating the film we saw in the very beginning.  Apparently there’s a missing child in addition to the murdered family.  And no sooner does he console his wife that they’re not living a few doors down from the crime scene (“like last time”) than we see him look out the window to the backyard at the exact location from the video.

What this video was is quickly explained as no sooner does he go up to the attic to put a box away but finds another one containing a projector and reels of Super 8 film like the video we saw- seemingly home movies with harmless labels like “Pool Party ‘66” and “BBQ ’79”.  Being an investigative writer, he sets right off to find out what these movies are all about.  The first one he watches is that film from the beginning of the movie with a family being murdered. 

As he continues to watch these films (which get more and more disturbing), strange things start happening around the house.  His son who suffers from night terrors has some pretty unsettling nocturnal behaviors.  There are strange and dangerous creatures showing up.  The projector keeps turning on by itself.  True to typical horror movie style he ignores these things and moves himself- and his family- further into harm’s way.

The actual plot becomes clear by about the half way mark and even though you sort-of see the ending coming it’s still deeply, deeply satisfying.  I left the theater feeling confident that although the movie scared the piss out of me I would sleep perfectly well since usually the only things that really get me are zombies and there are none in this film.  I knew it was a good movie when I woke up at 5:30am and had to turn on the light to look around the room and make sure I was alone.  I didn’t get back to sleep that morning.

In the reviews I’ve read, many people complain that the majority of the scares are “cheap” in that they’re those classic horror movie false scares where something jumps out at you but ends up being nothing.  I’m fine with those since they usually elicit short, excited screams and jumps from me.  But by about the halfway mark, the cheap screams are replaced with distrubed gasps as the terrible truth becomes clear and the movie answers all of the questions that its main character asked when he started investigating.  In the end, you’re left with the feeling that this is the kind of thing that urban legends are based on, and possibly much older legends originally reported.

I have almost nothing bad to say about this film.  It worked for me on just about every level, even without the zombies.  And my boyfriend got a great movie-going experience since I screamed and flailed at every scare.  I’ve commented before on how I’m the best person to see a horror movie with.  Suffice it to say I still am.

The only thing that’s annoying is what is annoying about all horror movies- that scary, unsettling things happen and the main character ignores them, rationalizes them, excuses them until it’s too late.  But the writers of this film even address that since they create a real enough character that you can kind-of understand what would drive him to keep himself and his family in this situation that is so clearly wrong.  There’s a couple of moments where you actually feel bad for the guy cause it seems clear that he really is at the end of his rope and truly can’t help himself. 

That being said, the ending is still delicious.  And if I ever move into a house and find a box of family home movies on Super 8 film in the attic I’m converting and moving into a monastery.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Moment Before

As he made his way up the hill, two sets of very hungry eyes watched his ascent.  He was distracted from his audience by the small, flickering shadow moving about the bushes.  Was it a humming bird?  A squirrel?  A chipmunk?  He hastened to investigate, heaving his overloaded backpack further up his small back as he ran.

When he arrived at the front of the house he looked into the cluster of dying plants and twisted vines where he’d seen movement but found no furry, feathered or otherwise covered creature that might’ve attracted him.  He searched above and then got on his knees but found nothing in the underbrush aside from an earthworm and spider’s web.  And there’s wasn’t even a spider in it. 

He groaned disappointment as he straightened himself and brushed the dirt off his knees.  He noticed his sneakers light up as he moved.  He looked closer- there were small lights in the soles that twinkled and burst as he stepped.   That was so cool.  He was too excited to wonder why he’d started walking up the hill in the first place.

His eyes stayed glued to his feet as he climbed the steps to the front door, nearly colliding with the knocker as he did.  Then he looked up at the thing he’d nearly bumped his head on.  A twisted, evil-looking smirk on a bat-like gargoyle met his gaze and he stepped back.  Suddenly he was drowning in confusion.  Where was he?  Why had he come here? 

Then an overpowering urge to see what was on the other side of the door hit him and he felt himself involuntarily step forward.  His sneakers lit up as he did.  He knew with sudden clarity that the family who had given him those shoes was not on the other side of that door.  He turned and ran down the hill so fast that his backpack left bruises on his spine that lingered for weeks afterward.

“Damn it!  We had that one!  I thought you said the spell would work!”

“Sshhh- here’s comes another one!”  A long crooked finger pointed towards the small figure slowly coming up the hill.

She stepped up the long, sloping driveway with confidence.  This had to be the place.  She looked around at the dreary, neglected landscape, the broken shutters, the peeling paint.  “You’d think you’d at least try to hide what you are if you’re hunting children,” she thought to herself.  But she wasn’t here to judge, and right now she could feel the two watching her every step so she had to act the part.

She stopped and kneeled down as if to tie her shoe.  She could feel them react, their anxiety prickling along her skin like needles.  It was deliciously satisfying to toy with them and she lingered there, fumbling with the laces as a child would.  She straightened herself again and hoisted her backpack up the way she had when she was growing too quickly to carry her heavy kit comfortably.  She sensed them settle and their hunger rumbled through her like thunder on the horizon.

She projected the energy she’d knew they’d be looking for: youth, single-mindedness, ignorance and just a touch of fear.  She slowed her walk, drawing out the last few steps up to the door, meandering as if she didn’t know quite where she was or how she’d gotten there.

There were many moments in the life of a witch hunter she’d come to love over the years but none were more delectable than this one.  The moment just before the chaos, the fight, the kill.  The moment of wonder before the arsenal of magic was unleashed.  The moment of silence before the world exploded around her.  She breathed it in and then exhaled, smiling.

She pushed the door open and it groaned like an old man trying to get out bed, echoing through the large foyer.  “Hello?” she asked the empty space, and waited.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Field

It was just a field. Just a spot of grass off the road.  There was nothing special or significant about it.  For all she knew it might have been a landfill not long ago.   But for just that one moment, it was all she needed.  The sunlight radiating off the golden grass, the flies floating through the pollen just above the ridge, the sound of crickets growing louder as the sun crept slowly behind the horizon.  She exhaled and closed her eyes with a silent prayer of thanks to whatever deity had blessed her with the moment.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Oral Contract

Champagne, chandeliers and coat tails, it made him smirk.  He couldn’t help it.  Greg made his way around the circuit, smiling his dazzling smile and shaking hands with the high-end society peoples.  He went through his mental encyclopedia- John just remarried for the third time, his new wife who was 40-plus years his junior was named Claire… or Clarice?  He tried the later, it took.  Her young eyes sparkled at him and he could tell by the way she was eyeing his frame that the rumors about John’s virility were true.  He shook the old man’s hand that much more vigorously.  The old man laughed.

“What are we all so jolly about?” Chet said, sliding his way over to the trio with cheeks too red for his claims of moderation.

“Your stock portfolio after next Tuesday,” Greg laughed.

“Oh come now, I think you’ll find that going public is the best thing for our little start-up,” Chet said, smiling more than the response called for.

It was bullshit, Greg knew.  He’d discovered the scheme well before it was fully hatched and secretly invested, knowing full well that when the company tanked they’d all make a bundle while the average suburban dad would lose his nest egg.  What was that phrase?  Something about dogs eating each other?

He excused himself, desperate to catch two seconds of quiet before the circus began.  He’d planned it for years, now, this merger.  All the strings he’d been pulling behind the scenes would tie together and he’d be the puppet master.  A warm feeling in his chest overtook him at the thought but he pushed it back down, determined to stay focused on the next step.

Outside the cold air was a breath of life and he filled his lungs with it, flushing out the stench of cigars and suits.  He looked out across the darkened lawn and reviewed the next step in his mind.  The handshake, that’s what it was all about.  Him and the CEO of the merging company smiling for the cameras and proclaiming a new era of fiscal responsibility.  He closed his eyes and let the image fill his thoughts, securing it into place.

Then he heard the voice he’d convinced himself was only a dream and his heart stopped.

“Well, well.  It seems like just yesterday I left you wandering in the muck and now here you are, rubbing elbows with nabobs of all shapes and sizes.  How the words do make you.”

Greg turned to look at the man even though a voice in his head was screaming at him to run the other direction.  He knew the form immediately- the sharp, angular chin, the raised temples.  If he squinted he could almost see a plateau left from cleft horns still lingering under the surface of smoothed skin.  “Get a hold of yourself, psycho” he chastised himself.  “They’re just junkie dreams.”

“Excuse me?” Greg asked, trying hard to be polite even as he struggled to breath.

“Come now, Greg- don’t pretend.  We understand each other better than that.  You didn’t really think that all your failures came from those needles.  Or that all of this-“ he waved a well-manicured hand towards the bright ballroom behind them, “came from just getting clean.”  The man smiled at him, his dark eyes stripping away the last reassurances.

Greg felt the mask he’d been wearing for the past 7 years fall away and in an instant he was the razor sharp mercenary he had been.  “What do you want?”

“Oh, Greg.  Is that any way to greet an old friend?”

“You are not my friend.”  He glared at him and did his best to be imposing.  It was stupid, of course, but reflexive.

“True enough, I suppose- though I think these meaningless pleasantries are a dying art that should preserved, for the record.  But the wise say that business partners cannot be friends and we do have business to attend to,” the man sighed.

“What business?”  He kept his responses short lest the charlatan spin his words into a netting with which to catch him.  He remembered that about the man, or whatever he was.  The power with which he could manipulate the mind and turn impulsive thoughts into incontrovertible beliefs.

“The terms of our agreement,” the man said.

Greg said nothing but tried to remember.  The memory floated up to him out of a fog.  The cardboard bed in the darkened alleyway, the shape above him as he took what he thought would be his last breath… it was too blurry, his mind had been so dark.  Then it came to him.  The offer of a new life, all the power he’d always dreamed of, the words he had uttered…

“Ah, now you remember,” the man smiled.  It was the smug, satisfied smile of a spider watching a fly struggle against tightening silk.

Greg turned and ran back into the party.  Logic dictated that this wasn’t something he could escape from but panic had taken over.  He nearly collided with a fat man that stank of old scotch and expensive cologne.

“There you are, we were just wondering where you’d gone off to.  Here we go, right this way-“ he said as he forcefully ushered him up the stairs to the balcony overlooking the floor.  Greg tried to fight him off, his mind cart wheeling as he searched the crowd behind them for the man. But the fat man pushed him upstairs with surprising strength and a second later he was waiting for the handshake he’d envisioned.

He forced himself to look behind him at the man the crowd below was applauding.  It was him.  It wasn’t, of course, it was the same man he’d sat with in that board room only a month ago.  But somehow the eyes had changed, the smile was his- the man who’d come to collect.  The man walked up to him with an unnatural confidence and took his hand in his.

“I think this will be a very fruitful partnership.”