March 31, 2008

You Had to Be There

And I'm back from my week away at Arvon.

Looking back, the whole thing's akin to one of those obscure art house indy films. At the beginning you're thinking "ooooh, I just don't get it" and you feel a little underwhelmed and think maybe it's not going to live up to the hype and, gawd, this is going to go on way too long, isn't it?

Then somehow something clicks and the whole thing whizzes by and it's funny and touching and creative and profound and there's beauty in the banality of doing everything and nothing at the same time and you leave going, "Ohmygod. That. Was. Amazing."

And you want to watch it again.

Then you get all evangelical about the film and you try to explain it to your friends and they just look at you like you're an inarticulate feral crazy man so you just say, "go see it for yourself."

So what made this such a good film? Without a doubt, in this case it was the cast. Everyone was just perfect. They all came with individual objectives, ranging from "I've never written creatively and want to see if I can" to "I've got half a novel done and want to discuss it with published authors" ... which in itself is all well and good but can happen in just about any workshop.

The beauty, for me, was that none of them came off as "writers", if that makes any sense. I didn't spend the week with writers, I spent the week with a group of truly endearing people who can write. Coz like one of my favorite twitterers tweeted the other day, "although I love art/literature/music etc etc I can't STAND people TALKING about how/why they do it".

Oh sure, we had the occasional chat about craft and character and whatnot, but mostly we wrote and cooked and ate and took walks and drank wine (some of us more than others, but some of us are trained professionals) and laughed and simply enjoyed ourselves. And we shared stories ... real ones and made up ones and probably a few that were somewhere in between. The tutors were more than a little insightful (if not fully formed characters themselves), the staff was lovely, and the scenery couldn't be beat.

Loch Ness is beautiful. It was three miles away from where we stayed and we picked the perfect afternoon for a leisurely three-hour (and seven minutes) stroll.

I'm a wee disappointed I didn't see the monster, and I'm not certain why geese are supposed to be so scary (they were very helpful in Babe, right?) and the disused caravan in the woods isn't, but all in, aye, it's a spectacular spot.

So I'm back with some edits to existing work, a new respect for bad haiku, pages and pages of raw material to flesh out, and a host of new characters to play with — some of them being real live people including, but not limited to, the "2am Haiku Club."

As a bonus, I've got all these random snippets of a new favorite film flashing on my brain's personal little YouTube viewer. And even though I'm a little sad the movie's played out, each of those clips makes me smile.

March 24, 2008

Checking Out for a Spell

And so I bid adieu to Glasgow.

Highlights of the trip include two spectacular dinners at The Buttery and 78 St Vincent, walks along pedestrian malls (Oxford Street, take note) and some beautiful architecture. I also very much enjoyed the kind folk at the Glasgow Film Theatre, where I saw The Orphanage and Lars and the Real Girl.

I urge you all to see the former, but not read anything about it. The less you know, the better. Just go. Right now. Go on. Email me once you've seen it and we'll talk.

I found LARTG to be one of the most beautiful and lovely fables about acceptance and the glory of community that I've ever seen. Gosh, between this film and Juno, you'd think nobody would ever want to leave the Midwest. Who knew I'd be weeping (and from the sniffles at yesterday's matinée, I wasn't the only one) at an alleged comedy about a man who falls in love with a sex doll? It's so much more than that. Ryan Gossling gives another spellbinding performance, and the supporting players are all spot on — especially Patricia Clarkson (who is never bad) and Lars' brother and sister-in-law, played by Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer. The whole cast was just perfect, as was the script. I really can't recommend it enough.

Lowlights include the hotel, where Quality was certainly only a name and not a value. It was noisy (drunks in hallways *and* mechanical noises that sound like an airplane is taking off every couple of hours), in terrible disrepair, and, well, sort of filthy. I did an experiment on the first day in the bathroom, writing "Clean Me" on the tile wall above the bathroom mirror. Three days later, my message remains (there's a photo, but I didn't bring my USB cable). Plus, it's hard to ever feel really clean when the shower (even after it's run for five minutes) looks brown in the bottom of the white tub. Classy. That's what we get for booking something over the web. You'd think we'd realize that what shows up at the door isn't necessarily what's advertised on the web. Gee, I thought that only applied to Internet dating, not hotel shopping as well.


So now I'm off to Inverness, where my writing workshop will begin tonight. I'm very excited but also a little apprehensive about living with 16 new people for the rest of the week. And then there's the prospect of having a new roommate. It's all very first day of college and moving into the dorm ... except I was 18 then and not nearly so crabby set in my ways.

Everyone I know who's attended one of these Arvon courses has found them to be magic, and I have no reason to think my experience will be anything less. I'm pretty sure there's not Internet access, so this site might be kinda dull for the rest of the week. Hey, what do you mean, "it's okay, we're used to that."

I reckon there'll be mobile access (or maybe not ... I'm 13 miles west of Inverness, up in the hills near Loch Ness), so perhaps there'll be some Twitteriffic updates.

Alright then, off to check out of the hotel. To complain or not to complain, that is the question.

March 20, 2008


We're off to sunny Scotland tomorrow and I don't know what kind of interweb access I'll be having. Wishing you all the happiest of pagan fertility rites, in whichever way you choose to celebrate them ... bunnies, eggs, crucifixes, stuffed baskets, new outfits, etc.

I'm sure I'll be around, but just in case here are a few of my favorite seasonal punchlines:

  • I can see your house from here.

  • Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail and a Rolling Rock

  • They found the body.

I'm missing one ... which was it?

March 19, 2008

Get Your Kicks ...

I was having dinner and drinks with some of my charming work colleagues tonight and we started talking about differences in pronunciation (or simply 'pron' as we like to call in the biz) between the Yanks and the Brits.

How do you pronounce ROUTE? Does it rhyme with out or boot? And make a note of where you're from. Oh, and does it matter if the context is a highway or an Internet peripheral (like, um, a router)?

Muchas gracias.

March 18, 2008

Tuesday 200 — #75

I’d been reminiscing with Peter, a long-lost University chum and recent inductee into our band of merry widowers. After a few sherries, I was a bit misty-eyed when I recalled scattering Katherine's ashes off the Cornwall coast. She adored the sea.

“Sorry to have missed the ceremony,” he said, raising his glass.

“Truth told,” I confessed, “‘twas a bit of a sham. I hadn’t been ready to let go, and the urn I emptied contained nothing more than a mixture of fireplace scrapings and the contents of our Hoover. Kathy’s still tucked away in the back of our bedroom closet. Our children would be apoplectic if they knew.”

Peter gave a knowing chuckle and told me about The Phoenix, a club he belonged to just off Cavendish Square. A dark-paneled townhouse, with cracked-leather sofas and disused fireplaces, its mantles and shelves were adorned with vases and urns of all shapes and sizes.

“It’s like a friendly mausoleum.” he said. “A lovely spot to meet friends or read the paper over a coffee and brandy.”

Turns out, I enjoy the smoking room the most, although you’re never exactly certain what, or who, is resting in those ashtrays.

:: :: ::

What's a Tuesday 200?

Last time's Tuesday 200.


March 15, 2008

Is That Where That Goes?

In a never ending battle to reduce clutter, I'm making a more consistent effort to put things away when I'm done with them. It's a simple habit, one that everybody's folks probably instilled into them at an early age.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

The other night I opened the refrigerator and found a pint container of Hagen Daaz on the shelf. I had enjoyed a few spoonfuls of said confection a few hours before, and it seems I'd put it away (well done!), just not back in the freezer.

This wouldn't be so bad, except that it's the third or fourth time that's happened in the past couple months.

Just a little while ago, I was making myself a cup of my favorite tea — Tazo Green Ginger (which always reminds me of Provincetown and is really hard to find here in London).

My tea mugs are in the cupboard above the kettle. Once the kettle was ready, I pulled a mug off the shelf, plopped the tea bag into it and poured the water in. And then I started to set the kettle down ... not on the electric base where it lives, but on the cupboard shelf that I'd just pulled the mug down from.

Just how do they test for early-onset dementia, and where do I sign up?

Which Do You Think is Scarier?

Sky diving or bungee jumping?

March 13, 2008

Shoot Me Now. You'll Be Glad You Did.

My application for the MA program is due tomorrow. Well the first of four that I'm thinking of applying to, which happens to be the one I'd really like to attend.

Inexplicably, this message has already appeared in my inbox ...

Thank you for submitting your application to join the MA Creative Writing (Novels). Your application will be processed. We will be in touch regarding how you can track your application status on-line.

Oh fuckedy fuck. Now I'm in the game, and ahead of schedule by one whole day.

This is not like me at all.

Okay then.

First, thanks to everyone (bloggers* and non**) who have put up with me over the past few days/weeks. I know I've been a trifle neurotic (even for moi), but I truly appreciate your comments, edits, pats on the back, and "oh you're a big mess, just shut up and press SUBMIT" support while you helped me through the following quasi-crises:

  • How do I chop down a 700-word personal statement down to the prescribed 200-word maximum? (It ended up at a concise 199, and I'm very grateful to you all, especially a certain military mom who wields a mean axe-like red pen).

  • Oh shit, my fiction submission (the one that my tutor-of-choice recommended) is only 2,200 words and I've just realized the precis is for 5,000 ... as opposed to "up to 5,000' ... words. Dang. Do I send two short pieces that don't come close to 5,000 words? Three pieces? Do I send a longer piece that worked well in an online workshop but hasn't been selected by a committee? ***

  • What should the title of the longer piece be, because at the eleventh hour I'm having a crisis of faith over its working title (which I was never really pleased with)?****

And now we've got that all done and dusted. At least until the next wave of neuroses begin. Tide reports indicate those will be in shortly and should be include ...

  • Either I'm going to be rejected (oh, god, why am I not good enough?) or asked to have an interview (oh god, I'm so not good enough).

  • If I get the interview I'll either be given a thanks but no thanks (oh, god, why am I not good enough?) or a welcome to the program (oh god, I'm so not good enough ... the rest of the applicants must have been shit this year and they only want my money) and ...

  • Oh fuck, I have to write a novel!

Don't worry y'all. It should only be like this for the next couple years so, unless y'all are lying to me and I don't get into one of these programs. In which case, it will be more of the same, just without the I'm-too-old-to-be-in-grad-school moaning.

Stay tuned.

* You know you you are and you don't need any more linky-love.

** You should be blogging yourself ... and I'd gladly give you some linky-love.

*** Actually, I'm quite pleased with this 4,500-word story, and it's previously been submitted for publication. If you want to read it, let me know. Or wait and pay for it. (Ha, how's that for supreme arrogance positive thinking?)

**** It's now called "Rip Tide", which I came up with on my own after a few post-editing pints careful deliberation and I'm happy with that. All things considered. "Boys and Gills" ran a close second, so thanks for that.

March 11, 2008

Sleep on it and Rotate

I woke up early this morning feeling a bit disoriented. At first I thought it was because of an odd dream I'd been having, the plot of which was fuzzy, but revolved around losing my place in a sketch comedy troupe I'd belonged to, wandering around Greenwich Park, talking to Eva Longoria who turned out to be Roy (aka Bianca Del Rio, a drag queen who used to work with my first boyfriend in New Orleans), and an old lover asking me if I could come back into my life.

It doesn't usually bother me when I dream about exes, but they've never been in the same storyline before. And I haven't seen an episode of Desperate Housewives in ages.

So there I was, half-awake, not knowing where I was but reasonably assured by the familiar site of an orange cat curled up on a pillow next to my head.

And yet something was still wrong.

That's when I realized I was laying sideways across the bed, my head facing east when the top of the bed faces north. In my sleep, I'd moved all the pillows (there are four) to the east side of the bed as well.

And now I can't stop thinking, "turn around ... "

I guess today's earworm is going to be Total Eclipse of the Heart.

March 10, 2008

Oh Look! Another One!

Gee, an elected official who is a sanctimonious hypocrite. Shock. Ing.


Maybe Shakespeare was wrong, or perhaps The first thing we do, let's kill all the politicians didn't scan as neatly.

On the other hand, Mr Spitzer was a lawyer first. A lawyer who made our lives at Brand This! quite a nightmare for a time. I kind of always hoped figured he'd get busted on some kind of insider trading.

But all's forgiven, he said he's sorry.

As Mom taught us early on, if you were really sorry, you wouldn't have done it in the first place.

Karen Carpenter's Nightmare

No, not an all you can eat buffet.

It's a rainy day and a Monday. And, oddly enough, I feel quite good about it, if not quite on top of the world. I guess that's what coming home early from a mini-pub crawl, baking an apple pie (which is, truth be told, a bribe for someone at work), and getting to bed around 11pm will do for you.

There's something to be said for that eight-hours-of-sleep thing. For all we know, it just might happen again tonight. Gosh, I'll really feel like a superstar then.

I even woke up a little early and entertained going out for a swim, but that wind did sound awfully menacing. So I stayed under the covers and played a bit of solitaire, thinking there's a kind of hush in the flat, what with Larry gone.

I think it will be a review day for the Iraqis. Yup, they'll feel like it's yesterday once more.

Or maybe I'll make them sing.

March 9, 2008

Eating the Elephant, One Chunk at a Time

I've gotten another section of the application done and sent off to the person who needs to deal with it next.

I've done a bit of writing, and have made another dent in the novel I'm reading. I've digested a chapter of Ms Tharp and am pondering my creativity in a creative manner. I've had a bit of a meditation and resisted the urge to turn that into a nap. I've been to the gym and I've swam for half an hour.

The kitchen's been tidied and there's laundry in the washer and dryer. The cats are fed and they have a nice clean box to do their business in.

Larry's off exploring a giant construction site in a sandbox and I find myself vacillating between continuing my day of productive baby steps and heading out for a walk around Soho in what could be the last day of nice weather for quite a spell.

And maybe a pint or two.

March 7, 2008

I Have a Confession

I'm sleeping with Brian Williams.

I didn't mean for it to happen, it just sort of, well ...

I blame the harpies at Fox News. They're like heroin. I don't really want to watch them, but the past few days I've been compelled to see what verbal gonorrhea comes out of their overly made-up faces. I come home from work and say just one little bump, just enough to see what happened in the election coverage. Afer all, they are "American's Election Headquarters." WTF? How'd Rupert manage to get that brand and doesn't America have any say in the matter? No wonder I moved.

Anyway, Terry Keenan had to have been cracked-out yesterday afternoon. She was tripping over words (and trains of thought) in a staccato sibilance that one might normally have associated with Liza in the loo at Studio 54. I. Could. Not. Stop. Watching. She then morphed into someone named Martha, who is slightly more palatable (perhaps because ex-Cincinnati boy Bill Hemer usually sits with her) if not a trifle too perky.

By the time 11:30 rolled around, I needed wanted to see if anyone in America was broadcasting something remotely level-headed. And going straight to bed with Fox News on the brain is a guaranteed nightmare inducer. So I switched to CNBC, which airs the live broadcast of NBC Nightly News. Sure, it's a little overproduced, but as far as television news goes, it's more broadsheet than tabloid. And besides, that witch Terry had been bashing NBC, complaining that an episode of Medium had deliberately modelled a homicidal cannibal (as opposed to a cannibal who only eats people other people have killed) after John McCain. "No wonder NBC's ratings are in the garbage," she said, leaving me to wonder just what "fair and balanced" actually means?

But anyway, NBC Nightly News. Right. Brian Williams is the anchor. *Sigh*. In the marry/shag/throw-off-a-cliff game of television journalists, I'd drop him into the first category (as I would've done with his predecessor, Tom Brokaw, back in the day).

So there I was, lying on the sofa, exhausted from a long day of teaching/scribbling/harpie-hating, and my Brian comes on to calmly and quietly tell me what's really going on in the world.

And then, six hours later, I wake up on the couch, not even remembering what Brian said (or if he even said anything). I guess there's something to be said for someone who's so geeky and boring relatively sane comforting that he lulls you to sleep while telling you the world is up its own arse. I didn't even hear him tell me "good night."

I have another confession. This has happened two nights in a row. Larry’s away all next week. This is how affairs begin, isn’t it?

March 5, 2008

Bits from Bob

  • Switching between CNN and Fox yesterday, I had the choice of watching Al Sharpton or Anne Coulter being interviewed. That is not much of a choice, my friends.

  • I'd never had the displeasure of watching Brenda Buttner before, but gosh ... she made Anne Coulter seem intelligent, well-spoken, and reasonable. That's quite an accomplishment.

  • The Democratic race is now officially going on too long. Fear mongering and name calling makes for good televison and gets the vote. Way to go Republicans Hillary!

  • Memo to HRC: Well done on a good job and all, but try not to confuse enthusiasm with gloating. It could be misconstrued as arrogance. And while you're bashing your opponent and his speechifying, you could learn a thing or two about being gracious (either in victory or defeat).

  • The good news is that Hillary is catching up to McCain in the polls. Last week she was a good five points behind. Today, she's only 0.2 points down on average, but still not close to leading all the polls. Obama's still consistently favored in an Obama/McCain contest by a good margin. Come on Democrats, get your act together.

  • Yeah, it's a wonderful town, but I think the answer to this song is very clear.

  • Larry's take on last night's results and his fear that the GOP might pull it out of their collective elephant behinds ... "looks like we won't be moving back anytime soon."

  • The Iraqis made my day this morning. Didn't hear one word about Mr. Bean, but one of them said, "We like studying with you because you make us forget about the troubles in Bagdhad." I can totally live with that.

March 3, 2008

Bean There, Dunced That

My Iraqi students (who turned out to be middle-aged officials from the Ministry of the Interior, and not the police cadets I'd been promised) told me this morning that I was a beautiful and funny teacher.

"You remind me of Mr. Ben," Abudulrahamn said.

I wasn't sure who Ben was. Someone from his host family? Someone they knew back in Baghdad? After a bit of back and forth, we figured out that he meant Mr. Bean. The joys of pronunciation.

"I remind you of Mr. Bean?"

Yes yes yes, they all nodded in agreement.

"And that's a good thing?" I asked dubiously.

They assured me it was. Mr. Bean represents, according to them, the most beautiful of English comedy. So I guess it's a compliment. I'm still not convinced, especially after looking him up on yonder Wikipedia, which labels him ...

... a slow-witted, sometimes ingenious, childishly selfish and generally likeable buffoon who brings various unusual schemes and connivances to everyday tasks.

I reckon it's better than Jerry Lewis.

So now I guess I'll dig up some Mr. Bean videos and see if I can't incorporate them into a couple lessons over the next two weeks.

March 2, 2008

Oh, What a Circus

Just saw this great photo on The New York Times web site.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

As much as I admire her, I think it might be time for HRC to step out of the spotlight.

Whittling Away

Okay, okay, okay. I'm working on the applications. Thanks for the kind words and/or kicks in the behind, whether in comments or emails.

Each of the applications has its own set of criteria. The one that's proving to be the most challenging is the personal statement for the novel-writing program (which is, in my heart, the one that seems the best fit for me).

Why would you benefit from this course?

Use this section to tell us why you wish to pursue your chosen course at XXX University. Admissions Tutors will be interested in your academic background, relevant experience, career aspirations and social and intellectual pursuits.

In two-hundred words or less.

Over the past week, I've sketched out some notes. Tried to build a compelling case on why they should bring me into the interview stage based on my little plea.

Yesterday I wrote the first 'formal' draft. It came in at just under 700 words.

Today I'm down to 306, and I'm actually fairly pleased with it. A quick reference to George Eliot's "It's never too late to be who you might have been.” A brief exploration of motivation, comparing novel writing to marathon training. A comment on the joys I've found in process vs production (the head of the program used to be in the theatre and we've already had an acting vs. writing chat during an informal meeting).

It's not a bad essay, if I do say so myself. But, like my body fat, it still needs to be chopped down by a third.

That said, it will work very nicely for the application that asks for the same thing in 500 words.

Odd ... the program that makes you write a 15,000-word dissertation asks for a personal statement 2.5 times longer than one where you have to finish a 60,000-word novel.

I'll let it cook for a bit and then come back with a big red pen.

Interesting, this usually happens with Tuesday 200s. I think I have nothing to say then I end up having to prune half of the words away.