October 31, 2008

Trick or ...

Hey ... screw Halloween!

It's my favorite pumpkin's birthday.

Send Larry a message and show him some love.

October 23, 2008

Hooray for the "Boo!"

TheGraveyardBook_Hardcover_1218248432.jpg Hey, it's coming up on Halloween and all. Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is the perfect little sweetly spooky treat (with a moral, natch) for young and old (okay, maybe not too young ... oh heck, it's no scarier than those Harry Potter stories, and who doesn't like a ghost story?).

Go on, indulge your inner YA reader. You won't be disappointed.

Just don't show it to your oh-so-literary novel-writing teacher, or he might say, "Why are you reading children's books? I do not approve."


Back to the sanctioned reading list then. Finished Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum last week and Jonathan Coe's lyrical The Rain Before it Falls over the weekend. I've now just begun Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World. It was oh-so-pretty for those first few pages and then the poor little girl goes and drowns (or does she?) in the pond.


It's one thing for all the neighbors to think you and your family are hippy freaks come to wreak havoc in their idyllic country village — but then you go and kill (or maybe just brain damage) the neighbor's two-year-old. Well, there's a story. Remind me never to babysit.

It sucked me in right away. I've not read her before, but she sort of reminds me of Jane Smiley. And that's not a bad thing.

And Asbo Was His Name, Oh

I went to Mitcham (a little over an hour away via a tube, a train, and a tram) this afternoon and walked around for a couple hours. And now I'm back. It wasn't very thrilling at all.

It was supposed to be for inspiration, to find an angle to turn this little blurb into a story for school, but ended up mainly perspiration (which wasn't really a problem since I was wearing Mitchum — what a difference a vowell makes, eh?). I'm sure it's a lovely little community. It's just that every time a dog barked, I got a little nervous.

I was hoping to find a little memorial, or at least a cracked-out woman walking around wearing a black armband that had "ASBO" bedazzled on it. I got bupkis.

Yeah, so when I got the blurb on Tuesday night I thought, "Ha, I'll name the dog Asbo."

Turns out, that was its name. A self-fulfilling prophecy to be sure. Had she been more clever, the owner would have named her little pit bull "Valium", or "Lude", or "Restraining Order", or "Please Don't Eat the Babies."

Fortunately, no humans were killed during the making of this news item. As for dogs, well ... notsomuch.

October 19, 2008

There Was a Farmer Had a Dog

I turned in my little Bingo scene this afternoon. Had some fun with it and kept it short and sweet — the buzz from the tutor lately is 'less is more' and 'make the reader work a little'. Which leads to the question ... how much do you like to work while you're reading and how much do you like the author to spell things out for you? I imagine it's all subjective.

The places outside my coursemates' comfort zones have been all over the board: a guitar shop, a couple of bookies (as in OTBs, for all y'all New Yorkers), a spiritualist's (I'd love to go visit that one), a church where the preacher drinks a bit (which sounds vaguely familiar, but I was raised Lutheran), a murder trial (with the accused making an appearance via video link from his padded cell), a surreal council meeting, a footie match, and a the floor of a brokerage where the hero is more interested in buying hookers than stocks (clearly that author never worked in the City). It's all been great fun to read.

Oh, and there was another bingo hall scene. So much for me being original.

That said, we clearly went to separate venues and came away with two radically different scenarios, which is what I reckon one would hope for. Interestingly, we both characterized the caller has having a singsong voice. I wonder if we'll get points for nailing the description or dinged for using a cliché?

So far (three assignments down) I've avoided the dreaded circle-C* ... maybe this is the week.

* Circle-C = cliché; Circle-DB = do better (haven't gotten that yet, either)

October 18, 2008

Taking Stock

It's been argued that the difference between a forty-something gay man and a fourteen-year-old girl is a bank account. Or a fake ID.

I wonder if I can combine those now and have a fake bank account?

I've never been one to feel comfortable in the shoes of my age group. As a kid, I was always "old for my age." I went through my teen-age rebellion during my twenties and thirties (if in fact it's even finished).

And lately, I've been feeling very old. This has manifested itself with my latest hot beverage of choice.

Beef consommé. I've been going through about a bottle of Knorr's Touch of Taste a week lately. A couple teaspoons in a mug of boiling water ... delicious; 2-3 cups a night.

Okay then, I'm off to put on my flannel, do a little cross-stitching, listen to some Montivani albums and soak my dentures. A perfect Saturday night. Tomorrow I'm scheduled for a blue rinse. Then maybe I'll go feed the pigeons.

(Oh, and I ended up at bingo on Thursday night, which was spectacular.)

October 15, 2008

Where Oh Where?

Let's play a game. What do the following have in common?

  • a place of worship (whether formal or the Church of Universal Light Ministry in a back room on Walworth Road)

  • a council meeting - full council or a committee

  • a minicab office (just ask to hang out)

  • a children's playground after school (maybe not one for the chaps)

  • Battersea Dogs' Home

  • a courtroom

Give up?

These are suggestions for places to go that might be out of my MA group's comfort zone. The task at hand is to go some place where:

  1. you are a stranger

  2. you can blend in / not be obtrusive

  3. people who are there are "regulars" and will have some kind of interaction (beyond store clerks waiting on customers)

And then we write a scene from the point of view of one of the regulars. I'd really like to go sit in at the winner's table of one of Nottingham's sexed-up Wednesday pub quizzes and write from the POV of a losing table, but deadlines are deadlines.

So, in lieu of that, where would you go? Where would you suggest I go? The piece (500-1,000 words, not too long) has to be turned in by 6pm on Sunday, so I'd like to have my visiting done before noontime on Saturday. That gives me Thursday evening, Friday morning, Friday evening and early Saturday.

Oh, we've gotten additional instructions: "sordid is best; try to make your pieces involve action/story not memory/editorializing/thinking (it's always easy to invent a character with a whole lot of angst/opinion); what cuts the mustard is people showing themselves by their actions, by being in a place and doing their thing; the characters should all belong in the place you visit - no observers or fishes out of water, it's about how a place/event works and how the people make it function."

All suggestions welcome. Go.

October 14, 2008

Look, Don't Touch ...

Had a bit of a surprise yesterday (although when you expect the unexpected ... ). Work is really drying up in yonder Exec Center, and my friends in the General School are more than willing to help me out, if there's work. I went into school knowing that I had a lunchtime class this week, with an outside chance of picking up a low-level group in the afternoons*.

I wasn't in the teacher's room two minutes when one of the boss-types comes up to me and says, "I just wanted to let you know that you've got a blind guy in your 'Let's Talk' class."

"Oh, do I have a 'Let's Talk' class?"

To which he goes to another boss-type and asks if in fact I'd been timetabled into the class he thinks I'm teaching.

Which I had. So, yes, now I have a blind guy in the class. He's really sweet and his brother (who has about the same level of language ... not much) sits next to him and acts as his eyes. So I just have to work in more listening than look-at-the-pictures exercises, and be careful when describing things in purely visual terms. Which is a bit of a challenge, but nothing too taxing. I just can't rely as much on pulling up photos with Google images to teach new vocabulary.

Anyway, we were doing introductions yesterday. I was having the students get to know each other, using a pre-scripted questionnaire. One of the questions was "Are you good at sport?"

One of the boys, an eighteen-year-old Italian who looks a bit fashion-modelly, answered yes. I asked him what sport he liked and he said swimming. Turns out he's in the pool three times a week. I asked him how long he swam during each of those sessions.

"About two hours," he answered, which elicited the collective appreciation of the class. Lots of oooh-ahhs interspersed with multiple wows.

And the blind guy chimes in, "does he have lots of muscles?"

Imagine my temptation to be all Annie Sullivan and ask Michael Phelpzio if his sightless classmate could give him a feel. That temptation was quickly overruled by my internal censor, who proffered the option "why don't you feel Michael Phelpzio and let the blind guy know." Again, overruled.

Instead, I stammered a bit and said, "Well, um, he's wearing a heavy jumper, but he looks fit enough."

And we moved right along.

* Either way, it's cool ... I like having my mornings free and am getting some good writing done (well, at least several hundred words on the page) along with knocking back an extra hour or so of reading over a leisurely half-pot of coffee.

October 6, 2008

With CNBC, Who Needs the Comedy Channel?

Larry and I were just eating pizza (carbo loading while we can still afford it) and watching Maria "Money Honey" Bartiromo shriek her way through CNBC's Closing Bell, and who comes on for a commentary? It's my old BrandThis! pal Patricia Chadwick.

Patty's first comment was, "I've never had so much cash in my life," to which Larry and I simultaneously (clearly we've lived together too long) shouted at the TV, "Bitch!" and then muttered something about nobody liking a braggart.

Clearly she was referring to the equity/bond/cash balance of her investment portfolio(s), but still ... with all that media training she's had, you'd think she'd choose her lead-ins a little more carefully.

A segment or so later, another pundit comes on, looks directly at Maria and says, "There's probably a $200 billion hole out there."

How dare you, sir!

I thought only Todd Thompson was allowed to call her that.

Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm here all week. Try the veal and tip your servers.

October 3, 2008

Sarah (Not That One) Says ...

Well I didn't quite wake up at 2am for the debate, but I'll catch it later. How'd she do?

Baby sister steered me towards this lovely clip (hmm, start a creative writing program and turn your blog into videos ... not a good sign).

In lieu of real posting, here's a moderately offensive but very funny plea from the girl who brought you "I'm F*cking Matt Damon."

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Now, if we could just get some famous Buckeye to help put Ohio in the bag, we'd be in good shape.

October 2, 2008


We were doing telephone role plays today in my Business English class. Student B (flirty male) had to take a phone message from Student A (attractive female).

B: Hello, this is B, how can I help?
A: Yes, I'd like to rent a flat in London for the next two weeks.
B: You're welcome to stay at my house.

Teacher: Um, this is Business English, let's try to keep it professional.

B. I'm sorry, our agent is out of the office, can I take your name and number?
A. Yes, it's Alicia.
B. Can you spell that please?
A. Yes, that's A ...
B. Is that "A" as in alone?

Tomorrow I guess we'll study the vocabulary of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Either that, or we'll go back to basics ...

Almost makes you believe in teaching elementary education, eh?

Senator House

Wait. He voted for it but he thinks "this bill is putting us on the brink of economic disaster."

Oh. I get it. It's like my brother-in-law's theory about Dr. Gregory House ... "he has to kill the patient before he can save it."

Clearly there's more context to this, right? Does he really expect everyone to believe that he really suspended his campaign? Or did he just totally develop a case of Sararrhea?