Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shake It Like an Earthquake

This morning I shut off my alarm, doze again.

I wake later to my room shaking. The trophies rattle in place. The walls and floor vibrate. No car moves in the garage, no low-flying planes.

Earthquake? my mind mumbles. Then: Like Sweet Valley. I called this.

The clock says 10:46.

Later I wonder, Did I dream it? Everything is aligned in my room as it should.

When I check online, local news hasn't jumped on it yet. But New Hampshire has: http://www.wmur.com/r/25959897/detail.html

I am correct.

Stage Five: Maps of Amsterdam

On the morning train to Amsterdam, Lena and I wear our purple sweaters courtesy of Den Haag's Zeeman. Apparently this is some kind of discount store, since my sweater only cost 7.50 Euros. But I need to stay warm. Now I don't know how I lived without this glorious knit purple, baggy on the arms, fitting near the bum.

We talk about life plans. I mention Ph.D. dissertation ideas. "Don't you want to live life first?" she says. "Get a job, meet people, have different experiences?"

I'm still debating as we pull into Amsterdam Centraal.

This is where the tourists are. Rotterdam is modern and brisk, Den Haag charming yet practical, and Amsterdam's streets teeming with cameras and maps and Dutch souvenir shops. I step into the bike lane and almost get struck.

The architecture is lovely. I take more photos than necessary of the canals with their bridges, bikes chained to railings. We follow the map toward where we think the Anne Frank House is. I idolized Anne Frank in third grade.

"I think I've been there before. I don't really remember it," Lena says. Translation: she found it overwhelming.

No matter. I want to judge for myself.

We wind past the coffeeshops. They seem designed to draw foreigners. The souvenirs follow the same theme of "Amsterdam, wink wink nudge nudge." I'd imagine that the natives, should they wish to visit such shops, have their own off the beaten track.

Amsterdam is not a city I can imagine myself living in.

Lena and I end up lost. We pop into a venerable Bagels and Beans to jump onto the WiFi, then regroup.

Unfortunately, the line to visit Anne Frank's homestead is long and slow-moving, and we've got an afternoon shift at the arena. I don't know if it's weird or disrespectful to take photos in front of the apartment. But two dudes do. So I decide it's okay for me, too.

We find the Red Light District, which I genuinely wanted to see. No photos allowed. Girls our age, younger, older dance in the windows the way girls dance in front of a mirror, laughing, playing. But these girls mean it. They live this way. They smile and crook their fingers to the men who walk by. It's noon.

Uncomfortable, but intriguing.

"Why isn't there a Red Light District with guys?" we ask each other.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life, a handy metaphor for football

Saturday night: load up my bag with all the Sweet Valley Senior Year books I can find. Drive to Flo's.

I'll be generous and say it's been five years since I picked up a Sweet Valley book of any permutation. As Elizabeth and Jessica entered sixth grade, eleventh grade, twelfth grade, you can bet I was right there beside them. Just a bit younger.

When you're in high school, you're far too cool to read about fictitious characters of your age who are, in fact, leading much cooler lives than you. But when you're in middle and elementary school, you need your idols.

Even at age eleven, I could sense that the Sweet Valley twins were ridiculous, implausible. Universally beloved, stunningly beautiful, seamlessly slipping in and out of trouble? Yeah, okay.

At least the junior high version made passes at educational moments. Once the twins hit high school, all they wanted to do was make out with boys who were "in a word: perfect." All the time. And occasionally help their friends who had "real problems."

But I read on anyway. I knew it would all end in a hot mess (or an earthquake--spoiler alert), but I couldn't look away.

Now I can pretend that I'm re-reading these books as research. Learning what works and doesn't work in Young Adult fiction. But let's be honest: I really want to see if they still hold that hot mess magic.

There are many lulz-tastic lines that Flo and I read out loud to each other from our respective couches ("Why can't life be like football?" "He looked through her. Into her."). But instead of tossing the books down in disgust, we're flying through. Fact-checking ("I thought Conner and Elizabeth's first kiss was in the hall after she read the poem about him." "Nope, it was in the car."). Frightening ourselves with the fact that crazy Melissa Fox is, in fact, similar to girls we know.

We judge ourselves a bit. But the magic lasts: we keep reading.

And you know it's true.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

All poems are love poems

NaNo-ing and this poem came to mind. One of my favorites.

"For Semra, With Martial Vigor"
-Raymond Carver

How much do writers make? she said

first off

she’d never met a writer


Not much I said

they have to do other things as well

Like what? she said

Like working in mills I said

sweeping floors teaching school

picking fruit


all kinds I said

In my country she said

someone who has been to college

would never sweep floors

Well that’s just when they’re starting out I said

all writers make lots of money

Write me a poem she said

a love poem

All poems are love poems I said

I don’t understand she said

It’s hard to explain I said

Write it for me now she said

All right I said

a napkin/a pencil

for Semra I wrote

Not now silly she said

nibbling my shoulder

I just wanted to see

Later ? I said

putting my hand on her thigh

Later she said

O Semra Semra

Next to Paris she said

Istanbul is the loveliest city

Have you read Omar Khayyam? she said

Yes yes I said

a loaf of bread a flask of wine

I know Omar backwards

& forwards

Kahlil Gibran? she said

Who? I said

Gibran she said

Not exactly I said

What do you think of the military? she said

have you been in the military?

No I said

I don’t think much of the military

Why not? she said

goddamn don’t you think men

should go in the military

Well of course I said

they should

I lived with a man once she said

a real man a captain

in the army

but he was killed

Well hell I said

looking around for a saber

drunk as a post

damn their eyes retreat hell

I just got here

the teapot flying across the table

I’m sorry I said

to the teapot

Semra I mean

Hell she said

I don’t know why the hell

I let you pick me up

Friday, November 26, 2010

Elasticity out of meter

The other night I read a prose poem online and had two reactions:
  1. This sounds like prose poetry I've written, and
  2. I haven't written that way in a long, long time.
I really enjoy "that way," too. Fluidity and word play, a roll of nonsense, a burst of light. Except it seems that in my fictions I favor practicality and simplicity. Stay with the story. Maintain a staccato beat.

Conclusion: it's time to play again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Active recovery

Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias!

Excitement of the day:
  • Ran the five-mile (8K) race this morning with Doug at my side (for the first 1.5 miles. Then it was time to break away. Sorry, brother!). Managed to not throw up whilst placing third in my age group.
  • Made a professional page! Check it out. Be its friend. It would like that.
  • Ever wonder what life's like in Oman? Tanye West can tell you. My lovely former college housemate and her boyfriend are teaching in the United Emirates, and their adventures to nearby locations (and pictures) are quite exciting!
Somehow, I sense that I won't be quite this enthusiastic when I wake up tomorrow (see first bullet point).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the ranch,

I've finally caught up on NaNo words!!!

38,369 words down. 11,631 to go by November 30th.

Afterwards, I'll feel awesome for a few days. Then I'll reread and eliminate half of those words and replace them with others, half of which will end up replaced, too. You know the rendezvous.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Maiden Voyage

Bicyle races are coming your way.
You may recall a suspense-filled post in October when I wondered out loud if I'd purchase a bike that day.

I have one now. Check out that beaut!

The bike's appearance in my life stems from a few factors:
  1. parental pressures
  2. eagerness for a new endeavor
  3. illusions (potentially delusions) of grandeur
After four knee surgeries, my dad turned from marathon running to cycling. Now he regularly tours the state circuit, winning races and sometimes setting records. For a while now he's suggested that I take up the sport, too.

But let's take it back to age seven on our street, as Dad yelled at me to stop using my training wheels and I sulked. My bike bumped over the rough pavement, the kind that they smoothed after I was past my rollerblading phase (for that, I skated in the garage to "Heal the World" and "Eternal Flame"). The bumpy road made my teeth chatter. It did not make me want to leave my training wheels behind.

Dad was not impressed. Similar arguments would erupt in the learning-to-drive-a-car days, but right now this was the greatest block of my age: I could not ride a bike.

But beneath my fear lay sass. One afternoon, I stood on the driveway of my friend Stephanie's house as she and her sister rode in happy circles. And I decided: I'm going to ride my bike, too.

That evening, my dad drove around the corner to see me cycling around the cul de sac, training wheel-free. He never really acknowledged my victory. I used to think it was because he felt he failed in teaching me, but maybe he was just relieved I'd gotten over it on my own. We could move on now.

In recent years, he's tried various methods to motivate me to cycle. "Lots of young guys," he would say. "Not many girls. If you started training now, you could make the Empire State Games team."

Let's not forget the time Dad and I biked together in Monterey on a family vacation, four years since the last time I'd sat on a bike. We pushed away from the bike rental shop. Dad cruised into the road. I rode directly into a metal pole.

Regardless, enter the illusions/delusions. I like winning. I miss competing. I run races but do the sport mainly for fun. And I can't resist the thought: I could be good at this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

For the young (or older) gymnast in your life,

some fine works of gym fiction.

Your reputation precedes you

Thought it was a good idea to read Dracula, the play version, before bed. I couldn't help but love the final monologue:

VAN HELSING [To Audience]
...A word of reassurance: When you go home tonight
and the lights have been turned out
and you are afraid to look behind the curtains
and you dread to see a face appear at the window...
why, just pull yourself together
and remember after all
 there are such things.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

we all have a sickness

After November, I may need a break from fiction. Perhaps I'll turn to poetry instead or maybe that old screenplay.

Oh, whatever. I already know that's a lie. Keep it coming, figments of my mind.


Beth, re: her immune system: "One of the girls broke her arm and returned to the gym yesterday, fully healed. That's how long I've been sick for."

I live for these sorts of questions

Text from my boss: "Any good song ideas for the website montage?"



My sleeping habits sigh, but they accept my ways.

Monday, November 15, 2010


When in doubt, put your character in danger.

How do I get you alone?

This is how it happens. I leave behind the e-mails I should send and the stories I should submit. Trade it for a run between lakes, organic salads and inorganic fries. I wouldn't know the difference. I eat three pieces of bread between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. My little ones disappoint me today but when they fill every step of the podium, including the first, none of them much over four feet, I can't stop clapping.

I dehydrate. I storm around Borders and buy the same book I bought two years ago for the same person. I pace back and forth in front of one particular display until, with a rare burst of spontaneity, I pick up Glee: The Music, Volume One. I judge myself. I crank it all the way up on the drive home.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I stayed in tonight and NaNo-ed away. No chapter numbers. Just scenes that are mostly consecutive, hopefully building. The going was slow today, but it's gone now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Issued forth another 2000+ words for NaNo, just edited a chapter of Mexico (more than halfway there), participated in Interview Round Two and the writing test. Ran four miles, outpaced the sunset. Last night enjoyed pumpkin raviolis. My knees creak to say that I've done too much, to stop knocking them into desks and falling asleep at odd angles.

So what makes me restless tonight?

Monday, November 08, 2010

2721 words

is how much I busted out today for NaNoWriMo. But it didn't feel like busting. It felt like fun.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Too tired for "We did this and then this" travel post. But awake enough to run six miles around Montauk. The end and back. Deep blue clouds and slate water, lighthouse shading and oyster pursuits. It's huntin' time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Stage Four: Streelights, People

It was only a week ago and I'm already starting to forget. What was the proper order of things? When and where? I remember how and who, though. And so I go forward.

I continue the early morning jive because if ever I'm going to carpe diem, it will be in these breaks before our shift. Catch the train, the tram, the metro to the cities I have to see. Bite back against the cold. Ready the camera.

Our first journey is to Den Haag, the Hague, Lena's former stomping grounds. We step off the train into the sub-10 a.m. sunlight and a cold wind strikes us. Really cold. Enough to decide that I'm willing to buy a winter coat regardless of the euros.

But we march on. "Here's an old church," Lena says.

"When was it built?"

"I don't know."

I like the honesty. I take pictures anyway.

Spurts of rain. Umbrellas snap open. Nobody seems to mind.

We purchase cheap sweaters in matching shades of purple, and that improves our moods considerably. As well as the weather. We see the UN buildings, the Peace Palace, the uninviting gates of the American Embassy, so many flags, so many bikes.

There is a dignity here. Quiet and classy. Classical and modern. I can see myself on these streets, a passing glance at the rain.

We have light.