Friday, February 25, 2005

Weekend Reading

It was a busy week and I only read one book: Jonathan Kellerman's Billy Straight, which alternated between freak-you-out-suspense and wake-me-when-it's-over boredom.

It's going to be an even busier weekend, but hopefully I'll get to do some reading. On the desk for this weekend's reading are two books: The Expert Expatriate: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad and Personal Finance for Overseas Americans.

I bought these books awhile ago but I finally have cause to read them. Because of a pile of considerations, Peter and are moving to Dublin (yes, Ireland). For him, it's moving back home and for me, it's moving back to where our relationship started. This decision is a funny one in that it's equal parts snap-judgement and agonized-analyzed-drawn-out-conclusion. But for friends and family who were not privy to our thought processes the last few months, it might seem like a bit of a crazy impulsive thing.

It's both exciting and a little scary. I'm looking forward to jumping into this new life with both feet. Our time line is both immediate and uncertain. Our realtor is coming over tonight. I expect that our house will be on the market within the next two weeks.Once the house is sold, we're leaving (I imagine we'll leave on the day it closes).

Now, I have to get back to cleaning/packing/purging/shredding/preparing. Our rental dumpster is scheduled to arrive this afternoon and I'm looking forward to filling that bad boy up.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Eating an Elephant

It's an old joke and it's probably not even very funny, but it's a truism I keep in my head when I start to feel overwhelmed.

Q. How do you eat an elephant?
A. One bite at a time.

How do you run a marathon? One training run at a time, one step at a time, one second at a time - whatever unit of measurement works for you. I truly believe that anyone in reasonable shape can run a marathon. When I ran my first one, I was 50 pounds overweight. It took me nearly 7 hours, but I did it. Finding the time to do training runs and avoiding injuries are the two toughest tasks in marathon training. After you've tackled that, the actual race is a breeze.

How do you write a book? For me, it's actually two pages at a time. That's my production quota - two pages a day. Some people do more, some people do less. If I'm on a hot streak, I write through it. If I'm struggling, it helps knowing that I only have to fill up two pages and it doesn't have to be Shakespeare. If you're panning for gold, you have to sift through a lot of dirt before you find it. And when you're writing, you have to write a lot of crap to get to the good stuff.

When you're faced with an impossibly huge goal, picture eating an elephant. Break the goal into manageable bites, find some ketchup and get started.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Daily Physics

I was sort of a math dummy when I was in school, which gave me a great fear of the physical sciences. I did great at biology but the thought of encountering math in the science lab gave me performance anxiety. I enjoyed chemistry, to a point, and did my best to avoid physics. I took a class at a college called "The Flying Circus of Physics" and got high school credit for it so I never had to really take high school physics.

As I get older, I find that physics is in my daily life, whether I like it or not. I'm talking about two concepts, namely entropy and inertia. I am on a crusade against entropy - the natural tendency of systems to degrade, run down and become disorderly. The coffee table in the living room is a key battle ground. Mail, keys, change, Peter's camera equipment, books, plastic bags, and all manner of other debris have a nasty habit of collecting on that coffee table. Etropy in action.

I've been trying to institute a campaign to eliminate the laundry problem in our house. I have a tendency to let laundry pile up, causing me to do 3 or 4 loads in a day, which (of course) I then don't feel like folding and putting away. It's a constant struggle to try to stay on top of things and I decided to try to do the laundry when there was a full load ready to go (instead of waiting until one of us was out of underwear).

Unfortunately, the Laundry Entropy Project has hit the brick wall of another physics concept - inertia. Besides the nifty physics rule definition, Merriam Webster has a second definition that perfectly sums up my difficulties: "indisposition to motion, exertion or change: INERTNESS." Yes, I am sometimes totally indisposed to move, to exert myself, to change the status of the laundry.

In all, I think inertia is the bigger problem. Disorder is annoying, but can usually be sorted out. Inertia though - a reluctance to change, an inability to get moving - is a more difficult nut to crack. By its very nature, it's a difficult process to reverse.

I don't have the answers. Unlike actual physics, the physics of daily life can rarely be resolved into a simple equation. But I think being aware of inertia and being willing to make bold changes, brave moves, even unthinkable leaps of faith when the situation requires, will go a long way to helping conquer personal inertia.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Weekend Reading

Didn't read much this week since Peter was home. I'm excited about this weekend though. Peter brought me the UK hard-cover of Ian Rankin's latest book. Rankin is my absolute all-time favorite author so getting his new book qualifies as a personal holiday for me. In fact, I had to hold off on starting it until the weekend because I knew that once started, I'd have hard time doing anything else.

Fleshmarket Close (American title is Fleshmarket Alley) is loaded with plots and sub-plots for Detective Inspector John Rebus and Dectective Sergent Siobhan Clarke to unravel.

Rankin is a Scottish writer and the bulk of his books' action takes place in Edinburgh. Our first trip to Edinburgh was driven entirely by my desire to check out the locations in my favorite books. When Peter asked me what I wanted to do in Edinburgh, my answer was "have a pint with Rebus." Failing that, I hunted down a place that did walking tours and e-mailed the guy who ran them. I told him that I understood that they did tours for a minimum of 6 people and I offered to buy 6 tickets to be able to take the tour. Unfortunately, it was the holiday season and both guides were out of town when we were there. Or so the man said.

What makes the Rebus books so incredible? I think it boils down to characters and locations. The characters are incredibly complex, flawed, human individuals. They're familiar types - the ground-down alcoholic cop, the woman battling the glass ceiling, the sleazy and shady suspects - that somehow manage to transcend stereotypes and become fully realized individuals capable of reaching out to readers. The settings are vividly described and Rankin does a good job providing a sense of the history that hangs over Edinburgh.

If you're looking to give the Rebus books a try, I'd recommend starting in the middle with something like Black and Blue, Black Book, or Mortal Causes. They're a good warm-up for his later books, which are (IMHO :)) highly developed works of art : The Falls, Resurrection Men, and A Question of Blood. The early books are interesting in an evolutionary sense, as they show how Rankin got started and hit his stride. They're typical mysteries, some more sensational than others, and are worth a read for fans of the genre or the author.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Isn't it funny how a simple smell can trigger a vivid memory? It's almost like smells are time machines. I wonder why that is, what sort of evolutionary advantage that gives us.

I was thinking about smell and memory this week. On Monday, I was getting ready to pick up Peter from the airport. I usually get dressed up for the occasion - or dressed up for me at least. I'm the world's worst girl when it comes to girly accoutrement like make-up and purses. I keep my hair as simple as possible so I don't have to fuss with it. But on Monday, it was raining and I didn't want fly-away bangs or too much annoying humidity curl, so I dug out the hairspray.

One whiff of the Aussie Sprunch Spray and I was back in high school, getting ready for homecoming or a trip to the mall. I pictured the Big Hair that was standard-issue for mall trips back in the day. It was amazing how visceral and immediate the reaction was. I almost felt the ancient yellow and white curling iron in my hand.

I'm not one of those nostalgia freaks. I'm very glad the high school days are behind me. But it was funny to see myself back then, when at least I tried to wear make-up even though I never got the hang of eyeliner. I wonder if that younger me could picture this older me and what she'd think of me.

On balance, I'm much happier now. I might have to worry about mortgages and bank balances but at least I don't have to worry about math tests and high school dances. It's weird to remember how you were, see how you are, and wonder how you're going to be all because of the purple-y smell of a hairspray.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Reject. Rejected. Rejection.

I got a rejection today to a query I'd written to an in-flight magazine. Around here, that's standard-operating procedure. I've been at this whole magazine thing since November, 2003 and I've racked up a modest 300+ rejections. The numbers would be higher except that I don't always meet my production goal of 2 queries a day. Bad worker, bad, bad.

My typical reaction to a magazine rejection is plain old indifference. I find another magazine to send the idea to and put the rejector on my list for coming up with new ideas. It's just a big machine. Feed it queries, get rejections, turn the rejections into more queries. Eventually, something strikes and I get to write an article. I have about a 5% hit rate, which I think isn't too bad when it comes to cold-selling, which is pretty much what article querying is.

Rejection is a normal part of my magazine business cycle. When it comes to my novel, rejections take on a whole new dimension. My book took me six months to write. While I'm proud that it's not biographical, there is a ton o' me in there. It's a tiny piece of my soul, embellished in a wish and sent out into the mean world.

As my query letter puts it: Flying Close to the Ground details one determined young woman’s attempt to fulfill her dreams without destroying herself.

The young woman is 17, the dream is racing horses, and the problems range from eating disorders to family and friend relationships.

I've sent it out to a small number of agents and editors. Friends who have read it loved it, of course. I've read it too much, so I hate it now. So far, I've gotten 2 agent rejections and 1 editor rejection.

While I can shrug off magazine rejections, book rejections are as painful as a pen in the eyeball.
I haven't waited by the phone so anxiously and been so disappointed since high school. While I do have a system for dealing with book rejections that goes beyond the rocking-and-moaning-in-the-corner stepI've gotten really hung up on agonizing over each rejection.

It's simple really - no one will tell me why they're rejecting my book. In high school, if a guy had said "Nope, I don't want to go out with you. You're fat and weird and have bad hair", I would have been hurt, but I would have been able to do something about it. Go on a diet, find a new hair dresser, get a personality transplant. But when a guy says "I don't like you that way" or "I don't want to ruin our friendship" or "I get so many girls who ask me out, I can't give reasons to all of them and I can only date a tiny fraction of them", that gives me nothing. All I can do is focus on the what-ifs and to run scatter-brained through myself trying to locate the potential problem.

Constructive criticism isn't an oxymoron - it's a gift. So, as you go through this Valentine's Day, breaking hearts, making girls cry and rejecting books, do everyone this small kindness: give a reason why.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Weekend Reading

Thanks to Borders, I had a good reading week. I got sucked in by the "Buy 2 Get 1 Free" table and managed to get 3 books that I really wanted to read. And read them I did! I can recommend all three of them too. In the order that I read them:
  • Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons by Lorna Landvik is an engaging look at a suburban cul-de-sac where the wives become friends, bonding through a book club that is equal parts book club, gossip circle and therapy group. The characters are so developed, so real - I felt bad when I finished the book, like my best friend had moved away.

  • My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult is about a family struggling with a child's illness and how that illness ripples over each family member's life. I went back and forth on this book. I didn't like the writing style, which is of the over-blown, overly self-conscious, I-have-an-MFA-and-I'm-not-afraid-to-use it variety that I find all too often in the "contemporary literature" section. Despite the writing, the book is worth reading because of what it makes you think about. How do you define identity? How do you become defined in terms of yourself instead of in terms of your place in the family? What is a good, meaningful life? How does a mother balance the best interests of her children when they are in direct competition with each other? This book stuck with me long after I'd stopped reading it.

  • Little Children by Tom Perrotta is about marital infidelity, child molesters, and empty surburban lives. Sounds like a real laugh, doesn't it? It actually is - it's tenderly written and you care about these people (except for maybe the molester whom you fear and pity) as they run head-first into an unavoidable trainwreck. The characters are damanged, fragile people who are playing an adult version of Marco Polo - staggering around with their eyes closed and trying to grab happiness.
I hit the library yesterday to stock up for this weekend. Since I enjoyed my week's reading so much, I picked up a couple of books by the same authors - Landvik's Patty Jane's House of Curl and Perrotta's Joe College.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Rushing It

I was at the grocery store today to pick up a few things. As I pushed my cart past where they've had the Valentine's Day display, I noticed that it was now stacked with Easter stuff. The Valentine's stuff was out in the middle of the no-man's land right before you step into line at a register.

The idea seems to be - let's put the Valentine's stuff where you'll trip over it and rush in the Easter stuff. I don't know about you, but my mind doesn't jump from Valentine's Day to Easter or from Halloween to Christmas.

It made me think about how maybe that's part of what's wrong with us - that we don't stop to enjoy what we're doing, what we have, or where we are. We're just always rushing onto the next allegedly exciting or enjoyable or important place.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Hidden Treasures

The drain in the basement has been backing up recently, so I went down there to try to unclog it. I can't do laundry until this is sorted out and after you've had your own laundry facilities for almost 3 years, it's agony to go back to a laundromat.

I used a gardening implement that you use to pull weeds, a straightened out coat hanger, and an old spoon. Yep, I am too cheap to fork over the money for a snake.

This is what I've fished out of the drain so far:
  • Super ball that looked like a number 15 billiards ball.
  • Rock in the shape of a puzzle piece.
  • One dime.
  • Part of a broken ball point pen.
  • A bingo ball - G-59.
And still the drain is not entirely unclogged. Kind of makes you wonder what else is in there, doesn't it?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Weekend Reading

Just finished a great book - Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson. I usually love Bryson although he sometimes has a tendency to whine (especially in his America books). I enjoy his wry sense of humor and descriptive writing style. I guess my dad hates him because Bryson wrote something nasty about Cleveland. But really, if I were going to disown everyone who dogged on my hometown, I would be divorced and friendless. You need a hide like a rhino if you're from Cleveland.

That aside, in Neither Here Nor There Bryson retraces the steps of his youthful travels in Europe. The book is 15 years old, so it's interesting to hear him talk about the fall of Communism and quote prices in native currencies (instead of the euro). He reminisces, compares the countries to his memories and seeks out new traveling stories. I'd rate this one a close second to his book on Australia and you'd do well to check them both out.

I went to Borders today to pick up a little treat for the weekend - Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares. It's the third in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and well, if you think you need double X chromosomes to enjoy the books, you're probably right. Even though they're geared for the young adult audience, the books are engaging and funny. I can't say enough good things about the Pants books so I'm going to stop trying and get to reading the latest!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Rock & Run

When I trained for my first two marathons (Chicago, 1999 and 2000), I participated in a virtual training forum. Inevitably, someone would make a post inquiring about wearing headphones and would promptly get flamed by the self-satisfied running purists.

Wearing headphones is a personal choice. I believe in maintaining situational awareness, but I also like having the company, the background noise, the inspiration that can come from my own personal sound track. If you keep them at a low volume or only use one ear bud, a walkman can serve the functions of coach, rival, and fan.

Walkman as Coach. I like to make mix tapes for 5-K and 10-K races. I time the songs, figure out my goal pace and determine what I should be hearing when I hit a certain point in the race. It's a fun way to make sure I hit my splits.

Walkman as Rival. Last week, I was plodding around on the indoor track. I was having an okay run, not a great run though. One kid, she must have been about 14 or 15, kept gliding past me like I wasn't even moving. I envied her easy, long stride and got really sick of looking at her bobbing ponytail, but I didn't think I could catch her. I have a crappy radio right now that I use on runs and I ended up on the hard rock station, just as they started the Guns and Roses song "Welcome to the Jungle". The driving beat, screechy lyrics and overall pump-you-up tenor of it drove me in a way I can't entirely explain. The song made me push myself to keep up with it, the way a good rival can. The result? I totally iced the teenager on two laps.

Walkman as Fan. For the ordinary exerciser, you're never going to have hundreds of people cheering for you. You're never going to get lifted up by the crowd and carried along on their momentum. There is no "Tenth Man" in running, there's not even a "Second Man". Usually, there's just you. But sometimes a song can serve the function of a fan. It can make you feel better, encouraged, happy, and special. The more upbeat U2 songs do this for me - "Vertigo" and "Beautiful Day" are probably my favorite fan songs.

Let the running purists trundle on with only their footfalls for comfort. Me? I'm saving my pennies for an IPod Shuffle and I'm looking forward to using it during the marathon. Song suggestions are welcome.