Archive | November, 2012

Captain Obvious has something to say about writers

27 Nov

Captain Obvious, here.

Not a lot of time to chat today, lads and lassies, but I had to make a quick stop by to make a vital observation, based on a year’s worth of reading.

Writers like reading. From whence did I draw this stunning conclusion? Look at the main characters in novels–they always love to read. If they don’t love to read, then a character close to them does. Generally a character we are supposed to like and/or sympathize with.

I know this is revolutionary, but think about the last few books you’ve read. I’m not a betting Captain, but if I was, I’d lay down a crisp Lincoln who’d say one of the characters in it is a reader.

Take my examples:

And When She Was Good: Prostitute-cum-Madame who loves political history and gets herself beat up by a pimp for – YUP – visiting the library. (Not an innuendo).

The Sweet Far Thing: Gemma Doyle is barely seen to read anything besides her mother’s diary or important missives from mysterious figures, but throws a conniption fit when her beloved Austens and Brontes get a little dog-eared.

The Thirteenth Tale: You really don’t even need to open the cover to see this is a book about reading (plastered in book spines. My kinda cover, actually). But if you did, you’d see the main character–who also happens to be a writer obsessed with sharp pencils–get so involved in her reading that she makes herself psychologically ill.

Harry Potterses: Sure, our hero is a man of action. He has that luxury when his best friend is so into books that she packs dozens of them in her super-duper-last-minute-emergency lifesaving magic marypoppins bag.

Conclusion: Write what you know, and writers know reading.

Until next time, kids, stay safe: comment on the weather and traffic.

How not to: pack for a weekend trip

14 Nov

Ask anyone who knows me: I suuuck at packing. I do not pack lightly. Or quickly. Or efficiently. Or in any way well.

As a kid I even used to walk around with my backpack unzipped. My teachers would point it out like it’s something I’d want to know. Please, lady. I left it that way on purpose. (What? The minute you close it you just have to get in there again for something else. May as well leave it open!) I might perhaps still do this in adulthood, with my purse.

I tell you this so you know that, when it comes to how not to pack, I am a teacher most qualified. I’m proud to say I have personally made all of the mistakes on this list at some point in my life. No small feat! So without further ado, the don’ts. (HEHA, ya like that? Say it out loud if you didn’t get it. I’ll wait.)

  • Procrastinate doing pre-trip laundry. Because that moment you realize the only top that goes with this skirt has a spit-up stain on it? The best.
  • Wait until the night before your departure, or better yet, the morning of, to finish (or – ahem – start) packing.
  • Forget about shoes until you’ve packed your entire suitcase. Then you get to choose between putting the shoes on top of your clothes, or taking all the clothes out and starting again.
  • Make a detailed packing list, perhaps using an excel spreadsheet, and then proceed to lose or ignore the list when actually packing.
  • Forget, or perhaps not bother to, close all the outside pockets on your luggage. (Hey—has anyone seen my passport?)
  • Bring basically all of your makeup. Because really, who knows what kind of look you’ll want on a particular day?
  • Forget undies.
  • Forget socks.
  • Put things in haphazardly folded, or not folded at all. Most likely to occur when packing to return home. (What the H? It all fit in before…)
  • Don’t plan outfits, just start throwing in favorite items. This is a great way to end up 10 pairs of pants and three shirts, none of which match, and to forget the only belt that goes with that shirtdress.
  • Bring two or three times as many outfits as there are days in your trip. (a DO however, when packing for a child).
  • Bring a hairdryer, hot rollers, straightener, and a curling iron. (Why is my entire duffel filled before I’ve even started on clothes?)
  • Pack jewelry, especially necklaces, loose in a cosmetic bag. Unless you’d like to practice your knot un-tying there, scout.
  • Ignore or try to get around airline luggage guidelines. Actual words spoken: “This isn’t a carry-on, this is my pillow.*” and “41 pounds is practically 40, right?”
  • Bring three or four books (as in, actual books, with pages made of paper) because you aren’t really sure what you’ll be in the mood to read two days from now.
  • Pack really important things (like an emergency cocktail dress), but forget chargers and spare batteries.

So if you’re headed out of town for T’giving, bear these items in mind. Then do exactly the opposite. Happy travels!

*pillow case is stuffed with three jackets remembered at the last minute

What I’m Reading: The Snow Child

9 Nov

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Never has the Alaskan winter been portrayed so warmly as it is in The Snow Child, a fairy tale-cum-survival story that manages to be both sweepingly epic and cozily self-contained. Mabel and Jack’s faltering marriage is typical without being stereotypical, and there are just enough other characters moving at the periphery to keep the story interesting without being cluttered. Faina, the child of the title, remains as maddeningly mysterious at the end as she was on page one. The reader thus concludes the real story was not where she came from or what she really was, but the effect she had on the people around her. If you can stand a little frustration of the what-the-heck? variety, sip (or gulp) this book like you would a cup of chocolate on a cold day.

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Dirty Thirty

5 Nov

I’m excited to announce that today, I am the guest poster on My Thirty Spot‘s Love for 30 project. My Thirty Spot is a blog dedicated to ladies lovin’ the best decade of their lives. My article, a nod to the last few months remaining in my twenties, talks about all the things that suck about being under 30. Check it out, and then check out the rest of the blog; it’s great!

Weddiquette: Excluding children from your wedding

2 Nov

This perennial question of brides everywhere—is it OK to exclude children from the big day—is fast replacing the seating chart as the stickiest guest list situation. Rachel Wilkerson of The House Always Wins addressed the matter on Wedding Party this week in a logical way, a way in which I think a lot of brides spin it for themselves (I know I did):

Personally, I feel like asking guests to leave their kids at home is doing them a favor. Yeah, they might complain about having to find a sitter, but they might actually enjoy […] talking to other adults instead of playing mom and dad the whole night. Try to frame it as “Because you’re such good parents, we know you’ll give a lot of time and attention to your little ones and we want you to be able to be fully present[…]!” Seriously, what parent wouldn’t jump at the excuse for a night off?!

A lot of brides (again–including this one!) twist it even further, calling it rude of the guest to even ask the bride if it’s OK to bring the baby, citing the old Emily Post.*  Most parents will get this, but a few will bristle. It’s not unheard of for some parents to decline altogether rather than leave the kid at home, or even for spats to break out.

Only recently has this become the huge debate that it is. In the olden days (and in certain communities today where people tend to have children at a young age), the friends and family of the wedding couple would be lousy with children; it would be not only unthinkable but impractical to exclude them. Today, couples are delaying having children, smaller families are becoming the norm, and social circles are becoming less heterogeneous, so the kid’s table is no longer a given.

Having been to two post-baby weddings (one with T and one without) and another big one coming up, I have now officially viewed the question from all sides. And while my answer to the question hasn’t changed (yes, you are allowed), the thought behind it has simplified somewhat. In short:

A)     Not allowing children at your wedding is selfish.

B)      You are allowed to be selfish at your wedding (if not then, when?)

Sound harsh? Maybe. But before you accuse me of being bitter now that I’m a mom, I’m actually thinking back to when I made the same decision for my own wedding three years ago. While there were no children in my family and few of our friends were parents yet, there were two big exceptions: two of my bridesmaids had babies. I’m talking little babies; one was only two months old. While I was totally cognizant of that fact—I even had some vague awareness that my maid of honor was suffering mastitis at my shower—I just wasn’t worried about it.

I reasoned the same way Rachel did, that my ‘maids would enjoy the excuse to go child-free for a night. I also knew that the grandparents were close by and assumed (never checked) that they would be free to sit. I knew they would want to be free to enjoy the wedding and not worry about keeping the baby (who should surely be sleeping at that time anyway) happy. I was doing them a favor!

In truth, these were all just trappings of the bride’s general fog of self-centeredness (in addition to my mastitis-afied maid of honor, one of my bridesmaids had bronchitis and one was on the verge of divorcing her husband—facts I was completely oblivious too until weeks after). Also–I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried that cute chubby cheeks would still my thunder.

But I’m here to say, it’s OK! A bride is totally allowed to consider herself first on her wedding day. In fact, I propose that she should! As long as she remains kind overall and lets the groom have a say (Bridezillas are not cool), she gets to make like Burger King and have it her way.

Why? Your wedding is the one event in your life that you should look back on with perfect, rosy happiness (God knows it’s not the day your child is born—way too much pain and bodily fluids involved for perfect rosiness). And because of my selfishness (and the selflessness of my amazing girlfriends), I am able to do that. Perhaps that would’ve been the case anyway had my friends brought their babies. We’ll never know.  The point is, I didn’t have to worry about it. That’s something every bride deserves on her wedding day.

*That states only the people whose names are specified on the invitation are invited.

[Photo: Magnetstreet Weddings]

What I’m Reading: The Corrections

1 Nov

The CorrectionsThe Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Franzen took the fun right out of dysfunctional in the tale of the Lamberts. The plot lacked a central climax–it sort of tried to be Christmas at home, but it was a half-hearted effort–while other important plot points (like Al falling off of the cruise ship – hello!) were obscured or glazed over. All the characters, to a man, were selfish. Not that selfish people don’t make interesting literary figures; they often do. But there needs to be some element of redemption or loveable rascalism, and there was neither hide nor hair of the like. We saw a glimmer of redemption in the youngest son, but only through outsider narrative. The author declined to let us back into his head to see if the change was real. You didn’t get the sense that there was any love lost between these family members. Sometimes they needed and were even glad of each other, but that undercurrent of warmth that makes dysfunctional family stories bearable was completely absent.

The prose itself offered some craftily drawn images, but it was composed of back-to-back compound sentences, almost without variation. I probably would have sunk in the swamp of words without the interpretation of the actor (I listened to the audiobook–his voices for the matriarch and patriarch were great, the rest were so-so…one of them sounded like Burt from Sesame Street).

I grant that the Lamberts were well-drawn and probable in the extreme. The reader has no trouble imagining their existence or understanding their actions. The problem comes when we ask ourselves why we should care. There are too many real-life people and families like the Lamberts. I don’t need to spend hours of my time with fictional versions.

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