Saturday, December 31, 2005
2) Quit going to Culvers. The other night J, my best friend, and I went to Culvers for dessert after dinner at the Thai place. I ordered a hot fudge nut sundae. People, it came in a fucking plastic cruise ship. So all the way home we sang, “The Faaaat Boat…soon we'll be docking on your big ass” around blissful mouthfuls of lardy ice cream and kind of hated ourselves a little. And who needs that, really?
3) Stop daydreaming during meetings. I've long struggled with this one. The worst is when a colleague at the meeting interrupts my reverie with an urgent plea like, "So what do you think we should do?" And I'm really thinking about how long it's been since I've shaved my legs and how funny my long leg hair feels against my slacks. Kind of ticklish and silly, you know? But then everyone is looking at me expectantly, like we're paratroopers ready to jump and I've got the D-Day landing map in my briefcase. My cheeks grow warm and my heartbeat starts to sprint. I feel a bead of sweat trickle down my side. And after I clear my throat and try to stuff the swelling tangle of panic back down my throat, this is what I always say: "Everything will fall into place once we get moving on the project." Then I distract everyone by changing the subject. "Hey look, it's Santa!" This has worked so far, but I don't think my blood pressure can stand much more of this. So, no more daydreaming during meetings.
4) Start letting the dog out more. I confess. I'm a lazy dog owner. Daisy has done 50 to 60 percent of her business on a puppy pee pad for as long as we've had her. It began out of necessity when she was a parasite-infested baby and spewed diarrhea every time she barked, and we've simply been too lazy to stop putting the pads down in the back hall. It's just so convenient, you know? No muddy or wet paws, no eating rabbit turds on the back lawn. And she's small; she's still puppy-size for most other breeds. Plus, we take her for a walk when it's nice outside. So we don't ALWAYS use the pads. They're just rainy-day backup. These are the arguments I give myself in favor of pee pads whenever I hem and haw over the purchase of a new pack in the doggie aisle at Target. But it has become apparent that we've created a NEW bad habit. You see, Daisy likes to play with her poop after she's made one on the pad. My guess is it's kind of like delicious Play-Doh to her. She mashes it into crusty pancakes, nudges it into crumbles, rolls it into stinky little snakes for me to find, cold and hard and defeated, an hour or two later. Perhaps next month she will have honed her skills enough to make me a paw-coiled fecal ashtray. And this is just gross and unacceptable and strong evidence that I should never parent a real live human being someday. Hence resolution number 4: no more pee pads.
I'm not feeling all that masochistic right now, so I'll leave it at four.
Friday, December 30, 2005
PLUS, this special One-Time Bonus. An Andy Rooney Moment Twofer!
Have you ever jotted a quick note to yourself on a scrap of paper only to find it weeks later, when it was completely devoid of meaning? "Call D re: medicine ball." Who the fuck is D? And what does he/she want with a medicine ball? Must I supply this medicine ball? Today I found this gem, in my handwriting: "Put turd scene on website." I have no idea what this means, but it looks like you may be in for a real treat when my website's online in a month or two.
Happy Auld Lang Syne, my friends.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
(It occurred to me that I recently promised to post a "Christmas newsletter" from a fictional family of my own design. Because I don't want to reneg on my promise, here it is. Might not make sense, and it's kind of scatalogical, but that's me for ya.)
Dear friends and family,
As we enter another joyful Christmas season, I pause to reflect on the wonderful year that has truly blessed our family. Rick is still enjoying his position as a Stool Polisher, and he expects a promotion to Stool Inspector later this year. Keep your fingers crossed for him! (Agnes, if you haven’t seen one of Rick’s hand-made stools, you’re in for a treat!) And he finally caught the Big One on his fishing trip in Montana with the boys this summer! Of course, he had to sleep in a separate bedroom until the rash cleared up, and we’ll be in couple’s therapy for another few months, but we’re back together and happier than ever. And so it went until a few weeks ago, when Rick discovered a small lump in his testicle. Oh, did we have a scare! Rushed to the hospital only to learn that the lump was actually a grain of rice embedded in his scrotum. (Is this a sign that we need to cut back on our trips to China King?! Haha!) Doctor Phillips says that with better hygiene and a few sitz baths, Rick will be back on his recumbent bicycle in no time, so no prayers necessary. (For now! :-)
Little Stevie rounded a major milestone in October: 720 days old, and in the 95th percentile for his age and length on the progress chart! We expect great things for little Stevie despite all that Softsoap he drank under the sink. I’m sure he’ll follow in the footsteps of his older brother Hunter, who we’re praying comes down from his bedroom for Christmas dinner this year. It’s been challenging sliding his meals under his locked bedroom door, and I would dearly love to change his sheets (if I could find them under the mess, haha!), but you know teenagers. Rick and I adjusted well to the loud music and muffled screams coming from his room with the help of some handy-dandy foam earplugs. (That music those kids play these days! Scares the dickens out of me. :-) I think Hunter will be graduating from high school this year. At least he should be. I haven’t seen him in a few years.
As for me, I’m busy as ever picking up the pieces from my shattered dream of becoming a gymnast at 41 after an untimely blow to the coccyx thanks to my neighbor’s haphazard sidewalk de-icing. It’s been truly challenging, but God bless whoever invented the inflatable donut pillow, refrigerated sugar cookie dough, and As the World Turns. Other than that, my job at the Dairy Princess keeps me hopping when I’m not sitting on my donut pillow…and because so much time has passed since the incident with Brenda’s finger in the Blizzee machine last March, my boss says there’s no reason I shouldn’t be promoted to Lead Drive Thru Coordinator any day now. I can hardly believe my luck. I guess it’s true that with hard work and diligence, you can achieve anything.
Oh, we can’t forget the pets who grace our home! Nibbles the cat is almost over that awful case of flatulence that burned Grandma Nell’s wrist at Easter (we’re still sorry Grandma Nell!) and back to watching Goldy the Goldfish swim about his bowl all day. Poor Goldy not only has to contend with Nibbles’ constant predatory staring, but he also recently recovered from a yeast infection. Who knew fish could get yeast infections? Amazing!
In closing, let us pause to reflect on the true meaning of this blessed season of peace. Christmas is really all about family, and about thanking God for the blessings He’s bestowed upon all of us. Well, except for those poor homeless people who’ve been murdered in the neighborhood lately, God rest their souls. Such a shame. Let’s pray there’s turkey in heaven. Happy holidays! Oops, I mean Merry Christmas!
1) Jennifer Weiner is correct. If you are a writer, you need a dog. For that matter, if you breathe, you need a pet of some nature. Myself, I go for dogs. Some go for cats. Some go for snakes. Whatever flips your skirt, folks. Why, just today I realized how wonderful my dog is for me. For example, if not for her need to defecate and exercise outside, I would likely be a stinky shut-in for great stretches of time. She reminds me that daylight and fresh air are important components of a well-balanced lifestyle. Also, she gives me something to worry about other than myself. For example, two nights before Christmas, Daisy ate a full ounce of organic milk chocolate. I seized the opportunity to obsessively monitor her for signs of toxic overload: tremors, vomiting, rapid heartbeat. Luckily, terriers are pretty hardy and nothing happened. Her puppyhood bout with coccidiosis certainly seems to have toughened her up. (If you don't know what coccidiosis is, bless your innocent little heart. Let's just say that this condition is Cupid for words like "projectile" and "bloody diarrhea."
Anyway, if I didn't have Daisy, would I have seen my neighbor's new sign: "Re-elect Hillary 2008"? This completely cracked me up. Nothing like getting a jump on the 2008 election season.
2) Yes Struggling Writer Virginia, it is possible for you to be published. Just keep writing, keep reading, take notes on the world around you, develop a thick-ass skin, get feedback on your work from brutal critics before you send it out ... and get a dog.
3) I can buy a car all by myself! (Thank you, Vans Honda!)
and, the fourth major thing my foggy brain remembers learning this year as I try to write this entry,
4) before purchasing any type of cosmetic, toothpaste, or hair product, vet it for safety at this website: www.safecosmetics.org Healing Garden brand products? Not so healing, it turns out! And Blistex, and Lubriderm, and Dove, and Clarins, and on and on. Even seemingly "healthful" names are deceptive: Cornsilk, Nature's Bounty, and Naturessence have verrrrry little (if anything) in common with a wildflower-filled meadow, based on their Skin Deep safety score. Up to 70% of beauty products (and a surprising number of plastics, even those designed for use by babies) contain phthalates, industrial chemicals linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and birth defects.
Also, ditch your Teflon-coated pots! The EPA just announced that the chemical used to make Teflon is a "likely carcinogen." (And when the EPA uses words like "likely," you can feel pretty safe substituting words like "100% most definitely.") This chemical is also found in Gore-Tex, pizza boxes, fast-food wrappers, and microwave popcorn. It's present in the blood of 9 of 10 Americans. And recently, the London Times reported that claims against DuPont, which makes this chemical, could total $40 billion. Sounds like a lose-lose situation for everyone.
Hmm...a painful and possibly deadly cancer diagnosis or sticky omelettes...what to choose, what to choose...I guess I'll have to go with the sticky omelettes.
I don't mean to scare the shit out of you, but we lost a dear and close family friend to cancer this year (non-smoker, non-drinker, daily walker), and I'm becoming more and more paranoid about the always-growing toxic loads we all carry. Sure, one non-organic apple won't kill you...it's the 5,200 apples and attendant systemic pesticides you've consumed by the age of 50 that might.
I really don't want to go to another funeral in the near future, so to my friends and family reading this, please take care of yourselves. For more info:
Gay Daly's "Bad Chemistry," excellent cover story of the Winter 2006 issue of OnEarth magazine. The last paragraph is particularly powerful.
I promise my next entry won't be such a downer. But for God's sake, throw out your Estee Lauder Youth Dew Moisturizer.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I could write about the road from first publishing contract to bookstore and beyond, but so many other writers have already done this, and much better than I could. J.A. Konrath has a fantastic blog about the trials and tribulations of getting published and, once you are published, selling your books. M.J. Rose also has a great blog about hyping your book. So does Shanna Swendson. And Karin Gillespie, and many other faboo writers. These are fantastic resources for newbies to the publishing game, and I'm going to take copious notes on how to prevent my book from fading into obscurity once it hits the shelves. (Speaking of J.A. Konrath, I adore his resolutions for unpublished and published writers!) But this kind of angle is already taken. (Also, did you know J.A. and his family are sending 6,000 letters to libraries across the nation to ask them to buy and stock his books?!?!?! Libraries don't just buy your book automatically. Nor do bookstores. You gotta really hustle and pimp yourself out to make it, y'all. So who's up for a fun-filled afternoon stuffing and addressing envelopes with me?)
But back to the focus of the blog. I've already put the ixnay on the olitics-pay (and eligion-ray), so that leaves writing about writing. Well, maybe I could write about my daily adventures. But then we're back to Me, me, me! (Leave it to me to get all neurotic about this.) Ah hell. Might as well go with it. So I present to you, 3 friends/family members who may be reading this, the author autobiography I've been asked by my publisher to write. This could end up on my future website and other book-related materials. You know me best, so what do you think? (To my family: you can forget about the raspberry patch story, because it's not going in.)
The First Draft of the Obligatory Biography. *clears throat*
"Wisconsin native Jess Riley spent much her childhood sitting at her desk during lunch hour for lying and/or passing notes during class, both of which qualified her for a possible future as a novelist. Instead, because berets were big in the eighties, she usually showed up at Career Day dressed as a film director. But the siren song of writing was too strong to deny, and in between bad haircuts, she continued to write poetry and fiction in middle school, adding crude cartoons to her repetoire as well. She was nominated by a high school English teacher to attend a summer camp for budding artists and writers, where she realized she needed a whole new wardrobe. Also, she needed to work on her creative writing skills. She won her first short story contest a year later for a story told through the point of view of a seven year-old black boy living in Cabrini Green because as a middle-class white teenager, she knew a lot about that kind of life. Jess served as class president three years running and was voted one of the two "funniest girls" in her graduating class, but she stresses that looks aren't everything. She graduated from Campbellsport High School in 1993, and because she received a partial scholarship to UW-Oshkosh, decided to go there to study pre-dentistry and make poor dating decisions. Jess has been a cocktail and banquet waitress, a blue cheese packager, and currently, a grant writer for local school districts. Surprisingly, she still likes cheese. The funkier, the better. She worked at a mall-based toy store during the Tickle Me Elmo craze of 1995 and lived to tell about it. She has also worked as a teaching assistant at a medium-security men's prison, which was much less stressful. Jess graduated from UW-Oshkosh in 1998 with dual degrees in English and history, which means she narrowly avoided a career selling burial plots through cold calls. She now lives in a drafty old house in Wisconsin with her husband and an extremely neurotic dog that despises the theme music for "Calling All Pets." She will never be a dentist, but that's fine with her."
At this point, I'm still open to suggestion. A little. My basic goal is to not make too huge an ass of myself, although that may be too late.
PS: did I tell you that my future website is www.jessriley.com? There's a cute picture of my dog Daisy there now, but not much else. I originally wanted my full name for my domain, but guess what? It's already in use by a hooker in Las Vegas. Figures.
Monday, December 19, 2005
"Jessica Riley's RIDING WITH LARRY RESNICK, tells the story of a twenty-five year-old kidney transplant recipient who finds herself the grateful owner of a functional kidney once belonging to a man named Larry Resnick, to Jill Schwartzman at Harper, at auction, by Laura Blake Peterson at Curtis Brown (world English)."
Can I just say what an amazing feeling this is?!?! I don't know what "world English" means, but it sounds good to me. I'm so happy these days that if someone T-boned me on the way home from work I'd probably burst into song.
Here are some other things I learned this weekend:
1) You may not want to take a child under the age of 8 to King Kong. Pretty scary for little kids! A wee tot sat behind us and sang the ABC song during the first half and cried during the second half.
2) It's entirely possible that parts of you that belong inside you (such as your colon) can fall out of you. This didn't happen to me, but to an elderly resident of a nursing home (as told to me by my sister). This news both saddened and scared the bejesus out of me. Every birthday from now on will be darkened by the thought that I am one year closer to my colon falling out of me like a deflated balloon. I know that's completely gross, and I apologize for that. But I just wanted to warn you in case it happens to you 40 years from now. It's best to be prepared for these kinds of things. (Also, one's response to such an event can be a marker of true love. My brother, to his girlfriend: "Honey, if your colon fell out of you, I'd push it back in." The rest of the table: "Awwwwwww!")
3) I am old enough now that I no longer want to wait in line outside a club in subzero weather just to be crushed & spilled on to a bad Journey song. I can't believe I used to do this. Worse, I can't believe I used to drink a mysterious red beverage called "Wop" from a garbage can in some stranger's unfinished basement with 150 of my peers. While wedged beneath a pipe near the furnace. And making out with a stranger wearing a bad 80s sweater. Wop. Want Our Poison?
Finally, if you're in Madison and want a fantastic casual place to nosh (and because I'm sure I revved up your appetite with the colon story), check out The Great Dane Brewpub. The pretzels, inner warmth peanut stew, and Indian curried veggies are FABULATASTIC. And if you like beer, try the Crop Circle Wheat. We've gone here dozens of times, and I've yet to be disappointed.
Friday, December 16, 2005
(And now for a non-book-related post :-)
Last night, because we felt we weren’t completely meeting our RDA of saturated and trans fats, J and I had dinner at our local Culver's Restaurant. In case you’re not familiar with Culvers (which is largely a Midwestern phenom), let me bring you up to speed. Culvers is famous for their custard. Which is delicious, if you like sweetened lard.* And who doesn’t? I certainly enjoy it! In addition to their sundaes (which you can order in chocolate or vanilla), they have an ever-changing Flavor of the Day to keep you guessing and coming back for more like sad, hopeful little pilgrims. Yesterday the flavor du jour was candy cane. And let me tell you. No matter the flavor, this custard is heroin for your tastebuds. Your tastebuds will rob a corner store, steal money from their own mothers, and sell themselves to the highest bidder to get at this custard. (I haven't had a Culver's "butter burger" since 1998. These all-beef patties are quite popular, but you may want to know the location of the nearest defibrillator when you finish.)
Anyway. I have certainly altered my shopping habits because of Culvers. (“We don’t need any Ben & Jerry’s because we can GO TO CULVERS!” And, “Gee, I’d like to purchase these delicious ice cream sandwiches, but tomorrow the Flavor of the Day is brownie thunder and we’ll be GOING TO CULVERS!” (Incidentally, if you’re listening, Culvers Flavor Namers, you may want to rethink “Brownie Thunder.”)
But I digress. As we ingested our delectable, deep-fried fast tracks to tight pants, I noticed the lovely paper placemat on our tray. And there, in a cute little sidebar, was this article: “Things to Think About on the Way to Culvers!” What followed was an informative bulleted list of possible conversation starters like, “Did you know that the waffle cone was invented by a man named Skip Higgins when he accidentally spilled some corndog batter on a waffle iron at the 1914 Clark County Fair in Iowa?” (It wasn’t, by the way. I just made that up.)
So this got me to thinking. What do I REALLY think about on my way to Culvers? Well, for starters, I think about what I will order. It’s usually a single scoop of the flavor of the day in a dish, because this is almost all my lower intestines can handle at one time. But sometimes I’ll want to really tie on the feedbag so I order a sundae that could sustain a family in Bangladesh for a week. This will make me feel guilty for the next few minutes. From there I may think about how many jumping jacks I’ll have to do in the parking lot after my turtle sundae so I won’t feel like sticking my head in the oven later. Or I might consider the effect my pumpkin spice shake will have on my ability to wear anything but a large bedsheet. Will my jeans form a hermetic seal around my legs and leave artistic rivet and stitching indentations along my thighs? Perhaps they will completely cut off blood supply to my lower limbs. Could this even lead to brain damage? And then there are real, logistical kinds of thoughts, like how long will I need to lie on the couch after this double scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough? People have DIED from taxing post-meal activity.
So to you clever Culvers placemat writers, I respectfully present these thoughts. They may not be good for sales, but you’d be keeping it real. And that’s the kind of thing I look for in a custard peddler.
*Just kidding Culvers Legal Team!
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I just accepted an offer from HarperCollins to publish Riding with Larry Resnick. I don't know much more at this point, but it looks like we're doing hardcover followed by trade paperback later. I'm soooo thrilled! It still doesn't seem real to me. I am awed, humbled, and somewhat wigged out to be published by the house that's published Mark Twain, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. (And so many other fabulous authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Chabon, Lemony Snicket ... And we can't forget Emeril! BAM!) Thanks to everyone who believed in me and read early versions of the manuscript, and thanks to my friends, coworkers, and family who've had to put up with my angst and exuberance for the last few weeks!
I'm sure the next few months will be crazy, and I have lots to learn, but I'm sooooo looking forward to it all. I'm a little freaked out about the concept of my thoughts being "out there" for all to see (I wonder what Grandma will think about the Rip VanGina), but that was the goal! Tonight we're going to celebrate by seeing the popcorn flick o-the season. (The first of the many, MANY movies I hope to see between now and New Years while I still have "some" time.)
PS: And I LOVE my new editor!!!! She's terrific and I'm really excited (and lucky!) to work with her.
PPS: Please excuse my exclamation points. I'm sitting at the computer but in my head I'm leaping about the room. I've got a raging case of newbie authoritis, and it feels faaaaaahhn-tastic.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
This is so surreal. I can't believe I'll really be published! Wheeeeeeeeeee!!!!! Then it's off to the next few things to obsess over, like cover design and revisions and publicity plans and writing the next book while still writing grants by day. Oh, and then there are foreign, film, and audio rights sales. God this is awesome. I can't believe I used to work at Bonanza and a cheese factory. And a prison. (But that will come in handy for the next book, kiddos! *wink wink*)
In other news, I almost hit a flock of turkeys on my way to my meeting this morning. (Nice segue, huh?)
I think I need a sedative.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Auctions are a good thing, if you ask me. My parents bought their house at a real estate auction back in the early eighties when you could buy a hobby farm for the price of a new car. Sure we saw our breath indoors on some cold winter mornings, and yeah, I once had frost on my bedroom walls, but heck, you should see the place now! It's practically the Taj Mahal with hardwood floors and a northwind pine buffer. Plus, they have goats! And chickens!
Anyway, I will know my book's fate by the end of the day tomorrow. Wow, what a weird feeling. More later...
Friday, December 09, 2005
So another weekend has come and gone, but one cool thing definitely happened...I took off my technodunce cap (but it's still within reach, because I'm sure I'll need it again soon) and learned how to make my little words real, live links! So check out this addictive website, which ate up hours of my life on Saturday. And look here to see what helped me gain in one day what the average American gains over the whole Thanksgiving to New Year's holiday season (7 pounds, in case you're wondering).
I also wrote a fake Christmas newsletter, but it's not yet ready for prime time because parts of it confused my husband ("Wait. So how did the cat farting burn Grandma's wrist? I'm confused.") Thank goodness for spousal edit support! Or I'd make a complete ass of myself on a daily basis.
So it seems my significant other is slacking pretty bad. Because I already make a complete ... Um. Get it? Okay, nevermind. *SIGH* But when the fake newsletter is deemed worthy of the blog, it'll be on here.
Anyway, I'm itching to start writing my next project because I always get grandiose authorly ambitions when I listen to Coldplay on the way to work. I've got the characters outlined, and something of a barebones plot. But I'm going to have to bribe my muse with wine and cookies so to come up from the basement so we can get this party started. (Well, at least I think my muse is a she. Stephen King's muse is a big, burly guy living in his basement. Figuratively speaking. And so he says. I'm not making this stuff up.)
In other news, I started reading a book that so far, is pretty darn good. Special thanks to my sister for giving it to me for my birthday! But seriously...Sandra Cisneros is TALENTED. She's so far beyond my puny little league. She won a grant from the NEA for cryin' out loud. She's the Nigella Lawson of writers. I'm the night janitor at your local Chuck E. Cheese of writers.
So happy Monday everyone. And if you missed Sarah Silverman's rendition of "Amazing Grace" on Comedy Central last night, you missed one of the greatest moments on teevee. Ever.
When I was nine I invented a Thundercat. She was a leopard, since there were already Cheetah, Lion, Tiger, and Panther-based characters. And she was probably much more … er, curvaceous than a nine-year old had any business imagining, but given what was transpiring in the Barbie Dream House every night, that’s hardly surprising to me now. But the way I saw it, Lion-O got Cheetara. Who were Panthro and Tigra going to pairbond with? I can’t remember this leopard-character’s name, but I suspect it was perhaps …Leoparda. And she had some sort of personalized weapon. Something tells me it was a cat o’ nine tails, because I’d have thought myself very clever for coming up with that back then.
Of course NOW I see that Panthro and Tigra were really a couple, but that went right over my head back then.
Then there were those kee-YUTE boys in Voltron. The fact that they were, oh, ANIMATED didn’t seem to stop my second-grade friends and I from planning our weddings to these wide-eyed action heroes. We weren’t going to let a little thing like reality stand between us and romantic dinners with Keith, who drove his mechanical lion right into our prepubescent hearts. Which was all very normal to us. But when two boys in our third grade class announced that they were going to marry cows someday, we all said, “Ewwwww!” Little did it occur to us that our desire to couple with a manga flipbook was a wee bit off.
PS--Congratulations to Valen for winning the cruise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Today is the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death. He died days after I'd turned six, and my mother asked me to help her remember him with a half-hour of silence. (I think it may have been less time, but it certainly seemed like hours to my six year-old self.) And I don't know if she was simply tired of my incessant chatter and wanted a moment's peace or rather, wished to impart to me her own sadness at his death, and at the loss of a remarkable someone larger than life yet simultaneously very human. We had lost a neat person, as I may have put it then.
On the way to work I heard two remakes of "Happy Christmas: War is Over," and I started crying a little at one of them. War is over, if we want it. What a revolutionary thought, right? He makes it sound so easy. As if we could wish it and it becomes so. But it might be. Another Christmas and what have we done, but war can indeed be over ... if only we have the temerity, the guts, to really want it. That's the message I want to leave with anyone reading this today. We humans haven't lost our capacity to dream and to make our dreams become reality. There's still that much.
Over and out, John. Thanks for the music.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
- bick riding and playing viteo games
- nothing, P-town sucks
- I don’t know what other people do I don’t live with them
- walking to the gas station to buy Little Debbies
- switching price tags at Wal-Mart
- sitting at home watching tv and getting fat
So what have we learned? We've learned that maybe these kids needed a spelling grant more than a PE grant. We've also learned that maybe...just maybe... the PE teacher coached these kids on their answers before the test.
This particular grant is very popular, and we've helped our clients win a lot of them. At last count, 23. And funny things have happened when some school districts get a little too optimistic about their chances of winning a grant. Such as the case where one district--so convinced they would win their just-submitted proposal--actually sold their "old" PE equipment to another school district before the final scores were tallied. Let's call the seller District A and the buyer District B. District B had also applied for the same PEP grant, but were less keen on their chances. So just imagine District A's embarrassment when they had to ask for their stuff back later when their grant didn't win. (Compounding the shame, District B actually won their grant.)
And don't let me fool you into thinking I'm above this kind of behavior. I've been given permission on more than one occasion to just "make up" a heart-tugging anecdote to bring our need for a particular grant right on home. Because I love to make stuff up, this has been pretty enjoyable for me. Once I wrote about a migrant farm worker student named Miguel. Miguel really needed after-school literacy support, what with living in a trailer, taking care of his younger brother, and missing so much school during the potato harvest. And as I tried to make the case for a different alternative education program, I had great fun outlining what will happen to at-risk Jimmy if he doesn’t receive this program. I can’t recall my exact language because I’ve blocked it from memory in shame, but it went something along the lines of: if little Jimmy doesn’t have this alternative education opportunity, little Jimmy will someday be anally raped in prison by his skulking, stinky cell mate. Only you've got to imagine it written in really bad prose, building to an awful, detailed climax. I can still hear my former boss’s laughter echoing down the halls to my cubicle as he read my tale. In my defense, this was my second month on the job, and I had no clue what I was doing.
Bottom line: if you want the grant, keep the ass rape and flowery fiction to a minimum, but a well-designed survey will always be time well spent.
One final story because I've got diarrhea of the blog. Once, in a grant planning meeting I was trying to explain to a teacher how "Bad" statistics are actually good for grant writing. Another client of mine had just discovered alarming suicidal tendencies in their students (despite their overall academic success and great property tax base). So I told the teacher about this wealthy client's strategy for establishing need and designing a program and tactfully asked, "So how’s your depression or suicide rate?" She sat back, somewhat defeated. "God," she said after a moment, "It’s pretty low." Then she perked up. "Maybe we should do an informal survey!" Her eyes began to twinkle. "Go into the halls and ask the kids, “How ya feelin’ today? Kinda sad? How’d you do on that math test? That bad, eh? Doesn’t it make you feel like life is just sometimes not worth living?”
That's the spirit, my friend. But actually, we ended up comparing the number of people to the number of cows in the county (look how rural and sparsely populated we are! Doesn't it break your heart?) and won the grant that way.
So, in conclusion, all together now: Anal rape: bad. A well-designed survey: good.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Friday's dinner out with the folks went well, and we had a great laugh at one of the birthday gifts I received (a book of quotes by kids on aging...one of my favorites, from seven year old Mark Rose: "When you get to 22 your hand begins to shake and you can't cut out sticky paper anymore." And from Emma Newman, age 7: "Middle age is when you 'pors' your driving test."). Plus, the night yielded two more anecdotes for my "Can I put that in a book?" file. This is a file for events and quotes that I find particularly amusing, touching, or memorable for some reason. For example, when my best friend told me she was putting a clear pyramid statue on a copy of my manuscript so that it would one day be published, I asked her if I could put that in a book. And because she is wonderful, selfless, and a much better person than I am, she indulges me whenever I ask this question.
The best CIPTIAB quote of the evening comes from someone I've never met; this was actually a story my sister told me. One of her friends was dating a male massage therapist (don't even ask me why I felt compelled to type "male" there...that's a whole 'nother post.) and he recently broke up with her because ... wait for it ... a black demon was living in her neck. Me, in between whoops of laughter: "Can I put that in a book?" Sis: "Sure, why not!"
In other news, we finally put my dog Daisy in the same room as a baby, with mixed results. Let's just say there was a lot of hair-pulling, barking, and screaming. But it was happy screaming (from the baby). I was pretty worried because Daisy can be high-strung and nippy at times, but everyone's still happy and whole today. She seemed pretty confused and excited by the baby, trying to curry his favor and rolling over in submission after he pulled her hair a few times. And she really dug licking drool from his soft baby chin. Dog-baby coexistence is one of my major worries these days, right up there with global warming, losing a loved one, and finding vegetarian entrees (or even side dishes) at the various beef-n-fish shacks in my hometown. (For tourist veggies: You may not want to drive north of Wausau if your idea of salad is incompatible with clear hunks of iceberg lettuce, leathery carrot shreds, a globby blanket of ranch dressing, and stale bacon bits.)
But seriously, I'm getting worried about how my spoiled little furbaby will cope should a baby enter the picture. I guess the solution is fairly dull since it involves common sense: just keep a close eye on the dog and baby together, intervening as necessary. In the meantime, I'm still campaigning to dress the dog in at least one cute outfit. Jason, the voice of reason in this arena, has yet to indulge me on this point.
And finally, I don't want to be a complainer, but there should be a law passed that prohibits one from pointing out capitalization errors in another person's DRAFT document if the critic is going to use words like "bulletted" or "cummunity." I hate that.
Happy Monday everyone. Twenty days to overeating, uncomfortable family conversations, and presents!
Friday, December 02, 2005
But back to the DMV. I recently got glasses, and I was torn about whether or not I should wear them during the test. I didn't, and couldn't read an entire line of letters. So the DMV lady told me to put the glasses on. I could then read the letters, but I was all disoriented and tripped on a mat near the photo station. Plus, my photo made me look slightly mentally stunted. Double plus (or negative, rather), I recently trimmed my own hair, which only drew attention to my thousand-pound face and drooltastic expression. So either the DMV likes the "Zoom In" feature, or I'm actually becoming a bobblehead.
Bottom line, the whole experience was somewhat unsettling. But I'm going to dinner with my parents tonight, so there's bound to be juicy material to post later.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
The baby showers are coming faster than the wedding showers now. In fact, I'm going to yet another baby shower this weekend. And I just bought the gift at Geoffrey, which only got on my nerves a little. (I worked at KB Toys for 7 years in high school and college, so there's some of that residual resentment of the competition/general impatience with whiny spawn I don't know.) Oh, but the baby section smelled so...infanty and sweet!!! And just about a week ago I read some graph that indicated my chances of conceiving at this age are only about 50% now, and dropping fast.
The longer I wait, the more dried up I'm getting. My eggs are frying, getting scrambled, cracking up! But I'm not ready to push another person from my loins and minister to his or her every dietary, developmental, entertainment, and personal hygiene need just yet, because I feel I'm on the cusp of maybe, possibly achieving my dream of becoming a published author (*sending good energy in the direction of NYC where the powers that be are mulling my fate*). Also, because I've fallen in love with some of the children here: http://www.sarnelliorphanage.org The man who runs this orphanage hails from my best friend's brother-in-law's family, and my BFF is possibly volunteering there for a few months this spring. Of course I want to go with her and adopt all of these beautiful children and bring them home with me and love them forever. (My husband just called me a typical woman and accused me of wanting to save all of the little babies with flies in their noses...ah, the dear man I married. What a softy!!!!)
So the clock keeps tick-tocking along. My ovaries are getting lazy, laying on the couch watching soaps and stuffing bon-bons in their lazyass mouths. (Scratch that. I just pictured ovaries with actual mouths and got really creeped out.) I feel like I've still got time, but if it runs out, there's thousands of fly-eyed orphans just waiting for a good home.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
But I digress. On to the gaffes. Several Christmases past I was braying to the relatives about how my ex's grandma gave everyone a Glamour Shot of herself for that holiday. Ex and I felt this was extremely funny, for some reason. So guess what my own grandmother gave everyone that Christmas? Not an hour later? Yep. Framed portraits of herself. This happened again yesterday, and because the wound is so fresh, I'm not yet ready to post the details. But let's just say they involve Wal-Mart and a relative's fresh employment at said retailer.
This has, in fact, been a lifelong habit of mine. Here's an example from my childhood: I answered the phone one morning to learn that my parents' carpool partner wanted to tell my parents she was running late. Not content to simply relay the message, I gleefully responded with, "My dad calls you a Polack!" I think i was 8.
So you see what my private battle has been. Brain vs. Mouth. So far, mouth is winning. But I guess as a writer, I have to cut mouth some slack, because otherwise I'd never write a word for fear of offending someone, somewhere.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Ten, even five years ago I'd have gone out with my old chums the Wednesday before the holiday. "Crashing the Copper Kettle" is theThanksgiving Eve tradition 'round these here parts. But no, I'm getting old, as my brother is thrilled to point out, as evidenced by my breathless recounting of the multitude of mushroom varieties J and I spotted on a recent hike and/or my keen anticipation of a PBS special a few weeks ago. And then last night I drank half a bottle of wine, robotically shovelled half a bag of Red Hot Blues into my mouth, and watched Turner Classics AND the pre-Leo 1996 Titanic (who knew there was one?) before retiring with a semi-bad book. This is very sad behavior. Even I can see that. When J returned around 12:45 am from an Xbox marathon at a friend's house, his body still feverish from simulated violence and eye-numbing graphics, I mumbled through wine-blue lips: "We can't buy chips and cookies anymore." Then I promptly passed out.
I used to be fun. Really! You'll have to trust me on this. I wasn't always Debbie Downer, watching the anti-Wal-Mart DVD the night before the busiest shopping day of the year or ranting about Peak Oil and melting permafrost in Siberia. But maybe I'm just my mother's daughter. Upon hearing of a relative's recent trip to China to adopt a little girl, she said, "Oh, I hope they don't get the Asian flu!"
The Final Word: Hey everyone, go to this website and vote for my friend Valen in the Davita cruise contest! http://www.davita.com/cruise/vote/ You can vote once daily 'til December 2. Valen is an amazing person with an inspiring story, and because she was kind enough to read an early draft of my novel, I owe her one. So go vote!
Monday, November 21, 2005
I told myself last August that once I had a blog, I'd post this story. So pull up a chair and let me tell you a tale called: 27 Hour Police Standoff in My Neighborhood (A True Story).
Saturday, August 13, 2005. 10 pm. J and I return from a family outing with little more on our minds than watching some mindless late-night television. (Sadly.) What luck! Humanoids from the Deep is on one of the commercial-free channels.
11 pm. I notice a squad car parked across the street from our house. What's going on? A police officer wanders the sidewalk near our house, apparently searching for something. For love, his lost childhood, a dollar that blew from his open car window--only he knows for sure. I kneel on the carpet, spying between the 4-inch gap between our windowframe and the shade. I'm excited. And so is Jason, because Humanoids from the Deep features full-frontal nudity, it turns out.
11:30 pm. Another squad car pulls up a few houses away. And another. And we begin to hear this: a spiraling siren, kind of like that annoying car alarm loop, followed by an amplified behest from the local police department asking a particular gentleman to exit his house with his hands up. I don't know what house this is yet--perhaps ten houses down on the next block?
12:30 am, August 14. More squad cars show up, one of which blocks the street near our intersection. The cruiser blocking the street is left running with the flashers on. What a waste of gas! I grow bored with the whole ordeal, even though the officers shouting from their PAs have added a few new sound effects.
1 a. We go to bed. But sleep proves elusive, as the flashing lights from the squad car parked near our corner have turned our bedroom into a disco that reeks of cruiser exhaust, and I again reflect on what a waste of gas it is to leave a car running like that all night.
2 am. We fall asleep. Somehow.
4 am. We are jolted from bed by the sound of a bomb going off. For a minute I think I'm in Baghdad. J tells me this is something called a "percussive grenade," meant to startle Standoff Man from his house. I start to think Standoff Man is dead, maybe.
10 am. I haul my groggy self from bed, convinced that the whole ordeal will have resolved itself overnight. But no. And now, there is a new development: the swat team is here! And the neighborhood has converged around our house. Our retaining wall has the best seats--and the best view--in the neighborhood. I meet a friendly neighbor named Kelly. I call as many people as I can so they can hear about the latest craziness in my life.
noon. I make a pizza and joke with the neighbors about selling them beer and snacks. The whole standoff thing is turning into a great excuse for a block party. I eat my pizza on the porch so I don't miss anything. The swat team comes and goes. I have no idea what errands they're running.
1:30 pm. The power and water people come to cut Crazy-Standoff-Man from the grid. Maybe without ice cold Coors and sandwich fixins', he will crawl defeated from the house. I am even more convinced that he's dead. The little boys in the neighborhood spy on the swat team, lying behind bushes and taking pictures of them paparazzi-style. People offer the police cold beverages, which I think is a nice touch. We joke about phoning in a pizza delivery for Standoff Man, and how this could be an ingenious way for the police to nab him.
2:30 pm. The swat team guys hold up their shields to protect themselves when they run past a spot that may be in Standoff Man's line of fire. Three minutes later, a woman walking a baby follows, unprotected. There is a rumor that shots were fired by Standoff Man in the wee hours of the morning, but nobody can prove anything.
3:30 pm. It's becoming Monty Pythonesque and I tire of the crowd on my retaining wall. I also tire of the endless siren loops, so I leave for my parents' place. For the next few hours I drink pinot noir (2 glasses, tops) and bitch about my wacky neighborhood. I tell everyone to watch the local news.
8 pm. I return home, and the standoff is still going on. My corner has become the hot spot for middle school students to hook up. They ride their bikes in loopy figure eights and text message their friends, inviting others to the Standoff.
10 pm. We're on the news! Well, not me personally, but my corner. I watch the news anchor recapping the scene on the street for a cameraman, illuminated by bright white lights. I tune into her channel and watch her saying the same things on TV at the same time. There will never be another strange moment like this in my life, I bet.
11 pm. I join the neighbors down the block and try to see what's going on in the Standoff House. The lights are all out. I tell someone he's probably dead. We learn that the news anchor interviewed Standoff Man's downstairs neighbor, who'd been in a boating accident earlier in the day. This was another event that made the local news.
We go to bed around midnight, and by 1 am on August 15, it's over peacefully. Standoff Man came out with his hands up. All that foreplay and no climax, really.
So thank you, OPD. My neighborhood is once again safe for ordinary hooligans and pumpkin smashers.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Oh, did you know that the "God Warrior" from Trading Spouses has endorsed a talking bobblehead doll made in her likeness? It's being auctioned off on E-Bay, along with an autographed Glamour Shot of herself. Last I saw, the bids were around $900. Does this mean the apocalypse is nigh?
Friday, November 18, 2005
By the way, Plainfield is the hometown of Ed Gein, inspiration for the movie Silence of the Lambs. My late grandfather was a guard at Central State Hospital, where Ed spent the rest of his days after the...ahem...incidents. Apparently, ol' Ed was a model prisoner. Creepy as hell, but he kept to himself.
Now, who wants some eggnog!!!
Thursday, November 17, 2005
A blog is born. I'm not sure what shape this will take in the coming months, but I hope to share my thoughts on several topics that may or may not interest you:
1) The road to being published. After a bajigitty agent rejections for my "practice" novel, it seemed I'd never see my name in print on anything other than bills and solicitations from the American Cancer Society. So I kinda threw in the towel. I focused 180% on my day job (grant writing) and took a deep breath. It felt good to quit daydreaming. In fact, it was almost like that scene in Singles where Bridget Fonda's character finally decides Cliff is a jerk. How refreshing to get my life back! I would get so much accomplished at work! Sure I could learn to love words like "utilize," "overarching," and "facilitate." I could even learn to love and describe a nebulous process called "quasi-experimental evaluation," the contemplation of which is rumored to have caused tremors and uncontrollable weeping in lab rats.
But a funny thing happened on the way to my thirties. I *gulp* missed writing! It's true what those darn authors say. Writing is in your blood. Those pushy bastard characters start running around your head, demanding you give them histories and motivations and conflict and a pet guinea pig and a rent-controlled apartment in the city and crap like that.
So here's what happened. A quirky girl named Leigh popped into my head; she'd had a kidney transplant and wanted to take a road trip. Who was I to argue? I finished Riding with Larry Resnick this September. While it was still a work in progress, I entered it in two contests: the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and the "Get Your Stiletto in the Door" competition sponsored by Chicklit Writers of the World. Entering these contests turned out to be the best decisions I ever made in my life, other than marrying my darling husband and buying my Cairn Terror, Daisy. (Yes, that's an intentional misspelling.) 600 people entered the JJ fellowship, and I made it to the top 8. Finalist! Yessssss! And I placed first in my category in the Chicklit contest, with a manuscript request from both the agent and editor final judges. People. Let me tell you. Contests (legitimate ones that is, research carefully) rock the hizzouse. On Edit--you can find me & the contests here: the James Jones one and the Chick Lit one.
I subscribed to Publishers Marketplace, located the agents that had sold to the editor who requested my full manuscript via the contest, and composed my query letter. Of 8 queries sent, I had 4 requests for the full. An offer of representation was made. Two offers were made. A third agent, still reading, indicated strong interest. A few days later, I made a decision that just felt right and signed with Laura Blake Peterson at Curtis Brown. Yippee!!!!
The book is now under consideration at five houses, and I'm apoplectic. I am limp with anxiety. My face is breaking out. But this is good. I have gotten farther than I'd ever imagined I'd get. And I'll keep you posted on these developments.
Oh yeah. The other topics.
2) The weather. So we cheeseheads had our first major storm of the season last night. New England gets "Nor'easters," so I think we should get "Midwe'tners." Whatchall think?
3) Food. New favorite: Sabra's roasted garlic hummus. You like garlic? You love this hummus. Look for it in a dairy case near you.
4) TV, movies, music, miscellaneous. This post has gotten way too long, so I'll leave the rest for another night.