Saturday, December 31, 2005

Resolutions for 2006

1) Think of something clever or interesting to say before I open my mouth. Whenever I speak with someone I desperately want to impress, I can only think of the most mundane topics of conversation. I blurt things that make no sense, or worse, are pointless and dull. Why do I feel compelled to tell a truly cool person all about my upcoming yawntabulous grant project and the fact that my hometown swells in population from 60,000 to about 500,000 during the EAA Airventure Fly-in every summer? I can only pray the first words from my mouth the first time I meet a book critic who could make or break my writing career aren't: “Bud says he saw some grizzly bears near Pulaski’s Candy Store!”

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

A Crotchety Andy Rooney Moment with Jess

Have you ever wondered why attempting to pay for your purchases at many major consumer goods stores has turned into an inquisition akin to applying for a bank loan? Why does Bath and Body Works need my zip code? Why does The Gap need my phone number? What do they do with this information? It's all a wee bit scary to me. I was in line behind a woman at a large clothing franchise that shall remain nameless, and they actually asked for her social security number. Which she happily gave, no fuss no muss. I heard the whole thing. Had I been raised by less savory parents, I may have assumed her identity long ago and would now be drunk on a beach in Tahiti. You just wait. Someday there will be retinal scanning. Or "All about me" microchips in our necks, or barcode tattoos with our addresses and bank accounts and shoe size. I swear on all that is remotely holy and decent. You just wait. And if they snap a snug latex glove on one hand and ask you to bend over before paying for your cheese grater, run the hell out of there. You can get whatever it is on Ebay.

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

The fake Christmas newsletter

(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!

Thoughts on 2005 Part 1

Well, another year has almost come to a close and of course this means I need to post a semi-obligatory diary about the events and news of 2005. I feel that major news outlets have pretty much run coverage of the major events (Katrina, Libbygate, Schaivopalooza, and so on) into the semi-frozen ground, so I will instead pontificate on a few things I've learned this year.

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: 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'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

Why am I Here?

No, I'm not going to get all existential on you. I suppose I need to decide the purpose of this blog. I mean, as fun as it is to post my embarrassing stories and twisted world view for the whole planet to see, that kind of navel-gazing can get old pretty fast. And who wants to read all that? So when I formulate my blog mission statement, I'm hoping it isn't this: "Me, me, me!" But it might be, because I may be helpless to stop myself.

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 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

The PM announcement and other musings

Last night while reading Entertainment Weekly or Writer's Digest or Utne Reader or any of the other 3,867 magazines stacked on my "to read" pile I heard J say the magical words I have so longed to hear. No, they weren't, "Why don't you let me do the cooking and cleaning from now on. Also, I'm going to give up video games and meat." They were, "Hey hon. Your name's on Publisher's Marketplace." And here's the word-for-word announcement, posted on December 15 under "Fiction/Debut:"

"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.

Happy Monday!

Friday, December 16, 2005

O Culvers Custard, How Do I Love Thee?

(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

It's Official!!!!!!!!!

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

More book news

Okay, updates ... still weighing two great offers from two different publishers. It's coming down to marketing plans for the book, for the most part. Will know more by tomorrow morning, at which point I need to make a final decision.

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

Book News!

The most unbelievable thing is happening. My book is going to auction tomorrow! I'm so excited it's making me a bit pukey. More on this tomorrow afternoon. Don't want to jinx anything.

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

Monday, Monday

Okay, that's the last time I open with a bad song title that puts an earworm in my head all week. Thanks alot, Mama and Papas...

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.

Thundercats .... HO!!!!!!!!!

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

Secrets to Winning Lots of Money

For Grant Writers. Almost fooled you there. Anyway, one of the tricks I've always employed (and it's been pretty successful so far) has been to use a sob story in my "Need" section. Now, sometimes this entails helping a school district develop a survey to assess the state of their kids. A few years ago we needed to establish need for a big money Phy Ed grant (win big money and valuable prizes with the "PEP" grant!), so one of our clients surveyed their 6th and 7th graders with the following two questions: 1) What do you do on the weekends or after school? and, 2) What do your friends and classmates do after school and on the weekends? The goal, I suppose, was to make the kids look lazy, fat, and depressed (or why would they need a bunch of new Stairmasters and climbing walls?) The answers were revealing, and included such gems as:
  • 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

Wrap it up, I'll take it

I had that song in my head and thought I'd share the earworm. (Tag, you're it!) Actually, I'm just going to give a brief wrap-up of the weekend festivities.

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 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

My Trip to the DMV

Today I went to the DMV and as soon as I plucked my number (#50) I started worrying. I had to have an eye test! Testing of one's physical accuity in a public arena has always bothered me, all the way back to the Sit-n-Reach, one of the many feats we were asked to perform as part of the President's Fitness Challenge test battery in grade school. And during the flexed arm hang or the mile run, I cared much less about the actual grade I'd get than about how I'd look in front of my peers. And when you worry about such things so deeply, you're bound to have your ass handed to you at some point, as I did when I slipped and fell on the balance beam while attempting to meet yet more PE criteria in 8th grade. Mrs. Vollendorf announced that I'd probably bruised my pubic bone, which sent the entire class into gales of laughter. My best friend, resentful at the way I'd been showing off in the first place, said I only had it coming. But really. What kind of physical education curriculum asks you to run down a 4-inch wide polished wooden beam raised 3 feet off the floor while wearing slipperyass socks? A very sadistic kind, that's what.

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.