Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ghost hunting old-school style

First, a correction...that was an eight-pound kohlrabi in my last post. So if you're looking for an eight-pound rutabaga at the local grocery store, you may be shit out of luck.

Mike Birbiglia was hilarious, and I so enjoyed myself that I immediately bought tickets for another upcoming show: David Cross at the Riverside this Saturday. This has all the makings of a comedian bender, so it's a good thing future weekends will be reserved for weddings and other activities.

Such as having the snot scared out of me. Two weekends ago I heard a story about a haunted section of woods in southern Wisconsin, and since I am an avid Ghost Hunters fan, of course I want to go experience it myself to see if it's real.

There is a back service road in the southern Kettle Moraine Forest that is supposedly haunted. You drive down the road at night, park, kill the engine, shut off the lights, roll the windows down, and wait. Within minutes, you hear the voices and laughter of small children running through the woods. Soon, you also hear shuffling on the gravel road. The footsteps and laughter grow louder and louder until you have the strong sensation of being watched. But as your eyes grow used to the darkness, you see nothing but small puffs of dust kicking up from the gravel with every footstep.

Or something like that.

(Spooky Count Laugh: "Ah-ah-ah-ah-aaaahhh!")

True? Maybe. I know people who have gone there and will never return because they stained their skivvies just a wee bit. So, with our freewheeling attitude toward fear-based fluid leakage, my friend and I are thinking about doing it. Hey, if nothing else, it could be good blog fodder. Or we could try to sit on the haunted mausoleum in nearby Dartford Cemetery. (Supposedly a ghost pushes you off.) With Halloween approaching, I suspect this could be a popular spot with the local teen Ouija board / Light-as-a-feather-Stiff-as-a-board crowd. There could be a line..."You must be *this* tall to ride the mausoleum!" And souvenir tees and hats.

If we go, maybe we'll take some video and post something on YouTube. Because my life won't be complete until a pasty kid with a KFC stain on his shirt leaves a comment like, "this would have been more interesting if y'all girls got naked," or, "GGGGGGGGGGGGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" or "you two are stupid the video sucks. try not smoking a bunch of weed before you go."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is that Sputnik?

I have been so thrilled with my first experience participating in a CSA this summer. (No, that isn't shorthand for "Can't Stomach (men named) Allen.") Look at the goodies in our HALF-SHARE box two weeks ago:

I imagine I'd need a dolly to get the full-share box home.

In case you're wondering what that giant, nubby green ball is on the right, it's an eight-pound rutabaga. And it wasn't WOODY! It was jicama-like, sweet, crunchy, and mild. Our CSA (Olden Produce) is fabulous, and I highly recommend them. The variety of fruits and veggies in the weekly boxes forces you to get creative in the kitchen and vary your diet. This is a positive lifestyle change your colon AND your tastebuds can get behind. And convenient! Especially if you're like me and tell everyone, "Oh, I just go to the farmers' market when I want fresh produce," and then you sleep in each Saturday morning and totally miss it. And okay. I hear you: "But I don't know HOW to cook an eight-pound rutabaga, Jess!"

That's fine! Neither do I! So the green beast ended up in stir-fries and mostly straight to my stomach in raw stick form. And shhh...it's okay...you can also play kickball with it if you want, 'k? But if you want to cook those potatoes in a form other than mashed, here is one of my all-time favorite recipe resources. Galettes galore, folks. Check it out.

We've only got a few weeks to go on produce this season, and I am already experiencing CSA withdrawal symptoms. But I recently learned of a NEW CSA I can join: the Enlightened Kitchen in Fond du Lac. They offer a bread share featuring organic, artisan sourdough, whole wheat, and rye breads ... and! AND! The possibility of a new vegetarian soup share, featuring:
  • Curried butternut bisque with coconut cream
  • Tomato and bread soup
  • Black bean with roasted peppers
  • Chick pea stew with creamy peanut sesame broth
  • Hearty winter root vegetable with brown rice
  • Italian potato gnocchi and pesto with asiago
  • Indian lentil with quinoa and tomatoes
Love it, love it, love it all. And this would mean one less night of cooking each week. I am so down with that. So if this looks appealing and you live in the area, sign up! I hear they need 30 people in the Appleton area to offer the soup share, so the more the merrier. The fall season runs from October 7 through December 23rd.

I'm seeing Mike Birbiglia tonight, prefaced by dinner at Cafe Coquette. *swoon!* It's like I'm a real grown-up, and everything! Will have more on these developments next week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Getting up After Falling Down. It's an Inexact Science.

Many people have asked about my next novel, and I finally—FINALLY—have a new idea I’m excited about. I pursued a few bad ideas down the wrong rabbit holes this summer, when I had time to focus on fiction, but now that I’m back at work, Great New Idea is pulsing at my temples. Demanding my full attention when it’s been diverted to tasks that result in an actual paycheck (minus standard deductions).

Murphy’s Law. It’s applied to me since birth.

Now, lest you think I’m a lazy novelist, let me clear a few things up. I have been hemming and hawing about addressing this, because people love to back a winning horse and you’re supposed to give the illusion of SuccessSuccessSuccess! when you put yourself out there, I guess. But screw it.

Last summer as I was wrapping up promotion for Driving Sideways, I did finish a second novel. Quieter, darker, more character-driven...but still snarky. After some final polishing on this end, my agent pitched it to my editor last fall.

Remember what else happened last fall? Yeah! The economy took a giant dirt nap! And then publishing imploded for awhile. My book, featuring characters that became very real and dear to me and a storyline that I ached over, was ultimately rejected. Hammer? Meet heart.

Let me set the scene for you:

It’s mid-October. I am in Madison with author friends, attending the Wisconsin Book Festival. I’d heard through the grapevine that my editor was “loving the book so far,” hoping to “make it hers very soon.” Me? Relieved! Still, I am a bundle of nerves, because did I mention the economy taking a digger and clawing at its neck in the universal sign of “I’m dyin’ ovah heah!”? Anything could happen.

I am out to lunch with my author pal Danielle Younge-Ullman and her dad, expecting The Call. Just as we sit down to our sandwiches, my cell phone rings. My heart leaps into my throat and sticks there. Danielle locks eyes with me, excited. “Is this it?”

I nod and leave the restaurant to take the call on the street. My legs are rubbery. I answer. I listen.

And my little world collapses into a gray, mucky puddle. People are still going about their lives all around me, driving their kids to soccer games or plugging parking meters, and I have to remind myself to keep it together. I don’t want to be the crazy woman openly weeping on the street that they tell their friends about later. I return to the table bereft. I feel like someone’s stolen my dog. Dani (always the sweetheart) optimistically asks, “So what did they offer?!”

There was crying, weepy rehashing and speculating, and an empty, forlorn little cloud that seemed to follow me around wherever I went. I put my writing ambitions on ice for a good, long time.

In other words, I took it way too personally.

My husband, who is such a large-hearted, wonderful cheerleader, says my sophomore novel was simply a casualty of the shitty economy and the fact that I don’t have a long publishing history (sales record, really) to keep me in the pipeline in the face of tightening budgets. Bad timing all around. But maybe the book was just a stinker. Or maybe it was a little of both.

So, you can write a book. You can be amazed that anyone wants to publish it. You can collapse in fits of joy when you learn it’s gone into four printings, with over 80% of all copies in print sold—to actual readers, who sometimes even email you to tell you how much they liked your story! (I still can’t believe that part. I have to stop myself from asking, almost every time, “Who, me? Are you sure?”) And still, there is no guarantee that your second book will be picked up and you will ever be able to pay the bills from your writing alone.

I have since learned that this happens to writers more often than you think, and the M.O. is basically shut up, suck it up, and keep writing your ass off. Except I had no stomach for writing in the months after that experience. It was even difficult for me to read novels for a long time, so I’ve been reading way more Michael Pollan and Dr. Christiane Northrup than any human being should have to ingest. And I've been canning my ass off. (Procrastination as therapy?)

I still have days when the keyboard and blank page make me break into a cold sweat.

I’m lucky, and I am grateful. I got to ride the publishing pony once in my life. Will it happen again? I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve got that beautiful new bouncing baby idea, after all. We’ll see what it grows into.

I guess I'll wrap this up with two totally unrelated links I can’t help but share. (Of course the "drinking rodents" are from a bar in Wisconsin.) I’ll see you next week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Questions. I Have so Many.

What caused my 24-hour flu-like symptoms on Monday? A virus? Some gross, squiggly bacteria? A family of small dwarves who live in my stomach? (If you get that reference, bless your darling little heart.)

Speaking of hearts, why am I having these crazy-ass heart palpitations all the time? Is it anxiety? Is it hormones? Did my heart try to get on So You Think you Can Dance! and we’re only now discovering that it has the rhythm of Navin Johnson?

Now that Weekly Reader and Reading Rainbow are kaputsky, will childhood be cancelled as well? Rainbows and puppy dogs and imagination itself banned? My God, who wants to be a kid these days? You have to wear a helmet to play in the front yard, the prizes in Cracker Jack boxes totally suck, and they have to run ADS on TV to remind you to go PLAY OUTSIDE. (But don’t forget the sunscreen! And your helmet.)

Why did my neighbors think a “Pure Romance” open house on their front lawn was a good idea? And why did they think it would be okay to not only attempt to sell marital aids to the general public on a lovely Tuesday afternoon, but puppies as well? Yes, there was signage, and no, sadly, I did not take a picture of it. “Puppies for sale! Also, dildos! Get your puppies and dildos right here, folks!”

I would like to thank Jacque for thinking enough of my ramblings to honor me with a “lovely blogger award.” Which she may want to rescind at this point.