Archive for February, 2009

February 25, 2009

The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli

Am I the only one who hated historical fiction as a child? I had plenty of friends who were obsessed with American Girl books, with Little House on the Prairie, and my next-youngest sister still drools over Tracy Chevalier and A Great And Terrible Beauty.

Me? I associated the genre with school. Being a grown up now, I totally understand the whole cross-curricular benefits for teaching historical fiction novels, but DAMN did we really have to read My Brother Sam Is Dead? Wasn\’t there something cooler than The Sign of the Beaver, or my least favorite, Island of the Blue Dolphins?

Anyway. So almost-24-year-long-story short, I don\’t jump for joy over historical fiction. Unless it\’s Octavian Nothing, although that\’s less jumping for joy and more puzzling and muddling for joy.

I digress again. Dammit. What I\’m trying to say is that I am mostly uninitiated to the sub-genre that is Young Adult Historical Fiction, but apparently there is one lady who is. That lady is Donna Jo Napoli. And because my mother procured me a signed copy of this attractively covered book, I deigned to read it.

This book takes place in Rennaissance Italy, in Florence – a city run by the wealthy and extravagent Medici family, patrons of arts and leisure of all sorts – and in the surrounding countryside. Our heroine, Elisabetta, is a noble, but since she lives in the country on her father\’s silk farm, she mingles with the peasants and prides herself in being helpful with the family business, even if a truly Noble Lady wouldn\’t go near a smelly silkworm if somebody paid her. But despite her countrified ways, Elisabetta still hopes that her fifteenth year will be the year she is betrothed – to a wealthy, young man from a good family, not to some old widower. To hedge her bets, Elisabetta decides she needs a coming out party in the city, not in the country, but just as she convinces her parents of her idea, tragedy strikes. And when political turmoil mounts in Florence, it seems all of Elisabetta\’s carefully laid plans will go to crap.

That description reads exactly like you\’d expect it, huh? Girl wants something. Tragedy strikes, complications ensue. But what really drew me into the book was the depiction of what being a young woman at this time and place really meant. Elisabetta is obviously outspoken and liberal for her time, but even so, she is tied to the decisions of her parents, and the politics of a city she doesn\’t even want to associate with. This inner conflict, between her heady desires and her simple resignation to a life isn\’t fully her own, paints the historic landscape better than Napoli\’s lush descriptions and observations of the near-feudal caste system. While I didn\’t find this book as compelling as Octavian or as tension-filled as Laurie Halse Anderson\’s Chains, and the story didn\’t make me carry the book in my hip pocket, anxious to finish, I was still surprised and pleased whenever I did pick it up. Would she ever get betrothed? Would she be reunited with her true love…. and what does any of this have to do with the Mona Lisa?

(And don\’t tell my 6th grade English teacher…. but The Smile may have me jonesing justalittlebit for more, more, more historical fiction)

Donna Jo Napoli online | Indiebound Link

And to all of those who left me such sweet and thoughtful comments on my last entry, I am sincerely thankful. It is good to know that so many of you are sending good vibes my way, and toward the inimitable MacDonald clan. I am leaving tomorrow to attend the viewing and service in Flint, and maybe the burial in Canada, so I may not be back to blogging until next week. But thank you again for your kind words. I am doing my best to do my job as a girlfriend and Be There and Be Supportive, and I am glad that  you are all Being There and Being Supportive for me.

Advertisements
February 24, 2009

this is too much

There were a couple, more pleasant things I was considering blogging about today. I finished a book last night I thought was worth mentioning. I watched a video this morning that made me feel good about writing (which is rare – most internet media related to writers/writing makes me feel like crap, lately).

But I can’t.

I can’t do it.

I don’t want to write about this because A) I don’t feel I deserve to have feelings about this – I’m not asking for sympathy or advice, and if I write about it, I feel like I’m making it seem like I am. B) It’s not my family’s story to tell. Maybe they would like to handle this privately. I don’t know I would feel if someone else were blogging about me if it was happening to my family and C) I don’t know what I could possibly say about this situation…

Lance’s Dad died yesterday.

It was unexpected. He wasn’t even 50. He has a wife, a home in Indiana, 4 dogs and a cat. In Michigan, there are two grown boys – my boyfriend and his older brother – another about to graduate high school, and Luke. I think Luke is 5.

He loved them all so much. He drove all the way up from Indiana to Flint see Lance play in a boring band concert – ones that I skipped out on – or to pick up his younger sons for a weekend at his house. He always extended the invitation for Lance and I to visit. He always offered hugs and cans of beer and a joke or twelve.

Last time we all spent time together, he told Lance he thought we were the perfect couple.

Since he has been living in another state for more than 5 years, I hadn’t met him until last November.

I met him at Leo’s funeral. Leo was Lance’s stepfather. He married Lance’s mother when Lance was young – 5, or 6 – and lived with them full time until he lost a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Leo wasn’t even 50.

I am so lucky. So so so lucky that I haven’t had to deal with a death in my immediate family. But it leaves me feeling very ill-equipped to handle this kind of tragedy.

Especially when I’m not able to be physically with him. My boyfriend.

Two years ago, one of Lance’s cousins died of a drug overdose. He wasn’t even 30. He left behind kids. Maybe four of them. At least two. I don’t remember.

I’m not going to try to say anything else about this. Just tell your dad you love him today. If you can. Listen to some Pink Floyd or Cher or Tom Waits or whatever artist your Dad could never stop talking about.

And if it’s what you’re into, please pray for a family that has seen enough small tragedies in the past few years to last at least until the next decade.

February 23, 2009

My Favorite Oscars Fashion – 2009

Okay, enough moodiness. Let’s talk Oscar fashion.

#5 Natalie Portman

What a great color! And are those black fingernails?

#4 Taraji P. Henson

Kind of reminds me of a mummy…. but I don’t care!

#3 Diane Lane

Simple, maybe a little blah, but so elegant. I love the neckline.

#2 Amy Adams

I think her dress was only so-so, but I love, love, LOVE the necklace, and the red looks great with her hair, imho.

#1. Angelina Jolie

Dress is nothing to write home about, but with the hair and that goooooorgeous green jewelry? Can’t get enough of it. And I don’t even particularly like Ms. Jolie, to be completely honest.

February 23, 2009

instead of living

I am so tired.

This is another one of my fears – that I will never be happy in a full time job because I will just get too tired.

Lance says it’s a self-fufilling prophecy. If I tell myself I’m overly tired, then it’s my own fault I feel like crap.

I guess that’s possible.

But this is day 5 of working for me. 8 hours on Thursday, Friday. 6 on Saturday (plus that heinous drive home). 4 on Sunday. 8 today.

8 tomorrow.

I am so tired.

I have a lot of aspirations for my life. In my dreams, I’m this renaissance woman who works, cooks, raises kids, keep things organized, takes time for herself, her husband, writes, keeps in touch with family and friends, volunteers, exercises, sews…

But if I feel like this?? After 8 measley hours of work?

Maybe if I eat more protein.

Get more sleep (6-7 hours isn’t enough anymore?)

Eliminate caffeine.

Drink more caffeine.

Stop stressing so much.

Or reevaluate my life goals.

Or buck up, get a can of Diet Dr. Pepper, go to the gym, and climb directly into bed.

February 22, 2009

nerves

I have trouble remembering this is my last year in Michigan.

A Brief Timeline of Jessica’s Life

1985 – Born

1997 – Am uprooted from rural Flemington, New Jersey life to less-rural Jackson, Michigan life, just in time for 8th grade

2003 – Graduate from high school, move into dorm room in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

2005 – Move off campus to a generic apartment rental with friends.

2006 – Move into creaky old 1970s house rental with friends.

2007 – Graduate college, move back home to Jackson, and into little sister’s bedroom.

2009 – Start grad school in a location yet to be determined.

This year’s move will be the only move of my life that was organic, MY choice 100%, and not forced upon me/expected of me in any way.

That is to say, this is the only Hard Choice I’ve had to make. The rest? I took the path of least resistance. This time, it’s all on me.

So it’s easier to simply NOT think about it and forget it’s going to happen.

But it is.

In 6 months.

In 6 months I will be leaving the state.

I will be moving in with my boyfriend.

I will be starting graduate school.

I will be surviving without my parent’s money.

I will be responsible for my own tuition, rent, health care, groceries, laundry, emergencies, safety, social life…

I am starting The Rest of My Life, but I am leaving behind another life. One that I like a lot. One where I am with my family many hours of the day. I am an hour away from my sister, in the same city as one of my best friends, I have health insurance and a steady paycheck and a car and a support system.

I am giving that all up.

What do I get in return?

My independence. The beginnings I will need to eventually start my own family. The education required to advance my career. The experience of living somewhere new, in a big city. The life I’ve dreamed of with the man I love.

…….

…….

I am scared shitless.

But hopefully, once these 6 months are over, I’ll won’t have to take a 2 hour detour home, over icy country roads, because there’s a 50+ car pileup on the highway.

February 21, 2009

the book pile

Good morning, good morning.

There is a storm warning for all of lower Michigan today, so I left very.early. for work and am therefore very.early. at my desk. The lights aren’t even on yet. I am just watching the snow fall, hoping I will have a safe trip home at 3:00.

Since I will be here all day, I may muster up another post later in the afternoon.

But for now, The Books:

Just Finished…

1. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld review here!

2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison so, so soooooo good

3. John Lennon: All I Want Is The Truth by Elizabeth Partridge

Will hopefully finish by next week

4. The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli

5. Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson

6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman a eleventh-hour substitution because apparently The Boy and I are going to see the movie SOON

7. Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag

8. Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

On the docket for March…


9. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Gave this one to The Boy first and he likes it!

11. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter thanks, Erin!

12. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson sooooo excited for this one 🙂

February 20, 2009

Oscars 2009

Hey, did you guys know the Oscars are on Sunday night?

Calm down, calm down. It’s just an awards ceremony. Just take a deep breath.

Well, as some of you may recall, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to watch the Best Pic noms before the Oscars start. However, it seems that most of these movies didn’t even premiere until December, which would have entailed lots and lots of cash spent on movie tickets in a time of my life where I do not have cash aplenty.

I did the best I could, and I resolve to be better prepared for next year’s awards.

That being said, here’s my take on what I *did* get to see, although I am still having trouble picking and All Time Fave. Probably because I am a very indiscriminate movie watcher. I’d give them all awards, I tell you.

I. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

My impressions: Completely captivating. Ever seen a 3 hour movie where you took your time in the bathroom because, well, you’re getting a little tired of staring at a screen? This is not one of those 3 hour movies.

The high points: Obviously the CGI and makeup and other hiiiii-technicaaaaal elements were top notch. The boy and I loved the decadent New Orleans setting. And it was a real romantic tearjerker, if you like that kind of thing.

The lows: A little obtuse at times – still didn’t get that whole thing with the clockmaker – and afterward, I came to realize exactly how Over The Top the movie was. I guess that’s what you gotta do when you’re aiming for a blockbuster, but it just felt like the directors were sitting around going LET’S! MAKE! THE! BEST! MOST! EPIC! MOVIE! EVER! Think Titanic without the Real Life Tragedy aspect, or Forrest Gump without some of the charm.

Best Pic? I think it has a good chance, but again, I kind of like a little more subtlety – give the underdogs a chance. Brad Pitt for Best Actor? Exactly how can Brad Pitt win when his character was completely CGI’d for half the movie? Not that I have anything against his performance or anything, but come on! Taraji P. Henson for Supporting Actress? I liked her performance, but I don’t think her character had much weight in this film, so I don’t see her as a contender.

II. Frost/Nixon

My impressions: I enjoyed this movie, although I did find my attention drifting at times… but by the time the interviews started, I was riveted. I really liked the faux documentary feel, complete with talking heads, and was so very impressed with Frank Langella’s performance.

The high points: The film was a good balance between serious suspense (are these guys REALLY going to go broke on a crap interview?) and goofy, Underdog almost-comedy. The acting was excellent and the parts well-cast.

The low points: The boy left obviously feeling “eh” about it, which is a pretty good indicator that the movie had little redeeming popular interest (which I think is actually important for a movie – even if it’s the most finely made piece of art, I don’t care unless anyone actually wants to see it) and I’ve heard rumor that the plot wasn’t *exactly* historically accurate.

Best Pic? Would be a huge upset. I don’t think the movie has the balls to stand up to the competition, really. Frank Langella, Best Actor? I’ll be rooting for him. That man WAS Richard Nixon as far as I’m concerned. Although I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Sean Penn in Milk or Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler so maybe I’m totally off.

III. Slumdog Millonaire

My impressions: Love, love, loved it. Although the previews made it seem a LOT crazier than it was, I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Very innovative, interesting film without feeling like an innovative, interesting film, if you know what I mean.

The high points: The love story was completely believable without the EPIC quality of some aforementioned romantic plot lines – I really felt alongside the main characters. The cinematography, imho, was great – the vibrant locales were almost as compelling as the story.

The low points: Hmm… can I think of any? Well, ah, I guess this one’s getting a lot of hype. Which means, of course, that it must really, secretly suck, right?

Best Pic? No acting nods for this film, so I think this one might be a shoo-in…. although I spose Best Director is still on the table, too.

IV. The Visitor

My impressions: I found this movie very tender and quiet, and kind of wished it was a book and not a movie. Richard Jenkin’s character is unusual, he’s a lonely, anti-social professor with a lot of issues – but he comes off as so pained and innocent that you feel sympathy, even though you suspect he might not deserve it.

The high points: The screenplay explores a number of real life conflicts in America that I don’t think people acknowledge – do people really sit around and think about immigration law and how brutal and unforgiving it can be? And the musical element of the movie adds great dimension, I think.

The low points: Not really a lot of impact here. You walk into the movie and leave pretty much the same. And the ending, I thought, was needlessly bleak. Maybe I’m just too much of an optimist these days 🙂

Richard Jenkins for Best Actor? His performance was so subtle, I think, that he will be overlooked.

V. Frozen River

My impressions: This movie sucked me in more than I expected – movies on DVD tend to bore me/put me to sleep – but this one I actually finished in one day! Shock! Anyway, I really liked it. The story had a good mix of family drama (when Dad runs off with the money intended for their new double-wide, it puts Ray and her two boys in a real tough place) and action-y suspense (when Ray gets involved in the smuggling of illegal aliens on a Mohawk reservation, driving her car over the frozen St. Laurence River, it’s pretty inevitable that there will be gunshots and police chases).

The high points: Loved the slips between steady shots and a more shaky, documentary-like camera style. And let me say that this is the first movie with a family-driven plotline that included a teenager that wasn’t surly, angry, and actually loved his brother and parents? Ray’s teenage son really made the movie for me. However, Melissa Leo held her own, putting a really fresh take on the Erin Brockovich-mom role of martyr/mom/doing what she has to do to keep her family safe.

The low points: It is REALLY bleak. I spose it all works out in the end (SORT OF), but it’s not happy enough to make up for all the gray and ice, the gloom and can anything REALLY GO ANY WORSE kind of plot.

Melissa Leo for Best Actress? Hmmm… I’m not sure her work here was THAT good, and if I’d seen Rachel Getting Married I’d probably say otherwise (I have a real big soft spot for Anne Hathaway), but I think she deserves the nom, if not the win.

VI. The Dark Knight

My impressions: Wow, it’s been a long time since I saw this one, but I recall being impressed. I recall wondering why it was so dang long, but being otherwise engaged… and I have been known to fall asleep in super hero movies, sooooo that’s saying something 🙂

The highs: What kind of a SEQUEL totally outdoes the original? I loved all the plot twists, the last minute turnarounds, and the dark-dark-DARK ambiance of Gotham City.

The lows: Again, it was a little bit… um… excessively long.

Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor? Um, yeah. I think he’s going to win AND I think he deserves it. First of all, Big Summer Blockbusters NEVER get anywhere critically, so the fact that his performance transcended that bias gives him a leg up. Also, he was a supporting actor, VILLIAN who completely stole the movie. Batman who? Oh yeah, and he died.

So who are you rooting for? Any I missed that will just blow my opinions out of the water?

February 19, 2009

all about the benjamins

Okay, here’s a question for all you parents/parents to be/pontentially childful/child of parents:

How did your parents teach you about money?

Yesterday, my 15-year-old sister got into it, again, at Kroger. It’s happened every-single-shopping-trip since I’ve moved home, but I absolutely refuse to back down because it’s really something I feel strongly about.

The something is this:

My little sister, when grocery shopping, will throw whatever she wants in the cart without thought to how much money is reasonable to spend on food, or how much of your parents’ money it is reasonable to spend on indulgences.

Take for example, the Crunchy Oat Bread.

We need bread. I examine the wheat breads of similar quality, and choose the one on sale. Caroline picks out the Crunchy Oat Bread. I say “Caroline, I already got bread.” Caroline says, “But it’s not Crunchy Oat.” I say, “Can you pretend it’s Crunchy Oat bread for a week, until it’s gone, and then maybe the Crunchy Oat bread will be on sale, or neither of them will be on sale so it won’t matter?”

Caroline says, “You are like, one of those stingy old people that hates having fun!”

This was, of course, after I already berated her for wanting to buy a 4 dollar pint of lemonade and the 3 dollar frozen burritos sitting in our shopping cart already.

And if exercsing restraint makes me an Old Lady, then I’ve been an Old Lady a lot longer than I thought I had.

The point I’m trying to make is that, despite being raised by the same parents, my sister and I see money so differently.

I had an allowance starting in 2nd grade. My Money was (and still is) My Money. If I want to “have fun” and spend my money on things that aren’t on sale, then that’s my choice.

But when my parents hand me 20 dollars to go to the movies, I bring them back the change. When they hand me their credit card to buy food, I don’t throw in a six-pack of beer or a cake or something else extravagant.

In my eyes, it’s a matter of respect. Respecting my parents and their trust in me, and respecting the value money, in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be spending it on.

Caroline gets an allowance but only sporadically. My mom and dad are happy to pony up cash when she wants to go out with friends, buy clothes, school supplies, etc. Eight years separate us and eight years is a lot in terms of one family. Due to our move from New Jersey to Michigan, and the general increase of salaries and experience over time, my family has more expendable cash now than when I was a child. So maybe that’s what led my smaller sisters to this sense of entitlement they have to Whatever They Feel Like Having.

But is it my parent’s fault for not teaching them better?

Or is it their fault? My little sisters are 13 and 15 now. That is old enough, I think, to be accountable for your decisions. That is, in my opinion, too old to be spending money without a single thought to whether or not it’s right of you to do so. But that’s my sister’s main argument – that it doesn’t matter. If Mom was here, she’d say I could have it. When I’m older and have my own money, then I’ll learn the hard way. I don’t need to deny myself fun now just because I should be “learning about money.”

To me, that is being consciously selfish and consciously disrespectful of the parents who go to work 40 hours a week for that money.

One of the things I think parents do is try to alleviate money worries for children. That’s an admirable goal, but short-sighted. No, your child should probably not have to worry that Mom and Dad won’t have enough money to pay the heating bill, or give them lunch money, or pay for the school field trip. But I don’t think completely separating your children from your finances is the 100% better choice. Money skills are so important, and I think it goes beyond How to Spend, How to Save, and How to Balance a Checkbook.

Children need to know that just because it’s on the shelf doesn’t mean you should have it. And just because your parents have enough money doesn’t give you carte blanche to spend as much of it as you please. Children should know that the more money they spend on toys and clothes means less money for other things.

So how do you teach your kids these intangible pieces of responsibility?

When I have kids, I will give them an allowance, and if they don’t have enough money leftover to buy a new sweater or go to the movies, then tough cookies.

If they make a mistake – lose a retainer, break a Game Boy, scratch a video game disc – then you better believe they will be responsible for it.

They will be aware of my shopping budget, and maybe even some other bills/incomes.

I will probably make them start to save for their own college education at far too young an age.

If they make a life decision – to start dying their hair, eating vegan, washing their face with industrial strength cleaner – I will accept that choice. But that doesn’t mean I will pay for your decisions if they involve 100 dollar hairstyling bills, 5 dollar frozen meals twice daily, or 50 dollar bottles of face goo.

And hopefully, I will instill in them the notion that yes, I want them to have a happy, healthy life where they have enough money to enjoy themselves, but that lifestyle does come at a price. And while I am happy, as their parents, to foot the bill, they should be equal parts Grateful and Respectful.

So… any thoughts?

(And yes, two days in a row of very lengthy, wordy posts is enough for me, too, thanx)

February 18, 2009

on writing

Every morning, I try to write three pages, longhand, in a scrap notebook with a boring, Bic pen.

I picked up this tip from a book I tried to read this summer, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. According to Ms. Cameron, the Morning Pages will change your life. They will help you dump out your brain in the morning and prepare you for more creative work in the daytime. It will help all kind of artists – writers, photographers, painters, actors, dancers – to foster a more creative life.

I don’t know if I agree with Julia yet. It’s been months of on-and-off morning page writing and my life doesn’t feel transformed. In fact, I have yet to have a single profound vision during the time I spend with paper and pen. Nothing life changing. Nothing even worth remembering. And the days I skip, I don’t long for my pages… I don’t miss them when they are gone.

Perhaps this is a case of a lack of committment. I fudge the rules – I don’t make myself write on the weekends, or sometimes on a busy day at work. I rarely roll out of bed and land at my desk. I like time to wake up to the world…. not to mention muster the brain power to open my eyes, hold a pen steady, form a coherent thought, et cetera. So if I was a good Artist’s Way-er I wouldn’t stand for any of that nonsense. I would buck up and THEN the benefits would roll in.

Humph.

Today I came to my pages after many (6) days away from them. This small phenomenon I enjoy: when I go too long, I feel like I haven’t talked to myself in awhile, like missing an old friend.

This small phenomenon I don’t enjoy: like my best friend, who stops calling me whenever she decides to get back together with a nasty boyfriend, gets engaged when I think it’s too soon, or any small infraction against our friendship, I avoid my pages to the point it makes me anxious to revisit them.

I don’t want to hear what myself has to say about my lack of writing.

Yes, yes, there it is. A lack of writing.

The summer of 2006, I wrote my first novel. It was not a fun process. Actually, it was quite painful. Halfway through the book I changed the plot completely, and revisions along the way were both neccessary and god-awful confusing. The next semester, I revised (half-assedly, I realize now) to have it ready for a grade.

It got a good grade.

I tinkered with this book and dipped my toes into other stories for months. When November 2007 came around, I geared myself up for the beast that is NaNoWriMo. It was fun. My second novel was better. A better idea, more options for plotlines, characters I really cared about. I finished my first draft in 30 days, and then knocked off another draft a month later. At this point, maybe my committment was flagging. I’d have weeks, months where I’d bust my ass revising – every night from 10:00 until I slept, I sat with my print-outs and Word Doc. I put the pieces together. But another week arrived and I forgot my book existed. Soon, I was forgetting more than I was remembering. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again, and in November 2008, I had a new story ready to go.

My November novel was challenging in an entirely different way than I’d expected. In retrospect, it was a story that needed more than a month. I’m an advocate of the fast draft, but maybe not for every book. When you are switching to an unfamiliar POV, trying to write convincingly about a location you’ve only visited briefly, and exploring a plotline that should pack an emotional whallop, perhaps there’s something to be said for taking your time and tinkering as you go. But I was going to finish my wordcount. Until Thanksgiving, when I got sicker than I’d been in years. We’re talking a good 3 days of fever, chills, fatigue, popping Tylenol to calm the aching head… not only did I find it impossible to give the proper amount of attention to this difficult novel over a holiday weekend where I was under the weather, I lost momentum. I abandoned the book and have yet to pick it back up.

But that was 3 months ago.

That’s plenty of time to pick up the pieces and move on with my writing life.

My excuses are many – who has time to launch a new project in December? Especially while applying to graduate school! And it’s not like I have hours and hours to blow in my life. I’m working part time, but I’m also commuting an hour and a half a day, in a long distance, weekends-only relationship, and committed to working out whenever I can.

But in the end, they are just excuses.

The Big Excuse I keep returning to is that my life is too disorganized and messy to fit in the structured writing time I need. So I defrag my life – my morning pages this A.M. soon derailed from a “why am I not writing? rant to an elaborate, well-markered and highlighter-ed schedule. I felt I needed to identify my free time as to adequately fill it and still have time to do the things that keep me sane (gym, packing lunches, showers, games, etc)

The answers I found were not unexpected. I have little time on work days (Tuesday, Thursdays, Fridays), large chunks of time on Monday, and slightly less large chunks on Wednesdays. Weekends are hit or miss.

An important questions I asked myself as I scheduled and planned…

What would it take for me to do the kind of writing I would like to do?

What am I asking from myself?

And, with my own personal schedule in mind, where will everything fit?


1. I need a private, writing space that is comfortable, quiet, and clean 90% of the time.

2. I need large chunks of uninterrupted time to get a lot of stuff done.

3. I need a regular habit of daily writing, at the same time, each day.

4. I need to give myself permission to fail during this writing time, to have a bad writing day, to take 7 days of no writing before I get to one day of putting words on paper.

5. I need to focus my thoughts during this time so I can turn my small ideas into bigger, novel-esque ones.

6. I need to commit. Which means patience, persistence, and sacrifice.

It looks easy when I see it this way.

1. I can clean my desk off and keep it that way. I’m okay with that. I asked for a nice chair for my upcoming birthday, which will hopefully be a good spot for both reading and typing.

2. I have Mondays and Wednesdays to play with. Maybe even Tuesday mornings if I really want to.

3. I can go back to my nighttime writing schedule, even if I am getting sleepy earlier in the evening these days. 10:15-11:30ish, I’ll be there, at my desk.

4. This will be harder, obviously, but again, workable.

5. This will probably be even harder…. Perhaps turning off my wireless during writing time would be beneficial.

6. Committment…

The hard one is the last one.

Sacrifice means not doing something fun so you can write.

But it also means I can squeeze my budget so I can afford two cups of coffee a week to accompany my long writing periods.

I like coffee.

But commitment does not mean things like this, found written on the very schedule I crafted this morning:

“Try to get some writing done today before X o’clock”

I need not to be “trying” to write. Because lately, “trying” to write means making schedules and lamenting and reading and feeling vaguely sorry for myself.

So let’s review:

* Facilitate my “Dream” writing lifestyle

* Be prepared to suck

* Be prepared to make sacrifices

* Focus on DOING rather than “trying”

That is what I will be doing. This was part of a kitchen-timered hour of concentrated Writing-ness. Now I have 23 minutes left to sit and actually DO something instead of just trying.

February 17, 2009

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Oh, Ms. Sittenfeld. So many thoughts about you and your books, and so very little time to synthesize them. I’ve talked about her before, last year when I read Man of My Dreams and I don’t really want to repeat myself… so I’ll just quote myself instead.

“Curtis Sittenfeld wrote Prep a few years back, a pretty convincingly YA book marketed as Adult. Anyway, Prep was pretty succesfull, and everyone doted upon Sittenfeld for being a young, talented female writer of something other than TRASHY CHICK LIT. Sittenfeld wrote an article for the New York times, reviewing Melissa Banks’s The Wonder Spot and calling it the bane of  female literature, and officially casting the term “Chick Lit” as a black mark of literary condescension usually reserved for the romance novel.”

So that’s that. American Wife is her newest book, and probably her most notable. Notable why? Because it’s even further away from that dreaded “Chick Lit” title (although that is debateabl)? Because it’s more ambitious than her previous works? Because it’s better written, more interesting, more insightful?

No, no, no.

Because the protagonist is a fictionalized Laura Bush.

Alice Lindgren is a wholesome, reserved Midwestern girl (subtract Wisconsin, add Texas) living with her conservative parents and a live-wire grandmother. Much like Sittenfeld’s other heroines, Alice doesn’t neccessarily do much to direct her fate. Life happens to her. She rolls with the punches. When her best friend steals her boyfriend in middle school, she forgives her. When she’s involved with the accidental death of a classmate, she mourns quietly. When a handsome, charming son of privilege begins to woo her, she allows herself to be wooed. And when he is eventually elected President, she is the First Lady.

So there are complaints:

1) A sensational topic for a novel. What a total ploy for readership! Would it be worth reading otherwise?

2) She claims to loathe Chick Lit, therefore her own books must transcend this moniker…. yet this book is still a Book About A Girl who is mostly concerned with her Relationships.

3) Why are her characters soooo very bland and unexciting? Can she write us a NEW protagonist already?

4) Is it cruel to Laura Bush to write a book that lifts so heavily from her own life? I don’t know.

So my feelings about Ms. Sittenfeld are mixed with a side of “I can’t stand her.” This, of course, is based on one tiny article (that happened to be published in the NYTimes, mind you. I’m sure she’s a perfectly nice person) And I can’t really read her books and, in good faith, declare them to be bastiens of Literature.

But I still like them.

I like her quiet characters – even though they rarely make a life-changing decision, and the ones they do make (Alice Lindgren especially) are so weak they are barely even symbolic of change, I still feel for them. I still want to be their friends. I still like to hear what they have to say.

I like Ms. Sittenfeld’s proclivity for the understated tone – there could not be a less assuming roman à clef out there. And I don’t mind that she lifted the idea from pop culture because, unlike some other authors, it’s an extremely interesting take on a pseudo-public figure.

And she can certainly tell a story.

And that’s all I really want from a book, when it comes down to it. Take me somewhere else and don’t let me go until I’m turning those last few pages, desperate to know what will happen to Alice, to The President, to their marriage….then spit me out.

I’ll be ready and waiting for her next book.

Curtis Sittenfeld online | NY Times Review | Indiebound Link