Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What If My Character Wants to Curse?

More work on my novel/story/tale/manuscript today.

I wanted to post my best sentence, but it contains profanity, kind of. It isn't anything hard core, but it isn't "crap" or "shoot," either. I am using it literally and not as a curse word-like how one would describe a female dog versus a rude, classless woman. Okay, so I want to use the word "bastard"-to describe something metaphorically. Here it is:

"I'm sorry, my friend, but if this is what I have created, then a bastard I must make of it."

It's not being used as an insult, but as a perfectly fitting description. So does that count? I don't know whether I should censor that.

Should all my characters adhere to the same standards I do? I don't want to write anything crude, vulgar, or offensive, but my characters aren't really going to Mia Maids on Wednesday night, either. I've accommodated my desire to not have my characters take the Lord's name in vain by using other exclamations like "Oh my navy beans!" or "Oh heavens!" But other times, I really want my heroine let off some steam with a good (bad), old-fashioned "D***it!" or "Bloody hell!" (which isn't bad because I'm not British, right?) Because my main character is a little bit saucy, and she's human. And I have no qualms about including other material in which she shoots someone, is dishonest, disrespects her mother, thinks unkindly about her annoying cousin, and commits a whole variety of other sins. Why is this different? Thoughts?

I love this quote: "Profanity is the attempt of a lazy and feeble mind to express itself forcefully." So is it me that is lazy and feeble? Or my character? Or both?

I also love this talk.

Really, a part of me-the greater part-doesn't feel comfortable including profanity. I lean towards thinking that the cheekiness value added by some mild swearing just wouldn't be worth it. I imagine my Young Women's president reading it and I feel mortified. I guess that's my answer?

Something to think about ...

Mother, your thoughts would be appreciated.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Feeble Sentence

I wrote my three hundred words for today, but they are for my novel/book/manuscript/project/masterpiece/rough draft. So the public will have to wait to read them. Hopefully the public will read them after extensive revision, because they were not my best three hundred words at all.

This is the worst sentence of the ones written today:  

She reached the doorway of the side room, peaked in quickly to confirm it was empty of anyone important, and walked nervously to a booth at the back of the room.

How boring is that sentence? It isn't particularly offensive in its mediocrity, but there is definitely no magic there. I use the word "room" twice, which is one of my writing pet peeves. I don't have any sensory details here besides the visual--and even those details are scarce. Describing spaces is hard for me; I never know what level of details or amount of information is just right. I want to make my readers feel like they are there with my characters--but I don't want them to be overly conscious of that process by bogging them down with unimportant details.

My sentence is lame--but at least I wrote it. If I waited until all of my words were magical and perfectly arranged before I typed them out, I would have about a haiku's worth of material. I'm grateful for my ability to write crummy first drafts, because that means I have the chance to better second drafts, polished third drafts, and excellent final drafts.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I Hate Pandas

My Halloween 2006 jack'o'lantern

I don't like pandas. Yes, they are cute and exotic and gentle, and Kung Fu Panda was funny (especially the dumpling scene), but when I think of how much money has been spent trying to "save the pandas," I feel sick. They are endangered for a couple of reasons: they are weak and picky eaters, and humans are strong and invasive. Let them be a lesson to kids who won't eat anything with onions (I'm talking to you, Nick!). Pickiness does not foster robustness; it fosters extinction! 

The cost of trying to save these flimsy communists is in the millions. Breeding programs, research into why pandas are so lame, and hand-raising twin cubs (because mother pandas will only take care of one at a time. Do the pandas even want to be saved? This hardly strikes me as them doing their part)-all to save one species that's ecological impact is minimal. I know I'm oversimplifying, but really, nothing eats pandas (panda tacos, anyone?), and bamboo is pretty much all that pandas eat. Let the pandas die and what happens? There's a little more bamboo in the world, and the World Wildlife Fund suffers a crushing blow to morale and loses their mascot. Meanwhile, the funds that have been going to pandas can go to feed starving children. (This reminds me of the fiasco that was Keiko the whale. His reintroduction to the wild cost millions. And what did he do to put the funds to good use? He died a little over a year after being set free.) When I see a panda, I see a waste of money, discrimination against ugly endangered animals, and a nice fur vest.

It costs a female panda's weight in gold (at today's rates) to rent a pair from China for two years ($2 million a year, with a ten-year contract). I don't understand why they are so enchanting. I saw a pair of them at the San Diego Zoo with my family when I was a kid. We waited in a super long line to see them because if more than a small group of people watch them at once they stress out and die. I was so excited to see the "gentle giants." But what did we get? Two color-blocked bean bags, chewing their cuds. I could have gotten the same at a dairy in Nampa.

Stop the madness, shoot a panda.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Art Cars and Shoe Mooses

After a botched Groupon attempt, we had to change our original plans of going to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We turned to our new GPS for a list of alternatives. We wanted to go to a museum because Netflix (specifically Cake Boss) can only entertain for so long.

We chose the Art Car Museum. How could that not be cool? I'll tell you how ... 

Actually, it wasn't that bad.

We expected a room full of cars like this:
But we saw only four cars, including the one above, which shoots fire from the mouth and tail and is made of metal forks and spoons discarded by American Airlines after 9/11. The cars were legitimately cool. What a cool hobby!

Then there was the rest of the museum, where we were graced with artistic feats such as this:
There are no words.

On the way out of the museum, the curator's husband (who was filling in for the receptionist) chatted with us for a bit. He found out that Nathan is interning for ExxonMobil this summer and decided to share a bit of his own artwork with us. He pulled up a video on his computer of a dirty sink mounted onto an oil barrel, with oil coming out of the faucet. This was all set to music. Then he made some nice comment about the environment. I thought we left the environment behind when we came to Texas.

This post is about 60 words short of 300, so in the interest of meeting my goal, I'll add a few random thoughts:

I wish I could pull off wearing these shoes. Also, I wish my feet were narrow enough to pull these shoes on. My poetry professor had Sperry Topsiders, and that made me want them.

And 300.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Central Market

Someone recommended this grocery store to me after I told her I was looking for cheap groceries, and maybe something similar to Sunflower Market in Provo for the more weird healthy things on my shopping list. So I drove to Central Market, which is in the Galleria area, which should have been a warning sign. The immaculate parking lot filled with Audis and Mercedes-Benzes also should have sent my cheapness alarm bells ringing. And the place looked like a high-class gym from the outside. Complete with stick-thin vanity palm trees! I bet they're organic.

But I parked anyway, hoping that my Chacos, unshaved legs, and the fact that I would be wearing my baby in a homemade Mei Tai carrier would all work together to make me seem legitimately granola enough to go inside. Because I think really nice grocery stores mainly cater to two types of people: wealthy foodies, and granola people whose need for organic, locally sourced food outweighs their desire to have money. I think I'm in the third group that patronizes this type of store: I like cooking, I'm semi-interested in the environment, my shopping list sometimes goes beyond what Kroger offers, and I love free samples!

After entering through the exit, I quickly realize that Central Market is set up like Ikea. I have to go through the entire store to checkout. I was mildly annoyed, even though I did plan on going through the whole place to scope it out, but I also got that lovely Euro-trendy feeling that I get when I wear scarves. I did make it to the entrance finally, where I found a supply of the highest-quality shopping carts I'd ever seen.
The first section of the market is produce. They boast that they stock over 500 types of produce every day! I finally got to see a Medjool date in person. And who knew there was such a thing as a mini-pineapple! Graham was whipping his head back and forth like crazy, trying to soak in all the colors, attracting all sorts of adoration from fellow shoppers. I find the bell peppers-ooo, organic. Four flipping dollars for a bell pepper? I'll take my one-dollar DDT-laced peppers, thank you.

Onto the meat section. The seafood side had a real octopus on display, it's tentacles artfully posed, like it was tickling all its dead fish friends. On the farm animal side, there was cuchinillo (roast suckling pig-a Spanish dish to go with the current storewide Spanish theme)-I guess it was pre-cuchinillo, as it was uncooked, with milky shrunken eyes staring at nothing and creeping me out. Despite that unpleasantness (even though cuchinillo is very good when it isn't staring at you like a pig zombie), the meat counter guy cut up the steak I needed for a stir-fry. What Wal-Mart meat counter guy would do that for you? Oh wait, Wal-Mart doesn't even have a meat counter-just a cold, uninviting wall of shelves with no Kobe beef to be had.

In the bulk section of the store, a place that I love, an employee approached me and said, "Is there anything I can do for m'lady and the king?" (He smiles at Graham, who responds by sucking a little more vigorously on his hand.) It was too bad I was just browsing for future reference, so I had nothing for the poor servant to do.

One of the best parts of Central Market: free samples! They had some Spanish olive oil to sample (going with the theme) that, get this, is picked during October's full moon. The myth is that it's an aphrodisiac if it's picked then, and for $40 a half liter, it better be magical. It's, ironically, called Full Moon olive oil. But the name just made me imagine a bunch of Spaniards running around an olive grove, mooning each other.

Near the end of the route was the bakery with free samples of every kind of bread! Heaven! And they supply a vat of communal butter for the bread! Also, the bread was the probably the cheapest, per calorie, food in the entire store. I got a half-loaf of rosemary bread for $1.50. Then I brought it home and dipped it in my Wal-mart brand olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and it was delicious and sexy, with no naked Spaniards to be seen.

Best things about Central Market: You feel cool just being inside, they have stuffed quail at the meat counter and just about every delicious gourmet food imaginable, and free samples!

Worst things: They don't carry Honey Bunches of Oats, Ikea setup, and the checkout line. Sticker shock extreme.

Conclusion: If I have something exotic or gourmet to get, I'll go to Central Market. For everything else, there's my friendly, shabby neighborhood Kroger, which upon reflection probably offers more free samples.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Love Graham's Ear Wax

Like most mothers, I think everything about my baby is cute—even the gross little things. I’ve been amazed at how easily I’ve fallen into the cliché of excitedly discussing the frequency, texture, and aroma of my baby’s poop with my husband. But my love goes beyond the typical cute burps and farts.

I love Graham’s ear wax. It’s not like adult ear wax. It’s less vibrant in color, more flaky—a bit like pie crust dough. Soft. I love gently scraping it away once it's migrated safely into his outer ear, always feeling like a mother monkey grooming her baby.

Another little grossness I love: toe jam. And finger jam. How did I not know about finger jam? In Graham’s first weeks, when his little hands were nearly permanently curled into chunky fists, I would uncurl his fingers to find moist little treasures held together in little clumps by some biological binding agent. In between his toes I found the same: small sweaty bunches of sock sheddings. Now that he’s older and his hands are like little splayed starfish most of the time, I don’t find finger jam so much anymore.

Fingernail clippings. Adult fingernail clippings are just gross. Like hair, they are just fine when still attached to a body, but once removed they are sick. Not baby fingernail clippings. I love the collection of ten little crescent moons on the arm of the couch where I wrangled his squirmy fingers into submission while trying desperately not to clip his skin. They curl perfectly. They aren’t chipped or worn—they are perfectly smooth and white. But sometimes there is the faintest line of dirt beneath them. Where does that even come from? Maybe he gardens when I'm not looking.

My baby has cradle cap. But I love it. Yes, his skin look a little reptilian beneath his soft dark blond hair, and we do try to make him look a little less like a molting bug by combing it out periodically after slathering his head in olive oil. But the little imperfection is sweet, and I prefer to think his flaky scalp is more like an aerial view of a series of cresting waves.

I love Graham’s chubby cheeks, his almond-shaped eyes, his earlobes, his double chin. But everyone loves those things about every baby. I love Graham’s toe jam and ear wax, his snot and the white buttery substance that I find in his chubby folds, his dandruff and farts, because I’m his mom. If I came into contact with any other baby's grossness, it would just be gross.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, I give you a rare video recording of Graham’s Opus No. 2.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Sometimes this is how I feel about writing.

I do it anyway, though, because I love looking back on my own version of a battlefield strewn with dead Persians: a page covered in great words strung together into great sentences. It makes me want to hike up my leather underpants, brandish my steel Zebra pen, and scream, "I AM A WRITER!"

But life gets in the way, and I'm glad it does a lot of the time, because if it didn't I'd have nothing to write about. I love that my baby wakes up ready to play, that I live in a new city that needs to be explored, and that my apartment complex is offering the residents free lunch from a place called Potbelly's to compensate for the gym being closed for a few days. I have important stuff to do! Like lounge on my broken couch, workout with Jillian, and sample every kind of bread available at Central Market.

So writing often takes a backseat in the station wagon of my life. But I love writing, and I want to do it more often. With college graduation a fading memory, I need some discipline to help keep my wits fit, even if nothing else about me is fit (I blame Blue Bell ice cream ... ohh Caramel Turtle Fudge!). And I finally have the time to write about whatever I want. No more article summaries, response papers, or research papers.

I have an over-ambitious goal of completing the novel I started for my thesis by the end of the summer--a complete first draft at least. It feels silly calling it a novel when it isn't published, but "story" sounds kind of juvenile, and "book" sound even more presumptuous than "novel." Maybe "document" is best? "Manuscript"?

Besides that project, I really just want to write about whatever I want. I've decided to heed the advice of Anne Lamott and write at least 300 words a day. Hopefully this blog will keep me accountable and excited about it.

We are Sparta!