Thursday, March 17, 2011

Plane Jane

Mardi Gras extends from the Louisiana boot to Pensacola Bay and up to Floribama, Mobile and beyond. There's wannabe Lakers colors and strange "king cake" everywhere. And you've got to watch out, because if you don't pay attention at the parades, you'll get beaned in the head with candy, and whipped with beads. Like me. And like our friends - who wisely invited us to the downtown Pensacola Mardi Gras celebration - you can take this time to avoid eye trauma and hone screaming, waving and catching - collecting as much free shit as possible. From Indian (is that PC?) headdresses to plastic cups and moon pies. (Though a crushed, 'orange' flavored moon pie is a little iffy.)

Dirty pretty things

Cloudy, pretty things

The city barely had time to sober up before St. Patrick's Day hit, begging for beer festivals following 5k runs and slutty green outfits. But what are we doing? Skipping the corned beef and sauerkraut and watching Top Gear, letting the hus rest up from his second solo flight, flown today. Oh. His first! That was done a couple weeks ago (ahem, sorry) with the T-6, number 056. Surprisingly - apparently - the check ride (the flight prior to a solo), is the more challenging and nerve-wracking. And after your first primary school solo (one is already done during IFS [Introductory Flight Screening]), those around will happily oblige you a dunk in the tank outside the line shacks.

Good job, Red Knight 056. Good job, photog.

Click to enlarge (ha ha)

So, military wives do things like yoga while they're husbands are out buzzing around in the MOA (military operating area = 2 layers of 12, 4-6,000-foot blocks). And while I'm doing sit-ups (yes, I know these aren't technically part of the yoga plan), I pull a muscle. Not a leg, arm or back muscle like a normal person. But a neck muscle. Not even a normal neck muscle. But the muscle between my throat and chin. Like my swallowing muscle, let's call it... I pulled my swallowing muscle doing sit-ups. (That'll teach me to stray from crunches.) I seriously had to stop what I was doing and lay there breathing, willing the pain and swelling sound in my ears to go away before I was compelled to run around the neighborhood screaming. It did go away. And when I told my formerly-a-physical-therapist-hus, he said, oh yeah, I've had that - it sucks. Suck it did.

When I was able to wolf down food again, I had the energy for a shopping trip. This was of course between hours and hours of productive, well-paid (pah!) freelance marketing writing and a side of novella editing (in which after each paragraph, I start to think about writing head-beaning parades and pulled neck muscles into the storyline). With goals of freshening a pointless wardrobe (an occupational hazard when working from home), I instead got sucked into the miraculous shopping activity of picking out Crocs Jibbitz.

Alright, so for any fellow writers short on whimsy or advice of late - or any interested readers or followers - the below are some faves from the last couple weeks.

Kurt Vonnegut's Short Story Sage-ism -
  1. Use the time of a total stranger (your reader) in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character to root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it's only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character, or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your main characters, make awful things happen to them, so the reader can see what they're made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible, as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what's going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves - should cockroaches eat the final pages.
  • Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O'Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that. (Good ol' Catch-22. [If feeling less polite - insert stream of consciousness cussing here.])

The words I had to find and wish I wrote - 

Plain was the same as it ever was the same.

Plainly plain ... Samely same.
But then,
Someone lit the flame.

Plain rode away on lion’s mane.

Where plain met fruits with strangely names.
Such wonderful things they did contain.

A shot of life to a hungry vein.

The captive beast who broke the chain.

And there upon that fruited plane,

is where plain became what plain became.

So much more than more than plain.
Plain will never be the same.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jane Does Suspense, JK Does Arry Pawt-Er & the Lawsons Do Strife

Will this keep you reading?
I watched the Oscars out of the corner of my eye. Because my new iPhone is taking over my life. Something - even a device that plays to my inner gadget freak - that pulls me away from the perfect combination of narcissism, envy, art and beauty, is an accomplishment for the maker. Thanks, Apple. Thanks, Mr. Seidenberg.

Natalie Portman did draw my attention. But her normally single self and Zac Posen dress was replaced with a Rodarte pregnancy frock and boring co-star fiance (not what I had in mind for this child turned hot actress who can actually act and stay out of trouble). Boo for babies and commitment on this night. Would she really party it up afterward? And her acceptance speech only made me think of her Harvard degree and not the sweet, dark, edgy girl (with an A-line haircut) from The Professional. But then again, maybe a sweet, dark, edgy ballerina isn't that much of a stretch for her, and Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence should have clutched the little, golden man who gives you a big career boost in exchange for a belly rub.

By the way, below are my 2010 movie recommendations, no matter who you are (in particular order):
  1. TRON
  2. True Grit
  3. The Social Network
  4. Inception
  5. The King's Speech
  6. Winter's Bone
  7. The Town
  8. Despicable Me
  9. Black Swan
  10. The Fighter
  11. 127 Hours (just the sawing the arm off bit)
  12. Unstoppable (just kidding)
Do not see Blue Valentine no matter what Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams make you assume. The Kids are Alright and The Tempest look like they might be decent, but I haven't partaken yet. Oh, and Just Go With It is hilarious. The hus and I laughed through the whole thing. Unlike Grown Ups. Looks like Adam Sandler is hit or miss. Just Go With It made everyone in the theater laugh; plus, guys get to stare doe-eyed at Brooklyn Decker, and girls get to see Jennifer Aniston triumph.

I usually return from the movies, or close my laptop, with a fresh dollop of inspiration. But then I get writers' block and turn to a book for more Daisy. I'm reading Harry Potter. (Thank you, thank you, LL Bean and Cody Dude; it's also great to read the book and then watch the matching movie RIGHT AWAY - a completely different, awesome experience) Would anything be more wonderful when you're 13 then finding out you're a wizard? Nope. Well, maybe a vampire. No, wizards and witches seem to have a pretty sweet set-up. And those are nice. So then I started thinking about what I wanted to be at different ages growing up...

Ant. Bird. Mermaid. The missing princess, Anastasia. Fruit Bat. Adopted. Pevensie kid who gets to go to Narnia every year. Punky Brewster. Unicorn. Mario's brother Luigi. Nancy Drew. Penguin, or dolphin. A care bear. A pretty alien. Rainbow Brite. A resident of TRON City. Rachel Green. Veronica Mars. An American Idol. The youngest ever Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who gets picked for Oprah's Book Club and gets to be on the show as well as announced by Oprah herself... wearing a Zac Posen dress. Convict. Shapeshifter. Wife. Mother. Heaven-goer.

But main character and storyline ideas shift and blur constantly. I read Northanger Abbey in college and wanted to write romantic suspense. Tackling Victorian, Puritan passion - turning a turn around the room, sewing, reading, playing piano, walking, and being called upon, suspenseful? That's irrefutably good writing as well as entertaining. But then I became obsessed with every short story in The Paris Review, but they were all so different; I couldn't pinpoint a style I liked as well as do. I read J.K. Rowling and saw that children's books can be complex but clear, that true creativity surpasses criticism and subjective plagiarism. I envied. The list goes on. Experience the plot like Jon Krakauer? Report on it like Sebastian Junger? Crank it out like a well-oiled factory, like Danielle Steel? Create my own genre? Risk cliche' and chick lit and only shock value.

The fears go on. Ah ha! Saved by the iPhone - I better get going; the hus is on his way home from his last flight before his check ride tomorrow. Which precedes his first solo flight in Primary school, thus his second in his life. Got it? All I really need to know is he has bigger things to worry about than tossing around ideas and blogging and squeezing in a teeny tiny run to save my computer-glued body. But before I log off, below is a little scenario (set to the tune of The Vampire Diaries, since they seem to love product placement) I recreated to show how difficult it was for us to actually walk out of Best Buy with iPhones in hand and common sense exercised.

*   *   *
Stefan and Elena enter Best Buy at 1:49 p.m. on a sunny Sunday afternoon and are greeted by an employee working in the mobile department, Mario.

Mario: Hi there, how can I help you?

Stefan: Hi, we'd like to upgrade to the new Verizon iPhone 4 as well as join my Uncle Jack's family plan.

Sexy even under stress courtesy of fanpop!
Elena: I'm already on Verizon, but he's on AT&T. (Elena points to Stefan.) I'm on my aunt's family plan presently, and he's on his other uncle's plan.

Mario: Okay, do you have your uncle's account number, phone number, address, the last four of his social security number, his verbal and electronic pass codes as well as PIN, your authorization passcode, and, why not, the names of his unborn children?

Stefan (thinks for a second): What uncle?

Elena: I have it all written down here. (Elena hands Mario a crazed piece of paper, and Mario tries using the information for about 20 minutes.) How come you can't just look it up?

Mario: Our computer system, The Beast (real name), only works one-way.

Elena: As in, input? (Mario smiles vaguely.)

Elena: Er, I'm not sure if the addresses are all right, since I'm not sure if the account holders use their home or work addresses for billing. (Mario finally looks up.)

Mario: Neither of you are authorized users are on any of the accounts. Can you please call everyone in a specific order to have them authorize you, release you and add you when and where appropriate?

Stefan (voiceover indicates he wishes he could use his vampire speediness to speed up this fucking process): Sure. (Elena and Stefan roam the mobile department on their cell phones for 40 minutes, talking and texting and exchanging instructions, phone numbers, codes and details about upcoming family events ... Another couple finally gets up from one of the department benches, and Stefan and Elena can sit.)

Stefan: They sure sucked all the fun out of this, didn't they?

Elena: They sure did. Who's they?

Stefan: I don't know. (Stefan gets bored and figures out how long it takes for Verizon and Apple to start profiting from a cell phone and plan sale. Elena figures out her aunt can't release her from her current plan, because it will disrupt the phone, Internet, cable service bundle. Stefan cusses.)

For the next 2 1/2 hours, Mario solidifies for Elena that she should stay with her aunt's plan, and Stefan can switch to his uncle's (which uncle again?) plan, but they'll need to keep a close eye on minutes and figure out how to split up the cost and payment of the primary line ... Then Maria takes over, because Mario must complete the transaction of yet another desperate couple.)

Elena: This makes me want to be like Alexander Supertramp and just burn my social security card and frolic into The Yukon - er, then eat berries and get sick and die.

Stefan: Because you didn't have an iPhone to Google if the berries were poisonous or not. (They both laugh, a little hysterically. 1/2 hour later...)

Maria: Sorry I'm having to sync your new phone five times, Stefan; it's The Beast. Why don't I start ringing you up at least?

Elena: Great. (Elena gets up because the third customer has come along trying to access the credit card machine that's mounted to the desk right in front of their hard, heavy bench.)

Pensive Stefan courtesy of
Stefan: So, Maria, just to summarize... The student discount is higher than the vampire discount, and it applies to the whole bill amount, even if you're not the primary account holder, unlike the vampire discount.

And it makes sense to get the $15 a month insurance, because otherwise, you have to buy a replacement phone for $700 versus the $200 contract price... But the insurance doesn't cover anything if you don't have the phone, like if it's lost or stolen. And if you get the insurance, the Geek Squad rate is $30 for both of us instead of $60.

Maria: Sure. (She finishes syncing and ringing them up.)

Stefan and Elena leave Best Buy at 7:02 p.m. - it's dark out.

Stefan (big sigh): Now I'm so starved for blood, I have to kill an innocent person, probably in this parking lot here.

Elena: Well now I don't have time to do more than one blog post in February.