Thursday, February 25, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
So it’s, like, National Grammar Week, or something. Actually, I think it's just a day (March 4) but some of us want to squeeze as much blood from this stone as possible by letting loose our inner snarky grammar Nazis, guilt-free, for seven days.
This means I may admonish the improperness of all manner of commonly overlooked (even accepted) lingual misfires, while simultaneously retaining the lexical superiority (like moral superiority, but nerdier) and keen sense of ironicalness that affords me the right to use the interjection “like” and unnecessary dependent clause “or something” purposely without shame or regret. I can write overly purple sentences that are 54 words long and perfect in their grammar and punctuation, and look haughty while doing it, even though that sort of thing would make me an asshole during any other week.
Oh English, how I love thee. Let me count the ways in which I am annoyed by hearing you come out of others’ mouths.
For the purposes of this writing, I will stick only to my pet peeves with hard and fast rules—which consist mostly of word confusion. I have my thoughts on the Oxford comma, whether the period goes inside or outside of quotation marks, and just how many commas is too many; but, since those issues can be argued either way with equal validity, I’ll just tell you what you have been doing categorically wrong. Clean up your act, folks. Use words correctly and gain the benefit of looking down your nose at most everyone around you!
The following pairs of words do not mean the same thing and may not be used interchangeably.
- Further and farther. Further describes an increase in the degree of something, usually intangible. Farther describes actual or abstract distance. Remember it as farther is “more far.”
a. In order to give further thought to this issue, let me go farther down the hall to Mike’s office.
- I.e. and e.g. “I.e.” is the Latin abbreviation for id est. It means “that is.” The noun phrase that precedes “i.e.” is an example of the noun phrase that comes after it. “E.g.” is Latin for exempli gratia. It means “for example.” The noun phrase that follows “e.g.” is an example of the noun phrase that precedes it. Remember it is “in essence” and “example given.”
a. I love unicorns, phoenixes, and griffins, i.e., mythical creatures.
b. None of my favorite animals actually exists, e.g., unicorns.
- Less and fewer. This can be confusing because both words have the same antonym: more. Less should be used when describing the amount of a concept that typically is not broken into smaller parts, such as “money” or “time” or “intelligence.” Fewer should be used when describing the quantity of something that can be broken down into discrete parts or increments, such as “dollars” or “minutes” or “remarks.” Remember this by thinking "fewer has fewer s's in it, so use it with words that end in s."
a. I bought the new Joanna Newsom album today, so I have less money than I had yesterday.
b. I have 25 fewer dollars in my bank account.
c. My best friend’s new boyfriend has less intelligence than her last one, and he certainly doesn’t make any fewer misogynistic remarks.
- That or who. This may not be immediately evident as a pair of commonly confused words, but you probably do it unwittingly all the time. “I’m the girl that you want to have proofread your English papers,” is wrong in two ways. First, it is grammatically incorrect; second, she’s not someone you want proofreading your papers if she makes mistakes like that.
The correct sentence is, “I’m the girl who you want….” Stylistically, however, it flows better just to take out the word altogether: “I’m the girl you want….” Remember that people are people, not objects. They are “whos” not “thats.” Here's a better example:
a. What’s the name of the person who wrote this blog? Elly Zee, and don't you forget it.
- In the same vein, who or whom. They really are different, dearies. People who say “whom” are not just trying to be pretentious. One is a subject; one is an object. Remember by using “whom” whenever you would use “them” or “him” or "me." The m’s are there to remind you.
a. If you were starving on a desert island, whom would you eat first? I wouldn’t eat them because they are too skinny, but I would definitely try a taste of him. I sure hope they don't eat me.
This is just a sampling of what I wanted to get off my chest. If I think of more (which I will), I’ll probably just roll my eyes when you aren’t looking rather than correct you to your face (or in a blog). In the meantime, though, check out these two great grammar websites:
http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Writing/index.html - Jack Lynch elegantly lays the hammer down in a way that will make your writing stronger and better. I don't even know him, but I have a total brain-crush on him.
http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/nonerrors.html - This site will confuse everything you think you know about correct grammar, and thus keep you humble.
See how humble I am?
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
This is an introduction to needlefelting--how and why it works, what you can do with it, and a brief demonstration of how to do it. Enjoy!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I mean, yeah, I’ve written. I write every day. I’m a professional writer; I write proposals and manage communications for a small government contractor in Maryland. I even blog most days anymore.
But I mean wriiiiite. Fiction. It has always been, and always will be, my passion.
I lost my passion for writing briefly this past fall, when I was pulled into a three-month-long work project in Houston (which I’m sure I’ll get around to explaining one of these days) that zapped the living energy out of me, and left me with a wicked psychological hangover. I didn't do anything creative for quite a while after the project ended. (Mostly, I drank.)
But I was recently inspired. I had some way or another missed the previous two Three-Minute Fiction contests, but thanks to being a fan of NPR on Facebook, I got an early heads up this time around.
Stories for this round are supposed to be inspired by the rather uninspiring photograph they have on their website. It’s basically an open newspaper on a table inside a café, with the reflection in the café window of a man walking. So I looked at the photo for a while and thought about what it meant to me. I came up with a concept and let it roll around in my head for a while.
When I got off work, I started to write. I figured I’d get a few sentences down and see if they worked. That’s all you can really do when you’re starting.
I wrote four terrible sentences about a completely trite situation of a down-on-his-luck man in a coffee shop having a heart-to-heart with a bedraggled but kindhearted waitress. It may or may not have included wordplay surrounding the terms “sole custody” and “soul custody.” Ick.
So I left the file on my screen and got in the shower. That’s where the magic happens—and I don’t just mean getting clean. I’ve had nearly all my clearest and most powerful moments of inspiration when I’m either asleep or showering. It’s unsurprising; I know of many writers who have cited shower inspiration. You’re relaxed in the hot water, alone (ostensibly), naked (hopefully), and the shower is one of the few places in the world where you usually can’t be distracted by technology or media. (You’re not taking a magazine in there with you, and even crackberry addicts leave their devices outside the falling water.) These are perfect conditions for the freewheeling thought that leads to lightning bolts of inspiration.
It worked. I had a beginning, middle, and end; a moody setting; and two clear characters, as well as a third off-screen character who would be neatly summed up in one line of dialogue. I retained the central conflict from the original man-waitress failure.
I wrapped myself in a towel, sat down at my computer, and wrote the entire story from beginning to end before I even dried off.
For 3-minute fiction, you only have 600 words to work with (about a single-spaced page), so you have to be absolutely tight with every word. My first draft ran exactly 600 words. I did an immediate revision, making several changes, and still ended up at exactly 600 words. This was it. This story came out of me almost fully formed. Every word meant something more than just describing what was happening. The dialogue informed, entertained, and revealed character. The bare setting told a year’s worth of history without exposition. I even played around with some internal rhyme, alliteration, and rhythm, because I just dig that stylistic stuff.
If I sound like I am bragging, I am—it’s myself telling myself, “Nice job, sport.” I'm a writer for crying out loud. I need that confidence boost once in a while.
I got a second confidence boost when I sent the story to my uber-critical partner, (to whom I don’t show ANYTHING), and he said, “I like it.” (And he doesn’t like anything.) He made a few suggestions about punctuation (we’re both total punctuation nerds; I’m currently reading Dash of Style), but that’s it.
I had a total writer’s high.
Careful, however, not to ride that high to my own detriment, I put the story away until the next day. I pulled it out and read it again. It sang, just like before. I submitted it immediately before I had a chance to second-guess what I'd done and rework it into a hollow shell of its former self.
We’ll see what happens. I’m not confident in my chances of actually winning. The evaluation criteria for the contest include equal weighting for each “originality, creativity, humor, and quality of writing.” (I could write pages about my feelings on THAT bit of B.S…) Suffice it to say that my story is not funny, and it’s probably not all that original or creative. It’s just beautifully written. And it’s the truth. To me, that’s all successful fiction is: the beautiful truth.
So am I back in the saddle? I don’t know. I’m still in “art and craft mode” and I have quite a few unfinished projects that need tending before I start something new. My new “thing” is to finish projects I start. It’s going okay, and it’s narrowing my focus.
But whether or not I write anything more in the near future, it’s nice to know I still got it.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
- Sunday, arrive at MoMA to discover Tim Burton exhibit--the reason for the trip--is sold out.
- Sunday evening, realize we are short $2 for our cash-only tab at Katz's.
- Their ATM is broken.
- The line for the credit card check-out is enormous. Lady in front of Chris is apparently buying Sunday dinner for a family of 45. Slowly.
- Miss bus home by 2 minutes. Watch it pull away.
- Blessedly catch next bus. Can't sit with Chris. Overhead light is broken, so I have to sit in the dark for 4 hours with no one to talk to.
- Arrive in Baltimore and realize we have to walk home because I forgot my parking garage ticket.
- Monday, 8am, go to move my car from garage by 9am deadline and the battery is dead.
- Monday night, Chris comes to jump my car; cables are too short. Luckily (!) a stranger arrives on the scene just in time.
- Tuesday morning, battery has died again. Chris has already left for work. Stuck working from home for the sixth time in a row.
- Wednesday morning, Chris comes to jump my car. He connects his battery to mine, and my doors lock automatically--with my keys inside.
- Go back to Chris' for the spare key. Go to leave, but a car is stalled at the end of his alley, blocking our exit.
- Finally make it back to my car, get it started. Realize I have almost no gas left.
- Chris follows me to the gas station in case I need another jump. Rush hour: it takes 10 minutes to go the 2 blocks. We are both now officially late for work.
- I phone in for my 9am conference call. Phone dies 20 minutes into the conversation.
That brings us to about now. Boy I hope it's over.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
After I heard about the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art a few weeks back, I planned a trip with Chris to go to NYC this past weekend. I had earned a free hotel night from Choice Hotels after spending so much time in Houston this fall, and I found a hotel in SoHo, Manhattan where I could use my points. Chris suggested we take the Bolt Bus, which turns out to be less expensive than driving when you factor in gas and tolls. We never drive in NYC, so the bus really was the perfect option. And I would get to do a lot of sewing on the way up! The fact that it was Valentine's Day weekend was only incidental (we don't celebrate the commercialization of our relationship), but I completely forgot that it was also President's Day weekend. It didn't occur to me just how crowded the city--and MoMA--would be.
It turned out that Tim Burton was sold out for the weekend. Even after doing light research on the MoMA website, it was not obvious to me that we would need separate tickets to get in. There was no additional charge, so I thought we could just show up and go. Not so much.
I admit to crying for roughly 18 seconds when I saw the sign outside the museum that said, "Tim Burton exhibit is sold out for the day."
We decided to visit the museum anyway, since I had never been, and this turned out to be a mixed blessing. I was sad at missing the work of one of my major influences, but I do not regret getting to spend the time with some of the greatest pieces of modern art the world has to offer.
The greatest moments were seeing the major Rothko and Pollock works. They are simply astounding and breathtaking, especially if you stand close enough to them so that you can't see anything else in your field of vision. Seeing just two of these paintings was worth more than any number of pieces by anyone else--including the whole of the Burton exhibit.
However, the MoMA experience was a harrowing one; the museum is beyond crowded. Moreover, it is crowded with people who would rather have someone take a picture of them with a painting than actually look at it. It is crowded with people who think it is a good idea to snap a photo of Starry Night with their iPhone. It is crowded with people who are updating their Facebook status instead of capturing a sculpture on a sketch pad. The crowd at large made me feel sad for the state of humanity. Seriously, haven't these people heard of the internet? What were they trying to prove? It really is the epitome of narcissism if you think the only thing that can improve a photograph of a great work of art is you.
I admit to purposely walking in front of several people trying to take photographs. I also admit to purposely bumping several people, including the guy who stuck his blackberry in front of my face as I was trying to view The Persistence of Memory.
MoMA may have some of the greatest works available for viewing in the U.S., but I don't think the works on display are the singular experience a museum has to offer. I won't be going back anytime soon. I'll stick to the cavernous, relaxed, beautiful quiet of my neighborhood Walters Art Museum (which, incidentally, is free). I may have seen everything in it multiple times over, but I can walk to it and it is my favorite place in the city to just be.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
I am proud and ecstatic to say that I have once and for all paid off all my unsecured debt.
While I still have a car loan (which I would label acceptable, typical debt), last month I wrote the last check to pay off the personal loan I had taken out to consolidate my credit card debt. The debt had been five figures. And it's all gone now!
I've been steadily paying on this loan for several years now. In the meantime, I got rid of all my credit cards, and got a new one with a tiny limit ($300) so I could work to rebuild my credit. I pay it off every month. I've also done a number of other things that years ago I never imagined I could accomplish:
- I put 6% of my salary into a 401(k) plan.
- I put an additional 3% of my take-home pay into a Roth IRA.
- I put 10% of my take-home pay into an emergency fund.
- I invested around a thousand dollars in the stock market shortly after the "crash" and have seen my money grow by 70%.
The best thing about having my debt paid off is that, instead of filling in a hole, I can start building up. I ran some numbers a little while ago. I do that when I'm either extremely worried about money or extremely excited. This time I am excited. This is what I realized:
- If I take the monthly payment I had been making on my personal loan and now put it towards my car, I will pay off my car four years early. The interest I'll save is in the thousands.
- When I pay off my car, I can put the combined loan-car payment into the bank each month (it's not like I'll miss the money; I've been writing it off for years). If I do that for three years after the car is paid off, I'll have enough money for the down payment on a house.
The down payment on a house. By myself. In the next five years. And I'm not talking about some 3% down payment for an FHA loan. I'm talking about 20%.
It's an almost unbelievable thought for me. I just want everyone who reads this (all four of you) that it can be done, with patience, dedication, and discipline. The rewards--financially, emotionally, spiritually--are great.
Friday, February 12, 2010
I started with a wire armature skeleton: spine, ribs, and pelvis all attached together. The head is polymer clay and wool felted right onto the armature. I used a reclaimed wool sweater to cover the skeleton, like skin, and I stuffed it with polyfill guts. I'll now be able to felt directly into the wool "skin."
I've wet felted all four legs, and added the claws to the back paws. Last night I sewed the back legs onto the pelvis and added an additional armature to keep them stable and spread at the right width. I may walk down to Beadazzled this evening to pick up a few glass beads for the eyes.
More progress later...
I do not know all the details of this story--just what is in the above-referenced article--and I will admit that upfront. However, based on the immediately apparent facts, I am highly disturbed by this. I do not fully understand why she was discharged. The Army is strapped for resources; I can't believe there are no open jobs domestically so that Pvt. Hutchinson could continue to serve, as well as care for her young son. The Army is so ...what, mad? that a single parent with no child care options would refuse to be deployed to a foreign war that they would discharge and demote her, as well as take away her benefits? Perhaps they don't want to set a precedent for other single parents using this as a "loop hole" to avoid deployment. I don't know.
I don't understand and will look forward to finding out details about this issue. On the surface however, it appears--once again--that the Army is an employer injurious to women, single parents, and families (not to mention individuals with whom it disagrees on personal and lifestyle issues). It is an organization that refuses to bend and grow. Ironically, the Army's "militancy" of its longstanding ways is going to catch up with the organization if it doesn't learn to modernize in a social way, the way it has modernized in a technological way.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
As I was digging, a tow truck driver drove by, car in tow, and yelled out that he was towing all the cars on my street. Well, that's motivation for you. I started digging more sincerely, and with more of a plan. This relevation that Baltimore City was actually towing--and not just threatening it (as so many of us believed)--seemed really to freak people out and cause them to act somewhat irrationally. One woman was yelling and cussing at all the tow truck drivers who came by, as if it was there idea, as if the fact that she "got a baby" would make her exempt. One guy started digging out his car with what looked like an IKEA wastepaper can. I was somewhat crazy as well: thinking I'd only be out there for a bit, I was 1) not wearing a coat, and 2) not wearing waterproof boots.
Shoveling is hard work, so the coat part wasn't a problem--I warmed up quickly. But my feet got soaking wet. And once I dug my car out, I realized...I had to move it...to a garage...about 6 blocks away. So I got to walk quite a ways, sloshing with each step, and without a coat. I am so glad to be back inside, and be warm. And someone is going to get a piece of my mind if they try to charge me for parking in that garage.
Anyway, in light of my frozen tootsies, here are a few of my random thoughts and conclusions following the Double Blizzard of 2010:
1) Just because it is not 1996 anymore, do not forget that Dr. Martens are the best shoes. My trusty Docs were warmer, stayed drier, and had better traction than the stupid $60 knock-off-Ugg fur-lined mocassin boot things I bought for wearing in the snow this winter. These are the boots that just today left my feet completely soaking wet.
2) Apparently, there is piss EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. It really shows up quite boldly after a blizzard. I've never seen with my naked eye so much urine as I have the past two days. However, just because you can't see the yellow snow in the spring, that doesn't mean the pee isn't there.
3) The Federal Government does not have an adequate telework plan in place. My company--a small government contractor of about 150 people--has had its headquarter offices closed all week, and we have remained 100% functional because we have a sound emergency infrastructure. Apparently, the Government does not. They've been closed all week and they are not really doing anything. Also, they pay themselves, but they do not pay contractors. The whole time they've been closed, we have to eat the costs of paying our on-site employees.
4) People are different when it snows. They are friendlier, they work harder, and they are more communal than they are on a regular day. I was always surprised when I moved to the city that I would see so many people all the time, but no one ever said hello or acknowledged one another. So many alone people living altogether. The snow brought a senses of solidarity to the neighborhood. People helped one another, did kindnesses without recompense or even acknowledgement. It was kind of beautiful.
5) It's weird turning on a national radio station and remembering that it's not snowing everywhere else--only where you are. You realize how myopic weather can make you. Not only are you physically snowed in, but you can become mentally snowed in as well.
6) Don't put your rubber-soled boots on the radiator to dry them out. They will melt into the shape of the radiator. (Isn't that sort of how the Waffle Trainer was invented?)
7) If businesses in your neighborhood have endeavored to open despite the weather, you should patronize them if you can. Thank you, Brewer's Art, for delivering me the best burger in Baltimore after the chicken we had planned for dinner went bad and we couldn't get to a store. Don't forget the businesses that are not only there when you want them--but when you need them, too.
8) Snow can make you feel like a kid again. Nothing can compare with the nostalgic rush you get from jumping into a 4-foot drift of snow (even if a little does get inside your pants because you didn't have your mom to properly dress you).
9) Plastic bags inside your shoes are still not cool, but they still work as good as ever. Thanks, Mom.
10) When you're walking through knee-high snow having all sorts of deep thoughts about the weather, write them down, or your blog will prematurely end.
Monday, February 8, 2010
And I was rewarded for my ad-centric focus, ironically, by mass misogyny, sexism, and male stereotyping so blatant that it made my boyfriend and I simul-cringe. Thanks, NFL, for alienating women even more, while alienating men as well.
Anyway, a few notes: The Google ad gave me a little lump in my throat, and my eyes did glisten a bit. BF pretended not to see. The Trebow ad was completely innocuous, which proved to be brilliant for their campaign. I had been mad--for good reason--at the idea of it, but I found the execution A-OK. And finally, the Kia Sorento ad was hands-down best in my book. And not only because of the sock monkey getting a tattoo sewn-on (which made me squee like a true stuffie-maker).
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
1) Everyone in the military has to serve beside someone else who may make them "uncomfortable," whether that is because of their race, gender, athletic prowess, political views, religious views, height, eye color, etc. Sexuality isn't a special facet of the human composition that deserves special consideration. It's just another trait.
2) The U.S. military is supposed to be an organization comprising the most professional, dedicated, trained individuals in world. If someone isn't professional enough, dedicated enough, or trained enough to separate the job at hand from their own issues with someone else's sexuality, perhaps it is that person who should be discharged. The person who is going to compromise the mission is not the non-heterosexual.
3) To people who say "it is not the right time," your logic would dictate that it is never the right time. If not now, when? Some unforeseen future is not an acceptable answer. When has the U.S. military ever been just hanging out, not doing a whole hell of a lot?
4) The proponents of the policy do not have reasons for it, only excuses. No excuse is powerful enough to undermine this bottom line: The policy is bigoted, ignorant, discriminatory, unethical, unconstitutional, and has no precedent. It is absolutely unacceptable for a country like America in a year like 2010.
If you truly want to be repulsed by the representatives of the WRONG side of the debate, check out this bigot, who, frighteningly enough, is a member of Congress.
Stop hating. Just stop. If you don't even understand what you're talking about, just shut up.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Within a few days, I purchased the black glass beads for the eyes and had needlefelted the shape of the head in white merino and added some black and pink detailing around the eyes with alpaca wool. She didn’t have ears, whiskers, or a mouth yet. This was probably two years ago. Then I put the head somewhere, moved twice, and almost forgot about it, except when I would open my storage closet and see the gigantic doll with the creepy eyes sitting up on a high shelf.
Over the weekend, I resolved that finishing this doll would be the next thing I did. I spent a few hours during Saturday’s LOST marathon working on the ears. It is really difficult to get an ear to the right shape and size, with enough leftover wool to attach it to the head. It’s doubly difficult to make a second one exactly like it. Then last night, I watched Confessions of a SuperHero and finished the facial features, including nylon thread whiskers, and the paws. Attaching the finished features was a lot easier than I had expected it to be, and I think the finished product looks pretty organic.
I’m so happy to get an image out of my head and out into the real world and have it look like I pictured it. It doesn’t always work that way. Here’s to another finished project!
Monday, February 1, 2010
Check it out here. It's called "Fixed."
Be warned: it has curse words and sex and stuff.