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Quarterly Progress Report: 2015 Q1

Alright now, it’s been a while. You and I both know this, so I’m just ‘fessing up. Since I’ve been pretty quiet this year and because two of my favorite regular posts are the annual end of the year homework and the quarterly reading reports, I thought I’d just smash them together to create a quarterly progress report. Whether this will be a one-timer or a series remains to be seen – let me know what your thoughts are, if it’s something you’d like to see again or not.

Updates on 2015, my life and goals so far:

1. This blog: I’ve been writing and maintaining a blog fairly consistently since 2008 and it’s been a lot of fun. I started out writing 10+ posts a month, sometimes as many as 20-25 during NaNoWriMo in November. The world of blogging has changed so much since 2008, as has my personal and professional life, so there have been different iterations of this blog in that time and that’s the beauty of it, I think, watching it stretch and mutate to become what is most necessary and fun for me at any given time. I think the blog will be undergoing a new iteration soon and I’m in a phase of figuring out what I need from it. I’m crowdsourcing information from a group of other bloggers (look for their links on the right, under Band of Bloggers) and I would genuinely love to know your thoughts, whether you’ve been reading for a long time or catch the occasional random post, whether its in the comments or privately (my email is on my bio page).

2. My low-key New Year’s resolution: During the last few years, my email inbox has become a terrifying place, unproductive and chaotic, a black hole into which good information and correspondence have disappeared. Last year, I had more than 2,000 unread messages in my inbox (not in folders, inbox). Without quite intending to (at first), I started doing something about this late last year, picking up steam as I went. I stopped subscriptions to a lot of email newsletters, switched from daily to weekly in some cases, and deleted dozens of emails in batches. When 2015 started, I had fewer than 200 emails in my inbox, going back to 2012 and I have been steadily dealing with these, as well as developing better and faster data and correspondence management techniques that work for my personality and schedule. As I write this, I have fewer than 25 emails in my inbox, the oldest one is dated 3/1 and I intend, moving forward, to keep it that way. This might seem like an incredibly tedious, nerdy and anal retentive task to update you about however, this took so much patience and I feel such a sense of accomplishment that I just had to mention it.

3. Reading and re-reading: After the blowout success of last year’s Re-Reading Project, I had plans to keep going with new titles and more guest posts. I think a project of the same magnitude of last year’s, especially without having a list of titles in advance or any prep done, was just too overwhelming. The book titles I’d planned to read at the front end of the year were all massive and depressing and I just couldn’t do it in the depths of the winter. I haven’t re-read a single book this year. And on the reading front… well… I’ve been slacking off there, too. I’ve read some really amazing books this year, which I’ll tell you about in the Q1 Reading Report soon. I started off with 10 titles in January, a really decent number. But then I only read 5 in February. As for March…I haven’t finished a single book in March, which is an entirely unprecedented experience in my life (to my recall). I *have* been reading, of course, but mostly articles and excerpts of other work (Delanceyplace newsletter is one I kept, as well as the Smithsonian newsletter and NPR’s book and music podcasts). I’ve been reading one massive encyclopedia-esque book since last year and browsing some other books. Also, I sat down and read through the first 60+ pages of the memoir and have been recently re-reading the blog as part of my impending revamp. I’m sure I’ll finish at least one actual physical book this month… [I actually finished reading 2 books since I began writing this post.]

4. Home sweet home: In early 2014, I moved for the second time in 6 months and spent the rest of the year in a tiny temporary apartment. It was a hot mess when I first moved in and after some renovation and the repurposing of things I’d had forever, as well as things I inherited from friends when they moved, it became my home. It was in an area of town I’d never spent much time in and had always gotten lost in before, yet I started digging the neighborhood almost immediately. It was never supposed to be permanent, but it suits me so utterly, which has taken me by surprise. It was looking like I’d have to move again (3rd time in 18 months), so I started 2015 completely devastated, having realized how much I loved the place and how hard it was going to be to find a new home. Then, on my birthday, I got the news that I could stay for the foreseeable future. Very often, I look around my cozy apartment and think, “I’m so glad I live here.”

5. Eating right: One of my proudest moments of 2014 was when a friend looked in my fridge and said, “Hey, what’s with all this green stuff?” It’s only gotten “worse” (or better, more like) since then. I am now cooking and preparing the majority of my meals, eating at home far more often than I eat out. While I did eat canned soup for lunch pretty much every workday for three months (winter sucks, y’all), most every other meal was prepared using fresh and local ingredients. At the farmers market on my way home from work last week, I was telling the tomato vendor about the great sandwiches I’ve been making with her tomatoes and her market neighbor’s bread, as well as the kale from the vendor at the far end of the market. I told the baker (who’s become a friend) how the 8 people at the recent Peauxdunque retreat ate off one of her loaves of rustic white bread for two different meals (breakfast, paired with homemade apple butter and dinner, alongside my spaghetti). I let the citrus man talk me into a second bag of grapefruit on the promise they’d keep well in the fridge for weeks (and his grapefruit are so sweet I never use sugar on them). While I’ve been cooking quinoa without incident for a while, I was so excited to cook dinner for a friend that I cooked waaaay too much and then had to share several more meals with friends just to get all the quinoa eaten up. Happy accident. This has become my hobby, entertainment, passion, all in one, which makes for a very good investment.

6. Writing is my life: I’ve streamlined my life a great deal in order to write as much as possible. I get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., get to the coffeeshop when it opens at 6:30 and write for an hour before work. Sometimes I meditate before my writing session. After work, I come home and cook dinner and prep the next day’s lunch, occasionally meditate, maybe talk to some friends or watch a movie and go to bed pretty early. I still dance tango once or twice a week, but that’s been pretty much all of my socializing outside my house. (Except for occasional literary events like Delta Mouth and the Tennessee Williams Festival). Except for going to the farmers market, I do nothing else regularly. This hibernation worked very well for me during the winter when it was miserably cold and got dark so early. I’ll probably be shaking it up a bit now that it’s getting warmer. But I know that, despite not being a morning person, I really treasure my hour of writing in the morning (even if the hour is actually only 15 or 20 minutes because I’m running late), so I will work hard to maintain that habit.

7. Traveling: Despite my craving for stability and structure, I really love the way travel shakes things up, energizes me and throws everything into a bit of chaos. I’ve already traveled twice this year. First, 36 hours in Portland, Oregon for ValenTango (and to see my brother) last month. Then, two days on a “ridge” near Nashville for Peauxdunque’s annual writing retreat last weekend. I’ve also recently spent a weekend in Baton Rouge, which was an odd and wonderful “staycation” experience in a city where I once lived for several years. It was a blast from the past that united family, friends from several eras of my life, a literary reading, a tango house party, a visit to a museum and several drives through campus. I hope to visit Atlanta soon and maybe carve out some time for a New York City adventure. Let’s see.

That’s the nuts and bolts about what’s been going on the last three months. You’ll be getting a Q1 Reading Report soon and perhaps a reinvigorated, reconfigured bragging on post (or series…). In the meantime, don’t forget to comment or drop me a note about what you’ve enjoyed about this blog and what you might like to see more of here and from me.

 

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Filed under Baton Rouge, food, literature, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, The Re-Reading Project, what I'm reading, writing updates

The writing high

I just finished the first draft of a story I’ve been working on (sporadically) for the last month. I don’t know if you remember me telling you that I have always struggled to write stories. They usually slip their leashes and become novels, or I try to shove them into this small package I don’t understand and they suffocate.

But a little while back, I read an interesting NPR article. A few days later, this story inspired by the article came to me fully formed. I knew almost everything about it from the get-go. I knew that it would have 5 scenes (or parts) and what each of those scenes were. I knew my two main characters, though getting to know them better was the part that took some time. I knew what happened to them, but I needed to know them, in order to know why.

I started by hand writing the first scene and a half in a new journal that I picked up at Scriptura with Jamey. It’s actually a field book and is kinda perfect for me. Small enough that I can take it everywhere and substantial enough that I can write a story in it. It has a blank page on the left side and the right side is a grid. It makes me feel very scientific and organized. See below:

I told a few friends I was working on a story, then languished. Maurice asked me about it last Saturday read me the riot act (in the kindest possible way) for not writing.

So I wrote. I wrote 5 pages that day. Like I said, I already knew the story. I just had to write it. And I wrote the last 3 or so pages of the first draft today. It feels like it might actually be good. But that’s part of the writing high — what you’ve just written often feels like a masterpiece. It’s better than the times when everything you write feels like garbage, but it can be misleading.

I’m like a child fighting bedtime lately when it comes to writing. I know I’m tired (a writer) and I need to sleep (write), but I kick and scream (procrastinate and stall) and fight sleep (writing) with everything I have. Why do I do this? It feels so good to write. It makes me happy. Right now, I can’t stop smiling. I feel effused with energy, even though I’m starving.

Promise me, all of you, that you will never let me forget how good it feels to write again. Wait, maybe this is a promise I should be making myself.

I will do my absolute best from now on to remember that writing makes me happy.

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Filed under Friends, musing, writing updates

Let’s talk about movies: The Ugly Truth and Fanboys

Just so you know, spoilers abound.

Every time I saw the trailer for The Ugly Truth, I thought, “Oooh, I can’t wait to see that.” I love both Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, and I love rom coms. I’ve already debunked any accusations of film snobbery, so that can hardly be surprising. Then, before seeing it with Becks, I read a review of the movie on NPR, knowing as I did so that the reviewer would hate it and it wouldn’t change my desire to see the movie one iota, as much as I adore NPR.

And Ella Taylor did seem to hate The Ugly Truth, as her review begins, “Sit up straight, girls, the he-men are back to instruct you in what women really want.” And while there were places where I physically winced or I just didn’t feel like the movie was all that great, I actually don’t agree with Taylor’s arguments about who this movie is for and what it’s saying. She’s addressing women alone, but we exist in a film market that has started (finally) making some blatant attempts to reach more of the audience quadrants than romantic comedies have traditionally expected to reach. Yeah, probably most of the men in the audience were still there with girlfriends or wives or really good gal pals. But I suspect The Ugly Truth was trying to entertain not only the boys once they were there, but also the women who loved The Hangover and Judd Apatow movies, who really dig the big blockbuster/comic book/fantasy movies that were traditionally the realm of boys [The newest EW has an article by Christine Spines called “Horror Films and the Women Who Love Them,” which I can’t seem to find online at the moment, but Diablo Cody (ahem, Juno) has a great quote, “Growing up, I was absolutely mesmerized by the horror section at the local video store. It wasn’t a particularly feminine compulsion, and my parents didn’t want me watching that crap.”]

So the problems I had with the movie was where it felt like it hadn’t really identified itself or its audience – because probably it wanted to be many things at once and reach as many of the quadrants as possible. With audiences gobbling up Borat (but not so much Bruno), Talladega Nights, Stepbrothers and Pineapple Express, the over-the-top-but-sadly-incredibly-realistic shock jockness of Gerard Butler’s character Mike Chadway, appeals. But in that stroke of classic romantic comedy convention (that works here, perhaps saves the movie), while both Abby and Mike both think that his he-man instructions are getting Abby what she wants – they aren’t. She gets exactly what she thought she wanted – her checklist boyfriend – using Mike’s techniques (which, if you’re honest with yourself, do work at least in a surface, introductory way even in real life, even if they are loathsome), but she realizes that the “perfect” candidate works on paper, but rarely in real life. The scene between Abby and her checklist boyfriend in the hotel room works for me because of Katherine Heigl’s gut-wrenching, “Who would love somebody like that?” realization. She sees herself for who she is, doesn’t entirely like herself and is frightened that nobody will love her for and despite that person – and that is an utterly true realization, whether you’re a woman or a man (a girl or a boy, a proud feminist or a “I’m not a feminist but” feminist or not a feminist at all). But the amazing thing for me is that, though she’s not sure she can be loved for who she is, she can’t close the deal with the checklist boyfriend while still pretending to be something she isn’t. And what could be more feminist (and enlightened) than that?

It’s not so much that Mike (the he-man) has the answers as he thinks he does and Abby’s so lost romantically (her assistant producer says, “This could be a good boyfriend for us!”), she can’t help but listen to someone who sounds like they know what they’re talking about. (He’s lost too, which Taylor seems to dismiss, but Mike’s brand of defensive humor does seem to exist and I find his utter terror when confronted with the vulnerability that love brings utterly honest). When they both learn something, that’s what I find fascinating. Though, I felt like the end was a bit forced into a rom-com box after what seemed to me a pretty daring, sometimes more subtle than appearances would have you think, illustration of the contradictions and fears of modern romance. Taylor calls it a “nasty little sex war,” and yes, it is. Because that’s how it feels sometimes – the truth is that power is an issue in relationships and it seems like the person who cares the least fares the best (see: Mike coaching Abby on manipulative, abusive telephone etiquette). But we all hope that we can find someone in the end with whom it’s okay to be vulnerable, who’ll put their own vulnerable hearts in our hands and that perhaps the power can go back and forth.

The line in Taylor’s review that kept giving me frustrated flashbacks was, “Alert, however, to the fact that they’re catering to the I’m-not-a-feminist-but … generation of women — ladies who want their career achievement and their happy-ever-after tied up together in a shiny pink bow — ”

Yes. My generation of feminists (thanks to the generations and waves before us) have learned that’s it’s alright to say, “We want it all. We want to be capable and successful human beings and we want marriage and kids too.” Or whatever you want, or don’t want, that’s okay too. If you want to be a stay at home mom, guess what, that’s okay. If you don’t want marriage and kids, also okay. And what the hell is wrong with that? Did our feminist foremothers fight so that we would have to choose between slices of a life? The apple or the peach? Why not the whole pie or several slices on one plate? Did they fight so that we would force EACH OTHER out of the home and refuse to acknowledge that’s where some of us what to be? I find myself a more well-rounded feminist when I acknowledge that, for me, a full life includes both writing/publishing my books and a happy family with a husband and children. Of course it’s hard to have everything you want and even harder to have it “tied up together in a shiny pink bow,” because it requires negotiation, communication and work. But my foreparents have taught me well – I’m not going to deny myself any aspect of a life that I feel compelled to have, because that would make me a less complete, fulfilled person.

Taylor lauds Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (and I’m not knocking it), but I think it’s a difficult thing to put His Girl Friday against most movies that accurately and emotionally reflect gender dynamics these days. I’m a feminist who can say that rigid gender roles are constricting and wrong – but as a girl dating in the aughts, I’m envious at times that there used to be expectations that were generally understood by all parties. This is an age where it’s not always possible to know you’re on a date because you have no idea what the other person’s expectations are, this is an age where people are avidly reading each other’s Facebook statuses to try to understand other people’s moods, where it may be ages before you actually have a voice-to-voice (let alone a face-to-face) because of the oh-so-common fondness for texting. Abby may actually be a pretty good example when it comes to modern dating and knowing how to be a lady (what does that mean these days?!?) and be happy and get what you want.

Taylor says about Abby that she’s a “tightly wound career woman, ripe for chopping up, tenderizing and ravishing by an alpha male who knows what’s good for her (no, it’s not a promotion) better than she does.” No, Abby doesn’t want a promotion. Because she’s already got that covered – she rocks at what she does. The parts of the movie where Abby was able to be confident were when she was doing her thang as a producer. But even then, something that struck me was the virulent invaldiation Abby suffers from her boss and the corporate honchos once Mike arrives on the scene – from the good ol’ boy dinner with the bikini twins to production choices being made for her, without her knowledge or approval. She’s good at her job (though perhaps the show did need a shake up, none of us are infallable), but consistently undermined in a way that’s not even addressed. Part of me likes that it’s so vivid in the movie without being addressed, because it’s inherent in our society and so rarely communicated. A woman is expected to act outside of a “womanly fashion” in order to be considered professional (here, I’m thinking of when Abby is hiding in her closet at work, etc.), but then is entirely unappreciated as both a woman, or a person doing a good job. The qualities that make Abby a good producer appear to make her a bad woman and I don’t blame the movie for this because this is an accurate reflection of the climate, what we’re still working for (“we” being feminist of every gender).

And until we see this “nasty little sex war,” depicted in all its nastiness in our modern media, how will we learn to communicate about it and then change it? Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday don’t reflect the men and women that are trying to figure out how to connect with each other today (and that’s not even scratching the surface, what about the spectrum of sexuality?). And if you doubt me, read this NPR piece called Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships.

A friend of mine recently told me how uncomfortable he was in “Women and Gender Studies” classes in college because he was a man and everything seemed to be his fault. I actually felt the same way in some of mine, uncomfortable. The idea is to be equal, to have equal rights and responsiblities and renumeration, right? But then I think of another friend of mine who has the “right” to work outside the house when she doesn’t want to and it’s still her responsibility to do almost a full percentage of the tasks at home. Her husband “helps” her take care of their home and family, as if this is still uniquely her task and when she is working outside the home as much as he does. I think of roommates and boyfriends I’ve had who seem to have been incapable of doing anything an adult does to take care of their home without expecting or waiting for me to tell them to do it and then coming to me to announce they’ve done it, seeking my approval. And you know what? It’s not just any of these individuals’ fault…it’s all of society’s fault that we still see things as belonging to one gender or another and then feeling guilty for it because we know we shouldn’t and then not achieving a well-balanced way of discussing and communicating these things in a way that creates healthy individuals.

And in that, I find The Ugly Truth to be a pretty fair illustration of the muddle we all find ourselves in these days, being women and being men and trying to figure out what the hell any of that means.

Fanboys was a lot of fun. I watched it, then watched it again with the commentary track, which was hysterical. I adore the last line of the movie (won’t spoil that for you) and I love the depiction of fandom and friendship. And it was just really funny. I have almost nothing to critique about the movie, I just loved it so much (especially all of Seth Rogan’s cameos), but of course there’s much I could say about gender politics here, too.

Are you groaning? 🙂 Well, just look at the title and that pretty much says it all. Fanboys. Who can deny how feminine and beautiful Kristen Bell is, yet her fangirl Zoe isn’t seen as a girl because she can “keep up” with the boys, because her amazing knowledge and passion is very fanboy-like, in the minds of her fellows. Yet, she keeps them all together and going. Even as she’s calling them “girls” in a derogatory fashion.

Well, in some cases, it’s not the movie that’s at fault just because it does a good job of depicting our screwy society. And I found both of these two movies very entertaining, in same cases really funny and always fascinating. Reviewing them soley for their quality as movies (trying to ignore content as much as possible, which isn’t possible), I’d give Fanboys an A and The Ugly Truth something like a B-.

[7.29.09: See this blogger’s discussion of “Horror Films and the Women Who Love Them,” since I’m still struggling to find EW‘s article online.]

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