Monday, November 27, 2006

better than fiction

I went to see Stranger Than Fiction the other night, and now I can't stop thinking about it. It's by far one of my favorite movies in years. Every single person in it was phenomenal, especially Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. I've always loved Emma Thompson, but only in recent years have I started to appreciate Will Ferrell, his abilities, or his comedy. Elf made me appreciate his comedy, and now this movie made me realize how skilled an actor he really is, and honestly, I think he deserves an Oscar nomination for this performance. He was just so vulnerable and funny and sweet and charming and subtle and annoying and boring and vibrant...and everything that most normal people are at various times. Other comedians-turned-serious-actors tend to struggle with keeping their stand-up or sketch-comedy behavior in check when doing something more complex. For example, Robin Williams has the ability to be an amazing actor, but only when he reigns in his silly stand-up comedy behavior, which he sometimes has a hard time doing. Same can be said of Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey. But Will Ferrell was so in control the whole time, and I am utterly impressed.

Ferrell's performance aside, I am mostly in awe of the story and what it implies, or rather, how it handles those implications...if that makes any sense. The story deals with so many things, but one which speaks loudest to me is the issue of life versus art. Is art so important that life should ever be compromised for it? Is any art ever worth the loss of any life? Art---in all its forms, especially literary---is of supreme importance to me and how I prioritize my values. However, I've thought about this very issue before, but in a different context. (It may seem unrelated at first, but bear with me.) I am slightly obsessed with writing from the American south. There are the obvious examples, like William Faulkner, whose work I adore. But I also love the less obvious, lesser known writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, the stuff that can be found in current literary journals and magazines (check out my link on the right here to Oxford American...fabulous magazine). However, I believe that a large reason for the uniqueness of southern writing, that elusive quality which makes it a genre of its own, stems from the distinct--and not terribly uplifting--history of the south. That history is just loaded with extreme poverty, racism, bloodshed, natural disasters, starvation, etc. Not to mention the climate. There are of course endless wonderful things about the south, which also make it unique. But my point here is this: From all of the horrific and tumultuous moments in southern history came some of the most important and beautiful writing in human history (ok, that's subjective, but there's no denying its impact on literature and art). Was it worth it? If we could compromise and possibly even erase all of southern literature and its impact on other areas of literature and humanity in return for undoing the more unfortunate events in the south, would we? Should we, especially considering the longer-reaching impact such important art has on the rest of humanity?

I'm sure a million other contexts exist for the questions raised in this movie, but the issue of southern writing is the context closest to my personal affections, not to mention the fact that I've contemplated this very issue many times before. So seeing this movie has set this contemplation into motion again. The characters in the movie are faced with the choice between Will Ferrell's life (or that of his character) versus what could be one of the most important and beautiful novels of the time. Is one person's life valuable enough to sacrifice such a meaningful work of art? Or maybe nothing is really sacrificed after all, but merely reconsidered. The movie seems to say we can have both, the life and the art.

The other issue it brings up for me, which I'm not going to spend as much time on right now, is the presumed division between fiction and non-fiction. As I've said so many times before, in recent years, I've developed a deep love of and respect for creative non-fiction, a term which in itself says so much...the very idea of mixing "truth" with creativity, a concept that seems at once totally contradictory and utterly unavoidable. Is there really so much difference between fiction and non-fiction? Especially when the creative tools of storytelling (such as dialogue, narrative, and plot development) are used to convey a "true" story? The brilliance, of course, in creative non-fiction is as much the writer's ability to see the stories real life offers as it is to write those stories and to write them well. Emma Thomspon's character in the movie thought she was writing a novel, something that is, by definition, fiction. And yet her protagonist turned out to be a real person, living an actual life of his own, and her story was his real life. Does that by default make her novel suddenly a memoir or biography, rather than a novel (which implies fiction, something that didn't really happen)?

Oh my god, the questions this movie raised for me are endless, and if I continue to write them here, I'll have a never-ending blog post. I have plenty of my own hypotheses and beliefs to some of those questions, but mostly they are my own personal theories. The questions in my mind are--I think--more interesting than any answer I or anyone could attempt to give.

So all this was to say that I really liked the movie.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

more fun with less hair

I went into my bedroom just now to go to sleep, but I am sorely behind on my blogs and I won't be able to get to sleep until I've posted something.

First, the weather here is beautiful! Right now it's 50 degrees. The temps have been that mild all week, and that makes me so happy! It's pretty amazing, the correlation between the weather and my mood. Naturally, the native floridians are freaking out. Ok, maybe not freaking out, but I am seeing people in gloves and scarves. Seriously. And we are ridiculously busy at work right now, as everyone wants hot chocolate. But most importantly, Murphy loves this weather. He trots around on our walks at a much more brisk pace, tail wagging, nails (which need to be clipped) clicking away beside me on the sidewalk, big puppy smile on his face. He's so damn cute!

Also within the past week, I have had two haircuts. First was the big one, when I initially had a lot of it cut off, but throughout the rest of the day and especially the next morning, I couldn't help but feel like it was too heavy on top and in the front--like it needed to be thinned and shortened just a tad more. So I went back to the lady who did it the first time, fully intending to pay for a whole new cut, but she trimmed it up and didn't charge me, which was fun. It's REALLY short now. Shortest it's ever been. Short and choppy and a little spikey in places. And I don't have to do a damn thing to it when I'm getting ready to go somewhere. YAY!

I've also been in one of my outgoing social moods recently and have been out a lot. Last Thursday was the first night in weeks when I actually got off work early enough to do something, and since I was off the next day I didn't have to worry about being in bed by a certain time. So I met up with friends down in Lauderdale and by 3-something in the morning, we were all tossing our clothes onto the sand at the beach and splashing around in the ocean. Oh, it was fabulous. Clear, intoxicating weather (though warmer than now), energizing ocean water, and an empty beach in the middle of the night. And sand in everyone's jeans, shoes, cars, and apartments afterward...but totally worth it.

This past Sunday was one of my favorite days since moving here. First, I met up with Becca, Angela, and Holi for an early lunch, where we talked about Angela and Holi's recent trip to Mexico City and then took turns telling our favorite stories of insane and outrageous monarchs throughout history. By the way, my favorite outrageous monarch is Eleanor of Aquitaine (or here is wikipedia's page on her). Not at all insane, but fabulously interesting as well as controversial in her time. Angela and Holi told us a fascinating story about the king and queen who resided in the castle in Mexico City, which was such a great story, though I can't remember their names. Maybe when Angela and/or Holi read this, they can supply it in their comments...? ;)

After lunch, we all went to Borders where we sat in the cafe for hours talking books, school, and other awesome nerdy stuff while comparing signatures.

Then part three of the day started when all of us went to the bar to watch football and hang out with some other friends. Most of us were there til about 9 or 10 that night, which is about when I headed home.

Perfect day: a yummy greek salad with fun conversation, coffee with books and more fun conversation, and then beer with football and yet more fun conversation. I love my friends here. I didn't want the day to end.

I'm happy tonight.

One week from tomorrow, Kathy will be here!

Monday, November 13, 2006


Let me just clear up that my mom loves to read and she has always loved that I love to read. The only reason she said that in the library so many years ago was that she was so angry with me and was at a loss. I had just pushed her too far. In a normal state of mind, she'd never try to prevent anyone, especially a teenager, from reading. However, I was such a pain in the ass back then that I rarely gave her the chance to be in a normal state of mind.


what not to say in a library

Most of you know I love school. I have a master’s in literature and I would like to some day get at least one more graduate degree. I taught college writing for a few years and loved it, and I plan to teach again someday. While most of my students liked me, it was never my objective to make them like me, and I am a strict teacher who expects a lot from students.

But what some of you don’t know is that I was a horrible student in high school. Really, one of the worst of all time. I went from being a straight A, honor roll student throughout grade school and junior high to being so dreadful that there was always a moment at the end of each school year when I’d breathe a sigh of relief when I learned that I did in fact pass that year.

I’d refuse to read any of the assigned books in our literature classes, but I’d read 500-page novels of my own choosing outside of school. Sometimes I’d read them during English class, while the teacher (my arch-nemesis throughout high school) would glare at me, knowing I hadn’t read the assigned work. In Algebra II, I put my head down on the desk everyday and slept. Didn’t try to hide it. And in the required religion classes, I usually refused to do most of the work and deliberately put the wrong answers on all the tests (I did happen to disagree with most of what we were supposed to be learning in religion class, but back then it was more stubbornness than conviction). Also, once I apparently refused to buy the text we needed for a class called “Lifestyles in Christianity” saying “I don’t believe in that crap.” My dad got a call from the principal over that one. Actually, they got calls from the school constantly. My parents were probably on the assistant principal’s speed dial.

Otherwise, I really wasn’t a bad kid. I was always in trouble over grades and such, but I rarely did many other things wrong. I never ever drank in high school. I worked part-time from the time I was 15. I didn’t get into much trouble because of anything in my social life. Then again, I was grounded all the time because of stupid shit I did at school, which is probably why I didn’t have a chance to get into much non-school trouble.

Anyway, at the very beginning of 10th grade, when there was still some hope of getting my act together and being a decent high-school student, Miss Littner (the aforementioned arch-nemesis English teacher) didn’t really like me. That’s ok, since I didn’t like her. Everyone else in the school thought she was the coolest. However, she made me want to throw up. Imagine Barbie as a super-conservative, Catholic, high-school English teacher. That was Miss Littner. I didn’t have any issues with her at first. But shortly after the school year started, she mentioned that later in the year we were going to read To Kill a Mockingbird, which I had already read and loved. I knew the book by heart at that point, and I was beyond excited that I’d have another chance to read and discuss it. After class one day, I went to her and told her I’d already read it, and I was about to say how excited I was about the prospect of reading it again. But she cut me off mid sentence and said, “Yeah, well you’ll just have to read it again and not complain. Don’t expect to be excused from the work.” She had such a sour look on her face. She totally squashed my excitement and didn’t give a shit about my love for that book. It was horrible, and from that moment I hated her and her class. And I hated the rest of the school for thinking she was so brilliant. That encounter sort of set the tone for my high-school years and my relationship with all my teachers there. My stubborn defiance kicked in and any hope of me becoming a good student again disappeared.

Later that year, Miss Littner assigned a term paper, using research and references and everything. It was the first research paper for us, so this was a big deal and the class spent about an entire quarter on it. Except for me. I didn’t do it. Nothing. Didn’t write one single word. Never did any research, not even an outline. I didn’t care. And neither did Miss Littner. She knew I wasn’t working on it, and she never said a word to me about it. The deadline came and everyone turned in their papers. Not me. Weeks later, she returned the graded papers. Still didn’t say one word to me about my missing paper. Never once questioned me. The thing is, this paper was a requirement for passing 10th grade. So the night before the last day of school that year (several months after the research project was over), Miss Littner called my mom at home and told her I never turned in that research paper, which meant I’d have to repeat 10th grade. My mom just about crapped her pants, since she knew nothing about this. But she was also furious at Miss Littner for not having called her earlier in the year to tell her about this, rather than waiting until 8pm the night before the last day of school. So as a compromise, Littner gave me one week to write this paper, which would give her enough time to grade it before her final grades were due to the school.

I remember hearing my mom’s end of this phone call and knowing exactly what it was about and fearing for when she the conversation would end and she’d turn her attention to me. It was bad. I heard the phone hang up, and then mom yelled my name across the house. This shit hit the fan hard. It clobbered the fan. I was in so much trouble. But I felt a tiny sense of satisfaction over the fact that I knew mom was almost just as pissed off at Littner for having dealt with it all the way she did, but I couldn’t let on to anything other than pure humbleness and humility.

I spent the next several days at the library writing the world’s worst research paper. At this point, I wasn’t even allowed to choose my own topic, as my classmates had been able to do. My dad assigned one for me. He made me write about President Kennedy, one of his heroes. Normally I loved the library, but this particular week almost ruined the whole place for me. At any given moment during this ordeal, at least one of my parents sat right next to me in the library and watched me work. It was so uncomfortable. I could feel their frustration, anger, and disappointment hovering in the air over us the whole time. They were both too angry at me to talk and I know that the whole time, all each could think was “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

Finally, I finished it, and it was time to type it. This was back before most people had computers or even word processors in their homes, so we used the typewriters in the library. Finally, we finished it. This was a group effort, and the paper I’m sure was lousy. But we did it, and that meant I’d passed the 10th grade.

After finishing with the typewriter, we gathered our stuff to leave the library. Since the paper was finished, which meant my summer break was about to begin, I started thinking about some books I wanted to check out from the library to read during the first few weeks of break, when I was going to be stuck at home grounded. Before we headed to the door, I stopped my mom and—having already forgotten the trouble I was in—told her I wanted to grab a couple books. Well, she was evidently still raw with anger because she exploded. “YOU’RE GROUNDED!” I replied that I just wanted to get some books to read. She said, “You’re in so much trouble! You’re grounded from everything you like to do, and that includes reading. YOU’RE GROUNDED FROM BOOKS!! NO READING FOR YOU!” She really did yell this in the library, and the entire place stopped and stared at us for an uncomfortable few seconds.

It was an odd moment. I mean, really. Who gets grounded from books???

So I spent the first couple weeks of the summer after 10th grade in hideous trouble and grounded from books. I can’t remember what I did with my time then, other than bum around the house and back yard with my sister each day.

Who knew I’d eventually grow to love school so much that I crave it anytime I’ve been away longer than a year or two. Of course, college is so different from high school, and graduate school is even more fascinating and esoteric by comparison. Knowing myself now, it makes total sense to me that I hated high school, loved college, and now can’t get enough grad school.

But still, I can’t imagine having made choices since then that would have surprised my 15-year-old self more. Back then, if someone had told me that I’d go on to spend four years as an English major and then a total of three years getting a master’s in English, I’d have laughed my ass off. And if someone had told me I’d then go on to teach the stuff, I’d never have believed it. Not in a million years.

On the other hand, when I was teaching a few years ago, if you’d told me that by now I’d work at Starbucks in West Palm Beach, I’d have sworn it was a ridiculous lie. And yet here I am. Who knew?

Kind of makes me wonder where I’ll be in a few years that would surprise me now.

(By the way, my mom has since admitted that grounding me from books was a tad irrational. But then, I was the reason for her irrational mood at the time. We've also laughed about that whole scene in retrospect.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

lots and lots of people

Wow, I can't believe it's been almost a week since my last post. This week has been that busy. Actually, all I have done for the past week is work, but work has been nuts and it feels like I have barely been home because of it. For example, on Wednesday I worked from 8-4:30. And then I went back at 11 and after the store closed, a few of us had to change out all the displays, which kept us there until 4am. Also, we've had a number of no-shows from some of our young-ish employees (the ones for whom this isn't a real living, who still get money from their parents and don't need their job and can afford to treat it with absolutely no respect). When someone does that they get fired, which is fine by me. But in the meantime, it leaves the rest of us on that particular shift shorthanded, which makes for a completely insane experience.

Last night was one of those times. We were short two people, and it was by far the busiest night I have ever experienced there. The line went from the registers to the door and usually out the door from a few minutes after I arrived at 5:30 until fifteen minutes before closing at 1am. Nonstop. There were four of us on the floor during this, and I had to make sure everyone got their adequate breaks, which meant at times we only had three people on the floor. I'm a stickler for making sure everyone gets their breaks, especially in situations like this, where everyone needs to step away for a while and take a breather or they'll go nuts.

It was insane. This is what I don't get: If I'm out somewhere and decide I want coffee, but I come across a line that goes out the door, there is no way in hell I am going to stand in that line. With all due respect to the people who keep our store in business, I can't believe anyone would stand in that line and then subject themselves to the crowd in the other parts of the store.

So anyway, in addition to the crowds last night and being short-staffed, our sanitizer/dishwasher wasn't working right, which meant scrubbing and sanitizing everything by hand after we closed....everything. We closed at 1, were supposed to finish cleaning up the store by 2, but in reality, we didn't leave until 3. That's AM. It got to the point where my co-workers and I could only laugh. It was maniacal laughter, but laughter nonetheless.

This is the trade-off for having been transferred to such a busy store and for being promoted in going there. I miss the actual coffee shop atmosphere, which is annihilated in the crowds we get at my new store. It doesn't exist, and that makes me a little sad, as it's why I have loved this job from the start.

Honestly, I don't know how much better tonight will be, since one of last night's no-shows was also on tonight's schedule.

Thankfully, I can stop at any moment and toss back a couple shots of caffeine during my shift. I need it.

On the other hand, I am excited because in just a couple weeks, Kathy will be down here for a visit. I am off the whole time she's here, and I can't wait to relax and tear things up around here with her.

Monday, November 06, 2006

peaceful end to my chaotic day off

Wow, it is so beautiful out tonight. Cool, dry air. Breeze. Low patches of white clouds, backlit by the moon, which make the sky look like a cathedral ceiling. I stopped by the beach tonight and sat there for a good 30 minutes. The wind was fast and the waves were big and splashy.

I love when I go stare at the ocean late at night and way off on the horizon I can see a huge ship, all silently lit up and tiny in the distance. I saw one tonight; I think it was a cruise ship, which means it was probably full of happy and--let's face it--probably drunk vacationers. Based on where it was, I'm sure it left port today and the passengers have just started their vacations. I've been on a couple cruises now and they can be fun, though it's not really my favorite way to travel and I probably won't go on anymore. But still. I'm envious of the people on this one, who are probably on their way to new places and about to have a new adventure.

That boat was the only one I saw tonight. Otherwise, the ocean was all waves and sparkly reflections of the moon.

The pier at this beach is sort of old, and a huge chunk of it was destroyed during one of last year's hurricanes, so it's broken up into stretches of pier with big gaps in between. On the end that's connected to the shore, there's a popular restaurant, though I've never eaten there. The city has recently approved a plan to rebuild the pier over the next year or so. This is great news, and the town of Lake Worth will benefit greatly from it. But I have to say that there is something sweetly old-world about the broken-down pier. Something a little romantic even. At night, the silhouette of the gaps and splintered ends against the ocean is beautiful. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad for the repairs that are planned. But until that plan goes into action, I don't mind the weathered look of the pier, the gaps where parts of the structure gave way to the winds, and the scars left on the parts that remain standing.

my day off so far

Anti-biotics are lovely. A terrible but wonderful necessity. I know the sick bugs are still present, but I can feel myself getting better every minute of every day. Yay!

Today was supposed to be a day off, which was severely needed after having a rough closing shift last night (SUPER busy, while I was working alone with two trainees). So I woke up and rounded up my sister, who is also off today, and we went to my store for some coffee. When I got there, one of my co-workers said, "You're here early. The meeting isn't until 1." Turns out we had a meeting scheduled today that I wasn't aware of. And to make matters worse, the district manager (who I am shamelessly trying to impress so I can be promoted to assistant manager and then eventually to full manager as soon as possible) would be there, and we had to be in dress code for it. I was standing there with messy hair, wearing ripped up jeans and a t-shirt. And it was 12:10 pm. AND the store is across town from where I live.

My sister and I got back in my car and raced home. We felt like we were in a video game, like the music of Super Mario Bros or the like was playing somewhere in the background, as I dodged traffic and avoided getting stuck behind the geriatric drivers who have made their seasonal migration down here for the winter months. We got back home by 12:30, I changed clothes in no time, and I was back in the car by 12:33. I made it back to work by 12:56.


The meeting was fine but not earth-shattering. Still, I'm glad I made it back in time.

Now I'm home again and I just realized I haven't had a crumb to eat all day. And I think I'm still a little sweaty from the stress of racing to get to the meeting in time. Attractive, eh?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

too groggy for a title

Went to the doctor yesterday and got some antibiotics and mega-strength cough syrup. It seems I just have some vague upper-respiratory infection, something viral. Big relief, since I was certain it was something horrible and exotic and deadly.

While waiting for my prescriptions to be filled, I went across the street to Target, where I bought the cutest slippers with ladybugs on them:

They have definitely helped me feel better.

Also, yesterday morning I called my manager at work and told her I what was going on. She was in the middle of the morning rush and said she'd call back. So I turned on a movie, got snuggly under some covers with the dogs around me, and took a loooooong medicine-induced nap. When I woke, I realized I hadn't heard back from work, so I figured I needed to be there as scheduled, which really depressed me. But I got ready and dragged my ass in. They all looked at me like I was a ghost. Apparently, they had found someone to cover my shift, and each person thought the next person had called to let me know. It didn't matter to me that nobody had called. I was just thrilled that I could turn around and go back home.

I went home and put on my new slippers and some pjs again and stayed inside all night. Looking back at my sick-day wish list from yesterday, I managed to get everything on it! Except for the soup, but that was by choice (I changed my mind on that one).

Since I'm all doped up on meds now and feel like death isn't quite as near as it was yesterday, I'm going to work tonight. But I'm going to stay on register or doing things in the back room, as I don't think I should be making drinks for people.

In the meantime, rain is pouring down outside, I have the house to myself, and the dogs are looking especially floppy and snuggly right now. So I'm going to get under blankets and read for a while.

Who am I kidding? I'm going to fall asleep again.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Ok, I'm STILL sick. And worse than before. I'm waiting to hear from the doctor and hopefully get an appointment this morning. I don't have my own doctor down here, so this is my mom's doc, but I really wish I was seeing my doctor in St. Louis. She is great.

Whatever the hell is wrong with me sucks. I actually think it might be either bronchitis or possibly even pneumonia. The worst part is the coughing; it's keeping me up most of the night. My voice is wheezy and scratchy. I have no energy. My entire face is leaky.

I wasn't feeling great when I went to work yesterday morning, but at that point it just felt like a minor annoyance--which is how it has felt for a few days. As the day went on, I felt progressively worse. And by last night, I was certain death was about to come knocking on my door. Naturally, I had to cancel plans last night, and that made me sad because I was really looking forward to going out. I'm supposed to work from 5pm until 2am tonight, but I can't imagine anything less feasible than that right now.

This is my current wish list:
-anti-biotics (or something to make me feel better asap)
-new fuzzy slippers, as mine are getting old and the fuzz has flattened and only new fuzzy slippers could possibly make all this more tolerable.
-hot and sour soup from the Chinese take-out down the street
-the night off work (and I hate to miss work at this job, truly, so my saying this is a testament to how sick I am)
-lots of sleep next to my Murphy

Depending on whether I get in with the doctor this morning, I might be able to acquire all or at least most of these things in one trip out into the world and a couple phone calls.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

cough drops, not halloween candy

Halloween was ok here last night. It rained a lot, so there were some nervous kids, worried they'd miss out on it all. My neice dressed as Pocahontas and my little brother (who is 12) dressed as a vampire; they looked really cute. Murphy isn't bothered at all by all the visitors all night; he mostly stayed in his usual spot on the floor in the living room. But Maggie hated it. She barked all night at every single child that came to my parents' door. I thought her head might explode.

I love halloween but I didn't feel well so I just didn't have the energy to get into it last night. I don't know what the hell my problem is, but this is the second time this month I've been sick and have lost my voice. Something is being passed around at work and here at home, so every time I finally get rid of it, someone else gets it and then a few weeks later I get some slightly mutated version of it again. I feel like crap and can't stop coughing and sleeping. And just like before, I can't talk. I suppose it's good that I was off yesterday and today, so I've been able to lie around in pjs and consume mass quantities of cold meds and vitamin C. Hopefully I'll feel better for work tomorrow. But it's such a bummer to have to spend two days off like this. I had plans, damn it!

Well, I'm feeling completely sluggish and bland at the moment, so I'm going to stop writing for now.