Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Home Show

Because we own a home, Eddie and I went to the Long Island Home Show at the Coliseum.  The parking lot was packed when we got there.  This many people wanted to find deals on fertilizer and chimney sweeps?  Actually, no.  This many people we found as we finally found an open door were there for the Islander game.  We didn't have tickets, but we were able to simply walk into the Coliseum.  I suppose that's because the game was letting out.  Perfect timing on our part--we couldn't walk anywhere because of the throngs of hockey fans.  The Coliseum has no wiggle room. We found that we had to walk against the crowd to get to the escalator to get to the lower level.

The Coliseum has a lower level.  I did not know this until the moment the guard told us about it.

Once we got there, we entered the world of windows and patios and vacuum cleaners.  Almost every other booth was a solar company.  I'm interested in solar power, but this was overwhelming.  There were too many companies offering too many options.  I signed up for information from a bunch of them even though only one of them had a name I recognized.  It was that company that also made an appointment to come out to the house the next week.  I also signed up for information and made an appointment with a window company to come out in two days. 

We saw spas.  We saw covers for baseboard heating.  We saw fencing.  One company had an actual fencer standing with their booth, and she poked me with her epee and I was like, Yes, I get it--fencing.  We saw electric experts who were quite upset when Eddie told them that we'd just had our electric redone.  We saw lightbulbs and the salesguy told us we make a good couple and I responded, thank you but I'll come back if I want to buy your bulbs.  He said that meant I wasn't going to buy them.  Yes, very true.

Mostly, I engaged in a lot of conversation to get free candy.  But also to find out about home stuff.  We walked away with a free tote bag, some plant seeds, a chip bag clip, and a handfull of bite sized candies and lollipops. 

The window people called the next day to iron out some information they needed beforehand.  Then they told me they couldn't come if Eddie wasn't home.  Apparently, I can't make decisions.  I was like, Why did you have me make an appointment on the spot if I couldn't meet you by myself?  He was like, well let me give you an idea of an estimate.  The estimate is about the same amount I could use to put another down payment on another house that already has new windows, so that ended the potential meeting anyway.

Then the solar people called to iron out some information.  At the show, they'd looked at Google Earth for an aerial view of our house and said that we had some trees but someone would come out to see in person if they'd be a problem.  On the phone, the guy pulled up the same view and said that they wouldn't be coming out to the house because we had trees.  He said that unless I'd planned to get rid of the trees AND the neighbor's trees, I couldn't get solar.

So really, I went to the home show to get poked by a fencer and get free candy.  Worth it.  Totally.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My Other RI Vacation

Two gals on a road trip! Whoo!  My mom decided that a vacation in Newport was just what she needed as April rolled around, so while I retreated, my mom vacationed.  The trip started off with her getting into the car and not being able to get the seat back to upright.  After five minutes of sitting in the driveway and her making the seat go further back, we decided to hit the road.  We stopped only once at a rest stop in Connecticut where we were able to figure out the seat back enigma.  We were making really good time until a truck carrying tires slowed us down by almost an hour by being where it should not have been on the highway and wedging itself under an overpass and then tipping itself over and spilling tires up an off ramp.  Way to be, tire truck.  Way. To. Be.

Arriving in Newport was thrilling.  Land of mansions.  Land of history.  I'd had big plans to gallivant downtown and visit the library as soon as we got there.  Instead, we hiked it across the parking lot and dined in grand style at the Applebees.  That extra hour was a killer.

Each room has its own picture!

Newport-Middletown to be exact

No thoughts so far
Puns.  Now in napkin form.
[Sidenote: I just learned that galavant is incorrect and gallivant is correct.  I'm an English teacher.]

I left for retreating and my mom did her vacationing.  The next morning was all about free hot breakfast at 7 AM and then retreating.  I met up with my mom for lunch.  The day was wet and dreary, which is the perfect climate for fireside dining, so we serendipitously wound up at the White Horse Tavern, which has a working fireplace and a lot of history.  We've been to the White Horse in NYC, so this was a must. I was starving by the time we got there, so I chowed down on oyster crackers.  Two bags of them.  Then the entrees came and I was in food heaven.

Shrimp over risotto and butternut squash with apple slaw

Newport has the country's oldest lending library, the Redwood Library.  Since I'm a writer and avid reader, visiting seemed to be the thing I should do.  The woman behind the desk offered me many options about how to go about taking in the library, which included audio tours and a handout to figure out who's who in the portrait gallery.  Instead of doing any of that, I walked around and took in the smell.  I'm not weird.  Libraries have a certain smell to them, and I like it.

This made me want to tear and mutilate the magazines. Are people out there actually doing this?

Look up! You never know what you'll find. (I think this is the fata morgana).

Ooh, old school!

And this is why old school is outdated.

Roadside Buddha
The next day, Mom and I met up for lunch again between my writing sessions.  This time we headed to the wharf.  The day was brighter though very windy.  Windier at the wharf, of course. We settled in to eat at The Black Pearl and then checked out some of the local flavor.  And by flavor, I mean not only art, but also dessert.

We dined at places that hang maps.

Heh heh heh

If only this weren't lemon, it'd be perfect.

I want this.  Thank you.

Another pun.  They find me wherever I go.

Would have gotten chocolate had the shopkeeper been interested in selling it.  Instead, she had a loud conversation with her friend after giving a quick Hello.

Got a cookie instead and it was delicious.
Topping the day off, a mansion tour overlooking the Cliff Walk, and then a visit to Fort Adams, home of the jazz festival.  The wind got worse and almost knocked me over.  Worth it for the views.

Terrible shot but cool anchors
I also attempted to drive to the beach but all the rich people have private roads to the beach.
At least they're polite about it
The weekend was quick.  The drive home was fast.  I'm now planning an annual gal pal road trip. I suppose our trip is best summed up with this screenshot of my iPhone photo album that shows what happens when my mom takes a picture with my iPhone.
That's 8 pictures of me at the restaurant and 12 at the library. I'd posed only once for each.
A good friggin time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Writing had slipped away from me for quite some time.  Work does that.  I don't get to read much either.  I spend most of my time reading student papers, so reading for leisure and finding time to write are not of interest or really very accessible.  Who wants to work on their own writing after hand-cramping through a hundred student-written works?  This semester is a bit of a breather because I'm teaching mostly Creative Writing, so I'm not grading essays.  I'm reading creative stuff.  And it's actually good stuff.  However, I'm still policing grammar and I'm still reading a tremendous amount, and since I'm an MA/MFA Creative Writing alum, I can't help but offer more feedback than anyone would ever read.

Plus, there were the doctors.  Speedy Baddriverson's wrath still haunts with back aches and tight hips. Between work and medical visits, writing was not an option.

Then serendipitously, when I was thinking that I needed to really escape this odd life that had become to be mine, I clicked on an email from a creative writing listserv by accident.  I usually delete most of the emails from that listserv, but here was one opening almost on its own.  It was an announcement for the a Writers' Workshop.  It was in April.  It was in Newport, RI.  It was writing.  It was yoga.

It was my dream come true.

Fast forward to driving around Newport, trying to find Mill Lane, finding Mill Lane, and then realizing I'm supposed to be at OLD Mill Lane, which is quite different.

Extra large cows!

Frost's Mending Wall

Now imagine driving in the fog at night

Nothing but nature
Then me pulling up into a driveway at Old Mill Lane and seeing it's a house and wondering if I'm about to walk in on some rich Newport family with my poetry boots on.

Nope, I was in the right place.  The retreat directors flew to the door to welcome me as they put up a sign on the door to indicate that this was the home of the retreat.  This was better than I thought it would be.  I thought we'd be in the conference room of some hotel. Instead, we were in a cozy little sea-adjacent cottage, decked out in cool blues and sea shells and hard wood floors and a fireplace (that had a sign in it indicating that no fires were to be lit). This?  Was heaven.

A Room With A View

Retreat House!

I would soon meet the rest of the retreaters, both participants and staff, and to make heaven even better, we totalled ten.  An intimate retreat.  A real in-your-face-in-a-good-way writing intensive.  Kicked off with a dinner of pasta and the tastiest bread ever and a huge salad and some champagne (that I had one sip of--more on why I can no longer drink some other time).  So really, my Whole 30 nutrition plan would not be appearing on this retreat as that bread lasted well through the last day, and I ate several pieces of it whenever I walked into the house.

We began right away.  I talked a bit about how my back injury had taken me away from writing, and how what I was working on was all about that stupid back pain.  So, you know, positive vibes.  Everyone had interesting reasons for being there.  It was a mixed bag of genre and purpose.

The next few days began with exhilarating yoga.  This was the first time I was taking a yoga class outside of my own personal practice in my living room (aside from half-assed, ass-pain-so-bad-I-was-dragging-my-leg-around yoga during summer solstice).  The first morning I eased into it.  I'd woken up at 5:30 AM--not really having slept from the night before.  I ate my free hot breakfast at the hotel, packed some snacks, pumped my own gas (I'm doing that now and the car has not yet exploded!), and headed towards the retreat house.  Some people were staying there and some were staying at a different hotel, but I'd booked this hotel before lodging was included and I like my space.  And my free hot breakfast.  So every day I took my yoga gear and clothes to the retreat house and then wrote and read and listened. Our yoga instructor gave us yoga pamphlets and took us through alternate nostril breathing and made me realize that even though I can't get my body to do what it used to do pre-Speedy Badderiverson, I am still doing yoga and it's still good for me.  Fitting a bunch of adults into one small room to yoga away was a challenge, but also a bit funny and very worthwhile.

The writing workshops evolved into thrilling and borderline surrealist events.  The first night, through my uncontrollable yawning (most writers stay up til the wee hours--I go to bed at 10:30/11, so this was a challenge in and of itself, writing at 9 PM), I participated in a workshop of Evocative Objects.  We each pulled an object out of a bag and wrote about it without naming it.  Mine was a fake mini tree that you would find in a diorama.  Turns out that most things in the bag were wedding favors, mostly odd wedding favors.  Which is a great prompt for the future--write about every wedding favor you ever receive from all weddings you ever attend.

Throughout the week, there were some other gems...

Literary Taboo was the game of taboo without the buzzer.  We picked a word and had to write about it without using the "taboo" words on our cards, and instead focusing on the five senses to evoke what the object would be.  Most of us chose two words and incorporated them into one piece--mine were lighthouse and crocodile.  The lighthouse part was easy.  If I can't describe a lighthouse in at least a hundred ways, then I should have to move off of Long Island.  Crocodile wasn't as easy, so I chose to incorporate Elton John lyrics, which I found are not exactly poetic.

Page To Performance was amazing.  A two-parter, we watched and listened and discussed how to make our works come to life.  Enter the amazing video of Uh Oh Plutonium by Anne Waldman. 

There was other stuff, too, but this was just my jam.

We got to play around with instruments.  The next morning at 6 AM, I went into my car with the idea of playing a sea chanty as background to my poem, but it didn't work because I couldn't play the chanty from my phone through my car's bluetooth and record at the same time.  Instead, I recorded my poem over radio static that became unstaticky at the end of the poem, which was totally unplanned but worked a whole lot.

I shared with them my love of Momentage, the app that lets you put sound to photos.  I use it for my poetry sometimes. It's neat!

Theatre of the Impossible and Against Aristotle: New Structures for New Stories were the playwrighting sessions with Stephen.  I'm not a script writer.  I loved taking script writing as an undergrad, and I adapted plays in high school, but scripts are not what I automatically do--same with fiction--they are not my jam (but Uh Oh Plutonium totally still is).  I passed on the Theatre of the Impossible prompt having no mojo for it at the time (more on why in a second), but I still loved learning about all the seemingly impossible stage directions that appear in scripts.  You know: Exit pursued by a bear.  The second session helped me figure out how to be a better teacher.  In Creative Writing, I teach four major genres, and with script writing, I teach Freytag's Pyramid and in medias res for structure.  Now I can share all these interesting patterns, showing a variety of what's out there that can structure a play.  So helpful!

Now we all know that if the crazy is lurking somewhere, it's finding me.  Enter the guest.  The guest, a writer not on official staff, came to give us feedback on our manuscripts.  A day before the retreat, we were to send three pages of what we were working on and a summary of the entire piece.  I sent three problematic poems and a summary of my full manuscript, a collection of poems that reflect different ways to deal with chronic ailments.  When she met us, she had already read the pieces we'd sent in, so she identified with that.  She met me and exclaimed, Oh the car accident lady!

Now that could have been fine and it was actually funny.  But then when she met everyone else, she commented on their writing instead.  To me, that meant she didn't care for my stuff.  And that's okay.  The stuff I sent in was meant for critique.  Because this was a workshop retreat.

When we got into the feedback portion, Things. Got. Weird.  She saved me for last.  After giving much praise to many writers, she said that my work was not honest and I was avoiding dealing with what I wanted to say.  She asked, Why not write about the accident?  I said, I have.  She said, Why isn't that here?  I said, because I'm actually happy with that stuff and I gave you things I'm not sure about.  So she said, Well, you have to do your research because these poems don't work and you don't know Simone Weil's work at all.  Then she said, It's as if you're afraid of my criticism so you didn't want to hand me the work about what you're writing about.

Um. If I were afraid of criticism, why would I hand in works that were problematic?

And, that whole Simone Weil thing that she said I had to research?  Well, one of the poems is about how I know nothing about Simone Weil and I'm too lazy to research her, so I make things up.  I think the point was missed.

So she told me to write something new and give her something for the next day.  Then she asked who the accident lady was, I raised my hand as everyone pointed at me, and she said, No, you're the car accident lady--I mean the other accident.

Yes, this all happened.  And then there's the second session.  The second session was a bit late the next day.  Theatre of the Impossible was the first session, and having sat through the oddest critique in history (or so I thought), I wasn't up for writing much.  I'd pulled out a poem that I liked from my manuscript and wrote a quick unfinished one for the second session the night before.

Second session--it went on forever.  I ate some bread.  I picked at my nails.  I stifled yawns.  I liked hearing about everyone's work, but it was dragging.  Then came my turn.  She asked me to read the poem I liked out loud and I did and she said, Yes there you have it!  Then she asked me to read the unfinished one out loud and told me it was unfinished and it needed more.  I said it was a first draft and she went into a discussion of how our first drafts were not as good as their first drafts (don't ask me who they are--I do not know).  She asked if I had gone deep into that place of writing.  I responded that I did my best.  She then told me I was an angry person.

I'll say that again.  She said I was an angry person.

I was like, I certainly hope not!  And everyone kind of laughed.  And then she went on. Then she said she didn't know me personally but she thought that I used anger to get over and out of the pain I'd been in.  I agreed with that.

Then she said that I was probably very funny.

What? The? Hell?

She said that she and I would probably sit back and laugh together if we knew each other better.

What? Is? Going? On?

Then she said that I should make a chapbook of all the poems like the one I already knew was good.

So to summarize: I'm afraid of writing about what I want to write about.  I fear feedback.  I'm an angry person.  And I am quite funny.  Oh! And at some point she also said I'm very sensitive.  Clearly.

When I wrote up my evaluation, I wrote that in workshop, I never use "you" when I talk to others about their work.  I use "this piece," "this word," "this sentence," "this paragraph," "this line."....

The last morning, one of the coordinators pulled me aside to personally apologize and said that the critique was really unhelpful and it was more of a personal attack.  Then she said, When she suggested you were an angry person, we looked at each other like, what is going on????  I was like,  I didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, so I let it go.

I've been through this kind of thing before.  I can recognize absurdity before it even emerges.

That was the only drawback.  Two sessions out of the whole retreat, and I got to eat bread during one of them?  That's nothing.  Plus, the director didn't need to apologize for the actions of someone else, yet she did.  That's class.

The fortunate twist is that the absurd feedback got me talking to one of the other writers about our manuscripts and we exchanged our work and went off on our own late night writing workshop together and decided we'd continue to exchange work because we are so on the same vibe of writing. It was spectacular. I stayed up into the wee morning hours to read her stuff. I am a writer after all!

To top it all off, well, two things.

1. Too Many Cooks.  Fair warning, if you watch this, you will remember it forever, and the song will haunt you for days.

As an experiment in collaborative writing and performance, we watched this and then made our own recording. It was probably the most fun I've ever had yelling out the names during opening credits.

2. The last morning, the retreat directors made french toast and eggs for breakfast. As we finished up yoga with some long meditative poses, the sweet scent of breakfast wafted into the living room. The clanging of pots and pans became the soundtrack to savasana. More heaven on earth.

Breakfast was wonderful. We decided we'd keep the writing going. We will give prompts and write things and offer feedback and support each other. So in addition to my workshopping partner, I also have the group's work every week to look forward to.

With one accidental click of an email, my writing life is back. It's nice to be home again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Breakfast Club, AKA The Greatest Night In The History Of Moviedom

A short few months ago, my brother posted a link on FB with the message to me: We're going.

My response? We are so going.

The Breakfast Club celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year.  Remember?  Saturday, March 24, 1984, Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062.

We got advanced tickets online to ensure we would be able to see on the big screen what we spent our childhood and teen years watching on the small screen boxy television that we had to hit on the side to see the picture and then on the several bigger, less boxier televisions that rotated through my parents' living room.

We watched mostly on Channel 11.  We recorded it from that channel, and we memorized it--the censored version.

Then we got it on VHS tape and found that the censored version had some scenes that the regular version did not, and also, the regular version does not have Bender say, Eat my socks. He says, Eat my shorts, which, apparently, was too racy for the FCC.

As I waited in the vestibule for my brother to arrive at the theatre, people were streaming in, asking to buy tickets to see The Breakfast Club. It was sold out.  One woman was very upset, indicating that she'd called the theatre half an hour ago and that she couldn't understand how 25 tickets that were available were no longer available and why on Fandango it said tickets were available yet the theatre had none left.  Some others were upset and mentioned Fandango's offer of available seats, but they did not get irate about it.  The lesson here is to buy your tickets for the 30th Anniversary showing of The Breakfast Club months in advance.

We walked into the theatre and stopped in our tracks.  This was real.  And surreal.

We found really good seats, first row of the high section in stadium seating.  Next to me sat a guy with his two kids. Some other people had brought their kids, too, and while it's not exactly a movie for young kids, it was cool to see the next generation viewing my childhood flick.  Come to think of it, maybe we shouldn't have been watching when we were kids.  Then again, we were mostly watching the censored version.

Because it was a Fathom Event, not only did we get to see the movie, but we also got to watch interviews of the cast from today.  Ally Sheedy popped up on the screen, and if I look like her in ten years, I will be thankful. My brother even said, Ally Sheedy looks better now than she did then.  Yes, agreed.  Except for crabby pants next to me who said, Well she looks like shit.  To his children. 

The guy next to me was a talker, and he explained to his kids several things about the actors and the movie through the whole experience, which at first I didn't mind because I figured it was bonding, but then I got really annoyed when I noticed he would talk to his kids, but then when they would talk back, he would point at the screen and hush them--Shh! Shh! 

Everyone else was awesome.  We were all laughing at the same time.  The one part that everyone laughed at that was not funny until last night was when the school principal, Vernon, locks Bender in the closet and threatens  him.  He proclaims, I make 31,000 a year!  It was too funny.  My how salaries have changed.

We were all quiet at the same time. We were all saying the same lines at the same time.  I'd quote a few lines here, but I realized last night that me and my brother know the whole movie line by line.  The entire thing.

And then it was over. 
Neither of us had watched it in such a long time, yet it was still fresh in memory, and it was simply awesome.