Sunday, November 29, 2009

Really Short Blog

I'm in no mood to blog this morning, but I'm going to anyway. In my favorite way -- by list.

1. I am glad the Hogs scared LSU last night, but I sure wish we would have won. Still, this morning, we are still Hogs, and they are not. That makes us the real winners. Oink.

2. I would like to put up a tree and decorate my Wheeble house for Christmas, but Joe is kind of a Scrooge about Christmas decorations. They remind him of all the driving around we have to do when we come home for Christmas and all the people who wish they could see more of us. I don't know if we will ever have a peaceful, midnight-Mass type Christmas. I'm not sure how to accomplish that under current circumstances. I think I will decorate the Wheebles and give them a tiny little tree but not us. I think that seems fair. And funny.

3. I was told we were going to get snow this weekend. There is no snow. That means it will probably start pouring down the minute we try to leave for Oklahoma next month.

4. I'm always told it's bad when you look up and notice that every paragraph you've written starts with "I." I'm told this is selfish. It probably is. I don't care.

5. The Army makes you get a pass to go to Canada. I didn't know that. So we didn't go this weekend. I am trying to have a good attitude, but I don't. As you can see.

6. But at least I live in New York.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Case of the Mysterious Dog

The Case of the Mysterious Dog

That is the working title of my NaNoWriMo novel which, friends and neighbors (more like "cousins and Daddy"), is FINISHED as of last night! As you might remember, 50,000 words are required to "win" NaNoWriMo. My novel is 50,546 words! So I EXTRA won! And won a few days early, too! You have until Nov. 30 to finish.

It was so exciting when I downloaded my file and instead of a new number, a big orange "YOU WON!" sign with fireworks all around it came up. (I looked my number up later.) After last year's crash and burn plus a lifetime's worth of not thinking I was a "fiction person," being a NaNoWriMo winner is bit of a life-changing experience. I had such a good time writing the novel, even when I had to force myself to do it (which was often in the last week or so).

My father, who is always supportive of everything I do and the reason I write poetry in the first place, has always ended our writing conversations with "When are you going to write your novel?" And I always get mad and say snide, sarcastic things like, "I guess you didn't mean it when you taught me to love poetry" or "Well, you could have a novel or a dissertation, and you got a dissertation. You must be so disappointed." Honestly, I can never have children because I can never be as patient or genuinely radiate unconditional love like my father. He laughs at these statements. Mostly likely because, maddeningly, I'm sure he has realized since before I learned to read that I could write a novel if I wanted to and that I'd like it. Isn't it annoying to grow up and find out your parents still know what's best for you?

Anyway, I'm putting it here on the internet, in front of everyone, and as you know, everything you read on the internet is true: My father was right. I was wrong. He knew best. I knew nothing.

Now, if I can only remember that for next time...

Anyway, I have a lot to say about what it was like writing even a month-long, comparatively short, pop fiction-style, contest novel, but I'm running out of words for the day. I want to take a shower and go out to where you can see the big part of Lake Ontario. (We live on Black River Bay, which is big, but not huge.) Or go shopping for an Advent wreath. Or eat leftovers and read Dick Francis. When Joseph wakes up, it will be time to do house-fixing stuff, so I have to make the morning good!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yet Another Short Blog about Snow

The weather forecast says we'll get mixed rain and snow on Friday or Saturday. That's not the same as just snow. A mixture doesn't stick. Still, I shouldn't complain because at least it's snow, and that's what I've been waiting for. I shouldn't even be waiting for snow at all because I know we'll get some and get it big when we do. I feel bad for being impatient.

Usually, I'm a pretty patient person. I can explain that the period goes outside the parenthetical citation fourteen times to the same student during the same essay and remain cheerful. I can wait for my husband to come home from the field and not have a moment's lack of sleep or loneliness. (Deployments don't employ patience; they employ hope.) I patiently wait through my first class and office hour before eating lunch instead of starting early. (That doesn't sound like a big deal, but for me it is. But if I start early, a student always comes in. I think it's unseemly to be found eating.) As a Catholic, I am constantly waiting "in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior," as the priest says in the Mass.

I don't know why I'm impatient for the snow, but I am. In Oklahoma, I'd be reading books about snow around this time of year, getting ready to hope desperately that we get some. So you'd think I wouldn't even notice that we don't have snow here. But when I moved here, everyone warned me about snow in October (which we get in OK too, but not much and not often), so now it's the end of November, and I'm READY.

Actually, I'm not. I don't have warm clothes, snow tires, extra food, a working I better quit wishing for what I'm not ready to get. Does that stop me? No. I guess not being ready for what you want never stops anyone from wanting it. Except, historically, me. My selfish priority is usually to want only what is good for me because I fear and detest inconvenience. (True I sometimes only think I know what's going to be good for me, but you know...I do the best I can to judge.)

Snow would not be good for me at this time. But I want it! I'm like Violet in Charlie and the Choclate Factory. I want it all and now and more!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: A List

I didn't realize it had been so long since I wrote! But I haven't worked on my novel today at all yet, so I can't stay here long.'s my story, these days:

1. I've been sick since Tuesday, but I only have a little cold -- no fever, not the flu, not quite bad enough to actually stay home from school. Still, I've felt like laying around. Consequently, the house is awful, Tula is bored, and I haven't played music since Tuesday.

2. We are having soldiers over for Thanksgiving. See #1 about the house. Joe is in the field. So I better quit writing novels and blogs and laying around because I can't let his soldiers, whose rooms he inspects, see his house like this.

3. My village is getting an outdoor ice skating rink! Hurray! Isn't it neat that it stays cold enough for long enough to have something like that?

4. Daddy said it is supposed to snow here on Wednesday. On the one hand, YAY!! On the other hand, that's too bad because I wanted to go to Canada on Friday. We'll see...either way, I win.

5. I got a letter from Aunt Adeline today! She said she is doing well and going to Larry's house for Thanksgiving. She said she reads all the time these days, but she didn't say what. I'll ask her when I write back tomorrow.

6. I am at 40,000 words on my novel! But I'll stay there unless I stop writing this list and go work on it. You know how you read a book and it turns stupid about 3/4 of the way through and you feel mad because you invested all that time in it and you wonder what the author was thinking? Now I know: The author didn't know what to do next, and things just got out of hand. So if you read my novel when it's finished, realize that I realize the part toward the end is just ridiculous. Still, I hope to finish. In NaNoWriMo, finishing is winning. The motto is "quantity not quality," and I am living up to that. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Mandolins

I decided to play the mandolin suddenly. I woke up one day in the death throes of my dissertation, right before I graduated, and I knew that the cure for all the weariness and pressure was to learn something new so I'd be the beginner again and not expected to be good...and I knew, that moment and for no apparent reason, that what I needed to learn was the mandolin.

I asked Joe's Uncle Ronald, who is a fiddler and guitarist, if he knew where I could get one, and he produced from his back room not one but TWO mandolins, one a very nice Epiphone, which he sent me home with to learn on. (As a testament to what a musician and instrument guy he is, he said, "Do you want to learn the sitar while you're at it? I have one back there. Got it at an estate sale in Stidham." Who else in Eufaula would have a SITAR?! Not to mention find one at an estate sale anywhere around there! But I digress.)

So I started trying to play using chord charts from the front of a tablature-writing book from my metal days. I printed some Scottish songs from the internet. But I can't learn instruments from books. I learned to play guitar sitting out under pine trees with my father, and later, hanging out with metal guys in music stores. So I looked around for a person to teach me. I was in western Oklahoma, but I couldn't find one. And now I'm in upstate New York, and I still can't find one. Every mandolin player I see says, "Oh, you don't want to learn from me. I don't know what I'm doing." As they stand there, Bill Monroe like, whipping out breaks and solos.

I sure still sound like a beginner. But I love the mandolin in a way I never even loved the guitar. I want to actually learn to play it...theory and all, maybe. At least more theory than what I know on the guitar, which is little. (Okay, none. I just know the names of chords. That's all.) I am joyous when I pick up the mandolin, even though I know the badness that is coming. I can sit there playing a new Scottish song, counting the notes out loud like we did in drumline as I play. And, weirdest of all, I want a thousand mandolins...even though I'm not good at playing them yet.

I never was one of those guitar players who wanted lots of guitars, even though I've managed to inherit and marry into plenty. I just need enough instruments to play what I need to play, and then I'm loyal to them and wear holes in them because I have bad picking technique. But the mandolin...I want an F-style, an A-style, a possum belly, a dark one, a pumpkin-colored one, a lighter one, a deep-sounding one, a tinny-sounding one, one with inlays, an old one, a new one, a Kentucky, a Gibson, a Lore, a handmade one with no name on it...I want a whole wall of them, and I don't understand this compulsion at all. The little beauties are more expensive than guitars would ever think about being, so I'll never have the wall 'o mandolins...but I'll keep wanting it. Weird.

I have one mandolin. My Uncle Bob, the trucker/biker, bought it for me as a graduation present because he is an incredibly perceptive and thoughtful man. It is a red-colored Kona. That's a brand from Texas, and the people here in New York ask about it when they see that. They like that it was made there, and so do I. It's not a great mandolin, far as quality goes, but it is beautiful, and it works, which is the key. I'll probably buy it a friend one of these days...a Kentucky with one of those necks that make me instantly sound better.

But for now, I just play the one I have. I take it to bluegrass gatherings here and hope for the best, and rarely get it, as I am one bad mandolin player...and I don't mean that in the 1980s way in which "bad" means "good." I have a friend here, Patty, and we are both learning. She's better than I am. But I like sitting by her and trying what I know, and learning what she knows. I like being the little spark of sound amid the guitars.

Someday, I won't even have to bring a guitar if I don't want to. I can just bring the mandolin, the tiny little, easy-to-carry mandolin, and play that all night. People will be glad to see me because there are usually plenty of guitar players, but a mandolin is special. But for now, I play at home, stick to two-finger chords in public, and hope for the best.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Less-than-Five-Minute Blog: Things

I'm so tired! Here's a list, though, of things going on today:

1. Joe went to the field this morning. He'll be there for the week, then come home for a day, then be there for another week. So it's good that it's not snowing.

2. But I can't believe Oklahoma is about to get snow and I have no snow! I live in upstate New York! I'm ready for SNOW. But I know I'll get plenty, and patience is a virtue. And all the people here are so relieved to be warm...I am happy for them, I suppose.

3. Did I tell you we bought a snowblower on Sunday? It's too big to fit through the door of our shed, but it's not huge. It used to belong to our neighbor. He bought a bigger one. He's going to show us how to use it when the first snow comes. Whenever that is.

4. I am still going on my 28,685 words this evening, and tired! Have no idea how the crime is going to be solved, but have my students doing extra credit writing on the subject and an e-mail from my father that promises to be helpful. (I just now saw it, Daddy...will check it for the morning writing session!) Perhaps it takes a village to write a book?

5. I made Rachael Ray soup -- minestra with sweet sausage. It's really good. Escarole in soup is REALLY good. I've been missing out!

6. I have been invited to give a short presentation on the Creek Removal in a history class. I am not exactly nervous about it, but I'm a little worried because I know more cultural stuff than political stuff. And say things like "stuff" when I'm supposed to be a smart person. To be fair, I am very tired at the moment. The presentation is on Wednesday morning.

7. I am so sleepy that I keep sitting here because I'm too sleepy to walk to bed. Makes no sense, I know. Going to bed the minute I finish this sentence!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: The Novel

As you might remember, I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), trying to write a 50,000-word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. I'm writing a crime novel...well, a novel in which a "crime" takes place and then lots of people spend an entire book trying to cover it up. :) I don't read this kind of novel, so I'm not sure how I ended up writing one.

Normally, I start out with a character I want to write about (too often a thinly-veiled version of my ideal self), start writing, and fail about 10-15 pages in. It turns out that starting with a plot, or at least an incident, works out better for least this time.

I've never been much of a fiction writer. I write autobiographical essays, scholarly essays (that are AWFUL, but that's another story) and poetry. I used to write songs. Writing fiction is not easy for me at all. That's why I'm writing this blog right now...putting off going over to the novel file because I don't know what my people are going to do next and fear that I'll get over there and freeze. But you can't fear that, I know. Especially with NaNoWriMo, the goal is words, not literature..."quantity, not quality" as the motto goes.

It's really fun writing this thing, though...writing badly with no consequences, seeing the words pile up, the characters start to be recognizable, the story to move along. And it's not easy. I have new respect for novel writers...not that I didn't respect them before. But sometimes I read a book and think, "How in the world did this get published? This is SO bad! Why did you end it like THAT?!" or things along those lines. Now I know: That the writer finished at all and tied up loose ends at ALL is a miracle.

Now, let's see if I can create one myself...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Five-Minute Blog With Cold Fingers: Thanksgiving Poll

We are not going to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, and so far we have several options:

1. Go to the city to visit my grad school friend, see the huge tree and store windows, etc. The problem with this plan is Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Joe has all but entirely vetoed this option because of all the people.

2. Go to the English department orphans Thanksgiving here in Sackets Harbor. Those of us from elsewhere who are not going home are invited to the home of California Professor (I'm not using names on this blog, so everyone gets nicknames) to eat and talk about literature, not freshman composition. It would be really fun.

3. Go to Thanksgiving at the home of our new, wonderful Catholic friends, the Malaysian Adjunct and her husband, St. Francis. (His nickname comes from his Halloween costume.) They live about 45 minutes from us, so it would be fun to travel, like we would at home. And I love these new friends!

4. Stay home and host orphan soldiers for Thanksgiving. I love this option too because I love feeding young soldiers, perhaps the most enthusiastic eaters you can find. In no way would I cook a turkey, though. I'd mess it up. I'd send out for it and just make the sides and desserts.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Cold

I am just like Sam McGee from Tennessee, who could never get warm enough in Robert Service's poem.

When I was little, we lived in a house warmed by wood stove, so the back rooms where we slept were never as warm as the front ones. My father would take our heavy quilts or the Pendleton blanket, hold them over the stove until they were warm, fold the heat inside them, and walk down the frozen tundra of our hallway to unfold them on his cold daughters. That burst of warmth (literal and figurative) would just make us boneless with peace. And then he'd sit there at the edge of the bed and recite poetry in the dark until we were all the way asleep. It's why I know who Sam McGee is now. We are very lucky.

Perhaps because I am so spoiled, I can't stand being cold. It makes me whiny and irritable. I can't think of anything else when I'm cold. I feel like the wind is blowing just to offend me. I feel like everything is unfair in the deep way that things are unfair when one is seven years old. At least, that's how I felt in at home in Oklahoma when I was cold, or especially, on the few cold days we had in Mississippi when I was in graduate school. In Italy, I was mad with the cold, and watched the tiny Italian women go by on their way to market wearing short skirts and big scarves and thought they must be inhuman because they were tough enough to wear nothing between themselves and the cold but microfiber tights. I went to the market in a huge brown coat, and froze, and felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I was born in what they call a "blizzard" in Oklahoma. Here in upstate New York, they would probably call it "fifteen minutes of light snow." But it stopped everyone in Oklahoma in their tracks at the time. I always think it is the reason I love snow. Snow is not the same as cold. I can stand cold when there is snow. It's the dead leaves, wind blowing, cold without reason that makes me irate and obnoxious.

But here, for some reason, I can stand the cold. This morning, we had frost, and the wind coming off the Black River Bay was so cold my fingernails hurt. But I took Tula walking downtown anyway, and stood around in the cold while she smelled of everything and tried to eat poison berries. I was cold. I wished she'd hurry. But I wasn't mad about it.

Cold here seems natural. I know cold is natural everywhere. Weather is itself, and we put the judgement on it. Maybe it's just because I expect to be cold here that I don't mind it as much. In Oklahoma and Mississippi, I felt like I ought to be warm, because both of those states do warm REALLY well, and for most of the year, too. In Italy, I was mad when it was cold because my house was so drafty and full of cracks that let it in, and the marble tiles were like ice.

I say this now, of course, when it's normal cold. I may be Sam McGee again when it's 20 below. Except I think there will be snow then, and it covers all ills for me. (And here, it may also cover my car for me...I find that very exciting!)

We'll see. It just feels easy to have a good attitude up here. I don't know why. I even love the dead leaves.

And now my five minutes are up, and I must work on my novel then get ready for school.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Things I've Done Today

1. Today I had my first teaching evaluation since I was a teaching assistant at the University of Arkansas. It was horrifying! I do not get stage fright when I'm singing or teaching. I get a little nervous at the beginning of a conference presentation if it's a scholarly paper instead of creative, but it's over the minute I start talking. I get a little nervous when I'm a lector because I'm always afraid I'll forget it's my turn to get up and just sit there, holding up Mass, but when I start reading, I'm fine again. But this evaluation was like an out-of-body experience! I felt like I was watching myself teach from above. Like my lips didn't work. Like I didn't speak English. But my department chair (who was doing the evaluating) said I didn't seem nervous, and I think I'll get an okay review. I get evaluated again on Tuesday in the other class I teach. I'm not as nervous about that one even though I don't have as good of a lesson plan.

2. I am still going on my National Novel Writing Month novel. I have to not think or talk too much about it. I think that will break the spell. But so far, I'm keeping up my daily word count goals, and it's moving along...ugly in places (most places), but THERE. It's neat.

3. Everyone around us got snow this morning, but Sackets Harbor was snowless! Everyone keeps telling me I'll hate the snow, but I don't believe them. I'm a bad snow driver, and I'm sure I'll hate shoveling, scraping off my car, and waiting for the cold car to warm up...but I can't imagine being tired of the sight of snow. It looks like a huge sheet of blank paper. Hope. Opportunity. Possibility.

4. I love my president. Not for any particular reason of the moment. Just in general. Every once in awhile, I just have to say it again.

5. After work, I played music with our dean, head librarian, and another English professor. Tomorrow, the rest of the faculty/staff musicians will be there to play some more. It is possible that I have the best job in the world.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Five-Minute Blog: Dog Friend

Dog Friend lives at the end of our street. She is peachy-blond with bangs and feathery legs. She looks a little like Tula, but she's taller. Her face is long, but not like an English Cocker Spaniel. It's skinnier. She's an elegant dog.

She is well-kept, healthy, cheerful. Some mornings she is tied up in her yard by a long leash, and that is how we got to know her. I know some people think it is cruel to tie dogs up, and maybe it is, but Dog Friend is older, and she doesn't seem traumatized by it. They don't do it very often. I'm sorry for her when she's tied up, but I'm happy for us. When she sees us come out our door, she begins to dance for Tula.

Tula is not a well-socialized dog. I think she came from a puppy mill and was taken away too young, based on the way she acts. (She doesn't seem to know how to relate to other dogs.) The people (two sets of them) who had her before we got her didn't take her out much. We take her out, but we don't know anyone with dogs. Not everyone you meet walking wants to volunteer his/her dog to socialize yours, of course.

So Tula is weird around most dogs. But Dog Friend has won her over. So we go visit, and the two of them dance around each other, smell each other, Tula always goes to the bathroom in Dog Friend's yard, and then Dog Friend smells that, which apparently is a nice thing to dogs. I have never wanted to steal a dog, but I desperately wish I could steal Dog Friend.

We don't know her name, obviously, or her owners. If I get brave, I might knock on their door and ask if we can take their dog on walks when we see her outside, just leave them a note that she's with us. Maybe she can come over when we have the fence up. Or maybe that's a strange, not a neighborly, thing to ask. I'm hoping I'll catch the owners outside one day because striking up this conversation would be much easier.

Anyway, we didn't see Dog Friend this morning, but I wish we had. And now my five minutes are up.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Of Halloween, Politics and Novel-Writing

I haven't written for awhile because things have been barreling downhill on me, but I do have things to say...excuses, mostly.

We are fully moved into the new house now, which means we live in a maze of boxes and bags. The library has become a staging area for our "keep," "give away," and "throw away" piles. Every morning, Joe takes the trash out with him, and I'm in charge of the "give away" boxes. I wish the "keep" pile was smaller, but we'll go through it again when we separate all the things in it into boxes for the rooms into which they will actually belong. I'm not enjoying this process...particularly the part involving going through boxes of papers. But the last time we did this, we came out lighter than before, and I hope that will be the same this time. Then, we have to keep from letting things pile up again!

But that's boring. We had a Halloween worth writing about but now I'm having to hurry through everything, so you'll get the short version. All day long, we moved from the apartment, finishing up just in time for the 4 p.m. deadline. Then, we dressed as Crusaders and stood in our mudroom/sunroom/foyer and watched trick-or-treaters get scared or delighted by our neighbor, who was dressed as a very scary skeleton with a scythe. Every group had the same conversation: "Is he real?" "I think he's a statue." "I think he's real. You go." "No, you go." "No, you go." Finally, someone would venture up toward the candy and our neighbor would come alive with a really fantastic mad-scientist "BWAA-HA-HAAAA!" laugh, and the kids would run screaming off the porch. To little ones, he'd say, "Boo." Sometimes they too ran screaming, but one memorable little skeleton went after him with his plastic ax, and a fairy princess said "Boo" back to him! We were the boring house after all that, but they were glad to get our candy anyway.

As we were leaving for the English department party, we saw the boys of the town gathering for the egg fight. In Sackets Harbor, after the little trick-or-treaters are finished, when it's just the lat few and it has gotten dark, the young people, beginning around age 12, it seems, gather to throw eggs at each other. As long as nobody throws one at a house, car or person who isn't playing, the village looks the other way. We left before the festivities began, but in the morning, Tula tried to eat every broken egg on the sidewalk! By now, they have all been cleaned up. What a place!

The party was great...We hung out with the other nerdy Catholics, who were dressed as Mother Teresa and St. Francis (complete with stigmata). The theme was "heroes and villains," and one couple came dressed in black with the words "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships" (the woman) and "and burned the topless towers of Illium?" (the man). They were a heroic couplet, of course! I LOVE my people!

That night at midnight, I began my novel, as per the rules of National Novel Writing Month. In this month, people from all over the world try to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. If you get to the end, you "win." I lost big-time last year! This year I'm writing a crime novel...of all things. I don't read them. But I'm enjoying the challenge thus far. However, I have to use all precious writing time on the novel, so I may not blog as regularly for the next few weeks.

Now, about the politics, I guess everyone knows what's going on up here with Owens, Hoffman and Scozzafava. This morning at 7, me and Tula walked by some Owens supporters with "Honk" signs. They asked if I was voting, and I told them I vote in Oklahoma. I may vote here next year, though. We'll see. Anyway, it was nice and warm at the time, but a big cloud just burst over Lake Ontario and now it's raining. I hope they have ponchos!

And now I must get ready for school. We are talking about evaluating internet sources today. Must try to make that interesting.