Friday, February 29, 2008

Jonathan Safran Foer

Mr. Foer spoke at my university last night. He was amazing. Really, really insightful and articulate. I was so impressed and not really bummed that he didn't read from his work. He said two things by way of advice that really stuck out to me. First, that writing never gets any easier. He said a very wise writer once told him that writing is like pulling teeth.

Out of your penis.

As he promised, it really did make me feel better to hear that writing is still excruciating even with an international best selling book or two under your belt.

He next said that he didn't feel like writers were all that creative compared to other people. We just tend to retain things better. I think that's very smart. Sometimes I feel like an iron trap. Something will happen in front of me (like the hand washing manager lady) and I can't let it go for weeks. It simmers around in my brain until I find a place to write it down and let it free. But when it comes out, it doesn't even feel like me writing it down. I was just some sort of vessel for the words. And I liked that he feels this way, too.

Follow up to Gourevitch: The florist is mentioned in the book. What I found so interesting about it was that Gourevitch, who travels all over the world to write, doesn't use people whose job title is "interpreter." He just goes into villages and finds the one person with the best command of French or English to help him out. He finds these conversations, though sometimes labored, to be more genuine. He also finds that a local person with whom the subject is familiar creates a more relaxing environment for the interview, breaks down a barrier if you will. So that was really interesting to me. The wildness of it all! I think about how sometimes people get nervous being interviewed and try to imagine the further strangeness of a foreigner doing it for a major American publication. I can totally see why using a local friendly face is necessary to get a good sense of trust built up.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I am sitting in the lobby of my workplace doing some writing before I have to tutor. The lobby is also the sitting area for the food court. Right now, all the food employees are eating lunch before the basketball game starts. The food court is managed by a big giant corporation. The manager is out there in a fancy suit talking to the food workers as if they were five.

"Everyone," she says in a teacher voice. "Yesterday was Debbie's birthday. But we missed it. So we are going to eat CAKE now and celebrate."

The employees look up from their burgers, fake bowties dangling on starched fake tuxedo shirts. They grunt or express other similar pessimistic sentiments. The manager says, "Now, after we eat the cake, what will we all do? What?"

The workers respond in monotone: "Wash our hands."

Manager: "Now that's very good. The last time there were only ten names on the hand wash sheet and we have 34 employees. Someone is either not washing or not signing."

The employees are all quick to assure the manager that they have indeed washed their hands. They ask her to smell the soap on their skin. She nods and lights the candles, commands them to sing. They begin to drone Happy Birthday to Debbie, who looks like she wants to die. The manager grabs a tiny piece of cake and stomps away. The workers all start to laugh and then resume talking about their lives. They tell Debbie she looks 25.

This is a lie. Debbie looks about 86. To use my father's phrase, she looks rode hard and put up wet. But she is their friend and they tell her this nice thing. After the manager leaves, they begin to jovially celebrate her birthday. I get the impression they actually celebrated it the night before. I'm glad about this. I hope nobody washed his or her hands. I hope instead they used the hand washing sheet to wipe their collective butt.

This incident makes me remember ridiculous corporate procedures from when I worked at K-mart. Just the thought of that damn hand washing sign up makes me remember "meet and greet" and other forced behavior that made me want to jab a staple gun into my skin just to make sure I was still human.

I Gave Philip Gourevitch a Breath Mint

Philip Gourevitch came to Pittsburgh today to do a reading. The English department sponsored a lunch with him for the graduate students and I got to sit right next to him! He was a most fascinating person. I perked up the most when I asked him what it was like to work with an interpreter. In his book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, he mentions an interpreter only once and I asked him why this was.

He then told us all a fantastic story about a possibly gay Rwandan florist who was a wonderful interpreter and used the exposure as a potential business venture. Philip would take him out into farmlands, and the florist would try to wheedle the farmers to grow plants for him. Anyway, it was a great story. My favorite part of lunch.

Afterward, I gave him an Altoid. Everyone should have an Altoid after lunch, particularly if he or she is going to give a workshop and reading.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Ears

After I wrote my last post, I called my rugby physician, Dr. Gloyboner. Though dazed and confused from the tail end of a thirty hour shift (don't worry! Those only happen every four days, she told me for reassurance) she seemed to think the ear candles would be a fun experiment and possibly something good to photograph. Would they work? She had no idea. In her professional medical opinion, I should go to the doctor and have her use some sort of suction device they use for extreme ear wax situations.

So my party began and I barely heard the door knocking when guests arrived. I told them all about the problem and they all seemed very interested in these ear candles, which cost $3.29 apiece. After everyone was done eating, I requested the help of my friends to burn the wax out of my ears. They agreed to help.

The first step was reading the directions:

Note the look of joy on the woman's face as she is candled. The instructions use candle as a verb.

My four very good friends then each took her position around the procedure. Patsy photographed the event for posterity. Libby held the candle in my ear and regulated the pressure with which it was jammed into my ear hole. Renee held the scissors to trim the fabric every inch and also lighted the thing. My new friend Theresa held the water bowl--a precaution advised by the instructions to catch "ash."

Note the paper plate with a hole cut in the middle. This was also advised by the instructions as an ash catcher and flame barrier. A paper plate. Paper.

The whole procedure took about ten minutes. I was excited because I could hear something out of the ear with the candle in it! It was the sound of the smoldering beeswax candle. Other than that, nothing happened except a very strong smell of burnt fabric.

In the end, it looked just like a half smoked joint in a puddle of bong water and was just about as effective in removing wax from my ear. As a writer, I must say the experience was very necessary and rewarding. As a patient, I far preferred my morning call to the student health center, where they eased my suffering with the "elephant ear" gun.

Dr. W. peeked in my ear and said, "Whew! That's a big plug. I'm gonna get an RN to flush that out for you." She left me a paper gown to put on and I heard her in the hallway talking to the nurses from the front desk. Brenda and Vicki began arguing over who got to flush my ears and use the new gun. Evidently, they had all been dying to use the elephant ear and my visit caused quite a stir. They squabbled for a bit and eventually decided they would each get to do one ear.

Nurse Vicki filled a squirt bottle with warm water and attached a laser-beam looking thing and went to town on my ear. After a few pumps, she showed me the dish. In it was a peanut-sized lump. (The nut part of the peanut) No freaking wonder I couldn't hear anything! I wanted to hug her and remained fascinated that something so large could fit inside my ear canal.

I barely had time to gush about my new auditory skills before Brenda started squirting my other ear. She pumped the elephant ear a few times and yelled, "Here it comes!"

"All right! This gun is amazing. Here, look. Do you want to keep it?" She showed me yet another lump, this one the size of an M&M. That from my good ear! I told her she could keep my wax lump and just sat back enjoying my amplified hearing. "Shoot, girl. You're a new woman!"

And with that, they left me to change out of my paper gown and go about my day with real hearing powers. For example, did you know the keyboard keys made clicking sounds when you typed on them? It's true!

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I am prone to ear wax blockages. It's true, gross though it may be. Every few years, I have to go to the doctor to get my ear irrigated. The first time this happened, I left the office aware for the first time that footsteps of others were audible.

My left ear is currently clogged to the point where I can't hear what people are saying. I am hosting a party this afternoon. I feel like instead spending the day with my head tilted to the left, moaning. I've tried all the RiteAid remedies and have decided to do something new: ear candling.

After driving all over the city this morning, I finally located a pair of Wally's Beeswax Ear Candles. When Corey gets home from work this evening, exhausted from a 5am to 9pm day, I am going to make him light the candles on fire and shove them into my ears. Hopefully I will find some relief. The package promises that the softened wax will drain from my head and I'll be able to hear like new again.

Until then, I will spend much of the day saying, "Pardon?" "What???" and doing airplane-cabin tricks to try and pop my ears open.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Small Pleasures

I had a really nice end to a really long and difficult week. I've been thinking about it for a few hours and I decided today was nice because:
  1. I ate yogurt with frozen blueberries. The blueberries are still cold enough to be refreshing and yet soft enough that they don't hurt my teeth. It's so darn delicious.
  2. I bought a candy bar, but didn't eat it yet. I am learning self control!
  3. I got a really reassuring email from one of my new editors and it made me feel good inside to have someone say, "this story will be really awesome!"
  4. I watched the finale of American Gladiator. The women's segment made me cry. I just absolutely love watching television that highlights the achievements of women in a completely empowering environment. That was some darned amazing footage. I want to tape it and have my kids watch that instead of the other crap that's out there.
  5. I made it onto the list to have lunch with Philip Gourevitch! He is coming to Pittsburgh next week, right before Jonathan Safran Foer, with whom I am NOT having lunch :(

Even though I feel a lot of pressure mounting in the final five weeks before I turn in my thesis, I am really glad I can sit back and breathe while I enjoy these little things. Hopefully I'll make it through with my sanity.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dim Sum

Met with the fish people today in the snow. We talked about the newsletter, which looks pretty cool. We gabbed a bit about any possible simlarities between hockey and rugby. We did some work. And then they gave me dim sum. Five pounds. Frozen.

I happen to be having a party on Sunday. I might just serve up some cod (still left over from last visit) and dim sum!

I'm starting to really like this job.

(Don't worry! I have a contract!)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Get it In Writing

I can't say this enough times. I can't count how many times I have failed to do so any gotten screwed. Get it in writing. No matter what we're talking about. In my case, story assignments. Do nothing until the contract is signed. Ever. Someday, I will learn this lesson and I will not stay up late being upset anymore.

Get it in writing. Payment schedules, intellectual property rights, lease agreements. All of it. Nobody is nice and a handshake does not count.

I am now saying this more as a mantra to myself. A chant I shall repeat as I stomp up the hills home today, a song I will sing in the shower.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thesis Procrastinating Again

My final thesis draft is due in two months. Instead of working on it today, I: went to a basketball game, made french fries, made mashed squash with brown sugar and butter, cooked pork chops, watched three hours of television, and renamed the file in my file folder while thinking about beginning to revise. Not bad!

Friday, February 15, 2008


I love Haikus. I'm pretty good at them, I feel like, and I write them sometimes for my father-in-law for his birthday and often in the shower. You might imagine how excited I was to learn that the half-time show of last night's grad student reading was a Haiku contest. We nerds were called upon to write Valentine's Haikus on the spot and mine stunk:

A chocolate cupcake
Awaits me this Valentine's--
My first as a wife

Note that I chose to use chocolate as a 2-syllable word this time. Note also how horribly confusing the Haiku is. Is the cupcake my first as a wife? The Valentine? Note additionally that the whole thing is sappy and gross. It's just so terrible. I'm ashamed. I lost the contest and did not win a free beer. I'd like to think I lost because I was so burnt out from preparing my 2.5 hour presentation, presented moments before.

The winner of the contest was my presentation partner. His Haiku was something like this:

You're king of the world!
My heart will always go on.
How's the water, hon?

The second place one went something like this:
F*@k Valentine's Day
Tomorrow the candy is
half off at Rite-Aid

I'm not sure who wrote that one, but he or she was probably a wonderfully witty writer with improvisational skills far surpassing my own.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I've been thinking a lot about money lately, mostly because I want to make a baby and be as secure as possible when that happens. I know nothing about money beyond the fact that I have many negative amounts of it from school and my new mortgage.

I sent a crazy text message question to Val yesterday and her voicemail back encouraged me to learn more about money. Who cares if Corey has a degree in econ and almost one in accounting? I don't want to rely on him to make financial decisions. That's where problems begin. So I bought a book.

I learned about it on Blogging Away Debt and so far, I really like it. It's so straight forward and breaks everything into really small chunks that I read during elevator rides and bus jaunts. The best part is that it uses examples based on people who make what I earn as a graduate student, which is not very much. And that's ok! (The book's intended audience is female recent college grads)

I feel really excited about it, like I am learning my way into a world that I always assumed, as a writer or at least English nerd, I would never care to enter. I feel very adult about the whole thing, and safe. I like feeling safe for once instead of anxious and sweaty. I'm giving the book to my little sister when I'm done.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I woke up this morning to someone pounding on my door, followed by the slamming screen door. I grew immediately afraid because Corey is away snowboarding in Utah and I am home alone. A helpless damsel, if you will. I decided to stay in bed a moment longer.

But the knocking inspired me to get up early and shovel my walks, because that's what you do on Duffield if it snows. And it snowed four inches today. I shoveled and salted. Then I went to work.

When I came home from work, the whole street was out shoveling and salting. I chatted with Cookie and Josie. I asked the neighbor dude how his house was selling. It was all the sort of small talk that seems fake and annoying when you see it on tv, but is actually very fun and interesting when you mean it in real life. I actually care what brand of salt my neighbors use on the walks. I totally got interested in different parking strategies to accommodate the snowplow.

I like Duffield Street in winter time. It's a friendly place where no one slips or falls down.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


When you work as a writer/English teacher/tutor, you get constant apologizing disclaimers before people speak or email you. But sometimes, you find other friends who either get it or share your sickness. And they text you little gems like this:

(Courtesy of Responsible Dave)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Family Bread Baking

So far, this weekend I have done five wonderful hours of homework and prepared 4 loaves of bread. I made dough with my mom last night and then my aunt and cousin came over and I decided they wanted bread dough, too. (Of course, their dough turned out better than our dough)

This morning I got up and shaped loaves with my mom. Now, I have this to look forward to for dinner:
See how the left hand loaf has "oven bloom?" It looks like a big loaf is eating a small loaf. But really it just got so hot and explosive in the oven it shot out its own side. I can still hear the loaves applauding from the kitchen. Mmmmmmmmm

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Why Me?

How in the world do you suppose I manage to even get chub rub wearing pants? Thursdays are rough for me. On campus twelve hours with work and studying and class. I try to dress kind of nice on Thursdays to keep myself from despair. So I'm wearing my Dickies pinstripe nice pants. They fit nice, they don't reveal my butt crack when I sit. Nice pants.

About a half hour ago, I felt that strange pain I get after sprinting with no spandex. The unmistakable burn of singed flesh on my upper thighs, where the very difficulty of walking has evidentally rubbed the skin from my legs. In pants! Is nothing safe? Is there no possibe way for me to have a normal day? Maybe my thighs are revolting against my over work of late?

After I get home tonight, I am going to sit on the sofa with no pants and eat a huge cupcake and drink a big mug of cocoa and will my body to recover from the crazy, crazy past week

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I feel nervous about the new online registration for USA Rugby. I was certain I registered yesterday, even clicked check out and entered my credit card info. But today, when my friend called to say that, like a silly pants, she had registered for the men's team, I checked my own membership to make sure I hadn't done that.

I wasn't registered anywhere! I've been having kind of a rough time registering myself to play. First, I had ongoing trouble updating my name. I guess that doesn't happen a whole lot, so there wasn't really an arena to do that. Now, I don't know about this new system. It never said, "OK! Your registration has been accepted!" So I kept clicking check out a bunch of times.

Does this mean they billed my card repeatedly? Have I registered myself ten thousand times? I feel impatient and hopeful that, even though I clicked a whole bunch, I only will be paying once.

I wonder why I am getting nervous about a new online venture. I always support technology. I love it. I think I am more weirded out by my credit card number leakage than I previously thought. I feel like one of those old ladies who wants to print out all her emails just to make sure they don't disappear.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rice and Pot Pie

When the Rank family descended upon Pittsburgh, they brought me a sack of goodies: Rice Buddies. My Godmother's Mother made me terrycloth sacks filled with rice for me to microwave and wrap around my legs and neck. It's a little embarrassing that everyone is so shocked at our pathetic coldness. We had to turn the heat up a little this weekend and I still couldn't keep my dad and grandma warm enough.

Despite their chilliness, I was just so moved to have ten relatives at my house. We pulled out the wings on the dining room table and scrounged up enough chairs. Nanny made pot pie in my kitchen and we all sat down to dinner at my table. It was this overwhelmingly emotional experience for me. My family at my table. It just felt so wonderful.

The house next door, still for sale, was being shown to a young couple I had seen before. The real estate agent peered in the window and waved, saw the dining room full of people, and smiled. We were just another family having a huge family dinner. It made me happier than I had been in a very long time.