Wednesday, July 30, 2008

To my Loyal Fans (all three of them)

I have been in training for my new job as a WIC peer counselor all week which is why I haven't been screwing around on-line. I'm sure there will be an audible sigh of relief now you realize that I have not given up on blogging and that, next week I will be back to providing my normal wit, warmth, and wisdom.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lamest News Ever

There have been several recent news articles that caught my attention over the last couple of days. You have probably read them too so there isn't much of a point for me to go on about them and do a big rehash. Besides that, they are quite self explanatory. However, these are my votes for top three news items of the week.

1) Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii

2) The kid from the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind Album

3) Shayne Lamas dumps the guy from "The Bachelor"

Why these articles? Well, the Talula one is just funny and, as someone who taught high School English for five years, I can tell you I have seen my share of unusual names; just nothing that unusual. Besides that, I am very entertained by discussing unusual names in general- so, I hope, like me, you get a kick out of that one.

As for the "Nevermind" album, I can't believe the naked baby from the cover is 17! I was starting college when that album was popular. I definately remember the collective mourning from the direction of the boys' dorms the day Kirk Cobain was found dead a few years later.

As for the third article, I must preface this by saying celeb gossip is of no interest to me. I don't even subscribe to cable television so only explorers in antartica could be less connected to the goings on of the Hollywood jet set. You're safe in assuming I do not watch reality television and I have never even watched one episode of "The Bachelor". This article caught my eye, however, when I saw the name "Shayne Lamas." As soon as I saw that, I thought, "Shayne Lamas, you mean the one who used to sit in the back of my English classroom giggling with her friends and applying copious lip gloss, Shayne Lamas?" Now I shouldn't be surprised, I knew even then that her father, Lorenzo, was some hot shot soap opera star. There's just something funny about seeing a kid's name at the top of a Romeo and Juliet essay one time and seeing it in the news headlines the next.

With this article as well as with the Nirvana one, the single thought that reverberates is, I am that old? Yes, I am old enough to have taught Shayne Lamas as a high school freshman (not even a senior) and my friend, Julie, taught Shayne's older brother A.J. just down the hall. (He dated Lindsey who?)

So yes, as lame as I think celebrity gossip is, the lamest news of all is that I am that old and aging. Oh well, with any luck maybe those celeb kids will be this age some day, too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Great Escape

I don't think there is a mother out there who can't relate to the idea of retreating to the bathroom. Sometimes it's the one unhassled moment of the day. Fortunately, for me, my husband installed a very powerful, therefore very loud fan. In addition to providing superior air circulation, it also serves as a very effective sound barrier. I can switch on the fan, lock the door and block out the outside world for as long as my kids let me get away.

I have found that the best way to spend my 3.5 minute retreat is perusing the J. Peterman Company Owner's Manual (yes, J. Peterman is real, not just a made-up Seinfeld thing and yes, they are still manufacturing fine clothes and fine reading material even after declaring bankruptcy a few years ago.) There are many ingratiating aspects to the J. Peterman catalogue. The first of these: instead of showing models sporting the latest fashions, the clothes are beautifully illustrated giving the reader a sense of antiquity and practicality. There is something about seeing the garments as an artist's rendering that says, "Our clothes fit real people; we don't need to show you how Giselle Budchen looks in them because you, youself are going to look that good."

Illustrations aside, it is the narrative that accompanies each garment that is Peterman's crowning achievement. The product description trancends not only that of a typical catalogue, it transcends all present surroundings. It goes far beyond size, cut, and color. Instead, the writing assumes that the reader is literate, smart , and worldly. By commiting the English teachers' cardinal sin of narrating in second person, it sweeps its readers off to other times and places; each more exciting and exotic than the last. It whispers of more prosperous, simpler times when men were men and women dressed with the primary purpose of looking good. And with each narrative there is always the accompanying unspoken promise: wear these clothes and you too will. . .

Admitedly, I own exactly zero J. Peterman clothing mostly because I am a stay-at-home mom and rarely in need of fine apparel, but as soon as I re-enter the professional world, if you need me, just find the Grace Kelly look-alike.

Additional Thoughts:

1) I cannot write about J. Peterman without mentioning Tracy, my friend who introduced me to it in college. In my attempt to look Peterman chic, I came out wearing a second-hand argyle sweater and some cords. Tracy told me I looked like a PTA mom (in her completely unoffensive, honest way). Tracy was right. She is a true friend.

2) The best part about the J. Peterman catalogue: it is simultaneously free and priceless. Click here to sign up for yours.

3) This is not a paid advertisement- though I'm starting to think it should be.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Diary of a Technophobe

I am a technophobe. This is a fact I can usually keep secret, but there are times when it is difficult to hide my shyness around doo-hickies and new-fangled contraptions. Today, for example, I attended a long training session for my online teaching job. The program I work for has partnered up with a much larger, more substantial national corporation. The result is a highly competitive, higher-tech teaching environment. In short, all the latest technology at the teacher's fingertips as soon as we learn how to use it. As I'm watching software demonstrations projected on a screen in the computer lab, there is a part of me that feels like a deer caught in the NASDAQ headlights- the corporate bus is headed right for me, duck and cover!

Someone reading this might respond, but you are blogging and teaching online and you're not 60 years old. What's the big deal? OK so I'm not 60, but I am thirty-something which means I can remember life before personal computers. Believe it or not, we still survived somehow. I also remember the excitement of my family's first PC purchase. It was a TI (which stands for Texas Instrument, in case you're too young to know that.) My dad read the information about its word processing capabilities and my siblings and I were all so excited to try it out. We were sure it would revolutionize the way we did our homework. It turns out the TI in our house was used for one purpose and one purpose only: gaming (think generic ATARI.) The point here is, I was not raised on the high-tech computers of today like my children will be. There was no internet until I was half-way through college. When I first saw e-mail, I thought it was something so complicated it was consigned to the world of the geeks. Perhaps the source of my technophobia is that my students can do more on their cell phones than I can with all of the interface, gigs of RAM, and spread sheets in the world.

For me, navigating my way around cyberspace is a matter of comfort zones. I have a really hard time taking technological leaps. I have to get used to the temperature of the shallow water before I can dive in. In the meantime, the rest of the world has moved on to Guitar Hero and I'm still hunting the Wumpus.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Havasu

This weekend, my family vacationed in Sacramento where summer is the finest time of year. The world is a proliferation of green. The trees have burst into floral abundance; the lawns are bright and lush. There are tall maples, shorter flowering trees, fruit trees, weeping willows, tall coniferous wind breakers: more trees than a desert dweller like myself can even imagine. My girls look out the car windows, "Mom, look at all those purple flowers." "Mom, look they have roses in their yard." "Mom, can we pick flowers?"

Sacramento summer days can be hot, but the the nights are mild with soft, fragrant breezes. It's weather that compels a person to sit at on the back porch at dusk and listen to the drowsy chirp of cicadas.

In contrast, summer in Lake Havasu, my home town, is god-forsaken. The months of June, July, and August are so hot and withering few living creatures survive and the ones that do wish they could die. In fact, Havasu claims the distinction of being the hottest city in the 48 contiguous states rivaled only by Death Valley for its overall heat records. Needless to say, instead of lush, green lawns and flowering trees, Havasuvians landscape with gravel. My husband and I have started calling the popular landscaping of the area, "the Havasu lump." This refers to the fact that all yards here consist of the same basic plan: a base layer of neutral colored gravel raked out to cover the entire yard that is then spotted with occassional "lumps" of gravel in a contrasting color. Any variety of objects might be sticking out of/sitting on top of these mounds. It could be a cluster of short palm trees, or a rusty farm implement, or a crafty lawn (or should I say gravel) ornament, or a wooden fence post. . .the possibilities are endless. Strangely enough, due to the overall lack of water and the triple digit temperatures all summer long, people in Havasu do not generally have lawns.

When temperatures reach 115-125 degrees, it is hard for me to not feel slightly envious of my Sacramento relatives. When I see children running through sprinklers on the concrete in their parents' driveways, I do ocassionally question why on god's green earth do I live here? When I describe Havasu to someone who has never visited before, this is how it generally goes, "Havasu is a place with a history that dates back as far as the invention of central air conditioning and then to give the town an air of history and antiquity, they imported the London Bridge."

Despite Havasu's peculiarities, there is a stark beauty to the rugged desert terrain. The land is so unembellished that the beauty of the desert is found in shape and contrast rather than in rich, rolling earth. The lake itself is scintillating in the sunlight and, in the heat of the afternoon, looks vast, deep, bejeweled, and luxuriant. Perhaps the beauty of Havasu can be found in what we don't have. Only in this landscape could the thorny ocotillo or the stately seguaro be considered beautiful.

My relationship with this town is like that of a mother and her ugly child. She can point out his lopsided ears or his too big nose, but if anyone else criticizes, the fight is on.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Me and Steph: twins from different mothers

As many of you know, I have been fixated with the Twilight series since I started reading it in February. With the upcoming release of Breaking Dawn, the final book in the series, now is a great time to be a Twilight fan. The forums and fansites are rife with conjecture: to bite or not to bite. But I have to admit I was reluctant to even pick up these books.

I first heard of Twilight from my mom. Fiction is not her genre so she hadn't read them, but she knew I might be interested.

Mom: "You have so much in common with the author, you should really read these books. They have gained quite a following."

Me: "Really, what are they about."

Mom: "They're about vampires who use their free agency to not suck people's blood."

Me: "Huh, I doubt I'll ever get around to reading that."

Yes, I was more than a little biased. There were several strikes against it right there.

1) Vampire literature- I hate Anne Rice! Blech. Lestat did not seduce me.

2) Youth literature- no real author writes for adolescents, only the ones who can't make it as adult authors, right? (but there was always Harry Potter)

3) (the biggest strike of all) Written by an LDS woman.- Yes, I am active LDS myself, but have you ever read Jack Weyland? *gagging* That's what I think of when I think LDS youth literature.

I was slightly more interested when my friend Tracy (a fellow English major) sent me an e-mail to the effect of, "So I guess teenage girls don't read Anne of Green Gables anymore. They prefer vampire books. Let's read Twilight together so we can laugh at it chapter by chapter." That sounded a bit more intriguing. I ordered my copy from Amazon right away. When Twilight arrived, I read the back cover and laughed hysterically. It sat in my house for 3 months, untouched. In the meantime, Tracy read it on her own twice with no input from me.

Finally, my friend Jessica came to visit and saw Twilight sitting out. "You have Twilight? I haven't read it, but my mom did and she said it was so good."

So I thought maybe I should see what the hype was about and I finally read Twilight. Four days later, I read the next installment, New Moon. Four days after that, I read Eclipse. OK, I'm hooked and I admit to having hooked many others. Jessica read them (though clearly, I can't quite take credit for that one) but I did talk Mary, Miriam, Jodi, Stephanie, Flo, Sarah, Carl, and Norma Jean all into reading the series. I, myself, have read them multiple times and I even have two complete sets (one to loan and one to keep) so I spent about 6 weeks schlepping the books back and forth from church.

I have joined forums and met new friends on-line all because of Twilight. I even flew from Arizona to Salt Lake City to attend a Stephenie Meyer signing. I was hoping to get a really awesome picture of the two of us, but with an audience of 1,000 people with 5,000 books to be signed things like pictures aren't permitted. I tried to tell Stephenie that we were meant to be bosom buddies in the 5.5 seconds I had to speak with her at the signing. I think I came off sounding like every other fanatic dork.

Anyway, part of my obsession is how much Stephenie and I have in common. Stephenie makes fame seem so effortless. It turns out mother was right, after all. So here is a list of the similarities I share with Stephenie Meyer.

1) We both have our Bachelor's in English from Utah universities

2) We both have 3 children

3) We both live in Arizona

4) We are both LDS

5) We are less than a year apart in age

6) She has written three #1 New York Times Bestsellers and has a following of millions. I have written this blog and have a following of three.

7) Both Twilight and the title for this blog were inspired by dreams.

So there you have it. Stephenie and I are practically twins. If only she knew. . .
Have a Twilight addiction story? Please share!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My New Year's Resolution

I know this is a strange time of year to write about a thing like a New Year's resolution, but in some ways it is the best time of year to do so. That means at least the resolution is still hanging around, nagging at me in the back of my mind. It didn't disappear two weeks after the stroke of midnight like so many of my past resolutions have.

Before I launch into a discussion of my resolution or how well I have or haven't kept it; I want to mention a few points about my resolution philosophy.
1) I believe that a person should not choose more than one New Year's resolution if one plans to be successful in her resolve. I think sometimes we set our sights too high on impossible resolutions that fizzle before they are tried, let alone practiced and incorporated as habits.
2) The resolution should not be out of character. It should reflect an improvement, but it should not demand a complete character 180. For instance, I have never been big on getting regular exercise. For me to commit myself to exercising 5 times weekly for 1/2 hr, a day would probably result in total defeat.
3) A resolution should be something that requires small effort, but that makes a big impact. I believe in change, but I also believe that change happens in increments and very slowly. Improvements for the better should occur in small encouraging steps, not impossible Olympian leaps.
4)A goal should be very specific. No one ever keeps a resolution like, "I will be more organized." There needs to be some definite perimeters. "I will be more organized by filing my mail daily," is a much more specific, therefore, attainable resolution.

So, back to my resolution and its conception. Finding a goal that fits my criteria was not exactly easy. It requires reflection and absolute honesty. (Besides, when you're almost perfect it's very difficult to improve on anything. snort!) I decided on my resolution on New Year's Eve as my family and I were ferrying across Lake Havasu to dine at an Indian Casino. The water was very choppy and some of the other passengers commented that they were feeling motion sick. How did I fare? Very well. I don't remember what else happened because, despite the turbulent conditions, I had dozed off. I woke up just in time to walk up the launch ramp to the casino and enjoy my dinner.

On the ride back to Havasu, I came up with the ideal resolution for this year. I think my body was trying to tell me something like, "You are sleep deprived. Please just GO TO BED!" Viola! The perfect resolution. I resolved at that moment that I would get more sleep. I would stop trying to compensate for my overly busy schedule by staying up until midnight or later night after night. I decided that bed time for me was 10:30 since I have to get up every morning by 6:30.

I have never kept a regular bedtime schedule in my life, but what a difference it has made! I have been stricter about getting my kids to bed sooner. I no longer doze off while sitting in the church pew, or while rocking my children, or while reading, or while grading papers online or. . .well, you get the idea. I feel more clear-headed, more energetic, more organized, and just happier in general. I have always been an avid reader, but since having kids and starting my nocturnal schedule I had just given up books altogether. This year, I have even started reading again.

The reason I am revisiting my resolution now is because I have recently done some backsliding and have found myself up at midnight again folding clothes. I am recommitting myself as of today. Do not disturb after 10:30.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fear of Flight

In the prologue to the immortal epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton calls upon the muse. His request:

"Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song, That with no middle flight intends to soar. . .while it pursues Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. . ."

Did you catch that? Milton needs the help of the muse because he intends to write a poem so powerful and beautiful that it will transcend all known literature. Milton certainly started out with a lofty goal; and he lets his audience know that if they take the time to read Paradise Lost its going to knock their socks off. He's going to write the best darn thing anyone anywhere has ever [or will ever] read. But Milton was not being arrogant. If you ever have read Paradise Lost, you'll probably admit that he accomplished exactly what he set out to do. What a way to begin an artisitic endeavor! OK, Milton already had to his credit "Upon the Morning of Christ's Nativity, " "La Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" (all just Paradise Lost warm-up exercises) so he had a good idea of his own capabilities. Even so, I have always admired his gusto in those first few lines. He is the fearless, intrepid poet who pursues his art with complete and utter confidence.

My nearest and dearest know that my own grandest desire is to write; and it would be my wildest dream come true to eventually get published. I can think of nothing more satisfactory then to see my own work sitting on my own book shelf in print. My greatest fear is not being rejected by a publisher, but never even completing a novel. What if I come up with a great idea- write five good chapters, and never pick it up again? I know myself well enough. I'll have every intention of coming back to it later, but when when when does later ever come?
I have spent much of my summer reading fiction from an entirely different point of view. Instead of analysis as a reader, I have been thinking as a writer (if these were my characters and if this were my plot I would. . .) Let me tell you, if you haven't read from that angle before, you should try it. You will gain a whole new appreciation for the skill it takes to develop plot and character. You even learn to admire fine details like chapter headings and divisions. It is easy to read as the smug overweening critic, but much more daunting when one reads as a peer.

I have decided that writer's block might have more with fear than with lack of ideas. If only I could have 1/1ooth of the muse Milton did. . . Maybe it's time to put down the book and pick up the pen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What Does One do with a BA in English?

I know this is question plauging many people and I have an answer for it. I imported this from MySpace blog so forgive me if you have read this before. I liked it so I brought it over here.

Where the Wild Things Are and the Monomyth

O.K. I'm tired and sometimes I do my best creative thinking when I'm not thinking straight. I've also been doing a lot of pondering of the monomyth a.k.a. the hero's journey (huh? which is an all-encompassing, archetypical structure for storytelling (especially if you read fantasy genre novels which I have been doing a lot lately.) If you know me, you also know I read a lot of children's literature since I have three kids. So, for some reason the stars came into alignment and I realized Maurice Sendak's timeless picture book, Where the Wild Things Are is a charming microcosm of the monomyth.

Here it is broken down for those few of you who may still be interested.

1) the call to adventure- a forest grows in Max's room and a boat comes to take him away
2) crossing the threshold- Max sails from his room to the Wild Things island
3) rebirth- Max sets afoot on the Wild Things island
4) road of trials- Max feels threatened by the Wild Things until he tames them
5) apotheosis-Max is made king of the Wild Things
6) refusal of return- Max and the Wild Things party down
7) rescue from without- Max smells good things to eat
8) crossing the threshold- Max returns home to find that his dinner is waiting for him
9) master of 2 worlds- Max is forgiven for his bad behavior at home and is the king of the Wild Things.

Don't we love Maurice Sendak?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Make Way for Nerds

I cannot lie; I am a nerd. I embrace my own nerdiness and the nerdiness of those around me. As has held true most of my life, I generally associate with nerds. If you are reading this, you are probably one of them (hi, guys).

Maybe it's because I'm 33 and my miserable junior high days are long past, but it seems that the world has become a kinder, softer place for nerds. I remember when, in junior high, I was the butt of many jokes because my English teacher complimented me publicly on my superb grammar. Even my best friend (a nerd herself) poked fun at my propensity for large words by teasing me that I wanted a dictionary for Christmas. (Later, as a college student, I did request a personal copy of the Oxford English Dictionary- which I never got, by the way). All pettiness aside, I was a nerd in junior high. I was open in my worship of L.M. Montgomery and Edgar Allan Poe; I played violin in the orchestra, and worst of all, I only wore thrift store clothing. OK I wasn't the worst of nerds, but I definately qualified.

Shortly after I graduated from high school, it became cool to wear "vintage" clothing- a trend that seems to have never completely gone away. Thanks to J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer teens of all social echelons are now reading really long books. Teens text, blog, and hang out online at fan sites and social networks. All of these activities that seem so mainstream were, at one time, considered "nerdy." It seems that because of the internet we nerds have found a favorable environment to proliferate, flourish, and diversify.

The term "nerd" itself has transcended the 1980's stereotype of the guy with the glasses and pocket protector. In fact, the term is no longer deragotory and it has come to include kids who engage in role-playing games, kids who play video games, kids who hack computers, kids who write morbid death poetry. . .the list goes on and on. What are goths, emos, and indies? Tough nerds, sensitive nerds, and nerdy nerds. It could quite possibly be that the nerds are no longer the minority. Perhaps the world is coming to recognize what we've known all along: we're more than nerds, we're avant-garde.