Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Early to bed, early to rise

I'm firmly in the groove of waking up at 5:15 and going to the gym at 6:30. I don't feel tired in the morning, and maintain fairly even energy levels all day. The only problem I'm having is the inability to stay awake during 9 pm tv shows. This could be a direct result of the quality of said 9 pm tv shows, or it could be that there is usually nothing I want to watch on at 8, so I wind up going through my getting-ready-for-bed routine then and I'm pretty relaxed and comfy by 9. But really, 9 pm? It's sad. I didn't even make it through the opening credits of "The Apprentice" premiere last night. (Again, this could be a hint that it's going to be a boring season but usually I'd want to give it more than 4 minutes.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Going down...

On the elliptical machines I use at the gym, you input your current weight and age to help determine your ideal heart rate and calorie burn rate. Now that my weight is dropping, it's rewarding to input lower numbers every time I go. Weird thing is, though, that I get to the age screen and I have to remind myself that no, that number doesn't get to go down.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Next Punchline

Quickly moving into comedic overexposure, finally shoving "Brokeback" jokes out of the number one slot (if I had a nickel for every "I wish I could quit you" punchline I've heard, I'd be, well as rich as Ricky Gervais) are the Cheney-with-a-gun jokes. My favorite so far is this, from last week's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me:" Roy Blunt Jr. said he wasn't going to make any Cheney jokes. "It's too easy. Like shooting a 78 year old man in a [rest of line drowned out in audience laughter]..."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

To Free Or Not To Free

So, Ricky Gervais, who claims his podcast is the most downloaded in the world, has decided that the second series/season will no longer be free, but cost money. Now, don't get me wrong, I happen to think it's one of the funniest things out there - fucking hilarious, if you want my unfiltered opinion. He's a really smart guy, and nowhere is it more obvious than when he's just talking off the cuff. But there's a hole in his logic of "if I had a dime for every podcast that was downloaded" because, well, if they weren't free, there probably wouldn't be as many downloaded. What also irks me is that he has obviously started selling advertising, even on the free ones (intermittent pitches for British TV's Channel Four), so isn't there already a source of revenue? I also find it interesting that it's the "world's number one podcast" and yet I've never seen it at #1 on iTunes, which you would suspect would be somewhat reflective of the pulse of the industry. Maybe I just don't check on the days it's released.

But seriously, go check out his podcast if you haven't yet - the first 12 episodes are available on iTunes or Guardian Unlimited and are still free.

The New York Times has started putting out podcasts (for free), including one called "Front Page." At first I thought someone actually read the whole front page to you every day, which sounded cool. I once heard that there are more words on the front page of the New York Times than in an entire half hour network newscast. I wanted to test that theory, but it turns out the podcast is just "highlights" of the front page of the Times.

PS - Dear Blogger: "podcast" was named the most important word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. You think it's about time to add it to your spellcheck? Oh, you'll get to it? Right after you add "blog?" Thanks.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Drum Roll

There is a man at my gym who plays the drums on the treadmill. He brings the usual: towel, water bottle, and portable music player, plus a pair of drumsticks. He puts on his headphones and air-drums as he runs. I can't watch him without smiling.

Post-Post Blizzard '06

The city sanitation department took a week off from picking up trash to concentrate on the blizzard. Not sure why they needed a week - the snow was pretty much melted in only four days. In fact, just about the only snow remaining are the small piles of dirty snow buried under the growing mounds of trash. Now instead of sidewalks lined with banks of snow, we have sidewalks lined with banks of trashbags and trashcans.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


I am struggling with understanding the lecture in my online writing class. Judging by the class discussion and the chat this week, other students are as well. The instructor is really good; her lectures are thought-provoking, smart, filled with examples of her own process. She wasn't heard from for a bit and then came bounding back with an apology, that she'd had unexpected surgery, and then proceeded to pour out an incredible amount of feedback to the stories being workshopped that week. The other instructors I've had might give you a few paragraphs, maybe a page. She gave each about 8-10 pages, although not all about the story itself, as she used each as a springboard to dive into another lecture on a related topic. I've never printed out the notes from someone else's critique before, but that's how relevant her comments were.

But now she seems to be gone again. The last lecture she posted is really interesting, and the students are busily trying to adapt it to their own writing. She talks about "fast-drafting," about internalizing the form and structure of the short story and then just sitting down and telling the story. Writing a draft in one sitting, churning out two over a weekend. Not agonizing, tinkering, obsessing over words and lines and paragraphs. Rather than this resulting in boring and predictable writing she says you give yourself the freedom to "surprise yourself" at the sentence level, which I think means to not take the story in a wild direction, but the individual sentences that are keeping you on course. This last bit is a source of confusion for many of us. My own uncertainty lies in process of internalizing the form in the first place - how do you do that? I think that's my weakness. I can write beautiful passages but my stories meander, start and end, without a firm sense of story.

So I'm stuck with the chicken/egg question. Does fast-drafting force you to internalize the form out of sheer practice and repetition? Great. But how do you get that structure inside you in order to internalize it?

I tried fast-drafting a scene yesterday for class homework, and we'll see how it's received. I would like to be able to spend an entire day pounding out a story draft, but I'm not sure I have the focus (I could find the time, I am sure.) That might be the real message behind her lecture - if you don't have the focus to sit and write one story for an entire day, you might not have the focus to really become a writer.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Who's Who

The other morning as I walked to work, a dog ran up to the school crossing guard, dragging his laughing owner. The crossing guard gave the dog a biscuit from her pocket and the humans started chatting. They really are the social hub of the neighborhood - I mean the crossing guards, although now that I think about it, the same could be said for the neighborhood dogs.

Friday, February 17, 2006

I am Grace.

Or Will?

The people on my fitness forum (why do I so love running here to bitch about them?) are now commiserating about how difficult it is to be strong when eating at the Olive Garden. I feel so bad for them, if they think that horrid stuff is good Italian food! A few years ago there was a study comparing chain restaurants and OG ranked right at the top in calorie-laden foods with very little redeeming nutritional value. And, at least in my opinion, very little taste!

I know that not everyone has the fortune of living in a city large enough to have good quality restaurants, but what's even more painful is that if you go to the Olive Garden in Manhattan? It's all tourists. There they are, in the food capital of the world, just a few blocks from some really delicious reasonable small Italian places on 9th Avenue, and they are eating mall crap. Maybe because it's familiar, a comfort in the big scary city?

(The "Will & Grace" reference is from an episode where they go to the Olive Garden with their not-as-sophisticated suburban friends Ellen & Rob and make fun of them for thinking it's a great restaurant... W&G wind up meeting a similarly snooty couple but eventually realize they aren't the great friends that Ellen & Rob are, despite the latter couple's sad lack of taste.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Breaking News!

There are tvs everywhere here: in the elevator banks, inside the doors to the elevator, in the pantries. One is usually tuned to CNN, so I've grown used to the "breaking news" bullshit that they run all day. Everything is breaking news at some point, it appears.

Just now, the screen read: "Breaking News: Cheney accepts responsibility for shooting." Really? That's news? Was there any doubt? Was he going to blame it on OJ?

Who do?

So this guy on my fitness boards has announced that after a lot of soul-searching, he realizes he wants to spend the rest of his life with his girlfriend. He's going to propose.... in December. In ten months.

Is this why I'm still single? I don't get that. If you want to marry her, ask her! It's not like you have to marry her tomorrow.

It's like when a friend of mine told me her sister had gotten engaged, four months after she told me the sister and boyfriend had decided to get married. Um, when you both decide to get married, isn't that being engaged? What's the big deal with waiting for the guy to get his act together and buy a ring and do some fancy drama around asking you a question you've already answered?

I'm practically sitting on my hands to keep from posting a response to this guy asking if he's serious.

No-Rest Room

I work in a professional services firm, with an admirably large percentage of women in all levels of the organization, including many in leadership positions. In fact, with the decline in lower level administrative jobs (email and voicemail having eliminated the need for those roles), I'd venture a guess that at least a third, if not more, of the women on my floor make six figure salaries. Almost everyone is college educated, with at least one degree if not an MBA or a professional certification.

And yet, our ladies room is the most disgusting I've ever had to deal with. I'm not going to go into details, but sometimes it's a struggle to find one of the four stalls bearable enough to use.

I just don't get it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

After the Blizzard

The snow has turned ugly. Dirty, brown, melting, and mixing with litter the street cleaners can't get to. Bags of trash piled on top of mounds of snow in the hopes that the sanitation dept. will make its scheduled rounds. Huge slushy puddles at every corner, brown footprints filled with muddy water. You never know how deep you'll step until your foot reaches bottom; this is, you may recall, how I sprained my ankle last year. This year, cautious and steady as I make my way along the sidewalks, covered with slick ice as the melting snow from yesterday's bright sunshine froze overnight. Ugly salt and ash on my boots, in the trails of gray water I leave with every step.

Yesterday, coming home from work, not bothering a soul, a snowball whizzed past my head and hit my front door just as I was putting my key in the lock.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Two Films

I saw two films this weekend, one in the theater and one on DVD, and now that I want to talk about them they are getting jumbled in my head. They're really not that much alike except that 1) I watched them particularly for a specific actress's Oscar nominated performance and 2) they both deal with issues of family identity - returning home after having chosen a life different than the one you were raised in.

Maybe that's a stretch.

The two films were "Transamerica" and "Junebug" and I really liked them both. Amy Adams is quite spectacular in "Junebug"; she's created a very vivid character who is both endearing and annoying and ultimately the center of the film. I think the movie was supposed to be about her brother-in-law George, who returns to his rural home with his suddenly new city bride, but George disappears for much of the movie. His relationship with his brother Johnny seems like it should be the center of the film, but it's overpowered by the relationship between Amy Adam's Ashley and Embeth Davidtz's Madeline. It was a surprise to me when George (the unbearably handsome Alessandro Nivola) comes in near the end of the film and takes a stand with Madeline and his family, because I'd almost forgotten he was in it. But it's good, worthwhile watching.

"Transamerica" I saw in the theater in the midst of the blizzard. Not to be outdone, this film also features a hot young actor, namely Kevin Zegers, who seemed very, very familiar, until I got home and imbd-ed him only to realize he was the young boy in the "Airbud" movies! Yes, the pre-teen who was age-appropriate for my little niece is now the one I'm lusting after. I feel dirty. But he's really cute! Anyway, Felicity Huffman is very good. I'm glad she made this before "Desperate Housewives" but only wish she'd gotten all the kudos for her role before accepting the contract on that show. She's soooo good in almost everything I've seen - and not just serious roles, I absolutely loved her in "Sports Night." But I hate her character so much in "DH" that I just can't watch it any more. (It sucks for other reasons, too, I think.) But "Transamerica" is really good, and she's good, and I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pre Snow

I haven't paid attention to the weather forecast in a few days, so was surprised this morning to hear there is a blizzard on the way. I don't know - as I've said before, I don't drive or shovel or do anything really that is impacted by snowfall. Especially on a weekend.

It's already started, light flurries, but it turns to wet on the ground. Nothing white yet. I was thinking of going to a movie just so I could walk out of the theater into a huge white wall but I think I'll just curl up here in bed and read. I have a stack of books waiting to be read, and I keep buying more every time I pass a book store. I sometimes wish I had a longer subway commute so I could read but I'm barely on the train long enough to pull a book out and find my page.

More pictures tomorrow, maybe. This one is from the snow we had in early December.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In the wee small hours of the morning

Another morning up at 4 am, then unable to fall back to sleep, despite feeling physically exhausted. How can I turn off my brain in the mornings?

Maybe I'm getting in my own way - I try really hard to separate work from home (don't have a Blackberry, don't check emails online or voicemail at night, don't bring work home) and maybe by attempting to bury it I'm just making it bubble up uncontrollably when my brain is more tired. Maybe if I did checked email and voicemail before I went to sleep, I'd feel like I was on top of things. But I don't think so - in the past, I've done that, only to find a new annoying email about some simple thing I had to do, but couldn't do until I got to the office, and yet it would eat away at me until I had the chance to do it. I decided long ago that almost anything could wait, and if it were a real emergency someone would call me directly at home.

My new routine is that on the ghastly early mornings when I'm not going to the gym (today is a rest day), I will use the hours to write (or at least spend time on my online writing class - which, by the way, is fabulous, a million times better than the one I ditched. Phew.)

The babies, in photos taken a week ago (already!) when they were four days old. They are not much bigger than fat mosquitoes.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I had lunch today with a woman I haven't seen in a while. We met at work, used to sit right next to each other, and now we both work for the same comany again, although in different departments in different buildings in completely different parts of town and never cross paths. It was the strangest lunch - I felt like the whole conversation was in some other language, and I didn't quite get where she was coming from half of the time. I'm not sure what we had in common in the past, because even when we talked about our shared history we had different memories of it. ("Who? I don't think I ever knew him.")

As a wise woman often says, friendships have a shelf life. Sometimes you just have to admit there's not much there any more, even when that makes you sad.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Games & Violence

It's double whammy weekend, when dreaded televised sports are coming at me from two directions: the Super Bowl and the upcoming Olympics. I don't watch either, and am bored by all of the media attention. I freely admit that it's because I associate televised sports with bad years of my childhood, when my parents were fighting and my father moved into the basement and at night I couldn't sleep because of the sounds of the ball games drifting up the stairs. The distant sound of a tv baseball game is the soundtrack of the stress of my early family life. And, during one summer Olympics - I'd guess 1972, because things were already changing for us by 1976 - we went on vacation and I remember my father never wanted to leave the lodge/rec room of the camping ground because he wanted to watch the games. The bad part wasn't that my father wasn't going to go with us to Hershey Park, (I don't think we kids cared, as here was a man who'd left us for a year and only recently moved back in) but that the fights about it never stopped.

On a related note, I saw "Munich" yesterday, a tired rainy Saturday afternoon. I wanted to see it because of all the accolades (and in my attempts to see as many Oscar nominees as possible) but the sad truth is that it's just way too violent for me. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great movie, well-made with strong acting, thought-provoking and powerful scenes, and yet I had to cover my eyes a lot. I know, I'm more squeamish than most. But at least the film, like "A History of Violence," is about the effects of violence (in a nutshell, "can you use violence to combat violence or does it only breed more violence?") and so it's not the kind of movie where the audience cheers when the "bad" guy's head explodes from a well-placed bullet. (At least not in the good theater in my neighborhood - the idiots in the megaplex up the block were likely cheering from the moment the terrorists fired the first shot in the Olympic Village in the opening scene.)

I'm busily catching up with leaving feedback for classmates in my new online class, which is harder than it should be. I have five to do this week (as opposed to the usual 3-4) but I feel overwhelmed. Maybe because I haven't been completely swept away by the last two I read - they were good, well-written, but not so fantastic that I had no constructive criticism to offer. That sounds like it would make it easier to respond, but it doesn't, because you are expected to give two positives and two negatives, and try not to repeat any of the previous feedback left by the other students, so when I'm late to the class and the last to comment, I'm left with very little positive to add that's any different. I also have a hard time lying - I read others' statements like, "This is fabulous!" for almost every piece, and I think, wow, do they really believe that or are they being kind? I don't think all the submissions in these classes are of equal quality, and I don't like diminishing the kudos I give one that's really deserving (and some, truly, blow my socks off) by saying the same things about those that are just good or even mediocre.

The sun is shining. It's supposed to be windy, otherwise I'd think about sitting in the park to do some of my homework.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Saturday morning

Every time my doctor asks me,"Are you regular?" I just nod and say, "Extremely regular," even though I want to yell, "I am so f%@#!ing regular I can't sleep past 6 am because my body is screaming for the toilet!"

All I want to do is to sleep late, once in a while. Oh, twice a week, on Saturdays and Sundays, is that too much to ask? Saturdays are the worst because my brain is still filled with work thoughts and so when I crawl back into bed and try to sleep again, I start thinking about that conversation or that meeting or that other thing I didn't do but will have to do on Monday but what if I forget and maybe I should have stayed late on Friday and gotten it over with oh god what is wrong with me?

I try silence (except for the sounds of early morning traffic outside my window), turning on the tv (at night I often fall asleep to old sitcoms, which numb my brain from actual thinking), reading, or just squeezing my eyes shut and cursing. And then I eventually get up and sit here at my computer, feeling tired and looking at the unmade bed beside me and thinking how nice it would be to crawl back under that down comforter and sleep a few more hours, if I could only turn off my brain.

Good morning.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Dog Day Evening

There's a dog barking below my window, no doubt tied to a parking meter while its owner(s) wander through Blockbuster looking for a video. This is particularly irksome because 1) the poor dog has been barking for 15 minutes and I can't hear myself think and 2) Blockbuster sucks, if they just went to the independent video store around the block they'd be supporting a neighborhood business, have access to many more selections (no censorship!), and be in and out of the store much more quickly. Oh, and their dog? would be tied up outside someone else's bedroom window.

(Nothing against dogs, mind you. It's some owners who make me want to scream.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A bitch, but less of one

I don't know if it's my English major background (I was a tutor in the writing center all through college), my current job which often makes me play the editor/proofreader role, or my natural perfectionism, but I think I am turning into a super snob about grammar and spelling. Now, up front I'll say that I know I don't always write perfectly, and many of these entries are likely littered with typos. As I've become more computer dependent, I've become more and more reliant on spell check. I type really, really fast, and I'm comfortable that I can go back and fix things. (Although spellcheck won't always come up for me when I'm creating a post - maybe a pop-up blocker thing.)

But I'm not talking about quick fingers that transpose letters, or inadvertent Freudian-like slips, or conversational grammar that doesn't follow every rule. I'm talking about constant and repeated mistakes that are clearly and obviously something the writer thinks is correct. Like this: on the weight loss forum I frequent, about half of the group spells "exercise" as "excersize." As you can imagine, it's a word that comes up a lot. I know I need to just ignore it and chill, but after awhile I get a bit crazed seeing it over and over and over. (It's not the only mistake constantly made over there, but it's the most glaring.) I know I can't say anything, and I feel bitchy even going on about it here, but hey... isn't that what blogs are for? To bitch about something you wouldn't say otherwise?

(Blogger spellcheck doesn't know "spellcheck." Ha!)
(My god, it doesn't know "Blogger" either.)

Milestone - as of this morning, I've lost 20 lbs on my new program. That's in almost 9 weeks, so a respectable 2 lb a week average. Yippee!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bits & Pieces

So the Academy Award nominations... pretty on target in my book. Of course, I'd have "Syriana" for Best Picture instead of "Good Night & Good Luck" (which I didn't find as compelling as most) and think "Walk the Line" should be there, but not sure in place of what. I love that "Crash" was nominated, that Terrence Howard got a nomination for "Hustle & Flow" and that Catherine Keener & Rachel Weisz got nominations. (Have you ever seen her in "The Shape of Things"? It's a very slow, stagey film (based on Neil LaBute's play) and has an interesting enough twist that I pretend makes me watch it over and over - but I think the truth is I'm obsessed with Paul Rudd's fake nose. It's actually not such a great movie.)

I am rambling, I know.

I heard on NPR's "On the Media" that James Frey tried to sell his book as fiction, but couldn't get a publisher interested, and so on the advice of someone (agent?), re-packaged it as a memoir. So whose fault is it? Frey's? The publishing world? The buying public, who want things packaged a certian way? I don't quite get what the big brouhaha is all about, except that I suppose the lesson is you don't make Oprah look like a fool.

Not an Oprah fan, though I can't really put my finger on why.
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