Friday, February 26, 2010

Princess and the Peeves

Falling asleep early has never been an easy task for me. On weeknights, I drag myself by the hair into bed before midnight, only to lie there, wondering why the traditional workday still begins at the crack of dawn. We’re not farmers anymore, so what’s the point? And don’t tell me it’s because the majority of people want it this way because I see them all in their cars at 7 am, and not a single one of them look happy to be out and about. Their faces all have that same I want my blankie look as they nurse a hot cup of chemical stimulation.

I am nocturnal through and through, and once I’ve tied up the uncounted sheep and forced Mr. Sandman into a submissive choke-hold, that’s when I let down my hair and bask in the moonlight. During those enchanted night hours, I usually ruminate on theoretical nonsense while knitting or writing. Sometimes I toss around catchy titles for new blog entries. Oftentimes I wrangle plot ideas and conjure up quirky characters. Still other times, when the creativity wanes, I make mental lists and categorize them by topics.

My pet peeve list covers a lot of ground—so much so that I could probably do individual blog entries for each one and have a full year of material. I’m no whiner, that’s for sure, but once a month or so I indulge on a good rant or two. Allow me to humor you with just a smidgen of what drives me batty.

Shirt tags. Even the softest, most innocent tags that barely brush my hyper-sensitive skin send me reeling around the room in search of scissors. If no scissors can be found, I will rip these itchy, scratchy little devils out with my bare hands, sometimes leaving a gaping hole where the diabolical tag once dwelt. Thank God for Old Navy, et al, who have learned to print the needed info directly onto the inside of the shirt.

Garment hanging straps
. An annoying cousin of the shirt tag, these ridiculously long pieces of synthetic fusion are designed to help your dress not slip off the hanger. The problem is that they rarely ever stay in the dress while you’re wearing it. Or they get tangled in your bra and make you squirm all night (sorry men, you’ll have to just imagine this one).

Mechanical pencils
. Someone’s making a fortune out there. The lead breaks every time I press the pencil to the paper. Refills are never to be found when I need them, and I need them constantly because those pantywaist pieces of lead only last for but a few words. I can buy 48 regular old #2 pencils and a sharpener for the price of one mechanical disaster of a pencil, and I’m set for life.

Chalk. For the first ten years of my teaching career, I had to use chalk every day, and every day, I had to shrug off the urge to throw my piece of yellow lung dust across the room, not only because of that scratchy sound it makes, but because it’s so…ewww…chalky. This was also a major problem during my gymnastics years, when I had to cake my hands with the ultra-dry stuff before mounting the uneven bars. Ew.

Dry erase pens. Oh these are much better than the chalk they have superseded, but what I discovered after my first day of teaching at a dry-erase board is that these multicolored felt wonders make me really HIGH! I remember a classroom full of bedazzled students, spinning and contorting after I wrote out a long Asimov passage on my brand new sparkly white board. Twenty-two faces all merged into one big academic blur and a crashing headache followed. Now they make “odorless” versions, which (perhaps psychosomatically) still give me an occasional psychedelic moment.

. Thank God for the Internet! No more blackened fingers, ink-driven sneezes, and funky folding and unfolding of those large, awkward sheets of newsprint. No more annoying Sports sections assaulting me with those creepy escort ads. Thanks to my Mac, advertising pop-ups are never an intrusion, and I can juxtapose the L.A. Times with the Honolulu Advertiser in a few seconds flat. The only part of the actual newspaper I still handle with my bare hands is the crossword puzzle, which absolutely must be done old-school, with a pen—never at a keyboard.

Cling wrap. First of all, it’s dangerous. Those razor-sharp teeth are always primed to take a chunk out of my thumb while I’m picking around the roll trying to find the beginning, only to tear some off and salvage whatever isn’t clinging to itself. Foil may be more expensive, but it always does its job more efficiently, and it’s sparkly.

Spiral notebooks. Designed for right-handers, these torment us lefties when we write in them because the harsh metal loops dig into our delicate wrists. On rare occasion, I’ve been able to find one designed for troubled southpaws, but they cost way more than they’re worth.

Phony radio voices. Come on, do they really have to talk that way?

Phony anything. With the exception of faux fur and some silk plants, everything else that is not genuine makes me cringe. I especially loathe digital pianos, lip-sync-ers, and plastic stuff (especially faces and/or body parts).

One-sided communication. It’s like hitting the ball over the net and never getting it back.

. The only thing I like about them is when I get the delighting opportunity to see them slump when their negative predictions are derailed.

Snobs. Except for a few dutiful grammar snobs, all the rest should be forced to watch videos of themselves in action.

Political correctness. This oxymoronic phenomenon has sent everyone reeling into a verbal quandary that has caused more controversy than the issue itself.

Auto correct
. This over-zealous digital task-master forces me to indent when I don’t want to and refuses to allow me to write e.e. cummings in lower-case. Trying to disengage Auto-Correct requires a PhD in Microsoft.

Lap-tops. Don’t get me wrong, I love my lap-top. It’s just that along with this handy portable wonder come three annoying conditions:
  • iburn. Caused by placing lap-top directly on bare lap. Symptoms include itchy, burning red spots that may last up to two hours.
  • ipinch. Caused by opening lap-top on bare lap. May result in a 12-inch blood blister.
  • icramp. Caused by spending hours on the lap-top, especially with excessive use of the itsy-bitsy mouse pad

Alarm clocks.

Monday, February 8, 2010

To Write a Novel

After two and a half years of disciplined writing, I have completed the first draft of my novel, entitled Bum-bye. At 59,412 words, this quasi-memoir has both healed and wrenched me beyond expectation. In fact, if I had known how painful it would be to unearth key parts of the story, I would have never started the work. But somehow during my first MFA semester at Pacific University, under the wing of author John Rember, I abandoned a complicated piece of speculative fiction about a toxic stream and dove into what Rember claimed would be “…something people will want to read.”

In previous blog entries, I have posted a couple of snippets from Bum-bye and was pleased with the sparse but encouraging comments that came back to me (let it be known that writing is a lonely business, and getting feedback, even critical feedback, affirms that we are indeed being read by someone out there somewhere). Other artists—like potters and painters—have the benefit of being able to show off their work upon its completion. They don’t have to tell inquisitive onlookers to wait just a few more years to get a glimpse of their most recent creations. This is the rub we pen-wielders must endure.

So to celebrate (quietly), I am going to post the ninth chapter, one of my favorites, from Bum-bye.


I make it to my Wines and Foods of the World class ten minutes late and frazzled, but it doesn’t matter because the teacher isn’t here yet either. She’s a senior flight attendant with an undisclosed airline, so she’s been late a few times. She’s tough, too. I lost ten points for not spelling Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewurtztraminer correctly. Being Portuguese, I’ve been told that wine is in my blood. I believe it, but that doesn’t mean I’m a huge fan, especially if it’s cheap and tastes like dirty old wood. In fact, ever since I got plastered drunk in the eighth grade with a bunch of so-called friends, I’ve made an effort to steer away from alcohol.

What I remember from that nightmarish drinking experience are fragmented scenes. The new wild girl at my school named Gigi, whose dad was a popular TV news anchor, hired us a stretch limo to drive us to Skateway. In the limo, Gigi busted out six baby bottles and filled them up with Jack Daniels. She said, Ready, set, go! We sucked down our bottles, and I won, which meant they would have to pitch in and pay my way into the roller skating rink. Along came the chili cheese nachos, spinning around on the table where I tried to lace up my skates. Then in slow motion, when I stood up, took a few staggering strides on my skates, I lost my balance and grabbed onto the first thing I could find, which happened to be a towering guy wearing black spandex pants. Then there was vomit. Lots of vomit. All down the front of the spandex guy. Then blackness fading in and out—me propped up against the wall on the floor in a bathroom stall. More blackness. Then chilling wind slapping my face while riding in the back of a pick-up truck. Then a blurry bed. Then Gigi’s creepy dad. Then a head-crashing morning.

* * *

The class is an hour-and-a-half long, and I’m in the back of the room with my notebook. I open it to a blank page and start scribbling out random words in the margin.









I repeat these words to myself until it becomes a mantra. Broken. Missing. Absent. Locked. Tired. Hungry. Lonely. Clock. Broken. Missing. Absent. Locked…

The girl next to me nudges me awake when Ms. Senior Flight Attendant flounces into the room. She puts a small ice chest and a paper grocery bag on her desk and doesn’t apologize for being late. Instead, she projects on the screen a huge page of notes for us to copy, entitled, Cheese. Fromage. Queso.

Spread across the screen is a descriptive list of cheeses and their corresponding countries. Gouda—Holland. Brie, Camembert—France. Gorgonzola—Italy. Havarti—Holland. Feta—Greece. Swiss—United States (go figure). I copy the board, but it doesn’t register because all I can think about is what she’s got in that ice chest.

“Well,” our instructor says, “are you all ready for the tasting?”

The Asian guy on the other side of me says he’s lactose intolerant, and the gum-chewing girl says she hates cheese. Great, my stomach and I are agreeing, more for us.

The instructor bats her chunky false eyelashes as she tells us to line up behind the table, single file. With a flick of her wrist, she displays the gourmet crackers like a magician would display a deck of cards. She gives us ten small index cards with the names of the various cheeses on the table. We are to take a cracker and a slice of cheese and eat it, as she says, with contemplation. After each taste, we are to match the card with its corresponding cheese. I’m seventh in line, and I'm dizzy.

When I get to the first cheese, I put a piece on the cracker and my teeth sink into its butter-like softness. It must be Brie. The instructor reminds us to put our names on the back of our cards, so we can find out who gets the prize for labeling the most cheese samples correctly.

“What’s the prize?” I ask her.

“Cheese, of course,” she snaps at me like I’m a blazing idiot.

“How exquisite,” I say, batting my naked eyelashes.

She’s not impressed with me, and at this point, I could give a rip. I need to eat, but since I wasn’t paying much attention while I took notes, I’m going to go with my gut instinct and guess...with contemplation.

Each cheese has its own unique flavor, texture, and color. One is so smooth it tastes more like Velveeta, which cannot be possible at this fancy table. Another is brittle and tastes a hundred years old. The one I like most is smoky, like a bon fire. I’m in cheese heaven as I make my way to the last sample, which we’ve been warned is “strong.” When I bite into it, it bites back. Strong is an understatement. It’s more like demonic. I swallow it down anyway then take an extra handful of crackers with me to my desk.

The instructor is checking all of our cards, one by one, as we all sit around and chat. She turns to us and smiles like a tired flight attendant should smile.

“Well, I see we have a cheese connoisseur in the room. Let’s give a hand to Gabriella Johannon.” She pronounces my last name correctly, saying the J as a Y.

Everyone claps as I come up for my prize, which happens to be an assortment of all the cheeses we sampled, along with a box of those gourmet crackers.

“Gabriella guessed nine of the ten correctly,” she boasts. “I’m very impressed, Gabriella.”

“Thank you, Ms.…oh…crap. I forgot your name.”

“Pudenz. Inez Pudenz,” she says, emphasizing the second syllable of both names.

“Sorry, Ms. Pudenz. I’ve had a hard week,” I say to her in front of the class. Clutching the cheese and crackers to my chest, I force myself not to choke up. The gum-chewer girl stares at me like she’s watching a soap opera. After class, she catches up to me in the parking lot and says, “Is everything okay?”

“Yes,” I tell her. “Want some?”

“No thanks. Remember, I’m the one who hates cheese. I almost barfed when I tasted the last one.”

“Me too,” I say.

“Well, I’ll see you next week then?” she says as she’s getting into her car.

“Hope so.” I get into my car and bust out the cheese and crackers before I start up the engine. Pungent

vapors are wafting out of the sealed package of the demonic cheese. Gorgonzola. I’d throw it out if I knew where the next meal would come from.