Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tonight, I am an indoor kid

I could be at a cabaret that features a lot of my friends tonight. My teaching partner Joe is doing a new piece with words and movement about JonBenet, and that's only one example of the awesome I'm missing.

There's a thing that happens when you live alone, and do a lot of your work at home, where you want to do everything that happens outside of your house -- take advantage of every single social opportunity that comes your way.

But there's something empowering about staying in every once in a while. There's a satisfaction in abstaining. Tonight, I've been listening to podcasts, doing the dishes . . . Got some Harpoon IPA, which feels homey since it can always be found at my parents' house. For the first time ever, I let iTunes Genius make a playlist for me (based on "Wildflowers" by Tom Petty. I've got that on while I cook for myself. And I'm really happy right now.

Also, the track my iTunes thinks is "Great Balls of Fire" is actually "Get Your Write On," the old Monkeys school closer, as sung by Laura McKenzie. You got nothing on McKenzie, Jerry Lee!

Here's the list Genius made me . . . At the price of letting Mac study my music collection, I think it's a pretty sweet toy.

Wildflowers -- Tom Petty
Learning To Fly -- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Ripple -- Grateful Dead
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down -- The Band
And She Was -- Talking Heads
Ride the River -- JJ Cale & Eric Clapton
Squeeze Box -- The Who
Me & Bobby McGee -- Janis Joplin
Runnin Down A Dream -- Tom Petty
Touch Of Grey -- Grateful Dead
Your Life Is Now -- John Mellencamp
Stand By Me -- John Lennon
The Dark Of The Sun -- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Great Balls Of Fire -- Jerry Lee Lewis
Barstool Blues -- Neil Young & Crazy Horse
You Wreck Me -- Tom Petty
Someday Baby -- Bob Dylan
Ever Fallen In Love? -- The Buzzcocks
St. Stephen -- Grateful Dead
Between The Bars -- Elliott Smith
Magic Bus -- The Who
Beyond My Wildest Dreams -- Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris
Right In Time -- Lucinda Williams
Rockin' In The Free World -- Neil Young
Tuesday's Gone -- Lynyrd Skynyrd

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tone deaf and all washed up

I hesitate to share this, it so depresses me, but maybe you'll fare better than me.

Train Horn

Created by Train Horn

Via Caitlin R. Kiernan, who passed.

I am trying to write books for teenagers, and I do not know what they're listening to.

Also, I love this vid from Jackson Pearce, "about giving cats baths, also giving up on your novel." Via Cynsations.

I'm not giving up on my novel (not all of it anyway), but I am more aware than ever that all this writing I've been doing has been me learning to write, which is a good thing no matter what comes of it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Ever read An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender? The character quits things, ritualistically, almost anorexically. She fantasizes about cutting off parts of her own body. I'm feeling that way about my book. I've cut so much that's it's hard to wrap my mind around what's left, hard to figure out if it can still stand up and walk down the street.

But I just reworked my opening scene, and I'm preparing a second outline for my advisor, and I'm thinking that it's going to be okay.

If I just keep breathing.

Also, I just found out that An Invisible Sign of My Own is being made into a movie starring Jessica Alba? Really? Okay.

I can't imagine that it will match the book's brilliant weirdness, but if Jessica Alba's the star, that is already a pretty weird choice, so who knows.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


After I joined Twitter, I had to get Shelf Awareness to explain it to me.

My rockstar friend and classmate, author Varian Johnson, is featured in the Austin American-Stateman talking about The Brown Bookshelf.

Laura and Kate have started a silly, assignment-based blog that will Rock Your Face!

Share a Story - Shape a Future Blog Tour for Literacy starts March 9.

I'm going to check out Fangs, Fur, and Fey's live podcast: "Writers on Writing" on Blog Talk Radio, February 27 at 1pm CST.

I share, and want to share with you, Justine Larbalestier's RomCom Rage.

"How to Make Boys Like You: Advice from a Nerd" -- nerd being John Green.

And speaking of nerds, Alan Moore talks to Wired about comics, graphic novels, Watchmen, and The League. Via Tai.

Currently reading: Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. I know I'm about twenty years late, but yay!

Day of the Tweet

With great horror and trepidation, I joined Twitter. Here I am.

Here are some folks from my school. Were it not for them, I would not venture here.

I am scared, and also a little giddy.

World Hearts Rachel

I'm in a creative muddle and a social slouch, so instead of a self-disclosing rant, I offer this disclosure:

What Rachel's doing at one in the morning when she should be sleeping . . .
Free Will Astrology

A friend showed me this website maybe a year ago. He knew it was a guilty pleasure, but he was also pretty sure it knew his life. I don't visit the site often, but it rarely disappoints. The readings are often abstract. Usually weird. But because they're so odd and open, they leave a lot of space for you to bring your own baggage to them . . . a little bit like reading tea leaves as described by my friend Laura.

Here are a few gems from this week's readings:
Beware of people who act like polite jerks or tone-deaf music critics or emotionally numb lovers.

As coffee drinking came into vogue in the 18th century, it became a driving force in the Age of Enlightenment.

If you put a corn chip in guacamole, take a bite, then dunk the chip in the bowl again, you're doing what's known as double-dipping. Scientists say it transfers about 2,750 bacteria from your mouth to the guacamole.

To me, Freewill says: "The world is once again falling deeply in love with you."

Me: Oh yeah, Freewill? It doesn't feel that way. Prove it!

Freewill: "Let's hope that on this occasion (unlike what happened the last two times) you will accept its adoration in the spirit in which it's given."

Me: So, what are you saying, that was my fault? I didn't . . . well this changes things. I didn't realize the world felt that way about me.

Apparently, me and the world need to work on our communication skills.

Also, while we're on guilty pleasures, over the last four days, I read Twilight and New Moon back to back -- just over a 1,000 pages of identifying with an obsessive, codependent, often suicidal, completely subsumed 17-year-old-girl with low self-esteem. So, there's that.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Here Monkey, Monkey

I want to share a couple of Monkey-related links:

Barrel of Monkeys has launched a series of podcasts, and the first two, "The Haunted Piano" and "The Servant's Skills," are up on our website. Enjoy!

Also, Tai wrote a post about one of my favorite Monkey stories ever, "A Bad Day," which is enjoying a long run in That's Weird, Grandma right now. I scripted its first draft with some serious cheer contributions from Laura McKenzie, and every person who's performed it in TWG from August to now has added a bit. It's bit-tastic!

Two very selfish desires made the original story call to me -- the need to act out my lifelong fantasy of seeing two men cheer-fight to the death over me, and my drive to say this amazing line:

"I like both of the men."

Oh, "Bad Day," I feel you. And now you are a fan fave! Go team!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Excuses, excuses

Yesterday morning writing went well, for two, two-and-a-half hours, and then I succumbed to the sleepy again.

But here's the good news. This morning, it's undeniable, I have a cold. YES!

This means I am not JUST lazy and mopey.


But I still have to write.

Also, I'm deep into The Mysterious Benedict Society and really loving the parallels to Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. Way to rabble rouse the middle grades, Trenton Lee Stewart!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Yes, there is some actual writing happening here

Here's the deal, writer friends. Some of you do this thing where you wake up at a set time and you put on a pot of coffee, maybe you even don work clothes, and you sit at a desk, and you write.

For a variety of reasons, I have not been keeping such a routine of late. I've been writing, but not at my desk (too cold), and not always at normal hours (Friday night at Tai's house while he watched Battlestar, via Facebook messages to myself).

My first packet of the semester went in Thursday. I'm now working on packet two of five, presumably building my creative thesis. As scared as I am, I have to make a lot of changes to my manuscript. Here's an example of the kind of changes we're talking about -- as a working title, I've been calling my book Manatee.

I'm cutting the manatee.

This is not a bad thing. I've been feeling like I've been trying to write two or three books at the same time. I've chosen one to work with now and cut the rest away. Maybe the manatee will get its own book, but it doesn't belong in this one.

And because I have a lot of work to do, and am not sure where to begin, I am sitting at my desk. And after I post this, I am working.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I feel like I got attacked by Dementors. Accordingly, I am resting up and eating chocolate ice cream.

It was a big weekend.

For one thing, this happened . . .

That's Pryzgoda, me, McKenzie, and Oona gearing up for "Why Do You Think You Are Nuts?" at Monkey-O-Kee. It's all for the children, people.

I also filled in for Christina Anthony in That's Weird, Grandma last night, which meant a lot of fast learning of parts, some of which were challenging for me. Case in point: Dancing with the Stars Girl. I'm the girl who, when asked to do a hiphop dance as part of "Jelly" had to be given one ridiculous move (drive the Mac truck, drive the Mac truck) to repeat ad infinitum. Dancing: not my forte.

Also, it is hard to get up and do life when your roommate does this all day.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I love you, sweetness

At the VCFA winter residency, Jen tried to see how long a sentence she could make with Sweethearts. It says, "URA AWESOME ANGEL SUGAR PIE HONEY BUN ONLY YOU STIR MY (HEART SHAPE) DEAR ONE BE MINE MARRY ME SWEET LOVE."


Also, never propose via candy hearts. This is the sort of thing that is romantic to third graders. Turns out, not one of the things I thought was romantic in third grade is actually romantic. This includes:

red roses (snore)
sitting by me at lunch
unbridled cruelty between the sexes
that one episode of Thundercats where Lion-O and Cheetara accidentally kiss
having your friend ask my friend, "does your friend like my friend? Check yes or no."

To all my third grade readers, if his friend asks this of your friend, check, "No." Suggest to your friend and his friend that they look very cute together, and that, since they are both capable of making eye contact, they might be ready to sit together at lunch.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cracko Whacko

Today has been a weird day all around, but I'm only going to share the weirdest part. Around one pm, I get a call asking if I'd like to be a sub for a trio performance at Monkey-O-Kee, and can I come rehearse my part right now?

I was feeling the post-packet brain drain, and I wasn't getting any real work done, so I said sure.

And now I get to go crazy with Oona and Laura to this . . .

I had never seen it before. I hear it is very popular on the internets.

And no, it's not available on real karaoke. We'll have live backup from Monkey rockstar Mike Pryzgoda.

As part of a sponsored monkey team, I am now officially soliciting money in exchange for making a fool of myself. Dig deep.

Six weeks

We celebrated New Year's in the square. We dodged renegade fireworks that exploded in our path. We talked about wizards and witches, their qualities and powers, how to recognize them and what they have to teach us.

We tried to define the dying year with single adjectives. I chose "resilient."

A lot of us had been sick. On the night of the 29th, I threw up for hours, so long I passed out, hit my head on the wall, cried and prayed not to die in Guatemala. The 30th disappeared, drowned in Gatorade and corpse-like sleep. On the 31st, we traveled to Antigua feeling frayed and ready for renewal.

Exactly six weeks ago, in the early hours of New Year's Day, we sat on a rooftop in Antigua, Guatemala, and the breeze felt good, and volcanoes made a ring of shadows in the sky around the city.

One among us was a wizard, or else a Scorpio -- maybe they're the same thing? One among us used to dance ballet, and I want to talk to her about that, but now she's far away again, and man, I hate when my friends live far away. Another one played guitar on the roof, songs that we could all sing, and new songs that we hadn't heard before. He turned on a recorder to catch the sound of fireworks exploding in the streets.

Tonight, I turned in my first of five packets for my last semester of school. It feels like years ago that I was sitting on a rooftop in Guatemala. I have so much work to do to get my novel in order, but if time moves as slowly and fills up as full as it has over the last six weeks, I should be all right.

Currently reading: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Little girl

Today a fourth grader called me, "little girl," as in, "You better get away from me, little girl."

I am grown up, I tell you. I'm grown!

Monday, February 9, 2009


Parker and I have been burrowing. Before this weekend's thaw, the temperature inside my apartment was only marginally warmer than outside, which was freezing.

I spent several nights sleeping with hat, scarf, and legwarmers. See the computer in the bed? That's where it and I have been living -- under the down comforter.

At some point, you have to get out of bed no matter how cold it is. Here I am reading in front of the radiator.

In the alley outside my building, there was a layer of ice a good five or six inches thick. Somebody finally blasted it and left a pile of ice three feet high outside my window.

Nature and plowing made piles of ice and snow everywhere, like this one that's trying to eat a tree.

That's why it was so exciting this weekend, when the ice all melted, and I got to wear a skirt.

Currently reading: Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox. Yes!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


If you've never been to Monkey-O-Kee, then you don't know what's it's like to see company members from Barrel of Monkeys singing and acting like fools for your pleasure.

Oh, wait, you've been to a Barrel of Monkeys show? Well then, maybe you do know what that's like, and you know it is not to be missed.

If you're not so familiar with our work, here's a touch of what we do -- it's the closing credit sequence from Collin Souter's Meet the Monkeys documentary. I love the whole sequence, but starting around 3:21 you can see one of my favorite Monkey musical numbers, "Trapped in the Hospital" in its entirety. All the stories featured here, all the stories we perform, were written by our writing students, 3-6 graders in Chicago schools . . .

Consider supporting our work by coming to Monkey-O-Kee or making a donation. You can buy a ticket in advance online at this link, or directly from me. In any case, tell them I sent you, and help me build up Monkey street cred.

Here's the info:

Sunday, February 15th, 2009
8:00 – 11:00pm

Mad River Bar & Grille
2909 N. Sheffield

$25 (ticket price includes domestic beer, pizza and pasta)
All advance purchases include 2 free spins of the prize wheel!

I hate asking people for money, but I love this theater company and the work we do. Even if you can't come to karaoke, you can always send a donation (again, please mention my name) to the office at:

Barrel of Monkeys
2936 N. Southport
Chicago, IL 60657

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Crumble, crumble

This morning I woke up with the fear that I had titled my last post, "Crumble, crumble," instead of "Crumple, crumple."

This proves:

a) I am somewhat neurotic
b) I am a writer
c) Both

I'm going to go with c.

Today, I finished Naming Maya by my last advisor Uma Krishnaswami. I read most of it today actually because I couldn't stop. Reading books by people you like is so much fun. I felt like Uma was in the room with me.

Rarely before starting my program did I have the opportunity to read books by people I'd met in person. Since starting it, the list of books by people I like that I want to read keeps getting longer and longer. It's made me consider stopping posting what I'm reading because I feel so bad that I haven't yet had time to read everything I want to have read.

But that just means I have a really great, "to read" list, right? Right? Please don't be mad at me if I haven't read your book yet. I am somewhat neurotic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Crumple, crumple

Last weekend I reencountered Bernie McGovern. He designed the fantastic puppets for the new Neo-Futurist show BEER as well as the poster and puppets for Sansculottes' beautiful 13 Dead Husbands that I saw in March.

After the show (which anyone with even a moderate interest in craft beer, puppets, live music, or comedy should see -- yes, I liked it), I got a peek at a draft of an installment of Bernie's graphic novel, An Army of Lovers. It was a beautiful mock-up of polished black-and-white drawings with full-color illustrations popping up here and there. Soooo pretty.

Bernie was nice enough to share some here . . .

So I'm looking at this beautiful book, and Bernie says he plans to completely revise the first half of it. It's about the same page count as my novel, and like my novel, about half of it has to go, but for some reason the idea of cutting drawings feels harsher to me.

Maybe because I'm so used to writing, I give a page of drawing more respect, but there's also something essential about a drawing that makes detaching from one harder. A drawing can be taken in quickly without all that pesky reading. I can crumple up a page of writing without giving too much attention to what's on it, but crumpling up a drawing . . . it's like stomping on a puppy. Poor Bernie!

And poor me -- because every page of writing that I crumple is full of images I had in my head, images that I once thought would be good for something. And they were good for something -- good for getting me to the point where I've realized I can crumple them up.

Even though I'm getting used to it, even though I accept it and sometimes even love it, cutting and revising is hard -- harder than starting from scratch in some ways -- no matter what your medium. As much as I like Bernie's pictures, it's comforting to me to imagine him scratching them out or chopping them up because it reminds me how inescapable, and essential, revision is.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Third cousin, no remove

Okay, apparently I am losing touch with my Alabama roots, because my mother called to correct me on this post. The cousin who is also a friend that I told you about . . . is not my second cousin once removed. She's my third.

And her daughter? Third once removed. That's how that works.

I have to go sit down now with a tall mint julep because I'm getting the vapors from having been so very, very wrong.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

We make our own fun

This Saturday, Oona led an amazing workshop for Barrel of Monkeys on economic diversity. We talked about skills, assumptions, and behaviors that are influenced by economic class, similarities and differences between our experiences and those of the students we serve, if and when we bridge those differences as an organization . . .

Among the things we feel like we're getting right is an aesthetic that emphasizes imagination over polish. If you can find a cardboard box and a marker, you can make a boat and a shark with a chomping tooth all your own, like these from Thursday's school show. This is as fancy as it gets.