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December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

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Posted by laurie at 11:06 AM

December 28, 2007

Party like it's 1999 ...

I love New Year's Eve! Later maybe I will make a party hat out of some post-it notes and a noisemaker from some interoffice mail envelopes and paper clips!

Oh, hi. I am working today.

But usually on holiday-eve days we get to leave early, that's always nice. And of course this morning I have been pondering my list, not that I haven't talked about it for like two solid weeks or anything. Geez with the listing.

New Year 2008 To-Dos and To-Dont's

Financial:

Continue good path of saving money

House

Maintain a clean and tidy house most of the time so that people can come over without me needing to kill myself scrubbing and stacking up boxes in "neater" piles.

Get rid of remaining clutter.

Make a list for the landlord of everything that is wrong. Insist it gets fixed asap. (I am actually doing this one today and sending it in along with my rent check! Yay me!)

Make and keep dentist appointments

See Doctor for checkup

Order new contact lenses

Get the all the cats to the vet for teeth cleaning

Get brakes checked on Jeep

Figure out why the CD player stopped working

Go on three trips or better this year (I just discovered that France banned all smoking in cafes and clubs and restaurants just like here in California! This makes me happy. I love Paris more than any other city on earth besides L.A. and I have wondered if I'd backslide into some le smoking if I ever visited again. Now -- le not!)

Visit my parents

Sort out my email issues once and for all

Do a redesign of this website

Maybe consider doing horoscopes again, but in a newsletter format instead of online so people only get them if they want them (thereby eliminating the "I hate you and your fauxrcastthis month" issues.)

Do that exotic thing they call exercise

Eat more vegetables

Complete two big projects this year.

Learn to use my new camera (the old one broke and I literally have it duct-taped together.) Love you duct tape!)

Personal

Create limits where needed and maintain ones that are working.

Be less harsh on myself. Remember that sometimes it's okay to be a weirdo.


Posted by laurie at 3:09 PM

Tonight gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf and just enjoy yourself....

1) FRIDAY IS HERE
For those of us working shmoes who've slogged through the week feeling like we should be lying on the sofa eating chocolate and watching reruns and yet instead we find ourselves commuting to work each day with other people who apparently have no freeway driving experience and are on vacation from places where the left lane is the breakdown lane, I would like to say thank you to anyone who can make me laugh:

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I got a good chuckle out of that one.

2) Grandma gives her two cents...
According to my grandma, Gene Kelly was considered a great entertainer and a great dancer and one of the more masculine dancers of the day, but not really a heartthrob or anything. She agreed with me on my assessment of Gregory Peck, too. And that was before I started pouring the champagne!

3) Faith's Birthday
Faith's birthday was on December 23rd, and a bunch of us got together for brunch at a great restaurant at Universal Citywalk, I think it's called the Saddle House or something. They had good biscuits!

I always feel bad for folks who have their birthday in December because I think they get a short shake of the presents stick, but that is because I am a June baby and I like my year divided in nice equal halves. heh. I forgot to ask Faith if her birthday ever got shorted by Hanukkah. Anyway, we had fun and I can't believe all of us are starting to have birthdays again, I'm frankly not sure if I like this trend!

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Me & the birthday girl!

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Kristen with Justin

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Me & Allison

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Shannon and Faith with baby Mia, who is getting so grown up!


4) Everyone is pondering their fuzzy navels...

And finally, as this year draws to an end, I'm trying to think through what changes I'd like to make for next year and what new adventures, experiences and shoes I would like to add to my life. Yup, it is New Year's Resolutions time!

I love making a list that sets the theme for the year. Last year I decided that I would never, ever go on a diet again and that single change has made my life so much better ... it's been both harder and easier than I expected, and now I'm interested to see where next year takes me. I've definitely gotten better at accepting myself the way I am. I'd like to be a little better at accepting others the way they are, too, and be more forgiving and compassionate when I feel betrayed or hurt by someone. When I feel someone has done me wrong or been a bad friend, I tend to be really unforgiving. It's not a good quality, but it's a defense mechanism -- I guess I thought it was the only way not to get hurt again.

I'd like to learn how to be better than that, and learn how to both let go of hurt feelings and at the same time have good boundaries in place. (Is it possible to be kind and not be a doormat? Yes, I think it is possible. I want to learn this.) And I want to really learn that you can't change people, you can only change yourself. Sure I have heard this cliche' my whole life, but there's a big difference between hearing something and really really understand something. All you can change or control are your actions, your life, your responses, your behavior, your boundaries. It's actually kind of a relief! I have enough work trying to change myself, Lord knows I can't change other people, too. People are going to do what they want to do. I want to really learn to accept it, and stop wishing things were different. Just live in what is, that sounds so good to me.

And in 2008 I want to keep my house mostly-always tidy so that I don't have to spend hours cleaning up and putting things away before someone can drop by. Mainly this is a clutter issue. I still have more clutter than I want in my life and house, so that has GOT TO GO. I want to spend 2008 in a clean, tidy house so that I don't have to panic before guests arrive and a lot of that is just getting rid of the final mountain of clutter in my spare room/office/dumping ground. What a relief it will be to be able to have people over anytime without worrying if I have time to deep-clean the house. This may mean I have to get rid of more stuff I was holding onto and didn't want to part with... but it will be worth it. It is time to let go.

Re-reading this, I guess my pondery listing all has to do with clearing out the old stuff and making clear paths to the new things I want! I definitely want a life that is less cluttered with junk -- both physical and emotional junk. Just the pure, simple, good stuff, that's what I want more of. This past year was full of amazing great things and some very sad things, too. I want to learn from them both and make 2008 a happy year, more balanced, clearer. I want to hold onto more living and let go of loss with a little more grace.

Lest you think I am a sole crazy person over here in my asylum of self-help, I'm not the only one at Chez Ponders With Wine to be gazing off into the future and looking for more catnip and less smelly clumps....

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Happy Last Friday of 2007 to you. Can you believe it is almost a whole new year? I'm really happy about it even though it does seem 2007 passed spookily fast. I am excited to try all sorts of new things, new experiences, new places and new shoes. And I am really ready to clear out the junk for good. Can you sell a matched 32-piece set of emotional Louis Vuitton luggage at a yard sale? What would a drama wallet fetch these days, anyway?

Hope you have a good weekend. Go off and ponder with a nice cabernet!

Posted by laurie at 8:43 AM

December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas from my jolly brood to yours!

Posted by laurie at 10:31 AM

December 21, 2007

Oh no, she's taking pictures of the teevee again!

When I was going through my Big Budget Revamp, I got rid of all my cable pay-movie channels. With the lower-cost cable package there are a couple of free movie channels, perfect for those occasional drunken Tivofests where you sit with the program guide and choose weird stuff to Tivo which you promptly forget about until you come home two weeks later and wonder why you have six new movies on your Tivo List, including both Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit.

(OK, I cannot lie to ya'll. I LOVE the Sister Act movies. They make me laugh. Plus, the songs are good. Who doesn't love some Whoopi in the nunnery, now, huh? C'mon.) (Don't judge.)

But only recently I discovered that my cable lineup also has a Turner Classic Movies channel and a Fox Classic movies channel and both have movies without commercial breaks. My classical movie knowledge is spotty at best -- I never watched TV as a kid, so I spent my teenage and early adult years catching up on such staples as The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island. I'm just now getting around to the movie staples thanks to Tivo and my freebie channels.

The other night I watched this movie called "Take Her, She's Mine" with Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee. (I couldn't find it available on amazon, but here is the link to it on IMDB.com.) It was cute in places, kind of surprising in others, but James Stewart is charming in pretty much everything so it was a good movie (especially with a cat on my lap and some knitting, love you garter stitch scarf!)

Maybe it's the weather or maybe it's the time of year, but all I want to do is eat chocolate, knit simple cozy projects and sit on the sofa with a cat on my leg while watching some TV. It may sound boring to some people, but considering the pace of this past year, the downtime is really decadent to me!

Last night I watched An American in Paris starring Gene Kelly. And here's where my curiosity comes in: was Gene Kelly considered a heartthrob back in the day? It was kind of hard for me to tell, especially from this movie. Sometimes his character is a jerk in that movie and sometimes they pose him like a movie idol (and he did have a rather studly physique) and sometimes he's goofy. He sure could dance though!

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So was he considered a George Clooneyesque hot guy back in the day, or was he more of a non-heartthrob entertainer? I can't think of a modern-day equivalent, maybe like Tom Hanks? Or Billy Crystal? But with amazing feet, of course. Tell me what you think. I'll have to check in with Grandma on this one, too, I have a feeling she will hold a definite opinion one way or the other!

For my money there's still just one bygone-era man who takes the hunky cake:

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Gregory Peck, of course. I realize that the man would be ninety-one years old if he were still alive, but I still have the hots for him. That particular picture of my television set was paused while watching the movie "On The Beach." I read the book a long time ago so when I saw it in the Tivo program guide I set it to record before I even realized Studly McMan was in it. I have detailed fantasies that involve a man who looks exactly like Gregory Peck, and I am sort of a Nora Charles-looking version of me and it's all very black and white with cocktails.

Le sigh.

I love this time of the year. It's finally cold and we've even had some weather (grey skies! alert the media!) and the cats like to snuggle since my house apparently has no insulation at all and seems to hover around 60 degrees no matter how much I use the heat. But whatever, not complaining! I have chocolate and I have a simple garter-stitch scarf for mindless, perfect knitting while I catch up on my movie history ... dancing Gene Kelly, Jimmy Stewart playing a man who just looks like Jimmy Stewart (hijinks ensue), bleak handsome Gregory on the beach ... and my Sister Act movies, too, of course!

Posted by laurie at 8:36 AM

December 20, 2007

The Big List

I love to make lists.

Almost every morning when I wake up, I start making lists (a lot of good ideas seem to come to me in the shower, on the bus, in traffic) and I carry a little notebook in my purse so that I can write down my ideas, my to-dos and to-don'ts. Writing them down keeps them tidy and out of my head so they aren't rattling around all day, messy and forgetful, until I remember at 3 a.m. that I forgot to do so-and-so. Sometimes when I make my morning to-do note I even write "lunch" on the list, because if I get very busy I will forget about lunch or put it off until I'm wondering why I am hideous, grumpy and ready to eat my own arm at three in the afternoon.

Most of my lists are just daily stuff. Items for the grocery, errands I need to complete today or this week, people I have to call, tasks at work and at home and everywhere in between.

When I have time I like to make lists of things I want in my life, lists of things I am grateful for, and of course a big list every year of New Year's Resolutions. It's getting to be that time again, New Year's Resolutions time. I love to make that particular list -- I think of it more as a goal I'm setting for the year, a nice way to mark a whole new chapter (dream big, hope for good things, eat a vegetable that isn't fried...)

There is one list, though, that is The Biggest List of Them All. I just call it The Big List and it is a bulleted, numeric list of one hundred things I want to do before I die. I wrote it in 2003 when I was still somebody's wife and still trying to pass for 26 years old and some of the things on that list are sweet and nostalgic to me now, and some are sad, and some are silly, and some I have been able to mark off with a fat red line.

Like the very first item on that list, item #1:

1. Write a complete book.

The next item is pretty telling, I think:

2. Write one more.

A surprisingly large percentage of the stuff on my list is about travel. God I do love to travel, always have, even little road trips when I was a kid -- going to see Uncle Truman in Mississippi when we lived in Texas, or going to visit Texas when we lived in Louisiana. I loved seeing new rest stops and loading up on the freebie tourist brochures they hand out to passing motorists. To this day, my mom still collects those for me when she and my dad are traveling around in their motor home, and her assorted brochures and newspapers arrive in a fat package on my doorstep and I read through them like they're gold. The most recent one was from Sedona, and it looks like a place I should add to the list!

Some of the travel stuff on my Big List of 100 Things To Do Before I Die:

4. Learn to speak pretty good French and use it on a trip to the French countryside, where I manage to communicate well enough to elicit an actual French smile.

7. Visit Moscow and wear a furry hat.

Don't email me, PETA -- it's a faux furry hat, of course!

Almost half of my list is travel-related, and I have already declared loudly and to anyone who will listen that in 2008 I plan to take three awesome vacations (or better!) The last vacation I had was in March of 2006 and it has been nonstop work since then, so 2008 is going to be a travel year. Who knows what I'll mark off my list in 2008 ...

23. Go to Dubai with an open mind and stand inside the world's only six-star hotel.

24. Visit Helsinki and have ice-cold Finnish Vodka.

25. Visit the ice hotel in Sweden.

or:

32. Visit Italy.

33. See Terezin.

38. Visit Budapest.

I've been to a few of the places on my list since I wrote it (like Iceland, and I crossed off a few more of the United States on my book tour.) But some of the entries aren't really things I want anymore, and I wonder if I ever did or if they were things my partner at the time liked and enjoyed, so I put them on my list for the both of us?

But still ... it's a pretty good list. Some of the items are just funny, they make me laugh:

54. Spend my birthday on a beach in Mexico, while a waiter in red bikini pants brings me drinks with little umbrellas in them.

55. Take Krav Maga classes until I feel I am the frickin' terminator and can crush you with my self-defense powers.

Of course there are some helpy things and personal things on The Big List and a lot of private stuff (which is why I am not posting the entire 100 item view into my then-psyche). There are more than a fair share of things which involve making peace with myself in one way or another. I was at a very different place back then, when I made that list, and I almost wish I could reach back in time and hug the little married lady who so desperately wanted this one:

12. Love with abandon.

I liked this next list item a lot, and my friend Faith made it come true when she arrived at my house one birthday carrying a big tray of fudgy cake goodness:

93. Make my grandmother's chocolate cake for my birthday and think about how much happiness that one little cake has brought so many people in my family.

You can find the recipe for Oma's Chocolate Cake right here, in case you want some of the happiness, too!

There are some items on The Big List I am really proud to have crossed off:

15. Pay off all my debts.

16. Handle an awful event with grace and humor.

59. Quit smoking.


That last one, Number 59, is the one that will pay for my first vacation of 2008, too. I saved myself close to $2,000 by quitting smoking this year! TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS. And that doesn't include what would have been the price with the big tax increase on cigarettes this year in California. I calculated a pack a day at $5.35 -- over a whole year that is a round-trip ticket plus hotel to Somewhere Great, absolutely! Even if I am only pausing smoking until I hit my sixties, I'm still going to pat myself on the back for a full year of quitting. Finally.

Since it's been five years since I wrote that Big List and a lot has changed ("understatement of the century"), I've decided to revise the list this year. Maybe on New Year's Eve or maybe late at night one of these evenings if I can't sleep I'll start writing it down. It takes a while to think it through, it's fun to dream up 100 things you really want to do, see, taste, feel, be, accomplish. I want to keep the old list of course, I like to look back at it sometimes and see where I was. But I need a new 100 Things To Do Before I Die. I need a list that is all my new desires, all the things I want for myself now.

I hope you'll write one, too. It takes more time than you may think, but it's well worth it. I love my Big List. I've shared mine with a few people but mostly I keep it private, just for me, just to keep me motivated to love life, to live it now. And who would have ever imagined that in just five years I would have accomplished the number one thing on my list? Makes you wonder what on earth you can do in the next five years. Or three. Or one.

Make your list! I dare you!

Posted by laurie at 9:20 AM

December 19, 2007

Happiness presents for both the be-furred and the be-fatted

Two pre-Christmas presents are a very big hit at Chez Furball right now, both of them were supposed to stay under wraps but the cats managed to sniff their way inside the bag holding their gift and the human manged to open and devour half of hers and all parties involved needed an intervention.

Awesome Present for the Human

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Whole Foods organic dark chocolate truffles, imported from France. And this whole box was something like four dollars, which if you shop at Whole Foods you know that's less than a tomato costs.

Now, normally I do not have much of a sweet tooth, and while I do like dark chocolate I'd still rather be face-down in a vat of french fries if we're talking about calorie allocation. But these truffles are so good I wanted to be alone in a room with them. I had to get them out of my hands so I had to lock them in the garage for safekeeping.

Luckily, I alone have the key to the garage.

- - -

Awesome Present for the Felines

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New curved cardboard cat scratcher that I found at Target. It was in the cat supplies aisle and cost about $14.

Alas, Target.com and Amazon.com do not have any listing of this item, nor did the three major online pet supply retailers I checked and neither did the manufacturer's website! Crazy! So, just in case it was some kind of promotional fluke, I went back to Target and bought the other two they had left for safekeeping because my cats love it THAT much. (Safekeeping means I had to put them in the garage and lock the door.) (The cats do not have the key.)

Also! Usually ya'll are better at finding stuff online than I am, so if someone finds this cat scratcher online, will you put the link in the comments? Thanks!

Anyway, I do hope this is an item which the stores will be carrying lots of, for replacement purposes, since it is the hottest ticket in furtown right now....

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"Pardon my retouched eyeballs. Dictators cannot have red eye."

Posted by laurie at 10:13 AM

December 18, 2007

The space-time continuum comes to a grinding halt because WATER falls from SKY makes PERIL. End transmission.

Dear normal humans who have things like "snow,"

Are you aware that I live in the WEIRDEST CITY on the ENTIRE PLANET of Earth? This is still Earth, yes? And not some weird parallel LosAngeleMars where people do things such as HONK because ... OH GOD IT IS RAINING NOW WE DIE.

Anyway, traffic. People running into the vehicles in front of them, people losing the ability to navigate under torrential sprinkling, WILL THE PAPARAZZI BE ABLE TO GET A CLEAR SHOT OF BRITNEY AT THE STARBUCKS WITH THIS AWFUL WEATHER?

The world stops spinning on its axis, welcome to Los Angeles in the rain. Later someone's house will be sitting on a canyon road somewhere.

Your friend,
Frizzy

- - - - -


Exhibit A: PUDDLE
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Exhibit B: STORM DAMAGE
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Posted by laurie at 9:51 AM

December 17, 2007

And how was your weekend?

Things I did this weekend, possibly incredibly boring and yawn-inducing but all true:

1) Found seven cards a-lighting

I went to Target and survived long enough to purchase holiday giftcards. People were not much in the holiday spirit, unless by holiday spirit you mean "I want to kill you with my car in the parking lot" and also, "I shall cut in front of you in line." But whatevs... I found these gift cards that light up! Ah, it is the little things that make me happy:

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2) I observed as people in Michael's almost attacked a woman

She kind of deserved it, actually, and she was right in line in front of me. Of course. She was at Michael's at arguably the busiest time of the day at the busiest time of the year on a Saturday and she had a big stack of items. We were all waiting in line for a looooong time, and when it came her turn at the register, she made the clerk price check each item three or four times and then stood there trying to decide which ones to buy. She was still deciding. In line. At the cash register.

I thought the woman in line behind me was going to snatch her baldheaded. The guy behind her started saying things, loud, angry things. Things one doesn't usually hear at a craft supply store. I am pretty sure he eats children ... maybe that's why he was at Michael's to begin with? But the point is -- people were not pleased.

It didn't phase her one bit. She took her sweet time, trying to decide which of the sixteen items she would buy. I just watched in amazement, in some sort of dumbstruck awe, because I just don't have those kind of balls. I myself could never stand calmly in line and make an entire store of people want to follow me home and stab me with decorative scrapbooking scissors.

I was only there to purchase one item:

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This is seriously the thrid time I have had to purchase size 10 double-pointed needles. It's as if they come into my home and hide. But I had to buy them so I could finish my one lone Christmas-themed item what with it being practically Christmas already (!!!) so I just stood in line and hoped that when she was attacked, none of the blood got on my shoes.

3) I made caramelized onions

Ok, I know that for many people in this world, that sentence doesn't arouse feelings of awe and wonder. But this is my house we're talking about, a place where the oven has not worked since November of 2006. I have a toaster oven and it makes... toast. And baked potatoes. And that is all my culinary skills usually whip up, along with the occassional enhancement of "salad" or "smoothie" or the very gourmet "microwaved green beans."

But I must have been infected with a virus or something, and it compromised my usually high standards of cooking and I found myself last night in the kitchen making caramelized onions. I thought it would be really hard but it's not. Usually my problem in the kitchen is that I forget I'm cooking and stuff burns. But with the onions, this complete lack of interest in cooking comes in handy, because they cook very slowly on a low heat. You just slice a big onion, heat up some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and cook the onions on low until they turn soft and caramelize. I had no idea that onions could be so sweet, and nothing makes your house smell all gourmet and awesome like some cooking onions.

It was kind of nice, actually, being in the kitchen again. Good smells at dinnertime always make me think of my dad. He's an amazing chef and he makes everything taste like it just arrived out of a five-star Michelin-rated restaurant. I have no idea how he does it, it's magic with my dad in the kitchen. That particular node of the DNA was clearly not passed down to me, but I have to say they were some pretty great onions.

I made a pita pizza for dinner (baked in the toaster oven of course). It's easy: One whole-wheat pita bread, a little tomato sauce or pizza sauce or pesto, add some crumbled goat cheese, caramelized onions, and finely chopped red pepper. You can add anything you want really, prosciutto makes this little faux-pizza really good but I opted for the less calorific meat-free version. YUM.

I did not take a picture. It got eaten pretty fast!

4) I apparently Tivoed some porny history channel

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This was the Big! Scary! Parental! Warning! shown before an episode of some History Channel show I Tivoed. It was a show on the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Ostia, and apparently the Romans liked to get funky in their artwork.

Well, what happens in Pompeii stays in Pompeii, I guess.

5) Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the tree is so delightful....

Yes, next to that picture of my Pompeiian porny TV above is my super-cute Christmas tree. It's the same one I had last year, it's a pre-lighted fake tree that comes with its own urn, which makes it look even more real. But I love it, and this year I found the best ornaments for it:

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Little silver Eiffel Tower ornaments. I found two of them at Target and then I drove all over the valley (and checked the website) but I only managed to find five of them total. They're perfect, I love my tree, every time I see it I smile.

Every time he sees it, he also smiles, wondering what new thing he can manage to free from the branches and hide in his secret lair:

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That's all folks!

Posted by laurie at 9:01 AM

December 15, 2007

Thinking out loud.

Recently I got this comment from a reader:

A long term reader of your blog, I value your humour and dedication to personal growth. In reading about your outrage in the public library, I felt uneasy about the suggestion of limiting public access to information as a way to protect children... and women.

Wouldn't a responsible use of common sense see the problem contained? Perhaps something as simple as a childfree zone.

As I fall into the category that many call "old" and I work to become an well-loved elder like your Gran, I felt surprised at your repeated pejorative use of the word "old". Would the behaviour you object to be acceptable in a "young" person?

You make brilliant use of the power of humour. Please remember the power of words. Remember the value of open access to information. Be prepared to struggle with the consequences. Thank you so much for writing and for being a welcome part of my day.

As a long-term Southerner, I can always appreciate a good finger-wagging encased in such sweetness. I learned Robert's Rules of Order when I was six years old. "Say something nice, followed by your critique, closed by a nice comment." Ouch.

You can go back yourself and read the offending column where I used the word "old" three times: once in the phrase "old-fashioned," once in the phrase "dirty old man", and once in the sentence "can any old person off the street walk in and... " blah blah blah. I'm not going to piece it out, justification by justification. It's what I felt at the time and I know myself, so at least in this one criticism I know both God and Grandma understand I'm not horrible and ageist.

What's in your own heart doesn't change, even if it doesn't come out right in someone else's translation.

So why even focus on a simple, kindly worded critique of my core values? I think... I think perhaps I am bone-tired from never being good enough. This is why folks stop making new changes in their lives, or they stop telling people their dreams, or they stop writing, or they stop reaching and striving for more in life, or they stop having comments altogether ... you always get judged harshly by someone. A lot of folks love that, they love stirring up controversy and standing tall and proud for who they are in the midst of clamoring chaos. But I am not a big fan of creating controversy, that's just not my movie. I like standing tall and proud and all that, but I'm more of a "do it quietly because I am still working on some stuff and have more to learn" stander.

And I don't want to offend people or hurt people, that puts a bad juju into the world that completely negates what I want to do in my life. I'm sensitive to hurt, and so I don't want to inflict it upon others. I'm careful, always careful, but apparently never careful enough.

It is an impossible dream, opening yourself up and hoping people get you because someone inevitably takes you to task for something. Had I written "any ol' person off the street" which is how it sounds when I say it, I would have gotten an email or a comment from someone telling me I was misusing the word "ol'." Or that I was being folksy, or cheesy or whatever they heard in the moment. So I used "any old person off the street" instead.

It's just exhausting. And I do struggle with the consequences, every day, every single word. Don't you worry that I'm not hearing you, oh I hear you loud and clear. I just manage to keep most of it inside most of the time, and put on a smile, and pretend I can handle being told off.

I like hearing different opinions, I liked hearing folks explain what they would have done had they been in the library at the same time, and I loved hearing folks explain why they aren't into the idea of censoring the content but often had great ideas on how to isolate it.

One reader wrote:
"I am for more freedoms, not less."

And I loved that line and rolled it over in my mind as I drove home, I thought it had an excellent ring to it. I liked how she phrased it, not personally attacking anyone, just saying, "Hey. Maybe there is a solution that doesn't limit all freedoms of all people..." I like things that make you think.

But when the comments get personal ("You obviously have a prejudice against old people...") I take it personally, to heart, wonder as always how did I manage to screw that up? Should I just stop while I'm ahead and go back to writing news stories?

This has been a strange, interesting, long year. Being more exposed makes you hold on even more tightly to your privacy, and maybe it gets harder for you to be really honest. So you cringe in advance, know that people are going to find something wrong with you, and you either keep going or you hide.

Which did you choose?

Did you keep going, living bold and honest, or did you begin to hide, little by little?

I hid for seven long years and I have just now begun to re-emerge, define a space for myself. When you let people know who you are they have the opportunity to judge you and find you lacking. It is a risk, and I freely admit that sometimes I don't want to take that risk. Most of the time I do it anyway and it all works out in the end because one other thing I am learning -- finally, thank you God -- is that the judgment often given to me has nothing to do with me at all. People say all kinds of things all the time and it usually has more to do with them, and their unique expectations, life experience and opinions. That's not a bad thing. I love that I have my own judgments and personal preferences crafted from years of living how I live, seeing what I see, and so on. It is just part of me, and grows and changes as I do. That's why I was surprised to see a guy getting off watching porn in the public library, and surprised at my own reaction to it. I sat in judgment of that situation and found it offensive TO ME. I wasn't setting public policy, just wondering aloud about a strange day.

But you never know what will resonate with someone, that's why comments and feedback are so exhilarating. You get this experience of hearing other voices chime in, add, amplify. Sometimes you hear something that stings... and who do you listen to? It's a microcosm of life. Let's say I finish a work project and the business owner hates the design, but my boss loved it. Which opinion is the one I take home at night? It's a choice.

Why does one negative personal judgment stand out louder than 150 other opinions? I have asked myself this question a million times and I hate the answer: It only stands out because I made that choice. I made the choice to hear that one voice telling me I was bad inside and it seemed louder than all the other voices.

Why do I do that? How do you turn off a lifetime of listening to the critics of your life? I want to do this, find the light switch in the dark room inside of me and flip it, flood the inside with light so bright it burns out the Debbie Downers of this life. But I have yet to find that switch. It's one of the reasons I write fewer and fewer personal things here, preferring to save them. With a book I can avoid external critics if I want, avoid reviews, I just don't read them. Maybe it's time to switch to fiction already and forget sharing anything that's real.

Or maybe it's time to give up forever holding out hope that all people will get the message of a thing. That's the light switch, isn't it? Not all messages are for all people. People judge. It's life. It happens. Or society has gotten so honed in on gossip and judgment that we have huge industries built up just to expose, critique and judge. People say stuff, it happens, the world keeps spinning on its axis.

I know this in my head but struggle with it when I get a stinging rebuke. I work every single day on trying to let go, let go of hoping and wishing that people will stop sitting in judgment of me and always finding me lacking in some way. I cannot change anyone else, only me, and so this comes down to my own choice, my own decision, my own hide-or-be-seen dilemma. Can you remain soft in your heart and yet somehow develop a hard exterior, so that you can be who you want to be and never care what anyone else says? How on earth do you do that?

When am I ever going to be good enough JUST THE WAY I AM?
(For some people -- probably never. That is sad, and true, and also, kind of liberating. If you can NEVER please some people, you can simply stop trying to please them! Less work to do!)

Words do have power. They have the power you give to them. The truth for me is that I have to declare once and for all (again) to just let it go. Let go of hoping that I can please everyone. Let go of the judgment. Let go of what someone else thinks. Don't let a complete stranger try to tell you who you are. You know who you are.

I bet that even if you live really, really small someone will have something to say about it.

- - - -

Comments are closed.

Posted by laurie at 9:27 AM

December 14, 2007

Winter Wondering-What-That-Is Land

This morning there was a strange, cold, white substance encrusting my jeep:

frozenjeep1.jpg


Frost in the valley, ya'll! Break out all your handknit items, STAT! It was very exciting, I ran back inside for a wool roll-brim hat, a bigger, heftier scarf and gloves. The gloves are leather (not hand-knit) but I found them a few years ago in the dead heat of summer on clearance at Bloomie's. They were approximately one billion perfect off the regular tag or I probably would never have bought them, buttery soft black leather lined with cashmere and I love them enough to want to marry them. People scoffed at me then, buying cashmere-lined gloves in 118 degree weather. But I knew! I knew a day would come when ants could ice skate on my Jeep's little canvas rooftop!

frozenjeep-closeup.jpg
If you were an ant, you could do a sit-spin on that roof.

We have weather! It's very exciting. Now it feels like Christmas.

Posted by laurie at 9:08 AM

December 13, 2007

Two seemingly unrelated items I complain about. And after this I will go yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Seemingly unrelated item #1 that I will complain about:

Last week R. and I walked to the library after lunch. I've decided that to make my endless commute more bearable, I'm going to learn a foreign language, and R. wants to learn Japanese so we've been spending lunchbreaks once a week in the foreign languages department of the library, checking out audio CDs. It's a great break from the day and learning a language has made my commute more interesting ... plus, I can listen while knitting. If it's not a complicated knit, of course.

Last week we walked into the International Languages Department which, in addition to housing books and audio books also has a large area of internet kiosks. Many of the screens are large and in plain view of every passer-by, including groups of schoolchildren who come each day to the central library.
Some guy was sitting there, at the public library in the middle of the afternoon, looking at giant pictures of naked vaginas. Both R. and I gasped and looked at each other, like, "Did we just SEE that?"

He was just sitting there right by the books with his screen in full view of everyone on the floor flipping through picture after picture of hardcore pornography. You couldn't miss it if you tried. Right there between the audio books and the foreign language dictionaries, he was viewing pictures of naked female genitalia, the real big gyno-cam shots.

I was shocked, I admit it. It's one thing what you do in your own house, but in public? At the public library? Where schoolchildren of all ages roam around?

What happened to decency, people? Is it just gone forever?

Personally, I think if you want to spend all day and night locked inside your house looking at porn, go for it. What you do in your own house is your own business. But those terminals at the public library are in full public view. of me. And kids. And come to think of it, aren't my tax dollars supporting that? I AM SO NOT OKAY WITH THAT IDEA. Get your porn on your own dime, buddy.

Also, wow. I usually think of myself as pretty tolerant and liberal and so on. So where did that come from? Maybe later I'll go picket something. Or buy a hummer.

There's no way to get around it though. I was offended, and disgusted, and sad, too. I'm a walking, talking real woman standing RIGHT THERE there having to see a dirty old man (and he was a dirty old man) look at vaginas and get off from headless pictures of naked twats right there in my freaking public library.

I told this to the front desk clerk, and she agreed it was awful and she herself hated it and many of the staff had often complained as well, because apparently that sort of thing happens all the time.

"It's not like it used to be at libraries," she said, shaking her head. "There are little kids here too! It's just disgusting, but they tell us it's public property and nothing can be done about it."

Is this true? I know I have lots of librarian readers. Is it true that any old person off the street can walk in and start browsing hardcore porn in front of all the other patrons? Do I have to stop going to the library, now, too if I want to keep my day free of naked vagina pictures?

And am I being old-fashioned, antiquated, ridiculous?

I'm not a fan of censorship, never have been. But I am a fan of behaving decently and with respect around both books and children. And audio books. What is wrong with this world? What kind of country do I live in where men think it is perfectly acceptable to look at hardcore pornography at a public library -- especially one that is always crowded with large groups of schoolkids?

What the hell has happened to people?


Seemingly unrelated thing #2 I will now commence complaining about:

Most of you have already experienced the trauma and heartbreak which is my government-issued Driver's License photo. It's kind of the definition of "butt ugly" and also "Aileen Wuornos: Portrait of a Serial Killer, in Oompa Loompa Technicolor."

My government-issed passport photo isn't too great, either, my head looks like a big smooshy marshmallow with a wig on top. I also had bangs in that picture, and I would be happy to show it to you to boost your own self-esteem, but I forgot to take a picture of it. You'll live, trust me.

Having said all that, my passport expires soon and I need to get a new one. I have decided in 2008 that as God is my witness, I will GO ON A FREAKING VACATION. Or three. I didn't quit smoking for nothing you know, that came with a price, and that price was socked away in the bank and I am going ... somewhere! One day!

(Also, perhaps there is a correlation between all the complaining and the need for a vacation?) (Moving on.)

Having lived with a butt-ugly passport photo for ten years and a disturbingly orange and scary driver's license photo for four, I decided that I would do whatever it took to get a glamour shot of a new passport photo. Yes, I know. I have my priorities in order. Please judge silently to your photogenic selves. Some of us have issues AND THERE IS PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE.

A few days ago I got all made up and got my hair did and so on and went to the FedEx-Kinko's place where they take digital pictures (so you get to approve the image before it's printed. I am all about the approval process.) But on this trip I learned a new and potentially crazy thing about my country:

It is now unacceptable to SMILE in your passport photo.

Do you know what I look like when I am not smiling? When I am not deflecting the largesse of my cheek area by a toothy grin?

It looks like this, folks:

scaryDL-killer-face.jpg

So, in conclusion, I can never return to that Fed-Ex Kinko's store again because I made the poor lady there take like ten pictures of me, all of which looked like some frightening flash-bulb crazed deer-in-headlights marshmallow head. I walked out empty-handed, no passport picture, no self-worth, and with only the sounds of snickering Fed-Ex employees to usher me out the door.

Also in conclusion, the government of my country thinks it's totally legal for you to view hardcore porn in the library, yet I will be denied a passport for smiling in my picture.

God help us. Help us all. Now get off my lawn, you meddling kids!

Posted by laurie at 8:59 AM

December 12, 2007

Party Poopitis and and Gift Shoppagus

Party Like it's 1999-2003

While I of course would never talk about my place of employment because that is in bad taste, I will say that if I did attend any fictional work holiday-related events I was probably the person who told a member of the Executive Committee that Dustin Diamond, better known as Screech from "Saved By The Bell," made a sex tape.

Yeah, I rock.

Also, in other unrelated news, I probably had the flow of oxygen cut off from my brainial area because I was wearing festive pants and as I checked myself out in the mirror in the a.m. before leaving, ALLEGEDLY because this is a FICTIONAL story of course, I noticed I had all my cellulite congregating up in this whole area knows as "ass" and so I had to put on the fat-suppressing Spanx and so on, which CLEARLY leads to oxygen deprivation and the alleged "Screech made a sex tape, Mr. Executive Vice-President" remark. Pass the chicken skewers, please.

You know, it isn't easy being the one who has to say the inappropriate things. The bar has been set very high at previous ALLEGED holiday parties.

Gift Shopping has commenced

Or "I will be going to Target to buy a lot of gift cards." I freely admit that this year I am going the route of the gift card because I am generous (read: I am very lazy.) But if you cannot find that perfect gift for the person of your choice, may I suggest the single most absurd thing I may have seen yet on the innernets:

'Tis a gold pill that allegedly makes the recipient's poo turn... glittery gold.

From this website:

If you've got so much money that you're just looking for new ways to waste it, Tobias Wong and Ju$t Another Rich Kid created the Gold Pill for you. It's a pill dipped in gold and filled with 24-karat gold leaf. You're supposed to eat it "to increase your self-worth." That would be funny if it didn't cost $425 for the joke. Supposedly an added benefit is that it will make your poop sparkle ...

Awesome. I hope I remember this little glittery tidbit for next year's holiday party conversations! Everyone enjoys a good glittery poo story at the company lunch, right?

Posted by laurie at 9:59 AM

December 11, 2007

Sleeping on the job...

cats-not-napping.jpg

After a long day of eating, pooping, sleeping and attacking low-lying ornaments on the tree, these two suspects tried to get off by SLEEPING and CUDDLING and I will have none of it! None of it I tell you!

Also, why do they fall asleep as soon as I get home and then spring to life with vigor and energy at 3 a.m.? Why? Also, why was I not a fish person instead of a four-legged-animal person?

Just wondering.

But they are awfully cute.

Posted by laurie at 10:31 AM

December 10, 2007

Hello and Monday

I had a weird weekend, and also I had a pretty good celebrity sighting. I was in Whole Foods carefully scrutinizing baking potatoes when I saw this guy:

beau-bridges.jpg
I stole this picture from the internets.
I did not photograph him in Whole Foods.

I just looked up and there was Beau Bridges, right across from me, checking out the cauliflower or something. His eyebrows are just as fuzzy in real life. Seeing celebrities in person is so strange, because you do a double-take, like "Do I know that guy?" and then you realize that no, you do not know that person, but in fact have watched "The Fabulous Baker Boys" one thousand times and you are staring at a celebrity. Stop looking. Now.

Also, doesn't school let out soon so the traffic will be less insane?

Also, why do cats only want to eat the expensive ornaments?

Also, hello! Happy Monday!

Posted by laurie at 9:24 AM

December 6, 2007

The hap-happiest time of the year. Except in traffic, of course.

Recently I got an email from a reader giving me advice on just hanging in there through the holidays ("hold on for one more day") and sharing with me some of the challenging holidays she'd had back in the day and how she and her son just hung in there, persevered, so keep your chin up, you may look back one day and realize it wasn't that bad, etc.

It was quite a sweet note and I appreciated it, although she must be reading my morose 2005 holiday columns or maybe last year's little bit of maudlin. I haven't mentioned the holidays at all this year, have I? Mostly that's out of sheer lateness, I'm still in October in my mind (but my neighborhood does look like Santa Claus threw up on it. And to represent, my Jewish neighbors have replaced their large blow-up menorah this year with a big lighted one that blinks, and next door to them the giant lighted inflatable nativity scene is back as well.)

That email from a concerned, kind stranger made me think of family, and our roles in it, and advice in general, the way the world sees us. You know how you have that one person in your family who -- no matter what you have accomplished or how old you are or where you are in your life -- they still see you as a goofy 13-year-old kid with bad posture, braces, and no life skills?

That happens sometimes. People meet you when you're at the very bottom of your life and some assume you're still there. Or that you spent thirty-three years of your life crying in the fetal position before beginning to write about it and you are only just now taking the fledgling steps toward being an adult.

Well, there is some truth in that last statement. I think I only became a real adult in the past few years, through my divorce and eventual re-singlement. I like being in my life. Sometimes I have growing pains -- for example, when I see where I want to be so clearly and then I see where I am and they're two very different places.

Does that ever happen to you? You're looking the map of your life and you see the dot says, "You are here." And you're studying this map, poring over it, planning your trip, planning your ultimate destination (down to the shoes you will be wearing in the picture in your mind) and you so clearly know where you want to be, where exactly you'd like to see your dot rest on that map and you just aren't there yet.

There's a big gaping valley between You Are Here and You Want To Be Over There. And if I look backward on the map of my life to where I've been, I see that almost all my time has been spent inside that valley between where I am and where I am going. Because if we're being quite honest, it takes a long while to get from Here to There, and by the time you finally arrive at your new destination you have changed along the way. By the time you get to that push pin, the one you assumed would finally complete you and make you live happily ever after, you're... different. You've changed. And now this "here" looks an awfully lot like a place you're just hanging out at while your REAL happily ever after has just been pushed a little further down the map, way Over There ...

Maybe the trick is becoming comfortable in that valley in between? Maybe the real happiness in life is something you take with you across the whole map, carrying it inside you (or if you have a lot of happiness, maybe you have a backpack, too) and you move from plot point to plot point in your life with your soul intact, not always so desperate to get to the push-pin on the map that finally says, "You are Happy Here. Right here. Finally." Because what if you never make it to that exact push pin? You'd spend your whole life waiting to be happy, waiting until.... until what?

At my very first Q&A session after the reading in Los Angeles, a lovely young woman in the audience asked me about happiness. She asked, "How do we find happiness if we're not married, don't have children, when we are single women of a certain age...?"

It was a really good question, one I have thought about a lot both before and since that day.

I used to think happiness was a place, a destination, a state I would arrive at after I checked off the many to-do lists of my life: Go to school, graduate, get a nice car, find a husband, have a good job, get married!!!, find a nice house, have children... then what? I don't know what the next milestones were to be on my list, since I only made it to the married part.

After that path came to an abrupt end, I had to change. I didn't want to change at first, I wanted to hold onto my old map and sit in a corner and eat my hair. But after a while it became clear that my life had taken a turn on the map and I better get with it. I was going to end up somewhere, and I could pick: Better or Bitter. I had to re-define happiness and see it less as a destination and more as a day-to-day job. It's not easy and sometimes I forget and complain and get grouchy and wonder why I am so tired, begin focusing on all the things that just aren't right yet, why why why....

But that's poison, and anyway it doesn't help. You keep your feet on your life map and keep walking firmly in the direction of the next map point but in the meantime, inside the valley between here and there, you start to maybe wonder if we don't always live in the valley. Maybe we spend our whole entire lives between "here" and "there." And if that is the case, I better learn to be happy along the way.

And I do live in the valley, after all. It's not such a bad metaphor.

Something strange happened to me this past few years, all this thinking about valleys and maps and plot points. My old Life's To Do List started to look like someone else's idea of a life. I realized that some of the items on my big Life's To Do List weren't really things I wanted at all! Some were socially acceptable things so I accepted them, too. I must have decided somewhere in the past, "It is what is expected of me. This is how it is done. This is what will make me a normal, socially acceptable, pleasing American woman."

Or perhaps the items on my To-Do List were what others wanted for me. Some things were what others wanted for themselves so I assumed I should want them, too.

Obviously my list has changed a lot. I am thirty-six years old and I am not married and don't have children and don't own a house and don't live near my family ... and yet I enjoy my personal life and I like the work I'm doing and I have all sorts of new plot points on my personal map that don't involve the words "socially acceptable" at all. Mostly I am concentrating on finding day-to-day happiness, finding a way to be OK with not being THERE yet.

The map of my life is hard to read sometimes and feels confusing at others, and at least I know where I am right now, and since I'm here I might as well enjoy it. I am here, after all. Me and the lighted menorah and the inflatable nativity set and my cats and my friends and my family and hopefully my little backpack of myself that I can take with me from Christmas to Christmas, no matter where I end up. As if we ever "end up" anyway.

So this Christmas is nothing that has to be plodded through or persevered or chin-upped. The only thing which must be endured is holiday traffic, and Lord people have lost their damn minds on the roads. This is the first Christmas maybe in my entire life that doesn't have to be anything special, or symbolize anything, or have any pressure at all. It's one nice day in a pretty good year that is hopefully in between now and then, wherever then may be.

Posted by laurie at 9:13 AM

December 5, 2007

Buyer beware...?

bumper-just-married.jpg

Posted by laurie at 9:20 AM

December 4, 2007

I'm only two days behind....

Sunday at Compatto Yarn Salon was so much fun! I wasn't expecting such a big turnout but we had a great crowd and there were lots of friendly faces. You can see all the pictures on my Flickr site, but here are a few...

First, Allison and I met for brunch at IHOP and both of us were happily surprised to find that IHOP has a "healthy" menu! We both ended up ordering coffee (decaf for her, leaded for me) and Boca burgers and salad. The whole meal -- a veggie burger and a side salad -- was less than six bucks and less than six hundred calories, so I will be returning to IHOP again. And maybe again. It was good!

Then we walked over to Compatto where we were greeted by the Yarn Guard Dog, Gracie:

compatto-gracie.jpg


Allison and I checked out the shop before the reading and they have some of the cutest hand-knits on display:

compatto-allison.jpg


It was so much fun, I don't know if I have just relaxed more with time and practice or if in general I'm just not as stressed out, but I had a great time on Sunday hanging out with knitters and friends both old and new! It was especially nice to see friendly faces in the crowd, like Ellen Bloom:

compatto-me-ellen.jpg


And Ana Banana:

compatto-ana.jpg

And Brit was there, and two friendly gals who came all the way from Antelope Valley were there, and the staff of Compatto were all so warm and welcoming, it was just the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

compatto-group.jpg

While I was there I got to meet a lady who handed me her book to sign and she said, "Do you see all the dog-eared pages? Those are pieces that meant something to me, that really said something that spoke to me." And I looked at her copy of the book and there were so many dog-eared pages and it was just a little gift she gave me that day, telling me that. I thank you, wherever you are today. It reminds me that even though I get nervous beforehand and worry I won't do well and blah blah blah, this isn't about me and my issues... it's about meeting other women just like me who finally, blessedly understand.

It's strange going from a lifetime of always feeling a little apart from the world to finally feeling a real sense of being plugged in, knowing that there are other folks out there just like us. It's crazy comforting to know that.

The next event I have on my calendar is scheduled for January 19th, 2008 (two-thousand-eight!!!) it's a Saturday afternoon at:

BORDERS -- 1:00 PM (Reading & signing)
25222 El Paseo
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Phone: 949.367.0005
Click here for a map -->

I hope you can drop by! I'm bringing my grandma, and hopefully my Aunt Pam can come by, too, and of course that is the reading where I get to meet the Big Time Fancypants Sweepstakes Winner!

If you haven't entered to win the Big Time Meet-Me-In-California Sweepstakes, you should enter today! Also did you know you can enter once every single day, which ups your statistical chances of winning, you know. Plus there are also Bonus Entries and you get an extra entry in the pot for each bonus you complete.

Already a whole bunch of folks have won such exciting gifts as... drumroll please... SIGNED Cheetos (and a book, too, of course.) I in fact spent Sunday after my event at Compatto signing Cheetos, because that is the glamorous life I lead ya'll. But I do hope you enter the sweepstakes and come visit me in California, it's not too shabby a place to visit in January, you know!

Also: Hello, local readers. Are any of ya'll Yoga Instructors? Or do you work at a yoga place either in the Valley or somewhere in Los Angeles? If so, will you email me? Thanks! Namaste! And you know... oooom!

That's all for today. I am almost caught up on my life. I am only two to seven days behind now, which is a vast improvement over the twenty-three day lag I was experiencing last week!

Posted by laurie at 9:21 AM

December 3, 2007

On writing it down.

[UPDATE! Whoops! Sorry, I did not mean to have all the comments shut off. I apparently have no control over my clicky mouse finger.]


Ya'll were not fooling around with the question-asking! Giving advice about writing seems dorky and pretentious because I'm not Kate Chopin, and anyway, who can tell you how to write? But since starting this book and following it all the way through, I feel like I wake up every single morning and go to Book School. I am always learning some new and strange and convoluted thing about writing and if sharing that helps, well ya'll know. I am all about the helpy.

On to the questions...

------------------------------

Mary in Virginia asks:
How much editing do you do before you publish a blog post? How long does it take you to write a typical blog post, one that doesn't involve pattern writing or lots of photo editing?

* Hi Mary! I hadn't really thought of that before, but I guess on average a typical post takes about an hour. Less if it's short, more if it's wordy. My interview with M.J. Rose took several hours to put together. I've gotten faster in the past couple of years and sometimes my nutty typos show when I'm in a real hurry.

Basically, I write in one big chunk, in vomitous piles. Big upchuck of words. (Nice visual on that one, huh?) I write all the way through a train of thought before I stop and go back and re-read. But there's a big downside ... I cannot multitask. At all. And I need silence and peace for real quantity to come out of the keyboard. When I am caught up in a thought and typing or scribbling it down, I do not hear you, I can't have the TV on, no radio, and I turn the phone off because it is too distracting. If I could retreat to a cone of silence I would. This total concentration allows me to purge quickly, dumping a thousand words in minutes, fast puking paragraphs. Sometimes even the cats are distracting me so I will go outside and write on the patio table (this becomes annoying when it's cold outside).

Editing happens at the end, and sometimes in the middle, but I'd rather write than edit. I don't worry much about having a perfectly crafted stanza... I'm not Shakespeare. I do self-edit tremendously after I've written a piece. Most of the things I write about are not personal, just cats and shoes and knitting and gardening and Los Angeles. But when I'm writing something personal I usually finish it then hold onto it for a while, see if it feels safe yet to let it go into the world. Sometimes the time isn't right, or I don't feel right about the subject yet. I have things I wrote two years ago still just sitting there, not ready to be read by another living soul.

I've learned that for me, I need to be settled in my mind and in my heart with what I'm sharing before I share it. If I am at peace with the topic I don't worry as much about being too soft or too afraid of what folks will say.

And then sometimes I just have to wing it, hope and pray that whatever it is I need to express comes out right, that folks will cut me some slack when I'm off-base or don't say things just as I mean them. No one ever gets it all right all the time and I have definitely had my left-of-center moments.


------------------------------

Jenny's question:
I always think of things to write at the oddest times, like when I'm cleaning the bathroom or I'm out for a walk. In other words, never when I'm near some sort of writing implement or computer. Do you think of things to write about at weird moments when you can't get them out of your head? If so, what do you do to recall them later when you can either write them down on paper or type them on the computer?

* Jenny, I'm the same way! When I am out walking or especially in the shower I get all sorts of ideas. I usually "write" my ideas in my head and keep on at them mentally until I write them on paper. It's as habitual for me as chewing gum or drinking wine, I sometimes lie in bed "writing" pieces in my head. I also keep a notebook in my purse, a paper diary at home, this online diary which I can access from a computer, and already I have another Word document on my laptop that I'm just piddling with, seeing how it goes. Seeing if it turns into something. I write on envelopes, post-it notes, the back of my hand, restaurant napkins, anything handy.

Sometimes I just write down ideas or thoughts, stuff I may want to make a story out of later. Sometimes I write so fast and hard I worry my keyboard will break, sometimes I sit outside with my paper diary and a pen and a glass of wine and scribble 'til my hand hurts. My poor house is just a repository of post-it notes, it's sad really.


------------------------------

Gwynivar asks:
Do you work from an outline or in chapter order? How do you decide what goes in the outline/chapter order/book?

* For this book I just wrote it all in a big piece, no written outline, and it evolved as I wrote it. It's chronological, so that was kind of how I managed it in my head. I kept track of specific things by placing sticky notes on the door with little pieces I still wanted to write but hadn't gotten to yet. Like "the time with the hair removal" or "first kiss" or "yard sale." Later in the editing process we got to the real pain, removing pieces that didn't work, re-writing, adding new stuff, removing even more.

But for a fiction piece, I'm guessing I'll need an outline, even if it's just a mental picture of the story. In my interview with M.J. Rose she said she'd created a scrapbook for Josh, the main character in The Reincarnationist, filled with things that would apply to him as a person. That kind of detail to character building blew me away but it makes sense -- you must know your main character inside and out, their story is your story.

I have a fiction idea in my head, and I even started writing some of it, but it's tricky. I'm not sure I'm ready for fiction yet, I'm not sure I'm a good enough writer right now to dive into a big fiction piece. And I'm not sure I have all the self-helpyness beaten out of my body just yet!

------------------------------

Reader Jenn asked:
I wonder how to get past the Fear of the Blank Page. I used to write all the time; like breathing, it was part of my life. Now, I stare at the page and am intimidated. As though everything I write HAS to be AMAZING (even though no one will ever read it but me).
Do you ever get intimidated by the blank page?

* Hi Jenn! I think your question and Neil's question go hand-in-hand, keep reading:

Neil said:
I have a bad habit of writing a paragraph, then re-reading it, and re-writing it, and before you know it, the day is gone, and I haven't gone beyond the paragraph. I heard that you wrote your book pretty quickly. Did you plow through it, knowing that parts weren't perfect, but deciding to keep on moving, making a note to come back and fix it? I know there is a saying, "Writing is Re-Writing." Do you do extensive editing after you are done with your first draft? C'mon, Laurie, tell us the truth! -- I can't believe that all your great writing comes to you without SOME effort!

* Hi Neil! And Jenn -- as I think these two questions speak to the same issue. I'm no expert, but I think they all have to do with fear of not being good enough. It's the fear that whatever you're about to write isn't good enough. Fear that your ability, talent, ideas, thoughts, expressions, whatever, aren't good enough. "I'm not clever enough! Not smart enough! Not original! Not witty! Not saying it just right."

Fear is a huge roadblock, in every area of life. And folks get stuck in a trap, thinking they have to get each word perfect. I have seen writer friends struggle so much with one single sentence that they never complete anything. I guess a lot of this depends on your goal ... my goal is to write stuff down. I like doing it, it feels right to me. I gave up perfection a long time ago because it is never going to happen, not in my life, not with me at the wheel.

Besides, one perfect sentence or paragraph won't get you into a bookstore ... you need the rest of the book to go along with it!

As far as spending a lot of time crafting each paragraph ... I don't have that kind of time in my life. So being sleep-deprived and over scheduled and low on free time has actually helped me let go of perfectionism. If you spend your whole life waiting to write the perfect novel you'll die and still never have the perfect novel. There is no perfect novel. I know now that my goal is not perfection -- my goal is completion. Nothing feels better than finishing a book. NOTHING. Nothing will ever top the day I printed out the last page (of what was at that time a 500+ page narrative, yikes) and I hefted it up to my face... and I kissed it. OH YES I DID.

You have to do what works for you, of course, but what worked for me was finally letting go of some ideal of perfection and just writing in plain words what was really on mind. I had to make the decision to just be me instead of trying to be some other writer. I can be me better than anyone else can, so why try to be Kate Chopin? She already did Kate Chopin better than I ever will. (I used to have a huge fixation on Kate Chopin. Back when I was in college, I somehow decided that if I couldn't write to the level of Kate Chopin there was no use ever trying. Man, was I pretentious. For at least a year all I did was write tortuously crafted stanzas about my brooding boyfriend.)

As for subject matter, I never know what to say. I start with that very minute and go from there. Sometimes I will have had an idea or problem rattling around in my head and I just sit down, typing it out. Type it out until you said what you mean. You can go back and self-edit later. I am not a self-editor when I write. I just get the words down, then later I re-read and decide if I should put it on the website, hold for a rainy day, or lock away forever hidden from view.

And finally, what worked for a writer friend of mine was to complete his manuscript and decide to leave all the editing up to a paid editor -- he knew that for him, it would be the only way to relinquish the constant self-editing he was doing. He knew that to finish his book he had to stop standing in his own way, constantly editing a sentence before he could even get to the next one. Of course, he probably knows what this mystical elusive "spellcheck" thingamajig is....

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Alyson asks:
I am a start and stop aspiring writer. I have actually gotten PAID to do it in the distant past, but that was before the three kids and my REAL LIFE showed up! I want to get back into it again, with an eye to eventually getting an MFA in Creative Writing, but my question is HOW? It is clear you have a busy life.....I have a busy life, and we both can't live without our needles and yarn. How do you balance the life thing, with the knitting thing, with the writing thing. How do you balance all this life stuff, and still do something productive in the writing world, too?

* Hi Alyson!
First of all, I do not have three children ... I do have three cats but they use a litterbox and eat out of a bowl on the floor. Can you train your kids to do that? Oh, just kidding! (But still... not a bad idea, eh?)

So even though I don't have children, I do have a busy schedule, so it's been kind of necessary for me to prioritize. When I was writing the book, I had to say goodbye to many things so that I could fit in the most important stuff. The most important things for me were writing the narrative, keeping up with my family and keeping my job. Commuting is part of that. And then there's all the stuff at home, plus social obligations (and later as my deadline loomed up scary and big, social obligations went out the window).

On a day-to-day basis, TV watching went by the wayside. I stopped watching Lost, said goodbye to my friends at CSI and to keep my pal Oprah I combined her show with my treadmill time. I LOVE watching TV, but there just wasn't time left in my day for sitting on the sofa and zoning out for a few hours, and I personally can't write while the TV is on (see: "cone of silence.")

I also haven't been to a movie in something like twenty-seven years -- all my movie-watching, Sunday-afternoon window shopping with friends and other assorted free-time activities were put on hold.

Surfing the internet is a huge time-sucker for me, so I put limits on it. I do give myself 15 minutes a day (and sometimes 30) during my lunch break for looking at online news, checking in on my friends' websites and of course I've got to check my travel websites! (Some folks like online porn, I like online travel websites.)

I love to read, too, but the only time I have for reading is on the bus or train, which is also when I love to knit. So, I switched almost exclusively to audio books (I check out books on CD at the public library, it's awesome and FREE!) and I listen to them on the bus while I knit.

Some of my friends think I'm a little weirdo because I don't spend time doing a lot of leisure activities, like going out or going to bars or movies or whatever. But I love my life, everything that someone else thinks is a sacrifice is just another way for me to do what I enjoy.

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Dez and Not Faint Hearted and about 50 bazillion folks via email all asked the same basic thing:
How do you get published? Do you need an agent first? Do you send out manuscripts first? Do you have to write the whole thing before sending it out? Did your publisher come to you? Did you do a proposal?

* At every single book reading, I got asked how I managed to get a book deal. It seems all very mysterious, this book industry. I used to think of it a lot like the CIA ... you know some people are undercover agents, but how do they get there? Do they just apply to be a spy? Is there a job fair somewhere?

My editor Allison had been reading my website and she contacted me about my interest in doing a book. We worked for several months together on what the concept would be, and she crafted the proposal because I was a neophyte and had no idea what a proposal was, and we worked together on my platform.

Platform, I have since learned, is the single biggest thing you can have in your corner when it comes to getting published. Kim Weiss gave a seminar on platform and publishing at the Women's Empowerment Conference and it was really educational. Your platform is kind of like your resume -- you list all the writing you've done so far, plus any media contacts or any audience you might already have. My platform was a one-paragraph piece in the third person, talking about my newspaper background, writing I had done for other websites and of course detailing this very website's traffic and so on. This is why I think a lot of bloggers are now getting book deals, and it's awesome! That means publishing is recognizing the power of the internet to draw in audiences.

I know a lot of folks are grouchy about bloggers getting book deals but I personally think it's fabulous -- if it happened to me it means it can happen to YOU. And you. And you, too! The blog is now seen as a real platform, an audience for books, and the book industry is only about one thing: selling books.

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Several folks wanted to know if you need an agent to get published.

* You do not need an agent to get published, I did not have one for Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair. You can submit your manuscript to publishing houses on your own -- just follow the guidelines set forth on their corporate website or in the most updated version of the Writer's Market.

You will in fact be able to learn a lot more about the business as a whole from the Writer's Market than from me. I do know that you want to carefully consider your platform, though (see above where I mention platform.) It's one of the key deciding factors for a lot of companies when they consider your book.


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Liz R. asks:
What was your initial reaction to HCI's offer? And how in the hell did you keep it secret from all of us?

* My first reaction? I was terrified. I didn't think I was capable of doing a book at that time, I was still going through my Very Bad Time and just getting out of the house was a struggle. Here I was being given the chance of a lifetime and I thought I might be too washed up and broken to do it any justice.

Luckily, Allison kept at me. She saw something in me when I saw nothing at all. If you don't believe in the hand of God, at least let me tell you that sometimes providence arrives in the form of the most unexpected, sometimes she's a tiny, blonde Nordic editor with twins and germ issues.

I was able to keep it a secret because I needed to write it before I talked about it. And I was scared to death I'd never make the deadline. Getting input at that point would have been disastrous. I needed to write just the real story as it was meant to come out on paper, not try to write based on consensus, you know?


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Courtney asked:
Do you ever have problems with psycho readers tracking you down, AKA stalking you?? I started a blog a few months ago but I have not put any personal information on there because I have two fears: 1. Letting people I know see the soft side of me and 2. Being stalked.

* Hi Courtney!
It's important give only the personal information than you are comfortable with. That comfort level varies from person to person. I kept my last name off this website until my book came out, but of course now it's a bit late to develop a pen name.

But I have great readers, and by and large my experiences have been positive. I'm careful, of course, and mindful of my personal safety just as we all should be. In general, though, I try to remember that there is fear in everything so I can't stop living my life just because I'm scared of things that haven't even happened.

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Janet asked:

Writing question: This is basically to any other writers out there too. I've started to force myself to write otherwise I don't get to it. So in the beginning, how much should I force? I'm starting with baby steps and I try to come home and just write my thoughts for that day. However, that's been sporadic too. Any ideas?

* I think your blog is a good way to get started, trying to keep up with a project every day gets you into the habit of writing, of noticing things in your life and in your thoughts worth writing down. Think of it as a job -- I have to put my column up each day by 10 a.m.! -- and see if it keeps you on track. Some folks find it easier to set a word limit, like "I will write 500 words a day on my manuscript." I write every day and have for so long that it's become a habit through and through. Some of it goes on this website, some goes on paper, but every day I make time to write. If you make a space for it (I love to get up very early and just sit with a cup of tea and think and write) hopefully it can become a habit for you, too.


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LW said:
For me, whenever I am writing it feels like the stories almost tell themselves. I can't explain how the stories tell themselves, but they do. Sometimes even as I am taking notes about what a person is saying, pieces of it come to me. I don't think about Neil Hopp's first five paragraphs formula or nut-graphs. I just write the story how the story wants to be told. Sometimes I even try to go in with an idea of how I think I want the story to be told and it winds up totally different. It's like it has a mind of its own. I wonder if it is the same way for you.

* Well, I never took any theory writing classes so I don't think much about formulas and method and all that. I just like telling stories! Sometimes they work and sometimes they fall flat, and I try to tell more of the ones that work. I'm lucky because I grew up in a big Southern family of storytellers. Everyone in my family has a story to tell, and that is no lie.


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Tinker asked:
How the h-E-double toothpicks did you deal with the cats while you were writing??? Oh, wait, make that two teeny tiny questions - Did you have to work out a time-share on the computer with Sobakawa and her manifesto?

* If the cats bug me, I take my laptop outside onto the patio table. I wrote most of my book outside, to be honest!

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smokeyJoe asked:
When did you decide to monetize your excellent writing? what resources do you use?

* I started putting blogads on this website a few years back, it helps offset the sometimes massive server cost. I like the blogads company I have, they're great: blogads.com. I've never been one of those folks that thinks it's some blasphemy to have a web ad on your site. I love ads -- I make them for a living! (I'm a graphic designer.) I guess that growing up in newspaper I just sort of expect writing to come with a big tire ad nearby -- in Cooper Black font, of course.


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Rebecca asked:
What did your editor ask you to change about your writing?

* I have a lot of friends who are in writing groups and they get together and give feedback to each other and I'm intensely curious about this whole writing group scenario. I quizzed Faith obsessively about her writing group (she finally asked me if I wanted to sit in, insert sigh of exasperation, and I said, "Oh God, no! I would never be able to sit still or keep my mouth shut for a whole hour!")

Apparently in these groups people sit around and give each other feedback. This is fascinating to me. I never wanted feedback, I just wanted to write stuff down so I could get it out of me and onto the paper where it belonged, disciplined and surrounded by my beloved comma splices, not all messy and jumbled up inside me.

I have taken one writing class my whole life. It was in the 9th grade and I signed up for "Creative Writing" because it was either that or typing and I'll be damned if I was going to bring my GPA down with typing. We only had to write one paper the whole semester and the rest of the time we watched filmstrips adapted from old books. Later I got to skip Lit 101 and 102 in college, thankfully ... I must have been the only child in America who hated the five paragraph theme because it was too damn short. I had a lot to say! Stupid five paragraphs. Far too limiting. But I was glad not to be assigned topics and doubly glad to never get the dreaded "class feedback."

Imagine my horror when I discovered that when you write a book you get ALL KINDS OF feedback. Professional feedback. There are editors, then copyeditors, and then critics, then finally (blessedly) the readers.

I about died of humiliation at first, having to work with an editor. Luckily Allison is the best editor alive and I adore her. I still cried, though, when I sent in my first four chapters and I got them back unexpectedly a week later, FedExed to my porch and covered in red ink and notes. I wasn't used to that (aside from punctuation, of course, I am rather free-flowing in punctuating and always have been. Type like I talk.) I had never cared before if someone didn't follow the train of thought or if the tone was shifting too rapidly, or if the conclusions were wordy and sappy. In the past I only wrote for me. Suddenly I was writing for A Reader.

Now I do have to admit at the end of all this editing and proofing and re-writing and copyediting I am a better writer than I was before. I'm faster, I cry less, I'm less personally attached to my phrases and more aware of the reader's comfort level. (At first I fought for some things in the manuscript because I just liked the sound of the words together, later I gave in because something didn't make sense, or was redundant, or whatever. The reader won and I can say my lovely phrases to myself all I want. In private, of course.)

Working with an editor was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was harder than going through my divorce in some ways. I had been edited before in newspaper, of course, but those were cutting-edge stories about fall fashion at the Junior League. Working with my editor taught me how to be a better writer and also taught me how little I actually know. Surprisingly, that part was very exciting -- it means I can keep getting better with age. Like wine. Isn't everything like wine?

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Lori M. asked:
So - how do you get more confident in your writing? Sigh. Maybe I need to read your book. (oops, havent gotten it yet!)

* I think you develop more confidence by continually writing, over and over again. I started out back in Junior High (and OK, high school,m too) with the worst most God-awful poetry and one-act plays and stories anyone has ever read. They are HEE-LARIOUS. Over time, I got better and even writing this book I got MUCH better. Writing is not like sports, thank God. You can get better as you age. Again, like a fine wine!

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Sherri asks:
My question is a little different. Since you have a full-time job, how do you balance your travel when you go on your book tours with your real job. I wondered that the whole time you were gone. Are your co-workers supportive? These questions may seem irrelevant, but I've always wondered how a person would suddenly deal with having to go on a book tour when they also have a paying job. :-S

* Hi Sherri! I worked out a situation with my boss that worked for both of us. I haven't told my co-workers, a few know but for the most part I have kept it on the down low. I like just keeping life as normal as possible, you know?

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Reader Marilyn asked:
So much of what you write/wrote about is so very personal. Many people would not want the world to know such personal, emotional things because they would feel embarrassed that they were "dumped," and also would not want "Mr X" to have the knowledge (read: power) that he was able to cause you so much pain, or they might worry about what impression co-workers might get from all the talk about "dranking". Most people want to keep that sort of thing private. Why did you decide to make it public knowledge?

* Hi Marilyn!
Sometimes in the middle of writing this book I would panic, realizing how much laundry I was hanging on a public line.

But one of the reasons I felt most alone in my divorce (and in life, sometimes) is that no one ever talks about the really ugly, emotionally wrenching parts of loss and we all just put on our game face, pretend life is hunky-dorey and go about our business ... until the doors close and the window shades are pulled down. Then it all falls to pieces.

So I thought if there was just one woman out there who read this story and it helped her feel less crazy then it was worth it. Besides, there was no reason to hide from it, my divorce happened, I fell apart, I was messy. Life kept going, and I kept going, too, messy and unkempt and hung-over. Then you know what? It got better. MUCH BETTER.

The bigger question -- and I think it's the core of your comment -- is ... how on earth do you stand letting people see your flaws and then knowing that they will judge you?

Isn't that the reason we all hide from success? Isn't that the real reason we have fear and we wonder if we're doing the right thing by trying something new, we wonder if people will talk about us when we change our haircolor / change our weight/ change our wardrobe / buy a new car / get a new boyfriend / leave the closet / leave the state/ apply for a promotion / write a book / break out of the box in any way.

WHAT ON EARTH WILL PEOPLE THINK ABOUT ME?
WHAT WILL THEY SAY?
WILL THEY STILL LIKE ME?

Recently someone wrote to me and picked apart the whole book, everything, it was an excoriating review of me as a person..

When I read it, I completely lost my breath, I started shaking all over-- the whole thing was so personal. She took my inventory from top to bottom and let me know exactly what she thought, thankyouyverymuch.

Now, if I had written a piece of fiction I wouldn't have cared as much. Who cares if someone hates the storyline? Let them go write a better book! But this was MY story, MY life, and she was picking me apart like I was a TV character or something. So that was it, then. The very worst had happened, someone had taken a long hard look at me and found me horrible and ugly and displeasing ...

... and I lived. I'm fine. The world didn't stop spinning on its axis. Life is full of people wanting to take your inventory. When you expose yourself or put anything of yours out there for the world to see, some folks are just going to have a field day. This is a fact. Some people will always find a way to call you a butthole, or make you feel like one. I thought that this kind of thing would kill me, I thought I'd just keel over and die if someone hated my book. Guess what! I'm still here! I haven't died. I still get to choose each day whose opinion of me matters most -- some stranger I have never met, or my own opinion.

I had to make that decision, too. Sometimes I spend each day actively remembering that decision... but it's worth it.

Take chances. Do what you're afraid to do (but know you'd love it if you really did it!) Are people going to talk about you? Judge you? Sit on their high, high horse atop their mighty tall soapbox? Yup. BUT WHO CARES? Go on that trip. Get that haircut. Write that book. To hell with everyone else. To hell with always wondering what horrible thing might befall us if we actually try to live up to our potential.

To hell with 'em, I say.

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Alas, I didn't answer questions about promoting and blog marketing stuff because that is way out of my league. My basic opinion is that if you write every day or almost every day and love it and say what is true to you, people will come. I also thought this about book-writing and yet innerestingly enough, the book company is not so much a fan of my "build it and they will come" philosophy. So that is why some folks are great marketers and some folks post cat pictures! Which I will be doing soon because there has been a SERIOUS lack of cat pictures lately on this here very literary website.

Thanks for the questions, it felt all very self-indulgent answering them but hopefully some of it can be helpful, too.

Posted by laurie at 4:19 PM