Thursday, January 31, 2008

'The Gun Seller' ...

Ooh, I made it. Just under the wire.

Mercurie challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore.

Which is very true. For me, anyway.

So I thought I'd ease into the year-long challenge with a skinny little novel I've been meaning to read for a few years now, but then my plan changed.

When I was Christmas shopping, you see, I spied The Gun Seller staring out at me from a Borders shelf. By Hugh Laurie.

Hugh Laurie?! I didn't know Dr. Gregory House was also an author! I didn't buy the book that day, just in case someone decided to buy it for me for Christmas or decided to give me a gift card to a book-sellin' place.

But no. Christmas morning gave way to Christmas afternoon and The Gun Seller did not arrive in my hands.

So I bought it from Amazon earlier this month and took it with me on my trip to Dallas last week.

I made good headway on the outbound plane. And I even managed to read a bit on the trip, on Saturday morning, over coffee. I didn't get much read on the trip home, as I was tired from the trip (turns out, nine hours of total sleep over two nights is not enough for me) and found myself reading the same words over and over. So I threw in the towel, turned off my overhead light, covered myself with my new scarf which is practically a blanket, and dozed instead.

But I was aware that I needed to finish the book during January.

I turned the last page at 9:59 p.m. tonight. January 31. Cutting it a wee bit close, but still meeting my challenge.

So, my review of the book:

First of all, it was written in 1996. Somehow, this book had managed to elude me for 11 years. But I didn't realize it wasn't a current title until I was about three-quarters of the way through it.

It is freakishly timely, about manufactured terrorist incidents and arms deals. But then, in Hugh's part of the world, terrorism was and is more commonplace than it was here in 1996. We're just now catching up, sad to say.

It is also, despite its heavy-handed subject matter, a very lively read. It is laugh-out-loud funny in places. Which makes me wonder if Hugh has a hand in writing House, because I can hear the similarities between this book and that show.

Suffice it to say, I really liked it. And if you have any affinity whatsoever for Hugh, you'll like it, too. And if you've already read it, I'll presume that you did indeed like it, but do leave a comment and let me know, either way.

But if you didn't like it, I'll think you're daft.

At the end of the book is a brief interview with Hugh. The lead question is as banal as they come, but his answer is priceless. Allow me to share the exchange:

Q. What inspired you to write The Gun Seller?

A. I was inspired to write by the banality of my own life. I had been keeping a diary for some months, and when I skipped back over it, I was appalled to see what a humdrum document it was: no dinners with kings or presidents, no mountains climbed, no cartels busted, no wild animals stared down, no inside straights filled with a five hundred thousand dollar pot, no goals scored against Brazil in the World Cup final, no frostbite, no hunger, no withholding of vital information under torture — nothing. So I decided to make up a life. I just wanted to fantasize an adventure.


My boy has written the screenplay adaptation. He says he has no plans to star, that "the lead role ... will obviously have to go to a star — somebody with a clean jaw and good teeth. But if they need a waiter, or a 'Man on the Bus,' I'll put myself forward."

But he's just being modest. He'd be the perfect lead.

Before it becomes a movie, though, read the book. You won't be disappointed.

Unless you're one of those posers who tells everyone that you read Foucault. Then you might pretend not to like this book on principle.

But everyone else will like it.

And Hugh can use the royalties to buy another motorcycle.

The Book ...

I've written lately about the book I edited but had yet to mention the title.

Thanks go out to astute reader and commenter Cannon who just posted a comment on Gratitude, Part III, asking, "And, while we're on the subject, are you going to promote the book itself, when it comes out? I'm not asking for a link to Amazon, mind you, but a title would be nice."

Right. The title. The title is The Last Lecture and it's available for pre-order on Amazon here. (A link to Amazon is certainly not too much to ask.) Its street date is April 8. And I'm pleased to report that its Amazon sales rank is already hovering around 5,000.

The day I edited the final version, I wrote a note to Jeff and Randy. Here's part of what I had to say:

Well, this is just a knockout.

By the end of the book, I was full-out crying. Not just the occasional tear, but audibly crying. I know I'm a total sap, but I'm sure I'm not the exception to the rule this time around.

I am tremendously, tremendously honored to have taken a few small steps of this journey with you, Jeff. I think Randy would appreciate our timeline: That we met all those years ago and that we've arrived at this point, with you writing his story and allowing me to help in a small way.

I am also completely smitten with Randy and grateful to the universe that forces conspired to get you to that auditorium that day. It would be an enormous opportunity lost if Randy left this realm, whenever that may be, without sharing his lessons. He is a teacher to the world and in this project, he is leaving behind a legacy, the effects of which will be immeasurable. Please pass that on.

I can't wait to hold a copy in my hands.


Update: A few days later, the book's Amazon sales rank jumped to the 1,400 neighborhood.

St. Baldrick's ...

First, a bit of background from St. Baldrick's web site:

St. Baldrick's is the world's largest volunteer-driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research. Thousands of volunteers shave their heads in solidarity of children with cancer, while requesting donations of support from friends and family.

At a St. Baldrick's event, something amazing happens. People who normally shy away from the very thought of childhood cancer find themselves compelled to support this cause after looking into the face of these brave children who are smiling broadly as their friends and family members proudly display their newly shorn heads.

Volunteers and donors see it can be fun to support a serious cause. Young cancer patients and survivors see how many people care. And researchers see St. Baldrick's funds helping to find cures!


I've had a couple friends participate in events over the years. This year, one of the authors whose blog I read is facing the shaver for this very worthy cause. I'm always happy to chip in.

If you'd like to contribute, you can find his St. Baldrick's page here. His goal is $10,000 and he's already more than halfway there.

And since you now have several fewer presidential campaigns to which to contribute, perhaps you can help him meet his goal, instead!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gratitude, Part III ...

Here's a happy little story:

Much to Anon's chagrin, no doubt, a week and a half ago, I spent a Saturday morning editing the final version of Jeff's manuscript.

No, the publisher didn't hire me to do the final edit. But I've been along for the ride since the column that started it all and I wanted to read the final. And as long as I was reading the final, I edited the final. I'm an editor. Editors edit, whether or not there's the promise of pay. Especially when the words to be edited are those of a friend.

Later that day, Jeff told his editor about my final pass, about all my good catches, and his editor said, "Well, we should pay her."

Today, a check arrived in my mailbox.

The end.

– Editor Beth, pure of motive, reaper of reward

Deep-Fried Insanity ...

What's pictured below?













Is it a picture of ... :

a) ... large cubes of compacted breadcrumbs?
b) ... cinnamon-coated squares of cake?
c) ... fuzzy cornbread?

No. No, it's none of the above, kids. It's head-shaking, incredulity-inducing, mind-boggling answer d):

d) ... deep-fried mac and cheese.

Seriously. Deep. Fried. Mac. And. Cheese.

Deep.

Fried.

Mac.

And.

Cheese.

DEEP.

FRIED.

MAC.

AND.

CHEESE.

DEEP.

FRIED.

MAC.

AND.

CHEESE.


And who do we have to thank for this heart-attack-alicious delicacy?

Why, Paula Deen, of course.

I've gotta ask: HOW IS THAT WOMAN STILL ALIVE?!

I was turned on to this culinary turn-off by Steff, in this post, who wrote: "HOLY CRAP, Batman! I flipped onto her show and what's the woman cooking? Bacon-wrapped squares of super-cheesy homemade macaroni and cheese... breaded and deep-fried!"

Paula's recipe doesn't mention the bacon, but it's not a big leap from deep-fried mac and cheese to bacon-wrapped deep-fried mac and cheese. It's like Southern rumaki.

Here's the thing: I love mac and cheese. I love fried food. I love bacon. But never, in a million years, even if I wasn't on my current health kick, could my brain ever conceive of putting all of those components together.

Seriously, she's a cyborg, right? She must be. No human could eat like she eats and not sustain a chest-grabber on the spot.

Monday, January 28, 2008

'Juno' ...

I took myself to see Juno a week and a half ago.

Here's my mini-review from that night: I liked it. I liked it quite a bit. But I didn't love it. I think it's been a bit over-hyped. It wasn't the second coming of filmmaking and screenwriting I was expecting.

Here's my extrapolation: I think it's cool as hell that Diablo Cody has found such amazing success with this film. To have your first-ever screenplay turned into a hit movie is a huge accomplishment. To then be nominated for an Oscar for that screenplay must be completely, freakishly overwhelming.

I am way behind on my movie viewing this year, but I've heard about some of the other Best Picture nominees and I'm thinking, "Really? Juno is in the same category as No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood?"

And while Ellen Page probably doesn't have much of a shot at winning, she was nominated for Best Actress, and I'm thinking, "Really?" Hers was a good performance, but really, it was one of the five best performances of the year? I didn't love A Mighty Heart as a film, but Angelina Jolie was amazing as Mariane Pearl. Was Ellen Page's performance better than Jolie's? Not for my money. Jolie deserved a nomination for the one minute in the film alone when she learns of Daniel's death. I can still hear her wails of grief. They still bring tears to my eyes.

But my biggest gripe with Juno lies in the writing. The story holds together very sweetly, but I was very aware of the dialogue. Maybe that's because I've been writing a movie (for a long time now!), but I was very aware of how Cody seemed to be trying to make every single line of dialogue clever. I grew weary of it.

Like I said, I liked it quite a bit. It's certainly better than a lot of what Hollywood is slinging these days. But for all the hype, I was braced for a transformative film experience. I expected to emerge from the multiplex forever changed, having witnessed the dawn of the next era of filmmaking.

But I didn't. And I really didn't like the opening titles animation. And most of the songs in the movie annoyed me. Juno is into amazing bands from before her time. Why was the soundtrack so cutesy?

I may be the one person on the planet who doesn't adore every syllable and frame of this movie. Or am I? Did you see it? Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

'Hoity' ...

I had to fly down to Dallas on Thursday for my company's annual meeting. Well, it's not my company. It's the company for which I work. My boss lives in Dallas and our accountant lives in Dallas, and Chicago in January is no bargain, so everyone convened in Dallas.

Friday, it was 40 and rainy. Alas.

Thursday night, though, Ethan picked me up at the airport. We had made plans to have dinner, me and Eth and his wife, Marlena. Sadly, she was tied up with a last-minute work thing, so Eth and I were left to fend for ourselves. As we sat through some of the most ridiculous traffic I've ever seen, he asked where we were having the company dinner the next night.

"Um, it's a steakhouse. Starts with a P?" I said.

"Pappas?!"

"Yeah, that sounds right," I said.

"Wow," he said. "It's hoity."

Hoity. I filed that away. It didn't surprise me that my boss would pick a hoity place. He's quite the oenophile, and if you're going to drink good wine, you want good food to go with it.

Thursday night, my colleague Kelley filled me in on the dinner plan. Turned out, we weren't just having dinner. We were having a wine tasting first. And there would be twelve of us. And we had the private dining room.

Huh. OK. We walked into the restaurant Friday night and I thought it looked nice, but "hoity" didn't register. A group of us headed to the bar to wait for the rest of our party. I ended up with a glass of 21-year-old scotch. Nice stuff.

When everyone had arrived, we filed through the restaurant to the private room. (Here's where it starts to get hoity.) What must have been every member of the staff stood to the side, lining the path to the dining room, welcoming us. Ooo-kay.

The room was beautiful. Very dimly lit. One wall, which must not be fixed, was covered in beautiful beveled mirrors. The opposite wall, the wall behind where I sat, was a large window overlooking part of the wine cellar. One wall was bins and bins of wine. The fourth wall, the wall with the door, also featured a large oil painting of someone who I presume was named Pappas.

Our sommelier for the evening was tall and dashing, charming and funny. Pretty much everything you want in a sommelier, beyond his knowledge of wine.

I don't know a lot about wine. I know what I like. I know what I don't. But I'm not versed on what years are great for what varietals in what region and all that.

The full name of the restaurant is Pappas Bros. Steakhouse and it's been voted the best steakhouse in Texas. So even though the lamb chops were the first thing that caught my eye on the menu, I thought I should opt for beef. When in Texas, after all ...

You'll note that the online version of the menu doesn't feature prices. I'm sure that's a practical decision, so the site doesn't need to be updated every time the menu changes, but I believe the 8 oz. filet was the least-expensive entree. If memory serves, it was $34.95. And what did it come with?

The plate. Side dishes hovered around $10 each. "Hoity" was starting to come into sharper focus.

I opted for a cup of lobster bisque to start. Lobster velvet. Very nice.

Our server informed us that there was a special that evening of a petite filet and a lobster tail, served with mashed potatoes and asparagus.

There was no need to continue looking at the menu once I heard that.

The steak came napped with bernaise sauce, presumably because more fat is always better.

I must say, it was the finest piece of beef I'd ever eaten. The flavor was incredible. The texture was incredible. Really. Perfection.

Someone ordered lobster to be served to those who might want a little lobster with whatever they ordered. And several sides came along, including the roasted wild mushrooms, which easily could have been my dinner. They were sensational. I passed on the haricot verts and creamed spinach, though.

The wines that were selected to pair with dinner were both really lovely. I don't remember the names of either, but the one I liked best was from 1996. The bottles were large. Several liters each. My boss had each of us sign them with a silver Sharpie.

When we were in the bar earlier, I noticed many desserts coming out of the kitchen, specifically the New York cheesecake. So when it was time to order dessert, I had to go for it. I only ate two bites (and it was a mammoth piece of cheesecake) but one of my co-workers ate a good portion of it for me. I still had a few sips of my scotch waiting for me, a very nice finish to a sensational meal.

We were there for about five hours, I'm guessing. At the end of the evening, our sommelier gave a few of us a quick tour of the wine cellar. I can now say that I've seen a $70,000 bottle of wine.

So, in the end, Ethan was spot on: Pappas Bros. is hoity, but not in an ostentatious way. No one put my napkin in my lap for me. But the service was top-notch, the food was exceptional, the atmosphere was beautiful, and it was all very relaxed.

If you ever find yourself in Dallas, do yourself a favor and visit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Hair, It's Magic! ...

One of the reasons I love J-D is because of his allegiance to good hair. A couple weeks ago, he told me that there was an easy at-home touch-up solution to tame my greys (and whoa ho, I have a lot of 'em these days) between salon visits.

But then I learned that I have to sit for a headshot at my upcoming company meeting and I figured that I best let J-D take care of my color, lest my oh-so-corporate headshot end up looking like a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. (Don't you miss Calvin and Hobbes?)

You may or may not know that it has been stupidly cold in Chicagoland of late. That, however, did not stop me from parking west of River North today and walking to the salon, which is near Borders on Michigan Avenue. For those of you who might be a bit rusty on your Chicago geography, the distance between my car and the salon = about a mile.

Which isn't a big deal, a mile. I walked a couple miles today on the treadmill at the gym. Set to an incline, no less. But the temperature inside the gym was not 17 degrees nor was there a wind, making it feel even colder.

But I walked from my car to the salon, and then past the salon to Borders, then back to the salon, where I spent 2 1/2 hours and far too many dollars. And then, as I always do, I walked out of the salon feeling very sassy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of great hair.

Of course, it was snowy, and I am not the type to wear a hat, so me and my hair were walking in the snow, and my wavy tendrils were becoming more sodden with every step, but did I care? No, I did not.

I stepped into Whole Foods where, miracle of miracles, I was able to procure not one, not two, but three tubes of my lip balm/crack! And a protein bar because I was overdue for a meal. Brandon doesn't advocate protein bars, and this one had as many grams of carbs as protein, but I figured it was better than skipping a meal all together.

Outside, heading west again, I was stopped at Huron and Clark, waiting for the light to change. In my peripheral vision, I saw someone step alongside me. I turned to glance and thought for a moment that it was Dave, but it wasn't. It was some other tall guy with fabulous hair. As we were nearing the gallery district, I figured he was an arty type. He looked arty, with his longer hair and cool jacket.

He was holding a cup of Starbucks. We didn't make eye contact. The light changed. I walked as quickly as I could across the snow-covered sidewalk. (Shouldn't there be some kind of law that requires people to clear their sidewalks?) I arrived at LaSalle just in time to wait for the light.

The Man with the Hair appeared again at my side. This time, he spoke.

Something innocuous, about the weather, I think. We chatted for two blocks. Good banter. Turns out, my arty assessment was right on target: He owns a gallery.

"You have fabulous hair," I said.

He laughed and commented on my affinity for long hair, pointing at mine. I told him about my hair architect.

Then I asked him if he could recommend a professional frame shop, as I have a piece of art to get framed and I've lost confidence in the gallery I was going to hire to do it. I also thought that would be a good opportunity for him to give me his card. But he didn't. He recommended the frame place across the street from his gallery, just north of the building I used to work in. At Huron and Franklin, he crossed in front of me to head north. The "L" rumbled overhead. I pointed and said, "I'm this way."

He smiled at me and walked toward his gallery. I crossed the street with a big grin on my face.

Most of the time, I'm oblivious to men. My friends tell me that they look at me. I tell my friends that's because I'm so tall. But on this snowy day, I'm quite convinced that my hair had something to do with the attention. And maybe me and my hair will find ourselves near his gallery someday soon.

P.S. I took a couple shots of my magic hair with my camera phone at the salon. They have yet to show up in my e-mail. If they arrive, I'll post one so you can see the magic for yourself.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Stepping Back On The Blog Treadmill ...

The funny thing is, I've been really good about getting on my actual treadmill lately, I've just fallen away from my online life here.

More real life. Less virtual life.

At the moment, I am eating a stupidly large salad, having returned home from the gym early because Brandon isn't feeling well and canceled our session. He's training for competitions this summer and thinks he might have strained something in his head. Ouch. But I logged some time on the treadmill there, so it wasn't a wasted trip.

He has me on a carb-cycle program which restricts my carbs to two meals a week. Tonight is one of my carb meals, and while it will be nice to eat carbs (in the form of oatmeal with a banana sliced into it), I gotta say, I don't really miss carbs much, especially since the carbs I was eating were potatoes and brown rice and such. It's not like my carb meal can be a huge plate of pasta or a box of donuts.

The idea behind this plan is that if you're not ingesting carbs, your body is forced to turn to fat for fuel. Does it work, you ask? Yup, sure does. I've been on it for a week and I can already see and feel the difference.

So now I'm noshing on my big-ass salad, a happy rainbow in a bowl: red, yellow, and green peppers, carrots, cukes, broccoli, grape tomatoes, lettuce, and roasted chicken, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar because I'm out of Paul Newman's Light Balsamic salad dressing. A trip to the store looms.

I was writing a comment on Back in skinny jeans earlier today and realized I was writing much more than a comment. I was writing a whole blog post. So I cut back on what I wrote in the comments and pasted what I'd first written in an e-mail so I could copy it here later.

And here we are. This is some of what I wrote to a woman who asked about how to stay on track, food-wise, on the weekends:

I've been dealing with food issues for my entire life. It's only since I've started working with a trainer (three months ago) that I've gotten a better grip on my eating.

As much as I wanted to be perfect from the get go, I still ate the occasional cheeseburger or pizza. And then I'd feel bad about it. But food addiction is just that, and it's going to take time to get a real handle on my eating.

But what's helped the most is simply the progress I've seen in myself. I've always been pretty educated about food and its effects, both good and bad, on my body. But I didn't respect my body enough to avoid the "bad" foods.

Mind you, it's not as though I'm never going to eat pizza again. I love pizza! But I'm much more attune to how my body feels when I eat certain foods. I feel good when I eat healthful foods. I feel crappy and sluggish when I eat fat- and salt-laden foods. And sugar? I literally fall asleep now if I eat sugar. My body crashes within 30 minutes.

Of course, like I tell myself, I didn't get overweight to begin with by eating too much broccoli. For me, there are plenty of emotional issues that fuel my food addiction. But the healthier I get, the more I can come to terms with those.

And while having a trainer might be a luxury not everyone can afford, being accountable to someone else is a big part of the puzzle. I see Brandon three times a week. He knows when I'm cheating, even if I don't 'fess up, because he knows how I should be shaping up, based on the work we're doing and what foods he has me on and what cardio he's told me to do. But he's a good cheerleader, too.


It's a wild ride, this journey toward fitness. Though "fitness" isn't a destination, it's a lifestyle. But until three months ago, being fit was something I only thought about. I'd see athletes and wonder what it would be like to live in a body like theirs. But that was all the effort I expended toward finding out. Wondering. That was easy. I can do many reps and sets of wondering, no sweat.

Last week, Brandon had me work on my delts on one of my least-favorite machines in the gym. I don't like it because I struggle with the move and I don't like not being able to do things. But last week, I sat down and did a set and it wasn't as hard as it used to be. Over the course of the workout, I did two more sets, still not struggling like I had in the past.

"Did we do a lower weight?" I asked.

"Nope. You're getting stronger," Brandon said.

He'd actually set the pin in the weight stack down a plate, adding 10 pounds to what I'd been lifting in previous weeks.

I'll be damned, I thought. Progress.

So the point of this post? I have no earthly idea. I've just been thinking about the past few months and the changes I've made and I marvel at the fact that this is me. I've never been this committed to something before. And I certainly haven't been perfect, but on balance, I've made many more good choices than poor choices and I show up to the gym three days a week and have happy moments when I realize that I'm lifting more than I've ever lifted before or when I catch a glimpse of myself in one of the gym's many mirrors and see a thinner version of myself looking back at me.

Not that "thin" is my goal. "Fit" is my goal. "Healthy" is my goal. "Thin" will be a bonus.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What Do I Think I Am? ...

Busy or something?

I have no fewer than three blogs posts brewing in my wee brain. And I shall compose them tomorrow, when my forehead is not about to meet my desk with a thick "Whump!"

Here are three clues, which are hardly clues. Well, maybe the first one is kinda clue-y: Money for nothing. 'Juno.' Dinner with English Teacher Dave.

And now, because my dashboard weather widget tells me it is 0 outside, I am going to crawl under my king-size down comforter on my queen-size bed and stay there, for a good long while, including much of tomorrow, I'm thinking.

Perhaps I can knock out my January-challenge novel. I picked a thin one to start, to ease myself into the habit again.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Your Good Deed For The Day ...

Take four minutes out of your day to watch this video.

Each time this video is viewed, Five for Fighting will donate 40 cents to Autism Speaks.

I've already vetted the e-mail I received through snopes.com. It's legit.

And the video will break your heart.

And piss you off. These children deserve better. All children deserve better, but these children and this cause need extra attention.

Here's the link again.

Thanks to Mindy for passing it along.

Gratitude, Part II ...

OK, first of all, you commenting-type folk are kinda eerie when it comes to your prognostication abilities.

On my Gratitude post, Cannon wrote: "I'm guessing Director of Suspense for Random House."

And an Anon wrote: "Let me guess: You’re writing your acceptance speech for the Oscar you win for the screenplay you’re commissioned to write for Journal Jeff’s book when it comes out and sells a gazillion copies!"

Neither of which are exact guesses, but it did indeed have to do with a publisher and with Journal Jeff: There was a good chance (before it became a not-so-good chance and before becoming no chance at all) that I was going to be the one to edit Jeff's final manuscript, given that I'd already given it one pass and both Jeff and his editor were impressed with all that I found to correct in that round.

I didn't get the gig, but I don't blame the editor. It's a very high-profile project and he's never worked with me before. But now I'm on his radar. Perhaps something will come of it.

So I remain grateful. Today I knocked out an article for a freelance client, participated in my first conference call with a new client in which I felt remarkably competent (I'm pretty sure it's because of the headset I now wear for conference calls), performed duties for my actual job, had a kick-ass workout at the gym, put in some serious effort on my treadmill, and then, as if all that wasn't enough, I called my mortgage company to discuss the escrow accounting I received today, ready to do all sorts of battle to get a tax issue settled, and the woman I spoke with was perfectly pleasant and informed me that I could disregard the notice I received today, that my monthly payment won't be going up by $268 dollars to cover a projected escrow shortfall (due to the miscalculation of how much I'll owe on my property taxes this year) but will instead go up by $1.08.

One dollar and eight cents.

As my grandmother used to say, "How's a person supposed to save any money?" : o )

And last night, English Teacher Dave called to arrange dinner for this Saturday, as we haven't seen each other in what feels like forever.

And and, today I got an appointment with J-D, my hair architect, for the day before I have to travel for business, a trip during which I will have to sit for a headshot. So now I will have newly J-D-ified hair for the picture!

And and and, the craziness that has consumed me for the past several days subsided when I filed my story today, so I can stop being such a slacker in these here blog parts.

It's all good.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Gratitude ...

I have had a spectacular day.

Actually, I have had a spectacular January, and it's only the 12th. Lots more spectacularity to come!

At the risk of turning Finding My Voice into your one-stop shop for all things touchy-feely, I am compelled to cement my gratitude for today for all the cosmos to witness.

It's like this: I feel as though I am finally hitting my life's stride, as though I'm finally becoming truly comfortable in my skin, as though I'm finally becoming the person I was born to be.

And what accounts for this seismic shift? Near as I can tell, it was the act of accepting, of acknowledging, my gifts and applying them to my life.

Years ago (November 21, 2001, to be exact), I wrote a poem. I am not a poet. But that day, for whatever reason, I started writing, and this is what appeared:

I rise from trumpets and roses
Escape the embrace of imagined
solitary comfort
To join the living, the fully alive,
if unaware, beyond
I enter, my eyes wide open
A world where beginnings sometime
have ends or linger or grow
until they are unaware they
have begun and simply are
My life, full and round and
good


I printed that out and framed it, actually. My name's not on it. But I wanted it hanging in my house so I could read it from time to time. And I did, but it wasn't until tonight that it really seemed to resonate, as though back in 2001 I was writing about some time in the future, which became today.

I can't yet reveal what it is that is the cause of this gladness as it is still in process and not entirely decided, but I have spent the night reminding myself that no matter what happens, I have this feeling in this moment, which is everything.


Poem © Beth Kujawski, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Making Room ...

Tonight, I struck a blow for Available Love.

Kelley and I have made that one of our mantras for 2008: Available Love.

You have to be careful what you wish for, you see. It's not enough to wish for love. Love takes many forms. So you have to be specific. If he's not available, he's not a contender, no matter how damn wonderful he is. His unavailability neutralizes his wonderfulness. No point in falling for yet another unavailable man.

And whether you believe in feng shui or karma or juju or nothing at all, I do, and I'm the one writing this post.

Like I've discussed before, at its core, everything is energy. Shift your energy, shift your circumstances.

The other day, I opened my front closet to grab a coat and spied College Boyfriend David's leather jacket hanging among my garments.

He left it here when he visited in May. When I found it, many months later, I fired off an e-mail to him, asking if he'd like me to ship it to him.

No, he replied. It would cost too much to ship. He asked me to hang onto it until he came to visit again, hoping it wouldn't be many years.

So I left the jacket in my closet. I tried it on, thinking I'd wear it in the meantime, but it doesn't look right on me, so I never did.

And then, the other day, I opened the door and saw it and thought, "You need to stop hanging around here." As long as David's jacket was hanging in my closet, it seemed, I didn't have room for some other man's jacket. An available man's jacket.

So tonight, I folded David's jacket and wrapped it in tissue and padded a box with bubble wrap and slid his jacket inside, wrote a note to him and tucked that inside, too, and sealed it all up and made an address label and put the box in the living room. Tomorrow, I will take it to the post office and insure it for a couple hundred bucks, just in case, and send it on its way.

It won't cost too much to ship. Because I suddenly feel as though the cost of keeping it around would be far too high.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Musical Cure For What Ails You ...

Every year, English Teacher Dave (aka DJ Dave) makes his wife Gail an anniversary CD. The series is titled "Don't Remind Me." Last year's disc is "Don't Remind Me #6."

(I love his sense of humor. I also love that no matter how old you get [not that Dave is old], you're never too old to make a "mix tape" for someone you love. I just got a copy of the disc today, even though their anniversary is in August. Dave dawdles a bit. I'm sure Gail received the disc in August. He was just a bit slow in sending a copy to me. And why did he send a copy to me? Because he put one of my songs on it.)

Anyway, the point of this post is that this disc opens with Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open The Door."

I defy anyone in a bad mood to listen to this track and not cheer up instantly. Go ahead. Try. It's a short cut. If you must, you can go back to your bad mood in 2:41.

(Incidentally, in addition to sharing the bill with Pete Townshend, I also find myself in the company of, among others, Kurt Elling, Sam and Dave, Heatwave, Gloria Gaynor, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and Vivaldi. My hat's off to the DJ. Here's to many compilations to come.)

He Writes The Songs ...

Coming up on two years ago now, I wrote I Was A Pre-Teen Fanilow, in which I spoke of my love for Barry Manilow.

Today, I received an e-mail solicitation from Live Nation, and the subject line read: "Barry Manilow this Saturday - Tickets start at $9.99".

Oof.

Just out of curiosity, I clicked the links and made my way to Ticketbastard. I dipped for a pair, not because I could immediately think of anyone who'd want to join me, but because searching for a single ticket will sometimes result in a rather choice location because not everyone buys tickets in even numbers or in numbers that total the seats in a row.

And a pair came up. For this Saturday's show. At the United Center. On the floor. Ninth row, center.

Oh, Barry.

I shudder to think what the attendance will be for this gig. Of course, part of the problem here could be that those primo seats were $250. Each. Face value. Before the Ticketbastard "convenience" fees and such.

I paid $250 for a ticket to see The Police, a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. And I would have paid that much to see Paul McCartney, but I drew the $125 seats.

But $250 to see Barry Manilow?

Maybe the show will be fine. Maybe Barry's fan base opted for the less-expensive seats and the UC, which seats somewhere around 20,000, will be suitably full.

I hope so. For him.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Secret Of My Success ...

Last month, I posted the post I wasn't going to post.

Last night, I watched The Secret, the DVD version of the book. (Marc is cringing right now.)

I've always been more tuned into the universe than a lot of people. I wouldn't say I'm clairvoyant but I sense things others don't. I usually knew who was calling when the phone rang, long before the advent of Caller ID. I get hunches and they usually come to pass. It's not something that I talk about often, but when I do, I explain that at it's core, the universe is energy, and some people are just tuned into finer frequencies of that energy than other people, like a radio: Some people hear nothing but static, others receive stations loud and clear. I'm somewhere in between.

The DVD gave me a lot of food for thought. I spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on all the negativity in the world. I don't think of myself as a negative person (nor do I think of myself as a consistently positive person; I guess I think of myself as a neutral person with positive tendencies, especially lately, and I seem to regularly crack myself up) but I read a lot of news and a lot of news is negative. I spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about the government in this country and there ain't a lot of good juju there, either.

But the past few weeks, since I posted the post I wasn't going to post, have been some of the best weeks of my life. Not because of the holidays, though those were perfectly lovely, but because there's been a whole lot of self-discovery goin' on. I didn't go looking for it, but it found me.

The secret of The Secret for those who might not know is this: The law of attraction is real and it works. What you focus on is what comes to you. Or, more generally, what you focus on is what you see. Everyone has had those days when everything seems to go wrong. But odds are, on those days, that things also go right. But in our frame of mind, we're not prone to notice the good things. We're too busy focusing on the bad things. Does that mean we're conjuring more bad things? According to the law of attraction, the answer is "Yes." (Marc is starting to hyperventilate. Go get a paper bag, dear!)

Some might say that the shift in my life over the past few weeks is a result of my shift in thinking. And I would agree with them. But that's the central tenet of The Secret: Thoughts are energy. When you shift your thoughts, you shift your energy. Like attracts like. If your thoughts are positive, you'll attract more positive to your life.

Now, I don't prescribe using the law of attraction for selfish ends, but that's just me. I'm not going to sit in my house and wish for a billion dollars. I don't think Publishers Clearinghouse would show up with one of those giant cardboard checks just because I wished for the Prize Patrol to knock on my door. But then again, maybe it depends on my intention for the billion dollars. What if I wanted to donate all that money to charity? Would that intention be more likely to attract a billion dollars than if I wanted it to live a life of luxury? I'd like to think so.

But the point of all of this is that in the past few weeks, since I've owned up to the fact that yes, I am indeed good at what I do, opportunities have arisen for me to put my talents to use.

I've always been a big fan of this particular method of finding a job: waiting for the phone to ring. Why bother with all those resumes and job sites and classified ads when you can simply sit at home and wait for someone to call (or, in these more-modern times, e-mail) and offer you a job? It's happened to me several times over the years. And it happened again last month.

And here's the crazy part: I don't need a job. I have a job. But, it turns out, I also have a professional reputation that I wasn't fully aware of. The man who wanted to talk to me about an opportunity wasn't anyone I ever worked with directly, but we knew each other. We worked for the same company, but in different cities.

I might have a job, but I'm not silly enough to ignore an opportunity when it taps me on the shoulder, so I agreed to meet with him to discuss the position. We met at Eno, the wine bar at The Hotel Intercontinental. You know a job holds a lot of potential when the interview of it begins at 4:30 p.m. and cabernet is involved.

Though the setting was casual, I came prepared. "Would you like to see a resume?" I asked, reaching for my purse. (Yes, my purse is big enough to hold a file folder. Leave me alone.)

He waved me off. "I already know I want to hire you," he said. "I don't need to see a resume."

He had brought along a co-worker. She took a look at a copy, as she didn't already know me. But she didn't spend a lot of time reading it.

By the way, in vino veritas? No kidding. The co-worker decamped to sneak in some Christmas shopping which left me alone with my would-be employer/former colleague. We caught up on what we've been up to since our common newspaper days. He also told me about his current budget and that he has to spend every penny of it. "So," he said, holding up his glass, "you might as well have another glass of wine!"

So I did. But I don't drink much anymore, so halfway through the second glass, I could really feel it. We had a good conversation. I didn't say anything too personal, but whew. I gotta keep an eye on that grape-juice consumption and its loosening effect on my tongue.

But the coolest development of my three-week journey came today.

In the post I wasn't going to post, I talked about reading the first couple chapters of my friend's book.

This morning, I made a pot of coffee and read the whole thing.

Well, not the whole thing, as he's not done writing it yet, but I read the manuscript as it stood as of yesterday, the version that all the bigwigs at his publisher are reading this weekend. I'd written to him last night to ask if he was letting people read it before the deadline, and he responded this morning.

In the e-mail to which he attached the manuscript file, he wrote that I could skim it if I wanted to, that I didn't have to read it all, that I didn't have to edit like I did before.

"I know I don't *have* to line edit," I replied. "But if I did, would it annoy you?"

Happily, he's not that kind of writer, the kind who believes his every keystroke is sacred. He's always willing to consider comments and corrections.

"Thanks for the green light," I replied. "Cuz your friend here is anal and obsessive and it would irk her to no end to see something misspelled or otherwise wonky and not fix it."

So I read. I laughed. I cried. (I really did.) I sent him a note when I was about a third of the way through and told him that I was loving it. I finished my read (and edit) and sent the doc back to him with my notes.

The phone rang a few minutes later.

After he pronounced that his publisher should be paying me a million dollars for my editing, he, as he has in the past, praised my skills and suggested I consider becoming a book editor. We talked about the book and I tossed off some ideas for how he can accommodate his publisher's wishes while staying true to the book he wants to write. It was a good discussion. I was reminded, yet again, that I have good ideas, that – gasp! – I am very good at what I do.

He very sweetly told me that he'd put me in the acknowledgments if he's allowed to include acknowledgments. I can't imagine that he won't be allowed, but time will tell. I'm touched at the thought, regardless. It's worth a million dollars. But if his publisher wants to pay me, I'll take the cash.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Pure Self-Promotion ...

I just received a comment from 40 Forever on this post about my birthday CD.

Based on the URL of 40 Forever's blog, I'm going to presume that I was hearing from Roxy, who, according to her profile, loves to sing.

She (or maybe it was Jake) wrote to comment on my inclusion of "Big Log" on my birthday disc and asked where she (or he) could hear my recordings. Nice of her (or him).

So I created Covers in Progress, a little list of links to the posts that contain the song files, over there to the right, underneath my Links section. I could have just posted the links to the URLs that host the audio files (thanks again to Ethan), but why not drive a little traffic to my own posts instead of sending people to a page with nothing more than the audio player?

There you have it, kids: Easy access to a few of the tunes I worked on last year. Hopefully, I'll head back into a studio someday soon and tweak those and work up some new tracks.

Perfect Storm ...

Yesterday, I read this post on Back in Skinny Jeans. I was drawn to that blog initially because of its title. Every woman can relate to the desire to get back into her skinny jeans. It was a Sex and the City storyline, and if it's part of SATC, that's proof positive that it's part of the female experience, right?

So I read Stephanie's post yesterday, part two of a three-part series, and saw a lot of myself in her words.

I'm not sure where perfectionism comes from. Logically, it would seem to develop from the outside, from expectations placed on us from a young age. But thinking back, I can't remember my parents saddling me with a list of demands of what I would accomplish. I was always encouraged and supported, told that I could be anything I wanted to be, not that I would be a doctor or a lawyer or that I'd go to Harvard. (Though, at various times throughout my childhood, I did think I'd become a doctor or a lawyer and I thought about going to Harvard.)

But my perfectionism seems to be of my own creation. Maybe it stems from watching my mom. Maybe it stems from an innate sense of the best way to do things.

Wherever it comes from, it's a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, perfectionism pushes me to excel. On the other hand, it prevents me from really experiencing much of life.

I admire people who aren't afraid to fail or to look foolish or to make a mistake, people who just go for the gusto and take the leap. I marvel at their ability to just pick themselves up, shrug, and move on to the next thing. Where does that come from? Can I get it without a prescription?

The other day, Doreen played courier for me and delivered a gift to Angela. (They work together.) Angela popped up on IM to thank me and commented that she thought my package was wrapped professionally.

I laughed at that. People routinely tell me that my cookies look like they come from a bakery. (Though, frankly, my cookies look better than what comes from a bakery.) But wrapped gifts and cookies are produced by people. Keebler elves aren't churning out the selection at the bakery. Gifts aren't wrapped by magic. Actual human hands are involved.

So why doesn't everyone produce cookies and packages that look like Martha Stewart held a gun to their heads? I guess they're just less obsessive. And I think that's a good thing. In some ways, I wish I were them.

My father was here before Christmas, wrapping a couple gifts for my mom. Dad's wrapping is legendary in our family. It's endearing. Whereas Mom fusses with folding all the corners of the paper just so, making sure that the paper is tight to the box, trimming everything to size to eliminate any potential bulk, and carefully considering what color and texture of ribbon will best complement the chosen paper, Dad hacks off a piece of paper, wraps it around the box, folds the excess paper into bulky corners and flaps, tapes it all up, and slaps on a sticky bow (or two ... or three). Sometimes, he adds ribbons in different colors.

In the end, both packages are wrapped. The contents of both packages are concealed. But while Dad is getting on with his life, having a sandwich or taking a nap, mom is still fussing away.

Clearly, I am my mother's daughter. I like taking the time to wrap a package just so, to pick the perfect paper and center the pattern on the box, to fold everything neatly and tape it tightly into place, to select the right ribbon (it's usually curling ribbon and I usually use several colors that complement the theme of the paper), to affix the right tag in just the right place.

But why?

I tell myself that I do it for the gift recipient, that it's nice to receive a pretty package and that if I love them enough to buy them the gift in the first place that I love them enough to take the time to make it beautiful.

Does that mean that my dad doesn't love his family as much as my mom does because you couldn't poke your eye out on a corner of one of his packages?

Of course not. He's just one of those people who doesn't sweat the small stuff. God isn't in his details. Every year, he takes my nephews and niece shopping, individually, so they can buy gifts for their family. Part of the day's shopping excursion involves heading down to my parents' basement to wrap the loot. He helps the kids wrap and as a result, the kids' packages often look like Dad packages. My younger nephew commented to my mom this year that he's not good at wrapping presents. I suspect he was comparing mom-wrapped gifts to his own dad-assisted packages.

But it doesn't matter. No matter which paper is chosen or how it's folded, the packages are all wrapped with love.

So what's the point of this post? I really have no idea other than to give me the opportunity to think out loud about from whence comes my compulsion to be perfect. And to ponder what life would be like if I didn't tear up every envelope on which I make a tiny mistake.

Huh. I guess I'd have more time. I wonder what I'd do with it? Maybe I could read a few of these.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Another Year, Another Journey ...

With ice on my windows and a thick blanket of snow outside, yesterday I signed up for the 2008 Breast Cancer 3-Day in Chicago. In August. Again.

Last year's August event was grueling, to be sure, but in reviewing the list of cities and dates yesterday, I realized that I really like doing the event at home. I have friends in most of the other cities, so I'd know people at the finish line, but there's nothing like sleeping in your own bed on that Sunday night after camping out for two days.

My account of the 2007 event is here.

If you'd like to contribute to the cause, my 3-Day web page is here.

Happily, my 3-Day page now offers the opportunity to blog to keep people apprised of my progress. Now you have another blog to read to help you waste even more time!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Bush Is Back ...

Note: For a couple years, my Christmas gift from L.A. Dave was a page-a-day calendar of Bushisms. I got into the habit of e-mailing one out every day to a group of friends under the title Bushism du Jour. But then one day, I thought it was a bad idea to begin each day focusing on someone I don't like, even if it was to share a bit of his stupidity with a small circle of friends. So I put an end to the Bushisms du Jour. But now they're back. Below is the text of an e-mail I just sent to my Bushism crew. And I wanted to open up the offer to my readers here. And for those of you who don't like it when I get all political, don't worry: I won't be posting a Bushism every day. Maybe just once in a while. When I come across a really good one.

Hey, friends:

So, this is it: The last full year of the reign of George the W.

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, L.A. Dave's Christmas gift to me was The George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown page-a-day calendar, "January 2008 Through The Bitter End! (January 20, 2009)".

I put a stop to the Bushism du Jour last year because I didn't want to start every day by blasting bad George juju into the universe, but now, I say, let's celebrate the beginning of the end!

In the lower, left-hand corner of the calendar is a little picture of George, walking and waving, his sleeves rolled up. He looks like he's doing a heckuva job. As you can guess, as the year progresses, so too does George, flip-book style, until he's off the page.

All I can say to that is, "Walk faster!"

If you'd like to bow out of the fun, just drop me a line and let me know. If you'd like to share this with any of your pals and they'd like to be part of the daily distribution, just pass along their e-mail and I'll add 'em to the list and save you the trouble of forwarding every day. [Blog readers: My e-mail can be found in my profile of you can just leave your e-mail in the comments section.]

Here's to a spectacular 2008. Though I just read that Nader is threatening a bid. I think someone should tie him to a chair until after November 4.

Happy New Year!

And without further ado, I give you the Bushism du Jour for January 1, 2008 (385 days left):

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on."
-- 2001 Gridiron Dinner

As the calendar box says, "Errabundi saepe, semper certi," which, as we all know, is Latin for, "Often wrong, but always certain."

Oh, what a year it'll be!

Ready? Set? Go! 2008 ...

Happy New Year, friends.

Did you have a nice New Year's Eve? I did. What did I do? Well, I went to see my very good friend Nick in his very fabulous new apartment in Oak Park. He just moved in this weekend. Boxes abounded. But we made a lot of headway, unpacking and chatting and noshing (on cookies and then a lovely lunch, purchased in parts at Whole Foods) and mending (Nick recruited me to stitch up some open seams in his quilt; I am rather handy with a needle and thread).

Then I drove to Doreen's to drop off a little something for a special someone. She opened the door wearing her snowflake PJs. "The weather outside is frightful," I said. Actually, it was fine. Snowy, but fine for driving. Wet streets.

I was only there for a few minutes before heading for home. Wet streets, wet streets, wet expressway, whoa, where the hell is the plow and salt truck? A good part of my drive was completed at 25 miles per hour on total snowpack. Thrilling. I tried not to hyperventilate. But I made it safely into my garage.

The snow was a hassle when it came to driving but it was breathtakingly beautiful once my car was put away. I stood in a tire track in my driveway, taking deep breaths, staring up at the snow in the trees. I closed my eyes and felt the flakes fall against my face. And with my deep breaths, I let go of 2007 and welcomed 2008.

Inside, L.A. Dave called. College Boyfriend David texted.

After trading Happy New Year wishes with each of them, I sat down to write my resolutions for 2008. I came up with 10. They are sealed in an envelope, awaiting placement in my top dresser drawer to be read next New Year's Eve.

I made my bed. I like getting into a made bed, even if I make it late in the day. And it seemed especially important to get into a made bed on New Year's Eve, setting an orderly tone for the new year.

I thought it would be nice to welcome 2008 while reading The Best Year of Your Life, which Doreen loaned to me a while back, having not yet read it herself.

So I started reading it, but then realized that it's something I should read tomorrow (or today, now, as the case may be).

I had a better idea for welcoming the new year: I dressed for shoveling, set my iPod to Shuffle (as you know, I think my iPod is like a Magic 8 Ball and is good for conveying cosmic messages), and headed outside.

What better way to welcome a new year than by literally clearing a fresh path?

It didn't matter to me exactly when 2007 became 2008, but I knew it was midnight when fireworks began appearing in the snow-filled sky.

And the iPod had this to say:

Big Log, Robert Plant – I love this song, you know. It was the penultimate song on this year's birthday CD. But as I listened, I realized that I didn't know all the lyrics, exactly. (I looked them up when I got inside. Opinions vary on a few of the lyrics, but having listened to it a couple more times while following along with the words, I'm confident that I have the right version, below.)

My love is in league with the freeway
Its passion will ride, as the cities fly by
And the taillights dissolve, in the coming of night
And the questions in thousands take flight
My love is the miles and the waiting
The eyes that just stare, and a glance at the clock
And the secret that burns, and the pain that won't stop
And it's fuel is the years
Leading me on
Leading me down the road
Driving me on
Driving me down the road

My love is exceeding the limit
Red-eyed and fevered with the hum of the miles
Distance and longing, my thoughts do collide
Should I rest for a while, on the side
Your love is cradled in knowing
Eyes in the mirror, still expecting they'll come
Sensing to well, when the journey is done
There is no turning back, no There is no turning back, on the run.
My love is in league with the freeway
Oh, the freeway, and the coming of night-time
My love, my love, is in league with the freeway.


Gotta Be This Or That, Beth Kujawski – It cracks me up that one of the songs I recorded was the next song to shuffle to the top. I'll take that as a sign that I should do more recording in the coming year, especially since I haven't been in the studio since May.

Better Man, Pearl Jam – Kelley and I have decided that one of our mantras for 2008 is "Available Love." Here's hoping I find a better man. Better than who? Better than any of the men who have come before, seeing as how I didn't end up with any of them. Better for me, that is.

Today, Smashing Pumpkins – On some songs, the first line really jumps out at me. "Today is the greatest day I've ever known, can't live for tomorrow, tomorrow's much too long." You gotta love kicking off the new year listening to the lyric, "Today is the greatest day I've ever known." Here's hoping that's true every day.

September Song, Bryan Ferry – I heard the opening to this song - "But it's a long, long while from May to December" - and laughed out loud. (Those who understand why understand why.)

Alive, Pearl Jam, from 16 - Katowice (Side B) – More Pearl Jam. I have 4,772 songs in my iPod. What are the odds that two PJ tracks would shuffle up so close together? (That's a rhetorical question. Don't say, "Uh, 2 in 4,772.") It's a cut from a live album. Maybe I'll finally make it to a Pearl Jam concert this year.

I Start Out Hearing It In My Head, Peter Nashel, from The Bee Season – I love this piece. The book was terrific. The movie was horrific, but the soundtrack was captivating. The title of this piece also describes the writing process for my screenplay.

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, The Beatles – I guess I'm in for an LSD trip or two in 2008. Damn, this song is weird.

Hide Away, Rock Kills Kid – If you're ever looking for a song to listen to sometime after midnight on January 1 while shoveling your driveway, watching fireworks burst in the sky, and dancing in the snow, tonight I discovered that this is a good choice.

I have high hopes for 2008, higher than I've ever had before. Let's meet back here in a year. I'll let you know how things went.