Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writing, Gaming, Mourning

I've been touched by the number of people who have contacted me, wondering about my disappearance from the blogosphere and social media (Twitter, in particular). Well, here it is:

First, I was doing a lot of work on my fiction writing ever since my story was workshopped in class. I was nervous, but it went well and I received a lot of great feedback. When my Fiction class ended, I started taking a Characters class, which I'm still working on.

Then I made the mistake of downloading Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's actually a good way to study character because the first one I played was so incredibly evil and made choices I could never make in real life. My fiction instructor said that it's a good reminder that your character is NOT you.

On June 1, our cat Basil (the Prince) was scheduled for a check-up -- rabies shot, the usual. He was dragging the Thursday and Friday before his appointment, and although he was very excited to eat, he had a tough time with it. We thought maybe he needed his teeth cleaned, or something like that -- nothing serious. Although his naps seemed deeper than usual, he wasn't hiding, which in cats, is a sign of illness or pain. He did seem to drop weight overnight, but again, we thought it was his teeth.

After a physical exam, bloodwork, and x-rays, it turned out that he had an abdominal mass. Not too surprising considering that he had chronic pancreatitis for years, and the guy was 2 months shy of turning 18. As you can see in the pic, his eyes were bright and alert that day. (Or maybe I'm imagining that.) He tried to remain strong up until the end, which came an hour or so later.

The vet didn't think he'd make it through the weekend, and because he was severely anemic, he wasn't oxygenating blood, which meant that if we took him home for his last days, he would go into respiratory distress, which would require a trip to the E.R., etc., when the time came. Obviously, we didn't want to put him through that. But we weren't expecting to leave the vet without him that day.

I haven't been able to write since. I'm taking a week-long workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival next week. Hopefully, that will get me started again.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

You Say Viola, I Say Pansy

We've never had indoor plants because the cats eat them. Once, I had a small cactus. Hopper loved rubbing her face against it. Yep. Brian used to bring home fresh flowers from his weekly trip to the grocery store until Hee Seop ate a tiger lily. Consuming lilies (and not just Easter lilies -- all types of lilies) is fatal to cats, but that's another post for another time.

As an adult, it has been my dream to live someplace where I can have flower boxes, and now we do. This is our second year planting them. Last year, my in-laws came for a visit and helped us shop for the necessary supplies and how to transfer flowers from those plastic thingies to the box. I thought we had to buy seeds. Heh.

Armed with that knowledge, we went to the nursery on our own this year, planning to buy pansies. We found some gorgeous, velvety purple pansies along with what we thought were baby pansies, as in, a smaller variety. They were on the same metal shelves on which the pansies were set and the flats and 4-packs cost the same.

When we got home and started transferring them to the flower boxes, I happened to read the flat, plastic stick that tells you all about the flower, like if it needs plenty of sun, or shade, etc. Of course we didn't do this at the nursery. It turns out that the "baby pansies" are actually violas. Sigh. Well, they're pretty, and anyway, I checked on the Internet and learned that pansies are a type of viola. Or is it the other way around?

Monday, May 6, 2013

May the 4th Be with You!

OK, so it's actually May 6, but this past Saturday was Star Wars Day, which falls on May 4th for obvious reasons. I don't normally celebrate Star Wars Day, but I sort of did this year. I wore one of my favorite t-shirts, which is a mash-up of Star Wars and Hello Kitty, courtesy of Hello Wars.

Jeffrey Brown, who created Darth Vader and Son and the recently published Vader's Little Princess, both of which humorously examine what it would be like if Vader raised Luke and Leia as a single dad via comic strip panels, was doing a book signing at a local independent book store. We were late because of Hopper's vet appointment (just a check-up), which was about 1-1/2 hours long and is its own story. I thought Brown would be long gone, but figured the store would be selling signed books without a dedication. But he was still there, and I got my book signed YAY! There were also a few Star Wars characters there, so of course I had to have my picture taken with them.

Free Comic Book Day happened to land on May 4 this year, so afterwards, we went to the comic book store where I'm a regular to pick up my comics and the free Star Wars comic book. But they were all out BOO! The cashier, who also happens to be the one who collects my comics for me each week, gave me his copy. I didn't want to, but insisted that I take it. I was very impressed by the level of customer service YAY!

All in all, it was a perfect Star Wars Day :-)

Linking up with the I Don't Like Mondays Blog Hop!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because its theme of memory intrigued me: do we remember events from our past the way they actually happened, or the way we wanted them to happen/wished they happened? This book is written in first person from the main character’s point of view. In part one, Tony Webster discusses events from his past, like from high school through college, and the people that were important to him then. The second part takes place 40 years later when he’s in his 60s. He’s led the type of life any of us could hope for: had a steady job and then retirement, a marriage that ended in divorce but he’s still friends with his ex, a child, grandchildren. But someone from his past comes back into his life uninvited, and that’s when he has to examine the events in part one and questions whether or not things happened the way he remembers. It’s a quick read and though I liked it, not everyone might. Some people think Tony is a douchebag, and he could very well be. I haven’t completely decided yet.
Friday, May 3, 2013

Date Night: The Place Beyond the Pines & Marie's Pizza and Liquors

Brian and I went to a movie and dinner last Saturday. We saw The Place Beyond the Pines, which we both really liked. Yes, it stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, but it isn't a player (Crazy, Stupid, Love) or frat boy (The Hangover) type of movie. We saw it at the art house theater, if that tells you anything. I don't want to say more, other than it's 2-1/2 hours long, so don't drink too much soda or whatever. Also, I didn't post the trailer because I think it reveals too much.

We planned to eat at Mia Francesca on Clark Street, which is right in the middle of Wrigley-/trendyville. We drove past and saw through the windows that it was crowded and that the tables were too close together for my taste. I hate it when I'm practically having a meal with the people on either side of me. They may not be paying me any attention at all, but I'm convinced that they are because I'm paranoid like that, and then I feel self-conscious and can't enjoy my meal or my company, even if it's my husband. And I keep thinking that I'm going to bump elbows with the people on either side of me. Who wants to feel like that?
Way too close together.
So we decided on a place called Marie's Pizza and Liquors. Yep, it's a pizza place that's connected to a liquor store, and that we heard about from one of Brian's co-workers. We've been meaning to go there, and that night seemed perfect. We arrived around 8:30 and the place was packed, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes. The place is old school -- red vinyl booths, etched mirrors, wood paneling, chandeliers. Freakin' awesome. Nothing at all trendy about this place.

We had toasted ravioli and jalapeƱo bottle caps for appetizers. I liked the cheese ravioli better than the meat. The bottle caps are sliced jalapeƱos lightly battered and deep fried. The no-nonsense waitress wasn't kidding when she said they were spicy, and kept my Sprite coming. These tided us over while we waited for our pizza, which was good.
I know the picture sucks, but my phone
was dying so the flash wouldn't work.

A band called the Gino Fontine Strolling Trio was playing that night. They went from table to table taking requests, but they mostly played jazz tunes. Gino plays a violin, while the other two play a stand-up bass and acoustic guitar. They were my favorite part of the experience! And it definitely was an experience. I'm sure the food at Mia Francesca is better, but it's the overall experience that counts, amirite?

Linking up with the folks at yeah write this weekend for the moonshine grid #107. Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Week in Review: April 19 - 26, 2013

Sunny Skies?
After all of the rain we've been getting here in Chicago, I'm ready for it to be sunny. Fortunately, we've had sun now, for the past couple of days. I'm afraid to look up the forecast just in case there's more rain on the way. I know, who cares what the weather is where I am? Well, it rained so freakin' hard last week, that my neighborhood was flooded. Bad. Like, people displaced from their homes bad. We were fortunate not to be affected, but here's a picture of a branch of the Chicago River that's just a block or so away from my house. I'm standing on the trail, which goes off to the right of the tree. As you can see, it's completely submerged. I took this picture last weekend, when the rains had mostly stopped. I'll bet the river was worse during the actual storms.

I'm stuck on a short story I've been working on for, well, in its current incarnation, the past two weeks, though it seems longer. I wrote the original version about a month ago, for speakeasy #102, in which the first line, "It was impossible," was provided by Suzanne of Apoplectic Apostrophes. The word limit was 500 words, but as regular readers know, I've been trying to write longer pieces, so mine went over. Now, the first line is completely different, and I have finished part one of what I think will be a two-part piece. And I'm at around 2400 words! Woo hoo! I'm sure it will get pared down after revisions, but so far I'm happy with what I have.

Also, we're going to start workshopping our stories in my fiction class in two weeks and two people are supposed to bring in hard copies for everyone on Wednesday. The instructor asked for volunteers, and since I feel stuck and could use some feedback, I raised my hand. We're still waiting for a second volunteer. I'm nervous, big surprise. I'm familiar with the workshop setting because that's how my poetry classes were conducted in grad school. But this is different because I'm still so new to writing fiction.

How was your week?

Linking up with the folks at yeah write this weekend for the moonshine grid #106. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: The Things They Carried

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads description: A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling. The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O'Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. Taught everywhere from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing, it has become required reading for any American and continues to challenge readers in their perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, courage and fear and longing.

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories about a group of men in Alpha Company and their experiences in Vietnam. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderfully written these stories are. Granted, I’m not a fan of Vietnam War literature, but O’Brien’s writing is just that good. The title story was used in the two fiction classes I’ve taken so far in order to teach how objects can define a character. O’Brien uses this technique really well.

I think two of the stories take place outside of Vietnam: one before the author’s character, also named Tim O’Brien (I know, it’s kind of confusing), goes to war and the other that takes place after the war in one of the characters’ hometowns. Those two are my favorite because one deals with making a decision that alters the course of your life, while the other depicts a war vet who no longer feels comfortable back home.

Highly recommend this to anyone who loves short stories and anyone who wants to write fiction. Also, this was the Fall 2003 selection for One Book, One Chicago.