Oscar Sundays and Super Bowl Sundays — They’re Not So Different

Pearls everywhere! And her gorgeous skin! Lupita Nyong'o was my best dressed.

Pearls everywhere! And her gorgeous skin! Lupita Nyong’o was my best dressed.

Oscar night for movie and fashion fans is like the Super Bowl for football fans. There’s tons of hype, people throw parties and often dress up, and emotions can run high. The events inspire staycation days in which you’re likely to blow off the normal Sunday errand running and housecleaning and whatever-ing. Also, you might expect to return to work on Monday a tad — or more than a tad — overtired or … eh-hem … hungover?

If you’re not into the Oscars or the Super Bowl, you’ll find stores and restaurants refreshingly half-empty. For example, I went to the Container Store on Saturday — parking lot packed — and when I returned on Oscar Sunday I had my pick of parking spots. (The Container Story, you ask? Stay tuned for a future blog post about my on-going battle with purging and re-organizing.)

Oscar parties are similar to Super Bowl parties in many ways too. Drinking and eating aside, you’ve got the hard-core fans who only come up for air during commercials. They pay attention to every detail of every play (Super Bowl) or outfit (Oscars), and you’d better keep your voice down when the especially exciting bits occur. Penalty kick! Lady Gaga singing “The Sound of Music”!

At both types of parties you’ve also got people more like me: those who want to eat, drink, talk, drink, and pay attention only when a “squirrel!” moment airs. During last night’s Oscars, Lady Gaga was a squirrel moment. So was emcee Doogie Howser’s (what the heck’s his name again?) tighty whities … I spent the Oscars with my neighbors D and J (J, I know you’re reading this right now!), and we discussed whether that was all Doogie in them thar tighty whities. He certainly had a photogenic … uhm … profile as he stood on stage introducing the next presenters.

Uhm … Where was I? Oh yeah, this brings me to another similarity between the two parties: analysis. Super Bowl: analyzing the plays and calls. Oscars: analyzing fashions, bad plastic surgery, and good plastic surgery about to go bad (Nicole Kidman, please stop now), and everything from J-Lo’s good-looking cleavage to acceptance speeches that turn into political statements to Sean Penn’s nose.

Frankly, isn’t that half the fun of watching the Oscars? Or the Super Bowl for that matter? Whether it’s an idiotic fumble or an idiotic acceptance speech, who doesn’t like to get a little snarky? It’s a nice way to blow off steam in our Land of the Politically Correct At All Times.

Here are some lingering thoughts (besides Lady Gaga’s stellar performance and Doogie’s stellar profile). Don’t know enough about football to draw parallels with the Super Bowl, but I’ll try:

1. Chris Pine and Channing Tatum — what the … ? For one thing, they’re so homogenously pretty that I get them confused. And another, ARE they a big deal? J, who is 28, suggested I think of them as the equivalent of Brad Pitt and George Clooney back in their younger heyday. OOOOHHHH. Pine and Tatum now make sense to me.

(These guys are like rookies, maybe? And we wonder if they’re flash in the pans or the real deal?)

2. My theory about winners proved true once again! That is, when a nominated best actor/actress plays a character with a debilitating/chronic/fatal disease, that actor wins. Hence, Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking and Julianne Moore playing a woman with Alzheimer’s. (Love them both, by the way.)

  • More debilitating disease examples: Tom Hanks for “Philadelphia” and Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club.”
  • This theory also holds for developmental disabilities: Dustin Hoffman for “Rain Man” and Tom Hanks for “Forrest Gump.”
  • And for physical limitations: Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech” and Daniel Day-Lewis for “My Left Foot” and Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman.”
  • And I bet mental illnesses including tragically addictive behaviors fit this theory too: Nicolas Cage for “Leaving Las Vegas.”

Interesting. Actors popped into my head, so I looked up Best Actress winners on Wikipedia. Don’t seem to be as many of these types of meaty roles for women. Boo. Hiss. But Charlize Theron for “Monster” pops out.

(Football fans have theories about winning strategies, right?)

3. J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette. I love that these two won. They’ve been around for a long time, doing their acting thing — I’m just glad they won, that’s all.

(Football players who plug along until they finally get their MVP or Hall of Fame recognitions.)

So that’s my Oscars re-cap. I can’t believe I care enough to have opinions, much less to bring Super Bowl parallels into it. I’ve never watched a Super Bowl in my life!

Did you watch the Oscars last night? What were your highlights, lowlights, snarky reactions, and discussion-worth moments? Best dressed? Worst dressed?






Random Thoughts About Critique Groups

Last night Fawn did a great job distracting me while I prepped two chapters for this week's feedback session.

Last night Fawn did a great job distracting me while I prepped two chapters for this week’s feedback session.

I just spent an hour writing a blog post for this week. I bored myself silly rambling about my new critique group before deleting everything I’d written. Here’s a bulleted list of the highlights:

  • Critique groups are funny things. (Wow, that’s profound, isn’t it?) Personalities come into play. I’m glad to be an experienced writer, because I don’t sweat the harsh feedback that’s off point or unhelpful. Most of the feedback is great, and I know my style well enough by now to ignore feedback that’s not applicable to the kind of storytelling I do. An example of this might be suggestions to elaborate and clarify on points that I’ve purposefully rendered opaque or vague. After all, I write mysteries.
  • Critique groups are great for detailed not global feedback. Because we hand off one or two chapters at a time, we’re not going to get global suggestions about story structure and flow. The mistake many newbies make (and I did this too) is to assume that if you’ve put a manuscript through a critique group that it’s clean enough to go out on submission. You still need beta readers to read the story as a whole.
  • The thing about critiquing is that because we’re critiquing, we’re not lost in the fictional dream. When lost in the fictional dream, readers are far more accepting than critique partners are. They don’t stop every second sentence to ask “Why is she saying this?” In general, it’s not the details that cause readers to set books aside. It’s whether they like the story and/or whether they like the voice/writing style. So I don’t sweat every nit picky comment from my partners.
  • We can have fun in our critique groups. But this might only occur with a few (or many) years of writerly wisdom under our belts. There’s nothing like being a raw and vulnerable newbie writer to take all the fun out of critique groups — but who said writing was going to be easy?

Who else has a random thought to add to my list? Doesn’t have to be about critique groups either. Please, someone wake me up from this Monday fog!


Dandelion or Orchid — Which Are You?

DandelionOrchidEvery six or seven years I head back into therapy for a mental tune-up. I dig the process, so every once in awhile I might share some insights from my sessions with “Doc,” my awesome psychologist.

A few sessions ago, Doc brought up the theory of dandelions and orchids. The high-level gist is that genetically most people fall in the dandelion category — robust, able to take root and survive anywhere — and a minority fall into the orchid category —  emotionally/mentally sensitive to their environments and how they’re nurtured. In the wrong environment they wilt and are more likely to succumb to behavioral issues such as depression. However, given the right environment they can bloom more spectacularly than “normal” and “healthy” dandelions.

In other words, the genetic predisposition toward wilting is also the genetic predisposition toward having great potential.

Both dandelions and orchids were/are necessary for human survival, which is to say orchids are “normal” too. (Don’t get me started on the concept of normality; did you hear there was talk of putting introversion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM)?!?!)

Where was I? Oh yeah … Doc wondered if I might be an orchid. I didn’t thrive in my childhood environment (PTSD by the time I was in second grade), and I’m prone to depression.

The realization that I’m normal but in a minority (like being left-handed or an introvert, both of which I am) is reassuring. It’s also reassuring that it’s not that I’m some to-be-pitied overly sensitive dysfunctional person. As a wonderful article in The Atlantic phrased it, I might just have “a heightened genetic sensitivity to ALL experience” (good and bad).

The article is fascinating. (Check it out here.) However, the article focused on childhood development. I got to wondering about adult orchids. By changing our environments so that they nurture and support us (ditch crappy marriages, change jobs, carve writing time), can we still bloom?

Toward the end of the article, the author, David Dobbs, writes about genetic testing he did on himself, which showed that he is highly vulnerable to depression (my bolding):

The orchid hypothesis suggested that this particular [short/short] allele, the rarest and riskiest of the serotonin-transporter gene’s three variants, made me not just more vulnerable but more plastic … I felt no sense that I carried a handicap that would render my efforts futile should I again face deep trouble. In fact, I felt a heightened sense of agency. Anything and everything I did to improve my own environment and experience—every intervention I ran on myself, as it were—would have a magnified effect. In that light, my short/short allele now seems to me less like a trapdoor through which I might fall than like a springboard—slippery and somewhat fragile, perhaps, but a springboard all the same.

The answer is yes, as adult orchids we can still bloom spectacularly. It’s never too late. And I find this the most reassuring message of all.

So, my friends, which are you — dandelions or orchids?

What I Did on My Super Bowl Sunday

Fawn was bewildered at first, but then she got the hang of it. Wag tail, receive pat from a passerby. Smart girl!

Fawn was bewildered at first, but then she got the hang of it. Wag tail, receive pat from a passerby. Smart girl!

I am happy to announce that I DO know who won the Super Bowl yesterday — the Patriots! However, I had to ask what city the team is from. Answer: New England. Not a city, but OK. (Seriously, what is the Patriots’s home city?) And I had to ask who they were playing. Answer: Seattle Seahawks. I found all this out this morning from a neighbor.

Obviously, I’m not into football. At all. To me, Super Bowl Sunday is like Labor Day weekend or Memorial Day weekend — great staycation days. Portland is fairly empty. It’s quiet, almost peaceful. I can roam stores or see movies without getting overstimulated and overtired. These days are like snow days without the snow.

Yesterday, I decided to go to IKEA. On the one hand, I like IKEA because it has tons of cool, cheap stuff. On the other hand, I detest it because it’s normally wall-to-wall people gawking and sightseeing as they  shuffle and pause, shuffle and pause, along a handily painted trail (with arrows to keep us baah-baahing in the same direction) through a dozen departments, most of which don’t interest me.

I’m glad I went yesterday — it was almost a pleasurable experience! I brought my sweet dog Fawn to keep me company, and we strolled the almost-empty painted path without running into anyone. I said “excuse me” once, and the loiterers smiled as they shuffled out of the way. I re-realized that IKEA is great for picking up odds and ends that I keep meaning to replace (measuring cups and spoons), replenish (de-linters), and buy (lemon juicer). I found lots of stuff, actually.

Which got me re-realizing that IKEA is like CostCo: Whoops, I spent more money than expected.

So, do I want something like this? More homey?

So, do I want something like this? More homey?

However, I didn’t go to IKEA to pick up odds and ends; I went to get ideas for my office. I plan to overhaul it this year. I have a gigantic executive-style desk and chair that I now detest. They’re too big. They belong in a stuffy lawyer’s office. I want simpler, lighter, smaller.

Coupled with a console-style table for my paper stacks? (That's, I'm afraid, is never going away._

Coupled with a console-style table for my paper stacks?






Or what about a corner desk? This one is too business-y though.

Or what about a corner desk? This one is too business-y though.









As an aside, I have a shoe problem! What about something like this to throw them in? I just don't have space for neat rows. (NEAT rows -- hah!)

As an aside, I have a shoe problem! What about something like this to throw them in? I just don’t have space for neat rows. (NEAT rows — hah!)










So, what did you do yesterday? Any suggestions for my new office (or for my shoes!)?

Happy Birthday to Me! Plus, What Is “Rosebud,” You Ask?

Sorry, movie buffs, not this Rosebud.

Sorry, movie buffs, not this Rosebud.

My birthday’s tomorrow. But, alas, I have a strange relationship with my name day — most years I don’t celebrate it until spring. And, if it weren’t for Facebook, I might not remember it at all. Have to admit, Facebook has helped me become more birthday-oriented. (Facebook good for something — who knew?)

I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t celebrate my birthday until spring. My yeah-yeah-whatever attitude is a joke between my besties and I. OK, Lisa, they’ll start prodding (in February), when do you want to get together?

Spring, yes! But no, not this rosebud either.

Spring, yes! But no, not this rosebud either.

Oh, I’ll write back, April, maybe? When the weather’s better.

This, you may think, is highly dysfunctional of me. Do I not respect my very being-ness? The fact that I’m here, alive, and worthy of being alive? Of course I do. I grew up in a non-birthday family is all. I don’t remember having birthday celebrations when I was a young kid. It was only when I was old enough to have gone to a few parties that I insisted my mom have parties for me.

My mom was not into the birthday thing. I swear she never remembered our exact birthday dates (I have two younger sisters). I thought this was because she was a depression-era child, so she was cheap. In 2001, I learned something far deeper about her that I’m certain influenced how she related to birthdays: She had a baby boy out of wedlock, banished herself to a Catholic Home for Unwed Mothers without telling a soul, gave up the baby for adoption, and repressed the whole thing.

It’s the repression that interests me. I know that things repressed find ways of leaking out anyhow — and most often not in healthy manners. When I think about the way my mother handled her mothering (won’t go into details — suffice to say …), she makes total sense to me now. This includes our birthday-less upbringing. Birthdays were just another day. Seriously.

Cute, but no.

Cute, but no.

When Catholic Services called my mom in 2001 to tell her her son was looking for her, they asked her to corroborate his date of birth. She couldn’t. She. Did. Not. Remember. That’s crazy to me. Just crazy. But, like I said before, she did a fabulous job of repressing the whole event.

All that said, I’m now going to contradict myself and say that this year I feel a little birthday spirit washing through my system. Maybe it’s the heavy doses of Vitamin D3 and Vitamin B12 I’m taking or maybe it’s the sunny winter we’re having — or

maybe it’s:

This morning I found out that KILMOON was nominated for a Left Coast Crime Rosebud (ding ding ding) Award for best first novel! Woohoo! Maybe THAT’S why I want to celebrate my birthday! Happy birthday to me!

Yes! And M.P., Lori, and Holly are friends too. Makes the nomination especially fun.

Yes! And M.P., Lori, and Holly are friends too. Makes the nomination especially fun.

Here are all the nominees.

Why I Didn’t Write Last Week, Or, This Is Kind of Pathetic

I'm never doing this maneuver again.

I’m never doing this maneuver again.

Last week a funny thing happened on the way to getting smarter: I threw out my neck. What started as a “super brain” yoga pose ended up with me rushing to my doctor for muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories, and later catching up on my “Sex and the City” reruns.

My friends used to say I was the most like Miranda. She was the least likeable character, I thought. The most driven, the most likely to get in everybody’s faces about their stupid decisions, the worst dressed … sigh … But since I’m not a fashionista or a sexaholic or a prim WASP — guess that left Miranda.

As luck would have it, the episode where Miranda throws out her neck came on. OOOH, I AM MIRANDA! (Thankfully, my BFF’s cute boyfriend didn’t have to pick my naked self up off the bathroom floor.) I remembered watching that episode way back in 2001 or 2002 or whenever it first aired and thinking, That’s weird; necks go out the way backs do? Seemed pretty farfetched that it would be sooo painful and that Miranda would be thaaaat incapacitated.

MirandaHahahaha! Joke’s on me!

Now I realize that I’ve been taking my neck for granted. Without our necks, we’d just lie around like blobs, which is what I did for days. The first morning after my neck went out, I couldn’t get out of bed. I kid you not. I squirmed around for an hour trying to figure out how to get up without using my neck muscles. I ended up bunching the pillow under my neck and head and then holding the weight of my head in my hands as I rose. It was still excruciating and I whimpered, but I managed to make it to the couch with my medications.

So here I give you five reasons we should not take our necks for granted:

1. As a conduit through which water, food, and air pass — kind of important.

2. If you can’t turn your head, you can’t drive. No freedom! No midnight MickyD runs! No book stores!

3. A life without necklaces and scarves? I think not.

4. That classic right of passage, the hickey. Gotta be on your neck — gotta be. Otherwise where’s all the delicious adolescent humiliation-pride?

Jolie5. We’d look like this! Even Angelina Jolie looks creepy without a neck.

Fun and games aside, how’s my writing, you ask? See the PLOT PERFECT book on the coffee table? Yeah, I didn’t open it. At all. Back to it this week!

So, when’s the last time your body turned traitor on you? Which SATC character are you–or, if you’d like, which would you sleep with?

What’s in a Little Pile of Paper Anyhow? Apparently, My Faith

Warming up with this itty bitty pile -- this is just the start!

Warming up with this itty bitty pile. This is just the start!

This year, I’m going to go through every thing I own–every book, every pot, every sock, every paper–and organize and purge. I need a fresh start after wallowing for too long in my whiny juices. Having a debut novel doesn’t change much of anything; my quirks and vices and neuroses remain the same. In fact, I have more now and the ones I previously had are more ingrained.

I’m itching to make my internal rejuvenation visibly tangible. Hence, purge and organize. I have a feeling it will take all year, but that’s OK. Last weekend I started with one dusty little pile that had been sitting there for over a year, semi out of sight, all the way out of mind. I found all sorts of good stuff in that pile: my cat’s rabies certificate, a Starbucks gift card, and a business card from a City of Portland detective (novel research). I also found random notes that were oh-so-important at the time. Most of them, thankfully, I tossed into the recycling bin. Yay!

Some notes, however, I set aside in what I now call my figure-out-how-to-organize pile. It looks like I’ll be investing in file systems at some point, which is OK too.

Then, there’s the in-between kinds of notes, like the names of two songs that I’d heard and liked, that I was going to download from iTunes because one of my never-ending goals is to update my music collection.

I have great penmanship, don't I?

I have great penmanship, don’t I?

After awhile, the question becomes: What to do with all these in-between notes? Years ago, I started a master list of songs to download. So, if I can find that list (I think I know where it is), then I’ll transfer the names of these two songs from one piece of paper to another.

Does this really count as organization though? My master list has got to be 10 pages long by now. What’s the point of maintaining it if I’m never going to get around to downloading the songs?

My best guess is that I want music to be more important in my life than it actually is. This is one of the conundrums of the purge and organize–letting go of what we imagine as our ideal selves in our ideal lives. Like, for example, that fancy juicer I own. In my head, I’m a healthy juicer girl so I’ve kept the contraption. But come on–hello?–when was the last time I used it?

I like to think of myself as a woman happily singing along to Vampire Weekend while making myself a carrot-kale-ginger-apple juice. I can see it, it’s totally me–or it could be. And it could be that keeping my master list of songs and my juicer is a manifestation of faith in myself–never giving up.

Or maybe it’s a delusion so I don’t have to throw things out and make room for the new?

And how could purging one itty bitty paper pile lead to this much angst? Sometimes a paper pile is just a paper pile. (This is going to be an interesting year!)

Are you a purger or a keeper or a somewhere in-betweener? What do you do about the in-between stuff?