Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Back to basics, I guess

A real estate listing I saw today:

"This exceptional home features a fully-peaked roof and sheet rock walls."

Seriously, walls are a feature now? And a roof with a point on top? (As my brother in law pointed out, what does it say about the floors in this place that they're not even mentioned?)

I'm calling our realtor first thing tomorrow to ask him to add "sheet rock walls" to our condo listing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chicken a la Trish

We're in the midst of keeping our condo really, really spiffy-clean so our realtor can show it to prospective buyers. There's a chance I'm finding this a little stressful. There's a chance I just pulled a container of chicken stock out of the refrigerator, only to have the top fly open, sending eau de poultry ALL OVER the kitchen. There's a chance I uttered an expletive. There's a chance I uttered five.

(And there's a chance THAT DOG now hears swear words as a call to arms...she came flying into the kitchen and set to work immediately, licking at the floor and cabinets...)

I'm taking the My Big Fat Greek Wedding approach to this fiasco, trusting that Windex will make everything better. It will, right?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wise Words on Writing, Part 2

Here are the other pearls of wisdom Heather King shared with me about her writing process (and the questions they raise for me):

I might spend an hour at my desk, another day I might spend eight, but in a way, I’m always writing, even while I’m asleep. I’m pondering, sifting, experiencing, observing, making connections.

I just spent 10 days in New England with my family, for example, during which I didn’t write at all. I don’t keep up with the news much, and when I arrived home I read something about NY Times reporter David Carr’s Night of the Gun, which others are apparently touting as “saving” the memoir and which I, after reading a bunch of stuff about it, decided was complete bullshit. With my pent-up energy I went into a kind of fugue state, and spent probably 15 hours writing a 1600-word piece about truth in memoir, which I sent off the next day to the first place that came to mind, the L.A. Times op-ed page, and which was promptly rejected because they’d already run a piece about the book two weeks before. Which was disappointing, but it was 15 hours well-spent: hours of absorption, challenge, and joy. The ideas I honed will stand me in good stead.

The point is, something moved—in me, in the universe. And though that might appear on the surface to have been an impulsive act, I’m very aware of and controlled about my resources and energy. I have a pretty strict discipline of prayer, Mass-going, exercise, etc., which is exactly what has given me the freedom to write about exactly what I want, and, I believe, why I’ve been able to make a living (amazingly, and however meager) these last few years from my writing.

I particularly love two things about this:

First, the idea that we're writing even when we're not, as our mind sifts through all manner of stimuli, connecting things in unexpected ways. And second, the idea of being aware and in control of our resources. I'm great at the first part--writing even when I'm not writing. But the discipline part drifts in and out of my life like the tide, which is a bummer because I'm SO much happier when I'm in some sort of good routine.

How do you find the best shape for your days?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Heather King on motivation

You've heard me wax poetic about Heather King and her amazing memoir. A few months ago, I emailed her, asking (although I may not have put it in quite these words) for a kick in the butt--thoughts on how to keep on keeping on as a writer. Now, on the eve of REDEEMED's paperback debut , I thought I'd share her wise words. Here's part 1:

An interviewer asked me recently if I had any advice for aspiring writers, and I replied, “No. Either you have to write, or you don’t. If you do, you won’t need my 'advice'; and if you don’t, you’re doing something other than writing as I know it." I return again and again to this quote from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet:

"In the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied to you to write. This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: Must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this shall be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple I must, then build your life according to this necessity; your life into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it."

So it’s not a matter of staying motivated: do you have to “stay motivated” to want sex with the person you love, to breathe? Rilke’s point is that you have to go inward; the motivation, if that’s the word—I like desire better—has to be to take writing literally as a matter of life and death, and to arrange your life accordingly. The way you arrange your life isn’t going to be the way I arrange mine, but that’s the beauty of it; our entire lives, each precious and unique, become an act of ongoing creation. I think what makes writing “hard” is when your goal is to get attention and praise for yourself, or some variation of that—which, trust me, I am as prey to, if not more prey to, as the next person. But if you’re burning to tell something, out of love for the world, for God, to give glory to Him; because you’ve gotten a taste of the “living water” and you’re on fire with astonishment and wonder, then nothing can hold you back. Your life will order itself, and so will your writing day."

What matters to you so much that you arrange your life around it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My story of stuff

We're selling our condo. Which means we've spent the past three weeks decluttering, just like the folks at HGTV suggest. They have a point...when I start to think of this as someone else's future home, it just seems rude to leave my junk all over the place.

I'll tell you--nothing makes you realize your hidden pack-rat tendencies like preparing for a move. For example, I have suits I haven't worn in more than a decade. I don't want to wear them again--they were uncomfortable back then; I can only imagine what a day in them would be like now. But I save them because--say it with me!--What if I need them someday???

We have a blender, but we don't blend; a Pampered Chef gadget designed to stomp on veggies and cut them up, but our knives work just as well and are easier to clean; a pile of plastic plates and cups (who even knows where they came from?), but in the rare instance where I manage to cook something other folks might eat, real plates are clearly called for. Don't even get me started on the abandoned electronics that might work again someday, or the 72,496 plastic hangers I keep crammed into a bag in the basement.

My friend Opera Girl just moved. She told me, as we packed up her stuff, that she never realizes what she doesn't need until she moves into a new place--that her Goodwill drop is always after the move, rather than before. I can see her point. Who's to say I won't learn to love a blended smoothie in a plastic cup, as I suit up everyday to I craft brilliant prose on that electric typewriter? Stranger things have happened...

...but not that often.

Help me! What are your secrets for sorting, moving, and/or dealing with stuff?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Big Dreams Come True

I have an embarrassing admission, here on the eve of inauguration day. I was just reading my friend Dave's blog, where he talks about how powerful it can be to have a big dream, and to tell people about it (even if sometimes those people think you're nuts). This is what my whole life is about, in some sense--the idea that God gives us these audacious, crazy dreams than can only happen if we let Him help and guide us. Given this, I am stunned and mortified to realize that until just now, I've never read the full text of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have A Dream Speech. (Maybe I read it, but I've never READ it, if you know what I mean...)

If this is you, too, I'm posting it below. READ it. Think about how much of what MLK saw back then--in his heart, rather than with his eyes--has come true. Consider the possibility that the dream God put in your heart might be true someday, too. And then tell someone about it.
"And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
What's your dream?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tough Love on Memory Lane

Omigosh, I cannot wait to see the movie version of He's Just Not That Into You! I don't even know why--maybe I'm a glutton for punishment? It will probably be two hours of torture, a chance to relive all the times I refused to see that various hes just weren't that into me. You'd think, given my book and all, I'd have had enough of that by now. Apparently not.

I feel like this movie might mark some sort of turning point for women and dating and relationships. And let's be honest...we could use a turning point. I wonder, though: as much as the book launched a whole new vocabulary around male/female interactions, how often do we use the title phrase in the way it was intended?

Have you ever told a friend, "He's just not that into you?"
Has anyone ever said it to you?
How'd that go?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Salt doesn't make me light

Last March, I came out of the closet as a salt-a-holic. I confessed my weakness, threw out all the little packets of soy sauce lurking in our fridge, and went cold-turkey. Hooray for salt-free me.

For months, it went well. Admittedly, I never reached that fabled point nutritionists all insist is possible, where my taste buds "adjusted" and realized that the true flavors and textures of my food were subtle, wonderful, and oh-so-much more enjoyable without the salt enhancement. That, my friends, is simply a lie. But I lost that puffy look and regained my peripheral vision (which disappears when your eyes swell up--have you noticed?) So all in all, it was worth it.

Then last week, on a cold day when I was at home feeling gray and hungry, convinced there was nothing worth eating in our entire house, I found something bizarre in our cupboard: a small bottle of Lowry's Seasoned Salt. (And the fact that someone took the time to make a video review to sing this product's praises suggests that I might not be alone with my salt issues). I have no idea how the bottle got there--I didn't buy it; Steve has never heard of it. It's as if some salt demon showed up at our house and booby-trapped our kitchen.

Well, it worked. I was off to the races. Over the course of the next thirty-six hours, I had myself a salt extravaganza. I've made popcorn, butter & pasta, grilled cheddar cheese wraps...all liberally enhanced with LSS. Worst of all, through a mortifying process of self-justification, I convinced myself that Lowry's Seasoned Salt isn't really's Lowry's. Pitiful!

Today, I look like someone punched me in both eyes. My fingers are so swollen I can barely type. You don't want to know about my feet (Most people have "fat jeans" they keep for these sorts of days, but "fat shoes"???)

So here, before you, my blog family, I'm climbing back on the wagon (as fast as my swollen arms and legs will let me). I'm going out to the kitchen right now to throw away the Lowry's...lest succum to temptation and bake up this recipe for Hot Dog Casserole that popped up when I Googled Lowry's!

Tell me something you've successfully given up--coffee? chewing gum? exercise?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Problem, meet solution

If you've been reading for awhile, you know we have an extra resident who likes to hang out on our deck. He's a bit of a party-boy, and has a way with the ladies.

I'm going to leave this article out there this afternoon, just to make sure he knows how good he's got it. (Still, he should be careful-I've got English blood somewhere in my family tree...)

Would you eat squirrel?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Important questions, important answers

I'll admit, it never once occurred to me over the course of the 2008 Presidential election to wonder about Sarah Palin's lip color. Which is odd, as I'm someone who wonders about these sorts of things (believing as I do that lip gloss is a gift from God and tangible evidence that he loves us).

But apparently everyone else on the planet was having this discussion, because I found the super-secret lipstick combination in perhaps the least likely of 19 of this week's New Yorker. I'm fairly certain this is the only makeup tip I've ever found in it's austere pages:

"For a full day of wear, cover your (entire) lip with L'Oreal Automatic Lip Pencil in Nudes, soften with a brush or smudge it with your finger, and add a thin coat of Carmex. Top with a swipe of Chanel Glossimer in Giggle, and you are good to go."

Now we know.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

THAT DOG Loves A Parade

I found Don Miller's new blog after hearing through the grapevine that he had a new puppy. There's not much that provides better blog material than canine hijinks, so naturally, I had to check it out. I got more than I expected, in the best possible way. His most recent post, about how friends of his started a neighborhood New Year's Day parade because their kids were bored and whiny, was too fabulous not to share. Enjoy!

(If it weren't garbage day here on my street, I'd be tempted to round up my neighbors right now...)

This got me thinking about THAT DOG'S first parade. It was Memorial Day, and a certain former President with a summer residence in my hometown was slated to speak when the parade stopped in the town square. THAT DOG was about five months old, and I'd brought her with me to "socialize" her (which is dogspeak for "do your best to make sure your puppy doesn't freak out around strangers." That I ever thought this necessary seems hysterical to me now.)

Right before the President's speech, THAT DOG made a lighting-fast move on a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup dropped from a passing toddler's hand. Before I could stop her, it was gone; she licked her chops and looked at me as if to say, "What? She dropped was fair game..."

Chocolate is poison to dogs. I freaked out, trying frantically to calculate the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter in an RPC, wishing I'd paid some sort of attention in high school math class (or science class, or any class that teaches you how to eject swallowed food from a living creature's body), and watching THAT DOG for signs of convulsions.

I needn't have worried. As it turns out, THAT DOG is built for culinary danger. Her digestive system is essentially just one long tube passing from one end of her to the other. Four minutes later--just as the President began his speech--THAT DOG assumed the position...and deposited the peanut butter cup (along with whatever else was in her) in the middle of the town square.

It was her first (and thusfar only) act of political protest.

How about you--have you ever been in (or disrupted) a parade?

Monday, January 05, 2009

To meet or not to meet

Author Joshua Henkin (whose book, Matrimony was one of my favorite novels last year) just sent me a link to this article about his experience visiting book clubs as they discuss his book.

I did a few of these when my book came out. The ones where I visited in person were SO much fun--it was like discovering a roomful of new best friends (because honestly, what bonds women faster than discussing our romantic hopes and failures over a nice Chardonnay?) The phone in calls were a mixed bag, though. Some groups were open and friendly, and I felt like I was right there with them, laughing and considering different perspectives. But others were incredibly awkward, as if I'd somehow found out they were discussing my book and called in without warning to crash their party. I wasn't sure what to make of this, until I had this interesting conversation with a young mom I sat next to on a plane.

We were making the usual small talk. I was on tour for the book, so that came up, and I (trying to spare her from making the obligatory "Oh--I'd love to read your book!" comment) segued into my favorite conversational topic, asking "What do you like to read?"

She told me about her favorite authors, and recommended a few titles she'd really loved.

"Which author would you most like to meet?" I asked next, caught up in her obvious enthusiasm for escaping into stories.

"None of them," she said, a baffled look crossing her face. "I don't want to meet authors, that would give me too much information. What if I decide I don't like them? Or they see their stories differently than I do? That could ruin everything. If I like an author," she said, "what I really want them to do is stay home and write more books..."

This got me thinking. I LOVE meeting authors. The vast majority of them have exceeded my expectations in terms of how openly they share about their inspiration, their struggles, the funny little things that happen in the course of writing. And the ones who aren't nice are not nice in such a memorable, over-the-top way that it's still worth the time to drive out to meet them. When my book came out, I was excited to join the ranks of the fun, open authors, and excited to meet the people who had read my book. It never crossed my mind that they might not want to meet me...

But as I sat there on the plane, pondering the young mom's comments, I could totally see her point. And even Henkin admits that his scenic tour of book clubs has delayed completion of his next novel.

How about you? Do you like to meet authors (or other people whose work you've either loved or hated)? Or do you prefer to keep a wall between those worlds?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Another way to say: Game On

I just found this gem of a New Year's post on the blog of awesome author, Holly Kennedy. I'll link to it, but I wanted to quote her here in full because it's just so fantabulous:

"Whoop! 2009 is finally here.
A fresh start.
Time to kick away the stool and take some risks.
Time to focus on what's ahead vs. the puddles we may have had to jump in 2008.
If you're a reader, I hope you're in the middle of a gem of a book you didn't see coming.
If you're a writer, I hope the characters you dream up this year make your [work in progress] stand out from the masses.
And for everyone else, I hope 2009 is a year you'll never forget, in the best possible way."

Amen to that!
Time to kick the stool away, friends...happy January :)

(And when you find that gem of a book, let me know...I'm always looking for a new read!)

Friday, January 02, 2009

2009 !

Happy New Year!

2009 is off to a fun start here in Ryan land. I'm fighting off a bit of a cold, but it's the good sort of cold, if you know what I mean: I feel just woozy enough to spend the day curled up on the couch with a blanket, but not so bad that I'm forced to down knock-me-out meds 24/7. The upshot of this is that I've already read two very cool books on spirituality and life that have broadened my little horizons, which is for me the happiest way possible to start a new year. (I know, the cover on the second book looks incredibly me, no one was more surprised than me to find such great stuff inside. If you like your spirituality straight/no chaser, these books are filled with stuff to keep you thinking for months to come.)

I realized yesterday that New Year's Day might just be my favorite holiday. It's a day of both relaxation and possibility, where we actually have the time we always say we want, to sort out our lives and decide who and how we want to be in the days to come. As someone who loves to think about the future, this is my kind of day off! And I'll confess, I'm pretty excited about 2009, both because of some fun things I know about (the paperback of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not comes out in April, and we're planning a move to a new house between now and then) and some stuff I'm hoping for, but not sure exactly how it will all play out.

A friend of mine defines happiness as "when life exceeds your expectations." That's the kind of year I'm praying for in 2009--for me and for you, my fine blog friends. Happy New Year :)