10/12/12

Words with Friends and Sticker Shock

In the grand tradition of procrastinating I’ve been thinking a lot about re-decorating my room. All of my nesting dolls, which are currently bunched up on a shelf, scream for me to unfurl them and let them run around my room like little Tom Lewis creatures. I also keep throwing things away in a pathological fashion, suddenly jumping up and ripping down a poster, “I’m sick of looking at you. Get out.” So, if nothing else, getting my graduate degree has helped me de-junk.

My parent’s house is another story, where I have a room so unfettered with my stuff it freaks me out. No one wants their mind to be the most chaotic thing in the room. I’ve set to filling it with old paintings, underwater pics, and a stuffed jelly fish who hangs from a non-functioning curtain rod – but it needs more and my mother has found stickers to be the easiest solution. My bathroom is a subway tiled pink and blue vortex with a VERY old glass vanity and shower, but BAM little seahorse stickers hid some of the discolouration and distracted from the feeling that you’re inside a Kaboodle.

Stickers are incredibly tricky things to add to a room and still have it looking chic. The first wall-sticker I bought was a Sleeping Beauty fathead. It was during my regression phase of college and I was psyched because as a kid all those wall stickers always ripped out the plaster so moms around the world banned them. Of course, now if I had a Disney princess above my bed it would be a little creepy. She at least shouldn’t be bright pink and two feet tall.

Now that I’ve seen the real-life successful integration of a seahorse sticker my friends and I set about finding places to put MORE stickers (side note: we also found out less sticker is more sticker). Then came the next discussion, words. Are words cool or lame?

One friend has a sister with small kids and when she baby-sits she gets her own room. This room came pre-decorated and includes black script above the headboard (like right above) that says ‘sweet dreams my love.’ It has a surprisingly unsettling affect. First off it’s too close to the headboard, second it’s like the wall is talking to you. At least the words haven’t started to bleed -yet. A more successful play on this was when my room-mate found a pillowcase with an old nursery rhyme on it, framed it and hung it above her bed. Lots of words made it harder to read so it wasn’t screaming at you and framing it classed it up. I’ve also grown fond of some word paintings that say things like dream but in an abstract pattern, so they usher in sleepy time but again, are more subtle about it. I also find that posters that seem more like post-it notes from your therapist (or yourself) can ease into a room a bit better than demonic floating wall words. (For instance you can remind yourself to breathe which is practical if you are a violinist and very important if you are not capable of photosynthesis). Words can also look cool shooting out of a canon painted on your wall or maybe hidden in a mural of fireworks.

Alone, they must be perfectly scaled to your furniture, perfectly placed, and given a bit of functionality (words on your wall are already whimsical, if it says sink and it’s on a sink ok cute makes sense if it says aquarium and its on a bathtub make sense ironically – I love sarcastic furniture, if it says Memories no one will really know what it’s referring to (was installing your wall unit an epic adventure worthy of memorialising or something?).

Words also need to be controlled. Serial killers like to write on their walls, just remember that. If you desperately want Shakespeare’s entire first folio on your wall, go graphic. Fonts really do make a big difference in presentation. Alternatively, you could use wingdings and really scare the cable guy.

 

06/26/12

Widow’s Peak 3&4

3
“Mac it’s the exact same house.” Gabby slopped the burned pot-roast onto his plate, not noticing his grimace.
“It can’t be the same house Gabs. You’ve never seen it. No one has.” Mac scooped a blob of meat into his mouth and suppressed a gag. He’d quickly learned how to slip Gabby’s cooking into the back of his mouth and swallow it without tasting it; in a few months he would be ready to go on Survivor. He shook his head again, “In a dream things are foggy. You just think it’s the same house because it’s a house. You were dreaming of a house because we just bought one. Not that you need to sleep for this place to be a nightmare, you know the new hot water heater is gonna cost us eleven hundred?”
Gabby sighed and scooped out her own dinner. It looked disgusting and she pushed it away. “Or maybe it’s the same house and I’m psychic.”
Mac laughed with a hearty snort that sent barbeque sauce into his sinus cavity. “Trust me you’re not psychic.”
Gabby felt like the words were loaded, she smirked. Maybe he was right, he had to be. She could barely even remember the dream now and even that morning, when she had only just escaped dreamland, it was already being pulled away.
After being quiet a long time, Gabby spoke up. “Maybe I went there once as a kid. Camping or something?”
Mac sighed, “Let’s change the subject.”
“Fine.” Gabby scooped more carcass onto his plate.
He swallowed, “My parents called.”
Mac had never been good at navigating the terrain of a fight. He leapt into unfortunate conversations with oblivious gusto and usually at the beginning of meals or long car rides.
“What did Gloria have to say for herself?”
Mac wiped his mouth and cleared his throat, hacking up his next sentence. “They’re coming to visit.”
Gabby dropped her fork. It hit the cheap dishware with a clank. “Why?”
“They’re my parents.” Mac responded defensively.
Gabby’s face turned red as her temper flared. “I meant why are they going to start acting like it?”
“Gabby you know why they cut me off.” Mac pointed an accusatory fork towards Gabby.
“Unbelievable. You know there’s the door. If marrying me was just a big mistake leave. I’m sure Gloria will take you back. Your dad will cut you back into the business. You can be CEO instead of a lineman. Isn’t that what you want?”
Mac stood, “I’m a lineman because I believe in working my way up in the company. I will be CEO one day. I went to Wharton! I don’t need this.” Mac pulled his jacket off the counter and left the porch door open in his wake. A cool breeze rolled through the kitchen and brought with it a few dried leaves.
Gabby sat examining her Formica island and packing boxes. “You’re in denial!” She bellowed out the door, the breeze blowing it back in her face. Not that he would have heard it anyway. She’d already heard his Toyota’s engine fire up and fade away. Why she didn’t get up and leave was a mystery to her. The door was already open. She supposed love had something to do with it. It had something to do with why Mac had given up a life of privilege to marry her and why he’d stayed. Love had never seemed like a more ridiculous notion than it did now. Like magic or the tooth fairy. A child’s fantasy. She needed something tangible. Something she could hold, a physical reason. Gabby wasn’t sure why she didn’t at least get up and shut the door. The wind had gotten icy and her goose pimples were spreading. But she couldn’t move, once open some doors can’t be closed.

4
Toilet paper. Toilet paper. Toilet paper. Again the mantra sounded with every step that Gabby pounded into the sidewalk. An imaginary shopping list she would remember all day and forget once she entered the store. She would also forget her eco-friendly grocery bags. This would annoy her for the rest of the day, especially while she sat at the laundry mat thinking how she could have used the dimes saved to wash her delicates separately. Her cashmere socks could have their own cycle, separate from Mac’s rugby clothes. Nothing was separate anymore. A twinge in Gabby’s knee forced her off balance and she circled around the post office’s flagpole and onto the soft grass of Collin’s Green. In the summer time the green landscape would be dotted with bikini ready high-schoolers and dog walkers. Today, not a soul dared interrupt the endless landscape.
She and Mac had once held a picnic there. They had announced their engagement and her pregnancy at what was supposed to be their graduation party. There was a lack of enthusiasm amongst the guests. Gloria’s face had been cold to say the least.
Hummus. Hummus. Hummus. Must get hummus. If Gloria and Hank came they would bring Ingrid and she was wild about humus. Of course that meant making a vegetarian dinner. Gabby would do it for Ingrid. Mac’s little sister was the only member of his family who accepted Gabby. She had smiled at their wedding and given them a bouquet of onsies for the baby. The nursery was being transformed into a guest room. It should be done by the time his parents came. Mac could deal with it.
Gabriella stopped, catching her breath and scanning her surroundings. She hit the hold button on her iPod and tied her headphone around her waist. The large white home in front of her was being entombed alive in ivy. Without moving a muscle the paralyzed architecture had accepted its fate and allowed nature to protect it from gentrification and vandals. Gabby hadn’t meant to run there and yet there she stood, face to face with her demon. A large widow’s peak anchored the Victorian house and a small shutter squealed for oil in the morning draft. It was more beautiful than Gabby had perceived from town.
Walking up the stone path Gabby tried the door. It was locked tight. She’d hoped the years would have rusted the hinges or that previous intruders would have left her an entrance, but there was no luck. Going deeper into the woods, she peered in each darkened window and soon found herself behind the house, which proved to be wide but narrow. The cliff it sat upon was small and any additional rooms would have taken up the entire back yard. Instead the owners had set up white stone benches around a small pond and rose bushes. Nestled amongst the thorns was a small ornament of Pan playing a fife and peering into the water. Gabby could smell lilacs, but it would be months before the trees would bloom.
Her phone beeped and she checked her calendar.
-A reminder to get an electrician to ground the outlets.-
She had, in fact, remembered to call him, he would be at her house in ten minutes. Getting up to leave her eye caught movement in the window of the widow’s peak. Straining to see Gabby balanced on her tippy toes, there was no one there. Sticking her ear buds back into her ears she bolted for her house, skidding down the mountain in a treacherous shortcut.
The electrician had cancelled. She unpacked three boxes and found a recipe online for vegetarian goulash. She washed their Hawks jerseys and packed the cooler for tailgating. There was nothing else to do, well nothing that could be done in the thirty minutes she had until Mac came home. Flipping on her computer Gabby circled the machine, thinking about cookies and browser histories. She opened Google, then skimmed TMZ and Apartment Therapy, then re-opened Google. Her morning adventure had produced an address for the house. Number 1605. A foundation cornerstone had even produced a date. The place was built in 1856. Gabby tapped her finger on the keyboard trying to select her strokes. Presuming that road had once connected to Anderson Drive, the main road which now led a quarter mile up the bluff, it would be 1605 Anderson Drive. Gabby typed ferociously. Nothing.
The local library offered digitized editions of the Morgun Gazette from 1843 – 1925 but they were impossible to search. Searches returned random symbols and her browser complained of an error more times than not.
“H-A-W-K-S Go!” Mac screamed from the hallway as he threw down his work duffel and continued the chant. Scooping Gabby into his arms he kissed her and grabbed his jersey. “Homecoming weekend. Doesn’t get much better than that!”
Mac had always been a sucker for traditions; it was one of the first things Gabby loved about him. He was already loading the car with coolers of beer and bags of hot dogs and fixins.
The Cliffwood High School Hawks were undefeated the past two seasons. Their rival, the Panthers, had been champion for the forty-five years before that. To say the town was obsessed with the outcome of the homecoming game was putting it mildly. Main Street had already been renamed Mainard Street in honor of the victorious coach who drank for free in every bar and enjoyed every moment of his small time celebrity. Mac rubbed Henri the mascot for good luck. Gabby grabbed the beak and whispered inside, “Want a beer Bryce?”
The hawk nodded and Gabby stuck a cold one down the hatch. Mr. Withers and his wife had already snagged the best spot overlooking both the field and the parking lot where the fights and legends were always born. Last year Scotty Greer had been born there too.
“Got the dogs?” Mr. Withers gummed his words.
“You bet. Got the grill?” Mr. Withers pointed to the small camping grill behind his folding chair. Mac dropped the coolers and the two men began deciding on the best strategy for getting a good char on the sausages.
“How’s things Mrs. W?” Gabby sat down in her daisy embroidered beach chair and rested her head on her purse.
“Fine, just fine.” Mrs. Withers was always rocking her head back and forth. Mac theorized it was a rhythm she heard in her hearing aid. Maybe it got Lite FM. They always joked if there was a twister she’d be the first to know. “We talked to Rachel last night.”
“Really?” Gabby didn’t mean to sound disinterested but news from Rachel was always the same. Besides the two hadn’t really been friends for years now.
“Sent her some pictures of the house.” Mrs. Withers pointed to the bluff. Night had hidden the mansion just as well as the trees had, Gabby couldn’t make out a single feature. “She’s going to paint it. Says it’s a great story.”
“I’d love to know the real story.” Gabby considered telling Mrs. Withers she had been there but Mac was in ear shot. “You haven’t heard anything have you?”
“No. If anyone does know a thing it would be Prudence.” Mrs. Withers looked down to the green tent that Prudence Collins’s maid had set up. Her money was legendary. Rumor was it had bankrolled the Revolutionary war and Prudence always thought that gave her the right to run the town. Now, her great-grand-children were grown and gone to the West Coast, leaving the old woman alone with her memories and roses.
“I honestly hadn’t thought of her.” Gabby admitted.
Mrs. Withers hoisted herself up with great effort and grabbed her walking stick. “Let’s go have a chat.”
Gabby glanced at Mac, who was lost in an argument over the taste of charcoal grill with Chuck Lawrence.
“You’re not gonna make me walk down this hill alone are you?” Mrs. Wither’s cocked a titanium hip.
Grabbing an arm the two gingerly made their way to the green tent that housed a woman whose age was more legendary than her money. Some believe the reason she was so touchy about whether or not George Washington had spent the night in her mansion was because he had been her lover.
“Knock knock.” Mrs. Withers sat herself in an empty chair beside Prudence, whose lips were shaking with an unsaid hello.
“Sorry about barging in.” Gabby apologized.
Prudence smiled. She wore a black Chanel suit with small earrings that sagged in her earlobes at different heights. “Non-sense, come in.”
This coming from a woman who used to throw flaming candles at children who dared ask her to ‘trick or treat or smell their feet’ was amusing. Gabby sat cross legged on the grass. “Excited about the game?”
Prudence nodded enthusiastically. She was lonely and bored and Gabby felt bad for the woman who had been mostly closed off from humanity for the last thirty years.
“What’s the deal with the mansion? We want dirt.” Mrs. Withers felt pleasantries were for the young. She always said if she worked up to saying something she may drop dead before it gets said. Gabby wished that just this once she’d added some finesse.
Prudence looked annoyed. She calculated her response. Saying nothing wouldn’t end this conversation, she needed to give up something. “Oh yes. I knew it was there. Always wondered why they didn’t level the eyesore but its historical and so on.”
“You knew it was there?” Gabby asked incredulously.
Prudence chuckled, “Of course.” With that the conversation was over. The three women watched as the rival teams huddled and chanted. Cheerleaders with fire engine red spankies and Adderall powder on their noses chanted cheers to get the audience pumped. Mac appeared and knocked on the roof of the tent making the sound with his tongue. “Food is ready. Hello Mrs. Collins.” Mac smiled a dimply greeting.
“Hello Macenroy.” Prudence blushed a bit.
He helped Mrs. Withers to her feet. “Would you like some food?” Mac offered.
“No. I’d like peace.” Prudence said longingly. It was tiring to live so long.
Mac smiled and waved as they made their departure.
Prudence had been born and raised in Cliffwood. She knew now she would die there. A day hadn’t passed when the house hadn’t plagued her dreams, her memories. Despite the 90 years that had passed she remembered vividly the day her father travelled up to the mansion on the bluff. A chance to see the mansion up close, its regal gates and beautiful occupants. If only he’d come back.

06/20/12

Widow’s Peak, a not-so-’short’ story

I have decided to serialize a short story I have been working on. Beginning today I plan on putting up a few chapters in six installments. Hope you enjoy!

Widow’s Peak

A young woman in a stricken marriage is plagued by demonic dreams and restless nights, until a home is uncovered within the forest near her home. As her obsession grows the home’s power over herself and her town threatens their livelihood and their lives.

Widow’s Peak

1

Gabriella was dead. It was the oddest sensation. A slight tingle that began at the base of her brain and ebbed its way throughout the network of nerves that netted her body. Only it wasn’t in her body, because she didn’t have a body. Putting a hand in front of her face she was aware that she felt nothing, smelled nothing and heard nothing. Not even the thump, thump, thump of blood rushing past her ear drums; the annoying persistent beat that normally would have filled such a complete silence. The urge to laugh seized her, although she couldn’t imagine why seeing as she was dead and she didn’t want to be. It was the lightness that did it, like nitrous oxide without the root canal.

Her nothingness came into focus and she began to understand a gravity to be present here. Perhaps not a gravity but an order to things. What went up, what went down, and where up and down were respectively. She knew these things instinctively. Then she realized in the same instant that she had retained sight, and with this sense she was able to know that she was being watched. Eyes surrounded her, light and dark, blue, brown, green, and amber; in every shade and shape and size they surrounded her, uniform only in their constant possession of a round bead of water that nestled in the corner of each lash-line, waiting to shiver free. The ball of regret shook there for a few moments before finally falling into the nothingness. Suddenly, she felt again. A gnawing feeling within her soul and becoming frightened she summoned her weakened powers of concentration and she could see that these were not eyes but windows.

She was in a house, with windows and doors and furniture. She had a body although she did not care for it as she had when she was living. There was no fear of pain or promise of eventual life. It was just a memento of being human, something she’d become accustomed to. The darkness lifted and a white light flowed through it. The shutters flickered open and closed, like Betty Davis’s eyelashes as she coyly smoked her cigarette. There was smoke, or maybe it was fog, microscopic chips of paint flaking away from the house so quickly it changed color before her eyes.

The fog turned to dust. So much dust it kicked up and swirled as Gabby explored the endless passageways of the mansion. Dark wood, slick as tree sap, covered the walls and floors. Portraits of long dead inhabitants and a plate full of half eaten lasagna, burned lasagna, sat on an ornately carved table. Deep inside Gabby knew she must have made it. Another dish she had burned.

Brushing a palm against a floor to ceiling canvas to remove the grime Gabby found herself staring at herself. A version of herself more beautiful, and well-bred with rosier lips, a happier blush, and a more assertive demeanor made evident by tightly squared shoulders. It was suffocating. Or maybe the dust had begun to have it effects. With a heavy wheeze she attempted to cough but couldn’t. Her body seized and she threw herself forward beginning to panic as she choked on air. Beating her fists into her chest she worked to free the obstruction from her lungs to no avail. She was already dead and still dying. What bad luck is that?

The tightness enveloped her and she felt her arms restricted, her back hot with the fire of a hard assault and finally, with some effort Gabby forced the cloud from her chest. Blinking Gabby found she had begun to tear with the effort, but through her blurry eyes she could also see she was in her bedroom and awake.

“Are you alright?” Mac asked, still half-asleep but awkwardly aware he’d just punched his wife in the back.

Letting out a weak cough just to assure herself she could she nodded, “yeah. I think it was dust or hair or something.”

“You had a hair ball?” Mac asked.

Gabby winced. “Ew. No, go back to bed.”

Mac rolled his eyes and turned on his side, within moment he was asleep. How could he do that, just shut off.

Putting a bare foot to the cold floor she got out of bed and made her way down the stairs and to the kitchen. Grabbing a large steak knife she returned to the hall and, in complete darkness, cut into one of the large moving boxes she still hadn’t unpacked. She shredded the top of one labeled Wedding Gifts. Inside were eight pristine and no doubt expensive crystal goblets her in-laws had purchased for them. They hadn’t bee on the registry. Gabby’s mother-in-law knew how much Gabby looked forward to getting her own mother’s depression glass for the new home, but here they were, someone’s else’s idea of classy. The urge to throw the glass was strong, and Gabby knew the Gabriella in the painting would have smashed it. Instead, Gabby rinsed it and filled it with water.

The house was small but the kitchen was large for their price-range. It had an island with cheap white Formica and leaning on it Gabby could overlook their butcher block table and more packing boxes. They had lived in the house for three months but hadn’t found the desire to unpack. They simply took out what they needed, which probably said a lot for how much superfluous items they’d amassed. A scurry above made Gabby think of the empty rooms above. There were so many places a mouse could find refuge, her studio with blank canvases along the walls, the guest room without guests or furniture, the nursery with an un-built crib.

For the millionth time since moving in Gabby wanted to walk the twelve blocks across town to her parents’ house and curl up in her old room. The Lithuanian couple now renting it wouldn’t be pleased but they could deal. Her parents had put the house on the market the moment she and Mac had graduated college and gotten engaged and even then Gabby had felt it was too hasty. Mac refused to buy it. Too many old memories he said. Like a photo album you buy half filled with someone else’s mementos.

Finishing her water she returned to restless sleep and dusty dreams.

 

2

‘Bulbs. Bulbs. Bulbs.’ Gabby kept the chant going and found herself matching the words to her pace. Running had seemed like a good sport to pick up. It was free, time-flexible, and supposedly it freed your mind. Her creative block had come at an inopportune moment as she’d finally been given a bid to illustrate a children’s novel. The introduction had been Gloria’s and accepting help from her mother in-law was like eating glass. Now, she couldn’t produce and there were only eight weeks until her mock-ups were due. The pressure made Gabby run faster and she forgot her shopping-reminder mantra. Her garden would never get any bulbs. This year her little patch of earth would look just as forgotten as the rest of her house did.

Waving to Mr. Withers, Gabby slowed to a jog and stopped, catching her breath and making a show of admiring his newly finished mosaic-mailbox.

“This is mighty fine work.” Gabby smiled, finding herself slipping into the dialect of a 50s housewife, hands on hips and shoulders tilted back for the full effect.

Dave Withers smiled and patted the red and white box. “Rachel sent it from New York. She’s into stone work now.” His face gloomed over and he whispered quietly, “Thank goodness. I was running out of places to put her little cat statues.”

Gabby smiled. She had received a number of flora and fauna miniatures herself. Her high school best friend just kept making them and sending them. Gabby assumed they were a sign of pity. Poor Gabby couldn’t become a struggling artist inBrooklynlike we planned because she got married and moved home, here have a ceramic cat.

“She likeNew York?”

“Oh yes, yes. Always asks about you. I told her about your book. Very excited!” Mr. Withers smiled at the thought of his grand-daughter living in the big city. As the bus driver for all kids south of the highway he knew everyone’s secrets from kindergarten until high school. He was the only one not surprised when Rachel dropped out of college and studied art with hobos in Quarry; Kansas’s answer to an underground art scene.

A loud clang adopted Gabby’s attention and she began to look around for the source. “What the heck?”

“It’s been going on all morning. My wife turned her hearing aid off an hour ago. They’re getting rid of all the trees on the bluff.”

“Oh, wow. I had my ear buds in. When did they announce this?” Gabby’s face betrayed her unhappiness. The forest that dominated the cliff was what gave Cliffwood its name, the town was nothing without the backdrop of a looming oak grove. Turning to examine the bluff Gabby blocked out the morning sun with one hand. She’d been running all morning with her eyes down to the ground to avoid the long glare of the fall sun.

“Oh my g-.” Gabby felt her throat close. She needed to cough but couldn’t. “The dust.” She croaked.

“What?” Mr. Withers yelled begging her to speak up.

Gabby pointed.

“Oh yes. It is a surprise isn’t it. I think the mayor will be quite upset. All that hoopla about getting an ordinance to take down a few trees and then there’s that!”

“What is it? I never knew that was there. I swear, I never knew.”

Mr. Withers eyed her delicately. “I believe you dear. I don’t think anyone did. My wife and I didn’t move here until the 50s. We never heard anything about there being a home up there, especially a mansion like that!”

Gabby watched the bulldozer drop mounds of dirt from its jaws. The home was huge, gigantic really. Despite what she imagined was a considerable age spent in neglect, from this distance the place was perfect. Simple white pillars graces each side and the front, or maybe it was the back, stood strong with large windows looking out onto the town. In the middle the midnight black roof was interrupted by a large widow’s peak. In its prime the home must have been amazing, horse drawn carriages edging their way up the cliffs, torches lighting each floor, there were so many! Gabby pinched herself. Her brain was in shambles, trying, with little result, to pull at threads of a long forgotten nightmare. There was nothing there, yet she knew, beyond reasonable doubt, that this here was the house haunted her, with Betty Davis eyes.

06/20/12

Effusions of Fancy by a Very Young Lady

Consisting of Tales in a Style Entirely New

 

~ Inscription in Jane Austen’s first book of short stories by her father’s hand

06/16/12

How Things Work: A Micro History of Blogging

When the internet first came about people were amazed at all it could do. They could construct websites, find information, and forge communities all in 1s and 2s. These pioneers are mostly nameless today. Unlike Seward and his folly or Columbus and his decision to sail straight off the “flat” earth, the first settlers of the internet were anonymous souls who made Angelfire websites, photo-shopped avatars, and slowly built algorithms that would one day inspire the technology we know today. These were different from the technology pioneers like — and — who literally built the first computers and integrated the internet. Point of note: UCL was the first university to connect to the World Wide Web with the US – making it international and truly on its way to being World Wide.

But back to those nameless few, they did something all explorers must do – they wrote things down. They kept meticulous databases of websites they visited, what they found there, and how they used this information. These web-logs were shortened to blogs and turned into the diary heavy, photo op, phenomenon we have today. These diaries were akin to the field journals anthropologists keep today and, after the advent of free software in 1999, accessible to all.

Today, blogs dominate with content online being valued higher than content on paper. Technorati puts the number of blogs currently out there at 112 million with the Huffington Post being the most widely read. There are thousands created every day, although I’d bet a lot of these quickly fall into disuse. I myself have been through a number of titles since my first Angelfire when I was 14 (You could be reading a post by Polterguist87 right now… pig-tailed avatar and all).

With digital editions taking over new programs like Flipboard will take blogging to a new level. Flipboard takes your favorite blogs and even Facebook and Twitter posts and puts them together into a little cyber magazine. (Which reminds me, rant: I want to get Wired magazine but seeing as I have no current home address I want the digital edition, ONLY the digital edition. I know it seems silly since it would be the same price therefore the hard copy is essentially free but I have a feeling my friends won’t be too thrilled if they just become the vortex of science and tech magazines they don’t read. Can’t I at least get 6 months of digital and hold the paper? I don’t want paper to stop because my iPad will never know what a sandy, water, sun tan lotiony beach looks like but come on there must be a middle ground no?) Anywho, I find that whenever I want a new magazine I’m fine to go update my Flipboard (I don’t have wireless internet and therefore have to cyber-squat every time I need a download… thanks Nero!).

06/14/12

Travel Photography for the Free at Heart

Shutterbugs need to fly (for some reason I always picture a ladybug). Sitting at home and taking pics of your cat can only entertain you so far and if you’re not hoping to become a professional photog then you really want pictures you will be happy to frame and throw on your wall (and let’s face it unless there’s some really amazing light your ‘Apple in Repose’ is not making it up there).

Equipment

I have three cameras – a manual 35mm Sony (I think), a Casio 500, and a Nikon CoolpixP90. The Nikon has an incredible zoom which is mostly why I bought it, however, the light meter is pretty awful. My Casio is pocket-sized and takes the best night photos. My Sony is somewhere in my closet, I haven’t tried to use 35mm since finishing my art courses in undergrad. I’d suggest finding a pocket-sized, high pixel/resolution, with at least a 10x zoom for traveling. Also I am quite fond of those play settings like “party time” and “dusk”. I wish you could rename them since half are actually perfect aperture/f-stop readings for scenarios the company didn’t think of. Also buy at least 1 extra battery and 3 memory cards. Instead of buying one 16MB SD card I buy multiples so I can leave them in the hostel while I’m out. This way if I decide to go whale-watching and the boat tips I don’t lose all of my photos (also theft blah blah blah).

Timing

Automatic cameras are nice while traveling because you can literally snap a photo while running passed a church. You probably won’t be alone and should you have 3 seconds to snap a picture of the Louvre while you run to a tour bus, make it count. There is a limit to how much people will wait for you if you’re not with photo-friends, I generally got around this by doing the run-point-shoot method, getting behind and then sprinting, or suggesting a meeting place. This is good because your friends will have varied interests and while you weren’t particularly interested in cutting your trip to the Taj Mahal short to take a few pictures of a local market those pictures might be awesome to the point of iconic.

Tourist Pics

That being said, there are a lot of “iconic” pictures floating around my friend’s photo albums so don’t skip the Taj Mahal just because “everyone takes pictures of that”. They all take pictures cause it’s awesome!

Theft

If it is dark, and you’re lost, and there are very few people around put away the camera. This happens at least once a trip and even though most of your anxiety is cause by your unfamiliarity with the area it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Before You Go

Break out your camera and head to the local church, park, or parade. This will help you find all the right settings for direct sunlight, candle-lit churches, running water, and flood-lit buildings. It used to be that you’d take 100 pictures and get home and found out you’d been at the wrong aperture the entire time, film ruined. Now, you know immediately and spend twenty mins. finding the right one.

Final Word

Accept that some pictures won’t come out and that some memories will not be remembered any better because of a picture.

06/14/12

The Adventurous Girls Guide to Summer Reading

Summer reading has always had such a horrible ring to it, reminds me of depressing books with kids stranded in the wild or post apocalyptic dramas I was way to young for. I also read a lot of my favourite books during the summer, I spent hours on the beach, long after the sun and my family had gone home, finishing the first Harry Potter with such utter captivation you would have thought it was TV. This was followed by a few classics such asGreat Expectations (I always love the homeless orphans) and Sense and Sensibility; which are two of my favourites but they didn’t change my life the way Harry Potter did. But this isn’t a list of books that changed my life or even the 7 books I think everyone should read, these are the 7 books everyone should read if they ever want to have an adventure.

1. In Cold Blood (Truman Capote) – nothing is scarier than the idea of sitting at home and evil knocking at your door, this book tempers your blood and gives you a head for caution, the number one tool in the Marianne Ravenwood knapsack.

2. Pink Boots and a Machete (Mireya Mayor) – Cheerleader turned anthropologist/adventurer Mayor discusses all of the gruesome things that happen to you when you trek through the jungle to tag a baby gibbon (yay holding a baby gibbon nay blood poisoning). It’s also a good read for any woman in a male dominated profession. A few years ago I went to a college reunion with my aunt (she went to an ivy league all women’s school on the East Coast) and they had a panel discussing what the school was like throughout the ages. One woman told the group about when she was in school and they were allowed to attend classes at the men’s school (provided they wore skirts and not their usual trousers). She took them up on it but after two lectures the professor asked her to stop coming as her presence was making the men uncomfortable since they couldn’t act like themselves around a lady. Wouldn’t it be fun to go back in time just for a day and go all Chelsea Handler on those sweethearts?)

3. Darwin Slept Here (Eric Simmons) – He played with FINCHES, saw parts of the world most people even today only dream of, and after his whirl wind adventure he just went home and never left England again, even adventurers eventually want to go home. He also almost didn’t get the job because the ship captain thought people with large noses were useless. Well Humph.

4. The Monster of Florence (Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi) – Don’t get arrested in a foreign country, I don’t care what country, just don’t do it, assume you’re always wrong, and assume you don’t know the law, terrifying… Also don’t make out in cars.

5. The City of Z (David Grann) – A lost city, a real life adventure… everything you could have ever dreamed of.

6. Down Under (Bill Bryson) - I loved every fact and anecdote in this book almost as much as I loved the fact that someone was able to write a book like this and be paid for it.

7. Unsuitable for Ladies (Jane Robinson) – This literary anthology taught me more than anything I ever had to read in school. Above all it teaches that if something is ‘unsuitable for ladies’ it’s incredible.

(Thinking about my childhood summer reading I think about the car rides out to the beach – two hours and an entire duffel bag full of books and CDs. It felt like a caravan ride, everything you would need right at your finger tips, snacks, a blanket, endless entertainment, maybe a Gameboy. The new kids won’t have that. An iPad holds all games, music and books. Kind of great but still makes me a bit sad.)

06/14/12

Too Nerdy to Be in a Band, Too Cool to Be in a Lecture

In 1929 George Danzig walked in to class late. He played it cool, copying down the homework and asking no questions in his fancy Berkley statistics course. A while later he brought the problems to his professor and apologized for taking so long to solve them, he had actually missed the lecture and had to figure it out with no help. With a scratch on his head and an image of Matt  Damon? The professor told Danzig that those weren’t homework they were famously unsolved equations. Danzig no doubt went home and said hey frat bros I’m a genius! He was a cool nerd.

I would like to think of myself as a cool nerd but really I’m just a nerd with good taste in shoes. Right now my Dorothy Perkins floral tunic goes perfectly with my skinny jeans and brown cowboy boots and my hair is dip dyed to Hipsterific perfection, right now I’m sitting in a three hour lecture on finance I singed up for on a whim of fancy. I’m bored, which is a fairly common affliction for those in the educational pod. I’m in a business course because I found it interesting, because I understand making money and there are a set number of ways things can go in a business (millionaire, steady but boring, moving back in with your parents) but so far its all case studies and we all know how those go. So instead I’m compiling all of the best business and employment tidbits we’re discussing the and those I already learned in all of the “preparation” courses I’ve naively signed up for before. (I’m live blogging this so bear with the updates here ;) )

1. Look stuff up online. Shocking isn’t it? But it’s true that if you don’t know about a company, they wont hire you and if you don’t know what kind of company you want to start, you wont get off the ground.

2. Never expect to learn anything amazing in a room that smells like urine, human or otherwise, this is not to say you can not learn something from a person who smells like pee, I’ve learned a lot from the derelict and incontinent people who ride the bus although it was an existential unconventional kind of learning ( namely I learned I hate the bus).

06/8/12

Are You Alright? You’re Clutching Your Pants

More on accents and Englishisms

Every time I go out someone asks me if I’m alright. My New York cynicism makes me want to scream “Yes. Why are you talking to me get away.” While my self-conscious nature leaves me thinking “why? what’s wrong with me? don’t I look alright?” Finally I remember I’m in the country whose slogan is Keep Calm and Carry On because if you hear the way they talk you’d think they were all about to Panic and Freak Out. Saying ‘are you alright?’ is the same as ‘how do you do’ or more aptly ‘let me know if you need anything’ (in stores that is). It’s a friendly non-committal I’m here for you which is a little odd for a country that has a national hug allergy. It’s so cold here you’d think everyone would be cuddle together for warmth but English stoicism is more than a myth it’s a pandemic; which is exactly how I like people – reserved, sarcastic and emotionally repressed (I think all the English soldier moved to New York after the war).

I’ve just gotten used to their make me feel awkward greeting when I discovered a new foe, the word clutching. I don’t know why but it makes me feel like someone’s just called me out on showing up to class drunk. I was in a meeting the other day when someone abruptly stopped speaking and asked me ‘what are you clutching’. -it was a bottle. I wasn’t holding it for dear life or anything but I got this self-image of me quivering in a corner clutching the bottle and drooling in bug-eyed fear like a raccoon who found a hot dog with bun and ketchup in the trash (the holy grail of nocturnal dumpster diving) and was terrified the night foxes would tear me to pieces for it. Oh dear I think I’ve just shat my pants (panties… remember?… see we’re learning!)

06/7/12

Summer TV or How I Procrastinate

Thank goodness! Summer TV is finally here and it couldn’t come quickly enough. I’ve been going a bit coo-coo trying to fill my time and had even resorted to getting work done! This week ABC Family kicked off Jane By DesignPretty Little Liars, and Melissa and Joey, so I thought I’d post up a few of my thoughts.

Pretty Little Liars was the most anticipated for me as they’re starting up the second series. For those who are TV fans but not books fans, there were 2 series of PLL. One that ended with Mona being unmasked as A, then, just when you thought it was safe to keep secrets in Rosewood, they did a re-boot and created the A conspiracy. I won’t go into spoiler territory but I really hope they change the show from the book. First of all, since we know that they didn’t change the first series we have little hope they’ll change the second, so where’s the suspense? Second of all, I thought the second series ending was lame. Like Sookie turning out to be a fairy lame. Sounds all good in theory but in practice it’s all ‘eh put Switched at Birth on instead?’ But aside from the theoretical, PLL still pays out where I want it to. Lotsa mystery, and they’ve uped the creep factor a lot which I love. Emily realizing she didn’t wander out of the house, she was taken and thrown in someone’s trunk – brilliant. Last season’s ending with the dolls and Emily’s emotional breakdown at the death of Mya was great TV.

Biggest shockers – The hair. This show has always been extension central and I actually took a picture of Aria the last time I got my hair cut. I always loved her style the most because everyone I know is spray tanned with high-lights and she shows how to look good with dark hair/eyebrows and light skin. Now they’ve chopped of her locks and lightened her hair considerably also she lost like half an eyebrow (two halves make a whole so does that mean she lost an entire eyebrow? Dali images in my head now of an eyebrow just running off her face). I suppose this needed to happen (she’s also dressing differently) since she and Prof. Lolita have decided to make things public. (Did you really see that going well? She’s your 16 y.o. student, and you’re shocked her dad wasn’t thrilled? I’m shocked her dad didn’t murder you. Hear that? It’s the sound of a gun being cocked and A isn’t holding it.)

Hannah also cut her hair and while it looks cute I still miss the long hair. I mean I just got my hair past my shoulders! Long hair can’t go out of style yet, I refuse. I’m really liking Hannah’s style this season, ok it’s one ep but still true, it’s funkier than usual and Aria’s always the one having all the fun (her black and red harlequin dress last season OMG love). Emily and Spencer are the same as always, preppy and beautiful. (It’s not called ugly little liars now is it). The men are also looking pretty darn good. They’re really just there as eye candy and I usually watch thinking cute shoes, nice pillow case, great abs Toby! Also glad they found a way for Mona to still be in it! Love the cray cray mama!

Jane by Design threw me a bit. If all of these obstacles come up now (her ditching school, turning down promotions at work to be a teen, her and her bff almost getting together) where is there to go later on? Also I totally thought Andie MacDowell was gonna be her mama or aunt or something, but if she gets with the Nick Jonas doppelgänger of a nephew, I’m guessing there will be no relation. Unless ABC Family goes incest and I would honestly not see that coming. India cut her hair, another sheep following the herd to Bob-land. (I think I’m bitter.) I hate that Ben is lying to his girlfriend even if it is for his baby sister. Jane shouldn’t ask him to do that. Just quit high school. It’s called a GED, you can buy it on the internet.

Finally, there was Melissa and Joey. I don’t know if anyone else watches this but they should. It’s like watching two old friends (Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Blossom) get together in their thirties. It’s also really funny and a little raunchy. So while I don’t have a lot to say about it, I do think everyone should watch it because I’d be sad if it got cancelled and I spend enough time crying in the school library as it is.