Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nerd Alert: Fun With Words

I'm not one to post others' words much, but after class last night, I just had to re-post this. These provided me with a grande-sized shot of adrenaline and I had to share my favorites.

Probably standard fare for any regular "how not to" lecture, these did not, and I figure, will not ever cease to make me laugh...

Drumroll please...

"Worst analogies ever written in a high school essay (I do doubt this in many cases, because some of these are just too great...)

1. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

2. Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.

3. Her eyes were like two brown circles with black dots in the center.

4. Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake. (We agreed this one would be perfect for a tech presentation at work, then again, none of us is a techie.)

5. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

6. Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like "Second Tall Man".

7. John and Mary had never met. They were like two humming birds who had also never met."

I can't stop laughing at these. I want more. If anyone can help me, I'd be eternally grateful.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Want Not

My own little slice of the cosmos can be banked on from time to time.

Opportunities influx in multiples, then dissipate as regularly as the tides.

I’d like a new mantra. Don’t want for it. Then, it’s inevitable that it will come.

Pray, fantasize, hope? Each is a little piece of paper, vulnerable though seeming solid. Each blows away in a dry dust, leaving no residue, no negative of former thoughts, sand-slipped through clumsy fingertips.

Everything counted on gone, counted on because of the sheer volume of options, dwindled down to none, or worse, the one cast aside to begin with (the job half-done because it didn’t count, the relationship sometimes fought for because it surely wouldn’t last, if there’s three things before you then one, just one you might think, would work out). Bruised and deflated, an ego retreats back into its turtle-shell, whimpering—not to venture so fool-heartedly again (or at least until sufficient pity party is over).

Imagine the next time a boss, a parent, a huffy friend, high and mighty significant other demands, “What do you want for your life, your career, your heart?”

Nothing, not a thing, none of the above. Only then, I think, contentment, pared-down purpose, simple living in white moonlight and firefly flashes. Drained of envy and hard-worn bitterness, sour grapes and hints of deserving. Filmy, flimsy and light. Buoyant. Radiant.

Cut free from strings, routines and comfort snapped. Exhilaration with stability. Other oxymorons.

Fortune without the fame.

Character tall.

All wants, never needs, and not yet realized because of the self-fulfilling prophecy…

Want and you shall not receive.

Here’s when I’ll repeat my mantra. To trick my predictable luck, or lack thereof, into turning on itself and maybe, just maybe, flipping inside out.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is There A Coffee Shop That Isn't Full of Weirdos?

Today is a beautiful day. I hope that you are outside enjoying it, because in New York the weather is in the low eighties and in Brooklyn, where I'm at now, Prospect Park is blooming and there are plenty of patches of green where you can lay out a blue blanket and eat chips and drink Diet Plum Tea Snapple as I was doing just a few minutes ago. Of course, when you're underemployed (I will not say unemployed until the very last steady freelance jobs I have go out the window--fingers crossed that they won't!) slash student hybrid, but not a real student, because you're taking classes from three different institutions instead of one (don't ask, this was poorly planned) you have to do work on the weekends. Even glorious ones like these.

So after I was in the park and picking out china from Real Simple and also circling all the restaurants and boutiques I want to go to in New York magazine, I'm in a coffee shop. Now, no judgment here, because I am one of the people that must spend this beautiful day inside, and perhaps they are too. But everyone around me is a creepy weirdo and it's dark in here and the music is blasting and I think it's Maria Carey. And not the good Maria Carey. And it's really loud. And no one is talking to each other and we're all looking at our little screens like that part in Wall-E that gave me weird dreams for a while.

And I need to write a short story that I can publish before I apply to MFA programs and I can't, because I keep staring at everyone and with my mouth hanging open. Why why why would someone choose to be here if they didn't have to! And why is the music so wrong and everyone that works here keep screaming "Fur Burger" to each other?

I am not ready to be a person in a coffeeshop all day. Dear Lord I need an office so badly. If you know a place where I can go that is a little less like this, please tell me. I'm afraid of what I'll become here.

Now go outside and away from me and the other trolls. We're being weird in the dark recesses of Brooklyn instead of interacting with other people, the least you could do is have fun because we don't know how to.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More from the Children's Book

Sorry! I am in 3 classes and have two editing jobs and am generally running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to learn how to be an adult and a writer and both of these in this economy. Here's a scene of what I've been working on, my children's book. In the meantime, I have given myself a reading list:

1. Island of the Blue Dolphins
2. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
3. Hatchet
4. A Wrinkle In Time

Any other suggestions??

From the book:

In the fifth grade, it works like this: Mrs. Tropiano’s our main teacher and we sit in her classroom most of the day. It’s decorated with samples of our best cursive penmanship and a few papers that earned gold stars and there are at least three of mine up there. In the back there’s a couch for reading, and if you finish a test before everyone else, you can sit in it and lie back on cushions of worn-out corduroy. But when it comes to special subjects, we’ve got different teachers for that, and we leave Mrs. Tropiano for them and head to the gymnasium, the art room or the music room. Today is Wednesday and that means music.

Dad says don’t use the word hate, so I won’t. Miss Peroski is our music instructor, and she’s a skinny one, she looks like if Olive Oil stepped right out of the television. She’s got long black hair that’s plaited into a thick dark rope that reaches her bottom. Today she’s feeling kooky so she greets us by playing a recorder as we shuffle in and is smiling a big toothy grin. When she sees that I’m last, she says, “Katie Burnett, don’t dilly dally!”. Some kids laugh, and I can’t tell if it’s at me or Miss Peroski because we both have something to be embarrassed about.

“Everybody take your seats please,” Miss Peroski says as she twirls around in a bright Indian skirt and long feathered earrings. She is the only woman I’ve ever seen who dresses like every day is a special holiday and it occurs to me that I wouldn’t mind seeing her on the Fourth of July. Maybe she’d have on a big wedding dress made out of a patchwork of flags, a swirl of red, white and blue and a crown of sparklers. And the sparklers would shoot off her head like rockets and she’d still be dancing around completely unaware, with her guitar strapped to her shoulder and telling all the dogs to go on and scoot, even when the little fires on her head started lighting up the gravel around her.

I laugh at this, and it’s a big mistake.

“Thank you for volunteering first, Miss Burnett,” Miss Peroski waves her recorder like it’s a wand and she summons me to the front of the room.

“Ooooh,” goes the rest of the class, like a chorus. I feel the blush creep into my face and at this moment I wish I could bolt out the door in a flash, fast as Henry.

“Miss Burnett, we’re waiting,” Miss Peroski says and I look at her long braid and am again reminded that I have never had the discipline to grow mine past my ears, and even if I did, it be as fine as a baby’s and could never be braided.

I walk to the front of the green blackboard and there are notes and treble clefs on it in white chalk, but it might as well be Chinese, I can read it but that’s where it ends.

“Miss Burnett, can you tell me what this note is?” She points to the board. I know from memorization that I can decide between “All Cows Eat Grass” for the spaces, meaning the notes are “A, C, E, G” or “Good Boys Don’t Fight Anyone” which means “G, B, D, F, A.” Don’t as me why G and A are on there twice, it’s got something to do with the bass clef versus the treble.

“G,” I say.

“Very good,” Miss Peroski blows the note on her recorder. It sounds like a rush of wind through a drainpipe. She opens her mouth in a little oval and repeats the sound perfectly, “La, la, la.”

She smiles. “Now you try it.”

The back of my neck is itchy and I turn from her and look at the class. Rachel’s looking at me and mouths, go on and do it! and she touches her thumb and finger to create the A-OK sign we make to each other in class when we need a boost. Everyone else is looking around the room, at the glockenspiel and at the African drums, and I’m sure they’re all thinking what I’m thinking, if only we could have our bongo circle today instead of this garbage.

I clear my throat, it’s something that Dad and Henry do, and it makes their voices sound loud and strong once they’re done, but on me it’s more like a squeaky mouse with laryngitis.

“Kathryn are you feeling all right?” Miss Peroski says, and though it’s kind I bristle a little because I don’t like the name Kathryn one bit—Kate or Katie suits me better.

“Pardon me,” I say, and I look at the big ticking clock on the wall above the door, as if it’s pushed forward a whole forty-five minutes and I’m scot-free. No such luck, there’s still a good thirty-eight minutes to go. “My throat’s not feeling up to snuff.”

“Your throat sounds perfectly lovely to me, now go on,” she says and sings once more, “La, la, la!” It sounds like a silver bird.

I shake out my hands, stamp my feet a little, anything to shake a silver bird from my throat, I give it a go, “Lo, lo, lo.”

It’s abominable. Worse than I could even imagine. It was not a joyful noise, as Mom says. My silver bird is a big fat turkey. Some of the kids look like they can’t believe such a sound has come from me.

Miss Peroski looks as though I stole her feather earrings and now am wearing them right in front of her. “I see someone hasn’t been practicing. Keep forging ahead, Kathryn,” and she dismisses me to my seat.

“Miss Peroski, I have too been practicing,” I say, and it comes out of my mouth very high and sharp and it surprises even me.

“I’ve never known you to be a liar, let’s not start now,” she says, and she points to Rachel. “Miss Murphy, you’re next.”

“I’m not a liar, I swear,” I say but Miss Peroski is already asking for Rachel to point out the notes, and she does not point out the right note, but when Miss Peroski plays it on the recorder she sings it back perfectly, and it sounds like an angel would.

And I think, how much has she studied, and that it couldn’t be more than me, and yet here she is, the sound out of her is pure and shiny and it is beautiful and suddenly it comes to me. She has never studied the way I have, and it doesn’t matter at all. She can sing and I cannot, and that’s as complex as it gets.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

High Noon

I work from my bed, coffee shops, other people's living room rugs. Sometimes one office, sometimes another. I feel still blessed to have the life I have, however downsized from what it was following the economic meltdown, but I can't help think back to the days when I would escape with my lunch outside the office...all that I used to think because outside moments were so precious:

It’s a joy to be in Bryant Park at high noon. Debonair and foreign gentlemen toss gleaming silver weights on the Bocce court; over faded gray pebbles at the west end. Before the crushing lunch rush, you can sit under the shade of trees and shadow of Tom Colicchio’s gourmet sandwich stand, ensconced at a painted table and chair, the smooth finish warm against the backs of knees and elbows, sipping ginger beer, turned towards the splash of the fountain and long of the meadowed lawn. A space to breathe; encircled by towers of steel, brick and mortar of banks and shops, and snaking lines of yellow cabs.

Slowly, as the crowds peter in, slim suits morph into separates as jackets are removed, then laid as impromptu picnic blankets, paper bags crunch open, napkins assemble and the seal of designer water bottles crack. The power lunch turns lazy under the sky, loafers and heels kicked off, freeing feet, now tickled by the cool blades. They face the heaving animals of the merry-go-round, the marble lip of the stairs, slipping colors and crawling clouds.

On the south side, flowering plants for sale are vibrant and rich, and priced for the vibrant and rich. On the north, the young and free attempt to continue their path to the library, veering off to lay their bags on sod for catnaps. Once on the field, stillness begins, the shine of light against closed eyelids feels heavy, and it seems as though anyone at all can capture the tranquility of the Far East right here in Midtown West.

An hour under the sun as reward for eight under cheap florescence. For a weekday, it’s not a bad trade at all.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the 2009 winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus : A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido : All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.) : Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. Coffee , n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted , adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate , v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade , v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly , adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent , adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph , v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle , n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence , n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash , n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle , n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude , n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon , n.. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster , n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism , n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

**Shout-out to BT for providing, thank you!

Reblog: The Mailbox War

This one was too good to stay in the vault...

My father is a survivor of two wars.

The first was Vietnam (where he was a medic). The second was the war at home (where he was part-villain, part victim).

The war at home was not fought against my strong-willed mother, nor her strong-willed daughter (me), nor her strong-willed newborn (my brother, who was such an intolerable, shrieking toddler that we referred to him as ‘the Raptor’). Instead, the war at home was fought between two venerable enemies, and battled on civilian soil in the early nineties. On one side, my father in shorts and a polo shirt, a.k.a. Mr. Mom, who raised my brother and me and two dogs and one cat, while my mom bio-medically consulted her way through Europe, coming home only in stints.

On the other: the teenagers of Peekskill, New York and their arsenal of baseball bats.

At that time, there wasn’t much to do in town. One movie theater, one neon-signed shopping plaza (the main attraction tied between the pet shop and the hardware store). Not much else. And lots of bored teenagers in the summertime, half-assing wait or landscaping jobs during the week, coming home only to nurse beers and drive restlessly at night.

So they did what all red-blooded Americans do with energy, aggression, and an arguably poor upbringing. At low speeds in open cars, they swooped past mailboxes, improving their batting averages by smashing perched metal off poles.

We had just moved into the white clapboard house on a hill. Our mailbox was at the bottom of it. And because my parents had just begun to take pride in the place (recently out of the rental down the street), they renovated and improved, bursting with the satisfaction of their newly purchased home. One of the first acts my father took was to buy a beautiful mailbox as a prosperous symbol; a miniature bright, red barn, with a tiled roof and wide doors from which mail sprang.

And one of the first acts the neighborhood teenagers took was to smack it right off the pole in the middle of the night, denting the plastic and knocking off the doors.

When my father saw it, he knew. He had done his fair share of toilet-papering the principal’s house as a kid. But that was Halloween in Normal, Illinois. Not a summer spent destroying mailboxes in Peekskill, New York.

This was much, much different in his eyes. He had survived far worst virtually unmarked. He didn’t "come back from 'nam" to let a bunch of "punk kids" stick it to his young family, his new house, his new mailbox.

So he put it back up. Upon seeing this, the kids knocked it right back down. They too, had survived--plenty of fathers in town were out to prove a point with their mailboxes, dads that refused to be defeated, until the kids broke them down and the old guys gave up, heads hanging in shame, only to return to their wives and their kids with their shoulders shrugged in conquered disbelief.

But not my dad. Not him, not ever. My dad was of a breed these kids had never seen.

He ditched the cutesy, hard plastic in lieu of a sturdy wood structure bolted into a sturdier wood pole in the ground.

The next morning we saw, as we scaled down the driveway in our white Ford Taurus, the box lay splintered on the side of the road.

I remember what it looked like. And how my dad’s face hardened with determination, a smile flickered fast at his mouth. Even at ten years old, I saw what this meant. This was not over. This had only just begun. These were just the formative stages of what would be known forever after as The Mailbox War.

Next up was a traditional tin box, plain and black and just like all the others on the block. But it deviated when he encased it in a circular steel sheet, leaving gaps around the rectangular receptacle. Into those gaps he poured a yellow liquin plastic that bubbled and dried hard and puffy, like insulation. This he fixed to a metal pole, which he buried deep into the ground.

Now, instead of a mailbox, we had a space age monstrosity twice normal size, that gleamed in the sun with a terrible glare. As the bus lurched around the bend towards my house, I would instruct all substitute drivers to the “mailbox that looks like a big bullet” to ensure I was dropped at the right spot.

The teenagers had a hell of a time with this one, but they were just as committed as my dad. They bashed that thing mercilessly, over and over again, night after night. Try as they might, they dented the sheet and the insulation under the surface, but you could see from looking dead on that the mailbox protected by all this was entirely unscathed.

That was part one of my dad’s plan. To erect something that caused them to park their cars on the side of the drive, jump out with their bats and poles, and on foot, dance around the box, smashing it.

Part two was to hide his green and gold-flecked Buick at the bottom of the hill, obscured by night and the shade of pines. To sit in the driver’s side with his hands gripping the leather wheel, nodding off and jolting awake, his BB gun (previously used only for scaring squirrels away from the birdfeeder) at his side. Once he saw the flash of baseball bats by moonlight, the idea was to jump out, laughing maniacally and spraying the stars with BBs, forcing the teenagers to run screaming back into their cars, not before one or two of them soiled themselves, and drive away in hysterics, never to speak of that night again, and never to return.

Unfortunately, he never got the chance. The kids, perhaps anticipating an ambush, came at odd hours, and in strange patterns. Once they left the box alone for an entire week. A few days of sleeplessness and my dad’s fatigued ramblings caused my mom to put an end to that real quick.

Soon after, the mailbox was officially dismembered. Because the kids couldn’t beat it to a pulp, they blew it up, uprooting the pole like it was a diseased tree, and left it broken on its side in a nearby ditch.

At this point, we all congratulated my dad on fighting the good fight. The silver mailbox had lasted far longer than anyone could have imagined, and now that we had to erect number four, we wondered if we could just frequent a P.O. Box and live our lives in peace.

My dad scoffed at this suggestion, and got to work on his ultimate structure. He knew he had created a mailbox that could almost withstand the beatings, but a pole that could not. His solution: an iron pole cemented into the ground. As a nod to the would-be destroyers, he bolted a new version of the maimed mailbox on top, daring them to continue to try.

The box stayed atop the pole, through the winter, then spring. It seemed this had ended it. Once in a while a new dent would appear on the sheeting, but for the most part, it was left alone. No more explosions. The teenagers had been handed. But this is not the end of the story.

The hill on which our house stood was at a very dangerous turn of the road. I lost Peaches-the-cat to whizzing cars careening by. It was accident-prone and everyone within a ten mile radius knew to proceed with caution.

One day, a teenager, maybe one who had fought in The Mailbox War against my dad, maybe not, but to be sure, one who was not paying attention and one who was driving a borrowed BMW far too fast, swerved around the curve. And drove right into our mailbox. He hadn’t slammed on the breaks to avoid hitting it, assuming it would give with the thousands of pounds of steel and fiberglass of the car, figuring that the pole would bend and the box would pop off like the head of a dandelion, and he’d slow to a stop.

Instead, the car wrapped around the immovable object we called our mailbox. The airbags went off, the car was destroyed, he was in tears, his mother arrived in a rage, my father was apologetic and concerned for the boy’s safety. But our mailbox, it stayed.

The boy was perfectly fine except for the tongue-lashing he received from his mother, “I can’t believe you did this, you said you were going to be careful with the car, I never should have let you borrow it, your father is going to kill us both!

Almost immediately, my dad dismantled the mailbox and its pole. He couldn’t, in good conscience, let it stay, knowing that bad drivers endangering their lives and the lives of anyone who happened to be nearby, could become fixed in a metal swirl around it.

He constructed a normal mailbox after that. One that was flimsy, and like most others on the block. But the funny thing was, it was never touched again. Maybe because that kid actually had been a perpetrator of our previous boxes, or maybe because the other kids were tired of it, or maybe they thought it was a trick.

Nevertheless, they stayed away.

My dad remains, to this day, victorious (if a not little notorious, as well).

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Items for a good mood...

Lengthy updates via email from cross-country friends

The very last sniffle of a cold

A found twenty-dollar bill

Cold lemonade or hot tea, depending on the weather

Sample subscriptions to magazines boasting implicit simplicity

A deep breath and a deep stretch

A cell phone chirp indicating a new text message

A snarky comment prevented from repetition aloud

A soft bed, with high thread count sheets freshly laundered

Low glow from an antique lamp

A well-thumbed book, the third time read

Free lunch, and even better, at a restaurant

A scary movie, and someone to split buttered popcorn with

Al fresco anything

Having someone tell you there’s something in your teeth, immediately

Impromptu invitations

A sick day for your boss

Sunlight through the sunroof

Dew on grass, and then feet on dew


Icy water, without the ice


Sunday night before a Monday holiday

The burger at Wellville, Blue 9 or Corner Bistro

Bryant Park’s fountain

The still of seven a.m.

Being second in line (first is the worst, second is the best…)


Blue-bottomed pools

When someone refers to you as their best friend

Rooftop cocktails and fireworks

Bare arms and legs in the afternoon

Sunglasses that don’t pinch



Knowing that, on Friday morning, the entire weekend lies ahead

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Remembering: What Matters

My speaking voice has been gone all week, a good seque to me finding my literary voice, as I revise and re-revise my writing sample and my novel (going off to a tell-it-like-it-is editor in one week--good Lord, so much to do before then).

Today, here is what I remember:

Under the sun, geckos dart around my feet, and I think about the things that matter. What they are. What they are not.

I think they’re not budget reports and filing piles. They are not dinners with peers strategizing nor blank-faced TV programs where hours pass, uncounted. They are not a blur of drunken vomiting and strangers kissed each weekend to fill the unfulfilled. They are not when days knit together, undulating grumpily until there are two parts of one life—the minutes spent anticipating and the minutes spent reminiscing. They are not go go go and yoga merely purposed to un-hunch shoulders, praying only when things are bad because we wish them to be good, breathing merely to dissipate emotion and apologies to get our way.

They are, instead, sadness at stopping and finally seeing what we have wasted our time and energy on. They are finding the right in saving ourselves from ourselves, and our own distractions. They are realized the moment we inhale cut grass and understand that living is anything we make of it, sure, but more, we hold a choice in our balled hands. That choice is to make it good, make it count, and be free or to bow to impositions, cower under the difficulties of waking each morning and to let anything move us instead of moving it ourselves.

I think a popsicle and open sky and two fully-formed feet are incredible gifts once I unfurl my heart. I think what matters is being thankful and being forgiving and forgiven.