Saturday, December 20, 2008

Waste

There's something about home that's entirely debilitating. Not my home, exactly, not the specific set of rooms and furnishings that my mom has put together over the years. I just mean home. Being home. Something about it sends me dashing towards the other side of the spectrum, towards—not depression, but languor.

When I'm home, I find myself full of ideas and intentions but barely able to lift a finger towards them. The small bursts of energy and ambition I get are indeed small, about enough to lift a body over towards the TV and flip a few switches before abandoning said body into the sweet entropic descent that is Dr. Mario. Which is what I inevitably do. (I think I beat the computer on hard mode about 70 times this week, no exaggeration.)

Despite repeated attempts to get up early and begin doing things, I find myself sliding towards the wee hours of the morning and the single digits of the afternoon. Despite long lists of to-do's and goals and projects and destinations, despite ample room and resources, despite a wide open schedule and the realization that this is the time people are always talking about—"when I'm finally not so busy"—despite all of this I find I can't move from my chair. I can't get out of bed. I can't dial the phone.

This wouldn't be a problem if I was merely on vacation, home for a week or two here and there to just fritter about lazily, going out to eat nine times a week, attending parties and reunions and such in the short span between semesters. But I'm not really on vacation. I'm out of school for nearly five months a year: three in the summer and two in the winter. Technically I should be working—if not actually out there doing a nine-to-five, I should at least be writing, knocking chunks out of my soon-due thesis. I should be reading and writing and furthering my life's work, tuning up some serious hobbies. And if not any of that, I should be playing with my 12 nieces and nephews during the short time that they're young and I'm here. I should be assembling the basketball goal that no one's been able to assemble at my sister's; I should be painting family's living rooms and mowing their yards; I should be making myself, if not useful, at least helpful.

So why can't I? What is it about home that debilitates?

I once had three theories to try and explain this. One had to do with the idea of going home as putting on your old skin, of inhabiting old habits when in old places. I've felt this a lot in past years, but I think it's wearing off, or at least being updated as time goes on. See, the idea is that it's hard to be yourself when you go home because the self you used to be when you lived there encroaches on your present self. You sleep in old beds in old rooms and start acting like a teenager again.1

Another theory has to do with the suburbs. I read a book by Žižek a year or so ago that made no sense to me at the time. It was about how modern society has replaced what's real with what is imagined to be real and how big things like 9/11 shock us into seeing beyond the suburban spectacle for an instant before the seeing beyond becomes the spectacle and the real is hidden behind the thought of the real again, etc. etc. (You see why I didn't understand it, yes?) Anyway, it didn't really make sense, and I really didn't read much of the book at the time, but when I went home a few weeks later for break, suddenly it hit me one day what he was talking about and why the suburban life might be dangerous at times. It really freaked me out.

The third theory actually has nothing to do with this.

Phew. It took me all day to write this. Every time the thoughts were there the energy wasn't, and every time the energy was there I just wanted to go drop pills on some viruses. Which is what I plan to do right now.



1Which is why, if you want my advice, it's "Move out."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Isn't that the payback for being indiscreet?"

I've been thinking about something a friend once said. In London one day, a bunch of us were sitting around the dining room chatting about—what else?—love. The question on the table was "What have you learned about love in the past year?" and each person who walked into the room was asked to answer. The group had gotten rather large, and lots of good advice had been offered, but what I'll always remember is what Paul said when he walked in and was asked. Paul was pretty much the coolest guy in the house, so we were all anxious to hear what he had to say.

"Be discreet," he said, and then he shut up. (So clever!)

Someone asked what he meant. He explained: "Whatever feelings you have about a person should be between you and that person."

This was quite different advice than we had heard thus far. That was quite a different position than most of us were apt to take; it seemed every other conversation one overheard among our group was about crushes and signals and possibilities. 40-some-odd girls and 7 boys on a bus together twice a week was a recipe for giggling. My own brother had captivated the crew when he grabbed the bus microphone one day and told an epic of love. But Paul, now that I thought about it, never shared his own love stories, past or present. He had been silent on the matter of his own love-life.

So here is my reasoning:

Paul = cool
Paul = doesn't talk about love

ergo

Cool=not talking about love


This makes a lot of sense to me, on the one hand. I mean, I have a lot of stories about love. About failed love (all past-tense love stories with living protagonists are failed-love stories, more or less). Some days I feel like I'm walking around with a lot to regret. But here's the thing: I'm not so sure my future lover will care. When I was younger, so much younger than today, it seemed like every third or fourth date was the "life story" date. The one where you tell each other all about the clubs you were in in high school and about the trouble you caused and about the epic birthday parties and, of course, about the long list of boy- or girlfriends you've had. It seemed necessary for two to understand each other, for two to have proper conversation. But when I think about it, I don't really see any couples I know talking about all that stuff that happened to them before they got together. I don't see them worried about the string of relationships leading up to the present. Rather, it seems like those failed relationships, those "mistakes," never happened at all, or, it you insist on bringing them up, the person just shrugs them off as part of the process—but who would dwell on that when I've got her now? It's like all the hurt and scars have been healed by finding "the one," yadda yadda.

Sorry, I'm grossing myself out a bit with all this lovey-dovey vocabulary. But you get the idea. No in-love person I know is worried about the past very much, and as I've gotten older, I think I see why. So rather than wait for the moment when I too will feel no more shame at my love-mistakes, I feel like maybe I should take a page from Paul's book and shut up about them. If they come up I should just smile and let the mystery stand.

On the other hand, I'm a storyteller, and I don't have many better stories than the ones in which I'm a fool for love. I mean, you should've seen me last week telling J and G about that one time—I was on fire, and they were cracking up. I had them feeling all the passion, pain, embarrassment, indecision, and every other emotion I felt went it all went down that fateful night. I'm not sure I'm ready to give that up. Perhaps this is why writers turn to fiction...


A Whole 'Nother Question: How come I can't seem to talk around my own family? I'm all smarm and charm around my peers, but as soon as I get home I can't seem to put two words together.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Contest Winner

JSK was the winner of our contest, so on Monday I presented her with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils. I've got the biggest crush on her.



Coming soon: Halloween party pictures, a tirade against plastic bottles, and the Election Breakfast.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sing, Dear Gemini

Editor's note:

The essay that was originally posted here has been removed. It will be published in the Spring 2010 online edition of Black and White Journal for the Arts. Thank you.

Revisions, Round 2

I'm sitting down with the essay/post originally titled "Stars, Doubts, Girls" again today. I took a few days off from looking at it or thinking about it because that always seems to help. For one, it lets me come at it with fresh eyes that have forgotten most of what's there, so I can evaluate it as a stranger would. For two, it gives my mind time to work things out subconsciously, and I always have more ideas this way. Normally I'd take even more time off, but since it's such a short piece and we have such a short history together, it was easy to forget (is this some sort of sad parallel for SG herself?)

Anyway, before I get too far into it and before I post the results here, I want to say a few things about how I'm revising, about how I am deciding what to do. It seems to me that this essay has three moving parts that need attention: narrative, meditation, and what-its-really-about.

The narrative, of course, is the story itself, and the standard for revision there is honesty and interestingness. I want it to be snappy, to draw the reader on to the next sentence and the next, and to sound like me. And since I've said it is a true story, I want it to be accurate. That's why I changed the names of those present in the first sentence when I found out exactly who was there—it's a small thing, of course, but it makes for a good habit. More important is how I portray my thoughts and emotions from years ago, for I can't remember exactly what I said to myself or felt on a particular day and it's easy to be less than honest for the sake of the story. Dave actually questioned some of the things I'd written in the first draft, whether I had actually thought through D names on the way to SG's house that day. I told him I didn't know exactly, but that I definitely had done it throughout the week whenever it crossed my mind and that the emotion I felt then—that combined dread and excitement—was very real. Actually, at first I had been tempted to write that I stormed over to her house the minute I thought of the initials, since that seemed to fit the tone and import of the story, but since I know very surely that that isn't true I changed it to read I asked on our very next date, which is true.

Anyway, narrative is the easiest thing to revise. It's a matter of pacing and spacing and trimming sentences, usually, like we saw in the first round of revision. Keeping a blog has been a great aid to my storytelling skill because it gives me the opportunity to present stories every day and try to give them maximum effect without worrying too too much, cause hey: it's just a blog.

The meditation is where the narrative slips away and I get to contemplate aloud on the meaning of things. Sometimes it is asking questions without answers and sometimes answers are proposed. In this particular piece there is almost no meditation going on. It's really only in the last paragraph. Originally I gave this a good four sentences or so and commented on love broadly, but in the first revision it was cut to only one or two sentences right at the end. The trick in most essays is to do the exact right amount of meditating, to lead the reader far enough to almost read your mind but not so far as to disallow them to draw their own conclusions. It's rarely something you can plan to do right; there's no formula for it. It's usually just a matter of tweaking and trying until it feels right.

The third thing, the what-its-really-about, is the hardest to define but probably the most important. It's the bottom line, the real story. When an essay doesn't work, it's usually because I haven't figured out what it's really about and thus the narrative and the meditation are at odds. It's like I'm saying, "2 + 2 = Robinson Crusoe"; I fail to connect, to maintain unity. This aspect of an essay not only dictates what the meditation can be about; it dictates how the narrative should be presented, what elements should be emphasized, what should be dropped entirely. Especially in a very short piece like this, it's essential that every word be accounted for.

So that's it: that's what is going through my mind as I reread and revise. Generally. At this time. My concept of craft and genre and style changes as time goes on.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let the Voting Begin!

Friends,

The four chosen contest entries have been posted below. Please read them and, in the comments, vote for the one you think is best. At the end of the week we will crown one the winner and I will begin crushing him or her—I mean, crushing on him or her. My mistake.

Why The Reverse Pretend Crush Is Not A Viable Life Strategy:

A Warning
by JSK


I’m not going to tell you about the many, all too obvious, reasons that the Reverse Pretend Crush (RPC) is not a good idea. I won’t waste your time pontificating about exactly how Reverse Pretend Crush selection might work (If you are willing to entertain that Person X has an RPC on you, what does that mean? Why Person X and not Person C? And, most of all, where my little narcissistic poet-of-a-brain goes, why not me?) It’s hardly even worth mentioning that the RPC seems like a way to protect yourself from the slings and arrows of outrageous real-crushdom. Like you’re caught forever in a Family Circus cartoon where Not Me is running around breaking things so Billy doesn’t have to take responsibility.

“David, who had his heart broken again?”

“Not me.”

(Not Me slouches in the corner of the frame, crying little ghostly tears and eating a stack of little ghostly Skor bars.)

It’s just pretend. But you see, from this word we can make rend, meaning to tear apart but we also can find tend, which is not only to care for, but also to give attention to. In pretending, Self-Protecting David Grover is able to simultaneously give attention to another yet also remove himself away from the commitment and possible rejection1 that the RC or RRC (Real Crush or Reverse Real Crush) might entail.

Additionally, it is not worth my time or effort to discuss how unfair this using-another-as-a-wacky-self-motivational-tool set-up is to the RPC. What if one begins to develop an RC on Irresistible David Grover but later come to find out all those J.Crew catalog-worthy outfits were not really to impress her, but were merely to pretend impress her. Tears, lots and lots of tears. And that’s why we’re not going to talk about that, there’s no crying in RPC-land.

Instead, what we need to focus on is the possibility of the RPC being infected during the up-coming zombie epidemic. Once zombified, the RPC will think back to Luscious-Locks David Grover and start to get very hungry. And let’s not forget all the witty things the RPC will remember Banter-King David Grover having said. The RPC will not care if it was only for pretendsies. The only thing the RPC will think of is David Grover’s brain and her mouth will begin to salivate. Now, all I’m saying, is that this is an issue that needs to be considered. And you can’t say you haven’t been warned. If the Way of the Reverse Pretend Crush is continued, I, for one, will not offer my assistance should said zombie epidemic come to pass, as you have brought this on yourself. If you insist on having RPCs, you’re on your own, Tasty-Cerebellum David Grover.


1 But seriously, who could reject Sweater-Shoe-Coordinated David Grover?

Why the Reverse Pretend Crush Is Not a Viable Life Strategy:

The True Danger
by La Cabra


There are a few reasons that the reverse pretend crush is not a viable life option—such as appearing arrogant rather than gallant or being so caught up in being the reverse-crush object's dream that you miss a true love opportunity. These, however, pale in comparison to the most dangerous reason to eschew the reverse-pretend crush: It becoming REAL.

Should the pretend-crusher pick up on the covert attention, the pretend may become real for the crusher. Then, not only do you have the inconveniences and discomforts of being actually crushed on, you run the distinct though irrational risk of thinking that perhaps you crushed on them first. Then, all confused, you feel obligated to allow the advances of the crusher until, never having had feelings for the crusher in the first place, you are forced to dump the crusher in the middle of your workplace after listening to him (or her, of course) sing a capella ALL the verses of "C'est Moi" from "Camelot" in front of your co-workers! (Trust me on this one.)

Pretend Crushed

by Mystery Girl

Living for the imagined opinions of others, let alone complete strangers, isn't living. It's turning fool and spy. I just wrote a paper on how the Fool in King Lear employs all the tactics of nonfiction authors. To be a fool or a spy is to be intelligent, witty, and always (always!) alone. As mythic rocker Jim Morrison wrote:

That's what real love amounts to—letting a person be what he really is. Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending—performing. You get to love your pretence. It's true; we're locked in an image, an act.
Katherine Hepburn took this self-sacrifice to another level when she said, "Acting is a nice childish profession—pretending you're someone else and, at the same time, selling yourself."

It's one thing to act on a stage, but in life, to sell this falseness in reality? The theory undermines self entirely. To pretend one is lovable is to admit one is not, maybe never can be. Pretend and Reverse Pretend Crushes are the ultimate insult. In a preemptive strike, the theorist rejects himself above and beyond the capacity of the outside world. He breaks something whole in order to avoid the chance of it falling apart unexpectedly. It is a fear-based thought process meant to procrastinate genuine human interaction. As we learn from "the immortal words of The Doors, 'The time to hesitate is through'" (Lucas, Empire Records). Real love exists beyond reason. It isn't subject to cosmological compatibility or moments in dark music halls. Real love is downtime, the "I'm so not attracted to you right now, but, man alive, I love you" time. Otherwise it is only as real as stage production, as infatuation, as Romeo and Juliet—a gross misrepresentation of the best stuff.

Why the Reverse Pretend Crush I Not a Viable Life Strategy:

A Call to Positive Action
by JM

A reverse pretend crush can be an effective paradigm if your ambitions don't exceed waking up on time and not dressing like a homeless man. If you actually want to accomplish things in life, you have to totally abandon the concept of the crush. It's childish and self-diminishing.

That doesn't mean that a reverse pretend meaningful-and-intimate relationship is any better. What it means is that if the only way to get out of bed is to lie to yourself, then there is a deeper problem that needs identification and correction. If you find it necessary to say to yourself each morning, "Oh! I had better dress fashionably to impress Betsy-Sue!" then you need to wholly re-evaluate your psychological state because the earthly truth is that Betsy-Sue doesn't give a damn about your Paul Mitchell styling gel or your Argyle dress socks, and if by some miracle she does notice how you've managed to mimic the model in the latest Banana Republic catalog, then you are inescapably caught in a maelstrom of emotions: has the reverse pretend crush gone too far? Has it become a real reverse crush? Will I break the reverse pretend crush rules by exploring his or her interest in my fashion sense? Has the prophecy been fulfilled, or is it mere coincidence? Both reverse pretend crushes and regular pretend crushes will end in sobs, though those sobs will originate from fundamentally different reasons.

Furthermore, pretend reverse crushing invokes an non-conscious and unfair attitude against the subject of the reverse crush. If you assure yourself that the reverse crush is truly pretend, then you will act accordingly and during discourse behave as though his or her words and actions are in some way complimentary toward you. At no fault of his or her own, the subject of the reverse crush will be exposed to a façade that is both demeaning and unprofessional.

As previously stated, it shouldn't require self-deceit to function in society. Don't depend on the false admiration of an acquaintance to inspire you to wear some clean clothes, shave every once in a while, and behave like a normal human being. Instead, do it for yourself. Do it for your friends and family. Contribute to your nation and to humanity for the sake of productivity and the benefit of mankind. Dress like you don't live under a bridge, not to incorrectly diagnose your fake-heart-throb's every move, but to generally improve the aesthetic value of yourself and your surroundings.

Don't involve someone else in your petty excuses. Grow up and face reality, and maybe someone will actually develop a crush on you for who you are, not for who you don't not pretend not to falsely not be.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Last Chance

Dear devoted Readers,

In my mercy (or maliciousness), I have decided to extend the contest deadline for one more day. So get off your duff, think for five whole seconds, and write your entry. Perhaps this equation will help you decide:


As you can see, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Revisions, Round 1

[ note for those who use Google Reader or some other RSS feed aggregator to read this blog: this post was written to include pop-up notes throughout the text, but unfortunately your reader cannot display these properly. I recommend going to the source to read this one, but if you can't be bothered, just know that the notes that normally wouldn't appear until you hovered over the asterisks are in plain sight here, probably in bright blue text. I here I thought Google could do everything. ]

My roommate Dave and I stayed up late batting ideas back and forth and arguing about what this essay is really about. It was terribly fun. He sat in his grandfather's easy chair, and I sat in my Salvation Army barcalounger. He pointed out things he really liked, and I graciously accepted the compliments. Then I pointed out things I really liked and demanded more compliments. Then we got to the business of improving the essay rather than my ego.

What follows is a marked-up copy of what we did so you can see how the piece is progressing. Deletions are struck out, and alterations are in red. I've also added some commentary to show what we were thinking when we made certain changes. I've marked these as green bracketed asterisks in the text, like this: { * }Boo! . To read the comment, just hover the mouse over the asterisk and it should pop up right there.

I'd also like to thank Dave for his honest criticism and his very valuable suggestions. No writing happens in a vacuum, and no piece ever really has just one author. So here it is:

Stars, Doubts, Girls
Sing, Dear Gemini

The other day Ash, Jake, Joey Steve, and I were dinking around the office talking, when someone brought up the idea of dating people with your same birthday. On the one hand, it was suggested, it could be neat and really, really convenient (as far as remembering one more important date memory goes1). But On the other hand, pointed out Ash, it might be dangerous, a form of "cosmological incest."

{ * }We just trimmed this for readability and correctness (Thanks, Steve, for setting me straight on the facts).

As the only one in the room that had actually pulled this off, I can say it does with any experience in this area, I assured them it did have a certain creepiness to it. I once dated a girl exactly one year younger than me, and it was weird, but not in the way you might think. The thing was that we had way more in common than just our birthday.

For one, we met at a concert. A concert we were both performing in. I was standing in the wings after performing my song for the BYU Guitars Unplugged concert a few years ago when I noticed that the girl presently performing on stage was pretty good. I mean, I don't want to rag on girls or anything, but the truth is that it's kinda rare to meet a guitar-playing girl who actually has good technique, good rhythm, and a good voice. And good song-writing skills.2 She had red hair, and this pink light was shining down on her like magic, making her all strawberries-and-cream.

{ * }Again, we're really just editing for smoothness here, cutting out anything extraneous and avoiding repeating words if possible.

Which brings me to the next thing we had in common: good looks.


Tom and I tearing it up at the concert.
You can't tell, but under my jeans my left leg
is in a splint since I had torn my ACL skiing
just a week or so before this.


Anyway, my brother got her number for me3 since he worked at the same place as her, and we went out a few times. I remember we went on a walk once early on and we were asking each other questions—you know those first-date-ish questions like "What's your favorite ____?" or "If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?"—well, I'd ask her one of those and silently be thinking up my own answer, and then she'd say exactly what I was thinking. It was weird. I asked her when her birthday was, and when she said, "June 11," I died. It was like I was falling in love with myself; it felt so wrong—but I was so attractive.

We sat in my living room and sang "Somethin' Stupid," crowding together around a sheet of lyrics as I shuffled out the chords on my guitar. She fell into the harmonies so naturally as to melt my bones.

{ * }I'm still not satisfied with the phrase "shuffled out the chords." I want to describe the rhythm and the sound just right—that latinish one trip-e-let and three and four grooviness that the guitar does. Does anyone know what that's called? Is it a cha-cha or something? There's the same groove in the Eagles' songs "Tequila Sunrise" and "New Kid in Town." It makes me think of being thirsty in a Mexican cantina somewhere.

Sometime midweek I realized that her initials were S. G. My initials, not counting my middle name, are S. G. Walking to pick her up for our next date, I reeled off D-names in my mind: Danielle, Darcy, Daphne, Deborah, Diane, Dawn, Dorothy, Drew. SDG: Stephen David Grover. SDG: Super Dateable Girl. June 11, 1981. June 11, 1982. SDG: Sensible Days Gone. June 11. June 11.

{ * }Here's where we started tweaking things for real. Notice that we moved the SDG phrases around to play with the dramatic pacing of this section. Doing this had another effect as well: it help define the meaning of each of these phrases more clearly. Dave really liked the SDGs, but in the cases of "Sense of Doom Growing" and "Sudden Death, Grover," he felt it was unclear exactly what I was anxious about.

SDG: Sensible days gone.


Sudden Death, Grover.

Sense of Doom Growing.


I knocked on her door, and practically before saying hello I demanded to know her middle name, sure it was—the greatest thing ever or the biggest mistake of my life—Desdemona or Deliliah or Davida.

{ * }The quick aside between the dashes above was a gutsy idea from Dave. On the one hand, it helps clarify that I felt both excited that I may have found the one and terrified that she might be too much like myself, but on the other hand, it interrupts the sentence in a weird way that may be misread.

Sense of Doom Growing.

"I don't have one," she smiled.

Sudden Death, Grover.

"Oh," I said.

So we were S. G. and S. D. G. { * }I left these dates the same as before but changed the one's above to be just the month and day. I'm hoping it will emphasize the sameness I was feeling before I got to S. G.'s house and the reality I encountered once there that we aren't the same.1981 and 1982. We went out a few more times, but nothing ever really happened. Perhaps we would've been star-crossed, ill-fated, cosmologically unsuited—we never got far enough to find out. Something Didn't Go. That's always been the real mystery for me anyway: why some loves catch and some don't. How all the tumblers can line up but still the key won't turn. It's almost a miracle when it does, when one person likes another at the same time that that person likes them—it's a shuttle-launch window, a total solar eclipse. It's a real miracle, and yet it happens uncounted times every day as our planet tumbles and rolls on to the stars.

How Something Didn't Go.

{ * }Endings, of course, are the hardest part to get right. This is just another try, to see how it goes. Although I really like the meaning behind the images of a space shuttle and an eclipse, it feels a little off topic. In an essay this tight and terse, you can't indulge yourself at all.

{ * }Also, I should say at this point that Dave and I spoke a lot about what this essay was really about. Was I happy or sad to see it not work out? Did I want it to work out or not? How do I feel about it now? Who knows? I can say that I was both freaked out and hopeful as I was getting into it (which I think I've conveyed here), and I was both relieved and disappointed when the sparks didn't fly. Have I said enough on this, though? Does it connect enough to the common experience of all people to be poignant?

1 My sister got married on my birthday, which has been great for me. I'm thinking of doing the same thing myself.
2 Before you jump to conclusions, let me explain. It's rare to find anyone, male or female, that combines all these skills. It seems like no one gets through college without learning a few chords and how to play "Free Fallin'" or that Green Day song that was the emblem of everyone's senior class a few years back. But so few ever take it further, ever learn how to really play. And given that the proportion of guitar-playing males to the skilled guitar-playing males is completely bonkers, and taking into account that there are that many fewer girls than boys picking up guitars to begin with, it follows that there are very very few girls who can do more than play third-rate Jewel covers.4
3 Actually he got a whole date with her. For me. What a bro: he asked a girl out on my behalf. That's going above and beyond.
4 If you were born after, say, 1989, change "Free Fallin'" above to "Wonderwall," "Green Day" to "Dashboard Confessional," and "Jewel" to—I don't know—"Michelle Branch"?

{ * }I'm still not sure "Wonderwall" is the best choice for this, but it's the best I could do at 3 in the morning. I need a young guitarist to set me straight—what are all the kids playing these days?

=============

Also, in the revision process I thought of several things that might be included in this essay that aren't yet. Rather than break my brain trying to fit them in at this stage of the revision, I've just written them down to consider as I go forth:

  1. "Somethin' Stupid": The song was sung by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, a father and daughter. That's kinda weird. Maybe I could draw a parallel between the near-incest feel of that and the "cosmological incest" feel of my relationship with SG? Also, I might consider using the phrase "something stupid" later in the essay to link back to the oddness of the whole situation, of singing those lines with this girl.
  2. The song SG played at the concert was one she wrote called "Movin' On," about how little she intended to worry about things, including failed relationships. Oddly appropriate. Also, the first song I ever wrote and performed publicly was called "Movin' On." No joke.
  3. The song I performed at the concert was called "The Sweetest Part"; I had written it about a girl who eventually broke up with me. I'm not sure if that connects at all, but whatever.

Well, that does it for the first round of revision. Hope it sheds some light on how this works and what I have in mind when I write. I'll post round 2 just as soon as I do it. All comments, suggestions, and opinions are welcomed.

What I Do, or Revising

As a grad student, I have a hard time explaining what exactly it is I do.

I mean, first off I can't even explain to people where I go to school. I go to Ohio University, not Ohio State University. It's in Athens, a tiny town in the country, not Columbus, the state capital. Our football team is in the MAC (which you've never heard of), not the Big 10 (which you can't get away from). OSU is the largest single-campus school in the country; OU is the oldest university in the state, first in the Northwest Territory (which gives you some idea how old it is—one year older than Joseph Smith, one year younger than Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Got that? OU, not OSU. Athens, not Columbus. Brains, not brawn, and certainly not money. Age, not size.

You don't got it.

What I do is even harder to explain than where I do it: I'm getting an MA in English. Creative writing, to be specific. Creative nonfiction, to be precise.

Creative nonfiction is a genre, like fiction or poetry. Only, unlike fiction, the stories must be true, and unlike poetry, there aren't so many line breaks. Most of the time. (The truth is that we are always stepping on each others' toes—hey, we're writers, not dancers.) To put it simply, creative nonfiction is true stories told well. It is things like personal essays, memoirs, or travel writing.

It is, really, like this blog.

But don't go getting the idea that me writing this is going to get me a degree. There is a fundamental difference between what I do for school and what I do for the web. And that difference is revising. Going back and looking again, wrestling with the words and ideas until they are as good as I can make them. It's craft. What I do is craft.

Get that? What I do is craft. Words.

You don't get it.

Which is why I've decided to share with you some of the process. On Wednesday I wrote a post called "Stars, Doubts, Girls" that wasn't like most blog posts I do. It had something more to it. I started with just a stolen phrase I thought was clever: Ash's "cosmological incest." But before I knew it, it was 2 in the morning and I had spent hours carefully laying out a story, balancing memories and observations that were nowhere near my thoughts when I started, and playing with words and timing to make it swing just right. I had been drawn in by the fun of trying to describe pink light on a red-headed girl and what I felt when I saw her. I had been drawn on by the accidental inspiration to use my initials to further the story and then drawn deeper by the need to think up as many SDG phrases as possible. In the end I felt I had come close to something, a truth both disappointing and hopeful.

Since it was a blog post, I published it then and there. But since I am a writer (and since my roommate demanded it), I'm not done with it yet. It bears revision; it can be improved. I'm going to craft it—that's what I do.

Tomorrow I'll post the first round of revision for your perusal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stars, Doubts, Girls

The other day Ash, Jake, Joey, and I were dinking around the office talking, when someone brought up the idea of dating people with your same birthday. On the one hand, it could be neat and really really convenient (as far as remembering one more important date). But on the other hand, pointed out Ash, it might be a form of cosmological incest.

As the only one in the room that had actually pulled this off, I can say it does have a certain creepiness to it. I once dated a girl exactly one year younger than me, and it was weird, but not in the way you might think. The thing was that we had way more in common than our birthday.

For one, we met at a concert. A concert we were both performing in. I was standing in the wings after performing my song for the BYU Guitars Unplugged concert a few years ago when I noticed that the girl presently performing was pretty good. I mean, I don't want to rag on girls or anything, but the truth is that it's kinda rare to meet a guitar-playing girl who actually has good technique, good rhythm, and a good voice. And good song-writing skills.1 She had red hair, and this pink light was shining down on her like magic, making her all strawberries-and-cream.

Which brings me to the next thing we had in common: good looks.


Tom and I tearing it up at the concert.
You can't tell, but under my jeans my left leg
is in a splint since I had torn my ACL skiing
just a week or so before this.

Anyway, my brother got her number for me2 since he worked at the same place as her, and we went out a few times. I remember we went on a walk once early on and we were asking each other questions—you know those first-date-ish questions like "What's your favorite ____?" or "If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?"—well, I'd ask her one of those and silently be thinking up my own answer, and then she'd say exactly what I was thinking. It was weird. I asked her when her birthday was, and when she said, "June 11," I died. It was like I was falling in love with myself; it felt so wrong—but I was so attractive.

We sat in my living room and sang "Somethin' Stupid," crowding together around a sheet of lyrics as I shuffled out the chords on my guitar. She fell into the harmonies so naturally as to melt my bones.

Sometime midweek I realized that her initials were S. G. My initials, not counting my middle name, are S. G. Walking to pick her up for our next date, I reeled off D-names in my mind: Danielle, Darcy, Daphne, Deborah, Diane, Dawn, Dorothy, Drew. SDG: Stephen David Grover. SDG: Super Dateable Girl. June 11, 1981. June 11, 1982. SDG: Sensible Days Gone.

Sudden Death, Grover.

Sense of Doom Growing.

I knocked on her door, and practically before saying hello I demanded to know her middle name, sure it was Desdemona, Deliliah, Davida.

"I don't have one," she smiled.

"Oh," I said.

So we were S. G. and S. D. G. 1981 and 1982. We went out a few more times, but nothing ever really happened. Perhaps we would've been star-crossed, ill-fated, cosmologically unsuited—we never got far enough to find out. Something Didn't Go. That's always been the real mystery for me anyway: why some loves catch and some don't. How all the tumblers can line up but still the key won't turn. It's almost a miracle when it does, when one person likes another at the same time that that person likes them—it's a shuttle-launch window, a total solar eclipse. It's a real miracle, and yet it happens uncounted times every day as our planet tumbles and rolls on to the stars.


1 Before you jump to conclusions, let me explain. It's rare to find anyone, male or female, that combines all these skills. It seems like no one gets through college without learning a few chords and how to play "Free Fallin'" or that Green Day song that was the emblem of everyone's senior class a few years back. But so few ever take it further, ever learn how to really play. And given that the proportion of guitar-playing males to the skilled guitar-playing males is completely bonkers, and taking into account that there are that many fewer girls than boys picking up guitars to begin with, it follows that there are very very few girls who can do more than play third-rate Jewel covers.3
2Actually he got a whole date with her. What a bro: he asked a girl out on my behalf. That's going above and beyond.
3 If you were born after, say, 1989, change "Free Fallin'" above to "Wonderwall," "Green Day" to "Dashboard Confessional," and "Jewel" to—I don't know—"Michelle Branch"?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Contest!

I, David Grover, am a fan of contests. I have an entire philosophy about contests. I enter every contest I can.

But now, faithful readers, it's your turn to enter a contest. Behold, the first ever Journey to the East contest:

The Reverse Pretend Crush Guest Post Contest


Here's the deal:
  1. Read "Reverse Pretend Crush," a post I posted last week.
  2. Write a guest post for this blog entitled "Why the Reverse Pretend Crush Is Not a Viable Life Strategy."
  3. Send it to me at groooover[at]gmail[dot]com by 11:59 pm this Sunday, Hawaii time.
I'll choose the best 3 posts and post them on this blog, and then you all will get to vote for your favorite one. The writer of the guest post that gets the most votes will get flowers and a box of chocolates and permanent pretend-crush status with me.*

So get reading and writing. For all you lurkers out there (those who read but don't comment), this is your big chance to quit being creepy. You have a whole work week to procrastinate, a Saturday to put it off, and a Sunday to get it done.


* Unless you're related to me. If so, you just get bragging rights against the rest of the family all this holiday season.

The Circleville Pumpkin Show

Last Friday I tagged along with the Kinghorns to the Circleville Pumpkin Show, a local event that's been held every year since 1904 or something. It's kind of a hassle to go to things like this—I always drag my feet and make up excuses and say I'll go next year—but I've been living a philosophy of saying yes to fun more, so when the chance arose I took it. It helped that I had spent the week getting mountains of stuff done through a combination of will, going to bed at 10, and rewarding myself with cream soda; by Friday, I actually had 7 hours to blow without any immediate deadline to worry about.



Here's Kate and I with the 1st place pumpkin. That ain't no Burger King crown—this picture doesn't do it justice. I could live inside that thing.



Here's me getting my fortune told by a computer. I'm pretty sure it was related to KITT.



Two words: Pumpkin Pizza. Also: Pumpkin Donuts. Also: onion rings, giant brats, pecan prailines. Also: Danger (see below).



Here's one of the main drags of Circleville in all its pumpkiney glory. The show fills five or six streets like this. Locals make a killing charging for parking in their yards.



Looking down from a ferris wheel.



The freaky thing about carnival rides is that you know they were built by gypsies, but you don't know whether gypsies adhere to the standards set by welders' unions and accredited-engineering-degree dispensers and local governments. You don't even know if the welding equipment was legitimately purchased and is up to code.



Gourds of all kinds are welcome at the Pumpkin Show.



I really don't know what to say about this. Is it a Halloween Tree? Is it a shrine to the Great Pumpkin?



Live it up: you're all going to be pies.



Here's where the danger comes in: The Fireball. Pretty much it's a 60-foot high circle with a roller coaster car attached. Some bum sits at the control and decides how fast and in what direction to spin you.



Our particular bum/conductor took great joy in letting us hang motionless for upwards of 20 seconds at a time, then throwing us through a spin cycle of a minute or so. Worst best ever.



And the place was crawling with Shriners! They made up a good third of the parade all by themselves, noodling around in tiny cars and playing in Dixieland jazz bands and strutting in lime green tuxedos. Classy. I need a fez.



This is the saddest individual I've ever seen. He was made entirely of patches and tears and was dragging an old broom broken in four places and held together with shoelaces.


Big thanks to Kate for remembering to bring a camera and for taking most of these pictures. See you at next year's show. And if you're in Texas this year, you should be going to this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Reverse Pretend Crush

Behold my latest invention: the Reverse Pretend Crush.

It's not what it sounds like.

You know what a crush is—it's when you feel all delicate inside whenever that special someone walks by. Crushes are great, but they can have pretty undesirable consequences (disheveled hearts, mainly).

And I'm sure you can guess what a pretend crush is: it's when you only pretend to have a crush on someone. The bonus here is that you still get to have something to get up for, to get dressed and be on time for, but you don't risk nearly as much. You still get to gush and groan and giddily write letters to your mission-bound siblings, but there is lots less feeling sissy about never getting up the nerve to say anything. Not saying anything is the whole point. Pretend crushes can get you though the low times when a real crush is inadvisable or unfeasible.

For a long time, pretend crushes seemed like the way to go, but then, against all odds, I discovered their hidden danger.1

So now I've invented a replacement, something I'm pretty sure is foolproof. It's the reverse pretend crush. The thing is this: instead of imagining you have a crush on someone, you imagine someone has a crush on you.

[This is the sound of your mind being blown. If you were wearing socks, they are now across the room. If you weren't wearing socks, look down.]

Genius. You go to work or school or church or wherever secure in the pretend knowledge that Such'nsuch has a secret crush on you. You try to catch him or her looking wistfully in your direction. You try to look cool and say intelligent things so as not to destroy the illusion that you are indeed crushable and crushworthy. You dress a little nicer in the morning, brush that hair a little more gallantly because, hey, someone will be noticing.

It's working for me. One day on the pretend crush diet and suddenly I can match like a robot running the latest matching software. Check this out:


I got up this morning and put on my favorite shirt. This Mossimo polo from Target recently surpassed my old brown bartender shirt (thanks Liz, Christmas '06) as my luckiest top.



Then I put on my favorite shoes. I spent months searching for the perfect pair of silver New Balance and weeks breaking them in (fashion isn't comfort, says Kate), but it was all worth it. It was even worth sending back the first pair when they weren't quite right (thanks Zappos for your excellent customer service and thanks Zach for bringing the glory of silver shoes to my attention).



Next I slid on this pair of super socks (thank you Gap clearance rack and thank you old Gap gift-card-found-in-my-wallet-from-Christmas-with-a-few-bucks-left-on-it). How I got them on under my shoes I'll never figure out.



Lastly I went downstairs to see what was hanging in the coat closet, and I noticed this sweater, also Mossimo and also from Target, but purchased at least 8 months before and long since forgotten. Can you even believe it?


Watch out pretend crush! You dead.

1I don't want to talk about it. Get me on a good day and liquor me up with cheesecake or cream soda, and then maybe I'll talk. Maybe.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kirtland

In an effort to make my brother jealous I present the results of my trip to Kirtland last Saturday:



'Twas beautiful weather in Kirtland, headquarters of the LDS Church from 1831–1838.


Had I lived then, I would've set my rocking chair here, on the porch of the Newel K. Whitney Store, and played Parcheesi all day.



The temple and the historical houses are pretty great, don't get me wrong. But the best part about Kirtland is this: a real working sawmill. It blows my mind that all you need to build this wood factory is a blacksmith and some guts. You just jimmy up some great big gears and some levers and BAM, you're cutting day and night. I gotta build me one of these.


Isn't it beautiful? Oh that I were a pioneer!


See, the waterwheel turns the gears,


and the saw blade goes up and down,


and the logs move back and forth and get cut into beautifully straight planks.


Ramming Speed!


Yeah, so who's jealous now? Who cares about pyramids and canyons o' the crescent moon and domes o' the rock? Who cares about the pillars of Hercules and deepest darkest Africa.

Shut up. You stink.

Last Year, IMAX


photo by Moo

Friday, October 3, 2008

Slight Modifications

Since moving in we've made a few slight modifications to the old Boo House. Allow me to show you:


click to see it nice and big


This is the Gravity Room.1 I put up a dark blue butcher-paper racing stripe to give the walls some color, and then I made some orange denim curtains to really snazz up the place. Dave kindly provided the lamps, the rug, the futon, and an endless assortment of books. Joel brought the six-foot-wide bean bag that's back in the corner. He also brought his projector, which you can see hooked up to a DVD player and some nintendos in front of the boarded-up fire place. It shines on an actual projector screen (like from a classroom) rather than an old sheet; we bolted it into the wall next to where this shot was taken. There's also a surround-sound system hiding out in various nooks. Joel also provided the nice painting above the mantel, which actually matches the room quite well, even though we didn't plan it that way.

I acquired that gorgeous green Barcalounger at a Salvation Army in Lancaster, OH. I went in there and looked around, the way you do when you're sizing up a thrift store, and in about a minute I had figured out that the only thing worth a dime in the whole place was this beautiful green chair. It was clean and comfortable and was without tears or stain or even many signs of wear, and it was just sitting there alone against the usual jumble of indecipherable furniture parts and blue-jean concoctions.

And it was the only thing in the whole store without a price tag.

I went up to the front to ask about it, just knowing that it would be like $80 since it was clearly such a find. The lady at the front didn't even know what I was talking about. "The what?" she asked.

"The green chair back there in the furniture. I was wondering how much it is."

"I'll have to go take a look, honey. Just a sec."

She seemed stunned to see it there when we reached the back of the store, like it wasn't supposed to be part of the inventory, like it was the office chair and some worker had thrown it out on the floor as a joke. I cringed for the moment she would name it out of my price range, out of my future (I had an Explorer full of Target dorm-room furniture outside and a wallet that was feeling the strain despite the considerable back-to-school discounts.)

"Twenty bucks," she said.

Sold.





1 I once had this dream where me and a bunch of friends (I think it was the gang from Scooby-Doo) were being given a tour of a brand new, as-yet-unopened skyscraper. The guide was taking us from room to room showing us all the incredible things that had been built into the building. Finally we reached the top of the tower and stood outside the central, pinnacle room, and the guide explained to us that all we had seen was nothing compared to what we would now see: the Gravity Room. The whole building had been built for this room to exist. It was new and incredible, and we were to be given the honor of seeing it in person before the whole world. I was dying to see what the Gravity Room held—an antigravity device? furniture on the ceiling? controls for the gravity of the whole city? a huge meteorite glowing with energy being fed into some fantastic machine? This was it, the moment I had waited for, the unveiling of the Gravity Room. Like, wow, Scoob. The guide went to the doors, reached for the handle,

And I woke up. I've spent my entire life trying to figure out what it is. I usually name a room in my house the Gravity Room in hopes that it'll inspire me to finish the dream, but who knows if I'll ever know?

Welcome to Boo House

After our landlord, Ms. Knight, married her high school sweetheart, Mr. Right, and informed us she would be selling the house and moving to North Carolina, Dave and I began the search for a new place. Friends were skeptical that we would be able to find anything comparable: 159 Grosvenor St. was a palace. It was a Sears Craftsman home, probably built in the 20s, reportedly for a local physician and his family. In 2008 it still had its original wood floors—though they were mostly covered by highly practical but thankfully new berber—and the crown molding capping the walls, the decorative columns framing the living room entry, and the woodwork around the windows, doors, and fireplace was still beautiful. The rooms were spacious and the ceilings high, and a second bathroom had been added some years before.

That's not what made it a palace, though. The thing that sealed the deal, that made us grimace at the news of changing ownership, was that Mrs. Knight-Right had been content to rent it out at a mere $1000 a month to four grad students—one tenant more than the legal limit of three unrelated occupants per house. And even though four of us split the rent, it only ever felt like two of us were living there.

See, the other two tenants were practically ghosts. Tom, a first-year masters student in the theatre department, spent pretty much all his time at school and on the stage. Even when he was home he pretty much kept to himself in the attic bedroom. I never saw him watch TV, never saw him do homework in the living room, and never saw him sit down and eat a meal—he would just microwave a Lean Pocket and stand over the kitchen counter before slipping back upstairs and out of sight. It wasn't odd for me to go a week without seeing him, or if I did it would just be for the second it took him to hit the bottom of the stairs and lock the bathroom door behind him (why he ever agreed to live on the third floor and use the first floor bathroom I'll never know).

Tony was even more absent. He actually lived an hour and a half away, with his wife, and only came into town for days he had class or taught. He would usually show up Monday morning pretty early and leave Thursday afternoon, but even when he was in town I'd see him more at the office than at home. The only thing I ever, ever saw him eat was popcorn.

I can count the times all four of us were in the same room on one hand. I can count the conversations I had with Tom and Tony on the same hand. Which means that Dave and I had the run of a beautiful three-story home with porch, swing, parking, basement, laundry, and more for a mere $255 a month each.

Finding a comparable deal elsewhere seemed, uh, unlikely.

But, as it turns out, I'm the second-luckiest guy in the world, and Dave is maybe a close third. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Boo House.1


It may not look like much on the outside, but this house is a real catch. Turns out it almost exactly the same as our old house but smaller. The floor plan is eerily familiar, but everything is five or six steps closer and there's no attic room. Instead, there's a nice walk-in shower, a laundry room on the first floor, a coat closet with a full-length mirror on the door, and a deck out back.

There's also a dishwasher—an insane luxury and a big selling point—but it is missing an important part, so it doesn't work yet.

Dave found the house a few weeks after Mrs. Knight-Righter gave us the news, and upon seeing it we knew we had found the house for us. There was only one problem: there was now only two of us since our ghost-roommates wouldn't be moving with us, and the house needed three to make the rent feasible. But where could we find a third warm body that wouldn't cramp our style of using the whole refrigerator and all the cupboards and all the furniture as if no one else were around? Should we sign the lease and then find a sucker or should we risk someone else leasing the house while we made inquiries?

Dave was a little worried, but I told him not to sweat it, that if God had thrown us a house with a dishwasher He'd certainly toss a roommate in on the bargain.

I went to church that very Sunday and noticed a guy about my age sitting near the back in street clothes. After the service I found out he was a soon-to-be BYU grad in Athens for just a few days to find housing for the next year when he'd be beginning a masters in history. "Looking for a house, eh?" said I.

And the rest is history. Joel, as it turns out, is a real champ. He's even better than a ghost-roommate, which is good, cause I don't want to live in a haunted house in a town that has five graveyards and a haunted insane asylum.


1 Haven't you always wanted to live in a house with a name? "See you this evening for whist at Pemberly, what?"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Recommendation

I mostly decline to give book recommendations. (I explained why here.)

But just in case you are looking for something to read, something new and perhaps unlike what you've read before, something that isn't just another novel or memoir, something that doesn't require a big commitment, something contemporary yet tested—

Just in case you actually would like a book recommendation, here's mine:

 

And here's why:

1. Each of these books is chock full of contemporary literature, but neither forces you to run the normal risk associated with new writing. You know what I'm talking about: you're browsing at the bookstore and you find yourself enchanted by the very very clever graphic art covering the latest by Ian McEwan or Jonathan Safran Foer or whatever, but besides the congratulatory blurbs on the back of the book you have no independent confirmation that this book isn't going to be a huge let down. You stroke the cover a bit and look around and find yourself drawn in deeper, towards the depths of the store, to the [Proven] Literature section, where old classics like Jane Eyre and Moby Dick are sporting similarly clever graphic updates on their old covers along with a century or so of success to justify their purchase. You're torn. You want to be hip, to be aware of the newest books on the block, but you don't want to wind up buying garbage.

With the Best American Series you need not worry. Every entry in this yearly anthology is triple-checked for awesomeness—once by its original publisher, again by the series editor, and again again by the guest editor for any given year. And it came out today—you can't get any more modern than that.

2. Even if, despite the fine taste of three editors, something in one of these books doesn't appeal to you, that doesn't mean the whole book was a waste. With essays, all you have to do is wait for half a dozen pages—or skip half a dozen pages—and you've got a new essay with a new author.

3. You probably haven't read many essays since high school and college ruined them for you by imposing deadlines and minimum page requirements. So if you've been steadily reading novels or memoirs and want a change, here's twenty or more short changes in one book.

4. I haven't actually read either book yet, so I won't be offended if you don't like it after all. (Somehow, recommending something I haven't read seems right. I recently sent E-style two CDs for her birthday that I had never even heard before.) I've never yet been disappointed with a Best American Travel Writing. On the one hand, every essay in it is loaded with heaps of fantastic knowledge about the world: it's the best kind of education. I've learned about eating whale meat in Iceland, the disappearing Aral Sea, the Pope's favorite ski lodges, and even Wilmington, Delaware, the credit card capital of the world. But even if I don't happen to be particularly interested in the place or topic of a particular essay, there's still the other hand: every essay is the account of someone's crazy adventure someplace. You can't lose.

The Best American Essays isn't as foolproof (since essay is a term widely interpretable) but it has the added advantage of being wide open for length and topic and style. I'm not out of the roman numeral pages yet, but I'm excited by the introductory remarks of this year's guest editor, Adam Gopnik. He seems to share my opinions of what an essay is.

6. They are self-perpetuating. Meaning (1) they come out every October, (2) if you like a particular piece you can look up the magazine or journal that originally printed it and perhaps find a whole treasure trove of reading you never knew you were looking for, and (3) they each contain a list of "notables" that were considered but not selected for the book, which you can look up on your own time if you still haven't gotten enough.

5. They're beautiful outside and in. Just look at that blue. And for those of you with an eye for typography, they have nice fonts, kerning, leading, gutters, and all that. Quite nice on the eyes. They have a nice heft too. My only concern is that they seem to be using a noticeably cheaper paper this year, thinner and grayer but by no means lousy.

So there it is. And in case you were interested, they also publish the Best American Comics, Short Stories, Mystery Stories, Nonrequired Reading, Science and Nature Writing, Spiritual Writing, and Sports Writing.

Read or die.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sailing

So on Saturday I went sailing for the first time in my life. It. Was. Awesome.

It all came about when I told JSK that I was planning on sailing to Antarctica as soon as I could save up the money. She basically said, "That's nice. My dad sails," to which I responded, "Can he take me sailing?"

See, the problem with saving all my money to sail to Antarctica is that it is a big commitment for something I know nothing about. I might not even like sailing. I might have irreconcilable seasickness. I might be opposed to so much cussing. Before last Saturday all I knew for sure is that I loved the idea of sailing, as evidenced by the list of books to the left here (at least 13 of which star the sea, not to mention all the ones currently next to my bed).

But now I'm sure. JSK, her husband Tim, and I drove up to Columbus to meet her dad at Hoover Reservoir where we saddled up his dinghy and hit the water. Mr. Schomberg manned the tiller while Tim and I acted as ballast. We sailed up the lake for an hour or so, zigzagging against the wind; Tim manned the jib on the port tack and I got it on the starboard one. It felt like flying a kite. The weather man had predicted rain but it was clear and sunny and windy: just perfect weather for sailing.

Click to see larger photos; see more at my facebook profile.

   
   


Huge thanks to JSK for making this salty sea dog's dream come true. Next stop: penguins.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Triumphant Return

I think this picture pretty much sums up the sort of entrance I'd like to make as I power my way back into the blogosphere:


"The Last Unicorn" ©1981
purchased for $1 from Goodwill by David Grover, also ©1981

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Short Story

I've been thinking for a long time about stories: about what they are and why they have such power over us.

You know what I mean. We are all constantly telling stories. We are dying to hear stories. The whole point of the telephone and all its descendants is so that we can more quickly and efficiently tell our stories. The newspaper is a daily dose of stories; all of television and cinema are stories. Even documentaries are stories—the good ones at least—and the ones that fail to make a story of their subject are often the ones we have in mind when we yawn at the idea of documentaries. Half of the songs on the radio tell stories ("Here's the thing—we started out friends..."), and for the other half we supply stories ("Every breath you take, every move you make..."), and we feel especially lucky when at a concert we hear the true story behind a song from the lips of its creator ("This next song is one I wrote after my girlfriend left me...").

The vast majority of scripture is story rather than sermon. The lessons and classes from my youth I still remember I remember because they were wrapped in stories; the teachers I remember most vividly were storytellers.

That much is given. What I haven't ever pinned down is why. Why do we love stories so much? Why are they so important and so powerful? What difference does it make whether a story is true or not?

Tonight I was watching a fine film when I realized one part of it. We—should I say I?—I love stories because they tell me who I am. Or rather, or more often, they tell me who I am not, which is just another way of telling me who I am. I am not, say, the Count of Monte Cristo, nor am I Edward Rochester. I am not Robin Hood. When I read them or see them, I can feel stirrings of antipathy or of common feeling. I say in myself, "I have never felt that way," or "I have had that experience," or, "I would not have acted that way." In seeing others—all others in all stories—I come to see myself: my boundaries come into focus. I can say, "I am not you; I am me," with more alacrity. Stories help turn the vast field of emotion and color that is my mind's-eye view of the world into a great big Venn diagram: "Here's where Rochester and I intersect; here's where we do not."

We all do this. How often have you interrupted a friend telling you about some experience at the grocery store to say, "If I had been there, I would've done this"?

Perhaps this idea offers a way to evaluate literature and literary merit. I know I am guilty of indulging in stories merely for the sake of not having to think for awhile. This summer it was five seasons of NCIS. I also often read just to find out what happens: notice the three Star Wars titles that have shown up on my list this summer. They weren't very good or all that exciting, and I certainly didn't feel any deep connection with Luke and the gang. I just wanted to see how things turned out (the Empire never struck back).

Seems to me these are lesser uses of story (not that there's anything wrong with recreation—I'm not so high-brow as that). It certainly feels different to read, say, Jane Eyre than to read Heir to the Empire. Jane tells me things I didn't know about myself. She makes me more of me.1

Not that it need be one or the other. Harry Potter, for one, has done all three for me. Not only have I been able to while away the hours countlessly, I've wondered intensely what would happen next, and I've seen myself in and out of Harry, Snape, and the rest.

So there it is. We love stories.

We love stories because they tell us who we are. They separate us from all other living beings.2


1 "I've always known myself," Jane says in the fine film I watched this evening. "But Mr. Rochester was the first to recognize me."

"Know thyself," goes the Greek proverb.

To be so lucky.


2 They also connect us to all other living beings, but that's another idea for another day. "Come in and know me better, man!"

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee."

Monday, August 18, 2008

How It Turned Out

Well, I slept until about 2:30 am. I think my body thought it was just a nap. After that I watched a movie, did a crossword or two, read.

Round two of this fight begins tonight!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Big Effort

Alright, it's time. Tonight I take back the night.

Somehow I've gotten turned around and I've been sleeping from about 7 am to 2 pm every day. It's weird. I tried several times to just stay up all night and on through the next day, but I haven't been able to make it without crashing in the afternoon. But today is different. I slept from 7 to about 11, got up and went to church (and stayed awake!), came home and made dinner, and then went to my sister's house—no napping! Now it's 8:50 and I'm going to go jump in my bed and sleep. Yay!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Have You Seen This?

This is weird and quite funny. But weird.

nograpesnonuts.com


I just listened to a monologue about dogs in ponchos—on a site about grape-nuts.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Game Night

Last night was the first Grover Family Game Night.1

The night began with a pre-game night game of Yahtzee, with Liz winning the first game and me winning the second. Yahtzee dances abounded.


After that I put on my Game Night clothes2 (including my lucky socks), and we congregated in the kitchen to formally initiate Game Night with a tribute to Sarah and Andrew, the two siblings who couldn't be there: a tap dance. From there it was a furious game of Don't Eat Pete played with peanut butter M&Ms.

Don't Eat Pete

Place an M&M on each of the faces on your Don't-Eat-Pete board. Someone leaves the room and the rest designate one face to be "Pete." Then the person comes back and eats one candy at a time until he or she chooses "Pete," at which moment everyone yells, "don't eat pete!" and the person's turn is over.

When Don't Eat Pete petered out we slumped into the living room to play the Thimble Game (which is extra fun with kids who can't actually count to a hundred.


From small and simple things is great meyhem brought to pass.
The Thimble Game

Everyone sits in a circle and the person who's It fills a thimble full of water and chooses a secret number between 1 and 100. Then each person in turn guesses a number, to which It responds "Higher" or "Lower," narrowing down the range of choices. When someone guesses the secret number, instead of answering, It flings the thimbleful of water on them.

When that ended we decided to have an add-on dance party, in which each person in the group adds a dance move onto the growing chain. When we had gone around the circle two times or so we pumped up the music and put it all together. Here is a video of (most of) us doing the dance—see if you can follow all the moves in order (the video starts on the Harris):
  1. the White Boy
  2. the Squid3
  3. the Batman
  4. the Harris
  5. the Maracas
  6. the Pistol 360°
  7. the Crow
  8. the Worm (barely)
  9. the Magic
  10. the Snorkler
  11. the Harris II
  12. the Brady Bunch
  13. the Break Dancer
  14. the Sarah and Andrew Million-dollar Move
  15. the Ecstatic Chipmunk
  16. the Jimmy Stewart
  17. the Monkey

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(If for some reason the video isn't here or doesn't work,
click right here to see the video.)


The Moore's showed up just as we were finishing our dance-off, which embarrassed them more than us.

The next game was a feat of skill: a blind taste test. We blindfolded three or four people at a time and saw if they could taste the difference between name brand stuff and the generic brands, if they could differentiate between close cousins like Pepsi and Coke or Cheezits and Cheese Nips, and if they could identify candy bars at only a taste (Whatchamacallit and Zero proved difficult). As a tribute to our hometown we even had people try to tell the difference between regular Dr. Pepper and Dr. Pepper made with Sugar Land's own Imperial Pure Cane Sugar.

Everybody did well and felt sugarsick.

From there we split up—some kids ended up watching a movie; some grown-ups attacked the cocktail weenies; Liz and I sampled the Cinnamon Cake with Cinnamon Frosting that was a month in the making.4 Pretty soon I got embroiled in a eight player Rummikub game 'round the dining room table. We had to mix both our sets (one old, one new), which resulted in a lot of puzzling over colors.5


All in all it was a pretty good night. More dancing than one would expect, but that's the Grovers, I guess.


1 As opposed to the first Grover Family Luau, which has yet to happen.
2 read "clean clothes"
3 This summer's hottest dance move, and my own personal Yahtzee Dance.
4 Special thanks to Amy for sharing that post; find the recipe here. I slightly altered it—before step one insert Step 0: "Try to get someone else to make this and otherwise generally procrastinate for four weeks."
5 See tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Two Complaints

1. Google Reader.

Don't get me wrong—I like and use Google Reader, but it has just one major flaw (that I know of): it strips all the formatting out of the websites it displays.

For those of you who don't know what Google Reader is, it's a program that keeps track of all the stuff you regularly read on the internet. Like, say you read a dozen friends' blogs everyday, scan a few webcomics, and maybe like to check to see what's new at apple.com or something. Instead of having to go to each website individually to check if anything's been updated, you can just enter each site into your Google Reader and it will check for you, grab what's new, and show it to you to read. It saves a lot of time and effort (you can check it out by finding the "reader" button on the top of Google's homepage, perhaps under the "more" button).

But what it doesn't do is show you the actual websites themselves. All you get is the text and photos displayed in simple black on white. Which is all well and good, but where's the joy in that? People go to a lot of trouble to make things look nice on their blogs and stuff—they pick nice colors and fonts, interesting layouts, and constantly update endless sidebars—but I'm not getting to appreciate any of that anymore. All I get is the naked text. So democratic. There should be a button on Google Reader to open a tab to each updated page in one click.

2. Local News.

Forget all the hype about a liberal media bias, the true culprits of funky journalism are the local cats. All I see, in no matter which city I live, is an endless war between stations offering the most accurate weather team, the most hard-hitting investigative journalism, and the most local local-interest stories. It's shameless and irrelevant.

Watching them squeeze every possible drop of story out of nothing makes me sick. Seeing them attempt to wield executive powers several steps beyond "investigating" is troubling. Seeing my neighbors actually tape their windows today in anticipation of a tropical storm making landfall today is laughable—and certainly the result of overhyped, quarter-hourly updates by our city's opportunistic news media.

My writer friends and I often talked derisively (and somewhat jealously) about bad literature, bestsellers, tell-all memoirs—stuff we find distasteful or dishonest about our field. I don't know what my journalism friends talk about, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was it.