Friday, March 30, 2012

One Character In Search of an Author

For today’s blog, I’m participating in a nifty little exercise circling the Twitterverse: writers doing character sketches of themselves.

Blogger Isabel Costello kicked it off and another blogger Susan Elliot Wright took it a step further, unleashing it on Twitter.

Isabel makes the case that like people, characters are influenced by their ancestors, environment, habits, personality and skills. The exercise is designed to help writers think of their characters as real people, but also, it’s been a neat way for folks typing away for far too many hours a day to get to know each other a bit.

And so, my character sketch of, er, me is below. If you’d like to share one of your own, please do! And share it on Twitter under  #realcharacter.

I come from a fairly stubborn and driven mix of genes—Italian, Slovak and Polish, to be exact. I believe my ancestral lineage largely explains my love of all things doughy: pasta, bread, cake…really anything made with any kind of dough whatsoever. I’m not very choosy. I blame my ancestors for my hips. 

I come from the suburbs of Cleveland, a city that seems to get so little respect but was such a lovely place to grow up and, now, to visit. It’s been nearly two decades that I’ve lived in New York City and called it home. People say that officially makes you a New Yorker, but I will never be one. I’m a polite Midwest transplant through and through. Except on those rare occasions when I completely lose my mind if a taxi/car service refuses to heed my directions and instead takes a traffic-choked, roundabout route. At those times, like, say, on the day of my wedding, I will wreck you with words, storm out of the car, look over my shoulder, white gown a flowin’ to yell more obscenities at you, then meet my horrified husband for pictures. Alarmingly and quite embarrassingly, a true story.

I used to run for miles and miles before my knees and hamstrings staged a revolt. Now I run less and instead subject my body to the rigors of Bikram yoga. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like a workout unless I feel like I’m about to pass out. That makes me sound so much more intense than I actually am. I really am much nicer…I mean, unless you’re driving me around, ignoring the advice I’ve given.

Also, I adore dark chocolate and consume entirely too much of it. Because it has similar benefits as red wine (I read that on the Internets, hence, it's true), in my house, chocolate is akin to a health food.

I’m starting to not like my character sketch…God, what does that say about me? It’s funny when you start pulling out little bits of a person, how large they can read if not supported by anything else. Let’s make me rounder.

Maybe this is just because I’m no longer in my '20s (or, ahem, my '30s), but I tend to be cautious, too concerned about stepping on toes, or being too bold. In a roomful of people, I’m not the woman who confidently goes up to strangers, introduces myself and starts talking. I’m the gal loitering around the bread and cheese station hoping someone comes and talks to me. It’s crazy to think that I was a reporter for a decade when meeting strangers and talking to them was the essence of my job. Perhaps I’m complex?

Despite the occasional screaming banshee that unleashes itself, I’m actually a softie. I cry at ASPCA commercials, at any sort of report of animal cruelty/neglect, really. The Muppets have been known to do me in emotionally as well, along with my 8-year-old nephew’s handwriting, which is honestly the sweetest thing I’ve seen all year.

Our pup, all 12 pounds of him, owns me. That woman being led around by a blonde Shih Tzu, the one who’s kowtowing to his every need, every desire? The one giving him yet another treat? That’s me. Alpha, I am not.

The one thing I’m actually quite good at is cooking. Aside from writing (which, let’s be honest, the jury is still out whether there’s an iota of talent there), cooking is my passion and my hobby. It’s what I’m doing when I’m not sweating, yelling or walking the dog. I make my own chocolate truffles, preserve my own organic Meyer lemons and cook dinner nearly every night for my husband and me. Of course, I also set an entire side of salmon ablaze one summer while grilling, but that was years ago. And, I feel the need to keep pointing this out to my family: No one was injured! Sheesh.

Something else I do every year: write a picture book for my nieces and nephews. That’s part of their Christmas gift. I take photos (elaborately staged shots of the pup, his toys and, occasionally, produce), write the story and have it professionally bound. In fact, in five households, I can proudly say, my picture books are a trilogy. So, suck it, Hunger Games!

One More Thing
Everyone’s life has a turning point, and mine is no different. It was nearly seven years ago, at 34th Street and Second Avenue, the place where I met my husband. On that sunny day, my head had no idea what was happening, but my heart most certainly did.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Muppet vs. Tribute

I saw two movies this weekend, The Muppets and The Hunger Games. Both hold dear places in my heart. The Muppets is the best of my childhood, felt-covered and silly tinged with just the right amount of poignancy. Katniss & Co., the dystopian trilogy that I fell head-over-heels for last year, is edgy and horrifying, offering an entirely different kind of life lesson, one that’s decidedly non-Muppet-esque.

I was hoping for sweet with The Muppets, a bit of Kermie and Piggy nostalgia—what I got was such a powerful pulling at the heartstrings, one that was so overwhelming I spent most of the movie crying. What I was sobbing for is complex, as these things tend to be if you’ve been busy rushing through the years of your life and have forgotten to check-in with your inner child. Like, literally check in. I’m a big believer in the importance of stopping on occasion and detaching from adulthood. Sometimes you have to find your old teddy bear and hug him, or slip on that frayed friendship bracelet around your wrist and wear it around for the day. Sometimes, it’s critically important that you do a cartwheel in the grass. Just so you remember. Just so you always stay a little young, a little innocent.

I must not have been doing that of late, because The Muppets wrecked me emotionally—in the best, remember-this-sweetness kind of way. Maybe I’m just a softie at heart, but in our snarky world, our 140 character-obsessed culture, sometimes you’ve got to let that façade fall by the wayside and let your emotions skate so close to the surface that you can’t help but be suffocated with feeling. That’s when the good stuff is unearthed, the pure you—the you before “real world” worries took up permanent residence in the middle of your chest. So, if you haven’t seen The Muppets, do your inner popsicle-licking, bike-riding, softball-playing kid a favor and rent it. It’ll make the spring that much sunnier, I promise.

Shifting gears…for all the emotional props I give The Muppets (to say nothing of the smart, funny script and great songs), The Hunger Games could not have been a bigger disappointment. How anyone could have taken that book and transformed it into something soulless and ho-hum remains a head scratcher, long after you’ve brushed the last popcorn kernels from the front of your shirt.

I mean, where to begin? The needlessly nausea-inducing camera shots throughout the beginning of the movie? The hopelessly inept script? The refusal to dig deep and show anything more than a passing characterization of anyone? Katniss’s character was summed up by her wearing a braid. Cinna? He wore gold eyeliner. And forget about plot lines that were completely dropped. At the end—don’t worry, no spoilers here—I felt nothing. And if you’ve read the book, you know how much you felt at the end, how much you felt throughout the entire thing. The movie? Not so much.

I will say this: Jennifer Lawrence was terrific with the lackluster script she was given. It’s a considerable feat that she did what she did with so little. Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson? Also terrific casting, along with Donald Sutherland, who, quite honestly, could sit on a stool in a bare room eating a cracker and I’d be entranced. But here’s the thing, they did a good job with what they had, but it ended up not being enough. They could have been fully fleshed out characters in compelling scenes, but they weren’t. As for Lenny Kravitz, he was the non-Cinna as far as I was concerned. In the book, Cinna is fabulously flamboyant with a rebellious streak. We got none of that. And Peeta? I’d write something about that actor’s performance, but I’d be so bored by it I can’t even be bothered.

The unfortunate thing is, it’s not like someone had to go and make stuff up for these characters—scenes, personalities or back stories. It’s all in the book. Why the book wasn’t adhered to more is a mystery. Had the writers/directors/producers not read or seen Game of Thrones? Or, here's a thought, did they not even read The Hunger Games? Hollywood, all I can say is you better tighten it up before the next movie in this trilogy is made. Audiences won’t likely be so forgiving next time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Siri, How I Loathe Thee

I’ve developed a deeply passionate, borderline irrational hatred for Siri.

Her cloying voice. That smug beep signaling when it’s her turn to talk. The way her chirps scrape at the eardrum. I loathe them all. Actually, my contempt extends to anyone relying on Siri. For anything.

I should clarify something. Every feeling expressed here (all of them bad and, frankly, unattractive…I do have a measure of self awareness) stem from watching a single commercial that’s been playing ad nauseum for what seems like years. Ok, maybe weeks, whatever. Yes, I watch too much TV. Yes, I blame husband (self-awareness, after all, has its limits).

Back to that commercial and people who, in my honest estimation, should not be given the technological crutch that is Siri. Take those fools who are on some sort of trip and stop what I can only assume is mid-way through to ask Siri for directions. Did you honestly pack your bags, put on your winter coats, leave your house in the dead of night and then—only then—think to ask for directions? Oh yeah, outside? From a phone? Guess what? You deserve to get lost.

Then there’s the woman who leisurely picks up her phone to ask in a honey-tinged voice with a passing bit of curiosity what the weather is like. Because turning her head to glance out the nearby window is entirely too tasking. (Yes, it’s sunny in the shot—don’t think I haven’t triangulated and analyzed every aspect of my ire.)

Someone else asks Siri what the day looks like—using more energy than would be required to tap the screen with a finger and look at the calendar. Way to find a shortcut, for a gentle touch.

Which finally, and, I know, most mercifully, brings me to the teen who fancies himself a “Rock God.” At this point in the commercial, I’m hurtling so many expletives at the television, it’s an embarrassing commentary of where I am tolerance-wise at this stage in my life. My therapist has recommended I slowly back away from this paragraph…slowly…before I say anything I regret…..HOW ABOUT THIS? HOW ABOUT I CALL YOU $%&*@! DOUCHE???!!! Too late.

So, what I’ve laid bare here is unsightly, yes. Alarming? Most definitely. Something to be pitied? Without a doubt. But putting me and my angry obsessions aside for a moment, I truly think there is a problem when we as a society start relying on demon seeds like Siri. Before you know it, we’re going to be like those people in the movie Wall-E who float around on chairs all day, sipping slushies from straws and relying on technology to do everything for us.

Do you know what I’d like to see? Siri start talking back to people, really start telling it like it is. Someone asks her what the weather is, her response is: “Look out the muther$%^&*# window.” Ask her what time it is: “Next time, wear a %&*# watch.”

If nothing else, it’ll make for better commercials to watch this weekend while I’m fully reclined sipping my slushie.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Frigid Wait

Things are about to get a little more challenging for my hips.

A new frozen yogurt place is opening down the block—not a grubby Tast-i-Delight, or an oh-so-2009 Pinkberry (which is actually on the next block). No, dear people. This one is going to be a veritable fro yo nirvana—the kind like they have in L.A. that has 12 different self-serve machines and a massive bar of topping delights that you can heap on yourself. I mean, your yogurt. Heap on your yogurt.

In the words of the brilliant and reliably pithy Tina Fey: I want to go to there.

And so I did…with my suitcase. I’m sorry, it was implied that I’ll be relocating there toot suite—you got that, right? Note to self: must forward mail to new address. Also, must tell husband where he can find me.

But I digress. I arrived last week with my suitcase and the pup (because I’m responsible that way), ready to hunker down to an afternoon at the topping bar when I was rebuffed. Now this was an affront on so many levels, the most glaring of which was because the big banner outside the store plainly stated: “Coming in March!” There’s an exclamation point at the end of the sign. It’s written in a cheery, red script that right now—good God, I can see it from my window taunting me as I write this—is lying. Lying to me, to all of Second Avenue, nay, to all of Midtown East! Last time I looked it was March. Wait, did daylight savings time change the month? Did something else happen with the calendar I wasn’t made aware of? Are the Mayans to blame here? The Aztecs?

When I rolled my suitcase into the disappointingly unfinished store and posited these very questions to the worker man inside, he shrugged, crushed his cigarette out on the floor and offered up some sort of explanation about wall coverings needing to be finished before he told me to stop unpacking.

“Damnit, man,” I told him, forgetting for a moment that I wasn’t Dr. McCoy from Star Trek. “We don’t care about the bloody décor—just get the yogurt machines installed!”

“Seriously, lady,” he said. “Stop unpacking your suitcase and leave.”

Which I did because there wasn’t a dresser or anything to put my clothes in. Thanks to Crate and Barrel, that will all change in eight to 10 days.

That reminds me, I should have a bed sent too.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Seems Like Old Times

Maybe it’s the rain today, but I’m feeling a little nostalgic.

I’m having dinner tonight with an old friend. Many, many years ago, we were writers and editors together at a couple weekly papers here in the city. Our office was one of the filthier ones in Manhattan—possibly the tri-state area. It was one of those buildings in the West 20s that city inspectors hadn’t visited in decades (possibly ever).

Upon walking onto our floor, you would have thought you’d stumbled into a squatters’ camp, but no, this was our place of business. The main newsroom was like something ripped from an episode of Hoarders. That’s how much crap was piled atop surfaces, tucked into grimy corners and shoved under tables. That's how abjectly filthy this place was. The pieces of “furniture” were castaways from some moving company that would unload rickety particle-board desks and mildewed chairs on the cheap (in exchange for ad space, natch). And the bathrooms….suffice it to say, Alcatraz had better facilities. I frequented the office restroom only once, on my first day of work. From then on out, my friend and I would go to the cleaner, better lighted and more secure restrooms in Penn Station. To put this into perspective, dear readers, this was the late ’90s.

Surprisingly enough, from within this dingy office space, amid such squalid, and it must be said, off-the-wall weird working conditions, my friend and I turned out some terrific journalism. And even with the puny pay, the nonstop hours, the annoyance and irritation that comes with any sort of journalism job early in a career, we had a blast. Not only that, but this gritty little shop we worked at attracted serious talent, the kind of talent that’s gone on to The New York Times, New York Magazine…hell, there’s even been an Oscar winner. And of course, yours truly, blogger extraordinaire, hopeful author and consumer of all things chocolate.

So, tonight, my friend and I will get together and reminisce a little, strategize about our next career moves and undoubtedly run down the list of eclectic folks we worked with back in the day and wonder what happened to them. But most of all, we’ll have appreciation for that dirty place where we met and slogged over words together—in some strange way, that crazy job helped propel us to where we are today, and where we’re headed tomorrow.

Somehow, that makes all those trips to Penn Station's restrooms worth it.