Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Firsts

SO it's nearly been a week since I mused on this here blog. I can't say I've been busy, because I'm pretty much running my own schedule here, sans deadline to boot. But I have been gettin' down to some first-evers, so with that I'll lay it out in a list -- and invite more to lay bare their firsts of late.

1. Ordered running shoes online. Mine are getting bare, I know exactly what kind I want -- and it turns out Brooks Radius Cushion are discontinued. (Plus, online shopping is so fun in the U.S! Free shipping everywhere, constant sales, Saturday service!)

2. Sewed an EASESTITCH. I'm not sure that's a technical definition for this loose stitch line on my Vogue pattern for this wraparound dress I'm making, but I think I get its purpose.

3. Ordered scotch at a bar. And with the future in-laws, no less! I swear the drink is in my blood, and the occasion gave me the opportunity to tell about the time my mom gave my 90-something grandmother Glen-something cylinder ... w. socks inside. In any case, it took me forever to drink it and it was nice and watered down by the end, I think it's a good choice. I think.

4. Walked with weights. 8 lbs. in each hand kicks yer ass. Or at least it forces you abs/ core/ back muscles to step it up. Next we'll try it in the foot+ of snow that just came down.

5. Owned a purse. As of last night the Prada-knockoff that I borrowed for the NYC trip is mine. The in-laws to-be have had their fun laughing at my tote bag, which I got free with my ING Half-Marathon registration last year. It's hardly a bag, it's cheap synthetic material sewn together, it's only meant to last for the duration of race weekend. But it carries a book, a magazine, and a whole bunch of other, extra crap so well! (Actually, so does this purse).

6. Bought oven mitts. I could be wrong here. I'm not completely new to the salad days, and in relationships past I may have purchased such an item. But I can't remember so I'm voiding that possibility, especially because the purchase allows me to make some interesting observations about my hosts. Lots of cheese. Homemade soap. Acres of forest out back.

And yet ... no oven mitts. Or bathtub plugs (even though they do a monthly soleil bath). Hmm. No dustpan, either.

It's times like these I have to avoid making sweeping generalizations about Americans. (And just visit the dollar store for them).

7. Burned poetry. I had brought a file of saved poems, hoping to re-work them in the peace and quiet that's been afforded me this month in Thomaston, CT. But when I looked back at them, for the most part, I just wanted to move on, with a nod to dark times of the past and what they've done for me. I have burned gifts and sentimental relics from relationships past, but I've never actually put to flame my scribblings.

But we needed kindling for a very wet fire, and, in my self-appointed role as recycling ambassador in this house, I already had a nice box of paper prepared. Toss in some sexual frustration, a grieving daughter, detailed accounts of sibling rivalry, and the fire roared.

8. Watched a live wrestling match. Before I met my fiance, my knowledge of wrestling was based on Olympic coverage and Saturday morning WWF matches; when I was a kid, my best buddy and her family of gregarious Greeks would school me in headlocks, body slams, tag teams, and everything else for show-style fights.

Now that Alex is a coach for the Grade 7/8 team, I'm getting the inside scoop. And last Thursday, I was up in arms over a 105-lb kid who couldn't keep the blood in his nose long enough to get pinned! Enough already! Go Bears!

9. Considered applying for a reality show. For the sake of my wedding guests I'll leave it at that.

10. Posted/ hosted a debate on Facebook. Most of the stuff on my FB page is light and fluffy. I eschew 'applications,' rarely give or receive gifts, never add or remove info. But I picked up something on Twitter and, wanting to respond but unsure of how to approach the original poster, I posted a paragraph and a ling on my Facebook page. A former colleague got in touch to say she'd just posted the same thing to Twitter, and a former editor chimed in with his two cents on the subject.

And it was fun, a whole new experience, to have Facebook act as a conduit for assertive discussion and not just a rallying place for various fantastic people/ events/ photos/ etc.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stumbling onto my own perspective

The running here in Litchfield County is improving, and today I threw caution to the wind and headed south (? better: right) on Hwy. 6 down Naugatuck Valley.

Or should I say up. The hill just kept going and Craig Norris talked a bit too much in the first ten minutes of the R3 30, so it was a struggle at first and I was counting the minutes (15 in total) that I would run in one direction before allowing myself to turn around and head home (which is, somehow, also terribly uphill).

But just as I hit the crest of the hill, I noticed a driveway, or at least an inlet of sorts, on my right hand side. (If you happen to be using this as a map of the Valley, I run on the left hand side. Obviously).

It was majestic. It was daunting. It was something from that movie The Fugitive only way less extreme. It was the Northfield Brook Park entrance to the Thomaston Dam.

I jogged down the gravel pathway atop the dam, noted that rappelling and ice climbing are not allowed, imagined my buddies back home sneaking out after dark to get up to such mischief, and turned around.

It wasn't until I reached the halfway point down the gravel pathway, which sort of had the feel of a gangplank, that I stopped to take in the view. The river below was rolling high, roaring with the rain of the past week. The trees, mostly deciduous, formed a fuzzy, familiar blanket down the Valley, and if I leaned one way I thought I could see the graveyard, er, cemetery, that usually acts as my run-to spot. Facing the other direction, I could understand for the first time why it's always uphill in Thomaston: it's a narrow valley, and the town follows the riverbed while never really exposing it as a natural attraction. So if you're not climbing, running, or driving uphill, you generally feel like you're about to fall over a cliff.

Does that make sense?

In any case, standing up on the Thomaston Dam gangplank, it made sense to me. Something about the town clicked for the first time. And, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I realized something else about my relationship to this town -- and the development of my relationship to this town.

It's all seen through the eyes of my fiance, who has a bit of a love/ hate thing going on with his birth place. When we first met in Hawaii he couldnt' stop talking about it. Upon returning, and noting that almost 100% of it's inhabitants have noticeably lighter skin than yours truly and driving around at 10:30 on a Saturday night looking for a coffee house with chill music that, apparently, doesn't exist, he's disenchanted, to say the least.

At the Dam today, I imagined Alex taking me there, sweeping his arms at the bounty of the land and pointing out locales from his youth. In that fantasy, I was bitter. I felt the chill of my own sarcastic take on life -- the park has U.S. Army written all over it, and they're an easy target these days -- and saw my cold shoulders scurry for the comfort of the car.

I think this can be summed up with a comparison.

Alex likes to watch movies with other people who have already seen that movie and love it. I find this quite irritating, what with all the expectations and ruined punchlines. I prefer to find movies; sure, I like to share them, but I already know Alex and I have different movie tastes (last night, when the coffee house fantasy flopped, he settled for Tropic Thunder from the local Red Box).

In short, I like to stumble upon my own vantage points, all pumped up on my own endorphins. A part of me is even hesitant to share this blog with Alex, preferring to hold this mornings' experience as some special discovery in My Own Private Connecticut.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On Sullivan's Why I Blog

OK, so I'm late reacting virally to this manifesto. But my delay can be directly related to one of the points in the article.

And, because the piece was so choc full of reflections on the state of, and projections for the future of, all things bloggy, I'll stick to this one point.

It came at the end, when Sullivan was wrapping up his argument for blogging and it's place within literature. It came when I, having slipped off for a wee sunset-hour nap, stood up, said hello to the home-from-work fam, and returned to the comfort of my couch to finish the article. (It's no dis to the piece, I swear I have narcolepsy).

Throughout the piece, Sullivan defended the blogosphere, comparing (good) blogs to Pascal's Pensees, deconstructed his own development as a blogger, etc. And throughout the piece he insisted on the potential for the peaceful co-existence between conventional journalism and blogging. But it wasn't until his conclusion that it really hit home.

You see, I'm blogging -- and living, for the month -- at my to-be in-laws, at the top of a hill in a small town in northwestern Connecticut. Occasionally I attempt to make real-life connections with the people of this town, but I generally live in this one corner of the house (where I've found a one-to-two-bar wireless connection!)

Day after day I plan my reading, researching, pitching, etc., unable to live without a deadline (see previous post). Yesterday I decided to take a different approach and embrace this temporary state. I would read (picked up back issues of New York Mag,Psychology Today, Atlantic Monthly and Self -- Thomaston does have a library, thanks goodness).

Sure enough, as soon as I cast off the boxes of which magazine, which issue, which editor, which angle, which department -- in general, as soon as I stopped compartmentalising my whole approach to reading and researching, the ideas came. (When will the incandescent light bulb be replaced by the compact fluorescent as the symbol of a good idea? And is this delay a symbol in itself?)

OK, OK, I'm rambling ... but such is the way my playful mind works when my drill sergeant mind lets loose it's grip. I pause and look around and make connections -- sometimes days after reading the piece.

Feeling frugal (who isn't?) and limited by back issues, I've been trying to read online. Almost made it through this Walrus article on beards. (Maybe it's in their blog section, but it's long and 'full' enough to be an article). I did get through a short story by Claire Gibson on Joyland.

But after a few hours of scrolling, interrupted by the occasional tweet/email/chat I decided to head to the couch. And that's where I met Sullivan.

I had tried to read this a month ago, when the listservs were all abuzz with it. I made it to page three -- and I was proud of myself for that.

So how justified was I feeling when, having made it through the whole piece, Sullivan closes by comparing the act of reading online (using a "querulous, impatient,a distracted attitude") to the experience of "opening a novel or a favourite magazine on the couch. Reading on paper evokes a more relaxed and meditative medium."

Of course, Sullivan wasn't arguing one is better than the other. But for me, for this month sans deadlines, I think I'll risk narcolepsy and stay on the couch.

(Until I get an idea I want to bounce off the blogosphere, or find a person I want to track, or a new publication I want to write for, or ...)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fairytale of New York

With the wedding plans completely up in the air and my stay-at-home role making me a bit edgy, today we headed for NYC to check out dresses with my 'Hollywood' sister-in-law to be, Katheryn. She'd be in the Big Apple anyway, and her buddy, Brazilian designer Ana Maria, was also in town ... Katheryn was stoked, and when this girl gets excited it seems anything is possible.

SO I jumped on the chance to have this model/ actress/ one-woman army take me under her wing for a little couture comfort.

Just walking through the bustling Christmassy streets with this new family had me looking up. Up to a sky that was clearing up, across to the Sally Ann bell-ringers who actually sing bee-you-tiffully, and through the sea of shoppers to catch kids' smiles. Before we even arrived for my private fitting I had a new skip in my step.

It wasn't my first trip to New York -- that special visit came earlier this year, when Al and I escaped the parents for a couple days of bumming around Central Park, Times Square, and various pizza joints. Before that, NYC was pure legend, coloured mostly by that classic Pogues tune. (Classic -- and sad, as it always reminded me of one failed relationship and the Christmas that followed).

That skip turned into a bit of a teeter when I arrived at Ana's apartment. The place was so clean, so full of designer clothes ... and I always feel grubby in those kind of situations. But I scrubbed hard that morning, and even shaved the day before in anticipation of the many eyes that would be sizing me up, so I kept my cool as I tried on backless, floor length gowns, fun frocks, and 4" heels that definitely made me feel like a little girl playing dress up (she has size 11 feet!)

But before long I had the dress.

Now, I did have some reservations about picking the first one that came to me. I suggested we should check out some bridal salons while in the city, so that I could know for sure that I didn't want some thousand dollar costume I'd never wear again. But the more people I talked to the less attractive this experience appeared. Apparently those bridal folks can be pretty mean, trying to restrict the number of dresses you try on, and they don't even keep numerous sizes in stock! They PIN -- and at 5'1", they'd be doing a lot of pinning.

Did I need a witch to complete this fairytale? I don't think so.

So we measured some alterations in the comfort of Ana's awesome pad -- the dress will be made in Brazil, bringing a fun cultural element to the dress -- and we were soon making plans for pizza en route to Grand Central, where we'd catch the 3:39 pm train back to Brewster, NY.

But there wasn't enough time. As the sun breathed its golden magic through the towers of Manhattan, we scurried from 64th and 1st to 42nd and Park. I took Mark Kingwell's advice and refused to run ("running is always a sign of failure. ... Running means you have mistimed something ..."). And just when the mom-in-law to-be started to question my steady stride, scampering ahead and needlessly asking for directions, the Mercury caught my eye and brought my gaze up once again to that sunseting sky above.

Perhaps I'll start saying, when explaining my post-wedding plans, that I'm moving to New York City ... hey, it's my fairytale.

As for ex-boyfriends and their affect on my pleasure of the here and now, I still love that song. And the necklace I took off in Ana's apt? I remembered it half a block after leaving and went back, even though it was a gift from Boyfriend Past.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Without a deadline

Yes, that's me. I'm a freelance journalist sans assignment.

To be fair, it's mostly out of choice. Having completed my contract with the Ottawa Writers Festival, and with the holidays around the corner, I opted to do the 'quality time' thing with my fiance, his fam, and my mom on the west coast. I vowed that if I received a stellar assignment that required me to stay in Ottawa I would, but I didn't really go after said job.

And so I find myself without assignment -- in small town Connecticut, no less -- for the first time in ... many months.

How many times I wished for such freedom ... and now I'm finding the situation empty, scary, and completely foreign. Sort of like a uber-clean showroom of designer clothes.

Now, I like to nest. I like to putter around the house and get things done; these include spontaneous bouts of creativity, but they also include 'mundane' stuff like cooking and cleaning. (O damn! tofu! phew. all good). To me, these things build security and comfort, as well as allowing my mind to play around with ideas in the comfort and budget of my own home.

As a natural nester, taking on the housewife role comes pretty naturally. Someone popped by this afternoon, and I was quite happy to serve tea and chat the hours away.

So you'd think that, looking at the next year and all it's wifey duties, I'd be pretty stoked. But the thing is, the nesting seems so much fun that I'm afraid I'll lose myself in it, become adrift in a sea of colour palettes and crudites, until I wake up one day ... in my apron.

But today offered some nibbles of comfort. I was afforded quite a few hours of alone time; I tried to get CBC online but failed technologically. Instead, after washing up my poached egg and rye toast, I fell into the coach and wrote. I thought to write in le blog and I did.

It's very quiet in this house on the hill and I already know it's a great place to read. Writing? So far, so good. (Especially since I found wireless in our new (wrap-around-porch-turned) apartment!)

And what is a deadline, anyway? : The end of a job, all too often arriving too soon for what the assignment truly requires. : Someone else's constraints forcing themselves on you. : A goal. : A way to frame your writing, place restrictions on your writing, give excuses to your writing and/ or it's shortcomings.

Writing without a deadline ... there may be something to it. For now, I'm taking the advice of journalist Fateema Sayani and poet Gillian Wigmore. On writing after marriage/ kids: do it in spurts.