Why, Hello Friday

Dang, y’all. I’m sorry. I do not know where the week has gone, but I sure do feel like it’s been a full one. Here’s what I remember:

  • I went running on Tuesday, and I’m now finished with week 3 of the Couch to 5k program. When I go tomorrow, I’ll step it up to week 4. Wish me luck on that.
  • I’ve somehow gotten sucked into Oprah every day this week, which has been interesting because I’ve never been an Oprah watcher. I’ve probably watched it more this week than in the whole rest of my life combined, and because this is the first week of her last season, every day is CRAZY. On Monday, she announced that she was taking thw WHOLE audience to Australia for a week. John Travolta will be their pilot. I’m pretty sure some of them had to be resuscitated. And just now, she gave two full rows of brides-to-be a $250 Kohl’s gift card, a Vera Wang wedding gown, a $4,000 Marriott Hotels & Resorts gift card, and a United Airlines travel voucher to go anywhere in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or Canada. It really has been almost exactly like this (and seriously, enjoy the moment at 1:58 when Tina Fey pees her pants).
  • I played Neil Diamond for my students. They didn’t like him as much as they liked Johnny Cash. They did, however, enjoy Stranger Than Fiction, which we watched today.
  • I had dinner with the dean last night. Well, me and 200 other people. It was…free.
  • I finished listening to that Nicholas Sparks book and hated myself for getting as into it as I did.
  • I went to the mall.

I don’t have any plans for tonight, and I’m just fine with that. I’ma sit here on the couch, watching the TV and resting my feet. If you want to come over and watch a movie with me, you are welcome to do so.

I Made Something Up!

I’ve always thought writing fiction was hard, and the advice I got about it never helped. It was always one of two things:

  1. Just make stuff up.
  2. It’s all about characters. Just make up characters.

Both easier said than done, unfortunately, although they sound simple enough. I could never figure out why it was so hard. They’re just fake people. I know lots of real people. Fake people should be just like them, right? But I just couldn’t do it. Until today.

It’s been another long week. Even though I didn’t have to work on Monday, I still taught more this week than I normally do, so by the time I went to class last night, I was done. I had already planned for the night class, so that was no problem, but I had no idea what I was going to teach this morning. Lucky for me, Sheila was there last night with several ideas. The one I ended up using was, for lack of a better word, fantastic.

I took photos of my friends and family – random pictures of kids, adults, teenagers, groups and individuals. I turned them over and fanned them out, and each student chose one. Then I got pictures of random objects: shoes, seashells, cameras, cars, tools, luggage, etc., and the students each chose one of those as well. Then they had to write a story explaining who the person in their photo was, what their relationship to that person was, and why that person had given them the object in their other picture.

A picture of a kid I used to babysit paired with a picture of a set of luggage produced a story about a favorite nephew who’d grown up and moved to Europe to study music. As he was leaving, he gave the suitcase to his uncle filled with old photos, including the one of him as a baby. An old roommate plus a pair of shoes resulted in one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever heard, and I found out at the very end of class that as a preschooler, I was a mermaid!

Like I said, fantastic.

Well, while they were writing their stories, I decided to play along. I picked out a picture of a camera, and then, since I knew all the people in the pictures I’d brought, I found another photo of a lady on a bicycle. And voila, writing fiction was easy. In less than ten minutes, I’d created at least six characters, some better-developed than others, but still. I had a main character telling the story from her point of view, her two sisters, their mom, mom’s best friend from college and the friend’s husband. All the characters had characteristics of people I know, but hey, everybody has something in common with somebody, right?

So I wrote fiction! I made stuff up! I created characters! Apparently all I needed was a visual stimulus. I’m pretty sure that means I need to go to New York to write Neil Diamond Musical.


A great big congratulatory squeeze goes to Susan for winning the 500 business cards!!!!!! Lucky comment #11 has just paid off!! Hooray!!!!!!!!

Y’all, all of those haikus were amazing, and did you see? Clay Aiken apparently came out of hiding just to enter! And Oprah too! Hey Oprah, have I got a book club book for you! Just give me another year or two to get it finished and published.

Anyhoe, thank you all so much for entering. This one was fun. I’ll try to get another fun contest going for you in another month or two, and in the meantime, we’ve still got plenty of pictures to post covering my fun times from March until now.

Onward Hoe!!

Prepare Yourselves

I know it looks like I’m just not blogging as much lately, but what’s really happening is that I’m giving you extra time to prepare yourselves for the awesomeness that’s about to come your way. That’s right, friends. I’ve found the USB cord for my camera, so I’ve just uploaded LOTS and lots of amazing pictures. I can’t show you any of them right now because I’m at work, and all the pictures are on my computer at home. HOE-ever, get ready because over the next week or two, you’ll be seeing pictures from:

  • New Year’s 2010
  • My birthday
  • Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel
  • Yesterday’s encounter with Zach Galifianakis

Oh yeah, did I mention I met Zach Galifianakis yesterday? And that he loves me? He said so himself. In my high school yearbook. Amazing.

Hopefully all of this will begin tomorrow, but then I can’t promise that I’ll have anything else to say to you until next week because this weekend is my family reunion. But hey, that means you’ll get to see family reunion pictures too! Lucky you!! You can’t wait, I know, but here at Onward Hoe!, we’re all about practicing patience, aren’t we? Yes we are.

Oh, but I do need to tell you about my 2nd day of 1/2 marathon training, which happened this morning. Lauren took the day off of work today to get some things done, so we went for a little walk/jog. Now, she’d done the same interval training we did last time a few times, so she bumped it up a notch. I had only done the one routine, but I wanted to try running with her anyway, so I too bumped it up a notch, and I was successful!

This time, we started with a brisk, 5-minute walk to warm up. Then we alternated running for 90 seconds and walking for two minutes. We did this six times, and then we cooled down for five minutes. The first run was the hardest this time. We really felt that extra 30 seconds, and I think we both needed to loosen up a little bit. The second run was a little easier, and the third was hard again, but THEN we figured out how to do it.

All through the running times, we just told ourselves (out loud) that we were as light as a feather, that it was the easiest thing we’d ever done, that we had bionic gazelle legs, that it didn’t even feel like we were doing anything at all, and that it was even less effort than sitting on the couch. And y’all. Miraculously, this worked. I for one knew we were lying to ourselves, but it totally worked. I think it had something to do with keeping your mind occupied by something other than the hatred you feel for running or how much longer you have to do it. And I found that talking through the running was actually encouraging because it proved to me that I could talk and run at once, which meant I was still ok. I wasn’t dying.

So I probably need to do this routine a few more times before bumping up to the next interval, but once again, it was not that bad, I survived, and I’m still mobile. Hooray!

Hey Thursday, I like you.

It’s been a good day so far. I woke up after dreaming that I was at an art camp. I think I dreamed this because I read this last night before I went to bed. Anyhoe, I was at this art camp, and I needed supplies, and then I stumbled across a supply room that didn’t have anything I needed. So I think I gave up on art and went to the cafeteria. And I guess it was parents’ weekend at art camp or something because everybody’s families were there. And the brother of the guy in front of me was way cute and flirting with me. And as I was flirting back, my mom walked up and got in line with me. And then the cute guy asked me if I wanted to go eat candy in his truck with him, and I said, “Yes, yes I do, only I’m not so sure about the truck. But I’ll sit on a bench with you or something.”

Then I woke up and thought, I love it when cute guys find me desirable. Good dream.

Then I tried to scan some documents that prove my relationship to George Washington (yes THE George Washington) and my descent from a 12th century British king, but alas, I couldn’t get Whitney’s scanner to work, so I just read through the documents for a while, and that’s how I found out I’m related to G.W. and Ynir King of Gwentland.

Then I tweeted about it.

Then I wrote an article about two-letter Scrabble words that will probably not help me beat Whitney or my mom or the Beattys (or anyone else for that matter) at Scrabble. It’s the spatial aspect I find challenging, not the words. I can make some words. I just don’t know where to put them. You have to be good at words AND Tetris to dominate in Scrabble, and I am unfortunately only gifted in the former.

But the article is done.

So then I made some Punjab Choley and couscous for lunch and watched 30 Rock for a little while, which was, of course, wonderful. It was the one where Liz follows Floyd into the AA meeting where he spills his guts about his trust issues, and then she tells him all her weird stuff to make it up to him.

And she has some WEIRD stuff.

And while I was watching 30 Rock, a Census2010 worker came to the door to ask me some questions about the occupants of this house on April 1, which I answered not knowing that L-Josh had already mailed in their Census2010 form. So I don’t know why he had to come over here and interrupt my 30 Rock/catch me still in my jabambas at 2:30 in the p.m., but I’ve decided that if anyone catches me not yet dressed that late in the day again, I’m just going to open the door saying, “I’m a freelancer. I work from home. I have actually earned money today.”

Or I could just shower and get dressed in the morning.

Then I took a shower, and while I was in there, I had a revelation about the plot of my Neil Diamond musical, I Am…I Said. I can’t tell you about it yet because it’s still not fully formed, but I CAN say that things have been enormously simplified, and the main character and I now have a lot more in common, which is going to make it much easier to write.

And also, I’m clean.

“I am,” I said.

I live in a musical, if only in my own mind. There’s always a song playing in my head, always a lyric to fit the occasion, and if I had my way, we’d all burst into spontaneous, choreographed dance in the streets daily. The weather (natural lighting) would also fit our moods, and our outfits would always range from just a little over the top to holy sequins, Batman! This is my ideal world.

Unfortunately, the rats on the street don’t all dance around my feet encouragingly (Hairspray), getting mugged in New York is almost never a golden opportunity to throw caution to the wind and start from scratch (Thoroughly Modern Millie), and I fear most child laborers don’t psych themselves up for a long day’s work with a robust song and dance around the city square (Newsies).

The real world isn’t an ideal world, but I can create one by writing a musical.

This is something I’ve been talking about for a while. It’s an idea my sister and I had on our way to Mom and Dad’s house for Christmas one year. We were listening to Neil Diamond, and when “America” came on, we both heard it – really heard it in a new way – as an opening number.

Click play, then read on as you listen.

The strings start out low and ominous as we see the city, quiet and dimly lit in the early morning. Then as one, hopeful, sustained note plays, the sun begins to rise as the city comes to life. Husbands kiss wives good-bye as they head off to work in their suits and hats, women shake out rugs from their balconies, florists open their shops and sweep off their stoops, restaurateurs haggle with fishermen over the price of their daily catch, and as the bell chimes, we see a boat coming into the harbor, its passengers on deck, groggy and shivering, but hopeful as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

The music picks up as dock workers and the ship’s crew begin preparations for the boat’s arrival, throwing ropes, sacks and crates in time with the music and readying the gangway.

A male passenger on the deck of the ship sings: Far. We’ve been traveling far, without a home, but not without a star.

Another passenger, surrounded by his wife and several children sings: Free. Only want to be free. We huddle close, and hang on to a dream.

Someone on shore sings: On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again, they’re coming to America.

You get the picture. Characters continue singing lines of the song until everyone aboard and ashore is singing, “Today!”

The captain of the ship descends the gangway slowly singing, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Of thee I sing today!” Then everyone joins back in with the “todays,” and as they leave the boat and enter the immigration building, they stop singing until all that’s left onstage is one boy, looking at the statue, almost whispering, “Today.”

Just thinking about it is making me want to watch it. There’s just one problem: In order to watch it, I have to write it, and I don’t know ANYTHING about writing a play. I honestly don’t know anything about writing fiction. Listening to several Neil Diamond songs, I see scenes playing so vividly in my mind, but I have no idea how they are related to each other or how they’ll string together to make a story.

And that’s part of the reason I want to go to the Living a Better Story Seminar in Portland. Living a story means knowing what a story is all about, and living a better story requires the ability to envision it. That’s basically what you need to write fiction too, am I right?

And ok, so I lied before when I said there was just one thing standing in the way of me watching my musical. There are lots of obstacles:

  1. I have no idea how to write a play. We’ve now covered that. I need writing classes/workshops/groups to help me.
  2. I’ll have to get Neil Diamond’s permission to use his songs.
  3. Once a play is written, I’ll need performers, a place to present it, people to design/make costumes and sets, a marketing team/plan/materials, and money to pay for all of these things.
  4. Not to mention, once the show is written, I’ll need to concentrate all my efforts on getting it ready, which means I’ll need funds to cover my living expenses for a few months.
  5. I want Neil Diamond to appear in the show as Brother Love of “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m hoping the conference will teach me a little about story-telling, but also about finding the resources I’ll need to do this (or any other big thing I might want to do). I’m hoping it’ll be an encouraging thing and that it’ll get my creative mind thinking about where to get the money to take the classes and pay the people to build the sets and make the costumes, etc. And I guess I’m really hoping it’ll teach me how to invite others into my story in a way that makes them want to participate and/or follow a big dream of their own.

Here’s a video about the conference for anyone else who’s interested. Wasn’t it so sweet of Don to make this for y’all? I’ll be sure to thank him properly if he picks me to attend the conference (I’m thinking cupcakes, but feel free to leave suggestions for how to thank him properly in the comments).

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

The Story of My Life

It’s a good thing I’m not a people-pleaser, because I feel like I am constantly letting someone down with all my coming and going. I leave Raleigh, and people are sad. I go back to Raleigh, and people in Asheville threaten to lock me in a closet because they don’t want to lose me. I tell my students I won’t be back next semester, and they look at me with such disappointment that I honestly wonder if I’ll ever see them again. What’s the point of continuing a relationship (even a teacher-student one) that’s just going to end in two weeks?

It’s really sweet, and it’s flattering for sure, but it upsets me at the same time to know that my actions are upsetting to others. It’s like I can’t go anywhere without leaving a mark.

True story: I worked at Caswell in the summers of 1999 and 2000. In 2001, I went down for a weekend visit, and when I walked into the staff lounge, a guy I’d never seen before pointed at me all excitedly and said, “You’re Beth Parent! I want a massage later.” Because apparently word of my healing hands had gotten around the staff house.

That’s a silly example, but the dude knew my face, my first AND last name, and my hidden talent before I ever knew he existed, which means there was extensive discussion of me with accompanying photos before I arrived. This happens a lot, and that feels so weird to me because I’m just living my life, you know? I’m not doing anything spectacular except having a crap ton of fun, and yet somehow I am special to a lot of people.

I know it’s starting to sound like I’m complaining about how fabulous and popular I am, but that’s not it. It’s really quite humbling to think that I have this gift I’ve never really noticed or thought about before, and it’s just a part of who I am, but what do I do with it?

What does this ability to impact people require of me? There’s a great and weighty responsibility that comes with it, and I haven’t figured out yet how to carry it.

If I were a character in a story, after such a realization, I’d be at a point of decision. Where do I go from here? Given the experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve learned and become, how do I proceed? Everything up to this point has just been background and character development. And here is where the story actually begins, but what’s it about, what do I want, and why does any of it matter?

I want my life to count for something. I want to love people well and help those who need it, but I also want to really relish life and facilitate the fun and enjoyment of others. I look at some people’s lives, and I think, “My life is pointless. He’s digging wells by hand so villages in Africa can have water, and I’m writing a book called My Husband Ride Me.” But you know what? I love that I’m writing a book called My Husband Ride Me. I laugh out loud as I’m working on it, and I hope that one day dozens of other people will get to enjoy it the same way.

I don’t want to give up those quirky little things that make me the person everybody wants to have around. I just want to figure out how to use them better.

I want to live a life of such freedom and adventure that when my great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughters read about it, they think, “So that’s where I get it,” and feel free to be exactly who they are because they know they’re not abnormal for being adventuresome.

I want to live a life that awakens people’s imaginations as to what their lives can be, and I want to encourage them to follow those dreams even when doing so is hard.

I never want to believe or say that it’s too late for me to do something I’m really excited about. It is never too late to live the rock-n-roll life, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. Have y’all seen Young at Heart yet? Because you really must. I own it. Come on over, and we’ll watch it together just so I can prove my point.

I want to make people laugh. I want to make other people wonder what’s so funny. I get down on myself sometimes because I think I’m not doing anything meaningful. I mean, clean water is clearly more important than jokes, but here’s the thing: Laughter is bonding, and people need connection with each other. Laughter is healing, and there is a lot of pain in the world. Laughter might not be a part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it should be. I don’t know if happy people live longer, but they sure do enjoy it more.

I don’t know what the plot of my story is yet, but I hope it involves a husband I can goof off with, travel with, raise children with, and grow with for the rest of my life, demonstrating radical love to everyone around us. I hope it involves at least a short stint in Spain (because I freaking love that country for no apparent reason). I hope it involves all the friends I currently love and all those I haven’t met yet. I hope it involves a lot of writing and a lot of foreigners, a home with an open-door policy and awesome flea market chic decor, delicious food and wine, full passports, surprises, and tons of music and dancing.

If it’s a story I’m writing with my life, it’ll be on Broadway one of these days. Mark my words.

These are the first of my thoughts on life that will hopefully win me a trip to Portland to attend Donald Miller’s conference. These thoughts are too vague, though, so for the rest of the week I’ll be writing more specific stories. Then we’ll pick the best one, and I’ll enter it in the contest.

What Would You Do (oo-ooo) With a Time Machine?

I realized this morning that I’ve been neglecting my questions lately. I’m trying to find a balance between answering those and just telling you fun stories about what’s happening. For the most part, there aren’t a lot of fun stories about what’s happening because my days are spent sitting on my couch, writing articles, and then driving half an hour to teach. And sometimes after I drive the 30 minutes to teach, there are no students. So…yeah. The questions are really more interesting than my life. All of that is about to change, but I’m not ready to make a formal announcement just yet, so hang in there, internet, and let’s talk about time travel.

Presuming you had a time machine what’s the stupidest and most dangerous thing you would probably do with it, despite having answered this question and having labeled it as both stupid and dangerous?

Well, I think time travel in general is definitely dangerous and probably stupid. I mean, Marty McFly’s hand disappeared when his mom was slow dancing/struggling with Biff, and his dad was too wussy to step in. But that’s what you risk when you meddle in your parents’ high school lives. My parents didn’t go to high school together, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that, but if we’ve learned anything from Back to the Future, it’s that you don’t screw around with the space-time continuum. Doing so is both stupid and dangerous, and you could lose a hand in the middle of your guitar solo.

However, there are a few things I’d like to see happening:

  • my parents’ wedding – There is no video footage available that I know of. I assume it’s because video cameras were only for TV/film studios in the early 70s.
  • me as a baby – There are not a lot of pictures of me as a baby that I know of, and I don’t really remember anything before I started school, and even then, it’s all pretty hazy until about 5th grade. I’m sure my mom could tell us what I was like, but it would be way cuter to see tiny me in action. Unless I was a jerk. Was I a jerk?
  • my ancestors coming to the U.S. – My sister is making a massive family tree for our reunion this year, and I’m sure she’d love an eye-witness account of this. Plus, y’all know how much I love to travel, but to be ON THE BOAT with them, knowing what the country is going to become generations down the line, and seeing what it was like back then…man, that would be awesome.
  • Beethoven playing his own stuff

All of those things, I just want to witness. I don’t necessarily have to be a participant in history for those. But here are some things I would want to do:

  • meet Jane Austen
  • hang out with the Beatles before they were famous, and teach them all the Monkees’ songs before the Monkees even form a band (just to be a mischievous punk, not because I have anything against the Monkees)
  • follow Jesus, like literally, in person, walking in the dirt (and the rocks, and the…)
  • convince Amy Grant that “Baby, Baby” is a bad idea
  • convince John Mayer not to record half of his songs
  • stop Shutter Island from being filmed, and convince Leo to do a movie that requires more shirtlessness
  • convince myself to go vegetarian in college
  • introduce myself to Mediterranean food much sooner (hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, etc.)
  • smuggle slaves to free states
  • smuggle Jews to safety during WWII
  • invent leg warmers before anyone else
  • invent velcro

Like I said, I think time travel in general would be pretty stupid and dangerous, so I don’t know which of these things is the worst. I’ll let y’all be the judge as to exactly which thing is the stupidest/most dangerous and/or which is the likeliest to cause me to lose appendages. What would YOU do with a time machine?

Virginia Is for Dancers

Lovers schmovers. I went to Virginia last weekend to see my friend Rachel and her daughter (my goddaughter), Annabelle. Annabelle turned 5 last week, so we had a birthday party, and it just so happened that her dance recital was the same weekend, so I got to go to that too. It was ridiculously cute. She slipped and fell down, but she’s too young to be embarrassed about it, so it was fine.

If you have never been to a kids’ dance recital, let me explain it to you. Lauren-Josh tipped me off to this before I went, so I had the advantage of knowing what to expect, and she was 100% correct. What happens is they put ten 4-year-olds on the stage and expect them to remember choreography that they’ve learned. The only problem with this is that they’ve apparently never done the routine without their teacher doing it in front of them. So whether they actually remember the moves or not is sort of irrelevant. They rely on the teacher regardless.

So these ten 4-year-olds are out on the stage to do their routine, but their teacher obviously can’t stand in front of them, so she’s off to the side, just backstage. But the kids rely on her, so they’re all staring off to one side watching their teacher for the moves, and that means that they’re not doing the moves at the right time because the teacher is doing them at the right time, and they’re a few beats behind. Some are slightly faster than others, and there are maybe one or two kids who know the routine and don’t have to look at the teacher, so they are actually on the beat.

Now, you’ve got one or two kids dancing on the beat, two or three who are just one beat behind, a few more who are slightly more delayed, and the really slow ones who are an entire move behind the pack. So what it looks like is everyone doing something completely different all the time, and then one falls down. It’s fantastic and incredibly cute.

I’m told that in some recitals, they put all the little kid classes in the beginning and all the older kid classes at the end. This one was a slightly better mix, although I’m sure they were saving the really impressive stuff for the finale. They did put one senior solo in at about the half-way mark, which was lovely, but it bothered me because she only did right turns. Like every time there was a rotation of any sort in any form whatsoever, it was to the right. It was like she’d gone to the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Want to Learn Ballet and Stuff.

The whole recital got me thinking that I really want to take dance classes. I always have. But when I told Rachel I wanted to take adult dance classes, I realized that what I meant was that I wanted to take dance classes for adults – like jazz, modern, ballet or tap, and not “adult dance” classes. I’ve already done that. And then it became really hilarious to think about the pole dancing studio giving dance recitals so that all of our friends and family could become acquainted with our sexy sides as well. Emily Furr Hogan asked if we would have them in the fellowship hall of Wilkesboro Baptist Church, which is where we used to have piano recitals when we were kids. I just laughed because there is no dancing allowed there, much less pole dancing. I’m pretty sure someone would have a heart attack if we even mentioned it within view of the steeple. No, we’d have to do it at a “gentlemen’s club,” where there’s already a stage and enough poles set up for the group number.

Let me know if you want tickets.

I have another story to share with you about the drive up there, but I have to wait until someone receives something in the mail before I can discuss it. I’m expecting a call any day now.

Things That Happened Today

  1. I cut a jerk off (because he was being a jerk) at 3 mph. He honked at me to show his dissatisfaction. He then turned on his bright lights, I can only assume, to prove once again that he was a jerk.
  2. On the side of the freeway, I saw one of those big, cylindrical spin brushes like they have in the automatic car washes. You know, the ones that spin their way down the sides of your car. I thought it was an odd place for it to be hanging out.
  3. The ants in my kitchen have multiplied exponentially. Seeing as we’ve had these little squatters for at least two months now, I think it’s time we tried something new.
  4. My gas light came on. Again. Seriously, gas light? I need gas EVERY week? That’s crazy.
  5. I listened to my Simon and Simon CD. That’s Paul Simon and Carly Simon. I dare you to make a better themed CD.
  6. I imagined eating gorgonzola and brie (separately). I’m a bad vegan.
  7. I actually ate hummus. Good vegan.
  8. I got paid to sit in my classroom alone for three hours. It was better than Census2010 because there were no children, and I had internet access.
  9. I watched too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU.
  10. I talked to Emily Furr Hogan on the phone. Day: made.