Monday, June 29, 2009
We have many books in our house. I have stacks and stacks of books on the floor next to my side of the bed. I have read them. The Book Thief has not. She could have chosen any of these books. She could have waited until I finished the book. I'm a slow reader, but it is summer vacation. I usually finish the things in two or three days.
So now I have to wait until she's done reading the book before I can go back to it because there's no way I'm sharing the book. (I could explain why, but the reasons should be self-evident.) Thankfully, she reads faster than me.
1. Don't allow wives with a penchant for stealing books to see what you're reading. Read in secret. Perhaps in an underground bunker with surprisingly good lighting.
2. Read books that do not appeal to wives. Hemingway maybe. Or Nabokov.
3. Don't golf while the wife is in a position to steal the book you are reading.
4. Marry an illiterate.
So while she's finishing Unwind (which I was really enjoying BTW), I have started Getting the Girl by Markus Zusak. 100 pages in. It's okay. Not as good as I Am the Messenger, which I finished before picking up Unwind at the bookstore.
Let's talk a little about I Am the Messenger, shall we?
Ben Esch mentioned the book in one of his interview answers and I'd been meaning to read Zusak for some time. (I checked out The Book Thief from the library during the school year, but I have a hard time getting through thick books while school is in session, so I didn't read much of it. But I will. Scout's honor.) I concur with Ben's assessment of Messenger. Great book. Loved the voice. Loved the pace. Loved the characters. Loved the idea. Even liked the message.
But dear God, what the hell happened at the end? I won't give it away. To do so might lead you to forego the reading of the book and I want you to read it if only to experience the bewilderment and anger I felt during the last five pages. What I believe happened is that Zusak had a great idea and a really good message that he wanted to get across and he came up with a kind of cool way to deliver that message, but after writing nearly all of the book he realized he had a problem in that he couldn't really answer one very important question the main character (and readers) had. But he had to provide some answer and so he did. And it is awful. No other way around it. At worst it's a cop out. At best it's a writer being too cute for his own good.
Anyway, it didn't ruin the book, but man, did it hurt it.
Make sure your ending doesn't suck.
Weight loss update: Down 5
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The title of this post refers to both my revising, which is still coming along slowly, and the weight loss, which is coming along both slowly and painfully.
Shall we discuss the writing first? The novel is 147 pages long. Two days ago I revised the first 80 and I'm happy with them. Then there's a sticky part in the middle that I can't figure out how to fix. To bore you, it involves two characters who need to become friends, the passage of about a month and half's worth of time, and some other stuff that isn't all that interesting but needs to be in there for purposes of the rest of the story. Secret Asian Man and his minions believe this is an important part of the book because a number of transformative things occur. I attempted to summarize these transformations because I didn't want the story to bog down. For the record, I summarized them rather cleverly. However, SAM thinks more weight should be given to this part of the book, so now I'm stuck. The last 40 pages are in pretty good shape, which means that if I can figure out the bloody middle, the rest should go quite smoothly.
And now the weight loss. First, I'm not that fat. I'm not going to tell you how not-fat I am, but you can review the video at the bottom of this post and get a pretty accurate assessment. I'm fatter than I wish to be. About twenty pounds so.
Second, I did buy new shoes. Got 'em at Kohl's. Asics. 50 bucks. Now I know some of you are shaking your heads and thinking something like, Fifty bucks! Must be crappy shoes. I have no idea whether they're crappy or not. What I know is this: I walk and jog in them for no more than forty-five minutes at a time. They'll do. My legs are already feeling better.
So, the numbers. I started this weight loss thing on Sunday, June 7. I then consumed a massive amount of calories while on a golf trip that weekend. So I think it's fair to say that I really started on Sunday, June 14. As of right now, I have exercized on ten of those eleven days. ("Exercize" is defined here as either a 2.5 mile run/walk outside or a forty-five minute run/walk on the treadmill.) I have also been starving myself. Results? Two lousy, good-for-nothing pounds. Two.
I poop two pounds. Seriously.
This is completely irrelevant, but...
I really appreciate everything you do*, but two things: One, could you at least try to wait until I've swallowed to ask me how everthing is? Two, when you ask how everything is, could you please refrain from saying, "How's everything tasting?" Food cannot taste. It is, presumably, dead. It can't really do much of anything except sit there waiting to be consumed. I, however, am alive and have taste buds on my tongue. I can taste.
"How does your food taste?"
"How is the food?"
(Of course, this part of the post has nothing to do with any recent dinner out. I don't do that anymore. On a diet and all, remember?)
*For example, refilling my Coke when it's still half full so that I feel obligated to drink way more than I should; bringing my entree mere seconds after the appetizer so that I have to make an excruciating decision between continuing to eat the (delicious, appetizers are always delicious) appetizer and letting my meal get cold or abandoning the appetizer, which is almost always overpriced, so that I can enjoy my dinner before the cheese starts doing that funky, congealing thing that's really not so appealing; and tempting me with dessert even though I just stuffed down both a delicious appetizer and an entire cheesy meal, not to mention the seventy-two ounces of Coke that someone just could not stop pouring into my glass.
(I'll have the cheesecake, thank you.)
Monday, June 22, 2009
So, the meme. For those of you who did not click the earlier link (slackers), it is called...
And is thusly described:
"Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie."
And now, my lies:
Pride: What is your biggest contribution to the world?
I would say my back hair. My back hair is revolutionary. It is thick, lush, vibrant. I have recently taken to styling it. Yesterday, as the mercury hit 80 degrees, I pulled off my tanktop to fully reveal a perfectly coifed pompadour of back hair. My plan is to take pictures--my back hair in a 1960s bouffant, spiky cornrows like Coolio, bleach blonde and feathered like Farrah--and post these pictures on highly trafficked websites with the purpose of inspiring all men who have been lucky enough to be so endowed to fashion their own new styles and display them proudly at public beaches, local swimming pools, and in the centerfield bleachers of baseball stadiums across this great land.
Envy: What do your coworkers have that you wish was yours?
My coworkers-- teachers, you will recall-- are mostly older ladies. They are all in possession of some fine sweaters. Mrs. Worthington owns a black sweater with a large snowman running down one side and blue snowflakes dotting the other. Mrs. Patrick often dons her Halloween sweater--there's a huge, frightening jack o'lantern on it--on Fridays, no matter the time of year. Similarly, many of the ladies wear thematic socks. And let us not forget their fine selection of tote bags. DARE tote bags, science conference tote bags, "To Teach is To Touch a Life Forever" tote bags. I am drowning in my own envy.
Gluttony: What did you eat last night?
As always, I ate words. I devoured words. Last night, it was James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I didn't read it of course, much too challenging with all the references to Irish society and whatnot, but I did eat the book, page by page. It tasted vaguely of oatmeal. (I sprinkled the pages with cinnamon.) It was not the most satifying meal; that honor still belongs to The Order of Odd-Fish. Delicious words in that one. Ever dined on calumny? Exquistite.
Lust: What really lights your fire?
The unstoppable combination of holiday themed sweaters and tote bags.
Anger: What is the last thing that really pissed you off?
I have a cowlick in my back hair that causes me endless frustration.
Greed: Name something you hoard and keep from others.
My genius. Here's the truth: I have ghost written the following novels, perhaps you have heard of them: Love in the Time of Cholera (I was nine at the time), Atonement: A Novel, Siddhartha, Angela's Ashes, and Of Human Bondage (for which I ask your forgiveness). This blog and the pedestrian "humor" it contains is merely a front, designed to keep my secret from a suprisingly fragile world. My genius, if found out, could destroy nations. It could topple regimes. It could consume itself, thereby creating a black hole of creativity that would suck all original thought from the planet. What would we do without Dilbert?
Sloth: What's the laziest thing you ever did?
While lying on the couch, I once attempted to turn on the television with only the power of my mind. But once I got a headache, I gave up and took a nap... Actually, that may not be a lie.
I now tag the following people, people who I know to be accomplished liars:
Big Plain V
Saturday, June 20, 2009
My father is a man who cares about his lawn, has always, so far as I know, cared about his lawn. In my younger and more idealistic years, I would question this not-quite-obsession. Why spend money on lawn care products? Who cares what the neighbors think? If the neighbors are going to look down on you because of the state of the grass in your yard, then doesn't that make them precisely the type of people whose opinions you should not care about? And what about all that wasted time? Why bother edging? Who looks at the edges of a lawn? We once had a conversation that went something like this:
Me: Why don't you cut it shorter? (I wanted it to be like a fairway. Or even better, a putting green.)
Dad: It's healthier to keep it longer.
Me: But then you have to cut it more often.
Dad: No you don't.
Me: Yes you do. You cut it like that and two days later it's long and shaggy again. If you cut it shorter then it would take longer to reach the long and shaggy state.
Dad: No. (He then went on to point out the flaws in my reasoning, but I don't remember the specifics of his rebuttal. Maybe he'll explain it again in the comments.)
But now that I'm trying to grow a lawn in my backyard, I am obsessed. It must be something to do with being a dad, like some unspoken rule or rite of passage into fatherhood. A commandment, perhaps, "Thou must care about thy lawn."
You are familiar with the phrase, "Like watching grass grow." It's typically used to describe a boring activity, such as churchgoing or listening to your spouse's recitation of her dreams. I, for one, will never perceive the idiom in the same way. I "watch my grass grow" at least twelve times a day. I walk outside and literally do nothing but look at the lawn. I stare at it. I scan it, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes I walk around in the grass and look more discriminatingly at it. I peer at it from different angles. I fret over the weather forecast. Before the grass germinated I would crouch and squint and lament the lack of anything green and slender. "When's it gonna grow?" I would ask anyone--my wife, the neighbor, my cat.
I bought a sprinkler. No, I bought two. I'll admit that. I bought a hose even though I already owned two. I bought a new nozzle for the hose because there's a patch next to the house that can't be reached by the sprinkler. I was zealous about watering. I eschewed the use of straw because I read that straw contains things (not the scientific term) that eventually become weeds. There would be no weeds in my new lawn! I watched the sprinkler work its magic. (It's surprisingly mesmerizing, not unlike a bonfire.) The next morning I would again check for signs of life.
At one point, when some of the grass had (finally!) started coming it, we (my lawn and I) were hit with a vicious storm. Near-tornadic winds, hammering bullets of rain, and hail--yes, hail!--abused my infant grass blades and washed away a fair amount of topsoil. Rivers of water carried unsprouted seeds and deposited them in huge piles, leaving bare the patches of sand you see in the picture above. Aghast, I ran out and raked feverishly, trying to spread the seeds around. Will grass grow in sand, I wondered? Yes, yes it would. Grass will grow on the beach if you let it. Golfers replace divots with sand. A panic attack was avoided.
Checking the damage the next day I discovered the presence of an old nemesis: the voles were back. Voles, little satanic creatures that apparently prefer the lushest areas of new lawns, were tunneling under my proudest sections of grass. They were lifting the grass and somehow depositing dirt (well, sand) on top of it. Some of my grass had turned--gasp!--yellow.
I did what all backyard warriors do. I googled. Specifically, I googled, "How to kill voles and make them suffer horrendous deaths, deaths so grisly that word of them will quickly spread to any other vole in the area, or indeed, any vole considering relocating to the area, deaths so shockingly grisly, so obscenely gruesome, so nauseatingly repulsive that they would rather commit mass suicide than face the mere possibility of facing me and my murderous, Google-inspired method."
There were a refreshing number of options. There were traps and sound/vibration sticks. There were repellants made from castor oil. Someone said to use coffee grounds. Another swore by the deliciously torturous effects of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Apparently, the little turds can't resist the stuff, even though it wreaks havoc on their digestive systems and they die. But the best (because it's free) method I found was the use of urine, human urine.
The wife was not thrilled with this plan, and so we came to an agreement. It's the same agreement we have about my drinking out of the milk jug. I could bottle my urine as long as she could pretend that I wasn't. In other words, I had to hide the vole repellant.
I hid it in the cabinet under the bathroom sink because the only time anyone gets in there is when a band-aid is needed or when one of us gets a nagging cough and we have to locate the Nyquil knock-off before bedtime. It seemed like a fine place; it wasn't like I was going to go Howard Hughes and store twenty-three bottles of the stuff or anything. I planned on using it as soon as I had enough "product."
I used twenty-ounce bottles and I now know how much my bladder can hold. I consider this a fringe benefit of the experiment.
I have applied the treatment on three occasions and so far it seems to be working.
And here's where I'm supposed to bring this back to my father's lawn obsession. So let's do this: Tomorrow is Father's Day and we're having the dads over. We'll hang out on the back deck and eat hamburgers and drink beer. And if Dad smells something, I'll explain exactly what it is. I'm pretty sure he'll approve. It's a dad thing.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Three Simple Facts
1. I am overweight and out of shape.
2. My shoes are old (and stinky), and I think they're contributing to the soreness in my legs. Of course, it is possible that the weight my legs are forced to lug around has something to do with it.
3. Running is hard.
Explaining the problems I'm having with the revisions is more difficult. Let's start with this: I like revising. In fact, one reason I push myself to get my first draft done is so I can get to the revising. I like dinking around with word choice and sentence structure. I like trying out alternative scenes. I even like taking out, then putting back in, then taking back out commas.
So it's not the revisions themselves that are the problem. And it's not that I mind doing requested revisions in contrast to my own. I like almost all the suggestions in the revision letter and I know they'll make the story better.
What I'm having trouble with is the same thing I'm running into (God, I love puns) with my exercise. Motivation. Like the running, I know I have to start slowly and build momentum. Once I get back into writing shape (as it relates to this story), I know I'll be okay. But the idea of starting all over once again is daunting.
I started this story in November of 2007. I have read it at least forty times. I have twelve different drafts saved on my hard drive. In short, I really used to like this story and now the thing is just play work with all the negative connotations usually associated with that four-letter word.
But like the running, I've been plugging away for the last two weeks (well, minus that golf thing) in the hope that tonight's the night it's going to feel easier. Tonight's the night I'm going to feel like I'm actually making progress. Tonight's the night when running and writing feel a little bit less like work.
And here's where I'm supposed to say something about the journey being more important than the destination, but just between you and me, I think that's a load of crap. If I woke up tomorrow twenty pounds lighter and Secret Agent Guy told me I knocked it out of the park with the latest revisions, I'd take it.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
So I'm sure you all want to know how my golfing weekend went. (And for those of you who don't, I give you this instead.) I'm going to recap the weekend in the form of a box score because even though Benjamin Disraeli said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics," he was also a politician and was therefore, almost by definition, a liar himself. And if I learned anything from Mark Furhman's testimony in the O.J. Simpson case, it is that once you are caught in a lie, anything else you say must be met with extreme skepticism, and so I have to assume Mr. Disraeli was lying when he said the above, which would mean that statistics are not lies at all. (My favorite quote about statistics? "Statisticians do it continuously but discretely.")
8 men (I use the term loosely here)
81 holes of golf. Each.
7 birdies. Total.
22 golf balls lost (That's just me.)
8 golf balls found
90 sausages (links and patties combined)
12 baby back ribs
160+ beverage cans (the cans did not contain grape Kool-Aid)
And then there's the number that I'm sure you're dying to know. You will recall that last Sunday I bemoaned my weight and I may have said something about exercising. I also said something about how blogging about my "progress" would help motivate me. And it would have. It really would have. I honestly thought about taking my running shoes with me and jogging in the mornings.
But here's the problem: I have extreme feet. At night, they are like blocks of ice. If I wear socks, they sweat. If I wear socks and shoes, they really sweat. And if I run while wearing socks and shoes? Well, you can imagine the smell. Never mind, don't bother. I will tell you. My stinky socks, shoes, and feet smell like vinegar. And because I've used the shoes on more than one occasion, they've acquired a permanent smell that is rather offensive. I have to keep them outside of the house.
So there was no way I was going to subject my friends to this foul odor. The shoes had to stay home, and with them, any hope of losing weight.
THE WEIGHT LOSS STATS:
After one week, I have gained one pound.
But you know what they say about statistics...lies, damned lies.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The economy of Michigan is in shambles, due in no small part to the troubles in the automotive industry. Revenue to the state has been steadily falling and consequently schools have had to make tough decisions in order to balance their budgets. My school district was no exception. This year, the school board made the decision to close the school at which I work and turn it into a district run day care. The changes take place at the start of next school year.
We did a number of things to commemorate the building, one of which was to put together scrapbooks. Each staff member was asked to type up some memories of their time at the school and the professional scrapbooking people took it from there.
Some of my colleagues liked what I wrote and so they made it poster-sized and displayed it at the Goodbye Open House we held for the community. A local reporter covered the open house, saw the posters, and decided to publish my contribution in the paper. You can read it at the link below. It's on the far right of the screen.
A School is Not a Building
Also, the blog will be on hiatus for the extended weekend. I'm leaving tomorrow for a golf vacation with some friends. Chances that I will lose any weight during this trip are slim. Chances that I will lose a lot of golf balls are not.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
A: I go through the vault and find a poem to post.
This one's about allergies, which The Wife is currently struggling with. Of course, The Wife has occasionally been accused of being a wuss. (By me.)
The pollen count’s high
That’s what the news said
I’d better just stay in bed.
My eyes will be itchy
I’ll sneeze the whole day
There’ll be a dull ache in my head.
Yep, I better just stay in bed.
'Cause my nose will start running
And then I’ll start coughing
And I’ll use up a tree's worth of tissue.
So I think I'll stay home and not go to school
so my ah-choos will not be an issue.
Monday, June 8, 2009
1. Monica is probably my number one follower in terms of both reading and commenting.
2. Her comments are regularly funnier than my posts, which kind of pisses me off, but I'm just too enamored by her wit to stay angry.
3. She won the Order of Odd-Fish Week Contest.
4. She's Canadian.
5. Her last name is Murphy.
Go now and delight in the spectacularness that is well, it's about time you heard my opinion.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
2. I have received Revision Letter #2 from Secret Asian Man*, so for the next couple of months I'll be revising my middle grade yet again. This time, I'm shooting for a blending of the last two versions. Secret Asian Man helpfully included comments from his two interns in this letter, which means that if no other person ever reads the book, it's at least been read by three people in the publishing industry. So that's kind of cool.
3. I started a weight loss program yesterday. I'm sure many of you are thinking, "What? Murph, you do not need to lose weight. Sure, you're no Alexander Field, but you're not that dude from The Goonies either." Thanks for thinking that, but the truth is I'm about 20 pounds above where I should be and with summer here, it's a little depressing. So starting yesterday, I have committed to walking/jogging/running in the mornings and eating better the rest of the day. I've got a calendar printed out on which I'll be recording my time (it's a 2.5 mile route) and my weight. I'll update occasionally so that the fear of public shame and ridicule might have a beneficial impact on my motivation.
*The previous nickname, you will recall, was Agent Guy, but I never cared for it. This new monicker comes from my penchant for mangling lyrics to almost every song I've ever heard. The song is, of course, Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers and that seems appropriate. He is a man. His identity is a secret (to most of you). He is an agent. He is not, as far as I can tell, Asian.
Friday, June 5, 2009
I thought about writing how the last day of school is a lot like finishing a book. You want to hang out with your book a little longer because you've gotten to know it pretty good, but you also know that there are other books to write and you really should stick that thing in a drawer or send it off to get rejected or find some other way to avoid going back and rereading it because what you need to do is start another one.
But that seemed a little too serious for Murphblog. If I wasn't careful, I could have approached poignant. And poignant is a place I really try to avoid. People like Alice McDermott and John Irving hang out there. I'm more of a Ben Esch kind of guy.
So instead I'm going to tell you a story about the gift I put together for one of my retiring colleagues. We selected months with the idea that our gifts would in some way relate to each month. I signed up for November because I planned on doing a theme gift. The theme was "Movie Night."
I bought a bunch of theater-like candy and some microwave popcorn. Then I went to the video store and picked up three discount movies. The piece de resistance was going to be a gift card to the local theater and it was all going to be placed in one of those gargantuan popcorn buckets because I wanted that touch of authenticity. That's just how I am.
So I go to the cineplex and tell the ticket-taker guy that I'm not going to a movie, I just want an empty popcorn bucket for this gift I'm putting together. "Will they sell me one?" I ask.
"Yeah, sure. Just tell 'em what it's for," he says. I head to the counter, wait in line, and when I get up there, I explain the whole thing.
The kid's like seventeen and he doesn't appear to be listening at all. "Six-fifty," he mumbles.
"No, I don't want any popcorn. I just want the bucket."
"Six-fifty," he says again.
"For the bucket?"
Well what was I supposed to do? My options were as follows:
1. I could leave and sacrifice the authenticity of the gift and just wrap it conventionally.
2. I could pay six-fifty for a flipping empty tub.
3. I could throw a fit and talk to a manager and be one of Those People whose own petty problem becomes the problem of every person waiting in line behind him.
4. Or I could say, "Well, you might as well fill it up then," eat the popcorn, and then use the butter-stained tub to hold the gift.
Didn't seem like much of a choice to me. Not only did the butter smears add just the right amount of additional authenticity, butter makes everything at least three times better. If I ever start a rebellion, I'm calling it the Bacon-Butter Rebellion.
And instead of guns, I'll arm myself with awesome.
Monday, June 1, 2009
First reason: This blog is the closest thing I have to a journal, and at some point I am sure my daughter will not believe me when I tell her we used to have a pool. I will show her this post. She will then say something like, "Daaad! blah-blah-complaining-blah." But I won't feel bad because if I'd have kept the pool she would have surely had some sort of teenage bash and some kid would have cracked open his or her head (probably his). I'm against lawsuits, especially the ones where I'm the defendant.
Second reason: I took pictures. What else am I going to do with them?
First, a brief look back. This is the pool before I had it filled in: (Click images to enlarge.) Do not let the crystal clear waters fool you; the pool was the devil incarnate. Well, okay, not incarnate, but like, inhydronate. Or something. The point is most of the time the pool did not look like this and on those rare moments that I was able to pull it off, it took me about three hours of work and lots of chemicals. Chemicals cost money. I'm somewhat averse to work. You can see the problem.
This is the pool as it looked this May. It's a little closer to how the pool normally looked. Sure, the liner wasnt' all saggy like this, but the color of the water is spot-on.
Here are some pictures of the pool being destroyed. The demolition was great fun to watch. The whole neighborhood came by. I felt a little guilty sitting on the patio drinking beer while The Guy (that's what Little One called him) did all the work, but really, what else was I going to do? I can't fix a leaky faucet; I sure ain't gonna try to lift heavy stuff. Twelve ounces was plenty.
And here we have no more pool. I skipped the pictures where we filled the hole with all sorts of toxic chemicals, old batteries, and tires. There's probably some lame ordinance against that sort of thing. I don't want to get in trouble.
And here is our lovely new "yard." Someday, it'll have grass. I hope. I'm doing that part myself, so chances are...not so much. Still, maintaining dirt is cheap and easy. Even I can manage it.