A Salute to Vienna

Having suffered through a few early morning wake ups in a row, all I wanted to do after work today was lounge on the couch and wait for SNL.  So be it.  I’ve brought pillows and blankets from my bed.  I have technology–laptop, phone, remote control–within arm’s reach.  I have Old Dutch pretzels.  I have a water bottle for the inevitable moment when I start to shrivel from the saltiness of the pretzels.  Ruby is at my feet chewing the squeaker out of her stuffed skunk (that’s an odd sentence).

On TV is, of all things, A Salute to Vienna.  It is “a music and dance gala concert showcasing the musical heritage of Vienna.”  And I’m enjoying it immensely, even though I’ve already forgotten enough German that I can only listen dumbly.

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Every so often, as they tend to do, the PBS folks break in and ask me to donate sixty dollars so that programs like this might remain on television.  Their cause is a noble one, but I have to say that they should consider changing tactics.  Instead of politely, humbly asking for our money, perhaps they should try threats.  Like, “if you don’t call in RIGHT NOW the principal soprano will appear in your living room and blast a high C until you produce your wallet.”  Or, “Remember your little three-week Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon last summer?  Gee, I would hate to let slip about that to your friends and relatives…”

Beyond inspiring brilliant fundraising strategies, A Salute to Vienna is making me remember when I was in Vienna myself a few years ago.  Particularly, when friends and I stood in line for hours in order to get 4 Euro parterre seats for the Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera.  Despite parterre translating to “standing room in which you may fight over velvet-topped railings to lean on.  Tough luck, Holly.  You should have worn more comfortable shoes.”, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful city.

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Heck, maybe I’ll cough up that sixty dollars.

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Friday Favorites 5

I think I cheated a little this week.  The posts consist of Friday Favorites, a video about breastfeeding, and Friday Favorites again.  I don’t mean for Friday Favorites to make up the entirety of the blog, but if I can’t think of any one topic that merits its own post, it’s certainly nice to have a place to circle the blurb wagons at the end of the week …

I was just this close to writing an extended Oregon Trail metaphor.  Consider yourselves happily spared.

Here are a few things that made my life better this week:

This poem:

It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,
but to a different show, clearly inferior.

Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.

It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious denouement
to the unsurprising end- riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.

“Riveted” by Robyn Sarah, from A Day’s Grace. © The Porcupine’s Quill.

Writer’s Almanac.  I’m telling you, kids.

This dish:

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Photo credit: fakeginger.com

A few weeks ago a friend and I had dinner in Uptown Minneapolis.  We chose–fairly randomly, I assure you–a little Thai restaurant on the edge of the nightlife where we could sit outside and not be tripped over by cool cats stumbling in high heels.  As we ate our Pad Thai with tofu, fire alarms began to go off inside a building across the way.  Then a fire truck arrived.  Then a few police cars arrived.  Then a larger fire truck arrived.  The fuss was over rather quickly; perhaps it was a false alarm or merely burned popcorn.  Since no one was hurt, we considered it dinner theatre.

The Pad Thai, though.  We agreed, once we had pushed our plates away and leaned back, full, that it was delicious, but that the flavors were so heavy and distinct that we wouldn’t crave them again for at least a year.

Fat chance.

A week later I woke up craving Pad Thai.  I mentioned making the dish to my parents.  Mom was game, but Dad poorly hid his apprehension.  So I didn’t make it.  Another week went by, and I am now dreaming–day and night–about Pad Thai.  Especially the tofu soaked in sauce and a little crunchy on the outside.

I’ll stop now, because I don’t want to drown Mac in my saliva, but I will likely be making Pad Thai at home (even if just for myself to enjoy) very, very soon.  I will likely use this recipe.

This homecoming game:

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My beloved alma mater is celebrating homecoming this weekend, and I’m not going.  I don’t have a great reason, really, except that I am still jobless and living at home, and I think it would hurt my pride to return to Morris before I’m triumphant and successful.  It’s not that I would be judged there.  It’s just a standard I’m holding for myself.

But I’m cheering for the Cougars from afar, hoping we can overcome last year’s disappointment.

This movie:

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I have a deep, abiding love for The Outsiders.  It began in eighth grade, when we first read the book in Language Arts and our conversations–even outside of class–were peppered with words like “heater,” “rumble,” and “Greasers.”  We even had a day when we were allowed to forgo our uniforms (Catholic school, remember?) and dress as either a Soc or a Greaser.  Which one you chose said a lot about you.  “Typical, typical,” we twittered when so-and-so showed up in a sweater set and angel-white tennis shoes.

Then we discovered the movie.  I can’t remember if we watched it in class or if a select few of us watched it at a sleepover.  But that was it.  It’s impossible to watch Ponyboy recite Robert Frost against a golden sunset, or Dally yell with surprising emotion, “We’ll do it for Johnny, man!  We’ll do it for Johnny!” without being hooked.  Plus, the cast!  The beautiful ensemble cast! Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, etc.  Before they were movie stars, they were outsiders.

This book:

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I never expect Margaret Atwood’s books to be as good as they are.  Why is that?  Perhaps it’s because I have this strange desire to shout to the heavens that I DO NOT LIKE SCIENCE FICTION.  When really, I do.  At least a little.  When its sparkling innovation is backed up by human-like frankness and clumsiness and poignancy, as Margaret’s is.

This is the second novel of hers I’ve read (the first was The Handmaid’s Tale), and the second novel of hers that has utterly swept me away.

Maybe someday I’ll learn.

“Embarrassed”

About a year ago on this blog, I wrote,

” … In which I decide that breastfeeding in public is gross.  I was taking the minutes at a division meeting, grumbling to myself over the sad fact that professors simply think themselves to be above Robert’s Rules, when suddenly the professor at the next table, who had been holding her five-month-old on her lap for the past half hour, stooped to grab a large scarf from her bag.  Before I could avert my still-scarred-from-too-much-TLC-in-high-school eyes, she draped the scarf around her shoulders and over the baby, and began the feeding as if there weren’t fifty other people in the room.  Gross.  I realize that it’s not fair that you should have to be a pariah just because you have an infant, but still.  Gross.”

I’m ashamed now that I held such an opinion.  And I’m even more ashamed when I think that because of misunderstanding people like me, perhaps that breastfeeding mother was made to feel embarrassed, as if she were doing something wrong.  She wasn’t.

This explains it best:

Poet (and mother) Hollie McNish performing her spoken word poem “Embarrassed.”

Friday Favorites 4

This Milk-Bone marketing fail:

IMG_1591I discovered this beaut in Target today.

For the Fido who is watching his waistline.  Bring him home the low-cal treat he really craves.

And if the caloric statement isn’t enough to make you pause and raise your eyebrows into your hairline (it was for me), the grammatical error surely is.  Because unless that happy Beagle’s name is Mini and she is the owner or creator of the portion controlled Milk-Bones, there should be no possessive involved.

This meme:

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I cannot explain why Nigel Thornberry’s head placed on any body never ceases to be hilarious.  It is simply so.

This daily dose of literary magic:

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Every single day of the year, The Writer’s Almanac website posts a poem and a series of “this day in history” stories (mostly related to writers).  I’ve been an email subscriber for a few years now, and so my daily literary comfort arrives in my inbox at precisely 12:45 a.m.  If you choose, you can listen to the recording (on the W.A. website or via iTunes podcast) instead of reading the page yourself.

Garrison Keillor, lord of radio, narrates.

This book:

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I’ve read a great deal of literature concerning Nicholas and Alexandra and their family.  I’ve been fascinated with them since a young age, and have consciously tried to learn everything I can about their story.  That being said, it took me longer than it should have to get around to reading Massie’s take, especially since his biography is one of the most frequently cited.

I’ve included Nicholas and Alexandra in my favorites because it is such an exhaustive account of N&A’s childhoods, their reign, the Russian Revolution, their abdication, and their deaths.  Massie has a talent for writing about immensely complex events and people using plain, approachable style.  I like that in a biographer.

There were some things I didn’t like so much, however.  Firstly, Massie’s determination to dramatically point out every bit of irony, coincidence, and “if only.”  Secondly, the lack of attention given to the grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria.  I realize that since they weren’t able to inherit the throne, they were considered less important than their brother, but that’s exactly what has always made the grand duchesses fascinating to me: four beautiful, intelligent, über sheltered young women, murdered for no reason other than that they were the daughters of the former emperor and empress of Russia.  It’s the worst part of the tragedy.

This movie:

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I had not read the book.  I was unprepared for Anna Karenina’s sudden and violent end.  I shrieked aloud and immediately felt that the English major gods were ashamed of me for not having known what was coming.

Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement) is one of my favorite directors, but I was happy to see him take greater risks with this film than I’ve seen him take before.  At the end of the film you will feel (A.O. Scott (NY Times review) says it best):

“Dazzled, touched and a bit tired. But, really, you should feel as if you had been hit by a train.”

On My Own: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Edition

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In my teens (particularly in high school), I never would have gone to something like this by myself.  I would have wanted to be with my family or with a group of friends.  Not because I feared crowds or for my general safety in public, but rather because I would have wanted to look like I belonged, somehow.  Like I was the kind of successful person who had back up, who had peeps, who had voluntary companions.

In my twenties, I’ve discarded this particular security blanket.  I have studying abroad to thank for that, and a certain icy roommate who seemed to either think that I was a swamp monster or entirely nonexistent.  That sort of treatment, rather than crushing my spirit–cue Oprah monologue–forced me to be independent, self-confident, and to chuckle to myself at the horrendous awkwardness of the situation.

An example of my claimed immense self-growth: a few evenings ago I went to a concert by myself.  I drove to Minneapolis (though I’ve always liked driving); ran up on a curb while attempting to park on a smart, residential street; and walked along Lake Harriet until I reached the band shell where the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians would be performing.

I then stood for an hour and a half at the back of the band shell’s lawn listening and periodically patting the head of my standing neighbor’s small black dog.  I enjoyed the music, and the general splendor of being near a great mass of water and seeing the occasional bright-sailed sailboat race across it.

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

The only discomfort involved in the outing–aside from when I jumped the curb with witnesses–was that when it comes to classical music, I hardly know what I’m hearing.  There a movement has ended, there the sound is building … that’s about the extent of my knowledge.  I greatly admired the young woman near me who had her eyes closed the entire time and was softly swaying her body as if in a great, music-induced trance.  I would have done the same, hoping for epiphany, but bad things tend to happen when I close my eyes.

You can see me in this photo!  It's tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I'm the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair.  It's a little embarrassing that I'm not even watching the concert in this photo.  But hey--maybe I'm petting the dog?

You can see me in this photo! It’s tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I’m the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair. It’s a little embarrassing that I’m not even watching the concert in this photo. But hey–maybe I’m petting the dog? Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson

Truthfully, until I arrived at Lake Harriet, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into.  I knew it was a Minnesota Orchestra concert, and that it was free.  But I didn’t realize that these were the Minnesota Orchestra musicians who have been locked out of the Minnesota Orchestral Association since October 2012, following a labor dispute.

Good for them for continuing to perform, despite the lack of steady salary.  Good for them for refusing to let their orchestra become anything less than the world-class group it’s always been.

After the concert was over, I pushed my way to the front of the band shell where buttons and t-shirts were being sold.  I grinned hugely as I bought my button and pinned it on, so much so that the woman at the table asked if I was a musician myself.  No, ma’am.  It just felt good to support a cause again.  Not good as in, my word, I’m such a Good Samaritan, but good as in, my word, even though I’m by myself, I’m part of this large group of happy people who love music and come to listen to it and buy buttons to support it.  What was left of my trembling high school self shrank three sizes that day.

If you’d like to learn more about the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, their cause, and their upcoming concerts, here‘s the link to their website. The Star Tribune write-up of the Lake Harriet concert and the current lockout situation can be found here.

Writing “Rules”

Admittedly, upon waking this morning and reading the Weather Channel’s description of the cool temperature and slight breeze, I bolted outside in my pajamas to confirm for myself.  I appreciate every change of season as it comes, but there’s something about fall.  Perhaps it’s the (lifelong, I suspect) association with a new school year, but summer to fall feels like the greatest shift of all.  It feels like a shift that permeates not only the temperature and the leaf color, but people’s lives.  Big things are afoot, my friends, for you and for me.  Even if we don’t know what these big things are yet.

What I have for you today, far from the promised materialism of Friday Favorites, are my writing “rules.”  I typed these out last night instead of working on a short story.  That’s right: I wrote rules for writing instead of actually applying the rules and writing.  Though writing the rules was writing …  just not the kind of writing I was thinking of when I wrote them.

Right.  Or write, if you’d prefer.

Needless to say, I don’t actually believe that my writing rules should be your rules, or even that my rules apply to my writing all of the time (thus the obnoxious quotations around “rules”).  But it was a surprisingly good time to think about how I write and how I’d like to write and how I live so that I might write.

Holly’s Written “Rules” For Writing

1. Never show a first draft.  No matter how encouraging your reader is, the brilliancy of your fragile baby draft will shrink in your eyes once you let another’s eyes judge it.  Wait until a draft is as good as you can make it before you let people tell you how far it has yet to go.

"The first draft of anything is shit." -Ernest Hemingway

“The first draft of anything is shit.”  -Ernest Hemingway

2. When stumped, start over.  And by start over, I mean start a new word document, entirely separate from the stump-inducing one.  Retype the parts you liked on the old document, but do so without looking.  This is how you find a new angle: via blank slate.

3. Find your writing power song and don’t be too proud to use it.  Mine is “Briony” from the Atonement film score.  Because of the typewriter sounds.  Note: your power song does not need to be subtle.

4. Read your work out loud, even when you don’t want to, or are in public.  You will always catch typos and icky-sounding syntax that you couldn’t possibly have otherwise.

5. Write down an idea, name, image, conversation the minute it strikes you.  You will have forgotten it by the following morning otherwise.  See “Marble Memo” post for my portable solution.

6. The power of mulling is highly underestimated.  Not everything to do with writing has to do with the act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  Sometimes the solution to a plot tangle is to write until you get it right.  Other times, you simply have to puzzle it out to yourself while circling the local roundabout intersection in your Subaru.

7. Even if you can’t take criticism well, learn to take it and then cry later.  Because you need criticism.

8.  Do things.  Meet people.  Be out in the world.  Be afraid and uncomfortable and awkward and curious.  Let it all filter into your writing.  Emily Dickinson has dibs on the secluded attic writer, and goodness knows we couldn’t do it as well as her anyway.

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9. Tell people you’re a writer.  The title “writer” has nothing to do with publishing status or age or degree.  If you love writing and do it often–whether for hobby or for career–then you’re a writer.  Revel in the raised eyebrows that will often follow your proclamation.  Don’t forget to adopt the Hemingway swagger as you walk away.

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10. Let yourself be intimidated by the greats.  Let yourself revel in their genius, regardless of who the greats are for you.  For me, they’re primarily Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf.  And they scare me and sometimes make me feel like I will never amount to anything because I don’t write like Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf.  But they also make me proud to be part of this rowdy clan of crazy genius writers.

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11.  Write your own writing rules.  Or know them, at least.  Make some standards for yourself and stick to them.  This is how we prove to those eyebrow raisers (and to ourselves) that what we do is as important and as “real” of a job as, say, accounting.

If you do write your own writing rules, share them with me.  Comment with the link.  I’d love to read them.

Ole and Lena and a Salute to September 11th in Moberg Park

The marching band clicks off a warm-up in the park across the street.

Barb and I watch from the window, commenting on this flag twirler’s blue hair, that one’s skinny jeans

(which keep the eighty-five degree temperature contained around the skin of his calves)

(a vacuum seal of sweat and leftover summer tan)

Closing time, Gordy retells an Ole and Lena joke for me:

“Ole and Lena are sitting in a restaurant, surrounded by young couples in love … ”

The veterans come marching up the street, hiding their limps and holding high the colors.

We watch them come, as the saxophone players wet their reeds the trombones utilize their spit valves the flutists shuffle but are prim and ready

and the band director’s neck muscles tense and his arms begin to raise

The veterans have arrived at the gazebo without incident.

The EMTs fall back

Folding chairs whine as the crowd rises to honor the flags, but mostly the veterans.

“one young man says to his young lady, ‘pass the sugar, Sugar.'”

The band director waves his hands in mysterious signals.

And suddenly, miraculously, the Star Spangled Banner plays.

“Another young man says to his young lady, ‘pass the honey, Honey.”

I put a hand over my heart, a trick I picked up at Gopher football games because I never had a hat to take off like the men.

“Lena says to Ole, ‘why don’t you ever talk to me like that anymore?'”

A few cars, stopped at the Schmidt Oil stoplight, direct honks toward the flag,

and somehow, they fit in with the song as it ends with an untimely squawk.

“Ole replies, ‘pass the tea, Bag.'”

The band director shudders visably, but we clap and clap.

Photo credit: Chisago City Heritage Association

Photo credit: Chisago City Heritage Association