O, What a Luxury

We all know that I have a terrible inferiority complex when it comes to meeting celebrities (even local ones).  “Will they like me?” I think.  “Can I trust myself to say something witty and endearing?” I think, sweating profusely.  “What if I’m not dressed nicely enough to impress them?” I think, from a dead faint on the floor.

It’s silly, and it doesn’t make much sense.  We’re all people, after all.  We’re all plodding through this wonderful, cruel maze that is The Human Condition.  Celebrities just happen to have a marketable talent.  Or are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.  Or are really, really ridiculously good-looking.  Or are hard workers.  Or some combination of all four.

The fact is, I can’t seem to remember any of this wisdom when faced with a real, live celebrity.  And thus I’m always surprised when they turn out to be nice, regular people.  (Of course, some celebrities are as appraising and arrogant as I fear, and those I choose to smirk about later: “It goes to their heads. It always, always goes to their heads. Heh heh heh.  I was right all along.”  But then again, plenty of people who don’t have their own TV shows are appraising and arrogant.)

So when Wednesday night found me sitting in the sixth row at a Garrison Keillor poetry reading, I knew I was in for it.  Here was a man whose voice I had literally been hearing through the radio for my entire life.  My parents own a boat on Lake Superior, and some of my earliest memories are of hurtling through the northern woods on Sunday afternoons, listening to Guy Noir or News From Lake Wobegon and laughing whenever my parents laughed.  Sometimes, uncomfortably full with the Happy Meals we had begged for for miles and miles (and which were somehow disappointing once actually opened and consumed), my sister and I would fall asleep in the backseat of the minivan to the sound of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and wake up at home.

Garrison Keillor is perhaps the most important public figure of all, in the Minnesotan mind.  He brought us–our church basement suppers, our bars and hot dishes, our passive aggression, our experience of being up at the lake or down on the farm or “in town,” our grandparents and parents and cousins–to the world.  And sure, we’re not always so neurotic as A Prairie Home Companion portrays us to be.  Nor always so poignant nor so musical.  But the spirit of the show is right.

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All of the sudden the poetry reading was over.  The wide sheets of paper Mr. Keillor had read from were scattered on the floor.  And Mr. Keillor himself was strolling down the stage steps, down the aisle, and out into the lobby, where, as he said, he would be happy to sign copies of O, What a Luxury and to chat.  Mom and I joined the growing line, squashed in between an older woman who exclaimed that she was “just wild for E.E. Cummings” and a young couple tossing computer jargon–discs and codes and bytes–back and forth like a softball.

Then we were at the front, and I silently handed my book to Mr. Keillor, deciding in a split second that perhaps I should just be quietly friendly and not attempt any conversation.  He looked up, though, and jokingly commented on my mom’s hair, and then turned to me with an “what do you have to say for yourself, young lady?” expression.

So I told him that I’m a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota.

“And what did they do for you there?”

“They gave me an English degree, but I’m still figuring out how to use it.  I’m trying to get a job writing or editing.”

“Are you a good writer and editor?”

“Yes.”  (Then, because that seemed too vain) “I mean, I like to think I am.”

“Send your resume to Prairie Home Companion, then.”

I’m going to end the conversation here, but note that there was some additional stuttering on my part before the exchange was over.  Perhaps also some gushing to my patient mother during the drive home: “I can’t believe Garrison Keillor told me to send in my resume!  I mean, it wasn’t exactly a promise of a job, but still.  I’m going to have to write a cover letter right away.  I think I’ll say something about listening to APHC as a kid, but I don’t want to ramble, you know, so I’ll have to be concise…”  You get the idea.

To conclude this saga, I think there’s a lesson to be learned: if we ever happen to develop a marketable talent; or are in the right place at the right time; or become really, really ridiculously good-looking; or increase our work ethic…in other words, if we become celebrities, let’s remember to be kind to stuttering recent graduates who ask for our autographs.  Because it will mean a lot to them.

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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.

Top Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (Part 1)

I was too late applying for a job today.  The posting was still on the company’s website, but the deadline at the bottom was August 12th.  I sent an email anyway, asking if the position had already been filled.  And if not, if I could send my application and begin dedicating various lucky charms toward the cause.  Sarah, who responded to my email, said in the friendliest way that the position had been filled, but that I should check back later.

I will certainly do so.

But what made me want the position badly enough to send that email in the first place was that applicants were asked to include–along with cover letter, resume, writing sample (the usual)–a list of their ten favorite pieces of contemporary literature.

Let me tell you.  I’ve applied for many a publishing job.  At larger and more prominent publishing houses.  But not one has asked me for such a list.

This is strange, because it seems to me that for one to work in publishing, one must be first and foremost a reader.  A crazed, midnight oil burning, Half Price Books residing, I can’t sleep until I know this character will be all right reader.  Able to recite the red wheelbarrow poem on demand.  Able to explain the origins of Samuel Clemens’ pseudonym without pause.  Unable to use the term “Harry Potter English Major,” because, Good Lord, all readers are wonderful and miraculous and welcome.  And we all have guilty secrets.

The entire Twilight Saga is on my bookshelf right now.  In hardback.  I am not ashamed.

But mostly, readers delight in such lists.  That’s why, if I might be so brash, I’d like to make my list now.  And to make it even thought August 12th is long past.

Don’t think of this as my desperate plea for that job that got away.  Think of it as the kind of opportunity I wait all year for.

Holly’s Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (in no particular order, because I couldn’t possibly):

1. Into the Wild.  This book served as my introduction to creative nonfiction.  It showed me that true stories could be told in literary prose.  Jon Krakauer told us about Chris McCandless without presuming to know him.  And more importantly, without presuming to criticize him.  I like an author humble enough to give you the facts, set the scene, and then back off.

2. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  Tell me how overdone Hamlet plots are and I’ll smirk and hand you this book.  I haven’t yet been able to describe the plot without making it sound silly (it’s not) and as if it’s for young people (it’s not).  The prose in Edgar Sawtelle is breathtaking.  The story is set in the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin (my childhood stomping grounds).  And I’ve never wanted to bring a character to life more than I’ve wanted Almondine to be real.  Almondine is a Sawtelle dog.  You’ll know what I mean when you read the book.

3. Never Let Me Go.  I am not a professional reviewer.  My adjective pool is somewhat shallow.  The word flawless comes to mind, however.  Heartbreaking.  Eerie.  Masterfully layered.  I read this book when I need a lesson on how to reveal a world slowly, subtly.

Expect the next three on my list in the next post.  You didn’t think I wouldn’t prolong this delight, did you?  Whew double negative.  I’ll just leave that there.

Summer Enjoyment

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of moping around the house.  A fair amount of job hunting.  A decent amount of neatening the large amount of stuff which is the culmination of 22 years of residing in the same room in the same house.  A satisfying amount of going out to enjoy summer.

Since I don’t really want to talk about the moping (more of a private journal topic), and I shouldn’t talk about the job hunting (in case potential employers find me here and wonder why I’m bragging about my prospects online), and I would be wise to leave the home organization talk to those who know what they’re doing (the fine folks on HGTV and TLC), I’m going to talk summer enjoyment.  Enjoy:

An oriental poppy from my mother's garden.  I like to claim that these flowers grew from seeds I planted years ago, but it's much more likely that they were bought, fully grown, from the Home Depot garden center.

An oriental poppy from my mother’s garden. I like to claim that these flowers grew from seeds I planted years ago, but it’s much more likely that they were bought, fully grown, from the Home Depot garden center.

Is anyone else more than a little disturbed by the Old Navy mannequins that "greet" you as you enter?  Luckily, two sisters wearing matching (I was dressed first, I swear) denim outfits were there to complete the group.

Is anyone else more than a little disturbed by the Old Navy mannequins that “greet” you as you enter? Luckily, two sisters wearing matching (I was dressed first, I swear) denim outfits were there to complete the group.

Como Zoo afternoon.  I can never decide which animal I like best.  Not the zebras (I just couldn't resist posting a zebra butt photo).  Probably the orangutans.  My anthropology professor used to tell fantastic stories about orangutans who learned to do laundry with village women in Borneo, and would go out every morning with the women to scrub and wring.  I suppose it's a little sad to think of a wild animal doing human laundry, but I can imagine how lively the event would be: women chatting, laughing, splashing, orangutan right in the midst of it all, washing a pair of pants.

Como Zoo afternoon. I can never decide which animal I like best. Not the zebras (I just couldn’t resist posting a zebra butt photo). Probably the orangutans. My anthropology professor used to tell fantastic stories about orangutans who learned to do laundry with village women in Borneo, and would go out every morning with the women to scrub and wring. I suppose it’s a little sad to think of a wild animal doing human laundry, but I can imagine how lively the event would be: women chatting, laughing, splashing, orangutan right in the midst of it all, washing a pair of pants.  Sorry for the long saga on the zebra butts photo caption.  

My endlessly athletic mother completed the High Cliff Triathlon last weekend.  We had to leave the house at 6 p.m., but even at that hour, I could appreciate Lake Winnebago.  And the comfort of my lawn chair and sweatshirt in comparison to the athletes' hard bike seats and wetsuits.

My endlessly athletic mother completed the High Cliff Triathlon last weekend. We had to leave the house at 6 p.m., but even at that hour I could appreciate Lake Winnebago. And the comfort of my lawn chair and sweatshirt in comparison to the athletes’ hard bike seats and wetsuits.

Hiking by the St. Croix river.  The Gentleman Caller and I did some illegal climbing so that we could sit on mossy boulders and dangle our feet in the water.  Well, I dangled my feet in.  Truthfully, I think the G.C. was more concerned about the spiders that were flying through the air, trailing gossamer strands of web behind them.  I will say no more.

Hiking by the St. Croix river. The Gentleman Caller and I did some illegal climbing so that we could sit on mossy boulders and dangle our feet in the water. Well, I dangled my feet in. Truthfully, I think the G.C. was more concerned about the spiders that were flying through the air, trailing gossamer strands of web behind them. I will say no more.

Hello Again

Please listen to the provided Neil Diamond while reading.  It’s the theme song of this post.

The funny thing about this blog is that when I’m not posting, it feels like I’ve been cut off from an old friend who I’m used to chatting with regularly.  And all that’s complicated in my life, or hard, or sad, or unbelievably happy, seems to build up inside of me until I’m running around campus holding my chest as if it’ll burst open if I don’t.

What happened to make me stop calling and texting you were the MCSA (student government) elections.  I’m Election Commissioner this year, which didn’t seem like a very complicated job at the onset, but which escalated until I was spending all day every day policing Facebook and Twitter, planning debates, editing videos, sending reassuring emails to the student body, dealing with illegal spray painting incidents (still can’t believe that happened), and near the end, checking the online polls every ten minutes to see who was ahead.  The worst part was that MCSA doesn’t have detailed rules outlining the powers of the Commissioner, so when “disciplinary” situations came up, I had little guidance, and mostly had to wing it.  As is natural when a leader is “winging it,” there were quite a few shouts of “unfair!” and “dictator!”  It got old really quickly.

The elections ended last night at 11:59, and by 2:00 a.m. this morning, I had sent out emails to all the winners and losers.

The high point was that I got to call the winning Presidential/Vice Presidential team to tell them that they had won.  Hazen, who was running for president, is a dear friend of mine, and asked me beforehand to call her with news, whether bad or good.  When I told her last night that she was the 2013-2014 MCSA President, she didn’t believe me at first.  And then she screamed with excitement, and I could hear her running mate, Andrew, screaming in the background.  It was the best call I’ve ever made.

And how can you be bitter about a job that ended like that?

Besides elections, I’ve been spiraling toward my last month of college.  Lots of paper writing (I have two big ones to finish this weekend), graduation planning (bought my cap and gown and two dresses (one for the awards banquet and one for commencement)), and nostalgia.

You know, as sad as it’ll be to leave this dear place, I’ve been slowly realizing that I’m ready.  I’ve taken in Morris completely, I’ve had wonderful experiences and made wonderful friends and learned how to be a grown-up, analytical thinker.  But there’s not much more for me here, now, and that means it’s time to move on to the next big thing.

What is “the next big thing,” you ask?  I have no idea.  Does anyone want to offer me a job?

What I’ll Read When I Have Time

So far the Marble Memo keeping is going well, thank you.  I only have a few pages filled, but I think it’ll take me a while to get used to thinking in terms of the notebook.  It took me a while to get used to thinking in terms of a blog.  You know, in days gone by, when I drove around the gas station three times because I forgot which side of the truck the tank was on, or when I slipped playing broomball and concussed myself, I would just think, “Wow, that’s unfortunate.”  But now, I think, “Wow, this’ll make for a great post.”

Eventually, beyond merely listening to people talk or observing something unique, I’ll learn to write down what I see and hear.

In other news, I have some richness in my bookshelf that I’d like to share with you.  As much as I’m dreading graduation because it means the end of college (yes, Dad, I went to the resume-writing workshop today.  And yes, I know what J-O-B spells), I’m also looking forward to reveling in delicious books every evening.  I’ve spent the last four years (well, really the last twenty-two, but the last four especially) amassing piles and piles of books that I haven’t had time to read yet.  Here are the ones I plan to devour first (and yes, I seem to associate books with eating…):

1. The White Forest, by Adam McOmber.  I met him!  I met him!  He was at the Literary Festival, and I had the honor of taking a workshop with him, and of introducing him later when he gave a reading.  I gave a rather creepy introduction, referencing last Spring, when he Google chatted with my fiction writing class.  People laughed, but honestly, it was creepy.  He came up to me afterward to say thank you, which was nice.  And he signed my book, which was awfully nice.  

2. Coop, by Michael Perry.  I swear I’m not deliberately plugging the Lit Fest, but Michael Perry was one of the authors last year.  I also took a workshop with him, but didn’t get a book signed because I was too cheap to pay full price, and opted for Amazon instead.

3. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace.  A friend gave it to me for my birthday, with a nice inscription citing a George W. Bush quote.  Can’t beat that.

4. One the Road, by Jack Kerouac.  Also a birthday present.  Boy, people know me well.

5. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.  NOT BECAUSE OF THE MOVIE.  I’m way more hipster than that.  No, seriously.  I’ve been meaning to read it for years.

6. Three Cups of Tea, by David Oliver Relin.  Various family members have been telling me about this book for quite some time now.  Also, I met David sophomore year, when he spoke on campus … I am so sorry about all this name dropping, you guys.  But it makes sense, right?  That I’d want to read books written by people I’ve actually had contact with? 

7. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott.  For the zillionth time.  But now I own the Penguin Threads edition, which is just about the prettiest book edition I’ve ever seen.

Rachel Sumpter Penguin Threads Little Women cover