Monday, January 25, 2010

The Year of Doing Stuff isn't going so well

Previously on hatched: The Year of Doing Stuff

This isn't quite working out the way I'd hoped. I had to cancel my Spanish class at the last minute because of money. Lack of money, that is. Hubby and I are not on food stamps yet, but we're scrutinizing every penny we spend. I couldn't justify spending money on a night class when we have unpaid medical bills and a house that is slowly eating us, a la The Money Pit. I'm bummed about it, but fortunately the Hoover Public Library is well-stocked with Spanish language instructional CDs.

Also, my volunteering training is difficult. I can't really talk about where I'm volunteering, which I hope doesn't make you more curious about it, but suffice it to say I'm not working with kittens or anything. It's hard work, and I haven't even started yet. The other volunteers and staff are wonderful, though. I'm proud to be working with this great group of people.

Just the thought of bowling fills me with ennui. Maybe it's just January, but I am not interested in doing much of anything lately, besides eating, sleeping and thinking about eating. I put my running shoes on every day but still haven't found the energy to step on the treadmill, which is placed mere feet from my TV. Apparently the only way I'll exercise is at gunpoint.

The only good news? As for cooking, oh yeah, still doing that. I do so love to eat. I made red beans and rice AND peach cobbler yesterday. So all is not lost! Next Sunday is my birthday, so I'm sure the prospect of being just four short years from 40 will put my butt, and the Year of Doing Stuff, back into high gear.

Why should writers blog?

I am fortunate to have many talented writer friends. Most of them are much more accomplished and successful than I am. That's why I'm always surprised when I ask about their blog and they say they don't have one.

There's no rule that all writers must have a blog, of course. I'm sure the ones who are the most successful are too busy writing for money, not personal notoriety like yours truly. But even if you don't think you "need" a blog as a writer, there are many good reasons you should consider one.

1. People want to get to know the real you. If you're writing medical articles all day long you're probably not getting to inject a lot of your own voice in your pieces. What's going on in your head when you're not querying and writing and editing? What are your passions? What ticks you off? Being your honest, true self is often scary. I sometimes wish I could delete a post I've written, because it shows vulnerability or a strange inclination to sing to cats. But the Internet is full of phonies. Be authentic, and I do believe fame and fortune will follow. Eventually.

2. You have something to say, even if you don't know it yet. I have been struggling to come up with good article ideas since getting laid off last year. It's hard to think of something original when the only other beings you come into contact with all day are four unimpressed cats. But blogging should be no-pressure writing. Just say it, even if it's silly or weird or controversial or kind of boring. I fight with this every day, as I think I should only blog when I have something earth shattering to say. The funny thing is, quantity will eventually produce some quality when you blog. The more you blog, the more chances you have to say something that catches the eye of readers.

 3. Try something new. If you're primarily writing straightforward articles, look at your blog as a chance to break out. Write poetry. Post your amateur photos with witty captions. Write a blog as your pet. Post an experiment, such as making something every day or reading and reviewing a book every week. Julie Powell did this and turned her blog into Julie and Julia. Who says you can't have the next big blog thing? If nothing else, the creative muscle stretching will make your writing richer.

4. Show off your expertise. Let's say you are excellent at knitting with cat hair. When you're sending in a query or emailing a potential client, it's simple to say, "I've been blogging about knitting with cat hair for two years" and give links to pertinent blog posts you've researched and written. Ta da, you're an expert. The blogosphere is full of general blogs with inane babbling, like the one you're reading, but the specialty blogs are where it's at. If you're really good at something, a blog is the place to let your little light shine.

If you're reading this and finally decide to create a special blog of your very own, come back and tell me about it in the comments. Or if you are a writer and think I'm full of crap, share that, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I just won a Major Award

Today was pretty tough. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I put on my "career hat" and look for more freelance clients, full-time work, pennies under the couch cushions, etc. With a fragile ego like mine, it's difficult, and required copious amounts of Betty Crocker whipped frosting just to get through it.

So when I got an email from my dear friend Rachel at Wine and Cheese Please saying I had won a "major award," it completely made my day. A friend of Rachel's, Christine at the wonderful Type A Chronicles, had given her the prestigious "When Life Hands You Lemons" award. In her infinite generosity, Rachel named me as one of the people she was passing this award along to. I was seriously flattered. I often feel like I'm blogging into oblivion and most days it's hard to find the motivation to write anything at all. So kind words go a long way to making me feel like all is not in vain.

In the spirit of the award, I'm supposed to list five things about myself, then link five new recipients and notify them. I'm an oversharer, so I'm thrilled to open up my darkest secrets to you, my three readers!
1. Ok, this one's a bit tragic, but in 2003 Royal and I were in Florence, Italy, taking in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. We had climbed to the top of the campanile and were taking in the breathtaking view, or, rather, I was struggling to take breaths after climbing almost 300 feet up narrow stairs in knee boots with three inch heels (hello, we were in Italy, not Cleveland). While we were resting, I took a look around at the other tourists and lo and behold, there was Elrond! (For those of you not well-versed in the Tolkien universe, it was Agent Smith from The Matrix.) "Oh my God, Royal," I wheezed, "It's fricking Elrond." Royal, being almost as well-versed in Tolkien lore as I was, was like, "No way." But he looked anyway and squealed, "It is Elrond!" Then he kept poking me and saying I should go talk to him. But by this time Elrond (or Hugo Weaving, as is his real name) was eying me suspiciously. I tried to be nonchalant, but after pretending to not look for a while I couldn't resist and had to steal another look at him. He was staring at me by this point. It looked like Elrond, er, Mr. Weaving, was on vacay with his family. There was a least one woman with him and a few kids. I could practically feel him saying, Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be. Take the Dimholt Road. Wait, no, that wasn't it, I could feel him saying, "Don't you dare speak to me, you typical American dolt." So I contented myself with staring at him, until finally he and his whole family grew uncomfortable and descended those stairs very quickly, only to be mobbed by some Japanese tourists on the ground. We were like ships passing in the night!
2. I also saw Yo Yo Ma, the world's most famous cellist, (I'm a HUGE fan) in the lobby of the Four Seasons Atlanta. Also gawked and did not speak. Seriously, the celebrities I see aren't surrounded by a SWAT team so what is my DEAL?!
3. I have not showered for two days. I just remembered this interesting fact.
4. When I was in high school, my dream was to be a journalist. In fact, in my senior yearbook I wrote that in ten years I would be editor of the New York Times. Beyond the sheer naivete of this statement, let's marvel at the fact that I was under the impression that journalism paid well. Instead, I became a well-paid, highly regarded freelance writer. HA HA HA HA HA HA. *Sob.*
5. Whenever I'm alone with my cats, which is probably too often for sanity, I make up songs for them. The one for Benny goes like this:
      Benny! Mr. Kitty,
      Benny! You're so shitty,
      Benny, Mr, Kitty CAAAAAAAAT! (Big finish.)
Unfortunately, one of my cats is named Niblet, and the only thing that rhymes with "Niblet" is "giblet," which doesn't give me a lot of variety in songwriting. Thankfully, he doesn't seem to care.

Now, who to bestow this prestigious award upon? My first pick would of course be to give it back to Ms. Rachel at Wine and Cheese Please, who now has two of these things and will grow a huge ego and be completely impossible to live with. But really, she is the most generous friend. I love reading about her adventures and her unique perspective on things. She is probably the only naturally cheerful person -- besides her mother, who I also adore -- who I do not naturally loathe. Her happiness is contagious, and although I seem to be inoculated against optimism, I do, truly appreciate Rachel's good heart.

I don't really read a lot of personal blogs. Most of my time is spent on places like Metafilter, Jezebel, etc. But one blog I read without fail is It Is What It Is, the blog of my friend Laurel Mills. Laurel means a lot to me. She was the managing editor at Lipstick, and has seen me in more bad moods than my own husband. She has talked me down from many ledges. And she's funny as hell, and incredibly talented.

I know I have three more people to bestow this upon, so I will use this as an impetus to start checking out more personal blogs. I'll start with Rachel's favorites, as clearly she knows a good thing when she sees it! Thanks, Rachel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Year of Doing Stuff

OK, kids, my resolution this year was to Do Stuff. It's capped 'cause it's important. I don't really Do Stuff, normally. I think about it, roll it around it my brain until it gets covered in lint, maybe discuss it with like-minded Don't Do Stuff-ers. It's getting kind of old.

So this year, I want to become a person who Does Stuff. How, you ask? Well, um, by Doing Stuff. There really is no other way, is there?

I've been thinking about Stuff I want to Do, and I've come up with some ideas:
*Volunteering. So important. I used to volunteer regularly for the local Humane Society, but honestly it became too much to bear. I have serious admiration for people who can do this on a regular basis. It's so hard to see those sweet little faces that have been abused, neglected or just dumped off at the shelter because "I didn't want a big dog." It made me hate people, seriously. So now I'm going to start volunteering somewhere else. I start training this weekend, and I'll tell you more about that in later posts.
*Exercising. I'm going to start Couch to 5k as soon as I get all this caffeine out of my system. See, I'm a big-breasted girl. And caffeine makes my girls hurt. Really, that's all that needs to be said about that right now.
*Bowling. Wait, what? I know what you're thinking. Who goes bowling any more? That's the whole point. Nobody does during the day. My friend Jane and I went a few weeks ago and just had ourselves a big ol' time acting like fools at Brunswick Lanes. We're going to make it a steady date.
*Cooking new recipes. I love to cook and I'm quite good at it. But I haven't challenged myself in a long time. Ok, maybe challenge is a bit much but I'm sick of eating the same stuff. This weekend, I made 44-clove garlic soup and later this week I'm making chicken corn chowder from scratch. It's not Julia Child, but it's a start.
*Taking a Spanish class. I am seriously thinking about going back to school for my Spanish degree. I have always loved languages, and I was fluent in Spanish, once upon a time. I'm taking a class at Samford this semester to see how much I remember, and just for the fun of it.

So what other Stuff can I Do? Any hobbies, events, ideas that I should try? And let me know what you're doing. I could use some inspiration!

I'm being held hostage by my house

Almost four years ago, Royal and I started house hunting. It was exciting at first. We went in houses that were out of our price range (out of our stratosphere, in some cases) and we toured houses that needed a lot of work, or maybe a match and some kerosene. We played "what if" in every room of the houses we liked. "What if we made this closet into a second bathroom?" "What if we made that old patio a glass sunroom?" "What if this house weren't painted pink?"

Some houses I could see myself living in the minute we saw them, like the one I fell in love with in Roebuck Springs. It was a small, tidy house that had obviously been well cared for. Built in the 1950s, both bathrooms retained their original tile (pink in one bathroom and spring green in the other) but it had otherwise been updated. I still weep that we didn't buy that house sometimes. But we wondered if Roebuck Springs was a little too far from the heart of town and especially from Royal's job on 280. Oh, did I mention this perfect little house was only $140,000? That may have been part of my love for it.

We began looking in Bluff Park, although I was sure we couldn't afford anything there. For those who don't know, Bluff Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Birmingham. It sits high on a bluff (duh) and has a lot of natural beauty. Some of the homes built at or before the turn of the century (that would be the turn of the 20th century) still stand, but mostly it's a neighborhood of post-WWII ranch homes. We found one home on a quiet street with a huge backyard, but with a bewildering floor plan. The kitchen was oddly shaped, and not at all built for a cook. My mother-in-law Doris, who has a real estate license, was with us on this particular trip, and she pointed across the street. "What about that house?"

"That house" was a gray house with a pagoda-style roof bordered with masses of flowering bushes. It was early spring, and everything in the yard was in bloom in shades of pink, white and blue. Butterflies fluttered amongst the blooms, and I swooned a little. It was all so very picturesque. "Let's go see it," I said, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice.

The home was owned by a sweet little old lady who was moving in with one of her sons due to failing health. There was a piano with a vase of flowers on it in the living room, lace curtains on every window and a aura of long-faded romance. I was smitten. The lady's son showed us around the place, opened all the closet doors (eight closets in all!), pointed out things they had changed in the decades since their mother and late father had bought the house, and walked us down to the creek that ran behind the house. We chatted for a while and said we'd be in touch.

Once we got in the car, I wouldn't shut up. "I. Must. Have. That. House." I didn't even want to look at anything else. I knew this was it. I felt like the house was whispering to me that I belonged there. Royal was a little bemused, as he had not heard any house whispering. "If it makes you happy," was all he said. I was convinced I would indeed never be happy again if we did not purchase this house immediately.

So buy it we did. Doris talked the sellers into a much lower price, and we signed on the dotted line. A month later, it was ours.

Then the trouble began. First, we bought a 36-cubic foot fridge. It was so beautiful and shiny on the showroom floor. But it wouldn't go through any of the doors of our new house. After hours of sweating, swearing and crying, and after removing the doors of the fridge, laying it on a blanket and sliding it up the stairs, we finally got it in the house. Next we started removing the things we hated, like the old plywood paneling and wallpaper in three rooms. I had budgeted two days for this. Three weeks later we finished the wallpaper. The walls were damaged, and so was my love for the house. Everywhere we turned we found something that needed to be fixed. Rotten wood around the windows. Leaky pipes. Eletrical outlets that were wired backward. An air conditioner that stopped working the day it hit 105 degrees in Birmingham. A roof that had been put on incorrectly. (And yes, we did get a home inspection before we bought the house.) And on and on and on. It still hasn't stopped. Sometimes when Royal and I start listing all the things that need to be fixed in the house we both get depressed and drop the subject for a while.

Meanwhile, our lives are on hold. I want to travel again and go back to school, but we feel like every penny needs to go into the house. On top of feeling trapped, I feel guilty. Who was it who just had to buy a house? Oh, that was me. I feel stupid sometimes for not seeing the house for what it was. And I kick myself for being such a perfectionist that I couldn't just freshen things up with paint and call it a day. No, I just had to get out a sledgehammer and then complain about what a mess had been made.

I have no idea when, or if ever, this house will be finished. My mother claims that no house is ever "finished," that there is always something you can find to improve or update and things are always getting old and breaking down. Intellectually, I know this. But emotionally, it's another matter. I fell in love with this house, and I, like someone in love, expected it to be perfect. Once I saw that it wasn't, my love faded. Now my house is holding me hostage. It's not ready to sell (and I wouldn't try in this market) and the unfinished projects stare me in the face every day and remind me of my failures to plan, to anticipate, and to use common sense instead of emotions when buying a house.

This house is my life in microcosm. I had one idea in my head of how it should be, and it turned out another way -- or it's just taking me far too long to get to where I think I should be. Isn't this the way of the world? If we don't have those pictures in our head of that perfection we so desperately desire, how can we ever hope to get close? I want to be one of those people who is happy with a roof over their head, windows that open and close and running water. I should just be happy that I even have a house to live in. But I can't, because I want more. I want the best house on the street, in the neighborhood. I want it to be perfect in every way. I want the same thing from my life.

Is that too much to ask?

Friday, January 1, 2010

For my "fans"

Hello, Bennett family relations and West Marion High School grads. (Go Trojans!) I've received a few emails this week that shocked me. Apparently several of you actually read this blog. At first I panicked a little, because I like to reminisce about events in my childhood so I had to do a quick check to make sure I hadn't named any of you. With that out of the way, I could then panic about not having anything original or interesting to say. How to keep my new audience engaged?

I considered just making some stuff up. It's not like you'd know the truth, with none of you living in Birmingham. Those of you who see my parents on a regular basis might be tempted to ask them, "How did Tina like meeting the Dalai Lama?" and my parents would figure this probably didn't happen, but they know me well enough to place a call first.

With this fresh new year upon us, I got another idea. How about I actually start doing some things worth blogging about? I can leave the house and visit other people, maybe get a job (eh, maybe). I can stop reading about adventure and start having one of my own.

I announced to my husband last night that 2010 would be the Year of Doing Stuff, Not Just Talking Vaguely About It. He's holding me to it, and I hope my three or four readers will, too. But if it comes down to it, at least I can come up with some spectacularly tall tales.