November Reading

Friday, November 30, 2007


  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
  • The Babysitters Club: The Truth About Stacey by Raina Telgemeier and Ann. M. Martin

Short stories
  • "Bar Joke, Arizona" by Sam Allington (from One Story, read more about it here)
  • "Promise Breaker" by Chris Aiden (read it here)

Noteworthy nonfiction
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen
  • Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
  • The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
  • "Life in an Eggcup." John Gamel, Alaska Quarterly Review

Finished!: Lopi Lace Scarf

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I can keep my knitter membership card for one more month. I finally finished the Lopi Lace Scarf from Weekend Knits. This particular "weekend" knit took me about a month to finish. It was also the first not-to-be-felted project that I've done since oh... March? That is to say, the knitting on this actually mattered. And I had to get back in to the swing of things, ya know?

Anyway, a little history behind this project. The yarn is Reynolds Lopi Lite, which is what the pattern calls for. I even did it in the same colorways shown in the book. No originality here. I bought the yarn several years ago after I'd just started knitting and had yet to realize that you could substitute yarn for a project. So I've been sitting on this yarn for over four years and through three moves and I finally dragged it out of my stash last month when I was looking for an easy knit to get me back into the knitting game.

As for this particular easy knit... It's not a complicated pattern, it's really not. Yet somehow I unknitted and reknitted the first quarter of this scarf. And Lopi Lite does not unknit well, let me tell you. It's splitty and clingy and the worst kind of yarn to unknit. And then there was the matter of my cat breaking the yarn.... Weekend knit, it was not. But it's over and I'm done with yarn overs for awhile.

If you aren't on Ravelry, here are the relevant details:

Pattern: Lopi Lace Scarf by Pam Allen from Weekend Knits
Yarn: Reynolds Lopi Lite (MC - Rose Heather, CC- Celery Heather)
Pattern Alterations: None. Except maybe unknitting and reknitting every other row. I think that gives the scarf its special look.

Next on the needles: Bamboo socks and "Hubby needs a neckwarmer" scarf.

The (Re)Education of a Writer

Monday, November 19, 2007

Two weeks ago I had a full week to write. Last week, not so much. I ended up going to my parents' place to help them care for my grandparents and get through Thanksgiving. I ended up being delegated to Thanksgiving so I spent more time in grocery stores or in front of the stove than I did doing anything conducive to writing.

But I'm back now and since then and (maybe even since before then) I've been feeling a little unfocused about writing. The week before last I began reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer. About halfway through the first chapter I had a sickening feeling that all my years as an English major had made me a very poor, careless reader. I also realized that being a poor, careless reader makes for being a poor, careless writer. So I resolved to spend at least an hour each day "studying" writing. Okay, except by the end of the week I was spending about eight hours studying and maybe two minutes writing.

It seems to go against all notions of the creative life, but I think I need more structure to my day. In fact, I'm sure of it. Back in the MFA days, the structure was provided for me: go to class, spend all time out of class working on stuff for class. Basically, I need to go back to school and that's pretty much out of the question right now. (Though getting a Ph.D. is a vague, hand-wavy goal of mine.) Instead I'm setting up my own ReMFA.

Daily assignment:
Freewriting. I miss freewriting. I miss all the freewriting prompts that were doled out like candy in English classrooms. And I'm going back to the most basic of all drills: the timed freewriting exercise.

Study. I have a lot of reading and rereading to do. Prose's book contains a reading list that puts my bookshelves to shame. Also, I still have an incomplte list from a class I took with Antonya Nelson. I'd like to read (and by read I mean carefully, with-pen-in-hand-read) these books.

Weekly assignment:
Writing exercise. When I took the class with Antonya Nelson, she gave us some incredible writing exercises. Most had a word minimum and were related to the novels we were reading. Sadly, I loaned out some to a fellow MFAer and haven't seen them since, but I recently acquired The 3 a.m. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley, so I'll work from those and others I may come across.

Monthly assignment:
Write one new story. Eek!
At least five submissions. I have two stories that are about as finished as they can be (for now). I've already sent one out the door this month and it's time to get rolling on the others.

This is kind of already taken care of by my writing group, but I'm going on and committing to having something new(!) for January and, if I can keep up the assignments, I can reasonably commit to something new every month.

Kind of like a mini-syllabus, yes? I'll try this for a month before I tweak it. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

For someone who is self-employed and living in central Austin (with a bus stop in my front yard, no less), I drive entirely too much. I've never really given much thought to energy or oil (except to shake my fist at the gas prices), but I started reading The Omnivore's Dilemma this weekend, and all the talk about energy and oil is starting to get to me. Today was one of those typical 90 degree November days so I decided to give the keys a rest and walk anywhere I needed to go.

Trip #1: The coffee shop on the lake. Okay, this is kind of cheating. I walk to the coffee shop regularly. It's just down the hill from our house and we probably couldn't park any closer, so I tend to hoof it when I go. But today I took a little detour and followed the footpath down to the lake. After all, if I can't take advantage of my starving artisthood on a beautiful day, then what's the point.

Trip #2: The library. When I finished the morning's reading and writing, I went back home for lunch and then decided to return Suite Franciase to the library. The book wasn't due for another three days so I could have blown it off, but in the interest in being a better earth citizen, I decided to return the book on foot.

This was a tougher walk than I counted on for two reasons. First, my tennis shoes are cuter than they are comfortable. Second, on my way back home, I tried to take an alternate route which lead me straight up one of the hidden neighborhood hills. Walking, I could handle, but walking uphill, even for just a small stretch, was a bit of a challenge.

Trip # 3: Central Market (FAIL!) And just as soon as I made it back from the library, I realized that I'd put off getting whole wheat bread crumbs because I was pretty sure the only place to get them would be from Central Market or Whole Foods. And thus, failure. Sure, I could have looked up the appropriate bus maps, but it was going on 5 o'clock and it was much easier to concede failure than attempt to cross the town on public transit during rush hour.

So it didn't exactly work out as planned, but according to, I walked a total of 2.79 miles today. Not too shabby. Perhaps I'll retire the car keys more often.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Well, last week may not have ended so well, but I did manage to get the condo completely out of my hands. I am pleased to announce that the condo is on the market and I did not make a single visit over there this weekend. Hooray!

With that behind me, I used the weekend to make some more major edits on a story that has been problematic for a while. I reread some writing group notes, did some major rearranging and am now feeling a lot better about the story. It's still not quite polished, but it's getting there.

Also, I went to Stitch this weekend. Austin's fashion show and "guerrilla craft bazaar" is in its fifth year, but this is the first time I've managed to make it. It's grown considerably over the last five years and this year was housed in the Austin Convention Center.

The experience in two words: very cool. I wasn't too sure what to expect since years of church craft bazaars have left me dreading the crochet toilet tissue cozy. But I was really impressed with the quality and creativity behind the vendors at Stitch. There was some really amazing stuff. For instance, knitters will need to check out Rebecca Yaker's Sock Monkey Wearable Art.

Anyway, of course I took the opportunity to support the indie crafts and do some shopping. I picked up this screen printed tee from Harrilu. I also scored this gorgeous necklace from Austin's Ornamental Things. Natalie has many other beautiful pieces, so please check her out.

The best part about the bazaar and fashion show, though, was just seeing all the support for indie designer and artisans. Wandering through the booths I had the feeling that even though my knitting barely registers as a hobby these days and even though I don't design anything and even though my art is in a different medium entirely, we're all in this together. We're all out there, just trying to do what we love and hoping to find others who value that as much as we do. Even though I'm a writer and I spend most of my time crafting alone, this gave me a greater sense of the community that is out there. It may not be my community, but I'm very glad to have found it.

Bad Day

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I spent a great day writing at the Green Muse on Tuesday. Unfortunately everything else in my life went to hell on Tuesday night. Okay, so not really to hell exactly, but immediately after writing, I went back over to the condo to find out that a pool of dirt had seeped back through the carpet after the cleaning. This was blamed on a dirty pad and so now I have to replace the padding and have the carpet cleaned again.

And of course, the bathroom project has gone over the estimated two days and the condo can't go on the market until it is finished.

And then I got home and found that my white cat had dug into my knitting bag, pulled out my Lopi Lace Scarf, and, in dragging it to the living room, had dropped half the stitches and broken the yarn. This scarf is cursed, I tell you.

So on Wednesday, I spent no time writing, and all my time calling back carpet cleaners, tracking down documents for the condo, and getting a thousand other chores done, that all somehow involve around the condo.

I was hoping today might be better. That I could get the condo stuff out of the way in the morning and spend the rest of the day focused on the story I started on Tuesday or, at the very least, fixing the story I want to get submitted this week. No such luck.

I got to the condo to meet the Salvation Army pick up people, with whom I was sending off my sofa, bookcases, entertainment center, and other heavy stuff. As they were backing their truck down the drive, one of the yard people came over and told me that they couldn't drive their truck down there. Um. Okay. One of the residents of the codo drives a huge truck that is regularly parked down that drive. I told him that they had to drive the truck down there because there was no way they were going to carry a queen-size sleeper sofa out my door and few hundred feet back to the street. He kept going at me about how it was against the rules, how they could ruin the trees, how someone was going to have to pay. . . and all the while, the truck is safely backing its way down the narrow drive and how exactly am I going to stop them without being run over? So I just shrugged and walked away.

Y'all, I am not normally that rude. But I am at the end of my rope. What the poor yard guy didn't realize is that I am already on my last nerve with the HOA because every time I tried to report my neighbor's noise violations, they refused to do anything about it, even while acknowledging that the noise was a problem. And because the minute it looked like my condo was going to go on the market, they began passing stipulations to keep me from renting it out. And so, on what should have been my last day of dealing with this stupid HOA, I was being chewed out over rules that are not universally enforced.

I am so annoyed. So writing today? Probably not. Sitting and fuming sounds a little more like it. Sorry for the vent, y'all. We'll return to our regularly scheduled snark and cheer shortly.

Extra, Take Two

Last Wednesday, I got called by the casting company to go be a part of Friday Night Lights filming on Thursday. Of course, I went.

Now, I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that before I was even off the phone with the casting assistant, I was mentally preparing exactly what I would wear, how I would do my hair, and what I would bring with me to read/do ("Oh hi, Connie. Teach you how to knit? Sure!"). So on Thursday I stuffed my Lopi Lace Scarf, my latest New Yorker, and about a gazillion changes of clothing into my teeny little backpack and headed north to the set.

Parking was a breeze. I pulled into the Arbor parking lot a little before 4:15. I parked, hoisted my "backpack" out of my trunk and meandered in the direction of a large white trailer that looked official. No one else, however, was meandering with me. Still, just beyond the trailer was a big white tent with tables set up and about ten people milling about, filling out their vouchers and talking shop. I knew that this was going to be a small shoot, but I began to worry that this was going to be smaller than I anticipated. You see, as much as I love being an extra, two things scare me to death: 1) cameras and 2) acting. Needless to say, my Hollywood career is safely limited blurry person in crowd scene. I sat down at one of the tables, breezed through my pay voucher like an old hand. By the time I finished, another 20 people had arrived and it looked like more were on their way.

Then it was off to wardrobe and here is where I felt woefully unprepared. The directions for being an extra involve bringing several changes of fall clothing. I thought long and hard about both the outfit I was wearing (dark jeans, black camisole, wool Abercrombie and Fitch sweater) and what I had brought (long sleeved button down blouse in muted pink, a bright purple cowl neck sweater, a standard long sleeved t-shirt and another pair of jeans - lighter in color in case what I was wearing was "too dark"). I left the house feeling well equipt, but my fellow extras were pulling rolling suitcases full of clothing. I swear, women had brought their entire winter wardrobes with them.

I arrived at the front of the line, prepared to plead my case that layers are the ultimate fall wear and I had several sweaters in my bag and please don't send me home.[1] The very nice wardrobe assistant glanced at me, told me I looked fine. I shoved my sweaters back into my bag and headed back into the tent.

The extras kept trickling in, and, in total, there were about 100 of us. I listened to several rounds of "If you have filled out your voucher, but have been approved by wardrobe, please step outside and get in line." I took out my scarf and worked a few rows, realized that I'd forgotten a yarn over in the first row, back knitted some. Worked another row and got distracted by another announcement (final call for wardrobe), and messed up again. Put away my knitting and pulled out my New Yorker. And thus, the sitting and waiting began.

It was during this time that I realized that there is a whole culture of extras, people who know the production assistants by name, who recount war stories of 'the night they ran out of food,' who refer to the principles by their first names and as if they had just had them over for dinner the night before. One in particular had seated herself at our table and she chatted constantly about the last gig, the 6 a.m. call time, being down on the field during the last game. I nodded politely and tried not to take my eyes off my magazine.

After about an hour, the PAs began to move through crowd and picking out youngish looking guys and "hot" girls. This group was taken out to wardrobe and most of the men returned in fairly thugish looking clothing. They were told to sit in a corner near the front of the tent. Another PA stood on a chair and instructed us that we were going to go to the theater soon. He explained that we were to look like we were watching a movie and that at times we would be expected to pantomime. He demonstrated what this meant by pantomiming the rest of his speech, to which he received a wry chuckle from the crowd.

It looked like we weren't going to get a real meal, so I meandered up to the front of the tent to check out the nourishments. There was a tub full of animal crackers, a bowl of Tootsie Rolls, and a cooler of Gatorade, none of which are on the South Beach Diet food list. I meandered away from the food table and outside the tent. I fiddled with my cell phone and talked to another regular about how to get cast again (call them every week and see what work they have).

Finally, we were off to the theater. We lined up against the outer wall while two different PAs gave us more instructions -- be quiet, do not touch the light balloon, look out for wires, do not chnage your seats, and for God's sake do not touch the light balloon. We filed into the theater. As we entered the doors, we some of us were handed props. I selected a styrofoam cup in hopes it was filled with water, but no such luck. Sprite. Also not on the SBD food list.

Once in the theater, a PA assigned me an aisle seat next to another girl. Two rows in front of me, Gaius Charles ("Smash" Williams) was talking with someone who looked vaguely directorial. Behind him sat Neiko Mann (who plays Smash's little sister). They were going over some choreography for a fight. I tried to act uber-cool and not watch, but I failed. I am, by nature, a gawker and I found myself mesmerized by everything that was going on. There was, indeed, a gigantic light balloon being maneuvered by four PAs. The unit director was going through stage direction with four young men in front of me. Tony was moving people from one seat to another to fill out the theater.

Once we were all settled, the unit director gave us some instructions about the shoot. We were all from the Dillon's north side and we are racists. Okay, he didn't say racists. He said that we were not used to seeing an African American in our movie theater. He said that we might even be a little uncomfortable with it. So, yeah. Racists.

After that, we went through the shoot, stopping at specific places in the scene. The gist of the scene is that Smash's sister is getting heckled by the one of the guys in front of me. Smash is going to come up and tell him to knock it off. The heckler is going to mutter a derogatory racial remark and Smash is going to beat the tar out of him. Right in front of me.

For the first couple of takes, the audience didn't do anything. However, for the takes that would include the fight, we were told to react naturally. Tony explained that for me that meant whispering to the girl next to me. Uh huh. My natural reaction to a fight breaking out in front of me would be to get the hell out of there. That wasn't an option, though. Other extras were told to stand, to look at a certain person, to put their feet in the seat, etc. We rolled again, this time with the fight.

Now, for this take, camera "C" was positioned right next to my temple so when I looked up at the movie screen, in my peripheral vision I could see the camera. I spent most of the take telling myself to not sneeze on the camera.

After the next take, the director decided we needed blood. This turned out to be a fairly controversial decision as there was no good way for the actor to actually get the blood. There was discussion about securing a cup of it to the back of the seat. About having a little package on him to begin with. Finally it was decided to cut the bottom off one of the cups and rest it in the drink holder in the row behind the heckler. The makeup artist expressed some concern about getting blood on the extras and I thought, as cool as this is, I really like my sweater and I don't want blood on it. The director instructed the actor not to spill the blood, and viola! Crisis averted.

We did the fight (with blood) a two times more and then the crew switched to the back of the theater and we did it all over again. Finally, the director declared a wrap on that scene and all the principles headed out to the lobby to film the next scene. Tony and another PA picked out a smaller group to be lobby patrons and the rest of us were dismissed.

It was fun. I feel like I got to experience what John did when he was a Dillon assistant coach: getting to see the action up close and even more interesting, experiencing some of the behind the scenes goings on. That said, I'm glad I did the football game first. It gave me a little more understanding of what my role was (sit and don't do anything until they tell you to) and I felt a lot more comfortable having a camera merely centimeters from my face.

Also, it was a lot of fun to work in a group this small. There was a lot of camaraderie among the extras and the crew. Lots of joking. Lots of laughter. After every take, there was almost a collective sigh from the actors. You could tell that they were really experiencing the tension of the moment, but then letting it go almost the minute that the cameras weren't rolling. The PAs would talk to us, tell us about movies they'd done or seen.

So, I'd like to do this again. I'll definitely go to the next games, but, writer's strike willing, I'd really love to work on a smaller set again. You know, with Tony. . . and Kyle. . . and remember that one time that we shot that fight scene. . .

[1] I found out later that very rarely do people get sent home for wearing inappropriate clothing. Instead, wardrobe assigns them clothing, takes their voucher and they don't get it back until they turn in their clothing at the end of the night, pretty much making sure they are the last people in line. On a night like the football game from hell, I'm pretty sure being sent home would be a much better option.

Strike? What strike?

Monday, November 5, 2007

I am probably the last person who should be blogging about the WGA strike. I'll admit that my only vested interest in the Writer's Guild of America strike is simply that I don't want Friday Night Lights to go off the air. I'm selfish that way.

On the other hand, I want writers to get paid for their work and to be compensated for the many ways that I watch their (usually good) television shows. So while I'm still trying to sort out my feelings on the issue, here are some useful links for understanding exactly what's going on in Hollywood and why reality may once again rule in 2008:

Obviously, there's a lot more than that out there, but if you're just now hearing about the strike or beginning to worry about your favorite shows, the above links are a great place to start your research.

October Reading

Thursday, November 1, 2007


  • And Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris
  • The 25th Hour by David Benioff
  • Later, At the Bar by Rebecca Berry
  • Blindness by Jose Saramago
Short stories
  • "Willing" by Lorrie Moore
Noteworthy nonfiction
  • "The Corrections: Of Abridgments, Commentaries, and Art," Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, Oct. 22, 2007.
  • "Why is Indie Rock So White?" Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker, Oct. 22, 2007
  • "Women and Children For Sale," Caroline Moorehead, New York Review of Books, Oct. 11, 2007
  • "They'd Much Rather Be Rich," Andrew Hacker, New York Review of Books, Oct. 11, 2007.