Day Seven: Playing Hooky

23 11 2008

My Line Sister LaQuita and I have a standing appointment to go out and do something every Saturday. Whatever the activity, it has to be affordable and it has to force us out of the house if only for a couple of hours. That said, that’s pretty much my excuse as to why I didn’t post yesterday. It’s not like I couldn’t have set aside 30 minutes to write something really quickly. I could have. But my day got away from me quick, fast and in a hurry. What’s really sad is we didn’t get out and about until after two, so I had plenty of time to write something. I know I never have anything pressing to do before twelve o’clock. That’s the reason why I set the noon deadline in the first place. So, now I know for sure that I’ve got to do a better job of sticking with the guidelines. I know me, you know. But for now, I’ll extend a little forgiveness my way. I’ve been at this for a week and the habit hasn’t made itself at home in quite yet.

Forgiveness? Check! Now, back to my weekend excursions.

The week before last, Quita and I went to the XU Club 5 meeting that took forever and a day to get to because Suzie, my GPS, sent us down all these crazy streets and so-called short cuts instead of routing us to New York Avenue to Florida and some other state street that would’ve taken us directly to the library where the meeting was being held. This week, we went out to Arundel Mills to have lunch and see the Samuel L. Jackson-Bernie Mac flick Soul Men.

While I don’t know if I’ll ever venture to Arundel Mills until after the holiday shopping season is over, say in March 2009, because it was so crunk, we still had a good time. I had a ridiculously large fajita chicken salad that I picked at (what can I say, I don’t like a lot of fat or connective tissue and junk in my chicken and it takes work to eat around those things) and Quita put a significant dent in the burrito platter that she said kept her full until about ten that night. During our meal, we talked about what’s going on in the lives of our fellow Xavier alums—well, Quita talked and I mostly listened. I don’t know where I was during those four years, but half the people my friends from XU talk about I can barely remember, if at all. I guess if I didn’t see you on a half-way regular basis in a class or in the Herald office, you gets no love from my memory bank. And I finally got to hear how she and her fiancé Hank got together, which was funny in that ‘one-day-you-looked-one-way-and-the-next-you-looked-thatway’ kind of way that some hook up stories are funny.

After lunch, we walked around the mall a bit and tried my best to not buy a bunch of scarves and blue and purple versions of a shirt I already have hanging in my closet. I’m a baller on a budget and every dime of my money needs to go toward networking, marketing and bills. I did a pretty good job until we stopped in The Icing after the show and I bought an orange knit cap and some Elasta QP mango butter from this beauty supply store. Twenty-three dollars isn’t bad compared to the $70 I probably would’ve spent if left to my gainfully employed devices a few months back. The best part of the whole day was this Dubble Bubble kiosk outside Chevy’s that had my favorite original Pepto Bismol-flavored Dubble Bubble gum balls. I may have bought six of those before we left. Each of them was rock hard, but delicious.

OK, I gotta get back to this alumni magazine and my Sunday morning slow jams set before the Redskins/Seahawks game.



A Gentle Nudge Toward Your Notebook (or Computer)

21 11 2008

From “Fighting Tofu”, chapter six of Writing Down the Bones (no infringement intended):

Discipline has always been a cruel word. I always think of it a s beating my lazy part into submission, and that never works. The dictator and the resister contiue to fight: 

“I don’t want to write.”

“You are going to write.”

“I’ll write later. I’m tired.”

“You’ll write now.”

All the while my notebook remains empty. It’s another way that ego has to continue to struggle. Katagiri Roshi has a wonderful term: “fighting the tofu.” Tofu is cheese made out of soybeans. It is dense, bland, white. It is fruitless to wrestle with it; you get nowhere.

If those characters in you want to fight, let them fight. Meanwhile, the sane part of you should quietly get up, go over to your notebook, and begin to write from a deeper, more peaceful place. Unfortunately, those two fighters often come with you to your notebook since they are inside your head. We can’t always leave them in the backyard or basement or at the day-care center. So you might have to give them five or ten minutes of voice in your notebook. Let them carry on on in writing. It is amazing that when you give those voices writing space, their complaining quickly gets boring and you get sick of them.

It’s just resistance. Ego can be very creative and make up remarkable resistive tactics. My friend who was beginning her first novel said that she would sit at the typewriter for the first ten minutes and just write about what a terrible writer she was, what a jerk she was to even attempt a novel. Then she pulled out that sheed of paper, tore it up, and be gan on the tak at hand–the next chapter of her novel.

It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; other wise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on earth–anything that will divert you from writing. Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write. That is painful. Writing is so simple, basic, and austere. There are no fancy gadgets to make it more attractive. Our monkey minds would much rather discuss our resistances with a friend at a lovely restaurant or go to a therapist to work out our writing blocks. We like to complicate simple tasks. There is a Zen saying: “Talk when you talk, walk when you walk, and die when you die.” Write when you write. Stop battling yourself with guilt, accusations, and strong-arm threats.

Day Five: Peanut and the Big Fish

21 11 2008
Peanut in her red and black lumberjack (no hat to match)

Peanut in her red and black lumberjack (no hat to match)

I think I’m going to start a weekly Peanut update. For the uninitated, Peanut is the geriatric and oh, so spoiled Pekingese-Yorkie ball of fluff and noise that trolls my apartment for trespassers in between bouts of snoring. She’s incredibly possessive of all the blankets in the house and has even taken over the zabuton my mother made for me a few years ago. At least somebody’s meditating on it, though.

Right now, Peanut smells like corn chips because she won’t let me give her a bath. Yes, let. This chick is stubborn. If there’s something she doesn’t want you to do, like giving her medication or cleaning her ears, she’s not going to let you. One thing she has been letting me get away with, which I’m pleasantly surprised about, is brushing her teeth. I guess everyone, including dogs, can appreciate fresh breath. Now if only she’d let me clean the rest of her up.

Oh, I almost left out the best part. She yowls constantly. If you didn’t know, a yowl is like a meow only it’s coming from a dog. Don’t let me put on shoes or pick up my keys or make any indication that I’m going outside–it’s over. And I really feel for my neighbors because I know they can hear her. If she annoys the hell out of me, imagine how they feel.

Enough about Miss Pea, as my mom calls her. What I’ve really been thinking about is month eight when I have to produce my four-part series. Yes, I’m jumping the gun by seven months, but I can’t help it. As I was folding clothes the other day, I kept thinking about who my dream interviews would include. You know, my Big Fish. Off the top of my head I came up with Janis Gaye, Minnie Riperton’s widower Dick Rudolph, Stevie Wonder, and Leon Ware. I don’t know if I’ll do Stevie, though. What can I write about him that hasn’t been written already? Dick Rudolph and Leon Ware would be fantastic ’cause people know them but they really don’t. The same is true about Janis Gaye, and other than her getting with then-married Marvin Gaye when she was 17-years-old, what does anyone really know about who she is? I may also want to talk to Ludie Montgomery, the sister of Thomasina Montgomery, better known as Tammi Terrell. Ludie Montgomery’s book about Tammi just came out and I hear that Janis Gaye has a book coming out soon, too. And so what all of these artists and their relatives are interconnected in one way or another. That might make the series that much more interesting. In fact, their connections could be the focus of the story. Anyway, I’ve got time to figure out what I’m going to do and how I’m going to get in touch with folks. Still, I’m really excited about it.

Well, it’s time to wake Peanut up to go outside so she won’t pee in my carpet. I’ll check you all tomorrow and be sure to stay tuned for next week’s Peanut Update.

Peanut sleeping in her post office sweater

Peanut sleeping in her post office sweater

What happened to day four?

20 11 2008

Sorry folks, but today’s entry was made private. I had something happen today (nobody assaulted me nor did I lose any family members, pets or property…nobody’s sick either, just so you know) that’s just too raw to share right now. I’ll label it a call to further action and leave it at that.

Someday, maybe one day soon it’ll be public, but for now, just know that I’ve completed 517 words today. I hope I won’t have too many more of these. If I do, it will defeat the purpose of the blog.

I do wonder what kinds of feelings all this writing is conjuring up in you all. Have you been enraged, saddened, embarrassed by some of the things your writing practice has dredged up? Yeah, writing will do that. Still, you have to admit it’s awfully cathartic.



Day Three: Scratching and Mixing

19 11 2008

About a month ago, I replaced the LaCie external HD I broke last February while backing up my iTunes folder prior to my trip to Atlanta. For the longest time, I thought everything I’d downloaded over the past two years, some 300 tracks from iTunes and Amazon MP3, was gone forever and that my only option was to do an iPod rip, which I wasn’t looking forward to because I didn’t know what I was doing. However, all my downloaded tracks and their accompanying artwork were restored when plugged in my new 500 GB LaCie. Was I glad? Yes, indeed. What I didn’t anticipate was the disappearing act my imported tracks pulled. Yep, they were ALL gone. Every Minnie Riperton, Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquoi, Jay-Z, Floetry, and soulful house CD – vanished from both my MacBook HD and my iPod.

I’ve been putting off importing everything for months and months now, but with no looming deadlines and everything kind of quiet and still, I decided to import my entire CD library and do laundry. For those of you who know me, this is no easy undertaking. I have, oh, 350 or so CDs in the binder I used to lug around Xavier, not to mention the more than 100 that had to be taken out to make room for new acquisitions. We’re talking 450 CDs here, and I’m determined to add each and every one that I might listen to on a half way regular basis to my library.

In between fluffing and folding and switching discs, I’m also looking for part-time gigs. I found one, but it may require me to move back to Memphis. I’m not the biggest fan of Memphis, Tennessee, but if it gives me the chance to save money and have the time to freelance, I’ll have to get over this thing I have with my ‘hometown’. Ugh, I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Memphis is so not where I’m from, but since I lived there the longest, I have to call it my hometown, or at least that’s what people tell me. It has become easier to say that I’m from Memphis when my subjects see my cell phone’s 901 area code pop up on their caller I.D., so maybe the River City and I are mending fences. Still, I sometimes take the time to tell folks that I’m “from Memphis by way of New Orleans.” I guess it’s my very Southern, very genteel explanation of why my voice is more Cajun Country than just plain country.

On the other hand, going home (again) is going to be lame. I’m going to go from a 730-square foot box to a 16’ x 11’ box, but at least Peanut will have a backyard again. I’ll probably have to sell a lot of stuff before I leave, too. I’m not trying to take all of this stuff back with me. It’s too much. I’m still going to apply and see how things turn out and begin to make my decisions from there. It’s not too early to start thinking about these things, but it is too early to worry about them.

So pardon me while I get caffeinated, listen to N.E.R.D, fluff and fold and write my cover letter for this gig. It’s going to be a long day.


Writing Prompt, 11.18.08

18 11 2008

Having a hard time figuring out what your 500 words will be about today? Here’s some help from Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg (no copyright infringement intended):

Begin with “I remember”. Write lots of small memories. If you fall into one large memory, write that. Just keep going. Don’t be concerned if the memory happened five seconds ago or five years ago. Everything that isn’t this moment is memory coming alive again as you write it. If you get stuck, just repeat the phrase “I remember” again and keep going.

I did this exercise a few years ago during some downtime I had while running an interview day for new teachers. My “I remember” turned up something about doing homework under the Christmas tree when I was a kid. I’m not sure if it was the colorful lights or the smell of pine, but sitting under that tree definitely made my math homework easier to bear.

What’s your “I remember”?


Day Two: Freelance Frustration

18 11 2008

Clarifying questions are clotheslining my projects. It’s not that I refuse to ask clarifying questions or somehow think asking questions is beneath me. I usually feel like I have a good understanding of the project until I’m in the throes of it and realize I don’t get it at all. So I guess what I don’t get is why it takes me so long to figure out why I don’t get it. Does that even make sense?

Perhaps it’s cockiness or slight overconfidence. Maybe I want to believe that I understand the project in its entirety so that I look smart only to frustrate myself later on. I think it has more to do with how I complete projects: I have to “see” the parts to think about them. Until I start working on a project, all I have is a request or an assignment on a piece of paper. It isn’t real yet. By the time it is, though, I always feel like it’s too late to ask those clarifying questions for fear that people will say, “Well, why didn’t you ask that in the beginning?” Still, isn’t it better to ask questions eventually than to not ask them at all?

Intellectually, I know that assuming to understand something is about the worst thing you can do, yet I keep doing it because it’s easy. Coming up with questions and being thoughtful about the intent of the project and the work it entails is hard. So, maybe I should try explaining how I operate to the people work with, something along the lines of ‘Yes, I’m nodding my head in the meeting and no, I don’t have questions right now, but will once I start shifting the pieces around in my mind and on paper’. Then again, the way I operate could happen much too late in the game, especially if the project isn’t urgent. Plus, that’s me expecting them to do things my way. That’s not how this business works.

After googling ‘how to ask clarifying questions’, I stumbled on this article on Stepcase™ Lifehack that actually speaks to the opposite end of my dilemma, management. The part that caught my attention was buried in the eighth paragraph (emphasis mine):

An easy to remember, and very effective strategy in avoiding misplaced clarifying questions is to deal with only one question at a time in a conversation (also smart in keeping to one subject at a time, and getting it actionable before proceeding). You do this, by letting the speaker finish whatever they’re saying before you say anything, and you train yourself to get better at sensing those times when they’ve stopped talking, but they’re actually silently thinking of the next thing they’ll say. Learn to get comfortable with silence; consider it to be thinking time versus your next opportunity to speak.

Could it be my need to fill up the silence in my meetings that keeps me from thinking about and asking clarifying questions? Have I really convinced myself that I understand everything to avoid silence and take away my opportunity to think about the project? That’s deep. No, that’s scary.

What to do, what to do? I can’t think of a time I asked clarifying questions to build a model from. Not off the top of my head, anyway. The most I usually ask is: 1) what’s the deadline, 2) how many words, 3) do you need pictures 4) what’s your budget. Way to be client oriented!

I know. I’ll open it up to you, my few readers out there. Sure, questions differ based on the project, but what are your top five clarifying questions? Bonus question: what’s the most thoughtful clarifying question you’ve asked (you know, the one that elicited a genuine ‘That’s a great question!’-type response from whomever you were working with at the time) and how did you come up with it?