5 Stars

Three (3!!!) of my friends have written books. It’s a blessing and a curse to have such talented friends; they brighten¬†your life with creativity, and they shine a light on all the ways you feel you could be doing better. Ah, well. As the old saying goes: Those who cannot do, read.¬†

So reading is what I’m doing. One 365-entry blog turned memoir. One delightful and decidedly un-chick-lit romantic comedy novel. And one collection of personal essays.

I just finished reading the third one, and since I can’t make it to the book launch party in Tulsa tomorrow night, I’m making known my (sincere and well-deserved) praise here on the ol’ blog.

Harebrained: It seemed like a good idea at the time (available at an amazon near you!) is an essay collection described in the blurb as “the collected ramblings of a tired mother, happy wife, grateful friend and busy professor.”

HarebrainedCover_Front_hirez

My tweetable review: It’s a damn delight!

My longer thoughts: Reading Meg in good-old-fashioned, page-turning, come-back-later-there’s-more fashion adds a layer of enjoyment for those, like myself, who were already fans of her blog. Her essays showcase the best of what personal blog writing can be: candid. vulnerable. relatable. fun. A well-balanced blend of slice-of-life sketches, thoughtfully revisited memories, and bigger-picture observations.

New readers will find this book is like catching up for drinks with an old friend. And all readers will most likely find an experience not unlike binge watching a favorite series: Reaching a stopping point, with a laugh or a sigh, and feeling the urge to read one more…just one more…

(If that reads an awful lot like an amazon review, that’s because I’m headed over there to post one right this hot second. Because when your friend writes a book, you spread the good word!)

Now for a little revisited memory of my own:

Spending 200-something pages and a handful of hours hearing Meg’s voice in my head took me back 10 years, to my junior year of college, and the days when we worked together in Drury’s Writing Center. As minimum-wage-earning student employees, our duties included removing rogue commas, helping international students come to terms with indefinite articles, and extracting viable thesis statements from the 5-page essays of our peers.

For a writing nerd in need of spending cash, these were glory days.

In the hours when the office was empty (there were many), we would, responsible go-getters that we were, “get some work done.” But attempts at silent reading with another human in the room most often devolved into swapping stories and comparing pop culture notes. (A mutual¬†love of Tina Fey is nothing to sneeze at.) Meg was just a year ahead of me in school, but I looked up to her. She was interesting and smart, and the time I spent with her in that upstairs corner of Olin Library were times when I felt interesting and smart, too. (You know those people? The bring-out-the-best-in-you people? They’re the best people.)

A lot of my memories of 21-year-old me are long gone, or buried deep in journals somewhere, but I remember Meg¬†as one of the bright spots in an otherwise angsty, torn-between-two-lovers, “what am I doing with my life?!” time in my history.

Which is maybe an even better review for her book than the one above: She’s the kind of person you’ll enjoy spending time with.

And since you maybe cannot do, you should read.

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Wordy Thirty

An abbreviated list of things I’ve discovered in my first week of my fourth decade. With not-so-abbreviated explanations.

I don’t hate olives.

Ask me a mere 8 days ago, and I might have told you a different story. But sitting on the back patio in Denver last week, day drinking with friends and daydreaming about future vacation spots, I decided what the heck, I’ll try one, when Sean brought out a small bowl of maroon-colored olives to complement our fine snacks of cheese and Cheez-Its. So I tried one.¬†The day-drinking patio is a safe space in which to try new things.

Guess what? I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it, either, but I figured that maybe now’s a good time to reevaluate those things that I dislike simply because I’ve always disliked them. Who knows when I’ll stumble upon a new favorite.

Later in the weekend, we went to this bar that’s hidden speakeasy-style behind a “pie shop” and features adorable be-vested or be-suspendered waiters. You can also order a drink “Bartender’s Choice,” where you tell him what you like, he asks a few questions and then brings you a delightful concoction based on your particular taste. (Folks.) First I asked for a twist on a Manhattan. Yum. Next round, he asked if I liked “herbaceous” drinks. (Charlie what now?) But I said, sure, lets find out. And guess what? Turns out I do like drinks with a little fresh, herby flavor. I can’t remember all the unusual ingredients well enough to ask for it again (one was “spiced green tea syrup”), but I at least have an affirmative answer the next time a cute boy in a vest asks me whether I like herbaceous things. So that’s a win.

Live music is so good!

Okay, this isn’t a revelation. More of a reminder. Birthday night was spent seeing Portugal. The Man and The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks, the venue that makes all other venues feel like a sad church basement. In my early 20s, I would not have described myself as a “music show person” — to be fair, my experience was limited to either megastars in giant arenas or cramped, loud spaces with local bands I didn’t know well. I hadn’t even begun to define my music taste then, either. Keep in mind: there was no youtube, and iTunes was brand new. Dave Matthews Band was in heavy rotation.

But now, I love a good concert. I was a just-okay fan of the Avetts when I saw them for the first time last year in Springfield, but their show won me over. Just so much energy and cool old-fashioned harmonies and, kid you not, rocking-out hot sex on the banjo. (haha that’s funny. but seriously.)¬†Again they did not disappoint this 5th of July. In the clear and crisp Colorado air. With 10,000 people. Surrounded by nature. Under the stars. I suppose it’s hard not to be wowed.

I like my job.

My flight back home on Monday was delayed, and I missed my connection to Branson. I’ve never had that happen before, but I did get a voucher and a free night in Dallas (at an airport hotel with a liquor store next door. Not the worst place to be stranded). While I waited outside the airport for the hotel shuttle, another rent-a-car shuttle pulled up in front of me. I didn’t think anything of it until the driver opened the door and started talking to me. I had to ask him to repeat himself three times, between the heat and the changed plans and his thick accent, I was a little thrown off. Once I finally figured out he was saying, “want to step inside and get some of this cool air?” I was close enough to the door that it felt silly to refuse. So I hopped up and we chit-chatted until my van arrived, and he offered me his hand all southern-style to help me off his shuttle. Too cute. And weird. But mostly cute.

For my return flight the next day, I had the choice between 6:30 a.m. and 2:30 in the afternoon — and, without hesitation, I asked for the early one. This goes against my natural tendency against morning-person-ism, and the natural tendency of most humans to prefer days-off to days-in-the-office. So I guess I really do like my job.¬†This one still feels like a revelation, though I’ve felt it since I started working here last September. Not so bad to be reminded at the end of vacation.

I am braver than I used to be.

“Brave.” This has been my mom’s go-to descriptor of me lately, in reference to selling my house and traveling alone, and it makes me laugh. I certainly don’t feel all that brave. (I’ve only been skydiving once, after all.) But I know for sure I’m braver than I once was. I’m no longer afraid to talk to strangers. And I’m more able to overcome my fear of embarrassment when my gut tells me to try something a little scary, even if that scary thing is something potentially good. (My gut would be fighting my gut in this case. Not unlike the strong desire to, and inevitable aftermath of, eating Indian food.)

Here’s a story: I was in line at Target earlier this week, when I noticed the couple in front of me fiddling with their purchases and trying to determine items to leave behind so their total would fall within their prepaid card balance. The cashier ran the card, and the $20 balance wasn’t enough. They pulled another item out of a bag, and it took. But their balance was $20.90-something, so they rustled through wallets and pockets to find change. I was kicking myself for not having any cash — I would’ve just handed them a dollar. But I couldn’t.

Now before we go further: this level of people-watching is not unusual for me. Being a writer and an improviser teaches you to study people. And it’s also just been a thing I’ve always done, curiously observe and often take an interest in strangers. But this next part is not a thing I would’ve always done, though I certainly would’ve thought about it.

The couple finished their transaction, and the woman turned to me and apologized. I told her not to worry, and went on with my transaction. I looked at my little pile of items, made up of both needs and wants, but certainly some not-needs, like a 6-pack of beer for my Mystery Hour writer’s meeting that night. After I swiped my Target card and headed toward the door, I spotted the couple from before sitting in the Starbucks area. “Do something!” my gut quietly pleaded. I’d heard about people paying for the people behind them in drive-thru lines and what not. These stories are always lovely. But random acts of kindness are also scary when you are the person doing the randomness. What if they’re offended? Embarrassed? (Both likely.) Or what if they’re actually well-off and just left their credit card in their other jeans? (Less likely.)

No matter the what-ifs, I couldn’t fight the urge to go back in. So without thinking too much, I dumped my stuff in the car and then marched back inside to grab a gift card, spotting the couple still sitting there, praying they wouldn’t leave. I paid for it in the Pizza Hut line at the front of the store, the girl behind the counter struggling to ring it up correctly. (The drama!!) And then I walked over and gave it to the couple. Just saying it seemed like they might need some help, and I felt like I should help them, and I hoped they weren’t insulted, because I didn’t know their circumstances, and I didn’t need to.

Was it awkward? Oh my, yes.

Was it worth it anyway? Oh my, of course.

I don’t tell this story to pat myself on the back for my charity. Because, come on, I understand that a Target gift card isn’t life-changing. But maybe it’s day-changing — and that makes it worth doing. And I have a feeling that a lot of us feel those gut-impulses, and a lot of the time we ignore them because we don’t want to do something embarrassing or weird.

All I can say to that is: maybe sometimes take the risk of feeling weird. I promise you’ll survive it, and afterwards you’ll probably feel pretty good. Grateful. Content. Even — though this word is overused in social media to a nauseating degree — blessed.

So, yeah. Thirty’s not so bad. Here’s to trying the olive. Saying “okay” to the nice stranger. Doing the scary good thing. Braver times (and tasty drinks) ahead.

oh for crying out loud

“EIGHT WEEKS?! Dear god!” is what I just said to myself, after doing the math on how long it’s been since January 1. Since I last wrote anything on this “blog” that I “write.” The irony is not lost on me that I write for a living but can’t, for the life of me, write for¬†fun. But I’ve been thinking about it, I swear.

If I had a nickel for all the times I’ve¬†almost-blogged¬†the last few months… (Have you enjoyed reading my almost-blogging? Been real fun, right?) That¬†nagging voice of inner Resistance¬†will find any good excuse to keep you from writing, even the sneaky-sneaky Thinking About Writing: the seductive almost-but-not-quite euphemism for not writing at all.

You feel me, fellow creative-procrastinators out there? Forgive me muses, for I have sinned. I have royally fallen off the blogging wagon. But more like I fell off the wagon…and then a Native American tribe came along and took me in, like what happened to the lady in Dances With Wolves, and then I’m not seen again until years later, when I teach a handsome stranger how to say “buffalo” — and also how to love.

That kind of wagon-falling. Severe.

One disgruntled reader’s affectionate scolding has been bouncing around in my brain (since he told me this…on Christmas Eve):

You owe it to yourself to carve out time for writing every week.

Owe it to myself. That phrase has teeth. And they’ve been gnawing on the nails of my conscience…

Another loyal reader called me out a few weeks ago, saying a simple paragraph would at least be something for her to read.¬†This was a slight revelation: maybe I don’t have to spend as much time perfecting posts, if time is what keeps me from writing. It’s a perfectionist’s paradox: If I take some pressure off myself, care a little less, I actually accomplish much more — and much betterly, too — than when I push myself to the edge of insanity with anxiety and unreachable expectations.

(Hullo therapy bills, you are now paying dividends.)

So. Here we go. An attempt at trying to TRY a little less. Try less in order to DO more. (Hullo Yoda.)

Most of my almost-written blog posts stem from random snippets of inspiration that I collect — mostly in a series of docs on my desktop, curated by month. I’ve been performing this ritual, a lovely mix of hyper-organization and typical-me haphazardness, for years. It amounts to a digital scrapbook of articles I read, funny things coworkers did, things I learned, encouragement from friends, ideas for screenplays…all the things that bounce around in my brain. (Some of the All The Things.)

So maybe that’s the twenty-thirteen 2.0 of whatsarahisreading: instead of a few posts and a self-imposed pressure to Say Something Important, maybe many shorter posts that just try to Say Something.

(If nothing else, I know this will keep one of you happy: looking at you, HKB.)

So. Here’s one Frequently Snippeted Topic: Television. One of the realities of a post-30 Rock¬†world for me, besides the genuine sense of loss I felt that next Friday morning, was an immersion into the world of online entertainment writing. I found comfort in¬†Emily Nussbaum’s New Yorker analysis and Vulture’s top 10 lists¬†alike, both serving as that¬†welcome reminder during any time of grief: you are not alone.

Maybe that’s what we have to look forward to in the new blog year. Thinking about little slices of life (a lot of them TV-based, let’s just be real) and looking for small reasons to remember you are not alone. Along with the usual self-criticism and idiosyncratic liberties with syntax.¬†That all seems like a good enough reason to hop back on the wagon.