Friday, April 22, 2011

Well. I've disappeared for a while, which obviously hasn't been good for the daily blogging and the A to Z challenge.

On the plus side, my (current) time period of biting off more than I can chew has come to an end. I finished my last grad school class on WEDNESDAY! So no more of this:
Which is how I've felt lately.  Like I just can't get my arms around things (though I have to say, grad school was not so much with the cute and cuddly).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I posted last month about how bad things tend to come in threes, and that was true for us (Recap here). First our car died, and it was going to cost as much to (maybe) fix it as it was worth. Our dishwasher died (in the middle of a big home reno project, too, which was a nice touch). And then, the third thing that I didn't want to post about, was that MJ lost his job.

But he got a new job! Yay! Knowing what so many are going through in this economy and job market, I recognize we are so, so blessed. And I'm really not complaining.

But that things about threes?

Yeah, my washing machine just broke.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Once, when a friend and I were planning a trip into D.C., she said, "But seriously, I'm only going in without you if you promise not to talk to the homeless people."

I don't remember what I'd done before to bring that on. I have an admittedly low capacity for resistance to people asking me for food, though, which may make me a sucker. I've volunteered with homeless teenagers before, so I know sometimes people are trying to get money for things that are... not food. But still.

Yesterday I was in Baltimore by myself. I parked my car in a lot and as I walked out,  there was no one around except a young man with a beard and worn-looking clothes. He came over to me, said, "I don't know if you can help me..."

"I'll try," I said, thinking he was going to ask me for directions, which was just going to be bad for both of us. I can barely give directions to my house, forget a city I don't live in.

"I'm trying to buy some food," he said.

"Oh, sure." I pulled my wallet out of my purse and opened it, and then realized - and I'm sure he saw too - that I had around a dozen $20's. I'd just picked up cash the day before to pay a friend for a piece of exercise equipment for our home gym.

I couldn't help but think... man, this guy is probably a nice guy who's down on his luck, but the nicest guy in the world who's hungry has got to be thinking he could punch me in the face and walk off with my wallet right now, even if he never would.

That didn't happen. But I thought two things, afterwards. One, maybe I'm dumb for stopping and opening up my wallet when I'm alone and there's no one else around.  Two, I wish I'd walked around the corner with him to the Subway and bought him lunch instead of giving him a few bucks and hurrying off to my meeting. It would have been a bit more meaningful of a gesture. So what if I'd been two minutes late?

And those two thoughts are completely contradictory.

I know we all have our own philosophies - some people give to panhandlers, some only give to charities that help the homeless. I don't think there's anything wrong with any of those different perspectives.

But personally, when someone asks me for food, I don't see any reason not to give. I guess I'd rather be a little dumb sometimes.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

When my parents were choosing names, they debated between Cassiopia (for the space-prostitute-turned-nurse from Battlestar Galactica) and Guinevere, of Arthurian legend.

Neither of these are popular baby names in the U.S.

Mythologically speaking, Cassiopia was the braggart queen that claimed to be prettier than Posiedon's sea nymphs. Because Poseidon was, apparently, a psycho, this resulted in him unleashing a monster on the coast of her country. Cassiopia and her husband chained their daughter Andromeda to a rock as an offering to quell the beast. Luckily, Andromeda was rescued by a convenient hero, Perseus.  Happy ending! Your parents didn't get you killed!

So that story sort of sucks. However, according to the baby name sites, the name means "She whose words excel" (judging from the story, her words excel at starting trouble), so I do like that.

Guinevere, of course, was a great queen in Arthurian legend right up until she cheated on Arthur with Lancelot and caused the downfall of Camelot (Of course - woman-blaming is fun!). The name is translated alternately as meaning "White spirit" or "White wave" or a combination of white and smooth. I was fated by my name to be this damn pale.

The name's generally considered to be rooted in Welsh, but I've also read some argument that Guinevere historically speaking was likely French.

In the end, my parents went with Guinevere.  When I was a kid, I was the only Guinevere I knew. I was obsessed with Arthurian legend (yes, along with the forensic pathology. I was... well-rounded?). I didn't like my name as a child, though. It was so weird, and seriously, I was already weird enough.  I didn't mind when people butchered it and called me "Jen" instead (which is derived from Guinevere).

I grew into my name, though. It helped that I got to leave my childhood home, where it seemed everyone was named Crystal or Jessica. And I married a man with a very English last name which sounds lovely with Guinevere, than my rather ethnic maiden name (which was something akin to Polishlongnameoffski). And that I just plain grew up, and being different - in any way - no longer seems like the little disaster it is at eleven.

In other words, good news, Mom: I've abandoned my childhood plans to change my name to Jane!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When I was trying to come up with a topic for E, I brainstormed words that start with E and I just kept coming up with eels. Why yes, Brain, eels starts with no one but TWO E's, but that alone doesn't make eels a great blog post topic.

Today with F I'm stuck on fish. There's a whole under-the-sea theme going on in my subconscious.

But let's move on to F for forensic pathology.  As a kid, I was obsessed with forensic pathology.  I watched "X-Files" and "Silence of the Lambs" at an embarrassingly tender age.  I read forensic science textbooks and pathology case studies.

I planned to become a forensic pathologist right up until I realized it was thirteen years of further education post-high school and that I just could. not. commit.  And then I studied history in college, which was every bit of gruesome as forensic pathology, and went off into the Marines and generally forgot about the entire subject. I don't even watch C.S.I.

Recently, though, I started writing mysteries, often mysteries in historic settings, and I remember bits of case studies I read fifteen years ago. I've been surprised to realize that it's true nothing you ever learn is ever really lost (details, yes, general concepts, no), and I'm not sure any interest ever fades away completely. 

So now, instead of that weird kid reading true crime, I'm that weird adult reading articles from the International Journal of Forensic Science. Booya.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

As a kid, I watched a lot of R-rated films and TV shows without any apparent harm. I loved "Silence of the Lambs" and "Pippi Longstocking" equally.

What did mess me up, though, was the evening news.

I particularly remember being very little - three or four - and playing in our living room while my dad watched the news.  They ran a news story about a woman involved in an escalator accident when her shoe got stuck in the escalator.  Of course, in my childish imagination she was dragged into the depths of the escalator and never seen again.

The next time my mom and I went to Woolworth's, I stared at the escalator, trying to figure out how a whole person could be sucked into an escalator. I wondered what was in the body of the escalator, underneath the treads. Probably trolls.

And, to my mom's bafflement, I'm sure, I refused to get on the escalator. I would spend the next eight years or so of my life taking stairs or elevators until the pressure of being an adolescent mall rat forced me to confront my fears and save face in front of my friends.

But now I'm an adult. I've researched escalator accidents and being aware of how to prevent them (a handy tip: don't wear Crocs on escalators. Actually, to be safe, you might want to never wear Crocs). I realize no one is getting sucked into the escalator mechanism and that, worse case scenario, you're probably just going to mangle a toe or too -- I'm a marathon runner, we mangle our own toes, that's no big deal.  I understand there are no trolls.

I still hesitate, do a little stutter-step, every time I get onto an escalator, though. I just want to be careful. Old fears die hard.

Anyone else have any irrational perfectly logical childhood fears?

Monday, April 4, 2011

This weekend MJ and I went car shopping. We test drove a few cars, poked around the used cars, and were having a pretty good experience until that terrible moment at the end of visiting a car dealership where they bring out the big guns.

Do they do this everywhere or just in Virginia? You look at some cars, you talk to a salesperson, you take a test drive, and then they're like "Oh, real quick, let me grab my sales manager to give you the hard sell until you wish you'd never thought of buying a new car."

This sales manager was a particularly interesting case. He talked loudly and excitedly without making eye contact.  He flipped a pen between his hands as he talked at us, asking how aggressive a deal he'd need to make for us to buy a car today, and asking the same questions repeatedly.

At a key moment in his spiel, he told us, "Look, I will give you twenty percent off a car today. That's unheard of. That's such a good deal, it's an investment. Tell me that's not an investment."
I tried to stop myself, but...well... he asked. I said, "Well, it's not an investment. By definition, an investment is something that appreciates in value. This car is going to depreciate. I'm not trying to be difficult, but I'm getting my Master's in Finance and - that's just not an investment."

"Okay, okay," he said. He repeated his spiel over again, and then finished with, "Tell me that's not an investment!"

You know what happened next.

I'd feel badly for this dude, who is just trying to do his job, right? And here I am, unable to resist the impulse to define key financial terms for him.  But when we were test driving the car, the dealer told us about how many young kids from the nearby base come in and buy sports cars. He didn't know how they could afford them.  And, having spent lots of time with young Marines and their financial troubles, I'd have to say they can't.

But maybe someone convinces them it's an investment!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I'm a planner by nature. There are a few things that are tough to plan -- writing and publishing, for instance, refuse so far to submit to a calendar -- but I plan everything I possibly can. I used to have a career flowchart hanging on the wall of my bedroom, with various divergences planned for in multi-color Sharpie.

I've grown out of that, a little, but not much.

When MJ and I first married, we said it was nice we were marrying a little younger than most of our family and friends did. We'd have a few years together to just enjoy being, and then we could start a family while we were younger, too. We thought we'd have our first baby at 27 or so, which happens to be the age I am now (with 28 rapidly approaching).

But then the career plans and the budget plans and the travel plans overtook the early baby thoughts.  I want to run just one more marathon before I settle into the walking-and-yoga routine typical of pregnant ladies. I'd like to have X dollars in the bank. I want to go to England, Ireland, France and Japan before we give up traveling for a season. I had to finish grad school pre-baby. I must finish up 3 years at my present assignment and settle into a new job before we have a baby. I should sell a book first, maybe two, because who knows what the baby will do to my writing equilibrium.

That's a lot of To Do pre-baby. It pushed the baby schedule out into my early 30's.

And lately? I'm not sure I care about any of it.  I just want to have a baby, and let the plans work themselves out. No Sharpies or schedules.

That feels a little scary.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Alright, I dithered on whether or not to do the A to Z blogging challenge like last year, since I'm in the last month of grad school (YAY!), but it was just so much fun last year I had to.

My post for A is on the Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine Pre-Slushing Workshop (man, say that three times fast). ASIM is one of the pro-paying sci-fi markets. They ran a workshop where authors posted the first 300 words of their short stories, and then editors commented on what they liked, didn't like, and whether they'd read on.

Since we so rarely get substantive feedback from editors, this was a great chance to see what works for them and what doesn't.  If you write sci-fi  or just want a look at how editors read, you might want to go over to Patty Jansen's blog, Must Use Bigger Elephants, and check out the slush.

If you're curious, too, one of my short stories is in there as slush too - the first 300 words of ALL WE KNOW OF HEAVEN AND HELL is posted here with editorial comments.