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My Great Northwestern Adventure: Part 3

Olympic National Park would’ve been amazing any time of the year, but it was particularly awesome during our visit because we had the entire park to ourselves. With majestic seascapes and soaring evergreens dripping with moss, it was like wandering onto the set of the Lord of the Rings. It’s possible the snow and frigid temperatures had something to do with the lack of tourists, but it hardly kept us from enjoying nature’s beauty.

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The moss doesn’t actually hurt the trees, unlike the vines in the Midwest.

If you can see past my poor camera’s exposure capabilities, you can begin to understand how disgustingly beautiful this place is. Just off the highway was a trail leading to the beach, and a small wooden bridge spanning a creek because it simply wasn’t picturesque enough without an adorable bridge leading to the rocky shore. And then, driftwood! Driftwood as far as the eye could see! Like, so much my driftwood-coveting mom would’ve surely swooned right there on the sand.

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Disgustingly scenic snowy bridge leading to the beach.

Snowy driftwood, just in case the view wasn't spectacular enough.

Snowy driftwood, just in case the view wasn’t spectacular enough.

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Perfect beach rocks are perfect.

View of the coastal pines from the beach. Believe it or not, these were the wimpier trees.

View of the coastal pines from the beach. Believe it or not, these were the wimpier trees.

The enormous growths on these spruce trees are called “burls,” as in Burl Ives, only they’re not as holly jolly. Trees form burls after an injury or if they’ve contracted a nasty virus or fungus. These growths are a reminder of how the natural world is a masterwork in the absence of human interference.

Our main objective was to make it to the Hoh Rainforest before sunset, so we didn’t have a lot of time to frolic on random stops along the way. Still, I couldn’t help but shriek every other mile for my husband to pull over so I could take pictures the prehistoric-looking trees and ferns under the feathery snow.

So. Freaking. Pretty.

As it turns out, I am obsessed with moss-covered things.

The thing about these towering forests is you can’t get a decent picture of them. I grew more and more frustrated with my point and shoot camera as the scenery exploded with obscene beauty. There’s no way to articulate their majesty in photos. It’s like trying to replicate the Mona Lisa with washable markers. This quote from God, a.k.a. John Steinbeck, perfectly sums up my sentiments: “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” Though Steinbeck may be referring to the California Sequoias, this quote is more than applicable when it comes to the woody skyscrapers of Olympic National Park. What’s more, unlike every single time I’ve ever visited Sequoia National Park, there weren’t tourists crawling all over the trees, giving it the illusion of an unspoiled fairyland.

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Hoh in the snow.

There was only one other car in the parking lot when we finally reached the Hoh Rainforest. Amongst the trees lived the most soul-enriching silence. You couldn’t hear any traffic, or people, or any signs that civilization existed. Pure magnificence. The snow only frosted the blinding greenery, not obscuring it, freezing this emerald wonderland in a ghostly glaze. The scenery looked too magical, too breathtaking, to be real. I half-expected a satyr to leap out of the ferns and start jabbering to me about a secret quest.

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This way to Pan’s Labyrinth.

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A nurse log supports the lives of mature trees in the Hoh Rainforest.

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Mossesome.

Moss monster of the Hoh Rainforest.

Moss monster of the Hoh Rainforest.

How fortunate the people of Washington are to have this amazing forest. I’ve traveled to many of America’s most beautiful places, and this ranks near the top of my favorites. I can’t wait to come back and explore it more, when my toes won’t be in danger of breaking off in the cold. There are other  similar forests in Washington and Oregon I didn’t get to visit, which will broaden my explorations on future trips. The nice thing about missing sites on your first visit is it gives you a reason to come back. Washington gave me plenty of incentives to return.

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Even the streams are mossy!

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That time I was kicked out of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame

A younger me basking in the glory of an enormous Joshua Tree banner at the Rock Hall.

Comparatively speaking, I’m a youngish U2 fan. I fell for them in 2001, at the end of my senior year in high school; by the time I entered college, a full-fledged obsession had begun. This was mostly due to the fact I saw my first U2 concert that same year, sending me into a fandom spiral of no return. The fact I got to see them that year at all is sort of a miracle.

I remember exactly where I was the moment I first heard about the show–it was night, and I was driving the country way home. I just happened to have my radio on when someone mentioned U2 was playing at the Savvis Center in St. Louis. I sped home like a storm of devils was after me and found out tickets were going on sale in a matter of days. I called up my concert-going friend and asked if she wanted to come with, and she was game. It all happened ridiculously fast, with a string of green lights that seemed to wave me in the direction of musical destiny. The show was November 28th, and it was the fourth-last date of the Elevation tour. I made it under the wire by four tour dates. 

It remains the single concert that changed everything for me. Before that, I really hadn’t dove into anything outside of boy bands, because I was sheltered and didn’t know any better. Post September 11th, U2 was the driving force that helped me grow up. Their music, and that show, opened up an entire world to me. The band exposed me to ideas, music, and culture I wouldn’t have necessarily discovered on my own (or until much later) and for that, I owe them more than I can probably ever know.

ImageFast-forward to my absolute U2 fandom initiation/mudslide. I went through their entire catalog, buying up each CD slowly to savor each one along the way. There was no record store near me, so I generally bought most from a now-defunct CD store in the mall, and from big box chain stores like Circuit City. My first U2 album was their latest, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, so I went back and began collecting them chronologically, starting with Boy. I distinctly remember when I finally picked up Pop, and had the funny feeling that I would never buy an old U2 album again. From then on, everything would be fresh off the press. It was kind of scary, as I feared the best had already come and I wouldn’t be as excited about anything that came thereafter. So I took that time to really listen to each album and give it its due, which is maybe why I hold neglected titles like Pop so dearly.

With my new musical taste came new friends; I met one of my best college friends in a drawing class. We bonded with our shared interest in music, and he introduced me to other bands I hadn’t given much attention to before then, like the Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and Moby. Sadly, he had never seen U2 live, so I made it my mission to show him all the live U2 DVDs eighteen billion times until he could taste a grain of what it was like to witness them in person. You might assume this was ill-informed, but awesomely enough, it wasn’t. He loved them as much as I did, so it was only fitting when a ginormous U2 exhibit came to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, we went together.

This epic journey fell on our spring break. I won’t go over all the adventurous details, but let’s just say it was full of randomness, innocence, and music, and the trip stands on a short list as one of the best times in my young life. Of course, it centered around us spending two days in Cleveland, Ohio, and drooling like bwain-hungry zombies at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

For whatever reason, we thought it would be a great idea to walk to the Rock Hall from our hotel, so I have this memory of me walking sixteen city blocks in fancy platform sandals and realizing I’d made a huge mistake somewhere around the eighth block. The great thing was, once you get to the museum, you just stand around and stare for the most part, so you’re only really required to shuffle. One of the first sad truths you learn when you enter the museum is there is no photography allowed in the exhibits. Outside and in the lobby, you can take all the pictures your little heart desires, but once you’re past those velvet ropes, the CIA will jump out of a helicopter and throw you to the ground if you so much as look in the direction of your camera. (Only slightly exaggerating.)

Rock Hall-approved photo of Zoo-TV Trabants taken from ground floor level.

So when you’re faced with the inability to take a single picture of Larry Mullen Jr.’s first drum kit, the single instrument that spawned your favorite band, what other sign of true appreciation exists than to have your friend distract security while you quickly and respectfully touch it? While I understand and encourage the Rock Hall’s mission to preserve their collection of rock ‘n roll memorabilia for future generations, I argue they really hung that carrot in not allowing anyone to take a photo without a flash.

The fact of the matter is, once you get away with touching a historic piece of rock memorabilia, it infects you like ebola and you can’t find a way to stop. It becomes a game, and you start making mental lists of all the things you want to touch, and keep tabs on where the security guards are stationed at all times, and start plotting strategies with your cohort to make your dreams become reality. Once we entered the tower, the top of the U2 exhibit and beheld the dimly-lit room full of stage costumes, I kind of lost it. Nothing became more important to me than my mission to touch Bono’s black pleather Fly costume. 

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The Fly – I touched that pant leg. Unfortunately, not while Bono was in them.

Some touches were more easily scored than others, based on the layout of the room and the number of guards stationed at each exit. Well, the U2 costume tower was more heavily guarded than any other room–with two guards at either end, and nowhere to look but right at you. Which is why it was so impressive my friend and I started a running tally of all the things we touched. Later, I made a list of my coups on a dinner napkin. But the Fly was my Holy Grail and it held out till the end, on our second visit, after we’d exhausted everyone else in the room. We had hung around for what was likely a couple of hours until the guards could stare at us no more, and I made my way for the exit and slyly held out my hand to touch the pant leg like a child brushing their hand along a sidewalk fence. Turns out, the cooler you play it, the less likely anyone is to notice it. That is, unless you’re doing something you think is completely within the rules and a security guard spots you.

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Coyly described as “Brushes with Fame,” #14 on my Rock Hall questionnaire lists my coups. It continues on the back.

There should be nothing more rock ‘n roll than being kicked out of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, am I right? The irony is, I got escorted out by security for something incredibly lame after I’d done the bad stuff undetected. After our big touching “heist,” (Wow, could that be taken horribly out of context…) my friend and I made it out of the exhibit and paused on the stairs to take pictures of the Trabant cars hanging from the ceiling. The tiny cars were used as stage lights on U2’s Zoo-TV tour, and from the top of the stairs, which led to the lobby, I could get a higher vantage point of the details. 

Contraband Trabant photo taken from the forbidden staircase. Notice the Secret Service agent is totally wearing sunglasses inside a museum.

That’s when security yelled at me to drop my camera. I wasn’t a total vigilante, mind you. I was always a good kid in school, yadda, yadda, so when someone actually yelled at me, I tended to listen while my head hung in shame. So it seemed a little much when a security guard motioned me down the stairs, and another followed me, both with their little Secret Service headsets. To clarify, I asked the guard at the bottom of the stairs what he’d caught me doing wrong. Apparently, it was okay for me to take pictures of the Trabants from the ground floor of the lobby, but not on the stairs. Even though they were the same cars and I wasn’t able to see anything else from the exhibit with that vantage point. It was one thing to be yelled at while you were touching Elvis’s guitar, but  taking a picture of a cardboard car hanging from the ceiling at a slightly higher angle equaled a security escort from the premises?

Needless to say, I was a bit thrown off by the parameters of the rules. What was more, the Secret Service stayed glued to me like I was some kind of marked criminal and wouldn’t let me browse in the gift shop. I left the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame with a confused sense of triumph. Which was more awesome, touching The Fly’s pant leg or having a story about being physically ejected from the hall of musical anarchy by its Secret Service? I’ll bet the latter is something even The Edge could never boast about.

I went back to the same exhibit a year later and was relieved (and mildly disappointed) when nobody threw me out at first sight. I half expected to see a black and white security screenshot of my face posted in the gift shop, but alas, I was not as infamous as secretly hoped. I haven’t returned since 2003 to know if the photography rules have changed, but I would imagine security would have to be tripled to keep people from taking discreet pictures with their camera phones. Hopefully, the Nirvana exhibit from the EMP Museum will come to Cleveland, and I can make a return trip to find out first-hand. (And, perhaps, report back with a new list of coups…)

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Getting into that new-book groove

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“That’s the mountain I’m gonna hike? Son of a–“

Now that I’ve finished the rewrite of my last novel (Are we ever truly finished? Those are the questions that nibble my toes at night…), I’m finally able to clear the way for my new work in progress. This should be a fresh, freeing sensation, right? Honestly, it’s kind of terrifying.

I’ve discovered I have an awful time “breaking away” from the last book I’ve been working on. At least I already have a great start on the new novel, but it’s like wading through a desert. I don’t have a strong grip on the voice yet, and everything is so new, it’s daunting. There’s an overwhelming “I don’t know where to begin-ness.” I have, after all, been rewriting for the past year, which involves one comfortable, well-worn story. I know all of the characters inside-out. I can tell you the route you need to take to get from Freddy’s house to Paul’s, and about how Freddy likes chocolate milk, but won’t touch it plain. I have a grasp on my new characters, but I am still learning about them.

The new story has a ton of promise, but it isn’t broken in yet, which is an apt way to describe my life now. New town, new habits, new novel in progress… nothing is nice and cozy-comfortable yet. And as I previously established, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t take well to change. I find security and sanity in the things that don’t surprise me. But I also am the kind of person who loves to go on adventures and discover new places and sites–maybe I just need something trustworthy to come home to.

Either way, I’m not there in my book yet, which is why I haven’t been writing regularly. Also, the story wasn’t coming as quickly as it had been in its fledgling days of wildfire ideas. Instead of writing for the sake of writing, I wanted to take a new approach. I decided to stop forcing the issue of writing for the sake of writing and reflect on the story outline, which is usually impossible for me. Normally, I just let the characters reveal the story to me and write when a scene comes to mind. In the back of my mind, I knew that this story had to go somewhere and I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees; the arc wasn’t as apparent to me as I thought it would be, so I just let my brain “rest” on it and gave myself a “break.” 

And then it came, like a shot out of the dark. I can’t even recall if there was a trigger. Maybe my brain was quietly working on the lock on Pandora’s Box, and one question or thought about my characters or story revealed it all to me. Either way, it changed the entire story for the better. And what’s crazy is it revealed enough for me to construct a nearly complete outline of the book. I don’t work with outlines until I’m usually reworking plot issues or am nearing the end, so this is all unfamiliar territory at this stage. I have an outline, which I now need to develop with actual pages. And it’s kind of terrifying, because I’m not used to knowing where my story is going from point A to point Z. I don’t know where to begin because I know too much, if that makes sense. And it’s not like this is a plot-driven novel.

The subject matter of my new plot is deeper and more serious than anything I’ve tried to approach before, and it’s a little intimidating. It requires the kind of research you can’t find online or in a book. I’m going to have to actually interview someone to find out what I need to know about my character’s problems. Maybe you know this or not, but writers aren’t usually equipped with suave people skills. A lot of us mumble and avoid eye contact and would rather be thrown into a pit of tigers than into a situation where we have to voluntarily sit down and speak to strangers about real life situations– IN PERSON.

So while it’s exciting to have most of my book completely outlined before I start to knuckle down and write, it’s also vexing. Sometimes I’d prefer not to see the mountain before I start to climb it. Rocks and pebbles are far less intimidating than a tower of steep, evergreen-populated granite. On the bright side, having the whole story before I start writing saves me from churning out thousands upon thousands of words I will never use. My last book took so long to rewrite because my leap-without-looking method got me into two books’ worth of material, and it was supposed to be a stand-alone novel. I would rather not repeat that offense and see those acres of words burning, the smell of their carcasses blurring my revising eyes. This time, I want to do right by my story the first time out of the gate.

Now, where to begin. 

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Movin’ On: Giving up the chair and a hard-worn routine

Have you ever looked back at a chain of events in your life and wondered if the world was setting you up to make a big change? I can’t help but feel I was being prepped over the last several months to make a huge life switch. Remember my panicky chair rant from months ago? It’s so ironic. Two months later, my column in the local paper was canceled because it wasn’t “local-centric.” And then my husband declared he wanted to move closer to his workplace, as the 55-minute commute had finally taken its toll after eleven years. In the end, I had to give up not only my beloved writer space and chair at my favorite coffee shop, but my whole town. I’m not going to lie. It was hard to accept.

ImageAs much as I complain about living in Hellinois, my nickname for the great soul-beating state that is Illinois, I do love this town. It’s not Chicago, but it’s pretty much the next best thing as far as culture goes. Over the past few months, I had to accept the fact I’d be giving that up and moving to a smaller town, Conservativeland, if you will, and have been plotting how I will survive. It has a university within a bike ride of my new house, and a fairly vast library I will be able to get lost in. Plus, there is a coffee shop. I don’t think it has a special cushy chair, but it does have chai. And there is a nearby multiplex, as well as a single-screen theater currently under renovation in the old downtown. Access to movies, books, and a hermit hole is basically all I ask for. The food in this town is dismal in comparison to the one I live in now, so I’m going to have to cook more (Big HAH!) or something.

What’s really weird is how more and more things keep changing before the move. The school down the street from where I live has shut down for renovations, and they  tore out several huge, beautiful trees to make way for a new addition. Down the street from my coffee shop, a hotel is scheduled to go into an empty space where a building burned down a couple years back. (I was there the morning the firefighters were putting out the flames.) My local independent movie theater has turned into a co-op because rent is ridiculously high, and I fear for its survival. Even some of the regular servers at our favorite haunts have disappeared. Bearded Guy doesn’t come into my coffee shop and sit at the table in front of me every day like he used to. I still see him, but not as much anymore.

It’s as if all these changes are happening at this point in time to push me out, to make it easier for me to leave it all behind; like a chapter in the life of this town has come to an end, and when I come back after the move, it’ll be a different town than what I once knew. Leaving a town with all the creature comforts is bad enough, but leaving behind the personal things that make it your town is the worst. As someone who despises change, I hate to see these things happen, and it’s almost easier to leave now than it ever could’ve been.

It’s as if I’ve run the course of this town, and need to move on. Maybe it’s psychological, but it really feels like there are outside forces making this transition mentally easier.

Image An update on my beloved chair: my coffee shop kept it in its usual space and never did install the dreaded “Kid’s Corner” threatened earlier by new ownership. Maybe someone actually listened to my declaration this chair was the only reason I kept coming back. I’m going to miss it perhaps most of all. The cushion in the arms has worn so thin, you can feel the wooden framework when you prop up your elbows. There is a staple that pokes through the fabric on the left arm I constantly bump myself on. It’s in need of a new stuffing and reupholstering, but it’s my chair. Like Sheldon Cooper has his “spot” on the couch, this is my little corner of the universe all else revolves around.

In the past month, this chair was witness to two more milestones: my finishing the fourth draft of my novel in progress, and the place I was sitting when I found out my hero, Ray Bradbury, died. This chair has held me while I cried in public more than once. This chair could almost have its own book about the things it’s been a part of. I’m sitting in it now, teary-eyed as I write this entry. I’ll remind the owner again before I finally move that I’ll take it if they ever consider throwing it out. It’s been here longer than I have, so I really don’t know how much longer they would keep it. Maybe some kid will knick is or her arm on the staple and they’ll finally decide to toss it. The other two cushy chairs that used to sit in the back of this coffee shop have vanished for whatever reason. My chair stands alone, the last monument of a fallen empire.

The official moving date is nine days away. I should probably apologize for being such a sentimental sap, but I this is one more piece of the transition I need to set in place. I can’t help but look at every act without a feeling of finality. “This is the last time I’ll be walking my dog in this neighborhood,” or “This is going to be my last morning chai at this coffee shop,” even though that’s silly, since I’ll only be living an hour away and can visit anytime I like. But I won’t doing those things as I live in this town. I’ll have to make a special effort. And you know how most “special effort” promises turn out. I hate getting up early. There’s no way I’m going to get up at 6am so I can drive up to this coffee shop and have breakfast here at 8. It’ll never happen.

But, all these changes are pushing me to the realization that maybe it’s time for me to turn over a new leaf, anyway. My time in this town has come to an end. I need to begin new routines and learn new streets and find new hermit holes. Maybe even find a new chair. I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

And as “Closing Time” makes a well-timed appearance on the coffee shop radio, I lay to rest my last blog entry made at this coffee shop, sitting in my chair. I’m not even making this up. Sometimes, the radio just knows.

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First Listens

I take the art of first listening extremely seriously. So seriously, my husband sometimes looks at me like I’ve got two heads and need to be institutionalized for a spell.

I have to listen to a new album on a physical CD in my car, only my car, preferably alone, and on a roadtrip. Sometimes I will buy a highly-anticipated album the day it comes out, but will reserve listening to it until I can make a getaway in my car.  This is a sacred ritual to me, and to deviate from the formula can destroy my relationship with the album. Why? Because in my world, music attaches to memory in a symbiotic relationship.

I bought Ryan Adams’s album Gold when I was in community college, and I used to play that album from my house the entire 35-minute drive to school. “Nobody Girl” is the point at which I would arrive the back way to campus and my car would be taking the winding road into the parking lot. Every time I hear that song, and the line, “If your horses could talk, I wonder if they would complain,” I know where my car would be at that point during the drive, and it will always be connected.

Achtung Baby

I first listened to U2’s landmark album Achtung Baby on a rainy day after I’d gone with a friend and her family to a trip to Decatur. It was a depressing day, and I bought the CD from Circuit City, feeling I’d finally earned the right to listen to it. (My journey into U2 fandom is another long, long story; I gradually bought their albums one by one, leaving the best for last after I’d become familiar with each one.) This was the first listen I can remember not being in a car, and now I associate it with a gloomy day, rain, and being lost in the limbo of teenhood and adulthood. Even though I have since listened to this album countless times, I will always remember putting that CD into my stereo in my bedroom and turning up the volume to the first unfamiliar guitar riffs of “Zoo Station.” When I listen to a brand-new album, I’m not just putting it on as background, I am letting it absorb me into its strange territory; I’m feeling it out like I would the personality of a stranger. This is why I prefer to listen to a new album for the first time alone, so that the music isn’t interrupted by someone else’s take on it, and I can meet it for the first time on a blank slate.

The Pacific Coast Highway

This is why driving is important to me. Since images and memories bond so easily to new music, a changing landscape gives the songs their own unique impression. As can be expected, I try to take different driving routes for different albums and attempt to stay off the same roads. Sometimes an album brings about its own impression and doesn’t retain its first-listen memories; when I first listened to U2’s No Line on the Horizon, I took a drive with it and immediately felt this was the soundtrack for a drive along Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, with the surf crashing to the left, and the magnificent rolling hills to the right. I wouldn’t be able to make this vision happen for another year, but when I finally turned on that road and put on the album, it felt like the record was thrilling from the experience–it was in its proper environment, meant to be. That was the moment No Line blossomed.

I have an iPod, but I refuse to use it in my car. The car is reserved for CDs only. There is something so impersonal about a handheld device with a list of albums and tracks; gone is the tactile artwork, the lyrics on pages, the ease of knowing exactly where a CD is in your car and not having to look down to pop it in the mouth of the stereo. The iPod is for when I’m working and need a portable soundtrack to drown out the silence or the clamor of people around me–it is not a vehicle for picking apart the beauty and intricacy of music.

When I get a new CD my husband is interested in, he immediately wants to burn it to his iPod before I’ve even had a chance to listen to it. Such was the case for the soundtrack of Pearl Jam Twenty, and I would not let him have it until it had its first car ride. It sounds lunatic to utter aloud, but an album’s first use is the instance of it being born, and burning it onto a computer is like sucking out the soul before it’s had the chance to utter a note. Bat-shit I may sound in these beliefs, but music holds a more important role in my life than it may for most people. Music is inspiration. Music is a life force. Music is the one thing that transcends everything.  The least I can do is to treat it with respect.

I am not of the vinyl generation, though I feel like I could tumble down that audiophile rabbit hole very quickly if I found the right turntable. My record collection is small, but I can see it growing with the advent of Record Store Day and a new surge in artists releasing special LPs. Maybe that will be my next step, but for now, I will stick to my traditions of the road and the newborn cries of a fresh album filling the cab while an ever-changing backdrop flashes by.

 

How do you listen to an album for the first time?

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What writers (and filmmakers) can learn from “A Christmas Story”

Being that Christmas only comes once a year, it’s easy to forget about the invaluable works of seasonal art and the lessons we can take from them the other 364 days on the calendar. I admit my Christmas spirit has an expiration date of about a week, but there are a few gems that somehow avoid the staleness of repeat viewings/readings/listenings, so much so that I actually grow to appreciate them more with each passing year. The film A Christmas Story is one example, in my case.

Now that the movie has earned a permanent status on TBS with its 24-hour marathon each Christmas Day, it’s hard to  actually avoid seeing A Christmas Story every year. In my house, the tradition is to start the DVD on endless replay several weeks before Christmas, so it’s more of a constant parade of nostalgia and humor leading up to the big day. Strangely, it serves as a sort of comfort instead of an annoyance; this is the only film that can boast an immunity to being overplayed year-round. So where did this tolerance come from?

A Christmas Story is, of course, playing in the same room with me as I type this. And I wasn’t thinking of this blog post before the movie started up today; it occurred to me just about ten minutes into this viewing that every single scene in this movie is quotable. Every single scene. Go ahead. I challenge you to watch this movie and not find a hilarious, poignant, or witty quip worthy of repeating in each scene. How many movies can boast that? I’m a bit of a movie buff and even with my generous amount of knowledge of cinema, I can’t think of another movie like this right off the top of my head. So many films have a sluggish section, an empty part or two with the sole purpose of bridging to the next important scene; even my favorite films have parts that I probably wouldn’t miss if they’d been edited out. What A Christmas Story has acheived is a story as tight as a drum, without any unneccessary fat, and is the ultimate example of a stream-lined experience for audiences to relish time and time again. Every single scene needs to be there, and adds to the enjoyment of the movie while keeping the action moving forward.

How much better would movies and books be if they left out all of the extras and made every single scene count? I know this idea is an obvious one, but with movies bloating into the 3+ hour realm, and books swelling past reasonable attention spans, it’s clear everyone is not following this basic rule of thumb. I wondered what would happen with my own stories if I looked back and applied the Christmas Story rule to them. Would they stand up to the test? Though it’s a nearly impossible task to be as quotable as Jean Shepherd, it doesn’t have to be about catchy phrases or memorable lines. A startling idea, a unique description, or a vivid gesture are examples of ways to make a scene pop.

It’s something for writers to keep in mind when a scene just isn’t working out. Sometimes, we know we have to have a scene between two key parts of the story, but figuring out what happens in that hole is a struggle. What if we could start with that hook, the memorable quote, the gesture, the wonderful description, and work on the rest of the scene from there? It may just be the puzzle piece that tells us the rest of the story.

Some favorite lines from A Christmas Story for inspiration:

“My little brother had not eaten voluntarily in over three years.” – Ralphie’s narration.

“Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.” – Ralphie’s father, upon reading the word FRAGILE on the side of a crate. 

“Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.” – Ralphie’s narration, on his father’s “major award.”

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” – Santa Claus at the mall.  
 
“You used up all the glue on purpose!” – Ralphie’s father, after his mother broke the leg lamp.

“We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice.” – Ralphie’s narration, on tearing open the presents on Christmas morning.

“In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” – Ralphie narrating about his dad. 
 
[On Ralphie in a pink bunny suit] Ralphie’s Father: “He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny.”
Ralphie’s Mother: “He does not!” 
Ralphie’s Father: “He does too, he looks like a pink nightmare!”

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Does this suck?

WordPress is not my friend right now. Tell me, how bad does this blog look? Too cutesy? I kinda can’t find anything that screams, “This blog will rock your world,” so… might have to settle on this rainbow fish design. The other bad news is that the titles aren’t in CAPS, and it was kind of hilarious when the titles were screaming, “I LOVE THIS CRAP.” The good news is that “Please send me more word vomit!” now fits on the subscribe button.

Thoughts? Please humor me with a comment on this ridiculous endeavor.

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