Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Personality Thief

Tonight I enjoyed a little-known perk of bookselling: a gourmet dinner and all the wine I cared to drink, absolutely free. A publishing company paid for a few local B&N employees to have dinner with two of its new authors at one of the city's best restaurants. Until tonight, I'd seen pictures of, but never eaten, food presented so artistically that it takes an effort of the will to mar it with the first bite. But art be damned--tonight I ate duck that I thought might actually melt on my tongue.

And I was quiet most of the night. Not only because my mouth was full, but because I was surrounded by some of the most disparate personalities ever collected at one table. Personalities that excited the writer in me and will probably lend their quirks to future characters in my fiction. A proud retail manager wearing braces and an expensive-looking suit, a publisher who shook my hand but had already averted his attention before I finished saying my name, a New York Times reporter who sat to my right and made indecipherable notes in red pen throughout dinner. Shoved together at one table and lubricated with wine refilled too attentively for anyone to track their consumption, these people had interesting conversations.

I went to this event because it involved free food and it made me anxious (I try to do the things that make me feel that way). And I went to it because I felt like I should, as someone who hopes to write books one day. I'm not sure what I expected to get out of it (not the most useful things, like connections in the publishing business or sound advice from real authors), but I came away with some pretty valuable stuff. Some of the publisher's comments about selling books would make me bitter if I chose to let them. Instead I'll borrow his personality. Maybe try to pitch it to him some day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book Infestation

I've been reading a lot lately, and that's a good thing, even if I've been letting it get in the way of some other things I should be doing, like scouring the Writer's Market for places to submit a couple of finished short stories and researching and writing my first article for a particular website. I've been reading really good books, too--addictive yet intelligent books. The fact that I have both the time and the resources to discover and read these books makes me a very happy geek. But my life at the moment presents a problem that's tearing me up a little bit.

Here's my predicament: I have too many sources of reading material. The last two books I've read were borrowed from a friend. Before that, I borrowed a hardcover book from the bookstore where I work. This book-borrowing thing is something I feel that I should take full advantage of while I can. (Free books! Limited time only!) I also have a couple of advance copies that I picked up in the break room at work. These are books that will be coming out in the spring, and I think I should read them before they come out, so I can recommend them (or not) to customers. That, after all, is why publishers give us advance copies. BUT. But I bought several books last month, while my discount was temporarily increased to 40% and I had a gift card. I bought time-consuming books that I can't read in the time I'd have if I borrowed them from a library or from the store. Classic books. Books I should probably read before I start my PhD, because I don't expect to have time for them once I'm in school again, and it's frankly a little embarrassing that I've never read them. (I'm talking about books like Moby Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, The Picture of Dorian Grey.) And I'm not the kind of girl who reads more than one book at a time. When I start a book, I enter into a commitment with it. So there will be no compromising. I have to choose a book. One book. But how to choose, when they're all so tempting?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Today I sat for fifteen minutes in a waiting room at the downtown hospital where Natasha and I will be volunteering. I watched people filter in and out, caught snippets of conversation in Spanish, smiled when an old black man grinned at a toddler and said, "Hi there, baby." A Mexican woman brought in a tiny baby covered in tubes, and I was so enthralled with him that I didn't notice the first time the phlebotomist called my name.

I was one of two white people in the room. The other one, an overweight woman who covered herself with a faded jean jacket and a feathery pink scarf while she waited, clearly has a harder life than I do.

I might complain sometimes about the eighty hours of volunteering to which the hospital wants me to commit, and I might complain about having to make four trips downtown for tuberculosis screenings, and I might complain about losing my car on the roof of a parking garage while the wind chill was -11. But really, I can't grudge the people in that waiting room my time.

I'm very lucky.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's Very Late

But I'm done now.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


Right now, this moment, I am almost exactly in the middle of the three days in a row I have off from work. It was an accident to get this vast stretch of time, because I didn't ask for it, and I suspect the assistant manager who makes the schedule simply made a mistake. But it is what I needed. I've been on edge for weeks, my blood pressure rising every time a demand (as simple as a phone call or a run to the grocery store) was made on my time. I've felt resentful of customers at work because--horror of horrors--they expect me to help them. I've been on the verge of saying very rude and inappropriate things, uncontrolled and uncharacteristic things, to people all week. I realized how badly I needed a break when I actually lost control of my tongue with a customer who kept interrupting me with "No, no, no," because he thought I didn't understand what he was asking, when in fact I did. "Let me finish," I said in a tone of voice that made him stop mid-word and blink at me in surprise.

I need this break so badly I promised myself this morning that I wouldn't think about work until I get there on Tuesday afternoon. I just broke that promise, and I can feel the bile rising in my chest. So I'm done now. No more talk of work.

What I have been doing on these days off has been incredibly therapeutic, even though, technically, it's work. Yesterday, I spent the entire day cleaning my house. The cat hair tumbleweeds and brown tea stain in the white porcelain sink and hurricane-hit papers in the office are all gone. The floors shine and the windows aren't marked by the wetness of cat's noses. I am completely relaxed in my own home for the first time in months. Which is helping with today's project because I'm not distracted by clutter and filth.

Today, I'm finishing my last two PhD applications. Online application forms are complete, fees paid. The harder part is ahead, and that is why I'm blogging. I have to revise my statement of purpose for each school, write a letter and fill out a form to apply for financial aid/teaching positions, and print out all of the supplementary materials for each application packet. Most of this is creative work to a certain extent, and my brain doesn't feel quite supple enough for that right now. But I'll finish today, because tomorrow I want the freedom to run errands and do some recreational shopping. And read. And watch movies. And whatever else I think I deserve.

Okay. Good warm-up. Time to work.