Monday, June 25, 2012

My Internet-Free Saturday

I decided to go without the internet on Saturday to try to minimize distractions for a productive day. And while there were some annoying side-effects (I wasn't sure what time the library closed, the name of an actor in a movie I was watching escaped me, I couldn't check Facebook to see if my friend had her baby), I was more than pleased with the results.
  • I finished a friend's book, D-day And Beyond: A True Story Of Escape And Pow Survival, which I've been trying to find the time to read for a month now.
  • All the documents that have been piling up on my desk are now in my filing cabinet.
  • I laughed aloud while reading the delightful Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, ill. by Paul O. Zelinsky.
  • I cooked, yes, as in used my kitchen to prepare meals.
  • My sister would be proud: I made a pie.
  • I went to the library, recycling drop off, grocery store, library, gas station...
  • I taked to my mom and my sister and looked up flights to Chicago for my cousin's wedding.
  • The manuscripts critiques for next month's workshops are nearly finished.
The list could go on forever. I don't know why I'm always surprised by how much I accomplish when I go internet free. We think technology has made us so much more productive, and while in some ways it has, it's also giving us more resources to waste our time.

So in July, I'm going to limit my internet time to one hour each night. I still have to be online for work and will check email throughout the day, but I seriously need to cut back on how much time I spend online. We'll see if I can exercise any self control.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daddy's Girl

I haven't always been a daddy's girl. In fact, there were a few years there in my late teens/early twenties when I thought my dad and I would forever have a strained relationship. Maybe it's because we're both so stubborn and set in our ways that we never really tried to understand each other. Then one day—quite out of the blue—I realized I was what needed to change about my relationship with my father.

So here we are, ten years later and 700 miles apart, and I'm closer to my dad than ever. I thought about him often this week. Practically everything I did came as a direct result of something my father taught me to love. I work in Washington, DC, because my father knows the importance of being politically active; even the field I work in is directly related to my father's work. Every time I downloaded a new song on my mp3 player, I thought about sharing it with my dad because he's a musician and music lover. I watched old Star Trek (Deep Space Nine and Voyager) episodes because I grew to love the series when my dad watched The Next Generation with us. As I listened to baseball games (both Nationals and White Sox), I thought of the games my dad took us to and how we used to complain whenever he'd steal the remote on Saturday afternoons and turn on a game. Each time I opened up an assignment for grad school, I thought of how proud my dad is that I'm getting an advanced degree because he never had the chance to finish college.

Then last night, my thoughts turned sad when my dad posted on Facebook about how much he missed his own father. My grandfather passed away many years before I was born, when my father was still in high school. My father's gone about 40 years without his father there to ask career advice, to watch a baseball game, to chat about the day. It made me think about how lucky I am to be able to miss my dad and then pick up the phone and hear his voice. How blessed I am to have had 30 years, more than 11,000 days, to have my father there for me.

I know this is a really sappy, but it's Fathers' Day after all. So even though there were a few years in there I'm sure I didn't say it often enough and miles prevent me from saying it in person, I love you, Dad. I always have, and I always will.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Boys of Summer Playlist

It's been a long time since I've posted a new playlist, but I couldn't resist when I started thinking of how great it would be to have all my baseball songs in one place. Now I listen to it practically every day on my way home from work to put me in the mood for the Nationals or White Sox game (both if the timing works out) I'll be listening to. In honor of the Boys of Summer, here's a list of my favorite baseball songs:

"The Boys of Summer" by The Ataris
"The Ballad of Russell Perry" by Vigilantes of Love
"What a Game" by Ragtime Cast
"Mrs. Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel
"Piazza, New York Catcher" by Belle & Sebastian
"Brown Eyed Handsome Man" by Chuck Berry
"Cubs In Five" by The Mountain Goats
"Sure Shot" by Beastie Boys
"Heart" by The McGuire Sisters
"Catfish" by Bob Dylan
"Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" by Natalie Cole
"T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)" by You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown Cast
"A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" by Steve Goodman
"Whatever Lola Wants" by Sarah Vaughan
"Tessie" by Dropkick Murphys
"Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen

If you need more songs about baseball, check out the soundtrack to Ken Burns' documentary Baseball, which is an amazing collection of a century's worth of the sounds of baseball. It also includes seven different versions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Monday, June 11, 2012

And the Tables Have Turned

I have an intern. Yes, after all the internships I've done over the years (there were three, the first when I was 17-years old), I now have a poor, unsuspecting college student to dump all of my crappy projects on. Okay, you know that's totally not true. The teacher in me would never allow myself to do that. Even though the next few weeks will be ridiculously busy, I know how important this learning experience is for both my intern and me.

In honor of Intern Maggie and her excitement to expand her skills and be a productive member of our staff, here are the five greatest lessons I learned as an intern:
  1. Always give more than people expect. One supervisor was over the moon when she found out I know my way around Adobe Creative Suite and loved that I had experience with library catalogs and could organize all of her books. I used to work in a billing department? I have no fear about talking to total strangers on the street? I'd coordinated an office move before? I could write a letter-to-the-editor? It's good when people have high expectations of you, but it's even better when you have high expectations of yourself.
  2. Learn to love whatever you're doing. I've been asked to do some pretty boring tasks as an intern—including filing an entire year's worth of papers and reading 25 newspapers a day to compile clippings. You might be socked to learn I enjoyed both of these tasks because they allowed me to read and learn and know what was going on in the world. Finding something to love in the menial means you can feel fulfilled no matter what you have to do.
  3. Love where you are. I've been an intern in Springfield, Illinois, and Rexburg, Idaho, both Podunk towns to this city girl. But after years away, I can still tell you my favorite picnic spots, the best places to eat lunch and 101 fun things to do without having to step foot in a club, museum or sports arena. Every town, neighborhood, building has something unique to offer.
  4. Write your own syllabus. The summer I interned in DC, a friend and I created a for-credit class, which meant we could spend one day a week doing whatever we wanted. We explored the alphabet soup of DC, listened to House debates and interviewed government officials. Not many classes can offer as diverse an education as an internship can.
  5. Keep in touch. I love seeing what my fellow former-interns are up to, and it always makes me happy when someone I used to work with has a new success. Business contacts are good, but friends are even better.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury: Changing the Direction of American Literature and My Childhood

It had to be the most ridiculous book I had ever read. Making booze from weeds, a broken-down carnival game, a Podunk town in Illinois. Seriously? I couldn't believe my English teacher was making me read such a stupid book for my first reading assignment in high school.

It wasn't until the following summer—long after the tests and essays and in-class writing assignments were over—that I truly read Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. But somewhere in the nine months of my freshman year, I became ready to understand. Maybe summer allowed me to see the beauty in bottling up the magic of childhood. Or maybe I was finally ready to put away my adolescence and start becoming an adult. But in my second attempt at reading about Douglas, Tom and Charlie, I understood that even as we grow up and move on, a little part of us stays a child forever.

Since my first experience with Bradbury more than 15 years ago, I've read many of his other books. None of them had the same impact on me as Dandelion Wine, but there are several bottles in the cellar of my soul, each with a label of a book that changed me:

So thank you, Ray Bradburg. You might not be with us any longer, but your words will stay with us forever.

Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920-June 5, 2012)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Books, Brainstorming and Baseball

I can't believe it's June! Seriously, where did May go? Or for that matter, what happened to April?

My first writing assignment for grad school was due this week. I had to put together a 20-page submission for critique groups that I will participate in this summer. I was shocked by how difficult I found it to pick what to submit. This is the first exposure my classmates will have to my work, and perhaps more importantly, I'll be getting feedback from a wide variety of readers. That's a lot of pressure—to pick something that still needs work but isn't so rough that my fellow kidlit-lovers will think I'm a hack. I finally settled on a piece that I'd love to be working on but has taken a backseat to other projects.

VCFA also sent the lecture list for the coming semester and recommended I read at least some of the source books for the lectures. To get started, I read The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. As some of you may remember, I heard Schmidt speak at the National Book Festival last year, and his words had a profound affect on me. And now that I've read one of his books, I respect Schmidt all the more. He made me laugh and cry by weaving Shakespeare, baseball and modern American history into a great story.

On Wednesday I attended another lecture for the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum's First Amendment Center. This was a panel on religious freedom and the press in Iran. Wow, what a powerful subject. At some point I'd like to write a more detailed blog post of some of my thoughts and highlights of this event, but in general, it made me realize how woefully undereducated I am on this subject.

October might seem like a long way off, but planning for the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Annual Fall Conference is in full swing. And I still can't get over the fact that I'll get to meet Karen freakin' Cushman. That's right, the award-winning author of Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice will be our keynote speaker. The fangirl in me is already squealing. I just hope I don't embarrass myself in front of one of my childhood idles. Honestly, there's not a chance that I will get through this meeting with any semblance of dignity and grace.

I was supposed to attend last night's baseball game between the Nationals and the Braves, but a severe thunderstorm put an end to the game before it even started. Instead, my friends and I stood in the pouring rain, sharing our favorite baseball stories. The rain delay also meant I got to listen to an awesome win by the White Sox. I still can't get over how lucky I am to have my hometown team be in first place in the American League Central and my adopted hometown team be in first place in the National League East. Can you imagine what I mess I'll be if they face off at the World Series? I know it's bad luck to speculate about these types of things, but I can't seem to help myself.

But today? Today I claimed my own little piece of sunshine and soaked in the rays with a good book (Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore in case you don't recognize the cover). My desk might be a mess and my laundry might remain in a pile, but I can't think of a better way to spend my day.