Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Slash and burn

I'm a free-lance writer, and right now I'm working on a profile piece for the Florida Catholic. They're doing a special section on vocations (which will run state-wide, not just in the Orlando Diocese edition where my previous articles have been published), and my story for this section is the profile of a local nun preparing to celebrate her 50th anniversary as a Sister of the Holy Name. I met with her Friday for about 2 and a half hours, but, it being the Easter weekend (and me being a procrastinator), I didn't really sit down to work on it until yesterday. My deadline to turn the story into the special section's editor is this afternoon, and that won't be a problem. My difficutly lies in another direction entirely.

I usually record my interviews and transcribe them later. Some people don't like to work this way, b/c it can be pretty time-consuming, but it helps me be more accurate. I also like the fact that I don't have to be constantly scratching notes while my subject is talking. I can make eye-contact and it's more like a conversation. Anyway, I was up late last night transcribing only the first side of one tape...and I have two more sides of tape to go. (Somehow, during that time, I managed to eat an entire solid chocolate bunny: 5 servings per one bunny. So much for trying to be in good shape for the wedding this summer, huh?). The one side of the tape turned out to equate 6 pages worth of single spaced interview. 650-900 words? I don't think so. Try the first page.

And so, the story is just not coming together with the ease that I thought it would. The problem is not that there isn't enough material, it's that there is too much, and it's all good stuff! It's so hard cutting good anecdotes, stuff you know that other people will think are neat, or could maybe relate to. And this nun, Sister Rose, has led a really interesting life, and she's a fantastic story-teller, who loves to talk about herself (though who doesn't, really?). I want to leave so much in, but don't think I'll be able. The "joys" of editing, I guess.

Fortunately, just before I took a lunch break, the special section editor (who, oddly enough, used to babysit for me and my younger brothers years ago) called and said that it's ok if I go over, and that if I can keep it at about the 1,500-word mark, that's ok; they'll edit it and maybe come up with a sidebar or something.

I just may be able to get it down to the 1,500-word area. Big sigh of relief. Now back to work.

Friday, March 25, 2005

"Vacation all I ever wanted, vacation had to get away"

Yesterday, my life took a sad and pathetic turn. I actually counted the days until I leave to go to Hawaii.

As of yesterday, it was 75, which would make today 74.

Witness the lameness that is me.

I should explain that my cousin is getting married there in June, and my entire family, including my nuclear family and a large portion of the extended branch, will be attending. I have never been to Hawaii, but then, neither has my family. We were never a family that took exciting vacations. Some people's families would save up and take a big vacation every couple of years or so. They'd go skiing in the mountains, or rent a beach house somewhere for a week, or go on a cruise. Not so my family. Our vacations were always car trips (sometimes 20+ hours) to visit other family ( my father's unspoken motto is "If we can't drive, we don't go," if that tells you anything at all). The one near-exception is the trip we took to Washington D.C. when I was about 13. I really don't think that counts, though, since it was bookended with two weeks staying with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Virginia. We might have stayed in D.C. for a total of three days.

I've only flown twice in my life, which would probably strike most people as pretty strange. And I've never been further west than Louisiana. So imagine my joy when my cousin Matt announces that he and his fiance, who, though not an Islander, was born and raised in Hawaii, would be getting married on Oahu. Matt is the eldest son of my Dad's only sister, and she would probably hunt him down and kill him if he didn't come to the wedding. And so, wonder of wonders, we're going. It's official, since we bougfht out plane tickets and reserved our rooms last week. My Mom and I are only mildly thrilled. We already have poured through a few guidebooks and I've already started a list of places I want to go. And we went shopping the other day and hit some sales, where we scarfed up some fun new summer clothes.

And yesterday, as I flipped through my planner counting the days until June 7th, my memory whisked me back to about the age of seven, when I would start counting the days until Christmas while it was still July. Because if it's five months until Christmas, then I could start writing my Christmas list for Santa at the beginning of November.

Do you see a pattern here?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Word for the Day

More for my own benefit than for anyone else's, I took the time to look up 'cretonne' (see my last post, end of paragraph four). After Googling the word, here are the definitions I found:

Definitions of cretonne
n. - An unglazed heavy fabric 3
n. - A strong white fabric with warp of hemp and weft of flax. 2
n. - A fabric with cotton warp and woolen weft. 2
n. - A kind of chintz with a glossy surface.

Hmm. Ok. I then had to look up warp and weft. Apparently they are terms used in textile-making, often relating to rugs. Moving on...

Then I found this definition and the words origin:

    1. A strong cotton material, usually with a printed design, used for curtains, chair-covers, etc.
Etymology: 19c: French, named after the village of Creton in Normandy, where the fabric probably originated.

That's more specific, and gives a better idea of proper word usage. So, kids, that's our word for the day. Now go out and use it in a sentance! ;-)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Drowning in Books

I'm reading a book called "Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books" by Paul Collins. It's a non-fiction account of the time Collins, his wife and young son spent living in the town Hay-on-Wye in Wales. I'm not sure why Collins moved from San Francisco to Hay, which is apparently very near the English-Welsh border, other than he'd visited before and loved it. His accounts of the locals, their habits and house-hunting, among other things, are charmingly descriptive, and often both intellectual and hilarious, with digressions to a semi-related, often laughter-inducing passage from some long-lost tome that no one has ever heard of.

Hay sounds like the town for me. There are 40 bookstores in this town of 1,500 people, some of whom are quaintly odd. 40!!! And not only are there innumerable bookstores, but all, save one, carry used and antiquarian books. I would be in heaven. I am a bibliophile, to put it mildly. There are stacks upon boxes of books in my house, and the shelves are all over-flowing. And I still go to the library and check out other books. Add to these the books I have waiting to be read, patiently sitting and asking for my attention, those that I've begun to read but put down in favor of something more entertaining or intruiging (yet still intend to come back to eventually) and those that I've read seemingly hundreds of times already that I try to peruse every year or so.

And then, there are the books I collect. Old books, musty with age. Books that, when you open them and smell the pages, exude the scent of aged paper, ink and dust. My grandmother is allergic to this smell, saying that it is caused by microscopic dust mites, and refuses to have many older books in her house. But I love this smell (not to be confused with the new-book smell and the scent of bookstores that only carry new books, which is also another favorite smell of mine. Those books are mysterys in their own right, and hold all sorts of promise. But I digress...). Many of the old books in my collection are merely old, and aren't all that valuable. Some have damaged spines. Many people would look at them and see trash. But they have character, and, much like the written journal, a past. They are treasures in their own right.

I try to read all of the old books in my collection at least once. Some are melodramatic novels, like "The Tides of Barnagat," by F. Hopkinson Smith, circa 1906, where I wouldn't have been surprised if the book ended with the sentance, "And the moral of our story is...". Others, though, are funny, like the "Modern Priscilla Home Furnishing Book," published by the Priscilla Publishing Company, which apparently put out women's magazines. This how-to book gives the with-it homemakers of 1925 handy tips on furniture arranging, instructions for making lampshades, the care of linoleum, and asks the all important question: "Where Shall We Use Cretonnes?" If the book mentioned what a cretonne was, maybe I'd know where to use it! :-)

But I think the main thing about collecting old books that really attracts me is the sense of history they have. For instance, inscriptions in books always fascinate me. Sometimes I can't even read the flowing cursive handwriting, or only the first name is legible, and the date, "Christmas, 1906." Or if I can read it, who was Bertha Langmill, and where was she in March, 1919? Was this book her favorite? Why did one person give this specific book to another in 1891? What was their relationship? And how did a book make it's way from East Middlebury, Vermont to the Friends of the Library booksale in Lakeland, Fl?

More fascinating still are the items people leave in books to mark pages. I've found handwritten poems, holy cards, pressed flowers, bits of newspaper and, once, a set of train ticket stubs from a trip someone made between Chicago and St. Louis in the 1920's. It's amazing to me that people don't flip through the pages of their books before they donate or sell them. I always leave the markers in between the pages where I find them. Often, the page has discolored to show the placement of these artifacts, and it seems wrong to move them somehow.

There's a book store in St. Petersburg that I've only been to twice. It's called Haslem's, and I long to return. It takes up an entire city block, and is filled almost entirely with used books. The last time I was there, with my Mom and brothers, I spent a blissful four hours searching the shelves, sometimes stopping to pause and just sit, taking in the unique smell of the thousands of old books, reveling in them, knowing that they have been places that I may never go (sitting also served the practical purpose of resting my arm, nearly numb from carrying the ever-weightier basket of books around the store). After those four hours, everyone else was hungry, but I wasn't even half done looking through the store. I could have happily stayed there the rest of the day.

Thinking about it though, if that one store took so much time, I would certainly drown in a whole town of books. You could never get me to leave. Maybe it's best that I don't live in Hay. :-)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I see leaves of green....

It's been rainy and dim the last few days, so when I looked out the window this morning and saw more of the same, it was a little depressing. But for a little while this afternoon, before another front came through, the sun made it's way out from behind the clouds. And suddenly everything was green. Being Florida, it's been warm here for weeks, but without warning, it seems like Spring finally decided to declare itself. Shades of emerald and kelly green almost explode from the leaves on the trees, and when the breeze wafted over the scent of orange blossoms from my neighbor's yard, well....I can only wax so poetic, I guess. :-) Truely God's handiwork, and just in time for St. Patrick's Day tomorrow! What a wonderful world!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Up, up and away

I originally signed up for Blogger merely with the intent to publish comments on my friend's blog, but a couple of months ago, decided I would give it a shot. But after I'd typed out my first post, which I recall as being pretty good (but which was probably no more than mediocre, hindsight being what it is), I tried to post it and suddenly, it simply disappeared.

That's actually one of the issues I have with blogs. I never thought I would actually start one. I suppose that I should explain this paradox, since here I am writing one. The best way to explain it is that I'm somewhat old-school. Ever since I was in the fourth grade, I've kept a written journal. I must have at least five or six mismatched books, filled with handwriting that has morphed from large, bubbly, juvenile markings to the current combination of print and cursive that I use today. Most people these days don't write anything, not even checks, and what I love about the written word on paper is the sense of permenance. Sure, it could be burned in a fire, or doused with water and destroyed that way. But a written journal has heft. There's a weight to a book filled with ink-covered pages. And it has value. Papers, letters and journals, even random scribblings, left by authors and humanitarians and scientists, presidents and criminals and kings, sell for thousands and are cherished by collectors and museums. Will blogs ever be so treated?

I cherish the journal that my mother kept the summer she spent as a Red Cross worker in Guatamala. In it I read about a woman who I love and know, but about a time in her life where I was no where near close to existing. And recently, I found a series of letters that my grandmother sent to my grandfather while they were engaged, while she was in Florida and he was stationed in Canada with the Navy. They're silly, hopeful letters, about her practicing cooking, wedding planning, the practicalities of obtaining base housing, everyday experiences, and her joyful response to the engagement ring he bought her. I only wish that I had his letters to her as well. But the ones I do have are a concrete link to them and they show how in love my grandparent's were, something that held true even when they were in their seventies, but in those letters, is still fresh.

And I think about the journals that I've written in, where I put down my troubles, joys, fears, struggles with my faith and ridiculous crushes on boys (probably more of this than any of the guys ever merited), and I know that someday my children will read them and have a good laugh, or at least come to know more about me as a young girl and a young woman.

So why am I condescending to blog, you might ask? Well, like everyone else, I also enjoy the convenience and speed of modern conveniences. I haven't been writing a whole lot lately, and I need to get back into the habit of doing it everyday. Let's call it an experiment. A flight of lunacy, if you will.