What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

31 October 2015

NaNoWriMo: The Plan

This is not my plan for NaNoWriMo itself, for which I still have no ideas and only 17 hours to come up with one. This may not be my most stellar NaNo ever. (BTW, are you a Wrimo? Let's be friends!)

Nope, this is what's happening here at Cheekyness during NaNo: every day I'll post the first sentence and the last sentence of the day, typos and nonsense included. This should be fun.

Additionally, a few kind folks, including some previous guest bloggers and beloved nieces, will be writing some guest posts for me. So some days will have two posts: one pretty one that makes sense and one with typos and goodness knows what.

Need more inspiration to get your November off with a bang? Check out NaNoMusical.

Here we go!

30 October 2015

And It Some Days Will

I never had the time to write the post I had planned for yesterday, which is a bummer, because now you won't see it until after NaNoWriMo is over. (With a wait period that long, it had better be really, really good, yes?)

So much this. Image from
wojciech wolak on
So! It's raining today and is likely to continue until tomorrow morning, which has canceled my work event for this weekend (the park would have been too wet to use). But today is supposed to be green living day, so I have a question for you: How do you deal with old rain gear?

I have an umbrella that's currently holding on by a hope and a prayer, and I'll probably need to get a new one in the next couple of months. I have an old poncho that I hardly ever wear but haven't been willing to toss yet. Is there recycling for old raincoats? What are some possible uses for broken umbrellas? I hate to send things to the landfill that could have a second life, but rain clothes have me bewildered. Surely with all that waterproofing, there's some use for them?

(Post title is a line from a Robin Mark song, "Lost and Found": the entire passage is, "When the rain falls/ and it some days will/ the pavement under my feet/ sparkles silver and gold/ in reflective light/ that I otherwise wouldn't have seen.")

28 October 2015

Stop Here, Not There

For my first week with my new theme days, I'm going to offer you a rare educational post. (This is usually the kind that brings out the folks who will tell me why I'm wrong, but hey, at least they're reading this thing.)

I was riding my bike for years before I found out how to trigger stoplights to sense my bike. It's not nearly as complicated as it seems. The bike goes directly over those lines in the pavement that look like someone with a good saw got there before you did. These lines:

The hard part may be having the confidence to put your bike over the lines. Don't be shy--it gets easier the more often you do it. And the danger in not putting your bike in its proper space at the stoplight is that you'll be waiting a while (although you can always use the pedestrian signal if taking the lane really isn't your thing).

What's something you do that's gotten easier as you go along?

27 October 2015

Light Reading

I'm very happy to have regular professional development, am okay with the realities of nonprofit life, and embrace the value in getting spare-time things done before NaNoWriMo starts... but y'all, this is a ridiculous stack of reading I'm working my way through this week.

When I say "light reading," I really
just mean I can carry these around
without hurting myself.
First: I highly recommend the top two, Social Media for Social Good and Mobile for Good, to anyone who works for a nonprofit, whether you're in the communications department or not. As the author, Heather Mansfield, often says, nonprofits can no longer afford to ignore the impact social media and the mobile web are having on our work. Get thee to a library!

Further down the stack is The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, which is slightly more outdated but still contains solid principles, and I also recommend just about anything Kivi Leroux Miller writes down. If you work in nonprofits at all, you need to be paying attention to both of these ladies. They know their stuff.

We have a work event on Saturday, our year-end appeal was supposed to have been written two weeks ago (that's my own deadline, not the office deadline... but since I'm in charge of the year-end appeal, I suppose my own deadline is the office deadline), and then we hit the ground running for our next big event in March. Oh, and I still have no ideas for NaNoWriMo.

I'm frantically reading all of these (or re-reading, in the case of a few of them) in the hopes of learning something in a hurry. The stack of magazines at the bottom are from the meeting and convention industry and are quick reads, thank goodness! The rest--well, I'm pretty good at speed-reading, thanks to grad school. Whaddya know, I learned something I can use in real life!

What are you reading this week?

26 October 2015

Skirting the Issue

Before: the shirts. 
I had a rare productive day on Saturday (without structure, my days tend to go poof! without me accomplishing anything at all), in which I finished the dress I shared yesterday and also a t-shirt skirt.

I started with this stack of t-shirts (one mine that I wore one time and immediately sweat-stained, sigh, and the rest were Chadwick's) and this tutorial for a t-shirt skirt, which I completely ignored once I got going, but it was great for giving me some ideas.

Other things circular knitting needles
can do-- I used mine to draw the
shoestring through the skirt without
a lot of fuss.
I used the white t-shirt for the base, since it was just the right size to go around my hips/legs and be snug without being uncomfortable. (Yes, I did step into it upside down and put both feet through the neck hole to determine this.) Also, that shirt was way thin-- I'm pretty sure it was meant for layering in the first place, which is great since that's basically what I've done with it. My original plan was to sew in some elastic, but... I hate elastic. So, I grabbed a shoelace I have laying around, cut a couple of tiny slits in the t-shirt hemline, and voilà-- we have a drawstring skirt.

So, I cut off the white t-shirt right at the armpits, cut strips (including the hemline) about 7-9 inches wide (depending on stains) from all of Chad's shirts, then tiered them up from the bottom. Obviously, this required a lot more pinning, checking, and re-pinning than I can describe in one go, but that's basically how it happened. I liked the blue shirt that's the bottom layer best, so that's why there's two of it. And that's the only one I hemmed, since it's the lowest layer. I may still hem up the others if they get to be troublesome, but for now I like the raw edges. The slightly fancy top layer is from a skirt I have laying around and have been unwilling to get rid of, since it's still perfectly good fabric.
Finished product, before washing. The white line
 on the blue layer is the chalk I used to mark
 cutting lines-- I marked that one in the wrong place. 
Also: t-shirts are heavy. This is made from six shirts, which weighs it down. I hope that translates into the skirt not riding up and displaying more of me than I intended while I'm riding my bike in it (although I'm not holding my breath). As long as it doesn't fall off, though, it's all good.

What's next? No idea. NaNoWriMo is creeping up on me super-fast (are you a Wrimo? Let's be friends!), so I may have to put things away for a while and concentrate on what I'm writing.

What did you do this weekend?

25 October 2015

When It Rains, I Make Things

That's not totally true. What is totally true is that I finished this:

... while it was raining yesterday, since I wasn't interested in going outside to see how the Austin drivers were coping.

The top is a t-shirt I bought a couple of months ago in an attempt to occasionally wear shirts that don't have a running or Les Misérables logo on them. Apparently, I was unsuccessful. The skirt is a shirt I picked up at a clothing swap ages ago for Denise, she couldn't wear it at work because it doesn't go with her dress code, so she stuck it in a Goodwill bag, whence I rescued it to do this. (Does that even count as a rescue, since I cut it apart and sewed it to another thing?)

Edit: I realised a bit belatedly that this post is more useful if I tell you what I did! So, the skirt was a button-front shirt-- I sewed that closed so I don't get any gaps (left the buttons on), then cut it off directly under the arms (I used a rotary cutting board for the guidelines, a yardstick, and a piece of chalk to get the cut relatively straight). I thought about turning the raw edge under before sewing it, but that didn't seem necessary. I sewed it directly onto the hemline of the t-shirt, and did the gathering of some excess material in the front (and a little in the back by mistake) in places where there was already a dart in the shirt. Then I ironed the whole thing down. Since I sewed the bottom shirt along the hemline of the t-shirt, there is some excess fabric there, which may cause me some issues that I'll need to fix.

I'm wearing it to church today. We'll see how it goes.

24 October 2015

How Lucky We Are to Be Alive Right Now

If you haven't listened to the Hamilton soundtrack yet, my goodness, what are you waiting for?

I have listened to it, many many many times in the month that it's been out, and I am so addicted. To judge by my Twitter feed, everyone I know on the internet is likewise addicted, which makes my theatrical heart dance every time I log on and see all the Hamilton references flying around. And if you can listen to it without crying, you're either stronger than I am (not that hard to be) or dead inside.

Eliza lived 50 years past Alexander, y'all. Fifty years, in which she accomplished a crap-ton of stuff. I'm barely able to cope with this first year, and the closest I've come to accomplishing anything at all is melting a bunch of crayons and hanging the results on my wall. Eliza Hamilton was obviously better at life than I am.

Anyway. I've listened to the soundtrack so many times that I'm surprised when I hear someone else's music in passing and they aren't listening to Hamilton. It's great running music. It's great working music. It's going to be perfect music for NaNoWriMo. So perfect, in fact, that I made this:

Which is my new motto for NaNoWriMo, and probably the rest of my life. How lucky we are, indeed.

Have you been listening to Hamilton? Do you have a favourite bit?

23 October 2015

You Probably Don't Want to Read This Post

Trying again with the Green Friday posts, although today's will be more green-ish than completely green. It's also considerably more personal than usual (although I'm not sure how much more personal this blog can get). So, here's a longer-than-necessary introductory paragraph to give you time to run while you still can--this post is not for the squeamish. And also longer because Facebook only pulls the first few lines and I really don't want to give this one away too quickly. All the details after the jump.

22 October 2015

Run for the Water

I don't often run for charity, because a lot of charity races are just not fun for people like me who already enjoy running for its own sake. But, Run for the Water is different. It's an awesome race that's great for runners and for the charity.

The finish line in 2014. Source: Run
for the Water Facebook page.
What's the charity? The Gazelle Foundation, which provides clean water to people in Burundi. Given the amount of water I get through in the average day, I can't imagine not having access, yet people all over the world have to spend hours finding clean water, or drink contaminated water, or both.

So, I took advantage of the site's fundraising options, and if you'd like to help give more people clean water, please donate here.

On November 1, I'm running to end thirst. Here's hoping.

21 October 2015

I See You

I've been thinking a lot lately about one of my favourite scenes ever from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show, not the movie, in case there's anyone out there who still doesn't know the difference). It's from "The Prom" near the end of Season 3, and Buffy gets a surprise award:
"We're not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn't mean we haven't noticed you. ... [W]henever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you or helped by you at one time or another. ... So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you this. It's from all of us, and it has written here, 'Buffy Summers, Class Protector'."
There's power to doing good by stealth. To not announcing your good deeds. To doing what you can to make the world a better place without requiring or seeking or expecting applause.

Old photo from the blog, so I don't
know what the source is. Not my photo.
But there's incredible power to being the one who notices and says so. I've been so lucky to have accidentally amassed the most amazing crowd of people around me-- people who are smart and hardworking and dedicated and who make the world better just by being in it. I don't know how I landed here, but I do know this: I will do everything I can to make sure they feel like the rockstars they are.

Yesterday morning, I saw a woman on Congress Avenue hand a cup of 7-11 coffee to a homeless person who I see just about every day. I don't know what interactions they had before that moment. Maybe this happens every day, or maybe yesterday was special. But I tweeted this:

Let's be cheerleaders, y'all. Let's have eyes that catch people at their best and let them know we appreciate them. Let's have hearts that fill up and overflow and can't help but shower credit where it's due.

I see you. Who do you see?

20 October 2015

New on the To-Read List

After such a brilliant weekend at the Texas Book Festival (see my recaps of Day 1 here and Day 2 here), I had to come home with a long to-read list, right? Of course I did. All links and images are from Goodreads. (By the way, are you on Goodreads? Let's be friends.) These are more or less in the order I put them on my to-read shelf; in other words, in how much of a hurry I'm in to read them.

The Porcupine of Truth, Bill Konigsberg

All The Wrong Questions, series, Lemony Snicket

And finally, this one is not so much to-read (since Taye Diggs read it to us and Shane Evans sang a lot of it to us at the session) as it is to-recommend:

Mixed Me, Taye Diggs and Shane Evans

What are you reading (or to-reading) this week?

19 October 2015

It Takes Some Time: Texas Book Festival, Day 2

As with Saturday, we started Sunday at the Texas Book Festival with an amazing session. Seriously, I left so many panels this weekend thinking that if the weekend had only contained that one, it would have been worth it.

Speaking of a sense of place... I started the day doing this.
Bike with Authors event sponsored by the festival.
The first session of the day was called "Where I'm From," with authors Randy Fritz (Hail of Fire: A Man and His Family Face Natural Disaster) and David L. Ulin (Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles). The moderator, Jill Christman, was excellent at leading a great discussion.

To start with, David L. Ulin wrote the book I wish I'd written--it's about walking! Around a city! (Los Angeles, in this case.) Randy Fritz's excerpt was also excellent; his book is about the Bastrop fire in 2011 and how his family survived losing their home and, to some extent, their sense of place.

They talked about what home means to them now after choices and circumstances have conspired to take away what they once thought of as home. (Mr. Fritz: "It's where your most important relationships are." Mr. Ulin: "I carry home with me.") They talked about place being a part of identity, that identity is shaped by place and vice versa, and how once a person's place changes, some identity is lost and reshaped and augmented with the new place. Mr. Fritz said, "Every day, I'm reminded by the landscape of what we've lost (ed: the beautiful Lost Pines forest was destroyed in the fire, and burned trees and charred stumps still remain around Bastrop). But I also know what we've gained."

Perhaps the heart of this session came from Mr. Ulin when he said, "If literature has any purpose at all, empathy is it." Indeed, it's a window into not just one world, but into hearts and minds of people and places that we may never see in real life and it broadens our own horizons just a little more. It's how we travel through time and space without the aid of a TARDIS. Reading a wide range of ideas from all kinds of people is perhaps one of the best ways to work on the empathy muscles, in the hopes they'll be ready to go when we meet other people face-to-face.

And so we read, as if our collective lives depend upon it, just in case they do.

Mr. Fritz & Mr. Ulin weren't the only authors we saw yesterday. We also enjoyed sessions with these folks:
Matt Bell
Meghan Daum
Geoff Dyer
Lydia Gil
Louisa Hall
K.A. Holt
Skip Horack
John Markoff
M.O. Walsh

And that was my book festival.

18 October 2015

The Question is More Important Than the Answer

It's day two of the Texas Book Festival! I'm excited about another day of literary fabulousness.

I was far away, so it's a bit blurry, but that's Margaret
Atwood in the House Chamber.
Denise & I kicked off Day One with Margaret Atwood, who was spectacular, as you might expect. She mentioned being part of the Future Library Project, with her manuscript Scribbler Moon sealed in a box to remain unrevealed until 2114. So the final audience question of the morning was: how should Ms. Atwood's fans console themselves knowing she has a book that they'll never read?

She said, "There are many books in the world that you'll never read, and that's because you've never heard of them. The best tribute you can make to Scribbler Moon is to find books you've never heard of and read them." And that's what the book festival is all about, I think--finding these great books we haven't heard of.

Margaret Atwood had many other great (and hysterical) things to say, including: "Access to books and reading is one of the cornerstones of a democracy," in answer to an audience question about whether the public library had run its course. More on that anon, in a day or two, I hope.

Other authors I saw on Day 1:

Lemony Snicket, All the Wrong Questions: A Complete Mystery Gift Set
Oh, wow, was he ever funny. I didn't stop laughing the entire session, and at the end he stood at the door to say, "Thank you for leaving!" to his attendees. I definitely want to read this series.

Bill Konigsberg, The Porcupine of Truth; Adam Silvera, More Happy Than Not; and Maggie Thrash, Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
So many things of note in this session. 1) If I were going to get a book signed yesterday, it would have been Maggie Thrash's, but I was worried about missing the next session, so I stayed away from the signing tent. 2) They all spoke about the importance of seeing themselves in the stories they read as kids, teens, and young adults. 3) Adam Silvera in particular talked about how getting a job four subway stops from his home made such a difference in how he saw himself and how he saw the world. That little bit of stretching the boundaries of his world changed his life.

Taye Diggs and Shane Evans, Mixed Me!
Taye Diggs started with, "I wanted my son to have words from me that it's okay to be who he is, that he should be proud," and the session only got better from there. Incredible.

Amelia Gray, Gutshot: Stories; and Daniel Handler, We Are Pirates
Neither these books nor this panel are suitable for children. I'm not even sure it was suitable for some adults (although I laughed really hard anyway). And today's post title was the beginning of Daniel Handler's answer to the question, "Why do you write?"

See my tweets from Day Two (and read tweets from Day One) here: https://twitter.com/cheekysu. I'm working from mobile devices, so try not to laugh too hard at all the typos.

17 October 2015

My Weekend is Booked

Source: Texas Book Festival
Facebook page
A few years ago, The Book Doctors held a Pitchapalooza at the Texas Book Festival. Participants had one minute to pitch their book ideas and then the Book Doctors would give them feedback about their pitch. I don't remember many of them, but one of the most well-received pitches of the day was a woman who'd been in special education for many years and had written a book from the point of view of an 8-year-old boy with autism. I've often wondered if she found a publisher. I should have written all their names down.

The other one I remember clearly was a lovely 13-year-old girl with a great idea for a fantasy/adventure book. She got plenty of good feedback, and then one of the Book Doctors asked, "Have you written your book yet?"

"I did," she said, "but it burned in the fire. I live in Bastrop." The whole room reacted like we'd all been punched. Yes, this was 2011, the year of the Bastrop County fire that burned for over a month and destroyed over 1600 homes.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because it's book festival weekend again (yay!) and there's another fire burning in Bastrop County right now-- fortunately, this one is much smaller and much more contained than the one in 2011. Over forty houses have been lost in the last week. And so I'm wondering about that girl, who is in her late teens by now. I hope she rewrote her book and started her next one. I hope her family has a new house that they love and that is safe from this new wildfire. I hope she's learned to never give up.

And most of all, I hope she's going to the Texas Book Festival today, still learning and loving books. That's what I'm doing this weekend. How about you?

16 October 2015

Much Ado About Hamlet

If you're a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, Shakespeare, or British theatre, you probably know there was National Theatre Live event that was broadcast in cinemas around the world yesterday of the new Hamlet in London, starring the tall guy as the last one to die at the end.

Did I see it? I did not, because despite keeping an eye on the website for months for tickets to go on sale in Austin, I somehow missed the tiny tiny window between the tickets going on sale and then selling out. Grrr. I'm hoping we get to see the encore here. (You know what else I want to see the encore of? Corialanus. I've been watching for tickets for that show for even longer than I did for Hamlet. I'm still waiting and getting progressively more annoyed.)

The stage during intermission.
Fortunately, my favourite Shakespeare of all time is currently playing in Austin, so I made the trip through the wind-y hills of West Austin to Curtain Theatre, which is modeled on London's Globe Theater, to see Much Ado About Nothing.

First of all: the theatre is absolutely amazing. It's about one-third the size of the actual Globe Theatre, and being in it is an experience in itself. I sat on the second floor on stage left, but I doubt that there is a bad seat in the house. The actors do a great job of addressing the audience on all sides.

The company: Holy smokes, do they ever do this show justice. Of special note for me were Beatrice (Lindsay M. Palinsky), Dona Giovanna (Leanna Holmquist), and Dogberry (Andrew Bond), but they were all spectacular and I would happily go pay to see them every night from now until they close. (Fortunately, I have other plans for most of those evenings, or else I'd be out a lot of money.) Austin is so saturated with actors that I mostly feel bad for them that there just aren't enough parts to go around... but I also have a certain glee at how spoiled we are in this city for brilliant theatre.

Managed to catch the company just as they were moving
away after the curtain call. The two nearest me in the
center of the pic are Leanna Holmquist as Dona
Giovanna (usually Don John, the villain) and Levi Gore
as her henchman Borachio.
If you're in Austin, do yourself a favour and go see this. If you're not in Austin, be sad at what you're missing out on.

15 October 2015

The Five Food Groups in Su-Land

1. Hummus.
2. Vegetables to hold the hummus.
3. Crackers to hold the hummus.
4. Chocolate (not for use with hummus).
5. Tea.

One of these lasts me
two days. Makes a
great lunch.
Yeah, I've been eating a bit of hummus lately. So much so that I decided I'd better make my own, in the hopes that it's marginally cheaper than buying a new tub every two days. And possibly healthier, or at least less processed. 

I'm using this recipe, but I cooked up some dried chickpeas instead of using canned, because that's what I do. The initial result works with corn chips, so the next step is to have it for lunch with a few vegetables under it like I've been doing lately.

Price: So, this isn't much cheaper. I'm not really sure how much I made, truth be told, so I can't be exact. We'll go for inexact.

Ingredients (with the approximate price of what I used on this batch):
Dried chickpeas, $.54
Pinto bean seasoning (for cooking the chickpeas), $.37
Tahini, $2.39
Lemon juice, $.52
Garlic, $.20

Total: $4.02

The hummus I've been buying is $2.98 for 10 ounces, so this batch cost a little more than that, but it definitely made more than 10 ounces. If it lasts me three days instead of two, it's already cheaper. If it only lasts two days, I may have to rethink this plan.

Next up, should I make more hummus before rethinking: this recipe for spinach, artichoke, & red pepper hummus. I'm definitely getting my nine a day lately.

What's something new you've tried lately? Or something old that you keep doing because it works well?

14 October 2015

What Does 5% Look Like?

I've been desperately trying to wade through the backlog of saved things from my Feedly so I can move on to the backlog of articles that have accumulated while I've been sorting through articles I've had saved for way too long.

I'd like to do this 5% faster. (Photo
I dug out of my archives, so I'm not
sure about the source.)
In the process, I ran across this marketing article with everyone's favourite type of content-- a list--and one of the tips stuck with me: Do 5% More.

Patrick Armitage, the article writer, says "This was advice I got from my uncle, a successful painter. He said that because there’s so much mediocrity in the art world, those doing five percent more reap the cumulative effect of being a little better."

One of the reasons that I spent time reading these articles at all is to contribute to my own professional development, so naturally I'm thinking about what 5% more looks like in my job, but also in the rest of my life. As a writer, as a runner, as a sometime crafter-- what does 5% more mean?

  • Do I stay longer in the office to finish the project I'm working on? 
  • Can I meet deadlines a bit earlier?
  • My usual goal is to write 2000 words per day-- can I write 2100?
  • Can I stop what I'm doing a few minutes earlier in the evening so I get to bed on time?
  • Even if my crafts are just for my enjoyment, can I think of ways to make them just a little better?
  • How hard would it be to add a few faster spurts in my running?
  • In between books I read for fun, can I read research-based ones about technical writing or nonprofit issues to expand my own knowledge base?
Maybe blogging about it can be today's 5%. Maybe tomorrow I'll think of another one.

What do you do to get better at being you?

13 October 2015

In My Mailbox #12

I went back and counted-- this is my twelfth In My Mailbox post. At some point I started numbering them and then stopped again. As usual, not all of these technically arrived in the mail.

First, my Labor Day Sale haul from the local Half Price Books:
Displays by the checkout are for people like me.
That's how I came home with a tea box that contains many excellent things, but none of them are tea.
I had a great conversation with the man at the counter, mostly about how I stared at the Christopher Moore books for about five minutes trying to remember which one I was going to read next, only to finally decide, "What does it matter?" and grabbing one.

Next, this gem from my friend Dawn:
I haven't read it yet, in part because I've been dividing my time between several hobbies and I'm not actually good at that, but also because as long as I haven't read it it's not all over. It's bad enough that Terry's bio is in past tense.

And finally:
Lots of fun, right? Well, I work for a non-profit and year-end is coming whether I like it or not. So I do my best to keep on top of these things.

What are you reading this week?

12 October 2015

Screwtape Talkback

Yesterday, I went with some friends from church to see The Screwtape Letters. If you're not familiar with the story, Screwtape is a demon who is relatively high (low?) in the demon ranks, and he is corresponding with his nephew Wormwood, who is a new (and eventually unsuccessful) Tempter demon on earth. (If you're about to howl about spoilers, I'll only point out that C.S. Lewis published this book in 1942. It's not my fault you haven't read it yet.)

So after the show there was a short talkback with the director (Max McLean, who first adapted, produced, and starred in The Screwtape Letters in 2010), which is exactly my kind of fun, and I stuck around even though some of our group had to leave. Some of them asked me to tell them about it later, though, so here it is as best as I can remember/paraphrase it without having been able to hear all the audience questions:

Image via Goodreads.
I don't remember the question that prompted this one, but it was one of the first things Mr. McLean said: We have to remember this is an autobiographical work. C.S. Lewis is the man whose soul the demons are fighting for, and the struggles he shares were his own. (Mr. McLean didn't mention, but it was in the program, that C.S. Lewis did not enjoy writing this book, because he didn't like having to write from the point of view of evil. His friend Tolkien warned him about spending too much time in that POV, and Lewis ended up dedicating the book to Tolkien.)

Q: Screwtape referred to marriage as being "The Enemy's" (God's) invention but that it was useful for demonic purposes. From the things that Lewis wrote about marriage in the book/show, what might his opinion be of marriage now?

A: Divorce in his day was an issue akin to what same-sex marriage is for us now. Lewis believed that in a country (England) where many people were non-Christians, Christians shouldn't expect non-Christians to conform to a moral standard that wasn't their own, because that would create a theocracy that he was against. He believed there should be civil marriage for all and separate Christian marriage for those who chose to bind themselves together in that way. I think he would still feel that way today.

Q: Screwtape mentioned that the road to hell is a gentle slope. Is the stage setup (a wedge-shaped piece on top of the stage floor, with a slope upwards from the audience to the back wall) meant to reflect that?

A: No, although that's a good observation. This is what's called a raked stage, which among other benefits allows the entire audience to see the whole stage floor, which is important for this show.

Q: Something about whether there are any Calvinist/predestination overtones in the show.

A: At first I thought no, there weren't, but the more I learn about C.S. Lewis and the more time I spend with this show, it seems the man's fate was never really in question, although Screwtape doesn't know that as he's fighting for the man's soul. I know there are many non-Christians who come to see the show, and I think you'll hear from Christians that spiritual warfare doesn't end at the point of conversion. It begins.

Q: Do you have non-Christians join your theatre company?

A: Yes, many. We don't have Christianity as a requirement, so we have actors of many faiths (or no faith).

Q: How much of the book did you cut out for the show?

A: To listen to the entire book would take about six hours, and I didn't think you'd all want to be here that long. We've used about 20 of the 31 letters from The Screwtape Letters. We went for the ones that could be put into a narrative that could be staged without losing too much of them in the adaptation.

Q: Did you change anything to modernise the show?

A: We changed direct references to WWII, since that was when this was published, to terror attacks, but that was the only modernisation of the words. We added some things, like the magazine with Madonna on the front and the references to models on a catwalk, but those were visual additions that didn't require changing any words. That so little needed to be changed after over 70 years speaks to the universality of this story.

Q: Something about the casting process.

A: Well, the show only has two characters. Of course, the book only has one character, but it does refer to Toadpipe (played by Karen Eleanor Wight), so we've put that character in so Screwtape can dictate his letters instead of being stuck behind a desk. We received over 600 resumes for the part of Screwtape, called in 120 for auditions, eventually narrowed it down to Brian Harris.

Q: Do the actors in this show struggle as much with performing it as Lewis did with writing it?

A: It's important to remember we aren't rewriting this, we're just interpreting it. I think Brian is having a lot of fun with it.

And that's all I can remember! Glad I decided to write this down right away instead of waiting. Have you read or seen The Screwtape Letters? Or just want to talk about C.S. Lewis?

11 October 2015

Where the People Are

I dragged my sister to see The Little Mermaid, this time not against her will. It's probably more accurate to say she dragged me. (The link is to the Houston playbill, because it's not available online for the Austin show, that I could find. Same cast, though.)

So I've never read the fairy tale. I saw the Disney movie when it first came out, didn't like it, and that's pretty much the end of my experience with this story. Denise, on the other hand, was really excited about seeing it. Until we got to the theatre, headed up to the 6th floor, and then still had more steps to go up to get to our seats. She was not excited about sitting in the rafters. (The jury is still out on whether she'll join me for any of the rest of the seasons' shows.)
The show was fun--it's definitely better onstage than animated and in my TV. After the show, I went down to stage door to get my playbill signed, dragging a reluctant Denise behind. Obviously, The Little Mermaid requires a whole bunch of costumes and makeup that take some time to get out of, but one of the actors' mothers was outside and she and I chatted while we waited. And she also was kind enough to stop some of the actors for me to get them to sign my playbill, because while I'm brave enough to stand around outside looking awkward, I'm apparently not brave enough to actually talk to strangers. Sigh...

Anyway, the actors who play Ariel, Eric, Flounder, Flotsam, and Jetsam are the ones I talked to long enough to ask them to sign, and they were all very sweet and gracious about it. In fact, Flounder asked if he could flip through the playbill to see what it looked like ("a giant ad," he said, and he was 100% correct) while trying not to transfer any chocolate from his fingers onto the playbill. Meanwhile, I was holding myself back from saying, "It's okay if you get chocolate on it!" because that's a level of creepy I'm just not ready for yet.

I have tickets for four more shows this year to cap off this grand year of theatre-going. I probably need to tone it down for 2016. (Ha ha. Only barely likely.)

How do you feel about The Little Mermaid?

07 October 2015

Pep Up Your #NaNoWriMo

There's a NaNoWriMo badge this year for writing a NaNo Pep Talk, which you're technically supposed to post in the forums, but I have a blog, so here it is.

This will be my sixth NaNoWriMo, and my first one not being juggled along with end-of-semester chaos, for which I am incredibly thankful. But every year in the forums, there's a thread with some variation on, "OMG, I'm doing NaNo while in college! How will I survive??" Obviously, thousands of people manage it every year, so it can be done. But it's easier with a few tips:

1. If your social media accounts aren't helping you, they're off-limits.
Unless you have a supportive community who gets what NaNo is all about and shares inspiration instead of filling your timeline with whatever nonsense is in season, you don't have time to fritter away on social media. For me, it's best to keep Twitter, turn off everything else. Blogging may fall into this category, depending on if it helps you or not. Make your choices early and stick to your guns!

2. Commuting time is writing time.
If public transportation is an option in your city, now is the time to use it. If not, consider carpooling with a friend. Time not spent driving is time you can spend writing! And to make this one work even better...

3. Make sure your NaNo novel syncs across all your devices.
Google docs, Dropbox, email it to yourself-- whatever it takes to be sure if you have to switch from laptop to tablet to phone that your novel comes with you. Obviously, if you're using the Luddite Clause, this one doesn't apply to you.

4. Minutes matter!
Only have five minutes to write between classes? No worries. Have a little Word War with yourself and see how many words you can get in those five minutes. If you've never been able to write in short spurts before, NaNoWriMo is a great time to flex those dormant writing muscles and see what they can do for you.

5. Do your homework first.
Even better: you still have a whole bunch of October left to get ahead in as many classes as possible. But once November hits, you still should finish classwork before NaNo-ing. You're spending too much time, money, and effort on your education to slack off just because it's NaNoWriMo. Think of writing time as your reward.

6. Caffeine is your friend.
Especially if you can make your own caffeinated beverages at home and save some cash. Get yourself a good travel mug ahead of November so you can keep your caffeine on hand.

And the most important one to remember:

7. You must always be doing something.
If you don't already have good time management skills, no worries. The critical thing to remember in November is this: if you're awake, you're doing something. Keep your novel and any reading for class handy so you can grab one or the other when you have a couple free minutes. Make to-do lists so you don't forget things. Take time to eat, look after yourself, do your share of the housework so your roommate doesn't kill you-- but whatever you do, keep moving.

Yes, doing NaNoWriMo and higher education at the same time is possible, even though it may seem daunting. Don't give up!

04 October 2015

Didn't Make It

My husband, who often thrived on being as different from others as possible, was eagerly looking forward to turning 40. He couldn't wait. He was so excited.

He didn't make it.

Today would have been Chadwick's 40th birthday. We should be having carrot cake and painting the town red. I should have bought him an incredible fun gift. We should be playing with the Spiderman Jenga set I bought him for his 39th birthday (yes, really) and celebrating having made it this far together.

The time Chad & I climbed this tree, inspiring
our niece & nephew to follow suit. It's a great
tree for climbing.
I was tempted, when thinking for the past couple of weeks about this day coming, to lock myself in my house and refuse to come out. I also thought about going down to Town Lake and enjoying the quiet of the trail in a place that he loved so well (I will probably still do that, just not all day). Instead, I've invited friends over. We'll have drinks and snacks and toast to his memory. We'll sing goofy karaoke (I've been practising "On My Own"-- I still can't believe Les Mis karaoke is a thing) and laugh together. We'll do the things that he would have enjoyed doing if he were here with us.

So, here's a story I've been sharing a lot lately: Once upon a time in Bible Bowl, we were doing a sketch about unlikely superheroes. Chad was assigned "Opera Man," and in the five minutes between when we were handed the script at rehearsal and his first lines, he tweaked them and set them to Javert's part of "The Confrontation" from Les Mis. When we got to his line, he absolutely belted it out and amazed the whole room (not to mention giving us all a fright, since we weren't expecting it). Obviously, he got lots of cheers, and by the following week he'd perfected all his lines and could sing them all to different parts of "The Confrontation." He rummaged in the costume closet at church and came to the stage dressed as the Phantom of the Opera (minus the mask) and singing all of his lines. Cue much more cheering. No wonder all the kids liked him so much. And so Les Mis karaoke for his birthday isn't so weird, really.

And I'll get through one day more still standing, or at least with friends by my side who keep me from falling down.

03 October 2015

Are You Going to Read That?

Every year-- I swear, every year-- we get to the end of Banned Books Week before I finally look around and ask, "Oh, is it Banned Books Week again?"

So, yes, it is, for approximately 14 more hours here in the CDT zone. Why is it so hard for me to remember? Probably because it never loomed very largely in my childhood. If books were banned at my school, I never heard about it. I was raised in a home and in an era where I had free run of any library I encountered. Every now and then my parents would catch a glimpse of a book I brought home and have a brief moment of "What's this? Why are you reading that?" and then the moment would pass and I would have learned to read some things at the library or keep them in my school locker instead of bringing them home. My parents' triggers were not hard to decipher.

Banned Books Week came up at work yesterday, though, because it was the topic on NPR, and a coworker started talking about his kids reading The Kite Runner in middle school. My mouth literally dropped open, because The Kite Runner is an incredibly painful book that I could not have handled in middle school. We went on to talk about The Outsiders, a book I was assigned in middle school, and how I reacted so badly to it. Admittedly, I was a weird kid, but at least in those days, we weren't given the tools in school to handle the emotions that a book brought on, and The Outsiders sent me into a spiral of depression and fear that lasted for weeks.

My reaction to middle school reading, however, is less "Let's get these hard books out of schools" and more "Dang, I'd really like to understand the criteria for the required reading better." Like basically everyone else who lives in a world of books, I'm against banning them. I'm less against making age-appropriate decisions for particular segments of our society--I doubt that War and Peace has a place in a primary school library, for example--but I'm not all that wild about how these debates often play out in the public sphere, particularly when it comes to the later years of high school. I'm all for parents stepping in for their young kids and saying they aren't ready for a particular book (again, without conflating "what's best for my kid" with "this is what's best for every kid"), but if your kid who's that close to college isn't yet capable of making good decisions for what she is reading or is unable to sort through the thoughts and emotions brought on by books, then you have a far more serious problem on your hands.

Just for my own entertainment, I dug up this article about parents who succeeded in getting a book pulled from a 10th-grade curriculum, then called the cops when some in the town organized to hand out free copies of the book to the kids who wanted to read it. My favourite bit? "Police arrived after getting a call from 'someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent's permission'." I laughed hysterically the first time I read that, and I still laugh every time. If I'd waited for my parents' permission, I never would have read anything when I was a kid.

Incidentally, earlier this week I saw a tweet (which I now can't find, so I'm paraphrasing from memory) that said that self-censoring what one reads is even worse than a school or town banning a book. It's hard to gauge nuance from a 140-character tweet, but I think the spirit of what was being said was that people need to voluntarily open themselves up to new ideas and not shut them out just because they don't appeal at the moment. I agree with that idea, but am not sure that there's a lot that can be done about it, apart from my relentless "You need to read this book!" that I regularly subject my friends to. Forcing someone to read a book is just as damaging as denying access to it, IMO. (Despite my own bad experiences, I do make an exception for required reading at school. You have to start somewhere.)

Looking for something to read? Check out this year's Frequently Challenged Books list on the Banned Books website, or for a somewhat more personal recommendation, here's my favourites shelf on Goodreads (you can also go to my profile & see all my reviews, if you're really looking to read all the stuff that I like). Grab your library card and have a good time.