Don’t let me loose in Ikea with a camera

I got a Diana camera for Christmas, but every time I take a picture with it, I have an image in my mind of someone flushing dollar coins down the toilet, so I haven’t used it very much. The dollar coins are the new ones, with one of the presidents on. When’s the last time you saw a dollar coin with Sacajawea? I wouldn’t flush one of those down the toilet. I might take a picture with my Diana camera, though.

Transition!

Today P and I went to Ikea. There’s only one rule of Ikea, and that is never, ever go on a weekend. That place is panic attack city and I’m always surprised they don’t have a little nurse’s office where you can go lie down in the dark for a minute and wait for someone to call your mother. No, instead you have to spend the entire trip like a salmon swimming upstream. God help you if you want to actually look at something. If you get out of the river, you might as well just climb up on one of the beds and hope your companions see you on the next swing around.

Weekday Ikea trips might have been like twelve percent of the reason we moved to a suburb northwest of the city.

Segue!*

Also, because I’m awesome, I just discovered this great iPhone app called Hipstamatic, which lets you take pictures that look like they were taken with lomographic (is that even a word?) camera. Like the Diana. See where I’m going here?

Hangman.

Das biteyteeth.

Starfield.

Glow worm.

Fairy lights.

Maybe my favorite picture so far. 120/365

We make our own fun.

*Until like, five years ago I honestly thought the word segue was just short for segueway. Like, everyone shortened it! It was an acceptable substitute! So writing it now still seems weird. Don’t you judge me.

Posted on February 5th, 2010 by Eliza  |  No Comments »

Back in the saddle etc etc

School started again last week and, oddly enough, I was really ready. As I walked up Michigan Avenue to the building where the Fiction Department is located, I felt less apprehensive than I usually feel when I start new classes. Instead, I was, dare I say, actually excited, face-melting cold notwithstanding. I feel like I’m finally getting on my feet in this program.

The irony is not lost on me that it’s my second-to-last semester.

(Seriously, it’s cold. Who thought that building a city on the banks of what I’m told is a REALLY BIG lake was a good idea? I’m not from here! I don’t know how winter works!)

I’m really looking forward to doing the steeplechase again. The steeplechase is a twelve-step exercise, performed in the Advanced Fiction workshop, that aims to stretch a story in many different directions: point-of-view, form, etc. Since I write novels that generally have a first-person or close third-person point-of-view, this exercise doesn’t give me a lot of material that I can use, flat-out, in my stories, but last semester I figured out that it’s completely excellent for building novel backstory. It’s a love it or hate it kind of exercise, but I know I’m taking the steeplechase with me after I leave the Fiction Writing program.

My elective course this time around is called Small Press Publishing and, I swear, I could not be more thrilled that I decided to take it. It’s essentially an independent project course — at the end I’ll have a book, magazine, zine, or website that I created on my own. The teacher is a guy who runs a small press himself, and I’m hoping to learn a lot about the business end of small presses.

Combine this with a sekrit project that I’m working on, and I’m feeling pretty good overall about this semester. Someone remind me of this when I’m mired in despair in about ten weeks, okay? Tell me that, for once, I felt content. Maybe this time it will stick.

Posted on February 2nd, 2010 by Eliza  |  1 Comment »

I had big plans

for my break from school. Really, I did. I was going to write five pages a day and clean my basement and get a proper sleep schedule and and and…

Yes, well.

Been watching way too much tv. 96/365
I can’t help myself.

I looooove watching food/cooking shows. P and I are Top Chef devotees, and now that it’s off the air we had to fill the time somehow. Food Network and BBC America stepped, ably, into the breach. I think I watched ten episodes of Chopped this weekend. I’m also smitten with one Gordon Ramsay and his nightmarish kitchen beat-downs. Imagine my delight when I realized that I could record the British version, too! How I’m entertained when I google a restaurant after it’s been on the show and see that it’s closed. How I’m reminded to cook at home when he sticks his hand into a box of rotten tomatoes and pulls them out, speared on his fingertips like olives. I love when he sneaks outside to bounce on his heels and predict that the restaurant will fall apart if the snotty executive chef doesn’t get his act together. Then, miraculously, everything turns out awesome. A restaurant in the American hinterlands has been taught the valuable lesson: people want to eat fresh food.

I like reality TV drama, maybe especially when it’s staged.

The thing is, though, I’d never eat ninety-five percent of what the contestants cooked. I have some food, shall we say… intolerances, true, but the heart of the matter is that I’m an incredibly picky eater. It’s easier to make a list of what I will eat than what I won’t. Last night, I ate the dinner of a four-year-old: chicken nuggets, cut-up bell pepper, slices of cava cava orange. I did this while watching people make dessert out of grits.

I have grits in my kitchen. They’re to kill fire ants.

P swears if a real chef ever cooked for him, he’d eat everything on his plate, and maybe that’s true. I wouldn’t know, because I’d be at home watching America’s Test Kitchen, eating a bowl of dry cereal. I don’t drink milk, either.

Posted on January 18th, 2010 by Eliza  |  No Comments »

Can you change your process?

Last semester, in my Censorship class, we were talking about process. We do that a lot, actually, in the Story Workshop program, but this time my teacher asked us what we could do to actively change our process.

It sounds silly, I know, but I was kind of dumbfounded. You mean, I can just… change it? I don’t have to stumble upon the one true way for me to write, which incidentally only works for me so no one can give me any advice? Beyond butt in chair, I mean, which from what I understand is the only thing we all have in common. I don’t have to flap about and angst about it anymore? I have agency?

My process and I have been getting along a lot better lately. I’ve decided on a daily page goal and I’m drafting again, which feels really good. Like Keenan, I’m (hopefully) going to be done with the Fiction Writing program soon and all of my lovely weekly deadlines will be out the window. I have to figure out now a way to be productive so that I don’t lose all this momentum.

So have you ever actively changed your process? Have you added or thrown something out? What makes you productive?

Posted on January 5th, 2010 by Eliza  |  No Comments »

With neither a bang nor a whimper.

I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. My birthday is January first and I’m not keen on spending the day thinking about all the ways I’m an awful person and how to change immediately. I’d prefer my birthday to include opening presents, taking naps, and eating a lot of cake instead. That is also how I would describe Saturdays.

As I’ve mentioned here before, though, this year I’m turning thirty. Listen, I know I should stop whining about it. My older friends have done everything from tell me I’m being a jerk to threatening to squirt me with mustard if I didn’t stop squawking. The way I see it, though, I only have a few hours left. After that, I’ll be too busy being thirty to worry about it anymore.

I was going to do this decade round up thing, where I talked about how different I am since the day I turned twenty — Chicago, seriously? And married? Would not have guessed — and how I am trying to be a more proactive person rather than reactive and I think organizing my stuff might actually be fun! and blah blah boring blah. Instead, here are the things that I know, as an almost thirty-year-old.

Creativity is multiplicative. The more you work, the more you get out of it. You’re never going to run out of ideas.

Creative anxiety never goes away. The trick is learning to work around it, not giving in to it.

The internet was actually invented for the disbursement of cat pictures.

It’s never too late for a fresh start.

And finally, from my patron saint, Kurt Vonnegut: There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

Now I’m going to spend the day with P, eating delicious Middle Eastern food (another new thing I got this decade) and listening to The Postal Service, which is my favorite record of the last ten years. Later today, I have the promise of an adventure. Tomorrow I will have my traditional birthday dinner with my family — chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, black eyed peas (for luck!) and the fried okra my mom is trying to track down.

There will be presents and cake and it isn’t even Saturday.

I am so blessed. Happy new year.

Posted on December 31st, 2009 by Eliza  |  No Comments »

The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart.

I’ve had trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year. I finished class a week ago and I’ve been more than a little melancholy about it. I’m always so relieved at the end of a semester, of course. But all of my classes, especially the workshops, turn into little ad hoc communities and it’s sad to know that I won’t work with those people, in that configuration, again. Add to that the fact that, when I came up for air, I’d done absolutely no shopping and that I was in the middle of reading that Columbine book (totally recommended but totally heartbreaking, by the way,) I was the least Christmassy person in any given room.

Oh, also, I’m turning thirty in a little over a week and while I’m actively NOT THINKING ABOUT IT, it’s always floating in the back of my mind.

But tonight’s different. The snow started in earnest just about the time P came to pick me up from work this afternoon. We were able to make a grocery run together, to pick up the ingredients for our Christmas morning dinner and for some other last minute things, dodging harried parents and other cranky shoppers in that crowded supermarket dance. I took a nap when I got home, falling asleep to the sound of ice clacking against my windows, snug and warm in my bed. Now we’re watching The Wizard of Oz, which I tivo’d a few months ago and saved for an occasion like this and which P has never seen. (I know!) I’m wrapping presents and they’ve just reached the poppy fields. My annual Chex Mix is in the oven. My yard has turned into an icy wonderland.

And I’m thinking maybe I could do this holiday spirit thing after all.

Hope you have a lovely time, whatever you celebrate.

Posted on December 24th, 2009 by Eliza  |  2 Comments »

This picture thing I’m doing.

Pop! 36/365

Jake doesn't like the camera. 32/365

The Loop. 25/365

Think fiction writing. 21/365

Immediate seatnig. 16/365

Eleventh floor. 7/365

So I’m trying (again!) to take a photo every day for a year. I’ve tried twice before, but managed to miss a day a couple of months in. (Oh hai I am a perfectionist.) I have a better system this time — shiny iPhone with camera and also handy alarm that says TAKE A PICTURE at 10.30 every night as a reminder — so I feel better about my chances of finishing.

Over the last month, I’ve had time to think about precisely WHY I’m doing this project. It’s not to be a better photographer, beyond incidental improvements. I take a decent enough snapshot but I’m not interested in fiddly technical bits, though if someone wanted to give me a digital SLR I’d be willing to learn. The iPhone camera has enough quality for me, even if I do pull out my point-and-shoot once in a while.

It comes down to two things, I think. First, I want to gain some creative discipline. I know that interesting things happen when I try to create something every single day — I think it’s some vestige of the Julia Cameron fangirl in me. Plus, I want to document this year. Starting in October. No, I don’t know why. Maybe that crazy back brain of mine knows something I don’t.

The pictures I’ve posted above are the ones I like best so far. Here’s the entire set. If you’re the feed reader type, here’s the RSS feed. Or you can follow me on Twitter, where an automagic tweet appears every time I post a picture.

Posted on November 15th, 2009 by Eliza  |  4 Comments »

Lady Chatterley’s [redacted] and the Happy Ending

I still haven’t heard back from Amazon after sending them this awesome letter last week. So boo on them.

However, while waiting, I decided to do a little sleuthing. I searched for the name of the press that put out the book in the first place. After a couple of missteps (“Did you put out an edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover last year?” “This is a doctor’s office.” “So that’s a no?”) I tracked down the publisher and sent him a message. He, in turn, read my blog post and got back to me as soon as possible to let me know that any omissions from the book were accidental and that he was going to print a new, corrected edition and would send me a copy when that was done. I’m quite happy with the result.

I’m not mentioning the publisher’s name because I honestly believe that it was a mistake and I’m not interested in making a further big deal out of what happened. Which means that whoever is ignoring my letter at Amazon dodged a bullet today. A mildly snarky bullet.

Posted on November 9th, 2009 by Eliza  |  2 Comments »

Here is a letter I just emailed to Amazon.com

Dear Amazon Customer Service,

First, just want to say, love you guys. I bought myself an Amazon Prime membership for my birthday this year and it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever done for my wallet. I added the Amazon iPhone app and boom! It’s UPS delivery city over here. Not that I’m complaining, but I will say my husband has begun to look very concerned every time I bring another little something inside that eats up our precious bookshelf space.

Anyway, so I’m a student in the Fiction Writing department at Columbia College Chicago, and this semester I’m taking a class about censorship. (Remember this — it will be important later.) My list of required texts included Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by DH Lawrence. Makes sense, right? Lady Chatterley is a book that’s almost iconic for being censored. So I hopped online and ordered the book. Why should I bother walking all the way next door to the school bookstore when I had AMAZON PRIME? I made a pretty big order of books and waited the two long days it took for the books to arrive.

Then I waited for the day to read Lady Chatterley in class. (As part of the Fiction Writing program, we do a lot of in-class reading aloud.) Today was finally that day. Before class, my classmate and I bonded over having the same copy of the book — you can see the cover on the link here. Even our teacher pointed out that the girl on the cover looks a little young. Ha ha, we all said, that is a little creepy. Then we proceeded to read a chapter of the book.

I’m not going to lie — it was a pretty racy chapter. And at the end, there’s a little bit of an extended discourse using, well, the C word. (I’d type it out, but I don’t want to offend anyone. Turns out in a censorship class you use words like that a lot, and it doesn’t bother me to use it anymore, but I trust you know the word I’m talking about.) I didn’t quite remember that bit from when I read the book at home, but I figured that maybe I’d just forgotten, or skimmed over it. My classmate is smarter than I am, though — she looked back in her copy, identical to mine, and saw something horrible.

The discourse on the C word? Totally missing from our copies.

The book I ordered for censorship class has been, in fact, censored.

It’s really funny, in a way. It’s also unfortunate, because I have no idea what else might have been missing from my copy. I was going to be able to check Lady Chatterley off the list of Great Books I’ve read, but I can’t count it now! There might be entire subplots missing!

I checked the product page, wondering if I missed a note about it being an abridged version or something, but no. It’s just the first version of the book that comes up when searching.

So, I’d like to arrange a trade. I want a non-bowderlerized version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (for my CENSORSHIP class!) and in return you can have this one back. It’s not in perfect condition — I’ve read it, but I do take good care of my books. No writing or anything.

What can I do to make this happen?

Best,
Eliza Evans
Totally loyal customer

Posted on November 5th, 2009 by Eliza  |  4 Comments »

Road trip!

Last weekend, P and I went on a little trip to Madison, a belated anniversary celebration. The twist, though, (there’s always a twist!) was that I didn’t tell him where we were going. For two weeks, I made him guess what we were going to do.

Unfortunately for that big old corner of my soul that loves pranks, P could care less about anticipation. He figured we’d have a good time wherever we went, so he was pretty meh about guessing. “A cabin?” he offered. “A boat ride?” I’m pretty sure his next guess would have been “a three-ring circus?” So of course I spent the remainder of the two weeks asking him again and again where he thought we were going. After a while, he just stopped answering.

Since I spent the two weeks before our trip taunting my husband, I forgot to plan anything for us to actually do. I’d booked hotel rooms; we spent Friday night at Hotel Ruby Marie, a Victorian themed bed & breakfast and Saturday night at Arbor House, where the focus was on being eco-friendly. (Advantage, by the way, to Arbor House, and not just because they had a dual-flush toilet.) And thanks to Erica, I knew we were going to eat at the Eldorado Grill. But other than that? Nada.

Well, there was one thing I wanted to do. A few weeks ago, Christine Merrill posted about going to see dioramas of stuffed albino squirrels in the basement of a funeral home in Madison. I immediately became sick with jealousy. I wanted to see those squirrels and there they were, less than two hours away. So when we woke up on Saturday, I called the funeral home, since the squirrels are appointment only. Sometimes there’s an actual funeral, I guess, and they don’t want giggly, gawking tourists wandering through. So I called up at 8.30 Saturday morning and found out the terrible news.

The squirrels weren’t available on the weekend.

I know, I was shocked too. Who closes their tourist attractions, especially one in such demand as albino stuffed squirrels, on the weekend? I wiped away my tears and grabbed my phone to find the nearest used bookstore, as used bookstores are guaranteed to cheer me up. We spent a pleasant couple of hours at Avol’s Books, got cupcakes (and failed at transporting them,) went to the SERRV store (fair trade heaven, and I got some more tiny bird sculptures,) had an indoor picnic, took a nap, and ate fried macaroni and cheese with BACON at Bluephies. It was a busy day!

The next morning, we were kind of at loose ends. We weren’t ready to head home, but it was cold that day, and I’m afraid of nature, so we skipped the ten-minute walk to the arboretum. Instead, we decided to go to The House on the Rock. Apparently this place is super well known throughout the Midwest, but I never heard about it before I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, where it’s the setting for a pivotal plot point.

Here’s the basic history of The House on the Rock, told in dramatic form:

dramatis personae
Frank Lloyd Wright, super famous architect and a member of the Prairie School design movement.
Alex Jordan, Senior, total nutbar.
Alex Jordan, Junior, son of total nutbar.

ALEX JORDAN SR: What’s up, Frank Lloyd Wright? Look at this awesome building I drew, that I traveled all the way to your summer home, Taliesin, to show you.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: I wouldn’t hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop. You’re not capable.*
exeunt

Later:
ALEX JORDAN SR points at spire of rock.
ALEX JORDAN SR: I’ll show him! I’m going to build a house right there that he will have to look at forever.

Much later:
ALEX JORDAN JR: I will complete your spirit journey, father, and blast on that spire of rock, even though I don’t yet own it.
ALEX JORDAN SR: And to assist us, I will hire bums from Madison and pay them in bottles of whiskey and checks which I will later burn so it will seem like we did this blasting on our own.

-fin**-

*This line is, reportedly, actually true.
**I pieced this history together from the Wikipedia page. Any mistakes are the fault of that page’s authors.

So he built this house up on a rock. And, you know, from the outside it’s absolutely gorgeous, especially in fall.

The House on the Rock

And once I got inside, well…

It was completely terrifying.

There was this eerie, creepy music floating through this house, where the walls were made of rock and the carpet was red and looked original to the place. And it was a house — at least, there was a teensy kitchen and sunken living room and loft. But the music was from instruments — piano, violin, organs — that just played on their own; apparently these were one of Alex Jordan’s (many, many, many) obsessions. Throughout the tour there were lots of these automated music machines, some as big as ENTIRE ROOMS, that played on their own or started after putting in a token or two.

There were antiques everywhere! And lovely scrollwork and weird little nooks and let’s be honest here I got more than a little claustrophobic. Luckily we found a little open space in a place called THE INFINITY ROOM.

Here’s what I saw when we got to THE INFINITY ROOM:

Entrance to... Infinity room!

Here is the picture on the wall we missed before going into The Infinity Room. Do you see something missing there? Yeah, I didn’t notice until we got out toward the end AND THE ROOM STARTED BOUNCING.

View down from Infinity Room.

This is from the end of the room, where there’s a window IN THE FLOOR. Notice my Chuck Taylors — this is also the trip where I learned I’m too old to walk around for hours in shoes without appropriate insoles.

After we escaped, thankfully unharmed, from THE INFINITY ROOM (okay, I promise I’ll stop with the caps now,) we continued on with the tour of the house. There were lots of lovely antiques and books stuffed everywhere, which you know I approved of, and the walls were closing in on me so luckily, luckily we finished that leg of the tour and headed outside to end up right where we started, ready for leg number two.

Which I will get to next time.

To amuse you till then, here is the full set of photos I took.

Posted on October 31st, 2009 by Eliza  |  No Comments »