Begin as you mean to go on.

2010 has been a year of transitions. There have been a lot of changes for me — some good, some bad. I managed to finish my writing degree at Columbia College Chicago. This, of course, is wonderful, a goal that I’ve been working toward for longer than I care to admit. But it’s bittersweet, also. What people don’t realize about writers, I think, is that we spend so much time in imaginary worlds, in front of our computers. Alone. That’s why community is so important. I found a community at Columbia. I’m heartbroken to leave it behind.

I left my job in the summer, which was a good thing. I finished a novel manuscript, which was maybe the highlight of my whole year, no lie. I found out in the fall that I have celiac disease, which meant an immediate and drastic change in the way I eat. No more wheat, barley or rye for me! And to tell you the truth, I feel so, so, so much better that I wouldn’t eat that stuff if you paid me. Again, good and bad — two sides of the same coin.

Changes, changes, changes. I am now to the point where I have to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’m getting my stuff together to apply to grad school, which I didn’t expect, either.

But like I’ve said before, I don’t do resolutions. I don’t want to spend the rest of being thirty (all two hours of it) thinking about those big and scary choices I am going to have to make. I’m going to watch some Doctor Who with P — another of this year’s wonderful surprises — and at midnight I’ll be right here in front of my computer, writing. Begin as you mean to go on. I’m not superstitious, much, but that one I do believe in.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

The fairy effing wonderland

When we decamped the city to live in the suburbs, for whatever godforsaken reason, I didn’t quite realize what a variety of woodland creatures would be part of the deal. There’s a deer path that goes right through my side yard, for example. There are little tweety birds everywhere, so many that I was inspired to buy a bird guide to try to identify some. (“That one,” I can now say confidently, “is definitely a robin.”) The wetlands behind my mom’s house are home to sandhill cranes early every summer, and some cranky swans the rest of the time. There are bunnies in my yard and a chipmunk named Dexter has built a home under my porch. Once, a tiny bat crawled up to the front door of my office. I called the health department, but they said since it wasn’t inside, they couldn’t do anything about it. I’m pretty sure it had rabies, but it was gone the next morning.

This led P to dub the new neighborhood a fairy fu — effing wonderland. And it was! Until one day.

I came home from work, roaring up to my driveway with the windows down, playing Lady Gaga or David Bowie or someone awesome on the radio.* I stopped short when I saw a dark brown creature crouched in the middle of the street. At first I thought it was a cat. It was roughly cat-sized, after all, and there are a few strays in the subdivison. Then it started running across the street in a weird, waddling way. Nothing like a cat I’d ever seen, for sure. Then, it turned just the slightest bit and I saw a big tail and I realized:

The creature was a beaver.

The creature was a beaver and it was headed right for my neighbor’s open garage door. This was a problem, because I had never met this particular neighbor, and I did not particularly relish the thought of knocking on the door and saying, “You don’t know me, but there’s a beaver in your garage.” Think about how quickly I would have a reputation to uphold!

Luckily, the beaver sheared off at the last minute and disappeared over the rise. I still don’t know where he was going, but he hasn’t been back.

*I was probably crying while listening to NPR.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

To hell with Charlotte

One of the best things about moving to the Frozen North — you know, Chicago? — is that the variety and quantity of bugs are far fewer as compared to the Southwest. I do admit getting a small amount of joy out of explaining how precisely to avoid scorpions in New Mexico:

Me: And then! You have to check inside your shoes.

Slightly horrified friend: They get in the shoes?

Me: Yes! And also they climb on the ceiling so you have to look in your bed.

Slightly horrified friend: …

Me: … Because they fall. On your face!

Slightly horrified friend: And people actually live in these places?

Me: It’s not so bad! Unless you live by an open field. Let me just tell you about the time there was one in the bathtub…

Just making it clear that I’m grateful that I can yuk it up about horrible bitey tiny monsters, rather than live with them.


I’m really not good with spiders. Perhaps it all harkens back to that time when I was in Arizona as a child. I stood in a brown dirt parking lot, wearing brown knockoff Birkenstocks, with my suntanned brown little foot. RIGHT NEXT TO A BIG BROWN TARANTULA.

When P and I first moved into our house, the garage had some spiders on the ceiling. Big spiders. I didn’t want to kill them, because what did they ever do to me? They weren’t inside or anything, caressing my face with their hairy pedipalps. But then there were a lot more of them. It was a big brown spider convention.

So I did what any other reasonable person would do. I stopped parking in the garage. It took P a few days to catch on — I cleverly lured him into parking, see — until one day he caught me in the driveway. Let’s just say there was a spider massacre that night.

Since then, the spiders were plotting. Mabeline, the World’s Most Expensive Cat, and her mean sister Amelie, were no help at all. I think they might have been cracking the windows at night to let the spiders in.

On Saturday night, I sat down at my desk to pretend to work. I saw a teensy, teensy spider floating down behind my laptop. I smashed it. Later, I saw one floating in front of my face. I smashed it. Two seconds later, another one started wandering across my keyboard.

“P,” I said. “Get in here. I killed this little spider and then it was somehow on my keyboard and…”

You are probably quicker on the uptake than I am.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said. Then, more quietly, a little more urgently, he said, “On the other hand, get out of here. Now.”

I ran down the hall, shouting behind me for him to bring my phone and my Kindle. Then I asked what happened. Priorities.

Turns out, there were baby spiders ALL OVER MY CEILING. Think about that. Above my head. Spiders. Floating around. Landing on my scalp and making my brain their lunch. All these years, I was worried about scorpions and then some Charlotte wannabe comes in and tries to make my office her incubator. Well, to hell with her. We had ourselves another spider massacre, my friends.

Later my sister texted and asked if the spider curse she had the gypsy lady put on me had come true yet. I sure hope she was kidding.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

I just love flash mobs

It’s Muhktar’s birthday. Or his Fødselsdag, if you’re nasty.

I am a huge fan of flash mobs, where unconnected people meet somewhere and do something silly or fun, like ride the subway without pants or freeze in place in Grand Central Terminal. (Those are both from Improv Everywhere. Plenty more where that came from.)

Flash mobs appeal to my sense of spectacle (see also: Lady Gaga.) My favorite flash mobs are those like Muhktar’s birthday or the surprise wedding reception:

or maybe the Best Game Ever:

Sometimes, when the news is full of awful things, like oil spills or floods or any of a million other disasters that we visit upon each other, I want to see something nice. Either that, or I’m trying to mitigate the bad karma from spending a certain percentage of my day reading hateful celebrity gossip blogs.

Mostly I really liked the look on Muhktar’s face once he realized what was going on. Also, who knew that the Danish Happy Birthday song was so long?

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

The state of the process

I think I’ve written about this here before, but in short — I don’t like to get too attached to rituals, instruments, etc when it comes to writing. My thought is that if I don’t have a favorite pen or special notebook or totally perfect seat at the coffee shop my office, that still won’t give me an excuse not to write.

This is not to say that rituals are always tools of procrastination. I’m sure that for some people, their favorite pens are probably sources of inspiration and hope. For me, though, magical items were always able to make me stop writing just a little bit sooner, if I got started at all. Unhappy with where I’m sitting? Can’t write! Let’s watch Cake Boss* instead! Can’t find my favorite pen? I bet if I take a nap, I will dream of it. So I made a conscious effort to keep myself from getting too hooked on rituals. I know Stephen King is a fan, but I am not. And that is what makes writing and thinking about process so interesting.

However, this week, I figured something out.

I have to write, every day, or the whole thing just goes off the rails. The whole book falls out of my head when I skip a day of writing. Main character who? I was doing really well with writing every day until last Sunday when I thought ‘oh, I’ll just take a day off.’ Yeah, make that five days, except for a bit of in-class writing I did on Tuesday. Which is still in my notebook and not on my computer. So I’m not counting it.

How irritated I am with myself! I thought I was all enlightened and ritual-free! Does this mean I have to smudge the corners of my office with sage or something?**

I’m planning on an internet-free weekend, which is something I do once in a while to hopefully mitigate the fact that I’ve been online almost every day for the last fifteen years. (I know. Shut up.) Hopefully I can get myself kick-started again. And if you catch me on twitter talking about a day off? Feel free to mock me.

*I had actually never seen that show, but last weekend my parents found themselves in Hoboken and brought P and me a cake. Even after five days in two separate refrigerators with a plane ride in between, that fucker was delicious.

**You can take the girl out of Albuquerque, but I don’t think you can take the Albuquerque out of the girl.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

So did I write a hundred pages?

Well, of course not. (Note to self: figure out why you keep setting these impossible goals.) But I did write a lot over spring break. In the last ten days I’ve written 10,571 words, which is about equal to my new goal of a thousand words a day.

That goal is totally reachable, at least thus far, and puts me on track to finish the first draft of this manuscript by June 1st, a day I’ve christened “Finish the book and get a new camera” day, and way ahead of July 1st, which is “If you’re not finished with this manuscript you have to give a significant sum of money to a certain lady politician politician you just cannot stand, you betcha.”

I’ve got fear on my side, is what I’m saying.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

Here are some pictures I have recently taken.


Moon and wires.

Train. 162/365

Harold Washington Library.

Tree, sky.

Oh, Chicago.  160/365

I really can’t express how much I love the Hipstamatic app.

In other news, I’m on spring break. I have decided that I want to try to write a hundred pages while I’m out of class. I still have to work, but that does not signify. I want to see if I can push myself to do something like this. I’ve got a summary draft and an idea of where I’m going, and for now that’s enough.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

Bracely update

If I know you (and I think I do,) I’m pretty sure you’ve spent the last couple of weeks wondering how my teeth are, after the incident. Well, wonder no more. I switched to my second tray last week and the pain was much less than the first tray. I have a theory, but it’s boring, so meh.

I’m sure you’re relieved! Now you’re thinking to yourself, hooray, that Eliza is finished with doing expensive, painful things in the name of aesthetics.


Pilcrow tattoo.
To be completely clear, that is NOT a bra strap. It’s a camisole strap. I don’t put my underwear on the internet.

I’d been planning on a second tattoo for a while. The font is Courier New, because I am a dork and because that is what I use to write.

Anyway, today it itches, but at least my teeth don’t hurt.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)

I have been misled. I have been lied to.

This week, I got a certain little present that I’d been wanting for a long time. The kind of little present I had to go and pick up.

From the dentist’s office.

My year of torture. 139/365

I have pretty straight teeth overall, but turns out I have this thing called a tongue thrust. (Say that again, P asked me when I told him about it.) That means that every time I swallow, my tongue pushes out against my teeth, eventually leading to this:

Artist’s renditon

According to the wikipedia article, most people grow out of tongue thrusting (I think P just asked me to say it again from the other room) by age six. I am aged thirty, so apparently I was absent that day in class.

It’s only gotten worse, so I eventually bit the bullet and spent the tax return to get the braces.

Except, you guys, throughout this entire process, talking to my dentist, all the hygienists in her office who have them, all the people I know who have used Invisalign in the past — not one person saw fit to let me know, gently, that braces HURT.

I didn’t think much about it, honestly. I figured legions of teenagers get braces every day. Sure, it hurts them, since the nice orthodontist has to go in and tighten some screws or something.

I’m not really clear on what happens with traditional metal braces, to be honest. P had them when he was a kid for like three years and he likes to tell me horror stories of headgear and this contraption in the roof of his mouth that had to be cranked open. I just… I don’t even want to know, okay? His teeth are nice and straight now so I pretend that they started out that way. But I was going to be different! My invisible braces were going to make my mouth feel like it was filled with clouds and sunshine. That is why I paid the premium.

When the dentist went to snap the first set of trays in, I stopped her. “Is the pain anything like traditional braces?” This is, true, an awful time to ask that question, since the braces exist and were paid for.

“Oh, no,” she said. “There’s a low-grade pain, but it’s actually better than metal braces. Then you have a lot of pain all at once. Here it’s spread out a little.”

Then she snapped the clear plastic trays on my teeth.

“Oh, that’s not so bad.”

“That’s because these are the trays that are just like your teeth are now.” Then she proceeded to put these chunks of ceramic or something on my teeth which are what hold the braces in. So now I have lumpy teeth. Luckily they are hidden.

Then we got to the real thing. It was a little sore, true, but I was okay. I would soldier on. I grabbed lunch on my way home and pulled the braces out first thing. This was going to be great! I ate my food that had texture and everything was wonderful. Braces were awesome!

Then I had to put them back in. As if I’m already not obsessive-compulsive enough, I have to brush my teeth every time I take them out. So I sang the brusha brusha brusha song and I shoved those bad boys back in place.

How I howled. My teeth did not want to go back into this new place! No, they were quite happy before the new regime. Eventually I heard the reassuring click and gulped down a handful of Advil. Did you know that stuff takes an hour to kick in? I do, because I watched the clock.

Things only got worse as the day went on. As soon as I went on break in my fiction workshop, I popped the braces out so I could eat a protein bar. This time, when I put them back in, I got tears in my eyes involuntarily. My teeth were clearly plotting against me.

So pretty much every time I’m faced with food, now, I have to make a decision: is this worth taking my braces off for? This is important, because every time I have to put them back on, I go through the seven stages of grief:

Shock or disbelief: My god, how can this hurt so much? I had them off for ten minutes!
Denial: There’s no way that my gums are going to put up with this. Maybe I should take them off.
Bargaining: If I take them off now, I will just have to add another day to the back-end. That gives me an extra twenty-two hours to be free!
Guilt: I can’t believe I spent all this money to be in so much pain.
Anger: Why are straight teeth so prized, anyway. I bet there are cultures in the world where picket-fence mouth are considered incredibly beautiful!
Depression: I’m never going to eat anything that’s not pudding textured again.
Acceptance and Hope: This really isn’t so bad! It’s only for a year and the soreness is much reduced.

The only problem is that when I get to acceptance, it’s time to eat again.

(originally posted at elizawrites.com)