Sunday, March 14, 2010

Teen Girliness (with crappy cell phone photo evidence)

My company hired a big pile of of new people last week, and a few days ago they were herded through my office area on a meet-other-departments style field trip. I looked around at my desk and realized that, if one were to guess my personality/age/interests based on the junk decorating my cubicle, they'd probably assume I was a fourteen year old girl.

I have a small purple hair troll, and an O'Fortune Beanie Baby. (I am not into Beanie Babies, but he was a gift from a co-worker to celebrate my St. Patrick's day birthday, and he is quite dashing in his little green hat and bow tie.)

Pinned up to my cubicle walls I have several pages cut from a Mary Englebreit page-a-day calendar I had a few years ago; one with cutesy doves that says, "There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage", and one with a cutesy bride and groom that says, "What greater thing is there for two human souls to feel that they are joined for life". Sure, husband/marriage is slightly better than boyfriend/hopeless unrequited crush, but it's still the same gist.

I have a photo of my cat.

I have an "I heart Jim" (from The Office) coffee mug full of pens.

Most incrimiating of all, due to the aforementioned calendar debacle, I have a Twilight calendar with a photo of Bella and Edward on it.

I look around at all this stuff, slightly embarrassed at the ridiculousness and teen girliness of it all, and then I glance down and see my fingernails, which, in celebration of the Oscars last weekend, I painted bright sky blue. With a top layer of glitter.

All right, I give up. I'm going to go buy some Hello Kitty jewelry and a Tiger Beat magazine.   :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making Calendars

For the past few years I have made calendars for Mom for Christmas, using old family photos. She loved them, and the family got a kick out of looking through them for pics of themselves. I'd try to have several photos of everybody, and put them with the month of their birthday. I put the Christmas photos with December, etc., and it was fun to put together.

Fun, but time consuming. Ever the Photoshop-savvy perfectionist, I'd have to make sure all photos were color balanced, cropped attractively, and adjusted so that the bright/dark levels and color saturation all matched. Then I'd make a background, and add drop shadows. The end result was awesome (if I do say so myself) but took for-freakin'-ever. Every year I'd start thinking about it in September and resolve to get started soon, and every year I'd actually get going on it around the middle of December.

That's me as a small child, March from the second calendar.  How cute am I?

By that time, my printing options were minimal. It was too late to send away for it and get it back in time. That eliminated everything but local printing places like office supply stores and Kinko's (every photo processing place I called took too long also, as they shipped it out as well).

So the first year I took it to OfficeMax. I brought in a cd with carefully labeled jpg files, and they had it done in a few hours. But it looked... kinda icky. My carefully restored images were disappointingly dull. Then I noticed that the wall calendar didn't have any hole in it. They seemed surprised that I'd want one (!!) and told me they could punch a hole in it for me, but it would take more time. I told them no, and took it home and used a hole punch to do it myself. Stupid non-hole punching crappy printer place.

Even though I thought it looked icky, Mom loved it, so all was relatively well.

The next year I waited too long again, and, remembering the ickiness, went to Staples. It was basically an identical experience, right down to them not punching a hole. What is that about? How else are you going to use a wall calendar? That's why it's called that, because you hang it on the wall! I cursed both Staples and OfficeMax, and resolved not to ever get anything printed there again.

This year, Mom mentioned several times how much she loved going to Leu Gardens, so I decided to switch it up and make her a Leu Gardens calendar, using photos I had taken there. This year would be different; instead of spending so much time making backgrounds and arranging multiple photos for each month, I'd make it easy and just do one photo per month, using one of those photo printing sites that provides a template. All I'd have to do would be upload 13 photos (12 months plus a cover) and I'd be good to go.

Armed with an awesome coupon code for a huge discount, I picked my best photos, and started uploading. Right away I had trouble with the template, the proportions of the photos I was using didn't fit, and the site was trying to crop out the excess in ways that ruined the pictures. I went back into Photoshop, cropped them myself, and re-uploaded. Then I kept getting messages that my file sizes were too big. Back into Photoshop, reducing file size. Then I got error messages from the site that my file sizes were too small!

Yadda yadda yadda, the next thing I know I've spent far more time than ever before on the calendar, I have nothing to show for it, it's mid-December, and time has run out. I shake my tiny fist at the sky and REFUSE to go back to a crappy non-hole-punching office supply store, and sadly head out to Kinko's.

I had planned to get two copies made, one for Mom, and one to hang up at my desk at work. I was looking forward to people stopping by my cubicle and exclaiming over the extreme gorgeousness, whereupon I would modestly say, "Why, thank you, I took those photos myself". But Kinko's was too expensive, so I decided to just get the one for Mom.

I dropped off my cd, and went back the next morning to pick up the calendar. It looked exceedingly icky, even worse than the ones from the stupid office supply stores. The person working there agreed, and offered to print another one, but there was no time left, so I just said never mind. They actually gave it to me for free, saying they would just have to shred it; so I took it, since the idea of them shredding my photos was kind of sad.

My husband thought it looked pretty okay, kind of, so I decided to go ahead and give it to Mom. Being a sweetie, she told me at length how much she loved it and how beautiful it was. So, I guess it made her happy, so that's good. It's not as beautiful as it could have been, for sure, but whatever.

Then! The second week of January, Mom and I were having our nightly phone call, and we got confused about what the date was. Upon further investigation, it turned out that the stupid Kinko's calendar was not only ugly, but WRONG. It said 2010 on it, but they had used dates from 2009.

I am filled with righteous stabby anger, and the worst part is, I feel like it would be relatively useless to complain, since they gave it to me for free! I don't have a receipt, I can't even prove they printed it.

Mom says she doesn't care, she has other calendars to use for looking at dates, and she still loves having my Leu Gardens photos on her wall, so I guess I will let it go.

I kept thinking about how nice it would be to have my own calendar, though. Maybe I could still make one for me, to put up at work! It wouldn't have to be done by a certain date, so I'd have lots of time. I could use my own photos, or I could use images of things I like. Maybe I could have a Death Proof movie poster for one month, and a David Bowie album cover for another month, and a sexy pic of Eric the viking vampire from True Blood one month...

Yadda yadda yadda, busy busy busy, and all of a sudden it's late February and my husband is calling me from a Books-A-Million. He says I've been talking about calendars for months, needing one at work and not having one, all their 2010 calendars are $1, do I want one? Oh, fine. Do they have a Marilyn Monroe one? No. Harry Potter? No. Arty photos of France or Italy? No. Nuns Having Fun? No. Monet? No. Fuzzy kittens or cute puppies? No. They do, he tells me, have a Twilight movie one. Oh... fine! I say, giving up completely.

This year, I SWEAR I will get started in September... maybe August. Oh, the multiple low-stress printing options I'll have. Oh, the 2011 calendar joy that will abound!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Laughing, Crying, Having Stomach Aches and Existential Crises

Why do people read what they read?

I remember the first time I enjoyed reading a book. I was 7, and it was my first time reading a book that looked more like a grownup book than a little kid's book; it had more words than pictures, and it was smaller than the big hardback children's books. I have no idea what the title was or who wrote it, but it was about a large family that had to be very quiet; they tiptoed around in their socks and tried to blow their noses silently. The style was really goofy and funny, and it made me laugh.

I loved reading. I would spend a lot of my allowance on books, and I would also get library books. My father was a Virgina Tech alumnus, so he had a Va Tech library card. He'd drop me off at the big university library and I could wander around the long rows of books for an hour or two, and pick out anything I wanted.

I read all kinds of different things, from Nancy Drew to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Judy Blume to Norma Klein. I cried when I read Black Beauty. I loved Little Women (I cried when Beth died), and Jane Eyre (I cried when Jane had to leave Mr. Rochester, and again when they got back together). Okay, so I am a big weepy wuss, go ahead and laugh at me.

In my early teens I went through a horror phase, reading Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, and The Omen. I will tell you right now, there is not much that will make you more carsick than riding a school bus across a mountain while reading The Exorcist.

My parents didn't really censor anything I read, either, although they did try to keep an eye on it. When I was in my mid-teens I read Lolita (which did concern my mom, but she didn't stop me) and The Story of O (I feel sure she would have said something about THAT one had she known what it was, but I'm sure she'd never heard of it, and it had such a boring plain white cover I think it slipped right under her radar).

Books were such an important part of my life when I was growing up. Sometimes I felt like the characters were friends, and I'd re-read the same books to spend more time with them. Sometimes, particularly with the Judy Blume and Norma Klein books, I felt like I was studying the characters to learn how to behave. Norma Klein's teenage characters typically lived in Manhattan and went to art galleries and museums; they rode public transportation and used birth control and ordered foreign food in fancy restaurants. To a girl who lived in the mountains, miles and miles away from any museums or even from a freakin' sidewalk, they seemed very mature and impressive. I wanted to be like them.

As an adult, I still read a lot, although I am a little more pressed for time and I am pickier. I feel like my life is too short, and there are too many good books to waste time on a crappy/boring/badly written book, so I lost the misguided feeling of obligation to finish any book I start.

So why do I read? Some people say that reading for entertainment is escapism, not any different than watching sitcoms on tv. I can see the point about escapism, but I think your brain is working a bit harder if you are reading. Obviously you can learn a lot from reading, even from fiction books, but especially from biographies and autobiographies. I do sometimes read for the experience; reading about doing things that I can't (or at least, am not likely to) do, such as climb Mount Everest or be a vampire.

I believe that anything that's well written is worth reading.

This past weekend I read Push, by Sapphire. My husband read it last month, and told me it made his stomach hurt. I knew more or less what it was about, with the movie Precious being all award-winny recently. Even knowing the basic idea and bracing myself for the tragedy, I still had to stop reading several times to cry, and it brought about a minor existential episode.

Did I mention that I get way too intensely into the books I read? Oh, boy.

Which just makes it all the more strange (to some people at least) that I do sometimes read books that are disturbing/upsetting/sad. I don't understand books being censored, and am still really confused and offended at the hoopla around American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I've actually read it twice (although I do admit to skimming a couple of the really violent scenes the second time around) and I think it's brilliant. Although unpleasant, sure. There are things in my head now that would not have been there otherwise, I would never have thought of some of the terrible things that happen in that book.

I had a discussion with a friend once when I tried to talk him into reading one of my very favorite books: Shella by Andrew Vachss. He stopped reading after a few chapters, appalled at the violence and the sadness. But it's so well done, I said. It's just beautifully written, the style is so spare and clean. And the characters, while mostly damaged and troubled, are so clearly defined.

Why do you like to read what you read? What's the most upsetting book you have ever read, and are you sorry you read it?