Way back in the fifth grade, spelling was a school subject (as opposed to the fun extracurricular activity that it is now). At the beginning of the week, we were given a themed list of ten words. If we were studying the southwest, we'd have to learn pueblo and adobe. If it was late November, the words would be things like turkey, pilgrim, and cornucopia (extra credit).

Come Friday morning, there would be a spelling test where we would be required to write out the words on a piece of paper as they were called out by the teacher. Throughout the week, we'd be given small assignments to work with the words to help us learn their proper order of letters. We'd have to write out definitions or use each word in a sentence. Maybe we'd have to write a short story that used all the words. But my favorite exercise was to make up a word search.

We'd be given a piece of empty grid paper. Our assignment was simply to write the spelling words in the empty grid (forwards, backwards, horizontally, vertically, diagonally), then fill in all the other empty boxes with other letters. The next day, the teacher would redistribute these puzzles to the class, and we'd have to solve someone else's word search.

Creating a word search brought out a weird side of me. This particular kind of puzzle can only be so difficult. In the end, they can always be solved with an organized method and some patience. Knowing this, I still set out to make the most
difficult game I could. A lot of the kids would just give the answers in their puzzles away by filling in the grid in alphabetical order. So the top line of the puzzle would look like this:


I sought to avoid a puzzle that would insult the intelligence of whomever was selected by fate to complete it. So first off, I would at least mix up the letters when I was doing the final step of filling in the blank grid boxes.

But there were other kids who had caught on to this trick as well. I like to think that I took word search making to a new level, at least for the fifth grade. I would actually put partial words in there. So while "cornucopia" might be in the fourth row, going backwords, "cornucopmq" would be in the second column, going down. I snickered as I made my puzzles, imagining my peers tracing their pencils down the word, their excitement mounting, only to find a rogue letter 'M.'

That was mean enough. But I even one-upped myself. I would even put misspelled words in the puzzle. Of course, I would put the correct word in, too, but there might also be a "cornocopia" or a "cornucopea" as well. I remember one week when the theme was state capitals. Ruby, the poor, unsuspecting girl who had been assigned my puzzle came up to me in class and pointed out to me that I had misspelled our own capital city Raleigh by switching the 'E' and 'I.' Ah, no, I explained confidently to Ruby, the right spelling is in there. The next day, I received Ruby's completed puzzle. There sure were a lot of eraser marks.

I'm not sure what the point of making the puzzles difficult was. I'm prone to condemn my eleven-year-old self for trying so hard to trip up my classmates. It was a sort of meanness, perhaps a way of trying to assert word search superiority. In the end, it was just me, a kid who didn't have trouble with schoolwork, showing that she didn't understand that some kids did.

And so, for the sake of Ruby and whatever other kids had to finish one of my word searches, I would like to make a confession: in writing this, I had to look up "cornucopia." Go figure.


not a movie review: united 93.

Sandra's note: I wrote this thing months ago (back in August of last year) and just never got around to posting it. So if things are bit dated, that's why. I figured, however, that my opinions are timeless.

The movie starts. Some Arab dudes flash up on the screen for a minute or two before I am shown shots of a busy interstate and the bustling Newark airport. A mounting dread fills me the more I watch, because even if you don't know by now that I was watching "United 93," I did. And I knew what was going to happen already.

Why did I come see this movie?

For those of you who do not know, United 93 is about the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside on September 11, 2001 because the passengers attempted to take over the plane from the hijackers. The plane is speculated to have been headed for the Capitol or the White House (the movie says the Capitol). Naturally, a lot of the movie is pure speculation, because everyone who would be able to tell us what happened on the flight is dead. But a lot of those people made phone calls to friends and loved ones while the hijackers were in control of the plane, and so the screenwriter pieced together a story with those phone calls and then filled in the holes. My worry going into this movie was that it would not be clear that most of the script was made up. Based on real events and real people, yes, but other than a few telephone conversations five years ago and profiles of passengers given by the people who loved them, this movie is fiction. I was afraid that viewers would come out thinking they knew what really happened. I was afraid that a bunch of cheap, Hollywood sentimental effects were going to turn a national tragedy into nothing more than a moneymaker.

There were no famous actors. I thought I recognized one, an old lady from a sitcom that hasn't been on in years. The rest were regular-looking people, and some of the airport staff had been actual airport staff. No one was especially attractive or well-spoken. There was no heart-wrenching music to signify the dramatic scenes and the big lines, and there really were no big lines. People stuttered and mispoke. The camera work was shaky, as if it were documentary footage. From the moment the passengers got on the plane, the movie was in real-time. Though the terrorists were speaking Arabic, the subtitles were scant. For the most part, the viewer did not need to know exactly what they said. Besides, the passengers surely couldn't tell.

The really horrifying part of the movie was before the hijacking. It was the fact that you went into the movie and watched it, knowing what was going to happen. You watched all the regular-looking people carrying luggage and checking their tickets and calling people on their cell phones while they waited in the airport. You watched them do all these normal things that you've done before and will do again, the things that are just part of air travel. But at the same time, you know the ending. Once the terrorists were taking over and everything stopped seeming so familiar and routine, it was actually a relief, and I stopped considering walking out altogether.

One of the best things about this movie is how the terrorists were portrayed. They were not vicious and they were not lunatics. Granted, they did kill a lot of innocent people, but they were definitely shown as people who saw the killings as unavoidable given the fact that they had a higher calling. It was all part of a war to them. They bore the passengers no malice. The moviemakers did not show them as cruel, and I think that was a smart move. We have enough hatred. In fact, the terrorists looked like normal people, maybe with thick dark hair and light olive skin, but just regular folks you might see anywhere. And the most striking thing was that they were scared, they were actually nervous, like anyone would be on a mission to martyrdom.

The most gripping part of the movie was a simple scene before the passengers decided to fight back, when they knew they were probably going to die but just had to sit there and wait for it. From the point of the takeover to the time of the crash was about half an hour. Things are kinda settled, the situation has sort of sunk in. The terrorists are in control, but they are nervous because they still have some time before they reach the target. They're praying at the same time, though to themselves in some language that I do not speak. There are no subtitles. The passengers are reciting the Lord's Prayer to themselves as well, the same prayer but not together. It's a powerful sequence of images, the interweaving of the pleas to Allah and the Christian God. I wanted to scream out at the screen, "We've obviously got some things in common - can't we work something out?"

The bottom line is this: if this movie had to be made, the one I watched was a pretty good one. I don't think the movie needed to be made at all; 9/11 wasn't even five years ago. But the screenwriter and the director and the cinematographer and everyone else on the movie could have taken a lot of terrible wrong turns, and they didn't. They were not trying to glorify anything.

I watched this movie alone and wished that I had not. There's no point in wishing I hadn't even seen it, because I know I would have eventually watched it out of pure curiosity. But I wish that someone had watched it with me, so that I could talk about it. I even walked out of the theatre and to my car slowly so as to overhear the conversation of some of those who had been in the theatre with me. One man said, "Well, it sorta puts things in perspective, doesn't it?" I wanted to turn around and say, "I'm sorry, could you be more generic, please?" I was irritated at the man for making such a trite comment just to have something to say. The woman who was with him made a better point, saying that the passengers had not rushed the cockpit to crash the plane, but to save it from crashing at all. Admittedly, that is a thought that hadn't occurred to me. The passengers of United 93 have been lauded as heroes, for their bold statement "We're not going down like this." Maybe their statement was "We're not going down at all."

Here's what I thought. Because of all the phone calls to people on the ground, the passengers knew what was up. They knew about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and so they knew that they were not hostages. It was clear to them that they were bound for another building. And so what they did makes more sense now. They were not trying to be heroes or symbols of the American spirit. They were just trying to survive. I wonder if the passengers of the other flights might not have reacted the same way with the same information. If they knew it was either definitely die or fight back and still maybe die they might have opted to fight back, too.

I'm trying to figure out the point of this movie. It wasn't made to shock you, though I had been afraid that there would be graphic violence. However, the cinematography was so shaky that nothing was really seen vividly. I imagine that the views were what you would see had you been on the plane - everything happened too fast that afterwards, you weren't even sure what really went on. It didn't glorify the passengers as heroes, but merely showed people choosing survival. It didn't demonize the terrorists - they were people, too. It wasn't a patriotic movie, either; there were no stupid catchphrases about the American way or whatever. Maybe the point was to just tell a powerful story.

I'm not particularly recommending this movie. If you feel uncomfortable seeing it, then don't. It's not easy to watch, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to ever watch it again. I hear there's another 9/11 movie coming out, one that, based on the trailers, promises to have swelling music and tragic speeches. There's no shortage of tragedy movies based on actual events: Titanic, Pearl Harbor, etc. That sort of movie seems a mockery of what really happened, just an obvious attempt to capitalize off a horrific event without bothering to pay much respect to the facts or the people whose lives were altered forever. Maybe you could make a 9/11 movie like that in 50 or 100 years, but now? Too soon.

One quibble: there was a foreign passenger (German, I think?) who tried to talk the other passengers out of rushing the cabin, who was in favor of staying calm and seeing how things turned out. There was an actual foreign man on the plane, but there was never any evidence of this passenger doing anything of the sort. I suppose the filmmakers felt it would be unrealistic to suppose that everyone would be in favor of fighting back and so wanted to have someone show disagreement to add to the realism. Then they were faced with the dilemma of who to use: use one of the Americans, and you're definitely going to piss off the victim's family. So while I understand this problem, the decision to use the foreign passenger seemed kind of...I dunno, petty.


dice boot!

My brother Knocker, who lives in Raleigh as well, asked me what I did for lunch every day at my new job. I told him I hadn't really figured out a routine yet. A week later, I realized he was probably working up to asking me if I would like to have lunch with him, now that I'm so close and all. So I emailed him, apologized for being a doofus and not picking up on the hint, and said that I would love to have lunch with him. He replied that he hadn't been asking me to lunch at all, he'd merely been interested in the kind of luncheon social dynamics at the workplace. I thought about it some more and realized that since Knocker is the same kind of person that I am, had he wanted to eat lunch sometime, he would have, you know, just asked me if I wanted to eat lunch sometime.

Surprisingly, this entry is not about how people should just say what they mean. That would be quite a short entry, and it would go like this:

People should just say what they mean.

And now it's over, and I've got all this empty space here, so I'll have to talk about something else. It might as well be lunch social dynamics. And German board games.

I remember, way back in a simpler time, when I did not know about office politics. Worrying about what to do at lunchtime seemed such a high school thing. But, alas, too many things that I thought would fade with my graduation from West Caldwell High have found their way into my adult life, most of them social.

At the old job, there were basically three lunchtime options. The first one was to not eat. I don't really include this option as viable, though I did it on a couple of busy days. Some people did it every day. The second one is to go out to a restaurant and eat. There was usually a group of people who did this and anyone was always welcome to tag along. The final option was to eat in your office, either something you brought from home or takeout. It wasn't such a bad system. I ate out rarely, usually when they were going out to a restaurant that I favored. Otherwise I just holed up in my office with one serving out of a cauldron of homemade stroganoff.

Of course, there was basically a core group of people who ate out every day. I guess the term for that would be a "clique," but it seems strange to call it thus when you're talking about middle-aged computer programmers and not cheerleaders (middle-aged or otherwise). In any case, I never felt that I belonged as a part of that group. I think now that my days eating lunch as part of a cozy circle of close friends are over. I guess I shouldn't have gone into a male-dominated field.

At my new job, the setup seems very similar. There are the restaurant people, the desk eaters (those who eat at their desks, not those who eat their desks), as well as people who sort of combine the two groups. They bring their food back to work, but they eat it in the communal break room while reading the paper or talking to whoever else is there. Then, there is one last class of lunchers, and it is this group with which I have taken up. We spend our lunch hour playing games.

I love games. I'm probably setting a record for number of board games owned, given the fact that I live alone. So I don't get to play them very often, but I have them. After all, what if someone came by one day with a hankering to play Scattergories and I was not prepared? It came as a hard hit to me to finally understand that a lot of people just aren't that into games. I don't know if it's the competition, the technology-free time spent, the wholesome quality time with friends, or a combination of the three. But I like games a lot, to the point where I used to play them by myself as a kid. I'm talking Monopoly, people, by myself. In my defense, I always won, because the "other" players continuously made moves that were strategically advantageous to me. My imaginary friends were not very good at games, as it turned out.

And apparently I have found a group of like-minded individuals (or other formerly lonely children). The games we play are like none I've never heard of before. A lot of them are imported from Europe and include bilingual instructions. They are all thinking and strategy, rather than luck-based games. It's like playing Risk instead of Life or Bridge instead of Go Fish. Yesterday, we played a game about continental drift. In a world where I thought I was into games, these people showed me how wrong I was. Yesterday, one of my new game buddies sent out an email saying he was making an order from this site, pointing out that since he was ordering $60 worth of merchandise, the rest of us only had to order a total of $65 more to get free shipping for everyone. I didn't order anything, but I did develop a fascination for the Dice Boot. And that was before I found out that one of my new lunchtime friends has two of them.

As in any new social situation, I was concerned about acceptance. This scenario is a little more complicated, though. I make the fifth person in the lunchtime gaming group, and one of the much-loved games was a four-person one. I felt uncomfortable and vaguely unwanted every time someone mentioned the game, as I felt responsible for its recent shelfing. But then today, we spent our daily hour excitedly modifying the game to create our own version, one suitable for five players. If that's not acceptance, I don't know what is.


and that's the rest of the story.

I'd like to tell the rest of the story about Chad.

Like I said, Chad had one good idea, and that was the paper. But I'm probably the only kid who remembers Chad's one good idea, and I was jealous of it. Every other person who went through the Caldwell County school system during those years, if they remember Chad at all, remembers him for that whole space alien thing.

Chad wasn't a bad kid, necessarily. He was smart, at least enough to test into the academically gifted classes. He wasn't hideously ugly or fat or short, though his personality did not have a beneficial effect to the way we regarded his appearance. Just as a friendly or fun person will create a pair of rose-colored glasses for those who view him, an obnoxious person will paint his own zits. And so Chad wasn't very popular, because he was annoying. He had a tendency to give ridiculous answers with too much confidence, and he had a case of dandruff for about six months, but which was remembered forever. But he was more of a mild annoyance, meaning he was still more popular than the fat kid.

The odd thing about Chad was that teachers seemed to really dislike him. I don't put much stock in grade school popularity, a view I developed when I didn't have any. Kids are unkind. While I was disappointed to find that adults retain most of the pettiness that they had as children, most adults have the sense to hide it better. I remember two separate teachers, both of them excellent mentors and otherwise fine adults, joining in with us kids as we all mocked Chad. And of course they passed it off as being friendly and teasing - ha ha, we're all friends! - but it strikes me as completely inappropriate now. I thought it was weird at the time, and had I stopped laughing at Chad long enough, I might have realized that these teachers really disliked Chad as much as the rest of us.

Puberty hit us all hard, but it seemed to really take a toll on Chad. He started hanging out with another unpopular-for-being-strange kid, which only made the teasing worse. One weird kid is bad enough, but put two together and you get gay jokes. He became known for telling stories of dubious veracity, though usually no one listened to him for very long.

Once he saw me reading an Agatha Christie book (I went through a brief but intense Christie phase in middle school), and he said that he had read the book as well. After conversing with him for a few minutes, I began to suspect that Chad had not read the book at all. And so I made up a character's name and asked him if that character died in the book. Chad replied that yes, that character did die. I icily responded that there was no such character in the book and the conversation pretty much halted there as he realized that once again, he was busted. Now I think about this little moment, and it makes me cringe. Sandra, you little bitch, I think, he was obviously a really messed up kid with some sort of terrible backstory, and all you had to do was be nice to him. But no, you failed. Good job.

Of course, this incident pales in comparison to the misery handed to Chad over the space alien incident. We had to write term papers twice a year in english class on a topic of our choice. Once these were done, we had to give a short presentation on the topic to the class. One year, Chad did his research on UFO sightings. That part wasn't so bad. It was not uncommon to be interested in that kind of thing, as long as you didn't let on that you believed in it. That was Chad's fatal error. For his presentation, he told us the story of his own personal experience with space aliens. We were agog; was he really saying these things? Being intelligent and cruel adolescents, we asked lots of questions during his presentation. We wanted him to tell us more, more, just to see how far he would go with this tale. He naturally took these questions as encouragement and mistook our interest for genuine, so desparate was his desire to be liked. At some point, the teacher finally stopped us. By the end of the day, every one in our grade knew about it, and Chad probably figured out that his peers had screwed him over again. Even the older kids knew him now, as the kid who saw aliens.

When Columbine happened, Chad was the kid that everyone started looking at differently. Would he fly off the handle and take his revenge upon us someday? And that wasn't even fair, either. I don't know that he ever entertained thoughts of taking everyone out, though I can't help but think he probably wished a little malice on at least a couple of kids. Maybe he wasn't that kind of guy at all. Maybe he still just wanted us to like him.

Me, I'm sitting here feeling like pond scum about poor Chad. And I feel bad about Chris (scrawny, nasal voice and smelled bad), Eric (fat, also smelled bad), Jessica (big nose), Charity (no good reason). I don't think that I was a bully, nor do I recall ever targetting someone for any reason. It was more that I was one more laughing face in the crowd. To a person kept on the outside, I was just another person on the inside, no matter how bad I feel about it now.

And that's the story about Chad. He had one good idea. He told us some stories about aliens. We made his life miserable and then forgot about him. I bet he remembers us.


not a movie review: capote.

I sometimes think that I should post movie reviews up here. I like movies and people nag me when I don't post, so it seemed like a natural combination. But I don't really like the idea of calling them movie reviews. To me, that term implies, well, for one thing, that the writer knows anything at all about movies. And I don't really. So for me to write a movie post, it would really be more like "I don't know movies, but I know what I like." Except that since I'm making you read it, it's more like "I don't know movies, but now you know what I like."

So think of this as a Not a Movie Review. I'm not going to feel obligated to talk about cinematography or the script or the directing unless those things strike me, in which case I will. It's my blog anyway.


To sum up: Truman Capote is a flamboyant and just outright odd writer who hears about some murders in Kansas and goes to write a story about it. He becomes close with the residents of the town and then with those arrested for the killings. The movie covers his relationship with one of the killers in particular, Perry Smith, and how Capote transforms this experience into a genre of writing he claims to have invented, the nonfiction novel. Based on the story of Capote writing In Cold Blood, his most famous work. Also feature Capote's childhood pal, Harper Lee, in the midst of the publishing of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I really wanted to see this film. For one thing, I like Philip Seymour Hoffman (who played the title character) in the way that I like a lot of actors who are not particularly attractive. Oh, he's in no way ugly. He's just not pretty enough to be a famous actor without being talented. I've only seen him in smaller roles thus far, but his performances leave me with a nice fuzzy feeling that he was exactly what he should have been (see Brandt, The Big Lebowski and Lester Bangs, Almost Famous). Further reasons to see this film were that that it has a basis in fact (it's like learning!) and is centered around an incredibly interesting and eccentric person. Plus, it's mostly set in Kansas. What's not to like?

And you know what? It was a really good movie. The kind of good movie that I have no interest in seeing again anytime soon. I guess I mean that while I understand its beauty and quality, it isn't necessarily entertaining. It is slooooow. There are a ton of panoramic shots of flat and empty prairies interlaced with scenes of quiet dialog in old houses. And that's totally the point, because that's rural Kansas. I understand and appreciate that idea, but I don't necessarily want to watch it again.

The pace of the film is countered with a fair amount of suspense. A great deal of the movie is Capote trying to get Smith to talk to him about the night of the murders. And each time Capote goes back to the jail cell to ask what happened, you want to shake the guy, "Tell him! Tell him!" So it's quiet, Kansan suspense, but it is suspense nonetheless. In some ways, that makes it even more maddening.

What the movie does really well is the character study, both of its eponymous character and his jailbound confidant. The latter is so quiet and unassuming. You want to like him for his gentle manner, and just when you catch yourself rooting for him to get off death row, you think, wait, this dude shot four people in the face. He should hang.

And then there is Mr. Capote himself. You can't help loving him, because he's charming and interesting and has had this horrifying (no, seriously) childhood. But you want to hate him, too, because he's this arrogant, lying attention-whore who will make a joke about how much more important he is than you are. The whole time you are never really sure what his relationship with Smith is, which is likely a mystery that carried over from reality. Did Truman care anything about him, or was he just getting his novel? You get evidence of each, but when Truman is being tender, you're never sure that you can trust him. Hoffman gives us a Truman Capote who is fascinating and possibly brilliant, but not necessarily someone you'd like if you met him.

I do like that the movie leaves in a lot of ambiguity about Capote's motives. I would feel that it was untrue if the director glorified him, but I don't want him to be demonized either. I'm okay with him just being complicated. The most beautiful line in the movie was Capote's answer when Harper Lee asked him whether he was just using Smith for the novel. "It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front." And while that's awfully pretty to be true, you do want to believe him. Maybe he even believed it himself.

As a side note, Catherine Keener was lovely as Harper Lee. I have no idea what kind of person Ms. Lee really was, but I would want to think that she was a beautiful, intelligent and gentle person. Even if she was in fact an obnoxious she-demon, this portrayal was exactly how I want to picture her. Her affinity for Capote made it easier for the audience to appreciate him as a individual who is flawed but has quality as well. We should all have a Harper Lee in our lives who loves us for who we are but doesn't let us get away with being jerks.

Basically, see the movie if you want. It's interesting and the acting is fantastic. It's so good that you end up judging the movie more on how you feel about the characters than the actors. There's some intense, but brief and disguised violence and several naughty words.

So there was my attempt at Not a Movie Review. I'm not sure I liked it, and I'm really not sure if you did. It may not ever happen again.


the quick brown fox.

I learned to type in the sixth grade, when it was taught by a short, gravelly-voiced woman whose name I cannot recall (Mrs. Pullman? Mrs. Paxton?). We would all file into a computer lab twice a week, one of maybe three labs at my middle school. And then we'd spend the time using some basic typing program that taught us to type the letter 'S', then the letter 'A', then the words "as", "sass", and one other one that wasn't in the program, but we picked up on our own. All our typing was in lowercase, because we weren't set to learn about the Shift key for a couple of months.

Typing was very easy for me, and I flew through the lessons way on ahead of my classmates. Mrs. Whatever spoke to me in conspiratorial tones because I was clearly a gifted typist, which meant that I was destined for great things in the secretarial world, I suppose. Then, one day - it must have been either a Tuesday or a Thursday - we came in to the computer lab to find big pieces of red posterboard folded into trays that fit neatly over the keyboard, leaving just enough room for a twelve-year-old's hands. Apparently, someone or something had finally clued Mrs. Whatever in to the fact that we had been looking at our hands. She never named names or made accusations, but everyone was forced to start at the beginning of our typing program, all the way back to the letter 'S'. I felt accused and convicted, and I suspected that Mrs. Whatever acted a little more coolly to me after that, but maybe that was just my own conscience.

And so I started all over, too, and it should be noted that my pace slowed down considerably. Of course I had looked at my hands - that's what made it easy, that's how I'd been doing it the past two or three years when they'd tried to teach me in elementary school. I said that I learned to type in the sixth grade, but really I meant that's when I learned to type without looking at my hands. In any case, I finally completed that typing program, having successfully learned the keys to make all the naughty words.

I am still not very good with the numbers. Digits were taught at the very end of the typing program, when the school year was halfway over and we were all just sick of coming in here to load up the same program and type the same nonsense about quick brown foxes jumping over lazy dogs. And though I learned my numbers well enough to pass through the program, I never really felt comfortable with them, and every time I have to type out my phone number or address on an internet form, I find myself peering over the keyboard with two index fingers outstretched.

Mrs. Whatever (Patterson? That might be it.) left after the sixth grade and we got a male teacher whose name I remember quite clearly but am omitting for reasons which will become obvious later. He was a friendly, if rather bland fellow, and he'd give us basic assignments that were only just busy work but made the claim of teaching us proper business letter form. I don't know why they taught us how to write a business letter. I was thirteen years old; I didn't have much use for the Dear Sirs or Madams. In any case, the teacher would walk around and joke with students, occasionally massaging the shoulders of female students busily typing away. Us girls used to make jokes about it - "ew, so gross!" I don't think it even occurred to me that he was being completely inappropriate and possibly quite lecherous until I was in college. In any case, I've discovered that one can feel quite violated by something like that, even if it doesn't occur to her to feel so until ten years later.

But now, setbacks and pedophiles and all, I know how to type. I do it for a living now, though the typing I do now is even more obscure than writing about quick foxes and lazy dogs. It's probably not the dream secretarial job that Mrs. Patterson had seen for me back when I was her typing protege, before my fall from grace when she found out my (and everyone's) secret.

My speed is great if my accuracy is only slightly above average. I can type a variety of naughty words in both lower and upper cases, though that sort of thing isn't really required in my line of work. However, numbers are frequently required, but I can just sneak a peek at my keyboard and no one is any wiser. Don't go calling my boss, telling him that one of his employees can't even type numbers without looking at the keyboard. Considering that some of my coworkers must have learned to type at the School of Hunt and Peck, I don't think it will much matter.


free beverages.

"How's your new job?"

"Do you like your new job?"

"How's the new job going?"

"Are you going to eat that?"

All of these questions have been asked of me this week, and it doesn't take an experienced player of "One of These Things is Not Like the Other" to figure out the topic of today's entry. Because while the first three questions require a long, drawn-out and self-indulgent answer perfectly suited to the blog environment, the answer to the last question is simply, "Yes" or at its most verbose, "Yes. Now buzz off."

So, the new job. There are a lot of ways I could go with this. I could talk about how I get to work on software that I would actually use (as opposed to truck mechanic software) and how much that helps my interest in my job. I could talk about how I've been downgraded from a window office to a cube and how that hasn't really bothered me very much. I could talk about how I always have enough work to do and the best part is that the work is mostly all writing actual code. I could talk about how really and truly dorky my coworkers are and how that makes me feel like I instantly belong. I could even do a whole entry where I write nothing but "I can wear jeans and sandals and t-shirts to work every single day!" over and over like a disciplinary assignment for Bart Simpson.

But no. I'm going to talk about the free beverages.

So here it is: We get free beverages.

Oh man, oh man, do I love this simple little perk. There is a big refrigerator entirely devoted to free soda (about ten varieties, including diet and caffeine-free options) and free juice (apple, orange, and grapefruit). There is a coffee vending machine, where you can get coffee, espresso, and hot chocolate, but you don't have to put any money in it. And while my old job had free, uh, water, the new place has two kinds of free water: filtered or bottled. Both are available throat-warming hot or refreshing cold, so I guess that means I really get four kinds of free water. And it's all free. I can go in the break room whenever I want, as often as I want, and just help myself to any of it. And because I am one of those people who tries all the samples at Sam's Club, I take advantage of my free beverage rights, by gum. It is the Best Thing Ever.

I feel that I'm going to be fielding the new job questions for a while. Sometimes I will be talking to someone who either understands me or the programming industry, and I will be able to tell them how awesome it is to be challenged mentally at work and how fortunate I feel to be working on software that I care about. But most times, it will just be small talk, and that asking person will either not understand what I mean or won't really be looking for anything in-depth. For them, I know my answer.

"Did you know that I get free beverages?"


class of '01.

Chad was an unpopular kid who had one good idea. In the fifth grade, he decided to start up a class newspaper. Mrs. Bolick, who was an excellent teacher for encouraging ambition in her students, allowed him to take up class time to meet with whatever kids showed interest in the paper. I was supremely jealous for not coming up with the idea for the paper myself, but I still wanted in on it. Chad was editor, of course, because he thought of it and we all knew that "editor" was the most important title in a newspaper. I was the only one with access to adequate technology to create a typed document (this was 1994), and so I was designated the typist. I also volunteered to be a horoscope columnist, because it sounded fun. My friend Alisha became the weather girl, and another kid was the sports columnist. Seems like a kid named John was some sort of generic feature writer.

We decided to name the paper Class of '01, because in 1994, the idea of the millenium was still pretty novel. Unfortunately, that was my idea, though I place some of the blame on my colleagues for not coming up with anything better. Surely that would have been easy, because that was a pretty lame name. We thought it sounded very grown-up, because here we were at eleven and we were already looking forward to our bright futures. I get irritated now whenever I see campus graffiti that was put there by freshmen, their graduation dates seeming so impossibly far away, but I suppose I trumped them all in that crime a long time ago.

My job as typist was to collect articles from everyone, then combine them in some sort of format and order while checking and correcting errors, and create a master copy of each week's edition. I was doing this on my dad's word processor. The term "word processor" does not mean " a copy of Microsoft Word on a computer." It means "an electric typerwriter with a fancy text-only screen." Considering the technology and the typist were both quite young, putting together the one-sheet (front and back) paper every week took considerable time. Chad, as editor, performed his part by asking Mrs. Bolick to make copies of my finished product and then distributing them to our classmates.

Okay, I'm griping here, but I really took this job upon myself and was happy to do it. I am amazed at my eleven-year-old self, she who took on all this extra work for some other kid's good idea. I try to think now whether I've done anything even in the past ten years that was even close to this kind of extracurricular work. (*pauses to blink at blog for a few moments*) Oh. Moving on.

Writing the horoscopes was easy. For a while, I would look in the Lenoir News-Topic for inspiration, but after a while, I just started making them up rather than plagiarizing the stuff other people made up. I was only eleven, but even I knew that you just had to be sorta vague to have a good success rating in terms of horoscopes. After maybe two issues, Alisha got sick of the weather (also copied from the News-Topic), and so I handed over the horoscopes. See, I had a bigger dream; I wanted Ann Landers' job.

Chad announced that there would be a new column in the paper, an advice column. We had decided to keep the identity of the advisor anonymous, so as to encourage my classmates to feel more comfortable asking for advice. We installed a submission box in the form of a mutilated shoe box with a sign on it. We even used a secret advice column name - Dear Jerri. It was all very secretive and exciting, until the day Chad handed me the submission box to take home in front of the entire class. Dear Jerri was still a moderate success, for reasons which completely escape me now. There were lots of questions, little things about what to do if someone is teasing you or how to talk to a boy that you like. Jerri's advice to handle teasing was to tell a joke back to deflect attention. This advice so reeks of me that I shake my head at how little I have changed in thirteen years. I would like to note that I still follow this advice, and it's quite solid.

And then the year was over and the paper died with our elementary school selves. I think Chad tried to revive it the next year without me, but found it difficult to be an editor-in-chief without an accomplished typist. Now it's thirteen years past, the members of the class of '01 have all gone on to graduate (some of us even in 2001) and start their real lives. I haven't heard that any of them are journalists, but I heard that one of them blogs.

I'd be willing to wager that few, if any, of my classmates remember the fifth-grade paper at all. I realize though that it was fairly significant for me, perhaps because I did so much work on it. I bet if I looked not very hard at all in my closet, I could still find some back issues (as if there were any other kind) of Class of '01. Of course, I bet if I looked not very hard at all in my closet, I'd find a lot of stupid crap that I kept, so maybe I'm looking for significance where there is none. It wouldn't be the first time. I mean, I used to be a horoscope writer.


spontaneously read.

I have become a spontaneous reader.

You're probably not familiar with the term, because I made it up and then neglected to release the new volume of Sandra's Made-Up Terms so that you could know what it meant. I apologize for this oversight. To assist you, I have included this excerpt from the new, as-yet-unreleased edition of Sandra's Made-Up Terms:

spontaneous reader, noun.
1. One who judges books entirely upon their cover.

A spontaneous reader is not someone who, finding a lack of something else to say, enthusiastically reads out signs and labels and anything else she might see around. I call this A Person Who is Celebrating Her Own Literacy, and I have long been one of those. Trips to the grocery store with A Person Who is Celebrating Her Own Literacy are never dull, for they are peppered with exclamations like "Fancy shredded!," "Ho-hos!," and "Macadamia!"

What was I talking about?

Oh yeah, spontaneous reader. I never used to be a spontaneous reader, because it is expensive to read spontaneously. I rarely bought books unless I was pretty sure I was going to like them. The trouble with judging books by their covers is that it's not a reliable method of finding good books. And so I was always afraid of paying for a book that had a really groovy cover and nothing of value inside.

And then I discovered buying books remaindered on internet bookstores, like Daedalus Books. And that was cool, because I picked out some good books (and some crappy books) and I got to read them for only a few dollars apiece. At some point I realized I was still spending a lot of dough on books with only a mediocre return of good books to bad.

So I started buying books at thrift stores. I'm not new to that practice in the least. Whereas before I would quickly browse the book section for titles I already knew I liked but lacked in my collection, now I was spending much more time in the book section, adding any old book that looked vaguely interesting to my overflowing armload of fifty cent paperbacks. I judged books on their jacket designs, their titles, their authors, their awards, and (sigh) their Oprah seals of approval. At this point, I've had to stop doing this, because my stack of unread books at home has grown perilously tall, because I read slower than I buy.

I'm working my way through my stack of unread books, which is more of a box of unread books since I haven't been much of a spontaneous unpacker since the move. When I finish one, I pick out another almost randomly. If I just finished a thin book, I try to read a fat one. Some of them are okay, some are a struggle to finish, and some I love so much I could die. Afterwards, the books go into new stacks. Most go into the stack to be given to the used book store in exchange for store credit for which to buy more used books. Fewer reach the dizzying heights of going into my permanent collection, where they will be read and adored and again and again.

And now, since I've been sitting here for twenty minutes trying to come up with a clever way to end this post and have come up short, I will just do it spontaneously.



bandana on a stick.

You know, I could write for quite a long time about how much I hate moving. I could whine at length about each stage: finding a new place, packing, moving, unpacking, plus all the other little tiny things that you have to do to relocate your body, stuff, and services to a new location. I could talk about visiting apartment complex after complex, looking at places that somehow are all the same and being expected to pick one out of a bunch of places, none of which I'm all that impressed by. I would easily be able to rant about the boxes - oh, the boxes - that start out as empty donations from liquor and grocery stores but become heavy burdens that litter my apartment with contradicting labels like "Amaretto Amore - The Liquor of Love" and "Socks." Pages could be filled with my griping about truck rentals, heavy appliances, and one very cumbersome futon. Finally, I could wrap up the series with having to empty all the boxes - oh, the boxes - and try to figure out how I ended up with all this stuff and where it goes now. Indeed, I am experienced in moving, and I could put before your eyes many diatribes about signing leases, labeling boxes as fragile, and back pain and holy CRAP, I am so stressed out right now.

But I won't do that.

In an attempt to see the vodka box as half full, I'm going to focus on something that I like about moving: the purge. When someone is moving, they invariably complain about how much stuff they have. Just to prove my point, here I go: I have too much stuff. But see, moving is a great opportunity to correct, or at the very least, alleviate that situation. So while I fill boxes with the things that will live to see my new apartment, I'm also filling others with things that will have to wave goodbye to me as I drive away from the Goodwill donation truck.

I'm generally pretty brutal about it, too. If I can pick something up and realize that I haven't even used it while living in my current place, the thing needs to go. But even if I have used it recently, I can usually tell pretty quickly whether it deserves to spend some more time as my property. I have regretted buying many, many things. But I have never regretted getting rid of something. Never have I wished I had something back. My memory aids me in this by conveniently forgetting I ever owned the thing.

I also know that I personally have to be brutal. I mostly shop used, and so the stuff is cheap, which is a great excuse to buy a lot of it. I consider many of my purchases to be experiments. I'm not really sure if I like them, but I'm willing to pay a dollar to find out. And while sometimes that works out for me so well that I wonder why I ever had any shopper's doubt (see Amazing Technicolor Dream Sweater), sometimes it does not (see shellacked wall-hangings featuring American currency). Whatever falls into the latter category goes back to a donation center. I believe in the stuff circle of life, which is like The Lion King circle of Life, but with fewer meerkats and more wine racks.

Purging makes me feel lighter, freer. I crave simplicity. And while I can walk through a store and point out lots of things that I might want, at the same time, I want less stuff. Granted, I live by myself in a two bedroom and I have no problems filling it, so I'm hardly someone who can wrap a few necessities in a bandanna and tie it to a stick and be on my way. I'd need a really big bandanna. But I admire the people who do get by with so little as a choice, who understand that in the end, it is just stuff. Me, I'd need a big sack just for some books, and my laptop, and obviously I'd have to bring my gumball machine...my hobo lifestyle is getting very complicated already.

So each trip I make to the Goodwill truck leaves me feeling better and less burdened. This feeling frees me up to burden myself with new things, but for a little while at least, I am cleansed.

I still hate moving.