a bold move.

I have a dilemma. I have something that I am dying to share. Yet, it is so ridiculous and silly, and I think that it makes me look like a very silly person. Not fun silly, but shallow silly. I'm just going to lay it out there and you can think what you want. Maybe you already think I'm shallow.

I commissioned a portrait of my dog.

I know, I know. If that isn't an indication that someone needs to adjust their priorities, I don't know what is. Bear with me, though. Let me try and justify myself.

Josh's step-mom, Carol, is an artist. She had been painting since she was a teenager, but like a sensible person, she did not really attempt to paint for a living. Instead, she went to work at Wachovia as a program manager, and she did that for twenty-some years. She was successful at this job and she enjoyed much of it, because she has many of the skills required. But inside, she felt like a painter. You'd be surprised at how many sensible people have secret artists living inside them.

Last year, she quit her job at Wachovia, now Wells Fargo. She was still a sensible type, because she left when the company was encouraging people to leave by offering them very generous packages. And she moved up to the mountains with her husband to be an artist full-time. When I play board games with my brother's family, and someone does something that appears to be crazy, but could turn out great, we say they are making a bold move. So while I might say that what she did was brave and admirable, someone else might call it crazy and stupid. Let's just meet in the middle and say it was a bold move.

But you know what? I think it's wonderful and amazing when people do that. I admire risking your own financial stability to really take a running jump at something important to you. If I did not admire that, I could not be engaged to Josh. Smartest person I know, college drop-out, waits tables, works hard at playing rock music because when they asked him what he wanted to do for a living, that's what he came up with. I think that's awesome.

It's completely and totally true that some of this is me living vicariously through the artists in my life. Once upon a time, I was going to be a starving writer. But I am a sensible person raised by sensible people, and I became a software engineer. For some reason, writing computer words is much more lucrative than writing people words. Seeing Josh and Carol makes me feel like I chickened out sometimes. I should be suffering for my art, too! Instead, I write software, which is something that I enjoy and that I am good at. I get to wear jeans to work and drink free soda while I am paid to use my brain. I have one of the best jobs in the world. Each of us contains many possibilities, and there is no one right one. And who knows? Maybe in twenty-some years, I'll quit to move to the mountains and write people words (don't worry, Mama, you'll be dead by then).

The nice thing about being a software engineer with a secret artist inside is that I have the means to support other people's art. Josh has eaten Ramen before, and he'd do it again, but he doesn't have to. Likewise, I wanted to support Carol's art. I came up with the idea of asking her to do a portrait of my dog. I floated the idea by her, with lots of room for her to turn it down. She responded enthusiastically. I offered money, which she declined. I sent her a bunch of pictures I had taken of Remix, and between us we picked out which would work the best.
Then she sent me updates as she worked, starting with the rough sketches and then moving on through the process of creating a painting. It was fascinating to someone like me, who would have no idea how to go about making a painting. Apparently, there are steps.

And now, I have a custom piece of artwork, featuring the dog of my heart, made by an artist that I know personally. Every time I see it, I will be happy, because that is my awesome dog. And every time Carol see it, she will feel proud and supported as an artist. It is a silly thing, but I think it's the good kind of silly.



Last week, at book club, one of the ladies mentioned that a local secondhand bookstore was going out of business. Yes, that's very sad, boo hoo hoo, but what are they doing with all their books?

I stopped by on a Saturday morning. The sign on the window said that all books were a buck apiece. I started looking through them, one at a time. By around the the third shelf, I found one that I really really wanted, and I knew that I would be here awhile. So I left the shop to walk across the parking lot to McDonalds and bought a cup of coffee. Then I grabbed a shoulder bag from my car. It was the equivalent of rolling up my sleeves for book-shopping.

I skimmed the titles, one shelf at a time. I probably missed some that I would've liked, but I was willing to take that risk. Occasionally, I found something that went instantly into my bag. Other times, something about the title or the font or whatever made me pick up a book and look at it. Some of these went back on the shelf, others into my bag.

The shop was pretty busy, which was probably a sad irony for the owners. One lady asked where she might find the "women's reading" section. The shop owner was understandably confused. A family with a couple of little boys was building quite a pile, with a particular focus on educational materials. I think they were homeschoolers. One of the boys discovered an old chemistry textbook and was determined to buy it. Ah, a book hoarder in the making.

I was honestly a little irritated by the people who came in with a list of specific books that they wanted. These are people who are used to shopping at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. They asked the shop workers about half a dozen different books, none of which were in stock. And then they left without buying anything. I wanted to turn around and tell them, "You're doing it wrong."

When books cost so little, the best thing you can do is just look through them all and see what catches your fancy. Read spontaneously! Shop serendipitously! Judge a book by its cover and discover a new favorite. If you don't like it, heck, it was only a dollar. When everything is cheap, shopping is not about finding the exact thing that you want, but being open to what is there.

Whatever. More for me.


why do you hate electric cars?

Thursday afternoon, Josh sent me an email with a link to a CraigsList ad for a car. It was an all-electric car, a Chevy truck that had been altered to run on an electric motor and batteries. They were asking $9500 for it. Since Josh sends me all kinds of ridiculous links when he looks for cars, including old convertibles that don't run and military jeeps lacking speedometers or roofs, I didn't take it very seriously. Just one more goofy car being sold on CraigsList that some other poor woman will have to tolerate.

But the next time I saw him, he asked if I'd looked at it. Apparently, he was serious about it, which just goes to show that you can never underestimate how crazy your loved ones are. I told him that I found a couple of the specs to be troublesome. For one thing, this was seriously a truck that had been modded by some guy. Sure, Chevy made the body, but the motor was put together by Some Guy. Did Some Guy offer a warranty? Secondly, because it ran on batteries, it had a range of fifty miles. So he could drive his nice electric truck anywhere he wanted, as long as it was within 25 miles of home. Then he'd have to come home and plug it in.

I pointed out these incredibly sensible objections, and he got very mad at me, saying that I hated electric cars. He did not say that I hated Mother Nature, nor did he call me a peon of the oil companies, but he may have thought it. He then said that he could just go get a loan on his own if he wanted the car. I thought about how I was going to be marrying this lunatic who could not tell the rational from the irrational. It suddenly occurred to me that when your spouse makes a bad decision, and I was pretty certain that buying this truck would be one, you have to live with the consequences of it. This fact never comes up in romantic comedies.

But I could tell that this was important to him, so I said, hey, call the guy up and we'll go on out to Carrboro and have a look. Saturday afternoon, that's what we did.

Some Guy turned out to be at the beach, but we talked to Some Guy's Nephew, who knew a lot about the truck and also drove around a VW Rabbit that had been converted to electric. He popped open the hood and explained everything inside. There were something like twenty batteries stashed here and there - under the hood, under the truck bed where the gas tank used to be, in a toolbox in the bed. He was clearly an evangelist for the electric car. He talked about how being a mindful driver made driving a much more fulfilling experience. He compared it to having a kid, which probably would have offended me if I had any children.

Josh had asked about extending the range by adding more batteries. That's possible, but because the batteries are so heavy, each additional one (around $100) only adds about 2.5 miles. There are better batteries coming out on the market that are more lightweight, but to switch over all the batteries in the truck would be an additional cost of $3500.

As we drove back home, I did not say anything, so as not to be accused of hating the electric car. But Josh picked up that I was still pretty much against buying this truck. I thought Some Guy's Nephew seemed like a nice and knowledgeable guy, and I honestly felt reasonably confident about buying a car off of him, even a rigged old Chevy. But a car that won't go more than 50 miles without having to be plugged in for 12 hours just doesn't fit our lives.

I have nothing against electric cars. I don't care how a car works, honestly. But if it doesn't function as a car, meaning it doesn't get me where I need to go, it's no good to me.

I left it alone and just hoped that he heard my point and recognized it as good sense. That night, he started looking again at CraigsList, at boring old gas-powered Toyotas and Hondas. He did show me a cherry picker that he thought was cool. Sunday night, when he told his dad about the electric car, the way he told the story was that he was a crazy person with a sensible girlfriend who helped him see the light. It was a pretty funny story.



Way back when, Josh's car, Gypsy, died. And I wrote an anguished blog post about how bittersweet it was to get rid of an old car. But just in time for the end of the entry, I came to the conclusion that it was okay to pass a beloved auto-friend to a new owner who would continue to use it. Well, we're several months down the road, and none of that stuff happened. We did not sell the car to Nick. Nor did we donate it to our local NPR station.

We donated a completely different car, a 1994 Honda Passport, to our local NPR station. I'm sorry, did I not mention that I had an additional disabled vehicle in my driveway? Gosh, I guess I assumed I was talking to regular folk here, all of whom have broken-down cars in their yards. That car was Josh's old old car, the one he drove until it stopped turning left. That was just a bad CV joint (look at me, talking about stuff like I know what it means), but the thing had gone for 240,000 miles. Due to some mysterious ailment within, it wore through belts every month or so. It's nice to think of ourselves in Honda commercials, talking about our old car that went a million miles and never let us down, but this car was done. Soon after its last left turn, I sold Gypsy to Josh. The Passport sat there, not doing much, for a couple of years. It's amazing how easy it is to get used to giant eyesores. Well, for me, anyway.

Finally, I caught Josh in the right kind of mood to extract permission to get rid of the Passport. And before he could change his mind, I registered online with the car donation people. The next step was to send in the title, which took a month because I dragged my feet about getting to the safe deposit box where we kept the title. But whatever, it got done and we immediately looked less like rednecks.

A couple of days before Nick was going to come get Gypsy, Josh had a change of heart. He had talked to a buddy of his who had rebuilt a Mazda, and he had decided that he was going to fix this car himself. Now, Josh has no experience with fixing cars. Nor did we really know what was wrong with Gypsy. I mean, we had a list of things that the AAA garage was going to try in order to fix it, but whether or not those were the issues was unknown. But that was fine, because Josh didn't know how to do those things anyway.

My Joshua is a sweet, sweet man. He's very talented and capable and smart. He has big ideas. He thinks he could do anything, and I don't dispute his ability, just that he would need to build a time machine first, because no one has the time to do all the things he wants to do. The reason that Honda Passport sat for so long is because Josh was determined to teach it to turn left again. But he was too busy with his job and his band and his poetry club and also his whiny girlfriend, who has very high snuggling needs.

Even knowing this, I said it was okay if he wanted to fix Gypsy himself. Does that make me supportive? Or just crazy?

So, a couple of months after Nick did not buy the car, we were still sharing the Fit, while Gypsy got sadder and sadder at the top of the driveway. It became a point of tension between us. He wanted to do it this way, I said fine, do it, and then he didn't do it. It was inconvenient for both of us to share the Fit. It was also aging her prematurely. I was frustrated with his apparent inactivity. For his part, he was trying to save up the money to get the parts. He would get a little bit saved up, and then something would happen (for example, a diamond ring).

He was also feeling less and less confident about his ability to fix her himself. So he would look at used cars on CraigsList, only to find that the ones in his price range looked a lot like Gypsy. Cars that could crap out at any minute or that might drive happily for another 50,000 miles. At least with the crappy old car we already had, we knew her history. Should he fix her? Pay someone else to fix her? Buy another used one? Not that he had the money to do any of those things, and oh yeah, his girlfriend, now fiancee, was on his back about it.

One morning, while Josh was driving me to work, he said, "Can you do me a favor?"

"Whatcha need?"

"Can you take care of Gypsy? I can't do it. I can't even think about it without getting all stressed out. I can't think about it anymore. I'll pay you back."

My first reaction was fury. Why should I have to do this, when you said you were going to do it months ago? Why did we have to go through months of sharing my car if you were just going to ask me to pay a mechanic to fix yours? You're a freaking adult, do it your own self.

I did not say these things. Instead, I thought about the holes in my house.

Several months ago, we discovered that we were housing some carpenter ants. Despite their name, they do not build anything. They just eat houses. We treated the outside of the house, but a couple of the boards in the siding would need to be replaced. The boards had even been removed, because they were barely hanging together, what with the little tunnels the ants had left in their trip through the house buffet. So for about six months, there had been two places on the outside of the house where there was no siding, just a couple of trash bags taped over holes.

I don't even know why they let people like us own anything at all. We are clearly unfit.

So I thought about the holes in my house and about how hard it is to be an adult. To get things done, to take care of your own mess all the time. That's why we pick teammates, so that we can help each other out.

"I'll fix Gypsy if you patch the siding on the house."


I fixed Gypsy. The thing that was wrong with her was completely different from what the AAA garage said. She also needed new tires and a realignment. All told, it was about $1300. The mechanic said she would need new brakes soon, too. But I said I was tired of spending money that day and declined the repair. Then I asked Josh if he thought brakes were something he could handle. He said yes, and he did it. He also patched the holes in the house with boards that did not quite match, but it's not that noticeable.

Car fixed? Check.
House patched? Check.
Sense of accomplishment for both parties? Check.

Yesterday, this happened.
I give up.


nerd camp.

Between my junior and senior year of high school, I went to nerd camp. It's a nice self-deprecating way of explaining Governor's School to those who don't already know about it. The long version is that GS is a six-week summer program for rising high school juniors and seniors, specifically the nerdy ones. Students stay at one of two college campuses where they attend classes. It was started as a way of giving students additional training to give the U.S. of A. an edge in the Cold War. While I was there, we speculated that the only reason to continue such a program after the fall of the Soviet Union was to breed a race of superbabies. But then again, we were seventeen years old, away from home, and surrounded by other nerds for the first time, so what we were thinking about doing was different than what the General Assembly of North Carolina wanted us there for.

Basically: nerd camp.

I hung out at the fish pond, which was a little landscaped area with benches and a tiny pool of water. There were no fish, but there were weirdos. I was not a weirdo, but I sure wanted to be, seeing as how I had never quite mastered being normal. I saw some kids with freaky haircuts and all-black clothes hanging out there, and so I sat there, too, reading a book, eavesdropping until there was an opening in the conversation for me to make a good joke. I was glad to find that they were pretty much just people and didn't mind that I was a square. At some point, I realized that having orange hair doesn't make you a cool person unless you are already a cool person, but by then I had met some actual cool people there, too. I don't know how or why these people started hanging out at the fish pond. Probably a silly reason just like rebellion or trying not to be a square. We were all trying to be something, rather than just being. We rejected labels by trying on new ones.

At GS, you have an area of concentration, creatively called Area I. That was the standard pick up line of the summer, too: Hey, what's your Area I? Not that you asked, but mine was Math. There were also Areas II and III, which were seminar classes, with discussions about ethics or philosophy. It was all to challenge us, first by making us think hard and then telling us there was no right answer.

Aside from all that, there were seminars, guest speakers, and performances, all outlined on weekly schedules printed on neon copier paper. Most of the them were optional, but during the opening assembly, we were told that you get out what you put in. Some of the performances were by students who had Area Is in the arts (visual art, music, dance). They were neat, and frequently bizarre to a left-brained individual as myself. It's possible that those classes were weird to those students, too, like my 3-dimensional geometry classes.

I don't remember a lot of things I went to, and I'm sure I've forgotten most of what I learned (except for the math, all of which I learned again in college). I don't think the point was to remember particular things. Some people say the point was to give us a questioning mind - trust nothing, question everything - but the spirit there was more light-hearted than that. They weren't trying to indoctrinate us so much as to disabuse us of the idea that we already knew everything. Hey, kid, shut your cocky mouth for a second and look at what is out there. The world is big and crazy.

Also, I met Josh there, next to the fish pond. So maybe that superbaby thing was more right than we knew.


just beyond nutty.

I ended the entry about making boutineers out of old hymnal pages by saying that my paper crafting could get ridiculous. In fact, it has. Actually, it went soaring on past ridiculous, bypassing preposterous, and landing just beyond nutty. Because once you start asking the internet about paper crafts, the internet will tell you more than you ever wanted to know. I kept finding different styles of paper flowers, and I kept making them.

Just think: if I had never gotten engaged, I would have never known that I am apparently really into paper crafts. Do we ever know ourselves at all?

It really wasn't a big step from deciding to make the boutineers to thinking, hey, might as well make the bouquets, too. And then Josh said that we should make all the flowers for the whole shebang. I thought he was crazy, because that just sounds like a recipe for origami-induced carpal tunnel syndrome. But as flowers piled up on my coffee table, it didn't seem so off the wall.

A friend went to a wedding and brought back a vase of paper flowers from the reception (my guests will be encouraged to take home souvenirs as well). While I was a little put out to find that I was not such a trendsetter, I consoled myself by the fact that my creations were way cooler. These flowers were made of tissue paper and plain white paper. I've seen them made out of crepe paper and coffee filters, too. You can do some neat things because of the properties of those materials, but I'm going to stick to making flowers out of paper that had a first life.

Besides the hymnal, I've since ripped up an atlas, a calculator instruction manual, a pictorial German language primer, a bunch of magazines, and a Betty and Veronica Double Digest. I have put aside any qualms about destroying books, because I am helping these discarded items have a new and unexpected destiny.

I love the way the page contents, be they words or pictures or international borders, become simple inkmarks on paper once it's all folded into another shape. On the page, our minds are trained to recognize and translate them into the information they are conveying. When they are presented as designs on flower petals, we notice the shapes and the colors that were there all along. It is familiar and unfamiliar all at once.

Okay, I'm probably overthinking all that. I just think it's neat, is all.