Friday, December 30

Friday Review: The Selected Works Of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

Basically what happens is that a twelve-year-old genius, T.S. Spivet, is obsessed with mapping the achingly ordinary world around him, until it stops being quite so ordinary – he wins a major scientific prize and has to decide whether to stay on the dry Montana ranch he calls home, or somehow travel two thousand miles across the country to claim his place among the scientists he so reveres. 

Guys, it was so good. If you missed my hints on the blog and twitter, here's how freakin' good it was:

TWO THUMBS UP KINDA GOOD! [Doing two thumbs up while holding heavy book: unsuccessful.]

You know what I loved? The experimentation with sidenotes and illustrations. I literally got this book because I saw it and went “Ooh! Pictures!” and I definitely wasn't disappointed. The little maps, sketches and graphs all add to the story and appeal to my incredibly short attention span. 

Almost every page has a little sketch leading from the text with a delightful dotty arrow.

Reading a sidenote, even at the very end, feels like you're unlocking a secret layer in the narrative. It creates an intimacy with the reader that isn't easy to come by in contemporary lit.

You know what could've been better? The language didn't strive to be childish at all, but there were glaring times when the voice was all “hello, I am an adult self-consciously writing from a child's point of view.” Luckily those moments were few and far between.

Another thing that irked me is the micro-story in the middle, which had its thematic appeal, but dragged on a bit too long. It was compelling at first, but I got through the whole thing only by devouring the side notes. There's also an annoying deus ex machina that pops up towards the end to iron over some dodgy plot points. But hey, this stuff is forgivable.

This isn't an action-packed story, but it's certainly a compelling one. Though T.S. is a little genius, he's far from cold, and there is a pervasive curiosity and clarity of vision that sticks with you after you've put the book down. What's most fascinating is the way he charts and maps his family – from the traumatic accident that killed his brother (this broke my heart a little bit, because it was never fully fleshed out, but constantly hinted at in the narrative) to the series of muscle contractions that make up his father's expressions. Larsen's also a kickass illustrator when he's not doing the whole measuring-and-charting thing, too.

One of my favourite pages, a swarm of sparrows.

Much of the book is set on a very long train ride, and it was described so well that I felt a little fatigued and motion sick whenever it was mentioned. I don't generally recommend books that make me sick, but there you go.

Too charming for words.

I loved it, not only for the rich, endearing story, but because it's so visually interesting I couldn't wait to turn each page. I could argue that the tangential structure hints at the way a genius' brain works, but to be honest it felt very natural and not at all contrived to prove some abstract literary point. It's a brief and intoxicating return to picture books mixed with the secret thrill of reading someone's journal and turning the page sideways to check what vital insight is squished along the margin. 

I wonder if Larsen designs tattoos? *pines*

I recently got a Kindle (yay!) but The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is exactly why I'll never stop buying print books. I may be downloading classics I'm not sure about, and new stuff that'd take ages to ship to S.A., but something as beautifully crafted as this book could never really live on a screen. It's meant to be held, the weight of it showing how much talent and hard work went into it.

Also, I cried at the end. SO YOU KNOW IT'S GOOD.

I give it a 4/5, or 8.2/10, or :) / 9000. Do pick it up if you get the chance!

Wednesday, December 28

20 Followers! Yay!

I'm so thrilled to say there are 20 beautiful people following this blog - only SOME of whom are related to me! -  and I want to say THANK YOU to every single one of you!

♥ Stas ♥ [Top Commenter! Top Sister!]
Lady Minya
Janet (aka MOM!)

Thank you all for reading, commenting, sharing, liking, skimming, bookmarking for later, hugging the screen (am I only one who does that?) and generally being awesome. I'm in perpetual awe that even one person wants to read my ramblings, let alone twenty! You guys rock!

These are my Blogger / Google Friend Connect followers - if you follow by email or RSS, I don't know about you! If you'd like a shout-out, leave your name and preferred colour+font combination in the comments!

Now everybody GROUP HUG!

Writing Wednesday! Extract from 'The Singing Diamond'

Clear. Something like birdsong, almost like a voice. The diamond sang and would always sing. 

Nobody knew how or why. 

They say it was found by a rogue traveller in the rainforest, who had walked past the trees and his eyes had been blazed with a beam so white and so strong he turned towards it. He marched out of magnetism he took for curiosity, and found it perched in a tree amongst birds of paradise. It was flawlessly cut and heavy as a pebble in his hand, and as it pressed against his palm he could have felt the tiny vibrations of the throatless voice, if he'd stopped to notice.

Many people stole it and sold it, and their lives felt quiet and cold when they let it go. 

It was a myth and a curiosity. The bloated aristocrat who owned it for twenty years and wore it in a pendant to every party (where she had to talk over it) held it in a room on the very farthest tip of her estate. She hated the sound and loathed wearing the damn thing, and even so far away she'd swear she could hear it, taunting her, interrupting the self-obsessed whirl of her thoughts with its lilting song. 

When the opportunity came to pass it on came, her greed gave way to her frustration. Her son's new wife, whom she hated only slightly more than the diamond, was suffering under the truth of the aristocrat's disapproval. The aristocrat saw the gorgeous opportunity to both appear vastly generous while making the new girl's life secretly miserable with this sparkling curse, and she gave the diamond to her daughter-in-law with manic flourish. 

As the aristocrat lay down in bed that night, knowing full well the damned thing was traveling further and further away in a padded box in her daughter-in-law's arms, she wept. Because she knew the diamond was gone, but she could still fucking hear it.

The Singing Diamond is a completed short story that I'm not sure is strong enough to put into my collection. It's hard to make a compelling story from the point of view of an inanimate object. It's gone through several edits and... I still don't know.

Monday, December 26

My Incredibly Generic New Year's Resolutions

My Christmas was lovely! Hope y'alls was too (that's a totally grammatically correct sentence.)

In this weird week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, the temptation to completely rehaul my life in one fell swoop is upon me. I love New Year's resolutions and make them every year, and they're always almost exactly the same as the year before.

So instead of trying to sound unique and special (to myself and to the internet), I'm going to embrace my vanilla-ass resolutions for what they are: completely generic. 

Enjoy my complete lack of originality!


1. Stop being lame and be awesome instead. Stop procrastinating. Be productive. Make lists of shit to do. Actually do aforementioned shit instead of feeling satiated by the existence of the list and never looking at it again.

2. Completely change my personality. Be nice. Don't be passive aggressive. Stop hating people who are better than me, for making me look bad. And stop hating people worse than me for being happy anyway, the selfish bastards. And stop hating people exactly the same as me in abilities and talents, because they're stealing my unique thunder. Bitches.

3. Spontaneously discover an untapped talent for athletics. Use workout gear instead of compulsively buying sports bras and hoarding them as if they appreciate in value.

4. Be cool, man. Stop being awkward. Google how to stop being awkward. Choose twitter handle which accurately describes me without using the word 'awkward.'

5. Get my shit together. Learn to drive. Maybe go to a hypnotist to dissociate killing people with driving.

6. Pimp my finances. Get bank balance up to four digits. Actually do things that make money instead of figuring that sort of stuff is for grownups.

7. Date someone who is real and not made up. Celebrities don't count. The other person has to know I exist, and be aware that I'm dating them. Harsh terms, I know.

8. Pretend I don't have deep-seated psychological issues around eating. Google “How to get Jenna Marbles' body in a week” and do whatever the article says, even if it's something ridiculous like three fudge sundaes a day (God I hope that's her secret.) Google bone shaving and organ reduction for weight loss. I hear meth helps?

9. Don't do meth. This one's easy because I'm sort of on a roll with that already. I've gone a whole lifetime without doing meth! Sometimes you've gotta give yourself a freebie in between ridiculously aspirational resolutions. 

10. Get enlightened and shit. Meditate for two hours a day. Don't judge. Don't judge myself for not meditating. At least it's on the list. 

11. Google how to do stuff that you put on lists.

12. Google how to stop being so dependent on Google.

Man, if I made all these changes, next year's list of resolutions would only contain one point: keep being awesome.  

That's the dream!

Friday, December 23

Friday Review: My Lame Day At Work

Friday's review day! This particular Friday is also the day before Christmas Eve (or the day before the day before Christmas Day, if you prefer), which means I'm working at my job which I totally love. Which also means I didn't get to finish the book I planned to review today (the enchanting The Selected Works Of T.S. Spivet,) nor the series which was my backup review option (the oddly engrossing anime Chihayafuru.)

But since it's review day and I'm nothing if not an obsessive blogger,* here's a review of My Lame Day At Work.

My level of enthusiasm.

Crowds: 3/10, because nobody knew we were open today.

Soul crushing: 8/10. Three people asked me who Humphrey Bogart was. One person told me my accent was weird, apparently believing this was new and valuable information to me. My second cup of coffee went cold. Trading was extended by two hours for absolutely no reason. My mp3 player's battery died. I wondered if you could really mail-order bazookas from ACME like Wile E. Coyote does.**

Sinus torture: 6/10. Dust + incense = suicidal sinuses (which would be an awesome name for a band. Give it up for the Suicidal Sinuses!)

Food: 7/10. Standards are pretty low here. I bought spring rolls and kept them down. Exciting times.

Music: -9000/10. A delicious medley of Afrikaans folk, the most arbitrary of Christmas songs (Christmas At Sea? Throw that track on repeat!) and covers of dance covers of 80's songs (you know what's better than some douchebag remixing I've Had The Time Of My Life? A random nobody making a cover of that remix with nothing but a casio keyboard, a handful of singing lessons and a heart full of dreams.)

Overall rating: :( /10.

At least tomorrow's my last working day of the year, and then I get to chill until 2012! And that's aaages away - hell, it's the end of time! Woo infinite holiday!

*For a contradictory view, see the catching up and I'm not dead tags.
**Fun fact: I always thought his name was Wiley Coyote. But turns out his middle initial's E. Go figure!

Wednesday, December 21

Writing Wednesday! Extract from 'Livestock'

Have a bite of my work-in-progress, Livestock, also known as Project: Stone Cold Bummer.

The manager pulled it from the factory cages and took it to the medical wing. 

The wing was huge, white and grey, usually reserved for quarantines. She didn't let anyone else look at it, not even to hose it down. She was smart that way. 

She washed it herself, then ran its barcode. A yearling – somewhere from twelve to fourteen. In that case, it was a runt.

She clapped in its face and it started. She tugged its hair, pinched its scrawny arm, and it squealed, backing away from her. 
She drew a pen from her pocket and threw it across the room; its clear blue eyes followed the ballpoint to rest.

Livestock don't do that. 

Something was very wrong.

Monday, December 19

Why I Love My Job

I work in a parking lot that's converted to a flea market every weekend. Jealous?

Lady in the green = my hero.

I sell replica paintings, framing and posters. I also plot the demise of nearly everyone I come into contact with. Since my job brings out almost unparalleled levels of misanthropy in me, I thought I might make a list of things I love about my job, so that when the prosecution finds it, they'll at least know that I tried.

Every example I'm using here is true. Apologies for the crappy cellphone photos. 

Kindly enjoy the seven whole reasons why I love my job...

1. I get to practice putting a positive spin on things.

See, when I'm setting up, my first reaction to this sight would be “GAH! There's a freakin' TOENAIL over there! Somebody's plastic-ass toenail fell off and GAAAAH!”

WT actual F.
But because this sort of thing happens so often, I'm quite adept at taking a deep, calming, non-murdery breath and looking on the bright side: “Well, at least it's a FAKE toenail.”

2. I get to show off my wealth of cinematic knowledge.

Let me tell you about the fourth guy, the bane of my existence. 

We sell cheesy framed posters of vintage stars: James Dean, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and.... some fourth guy.

Relax, he's just an extra. Get out of the shot, Phil!

Every weekend, some dumbass stands there and names the dead celebrities until he gets to the fourth guy. Then he waves me over, makes me put down my coffee, pull off my headphones, walk all the way across to the other side of the display, and watch him point his biltong-covered finger at the fourth guy.

Dumbass: Who's dis?
Me: That's Humphrey Bogart.
Dumbass: [stares at me blankly]
Me: Humphrey Bogart. From Casablanca.
Dumbass: O-o-oh! [pretends to click and know who that is] [walks away without another word.]

This happens a few times a day. I tried to remedy the situation, but to no avail.

This sign was removed by Management. But for the few moments it was up, I was at peace.
See, the people who ask about the fourth guy aren't interested in buying the poster. They're not even interested in who the fourth guy actually is. They're just killing time, and killing my soul while they're at it.

3. I get to practice Zen patience.

On the off-chance I actually get an opportunity to take a bathroom break, I have to go down a long corridor filled with happy customers. And let me tell you, when you're standing behind a herd of people who treat every step as slowly as a tai-chi move, and who're just obese enough to make slipping between them virtually impossible, it's a fantastic opportunity to ponder the meaning of existence.

On a related note, I get to improve my lung capacity by holding my breath in the public bathroom.

4. I get to perfect the art of saying NO.

Customer: Do you sell paintbrushes?
Me: No.

Customer: Can you make me a box frame out of glass and dreams?
Me: No.

Customer: Do you have this [poster of Cree Indian Prophecy] but with Jesus?
Me: No ma'am, Jesus doesn't plagiarize.

Customer: I don't have any money, but will you put this ridiculously popular and expensive painting under the table for me, because I feel like I might come back and buy it in the next decade or so.
Me: No.

Customer: I know someone's put down a deposit on this, but I'm an asshole and will pay you above marked price with cash right now, because I've got money and I assume that gives me the right to rip off strangers. You can just tell the person who's actually bought it that it was stolen, okay?
Me: No, asshole.

Enthusiastic Creepy Christian: Can I touch you?

5. I also get to perfect the art of saying YES. 

Customer: [pointing at poster] do you have this?
Me: [pointing at poster ] … This? … Yes, yes we do have the object you're pointing at. ...You see it too, right?

6. I get to expand my style horizons.

Right across from my stand is a lovely Chinese couple (I'm not being sarcastic, they really are lovely) who sell women's clothes. Most of their stuff is alright, and I've even bought some that was too cute or cheap to resist. But now and then they stock something like this...

You know what this'd look god with? Army print crocs!

  7. Also, Elvis' sex face.

Or maybe that microphone is just delicious.

But you know why I really love my job? Because I hate it so much, it makes me grateful for every moment I'm not there, which is most of the time. For five or six days a week I get to write, read, watch too much TV, tweet, squee, and not fear molestation by creepy Christians.

And that's pretty awesome.

*I am serious as fuck, this actually happened.

Friday, December 16

Poison - Five Sentence Fiction

Tiny little story, triggered by this prompt at Lillie McFerrin Writes.

The thin gold chain felt heavy on her neck, and she had already unscrewed the hollow pendant which held one dull brown tablet. Footsteps thundered up the stairs. The pill passed her lips, tasting of rubber as she placed it gingerly between her molars, hoping - she might not need it, they might not find her.

A boot thrust into the door of her bedroom, slamming it open.

She crushed the pill between her teeth.

Friday Review: No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

No spoilers here, safe to read!

Basically what happens is a regular guy stumbles across some deep shit in a drug deal gone wrong – he's got to find a way out of it with both the Sheriff of his town and a really, REALLY evil hitman on his tail.

If you don't feel like schlepping through this whole review, have a visual representation of my reaction to No Country For Old Men:

I liked this book!

...But it made me sad.

You know what the best bit was? The opening was gripping – I mean, a guy's hunting and suddenly comes across a field strewn with dead bodies, abandoned cars, a stash of heroine and a case full of MONEY. Shit son, I'm interested. I'm wondering what I would do in that situation and I'm eager to read on.

I also loved the interludes of the old Sheriff's inner monologues. These were refreshingly personal and engaging, compared to McCarthy's usual dry, direct style. Which I love almost a little too much on its own. 

The entire narrative was an honest, sad portrayal of moral degradation without being didactic. I still can't quite figure out how McCarthy did that. I think he's magic.

You know what pissed me off? This was one of those books where a simple statement of what fucking year it was would've really helped. I was so confused – this guy is a war veteran from Vietnam, okay, but he seems sorta old, so maybe it's the eighties, but maybe it's the seventies because his wife is nineteen, wait, no, is that a DeLorean I see over the horizon?

And another thing... When I was expecting a massive showdown at the crux of the novel, when the guy we're rooting for and the seemingly indestructible hitman stalking him finally go head-to-head, it just didn't happen. Instead I got a straight-faced account of the aftermath from the Sheriff's point of view. I felt like I got left at the altar, man. Lame.

In a way I can understand why McCarthy made that choice, but you can have all the highbrow literary aims you like, you still left your reader unsatisfied and that's the bottom line. Nevertheless,  that one anticlimax didn't ruin the book for me, because by then I was invested in the other characters. Overall the book ended on a poetic high note.

Quotable quote: When you've said that it's real and not just in your head I'm not all that sure what it is that you've said. (p. 299) I mean, how awesome is that? Layers, dude. Layers.

Should you read it? Sure! It's one of those books where even if you didn't like it, you still know it's good. While it didn't rock my world I'm definitely glad I read it, and I'm eager to reread it soon to play spot-the-foreshadowing.

Should I rate it? That's what reviewers do, right? Well I'd give it 4/5 or 7.8/10 , whichever you like. 

What'd you think of my new review format? I'll be putting up new reviews every Friday. Don't worry, there will still be deviations and snark, but luckily not everything's as bad as Divine: The Series

If you have suggestions for stuff I should review, let me know in the comments!

Thursday, December 15

The Perils of Second-Hand Books

First let me say I love second-hand books. They're conveniently sold at the place where I work, it's nice to support independent traders instead of bullying corporations, and best of all, they're cheap!

But like dating a divorced guy or taking in a stray cat, sometimes you're bound to run into the darker side of their damaged, worn and sometimes sticky past. There's always dog-ears and maybe a few water-warped pages, but now and then you find something annoying, something weird, or something... perilous.

The Scribbler

Often in textbooks or self-help stuff, the previous owner saw every page as a blank public-toilet wall just begging to be vandalized.

Geniuses use pencil, bitch.

Not only is this lameness shortsighted (yeah, because you'll own this book until you die and then it'll be buried with you) it's also just WRONG. Writing in a book is like recording your own commentary to a rented DVD. Nobody cares. Get a blog!

The Leperous Softcover

They're falling apart, so well-loved there's only sellotape and hope keeping them together. 

I can't believe this is second-hand.

You figure there's one more read in them and they're in the bargain bin anyway... but you find yourself compulsively checking that the page numbers match as you read, checking if anything's gone missing while the poor thing was raging against the dying of the light.

The Hidden Horror

Forget the plot, what's scariest about these books is the disturbingly anonymous materials found between the pages.


Most of the time, you don't even want to know what this is. Tea leaves? Unimpressive confetti? The last owner's dehydrated kidney? The answer would probably horrify you.

Suspicious Stains

The best you can hope for is that this was a fluid going into someone's body and not coming out of it.

That's... probably just orange juice.

Like the hidden horror, you're probably better off inventing a happy, non-gag-inducing tale about these marks than actually giving it a good think. You can't handle the truth.

The No Seriously WTF

The second-hand peril that inspired this entire post? HUMAN TEETH MARKS. 

Maybe the previous owner was a raging alcoholic.  Maybe they were trying to prove some obscure point about consumer culture. Maybe they lost a bet.

Maybe they just love the fibrous crunch of yellowing paper under their incisors.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, this book was in someone's mouth, and... They. Bit. Into. It. So hard that the marks persist months and probably years later. That's... just... excuse me while I scrub my hands with antiseptic.

Have you ever had to put a second-hand book down to take an emergency shower or preventative Listerine? Share your perilous – or marvelous – story in the comments!

Monday, December 12

Divine: The Series - A Snarky Review

This post contains spoilers for Divine: The Series*. You could read it cold but I'd love you to give the series a gander to see how scathingly accurate my review is. There are six twelve-minute episodes, linked below:
The One with the Magic Loaf of Bread
The One with the Evil Baby
The One where the Literal Fish is a Symbol for a Metaphorical Fish
The One with So Many Feelings
The One where Lady Gaga Makes Out with a Mascot
The One that’s Even More Confusing than the Last Five

Because I'm fair and wonderful and I don't want to burn in hell, I'm going to employ the sandwich-method approach to this review: positive-negative-positive.

With this bread I shall make the holy sandwich of criticism

Here are some good things about the series:
1. The lead actor, Guy Whose Name I've Yet To Google**, is naked for the duration of the first episode.
I'm okay with that.

2. Misha
3. Collins. 
4. Misha Collins plays a priest. Maybe because I wasn't raised religious, but there's something about that collar that just makes me want to... confess stuff. Granted, he doesn’t do much acting, because his character is in perpetual awe of everything, so he basically spends his days reacting…
This does not mean acting again.

Okay, are we happy so far? I'm not being horribly unfair and mean? Right, here's the negative stuff. Don't worry, there are only 8 points to get through.
1. There's a stone-faced self-flagellating superhero named Divine. Not an imposing name for a superhero. Well, not a traditional superhero, which he seems like. Could've worked for a cross-dressing superhero. In that case, it'd be great if his name was Divine! with an exclamation mark.
That would've made the series a lot more fun.

2. Blood. Lots of blood. Gooey blood. Blood makes us edgy! I’m not opposed to blood, but making someone bleed doesn’t automatically make me care about them. It just automatically makes me wonder what they use as a thickener for all that red dye.
3. Divine! has a 'sidekick' who's a hot Asian girl in a Catholic schoolgirl outfit, goth make-up, and coloured streaks in her hair, which is in fucking pigtails. I'm not entirely sure what her purpose is, because she can't climb a ladder, and can't fight anything the size of (or presumably bigger than) a baby.
It's okay, it was an evil baby.
3. In episode five, Divine saves a hooker (or doesn't save a hooker? It's so ambiguous! Loose ends make us deep!***) who's co-incidentally dressed up as Lady Gaga for Halloween. Well, that last bit's not exactly in the show, but it's the only way I can explain her outfit.

Just dance! Or pose.

The hooker is squirming in unnecessary ecstasy under a john, when she suddenly decides she's done hooking and wants to go back to school to fulfil her dream of being a nail technician. Probably. The fact that she rejects this evil dude before he attacks her is so problematic we don't even have time for it today. Let's just say that it's not enough that he's a demon beast thing and is therefore evil – no no, it's her asserting her right to choose what happens to her body that really pushes him over the edge.
4. In keeping with the Halloween theme, the perfectly normal guy MAGICALLY transforms into a guy wearing a crappy bull head. I assume he just put on the head because the full bull mascot costume gets him all sweaty when he beats up hookers. We just don't know.

Go Bulls!

Divine! saves the day and Asian girl crouches next to the victim, watching Divine get stabbed. She does absolutely nothing to assist, unless you count her continuing to be hot and Asian as doing something. 

5. These are just the action episodes. The poorly-thought-through talks-about-God episodes are even worse. My favourite part was when a curly-haired priest (not Misha Collins – boo) gives the old 'teach a man to fish' saying WHILE HOLDING A FISH. To REALLY bring that point home.

I had more sympathy for these fish than for any other character.

6. I almost liked a character once. There's a taxi driver who speaks probably more than all the other characters combined, and says some borderline amusing things. He generally doesn't have that ripe-for-parody serious!face everyone else does. Then he starts bleeding and mumbling in Latin and we never see him again.

Wait... what?

7. I get the sense that everybody thought the whole superhero + Christian mythology crossover was a great idea – but nobody felt the need to explore it or do something new and interesting with it.  There's a single moment where maybe a sticky issue is almost tackled. But then it's not. See, Curly Priest (the one who's not Misha Collins), while holding a fish, talks about how he feels guilty that a friend committed suicide because he (the friend) was gay. And Curly Priest couldn't help or support him, so now Curly Priest has angst. Unsurprisingly, this is all left open ended and Curly Priest doesn't actually say it's stupid to hate people because they're gay. He just cuts up fish and pouts. But whatever.

8. The whole series gives itself an air of gravity and importance that it doesn't earn through story development. Also, I hold a deep dislike for websites with light text on a black background. But now I'm just being difficult. Let's get the crusty top onto our review sandwich.

More good things! Continuing from the list above...

5. Um, it was free?  

6. Oh, I did like the Sin City-esque aesthetic they went for. Kinda feels like they ran out of money towards the Halloween episode. But the first few episodes look nice.  

7. The series was a public-funded project and apparently the supporters were really made to feel special and a part of the process. That's nice. 

8. Oh, did I mention Misha Collins as a priest? *scrolls up* damn it. But at least now I have as many good points as bad ones. Sandwich complete!

So that’s my – wow, very long – review of Divine. Overall, I’d recommend the series only if you have a snarky friend (or a companion blog post!) to watch it with.

For added fun, put some pictures of the cast into the Marie Claire Virtual Salon and see what they'd look like with Tyra Banks' hair, like I did with Dan Payne above. Sorry Dan, apparently we can't trust the Marie Claire robots to apply eyeshadow. But I still think you look divine.

*Not to be confused with Divine: the perfume, Divine: the gospel trio or Divine! The heartwarming TV movie about a gang of crazy kids that take their drag show from the convent to Vegas.
**Real name: Gregor Googlevitch. Ha, kidding... It’s Dan Payne. Which, coincidentally, is quite a heroic name.
***Or lazy. Or nearsighted in terms of story development. But probably deep.

Wednesday, December 7

The Worst Decision I've Ever Made

Let me tell you about my TESOL course – otherwise known as the worst decision I've ever made.

About five months ago, in July '11, I took a course in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. It was the first major decision I'd made by myself – I spent my own money (okay, maybe I borrowed a bit) and happily lay down ten grand to go through this one-month intensive course.

I thought it was going to give my life direction and purpose, set the tone for the next five to ten years of exploring the world and blessing everyone around me with the gift of English.

Yeah, that didn’t exactly work out.

When I interviewed for the course, I was told I was the perfect candidate. On paper, I was. I had a university degree and a year of tutoring experience. I wanted to go to Asia to teach tiny well-behaved Asian children and eat noodles. I love English – I say 'whom' and know what a semi-colon is for.

Ha. Guys, I'm also a very very VERY bad teacher.

Not bad in a good way.

First of all, it was an intensive course. One month, full-time, with homework and practicals. Shit, I'm getting stressed just thinking about it. I thought I worked well under pressure, but I was deeply, horribly mistaken. We had a pre-course assignment to hand in on the first day, and obviously I'd left it to the last minute and stayed up all night finishing the damn thing. I was all pressured out before I even showed up to class.

At first I thought I was doing alright – we learned fun stuff like what a Concept Check Question was. Apparently, saying 'Do you understand?' is some sort of blasphemy, because nobody's going to cut into your lesson and admit they don't know what's going on. A CCQ asks for content in response to your question, so instead of saying “You have five minutes. Do you understand?” You say, “How much time do you have?” and the bright sparks are all “FIVE MINUTES TEACHER!” In theory, anyway.

Next was the practicals. Keep in mind I was not only teaching arbitrary language rules for the first time in a real classroom, but my fellow trainer-teachers and a MODERATOR were at the back of the class FUCKING STARING AT ME AND TAKING NOTES.

It was a nightmare. I can only look back and laugh now because I was SO bad, the only reason they passed me was because technically I was doing some stuff right. I wrote up my lesson plans and printed out my flashcards, but as soon I stood up in front of the class, I was awful. My voice shook, I went too fast and then backtracked, I taught to the floor because I was terrified of my students, whose names I'd either forget or mess up.

They were an adult class of refugees from different parts of Africa, and our class had the least English of anyone in the program. They were a very intimidating bunch and the fact that my voice went up a few octaves every time I talked to them didn't exactly command respect.

Pro tip: when you're in charge of a room of people who mistrust you as an agent of oppression in their lives already so scarred with political and economic crises that they had to flee their homes, making them eternally bitter, DO NOT try to make them play broken telephone.

It will not cheer them up.

I used to think I could teach. I was a tutor in university and enjoyed it. I like saying clever things and hardly ever tire of my own voice. I had a particularly bright class as my very first tutoring experience, and I think they inflated this delusion that teaching was a skill of mine. I thought I did okay – their work improved over the course, and I even made them laugh a few times.

So when I applied for the TESOL course, I thought I was just going to nail it like Jesus to the cross. Oh, how very wrong I was. Every practical was like walking the plank and jumping into burning oil.  Two weeks in I actually broke down and wept in the middle of the after-class assessment. Yup, I was that girl, and it was not cute.

I learned that tutoring isn't teaching, really. A tutor's job is to build and expand on whatever's taught in lectures and maybe incorporate some general knowledge or useful anecdotes or theories. Teaching is a thousand times harder:
  • Imagine explaining the past perfect tense to someone who has  no concept of it in their first language.
  • Explain it using simple terms because they're hardly going to know what “x is relative to z” means.
  • Imagine them giving you the stinkeye while you're trying to explain it.
  • Don't forget to stress about sticking to the eighteen minute lesson plan - you just spent sixteen minutes on the bit you allocated three minutes to.
  • What's that sound in the deafening silence after you ask a question?
  • It's the moderator's pencil scribbling “YOU SUCK” across your little assessment paper.
Some of my good friends are studying to become teachers, and mad props to them. I just can't do it. I don't have the mojo.

It didn't help that I caught the 'flu halfway through the course, and you couldn't miss more than two days because the fascist pigs international moderators wouldn't stand for it. I powered through and by the end of the month, the 'flu had turned into bronchitis. The coughing fits from the bronchitis turned into a sprained chest wall muscle that made it painful to breath, laugh and sleep (my three favourite things) for two months after the infection cleared up.

Yeah, fuck TESOL.

I mean, don't get me wrong, the course I did was pretty high-quality and I learned a lot. The teachers were great and the moderators weren't even as evil as I make them sound. It's more their very presence that terrified me. Other people actually enjoyed the course. For me though, it was a perfect storm of totally-not-worth-it.

But you know what the best part about this whole shitty situation is? That it's over, and I'm alive. Yup. I spent all my money, killed a little bit of my soul, humiliated myself several times over, and got a qualification I'll probably never use.

And everything's fine now. I took my antibiotics, watched a lot of TV, and got over it.

I made a big decision and it turned out to be the wrong one, but that's okay. I didn't die of embarrassment and nobody arrested me for being broke as a joke. It's actually made me a little less afraid of taking risks, you know? And that's a good thing.

To more bad decisions!

Thursday, December 1

Blog Salad (now with added cats!)

You know how a Chef's salad is just leftovers mixed with mayo? Well, here's scraps of unposted bloggery, mixed with mayo. Blog mayo, that is: pictures of my cat.


A Quick Midnight Post

Okay, for realsies, how hard is it to find a line-by-line, amateurish-looking translation of a seemingly un-mind-blowing section of Beowulf online?

Impossible, apparently!

And now, on a totally separate note, I don't think I'll be going to my Medieval class tomorrow, because I've spent the last gajillion hours procrastinating and I'm too grumpy to translate this thing myself.

[Note: I'm pretty sure I didn't cheat on my Medieval Lit homework.... but I probably did. Just the once.]

You're Making A Scene

Quote of the day:

Maybe for once, someone will call me "Sir" without adding, "you're making a scene."
-Homer Simpson

I've never had someone call me Sir, not even on the phone. Usually when I answer the phone, the caller asks if my mommy or daddy is home. While you'd think I'd be a Miss, nobody calls me that either. Maybe South Africans don't say Miss or maybe I just don't look like one. What I do get now and then is Ma'am, usually by women older than I am who happen to be shop assistants.

I'm a shop assistant.

At least I would be if I had a shop.

[I wonder if this was going anywhere? To the shops, perhaps?]

More mayo.

 Portrait of the Artist as a Series of Pixels

I had a dream that I went back to Wits for Masters in Renaissance Poetry.

I'm pretty sure that qualifies as a nightmare. (For me, at least. After four years of studying it, I still fucking struggle to spell "Renaissance" right the first time.)

I've been thinking about graphic novels. Specifically, that graphic novels continue to be more widely published and read. Web comics are a huge contributor to the upwardly mobile trajectory of the medium (thus being taken a lot more "seriously" than, say, in the 80's). But there is comparatively sparse academic coverage of graphic novels as literature rather than simply an aspect of pop culture. We study movies as literature, so why not graphic novels?

I've just gotten hold of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, The Invisible Art and I'm really impressed with the depth of thought put into it. Also, it's a treatise on comics made in comic form - how freakin' cute is that?

Not as cute as this.
 Do you have scraps of half-written blog posts, stories and unsent tweets lying around? I'm so bad at finishing stuff. Would a novel-length story salad be too postmodern an attempt? It could be a comment on the short attention span of this media-soaked society. And everybody loves pictures of cats!

8 Awesome Quotes for Writers

I love quotes - those bite-sized, perfectly worded, honest and wise little things. They're like the cupcakes on the dessert menu of literature. 

Mmmm. Wisdom.

With NaNoWriMo over, I've clocked in my first win after 2 failed attempts in previous years, and these eight cupcakes (erm, I mean quotes) have given me the mental sugar-rush I needed to get through the toughest and most productive month of my writing life. Enjoy!

#8. It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give up because by that time I was too famous. - Peter Benchley (author of Jaws)

This sort of stuff always cheers me up because it reminds me that perseverance, not talent, is generally what makes people successful. I read somewhere that it takes the average actor ten years of work to become known, and most actors give up within one year of embarking on their careers. I'm sure it's the same, if not worse, for writers. It sounds depressing at first but it's actually very grounding – I may not be able to control how much inspiration visits me, but I can control my attitude and make sure I don't give up.

#7. Believe in yourself and there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe in you. - Oscar Wilde

This ties up to the point above, and although it may sound a touch trite and 'inspirational', my boy Ozzy knew what he was talking about. Although all artists crave external validation like sugar-coated crack, it's no substitute for believing in yourself – or, at the very least, believing in what you create.

#6. The best kind of writing, and the biggest thrill in writing, is to suddenly read a line from a typewriter that you didn't know was in you. - Larry L. King

I bet anyone who takes writing seriously has had at least one moment like that, and it's just swell. This quote is great to get you through the slow, painful days when it feels like you're wrenching words out of your stingy muse's mouth with blunt-nosed pliers. Gosh, that was a violent image. Sorry, my muse and I have a really dysfunctional relationship. Moving on...

#5. All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. - Walt Disney

This one's not strictly about writing, but it applies perfectly to the craft. Courage isn't a word I use often, but in this context it's not about slaying dragons so much as slaying the paper tigers of your own anxiety. There's nothing quite like saying “I want to be a writer” to inspire looks of pity at your na├»vety from everybody who's doing more sensible things with their lives. But in a world where you're constantly bombarded with other people's opinions, isn't it a small act of bravery to believe that your own insensible dreams can come true?

#4. How vain it is to sit down to write, when you have not stood up to live. - Henry David Thoreau

This little line means so much to me. And what's a quote collection without Thoreau? To me, this quote isn't so much about life experience (I've met 50-something 'writers' whose wooden prose made me weep) but about awareness. Presence of mind, presence of spirit, experiencing the immediacy of life instead of dismissing it with tired labels. There are too many writers, both amateur and professional, who depend on the linguistic and structural conventions of their genre to give their work validity, at the cost of letting their writing live on its own terms. Life isn't on the page, it's all around you. Stand up to live.

#3. Just write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before water starts to flow. - Louis L'amour

I've loved this quote for a long time, and my NaNo experience really proved its truth to me. It's amazing how you can meander pointlessly for a thousand words and then suddenly, out of the ether, the best stuff shows up. Mine is almost always fashionably late, but it's the life of the party and makes all the other words seem fun and interesting.

#2. The first draft of anything is shit. - Ernest Hemingway

This quote got me through NaNo because I have a really bitchy inner editor. I could easily spend an hour staring at the same line and rewriting it, until I eventually backspace it and wonder if it's too late to apply for a Master's degree in Not Writing. Letting the imperfect stuff stay on the page, at least for a while, is the best new habit I've learnt in November.

#1. Stories are found things... fossils in the ground. - Stephen King

This is the most important quote for me, because it points towards that fact that (for me at least) writing is an act of faith. You have to trust that the story will reveal itself to you if you just keep digging. It also implies that every story has a perfect, true form that you can strive towards, and that's comforting in this bullshit artistic realm where people keep telling me 'there are no right answers' – I don't believe that. Maybe there are no simple solutions, but there is truth. Why not strive towards it?

So those are my eight favourite cupquotes. What are your favourite quotes - about writing, cupcakes or anything in between? Share in the comments!