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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
JAN
23

Character Development...Meaning my Own

Because my cat likes to remind me that she doesn't get nearly enough face time on this blog. And because this is literally where she positions herself every time I get out my laptop to edit. Which I'm doing a lot lately as I prep my new manuscript. I thought I pretty much had it the way I wanted it but recently decided to make some changes to the final chapters that potentially affect the overall structure of the storyline. So now I'm needing to read through the whole thing several more times to figure out if it works. Which is all to say that my cat has really been having to fight with my computer for my attention. Not that she has anything to complain about. COVID has been the best year of her life. (I'm sure your pets would agree.)

I've softened somewhat over my years as a writer. I didn't think too much in the beginning about people's feelings, or about adjusting language (or removing certain stories altogether) based on how others might feel to read about themselves or my opinions and perceptions of them. Partly because I was never out to get anyone, so nothing I said really seemed that bad, and partly because telling the story I wanted to tell and being honest about my experiences was always the most important thing. Not to say that it still isn't, but I've had a bit of a change of heart when it comes to sharing certain things. And there have been several changes I've made in my last few manuscripts that I probably wouldn't have made ten years ago. Or even five. 

It becomes quite a balancing act then, to make sure I'm still preserving the intent of a certain storyline, as well as the tone by which I mean to convey it, while also minimizing the potential for negative reactions from those being (anonymously) mentioned. Don't get me wrong...this doesn't mean this new manuscript won't still ruffle some feathers if the right people give it a read (which, for the record, almost never happens with me being such a no-name author), all I'm saying is that I think about it more now. And I am, on occasion, willing to change or edit or cut if I can't quite bring myself to say something in particular. Like I said, I've softened ever so slightly. And I think it's important, at least it has been for me as I grow and develop as a person on this planet. Of course, none of this means anything to my cat, who is at this very moment staring at me and wondering when I'll stop typing and pet her. 

JAN
03

The Things You Keep

You're looking at the activity that perhaps took the largest percentage of my childhood: tying lanyards. Or, lanyard "lacing," as I so alliteratively called it on the small slips of paper with my name and phone number that I printed en masse to hand out to my friends. I also printed order forms, with blank spaces for things like the customer's name and the agreed upon price, as well as the selected colors and styles of pattern. So much about it appealed to me, in that it was something creative, something I could make with my hands, and something I could ultimately sell. A business, if you will. Complete with beads and hooks and a whole host of colored string options, it was all housed in a red, compartment-filled tin box.

I wouldn't necessarily have been able to recall how seriously I took my craft had it not been for the chance I had over Christmas to go through all the boxes of stuff I saved from my childhood. The boxes have been sitting in my parents' garage for decades, things from elementary school all the way up to through college. These are things like school papers, yearbooks, clothes, stuffed animals, collectible frogs from the years when I had a thing for collectible frogs, college textbooks, random vintage mugs picked up at thrift stores, etc. My main objective was to purge, to go through the boxes and decide what I wanted to keep vs. throw/give away, and what struck me as I sorted through everything was how delightful it was to be reminded of all these things that had once been important to me. The things I saved, the things I collected, the things I couldn't quite bring myself to part with. It's the memories they brought, of course, but also just the reminder of other phases of life. Things I had perhaps forgotten. Like how damn obsessed I was with those lanyards.

Is it sad that I ended up throwing or giving away probably 95% of everything in the boxes, including the lanyards? I think the answer you're looking for is yes. It's sad. It feels like my whole life just gone, with no way to now remember things like what my teachers said in the letters of recommendation they wrote for my scholarship applications or the songs my sister played at her violin recital or the note my co-star wrote on my program on the closing night of our high school performance of The Music Man. There's no way to remember them now, or to remind myself of them say ten, twenty, or thirty years from now when going through all the boxes again might have provided the same kind of delight. But the other side of coin, and one that cannot be ignored, is that I hadn't needed or really thought about anything in those boxes for, in most cases, decades. So what good was it doing me to have them sitting there, taking up space and collecting dust? What advantage would they serve at some future point in my life? It's this lens I used when considering each item, making it surprisingly easy to get rid of almost everything. It reminded me of moving to New York City several years ago, how I'd had to get rid of about 90% of what I owned in order to move to a tiny studio apartment. It was a similar decision process, in that only my favorite and most-used things were kept. I had to keep that filter in play or else I would get sad over parting with so much.

And so I'm focusing on the fact that the things I donated will hopefully find second, more useful lives with other people and families. I'm focusing on the memory of having gone through the boxes. After all, when I mentioned to the BF on the way back to the airport that I always pictured going through those boxes someday and them making me happy, he responded with, "And you got that. You got it today." It's sooner than I planned I guess, but he's right. I got that, and if happiness was the goal, then the whole endeavor was a complete success.

DEC
19

December is for Cookies

It's simply a fact that National Cookie Day hits us each December, giving a perfect opportunity to celebrate one of most delicious and fun types of treats. Once for National Cookie Day, I brought in a bunch of homemade sugar cookies of various sizes along with several frosting colors and sprinkles options and set them up in the middle of the department. You know, back when we could do things like gather in groups...and go to work. It made for one of the most enchanting work days I've ever had. There does seem to be something about cookies that makes people smile, and, perhaps, think about their childhoods. The ones pictured here are Swig copycats, my choice for this year's National Cookie Day. 

Cookies also remind me of my favorite weekend of the year, also in December, when a large group of family gathers to go caroling through town while delivering plates of cookies to each house. I mean, this is way more information than you ever needed about my holiday traditions, but we each bring various cookies to contribute to the plates, and then combine them into the final offerings, usually combinations of cookies, fudge, and chocolate truffles. There's always something satisfying about it, seeing what everyone brings and arranging the plates with the variety of goodies. Then something a little bit sad about watching the plates disappear throughout the night as we visit houses, knowing the caroling will be over when we run out of cookies. The fact that this caroling weekend isn't evening happening this year because of safety precautions amidst the pandemic is more than just a little bit sad. It is actually quite devastating. Which is why I'll probably be eating cookies tonight while we sing carols together over a Zoom call, our attempt at a virtual caroling event and the only chance to see many relatives this holiday season. 

I'll try not to eat too many cookies over my Christmas vacation, a time I need to devote to the final read-throughs of my new manuscript. It's a manuscript I'm handing in come January, and one that has caused me a fair amount of stress in recent weeks over whether or not to leave in certain details. It's a decision that's mine alone to make, and I'm sure you'll agree that any decision is easier to face with cookies. Make mine a whole plate, please. Merry Christmas!!

NOV
29

Give Thanks

In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I participated in the #givethanks challenge, the goal of which was to flood social media with a wave of gratitude. In many ways, it's harder to be grateful these days, especially now that we're into the holiday season and so many people's plans (mine included) to see family are having to be cancelled. I'm close with my family, and it's quite devastating for me to not be experiencing the traditions that have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. Plus, this all just sucks. All the staying home and lack of travel and events and activities, all the businesses that are closed (some even permanently), all the families affected by those who have lost their lives.

That said, there are always so many more things to be grateful for than to complain about, and I really enjoyed having a week to really think about those things. Everything from toilets and washers and dryers to family and friends to the body's ability to heal itself. Or how about the opportunity this year has given us to check in with our families more often, to spend more time with our pets, to become better cooks or bakers (or runners or gardeners). For me personally, I'm grateful for my job and the opportunity to have employment during this time, for the opportunity to have become educated, for a strong support circle including friends, family, and a kind and service-minded church community. 

And even though this one isn't as significant or important in the overall scheme of things, I thought a lot during the week about how grateful I am for books. I'm grateful that there are so many to choose from, and that there are writers who have such beautiful and inspiring ways of telling the stories of their lives. I tend to stick to non-fiction, and I love hearing stories--both beautiful and tragic--of real people who are experiencing aspects of real life, whether positive or negative. I'm grateful that I'm a good reader, in that I can read fast and (mostly) comprehend everything. I know reading is a struggle for some, and others never got the chance to learn to read at all. Which makes me even more grateful that it's something I can do and enjoy on a daily basis. 

I know the Thanksgiving season is now over, but if you're looking for a way to immediately feel better about yourself or your circumstances, take the #givethanks challenge yourself and post daily for a week about things you're grateful. Or simply make a list and refer to it often. It's a fact that people who list the things they are grateful are happier, and I think we can all use more happy, this year and always.

NOV
12

When You Want Shortbread

When I went to Scotland a few years ago, I had this little shortbread shop on my list of places to go while in Edinburgh. It's certainly not what I would call a tourist destination, and in a city full of museums and castles (and Arthur's Seat, for crying out loud), it may seem strange that this was such a must-see. It would seem less strange if you knew how much I love shortbread--I just have to sort of ignore the fact that it's pretty much straight butter--but still, one might say an odd choice. I did those other things too, the museums and castles and even Arthur's Seat, but perhaps my favorite moment of the entire trip, at least the one I kept trying to re-create as I continued exploring the handful of Scottish cities I'd chosen to visit, was when I opened the door to Pinnies & Poppy Seeds Artisan Shortbread Shop and stepped inside. To this day, and for the rest of my life, I will never have smelled anything so delicious. 

I was late to the game when it comes to international travel, something I didn't start doing until later than most, but that I was able to do consistently in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. My goal was to keep the trend going and take one big, foreign trip every year, a plan that was of course foiled by this blasted pandemic. While I want to make clear that the most tragic aspect of COVID-19 is the lives that have been lost and the grief and suffering endured by those who have felt those losses most dearly, for those of us fortunate enough to only be dealing with the side effects of quarantine and lock-down, one of the saddest things I've witnessed is a general abandonment of our various shortbreads. We all have those things and places that speak to us, that compel us to try, to visit, to see, to achieve. It's not just that the pandemic can make a person feel like these things are no longer attainable, it's that they are in many cases actually no longer attainable. Worse, it can make a person feel foolish for even thinking such a pursuit was realistic in the first place. I have listened to the tears of friends and family who worry their windows have closed, and, in some cases, don't have it in them to try again. To the world I say, is there to be no more shortbread???

My own opinion on the matter is that shortbread is not over. It may be changed or different. It will certainly be delayed. But it is not gone. On good days, you can even convince me that my quest to visit the shortbread store would have been no less noble had I arrived to find the door locked, the store closed. On bad days, such a thought breaks my little angel cake heart, but let's focus on the good days. Let's remember that things will get better and that if we had the courage and gumption to pursue a thing once, surely we can summon the courage and gumption to pursue it again. Or even again after that. And for those whose windows truly have closed with this pandemic, do not for one second think yourself foolish for trying. Trying already sets you apart from those who assumed it impossible from the start. The effort is success already, see?

This is not to say that I'm immune to the pandemic blues, because they damn near paralyze me sometimes. I found myself looking up the Pinnies & Poppy Seeds website today just to cheer myself up, only to find that they have had to close their store. A reminder if ever there was one of all the dashed dreams, ruined fortunes, and overall melancholy that has seemingly enveloped the world. I'm glad I have the memory, is something I suppose I could tell myself. The memory not just of that initial inhale inside the door, but also of selecting the flavors I wanted to buy, of watching my selections be placed in a small box and tied with string, of schlepping the box around a beautiful new country, and of curling up in a different hotel room each night with a cup of steaming tea and a piece of shortbread. Yes, I'm glad I have the memories, but if you want to know a secret, without the shortbread store, I'm fairly certain the trip would have been just as amazing. I know that's hard to believe when all you want is shortbread, but in times like these, let's do our best to re-imagine what shortbread can be. 

 

OCT
24

Life Without Schitt's Creek

This may be the first time I've finished a series and immediately considered just starting it all over again. Because it's just a little too painful to consider that there won't be any more Schitt's Creek to watch. And in a time where all the world is watching WAY MORE TV than ever before thanks to, well, a lack of other choices, I've certainly discovered some gems. Breaking Bad, The Good Place, and others have proved to be gripping, innovative, and delightfully endearing. Yet no show has moved or entertained me more than this one. In trying to pinpoint why that is (these are the types of things that writers, particularly writers in a pandemic, are wont to do), here are the top three reasons.

The Humor. One could argue it may not be EVERYONE'S kind of humor, and yet I can't imagine getting along with any person who doesn't find it funny. And it's a clever, understated humor, made even better by the lack of audience and the speed and subtlety with which it comes at you. It's a kind of humor not based on people telling jokes or saying funny things, but more about the actual situations the characters get into. And they get into a lot, considering the Rose family is thrust into this "normal" life having never before experienced anything like it. Their reactions, to pretty much everything (and David's facial expressions), are priceless. And Moira filming that winery commercial? Tears. From laughter. 

The characters are so comfortable being themselves but are also willing to change and grow. Moira herself is a bit of a freak show, but she's so unapologetic about it. David, too, beats to his own drum (those outfits!!), but it's just not a thing. It's never really talked about nor does it need acknowledging, because it just is. And the audience gets that and embraces it. I wish I saw more of that, both in myself and pretty much everyone I know, this ability to simply be ourselves. Because who else is there for us to be, anyway? All the characters from the town are equally themselves, and though a bit odd for it, they still shine bright for doing what they know and for supporting each other and the transplant Rose family. All that said, you still see so much growth from the characters as they learn things about themselves, as they push past struggles and limitations, as they find purpose. Stevie's storyline was particularly compelling to me, her quest to find out not just what she wanted to do with her life, but also her recognition of the need to push her own limits. Her Cabaret performance was one of my favorite moments in the entire series. That "Maybe This Time" number? Tears. From inspiration.

The positive family relationships. It takes some time to get there, of course, but at the end of the day, what I loved most about this show was that it was about a family coming together and growing closer. Not really because they chose to, and I get that, but a bi-product of all that time living together in the Rosebud Motel was that they rediscovered what they had in each other. One of my biggest frustrations with TV shows that depict family life is that the families are so rarely portrayed as having positive relationships. There's so much fighting and bickering, so many jokes about marriage being sucky, parents not making an effort with their kids, kids taking advantage of their parents. Not to say those things don't happen even in the best of families, but there were so many sweet storylines in this show that depicted this family--with already-grown children, I might add--genuinely enjoying and wanting the best for each other. To the point that when Alexis points out as the show comes to a close that she's really going to miss being together, being able to pop over and just see her family, it feels like an actual ache in your heart. Tears. From sadness over there being no more.

 

OCT
03

Vintage October

Somehow I managed to go the entire month of September without blogging, so I'll just catch you up by saying it included a resort getaway in 120 degree weather, an attempt at golfing, an expansion of my super amazing herb garden (pesto on the menu this week!), an almost full return to my pre-injury running distance, and, of course, about a million read-throughs of the new manuscript. And by a million I mean like 4. But still. It does become rather easy to become so fatigued with your own writing that you're pretty convinced that it's terrible.

Editing really is an interesting process. I find as I get older and write more books that it does get easier to cut things out if they don't need to be there or if they make the story worse. Certain stories I've fought for in the past, sure they were good enough to include, or maybe it's just I really wanted to tell them, whether or not they fit. Certain stories it took my editor recommending I scrap them for me to realize that them fitting is more important than how attached to them I am. Sort of like the time I moved to New York and had to get rid of almost all of my possessions, in that once you make up your mind that only the best most favorite things can be kept, it becomes relatively easy to part with everything else. If I've learned anything about life, it's how little you actually need.

And now it's October, and for the first time (thanks to my sister), I put up Halloween decorations! I've got a great costume in the works and some pumpkin spice muffins ready to roll as soon as this California heat dies down a bit and I can use my sorry excuse for an oven without fraculating the entire house. Fall does make me pine for New York, and for Cleveland before it. Fall is just the best, and sometimes it seems like it would even be worth putting up with snow again for. (I know, I sound crazy.) But really, there's nothing like fall in Ohio, if you can just get past all the Ohio State crap in people's yards. I hope that however you're celebrating fall and Halloween this month, that you take a moment to reflect on simpler times and years. This picture was a nice reminder of such a time for me. There have been and will be better times for all of us, and at the very least, there will be another of my books to read in 2021! 

AUG
30

Re-arranging

Sometimes it's hard to know whether you like something so much because you get used to it the way it is or because it's actually good. It's a quandary I find myself in after finishing a manuscript, because there's usually an initial order in which I write and organize my stories. And I do get used to them being in this order, to the point that it can be hard for me to tell if they would be better if I changed some of them up, switch their orders, etc. Or more specifically, it's hard for me to actually move them, even if I do think they would be better in a different chapter.

Most of my books I don't write in order. I simply pick a story that sounds good to me in that moment and write it. Then I pick another one. I don't really think about order or sequence until all the stories are written. This is, I believe, the first time I've ever written a book in the actual chronological order in which it will appear in the book. As such, when I laid out all the stories (with this super sophisticated process of writing their key words on pieces of cut up printer paper), I didn't find as many things to move around, because they were pretty much where I wanted them to be. I only moved two stories after laying this all out, and, if I'm being honest, I've already moved both of them back to where they were. Again, it's like, is this just because I'm used to it that way or because it really is better? 

There are two additional stories that I feel *could* potentially be moved somewhere else, but I can't find anywhere that I feel their placement would be better than where it is now. So I'm inclined to leave them where they are. Which would make this the first time that I really did just write a book from start to finish in exactly the order in which everything will read in the final version. Something about that feels...cool? Neat? Interesting? Just me? OK.

I've probably mentioned that this is a book about work, and it's also the first time that I've finished a book and then had to write an epilogue because events happened that sort of affected the ending. Then more events happened and I had to edit the epilogue. Seriously, it's been just about the weirdest couple of weeks at work that I've ever had. Talk about re-arranging! Who knows what the ending will be by the time this thing actually comes out?? Stick around and see...hopefully summer/fall of 2021.

AUG
04

When you want a Mint Julep

It wasn't just that, though. It's not that I even wanted a mint julep. I wanted a Disneyland mint julep--the super sweet, non-alcoholic beverage purchased in New Orleans Square and accompanied by a bag of warm beignets. One could argue that the mint julep really had nothing to do with it, that really I just wanted to go to Disneyland. Or, more to the point, I want a world in which we can go to Disneyland, and anytime we want. It's an escape that I count on regularly, and I know it's a first world problem, but I miss it.

I've actually attempted multiple copycat Disneyland treat recipes while in quarantine, and what they all have in common, including the mint juleps, is that they taste nothing like the real thing. This could, of course, just be a product of my kitchen skills (when the BF recently told me a meal I had cooked was in his top 5 of things that I make and I asked him what else is on the list, he couldn't think of anything), it's probably because nothing short of being there is going to taste at all like the real thing. And there are so many real things, beyond just Disneyland, that I miss terribly. 

I do feel the need to point out that all the mint used to make my mint juleps was grown from my very own herb garden, something I doubt I would have attempted outside of quarantine. And I feared my gardening skills were akin to my kitchen skills when my first attempt yielded nothing but a single tiny sprig of cilantro--a sprig that was eaten by a bird just when it had begun to look promising. My second attempt has flourished, and I'm taking a rather unusual amount of pride in harvesting my own basil to make homemade pesto (which, yes, is actually something I have now done) and snipping cilantro to put in my soups. 

I also used quarantine to start running for the first time in my life. As in I have never been a runner. Ever. It looks awful to me and always has, yet I'm such a sucker for the idea of working toward and finishing a race. As surely the only person on earth who cried at the end of Brittany Runs a Marathon, I figured it was worth a shot. (Running, that is.) And although every run confirms to me that it doesn't just look awful, it IS awful, there is satisfaction in doing something that is hard, something that is new, and something that can be improved upon over time. I was surprised in the progress I made in just 6 weeks, and even more surprised still that 6 weeks is all it took to develop a debilitating case of pes anserine tendonitis. So it may take another 6 weeks before I can so much as take a walk, but what, really, could I have done? Besides maybe learn that I am incredibly over-pronated and gotten the appropriate amount of stability before beginning a running regimen. But that's neither here nor there.

In short, I'm finding small joys in new areas, and on most days, that feels like a win. I've also been savoring the experience of finishing my new manuscript. When last I wrote, I claimed I was really going to slow down, so as to more effectively savor the writing process. Right. I totally finished it. More on that later. For now, it's time to water the herbs and ice my knee. Just another day in quarantine.

 

 

 

JUL
13

Scene Stealer...and a Book Update

This is, of course, a shot of my cat stealing the show during my reading for the San Diego Public Library website. She did it almost the whole time, turning around, stretching out, turning back around, and while I probably should have just re-shot the video, I went with it. Because this is real life people. We are at home, quarantined with our pets. I do think it was a fun idea the library had, to do these story time videos with authors reading from their own books, and if you are at all inclined to look through them, definitely do it. They are pretty easy to find once you get to the website.

In other quarantine news, I continue to write my new book at record pace. I'm 80% done if this one turns out to be the length that 3 of my first 4 books have been. I suspect it will finish a bit longer, which I guess technically means I'm less than 80% done, but the point is, most of the book is written, which is crazy. I feel like Newbie just came out. It's also a little bit sad, because the writing is my favorite part. Once that's over and I switch into editing mode, I lose the biggest part of the creative process. And then I miss it. So I think I might stretch out this last 20% of the manuscript writing and really savor every word. These days, anything that can be savored seems like just the ticket.

JUN
21

On The Road Again

It's been over twenty years since, as a high schooler, I set foot on the campus where I would eventually attend college. I was attending a summer honors program that accepted 25 high-schoolers across the country and gave them the chance to get some early college credits. I still think of this small farming town fondly, and last week I got the chance to visit. The college has since expanded into a full-fledged university, and the way this little town has grown and flourished was exciting to see. Of course, the sentimental side of me always pines for the way things used to be, and sometimes change in any form, even positive change, can seem, well, kind of sad. The dorm I lived in, for example, has been torn down and replaced by a parking lot. The pie shop where I celebrated my 19th birthday has closed. The green hillsides are covered with new apartments and condos, distracting from the purity of the view.

This visit was part of a 5-state road trip that seemed appealing after so many months of staying at home. With my co-pilot handling navigation, music, and snacks, we set out to see some different slices of earth as a way to remind ourselves of just how much there is outside of our own small corner of the world. The ultimate prize was a brief 24 hours spent in the company of some of my family, but the majority of the trip was driving, and in some ways, it's simply amazing how varied the terrain gets within just a few hours of the places where we live. Mountains, desert, and ridiculously hot weather. Each night spent somewhere new, each morning a different granola bar or piece of fruit handed over from a front-desk hotel worker. There's something peaceful about being on the road, being temporarily attached to nowhere, and despite the exhaustion of several days of driving, the less than stellar hotel beds and pillows, and the digestive distress that comes from eating foods you wouldn't normally be eating (just me?), arriving back home has felt, for lack of a better term, somewhat boring. I suppose that's the power of the open road, of not knowing what exactly you'll find just beyond that next mountain.

JUN
07

Reading Your Work

I recently did an interesting thing. I read through all my books. Since I've only recently become a Kindle user, I'd never before read them on Kindle. So I decided it might be interesting thing to see what they all look like, what the experience is like reading them electronically. There are small annoyances, like having to either click forward to see footnotes and then click back, or waiting until the end of the chapter to see them, at which point you forget what they were supposed to apply to in the first place. But, as I've previously mentioned, reading books on Kindle is, well, kinda nice. 

The oddest thing about reading your own books is that there are parts you don't remember putting in there. There are events and experiences you may have forgotten, or at least forgotten how exactly it is that they went down. And for my first book especially, granted I wrote it over ten years ago, the writing struck me as...not great. Or at the very least, it made me wish I could re-write it now. Of course, that book more than any other deals with childhood and adolescence, and the more simple writing style was to some extent what I was going for.

This is all to say that the most striking thing about reading all my books, in order and back to back, is how much better the writing gets. My editor mentioned this to me after reading the Newbie manuscript, but until reading them all myself this past week, I hadn't really understood what she meant. Part of me is a tad embarassed over this, when it comes to the older books not being as polished as perhaps they could be, but it also makes me proud to see the progress I've made as a writer. Besides, everyone has to start somewhere, right? I can only hope that I continue to improve over time. Now 60% done with manuscript #5, I'm certainly getting lots of practice!

MAY
15

Reopening: Beaches Edition

It's an interesting thing living at the beach when all the beaches are closed. Though for the best, it's part eerie and part sad to look out over the coastline and see not a single person on the beach or in the water. Of course, the headline here in California has been that the beaches have begun to reopen. Well, they opened, then closed after opening day saw crowds blatantly ignoring social distancing precautions, and now have reopened again. 

In my own corner of the coast, I confess it's nice to see people back on the beach, and so far the crowds have been light. You can't sit or gather or "hang out," you've pretty much got to keep it moving (ie. surfing, walking, and running), which I'm sure is contributing to the low turnouts thus far. We'll see how things change as summer arrives, but it's nice to have the beach back as a possibility, if only as an alternate route for my daily walk.

Other ways I pass the time include attempting copy-cat recipes for Disneyland treats (the withdrawal struggle is real, folks) and plugging away on my new manuscript, which is now more than 40% done. It's certainly not ALL bad, staying at home, but I'm definitely looking forward to more things reopening. Particularly my waxing salon (that struggle is especially real). I'd love to look out over a crowded beach and instead of worry over the potential spread of a virus simply think to myself that it's just summer. 

APR
25

The Argument for Kindle

Honestly, I never wanted one. I've never had any interest in giving up the reading of actual books. Holding them in my hands and turning the pages and hefting them with me on planes and keeping them stacked on my bedside table. I also never wanted to give up the library, and having reason to go there and select my next book. I've really never even considered getting a Kindle.

Had I not been gifted one for my recent birthday, I would have continued to stick to my guns on this, but the fact that the libraries are closed has put me in a bit of a reading pickle. In that my only option really is to use the Kindle. So I'm now in this, if a bit begrudgingly, and felt the need to just sum up how a non-Kindle user (a real book preferer) feels after having begun using a Kindle.

In short, I don't hate it. And I sort of hate that I don't hate it.

Benefits include: having immediate access to pretty much any book, how small and light and easy to transport it is, that you don't have to shine a light on it at night in order to see what you're reading.

Things I find annoying include: being limited to only seeing a couple of paragraphs at a time, having to pay money to read books as opposed to getting them for free at the library.

I still feel like my preferred method of reading is to have an actual book in my hand, and maybe I'll always feel that way. But that said, I am surprised by how much I do enjoy using the Kindle, and once libraries open back up, I can see myself still sometimes forgoing the books on my nightstand and instead choosing to swipe open the Kindle. But only sometimes.

APR
14

Quarantine Cats

This post communicates so much. That I've devolved into a near constant wearing of sweats and padding around the house in my socks. That my cat continues to live her best life. That I'm reading much more than usual. That I am indeed a gem. And that my single 10-pound weight means that I am obviously very strong.

What it doesn't so much communicate but what is absolutely true is that I am now more than 20% done with my new manuscript. My new book!! It continues to be a fun project to work on...since there are literally no other options. I may finish this one in record time. 

MAR
30

Quarantine Silver Linings

In a world where working from home has become the new norm, headlines are grim, and fear and anxiety reign supreme, it can be difficult to stay positive. And when we do manage to shift our mindset, feeling positive can feel, well, a bit inappropriate knowing there are so many out there who are suffering. But striving to stay positive has to be a part of our daily routine, and I for one have started to really focus on the small, happy things that are coming from this otherwise awful situation.

The writer in me is grateful for the extra writing time I'm getting. I've started working on my next book, my FIFTH (yikes!!), and I'm really enjoying the process. I know I'm totally biased, but I really think writing is one of the best creative outlets, and given how much extra time everyone is getting at home, if you're a person at all inclined to write, to wax prolific on any number of topics or plots, then open those blank Word documents and start typing!

The employee in me is grateful to still be working, and that, at least for now, my job is one that I can do from home. I know many are not so fortunate, and even though it's a tad boring and my house is super tiny, having the ability to work here is a huge blessing and I feel that every day.

The reader in me is grateful that Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is the book I got stuck with before all the libraries closed. I had been waiting for my turn for months, and it is one of the best books I've read in years.

The partner in me is grateful to have a significant other who is so technologically savvy, and who has set me up with a functioning work station and is so quick to help with anything I can't figure out. He's even gifted me a Kindle as an early birthday present so I can continue to have reading material. (More on the Kindle in another post. I have thoughts.)

The pet parent in me is grateful that my cat is so damn happy to have me home.

The daughter/aunt/sister in me is grateful that my family has been so much more connected. We've been using FaceTime and Google Duo, and even though we're ALWAYS apart, we've really not been leveraging these options until now. On Friday night alone, we talked with each of my siblings, and over the weekend I got to participate in some virtual game time with my nephews and watch my new baby niece shake her little fists. It delights me to see all the family time everyone is getting.

The consumer in me is grateful for Amazon workers who still deliver packages, to store clerks restocking the shelves, restaurateurs still cooking food for takeout, and producers still releasing binge-worthy content.

Most of all, the human in me is grateful for the doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly to help and treat those who are battling this virus. I'm not sure I'll be able to say at the end of this that neither me nor anyone I love got sick, and that's a terrifying thought, for all of us, but let's do what we can to foster positivity and be grateful for every little thing.

MAR
07

The Purest Kind of Diamond

What you see here is a picture of my diamond going through a deep UV test in a diamond grading laboratory. In this kind of heavy UV, all diamonds will fluoresce blue, and I just think the whole thing is so beautiful. Remember that I'm not just an author, I'm a gemologist. (See my second book, Jeweled, for lots of stories about jewelry, and my fourth book, Newbie, for stories about studying gems in New York City.)

There's a relatively new device my company sells that is designed to detect natural diamonds. With the increase of laboratory-grown diamonds in the marketplace, it's become almost a necessity for these kinds of devices that can identify stones that may be lab-grown, or even something different from a diamond altogether. And it's always bothered me that my diamond doesn't pass on our device. Of course, we sell the device with the caveat that there is a very rare type of diamond that will not pass, so I knew this was a possibilty. But given the rarity of such diamonds, I figured the odds of my diamond being one of these were pretty small. So it bothered me. Like, why wouldn't my diamond pass? Was it laboratory-grown?

I get asked a lot about my opinion on laboratory-grown diamonds. It's not an entirely specific question. I mean, are they real? Absolutely. Chemically identical to natural diamonds? Yes. Should consumers have the option? Certainly. Would I ever want one? No. Because the whole reason why I became a gemologist, why all things gem are so fascinating to me, is because it takes a whole host of certain conditions and elements in order for gems to form. They each need different things, and when those conditions are right and those elements are present, they will form, imperfectly, over a long period of time. It's such a romantic notion, certainly much more so than enormous warehouses that create these conditions and essentially stack the deck. What kind of story is that? I don't even buy that it's more friendly to the earth, especially given how much energy these warehouses use to produce the diamonds. But, again, this is my own opinion, and the reason why it bothered me so much that my diamond didn't pass on our device.

The great thing about being a part of this industry is that instead of wonder about it, I could get the facts. I had my diamond's lab report looked up, and based on all the additional tests that labs run on diamonds which don't show up on the actual reports, I learned that my diamond IS in fact one of the rare 1% of D-Z colorless diamonds that contain no traces of nitrogen or boron and so will not pass on our diamond tester. It's not so much my diamond's rarity that delights me. I consider them all to be rare and beautiful and precious. I think it's more that these things can be determined in the first place. That we can figure them out. There's so much we can learn about gems, the way they form, and the places they form, and doesn't it fill you will just a little bit of relief that there are people out there who find delight in such an unusual, specific thing? It doesn't? I guess just me then. I can live with that.

FEB
15

Back in the Saddle

I always give myself a nice long writing break after a book comes out. It's relaxing. So much so that when I start thinking about starting the next book, it makes me feel a bit stressed. Like, am I ready for that? Do I want to do that? Do I really want to do that? And so I stall. Until I can talk myself into putting my big girl writer pants back on and getting on with it.

Which is my way of saying that I have officially gotten on with it and begun a new book. I'm only a few thousand words in, but it's been a delicious reminder of how much I really do love writing. It's not a chore (aside from actually finding the time to do it), and each topic gives me the chance to delve into a different chapter of life and remember what it was like. This one I am particularly enjoying, but for a completely different reason than why I enjoyed writing Newbie so much. 

This book is not without risk, which is something I'll have to evaluate as I get further into it, but for now, I think there's a way I can write it and keep myself out of trouble. One can only hope.

JAN
26

How a Writer Measures Time

I have this thing I do, where if I buy something in bulk, I try and calculate the amount of time it will take before I need to buy it again. Then I picture what life might be like at that time; what might have happened in my life by then. And please understand that when I say I picture it, I really do. I spend moments of time waxing pensive over all the different possibilities, the different versions of life that may have played out.

For illustration's sake, let's take q-tips. I buy them in bulk at Costco, 3 packs each containing 625 q-tips. This is 1875 q-tips, which at my normal rate of using 2 q-tips per day, means that they will last 937 days. For those keeping track at home, that is two-and-a-half years. And what will my life be like then? What things will have happened (or not)? Will I be in this relationship? Will I be in another? Will I be at this company, in this house, in this city, this state? Will I be healthy? Will my cat? I'm finishing one of these bulk packs right now, getting ready for the new one, which means nearly two-and-a-half years ago I had this same internal conversation, wondering what my life would be like at this point. It's not exactly that I make goals and measure myself against them. I don't even remember what I had even thought back then, if I had particular hopes for this moment. I can say that my life is certainly different in a few ways, and in many more it is the same. I suppose it's the unknown of it all that has me once again envisioning what another two-and-a-half years might look like.

It reminds me of a recent This American Life podcast where Ira Glass and team were exploring the idea of alternate universes. It's a topic that will probably get any writer waxing pensive, because this whole idea of all the other ways life could have turned out based on different decisions made is almost paralyzing fascinating. It's the Sliding Doors principle (that Gwyneth Paltrow movie where two different versions of her life are played out based only on whether she makes a particular train one night or if she doesn't), where something so simple can change the course of a life. I went to graduate school with a girl who, after graduation, treated herself to a trip to Europe where she met a man after getting on the wrong train. The wrong train! They married and have four children, but what if she hadn't gotten on that wrong train? What if she'd found the correct train? 

Some physicists believe that for every decision we make, there is an alternate universe that exists in which we make the opposite decision. I'd give anything to take a peek into those realities and see how things would have shaken out, how happy I appear to be compared to the reality of this universe that I have chosen. Of course, that's not possible. We have only this one universe, this single pack of q-tips by which to measure our progress. So I guess I'll see you in another two-and-a-half years.

JAN
12

All for Free at Your Library

There's something about having your book(s) in the library that makes an author feel legitimate. I confess that due to my status an unknown to the majority of the literary world, most libraries probably do not carry my books. Which makes it extra special when they do. Call numbers. Shelf space. Holds. Simply having your name in the library catalog as a searchable author is delight enough.

That said, it's a bit of an evolution of thought, the implications of having a book in the library. Because every reader who checks it out is one less reader who will buy it. For instance, if we rewind back to when I was announcing the release of this book and sending out invitations to the launch party, I was surprised by how many people responded to the news and the invitation by asking if the book was available in the library. As an author announcing that a book years in the making is finally out in the world and available, it's hard not to be a bit offended when people jump right to the "Can I read it without having to buy a copy?" stage. Because I'm going to tell you right now, if a friend or someone you know well has written a book, you should probably just buy it. I'm serious. Yet selling books in today's world remains incredibly difficult, even to the people in your own circle.

So, yes, as an author it can frustrate me, but as a reader, I understand. Almost all of the books I read are those that I've checked out from my local library, a habit I picked up as an unemployed student living in a 350-square-foot apartment in Manhattan. So I get it. I read first and buy later, and only those books that leave me feeling a particular combination of influenced and inspired. As I've always explained to people who ask about book selling, a book isn't like a piece of jewelry or art, something that you can see right away and know that you love. Buying books is such a crapshoot, so I get why readers hesitate, why they opt to rent books as opposed to buy them. Which is why I will always hope to be included in library catalogs. Because bottom line: I want my books to be read. So come and get it, San Diego!