Hifi Hilarity Guest Post

This post comes from my sister over at HiFi Hilarity. Check out her blog for my guest post and overall blogging goodness. Enjoy!

My sister, for some reason, has been operating under the idea that I am somehow cooler than her since we were children. I am well aware that I am cooler than most people (with an ego expanding more rapidly than the universe, apparently) but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m cooler than Bri. She’s older, and therefore most experienced in the ways of adulthood than I am, and subsequently less likely to have a psychotic episode when faced with the task of purchasing a mattress. She’s also a poet, which is a far cooler occupation than 99% of the population has, myself included. She’s a go-getter, an ass-kicker, and braver than the average grizzly bear. That last part may have been a little bit of an exaggeration, but she’s been braver than the average adult since we were children.
A notable example of her fearlessness would be the failed “camping” excursion of 1993ish.* My father, being the do-it-yourself-er that every man’s man wishes he was, had built a playhouse for us. This was not just an ordinary playhouse. however: it was a veritable fortress of fun and adventure, complete with a swing set and metal slide guaranteed to give you third degree burns on a hot July day. It also came with a tree house, lofted off the ground and only accessible via ladder. One summer day, my daring sister had the idea that we should “camp out” in the tree house. I’m quoting “camp out” because this clearly would not be the kind of camping real outdoorsy folks do: this is the kind of camping weenies do when they want to sleep outside but be comfortably close to hot water and cable. Our preparations would have made Suvivorman jealous: we loaded up with our sleeping bags, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and the requisite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hauled into the tree house for a night of adventure and intrigue.
I have mentioned before that my sister is an adept teller of stories (her occupation suits her well) and she, at the time, also had a knack for terrorizing her younger and dumber sister. After about 10 minutes, she started in on a cheesy scary story to test my fortitude. I persevered, having survived scary story telling before, and we were proud of our bravery. What I had underestimated was the power and vastness of the western Pennsylvania woods at night time. My parents had set up our homestead on an expanse of property surrounded not by neighbors, but trees. Foxes and deer were about as common as Labradoodles, and a lot scarier to a 6 and 11 year old. As we sat in our tree house, with nothing but the dark and the power of suggestion to keep us company, the sounds from the woods would begin to overwhelm our tiny ears and render our brains completely incapable of rational thought.
“Did you hear that? What was that? Who is that?” I would ask, huddled in my sleeping bag like a frightened burrito.
“It’s probably just a deer.”
“A deer.”
“Mike Meyers?”
My sister, despite her inherent childhood instinct to pick on her little sister, was a good sport and tried her best to reassure me that a serial killer was not waiting in the woods to stab me in the face. But after a few more screeches from the barn owls (which sound like banshees to untrained children ears) and few more snapping twigs, I couldn’t take it anymore and bolted back to the house, banging on the unlocked door for my parents to save me from whatever it was that wanted to eat me. My sister followed behind me, disappointed that I had chickened out, but damned if she would be sleeping in that tree house alone. She forgave me for being a weenie, but my father still pokes fun at the fact that his spawn couldn’t even go fake camping.
So, dearest sibbie, you may think that I’m cooler (and I am pretty awesome), but I still think you are the badass of the two of us. The Badass Poet. That should be your new blog name.
* The early 90s are a blur to me, probably because I was 4 in 1990.


I really like gnomes. When I was a kid, my mom owned this book:

To say that my sister and I were obsessed with this book, is an understatement. We read the entire thing cover to cover about a hundred times and then we set out to look for gnomes. Our favorite gnome hunting grounds was at my grandparents house in New Hampshire. They live up in the mountains near the Canadian border and every picture you take looks like something that belongs in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. We used to look for “gnome holes” in the trunks of trees for hours.We would scour the ground for “signs” of gnome activity and every now and then we would swear we saw a flash of a red hat.

Gnomes was not the only source of information for our obsession. We also watched the television program “David The Gnome” religiously. If you did not experience this program on Nickelodeon growing up, you missed out. Here’s the intro to the series:

The second clip is from the series finale. As my sister said, “I wept like a child.” Well, we were children.

After all of this, it seems fitting that for Christmas my sister gave me a giant, red ceramic gnome. We also received not one, but two of these:

We now have three Steeler’s gnomes in our yard.

Juliet, Naked

I like it when people give me books to read. I especially like it when said book proves to be as enjoyable/inspiring/well written as the recommender has promised. I’ve become a bit weary of recommendations as of late just because I’ve had a few duds. However, last night I finished reading Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby and I think it has restored my faith in book recommendations.

My sister* lent me this book and inside she wrote the following note “Washed up musicians and quirky British characters. One of my favorites.” Have I also mentioned I like it when people write notes in books? It’s neat. This is why I like buying books from second hand bookstores but I digress.

Most people are familiar with Nick Hornby because of the movies that have been made from his books. These include High Fidelity and About a Boy. I enjoyed both of these films and I’ve read a couple of other of Hornby’s pieces, so admittedly I had some expectations.

Cool covers are a plus.

I’m like most readers in the respect that I like characters I can relate to. I also like smart, funny writing. I think Hornby succeeds in both these areas in Juliet, Naked. I was immediately endeared to the main protagonist, Annie, when a few pages into a description of Annie’s long term relationship, we get this nugget:

The decision not to have children had never been made, and nor had there been any discussion resulting in a postponement of the decision. It wasn’t that kind of sleepover. Annie could imagine herself as a mother, but Duncan was nobody’s idea of a father, and anyway, neither of them would have felt comfortable applying cement to the relationship in that way. That wasn’t what they were for. 

I like the frankness of Hornby’s writing and I like when author’s write about flawed relationships in a way that doesn’t make the reader cringe, but instead makes them want to read more. While it is true that there is a fair dose of melancholy in this passage, there is also some irony. They don’t want to cement their relationship? They’ve been together for fifteen years. At this point was isn’t left to cement? Well, it turns out quite a lot as the story goes on.

I also love smart, humorous writing. I tell my creative writing students that humor is the most underrated tool among authors. Everyone wants to be so serious all the time and talk about “what does it all mean?” You are certainly allowed to do that and Hornby tackles some tough issues in this book: motherhood, romantic relationships, dysfunctional families, deadbeat dads & alcoholism just to name a few. However, all of these issues are surrounded by a hilarious, obsessive narrative about a washed up rock star. The book opens with Annie and Duncan taking a pilgrimage to honor this “star,” Tucker Crowe. The opening scene begins with:

They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet. The simple truth of this only struck Annie when they were actually inside it: apart from the graffiti on the walls, some of which made some kind of reference to the toilet’s importance in musical history, it was dank, dark, smelly and entirely unremarkable. Americans were very good at making the most of their heritage, but there wasn’t much even they could do here.  

As an American who spent about six months in England, I also appreciate the slight jabs that Hornby makes at our great nation. They’re not mean spirited but the fact that the biggest f*ck up in the book is American is amusing in and of itself. Then there are just the little gems that make me snicker out loud. This was one of my favorites:

The night before, Duncan had come home late and smelling of drink; he was monosyllabic, curt even, when she’d asked him about his day. He’d fallen asleep quickly, but she had lain awake, listening to him snoring and not liking him. Everyone disliked their partners at some time or another, she knew that. But she’d spent hours in the dark wondering whether she’d ever liked him. 

Does it get much more relatable? This story is interesting and quirky and the characters are kind of hopeless but their story is not. Despite all of their hangups, and believe me there are a lot of hangups, you will laugh with them, you will sigh for them and ultimately you will hope for them.

*Thanks Ash!

Spring Musings

This past weekend kicked off my spring break from teaching and I think this might be the best spring break I’ve had in years. I’ve gotten a lot done around the house the first half of the week and plan to work on writing the second half. My sister was in town for her birthday (March 7th) so that was a fun way to kick off the weekend.


I finished reading Shanghai Girls for our book club this month. I think it’s going to be an interesting book to talk about in terms of structure and content.

My initial impressions of the book are mixed. I’m not the type of person who needs a neat and tidy ending (I won’t spoil it for those of you who’d like to read it), so I actually liked the symbolism of the continuing cycle of the generations that came into play at the end of story. I also liked the story of the two sisters. I felt Lisa See’s portrayal of May and Pearls’ relationship was honest and candid. The two characters were written very well. However, the overall style of the writing, for me, seemed disjointed. I think because this is a historical novel, the historical parts of it seemed heavy handed at times. The balance between the narrative and the historical fact didn’t always work. For example, you’d be caught up in a deeply personal scene between characters and then all of a sudden a fact about the Japanese invading China or the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor would sneak in. It took me out of the narrative. I suppose it is possible that Lisa See did this on purpose to mirror the disruption the characters were feeling in their own lives due to these conflicts, however it doesn’t seem consistent enough to be considered technique.

I think my biggest problem with the plot itself is that I already knew everything about the sisters as a reader. In the final climactic moment of the story, as everything comes to a head, I already knew about their flaws, so as they revealed them to each other, I just felt bored.

I am looking forward to discussing this book with my colleagues at school. Who knows my opinions may change…

What would you do if someone invited you to their death? When I was in 10th or 11th grade I dabbled in speech in debate for a very short time. The subject of my speech? Euthanasia. Even in my teenage years when I didn’t know anything, I felt that it should be a person’s right to die. This was before I watched my aunt be ravaged by ovarian cancer. Before my grandfather was diagnosed with lymphoma. Before nineteen year olds were diagnosed with breast cancer. This was before I became aware that it cost over two million dollars to treat colon cancer in this country.

Chuck Palahniuk published “Live Like You’re Dying” in MensHealth. In this article he recounts attending a dinner party where he didn’t know the outcome was death until the guests were asked to join hands and light candles. Check out the article. It will give you some food for thought.

Friday Musings (thank the good lord)

Yesterday began as any day would. I came to school way too early, finished some grading, and taught my two classes. Later in the afternoon with all of my grading completed and entered into Blackboard, I began to edit some poems for my manuscript.

At about 4:00 my sister, who is in town visiting because she had an interview earlier this week, calls to say that my mother wants me to take her to the ER. Turns out she had this “rash” on her leg that somehow turned into a flesh eating disease during the course of conversations with my mother. The long and the short of it is she’s fine. We went to Urgent Care. They gave her two shots and three prescriptions and sent her on her way. Apparently she got bitten by something (spider, ant, rabid katydid) and then the bite became infected, hence the nasty looking welt on her leg.

I think I may have been more worried about this initially if a). I wasn’t so exhausted. By the time we left Urgent Care to go get her prescription, I had basically gone into auto pilot mode. b.) I’m not the personality type to think the worst in most situations. c.) I knew she didn’t have what some people thought she had because I’ve had it. Anyway. She’s fine. She’s heading back to Erie this morning leg safely in tow.

Normally I would not be up in my office blogging at 7:30 on a Friday morning. I don’t even have to be here till 8 usually for my new faculty orientation meetings, but the powers that be finally aligned in the stars and my new office furniture should be arriving in about a half an hour. I’ve packed away all my paper, so all they have to do is come in and arrange it. I believe they are also going to put up a cubicle wall, which will give me a little bit of privacy.

I received my Emerging Writer’s Network Newsletter this morning and see there is a review of Erin McGraw’s book The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard. I just finished her book The Baby Tree which I bought close to two years ago (I know. I know) when she came to give a craft lecture at MSU. Looks like this is another book to add to the stack…