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Friday, December 25, 2009

'Tis the Season


Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday!

By the way, I just did the math - 60% of the gifts I gave this year were books. I guess that means something. :-)

(Another 26% were old photo-related.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Pictures Says a Thousand Words.

Last month, when she was going through the piles of stuff that collected in our house during and after renovating the house, she found some old pictures. 3,797 of them (I just checked iPhoto). This November, I scanned them all - although some of them were repeats. I organized them and gave them out as Christmas presents this year, and even though it took a lot of time, I enjoyed it immensely.

I learned a lot. For instance, my father and I looked a lot alike as toddlers.

Obviously, he doesn't know that I've posted this picture here.
He is too dignified to want his inner cuteness exposed.



See how chubby our faces are?
See how eager we are to get out of our cribs?

I also learned that I've always been fond of Christmas presents, even when I was only four months old.



I saw that I always liked to dance, even before my little sister was born.

Okay, I'm either dancing.
Or talking with my hands, which I also do.

I remembered how prissy I used to be, circa age 4.

My uncle gave me this Tigger for Christmas one year. :-)

I remembered old stories.

Ms. Folk, my kindergarten teacher, told my mother that I had a gift. I think she was the first one, but she said that I was a good writer. I used characterization, which is apparently unusual when you're only five years old. My mother loves to tell this story.

I learned new stories when my mother stood at my shoulder and watched me go through the pictures.

I tried to climb out, but I got stuck - for hours. Eventually, my parents had to cut me out, but now before taking a picture of my dilemma.

It was great to look through them. It reminded me what I was like as a child - wide open, adventurous, and adamant about getting my way.

I won't say that I've really changed, but I've learned to hide some of these qualities.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The First Week

The bad news: in the six days since I've arrived, I've only left the cabin once. I know. It's shocking. Especially since I didn't actually count the days until a few sentences ago. :-/

In my defense, it's been ridiculously cold. The mountain temperature hasn't gotten up to zero in days. Yesterday, I brushed the snow off my car yesterday and drove down to the grocery store. The temperature read negative eight at the cabin. I lost feeling in my fingertips, even though I wore gloves and had the heat blasting. To make sure I kept all of them, I bought some handwarmers at the grocery store before driving up.

Apparently, last night, it got down to negative 20. Getting out of bed was tough. I made a fire, which started out really well.

video

Ten minutes later, it didn't look so hot. :-(


The good news: I made an awesome chicken pot pie.

This is a sure sign that I have too much time on my hands.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The First Day

Today has been devoted to altitude sickness.

Which basically means that I gave myself permission to be lazy on my first day up the mountain. And I kept a glass of water next to me at all times. I lost count of how many I drank.

I don't mean that I haven't done anything with my day. I unpacked. I typed up all the manuscript scribblings that I have. I added two new scenes. I did a little yoga. I called my sister twice, because it's her birthday. I received a bunch of calls - from my father, my uncle, my ex-roommate, and my mother - all of them worried that I might be lonely.

I wasn't lonely. It was just too quiet. Cars rarely travel this far up the mountain, and the snow muffles sound. If I had moved here straight from New York, I might have gone a little nuts, but Charlotte was a good transition. Now it's easy to fill up the silence. I watched two movies. While I unpacked, I turned up my iTunes and sang along as loud as possible.

This is where I'm hanging out.

My view. I know - it's a hard life.

My library. I packed forty-some in my luggage, which surprised me when I counted.
I expected there to be at least 50. Don't worry. I'll get more. :-)


My writing nest. Usually, the blanket goes over my lap.

The cold is still a problem. I emailed back and forth with my coworkers about it. I heard a rumor en route that it was negative twenty up here, so I was relieved when I woke up to five whole degrees. (Yes, still pretty sad, but better than being below zero.) It doesn't look like I'll be skiing for a little while. :-/

I'm relieved to be here, where writing is the whole point. My dad called this the first day of my new life, and I think he's right. This is where I can get really serious about my writing career and put that seriousness into action.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Day of Travels

I am in Denver on my way to Montana, posting here courtesy of free holiday internet. Very exciting times.

The thing about being at home means that you revert to many of your old habits, even the ones that aren't good for you. A major one of mine is doing stuff for other people - so much, in fact, that I stop making progress on my own agenda. This is a catastrophe for a writer, especially for a newly professional one like myself. I’m too embarrassed to admit how little I’ve gotten done, but I did know this would happen.

That’s why I arranged to spend a couple months in an isolated log cabin with only my computer and the internet for company. I want to finish two novels while I’m up there, and to revise one extensively. After that, I’ll move to California.

This is the first time that I’ve ever lived alone, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I practiced. In college, while I was studying abroad at Oxford’s St. Catz, I tool a ten-day solitary tour of the U.K.:


Edinburgh – the castle as seen from my hostel’s front door

Bath – the Royal Victoria Park in Bloom

I didn’t get any good pictures of it, but I also went to Haworth, where the Brontë sisters lived. (Yes, I am that much of a literary geek. I also went to the café where J.K. Rowling penned a great deal of Harry Potter. They have great scrambled eggs – very fluffy.)

I won’t lie: I’m a little nervous. (So are my parents, so it has been necessary to downplay my own jitters.) I’m nervous about how cold it’ll be. I’m worried about driving in the snow and about cabin fever. I’m worried about not getting enough exercise. I’m worried about being lonely.

But I’m also incredibly excited. I’ve been craving an adventure.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mad Dash Day

I move on Wednesday.

I was a little behind on packing. A whole bunch of errands awaited me since my weekend was full of debutante-related activities. I FedExed all three signed copies of my contract. I bought my ex-roommate a frame for Christmas and printed out a picture of her and her current beau to put inside it. I shopped around for a fancy cute folder to keep my manuscript in. I started laundry. I wrapped two rounds of Christmas presents and scanned my parents' wedding pictures.

While I waited at the bank for an associate to help me open a savings account, I even got to a chance to finish a chapter and to start another one.

I also packed. Unsurprisingly, I packed my books first. Now that the airline companies have all these luggage restrictions and fees, I had to strategize. My first thought was to check a box of books, but sadly, I ran out of room too quickly. I looked through the box and couldn't find any to take out. So, I dug out a giant suitcase. The books went in the bottom section, and I lined it with lightweight, bulky winter gear. It weighs 48.5 pounds. :-)

FYI: I use the Baby Name Book to help name my characters.

Tomorrow, I need to pack my clothes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Little Sister - All Grown Up and Out in Society

My sister was a debutante this weekend.

You may not know what that is. Colby had a few friends from college come down for the event, and they said their only previous exposure to debutante balls comes from Gilmore Girls. So, without further ado, a few definitions to get us through the story:

Debutante - (a.k.a. the "deb) a young lady of 21 years, who is formally coming out to society. The event at which she "debuts" is called a debutante ball. (In some societies, it's 18 years of age.)

Presenter - the man who accompanies and presents the debutante to society. It is almost always the debutante's father.

Marshal - a young man of the same generation as the debutante, who is understood to protect the debutante's interests/honor within the society. Marshals are usually the debutante's brother, cousin, friend, or boyfriend.

So that you get a visual, here are a few pre-event pictures:

The hall where the presentation takes place

One of the rooms for dinner - pre-guests

All 24 Debs, getting their pre-event group picture taken

It smacks of something, doesn't it? Something you might have seen on Platinum Weddings or Bridezillas?

Back in the day, coming out to society was also an opportunity for fathers to show off their daughters as young women eligible to marriage. My sister's hairdresser - when he was shoving her product-stiffened hair into a french twist - called it "Pimp My Kid," which is actually pretty accurate. Now, it's less about having a run-through of mock-wedding and more about upholding our Southern traditions, but some bits remain. The dresses you see before you are actually wedding dresses. The white kid gloves that extend past your elbows are required. Afterwards, a lot of the debs dry their bouquets as keepsakes.

We are not a Southern Belle-type family. When I was a deb two years ago, I was dragged kicking and screaming. I was still attending Vassar at the time. My feminist ideals were being compromised. My sister (a student athlete and aspiring athlete) and mother (a former tomboy) are of the same mind.

Of course, that said, we've lived in the South for long enough that we couldn't blow it off entirely. An actual Southern belle - a ninety-six-year-old woman who befriended my mother at bible study - thought she was doing us a huge favor by lobbying to get us into this club. Once we were accepted, it was hard to argue with someone who was a matron of society. And then, she passed away, and we really couldn't argue with her. We did it - albeit reluctantly - in her memory.

This time around, from my position as my mother's assistant, it was very busy. I was the person who shuttled around friends or bought last-minute necessities like pantyhose or ran to find the baby powder needed to put on the elbow length gloves. I realized there was a sliver of glass in my foot after Mom had already zipped me in my dress. I didn't have time to go to the hospital, so I cut a hole in my hose, grabbed some nail scissors and some tweezers, and performed minor surgery. (This was an achievement. I'm very, very squeamish.)

When it started, the ceremony just seemed vaguely silly. Here's what actually happens:

1) One at a time, each debutante walks into the hall with her bouquet and stands smiling while a herald announces her name at a podium.

2) Her father/presenter comes out in his coat and tails, and he takes her hand as she curtsies and the herald announces her father/presenter's full name.

3) Debutante and the presenter walks down the length of the room under a spotlight while the herald announces how many of the deb's ancestors were debutante club members. Little old ladies - debs themselves, decades back - look on and think private opinions about each girl's dress, father, and later marshals.

4) At the other end of the hall, the deb curtsies a second time before her father passes her off to the two marshals. The herald announces the marshals full names.

5) The marshals take the debutante's elbows and walk her across the room. At the other end of the room, the deb and her marshals pause for one final smile before exiting the room.

6) After every deb has had a turn, all the debs come out with their fathers for a grand finale: the girls dance with their father and each marshal in turn.



The boy dancing with the deb is my handsome young brother. He waltzes too quickly for the music, but he looks good doing it. The man with a similar outfit and the woman in the gold dress are my parents. The gray head in the right hand corner of the screen is my ninety-four-year-old great-grandmother.

Very silly, but tradition is often silly. There's a story in here somewhere but not quite yet. It's still too fresh, too immediate.

Mainly, after it was over, I was glad for the opportunity to celebrate my wacky, wonderful sister.


It's not just that she's coming out in society. She's turning 22 on Thursday and applying to grad schools next year. Soon, she'll be well on her way to becoming a physical therapist, the kind that everyone wishes they had - so pushy that she asks for things that your body doesn't want to do, but so cute/charming/persistent that you can't turn her down.

Happy birthday, sister!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tale of a Twilight Convert


I've spent the last week with Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT saga.

Well, Books 2 through 4 anyway.

I read the first book in 2005 when I was in college. I picked it out at the library, read it, and didn't really think much of it. But I did check out NEW MOON when it pubbed a year later.

As a busy English major, I couldn't get past the first hundred pages. Bella was so devastated over the break-up - to the point of being incredibly annoying. (Keep in mind that at this point, I had never been in love, so I had never experienced heartbreak. That made me less than sympathetic.)

The other thing that deterred me was the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle. I have a hard time with love triangles. I have a hard time understanding how someone can be in love with two people at the same time. Most of the time, I just end up feeling bad for the third-wheel guy in novels. I can't help but think of it as wish-fulfillment for the author - living vicariously through her protagonist, a character created to be so attractive that at least two guys fall in love with her.

Then, while the TWILIGHT phenomenon was raging, I was working at a children's publishing house. It came up every day. One of my friends there was such a big fan that she reread her favorite bits almost every weekend.

Still, I stubbornly resisted.

Then, when I was visiting the afore-mentioned friend last week, I saw the NEW MOON movie poster outside her apartment, and I picked up her copy. Before beginning the trek home (train to subway to Airtran to plane), I bought a paperback copy from CVS.

Once past the problematic first hundred pages, I was hooked. I couldn't get myself to stop reading. I started staying up until at least 2AM several nights in a row. (This is impressive. I haven't lost sleep over a book since Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES last fall.) After reading almost all of yesterday, I finished BREAKING DAWN last night.

It's not about vampires. It's about family.

It's about finding a significant other and changing your life to match theirs.

I wouldn't have been able to get past the love triangle if I hadn't realized this - if Bella hadn't mentioned that it wasn't Edward and Jacob she wanted to bring together but the two versions of herself that each brought out in her. Jacob represented the life she could have had if she stayed human.

That's something you have to respect. Being in love does do that. When you love someone, you imagine your life with that person, and when that relationship ends, you mourn not only the lost of that person in your life but the life that you imagined sharing with him.

That's what Bella was feeling when Edward broke up with her - she wasn't losing just him, but his entire family and his kind of life. The same thing happened with Jacob - she lost Jacob's pack brothers at the same time she lost him.

This is probably why the books are so popular. I can't think of another series that chronicles the formation of family like this from the perspective of a teenage girl -- not that I'm encouraging girls to get married and start families at eighteen (neither is Stephanie Meyer, for that matter). But the target audience is of the age when you start seriously considering finding someone to start a life with. At that age, you're also so concerned about how your own life will turn out that you're eager to see how Bella does it with all her new family's extra problems.

Anyway, final verdict: addicting and interesting. I'm very glad I read them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Cake Conspiracy

This was the weekend of birthdays (none of them mine).

Included were: a dozen cupcakes, one happy hour party, one birthday dinner, one sleepover, one birthday girl, one birthday boy, several movies, and two cakes.

Here is a picture of the second birthday cake:


It turned out exactly like it was supposed to - like a black and white cookie. I must congratulate MG on a very fine cake. My only contribution was moral support.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the first cake. It was consumed too quickly. I can tell you it was slightly lopsided, and I can tell you its story:

Once upon a time, MG, bday girl, bday boy, and I were cruising the grocery store's cake section before our sleepover and debating the many flavors of yellow cake, which is the bday boy's favorite. MG, bday boy, and I noticed bday girl's attraction to a certain Rainbow Funfetti mix, but when asked, bday girl adamently denied needing a cake of her own, especially since she had a great many cupcakes to consume.

Unbenownst to her, the conspiracy had begun.

Bday boy snuck the funfetti mix into the cart. I distracted the bday girl at the checkout. When the bday mentioned the funfetti cake not once but several times on the walk home, we all became very quiet and exchanged meaningful glances. At the apartment, MG mixed the batter in a darkened kitchen while the bday boy and I made sure the bday girl stayed on the couch, watching movies rather than helping.

There was a very close call when MG called me to the kitchen to check if the cake was done, and the bday girl was up and running before I even moved. But the bday girl was lured back to the couch so that the funfetti cake could be iced. The "23" candles were lit; the funfetti cake presented, and....

...the bday girl had a splendidly happy birthday.

(I love it when people do nice things for other people.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

5 Fantastic Things About Going to DC

5. Not missing my flight home. I almost did. I didn't read the itinerary closely enough, and I thought my plane took off an hour and a half later than it actually did (ie. the time it arrived at its destination). I checked in less than thirty minutes before its departure time, realized my mistake, and ran. I only tripped once, but I slid across the floor, very surprised at the lack of friction. And I made my flight - JetBlue has forever won loyalty points from me. :-)

4. A trip to Georgetown Cupcake, where I split a couple cupcakes - one red velvet and one pumpkin - with my dear friend and ex-roommate, Angela. We were lucky enough to walk by early on a rainy Friday afternoon, so the wait was just over 10 minutes.

3. A trip to the National Zoo with my other dear friend Ems and her boyfriend Nick. I haven't been to a real zoo since I was eleven. This was an incredibly exciting venture for me. I took well over a hundred pictures. I won't force them all on you now. Just the ones of the baby gorilla climbing on her mom's head. :-)

Other highlights include:
  • watching one of the pandas eat a ridiculous amount of bamboo
  • staring at the prehistoric, epic-sized fish
  • seeing a convergence of elephants (we believe they were going to move to another pen for an early dinner)
  • visiting the small monkey house, and
  • catching a prairie dog with his head in a pumpkin.




2. Where the Wild Things Are. The cinema was perfect for a rainy Sunday. I can say with assurance now that it's a quality movie.



That said, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I agree with the filmmakers, who call it "a movie about childhood" rather than a kids' movie. It brought a lot of childhood memories back - and not necessarily good ones either. But I am glad that I saw it. (I even bought the soundtrack, because I kept humming the score by Karen O and the Kids.) It helps you remember how much of you was already there when you were nine, and how much you've forgotten.

1. Old, old friends. There's something fantastic about old friends. Angela, Ems, and I have known each other for ten years. Considering that we're all in our early 20's, that's a significant chunk of time. There's no posturing, and there's definitely no BSing. It's not possible. We've known each other too long. We already know all our fault, and we guess at each other's reactions even before they happen. We understand the history behind a comment without having to be told.

There is much, much love.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Photo-Exploration No. 1

Yesterday, I went on a walk.

I took a route that was slightly problematic.


However, fall had begun, and the foliage was fantastic. I had my camera, and I had been down Stonebridge before.


It was a very pretty street, and it ended with a lake.


Much to my surprise, when I turned to go home, I discovered a staircase I had never seen before.






















It was a well-made staircase, but it wasn't obvious where it led.










And I wasn't dressed for such an adventure.


Would you take it?

I did.


The stairs curled down to the left. A new path wove below them. It was made out of brick - a red brick road.









The path ended with a potted plant that doesn't look like it was native to these shores.






Luckily, a bridge waited nearby.


It crossed a muddy creek. Downstream, there was another bridge, not as nice as the one I was on.


A gravel path took me through the trees.


And this is where it led.


My best guesses on the clearing at the end of the red
brick road:
  1. It was a fairy glade, and I arrived way too early (three o'clock in the afternoon) to join the party. To support this theory, I found clovers but no mushroom rings.

  2. Some land developers had a cleared a space for a new house, which they haven't started building yet. To support this theory, I found a driveway.
The mystery endures....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Truth

I had to change the name of this blog. It used to be "Tales: The Adventures of Shelby R. Bach." I added "Life and" today.

I like the word "Life." I say, "How's life?" when other people say, "How are you?" I've done that since high school, and I might have even done it earlier. "Life" is kind of all-encompassing. There's not much it doesn't include.

The word "Adventures" had a specific purpose. I was scared. Many changes were in the air. I was trying to view them in a certain light. I'm still trying, but it has gotten easier with time.

The problem was that I didn't post anything.

"Adventures" is a big word to live up to. I'm not sure if I have had any real adventures.

I got lost in my own hometown, between my parents' house and a park less than two miles away. My little brother (adorable, a freshman at college) was quarantined with the swine flu. I bought health insurance. I borrowed 71 books from my local library (actual reading rate: roughly 80% - but I didn't finish them all). I recovered from a sinus infection. I visited Charleston and learned how to make shrimp & grits. Later that day, I found a graveyard (see right). I also found a dress for the debutante ball of my little sister (senior at the same college, tough and awesome). I attended a beautiful wedding in Virginia, but my camera's battery ran down and left me without pictures. :-( I booked flights to Montana, to DC, and to New York. I started a part-time job at a general contracting company. I wrote 70 pages of a children's novel, read fairy tale anthologies, and structured a story arc for a five-book series.

I'm a writer. I quit my job in New York in order to pursue my dream. (And also, to keep sane. New York is a difficult place to stay sane.)

Truth: That's the real adventure. Risk and dreams and faith.

The posts should be more frequent from here on out.

(P.S. Truth number 2 - I'm still not unpacked.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Life's a Beach.

Well, it’s been less than a week, and I’m already headed back to New York.

It’s a really brief return, though. In fact, just long enough to change planes – my mom, my dad, and I are headed back from Maine. The sunset outside their window is extraordinary:


(Note: it looks better in person.)

Anyway, the bro and the sis are off at school. College campuses are definitely a trip, especially in the years immediately after graduation. They look really familiar, but it’s a completely different world than the one you now live in. You look at the students, and you know what kind of thoughts they’re thinking. They echo in your head, because they’re the same ones you remember thinking yourself, years ago, when it was your turn to walk that campus.

(Undergrad are the years when you still think you’re brilliant. I won’t be the one to burst their bubble.)

The brother (a.k.a. the freshman) told us in kind yet not uncertain terms that we were overstaying our welcome. He was ready to start the business of making new friends. We said goodbye.

Then, we went to the beach. This is why I love my parents (one of many reasons). It was their idea. Stuck in Coastal Maine with several hours to kill before our flight home? Let’s go to the beach! Why not?

We went to Popham Beach. The coastline is primarily rocky. So, there aren’t many sandy beaches in Maine, and this one’s popular. Especially with endangered piping plovers.


(I’ve actually been to this beach before, on a science field trip during Maine Coast Semester several million years ago, ie. in high school. We saw piping plover nests, and we sketched the wild roses in bloom on the dunes.


These rosebushes aren't in bloom. The red bits are rose hips.

That’s right. The science classes were kind of intense: we were required to go on field trips twice a month and do art. I’ve never been terrific at ecology or biology, but some of it stuck: all weekend, whenever I recognized a plant, I would announce its name like a revelation: “Silver Birch!” “Stag-horned sumac!” “Something that starts with a C! (It likes saltwater!)”)


The guy in orange is my dad. He dresses like a Southern gentleman.

We waited for traffic to clear on the path to the beach and then stumbled down to the water.

My mom said, “Nothing says “tourist” like long pants and a camera.” (Yes, I had both. Fully visible.)


Maine is beautiful. If it weren’t for the cold, I could live there.

Next adventure - Unpacking. (There are 20 boxes. It'll be epic. Wait till you see those pictures.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Adventure Begins…

So, maybe it is a little crazy.

I quit my job, which I loved, so that I could leave New York, which I do not love.

The actual resignation was weeks ago. I moved today.

One of my dear friends and I were discussing the crazy things. We decided that we were both are liable to pull crazy stunts like the above. Kimmy, for instance, is living in a not-so-nice neighborhood and doing the Teaching Fellows of New York Program. She loves her job. She loves finding books that her high schoolers will love so much that they don’t give them back. Plenty of people would call that crazy, but she denies it.

We decided that when you are doing something a trifle insane, you have to shut off the part of you that calls it crazy. It’s probably for survival. Otherwise, you wouldn’t ever do the things you need to do.

Personally, I view quitting my job, packing up my life, and moving to California as an act of necessity, verging on desperation rather than an act of bravery.

But the insanity charge is starting to sink in.

It was the questions. “What’s in California?” people asked. (Sunshine.) “What about a job?” (I’ll find one.) “Do you have family out there?” (No.) “Friends?” (A few.)

Then, they compliment me – tell me I’m brave, etc. That’s when I start to recognize what a crazy thing I’ve done.

But life’s an adventure, right? If I don’t do it now, before the age of twenty-five, it will only get harder.

Also, I have a month-long stopover at my parents’ house to get used to the idea. I’ll sleep some and help them organize the house before their house. My younger brother and sister head off to college this weekend – he will be a freshman; she will graduate next May. It’ll be like being an only child again.

Also, I’ll get to read whatever I want. That’s amazing. I’m in the middle of a galley a friend Kirsten gave me – The Girl With Glass Feet.

...

I can’t believe that I’m back in Charlotte. I can’t believe I actually moved. It still feels like I’m going back in to work on Monday.