Things I want to do in 2012

Me, next year. Click for source.

Yes, I like to make my new year’s resolutions very early. In fact, one could say that I am in a perpetual state of making new year’s resolutions. Continuous goal-making is a blessing/curse we inherited from our mother. (Grace has the worst case of it, but then again, she’s the most accomplished of us all, so maybe there is something to this mania for making resolutions.)

Things I Want To Do in 2012

  1. Get a dog, which I don’t have to tell you. I already have. Like, a hundred times.
  2. Take a graduate-level English class at UVA.
  3. Take the GRE.
  4. Go hiking more often.
  5. Read 75 books (down from this year’s goal of 100, because I think I’ll be cutting down on my dog reading).
  6. Take a beginner’s ballet class.
  7. Try to take my writing more seriously; publish something, somewhere. (How’s that for ambiguity?)
  8. Improve calligraphy business; hone skills with flexible nib.
  9. Finish reading the remainder of Shakespeare’s plays (I think I have 19 more to go. Eek).
  10. Decide what I’m going to do with my life.

Do you have any goals for next year already? Am I the only one?

The Abby alphabet

Remember when you were 12 and you and your friends would exchange e-mail personality quizzes? Or you’d post them on your baby MySpace or Xanga pages? Well, this is kind of like that. Except for semi-grown-up bloggers. (Found at the lovely blog The Lighthouse Keeper.)

The farm! That is one stylized, serious-looking farm. Source: Pinmarklet

Ambition: To live on a small working farm with my husband and raise a few children and a pack of dogs. I would also like to continue my education as a writer and editor, whether that includes graduate school or moving up the publishing industry ladder.

Bad habit: Judging people or things extremely quickly. Flying into microscopic rages when tiny things don’t go my way.

City: Well, Charlottesville, because we love it here, but I think my spirit city is Denver. I adore Denver. I think my body gets a rush of endorphins whenever I remember my summer there.

Drink: Tea, of course!

Education: B.A., summa cum laude, English and Journalism, UNC-Chapel Hill. Currently engaging in wishful thinking about a master’s degree in English.

Food: Mainly fruit. Not enough vegetables, but I eat them daily (lately, we’re into asparagus, kale, potatoes, and bell peppers). I could also live on a steady diet of pasta and cheese.

Justin Timberlake. Source: Bing

Guilty pleasures: Trawling breed rescue agencies for dogs I can’t yet adopt. And Justin Timberlake.

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina, although I tend to claim Davidson, because it’s more interesting and it’s where my parents currently live.

Ice cream: The Four C’s from Chaps Ice Cream on the downtown mall (chocolate, cherries, chocolate chips). Or anything that involves chocolate.

Jonesing for: A dog! Or an unlimited supply of perfect watermelon.

Pure kryptonite. Source: Pinmarklet

Kryptonite: Puppies.

Lookalike: Hm. I don’t know. My theory is that people can’t really differentiate the faces of women with curly hair, and so that’s why people tell me I look like Emmy Rossum or Keri Russell. It’s just because we all have curly hair. We don’t actually share a resemblance. I wish my lookalike was Gwyneth. Or SWINTON.

Still from "The Royal Tenenbaums." Source: Google images

Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums will always have my heart, 100 percent.

Nicknames: Abba, Shabbage, Shabbarge, Flabby, Shabs, Abigail, Abberini, Abs, Bob.

Obsession: Making lists. Dogs. Reading, reading, reading.

Perfume: I don’t wear it that often, but my sisters got me a bottle of perfume from the Tokyo Milk line called French Kiss. I like it. It makes me feel glamorous.

Quirk: Pulling my ears back like a dog when someone makes me angry.

Regrets: Not being more open-minded and generous in high school.

Starbucks: No, thanks.

Talent: Reading! I can read real good.

225/365
Upper quad, UNC campus. My heart sobs a little when I look at this photo. I want to go back! Source: Me

University: UNC-Chapel Hill.

Vacation: Anywhere in the mountains. We live in the Blue Ridge mountains now, but I still can’t get enough of them. My perfect place is a great field at the foot of a row of folded mountains.

Wine: Malbec or a dry white wine. I still can’t remember the names of the white wines I actually like…

X: X to living in fear.

Years: 23.

51/366
Chapel of the Cross, where we met and were married. Source: Me

Zen: I have a few notions of zen. 1) Outdoors with my husband and my (future) dog; 2) Reading or writing in a room of my own; 3) The Compline service at the Chapel of the Cross.

OK, now it’s your turn. Go! See, isn’t it fun to be in middle school again?

Week 8: Thank-you notes to teachers

In honor of my sister Grace, I am imposing a set of weekly challenges on myself. For 12 weeks, I will attempt a different “challenge” each week–to do one thing every day for seven days, ranging from serious to silly. At the end of each week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

This week’s challenge was inspired by blogger Erin Loechner, who challenged herself to write thank-you notes to 20 memorable and inspirational teachers. Teachers don’t get nearly enough credit in this country and it’s a perpetual mystery to me. Good teachers are responsible for most of the successes in our lives and yet we rarely remember to go back and thank them. In my own small way, that’s what I attempted to do this week.

Teacher 1. Mary Sellers

Mrs. Sellers taught my online AP English Composition class when I was a shy and yet pompous 9th-grader. When you’re homeschooled, you get to learn in a lot of non-traditional ways and online classes were one of those ways for me. In many ways, it was a strange dynamic, but Mrs. Sellers always managed to make our web classroom warm, friendly, and encouraging. She invested so much time in us as students and her hospitality was extraordinary. Mrs. Sellers stayed in touch with many of us even after we had finished her class and I was always impressed by her generosity, particularly as she was already busy with homeschooling her own children.

Teacher 2. Marc Cohen

Professor Cohen is important to me in many ways: He convinced me to be an English major and he introduced me to the great literary love of my life, Virginia Woolf. He taught my Intro to 18th-20th Century British Lit. class during my first semester as a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill. Unlike many professors these days, Marc Cohen actually cared about teaching–and he was very, very good at it. He was creative, encouraging, and enthusiastic and I’m so thankful I was able to have him as a teacher when I arrived at Carolina. I also really appreciated that his syllabus was uniquely focused on great British female authors; we only read women novelists for the novels in that class, which was practically unheard of, especially in the British Lit classes. I read Mrs. Dalloway for the first time and I fell in love.

Teacher 3. Bill Cloud

Professor Cloud scared a lot of us in the Journalism School. He well over six feet tall and he spoke with a deep, intimidating voice and he liked to yell at you when you mixed up “illicit” and “elicit.” He once gave me a 50 on a paper because I spelled Brussels sprouts “Brussel sprouts.” I will never make that mistake again for as long as I live! But for all of his aggressive teaching methods, Professor Cloud is largely responsible for getting me a job. He prompted me to apply for the Dow Jones News Fund internship, which I never would have considered without his encouragement. Because of him, I spent an absolutely amazing summer working as a copy editor at the Denver Post. He’s served as my academic reference on numerous occasions and I can’t say enough how grateful I am for his influence. Professor Cloud has been an invaluable career resource for me and for many others, and that’s why I will always recommend him to other J-School students, even though he can make you cry in class.

Teacher 4. George Lensing

Gracious, eloquent, humble, and endlessly fascinating, Professor George Lensing taught the best class I ever took at Carolina, 20th-century poetry. I didn’t really get poetry until I heard Professor Lensing talk about it. We covered a few poems in each class, but we really covered them; we’d spend an hour talking about two lines of Robert Lowell. And then he’d start class with the story of having lunch with Elizabeth Bishop in the Brazilian jungle. Or when he had to squire Robert Frost around UNC’s campus for the day. No big deal. In my opinion, he’s the gem of the UNC English Department and it will be a sad day when he retires (which I heard rumored may be happening sooner than later). He also urged me to write an honors thesis, which was a tortured decision. But with Professor Lensing on my team, I felt like I could do anything.

Teacher 5. Erin Carlston

Professor Carlston was another very intimidating professor. She knew everything; she was fluent in most romance languages; she studied at Harvard and Yale; and she had read every important book–twice. She also didn’t let students get away with crappy writing. You had to labor to pass her class–but if and when you did, you felt like you’d reached the pinnacle of academic success. I took Introduction to Modernism with her and met many previously unread authors that came to be listed among my favorites. After that year ended, I decided to write my thesis on Virginia Woolf and timidly approached her to ask if she’d be my thesis adviser. She graciously replied that she would. Over the next year, Professor Carlston spent countless hours meeting with me, hashing out ideas, and reading and editing my often embarrassingly immature drafts. The slightest compliment from her–“This is a nice sentence.”–could make my entire week. You always knew that she meant exactly what she said and she would never give you false encouragement. She had a million things going on when she was helping me with my thesis–between finishing her own book, teaching a handful of classes, serving on numerous committees, and advising another undergrad thesis on Woolf–and yet when you met with her, you felt like your work was the most important thing on her agenda. Her advice and her edits undoubtedly made me a better writer and my gratitude to her is boundless.

Teacher 6. Mary-Lynn Whitman

I think we can all identify that one teacher who, early on, saw potential in you when no one else really did. Mrs. Whitman was that person for me. I was a shy, arrogant, and self-conscious little girl when I first met Mrs. Whitman in an art class that I took with her son, Patrick. She was bright, intellectual, and full of enthusiasm and knowledge. Even though she was already busy homeschooling her kid, she decided to take me under her wing. Her former life as a children’s book editor equipped her to teach me and critically evaluate my bombastic attempts at writing when I was in late elementary school and early middle school. I would come to her house with a few essays and she would spend hours with me talking about how I could improve and how I could become an even better writer. She saw promise in me, that there was hope that I could be a better writer and a better human, when most just saw a snotty and bossy kid. I am humbled by her attention, even now.

Teacher 7. Teresa Farson

How do you begin to thank the person who taught you everything? My mom gave up her whole life to teach the four of us. She wanted the best for us in every area of our lives and sacrificed constantly so that we could succeed. In our childhood, she endeavored to make learning fun, to spark our imaginations and innate curiosity, rather than make learning about conforming to a pre-defined mold and filling out blanks on worksheets. As a great advocate of “hands-on learning,” we figured out early on that there was no division between Life and School for us; the two were the same and every moment was an educational one. We studied botany on nature walks; animal biology when she took us to the race track; art through our monthly visits to the Mint Museum of Art. I didn’t understand why my neighborhood friends hated school so much. School was everywhere; it was our entire lives. Mom also instilled in us the principle that we were primarily responsible for our educations. If you were not educated, it was no one’s fault but your own. Many people ask me how it was possible that I could succeed at a university after being homeschooled for 12 years. Wasn’t I afraid? Wasn’t I unsure how to adapt to a classroom? Did I even know how to take tests? My transition to college was actually very smooth. Because I had been responsible for my education for years, the freshman concerns of self-control and time management were disciplines that I had already been practicing since I was young. I believe my mom is Superwoman and I don’t know, even now, how she did it all–and how she still does it (with one kid still at home). I know a thank-you note won’t cut it for all of the gratitude I owe her. But, Mom, for everything: THANKS.

Next week, I will be trying to study for the GRE every day! I’m not planning on taking it any time soon, but I go back and forth on the grad school conundrum almost daily and this is my haphazard attempt to add some discernment to my life. Until then!

Monday Snax

With every day that passes, I become more and more excited that January is almost over. I know a lot of dearly beloved people who have January as their birth month, but I’m sorry, guys: It is by far the worst 31 days of the year. I will forgive it once it’s gone. However, the bright side of January is that it has given me ample time to read, drink tea, and–yes, I admit it, world!–watch “Lost” with my husband. He’s doing a pretty good job of convincing me that it’s addictive. We also bought a coffee table yesterday, which was pretty exciting, because I think it means we’re done with buying furniture for our apartment. Mainly because nothing else could possibly fit

Snax in a white bowl of pomegranate arils:

Sit. Stay. Parse. Good Girl! A Border Collie–who knows 1,000 words–teaches us about language. A quote from the article: “Chaser proved to be a diligent student. Unlike human children, she seems to love her drills and tests and is always asking for more. ‘She still demands four to five hours a day,’ Dr. Pilley said. ‘I’m 82, and I have to go to bed to get away from her.'” (New York Times)

Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces after a Period. Slate Writer Farhard Manjoo, I LOVE YOU. FINALLY. Someone is talking about this! “What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces.” Me too, same as me, I’m the same! Please. If you are a repeat space offender, read this article. Spread the word. (Slate)

Same Books, Three Ways. Cate’s excellent post about how she’s chosen to display her books as she’s moved. Beautiful! (The Charlotte)

Fashion of the Future. Probably the best video I’ve seen all week: Fashion designers from the 1930s predict what clothes we’ll be wearing in 2000. Totally amazing. (The Charlotte)

Life on a Farm. Brief thoughts from Grace as she begins her stint on a New Zealand farm. (Como Say What?)

Figure-Figure. Lovely pairings of photographs and paintings. (Miss Moss)

Look: Napping. I’ve never been one who was actually able to nap; I feel guilty for napping. But these photographs could almost change my mind. Everyone looks so peaceful. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

Morbid Curiosity Leading Many Voters to Support Palin. “A recent poll shows 62% of Americans say they don’t want to vote for Palin, but just kinda have to see what what would happen.” (The Onion)

Dogs in Ginza Wearing School Uniforms and Glasses. Japan, this is taking your little dog obsession too far; too far, I tell you! (Tokyo Times)

However, Since You Are Twelve… “We appreciate your interest in the Marine Corps. However, since you are twelve, you won’t be eligible to be a Marine for a while.” (Letters of Note)

New Game! Is it Etsy or Anthropologie? Hah. Loves it. And it can be very hard to tell. (Regretsy)

This Is the Brooklyn We Live In, This Is the Brooklyn I Remember. A beautiful post about growing up in New York City and then raising your own kids there. It makes me think about what a different life she and her daughters must lead, compared to those of who weren’t raised in the greatest metropolis. (Sweet Fine Day)

Postscript: Reynolds Price. A thoughtful eulogy for North Carolina writer Reynolds Price, who passed away last week. (The Book Bench)

7 Common Investing Mistakes. A place to start, at least. (Wise Bread)

Light Locations. Such a beautiful photographs of such peaceful, bright space. I want to create rooms like this in a house one day. (Ill Seen, Ill Said)

Bruce. I feel like there’s a great short story in this. (FOUND Magazine)

A distant target

An entirely adequate description of English grammar is still a distant target and at present seemingly an unreachable one, the complications being what they are.

— Robert W. Burchfield, Unlocking the English Language (New York: Hill and Wang, 1991), 22

Five alternate lives

I got to talk to Emily for over an hour on Thursday night and it was SO good to catch up with her; I’ve missed her company a lot. She was telling me about this book she’s been working through, The Artist’s Way. It’s a book created to help artists work through blocks.

One of the exercises she described asked you to write down the five alternate lives you would have liked to have lived (e.g., the careers/vocations you might have pursued that deviate from the path you’re on now). I was thinking about it today, and this is the list I came up with:

1. Australian Shepherd breeder

Australian Shepherd puppies

As totally weird as dog lovers can be, I’ve always been one. I got mocked mercilessly in middle school–by my FATHER–because all I wanted for one birthday was a subscription to the magazine Dog Fancy. (He kept referencing the movie “Best in Show” whenever I got the magazine in the mail, which I hadn’t seen at the time. Now I have and I admit, yeah, those people are weird.) But I wouldn’t breed these dogs to show. I’d breed them because I LOVE these dogs and because I’d love to train them in agility competitions. Or even sheep herding ones. I just think they’re the best dogs around, still.

2. Farmer

 

Guion and me in a few years.

Specifically, I’d like to live somewhere either in North Carolina or even around here in the Shenandoah Valley. Prettiest country around. And I would specialize in either berries or horses. Because I love berries and horses.

3. Graphic designer

Letterpress cards from Seesaw.

This is a skill I’d love to have. I’d love to have a business creating beautiful stationery (and then another one to teach all of the Cool Lady Bloggers how to properly spell “stationery”). Branding companies would also be fun. And I’d definitely want to make my own fonts, too. I’ve always loved fonts.

4. English professor

This is actually my thesis advisor. Hi, Dr. Carlston!

I know it’s hard work and you have to labor six to eight years to do it, but I think I’d really love the life of an English professor. To have a job that’s essentially defined by your love of literature? What more could you ask for? (Cooperative students, better pay, and less academic politics maybe…)

5. Editor at a large, successful publishing house

Streep as Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada." Yes, I know she's not a book editor. But still. She's badass.

This one is simultaneously the most ridiculous and the most realistic. Ridiculous because who knows if publishing houses will even EXIST in 10 years; realistic because editing is the path I’ve more or less taken so far. I know editors are somewhat glamorized in film and stories and such, but from what little I’ve seen of it in my internships and work, I think it’s a place I’d like to be. Particularly with fiction. Sorry, Financial Analysts Journal, but you don’t pluck my heart strings.

Common theme in my five answers? All things that people don’t have much use for anymore! The world doesn’t really need more Australian Shepherds, as brilliant as they are. Farmers barely make enough money to survive, much less food. People don’t write handwritten notes anymore, so there’s not a huge demand for expensive letterpress cards. There are probably more wannabe English professors than wannabe English students; grad schools are brimming with them. And, as mentioned above, editors will soon have nothing to edit. Thanks, Interwebs.

But. Even with my semi-dashed dreams, now I’m curious. What about you? What five alternate lives might you have chosen for yourself?

Happy weekend!

Here at last! I’m excited. We might get to catch a film or two at the Virginia Film Festival that’s happening here this week, and we will get to spend lots of quality time with the Pratts and Granddad.

Back and forth about grad school still. Not too jazzed about it after reading this little piece in McSweeney’s: An Open Letter to my Abandoned MA Degree. The opening paragraph says it all:

Dear Abandoned MA English Degree,

We could’ve been big, MA English Degree. God damn huge! Working together, our forces finally combined with BA English Degree to form that ancient tripartite power of analysis, critical thinking, and original content. We could have taken the world by storm. There was no shortage to where we could have gone: non-paying internships at publishing houses, a PhD program, the list… well, the list kind of peters out there, but man, what we could’ve done in either of those, it would’ve really set the world aflame! But alas, here is where we must part ways. Two semesters into our supposed two year relationship I must take my leave from you.

And then there’s that exchange in “30 Rock”:

LIZ: We might not be the best people…
JACK: … but we’re not the worst:
LIZ, JACK [in unison]: Grad students are the worst!

So, today is a “no grad school” day. Tomorrow will probably be different. But today, I’m thinking, “Hey. I have a job. A pretty real job. It might not be super-fun or challenging, but I have a job. Which is more than most English MA’s can say.”

Also. OMG. This is the reason that I often wish I had straight hair and red hair. Catherine could totally do this; she’s the queen of chignons. Now that I finally found hair pins (not bobby pins, hair pins), I might try it. I’ve also been considering trying to straighten my hair every now and then. I feel like dry-ish winter is a good time to attempt such a daring and risky endeavor.

Until Monday, nerds!