Thursday, September 8, 2011

Death by Thorough

thor·ough  [thur-oh, thuhr-oh]  adjective
1. executed without negligence or omissions   2. complete; perfect; utter:   3. extremely attentive to accuracy and detail; painstaking   4. having full command or mastery of an art, talent, etc.  5. extending or passing through

House remodeling is amazing.  You get to pick exactly what you want and how you want it (assuming the cost isn't so high that you have to sell all your organs and your children's too).  I love... choosing. Ask anyone.  But my husband is an engineer and if you know any engineers, then you probably know where I'm headed.  When Rand gets involved with any of my projects (Our.  I mean our projects.), the process slows to a grinding halt and sometimes even reverses.  This is the truth.  The equal and opposite truth, however, like all great forces, is that he also makes everything better.  Better quality, better style.  Better period.  But that better comes at a near-fatal price. And lately, to be frank, that price is feeling just too damn high.

Take, for example, last night.  We were supposed to be choosing ceiling fans.  Nine little fans.  You can count them on your fingers.  No problem, right?  Especially when we have a "preferred" company/website that our builder suggests and our house is supposed to be ready to move back into in about 6 weeks (assuming we can actually commit... to fans, drawer/cabinet pulls, and paint colors, that is...)  We had even already done our preliminaries, or should I say, I had.   I had researched the size of fan needed for each of our rooms.  I had noted if they needed a light kit.  I had identified the probable finish for each.  And I had even done some solo searching and flagged a bunch of options that suited our joint style, thinking (Insert maniacal, uncontrollable laughter, please.) we could review those together and then Rand could search around seeing what I might have missed, thereby leading us to a well-thought-out, but fairly painless decision which could be emailed directly off my to-do list by 10 pm, still allowing for just enough time to squeeze in last week's True Blood before bed.

Now, let me interject a vital piece of information here: I am very particular.   [This is like Dr. Simon Tam (of Firefly) telling the crew of Serenity that he's very smart so that they appreciate the magnitude of his sister River's brilliance which far surpasses his own not-insignificant intelligence.]  If you know me at all (or have read even one of my essays) then you know I rarely just take what I can get.  I like things a certain way.  Just so, might be a neutral way of putting it.  That pretty much applies to everything -- how I fix my hair, make a sandwich, wrap a gift, decorate my house.  And I was lucky enough to find a mate who appreciates all of these things too. (Well, only partially with the hair; he likes the end result but thinks I take far too long grooming if it involves him waiting for me.) But there's a catch and it's a big one.  One that most women with spouses who don't care never seem to realize:  When your partner cares, then it becomes a Joint Decision, which is the deceptively-simple-sounding-but-in-reality-truly-exhausting Conclusion to the extremely painful Negotiation Period, which depending on how much both parties care (and we both care a lot), can be a nearly unending phase, much like the world's most litigious divorce proceedings.   Again, let me clarify here.  This is not about my husband and I not agreeing or having divergent tastes, like many couples.  In actuality, we are quite similar in our stylistic sensabilities as well as our Standards.  And yes, that requires a Capital S.   Seriously, it's not about deciding between the mohair chaise and the Eames chair.  It's about choosing the exact right shade of leather for the Eames chair or maybe if there's a slightly newer version with cleaner lines, a less substantial base, or slightly thinner cushions.  Oh, and can we choose which way the grain of the leather runs?  Those are the sorts of subtle details that we jointly labor over... for hours, sometimes days.  It's sad, I know.  I mean, mostly I love it. Truly! And I know when we finally move back into our house, it will all be worth it, but right now, I just want to commit to our damn hardware so we can actually guarantee our move-in date prior to Halloween and I can still host my big costume party when my house more closely resembles a gothic museum, complete with strategically placed cobwebs, specimen jars, mummies, and foreboding messages that mysteriously appear under ultraviolet light. (Try to curb the anachronistic finger-pointing please, it's just decorating after all, not Set decorating.)

So, back to the fans.  Not only did he not even look at the preferred website, let alone my flagged choices, he started with a "how to find the best ceiling fan" type of search, as if we were back in our house (instead of a tiny 2 bedroom apartment with 5 people, 1 dog, and 1 cat), idly researching replacement fans because we had nothing better to do (besides watching True Blood, that is.)  This sort of thing happens all the time.  I ask him a simple question which should involve a moment or two of thoughtful consideration followed by a reply but for him takes 45 minutes, 2 computers, and quite probably graph paper, after which, it is no longer relevant because said action item has now expired.

Rand then found a downloadable, but not sortable or linkable (and with no images) spreadsheet of Energy Efficient fans broken down to show the various energy usages when on low, medium, and high speeds.  It was a most impressive document (as I'm sure all documents are originating from but impossibly long and I literally got a tightening in my chest and a tick in my left eye every time he toggled over to scan through it yet again.  And naturally, every single fan that had excellent ratings was either verrrrrry expensive (imagine Pretty Woman snarky-saleswoman voice) or was your typical traditional style, something suited to a covered porch on a sultry New Orleans night, with too many curlicues or -- gasp -- leaf-shaped blades.  Not us, in other words.  Did we end up finding our nine fans?  Yes, we did, but it took four more hours, and more than double our planned budget (because, contrary to popular opinion, Jen is not the only person in this family that appreciates expensive things.)

I should feel great, right?  Well, I sort of do, but that's because it's 10 am, I'm temporarily over my lack-of-sleep, sitting contentedly at my computer drinking chai in my lounging clothes, writing.  Present Jen is rather pleased with herself.  But even as I type, there is a hovering specter, dark and foreboding, looming just outside the blurred edges of my peripheral vision.  It is Future Jen.  (Think Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come but instead of a scythe she's holding a can of Whoop Ass and a copy of our Remodel Master Spreadsheet.)  Future Jen has to deal with the next step in the process: "Drawer and Cabinet Pulls, Towel bars, etc." which, though smaller in scale and seemingly less important than fans, are by their very nature, many in number and nothing avoids the ever-searching Eye of Rand. (I know you saw this one coming; go ahead and envision the Eye of Sauron.  I'll wait.  In fact, seriously, click on that link; there's an awesome image that makes it even better.)  We have already spent countless hours looking at hardware in showrooms, sketchbook in hand, copious notes taken and thumbnail sketches committed to paper.  We've searched online, comparing the Lowe's and Home Depot Brands to the pricier high-end versions in addition.  So it should only take us, what, 6 hours?  If we start at 8 pm, right after soccer practice, we can finish by 2 am if we're lucky!  That leaves paint for Friday night.  Or rather the slightly longer All Weekend as it will require one or more visits to both Lowe's and HD to get paint swatches to then take to our empty, half-finished house to see how those colors look in the real light of our home  (at more than one time of day, no less) not just the pallid fluorescence of our apartment.

[And that doesn't even take into account discussing with our children the shades for their rooms.  Vivi we can probably easily sway as long as it is some pink or purple hue with an appropriately fabulous-sounding name like Iridescent SunriseCooper is actually quite easy going so he'll most likely agree to whatever we suggest if offered in an enthusiastic and convincing manner.  Our first born, Will, will be the problem, of course.  And I say both problem and of course with nothing less than the same equal mix of love/frustration/pride in my voice that I use when speaking of my most excellent husband.  Will is such his father's son, it is truly remarkable.  And exhausting. (Not that I can avoid foisting some of the blame on myself, it's true.  Being the eldest of two Type-A parents is somewhat a mixed blessing... for all of us, I dare say.)  And, yes, he loves to hear about all the house details every step of the way, jumping in to heartily interject his opinion on any given topic even when it is most pointedly not requested.  Yet another reason for Future Jen to be somewhat less than a picture of patience later tonight whereas he's currently off at school while Present Jen enjoys the momentary solitude of our abbreviated abode.  I can already hear Future Jen starting to grumble and sigh audibly...]


If given a choice, I think I'd prefer Death by Chocolate or Death by Margaritas.  Or even Death by Avocados.  (mmm...avocados...) But seeing as how I'm still very much alive, I guess I'll stick with Death by Thorough since it's been working for us this long.  Life couldn't get much better than this, no matter how many computers Rand might attempt to have at his furiously fast fingertips.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nora Ephron is my new hero.

 It's the verge of Valentine's and you know what that means, right?

No, it does not mean that I am writing romantic love notes to tuck under my sweetie's pillow nor does it mean I am hand-stamping 25 Valentines for Vivi's class or wrapping little Valentine's goodies to tuck in the kids' lunch bags tomorrow.  It also does not mean that I have just successfully helmed Vivi's Butterfly Birthday Bash for her 4th birthday but still have her family birthday on the actual day later this week to tend to.  And it certainly doesn't mean I'm focused on a huge volunteer event at Cooper's school that requires 2 months of preparation, coordination, and a mob of dedicated parents to pull off come the second week of March.

Oh, I'm doing all of those things, alright, but as Nora Ephron would say, "Those are just the facts.  What's the lead?"  Meaning, what's the point of all those facts?  What is germane to my diatribe, is that I am currently in my own, personal, writer's Pit of Despair.  You see, I seem to have a semi-annual schedule to my writing, or at least my serious writing.  I don't mean my usual journaling or my idea flashes that I jot down when they strike.  I mean my Writing, with a Capital W, when I spend 2 or more hours at the computer most days/nights (usually when 1 or all of my family is sleeping), and actually make some notable progress, not to mention post a blog here or there.  Unfortunately, I only seem to be able to manage that six months of the year.  From late September to mid-March, the real world, my non-writing world takes over starting with Halloween preparation, then both Rand's and my birthdays, and too many hours of Christmas projects to enumerate here, in addition to your usual, normal shopping/wrapping/decorating tasks.  Nipping at the heels of the holidays, is Will's birthday followed by his sister's, all the while, I temporarily become a permanent enough fixture at the school that occasionally I'm asked if I work there.  The insanity (maybe I should say my insanity given that some [much?] of it is technically self-induced) wraps up around mid-March when Cooper's birthday ties a neat little bow around this overstuffed bundle of events.

So, back to the Story Lead.  (If you don't know much about Nora Ephron, before writing movies like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally and writing/directing movies like Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia, she was a journalist; she wrote for the New York Post and Esquire Magazine just to name a couple.) My lead might sound something like this:  Over-committed Mother of three pines for the Spring and Summer, when she can dig out her Writer hat, rumpled and musty though it may be, air it out, fluff it up, and set it squarely on her head, pulled down snugly, hopefully to remain there despite the Texas heat, until at least September 15th.

Okay, so clearly I'm not a journalist.  Succinct is not in my vocabulary, I know.  But still, I'm hoping you get my point.  All you have to do is graph my blog postings to see the truth in this.  I have 9 postings in the Oct-March range versus 12 in April-September.  But really that should be 8-13 as the sole March post I have is last year's Oscar Countdown which is an anomaly.  Besides, that's a fast-and-furious-I-must-write-and-complete-this-now-in-order-to-maintain-any-sense-of-timeliness essay so I had to get that out.  And, of those remaining eight, not even one is a West Coast Trail blog which are by far my longest posts.  "I could explain it better but I'd need charts and graphs and an easel." (If you give up and don't know the movie this is quoted from I encourage you to [re]watch it.)  Maybe a simple word count comparison of my combined posts over the past 3+ years would illustrate my point better:
  •  April-September: 32,422 words
  •  October-March: 13,358 words
That's almost a 3:1 ration.  Just think if I could improve my Fall/Winter numbers!  Nora would probably just tell me to download and install Freedom on my computer, to restrict my access to the internet for a set period of time and keep me focused on my writing.  Unfortunately, Freedom doesn't deny my family access to me so at this point I may just have to sleep less, at least until my little Vivianna starts Kindergarten in a couple years.  Besides which, I find accessing the internet is usually integral to my final editing.  If I'm not double-checking the spelling of a word I really think I should know from memory [that would be "germane" today], I invariably need to cross-reference something, or in this instance, suddenly search for a word count tool.  And if I had a nickel for every time I have linked to, I would quite possibly be a billionaire. Okay, well for sure a millionaire, then.

I guess I should talk about Nora a bit more if I don't want the BPTP (Blog Post Title Police) breathing down my neck.  The thing is, I actually am talking about her in my own painfully circuitous way.  I belong to the Austin Film Society which is how I heard about Nora Ephron coming to speak at Austin's historic Paramount Theater.  I knew instantly I wanted to attend but wasn't sure anyone else I knew (besides my sister, Janie, living 1500 miles away) would be interested in a writer's talk besides me which, of course, I now realize was silly.  You see, although I love her films, I had never read any of Nora's books.  (Yes, in the past 3 days I have since rectified that dreadful gap in my mental bookshelf.)  Anyway, I did my usual theme-immersion to get myself in the mood by watching a number of her films leading up to last Thursday night's event including Sleepless in Seattle, Hanging Up, and Julie & Julia.

In the end, I invited a friend that has Paramount contacts which turned out to be a major win as she hooked us up with "meet & greet" passes which allowed us access to a lovely little banquet room at Stephen F Austin Hotel around the corner from the theater immediately following the event.  There we were led to a swanky silver-service of coffee, tea, liquors, and tasty morsels laid out alongside a handful of small, round tables where we could chat and mingle with one another (we talked with an interesting pair of short-film-makers about what we thought of Nora's talk [Fabulous!] and why we were there [inspiration and entertainment mainly]) until Nora Ephron herself arrived soon after, flanked by a professional photographer and what I would call her Handler, whose job it was, apparently, to smoothly yet firmly encourage over-exuberant fans to move right along thank you very much.  I am pleased to inform you that we were not in that offending category.  We tried--or maybe it would be truer to say I tried--to be the cool fan, the one that isn't starry-eyed by the fame.  The one that isn't desperate to have you sign her book despite the previously announced "no autographs".  The one that puts her camera away when she hears Nora wants only professionally photographed photos with the fans.  The one that has something interesting and not simply gushing to say when it's her turn to shake Nora's hand.  I think I was successfully exuding a very convincing cool-fan vibe up until the point that I asked Nora (after the obvious and required "You were just wonderful, so inspiring to women!" introductory greeting) what she thought of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that is causing such a brouhaha in the media, and coincidentally what we're reading for my Book Club right now.

[You see, Nora's topics that night included her experiences in journalism and film, writing, motherhood,  marriage and divorce, as well as her love of books and reading in general.  She joked (or maybe not) that she is extremely well-informed and well-read.  Ask her about anything; she's read it.]

So, I decided to test that assertion and ask her if she'd read the Tiger Mom book.  Which, of course, she had.  And she hated it.  Or at least she proceeded to expound at length about it in a very negative fashion, concerned I think, that we loved it.  (As yet I have no opinion since I have it on my Kindle but have not had time to read a word, being too preoccupied reading Nora's books.  Ask me in another week and I'll definitely have an opinion.)  By the end of her--dare I say rant?--my friend and I were wishing I'd said something else and feeling a tad guilty about holding Nora's attention for so long.  Not so guilty, however,  that I didn't ask if we could get a professional photo (which hopefully my friend can track down a copy of through those contacts of hers I mentioned.)

As expected, Nora was interesting and hilarious, but what took me by surprise was not that I was fascinated by her stories about her early writing career or anecdotes about working in the film industry which I was, utterly and completely. [In When Harry Met Sally, although Nora wrote the the famous orgasm scene very close to what it is in the film, it was Meg Ryan that suggested it be in a public setting and that she simulate having an orgasm.  Likewise, Billy Crystal came up with the "I'll have what she's having" line.  And to spread around the credit even more, it was the director, Rob Reiner, who cast the older woman who said the famous line:  his very own mother.]  No, the awe-inspiring part was that she seemed to be speaking directly to me, telling me what I needed to hear:   It's never too late.  Make it happen.  Reinvent yourself.  (and a whispering undercurrent of write, write, write.)  As it turned out, this sense of "now's your time" seemed to speak to most of the women in attendance.  She cited Julia Child, who not until age 50, published her famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Chatting after we agreed that most women we know would have loved her talk as well, we thought.  Not to mention a few men. 

Nora's parents were well-known stage & screenwriters, having penned numerous screenplays including Carousel and one of my very favorites: Tracy & Hepburn's Desk Set.  Growing up in a writing-focused environment, Nora's mother was apparently very fond of the phrase "Everything is Copy".  Which is true but not what Nora wanted to hear when her boyfriend just broke up with her.  [Or in my case, when my kids got lice from school and I spent Christmas at my parent's house, vigilantly checking heads and laundry, utterly mortified at bringing the infestation into their home.] 

"Everything is Copy".  I've known this truth but in a nameless sense.  I'm delighted to now be able to succinctly - succinctly!!! - convey that point,  much like one of my movie quotes where someone else's words say it perfectly.  Wait a minute, aren't my words supposed to be sublime?  Clearly, I have a long way to go.