On Finding a Setting

August 13, 2008

This evening D and I had a conversation on the phone that lasted more than our typical phone conversations now-a-days. Actually, we had an argument, but that’s not what this post is about. In the midst of all of it, during the resolution of the whole thing — the time when we are done with the heightened feelings and adamantly trying to prove a point, when we both re-cap what we need and try to find some sort of compromise — I closed my eyes for a moment and could picture my apartment back in Arkansas so clearly, right down to the feel of my bed and the cat’s tail ticking against my leg and the way my bed creaked when I moved. We spent a lot of time talking on the phone in those days, back when he was the California branch of our relationship.

It’s funny that the very thing the argument began with (our arguments rarely end with what they began with) was the very thing I was picturing: Setting. This post is not about the argument, so I’m not going to go into the details of what transpired. For the past few days, however, I’ve been attempting to put into words a discovery I made on the beach Saturday. But I’ve also been trying to challenge myself to improve my writing style so it’s slightly less amateur and emotive. Today I tried writing a post entirely devoid of “I” as a subject. It just doesn’t work in blogging. This is what I came up with:

“One of the major components that separates a seasoned writer from an amateur is the emphasis on setting. The category of seasoned writers is by no means this girl’s dwelling place, but freshman year fiction writing left me with a better understanding of setting in writing. Heck, this blog nearly tripled in its readership once it took on the personal of a Midwestern transplant living in Los Angeles. Or maybe it was the advertising to friends on Facebook that did that.” Can you say boring textbook? I just need to stop trying to justify blogging with failed attempts to turn this entirely narcissistic thing into something literary. It’s a blog. Of course it’s going to have a high degree of gush.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that often amateur writers neglect setting in their work, and they leave their poor characters floating around in a readers’ mind in banal, shadowy places like generic bedrooms, rather than putting them someplace specific. In real life, we live in specific places: not just any room, but my room with the pile of laundry on the bathroom floor and the broken blinds and the stale scent of herbal shampoo. Not just any old park, but the park with the statue of the man who invented the chocolate bar. J.R.R. Tolkien is so fantastic with his settings that I am having such a terrible time getting through The Lord of the Rings. Any time Frodo or the other hobbits think of the shire and how they long for their home, I start crying. Homesickness…meh.

Saturday, le roommates and I went to the beach, and the fact confronted me that I’ve only been to the beach three times in the last seven months even though is less than five miles from my apartment. And by going to the beach, I mean donning a bathing suit with at least a slight intention of getting wet. Saturday was the first day since I moved here that I actually immersed myself in the Pacific. And then I realized that part of the reason that I have been homesick to some degree since I left for college back in 2001, moving away from Minnesota for the very first time, is because I have never given myself a chance to get to know the land in any other place.

If you were to ask me about Minnesota, I wouldn’t just say that I lived in a house there or went to high school there. I would tell you about the countless snow structures we built and how we would hang our mittens and hats and scarves over the radiator in our first house to let them get warm before we put them on. I would tell you about the mulberry bushes in the backyard and how they would become so ripe and juicy that you could bump the branches and they’d fall to the ground, washing it in purple, and how the birds would poop mulberry seeds all over the patio. I would tell you how our family built that patio with bricks and sand and cement blocks, and it all went quite well until the ice that winter built up under the bricks made them explode. Every winter the fire department would flood the park for ice skating, and Jack Frost would paint our windows. I remember how it feels to lie in my bedroom, the exact way the bed fits my body, and how it is to wake up there to the sounds and smells of absolute comfort — to knowing the people you love most in the world are only a wall away. When I was a little girl, in our first house, I could always tell who was coming up stairs by the rhythm of their steps. Mom would always stop at the bottom to pick up toys and bring them up. There were twelve steps at my first house. Sixteen at my second.

I never gave myself the chance to know Arkansas that well. There was the damp and musty feeling of our house on Maple Street, where I lived with 3 other girls, and the sounds of the frogs outside my window in that studio above a professor’s garage. There was the feeling of desperation and sadness when I finished college, broke up with my boyfriend, and moved out of that apartment all in a few days. But the same elements and concretes are not there. I was so busy being productive that I didn’t take the time to memorize the number of steps from the ground to my door. These were merely places, apartments for a temporary life. It’s no wonder they never felt like home.

Sometimes I think that I will never feel at home again unless I get married, have kids, and settle down somewhere. Nothing reminds me of home more than watching my niece and nephew play and seeing again the things that are important to children. For my niece, it is wearing pink, putting on chapstick, and reading books. My nephew just wants to run everywhere with his binky in his mouth. They want other kids to play with, adults to entertain them, and lots and lots of cookies. They remind me of what it was like to grow up with an older brother and what it was like to have such a big living room… what it was like to have a house not just cover you, but protect you. There were all the alcoves and crannies to that place… the towel cupboard you could climb inside and close the door, the secret storage closet in my brother’s room, the turning cupboard in the kitchen corner where breakfast cereal was kept.

At the same time, I know that my life is here in L.A. now, at least for the next few years, and I need to be investing myself here. I need to pursue the land with the same intention that I pursue the friends I am making here. I need to count the steps from my carport to my apartment. I need to go to the beach every weekend and find a spot to memorize. I need to stop floating around in this generic place and make it specific. I need to find my setting.

In every Los Angeles woman’s life, there comes a day when she is invited to a momentous event, something that no-doubt happens daily in Hollywood, but is riveting to your average mid-westerner: The Wrap Party.

Now, I just texted best friend L for advice on what to wear to a wrap party:

Ann: So, im going to a wrap party thursday and have no idea what a girl wears to a wrap party.

L: Hah, I don’t even know what a wrap party is.

Ann: It’s for the end of filming a movie. The celebration. D invited me.

L: Ooh! Definitely a cute dress. For some reason I thought it was a party where people get together and wrap presents… like a wake but w ribbons and not sad. Hah!

Ann: Ha! That makes sense. I may have to go shopping tomorrow to find something appropriate. I wish you could come with me!

While this mid-western girl is not excited about hanging out with Hollywood girls in skimpy clothing, she is excited about building her own outfit for the outing and hanging around D, and his brother G, and G’s girlfriend N. But back to the outfit, I’m looking for something adorable but not skanky and eye-catching without screaming I’M AVAILABLE. Because I’m not.

Unless you’re David Duchovny.

Who, by the way, could possibly be there because his wife Tea Leoni is in the film (Wife? Wife schmife). Also, Billy Bob Thorton is in it. I just can’t get away from Arkansas. And no, Dick Van Dyke will not be there. He ended up either not getting or not taking the part. (That was mostly fyi for you, Friend AA. There will be no luncheons with Dick Van Dyke where I place a cardboard cut-out of you at the table, and no chim-chimeny-chim-chim.)

Tonight I pulled out my fashion book to look through it for inspiration. It is a binder with ripped out magazine pages from fashion magazines and catalogs throughout the last 3 years. It is my way of holding onto aspects of magazines that I like without having to drag a huge magazine collection with me whenever I move. I put the pictures in plastic page protectors according to category, and each category is divided by tabs. Obsessive? Yes. But I love it. I look through it when I’m trying to get my creativity flowing, and I’m amazed at how many pieces I could create just from revamping something old.

Anyway, I even googled “wrap party” in Google Images to see what other girls have worn to wrap parties. I ended up with a bunch of photos of people schmoozing with celebrities, but not much in the lines of classy-wrap-party-wear.

So, friends, I ask your advice:

What does a tasteful girl wear to a wrap party?

Borderline Serious

June 11, 2008

You may not believe this if you don’t know me for real, or if you know me really, really well, but in real life I am actually somewhat of a shy, quiet person. Some have even thought me stuck up because of my tendency to sit on the fringe of social situations rather than jumping in the middle.

Tonight I realized that since meeting my boyfriend, I’ve become a lot more socially funny. Being with him is almost like taking a class called How to Be Funny. I learn through immersion. I guess his confidence just rubs off on me like imitation gold. Or maybe he just tells enough bad jokes that I know it’s ok to have a few of them flop every once-in-a-while.

I also realized tonight that I’ve become a lot more apt to confront. A lot more honest about my feelings. And a lot more honest about my mistakes. We had an intense conversation the other night. I only almost started crying once. Just once! And that, my friends, is an amazing feat for me. Not that crying is bad — it is appropriate sometimes — but I tend to do a lot of it, being the sensitive, emotional type.

D asked me the other night if I thought therapy was a good idea again. Now, this could be an insult for some, but he was really being very intuitive. The last several months have been hard for me. In college I went to therapy for a semester when I was overloaded with work, and all the activities I was involved in, and having a hard time with some friends. It was really helpful. I’m not ashamed of it in the least. In fact, I think people who make fun of therapy are pretty narrow-minded. It has helped a lot of people get through some rough times in a very healthy way. D asked and was concerned because I started feeling an anxiety attack coming on when we were leaving a movie theater. Now, we had just gone to see the new Indiana Jones flick, and though I won’t tell you exactly what happens or be overly critical, let’s just say that it could very well have been the cause of my anxiety attack.

In a way, D’s question gave me permission to think back on the past few months and look at them in terms of progress. The near-anxiety attack came so suddenly the other day that it was a little scary. We sat on the curb at a lovely shopping center called The Grove for quite a while until I felt calm enough to go home. I hadn’t had a lot of time to introvert over the weekend, and there were so many people, and it was so noisy, and it was a hot day, so perhaps all these things combined pushed me over the edge. And it was a little scary and embarrassing. But the good thing is that I felt it coming, and I was able to talk myself out of it. When I think about these past few months in L.A. and how they have affected me, I realize that I really have come a long way, because three years ago? I would have been having anxiety attacks as frequently as I did while student teaching… every few weeks. Nearly having one for the first time in six months? That’s progress, baby. PROGRESS.

D is officially done with his semester of classes and TA-ing, and I am glad that my boyfriend is back, and you’re gonna be in trouble (ay-la, ay-la…). I often joke that philosophy is the other woman, and these past few weeks it hasn’t really been a joke. Phil is all he talks about. She’s all he does (ooh-la-la). Today I told D that we needed to have a fight because I am full of all this angst.

I said it over the phone: “I think I need to fight with you later.”

“What? You can’t plan a fight.”

“But I need to. I need to let you know that I’m going to fight with you and that you’re not going to be all, My girlfriend’s an idiot and I’m going to break up with her. Remember back in September when we almost broke up, and John was so impressed that I told you, ‘I think I’m going to be mad at you later’? It’s the same thing. Be impressed at my foresight.”

I’m mad because D is dissing me Memorial Day. Just because his dear friend and roommate B is moving far, far away, eventually to end up in the mythical land of Notre Dame (Come on, B. We all know Notre Dame doesn’t really exist) to do his PhD work (Come on, B. We all know that PhD’s don’t really exist… they’re all in your head… yuk, yuk, yuk…), D thinks that he needs to spend TIIIIIIIIIME with BBBBBBBBBBBB or something ridiculous like that. So, D and I were hoping to go to Vegas just for a day and evening this weekend, but then he decided to go with B instead.

Served.

And I realize as I’m writing this that it’s been a while since I’ve updated anyone on how it’s been lately to take the long-distance relationship to the near-sight. I realized this past week that because D and I were predominately talking on the phone for the first, well, 18 months of our relationship, I missed out on a very important aspect of romantic comraderie called Wooing. D wooed me through email and phone conversation. And while we have an incredibly solid friendship because of these aspects of my wooing, I feel like we sort of missed out on the romance. Or maybe I’m the only one who misses that. I realized the other day that most of the time when I see D, I’m in my pajamas and badly in need of a shower. We never had that stage of trying to impress one another through looking pretty on indulgent dates, which may include, for example, flowers, wine, creative activities, dancing, expensive gifts, and the ever-scintilating but later-embarrassing talking like you’re in a movie (“You complete me.”) Although we did once make out in an old post office after hours in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. (Pretend you didn’t read that, Mom.)

Instead of all that wooing-paraphernalia, I got post offices and mix CDs and some of the best emails I’ll ever get. I became Pavlov’s show-stopping dog whenever that special ring-tone ding-ed. I got Christmas and Easter, just like a victim of divorce. I got an earfull of Alvin Plantinga and Linda Zagzebski and a copy of Crime and Punishment which I have yet to read and accidently left out in the rain. I got Annie Hall and 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and the opportunity to share Billy-Collins-love with another person, which then became airborne and infected all his friends. And there was that Vogue subscription I gotĀ for Christmas 2006. But where did all of this get me? Romance? I guess. I’m here in California, not just for D, but he is kind of a big deal.

It got me another best friend, and as cheesy as that sounds, as much as it is the ever-scintillating and later-embarrassing movie talk, I have to admit that it’s a pretty good thing.

And D…

sweet, sweet D…

I really must profess to you now…

that I really, really want to fight with you later.