[Ed. note: I found out this morning that Daniel Wallace will be in town on September 6 to sign copies of Big Fish (I KNOW!!!!) so I'm going to leave this giveaway open for a few extra days; the winner will now receive a signed copy!]
A few months ago I was listening to a This American Life podcast about coincidence stories; it was an especially good episode, because it featured a number of stories that make you say "NO WAY!" and shake your head at the sheer unbelievability of how such a coincidence could actually occur. As I was listening, I was thinking about the coincidences I've experienced in my life; up until that point, the only one with true staying power was the one about my locks: the Masterlock lock I began using in 7th grade for gym at Kimpton (and still have!) was exactly one digit off the combination for each turn as my high school locker for four years (34-0-14 and 35-1-13). That seems like a really super one to me, but maybe not noteworthy enough to submit to This American Life or anything.
Since I listened to that episode, I now have two more stories to add to my list of coincidence stories. The first the one is about how Maddie's first friend at her new middle school just so happens to be the daughter of a friend of fellow photographer and scrapbooker Christa Paustenbaugh; the girls found each other independently of knowing this connection. It was only until her mama and I struck up a conversation about being new in town and where'd we come from at a school orientation (as you do when you're a military family) that I learned they had just recently come from Japan. Ever the seeker of needles in haystacks, I said "hey, my friend Christa just moved from Japan too!" and she said "hey, she's my friend too!" which I find to be a pretty coincidental kind of discovery. Especially since they weren't assigned to the same place in Japan, but rather met at a previous assignment. Christa had been hoping we'd meet, but hadn't yet given us the heads up to go looking for each other.
The other one is quite possibly the most unbelievable coincidence I've ever experienced. Here goes:
So right after we got back from Disney World last month we took Maddie over to her new school to check things out and get her signed up for the already-in-progress symphonic band camp going on (which, coincidentally, is where Maddie met her new friend). It was scheduled early in the morning a few times a week, and one of the days I took her over Matt didn't have to be at school until a little later in the morning so I opted to explore downtown Montgomery instead of driving all the way home and back. One of the places I went was a bookstore I had scouted out last November when we were online house hunting, Capitol Book & News. We didn't end up renting the house down the street from the bookstore, alas. When I walked in, I could tell that it was a hundred times cooler than my Google Map walking tour let on.
I gleefully explored for about an hour, picking up a few birthday gifts and Other Things I Couldn't Pass By. I took a bunch of photos of books I wanted to remember for later (does anyone else do this in bookstores? I must have 100 photos of me holding books in my hand). My last selection was a copy of Big Fish, which I have written about here before; it's a book/movie that I absolutely, positively loved but is also very significant to me because it was the book that got me to finally work up the nerve to query Simple Scrapbooks back in 2004. I'm pretty sure my copy is missing—I think I must have lent it out at some point so I decided on a whim that it was time to both reread and replace it.
As it was nearing time for me to head back and get Maddie, I wandered back up front to pay. I plunked my books down with Big Fish on top; the lady working smiled and said "ah, Big Fish. That's a great story." I am always happy to strike up a conversation with a friendly bookseller, so I offered that I loved it—both the book and the movie—and was replacing my strangely lost copy. She then went on to ask me if I knew that part of the movie was filmed in Cloverdale, the neighborhood in which this book store is located right here in Montgomery?
I must have looked totally shocked but then launched into an abbreviated and blather-y explanation of why this book was so important to me; she went on to tell the whole story, how Ewan McGregor, Danny DeVito, and the rest of the cast (to include Helena Bonham Carter!) stayed in Montgomery for the months they filmed the movie, occasionally hanging out in the bookstore on their breaks and off-hours as a quiet and safe place to go. She explained that the staff tried very, very hard to maintain nonchalance about the whole thing, earning the trust and goodwill of the actors; the entire bookstore staff was invited to the final post-production dinner as a thank you for their hospitality.
Seriously. I have unwittingly bought a replacement copy of the book that I credit with launching my freelance writing career in the bookstore WHERE THE ACTORS FILMING THE MOVIE VERSION HUNG OUT?!?
I had no idea this movie was filmed in Alabama. There is no amount of head-shaking that will help me to process the unlikeliness of this coincidence, ever. Especially since I've been kind of mulling over taking some big, brave action to do more with my writing since we've moved here. Maybe my coincidence is really just the universe giving me a Big Push. Whatever the case, it truly is a coincidence of mythic proportions.
Do you have a coincidence story? Leave me a comment about it and I'll do a little random drawing in the next day or so to select one person to receive a copy of Big Fish. Because sometimes, you have to share the gifts of the universe : ) As usual with giveaways here, comments remain open until they're closed.
I love street photography, though I am mostly too much of a scaredy-cat to really pursue it most of the time. There are a few exceptions, of course, and I love the photos I've taken when I have some sort of "excuse" to be taking strangers' photos out in public (Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photo Walk, Cheyenne Frontier Days, etc.) but normally I just imagine how cool a photo would turn out if I was brave enough to take it.
It is no surprise that I was absolutely, completely enthralled by Finding Vivian Maier, a documentary that details the discovery of one of the most prolific street photographers of all time. I was familiar with some of Vivian Maier's photographs since she posthumously came on the photography world scene in the last few years, but I had never taken the time to really learn about her life until Matt and I rented it on Apple TV recently. We cannot recommend this film enough: it is a jaw-dropping, unlikely story of an immensely talented woman who kept her creative life (mostly) a secret. It has moments of heartbreak, too, told in a way that presents the price of creativity as a difficult equation to balance. I won't lie: I saw part of myself in her regarding the compulsion to take photos and collect the ephemera that documents ordinary life, and it has left me wondering why some people function this way and some people don't. In the end, I was in awe of the sheer emotion and detail she was able to capture as she roamed the streets with her charges in tow.
Here's the trailer; add it to your wish list.
If you're making lunches on your new countertops (well, new to you) and you set down the knife you used to slice open a blueberry bagel,
DO NOT GET DISTRACTED AND ACCIDENTALLY SET A LUNCH BAG ON TOP OF IT.
Because when you pick up the lunch bag off the shallow countertop, the knife will slide from the edge and bounce off the top of your foot, causing an immediate gory scene all over your kitchen at 6:35 a.m. It doesn't matter that the cut is actually less than 1/8" long, it will still result in a giant goose egg and make it nearly impossible to wear a shoe on your right foot for the immediate future.
When you live in the south, geckos come out at night and hang around your outside doors (and occasionally get inside to a bathroom somehow, ack). They are mostly harmless, as far as we can tell. However, if you see one running across the front porch on your way out to walk with the dog at night,
DO NOT STOP TO LOOK AT IT BECAUSE THE DOG WILL EAT IT WHOLE.
I kid you not. We have a gecko-eating dog. I googled it, and it's a thing. It won't kill her or anything, but it also isn't recommended to feed one's dog geckos. All I can think about is a gecko running around her insides. YUCK.
Remember how I said that taking on some sort of creative project is a good idea during a big move? Well, I took on a creative project during the move this summer and I might have taken it to crazy levels of OCD because it was about the only thing I had any control over for a while there. The project: Color//Colour Lovers, an international photo scavenger hunt hosted by fellow Phone Photography Project instructor Andrea Jenkins and her friend Xanthe Berkeley. It was a fantastic project, and I looked forward to checking out the colorful pictures people all over the world posted to Instagram each day. Most people posted a few here, a handful there and moved on to the next color. Not me: I decided early on that I would post TWELVE pictures per color, and then not post anything else until the next week's color kicked off. I wouldn't post in between my blocks of twelve, because that would MESS EVERYTHING UP.
If this sounds unnecessarily rigid, you would be right. Moving does weirdo things to people's brains.
I almost didn't post additional Disney pictures to Instagram after I found my twelve for #colorcolourpurple week but before #colorcolourorange week started because of this OCD nonsense, but thankfully my more rational self took over and looking back, I don't even know what my problem was. I accidentally mixed up the dates of the last two weeks (#colorcolourorange and #colorcolourblue) and sent myself into a tizzy, but that ended up just fine, too. All's well that ends well.
I love these pictures I took. Seeing them all together makes me happy.
All these little summer stories... I recommend photo projects to everyone. : )
+ Maddie has to get up so early again this year. And by default, so do both her parents; last year, only I had to get up in the pitch dark with her but this year, Matt is driving her to school (because the other option isn't really an option at all, leaving the house at 5:55 to drive to a 6:10 bus). So, 6:30 out the door it is.
+ Maddie's shirt color choices this year are white and purple, plus the green t-shirt she gets to wear on Fridays.
+ Gracie and Bridget will be wearing burgundy, navy blue, white, and this plaid combo.
+ Gracie and Bridget also have to be driven to another location to catch a bus to school; the neighborhood bus option would require them to leave the house an hour and 45 minutes before their first bell rings + a bus transfer, so 7:30 out the door it is.
+ If you are gathering that the logistics of this school year are going to be crazy, you would be correct. I won't even try to describe the afternoon craziness—suffice it to say, we will be putting thousands and thousands of miles on the van this year.
+ Nobody cried after the first day of school, so there's an improvement over last year.
+ We named Maddie MadeLINE (like the little girl in the book) with a long "I" sound in her name, and have been correcting people ever since who always assume she pronounces it MadeLYN, which is a fine name, just not hers. She usually goes by Maddie at school these days to save everyone the trouble, but her French teacher assigned her French name to be Madeleine this year in class. So now it's official. We will arm her with alternate French names to offer up next year...
+ Gracie is in a near panic about this ginormous year-long Alabama State History portfolio assignment she has to do, but I think it will be great fun. Though we have to giggle, because the poor thing is being hit yet again with the state history year. Louisiana state history is for 3rd graders, Alabama state history for 4th graders... it will be just her luck if we move to California and she has to do the notorious California Mission history project. Ha.
+ Bridget and Gracie will have Spanish, P.E., music, counseling, and science lab as their specials this year (no art, booooooo). They both are Very Excited about the science lab; I haven't met the teacher yet, but Gracie said they get to save up some sort of stamp reward thing they get and use it toward a special prize at some point in the year—one of the prizes is to attend a potions class. To say they were excited about that would be a big understatement.
Enjoy summer, all you people who start school at the end of August when it's supposed to start : )
I was clicking through my August archives tonight and it struck me that while things are different in every way this August, they're also pretty much exactly the same.
1. It was Grandma's birthday yesterday. Unfortunately, we didn't get to celebrate in person but I did get to talk to her on the phone for a little bit.
2. My Nigella Lawson measuring spoons are still in perfect condition, being used regularly and not being crunched in the garbage disposal. (Yay, me!)
3. I had a panic about NOT RENEWING A MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION this week and choosing something else to subscribe to instead. It totally made me giggle that in fact, this is not a new thing at all. I love magazines so much. The real ones, not the iPad ones. I've tried to be an iPad magazine reader, but I just want a real magazine in my hand. Related: I miss Wondertime terribly.
5. Gracie told this story again, except that it wasn't a little boy but rather one of the older optionals girls at gym.
6. We're back at an elementary school with beautiful gardens.
7. We're having some major swimming victories.
That's Gracie, jumping off the diving board and swimming to the side without a life jacket. Also pictured: a little bit of what we now fondly refer to as our "hippie palm," which is a nice way to say this palm tree is 92% dead but a segment of the population prefers you to leave it that way as a rustic habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Thank you, Sunbeam of Knowledge.
8. We have another Light Switch of Doom connected to a computer, and it is not an option to move it because it is the only way to receive electrical power in the particular room the computer is set up in.
10. We had another round of first days of school. August is filled with them (except in 2007 and 2008, when the first day of school was after Labor Day).
11. Some days are still easier than others.
12. We still hate don't love uniforms.
First day pictures coming soon : )
Today was going to be the day where I worked blogging back into my schedule, as I have sorely missed it. I just didn't expect it to be about this.
Like just about everyone else I know, I am in disbelief over the news of Robin Williams' death. When I first saw the news last night, I burst into tears—an odd reaction to the loss of someone I never knew personally, but my reaction all the same. Robin Williams has been part of my life since the late 1970s when I was a regular watcher of Mork & Mindy. He has been a part of almost every stage of my life, informing and shaping my sensibilities about humor and comedy and emotional intelligence and why it's important to say no to drugs and fashion (oh yes, I proudly wore rainbow suspenders when I was little just like he did).
I didn't love every movie he made, and maybe that's why I liked him even more—because it means you don't have to hit a homerun every single time to create a life's work that is unmatched and thoroughly original. Some of my favorites: Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Jumanji, Good Morning Vietnam, The World According to Garp, The Fisher King, Night at the Museum, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Robots. Things to be sure of: death, taxes, and Robin Williams' predictable unpredictability.
I still have my Electric Company magazine from 35 years ago with him on the cover:
So this is what it's like to move all the time:
Lots of people you know and love will look at you and tell you they think you're amazing for moving so much. That they don't know how you do it. That you must be super organized and totally on top of the clutter and build-up of the years both in terms of dust and school papers.
Once you've heard it a few times it makes you want to scream.
Not because you aren't appreciative of the compliment, but because it couldn't feel farther from the truth.
There is nothing amazing about being surrounded by so many boxes of stuff when you thought you worked hard to sell/donate/toss. There is nothing amazing about not knowing how to solve the puzzle of where to put your things, even if your house is bigger than the last one (and especially if it's smaller). There is nothing amazing about not being able to find X, Y, or Z for weeks on end. There is nothing amazing about imagining your friends in other towns enjoying their summers like normal people—swimming lessons, plenty of summer groceries stocked and ready to go, flowers in pots and birdfood in feeders. And there is definitely nothing amazing about setting up internet service with a new company.
Instead of running outside to play with friends, your children watch too much TV, bicker at the smallest of imagined injustices, and cling to each other while missing their own friends. They aren't feeling all that amazing either in those early days, because they know that NEW is HARD. New schools to figure out, new library culture to learn, new neighborhood boundaries to navigate, and the "new kid" badge to wear. Their new teammates are sizing them up, extra-watchful of skills and judging whether or not they'll be a threat. It's tiring, all this newness, when all you want is familiar. Even if familiar was new just one year before.
Meanwhile... it's easy to fall into the trap to believe that you're the only one struggling. Your amazing military friends who are moving too? They actually do have it together, you think. Their dust and school papers are managed. They're navigating their new Targets and commissaries without standing in the aisles ready to burst into crazy lady tears because the cereal is in the wrong place. Their boxes are unpacked and recycled by the seventh day and most likely have friends their kids actually know lined up to be emergency contacts. They're showing up and smiling and have already invited the neighborhood kids over for ice cream and lemonade, because they have a full house of groceries. That, by the way, they didn't pay for with the credit card because they aren't sure for another month exactly what the cash flow is going to look like.
It's exhausting to be friends with all these perfect people.
And then: the stories start to spill out. Like the one friend who ended up driving a billion miles in the wrong direction in crazy San Francisco Bay traffic because she accidentally got on the wrong road when all she wanted was to go to Costco. And another friend who lost her cat on moving day only to discover it stowed away in the moving truck for five whole deathly hot days (but survived to see another). Or the friend whose one chance to pull cold weather gear out of long-term storage after a stint in Japan resulted in a mis-labeled box of outgrown children's books that will not keep her children warm for the upcoming year in a new place (where the bulk of the stored stuff stays in storage). Or the new friend whose overseas shipment just never showed up, lost in a port somewhere. Slowly, it begins to occur to you that the stress of moving has caused you to have an active imagination about how your military friends are experiencing their own moves.
And suddenly, you realize that you all really are pretty amazing, because you've all managed to survive these tales you're telling each other. You remember that new is often exciting, and brave adventures can bring a family closer together. Eventually you'll have flowers in pots and birdfood in feeders too, and you'll eat outside on a perfect summer evening and wonder what all the fuss was about a few weeks ago. You'll get the last of the boxes to the recycle center eventually, and use your amazing powers to erase all memory of their existence.
Until next year, when you get to do it all again.