Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Last Lecture

When I was but a whippersnapper, one of my first real assignments at C-Ville Weekly (then C-Ville Review) was to interview this guy at UVA who’d done pioneering work in virtual reality. I was not computer literate; I wrote all my college papers on a Brother typewriter. I’d actually had to learn how to use a computer (thank God, a Mac) for this job. At C-Ville, we didn’t have Internet access and I did most of my research at the library.

I went to the interview with a photographer. The guy I was interviewing was a young professor, cute (although I was a student at the time and well schooled in What Is Inappropriate, which included finding professors cute). He was good at explaining things in layman’s terms. I got to try on some virtual reality goggles and run through his program. It was really cool, but I have weak eye muscles and wearing the goggles gave me a headache. That’s about all I remember from the interview.

The guy was Randy Pausch. If you’re an engineering folk, you might know him from his accomplishments in the computing field, but if you’re a YouTube watcher or a bestseller-list observer, you might know him from his Last Lecture. Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and has blown people away with this lecture.

I don’t really have anything to add to what’s already been said about his talk, which is funny and inspirational. But yesterday, I was feeling whiny and overwhelmed and up to my armpits in three different projects, and the lecture popped in my head. I (or any of us, really) could be dead by next year, I thought. Which is, I know, kind of maudlin and drama-queen-ish, but sometimes it takes maudlin and drama queen to get me to realize that I need to chill the fuck out.

If you have seventy-six minutes to spare...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I Need to Be Stopped

Holy hell. Have you ever gotten sucked into Every spare minute I have, I'm on it, which makes me either (a) researching a project, or (b) impersonating a retiree who just discovered the Internet.

I can read old newspapers all day. So far, my favorite thing I've come across is one of those old-timey ads that looks like an article. The headline is: "Attention, Fat Girls!" I could kick myself that I kept reading.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paperback Writer

So, the paperback of Practically Perfect in Every Way comes out on May 6. It has a new cover, a reader’s guide of sorts, and the correct spelling of seretonin. I’m all kinds of excited.

I’m also a little nervous. It’s no big secret that in publishing, you have, max, three months to make a splash before the next crop of books rises up and takes over the shelf space. So part of the job, with nonfiction anyway, is putting on a publicist hat and (if I can take this metaphor and torture it), the hat is about as comfortable for me as a bale of straw. I think I’ve gotten pretty okay with it, though. But I’ve come to a wall; I’m not quite sure what else I can do to publicize PPIEW.

Except, maybe ask you? If you’re interested in writing about the book—whether it’s a review, an interview with me, or a suggestion for your book club—I’d be ever so grateful. I have some TV and radio experience, too, if you need a somewhat chunky lady with fabulous new shoes to book on your show. (jennifer dot niesslein at comcast dot net.)

Even posting this request kind of weirds me out. I guess I’m trying to practice what I preach: If you need help, ask for it. And it’s true: you should, I should, we all scream for ice cream. But the other part of me, the part that believes in chaos and randomness and what will be will be, is at work, too. I pre-ordered the paperback on Amazon and wrote a small, kind note to myself. It’s to remind me that even if the three months pass without a blip, you can still revel in small victories and use them to keep on trucking.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Reach Out and Touch Me

Unless I’m sick and you’re Caleb, in which case you will probably shrink into the far recesses of the couch and keep one wary eye on me, lest I try to kiss the top of your head. You might also ask me to get you snacks, then in lieu of saying “thank you,” demand, “YOU DIDN’T TOUCH THIS, DID YOU?” I was not so weak that I couldn’t deliver a manners smackdown.

But it’s over. And I learned a very important lesson: When I’m sick, I need to ask Brandon to take the Merck Medical Manual and hide it someplace secure. Because by the end, I convinced myself that it was very unlikely that I had a stomach bug. Much more likely was something rare and fatal. These are, almost without fail, the signs that you have something rare and fatal:

A low-grade fever

You might want to get that checked out.
Hey, Theo Nestor’s book came out this week! Theo’s been a contributor to Brain, Child since day one, and I’m a huge fan. Her book’s called How to Sleep Alone in a King Sized Bed, and it’s a memoir of her divorce and life after. She doesn’t need me hollering about the book—girlfriend has a blurb from Frank “Angela’s Ashes” McCourt—but I want to go on record that I predict big stuff.
Oooh, I wish I’d written this: Barbara Card Atkinson’s article in which she takes some of Dr. Phil’s advice and applies it right back at him. I believe—if I remember my drinking games, and I think I do—that’s called “zoom zorch.”
What? You like making up captions? Brain, Child is having its first cartoon caption contest. Check it out. There is a prize.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pardon Me

I'm getting over the stomach flu. Which is a euphemism, of course, for hell.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Gone Wild!

It’s spring break around these parts and I’ve been busy having ill-advised sex and doing beer bongs. Oh, I kid. Kind of.

In other news, my baby sister Jill turns twenty-five today. HBGF!

I remember the first time I saw her. Before we got to go into Mom’s hospital room, Erin and I had a wicked fight over who got to hold her first. Jill was born almost a month after the due date. She was an intimidating-looking newborn: red, sporting a crease between her eyes, and a don’t-mess-with-me-because-I-will-bring-it-mutha air. I loved her. I took her picture to school with me and showed it to everyone. Here’s my sister! (And also a somewhat revealing picture of our mom!)

I love many things about Jill. Not the least of which is her mad karaoke skills.

(Damn. I've been doing the rap wrong.)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Watch Out, Internet

I got an email the other day, titled “whas sup.”

Hi you got plans today? Anyway loveya
Caleb (your son)

Yep. That Caleb. Caleb got an email account. He and Brandon set it up while I was across the room on my own computer.

I wonder how long it’s going to take him to figure out that when I say I’m going upstairs to check my email and come down forty-five minutes later that I’m not only checking email but sneaking away for a game of online Scrabble. Let’s not even tell him about the blog.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Part of An Essay I Started That I'm Posting Because I'm Sort of Out of Normal Blog Material at the Moment

Dogs were the only source of anxiety my entire childhood, but they were fucking everywhere.

There were the elderly people next door, on the other side of the grape vines. My aunt called them the gnomes, because they were short and gnarled and grouped not in a man-woman combination, but in a grouping where it was unclear who was married and who was not. In the gnomes' backyard, they kept a pen of dogs in a series of small sheds. They dogs never left the sheds, but you could hear them, barking, howling, generally getting riled up. Lying in bed, I knew when my father got home from work by listening to the commotion in the pens.

On the other side, a retired couple had a large white dog, Fluffy. They once asked me if I'd like to feed Fluffy while they went on vacation. Fluffy was closet growler, it turns out. After one feeding, I took a managerial position and handed the kibble to my dad.

My uncle had an Irish Setter named Casey, a skittish gallumph who always seemed to be dripping lake water. Casey was a solo dog, but I didn't trust him either. He seemed so cowed by my uncle that I could imagine Casey plotting some wild digressions—maybe eating a child—when my uncle wasn't looking.

I claimed, for a long time, that I loved our dog Jake, a Golden Retriever, but my love for Jake was conditional. The condition was that he had to be bone-tired and lying inert on the floor. That was the sort of dog I could get behind. As it was, Jake was young, unneutered, and poorly exercised. He spent a good amount of time in situations that would make the Dog Whisperer scream—in the basement, for example, or chained to his doghouse out back.

I don't know what was wrong with everybody then. My own parents, now divorced, each own a dog, both of whom are named Daisy, and you can bet your bippy that neither one of them would dream of letting their Daisys sleep outside or swatting them with a newspaper. Mom's Daisy stretches out on her couch, her bed. Dad takes his to work with him.

It was another time, I guess. Back then, people painted their homes the color of rust. No one was tired of novels about middle-aged male professors who sleep with students. An entire generation wore shorts that showed their ass cheeks, and drunk driving was still considered kind of funny.