26 August 2008

A lesson in time

This morning, 7am found me sweating it out in the gym. Yes, my lovely roommate and I reached deep down within ourselves, found the strength to turn off Season One of Gossip Girl at a decent hour, and resolved to get up at 6:30 for a morning quickie (cardio session, you pervs). We didn't make it until seven, but we considered it a successful morning nonetheless. And then, we looked around.

It seems that the nice retirees who reside in our building are not all of the sit in a rocker all day persuasion. In fact (and I am loathe to admit this), a few of them seem to be considerably more active than their younger neighbors. Every day, I see this bent-over, hobbling old man taking walks around the grounds with his nurse. Those brave souls at the gym with us so early were working out at a pace and dedication that made my routine look positively lazy. And, there was even an older couple sparing with the building's personal trainer.

I've given this phenomenon considerable thought today, and I've concluded that I will not be ashamed but that I will work harder. I am not-yet 22 and am certainly capable of putting forth an effort comparable to that of those some forty, fifty, and sixty years my senior. If I want to be in the kind of shape at their ages that allows me to put twenty-somethings to shame, then the time to work hard and develop the correct habits is now.

And I do want to be able to put those twenty-somethings to shame!

Who says the young don't appreciate the wisdom of their elders?

24 August 2008

What's in a name?

Friday's discussion of names led to a few interesting follow up questions from my enigmatic blog stalker, and I thought that a good way to spend my Sunday afternoon would be to address them. He/she asked:
When naming a baby, do you pick out the name before the baby is born or do you wait to see the personality of the baby? Do people 'grow' into their names?
As I am not a mother, nor have I ever experienced the joy and discomfort of incubating a living being in my uterus, I can only respond to the first question in the hypothetical and based on conjecture. If past experience is any indicator, I can safely assume that I will be the type of expectant mother who names her baby beforehand. I say this, because I have what some might not-so-kindly refer to as an obsession with naming things. Personally, I prefer to think of it as a penchant for naming things.

My iPod has a name (John Boy), my teddy bear has a name (Teddy - creative I know), even my laptop has a name (My Love - don't ask). My point is that I name everything, and I can't imagine that I would go 40 weeks with a living being growing inside me and be able to refer to it only as "the baby." Besides, I've heard that fetuses demonstrate quirks and respond to outside stimuli, which can arguably be considered personality, and anything with a noticeable personality needs a name as far as I'm concerned.

That being said, I do think that people grow into their names (or nicknames as the case may be). I think that there are certain stereotypes and personality traits accompany names, and more than acting a certain way because your name "makes you," I think that people are treated a certain way based on their names, and that can affect how a person develops. For instance, a Mary Lou is treated much differently than a Victoria. And, that's not even getting into the pop cultural association with certain names, like Scarlett, Marsha, et cetera.

If authors have to be particular about choosing character names, then I think parents should be equally responsible for choosing people names.

22 August 2008

A Rose by Any Other Name, Particularly Stephanie

Samantha Elise Elliott, that is my name. It's a beautiful name, in my humble (okay, maybe not-so-humble) opinion. It has been my name for well over 22 years now, and the only nickname I ever really go by is Sam, much to my chagrin (but that's a post for another day).

My point is that at no point have I ever gone by any other name (though I'm sure I'd smell as sweet), especially not, say, Stephanie. Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with the name Stephanie; it too is a beautiful name. But, it's taken by my sister, and as such, when I am called Stephanie, it brings back memories of being a very frustrated little girl who couldn't understand why her family couldn't seem to remember that she was Samantha.

Finally, I think I have the answer. It has presented itself to me before, and I noticed it then, but I never really put two and two together. Four, the answer is four.

You see, I always assumed that the mix up was caused by the fact that my sister and I are close in age, looked similar when we were younger, and both had an uncanny talent for driving people nuts. Then, when I was nine, I went to Disneyland with my father et al. On the plane to California, the six of us were forced to be seated separately. I was seated next to a very nice, older woman named Rose (yes, I still remember her), who was on her way to visit her recently-born grandson for the first time. Anyway, during our flight, we chatted quite a bit, and when she was exiting the plane in San Diego, she said, "It was nice meeting you, Stephanie. Have a good trip." I was amazed; it was the first time that I had ever noticed (though I'm sure it had happened before) anyone calling me by my sister's name, and she didn't know I had a sister called Stephanie!

As the years wore on, the same scenario would replay itself, and I always remembered Rose and that flight, but I never thought much about it beyond alternating between amused and perplexed. And then, in the past week, I have been called Stephanie three times by three different people - none of whom know that my sister exists, let alone her name.

Two of the three of those people had seen my name in print several times in the form of correspondence and my resume, and still, they got it wrong. As I was thinking back on Rose, again, and remembering other instances when it has happened, I realized that there was most assuredly a correlation between the reason that strangers remember Samantha as Stephanie and the reason that my family did - probably the same reason that my mother chose those two names as the names of her daughters.

Thus, I have come to the conclusion that I should just get used to it, because (for no apparent reason) Samantha and Stephanie go together like peas and carrots, and biscuits and gravy, and...why are all of my analogies about food? I think it's time for dinner.

Until later!

21 August 2008

"Mommy, wow! I'm a big kid now!"

Remember the days when every little thing was a milestone? You know, when speaking and walking and using the potty were all causes of major celebration? Or even later, when brushing your teeth on your own, dressing yourself, going to the movies without a chaperon, driving - all these things were monumental occasions?

I miss those days, and I don't understand why, as we get older, we stop celebrating life. Gone are the days when every first is something special, as are the seconds, thirds, and so on. Why is it that as we "settle down" and "grow up" we're expected to do certain things, pass certain landmarks, but 95% of them go unnoticed, or at least aren't celebrated?

I apologize for the randomness of this post, and the origin of this train of thought is so convoluded that I won't bother to explain. But, that's what I was thinking about in my far too quiet, temporary office today, and I thought I'd share.

Speaking of sharing, here are a few "Big Kid Firsts" that I have yet to properly appreciate:
  • First Independent Move - There was no school requiring me to be somewhere and no Mommy relocating me; it was just me making a decision and striking out.
  • First Time Using a Bathroom Key at a Workplace - Keys at convenience stores I get, at work...not so much. I feel like I'm being forced to use a hall pass.
  • First Time Reading Through the Entire Express During a Single Train Ride - I wasn't even reading particularly fast, either!
So, those are some of my most recent BKFs. Be sure to keep a lookout for more. Also, I'd love to hear a few of yours. After all, I'm not the only one who should be celebrating!

20 August 2008

Time is Money

I love America. The country is breathtakingly beautiful, and I appreciate the lifestyle and the security that being born and raised here has provided me. However, my time in Rome allowed me to gain a different perspective, and though I didn't come back home thinking that American culture needed a complete overhaul, there was one significant difference between the two cultures that really affected me, made me take pause, if you will.


I don't mean to say that the construct itself was different. Although, if you listen to Einstein... but that's another topic altogether. No, I'm referring to the way that the Romans treat time, and the way I felt about time while I was there.

I lived about a 15-20 minute walk away from my school and quite a distance from the Forum, the Colosseum, and all the other touristy landmarks that make Rome such a popular destination. My friends were spread out around the city, as well. Regularly, I would find myself walking for hours or waiting for buses that had no schedule. But, the important part of this story is that I would do it willingly and that I didn't care that things took so long, that there were practically no such things as schedules. I didn't care in the least.

In fact, I would laugh at tourists who complained and think not so kind thoughts about my fellow study abroad students who seemed to never get over their American obsession with time. For me, letting go of that particular hang up was the best part about my time in la Città Eterna. Well, maybe not the best, but it certainly ranked highly.

You see, I felt more productive, was more productive, while in Rome than ever before. Being a Type A, overachieving, people pleaser, I have been molded by my American upbringing to operate with the attitude that the more pressure I'm under, the more proverbial balls I am juggling, the better I'll perform. But, while that may be true, paradoxically, the same holds true of the opposite circumstance; I lead a happier, fuller, more productive life when there is no pressure, no time constraints, and just the right number of proverbial balls.

I bring this up, because, as you know, I have been job hunting for the past two weeks. Recently, an entire day was ruined for me due to the fact that I'd had to invest a large chuck of time in jumping through hoops to get a position with a temp agency. It was successful, and in about an hour, I will be leaving for my first temp position secured for me by them.

However, my day was ruined because of the fact that I felt my time had been devalued. I groused and pouted and was in a particularly rotten mood for the simple fact that I had been kept waiting. Time is money, I told myself, and since you're not worth anything right now, no one values your time. Boy, did that rub me the wrong way. And, all my friends agreed.

Looking back on it now, I realize that had that experience taken place in Rome I wouldn't have thought twice about it, especially considering the fact that I didn't have anything else to do that day. Did I forget to mention that? Well, I didn't. My day was completely free, and still, I was insulted. Time is money.

That's my problem with American society - that phrase, that ideology. If that much value is placed on time, if it is used as a means of demonstrating respect, then people necessarily become more apt to throw tantrums when their time is devalued, when things don't go the way they planned. And that makes for a nation full of tempestuous toddlers running around in grown up bodies. I should know; I'm one of them.

15 August 2008


Yesterday while in Books-A-Million, I had the profound displeasure of being seated next to a young man who didn't realize that I could hear his phone conversation over my iPod. Like me, he is apparently homeless and living off of the generosity of his friends. Like me, he apparently attended American University. Unlike me, he apparently is a despicable human being. I will let the evidence speak for itself.

Direct quote that I felt compelled to write down as soon as the words left his mouth: "I met this chick, and I'm thinking of falling in love with her to move into her place. The thing is, she has this great place all to herself..."

No, I am not kidding. I did not make that up. As much as I like to think that I'm creative, I don't think that I could make that up.

I'm not sure if that is the most off-putting conversation on which I have ever accidentally-on-purpose eavesdropped, but at the moment, it is all that comes to mind. To make matters worse, as of late I have had a tendency to think less than fair and balanced thoughts when it comes to the male gender, and guys like this tool are not likely to make that tendency lessen.

His behavior is wrong on so many levels that it's like the Tower of Babel of Jackassery. I can only pray the poor girl sees through his charade. Here's hoping you do, anonymous girl.

14 August 2008

Fresh Starts (A Blog Entry Written by Hand in Books-A-Million)

On my way out of my interview today, I was caught in an afternoon thunderstorm (oh, how I missed them). Having possibly just started down the path to a new job and watching the city be washed clean by the rain, I started to wonder about the idea of "starting fresh."

People try to do it all the time. They "reinvent themselves" in the hopes that they can start anew; they get new jobs, new housing, new friends or lovers all in an effort to capitalize on that ever-elusive tabula rasa. Now, I don't intend to delve into the debate about the existence of such a concept. Thinking like that is best left to philosophers and can lead to nothing good in my life, as far as I'm concerned.

Instead, I am deciding how best to make use of my personal clean slate. I've been given the incredible gift of a quadruple fresh start - a new city (albeit one I've lived in before), a new place to live (with the inevitable new roommate[s]), a new job (in addition to my burgeoning writing career), and new companions (in the form of said roommate[s] and new coworkers). Therefore, I'm thinking that now is the time to devise a strategy for best making use of this period in my life. I love the freedom and hope that comes with the future being wide open in front of me, and I can't wait to see what happens next or where life leads me.

13 August 2008

Rejection is...

...not the four-letter word that people make it out to be. I promise.

Granted, I am one of those glass half full, silver lining, true love does exist, everything happens for a reason types. Still, I don't feel that disqualifies me from making such a bold statement.

You see, unfortunately for me, I have dealt with my fair share of rejection (in all its various disguises) during the course of my almost twenty-three years of life, and as of late, I have had that rejection amplified due to the fact that I am putting myself out on two limbs at once. Not only am I scouring a job market that I don't believe anyone would refer to as encouraging, but I also am attempting to procure an agent for my first book.

On the one hand, I am being told (without the use of words or a response of any kind, in fact) that I am not right for this or that job. On the other, I am being told that my book (my baby, the fruit of a grueling month of hard work and reclusiveness - not to mention the never-ending editorial process) is not right for this or that agent.

The way I see it, I could view the rejections as some sort of value judgment - you're not good enough, your work isn't good enough, your skills aren't good enough, et cetera. BUT, I choose to take the rejections at face value. What the prospective employers and agents actually are telling me is that they don't want me/my novel. Before you start wondering how that is different from despairing interpretation I just denounced, let me explain.

They don't want me. Sit with that for a second.

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want someone who doesn't want me, for whatever reason. I wouldn't want to stay in a romantic relationship with a man who didn't want me. I wouldn't want to be friends with someone who didn't want my friendship. And, I'm not going to beat myself up because a Company X or Ms. Agent doesn't want me as an employee or a client.

Of course, the why does matter, but it's secondary. I approach the why almost clinically with an emphasis on "what can I do better" not "what did I do wrong." As my friends in the PR industry would tell you, it's all about the spin. I find that there is no better person to spin for than yourself.

Another trick I use to deal with rejection is to focus on the moments (however rare) that have gone right (been exceptional) rather than on all the bad ones. For instance, I remind myself that with my most recent jobs, the interviews have been more of a formality than anything because my employers were that impressed with my resume (and I felt very appreciated by those employers the majority of my time with them). In terms of getting my book published, I keep in mind the fact that I have only queried a grand total of FOUR agents out of a pool of approximately 400-450. And, my first query letter ever resulted in a request for a partial.

Those small things can seem like nothing if I'm feeling particularly self-indulgent and down-trodden, but most of the time I see them for what they are - impressive accomplishments. I'm sure that if you use your energy to sort through your life with a filter of positivity (even you pessimists) you'll find that you have a few gems of your own that you can polish and wear proudly as you face rejection and look gorgeous while doing it.

12 August 2008

Larger than life, or maybe an accurate representation...

Say "Hello" to Babe the Big Blue Ox, everyone! Yes, he is the guardian of the gates that lead to the Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California. And thus begins the long-awaited, much-anticipated California vacation recap. It has arrived, indeed.

Unfortunately, I have been writing all day long (first on a cover letter draft for a friend and then on a query letter), and I'm not sure how insightful and moving this post will be. Nonetheless, I wanted to share with you the grandeur that is the Redwood National and State Parks of Northern California. I believe that the scale truly is something that you have to see to understand, and I know from personal experience that pictures may be worth 1000 words, but they are not worth one real-life encounter.

That having been said, I borrowed a few pictures from my mother and am posting them for your viewing pleasure.

Here I am with a tree called the Brotherhood Tree, and just to give you some sense of scale, I am 5'9".

Isn't that outrageous? Again, and I can't stress this enough, you really have to be there to "get it." Now, this tree is one of the larger trees in that part of the forest, but they are all huge by any normal standard. It's not one big tree; it's an enormous forest full of them.

When I was standing among them, I couldn't help but imagine what the world must have been like hundreds (and in some cases, thousands) of years ago when those trees were saplings. Were there even bigger trees shading them? Can you imagine it? I know I can, and it's an amazing sight.

In summary, size does matter. The bigger, the more awe-inspired I'll be.

11 August 2008

Thank God I'm a City Girl?

Recently, I was asked if it was weird to be back in the city. Now, let me set the scene for you. I was standing on my balcony just after sunset and was staring out to the west of my Rockville apartment. For those of you not familiar with the area, that basically means that nothing but trees stretched before me as far as I could see. Of course, there are a couple of office buildings and a couple of apartment buildings, but mostly, it's trees, trees, and more trees.

My automatic response to the question was, "It's actually not much different from Washington [state], only instead of a few mountains there are a few buildings." I realized today that although that statement was true for what I was seeing, it didn't answer the question that had been put to me. The fact of the matter is that in the week since I've come to DC, I've actually only spent about three minutes in DC proper (when I took the Metro to a friend's apartment, which is located at the edge of the DC/Maryland border in Chevy Chase).

That same friend (the one I went to visit) and I talked about how I was going to readjust to city life not too long ago. At the time, I proudly proclaimed that I was a city girl at heart and that the suburbs were not for me. In fact, when I actually lived in the city (Downtown even), I loved it. I adored the convenience of being able to walk almost anywhere I wanted. The constant exposure to hordes of strangers suited me just fine. And, I had a habit of going up to my roof to have telephone conversations so that I could watch the lights of the city sparkle under the canopy of orange that blocks the night sky from every city dweller's view.

However, after having spent a year in what can only be referred to as pseudo-suburban hell, I am starting to wonder if I have been ruined. That is not to say that I don't think that I could hack it if I were to find a place in the city. On the contrary, I know that I would be ecstatic. But, I'm not hating my current suburban location. It's peaceful and clean and upscale in a way that the city never really can be. And, I like it. That's the rub.

I suppose that the point is moot considering that my tenure here is going to be very short-lived, but still, it makes me wonder: does the fact that I am becoming increasingly comfortable with the settled, easy, and uniform (the suburban) lifestyle signify that I have lost something? And, if so, should I care and try and get that something back? Up to what point will I be too young - too ready-for-adventure and too eager to live out loud - to be settling in the 'burbs?

It's said that youth is wasted on the young, but I don't intend to follow that particular trend. Still, what exactly constitutes wasting? And, am I doing it now?

I'll let you know when the jury reaches a verdict, but please, lend me your two cents in the meantime.

Oh, and I haven't forgotten about the California recap! Don't worry. It is on its way. Remember: Patience is a virtue.