*This piece originally appeared in the Feb. issue of Somerset Magazine.
It happened every single year: on Valentine’s Day, the cheerleaders in my
high school would weave in and out of the classrooms, passing out roses of
different colors to all the lucky guys and gals who had boyfriends, girlfriends,
and best friends who wanted to express their love via flowers with paper tags
attached to the stems.
I did not like Valentine’s/Flower Distribution Day. I blame this on a boy
who decided, starting in fourth grade, that I would not go home with just a
single red rose; I would go home with 12. That’s right: an entire bouquet.
What’s worse is that every year when it came time for the cheerleaders to begin
handing out roses in my homeroom, they saved my 12 roses for last. This meant
that during the first year or two of this charade, at least 12 students thought
for sure that they still had a chance of receiving a rose. Because, well, not
receiving a rose was pretty much the floral equivalent of getting picked last
for a team in gym class and the team captain saying, “Are you one-hundred
percent positive I can’t pick anyone else?”
When one of the cheerleaders announced, “And the rest of these roses go
to . . . Kayla Pongrac!,” I wanted nothing more than to hide under my desk and
wait until the roses withered and all of my classmates boarded their school
buses home so that I could save myself the embarrassment of having to walk up to
the front of the classroom and accept my bouquet. What came next was the walk of
shame back to my desk; this walk often involved making eye contact with at
least one student who looked at me as if I had checked out all the Harry Potter
books in the library for an entire lifetime.
I tried not to draw even more attention to myself upon sitting back down
at my desk and carefully reading all the tags. In addition to a “To” and “From”
line on the front of each tag, there was space on the back for “additional
comments” such as: “I love you so much, Kayla!” or “Will you go out with me,
Kayla?” or “Circle one: Yes or No” or “You are so special to me, Kayla,” or
“Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite person in the whole entire school and
universe!” I know what you’re thinking: this little boy was bound to make a
great husband someday.
But here’s what I was thinking: I will never go out with you, so you
should save your money and leave me alone.
Instead, I said nothing. I put my head down on my desk until it was time
to board bus number four, which was a real treat because everyone on the bus
wanted to know who my flowers were from and what was written on their tags.
Valentine’s/Flower Distribution Day was essentially slang for Tell Me Right Now
Who Loves You Day.
Not only did I have to deal with my persistent busmates, but also my mom.
Every day at 3:30 p.m., my mom stood waiting for me and my sister at the end of
our driveway. Valentine’s Day was especially exciting for her because it meant
that she got to see who else had found her daughters to be quite charming.
I’m not bragging when I say that I walked off that bus every year with
more flowers in hand than Chelsey. Although my sister and I were competitive,
this was always the one time when I had wished that Chelsey could outnumber
me—that she could experience what it was like to be loved by a certain classmate
who, in second grade, slung an entire garbage bag full of stuffed animals over
his shoulder and dumped them at my feet right before we recited the Pledge of
Chelsey usually received yellow roses from her two best friends on Valentine’s/Flower
Distribution/Tell Me Right Now Who Loves You Day. These roses were accompanied
by tags that read, “BFF!” or “BFFAEAE,” the latter meaning “Best friends forever
and ever and ever,” but could have also possibly meant “Buffalos fling fudge as
entertainment, as education.”
When my mother saw me walking toward her with my bouquet of red roses, she would gasp and put her hands over her mouth, always giving me the opportunity to ask, “Makes you want to puke, too, huh?”
But my mom was absolutely thrilled with all these roses. As soon as we walked through our front door, she would fill a vase with water and place all of them inside. Then came
her favorite question: “Can I read the tags?” I would shrug my shoulders, slop
some homemade food onto my dinner plate and go sit in front of the TV. All I
wanted was for the day to be over so everyone could return to normalcy after
having endured a full day’s worth of idiocy. Also, as far as I was concerned,
the only person I would even consider having as my Valentine was Judge Judy, who
was telling people how it was as I cut my tenderized steak with a fork.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat my dinner in peace—nor could I hear the defendants stutter their way through their testimonies—before my mom was in the living room, asking me if
I had thanked my “not-so-secret admirer” for the beautiful flowers. My answer
was no—that he was not in the same classroom as I when they were delivered, and
if he were, I would have walked up to his desk and demanded that he have the
roses returned to the bush from which they were picked.
“Well then you should call him right now, Kayla,” my mom would say.
“And say what?”
“Just thank him for the beautiful roses and wish him a happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sure he
borrowed a lot of money from his parents to buy them for you.”
“Then how about you just call his parents and tell them to never give him money ever
And so my mom would locate our phonebook, find his parents’ names and use her pointer finger to trace the dotted line that led to their phone number. Then she would stand over my shoulder and recite those seven digits as if she were reciting poetry,
making that the only time in my life when I wished that poetry did not exist.
There I stood, with one end of the receiver next to my ear and the other next to my mouth. I wasn’t sure which could possibly be worse: me listening to him talk or me trying
to talk as he listened, hoping that I would say, “Yes! I’ll be your girlfriend! Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Some years there would be an answer and I would just stand there in silence, hoping that
soon enough I would hear that heavenly click and—no pun intended—be let off the
hook (all I would simply have to do was lie and tell my mom that there was no
answer). Other years there really was no answer at all, and I imagined the boy
who was in love with me on a dinner date with his parents, being the dreadful
third wheel, watching them lean over the table and smile at each other while he
twisted spaghetti noodles around on his fork, wondering how long it would take until I decided to love him back.
Apparently Pennsylvania has a "Top 10 Endangered Artifacts" list. Included on this list is some guy's wig (hey, I'm not a history buff) and a very old family Bible. But what I find to be most intriguing on the list are Drexel University's preserved butterfly specimens. The butterflies carry with them the title of America's oldest entomological specimens. So, my vote is going to them.
Voting simply means you're voting for your favorite artifact to win the People's Choice Award. If you're not broke, as I am, you can also choose to donate money to help your favorite artifact be preserved for years to come, helping future generations understand not only Pennsylvania's past, but also our country's.
If this "Top 10 Endangered Artifacts" talk intrigues you, click here to visit the website. If you can't donate, at least you can vote.
Brainpickings.org is one of my favorite websites. Here is a small collection of their posts regarding Oscar Wilde, my favorite writer.
Click here to read Oscar Wilde's definitions of art.
Click here to read a sampling of Oscar Wilde's love letters to Bosie Douglas, the boy who "ruined his life."
Click here to learn what made Oscar Wilde the 20th century's first "pop celebrity."
Prepare to be fascinated.
Well, not yet, at least.
Apparently a Canadian dentist is in possession of one of Lennon's molars, which he purchased at an auction some years ago for around $30,000.
The tooth apparently has gone on an epic journey since Lennon gave it to a housekeeper back in the 1960s. The housekeeper was to dispose of it. That didn't happen (should we really be that surprised?). And now, decades later, his tooth is making headlines and this dentist is convinced that we can introduce a cloned John Lennon to the 21st century. Ummm, would that mean that he would join Paul McCartney on his "Out There" tour? Just asking...
To read the Rolling Stone story, click here!
Got my new issue of Rolling Stone in the mail today.
Began reading it. Got to page 10.
Fact: I am a huge MGMT fan. Thought "Oracular Spectacular" and "Congratulations" were great. (Besides, who could not be a fan after hearing this song?)
It's no surprise that their "very catchy, way-lysergic new single" is awesome. And the video? The video? The video! You have to watch!
Yup. You're welcome.
P.S. New issue of Rolling Stone is fantastic. Pick up a copy if don't already subscribe! :)
Fellow mammals rejoice: one of our own is no longer suffering from a terrible case of mistaken identity.
How would you feel if someone always thought that you were, well, someone else? Poor olinguito; that's exactly what has happened to this species. And now a whole bunch of humans are suffering from embarrassment--or at least I am on their behalf because this animal is so.darn.cute. How can we humans redeem ourselves?
See? So.darn.cute. How did we not know that it was an olinguito? Based on its cuteness alone, we should have known for years. Seriously, I don't know how we are going to apologize to these guys. Should we track down all of 'em and give 'em a lifetime supply of fruit? Should we phone Bob Barker and tell him that we got our pets spayed and neutered, thank you very much, but what about the olinguito?!
If I could, I'd adopt an olinguito, and I would put a sign on my front porch. A big sign. A big, big sign that would read: An OLINGUITO named QUITO lives here! Say it with me now: OLINGUITO!
As for now, I see no adoption options for this furry creature, no matter how much I Google "super cute olinguito adoptions, pretty please!" And hey, you've got to admit that Quito would be a great name for my pet olinguito (just had to bold, underline and italicize the correct name in case any of them are reading!).
Oscar Wilde is my favorite writer. Hands down. No questions asked. I discovered Oscar's writing when I was in college and ever since, it's been love at every read.
I have spent a majority of my summer 2013 reading and studying Oscar's entire anthology of work. This includes his first and only brilliant novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," his moral-filled fairy tales, his wonderfully written plays, his honest poetry and his incredibly insightful essays. I've immensely enjoyed this effort that I've put forth to learn more about what makes Oscar Wilde a literary standout, a motivator to my own written works. What makes my studies even more exhilarating is watching the movies that have been produced throughout the years, many of which are adaptations of his plays.
But seeing one of his plays live . . . seeing Oscar's work come to life as he used to see it come to life . . . that is a real blessing for me. It turns out that the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, located right next to the gorgeous Cathedral of Learning in Oakland, is currently showing "Lady Windermere's Fan." Directed by fellow Oscar Wilde enthusiast Alan Stanford, this amiable director transports the play from the Victorian era to 1947 and convinces audiences that the show is worth every single penny they paid to see it (that's around 4,800 pennies, to be precise).
So there I was, in the audience next to my favorite person in the whole world, watching the work of my favorite writer in the whole world. It was a good night. Can you imagine how happy I was during intermission? If for some reason you can't, here's a photo to help you:
My first Oscar Wilde play. Right in the middle of summer on a beautiful night in Pittsburgh. Not only did the show reaffirm my love for Oscar Wilde's work, but also put into perspective just how many other people appreciate what Oscar Wilde had to say, and how his words still resonate with us all today.
If you happen to live in or near Pittsburgh and you're interested in seeing this play, I highly recommend it. It plays at PICT through July 27. A great opportunity to see a true work of art and to also support a lovely theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets (go you!), visit PICT's website here: http://www.picttheatre.org/.
And now, a quote from "Lady Windermere's Fan" that many have probably heard of but few have stopped to re-read and repeat: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Today is my dog Lollipop's 16th birthday. It's the second birthday she is celebrating in Heaven.
I miss Lolli every single day. She taught me so much about how to love--but not just how to love: how to love unconditionally. The friendship that we had was unparalleled. It can never be duplicated.
It's been over a year now since we had to part, but I feel her presence around me every single day. She may no longer walk at my feet, but I certainly feel her little paw prints all over my heart.
Happy 16th birthday, Lollipop. <3
After reading this gorgeous article (link up here: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/20/daily-routines-writers/), I contemplated what I would say if someone inquired about my writing routine.
My "routine" is rather simple, I would say. I can write pretty much anywhere, but I prefer to be on a couch, in a hammock, or at a cute little coffee shop with cheap chai or hot chocolate. I write best when I am alone and accompanied by music. I prefer to write on my laptop rather than on a piece of paper. Sometimes I wish it was the other way around. Sometimes I wish I owned a feather and a little well of ink.
My days usually start around 9 a.m. My Microsoft Word document is up and running within an hour, and then I sit and I write. Normally for the rest of the day. Most of my works are completed in one sitting. I'm still not sure how much I love the editing process. I always want to get it right the first time.
My writing is often fueled by chai tea and inspiration from friends, family members, strangers, and people and places that do not exist. My brain is always working. Every day I mourn the ideas that I have lost because I was too lazy to write them down. I am still learning.
I do not scribble down ideas on a bulletin board or compose rough drafts. When I used to run track in high school, we got in that crouching position on our starting blocks and we waited . . . as soon as that gun went off, we all took off as fast as we could. I guess that's how I write. My practice comes in the form of reading, and then when I find myself in position at the starting blocks, per say, I go from there and I give it my all. I really feel like that's all I can do. I let it come naturally. Sometimes it's too hard for me to plan. Too intimidating.
Sometimes ideas for plays, poems, and short stories sit in my phone's Notepad app for months. Sometimes I get worried that I won't do the ideas justice--that I won't turn them into masterpieces. That is why, when I finally work up the courage to take that seedling of an idea and run with it, I can't bring myself to read it again for about six months. When I do open up that document again, I either surprise myself (I really wrote that? I'm brilliant!) or I disappoint myself (I really wrote that? What does that even mean?). Mostly, I try to surprise myself.
As a writer, I have good days and bad days. On my good days, the writing comes easily to me and I can produce a sizeable piece of work within a few hours. On bad days, you can usually find me writing, then playing on my iPhone, writing, then stuffing my face with sugar. At least I can say that I write everyday. I consider that to be hugely important. Enjoyable, too. As Terry Pratchett once said: "Writing is the most fun anyone can have on their own."
Perhaps I need a more rigorous writing routine, one that will allow me to stay on track throughout these next few months as I work hard to complete a manuscript and write my first musical. Or maybe what I'm doing is working. All I know is that writing is not easy--it may come naturally, but it's not easy. Writing is a courageous thing to do. With it comes sharing and honesty and many long hours spent stringing words together with the hope that people will appreciate how you chose to construct your sentences, how you chose to make words work.
I enjoyed reading Ben Franklin's evening question: What good have I done today? I don't think that question is off limits for anybody, especially writers.
We are a wonderful breed.
Lucky duck that I am, I got to spend Memorial Day weekend at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, PA. I enrolled in the “Creating Pottery for Everyday Use” extended weekend workshop with Amanda Wolf (view her work at http://wolfsdenpottery.com/) and arrived to campus Friday evening.
I was assigned to Cabin #1. This cabin became my humble abode for the next three nights and four days:
The first thing I noticed about my cabin’s interior was the smell. To my delight, it smelled exactly like the clubhouse in my parents’ backyard that my dad built for my sister and me when we were little! It was practically an adult-sized, squarer version of our triangular clubhouse; for that reason alone, I felt quite comfortable . . .
. . . but maybe not so comfortable at night. The first night was the worst. I slept cocoon-like in a sleeping bag. And when I say cocoon-like, I mean it. I was wrapped up as tight as possible in that thing, trying my best to retain all my body heat so I could get some sleep. Night number two was probably the warmest, and night number three was slightly colder than I had anticipated. Alas, staying in the cabin made me appreciate my own warm bed at home. And even though I had the option to upgrade to a dorm, I’m glad I didn’t. It was a true summer camp-esque experience (I even decided to forego the meal plan so I could eat canned foods and packaged snacks!).
When I walked to the pottery studio (conveniently located about 30 steps away from my cabin) on Friday evening, I was introduced to Amanda and my two fellow students, Cindy and her daughter, Taylor. We spent the evening making clay stamps and sprigs for our pottery. Then back to my little cabin I retreated. The next morning would be my first full day at the wheel.
Our day started at 9 a.m. We learned how to wedge the porcelain clay with which we were working. The next step was to center it on the wheel. I experienced problems with centering when I took my first pottery class at my workplace back in March. Fortunately, centering came quite easy to me at Touchstone. “Pulling,” however, didn’t.
Pulling the clay basically involves lifting it up and allowing it to take shape. Silly me didn’t think to cut her crazy-long fingernails, so I couldn’t grab the clay the way I needed to in order to master the technique.
“Your nails are beautiful, but they gotta go,” Amanda said.
A few minutes later, she emerged from the glaze room with a pair of scissors. I refused. I mean, I can “go grunge,” but not that grunge. Haha. So I learned to deal with my long fingernails getting in the way (I did cut them as soon as I got home, though!) and stayed focused on the wet clay circling around in my hands.
Pottery, my friends, isn’t easy. You have to wedge the clay, center it, pull it, shape it, trim it, bisque it, decorate it, glaze it, and fire it again. It takes dedication, patience, and skill. The process itself is a long one, and it’s risky, too. You can’t get attached to a piece because it might not survive one of the many stages (I lost three mugs during the trimming stage . . . sigh). When I encountered a hiccup in the process (there were many, many times when I pulled too hard and completely ruined the piece), I wedged a new piece of clay and started over again. Despite being the kind of person who gets frustrated and discouraged quite easily, I was determined to master the pottery wheel. Luckily, our awesome studio assistant (shout out to Eric!) and two talented potters (hey, Lee and Bridget!) were kind enough to let me continue to work after our allotted open studio hours. On Saturday evening, I stayed in the studio until about 10:30 p.m., throwing and throwing and throwing until I emerged with a little jar that, I decided, I would give to my boyfriend. Amanda was also kind enough to stay with me for awhile, offering me advice and telling me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.
Cursive, by the way, got it right: "Art is Hard."
It was dark by the time I left the studio, and I was happy to know that the next morning I would wake up and get to do it all over again.
Here’s a photo of me late Saturday night--sticky clay hands and all!
I admired our schedule: working for a few hours, taking a small lunch break, working a few more hours, taking a supper break, and then working again until almost dark. I imagined myself hanging out with Henry David Thoreau (okay, so I should also admit that my cabin made me think of “Walden”), enjoying that type of technology-less, connected-to-nature, working-hard-all-day way of life.
Aside from making some bowls from molds that Amanda provided for us, I spent a majority of my Sunday on the wheel. I was comfortable there. Eager to learn more. Appreciative of the opportunity to have a teacher who kindly pointed out the progress I was making. So, by Sunday afternoon, I finally understood how to pull the clay. To get my clay to take shape. Gracefully.
Sunday was also the perfect day for a walk on Meditation Trail. With my notebook in hand, I walked into the woods, crossed over the creek, and sat on a rock and wrote. Here’s a photo of me enjoying that alone time:
The entire Touchstone campus is gorgeous. It’s nestled in the boondocks, where cell phone service is limited and artists gather to create art with like-minded artists. Even though I was only there for four days, it felt as if I became part of an artist’s colony. The people there talked art, made art, celebrated art. I loved it.
We spent Monday morning and afternoon decorating our pottery, adding handles to our mugs, and letting our work dry so that we could take it home. By the time check-out time rolled around, I didn't want to leave. I made some new friends. I wanted to jump back on the pottery wheel. I discovered that not only could I use my hands to write, but also to bring a lump of clay to life.
I ended up leaving Touchstone with 12 finished pieces (all of which have yet to be bisque fired, glazed, and then fired again). I created mostly mugs, as you can see:
I have a long way to go when it comes to reaching Amanda’s skill level . . . a longggggggggg way . . . but I’m grateful that she was gracious enough to teach us what she knows. She offered me the perfect mix of constructive criticism and praise; now I have the confidence to keep learning, to keep creating. This means I need to get my own pottery wheel!
From my cabin to Meditation Trail to the clay studio, my first experience at Touchstone certainly won’t be my last!
For more info: http://touchstonecrafts.org/
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .