Childhood trauma revisited

Storytime.

When my brother and I were kids, he had this horrific set of video tapes (tapes! that you had to rewind! I KNOW RIGHT) that he would watch all the time, probably to make up for all the Strawberry Shortcake he demanded to watch as a small child, I don’t know. Anyway, the series was called Inhumanoids, and boy, was it TERRIFYING. At least, it was to me.

Does anyone else remember this series? I don’t know exactly how old we were when it was giving me nightmares, since it was created in 1986 and my brother was born that year, so probably these were old tapes that somebody sensible had returned to Wal-Mart and my dad had bought ten years later on clearance to give my brother ammo to scare the crap out of me with, because that’s how we show love in the Jarzab family.

I had a pretty overactive imagination as a kid, and a sensitivity problem (meaning I was way too sensitive). There was an extensive period of time when I slept with the covers wrapped around my neck or over my head because I literally believed vampires existed and they were evil (pre-Edward Cullen, obvs) and that they would come at any moment to suck my blood. Also, I believed that when you flushed the toilet witches flew out (I always imagine them now as the witches from The Nightmare Before Christmas, but I’m pretty sure this fear predates that movie), so I would close the lid, flush and RUN.

Anyway, so I was also highly suggestible. I really feared these Inhumanoid creatures. They were all pretty scary, but the one that I absolutely could not handle the thought of was D’Compose (judging from the way he spells his name, I’m almost certain that this fiend is European; prove me wrong). D’Compose was awful. He could kill you–basically, make you decompose, geddit?–just by touching you with his finger. I know, right? You’re already quaking. Me too. Actually, Wikipedia puts it thusly: “With the merest touch of his decrepit claw, D’Compose can turn his victims into frightening undead monstrosities (usually enlarging human victims to a gigantic size in the process).” Gross. Don’t touch me, D’Compose.

My brother, because we’re so close and he loves me so much, used to sneak up behind me in the dark and jab me with his pointer finger while moaning, “Dee-com-pose,” in a voice like a creaky step. UGH! Even the thought of it makes me want to cry.

So anyway, after remembering all this childhood trauma, I was like, “I should find a picture of D’Compose to show all my Internet friends the monstrosity which caused all this mortal fear.” But apparently not everything about the eighties has been archived on the Google yet, so an image search yielded naught but this. Prepare yourself for the SHOCK OF YOUR LIFE. Shield the eyes of your children!

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Erm…forgive me, but would it be fair to say that not only does the formerly horrifying D’Compose seem sort of non-threatening, he seems a little bit…cuddly to me? I mean, yeah, okay, giant fangs, claws, exposed rib cage, rotting flesh–I see all these things, too. But, to be honest, he’s really not all that bad. Maybe he’s just misunderstood.

But seriously, D’Compose. Don’t touch me.

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Highlights from my trip to California

When my family first moved to California eight and a half (oh God, really?) years ago, I volleyed between despondent and massively pissed off. I was a senior in high school and had lived practically my entire life in one house in Chicago’s north suburbs, fifteen minutes away from my aunt and cousins and half an hour away from my grandmother. I had lots of friends at my giant, award-winning, nationally respected high school, I was on a very hardcore swim team and a State-winning water polo team, and I was taking all these advanced classes. Then we moved to the Tri-Valley, clear halfway across the country, where I was enrolled in a tiny (by my standards) public school with no water polo team and only a handful of AP classes. I basically resigned myself to just pushing through that last year; I didn’t really feel confident about making friends or forgiving my parents for depositing me unceremoniously in that hell hole, so I figured I’d just get through it as best I could and then go back to Chicago for college.

As with many preconceived notions, mine were dashed when I met probably the most important people in my life besides my family. I ended up making some amazing friends that year, and these girls are not only still my best friends in the whole wide universe, they’re pretty much my sisters. Anyway, usually my family goes to Chicago for Christmas for about two weeks, but this year my mother, who has been doing a lot of international traveling for her job, pretty much said “Enough planes already!’ and instead of all of us convening in Chicago, I flew out to the Bay Area for Christmas. Lucky for me, my best friends (whose families also still live in the Tri-Valley) were there as well, and we spent ten days hanging out, during which a lot of really fun stuff happened. Here is a partial list:

  • Christmas Eve brunch: I went out for breakfast with my friend Kim, her sister Jennifer, Jennifer’s boyfriend (of like five or six years who for some reason I’d never met) Steve, my friend Cambria, and my brother JJ. IHOP (I know, we so classy) was really crowded, so we went to this ancient breakfast place that I’d never actually been to and ate our fill of greasy food. The best part of that morning was going to our old high school (where my sister’s still a student), which is being razed to the ground and rebuilt. It was like exploring the ruins of Rome, except not as pretty–seriously, there were walls torn down and we saw a mural that we’d never seen before in our collective nine years of attending school there because it was in the teacher’s lounge. The new building was sleek and cool and we were all super jealous because we had to attend class in dark, cramped buildings from the seventies.
  • Christmas Eve: My mom cooked a full Wigilia dinner (delish!) and we opened presents. It was fun and low-key and I wore a kick-ass Blair Waldorf flower headband but I seem to have misplaced my camera and so the only pictures are on my parents’ ancient digital, good luck to me getting a hold of them. That’s actually the theme of this whole vacation–ten days and I have no pictures to show for it.
  • Town Dive Bars: We spent many of our nights exploring the limited number of bars in the valley, because we usually just go to one and, fun as it is, we thought we might have a better time at the others. Pretty much they were all let-downs, because let’s be honest: this is a suburb, and we all live in real cities. Still, the Bud Light is dirt cheap and the company was amazing.
  • Jenny’s birthday/mustache party: Jenny had been talking about having a mustache party for her birthday ever since she came to New York in October, probably, or at least since Th4nkSgiving. Anywiz, as luck would have it I received stylish mustaches in the office White Elephant game, so we wore them to one of the aforementioned dive bars one night. Let me tell you, it was amazing. Cambria’s mustache made her look just like her father, which pretty much creeped us all out. There were a couple of guys with us, but they were all clean-shaven, which made it all the funnier. These pictures are so hilarious, you guys, and if I ever get them I will defs share them on the blog (knowing Jenny and her current lack of any sort of computorial apparatus, it may be a while…possibly June). The best part of the whole night, though, happened before the party, at my parents’ house while my brother and I were getting ready to go out. My mother saw the mustaches on the kitchen table and asked, “What are those for?” I told her about the plan–wear the mustaches to the bar–and she gave me a huge hug and said, “I’m so glad I’m not young anymore.”
  • Harry Potter Clue: At the risk of sounding like a huge nerd here, Harry Potter Clue is THE MOST AMAZING GAME ON THE PLANET. It’s SO MUCH BETTER than regular Clue, which I find sort of boring. The board MOVES, with secret passages appearing and disappearing and doors opening and closing. Also, there are spells and Dark Marks and the whole thing is a Harry Potter fan’s dream. I even won once! I almost never win at games, and since Cambria has been playing Clue ever since she was a small child, and Kim is a veteran board gamer, I was pretty proud of myself to have beaten them. Oddly, we didn’t play Apples to Apples or Phase 10 this time, which are our staple games. (Someday I’ll blog about how Phase 10 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. It really is.)
  • Eating: Time at home with friends is usually our excuse to pig out. There’s a lot of great restaurants in the Yay* that we just don’t have in New York and even San Diego, so we try to do a nice sampler any time we’re home together. I went to Pasta Pomodoro, Jack in the Box, Red Robin, In ‘N Out, Zachary’s, and Fuzio, and the only reason that list isn’t longer is that I had of lot of dinners at home with my family, on purpose, because I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.
  • Santa Clara: While I was home I went out to Mountain View to visit Carmen, my best friend from college. We had dinner at this lovely Mexican restaurant in the Pruneyard, El Burro, where the service was terrible but the food was delicious, and I saw an old acquaintance from college, Celeste, who was the editor of our literary review, the Santa Clara Review, when I was the fiction editor.** On our way back to Carmen’s house, where my car was parked, I asked her to drive us past Santa Clara, and I oohed and ahhed at the new fancy business school (Carmen was an accounting major, so she’s impressed by/slightly bitter about it) and the BRAND! NEW! BIG! LIBRARY! Because even though there was a whole article about it in the alumni magazine I inexplicably receive at work, there were no pictures, which is the dumbest thing ever. Anyway, our old library was a HOLE, totally inconsistent with the gorgeous mission-style architecture of the school, dark and ugly and pretty useless. They destroyed that monstrosity and put up this stucco-and-glass beauty. Direct quote from me: “Maybe if that had been the library when we were going to school, I would’ve used it more than once or twice a year.” On the way home I got slightly lost and ended up going past Santa Clara again (because I knew how to get home from there, curse the badly marked 101/237 junction), taking the long way to gaze at it one more time. Nostalgia has such a powerful influence on me; I sort of miss that place, and I can’t believe that my life now isn’t one long summer vacation and that I’ll never go back for another year there. Sad.
  • New Year’s Eve: Actually, this was sort of a weird night for me. Not bad, really, but I did end up going to sleep on the floor, freezing cold***, stone sober, at around five thirty in the morning, far after everybody else went to sleep, so…weird.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Kim and I went to see this film super late one night, and let me tell you, I thought it was great. Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t care less about Brad Pitt, but I loved the movie. It was long, yes, but the pace was leisurely rather than plodding, which added to the supple Southern feel, the story was beautiful and heartbreaking, and the CGI was terrif (I don’t agree with some reviews that it veers into the territory of the Uncanny Valley, because these weren’t CGI people, they were live actors)–I mean, when Cate Blanchett was supposed to be eighteen, she looked eighteen. I really thought for the longest time that they’d found a young girl who looked exactly like Cate Blanchett before realizing they’d done fancy computer stuff to her face. I cried about eighty-five times. People are complaining about how the plot has very little to do with Fitzgerald’s short story, which, come ON! You really couldn’t film that short story; the premise is great, but it’s ripe for a tragic love story and you don’t get that from Fitzgerald.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things, but those are the highlights. I really wish I had pictures of that mustache party. I think y’all would really enjoy them. Sigh. Someday. Related: I should find my camera before my birthday party on Saturday night. That I’m sure I’ll want pictures of.

*You’ve got to check out the Urban Dictionary page for “Yay.” It’s fantastic.

**Actually, that day was what I’m calling the Day of Randoms. I went to the mall with my mom and sister and we ended up seeing the mother of one of my sister’s friends, a family that my sister used to carpool to school with, my friends Kim and Jenny, and a girl my sister goes to high school with. Then we went to another mall and we saw our dentist. Then I saw Celeste. It was so so weird. I didn’t run into a single other random person while I was there. Curious.

***Actually, I was cold the whole time I was home. I don’t think I was ever really warm once. I didn’t bring a coat because I’m an idiot and ended up having to wear my old high school letterman’s jacket just so I didn’t freeze to death outside. People, listen to me: Just because it’s California doesn’t mean it’s going to be warm in January. Take it from me. I should’ve known better, I’ve lived through those winters. I thought all I would need was a rain coat. I was dead wrong.

2008 wrap-up

2008 was, in many ways, the best year of my life so far. I guess it’s pretty apparent as to why. It didn’t start off so great, or at least it started off a little “meh” as far as my life was concerned. I’d just gotten a rejection on the full of AUT on Christmas Eve, and I was back in New York after spending the holidays with my family in Chicago, which always sort of depresses me, 1. because I love my family and miss them when we’re apart and B. because I only like living in New York, like, 30% of the time. So. I had a job, I had an apartment, I had my best friend right there with me in the city, but everything was new, cold, and a little bit “what now?”

Then Joanna emailed me and I told her about AUT and she asked for the full and then offered me representation. Boom! I remember walking to Cambria’s apartment with her from the train and saying, “If Joanna offers me representation, this could change my life.” And it did! Three much needed revisions of AUT later and we’d sold it in a two-book deal, in a pre-empt, to Francoise Bui at Delacorte! It was a very exciting moment for me, and when I think about how unmoored and listless I felt last year at this time, I’m so grateful for (and amazed by) what happened this year.

2008 held all kinds of wonderful surprises. I made way more awesome friends in New York, including most of my coworkers who are angels sent from the Lord above, I introduced one of my California best friends to one of my New York best friends and they started seriously dating, two of my good California friends got engaged (not to each other, to their respective boyfriends), Kim and Jenny came to visit (Jenny, the girl half of the aforementioned couple, came three times this year!), Carmen and Tim (one of the aforementioned engaged couples) came this year, my mother came several times, my sister was here for three weeks for a film camp and I got to see her a bunch, my aunt Kika and cousin Emma came, my aunt Irene and cousin Michelle came, and I’m sure I’m missing visitors and other fun things, but my brain is not capable of remembering how great this year was in one fell swoop. I have to do it in chunks.

I read 72 books. That’s 8 below my goal, but maybe next year.

Professionally (aside from the book deal), I finished MB (well, the first draft anyway) and joined the Tenners, which is such a great community I can’t even begin to tell you (holla!). In my day job, I got a little promotion, which was grand.
I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m proud of myself, I’m still excited about writing and reading, I’m still addicted to the Internet and Gossip Girl (and GG on the Internet). I think I only had the two fake boyfriends (Rob Pattinson and Ed Westwick) and one fake husband (That James McAvoy) this year, which means I’m starting to settle down!

You know how I celebrated the New Year? I mean, before going to Jenny’s NYE party? I SENT THE FINISHED AUT MANUSCRIPT TO MY EDITOR. Sure, it was New Year’s Eve and she wasn’t in the office, but it said December 31 on my contract, so I sent the manuscript in on December 31. I hope it’s finished. I won’t be upset to do more revisions, but I always like to make the best effort possible so I hope that at least the manuscript accomplishes what I wanted it to accomplish (it’s the new sections that make me a little bit nervous; other than that I think the MS is fine). We’ll see later in January. Until then, the rest of my MB revisions so I can send that manuscript to my editor. And THEN I can start working on new stuff! New stuff! I can’t believe it! I have a feeling it’ll involve proposals, but still!

I hope everybody’s having a great New Year’s Day morning (my brother’s had better, but I’m fine, if probably more tired than I feel). I think maybe later I’ll head back to Jenny’s to help clean up and then up to Cambria’s dad’s house to watch the Rose Bowl? We’ll see if I can tear myself away from my bed.

365 days…

That’s how many days until next Christmas. Next Christmas, I swear I will be prepared. I will have my presents bought by the end of November and Christmas cards (imagine!) written out before Thanksgiving. I will do it! Next year, I will be an adult!

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m the biggest procrastinator, next year I will write the exact same post I wrote below, about how I didn’t get anything done until the last minute, what a slacker I am, goals for the NEXT Christmas, etc. Well, at least I’m consistent.

So how was everybody’s holiday? Mine was spectacular. I thought I would be sad because this would be the first Christmas I didn’t spend in Chicago, and it was in a way, I missed my aunt and uncle and cousins and grandmother something awful, but also it was a very low-key holiday, just me and my siblings and my parents, and we were relaxed and happy and the food was still totally delicious. My mother, upon my request, made a full Wigilia dinner on Christmas Eve and then we opened presents and ate cookies and then they even let me get away with putting the kibosh on Pasterka (we went this morning instead) because I was so super jet lagged. This morning after Mass we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, which my brother bought me for Christmas, and ate the Giordano’s pizza my aunt and uncle had sent to us from Chicago (dinner at Giordano’s is a Christmas tradition for the Molzabs). I’ve had plenty of time to read (right now I’m devouring East of Eden) and I even was able to fix my iPod because my sister generously donated the use of her new MacBook Pro for the cause. I had a long chat with my cousin Emma tonight, Jenny and I drove around Dublin/San Ramon looking at Christmas lights, and tomorrow I’m going with my mom to the outlets, I think. Sigh. This is the life. I feel so happy and relaxed; California is good for my soul.

One thing I didn’t do is send my manuscript to my editor, because I keep thinking up new things to do with it; sometimes it’s stuff that I should’ve fixed but slipped my mind (there’s one or two of these) and sometimes it’s a desire to make sure everything is absolutely right before I send it on, but I do intend to fix everything I can and get it in my editor’s inbox by the 31st, which is my deadline.

Anyway, I’m just really content right now. I feel like I’m really getting the break I needed, nothing is stressing me out. I’ve never had that experience before during the holidays. I’m thankful for that. Happy Holidays, everybody!

Late night ruminations

For the past couple of days I’ve been giving my little sister Fish* a hand by helping her revise her college application essay. She’s seventeen and applying to a bunch of different schools and programs, but what she most wants to do is go to film school. She spent several weeks this summer at the New York Film Academy, learning the mechanics of film making, and in the process she got to try her hand at writing, directing, editing, and camera work. There is a creative streak that runs through my family, and Fish has such a sharp mind–she is going to be a great film maker one day.

I’ve been editing my brother’s college essays for years, and as smart and educated as my brother is, writing is not necessarily his greatest strength. It’s funny, because I remember the way his essays read during his freshman year, and last quarter, four years later, I helped him out on several final papers. The changes in the execution of his compositions are staggering. He barely needs my help anymore, he’s in complete command of language as a way to exposit and argue and convince. I expected reading Fish’s essay would be like reading JJ’s freshman year papers, but that kid knows what she wants to say and she knows exactly how to say it. I made almost no changes, only smoothed out the language in places and pointed out a mixed metaphor. I’m super impressed with her, and I told her that she’s a very good writer, which is not a compliment I bestow frivolously. I’m really excited for the work she’s going to do in school, and afterwards, and as adorable as she was when she was little I’m so glad she’s finally grown up, that we can talk about things like art and writing and creativity, that we can help each other with our projects (she is always one of my first readers, and I value her opinion very highly).

It occurs to me now how incredibly lucky I am to have the family I do, to have been raised the way I was, to have the support of my parents and siblings. I’m somewhat of a strange person, so it’s no surprise that there is this theme flowing like an underground stream through of almost all of my fiction, this idea of how important it is to know and be known by others. To be seen for who you truly are, to be accepted for and because of who you are. It feels so absolutely necessary to happiness.

My friend Cambria has this theory about how some people are what she calls “specific,” that they are perhaps a bit too idiosyncratic to be understood, to be known in the sense that I just used it above, by most of the people they meet. For a long time, she used to label other people we knew this way and put us in the other category, the category of people that are more generally palatable.

But about two years ago we were having one of our typically bizarre conversations, who knows what about, and I turned to her and said, “You know what? I think we’re specific, too.” I don’t mean that in a condescending, angsty way–we’re so misunderstood, wah!–but my entire point was that when you have an outsized personality, you sometimes feel too weird for most people, like even though they’re laughing at your jokes and nodding along with what you’re saying they also secretly think you’re insane. And that’s cool in its own way, but it can also be pretty lonely. But then I think of my own life, and the fact that I need two hands to count the people who really know me, and I remember how lucky I am. Plus, I’m getting the chance to be heard by people outside my immediate circle of friends and family by having my books published, and writing a book, at least for me, is an act of reaching out. It’s pretty much the most awesome opportunity ever and boy am I grateful for it.

It’s important for me to remember all this, to write it down where somebody can read it, because tonight I finished my first revision of MB and I ended up feeling like a total hack, like I was just wasting my and everybody else’s time. This happens to all writers, I’m pretty sure–it’s our secret fear that we’re talentless frauds. But the truth is that there are hits and there are misses, that writing gets better over time if you work at it, and that if the things that you write are important and worthwhile and meaningful to you, if they’re honest, then it’s never a waste. I write for a lot of reasons, but I think at the very core of it I write so that people can know who I am as a person, how I feel and what I think. Fiction gives me the opportunity to do that in a way that is largely not deliberate, choreographed, or over thought. That’s why I love it so much.

*Not her real name, but one of a billion of her nicknames. Just in case you think my parents are monsters who would name their child “Fish.”

I DO NOT HAVE ALLERGIES

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself, because if this past year has taught me anything it’s that I can achieve some things through sheer force of will. If I command myself not to have adult-onset allergies, much as Blair Waldorf once commanded herself not to be pregnant (it worked!), I will not have them. This is a completely unscientifically proven non-fact.

The thing is, I should have allergies. My father spent much of the first five years of his life in an oxygen tent of all cockamamie things because of his horrible asthma, and he’s very allergic to a bunch of stuff, not the least of which are grass and pollen and cat dander and dust and pretty much anything that floats upon the air and can be inhaled. And yet, miraculously, neither me nor my brother and sister have asthma, and, though my sister is allergic to cat dander, my brother and I aren’t allergic to anything (well, I’m supposedly allergic to amoxicillin, but that’s not really very relevant).

But recently, recently, I’ve been having sneezing bouts and itchy eyes and I’m a little nervous that my bad allergy genes are coming back to haunt me, or haunting me anew, as it were. So I’m going to keep repeating this little mantra: YOU DON’T HAVE ALLERGIES, you DON’T have ALLERGIES–until it all goes away. Look at me! With a lot more motivation I could’ve written The Secret.

Filling in for the Contra-Costa Times

My mother just called me at work to see if the tax return she sent me arrived (it had) and to inform me that my amazing sixteen-year-old sister, a varsity lacrosse player, had had her best game EVR! last night. She plays goalie, and apparently she was so in the zone that she made FORTY-ONE SAVES, which I am assured (by my mother, who knows marginally more about lacrosse than I do, which is to say almost none at all) that this is a very high, impressive number and makes my sister now some sort of god at whose feet I should probably worship. Since the distance makes that very unlikely right now, this is the best I can do. Apparently, the coach of the other team came up to her and said that was the best lacrosse game he’d seen played (sadly, my sister’s team eventually lost in double overtime, but only by one point and not because of her), and my father said, “That’s the best I’ve ever seen any of my children do in a sporting event,” which is actually high praise because my brother was a varsity baseball and football all-leaguer in high school, which if you know as little about sports as I do means that he was VERY FRICKIN’ TALENTED.

My mother said, “It’s too bad it was such a small game, because a performance like that should really be in the paper.” Well, it’s not the paper, but here we go: FISHY, YOU ROCK!!! CONGRATS ON BEING SUCH AN AWESOME LACROSSE GOALIE!!