Beverly Cleary Forever

One of my favorite authors turned 100 today. The amazing Ms. Beverly Cleary, author of the first chapter book I ever read (Ramona Quimby, Age 8, when I was, fittingly, 8 years old), has been telling stories to kids for generations, since she published her first book in 1950. (Who else learned what bluing was because of her?) I grew up with her characters regardless of what decade they lived in. I freaked out with Ramona when her dad lost his job because my dad had just lost his. I maybe even stole some of her cigarette-hiding ideas to get my dad to quit (it didn’t work). I commiserated with Ellen Tebbits about changing in front of people when I was a dancer (luckily woolen underwear was not a thing by my day–also who wears underwear with dance tights, Ellen?). And I learned more about writing and character development than I ever realized at the time. Thanks, Beverly Cleary.

With that, in honor of her birthday, here are four of her books you have to read right now. Even if you don’t have kids to read them with. Just read them.

1. Ramona the Pest

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Ramona starts kindergarten. She discovers things like Susan’s boingy curls that she just has to pull and the joy of brand-new boots. This remains one of my favorite books of all time.
Highlights: So many! Ramona being told to “sit here for the present” and thinking that she’ll get an actual present, and then she’s afraid to go outside for recess because she might not get her present anymore if she gets up.
Ramona telling Beezus to turn on the “dawnzer” when it’s too dark in the room (“it gives a lee light”).
Ramona’s mom telling her to leave for school at “quarter-past,” and a quarter is worth twenty-five cents, so she therefore leaves at twenty-five past. And everything looks different because it’s later than usual, and also she’s five years old and walking to school alone–wow 1950s, you don’t play around.

2. Fifteen

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Jane Purdy is fifteen and starts dating her first boyfriend, Stan Crandall, who is just dreamy, with his green eyes and perfect tan. Why would he ever like a girl like Jane, when there are girls like Marcy Stokes around, the “cashmere-sweater types” who make Jane feel mousy and unimportant. This cover may look like 1987 threw up all over it, but the book was written in 1956. Parts of it are delightfully dated (dogs eat fresh horsemeat that gets delivered in a truck, like the milkman but, you know, horsemeat), and there are parts that make you think “how casually racist of you, Buzz Bratton, no wonder you’re not as popular as Stan,” but overall this story of first love is timeless.
Highlights: Sir Puss, the Purdy family cat, deciding to plant himself down in the middle of the living room and lick his butt while Stan is meeting the parents.
Jane’s bff Julie’s description of Stan’s date to the dance: “Everybody calls her Bitsy, because she is such a little bitsy thing….You know the type. She has to wear real high heels, because she is so little. The type that makes the other girls feel big and awkward. Especially me. She made me feel all wool and a yard wide as if I should be running around with a hockey stick instead of dancing.”

3. The Luckiest Girl

luckiest-girl

This was published only two years after Fifteen, but it always felt less dated to me for some reason. In my head it’s a 60s book even though it’s from 1958. Sixteen-year-old Shelley gets to leave rainy Oregon and travel to California for the semester, where there are orange and olive trees, and no one has ever heard of Munchkins–excuse me, doughnut holes–and star basketball player Philip Blanton likes her. But she’s young and dumb and takes almost the entire book to figure out that the real boy of her dreams was right there the whole time, sitting behind her in homeroom.
Highlights: Shelley’s pink raincoat with a black velveteen collar and matching hat with a velveteen button on top, which is completely hideous back home in Oregon but super-adorable in California. I have wanted this raincoat to be mine to this day.
“‘Mother, they’ve crowned me Queen of the May,’ exclamation point,” which shy, awkward Luke had to read in front of his class.
Shelley starting to realize that maybe Philip isn’t all that great after all…when he tells her he doesn’t want to go to college and would rather just work on trees. (“Nobody was a poor woodcutter in this day and age.”)

4. Beezus and Ramona

beezus and ramona

I was going to limit myself to just one Ramona book, but this book is for Beezus, the plain-Jane older sister whose shining moment in life came the day when Selena Gomez was cast as her in a movie. Basically Ramona spends one chapter after another ruining Beezus’ life in various ways, culminating with baking her doll into Beezus’ birthday cake. Beezus learns that sometimes it’s OK to not love your little sister when she’s being a pain in the ass. It’s kind of a shocking and also relieving message to hear when you’re a kid.
Highlights: Beezus thinking she has no imagination but managing to paint a kick-ass candy dragon in art class.
Ramona not wanting to return her steam-shovel book to the library, so she writers her “name” (aka i’s and t’s, her favorite letters) on every page.
Ramona riding her trike around the house all morning singing “I’m going to have a par-ty!” and then the family being shocked when kids start to arrive and she actually does throw herself a party. You think they’d have learned by now.

 

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Dear Spambot Commenters,

Hello, spambot commenters! Thank you for stumbling across my blog. And for leaving me comments. It makes me feel like my opinions bring up many interesting points that are really spot-on. Especially when you tell me that you “like all the points I made about this subject” and that I was “spot-on with this writeup.”

However, I really don’t need your advice on how to make my website better by getting more Google hits. I do not need to visit your spamlink for alleged SEO software that can create unique Google-friendly content in a couple of seconds.

You see, when I’m not writing, I’m editing. I do a lot of editing for SEO. A lot. In fact, I should be doing that right now. I have basically been editing nonstop today for over 12 hours, until I received a comment on my website about my interesting content that was exceptionally well written but could be even more successful.

So, next time you want to auto-spam my page, please just stick to the usual pEn!s enLarGements and young 18 y.o. Russian ladies.

Thanks.

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D-D-D-Do You Have It?

I recently applied for the Nickelodeon Writers Fellowship, along with likely thousands of others who probably already have tv credits to their name. It was my first foray into the world of writing spec scripts, and I wrote an episode of Community. So now, NBC, you are not allowed to cancel this show at the end of the season so that I can maximize this spec’s shelf life (#sixseasonsandamovie).

Of course, since I submitted the application on February 28, I have been thinking about all of the things I must have answered horribly wrong on the short answer responses. They only give you 50 words to answer why you want the fellowship, and I didn’t go funny on my bio, and maybe I should have, though I was afraid of seeming naive and unprofessional. So there’s no way I said everything I wanted to say. I’ve been needing to get my real answer out of my system for weeks. So, I now present…

“What I Wanted to Say” (In Well Over 50 Words)
I am the biggest Classic Nickelodeon nerd. I used to have a blog recapping episodes of classic shows, Television Without Pity-style. (It is still apparently the top result when you google the immortal Busdriver Stu Benedict’s quote “Passengers will refrain from KILLING MY SOUL!!!” from Pete and Pete. Which I’m sure people google all the time.)

I grew up with Nickelodeon from the days of Pinwheel and You Can’t Do That On Television through their early 90s Golden Age. I remember Special Delivery and Marc Summers’ Halloween special. I had the Finders Keepers board game that my mom insisted on returning to the store after she realized you had to hide the game tokens by throwing your own crap from around the house into a cardboard box.

The Finders Keepers boardgame, in all its 80s glory.

In all its 80s glory.

I entered Slime Time for a good four years straight and was never called. I would seriously sit there willing my phone to ring and have it be the Slime Time people on the other end. I entered the Super Toy Run that the boys always seemed to win. I didn’t enter Nick-or-Treat because I was too embarrassed to answer the phone saying “Nick-or-Treat!” only to have it be my aunt.

The station ID bumpers and other Nick commercials are forever lodged in my brain. I could recite about ten of them right now. I remember Picture Pages, and Bananaman, and DangerMouse. And I’m probably one of the only people in the country who worries about what will happen to the Nick Time Capsule now that Nickelodeon Studios is long gone.

I tried to write an episode of Rugrats once. I think it started out as an episode of Rugrats and then morphed into my own original story. It involved ordering a birthday cake. I also was always making up pretend adventures where my brothers and I were the characters from the various Nicktoons. The first three Nicktoons premiered on August 11, 1991 (and I knew that without having to google the date), and that summer we spent a week or two up at my uncle’s lake house in New Hampshire. Nickelodeon promoted the hell out of the upcoming cartoons, so in the weeks before they actually aired, I’d make up my own stories about them based on the bit of info from the teaser ads. I was not happy when I’d been playing Angelica for weeks only to watch the show and discover that she was a heinous little bitch.

I also watch shows that I am far too old for and should be embarrassed to admit to liking. Drake and Josh could be fun, and I was convinced that Zoey 101 was a great show if you removed Zoey from it (nothing against Jamie Lynn Spears… the character was just way too perfect at absolutely everything and had zero faults). And I loved iCarly. Loved it. I was out of college when it premiered, but I didn’t care. One time, when I was still working at my scientific research publishing company, I was out sick and, of course, watching after-school iCarly (did they still call it Nick in the Afternoon by that point?). To my complete surprise, I saw an issue of my journal in one of the kids’ lockers. My scientific research journal that no one younger than college-age bio majors would ever read. I immediately had to download the episode so I could pause it and confirm. And then I sent a screenshot into my company’s newsletter with the lame excuse that I had been flipping channels and “just happened” to see it. I am probably the only person, except maybe scientists who watch tv with their kids, who cared that an issue of Cell was in iCarly.

I’ve known for a very long time that my dream job would be writing for children. Whenever I think of my favorite books, movies, or tv shows, a wide majority of them are written for kids. I want to give future kids the same memories that I had with Doug, Clarissa, and Pete and Pete. I want future 23-year-olds to shamelessly watch kids shows I wrote because they’re just that fun and awesome. I wish I could convey all of this in 50 words or less, but I can’t. They’ll just have to interview me I guess.

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Oh, hello there, blog.

Oh blog, you have been so neglected! I miss you. I’ve been doing a lot lately, most of which is just mindless and frustrating. I spend my free time dreaming that I’m not doing what I am actually doing. So. New idea, write some of this stuff down. If anything, it will be fun to look at and laugh later.

What I learned today: Minkus is going to be on Girl Meets World!

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This is awesome. Don’t insult the man with the Perky’s.

I really hope the show has the same self-aware silly-comedy-with-a-heart of the original. And that it stays on the air long enough for to me kick open the doors and demand a job on the writing staff (that’s how it works, right?). Back in the day it felt like every single actor in my age range was on Boy Meets World at least once. I used to imagine that I was an extra on the show — Topanga’s random friend-for-an-episode or something. Because it’s normal to dream about being an extra rather than an actual character. Dreaming big, right there. Though I also used to imagine that I was Stephanie Tanner, so either my confidence was higher or my standards were lower for Full House.

My lunch is just about ending, and I still have to email a friend who I never get to talk to anymore. Because of the aforementioned mindless frustration. But my goal is to come back later tonight and blog about my venture into writing tv scripts. Should we take bets on if I actually get to write this post tonight? Will it end up being another case of see you in three months? I hope not.

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Back in action

Wow, it’s been a long time. So long that it looks like WordPress has updated their New Post window. This is just a quick pre-work update on all of the things that have been inhibiting me from updating (i.e., an excuse blog! I’m great at those).

Speaking of pre-work, I have a new job now! Am I writerly enough to call it a “day job”? I don’t want to sound obnoxious. Anyway. I’ve been here two and a half months. I’m not working from home anymore, and I’m up and at work before I used to have to even be awake. It’s been an adjustment. I hate mornings.

I also moved! I am back in the hometown of Somerville. I moved about a month ago, but I’m still unpacking and getting things settled. It’s one of those moves where the unpacking feels overwhelming and I just don’t want to do it. I probably should force myself to work on it tonight a little.

The hardest update, which is probably why unpacking has been so overwhelming, is that Allan (the boyfriend) moved back to Arkansas and we’re currently doing the long-distance thing. Long-distance is extra-hard when his internet is limited to a certain amount of data because cable and DSL aren’t available in his area, so skyping has to be limited. It’s been hard, but we’re making it work one day at a time.

So all of this has left me completely out of it writing-wise. I’ve worked on a few things lately though, so I’m starting to get back into it, hooray! The other day I was working on seeing what my fairytale play Mirror, Mirror would be like adapted into sort of an early-reader chapterbook. I haven’t decided if it will work yet. I was adding a frame story to it which I like, but I’m not sure if the material I have would be too long for a book in that age group.

In any case, I also want to adapt that play into a play for young audiences. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. What’s held me back is that I think the verse element needs to go. And that kills me. This play was my undergrad thesis, my very first little proto-play, and the verse was SO. HARD. to write. But I need to think of it in terms of theatricality now, not just academics. And I need to think about what will play better on the stage, especially for kids. And if there’s not a good, necessary for the story reason for it to be in verse, I should cut it. I can keep the lyricism and rhythm of the language without being so limited by the form. But like I said, it kills me.

I’ve also been a children’s lit kick lately, and I want to try my hand at writing a book for kids. The play adaptation is serving as a sort of “practice session” for that to play with the form and get more of a handle on it. It’s weird when you’ve been writing drama for so long that you suddenly sit down to fiction and it feels foreign. It’s like, “you mean I just can’t write ‘setting: the bedroom of two young girls’ and have a set designer make it all pretty for me? I have to actually use words to describe it???”

My latest project has been a much-needed revise on The Prayer Bargain. I had one of those flashes of insight while taking a shower the other night, and I think I’ve figured out Molly’s journey and what she wants. Being back in Somerville means I’m on this play’s stomping grounds, so I’m getting more excited to finally tinker with the problems this play’s been having.

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12 things I learned from My Girl

I was nine years old when My Girl came out in 1991, two years younger than main character Vada Sultenfuss. You learn a lot in those two years between 9 and 11, especially if you were a sheltered Catholic school girl who hasn’t even read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret yet. Here’s some of the especially important things I learned from this epic coming-of-age movie.

1. What happens at a funeral.

And what happens when you get old… apparently you can sing classic standards whenever you want and no one can do anything about it.

2. A girl can never wear enough blue eyeshadow.

Technically, I had already learned this by age 3 from dance recitals.

3. There is basically nothing good to look forward to about being a girl.

Nothing.

4. Surround yourself with people who are intellectually stimulating.

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Vada was a mini-Daria in the making.

5. Mood rings are the coolest things ever.

I had to go out and get one from the Limited Too. And pick up a flannel scrunchie while I was there to match my flannel shirt.

6. How to write poetry.

“Flesh all a-mesh or rocky road; either way, it’s about desire.”

7. You did not touch my grass.

It puts the grass in the basket.

8. That I will always and forever associate this song with bumper cars.

And that bumper cars are a great way to take out some aggression on someone.

9. How insanely long your period lasts.

5to7days

And how I had never thought before about how you would manage to go swimming during it.

….And how awkward this movie can be to watch with your parents.

10. Kissing a boy involves saying the pledge of allegiance?

And that there’s a time when spitting on your hand becomes grosser than kissing a boy.

11. It’s ok to bawl your eyes out at a movie.

12. No really, it is.

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At my own pace

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and guess what… I’m still running! I went through a period where I fell out of it for a week and a half when work was going crazy and I also had to get a lot of writing done, but I’m really trying to make this something I stick with. Because of jumping around and missing a few days, I’m on the beginning of week 5 of the beginner program I’ve been doing.

Today’s schedule was 12 min run/1 min walk repeated twice followed by a 4 min run to round out the 30 minutes.  Last Wednesday was when I finally got back to the gym and started up again, and I did an interval of 10 min run/1 min walk twice followed by 8 min run. I was mad at myself for going a week and a half between running days, and I told myself that I had to set the treadmill on 5.0 for my minimal running pace from now on because everyone else at the gym seems to run at 5.5 at the least. I can run at 5.0… when I was doing shorter run intervals I liked that pace because going slower actually felt more difficult. The first 10 minutes were pretty good… I started at 4.6 and bumped it up to 5.0 after two minutes because my previous run had been at 8 min intervals. The second 10 minutes were harder as it got down to the end. I was clock-watching a lot and that always kills me. When I got to final 8 minutes I could feel a blister starting to form on my left foot and a cramp in my hip on that leg, and I practically was speed-walking the final minute and a half.

Then I tried to run again on Thursday even though the plan usually has a walk day in between run days, again because I was mad at myself for being away so long. I was also missing my dad a lot because it was the anniversary of the day he died, and I sort of wanted to run out all of the sad feelings. But I could barely do it. I managed to run for 15 of the 30 minutes, but I had to split it up into 10 run, 10 walk, 5 run, 5 walk. I felt awful. Friday I fell asleep after barely making it through work. It was a rough week.

So today I started off at the beginning of week 5 of the plan, as I said with 12 min run intervals. The muscle aches of last week were gone, and I decided that I probably needed to stop caring about my pace or my calories burned for now and just focus on building up the endurance. The speed will come once I get the endurance there. That’s a problem I always have with anything I approach. I feel like if I’m not absolutely killing myself then I must not be working hard enough. But I ran at 4.6 instead of 5.0 and, big surprise, got through the 12 min intervals much easier than the 10 min ones of last week. It was still a workout, but I wasn’t left feeling like I must be incredibly weak to not be able to handle the plan anymore once I got halfway through it. I put the speed up to 5.0 for the final 4 min run and that felt good. And I still went past the 2 mile mark and got to 2.25-2.30, which is around where I was last time. And I feel like on Wednesday when the interval rises to 13 min, I will be able to handle it.

I need to approach more facets of my life like this. It doesn’t matter that (what feels like) everyone else at the gym runs at 5.5 or 6.0, and it doesn’t matter if they can go that fast and are also beginner runners. Maybe I’m better at dancing or yoga than they are (and if not, then ehhh, whatever, I’ve never been a super-athlete anyway). And if a friend is way more established as a writer than I am, that’s ok and it doesn’t diminish that I’ve made some progress since getting the MFA. It doesn’t mean I should sit there berating myself while I revise until I start questioning whether I’m actually cut out for it. Or if a friend makes more money/owns a house/is married/has a kid/all four of those things, it’s ok that I’m not there yet. It’s ok that I’ve had a couple major challenges in the past few years and have had to take some time working through them. It’s so much more productive to write/live at 4.6 and stay motivated than to force yourself to function at 5.0 and beat yourself up when you’re struggling to maintain it. Now I actually feel like going out and running again next time instead of dreading it. And when I don’t beat myself up about writing, I usually write things that turn out a lot better. Imagine that.

Remind me to take a look back at this post when I start feeling like I’m not doing good enough with life. Remind me that when I’m thinking clearly, these thoughts make sense and that it does not signify my “taking the easy way out.”

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