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Writing About Apples, or, How to be Creative

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Writing About Apples, or, How to be Creative

Back in March, my mom texted me happy St. Patrick’s Day and asked, “so what percentage Irish is the baby? Only a math major can figure it out!” I took this as a challenge, and after texting my mother-in-law for information, I did some calculations and came up with this:

Phoebe is approximately…

  • 1/4   Italian (25%)
  • 7/32   German (approx. 21.9%)
  • 3/16   Scottish/Irish (approx. 18.8%)
  • 5/32   English (approx. 15.6%)
  • 1/16   French (approx. 6.3%)
  • 1/16   Danish (approx. 6.3%)
  • 1/32   Polish (approx. 3.1%)
  • 1/32   Czech (approx. 3.1%)

 

clover

My baby is probably less than 15% Irish.  But still very kissable!

 

Now that the baby is three months old I’m slowly getting back to my paying jobs, one of which is writing math curriculum.

And last week I created an assignment called “Melting Pot Math” in which the students have to figure out the “fractional ethnicity” of a person based on the countries his great-grandparents are from.

My bosses are happy to have me back; they continually praise me for my ability to come up with creative math projects. And I’m sort of amazed myself. I’ve been doing this job for over four years now; you’d think I would have run out of ideas for teaching fractions and long division. And yet I always come up with something, often based on whatever is going on in my life: wedding planning, visiting Mexico, getting an ultrasound. I even wrote a math curriculum called “Literary Agent.”

I’m also getting back to my other part-time job – tutoring – but right now I’m only doing it on Skype. I just hired a high school girl who will come to the apartment one afternoon a week to watch Phoebe while I’m on Skype, but up until now my husband has been watching her while I tutor.

3 months.png

 

On Sunday I was tutoring, and my student’s camera wasn’t working.  She could see me, but I couldn’t see her. It didn’t matter, though. She was just reading out loud to me from To Kill a Mockingbird, and we were discussing.

Out of the corner of my ear, I heard Phoebe start crying, and it sounded like a hungry cry, so I told my student to hold on a second. I fetched the baby and then said, “okay, keep reading. I’m just going to feed her.”

I guess I had a moment of flamingo syndrome –I couldn’t see my student, so I assumed she couldn’t see me. I pulled down my tank top and started breastfeeding. A few seconds later, I remembered that my student could see me, and I adjusted the camera so that only my face was visible on the screen. Oops! I can only hope she was so engrossed with To Kill a Mockingird that she didn’t notice her tutor flashing her!

Toward the end of the lesson, my student told me that she had to give a speech the next day to the entire middle school. “Our teacher told us we could pick any topic we wanted, so I chose apples,” she said.

“Apples? Like the fruit?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

She practiced her speech, and I gave her a few pointers.

“Why did you decide to write your speech about apples?” I then asked.

She grinned. “I didn’t know what to write about, and I was eating an apple, and my friend said ‘why don’t you write about apples.’” She shrugged. “So I did.”

I’m pretty sure that’s not what her teacher had in mind for the assignment. On the other hand, it’s a good lesson: when you don’t know what to write about, look around and write what you see. Write about your baby. Write about your day. Write about the apple you’re currently eating.

SONY DSC

 

When I started this blog four and a half years ago, I worried I might run out of things to write about. But, like with math curriculum, I always come up with something. Often I take inspiration from whatever is going on in my life, big or small.  Like accidentally Skype-flashing my student.

I don’t consider myself to be an amazingly creative person, pulling brilliant ideas out of thin air. Often I’m just a girl writing about apples. I look around, shrug, and write about whatever is in front of my face.

 

 

 

Baby Davey & Filling the Creative Well

Baby Davey & Filling the Creative Well

I got home from Mexico last night. For the past five weeks I’ve been an Artist in Residence in San Miguel de Allende, living in a house with another writer, David Ramsey, and a photographer, Marico Fayre. I taught a fiction workshop class, but I also spent time working on my own writing. At least, that was the idea.

Thursday was the Artist in Residence Gala. When it was my turn to speak, I thanked the San Miguel Literary Sala for giving me this opportunity. I told everyone I’d spent the summer working on a screenplay, a short story, and a novel. Then I read Chapter One of said novel.

But the truth is, I didn’t spend that much time working on any of these things. I mean, yes, I wrote a short story. Yes, I started a screenplay. Yes, I wrote some on my novel, (and, I like to tell myself, I was letting my thoughts about it percolate). But my goal had been to finish the novel while I was in Mexico. And that, I certainly did not do. When I got here I had written 160 pages. Now, I’m at 175.

I realized something important about myself as a writer this summer. When I’m in the midst of a big project like a novel, it’s best for me to be in a somewhat rigid and anti-social routine. I need to sit down to my computer at the same time each morning, in a quiet room with no distractions, so I can pound out another five to ten pages. I need this so I can block out the world around me and really submerge myself into the world of my novel. And here in San Miguel, I found this hard to do. Instead of working on my novel every day, I ended up taking long walks and hanging out in the jardin, watching Mexican boys breakdance.

But I didn’t say that at the Gala.

A photo I took during one of my long walks.

A photo I took during one of my long walks.

After David, Marico, and I spoke, some of our students read from their work and shared their images… Then the karaoke began. David immediately began hamming it up in a most incredible fashion, belting out country songs and dancing around the room.

One of the best things about this summer has been getting to know David and Marico. I’ve picked David’s brain about non-fiction writing, and Marico and I have talked about our love of fairy tales as creative inspiration. Plus, Marico and I discovered that there are two charming sides to David’s personality. There’s David, the hard-working writer and committed instructor. Then there’s Baby Davey. Baby Davey is fun-loving and sloppy. His shoes are untied, his fly is down, and he probably just spilled guacamole on his shirt. He has a beer in one hand and a shot of mezcal in the other.

Baby Davey singing karaoke.

Baby Davey singing karaoke.

On Thursday night it was Baby Davey who was singing karaoke and doing a one-man second line around the room. When things started winding down, Baby Davey wanted to go out on the town. We headed to a little cantina in the Centro where, soon, Davey was doing shots of tequila with Benjamin, the cantina owner, and convincing him to get on stage and sing to us.

After a few Mexican songs to which we enthusiastically clapped along, Benjamin strummed his guitar and began singing “Country Roads” in a Spanish accent. Davey giggled like a school girl and rocked back and forth in his chair. “I love this bar! I love this man! This is the best night of my life!”

Baby Davey and Benjamin.

Baby Davey and Benjamin.

Okay, so I didn’t meet the goal of finishing my novel here in San Miguel. But I did some things that are just as important. For one, I met David and Marico, who are now great friends and creative resources. And those walks around San Miguel weren’t for nothing either. As I walked, I took in my surroundings: the bright orange wall dripping with purple flowers. The stray dog trotting down a cobblestone street. The American ex-pat in his cowboy hat and the old Mexican beggar with her hand extended. I fed my creative brain with images, emotions, and ideas.

A quiet room and a rigid routine are great for finishing a novel. But new people, different places, a shake-up in the routine: that’s good for creativity. I may not have put my nose to the grindstone in San Miguel, but I was filling my creative well, and now that I’m back home, I’ll be dipping into those waters; my time here will find its way into my words.

I certainly wouldn’t trade a cantina night with Baby Davey for five new pages of my novel.

And speaking of that novel, everyone loved the chapter I read at the Gala. Afterwards, people came up to me, telling me they want to pre-order my book. I laughed.  “Well, I have to finish it first.”

“You’d better,” they told me. “I have to know what happens next.”

They don’t need to worry.  Now that my well is full and my ego has been boosted, I can sit alone in my room at home and write my heart out.

Baby Davey and Eva on what he claimed was the best night of his life.

Baby Davey and Eva on what he claimed was the best night of his life.

 

No Rain & How to Write Without Looking at Your Fingers

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No Rain & How to Write Without Looking at Your Fingers

Is it weird that I want it to rain? I was expecting lots of rain when I moved to Seattle last July, and although I was nervous about getting Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), I was almost looking forward to the gloom. Long strings of rainy days meant that I could hunker down in my cozy little apartment and do lots of reading and writing.

But I was lied to. We’ve all been lied to. Because Seattle is a beautiful, sunny city.

I think there is some sort of a conspiracy going on in which Seattleites try to convince the rest of the country that the city is rainy and undesirable, when in fact, the opposite is true. I see the sun more often than the rain, and when the sun is out, the snow-capped mountains loom behind the glittering waters of Puget Sound, and hundreds of sailboats dot Lake Union, just down the hill from my house.

It’s hard to stay inside on the computer with all that beauty going on. Not only do I feel guilty for not enjoying the weather, I am physically antsy being in the apartment. I’m not blaming the lack of rain on my low productivity this past month….but this is a challenge I’m currently facing.

Photo: Picture I took on my walk today.

Picture I took on a walk last week.  See Mt. Rainier, aka “the mountain” in the distance.  Even the name of the mountain (“rain-ier”) is trying to make you think it rains a lot here.  

Speaking of sunny weather, yesterday I started learning the Blind Melon song “No Rain” on the guitar. At first it was impossible for me to strum and sing the chorus at the same time. Eventually, however, I figured out that I could do it (somewhat) if I didn’t look at my fingers.

As a beginning player, I am always looking at my fingers. I’m not familiar enough with the guitar to know instinctively where the right strings and frets are. At least, that’s what I thought. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play the chords without looking at my left hand. But as it turns out, my fingers know more than I thought they did, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could let my fingers do their thing while I sang along:

“…And I start to complain that there’s no rain!”

Eva with her guitar (and flannel shirt -- I'm so Seattle!)

Eva with her guitar (and flannel shirt — I’m so Seattle!)  See a video of me playing “No Rain”.  Note that I don’t look at my fingers during the chorus.  

As I mentioned, I’ve been frustrated with my writing lately. I have a few novels I can’t figure out how to fix, and I have a few new ideas I can’t figure out how to get started on. But maybe it’s not a rainy day I need after all. Maybe sitting in front of the computer, staring at the blank screen and telling myself “write an outline now!” is like watching my fingers on the guitar and not being able to sing. I’m focusing too hard on the mechanics and not enough on the overall experience.

Maybe looking away for a while will help my creative brain do its thing. It probably knows more than I think it does. And one of the best ways to stimulate creativity is to get moving. So taking a walk in the Seattle sunshine might actually be as productive as sitting at home in my apartment.

Good thing, because it looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day.  (Shhh!  Don’t tell!)

Day 9: Meditation, Creativity, & Snacks

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MY JULY GOALS FOR LIFE FULFILLMENT
1. Meditate every day for at least 10 minutes
2. Read blogs and learn how to promote my own
3. When I’m about to say something negative, say something positive instead.

From what I understand, when you’re meditating and thoughts creep into your mind, you’re supposed to observe them without judgment, let them go, and continue to focus on your breathing. Sounds easy, right?

Wrong! Of course it’s not easy. First of all, as soon as I notice myself having thoughts, I judge myself for not focusing better on my breath. Then I scold myself for the thoughts themselves.

“Are you really thinking about packing snacks in the cooler again?” I asked myself the day before I left on my cross country trip. It was the fourth time my Type A brain had gone back to thoughts of “I have to remember to buy ice for the cooler,” and “should put non-perishables in, or will they get all soggy?” I mean, my god, was I really so worried about the snacks that I needed to have these thoughts running on constant repeat?

Not only is it hard not to judge, it’s hard to let go. I often find myself thinking of things during meditation that I don’t want to forget. Like buying ice, yes. But also ideas for blogs, thoughts about my novel, questions I need to look up on the Internet. I worry that if I let them go, they’ll never come back. And as a creative person, I’m terribly anxious about losing my ideas. I guess this is one reason why meditation is so hard for me. The purpose is to clear my mind. And an empty mind is exactly what I fear.

This is why I write...for the big bucks!  Check out my story at http://cafeirreal.alicewhittenburg.com/langston.htm

This is why I write…for the big bucks! Check out my story at http://cafeirreal.alicewhittenburg.com/langston.htm

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has a brilliant TED talk about creativity, and in it she relates an interview she did with the musician Tom Waits. For most of his life, he tried to “manage and dominate these sort of uncontrollable creative impulses,” but as he got older, he started to finally relax. One day he was driving down the L.A. freeway when he was struck with the inspiration for a song. But he has no pencil or tape recorder. He started to feel anxious that he was going to lose the idea and never get to write this song. But then, instead of panicking, he stopped. He looked up at the sky and said, “excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? … If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today.”

When you want your life’s work to be of a creative nature, you have to have some faith. Faith that this is the right choice for you, despite the possibility that you may never find money or success in it. And also faith that the ideas will continue to flow; that they are self-renewing and never-ending.

There is a famous Annie Dillard quote from The Writing Life that I think is appropriate here. It goes like this:

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”

After I finished meditating the other day, I sat down at my desk, and all those ideas I’d been worried about losing came rushing back. It was a relief. I can let go of my thoughts during meditation with faith that they will come back in time. Good ideas run deeper than surface thoughts of snacks and planning. Even when it seems like all of my ideas are gone, there are more welling inside me, like ground water, waiting for a hole to be dug, a bucket to be lowered down.

RELATED READING:

Write Like a Spendthrift Pilgrim from Southern Belle View Daily

Let Go of the Words and Hope They Come Back

Elizabeth Gilbert and Tom Waits on Capturing the Creative Urges on Stories for Speakers and Writers

Drawing by me!

Drawing by me!

Day 284: What to Do When Your “Self-Actualized” Friend Says You Need an “Artistic Outlet”

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Day 284:  What to Do When Your “Self-Actualized” Friend Says You Need an “Artistic Outlet”

YESTERDAY’S STATS:

# of pages written: 10

# of literary mags submitted to: 1

The other day my friend Melissa told me she was annoyed because a friend of hers, who claims to be enlightened and trying to spread his wisdom, told her she needs an artistic outlet. “Artistic outlet…what is this, a commune?” she asked. She says she doesn’t have time for an artistic outlet.

But I disagree. Melissa is freaking hilarious, and I think she should start a humorous blog. Just yesterday she wrote me the following in an email:

I got my new phone and its nice. Its the iphone 4S. The 4S comes
with Siri, which is like a personal assistant type thing. You hit a
button and ask her what the weather is like in Hong Kong and she tells
you. Stuff like that. Anyway you can make Siri call you whatever you
want. So Siri calls me Douche Bag. It cracks me up. I ask Siri ” What’s
my name?” and she says “You’re asking me, Douche Bag?” Cracks me the
fuck UP.

I understand that Melissa is busy working six 12-hour shifts a week at the hospital as well as planning her wedding and taking care of her two crazy dogs, but still… I agree with her crackpot enlightened friend: creative outlets are important.

So what can you do to bring creativity into your life without sacrificing too much time? Here are a few ideas…

 -Start a Twitter feed. Normally I think Twitter is ridiculous and wouldn’t endorse it, but if you’re short on time, Twitter might be the way to go. You could tweet quick haikus or funny observations. Melissa’s tweet for the day could be “Siri calls me Douche Bag. It cracks me up. I ask Siri ” What’s my name?” and she says “You’re asking me, Douche Bag?””

-Make collage cards for people’s birthdays. Most greeting cards are way lame, but if you make them yourself by cutting and pasting, people will think you really do care about them. Not only is it a way to make art without having to know how to draw, it gives you an excuse to read all those US Weekly magazines you stole from the dentist’s office.

-Cook or bake creatively.  Hey, you have to eat anyway, right? Why not make it your artistic outlet? You can make up your own recipes, or maybe get really fancy while decorating cupcakes for your daughter’s birthday party, like my friend Cari did. (See below.)

Cupcakes made by my artistic friend, Cari.

Cupcakes made by my artistic friend, Cari.

-Get out that old instrument from middle school. You know how you work on the computer all day and your eyes get sort of dry and bloodshot, and then you get home and you don’t want to do anything that involves your eyes? Reading – no. Watching TV – no. Blogging – no. So how’s about playing that old saxophone/guitar/piano/harmonica? Practice songs you used to know and make up new ones. Annoy your husband/housemate/cat. It’ll be great!

-Do calligraphy. Yes, I know this is dorky, but again, it’s a great way to make cards for your loved ones, and all it takes is some paper, some calligraphy pens, and a little patience.

-Take a photo a day.  An artistic photo, ideally. Then you can post it to flickr, Instagram, facebook, whatevs. Or, if artistic photos aren’t up your alley, make photo collages for your wall with pictures of friends and family.

-Redecorate your house.  Apparently they have a thing called wall tattoos now. So why not consider getting a tat for your kitchen? Decorating is definitely an artistic outlet. And you could strengthen your spacial awareness along with your creativity by rearranging your furniture. In my last apartment, I spent a weekend putting up curtains and putting down throw rugs and rearranging the furniture, and when I was done I couldn’t have been prouder than if I had painted the Mona Lisa.

-Find old crap and see if you can make it useful. You need to clean out your basement anyway, right? Get ideas from Pinterest or Etsy, then DIY it up the wazoo.  My friend Angelyn turned some old drawers from the thrift store into planters in her back yard. And I’m definitely going to turn an old coat hanger into a jewelry holder, as seen below. Creativity, huzzah!

pretty nifty, huh?

pretty nifty, huh?

-Go to one of those paint-and-drink places. If you want to try something artistic but don’t want to give up social time, go somewhere like Uncorked Art in DC where you can paint with friends whilst drinking a bottle of wine. Maybe the booze will get the creative juices flowing.

-Watch old Bob Ross episodes. It’s recently come to my attention that the reason why so many people love Bob Ross is because his soothing voice and gentle brush strokes give them brain orgasms — a phenomenon known as ASMR. So watch some Bob Ross on youtube. You’ll either get an awesome tingle in your brain, or you’ll learn how to paint a forest landscape populated with happy little trees.

-Practice a burlesque routine then perform it for your boyfriend/husband. Instead of going to the gym, prance around your house in titty tassels and a thong. You’ll get exercise, and the choreographing/costume planning will be your artistic outlet. The great thing is, you don’t actually have to be a good dancer because all your man will notice is the fact that you’re taking off your clothes.

-Write book reviews, movie reviews, restaurant reviews, video game reviews, etc. Maybe you can even get them published. The Review Review is always looking for people to review literary magazines, and Self Publishing.com will pay $50 a review for books they assign you. Or, you can just post your reviews onto a personal blog. The nice thing about this artistic outlet is it gives you an excuse to go to the movies, eat at restaurants, read trashy books, or play hours of video games.

Of course, there are tons of other creative outlets. Drawing, writing, sculpture, ceramics, sewing, flower arranging, cutting hair, macrame… I could go on and on. I think the most important thing to realize is that even if you don’t think of yourself as a artsy person, you CAN have an artistic outlet. Commit to doing something creative, whether it’s every day or just once a month. Make being artistic a part of your life. I don’t think you’ll regret it….(MELISSA, I’m talking to you!)

P.S.  Don’t you guys think Melissa is funny?  Wouldn’t you like to see her start a blog, or at least a Twitter account?

 

Day 221: 7 Ways Music Can Help Your Writing

Day 221:  7 Ways Music Can Help Your Writing

Special Announcement:  For those of you in the Boston area, or attending the AWP Conference next week, come to the (free) Burlesque Press AWP Kick-Off Reading on Wednesday, March 6th at 8pm at Crossroads Pub (495 Beacon Street, near the conference hotel).  I will be reading, along with some other excellent Burlesque Press contributors.

7 WAYS MUSIC CAN HELP YOUR WRITING

1. Music can set the mood. Trying to write about something beautifully mysterious? Listen to the French group Air, or your own favorite ethereal electronica. Trying to write about something terrifying or angry? Listen to some death metal.  Once you’re in the right mood, you’ll be ready to write that moody scene.

2. Lyrics can be the jumping off point for a story. I was always intrigued by the line in Nirvana’s “On a Plain” that says “my mother died every night,” so I wrote a story about a girl whose mother who fakes her own death in a variety of ways. Listen to a song and think about what stories might be hidden in the lyrics. Then write those stories.

3. Music can trigger memories. When I hear the Color Me Badd song “I Swear,” I’m flooded with images and feelings from an awkward eighth grade pool party. Many great stories, both fiction and non, begin with a memory, and music is notorious for helping us remember, whether we want to or not.

4. Music can help you get in touch with your unconscious. Here’s an example:  All week I’ve been brainstorming about how to end a story I’m writing, but I haven’t been able to think of anything. Then yesterday I was driving, spacing out and listening to Ke$ha on the radio when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the perfect way to end the story popped into my brain. I wasn’t thinking consciously about my story (or anything, really, which is usually what happens when you listen to Ke$ha).  Since I wasn’t thinking consciously, my more creative, unconscious brain took over the brainstorming and came up with something good.

5. Listening to music is intellectually stimulating. There are a lot of studies concluding that listening (and playing) music is good for your brain. The stronger your brain, the better your writing (and writing stamina) will be.

6. Music gets you moving, and moving makes you creative. It’s no secret that you have more energy on the treadmill when you’re listening to your jams, but there’s also a lot of evidence that we are more creative when we are in motion. Not only does exercise increases blood circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your brain, but simply being in motion can activate creative hotspots in the brain. I know I’ve come up with a lot of story ideas while at the gym. And I was almost always listening to music at the time.

7. Listening to music can reduce stress and increase positive feelings. Writing is dang hard. It comes with a lot of rejection and self-doubt. So listen to your favorite music to ease your stress and boost your self-esteem.  Then get back in front of the laptop for another go.

I'm obviously listening to some good tunes in this picture.

I’m obviously listening to some good tunes in this picture.

Days 82 & 83: Why Nikki Liked Her Birthday Pudding

Days 82 & 83:  Why Nikki Liked Her Birthday Pudding

# of pages revised: 10 ½

# of literary mags submitted to: 3

# of days left to complete 2nd draft: 63

Last night I made some pudding for Nikki’s birthday. I was going to bake her a cake, mind you, but then I thought no, Nikki’s going to want some sort of almond flour/no sugar/healthy-for-you cake, so I went with sugar-free pudding instead. I used carob chips to form the number “31” on top, and I set out all sorts of random accouterments, like sliced bananas, walnuts, and shredded coconut.

I’m glad I made the birthday pudding, because it turns out Nikki is planning to make herself a healthy cake for her party tonight. And plus, she liked the pudding.

“This is so fun, Eva!” she said last night, whilst dumping coconut and carob chips on her plop of pudding. “I love the accouterments. And I haven’t had pudding in ages. In fact, the last time I remember eating pudding was at your house in high school.”

“We did always like pudding at my house,” I said. I talked about how my mom used to make icebox cake – layering graham crackers and pudding in a cake pan – and how when we made Betty Crocker cake from a box we we would always put pudding in between the two layers to make it moist. “I remember being so surprised,” I said, “when I found out that other people just put frosting between the layers. I was like, what? You don’t use pudding?!”

When you’re a little kid, we reflected, you think that everyone does things the way your family does them. And then you start getting older, and going over to other people’s houses, and realizing that there are totally different ways of doing everything.

“And you’re like, thank God,” Nikki said.

It’s a good thing to keep in mind when writing characters: every house, every family has its own set of rules.

At Nikki’s house, everything was so clean and cold and sterile that I was almost afraid to sit down. “I remember spending the night at Nikki’s in the ninth grade,” I told Nate, “and when I took a shower in the morning, the shampoo was frozen.”

“And we never had ready-made food,” Nikki said. “You’d open the refrigerator and there would literally be nothing but a carton of eggs. But if you looked in the freezer, you’d see all these labeled bags of weird meat because my mom and step-dad did their own butchering. We always had animals skins hanging on the fence in the back yard.”

“Oh,” I said. “Is that why we never went back there?”

“But then you’d go over to Degra’s,” Nikki said, mentioning our other best friend from high school, “and it was like a whole different universe.”

Degra’s apartment was overly warm and smelled like something weird we could never quite identify. It was stuffed to the brim with things like her mom’s napkin ring collection and old family photos from the seventies. You always had to be quiet because her mom worked the night shift and was always sleeping.

“At Degra’s house,” Nikki said, “you would be served a hot dog split down the middle with pimento cheese spread inside.”

“Or,” I said, my voice beginning to tremble with laughter, “the salad would be one piece of wilted lettuce, with a scoop of cottage cheese, and a prune on top.” Nikki and I collapsed into giggles.

“And then there was Eva’s house,” Nikki said, turning to Nate. “I loved Eva’s house. It was so comfortable and homey.”

“That’s because it was messy and insane,” I said. “It was obvious that there were no rules and you could just do whatever you wanted.”  But I knew what she meant. All of my friends from high school still reminisce about how much they loved that house.

“The thing I loved about Eva’s house,” Nikki said, “was their bathroom closet. It was so huge and filled with all kinds of random stuff they’d collected over the years, like half-used bottles of hair dye and Halloween make-up, and bubble bath, and jars of old earrings.”

Happy Birthday, Nikki!

The thing about that house – The Wasena House, we called it – was that, really, there were no rules. My mom was constantly rearranging the furniture, and the furniture itself could not have been more random: a maroon couch, an orange rocking chair, a life-sized fake tree, an old green metal desk. Before my dad moved out, he built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the den out of scraps of old lumber, on which sat the hundreds of books he had collected from flea markets and yard sales, back when he thought he was going to start a used book store.

He also built a gigantic deck in the back that allowed our pitbull, Hunter, access to the garage roof. I once had a teacher say to me with concern, “Eva, I drove by your house the other day and noticed that your dog was standing on the garage roof.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “He likes to do that.”

In fact, there was a lot of roof-play at the Wasena house. My bedroom allowed access to the roof over the porch, so my friends and I were constantly going out there to hang out. I also used to skate around the downstairs in roller blades, and I once broke the chandelier while bumping a volleyball against the dining room wall.

There were always piles of books and papers in the foyer. My brother’s Lego’s spread out on the living room floor. Art supplies left forgotten in the den. Garden shears placed absent-mindedly on the table. The refrigerator was always full of snacks and pots of leftovers and experimental concoctions. In the summer, we slept on the back deck. In the fall we made a life-sized scarecrow for the front porch. There was a point in time where we had several old toilets in the side yard – I forget why. Friends and neighbors were always over. Someone was always wearing a wig, or that crazy full-length fur coat my mom got from somewhere. It was a mad-house and a dream-house and a place where everyone just did whatever they wanted. No wonder we all loved it.

When I graduated from high school and moved out of the Wasena House, my natural inclination for order began to take over. All of the places I’ve lived since have been clean and organized and reflect my somewhat-Type-A personality. I try not to accumulate too much random stuff. I always know exactly what’s in my refrigerator. I take off my shoes at the front door.

“You’re so neat,” my mom will say when she comes to visit me. “Where did you get that from?”

And I’ve always been proud of my clean house and my organized kitchen. And yet, a part of me misses that crazy hodge-podge lifestyle of the Wasena house. Because, like Nikki said, it was comfortable. It was fun. Order is nice, but disorder… there’s some nice about disorder, too. You never knew who or what you might find in the Wasena house. There were always surprises to discover. Something was always happening. In a way, I think, the disorder of that house made us all more creative. It was where my friends and I made up songs and dances and put on costumes and took photographs. It was where my brother played music and made art.

So when I get worried about my writing – when I worry that I’m not structuring my day efficiently or organizing my research better or, hell, organizing my life as much as I should — I just think about the Wasena house and the reason why everyone loved it. They didn’t love it for it’s organization, that’s for sure.

To put it another way, it wasn’t really the pudding that Nikki was so excited about. It was the random accouterments all jumbled up together, just like our old bathroom closet. Order makes sense, but disorder, perhaps, makes magic.