Saturday, August 30, 2008


So I finally finished that big sewing job for Jewelry Girl. It about killed me, seeing as how I did in five weeks what I thought I would do in eight, but the results are good.

The red and green ones are acetate taffeta, which was surprisingly pleasant to work with. It was crisp and did as it was told.

I sure couldn't have done it without the serger.

And now I am very tired, and I'm going to take a vacation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

a good manager is a thing of beauty

A friend turned me on to, a site that collects anecdotes of the INSANE customers one encounters all too often in the service sector. A choice example:

Customer, upon receiving her Moolatte: “This has a round lid, can I have a flat lid?”

Me: “I’m sorry, the only lid that fits that cup is a dome lid.”

Customer: “But I want a flat lid, Starbucks always gets me a flat lid! Why can’t you?!”

Me: “I’m sorry, ma’am, but the flat lids we have won’t fit that cup.”

Customer: “I want to speak with your manager.” *mutters* “Stupid kids…”

(I go and get my manager)

Manager: “What’s the problem, ma’am?”

Customer: “This stupid employee of yours won’t give me a flat lid!” *brandishes the drink in his face*

(My manager takes one of every single lid in the store and puts them in front of her)

Manager: “Go ahead then.”

Customer: *proceeds to try and put the lids on the cup, none of which fit* “This is ridiculous! Why don’t you have a flat lid?! Starbucks always has a flat lid!!”

Manager: “Then go buy your drinks there and leave my employees alone.”

And even better:

Customer: “I’d like pineapple on my sub.”

Me: “I’m sorry, we don’t have pineapple. Only Mr. Sub has pineapple.”

Customer: “Yes you do! I always get pineapple here!”

Me: “I’ve worked here for quite a while, and we’ve never had it. Sorry!”

Customer: “Excuse me, the customer is always right! You can’t argue with me!”

Me: “Um…”

Customer speaks to my manager: “Excuse me, your employee is arguing with me! What are you going to do about it?”

Manager: “Don’t be so stupid! Get out of my store!”

I swear I have met every one of these morons. When I was young and vulnerable I tended to cry after they left. In my later years I just got mean.

The last day I worked at Casual Corner, which was about seven years ago, it was near the end of my shift, the mall was due to close in twenty minutes, and I was folding sweaters on the big display table at the front of the store. I was in a mellow mood because I knew I wasn't coming back there any more.

It was a big store, divided into three sections by partitions, and a door at either end of the store front. I saw a couple come in, with a pair of children, and slink around the partition onto the Petites side of the store. People are really good about avoiding the eye of salespeople when they don't want to be disturbed. They had that harried look of people who are just in for a quick scan and don't expect to find anything. I went on folding sweaters.

About five minutes later, the husband appears around the corner of the partition, which is about 25 feet from where I'm standing, and hollars, "Hey! You over there, picking your nose or whatever--you wanna come help us?"

I turned slowly toward him, raised an eyebrow, put a hand on my hip and said, "You wanna come over here and ask me that nicely?"

His wife's head pops around the corner. "What did you just say?"

I said, "You heard me."

"Well!" she said. "I am not shopping in here anymore!"

I pointed, advancing on them with a hostile look in my eye. "There's the door."

They backed toward it, hearding their rugrats behind them. "You need to be in a different line of work!" the wife snapped at me.

I grinned. "This is my last day."

They hustled for the door, muttering in outrage. There was a group of young men loitering outside the door and I thought about yelling after the departing couple, "You're not allowed to shop here anymore!" like Randall in Clerks, but I didn't.

As we were closing up the store, I told the manager on duty about the incident. "So if anybody calls up complaining about that girl who was so mean to them, it was me."

She laughed. "Honey, I'd say you got a gift for your last day!"

Monday, August 25, 2008

so why'd you ask, then?

I have this pet peeve.

Say I do something cool: make a dress, write a story, execute a good-looking down posture, whatever. And somebody says to me, "ooooh, that's so wonderful, I could never do something like that."

And I say, "Oh, sure you could, it just takes practice."

"Oh, but you're so talented."

"Well..." (yes I am, but) "this is mostly skill, and skill can be acquired."

"Oh no, oh no I could never... I just am no good at things like that."

Now, if I had any brains at all, I'd just say "thank you!" at the first and not get drawn into this. It just makes everybody uncomfortable, and me mad. I hate it when people say I'm talented; that's like saying I'm pretty--even if it's true, it's a genetic accident, and accounts for nothing. I've known a great many people with natural gifts--at singing, for instance--and they're a dime a dozen. Talent is useful, it can give you an edge in the right circumstances, but usually it has to be bolstered with a great deal of acquired skill and persistence, a.k.a. "work."

So I enjoy it much more when people say, "oh, what a lot of work, great job!" which is what my very wise, and likewise skilled, husband tends to say.

The other reason I hate the, "Oh, you're so talented!" line is because I think people use it as an excuse to be mediocre. The idea of talent is the idea of fate, and I don't believe in fate. "I could never do that" is an excuse not to try.

God knows I've sabotaged myself in some ventures--tai chi competition, for one thing--but I have never blamed the Fates for my bad luck. It was ME--me not practicing, me giving up, me prioritizing in a different direction.

But the part I really love is when this I-can't attitude becomes resentment against those who have done the work and made the sacrifices to get what they want. I was reading a post on Culinate by Sarah Gilbert, whom I much admire for her decision-and-sacrifice-making ability. In brief, she was contrasting the old-fashioned way of cooking (and ergo, homemaking) with the kind of short-cut, "quick and easy" mentality promoted by Rachel Ray and her ilk (yes, Ray is an easy target, but go with the allegory). And someone in the blog comments started scolding Gilbert for advocating less TV and less quick-fix thinking in our lives.

The crux of the attacker's argument: "Some of us can't live that way. Shame on you for being an elitist."

Pardon me while I gag. You can't manage your children without a TV? You can't entertain yourself without American Idol? What this boils down to is, "I don't want to do without my drug/babysitter. The echoing in my brain frightens me unless I have something to drown it out."

Furthermore, the issue of TV/no TV is entirely not the point. The point Gilbert was making was about understanding the methods of preparing food; if you know the process, you don't need all the pre-packaged crap and perky on-air instruction: a little time invested in real education, rather than TV watching, will save you a lot more stress in the long run. These quick-fix TV shows are not designed to teach you skills, they are designed to keep you coming back for more time-wasting. But nobody wants to see it this way. They don't want to admit they are the puppets of careful marketing researchers. They want to defend "My way!" because stretching and growing one's perceptions--not to mention one's skill set--is way too threatening: I may fail, ergo, I better not try, ergo, you're a snotty elitist for making me feel like a failure, shame on you!

I think the reason this really gets my goat is that it puts a tacit but pervasive pressure on people to conform. Women are notoriously self-deprecating, and this is how and why we get that way. For example, because I don't have a TV and can't join in the discussion of the KU game, or this week's episode of The Office, no one can think of anything else to say to me, and I have become more and more isolated in my work group. I get along with them okay, but I'm generally ignored, passed over for promotions, even.

Or in another example, I frequently have people ask me how I stay thin. The answer? A little exercise, a little cooking at home, and a lot of good choices throughout the day--mostly having to do with not putting sugar in my mouth. "Oh, but I couldn't go without coffee/bread/soda," they say, slightly horrified, as if I'd suggested they run around topless. Or else, "It's nice that you can afford good food," in a faintly accusing tone.

What am I supposed to do, stop eating nutritious food just because other's can't afford it? I feel bad for the starving folks in India but I don't have a lot of sympathy for you if you're feeding your kids Pop-Tarts instead of eggs for breakfast. Shall I fill my head with mindless sitcoms so I can participate in water-cooler bullshit? Will that make you feel better about yourself? Start getting fat so you can feel better about the inevitability of your own decline? Harrison Bergeron comes to mind, but if Kurt Vonnegut is too "elitist" for you, go watch The Incredibles again, and pay careful attention to Bob's rant about how not everybody can be special.

When Sit gets on a tear he starts talking about choices--you CHOOSE to be good or bad at tai chi, based on the smaller decision you make about whether to practice every day. He kind of got on my case last week, with some justification, about getting my priorities in order. Of course I know that his top priority is tai chi, and I think he knows I'm crazy-busy sewing right now, but that really doesn't mean I can't carve out twenty minutes to practice every day, and I say that because I am stressing out, feeling cramped, and I need that twenty minutes for my own health, if nothing else.

At any rate, I won't make excuses as to why I can't practice, or resent other people for making the time. There are two guys in my class who both do construction work all day and have 2-3 small children; both of them practice from 11 to midnight every night. One of them is getting noticeably good. And do I resent him for it? No, I shook his hand a couple weeks ago and offered my congratulations. I actually feel rather inspired by him. If I can choose to go home and cook a little fish or chicken instead of stuffing carryout quesadillas in my face, then I can choose to do a little qi gong instead of vegging out in front of the computer. I can choose to pick up my needle or my practice sword instead of turning on the TV. I can choose to get up and pack my lunch in the morning instead of hitting the snooze button twice more.

I guess that's my talent, then--the ability to admit I put obstacles in my own path instead of blaming other people for my failure. That doesn't make me elitist, it just makes me better than you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

how dull can I be?

More of the same around here. Three dresses done except for the trim. Pics this weekend, I hope. I have nothing to take to my writer's meeting this weekend but I'm going anyway because I need to see some different faces.

The SP is refinishing the floor in my workroom-to-be and it looks smashing. I've got three advance orders for Harley costumes and will probably have a fourth by the end of the month.

I also ordered excess red taffeta for one of the dresses, so I got some black to go with it and I'm going to make that babydoll/Lolita Harley Quinn dress I keep talking about. I was just reading some message boards how-to's about Lolita fashion, and like everything else, it's a tiny, complex little microcosm of subculture with a lot of "rules" and infighting. I'm reminded of the court at Versailles. I'm also a little wary of marketing the costume as a "lolita" dress--somebody might come after me with a pointy parasol or croquet mallet for not being true to the style.

Our performance at the Ethnic Festival was pretty good, I think. Nobody had the forethought to bring a camera, so I have no video. Sit was the only one who messed up--he started looping in the middle of the sword form, and gave a bit cheesy grin to us in the wings of the stage--but he's experienced enough he made up a few things and managed to make it look good. I really need to get some video of myself doing form so I can fine-tune.

I am increasingly frustrated with the whole concept of punching. Sit keeps telling me I'm doing it wrong. Ok, great, but I don't understand how to do it right, and repeating "From the hip! From the hip!" really is not that helpful. Also I'm mad because I have no time to practice. I made those dresses in five weeks, when it was supposed to be eight weeks, and I've been sewing in my sleep. I'm TIRED. And I have a slight earache and sore throat that makes me think it's not all mental stress.

Still, there's fun stuff to look forward to. Getting paid. Bringing my couch home in a couple weeks. Making new fluffy dressy things and getting paid. Making up those dolls and selling them and getting paid. Although the angel dolls on my Etsy site aren't winning any prizes. Lousy pictures. Another thing I don't have time to take care of.

At least I have a camera now. And a kick-ass serger! I love that thing! I could never have done this big job in this amount of time without it. I need to hit the library and find a book about serging so I know what-all it can do. I also need to look for a rolled-hem attachment so I can use it for finishing.

Bah. Working two jobs sucks. I'll be glad when it's November. I want to sew something for myself. And I still haven't made the SP's coat from last Christmas. Groan!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

tai chi dedications

As mentioned, we have a performance coming up at the Ethnic Festival. Sit's been rehearsing us like we've never seen before. We even did a dress rehearsal today--uniforms and everything. People are more serious when they're in uniform.

A couple of my classmates surprised me. There's a very quiet guy, been coming to Wednesday class for a couple of years, bravely soldiering on in the face of having no clue what he was supposed to do, and all of us giving him conflicting orders. He's obviously been practicing, though. Today I watched him do the first kung fu form quite cleanly and precisely--predictable flaws, of course, but better than some who've been doing it longer. Then he stepped up with me, the SP, the master and the master's wife, and did the second tai chi/"kicks" form, which he'd had to learn by himself, in Sit's basement. I hadn't even realized he knew all of it, and we hadn't reviewed it in some time, but he went through the whole thing confidently. I'd had some idea that he was quick to remember sequences, but I had to shake the guy's hand after class. He makes me a little nervous, to tell the truth. I may have to start practicing, myself.

One very funny thing that happened, after we did our demos: Sit fired up some new music, took up his performance sword and sashayed out onto the practice floor as if he had only just happened to have a sword and thought he may as well do the sword form for our demo. Remember I said he tends to decide what he will perform at the last moment? But clearly he had been planning this for a while, because this was a song we had never heard before, and he had all the timing cues down. And as he passed by us on his way to the "stage," he gave me a big, toothy grin to make sure I was paying attention.

The SP saw it. "This one's for you, babe," he said to me under his breath, with a wink and a leer.

I was choking back laughter so hard I barely saw the performance. I know, you had to be there--you have to know Sit, and the whole weird familial dynamics of the class--but trust me, it was funny.

pizza.... mmmm, pizza

I am done buying carryout pizza.


Hear me?

Not because of a bad experience, but because, as with so many other things, I can do a better job, and cheaper.

Last night I used the Perfect Pizza Dough recipe from Culinate. This is the third or fourth time I've made it, and it is extremely satisfactory, although I usually add a bit more salt and sugar than is called for. It's not the ingredients that make the difference, really, it's the method: the long cold rising in the fridge, and the preheating of the pizza stone. My oven will heat to 550 degrees, so that is the temperature I use. It yields a terrific, tasty, crunchy crust that will support a surprising overload of toppings.

While the dough was rising, I went out to my garden, plucked a handful of basil and oregano leaves off my plants, brought them in and mashed them up with some farmer's market garlic, olive oil, sea salt and a few raw cashews. The resulting pesto-ish pulp I mixed with half a can of Muir Glen diced tomatoes, half a can of tomato paste, and a generous dash of black pepper and red pepper flakes.

After the crust was pre-baked, I smeared it with the doctored tomato sauce, then topped with Italian sausage, chopped mushrooms, red and yellow bell peppers, sliced olives, and plenty of fresh-grated mozzerella and romano cheese.

My husband said, "You could make a lot of money selling this stuff."

Only I couldn't, because I'd eat all the profits.

Such wealth is not good for the waistline.

But I am never buying a carryout pizza again. We've even got some pretty decent shops here in town, but they can't touch the flavor you get when all the ingredients are fresh and high-level to begin with. What's great is, I can mix up the dough before leaving for work in the morning, and it's ready to use when I get home. High level, indeed.

on plot and structure

Somebody asked me once, "How do you plot?" and I wrote a long and clumsy Impressionist essay about my method. Now I have this book before me, How to Write by Richard Rhodes, which Sit seemed to feel I need to read. He does that periodically, walks up and hands one of us a book with the tacit command to read it and report back.

Generally I am disinterested in other peoples' methods of writing; I've pretty much got it figured out by now and it's merely a matter of how much effort I want to put into it. But because I am lazy, it's often useful to me to borrow the words of others, and Rhodes uses an interesting metaphor, in Chapter Five, for the process of outlining or structuring a piece of writing.

I doubt if many professional writers prepare a formal outline, except perhaps as part of a book proposal in pursuit of an advance... Organizing information isn't the same as structuring a work of writing. Structuring a work of writing is more like generalship. A general needs to know what troops and weapons he commands and how they're deployed, but he also needs to develop a strategy for fighting battles and winning the war. The battles probably won't go as he plans, of course. If his strategy is sufficiently flexible, he'll be able to adapt it to circumstances and still come out victorious.

That's a very good way of putting it, I think. When I am working, and I did write a hefty chunk of Trace last week, it feels much as if I am moving chess pieces around. All my characters have set personalities and traits (I think of them as having certain "vibes") and I know how they're going to behave. Like chess pieces, they have specific duties and ways of moving. I know also, usually, that I am taking them from one side of the board to the other. (I don't like starting a story if I don't know where the characters are going; the story tends to fizzle out if I don't have at least a vague goal for the ending.) But how the pieces move along the way is a vast gray murk of possibilities. When I know my characters well, I am free to move them around, bounce them off each other, let them behave as they are designed to do. It is quite literally a virtual reality of which I am the not so much the Goddess, but the Chronicler.