Sunday, December 21, 2014

Now we got problems (and I don't think we can solve 'em)

Taylor Swift references FTW.

A few nights ago, I had a mini crisis. Nothing too catastrophic. More of a revelation, really.

Life is difficult.

It's actually  not much of a revelation, right? Everyone hears it all the time, all our lives. And the older you get, the more difficult and complex life becomes.

This past June, I turned 26. Now, I was officially closer to 30 than to 20. I'd imagine that's scary for anyone, but I especially felt anxious as a now-26-year-old who always thought she'd have a family and a career by now, and is still single and working at a coffee shop. Not that either of those things are inherently bad; it's just not where I imagined my life would be. Am I a failure for it? Sometimes it feels like it, but I really don't think so. I work hard every day, and try to accomplish something meaningful. I think that's what really matters.

But I decided on my 26th birthday, something would change this year. 26 would be a different year, a good year, because I said it would be. And six months in, I'm pretty satisfied with how things are going. I'm doing better in relationships-mostly platonic ones, but did have surprising (albeit minimal) luck in the dating field as well. Though luck isn't the word I like to use when taking about dating. It's more about making connections than 'getting' a guy, as if they're trophies or something.

But when it comes to writing, I've been slacking. I haven't submitted anything in ages, mostly out of fear. My previous submissions have resulted in roughly a 99.99 % rejection rate, and I didn't care to go through that again. But now I'm getting to the point where even rejection would be better than nothing. Because when I'm getting rejected, at least I'm doing something.

And even if I am successful in whatever endeavors I pursue...what then? What if I get a book deal with a bad contract I can't get out of? What if I have instant success with a bestselling novel, only to fade into the background and end up a washed up has been? What if I start dating someone or even get married, only to have the relationship fall apart a few years later? Okay, maybe I've just been watching too many of those true crime documentaries about women killing their husbands. But, you know, life is difficult and so forth.

So that was really the basis of last week's mini crisis. The fact that you can never solve all your problems, no matter what, and that holding back won't do any good. So, with a new year around the corner, I resolve to stop holding back for things out of fear. Because rejection sucks, but in the long run, passivity sucks even more. I can't solve all my problems, and I certainly can't solve even some of them by curling into a fetal position and waiting for life to pass me by. Problems will always be there, but so will good things. Such is life, I guess.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cemetery "research" in New Orleans, part 2

Hello wonderful followers (and non-followers). Remember last year when I took a trip to New Orleans to do some research-slash-vacationing? Well, I decided to do it again this year. This trip was actually wrapped around a concert, but we'll get to that later.

I have a completed-ish novel (which I thought was done but decided to revise yet again) about a zombie outbreak that begins in New Orleans. The outbreak begins with a truck crash in Lafayette Cemetery; the truck is carrying toxic chemicals carrying the virus that seep into the ground. It wasn't until after I'd written the stupid thing, of course, that I remembered New Orleans graves are above ground, rendering it virtually impossible to spread a zombie virus this way. Fortunately, a character drinks water from one of the pumps at the grounds, and that sets off the chain. But I digress.

Even though the story is finished, I still wanted to visit Lafayette Cemetery. I wanted to visit last year, but didn't realize there was a tour that went through it. Then I found out about the Garden District Ghosts & Legend tour, put on by Haunted History Tours, the same company that did the tour I went on last year. That tour was fantastic, so I decided to book this one as well.

But first, I had to stop by Cafe du Monde again and watch pigeons fight over beignet scraps.

The tour started in the cemetery, and I wanted to snap pictures of the surrounding area, just to get a mental picture. I thought this sign across the street was funny, considering my story begins with a truck crash outside the cemetery.

We spent about an hour in the cemetery; half before the tour began, and the first half of the tour. It was pretty similar to St. Louis Cemetery no. 1 (where we went last year), but much grassier.

This last photo on the right is one of the rare exceptions to the "no bodies below ground" rule. If I remember correctly, they're Jewish tombs, and apparently Jewish law says bodies can't be buried above ground. So they dig a hole like a little swimming pool and put those walls around it so the bodies won't float away if there's flooding. Speaking of which, that's only part of the reason why the tombs are above ground. The other reason is that the land they're built on belonged to the Spanish when the cemetery was first established. They said we could only have the land if we built tombs in the Spanish style, which was above ground vaults. So it worked out pretty nicely, because it kept us from having to bury bodies along the levees of the Mississippi, where they washed up once a year.

Also, the difference between a vault and a mausoleum: Mausoleums are meant to hold a few bodies, buried once and not disturbed again. Vaults are meant to be opened multiple times, housing more and more bodies each time. Last year on the cemetery history tour, we learned about the "shake and bake" method. A body was buried in the family vault and left for a year and a day minimum. When the next family member died, they took the last body, broke it up, put it in a bag, and shoved it to the back of the vault. Over the decades and even centuries, the oldest bodies withered away to virtually nothing. Theoretically, you could bury thousands of bodies in one vault.

Another cool fact about NOLA cemeteries. These are called wall vaults, and they make up the walls surrounding the cemetery. You can buy one as your family vault if you don't have enough money to buy one of the free standing ones (which cost well over ten thousand dollars). But they were mostly used for people who died before the year and a day minimum required to open the family tomb (so, if one person died in January and someone else died in June, the June body would be put in here). Once that minimum time was up, the body was buried in the family vault. Unless, of course, the family wasn't keeping up with their payments -- in which case, the body was shaken and baked, bagged, and tagged, and shoved with a long pole to the back of the wall. Thus the phrases "getting the shaft" and "wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole."

Our tour guide was a girl named Elizabeth -- well, I say girl; she was probably about my age, maybe a little older. Just like our tour guide last year, she was awesome. She's also an actress, and she mentioned she was filming scenes in a couple of weeks for American Horror Story (which is filming in NOLA right now, yay!). When she found out how much I love the show, she took us by the Buckner Mansion (which was used in filming season 3), even though it wasn't officially on the tour.

Look familiar? They used it for exterior (and I believe some interior) shots for the school in Coven.

The next day I did what I really came to NOLA to do: I saw One Direction. Because nothing says "zombie apocalypse" like 40,000 1D fans, most of them teenage girls, under one roof.

Their stage for this tour was one of the strangest I've ever seen.

You had to have wristband if you were sitting on the floor. I guess they didn't want people sneaking down and giving them trouble because, you know, zombie apocalypse and all.

One of my co-workers said the wristbands were a rip-off because they didn't play  music.

Unfortunately, the few photos I got from the actual show were embarrassingly bad. Not only were there lights flashing all over the place, but my phone died pretty early on, and I spent most of my time saving my battery rather than trying to get good shots. But rest assured, I did see all five of their beautiful faces in the flesh. BTW, Harry's hair is ten trillion times more luscious in person than in any photo. And I didn't even think that was possible.

So that was my NOLA trip. Maybe next year I'll take the French Quarter ghost tour.

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to get good concert tickets

NKOTBSB, 5th row

I'm not an expert in many things, and I don't have a lot of hobbies. But one thing I have gotten interested in in the past few years is concerts. Even though it goes completely against my nature (I don't like crowds or loud noises much), nothing quite compares to the feeling you get when you see live music. So I've been to quite a few concerts in my life.
Good concert seats are notoriously hard to get...or are they? Seems like it's next to impossible to get those coveted seats that allow you to make hand babies with the band's lead singer (or at least have them not look like ants). When I first began my venture into concert-going, the seats I usually got were decent, but not the best. As I've gotten more experienced, I've learned a few tricks along the way for how to get the best seats in the house (or at least really good ones). Since I don't have many other areas of expertise (and since I'm knee deep in concert ticket watch for a show I'm going to in September), I thought I'd share a few tips.

- Reevaluate your definition of "good seats." Everyone knows the best seats in the house are front row center. Right? Wrong. A lot of people who have had floor seats for major stadium shows (including me) will tell you there's nothing quite like the atmosphere of being on the floor. You get a feeling and closeness you just can't get from sitting in higher level sections.
But with seats extremely close to stage, there are disadvantages. If you're short like me, it can be difficult to see sometimes. And unless you're in the sections directly surrounding the stage, sometimes elevated seats might be better if your priority is being able to see. I've known people who gave up floor seats for this reason -- they wanted to be higher up so they could watch the show without their neck getting sore. So floor seats can be great, but sometimes there are better options.

- Be patient. In recent years, due to school and work schedules, I've had to wait until the last minute to get tickets to shows I didn't even know if I'd be able to attend. 9 times out of 10, I end up getting great seats. Every single time I've gotten tickets months in advance, I ended up with seats that were decent, but could have been much better.
I think a lot of people are afraid that if they don't get tickets the second they go on sale, they'll sell out. But Ticketmaster usually releases more seats as the show gets closer, and I've pulled up really good seats for some shows long after tickets went on sale -- sometimes just days before the show. And even if you can't find seats on Ticketmaster, there are plenty of good resale sites out there. Stubhub is the only one I've used, but I really like it, and I know a lot of other people who do too.

- Do your homework. Ticket resale sites bring up another reason why it's important to wait. If you search for tickets a few months before a show, they'll be listed a ridiculous prices -- sometimes three times over face value. I've seen front row seats for $2,000. But as the show gets closer, not only do these prices go down, but more people might list their tickets. I got 5th row seats once on Stubhub a week before a show for just a few dollars over face value.

Any other tips for getting great seats at a concert?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Garden update # 1

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the garden I was planning on starting. I had to start small, of course, so I only have a few pot plants. But after those few weeks, I'm already seeing the fruits (er, vegetables) of my (quasi) labor.

These are the carrots. It's hard to tell from this photo since it's a little blurry, but there are already lots of little offshoot leaves from the main sprouts. It's so cool to watch them get bigger every day. I've heard carrots straight from a garden taste much better than store bought ones, so I can't wait until mine are ready.

The lettuce. A week or so ago, I only had two sprouts, so I planted a bunch of seeds in hopes that at least some of them will grow. Now I have three more sprouts, and I'm sure there will be more to come.

This one is chamomile. I didn't realize how many little leaves would be growing off of each sprout, so this one is a lot of fun to watch.

The only two plants that haven't sprouted yet are some old seeds I got from my mom. They've probably been sitting in our garage for years, so I won't be surprised if I don't get anything from them. But I planted a few more seeds just to try one more time.

I've got a long way to go before I can make salads from my lettuce, or even before I feel like I'm ready to plant seeds in the ground. But after years of struggling with writing rejection and critiques, it's nice to have something that I don't have to be good at but that is still rewarding.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cool facts about space

Remember awhile back when I said I was afraid of space? I still kind of am. (Just looking at that picture above freaks me out.) But I've always been the kind of person who faces my fears. So for the last few weeks, I've been researching everything I could about our solar system, the universe, and outer space in general. I guess I went on sort of a kick. So I thought I'd share some of the cool facts I learned about outer space. And who knows? Maybe some of this will be inspiration for a novel one day.

- The universe was formed 14 billion years ago in an fraction of a second.  Our solar system was formed about 5 billion years ago. 
- The sun makes up 99.8 % of our solar system's mass. 
- The sun is predicted to die in about 5 billion more years. Once it starts to die, the gases inside it will expand, making it so big that it destroys Mercury and Venus and comes so close to Earth that it'll be too hot to support life anymore. Everyone and everything alive on Earth will die. Eventually, the sun will burn out and become cold, known as a white dwarf star. 
- Black holes are formed when really big stars (stars way bigger than our sun) die and their centers collapse under the weight of their own gravity. If a human got sucked into a black hole, they would be stretched like a rubber band and "snap" within minutes.
- When our solar system was first formed, it was made up of about 100 "baby planets." The planets kept crashing into each other in an outer space demolition derby until we ended up with the eight we have today. 
- It's still weird for me to say we have eight planets, since I grew up with Pluto as a planet. 
- Speaking of Pluto: In 2006, the definition of a planet was changed-now planets have to have their own orbit and be in it 100 % of the time. Because Pluto crosses Neptune's orbit for part of its journey around the sun, it was demoted. 
- The four outer planets are known as the "ice giants." They are made of mostly gases, and you'd have to go hundreds of miles beneath the surface to hit solid ground. Some scientists think there might be liquid water  -- and even marine animals  -- on Neptune, but all the space probes sent there have burned up in its atmosphere 
- Mars is also made up of a large amount of ice, and scientists believe that there was water (and ancient life) there at one point.
- Mars also has some of the largest volcanoes in the solar system, as well as a canyon as big as the continental U.S. 
- If you went into space without a suit or any other protective gear, you would have several minutes before you lost consciousness and your heart stopped beating. And if you were rescue before your heart stopped, you could most likely recover with minor injuries. Similarly , if an astronaut's tether breaks and he (or she) is lost free floating in space, their chances of being rescued are pretty much nonexistent. It would take too long for the ship to undock, and by that time they could be anywhere. They would have water to drink and a few hours of air before they suffocated. I won't spoil the movie Gravity, but I'll just say a lot of the situations are...unrealistic.
- Scientists think there might be solar systems out there parallel to ours, with their own sun and earth-like planet that supported life. A few years ago, bebo users sent a message to one of these supposed earth-like planets. It will take 20 years for the message to reach them, and another 20 for us to receive a response -- if we get one. 
- The area earth is in is called the Goldilocks zone. It's just the right distance from the sun to support life-not too close/hot, and not too far away/cold.

I also read the other day about a possible colonization of Mars within the next few decades. Isn't it crazy how vast our universe is, and how easily we can explore it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Picking up a new hobby

Over the past few months or so, I've realized something about myself: I don't have a lot of hobbies. Actually, if I'm really honest with myself, I don't have any.

When I was in school, writing was my hobby. I never thought it would be my career, so it was something I did for fun, or when there was nothing else to do. Now that I want it to be my career, both that and my day job have sort of taken over every waking moment. Well, except when I'm reading or watching TV. But reading is a part of my work, and TV can't really be considered a hobby. More like a...vegetation state?

Speaking of vegetables, I've decided I'm going to try my hand at gardening. I grew a few little things when I was a kid, including an attempt at growing a pumpkin, only to have the vine wither and die once summer came. But those attempts were sort of like throwing spaghetti at the wall: Toss it and see what sticks. This time, I'm going to do it right.

I talked to a guy I know who used to own a garden center, and he suggested I start with herbs, because they're easy to grow and you can use a pot. It was supposed to get cold this week, but the forecast says the temperatures during the day are only going to be in the 60's, so I might be able to plant some stuff pretty soon.

Hopefully in a couple of months, I'll have pictures of little sprouts to show everyone!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Playing the waiting game

When I was 12, I was madly in love with the Backstreet Boys. Well, as madly in love as a pre-teen can get with 5 men she's never met. I spent most of my free time listening to their music, writing fan fiction (or thinly veiled fan fiction that served as some of my first novel length works), and a small part of me thought that I might someday marry Nick Carter. Or, at the very least, his younger brother, Aaron, also a singer and, erm, a lot closer to my age.

But this was 2001, when my only access to the internet was via dial up on the clunky family computer. This was before I knew about online forums or Ticketmaster alerts, so seeing them in concert, much less meeting or marrying them, was pretty much out of the question.

In 2001, after the release of their third album, the band took a hiatus. Most people who weren't fans -- and even a lot who were -- assumed the break was permanent and went about their lives unaffected. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I just knew they would make a comeback.

And they did. In 2005, the year before I graduated from high school, the Backstreet Boys released another album. They weren't quite back at the level of fame that they had been when I was in junior high, but it was proof that my gut instinct was right. They released another album in 2007, and another in 2009. And in 2010, just before I turned 22, I finally got to live out my childhood dream of seeing them in concert. I've seen them again since, in 2001 in the famous NKOTBSB tour they did with New Kids on the Block.

I'm sure seeing the Backstreet Boys live would have been different at 12 than it was at 22. But even though it took a decade, I eventually got what I wanted so badly all those years ago, and it was worth the wait.

Aren't a lot of things in life like that? I'm thinking particularly about writing, since the publishing world is notoriously slow. You spend months or years writing and polishing a manuscript. You wait for feedback from beta readers and critiquers. You wait for responses from agents, responses from publishers and, when you finally get a book deal, you spend more months and years waiting for the book to actually appear on shelves. And yet I still get antsy because I've been trying to get published for 3 years and I'm still not there.

Then I remember that it took me 10 years to reach one goal, and somehow the wait doesn't seem so bad. And it makes me think that I might actually get there -- even if I have to wait longer than I initially planned.

By the way, I was 6th row and totally made hand babies with Brian. No big deal.