Tag Archives: writing

To read or not to read … that is the question

Clayton and I (mostly Clayton) recently came to the realization we watch a lot of TV. Granted, it’s winter in Nebraska, which means we’re stuck indoors for the better part of the year, but I’m fairly certain some days the heat radiating from our perpetually turned on TV(s) was keeping the house warm instead of our HVAC system. Not good. And while I’m not keen on admitting it, for two weeks straight, my heroine was Karen from Will and Grace. Looking back, I see now where he may have thought we (mostly me) were on a downward spiral.

So, we sat down a few nights ago with a bit of ole-fashioned resolve to have a good read. Clayton already had his book picked out. He had chosen Rome Sweet Home, a stimulating, non-fiction piece about a former Protestant couple turned Catholic. Powerful stuff. It was a paperback, too, as if he wasn’t already one-upping me with his life-transforming content. My mind instantly went to people who still read newspapers, ink permeating their fingertips, instead of searching for news online, only a few years away from disabling carpal tunnel like the rest of us. If a study was done, I bet we’d find those reading tangible publications would be categorized as more respected, learned or sophisticated. Likewise, I think there’s deeper appreciation for the history of and life led by paperback books – unless I’m the only one who loves the musty smell of old library books and that makes me a huge weirdo. Because I’m totally not.

Of course, this was a brand new book, so I was still able to glance at him sideways in a slightly smug manner.  

For about two minutes, I stared pitifully at my dead Kindle, a slave to technology, between trading inquisitive, hopeful looks with the darkened TV (which just consisted of me making faces at myself in the TV’s reflection.) Presumably, because the massive appliance was off, it was ice cold in the room, and I couldn’t bear the thought of getting out of the protective bed covers to plug in the device.

With what I imagine was a barely audible sigh, Clayton read my mind and grabbed my charger, handing it to me before settling back in. My body half out of bed as I stubbornly pulled the covers with me, I stretched toward the outlet about three feet away from the bed, my dignity diminishing as blatantly as the comforter covering Clayton. Out of breath from the catastrophic act of laziness, I uprighted myself, avoiding eye contact by pretending to be overly indignant the Kindle still displayed the lightning bolt/plug icon and nothing else after a solid minute of charging.

Having already improved his quality of life through 10 minutes of almost undistracted mental exercise, Clayton quietly read on. Meanwhile, I stared at my phone’s Kindle app, feeling bored with content already in its library, wondering what book I would even buy, and vehemently hoping Clayton was too absorbed in his own reading to realize I was, indeed, even thinking of purchasing a book.

That I had somehow found a way to shop online instead of read at this point in our venture was an accomplishment of its own to me, proving just how tenacious my skill (problem?) for shopping is. Because of the Antarctic conditions of the house, however, I justified buying a novel was a safer route than risking my life by journeying downstairs to pick one from the bookcase, of which I would have had to climb shelves to even reach reading material based on my short stature. In slippers half a size too big for my clumsy self. Without contacts. Because it seems natural selection missed the boat with me.

Ongoing bullet points are usually how I make my case for shopping. Is it working yet?

I stealthily googled away.

Now, throughout the last couple months, I had read my fair share of humoristic literature. Jim Gaffigan’s book, Dad is Fat. Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Deciding to continue my education in hilarity, I purchased Allie Brosh’s new book, Hyperbole and a Half.

So, here we are. Clayton’s enlightening himself, well on his way with a faith-filled couple on a religious journey, and I have chosen a book that, quite honestly, has way too many pictures for my age. A book with stories based largely on running around naked, finding loopholes to becoming a better person and neuroticism. Stories that frequently star the f word. To be fair, the pictures are truly charming.

We’re epic proof opposites attract.

I read the entire thing in less than a day, and I was not shortchanged by the amount of guffaws radiating from deep within my diaphragm. My abs were making a solid case for themselves (pun intended), and I was delighted to find reading could actually double as a secondary workout plan. Everything was coming up Milhouse!

However, reading about someone else’s hilarious take on life is nowhere as satisfying as writing stories about my own experiences. That’s when I realized exactly how lazy I was being by taking the easy way out.

To read or not to read? That’s my yin and yang – I can’t be a writer and avid book lover and have one without the other. Balance is a struggle for me. I’m very clumsy, like I said. But also when it comes to everything in my life. One day I must clean the entire house, giving myself an hour to do so. The next moment, I realize how impossible that is and go on one of my Will and Grace binges. Still seconds later, I’m falling apart in guilt, sobs wracking my body when I could have just done the damn dishes, watched one episode of Will and Grace and been well on my way to not being a crazy person.

The conclusion is this: I will continue to read about the fascinating endeavors of my peers, while spending quality time writing instead of raging with misplaced jealousy that they are writing and I am not. All with the balance of the tumbler I used to be when I was five.

I missed you guys. I’m glad to be back.

Ass-out cyber hugs (let’s keep it professional),

The newly Mrs. Rief

Self-destructing in five, four, three, two, one…

Note from the author: I have approved the following message. Unless you don’t agree with it, in which case I will delete this post immediately.

We have a strict approval process in the corporate communications department where I work. When I write a story, it must first be sent to several subject matter experts (SMEs). After they have inexorably mutilated a particular story beyond comprehension, I rework it according to their most arbitrary wants and desires:

Ah, nuts! I mean, knots.

SME #1: “Put a line in about how I ate 40 hot dogs on Thursday and became the 2012 state fair hot dog eating champion!”
Me: “I’m going to veto that idea as it in no way relates to this story on bird diverters.”
SME #1: “But it took place on company time…”

SME #2:
“This story is way too colorful and fun. Dull it down immediately.”
Me: “I’ve dulled her down once and I’ll not do it again! The story – she can’t be dulled down any further, man! It’s madness; sheer madness, I tell you!”
SME #2 (tsking, yet somhow frowning at the same time): “All these adjectives are unnecessary. We don’t need to know that it was the STATE fair. But, that sure was a lot of hot dogs, wasn’t it?” Chuckles, impressed.
I feel like Tony Danza from Who’s the Boss?'”

SME #2: “What did you say?”
Me: “I said, ‘sure thing, hoss.’”

SME #3: “Use more filler words, like ‘in order to,’ ‘henceforth’ and ‘thereunto.’ You know, make me sound good.”
Me (under breath): “Putting ‘Knew Mother Theresa’ on your resume couldn’t make you sound good.”

About four years ago when I didn’t know better, I would then send the story back to them with changes made, a subject line of “Final, approved article.”

We are so naïve sometimes, aren’t we?

SME. Unfortunately, not to be confused with Smee, from Hook.

From there, it’s typically a steady spiral downward. Back and forth we go for at least three more edit sessions before the story is finally stamped with approval. Without fail, I’ll receive an email from an SME a day or two before it’s published telling me they forgot to include someone in on the approval process, and ’round we go again.

I begin envisioning a time long ago when I didn’t need dark chocolate or fanciful daydreams about certain people falling down flights of stairs to get me through the afternoon. (Get it? The chocolate matches my view on working in a corporate environment!)

Then, at long last, everything is approved. Sighs of relief are blown out prematurely as the newcomer tentatively mentions it would be in “our” best interest to send the story to his supervisor as a heads up.

Little does he know it would actually be in his best interest to stay away from any stairwells.

Who’s to say this DOESN’T go with a pencil skirt, silk blouse and fitted blazer?

I send the courtesy email as instructed. Once a writer, I am now a mere messenger girl. A very nicely dressed messenger girl, I should mention, one approval away from changing into comfortable, sensible walking shoes and outrageously white socks on my trips to and fro the parking lot. Oh, how the mighty have fallen into the corporate abyss.

Before the horror of it all can sink in, I promptly get a reply back that inspires hope within me – optimism that mankind is truly attentive and courteous of time and effort spent. I open the email eagerly to discover it is an automated “out of office” message and this person will not be returning until next Thursday.

It is Tuesday.

I wait out the week patiently, expelling my pent-up exasperation during dart league. (What can’t shiny, pointy objects and a good imagination fix?) And, although the story is no longer timely or relevant, I will publish it solely because I WILL PUBLISH IT.

Approximately five minutes before deadline, I receive word from the supervisor that they need to rethink the angle of the story since the project is nearing its final stages. Yes, indeedy — the huge, multi-million-dollar project is moving faster toward completion than my 50-word article. I am asked to pull the story until the project’s progress is more definite.

Chances are he’s on his fifth hole, excuse me, track at the conference.

Follow-up emails going without reply, my paranoia grows as I physically walk to the supervisor’s office seeking approval, only to see him nervously dart behind a maze of cubicles. Upon asking the admin if he will be returning anytime soon, she looks at me inquisitively before replying like a pro: “He’s not even in today; he’s at a conference. In Florida.”

We stare at each other for a solid minute without speaking. She holds steady eye contact, not blinking once and never backing down. Two minutes into the battle and blinking furiously, I blame my parents’ genetics for the poor eyesight which has resulted in my wearing of contacts, thus putting me into a no-win situation. The admin begins to shuffle papers neatly into piles on her desk, humming cheerfully. I smirk and grab two handfuls of M&Ms from her candy dish before retreating.

At close of business, I see the supervisor walking to his car in the parking lot and yell his name. He freezes, then continues toward his car after a moment, never looking back. I forgo the temptation to run him over. Too many witnesses.

Forced to eventually scrap the entire story, I am asked about its whereabouts months later by my own manager. I send her a copy of the email trail, and she emails the supervisor about the article. The supervisor responds immediately, saying, “Yes. Ok, let’s publish.”

After the red spots I’m seeing diminish, I muster the ability to email back, “Publish as is, or would you like to give an update to the project?” The supervisor waits at least half a day to respond, choosing at that time to respond with five ambiguous words: “Let me think about it.”

A week passes. I send another follow-up email asking about the story. A day later, I promptly get back two words: “Run it.”

All signs point to sarcasm!

Now, I normally include at least one exclamation point with each thanks to express my gratitude for their direction, but eliminating the exclamation point has become my (non) pointed way of sticking it to the man.

At that time, I am officially dead inside. But, I publish the story anyway.

It comes down to this. Most people have the ability to walk away from work at 5 p.m., or to leave it behind on the weekend. I thought I was one of those people until I realized this approval process has somehow soaked into the inner fibers of my wellbeing.

I now seek approval from everyone before I do or say anything, unsure of my every action and how it might affect those around me, and beaten down from having my own personal thoughts, opinions or agendas. Here are a few dialogue-based examples of ways I have sought consent from others over the last few months:

Me: “I’m going to get the pie. Should I get the pie?” Sits, lost in thought for 10 minutes debating the right choice. “I won’t get the pie.”
Friend: “No, get the pie!”
Me: “Ok.” Holds both hands out in a “STOP” stance. “If you’re sure.”

Me (standing up to declare loudly in the movie theater): “I’m going to the bathroom. Unless this isn’t a good time for you guys. Is everyone ok with me leaving?”
Audience: Various yelling to shut up.
Me: “Anyone need anything? Soda, popcorn?”
Audience: Dead silence.
Me (leaving, then ducking back into theater): “Thought I heard someone. Still no one? Ok, I’ll just bring back one of everything, just in case.”

My talent is definitely finding applicable pie charts for any situation.

Me: “I put $10 in the basket at church. Do you think I should have put in more to compensate for daydreaming about pushing people down stairwells?”
Clayton: “The church accepts any contribution.”
Me (signing check with flourish): “$20 it is!”

Me (Getting dressed for work, glancing down): “This shirt isn’t the same blue as the blue on our corporate logo.” Frowns uncertainly.” I better change.”

Me: “Let’s go get some groceries at Wal-Mart.”
Friend: “You shop at Wal-Mart?”
Me: “I meant Trader Joe’s.”
Friend: “That’s right you meant Trader Joe’s.”
Me: “It was a joke.”
Friend: “No, it wasn’t.”
Me: “No. It wasn’t.”

The alphabet? That’s like, literally 26 letters, right? Oh, whatever…

As a communication specialist and writer in general, it’s only natural that the ABCs consume my life. Some days I struggle over letters (granted, usually while playing Words With Friends), while other times I form them into words, sentences and paragraphs almost effortlessly. Almost. Wine helps.

Most days, I arrange these characters into monotonous corporate stories about new miscellaneous billing processes or HR’s latest exercise program. I’m on the edge of my seat, too. On good days I’m here, writing posts and desperately attempting to keep my “real job” at bay, Little Engine style.

“Yes, I’ll take two please.” “Ma’am, you have to win the award, you can’t just..” “..wrap ’em up!”

On great days, I am presented with the ABC Award for Awesome Blog Content (guess I’m not quite at amazing, huh?). What was just a normal Tuesday for you last week was that great day for me!

Could it be, I thought, that this blog, formerly a means of personal escape, is becoming something of substance for others, as essential as eating or breathing?  (Let a girl dream!) Meanwhile, I’m sure my parents were somewhere thinking, Oh, thank GOD she’s actually sticking with something for once. Not like that time she took up tumbling…or piano…or babysitting.

Honestly, why are kids so sticky all the time?! It’s not right.

So suddenly, monumental value has once again sprung from those mere 26 letters, alongside more friendships and appreciation than I could have ever imagined receiving. For that – and for giving me this award – I thank ya, Miss MJ, Nonstepmom!

If I could ruin this award with one thing – and I will – isn’t the word “awesome” one of the most overused words in today’s society? I’m thinking it’s right up there with “whatever,” “literally,” or “you know,” but then again, you know, what do I know?

Anyway, it’s whatever. I dunno.

As the rules of this award are a little ambiguous to me, I’ll proceed to the next step in the award process – to come up with an adjective that describes me for every letter of the alphabet. 

He’s so good at magic that he disappeared completely from every television network!

AWOL: In college, my nickname was Houdini because I’d leave or show up super late to events and parties on a whim. Your move, Criss Angel.
Blunt: I will tell you the honest truth, but only if you promise to hold a grudge against me for the next month or two. There, that’s nice.
Cheesy: Last week, I slow danced with Clayton in the middle of a bar called Mister Toads. During karaoke. We’re uber romantic.
Dependable: I don’t know when this one happened. It just sort of snuck up on me, like suddenly having to pee when you’re 90.
Empathetic: I cry at tampon commercials. “Look, now she can hike and camp and bike!” *Wild applause*
Feisty: Chances are, I’m about to form tackle you. Out of nowhere. Stop looking behind you like you know when it’s coming.
Great: As in, “The Great Cassie.” I really think this could catch on.
Hopeful: A synonym of “hopeful” is “buoyant.” So, this is a double whammy, as now I apparently double as a floatation device. No, I will not fly with you “just in case.”
Idealistic: I straighten framed artwork in the hallways at work when no one is looking.
Jazzy: I went to a jazz club once. Didn’t hate it.
Klutzy: I’m capable of tripping while standing still. 
Lucky: I just haven’t won Quick 7s because it’s not my TIME to yet. That’s all.
Meticulous: I overthink everything. EVERYTHING. Well, maybe everything is too all-encompassing. Most things? I definitely overthink some things but….

Yearn: it’s like yarn, only cats don’t tear you to pieces, your lover being at sea for 10 years does.

Nostalgic: I’ve yearned a day or two in my time, sure.
Open-minded:  Except if you like bad music. Or orange-flavored candies. Oh, or clogs. Unless you’re Dutch, then you get a free pass. Look, we’re compromising!
Playful: Pillow/blanket fort playful. Yes, you may come over. But call your mom first to make sure it’s ok.
Quixotic:  I may also be a realist, but the best part about being quixotic is I can be both. And that, my friends, is what we call a win-win.
Realistic: Jennifer Aniston will never get married. Boom. See what I did there?
Sincere: I am, I swear!
Tough: But not in a “Built Ford Tough” kinda way, more like in a “Brave Little Toaster” kinda way.
Uncontrollable: Temper tantrums upon not getting my way at the supermarket are not beneath me.
Vivacious: Mostly on Mondays, before the full workweek and after work errands kill my spirit.
White: Exemplified in the way I dance.
Xylophonic: With just a hint of pitchiness.
Yare: Like the fanciest of boats.
Zesty: As in, not in need of any orange or lemon zest, cuz I’ve got my own flava.

Finally, I must recognize five fellow bloggers who I believe have awesome blog content. But hell, you know what? I’m suddenly feeling zesty, so let’s do seven.

  1. Bridgesburning – Word-o-wisdom – now 50 percent off!
  2. LiketheHours – I guarantee you’ll liketheblog (that was bad; I’m sorry)
  3. KayJai – She’s Canadian, but we’ll let it slide this time 😉
  4. Silva Gang – She writes about cats, and I like cats, and you should too!
  5. Edrevets – Where Snotting Black isn’t cause for a doctor visit, probably
  6. PithyPants – Dude. Those pants are pithy as efffff.
  7. Maloquacious – Feel good posts, plus, poems – she’s got ‘em!

Have a lovely weekend, everyone! Happy Friday!