Weekly Photo Challenge: Good Morning

There are many versions of a good morning. Today, for instance, sleeping a little later, then propping up on pillows in the bed to drink coffee and read – ever steadily toward the end of Wolf Hall, which I will finish one of these days.

Captured in an image, however, is this good morning – the morning of my thirty-fifth birthday in 2012, waking up to a crisp June morning in Vermont’s green mountains with good friends, good food, coffee, and words.


It doesn’t get much better.

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Free Book Friday: Beautiful Ruins

It’s the first Free Book Friday here at Randa’s Fans!

It won’t happen every Friday, but when I have a book in good condition that I no longer need or want to keep for whatever reason, I have decided to start giving them away.

The price? Your memories.

It’s simple: the one I like best gets the book.

Seem biased? Sound a little unfair? Think about it like we’re playing Apples to Apples, or Cards Against Humanity. You’re playing to the judge. It’s all in fun, but the goal is to make me laugh/cry/snort/smile/say awww/etc.

Love to read? Want to play? Share your memories and let’s see how this goes.

The first book I’m giving away is Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. A friend of mine gave me her copy, and now that I am finished with it I want to pass it on. It’s a Harper Perennial paperback edition in good condition.

So, this week, leave a comment and tell me about the first time you realized you could read for pleasure, that you could read for reasons far better than because someone told you to. I was a sophomore in high school and a friend lent me her battered copy of Dean Koontz’s Cold Fire. While I was reading it I realized there was nothing else I would rather be doing; reading was fun. I started saving lawn mowing money to buy trade paperbacks of every Koontz novel I could find. It was a thriller with sci-fi elements, and it transported me completely.

I’ll pick my favorite next Wednesday. If you are the winner then in a private message I will get your mailing address* and will send you my copy of Beautiful Ruins, no strings attached. I look forward to hearing from you!

*For now I’m only mailing to the lower 48.

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Standing Desk: A Month of Standing

When I moved to France I was homesick and overwhelmed by the language and I remember thinking, if only I’d been here a month already. I was twenty-two. A month seemed like forever.

Now they fly by. It’s already been one month at my not-so-new standing desk! Here’s a quick recap:

Week One: this is awkward.

Week Two: this hurts.

Week Three: gel mat fabulousness! My amazing friends @citizensbrewco picked me up a gel mat on a run to Costco, and hand delivered it to my office.


I have since removed the sticker.

I continue to feel more productive when I’m standing, not because standing is an inherently more productive posture (although maybe it is?) but because, as I have said before, I am less inclined to get distracted. In part this is because it’s so easy to walk away – I’m already up, and if I’m in between things I can walk into the hall to get some water or pace back and forth while thinking about what I’m going to do next. I’ve also begun pacing while composing emails in my head, and then I will go back to the computer and actually type them. This instead of pathologically checking Facebook or Gawker, teeing up the next round of dream properties on Zillow, or scanning the latest rants from DCist.

I’m also engaging in more “deliberate sitting.” What does that mean? I used to stand or walk deliberately. I would make a point to get up frequently to get water out of the water fountain in the hall or from the bottle filling station in the basement of a building across campus, or I would walk across the quad to a different building to use the bathroom. These activities got me moving a little bit but weren’t “productive” (that word is fraught) in that they took me away from my office – so they were differently productive, let’s say, because I was moving, which was the goal for the moment, and besides whenever I leave the building I usually run into someone along the way and those conversations often lead to new projects, ideas, questions, or maybe just better collegiality, so not un-productive.

But now I treat myself with sitting, and the key here is that I sit away from the computer. And when I decide to sit down, I have to think about what I want to do while I am sitting. Because I have been standing I am usually excited just about the possibility of sitting, which infuses whatever I’m doing with that same excitement – whatever book or article I choose to read when I sit, or message I sketch out in long hand, or lists I make or classes I think through or meetings I prep for. If I’m not teaching, I sit more in the afternoons. I make tea, I sit awhile, and I engage with whatever I am doing in a way that I wasn’t before when my afternoon slump hit and my proverbial rainbow wheel started spinning and I almost unconsciously, robotically reached for the mouse and clicked on Sporcle or Facebook. The Burning Question: What has happened since the last time I checked fifteen minutes ago? The Eternal Answer: Absolutely nothing. It’s shocking how frequently an entire afternoon will pass and I won’t have checked my personal email or been on Facebook once. It’s fantastic. And I’m reading more, which also feels great.

Do I have more energy? I don’t know. Do I, in general, feel better? Yes. But again, it may be just in my head – and I no longer think that’s a bad thing. 

Finished reading Jill Bialosky’s History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life and Matthew Sanford’s Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. 

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It’s Fine As Long As It’s Perfect: Chapter Titles

“A common mistake authors make is choosing a title that has a particular meaning to them but that no one else understands. Choosing a title that sounds good but doesn’t clue readers in to what’s great about the book also smacks of self-sabotage.”
— Eckstut and Sterry, Essential Guide

I’ve been thinking a lot about titles lately, because I am trying to come up with one for my book (along with a new pitch, a proposal package, and an actual draft). Since it’s been on my mind it seems like I’ve been seeing articles about the importance of titles everywhere. Even though I don’t have a title for the book yet, I thought I’d share my working chapter titles instead.

Part One: Surviving

  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1: Out of Time
  • Chapter 2: Three Minutes Later
  • Chapter 3: Consumed By Fire
  • Chapter 4: The Evidence of Loss

Part Two: Living

  • Chapter 5: Hide Not Thy Face
  • Chapter 6: The Old Man On The Stairs
  • Chapter 7: The Narrow Margin
  • Chapter 8: A Theology of Suffering
  • Chapter 9: It’s Not Easy Being a Princess
  • Chapter 10: Going Home

The structure is taking shape. The more I work the better able I am to see what it’s supposed to look like. It’s been a fascinating process – where the book has guided me almost as much as I have guided it. There are frequent periods of paralyzing self-doubt, but as one of the section headings in the Essential Guide says, in what is a lovely echoing of Stein, Writing is Rewriting is Rewriting is Rewriting. So I get on with it. One of the things I have learned is that nothing is ever really finished, but eventually it needs some air. It’s taken me nearly three years to grow comfortable talking about the project, much less sharing it with others. But that time is coming, so here’s a peek: my chapter titles, all in a row.

Coming soon: first lines!

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Your Shoes

I’m taking an online course, Stunt Writing for Personal Growth. As I responded on an introductory survey, I’m taking the course because:

1. I’m writing a memoir but have not studied memoir writing with an instructor before; am interested in participating in more structured conversation about memoir.
2. I am a research librarian so the topic of MOOCs and other online learning is ubiquitous; I’m interested in experiencing a MOOC from the student perspective.
3. To challenge myself with unfamiliar, potentially uncomfortable, subjects and styles of writing – to explore voice.

There will be multiple learning modules over five weeks, and I have absolutely no idea what to expect. It’s the first day, and I’ve almost bailed numerous times already. But I want to stick with it; I want to give it a shot. I want to honor my skepticism but nevertheless participate in a way that is genuine, curious, and open-minded. Again, we’ll see. Here’s my first assignment. A brief response to the prompt Shoes, Meals, Coats, and Handbags.

Your Shoes

They were the only shoes of yours I could fit into when you died, and even then I had to fasten them on tight. Your prized Alps: a web of blue fabric straps crisscrossing the forefoot, encircling the ankle, and holding the heel in place. The size long ago wore off. The outline of a foot – toes, an arch, the gentle arc of a heel – is imprinted on the shoe bed; mine or yours?

I wore them summers, at the lake, at camp, in the creek, on walking treks in the woods. Mom called them my “water shoes.” Now they are in the bottom of my closet, I don’t wear them anymore. They are clutter, taking up space, valuable real estate in already cramped quarters, as well as psychic room, emotional space. The sandals raise questions, did you know that was possible? Shoes inspiring wonder? As time has passed the questions have changed, from where did you go, where are you now, to why do I keep these old dirty shoes, tired and ragged and worn? 

Why can’t I get rid of your shoes?

They carry such weight; the dust of years.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: From Lines to Patterns

For this week’s theme, we were invited to submit multiple photos, experimenting with galleries, which I like, and which I have done before for the 2012 year in review. This week we’re looking at “lines and patterns in the world around us, in nature and things man-made. Sometimes we don’t realize they’re there: on the street, across the walls, up in the sky, and along the ground on which we walk.”

Finished listening to Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

This week’s challenge is Inside. I was going in a few different directions until I saw this shot at the Tate Modern by Mrs. Carmichael. Even though I’m being a bit of a copy cat, Mrs. Carmichael’s capture reminded me of an image I took in Berlin in July, at the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism.


I like the symmetry of the shot, the angles, the light. I like the sense of isolation and solitude that the picture evokes, the curiosity – what’s in there? – and the quiet reverence. I love the woman in the picture, a stranger, arrayed in her peppy pink jacket and bold red backpack, and the lonely bicycle parked in the monument’s shadow. She can flee, and yet, she remains.

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