Tag Archives: BK

Happy Anniversary, BK!

This is late. Our Thirty-mumble anniversary was a week and a half ago. However, here are a couple of pictures from the day…

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BK at Clara’s

Doesn’t he look magical? We went to our favorite restaurant for dinner. He brought flowers home, too.

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Aren’t they lovely?  He also gave me, like, 3 cards and the Lego Movie. I got him a card. I’m such a bad wife. I’m going to have to seriously have to up my game next year…

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Somebody Else’s Turn — BK

It’s been a long time, but I’m excited to announce the first guest post in just over a year!

BK (yes, the BK made famous (?!) by this very blog) shares some of his thoughts on music and writing, with tips on enjoying either or both. Here’s what he has to say:

The focus of CeeBee’s blog is normally writing. As a guest contributor who is not a writer by craft, I cannot give writing tips or point to helpful books or workshops. And, as an engineer by profession, I am more a supporter of the arts than an artistic individual on my own. I do, however, enjoy music.

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I play at guitar. I am not an accomplished musician. There will never be long lines outside the box office where eager fans wait to get the best seats to a BK concert or multi-thousand hits on a YouTube music video featuring my latest release. So, if American Idol or a big recording contract is not in my future, why do I play? Let me introduce you to the BK Theory of Musical Performance.

Set your level of expectation:

What I seek in playing is fun. I do not expect note for note reproduction of an Eric Clapton guitar riff. And no one will ever confuse my rendition of a James Taylor vocal with the original. But that is okay, because my goal is to play well enough so that when friends come together we can make a happy sound.

Accept your mistakes:

I was discussing guitar with a former coworker who played while he was in college but had stopped playing when he moved into the real world of jobs, student loan repayment, independent living – the adult things into which we fall at some point in life. No time to practice, fewer friends with whom to play. “But why did you stop?” I asked.

“I used to be able to play songs without missing a note. Now I make mistakes.” I guess this is an extension of setting expectations, but it is also a statement about self-forgiveness. When CeeBee and I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band a few years ago there was a moment during the show when the band had a miscommunication at a song bridge. Bruce made some comment about the band messing up and they picked up then continued the song. After the song ended Steve Van Zandt whispered something and Springsteen broke into a big smile. Stepping to the mic, he said “So Little Stevie just told me that I was the one who was off.”

He laughed. “You just heard The Boss (expletive deleted) up!” So if The Boss can make light and move on, then BK can do the same.

Make the music your own:

I cannot play exactly what Little Feat plays on “Willin’” nor what Blind Faith played on “Can’t Find My Way Home” but it does not stop me from adapting the song to my skill level. I jokingly say that I reserve the right to correct oversights in the original songwriter’s version. You may be surprised at how well your interpretation works for you. Probably one of the biggest kicks I get from playing with friends and family is when the version of a song that comes out of the jam session elicits enthusiasm and comments. I remember one jam session version of “Hotel California” done with a reggae syncopated rhythm and with Guitar Jack absolutely wailing on the guitar. When it was over, we looked at each other with an almost “Was that us?” look on our faces. Okay, maybe The Eagles have nothing about which to worry, but we really stuck it that afternoon.

There are other things. Play with family and/or friends if you can. Set the goal as fun, not perfection. Kids are especially good at this. The next time you have a family gathering you may be surprised at how enthusiastic the little ones can be.

I have been very lucky. I came from a family in which music was a normal part of life. Then I married into a family with a similar love of music. And so many of our friends enjoy playing, singing and listening that pulling out a guitar usually leads to others joining in.

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How to make this about writing? Let’s try this.

Set your level of expectation:

If you write as an outlet for your inner artist, take satisfaction from meeting your milestones. You completed a short story and are happy with the results so you deserve a reward. If your goal is to be published, you probably need help from someone for whom writing is his craft rather than from a back porch guitarist.

Accept change in your choices:

I modified “Accept your mistakes” here because, in writing, you make character choices, plot choices, and dialogue choices that, after self-editing, friends’ suggestions and group critiques, you decide to change. The changes are not mistakes but the natural result of refinement during the authoring process. Writing a story or play is a living activity. The story will evolve as you proceed. That the first draft requires changes does not invalidate your effort.

BK didn’t include a writing section on making the work your own (the way he said to make the music your own), so this is CB, adding on to what he wrote:

Make the story your own:

We’ve all heard the old saying that there are no new plots. Depending on who you believe, there only three, or seven, or thirty-three plots…or some other number I’ve forgotten or haven’t come across yet.

However: we all still like stories that utilize old plots or somewhat familiar characters. An individual writer can help a story say something it never seemed to say before. That’s what keeps us looking for new novels, short stories, movies, and TV shows.

So, whether you’re a writer, a musician, a knitter, or an enjoyer (um, is that a word?) of some other avocation/vocation, keep at it for as long as it brings you joy. That is all.

Million Word Party — Recap

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I wish I had pictures of the singing and ice cream, but I was too busy singing, eating, drinking, mingling, and accepting congratulations to snap pictures.  A couple of days later, I was able to take pictures of the gifts and cards I received, so I’m sharing those.* These mementos were an unexpected perk of giving the party. Featured below are a few closeups of the handmade items.

Tim, knowing of my recent fondness for gnomes (I blame the Writing the Other workshop), made me a congratulatory sculpture, which now lives in my writing area.

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Isn’t it fantastic?

In addition to sharing much-needed freezer space, Beth put Al to work. Using his arcane computer knowledge, he was able to offer advice on how to generate the next million words.

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I knew the responsible party immediately

Whitey used leather working skills I didn’t even know he had to create this gorgeous journal cover, which he filled with Moleskine soft cover note books. I carry a notebook with me most of the time to note observations and ideas; this will replace what I’ve been using. For all you Doctor Who fans, the cover symbol is in Gallifreyan, the script of the Time Lords. It means create.

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Learn to write Gallifreyan here!

I got other lovely gifts and cards as well. There’s Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott) and a fabulous multicolored set of disposable fountain pens from Jack and Carol. There’s the wall hanging from Dick and Jill that proclaims “The Book was so much Better”.  There were thoughtful congratulatory cards from Sue and Ed and Kim, too.

Sis gave the gift of a venue. With all the traveling this summer, my house was in no shape to receive guests, so she generously offered hers and it was swell, from the living room that was transformed into singalong space through the kitchen which became the ice cream bar to the backyard patio with fire pit.

Cookie and Cookie Junior brought brownies and beverages and gave me the gift of time to actually attend the party by taking over serving and cleanup work in the kitchen. Joanne brought yummy homemade peanut butter cookies.

We all loved the comic Hindi song Kishin and Rita performed for us and the song-leading and instrumental gifts that Jack, Bill, Al and BK provided.

I haven’t yet mentioned several people who gifted me with their presence and good spirits: Camille, Cheryl, Katherine, Barry, Sabrina, Len, Carole, Pam, Cathy, and Kim. I have to admit, though that the attendees who astonished me the most were Bro and his lovely Bride, who came all the way from Houston without letting their intentions slip in any way.

If I forgot to mention anyone or to connect the right person with the right card/gift, I’m sorry. Please blame it on the overwhelm factor.

For those interested in the ice cream, here are the flavors we made for the party: caramel pecan, chocolate, coconut, lemon-orange gelato, peppermint, pineapple sorbet, strawberry yogurt, triple chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla yogurt.

We also created frozen (and other) drinks that required plenty of ice cream, including root beer floats, coffee or chocolate stout floats, piña coladas and grasshoppers.

A lovely time was had by all, or at least by me! Thanks again to all involved.

*Disclaimer: In no way did we expect the party to be a gift-giving occasion. BK and I were just delighted that people were willing to show up and celebrate.

Pizza – a War for Hearts and Minds

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When Bro and Bride came to town, we had to get pizza. In fact, Bro had a strong opinion about where to go for it.

There are at least as many different opinions about pizza as there are pizza purveyors. There’s the pizza rivalry between Chicago and New York, recently highlighted by Jon Stewart.

The easy thing to say is that New York pizza is thin and floppy—something you can fold up like a crepe and eat while you’re walking down the street, while Chicago pizza is thick and gloppy, and you have to eat it with a knife and fork, like—as Jon Stewart would say—a casserole.

I don’t know from New York pizza. I only ever had it—or something that was called “New York pizza”—when I went to Wash U in St. Louis. On Sunday nights, when the food service was closed, we often frequented Talayna’s, which I recently discovered is Yiddish for Italian. Talayna’s served what they called New York pizza and Chicago pizza. Since their Chicago pizza wasn’t what I remembered from home, I wasn’t willing to accept that their version of New York pizza was especially authentic either. For Talayna’s purposes, New York and Chicago were code for thin or thick crust, which is how many people think.

The reality is more complicated. There are varying thicknesses of pizza in Chicago, and I’ve been known to indulge in, um, all of the above. Usually I save deep dish (or stuffed, and there is a difference) pizza for special occasions, because it’s very rich. For thin crust, I  like Rosati’s if we bring it home and Home Run Inn if we eat it there.

But, ah—deep dish pizza. At the right place it’s great, at the wrong place it’s either inconsistent or just plain gloppy. The epic tale of Chicago thick crust pizza moguls  is almost the stuff of Greek theatre. Though with the Italian influence, we probably ought to go with opera instead. Somebody write the Chicago Pizza Opera, please! Stolen secret recipes! Betrayal! Revenge! I’d go to the Lyric opening night to hear that one.

An interesting article from the BBC travel site explores the story in some depth, and also divulges their favorite.

As for me, I’ve had Uno’s/Due’s, Gino’s East, My Pie (or My π, if you prefer) and Giordanos. Lately? I have to agree with BK, Bro and the BBC reviewer. Pizano’s.

But if you want to judge for yourself, maybe you should book a Chicago pizza tour

The next time Bro comes to town, we may do that. Purely in the name of research, you understand.

Happy Birthday to Me

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Mmmmm…cake

We celebrated up a storm, starting on Saturday. I used part of my combination Christmas/birthday gift. Every year for the last decade or so, my sister has gotten me a subscription to Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier. We usually choose the 4-play subscription, unless the season doesn’t interest us that much. This year was interesting. We’ve already seen Cyrano de Bergerac, Merry Wives of Windsor, and now Gypsy. (Henry V is still to come—woo-hoo!)

As I’ve noted in previous posts, Chicago Shakespeare doesn’t only produce Shakespeare. They’ve put up Molière and Sheridan, among others. And director Gary Griffin has an ongoing interest in exploring the works of Stephen Sondheim, so we’ve also seen A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George, and now Gypsy.

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CST production photo by Michael Brosilow

I thought Gypsy was swell. The cast was good from top to bottom. I went to school with some of the actors, like Rengin Altay and Matt DeCaro, so it’s always a kick to see them in professional productions.

Maybe it’s goofy to single out performers, since one of the great strengths of the show was how well the ensemble performed as a whole, but I should probably mention that Jessica Rush as Louise and Keith Kupferer as Herbie were very affecting. The single best part of the show for me was the first act finale, and the reason it was so chilling was because of the interplay among Louise, Herbie, and Rose. Of course, Louise Pitre as Rose was wonderful.

I was iffy with with a couple of artistic choices in the second act. It was hard to tease out whether these choices belonged to the director or to the actor(s), but in any case, they were minor. I can definitely recommend this production to anyone who still has the opportunity to see it. Get there by March 28, 2014.

The rest of the long birthday weekend was similarly excellent. Cookie (who joined Sis and me at the theatre) bought dinner for all of us, including BK and our son.

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We got carry-out from Clara’s

Clara’s heard it was my birthday and gave us a quart of pasta fazool for the price of a bowl, and topped dinner off with free tiramisu. Yum!

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Did I mention the cake?

On Sunday, BK, Son, Cookie and I had chocolate birthday cake (drool). Then Sunday night I experimented with tweeting (@cmbrennan09) through the Oscars, which made the long telecast more entertaining. It was especially fun to come up with my John Travolta name—Catapult Branana. That’s not what I got from the “official” John Travolta name generator, though. You can play along here.

Monday (my real birthday), my daughter Lori called to wish me a happy birthday and generally warm my heart. She had already sent my birthday gift a few weeks early. She knitted her fingers to the bone to make it. I’ve been wearing it, and it is gorgeous!

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Fabulous hat, right?

I actually got a bit of work done. Revision. Scary! But you feel so virtuous when you manage to make yourself do it. I also hit the gym. So I felt perfectly justified in taking off to go see American Hustle when BK came home early. We finished our evening with dinner at House of Emperor and a viewing of the latest episode of Castle. Sis called to offer birthday well wishes, as did Bro. What’s not to like?

My next post will contain a submission scoreboard update. Stay tuned.

A Squee for Capricon

I was angst-y all last week leading up to Capricon. One reason I write is because it’s good work for an introvert and (I keep having to explain this to people!) I’m pretty introverted. Despite this tendency, I’m trying to get out and meet other writers. I worked on getting people from The Writing Journey to come with me; I also whinged at my husband BK, and my BFF, Cookie. It was no go, from everybody. *Sighs*

When I registered, I had no idea who’d appear besides the Guests of Honor. It wasn’t expensive, as these things go, so I figured, what the hell. My sister lives ten minutes from the con site, so I could crash with her for free, and spend a little time with her and my puppy nephew, Seamus.

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Me, petting my sister’s dog

I also don’t get to see enough of Bill and Cheryl Cavalier. They go every year, so this was my chance to remedy that.

So here’s what happened. I ended up seeing Gene Wolfe from a safe distance. I didn’t get his autograph on An Evil Guest, as I had hoped. Lord willing, he’ll be at the next Capricon and I can corner him then. Maybe I’ll even remember to bring some of his other books, and he can sign those, too.

I actually got to talk to Mary Anne Mohanraj and Wesley Chu for a few minutes. They couldn’t have been nicer. Mary Anne actually invited me to a pot luck for local writers. I’d give an ovary to attend, except that I’ll be out of town taking care of somebody, and I won’t be back in time to go. *Pouts*

And now we approach the Super-Squee part. I found out some time after registering that Mary Robinette Kowal would be there. I first learned about Mary in 2012 around the time I decided to get serious about writing. Again. That’s a long story.

Anyway, Mary’s novella, “Kiss Me Twice”, was on the Hugo ballot,  so I read it. I’ve read more of her work since then, of course, including several of her Glamourist Histories novels,  her Hugo-winning short story, “For Want of a Nail”, and Hugo-nominated short story, “Evil Robot Monkey”. Around that time I also started listening to the Writing Excuses podcasts, which I recommend unreservedly to anyone who’s interested in writing, irrespective of their preferred genres.

Anyway, you know what people say about Mary? They say, “Everyone loves Mary.”

After taking an online short story workshop with her in November and seeing her at Capricon, I totally get it. The online workshop was so good I registered to take an in-person workshop she’s offering this June.

So I accosted her at Capricon and said hi, and she recognized me from the tiny image of me that showed up in Google Hangouts. She signed my copy of Glamour in Glass. So far, pleasant but not unexpected, right? However, Saturday was Mary’s 45th birthday. In addition to just talking with her – if you haven ‘t done that, you have no notion how pleasant that can be – she offered cake and party favors to those who stopped by. I indulged in both. The cake was a lemon pound cake her mother baked and shipped to her. It was fragrant and delicious. The party favors were elegant, Jane-Austen-themed temporary tattoos.

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My elegant tattoo

And then…Mary invited me to her birthday party! Squee!

I got to stop by her room later that evening for scotch and nibbles. Her husband Rob was charming, as were the other guests. We talked about City Winery (where Rob works), travel, other conventions, and writing. It was all extremely classy. You want to know how classy? If we ever start offering knighthoods and dameships (is that a thing?) in the United States, Mary would be a prime candidate.

Oh, there was programming and stuff. I went to some. I liked a lot of it.

Bill tied for first place in the Artist Showdown, and celebrated by doing some kickass harp playing at Live Band Karaoke. Cheryl and I talked writing and generally gossiped.

So that was my Capricon.

Um, did I say “Squee!”?