Monthly Archives: October 2006

After School

note: first of many 30-minute short story exercises

“I think Jesse and Hannah have a thing for each other,” Annie said, as she scratched her bare knee.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” said Eduardo. Eduardo reached into his backpack and took out the remaining half of his turkey sandwich from lunch.

“You always buy your lunch at Han’s, right?” Annie asked.

“Yeah, I never wake up early enough to make my own,” he said. He took a bite and regretted not having put enough mayonnaise.

“You should make it before you go to bed. That’s what I do,” said Annie.

Eduardo took a sip of Gatorade. He wondered if he should offer a bite to Annie.

“I have so much homework to do tonight,” she said. “I wish it was Thanksgiving already.”

It was already past three in the afternoon. Although sunny, Eduardo could feel the cool autumn breeze. He wondered if Annie was cold. She wore shorts and a light denim jacket.

“You know, I think Jesse and Hannah would look cute together, although Jesse could be a little taller,” she said. Annie played with her smooth black hair. Eduardo caught a whiff of her flowery scent.

“Hannah could be a little thinner, too,” he suggested.

“You think Hannah is fat?” Annie asked, surprised. Eduardo realized that Annie and Hannah were very similar in shape and size.

“Well, no. But I mean, if you really wanted them to look good together, Jesse should be taller and Hannah should be a little bit thinner,” he said. He regretted having made the remark about Hannah.

“Hmm. Well, I think Hannah looks just fine,” Annie said.

The two of them leaned back against the graffiti-covered brick wall. Around the corner was a Chinese take-out where many of their classmates went after school to get cheap chicken nuggets.

Eduardo looked at his watch. He would have to leave soon for his shift at Food World. He glanced at Annie, who rubbed the backside of her calf. He didn’t think she was fat at all. She had a friendly round face and nice hair. He wondered if they would look “cute” together.

“I should get going. I have to meet up with Julie for that science project,” Annie said.

“Yeah, I need to get going, too,” Eduardo said. “See you tomorrow?”

“Sure,” she said. “Oh yeah, I might call you later tonight. Just to talk.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be home by ten.”

They got up from the sidewalk and headed their separate ways.

New Design… Sort of

I was looking to give pkblog a design overhaul today and spent a good amount of time looking through other people’s blogs for inspiration. But when it came down to deciding on a design, I couldn’t entirely let go of the original “classic” template (the default on WordPress 1.5) that I had used for the past two years. So I found a bare-bone WordPress template and went to work with my limited CSS skills.

My main concern for the blog design was its readability. The previous design scaled the content to 100% of the browser screen. This may not be a problem if you’re using a 800-pixel-wide screen, but most people today use 1024 pixels and up, making my entries seem like an endless verbage train. I decided to center-align the blog, which seems to be the standard these days, and limited the main content width to 675 pixels. Decreasing the width has made me to see how long and tedious my entries can be sometimes — no wonder readership is rare!

I also decided that it was time to change the font. For the entry body, I opted for Verdana, a safe choice although sometimes difficult to read in bulk. With Verdana, I know I’ll have to cut down my word count if I wish to keep readers from straining their eyes. For the entry title, I switched to Georgia because I like the way Georgia looks when it’s big – a nice contrast from the utilitarian sans-serif typography of Verdana. And for a barely noticeable aesthetic upgrade, I made the blog header into an image so that the title – in a font called Milo – would have a smoother and more elegant look. As for the colors, I couldn’t ditch the blue and green – they’re almost like old friends at this point.

You may have noticed already, but a few months ago, I started making small buttons on the right side of the blog that link to my other pages (under “more pk”). I thought these buttons added a nice graphical touch to the site since my policy from day one has been to post text-only entries (there is a pk photo album for images). I hope I don’t go overboard with all these new buttons, but I’m looking forward to making a few more since they’re sort of like mini book covers.

Thinking about today’s exercise, I feel that, generally, an entire design overhaul (a makeover) is unnecessary, especially when a new look may threaten the original, unique flavor of a particular design. But this doesn’t mean that improvements are out of the question. In design, even the smallest adjustments can make the biggest impact. I don’t mean to say that my previous blog design was anything special, but it did become something comfortable and familiar to me, and I know that this “new” look still retains some of the familiarity while being an improvement on some key design aspects. Dull? Well, nobody ever did make a reality show about mere touch-ups.

Why the Brits Occupy Parts of My Shelf

I was never much of a fiction reader in my youth. I barely got through the books assigned in English class throughout high school, often referring back to Cliff’s Notes or asking friends for summaries. I only read on my bed, an easy way to render reading exercises futile, especially if the narrative was anything but captivating. I was a history nerd, seeking out thick books on American and European history and devouring any historical or political articles in any of the general interest magazines that my parents subscribed to in those days. I knew that once I entered college, history would be my focus and my passion.

And then film happened. Once I began studying films during my sophomore year of college, the craft of creativity began to intrigue me. The idea of authorship, the process of infusing who you are and what you know into a brand new synthesis, seemed so powerful and dynamic. I still appreciated the works on history – the way you could be creative in your analyses and narrative, the way you could take dry facts and breathe them significant, exciting new life. Filmmaking, or even screenwriting, often intimidated me: the technicalities involved in creating a film, the financial and time committments, and the difficulty of finding a voice in something that is visual – I was unsure if I had the talent or the zeal to immerse myself in such a world. But I still enjoyed learning about the process, the legacy, and the craft of filmmaking. For the second semester of my junior year, I needed to select an elective outside of the film department to fulfill my film studies requirements. By chance, I decided to pick British Literature: 1950 to Present, a class held in Barnard and taught by Professor Maura Spiegel.

As was the case with most of my other classes in those days of over-extension in extra-curricular activities, I fell behind. I struggled to finish most of the books that were assigned, and I dozed off during most of the class lectures. In many instances, I had not even started on a book that would be discussed in class. I definitely missed my chance to get the most out of the course, but in a way, I felt a spark of interest that would persist and grow into a fondness for literature. Exposure is the key word. I was exposed to some great authors that I had previously no knowledge of. I read Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and instantly came to adore his control of voice and tone. I began reading London Fields by Martin Amis (never finished) and was amused by his inventive structuring of time, location, and point-of-view. I laughed and cried while reading V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. I found Ian McEwan’s Atonement to be a nonstop thrill ride – one of the few books I read in a couple of sittings. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited made me appreciate the subtle and biting humor (and tragedy) in British writing. And Austerlitz by WG Sebald was haunting and philosophically mesmerizing.

I only mention these authors because an article I read this morning reminded me that, thanks to this British Lit class, I was able to read some of the most accomplished novels in the past fifty years. The UK Observer, in response to the NY Times’s Best American Novel poll, conducted a similar survey for British novels. I was happy to find that Money by Amis, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was in second place, and Unconsoled by Ishiguro (my note) and Atonement by McEwan shared the third place spot with three other books. And I have to say, I am in the process of reading JM Coetzee’s Disgrace, so it’ll be nice to have at least the top 4 or 5 books covered.

I know that “best novel” polls are anything but scientific and are more inclined to produce buzz than anything of academic or artistic merit. However, like the British Literature course I took in my junior year – a mere survey of some of the good novels in the past fifty years – this Observer list is another instrument that I can use to increase exposure to some of the unfamiliar British works. There’s no shame, I believe, in pursuing something that gets wide press. I started Philip Roth only after the NY Times poll put his works at the top, although a number of my friends frowned at the name and dissed his style. And I really like Roth’s work and his style.

I’m still hardly an avid reader. It takes me a while to finish books, and I juggled several at a time to keep things interesting. But it’s nice to recognize the names of authors now and then in articles, in dialogues in movies and TV shows, or in bookstores, and to find people who’ve read the same book who don’t mind talking about it. And best is that feeling of remembering a line or a quote from a novel, going back with the vague idea of where it is in the book, and finally finding it, finding yourself reading the lines repeatedly, and eventually drifting off to read other passages from that book which touched you once before and now, touches you once again.