I Moved!

I am no longer blogging at this address but you can still find my rants and opinions over at (drumroll) LisaShiroff.com

There you will also find recipes, informational how-to’s from projects I do as part of my Creative Consultant gig, and any news whatsoever regarding me as a wannabe novelist. Hope to see you there!

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Signs of the times

Aside from finding out there’s nothing really wrong with you, the best thing about going to the doctor is you get a chance to read the kinds of magazines you’d love to subscribe to, if only to put them on your own coffee table to look like you’re an intellectual. On a recent dental trip, I had the privilege to indulge myself in Archeology Magazine. It brought back memories of when I was a child and wanted to be an archeologist. It was a short-lived aspiration. As soon as I learned those folks often lived for months on end in tents with no “real” toilet, I moved on to another career goal.

One of the reasons why I still enjoy the study of archeology is because of the way modern historians interpret artifacts, texts and even graffiti on ruins to learn about a society. For example, there is plenty of graffiti in the ruins of Pompeii to suggest that not only were the inhabitants there on the lascivious side, they enjoyed their drink and defecated just about anywhere.

I don’t remember reading anything on how archeologists interpreted road signs in ancient Rome, but on a recent trip, I couldn’t help but wonder what post-apocalyptic historians might deduce from our street signs of today.

For example, there is a street sign near my neighborhood that says: Opposing traffic has extended green. I think I almost ran the red light there a few times before I figured out what it meant. What will historians think it means? Will they wonder if we met up at that intersection to have pro vs con debates and the opposing teem gets a longer time on the grassy area next to it to speak?

After seeing this sign, will they think we’re a careless lot:

I rather think someone in the factory got it wrong. Shouldn’t it be Done More Drinking Street? Will historians think the sign maker was drunk when he made it?

Or, will they think the deer were once literate when they stumble upon these signs:

There were all sorts of those as we drove through up-state New York. Sometimes the deer crossing would be for the next 3 miles at others for the next 10. How do the deer know how large their cross walk is? Do they get in trouble if they cross before the sign? If it says Deer Crossing Next 1 mile, do deer gangs challenge new members to walk across at 1.1 mile?

My favorite sign of all times is one we saw in a window:

Which, if I were an historian stumbling upon this amidst the ruins of our culture, I would shake my head in awe over that fact that we knew just how messed up we were.

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Our Shortening Attention Span

As a wannabe novelist, I’m told I need to fill my pages with non-stop action. I need to keep the scenes moving to drive the story. I need to keep having horrible things happen to my protagonist so that my audience must continue turning the pages to find out what happens next to her.

But as a reader, I find myself getting panicky and exhausted with books written like the above. I keep buying them, but never in my life have I not finished as many books as are currently sitting in my “partially” read pile(s). I start reading them and after the first two chapters of non-stop angst-inducing episodes, I’m in need of a strong drink and a long nap.

I’ve been told the reason for this need of non-stop action and emotional appeal is because the attention span of the current American market demands it. Everyone believes our attention span is shrinking.

I tried to find studies proving it. So far I haven’t. I found a couple suggesting that the more adolescents watch TV and play video games, the more problems they have paying attention, but I’m coming up short on studies concerning the reading public’s ability to stop, look and listen for an extended period of time. Perhaps I got bored with my searching before I found them. And there was this comedian on TV . . .

The funny thing is there’s much banter about the attention span of goldfish. One of Snapple’s Real Facts claims the attention span of a goldfish is only three seconds. I got a little distracted from my search on the shrinking American attention span and tried to look up the proof behind Snapple’s claim.

I couldn’t find it, either. I did find plenty of blogs challenging the claim though. Many of the writers did so based on a study by the University of Plymouth that discovered the memory of a goldfish is three months. Perhaps those bloggers had something shiny catch their eye and forgot they were writing about attention and not memory?

Regardless, I can’t help but wonder what Kurt Vonnegut would have done with this lack of knowledge regarding American ADD versus goldfish ADD. Would he have changed the characters in his 1985 novel, Galapagos? Would they have evolved into goldfish-people who eventually kill themselves off because they kept getting distracted from mating?

And if our attention spans are so short, why don’t we ever get distracted from mating? Oh, look! There’s a butterfly out my window!

But then again, Vonnegut’s work isn’t filled him in urgent desperation to fill a perceived constant demand for entertainment. Galapagos, like most of his work, is an entertaining read, filled with a pleasant use of words, oh, and meaning.

Do we have to lose such beauty? What are we evolving into?

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No one has the right to have a crisis over age

For some reason, I’m becoming more and more obsessed over my age. I can’t decide if I’m growing old, growing immature, if I’m right where I’m supposed to be, or even if the subject is really worth the energy and attention I keep giving it.

Case in point: I was checking out at Whole Foods recently and the cashier was telling me all about her quarter-life crisis. She’s 23 and had just finished reading a book that told her she was a prime candidate for having a quarter life crisis. Several things about the conversation had me brooding over the whole age thing.

The first: it seems like I’ve prematurely turned into one of those Old Grocery Groupies (OGGs) — the old ladies who frequent the market so much they know everyone and all their business there. When I was 16, I wore a bright red polyester uniform as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly in Ocoee, Florida. I knew several OGGs. I knew how many grandkids each one had. I knew who were Crackers and who were Yankee transplants and they knew just about everything about me. I remember them being much older than I am now, and yet I was so relieved the other day when J___ in produce told me she broke up with her loser boyfriend (finally), I know which of the women cutting meat behind the deli counter is a vegetarian, and when the 23-year-old cashier told me about her quarter-life crisis, it wasn’t the first thing I learned about her. I’m sure they all know quite a bit about me, too.

The second thing: my gut reaction to the quarter-life crisis issue was “What the hell is wrong with America’s youth today?” They shouldn’t be taking life so seriously at that age, should they? I didn’t. I don’t even think I’m taking it that seriously now. But really, how could it be that they’re that disillusioned with who they’ve become — when they haven’t really had time to become anyone yet? At her age, her biggest crisis should be running out of cheap wine before the party is over, right? After all, at my age, I consider a crisis to be running out of good vodka before cocktail hour is over.

But, it hit me that having an age-crisis is a luxury, pure and simple. Only people who have very little else in their life to complain about seem to have them. Do you think folks in Japan, Lydia, hell for that matter most of Africa, Haiti, and Greenland (before you go checking the front page news, I put that last one here because it’s so damned cold there all the time) have age-related crises? I don’t think so. I think they have real ones to worry about.

Which explains why, when said cashier was telling me about it, I told her the answer wasn’t to go skydiving, as she was intending to do to heal herself, but to go out and celebrate her age. Because I think that’s really how we put meaning into things and how we value them in the long run, right? We celebrate them. If all you have to complain about is that you’re twenty-three or that you’re forty-three, you should throw one hell of a party about it.

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Who sleeps anymore?

One of my favorite people ever is Oscar Wilde. So perhaps it is only fitting that I feel like one of his quotes, with all due respect to Jerry Seinfeld, rather sums up this blog: “I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.” I get to come here and post things that usually keep me up late at night, things that are usually about nothing, and few of you hold judgment against me for doing it.

And while I haven’t been blogging on a regular basis lately, don’t think I’ve been sleeping more (nor that actual, useful thoughts have been plaguing me). In fact, while life has taken away some of my blogging time, it has continued to give me plenty of fodder. Alas, I’ve read if a post is over 350 words, y’all just don’t wanna plod through it. So, in an effort to get caught up on random musings about nothing, here in one post are the seeds of several thoughts that I’ve been mulling over come 3:00 a.m.

First, a blinding light of clarity hit me in Target: The reason why gauntlets came back in style a few years ago (I think the young people call them wrist-warmers) is because you cannot text in gloves. So there is reason behind fashion! See? Now, if only I can figure a way to justify stiletto-heeled boots . . .

But clarity is always soon clouded over in my muddled little brain, because I just don’t understand why all my skin care products contain alcohol to preserve them and keep them looking new, smooth, and to hold their shape, while, regardless of the amount of alcohol I drink, I’m still aging, getting wrinkly and falling apart.

And thinking about alcohol brings me to yet another question: why is it when I make a vodka infusion with an entire pineapple and a pint each of strawberries and blueberries, it does not count toward my recommended daily allowance of fruits? And if it does, does that mean can make Bloody Mary with V8 juice and say I’m having a salad?

In a different vein . . . On a recent visit to see a relative in the hospital for a gallbladder issue, we had to go to the Cardiac Failure Unit to find him. Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure the gallbladder and heart are two separate organs, I was a bit confused as to the name of the wing: Cardiac Failure Unit. If you were a patient being wheeled into an area destined for any kind of failure, how hopeful would you be for your future? Was that really the best they could come up with? Why not be a little more straight forward and write “so long sucker!” on a Post-it note and slap it on the door?

And, finally, according to the county where I live, I am not allowed to throw away partially-used cans of oven cleaner in the regular trash because it is too toxic for the landfill — TOO TOXIC FOR THE LANDFILL. Instead, I must hold on to it until a designated date and deliver it with other “household toxic wastes” to a specified location. Why is oven cleaner too dangerous for a landfill, but apparently safe enough to use in my home and immediately bake cookies in my oven afterward?

So there you have it folks, some of the miscellaneous ramblings about nothing that have been keeping me up at night. What’s keeping you awake?

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Can Rasta language save us?

Caveat: I do not claim to be an expert grammarian. Nor am I an expert Rastafarian.

I am, however, the owner of more language reference books than should be legal in the suburbs. I use them each month in a “Grammar Smarts” column in the newsletter I create for the NJ Writer’s Society where I tackle common grammar and usage mistakes. But this week, my books failed me.

A Society member emailed to ask if I could clarify the he/she/it issue. Her exact quote is: “Reading several articles in Writer’s Digest, I noticed some pronoun gender bending. Instead of the awkward coupling he/she when referring to a general audience, authors avoid the conventional use of the masculine pronoun (he) and defer to the feminine pronoun (she). Which is currently in fashion?”

I love that she asked what the current fashion is — not what is currently correct. Unfortunately, no one with the power to create rules for the rest of us to use will address the issue definitively. At least no one that I could find.

The inclusion of “she” came with the era of Political Correctness and is yet another issue the era brought to attention and neglected to actually do anything about. Not that I’m against PC completely. It does have it’s place. I just sometimes think it’s hard to say for sure where that place is.

I am old enough to remember when “he” was the pervasive pronoun and was insulted by it. (In fact, in desperation to get some kind of a paper done in time for a Modernist Poetry class, I even applied Feminist theory to Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming” to suggest that he would support everyone using “she” instead of “he.”) But I think I’ve relaxed a little since them.

It’s just too cumbersome to try and include everyone using the words he and she. It reads awkward doing the slash thing — “When the patient has his/her physical complete, he/she needs to have his/her physician provide commentary on whether or not he/she is able to fulfill his/her work duties.” And doing the alternating thing — i.e., using she for one part then he for the next and so on, is beyond tedious. I recently completed a 65,000-word work on cat nutrition and my publisher insisted on alternating between he and she with each section. Seemed easy enough, until the work was almost complete and new sections needed to be added in and old sections moved. It took more time going back and changing the sexes than it did to write the freaking book. And it was annoying as hell.

So what is a writer to do?

It will not do — there are too many negatives associated with it. We refer to unknown creatures as It and we call the kid in the mommy-and-me class who is unattractive, full of mucous, and overly aggressive, the It-child.

One will not do. Sounds too British and formal for us Americans. One works well for us only when we want to be goofy or sarcastic.

We need a word that has no negative undertones and that sounds relaxed and comfortable. Sounds like we need a word Bob Marley would use. Yes! That’s it! Perhaps we could take a cue from the Rastafarians.

See, Rastafarians created a language without using negative terms. They did it in order to confront and reject Colonialism. (Yes, they created a way to use positive words to rebel.) I won’t get into all the political stuff here — frankly, I don’t think I understand all the political stuff — but I will dabble in their language. Here’s the deal . . .

Rastafarians replaced the word “me” with “I,” because the word me tends to make the person sound like an object, not a human, whereas I celebrates the individual. “I and I” is used to replace “we” because, in their religion, we are all one united with Jah. Actually “I” before a word is often used in a similar vein (e.g., Ireator means creator), and Idren is used for peers (like brethren or sisteren). Which might be what we need.

Idren — pronounced with a long I.

Let’s revisit that sentence earlier with Idren: When the patient has Idren’s physical complete, Idren will need to have Idren’s physician provide commentary on whether or not Idren is able to fulfill Idren’s work duties.

Hmmm . . . might be a possibility.

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Nice!

For some reason, over the past week or so the subject of being nice has been popping up into conversations with me. I went to a writer’s conference last weekend, where the vast majority of attendees were women and people kept remarking, with a tinge of surprise in their voices, that they couldn’t believe how nice everyone was. A few other moms and I were agonizing over why 9-year old girls just can’t seem to be nice to each other. Headlines were filled with not-nice election-year behaviors. Anti-bullying missives came home from school. And my mother-in-law and I had a discussion about how being nice seemed to have a relative meaning, based on according to what part of this country you live in.

At first I found all the “nice” mentionings a bit coincidental, but since I am a little on the self-centered side, I started wondering if perhaps people were dropping hints.

I used to know I was a nice person, because people used to tell me. I don’t hear that exact word much anymore, but people do often express gratitude to me for my support, help, shoulder to cry on, email to e-vent to, etc. Is that what you say about nice people my age? Or are they offering positive reinforcement for behavior they’d like to see more often instead of the bitchy side that is sometimes evidenced here on this blog?

To try and clarify things, I looked up “nice” in my American Heritage dictionary. Here’s a synopsis: “1. Pleasing and agreeable in nature. 2. Having a pleasant or attractive appearance. 3. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness. 4. Of good character and reputation; respectable.”

Yes, well . . . I guess the good news is the folks at A.H. neglected to qualify their definition by time limits. That is, they don’t say “pleasing and agreeable in nature at least 98.7% of the time” nor must one have a “pleasant or attractive appearance 75% of the time” in order to be nice. Perhaps that’s my saving grace. After all, I do stop to help strangers, offer to take photos of people when their arms don’t seem long enough to get a self-portrait, and have good parking lot karma because I always return the cart, come hell or high water, or even lightening flashes, to its rightful place. All those are signs of nice behavior, are they not?

On the other hand, I can be catty at times. It’s just that the world gives me so much fodder, it almost seems disrespectful not to acknowledge those gifts with some kind of snarky, humorous (in my opinion anyway) remark. I’ve also experienced my fair share of Schadenfreude — but who doesn’t enjoy a head-lining story about an anti-gay Republican senator getting bad press because he likes to get close to his male interns? And, with my windows rolled up so no one outside my car can hear me, I often yell and scream at idiot drivers who cut me off in traffic. Those behaviors rather suggest I’m not nice, right?

Perhaps. But, let me share the end of that “nice” definition in my trusty dictionary. The last entries read: “Obsolete. a. Wanton; profligate. b. Affectedly modest; coy.”

Ooo! I think that means I’m an old-fashioned nice girl after all.

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