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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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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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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Uncategorized, Writing

Promotion – Guide to Literary Agents

Chuck Sambuchino, the head guy over at the Guide to Literary Agents, does not sleep. Either that, or he’s more than one person. I don’t know how he does it, I just know that he’s always on top of what’s going on in the writing world — that is when he’s not creating part of the writing world.

Right now he’s running another “Lucky Agent” contest. This time it’s for Young Adult work. If you have a finished YA piece, you can enter. Three winners will receive a critique of the first 10 pages of their manuscripts.

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Love in the time of Hermit Crabs

Summer is flying by, as summers are supposed to. Mine has been filled with sunning, swimming, bar-be-queing and breaking up my kids’ fights. The typical summer. My kids did get along one day, though, and actually managed, not only to like each other for an afternoon, but to work together for a common goal: they came home from a Science Camp field trip as the proud, joint owners of a hermit crab.They pooled their funds at the gift shop of the Sea Shell Museum and had enough money to buy the crab, a sea sponge loaded with salt water, and an extra shell.

They were so happy. They finally had a pet! We’ve been pet deficient since our dog died, and I guess we went for too long without one. The situation as now remedied: we named him Marlowe (after the poet, but my kids just thought the name was cool).

We brought him home from camp in a tiny cardboard box, the bottom of which was so soggy that it was about to give way under him. Again, the kids were so happy. It was heart breaking. I said they could keep it, but they had to take care of it.

A couple hours later, with a head full of Google-derived knowledge, we were at the pet supply store. We bought Marlowe just about everything a happy crab needs: an aquarium, a heater, two water dishes (one for spring water, one for salt water), extra shells, the “good” sand (it’s loaded with calcium), wood (so he can climb when he needs exercise), something to hide under, a variety of foods, salt-water conditioner, a humidity gauge and the book Hermit Crabs for Dummies. But we were not done. Apparently “hermit crab” is a bit of a misnomer: they are social animals. In fact, they need fellow species members in their “crabitat” otherwise they get lonely and stressed. And guess what hermit crabs do when they’re stressed? They lose legs.

I’m not big on finding limbs lying around, so the next day we went to a different store and bought two more crabs. Marlowe is now accompanied by Daisy and Nick.

My kids are thrilled. They love their pets. They have been happily cleaning out their crabitat every night and giving them fresh foods. (By the way, hermies really enjoy room temperature, fresh pineapple.) The kids “play” with the crabs — they build little obstacle courses for them to climb over. They “cuddle” with them by letting the crabs crawl all over them. They’re trying hard to train them to come when their names are called (the book tells us this is possible).

The thing is, I don’t think the crabs are aware of all the warm fuzzies coming their way. If they are not trying to find a way to escape from the kids, they curl up in their shells. My son loves it when Marlowe crawls up his chest and curls into the crook of his neck. He thinks the crab is snuggling. But I know the thing is heading up there because it’s a shadowed area and that’s what they do when it’s daylight: they look for a shadowed area where they can hide.

They are nocturnal, so we set up the video camera once on “night shooting” mode and had a mini film of them walking around the crabitat. Hmm, very exciting.

My husband doesn’t understand the fascination with the critters at all. And I get why: they don’t respond, they aren’t awake when we are, they don’t seem to care that we’re the ones putting food and water in their dishes every day. But . . .

Marlowe the social Hermit Crab

When you’re able to look in their little eyes, you do kind of melt inside and just want to take care of them. It’s easy to fool yourself that it’s not an unrequited love, but that the tiny little brain inside the almost non-existent head is just as happy to see you as a puppy would be. And then he pulls everything back inside the shell, because really, you’re just some scary giant.

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The New New Math

When I was growing up, every time a kid did something that the previous generation didn’t understand, a parent or grandparent would blame it on “the new math.” We’d come home from school to find our parents unable to help us with our homework. They didn’t understand it, nor did they understand the way we were thinking or behaving in general, so they connected the dots and decided it was the “new math” that made us indecipherable.

Even my father would say it. Which shows you how pervasive the belief was, as he never really had a grasp on “the old math.” The Great Depression hit right before he went into 6th grade and he had to quit school to work for his family. When I went from feathered Farrah hair to preppy Peter-pan collars with a ribbon bow, to Punk rock safety pins in my ears, he greeted each new style with “I don’t get it. Must be that new math.”

It never made sense to me when I was young(er)–note, I held back from the bad pun of “it didn’t add up to me”–but now I think I’m beginning to understand.

Because my kids are doing the new, new math. And now I suspect suspect there is a sadistic, secret math society at work continually creating a gap between every generation.

Do you remember the kids who went to school dances with pens in their pockets or who would sneer at the rest of us for not being able to do calculus problems in our heads? Well, not all of them went to work with Microsoft.

I believe the most bitter of the bunch are now getting even with us for not letting them hang out with us, the cooler kids. They are rubbing it in our faces for making them social outcasts by ensuring our children will rebel against everything we tell them.

How are they doing it? By creating a new, ridiculous math curriculum for each new generation of kids.

Let me tell ya, when your sarcastic, yet sweet, eight-year-old comes to you for help on her math, and you can’t help her, you look like an idiot. It doesn’t matter that you’re a college graduate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a successful business person. She might smile at you, but in her head you know she’s thinking “Ugh! God! My mom is such a dweeb! And my dad! It’s so embarrassing!”

And suddenly there’s one more item on her list of reasons not to trust or respect you. The deck is so stacked against us.

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Filed under Age, Children, TASFUIL, Uncategorized

The Line

Sometimes it just sucks being a mom. Sometimes it would be so much easier to just pretend I’m not a mom to my 8-year old daughter and that instead, I’m a fellow 8-year old girl. Sometimes I wonder if I’d get better results and have less guilt if I said things like “I’m not going to be your friend any more if you don’t pick up your dirty clothes.”

“Sometimes” always happens when I’m close to The Line. You know The Line. It’s the one, that, if you cross it, a little voice from a corner of your mind reminds you ever so casually that you may have squashed, just a little, that beautiful, wondrous, majestic spirit still residing in your kid.

My daughter is one of those children who can have fun all by herself in an empty room, or as the Southern expression goes, can be happy playing in a pile of shit. She is imaginative, insightful, intuitive, and wiser beyond her years. Her teachers repeatedly tell me they’ve never seen a child like her, that they look forward to seeing her as an adult to learn about the fabulous things she’s destined to do. They assure me she is bound for some kind of greatness. They repeatedly admire the depths of her sense of diplomacy, the ease with which she reads between the lines, the comedy of her adult-like wit. Everyone remarks on how she seems to have an endless amount of enthusiasm for everything in life.

I should be grateful for such a child, which I am. I should celebrate her uniqueness, which I do. I should encourage her not to be afraid to reach out, to branch out into the world and yet stay true to herself and her abilities, which I do.

But trust me living with her ain’t easy. That boundless energy must be curtailed periodically, otherwise things in the house get broken, homework doesn’t get done, and she’d never sit still long enough to actually eat a meal. That insightful, intuitive mind of hers can combine with the adult-like wit and create one hell of a sarcastic attitude (not unlike her mom, apparently, according to her father). And there are times when an 8-year old just shouldn’t read between the lines.

I fear reining her in as much as I fear not reining her in. I’m trying, probably with a sense of desperation that she senses and takes advantage of, to find that point of balance where I can encourage her beautiful self to exist while happily co-existing with the rest of the family. That’s The line I keep approaching and probably cross more often than I should.

I guess I’ll know how well I did or didn’t do when she’s an adult. If her teachers are right and she is bound for greatness, I’ll read her autobiography and learn exactly where I screwed up.

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Front-yard Warfare

I want to ressurect the Berlin wall, just a portion of it, in my front yard.  The thing is, I know for a fact the zoning committee for my township frowns on barbed-wire fencing.  I’m pretty sure they would not support my idea to erect a brick-and-mortar fortress, complete with trenches and armed guards.  But something needs to be done!

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.  I keep the side yards and the back yard natural.  I keep the native grasses (yes, I’m aware that’s a euphemism for weeds) and the moss mowed short in only a small area so that my kids can romp and run and climb on the playset.  Otherwise, the place is natural, wooded and wild.  I will sit on my patio in the summer, drinking coffee before the rest of the house wakes up, and listen to the birds.  Sometimes a ground hog will lumber by.  Occassionally I make eye-contact with the deer at the edge of the forest.  I feel as though, despite the fact that I’m paying a mortgage and taxes on the ground there, it belongs to nature, to the wild flora and fauna and I’m privileged to enjoy it behind my mug.

All I ask for in return is that nature let me have my front yard.  My front yard with the expensive grass where we eat dinner, picnic-style with neighbors on warm nights.  My front yard, the place where I grow peonies, irises and roses to cut and enjoy indoors.  My front yard where I planted crape myrtles, dogwoods and a cherry tree in contrast to the oaks and pine trees everywhere else.  Am I asking for too much?  I garden organically?  I don’t think I’m offending anyone.

Long ago I gave up on phlox and hostas–the rabbits and deer used those beds as their personal salad bar.  I quit keeping bird feeders close to the house because squirrels found their way from them into my attic.  I allowed the frogs to move into my little pond and allowed the bees to keep their hives.  So, while not exactly catering to the wildlife,  I’ve made concessions.  I’m trying to meet nature half-way.  But I’m all out of options now.

My turf has been infiltrated. My land has been invaded.  The winter snows are retreating only to reveal the evidence.  The myriad holes are exposed.  The tiny mounds running the length of my property are clearly marked.  The enemy is not even trying to hide its presence.  I have moles!

Internet searches are scaring me.  Apparently there are all sorts of tried-but-not-fool-proof-and-true techniques to get rid of the buggers.  I’m assured I have a spring and summer ahead of me filled with subterranean warfare.  I now fantasize about spending the pre-dawn hours with Bill Murray in pseudo-combat gear, toting fire hoses and explosives.

I just can’t figure out how such a little, tiny little and cute critter can cause me such grief!  Why is he prepared to battle with nothing but wee claws and a wiggling nose?  How is it, in the chess game that I call my gardening hobby, that I’m already feeling cornered, just a move away from check mate?  And what do I do when I fail?

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