Tag Archives: commentary

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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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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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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The Bliss of Ignorance

I have a friend whose skin is so healthy and beautiful that I would hate her if it weren’t for the fact that she’s also nice and funny. I can forgive any form of perfection as long as the bearer is nice and funny. Anyway, she happens to work at a cosmetics counter in a large store at the mall (coincidentally, as she had healthy and beautiful skin before she took the job there).

This past Saturday she invited me to attend an event at her store where I’d be educated on skin care and the line she represents. I went and was educated.

After I showered Sunday morning, I found myself sitting before my vanity mirror somewhat frighted by what I saw: large pores, deep wrinkles, dark circles, and redness I’d never noticed before. Thankfully I’d purchased products to remove, repair or at least conceal it all. It had all the makings of an ego-destroying moment but I couldn’t help but laugh at how I got sucked back into the human obsession to make things better.

What some might call a pride in ingenuity, I’m beginning consider an unhealthy compulsion. We are all in a constant, almost frenzied, quest to turn everything into a problem and fix it, whether or not it really is a problem. And at what cost? I’ll tell you what cost: the joy, happiness, stress-free zen state a life of acceptance has to offer along with stronger, healthier egos. And if that’s not good enough for you, loads of cash and energy to boot.

Think about it — my son just informed me that “they” are re-making the Star Wars movies in 3D, which rather suggests someone somewhere found a problem with the original Star Wars films and decided they were no longer good enough and needed to be improved. But, the reason why Star Trek was so very faboo in the first place is because it was a NEW epic adventure tale of a NEW fallen hero created with NEW technology.  The 3D versions might be fun, but really, they will be yet more Sci-fi 3D flicks ~yawn~ that will make us all feel like saps for preferring the originals.

My daughter and I are ADD. When I was a kid, “they” said I was spirited and flighty, but there was no problem in that as long as I had a chance to run around like a lunatic periodically. My daughter, however,  is a problem, and you wouldn’t believe the time, money and stress (but alas, no running around like a lunatic for her) that is going into “fixing” her. There are results, improvements, if you will. But they are minimal, and I can’t help but wonder if we’d just let her go wild every now and then,that maybe she’d be able to concentrate better when she had to sit still.

And look at what we’re doing with Mother Nature. Here in suburbia, we are all obsessed with “improving” the natural state of our yards by insisting that grass actually grows into nice, green lawns. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I let my yard be taken over by crab grass (it would be so very easy, but to save myself from the local lynch mob, I’d probably have to rename it the “Emerald Spreader” or something). But the stuff looks like it would fill in all the bare spots rather nicely that turf grass fails to do. Seems to me I’d have a thick mat of green that would stand up to running feet, dragged lounge chairs and the occasional car tire on my side of the drive way. Do you know how much money I’d save if I just accepted crab grass as normal and not a problem? How much time and energy I’d get back by not fighting it so much?

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

And look at Barbie! Feminists rail against Barbie because next to her, little girls begin to think they are too fat, too ugly and too not-normal, and yet Barbie continues to preside over a top selling toy empire. Barbie might be the epitome of where the human desire to find problems, fix them, and become “something better” leads us — “they” did the statistics and found out that if Barbie was a real woman with dimensions to scale with the doll, she wouldn’t have enough body fat to menstruate. Yes, girls yearning to look better, to fix all their “problems” are aiming to look like something that couldn’t be a girl (so, does this mean that Barbie is a Drag Queen? Hmmm . . .).

My point is (and I do have one somewhere in this rambling), we would have more time, more energy and even more cash, while living with less stress and healthier egos if we were not so damned set on finding problems to fix. If we’d just allow ourselves to wallow in a state of ignorance, one where “they” are not telling us there’s something wrong with us, then maybe we’d all be a little happier.

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Filed under Chaos, Children, Commentary, Conspiracies, TASFUIL

It’s Banned Book Week!

I took the summer off from watching, reading and listening to the news. I did my best anyway. It’s really hard to do that. I’m still hopelessly up to date with the major events of this round ball we’re all stuck living on.

But I gave it the ‘ole college try and mimicked the See-No-Evil and Hear-No-Evil Monkeys for three whole months. It wasn’t the first time I did that. Every now and then I have to take a break from all the nattering or I would go a little nuts. I always  know when it’s time to plug my ears and run from the room screaming “la la la la la.”  It’s whenever I start to feel anger or fear on a non-stop basis.

I’m not a big fan of fear and anger (though I loved Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). I believe, as Jimmy Buffett puts it, Anger can make you doubtful and Fear can cloud your mind. And I was blessed with a personality that encourages me to look at life from the TASFUIL perspective (that’s an acronym for Things Are So Fucked Up It’s Laughable).  I’m usually able to make a joke or find humor in most situations (except for when I have to tell my bleeping children more than five bleeping times to pick up their bleeping toys!).

Thankfully, regarding life in general, I’ve reached a stage of self-control where I can silently amuse myself while the folks around me are gathering kindle and gasoline to storm the castle. However, things still seem to build within me and on occassion I reach a point where I realize I’m taking it all a bit too seriously and need to cut myself off from the media. For example, back when I was watching the second John Kerry/George W. debate, I literally had a panic attack. I didn’t know that’s what was going on at the time (I wound up spending the night on WebMD trying to decide whether or not I was having a heart attack to be sure). But my fear that the public would love GW sent me over the edge and I realized I was taking it all a bit too seriously. I had to take a break until after the election back then. (I had to take many more during his presidency.)

As oil oozed into the Gulf last spring and the masses started taking the Tea Party seriously, I realized I was losing my sense of humor again and needed another break. So I named it the Summer of My Content and decided to ignore the news as best I could.

It’s fall now and I’m sucked back into CNN and the BBC. I’m reading all the RSS feeds from everyone who thinks there is only one answer or one correct spin. And I’m finding it hilariously absurd. The best part is, I came back into the world of streaming media this past Saturday, which happened to be the first day of Banned Books Week 2010.

To mark the occasion, I dressed in black and went to my local Barnes and Noble in an attempt to find a copy of Lauren Myracle’s ttyl. (Her book “won” the honor of being the most challenged book in American libraries last year.) They didn’t have any copies on the shelf. I joked with the woman at B&N and asked her how the lunatics will hold virtual burnings when all the books are digital. She either had no sense of humor or she didn’t understand. Regardless, I had to order it from Amazon.com.

But it occurred to me that perhaps more people should take time off from external stimuli. I mean if you think Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a bad influence, or that And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is a danger to all children everywhere, you might want to look at your anger and fear levels. Seems to me you might be filled with doubt or have a cloudy mind.

Take the season off from the news. Relax. Find a little humor in life. Or better yet, find a lot of humor in life. After all, one of these days you’re gonna die. And on that day, are you going to be content to look back on the years you spent bitching and bellyaching because not everyone thinks the way you do? Or would you rather go with a grin on your face?

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Social Networking

Not that I want to hound a theme to its grave, but I’m just not done with yesterday’s rant.

As a good little writer this morning, I finished skimming through a bunch of blogs from popular people in the publishing industry. One of my favorites is literary agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. This past Tuesday he asked the question: Does Social Media Help Sell Books? and took a poll. 51% of the respondents claim they do not rely on social media to encourage their book buying habits, 37% said yes, it does, and the rest were a joke answer.

There was plenty of anecdotal evidence for both sides of the poll in the comments, some of which was a little shaky — e.g., a woman who answered “yes” because she gets 30 to 45 hits a day on her site, so she feels it must be working. Does she think those are all different people each day? That none of them, not even good ‘ole mom and dad, visit her site more than once a year? And that each and every one of them are buying her book?

What I found heartening is that I’m not alone. Many others are where I am: overwhelmed by the immense amount of time and energy that goes into successful social networking (keyword: successful). Kelly Ann Jones made a comment here yesterday about how hard it is to find time to write because she’s too busy with her social networking. And I know of a YA author who has an extremely successful Facebook page, complete with competitions, etc., where she gets thousands of visitors — but she hasn’t even finished her first book yet. Perhaps if she’d been able to put that energy into the book, it’d be done (and then she’d be where I am, trying to figure out the damned query letter).

But let’s go back to Bransford’s post — think about it. Who responded to his comments? Mostly authors (published or still trying), i.e., people who are more likely to spend time on social media to begin with (after all, they must if they are to sell themselves, right?). So you’ve a bunch of book-minded internet-junkies answering a question about whether or not social media sells books. Hmmm . . . One would think all the answers would be “Yes! Yes! and Hell yes!” but it’s only half. I find that amazing! I mean if only half of them are buying books that way, what about the rest of the reading public — you know those people who just like to read and have absolutely no interest in writing, editing, publishing, or otherwise wall-papering their bathrooms with rejection slips.

I would love to see real, verifiable, survey results about how effective social media is at selling books. Does Joe Public rely on blogs, Facebook and Twitter to tell him what makes a great read? I don’t know a single person in my non-internet, non-social media life who has bought a book because it was hawked on Twitter. Nor have I bought one because of that. However, I do know several “normal people” who buy books because Amazon suggested it (because they bought a similar one on-line or via their Kindle) — or they continue to find new books in Barnes and Noble when it rains and they’re looking for shelter.

Granted, it could be a sign of my age and the age of the people I know. Maybe twenty-somethings do buy books because of Tweets. But, since the market does show that the majority of book buyers are women my age, (and my book is aimed at that target audience) I think that means Twitter is a waste of time for me (though I feel guilty saying that, as if I’m knowingly doing something wrong). Hail Mary . . .

Who has insight into this? Who thinks it’s worthwhile to spend hours, hours they cannot put back into their life, on social media networking in the hopes of selling a book? Hours not spent working writing books, short stories, essays, poems, etc. Is it effective? Do you have stats to prove it?

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Curious Queries

I started this blog because I call myself a writer and it seems that’s what writers should do: have a blog.

If you’re a writer who wants to be published, you’re supposed to blog, as well as be active on Twitter, be social on Facebook, comment regularly on other blogs, read the professional publishing blogs religiously, post regularly on sites such as shewrites, participate frequently over at authorsden, and set yourself up at bookbuzzer, jacketflap (if you’re doing the YA and children’s lit thing), and others like them. You should also keep up to date through RSS feeds from galleycat, publisher’s weekly, and shelf awareness.

After breakfast, you need to read and memorize everything put out by Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market, as well as read plenty of short story magazines so that you know what they’re looking for, and read lots of books in your genre. And then, you need to research agents to know who is looking for what and who is selling to whom.

At some point, you should write a book.

I did it a little backward, I wrote a book first, and now I’m muddling through all the other “should do’s” on the list. I seldom sleep between 2:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., and yet I still can’t figure out how to fit it all in.

Of course it doesn’t really matter, because I can’t get my bleeping query letter perfected. Oh yes, there’s that, too. Can’t believe I neglected to put that up there in the first paragraph.

If you want representation, you need to write a query letter to agents to “pitch” your book. I think it’d be easier to grab my lips and pull them backward until I turn my myself inside out. Vaginal births of mammoth babies sans an epidural seem less painful. Juggling spit-balls of fire from Satan over a sleeping baby would probably be less stressful.

I finished a book of 86,628 words. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has fleshed out characters. All the themes that were introduced and sub-plots that were brought in come to closure. The story arc follows the traditional paradigm I was taught in writing courses: (part 1 raises central question; part 2 begins with turning point and has the protagonist pursuing a goal; part 3 is another turning point, climax and resolution). I know it intimately well. I can practically tell it to you orally word by word without the text in front of me.

And yet I can’t write a 250-word sales pitch for it. What gives?

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