Home

The Problem I’m Not Talking About

2 Comments

A woman clad in body-hugging, long-sleeve Nike shirt, Adidas leggings and New Balance shoes, [1] is running toward me.  She is pushing one of those baby jogger strollers. You know how a rhythmic, rocking motion can calm and soothe many a fussy infant?  Hers is not that kind of baby.

A lone seagull crouches in the grass, extends its necks and emits staccato, croaking calls, as if doing a series of vocal exercises to warm up for the squawking to come.  A man who looks to be in his mid 30′s places a duffle bag beneath the canopy of a large cedar tree and begins some kind of martial arts exercises. I hear a wheezing noise coming from behind me; I’m on “alert status,” as one must be when walking in unfamiliar territory, and stop at a fork in the path and turn around.  An elderly gentleman is about 20 feet behind me on the path.  He’s rail thin, looks as if a strong breeze could knock him over,.  He has a thick mass of shock white hair atop his deeply furrowed head, and he’s wearing a bright neon safety vest.  He pumps his arms as he strides past me, flashing a beatific smile and greeting me with a cheery, “Good moooooooorning!” I take the fork to the right, and soon I hear the familiar, shuffle shuffle crunch snuffle snuffle that heralds the approach of a biped and its dog, respectively walking and inspecting the twig-strewn gravel path.  Ahead of me to the south, a sleek black lab, let off its leash by its human, intensely and hopefully [2] streaks toward two seagulls resting on the grass by the duck pond.  The birds watch the rapidly approaching canine, waiting until the last moment before nonchalantly spreading their wigs and rising helicopter-like over the dog, which rockets beneath them.  The dog slows down for a nanosecond, glances back at its human, resumes its speed and slightly changes direction – reminding me of how a cat, when it somehow fails, begins to casually groom itself as if to say, Oh yeah, I meant to do that.

The simple sights and sounds of a city awakening to the assurance of a beautiful day.

wright park

MH, Belle and I are staying in an olde apartment building (ca 1912) across the street from the perfect venue for a morning – or afternoon or evening – walk.  Wright Park is a 27 acre arboretum with a series of gravel loop trails, a duck pond, a lawn bowling/bocce ball court, a botanical conservancy, several themed works of bronze statuary and one seemingly random memorial.  As my après-walk internet search later confirms, I’m not the only person to have wondered why, in the middle of a Tacoma park, is there a monument to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen? [3]

We are in Tacoma[4] for three reasons.
1. to return K to college (UPS).
2. Belle is interested in UPS,[5] and is doing campus tours and other activities UPS offers to prospective students. On our way back to Oregon we will stop at Evergreen College in Olympia, for similar check-out-the-school exploring.
3. there is no third reason.

K came home for his spring break last week.  At the end of the week we made a two day trip to Manzanita and then drove the scenic route [6] to take K back to UPS.  It seems as though all of Tacoma was out when we arrived on Saturday afternoon.  There is something about Tacoma on a sunny day that reminds me of San Francisco.  Perhaps it’s the city’s many hills, and the view you have atop them, to the north, east and west, of the bay (Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay, in Tacoma’s case).  In cities like Tacoma and San Francisco, which are known for their often overcast/inclement weather, a clear, bright sunny day seems to bring out the best in residents and visitors alike.

Just in case you were wondering, after reading that last comparison, I neither smoke nor inhale.  Apologies to San Fransiscoites: the afore-mentioned weather rumination is the only Tacoma characteristic that reminds me of The City.  Your beloved Baghdad by The Bay’s charm remains intact, and unique.

Saturday night, after dropping off K at his dorm, Belle, MH & I had dinner at Pomodoro, in Tacoma’s Procter district.   Not long after we were seated Belle removed her sketch pad and pencils from her purse. She and MH were seated across from me, and Belle looked in my direction as she began to sketch. I turned around to see if perhaps a cute waiter or bus boy was lurking behind me.  Nope.  This put me into a rather mild existential panic.  I tried my best not to sound like a bad Robert DeNiro imitation as I asked, “Are you sketching me?”

“Yes,” Belle replied.  “Hold still.”

I didn’t hold still.  None of us held still.  We were doing restaurant-things: eating, drinking, lifting napkins to our mouths, answering questions from our server, as well as allegedly conversing with one another.  Belle said nothing more, but from her heavy sighs and eyebrow gymnastics it was apparent that she was disappointed with my lack of stillness, and other attributes that render me unfit for sketching.

I do not translate well to photos.  I am not a still life, and loathe having my picture taken in any form and for any cause. The reasons for this are not particularly complicated or interesting; they are known to those supposedly closest to me, and in a kind and just world (calling Mr. Rogers) would be respected, even if not “understood.”  This is rarely the case.

From the POV of a fotografizophobic, [7] when people gaze at you intently and allegedly dispassionately, judging the contours (read: inadequacies) of your bone structure and other facial features, hearing them say, “Hold still so I can sketch you/take your picture” is the emotional equivalent of hearing, Hold still so that I may throw acid in your face.

Unsolicited, adult-to-adult advice: when any sentient being declines to have their picture taken by you, respect their wishes and move on.  Do not whine and wheedle, do not attempt any form of emotional blackmail (“The family reunion shot will be ruined if you’re not in it, and who knows if Uncle Anus will live long enough to attend the next one!”).  Unless I am renewing my driver’s license and you are the DMV camera dude, or you are the hospital’s medical photographer sent to document my Mayo Clinic-worthy bulbous axillary tumor, back off.  It’s that simple.

*   *   *
We interrupt this family travelogue to bring you a political rant.
Your regular programming will return shortly.

Department of I’m glad he didn’t live/I wish he’d lived to see this

My father had an inexplicable, embarrassing (to me) fascination with Richard Milhous Nixon.  He’d been to Nixon’s “Western White House” home in San Clemente on official (IRS) business and had met the then Prevaricator Commander-in-Chief.  To a man of my dad’s generation who began life as a dirt-poor country boy in a southern family of share croppers, meeting The President must have been seen as a pinnacle of the American dream.  Thus, I tell myself my father’s interest was a case of celebrity worship, or that all-too-human fascination with any personal brush with power, and not that he actually admired the lying, venal, foul-mouthed, paranoid, commie-baiting, racist contender for worst president ever.

 I thought no new revelations about Nixon could ever surprise me, even though I knew there were more tapes and documents yet to be declassified.  Still, it was chilling to read the revelations contained in the LBJ tapes about just how low RMN would go to obtain power.  In 1968, fearing that the Paris Peace Talks would end the Vietnam War and thus his election chances, Nixon secretly intervened to sabotage the negotiations.  He sent his envoy to get the South Vietnamese to pull out of the talks, promising them “a better deal” if he were elected.  LBJ, informed of Nixon’s treachery by the FBI, felt Nixon was committing treason, but feared going public with the information for several reasons, including national security concerns and having to reveal that the FBI and the NSA were bugging the South Vietnamese ambassador’s phone and intercepting his communications.  Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey, informed of the situation by LBJ a few days before the election, decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, especially if the Dems were going to win anyway (they were ahead in the polls).

What is that old saying, something about how all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing?

The peace talks collapsed, Nixon ended his campaign by promising an alternative to the inept Democratic strategy – look at them, they couldn’t even get the South Vietnamese to the negotiating table! – and won the election with less than 1% of the popular vote.  His “better deal” led to the war dragging on until 1975…which caused the additional deaths of Twenty. Two. Thousand. American soldiers. [8]

Despite – or perhaps because of – being a fiction writer I’m a huge fan of reality.  A part of me wishes my father could have read the transcripts, and that he and I could’ve discuss the revelations, and that he would have been able to understand at least a part of my vitriol for RMN, which is best expressed by Hunter S. Thompson’s He Was A Crook.  Another part [9] wimps out on reality, and tries to embrace the idea that an old man went in peace, holding on to whatever fantasies he had, the Nixon one (oh….ick) included.

nixon

Richard Nixon…He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”
(Hunter S. Thompson, writing in The Atlantic, May 1, 1994)

*   *   *

More freethinker troublemaking:

“Leave No Stone Unturned” An Easter Challenge for Christians

Jesuseasterbunny

*   *   *

“It’s the problem…that no one likes to talk about. No wonder they call it Silent But Deadly.”

How’s that for a commercial lead-in? But really, ladies and germs,[10] The same type of fabric used by the military to protect against chemical weapons can be yours, with the purchase of the intriguingly named Better Marriage Blanket.  Unfortunately, it’s not what you’re thinking.  Or, maybe it is.  Oh, who cares – any product with the selling point “offending molecules are absorbed before anyone knows they’re there” is worth a moment of your attention, right?  Not only that, it’s given me the idea of how to solve the North Korea situation.  Get our Navy Seals to wrap Kim Jong-un in a Better Marriage Blanket, and it’ll be like he’s not even there.

Speaking of other problems no one likes to talk about, there are those family road trips that do not end in all sweetness and light and witty anecdotes.  Unsolicited adult-to-adult advice, revisited (the photography-free version): do not endure treatment from family members that you would find intolerable coming from anyone else.

angry rubber chickenpng

Smarter people than us said this:

* Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Alexander Pope

* There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.
- Martin Luther King Jr

* Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.
- George Carlin

*   *   *

Joy, Interrupted: An Anthology on Motherhood and Loss.  Hmm, not the feel-good title of the year, you say?  The collection contains some beautiful, intriguing, moving essays, poems and fiction on the subject of loss in the context of motherhood, including, in the last category, a story of mine.  Two years ago I read the editor’s call for submissions and submitted my story “Maddie is Dead.” [11] It was one of those made-me-shiver incidents when the editor contacted me to say that she loved the story and wanted to include it in the collection, and by the way, is the story indeed fiction (it is), and by-the-by-the-way, did I know that her deceased daughter was named Maddie?

joy

The anthology should be in book stores later this year and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

*   *   *

One last gasp at the road trip story.  It was our first night in Tacoma, in the afore-mentioned apartment with Belle & Mark, and Belle was cranky due to a nasty, lingering cold and (gasp) no TV on site. She turned down any suggestion I had for playing cards, games, etc.  I passed the time doing an online search for…hmmm, parameters, hmmm. What would be a spirit-lifting image to see? How about sloths wearing onsies?

Best. Search. In. A. Long. Time.

sloth

An adorable Bradypodidae, dressed in baby clothes.  Hijinks are bound to ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] The Clash of the Titans?

[2] Warning: anthropomorphizing zone ahead.

[3] A Norwegian-American artist sculpted a bust of Ibsen, his mentor and friend. Three bronze busts cast from the original ended up in places with large populations of Norski immigrants: St. Paul, MN, Wahpeton, N.D., and Tacoma.  Just because.

[4] The Tacoma narrative was written earlier this week, on Sunday and Monday.

[5] to her brother’s genuine if mild apprehension.

[6] Up the Oregon coast, crossing the Clumbia River at Astoria, following the Willapa Bay, cutting over to Olympia at the small town of Raymond. Which led us to wonder if there was a man in the town named Raymond, and if so, do all of the townspeople like him?

[7] Fotografizophobia is the fear of having your picture taken.

[8] .and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians soldiers and civilians.

[9] The part spelled “protective daughter,” no doubt.

[10] A lame popularized by Milton Berle in the 1950′s: “Good evening, ladies and germs.  I mean ladies and gentlemen. I call you ladies and gentlemen, but you know what you really are.”  It was funnier then.  Supposedly.

[11] Previously published in The Externalist, issue 4, October 7.

The Woodpecker I’m Not Strangling

4 Comments

It’s the season.  We’ve been reclaimed by a Northern Flicker.

flicker

I love woodpeckers, and the Northern Flicker is especially striking in its coloration and behavior.  About that behavior – that striking behavior.

During their March – June breeding season, a flicker calls (makes a loud, rolling rattle with a piercing tone that rises and falls in volume several times) and drums (repeatedly and rapidly pecks a tree or other solid object) to communicate with a mate, or proclaim its territory and attract a mate.  But why settle for drumming on a mere tree when you can make a MUCH LOUDER SOUND OMG YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LOUD by using our chimney flashing as a drum skin?

“Yo, Freddy. Flicker,” I said, while pounding the exterior of the chimney with a pole to convince him to seek friendlier territory.  “I understand that this is your equivalent of placing an ad on perfectmatch.com, but your strident call is going down our chimney and into our house, where the residing, non-flicker females neither understand nor appreciate its intended implications.  And that repeated bashing of your beak against the chimney flashing sounds incredibly loud and is incredibly annoying for us bipeds, not to mention what it must be doing to your tiny avian brain…and are you perchance a mentally challenged flicker?  Just asking.”

Oh, he’s not stupid, and he’s not pecking on metal because he can’t find a suitable tree, according to a Jackson Bottom Wetlands Friendly Biologist ®. A metal object allows Freddy Flicker to make the most noise in the flickerhood.  An accessible chimney flashing – jackpot!  That is one awesome find for a flicker, who uses its acoustic amplifications to announce to nearby flicker friends and foes, “Here I am!  Everything around here is mine, mine, mine!”

Friendly Biologist said flickers will return year after year to the same house if it works for them.  And indeed, we’ve seen a flicker pair, and their offspring, at our suet feeder for the past couple of years.  I’m firmly in the pro-woodpecker procreation camp.  I could just do without them using our chimney for their pre-coital garage band rehearsal, ya know?

What We Talk About When We Talk About Us

We had a dinner party on Sunday to honor son K, who was home from college on spring break and who had recently celebrated his 20th birthday.[1]  Seeing as how Sunday was the 17th, That Irish Day, we had an Irishy menu [2] and MH made seating cards with shamrocks or some other leprechaun-worthy fauna decorative picture next to each guest’s name.  Our youngest guest was the adorable, precocious, getting’-down-with-the-alphabet, 5 year old “Peach.”  P had a minor dramatic episode when she noticed her mother’s name card, and she fussed to her father about it.  “That can’t be where Mommy is sitting because it doesn’t start with an ‘M.’”

Her mother (whose name begins with S) relayed that story a couple of days ago, and I laughed to read her email.  I was older than Peach but way younger than K when I first reflected upon the discrepancy in how adults address children and children address adults.  Why was it, I ventured to ask certain tall people, that parents may and in fact do call their children by name, but kids are supposed to address their parents by their relationship?  Mom calls me Robyn, not “second daughter,” but I must call her some variation of Mom, [3] even though her name is Marion.  I didn’t see what respect had to do with it, but the tall people always included that word in their answer to my question.

A few years back a friend of mine shared this observation with me, about me:  When I’m talking about my husband to my kids, I call him by name if I’m speaking about something between he and I (“I’m going to get M a book on owl pellets for his birthday”), and I refer to him as “Dad” if I’m talking about something between him and our hatchlings [4] (“Are you planning on getting Dad an owl pellet for his birthday?”).  If MH calls on the phone and wants to speak with Belle or K, I vary the name-thing:  “Mark wants to talk with you,” or, “Dad’s on the phone for you.”

I hadn’t noticed that, nor even thought about it, until said friend brought it up.

When I talk about my parents, sometimes I use their names and sometimes their parental “titles,” and sometimes upset my elder sibling, NLM, by doing the former.  N was especially sensitive to this after our father’s death, four years ago.  To her, N explained to me, it sounded less-than-appreciative of what a wonderful dad Chester Bryan Parnell was, to call him anything other than what we called him when we were kids, which was “Dad.”  I reassured her that I have nothing but love and respect in my heart when I call our father by his given name…and warned her that I will likely continue to do so (although, in consideration of her feelings, I try to remember not to do it around her).

I love my father’s name – always have, for many reasons, including that it was unusual, and that he had acquired various nicknames he had over the years. [5] For whatever reasons, his smiling face and gentle, laughing green eyes become even more vivid to me when I think of him, my beloved Dad, as Chet.

*   *   *

Speaking of my father, I know he would have appreciated the following blurb, for both content and tone.

*   *   *

Hands free, my ass

To the guy who almost t-boned my vehicle when you turned left, at a stop sign from a side street onto a busy street, and my Madza 3 [6] was so right there, in broad daylight, lights on, no excuse not to see me unless you were distracted, and you looked right at  me, or rather right through me, and even though our eyes made contact your brain was somewhere else.  Your window was down and your mouth was moving – your car  passed so close I could see your ear bud headset and hear you talking to someone who wasn’t in your vehicle – as I slammed on my brakes and swerved.

You are, apparently, yet another fool who has fallen for the lie [7] that hands-free cell phone devices are a solution to the risks of driver distraction.  It doesn’t matter if it’s technically legal – once again, the law lags behind to the science.  The law will catch up, and using a phone with brains hands-free anything will, eventually, be outlawed.  Until then, dude, educate yourself as to the science behind distracted driving.  Or don’t educate yourself.  Stay ignorant if you must, but stay off your fucking cell phone, in any manner whatsoever, while your vehicle is moving.

hang up and drive

*   *   *

Last weekend provided one of those last minute treats (besides escaping being taken out by a careless driver):  friend Suzanne Mathis McQueen drove up to the Portland area from her home in Ashland  for a quick weekend visit.  The reason for the quickie was both personal (her two all-growed-up sons live nearby) and professional.  The pro part involving Suz’s promotional activities in the Portland area for her book, 4 Seasons in 4 Weeks.  One of the few people who looks as fine in real life as she does in her author’s photo (I could slap her for that, but I’d rather hug her), Suz is a wise, witty and compassionate person, a pro-woman, pro-man advocate  who is also a kick in the pants to be around.  Her book uses the unique, even poetic metaphor of the four seasons to characterize the cycles and rhythms of human life (think circadian, and expand).  Along with her positive illuminations of life’s phases, the book’s pictures and illustrations are amazing.  Flipping through the pages, I felt like I was in an art gallery.

4seasonss

*   *   *

Department of
Even writing fiction you can’t make this stuff up

A deep, robust belly laugh strengthens the core/abdomen, makes your teeth look whiter and brighter and your children and spouse seem smarter.  And cancer – it helps cancer, somehow.  Etc. etc.  A true belly laugh is a rare thing, as is lucid feedback for a writer.  Feedback itself is hard to come by, and when you get it, ’tis sometimes constructive, sometimes neither here nor there, sometimes remarkably irrelevant, and sometimes downright face-palm worthy.  As for the latter, my abs are firmer, my teeth whiter, I am cancer free and live with geniuses as per the laughter provided by the following incident.

Last July I’d queried a literary press to see if they’d be interested in considering a short story collection of mine.  As per their guidelines I sent a sample story along with the query.  They held on to that story for several months, and replied in October that they liked the story but didn’t understand it.  I found this amusing; even so, at their request I sent them another story from my proposed collection.

(Note: that second story was published in the summer.  One of the editors of the publishing journal told me they particularly liked the story’s narrative structure.)

This week I received an email from “The Editors” of the press.  They wanted me to know that they’d given the story to their readers, many of whom liked it and some of whom didn’t.  Thus, the editors felt “stalemated” and decided not to pursue my collection, but had asked one of the readers “who liked your work the most” to provide a short note of feedback for me.

Indeed, the feedback was short, although reading anything with the following WTF? gems seemed to last a lifetime.  (my comments)

“Her (the story’s protagonist) flashback with ___ needs to come later. I feel like there is going to be a robbery, because she’s a convent store and there’s no conflict, but bring it in sooner. “

(* These “sentences” are almost incomprehensible to me.
* The flashback is exactly where it should be.  It would make no sense to have it later in the story, as it sets up subsequent action…which the reader should know, assuming the “reader” actually read the story.
* Reader “feels like” there is going to be a robbery?  Gee, maybe that’s because there is a robbery, in that very scene to which the reader refers.
* The protagonist is not “a convent store,” whatever that is.
* And if there is no conflict, how am I to “bring it in sooner”

“My biggest concern is that I don’t have a feel for ___. At first I think she’s kind of sad and structed and wimpy, but then she so boldly goes after the crook….What is her motivation for attacking him? …It’s all conflicting to me.”

 (* My biggest concern is that I have a strong feeling that this press is seriously considering feedback from a remedial adult literary program dropout who thinks “structed” is a word.
* What is her “motivation” for attacking him {the would-be robber, aka, “crook” – a term which, BTW, is never used in the story}?  Uh, the fact that the robber threatened and then injured the clerk, and the protagonist had the means and opportunity to do something – maybe, that had something to do with it.  Ya think?
* Yeah, it’s all “conflicting” to me, too.  Probably because I’m kind of “structed.”

stooges face palm

 The CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) convention, highlights of which included why-won’t-she-just-go-away Sarah Palin mocking Karl Rove and a straw poll in which Rand Paul narrowly defeated Marco Rubio for…for best Conservative Straw, is certainly worthy of commentary. [8]  And speaking of gasbags, [9] although I am still enamored of singing goat videos – relax, you’re safe, none embedded here [10] – nothing quite brings a spring to my step as periodically viewing the compilation of the best of The Farting Preacher, aka Robert Tilton. [11]  A fitting tribute for the infamous evangelical cheekflapper, and good wholesome fun for everyone.

Wishing you a weekend of love and laughter, and if you’re feeling “structed”, well, let ‘em rip.  The hijinks will surely ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] My proud FB announcement of the occasion: Today my son is old enough to be the son of a mother who has a twenty year old son.

[2] Wine and honey glazed salmon; colcannon, soda bread, orange and green and white veggies.

[3] Or, “Moth-errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”  when disgusted as only an indignant child can be with her parent’s cluelessness.

[4] It’s flicker breeding season, perhaps you’ve heard?  I’ve got birds on the brain.

[5] Chet was ahead of his time, going for daily runs when…well, when no one else did.  An out-of-shape neighbor saw him heading for a run one afternoon and snickered, “There goes Chet-the-Jet.” The nickname stuck.

[7] No doubt perpetrated by the makers of such devices.

[8] But not my me. I’m still too busy laughing about “structed.”

[9] Can I segue, or can’t I?

[10] There’s always next week.

[11] Televangelist Tilton’s Success-N-Life swindle theology taught those so dumb they couldn’t pour water out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel gullible, credulous people that their burdens, in particular poverty, were a result of sin, but if they made certain “vows” (i.e. donations to Tilton’s ministry), God would reward the vow-maker with material riches.

The Ides I’m Not Bewaring

4 Comments

March 15.  The Ides of March.  Beware them.

The main reason my elderly mother should have internet access.

Forget all the practical reasons: the mental stimulation provided by keeping up with technology, promotion of intellectual vigor and independence, facilitation of communication, including keep up on the family news and receiving the pictures of grandkid that, these days, we tend to take (and send) digitally…. None of these factors have convinced her.  Perhaps if she knew, if she really understood, that she’s missing out on the viral video memes, including my favorite:  singing goats.  There’s even a French version.

pi

Happy belated Pi day, y’all

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Mighty Quinn got a review in Kirkus Reviews, [1] The review is live now for Kirkus subscribers, and will be available for anyone to see two weeks before the book’s scheduled publication date (so ~ May 1). Here are the quotes Scarletta Press  is pulling from it:

“For her first middle-grade novel, set in Hillsboro, Ore, Parnell creates interesting child and adult characters and confronts them with serious issues, including child abuse, care for the environment, ethics and even skin color.” — Kirkus Reviews 

“…it will certainly provide food for thought.” — Kirkus Reviews 

“…one of the few books for the audience that discusses the possibility of not practicing a religion. (Fiction. 9-12)” — Kirkus Reviews

Further on in the review there is a mention of the action being “often humorously interrupted by the realities of family and school life,” but, golly gee, nothing about belching the Pledge of Allegiance or cultivating the friendship of dead mice or the applesauce-diarrhea art project (it’s not all serious stuff, folks)….

‘Tis a good thing – the review itself, and even getting a review, especially considering the chances any book has of getting reviewed by a legitimate book reviewing outlet.  The stats, from Publishers Weekly via the Authors Guild Bulletin, vary only slightly year to year:

“Three thousand books are published daily (1,095,000 per year) in the U.S.  Six thousand are reviewed, less than one percent of the total published.”

For someone who close-to-never reads book reviews,[2] my own or anyone else’s, this whole getting-a-review thing [3] is going to be an interesting experience for me.  Interesting as in the actual meaning of interesting, rather than as how some people employ it as a passive negation of all things exciting or note-worthy.  When my mother an older relative of mine remarks, as per the exotic [4](to her) dish I’ve cooked, “Isn’t that interesting?” she really means, “I don’t like the way that smells.”

My first book, This Here and Now, a collection of short fiction, was statistically consistent in that it was one of the 99+ percent that didn’t get reviews [5]My Closet Threw a Party managed to get a couple,[6] although my editor didn’t bother to alert me to them.

About that pesky legitimate adjective, as per reviews.  What with self-publishing and e-publishing, the reviewing game [7] has changed.   There are services now that, for a price, will give your work a flattering review.  The most recent Authors Guild Bulletin alerted me to an article in the New York Times, “The Best Reviews Money Can Buy“, which focused on one such service:

 “Todd Rutherford offers a service that provides glowing “reviews” of self-published books.  He charges $99 for one review, $499 for 20…. All of them will say your book is terrific.  His reviews will say your novel is “shattering.” Or your book is a “classic memoir.  Will change your life.  Lyrical and gripping. Studding and compelling. Or words to that effect.”

 Have the reviews in publishers weekly and the few newspapers and magazines that still review books become irrelevant?

The Times article said: “Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion[8] of truth.  The Federal Trade Commission has stated that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal.  So forget about the old-fashioned, serious reviews. They are barely clinging to life.  From now on, selling a book will be just like selling perfume or breakfast cereal.”

A coda, of sorts:  The guy in the article, the composer of for-hire rave reviews?  He says that he is now suspicious of all online reviews — whether of books or of anything else.  As my mother might say, isn’t that interesting?

bad smell

*   *   *

Smarter People Than Us Said This

* If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: “Thou shalt not ration justice.” ~ Sophocles, Greek playwright

* It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. ~ James A. Baldwin, American Novelist, poet, social critic

* Corn can’t expect justice from a court composed of chickens. ~ anonymous African woman

*   *   *

Justice, schmustice.  And by the way, what spirits were consumed by our spirited forefathers [9] that led to them to think ’twas a good idea to allow Supreme Court Justices to serve until they die or retire?

Nine of the most powerful people in the country are not elected by the people.  Rather, they ascend to their position of power via political appointment.  Supreme Court Judge is the only position in the federal government appointed for life.  Once they’re there, there are no competency tests, no opportunity of voter recall.

Which brings me to SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia, aka the Rush Limbaugh of the Supreme Court.  When it comes to being the poster boy for arrogant, white male privilege blindness Scalia has a litany of the-rules-don’t-apply-to-me incidents and statements, including his refusal to recues himself from a case involving his good friend and duck hunting buddy, Vice President Dick Cheney.  More recently, Scalia criticized and quoted parts of the “Obamacare” law that weren’t actually in the law, admitted he hadn’t even read the law he’d criticized and was about to rule on, and laughed at the notion that he should actually attempt to read the Affordable Care Act before ruling on its legality.

facepalm

Scalia’s most recent face-palming pronouncement came during the SCOTUS hearing on the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most successful pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.  Scalia said “This is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress,” [10] and labeled the continued existence of the Voting Rights Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.

Emergency call for all budding inventors:  please, ASAP, devise an intellectual equivalent of Depends for the mouth of Justice Scalia.

The only way Supreme Court Justices can be removed from office is via impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction in a Senate trial, but only for the types of offenses that would trigger impeachment for any government official under Articles I and II of the Constitution.  Such offenses have been interpreted by the courts to equate to “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Really, shouldn’t embarrassing themselves be somewhere in the criteria?

scalia hat

I don’t know which is more indicative of Scalia’s declining mental fitness, his (most recent) racial entitlement blather, or the fact that he thought a miniature pillow sham was fitting head ware for the Presidential Inauguration.

*   *   *

crocus

The sighting of the first purple crocus breaking through the topsoil – ah, the harbinger of spring!  For one brief shining moment there is the reminder of the season to come…and then there is the reminder of the season to come.  In my nose.

I used to love Spring, until my beloved Oregon [11] decided that the tax for residency for this ex-pat Californian would be levied in the form of fucking fauna sperm pollen allergies.  I feel like a kind of seasonal Scrooge when I find myself reacting to the first series of sunny days with a Bah humbug! attitude toward the imminent nasal mucosal assault.

sneeze

*   *   *

Take me now, Flying Spaghetti Monster
Aka Department of Does it Get Any Better Than This?

Last Saturday MH and I were treated to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the Oregon Zoo‘s updated Humboldt penguin habitat and facilities.  Through our Conversation Circle membership and K’s and Belle’s involvement with Zoo Teens we’ve had many opportunities to go where no zoo guest has gone before, but this one was my favorite.  I finally got to meet Mochica!  Mochica is a penguin who imprinted on and was hand raised by humans – he seems to think he is human.  I’d heard so much about him over the years, particularly from K, who’d done an internship with the penguin keeper.   Mochica was just as described:  observant, friendly, curious, intelligent, and with just enough eau d’herring to give one’s nasal passages a good workout.  I got to scratch his favorite ahhh spot (the back of his neck…so soft), and Mochica gave me the high honor/vote of penguin confidence by grooming me, which in his case consisted of gently nibbling my forearm.

groomed by mochica

As you might imagine, much penguin hijinks ensued.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] One of the oldest book review magazines, Kirkus, reviews ~ 5000 titles per year.

[2] The two times a year times I read book reviews, I am reminded of why I don’t do it more often.

[3] Translation: reading reviews TMQ may get, and, frankly, convincing myself to care about them. Yep, I’m cranky that way.

[4] To her, cooking with spices other than Morton table salt and black pepper = exotic.

[5] Other than by its editor (which doesn’t count as objective, does it?) and consumer reviews on book sites.

[6] School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly.

[7] Given the statistics, I have always considered it a game.

[8] My emphasis, ad my comment:  all reviews offer the illusion of truth. It’s all they can offer; it’s all an illusion.

[9] Adams enjoyed a tankard of hard cider before breakfast; Madison drained a pint of whiskey each day; Jefferson made his own wine; they all enjoyed (and often brewed their own) beer and whiskey.

[10] Uh, actually, it’s exactly the kind of legislation appropriate to Congress.

[11] Grass seed-growing capital of the world, hip hip achoo hooray!

The Bird I’m Not Putting On It

Comments Off

I’ve lost track of how many and micra-leathermans I’ve had stolen by TSA agents and sold on ebay confiscated for national security purposes.  Thus, I greeted the recent TSA Announcement  – that they are lifting the ban on small knives and various sporting equipment in carryon luggage – by opening a can of It’s About F**ing Time.

The policy change, which will bring US airports in line with international standards, is based on a recommendation from an internal TSA group, which decided that nail clippers, tiny pocket knives and corkscrews represented no real danger, said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the department of Duh the agency.

Don’t you just feel like booking the next flight to wherever, and boarding with the largest allowable carryon bag filled with two golf clubs, a toy bat, ski poles, a hockey stick, a lacrosse stick and a pool cues…and, of course, your USS Enterprise pizza slicer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Speaking of national security issues, a New York man was arrested for laughing too loudly.  In his own home. [1] Yep.  Robert Schiavelli was charged with acting “in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others,” after Daniel O’Hanion, Schiavelli’s next-door neighbor, complained to police that the man’s [2] laughter could be heard – gasp – across the driveway.

I’ve always assumed my driveway to be an impenetrable, almost sacred barrier protecting me from the giggles, chuckles, titters, tee-hees, chortles, and unrestrained mirth of my neighbors.  But…really?

I keep hoping to read a follow-up report, in which the complaining neighbor is arrested and charged with with acting in such a manner as to “in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to the non-douchebag population of America.”  But until that glorious day, there must be a way to find this woman and pay her to stand in front of Mr. O’Hanion’s.

 *   *   *

Son K turns twenty today. It seems like only yesterday I was screaming obscenities at the delivery nurses and threatening to castrate MH counting the seconds until I could hold my widdle cootie wootie snookums ookums in my arms.  Happy Birthday, my boy.  This Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan’s for you.

*   *   *

On Monday I did my first volunteer shift at Jackson Bottom Wetlands, where I will be helping collect data for a small mammal survey.  While I was there I saw at two groups of small mammals:  first graders [3] on a field trip, traversing the trails with their teachers and adult chaperones.  One of the adults walked ahead of her group, to where I sat (just off-trail) with my data cards and supplies, and asked what I was doing.  I showed her a data card and started to explain that I was helping with a biologist’s small mammal survey. She waved her hands above her head, exclaimed, “Kids, come here, it’s a scientist!” and then quickly whispered to me, “I’m going to say you’re a scientist, okay?

Not wanting to act under false pretenses, I made no dubious claims for myself, but did my best to don the veneer of a madman bent on world domination a friendly, responsible scientist.

science

I showed the students one of the tracking papers, upon which was imprinted the paw prints of voles and other rodents that had sampled the tracking tube’s bait. There were ooohs and aaahs for a minute or so, then their teacher led them down the trail, toward one of the wetland’s bird viewing shelters.  A little boy turned around as his group was leaving and stepped back toward me.  He made eye contact, smiled shyly, looked at his shoes and said, “Good scientist-ing!”  I returned the smile, and the compliment:  “And good student-ing to you!”

One boy and his father apparently stayed behind after their group had returned to their school busses.  I saw exploring the trails, just the two of them.  They came to where I was finishing up refitting the last of the tracking tubes.  I gave the boy an inside look at the contraption, and told him how we used an upended film canister was used to hold the bait.  As soon as the words had left my mouth I flashed a knowing glance at his father and said, “What am I saying? It’s a digital age – he probably doesn’t even know what a film canister is.”  The boy’s eyes widened and he started telling me, in the great and glorious detail that can only be provided by an enthusiastic six year old, about how he uses a film canister to hold his “special dice collection.”

*   *   *

I assume y’all have made your plans for Pi day? The symbol pi, from the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet, (π) is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.  Pi is usually calculated to 3 digits, 3.14, thus Pi Day is celebrated March 14 (which also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday).  On the annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi), you can eat pie, discuss the discussing the significance of the number π ,listen to the pi song…and have plenty of time left over to eat more pie.

In the past few years I’ve made special dinners on Pi day, serving different combinations of foods that are not necessarily pie but that are…well…round food.  I’ve no menu plan for next week, and haven’t yet decided how much thought I want to put into it.

When I can’t or don’t want to think too much about what to make for dinner, I have a fallback dish that I’ve come to think of as my Portlandia special:  put a bird on it.

http://www.ifc.com/portlandia/videos/portlandia-put-a-bird-on-it

Or, in this case, an egg.

I love my Portlandia dinner because it’s easy, tasty, healthy, and I can cuisine-it up or down:  Italian, Spanish, Indian, Mexican, Moroccan, pacific Northwest …. even Norwegian [4].  Gather finely diced onions; carrots; celery; garlic; peppers; ginger – whatever base your cuisine fancy requires.  Sauté your aromatics [5] in a large cast iron skillet.  Add other sliced and/or diced veggies, greens, whatever you have on hand, whatever spices fit the taste you’re going for, some cooked grains or leftover plain pasta you have in the frig.  Or you can skip the stovetop and go the roasting route:  toss everything together with some EVOO and stick the skillet in the oven.  When the veggies are done to your preference, add the eggs.  One egg per person; crack each egg into a small bowl, gently press down with the back of a spoon to make a “nest” for each egg in the pan, add the eggs, and return the pan to the oven (if on the stove, cover it and turn the heat to low) until the eggs are set.

Top it all with a light sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan if you’re going an Italian or Mediterranean  route, or a dollop of Greek yogurt thinned with lemon or lime juice (for Mexican or Indian flavors), or other cheeses, any fresh herbs, and a good grind of black pepper.

*   *   *

The SCM Department of Because I’m Petty That Way

Ah, the cheap thrill, remembering that feeling akin to schedenfraude…. How do I adequately describe the perverse satisfaction I received the other day when I was driving home from an errand and had to stop at the stoplight by an LA Fitness Club?  I looked at just the right moment at just the right place, and saw a young(er), moderately fit woman attired in fashionable exercise togs exit the club, pull a bag of Cheese Doodies [6] (not to be confused with Cheetos ®  [7]) from her purse, and begin noshing like a bulimic on death row.

*   *   *

It was a slow week for politics…oh, that’s a lie.  I just wasn’t paying attention.  Until this caught my eye.

rape

Karen, I’d advise you to aim the knife a good deal lower.

And let the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Loud, uncontrollable laughter? It’s safe to assume he was not watching Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.

[2] Schiavelli, who suffers from seizures and neurological impairments, told reporters his neighbor often taunts him due to his disability.

[3] Of the curiosity and excitement level that is so cute as to be illegal in many repressive countries.  Or Michelle Bachman’s congressional district.

[4] As long as you hold the herring and lutefisk.  And please, don’t tell me where you’re holding them.

[5] If you really want to put the joi in the joi of cooking, why not try some acrobatics while you’re prepping the aromatics?

[6] Not a real food.

[7] Also not a real food.

The Stamps I’m Not Licking

Comments Off

Department of Petty pleasures and Cheap Thrills

I miss the stamps.

Although literary and publishers have the (deserved) reputation for being resistant to change and slow to adapt to technology, the past few years have seen even many of the olde-time journals modify their guidelines.  Publishers and journals who only accept hard copy/snail mail queries and submissions have become, in my experience, the minority.

Being able to submit manuscripts and correspond electronically has significantly reduced business expenses for me and other writers. I enjoy the lowered postage and paper and toner costs, and increased efficiency of correspondence.  But, I miss the postage stamps.

I’m no philatelic by any stretch of the definition.  Still, on the increasingly-rare opportunities when I have to mail a manuscript, I enjoy choosing the stamps for the task.  A sixteen page story, plus cover letter and SASE, requires 4 ounces of postage, and as much as possible, I will “customize” choosing the various stamp combinations which will total the necessary $1.50 for the first class/large envelope fee.

My customization is idiosyncratic, peculiar, [1] sometimes admittedly petty, and until this daring revelation, known by and meaningful to only moiself.  It includes such “guidelines” as:

* When submitting to journals with all-male names on the masthead, I choose stamps featuring female authors and artists

woman stamp

* When sending materials to publishers located in southern states with a history of slavery and/or segregation, I go for stamps honoring African-Americans and/or civil rights.

jordan

* For journals whose guidelines have overt or implicit religious or spiritual overtones, I choose stamps honoring scientists or other secular achievers.

science stamps

And now you know.

*   *   *

I don’t often watch the network news or any TV news.  For a reason that now escapes me I turned on ABC World News Tonight earlier this week and saw, for the first time, substitute host David Muir.  Muir is apparently a legit reporter [2] and not a Chippendale’s model posing as a newsman on special assignment for Donald Trump’s latest reality show.  I was taken…aback?  affront?  a-sideways? by his nudge-nudge-wink-wink delivery style.  His sly glances, his way of slightly turning to the side and then looking directly into the camera made me think there was some off-mic photographer urging him on (in a heavily exaggerated fake Italian accent):

“Yes, yes, zer zey are, give zem more, you makealove de to de camera…”

Hmmmm.  Maybe it’s just me, I thought.  Or, it’s something to do with the specific story he’s reporting.  I changed channels for a few minutes, then returned to ABC.  There he was, on with another story, and those playful intonations and coy mannerisms.  Every man, woman, and golden retriever staring at their television set was receiving this unmistakable subtext: “Yes, it’s true, I know what you look like naked.”

A Google search revealed that Muir is considered something of an “info Hunk,” a category I heretofore had no idea existed, by both gay male and straight female news groupies devotees.  Ah, the joys perils of enlightenment.

*   *   *

Department of Sorry, Too Late:

Republican governor Bobby Jindal tells the GOP to “stop being the stupid party.”

*   *   *

Should the USA and its allies prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and thwart North Korea’s series of underground missile testing?  Can the Social Security system be reformed, or should it be gutted and redesigned?  How can renewable, non-polluting energy sources be developed in the face of ongoing budget crises and societal inertia?  The answers to these and a myriad of other pressing questions are complex almost beyond belief.  But, thank the FSM [3], there is someone willing to tackle one of life’s most insidious dangers:  demonic possession of used goods.

Y’all might need to get out the smelling salts for this revelation.  You know that hideous vintage Rudolph the Red-Nose reindeer Christmas sweater you got for next to nothing at the thrift shop?  Did you think you were being a smart consumer when you got that crockpot at a garage sale instead of buying a new one? A certain religious evangelist, whose thoughtful intellectual discourse is rivaled only by that of a weed whacker, has some news for you.

In the World According to Telewhackadoodlery,[4] not only do demons exist, but these evil spirits can attach themselves to inanimate objects.  That classic thesaurus you found at the Goodwill for only $1.50 – you don’t really know where it has been, do you?  You’d better  pray the second hand Roget away , lest it rise up in the night and unleash its demonic [5] powers upon you.

Thus, the return of the Horseradish-and-Batshit Crazy Yap Flapper award
goes to perennial award contender, Pat Robertson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last weekend MH and had lunch at PF Chang’s.  As usual, fortune cookies came with the tab.  MH opened his, and unlike many fortune cookies, this one contained an actual fortune; i.e., a forecast or prediction.[6]  He read his aloud, we both had a laugh, and I eagerly tore my cookie in half and discovered…nothing.  No fortune; it was empty.  Apparently, there is no future for me.

 The busy week: Monday, Belle and I had our last CAT volunteer shift.  Due to financial considerations, the feline-exclusive, no kill-shelter is closing a couple of its outreach adoption sites, including the one at the Hillsboro Petsmart, where we’ve volunteered since 2007.  We’re still in a bit of shock and mourning over this, and hope to be able to volunteer for CAT in some other capacity in the future.  The closing of one volunteer opportunity freed me up for another one, and on Monday, I fulfilled a long-time I-should-do-this goal and interviewed at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve.  I will assume weekly volunteer duties there starting next Monday, where I will be helping gather information for a biologist’s small mammal survey.  My new motto is:  I Love Voles.

This week also saw the beginning of high school track season, which means Belle juggles two hour daily track and field practices with an afterschool job, her Oregon Zoo Teen volunteer duties, and the homework that comes with taking a bajillion AP classes…and which means MH and I juggle the resultant teen conveyor duties.[7]  Where is the transporter promised by Star Trek?  Where is the Jetson’s Jetpak?  Dammit, the future was supposed to be here, by now.

jetpak

 Thursday night we had a most yummer dinner with friends, the lovely and talented couples MB & RB, and JR & DC.  After dinner we all attended the opening preview reception for the Celebration of Creativity, an annual art show that, this year, runs through Sunday 3/3.  This juried fine arts exhibit and sale features original works from 80+ artists in 15+ different media categories, from photography, jewelry, sculpture, fiber, glass, oils, wearables, acrylic, water color, pastels, garden sculptures, woodworking, pottery, mixed media….  Friend and artist LAH  has a variety of pieces in this year’s show.  MH & I have purchased many objects ‘d’art at the show (read: there is no more room on our walls), and look forward to seeing this year’s works.

As a patron of the arts [8] I often find myself thinking about the differences between fine art and fiction, especially when it comes to public showings or “sales.”  At an art show, the art is right there – it is immediate.  You see a painting or sculpture in its entirety.  You can walk away from it, or it can grab you by the throat right then and there, or come back to haunt you as you peruse the other booths but keep thinking, I really, really love that enormous cable fish. There is little or no leap of “faith” required in its purchase.

In my few experiences at book fairs, both as a buyer and an author, I’ve come to think of them as dicey ventures.  You walk by a table, there’s an author with a book, you see the author, you see the book and its jacket illustrations…but there are a whole lotta pages in between the front and back covers.  Perhaps you can scan the cover blurbs [9] , perhaps the author reads select passages from the work, but  you don’t know you’re going to like (or loathe) it until after you’ve bought it.

FYI, Cable Fish was rubber chicken-free at time of purchase.

 May your weekend be artful, and may the hjinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1]  And also limited by the currently available stamp selection. I hate it when they discontinue my favorites.

[2] which is probably no news to everyone except moi, who, as stated, does not kept up with TV news.

[3] Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Have you been touched by His noodly appendage?

[4] Saddle up the dinosaurs, in this world.

[5] (crazed; diabolical; fiendish; satanic)

[6]  Attention, fortune cookie makers: complimentary statements are not fortunes. “People like you,” is not a fortune.  “People like you are destined for disfiguring automobile accidents,” now, that’s a fortune.

[7] thanks to budget cuts, the bus doesn’t go where she needs to go at the times she needs to get there…and she still hasn’t taken her driver’s license test.

[8]  My definition:  I buy stuff.  Art stuff.  From artists whose works make me go, “Wooooo!”

[9] Hardly the place for objective recommendations. When’s the last time, after reading a mediocre novel, you realized you should have heeded the quotation on the book flap, which warned, ” Destined to become a classic the truth is, the prose is boring and derivative, the plotting is plodding. Get yourself a book of KenKen puzzles instead.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 260 other followers