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The Munchies I’m Not Curing

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It’s unanimous (and it rarely is, in my family):

K, Belle, MH & I agree: the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics should be awarded to Danielle Lei, the Girl Scout who decided to sell cookies outside a medical marijuana dispensary.

 On my honor/I will try/to help all people/ cure their medical munchies...

On my honor/I will try/to help all people/ cure their medical munchies…

 *   *   *

“Fifty was a shock, because it was the end of the center period of life. But once I got over that, sixty was great. Seventy was great. And I loved, I seriously loved aging. I found myself thinking things like: ‘I don’t want anything I don’t have.’ How great is that?” 

( from This is What Eighty Looks Like  by NY Times op ed columnist Gail Collins )

Gloria Steinem turned eighty this week.  I’ve always thought of her as timeless if not ageless, and so it was strange of me to ponder, as I did upon hearing her birthday news, that Steinem is only five years younger than my mother.  Chronologically, Steinem belongs to my parents’ era…although, in comparison to most of what would be considered her peers, Steinem’s forward, forthright thinking and activism would mark her as belonging to another planet,  rather than to their generation.

GLORIA

Among Steinem’s many talents, she’s always been quick on the verbal draw.  One of my favorite Steinemisms came from her reaction [1] to an announcement by the New York Times.  Background: women’s rights advocates had long objected to the practice of designating women by their marital status (“Mrs.” or “Miss”) while men were identified by the status-neutral “Mr.”  The Times, a bastion of conservatism when it came to acknowledging linguistic evolution, had refused to allow the use of “Ms.” in their articles.  When in 1986 the Times editorial board finally announced a change in editorial policy, Steinem quipped,

I will no longer be referred to as “Miss” Steinem of Ms. magazine.

 Steinem has always been adept at using humor to highlight the politics of injustice and the absurdities inherent in social and societal gender disparities…

If men could menstruate…clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much…. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of (purchasing) such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammed Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields—”For Those Light Bachelor Days.” [2]

…and she was never far off from sharing yet another click!-moment [3], the kind of observation that makes you gasp aloud, in one of those-truth-telling/recognizing moments:

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” [4]

GLORIAAGE

Happy birthday, Gloria. I hope you have your cake and eat it, too.

 *   *   *

Oh, you gotta love this.  In the spirit of truthiness and other stunt words, may I present, courtesy of Republican senator and “Tea Party identifier” Ted Cruz (or his publicists), a new phrase, that, IMHO, is worthy of  the coveted Picard Face Palm.

From the introduction to Ted Cruz to the Future – Comic Coloring Activity Book, from Really Big Coloring Books (no, I am not making this up)  (my emphases):

In a continuation of the company’s popular series Tell the Truth – Tell it Often – Tell the Children…Really Big Coloring Books®, Inc. turns complex challenges or issues into a relevant format with an emphasis for youth. The Cruz to the Future book is a non-partisan, fact-driven view of how Texas Sen. Cruz became a U.S. senator and details…his ideas for what he believes will help America grow…..

Fact-driven view.”

facepalm

The book about Cruz does not claim to present “facts,” nor even to be “factual,” but it will present a “fact-driven view” of Cruz’s agenda. [5] Kinda like the idea of using a fact (“Our solar system has a sun”) upon which to justify any lunacy view you can then refer to as fact-driven (“The sun revolves around the earth because that’s what my Iron age twaddle holy scripture tells me, and oh yeah, I can see the sun go around the earth, ’cause I’ve seen it set and rise, every day. Fact!“).

But seriously, Ladies and Germs. The intent of the coloring book is, of course, to instill extremist conservative viewpoints in young children.  And as always, the Internet strikes back, in the form of brutally funny reviews posted on the book’s Amazon page (including one by yours truly…can you spot it?).

"Look kiddies, it's the Tree of Life – er, I mean for conservative-approved political freedoms, not that crazy evolution stuff."

“Look kiddies, it’s the Tree of Life – er, I mean The Tree of Conservative  Political Freedoms, not that crazy evolution stuff.”

*   *   *

Are We Having Fun Yet?

There are a smattering of for-profit corporations that, citing special instructions from their imaginary friend religious objections, want to refuse to provide some (or all) of the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the FDA in the health plans these corporations offer to their employees. Because there is nothing else to do during the first week of spring, the SCOTUS [6] began hearing arguments from these company’s lawyers, including the hired guns of Hobby Lobby , one of the leading arts & crafts retailers in the USA.

PROTEST

Hobby Lobby’s CEO, founder and SRDOTUS [7] David Green openly espouses Southern Baptist, conservative “Christian” values, and proclaims that his corporation is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles….We believe that it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured.”

Really.

REALLY

Yes, Really.

Check out the company’s “mission statement” on their website.  Hobby Lobby asserts that its god, this same deity who remains deaf to cries for help from its believers who endure horrific assaults in rape camps around the world, [8] somehow keeps itself busy doling out its “grace and provision” to an American craft vendor.

Once again, I digress.

Hobby Lobby wants to get out of providing full health care coverage for its employees;specifically, HL want to not cover forms of contraception it  mistakenly [9] believes are abortifacients, and argues that the ACA’s contraception “mandate” forces them to violate their religious beliefs.

UTWERUS

Let’s check in with someone more articulate than moiself; i.e., someone who is less likely to out-and-out use the term bullshit, but whose know-how on the issues at stake (e.g. tax laws, insurance coverage and what the ACA actually says) enables him to refute such bullshit nonetheless (my emphases):

 There is no contraception mandate.  Hobby Lobby is not legally required to compensate its employees with health insurance at all. The regulations imposed by the ACA are on insurance plans, not on the corporations per se.  What is erroneously described as a “mandate” simply means that if corporations choose to take advantage of the tax benefits for compensating employees in health insurance rather than wages, the insurance has to meet minimum coverage standards.  As is often the case with specious religious freedom arguments, the corporation wants it both ways, to get the tax benefits without providing the full benefits to employees.
(Scott Lemieux, professor of political science at The College of Saint Rose)

It might be interesting for y’all, no matter where you stand on the ACA/contraceptive coverage brouhaha, to consider the fact that majority of Hobby Lobby‘s inventory comes from China.  Thus, I ask my faithful flock to meditate upon the irony if not the blatant hypocrisy of today’s homily:  Hobby Lobby sells goods they import from China, a country that not only provides abortion on demand but has also coerced and forced women to have unwanted abortions[10],  China’s policies and the forced abortion incidents are well known by international human rights organizations and religious communities, and yet, such knowledge has not induced Hobby Lobby to refrain from profiting off of the cheap, slave-wage-factory-produced crap inventory they import from China.

CHINESE

One last thought on this issue, courtesy of a business owner’s musing (on a Facebook posting):

“I am Jewish; can I withhold the amount of money from my employees salary’s that they use to buy
pork products and Christmas decorations?”

JEWISH

 

*   *   *

May all of your personal and political inventory be politically correct (or at least justifiable), and may the hypocrisy-free hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

 

[1] Quoted in Newsweek, June 30, 1986

[2] From Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate,” Ms. (Oct. 1978). You really need to read this, if you haven’t.

[3] A term for the moment of truth, in which the need for feminist consciousness raising – on both a world-wide and personal level – becomes irreversibly clear.  Jane O’Reilly depicted many “click!” moments in “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth,” (Ms. magazine preview issue, 1971); e.g., as a hostess and female guest finish washing the day’s dishes, a male houseguest enters the kitchen, asks, “How about something to eat?”, then waits to be served. “Click!” The hostess replies that they both work all week, and if he wants to eat, he can make himself something and then wash up.

[4] Steinem, in an interview with The Humanist, attributed that remark to an older, Irish, female taxi driver she and feminist activist Flo Kennedy encountered in the early ’70s.

[5] Hint: Tea Party friendly, pro-gun, anti-choice, anti-equal rights….

[6] Supreme Court of the United States

[7] Spewing Religious Doofus of the United States

[8] This assertion is (surprise!) not part of Hobby Lobby’s mission statement.

[9][9] As per the science behind how such methods actually work.

[10] Chinese officials claim forced abortions are not official policy, yet documentation of such incidents, enforced by local government officials as part of China’s One Child policy, have been verified.

The Prom Dress I’m (still) Not Wearing

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Last Saturday Belle requested that I go prom-dress shopping with her. For those of y’all who know me, feel free to take five until the laughter subsides

LAUGH

As per a recommendation from her friend AX, Belle made an appointment at a formal dress shop in Portland that specializes in prom/bridesmaids/quinceañera dresses.  The appointment was as per shop policy (no walk-ins), as was the requirement that The Mother be present if the dress the DS (Dress Seeker) is seeking is a prom dress. [1] Thus, Belle’s friend AX and I were Belle’s ladies in waiting.  Belle swore she’d asked me because she really wanted me there, and not just because the shop required my presence (and Belle desired my credit card). [2]

To anyone in the know, having me consult on selecting a prom dress would be akin to asking Donald Trump to recommend a hair stylist.  Not only did I not attend any of my high school’s proms or formal dances, I was one of the founders/ chief organizers of the LNGTTPP (Let’s Not Go To The Prom Party). [3]

The closest I’ve come to wearing prom-like attire were the four times in my twenties when I was somebody’s BridesMaid.  The choices for BM (ahem) attire were, of course, made for the BMs. I gulped, repeated my calm-down-and-don’t-run-away-screaming mantra (“grin and bear it…you are supporting a friend/your sister…this too shall pass”).  Four times I swallowed my pride and donned the BM’s monkey suit, managing, each time, to refrain from compromising my dignity (too much) by lying therough my teeth repeating the Bridesmaids’ Little White Lie. All together now, ladies:

No, really, it’s quite nice/yes, I’m sure I can wear it again, with a few alterations….

Yet again, I digress.  The Little Shop of Horrors formal dress shop was in Portland’s SW warehouse district, an appropriate locale, seeing as how the shop was in fact a warehouse. A warehouse filled with Foo-Foo Dresses. FFD Warehouse had rules: DS had to make the afore-mentioned appointment, show up for said appointment “freshly showered” and sans makeup and wearing regular “full-sized” underpants (the shop had a strict NO THONGS policy, for which I was later to thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster.).

Upon arrival, each DS, along with her guest and The Mother, were escorted from the front/check in room to the backstage/warehouse area. Each DS was assigned her own Valet Girl, [4] who helped the shopper peruse the racks and racks and racks and racks of gowns, make a variety of appropriate size/color/style selections, take DS to a backstage area and help her don the gowns.

No no no, it's Valet Girl

No no no, it’s Valet Girl

Meanwhile, shopper’s guest and The Mother took seats, along with other guests and mothers, in a semi-circle of chairs arranged in front of the entrance to the dressing area and adjacent to a three-way mirror.  This audience had the opportunity to whisper snide comments helpful observations as other DSs emerged from the dressing roomed to check out how they looked in their respective dresses (there was no mirror in the dressing area).

This year's Prom theme: Piñata Power

This year’s Prom theme: Piñata Power

I settled into my preferred mode for fish-out-of-water situations:  I am an anthropologist, here to observe the habits of this strange culture.  As such, I was able to

(1) marvel at some truly and irritatingly beautiful young women [5] being persuaded to try on some truly unflattering styles (really, does anyone look stylin’ in a dress that looks as if it survived an explosion at the meringue factory?);

(2) savor the petty joy of noting that the gorgeous, blonde cheerleader-type trying on the green mermaid dress has grotesquely long, prehensile, downright ugly toes;

(3) admire the bravery of the hefty gal who had the unfortunate timing to emerge from the dressing room alongside a slinky, preening, would-look-ravishing-in-a-laundry-sack, I’m-too-sexy-for-my-school supermodel wannabe.

Competent (if fake) social scientist that I was, I paid special attention to what I considered my initiation into the hitherto secret world of Female Costume Terminology.  Translation:  I lost track of the number of times I heard, from either the Valets or mothers or friends – sometimes, all three – as they commented on the fit of some young woman’s dress:  “She’s going to need boob tape/nipple shields with that one.”

breast

Yet another cogent observation:  Due to, I imagine, the fact that the DSs emerged from the dressing rooms more or less scantily clad, with their undergarments often visible (thus my afore-mentioned thanking of the FSM for the no thong rule), no menfolk were allowed in the back room…except for the two OFFBs (Obviously Flaming Fashion Boys) who worked at the shop.  And, as both Belle and AX remarked, the OFFB really just seemed like two of the girls, what with their evident fashion sense and helpful, supportive commentary (“Oh, honey, she really rocks that dress!”).

Yes and well then.  I survived the experience, and really, truthfully, admired Belle’s choice: a stunning, sophisticated, deep blue dress that should require a minimal amount, if any, of…don’t make me type it.  (Boob tape.)

*   *   *

Gay Croissants and cupcakes, good; Gay wedding cakes, bad

GAY CAKE

My feminist-allergic reaction to the prom dress shopping experience was countered several days later by Belle’s request to help her with some statistical research for an upcoming debate in her People and Politics class, the topic of which will be the efforts of Some People In America to restrict abortion access for Everyone Else in America.  Which brought to my mind related issues currently in the news – related as in, a certain kind of relative, say, the cousin who was dropped on his head….

Here’s where you cut me some slack and envision a more graceful segue.

“It would be an America in which access to birth control
would be controlled by people who never use it.”
- Georgetown U Law student Sandra Fluke, re the (allegedly) celibate Catholic bishops who opposed the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

Yes, I'll be fitting your IUD, ma'am.

Yes, I’ll be fitting your IUD, ma’am.

Imagine America in which community blood drives are organized by Jehovah’s Witnesses, the 1964 Civil Rights Act is revised by the White Citizens Council, the USDA beef inspection monitors are trained by vegans….

Or, consider the recent efforts in several states, in the form of lawsuits and attempted legislation, [6] to allow businesses to discriminate under the guise of exercising religious freedom, whether it be a bakery that cancelled an order for a wedding cake [7] when the owners found out the cake was for a wedding of a lesbian couple, or a pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription that somehow offends the pharmacist’s notions of sexual/reproductive propriety.

 What these issues have in common is the yapping of the Religious Right, who apparently and almost totally miss the effing point when it comes to the “rights” and responsibilities inherent in the concept of “freedom of religion” (hint: it means you can decide religious stuff for yourself, not for everyone else. And BTW, freedom of religion also includes freedom from religion).

WORD

A tricky business, it is, arguing the “right” of a business to refuse service, to anyone, on any grounds.  It can be made to sound reasonable on the surface.  Of course, it wasn’t that long ago in this country that it was deemed reasonable, even deity-ordained, for business owners to have the right to refuse service to “coloreds,” to make black citizens sit in certain sections of the luncheonette or bus, to designate separate washrooms for “colored” and “white” patrons….

As Rob Boston [8] writes in the current issue of The Humanist, some people question the point in compelling shop owners to serve people they don’t want to serve, but the point is that discrimination, especially on the basis of things people cannot change, is an injustice our society has been working hard to eradicate.

“Legally, businesses are ‘public accommodations,’ which means they must serve the public. If you don’t want to serve all of the public, don’t open a business.”

I remember the brouhaha several years back when a Target pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for a customer’s “Plan-B” script.  I was livid, and boycotted the store for years, [9] even after the store tried to reassure customers that steps would be taken to ensure there would always be one pharmacist on duty who was willing to actually do his or her job (no, this is not how Target’s PR minions phrased it).  However, I seem to recall that the second-largest discount retailer in the U.S. also made some kind of accommodation for pharmacists who had a “moral objection” to filling certain kinds of prescriptions.

A “moral objection” to filling a prescription.  It still boggles my mind.

facepalm

Yo, Target pharmacist:  your job, as a pharmacist, is to dispense orders for patients. These orders are prescribed by patients’ physicians; you have neither the training nor the authority to diagnose, treat, or prescribe (repeat after me: “Not my job.”). Perhaps you have a moral objection to filling medication for someone with Type 2 diabetes, or any of the myriad of diseases and conditions caused or exacerbated by obesity and sedentary habits, because you think such ailments are due to immoderate lifestyles and should be treated with modifications of such. Or, perhaps you do not want to fill a prescription for emergency contraception, because you think the prescription taker’s need for Plan B might have been brought about by carelessness…or, well, even if it was due to rape/abuse/coercion, you frankly don’t care because you just don’t like the thought of anyone having sex, consensual or otherwise, or…

What do you think, when you presume to make such judgments?

Oh, wait, that’s right – there’s nothing in a prescription form that acknowledges the relevance of your thoughts regarding the prescription.

So, pharmacist, you have a moral objection to filling a prescription for ___________?  Tough titties.  None of your beeswax.  Fill the Rx, or find another line of work.

beeswax

May your all of your garments be boob tape-free, may prying noses be kept out of your beeswax, may your bees wax to their hearts’ content, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Yep, even though Belle is 18, she had to bring her mommy.

[2] Belle had leftover money from holiday gifts; MH and I agreed to a minimal financial contribution, and anything above that, she paid for.

[3] The most memorable LNGTTPP was during my junior year, when we snuck into the prom venue’s parking lot and tied tin cans, shoes and “Just Married” banners to the bumpers of select cars…and almost got caught, when several of the car’s (male) drivers – prom attending friends of ours – came out into the parking lot to drink the beers they’d stashed and take a leak behind their car’s rear wheels.

[4] I didn’t catch the official title.

[5] With bodies that make even us middle-agers who have kept ourselves in shape think we are doomed to eat nothing but packing peanut salads for the rest of our lives.

[6] Arizona, go bitch-slap yourself.

[7] The bakery owners admitted they’d filled pastry orders for gay clients, including the lesbian couple, prior to the wedding cake brouhaha.

[8] Boston, a member of the American Humanist Association, is also Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State

[9] An action that didn’t exactly have Target accountants quaking in their boots, as I shopped at Target only when there was no other alternative.

The Mile-in-your-shoes I’m Not Walking

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Friday Follies: The Footnotes Edition

But first, random notes.

I never used to encounter people named Quinn, but since the publication of The Mighty Quinn I’ve come across several children with that incredibly awesome name.

Just sayin.’

*   *   *

Happy birthday to my younger sister.

BIRTHDAY

It was many years ago, Ruie, but I’m still sorry for the incident wherein my cat “presented” your hamster to us at the dinner table.

*   *   *

Because all the Best Book Names are Already Taken

I know nothing about the author, but how did he get into my mind and steal the title for my (as of yet unwritten) memoir?

This is the best book I’ve ever written, and it still sucks

*   *   *

 Because all the Classy Names For Publishers Are Already Taken

Children’s Brains Are Yummy (CBAY) Books is a legitimate, niche/genre (fantasy & sci fi for middle grand & YA readers) publisher located in Austin Texas. Their website defends their name choice as having nothing to do with cannibalism; rather, it is a tribute to the “delightful, extraordinary” minds of children:

“We think kids have yummy brains the same way
the stars of Sex and the City wore yummy shoes.”

 

Because nothing says yummy and sexually alluring like hammertoe cleavage.

Because nothing says yummy and sexually alluring like hammertoe cleavage.

CBAY’s comparison-as-defense is lost on mere mortals such as moiself, who think Sex and the City [1] style  torture devices shoes are yummy in the same way foot binding [2] is yummy.

"♫I'm sexy and I know it♫... but I can't stand up.

“♫ I’m sexy and I know it ♫…
but I can’t stand up.

*   *   *

I smell a theme rising.  Pass the odoreaters?

 If the shoe fits, quote it.

* You know you’re old when someone compliments you on your alligator shoes, and you’re barefoot.  (Phyllis Diller)

* These are my new shoes. They’re good shoes. They won’t make you rich like me, they won’t make you rebound like me, they definitely won’t make you handsome like me. They’ll only make you have shoes like me. That’s it.  (Charles Barkley)

* We women continue to swallow this line that it’s unladylike or even proof of being a lesbian if you wear flat shoes like Doc Martens. I’m prepared to put up with that accusation, because at least my feet aren’t killing me and I don’t look like a bandy ostrich. (Jo Brand)

Not Jo Brand's feet.

Not Jo Brand’s feet.

* Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?  (George Gobel)

* Women’s fashion is a subtle form of bondage. It’s men’s way of binding them. We put them in these tight, high-heeled shoes, we make them wear these tight clothes and we say they look sexy. But they’re actually tied up.  (David Duchovny [3])

* They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.  (Imelda Marcos)

The prestigious Jean Luc-Picard Face Palm of Distinction award goes to movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, for his words of wisdom:

* I never put on a pair of shoes until I’ve worn them at least five years.

facepalm

Wishing you a week of comfortable shoes for your twinkle toes, and may the Happy Feet hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] How is in that a reference to Sex in the City is on my blog? This is wrong, so very wrong. I can’t tag it.

[2]  A centuries-long (and now outlawed) Chinese “beauty practice” involved beating and breaking girls’ feet and binding them to produce a gnarled, misshapen podiatric mess mass – and crippled walk and dependency – that upper-class (as in wealthy and powerful, not classy( Chinese men found erotic. Pictures of the practice are graphic and far from yummy.

[3] Apparently,  Fox Mulder’s porn-addicted portrayer is quite familiar with less subtle forms of bondage.

The Thematic Consistency I’m Not Maintaining

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Breaking literary news:  my short story “The Assassin,” an excerpt from my (as-of-yet-unpublished) novel, Looking Up, is featured in WIPS: Works (of Fiction) in Progress.  Read it here.  And for a special treat, an interview with the author can be found here.

*   *   *

Is that a mournful train whistle I hear in the distance?  The second semester for university students begins next week, after MLK Day. This morning I’m taking K to the Amtrak station, where he’ll catch the train back to Tacoma. It was so nice to have my son home for winter break (all together now: They grow up so fast [1]).  There is always a heart clutch to see him go, even if it’s not quite the dramatic departure as portrayed in cinema.

MOVIE

*   *   *

Four Things I have learned to appreciate with age:

1. Dim lighting.
2. That’s about it.
3. There is no third thing. [2]
4. Did I mention dim lighting?

One Thing That Frosts My Aging Butt

If I hear or read one more time about how Forty is the new thirty, heads will roll.  Not your head and not mine, and maybe just doll heads, but still….

HEADS

Fifty is the new forty!  It is ignorant insult masked as encouragement; it is a clueless commentary buttressing ageism and stereotypes.  And we (women in particular) are supposed to find it complimentary, even as it implies that whatever age you are, don’t worry, you actually look or act younger, and younger is always better, so how dreadful to actually think of yourself as ___(whatever age you are) when that age is…no longer what it used to be.

Eighty is eighty and seventy is seventy and sixty is not the new forty, or even fifty.  And Fuck you is the new fifty-seven, okay?

UPYOURS

*   *   *

How many times do you have the opportunity to look at pretty pictures of the bottom of someone’s feet?  This is one of those times.   You’re welcome.

SOLE

sole2

*   *   *

Silly question of the day:  is it time for flatulence humor?

FART

Really, when is it not time for a fart joke?  Even better than your average fart joke is, the discovery that there is an Muslim version of The Onion. It’s called The Wadiyan, and alert readers will appreciate its coverage of breaking news, including the controversial law proposed by a sharia-following Indonesian city council to ban females from audibly passing gas.

Hard to believe that the preceding story escaped my attention when it was first published.  I can only assume it was a somewhat silent but deadly warm up for April Fool’s day. 

Carpe that diem, y’all.  And may the ageless hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Or, They look almost human when they’re sleeping…or whatever your favorite offspring adage is.

[2] But there is a second footnote.

The Trolls I’m Not Feeding

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Monday I made a visit to Forest Grove Community School, where the 5th & 6th grade students are using The Mighty Quinn for their block of study on realistic fiction.  I spent two class periods with them, first with the 6th graders and then the 5th graders.  I read a brief TMQ excerpt as an example of revealing character via dialog, did a Q & A session, and met individually with students to hear their writing samples and banter about story ideas.  The kids were delightful, and one of the best school groups I’ve ever visited.

I got a kick out of observing the students’ interactions (from the back of the class, before the teacher introduced me.  (Yep, I was lurking).  What a difference a year makes.  The 6th graders were obviously conscious of how they might “look” to their peers when asking a question or offering a comment.  Their Q & A concerns focused on their struggles with their own writing assignments.  The 5th graders were energetic, unbounded and out there – one boy shrieked with delight and threw me a high five when I was introduced as the author of the book they’d been reading aloud in class.  The 5th graders’ Q & A session was dominated by personal (to me),  what’s it like to be a writer queries.  One student even asked about my royalties, and was thrilled when I complimented him for knowing the term.  Several students stayed after class, missing part of their recess, to gather around me.  They gushed about how unbelievable it was that they had met a REAL PUBLISHED AUTHOR ® a sentiment I find embarrassing/annoying when expressed by adults, but from those students, it was sweet beyond words.  FGCS 5th and 6th graders, this Pretty Purple Toe Award is for you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*   *   *

BELLY LAUGH OF THE WEEK

Tuesday:  in my car, waiting for the left turn signal.  The car in front of me had one of those stick figure family decals in the rear window, which, in general, I find annoying and rarely give a second glance to.  But something about this one caught my attention.

STICK FIGURE FAMILY

*   *  *

BELLY CREEP OUT OF THE WEEK

Wednesday: Back in the damn car again, performing what used to be an almost daily chore that has evolved into a rare errand: sending a manuscript via snail mail.  The nearest mailbox where I might still make the pickup time [1] was a couple of miles away, by a Bi-Mart store. As I pulled into the Bi-Mart parking lot a woman pushing a shopping cart with an infant seat in it crossed in front of me.  Heading for the store, she walked slowly and laboriously and looked neither left nor right.  She just crossed the lane of traffic.

I was ~ ten feet away from her, in no danger of hitting her as I was going quite slowly, but I was annoyed by her negligent pedestrian-ship. FFS lady, maybe you don’t care about your own life but what about the baby?  Further annoying me was the fact that it was 27º outside, and I could see the infant’s bare legs sticking out from the bottom of the child seat.  As my car rolled closer I could see that the woman had a vacant, slack-jawed expression on her face, one that might be explained by a mental or physical disability, and the “baby” in the baby seat was actually a (very realistic-looking) baby doll.

DOLd

*   *   *

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
(Einstein’s letter of 3-24-54 to a correspondent who’d asked Einstein to clarify his religious views.
(“Albert Einstein: The Human Side.”)

 One of the great games in the culture wars is claiming the good and smart for your team and pushing the monsters away. Picture Christian and atheist captains in a sandlot choosing basketball teams. “Einstein, we get Einstein!” say the atheists. “No way, he used the word God!… “Oh you WISH!” ….
Albert Einstein is the three-point shooter everybody wants to draft.

(from Dale McGowan ‘s blog post, “Owning Einstein.”)

holding out for free agent status

holding out for free agent status

A link I posted on my Facebook page – to Hemant Mehta’s  blog post about Ron Reagan Jr. taping a PSA for an atheist organization – got me sucked into one of those  discussions.  A FB friend apparently took issue with the younger Reagan’s statements about reason being “the hallmark of the human species.”

FB Friend: Who says that believing in God makes one unreasonable? That is a rather objectionable statement. Most of history’s great thinkers believed in God. I believe in God and I believe im (sic) a reasonable person. You don’t believe? No prob. Its (sic) not my job to force my faith down your throat. We can get along without faith being an issue…

RP:  “Most of history’s great thinkers believed in God.” Now, that is a statement of faith, not fact.   ;-)

FBF: Einstein believed, Newton believed, Galileo believed, Devinci (sic)  did as well. its not a matter of just having faith…

MH also followed the link in my post. He read the Reagan post in its entirety, and thus was confused by FBF’s reaction.  “Why did he (FBF commenter) assume the article said religious people are unreasonable, when it didn’t?” he mused.

My Son K would probably say that I violated the don’t feed the trolls rule by even acknowledging the comment.  You know, stick to posting pictures of your dinner and links to fart jokes.

TROLL

But, no.  That’s too easy.  And besides, the commenter is no troll.  Rather, he is a friend from high school days, and a very nice guy.  So, I posted the Einstein quote that opened this section, and said I’d deal with this more extensively in this blog post.  Here we are.  More extensively, ho! [2]

Although they (of course) are not here now to speak for themselves, I’ve little doubt that many if not most of what we might call the “great thinkers” of the past were religious…at least, in their public personas. People had to make some sort of public religious profession; there were no other options. [3]  What choice did people have, to believe or express opinions to the contrary?

Giordano Bruno was just one of many great thinkers who were tortured and murdered for expressing opinions and/or doing research that the religious/political authorities (often one in the same, in that most unholy of alliances) found threatening or blasphemous.  You need not have a writer’s imagination to posit what would have happened to Galileo if he’d expressed doubts as to the existence of the Jehovah deity, when for merely making scientific (not religious) statements – backed with, hey, evidence! – he was called to Rome and tried for heresy.  Galileo, well aware of the fate of Bruno and others before him, was given a “tour” of the church’s dungeons, and shown the instruments of torture that would be used on him if he did not recant his support for Copernicus’ theory .  Even after he recanted the truth [4] Galileo was confined to his home under house arrest, where he died seven years later, not having been allowed to leave or to receive visitors.

Albert Einstein tried to fit his complex ideas into terms that might interest the lay (as in, non-science literate) population.  The mis-location of Einstein to the Religious Believers’ Great Thinkers Team mostly stems from two of his public figurative comments:

(1) his public statement, reported by United Press in April 25, 1929: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony in being, not in God who deals with the facts and actions of men,” and
(2) his famously misinterpreted metaphor regarding nature conforming to mathematical law: “God does not play dice with the Universe.”

But in his private/personal and other correspondences, Einstein lamented the misuse of his public statements to infer religious belief on his part.  He made his opinion about such matters quite clear, as in the opening quote and many others, three of which I’ll cite here.

“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” [5]

“The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.” [6]

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.” [7]

Ultimately, the numbers on anybody’s “teams” are irrelevant. The criteria for evaluating the truth of statements – even those phrased as “beliefs” – is not all that complicated.  Which leads me to a brief [8] incursion into what seems to be a minefield for many people:  the difference between facts and beliefs.

MINE

I hold many, many beliefs about many, many subjects.  I believe that Meryl Streep is a great actor and that Tom Cruise is not, that Oregon Pinot Noirs are superior to California Merlots, that is more enjoyable to watch a high school varsity volleyball game than any professional golf tournament, that corn snakes make better pets than mice, that cedar-planked salmon is a tastier entrée than fried razor clams, that MH looks better with a full beard than with just a moustache, and that Elvis, Lady Gaga and the Virgin Mary do not make cameo appearances in the spots on someone’s flour tortilla.

Beliefs can be preferential, like those I listed.  A preferential belief expresses your opinions about interesting but ultimately inconsequential matters.  But beliefs can also express factual or cognitive claims, which call for evaluations of the truth of the propositions or assumptions behind the claims.  For example, if you assert that you “believe in God,” you are also making the assumption that the god you refer to exists.

If you express a cognitive belief but make no effort to justify it, you’re merely telling me your feelings or expressing your opinion.  It may be true that you believe you are the greatest fastball pitcher since Sandy Koufax.  However entertaining that claim may be to your slow-pitch softball league teammates, your belief by itself has no factual value.

koufax

There is nothing admirable about a belief just because you hold it, and cognitive beliefs are not immune to criticism. Cloaking beliefs in the robe of “god” or “religion” doesn’t excuse those ideas from examination.  “Believing” (aka “having faith in”) something doesn’t make an irrational claim suddenly rational, nor does it protect your belief from the test of evidence and reason – from the kind of the evaluation a thoughtful, intelligent person would normally apply to any statement of any kind, be it political, cultural, emotional….

If you want your beliefs to be taken seriously by others, you need to communicate them as something other than personal statements about what you “have faith in.”  Beliefs become objective when backed up by explanations and evidence that can be analyzed.  If you don’t want your beliefs to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, then you should keep them to yourself.

I for one wouldn’t go around claiming too many of the “great thinkers” of centuries past for my team.  Great minds who seemed ahead of their time in their niches of music, art, literature, philosophy and/or science may also have thought that the earth was flat, that enslaved peoples were “naturally” inferior to their enslavers, that diseases were caused by evil spirits and ill humors, etc.  Even great thinkers are commonly bound by the ignorance and superstitions – and subject to the cultural and political pressures – of their times.

Down from the soapbox and up to the feel good FB posts.  Truly, those are what I should be posting at this most festive time of year – a sampling of flatus classifications:

Backseater: an odiferous fart that occurs in automobiles, it is usually not very loud and can be concealed by traffic noise.

Cherry bomb: A loud, high-pitched, squeaker fart.

The Rambling Phaduka: One of the most loud and lengthy of farts,  it goes on for at least 15 seconds, often leaving the farter unable to speak, as if he’s had the wind knocked out of him.

The Skillsaw:  sounds like an electric skill saw ripping through a piece of plywood.  It has been known to cause people to back away in terror and confusion.

TGIAF: the thank goodness I’m alone fart. You look around after producing it and say, thank goodness I’m alone.  Then you get out of there, fast.

And may the farting animals compilation video hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 


[1] I didn’t, and ended up driving to the main Post Office.

[2] As in Westward, ho!” and other idioms expressing the desire to go or return to a certain destination, and not as in a reference to skanky pavement-pounders Our Great Nation’s proud sex workers.

[3] Even the option to choose this flavor of Christianity or that flavor of Islam could get you murdered, plundered or banished, depending on which group was in charge.

[4] And some  say he recanted his recanting, under his breath….(Atheism for Dummies, ch. 6, “enlightening Strikes”)

[5] (From Einstein’s letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, dated Jan. 3, 1954, cited in The Guardian, “Childish superstition: Einstein’s letter makes view of religion relatively clear,” by James Randerson, May 13, 2008).

[6] From Einstein’s to Beatrice Frohlich, December 17, 1952 ( The Expanded Quotable Einstein )

[7] Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel, New York: New American Library, 1972, p. 95.

[8] No really…considering the subject.

The Heart Cockles I’m Not Warming

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What’s Better Than A Three Dog Night?

A three hawk day, of course.  Red tailed hawks:  yesterday I saw, three within a five minute span, perched on posts or power poles near fields bordering the countryside roads and Highway 26, near North Plains.  One adult, then one juvenile (as in the picture), and then another adult.

When I see an RTH on a post or other perch, with its distinctive, striking plumage, locking its piercing hunting gaze on a field below, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of serenity.  Even knowing what is to come (some snake/rodent is about to get grasped and eviscerated), I feel that all is as it should be – if only for a moment – in the world.

Hawk_Red-Tailed_adult14

And now for all (excuse the hyperbole; make that, a smidgen)
of what is not as it should be:

Express Scripts/Medco Makes Me Sick

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As readers of this blog are aware, I have no qualms using Strong Language, ® but in this case initials must suffice as I don’t want to type the same word over and over.

I FFFFFF hate hate hate hate FFFF Express Scripts/Medco.  Are they our only option for an Rx plan? I whined to MH.  I don’t want ANY more of our money, any more of our business, going to them.  I have spent too much time on their “help” line (does this sound familiar?) trying to get through to a real person, cursing on line as the perky robotic voice recording dares to say, “to continue to provide you with the best service possible…” Having to listen to that hornswaggling balderdash (see the last post item), after they have provided absolutely the worst service possible, is enough to give me a stroke…which may be their intent, and then that’s one less Shiny Happy Customer for them to deal with.

The idea of such incompetency and penny-pinching bureaucracy having the power to get between a doctor and her patient…..  You’re an overpaid passel of pill dispensers; do your job. Diagnosis and treatment are between doctor and patient.  The doctor writes the prescription, based on her examination of the patient and the minutia of said patient’s history, to which you, Express Scripts/Medco, are not privy.  Fill the fucking prescription – same one you have been filling for Over. Two Years. and now decide to dispute?)

"No soup for you...just because"

“No soup for you…just because”

 *   *   *

And then, there was this.

Because my day wasn’t stressful enough, what with dealing with the medical bureaucracy shit, one of my cats (I have my suspicions as to the perp’s identity) decided to carry on with the theme by leaving me an odiferous fecal deposit, with accompanying skidmark, on my office carpet, by my desk.  Apparently, she felt it had been too long since I had awarded anyone the prestigious Golden Turd Trophy. Nova, this turd’s for you.

turd trophy

*   *   *

Mark your Calendars and Head for the Indies

Vintage Books in Vancouver (WA) will be celebrating Indies First, on Saturday November 30.  Indies First is the brain child of author Sherman Alexie, who urged all “book nerds” (authors) to be booksellers for a day and help support independent book stores.  You can see the full text of Alexie’s delightful letter here.  I’ll be at Vintage, sharing shifts with other authors, (hopefully) selling and signing copies of The Mighty Quinn and recommending other favorite reads.  My shift is from 12 – 1 pm.  Be there or be…you know.

SQUARE

*   *   *

Huh?

From the masthead of Oregon Coast magazine, in a section that lists bio notes for the current issue’s authors and photographers:

“____ is a travel and adventure writer based out of Portland.  When she is not writing she is fishing, looking for whales, life-coaching, helping businesses succeed online, making sculptures, teaching yoga, and being a professional Viking.”

Okay.  How do you get such a résumé? And am I to believe that she gets paid to be a Viking…of some sort?

viAking

I could do that.  Kinda sorta:  Robyn Parnell is a travel and adventure-deprived writer based out of Hillsboro.  When she is not writing she is looking for fish [1] (but not whales), pestering life-coaching (her daughter), and she, too, helps businesses succeed online. [2]

Or, maybe not.  There was another one that caught my attention:

“_____ explores Oregon from her home in North Bend.  An Oregonian since 1982, she writes for a living, and spends the rest of her time biking, canoeing, making things, and playing Irish music.”

Reading these things, I’m both inspired and befuddled.  And maybe just a teense bit jealous.  I want a jazzier résumé.

Robyn Parnell explores Oregon from her home in Manzanita (well, in her dreams).  An Oregonian since 1991, she writes for a mere pittance, and spends the rest of her time (thinking she should do more) biking, kayaking, making dinner, and playing Dropkick Murphys holiday videos.

*   *   *

Something to Celebrate 

The World Wildlife Fund in cahoots with Vietnamese government’s Forest Protection Department has discovered evidence that should warm the cockles of your heart.  An animal scientists thought might be extinct, one of the rarest and most threatened mammals on Earth, [3] is still alive.  A camera trap placed in a remote area of the Central Annamite mountains of Vietnam captured the images of a Saola, or “Asian unicorn.”  The WWF’s pictures are grainy/paparazzi quality; here is one from many years ago, when a Saola had time for a stylist consultation before the photo shoot.

SAOLA 

*   *   *

Speaking of cockle warming:
Let us now praise the Idiosyncratic Origin of Inane but Interesting Idioms

In another life I might have happily been a linguist, specializing in the etymology of whimsical words and expressions.[4] 

Warm the cockles of your heart.  Why is the image of a bivalve mollusk used to invoke feelings of inspiration or nostalgia?

Someone said to skedaddle when they are quickly fleeing something.  If you want to quickly distance yourself from an aimless scribble, do you skedoodle?

Why does ragamuffin refer to a disheveled person, and not a Hindu musical quick bread?

And then, there is cattywampus.  Yes, there is.  But, why?  Sometimes it’s more fun to speculate than to know for certain.  I could google their origins, but that would take all the mystery out of life.

May the warmth of your heart-cockles never fall below room temperature, [5]
and may cattywampus-worthy hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] At the market.

[2] If you count her e-shopping purchases. Which she does.

[3] Aside from Freethinking Republicans, or people who correctly use the contraction/possessive forms of it’s/its.

[4] A career with salary prospects that would, no doubt, compare to those of literary fiction authors.

[5] It’s just not right, a blog post with less than five footnotes.

The Catastrophe I’m Not Having

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The Fallout From Ten Years of Watching Grey’s Anatomy:

After escorting a friend to a PT appointment I boarded the hospital elevator, as did a Handsome Young Doctor ® .  One man, one woman, in one hospital elevator….?  For a moment, even as I noticed the really, really serious expression on HYD’s face – a look that made me realize he probably would not get the joke/reference – I considered flashing him a perky smile and saying, “So, aren’t we supposed to be having sex?”

*   *   *

Still more reasons to go on living…and quit writing? 

The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct.  This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.” 

“I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.”
(Tim Kreider, “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” NY Times op-ed)

 Like Kreider and many other writers, I’ve had “opportunities” presented to me, from media and other publishing outlets, wherein I could write articles, guest blog posts, even a regular op-ed/feature column.  Opportunities to work, without pay.  Sometimes these offers were presented via fellow writers, who should know better…and perhaps do… and perhaps inwardly cringed when they offered their bosses’ party line, which was, essentially, that being published in ____ (The Oregonian, The NY Times Review of Books, The Furrowed Eyebrow Literary Review) is an honor, and that such “exposure” is equivalent to compensation.

Such offers almost always begin with the Those Offering the Guest-Permanent Writing Gig telling you, the writer, how much they admire your work.  Although not enough, evidently, to pay one red cent for it.

FACEP

Like Kreider, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that people who would never ask their barber to give them a haircut for free or expect their market to provide them with a bag of groceries at no cost (“I’ll tell everyone these organic brown eggs are from New Seasons – it’ll be great exposure for your store!”) will, with a straight face and a clear conscience, ask authors and artists to write an essay/illustrate a brochure for them, for nothing.

(In his essay Krieder briefly and drolly compares his situation to that of his sister, a pulmonologist:  “as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.”)

And then there is Patricia J. Williams’ so-good-it’s depressing article, “Writing as Women’s Work” (The Nation).  Williams uses the case of zoologist and Scientific American blogger Dr. Danielle Lee, a busy scientist who politely declined an offer to do a guest blog gig for no remuneration, [1] to illuminate the situation of those of us who labor in disciplines that have been deprofessionalized and undervalued in the digital economy.  Although I shouldn’t be surprised by the phenomenon, until reading William’s article I didn’t know that writing is also falling victim to outsourcing (“…companies like Journatic, which supplies supposedly ‘local’ news coverage, have outsourced stories to nonlocal freelancers across the U.S., as well as in the Philippines, where writers are given ‘American-sounding bylines’ and asked to commit to 250 pieces/week minimum at 35 to 40 cents a piece.”).

In the year since I’ve started this blog I’ve no doubt  bellyached mentioned several times the fact that every week (and some weeks, every day), I consider the business end of writing fiction [2] and ask myself why I do what I do. And I come across these two wonderfully written – and likely poorly paid for [3]–  articles, and I feel…I don’t know how to describe how I feel.  Like the lyrics of that immortal C & W song: I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.

The business end of writing

The business end of writing

********************

Public Service Announcement #1
And now, we pause for a moment to piss off the faithful
before returning to our regular programming.

Theology in a nutshell [4]

THEOLOGY

Public Service Announcement #2, aka
Law and Order, WPD [5]

 

A small but fervent request:  let’s all do our part to halt the creeping catastrophization of our language.  You can be upset about something, you can have your feelings genuinely and even painfully hurt, without being “destroyed” or “devastated.”

Definition of DEVASTATE

1 :  to bring to ruin or desolation by violent action
2:  to reduce to chaos, disorder, or helplessness

(The flood devastated the town; The disease has devastated the area’s oak tree population; The hurricane left the island completely devastated.)

You didn’t get the promotion, you flunked the [6] admissions test, you were snubbed by the in-crowd at the school or office cafeteria, maybe you even received an alarming medical diagnosis.  But were/are you devastated, or destroyed:

1.  Ruined completely; spoiled.
2.  Torn down or broken up; demolished.
3.  Done away with; ended.
4.  Killed.
5.  Subdued or defeated completely; crushed.
6.  Rendered useless or ineffective.

If I make an upsetting or dismissive remark to you, I may be acting rude, but you have not been bullied.  Your child’s exclusion from the neighborhood kid’s birthday party is hurtful, and the memory of being left out may affect him/her for some time, [7] and you, as a parent, were disappointed on behalf of your child, and maybe more than a little pissed off.  But really, was your child – were you – demolished or destroyed?

WOW

Stop the hyperbole, and reserve such catastrophic classifications for situations (The Rwandan Genocide, The Space Shuttle disasters, the LA Dodgers trading Pedro Martinez for Delino Shields)  that can truly and accurately be described in no other way.

*   *   *

I hope these PSAs have not annihilated your sense of your place in the cosmos, and that your hijinks will still ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] And was subsequently smeared by the blog editor (“Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”)

[2] And increasingly, nonfiction, as these cited articles illustrate.

[3] Kreider contributes to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which he is paid “the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989.”

[4] A fitting container.

[5] Word Police Division.

[6] No reason for this footnote. Move along folks, nothing here to see.

[7] Including, eventually/hopefully, in a positive way, as a catalyst to develop empathy for the socially excluded.

The Monthly Novel I’m Not Writing

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November 1?  Gotta get this out of the way. National Novel Writing Month.

SOAPBOX

Reality check re this write-a-novel-in-month jive.  This is from the Authors Guild Bulletin Spring 2013, Along Publishers Row article: “Temperance Hasty-Gonzales (not the author’s real name) wrote a 50k novel in 30 days.  Five years and 15 drafts later, the novel, he The Quick and the Dead (a real novel, but not written by TH-G), was published in February.

She wrote a novel in 30 days!  Except that she didn’t. The very second sentence of the blurb reveals that she didn’t write a novel in 30 days, hello.  She had some kind of first draft that was awful/incomplete enough, by her own description, that it took her FIVE YEARS and FIFTEEN DRAFTS to get into publishable form.

National Novel Writing Month. I smite the concept as well as the acronym: NaNoWriMo.  It sounds as incomplete and shoddy, as baby-talk dribbly, as a novel “written” in a month is likely to be.  But wait, there’s more.  The author featured in the blurb goes on to say that she considered herself a perfectionist, and that NaNoWriMo forced her to ignore her incapacitating inner critic and keep going: “It forces us to lower our standards.”

Just what the literary world needs: lower standards.

Have an idea for a story?  Don’t fall for trendy/”motivational” stunts.  Take  time, make time, invest time.  Chances are you can get your final draft in two-three years rather than five.  And, yes, the world is full of crappy novels that took much, much longer than 30 days to write (Atlas Shrugged, anyone?)  Still. It doesn’t need any more. At any speed.

*   *   *

Less than one percent of the total published books released in a year get reviewed via a traditional book reviewing outlet; i.e., a reviewer hired and paid by a newspaper, journal, magazine, book review tabloid. [1]  When my publisher forwarded the reviews for The Mighty Quinn, MH asked whether they were “good.” Knowing the stats, I reminded him that TMQ was ahead of the game [2] by even getting a review in the first place.  It was gravy to me that the reviews were good – a quibble here and there, but mostly positive, and some downright glowing.  Even so I had to force myself to read them, force myself to drum up interest, which I did by thinking of my publisher (Good for them; they’ll like this one.).

It was peculiar to me, comparable to having an out-of-body experience, looking at myself looking at the reviews.  I knew what I’d written, how “good” I thought it was, and how good others whom I respect thought it was (enough to publish it, at least).  When it comes to considering my own reviews or publicity, composure and perspective, plus a dose of humility, are my mantras (keeping in mind the sage advice of Golda MeirDon’t be humble; you’re not that great.).  If a negative review won’t rock my boat then why should I let a rave review rock my world?

My ambivalence toward reviews stems from many facts, including what I know of writers and human nature. [3] Also, there’s the pesky fact that I moiself have never cared for book reviews and rarely read them. [4] I rely on choosing reading materials through my own particular triage of browsing, both in stores and online, and friend-talk.  Other than being alerted to the reviews by my publisher, I don’t check my own press.  I am also not one of those authors © who obsessively tracks her book’s sales rankings on the major online book sellers.  There’s not a strong enough antacid on the market to help me do that.  What I need to know about that stat will come with my royalty statements. [5] Gulp.

automatic_wine_drinking

And then.

I was updating a website posting and checked The Mighty Quinn’s links to the major online booksellers: Powell’s, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The Amazon page featured a new industry review, or at least one I hadn’t seen, and had put it as their lead review (one of the reasons [6]  I’m going to steer readers toward Powell’s.)  Although the reviewer had some bits of tepid praise, the same supporting characters described by other reviewers as “memorable” and “delightful” she dissed as  “too cute” and “unnecessarily highlighted” (whatever that means).  The same dialog and action she found “cumbersome” and “drab” are cited by other reviewers as “engaging” and “fast-moving.”

I see no reason to alter my long held if not entirely original philosophy re reviews, which I privately (well, up until now) I referred to as the Rectal Theory of Criticism:

Opinions are like assholes – everybody’s got one.

bad smell

As for the worth and relevance of online consumer reviews, my suspicions re their validity and potential for abuse [7] have oft been confirmed, most recently by this creepy story. A vengeful merchant, peeved at a less-than-stellar review posted on yelp  from a would-be client, googled client’s name, discovered client was a novelist, and took it from there: “When your book comes out on Amazon, I will personally make sure our entire staff reviews it in kind.”  Bad Merchant went on to threaten the novelist by getting people to post a “deluge” of “scathing reviews” for the novelist’s upcoming book.

Oy vey.

*   *   *

The Wisdom That Cometh With Age

Dateline, Monday afternoon.  I’d was in downtown Hillsboro to mail a manuscript, enjoying the opportunity/excuse [8] to do an afternoon walk on a crunchy autumn day, kicking through the leaves carpeting the sidewalks.  I rounded the street across from the Washington County Courthouse and fell in step behind two gotta-be-lawyers-to-dress-like-that-on-such-a-fine- day men walking side-by-side.  Or, I could describe them as “two men walking abreast,” but that conjurs up too many memories of fifth grade droodles.

DROODLE

My pace was faster than theirs but there was no room to pass them, so I slowed down and checked them out from the only view I had.  Both were of similar height and, from the rear view at least, attired almost identically, in tailored, expensive-looking, dark brown suits and white dress shirts and dark brown shoes.  I noticed that the one on (my) left wore bad shoes.  His shoe’s heels were very noticeably and unevenly worn down, toward the inside of the foot.  So incongruous with the rest of his lawyer suit.  Lawyer dude on the right had nice shiny shoes with no VHW (visible heel wear).

What an odd thing to notice.  Still, it bothered me.  I really, really wanted to say something to him, even as I was chiding myself for wanting to say something.  As a public service announcement, of course. Hey buddy – your over-pronation is, like, to totally ruining your Serious Lawyer Look.

At the end of the block they both moved to the curb, pausing by a brown (yes!) car that I assumed belonged to one of them.  I passed them. And said nothing

LAWYERS

*   *   *

Stand back, I’m Going to Try Science

Calling all budding evolutionary biologists:  I can’t remember the prompt, but I recently woke up with an interesting first morning thought [9] :  How is it that omnivorous species came to “know” they were omnivorous?  How did our hunter-gatherer ancestors get to the hunter part? Or bears, for that matter.   Foraging through the meadow, by the stream, chewing on leafy greens and berries///who-what had the lightbulb moment:  “Hey, I bet that leaping salmon/hopping rabbit is more caloric and nutrient-dense than these camas roots, plus, no cud-chewing aftertaste!  Win-win!”

I posted that question on my FB page, and got many many hallow snarky speculations a few thoughtful responses and suppositions (okay, I got one).  I’m still wondering.

*   *   *

“If you talked into your hair dryer and said you were communicating with something out there in the nether space, they’d put you away.
But take away the hair dryer, and you’re praying.”  -Sam Harris

DRYER

Dear Lord, please bring me a pony and a plastic rocket. [10]

November.  Already.  Like a pair of K-mart undies, the holiday season is creeping up on us.  Let us note that which is to come.  Back by popular demand, my favorite ode to the joys that are to come, courtesy of The Dropkick Murphys.

May the ho-ho-ho hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Statistic from Publisher’s Weekly.

[2] Sadly, that’s what the publicity-review thing is: a game. With really scary rules.

[3] It’s way mo fun-ner to flaunt your devastating wit by writing snarky pans than heartfelt paeans.

[4] Unless it’s a particularly scathing review forwarded by friend/fellow author (and New York Review of Books reader) SCM, about an author we mutually loathe.

[5] And when people wish to inquire about such matters they often ask, “How is your book doing,” a seemingly innocuous, probably meant-to-be-supportive query, until I ask what they mean by that, and then they usually  ask about sales figures, at which point I have to refrain myself from perkily chirping, “I’ve no idea – how many copies did YOU buy?”

[6] Aside from the fact that Powell’s is the grooviest bookstore in the world. And yes, I’ve visited them all.

[8] A few years back I’d have the opportunity to do that walk every other day, but most editors and publishers take (and prefer) email queries and manuscript submissions.

[9] Other than the usual laundry list of feed the cats and get them to eat slowly so they don’t barf it all back up….

[10] Three cheers sci fi nerd noogie for those who got the Firefly reference.

The Robot Song I’m Not Singing

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Hell Hath Many Forms

 OSMONDS

But I digress.  The hell I’m referring to follows:

Hell

It may boggle your mind to know that that letter was NOT a response to the question, In what way are you the most irritating person residing in New Jersey, the entire Eastern seaboard and/or United States, and please be specific. Rather, an alert friend found this abominable if brief torture primer disguised as an answer to a question posed in Real Simple magazine.[1] The Question:  What’s the Best Tip for Getting the Day off to a Good Start! 

And! You just know you’re in for one wacky answer!  From the kind of people!  Who will answer “questions” that end in exclamation points!!

“Afterward, everyone goes out the door with a skip in their step.”

A skip in their step. Yeah, right.  Woman, your husband and kids and are leaping and running like bats out of hell, tumbling over one another in their haste to flee the nightmare that can only come from inhabiting the same house as a vulgarly vivacious, psychotically cheerful person who assaults them with tickles and “ditties” [2] when all they really want at 7 am is a soft-spoken, “Good morning.” And maybe a caffeinated beverage.

And no ditties about ROBOTS, for f***’s sake.

MANSCARE

That kind of torture should be reported To Amnesty International.

******

Writers Guidelines [3] I love to loathe:

Unbounded Effluvia [4] is seeking submissions of fiction and poetry. We value diversity. If you’re a white, straight, able male—your stories are welcome. But if you’re not, we would love to see your stories as well. We’d love to see stories from diverse backgrounds, and strongly encourage submissions of stories featuring characters of all colors, belief systems, sexual orientation, etc. And of course, the same goes for the author. 

Well, wrap my Irish-Norwegian-Welsh-French-Cherokee-American, straight (but not narrow), middle-aged, female, able-bodies, Freethinking Humanist ass in a rainbow flag and set it on fire.

I deplore the celebritization of authors (even to the point of wishing away the requirement for the author’s photo on the book jacket or in the journal credits) for many reasons, including that the author’s name is as much of an identifier as I care to know.  I don’t need to know what authors looks like; I don’t need to know their gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political or supernatural beliefs.  I don’t want to judge their writing by any of those factors.  I want the writing to reveal itself.

I can understand a publisher’s or editor’s request for variety as to what comes from the keyboard.  What’s behind the keyboard should not matter, and thinking that it does is the bastard child of the write what you know bullshit, possibly the worst, self-censorial, small-minded advice ever given to writers, for a quajillion reasons, including that it gets translated, in many minds, as, write (only what) what you are. [5]

As a writer, my interest in and/or ability to create diverse characters and narratives should be immaterial to the moiself that is behind the keyboard.

Many years ago I had a story that, I thought, would be perfect for a certain (now defunct) literary journal that was devoted to portraying the zeitgeist of a certain generation [6].  According to their guidelines, the journal wanted the poems and prose submitted to them to not only to be about that generation, but to be to be authored by those whose birthdates would “qualify” them as belonging to that generation.  Moiself  was about 15 years past their qualification in that regard.  I usually boycott publications with such blinkered, partisan guidelines, but for some reason I felt like puttin’ my sneaky hat on. I just wanted to show them.

Unfortunately, this is not my sneaky hat.

Unfortunately, this is not my sneaky hat.

In the acceptance letter the editor write that my story was perfect for the upcoming issue and “masterfully captured” the atmosphere they were seeking.  Imagine that.  Imagine a writer of fiction using her imagination [7] to create characters that reflect anything other than thinly veiled versions of her (age/ethnicity/gender/generation/bra size….).

That journal did not use author photos (nor requested birth certificates or driver’s licenses or other forms of id proving the authors fit into their age criteria); thus, I assumed that they’d assumed I had obeyed their niggling guidelines, and that I was…one of them.  I never told the editors about my subterfuge.  I simply savored my admittedly petty [8] but nonetheless triumphant gotcha! moment, all by myself.

Until now.

*   *   *

Wishing you a weekend filled with petty yet satisfying delights. Here’s one more of mine.

 

May the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Apparently the magazine has a regular feature, “This Month’s Question,” and readers’ annoying braindumps thoughtful responses to the question are posted the following month.

[2] Ditties?  Really?

[3] a set of guidelines put together by a publisher, magazine or other organization that specify their requirements for material from writers.

[4] Not the journal’s real name.  Too bad, ’cause it’s a helluva name for a journal if I do say so myself.  And I just did.

[5] Either way, imagine if, for all these years, Stephen King actually has a paucity of imagination or skill and is simply writing “what he knows” or what he is.  Yikes.

[6] That would be the Ex-ers.

[7] Shouldn’t there be another footnote?  Somewhere?

[8] Why are acts of petty spite so enjoyable?  There must be  a German term for it, akin to schadenfreude.

The Hat I’m Not Talking Through

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Why doesn’t my washing machine have a spam cycle?

My email’s spam cycle – if there be one, arrrrrrr [1] – is difficult for me to discern.  Not so long ago, days and even weeks would go by with but one to four messages in my spam file.  The last three weeks I’ve been greeted with sixteen or more when I log on. And the content has changed. I never thought I’d be nostalgic for requests from fraudulent Nigerian bankers and Enlarge Your Manhood peddlers, ah, but now I yearn for those simpler times.

It seems the Tea Party’s mental health committee and/or conspiracy theorists have taken over the e-waves. I don’t know what else would explain the fact that so many of my e-spams have a common theme of social media paranoia.  Someone has been talking about YOU, the messages proclaim.

OHNOO

“The public knows the truth about you. Bad Things From Your Past Have Been Posted Online. Is what they say you did really true?  Swift action is necessary if you don’t want EVERYONE you know seeing this awful information, r(___@______) ! [2]

Yesterday evening, a new favorite spam enticement caught my eye: Why are all these celebrities eating this fruit?

It did pique my curiosity, but not in the way the sender likely intended. Instead of following the link to the miracle fruit product (I assume) they were hawking I did a search for “celebrities eating fruit.”  Of all the images the search produced, this was my favorite.

can you name the celebrity armpit that looks like fruit?

which celebrity is…uh…anticipating licking her fruity armpit?

*   *   *

horn tooting

Shameless self promotion, the continuing series

“Porches have a way of evoking early memory — connections that linger, sounds and images of the moon, dream-lit faces, lightning bugs, voices, and song.  Porches, a place where people gather with relatives, friends, and lovers to party, protest, shell peas, knit, play cards, talk and disclose secrets…where stories collect and unfold.”
(Maureen A. Sherbondy, Editor, Voices from the Porch).

My short story “Requiem” is being included in the anthology, Voices from the Porch, to be published by Main Street Rag. The anthology is available for advance ordering .

BookPorchesAnth

*   *   *

MH, Belle and I will be attending the upcoming FFRF Convention in the organization’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.  As always, those wacky Freethinkers have scheduled a variety of thought-provoking, riveting and crazy-ass hilarious speakers, including Savage Love advice columnist, author, and It Gets Better Project founder Dan Savage, and SNL veteran comedian/actor/author/playwright Julia Sweeney .

Last year the convention was held in Portland, which was great fun and oh-so-convenient for us. One of the 2012 convention highlights was keynote speaker Richard Dawkins. The distinguished professor, author, evolutionary biologist and freethought champion appeared to accept the FFRF’s The Emperor Has No Clothes award. [3]

In his acceptance speech (titled, “On Mormons & Metaphors“), Dawkins had a jolly good time informing an American audience, prior to our 2012 presidential election, about the misuse of metaphors in religious and political language, and why politicians’ religious beliefs should be up for discussion, just as are their views on economic theory and foreign policy.

Emperor

The US Constitution states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That’s very different, Dawkins noted, from saying voters should ignore candidates’ beliefs when deciding who to vote for:

“I wish that presidential debates were more gloves off when it comes to the religious beliefs of candidates.  Why does Mr. Obama limit himself to criticizing Mr. Romney’s taxation policy, medical policy, foreign policy and so on? Why does he ignore the elephant in the room, which is that his opponent is capable of holding beliefs which, in England, we call barking mad, and here, you might call batshit crazy.”

Dawkins then listed an amazingly brief summary (considering the subject) of some of the absurdities of Mormon “revelation:”

* – Joseph Smith, whom Mormons revere as the prophet/founder of their faith, said he was guided by an angel to dig up some golden plates upon which were written characters of an ancient language which Smith called “reformed Egyptian” (a language unknown to any linguists or archaeologists, by the way)

* – Smith placed a “seer stone” in a hat, buried his face in the hat, looked at the stone and translated the Egyptian scripture that he said appeared in the stone; [4]

* – Smith’s oral translations were written down by a scribe, who was seated behind a curtain so he couldn’t see what Smith was doing….[5]

“Everything about the Book of Mormon reeks of fake.  Joseph Smith was an obvious charlatan. [6] That’s not an interesting fact in itself. There have been numerous charlatans down the ages. The point is that Mitt Romney, candidate for the job of most powerful man in the world, with his finger on the nuclear button, is a gullible fool who believes Joseph Smith.” 

I’m not an American voter, but if I were, I would want to know that my president has the critical intelligence needed to be a president. Anybody who can’t see that Joseph Smith was a charlatan and a liar doesn’t have critical intelligence.”

"Ollie Ollie oxen free!"

“Ollie Ollie oxen free!”

Of course, others  have pointed out that almost all political candidates profess religions which have more ancient origins than Mormonism – religions that also make absurd claims that do not stand up to the scrutiny of logic, reason, or science. Due to the numbing effects of familiarity, these religions don’t always come under the same scrutiny. Isn’t, for example, Obama’s Christianity just as ridiculous?

True.  However….

You can argue that the Hebrew and Christian bibles, the Quran, the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, can get something of a pass in that they are Iron Age writings and teaching that have been passed on for historical and cultural as well as religious reasons. There was no discipline of science to investigate the claims nor investigative  journalism to report the goings-on when those ancient tales were collected.  And then, there is the matter of Dawkins doubting the authenticity of Obama’s public religion:

“I think there’s an excellent chance that Mr. Obama is not a Christian….. But in any case, the fact that he professes Christianity means absolutely nothing. He’s an elected American politician. And if you are an elected American politician, that has to mean that you pretend to be religious. There’s no other way about it. [7] So that doesn’t really mean anything. 

“But I think the evidence shows actually Romney does believe it. He was a Mormon bishop. There are records of his excommunicating people. He excommunicated a woman because she left the Mormon Church…. And it’s really much more recently that he, I think really rather obnoxiously, posthumously baptized his atheist father-in-law. If he were professing religion for reasons purely of political expediency, instead of saying he’s a Mormon, couldn’t he say he sort of believes in spirituality or something vague like that? I think it’s pretty clear Romney is a definitely strong-believing Mormon…” 

romney_mormon_underwear

“Christian scriptures are genuinely ancient. The translations from Hebrew and Greek that Christians use are in a language contemporary with the translators. The Book of Mormon is not ancient. The language of its alleged translation is ludicrously anachronistic  [8] . It contains absurdities, scientifically demonstrable absurdities, about the origin of Native Americans,  [9] about people of African descent. [10] “ 

“It’s an absurd piece of work. A man who seriously believes it, it seems to me, cannot be trusted to have the sort of acumen, the sort of critical mind that you need in a leader of a great country….”

“For many Americans, the sticking point is whether the candidate keeps his religion separate from his politics. This was the Kennedy defense, [11] and it has a lot going for it. But I actually want to go further. I’m not an American voter, but if I were, I would want to know that my president has the critical intelligence needed to be a president. Anybody who can’t see that Joseph Smith was a charlatan and a liar doesn’t have critical intelligence…. 

“Maybe people here wish to argue the case that if religious beliefs or disbeliefs, about the stork theory or whatever, are private, we have no business intruding upon them. I’m offering my alternative view, which is that we don’t only want to know what the candidate’s policies are, we want to know whether he has the kind of mind that you can trust to take reliable decisions under difficult circumstances.”

imagine the even sillier religious teachings that could have come, had Joseph Smith translated this hat.

imagine the even sillier religious teachings that could have come, had Joseph Smith translated this hat.

It was a thought- and discussion-provoking speech; you can read the transcript on the FFRF site. I’m afraid you’ll have to use your own hat for translations.

Until next week, let us all meditate upon the progression of humankind….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Talk Like a Pirate Day flashback. Sorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry.

[2] (my name and email, usually misspelled)

[3] The award is reserved for public figures who take on the fabled role of the child in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and “tell it like it is”—about religion.

[4] The idiomatic “talking through your hat”  (which linguist say arose ca. 1880) means to speak utter nonsense.

[5] Before any of this happened, Smith had built up a track record as a psychic diviner of buried treasure. He claimed to be able to see underground, to see treasure by talking through his ass looking through –  you guessed it – that amazing hat of his.

[6] And was convicted of fraud in 1826 in a suit brought by a treasure-seeker he’d swindled.

[7] When Rep. Pete Stark “came out” as atheist, Woody Kaplan (Secular Coalition of America) interviewed 60 “likely suspects” in Congress and got 20 to admit – only if Kaplan promised total anonymity – that they were also atheists or non-religious. US politicians feel they cannot be truthful about their beliefs because, unlike the rest of the developed world, the non-religious are viewed as unelectable.

[8] Mark Twain’s many unflattering opinions on Mormonism (“Evidently one of the least difficult things in the world, to-day, is to humbug the human race.”) and  the BOM include: “All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the ‘elect’ have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so ‘slow,’ so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print.”

[9] Mitochondrial DNA lines show that Native Americans are of Asian extraction.  The BOM teaches that American “Indians” are descendants of Jews who migrated to America from Israel before the birth of Christ, crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a large, ark-like ship. No shit.

[10] Blacks were the cursed descendants of and bore the “mark of Cain” as a punishment for their failures in the pre-existence. Dark skin was a sign of the curse, lighter skin a sign of god’s favor.

[11] While running for President JFK assured the Catholic-phobia American public that he would not be taking orders from the Pope:  “I believe in an America where the separation of Church and State is absolute….”

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